Silver Rights

News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.

Friday, February 06, 2004  

News and analysis: Southerners may be threat to Edwards

Presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards victory in the South Carolina primary gives him something to crow about. He went from bus boy to sous chef as Howard Dean's campaign flagged. Tim Curry at MSNBC has been thinking about the candidates and how the new configuration will affect them.

North Carolina Sen. John Edwards came through with a rousing must-win victory in South Carolina and is clearly plausible as Kerry's rival if the race resolves itself to a two-man contest.

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark appeared to squeak by to a narrow victory in Oklahoma, although it is worth noting that Clark fared poorly in South Carolina with about seven percent and in Missouri with five percent.

Crucial questions now arise for the Edwards campaign: Are there significant differences between Edwards and Kerry on the issues, differences that Edwards could use as the lever to pry Democratic voters away from Kerry?

Curry notes that similarities between Kerry and Edwards abound. Both are millionaires. (Kerry is much richer, though.) Both are rated quite liberal by the non-partisan National Journal. Neither pleases the Christian Coalition. Both got a lowly score of 15 from it in a survey in 2000. He says distinction between the two will turn on whether Democrats want an up by his bootstraps rich man or one who came ready made. Another challenge for Edwards is whether he can prove he is a viable candidate outside of the South.

I would add an issue to those two. Curry is assuming Edwards can run well in the South. I'm not so sure about that. Yes, the blocs that keep the Democrats alive in the southern states still exist, i.e., Afriican-American voters and white liberal voters. But, Dean was somewhat right about what he said in his poorly received Confederate flag bumper stickers remark. The Democrats' share of white, working-class voters is continuing to erode. Edwards will have to appeal to those voters at least as much as two-term President Bill Cinton did, to prevail even in his native region.

The most recent Democratic presidents from the South, Clinton and Jimmy Carter, managed to avoid the fault lines in the electorate there. My understanding is that Carter did that by tap dancing well. He told conservative whites what they wanted to hear, or at least made them think that was what he was doing, without alienating blacks and white liberals. It appears Edwards will be more open about his opposition to some traditional Southern values. Right Wing talk radio host Les Kinsolving discovered Edwards will not balk at offending 'heritage' supporters recently.

SALEM, N.H. - Democrat presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, denounced the Confederate flag on Wednesday, Jan. 21, calling it "divisive" and "a symbol of oppression to some Americans."

He also declared that the Confederate flag which flies on the state capitol grounds in Columbia, in his native South Carolina, should be removed.

. . .My answer is that the Confederate flag, which is a symbol of oppression to a lot of Americans, is a divisive symbol and should not be flown in a place like it's being flown in South Carolina, in front of the state capitol. It shouldn't be flown on public grounds like that. That's my position and I stand by it.

The interviewer got nowhere with trying to manipulate or trip up the pugnacious trial lawyer turned politician.

But, how will Edwards' prinicipled stand play with relatively conservative white voters? In my experience, many of those people like a bit of wink-and-nod from leaders to reassure them the status quo is not really being disturbed.

Edwards has also refused to wink in regard to the hot button issue of affirmative action. He emphasized his support of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision upholding affirmative action programs in higher education this summer.

WASHINGTON-Senator John Edwards on Monday praised a Supreme Court decision to uphold affirmative action policies that help minorities win admissions to universities.

"The court reaffirmed America's commitment to equal opportunity and justice," Senator Edwards said. He cautioned, however, that the 5-4 ruling "underscores the importance of nominating and confirming justices committed to upholding civil rights."

. . .Senator Edwards filed a friend-of-the-court brief with 11 other senators urging justices to uphold the admissions policy. The senators argued that affirmative action policies at universities throughout the country play a significant role in remedying racial disparities. The senators' brief was one of more than 60 submitted to the high court in support of the University of Michigan.

Again, a politician has taken a principled stand that many of his constituents may oppose. The fact Edwards is a Southern politician taking that stand makes him even more vulnerable than he would be otherwise.

Commenters in far Right bastions such as Free Republic are incensed. They dismiss Edwards as a 'scalawag' despite his family's roots in the Carolinas. To overcome the negative baggage that comes with being from the South, the candidate will need to negate the damage such people can do him with their less hidebound kin and associates.

posted by J. | 10:45 PM

Thursday, February 05, 2004  

News: EITC study finds rural poverty growing

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has new information about the working poor I find really interesting. The image that comes to mind when we hear the word 'poor' is of the inner-city poor - people, often African-American or Hispanic, who subsist on wages from low-paying jobs or barely get by on Aid to Families With Dependent Children. Those of us old enough to remember the television sitcom, "Good Times," probably envision the Evans family. (On which, by the way, Janet Jackson co-starred before she even had photo-worthy breasts.) Father James and mother Florida worked full-time jobs, but were never able to move out of low-income housing. But, people like the Evans are not alone at the bottom of the barrel economically.

The words "working poor" conjure up images of industrious, if unlucky, families, struggling to make ends meet in urban settings.

The reality in Washington state is a little different, with a greater percentage of rural tax filers qualifying as working but poor than their counterparts in big cities, according to a study by The Brookings Institution.

The report found that 15 percent of all tax filers in rural Washington areas claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit, a break designed to help lift the working poor out of poverty. In contrast, only 9 percent of taxpayers in the state's major cities took advantage of the break.

Those data place Washington among states where wealth and jobs are concentrated in large metropolitan areas, while the highest levels of those employed but stuck in poverty are found in the country, the report said.

Though the national data shows less of a bifurcation, the rural demographic is well-represented among the working poor in other states, as well.

Both in Washington and nationwide, though, the numbers of working poor rose in recent years, as the U.S. economy struggled to create jobs and rebound from recession. From 2000 to 2002, the number of U.S. families claiming the earned income tax credit rose 8 percent, according to the Brookings study. In Washington, the number of families rose 8.6 percent.

The worse of rural poverty is in the South, which has a long tradition of barely sustaining some of its citizenry, the International Herald Tribune reports.

Families in the rural South are more likely to earn low incomes than families in any other part of the nation, says a study released Tuesday by the Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy.

In rural communities from Maryland to Texas, 30 percent or more of all families claimed the earned income tax credit, designed to lift working poor families out of poverty by refunding some federal payroll taxes. The study charted earned income tax credits claimed on 2001 tax returns.

The report does not consider race, but it is likely minority status would be a characteristic related to poverty in the rural South as well as urban areas. However, in the rest of the country, the rural poor would be largely white. Here in the Pacific Northwest, which has the highest unemployment rate in the country and the whitest population, rural counties have been racked with hunger, substandard housing and increasing rates of drug abuse for years. I wonder if changing the face of poverty from brown or black and urban to white and rural will have any impact on how people feel about providing meaningful relief.

The authors of the study belief the new data should effect how the government responds to poverty.

The researchers concluded that the evidence should prompt politicians to re-evaluate their assumptions that the working poor are confined to distressed inner-city neighborhoods. The total number of working poor families living in rural areas, small towns and suburbs are three times the number who live in large cities.

To qualify for the EITC an adult must work, but earn less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. A wage-earner who works a 40-hour week year-round and has two children would need to make no more than $15 per hour to qualify.

Read more about the impact of the Earned Income Tax Credit on the lives of the poor at the Brookings Institution's online library or download the full report.

posted by J. | 11:45 PM

Tuesday, February 03, 2004  

Analysis: Hip hop, hue and cry

Eric Olsen brought my attention to his entry about the history of hip hop at MSNBC. It was written in anticipation of the upcoming Grammy Awards.

Rap music and the so-called "hip-hop lifestyle" have become integral to American popular culture, as even a cursory look at movies, television, radio, or a simple stroll through a CD store, reveal.

Rappers appear across the cultural landscape: Will Smith, Ice Cube, and Queen Latifah are among Hollywood’s most prominent black actors. A cozy Lil' Kim cooed for the Gap in Christmas TV commercials, Snoop Dogg pitches AOL, McDonald’s "I'm lovin' it" campaign jingles to the rhythms of hip-hop, and heavyweight brands like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Budweiser, Nike, Reebok, Lincoln/Mercury and Cover Girl have all availed themselves of hip-hop personalities or incorporated the lifestyle into their marketing strategies. Top 40 radio is now dominated by rap and hip-hop. Terms like "bling bling," "dis" and Snoop's "izzle" lingo are now ubiquitous. Rap hits are pumped over the sound systems of virtually every professional sport team.

Since 1999, rap and hip-hop sales have been second only to rock in the U.S., in 2002 rising to 13.8 percent of all records sold, a total of more than 84 million recordings. 50 Cent’s thuggish, monochromatic "Get Rich or Die Tryin'" was Billboard’s top album for 2003, and his "In Da Club," Sean Paul's "Get Busy," and pop-R&B singer Beyonce's "Crazy In Love," with prominent raps by Jay-Z, were three of the four top singles for the year.

I never expected rap to be as successful as it has become. I guess I'm old-fashioned. Pipes, as in voices that can break glass, will always impress me more than clever rhymes. The inanity of the lyrics, which often focus on hallucinogens, 'hos' and homicide, leave something to be desired, too. The other aspect of hip hop culture that has left me ambivalent is its ongoing relationship with violence. Yes, the reputation is overstated, but there is a core of truth to it. For example, the assumption that a rapper and his main man had killed a young lawyer in Maryland was ridiculous.

Prosecutor's murder reveals flip side of Internet

The story has a made-for-TV quality. Bad guys, a rapper and his sidekick, who also are drug dealers, have supposedly had the lead prosecutor in their heroin dealing case kidnapped and murdered.

WASHINGTON - Jonathan Luna, a federal prosecutor in Baltimore whose bloody body was found in rural Pennsylvania, had been stabbed 36 times and may have been tortured before he was thrown into a rural creek to drown, officials said Friday.

Luna's body was discovered near the town of Ephrata, south of Reading, Pa., Thursday morning, just hours before he was scheduled to appear in court in Baltimore, 70 miles away, in the case of a rapper accused of running a violent heroin ring.

At some Internet forums, commenters are already calling for the death penalty for the drug dealing rapper, Deon Smith, and his associate, Walter Poindexter - if they willing to allow a trial. But, there is a problem - this movie of the week storyline that appeals to many people's preconceptions may not be true.

It now appears Luna's involvement in a seedy sex and the Internet underlife may be the key to his death.

But, the volatile reputation of hip hop has been supported by an ongoing series of attacks and killings by rappers and their associates, often within the hip hop elite. People who don't know Will Smith from Jay-Z are aware of the East Coast/West Coast rappers' feud. Equally damaging is the fact that hip hop clubs and concerts are clearly associated with violence in many cities.

Olsen observes that hip hop has yet to penetrate beyond youth and relative youth markets in regard to sales.

Yet for many people, especially Middle Americans 35 and older, rap and hip-hop (the music underneath the rap, and the broader lifestyle) still seem as alien as Mars.

Until hip hop cleans up its house, I suspect those visitors will continue to stay away.

posted by J. | 7:00 PM

Monday, February 02, 2004  

Legislator apologizes for racial slur

There has been another incident involving the use of a racial slur by someone in a leadership position in Washington state. This time, a legislator used the n-word in an argument with a colleague.

OLYMPIA -- State Sen. Alex Deccio, R-Yakima, apologized on the Senate floor Monday for using a racial slur in an argument with another legislator last week.

"I realize this has been very hurtful to members of the African-American community and for that I am truly sorry," said Deccio, 81. "I feel if the Rev. Martin Luther King were here today, he would accept my apology, so I'm asking you to do the same."

. . .Deccio used the slur on Thursday, during a heated argument with Rep. Tom Campbell, R-Roy, about health insurance reforms in a meeting with several legislators, staff members and insurance industry representatives.

He called Campbell a "nigger in the woodpile." Both men are white.

The phrase is used to convey a similar meaning to the term "snake in the grass." The Oxford English Dictionary defines the expression as "a concealed motive or unknown factor affecting a situation in an adverse way."

Several friends who live in other parts of the country have asked me why such situations seem to occur in the Pacific Northwest so often. They are wondering why because these states have minority populations under two percent. I believe part of the reason is that a significant population of Southerners moved to the PNW before and after the Civil War. They lobbied for legislation barring blacks and other people of color from citizenship. Quite a few geographical features of Oregon and Washington were named after Confederate heroes or reflect racism. In recent years, attacks against prominent African-Americans have included the burning in effigy of the former head of Washington's Department of Services to Families and Children in Salem. Police killings are disproportionately of African-Americans and Hispanics. The high school dropout rate for minority teens is extremely high, with alienation usually cited as the reason.

As is often the case, some notable people of color are turning the other cheek in regard to the latest incident.

Deccio said he instantly realized his mistake and apologized in the meeting. On Friday, he apologized in person to Sen. Rosa Franklin, D-Tacoma, the only black state senator.

On Monday, Franklin tearfully accepted his apology on the Senate floor.

The slur Deccio used "sears like a branding iron," she said. Talking about how her ancestors had come to America as slaves, her voice broke and she wiped away tears with trembling hands.

But, she said, she forgives Deccio.

"I accept Sen. Deccio's apology and will work for healing," Franklin said. "We need to come together."

Deccio crossed the Senate floor and hugged Franklin after her speech

Others are less pliable.

Some black leaders said they would accept Deccio's apology only if he resigned his Senate seat.

"This individual is not deserving of being a representative of the people," said Carl Mack, president of the Seattle chapter of the NAACP. He traveled to Olympia on Monday to demand Deccio's resignation.

Another factor impacting the culture of the not always pacific Northwest is the presence of many of the country's Christian identity, Aryan and skinhead organizations here. They have claimed this region as their future dominion.

Sen. Deccio's advanced age notwithstanding, I do hold him responsible for his conduct. I also find it bewildering that a racial slur is the worst thing he can find to say about someone he disapproves of.

This episode will blow over, but there are surely more to come.

posted by J. | 9:15 PM

Sunday, February 01, 2004  

Medical, legal support for mental health dogs paltry

I became curious about people with psychiatric problems using dogs as companion animals after reading about a lawsuit at Trish Wilson's weblog. Rik Espinosa was the plaintiff.

Trish Wilson, who is unabashedly a cat person, has her dander up over a recent lawsuit, with good reason. A California man with a history of bipolar disorder and anxiety is suing his local library because of a scrap between his dog and its cat. He claims the spat amounts to denying him use of a public facility because of his disabilities. The case went to trial, with the plaintiff representing himself, yesterday.

A web search provided anecdotal evidence of the alleged soporific effect, but little medical support. This article written for the Associated Press is typical.

CATONSVILLE, Md. (AP) - The smell of a cigarette. The sound of footsteps behind her. Little things like these can trigger Lisa Conti's panic attacks and return her to the night she was raped.

She remembers the day in 1987 when, as an Army private in South Korea, she was jumped from behind, dragged into a car and driven to a place where she was raped by four men and tortured with lit cigarettes. She begins sweating and can't breathe.

"I could be sitting at home, all by myself, and I could have one," Ms. Conti said, sitting on her living room couch, her arm tucked around her dog, King, her fingers stroking his black fur.

Ms. Conti rescued King from an animal shelter in May 1994 on the day he was to be euthanized. Little did she know he would end up saving her.

"King is my lifeline to the world," Ms. Conti said.

King, a 6-year-old spaniel mix, is a registered service dog. He senses when Ms. Conti is going to have a panic attack and sometimes can help prevent them.

Guide dogs for the blind have been around for 80 years, but using dogs for "invisible disabilities" is relatively new. Dogs now are being trained to help people with such problems as depression, bipolar disorder and agoraphobia, said Susan Duncan, manager of the service dog center at Delta Society, a nonprofit group in Renton, Wash., that promotes the health benefits of animals.

Another advocate for animals and Conti's doctor agree with Duncan.

I was unable to find language in the Americans with Disabilities Act that applies to companion animals for persons with psychiatric disorders. The focus is on sufferers of mobility problems and sensory deprivation, including blindness and deafness.

I wonder if this 'be nice to the poor things' interpretation of the law is really a good idea. The stories I read doing research for this entry made me ask if the psychiatrically disabled persons might be shifting their obsessiveness to their dogs. Often, the animals are described in heroic, grandiose terms suggesting they are more than helpful canines. If this is occurring, the dogs become part of the illness. Another aspect of the situation is substitution of having a companion animal for medication and therapy. Conti stopped taking her medication after getting her dog. My understanding is that a continuing medical program is important to treatment of severe psychiatric problems.

Both Espinosa and Conti say their dogs have been excluded from public venues illegally. But, even when it is certain a disabled person is entitled to special accommodations for his dog, it is not illegal to exclude the animal under some circumstances. Western Washington University developed guidelines for complying with the ADA in that regard.

A service animal may be excluded when one of the conditions below exist:

1) The animal is disruptive and the handler is not effectively controlling it, for example, a dog that barks repeatedly during a lecture (consideration should be made to see if the service animal was distracted or scared by another person or animal);

2) The presence of the service animal would fundamentally change the nature of the job, program, service or activity; or

3) The service anima's presence, behavior or actions pose an unreasonable or direct threat to property or the health or safety of others. Risk may not be remote or speculative, such as thinking an animal might bite someone or will annoy others. Allergies and fear of animals are generally not valid reasons to exclude a service animal; a person with severe allergies may be protected under state or federal disability laws and may need to be accommodated as well.

I don't believe Espinosa was denied access to a public facility. His dog's encounter with the cat could have been worked around instead of resulting in the lawsuit seeking $1.5 million he filed. But, even if he qualifies for special accomodations for his dog, there may have been grounds to exclude the animal.

After reading a sample of the reportage on this subject, I've concluded the topic has been treated shallowly by media who have considered it. Instead of considering the conflicting interests involved, newspapers and magazines have had a kneejerk response to the word 'disabled.' An article in the now-defunct Nervy Girl in which the ADA is never consulted, is typical. It is written from an advocacy, instead of a journalistic, perspective. I hope future coverage with be more substantive.

I was informed of an article describing ways an assistance dog might help a person with a psychiatric disability. Joan Froling, a trainer of service dogs, has penned several pieces that promote her business. Most of the tasks described could be performed better by some other means. For example, the author suggests having the dog carry the patient's medication in its backpack and even fetch pills and water from a refrigerator. The assumptions inherent are odd, to say the least. Most psychiatric patients do not fit the 'frozen in fear' image Froling perpetuates. It would be much easier for them to get their own medication from their purses or medicine cabinets than go through the hassle using a dog entails. This applies to just about every task she describes. Either the patient can do it, and feel self-sufficient as a result, or human intervention would be better than a dog's. The article struck me as a 'make work' model to promote the service Froling, and other dog trainers, sell. As a person with a vested interest, she and others may not be able to see that they may be creating bigger problems - dependency and encouragement of obsession - than they are solving.

My guess is that some psychiatrically disabled people feel somewhat better if they have pets. That's a good thing. However, calling a pet a medical neccesity pushes the envelope of credibility, in my opinion. The jury in the Espinosa case rejected his claim, though the city had not questioned the validity of his assertion he needed an assistance dog. I believe that, though they probably did not articulate them, the jurors may have some of the same doubts about the movement to encourage the mentally disabled to get assistance dogs as I do.

There is another reason I am skeptical about this. (Humph, some readers are saying. You are skeptical about bandwagons, period.) One of the most vivid experiences I've had was observing a street person who was obviously out of his mind savagely beat his dog. I wonder if the animals are safe with some of the people who might seek them.

The daily parade of articles about mental patients, usually unmedicated, engaging in acts that are harmful to themselves or others continues. I don't believe getting people dogs will solve these problems. Treatment, serious and longterm, seems to be the only approach that makes much difference for the seriously mentally ill. I will continue supporting coverage of mental health treatment by insurers and outreach to the low-income mentally ill, instead of pie in the sky solutions.

posted by J. | 1:59 AM