March 2012

  • March 8, 2012
    Rumor Repression and Racial Politics
    How the Harassment of Black Elected Officials Shaped Post Civil Rights America
    George Derek Musgrove

    By George Derek Musgrove, a professor of history at the University of the District of Columbia 

    In 2008 Speaker Nancy Pelosi created the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) to make good on her promise to “drain the swamp” and better police the ethics of Congress. The House of Representatives ethics process had been moribund since the late 1990s when the parties called a truce in the “ethics wars” that had claimed two Speakers and several rank and file members.

    At first blush the OCE, which investigates complaints of unethical behavior against members of Congress and refers them to the House Ethics Committee, appears to have been a success. It has been exceedingly active over the course of the past three years, investigating 34 cases and keeping the Ethics Committee busy with a string of referrals. 

    But with the return of a robust ethics process has come a return of the ethics wars. Sadly, few on Capitol Hill have acknowledged this development, at least in part, because it has primarily affected black members of Congress.   

    Of the 34 cases handled by the OCE, ten have involved black members and one additional case has involved the black chief of staff for Rep. John Lewis (D-GA). Thus black members, who account for 10 percent of the House of Representatives, have been the subjects of 30 percent of the cases handled by OCE. This has led to some eye-popping developments before the Ethics Committee. At one point in 2010 all of the full cases before the Committee involved black members, and today a majority of the cases before that body involve blacks.

    What is to account for this disparity? 

    When writing my book, Rumor Repression and Racial Politics, which examines black elected officials’ allegations of state and news media repression in the years between 1965 and 1995, I found that the partisan battles of the last thirty years have had a disproportionate effect on black elected officials.

  • March 8, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    As is being widely noted by media, right-wing pundits, or blowhards, such as Fox News’ Sean Hannity, are feverishly working to create uproar over President Obama’s association with the late Harvard Law School Professor Derrick Bell.

    TPM’s Ryan J. Reilly reports on Hannity’s airing of a video edited by associates of the late Andrew Breitbart that shows a young Barack Obama, then a Harvard law student, hugging Bell at an event calling for the law school to hire more African American women for its tenured faculty. “This was supposedly secret video that the late Andrew Breitbart had promised from Obama’s college days, showing … Obama supporting Harvard Law Professor Derrick Bell’s campaign for more diversity at the institution,’ Reilly writes.

    The video, as TPM and Media Matters’ Simon Maloy note, has been aired and written about before. But, Breitbart’s team hasn’t given up on trying to sully Bell’s legacy.

    As Maloy writes, Breitbart, who died last week, has painted Bell as “a dangerous radical who, in the act of pressing his body to the young Obama’s, imparted to him all the insane radicalism that now animates the moderate liberal currently residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.”

    The late professor, however, was no radical. Remember, this charge is coming from the late Breitbart, who Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone points out, should be celebrated largely for his shamelessness.

    Obama, and many others for that matter, should be proud of Bell (pictured) and his work.

    As noted by Inimai Chettiar, a civil rights attorney, for ACSblog, Bell “was a racial justice pioneer and teacher who enlightened many.” She continued, “He was the first black law professor at Harvard Law School, yet in 1990 he vowed to take an unpaid leave of absence until the school hired a black woman for its tenured faculty.”

  • March 7, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The Department of Justice’s handing of foreclosure abuses, which disproportionately affected African Americans and Latinos, came under intense, if not overblown, scrutiny during a Senate hearing today.

    As The Blog of Legal Times reports, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) “led a wave of criticism of the Justice Department’s response to home loan discrimination and foreclosure abuses,” during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

    Grassley groused about the DOJ’s settlement with Countrywide Financial Corporation, which the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas Perez (pictured) described in written testimony before the committee as “the largest lending discrimination case ever brought by the U.S. Department of Justice ….”

    In a prepared statement, Grassley said the Countrywide settlement was inadequate. “Although the complaint asked for the victims to be put in the same position they would have been absent the discrimination, for civil penalties, and for consequential damages, the consent decree provides only $1700 per victim,” he said.

    During the hearing, and his testimony, Grassley claimed that Countrywide and other financial institutions involved in the discriminatory lending practices should have faced investigations for criminal wrongdoing. “We do not know what individuals took the unlawful actions. They face no punishment. And they can keep their jobs. Countrywide admits nothing. The government has proven nothing in court.”

    Democratic Sens. Al Franken (Minn.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) joined Grassley in criticizing the DOJ for alledgedly not taking stronger action against the financial institutions. As Todd Ruger reported The Blog of Legal Times, toward the end of the hearing, Perez conceded, albeit not before defending his Division’s work, that more could be done to address the financial industry’s practices.

    Several of the senators and witnesses sharply focused on the fact that banks and other financial institutions discriminated against African Americans and Latinos during the mortgage crisis. (As James H. Carr noted in this ACSblog post, research has revealed “that in 2004 African Americans were more likely to receive subprime loans than white borrowers, even when risk factors such as credit scores were taken into consideration. Not only did that excessive peddling of reckless mortgage products to blacks result in their having experience foreclosures at a disproportionately higher rate than white borrowers, but also, blacks are over-represented in the ranks of the long-term unemployed which has also grown as a result of the financial crisis.”)

  • March 7, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The Occupy Wall Street protests helped amplify discussion of the nation’s growing economic inequality. They highlighted the fact that conservative economic policy has made a tiny few in the country extremely wealthy, while shoving many more people into poverty.

    Not surprisingly, however, those demonstrations have also prompted Congress to react with legislation that as The Daily Agenda reports would undoubtedly work to harm free speech. In its first post on the legislation, H.R. 347, The Daily Agenda dubbed the measure the “anti-Occupy law,” because it is aimed at keeping many federal buildings and grounds free of protestors. The measure is not law yet, but it easily passed both chambers of Congress and has been sent to the president.

    The measure, euphemistically dubbed the “Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act,” would alter federal criminal law barring persons from “knowingly” wandering onto “any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority.” Those places include the White House, the vice president’s residence, “a building or grounds where the President or other persons protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting,” or federal buildings or grounds that are hosting a “special event of national significance.”

    The anti-free speech measure’s chief sponsor is Florida Republican Rep. Tom Rooney, who has railed against President Obama’s landmark health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act. Rooney is also supporting a federal lawsuit lodged by a religious university against a part of the health care reform law that will require insurance companies to pay for contraceptives for workers at religiously affiliated institutions.

  • March 6, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    While some states work to advance equality, Maryland and Washington for instance recently enacted laws legalizing same-sex marriage, other state lawmakers unfortunately fritter away official time, frequently either infuriating constituents or reminding them of just how useless some of their actions can be.

    For example, Missouri’s House Speaker Steven Tilley, as MSNBC notes, is working to induct the right-wing leader Rush Limbaugh into the state’s “Hall of Famous Missourians.” As MSNBC notes inductees are appointed by the House Speaker “and the bronze busts are paid for by the Speaker’s Annual Golf Classic” and then showcased in the capitol.

    Limbaugh, from Cape Girardeau, has added to conservative backed efforts to make life tougher on women. National lawmakers, backed by Catholic bishops and right-wing activists, such as Limbaugh, continue to fight health care policy that will require insurance companies to provide contraceptives to employees of religiously affiliated institutions, such as colleges and universities.

    When Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University law student, publicly supported the Obama administration’s health care policy of ensuring that workers at religious affiliated institutions receive adequate health care, Limbaugh went over-the-top, obviously not an easy feat for the radio host. Limbaugh took to the airwaves to spew invective against, Fluke, which prompted President Obama to call the law student praising her courage to speak out on behalf of health care policy, which riles a large swath of the nation’s conservatives.

    But Tilley, a Republican, appears unconcerned about the timing of his action. The Kansas City Star reports that Tilley is moving forward with honoring Limbaugh. “It’s not the ‘Hall of Universally Loved Missourians. It’s the Hall of Famous Missourians,” he told the newspaper.

    The newspaper notes that Progress Missouri is urging Missourians to join it in calling for Tilley to reverse his decision. The group’s website includes a call to action: “A Rush Limbaugh Statue in the Missouri Capitol? No. Freaking. Way.”