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In good company

Hector_arrest.jpgThere was a crowd of about 10,000 in DC yesterday on the mall and at the Capitol to push for comprehensive immigration reform. The protests came as most attention in Congress was focused on the standoff over the partial government shutdown and the partisan disputes over health care and fiscal policy, pushing immigration to the side. 

Eight members of the House of Representatives were arrested: Joseph Crowley and Charles B. Rangel of New York, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, Al Green of Texas, Luis V. Gutierrez and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, Raul M. Grijalva of Arizona and John Lewis of Georgia. More than 150 other protesters, many from labor unions and immigrant organizations, were also arrested after they sat down and linked arms in the same street. I was among the 200 or so protesters participating in civil disobedience. 

We got out of jail at 3:00 in the morning after going in shortly after 5:00 pm. We are not sure if the government shutdown is to blame, but we did hear Capitol Police say that while they are on the job, it's unclear if they will get paid. But they were friendly and we do believe the event helped advance the cause at this critical juncture.

 

Remembering

health-poverty.jpgThousands of American gathered in Washington, D.C. this afternoon commemorate the 1963 March on Washington, the civil rights march that featured Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech.

It brings to mind one of King’s famous statements about America. In a speech to the Medical Committee for Human Rights in 1966, King said:

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhumane.”

What was true in 1966 America is true today: the health disparities between people of color and whites is shocking. People of color are less likely to have health insurance than the general population and life expectancy is almost four years less for African Americans than for the average white American.

The Affordable Care Act is a step forward in reducing these disparities by increasing the availability of health insurance coverage and by specifically tracking racial and ethnic health disparities in order to address the particular concerns of these communities moving forward.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation

Over half of the currently uninsured are people of color, most of whom are adults. The large majority of uninsured individuals have incomes in the range that would qualify for the ACA Medicaid expansion or premium tax credits for exchange coverage.

In order to make certain that these health disparities are actually addressed, data collection is in place through the law to track these disparities. According to a report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation:

The ACA contains several provisions aimed at improving data collection and reporting procedures, explicitly to track and reduce health disparities. Perhaps most significantly, by March 2012, all federally-funded health programs and population surveys will be required to collect and report data on [race, ethnicity, and language preference] and other demographic characteristics using standards identified by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as most appropriate for reducing disparities.

These efforts will make large changes in how we are able to identify and change racial and ethic health disparities in America. Unfortunately, in states like North Carolina where elected officials have chosen to put politics ahead of good sense by opposing the ACA’s Medicaid expansion and by allowing health insurance companies to set rates with no state oversight, the good that the ACA is doing will be thwarted in a major way.

Legislative constipation

Drug testingFor all the trouble they caused this session, it seems the leadership of the North Carolina General Assembly lacked a certain amount of inventiveness. Almost every bill they introduced was already being considered, or was law, somewhere else.

Case in point, during their final hours in Raleigh, the General Assembly passed a foolish bill requiring those applying for public assistance to pass a drug test before they can become eligible for assistance. This unconstitutional idea has been tried before in other states, and it makes no more sense here than it did when it was first implemented – and failed miserably – in Florida.

In 2010, Florida became the first state to pass and fully implement a bill mandating mandatory drug testing of all applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The law mandated that all applicants pay for the cost of the drug test themselves, and that they be reimbursed if their test came back negative. The law was in effect for a mere four months before the ACLU of Florida filed a lawsuit and a federal court blocked the law, saying it was unconstitutional.

Nearly two years later, the New York Times released the most comprehensive data yet on how the law fared during the short period of time it was in effect. We already knew that the law was a failure; what we didn't know was just how much of a failure it was.

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Concerned Citizens Ask Sen. Hagan to Stand with Homeowners

Two words that will make almost any homeowner cringe: "eminent domain," the ability of a government to seize private property, usually land, for improvement of some kind.  Though typically used for expanding roads and installing sidewalks in a neighborhood, one community in CA is using it to save homes

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Action NC members visited Sen. Hagan to urge her to support this game-changing move.

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A Personal Reflection on Activism

 

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The crowd of a few hundred clamored and shouted, as it wove its way through the city center.  Participants called for justice for a young man slain and decried the system that would allow his killer to walk away, "not guilty" on all charges.  

 

This post isn't about Trayvon Martin or his killer George Zimmerman.  Instead, it's about the three very different reactions I witnessed as I trailed the group.  

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