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Obama expects debate on immigration reform bill next month
March 25th, 2013
03:08 PM ET

Obama expects debate on immigration reform bill next month

By Alexander Mooney, CNN White House Producer

(CNN) – Seeking to ignite congressional movement on immigration reform, President Obama said Monday he expects the Senate to take significant action on the issue next month.

"I expect a bill to be put forward. I expect the debate to begin next month. I want to sign that bill into law as soon as possible," Obama said at a naturalization ceremony at the White House.

"We are making progress, but we've got to finish the job," Obama said.

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Filed under: 2012 Election • How we live • Immigration • Politics
March 19th, 2013
09:00 AM ET

Tough racial issues face GOP in minority outreach

By Halimah Abdullah, CNN

Washington (CNN) - Republican K. Carl Smith is African-American and he knows that the GOP's racial reckoning won't come from 100-page reports from party headquarters with carefully worded prescriptions about "outreach" to "demographic partners."

Instead, the type of sea change needed to shake the GOP's image as a party of old, white and culturally-insulated men will require the type of profound grassroots shakeup that might make some in the GOP uneasy.

"You got your establishment Republicans who want to keep things the same," said Smith, an Army veteran who grew up in Alabama during the Civil Rights era. "The status quo needs to go through some, I won't say diversity classes, but I'll say liberty classes and learn about helping people on the bottom of the ladder."

He said the party also has to deal with small but noisy elements that co-opt any message of inclusiveness if it wants to win the "propaganda battle."

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Filed under: 2012 Election • History • How we live • Politics • Race • Who we are
Obama's nomination of Thomas Perez is a first for Dominican-Americans
Thomas Perez has been nominated to be the secretary of the Labor Department. His roots are Dominican.
March 18th, 2013
07:17 PM ET

Obama's nomination of Thomas Perez is a first for Dominican-Americans

By Cindy Y. Rodriguez, CNN

(CNN) - On Monday, President Barack Obama nominated Thomas E. Perez, an assistant attorney general in the Justice Department of Dominican origin,  to be the next secretary of the Labor Department.  He will replace Hilda Solis, the nation's first Latina Cabinet member, who resigned in January.

Supporters say it is a step in the right direction for the Latino community, and they hope it sets a precedent.

“This move is significant because there has been at least one [Latino or Latina] in the president’s Cabinet since Ronald Reagan’s years,” said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. “What’s even more significant is that it's not somebody who is Mexican-American, Puerto Rican or Cuban-American as in previous years.”

In 2010, there were an estimated 1.5 million Hispanics of Dominican origin residing in the United States, comprising 3.0% of the U.S. Hispanic population.

Perez is the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, which shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with French-speaking Haiti. He was the first lawyer in his family. Speaking in English and Spanish, Perez spoke about his upbringing at Monday's announcement.

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Violence Against Women Act shines a light on same-sex abuse
Protesters note the issue of domestic violence doesn't apply only to heterosexuals.
March 14th, 2013
11:00 AM ET

Violence Against Women Act shines a light on same-sex abuse

By Sarah LeTrent, CNN

(CNN) - Patrick Dati had reached his breaking point.

With a metal pin in his arm and Vicodin coursing through his veins, he picked up the phone to call his psychiatrist.

Dati had undergone surgery for a broken arm after his then-boyfriend allegedly threw him down the stairs when he tried to leave their home.

Now he sat on the phone with his doctor, explaining why he couldn't carry on, as he tried to overdose on painkillers.

The attempt to end his life, which landed him in a psychiatric ward for two days, resulted in part because he felt trapped in the abusive relationship and saw no way out.

"I couldn't let my boyfriend go because he wasn't allowing me to," Dati said.

Dati is one of an estimated 3.4% of adults who self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, referred to as LGBT, in the United States. He's also one of a quarter of gay men in America who report having encountered intimate partner violence.

While Dati reached out to LGBT resources for help while he was ensnared in the abusive relationship, including the Center on Halsted Anti-Violence Project's 24-Hour crisis hot line in Chicago, many in his position find that help is hard to come by.

Now, thanks to new LGBT-inclusive language in the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, signed into law this month, domestic violence victims like Dati will have access to many of the same abuse and trauma services as victims of heterosexual partner violence.

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Filed under: How we live • Politics • Sexual orientation
Report spurred by New Black Panther charges find polarized Justice Dept.
A report issued Tuesday found voting rights staffers in the U.S. Justice Department displayed a lack of professionalism.
March 12th, 2013
08:20 PM ET

Report spurred by New Black Panther charges find polarized Justice Dept.

By Terry Frieden, CNN Justice Producer

Washington (CNN) - Staffers in the voting rights section of the U.S. Justice Department - during both the Bush and Obama administrations - took political potshots at each other and often displayed a lack of professionalism, according to a report issued Tuesday.

The department's inspector general found camps within that office battled over priorities and cases for most of the past decade.

But the report found that there was "insufficient support for a conclusion that Civil Rights Division leadership in either the prior or current administration improperly refused to enforce the voting rights laws on behalf of any particular group of voters or that either administration used the enforcement of laws to seek improper partisan advantage."

The report covers a series of controversies during the years 2001 to 2011, when first George W. Bush, and then Barack Obama controlled the Justice Department.

The voting rights pot boiled over on November 4, 2008, when two members of the New Black Panther Party stood outside a polling station in Philadelphia dressed in boots and berets and carrying a nightstick. Civil charges for attempted intimidation were filed, but then dropped against three of four defendants.

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March 7th, 2013
08:44 AM ET

Opinion: Shame on Democrats for race-baiting

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette.

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., CNN Contributor

San Diego (CNN) - Did you think the Republican Party had cornered the market on racism, nativism and ethnic demagoguery? If so, think again.

That is the GOP's modus operandi when it comes to the immigration issue. In an ugly trend that started in the Southwest in the 1990s but has now moved on to the South and Midwest, Republicans have learned to scare up votes by exploiting fear of changing demographics and the anxiety that many Americans have about an "invasion" of illegal immigrants across the U.S.-Mexico border.

But this fear of foreigners has proven just effective enough that Democrats are now borrowing the GOP's playbook to advance their own causes.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.

Here's the difference: The voters who fear-mongering Democrats want to manipulate aren't so much afraid of what worries many conservatives - that immigrants are supposedly lowering our standard of living, changing the country's complexion and weakening our sense of national identity. They're more afraid that foreign workers - either here in the United States or even in their home countries - are going to take their jobs, lower wages, or prove so attractive to companies and factories that jobs go overseas.

In other words, the fears aren't cultural; they're economic. But the way that Democrats exploit those fears is still the same: racism, nativism and ethnic demagoguery.

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The evolution of the nation's 'first gay president'
President Barack Obama hosts a reception in honor of national Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month in the East Room of the White House June 15, 2012 in Washington, DC.
March 4th, 2013
12:00 PM ET

The evolution of the nation's 'first gay president'

By Michael Martinez, CNN

(CNN) - He has been declared America's "first gay president."

But President Barack Obama's evolution to that title hasn't been easy. His positions zig-zagged over almost two decades.

The president and the nation have evolved on same-sex marriage

His advocacy of same-sex marriage began well before his White House years, tracing back to his early political service in Illinois. The effectiveness of his leadership, however, will be determined by the U.S. Supreme Court as it considers a California ban on same-sex marriage.

1996: While running for the Illinois Senate, Obama signs a questionnaire for a gay Chicago publication saying he favors legalizing same-sex marriages. He later wins the race.

1998: He alters course and answers "undecided" on same-sex marriage when questioned in another survey.

2003: In his campaign for the Illinois Senate, Obama says in a questionnaire that he is against repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 federal law that states for federal purposes, marriage is defined as only between one man and one woman.

2004: When running for the U.S. Senate, he notes he is "a Christian" and that "marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman." He wins the race.

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Filed under: History • How we live • Politics • Sexual orientation
March 4th, 2013
09:04 AM ET

Opinion: Challenge to Voting Rights Act ignores reality

Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking with Grease." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000.

(CNN) - On Tuesday, President Barack Obama was at the Capitol, joining leaders of Congress to dedicate a statue in honor of the "Mother of the Civil Rights Movement," Alabama's Rosa Parks. About the same time, across the street at the Supreme Court, an Alabama lawyer was arguing that a key provision of the Voting Rights Act - the consequence and legacy of the Civil Rights Movement - was unnecessary and unconstitutional.

The irony lies not only in the timing or juxtaposition, but the institutions.

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat when a white bus driver ordered her to move. Twelve years earlier, the same driver had grabbed her coat sleeve and pushed her off his bus for trying to enter through the front rather than the back door. This time he said, "Well, if you don't stand up, I'm going to have to call the police and have you arrested." She replied, "You may do that."

Her arrest led to a 381-day boycott of Montgomery buses by the black community. The boycott propelled the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to prominence as a civil rights leader. And the arrest of Parks and the boycott she inspired led to a civil law suit, Browder v. Gayle, in which the Supreme Court declared the Alabama and Montgomery laws requiring segregated buses unconstitutional.

It took Congress 10 years to catch up to the Supreme Court, when it passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

Although Alabama's at it again with the new challenge, this time it seems the conservative majority of the Supreme Court wants to roll back the clock. Frank C. Ellis Jr., the attorney for plaintiff Shelby County, argues that Congress exceeded its authority in 2006 when it reauthorized Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act for another 25 years.

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Justices offer split views on Voting Rights Act enforcement
February 27th, 2013
03:32 PM ET

Justices offer split views on Voting Rights Act enforcement

By

Washington (CNN) – A predictably divided Supreme Court appeared ready to strike down – at least in part – the key enforcement provision of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, with many conservative justices on Wednesday suggesting it was a constitutionally unnecessary vestige of the civil rights era.

Known as Section 5, it gives the federal government open-ended oversight of states and localities mostly in the South with a history of voter discrimination.

Any changes in voting laws and procedures in all or parts of 16 covered states must be "pre-cleared" with Washington. That could include something as simple as moving a polling place temporarily across the street.

In a tense 80 minutes of oral arguments, Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked why the court would rule "in favor of the county that is the epitome" of what caused the law to be passed in the first place.

Her three reliably liberal colleagues appeared to support continued use of the coverage formula run by the federal Justice Department.

But Justice Samuel Alito wondered why some states were subject to oversight and not others.

"Why shouldn't it apply everywhere in the country," he asked. The other four more conservative justices had tough questions for the Obama administration's positions.

This case will be one of the biggest the justices tackle this term, offering a social, political, and legal barometer on the progress of civil rights in the United States and the level of national vigilance still needed to ensure minorities have equal access to the election process.

A ruling in this appeal is expected by June.

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Filed under: History • Politics • Race • Where we live
N.Y. state lawmaker apologizes for blackface costume
Dov Hikind, center, is seen in costume with his wife and son. The photo was obtained from what CNN believes to be his son Yoni's Facebook page.
February 26th, 2013
03:44 PM ET

N.Y. state lawmaker apologizes for blackface costume

By Sonia Kennebeck, CNN

New York (CNN) - A New York state lawmaker said Monday he's sorry if he offended anyone by dressing in blackface for a Purim party, but a colleague says his apology doesn't go far enough.

Assemblyman Dov Hikind wore an Afro wig, an orange jersey and had his face painted brown by a professional makeup artist for a weekend party celebrating the Jewish holiday at his home. He told The New York Times that he was supposed to be "a black basketball player."

The Brooklyn Democrat initially tried to dismiss complaints about his costume as "political correctness to the absurd," but reversed himself by Monday afternoon in the face of mounting criticism.

"Anyone who was offended, I am sorry that they were offended," Hikind told reporters at a news conference. "That was not the intention, and that is really all I can say. I just have to reiterate it was Purim. Purim is when people get dressed up."

But Hikind's fellow Brooklyn Democrat, Assemblyman Karim Camara, said the costume was "callous and repugnant."

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