Looking Ahead

One year ago our nation, and much of this world, was in a state of panic and turmoil. Companies and industries were shedding jobs faster than we could count. The stock market was tanking in front of our eyes. Waking up every morning to look at the headlines of the newspaper was a daunting task in fear of what a new day could bring to the American people. We needed a lifeline.

And so President Barack Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on February 17, 2009. Critics have been very vocal at pointing out the persistently high unemployment rate as well as flagrant examples of waste and inefficiency. At the same time, supporters have ample evidence to defend the act—a couple million jobs saved or created, a depression averted, and billions of dollars supporting and aiding colleges and universities to invest in the future of our country. Both sides have valid arguments and substantial verification. Undoubtedly, there have been great benefits from the act, but inevitably there is also vast room for improvement in the second year of the two year plan. With a year behind us, we must look ahead and focus our attention and energy in avoiding past mistakes by demanding greater transparency, and demanding higher quality outcomes. As the White House begins to craft the new jobs bill, we must make sure the bill creates good jobs—jobs that offer living wages, provide benefits, and have the potential for long-term growth and advancement.

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Talking Race at the Tea Party Convention

A unique challenge faces advocates for meaningful dialogue on racial inequality and injustice in America. As people of color have made even modest gains in education, economic security, and professional opportunities over the past few decades, some Americans have increasingly insisted that racial discrimination is largely a thing of the past. Today that sentiment is more widespread and vocal than ever, with the election of Barack Obama as the nation's 44th president.

A shocking example of remaining racial inequality took place at the first ever National Tea Party Convention. Former Representative from Colorado, Tom Tancredo decried "the cult of multiculturalism," and argued that President Obama was elected because "we do not have a civics, literacy test before people can vote in this country."

Mr. Tancredo had to know that literacy and civics voting tests with impossible answers were notoriously used to prevent African Americans from voting during segregation—and were banned by the Voting Rights Act of 1964.

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Talking About Racial Equity in the Age of Obama

A unique challenge faces advocates for meaningful dialogue on racial inequality and injustice in America. As people of color have made even modest gains in education, economic security, and professional opportunities over the past few decades, some Americans have increasingly insisted that racial discrimination is largely a thing of the past. Today that sentiment is more widespread and vocal than ever, just a few days after what would have been Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 81st birthday, and as Barack Obama marks the one-year anniversary of his historic inauguration as the nation’s 44th president.

Equal opportunity is a core national value, and Americans strongly believe that it should not be hindered by gender, ethnicity, race, or other aspects of who we are. However, President Obama’s important political victory threatens to eclipse the large body of evidence documenting the continuing influence of racial bias and other barriers to equal opportunity. Although the current economic crisis has encouraged a welcome focus on socioeconomic inequality, it has often been to the exclusion of racial justice.

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Racial Segregation in U.S. Schools: Illinois Terminates Chicago's Desegregation Decree

All people should have the opportunity to succeed in life, regardless of their race. But a recent Illinois district court decision jeopardizes that possibility.

In U.S. v. Board of Educ. of City of Chicago, an Illinois district court ended a twenty-three year old consent decree, which was intended to ameliorate segregation in Chicago public schools. Viewing the Chicago public school system through the lens of the particular constitutional violations that had warranted the initiation of the decree in 1980, the court determined that the consent decree was no longer necessary, because those "vestiges of discrimination" identified in 1980 were "no longer."

With an eye towards racial progress and expanded opportunity in the United States, this narrow view of segregation in public schools is deeply problematic. Although we might hope that race does not matter, too often it does. Even though over fifty years have passed since Brown v. Board of Education, according to a 2005 report by the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, almost 2.4 million students—including about one in six of both black and Latino students—attend schools in which the student population is 99-100% minority.  Nearly 40% of both black and Latino students attend schools in which the student population is 90-100% minority; conversely, only 1% of white students attend such schools. Additionally, 72% of black and 77% of Latino students attend schools in which minorities constitute a majority of the students.

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An American in Paris, and Beijing, and London...

During a series of trips through Europe and Asia that I completed last week, I was reminded that the Americans with Disabilities Act really is the Americans with Disabilities Act, and why our nation should be so proud of that milestone. So many of the offices, buildings, public facilities, train and plane stations that I visited were largely inaccessible to people in wheelchairs and with other disabilities. The relative progress that America has made on this issue benefits not only people with disabilities, but all of us.

Passed by Congress and signed by the first President Bush in 1990, the ADA ensures equal opportunity irrespective of disability in employment, transportation, telecommunications, public accommodations and state and federal services. Just as importantly, the law ushered in a new mindset about who we are as a society, and what equal opportunity means in America.

Equal opportunity, the ADA has helped teach us, is not about treating people identically, but about treating all of us as equals. For example, giving people in wheelchairs “access” to the same courthouse steps offered to people who can walk up those steps—as Tennessee tried to do in an important 2004 Supreme Court ADA case—is treating people identically, but not as equals. The Court correctly held in that case, Tennessee v. Lane, that requiring George Lane to crawl up a Tennessee courthouse staircase to participate in his own trial was not only unconscionable, but illegal. (Remarkably, the Court’s four most conservative justices at that time would have held that Congress lacked the power to outlaw such state practices in this manner).

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