A proposed law seeks to end discrimination but could endanger lives.
(The Root) -- It's every parent's worst nightmare. You raise your child to be cautious about strangers, only to discover that an adult you entrusted with his or her care is the one you should have feared most. A mother in Cahokia, Ill., is currently grappling with this harsh reality after discovering that a teacher's aide may have sexually abused her teenage son and other boys.
As horrifying as any story of sexual abuse of a minor is, this one could have an even more tragic ending. It has been revealed that Mario Hunt, the teacher's aide in question, is HIV-positive. Authorities have not revealed if any of his alleged victims have tested positive for the virus, too, but Hunt has been charged with knowingly exposing someone to HIV.
Most reasonable people can agree that knowingly exposing someone to a life-threatening, at worse, or life-altering, at best, disease is deplorable and that the real victims in a situation like this are those who are exposed, not those doing the exposing. For this reason it is not entirely clear why Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), a principled member of Congress whom I admire, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), one of the few prominent women of color in the Republican Party, have made protecting those who expose partners to HIV a legislative priority. The Repeal HIV Discrimination Act of 2013 reads in part as follows:
(1) At present, 32 States and 2 United States territories have criminal statutes based on perceived exposure to HIV, rather than actual transmission of HIV to another. Thirteen States have HIV-specific laws that make spitting or biting a felony, even though it is not possible to transmit HIV via saliva.
(3) Prosecutions for perceived exposure, non-disclosure, or unintentional transmission of HIV have occurred in at least 39 States under general or HIV-specific laws.
(7) Criminal laws and prosecutions do not take into account the benefits of effective antiretroviral medications, which reduce the HIV virus to undetectable levels and further reduce the already low risk of transmitting the HIV to near-zero.
(8) Although HIV/AIDS currently is viewed as a treatable, chronic, medical condition, people living with HIV have been charged under aggravated assault, attempted murder, and even bioterrorism statutes because prosecutors, courts, and legislators continue to view and characterize the blood, semen, and saliva of people living with HIV as a "deadly weapon".
Based on this wording, it remains unclear, if this law were to take effect, whether someone like Hunt would face prosecution only for inappropriate sexual conduct with a minor and not prosecution for possibly exposing the minor to a potentially life-threatening disease. The bill goes on to explain that current laws that would result in Hunt's conviction, even if he doesn't actually transmit the disease, don't take into account medical advances and drugs that allow those with the disease to live long, relatively productive lives, compared with the virus's early days. It also argues that such laws do little in the way of deterrence. But this reasoning is flawed on many levels.
First of all, what right does Congress have to tell anyone to essentially "relax" about potentially contracting a life-threatening disease? Sure, people with HIV may continue living for a long time. So do people with diabetes. But if given the choice of not having such a disease versus having it, I think most people would choose being healthy.
Furthermore, think of this same logic being applied to other dangerous behaviors, such as shooting a gun or driving while drunk. I know that Rep. Lee doesn't believe that someone who carries an AK-47 into a school and shoots into a group of people but misses should avoid prosecution just because he is a lousy shot. He should be punished for endangering people, and our laws exist for that reason. We know that drunk-driving laws don't deter all people from getting behind the wheel while intoxicated. But they ensure that more think twice before doing so, and thus some people are deterred.
PBS highlighted just how problematic this issue is, particularly in poor communities of color, where doctors find themselves treating a patient who has HIV and also has a partner or spouse who is unaware that he or she does. Getting rid of disclosure laws encourages silence about HIV/AIDS at a time when we should be talking about it. Then there is the case of William "Reds" Brawner, the former Howard University student who admitted to engaging in unprotected sex with numerous women on the campus, despite knowing his HIV-positive status.
I admire Lee and Ros-Lehtinen for standing up against legitimate discrimination against those with HIV -- discrimination in housing or employment, for instance. But helping to protect those who don't wish to protect the health of others is not protecting them from discrimination. It is serving as a legislative co-conspirator in the silence surrounding this epidemic that is affecting communities of color more than any other.
New curbs on voter access in the state have locals so incensed, they're willing to risk jail.
(The Root) -- Remember when North Carolina voted for a Democratic presidential nominee (Barack Obama) for the first time in three decades in 2008? And elected its first female governor that same year? Or that black voters in the state outperformed whites (pdf) in the last two presidential elections?
Republicans remember. Now that they completely control state government, they are trying to eliminate policies that aided those electoral shifts.
Cue the voting rules, of course. State lawmakers in the current legislative session are expected to pass bills that would stop same-day voter registration, reduce the early-voting period, end balloting on the Sunday before Election Day and impose a five-year wait for ex-convicts to regain the voting privilege.
And parents of college students, beware: If your son or daughter registers to vote at a school address, you would lose your $2,500 child-dependency tax deduction.
And because it seems that no Republican-led state is complete without imposing a photo-identification law on voters, that requirement is also expected to pass soon in the Tar Heel State. (If you thought the voter-ID debate ended with last year's election, think again: The proposal was introduced in 12 more states this year and is now pending in 30 states.)
Opponents say that voter-ID laws can disproportionately harm blacks, Latinos, seniors and young people who don't have government-issued photo identification. Critics say that this population includes as many as 30,000 registered voters in North Carolina.
The proposals are the latest of several moves by the Legislature and newly elected Republican Gov. Pat McCrory that have ignited protests and arrests of dozens of demonstrators at the state capitol in Raleigh. The demonstrators, led by a range of groups such as the NAACP and Raging Grannies, returned to the capitol on Monday, when more than four dozen people were arrested.
Legislation already passed in this session is a greatest-hits list for conservatives:
* Sharp cuts in unemployment benefits, despite North Carolina having the fourth-highest jobless rate in the nation, at 9.2 percent -- and with joblessness for African Americans hovering around 17 percent.
* A reduced earned-income tax credit for low-income families.
* Refusal to implement Obamacare and accept federal funds to expand Medicaid to provide health insurance to more poor people.
"This Legislature is threatening to return this state to the policies of [the] '50s and '60s," says the Rev. Rodney S. Sadler Jr., a professor at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Charlotte and a leader of that city's NAACP branch, who was arrested in a protest last week. "The faith community has to speak out against this effort to enact policies that negatively impact the rights of the poorest and most vulnerable among us."
The opposition also includes black lawmakers, most of whom are Democrats. Their party lacks enough members in either chamber to block passage of the bills.
The voting procedures under attack were widely used (pdf) by North Carolinians, not just minorities, last year. More than half of all voters, including 70 percent of blacks, used early balloting. Same-day registration added 97,000 to the rolls and allowed another 150,000 to update their information to remain eligible. And 61,000 people voted on the Sunday before Election Day, particularly through the Souls to the Polls program run by black churches.
By accepting his new relative, the GOP speaker sets a positive example.
(The Root) -- We've all been there. Someone you care about starts dating someone you may not consider ideal for him or her. Maybe you think he or she has a less-than-ideal career. You may think to yourself, "There's nothing wrong with being an exotic dancer, per se." It's just not who you pictured your baby brother settling down with.
You may have nothing against atheists personally. You just know that your best friend's dad is a minister, and dating someone who considers church a waste of time won't exactly be easy for her or her family. Maybe your cousin volunteered for President Obama's campaign. So when she introduces you to her die-hard Tea Partier boyfriend, you think, "Her name's not Mary Matalin, his isn't James Carville and this isn't going to last."
But sometimes something surprising happens. Not only does it last longer than you imagined, but to your shock, and perhaps horror, they end up getting married. And then you have a dilemma. Do you speak, or do you "forever hold your peace," as the wedding vows say?
Often how a person behaves in these moments, when real life throws a curve ball, tells you more about that person's values than anything he will ever say, even if that person is a politician whose public life revolves around talking a lot about things such as values. I was reminded of this when photos surfaced of Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner at his daughter's recent wedding.
Lindsay Boehner married Dominic Lakhan, a Jamaican-born construction worker, who happens to be black. He also happens to have been previously arrested for marijuana possession. Now, I don't know Rep. Boehner at all, but I am going to go out on a limb here and guess that when he envisioned his ideal son-in-law, it probably wasn't a dreadlocked manual laborer who was arrested for drugs. Very few men would envision such a man as their ideal son-in-law. Even fewer conservative men would -- and even fewer conservative, powerful white men would envision such a man as ideal for their little princess.
There are men who would have made this clear, not only to their daughter but to everyone else, possibly by not attending such a wedding. And yet there was John Boehner, the man who has served as the primary face of the conservative opposition to President Obama -- opposition that some have considered racially based in its intensity -- showing that perhaps he's not so conservative after all. He also showed that while plenty of people may have a problem with the increasingly brown America that Obama governs, one in which multiracial families are among the fastest-growing segment of the population, he is not one of them.
I can think of plenty of so-called liberals who might not have shown the same open-mindedness and character as someone in Boehner's parental position -- if not over the race mixing that this union represents, then certainly over the class mixing that it does.
A high-ranking Republican official endorsing such a union would have been unthinkable just two decades ago, when race-based political advertisements depicting black men as dangerous were still considered the norm. So just as the wedding itself is a testament to how far our country has evolved on race, Boehner's attendance is a testament to our country's political evolution as well.
For this reason, I want to congratulate the newlyweds, Lindsay and Dominic, and wish them much happiness. But I also want to give kudos to Boehner for not just talking the talk, as so many do, but for actually walking the walk -- right on down the aisle. He set a positive example for his party and the nation, ultimately sending a message that yes, America is changing and will never be the same again. And you know what? That's OK.
The president called the targeting of conservative groups "outrageous" and said he "will not tolerate it." Will critics be satisfied with his response?
(The Root) -- A week after the Internal Revenue Service admitted to deliberately targeting for heightened scrutiny groups with "tea party" or "patriot" in their name, President Obama used a news conference this morning to call the practice "outrageous" and to announce that he "will not tolerate it."
"This is pretty straightforward," he said at his joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron. "If, in fact, IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that's outrageous, and there's no place for it. And they have to be held fully accountable, because the IRS as an independent agency requires absolute integrity.
"You should feel that way, regardless of party," he added.
The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart predicts that while the president "couldn't have been more clear," and that "only a diehard, right-leaning partisan could question the sincerity of President Obama's unequivocal outrage," his critics likely won't be satisfied with the response.
Indeed, former Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich used an interview on MSNBC's Morning Joe on Monday to link the IRS scandal to a larger critique of the Obama administration, and as a basis for skepticism about the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. "How can you put Obamacare under [the] Internal Revenue Service? Remember this is an administration which will not profile terrorists but [will] profile patriots, profile constitutional groups," he said. "I mean, this is almost madness."
Obama said in his remarks that he first became aware of the issue on Friday, when the initial reports were published.
NAACP claims a key role in the rise, and a strategy for the post-Obama world.
(The Root) -- Now that the government has confirmed that African Americans in 2012 voted at a higher rate than whites for the first time -- and were the only group to boost its turnout -- groups such as the NAACP are claiming credit.
But Barack Obama has left the campaign trail. Without his name on the ballot, will black voters keep it up?
"With two elections you can make a line, but it's hard to extrapolate from that," says Emory University political science professor Andra Gillespie, author of The New Black Politician: Cory Booker, Newark, and Post-Racial America. "I would not be surprised if black turnout goes down."
There are plenty of examples of black voting behavior in jurisdictions that had their first black mayor, U.S. senator or governor. After those historic elections, Gillespie says the "novelty" wore off, and turnout for the next contest declined.
However, the novelty of Obama appeared to wear off in 2012 for most everyone except African Americans, according to Census Bureau data released Thursday. The agency's survey of voters reinforces a Pew Research Center analysis published last December.
Blacks were the only racial or ethnic group to increase their rate of turnout, at 66 percent. Non-Latino whites voted at 64 percent, down two percentage points from 2008.
Entering 2012, many strategists predicted that black turnout wouldn't approach the record high of 2008 due to voter frustrations about the weak economy, high unemployment and displeasure with Obama's policies.
The NAACP on Friday attributed the counterintuitive results primarily to its more robust and sophisticated use of voter data for registration drives in 12 key states, where the organization says blacks achieved many of the turnout gains.
The NAACP also credited its leadership in the pitched battle against Republican-led state voting restrictions such as photo-identification laws. Numerous civil rights groups and the Obama team fomented a backlash among black voters with a "Don’t let them take away your vote!" message.
"This did not happen by mistake. It didn't happen simply because Obama was at the top of the ticket and ran a good campaign," NAACP President Benjamin Jealous told reporters on a conference call. "It happened because … the NAACP ran the most effective voter-registration drive we have run in 100 years. We did that by raising the consciousness of the country possibly more than we had [before]."
Overall, nonblacks dragged down America's turnout by nearly two percentage points from 2008, to nearly 62 percent of eligible voters.
The showing by Latinos, despite being the largest minority and the fastest-growing group of voters, dipped slightly to 48 percent. Turnout for Asian Americans didn't change, at 47 percent.
Blacks' historic outperformance of whites last year reflects their steady gains in every presidential election cycle since 1996, the Census Bureau notes. In that span, blacks closed a eight-point gap with whites.
For the downward trend of white turnout, it's fair to partially blame (or thank) Obama. Since peaking at 67 percent in 2004, the white voting rate has dropped in the past two presidential contests.
If blacks are to continue the upward trend, more of them must participate in nonpresidential election cycles, which the majority of Americans ignore.
NAACP officials say they plan to use last year's election strategies to engage blacks on local issues. They cited the example of their phone-banking effort in Maryland, which built support for the state's recent successful repeal of the death penalty.