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Government for Good: Tony Benn (1925-2014)

March 22, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Civil Rights, Corrupt Legislature, Government for Good, Intersectionality, Poverty, What People are Doing to Change the World

“If we can find the money to kill people, we can find the money to help people.”

Tony Benn, veteran Labour Leader, has died at 88, The Guardian

Ten of the Best Tony Benn Quotes, The Guardian

Remembering Tony Benn and His Five Little Questions, Bill Moyers:

“In the course of my life I have developed five little democratic questions. If one meets a powerful person — Adolf Hitler, Joe Stalin or Bill Gates — ask them five questions: ‘What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?’ If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system.”

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The Anti-Minimum-Wage Group Funding Those Minimum-Wage Studies

February 11, 2014 By: seeta Category: 2014 Mid-term Elections, 2016 Election, Anti-Racism, Economic Terrorism, Poverty, Workers' Rights

Michael Saltsman, the Employment Policies Institute’s research director, late last month.
Gabriella Demczuk/The New York Times

From The NYT:

The Employment Policies Institute, founded two decades ago, is led by the advertising and public relations executive Richard B. Berman, who has made millions of dollars in Washington by taking up the causes of corporate America. He has repeatedly created official-sounding nonprofit groups like the Center for Consumer Freedom that have challenged limits like the ban on indoor smoking and the push to restrict calorie counts in fast foods.

In recent months, Mr. Berman’s firm has taken out full-page advertisements in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal andplastered a Metro station near the Capitol with advertisements, including one featuring a giant photograph of Representative Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat who is a proponent of the minimum wage increase, that read, “Teens Who Can’t Find a Job Should Blame Her.”

These messages, also promoted on websites operated by Mr. Berman’s firm, including, instruct anyone skeptical about the arguments to consult the reports prepared by the Employment Policies Institute, most often described only as a “nonprofit research organization.”

But the dividing line between the institute and Mr. Berman’s firm was difficult to discern during two visits last week to the eighth-floor office at 1090 Vermont Avenue, a building near the White House that is the headquarters for both.

The sign at the entrance is for Berman and Company, as the Employment Policies Institute has no employees of its own. Mr. Berman’s for-profit advertising firm, instead, “bills” the nonprofit institute for the services his employees provide to the institute. This arrangement effectively means that the nonprofit is a moneymaking venture for Mr. Berman, whose advertising firm was paid $1.1 million by the institute in 2012, according to its tax returns, or 44 percent of its total budget, with most of the rest of the money used to buy advertisements.

The Massive Progressive Protest You Didn’t Hear About This Weekend

February 10, 2014 By: seeta Category: 2014 Mid-term Elections, Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Economic Terrorism, Education, Fourth Estate, Intersectionality, LGBTQ, Poverty, Prison Industrial Complex, Tax Policy, Voting Rights, What People are Doing to Change the World, Workers' Rights

Credit: Planned Parenthood

From ThinkProgress:

Somewhere between 80 to 100,000 people from 32 states turned out to protest four years of drastic state Republican initiatives in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Saturday.

The “Moral March on Raleigh,” organized by Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ), marched from Shaw University to the state capitol to push back against the “immoral and unconstitutional policies” of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory during the 2013 NC General Assembly session. Since North Carolina Republicans took over both legislative chambers in 2010, legislators have eliminated a host of programs and raised taxes on the bottom 95 percent, repealed a tax credit for 900,000 working families, enforced voter suppression efforts, blocked Medicaid coverage, cut pre-Kindergarten funding, cut federal unemployment benefits, and gave itself the authority to intervene in abortion lawsuits.

Activists have gathered at weekly protests, called ‘Moral Mondays,’ in North Carolina since 2013 as a way to give voice to individuals whose rights were under attack by the Republican-controlled legislature. While there were no reported arrests in Saturday’s protest, hundreds of nonviolent protesters were arrested during last year’s Moral Monday events.

CI: Poverty as a Prison

January 08, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, Economic Development, Economic Terrorism, Intersectionality, Poverty, Prison Industrial Complex

Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

Poverty as a Prison
by nancy a heitzeg

“The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”
                                                                            ~Anatole France, The Red Lily, 1894

Before the War on Drugs became our national fixation, there was a short-lived, halfheartedly implemented War on Poverty. Would that the same amount of resources and political will been expended here. But hyper-individualism, rampant capitalism, and a political discourse that persistently racializes poverty and stigmatizes governmental assistance continue to stand in the way.

We are left instead with the War on the Poor.

The gaps between rich and poor grow, while Congress slashes $ 1 billion from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), refuses to extend meager Unemployment Insurance (UI) to millions out of work, and an increase in the minimum wage ( which would still fall far short of Living Wage) remains contentious.

Our national failure to provide any meaningful economic opportunities for tens of millions of Americans is doubly bitter when poverty and homelessness — a realm of little to no choice – is then reframed as exactly choice, the result of some failure of “personal responsibility”.

The reality of course is that over-whelming majority of the 47 million officially poor are there because of structure and policy — low wages, lack of affordable housing, a shrinking social safety net, a decimated public education system, a host of conservative and neo-liberal “reforms – not because of flawed personal choices.

The reality is that poverty per se is a sort of prison, where choice is heavily constrained, surveillance is endless, ”social services” are characterized by red-tape, condescension and increased overlap with the criminal justice system, where survival shapes daily life, and Right Now is the key consideration.

If this were not challenge enough, poverty itself is additionally criminalized via a host of federal, state and local laws, Not that this is new – but the cumulative effect of these laws in the context of the prison industrial complex, a collapsed job market, and a government bent on “privatization” is a particularly toxic mix at this moment.


CI: Imagination, at the Intersections

January 01, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Education, Intersectionality, LGBTQ, Poverty, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoner Rights, What People are Doing to Change the World

Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

Imagination, at the Intersections
by nancy a heitzeg (h/t Kay Whitlock and Angela Y. Davis)

“This is what we need most in America — truly the entire world — today. Imagination. Religious scholar Walter Brueggemann has called it “Prophetic Imagination.” We need individuals who will not only occupy our streets, but also occupy our future. Brave soldiers of love who are crazy enough to dream of a world with no more war, no more violence, no more oppression based on the way people look, where they are from, or the way they were born.”

~ Charles Howard, Angela Davis: Power to the Imagination

It is 2014. Criminal InJustice is approaching the start of its fourth year of weekly publishing. Much remains unchanged. The US remains the world’s leader in incarceration. Racial disparities in school suspensions/expulsions, stop/frisk, arrest and imprisonment remain. Privatization and profiteering continues apace, with new alliances between old enemies and expansion opportunities in the field of “community corrections” growing. The courts failed us yet again with the gutting of the Voting Rights Act and the acquittal of George Zimmerman, just two examples among many. Perhaps the best overview is just here in the aptly titled 15 Things That We Re-Learned About the Prison Industrial Complex in 2013.

While the past year has brought some slim signs of progress in dismantling the prison industrial complex and its’ feeder – the school to prison pipeline, they are both small and slow. And not enough. Nazgol Ghandnoosh and Marc Mauer, of The Sentencing Project ask this question:

“Can We Wait 88 Years to End Mass Incarceration?”

“We hear less ‘tough on crime’ rhetoric and budget-conscious conservatives are embracing sentencing reforms. The Attorney General has criticized aspects of the criminal justice system and directed federal prosecutors to seek reduced sanctions against lower-level offenders.

In light of this, one would think we should celebrate the new figures from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) showing a decline in the U.S. prison population for the third consecutive year. This follows rising prisoner counts for every year between 1973 and 2010. BJS reports that 28 states reduced their prison populations in 2012, contributing to a national reduction of 29,000.Beset by budget constraints and a growing concern for effective approaches to public safety, state policymakers have begun downsizing unsustainable institutional populations. The break in the prison population’s unremitting growth offers an overdue reprieve and a cause for hope for sustained reversal of the nearly four-decade growth pattern.

But the population in federal prisons has yet to decline. And even among the states, the trend is not uniformly or unreservedly positive. Most states that trimmed their prison populations in 2012 did so by small amounts — eight registered declines of less than 1 percent. Further, over half of the 2012 prison count reduction comes from the 10 percent decline in California’s prison population, required by a Supreme Court mandate.

Given recent policy changes, why has there been such a small reduction in the number of people held in prisons? First, many sentencing reforms have understandably focused on low-level offenders.But most significantly, policymakers have neglected the bulk of those who are in state prisons: an aging population convicted of violent crimes or repeat offenses.

Certainly the changing climate, new policies, and recent prisoner counts offer reason for encouragement. But unless we want to wait 88 years to achieve a sensible prison population, we need to accelerate the scale of reform.”

We don’t have time to wait. Throughout our existence, we at CI have tried to illuminate the issue with data, statistics, the cold facts, and yes stories too, to  illustrate, increase the awareness needed as a foundation for change. This is no longer enough either. We know what the issues are. As co-editor Kay Whitlock has long argued, what we need to do is to imagine – dream a bolder vision.

And so we will. At the intersections.


Thousands of Low Income Families Receive Unexpected Food Assistance Just in Time for the Holidays

November 20, 2013 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Economic Development, Poverty

From Empire Justice Center:

Tens of thousands of low-income households across New York State who were improperly cut off or denied Food Stamps are now being issued retroactive benefits, as a result of a federal class action lawsuit filed against the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA). Estimates show that over $80 million in federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits will be issued to well over 100,000 households this week, two-thirds of which live in New York City.

These payments will help to temporarily offset the November 1st cut in SNAP benefits for these households and will provide additional food resources, allowing families who may not have otherwise been able to, put a little extra food on their tables for Thanksgiving.

The federal cuts to SNAP hit all households with a 5% reduction in their monthly benefits. Statewide, more than 1.7 million New York households receive SNAP benefits, and the cuts in the federal program will likely cost them more than $20 million each month. Two thirds of the households facing the cuts are working families, seniors, or others who are not receiving welfare benefits.

Earlier this summer, the United States District Court in the Southern District approved the negotiated settlement in Richard C v. Proud (12 CIV 5942), which challenged OTDA’s failure to provide individuals facing SNAP employment sanctions a “second chance” to comply with program rules and stop the sanctions from going into effect.

As many as 200,000 improperly issued employment sanctions are being erased/eliminated as part of the settlement, and OTDA agreed to issue back benefits to each household in which an individual was wrongly terminated from SNAP, due to an alleged violation of program rules between August 2009 and December 2012. The back awards, which can only be used to
purchase food, will likely average approximately $400 and will be issued on Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) Cards.

If you are a class member and would like more information, please see our new “Richard C” Q&A.

NY Courts Respond to Rising Foreclosures and Conferences

November 12, 2013 By: seeta Category: Civil Rights, Consumer Rights, Housing, Poverty

From NYLJ:

After the number of foreclosure cases filed in state court plummeted during the past two years, the courts are now seeing a “markedly higher” rate of filings and coping with a rise in settlement conferences, according to an Office of Court Administration report.

Despite the sharp jump in filings, the Nov. 1 report also emphasized that an increasing amount of homeowners are getting legal representation during settlement conferences.

As of early October, there were almost 34,000 residential foreclosures filed in the court system this year. By the end of the year, filings could top 44,000 according to the report’s projections.

If the numbers bear out, that would mean more filings this year than the past two years combined, when there were 25,411 foreclosure actions filed in 2012 and 16,655 actions in 2011.

See foreclosure filing trends by county.

The rise in filings suggests lenders’ improved ability to vouch for the accuracy of their court papers in affirmations after two years of difficulties, said the report, drawing on data from October 2012 to October 2013.

The affirmation requirement was imposed by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman in October 2010. Effective Aug. 30 a “certificate of merit” replaced the affirmation requirement for new cases. The new requirement is supposed to move cases more quickly.

“This report marks a period that has seen a tremendous spike in new foreclosure filings. As a result, the number of mandated settlement conferences has soared. …Despite these staggering statistics and challenges, the percentage of represented defendants still increased. Much progress has been made in addressing the burgeoning foreclosure docket that continues to rise,” said the report, noting foreclosures account for about one-third of the court system’s civil caseload.

Government for Good: Why We Need SNAP and More..

November 04, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: 2014 Mid-term Elections, 2016 Election, Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Economic Development, Economic Terrorism, Government for Good, Intersectionality, Poverty, What People are Doing to Change the World

“Politics is not about power. Politics is not about money. Politics is not about winning for the sake of winning. Politics is about the improvement of people’s lives.”

~ Senator Paul Wellstone ((July 21, 1944 – October 25, 2002)

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In era where government is so vilified, we at Critical Mass Progress would like to consider Government for Good. Collective governance – past present and future – can work to defend/secure rights, distribute social and economic goods, provide legal recognition, jobs, healthcare and more, create opportunities via public schools, public works, and public policy that centers everyday people.


Today, the importance of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

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