Friday, May 21, 2010
It is within this problematic context that California prepares for its June 8th primary election. In a year where voters will be choosing a new Governor and a practically new legislature, we will also be confronted with arguably some of the most important and impactful ballot initiatives in recent memory. While there is a lack of high profile subjects such as affirmative action or immigration, these initiatives will shape critical issues like car insurance, energy and elections for the foreseeable future. Furthermore, since most were placed on the ballot by the same conservative element that has emboldened the anti-people of color fervor currently sweeping the country, their passage threatens to make the Golden State more unlivable for so many.
Below is a brief analysis of some of the problematic initiatives that will appear on the June 8th ballot:
Proposition 14 – This measure ended up on the ballot as result of a deal made between then-State Senator and current Lieutenant Governor Abel Maldonado and the governor in exchange for votes on a 2009 budget deal. If passed, Proposition 14 would eliminate the current system of partisan elections in California. Hence, voters registered with any political party could vote for any candidate regardless of party affiliation. This would mean that the two candidates with the highest vote count from the primary would face each other in the general election – even if they are members of the same party. Proposition 14 would have a huge impact on our communities because it would increase campaign-related cost and make it more difficult for progressive, community-minded candidates to be elected.
Proposition 16 – Energy corporation Pacific Gas and Electric (PG & E) spent over $34 million to put this measure on the ballot. Why? Quite simply the company, which earned over $1 billion in profits last year, wants to eliminate competition from publicly owned energy providers, which tend to charge less for services. If passed, Proposition 16 would require a 67% approval margin by voters to allow local governments to use public money to start or expand electric services. This is clearly an effort by a huge corporation to protect its interest and profits at all cost.
Proposition 17 – According to current state law, only a driver’s safety record, years of driving experience and number of miles driven annually can be considered in determining pricing for coverage. If Proposition 17 passes, car insurance companies can include gaps in coverage as a factor in price-setting. Like Proposition 16, this measure is the brainchild of a corporation – in this case Mercury Car Insurance – who spent millions of dollars to protect its profits at the expense poor and working class taxpayers.
In addition to the above measures, there are a couple ballot initiatives that appear benign, but may end up having a detrimental impact of our community. These include:
Proposition 13 – If passed, this measure would change the state constitution to allow certain types of earthquake safety repairs made to property to be excluded from the tax assessment process. Since state law doesn’t differentiate between personal and corporate property, home owners and corporations would be able to take advantage of Proposition 13’s benefits. While providing home owners with incentives to make their property safer is a good idea, we cannot afford to provide another tax loophole for greedy corporations who want to avoid paying their fair share of taxes to the state.
Proposition 15 – If passed, this measure would create a pilot program where candidates running for Secretary of State in 2014 and 2018 could choose to receive public money for their campaigns. Major party publically financed candidates would be eligible for $1 million in base funding and $4 million in matching funds for the primary election. For the general election, that amount would increase to $1.3 million in base funding and $5.2 million in matching. Moreover, the money for the pilot would come from a $700 bi-annual tax collected from state lobbyist. Despite its intent to clean up state politics, Proposition 15 falls short in the following important ways:
This program only pertains to the Secretary of State races in 2014 and 2018, which significantly limits its impact
If there is not enough money in the fund for eligible candidates, those candidates would have to raise money from the very private interest the measure seeks to neutralize
Proposition 15 does nothing to impact the influence of lobbyists who are skilled at hiding their money in special accounts and projects of politicians
Increases the importance of Independent Expenditures, which will allow special interest and lobbyist to impact elections with less restrictions
As demonstrated by the June 2010 state ballot, conservatives and corporate forces are on the attack. While many of us are still languishing in the post-Obama victory fog, opponents of our community are pushing subtle and complicated legislation that will make it much more difficult for people of color and the poor to live lives of dignity and freedom. In order to defeat this complex manifestation of contemporary racism, we must dedicate our selves to serious political education, grassroots community organizing and fervent fundraising. More importantly, we must believe that we deserve better in every aspect of society and put those expectations into action.
Lets get to work.
SB 1070 – in its original and modified form – is law based upon the same problematic premise that has killed, injured and maimed our people for hundreds of years. It espouses the belief that a non-white racial group must be monitored, contained and controlled through the most aggressive means of the law. For example, SB 1070 gives non-immigration enforcement police officers the power to identify and detain individuals as undocumented immigrants. In the version first signed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, this can happen during any contact that police officers deemed legitimate. The revised draft states that officers can only do so during a stop, arrest or detainment. From our community’s standpoint this change means little. Historically, legal language such as this has been used to substantiate the practice of racist Black codes in the post-Civil War south and our current scourge of racial profiling by law enforcement. Like the above examples, SB 1070 provides cops with the unfettered ability to enforce racist perceptions of a particular group – regardless of evidence. To this point, and despite rhetoric around the bill’s non-racist intent, there is nothing contained in the bill that clearly protects U.S.-born citizens who happen to be Latino from getting pulled over and arrested at higher rates as a result of this legal maneuver. This is yet another disturbing and unfortunate parallel with law enforcement’s racial profiling of Black people.
Another problematic clause in SB 1070 is the fact that law enforcement officers can arrest anyone, without warrant, who they believe committed a crime that could lead to deportation. Given our historical struggle with being abused and mistreated by the U.S. justice system, Black people should strongly reject the expansion of law enforcement’s power to arbitrarily arrest anyone. We should reject this because we know from our own history that this power has and will continue to be used to incarcerate higher numbers of people of color – citizen or not. As our experiences with slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and de-facto discrimination prove, whenever the white power structure targets a particular group, they will empower a diverse array of individuals with policing rights. During the 19th century, southern whites of almost every economic level and occupation could detain any Black people for anything. SB 1070 creates a similar situation by empowering every law enforcement officer in the state of Arizona to arrest and deport individuals for immigration-related offenses. These are principles and practices that Black people must reject and fight against every single time.
With unemployment in double digits and many of our neighborhoods becoming increasingly Latino, the Black community has found it difficult to build solidarity with the immigrant rights movement. Furthermore, the immigrant rights movement has done a terrible job of bringing in Black people – even Black immigrants – into the work. However, one of the reasons Black people has played the vanguard role of bringing and expanding justice within the United States is our capacity to do what is moral and just in the face of isolation and opposition. It is consistent with our community’s historical struggle for human rights and equal opportunity to strongly denounce SB 1070 and the copy cat legislation that promises to follow.
In spite of our legacy of progressive and revolutionary activism, there will be those in the Black community that will insist that undocumented immigration must be dealt with aggressively, due in large part to the perception that Latino immigrants have taken jobs from our people. While immigration has presented some challenges – especially around community demographics – we must remember that living wage jobs in areas like South Los Angeles began disappearing years before Latinos became the majority in the area. Companies like General Motors, Kaiser Steel and Firestone began moving out of U.S. urban areas as early as the 1960s because they wanted to exploit workers in other countries for lower pay. As Black people, we must ultimately look at ourselves for our employment problems. Despite an increase of Black college graduates over the last 30 years, our own Black business class has not successfully created living wage jobs in our community. Perhaps if we practiced the principles of Marcus Garvey and Elijah Muhammad and stayed dedicated to the model of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, we wouldn’t be so pre-occupied with the perception of another group taking our jobs. Perhaps if our Black elite and business class invested, rather than avoided poor Black communities like Westmont-Athens and Watts, we would be further along in terms of providing employment to our people who need it the most. In any case, we cannot cease to carry on our community’s dual mission of achieving liberation for our people and fighting for justice in the world abroad. This, in my opinion, would necessitate a strong condemnation of SB 1070.
How does the bill affect you?
Since President Barack Obama was sworn into office, the nation has been on edge about his campaign promise, change. Health care reform has been high on his agenda, especially with the failing economy the previous administration (George W. Bush) so kindly established. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, an estimated 45 million Americans are uninsured. Twenty percent include African Americans.
Historically, Black health care and coverage have been on the bottom of the totem pole, warranting Blacks to provide care themselves.
Dr. Samuel Shacks, former King Drew physician and medical expert, says African Americans’ health care is inadequate and has been since the Civil Rights era of the ‘60s. Black physicians began to open up their own hospitals and private practices in the late 1800s.
“A majority of Blacks received insurance coverage initially through Black benevolent societies created by freed slaves after the Civil War,” Shacks explained. “Activities such as these were pre-modern forms of voluntary private health insurance.” He says two major Black insurance companies of the time were Golden State Mutual of Los Angeles and The Spaulding Insurance Company of Atlanta.
Though African Americans made provisions for themselves, Shacks says the government’s health care was ultimately inadequate, especially when Black hospitals and insurance companies began to dwindle.
Obama’s health care plan, which is actually a health insurance plan, is supposed to close the gap between the un(der)insured Americans and those with decent packages. Nearly 32 million uninsured citizens are supposed to be covered through this new plan.
Since passing on March 23, nationwide, people have been trying to figure out exactly how the law is going to impact them. While the plan will not be in full effect until 2014, experts and health care professionals are attempting to break down the facts. Last Wednesday, MA’AT Club for Community Change held a public forum about Obama’s health care bill, bringing to light the possible impact the bill could have on the African American community.
Njideka Obijiaku, main facilitator of the event, says this plan is a step in the right direction, but there are flaws to the bill that should be ironed out later.
“Theoretically, it creates access for a lot of folks,” she said. “The bill has a lot of holes and a lot of things that sound good, but when it comes down to practical implementation, I’m sure there will be amendments, copies will be modified, gaps that were left open will be more amplified. The discussion is certainly not closed.”
When looking at the bill as it relates to the African American community, Obijiaku recognizes that there are some disparities in health care compared to mainstream Americans, especially those living in more affluent areas. She says some of the main issues Blacks are currently facing are equity and disparity, sighting the quality of health care in South Los Angeles compared to care in Westwood, for example. She also points to the closing of Martin Luther King Hospital.
“Economic development doesn’t sound like it’s related to the health care debate, but it is,” Obijiaku explained. She says access and quality have historically been the issue for the Black community, but through the president’s bill, low-income areas and cities flogged with compromised care will have better access.
Individuals who qualify will receive subsidies of amounts comparable to their income. Businesses will not formally be mandated to provide health care provisions for their employees.
Small businesses are broken down into two groups: category 1 - those with 49 or fewer employees and category 2 - those with 50 or more.
Category 1 employers will not be held accountable for supplying their employees with insurance. Category 2 employers will be issued a $2,000 fine for not providing insurance for employees. The government will offer tax credit for covering 35 to 50 percent of insurance costs for employers who do provide insurance, however.
Under the new law, everyone will be required to obtain some kind of coverage, but there are a few exceptions. Native Americans, undocumented people, incarcerated people, and individuals with religious objections will not be required to obtain insurance.
What about the ones who can’t afford it? Low-income, under employed and unemployed people have opportunities to gain access through government subsidies. Individuals making less than 14,000 a year (households 29,000 a year) will not have to pay no more than 3-4 percent of their incomes for insurance. Individuals making $44,000 a year (households $88,000 a year) will not pay more than 10 percent of their income for insurance. These changes will take effect in 2014.
Obijiaku also explained that Medicaid would be expanded, therefore providing more access for people falling under the low-income bracket.
Individuals making $200,000 a year (households $250,000 a year) will get hit with a tax increase. These changes will take effect in 2011.
There is a fine for individuals who choose to avoid paying for coverage of $95 in 2014, $325 in 2015 and $695 in 2016. According to Obijiaku, the enforcement has not been detailed at this point, but the government will issue hardship waivers.
The bill purportedly will impact seniors in a positive way. Before the bill, many seniors on Medicare fell into a “donut hole,” making seniors responsible to pay for medication.
“I think they will be impacted well. Currently, folks on Medicare are spending between $2750 and $6154 on prescription drugs. You have this very large group of people who had high prescription costs who fell in this donut hole. The biggest piece of the bill eliminates that donut hole,” Obijiaku said.
She added that the bill also invests in preventive services, increasing payouts to primary care physicians and eliminates co-pays for government-approved services. However, Medicare Advantage participants will see the funding for the program be cut over the next 10 years. The savings will go back to Medicare.
“I see the benefits and challenges (for African Americans). People will theoretically have increased access to health insurance. However, for communities like ours, where you have major hospitals close down, you are not only putting a lot of strain on outside health facilities, but you are also putting a high strain on community clinics,” she said.
The bill offers an influx of resources to community health facilities, but it is unclear how the resources will be used. President Obama is requiring clinics to double their client capacity over the next five years. Obijiaku is concerned because of other factors that currently impact health care quality in neighborhoods of color.
“I think there were things that were not included and not thought totally out; the capacity of our community clinics, the education within our communities and you have the infrastructure that exists in communities of color,” she shared. “There is also a question of health education. I think there are some social disparities that weren’t taken into account that have major implications on Black health.”
Shacks agrees. He believes Black health care should be a civil rights issue at this point, but the Obama administration is failing to adequately address the root of the disparity.
“The recently passed ‘health reform bill’ did not take specific notice of ethnic disparities,” Shack commented. “The solution to better health for all Americans rests with the needed evidence-based answers to the etiology of Black health disparities.”
He gives the Obama administration an “F” for failing to address Black health care.
Despite the efforts the bill makes to broaden access, other issue remain for Black health. Obijiaku says insurance reform does not address the needs of the general African American population, however, the bill does have the potential to decrease the gap.
MA’AT Club for Community Change has more information available to the public. E-mail Njideka Obijiaku at email@example.com. Obijiaku has a Masters degree in public health from Drexel University.