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Opinion: Common Sense is Now Perilously Absent in Our Nation

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With the government still partially shut down, partisan politics is generating more heat

President Donald Trump, in his unique blustery style, believes he can slander the Democratic leaders that he must negotiate with, burlesque their position and demand capitulation in return for simply allowing the government to run. When the Democratic-led House recently passed legislation that was approved by the Republican Senate in December to fund the government, Republican senators refuse even to put it on the floor.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi delights in tweaking Donald Trump, suggesting that he should postpone his State of the Union address until the government is up and running. Trump retaliates by postponing Pelosi’s trip to see the troops in Afghanistan and leaking the schedule, violating basic security.

Lost in all this is common sense. And looking at where we are as a country suggests that common sense is now perilously absent.

The United States has the largest military budget by far, larger than Russia and China combined. Yet we are adding money to a Pentagon budget already bigger than it was in comparable dollars at the height of the Cold War. That doesn’t make sense.

The U.S. has the most powerful nuclear arsenal in the world. We have weapons that could literally destroy the world, unleashing a deadly nuclear winter. Yet President Barack Obama and now Trump committed to spending over a trillion dollars on another generation of nuclear weapons. That doesn’t make sense.

The U.S. has “locations” — bases — in over 160 countries. We are literally trying to police the world. That doesn’t make sense.

The U.S. suffers obscene and debilitating inequality. The three richest billionaires have as much wealth as half of all Americans combined. Yet the Republican Congress just passed a tax bill that will end up giving more than three-quarters of its benefits to the richest 1 percent. That doesn’t make sense

Virtually everyone agrees that education is essential if we are to rebuild a broad and vibrant middle class. Yet teachers are on strike across the country because cuts in education funding have left them with crowded classrooms, supply shortages and inadequate salaries. College debts that students are forced to assume now are higher than any other form of personal debt — including auto loans and credit card debt. That doesn’t make sense.

We spend nearly twice per capita on health care than any other advanced industrial country and yet have worse health care results. For the first time, life expectancy is declining, something that simply does not happen to advanced countries. Despite health care reform, 20 million people still go without insurance and tens of millions more are underinsured. Taxpayers pay for a good portion of all research on prescription drugs, yet we pay the highest prices in the world for our prescription drugs. That doesn’t make sense.

Trump demands $5.6 billion as a down payment for the wall he wants to build along the Mexican border, a wall that he promised Mexicans would pay for. He says it will stem the flow of drugs, but most of the drug trade comes already through legal ports of entry. He says we have a crisis on the border, but in fact undocumented immigration has been declining for years. So, even Republican legislators from the Texas border argue that Trump isn’t making sense.

This list can go on. Dr. Martin Luther King said he couldn’t follow the old “eye-for-an-eye philosophy” because “it ends up leaving everyone blind. He told the story of driving from Atlanta with his brother at night. For some reason the other drivers didn’t dim their high beams. Exasperated, his brother said, “I’m tired of this. The next car that comes refusing to dim its lights, I’m going to refuse to dim mine.”

“Don’t do that,” said Dr. King, “somebody has to have some sense on this highway.”

As a country, we are moving along a winding road toward freedom. There are curves and hills, potholes and perils. We are constantly tempted to retaliate against those who get in the way.

We get distracted by those who would divide us, those who foster fear and hate. We are constantly in danger of losing our bearings. But we’ve got to remember Dr. King’s admonition to his supporters in Birmingham, Ala., after the 1963 Ku Klux Klan terrorist bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church that killed four innocent little girls.

“Wait a minute, Birmingham,” he taught. “Somebody’s got to have some sense in Birmingham.”

Commentary

City Government: Please Do No (More) Harm

Oakland city government declares war on the unemployed. An overstatement? Not really.

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First in a Series on Jobs in Oakland

Oakland city government declares war on the unemployed. An overstatement? Not really.

City administration professes concern for its residents who need help with access to jobs and training, while at the same time failing to issue contracts to the community organizations that stand ready to provide needed services.

The city council approved these contracts in June. As of late September, they have not been issued by the city administration.

Q: What does this mean? A: Non-profit organizations, operating on shoestring budgets in the best of times, have been required to advance their own funds in July, August, and September to serve the unemployed, with no reimbursement by the city because as the administration says, “Your contract has not been signed yet.”

Another impact: the workers who provide front line job services may not receive their paychecks on time…. creating unnecessary instability in their own households.

And who is responsible for issuing these contracts? Yup…it’s the city…. painfully tone deaf to the needs of the community, particularly those on the economic margins. Most of those served with job help are Black and Latinx residents who consistently suffer double digit unemployment. Many are returning home after incarceration.

And for this level of harmful disregard, the city receives  28 percent of scarce job training funds. Astonishing, since the city provides no direct services to job seekers.

As Oakland struggles with its horrific crime wave, it seems that attention would be paid to root causes, joblessness being paramount among them. Instead, the city administration seems intent on hobbling the very groups who stand ready to help. This happens year after year…. with no apparent consequences to an impenetrable bureaucracy.

Oakland, we can do  better than this.

We must.

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Commentary

Let’s Talk Black Education; Governor Newsom Should Close the Vaccination Loophole for School Employees

It leaves the rest of us — including the students — without a teacher, cafeteria worker, or janitorial staff. We have to throw on five or six hats in order to ensure that our students are educated.

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Let's Talk Black Education with Margaret Fortune

The honeymoon is over in communities where the Delta variant has taken hold.

Since back-to-school, I’ve spent weeks filling in for principals, supervising children, checking children’s temperatures and providing them masks, directing traffic in the parking lot, picking up garbage, wiping down cafeteria tables — all of which are required to run safe schools in these times.

I’ve talked to other heads of schools that can say the same thing or something similar since the start of this school year. The same culprit continues to affect us all — COVID-19. However, normally we have a village to manage these tasks. Now, we don’t.

Staffing shortages are severe and there are no substitutes to be had.

Further aggravating the situation, are public health rules that require paid school staff who test negative for COVID-19 but remain unvaccinated to stay home for 10 days at a time when they are exposed to someone who tests positive.

It leaves the rest of us — including the students — without a teacher, cafeteria worker, or janitorial staff. We have to throw on five or six hats in order to ensure that our students are educated.

Necessary? Yes. Sustainable? No.

Gov. Gavin Newsom took a good first step when he required school employees to be vaccinated, but he left a gaping loophole. He allowed school staff to ‘test out’ of being vaccinated by committing to take a COVID test twice a week.  Then he put the burden on schools to become COVID testing centers overnight for the employees who refuse to get vaccinated.

The result is that these staff who refuse vaccination have to be benched for two weeks every time they get exposed to someone who tests positive for COVID-19. Imagine, if you will, being a part of a 40-person team and every week there are 10 people who are forced to quarantine for two weeks, leaving 30 team members to do the work of 40 during that first week.

That’s one person doing their job and the additional work of three coworkers. These types of staffing outages are debilitating schools across the state. There are news reports of schools having to shut down classrooms for lack of staff.

Some major school systems with the political clout have taken matters into their own hands. Los Angeles Unified, for example, has closed the loophole and is requiring all school employees to be vaccinated.  The state of California should do the same.

California has over 6 million students who can’t afford for us to agree to anything less than 100% vaccination for school employees.

Yes, the policy could force out educators who refuse to get vaccinated but, they won’t be working anyway if they get exposed to a positive case.  Essentially, the unvaccinated have become hard to employ in a school setting.  They can go out at any time and take down our schools with them.

We can’t risk that.

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Commentary

Pass the Freedom to Vote Act: Time Running Out to Protect Right to Vote in 2022 and Beyond

Ideally, voting rights should be a nonpartisan issue. Congress repeatedly passed extensions of the Voting Rights Act that were signed by Republican presidents. But right-wing politicians and judges have spent years trying to undermine the Voting Rights Act in the name of “states’ rights” or “state sovereignty.”

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US Bill of Rights and Flag with spot lighting

Republican-controlled state legislatures have imposed new voting restrictions. They are getting ready to create more safe congressional seats for Republicans through abusive partisan redistricting. They are undermining faith in elections with false claims about election fraud and demands for fake “audits.”

The good news is that there is new momentum in Congress and a new bill to protect our democracy. We need to get it passed.

The new Freedom to Vote Act would protect the right to vote, end unfair partisan gerrymandering, and shine a light on the flood of dark money that allows billionaires to buy our elections in secret. It includes key sections of the earlier For the People Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives but was blocked in the Senate by Republican filibusters.

The Freedom to Vote act also addresses one of the worst things about some of the new voter suppression laws: provisions that give state officials the power to override voters and overturn election results.

There are other good things in the bill. It would make Election Day a federal holiday. Every state would have automatic voter registration, early voting and drop box accessibility. These would be major advances in making voting more accessible to everyone.

Voting rights advocates are rallying support for the Freedom to Vote Act. One of the sponsors, Democratic Sen. Joe Machin of West Virginia, worked hard to come up with a bill that he could support. He still hopes to get some Republican senators to join him.

That is an uphill battle. Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has signaled that no Republican senators will support this compromise. And he will use the Senate’s filibuster rules to prevent the Senate from passing election protections that are supported by huge majorities of the American people—something he has already done with the For the People Act.

Ideally, voting rights should be a nonpartisan issue. Congress repeatedly passed extensions of the Voting Rights Act that were signed by Republican presidents. But right-wing politicians and judges have spent years trying to undermine the Voting Rights Act in the name of “states’ rights” or “state sovereignty.”

With help from right-wing justices on the Supreme Court, states have imposed all kinds of new voting restrictions in recent years.

The number of new restrictive voting laws jumped massively after former President Donald Trump was defeated in last year’s presidential election. Grassroots organizing helped drive strong turnout among Black voters in key states, and Republicans have decided to respond by making it harder for people to register and vote.

That makes it clear that the new voter suppression rules have nothing to do with “election integrity” and everything to do with maintaining power at all costs.

The Constitution very clearly gives the federal government the right to step in when states undermine democracy with restrictive and discriminatory voting rules. That’s what Congress did more than 50 years ago when it passed the Voting Rights Act.

President Joe Biden and Democratic leaders in the U.S. Senate must do whatever it takes to pass the Freedom to Vote Act. With democracy and voting rights at stake, we cannot let Jim Crow-era filibuster rules in the U.S. Senate have the final word.

Ben Jealous serves as president of People For the American Way.

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