Coretta Scott King on Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Little Rock   During the US Senate debate on the confirmation of Senator Jeff Sessions, which was ultimately achieved, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced in the debate for trying to read the following letter in opposition to his approval.

Statement of Coretta Scott King on the Nomination of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III for the United States District Court Southern District of Alabama.

Senate Judiciary Committee

Thursday, March 13, 1986

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee: Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to express my strong opposition to the nomination of Jefferson Sessions for a federal district judgeship for the Southern District of Alabama. My longstanding commitment which I shared with my husband, Martin, to protect and enhance the rights of Black Americans, rights which include equal access to the democratic process, compels me to testify today.

Civil rights leaders, including my husband and Albert Turner, have fought long and hard to achieve free and unfettered access to the ballot box. Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge. This simply cannot be allowed to happen. Mr. Sessions’ conduct as U.S. Attorney, from his politically motivated voting fraud prosecutions to his indifference toward criminal violations of civil rights laws, indicates that he lacks the temperament, fairness and judgment to be a federal judge.

The Voting Rights Act was, and still is, vitally important to the future of democracy in the United States. I was privileged to join Martin and many others during the Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights in 1965. Martin was particularly impressed by the determination to get the franchise of blacks in Selma and neighboring Perry County. As he wrote, “Certainly no community in the history of the Negro struggle has responded with the enthusiasm of Selma and her neighboring town of Marion. Where Birmingham depended largely upon students and unemployed adults (to participate in non-violent protest of the denial of the franchise), Selma has involved fully 10 percent of the Negro population in active demonstrations, and at least half the Negro population of Marion was arrested on one day.” Martin was referring of course to a group that included the defendants recently prosecuted for assisting elderly and illiterate blacks to exercise that franchise. ln fact, Martin anticipated from the depth of their commitment twenty years ago, that a united political organization would remain in Perry County long after the other marchers had left. This organization, the Perry County Civic League, started by Mr. Turner, Mr. Hogue, and others as Martin predicted, continued “to direct the drive for votes and other rights.” In the years since the Voting Rights Act was passed, Black Americans in Marion, Selma and elsewhere have made important strides in their struggle to participate actively in the electoral process. The number of Blacks registered to vote in key Southern states has doubled since 1965. This would not have been possible without the Voting Rights Act.

However, Blacks still fall far short of having equal participation in the electoral process. Particularly in the South, efforts continue to be made to deny Blacks access to the polls, even where Blacks constitute the majority of the voters. It has been a long up-hill struggle to keep alive the vital legislation that protects the most fundamental right to vote. A person who has exhibited so much hostility to the enforcement of those laws, and thus, to the exercise of those rights by Black people should not be elevated to the federal bench.

The irony of Mr. Sessions’ nomination is that, if confirmed, he will be given life tenure for doing with a federal prosecution what the local sheriffs accomplished twenty years ago with clubs and cattle prods. Twenty years ago, when we marched from Selma to Montgomery, the fear of voting was real, as the broken bones and bloody heads in Selma and Marion bore witness. As my husband wrote at the time, “it was not just a sick imagination that conjured up the vision of a public official, sworn to uphold the law, who forced an inhuman march upon hundreds of Negro children; who ordered the Rev. James Bevel to be chained to his sickbed; who clubbed a Negro woman registrant, and who callously inflicted repeated brutalities and indignities upon nonviolent Negroes peacefully petitioning for their constitutional right to vote.”

Free exercise of voting rights is so fundamental to American democracy that we can not tolerate any form of infringement of those rights. Of all the groups who have been disenfranchised in our nation’s history, none has struggled longer or suffered more in the attempt to win the vote than Black citizens. No group has had access to the ballot box denied so persistently and intently. Over the past century, a broad array of schemes have been used in attempts to block the Black vote. The range of techniques developed with the purpose of repressing black voting rights run the gamut from the — straightforward application of brutality against black citizens who tried to vote to such legalized frauds as “grandfather clause” exclusions and rigged literacy tests.

The actions taken by Mr. Sessions in regard to the 1984 voting fraud prosecutions represent just one more technique used to intimidate Black voters and thus deny them this most precious franchise. The investigations into the absentee voting process were conducted only in the Black Belt counties where blacks had finally achieved political power in the local government. Whites had been using the absentee process to their advantage for years, without incident. Then, when Blacks realizing its strength, began to use it with success, criminal investigations were begun.

In these investigations, Mr. Sessions, as U.S. Attorney, exhibited an eagerness to bring to trial and convict three leaders of the Perry County Civic League including Albert Turner despite evidence clearly demonstrating their innocence of any wrongdoing. Furthermore, in initiating the case, Mr. Sessions ignored allegations of similar behavior by whites, choosing instead to chill the exercise of the franchise by blacks by his misguided investigation. In fact, Mr. Sessions sought to punish older black civil rights activists, advisors and colleagues of my husband, who had been key figures in the civil rights movement in the 1960’s. These were persons who, realizing the potential of the absentee vote among Blacks, had learned to use the process within the bounds of legality and had taught others to do the same. The only sin they committed was being too successful in gaining votes.

The scope and character of the investigations conducted by Mr. Sessions also warrant grave concern. Witnesses were selectively chosen in accordance with the favorability of their testimony to the government’s case. Also, the prosecution illegally withheld from the defense critical statements made by witnesses. Witnesses who did testify were pressured and intimidated into submitting the “correct” testimony. Many elderly blacks were visited multiple times by the FBI who then hauled them over 180 miles by bus to a grand jury in Mobile when they could more easily have testified at a grand jury twenty miles away in Selma. These voters, and others, have announced they are now never going to vote again.

I urge you to consider carefully Mr. Sessions’ conduct in these matters. Such a review, I believe, raises serious questions about his commitment to the protection of the voting rights of all American citizens and consequently his fair and unbiased judgment regarding this fundamental right. When the circumstances and facts surrounding the indictments of Al Turner, his wife, Evelyn, and Spencer Hogue are analyzed, it becomes clear that the motivation was political, and the result frightening — the wide-scale chill of the exercise of the ballot for blacks, who suffered so much to receive that right in the first place. Therefore, it is my strongly-held view that the appointment of Jefferson Sessions to the federal bench would irreparably damage the work of my husband, Al Turner, and countless others who risked their lives and freedom over the past twenty years to ensure equal participation in our democratic system.

The exercise of the franchise is an essential means by which our citizens ensure that those who are governing will be responsible. My husband called it the number one civil right. The denial of access to the ballot box ultimately results in the denial of other fundamental rights. For, it ‘ is only when the poor and disadvantaged are empowered that they are able to participate actively in the solutions to their own problems.

We still have a long way to go before we can say that minorities no longer need be concerned about discrimination at the polls. Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asian Americans are grossly underrepresented at every level of government in America. If we are going to make our timeless dream of justice through democracy a reality, we must take every possible step to ensure that the spirit and intent of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution is honored.

The federal courts hold a unique position in our constitutional system, ensuring that minorities and other citizens without political power have a forum in which to vindicate their rights. Because of his unique role, it is essential that the people selected to be federal judges respect the basic tenets of our legal system: respect for individual rights and a commitment to equal justice for all. The integrity of the Courts, and thus the rights they protect, can only be maintained if citizens feel confident that those selected as federal judges will be able to judge with fairness others holding differing views.

I do not believe Jefferson Sessions possesses the requisite judgment, competence, and sensitivity to the rights guaranteed by the federal civil rights laws to qualify for appointment to the federal district court. Based on his record, I believe his confirmation would have a devastating effect on not only the judicial system in Alabama, but also on the progress we have made everywhere toward fulfilling my husband’s dream that he envisioned over twenty years ago. I therefore urge the Senate Judiciary Committee to deny his confirmation.

I thank you for allowing me to share my views.

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Sanders, Warren, and Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

Bernie Sanders campaign appearance in Portland last summer. Bukaty/Associated Press

Bernie Sanders campaign appearance in Portland last summer. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

New Orleans   Run for President in the United States or anywhere around the world, and everyone is a Monday morning quarterback, and some people even make their livings that way.

Like it or not, and believe me, there’s a lot not to like, more than a dozen Republicans threw their hats into the ring and took a shot, and three are still racing to the finish. For many of them it was “go big or go home,” and home is where they landed often bruised and battered permanently like Dr. Ben Carson and former Governors Bobby Jindal and Jeb Bush, and likely Senator Marco Rubio.

On the Democratic side, as more and more of the story trickles out, it seems like the real story of the now almost inevitable nomination of Hillary Clinton may have simply been that she had won before the formal campaign even began. Like a world class athlete she had trained and worked harder before the game began, and by doing so intimidated her opponents into seeing their real chances as quixotic rather than competitive.

In an afterthought, seeing how the campaign has unraveled for Clinton and her vulnerabilities, the biggest favor she got from the outset was the reticence of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who took herself out of contention early and often. Given the mood of the electorate on both sides of the party line, it is almost inarguable that with her history of taking on Wall Street and a host of others, and winning, she would have ended up in the White House.

But, at least Warren was clear and consistent. As the story trickles out from the Sanders camp, it seems that they are already in the doldrums of debating “woulda, shoulda, coulda” given his unexpected success thus far. Though the public storyline has consistently been that he was “in it to win it,” reports from everyone from his campaign manager to wife to key supporters and observers are now conceding that he entered the race believing he could not and would not win, but would use the campaign as a platform for his issues and interests. He was not exactly a protest candidate, but neither was he ready to “go big or go home.” He was one foot in the water, and one foot on the solid shore, campaigning on weekends and holidays and making sure he kept his day job while he hit the hustings.

Politically, I’m not sure what this is? Maybe it’s a pre-post-mortem, if there’s such a thing as that. Somehow we’re getting the fatal diagnosis even before there’s a cadaver. The campaign insiders are essentially saying that he lost the race in the locker room, even though he was winning on the field. They say he should have gone all in during 2015, been earlier in Iowa, built better bridges to African-Americans in the South, and organized more extensively in Nevada. They also believe he gave Clinton a pass on the emails and kid gloved her on her cozy Wall Street speeches and Clinton Foundation conflicts, rather than hitting hard on those troubling issues, which I can guarantee you we will hear endlessly before the election is finally over in November from the Republicans.

What’s the story for progressives? Is it that we would rather be right, than win? We owe ourselves and our people better than a good fight. We owe them going hard and bringing home the victory. Politics and elections are not “hey, good game, you came so close,” but winners take all. Trump knows that completely, and Sanders seems to be discovering that too late in the game.

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Come in Hot with What We’ve Got: Enforce the Laws

New Delhi. Hundreds of Indian activists protested in New Delhi on Monday against a challenge to the country's patent law by Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis. India produces affordable medicines that are vital to many people living in developing countries. Over half the medicines currently used for AIDS treatment in developing countries come from India and such medicines are used to treat over 80% of the 80,000 AIDS patients in MSF projects. If Novartis is successful in its challenge against the Indian government and its patent law, more medicines are likely to be patented in India, making it very difficult for generic producers to make affordable versions of them. This could affect millions of people around the world who depend on medicines produced in India.

Little Rock    Elizabeth Warren, Senator from Massachusetts, and probably the most popular candidate who did not run for president – in fact can you just imagine the even greater amount of excitement and drama we would see on the Democratic side of the ledger if it were Warren versus Clinton, given how well Sanders has done? – argued in a recent report that the President could do more than issue executive orders and new agency rules, he could step up enforcement of existing laws. She’s right!

Given the dysfunctional Congressional stalemate, we need to put aside some of our pipe dreams about new laws, and see if we can squeeze the lemons we have into lemonade. Warren’s argument is that the President has too often appointed, or left in the chair, weak administrators who have not used the full power and authority they have as regulators to police financial misdealing, environmental outrages, and general corporate arrogance by handing out cheap tickets and hand slaps for flaunting one law after another. She wants the whip cracked and heads to roll. Hear, hear!

Of course it’s not quite as easy as that, which she also undoubtedly realizes without bothering to dwell on it. In many cases the ground troops required to inspect, enforce, and administer accountability have been severely cut back given reductions in inspectors, auditors, and the boots on the ground in America that do the grinding, boring grunt work of enforcing the law. Without being able to deliver the facts on the ground lawyers and courts are invariably going to cut deals with weaker cases and, as Warren argues implicitly, chicken out when trying to impound the big dogs because of their armies of lawyers, spin masters, and unlimited resources.

Maybe some would say, Senator Warren is just singing her same old song, but when she talks about some new targets like the sanctioned healthcare drug pushers, it’s worth remembering this is not just about Wall Street a thousand miles away from most Americans, it’s personal and as near as the neighborhood clinic. She comes in hot on Novartis saying,

“When Novartis, a major drug company that was already effectively on federal probation for misconduct, paid kickbacks to pharmacies to push certain drugs, it cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and undermined patient health. Under the law, the government can boot companies that defraud Medicare and Medicaid out of those programs, but when Novartis got caught, it just paid a penalty — one so laughably small that its C.E.O. said afterward that it “remains to be seen” whether his company would actually consider changing its behavior.”

A judge pulls someone back in front of the bench if they agree to plead but are still maintaining their innocence, telling the accused, you can’t have it both ways, either say you’re sorry, shut up, and carry the weight or go to trial and take your chances with the verdict one way or another. If the government is going to enforce the law, how can they pretend the job was done if they accept a fine and hear the guilty thinking about whether or not they’ll change their behavior?

Warren is right. Big corporations are out of control. We’re living in a time of impunity. Government needs to do its job. We have to work with what we’ve got and hold them accountable. We start doing that and we might end up with something better as well.

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“Swear Jars” Are Great Public Policy

barbaramorganswearjarjpg-2558081_p9New Orleans      Senator Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts is getting a bit of ribbing from the Fox News types out there for her proposal to create the equivalent of a “swear jar” for big drug companies when they are paying fines for illegal activity and other violations.  What a great idea!

Over the past decade, big Pharma has paid more than $8 billion in fines for fraudulent practices involving Medicare and Medicaid billing according to USA Today.   Meanwhile the federal government has to continue to do business with these blockbuster drug companies because often they are the only ones offering certain drugs.  The Huffington Post reports that,

“Warren’s proposal would only apply to the biggest companies — those that sell “blockbuster” drugs, often defined as a drug with annual sales of more than $1 billion. Only those companies that relied on federally funded research to develop a blockbuster drug would be subject to the punishment. The penalty would be 1 percent of the company’s total annual profit for each blockbuster drug.”

In Warren’s proposal, the money would not only be a real incentive to stop the company’s rip-and-run policies, but would also fund the FDA and National Institute of Health research budgets that have been hit by almost a 25% funding cut in recent Congressional austerity financing.   That’s what I call a constructive and creative public policy proposal!

I think the idea should not only be adopted but should spread to other corporate scofflaws so that there is a culture shift when their lawyers settle, not just a big check cut.

When banks pay for foreclosing on peoples’ mortgages illegally, they should have to pay directly to a housing fund that not only provides counseling on foreclosure modifications but has the bank employees, including the top execs, down in the trenches working with victims, perhaps even helping them move into new houses as well.  When companies pay for firing workers illegally, some of the big dogs should have to do some community service and actually pull some shifts on the line, in the nursing home or hospital, at the back of the truck or wherever.   When companies pay for price fixing, they should not only pay, but they should have to spend time seeing what it’s like to shop on their victim’s budget.   We have to shrink the distance between anonymous corporate crime and people’s experience with punishment in such a way that there is really altered behavior rather than something that is seen as simply part of doing business.   We need to not just have payment, but a probation of sorts that creates good behavior.

Warren is right about where some of the money should go.  Just like lawyers pick cy pres organizations to provide remediation for class action settlements, the government should earmark some of fines to remedy the initial crimes, rather than just washing the money into the overall budget somewhere between bread and bullets.  I would just add to Warren’s “swear jar” concept, the fact that the corporate scofflaws should also have the hold the jar in their own hands for a while and not just throw some money into it for their bad behavior.

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Please enjoy Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine performing the Union Song in Chinatown at the largest ever Wal-Mart protest organized by the California Labor Unions.

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The FTC Mouse is Roaring and That’s a Good Thing!

Edith-Ramirez-602x356New Orleans      We’ve got Elizabeth Warren speaking up for consumers and the “little people” in the US Senate.  We used to have Sheila Baird pushing back hard on the banks for some accountability.  Maybe I’ve been missing this, but it seems like suddenly Edith Ramirez, the chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission, has decided it’s time for the mouse to roar and is taking on some big targets in tech and medicine, so maybe we’ve got a voice in Washington speaking truth to power for the rest of us for a change.   Attention must be paid.

I first noticed something was happening over there in recent weeks when there was a review of an article Ramirez had placed in the New England Journal of Medicine warning doctors, some of the high priests and profiteers of our modern times, that merging some of their medical practices was actually monopolistic and a restraint of trade that could stifle competition.  She argued that “extensive evidence” indicates that “consolidation of health care providers leads to higher prices without…improvements in quality.”  Well, I said to myself, right on, let’s keep an eye on Ramirez and the FTC and see if there’s any bite, or it’s all bark, because she’s cornered this lion in the tree now, so what comes next?

Chasing another lion it turns out!

In a speech in Vegas to a good sampling of the technology industry, she previewed a coming report on the internet and privacy with some prescriptions that might be just what the doctor ordered.  She was observing that the home because of the growth of the “internet of things” with one wireless and so-called “smart” device after another was going to become the next target for hackers.  Oh, mercy, get grandma off the internet now!

She stated the obvious that tech companies are collecting our personal data without a clue and, “That data trove will contain a wealth of revealing information that, when patched together, will present a deeply personal and startlingly complete picture of each of us.”  She chided the techies about the fact that rather than caring about their customers’ privacy on the front end in the design phase, they were only adding it later after there was a mess.  I might add, “If then?” We’ve seen this over and over again with Snapchat, Facebook, and you name it, haven’t we?

Simple solution in the FTC’s view is that the companies should only collect what they need rather than stockpiling our data for some unknown future commercial purpose of their own when they have no clue how to use it or how to protect it.  Darned right, Sister Ramirez, let’s put a stop to this right now.

The FTC keeps talking like this and there might still be hope for us to have at least a fig leaf of privacy in the future!  Got get ‘em!

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A Fighting Chance with Elizabeth Warren

41pz7d5jA+L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_New Orleans   Political autobiographies, like dental visits, are absolutely something to be avoided, and when written by still active politicians, such works have to define egotistical self-serving.

In the case of A Fighting Chance a new book by Elizabeth Warren, now United States Senator from Massachusetts, but still to her core a debate champion from small town Oklahoma, it’s too bad that’s the rule, because there’s virtually no way to read her book without wanting to vote for her and to literally dream of her running for President.

How would anyone not sign up to support a woman so attached to the real world where we all live that she called her father, Daddy, to the day he died; that she can’t believe that in her lifetime she got to be a Senator and, as significantly, got to be blonde; and that she didn’t hesitate to tell Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to “buckle his seatbelt” even while being sped in a heavily armored car from lunch in DC?   Reading her book, the only regret in reading her personal story is that her Aunt Bee isn’t still alive, because that woman was a saint who would have been a fantastic Secretary of HHS if we were ever fortunate enough to have Warren leading the way.

Even discounting that her story is designed to appeal, it is refreshing to read about a fighter, not a calculator.  Warren is someone who has some issues deeply embedded in her craw and isn’t afraid of anyone, no matter how high and mighty, in saying so and speaking up about it.

I’m biased of course.  I have relatives with deep Oklahoma roots, and I worked one summer in the oil fields in the Duncan-Velma area a bit more than an hour south of Oklahoma City.  I respect the values, even if I sometimes disagree with the conservative politics.  With Warren, we get the values and we get an empathy with the real issues of hard times for lower and middle income families that comes from having lived it herself whether seeing her dad’s car repossessed when he had health issues or deciding to specialize in bankruptcy law because she knew financial trouble hit good people on the wrong side of the citizen wealth line, not scammers trying to game the system.   I’ve read several of her earlier books, written with her daughter, which argued dramatically many of the same themes and campaigns ACORN waged and that I wrote about in Citizen Wealth.

If anyone had any doubt that she was a fighter, her book certainly dispels it.  She may be part of an exclusive club in the Senate now, but she’s always going to be an outsider, willing to continue to speak truth to power and let the chips fall where they may.  She’s clear the game is rigged.  Amen.  She’s clear that banks are too often cheats and bums, and that’s gospel, too.  So, certainly she’s ambitious or she might still be somewhere in Oklahoma or Texas, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to have someone in the White House who was willing to fight for us?  Win, lose, or draw?

After reading the book, I dreamed that she asked my son to do her some favors and collect some debts for her here and there.  Ridiculous, huh?  Dreams are crazy aren’t they?  And, given the way Democrats seem to be rolling over for Hilary Clinton to run this time around, it’s probably a dream to wish Warren would stand for the nomination, win, lose, or draw, in order to change the game from simply politics to really people, but, crazy or not, that would give all of us a “fighting chance” for the future.

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