Tag Archives: Barack Obama

DC, National Democratic Leaders Demand Rights for District at National Convention

At a convention center that sits on Charlotte’s historic Martin Luther King Blvd, local and national luminaries gathered for a rally in conjunction with the 2012 Democratic National Committee Convention. Mayor Gray, who led the District of Columbia’s convention delegation, made news for footing his own expenses to attend the Democratic convention, came with a clear mission, he said — to advance the District while also campaigning for the President. “We want to convey that the people of the District of Columbia deserve the same rights as all other Americans,”  said Mayor.  The Mayor described the District’s current status, as “taxation without representation.”  “We need to bring democracy to America.  The best path to do that is clearly, in my opinion, is Barack Obama,” stated Gray. Even though the National Democratic party platform was conspicuously void of a statehood plank, the Mayor pointed out “It [the platform] does mention legislative autonomy and voting rights.”  Further Mayor Gray noted that the Republican national platform included language that would even strip the District of rights, such as limits on gun laws and women’s reproductive health programs. Yet the Mayor stated affirmatively “We want statehood and I would love for the Democratic Platform to take that up and I look forward to working with my Democratic brethren to include that [in future platforms].” Gray’s optimism has won the Mayor, in his opinion, a “warm reception” from other convention delegates including mayors of other cities, even at a time when some in the District have yet to warm up to his administration.  The Mayor believes his “cred” with other convention attendees springs from what he calls an appreciation of the challenges the District has faced and its ability to, nonetheless, achieve successes under his watch.  Gray touts a record low homicide level, progress in education, and a $200 million surplus in the District as some of his achievements. Later that evening, the Mayor and other District leaders, are expected to share the spotlight with other democratic leaders to cast their official votes for Obama as their presidential nominee.  When the Mayor takes the mic, he promises to deliver a simple message “that taxation without representation is one of the principles upon which this nation is founded and its ironic we pay the same taxes in the District of Columbia yet[are] denied the same rights.” Nationally syndicated writer and President Emeritus of North Carolina’s Bennett College Julianne Malveux was also among the other dignitaries in attendance for the Democratic Convention. Malveux said “This convention is exciting…as a Democrat I could not be more proud.  However, I must say that I’ve been disappointed that the District of Columbia has not been treated fairly.  We belong on the platform…The District is one of the most reliable Democratic votes and we deserve to be on the platform.” According to Malveux, she’s been a longtime resident of the District of Columbia and as such, “I feel disenfranchised every time I go to vote.” Malveux’s comments came on the heels of what many called an “electrifying” speech by Michelle Obama during the first night of the Democratic festivities in Charlotte.  “Women, particularly women of color were completely uplifted by the speech,” noted Malveux.  “What would Fannie Lou Mamer have thought,” asked Malveux, reflecting upon the legendary civil rights era leader who protested at the 1964 Democratic Party Convention in order for African American delegates from Mississippi to merely have the right to be seated. “She,” Malveux said of Mrs. Obama “is such a role model for our young women…intelligent, a mother, a wife, a help mate for her husband.” Reverend Jesse Jackson, who himself twice sought the Democrats nomination for President, in 1984 and 1988, reflected on the work yet to be done by his party.  “We are facing amazing levels of poverty and violence,” noted Jackson.  To tackle these problems, Jackson, called on his party to develop a program to focus on “violence, poverty, and urban reconstruction.”  As the former Shadow Senator of the District of Columbia, Jackson lamented that the District, even after four years of an African American President, still lacks statehood and even a statehood plank in the Democratic platform. In the way of advice to Mayor Gray, Jackson, taking a note from his days of community organizing and mobilizing, advised Mayor Gray to “[C]ontinue to protest…Keep the issue visible.” And this advice appears to describe the focus of Mayor Gray and other District leaders who plan to continue pressing for full democracy for the people of the nation’s capital until they are victorious.  District advocates like the Mayor have reason for optimism, pointing to the election of Obama as an example that in America, “anything is possible.” The writer is a lawyer and talk show host in the District of Columbia and can be reached at Talib@talibkarim.com. ##

Health Reform Prevails in Supreme Court, Just One Step for People of Color and Poor

By Talib I. Karim, Health & Technology Writer

The Supreme Court’s decision on the President’s signature health reform law considered the Brown v. Board of Education of today. (Photo/courtesy Supreme Court Collection).

Astute students of history recall the exact date when Brown v. Board of Education was decided.  Thursday, June 28, 2012 may also be etched into history as the day the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in what some consider the Brown case of this era, National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius.

In the Sebelius case, the nation’s high court preserved, almost completely, President Obama’s signature legislative achievement, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Summary

The Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare” (as described by critics) was designed by Congress to expand health insurance coverage to over 30 million in the US and decrease health care costs.  To achieve these goals, Congress included a provision in the law requiring taxpayers to obtain a “minimum” level of health insurance coverage.  Those who failed to secure health coverage and were not exempt were mandated, by 2014, to begin paying a penalty to the IRS, similar to tax penalties.

In 2010, right after the President signed the reforms into law, the Affordable Care Act was challenged in court by groups, including the National Federation of Independent Businesses.  Earlier this year, the challenges made their way to Supreme Court, which set aside an unprecedented three days of oral arguments to review the health law.

By a 5-4 decision, the Court made several findings in the case.  First, the Court upheld its prerogative to review the individual mandate, bypassing a reconstruction-era requirement, the Anti-Injunction Act, which prevents a tax-related issue from being reviewed by the Court until the tax is accessed.  Next, Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by the Court’s four traditionally conservative members (Justices Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito), ruled that the individual mandate could not be sustained under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause.  Initially, this ruling caused some media outlets to incorrectly report that the entire law was struck down.

However, the Chief Justice and the liberal wing of the Court (Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan) sided together in ruling that the individual mandate could be upheld, nonetheless under the long established Constitutional power of Congress to “lay and collect Taxes.”

Finally, the Court ruled that the Affordable Care Act could not penalize states who refused to expand Medicaid by cutting off all federal Medicaid funding.  This, the Court’s majority held, was an impermissible “threat” against the rights of states.

Brown vs Sebelius

In comparing the Brown and Sebelius cases, the NAACP’s Hillary Shelton sees distinctions and similarities. Shelton notes that “Brown concerned a fight over equal education, and whether segregated schools were legal so long as they were equal.”  Brown was argued by Thurgood Marshall, then the NAACP Legal Defense and Education President, who would go on to become the first African American US Solicitor General and Supreme Court Justice.

Shelton observed that “The thing Americans needed to be successful in the 1950s was good education…today…its good health care. Further, Shelton pointed out that while Brown sought to protect mostly African Americans, the current ruling seeks to ensure working class and poor people of all races have the right to equal health care.

Impact on Doctors and Patients of Color

Congresswoman Donna Christian-Christensen of the U.S. Virgin Islands, a physician, and chair of the Congressional Black Caucus’s health reform task force, said the ruling “means a lot for people of color.”  Specifically, the Court’s decision protects numerous programs and initiatives such as placing minority health officers in each major health agency to ensure that people of color’s needs are being met, noted Christensen.

Dr. Cedric Bright, National Medical Association President, called the health reform ruling “a great victory,” yet observed that many health providers still don’t understand how the law impacts them and their patients.  “Health providers need to know how to participate in an Affordable Care Organization (ACO); how they can get funds for electronic medical records; and the benefits of using preventative health care.”  Dr. Bright recommends that as a next step, the Obama administration should sponsor seminars to educate health providers on implementing the Affordable Care Act.

The director of the DC Department of Health, Dr. Mohammad Akhter, views the case as a win for District’s residents and its budget.  “[The ruling] means that the 30,000 DC residents moved on to Medicaid can stay.  It would have a huge budget impact had [the law] not been upheld.”  Dr. Akhter points to several new community health centers in the District built using tobacco settlement money, but which depend upon the Affordable Care Act funding to remain operational and thriving.

However, Drs. Christensen, Bright, and Akter, all view the Affordable Care Act as just one step in a long march towards the end goal…quality, affordable health care for all.

The writer can be reached at tkarim@teclawgroup.com.

Supreme Court Weighs Health Reform Law: Poor, African Americans to be Most Impacted by Decision


(Photo/courtesy Supreme Court Collection)


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 By Talib I. Karim
Contributing Health Writer

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court convened hearings to settle the question once and for all of whether the historic health reform law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, dubbed “Obamacare” by Republicans is constitutional. Supreme Court experts suggest that this case is the most significant before the Court in more than 50 years – rivaling Brown v. Board of Education – a landmark case that led to the end of legalized segregation.

Given the magnitude of the case, the Supreme Court had set aside six hours of arguments over a three day period which began on Monday, March 26 through Wednesday – more time given to any case since 1966. The justices have also postponed half of their normal monthly case load to clear way for the Court to issue a decision by as early as July. 

The case will have a significant impact on the upcoming election in November. If the Court strikes down the Affordable Care Act, it could be considered a win by Republicans who seek to unseat President Obama and take over both houses of Congress. However, if the Court allows the law to stand in whole, or in part, the president could declare his signature legislative achievement to date, a victory.

A recent report by Brown University Professor Michael Tesler makes the point what many, including former President Jimmy Carter, have long stated: much of the opposition to Obama’s initiatives like health reform has less to do with policy than with race. While Obama himself has attempted to set aside the racial dimensions of debates over health care and even the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin, Tesler’s study is clear.

“African-Americans were about 20 points more supportive of the Barack Obama [health] plan (with 80% support) than they were of the Bill Clinton plan,” said Tesler in an interview for a National Public Radio (NPR) program hosted by Michel Martin.  Yet, the divide is not simply an issue between African Americans and European Americans, Democrats and Republicans, suggests Tesler.  Instead, Tesler argues that health and other policies of President Obama are likely to be supported by people of all race who have liberal attitudes about race.

Four Separate Hearings

The reason behind the unprecedented three-day, 6 hours of oral arguments before the Supreme Court is rooted in the four separate issues being considered. Each issue is considered so unique, that the Supreme Court has afforded separate hearings for each. On Day One, lawyers were asked to debate whether the Supreme Court has the power to decide on the merits of the Affordable Care Act’s penalty for failure to get health insurance – considered a tax by some – since the fines and other sanctions don’t kick in until 2015. If the Court rules that the penalty for not getting health insurance is a tax then it could punt and put off the issue for three more years, after the presidential elections.

On Day Two, the Court requested arguments on whether the health law’s individual mandate itself is constitutional under the Commerce Clause, which allows the federal government to regulate interstate activity.

The final day of arguments focused on two questions, the first: whether the health reform law can stand even if the Court declares the individual mandate unconstitutional; the second whether the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid to cover everyone under 133 percent of the federal poverty line [individuals with yearly earnings of about $14,000] by 2014 is too onerous.  The federal government argues that Medicaid is a voluntary grant program, thus states can opt-out if they object to the expanded coverage.

People of Color, Poor Caught in Middle

While health reform was being debated by lawyers before the Supreme Court, the nation’s top African-American physicians – members of the National Medical Association (NMA) – along with state legislators from across the country lobbied federal officials to ensure people of color are able to get their fair share of benefits.

NMA President, Dr. Cedric Bright, said people of color may likely feel the brunt of any decision. On the one hand, if the law stays intact, out of those unable or unwilling to get health insurance as mandated, Bright acknowledges that African Americans in particular may be those disproportionately required to pay the-lack-of-insurance fine [at least $695 per year by 2016]. Bright argues, that even this modest sum is a lot for “… folk with only a few dollars a month left over in their pockets.”  Bright said, “I believe an ounce of prevention is much better than a pound of cure.” He also said that the mandate is a small cost for benefits provided by health reform: billions to build community health centers, funding to address ethnic health disparities, and increased minority participation in clinical trials.

Another historic dimension of this case is the record number of legal filings [at least 170, including more than 120 “friend-of-the-court” or amicus briefs]. These briefs, or written legal arguments, are known to have great weight on the Court’s decisions, so much so that often justices quote directly from these submissions in writing their own decisions.

One such brief was filed by a coalition led by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund under the lead signature of John Payton, who was the group’s president until he died suddenly the week before the Supreme Court hearing.  In their brief, the legendary civil rights lawyer Payton and his colleagues write, “[U]ninsured persons experience significant hardship that has a profound cumulative impact on our nation….These burdens are disproportionately borne by racial and ethnic minorities, lower-income persons…For many individuals, being uninsured is not a choice, but rather is a consequence that is imposed on them due to circumstances largely beyond their control.

For the nation, and the tens of millions who benefit from the health reform law, eyes are likely to stay glued on the Supreme Court until its ruling this summer.

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The writer is a lawyer focused on health, business, and family law in the District of Columbia.  To contact the writer, email him at tkarim@teclawgroup.com.