Law

Tenants Facing Eviction in Era of Skyrocketing Rents Need Legal Assistance

Without legal assistance, tenants often miss crucial steps and find themselves out of a home.

(AP Photo/Ricardo Figueroa)
(AP Photo/Ricardo Figueroa) Y ears after we’ve supposedly recovered from the housing crisis, millions of Americans are at risk of losing their homes, and housing is still one of the most troubling aspects of America’s growing inequality problem. The evidence is clear: Rents are rising in cities across the country, and the New York Times reported earlier this month that evictions are soaring nationwide. Tenant-landlord standoffs in U.S. cities are also becoming increasingly common—and bitter. But despite this bleak overall picture, some tenants are winning eviction battles and ultimately staying in their homes. How? What’s the difference between those who protect their homes and those who are at risk of falling into homelessness? Most often, outcomes depend on one factor: whether tenants have legal help. Across the country, civil legal aid programs are helping people under threat of evictions understand their rights, navigate the court system, and, most importantly, stay in their homes...

A Book for the People of Ferguson -- And Oppressed People Everywhere

Fred Ross's change-making Axioms for Organizers is updated for the Internet age, and for a new generation battling discrimination and police brutality.

fredrosssr.com
M ost residents of Ferguson, Missouri, have probably never heard of Fred Ross, Sr., but they could use his help now. Ferguson's population is two-thirds African American, but the mayor, almost all members of the city council and school board, and 95 percent of the police department is white, and in last year's municipal election only 7 percent of blacks came to the polls. Ross—perhaps the most influential (but little-known) community organizer in American history—had a successful career mobilizing people to challenge police brutality, fight segregation, and organize voter registration and voter turnout campaigns. Ross taught people how to channel their anger and frustrations into building powerful grassroots organizations that can win concrete victories that change institutions and improve people's lives. He understood that while sporadic protests can draw attentions to long-neglected problems, it requires the hard day-to-day intentional work of organizing to build power and give...

Republicans Make Big Advances Thanks to Citizens United

The increase in corporate money in elections has favored one party over the other.

(Cartoon by DonkeyHotey via Flickr)
This article originally appeared on Facing South , a website published by the Institute for Southern Studies. I t's been more than four years since the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission , a ruling that expanded the ability of corporations and unions to influence politics. Now, with two election cycles completed, a series of studies have emerged to assess what impact it's had on our political system. One of the first and most thorough investigations into Citizens United 's effects on elections, published in July by professors at the University of Alberta and Emory University and a researcher at Competition Economics, concludes that the ruling has significantly benefited Republican candidates for state legislatures -- especially in North Carolina and Tennessee. Before the January 2010 Citizens United decision, corporations and labor unions were prohibited from making so-called independent expenditures for federal races --...

What Happens When the Person Taking Care of Your Mom Can’t Earn a Living Wage?

When the Supreme Court ruled that unions could not collect dues from the home-care workers they represent, the justices set workers and their clients on a course that could harm them both.

(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman) Tanya Melin of Chicago, right, Service Employees International Union members, home care consumers, workers, and allies rally in support of home care funding at the Illinois State Capitol Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012 in Springfield, Illinois. O n June 30, the Supreme Court ruled that a key strategy used by unions to raise the earnings and professionalism of home-care workers was illegal. Since the 1990s, the labor movement has worked with states and countries to get laws or executive orders to allow home-care workers to be treated as employees of public authorities rather than as individual contractors. The result has been to allow these workers to form unions and to bargain collectively with government for better wages and working standards. In the Harris v. Quinn case, however, the Court held that workers could still unionize, but that they were not true public employees. Unions thus could not collect dues from workers who choose to remain outside the bargaining...

Labor's New Groove: Taking the Struggle From Streets to Legislatures

(AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
(AP Photo/Paul Beaty) Demonstrators rally for better wages outside a McDonald's restaurant in Chicago, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013. Demonstrations planned in 100 cities are part of push by labor unions, worker advocacy groups and Democrats to raise the federal minimum wage of $7.25. L abor Day, 2014, comes at a time when Americans have concluded—correctly—that their country is downwardly mobile. In a Rutgers University poll released last week, 71 percent of Americans said they believed the changes to the economy caused by the Great Recession are permanent. (Asked the same question in November 2009, just 49 percent chose the “permanent” option.) Only 14 percent agreed with the description of American workers as “happy at work,” while 68 percent said American workers were “highly stressed” and 70 percent agreed they were “not secure in their jobs.” The economic data released last week confirm Americans’ pessimism. In a study for the Economic Policy Institute, economist Elise Gould reported...

Still Nader After All These Years

(AP Photo/George Ruhe, File)
(AP Photo/George Ruhe, File) In this April 27, 2008, file photo, Ralph Nader speaks to supporters as he campaigns for his 2008 independent presidential bid in Waterbury, Connecticut. F or many Democrats who came of age after 2000, Ralph Nader is a crank who cost Al Gore the presidency. But Nader deserves a more honored place in the progressive pantheon. Over the years, Nader has understood the stranglehold of corporate power on democracy as well as anyone, and throughout his career he has creatively organized counterweights. In the heyday of postwar reform, the 1960s and 1970s, Nader-inspired groups prodded and energized Congressional allies to enact one piece of pro-consumer legislation after another. As both a journalist and senior Senate staffer in that era, I can attest that nobody did it better than Nader. Since then, Nader has been a prophet, often without honor in his own coalition. I should add that I go back a long way with Ralph Nader. When I was in Washington, D.C., in the...

Expert: U.S. Police Training in Use of Deadly Force Woefully Inadequate

Connecticut state police recruits practice with their new .45-caliber Sig Sauer pistols during a "dry fire" exercise on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012, at the state police firing range in Simsbury, Conn. (AP Photo/Dave Collins)
(AP Photo/Dave Collins) M aria Haberfeld is a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. A veteran of the Israel Defense Forces who also served in the Israel National Police, she has conducted research on police forces in multiple countries, and has also written many books on terrorism and policing, including Critical Issues in Police Training . We spoke on Friday about the events in Ferguson, Missouri, and the shooting of Kajieme Powell by St. Louis police, which was caught on video . Powell, brandishing a steak knife, approached officers, saying “Shoot me!.” As reported by the Post-Dispatch , St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson said lethal force was permitted under department rules if a knife-wielding attacker is within 21 feet of police. Paul Waldman: Did you think what the officers did [in Powell's shooting] was appropriate? It seems pretty clear that that's standard operating procedure. Maria Haberfeld: Yes it is, absolutely. PW: Are those procedures...

How a Widely Beloved Tax Deduction Really Just Benefits the Well-Off and Exacerbates Inequality

National opinion polls show a majority of Americans support the mortgage interest deduction. Yet most U.S. homeowners receive very little benefit from it.

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) This May 2, 2012, photo, shows a new home under construction in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania. A nyone who is concerned about the country’s growing inequality crisis should be pushing for reform of the feature of the U.S. tax code known as the mortgage interest deduction. Not only does this wasteful tax subsidy primarily benefit the richest Americans, it also costs the U.S. Treasury between $70 and $100 billion annually in revenue, making it the third largest deduction on the books. National opinion polls indicate that between 60 and 90 percent of Americans support the mortgage interest deduction (MID), which allows taxpayers to deduct interest on $1.1 million in mortgages on primary residences, vacation homes and even yachts. And yet because of the way this tax subsidy is structured most U.S. homeowners receive very little if any benefit from it. Indeed, in its current form, the MID’s biggest beneficiaries are the real estate industry and its wealthiest...

I'm Polite, Middle-Class and Harassed By Police. Here's Why.

The targeting of citizens by authorities based on racial stereotypes is a serious issue that needs refocusing—an issue that needs to be looked at starting from the root and not the leaf.

(AP Photo/The Progress-Index, Patrick Kane)
(AP Photo/The Progress-Index, Patrick Kane) I was eighteen, but I remember it like it was yesterday. It was dark, and I was driving with my sister when I got pulled over by the police. We were visiting relatives in Mississippi and had just left our cousins’ house, heading back to an aunt’s house to meet up with our parents. My mother had let us go out for a drive in her car, a red Eddie Bauer Edition Ford Explorer. Driving in that car, I felt a certain level of freedom and prestige. So, being the teenagers that we were, music blasting, rehashing the night’s events with each other, my sister and I made our way back, feeling carefree. We stopped at a stop sign, then proceeded to go forward when a police siren from across the street grew louder, as a squad car sped toward us. Not thinking that it was me they were after, I slowed down to let the cop car pass me. When the policeman turned on his horn and shot his light toward our car, I immediately froze. We were in the Deep South, two...

The Ferguson Police Department's Top 10 Tips For Protester Relations

Police officer in gas mask during a standoff between protesters and police Monday, Aug. 18, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) 1. If there's any chance that there might be violence, it's best to have your officers put on all the military gear they've got, including their body armor and camouflage outfits , because that's totally badass. Being decked out like that won't at all affect the way they think about their primary mission (to protect and serve the people of the community), and when protesters see it, they'll know that the officers are trained professionals who take their jobs seriously. 2. Park your armored personnel carriers in the middle of the street . That sight will let everyone know that you mean business, and won't in any way contribute to an atmosphere of tension. 3. When a protester approaches you with his hands up, it's best to point your rifle in his face . Round here, we call it the "Ferguson howdyado." It's a friendly way of saying, "I respect your First Amendment rights, but I'm also thinking about killing you." 4. Don't forget to position snipers with their guns...

'Leave It to the States': Admirable Moderation, Or Cowardly Cop-out?

Ah, the majesty of federalism. (Map from Wikimedia Commons)
As everyone knows, opinions on same-sex marriage have been changing rapidly, which also means that the positions of politicians have to change to keep up. Now that pretty much every Democrat running for anything is in favor of marriage equality, they're done changing. Republicans, on the other hand, are going to have to keep tweaking their stance, confronted by the almost impossible challenging of signaling their open-mindedness to general election voters while not alienating a conservative base that, for a while anyway, is still opposed to gay people getting married. So what's the answer to that problem? "Leave it to the states." Is that an admirable bit of live-and-let-live, let-a-hundred-flowers-bloom approach to governing, or is it a cowardly cop-out? It's kind of both. It wasn't too long ago that Republicans were advocating a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. But few people in the GOP mainstream say that anymore. If you want to know where...

What Judges Know: The Fault for Underfunded Pensions Lies With Politicians, Not Workers

We can’t count on politicians to stick to their word. It’s promising that judges are forcing them to.

(AP Photo/Mel Evans)
(AP Photo/Mel Evans) Union members carry protest signs as they march outside the Mercer County Criminal Courthouse before arguments Wednesday, June 25, 2014, in Trenton, N.J., over New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's plan to use pension payments to balance the budget. Public employee unions on Wednesday tell the court the current budget has unspent funds that could go toward pensions. A dvocates of gutting public pensions are running into the same wall over and over again. From California to Illinois to New Jersey and beyond, pension gutting efforts are being overturned by judges who recognize that breaking promises to workers isn’t just regrettable, it’s illegal. Pension opponents castigate the courts as the enemy while conveniently ignoring why legal protections exist in the first place—to protect public employees from politicians who spent years playing politics with their retirement savings. For decades, elected officials across the country skipped pension payments, often while...

The Government Program That's Equipping Police Like an Occupying Military Force

A chilling index from the Institute for Southern Studies.

(AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, J.B. Forbes)
(AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, J.B. Forbes) Protesters raise their hands in front of police atop an armored vehicle in Ferguson, Missouri, on Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014. This index was originally published by Facing South , a website of the Institute for Southern Studies. ( Click here to subscribe to their newsletter.) Year in which Congress initially authorized the Defense Department to give excess arms and ammunition to law enforcement agencies for counter-drug activities, leading to the creation of what's come to be known as the 1033 program: 1990 Number of law enforcement agencies the program has given equipment to: more than 17,000 Percent of U.S. states with agencies participating in the program: 100 (Photo from the Richland County Sheriff's Department website.) Sheriff Leon Lott of Richland County, South Carolina and members of his department's Special Response Team with the military vehicle they call "The Peacemaker." Value of military equipment the program has transferred...

Court Rules NC Voting Rights Rollback to Stay In Place Until After Midterm Elections

Since taking control of state government in 2011, Republicans rolled back North Carolina's progressive voting laws. A new regime of fewer voting days and voter ID requirements will be in place for November's legislative and congressional elections.

©Jenny Warburg
©JennyWarburg While a federal judge in Winston-Salem heard testimony about North Carolina’s new voting restrictions last month, activists gathered at a nearby plaza to protest the law. A federal judge has temporarily authorized North Carolina to implement a sweeping new law that threatens to reduce access to the polls, particularly for African-American, Latino, and young voters. The ruling by U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder, a George W. Bush appointee, is an early test of the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision, which overturned key parts of the Voting Rights Act. In 2000, North Carolina started rolling out efforts to make it easier to register and vote, only to yank those efforts back thirteen years later. When the state legislature was controlled by Democrats, it authorized counties to conduct up to seventeen days of early voting, including Sunday voting, which enabled black churches to transport parishioners to the polls. It also allowed citizens to register and...

Could the Ferguson Conflict Produce Actual Reform on The Limits of Policing?

Flickr/Elvert Barnes
Every once in a while, a dramatic news story can actually produce real reform. More often the momentum peters out once the story disappears from the news (remember how Sandy Hook meant we were going to get real gun control?), but it can happen. And now, after the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missiouri, turned to a chaotic nightmare of police oppression, we may have an opportunity to examine, and hopefully reverse, a troubling policy trend of recent years. The focus has now largely turned from an old familiar story (cops kill unarmed black kid) to a relatively unfamiliar one, about the militarization of the police. The images of officers dressed up like RoboCop, driving around in armored assault vehicles, positioning snipers to aim rifles at protesters, and firing tear gas and rubber bullets at Americans standing with their hands up saying "Don't shoot!" has lots of Americans asking how things got this way. This issue offers the rarest of all things, an...

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