The Power of Judges and the Roles that they Play… An Interview w/ Austin Lawyer Ann del LLano

We sat down with Austin lawyer/activist and Southern Shift partner Ann Del Llano and spoke to her about last month’s Supreme Court decision to allow corporations unlimited contributions in elections. She started off by noting that the American public were big losers. She said the average citizen just lost a seat at the table in our Democracy because corporations will immediately have a louder voice and better access to lawmakers.

Ann also laid out some of the possible impacts this decision could have on many Texans. For starters, she noted that Private Prisons could suddenly start weighing in on elections and using undue influence and vast resources to push for harsher and longer sentences that would help increase their bottom line.  She noted that we already have powerful police unions who’ve held considerable sway over politicians, who have found themselves under pressure to be tough on crime in the form of choosing  jail sentencing over alternatives. This trend would increase if private prison corporations who stand to make huge profits from warehousing bodies step into the mix..They would be the ones controlling the candidates and literally writing the laws. 

Ann also spoke on the issue of media corporations and how people’s voices would be drowned out when moves are made to allow them to control the internet and get rid of Net Neutrality.  Here’s pt1 of our podcast…

The Power of the Judges and the Roles that they Play

In pt2 of our podcast we take a sobering look at the enormous power judges have in and outside the courtroom, the roles they play and how the recent Supreme court ruling could corporatize the type of judges elected onto the bench… We talked about the types of corporate influence that hs seaped into the Supreme Court in Texas where citizens going up against corporation rarely win.  Ann expressed her fear that things would get exponentially worse.

We looked at a litany of criminal justice cases where the people accused of heinous crimes were let off by judges. They ranged  from the acquittal of the officers who shot Sean Bell 50 times in NY all the way up to the recent dismissal of a case against infamous Texas judge Sharon ‘Killer’ Kellar .  We talked about how George W Bush being ‘selected’ into office  in the landmark ruling they made in 2000, was the result of his father George H Bush putting conservative justices on the supreme court who would rule in his son’s favor 10-15 years later.  Ann pointed out the recent Supreme Court ruling was the result of Bush jr putting Roberts and Alioto on the court.

We talk about the importance of paying attention to elections and asking hard questions about the judges seeking office, especially in the areas of criminal sentencing. Ann lays out a startegy that voters can follow to start monitoring judges so they can be better informed come election time..

We also talked about how voters in Harris County in 2008 swept out all but 4 judges from office and replaced them with judges who were taking a different approach toward punishment.


Our Thoughts on last Nights Debate Between Farouk Shami and Bill White-Think Outside the Box

Like many throughout the state, last night I tuned into to watch the Democratic debate between business owner Farouk Shami and former Houston mayor Bill White. White is favorite among the Dems and for a state that is politically and culturally changing in many areas, he symbolizes that potential. However, while I’d take White over Mr Good Hair Perry and Cheerleader Kay Bailey, I feel he came across way too cautious and I know I’m definitely not alone in my feelings.

Like it or not.  personality, enthusiasm and just good ole fashion straight from the hip plain talk can go a long way in waking up, inspiring and exciting the legions of people who don’t vote because they feel candidates are not about the business of sincerely addressing their issues and concerns. Far too often people are left feeling like they are being treated as statistics and or part of a voting demographic to be conquered and not engaged. And while I recognize there are policy wonks who will insist that playing to the  pool of ‘likely voters’ is a tried and true method, there’s rapidly coming a day when that won’t work.  That pool is shrinking and politicians especially someone like White is going to have to step out his comfort zone just a bit and connect better with the people. What do I mean by that?

White doesn’t need to show up in fancy clothes or adopt new slang and pretend to be someone he isn’t. But it does mean he has to have a better sense of what large portions of the people he wants to govern are thinking and earnestly address them. A certain part of him has got to be he’s the guy who wanna have that proverbial beer with.  But he also has to be the guy you wanna play basketball with, go shopping with,shoot pool with,  go to the car show or rap concerts with or simply hang out on the corner with.. etc. He has to expnad and understand not everyone in Texas drinks or wants to drink beer.

Governor Rick Perry

 Here’s the bottom line.. Rick Perry excites his base better than White is exciting his right now.. That’s not good.  If White wins the March primary he’ll have lots of people voting for him because they can’t stand Perry or the Republicans in general and not because people who are ready to seriously ride hard for him.. Thats gotta change or its gonna be wrap come November.. It’s that serious and that simple. 

People like to take shots at Farouk Shami and say he’s quirky because of his accent and all that, but lets keep it real. He excited people last night. His straight ahead talk and sincerity made people sit up and watch. He connected big time on two important issues, immigration and the death penalty.  He talked about treating those who are undocumented as ‘Human beings’. In fact he used that word ‘Human’  2 or 3 times… I don’t know what the so called policy experts said or how it polled , but Faraouk connectedwith people who often feel as if they are seen as invisible and even treated as second class or a burden to the rest of society.  Farouk talked about building bridges and not walls with our neighbors in Mexico, much like we do with Canada.  Again that connected. Lots of people in Texas and in fact all over the country can and do relate to that statement.  It went a long ways. It made people in the room I was at sit and pay attention. It made folks go look up Farouk and see what his other policies were. 

Farouk Shami

After Farouk spoke on immigration, as predicted there are the racist types who immediately started making their objections known by talking and texting crazy..There was one Neandertal type woman who immediately started tweeting how incredulous she was at Farouk’s suggestion of us working with and seeing our neighbors to the south as fellow human beings who are often in dire need and not some foreign enemy who needs to be spit upon. ‘Build a Bridge with Mexico? How about sending them to Jail’ she tweeted..   

 Is this the crowd we wanna play to? Isn’t this an outdated way of thinking? Isn’t this very 1980s? Bill White’s response on immigration seemed to suggest that he was playing to that crowd.. Not in policy obviously, but in the sense of him trying to minimize critcism and pushback. That’s not riding for your supporters.. That’s called playing them and people can sense that. As I said earlier, people in Texas are tired of being played.. We say let such people holding attitudes like that woman go back to their caves and let’s build with the people who see the world differently.

 Memo to politicians: Millions of people throughout the state DO NOT see their family, friends, neighbors and the people of Mexico as enemies. It doesn’t matter how many Border Patrol shows they run on TV or how many reports of drug cartels we air on the evening news.. The average person sees things very differently.  If we can get to that point in our thinking we can start to craft meaningful legislation that is benificial for everyone involved. 

Even though Bill White is currently the  favorite, if Farouk’s words  start to get out to the millions who didn’t bother to watch last nights debate, he may get a few folks to go to the polls and give White a serious run for the money. As the former mayor of one of the largest and most diverse cities in the country, White should’ve have echoed similar sentiments as Farouk in an unabashed, undaunted way versus trying to cover all his political bases. Immigration is a human thing at the end of the day, not a policy thing… Its best we recognize that now, before we’re  forced to in the near future… 

 On the issue of the death penalty, Farouk came out the box swinging when he pretty much said ‘Hell naw- we need a moratorium’.  He said too many innocent people have been executed and it’s time for a pause.   That drew loud applause where I was at. His remarks drew praise on the Facebook and Tweeter feeds I was on… When pressed by the lame ass reporter who was trying to play ‘Gotcha’ versus simply asking questions, Shami didn’t waver, he boldly restated his position.. ‘We need a moratorium to on the death penalty’

Meanwhile on the other side of the room, White was again trying to cover all the bases.  He said something about respecting the voters, respecting the process, respecting the courts blah blah blah. He came across wishy washy, like he was kinda, sorta,  maybe willing to let someone off if he/she was innocent.. You could literally see his brain working in overdrive to see how he could best say the ‘right thing’ without offending the over-the-top tea party types who would take him to the woodshed for saying anything less than ‘People on death row need to die’… 

 Taking bold steps and earnestly speaking to various audiences is not being reckless. It’s called being a leader and as far as I can recall, Texas Governors like them or not and trust me I haven’t  liked the last two, have been known to speak directly to their constituents and get them reved up..  White has the advantage of appealing to a larger audience of folks who are currently turned off..and turning them on. It seems like he has yet to go after them, but Farouk did.. and that’s a good thing.. He needs to continue down that path.. 

 One topic that both candidates seemed to miss was on the issue of jobs. Yes, lots of people need jobs. The economy is bad, bills need to be paid , many are barely making it..Everyone understands that. However, what was missing in the discussion was evidence of conversations with communities and people who are out of work as to exactly what they need. It’s more than just having a  job.. It’s about what type of job and whether or not it fulfilling.  Are we talking about entry level  manufacturing jobs, office jobs, green Jobs?  Is this what people are saying they want?

Sound leadership says we go beyond giving people something to do just for a paycheck..  Part of the reason America hasn’t been as competitive as we could in the global economy is because folks feel uninpsired by the work they do. Why not take the bold step of creating jobs that will be here for the long haul because folks working them feel they have a stake in them? We ideally should be playing to their strengths and hopefully developing something that has richer meaning.

For example, to this day, I am hard pressed to find anyone who really knows what is a Green Job.  The common answer I get is ‘installing solar panels’. My mom is who is older and out of work and not in the best of health is not interested or capable of installing solar panels. So what are we really talking about when you say ‘Green Jobs’? Are these entry level positions or something with mobility? Can I one day make partner? Move into management? Be the Solar panel provider versus installer? 

One thing that has always stood out is the entrepreneurial spirit of folks in places like Houston. Known and admired all over the country for its thriving music scene, there are a couple of generations of people who’ve grown up in H-Town wanting to ‘run their own businesses and many do.. I have to wonder if any candidate have tapped into this resevoir of talent  and taken into account their perspectives when crafting job policy?  Have any of these candidates spoken to the entrepreneurs of today’s generation?  What ideas do iconic figures and leaders like a Trae, Bun B, Matt Sonzala, Slim Thug, K-Rino, J Prince, Chingo Bling, Brother Jesse and so many others have to say?

Yes, I realize some of these people are artists, but many those same artists not only have created and provided jobs for the people around them. In addition prior to becoming well known and finacially able to live solely off their craft, many had  to hustle and make do with their own jobs. These individuals have set examples for many who look up to them all over the country. Are we talking to them here in Texas? 

Take a popular artist like Chamillionaire. He was recently in California’s Silicon valley where he  give a keynote about new technology and digital media. He was there opening people’s eyes about new job possibilities. Has anyone running for governor in Texas tapped him to see what suggestions he has?  This is an especially important point  in the age of social media, computers and digital devices. I know people who can flip computers and make them do things they weren’t initially designed to do.. Should we be looking in that direction and finding ways to enhances those skill sets?  

Annisse Parker

In a recent  interview with new mayor Annisse Parker, she talked to us about how Houston is rapidly becoming a destination place for the arts and how she wants to continue moving things in that vein. What does that mean for new jobs? Does Houston become Hollywood South? Do we start crafting new facilities and exploring what opportunities exist in that arena. Do we become a destination place for film festivals, indy media etc..? Its gotta be more than solar panels.. The job I have is writing, broadcasting and basically communicating.. I’m not trying to install some panels.. But I might be willing to work at crafting important messages form a company or agency.. Again we have to think outside the box here in the new Texas and part of that is recognizing what people are needing and enthusiastically embracing.

All in all, there is a great opportunity to tap the untapped and bring them into the process of electing Texas’ next governor. One can play the same old game and go for the so called likely voters.. or we can appeal to those who feel disconnected.. The choice is yours

The New Racial Segregation at Public Schools

The New Racial Segregation at Public Schools

In 1990 over 40 percent of black students in the South attended majority-white schools. Now less than 30 percent of students do — 1960s numbers.

February 4, 2010  |  
Overview: America’s schools are more segregated now than they were in the late 1960s. More than 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education, we need to radically rethink the meaning of “school choice.”

So much depends on a yellow bus, winding its way across the North Carolina landscape.

For decades, this was how Wake County integrated its schools. Buses would pick up public school students in largely minority communities along the Raleigh Beltline; in affluent Cary, a Raleigh suburb; in dozens of small towns and unincorporated communities around this fast growing state capital.

Most of the students would travel to schools not far from home. But every year, a few would cross the county to a new school, in a neighborhood very different from their own.

The system won Wake County praise from many integration advocates — but locally, people were less enchanted. In late 2008, a wave of anti-busing sentiment swept in new school board members who promised to support neighborhood schools and keep kids closer to home.

Cathy Truitt worries about what will happen next.

“If we end busing abruptly, we’ll be taking a rapid step back to resegregation,” said Truitt, a retired teacher who was defeated in her bid for a school board seat.

While Truitt worries about the effects of an end to busing, she says voters were exasperated with a system that seemed to randomly reassign their children to schools far from home.

“A child could be reassigned for three out of four years, while another family would go untouched, “ Truitt said. “While people embraced diversity, they were absolutely tired of losing their choices.”

The New Segregation
Stories like that are bound to get a reaction from Amy Stuart Wells.

A professor at Teachers College at Columbia University, Wells has spent much of her career studying the resegregation of American schools — writing the history of the steady march back to separateness that has left our educational system more racially segregated now than it was in 1968.

“We don’t have to accept this juxtaposition that puts school choice on one side and a civil rights approach to integration on the other,” Wells said. “Our approaches to school choice over the past 20 years have been pretty unimaginative — and children are paying for our lack of imagination.”

For Wells and other experts on school integration, the Wake County school board election is just another phase in a long-term, city-by-city struggle over how to integrate our schools. It’s a struggle that the entire country has been losing for the better part of two decades.

Today, one-third of black students attend school in places where the black population is more than 90 percent. A little less than half of white students attend schools that are more than 90 percent white. One-third of all black and Latino students attend high-poverty schools (where more than 75 percent of students receive free or reduced lunch); only 4 percent of white children do.

Things have been better, and not so long ago. In 1990 more than 40 percent of black students in the South were attending majority-white schools. Today, fewer than 30 percent of students do — roughly the same percentage as in the late 1960s, when many districts were still refusing to implement 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education.

That trend isn’t limited just to the South, according to Gary Orfield, director of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA. According to Orfield, some of the deepest racial divisions in America today are in the Midwest, where old patterns of “white flight” have shaped the suburban landscape, and a new generation of immigrants is settling into communities that were never under orders to desegregate.

Most of the decades-old obstacles to integration still remain. Wake County’s debate over active integration measures is a rarity these days: Most busing programs were killed by white backlash in the 1970s. Our schools are still governed by a hodgepodge of districts, some giant and some tiny, many of which were created as enclaves of white privilege. And Americans still are choosing — or being steered toward — home ownership in communities where everyone looks like them.

And there are new challenges. In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively gutted Brown by declaring that school districts can’t consider racial diversity as a factor in school assignments. (Where busing still exists, it’s done on the basis of family income.) And as the suburbs have spread, we’ve seen residential segregation on steroids. “The old paradigm of black cities and white suburbs is no longer true,” said Orfield. “Black and Latino communities are expanding into the suburbs — but they’re concentrated in specific areas. We’re seeing a suburbia that is divided by ethnicity.”

Separate is Still Unequal
Depending on where you stand, the drift back to segregation may be obvious, or it may be entirely invisible. “Many white students attend schools that are overwhelmingly white, and those schools are actually seeing an increase in diversity,” Orfield said. “We have the irony that white students can feel that their educational experience is more integrated, when in fact the level of segregation nationwide has increased.”

In the mid-1960s, 80 percent of American students were white. Today, due to immigration and other factors, children of color make up almost 40 percent of the student body. While the student body as a whole has grown more much more diverse, many majority-white schools have seen only a slight bump in their minority enrollment.

Meanwhile, growing numbers of black, Latino and Asian American students are finding themselves in what Orfield calls “intensely segregated” schools — schools where students of color make up more than 90 percent of the student body. Typically these schools have high concentrations of students in poverty — what Orfield calls “double segregation.” And increasingly there is “triple segregation” as English language learners in poverty find themselves concentrated in certain schools.

“These schools are just fundamentally different from other schools,” said Erica Frankenberg, a scholar on the Civil Rights Project. “In terms of AP classes available, number of veteran teachers, graduation rates — on almost every measure you see an indication of a school in severe stress.”

Students in these intensely segregated environments are far less likely to graduate, or to go on to college. It’s a problem that is well known to many people of color. Frankenberg says its time for the entire country to realize that this is a crisis for each of us.

“If we don’t start educating black and Latino students better than we are doing now, we are going to see an intergenerational decline in the percentage of high school graduates in the adult population for the first time ever,” she noted.

There’s strong evidence that integration could help us eliminate the “achievement gap.” Frankenberg and Orfield both note that the gap was lowest during the late 1980s and early 1990s — the period in history when our schools were at their most integrated.

“We have never been able to implement Plessy v. Ferguson,” Frankenberg said. “Separate schools have never been equal. Yet we keep trying to make a segregated system work.”

A Hidden History of Choice
How do we reverse a 40-year trend, one that is embedded in our residential landscape? And how do we integrate schools when the Supreme Court has ruled that race and diversity can’t be a factors in school assignments?

The solution might be as simple as changing the way we think — particularly the way we think about school choice.

“We need to rethink what choice means, and we need to realize that it isn’t inimical to the ‘civil rights’ approach to integration,” Wells said.

Experts such as Wells and Orfield point out that many fundamentals of school segregation haven’t changed all that much since 1990. There was residential segregation then, and many racially homogenous districts date back to the 1970s.

What did change was a paradigm shift. Court rulings weakened local integration plans, and Americans increasingly began looking for solutions that appealed to their free-market instincts. Charter schools and vouchers began to look like the best way to liberate students from intensely segregated schools — and the best way to create innovative, effective schools.

By and large, it hasn’t worked, Orfield contends.

“Charter schools are the most segregated segment of the school system,” he said. “They often appear in highly segregated areas, and they tend to increase segregation.”

Again, so much depends on a yellow bus. By not providing transportation and other services commonly found in traditional public schools, charters were limiting their student body to kids who lived nearby — and to parents who had the right social networks.

“With charters, recruitment is largely word-of-mouth, and, as a result, these schools aren’t as accessible as they could be,” Wells said.

Orfield notes that charters aren’t bound by civil rights mandates, the way magnet schools are. But even magnet schools — with their implied mission of providing alternatives — don’t have enough capacity to provide parents with a true choice. With waiting lists at every magnet, it’s the schools that are doing the selecting.

“The laissez-faire, market-based approaches of the past 20 years have done a really good job of providing schools with a choice of students,” Wells said. “But they haven’t done a good job of providing students with a choice of schools.”

It didn’t have to be that way, Wells said.

“The problem is that there’s a whole history of school choice that has been hidden and forgotten,” she said. Wells recently co-authored a major study on school systems that still have voluntary busing. Eight major cities — including Indianapolis, St. Louis, Palo Alto and others — still have voluntary busing systems that allow students from intensely segregated schools to choose to attend other schools — even across district lines.

“These programs aren’t thriving — in fact, they’re struggling, politically, to survive — but they’re hanging on in large part because of support from parents,” Wells said.

That includes parents in white, affluent suburbs who want students from other districts to be brought into their schools.

“A lot of white parents in the suburbs bemoan the fact that they’re raising kids in an all-white, privileged context,” Wells said. “Even the kids realize they’re in this bubble.”

For Wells, the voluntary busing programs represent an approach to school choice that once was well known — one most parents have forgotten, or believe to be a failure. And that’s a shame, she said, because for students in these programs, the achievement gap has shrunk.

“Not only do these programs provide meaningful choices, they provide the intangibles — high expectations, higher academic aspirations, exposure to more ways of seeing the world,” she said.

Rethinking Districts
Wells is quick to point out that these are programs that bus students from one district to another. School district boundaries, she says, are “the new Jim Crow,” separating poverty from wealth and white from black and brown.

Frankenberg agrees. She notes that the most segregated states today are the ones with the greatest profusion of districts — a legacy of a post-Brown movement to establish white and affluent enclaves in the shadow of major cities.

Frankenberg, who grew up in Mobile, uses her home state as an example. Alabama has 67 counties and 167 school districts. Neighboring Florida also has 67 counties — and 69 districts (one for each county and two special districts for university laboratory schools.) According to Frankenberg, Alabama is the most segregated state in the South — the only Southern state that consistently shows up in the top 10 of most segregated states.

Consolidating districts in highly segregated areas might be a difficult political battle, but complete consolidation isn’t the only option.

“We need to rethink our attitude toward districts,” Wells says. “The boundaries can be more permeable than they are now.”

In an age of economic hardship, that approach may be more welcome than ever before. Well points to Long Island, New York, which has 125 individual school districts.

“People are starting to understand that this system is wasteful,” she said. “Districts are starting to talk about saving money by consolidating back-office operations. There’s even talk about consolidating certain employment functions, though I’m not sure the union will approve of that.

“If districts can share these services, why can’t we find ways to allow students to attend school across district lines?” she said. “Why can’t we create interdistrict magnet programs?”

A Paradigm Shift
Wells, Orfield and Frankenberg all say they’re hopeful things will change now that America has its first black president. So far, though, the signals from the Obama Administration have been mixed.

Wells says she hopes a new generation of research on the benefits of a diverse education will help “put integration and civil rights back on the public radar.” She cites the work of Scott E. Page, a mathematician who has used computer models to show that diverse groups of thinkers come up with better solutions than homogenous groups.

But the testimony of teachers and parents is just as important. If debates like the one in Wake County reach an unhappy ending, it may be because we’re losing sight of the perspectives that only educators can provide.

“We need to be politically active in seeking a change,” she said. “And teachers need to be prepared share what they know — to explain why diversity is important.”

Tim Lockette is a freelance writer in Montgomery, AL, and former editor of Teaching Tolerance.

Former Harris County Judge Now Holds it Down in the Jails

We recently caught up with former Harris county judge Caprice Cosper and talk to her about her new appointment which has been described as a czar-ship for jails. She says that’s an inaccurate description and talked to us exactly what she does in overseeing the jail system. Her main goals is to deal with prison over crowding which has resulted in more than thousand prisoners being shipped out-of-state. She is also a liason  between her former fellow Harris County Judges and the Harris County Jail. Described as ameticulous hard-working, stern yet fair judge, we at The Southern Shift sat down and talked with Cosper about the types of thresholds she was hoping to reach in order to determine success.

In pt2 we continue our interview w/ former Harris County judge Caprice Cosper. Here she tackles the issue of recitivism and the push to be tough on crime. She talks about how Harris County is in a unique point in history where various stake holder in the justice system recognize there is great need for change. She lays out the steps she and others are now taking to be fair and yet responsible for keeping society’s most dangerous people off the streets.

As we come into pt3 of our interview w/ former judge Caprice Cosper, she talks about the need to rehabillitate non-violent, substance abuse and low level offenders who will one day get out of prison and return to society. 

We conclude our interview w/ former Harris county judge Caprice Cosper. Here we talk about the influence of gang reality shows on TV and how that may actually be an encouragement for wayward youth looking for 15 minutes of fame…We also talk about how women are the largest growing segment in Harris County’s jail population and steps being taken to turn that around. Lastly we talk about about how 1 out 10 Texans is or has been in jail.

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Scholar Cornel West Goes In on President Obama-Expresses Disappoitment


Scholar, author Dr Cornel West, Professor at Princeton, University has gone in on President Obama. Shortly after last week’s state of the union he released a video where he questions Obama’s commitment to poor people. He points out that the improved economy the President touts still has an un-employment rate of 10% and that 10% is made up of real people who are in dire straits. West also noted that President Obama brought many people into the fold during his campaign, but now seems to have abandoned them to become a technocratic deal cutter.

In the video West warns that if Obama does not take the steps to be more of a leader in the vain of iconic figures like Martin Luther King who has often been compared to, then he will be nothing more than a mediocre President…

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