- Created on 15 May 2013
I am a criminal.
I have a car but no insurance.
After my beloved truck broke down, I was carless for 16 months in the Motor City — hustling rides, waiting for buses and cabs that never showed, popping bike tires in gaping potholes at 3 a.m. in neighborhoods with no working streetlights.
During this time, I let my old car insurance policy expire without renewing it. Why would I renew it? I had nothing to insure. Last December, I bought a 1998 Honda Civic for $2,300 in cash. I headed straight to a side-by-side Secretary of State and LA Insurance office. What a joy to drive again! But this time, I was going to get it right. Buy auto insurance. For real. I’m 33 and making steady money. Maybe now is the time for the real symbol of American adulthood: FULL COVERAGE.
Confident of my driving record, I asked for the amount of minimal coverage.
“$387,” she told me.
“That’s right. You can pay $2,322 today or pay $1,200 down today and $1,122 in two months.”
“WHAT?!!! That’s more than the price of the car.”
She responded, “You live in Detroit.”
And that’s when I found out the secret that everyone knows. Insurance companies charge Detroiters double what they charge suburbanites for the exact same services. And it’s mandated by law.
“We don’t make the prices. The insurers do, most of which are headquartered out of state,” I was told.
To add insult to injury, she continued, “Also policies cost more if you haven’t been insured for a while, even if you didn’t have a car.”
Which means in addition to the geographic penalty, there is a poverty penalty. And there was nothing she can do about it.
I couldn’t afford any of that. But I needed proof of insurance just to get a license plate. I felt defeated, impotent and trapped. On the day I should have been celebrating my hard-earned purchase, my four wheels of freedom, I was about to cry onto the two-inch-thick bulletproof glass separating me from a woman I had just met.
She tells me about one last option, the seven-day policy. A seven-day policy is insurance coverage for just seven days. People buy it so they have something to show the Secretary of State when they renew their tabs. They drive with an easy mind for the following six days. Then for the rest of the year they drive with one eye on the rearview mirror.
I gave her $250 bucks. She gave me a piece of paper that said I had car insurance for a week. The company underwriting that worthless seven-day policy just got a big chunk of my hard-earned money for free so I could get a license plate.
After months of riding dirty, I’m sick of being paranoid every time I get in the car. So like all outlaws, I consider committing a couple more crimes on my path to getting straight. The same crimes most of my friends in the city commit. Insurance fraud. Tax evasion. I go to another agency to find out the cost if I have a suburban address.
Turns out he can get me a “friends only” deal. $1,890 for 6 months in Detroit.
And if I “move” to Ferndale? $1,022 for six months.
Ferndale and Detroit are separated by a single road. That means by living on the south side of the street, I pay $145 a month — 85 percent — more than if I lived on the north side of the street. For the same “product.”
So, youngsters from the suburbs rent houses and apartments in the city. Go to college in the city. Drink in city bars. Eat in city restaurants. Post on Facebook and Twitter about how meaningful it is to participate in Detroit. But according to their driver’s licenses, they actually live in Ferndale or Rochester Hills, Livonia or Romeo.
Because of that “little white lie” they don’t pay city income tax. How many millions of tax dollars are lost to the city because people keep suburban addresses to avoid exaggerated insurance costs? And for a city in “financial emergency,” paying taxes is a big deal.
Many born-in-Detroiters lack access to a fraudulent address. Which means residents of one of the poorest cities in the United States have no choice but to pay the nation’s highest auto insurance rates or go without it.
According to the State of Michigan’s Web site, “If you own a car and you drive it, or allow someone else to drive it without basic no-fault insurance, you can be sued and held personally liable. You may also be convicted of a misdemeanor and fined from $200 to $500 or put in jail for up to one year, or both.”
This effectively criminalizes Detroit residents. Ever since the virulent racist and ruthless profiteer, Henry Ford, ripped out the street rail system, Detroiters have needed cars to get around. One third of Detroit residents live below the poverty line ($23,550 for a family of four in 2013). The median income for a household of four in the city is $26,098. That means the average family in Detroit makes just about $212 a month more than what is considered poverty and the insurance price quoted to me for one car is equivalent to 15 percent of the average Detroit family’s yearly income. People living at or close to poverty cannot afford 15 percent of their income for something that provides them with entirely no tangible value.
In fact, if you subtract my quoted yearly price of $3,780 from the Detroit median income of $26,098, you get $22,318 (below the poverty line), so it could be said that car insurance rates are keeping the average family in Detroit living in poverty.
At minimum coverage, if your car gets stolen/wrecked, you’ll still have to pay the insurance for a car you no longer have.
Additionally, although I’ll save the discussion on racial profiling in police traffic stops for when an insurance-less driver gets pulled over, it can set off a chain reaction that can ruin lives. High-priced tickets. Suspended licenses. Driver’s Responsibility fees. For poor people, the same inability to pay for insurance renders them unable to pay state-mandated fines for not having insurance.
Inability to pay can lead to jail time. Jail time leads to loss of work and to the inability to support their families. According to recent statistics, most families in Detroit are single parent families. The absence of a parent for one night or even a few hours due to arrest can be traumatic and dangerous for a child. Let alone weeks/months. I’d be interested to see some research on the instances of incarceration originating with insurance-related offenses in the city. I’d bet there are so many correlations. This state-mandated criminalization of poverty and city residents doesn’t just affect Detroiters and the poor, it destabilizes countless families, which increases crime and social ills of all kinds for our whole region. Is it a surprise to you that America’s poorest cities are the most violent and crime-ridden?
Why not just do without a car? Go green and ride a bike? Most people I know work in an entirely different community from where they live. Some neighborhoods have decent grocery stores and health services but many in the massive 138-square mile city don’t.
I can ride my bike eight miles in about 30 minutes. On average, it takes me one hour and 45 minutes to make the same trip on the city bus system. Bikes are great but not in the rain, snow or with groceries. Not to arrive at a professional job free of sweat, without grease on your pant leg or wrinkles on your shirt. Not to transport children. The #12 Conant bus I take stops running at midnight; I get off work at 3 a.m. A car is the only consistent way to traverse the sprawling “motor city.”
Meanwhile, the law-abiders strengthen the companies to oppress us even more. Massive unregulated profit levels allow insurance companies to spend huge amounts on lobbyists and political campaigns. Corporations then entrench their privileges in laws.
Last week, State Rep. Peter Lund, R-Shelby Township, introduced a bill into the legislature to cap Michigan’s unlimited personal injury protection at $1 million ostensibly to lower insurance rates. Under the proposed plan, the savings would be $125 a year. That would make my quoted monthly Detroit insurance rate fall from $315 to $305. YIPPPEEEE! Wow, I would save $10 a month. But if I am in a catastrophic crash, I might just find myself on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars of medical bills. Thanks for looking out, Pete! By the way, 33.7 percent of Peter Lund’s campaign financing in the election he won last November came from the insurance industry alone.
Why haven’t the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP done something about this? Don’t they have skin in this game?
Separate rates for equal cities is inherently unequal. For a city where 82.7 percent of the population is Black, the insurance rate disparity is overtly racist. If not deliberately racist in its intent, then definitively racist in its execution. It increases the friction between city-folk and suburbanites. It effectively steals much needed taxes from the city. It encourages fraud over honesty. It rewards the rich and penalizes the poor.
So what to do?
First of all, if you live in Detroit but your legal address is in the suburbs, e-mail the state legislators in your suburban district. Remember the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Make legislators statewide (if they haven’t been bought out by the insurance companies already) know this problem affects us all. Then change your freaking address and pay your darn taxes.
Secondly, since the government forces all drivers to buy from insurance companies, it should force insurance companies to make coverage affordable for all drivers.
The governor could encourage the creation of a nonprofit that offers low cost insurance. Michigan insurance companies collected over $2 billion more than they paid out in claims in 2011. I imagine that $2 billion would bring down insurance prices for Detroiters a great deal. Such a nonprofit would provide more new jobs for Michiganders, and get more people insured. I think city tax revenues would increase immediately and taxpayer funded court/jail costs would decrease.
I’m sure there are wiser people in this city with better ideas about how to deal with this injustice than me. Speak up! Please! And if you already are, speak even louder! We all need your help. We all want to be legal and law-abiding; it is so much less stressful.
Until we do find the right solution, I, however, will be riding dirty. And driving with one eye on the rearview mirror.
- Created on 14 May 2013
Last year, James Porter, the recently-elected president of the National Rifle Association, declared that President Obama was a “fake president …[whose] entire administration is anti-gun, anti-freedom, anti-Second Amendment.”
Earlier this month, Adam Kokesh, a failed Republican candidate for Congress from Arizona and Internet talk show host, declared he would lead a July 4 march in Washington, D.C. of thousands of followers with loaded rifles slung across their backs as a demonstration against “tyranny.”
District law bars private citizens from carrying firearms in public, and city police officials have said they won’t permit such a march. Kokesh said such action would show that “free people are not welcome in Washington, adding that “we would rather die on our feet than live on our knees.”
The bipartisan Congressional effort to craft an immigration bill exploded in controversy last week when it was revealed that, Jason Richwine, a co-author of a heavily-criticized study on the subject submitted by the conservative Heritage Foundation, had previously asserted it was unlikely “Hispanics will ever reach IQ parity with whites” and that, despite their long existence in America, Black Americans have yet to adapt properly to American culture.
You can believe that these three expressions of conservative political opinion – and scores of other similar ones – are unconnected. But that would be exactly the wrong analysis.
If the first term of the Obama presidency proved anything about today’s American political culture, it showed conclusively that we live in an era of conservative extremism.
The assertion of extreme ideas and actions spewing from conservative elected officials, office-seekers, political operatives, talk show hosts and donors has become so commonplace that it’s sometimes difficult to gauge the depth of this GOP-led corrupting of the traditional practice of politics.
But this is how Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, two longtime and respected students of Washington governance, put it in an April 27, 2012 op-ed column for the Washington Post: “The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”
The “old” American political tradition enshrined the “win-some-lose-some” notion of compromise as the only way a nation full of competing political, social and business interests (a nation that was from the beginning multiracial) could continue to exist.
Of course, no one knows better than Black Americans that for most of American history the White majority’s adherence to compromise cost them and other people of color dearly – because their rights were often “compromised” out of existence.
But they bore that burden for centuries because of their faith in the ultimate triumph of the American Ideal. Albeit slowly, the fruit of their labors and patience was that a critical segment of White Americans came to understand what democracy means.
It’s long been clear, however, that not all Americans – especially those on the right – want to accept that lesson.
There’s seemingly no end to the bizarre notions and tough-guy posturing and outright racism, sexism and homophobia that represent conservatism today. This nihilistic politics has underscored that conservatism is rooted in callousness, and the more it comes under pressure from the movement toward greater equality of opportunity, the more deranged it becomes.
Thus, as the three examples above show: The resort to conspiracy theories, especially those involving federal government “tyranny.” Concomitantly, the indulgence in fantasy notions of the lone-hero super White man, armed to the teeth and ready to preserve his I-made-it-all-myself “independence.” And, most of all, the designation of “enemies” who are, first, dehumanized – so they can be dealt with without mercy.
This perspective on the conservative movement’s unyielding obstructionism to anything President Obama proposes, whether it be legislative policies or appointees to the cabinet and federal judgeships, makes his achievements in office all the more impressive.
But it also indicates what grievous damage has been done to the president’s program – and to the American political tradition. In their Washington Post op-ed column of last year, Mann and Ornstein looked ahead to the November presidential election and ruefully predicted that no matter who won, “If anything, Washington’s ideological divide will probably grow after the 2012 elections.”
Unfortunately, they were right about that, too.
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His latest book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America.
- Created on 13 May 2013
“Brighter days are ahead.”
“The check is being put in the mail.”
That is what the Republicans seem to be saying after they released their “Growth and Opportunity Project” report in March. Six months after Republicans took a drubbing in the 2012 elections, GOP National Committee Chair Reince Priebus announced a $10 million outreach program to seek more minorities as members.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) provides national leadership for the Party. It is responsible for developing and promoting the Republican political platform, coordinating fundraising and election strategy. The problem for Priebus and the party is that the RNC is often viewed as “an old White guy’s club” that is unsympathetic to the needs of Blacks and minorities.
So, in March, Priebus decided that it was time for the party to “call Tyrone.” In past months, the Republicans set new goals for “outreach” and their spring meeting was to “focus on putting the party on a path to fulfill” their goals. The agenda for the RNC’s spring conference called for strategy sessions and workshops on voter outreach and party coordination.
The “Growth and Opportunity Project” chided the Republicans for not dealing with “shifting” voter demographics. Just after the “Growth and Opportunity Project” was announced, the RNC tapped Raffi Williams, son of TV newscaster, Juan, to be an African-American press contact with a focus on youth outlets. During the spring meeting in Hollywood, Calif., the RNC announced hiring Asian and Pacific Island field and communications directors and election of a state party director “to support and empower the work of grassroots activists and volunteers.” There are reports that “some RNC members discussed working with minority media” in their quest.
In past months, the Republicans haven’t actually called Tyrone, and have stepped back from the heady days of the “Growth and Opportunity Project” announcement. Short of sending checks in the mail to Black voters, the Republicans face long odds connecting with them. Unless, the Grand Ole Party expands its level of electoral support, it could slide into complete irrelevance.
Bottom line is the Republicans will need minority media to develop meaningful relationships and channels of communication to change Black Americans attitudes. The way Republicans make inroads among African Americans is to help them gain weight in their wallets. Priebus and Company need to take public policy positions that have potential to advance Blacks’ interests. As they make their way through the “hood,” Republicans can make much of the fact that Black population, uptown and in suburbia, have always done well economically under their governance. Under Republicans, Blacks could again know political reciprocity like they did the last time they supported a Republican presidential ticket in any sizeable numbers, and gave Richard Nixon more than 30 percent of their vote. Nixon, in turn, generated millions of dollars through Black-oriented programs and projects.
In 2012, just 5 percent of African Americans considered themselves Republicans. And Republicans need to do more than shout slogans to gain higher numbers of African American registrants. It’s time greater numbers of Blacks and Republicans align in projects that generate mutual benefits. Such alliances can repair and bring new successes to Black communities. In the past, Republican practices have helped empower Blacks – from President Lincoln’s Emancipation to Booker T. Washington’s post-slavery practices of commerce to Richard Nixon’s endorsements for “minority enterprise.”
Even a slight GOP inroad among Blacks could swing a state or two in close 2014 elections and the 2016 presidential contest. The promotion of the Republican brand among Black Americans requires messages that connect with the realities of Black life in America. As opposed to tepid trials of the past, the GOP’s chiefs and corps have to move quickly to have a meaningful presence among Blacks, and at their community events and cultural ceremonies.
The RNC should have no reservations in chronicling that they’ve “made progress” in mending relationships with African Americans; but for the party to be viable on the national stage so much more needs to be done.
William Reed is head of the Business Exchange Network and available for speaking/seminar projects through the Bailey Group.org.
- Created on 14 May 2013
When the FBI announced that they were placing fugitive Assata Shakur (Joanne Chesimard) on the list of most wanted terrorists and that they were offering an additional $1 million for her capture, it caught most of the world by complete surprise. Assata has been living quietly in exile in Cuba where she was given political asylum for 30 years.
The former member of the Black Liberation Army escaped captivity after being tried and convicted—under controversial circumstances—in connection with the killing of a New Jersey State policeman. Several other allegations against her were dropped either through acquittals or mistrials.
Assata Shakur had been a member of the Black Panther Party, later joining the Black Liberation Army. Like many other Black activists in the late 1960s and early 1970s, she witnessed the vicious repression of the Black Freedom Movement—and other movements of the time—by agencies of the U.S. government, including through the use of the now notorious COINTELPRO (the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program). COINTELPRO involved the infiltration and disruption of organizations that the FBI concluded were a threat to the U.S. elite. Disruption included rumor-mongering, provocation, the encouraging of splits, imprisonment and murder.
The intensity of the repression of the Black Freedom Movement, in this case, led many activists to conclude that, at a minimum, self-defense was necessary. For others the conclusion was that a military arm of the Black Freedom Movement was needed.
Whether one agrees or disagrees with the conclusions arrived at by Assata Shakur, one thing is very important: she was never a terrorist. Let us be clear about the meaning of this word that we hear so regularly these days. A “terrorist” is someone who uses military methods/violence against civilians in order to advance a political objective. There is nothing in the activism of Assata Shakur that displays anything approaching terrorism. Additionally, since her exile, she has not been involved with any activities in the U.S. that could be construed as terrorist.
So, what is this about? It appears that the main inspiration for this outrage is to derail any efforts at the normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Upon the reelection of President Obama, there have been rumors circulating that there might be efforts to remove Cuba from the list of countries supporting terrorism. There were additional suggestions that there might be efforts towards normalization.
There are groups in the U.S. who oppose normalization of relations with Cuba and they will do anything that they can to disrupt such efforts. Whether those elements convinced the FBI to take this step is irrelevant. The fact is that this step complicates discussions about changing the terms of U.S./Cuban relations. Right-wing Cuban exiles as well as ultra-conservative elements in our political establishment have an interest in the status quo; most of this country is more interested in improvement in relations with Cuba.
For this reason, we need to understand the upping of the ante on Assata as not only a threat to her existence, a violation of Cuban and international law, but also a cynical move to disrupt efforts to end the Cold War in the Western Hemisphere.
Now is the time to demand that President Obama and Attorney General Holder reverse the decision of the FBI. Let’s end this ridiculous melodrama.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him at www.billfletcherjr.com.
- Created on 13 May 2013
The Senate’s Gang of Eight have put together an 844-page monstrosity known as the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, legislation that President Obama says he “basically approves” of. This essentially unreadable bill was put together by Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Michael Bennett (D-Col.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.).
On its surface, the bill provides much-needed relief to many of the 11 million undocumented people who live in our country. The challenge is that it disadvantages some immigrants, especially African and Caribbean immigrants, while helping others.
Further, the Senators crafting the bill put goodies into the bill that only serve to advantage themselves or their states. Senator Lindsay Graham wants more visas for the meat packing industry. Senator Charles Schumer provided special provisions for Irish people with a high school diploma (why?), Senator Marco Rubio, the much touted possible presidential candidate in 2016, asked for more visas for the cruise ship industry, and Senators Michael Bennett wants more visas for workers in ski resorts.
Meanwhile, the legislation would eliminate the Diversity Visa Program, which allows a visa lottery for countries that have low levels (less than 50,000 people) of immigration to the United States. Many African immigrants come here through this program (Ghana and Nigeria each had 6,000 immigrants through this program in 2011; African immigrants are 36 percent of those receiving diversity visas). Thus, while Senator Schumer pushes for special provisions for Irish immigrants, there is no one on the Senate side pushing for special provisions for African and Caribbean immigrants.
Instead of the Diversity Visa Program, the Senate Bill 744 creates between 120,000 and 200,000 visas on a “merit based” system, which gives highest priority to those who have future employment opportunities. Because employers do not seek out African and Caribbean immigrants for employees (as they seek out Indian and Chinese employees), the merit-based point system is likely to provide fewer opportunities for those from Africa and the Caribbean. Senator Schumer’s special provision for the Irish carries no stipulation that these people be employed, essentially granting them a pass from the merit-based point system.
Many hi-tech companies use the H-1B visa program on the grounds that there is a shortage of skilled workers in the United States. There is evidence that this claim is specious and that employers prefer foreign workers who they can pay less and control more. The new legislation will prevent employers from holding workers hostage because their continuing employment is necessary in order to keep their visa. The new legislation gives H-1B 60 days to find a new job. But why do we have H-1B visas at all. With unemployment over 7 percent, and Black unemployment over 13 percent, surely there are unemployed people who could work effectively in technology companies. Howard University economist Bill Sprigs has written that there are proportionately more African American students majoring in computer science than White. Many of these graduates cannot find jobs. Meanwhile, African and Caribbean immigrants get just a small percentage of H-1B visas.
The Immigration Modernization bill will spend $4.5 billion in an attempt to secure the southern border, which will “secure” our country from Mexican immigrants, but ignores the northern border, which makes our country more open to Canadian immigration. Of course, Canadian immigrants are more likely to be White, and thus less feared, than Mexican immigrants. The Congressional Black Caucus is one of many groups that suggest that this $4.5 billion could be more effectively spent, perhaps on STEM education.
The immigration bill is by no means final. The House of Representatives still has to vote on it, and many of them will add amendments and exceptions to take care of their “pet” causes. Meanwhile, President Obama has been urging Democrats to accept the immigration bill as it is, because too many amendments may jeopardize the bill. For example, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) would like to propose an amendment that would allow gay Americans to sponsor their partners for green cards. The Judiciary Committee is likely to pass this amendment, but the whole Senate might not pass it.
President Obama has had a bad year, so far. He didn’t get his way on gun control, and he’s been kicked around by an obstructionist House of Representatives. He needs immigration reform to fulfill promises he made to the Latino community during his campaign. But the unwieldy 844-page piece of legislation contains lots of provisions that don’t pass the smell test. It makes it more difficult for African and Caribbean immigrants to become citizens of the United States.
The African American community must take a closer look at this legislation. If Senator Schumer can give 10,000 Irish immigrants the open door, how many Africans and Caribbeans will he make exceptions for? At the very minimum, Congress should restore the Diversity Visa program. The bill is called the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act. Exactly who will have more economic opportunity? And is immigration really being modernized when it locks foreign-born Black people out of the process?
Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.