Native American Mashpee tribe turns to Congress in land dispute

Trump administration reversed Obama-era decision to recognise the Mashpee Wampanoag reservation in Massachusetts.

The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe has bipartisan support in Congress [Shafik Mandhai/Al Jazeera]
The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe has bipartisan support in Congress 

Washington, DC – A Native American tribe is calling on members of Congress to help protect the status of its reservation after the Trump administration reversed an Obama-era decision to hold its land in trust.

Former President Barack Obama’s administration took the land of the Mashpee into trust in 2015, giving the tribe jurisdiction over the reservation, which is located in Massachusetts.

Less than a year later, a judge ruled that the Obama administration had acted outside of its remit in entrusting the reservation to the federal government.

That ruling was based on a controversial reading of the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, which does not qualify the Mashpee as “Indian”.

In September, the US Department of Interior, under the Trump administration, decided not to challenge the ruling. The tribe then filed a lawsuit against the administration, saying its decision was “arbitrary, capricious and contrary to law, and if left unaddressed, will have a devastating impact on the tribe”, according to local media.

On Wednesday, members of the tribe and supporters from across the US gathered at the Capitol to call on Congress to use its plenary powers to pass legislation that would override the Department of the Interior’s authority on the issue.

If Congress does not pass legislation protecting the tribe and the legal challenge fails, the Mashpee would be stripped of their right to exercise sovereign jurisdiction over their land.

Jessie Little Doe Baird, the tribe’s vice-chairwoman, told Al Jazeera that loss of jurisdiction would prevent the tribe from running indigenous language schools, tribal courts, and housing projects, as well as its own police.

“We have our own police force, which is important because they’re tribal citizens and since we’ve had our own police force, none of our men have been beaten or shot, which we’ve had before with non-tribal police,” she said.

Baird, an MIT-trained linguist who has played a pivotal role in reviving the Wampanoag language, said she feared the government’s decision was the first step in a gradual encroachment on the sovereignty of Native American reservations.

Jessie Baird Mashpee has played a pivotal role in reviving the Wampanoag language [Shafik Mandhai/Al Jazeera]

Disheartening

The Mashpee have the support of Native American organisations from across the country and Wednesday’s action on the Capitol drew speakers from different tribes.

Members of the Mashpee’s wider Wampanoag tribe were the first to greet the pilgrims in the 17th century, and the American holiday of Thanksgiving has its roots in meals shared between the tribe and early English settlers.

Mashpee member Cameron Frye called the tribe’s recent experience “disheartening”.

“We’re the tribe that greeted the pilgrims, everybody knows about Thanksgiving,” he said, adding, “We’re the tribe that welcomed them and greeted them but here we are still fighting to protect our sovereignty.”

We’re the tribe that greeted the pilgrims, everybody knows about Thanksgiving. We’re the tribe that welcomed them and greeted them but here we are still fighting to protect our sovereignty.

CAMERON FRYE, MEMBER OF THE MASHPEE TRIBE

Frye feared that if left unchallenged, the decision would set a precedent for future government action against other Native American tribes.

“Under this administration, it’s very frightening for all tribes, not just our own … If they can do this to us then they can do this to other tribes.”

Congressional bill

Members of Congress in both the House of Representative and the Senate have introduced bills to reaffirm the decision to take the Mashpee’s land into federal trust.

If passed, the Mashpee Reservation Reaffirmation Act would supersede the court ruling preventing the original Obama-era decision.

Massachusetts congressmen Bill Keating and Joe Kennedy were present at the Capitol on Wednesday to show their support for the tribe. The pair are Democrats but the Mashpee cause has drawn bipartisan support.

“We shouldn’t have to be doing this,” said Keating, who authored the House bill.

“The administration has taken a decision to make one decision and Congress is here to try to straighten that out.

“This is an existential issue, this is about the existence of this tribe, it’s that fundamental.”

Legislation has been introduced in Congress to reaffirm federal protections for the Mashpee reservation

 

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CNN sues Trump for suspending Jim Acosta’s press pass

The Trump administration vows to fight CNN lawsuit which claims the journalist’s constitutional rights were violated.

The dispute and Acosta's banishment triggered a wave of accusations that Trump is stifling the free press [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]
The dispute and Acosta’s banishment triggered a wave of accusations that Trump is stifling the free press

A federal judge will hold a hearing on Wednesday on a CNN lawsuit against President Donald Trump‘s administration after the White House revokedthe press credentials of the network’s journalist last week.

The American network said its correspondent Jim Acosta’s removal was a violation of his First Amendment rights to freely report on the government.

The White House dismissed CNN’s complaint as “grandstanding” and vowed to “vigorously defend” against the lawsuit.

If left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials

A CNN STATEMENT

The dispute on live national television and Acosta’s resulting banishment triggered a wave of accusations that Trump is stifling the free press, and marked a sharp escalation in tensions between the president and CNN.

“The wrongful revocation of these credentials violates CNN and Acosta’s First Amendment rights of freedom of the press, and their Fifth Amendment rights to due process,” the news network said in a statement, announcing the lawsuit filed on Tuesday in Washington.

“If left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials,” CNN said.

US District Judge Timothy Kelly ordered the Trump administration to respond by 11:00am (16:00 GMT) on Wednesday and set a hearing for 3:30pm.

Kelly, a former chief counsel for the US Senate Judiciary Committee, was appointed by Trump last year.

The First Amendment

The White House had suspended Acosta’s hard pass after he sparred at a news conference with the president, who demanded that the reporter give up the microphone and called him a “rude, terrible person” when he did not immediately comply.

They began sparring after Acosta asked Trump about the caravan of migrants heading from Latin America to the southern US border. When Acosta tried to follow up with another question, Trump said, “That’s enough!” and a female White House aide unsuccessfully tried to grab the microphone from Acosta.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders released a statement accusing Acosta of “placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern”, calling it “absolutely unacceptable”.

Hours later, Sanders announced Acosta’s hard pass had been suspended, in a move that she justified by claiming the reporter was inappropriately “placing his hands” on the intern.

The interaction between Acosta and the intern was brief, and Acosta appeared to brush her arm as she reached for the microphone and he tried to hold onto it. “Pardon me, ma’am,” he told her.

She alleged that Acosta “physically refused to surrender a White House microphone to an intern,” softening the earlier misconduct accusation and then casting blame on the journalist for his persistent questioning.

“The First Amendment is not served when a single reporter, of more than 150 present, attempts to monopolise the floor,” the press secretary said in a statement.

“If there is no check on this type of behaviour, it impedes the ability of the President, the White House staff and members of the media to conduct business.”

CNN lawyer Ted Boutrous said the White Houses’ suspension of the press pass made “clear it was based on the content of the reporting.”

“CNN’s argument is very straightforward,” the lawyer told the American network. “We can’t have the White House tossing people out because they don’t like what they are saying or what they are reporting.”

“That is what happened. That is the First Amendment.”

US investigators expand Catholic child sex abuse scandal probe

At least 13 states and Washington, DC, have opened their own investigations into church sexual abuse and cover-up.

The US Department of Justice has addressed a request to the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops requesting that the Church not “destroy discard, dispose of, delete or alter” any documents relating to the sexual abuse investigation.

US Catholic bishops have gathered in the city of Baltimore for their annual general assembly.

The Department of Justice is expanding its investigation, along with 13 other states and the District of Columbia, into sexual abuse allegations against Catholic priests, as well as claims that the Catholic Church transferred abusive priests to new communities to dodge accusations and cover up the crimes.

Al Jazeera’s Heidi Zhou-Castro reports from Washington.

Trump is waging a war on people with disabilities

Policies the Trump administration has pursued have made it difficult for many disable people to lead independent lives.

Disabled people protest in front of the Senate Finance Committee room hours before a hearing on the latest Republican effort to repeal Obamacare on September 25, 2017 [Reuters/Kevin Lamarque]
Disabled people protest in front of the Senate Finance Committee room hours before a hearing on the latest Republican effort to repeal Obamacare on September 25, 2017 

Three Novembers ago, then-candidate Donald Trump came under fire for mocking a reporter living with arthrogryposis, a condition that limits joint function. It was a harbinger of what was to come for America’s disabled in the Trump era. His administration and representatives of his party in Congress have been dead-set on destroying the lives of disabled Americans for the last two years.

Upon taking office, Trump made repealing and replacing Obamacare, the healthcare insurance law passed under former President Barack Obama, his first congressional priority. This insistence to do away with a law that significantly expanded national healthcare coverage almost left millions of disabled Americans in the dust.

As part of ongoing efforts to repeal Obamacare and cut America’s safety-net, Trump and congressional Republicans wish to undermine Medicaid, the federal health programme for the poor, elderly, disabled and children. The neediest Americans, including many members of the disabled community, use 80 percent of Medicaid’s budgeted services.

To this day, Republicans advocate limiting federal per-capita Medicaid spending. Such cuts would cause states to raise taxes, pay doctors less, limit coverage eligibility and cut back on services. Cuts would bring an end to programmes such as Medicaid-funded personal care attendants. Almost three million disabled Americans use this programme to live, get out of bed, bathe, eat, drive to work and go to sleep.

Medicaid pays for more than half of in-home services in the US. It’s the engine that allows many disabled Americans to live independently. Previous Obamacare repeal attempts could have lead to the unnecessary institutionalisation of millions, condemning them to a life of limited freedom and autonomy. Trump and congressional Republicans could care less, as they clearly demonstrated with multiple attempts to destroy Medicaid and gut civil rights laws.

Last winter, 253 congressional Republicans voted to pass HR 620, the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017, a bill that would alter the enforcement provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA grants civil rights to people with disabilities, ensuring they have equal access to public places and businesses, requiring owners to supply reasonable accommodations. This bill would undermine the ADA, making it more challenging and time intensive to force businesses to accommodate people with disabilities.

The bill would force a disabled person to first file a notice that usually requires counsel, wait 60 days for a response and wait 120 more days to see if progress is made on remedying a violation of the law before the issue can be brought to the courts. It’s intended to prevent frivolous lawsuits against retailers.

However, the Center for American Progress found that a recent uptick in ADA lawsuits is not widespread and it stems from a single law firm. Republicans can easily patch up the law to deter profiteering lawyers while maintaining civil rights protections. But they have chosen to take a drastic measure that would make it even harder for disabled Americans to stand up for their rights.

Members of the Trump administration have also been punishing disabled Americans. Last year, Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rescinded 72 guidance documents that detailed the rights of special needs students. The rescinded documents were created to clarify how federal disability rights law should apply to the nation’s school districts.

Last December, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded two dozen guidance documents including several clarifying the implications of the ADA. By doing so, Sessions undermined an Obama-era guidance preventing unnecessary segregation of settings in workplaces as well as vocation and day programmes.

The guidance warned states that they needed to modify their policies to ensure employment programmes offer people with disabilities opportunities to work in fully integrated settings. Rescinding this guidance does not change the ADA’s mandates, but it can create uncertainty about how the law should be interpreted.

All is not lost in the fight to protect people with disabilities in the United States. Americans have risen up to resist Trump and bring about change. ADAPT activists, for example, played a critical role in the failure of Republicans to repeal Obamacare by staging “die-ins” in US congressional offices.

As the 2018 US congressional midterm elections approach, momentum is with the Democrats to take control of the US House. Democratic chairpersons in critical US House congressional committees are poised to hold President Trump accountable, investigating and deflecting Republican attempts to weaken safety-net programmes like Medicaid.

Undoubtedly, some damage has already been done and we have a very long way to go to create an America that caters to all Americans. Contesting conservative attacks on safety-net programmes and public accommodations will not be enough on their own to achieve this. National and state leaders will also need to take steps to make sure all feel welcome in our country’s department stores, restaurants, schools, bus terminals, subways and workplaces.

The president claims the US is now stronger than ever before, and everybody is doing better. However, this is not the case for millions of vulnerable Americans and low-income families. Trump’s America denies its people healthcare, evicts poor parents and hobbles the disabled.

Hard fought protections and investments are being scaled back and many Americans are feeling that they are being abandoned by their country.

Republicans say they celebrate self-sufficiency. However, now that they are in power, rather than help more Americans get back on their feet and live independent and productive lives, they are gutting consumer safeguards, civil rights regulations and social services.

If Republicans really want more Americans to be truly independent, they should question their ruthless adherence to tax cuts for the super-rich, small government and deregulation. Disabled Americans want to lead independent lives. They want to work, raise a family, and contribute to society like all able-bodied adults. It’s time America gives them the tools and resources to do so.

Lead poisoning: Water supply to most Chicago houses contaminated

Lead was found in nearly 70 percent of the water samples collected by a leading local newspaper.

Pipes in some cities across the United States are so old that they are leaching out lead into water systems.

The Chicago Tribune has found 70 percent of houses in Chicago had lead in tap water. In three out of the 10 samples, lead levels exceeded five parts per billion, the maximum level the US Food and Drug Administration allows in bottled water.

Al Jazeera’s John Hendren reports.

Timeline: The deadliest mass shootings in the US

Three of the deadliest mass shootings in the US modern history have occurred since October 2017.

Three of the deadliest mass shootings in the United States’s modern history have occurred since October 2017.

In February 2018, a gunman opened fire at a high school in southeastern Florida, killing at least 17 people and injuring more than a dozen others.

In early November 2017, at least 26 people were killed in a mass shooting during a church service in Sutherland Springs, Texas, making it the “largest mass shooting in state history”, Governor Greg Abbott had said.

The shooting came about a month after Stephen Paddock opened fire on concertgoers at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip, killing 58 people and injuring more than 500 others.

The three shootings are among the deadliest in the US since 1949.

Here’s a look at the deadliest mass shootings in the US over the last 30 years:

Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas (2017): 58 killed

  • Attacker Stephen Paddock opened fire on the crowd of concertgoers at a country music festival at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, killing 58 people and injuring 500 others.

Pulse nightclub (2016): 49 killed

  • A heavily armed man killed 49 people inside a gay nightclub in the city of Orlando on June 12, 2016.
  • The attacker, US citizen Omar Mateen, was killed in a gun battle with police. He had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group, which later claimed responsibility for the attack.

Virginia Tech (2007): 32 killed

  • A 23-year-old student, South Korean national Seung-Hui Cho, went on a rampage at Virginia Tech University in April 2007, killing 27 students and five teachers before committing suicide.

Sutherland Springs, Texas church (2017): 26 killed

  • A gunman opened fire on a Sunday morning church service in the small rural town of Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing at least 26 people and injuring 20 others. The youngest person killed was five years old.

Sandy Hook (2012): 26 killed

  • A 20-year-old American citizen, Adam Lanza, killed his mother in December 2012 before shooting and killing 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. He later committed suicide.

Texas restaurant (1991): 22 killed

  • In October 1991, 35-year-old George Hennard, a US citizen, shot dead 22 people in a restaurant in the town of Killeen before shooting himself.

Florida high school (2018): 17 killed

  • A former student opened fire on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in southeastern Florida, killing at least 17 and injuring more than a dozen others.

San Bernardino (2015): 14 killed

  • A newlywed couple – US citizen Rizwan Farook and his Pakistani wife Tashfeen Malik, who was a permanent resident – stormed an office party at a social services centre in San Bernardino, California in December 2015, killing 14 people and injuring 22 others. The couple were shot dead by the police.

Fort Hood military base (2009): 13 killed

  • In November 2009, US Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan opened fire at his military base in Killeen, killing 13 people and injuring 42 others.

New York immigrant centre (2009): 13 killed

  • A Vietnamese immigrant, Jiverly Antares Wong, shot and killed 13 people at a civic centre in the city of Binghamton in April 2009, before killing himself.

Navy Yard headquarters (2013): 12 killed

  • Former serviceman Aaron Alexis, a US citizen, shot randomly at workers at the Washington Navy Yard headquarters in September 2013, killing 12 people before he was shot dead by police.

Aurora, Colorado (2012): 12 killed

  • James Holmes, a US citizen born in California, wearing body armour stormed a cinema showing a late-night premiere of a Batman film in Aurora, Colorado in July 2012, opening fire and releasing tear gas. Twelve people were killed and 70 others wounded. Holmes was sentenced to life in prison.

Columbine High (1999): 13 killed

  • Two American teenage boys – Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold – shot and killed 12 classmates and a teacher, before killing themselves at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, in April 1999.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

Why the repeal of a racist 19th-century Florida law is important

On November 6, Florida voters chose to allow some one million ex-felons to vote. This is historic.

Black Lives Matter activist holds Black Voters Matter wristbands designed for the midterm elections on November 6, 2018 [Lawrence Bryant/Reuters]
Black Lives Matter activist holds Black Voters Matter wristbands designed for the midterm elections on November 6, 2018 [Lawrence Bryant/Reuters]

Amid the highlights of the US midterm election results was the triumph for voting rights in the state of Florida. The nation’s third largest state, which often plays an important role in presidential elections, voted overwhelmingly to approve a constitutional amendment restoring the right to vote for those with a felony conviction.

This is a major step forward in a nation where millions of people are denied a basic right of citizenship, based on laws rooted in a legacy of racism.

Passing with 64 percent of the vote, in excess of the 60 percent supermajority threshold required for passage, Amendment 4 restores voting rights to Floridians who were convicted of felonies, provided they have completed their sentences. The measure excludes people who were convicted of murder or felony sex offences.

The impact of the new law is sweeping, affecting more than one million people in Florida who have been stripped of their voting rights due to a criminal record. For people of colour, the implications of Amendment 4 are even more pronounced, as the measure grants the vote to 20 percent of African American adults in Florida who have been barred from the franchise due to a felony record – and a staggering 40 percent of African American men.

In a state in which eight million voters participated in the 2018 election, the addition of over one million voters has the potential to transform its politics and policies. Florida is the most important US swing state and its vote is crucial in presidential and congressional elections. It has selected the winner of every presidential contest this century and provided the margin of victory to George W Bush in 2000.

In recent years, the state has been under control of the Republicans who have been pushing for regressive pro-gun and anti-environment policies. The more than one million eligible voters who just got added to Florida’s electorate could change all that. Given that Amendment 4 affected predominantly African American men, who tend to vote for the Democratic Party, it is quite possible that in 2020 Florida would see a different outcome at the polls. Analysts have projected Democrats gaining as many as 102,000 more votes as a result of this enfranchisement effort.

OPINION

Justice for all in the land of the free?

David A Love,Vijay Das
by David A Love,Vijay Das

But beyond its possible impact on future polls in Florida, the repeal of Amendment 4 carries a broader and more historic significance for the US as a whole; it is a major victory against voter suppression.

Many would be surprised to know that in the so-called “land of the free”, the right to vote is not automatic for many. In a nation that originally limited voting to white male landowners and regarded enslaved people as three-fifths of a person with no citizenship rights, the right to vote has been granted to marginalised groups only through protest and, in some cases such as the US civil rights movement, bloodshed and martyrdom.

During the Reconstruction era following the American civil war, liberated black people had the right the vote and took advantage of it, electing 2,000 black officials, a governor of a US state, senators and members of Congress – many of them former slaves.

The pathway to political empowerment for black people ended when white men retook control of the Southern states, presided over a rollback of civil rights and denied voting rights to African-Americans by law and through intimidation, and the threat of physical violence and death.

Felony disenfranchisement laws have their origins in the era of American apartheid, the days of racial segregation, as a means of suppressing black aspirations and rendering them invisible.

Florida’s felon disenfranchisement law dates back to 150 years ago when white elites were faced with the prospect of thousands of new black voters rendering white men a minority of the state’s voting electorate.

A lifetime voting ban on people with a felony record muted black political power, with a racialised regime targeting black men and singling them out for punishment with trumped-up charges and crimes designed solely for them. The laws eliminated thousands of black people from civic participation for life and made them unavailable as political competitors.

Across the country, as of 2016, 6.1 million people were unable to vote because of a felony conviction, with Florida accounting for roughly one quarter, according to the Sentencing Project. This includes 1 in every 40 adults, 1 in every 13 African-Americans and 1 in every 56 non-black voters. With the recent changes in Florida, of the 34 states that impose voting restrictions on past criminal convictions, Kentucky and Iowa are the only remaining states imposing lifetime disenfranchisement.

Although the changes to the Florida law are a positive and decisive step in furthering democracy, the US is still experiencing a voting rights crisis. For all of the ample evidence of foreign intervention in US elections, American officials are effectively denying the rights of their fellow citizens, working in earnest to rig elections and block people of colour, students, the elderly and others at the ballot box through restrictive voter ID laws.

The right-wing US Supreme Court has gutted the enforcement mechanism of the Voting Rights Act, allowing states and localities to deny racial minority groups’ access to democracy with reckless abandon. Between 2014 and 2016 alone, states purged nearly 16 million voters from their voter rolls. The nation’s high court also allowed the unlimited role of money in politics – legalised corruption – with its decision in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission.

Gerrymandering of electoral districts has amplified the voice of the majority, entrenched the powerful and sidelined the interests of marginalised groups.

Despite these many challenges, the restoration of voting rights to the formerly incarcerated in the Sunshine State is cause for celebration, as those who have served their time and paid their debt to society should have the opportunity to participate as productive members of society.