Hope Is Lost For Voting Rights Expansions…Or Is It?

A “Vote” sign

Republicans in the United States Senate were able to successfully stall the “For the People Act”, a bill that Democrats argued was designed to help expand voting rights and fight off some of the attempts to curtail certain voting rights in some Republican states.[1]

With this came a feeling of despair among many liberals, since a bill pushing for an expansion of voting rights, such as more voting registration options and vote-by-mail, failed. For many, it feels like all hope is lost for voting rights expansions.

Or is it?

I pose this question in light of the Justice Department’s lawsuit against the state of Georgia over its voting law, which “alleges that recent changes to Georgia’s election laws were enacted with the purpose of denying or abridging the right of Black Georgians to vote on account of their race or color, in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act,” according to United States Attorney General Merrick Garland.[2] On the legal end, this may only be the first act with regards to addressing laws on voting that critics say make it more difficult for some people to vote.[3]

I also pose this question in light of an executive order from President Biden I learned the other day—an executive order that broadly focuses on access to voting.[4] Within that executive order is a lot of material with regards to expanding voter education and access within the laws already on the books. That expansion includes, but is not limited to:

  • Work towards expanding the ability of federal employees to take time off and still vote in elections.[5]
  • Work towards giving federal employees more ability to serve as non-partisan poll workers.[6]
  • The issuing of recommendations of how to expand voter access limitations that people with disabilities experience.[7]
  • The issuing of recommendations for protecting the voting rights of Native Americans.[8]
  • Voter education among those in federal custody, consistent with laws already on the books.[9]

Now, let me be crystal clear here—all the executive order seems to be trying to do is push for an expansion of voter access and voting rights within the limitations of the laws already on the books, and all the Garland-led Justice Department seems to be doing is addressing what the Justice Department believes to be a violation of voting rights laws already in place. Neither Garland’s action nor Biden’s is an expansion of laws like one would have seen if the For the People Act passed both chambers of Congress and was signed by President Biden, nor should either action be treated as such.

At the same time, it’s not like nothing is happening on the voting rights front. There isn’t nearly as much happening as many (myself included) would like, but the push at the national level to expand voting rights is far from over.

And here’s the thing—that work towards voter expansion still has some chapters left in it. In line with that executive order I mentioned earlier in the blog post, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is requesting information from voters on barriers that keep people with disabilities from voting privately and independently. In other words, people have an opportunity to comment on what sorts of barriers exist when it comes to voting with dignity. In turn, NIST will use responses to inform a report expected to be released this December offering recommendations on how to address said barriers.[10] So, in a way, we the people (particularly disability advocates and people with disabilities) may yet have an influence on recommendations offered by a federal agency on how to expand voter access for people with disabilities.

So, is it disappointing for many (myself included) that voting rights legislation was defeated? Absolutely. But in spite of that defeat, there is still work that has been done (through the executive order from President Biden and the lawsuit against Georgia brought forth by Garland’s Justice Department), as well as work still to do.


[1] https://www.npr.org/2021/06/22/1008737806/democrats-sweeping-voting-rights-legislation-is-headed-for-failure-in-the-senate

[2] https://www.npr.org/2021/06/25/1010259443/in-suing-georgia-justice-department-says-states-new-voting-law-targets-black-vot

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/03/07/executive-order-on-promoting-access-to-voting/

[5] https://www.fedweek.com/federal-managers-daily-report/order-on-voting-sets-tasks-for-agencies-opens-way-for-broader-paid-time-off-to-vote/

[6] Ibid.

[7] https://www.nist.gov/news-events/news/2021/06/nist-seeks-public-input-removing-barriers-voting-people-disabilities?fbclid=IwAR3nWLn1mV6eTodlvC4Pl1SZRsz8e7WUQsfT7KYyKRUbgSZs0PjgXbhJdbc

[8] https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/03/07/executive-order-on-promoting-access-to-voting/

[9] Ibid.

[10] https://www.nist.gov/news-events/news/2021/06/nist-seeks-public-input-removing-barriers-voting-people-disabilities?fbclid=IwAR3nWLn1mV6eTodlvC4Pl1SZRsz8e7WUQsfT7KYyKRUbgSZs0PjgXbhJdbc

Transit and the Environment

An Amtrak train

A couple years ago, I traveled to see one of my best friends get married. That was a special day for me, seeing one of my best friends marry the love of his life.

The day before and the day after the wedding, the train ride I took was very pretty. However, I experienced and learned more about how second-rate of a train “system” Amtrak, the intercity/interstate passenger rail system we have in the United States, really is.

My experience was interesting, to say the least. I was obsessed about making my train in good time because this was the only train going between New York City and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (my destination). My Pittsburgh-bound train was delayed, by as much as forty minutes at one point, because we were stuck behind two freight trains—something that wouldn’t happen if Amtrak owned its own tracks and therefore had control over which trains travelled through and when. The café car on the way back to New York had food about twice as expensive as fast food at a highway exit (and less edible than McDonald’s).

Then, there was what I learned before, during, and after my train ride. Before the train ride, I already knew that some major cities in the United States, such as Las Vegas, Nevada and Nashville, Tennessee, do not have any train service. During my visit, I learned that Pittsburgh, a city of about 300,000 people, had only three train departures a day at the time: one that left for Chicago at 11:59 PM, one that left for Washington, D.C. at 5:20 AM, and one that left for New York at 7:30 AM (the train I took back to New York).  And since my train ride, I’ve learned that it’s actually quite common for trains to be delayed because Amtrak does not own many of the tracks it provides service on, therefore creating a situation where they are often stuck behind freight trains and delayed by many minutes.

It’s as if Americans are being actively discouraged to take commuter rail. And that is horrendous for the environment.

The largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States is transit.[1] These greenhouse gases, which trap heat and help make the planet warmer, make our air toxic and contribute to global warming.[2] Considering the fact that transit is the number one cause of these emissions, it is appalling that transit’s role in damaging the environment, as well as the role it needs to play in helping the environment, seems to get discussed relatively little.

But how should discussions on transportation and the environment start? I have a few ideas:

  1. It must be recognized that transportation is a major reason why our air is dirty and the environment is not in the shape that it should be. As I said before, transit is the biggest emitter in greenhouse gases, and until we recognize that, transit won’t be a factor that is considered seriously when reviewing environmental policies.
  2. If the United States is serious about cutting transit emissions, the country must prioritize mass transit over cars and airplanes. Study after study shows that buses and trains are way better for the environment than cars and airplanes. Yes, ultimately there need to be disincentives for driving and flying within the lower 48 states,[3] but if you’re in Las Vegas and have zero Amtrak service, then your only options for intercity travel are either a car or an airplane. There need to be greater disincentives for driving within cities, but if public transportation does not take you to where you want to go, then you have to drive.
  3. Municipalities should make their areas easier to walk or ride a bike. The city kid in me always used to give a bemused chuckle when I heard people talk about needing to drive everywhere, even if it’s three minutes away, because they couldn’t walk anywhere. That needs to change. By making spaces easier for pedestrians and cyclists to navigate, we can cut down on the countless three-minute drives to schools, grocery stores, doctors, etc., that wouldn’t be necessary with good pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.
  4. We need cars and planes to burn less in the way of greenhouse gases. While cars and planes are so damaging to the environment, some people will still need to use cars and/or planes to function personally and/or professionally. Policy looking to reduce greenhouse gases coming from transit should look to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that come from a car or a plane.[4]

After reading all of this, readers can see why I’m so mad about the state of Amtrak and public transportation in the United States in general. Sound environmental policy would work on building Amtrak into a world-class system, work on building other public transport infrastructure, and improve infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists. Sadly, the United States currently does the opposite—it makes environmentally friendly modes of transport as slow, unreliable, expensive, miserable, and in the case of walking and riding a bicycle, as unsafe as possible. Hopefully, with Earth Day having recently happened, and with a concrete proposal on the table to invest in public transit at the national level,[5] we can push our politicians to advocate for more extensive mass transit in the United States, and push ourselves away from cars and airplanes whenever it is possible to do so.  


[1] https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions#targetText=The%20largest%20source%20of%20greenhouse,Greenhouse%20Gas%20Emissions%20and%20Sinks.

[2] Yes, I believe in global warming/climate change.

[3] While climate activist Greta Thunberg recently traveled between Europe and the U.S. by a zero-emissions yacht, those travels took a week (I think) and many of us do not have a week to spend in the ocean because of family and/or job commitments. Therefore, airplane still seems to be the most convenient mode of cross-ocean travel, as environmentally unfriendly as that is.

[4] Note that this does not necessarily mean going over to electric cars. Electric cars have their own set of environmental risks, including from the cars’ batteries—something this article talks about: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/factcheck/2020/10/17/fact-check-electric-cars-emit-less-better-environment/3671468001/

[5] President Biden’s infrastructure plan calls for spending $80 billion to improve passenger rail service: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-biden-infrastructure-mass-transit/analysis-biden-infrastructure-plan-bets-big-on-u-s-return-to-mass-transit-after-covid-19-idUSKBN2BN3O2. I am not enough “in the weeds” of transit policy to know whether this will be enough money to make Amtrak a respectable national rail system, but considering that the amount of fiscal support Biden wants to dedicate to passenger rail dwarves the approximately $2 billion a year Amtrak currently receives in government support (https://www.cnbc.com/2020/09/09/amtrak-passenger-railroad-needs-up-to-4point9-billion-in-government-funding-ceo-says.html), it’s a proposal worth discussing.

Coronavirus Update From New York City: January 21, 2021

Yesterday was a joyful day for those who supported President Biden, and a mournful day for the few who support Former President Trump. However, the reality still remains that COVID-19 is a major concern, even though we have recently seen a new President of the United States sworn in.

In the United States, we learned on Tuesday that we have surpassed 400,000 deaths. That is a sobering number, and there’s no way to spin it. I remember when many of us were shocked of the talk of the potential for 100,000 deaths from the pandemic, and now we are at a death toll four times that.

In my neighborhood, the COVID positivity rate has ticked down slightly, but has remained way too high for comfort. The positivity rate is now just over 13% in my zip code, which is down from the 15% or so we were at as of last week but nevertheless uncomfortably high. Furthermore, data seems to indicate that Jamaica Hospital in Queens–the hospital closest to where I live, continues to be under immense stress from COVID-19 patients.

Also of concern is that, at least according to our mayor, New York City is going to run out of COVID vaccines by the end of this week.[1] We are now to the point that New York City is canceling vaccine appointments due to the shortages.[2] So that is concerning, particularly for those vulnerable to experiencing severe consequences from the virus.

The one sliver of hope is that the Biden administration will employ the Defense Production Act in order to ensure a quicker vaccine rollout.[3] Seeing the impacts of the Defense Production Act on vaccine distribution in New York City, and nationwide, cannot come soon enough.[4]


[1] https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2021/01/19/nyc-will-run-out-of-vaccines-by-friday–forcing-appointment-cancellations–de-blasio-says

[2] https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2021/01/20/vaccine-appointments-cancelled-in-new-york-city

[3] https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/live-blog/2021-01-21-covid-live-updates-vaccine-news-n1255115/ncrd1255206#liveBlogHeader

[4] You can read an explanation of the Defense Production Act here: https://www.fema.gov/disasters/defense-production-act

The Importance of Following the Money in Politics

Say it ain’t so, Joe!

He hasn’t even taken his oath of office yet, and I’m already writing about a concern I have with the Biden administration. Yes, I voted for him (and even wrote a blog post about my planning to vote for him[1]), but this doesn’t mean that I (or anyone else) should avoid holding who we vote for accountable.

The offense? President-elect Biden nominated former Secretary of State John Kerry to be Biden’s special presidential envoy for climate. Kerry, who is also a former United States senator and the Democratic Party nominee for President of the United States back in 2004, is a believer in climate change and taking measures to address it. However, people should have concerns about whether Kerry will be as bold as he needs to be (and by extension, concerns about whether the Biden team will be as bold as it needs to be) on climate change, which is a major crisis.

Why am I concerned? Just look at Kerry’s investments. I don’t know about now, but at least as of 2013, Kerry had investments with dozens of companies in the oil and gas industry. And these are not all small investments, either—at least six of those companies he had investments in were of $100,000 or more.[2] At the very least, in the recent-ish past, he was benefitting from big oil money.

I hope that between 2013 and now, Kerry has dropped all of his oil and gas investments. If he hasn’t, then people should definitely be concerned about his investments keeping him (and, by extension, the Biden administration, potentially) from being as aggressive as he should be on the issue of climate change.[3] That concern should be present because aggressive action on climate change would go against the best interests of what’s potentially profitable for many of these companies Kerry has invested in, and by extension for Kerry himself; because of that, it’s reasonable to be concerned that this conflict-of-interest could result in Kerry not advocating for actions as bold as they should be.

Let’s be real though—Kerry is only a microcosm of a larger issue, which is the concern that money, and particularly receiving of money from certain people or entities, could influence politicians in unjust ways.

This problem can manifest itself in many major issues, ranging from climate change to income inequality. From Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma saying odd things about environmental issues and then having the oil and gas industry as his second largest industry of contributions,[4] to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer being criticized for being cozy with Wall Street (with Wall Street being accused oftentimes as being a big reason for our current income inequality) and then having big banks as four of his five largest lifetime contributors,[5] there are serious concerns about money having a major influence on our politics and politicians.

However, these concerns about big money polluting our politics in unjust ways can only be recognized if we follow the money. If we learn about the monetary connections to the policies of the Kerrys, Schumers, and Inhofes of the world, we can start to recognize how it might be the large donor class, and not so much the constituents these politicians are supposed to serve, that influences the work that is done (or the work that is not done).

As to how we can learn about these monetary connections, I would strongly recommend starting with a website called Open Secrets for national candidates (presidential candidates, as well as members of Congress). This website can allow you to learn about what sorts of companies contribute to individual candidates, as well as which companies a candidate has investments in. That way, you can learn, for example, that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has a lot of money invested in the technology sector,[6] so if she ever sounds tepid about holding Facebook accountable for certain things, maybe it’s because of the $500,000+ in investments she appears to have in Facebook. As for holding local and state-level candidates similarly accountable, it varies from municipality to municipality, and from state to state, but in many cases there are ways to find out even at the local and state level who your elected officials seem financially beholden to.

By learning to follow the money with our politicians and their actions, we will hopefully also learn how much big money can result in some of the positions our elected officials take, even if some of those positions are unjust. Recognizing this might not solve any injustices, but it could offer one explanation of how we ended up where we are in the first place with issues like climate change, income inequality, and many others.


[1] https://blindinjusticeblog.com/2020/10/26/how-issues-of-injustice-influenced-my-presidential-pick/

[2] https://www.opensecrets.org/personal-finances/john-kerry/assets?cid=N00000245&year=2013

[3] While I am guessing that Kerry will help the Biden team with any help needed in rejoining the Paris Climate Accords, there should be concern about whether he, and by extension the Biden administration, will be as aggressive as needed. You can read about the Paris Climate Accords here: https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/what-is-the-paris-agreement

[4] https://www.opensecrets.org/members-of-congress/james-m-inhofe/summary?cid=N00005582&cycle=2020

[5] https://www.opensecrets.org/members-of-congress/charles-e-schumer/contributors?cid=N00001093&cycle=CAREER&type=I

[6] https://www.opensecrets.org/personal-finances/nancy-pelosi/assets?cid=N00007360&year=2018

Obamacare and Race

One of the signature issues for both major political parties is health care. Many Republicans want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, that passed in 2010. President-elect Joe Biden, who was Vice President in the administration under which Obamacare was passed, says he wants to expand it. These are two wildly differing views on what to do with our health care system.

However, given the current climate of racial unrest in the United States, as well as the potential repeal of the law being considered by the United States Supreme Court, it seems timely to talk about Obamacare from a racial justice standpoint.

So, where does Obamacare stand from a racial justice standpoint? Well, I have some good news for proponents of Obamacare, and some not-as-good news:

Reductions in uninsured rates were significant among minorities.

Among the highlights of those gains:

  • 21.8% of American Indians and Alaska Natives were uninsured as of 2018, down from 32% in 2010.
  • 19% of Hispanics were uninsured as of 2018, down from 32.6% in 2010.
  • 11.5% of Blacks were uninsured as of 2018, down from 19.9% in 2010.
  • 9.3% of Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders were uninsured as of 2018, down from 17.9% in 2010.
  • 6.8% of Asians were uninsured as of 2018, down from 16.7% in 2010.[1]

These are undoubtedly significant gains. However…

The aforementioned gains I mentioned have stalled out.

Most of the gains that occurred were between 2014, when important provisions of Obamacare were implemented, and 2016. Those gains have stalled since then, and for Blacks the rate of those uninsured has started to tick up in recent years. The Kaiser Family Foundation, which focuses on health care issues, attributes this to certain policy changes in the Trump Administration “that affected the availability of and enrollment in coverage.”[2] But whatever the reason for this stall, it has happened, and this stalling trend is one that a President Biden will need to address (assuming the Supreme Court doesn’t repeal the law).

However, the gaps in insurance by race are about more than just what’s coming out of Washington, DC. It’s also because of policies at the state level.

Many states with large Black populations have refused to expand Medicaid under Obamacare.

As a result of this, even though there appear to be modest gains in racial disparities among the uninsured overall as a result of Obamacare, the gains are not as big as many might like. Additionally, the result of this is that about half of the remaining uninsured Americans are people of color.[3] This goes to show that elections have consequences—not just federal elections, but state ones too. This is worth keeping in mind for future elections at the state level.

In spite of the issues I’ve mentioned, the racial gap among the uninsured has closed somewhat.

The rate of those without insurance has dropped among whites too, but as there were fewer uninsured whites than uninsured people of any minority group to begin with, the rate among whites of those lacking insurance dropped more slowly than among any other racial group. As such, the racial gap among the uninsured has closed somewhat, even if there are disparities that still exist.[4]

In spite of all this data I’ve shared, there are some unanswered questions.

So far, I have painted a mixed picture of what Obamacare has been like for minority groups, particularly from an insurance coverage standpoint. But there are some unanswered questions about the true impacts of the health care law, too. Here are a few such questions:

  • While the number of uninsured Americans has decreased significantly since Obamacare was passed in 2010, the number of underinsured Americans has also increased.[5] To what extent does this underinsurance issue affect people of color?
  • Is there anything about Obamacare that might, even unintentionally, contribute to the continued (if somewhat decreased) gap in the uninsured between some minorities and whites?
  • There are mixed messages about how Obamacare affected health care costs—out-of-pocket health care spending decreased, while premiums increased.[6] To what extent are people of color getting the benefit of reduced health care spending, or the drain of increased premiums?

The unanswered questions are so numerous that I may need to republish this post at some point, as a version that hopefully answers some of the questions that I’m asking here.


Over the last several hundred words, I have painted a rather mixed message on the question of Obamacare and racial justice. But where does this leave us?

For those in the United States who care about American health care, this raises some questions. For the Republicans, who are proponents of repealing and replacing the law, how does the law get repealed and replaced without erasing all the gains that people of all races, particularly minorities, have seen as a result of Obamacare? For Biden and his supporters, how can we continue making progress in increasing the number of insured Americans, and how might the issues with underinsurance and health care premiums be addressed (assuming, once again, that the Supreme Court doesn’t strike down the whole law)? And for all sides of the debate on this law, how can we ensure that every American is insured?

The last question is maybe the most important one of all, because access to affordable health care should be a human right, not just a privilege to those fortunate enough to access it.



[1] https://www.kff.org/disparities-policy/issue-brief/changes-in-health-coverage-by-race-and-ethnicity-since-the-aca-2010-2018/

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://www.brookings.edu/blog/usc-brookings-schaeffer-on-health-policy/2020/02/19/there-are-clear-race-based-inequalities-in-health-insurance-and-health-outcomes/

[4] https://www.kff.org/disparities-policy/issue-brief/changes-in-health-coverage-by-race-and-ethnicity-since-the-aca-2010-2018/

[5] https://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/issue-briefs/2019/feb/health-insurance-coverage-eight-years-after-aca

[6] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/01/22/out-of-pocket-health-spending-dropped-after-obamacare-rolled-out.html