My Brother’s Keeper


Obama Launches New Initiative For Young Black Men

President Obama announced a new initiative at the White House today called “My Brother’s Keeper,” which asks business and civic leaders to look for and invest in ways to empower young black men. The New York Times reports that several high-profile foundations have committed $200 million over the next five years to the effort, focusing especially on “early-childhood development, educational opportunities, school readiness and discipline, parenting, and the criminal justice system.”

The initiative is likely the start of a lifelong cause for the President and the First Lady, according to several of his closest advisers. “I’m sure their commitment to this initiative will be a lifelong commitment,” said Valerie Jarrett, one of Obama’s closest friends from Chicago. Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education, agreed: “This is core to who they are individually and core to who they are together.”

Yet another aide recalled a story from Father’s Day 2013 when Obama was presented with a Father’s Day card from a group of Chicago teenagers visiting the White House.

“I never signed a Father’s Day card before,” one explained as Obama opened the card. “I’ve never signed a Father’s Day card, either,” Obama replied.

Over at ThinkProgress, Bryce Covert goes into detail about why this initiative is so important. Here are just a few of the reasons:

1. Black students experience an educational achievement gap that grows.

A combination of a lack of high-quality preschool and other factors means that an achievement gap between black children and white children starts when they are as young as nine months old. But it gets bigger and bigger:

Chart3CREDIT: The Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution

2. A huge number of black teenagers are unemployed.

The unemployment rate among black teenagers is 38 percent — down from nearly 50 percent at the peak of the recession, but still far above the 7 percent rate for entire population.

Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 10.29.45 AM

3. Even those who are employed make less.

Jobs that are over-represented by black men earn more than $13,000 less per year than jobs that are under-represented by black men.

uploadCREDIT: Economic Policy Institute

For other ideas how the president and Congress can help young black men, check out this piece from Vanessa Cardenas, one of our Center for American Progress colleagues, HERE.

Group Health drops Abortion coverage … We need a vote on RPA

At least one Washington state insurance plan has dropped abortion coverage, denying a woman the freedom and privacy to make her own pregnancy decisions. Without the Reproductive Parity Act, we could lose access to safe medical care. Please allow a Senate vote on the RPA and protect all of a woman’s legal pregnancy options!

Sign the petition!                   

There could be slaves in the supply chain of your chocolate, smartphone and sushi


By Tim Fernholz @timfernholz October 19, 2013

Forced labor is a reality, and you might be using products made by workers who had no choice in the matter.

 The first edition of Global Slavery Index from the Walk Free Foundation, an anti-slavery NGO, estimates that there are 30 million slaves in the world—and more than half of them are in prominent emerging markets like India, China, and Russia. 

Modern slavery, as the index defines it, includes all kinds of forced labor, ranging from hereditary bondage in Mauritania, which has the largest slave population per capita in the world, to forced sexual exploitation, including the arranged marriage of minors. Most of the countries where slaves make up a significant slice of the population have a cultural tradition of bonded labor, like Haiti’s restavek system of indentured servitude for children (which can be an innocent way for families to help each other out, the report says, but is often abused).


But the largest form of forced labor is in private industry, where about two-thirds of people working in slave conditions—usually forced or bonded labor—are found. That’s why this new effort to measure global slavery exists: It’s part of a campaign funded by the chairman of one of the world’s largest miners, Andrew Forrest of Fortescue Metals Group, who wants companies to eliminate slavery from their supply chains. As global trade has led firms to source materials and labor from ever more far-flung locales, it has become easier for them to turn a blind eye to who makes their products. Here are just a few examples:

  •  This summer, an Australian man imprisoned in China reported that prisoners were making headphones for global airlines like Qantas and British Airways. Some 300,000 sets of the disposable headphones were made by uncompensated prisoners who were forced to work without pay and regularly beaten. The index says that there are about 3 million slaves in China, in state-run forced labor camps, at private industrial firms making electronics and designer bags, and in the brick-making industry.
  • Companies like Apple, Boeing and Intel—among thousands of others—have been under pressure to document that the tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold they use aren’t being mined by slaves in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where a civil war has led armed groups seeking funding to force civilians to work. The US Securities and Exchange Commission adopted a rule forcing American firms to trace the minerals they use to their origins, and while business lobbies have sued to overturn it, industry leaders have begun planning to file the first required reports in May 2014.
  • In the Asian seafood industry, migrant workers may become forced laborers who harvest and prepare mackerel, shrimp and squid bound for markets around the world.
  • Côte d’Ivoire is the world’s leading supplier of cocoa—some 40% of the global supply—and much of it is grown and harvested by some children engaged in forced labor. In 2010, Côte d’Ivoire said 30,000 children worked on cocoa farms, although Walk Free’s index estimates as many as 600,000 to 800,000. While this has been widely reported on since 2000, and the global response has been strong, compared to that of other allegations of forced labor, the problem has not really been solved. As of 2012, 97% of the country’s farmers have not participated in industry-sponsored campaigns against forced child labor. Mondelēz International, the world’s largest chocolate producer, which owns brands such as Milka, Toblerone and Cadbury, has struggled for years to take forced labor out of its supply chain. It committed $400 million to a program aimed at creating a sustainable cocoa economy last year, but its efforts have been ineffective so far.

Many of the countries in the map above are not party to international human trafficking treaties or simply don’t enforce them. Many of the companies that use labor in those places have weak supply-chain policies in place. The goal of Forrest’s group, inspired by Bill Gates’ data-centric philanthropy, is to make slavery easy to quantify, and thereby pressure international companies not to put up with it.

Drought and its Effects on Your Family

                                                                      Photo: flickr/kecko

With no sign of rain, 17 rural communities in California providing water to 40,000 people are in danger of running out within 60 to 120 days. Thinking that drought isn’t having an impact on your family? Consider your food supply, drinking water and the fuel to the spread of fire.


“Please don’t attend AIPAC.” Ian Bassin –

 AvaazpixDear friends across the US,

One of the most powerful lobbies in the US is meeting in Washington this weekend, and they’ll be pushing to put the US on a collision course to war with Iran. But AIPAC’s power is waning, and if we push our Reps in Congress to ditch their annual meeting, it will help bring some much needed sanity to US foreign policy. Take just thirty seconds to call and tell Congress: “Please don’t attend AIPAC.” Click here:

Right now, AIPAC — the NRA of US foreign policy — is trying to destroy President Obama’s successful nuclear negotiations with Iran in a way that could lead us on a path to war. But this weekend, we’ve got a rare opportunity to weaken one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington.
A leading Israeli politician calls AIPAC “an extreme right-wing organization” which threatens Middle East peace efforts.  And yet, every year our representatives flock to their annual conference to pledge their commitment to the lobby’s hawkish agenda. The good news is that AIPAC’s influence is beginning to wane, and if our members in Congress hear that we don’t want them to attend AIPAC’s conference this weekend, it’ll weaken AIPAC further and give peace in the Middle East a real chance. So let’s all take 30 seconds and call our representative’s office and say just four words: “Please don’t attend AIPAC.”  If each of us takes that simple action right now, we could help shift the future of American foreign policy in a more positive, peaceful direction.  Click here to get your Rep’s number to call, or call the Congressional switchboard below.
Find your Rep’s # at the Capitol switchboard (202) 224-3121 and tell them:
“Please don’t attend AIPAC”

AIPAC (the American Israel Political Action Committee) isn’t just trying to upend a fragile peace agreement the US and other nations have worked out with Iran to dismantle Iran’s nuclear program, they’re a major obstacle in the way of a fair resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They’ve refused to condemn illegal Israeli settlements and while they claim to support a two-state solution, their own former director has admitted that their real plan is to “work against it until it happens.”
AIPAC claims to represent the concerns of Israel and American Jews, but AIPAC’s own former legislative director just wrote in the Jerusalem Post that “AIPAC’s bipartisan reputation is in tatters and it sounds increasingly like a mouthpiece for Netanyahu and for hyper-partisan Republicans rather than the voice of the American Jewish community.”
Thankfully, AIPAC hasn’t been getting its way recently. This Summer they failed in their bid to start a US war with Syria, and last month their first push for new Iran sanctions failed when Democratic Senators stuck with the White House, and AIPAC stuck with the GOP. Their power is fading, and that’s good for peace. But whether their conference this weekend is a success or not will likely determine how much power they have going forward. So let’s make sure our Representatives don’t give them that power. Call now:
One of the strengths of our community is that we don’t back down from mega-lobbies or entrenched interests. Our long-term commitment to a fair resolution of the conflicts in the Middle East, from the occupied West Bank to occupied and besieged neighborhoods in Damascus, is matched by a commitment and belief in a democratic and secure Israel, as a pre-condition for peace for all the people of the Middle East.
With hope and determination,
Ian, Joseph, Maria, Will, Alice, Ari, Raluca, Ricken and the whole Avaaz team
More Information:
AIPAC: Whose Lobby is it? (Jerusalem Post)
Potent Pro-Israel Group Finds its Momentum Blunted (NYT)…
How AIPAC botched it’s biggest fight in years (The Daily Beast)
Shifting US foreign policy views force rethink by Israel lobby (FT)
AIPAC, Israel, and the Hypocritical Claim of Backing a Two-State Solution (The Daily Beast)
Barak Berates Bibi,AIPAC In Capital (The Jewish Week)