Erika Eichelberger

Erika Eichelberger


Erika Eichelberger is a reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. She has also written for The NationThe Brooklyn Rail, and TomDispatch. Email her at eeichelberger [at] motherjones [dot] com. 

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After Offensive Comments, Paul Ryan Will Let Black Lawmakers School Him on Poverty

| Wed Apr. 30, 2014 4:23 PM EDT

On Wednesday afternoon, anti-safety-net crusader Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus in an attempt to make amends after he said on a radio show last month that urban poverty is caused by the lack of a work ethic in inner cities. At the meeting, Ryan admitted he didn't "know everything about poverty," and agreed to sit down with CBC members in the coming months to discuss specific solutions proposed by black lawmakers to address the needs of historically disadvantaged communities.

"The sky didn't open up," says CBC member Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wisc.), who was at the meeting. "But there were some productive things that happened."

In a conversation with conservative talk show host Bill Bennett on March 12, Ryan said, "We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning to value the culture of work, so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with."

At the time, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), a member of the CBC, called Ryan's remarks "a thinly veiled racial attack." Ryan denied the comments had anything to do with race. He said he was merely criticizing the fact that inner city men are "isolated" from economic opportunity. This isn't the first time Ryan has used racial rhetoric when talking about poverty. In a 2005 speech, he associated the "victimization class" with minorities, and in 2012, he said inner-city poverty and crime was a cultural problem.

At the Wednesday gathering, CBC members pounced on that walk-back by pointing out that if Ryan wants to prevent the isolation of inner-city men, his most recent federal budget proposal certainly doesn't reflect that; it drastically cuts social programs designed to support them. CBC members introduced Ryan to the caucus' alternative federal budget plan, which would require that 10 percent of all federal agencies' funds be directed to areas that have had a poverty rate of at least 20 percent for the last 30 years. CBC lawmakers say the plan would do much to improve socio-economic conditions in inner cities and other areas that struggle with persistent poverty.

"[Ryan] said he doesn't know everything about poverty and how to alleviate it," Moore says, and so he agreed to sit down with the CBC's budget writers to discuss the lawmakers' plan in more detail. (The CBC and Ryan have not yet pinned down a date for the upcoming meeting.)

Moore says that despite Ryan's offensive remarks a few weeks ago, the face-to-face meeting went over pretty well. "We were very cordial," she says.

Meet 5 of the Low-Level Drug Offenders Obama Could Set Free. There Are Thousands More Like Them

| Thu Apr. 24, 2014 11:32 AM EDT

On Wednesday, the Department of Justice announced that thousands of federal inmates serving time for certain non-violent crimes will soon be able to apply for clemency.

Those eligible to be set free will be prisoners convicted of low-level nonviolent crimes—mostly drug offenses—who have already served 10 years of their sentence, don't have a significant criminal history, and are serving out a sentence the would likely be shorter had they been convicted for the same crime today. The rule change could apply to some 2,000 of the 200,000 inmates in federal prison, and is part of a wider effort by the Obama administration to make sentencing laws more fair. Last year, the DOJ changed sentencing guidelines to give judges the freedom to determine whether or not to apply mandatory minimums for certain drug charges.

Here are five federal prisoners who will be eligible for clemency under the DOJ's new rules (via Families Against Mandatory Minimums):


Weldon Angelos: Angelos is serving 55 years for selling a few pounds of marijuana while in possession of a gun. In his early 20s, Angelos founded a successful Utah-based rap label called Extravagant Records, where he wrote and produced songs with artists like Snoop Dogg. In 2002, the Salt Lake City police, who suspected Angelos was part of a local gang, arranged for an informant to purchase marijuana from him. The informant claimed that Angelos had firearms with him during both buys. When the judge in the case was forced to sentence Angelos to a mandatory 55 years, he called the punishment "unjust, cruel, and even irrational," noting that repeat child rapists and airplane hijackers get shorter sentences.


Sherman Chester: Chester is serving life without parole for selling cocaine and heroin as part of a drug ring. Chester started selling small amounts in his 20s and soon got involved in a drug conspiracy headed up by a family friend near Tampa, Florida. After an undercover detective bought from him on several occasions, Chester was indicted in federal court in 1992 along with nine others involved in the ring. He was 25. Chester was sentenced as if he had been in possession of nearly the entire amount of heroin and cocaine found on all members of the conspiracy. The judge who meted out Chester's harsh punishment said, "This man doesn’t deserve a life sentence, and there is no way that I can legally keep from giving it to him."


Sharanda Jones: Jones is serving life without parole for allegedly leading a drug ring. After high school, Jones worked as a restaurant manager and cosmetologist. Unable to support her family on her income, she began selling coke and crack in the Dallas area. In 1999, at age 32, Jones was found guilty of taking part in a conspiracy to sell crack, and sentenced to life. Jones received such a harsh sentence because she allegedly carried a gun when she went to buy cocaine from her supplier; because the court considered her a "leader" of the ring; and because she claimed innocence. Her co-conspirators got sentences that ranged between five and 19 years. Jones' daughter, who was eight when Sharanda went to prison, is now an adult.


Barbara Scrivner: Scrivner is serving 30 years in federal prison for participating in a drug ring. Scrivner was molested as a child, and later fell into drugs and a string of abusive relationships. At age 26, in order to make ends meet, Scrivner started selling small amounts of meth as part of a drug ring. The other participants in the conspiracy were arrested in 1992, but Scrivner initially was spared because she only played a bit part in the ring. A year later, after she refused to testify against the other members, Scrivner was indicted and held accountable for 109 kilos of meth. Once behind bars, Scrivner plunged into depression and attempted suicide by jumping from a 40-foot prison building. She survived, and has since undergone rehab.


Timothy Tyler: Tyler is serving a mandatory life sentence for selling LSD. After high school, Tyler traveled around the country following the Grateful Dead, doing drugs, and being hospitalized for mental health problems. He was arrested a couple of times for selling. In 1992, Tyler sold LSD and marijuana to an informant, and was later charged with possession and conspiracy to distribute along with three other codefendants, one of whom was his father. Partly because of prior convictions, Tyler went to prison for life, while his codefendants only got five to ten years. His father died serving out his term.

MAP: In 31 States, Daycare Is More Expensive Than College

| Thu Apr. 10, 2014 9:20 AM EDT

Last month, Shanesha Taylor, a homeless single mom in Phoenix, Arizona, was arrested for allegedly leaving her two children in her car while she went to a job interview. Taylor's story, and her tearful mug shot, have attracted national attention and an outpouring of donations. Debate the morals, but one thing is clear: child care is expensive. As the Washington Post reported Wednesday, infant daycare costs more than in-state college tuition in about two-thirds of the nation.

In 31 states, parents have to shell out more annually for infant child care than for a year of tuition and fees at a mid-priced state college, according to a report released last fall by Child Care Aware America, a national organization of child-care resource agencies. In New York, daycare for young children costs $8,000 more than in-state college tuition. Infant child care in Massachusetts, Maryland, Colorado, Wyoming, Alaska and Oregon also costs thousands of dollars more per year than a state college education. Check it out, via the Post. (In red states, daycare costs more):

The difference in the cost of daycare and higher education among states is due to variances in costs of living, differing state regulations, and disparities in state spending on higher education.

Child care costs have jumped over the past couple decades. In 1985, the average weekly cost of daycare in the US was $87 in 2013 dollars. In 2010, child care cost $148 a week. That may help explain why more moms are choosing to stay at home today than at any point during the past 20 years. According to a Pew Research report released Tuesday, the share of stay-at-home mothers rose from a low of 23 percent in 1999 to 29 percent in 2012.

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