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Norfolk student wins award at international robotics competition

Norfolk Academy junior Chai Hibbert won a prestigious award at an international robotics competition in St. Louis.

The FIRST Championship is an international event that brought in more than 15,000 students from 33 countries.

Hibbert, who has been on the Bulldogs Robotic Team for the past two years, was selected as one of 20 students who won the FIRST Dean’s List Award. She was one of five students in the state to compete for the award.

Hibbert competed at the FIRST Tech Challenge level, which requires teams to create the most complex robots.

“When they called my name, I almost felt numb as I walked across the stage,” Hibbert said. “After receiving the award, I felt so proud that I could represent my team at such a high level.”

Hibbert’s win marks a significant step for Norfolk Academy Robotics, which started in 2012.

Physics teacher and the team’s faculty advisor Robert Call says this year’s team had a lot of enthusiasm and drive.

“This year’s team did a fantastic job.  Their success was due in large part to our team leaders and Chai was an important member of that group,” Mr. Call said. “Chai was particularly good at handling the details that other people overlooked. She did a great job of looking at the broader scope of FIRST beyond being a robot-building competition.”

The school’s robotics team continues to grow. This year’s team had 21 students, but the school’s headmaster says the new engineering curriculium in the lower school may fuel more interest in the years ahead.

“We are delighted, of course, about this news and proud of Chai,” said Headmaster Dennis G. Manning. “Her extraordinary achievement comes in the context of  our increased emphasis on STEM education, the number of Ph.D’s on our faculty,  our robotics program, and our transformational new Lower School Engineering, Design, and Innovation initiative. These are national-caliber programs clearly bearing national-caliber results.”




Trump suggests financing for historically black colleges may be unconstitutional

In his signing statement, President Donald Trump outlines a range of provisions in the spending bill that he says would “unconstitutionally” limit his authority as commander in chief. President Donald Trump signaled Friday that he may not implement a 25-year-old federal program that helps historically black colleges finance construction projects on their campuses, suggesting that it may run afoul of the Constitution.

In a signing statement on the $1.1 trillion omnibus government spending bill, Trump singled out the Historically Black College and University Capital Financing Program as an example of provisions in the funding bill “that allocate benefits on the basis of race, ethnicity, and gender.”

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Trump said his administration would treat those programs “in a manner consistent with the requirement to afford equal protection of the law under the Due Process Clause of the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment.”’

Previous presidents, including Barack Obama and George W. Bush, often issued such statements when they signed legislation to signal they may ignore or disregard parts of laws passed by Congress.

In his first signing statement, Trump outlines a range of provisions in the spending bill that he says would “unconstitutionally” limit his authority as commander in chief — and indicates that where the bill conflicts with the White House’s interpretation of the president’s powers under the Constitution, he will go with the Constitution.

Neither the White House, nor the Education Department immediately responded to a request for comment.

Trump’s statement also suggests concern about programs listed under the “School Improvement Programs” section of the budget. Those include a wide range of education-related programs, such as after-school initiatives and programs that support Native Hawaiian and Alaska Native education.

Advocates for HBCUs and a legal expert said they were confused by the reference to the HBCU financing program.

Cheryl Smith, senior vice president of public policy and government affairs at the United Negro College Fund, also known as UNCF, which advocates for private HBCUs, said in a statement that the organization is “puzzled by this provision and seeking clarification from the White House as to its meaning.”

Smith noted that the federal designation of an institution as an HBCU is not based on race, but rather on mission, accreditation status and the year the institution was established.” She speculated that the “signing statement may simply be the Office of Management and Budget being overly cautious and perhaps not fully understanding this important distinction as it relates to HBCUs, but UNCF needs more information regarding their thinking and intent.”

Under the program, which was created by Congress in 1992, the Education Department provides federally-backed loans to historically black colleges and universities for the construction of buildings and other facilities. The bill provides $20 million in federal loan subsidies in fiscal year 2017 to support as much as $282 million worth of financing to the schools.

Derek W. Black, a law professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law who studies constitutional and education law, called Trump’s reference to the HBCU program “rather odd.”

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“If Congress is validly spending money on these programs, and there’s no court finding or litigation suggesting discrimination, the idea that the executive would unilaterally not allocate those funds would be a rather momentous position to take.” Black said.

Although Congress and the president have long tussled over war powers in signing statements, for example, Black said he thought it was “very unusual” that the statement alluded to apparent discrimination in education programs.

“The administration is basically putting us on notice that they think there might be a problem, and therefore they might have to exercise judgement in these programs,” he said.

He also said it was unusual that the statement referenced only “race, ethnicity and gender.”

“Why stop here?” he asked. “If you’re worried about the allocation of benefits in unfair ways, why not add other things like religion or disability?”





Who Was Henrietta Lacks? 5 Striking Facts About The ‘Mother Of Modern Medicine’

Hardly anyone knew of Henrietta Lacks’ life story prior to 2010. That year, Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was released, and went on to become a New York Times best-seller. The biographical book told the story of a black woman born on a tobacco farm in Roanoke, Virginia, in 1920 who revolutionized medical research and saved the lives of millions, without ever knowing it. Now, a new film by the same name starring Oprah Winfrey aims to make her life and impact more widely known.

Who exactly was Henrietta Lacks? And why is she described as the “Mother of Medicine”? Here are five fascinating facts about Lacks to better understand who she was and how she changed the world forever.  


Henrietta Lacks changed medicine forever and this book, by Rebecca Skloot, highlighted how.

1. Henrietta Lacks died from a cancer whose cells also made her immortal.

In 1951, at the age of 31, Lacks visited Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Hospital, which served black patients in segregated wards during the Jim Crow era, so doctors could find out what was causing pain in her lower stomach. It turned out there was a cancerous tumor that had grown at a terrifying rate on her cervix.

At the time, cervical cancer was prevalent among women and research samples were taken from those who were diagnosed with it. Richard Telinde, a doctor at Hopkins who led a research study on patients who tested positive, hoped to grow living samples from both normal and infected cells to better understand the cancer. He worked with his colleague Dr. George Gey, the head of tissue culture research at Hopkins, who was relentlessly determined to develop the first line of immortal human cells ― those that could repeatedly replicate themselves outside of the body without ever dying.

Soon after her first trip to the hospital, the excruciating pain Lacks felt began to worsen as her tumor grew, so she checked herself into Hopkins for immediate treatment through surgery. The doctor who performed the surgery then removed two dime-sized pieces of tissue from Lacks’ body ― one from the infected cervix, the other from a healthy part of the organ ― and had them handed off to Gey. He and his staff used Lacks’ samples to successfully grow the first line of immortal cells. Lacks eventually died from the cancer, leaving five young children. 

However, her cells lived on ― and soon came to be known as HeLa.

2. Lacks never knew doctors took her cells ― and neither did her family, for decades.

In The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Skloot writes that while Lacks gave doctors permission to perform a surgical procedure on her, she “knew nothing about her cells growing in a laboratory.” The hospital had called Lacks’ husband, David, to tell him about her death and ask if they could do an autopsy on her. Her husband initially denied the request, but visited the hospital later that day to see Lacks’ body and eventually agreed to sign off on the autopsy because doctors said they wanted to conduct tests that may help their children, and he believed them.

Decades after Lacks’ death, Rolling Stone published a riveting piece in March 1976 that gave a detailed account of what happened to her cells and included comments from her husband. In the piece, he recounted his experience at the hospital after learning of her death and revealed that he had never explicitly been told by doctors or any official about what the samples had been used for:

“They said it wouldn’t disfigure her none, because it was all down in her womb, to begin with.” He nods. “They said it was the fastest growing cancer they’d ever known, and they was suppose to tell me about it, to let me know, but I never did hear.”

In the same interview, Lacks’ eldest son, Lawrence, told the reporter: “First we heard was about a month ago, a person called us on the phone and asked if we’d like to take a blood test. That’s the first time we heard about it.”

3. Her name was changed from Henrietta Lacks to Helen Lane.

Helen Lane had quickly become a pseudonym for Henrietta Lacks in print, which Skloot writes was apparently an intentional move made in an effort to disguise Lacks’ true identity from the public and the media. According to Skloot, one of Gey’s colleagues told her Gey himself had created the new name so the media wouldn’t discover who Lacks really was. The Minneapolis Star was the first to publish a report on Nov. 2, 1953, that more accurately identified Lacks, only the last name was incorrect: She was recognized as Henrietta Lakes.

Upon the release of the story, journalists dug in and began requesting interviews with Gey and other doctors central to the case, but they all were reluctant to release her real name at the risk of “getting into trouble,” according to the book. Skloot firmly concludes that had Lacks’ name been released to the public from the outset, it would have changed her family’s life forever.

“They would have learned that Henrietta’s cells were still alive, that they’d been taken, bought, sold and used in research without her knowledge or theirs,” she wrote.

4. HeLa cells have led to countless medical breakthroughs.

HeLa cells have entirely revolutionized medical research. The cell line can be found in labs across the world and has been used in studies that have resulted in countless breakthroughs.

The cells were used to develop the first polio vaccine in 1952 during a time when the disease swept the nation in an outbreak that left thousands of children paralyzed.

HeLa cells have also traveled to space to help scientists study the impact zero gravity has on human cells; been used to identify abnormalities in chromosomes; helped with research in the mapping of the human genome; and aided in studying the human papillomavirus, commonly known as HPV, which causes the cervical cancer that killed Lacks.

In 2014, chemists and engineers at Penn State University announced that in their study, HeLa cells had been implanted with technology that have potential to cure cancer if they are able to mechanically manipulate cells inside the body. 

5. Her family, while never given compensation, says her spirit continues to live on.

Both of Lacks’ daughters have died, including Deborah, who was hugely instrumental in bringing the book to life by working with Skloot and whom Oprah portrays in the film. But her legacy lives on through her three sons, who are now decades old. 

And it’s Lacks’ eldest son, Lawrence, reportedly the executor of her estate, who is leading the charge for the family to receive compensation from Johns Hopkins Hospital and others. However, the institute said in 2010 that it does not own the rights for the HeLa cell line and that they have not profited from the cells. Lawrence plans on continuing to pursue his mission. 

Before Deborah’s death in 2009, she told Skloot that even though she and her siblings lost their mother, Lacks always knew how to make her presence known. 

“Deborah believed Henrietta’s spirit lived on in her cells, controlling the life of anyone who crossed its path,” Skloot wrote. “Including me.” 

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” premieres on HBO on Saturday, April 22. 




The Human Cost Of Trump’s Rollback On Regulations

 If Tom Ward had to die from his work, he’d rather fall off a scaffold than endure the slow death his father did from the debilitating lung disease silicosis. “I would choose to go much quicker,” he said, “rather than to have my family watch me suffer.” Ward fears that other workers will face the same suffocating illness as his father, thanks to the regulatory rollback underway by the Trump administration.

Ward’s father spent several years working as a sandblaster in Michigan. It was most likely on that job that he breathed a lethal amount of crystalline silica, a carcinogenic dust that comes from sand and granite. Excessive silica has been ruining workers’ lungs for as long as rock and concrete have been cut. Frances Perkins, U.S. labor secretary under Franklin D. Roosevelt, spoke publicly of the dangers of silica back in the late 1930s.

After numerous efforts under other presidents failed, the Obama administration finally tightened the regulations covering silica last year, further restricting the amount of dust that employers can legally expose workers to. The tougher standards were 45 years in the making, the subject of in-depth scientific research and intense lobbying by business groups and safety experts. When the rules were finalized in March 2016, occupational health experts hailed them as a life-saving milestone.

But now the enforcement of the rules has been delayed ― and the rules themselves could be in jeopardy.

Last week, the Trump administration announced that it was pushing back the implementation of the new silica regulations. For now, the delay is just three months ― from late June to late September, since “additional guidance is necessary due to the unique nature of the requirements,” as the Labor Department put it. A spokeswoman said the agency wouldn’t comment beyond that.

But to occupational health experts who’ve waited years for the tighter rules, the new delay casts a cloud of uncertainty over their future. The leading home-building trade group and other business lobbying groups have sued to halt the regulations, saying they are too costly for employers. Defending the silica rule would now be the responsibility of the Trump administration, which has eagerly dismantled one Obama-era regulation after another at the urging of corporations. (The rule could also be subject to an appropriations rider by the GOP-controlled Congress.)

While the administration has not signaled that it intends to reverse the silica rule, it has issued an executive order directing all agencies to review the regulations currently on their books, presumably for potential watering down or scrapping. Trump’s own labor nominee, Alexander Acosta, cited that order during his confirmation hearing as one reason he would not yet commit to enforcing the silica rule if he becomes labor secretary.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) noted the huge public health implications at stake. “You can’t tell me whether or not, high on your list of priorities, would be to protect a rule that keeps people from being poisoned,” she told Acosta.

I never dreamed I would have to spend my retirement years in this debilitating manner.Leonard Serafin, silicosis victim

The delay of the new silica regulations was not a surprise to Ward, given the Trump administration’s promises to deregulate businesses in order to boost hiring. But it was nevertheless painful to see. Ward now leads training at the Michigan Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Union, a personal mission given that his father died at age 39 after “an awful few years” of suffering from silicosis.

“Knowing it was 100 percent preventable is the part that really hurts,” he said. 

Silica has been called the “silent killer.” It’s not visible to the naked eye ― particles can be one hundred times smaller than a grain of sand ― and the effects on the lungs are cumulative. But there are clear ways to curb exposure to silica, like wetting down rock that’s being cut, installing ventilation or dust-collecting equipment on the worksite, and wearing respiratory equipment designed to filter out the dust.    

When the proper precautions aren’t taken, the results can be debilitating. Railroad worker Leonard Serafin shared the story of his own battle with silicosis in a letter his family provided to The Huffington Post in 2012.

At the time, the Obama White House was sitting on the silica rule, and advocates worried that the reforms might not be finished before Obama left office. Serafin had worked as a trackman on a railroad for 32 years, laying out the crushed rock and gravel in which the tracks were laid. He said the work led to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and a litany of other lung maladies.

“I never dreamed I would have to spend my retirement years in this debilitating manner,” Serafin wrote. “I find it difficult to attend social events such as concerts and plays with my family because of my chronic cough. Even coughing while standing at a cash register line at a retail store causes people to distance themselves from me. ... When I exert myself, my daily coughing becomes a spastic type of cough, which leaves me exhausted, breathless with chest pain.”

Although U.S. regulators had been aware of silica’s dangers for decades, it wasn’t until 1971 that the federal government imposed legal limits on workers’ exposure to it: 100 micrograms per cubic meter for laborers in most industries, and 250 micrograms for those working in construction and shipyards. Many experts believed those limits were too meager, however. The caps weren’t lowered to the 50 micrograms recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention until Obama’s presidency.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has estimated that the new rules would cut down silica exposure for roughly 2.3 million workers, preventing an estimated 600 deaths annually. Extrapolating on that data, the AFL-CIO labor federation says even the three-month delay in enforcement “will lead to an additional 160 worker deaths.”

David Michaels, the head of OSHA under Obama, called the reform “the most important health standard OSHA has issued in decades.”

But in the eyes of the construction industry, it’s one of the most expensive. OSHA says that instituting the new controls would cost businesses an estimated $511 million annually. Meanwhile, industry lobbies say the real cost to them would be in the billions each year ― most of it due to additional equipment and labor.

While praising the Trump administration’s decision, a consortium of construction industry trade groups urged Trump to extend the delay well beyond the original three months, saying it “remains concerned about the overall feasibility of the standard in construction and has requested that the agency delay enforcement for a year.”

Supporters of the rule note that those upfront costs don’t take into account the long-term financial benefits to workers and society. Preventing disability and death saves money, after all.

OSHA estimated that the reforms would have a net benefit of $7.7 billion each year, largely due to savings on health care and lost productivity. The Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank, calls the silica rule a “case study” in how seemingly expensive safety regulations can have economic benefits over the long term.

Ward thought the debate over the rule’s financial costs had finally been put to rest. For years, he heard dollars and cents being weighed against lives lost or saved. Now that he’s hearing it again, he’s worried about the bricklayers who will come up after him.

“The rule really was to prevent future illnesses,” said Ward. “It may be too late for me and my generation. This is about the future generation of craft workers.”




Maxine Waters’ Political Career Makes Her Uniquely Suited To Take On Donald Trump

Maxine Waters spends her weekends at home. For most people, this is not an unusual habit. But for Waters, it requires extra effort: Each Monday Congress has been in session over the past 26 years, she has embarked on a 2,300-mile commute from her home in Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., where she currently serves as one of the most powerful Democrats in the House of Representatives.

A pre-dawn, cross-country flight to head to work in D.C. is irritating business. Former staffers say the six-hour journey suits the 78-year-old congresswoman just about as well as you’d expect. Her 5 p.m. Monday meetings are notoriously abusive. Aides who have spent the weekend gathering Capitol Hill intelligence, studying the intricacies of securities law and trying to win new political allies report to the full staff in front of a one-woman firing squad.

“It’s definitely a situation that can be slightly intimidating,” said one former staffer, comparing the grillings to the Trump administration’s televised press conferences. “She interrupts, doesn’t let them finish, scolds them. These are people who are just trying to get her up to speed on what’s happening.”

Waters yells at staffers for things like making eye contact with other aides. She unceremoniously fires people who give presentations that don’t live up to her standards.

The scene, at first, might clash with the image of Waters that has taken off on the internet since the election of Donald Trump. The meme-ified image of “Auntie Maxine” ― a fearless, quirky black woman who may not be related to you, but whom you love and respect for her straight talk just the same ― has become a favorite of millennials and brought Waters’ Twitter account up to hundreds of thousands of followers. But, at a closer look, her staff meetings actually fit with her internet persona: Auntie Maxine, like many black women when it’s time to buckle down at work, isn’t about to play with you.

“There’s a genuineness,” said R. Eric Thomas, a columnist for who has written several viral articles with headlines like “You Will Never, In Your Entire Life, Get The Best Of Maxine Waters.” 

“With Maxine, she’s talking like everyone you respect in your life talks, but whom you wouldn’t expect to be in Washington,” he said. “If my mom and my aunt were running Washington, everyone would straighten up and fly right. I think a lot of people feel that way.”

And Waters’ comments about Trump have fit that bill.

“I think that he is disrespectful of most people,” Waters told The Huffington Post. “He has no respect for other human beings. He lies, he cannot be trusted, I don’t know what it means to sit down with someone like that who you cannot believe one word that they say once you get up by talking to them. I have no trust and no faith in him whatsoever.”

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) said he helped coax Waters to come to Georgia for an upcoming event, given her overwhelming popularity in the black community. “She’s hard-edged, hard-nosed, hard-driving, firm in her beliefs, and she is an institution unto herself. African Americans adore her,” Johnson said.

Waters’ experience as a black woman in America gives the rage in her voice an added dose of authenticity. Waters has come about that anger honestly: Black people, particularly women, have generally been treated horribly throughout American history. Black men began serving as sheriffs, congressmen and senators as early as 1870, and black women often did a bulk of the work necessary to advance men into those positions and support them while in office. But it wasn’t until 1968 ― when Maxine Waters was 30 ― that Shirley Chisholm became the first black woman elected to Congress.

When Trump or his surrogates take on Waters, as they have since she began speaking out against his policies, the attacks come with a barely sheathed racist edge. Fox News host Bill O’Reilly recently mocked her “James Brown wig,” saying he wouldn’t listen to her concerns about Trump’s politics because of it.

In a viral response, Waters made clear who she is. “I’m a strong black woman, and I cannot be intimidated,” she said. “I cannot be thought to be afraid of Bill O’Reilly or anybody. And I’d like to say to women out there everywhere: Don’t allow these right-wing talking heads, these dishonorable people, to intimidate you or scare you. Be who you are. Do what you do. And let us get on with discussing the real issues of this country.”

The O’Reillys of the world see Waters as nothing but an angry black woman. And she is, indeed, an angry black woman ― rightfully and unapologetically so.

“It’s not good advice to get in a fight with Maxine Waters,” said Zev Yaroslavsky, a former LA county supervisor who has known Waters for decades and who noted that O’Reilly apologized with uncharacteristic speed. “What’s the ‘Man of La Mancha’ quote? ‘Whether the stone hits the pitcher or the pitcher hits the stone, it’s going to be bad for the pitcher.’”  

Waters’ anger wards off rivals. It enhances her moral authority. And it comforts and amplifies her often equally angry constituents.

“She can sometimes be animated, and I think people might think that that is evidence of lack of control,” said Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), who has long served with Waters on the Financial Services Committee. “But it is not. It is quite calculated, and most of the time, it is very effective.”

Maxine Waters, one of 13 children, was born in 1938 in St. Louis, a city that was a capital of black culture and politics at the time. Waters’ high school yearbook predicted she’d become speaker of the House ― an impressively optimistic prediction, given that she graduated a decade before the Voting Rights Act mandated African Americans’ right to vote.

Waters started her family at a young age and had two children before moving west to LA and finding a gig as a service representative for Pacific Telephone, while working her way slowly toward a sociology degree. She later became a supervisor for a head start program in Watts, a black working-class neighborhood in South Los Angeles ― her first foray into professional public service.

One night in August 1965, cops pulled over an African-American motorist in Watts and beat him badly. Then, as now, police violence was a not-unheard-of occurrence. But there’s no telling when a single moment becomes a spark that lights a fire, and this one lit up Watts. The neighborhood erupted in protest, leading to what became known as the Watts Rebellion — or, to white America, the Watts Riots.

Following the rebellion, a small group of black politicians and organizers came together at a crucial meeting in Bakersfield in 1966. Waters, whose activism in the community was becoming increasingly high profile, was among them. From that meeting came a long-term, statewide wave of black politicians from California, focused on improving conditions for communities of color.

“Anybody who became ‘somebody’ was there,” James Richardson, a Sacramento Bee reporter who covered much of Waters’ early career, said of the Bakersfield summit. “They plotted over how to gain electoral power and it was a watershed moment that wasn’t really seen.”

Waters’ work in the community eventually led to a gig that would define her approach to politics the rest of her life: serving as a top aide to LA Councilman David Cunningham Jr. When she’s been asked since why she continues flying cross-country every single week, despite facing no political threat to her seat, she recalls what she learned as a chief deputy to Cunningham: the importance of constituent service. In 1976, Waters ran for and won a seat in the California State Assembly. She has been in elected office ever since.

“It’s as if she never left the public housing projects in Watts in all of her life,” said her longtime ally Willie Brown, a speaker of the Assembly who went on to become mayor of San Francisco.

*   *   *

Waters has been in political life long enough to see the Democratic Party transform several times over. She is, in many ways, a holdover from another time. But the world seems to be coming full circle. Today, nearly every Democrat identifies as “progressive,” but decades ago the word had a specific meaning and referred to a movement launched in opposition to urban machine politicians who relied on transactional politics and constituent service to consolidate power.

Progressives prioritized anti-corruption and the integrity of the political process. The penny-ante palm greasing of the city machine gave way to the sanitized, large-scale corruption of national politics by corporate money. With government watchdogs on the prowl, politicians lost the ability to bestow jobs and other benefits on supporters in the community. It was all well-intentioned, but as the power to better the community moved to the private sector and out of politicians’ hands, quality of life in the community steadily declined.

Waters is not a good-government progressive. She is an old-school liberal, one who believes that outcomes matter more than process. She prides herself on constituent service. And she often wins.

“It is hard to think of any single member of Congress who has done more than Maxine to protect the financial reforms and prevent another financial crisis,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). “Her work touches every family in America. She’s really been good.”

*   *   *

Waters’ keen sense of public opinion is as strong as that of any member of Congress. She has leaned right into the Auntie Maxine persona as yet another method of relating to constituents. At a private meeting of her House colleagues earlier this year, Democrats were debating the stunning level of grassroots energy around the country — and how it could be harnessed to regain power. Waters rose to address her colleagues, stressing the importance of learning the language the kids use today — and explained the meaning of the phrase “stay woke.” (The phrase originated as a way for black activists to remind each other of systemic inequality; it has since evolved to describe anybody who professes concern for social justice ― up to and including ride-share companies.)

Waters’ grassroots touch — combined with her grueling work ethic and endless frequent flyer miles — is what allowed Waters to know long before national groups, and before federal regulators, that big banks were engaging in rampant mortgage servicing fraud and foreclosure scams. It has helped her stay far ahead of the national curve on issues such as mass incarceration, the drug war and police brutality. And by sensing — and leaping to satiate — a tremendous hunger among the Democratic base to not only delegitimize and de-normalize Trump, but to actually impeach him, she’s fueled her latest star turn.

“Maxine is a grassroots person,” said Yaroslavsky, the former LA county supervisor. “She’s as comfortable in the district as she is in the committee. ... You learn to take care of the people who pay your salary. And sometimes she steps on toes doing that, but usually she takes the populist position because that’s what she thinks is her role.”

“Maxine was a tough person. You didn’t cross her. She could give a fiery speech on the floor and send your bill to the dumper. Some nicknamed her ‘Mad Max’ behind her back,” Richardson said of her state Assembly years. “She would represent [Assembly Speaker Willie Brown] in budget meetings, so everyone knew that Maxine was to be taken seriously because she was speaking for him. And for herself.”

Waters’ crowning achievement in the Assembly was a bill she co-authored with Brown, who’d also been at the Bakersfield meeting, and convinced Republican Gov. George Deukmejian to sign. It divested California’s mammoth pension system from South African interests in protest of apartheid. Convincing the governor was difficult, Brown reported, but Waters got to work, demonstrating an interest in issues that Deukmejian cared about, such as farming regulations in California’s Central Valley, coastline and water resources in Los Angeles. She was able to demonstrate her commitment to his issues enough to engender the goodwill necessary to receive his support, Brown said. It was in stark contrast to the image of the blustering demagogue, and it’s one colleagues said they’ve seen over and over in the years since. The coastal and farming policy insights she picked up in pursuit of Nelson Mandela’s freedom, indeed, would become handy as she helped shape a flood insurance bill 30 years later.

(Brown is selling himself a bit short, as he always played a major role. Richardson notes that the speaker effectively appealed to Deukmejian’s family history. The governor, who was of Armenian descent, lost family in the Armenian genocide.)

California blocked its huge pension fund from investing in South African interests in 1986. It was a watershed moment in the anti-apartheid movement, and Mandela was released in 1990. Brown said Mandela traveled to California during his first United States tour following his release to thank Waters for her part in freeing him. “Maxine’s history is replete with successes, but none greater than freeing Nelson Mandela,” Brown said.

That may sound like too much credit for a collective action, but Brown says Waters’ move set off a chain reaction ― as she hoped it would ― that led to his release. “Nelson Mandela was freed because Maxine Waters orchestrated a process in the legislature to divest our pension fund on the basis of apartheid,” Brown said. “This was quickly followed by Congress and other municipalities and it led clearly to the ultimate freedom of Nelson Mandela.”

Indeed, Waters’ dominance of the Assembly in the 1980s is hard to overstate. Nobody who saw the authority the diminutive young woman wielded in the chamber is surprised at what she has become today. “The things going on in California in the ‘80s make DC look like nothing,” Richardson said. “We’d go months without a government, everything shut down, over pensions and benefits for teachers and the poor.”

Waters withstood all of that. Persisted, even, you could say.

“That’s her style. She will not be intimidated,” Richardson said, echoing language Waters used in response to O’Reilly’s recent racist attack on her.

Although Waters worked the inside game in the Assembly, she held on to her outsider status throughout the 1980s, twice going against the party establishment in backing Jesse Jackson’s bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. When he fell short, she floated the possibility that black voters should support a third party if Democrats remained unresponsive to their concerns. And so when she ran for Congress in 1990, the party endorsed her primary opponent ― but Waters won anyway.

She has been fighting established power ever since, and her natural impulse with Trump taking the White House this year was to charge right at him. Immediately after the election, the Democratic Party was caught in a debate over how to approach a Trump presidency. Would they try to work with him where possible, or resist his agenda across the board? Waters, who boycotted his inauguration, seems to see the answer as simple and has promised a full-blown rejection of Trump.

“As I said earlier to someone I was talking to,” Waters told HuffPost, “I became very offended by him during his campaign the way he mocked disabled journalists, the way he talked about grabbing women by their private parts ... the way he stalked Hillary Clinton at the debate that I attended in Missouri where he circled her as she was standing trying to give her petition on the issues. The way he has praised [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and talked about the great leader he was. And the way that he pushed back even on Bill O’Reilly on the Fox show when Bill O’Reilly said in so many words, ‘Why are you so supportive of Putin? He’s a killer.’ And he said, ‘so what,’ in so many words, ‘[it’s] the United States, people get killed here all the time’ or something like that.”

“I think that for the future, we have to deal with this administration and organizing to try and take back the House and the White House,” she continued.

Mikael Moore, Waters’ grandson who served as a longtime aide to her in Congress, put it succinctly: “She runs toward the fight.”

“She is operating no differently than she did prior to Trump’s arrival,” Brown said. “She generated just as much attention during the Bush years. [During Obama’s and Clinton’s terms] she had the great joy of not having to do that.”

During the 2016 election, Waters clashed with Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders when she backed Hillary Clinton in the primary instead. Some of her staffers were frustrated by Waters’ early enthusiasm for Clinton, whom they saw as much weaker on Waters’ signature issue of bank reform. When Sanders was invited to address the Democratic caucus in July 2016 — after the primary was effectively over, but while Sanders was continuing to campaign — some members of the Congressional Black Caucus, of which Waters is a member, heckled him.

The CBC has a long, fraught relationship with Wall Street, often allying with big banks for fundraising purposes (much like the rest of the party). And since 2013, Waters had been the banks’ chief adversary in leadership, warning members of the caucus that helping Wall Street could result in a lot of pain for their black constituents a few years down the line. But at the Sanders address, Waters gave her colleagues cover by taking on Sanders.

“Basically her question was, ‘Why do you keep talking about breaking up the banks when we already fixed this with Dodd-Frank?’” recalls one Democratic staffer who witnessed the confrontation.

This fed a narrative the Clinton campaign was trying to foster — Bernie was a dreamer who didn’t understand policy. Most members of Congress, of course, do not understand financial policy ― they defer to leaders on the Financial Services Committee. Here was the top Democrat on that committee saying Sanders didn’t get it. It was powerful. But Waters’ own staffers knew their boss was twisting the policy. “Too big to fail” is alive and well in American banking.

Dodd-Frank gave regulators the tools to fix the problem, but they haven’t used them, and Sanders wanted to force their hands. “It was pretty deflating,” one former Waters staffer says.

*   *   *

Waters combined her fierce nature with her constituent savvy after the 1992 LA riots, with a response that would come to define her career: She took a hard line with colleagues, but used a soft touch with her those who would vote for her.

In April 1992, communities across South Los Angeles, enraged by the acquittals of four white police officers in the beating of Rodney King, launched what locals still refer to as an uprising — known nationally as the LA riots.

In the wake of the chaos, Waters, who was then in her first term in Congress, showed up uninvited to a meeting President George H.W. Bush had called to discuss “urban problems,” according to a New York Times report.

“I’ve been out here trying to define these issues,” she told Speaker Thomas S. Foley. “I don’t intend to be excluded or dismissed. We have an awful lot to say.”

Back home, she struck a more poetic note, addressing constituents in a letter reprinted by the Los Angeles Times. In it, she employed a canny understanding of the zeitgeist and the language of the moment:

My dear children, my friends, my brothers, life is sometimes cold-blooded and rotten. And it seems nobody, nobody cares.

But there are the good times, the happy moments.

I’m talking about the special times when a baby is born and when gospel music sounds good on Sunday morning. When Cube is kickin’ and Public Enemy is runnin’ it. When peach cobbler and ice cream tastes too good, the down-home blues makes you sing and shout, and someone simply saying, ‘I love you’ makes you want to cry.

Her letter went on to condemn police brutality, predatory lending in communities of color, for-profit schools and a racist justice system. Save a few names, it could have been written today.

In 1994, Republicans won control of Congress and Waters immediately joined the resistance. When activists from the affordable housing group ACORN were arrested early the next year for protesting newly minted Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) demanded that the Capitol Police release them, but he had no luck. Waters did more than demand. She marched down to the station herself and refused to leave until the protesters were let go. The police relented.

Those are exactly the sort of moments that have made Waters’ resistance to Trump so resonant: She stands up to power on behalf of causes and people who are not broadly popular across the political spectrum. Yet she goes there.

In one of Waters’ first votes in Congress, on the 1994 crime bill that has since become infamous as an avatar of mass incarceration, she and other Democrats were under tremendous pressure to do something about rising crime rates. Hillary Clinton, who was then first lady, warned of “super predators,” language she apologized for 22 years later.

Sanders, an independent representing Vermont in the House, voted for it — a capitulation he would regret during his 2016 presidential campaign. Two-thirds of the Congressional Black Caucus ended up voting for the bill, including a former Black Panther. Waters voted no.

But Waters hasn’t just stuck to issues considered traditionally liberal, or to issues that affect a disproportionate number of black Americans, such as criminal justice or housing policy. When Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.) was defeated in 2010, “everybody assumed” Waters would stay on the housing subcommittee, former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) recalled.

She chose securities, not housing. “That surprised people,” he said, “but it was very sensible” — savvy, even, given the rising importance of Wall Street issues to the liberal base — and defied “the notion that she was just some bleeding-heart who could be for poor people but couldn’t handle the hard stuff.”

Two years later, when Frank retired, the top position became available. Despite a widespread presumption on K Street that she would be passed over for Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a white New York lawmaker much friendlier to Wall Street, Waters took the ranking member position. “She has made a career out of people underestimating her,” said Lynch, who serves with her on the committee. “She really has.”

Bank lobbyists quickly found that Waters didn’t need to be a policy wonk on Day One to handle the job. “When Mr. Frank had the committee, he was so well-versed in many of the subjects that the debate tended to center around him, but when Ms. Waters became ranking member, she really sought out members who had expertise in certain areas and it really became more of a team,” Lynch said. “Barney was a wonk, financial policy wonk, a very, very bright guy and has a whole different style than Maxine. She comes to that job with a whole different set of tools and she uses them quite effectively.”

She’s been forced into wonk mode since taking the job. “Yeah, she’s not happy about it, but she’s become much more embroiled in the nuances of finance and economic policy,” he said.

In 2013, during the fall of her first year as ranking member, Wall Street pushed a bill that would offer taxpayer backing for derivatives trades. It was pitched as a modest technical change and had coasted through the House the session before. Some of Waters’ CBC colleagues were working hard for the bill and trying to get the entire caucus to back it as a bloc.

Waters saw it as undermining the safeguards Dodd-Frank had put in place, but it flew through committee on a 53-6 vote, over Waters’ opposition. Then Waters went to war behind the scenes, forcing the caucus to take no position on the bill. On the House floor, it passed, but a majority of Democrats voted against it, rendering it dead in the Senate and meaning it would have less sway with regulators who look to vote totals for guidance.


Waters and Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) listen to testimony during a hearing.

Waters’ bomb-throwing reputation belies an ability to work with Republicans when she needs to. The GOP chairman of the Financial Services Committee, Rep. Jeb Hensarling of West Texas, for instance, had no plans to take up a major priority of Waters’, a reform of flood insurance that was critical to a coastal state like California. “West Texas hasn’t had a flood since Noah and he was not open to the idea at all,” Lynch said of the 2013 fight.

So Waters went to work. “She actually formed a coalition with coastal Republicans and coastal Democrats and got that bill taken away from Mr. Hensarling. The speaker took control of it and we eventually got it passed, and I thought that was masterful to be in the minority and be able to do that,” Lynch said. “She built those coalitions with Republicans from Mississippi and Florida and California, Louisiana. I thought that was probably the toughest fight but she was very successful.”

Wall Street fought Waters again during the lame-duck session of 2014. The period after an election and before a new Congress is sworn in is supposed to be a bit of a time-limited, all-you-can-eat buffet for K Street. A year earlier, Republicans had forced a government shutdown by demanding that Congress repeal the Affordable Care Act as part of any deal to maintain federal operations. Democrats had gone to the mat to stand up for their most high-profile achievement.

This time around, Wall Street reform was on the menu. Senate leaders in both parties had agreed to include a new slate of federal subsidies for credit default swaps — the risky trades that demolished AIG in 2008.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and President Barack Obama seemed poised to give the GOP the win. Nancy Pelosi, the Democrats’ leader in the House, did not like confronting Obama in public, and she certainly didn’t want to risk a public relations debacle that could result from a government shutdown — not for an obscure Dodd-Frank provision.

Waters didn’t give her a choice. She decried the bill in press conferences and TV appearances. More importantly, she started whipping members against the bill. If funding the government required subsidizing risky Wall Street speculation, Democrats should force the shutdown and let Republicans explain why they wanted to help big banks so much, Waters argued. She set up a makeshift war room in her Capitol Hill office, and even recruited Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) — a frequent friend of banks on the House Financial Services Committee — to call members and urge them to shoot down the spending bill.

She brought another recruit to the fight, too, reaching out to Rep. Frank, who just a few weeks before had voiced support for the provision Republicans were trying to push through. Frank joined Waters for a phone call with reporters and advocated for killing the bill.

“I didn’t change my substantive position,” Frank insists today, putting his advocacy effort in the broader context of a fight to defend the integrity of Dodd-Frank. “I didn’t think [the measure in question] was very important. But I thought it set a very bad precedent to open up Dodd-Frank to amendment without debate.” Frank had become convinced by the argument Waters was making, that the politics were just as important as the policy ― and caving on the politics could lead to much worse policy.

She sometimes seems like a bomb thrower, but the people at whom she threw the bombs often turn out to have deserved it.Former Rep. Brad Miller, a colleague on the Financial Services Committee

The bill, which had been expected to pass with little fanfare, faltered. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) didn’t have the votes. He knew he couldn’t bring around the hard-liners in his own caucus, who were building their own careers by opposing Boehner as a big-spending liberal sellout. He needed Democrats, and the Waters war room was working. Even Pelosi came out against the bill, granting angry Democrats all the cover they needed to vote no.

The bill looked dead. Then Obama and JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon began making personal phone calls to individual House members imploring them to support the package. They eventually got the votes. Waters dinged the president as a Wall Street collaborator.

“I know that the president was whipping and he was supporting this bill and I know that Jamie Dimon was whipping,” she told reporters after the vote. “That’s an odd combination.”

The December 2014 fight was painful. Waters lost. But the fight galvanized the party against Wall Street and embarrassed the president. Waters and her allies made their point. Obama and Reid never agreed to slip pro-bank measures into spending bills again.

“Maxine led the charge to defeat that bill in the House,” Sen. Warren recalled.

That success all goes back to Waters’ connection to her constituents. Former Reps. Brad Miller (D-N.C.) and Mary Jo Kilroy (D-Ohio) both served on the Financial Services Committee with Waters, and both recall that she was the first person they heard identify mortgage servicing fraud as an issue that needed attention. Going around her district, it was something she kept hearing about. “I recall Maxine as being relentless in calling out Wells Fargo and other loan servicers on their policies and practices with respect to the slow place and many obstacles they put on loan modifications,” Kilroy said.

“She was really one of the first, maybe the very first, to raise the issue of mortgage servicer conduct, which she heard about from her constituents in California. That was before the national advocacy groups were really on it,” Miller said.

“She kept asking witnesses at hearings about servicing problems,” Miller said. “I thought it was a distraction at the time. But it gradually became more and more evident what a problem servicer conduct was.”

By 2011, Waters wanted to force the issue. That January, she joined with Miller, Lynch and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) to write a letter to the inspector general of the Federal Housing Finance Agency challenging a recent settlement with Bank of America, suggesting it had failed to address the problem. Miller thought Waters’ draft was too strongly worded. “I insisted she dial it back,” he recalled, an insistence Lynch recalls as well. She did.

Months later, when Miller read the inspector general’s report that had been sparked by the letter, he concluded that her initial scathing letter had been entirely appropriate. “When we got the IG’s report, I wished that we’d sent a letter harsher than her draft,” Miller said. “She sometimes seems like a bomb thrower, but the people at whom she threw the bombs often turn out to have deserved it.”




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