Commentary

With Election Day approaching on November 4th, Americans are faced with a perennial question: to vote or not to vote? In the last midterm election, in 2010, only 47 percent of the eligible population voted. Voting patterns typically break down along clear demographic lines: Non-voters tend to be low-income, young and people of color, while those who vote tend to older, whiter and richer than the population at large.

Last week, AT&T agreed to pay $80 million to customers who had been overbilled for charges they had not authorized. This was an all-too-rare case of a perpetrator brought to book: In recent decades, Americans have increasingly been hit with fees they know nothing about, which have contributed to a crisis of consumer debt. We must hope we are entering a new era of regulatory activism that will shine a light on hidden fees.

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In the wake of the death of Michael Brown, the unarmed teenager shot by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 9, the public has heard quite a bit about the town, its residents and their supposed violence.

But about half an hour drive west of Ferguson, along a highway straddling the Missouri River, you will come to what may seem a planet away: St. Charles County.

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This fall, I’ll be teaching some of the most financially distressed students in America.

For a moment, Monday’s funeral for Michael Brown, the young black man shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, pulled our attention away from the protests and militarized police response and back to the body on the street. The police left Michael there in the middle of the road, under the midday sky, for over four hours, blood seeping from his head in a drying rivulet on the asphalt. “To have that boy lying there, like nobody cared about him.

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Last week, as I sat and watched the events unfold in Ferguson, Missouri over the death of Michael Brown, I went through a range of emotions: rage, grief, depression. Even without the full details of the case, it was upsetting—horrifying really—to see another unarmed black body slain in the broad daylight for the entire world to see. For days and days, I tried to express the emotions that I was feeling, but my fingers went limp.

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I remember the stunned reaction of so many Americans back in the summer of 2005 when legions of poor black people in desperate circumstances seemed to have suddenly and inexplicably materialized in New Orleans during the flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina.

Expressions of disbelief poured in from around the nation: "How can this be happening?" "I had no idea conditions were that bad." "My God, is this America?"

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At the end of the classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Jimmy Stewart, as Senator Jefferson Smith, is in the midst of his filibuster against the corruption of the political machine that sent him to Capitol Hill as their lackey. Now he knows the truth and he’s taken over the floor of the Senate to tell it.

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For decades, the increasing precariousness of work has been a source of mass frustration for tens of millions of Americans. But the issue has been largely below the political radar.

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New Yorkers can view the disturbing images from Ferguson, Mo., with both horror and a sense of relief. There are certainly serious lapses in both race relations and police/community relations that surface too often in New York. The homicide of Eric Garner on Staten Island is evidence enough of that.

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