President Obama 'banned the box.' What it means and why you should care.

By 'banning the box,' he's setting a strong example the rest of the nation should follow.

Earlier today, President Obama issued an executive order "banning the box" for federal government employees.

What does this mean? Well, you know how on job applications, there's sometimes a little box that asks whether or not you've been convicted of a crime? With the wave of a pen, Obama just ordered that box to be removed from applications for jobs within the federal government, saying, "We can't dismiss people out of hand simply because of a mistake they made in the past."



From today's address in Newark, N.J. GIF from The White House.

Why? Here's how MSNBC's Ari Melber explains it:

"While the rule was once seen as a common sense way for employers to screen for criminal backgrounds, it has been increasingly criticized as a hurdle that fosters employment discrimination against former inmates, regardless of the severity of their offense or how long ago it occurred."

The president's move follows a 2012 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recommendation as to how arrests and convictions should be treated under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In July 2015, President Obama visited the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in Oklahoma, making him the first sitting president to visit a federal prison. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.

Within the first year after their release from prison, 60% to 75% of individuals are unable to find work.

If the goal of prison — if there must be one — is to rehabilitate and reintegrate offenders back into society, "banning the box" helps accomplish that. If employers are able to quickly exclude anyone who has ever been convicted of a crime from the job pool, those with criminal records become significantly less likely (nearly 50%, according to one study) to receive an interview or job offer, and it becomes much tougher for ex-offenders to land employment.

Job-seekers attend a California job expo in 2008, when unemployment was on the rise. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

We spend $80 billion a year on incarceration.

When people are unable to find a job, they're more likely to find a source of income outside the law. And that puts us right back on square one, with these same individuals back in prison. No one wants that.

And even if this doesn't appeal to you on a humanitarian level, how about in terms of taking a look at how our tax dollars are spent? The truth is that it's really expensive to keep people locked up. We should be taking every step we can to ensure that people have every available opportunity to reintegrate into society upon release, and yes, that includes eliminating barriers that prevent applications from being seen.

A protester at a 2013 rally near the White House holds a sign urging the president to take action on criminal justice reform and end the War on Drugs. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

19 states have banned the box for public sector jobs; 7 states have banned it in all hiring.

California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia make up the states where jobs for state employees cannot ask about criminal histories on applications. Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, and Rhode Island have eliminated the box for private employers.

On Oct. 26, 2015, more than 130,000 signatures were delivered to the White House asking the president to issue an executive order banning the box. Photo by Larry French/Getty Images for ColorOfChange.org.

Banning the box is just part of the president's plan for criminal justice reform push.

The president is also calling on Congress to pass the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, which would address mandatory minimum sentences, the use of solitary confinement, and development of a system to assess the risk level of prisoners. The bill currently rests with the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In today's announcement, however, the president unveiled the creation of Department of Education adult re-entry education grants, new guidelines from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, increased training and education opportunities for people with criminal records, the creation of a "National Clean Slate Clearinghouse" for ex-offenders, and a number of other new reform initiatives.

Watch President Obama's comments about today's executive order below.

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Today, I'm a 35-year-old man with a flame shaved into my beard. If the '80s movies I love so much are any indication, this is a sure sign I'm going through some kind of existential crisis. Next week, when the semester starts and I begin teaching again, it will not be strange if my colleagues start to worry about me just a little. A sports car or a neck-jerking pivot to physical fitness — that's an understandable response to the realization that life is fleeting. But a large meticulous flame carved out of facial hair? What does one do with that?

At this moment, though, I'm showing my face proudly to a woman wearing a swimsuit with a taco cat on it. We have only recently met, but she's telling me that she's so into my "fade" that she wants to kiss it. Then she does, blowing a raspberry into my cheek so hard that her hat falls off. Neither of us can stop laughing.

"Live Mas!" she yells with the excitement of someone who's never had trouble fully seizing the moment.

"Live Mas!" I shout back without any irony. There is no irony here in Palm Springs, where, for four days only, hundreds of people celebrate their love for Taco Bell.

Here, there's only swimming and hot sauce-themed leisure wear, and the warm pleasant feeling that comes from eating too much and knowing that you're with your own people. Even if the only thing that connects you is a love for a fast food giant that feeds you when you're hammered and shameless at 2 a.m.

We drank the Baja Blast! My Taco Bell fade and my friend's specialty manicure!Mark Shrayber

What does it mean to Live Mas? This is a question I am forced to ask myself over and over during my 24-hour stay at "The Bell," where I have stowed away as a friend's plus-one. We are, of course, both politely pretending that I'm a full-on guest with all the perks that entails, but we also both know that I wouldn't be here eating unlimited quesadillas poolside without her.

So maybe that's the first thing Live Mas means: To build strong lifelong connections which you can, with some luck, exploit to your benefit. :) :) :)

But this is too cynical an interpretation, because everyone here is so happy. Happy that they've gotten a reservation; happy that they can cool off in a room themed after an iconic Mountain Dew Drink, and happy that they can share their own personal story of what Taco Bell means to them. (Though there's no formal essay contest — I've checked.)

Me: This room won't be that cool. Also me: OH MY GOD, THIS IS THE COOLEST ROOM I'VE EVER BEEN IN!!!Mark Shrayber

Snatches of this story float around the "Fire" pool, where all the entertainment is concentrated: One couple canceled their trip to Prague because "Prague will always be there" — a brave stance considering climate change; another met last year on Tinder after the girlfriend's Taco Bell senior photos went viral; at the opening ceremony on Thursday, where sauce packets were cut instead of a ribbon, a city official brought others to tears with both her Taco Bell fashion and a memory of how her parents would feed an entire family with 19-cent-tacos from the first-ever Taco Bell in Downey, California.

Oh, I forgot one: The guy who skipped out on Prague? He got a giant bell shaved into the side of his head, so he might have to miss out on a black-tie event happening later this week. But it's all good. Bring on the nacho fries.

I make fast friends with four women who are here for a bachelorette party, the bride overwhelmed with good vibes and prosecco. This year, for her 30th, she rented a party bus. Inside? $100 worth of Taco Bell that her fiancee was worried might not be consumed.

"But little did he know," she shouts in the hot tub where we're "cooling off" after a long day of 108-degree sunning, "we ate it all!"

A bachelorette party and a birthday! We're really living it up (but also staying hydrated.)Mark Shrayber

Others whoop it up at the twist, but we all get it. Though there's no essay contest, I don't mind telling you that when my first boyfriend dumped me 14 years ago, I stuffed my face with chalupas. When I lost a job I really loved four years ago, I once ordered so much Taco Bell that the delivery app of my choice informed me I'd exceeded the maximum number of items they could comfortably fill in one order. We get it — though none of us can truly explain it.

There are, if you look at the The Bell from a literary perspective, many other writers who deserve this experience more than me. They could talk about the blue of the pool. Or the insouciance of youth. Draw parallels between marketing stunts such as this and the end-stage capitalism. Or envision a "Demolition Man" future where Taco Bell is fine dining and none of us know how to use the three shells in the bathroom to get ourselves clean.

And I wish these writers could be here to paint you these landscapes, but what you've got is me, a literal Taco Bell super-fan, and what I'm doing is eating and getting sunburned and taking a synchronized swimming class with the Aqualillies, who refer to themselves as "the world's most glamorous water ballet entertainment," but have very little idea of what to do with 10 eager recruits who can't stay afloat or on beat.


G-L-A-M-O-R-O-U-S!!Photo courtesy of Taco Bell.

"It's okay," one of the instructors comforts me just before the Tacolilies (the name of our "team") are invited to perform our watery version of "Senorita" — which was supposed to be two minutes long, then 1:15, and has now been judiciously cut down, due to talent, to about 45 seconds — in the bigger pool. "We regularly teach five-year-olds. And you're doing much better."

Usually, I would take offense at such blatant reads, but today I'm unbothered. I'll continue to be so right until I get home and discover that I've left all my electronics on United Flight 5223 (if anyone wants to get them back to me). And even then, I rage at myself for all of five seconds before checking that I've still got what's important: A certificate that says I did not drown while doing water ballet.

It's still there. As is my phone, which is blowing up with messages from people who took pictures of me in what Taco Bell calls its "power suit," and which is best described as "cult outfit, but kinda make it fashion." I bought my husband one, too, and I look forward to the argument we're going to have about holiday cards later.

This is "Live Mas."

I've never been so happy to match with someone else in my life. MaMark Shrayber

Or maybe it's the moment another stranger tells me that we'll be friends forever. Such friendships are forged quickly when you've got less than 24 hours to make lifelong connections and I'm pleased to get the full experience.

"We may never meet again," he says while we're swimming, "but we'll always have this time together."

Then we establish that he lives just across the park from me in San Francisco.

"Aw, man," he says, floating away to take pictures of the people he came with, "I've got lots of close friends I never see because they live across that damn park."

But the sentiment holds.

We Live Mas it on.

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