Wednesday, February 22, 2012

U.S. Senators Ask GAO To Study Impact Of Restrictive Voter Photo ID Laws

A group of U.S. senators on Tuesday asked the Government Accountability Office to study what they called an "alarming number" of new state laws that will make it "significantly harder" for millions of eligible voters to cast ballots this November. Sens. Bernie Sanders, Patrick Leahy, Richard Durbin and Bill Nelson sent a letter asking the non-partisan research arm of Congress for the review of new laws in at least 14 states.

The study is needed "to ensure that all citizens have the opportunity to exercise their constitutional right to vote and are not unreasonably hindered or burdened in that process," the letter said.

Some of the new restrictions, the senators added, are tantamount to poll taxes.

New state identification laws, by one estimate, will have a direct impact on 21 million American citizens who do not have a government-issued photo ID. The majority of those people are young would-be voters, the elderly, African Americans, Hispanics, and those earning $35,000 per year or less.

Other new state measures require proof of citizenship in order to register, prevent students from using college ID cards to register, place extreme burdens on third-party registration efforts, and eliminate or cut back early voting opportunities.

"State actions that suppress the right to vote must not be tolerated," the senators said. "We must make it easier, not harder, for poor and working people to vote and to participate in the political process."

The senators also asked the GAO to examine data on any prosecutions or convictions for voter impersonation fraud during the past decade in states that enacted new restrictions on voting, since the threat of such fraud has been used as a justification for many of the new laws.

"It is critical that we have an accurate picture of these recent state laws, individual access to voting, and actual instances of voter impersonation fraud," the letter said.

Read the senators' letter »

Watch the video of Senator Bernie Sanders talking with Rachel Maddow about resisting the Republican effort to discourage and/or disallow voter participation in elections even as Republicans are the ones who seem to have the problem with conducting honest elections:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Protecting The Right To Vote And Empowering Voters Through Collaboration

Since the record turnout of minority and young voters in 2008, there has been a wave of new laws that block access to the ballot box. The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that more than five million voters may be disenfranchised by the voting law changes. The most onerous restriction requires voters to present government-issued photo ID in order to vote.

On Tuesday, the Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAPAF) hosted a panel discussion on how civil rights organizations, advocacy groups and ordinary citizens are using social media to protect the right to vote and fight strict photo ID requirements. Alan Rosenblatt, Associate Director of Online Advocacy for CAPAF, delivered welcoming remarks. Nicole Austin-Hillery, Director and Counsel in the Brennan Center’s DC Office, provided an overview of state photo ID laws.

The panel discussion was moderated by Vanessa Cárdenas, Director of Progress 2050, a project of the Center for American Progress. I was a panelist, along with Eric Rodriguez, Vice President, Office of Research, Advocacy, and Legislation for the National Council of La Raza, Erika Maye, Communications Specialist with the Advancement Project, and Rashad Robinson, Executive Director of ColorOfChange.

The panelists addressed a wide range of issues, including:

  • How are Latinos being impacted by proof of citizenship and strict photo ID requirements?
  • How is social media being used to mobilize young voters?
  • How will restricting third party voter registration drives impact the youth vote?
  • What voter ID legislation is currently pending in the states? Which states are being challenged?
  • Who are the funders and supporters of voter suppression laws? Who’s behind ALEC?

Faye Anderson gave a demo of the Cost of Freedom App, a location-based web app that will provide voters with information on how to get a voter ID. The prototype for the app was developed by Kin Lane, API Evangelist for CityGrid.

Users of the web app will be able to quickly access information about their state’s voter ID requirements, how to obtain a certified copy of their birth certificate (the document that’s typically produced to establish one’s identity), and the location, hours and directions to the Office of Vital Records using public transit.

Anderson also gave a live demo of the Cost of Freedom text-based app developed by Jack Aboutboul, Twilio’s API Evangelist. Twilio is making an in-contribution of text message services to promote voter education.

Development of the web and text apps is crowd-sourced. As chief evangelist for the Cost of Freedom Project, Anderson is recruiting researchers and designers on Facebook, Twitter and Idealist. Indeed, the project is powered by We the People and social media.

For information on how you can get involved in this citizen-led initiative, please visit us at

Cross post from article in Social Media Week by Faye Anderson.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Votes On The Line With Voter Photo ID

A year after the 2008 presidential election, calls for new voter identification laws were heard in many states. Led by a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council, proponents claim that such a law is needed because there is “rampant voter fraud.”

American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a heavily conservative nonprofit organization funded by billionaires such as the Scaife family (Allegheny Foundation and the Scaife Family Foundation), the Coors family (Castle Rock Foundation), Charles Koch (Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation and the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation), the Bradley family (The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation) and the Olin family (John M. Olin Foundation) and corporations such as Altria, AT&T, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Koch Industries, Kraft, PhRMA, Wal-Mart, Peabody Energy, and State Farm. Such corporations represent just a fraction of ALEC’s approximately three hundred corporate partners. ALEC writes legislative bills that Republican governors and legislators introduce as their own in state legislatures.

ALEC’s public safety and elections task force drafted the Voter ID Act in the summer of 2009, which would require “proof of identity” to vote. Those without a valid photo ID must fill out a provisional ballot that is only counted if the voter produces an ID at the county elections office. It also suggests that ID cards be made available free of charge to eligible voters without a valid driver’s license.

PBS: Millions of voting age citizens don't have a U.S. Passport or photo ID issued by a department of motor vehicles office in any of the 50 states. The hurdles to vote by first obtaining a photo ID issued by state's department of motor vehicles can be daunting and costly for those who do not otherwise need or have a state DMV issued photo ID.

Watch Voter ID on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

The new voter photo ID laws being pushed by ALEC in all 50 states arguably represent the most serious efforts to exclude Americans from voting since the Jim Crow wave of anti-black voter suppression laws that Southern states enforced from the 1870s until the 1960s.

The Daily Planet - Minneapolis, MN

ALEC is a Republican-favored organization that is promoting “its right-wing agenda” in all 50 states, says Color of, a national activist group that has launched a national campaign calling for corporations and others to stop financially supporting the organization. The MSR tried contacting ALEC’s Washington offices for comment, but no one answered the phone and there was not an answering system available to leave messages.

Since 2009, 33 states have introduced some form of photo ID bill, and 14 states have passed laws that now require voters to present a federal- or state-issued photo ID with an expiration date at the polls. Opponents, who include most Democrats as well as local and nationally based organizations that advocate for Blacks and other people of color, say the legislation is “a thinly veiled attempt to depress [voter] turnout.”

“There have been no problems [of voter fraud in Minnesota],” says State Representative Bobby Joe Champion (DFL-Minneapolis), who told the MSR last week that there are more pressing issues that need addressing.

“Public policy and legislation should be about solving a problem or a challenge,” Champion says. The current same-day voter registration “encourages people to come out and vote. If a person doesn’t have something [to verify their address], their neighbor can vouch for them,” says the lawmaker.

State Representative Rena Moran (DFL-St. Paul) says, “We have a system that is working and very inclusive, and also represents that voting is a right. We have a group here trying to take that right [and] make it a privilege.”

The Republican-majority Minnesota Legislature did pass a photo ID bill last year, but it was vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton. An attempt is now underway in this year’s session to introduce a bill that would amend the state constitution to require all Minnesotans to show either a driver’s license or a state-issued photo ID at the polls.

If successful, this legislation would end same-day voter registration and absentee voting.

This amendment is not publicly driven but politically driven, says State Senator Jeff Hayden (DFL-Minneapolis). “All you need is a simple majority in the Senate and the House to put it on the ballot,” he explains, adding that going this route “sets up a dangerous precedent like they have in other states. It really mucks up the ballot.”

U.S. Representative Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) joined several Minnesotans at the State Capitol on February 6 to speak out against the proposed amendment. He cited statistics from the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office showing that over 700,000 Minnesotans — including seniors, college students, people with disabilities, people of color, and new Americans — would be affected by a new photo ID amendment.

Ellison later told the MSR that because statewide elections in both 2008 and 2010 were decided by, respectively, a few hundred and a few thousand votes, “Photo ID could unfairly tip the scales in future elections.”

Read the full article @ The Daily Planet


Friday, February 17, 2012

Obama, Facebook And The Power Of Friendship: The 2012 Data Election

Facebook and a unified computer database that gathers and refines information on millions of potential voters is at the forefront of campaign technology – and could be the key to an Obama win.

Barack Obama's re-election team are building a vast digital data operation that for the first time combines a unified database on millions of Americans with the power of Facebook to target individual voters to a degree never achieved before.

Digital analysts predict this will be the first election cycle in which Facebook could become a dominant political force. The social media giant has grown exponentially since the last presidential election, rendering it for the first time a major campaigning tool that has the potential to transform friendship into a political weapon.

Facebook is also being seen as a source of invaluable data on voters. The re-election team, Obama for America, will be inviting its supporters to log on to the campaign website via Facebook, thus allowing the campaign to access their personal data and add it to the central data store – the largest, most detailed and potentially most powerful in the history of political campaigns. If 2008 was all about social media, 2012 is destined to become the "data election".

"Facebook is now ubiquitous," says Dan Siroker, a former Google digital analyst who joined Obama's campaign in 2008 and now runs his own San Francisco-based analytics consultancy, Optimizely. "Whichever candidate uses Facebook the most effectively could win the war."

For the past nine months a crack team of some of America's top data wonks has occupied an entire floor of the Prudential building in Chicago devising a digital campaign from the bottom up. The team draws much of its style and inspiration from the corporate sector, with its driving ambition to create a vote-garnering machine that is smooth, unobtrusive and ruthlessly efficient.

Already more than 100 geeks, some recruited at top-flight university job fairs including Stanford, are assembled in the Prudential drawn from an array of disciplines: statisticians, predictive modellers, data mining experts, mathematicians, software engineers, bloggers, internet advertising experts and online organizers.

At the core is a single beating heart – a unified computer database that gathers and refines information on millions of committed and potential Obama voters. The database will allow staff and volunteers at all levels of the campaign – from the top strategists answering directly to Obama's campaign manager Jim Messina to the lowliest canvasser on the doorsteps of Ohio – to unlock knowledge about individual voters and use it to target personalized messages that they hope will mobilize voters where it counts most.

Every time an individual volunteers to help out – for instance by offering to host a fundraising party for the president – he or she will be asked to log onto the re-election website with their Facebook credentials. That in turn will engage Facebook Connect, the digital interface that shares a user's personal information with a third party.

Consciously or otherwise, the individual volunteer will be injecting all the information they store publicly on their Facebook page – home location, date of birth, interests and, crucially, network of friends – directly into the central Obama database.

"If you log in with Facebook, now the campaign has connected you with all your relationships," a digital campaign organizer who has worked on behalf of Obama says.

The potential benefits of the strategy can already be felt. The Obama campaign this year has attracted about 1.3 million donors, 98% of whom have contributed $250 or less – that's more than double the number at the same stage in 2008. At this rate, Obama is also well on the way towards staging the world's first billion-dollar campaign.

Under its motto "Bigger, better, 2012", the Chicago team intends between now and election day in November to create a campaign powerhouse which will allow fundraisers, advertisers and state and local organizers to draw from the same data source.

Joe Rospars, the campaign's chief digital strategist, told a seminar at the Guardian-sponsored Social Media Week that the aim was to create technology that encourages voters to get involved, in tune with Obama's emphasis on community organizing.

Read the full article @

Read more about this subject at our companion blog: Political Campaigns in the Digital Age

How The GOP Went Back To The 1950s In Just One Day


Very neatly, and on three separate fronts, conservatives in America turned the clock back to the 1950s with their rhetoric about women’s rights Thursday, according to women in politics on both sides of the aisle.

In just one day modern women being told by Republicans that they’re not qualified to talk about their own sexual health, are dressed like “whores” and probably need birth control because they’re so slutty.

“Republican policies have been stuck in the 50s for a while now. I guess this week they decided they wanted the whole retro package,” said Jess McIntosh, communications director at EMILY’s List.

A joke about aspirin and contraception sparked a blaze that lasted all day across mainstream media and social network channels on the remarks by Santorum's billionaire campaign financier Foster Friess that women who don't want to get pregnant should just hold an aspirin "between their knees".

During an ABC interview with Jake Tapper presidential candidate Rick Santorum said that premarital sex should be outlawed, that women have no right to accessible reproductive health care, that contraceptives should be illegal and that states can outlaw the sale, purchase and use of contraceptives.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (Penn.), Mitt Romney, congressman Ron Paul and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the top four 2012 GOP presidential candidates, have committed to a "personhood" constitutional amendment that would outlaw most common contraceptive choices available to women. Mother Jones reports that Republicans in the U.S. Congress also want to pass a federal Personhood Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That amendment would effectively reverse the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut Supreme Court finding that Americans have a fundamental right to use birth control.

Will the GOP’s rhetoric Feb. 16 have ramifications felt on Nov. 6? The women on both sides of the aisle agreed that it could — and the polls back them up. After months of Republican fighting about abortion, and weeks of the GOP talking about contraception, Greg Sargent reported on a polling memo showing Obama was leading Mitt Romney 65-30 among unmarried women.

Read the full story @ TPM

Democrats Consolidate Progressive Base While Republicans’ Trouble Deepens

The Democratic Strategist

The latest national survey by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner for Democracy Corps and Women's Voices. Women Vote Action Fund shows a Republican Party in deepening trouble and emerging underlying trends that may have shifted the balance for 2012. Barring sudden economic shocks, there is accumulating evidence that we have entered a new phase in the political cycle, substantially more favorable to the Democrats.

This survey sees a collapse of the Republican brand at almost all levels. Negatives associated with the Republican Party have not been this high since right after they lost the country in 2008. Their presumptive nominee flirts with a 50 percent negative rating and may now represent a big drag on the national party.

President Obama nears the 50 percent mark and is now just four points away from what he achieved in 2008. Democrats have newly consolidated the progressive voters of the Rising American Electorate who were responsible for Democratic victories in 2006 and 2008. These voters--unmarried women, young voters, and minorities--dropped off in 2010 and lagged throughout 2011. They have returned in a big way for Democrats, led by a resurgence and re-engagement of unmarried women. Only young voters have not been re-consolidated, which is either a problem or an opportunity.

Seniors, who abandoned Democrats in 2010, have come back two surveys in a row and suburban swing voters watch the Republican primary debate with growing alienation from the Republican Party. The tax issue, a presumptive Republican advantage, has moved dramatically in favor of the Democrats.

These results may not simply be the result of a spot of good economic news and rough news cycles for Republican nominees, but the beginning of long-term structural changes that will characterize the 2012 election cycle.

Recent controversies over Planned Parenthood and contraception will not revive the Republican's standing, indeed, the opposite may be true, as this survey shows voters disagree with them on principle and wonder why at a time of great economic distress, Republicans are consumed with denying birth control coverage for women.

Read the full article @ The Democratic Strategist

Bad Judge Draw for South Carolina in Voter Photo ID Preclearance Case

From Election Law Blog, by Rick Hasen

Via Texas Redistricting comes the news that the panel is district court judges Collen Kollar-Kotelly, and John Bates and D.C. Circuit judge Brett Kavanaugh.

This panel will decide whether the Department of Justice erred in not approving South Carolina’s voter identification law under section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. DOJ concluded the law would worsen the position of minority voters because minority voters are less likely than whites to have government-issued id.

Among South Carolina’s arguments is that the court should read the preclearance requirement narrowly (making it easier to get things precleared) to avoid serious constitutional problems with a broadly-read section 5. (The underlying claim is that section 5 violates states’ rights to choose their own election rules and is now an unconstitutional exercise of congressional power given no recent history of intentional discrimination by covered jurisdictions.)

... But even if South Carolina faces long odds before the three-judge court, we all know the main action will be before the Supreme Court. That’s why South Carolina already hired big gun Paul Clement to work on this case.

The next question will be whether South Carolina seeks to expedite consideration of this case so that it will have a chance to use its voter id law in the November elections. I’ve explained in Slate how this could put the thorny issue before SCOTUS before the election (though that seems less likely as time ticks by).

Read the full article @ Election Law Blog

Thursday, February 16, 2012

House Republicans Deny Women A Voice In Contraception Hearing

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) echoed Democrats’ concerns about Republicans excluding female witnesses from a hearing focusing on President Obama’s new health insurance regulation requiring insurers to provide birth control in their health insurance plans.

“This is an issue about women’s health and I believe that women’s health should be covered in all fo the insurance plans,” Pelosi insisted at her press briefing this morning, refuting the GOP’s claim that the debate should focus on “religious liberties.”

“Where are the women? And that’s a good question for the whole debate. Where are the women?” she asked. “Imagine, having a panel on women’s health and then not having any women on the panel, duh!”:

PELOSI: What is it that men don’t understand about women’s health and how central the issue of family planning is to that? Not just if you’re having families but if you need those kinds of prescription drugs for your general health, which was the testimony they would include this morning if they had allowed a woman on the panel. I think the fact that they did not allow a woman on the panel is symbolic of the whole debate as to who is making these decisions about women’s health and who should be covered.

This video summarizes the testimony Chairman Issa rejected at today's hearing: Sandra Fluke, who would have been the Minority's witness and the only female voice on behalf of millions of women who seek safe and affordable coverage for preventive health care.

Visit Democrats Oversight House Gov to read more.

Today, top Rick Santorum donor said, Women could use aspirin ‘between their knees’ for birth control.

GOP culture warriors - Former Sen. Rick Santorum (Penn.), Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the top three 2012 GOP presidential candidates, have committed to a "personhood" constitutional amendment that would outlaw most common contraceptive choices available to women. Mother Jones reports that Republicans in the U.S. Congress also want to pass a federal Personhood Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That amendment would effectively reverse the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut Supreme Court finding that Americans have a fundamental right to use birth control.

The Difference Between Conservatives And Right Wingers

The Right-Wing Id Unzipped
by: Mike Lofgren, Truthout

Retired Republican House and Senate staffer Mike Lofgren spoke with Truthout in Washington, DC, this fall. Lofgren's first commentary for Truthout, "Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult," went viral, drawing over a million unique views.

Although Mitt Romney used the word "conservative" 19 times in a short speech at the February 10, 2012, Conservative Political Action Conference, the audience he used this word to appeal to was not conservative by any traditional definition. It was right wing. Despite the common American practice of using "conservative" and "right wing" interchangeably, right wing is not a synonym for conservative and not even a true variant of conservatism - although the right wing will opportunistically borrow conservative themes as required.

Right-wingers have occasioned much recent comment. Their behavior in the Republican debates has caused even jaded observers to react like an Oxford don stumbling upon a tribe of headhunting cannibals.

... Most estimates calculate the percentage of Republican voters who are religious fundamentalists at around 40 percent; in some key political contests, such as the Iowa caucuses, the percentage is closer to 60. Because of their social cohesion, ease of political mobilization and high election turnout, fundamentalists have political weight even beyond their raw numbers. An understanding of their leaders, infrastructure and political goals is warranted.

Read the full article @ Truthout

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Unified Primary Election Date Moving To May 29, Maybe

According to tweets from the court house, the San Antonio District Court three judge redistricting panel informed the parties that they are zeroing in on a May 29 unified primary election date. Judge Jerry Smith told those assemble for the redistricting conference that an April date appears to be impossible, and asked the lawyers for the political parties and the Secretary of State to prepare recommendations for candidate filing and other election deadlines, assuming May 29 will be the election date. That date will presumably put the first day of primary early voting at Monday May 14.


Texas Dems And Reps Decoupling Convention Delegate Selection From Primary Election?

The unified primary election date is (just about) definitely moving to May 29, if not June 26. (See Michael Li's Texas Redistricting blog)

On Tuesday representatives for both the Texas Democratic Party and Republican Party of Texas told the San Antonio District Court three judge redistricting panel that their state party conventions will definitely take place during the second weekend in June, as scheduled.

Both political parties also told the three judge panel, that if the primary election is set for either a May 29 or late June date, the parties would require changes to party rules [as may be codified in Texas law] for convention delegate selection in order to accommodate the already locked-in state convention dates.

Among the possible rule changes offered to the court on Tuesday by Democratic Party general counsel, Chad Dunn, was the possibility of forgoing precinct conventions and moving directly to senate district [and county] conventions in April (sans primary election) to select delegates to go to the state convention.

Another alternative, not detailed to the court on Tuesday, would be for the Texas Democratic Party to go back to a 100% caucus-style precinct convention method in early April to select all precinct delegates, who would attend county and senate district conventions later in April, who would in turn, select delegates to go on to the state convention in June. However, the preference seems to be to skip separate precinct conventions and hold just senate district [and county] conventions. Mini precinct conventions within the senate district conventions would probably be the first order of business. (only editorial speculation at this point)
Steve Muniseri, chair of the Republican Party of Texas, told party members late Tuesday evening that the party would be seeking authority to use an alternative delegate selection process in light of prospects that the Texas primary will be pushed back to May 29 or late June.

"In the event that the primary is pushed back further, the RPT will still seek court relief to allow district conventions to go forward on the dates already scheduled, but with the different delegate selection process. Consequently, at this time - we urge you not to cancel your district conventions as they still may occur on the same day. We anticipate having a conference call with the SREC in the next week to discuss the situation and examine options together"

For Texas Democrats, there may yet be "old style" precinct conventions on April 3 (decoupled from the primary election) with senate district and county conventions on April 21. OR, there may be just senate district and county conventions on April 21, forgoing the precinct convention step.

Stay tuned....

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Pew: 51 Million Citizens Unregistered To Vote

Approximately 24 million active voter registrations in the United States—one of every eight—are no longer valid or have significant inaccuracies, according to the Pew Center on the States' Election Initiatives.

New research in the report Inaccurate, Costly, and Inefficient - Evidence That America’s Voter Registration System Needs an Upgrade underscores the need for registration systems that use the latest technology to better maintain voter records, save money, and streamline processes—an effort that eight states are spearheading with Pew's support.

The ground-breaking examination of the nation's voter rolls, commissioned by Pew and undertaken by RTI International, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute, also finds that:

  • At least 51 million eligible citizens remain unregistered—more than 24 percent of the eligible population.
  • Nearly 2 million deceased individuals are listed as active voters.
  • Approximately 2.75 million people have active registrations in more than one state.
  • About 12 million records have incorrect addresses, meaning either the voters moved, or errors in the information make it unlikely any mailings can reach them.

Outdated systems are costly. Pew found that in 2008, Oregon's state and local taxpayers spent $4.11 per active voter to process registrations. By contrast, Canada, which uses modern technology common in the private sector, devotes less than 35 cents per voter to process registrations. In the U.S., localities that have implemented improvements are realizing returns: For example, Maricopa County, Ariz., which includes Phoenix, saved more than $1 million over five years by providing online registration, reducing the county's dependence on paper forms and manual data entry.

"Proven solutions and technology are already in place in many government offices and the private sector, and states can use them to improve the accuracy, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of their systems," Becker said. "State leaders from across the country and from both parties are pioneering these solutions. Pew supports their efforts to better serve voters and ensure the integrity of the electoral process."

Over the past two years, election officials from several states have been working with Pew on plans to upgrade their voter registration systems using advanced technology to achieve greater accuracy of the rolls, increased savings, and improved processes. This new approach consists of three elements:

  • Comparing registration lists with other data sources, such as motor vehicle and National Change of Address records, to broaden the base of information used to update and verify voter rolls.
  • Implementing proven techniques and security protocols that use those data sources to better track and identify both inaccurate records that could be removed and eligible citizens who could be registered.
  • Minimizing manual data entry by establishing ways voters can submit information online, which will result in lower costs and fewer errors.

Pew's Elections Initiatives supports innovative research and partnerships to achieve the highest standards of accuracy, cost-effectiveness, convenience, and security in America's system of election administration. For more information, visit

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Real Voter Fraud Behind Photo ID

By Lee Rowland, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law
February 13, 2012

Photo ID supporters routinely cry “fraud” as the reason for supporting new restrictions on access to the ballot. But the real fraud is in the repeated use of inaccurate, or just plain manufactured, claims about voter fraud that just aren’t happening. The reality? Voter fraud is as likely to happen as getting struck by lightning. But if you listen to photo ID supporters, you’d think every rain drop represents a stolen vote.

Take last week’s quiet unearthing of fraud in South Carolina, where ID supporters cited evidence that hundreds of dead voters had voted in the state’s elections as a critical argument for passing a photo ID law in 2011.

The South Carolina Election Commission announced it had painstakingly reviewed a quarter of the supposed “dead voters.” Sure enough, they found fraud — just not the type you’d expect. The commission discovered there is in fact no evidence that any fraudulent votes were cast.

Yet, sadly, these nonexistent dead voters were Exhibit A used to dupe voters into passing a law that risks disenfranchising eligible voters.

Then there’s James O’Keefe, a vocal photo ID supporter, who has been in the news twice recently for “uncovering” fraud in New Hampshire and Minnesota. O’Keefe released video footage of New Hampshire polling locations during the Republican primary, purporting to show him and others posing as deceased voters and receiving ballots. The problem for O’Keefe is that his video itself might be evidence of fraud: committed by O’Keefe and his cronies. In fact, the New Hampshire State Attorney General’s Office has launched an investigation into O’Keefe’s conduct for a handful of possible criminal violations, including voter impersonation fraud.

The investigation hasn’t deterred him — he resurfaced again in Minnesota last week. The day before the Minnesota Republican caucus, O’Keefe registered several fake individuals to vote in order to receive absentee ballots. His video was leaked to drum up outrage about possible voter fraud. But there’s simply no evidence that — before O’Keefe rolled into town, anyway — Minnesota has any voter fraud problem whatsoever.

What do Minnesota and New Hampshire have in common? Unsurprisingly, there are photo ID bills before both states’ legislatures in 2012. Activists like O’Keefe will point to these videos as proof that our election systems lack integrity. But folks should flat-out refuse to take marching orders on election “integrity” from a gentleman who clearly doesn’t have much.

Voters in those states should refuse to be taken in by these fraudulent claims of voter fraud. There were no dead voters in South Carolina, and there aren’t in Minnesota or Maine either. Instead, there’s just O’Keefe and others like him — who will do anything it takes to provide “proof” that photo ID laws are necessary. There’s zero percent truth to any of these highly-publicized claims. But they unfortunately can lead to passage of laws requiring a photo ID that 11 percent of eligible American voters do not have.

When you scratch beneath the surface, you see that O’Keefe and others who make a living crying “fraud!” resort to manufacturing evidence of voter fraud that doesn’t otherwise exist — and potentially commit fraud in the process. If those who support photo ID are willing to commit fraud in the name of preventing it, maybe it’s time to stop taking these claims at face value. Like fool's gold, the claims of widespread voter fraud are fast, cheap, and shiny — and collapse under close inspection.

The above was posted at Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law

The initial evidence of dead people voting in South Carolina was based on matching only names on voter rolls to other lists. In follow-up of other, similar, allegations, further investigation matching additional identifying data, like age, address, junior for senior suffixes, has shown that:

And when the salacious allegations turn out to be mundane glitches, or unconnected to proving identity at the polls, there's a lot less attention paid.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Severe Conservative Syndrome

NYT OpEd By Paul Krugman
Published: February 12, 2012

Mitt Romney has a gift for words — self-destructive words. On Friday he did it again, telling the Conservative Political Action Conference that he was a “severely conservative governor.”

As Molly Ball of The Atlantic pointed out, Mr. Romney “described conservatism as if it were a disease.” Indeed. Mark Liberman, a linguistics professor at the University of Pennsylvania, provided a list of words that most commonly follow the adverb “severely”; the top five, in frequency of use, are disabled, depressed, ill, limited and injured.

That’s clearly not what Mr. Romney meant to convey. Yet if you look at the race for the G.O.P. presidential nomination, you have to wonder whether it was a Freudian slip. For something has clearly gone very wrong with modern American conservatism.

Read Krugman's full OpEd @ NYTimes

Obama's Birth-Control Rule Will Help Prevent Accidental Pregnancies

Live Science

In the United States, nearly 50 percent of pregnancies are unintended. A new health care rule — which stirred controversy due to its implications for church-affiliated organizations' coverage of contraception — has the potential to significantly reduce accidental pregnancies by increasing access to birth control, according to public health experts.

And the accommodation made by President Barack Obama on Friday (Feb. 10) — making insurers rather than the church-affiliated organizations responsible for contraceptive benefits — won't change this, they say.

"It will have a huge effect," said Diana Greene Foster of the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco. "It is not the entire solution, but it is such an obvious first step."

The cost

Reducing unintended pregnancies is a well-established public health goal. They are associated with a variety of health issues for both mother and child from maternal depression to birth defects. There are also economic consequences, particularly for teen mothers who are less likely to graduate from high school, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

By fully covering the spectrum of contraceptives and eliminating co-payments, the rule would give women the option of picking the method of birth control best suited for them, regardless of cost, according to Adam Sonfield, a senior public policy associate at the Guttmacher Institute.

The most effective forms of contraception are long-acting, like intrauterine devices and implants that are put under the skin. Both can last for years, eliminating the possibility that a woman will miss a dose or use the inconsistently, according to Sonfield.

"They are extremely effective in the long run, but in the short run, they often have high upfront costs," Sonfield said. "Rates of unintended pregnancies are many times higher among poor women, [so] this has the potential to really help with that."

The rule originates with the health care overhaul, which Obama signed into law in 2010, and it packages contraception along with other preventive care. It exempts churches and houses of worship from offering insurance that covers contraception. Earlier this year, Obama rejected an exemption to this coverage for organizations with religious affiliations, such as, a Catholic hospital or school. This sparked accusations that the rule violated religious liberty by forcing institutions to buy something they opposed. (The Catholic Church considers deliberate contraception a sin.) [8 Ways Religion Impacts Your Life]

GOP Will Fight To Let ANY Employer Deny Birth Control For Employees

The U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops, Republicans in Congress, and Republican presidential candidates almost immediately rejected a compromise on employer provided health insurance programs offering contraception coverage for women.

On ABC’s This Week, Rep. Paul Ryan echoed the Republican objection of contraception coverage. Ryan told host George Stephanopolous the compromise is nothing more than a “fig leaf” and an “accounting trick”:

RYAN: To paraphrase the bishops’ letter, this thing, it’s a distinction without a difference. It’s an accounting gimmick or a fig leaf. It’s not a compromise. The president’s doubled down. [...] If this is what the president’s willing to do in a tough election year, imagine what he’s going to do to implement the rest of his health care law after an election.


Not satisfied with President Obama’s new religious accommodation, Republicans will move forward with legislation by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) that permits any employer to deny birth control coverage in their health insurance plans, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Sunday.

“If we end up having to try to overcome the President’s opposition by legislation, of course I’d be happy to support it, and intend to support it,” McConnell said. “We’ll be voting on that in the Senate and you can anticipate that that would happen as soon as possible.”

Republican Party Returns To Its Base "Culture War" Focus

The 2012 election was supposed to be about jobs and the economy and, though that will still be central, the Republican Party has returned to its base "culture war" issues.

Proposition 8! Birth control! Susan G. Komen and Planned Parenthood!

Increasingly the man of the moment seems to be GOP culture warrior Rick Santorum, not Mitt Romney, although Romney is also trying to capitalize on hard right "culture war" issues, too.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (Penn.), Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the top three 2012 GOP presidential candidates, have committed to a "personhood" constitutional amendment that would outlaw most common contraceptive choices available to women. Mother Jones reports that Republicans in the U.S. Congress also want to pass a federal Personhood Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That amendment would effectively reverse the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut Supreme Court finding that Americans have a fundamental right to use birth control.

Public Policy Polling has a pretty convincing rundown of the political ramifications of the contraception installment of the various "culture war" controversies:

Friday, February 10, 2012

Drug Quickly Reverses Alzheimer's Symptoms in Mice

ScienceDaily: Neuroscientists at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine have made a dramatic breakthrough in their efforts to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease. The researchers' findings, published in the journal Science, show that use of a drug in mice appears to quickly reverse the pathological, cognitive and memory deficits caused by the onset of Alzheimer's. The results point to the significant potential that the medication, bexarotene, has to help the roughly 5.4 million Americans suffering from the progressive brain disease. More...

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church

Nearly three out of every five young Christians disconnect from their churches after the age of 15, but why? A new research study released by the Barna Group points to six different reasons as to why young people aren't staying in their pews.

The results of this study come from the interviews of teenagers, young adults, youth pastors, senior pastors and parents that were taken over the course of five years.

First, the study says, churches appear to be overprotective. Nearly one-fourth of the 18- to 29-year-olds interviewed said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” most of the time. Twenty-two percent also said the church ignores real-world problems and 18 percent said that their church was too concerned about the negative impact of movies, music and video games.

Many young adults also feel that their experience of Christianity was shallow. One-third of survey participants felt that “church is boring.” Twenty percent of those who attended as a teenager said that God appeared to be missing from their experience of church.

The study also found many young adults do not like the way churches appear to be against science. Over one-third of young adults said that “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” and one-fourth of them said that “Christianity is anti-science.”

Some also feel that churches are too simple or too judgmental when it comes to issues of sexuality. Seventeen percent of young Christians say they've “made mistakes and feel judged in church because of them.” Two out of five young adult Catholics said that the church's teachings on birth control and sex are “out of date.”

The fifth reason the study gives for such an exodus from churches is many young adults struggle with the exclusivity of Christianity. Twenty-nine percent of young Christians said “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths” and feel they have to choose between their friends and their faith.

The last reason the study gives for young people leaving the church is they feel it is “unfriendly to those who doubt.” Over one-third of young adults said they feel like they can't ask life's most pressing questions in church and 23 percent said they had “significant intellectual doubts” about their faith.

U.S. Teen Pregnancy Rate Lowest In 40 Years - Thanks To Contraceptive Use

The use of contraceptives is seen as the reason that the U.S. teen pregnancy rate has hit a 30-year low, according to a new study published this week by the Guttmacher Institute.

Teen pregnancies have declined dramatically in the United States since their peak in the early 1990s, as have the births and abortions that result; in 2008, teen pregnancies reached their lowest level in nearly 40 years, according to “U.S. Teenage Pregnancies, Births and Abortions, 2008: National Trends by Age, Race and Ethnicity,” by Kathryn Kost and Stanley Henshaw of the Guttmacher Institute.

In 2008, the teen pregnancy rate was 67.8 pregnancies per 1,000 women aged 15–19, which means that about 7% of U.S. teens became pregnant that year. This rate represents a 42% decline from the peak in 1990 (116.9 per 1,000). Similarly, the birthrate declined 35% between 1991 and 2008, from 61.8 to 40.2 births per 1,000 teens; the abortion rate declined 59% from its 1988 peak of 43.5 abortions per 1,000 teens to its 2008 level of 17.8 per 1,000.

“Continuing decreases in teen pregnancy more recently may be driven by increased use of the most effective contraceptive methods as well as dual method use,” the Guttmacher Institute explained. “In sum, teens appear to be making the decision to be more effective contraceptive users, and their actions are paying off in lower pregnancy, birth and abortion rates.”

Even with dramatic reductions in pregnancy, birth and abortion rates among all racial and ethnic groups, disparities between black, white and Hispanic teens persist. After peaking in the early 1990s, the teen pregnancy rate dropped by 37% among Hispanics, 48% among blacks and 50% among non-Hispanic whites; yet the rates among black and Hispanic teens remain 2–3 times as high as that of non-Hispanic white teens.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops (USCCB) are incensed at the decision by the Obama administration to guarantee that the women's health care benefit packages offered by employers includes contraceptive care. Beginning in August 2012, all of the services in this benefit package will be available in new employer insurance plans without any out-of-pocket costs to women. The rule specifically exempts pervasively religious institutions like houses of worship from offering their employees birth control coverage as part of their health insurance. But the Bishops claim that their religion also exempts them from providing preventive health care services to the millions of employees -- many of whom are not even Catholic -- at Catholic owned businesses, like hospitals and Universities!

Catholic Bishops object not only to the rule for business organizations they own, Bishops said Thursday that they would not be happy until the rule is scrubbed entirely, permitting any employer, religious or not, to deny contraceptive coverage to their workers.

But the Catholic Bishops do not speak for a majority of American Catholics, 52 percent of whom support requiring health plans to cover contraception. Several major Catholic universities and hospitals already offer contraception coverage. Ninety-eight percent of all American women, Catholic and otherwise, report using birth control during their lifetime.

States Line Up To Kill Voting Rights Act Sec. 5


Conservative activists and Republican attorneys general have launched a series of lawsuits meant to challenge the most muscular provision of the Voting Rights Act 0f 1965 before a Supreme Court that has signaled it is suspicious of its constitutionality.

Working their way to the high court are lawsuits from Arizona to North Carolina, challenging Section 5 of the historic civil rights act. The provision requires states and localities with a history of discrimination to get federal approval of any changes in their voting laws.

The combination of skeptical justices and an increasingly partisan political environment has led some experts to predict that the end is near for that requirement, which civil rights groups have called the most effective weapon for eliminating voting discrimination.

The Supreme Court’s recent actions “have indicated that Section 5 is living on borrowed time,” Columbia University law professor Nathaniel Persily told the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights last week. “Assuming the personnel on the court remains constant, the question is not whether the court will declare Section 5 unconstitutional, but when and how.”

The lawsuits are defending redistricting and a variety of new laws and electoral changes — including controversial requirements that voters show IDs at the polls — that Democrats and minorities charge will dilute minority rights.

Read the full story @ WaPo:

Pink Razors and Planned Parenthood

From the Most Excellent Margaret and Helen blog

In the past Margaret and I have stood up for Planned Parenthood. But that is no longer good enough. Today, tomorrow and every day that we have left on this planet, we won’t just stand up for them, we will stand up for women everywhere. We will vote for them. We will advocate for them. We will fight for them. And we will start right here. Right now.

My grandson tells us that people from all over the nation and even from other countries read this web page blog of ours. Well, I can’t imagine why, but if you are going to read it, then you should use your head for something other than a hat rack and learn a thing or two about the real Planned Parenthood.

Yes. They provide abortion services. Deal with it because they also do so much more and we remember the world before them. It wasn’t pretty.

I called a Board Member for Planned Parenthood in my community and we had a good talk. I found out that even I didn’t know the whole story. And after you read this, I challenge you to do what she asked me to do: inform the uninformed and educate the misinformed.

Planned Parenthood provides healthcare – pap smears, breast and pelvic exams, colposcopies, treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and birth control for both women and men – most without access to any other health care services. About 97% of their services are for this basic healthcare.

If you want to talk about abortion services then you should at least know the truth. Providing that service for women who are faced with that daunting decision accounts for less than 3% of what Planned Parenthood does nationally. Less than three percent. They also provide prenatal care, vasectomies and adoption referrals. One Planned Parenthood clinic does more in a day to prevent abortions than the entire Pro-Life movement does in a year. We might not agree on abortion, but we should at least be able to agree that they should be safe, legal and rare.

If you want to talk about Planned Parenthood then talk about the thousands of uninsured women for whom the doctor or nurse at Planned Parenthood is the only health professional they will see this year. Tell them about the divorced 40-year-old woman who, for the first time, finds herself without health insurance and how she turned to Planned Parenthood to ensure that she is able to maintain her health and wellness. Planned Parenthood has never been just about sex and birth control. It has always been about ensuring women are healthy enough to care for the children they one day may bring into this world. And yes, it is also about making sure they are informed in their decisions not to bring children into this world.

Tell your Tea Party friends what good fiscal sense Planned Parenthood education and prevention programs make – that for every dollar spent providing family-planning services, $4 are saved in Medicaid costs. Remind them that more than one-third of the individuals who seek help from Planned Parenthood make less than $50 a week. That’s right – $50 a week.

If you are going to talk about Planned Parenthood, then at least have the courage to speak the truth. We knew the Komen decision was politically motivated because we know that far right politicians are the ones who continue to spread untruths and misinformation about Planned Parenthood.

Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, and Newt Gingrich all stand ready to restrict a woman’s access to birth control and her right to make her own childbearing decisions. They will cater to the far right and happily deny essential health care to millions of women. The Republican field is united in its determination to overturn Roe v. Wade; to appoint Supreme Court justices supportive of that goal; and to end government funding of any kind to Planned Parenthood for family planning services, cancer screenings and other vital health services provided to low-income women. By the way, Planned Parenthood does not receive government funding for abortions. Although for the life of me, I can’t imagine why not.

Mr. Gingrich has called for punishing judges who make abortion rulings not to his liking. Mitt Romney supported the “personhood” initiative in Mississippi that would have given human fertilized eggs the legal rights and protections that apply to people, and outlawed abortion as well as some of the most widely used forms of contraception and in vitro fertilization. For goodness sakes Rick Santorum, the candidate who won the first primary this year, doesn’t even believe in birth control at all.

If you really, honestly want to reduce abortions in this country, the last thing you want to do is vote for a Republican. If you want to reduce abortions start in your own home by educating your children. Teach your sons to respect women and arm your daughters with information about birth control. If you are so outraged by abortions that your only criteria for a presidential candidate is that he be obsessed with my uterus, then arm your daughters with all the information she needs to protect herself from all those sons who were raised by politicians in Texas and Virginia. And if you really care, make a donation to Planned Parenthood or this other organization called Annie’s List. My grandson says that if you “click” on the underlined words in the previous sentence it will take you to a place you can make a donation on the internet. It couldn’t be any easier than that.

This November, I say we show them what it really means to Fight Like A Girl. Somebody call Gloria Steinem because we’ve got some more balls to bust. I mean it. Really.

Read the full post @ Margaret's and Helen's blog

Birth Control, Religion, Government And Individual Rights

The religious freedom of an organization to dominate or control the religious freedom of choice of individuals - which freedom should prevail; The organization's religious freedom or the individual's personal right of religious freedom?

The US Conference of Catholic bishops (USCCB) are incensed at the decision by the Obama administration to guarantee that the women's health care benefit package in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) includes contraceptive care. Beginning in August 2012, all of the services in this benefit package will be available in new insurance plans without any out-of-pocket costs to women.

The rule specifically exempts pervasively religious institutions like houses of worship from offering their employees birth control coverage as part of their health insurance. Even so, in a USCCB video, Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, the former Archbishop of Milwaukee, angrily invokes religious freedom, protected by the “very first amendment,” in castigating the policy that private insurance must provide reproductive health care to women. Archbishop Dolan calls upon his flock to contact their elected officials and let them know that “religious liberty must be restored.”

Under a cloak of reverence for religious freedom, the bishops say reproductive health care must be denied to women and men of other religious faiths, and even to American Catholics – most of whom disagree with the archbishop.

There are already approximately 335,000 churches and houses of worship that are not required to provide reproductive health care services for their employees because of religious exemption. Now the Bishops claim that their religion also exempts them from providing preventive health care services to the millions of employees -- many of whom are not even Catholic -- at Catholic owned businesses, like hospitals and Universities!

Add to those direct employees of Catholic owned businesses the families of workers who are covered under the employee insurance program, too.

Statistics show that most insurance plans already cover birth control and 28 states require it. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, in announcing the Administration's decision, explained that birth control is the most commonly taken drug in the U.S. by young and middle-aged women -- and that holds true of women across the religious spectrum. Ninety-eight percent of all American women, Catholic and otherwise, report using birth control during their lifetime.

The lobbying against reproductive health care for women by the Catholic bishops has been widely publicized. What hasn't gotten as much attention is that many faith-based groups, including the National Council of Jewish Women weighed in on the other side.

NCJW says that this is an issue of religious liberty -- although there are differing religious views on the use of contraception, it should be up to women to decide on whether and when to use contraception based on their own beliefs and needs. On this most-personal decision, no woman should be forced to abide by the religious views of her bosses at work or those of her insured spouse's employer.

Many people do not remember that the purchase and use of birth control products and literature about birth control options, even by married couples, was against the law in many states until 1965. There are those who, for the last 46 years, have worked to reverse the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut Supreme Court finding that Americans have a fundamental right of privacy. That right includes making family planning decisions and the right to learn about and use birth control contraceptives. Among those who have worked to reverse Griswold v. Connecticut is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops may be one of the quietest, yet most powerful lobbies on Capitol Hill, with political allies that have enabled them to roll back decades of law and precedent in reproductive rights for women. Among those political allies are the 2012 GOP presidential candidates and Republicans who currently control the U.S. House of Representatives. This group of men, blessed with a strong personal interest in women’s bodies, have quietly influenced all of the major legislation on reproductive health care over the past several years.

As Voters Come Home To Obama, 2012 Begins To Look A Lot Like 2008


A comparison of recent polls in Ohio, Michigan, and Virginia with 2008 polling shows that voters who supported President Obama last time are starting to come back home to him in 2012.

The Quinnipac Poll revealed a five point jump for President Obama over the past month in the state. In December, Romney narrowly led Obama 44%-42%. In the past month the Republican frontrunner (sort of) has gained one point in the state while Obama swung into the lead. The partisan split in the vote is high. Eighty five percent of Republicans support Romney and ninety three percent of Democrats support Obama, but the big shift towards Obama has been with two groups of voters.

While Romney has stayed at a flat 41%, President Obama gained four points and now leads with Independents, 45%-41%. The biggest swing for Obama has come with women. Romney led Obama among women, 45%-43% in December, but this month the president gained seven points, while Romney lost two, and took a 52%-40% lead.

Read the full story @ PoliticusUSA

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Texas GOP Official Says Even April 17 Primary Doubtful

From Michael Li's Texas Redistricting Blog:

Former Harris County tax assessor/collector Paul Bettencourt - who serves on the Republican Party of Texas’ redistricting committee - told the San Antonio Express-News that an April 17 primary might not be possible. According to Bettencourt:

“Even at warp drive, it’s (at least) 75 days” to get ready for an election without the complication of redistricting, he said. “Even April 17 is doubtful,” he said about an alternative date offered by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Monday.

The full article by Nolan Hicks here .

Keep in mind that the first day of early voting for an April 17 primary election date would be April 2.

After the SA court orders new district maps, county election officials must map election precincts to match those interim district maps. Then, those precinct maps must be precleared by the USDOJ, or the court, before election officials can get started on all the other early voting preparations.

Election officials in the larger counties would have a difficult time pulling together early voting by the last week of March, even if the SA court sets all the maps by late day Friday Feb. 17. That gives counties just 5 weeks to draw and clear precinct maps and then produce the early voting part of a April 17 primary election.

Voter registration cards must be in the mail no later than March 23-26 to be in the hands of voters by the Friday or Saturday before the first day of early voting on Monday April 2.

Voting machines and electronic poll book computers would have to be programmed and all other materials prepared by March 27-28 so they can be delivered to early voting locations.

During that same 5 weeks county election officials must also process vote by mail applications and return mail ballots to voters, both overseas and at home.

That all is a little like trying to put 2o pounds of sugar in a 10 pound bag...

Monday, February 6, 2012

Progress Toward An April 3 Primary?

Updated February 6, 2012 @ 2:50pm

Has Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott attempted a hail Mary pass on redistricting interim maps?

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today announced some parties had reach agreement in the San Antonio District Court redistricting interim map trial, which is a step toward keeping Texas' primary election on track for April 3. But some minority groups are not supporting the map deal, Luis Vera, an attorney for the League of United Latin American Citizens, told The Associated Press.

Today was the deadline a San Antonio federal court gave the state and involved parties to reach a compromise, in order to try to keep the April 3 primary date

Abbott said in a statement released Monday, “The proposed maps minimize changes to the redistricting plan passed by the Legislature and, as the U. S. Supreme Court required, makes changes only where necessary."

“The proposed maps minimize changes to the redistricting plan passed by the Legislature and, as the U. S. Supreme Court required, makes changes only where necessary," Abbott said in a statement released Monday. "The Texas Attorney General’s Office has worked with a wide range of interest groups to incorporate reasonable requests from all parties to the extent possible without compromising the will of the Texas Legislature."

"Even though these proposed interim maps aren’t fully supported by all interest groups, modifications have been incorporated based on requests made by all parties," he said. "Today’s maps should allow the court to finalize the interim redistricting maps in time to have elections in April."

Last Friday, The Hill reported that the Texas interim districts map negotiations in the San Antonio District Court case were on verge of collapse. According to The Hill, “Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) had approached the various plaintiffs last week, seeking a compromise. Most plaintiffs assumed that he would offer a plan close to what they wanted, since the courts have indicated they will throw out the maps drawn by the Republicans in the Texas Legislature. Abbott offered much less than they’d hoped for, leaving the compromise highly in doubt.”

When Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott initiated talks last week for a possible compromise on interim districts maps, he invited only the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and one other of the nine groups representing minority groups, or politicians representing minorities groups in the San Antonio District Court case, which angered the groups not invited. According to an AP news story, seven Texas members of Congress of Latino, African and Asian ancestry today wrote a letter to demand their inclusion in any negotiations and warned they would appeal a interim district map deal if they're excluded.

Update February 6, 2012 @ 2:50pm

Texas Democratic Party responds to Attorney General Abbott's statement outlining an agreement reached with some parties regarding the ongoing redistricting legal fight -- We were not party to the talks which produced this agreement, we are not in agreement on the maps and we do not expect that these will be the maps under which our candidates will run in the 2012 election.

TDP spokesperson Rebecca Acuña released the following statement in response to the redistricting maps released by General Abbott:

“We’re greatly disappointed the Attorney General did not deal in good faith with all parties involved.

For the Texas Democratic Party, any maps that do not have the consent of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, the Legislative Black Caucus, and other plaintiffs are nonstarters.

The Attorney General is clearly terrified that the DC court will find that the state’s maps are discriminatory in both effect and intent. Until there’s a legitimate agreement among the parties, we support the court continuing to do its work.”


Afghanistan 2013: America Shifts Course

Matthew Hoh, who in 2009 famously quit his State Department post in Afghanistan to protest U.S. strategy there, spoke on August 11, 2011 as part of the Dallas Peace Center’s dinner lecture series. Hoh didn’t mince words about how he thinks the war in Afghanistan is going --“Afghanistan is a disaster.”

Hoh is a former Marine Corps captain who served six years in Iraq and worked as a civilian for the Department of Defense in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, he is a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy and the Director of the Afghanistan Study Group. “I agree with (U.S.) objectives. The problem is our policy will not achieve those objectives,” Hoh told the Dallas Peace Center audience.

Chris Matthews speaks with The Atlantic's Steve Clemons and Matthew Hoh of the Center for International Policy on
Last Friday, Matthew Hoh and The Atlantic's Steve Clemons had a discussion with Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball about Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's comments that the US would cease combat operations in Afghanistan in 2013 -- rather than the end of 2014.

Key points made during the discussion:

First, this is a key shift in strategy -- and a positive one.

Second, this remains consistent with the President's announced strategy, also articulated well by Vice President Joe Biden, that the military's job today is not to "beat" the Taliban but rather to shape the choices in the field for the political stakeholders and to be able to preempt any effort to overthrow the government in Kabul.

Third, there is a bit of an 'invisible hand' at work in the message in sending confidence building signals during a fragile early process of trying to negotiate with the Taliban. There are secret negotiations that various sides are attempting to hatch -- and Panetta's comments may be designed to shore up the process. The trip by Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar to Kabul yesterday and his comments blessing the peace talks seem likely to also be part of this mutual posturing, confidence building process.

Lastly, for those like GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who think that the US should commit itself, its military manpower, and more deficit spending to a longer stay in Afghanistan, the discussion concluded that continuing military activities in Afghanistan another five or ten years would strategically deflated the United States, fueling the ambitions and agendas of nations like Iran in the region, and China globally.

STOKING FIRE: Millennials Stifled by Evangelical Doctrines

RH Reality Check by Eleanor J. Bader

The results of a five-year study of the Millennial Generation—people born between 1982 and 1993—are in. Thanks to the Barna Group, a 28-year-old, California-based, Christian research firm, we now know that conservative evangelical churches are losing formerly–affiliated “young creatives:” Actors, artists, biologists, designers, mathematicians, medical students, musicians, and writers.

Some leave because they oppose the church’s doctrinal stance. Others are turned off by its hostility to science, and still others reject the limitations placed on permissible sexual activity. The report cites the tension felt by young adults who find it difficult—if not impossible—to remain “sexually pure,” especially since most heterosexuals don’t marry until their mid-to-late twenties. “Young Christians are as sexually active as their non-Christian peers,” Barna concludes. What’s more, the report admits that Millennials see the evangelical church as an exclusive club, open only to those who adhere to every rule. This runs counter to values that rank high on the Millennial playlist—among them, open-mindedness, tolerance, and support for diversity.

These findings, of course, don’t necessarily mean that young evangelicals are becoming progressively engaged, but they do suggest that an opening exists for prochoice, feminist, and pro-LGBTQ activists to touch the hearts and minds of Generation Y. Angela Ferrell-Zabala, director of Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Freedom, a project of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, says that former Evangelicals are hungry for information about alternative faith and lifestyle options.

“Technology has given Millennials access to philosophies and people from all over, and they tend to think in ways that are bigger than where they came from or how they were raised,“ she begins.” At the same time, “young folks are not necessarily throwing in the towel on their faith. They’re working to reconcile the pieces of their lives, asking, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What is my place in the world?’“

Read the full article @ RH Reality Check