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Rep. Elijah Cummings Launches True the Vote Investigation

Rep. Elijah Cummings Launches True the Vote Investigation

Today, Rep. Elijah Cummings announced that he was launching an investigation into the group True the Vote, a tea party network that has trumped up charges of voter fraud in order to have restrictive voting laws passed while stacking up complaints of voter intimidation.

Rep. Cummings sent a letter to True the Vote’s president Catherine Engelbrecht asking for documents related to their work of scouring through voter registration databases and then demanding that thousands of voters be purged from the rolls. They’ve done this throughout 2012 under the belief that dead people, imprisoned people and “illegal aliens” have been voting and stealing elections. All of their voter fraud accusations and allegations have fallen flat and Rep. Cummings said he based his investigation on their “horrendous record” of filing false voter challenges.

“At some point, an effort to challenge voter registrations by the thousands without any legitimate basis may be evidence of illegal voter suppression,” wrote Cummings. “If these efforts are intentional, politically-motivated, and widespread across multiple states, they could amount to a criminal conspiracy to deny legitimate voters their constitutional rights.”

He’s demanding that Englebrecht turn records related to the software and databases they use to challenge voters, training materials for poll watchers and how they select which polling districts to deploy volunteers to.

Here at Voting Rights Watch 2012 we have been following and reporting the activities of True the Vote since April. It was at their national summit that month that we collected the widely cited quote from their national elections coordinator Bill Ouren who said True the Vote poll watchers should make voters feel like they’re “driving with the police following you.” In a story we posted this week about former Congressman Artur Davis’ involvement with them, we published True the Vote’s explanation of that quote, which was to say that True the Vote was really like “a parent” and that “kids [voters] will act up more” if they’re not around.

In August, we published the investigative report “How the Tea Party’s Building a ‘Poll Watcher’ Network for November,” which revealed the extent of their outreach around the nation in their efforts to have one million trainees at polling places in November.

Read Rep. Elijah Cummings letter about the investigation here.

Read the full suite of Voting Rights Watch 2012’s True the Vote coverage here.

Watch Brentin Mock discuss True the Vote with Adam Serwer of Mother Jones on Bloggingheads here:

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck Won’t Hand Over Low Level Arrestees to Immigration Officials

Those who are arrested for low level crimes in Los Angeles won’t get referred to immigration officials for potential detention and deportation, Los Angeles police chief Charlie Beck announced Thursday. The change in policy, reported by the Los Angeles Times, was a response to federal immigration enforcement programs which have “eroded the public trust,” Beck said.

The shift, which the Los Angeles Times reports would affect roughly 400 people, would alter current agreements with the federal government which allow immigration officials to peer into the databases of those who are booked in Los Angeles jails and request people with potential immigration violations be held on a detainer. Immigration and Customs Enforcement then will come and detain a person and begin looking into a person’s deportability. The programs make those who care about civil and immigrant rights, as well as an increasing number of law enforcement agencies, uncomfortable. Typically immigration issues are civil violations, but the merging of law and immigration enforcement can make the public uncomfortable and discourage people from reporting crimes or serving as witnesses for fear that their immigration status could land them in deportation proceedings.

Chipotle Agrees to Respect Farmworkers

Chipotle Agrees to Respect Farmworkers

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers claimed another victory yesterday when Chipotle agree to sign on to the organization’s Fair Food Program. CIW members—who represent some 4,000 Florida tomato pickers—and their allies held a protest outside of Chipotle’s headquarters in Denver this week. They were planning another protest during the restaurant’s popular Cultivate Festival tomorrow—which touts Chipotle’s “Food with Integrity” slogan.

After six years of refusing to meet with the CIW, Chipotle becomes the 11th corporation to sign on to the agreement—after Trader Joe’s did the same in February. The Fair Food Program is unique in that it doesn’t demand more pay directly to farmworkers. Instead, it asks that end-use corporations like Chipotle pay a price premium for the tomatoes they purchase for their consumers. In turn, the price premium paid by those food retailers to growers ensures higher wages for farmworkers, and a code of conduct that targets harassment in Florida’s fields.

Fast food chains and supermarkets often argue that industries that rely on ever lower prices simply cannot afford to pay a price premium. They add that since they don’t set wages in the fields, they shouldn’t be pressured to raise the amount of money they pay for their tomatoes.

Yet CIW continues to win victories by reminding growers, corporations, and consumers what farmworkers already know: the food chain’s economy is connected, and once food retailers pay pennies more per pound on one end, workers in the field will feel the difference by earning more pay on their end. Aside from a wage increase, the price premium also ensures rules against child labor and modern-day slavery in Florida’s tomato fields.

Nely Rodriguez, a CIW member who has been working in fields in Michigan and Florida for nearly 10 years, told Colorlines.com that the agreement is also an important win for Chipotle. In a phone interview this morning, she said that consumers want workers to be treated with respect, and that Chipotle’s signature assures that.

“The agreement is also important because if there are any human rights violations in Florida’s fields, against women being sexually assaulted, for example, Chipotle now has the responsibility to hold the grower to the code of conduct, and stop the misconduct. There are now market consequences for abuse,” she added.

The CIW has cancelled this weekend’s action in Denver, and is already preparing for its next victories, with actions planned against Publix, Kroger, Stop and Shop, and Giant supermarkets. Although 11 food retailers have signed on to the Fair Food Program, Rodriguez said there are many more corporations who take advantage of cheap farm labor during the winter tomato harvest.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly From September’s Jobs Report

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly From September's Jobs Report

The September jobs report released this morning contained encouraging economic news for the Obama Administration in the closing weeks of this year’s election.

The nation’s unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent in September, the lowest level in three years. The economy added 114,000 last month.

In more welcome news for Obama, the Bureau of Labor Statistics also reported that the economy added 86,000 more jobs in July and August than previously estimated. All in all today’s data adds strength to the Administration’s “stick with us, we’re headed in the right direction” narrative.

While these top-line numbers suggest an improving economic situation, the broader jobs report reveals that the harsh reality for most Americans continues.

For blacks, Latinos, and youth the picture is far less optimistic and remained in economic-depression territory. 1 out 7 African-Americans, 1 out of ten Latinos and 1 out of 4 people between 16-19 is unemployed. These numbers are essentially unchanged from August.

The number of people looking for work, discouraged by five years of record joblessness, remains at its lowest level in almost thirty years. Since 2007, 9 million people have dropped out of the job force. If these Americans were still looking for work, today’s unemployment rate would be over 10 percent.

The percentage of underemployed Americans, those without work or at jobs at well below their skill level, is over 14 percent or, to translate, 18 million people.

In its totality, the jobs report underscores the curious absence of any at-length discussion of joblessness in Wednesday night’s presidential debate. Given that the economy is the number once concern of all Americans, the lack of presentation by the candidates of detailed plans during their exchange is almost unconscionable.

Sadly, regardless of who pundits crowned as the winner, we all lost.

The New York Times is Feeling the Pressure Over Its I-Word Stance

The New York Times is Feeling the Pressure Over Its I-Word Stance

The New York Times public editor and readers’ representative, Margaret Sullivan recently deliberated on the i-word and decided she was for keeping it. In a span of a few days she read through multiple reasons and a compelling case delivered by leading linguists, scholars, lawyers, readers from across the country, the Drop the I-Word campaign, Times editorial board member, Lawrence Downes and Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas who kicked off the conversation with her a little more than a year after coming out as undocumented (not as “illegal”) in the pages of the Times.

Sullivan weighed in saying that she sees “no advantage for Times readers in a move away from the paper’s use of the phrase ‘illegal immigrant.’” She said “It is clear and accurate; it gets its job done in two words that are easily understood. The same cannot be said of the most frequently suggested alternatives - ‘unauthorized,’ ‘immigrants without legal status,’ ‘undocumented.’ She said this, all after linguists and attorneys have weighed in with expertise on the opposite. Now, in a welcome and exciting turn, colleagues in the field of journalism are calling out the Times, too.


In Historic Move, Walmart Workers Across Los Angeles Walk Off the Job

In Historic Move, Walmart Workers Across Los Angeles Walk Off the Job

In what labor rights groups are calling a first in Walmart history, workers from multiple stores have walked off the job today. Workers led a one-day work stoppage for nearly a dozen Walmart stores to protest the retail giant’s retaliation for worker’s efforts to organize for better treatment and pay.

“Walmart should not be silencing workers for standing up for what’s good for my store, my co-workers, my family and my community,” Venanzi Luna, a striking worker at the Pico Rivera Walmart, said in a statement. Luna is a member of OUR Walmart, a national Walmart employee organization with a presence in 43 states that’s backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

At a rally today outside the Pico Rivera Walmart where Luna works, workers will tell their stories of struggling to barely get by on Walmart wages and dealing with reduced hours, safety issues and staffing issues. Among those coming out to support the striking workers are plenty of immigrant, labor and religious organizations who say Walmart workers shouldn’t be forced to rely on public assistance to get by, especially as the corporate behemoth turns around $16 billion a year in profits. Walmart has 1.4 million so-called associates around the country, and is union free in its North American stores. Workers on strike today say they are fighting for all of them.

Lakers Sign the NBA’s First Salvadoran-Honduran Player Ronnie Aguilar

Lakers Sign the NBA's First Salvadoran-Honduran Player Ronnie Aguilar

The NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers signed the league’s first Salvadoran-American player recently. Ronnie Aguilar is a 7’1” center who was born and raised in L.A. by a Salvadoran father and Honduran mother.

Aguilar played basketball, volleyball and football at John Marshall High School in Los Angeles, and he’s excited to play for his hometown team. From ESPN Deportes:

“It’s a dream to be here, especially since I’m from Los Angeles. I grew up watching the Lakers, especially Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It’s a pleasure and an honor to be here playing on the same team I have loved since I was a child. I want to do everything possible to grab that ‘ring’ (ring) we want, ” the 25 years old center told ESPN en Español.



Aguilar, a 7-1, 250 pound center, most recently played in six games for the Bakersfield Jam of the NBA Development League during the 2011-12 season, averaging 2.2 points and 4.2 rebounds in 11.5 minutes.

TAGS: NBA sports

Near Silence on Poverty in the Presidential Debate

Between the two of them, Obama and Romney cast about the words middle income or middle class 31 times. Obama referred to the amorphous group of Americans 19 times and Romney 12. That’s about once every three minutes. Meanwhile Obama didn’t mention poor people, low income people, or poverty even once and Romney rattled out the words poor, low income, lower income and poverty seven times, but mostly to attack Obama. He offered no substantive plan for addressing poverty issues.

In a presidential debate about the economy in this time of prolonged economic downturn and high poverty, the near eclipse of explicit talk of poverty and low-income Americans takes work. The candidates actually did talk around poverty quite a lot last night, bur rarely actually named it. Medicaid, school vouchers, food stamps and the unemployed found their way into the scripts, but poor people themselves barely did. Both described the struggling middle-income Americans they’ve run into the on the campaign trail, but not poor folks. Obama offered that he’d like to build “ladders of opportunity into the middle class,” but still, no talk of the people at the botton of those ladders.

As noted on the New York Times editorial page:

The two candidates said nothing about poverty in Wednesday’s debate. The political reasons for focusing the campaigns on the middle class are obvious, but that doesn’t change the fact that the candidates are ducking responsibility for neglecting those without a powerful voice at the ballot box, with Mitt Romney treating them with particular disdain.

As the 2007 speech shows, Mr. Obama was once quite passionate about improving the lives of what he called “young men and women without hope, without miracles, and without a sense of destiny other than life on the edge — the edge of the law, the edge of the economy, the edge of family structures and communities.”

Indeed, the omission is not terribly surprising, but it is hugely significant because the silence once again draws a line around which kinds of Americans matter. Those who face disproportionate levels of poverty—people of color, single women—are growing demographics who overwhelmingly support Obama. He decided last night to take them for granted.

Plenty of Common Ground in Obama and Romney’s Ed Reform Pitches

Plenty of Common Ground in Obama and Romney's Ed Reform Pitches

For all the back and forth sparring during the presidential debate on Wednesday, one might think President Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney don’t see eye to eye on anything. But look at Mitt Romney and President Obama’s respective education agendas and you’ll see something rather striking: plenty of ideological overlap about how to fix public schools.

Romney’s education platform, which calls on the federal government to tie federal education funding to state commitments to school reform, puts a focus on improving the U.S. teacher force by evaluating teachers based on their students’ test scores and expanding choice options for parents. Romney supports far more aggressive school choice models, including vouchers which encourage families to leave poor performing neighborhood schools for other private and charter schools. But he, like Obama, encourage the expansion of charter schools in the U.S. public education system. In fact, Romney’s ideas look remarkably like President Obama’s marquee education initiative Race to the Top, a competitive grant program which exchanged money for promises from states to enact harsher accountability measures for teachers, a more open school marketplace, and better data tracking. During the debate last night, Romney even managed to say he agrees with “some” of the ideas in Race to the Top.

Numbers USA Ad Pits Black Voters Against Immigrants

It’s an old ploy of anti-immigration advocates to pit people of color against one another to distract from people working together and understanding one another. Numbers USA is dedicated to sending out misleading and inaccurate messages about immigration and exploiting economic distress. Here’s their latest ad:

Orlando Cruz Becomes First Openly Gay Man in Boxing

Orlando Cruz Becomes First Openly Gay Man in Boxing

On Wednesday, featherweight Puerto Rican boxer Orlando Cruz made history by describing himself as a “proud gay man.”

Out.com has more:

The No. 4-ranked featherweight by the WBO, said, “I’ve been fighting for more than 24 years and as I continue my ascendant career, I want to be true to myself…I want to try to be the best role model I can be for kids who might look into boxing as a sport and a professional career. I have and will always be a proud Puerto Rican. I have always been and always will be a proud gay man.”

As Curdell ‘Doc’ Hoskins, a gay 40-year-old amateur boxer who organized the Gay Boxing League, told Out in 2009, “Being gay in the boxing world is very taboo. There are definitely some out there, but no one talks about it.”

Watch Tonight’s Presidential Campaign Debates With Us!

The good folks here at Colorlines.com and the Applied Research Center will be watching tonight’s first presidential debate, and we’d love for you to join us! Our economic justice reporter Imara Jones — who noted a few weeks ago that Mitt Romney’s 47 Percent comments had everything to do with race — will be livetweeting tonight’s debates, so be sure to follow him on Twitter at @imarajones.

If you need an extra nudge, watch Imara in action on a recent episode of Melissa Harris Perry’s show on MSNBC.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Harlem Woman Becomes Episcopal Church’s First Female Korean-American Priest

Harlem Woman Becomes Episcopal Church's First Female Korean-American Priest

Christine Lee has become the first female Korean-American priest at the Episcopal Church. DNAinfo.com New York has more info:

When she first started attending All Angels’, an Episcopal church on the Upper West Side with her husband a decade ago, Christine Lee, who grew up in an Asian-American church, wasn’t particularly fond of worshiping there.

“I just didn’t feel like I fit in at All Angels’. It was too different, the liturgy, the worship style. Going from an Asian-American church to a church where there were only about five Asians, I had such a hard time connecting to anything or anyone,” said Lee, 40, who has lived in Harlem for nine years.

But over time, Lee, the daughter of a reverend, connected with the congregants at the 5 p.m. service, which includes people who are homeless and others from diverse ethnic, racial and socioeconomic backgrounds

Read more.

TAGS: faith Religion

Shonda Rhimes Teams Up With ‘Awkward Black Girl’ Issa Rae for New ABC Comedy

Shonda Rhimes Teams Up With 'Awkward Black Girl' Issa Rae for New ABC Comedy

Issa Rae delighted thousands of fans last year with her hit online comedy “Awkward Black Girl.” And it turns out that one of those fans was heralded screenwriter Shonda Rhimes (of Grey’s Anatomy fame).

Earlier this week Rhimes tweeted that “Shondaland has been busy!” and included a link to a story on her big plans for Issa Rae — a new ABC comedy called “I Hate LA Dudes.”

Here’s more:

I Hate L.A. Dudes centers on an aspiring journalist, new to Los Angeles, who becomes the lone female voice on a budding, male-driven Internet talk show, while learning to decode the often humiliating and exasperating rules of the LA dating scene. Rae, repped by UTA, 3 Arts and John Meigs, is writing/co-executive producing. Expanding into comedy has been a major priority for Shondaland, which established its brand in drama.

Why Consumers of Color Should Care About T-Mobile’s MetroPCS Merger

Why Consumers of Color Should Care About T-Mobile's MetroPCS Merger

Less than a year after T-Mobile failed bid to merge with AT&T, the wireless carrier has announced that it’s now trying to combine with MetroPCS. The move is controversial, especially because the wireless market is notoriously uncompetitive — and because Metro PCS has previously charged its users more for its different services, a direct challenge to the FCC’s net neutrality rules.

The move, however, is being explained by the companies as one that will help two “weaker” telecom companies in its competition agains the big boys: AT&T and Verizon.

More from the Los Angeles Times:

Under the terms of the agreement, MetroPCS shareholders will receive $1.5 billion in cash and 26% ownership in the company, which will have the T-Mobile name. Deutsche Telekom AG, the Germany company that owns T-Mobile, will receive a 74% stake.

In a teleconference call with media Wednesday, Rene Obermann, chief executive of Deutsche Telekom, said the merger “means we are here to compete, we are here to unlock value and we are here to win. This deal has the potential to be a game changer.”

Already, the move is drawing criticism from consumer advocates.


Oscar Grant’s Mother Turns to New Theater Project to Explore Grief

Oscar Grant's Mother Turns to New Theater Project to Explore Grief

Wanda Johnson knows pain. She was thrust into the national spotlight in 2009, after her son Oscar Grant III was shot and killed by former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle on a Bay Area subway platform. Video of Grant’s murder went viral, and during the ensuing media onslaught and criminal trial, Johnson had the unimaginable task of trying to sum up her son’s life for reporters.

Now there’s word that Johnson, alongside other Bay Area mothers who have lost children to violence, is taking part in a theater project that tries to make sense of all the chaos. “Love Balm for My SpiritChild: Testimonies of Healing Justice through Mothers’ Memory” is a 4-part performance workshop that brings together the pain and resilience of mothers who’ve lost their children to violence.

Artistic Director Arielle Brown wrote this about the project:

TAGS: Oscar Grant

Junot Díaz Thanks ‘Teachers and Librarians’ for Genius Grant

Junot Díaz Thanks 'Teachers and Librarians' for Genius Grant

This week has been a big one for writers of color. On Monday, the MacArthur foundation announced that Pullitzer Prize winning Dominican American writer Junot Díaz was one of the recipients of this year’s MacArthur Genius Grant Awards.

On Tuesday, Díaz took to his Facebook page with a note to the people who helped make it possible:

Thanks to everyone who wrote a letter to make this happen. Thanks to all the teachers and librarians and booksellers who kept me in circulation through the long silences. Thanks to the beautiful readers who did the same. This honor belongs to my community, whose sacrifices and courage and yes genius made me possible. Gratitude without end.

The $500,000 award was one of 23 given out this year by the foundation to writers, scientists, musicians, and photographers. Award-winning Ethiopian American author Dinaw Mengestu was also announced among this week’s winners.

If you want to see Junot Díaz in action, make sure you register to attend our national Facing Race conference this year in Baltimore, where he’ll be the keynote speaker.

Voting While Trans: Watch the Public Service Announcements

Voting While Trans: Watch the Public Service Announcements

Turns out that gender identity matters at the polls. The National Center for Transgender Equality has released a series of public service announcements to call attention to the specific challenges transgender folks face while trying to vote.

The challenges facing transgender folks are especially unique, as explained by Colorlines.com’s Voting Rights Project reporter Brentin Mock:

Over 25,000 transgender American citizens may face stiff barriers to voting in the November 2012 election according to the report “The Potential Impact of Voter Identification Laws on Transgender Voters,” released last week by the Williams Institute at UCLA’s law school. This is, by any measure, the portion of the electorate that is among the most marginalized and stigmatized, and hence probably most in need of the right to have a say in who governs their lives. But discussions on both sides of voter ID laws tend to leave out transgender citizens in discussions about who would be most adversely impacted.

The center has also released a checklist for transgender voters:

Voting While Trans Checklist

Pa. Voters Won’t Have to Show ID, but Poll Workers Can Still Ask For It

Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson handed down a partial preliminary injunction on Act 18, the state’s photo voter ID law. According to lawyers close to the case — and from local media reports out of Pennsylvania — this means that a state-issued photo voter identification card will not be mandatory for voting for this November’s election.

The Harrisburg Patriot-News reports:

Simpson is postponing Pennsylvania’s tough new voter identification requirement, ordering that it not be enforced in the presidential election. Today’s ruling comes five weeks before the election. An appeal is possible.

Meanwhile, The Advancement Project, the civil rights law organization that is one of the petitioners listed on the case challenging the voter ID law, says that the ruling allows for poll workers to ask voters for ID, which could cause confusion.

“While we’re happy that voters in Pennsylvania will not be turned away if they do not have an ID, we are concerned that the ruling will allow election workers to ask for ID at the polls and this could cause confusion,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Penda D. Hair. “This injunction serves as a mere Band-Aid for the law’s inherent problems, not an effective remedy.”

Judge Simpson said during last week’s hearing that he anticipates his decision will be appealed back up to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court either way. The state has not indicated whether it will appeal yet. Meanwhile, if the read on this ruling is correct, then voters will not be turned away from voting if they don’t have photo ID on them.

“We are very glad voters will not be turned away from the polls this November if they do have an ID,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis. “The evidence made it clear to the judge that this law would indeed disenfranchise voters and that the Commonwealth was not equipped to implement it fairly right now.”

Check back in at Voting Rights Watch 2012 later for further analysis of the ruling. Meanwhile, yo can read the Judge’s ruling here:

Full full background on Pennsylvania’s voter ID law hearings, you can read here:

See Colorlines’ Brentin Mock discuss the Pennsylvania voter ID hearing on the Melissa Harris Perry show this past weekend:

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Day Laborers Denounce Governor Brown’s Veto of TRUST Act

California Gov. Jerry Brown on Sunday vetoed legislation designed to curtail the deportation of undocumented immmigrants arrested on minor or non-violent offenses. AB 1081, also known as the TRUST Act, would have changed how law enforcement agencies could participate in the controversial federal immigration program, Secure Communities.

In response to Governor Brown’s veto of the TRUST Act (AB 1081), Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network issued the following statement:

“By vetoing the TRUST Act Governor Brown has failed California’s immigrant communities, imperiling civil rights and leaving us all less safe. The President’s disastrous Secure Communities program is replicating Arizona’s model of immigration enforcement nationally, causing a human rights crisis. Immigration and Customs Enforcement strong-armed the Governor to defend its deportation quota instead of defending Californian’s rights. On this sad day, we renew our commitment to fight to keep our families together despite the Governor and the President’s insistence on seeing them torn apart.”

The TRUST Act could have been a significant blow to the Secure Communities program because over a quarter of ‘S-Comm deportations’ are currently from California.

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