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Zimmerman Attorneys Insist Jurors Should Hear About Trayvon Martin’s Pot Use

Zimmerman Attorneys Insist Jurors Should Hear About Trayvon Martin's Pot Use

An attorney for George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch leader charged with fatally shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, is pressing a Florida judge to allow autopsy blood results be presented to jurors because they show the teenager tested positive for marijuana use.

Defense attorney Don West argued in his written response filed Tuesday that the marijuana use is relevant because Zimmerman told a police dispatcher shortly before shooting Trayvon that he believed the Miami Gardens teenager was suspicious and may have been on drugs.

The Orlando Sentinel points out West’s response comes two weeks after prosecutors filed paperwork asking Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson to ban defense attorneys and witnesses from telling jurors the autopsy results found marijuana in Martin’s blood.

Judge Nelson will likely rule on the issue during a day-long hearing May 28 in Sanford, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

Senate Accepts Deal to Kick Formerly Incarcerated Off Food Benefits

Senate Accepts Deal to Kick Formerly Incarcerated Off Food Benefits

Yesterday, Sen. Vitter of Louisiana offered up an amendment to permanently drop anyone ever convicted of a violent crime from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). According to Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Democrats in the Senate obliged him. The amendment is for a farm bill, which is currently being debated in the Senate.

Says Greenstein:

The amendment would bar from SNAP (food stamps), for life, anyone who was ever convicted of one of a specified list of violent crimes at any time — even if they committed the crime decades ago in their youth and have served their sentence, paid their debt to society, and been a good citizen ever since. In addition, the amendment would mean lower SNAP benefits for their children and other family members.

So, a young man who was convicted of a single crime at age 19 who then reforms and is now elderly, poor, and raising grandchildren would be thrown off SNAP, and his grandchildren’s benefits would be cut. … Democrats accepted it without trying to modify it to address its most ill-considered aspects.

Two-thirds of SNAP recipients are children, elderly or the disabled, and two-fifths of SNAP households live below half the poverty line.

4.1-SNAP.jpg

According to Greenstein, if this amendment ends up in the farm bill and passes, it would hit African Americans particularly hard:

Given incarceration patterns in the United States, the amendment would have a skewed racial impact. Poor elderly African Americans convicted of a single crime decades ago by segregated Southern juries would be among those hit.

Sen. Vitter is claiming that his amendment is only aimed at preventing those convicted of violent crimes from obtaining benefits, apparently under the logic that stripping them of what may be their only form of income assistance will lead to less violence. Curiously, he didn’t propose that johns who’ve hired sex workers would also be banned from SNAP.

Sen. Vitter also proposed an end to the so-called “Obama Phone” program, which started under President Ronald Reagan to help elderly and low-income with cellphone service, particularly in rural areas.

Voter Suppression Group Sues IRS For Delaying Their Voter Suppression

When IRS officials publicly apologized last week for sorting out tax-exemption applications from tea party groups, one tea party network seized the moment to claim victimization by the federal government. True the Vote, a conglomerate of conservative tea party and “Patriot” groups across the nation seeking restrictive voting laws, claimed that their application for 501(c)3 status was wrongfully put through rigorous review by the IRS. Now they are suing the IRS claiming that due to their “perceived conservative policy positions and affiliation with Tea Party organizations” they were “systematically targeted… for additional review and scrutiny … [and] was deliberately subjected to numerous unnecessary and burdensome requests for information about its operations and affiliations,” as it reads in their complaint.

For the record, the IRS officials have said that political bias was not a motivation for their sorting of applications. The inspector general who investigated the situation found no political bias, only that IRS officials in a Cincinnati office used “inappropriate criteria” for the sorting. So far as we know, the IRS employees sorted this way because of a spike in 501(c) 4 tax exemption status applications — the bulk of those from tea party and patriot groups. Meanwhile, a decrease in IRS staff and resources burdened their capacity to effectively deal with the application deluge.

But despite True the Vote’s claim, nothing that IRS officials are accused of or have admitted to would support True the Vote’s accusation. The criteria used to sort out applications was to find any application that had the words “Tea Party,” “Patriot” or “9/12” [a reference to conservative groups started by Glenn Beck] in the applicant’s name. One reason for this might be that many of these groups have flouted tax laws while some have called publicly for the elimination of taxes and the IRS altogether. Either way, True the Vote has none of those keywords in their name, so they can’t claim they were part of the sorted group.

They do have “Vote” in their name, though, and if they did receive extra scrutiny, it could be because 501(c)3 groups are not supposed to engage in activity that influences how people vote when it comes to political candidates and campaigns. And yet, True the Vote intervened in the recall election for Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin last year, and they are currently leading an intervention in Rep. Allen West’s already failed re-election run as we speak. In that sense, True the Vote wasn’t profiled by the IRS, they profiled themselves.

True the Vote’s founder Catherine Engelbrecht said in a press release: “After answering hundreds of questions and producing thousands of documents, we’re done waiting. The IRS does not have the power to pocket veto our application.”

The IRS does have the authority to request for additional information from an organization seeking non-profit status if that group’s activities have engaged in questionable political activity. As Kim Barker and Justin Elliott reported at ProPublica:

In the 1970s, that meant flagging all applications for primary and secondary schools in the south facing desegregation. In the 1980s, during the wave of consolidation in the health-care industry, all applications from health-care nonprofits needed to be sent to headquarters. The division’s different field offices had to send these applications up the chain.

The fact that True the Vote’s membership largely consists of tea party members only adds to their dubious reputation. But True the Vote has been down the litigious road before — a few times actually. Last year, they basically created a cottage industry out of shaking down states with nuisance lawsuits around election practices, while pressuring those states to put restrictive voting polices in place. Looks like the IRS is just the latest caught in their scheme.

Hear me discuss True the Vote and the IRS flap on NPR’s “Tell Me More” here:

Young Black Women Led 2012 Youth Voter Turnout

Young Black Women Led 2012 Youth Voter Turnout

Give it up for young African-American women. While youth voter turnout in the 2012 election was down overall, it was young female voters, and young black female voters at that, who led the youth turnout in the 2012 elections.

According to a new analysis by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, young black women posted the highest voter turnout of all young voters in 2012. In fact, young black women voted at a higher rate than any gender, racial or ethnic subset of voters between the age of 18 and 29. At 60.1 percent voter turnout, young black women out-voted the next highest group, young white women, by 11 percentage points. Women vote in larger numbers than men no matter the metric, be it by marital or employment status or educational attainment.

None of this changes the fact that voter turnout among young whites, blacks and Latinos declined between 2008 and 2012, however. But in keeping with the historic turnout among black voters broadly in 2012, these youth vote numbers add another layer to the conversation. Check out just the youth voter turnout for female voters, broken down by race:

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For the rest of CIRCLE’s findings, see their fact sheet (PDF).

Deported Parents Who Return Found Dead In Desert or Locked Up In Prison

Deported Parents Who Return Found Dead In Desert or Locked Up In Prison

The Obama Administration has deported some 1.5 million people since taking office and as Colorlines.com revealed last year, more than one in five are parents of U.S. citizens. Many more have other relatives here. As the comprehensive immigration reform bill moves from committee to the Senate floor, many immigrants and immigration reform advocates will be watching a provision that would permit some deportees to return to the United States if they left behind U.S. citizen spouses, children or parents. Now, a set of new reports and investigations reveal what’s at stake as members of Congress consider what some advocates are calling the “right to return” provision: without a legal route to come back, many are travelling back over the border to reunite with their family, and thousands are ending up dead in the desert or locked up in federal prison.

Walmart Security Allegedly Suspected Father of Kidnapping Biracial Kids

Walmart Security Allegedly Suspected Father of Kidnapping Biracial Kids

A Prince William County, Virginia father is speaking out after a Walmart security guard allegedly called police to report a possible kidnapping because the man’s three young daughters appeared to be of a different race.

The father, who only identified himself as Joseph, is white and his wife of ten years is black and according to a Walmart manager that meant their children “didn’t fit.”

WTTG has the details:

On Thursday evening, Joseph took all three girls to the Walmart in Potomac Mills in Woodbridge to cash a check. He says they weren’t there long, but spent a few extra minutes in the parking lot while he buckled the girls in and then made a phone call.

Joseph says he then went to up his wife, Keana, and as they were arriving home, they were shocked to find a Prince William County police officer waiting for them.

“He asks us very sincerely, ‘Hey, I was sent here by Walmart security. I just need to make sure that the children that you have are your own,’” Joseph says.

Immigration Bill Leaps Forward, Heads to Full Senate

Immigration Bill Leaps Forward, Heads to Full Senate

The Senate Judiciary Committee last night passed a massive immigration reform bill and sent it to the Senate floor. The audience in the panel room began to chant “sí se puede.” Most observers expected the markup of the bill to last to the end of this week, but the Senators spent long days Monday and Tuesday as well as last week to consider 200 amendments. In the end, the legislation passed the committee with significant bi-partisan support in a 13-5 vote. Though it remained similar to the original bill introduced last month by the Gang of Eight, many of the approved amendments, and some that were rejected, will significantly impact immigrants and their families.

In a dramatic ending to the markup of the bill, the committee completed the legislation without the the inclusion of immigration rights for bi-national same-sex partners. The amendment had promised to pull thousands more into reform. A 2011 report from the UCLA’s Williams Institute estimated that there are 40,000 gay and lesbian couples barred from applying for immigration benefits for noncitizen partners that are available to married opposite sex couples.

In principle, the amendment to allow gay and lesbian U.S. citizens to sponsor their non-citizen partners for green cards had broad support from Democrats. But as it came under attack from Republicans, some Democrats indicated they would not back the provision if it would repel Republicans.

Republicans, including South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham, who was a member of the Gang of Eight Senators that drafted the bill, said the amendment would derail the legislation.

“You’ve got me on immigration. You don’t have me on marriage,” Graham said. “If you want to keep me on immigration, let’s stay on immigration.”

Ultimately, committee Chair Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., withdrew the amendment. “I take the Republican sponsors of this important legislation at their word that they will abandon their own efforts if discrimination is removed from our immigration system,” Leahy said.

The other major sticking point yesterday was debate over visas for science and technology workers. Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, who has been walking the fence on the bill, and Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York offered a compromise amendment to simplify the H1-B visa program for so-called STEM visas in ways that tech companies like Microsoft and Facebook support.

Tech companies say there are not enough U.S. workers to fill jobs. But labor groups, including the AFL-CIO call the amendment “anti-worker.” It’s not yet clear what impact the compromise will have on the already fragile relationship between labor and business groups. But Democrats apparently decided the risk of alienating part of their labor support was worth it to gain support from Hatch, who could prove a bellwether for other conservatives in the Senate.

The Senators considered dozens of other amendments yesterday. They passed one from Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, that could make it more difficult for the Secretary of Homeland Security to grant return permits to deportees with U.S. citizen family members. The panel rejected an amendment from Hawaii Democrat Sen. Mazie Hirono that would have allowed U.S. citizens to petition for their siblings and adult children if the petitioner could prove they face significant hardship without their relative.

On Monday, the Senators passed a set of amendments aimed at protecting detainees, including one limiting the use of solitary confinement and another providing significant new protections for detained parents.

The bill will move now to the Senate where reform proponents hope it will take no more than a month to pass. Immigration reforms greatest challenge reamins in the House, where a group of lawmakers are currently finishing their own immigration bill.

Watch 9-Yr-Old Asean Johnson Fire Up Protesters to Fight School Closures

Watch 9-Yr-Old Asean Johnson Fire Up Protesters to Fight School Closures

Nine-year-old Asean Johnson may need to stand up on a chair to be seen above the podium from which he speaks, but he holds in him a wisdom and fire well beyond his years. Watch him address the crowds that assembled Monday to protest Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s school closures agenda, which will affect Garvey Elementary School, where Johnson is a student, and a proposed 53 other schools in the district.

“Kids need safety. Rahm Emanuel is not caring about our schools. He’s not caring about our safety,” Johnson said at the rally. “He should be invested in these schols, not closing them. He should be supporting these schools, not closing him.”

Emanuel’s projected plan to shutter dozens of schools is ostensibly a bid to address a serious budget shortfall. And yet, teachers, parents and students in Chicago have come together to argue that shutting down schools is a wrong-headed move that overwhelmingly and disproportionately affects communities of color. (Asean Johnson’s addressed the racial inequity in Emanuel’s agenda too.)

Alas, despite months of protest, including multiple acts of civil disobedience and Johnson’s own passionate pleas, the Chicago Tribune reports that perhaps just five of the projected 54 schools may be saved.

West Coast’s Second Largest Paper Drops the Term ‘Illegal Immigrant’

West Coast's Second Largest Paper Drops the Term 'Illegal Immigrant'

The San Francisco Chronicle changed its style on the term “illegal immigrant” Monday, Poynter.org reports. The Chronicle is the largest newspaper in Northern California and the second largest on the West Coast, according to its publisher the Hearst Corporation.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s announcement comes after the Associated Press changed its style on the term in April, followed by the Los Angeles Times in May. The New York Times urged its writers to “consider alternatives when appropriate.”

The newspaper’s new style will “essentially match” the Associated Press’ style on the term, David Steinberg, copy desk chief at the Chronicle, said in an email to Poynter.org.

Below is the Chronicle’s new stylebook entry on “illegal immigration:”

Illegal immigration

Entering or residing in a country in violation of civil or criminal law. Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person: illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant. Acceptable variations include living in or entering a country illegally or without legal permission.

Except in direct quotations, do not use the terms illegal alien, an illegal, illegals or undocumented immigrant. This prohibition also applies to headlines.

Do not describe people as violating immigration laws without attribution.

Specify wherever possible how someone entered the country illegally and from where. Crossed the border? Overstayed a visa? What nationality?

People who were brought into the country as children should not be described as having immigrated illegally. For people granted a temporary right to remain in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, use temporary resident status, with details on the program lower in the story.

The San Francisco Bay Area, Central Coast, and San Joaquin Valley have substantial populations of undocumented immigrants, according to The Public Policy Institute of California.

Mixed Martial Artist Fallon Fox Is Paving the Way for Transgender Athletes

Mixed Martial Artist Fallon Fox Is Paving the Way for Transgender Athletes

On Friday mixed martial artist Fallon Fox will appear in her first professional fight since coming out as transgender. Fox, who came out in an interview with Outsports in March, already won a major battle when the Association of Boxing Commissions allowed her to compete as a woman, citing that she did not have a competitive physical advantage over her opponents.

Fox recently sat down with Yahoo Sports to talk all that’s led up to her history-making fight on Friday. The event will likely make Fox, who is mixed race, the highest profile transgender athlete in the country. She admits that it’s a role that she’s still learning to accept. But the fight will mark a hugely important moment in which a transgender athlete of color is capturing the sports world’s attention.

… She is now an unexpected role model for transgender athletes. While she remains a cautious speaker who is presently doing select interviews, she understands the obligation. She’s content in life. Her 16-year old daughter now lives with her in Chicago. She’s found an American society, while still with distance to travel, becoming more welcoming almost overnight. She’s chasing a dream.

[snip]

“I would say to those kids that were like me not to give up,” Fallon said. “I know they are young now and they may be in a position where bullies are against them, but if they don’t give up, someday they’ll have the opportunity to be themselves, to finally have a body that they love.”

Read more over at Yahoo Sports.

Even More of Your Favorite People Speaking Out Against Stop-and-Frisk

Even More of Your Favorite People Speaking Out Against Stop-and-Frisk

To help people understand that the NYPD’s Stop-and-frisk policy is everyone’s issue the creator of “This Week in Blackness” Elon James White issued an open call for submissions asking people to lend their virtual voices. White asked folks to submit videos of themselves rapping along to the song “10 Frisk Commandments.”

An excerpt from the “10 Frisk Commandments Remix” is below:

I’ve never known a time when I wasn’t really warned

about how blackness is perceived with some malice and some scorn.

But Mama I’m sure I didn’t do nothing wrong

And then she said that’s not the point I just don’t want to see you gone.

Growing up it was me who was questioning the fact that being black

That I was somehow always under some sort of attack

It was the bad kids, the thuggish ones, I will be okay

and that’s the same bullshit they used on Kimani Grey

The video features Pittsburgh-based rapper Jasiri X and Florida-based artist and producer Willie Evans Jr. rapping alongside comedian Baratunde Thurston, New York Councilman Juamaane Williams, writer and activist Janet Mock, New York State Senator Kevin Parker, and many more people from all walks of life.

“I look at the 10 Frisk Commandments Remix as true hip hop with a message.” said Elon James White. “This isn’t some wack song that tells everyone to sing kumbaya. This is a hard-hitting track with amazing production by Willie Evans Jr. and real-life perspectives that have been lacking in mainstream hip hop.”

The video ends by asking viewers to sign a ColorOfChange petition demanding that NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Commissioner Ray Kelly abolish Stop and Frisk.

1,500 Rally for Mark Carson in New York City’s Gay Mecca

1,500 Rally for Mark Carson in New York City's Gay Mecca

It was New York City’s largest LGBT rally in years, according to organizers. On Monday at least 1,500 people showed up to honor the life of Mark Carson and make a stand against the hate that led to his death. Carson was an openly gay 32-year-old black man who was shot and killed over the weekend in what authorities are investigating as an anti-gay hate crime.

The randomness of Carson’s death has shocked the city’s LGBT community. “Mark is not going to die in vain. We are not going to get beat up in vain,” one rally participant told Mother Jones. “Gay rights, we’re still fighting for them, and the fight is not over. We need to protect each other.”

New Revelations About NYPD’s Muslim Spying Program

New Revelations About NYPD's Muslim Spying Program

More information emerged from the Associated Press this week about the New York Police Department’s vast program to spy on Muslim communities. Court documents in a civil rights suit challenging the program reveal that the police Demographics Unit filed over 4000 reports in the last three years on Muslim community activities. In the same period, the Associated Press reports, the division logged the details of 200 conversations recorded in clandestine visits by police and informants.

The AP, which first reported on the Demographics Unit two in 2011, also reported today that at least one police informant paid by the NYPD to spy on Muslims said he used a strategy called, “create and capture.” The AP, which viewed texts between the informant and a police detective, reports:

(Police informant Shamiur) Rahman told the AP last year that he made about $9,000 over nine months spying widely on friends and others. He said the NYPD encouraged him to use a tactic called “create and capture.” He said it involved creating conversations about jihad or terrorism, then capturing the responses and sending them to the NYPD.

[snip]

Rahman allowed the AP to review months of text messages with [detective Stephen] Hoban from January to September 2012.

“Hey bro,” Rahman told Hoban in one message. “I think im going to bring up jihad with these guys tonight, see what they say and know and then go home because everyones really just praying and stuff.”

The NYPD denies that they used the tactic. The city claims the demographics unit only followed leads. But there’s no evidence that the unit uncovered a single lead. Rather, it functioned to collect information on the mundane day-to-day lives of Muslims in New York and surrounding states. Informants and uncover police followed around Muslim student groups and one police report noted the location of a black Muslim pre-school in New Jersey.

TAGS: NYPD Spying

Senators Add Protection for Detainees to Immigration Bill

Senators Add Protection for Detainees to Immigration Bill

The Senate Judiciary Committee went into immigration high gear yesterday, working later into the evening on 50 amendments to the immigration reform bill. At the end of the day of markup, the bill was amended in a number of ways to protect the human rights and civil liberties of detainees. Rights groups claimed the votes as small victories in their long effect to chip away at the abuses of immigration detention and deportation.

Among the biggest victories for the rights of detainees was the passage yesterday of an amendment.pdf) from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., to limit the use of solitary confinement for detainees. A recent investigation by the NY Times found that at least 300 Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees are held in solitary confinement each day. This means they’re kept in a cell for at least 22 hour a day. Half are held in these conditions for more than two weeks at a time, sometimes in tiny windowless cells.

The Times investigation found that ICE lacks guidelines and rules for the use of solitary confinement. The Blumenthal amendment would send the agency clear limits on the practice, especially for young and mentally ill detainees, and require ICE to develop oversight mechanism for it’s hundreds of facilities, including the private and county jails with ICE contacts.

The senators also agreed on another Blumenthal amendment.pdf) that limits ICE’s authority to conduct raids near schools, hospitals, and religious institutions.

A major amendment sponsored by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, would protect children of detained and deported parents from entering foster care or becoming stranded if their mother of father is taken by immigration agents. The amendment is the only one of the over 100 considered so far by the committee to have passed with full bi-partisan support with votes of approval from all 18 members of the committee.

The Humane Enforcement and Legal Protections for Separated Children Act.pdf), as the amendment is called, was introduced as a stand-alone bill by members of Congress in recent years but never became law. It allows parents to make addition phone calls to arrange for their kids’ care and makes it easier parents to take part in county child welfare and family court proceedings that affect parental rights and children’s custody. The amendment would also require that ICE consider the best interest of kids when making decisions about the detention of their mother or father.

A 2011 Colorlines.com investigation estimated that there were at least 5000 children of detained and deported parents in foster care around the country. Detained parents have often been excluded from the juvenile court proceedings where decisions are made about their parental rights and the future of their children.

The Senators narrowly fended off an amendment.pdf) from Sen. Grassley that would have barred from the path to citizenship any undocumented immigrant suspected of gang activity, even if they have not been convicted of any crime. As I’ve written before, provisions that bar immigrants on the basis of suspected gang attachments often rely on overly broad local standards for identifying gang membership and would have overwhelmingly impacted young immigrants of color. The immigration reform bill already includes a provision to exclude immigrants from the provisional path to citizenship if they are deemed to have participated in a gang and knew that their activity was criminal. The Grassley amendment would have vastly expanded this exclusion by forcing immigrants to prove that they didn’t know they were part of a gang.

The committee will continue markup today in hopes of making it through all amendments and sending the bill to the Senate floor soon after the Memorial Day weekend. Though yesterday’s votes suggest the path forward in committee could be a reasonably smooth one, a number of controversial amendments may create additional turbulence. Ultimately, the bill is expected to leave the committee and head to the Senate floor where the bill’s supporters hope it will garner broad support. The fate of immigration reform in the House remains far less certain.

Brittney Griner Says College Coach Told Her To Hide Sexuality

Brittney Griner Says College Coach Told Her To Hide Sexuality

Brittney Griner, the former college basketball star who now plays for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, revealed in a new interview with ESPN that her head coach asked her not to come out publicly during her college playing career. Griner played for Baylor University, a private Baptist university in Waco, Texas.

“It was a recruiting thing,” Griner said during the interview with ESPN The Magazine and espnW. “The coaches thought that if it seemed like they condoned it, people wouldn’t let their kids come play for Baylor.”

ESPN The Magazine and espnW reports:

In a series of interviews — including one on camera Friday — for an ESPN The Magazine and espnW.com story set to hit newsstands later this month, Griner said her silence during college was because Mulkey and her staff were concerned about the program’s image.

“It was more of a unwritten law [to not discuss your sexuality] … it was just kind of, like, one of those things, you know, just don’t do it,” Griner said Friday. “They kind of tried to make it, like, ‘Why put your business out on the street like that?’”

But Griner reiterated on Friday that her sexuality was an open secret at Baylor.

“I told Coach [Mulkey] when she was recruiting me. I was like, ‘I’m gay. I hope that’s not a problem,’ and she told me that it wasn’t,” Griner said. “I mean, my teammates knew, obviously they all knew. Everybody knew about it.”

The ‘Motor Voter Act’ Turns 20 Today. Is It Aging Well?

The 'Motor Voter Act' Turns 20 Today. Is It Aging Well?

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), aka the “Motor Voter Act,” which allowed Americans to register to vote at federal government offices with which they regularly interface. Before NVRA passed in 1993, Americans could only register to vote at their local registrar’s office, which could be inconvenient because those offices were often open for limited days and hours, and usually understaffed. If you couldn’t get off work to access the registrar’s office when it was open, then there were tremendous burdens around getting registered.

Since NVRA was passed, citizens can now register to vote when they go to public assistance offices to apply for welfare or disability benefits, or at their local DMV when they apply for a drivers license — hence the nickname “Motor Voter Act” — and also allowed for mailed-in registration forms. The result was that over 30 million people registered via the new paths opened by NVRA in its first year.

The public policy think tank Demos is today asking for the federal government to further expand access to voter registration by creating more paths. One way they suggest, in their report “Registering Millions,” is by offering voter registration through U.S. Citizenship and Immigrant Services so that immigrants can immediately register upon their naturalization.

According to the report, naturalized Americans who are already registered to vote turn out on Election Day at rates similar to native-born, and in some instances even higher. Their are huge gaps though in the registration and general voter participation rates between naturalized and native citizens. Setting up registration at naturalization ceremonies could help close that gap Demos suggests.

They also recommend opening voter registration at Indian Health Services offices, noting that two out of five American Indians and Alaska Natives are not registered to vote though eligible. The report also calls for modernizing the antiquated voter registration systems and implementing same-day registration, so that voters aren’t purged due to errors, restrictive laws or because of pressure applied from anti-voting rights groups.

Voter registration has a long ugly history in America, particularly for African Americans and people of color. These recommendations seek to correct that.

Homeowners to Eric Holder: Hold Banks Accountable

Homeowners to Eric Holder: Hold Banks Accountable

Homeowners and former homeowners rallied in front of the Department of Justice Monday to demand the Attorney General Eric Holder hold banks accountable for foreclosures. The groups are asking the Department of Justice to prosecute banks and to protect the 13 million homeowners who struggle today with underwater mortgages.

The groups organizing the protest, the Home Defenders League and Occupy Homes, are pushing for aggressive prosecutions of banks responsible for the foreclosures. They’re also demanding the government act to reset underwater mortgages that now threaten millions more families with foreclosure.

But these demands appear to be a long shot. The protest comes several months after Attorney General Eric Holder said that some banks may too big to prosecute.

“I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them,” Holder said in March.

He recently clarified his comments during a congressional hearing. “Let me be very, very, very clear: banks are not too big to jail.”

But actions may speak louder than these most recent words.

Prosecutions for financial fraud hit 20-year low after the financial collapse. Instead, state and federal regulators have punished banks responsible for the foreclosure crisis with several dozen settlements, but as we’ve learned in recent months, these agreements often left those who lost homes with nearly nothing. Three million of the four million foreclosure victims who got payments though the largest of these efforts received checks of less than $500, ProPublica reports. And the Washington Post reports that banks have paid out less than half of the $5.7 billion the institutions agreed to pay in over 30 settlements.

Black and Latino families have been hit the hardest by the foreclosure losses. As Colorlines.com’s Imara Jones wrote last week about a new report released by The Alliance for a Just Society:

Despite recent headlines trumpeting a return of America’s real estate market to its boom-time highs, a report released today by the Alliance for a Just Society shows how little of that has trickled into communities of color. The document, entitled “Wasted Wealth,” is a sobering reminder of the gap between top-line economic cheerleading and the reality of what’s happening on the ground.

As “Wasted Wealth” lays out, close to 2.5 million families lost homes in just three years. Communities that were majority people of color saw foreclosures take place at almost twice the rate as white communities, with an average loss of wealth 30 percent higher per household.

This foreclosure tidal wave is why wealth for blacks and Latinos is at the lowest level ever recorded. Housing is the leading wealth asset for these two communities.

Although the real estate market overall has regained $16 trillion in wealth lost during the recession, these gains are largely driven by a frenzy for high-end properties at the very top of the market. “Wasted Wealth” contrasts these highs with the fact that more than 13 million homes continue to remain at risk for foreclosure.

For more on the protesters demands, check out their May 13 letter to Eric Holder.

Number of Black Best Actor Oscars Nominees Could Be Unprecedented in 2014

Number of Black Best Actor Oscars Nominees Could Be Unprecedented in 2014

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will host its 86th Oscars Academy Awards ceremony next year. If entertainment industry insiders’ predictions turn out to be true they’ll also be host to an unprecedented number of black nominees in the best actor in a leading role category.

We haven’t had more than one black nominee for Best Actor since 2006, when Forest Whitaker took the Oscar home for his role in “The Last King of Scotland” and Will Smith was nominated for his role in “The Pursuit of Happyness.” It also happened once before when Denzel Washington (“Training Day”) and Smith (Ali) were nominated in 2001.

But the 2014 Oscars may mark the first time in history when more than two black actors are nominated in top acting category for males.

Kyle Buchanan at Vulture points out Harvey Weinstein’s Weinstein Co. will be releasing three films with Oscar potential that will feature black leads. Vulture has more details:

[Whitaker is] back in the mix this year for the Weinstein-produced The Butler, an era-spanning drama from director Lee Daniels (Precious) that casts Whitaker as a butler who served several presidents while butting heads with his fiery activist son (David Oyelowo). And then there’s Fruitvale Station, a Sundance hit that also bowed this week at Cannes. Based on a true story, the film stars Michael B. Jordan as Oscar Grant, a young man killed in a controversial, racially tinged 2009 shooting.

Unprecedented Number of HIV Cases in Navajo Reservation

Unprecedented Number of HIV Cases in Navajo Reservation

The Indian Health Service released a new report recently showing that HIV infections are on the rise in  the Navajo nation. The tally of new cases from last year represents the highest annual number ever recorded among the tribe by the health agency.

The federal report released last month found that there were 47 new diagnoses of human immunodeficiency virus on the reservation in 2012, up 20 percent from 2011. Since 1999, new H.I.V. cases among Navajo are up nearly fivefold, the report found.

According to the report, men who have sex with men accounted for nearly half of the new cases.

Harvard Students Demand Investigation Into Heritage Researcher’s Immigrant IQ Dissertation

Harvard Students Demand Investigation Into Heritage Researcher's Immigrant IQ Dissertation

Two weeks ago we learned that the author of a recent Heritage Foundation report against immigration reform wrote a 2009 Harvard dissertation claiming immigrants of color have low IQ. (Its abstract reads: “The average IQ of immigrants in the United States is substantially lower than that of the white native population.”) Now, students at the University are asking questions about why the racist paper got approved in the first place.

Think Progress reports:

Over 1,000 Harvard students want to know how and why Harvard University’s JFK School approved a 2009 doctoral thesis arguing that Hispanics have lower IQs. The thesis was written by Jason Richwine, a co-author of a paper by the conservative Heritage Foundation that argued immigration reform would cost taxpayers $6.3 trillion. The discovery of Richwine’s paper by the Washington Post )sparked a firestorm around the Heritage study, and several days later Richwine resigned from the think tank.

Harvard students delivered a petition last week demanding an investigation into how a thesis built on those views and assumptions was able to make it through the approval process in the first place. “Academic freedom and a reasoned debate are essential to our academic community,” the petition read. “However, the Harvard Kennedy School cannot ethically stand behind academic work advocating a national policy of exclusion and advancing an agenda of discrimination.” As of last Wednesday, May 15 the students had collected 1,200 signatures.

Richwine’s recent Heritage report claimed that immigration reform legislation would cost taxpayers $6.3 billion in safety net spending over the next fifty years. The finding was expected to provide a key piece of ammunition for anti-immigration conservatives in Congress. But the report’s credibly took a blow when Washington Post reported that Richwine’s dissertation from just a few years earlier argued for an IQ-based immigration policy. His abstract reads:

The statistical construct known as IQ can reliably estimate general mental ability, or intelligence. The average IQ of immigrants in the United States is substantially lower than that of the white native population, and the difference is likely to persist over several generations. The consequences are a lack of socioeconomic assimilation among low-IQ immigrant groups, more underclass behavior, less social trust, and an increase in the proportion of unskilled workers in the American labor market. Selecting high-IQ immigrants would ameliorate these problems in the U.S., while at the same time benefiting smart potential immigrants who lack educational access in their home countries.

The revelation of Richwine’s earlier work provide evidence for what we already know about what often drives Heritage Foundation claims: they are motivated primarily by cultural arguments about immigrants and people of color, not sound economics. Now, over 1000 Harvard students are calling on their university to take a hard look at how that argument was ever approved as academically sound.

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