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Campus-oriented news, first-person reports from student activists and journalists about their campus.

Don’t Have Sex—You Will Get Pregnant and Die

In Cincinnati, Ohio, a high school sex education teacher carefully places a Jolly Rancher candy on each student’s desk. The 14- and 15-year-old students feel the crinkly plastic wrapping in their hands, wondering when they will get to eat their tantalizing treats.

“Don’t eat the candy!” warned the teacher, although she had just finished placing one on each desk. “You must wait until after class. It will taste much better if you allow yourself to wait.”

And so begins the young Ohioans' lesson on abstinence—the only method of pregnancy or disease prevention that they will learn during their high school sexuality education class. 

One in every four adolescents receives this type of abstinence-only sexuality education. According to recent statistics from the Guttmacher Institute, 41 percent of teenagers (regardless of the type of sexuality education they received) know little or nothing about condoms and 75 percent know little or nothing about oral contraception. One in three teenagers claims to have never had any formal education on birth control, suggesting that even those not necessarily enrolled in abstinence only programs are still unable to access critical sexual health information. 

There is no significant difference in the rates of teenage sexuality in the United States compared to other similar, developed Western countries. American teens are simply far less likely to use contraception. It is no surprise that the United States has one of the highest teen pregnancy and STI rates in the developed world.

Sexuality education in the United States has evolved to teach everything besides sex itself. Although teenagers in more progressive schools may learn how to slide a condom onto a banana, they rarely learn how to access birth control conveniently and affordably. Instead, students in both abstinence only and comprehensive programs are given projects that test and assess their knowledge of how to avoid sex, rather than their knowledge of sexual health. At the end of a typical course, many students know that they can “go to the movies” or “play soccer” instead of having sex, but they do not know what to do in case their alternative activities plan falls through and the condom breaks.

Sexuality education, more intimately known as “sex ed,” began in earnest in the mid 1980s with the advent of the AIDS epidemic. Once it became established that the HIV virus spread through sexual contact, policy-makers both inside and outside the federal government felt a social and moral responsibility to educate students on disease prevention through the public school system. Despite the Regan administration’s notorious silence on AIDS and support of religion-centered abstinence-only policies, the Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) distributed $310 million in HIV/AIDS education marking the first federal funding for “comprehensive” sexuality education.

However, implementing truly comprehensive sexuality education was difficult during the Reagan years, despite the large grant from the CDC: less than half of the programs taught factually accurate information and many programs framed HIV/AIDS education as a gay issue and contended that homosexuality was both sinful and the cause of the AIDS crisis. Only 10 percent of the CDC programs even revealed the great value of condoms as a method of disease prevention.

And we've moved depressingly slowly since that time and, in some important respects, even backward: in 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Welfare Reform Bill, which included Title V funding—an annual $50 million allocated for abstinence-only-until marriage programs—as a rider. Although it was slated to expire June 30, 2009, it was reauthorized in 2010 as a condition of Barack Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Thirty states currently receive Title V funding despite an $8 million Congressionally mandated study stating that abstinence-only programs do not significantly halt, or even delay, sexual activity.

In order to receive the grant, abstinence-only programs are required to teach eight key concepts, among them, that “a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of sexual activity” and “sexual activity outside the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical side effects.” Contraceptives are only discussed in the context of failure rates, and extramarital sex is stigmatized as morally wrong and psychologically damaging.

It is worth repeating that a full one-fourth of all American teenagers receive this type of sexuality education unfettered by any alternative views. 

Even comprehensive sexuality education—curricula that cover and discuss contraception, sexual orientation, and abstinence—can be technically comprehensive while still restricting key information. While contraception is discussed as a method for birth control and disease prevention, abstinence is often stressed as well. Class discussions and projects often show how to resist and avoid sexual encounters rather than how to practice sexual health. 

Making matters worse is the lack of any standardized program monitoring system. Though a state may provide comprehensive sexuality education on paper, what is actually taught in schools depends far more on what material the teachers are comfortable teaching and how much controversy the principal is willing to tolerate. Most teachers are not formally trained in sexuality education, and are hesitant to discuss “controversial” topics out of fear of backlash that could jeopardize their employment.

Many abstinence-only advocates further compromise comprehensive programs by pushing for sex segregation, parental notification and consent, and opt-out policies where students (or their parents) can chose an abstinence-only course instead of other fuller, if still limited, approaches. 

This is not a youth issue. This is not a women’s issue. This is a social issue. It is a war on information, waged against women and teens whose consequences ripple throughout society costing taxpayers through unwanted children, perpetual poverty and a strain on the welfare state. The real tragedy—and whatever hope there is—lies in the fact that, unlike many social issues, this one is immediately preventable.  

Illinois Passes Bill For Undocumented Youth, Makes An Even Dozen State-Level DREAM Acts

Undocumented youth in Illinois received some good news this week as Gov. Pat Quinn (D) signed the Illinois DREAM Act into law, making the state the 12th to pass legislation that will help young people without papers pay for college.

The bill provides a private scholarship fund for undocumented young people who attended high school for at least three years in Illinois, have at least one immigrant parent, and want to attend private or public universities in the state.

In an interview yesterday, Quinn said, “Illinois has to be a welcoming society here in the 21st century [for] everybody with nobody left out, and that’s really what this bill stands for.”

One of the biggest barriers to undocumented youths’ college attendance (at least, in states that haven’t banned their attendance) is the prohibitively expensive price of higher education, as most are ineligible for financial aid to help pay their way through college. The Illinois DREAM Act, like other similar bills, attempts to alleviate that burden through scholarships that don’t cost the state government any money. The issue of providing full citizenship for those youth, however, remains unresolved.

The ceremony yesterday was attended by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who indicated on the campaign trail that he would support such a bill. In a statement, the mayor plugged his new Office of New Americans, which will help immigrants to Chicago open new businesses. Emanuel has taken heat from immigrants rights groups in the past for his stances on immigration reform, although he received some praise for opening the new office.

The Illinois DREAM Act and the new Chicago office supporting new immigrant business owners are the latest policies in a state that has become synonymous with support for immigrants—at least in comparison to the many other states who continue to pass punitive anti-immigrant laws. In May, Quinn indicated his intention to pull the state outof the controversial immigrant enforcement program Secure Communities.

That support hasn’t gone unnoticed by those opposed to expanding immigrants rights: in an interview with the Chicago Tribune after Quinn tried to pull out of Secure Communities, Roy Beck, executive director of the anti-immigrant organization NumbersUSA, stated, “Illinois is without competition the most pro-illegal immigration state in the country.”

While state-level initiatives like the Illinois DREAM Act are certainly positive developments for undocumented young people, DREAMers are still hurting without federal-level immigration reform. A new study in the academic journal American Sociological Review shows that while many undocumented young people do pursue higher education, few receive the income boost that a college degree gives to native-born citizens, as decent-paying job prospects post-graduation are slim for those without papers.

But most immigrant rights advocates agree that such state-level initiatives are all that can be accomplished right now. As Aswini Anburajan pointed out in March, the shifting political winds that resulted in big Republican gains in Congress in 2010 forced the immigrant rights movement to pursue a state-by-state strategy much like the movement for gay marriage. Laws like the Illinois DREAM Act will continue to be pushed in states around the country until the political will exists to pass national immigration reform that can make all DREAMers fully-recognized citizens. 

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Every now and then a piece of legislation comes around with a terribly creative acronym. The USA PATRIOT Act back in 2001 was one example. But rarely do two bills on the same issue appear in Congress with such diametrically opposed names and policy goals as the DREAM and HALT Acts.

The DREAM and HALT Acts are both currently being considered in Congress. DREAM stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors and laudably aims to offer specific pathways to US citizenship for undocumented students, most of whom entered the United States when they were very young. Despite being called a “win-win” by the Boston Globe and numerous other editorial boards as well as gaining elusive bipartisan support, the legislation died in the Senate during the last Congress’ lame-duck December session. Introduced again, it faces even longer odds in the current Congress, particularly in the Republican-controlled House, which has its own immigration “reform” plans.

Now consider the HALT Act, or Hinder the Administration’s Legalization Temptation Act, which was introduced this July. Sponsored by Congressman Lamar Smith of Texas and Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, the bill would strip President Obama’s immigration discretionary powers until January 2013, when the winner of the 2012 election is sworn in. Hypocritically (or forgetfully), Smith once called for an expansion of these powers. The executive branch can only intervene in deportations in extraordinary cases, primarily in keeping families together if a spouse, parent or child of a citizen is found to be undocumented.

Current immigration law often disregards the human right to family unity,” Grace Meng of Human Rights Watch wrote in The Hill. “This power to provide discretionary relief not only helps undocumented immigrants, but provides unquestionable help to their US citizen families as well.”

To Smith and the bill’s cosponsors, these humane powers are indicative of the president’s “temptation” to grant amnesty. Never mind the well-documented numbers showing the current administration’s record levels of deportation among illegal immigrants, particularly among felons. Never mind that according to the non-partisan Immigration Policy Center the Obama administration’s Department of Homeland Security has an “overemphasis on deportation-driven programs.” But that won’t stop Republicans from thinking Obama is implementing some sinister “backdoor amnesty” agenda, including the DREAM Act. Vitter even characterized it as “a cover for the Obama administration’s amnesty agenda...”

The HALT Act’s sponsors and supporters seem to ignore facts and instead buy into what Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren characterized as “a diabolical plot” and a “grand scheme to avoid enforcing immigration laws” at the first House Judiciary Committee’s hearing on the bill. Numerous references to a conspirational-sounding “backdoor amnesty” could be heard from Republican congressmen Smith and Elton Gallegly.

“We thought [HALT] was a particularly appropriate acronym,” Smith said during an exchange with Congressman John Conyers. Conyers noted that he had never heard of a bill with the word “temptation” in it during his 46 years in Congress but “there’s a first time for everything.” He then lambasted the motivations of the bill, saying “this [bill] isn’t an attack on the office of the president. This is an attack on Barack Obama himself.”

Whatever its motivations, the bill would inflict immeasurable harm on millions of American families. Margaret Stock, lawyer, retired lieutenant colonel, and a professor of political science at the University of Alaska, Anchorage, characterized the bill as a “major step backwards.” The bill would, among other negative consequences, “prevent the parole into the United States of many babies and children who are granted parole today in humanitarian situations…prevent family members from spending time with their dying loved ones… create chaos in the legal immigration system” by banning pending citizens to travel overseas.

For young people, the differences between these two bills could not be clearer. Nineteen year old Bernard Pastor, is a top student who arrived undocumented in the United States when he was 3 to escape persecution in Guatemala. After a minor fender bender last November, he was arrested and detained before being released in December because of deferred action.

Under the HALT Act, any such deferred action would be banned until January, 2013. Pastor would have likely been immediately deported to Guatemala, a country he has not known since he was very young. The DREAM Act would have offered the opposite result. If passed, Pastor would have been one of many talented young undocumented workers who would be offered the opportunity to live in and serve the United States. Pastor has since advocated for passage of the legislation since his release, even being called the bill’s “poster child.”

In June, the Senate held its first hearing on the DREAM Act (rescheduled from September 12, 2001). Stock testified, advocating for its passage, “The DREAM Act would allow young people who have grown up in this country, graduated from high school, been acculturated as Americans, and have no serious criminal record to go to college or serve in the military and thereby legalize their immigration status,” she read from her statement. “Those who oppose the DREAM Act often mistakenly repeat the popular misconception that these young people should just ‘get in line like everyone else.’ But without the DREAM Act, there is no line in which they can wait.”

In a statement, Congressman Lloyd Doggett of Texas perhaps put it best. “This is nothing more than a distraction from genuine efforts to improve our immigration system and through modest reforms like finally exacting the DREAM Act to give students the opportunity to achieve their full, God-given potential.”

In the hyper-partisan climate of a House of Representatives run by Republican extremists like Lamar Smith, politically designed bills such as the HALT Act have become routine. Though its extreme nature coupled with the need for the president’s signature make its passing unlikely, it still seems counterproductive to voice this in the immigration debate when such reasonable alternatives can be found in the DREAM Act. Distressing as it may be, there are still many in this country and in Congress who think that harnessing the hopes and contributions of bright, undocumented students is “backdoor amnesty” verging on “legalization temptation.” 

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Nation Interns Choose the Week's Most Important (and Undercovered) Stories

Our media coverage is often dominated by one big story that crowds out most everything else. As an antidote, every week, Nation interns try to cut through the echo chamber and choose one good article in their area of interest that they feel should receive more attention. Please check out their favorite stories below, watch for this feature each Monday, and please use the comments section below to alert us to any important articles you feel warrant broader attention.

 Karla Cornejo Villavicencio:
Beck Fearmongers About Border Chaos To Attack Obama’s Gun Policy.” Media Matters, 7/20/11.

Kevin Donohoe:
Dover Hospital Spokeswoman Says State Unaware of Full Impact Medicaid Rate Cuts Will Have,” by Jennifer Keefe. Foster’s Daily Democrat, 7/27/11.

Carmen García:
Carmen has recently been reading about VozMob, a Los Angeles-based grassroots organization that strives to empower day laborers and Spanish-speaking immigrants by encouraging them to use social media and technology (cell phones, specifically) to tell their stories.

Sahiba Gill:
On Political Theology,” by Paul Kahn. The Art of Theory, Spring Issue.

Daniel Judt:
The Maze of Moral Relativism,” by Paul Boghossian. New York Times, 7/24/11.

Marc Kilstein:
Exclusive: US Blocks Oversight of Its Mercenary Army in Iraq,” by Spencer Ackerman. Wired, 7/22/11.

Shelby Kinney-Lang:
Wyoming Post Offices Studied for Potential Closure,” by Ruffin Prevost. WyoFile, 7/26/11.

Anna Lekas Miller:
There Won’t be a Male Birth Control Pill,” by Amanda Marcotte. Pandagon, 7/26/11.
Anna is also reading: “Lebanon’s Invisible Workers.” Al Jazeera, 7/25/11.

Zach Newkirk (DC):
DNC Chair: How to Stop Voter-ID Laws,” by Cynthia Gordy. The Root, 7/26/11.

Natasja Sheriff:
Appalachian Poverty Concentrated around Mine Sites, WVU Study Says,” by Ken Ward Jr. Charleston Gazette, 7/23/11.
Natasja is also reading: “Drought Does Not Equal Famine,” by Edward Carr. Open the Echo Chamber, 7/21/11.

Britney Wilson:
Katrina Bridge Shootings: Officer Fretted Over ‘Weak Link’,” by Michael Kunzelman. AP via The Grio, 7/27/11.

Muslim Students Challenge Allen West’s Anti-Islamic Speaker on Capitol Hill

This post was originally published on ThinkProgress Security and is being reposted with permission.

The Citizens for National Security (CFNS) came to Capitol Hill yesterday to give a Congressional briefing on what they consider a dangerous threat facing America: Islamism and the Muslim Brotherhood. Representative Allen West (R-FL), a man with a history of fringe beliefs and Islamophobia, introduced and sponsored the CFNS presentation. Titled “Hometown Jihad on the USA,” the briefing was designed as an exposé on the Muslim Brotherhood, which CFNS said has been operating a four-phase plan since 1962 to “penetrate the United States and eventually erode its institutions, policies, and sense of self.”

At the event, which was led by CFNS’s Peter M. Leitner, the group announced they had compiled a list of more than 6,000 enemies of the state and 200 organizations that are connected to the Muslim Brotherhood. The organizations accused included prominent Muslim-American groups such as the Muslim Student Association and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. 

Yet in light of the recent horrific terrorist attack in Norway allegedly by Anders Breivik, the salience of Islamophobic rhetoric is certainly concerning. After all, Brievik was heavily influenced by Islamophobes in America, hated the rising influence of Muslims and multiculturalism in the West, and thought his attack was a strike against jihad enablers. His manifesto also cited CFNS board member Daniel Pipes eleven times as a supporter of his ideology.

At the event, undergraduates from the CFNS-indicted Muslim Student Association at American University pressed Leitner, concerned about copy-cat attacks and the connections between his organization’s anti-Muslim rhetoric and right-wing, anti-Islam terrorist attacks. Leitner’s response? There’s no connection, and if you don’t like my presentation, make your own:

QUESTIONER 1: Are you not worried that in wake of these attacks, there will be copycat crimes in the United States that put American lives at risk based on the kind of information and grandiose conspiracy theories that you are setting up today?

LEITNER: [...]The issue of whether or not is [Daniel] Pipes is guilty of somehow inciting, you know, this bizarre Norwegian farmer into an act of incredibly heinous and bizarre terrorism against innocent people because he reads his blogs and guzzles up the information, the answer is no, that’s an absurd claim–

QUESTIONER 1: [... But he cited your information.

LEITNER: So what? He can cite the bible, he can cite the Koran, so what? He can cite anything he wants to…It doesn’t make any differences, it’s an insane mind, it doesn’t make any difference…

QUESTIONER 2: But if you cite the Muslim Brotherhood it’s different. You can cite all kinds of people, If you’re not Muslim, you’re acting alone. But if you’re Muslim Brotherhood and you’re Muslim, you’re part of this big scheme that you could not even explain.

You can watch the video here.

Separate and Unequal: Intellectual Stratification in Schools

In one now-infamous imaginary British school, a sorting hat is responsible for deciphering the character traits and capabilities of young students and assigning them to the appropriate “houses”. Each house has a distinct reputation, some more distinguished than others. Now, another lesser known British school has a pretty controversial sorting process of its own.

The newly renovated Crown Woods college in London is separated into three schools. Upon exiting primary school, students are assigned to one of the three schools based on the results of “their year 5 banding score, a teacher assessment, and a cognitive ability test” designed to measure their intellectual abilities. To make the distinctions clear, the “gifted” students, who attend Delamere, wear purple ties and badges with their uniforms. Other students of “more mixed ability”, attend either Ashwood or Sherwood, and wear blue and red ties and badges, respectively.

The students are all keenly aware of the differences in their uniforms and of what those differences represent. In addition to the wardrobe variance, each school is its own autonomous entity located in a different building with different staff members and classes. Students also have lunch at different times in their respective locations and are separated by a fence at recess. However, the school’s other facilities are shared territory and students do come together for musical and athletic events.

While the details of this particular British school’s system may seem unique, it is not all that unusual. The intellectual stratification of students is certainly not a new phenomenon—nor one that is exclusive to the United Kingdom. Gifted and talented schools and accelerated curriculum tracks abound across the US with profound influences on students of all levels of ability.

There are definite benefits to being in an environment with other academically advanced students. Even the most patient and tolerant “gifted” students probably don't want to consistently wait for another student to sound out the word when he or she has already finished the book. Yawning, doodling, and doing other work ahead of the class are not just acts of rebellion—they’re cries of boredom, and it’s refreshing to have them answered.

Still, those who argue that classifying students according to their intellectual ability is beneficial because it gives “gifted” children a chance to thrive and challenge themselves in a competitive environment and struggling students the time and attention that they need to succeed are only seeing part of the picture. The more obvious concerns are that--like the red and blue tie students at Crown Woods--“non-gifted” students know who the gifted students are and may feel pressure to catch up, succumb to feelings of mediocrity or inferiority, or harbor resentment.

Not all students literally wear their intellectual achievement as badges of honor attached to their uniforms (which messes with the concept of a uniform when you think about it), but students--advanced, struggling, and everyone in between--are cognizant of the labels we place upon them and of the expectations that come with them, whether those labels include “Honors”, “Advanced Placement” “International Baccalaureate”, or “Ivy League.”

Perhaps, a not-so-obvious concern is that a hierarchy exists in gifted schools. Inevitably, some of those “above average” students become average and even inferior in their specialized surroundings. Those same students may in turn be less likely to seek help when they need it because they feel that they are supposed to be “smart” or because they don’t want to be the one to slow down the accelerated pace. Everyone is not capable of simply rising to the new challenge in all disciplines.

Similarly, if all the “average” and “struggling” students are bound together, are they really getting the individualized attention they need? What happens when struggling students are forced to take a backseat to one another? Suddenly, someone in the “average” or “struggling” bunch realizes that they are not struggling as much, and they are just as bored as the “gifted” student once was, but with lower expectations and fewer prospects.

But these intellectual distinctions often persist outside of the classroom. It is one thing for the students at Crown Woods to be educated separately and sport attire to demonstrate this, but another thing to separate them during social periods, like lunch. In many ways, the intellectual prejudice and discrimination that results is the stuff of class wars that we are still battling today.

Without a doubt, the honor roll is definitely an ideal for which all students should strive. Those who make it there should be celebrated. But unlike that imaginary British school, the education system is not a place to practice wizardry. Students should not simply be sorted and pitted against one another in random intellectual and developmental matches because the consequences could ultimately be dire for our collective destiny.

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Shut Up. Raise the Debt Ceiling

Washington is obsessed with the debt ceiling. Barack Obama and John Boehner are dueling debt solutions over prime time networks. Barack Obama is making one last vain attempt to convince the American people of their potential for greatness. John Boehner is belittling and refuting each of his solutions. No one is reaching an agreement. 

Americans, particularly young Americans are tired of the noise. We just want to be and stay employed. 

This video was produced by the Roosevelt Campus Network, an invaluable student policy organization that engages new generations in a unique form of progressive activism that empowers young people as leaders and promotes their ideas for change. 

Students Take On ALEC

This post was originally published by Campus Progress and is being reposted with permission.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) may be an under-the-table operation, but when activists young and old are willing to lift up that high-thread-count tablecloth and take a look, we won’t let ALEC get away with it for long. 

The bite-size version of the semi-hidden story is this: ALEC, an organization backed by high-power corporations including Wal-Mart and Exxon-Mobil and funded by right-wing donors, has been scheming with state legislators to write and lobby for “model legislation,” which said legislators then push through the lawmaking process. In short, corporations have been sneaking their way into the formal legislative process. ALEC’s efforts have resulted in high-profile and highly controversial bills, such as racist anti-immigrant legislation in Arizona, anti-union bills in Wisconsin, and anti-environmental and anti-woman bills in states across the country. In March, Campus Progress revealed that ALEC played a major role in the spate of “voter ID” legislation that President Clinton and many others have identified as extremely racist and the most abominable efforts toward disenfranchisement since the Jim Crow laws.

Campus Progress and other progressive organizations are working to expose the real story behind ALEC and its members, but the most inspiring tales come from local efforts like one in New Orleans. On August 5, the Student Labor Action Project at Louisiana State University is coordinating with other activists from the area to protest at the group’s plush, exorbitant annual summit in an effort to hold them accountable for their actions.

“We hope…to not only fight back against these attacks on working families but also to strike forward a new path of progress,” an organizer of the protest Mark Mendoza said. “We must begin to form a united front of pro-worker interests that can offer a viable and independent political movement of the working class.”

For more information on this upcoming event, visit the group’s website.

How can YOU support the movement?

Nation Interns Choose the Week's Most Important (and Undercovered) Stories

Our media coverage is often dominated by one big story that crowds out most everything else. As an antidote, every week, Nation interns try to cut through the echo chamber and choose one good article in their area of interest that they feel should receive more attention. Please check out their favorite stories below, watch for this feature each Monday, and please use the comments section below to alert us to any important articles you feel warrant broader attention.

Karla Cornejo Villavicencio:

Police brushes spark concern among Madrid officials fearing 15-M anarchy.” El País, 7/13/11.

Accompanying video.

Kevin Donohoe (web):

“Federal Judges Are Retiring At Twice The Rate New Judges Are Being Confirmed,” by Ian Millhiser. Think Progress, 7/18/11.

Carmen García:

California's Hidden Hunger Strike.” Los Angeles Times, 7/20/11.

And “Inmate Health Dwindles as Prison Hunger Strike Enters Fourth Week,” by Jorge Rivas. Colorlines, 7/19/11.

Sahiba Gill:

Do I Make a Difference?,” by Shelly Kagan. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 7/14/11.

Daniel Judt:

Here Everything is Poison,” by J. Malcolm Garcia and Darren McCollester. Virginia Quarterly Review, Fall 2010.

Marc Kilstein:

US Claims of ‘No Civilian Deaths’ in Pakistan Drone Strikes is Untrue,” by Chris Woods. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 7/18/11.

Shelby Kinney-Lang:

Tribune Outsources Local Journalism Jobs to Chicago,” by Dan Kennedy. Media Nation, 7/11/11.

The post contains a link that Shelby pointed out in particular:

More advocate layoffs.” New Haven Independent, 7/8/11.

Anna Lekas Miller (web):

The Lobbyist File: Doug Johnson,” by Nick Baumann. Mother Jones, July/August 2011.

Zach Newkirk (DC):

The GOP's Perverse Debt Default Incentive,” by Steve Kornacki. Salon, 7/18/11.

Natasja Sheriff:

Fishery Refrom Slips Through the Net,” by Rainer Froese. Nature News, 7/6/11.

Britney Wilson:

Using the Death Penalty to Get Re-Elected,” by Sherrilyn A. Ifill. The Root, 7/20/11.

Youth Vote Faces Challenges With Voter ID Legislation

Voter fraud is an “epidemic.” It supposedly abounds, stealing elections from rightful candidates and places losers into unearned elected office. Republican dominated statehouses across the country are “combating” this problem through strict voter ID legislation, where a government-issued photo identification is required in order to vote. Seven states have already enacted legislation requiring state-issued photo ID at the polls and many more are pending.

One of the states, Wisconsin, enacted what Milwaukee Common Council Alderwoman Milele Coggs accurately called “the most restrictive voter ID legislation in the country.” It requires photo IDs issued by the state or federal government and only allows a forgetful voter's provisional ballot to count if they return within three days with a proper ID.

College students are some of the unintended—or intended—citizens affected by the law. They broke for Barack Obama in 2008 by an astonishing 38 points and remained loyal to Democrats in 2010 by wide margins.

The Wisconsin law does allow limited student IDs to be used as valid identification at the polls — but only those student IDs with signatures and expiration dates within two years on them. But IDs issued by the University of Wisconsin System to its 182,000 students do not have signatures. And no university has such an ID with expiration dates within two years, Heather Smith, the president of the young voter advocacy group Rock the Vote explained to The Nation

Students would also have to jump through hoops to prove that they are current students, especially difficult for those living off-campus and those who must move every year among campus dormitories. The obstacles "start to feel intentional after awhile,” Smith said.

In Texas, student IDs are unacceptable forms of identification under the voter suppression law recently signed by Governor Rick Perry. On the other hand, concealed handgun licenses are valid.

Even having valid IDs from another state may not be enough. For the more than 40,000 out-of-state students in the University of Wisconsin system, the law “require[s] us to go to the DMV, surrender our out-of-state licenses and obtain a Wisconsin license at $28 a pop,” wrote one Wisconsin undergraduate on the Rock the Vote Blog. A state-issued voter ID card is technically free but it may take money and time to produce the proper documentation such as a birth certificate.

Access to the DMV is limited in states like Wisconsin, Smith said. Three of Wisconsin’s 72 counties—Buffalo, Menominee and Verno —don’t even have a DMV office and other single offices serve counties with hundreds of thousands of people. 

 The practice of requiring government-issued photo ID was controversial until 2008, when the Supreme Court upheld an Indiana law in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board. The law requires a photo ID with an expiration date and must be issued by the federal or state government. For out-of-state students in Indiana, having a home state drivers license, Social Security card and voter registration card wasn’t enough to be able to vote.

One dissenter to the Court’s decision, Justice Stephen Breyer, observed that attaining a driver’s license or passport costs much more than a poll tax did, a Jim Crow practice found unconstitutional in 1966. Justice David Souter rightly concluded that “the law imposes an unreasonable and irrelevant burden on voters who are poor and old.”

Yet that burden continues to spread nationwide in Republican-held statehouses.

Millions of Americans don’t even have the proper ID for these new laws, according to one study. “As many as 11 percent of United States citizens—more than 21 million individuals—do not have government-issued photo identification,” the study found, including nearly one-fifth of Americans over the age of 65 and one quarter of African-American voting-age citizens.

The shrill cries about voter fraud are regular tactics used by Republicans to limit the voting rights of unfriendly groups. As The Nation’s John Nichols has reported, the American Legislative Exchange Council’s corporate-friendly agenda has funneled money—and people—into voter suppression efforts. Wisconsin State Rep. Robin Vos, for example, chairs the state’s ALEC and co-sponsored the legislation that ushered in the law.

Allegations about voter fraud remain a great pretext to enact what one Pennsylvania lawmaker calls “a solution in search of a problem.” Indeed, another study by the Brennan Center for Justice describes voter fraud claims to be “greatly exaggerated” and notes that the push for photo ID requirements “address[es] a sort of voter fraud more rare than death by lightning.” In the 2004 presidential election, for example, there were seven cases of voter fraud —or 0.0002 percent of the nearly 3 million ballots cast in Wisconsin that year. All seven were persons with felony convictions. “None of these problems could have been resolved by requiring photo ID at the polls,” the article concludes. And Department of Justice investigations were reported to have found “virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections.”

Public officials see through these GOP plans to suppress the vote. Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, along with several other members of Congress and Reverend Jesse Jackson, held a press conference in July. “If, in fact, we are going to have a society that involves all of its citizens, we cannot allow for these kinds of bills to be passed by legislature after legislature after legislature,” she said.

At a Campus Progress conference in July, former president Bill Clinton said “there has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and all the Jim Crow burdens on voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today.” Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz in June characterized Republicans as those “who want to literally drag us all the way back to Jim Crow laws and literally—and very transparently—block access to the polls to voters who are more likely to vote for Democratic candidates than Republican candidates.” (Emphasis hers.)

Senator Michael Bennet submitted a letter to the Department of Justice asking for an investigation into these laws. “As far as America’s civil rights trajectory is concerned, that sort of effect takes America in the wrong direction,” he wrote. The letter was cosigned by 15 of Bennet’s Senate colleagues, all Democrats.

Despite efforts to curb the vote, some activists remain positive. “Don’t let them stop you. They’re trying to keep you from voting and let’s show up at the polls and show them we can participate,” Smith told The Nation.

“This is a democracy and we take our right to vote seriously. We won’t be stopped.” 

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