'Working to Turn the Clock Back,' Sessions' DOJ Reverses Stance on Discriminatory Voting Law

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by Lauren McCauley, staff writer


'Working to Turn the Clock Back,' Sessions' DOJ Reverses Stance on Discriminatory Voting Law

Voting Rights organizations arguing on behalf of Texas voters in the case Veasey v. Abbott have vowed to fight on 'without the DOJ'

Underscoring warnings that newly anointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions will not work to protect voting rights, news broke on Monday that the Trump administration is reversing its stance on whether Texas' photo identification law was enacted with discriminatory intent.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday after the trial was postponed following the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Under former President Barack Obama, the DOJ was slated to argue that the state had intentionally discriminated against Latino and African American voters when it passed the 2011 law, SB 14, and had in November submitted (pdf) hundreds of documents supporting that claim.

Gerry Hebert, director of Voting Rights and Redistricting with the Campaign Legal Center, broke news of the DOJ's reversal on Twitter before other voting rights organizations and observers confirmed the reports.

    BREAKING NEWS! Sessions' DOJ is abandoning its 6-year old claims that TX Photo ID law was enacted w/discriminatory intent. We will fight on!

    — Gerry Hebert (@GerryHebert) February 27, 2017

    BREAKING: DOJ switching positions under Sessions, will no longer argue TX #VoterID passed to intentionally discriminate. Hearing tomorrow.

    — Brennan Center (@BrennanCenter) February 27, 2017

    As recently as 12/2016, @TheJusticeDept agreed TX voter ID law intentionally discriminated. Under AG Sessions, they're now backtracking. pic.twitter.com/9751fhSka8

    — Lawyers' Committee (@LawyersComm) February 27, 2017

    AG Sessions working to turn the clock back. #DOJ abandoning its position that #Texas #VoterID law was adopted with discriminatory purpose.

    — Kristen Clarke (@KristenClarkeJD) February 27, 2017

Voting Rights organizations—including the Campaign Legal Center, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Brennan Center for Justice, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the NAACP, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund—that are arguing on behalf of Texas voters in the case Veasey v. Abbott have vowed to fight on "without the DOJ."

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Danielle Lang, deputy director of voting rights with the Campaign Legal Center, said that the DOJ "informed plaintiffs in the case that it will be filing documents to formally drop its opposition to the Texas law. She called the decision an 'extraordinary disappointment,'" the Associated Press reported.

"It's a complete 360," Lang said. "We can't make heads or tails of any factual reason for the change. There has been no new evidence that's come to light."

At the same time, the turn-around comes as no real surprise given the new AG's abysmal record on voting rights. Talking Points Memo reporter Alice Ollstein dubbed it the "Sessions Effect" while others pointed to his history of supporting voter suppression efforts.

    Jeff Sessions suppressed Black voters during his career in AL. Today, he affirmed his intention to do same as AG. We'll carry on w/o DOJ.

    — Lawyers' Committee (@LawyersComm) February 27, 2017

SB 14 is said to be "the nation's strictest voter photo ID law that leaves more than half a million eligible voters who do not have the requisite types of ID from fully participating in the democratic process."

Summarizing the extensive legal battle thus far, TPM's Ollstein reports:

    Texas enacted the strict voter ID law in 2011, and it has been tied up in court battles ever since. Civil rights groups say the policy, which accepts gun licenses but not student IDs at the polls, discriminates against low-income and minority voters who are far less likely to possess an ID and face difficulties obtaining one. In some parts of the state, the groups argued in court, people would have to drive more than 100 miles to reach the nearest office where they could obtain and ID—a burden many cannot overcome.

    The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the state from fully enforcing the law for the 2016 presidential election—a move that preserved the voting rights of more than 16,000 Texans, according to state records. Last summer, the appeals court agreed with the challengers, which then included the Justice Department, that the law had the effect of discriminating against minority voters, but it sent the question of whether the law was intentionally discriminatory back to the district court for further review after the election.

On Tuesday, the district court will hear arguments on that particular question. Nation columnist Ari Berman posited that the DOJ argument will likely mimic the 5th Circuit Court position, which found that while the law has the "effect of discriminating against blacks [and] Latinos," as Berman put it, it was "not intentionally discriminatory."

As this is the first major voting rights case the DOJ faces under Sessions, observers note the case could have implications for other cases, such as in North Carolina, in which the federal government had sided against a state voting law.

However, since Sessions' confirmation, the DOJ has reversed course on several issues, including transgender rights and the use of private prisons.

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16 Years After 9/11, Muslims Still Central Targets in War With No End

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by Jessica Corbett, staff writer, September 11, 2017


16 Years After 9/11, Muslims Still Central Targets in War With No End

On Monday, many Americans "mourn the often forgotten victims of the never-ending wars and draconian counter-terrorism policies of the post-9/11 world: the Muslim community."

As the nation on Monday mourned the nearly 3,000 lives lost 16 years ago in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the lifting of restrictions on the Trump administration's "Muslim ban" by the U.S. Supreme Court served as a timely reminder of how Muslims in the United States and worldwide continue to suffer from the so-called "War on Terror" launched in the wake of the 2001 attacks.

"The War on Terror was supposed to be about making our country safer. But as a Muslim American, I don't feel any safer," writes Maha Hilal, a professor and organizer, for Foreign Policy In Focus. Each year on September 11, in addition to mourning those killed in the 2001 attacks, she writes, "I also mourn the often forgotten victims of the never-ending wars and draconian counter-terrorism policies of the post-9/11 world: the Muslim community."

Hilal, a Muslim American who has lived in the United States for most of her life, describes what she learned in the wake of September 11, 2001:

"We'll be targets till we prove we're 'good' Muslims who are uncritical of foreign policy and who believe in the American dream."

"Religious freedom is a value that the United States cherishes, until of course Muslims try to claim it. Then it becomes a security concern."

"Different groups are targeted at different times under different umbrellas for our 'national security,' which is nothing more than legitimized and institutionalized racism and xenophobia."

Hilal also notes that although Muslims in the United States and abroad have much to fear from U.S. President Donald Trump's racist rhetoric and policies—such as the various iterations of the Muslim ban—the current president's words and actions have followed a path paved by his predecessors.

"While it's gotten worse under Trump, it's not something that started under him," she writes. "The Bush administration built the violent infrastructure of the war on terror, Obama expanded it, and Trump is simply building on it still."

Amid Trump's expansion of the war in Afghanistan, an increase in airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and Syria—with estimates that the civilian death toll from bombings will double under Trump—and the administration's ongoing efforts to prevent Muslim refugees from entering the United States, the anniversary of the deadliest terror attack on American soil in U.S. history has motivated many to call for an abrupt end to the 16-year-old war.

"Any pretense that the U.S. intended to seek justice or increase world stability via its so-called War on Terror has been dramatically overshadowed by increased global resentment toward the U.S., which has in fact generated more terror attacks around the world," Dahr Jamail wrote for Truthout Monday.

"It is precisely this legacy that continues today: ongoing U.S. military violence abroad, increased domestic surveillance and repression at home, and a world more violent and less safe for all," Jamail added.

"We can still escape the endless and self-destructive War on Terror," Paul Rosenberg wrote for Salon on Sunday. "The key lies in resistance here at home."

On Monday, students at Amherst College hung a banner to express solidarity with Muslims impacted by policies that followed 9/11 and denounce the war.

Many turned to Twitter to express frustration with how Muslims are impacted by U.S. domestic and foreign policy, and to condemn the lengthy war.


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3 "High" Ballots this November

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Three states are voting this November whether to maintain the ban over marijuana or to allow production and sale for recreational purposes.

In Oregon, the Measure 80 may establish a commission charged with licensing growers and selling marijuana through state-run stores in case of approval, which seems hard due only 37 per cent of popularity against 41 per cent of rejection according to latest polls.

But the other two initiatives are polling well. Washington voters are showing 57 per cent of support towards Initiative 52, which would authorize private pot stores regulated by the state liquor commission.

Meanwhile, 51 per cent of Colorado citizens are in favor of Amendment 64, which would allow home cultivation of up to six plants and create a licensing system for growers and retailers; 40 percent were opposed.

Experts say nothing is certain for many polls showed strong support for failed California's Proposition 19 before the voting. Anyhow, any state going against federal drug policy will be a serious problem for Barack Obama, who will face during the remains of his administration any special marijuana state law.

Although Obama admitted to smoked marijuana during his youth, he has continuously denied any modification in the general ban of this substance for recreational purposes. 

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47% vs 1%

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The fallout continues over the now infamous Mitt Romney ‘secret tape’ first leaked to Mother Jones Magazine.

Romney’s dismissal of nearly half of the United States population as lazy  moochers has been harshly rebuked by those across the political spectrum, including President Obama on a recent appearance on David Letterman.  

Though Romney is quick to criticize what he sees as the 47% of the country depending on government for help, he along with the rest of the rest of the 1% pay far less than most if any federal income tax. Romney seems to believe that those who are getting some government assistance are reprehensible (seniors on social security, vets, single mothers on welfare, students etc).  What does he think about those  who get corporate welfare while paying little to no federal income tax while stashing large amounts of money in off shore accounts, and restructuring companies by slashing countless jobs.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took note of this discrepancy saying that, “... we learned that Mitt Romney only wants to be president of half of the United States.”  It is unclear whether or not Romney can rebound as his poll numbers slip.  On the other hand, given the right wing’s attempts to suppress votes, as well as the apathy of the left to President Obama, Romney may still have a chance of the presidency.

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50 years later, Black Panthers look back at party's founding

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50 years later, Black Panthers look back at party's founding


OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Black Panthers emerged from this gritty Northern California city 50 years ago, declaring to a nation in turmoil a new party dedicated to defending African-Americans against police brutality and protecting the right of a downtrodden people to determine their own future.

In the group's short life, it launched an ambitious breakfast program for children and opened free health clinics to screen for sickle-cell anemia. At the same time, party members scared mainstream America with their calls for revolution that were at odds with Martin Luther King Jr.'s insistence on peaceful protest.

The Panthers eventually imploded, weakened by internal fighting and by a government effort to undermine the group. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover said the party represented the nation's "greatest threat to internal security." The Nixon administration moved to shut it down.

The anniversary comes as new tensions between black communities and law enforcement have given rise to another social-justice movement with Oakland ties — Black Lives Matter.

Hundreds of Panthers from around the world are expected in Oakland for a four-day conference that started Thursday. Two days later, co-founder Bobby Seale will celebrate his 80th birthday with a roast sponsored by the National Alumni Association of the Black Panther Party.

Nationally, African-Americans continue to lag whites in jobs, housing and health. And Oakland, once a heavily black city, is losing its African-American population as soaring home prices propelled by the technology boom drive out poorer residents.

"The only change is that time has passed," said Elaine Brown, a former party chairwoman who remains politically active in the San Francisco Bay Area. "We are the poorest. We have the least economic interests in the country, and consequently we are an oppressed people. We remain an oppressed people."

Bobby McCall was 20 when he left Philadelphia for Oakland to help give away 10,000 sacks of free food. He agrees that conditions have not improved.

"That's why we have the movement Black Lives Matter," McCall said. "Only they're not as organized as we were. They don't have a free breakfast program like we had. They have to start developing programs."

The generally accepted date of the party's founding is Oct. 15, 1966, although Seale said it was a week later, on his birthday.

It was an era of Vietnam War and civil rights protests when Seale and Huey P. Newton drafted the party's 10-point platform. The document called for decent housing and employment. It demanded black self-reliance.

They named their group the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense after a black civil rights group in Alabama, adopted the beret worn by the French resistance to Hitler and launched armed patrols.

In response, California lawmakers in 1967 repealed the law that allowed people to carry loaded weapons in public. The Panthers gained national attention when they carried guns into the state Capitol in protest.

White Americans were used to King's nonviolent campaign against racism, but they were not accustomed to seeing black Americans with guns.

Today, a tart-tongued Seale bristles at all the talk of free breakfasts and firearms without what he calls critical context. He formed the party, he said, to elect minorities to political seats. The "survival programs" such as food and clothing giveaways were linked to voter registration drives, he said.

As for the violence that included shootouts with police, he said, "The power structure was violent. The Ku Klux Klan was violent. They came and they attacked us. If you shoot at me, I'm shooting back. So are you going to call this right to self-defense or are you going to call this aggressive violence? It's not aggressive violence."

The Oakland Museum of California's exhibit "All Power to the People: Black Panthers at 50" documents the party's reign from 1966 to 1982. The party's decline included Nixon administration efforts to undermine the group with informants and misinformation.

"The FBI inspired raids on Panther offices. There was a general campaign to portray them as a negative, violent organization," said Rene de Guzman, the museum's director of exhibition strategies and senior curator of art.

Members, including Seale and Newton, cycled in and out of jails and prisons. Seale left the party in 1974. Newton dissolved it in 1982, shutting down the community school and newspaper. He was later shot dead by an alleged drug dealer.

Many see the party's influence in the youth movements of today, especially Black Lives Matter, which also protests police brutality. It started as a hashtag and love letter to blacks posted on Facebook by a young Oakland activist named Alicia Garza in 2013, after George Zimmerman was acquitted of fatally shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida.

Seale would like to see Black Lives Matter organize people to seek political office and create an environmental jobs program for youth.

Robbie Clark, a 35-year-old housing organizer and Black Lives Matter activist who grew up in Oakland, said the movement already does just that. The founders, for example, work on behalf of domestic workers and immigrants.

Some activists, Clark said, want to focus on elections and others want to go outside the political system. Many insist the movement needs both.

"We can shift some of those conditions by having the right people in office," Clark said, "but it's with the understanding that having different people in those seats doesn't make the system change overnight."

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