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Alexandrea Boguhn & Coleman Lowndes: Right-Wing Media Defend Street Harassment With Their Own Catcalls

Media Matters - 8 hours 13 min ago

Right-wing media responded to a recent public service announcement depicting a woman's experiences with street harassment by questioning whether the encounters amounted to harassment at all and adding their own catcalls to the chorus of abuse.

On October 27, Hollaback, a national organization whose mission is to "end street harassment" released a PSA featuring the catcalling and harassment one woman faced over the course of 10 hours while walking around New York City as recorded by a hidden video camera concealed in the bag of somebody walking ahead of her. 

Conservative media figures responded to the video's depictions of over 100 instances of harassment with disbelief, claiming that the men featured in the video were "simply being polite," that there was "nothing disrespectful" about street harassment, and even commenting themselves on the woman's appearance with proclamations like, "Damn, baby, you're a piece of woman." 

Democrats Like It When Forecasts Show Democrats Winning

Mother Jones - 8 hours 28 min ago

Justin Wolfers shows us an intriguing example of confirmation bias today. It turns out that Leo, the New York Times election forecasting model, bases its forecasts on running hundreds of simulations and then taking an average. But readers who want to play around can go ahead and toss the dice themselves, generating their own random simulations. So what do readers do?

This is where confirmation bias comes in. If you’re convinced that the Republicans are going to win but your first two spins suggest a Democratic victory, you may feel deflated; perhaps you’ll spin again, in the hopes that you’ll finally get to see what a Republican victory looks like....85 percent of the time that your first two spins show a Democratic victory, you’ll keep spinning, perhaps hoping to see a Republican victory.

The same logic says that those who see the Democrats as likely to win are more likely to spin again after seeing the Republicans win in their first two spins, and once again, 85 percent of you do so.

Presumably readers are smart enough to know that these really are just random rolls of the dice that don't mean anything. Only the average of hundreds of simulations are meaningful. And yet, many of us do it anyway. Why?

Properly speaking, I'm not sure this is actually confirmation bias. I suspect that partisans just want to avoid a feeling of hopelessness. Sure, the official results will tell them that, say, Democrats have a 34 percent chance of holding the Senate, and that should be enough. But it's not. Democratic partisans want to see the concrete possibility of a Democratic win. Rather than confirmation bias, this shows a human preference for examples vs. statistical forecasts.

Now, I'd expect that Democrats would do this more than Republicans. After all, if Leo says Republicans have a 66 percent chance of winning, that should make Republicans pretty happy. Why bother running even a single simulation that might spoil the good news? Unfortunately, Leo's data doesn't tell us if this happens, because it doesn't know who's a Democrat and who's a Republican. But I'll bet I'm right.

Eric Boehlert: Obama's Approval Rating Remains Unchanged This Year, So Why All The Press Coverage About "Sinking" Poll Numbers?

Media Matters - 9 hours 42 min ago

The news media reminders arrive almost daily now: President Obama's approval rating is low and going lower. McClatchy Newspapers highlighted the "dropping approval ratings," while the Washington Post declared "President Obama's approval ratings have plunged to record lows." The Christian Science Monitor noted the numbers have "plummeted." The Washington Examiner stressed the president's approvals were "sinking to historic lows," while an Atlantic headlined announced, ""Obama's Sinking Approval Could Drag Democrats Down With Him."

The portrait being painted by an array of media artists is unmistakable: Obama's approval ratings are not only weak but they're going down, down, down.

But it's not true.

The part about Obama's "dropping" and "sinking" polling numbers simply isn't accurate, not matter how many times it's repeated inside the Beltway echo chamber.

Does the White House wish Obama's job approval rating was higher? I'm sure his advisers do. Does polling indicate that Democrats face the possibility of deep losses next week in the midterm elections? Yes. Does that mean the press should just make up narratives about the president's approval rating simply because it fits in, again, with anti-Obama spin that Republicans are pushing?

It does not.

According to the cumulative ratings posted daily at Real Clear Politics, which averages together an array of national polls to come up with Obama's composite job approval rating, the president's approval on January 1, 2014 stood at 42.6 percent. The president's approval rating on October 30, was 42 percent. So over the course of ten months, and based on more than one hundred poll results in 2014, Obama's approval rating declined less than one point.

One point.

I can safely say Obama is only president in U.S. history whose approval rating dropped a single digit over a ten-month stretch and it was described as having "plummeted."

How the Christian Right Is Using Hobby Lobby and "Duck Dynasty" to Take Back America

Mother Jones - 12 hours 58 min ago

Pundits may be declaring the culture wars over, but conservative Christians are donning their battle gear and rushing back to the front lines. In recent months, a coalition of conservative evangelical organizations has been pursuing an aggressive voter mobilization campaign that involves a combination of high-tech tools, briefings for pastors, and rallies simulcast to mega-churches around the country.

The goal of these gatherings is to drum up outrage over recent political skirmishes, including the Hobby Lobby lawsuit, and to persuade believers that their religious freedoms are under attack by ungodly forces. During one recent event, which was shown in churches across the nation, speakers likened the situation of US churchgoers to Christians beheaded by ISIS in Syria. "We see the struggle between good and evil, light and darkness, truth and lies," said David Benham, whose planned HGTV reality show was canceled after his fiercely anti-gay remarks came to light. "What's happening with swords over in the Middle East is happening with silence over here in America."

The campaign dates back to March, when United in Purpose, a nonprofit funded by wealthy evangelical Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, convened a Voter Mobilization Strategy Summit near Dallas. At the event, churches and conservative Christian political organizations forged a strategy to mobilize voters for the 2014 midterms. United in Purpose, a behind-the-scenes technology and communications group with deep dominionist ties, also shared a variety of tools including videos and voter mobilization apps. (One app allows pastors to compare their membership rosters with voter rolls, so they can better guide their flock to the polls.) The Family Research Council and Texas-based Vision America, which played a key role in the summit, then began hosting policy briefings for pastors and staging lavishly produced voter mobilization events that were broadcast live to churches and groups across the country.

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Book Review: Beijing Bastard

Mother Jones - 12 hours 58 min ago

Beijing Bastard

By Val Wang


In her drifter memoir of leaving home in order to find it, Chinese American author Val Wang struggles between head and heart as she tries to make a living—and a life—in Beijing, burdened by the expectations of her forebears yet buoyed by the spirit of youth. In the process, she shows us a China full of contradictions: at once glamorous and grungy, ancient and modern, ambitious and loafing.

How Science Explains #Gamergate

Mother Jones - 13 hours 13 min ago

By now you're probably heard of #Gamergate, the internet lynch mob masquerading as a movement for ethics in video game journalism. Though #Gamergaters, as they're known, have repeatedly targeted their critics with rape and death threats, drawing rebukes from the broader gaming community, surprisingly few observers have asked whether violent video games themselves may have triggered this sort of abhorrent behavior.

Debate about video games and violence has, of course, been around almost as long as video games have. In 1976, the now-defunct game company Exidy introduced Death Race, a driving game based around mowing down what appeared to be pedestrians. "I'm sure most people playing this game do not jump in their car and drive at pedestrians," the behavioral psychologist Gerald Driessen told the New York Times. "But one in a thousand? One in a million? And I shudder to think what will come next if this is encouraged. It'll be pretty gory."

Driessen's fears seem almost quaint these days. Traffic fatalities and violent crime are at their lowest rates in decades, despite the advent of drastically more realistic and morally depraved games such as Grand Theft Auto. "Facts, common sense, and numerous studies all debunk the myth that there is a link between video games and violence," the Entertainment Software Association, the trade group that represents the $65 billion video game industry, writes on its web page. "In fact, numerous authorities, including the US Supreme Court, US Surgeon General, Federal Trade Commission, and Federal Communications Commission examined the scientific record and found that it does not establish any causal link between violent programming and violent behavior."

But the ESA's defense of violent games masks a deeper reality: An emerging body of scientific research shows that the games aren't as harmless as many people think.

"Just because you don't necessarily go out and stab someone" after playing a violent game "doesn't mean you won't have a more adversarial mindset," says Susan Greenfield, an Oxford-trained neurologist and author of the forthcoming book, Mind Change: How Digital Technologies Are Leaving Their Mark on Our Brains. "Your thermostat will change so that you will be more easily angered, more hostile than polite. And that, in fact, is what we're seeing with this #Gamergate thing."

Studies, in fact, show a strong connection between gaming and the types of behaviors exhibited by the #Gamergate mob. A 2010 meta-analysis of 136 papers detailing 381 tests involving 130,296 research participants found that violent gameplay led to a significant desensitization to violence, increases in aggression, and decreases in empathy. "Concerning public policy, we believe the debates can and should finally move beyond the general question of whether violent video game play is a causal risk factor for aggressive behavior," the authors wrote. "The scientific literature has effectively and clearly shown the answer to be 'yes.'"

More than half of the 50 top-selling video games contain violent content labels.* And evidence suggests that the effects of playing them go beyond the effects of just watching violence on a screen. Researchers from Denmark's Utrecht University, for instance, found that students who played a violent video game later exhibited more aggressive behavior than a group of spectators who had watched the others play.

The aggressive behavior resulting from gaming isn't just theoretical; it can spill out into the real world. For example, a study of long-term effects in American and Japanese schoolchildren showed that as little as three months of intense gaming increased their frequency of violent behavior such as punching or kicking or getting into fights. Several studies have involved telling experimental subjects competing in a nonviolent video game that they could administer a sonic blast through their opponents' headphones, but warned that it would be loud enough to cause permanent hearing damage. Those most willing to administer the (nonexistent) sound blasts, as it turned out, had recently played violent games.

Other evidence suggests that people who play violent video games are less likely than others to act as Good Samaritans. Participants in an Iowa State University study played either a violent or nonviolent video game before a fake fight was staged outside the laboratory. Players of the violent game were less likely than other participants to report hearing the fight, judged the fight as less serious, and took longer to help the injured party.

In a 2012 study whose outcome relates more directly to #Gamergate, French college students played either a violent game or a nonviolent game before reading ambiguous story plots about potential interpersonal conflicts. The researchers then had them list what they thought the main characters would do, say, or feel as the story continued. The players of the violent games expected more aggressive responses from the characters in the story—a result that mirrors how the gaming community, but hardly anyone else, has consistently imputed evil motives to video game journalists and female game developers when reading about developments in the emerging "scandal."

Taken together, these studies may help explain why some participants in #Gamergate felt justified in sending rape and death threats to their critics while other gamers, instead of calling them out, looked the other way.

In her book, Greenfield lays out a convincing neurological explanation for the video game/violence connection. While the well-known plasticity of the human brain allows it to adapt to a wide range of environments, Greenfield argues that it also exposes us to dangerous changes in brain chemistry when we immerse ourselves in violent video games for extended periods:

Investigators recorded the brain activity of experienced gamers, who normally played an average of fourteen hours per week, while they played a first-person shooter game…Results showed that areas of the brain linked with emotion and empathy (the cingulate cortex and the amygdala) were less active during violent video gaming. The authors suggest that these areas must be suppressed during violent video gaming, just as they would be in real life, in order to act violently without hesitation.

What's more, the thrill that we experience while playing video games results from a release of dopamine, the same brain stimulant that accounts for the addictive appeal of drugs, gambling, and porn.

When dopamine accesses the prefrontal cortex, it inhibits the activity of the neurons there, and so recapitulates in some ways the immature brain state of the child, or indeed of the reckless gambler, schizophrenic or the food junkie. Just as children are highly emotional and excitable, adults in this condition are also more reactive to sensations rather than calmly proactive.

"How might his apply to video games?" Greenfield goes on to ask. "You can afford to be reckless in a way that would have dire results in the three-dimensional world. The consequence-free nature of video gaming is a basic part of its ethos."

And, so it seems, of the ethos of #Gamergate. Harassing and threatening people might seem like fun to some people—until, at least, somebody dies in the real world.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that 60 percent of videogames are violent. It should have stated that more than half of top-selling video games are violent. The sentence has since been fixed.

Facebook Wants You to Vote on Tuesday. Here's How It Messed With Your Feed in 2012.

Mother Jones - 13 hours 27 min ago

On Election Day, political campaigns, candidates, consultants, and pollsters pay close attention to who votes and why—and so does Facebook. For the past six years, on every national Election Day, the social-networking behemoth has pushed out a tool—a high-profile button that proclaims "I'm Voting" or "I'm a Voter"—designed to encourage Facebook users to vote. Now, Facebook says it has finished fine-tuning the tool, and if all goes according to plan, on Tuesday many of its more than 150 million American users will feel a gentle but effective nudge to vote, courtesy of Mark Zuckerberg & Co. If past research is any guide, up to a few million more people will head to the polls partly because their Facebook friends encouraged them.

Yet the process by which Facebook has developed this tool—what the firm calls the "voter megaphone"—has not been very transparent, raising questions about its use and Facebook's ability to influence elections. Moreover, while Facebook has been developing and promoting this tool, it has also been quietly conducting experiments on how the company's actions can affect the voting behavior of its users.

In particular, Facebook has studied how changes in the news feed seen by its users—the constant drip-drip-drip of information shared by friends that is heart of their Facebook experience—can affect their level of interest in politics and their likelihood of voting. For one such experiment, conducted in the three months prior to Election Day in 2012, Facebook increased the amount of hard news stories at the top of the feeds of 1.9 million users. According to one Facebook data scientist, that change—which users were not alerted to—measurably increased civic engagement and voter turnout.

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Silly String Is Illegal Here—But Only on Halloween

Mother Jones - 13 hours 27 min ago

Halloween is finally here! It's time to celebrate macabre mischief, ghouls and gluttony, and of course, tricks and treats. But there's one scary alliterated substance you should steer clear of—especially if you are in Hollywood. On the streets of Tinseltown, getting caught with Silly String is considered a serious offense—but only on Halloween.

Signs have been posted across Hollywood Photo taken by Gil Riego

Generically called "aerosol string," Silly String is basically brightly colored plastic propelled from an aerosol can. Like confetti but for terrible people, its primary purpose is to annoy or to instantly reveal who the most obnoxious person at a party is. Both sticky and slimy, it is hard to clean up, is bad for the environment, and—surprise!—can be dangerous if you eat it.

As awful as Silly String is most days, it is apparently more awful on Halloween. That's why, in 2004, Los Angeles Councilman Tom LaBonge sponsored an ordinance to outlaw the stuff for one night only. City officials were sick of cleaning it up, and dealing with the brawls they said were provoked by Silly String sprayings. More than 100,000 people flock to Hollywood to celebrate Halloween and the Silly String remediation costs were said to exceed $200,000.

So, starting at midnight last night and extending until noon tomorrow, should you happen to cross the threshold into the LAPD's Hollywood Division's jurisdiction, you better not be packing any String.


No Person, as defined in Municipal Code Section 11.01(a), shall possess, use, sell or distribute Silly String at, within or upon any public or private property that is either within public view or accessible to the public, including, but not limited to, public or private streets, sidewalks, parking lots, commercial or residential buildings, places of business, or parks within the Hollywood Division during Halloween.

The ordinance comes with a pretty heavy set of un-silly sanctions. Just carrying a can of Silly String could get you charged with a misdemeanor, slapped with a $1,000 fine, and jailed for as long as 6 months. That's a stiffer penalty than you'll get for misdemeanor pot possession ($100 fine), breaking into a zoo enclosure ($250 fine), bicycling or hunting while drunk ($250 and $500, respectively). It's more on par with petty theft, and more severe mayhem like being disorderly while drunk or getting minors drunk.

So while you are free to spray away in most places today (litter ordinances permitting), why not do everyone a favor and take a hint from Hollywood? Just keep it in the can.

PATRIOT Act Warrants Used More For Drugs Than For Terrorism

Mother Jones - 18 hours 14 min ago

The PATRIOT Act gave federal agents expanded powers to issue search warrants without informing the targets of the warrant beforehand. Why? Because terrorism investigations were special: they'd fall apart if terrorists received warning that they were being investigated. So with terrorism suddenly a far bigger priority after 9/11, national security required that authority for these "sneak-and-peek" warrants be broadened.

A few days ago, the Electronic Frontier Foundation tallied up the known figures for sneak-and-peek warrants:

  • 2001-03: 47
  • 2010: 3,970
  • 2011: 6,775
  • 2012: 10,183
  • 2013: 11,129

That's quite an increase. So did terrorism investigations skyrocket over the past decade? Not so much. It turns out that hardly any of these warrants were used in terrorism cases. Instead, they were virtually all used in narcotics cases—as the chart on the right shows. Radley Balko draws the right lessons from this:

  • Assume that any power you grant to the federal government to fight terrorism will inevitably be used in other contexts.
  • Assume that the primary “other context” will be to fight the war on drugs.
  • When critics point out the ways a new law might be abused, supporters of the law often accuse those critics of being cynical — they say we should have more faith in the judgment and propriety of public officials. Always assume that when a law grants new powers to the government, that law will be interpreted in the vaguest, most expansive, most pro-government manner imaginable. If that doesn’t happen, good. But why take the risk? Why leave open the possibility? Better to write laws narrowly, restrictively and with explicit safeguards against abuse.

There's no reason laws like this can't be drawn properly in the first place. Sure, some terrorism cases involve narcotics, but that's a poor excuse. If terrorism is genuinely involved, law enforcement officers have plenty of opportunity to convince a judge of that. A properly-constructed statute won't get in their way.

This goes for the NSA as well as the FBI, by the way. If they need broadened surveillance powers to fight terrorism—and perhaps they do—a narrowly-drawn statute won't hurt them. If they object to this, every one of us should wonder why.

CNN Is Now Just Like the National Enquirer

Mother Jones - October 30, 2014 - 8:52pm

Earlier today I was idly flipping channels on the TV and came upon a CNN chyron informing me breathlessly that Chuck Hagel had just "blasted" President Obama's Syria policy. Unfortunately, I came in at the end of the segment, so I didn't get to find out just what kind of blasting Hagel had done. But it certainly sounded ominous.

I just now remembered this, and figured I should take a look at the news to see what had happened. But that wasn't so easy. Every front page I checked had bupkis about Hagel. Finally I went to the source: CNN. Here's what they say:

Earlier this month, while on an trip to Latin America to discuss climate change, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel sat down and wrote a highly private, and very blunt memo to National Security Advisor Susan Rice about U.S. policy toward Syria.

It was a detailed analysis, crafted directly by Hagel "expressing concern about overall Syria strategy," a senior U.S. official tells CNN. The official directly familiar with the contents declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

....The focus of the memo was "we need to have a sharper view of what to do about the Assad regime," the official said. The official refused to provide additional details, but did not disagree with the notion that Hagel feels the U.S. is risking its gains in the war against ISIS if adjustments are not made.

That's it? Hagel wrote an internal memo suggesting that we should have a "sharper view" of what to do about Assad? And some sympathetic White House official kinda sorta agreed that Hagel felt we might be in trouble if "adjustments" aren't made?

I swear, watching cable news is like reading the National Enquirer these days: big, blasting headlines that turn out, when you read the story, to mean absolutely nothing. That's ten minutes of my life that I'll never get back. Thanks, CNN.

What Can the Developer of the Polio Vaccine Teach Us About Ebola?

Mother Jones - October 30, 2014 - 1:46pm

This story was originally published on BillMoyers.com.

Had he lived, Dr. Jonas Salk would have turned 100 this week. Salk was a young man when in the spring of 1955 he announced his discovery of a vaccine that could prevent polio. He was hailed as a modern miracle worker. He went on to lead scientists from from around the world in studies of cancer, heredity, the brain, the immune system and AIDS at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California.

In this age of Ebola, it's enlightening and inspiring to hear Salk talk about the lessons he learned in developing the polio vaccine, and how they might be applicable to the AIDS crisis, which was raging at the time of this interview with Bill Moyers recorded in 1990.

Salk died five years after this interview was broadcast. His memorial at the Salk Institute reads: "Hope lies in dreams, in imagination and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality."


SALK: What we're doing now is trying to think like nature, in the sense that we are aware that species that have gone before us have disappeared from the face of the Earth. We'd like to use our intelligence and our creative capacity to prolong our presence on the face of the Earth as long as possible. It requires, therefore, that we develop the kinds of tactics and strategies amongst ourselves so as to assure that this can occur, to assure that we will not destroy ourselves or the planet, to make it uninhabitable and to allow the fullness of the potential of the individual to be expressed, to flower. That is—

MOYERS: What is—

SALK: —awfully ideal. The question now is how can we translate this, how can we make this operative? If you want me to give you an example—


SALK: —of how people can solve problems for themselves? When the problem of polio confronted this nation, confronted the world, there was an organization that formed in this country called the March of Dimes. Volunteers. They were not government-directed or -led. They didn't ask the government to do anything. They did it themselves. That's just a small illustration of what has happened in the past and can happen again and is happening continuously now here and, I think, in other parts of the world.

MOYERS: I read the other day, coming out here, in fact, that by the year 2000, which is not very far from now, there will be some 20 million people in the world carrying the AIDS virus. Is that a comparable challenge to what you faced with polio 50 years ago?

SALK: Well, it's an even more difficult challenge, but that's what evokes a response on the part of those who want to solve the problem, who are addressing themselves to just that question and philosophically, in approaching it. The virus, if it prevails, then we will lose. But if we are able to reduce the damage caused by the virus and, at the same time, try to enhance the immune response to the virus and establish a more favorable balance between the two, then we will be doing in relation to that problem what we want to do in relation to the world and that is to reduce the negative and enhance the positive at one and the same time.

MOYERS: The good news would be that there is a vaccine that protects us and immunizes us, against the AIDS virus. Are we going to have that good news, do you think, in your time and mine?

SALK: My expectation is that we will solve the problem. It's just a matter of time and just a matter of strategy. Now, why do I say that this is the case? It's because I think solutions come through evolution. It comes through asking the right question, because the answer pre-exists. But it's the question that we have to define and discover, to discover and to define.

MOYERS: You mean, when you asked the question about how to defeat polio, the answer was already there?

SALK: Mm-hmm, in a way. If you think of David and Michelangelo, it was in the stone, but it had to be unveiled and revealed. You don't invent the answer. You reveal the answer.

MOYERS: From nature.

SALK: From nature.

MOYERS: From the life process.

SALK: Yes.

GDP Increases at Not-Bad 3.5 Percent Rate in 3rd Quarter

Mother Jones - October 30, 2014 - 1:29pm

Today's economic news is fairly good. GDP in the third quarter grew at a 3.5 percent annual rate, which means that the slowdown at the beginning of the year really does look like it was just a blip. Aside from that one quarter, economic growth has been pretty robust for over a year now.

At the same time, inflation continues to be very low, which you can take as either good news (if you're an inflation hawk) or bad news (if you think the economy could use a couple of years of higher inflation).

We could still use some higher growth after five years of weakness, but at least we're providing a bit of a counterbalance to Europe, which appears to be going off a cliff at the moment. Count your blessings.

Olivia Marshall: Fox & Friends Attacks Hispanic Civil Rights Group, Suggests Wash . Post Is "Promoting Voter Fraud"

Media Matters - October 30, 2014 - 11:48am

The hosts of Fox & Friends wondered whether a Washington Post infographic that shows the different levels of documentary identification required to vote in each state promotes voter fraud, and they also cast suspicion on the intentions of the country's leading Hispanic civil rights advocacy group that highlighted the article on Twitter.

The Washington Post published an informational piece on October 27 that summarizes which states in the U.S. require or request photo ID, another form of documentary ID, or a non-documentary form of identification to vote. The source The Washington Post relied on, the National Conference of State Legislatures, makes clear that the article and graphic focus on documentary identification, of which strict voter ID -- a photo ID requirement that is selective about which photo IDs are acceptable -- is the most stringent type. As the NCSL explains, not all states require documentary identification. Other states have " 'non-documentary' ID requirements, meaning voters must verify their identity in other ways, such as by signing an affidavit or poll book, or by providing personal information. In addition, all states have procedures for challenging voter eligibility."

But on the October 30 edition of Fox & Friends, hosts Steve Doocy, Anna Kooiman, and Brian Kilmeade highlighted the fact that the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), a Hispanic advocacy group, retweeted the Post article. Doocy suggested the Post is encouraging voter fraud, and Kooiman cast suspicion on NCLR's promotion of the article:

DOOCY: Are they, is The Washington Post promoting voter fraud or just doing a public service?

KOOIMAN: Well, I mean, The Washington Post just put it out there, but this immigration group tweeted it, and then La Raza retweeted it, and it wasn't just, you know, nonpartisan. It had the hashtag #TurnOutForWhat, which is the pro-Democrat hashtag.

Despite Fox & Friends' attempt to attribute a nefarious intention to the article and NCLR, strict voter ID laws have become a significant obstacle to many Americans attempting to vote, and because of ongoing legal challenges, the requirements to vote in many states are in flux. Eligible voters in Texas have already been turned away because of the state's restrictive voter ID law, which was recently blocked and then reinstated. A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found that similar laws in Kansas and Tennessee brought voter turnout down 1.9 and 2.2 percentage points, respectively -- which amounted to 122,000 fewer votes. As The Washington Post explained in its summary of the report, "[y]oung people, black people, and newly registered voters were the groups that were more likely to see bigger drops in turnout."

Courts and social scientists have repeatedly found strict voter ID laws to be racially discriminatory toward or linked to bias against voters of color. Researchers at the University of Southern California found that when they emailed state legislators posing as a voter asking whether or not he could vote without a driver's license, "legislators who had supported voter ID laws were much more likely to respond to 'Jacob Smith' than to 'Santiago Rodriguez.'" The Washington Post's Wonkblog further summarized the findings:

"The fact that legislators supporting voter identification responded so much l[ess] to the Latino name is evidence anti-Latino bias, unrelated to electoral considerations, might be influencing these public policies," they write.

A University of Delaware study found that white survey respondents who saw a picture of black voters were more likely to support voter ID laws than those who were shown an image of white voters or no image. And two experts from the University of Massachusetts Boston wrote in The Washington Post's Monkey Cage blog that "restrictions on voting derived from both race and class":

The more that minorities and lower-income individuals in a state voted, the more likely such restrictions were to be proposed. Where minorities turned out at the polls at higher rates the legislation was more likely enacted.

More specifically, restrictive proposals were more likely to be introduced in states with larger African-American and non-citizen populations and with higher minority turnout in the previous presidential election.

And the Fox hosts' concern about supposed "voter fraud" is unfounded -- studies and investigations have found that in-person voter impersonation, the kind of fraud that voter ID laws are supposed to prevent, is so rare that it is almost nonexistent.

LIVESTREAM: Katha Pollitt Explains Why We Need to Reclaim Abortion Rights

The Nation - October 30, 2014 - 11:36am
The Nation

On Wednesday November, 5 at 7pm EST, Pollitt joins MSNBC’s Irin Carmon and the New School’s Terri Gordon for a live event.


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