By Colette Bennett, Special to CNN
(CNN) – Outside my window, the wind is starting to die down, although it still comes through in gusts, sending branches and debris tumbling down the deserted street outside. The power's been out since 4 a.m. Life has skidded to a slow crawl, with no data available on my smartphone and no Internet to tell me when the storm might subside.
It's just me inside my shelter, listening to the howl of the weather and racing to eat everything in the fridge before it spoils and has to be tossed into a garbage bag.
Some people in New Orleans party before a storm starts or even after it begins. Young voices hollered and whooped down the street last night, kids running through the rain with bottles in their hands. In the meantime, I stood on the porch as the wind started to pick up. Waiting.
Luckily, I made sure to charge up all my laptops before the power went out. In the dark, I sit in front of a rectangular glowing screen, a reminder that my separation from technology is only temporary until someone comes and repairs the lines. Soon, I'll be connected to the world again. For now, I send texts from time to time, just to make sure others are OK, to let them know I am thinking of them as we sit in the darkness listening to the world outside.
Editor's note: Nathaniel Persily is the Charles Keller Beekman Professor of Law and Political Science at Columbia Law School.
(CNN) – In the space of two weeks, two different courts have come to two different results in evaluating the legality of two similar voter identification laws.
In Pennsylvania, a state trial judge upheld the newly enacted voter ID law under the state's constitution, while Thursday in Washington, a federal panel rejected Texas' similar ID law under the federal Voting Rights Act.
Despite their differences, both courts were quite right to agree on a central proposition: We really don't know how large an impact these voter ID laws will have on elections. In the end, the question, both legal and moral, often boils down to who should have the burden of proof: Should states be forced to show their laws are justified because they prevent demonstrable fraud or should opponents be forced to show that the law prevents large numbers of people from voting?
Voter ID cases often pit an invisible plaintiff against an imaginary problem. It is difficult to find voters who absolutely cannot vote because of an ID law, just as it is challenging to find instances of the type of fraud such laws intend to prevent.
The plaintiffs are invisible because very few people have the means to bring the federal case to challenge such laws but don't have the ability to navigate the barriers at the Department of Motor Vehicles to get an actual ID. Also, although we do know about 10% of Americans might not have the ID necessary to vote, we don't know how many won't vote specifically because of this extra burden, how many will be motivated to get an ID or how many will resort to absentee ballots, which do not require ID.
By Jen Christensen, CNN
Tampa (CNN) – A man hurrying to catch the light at a corner in muggy downtown Tampa carries a book with a rainbow of color on its cover.
Its title stands out, especially here, where the Republican National Convention has officially accepted a platform that a New York Times editorial called "more aggressive in its opposition to women's reproductive rights and to gay rights than any in memory."
The book is "A Fundamental Freedom: Why Republicans, Conservatives, and Libertarians Should Support Gay Rights."
Ted McCormac is a precinct committee person for the GOP in Bradenton, Florida, and the father of a gay son. He picked up the book at a brunch co-hosted by the Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry and the Log Cabin Republicans - two of a small number of visible LGBT-supportive Republican groups at this year's convention.
Individual members of the Log Cabin Republicans have attended previous conventions, but this year marks a first for the group: It was invited by the Republican National Convention committee to participate in the convention itself. In addition, there are many high-profile, gay-themed events this year, including the brunch McCormac attended. "I've never been to an event of theirs, but people clearly went out of their way to be nice to me," McCormac said, with a catch in his voice. "It means so much since I'm kind of new at this."
By Kevin Liptak, CNN
Tampa (CNN) – Sen. Marco Rubio's convention speech Thursday introducing Mitt Romney offered voters a look at one of the Republican Party's fastest-rising stars, and brought to the fore what the conservative movement hopes its future will look like.
"I watched my first convention in 1980 with my grandfather," Rubio began, placing a date on the generational shift that he and Romney's running mate Paul Ryan represent for the GOP.
Rubio, who at 41 is a year younger than Ryan, joins the Wisconsin congressman as a young face in the party whose supporters have skewed older in the past several elections. Rubio also brings diversity to the Republican stage at a moment when Romney faces a nearly 30-point deficit among Latino voters.
Rubio used his Cuban immigrant parents' story as his version of the American Dream.
"My Dad used to tell us, 'En este pais, ustedes van a poder lograr todas las cosas que nosotros no pudimos:' In this country, you will be able to accomplish all the things we never could," he said.
Rubio's remarks in Spanish spoke to the larger theme of his optimistic address: that things are possible in America that aren't possible elsewhere.
By Terry Frieden, CNN Justice Producer
Washington (CNN) – A federal appeals court in Washington Thursday struck down the Texas voter ID law requiring photos for voters at the polls, calling it racially discriminatory.
The decision is a major victory for the Obama administration and its Democratic allies, which had challenged the law.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott promptly announced the state will appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.
Republican Gov. Rick Perry signed the voter ID measure into law last year, but it had yet not gone into effect because the federal Voting Rights Act requires changes in Texas voting laws to be pre-cleared by the U.S. Justice Department.
Attorney General Eric Holder denied the pre-clearance of the measure in March, concluding that Texas failed to show the law will not have "the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race."
The three-judge panel agreed.
Although the law provides for approved voter registration certificates with no photo as acceptable for voting in certain circumstances, the court said the law imposes "strict unforgiving burdens on the poor." The court noted the requirements will fall heavily on African-Americans and Hispanics, who make up a disproportionate percentage of the poor in Texas.
The panel of judges for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia also said it was ruling only on the Texas law, and not issuing a statement about other state voting laws. It noted the Justice Department had approved a Georgia voter ID law in which the state promised to provide free photo ID cards to citizens who request them.
Editor's note: Sophia A. Nelson is a columnist and political analyst. She is the author of "Black Woman Redefined: Dispelling Myths and Discovering Fulfillment in the Age of Michelle Obama."
By Sophia A. Nelson, Special to CNN
(CNN) – Let’s get right to it: The Republican National Convention has struggled with balancing imagery and tone when it comes to the matter of its lack of diversity and inclusion.
This is nothing new.
However, what has struck this former lifelong Republican-turned-independent is that the convention has staked its future on “nostalgia” versus “newness.”
Republicans, including a rousing speech by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, are asking Americans to look back, to remember who we were and to remember what made us great.
Not a bad thing I guess if you are over 50, white, from the South or Midwest and feel like the America you once loved has gone to hell in a handbasket.
The problem with this vision, for many Americans, is that it is not inspirational. It does not invoke a new frontier, a new way forward. It does not offer a way out of the pain and distress that the Great Recession has had on people of color.
Communities of color look for candidates who can relate to their unique American experience: hence the great success of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama versus the lackluster support for Al Gore and John Kerry.
The Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan vision is a pragmatic, reasonable business approach to problem-solving. Good stuff if you are working in corporate America or on Wall Street. Not so much if you are on Main Street and need to feel comfortable with the guy who sits in the Oval Office.
Republicans have a “message” problem and are unable to connect with communities of color, and they also have a “messenger" problem. Here is my advice on how they can gain credibility with these communities. FULL POST
By Halimah Abdullah and Allison Brennan, CNN
Tampa (CNN) – Paul Ryan symbolizes for many Republicans of his generation a passing of the torch and a call to embrace the Reagan-era principles that appealed so strongly to young voters in the 1980s.
The Wisconsin congressman evoked both when he took the stage on Wednesday night and delivered a prime-time acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention that skewered what the GOP sees as President Barack Obama's failed economic policies.
With Ryan, 42, holding down the No. 2 spot, the ticket hopes to strengthen his Generation X demographic ahead of November and broaden the campaign's appeal to a wealth of younger voters, a much more challenging prospect.
During his speech, Ryan spoke directly to young voters' economic concerns.
"Millions of young Americans have graduated from college during the Obama presidency, ready to use their gifts and get moving in life. Half of them can't find the work they studied for, or any work at all," Ryan told the crowd. "So here's the question: Without a change in leadership, why would the next four years be any different from the last four years?"
The first Gen Xers were eligible to vote for Ronald Reagan's second term at the height of his popularity and his conservative dogma. Younger voters for Reagan, the oldest U.S. president ever inaugurated, were among his strongest supporters.
It was not known then that Reagan's political aura and his mantra for smaller government and lower taxes would endure well into the next century. Nostalgia for Reagan is powerful. His views remain a litmus test for Republicans seeking national office.
Editor's note: This piece – a little-known lesson in African American drinkways – was originally delivered as a presentation at the 2008 Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium on the Liquid South. It was later printed in Cornbread Nation 5.
By John Simpkins, Special to CNN
I've been black since birth. I'm not sure how long I've been a Jew. "You're the only black person I know who can quote Woody Allen movies," said my Jewish friend, Peter, when I asked him to assess my Jewishness. "I only quote from the early good ones," I explained. "And those I love. In fact, love is too weak a word for what I feel. I more than love them. I 'lurve' them."
"Sammy Davis Jr. was your favorite member of the Rat Pack," Peter continued, pressing his case. "You even sent your three-year-old to summer camp at the Jewish Community Center. He recognizes the Israeli flag, can sing the dreidel song, and is constantly asking for challah. If you're not Jewish, Jonah certainly is."
Pete then reminded me how excited I was when he offered to read from the Zohar at my wedding. Then I remembered the frequent calls from my mother during my travels. "I'm just calling to see how you're doing. Ohm don't worry about me. I'm fine. I just thought I'd call since I hadn't heard from you in awhile. No, things are fine here. Don't worry about me."
I know why I'm black, but it was harder to figure out why I'm a Jew. As with so many voyages of personal discovery, the search for my Inner Jew begins with food and drink. For me, any discussion of food has to include Sundays with my grandmother. Mama Sena's house in Lexington, South Carolina, was the Sunday dinner gathering place for the eighteen of us first cousins, who spanned a twenty-three year age range and felt more like siblings than cousins. Because she was a church lady, there was little work actually done in Mama Sena's house on the Sabbath. She even refused to allow anyone to wash clothes on Sunday for fear that "someone could be washed out of the family." It is primarily for this reason that I spent most of my childhood fearing washing machines as agents of death.
The fruits of the labors of the rest of the week, however, were in abundance.
By Valarie Kaur, Special to CNN
(CNN) – The Republican National Convention will make history Wednesday night. Ishwar Singh, wearing a turban and beard, will take the stage and lead thousands of conservatives in prayer.
For the first time in U.S. history, a Sikh American will give the invocation at a Republican National Convention.
The inclusion of a Sikh prayer on the stage comes just a few weeks after a gunman opened fire on Sikhs praying in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, killing six and hospitalizing three more in what could be the largest racially motivated mass shooting in recent U.S. history. Many praise the invocation as a mark of progress in the Sikh community's 100 years in America.
Visuals matter. And in a racially charged political climate, a turbaned and bearded man will be presented to the country by Republicans as a fellow American. This is a remarkable step forward.
But speech also matters. If Mitt Romney and Republican leaders want the historic Sikh invocation to be more than tokenism - and are serious about preventing another Oak Creek - they cannot continue to let hateful speech within their own party go unchecked. In a time when hate groups are on the rise, the Republican Party must accept responsibility for fostering a political climate that often casts people of color as foreign and inherently suspect.
By Paul Steinhauser and Kevin Liptak, CNN
(CNN) – The first full day of the Republican National Convention was heavy with female speakers and light on the red meat that normally fires up the base. Here are five things we learned from the convention's first night:
Ann Romney's speech lives up to expectations
Ann Romney spelled it out right near the top of her speech: "I want to talk to you tonight not about politics and not about party."
Instead, her mission was to present to voters a softer and warmer side of her husband, something that polls show isn't apparent to many Americans.