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Jersey residents face voting issues

By James West and Tim McDonnell, The Climate Desk

“We really don’t care about the election right now, it’s the furthest thing from our minds,” one resident says. Still, officials are scrambling to keep the polls open Tuesday.

Hurricane Sandy took away a lot of things: power, homes, even lives. For residents of Moonachie, New Jersey, a small town just across the Hudson River from New York City, the storm took a stab at their basic right to vote. After severe flooding here, much of the town remains without power, which led local election officials to decide over the weekend to close all the polling places and re-direct residents to consolidated locations nearby.

It’s the same story all across the state: Some 300 polling places shut down or moved, according to the governor’s office, creating a logistical nightmare for election planners and a headache for voters (for what’s it’s worth, Governor Chris Christie announced plans to allow votes to be emailed or faxed in). And while New Jersey, a solidly blue state, has never seen less than 70 percent turnout for a presidential election, residents here say until the lights come back on, casting a vote is the furthest thing from their minds.

Florida’s Hispanic vote

This week, Need to Know’s report Yo Decido shows how the hotly-contested Hispanic vote in Florida is far from a monolith — one size appeal will not fit all. The Pew Hispanic Center‘s figures help us illustrate just how diverse the Florida Latino vote is:

How financial aid letters often leave students confused and misinformed

by Marian Wang, ProPublica | Oct. 16, 2012, 2:26 p.m.

The financial aid award letters that colleges send to prospective students can be confusing: Many mix grants, scholarships and loans all under the heading of “Award,” “Financial Assistance,” or “Offered Financial Aid.” Some schools also suggest loans in amounts that families can’t afford.

Take Parent Plus loans, a federal program that allows families to take out as much as they need, after other aid is applied, to pay for their children’s college costs. As we recently reported with the Chronicle of Higher Education, Plus loans are remarkably easy to get. With minimal underwriting and no assessment of whether parents can actually afford the loans, families can end up overburdened by debt.

Colleges often exacerbate things when their letters lay out, or “package in,” large Plus loans to cover unmet need when student aid falls short. Just like the government, many colleges recommend loans without regard to family income or ability to repay.
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Appealing to the women of Virginia

Several weeks ago Producer Mona Iskander traveled to Virginia, a vital swing state in the 2012birth control election, to examine how the state’s Republican-controlled general assembly’s efforts to curb access to abortion providers could affect the presidential contest.

She talked with Katherine Waddell, a former Republican about how policies on choice had influenced her party affiliation: “I believe in a limited government. And I think that when you start getting involved in what’s happening in people’s personal lives, then that’s no longer limited government. That’s big government invasion and I’m very opposed to that. I used to go to meetings and I would say, ‘I am passionately Republican and I’m passionately pro-choice.’ Now, it’s very difficult for me to say, ‘I’m passionately Republican.’”
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Around the web: Drone politics

Pakistan's ex-cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan, top left, addresses supporters during a peace march in Mianwali, Pakistan, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012. Photo: AP Photo/Jabbar Ahmed

Originally published on

Imran Khan, a former cricket star-turned-politician, led a two-day march last weekend that focused new attention on U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. For Joshua Foust, a fellow at the American Security Project and regular Need to Know contributor, the march demonstrates how Khan,who is running for prime minister as head of the party Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI), is exploiting public anger over U.S. drone strikes. Foust questions Khan’s silence on the subject of the Pakistani Taliban, especially in light of Tuesday’s shooting of teen activist Malala Yousufzai. “It’s important to remember that the Taliban were rampaging in Pakistan before there were drones,” he says.
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Everything you need to know about the ‘fiscal cliff’

(Updated November 8, 2012)

Now that the election is over — everyone’s attention has turned to impending fiscal cliff. It’s a term seeped into the national psyche — the “fiscal cliff” is debated, interrogated, and endlessly hyped in the media. But most of us are still asking: What is it, exactly?

Recently Need to Know convened a panel of experts on the topics of federal budgets, entitlements — such as social security and medicare — and economics to gauge their opinions on these complex issues. And we followed that up with a pre-election analysis on the consequences for country after November 6.

Check out that coverage but before you watch, here’s a primer on the “fiscal cliff.”
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In search of the college vote

We asked journalist and civic educator Alexander Heffner to cover the college vote for us in the run-up to Election Day. This is the first in a series from his tour of campuses from Claremont to Mount Holyoke to the University of Nebraska — stay tuned for more. 

After two election cycles engaged intimately in the coverage of younger voters, their principal policy concerns, their grassroots engagement and their ultimate turnout on Election Day, I continue my study this fall to reveal what is driving the youth vote during this campaign cycle. In the run-up to November, I am visiting college campuses across the country, from New England schools of liberal arts to major public universities like University of California, Irvine.

Along the way, I have designed an evolving presentation for first-time college voters, aspiring journalists and graduate students that provides an historical overview of the youth vote’s impact on the American political system since 1972, as well as a real-time analysis of Millennials and the current presidential contest.

Over the last half-dozen years, as a reporter for both new and traditional media, I have been schooled in the demographic of digital natives – Millennials. To really understand this group, it is important to identify three important subsets in the context of President Obama’s re-election bid and the broader 2012 campaign.
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Where the candidates stand: Medicare and Medicaid

by Suevon Lee, ProPublica | Sept. 14, 2012, 2:26 p.m.

Medicare and Medicaid, which provide medical coverage for seniors, the poor and the disabled, together make up nearly a quarter of all federal spending. With total Medicare spending projected to cost $7.7 trillion over the next 10 years, there is consensus that changes are in order. But what those changes should entail has, of course, been one of the hot-button issues of the campaign.

With the candidates slinging charges, we thought we’d lay out the facts. Here’s a rundown of where the two candidates stand on Medicare and Medicaid:

During a news conference in Greer, S.C., Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney discusses the differences in his and President Obama's plans for Medicare. Photo: AP Photo/Evan Vucci


Big Picture

Earlier this year, the Medicare Board of Trustees estimated that the Medicare hospital trust fund would remain fully funded only until 2024. Medicare would not go bankrupt or disappear, but it wouldn’t have enough money to cover all hospital costs.

Under traditional government-run Medicare, seniors 65 and over and people with disabilities are given health insurance for a fixed set of benefits, in what’s known as fee-for-service coverage. Medicare also offers a subset of private health plans known as Medicare Advantage, in which roughly one-quarter of Medicare beneficiaries are currently enrolled. Obama retains this structure.

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‘Dark money’ group spends big in Ohio Senate race

by Justin Elliott, ProPublica | Sept. 11, 2012, 11:57 a.m.

New details have emerged about the Government Integrity Fund, a non-profit dark money group that has spent over $1 million on pro-GOP ads in the U.S. Senate race in Ohio.

As ProPublica first reported Friday, the chairman of the group is Tom Norris, a Columbus lobbyist who employs a former aide to Josh Mandel, the Republican challenging Sen. Sherrod Brown in the race.  The former aide, Joel Riter, also has an office in the same building as the Government Integrity Fund on East State Street in Columbus.

Riter had declined to comment on any role with the Fund, telling us last week, “I’m not going to comment on any kind of involvement I have with anyone.”

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