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Also posted at Facing South.

Most serious political experts know that real, documented voter fraud is an extremely small problem.

When the Department of Justice under President Bush launched a crackdown on fraud in 2002, five years later it only had 86 convictions to show for the effort. That's .00007 percent of the 122 million people [pdf] who voted for president in the 2004 elections.

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In the eight weeks since oil began gushing into the Gulf of Mexico's from BP's ill-fated Deepwater Horizon rig, growing numbers have come to the conclusion that the only response is to stop buying BP gas -- a boycott.

According to one national poll, 51% are ready to boycott BP gas, and websites and Facebook pages (549,000+ fans) calling on consumers to stop buying from the oil giant abound.

For some, it's a moral decision: They don't want their gas dollars going to a corporation they view as irresponsible or worse. For others, a BP boycott is viewed more strategically --  a way to hit BP where it'll hurt most, the pocketbook, and force them to change their ways.

But will a BP boycott really work? It's a question I've thought about for years.

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Publicly, BP has said it intends to be generous in compensating those affected by the Gulf oil spill: CEO Tony Hayward has pledged to pay all "legitimate" claims resulting from the disaster, even offering to waive the $75 million cap on liability for economic damages.

But to handle claims from the spill, BP has hired a risk-management company who advertises that a main benefit of its services is "reducing our clients' loss dollar pay-outs" -- a goal Gulf advocates say is in direct contradiction to Washington and BP's promises to fully compensate coastal residents for mounting economic losses.

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In a year when political protest has been defined by the Tea Party and challenges from the political right, tomorrow's Democratic run-off between Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Lt. Gov. Bill Halter has become 2010's marquee battle for progressives.

And progressives -- mostly in the form of labor, but also MoveOn and other outfits -- is investing heavily in the outcome. Labor alone has spent $6.76 million for Halter, and reports knocking on170,000 doors, made 700,000 phone calls, sent 2.7 million pieces of mail.

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With public support for offshore oil drilling slipping and Washington pushing for new regulations on the industry, what's a pro-drilling politician, pundit or lobbyist to do?

Apparently, something like this: Minimize the Gulf oil disaster, compare it to a freak accident, and suggest that drilling for oil 5,000 feet beneath the ocean is just as essential to our daily lives as, say, flying in an airplane.

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Also posted at Facing South, a New Voice for a Changing South

How fast things can change. Just two days ago, Tea Party favorite Rand Paul was celebrating his stunning victory in Kentucky's primary to run as the GOP's candidate for U.S. Senate.

Now Rand is fending off questions about why, in two successive media interviews, he suggested that the Civil Rights Act went too far in telling private businesses in the South that they couldn't discriminate on the basis of race.

Both triumphant Democrats and dismayed Republicans have seized on Paul's statements as a typical scandal, responding with mixtures of shock and outrage.

But are Paul's statements and sentiments really all that surprising?

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Today I was on WUNC North Carolina's excellent talk radio program The State of Things for a short segment on the politics of the Gulf oil disaster. (You can check it out here).

The disaster has clearly changed the offshore oil debate. After two years of "drill, baby, drill," the Obama administration announced just last March that it was opening vast new expenses of water along the Atlantic coast, Gulf of Mexico and north coast of Alaska to oil and gas projects.

But now, 4 to 22 million gallons of spilled oil later (depending on whose numbers you use), the debate has dramatically changed. While many die-hard drillers haven't budged, the disaster created a new dynamic in the politics of offshore oil. The question now: Will it result in real change to oil and energy policy?

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By Joseph B. Atkins, Facing South

Hundreds of workers at Delta Pride Catfish, Inc., in the Mississippi Delta are poised to go on strike, 20 years after a previous strike that made Southern labor history.

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With oil still gushing from the site of BP's failed Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf -- a disaster that's now likely to eclipse the scale of the Exxon Valdez -- some politicians are rethinking the "drill, baby, drill" push for expanded offshore drilling.

But for others -- including many leading Republicans and even a few Democrats -- the message seems to be: "Still, baby, still!""

Facing South took a look at where key Southern politicians stand in the wake of the Gulf oil disaster:

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Originally posted at Facing South

Despite an army of reporters and officials investigating the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster, one item has curiously escaped much attention: Shell Oil is running a nearly identical "sister rig" in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, which may have the same design flaws that led to the current unfolding disaster.

The Deepwater Nautilus rig was built just a year after Deepwater Horizon, in the same shipyard for the same company implicated in the April 20th catastrophe. It's also drilling in the same Mississippi Canyon prospecting area of the Gulf where Horizon, the ill-fated rig being used by British Petroleum, met its demise.

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Yesterday, about 20 members of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity -- with nearly as many members of the media in tow -- gathered in downtown Durham, North Carolina to protest "Wall Street corruption" and the financial reform bill now moving through Congress.

Why Durham? Because it's home to the Center for Responsible Lending, a consumer advocacy group that has pushed for tougher banking rules. The Center is also the former employer of Eric Stein, a leading voice for financial reform who now works in President Obama's Treasury Department.

You may be wondering: How do you link the Center and Stein, staunch proponents of Wall Street reform, to "Wall Street corruption?" By painting the advocates as the ones who are too cozy with bankers and financial interests

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Tea partiers are gearing up for Tax Day protests this Thursday, which marks just over a year since the new conservative movement exploded on the scene.

For tea party leaders, one goal this week is to distance themselves from unpleasant scandals involving tea-linked candidates and reassure the public they're not a fringe cause, but just engaged citizens like you and me.

The idea that the tea party is "going mainstream" has been the headline message (at least for Fox News) coming out of two recent polls of the tea party movement, one by Rasmussen and the other by Gallup. But based on these and other polls, what do we really know about the tea partiers who will be congregating this week?

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