2012 - %3, January

Your Daily Newt: Health Chair Reform

| Fri Jan. 27, 2012 11:08 AM EST
The hospital of the future.

As a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out.

You've probably heard about Newt Gingrich's (somewhat erratic) views on health care reform. And you're likely familiar with his climate change TV spot (which Gingrich recently dubbed the worst mistake of his political career) in which he sat on a couch with Nancy Pelosi. But in his 1984 book, Window of Opportunity, Gingrich combined both his passion for public policy and his passion for living room furniture into one sweeping proposal—the creation of a new "health chair," an instrument that would do everything from monitoring recovery from major medical procedures, to churning out perfectly calibrated recipes from Weight Watchers:

A personalized health chair with a diagnostic program to measure and compare all your bodily signs against your own data base. The chair could be tied into a weight-watcher's computer-based recipe program which would then outline what you should eat given your weight, blood pressure, etc. The computer would be programmed to monitor your diet over time and change recipes to minimize boredom while achieving the desired nutritional effect. This system could be tied by cable or telephone to a hospital, where a computer could routinely monitor you while you are sitting in the chair. Thus, you could leave the hospital after surgery much earlier than we currently expect; you could measure your own well being and take corrective and preventative health care steps; and you could measure your diet and exercise patterns.

All from the comfort of your own living room!

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The End of Privacy

| Fri Jan. 27, 2012 6:00 AM EST

A few days ago Google announced a new privacy policy: If you're signed into any Google service, the information that Google collects from you can be combined with information from every other Google service to build a gigantic profile of your activities and preferences. On Tuesday I wrote that I was pretty unhappy about this, and a lot of people wanted to know why. After all, Google says this new policy will mean a better computing experience for everyone:

Our recently launched personal search feature is a good example of the cool things Google can do when we combine information across products. Our search box now gives you great answers not just from the web, but your personal stuff too…But there's so much more that Google can do to help you by sharing more of your information with…well, you. We can make search better—figuring out what you really mean when you type in Apple, Jaguar or Pink. We can provide more relevant ads too. For example, it's January, but maybe you're not a gym person, so fitness ads aren't that useful to you. We can provide reminders that you're going to be late for a meeting based on your location, your calendar and an understanding of what the traffic is like that day.

So what's my problem? Easy. In that mass of good news, the real reason for Google's announcement was stuffed quietly into the middle: "We can provide more relevant ads too."

This is so obvious that no one even paid attention to it. Of course Google wants to target its ads better. That's where most of its revenue comes from. Yawn.

So again: What's my problem? Why do I care if Google serves up ads that are a little more suited to my tastes? The truth is that I don't. What I do care about, though, is the obvious corollary: Google's main purpose in life, as you'd expect from any big, public company, is making money. And the way they make money is by helping third parties sell you stuff. Here, then, is the nut of the thing, from the same blog post announcing the new privacy policy:

Finally, what we're not changing. We remain committed to data liberation, so if you want to take your information elsewhere you can. We don't sell your personal information, nor do we share it externally without your permission…

Do you find that reassuring? I decidedly don't. If Google can change its privacy policy today, it can change it tomorrow. And it will. No company is an unstoppable juggernaut forever, and Google is already showing signs of becoming an ordinary corporation that has to scrap for profits just like everyone else. This is what's motivating their policy change this week, and someday it's likely to motivate them to sell my personal information after all.

It won't be mandatory, of course. If I want to close my Google accounts, they'll let me. But if I use an Android smartphone—and this is plainly one of the primary targets of Google's new policy—that will be pretty hard. And after years of using Google products like Gmail and YouTube, it's not as easy as it sounds to simply export all your data and move to a new platform. In reality, very few people will do this. Google is counting on the fact that they'll grumble a bit, like I'm doing, and then get on with their lives.

And maybe I should too. That's certainly the primary advice I got after writing Tuesday's post. Perhaps, as David Brin has been telling us for years, traditional notions of privacy are going away whether we like it or not, so we might as well like it. Complaining about it won't do us any more good than complaining about the end of transatlantic ocean liners or old-time radio shows.

And yet…I'm just not there yet. It's bad enough that Google can build up a massive and—if we're honest, slightly scary—profile of my activities, but it will be a lot worse when Google and Facebook and Procter & Gamble all get together to merge these profiles into a single uber-database and then sell it off for a fee to anyone with a product to hawk. Or any government agency that thinks this kind of information might be pretty handy.

So that's why I'm unhappy. I don't believe for a second that Google's policy against selling personal information will last forever. Maybe I should just relax and accept that this is the direction the world is going, but for now I think I'll continue to fight it.

Here's Who Paid Mitt Romney "Not Very Much" to Speak

| Fri Jan. 27, 2012 6:00 AM EST
Legendary public speaker Willard Mitt Romney.

"I get speakers fees from time to time, but not very much," Mitt Romney said last week of his six-figure public speaking income. His foes seized on the gaffe as further evidence of Romney being out of touch with average Americans, but there's another reason for him to downplay the payments, which totaled to $374,000 for nine speeches in 2010—an average of $41,592 per appearance. (Newt Gingrich reported receiving a total of $21,625 in speaking fees and Rick Santorum reported none.) The high payments raise questions about what the groups who hired these pols might expect in return. Here's a rundown of speeches Romney and Gingrich have disclosed.

Mitt Romney

Quest Educational Foundation (Naples, Florida)
$35,771
An educational nonprofit that offers tutoring and test-prep services, Quest also has a political side. Its website claims affiliations to libertarian groups such as the Cato Institute, Ludwig Von Mises Institute, and Ayn Rand Institute. Its chairman, C.E. Dekko Jr., is an executive with Group Dekko, a multinational manufacturing company that makes everything from truck parts to medical devices. Over the years he has donated $167,297 to political candidates and parties, almost all of it to Libertarians and Republicans.

Riverside Theatre (Vero Beach, Florida)
$20,000
While traveling the country to hawk his book in 2010, Romney typically spoke to crowds for free. But he was so popular in conservative, affluent Vero Beach that the local theater decided to charge for tickets and give Romney a cut. Happy to play along, Mayor Kevin Sawnick gave Romney a key to the city.

Claremont McKenna College (Claremont, California)
$11,475
About two weeks earlier, Romney had spoken to students at Emory University for free. But he was brought to Claremont McKenna through the university's Pacesetters Fellowship Program, which "attracts leaders in business, academia, and public affairs" by giving them money.

Get Motivated Seminars (via satellite from Boston)
$29,750
The Weekly Standard calls Get Motivated "a quasi-Christian self-help operation" in which "the company makes money both from ticket sales and by letting pitchmen hawk personal improvement and get-rich-quick products during the interludes between the star speakers"—including the likes of Zig Ziglar, Brett Favre, and Sarah Palin.

HP Healthcare Services (Dallas)
$32,831
This lucrative consulting arm of the HP computer empire, which offers "a comprehensive digital health solution" to hospitals and medical providers, may have been attracted to Romney for his role in creating state-run healthcare in Massachusetts.

Clark Consulting (Half Moon Bay, California)
$66,000
This boutique consulting firm advises large financial institutions about life insurance programs—and fights on their behalf in Washington. Last year, Clark Consulting asked (PDF) financial regulators responsible for implementing the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reforms (the "Volcker Rule"), to carve out an exemption for bank-owned life insurance arrangements. In October, the exemption was granted (PDF). Since 2002, the company's PAC has spent more than $470,000.

GoldenTree Asset Management (New York City)
$68,000
This Wall Street investment firm manages $13.5 billion, much of it in hedge funds. Since 2008, founder Steven Tananbaum has donated $77,398 to candidates, committees, and PACs, mostly Republican.

International Franchise Association (Las Vegas)
$68,000
"Mitt Romney’s broad experience in business, government and politics will provide critical insight for IFA members as we continue to position our companies for growth in a challenging financial climate," IFA Chairman Ken Walker said in announcing that Romney would keynote the IFA's 51st annual convention. The IFA promotes the global spread of chain stores like Burger King and Pizza Hut.

Barclays Bank (Washington, DC)
$42,500
Barclays lobbyist Patrick J. Durkin is Romney's most active bundler on K Street, raising $245,825 on his behalf last quarter. The world's fifth-largest corporation by assets, London-based Barclays spent $2.8 million on DC lobbyists last year.

Newt Gingrich

John Locke Foundation (Raleigh, North Carolina)
$18,000
Gingrich keynoted the foundation's 20th anniversary event, waxing poetic about the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. The board of the John Locke Foundation includes Art Pope, the wholesaling baron who has essentially purchased North Carolina's government.

American Family Association
$6,000 (estimate)
Gingrich's financial disclosures, which note three separate $2,000 payments, don't specify precisely how Gingrich earned the money from this anti-gay Christian group, but his tax return suggests that at least some portion was compensation for public speaking. The AFA, which the Southern Poverty Law Center considers a "hate group," was also behind Texas Gov. Rick Perry's prayer festival in Houston.

Inside Apple's Hidden Factories. Finally.

| Fri Jan. 27, 2012 6:00 AM EST

UPDATE: This American Life has retracted the story it ran about monologist Mike Daisey's visit to Chinese factories; Daisey has admitted that he fabricated significant portions of the story. The piece "uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story," he wrote in a blog post. "What I do is not journalism."

--

Almost everyone I know owns something made by Apple, and while most of us spend a fair bit of time obsessing about our gadgets—which apps are worth paying for? Is Siri useful or annoying?—rarely do we talk about where they came from. In part, that's because Apple wants it that way: The company is famously tight-lipped about its manufacturing process, and few outsiders have ever made it into their factories.

But now, Apple's tough facade has finally begun to crack: Recent coverage (more on this below) has provided a glimpse into Apple's vast supply chain and the massive profits it produces—more than $400,000 for every employee, according to a New York Times investigation. Here at Mother Jones, we've got a somewhat related investigation in the pipeline—come back in a few weeks for the details. Meanwhile, my colleague Dave Gilson made this handy tool.

We've loaded this iPhone up with 10 apps you won't find on a real smart phone. Click on an app to learn where your phone's electronic components really came from.

Supply Side Bad Apples Miner Threat Tantalized
Negative Charge Tin Soldiers
Screen Slaver MicroPolluter
BadVibes Locked In
Reset iPhone
 
 

Supply Side

Apple spends an estimated $100 on the iPhone's 1,000-plus parts. It keeps a tight lid on where in the world they come from. If you deconstruct the gadget, you'll find fewer than 130 parts with a brand name or "made in" label on them.

Bad Apples

iPhones are made in Shenzhen, China, by the Taiwanese company Foxconn, which has been criticized for its working conditions, including long hours, harsh discipline, and a rash of worker suicides. Apple's own reviews found that more than half its audited manufacturers did not meet its labor standards for things such as child labor.

Miner Threat

A 16GB iPhone 3GS contains 12 gold-plated parts. Producing 1 ounce of gold creates 80 tons of waste. Layers of middlemen make it difficult to trace the source of the gold (or any other metal) in an iPhone, making it easy for minerals from conflict zones to slip into the supply chain.

Tantalized

The iPhone includes a tantalum capacitor. After a United Nations report linked its manufacturer, Kemet, to the illegal mineral trade in eastern Congo, the company vaguely announced it "supports avoiding" tantalum from the region.

Negative Charge

Rechargeable batteries have energized demand for lithium. Getting more will mean digging up 3,000 square miles of pristine Bolivian salt flats, home to one-half of the world's lithium reserves.

Tin Soldiers

Tin is used to solder circuit boards. Some 27,000 tons are extracted from Congo annually, earning armed groups an estimated $93 million or more.

Screen Slaver

The 3.5-inch LCD screen is reportedly made in Taiwan and China by Wintek, which has faced allegations of low wages, forced overtime, and ripping off migrant workers.

BadVibes

High-density tungsten is used to make cell phones vibrate. Three-quarters of the world's supply comes from China—not known for its mining safety record—and 1,400 tons are dug up annually in Congo.

MicroPolluter

Making a 0.07-ounce microchip uses 66 pounds of materials, including water and toxic chemicals such as flame retardants and chlorinated solvents. Greenpeace gives Apple a 4.6 out of 10 for its efforts to eliminate hazardous chemicals and minimize e-waste.

Locked In

The list price for a 16GB iPhone 4S is $649. It's yours for less than $200, if you don't mind being locked into a two-year contract with AT&T or Verizon.

This week, the New York Times has launched a series called "The iEconomy," and the first piece in the series focused on Apple's massive outsourcing of jobs to China. No task is too big, no deadline too tight:

One former executive described how the company relied upon a Chinese factory to revamp iPhone manufacturing just weeks before the device was due on shelves. Apple had redesigned the iPhone's screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight.

A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company's dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.

Another article focused on the "harsh conditions" at the Chinese factories where Apple gadgets are made.

A few weeks back, there was an incredible episode of This American Life, wherein Mike Daisey, a monologist and "self-described worshipper in the cult of Mac" visits the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, China, where iPads are made. What he finds there is mind-boggling. First, the sheer size of the place: 34,000 workers. The cafeterias seat thousands, and the dormitories are so crowded the beds remind Daisey of coffins.

Daisey meets a young woman who cleans iPad screens and discovers that she is just 13. While he is there, a worker dies after a 34-hour shift. But the most chilling part was Daisey's description of the factories as virtually silent. There's no thrum of machinery, he realizes, because there are hardly any machines. What we miss when we wax nostalgic about a time when things were made by hand, he says, is that "There are more handmade things now than there have ever been."

More bad news: Back in August, the Chinese NGO Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs released a report (PDF) on the pollution created by Apple's sprawling supply chain. Among its findings was that Apple doesn't even seem to be looking for environmental problems during its factory audits:

…the coalition has discovered more than 27 suspected suppliers to Apple that have had environmental problems. However, in the '2011 Supplier Responsibility Report' published by Apple Inc., where core violations were discovered from the 36 audits, not a single violation was based on environmental pollution…Therefore, despite Apple’s seemingly rigorous audits, pollution is still expanding and spreading along with the supply chain.

Of course, none of this is good news for gadget hounds. But is it bad enough to make people swear off iPads? Or at least to pressure Apple to change its ways? 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 27, 2012

Fri Jan. 27, 2012 5:57 AM EST

A pair of 210th Rescue Squadron HH-60 Pave Hawks fly over Alaska on a training mission on January 13, 2012. (US Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Sean Mitchell)

Romney Inadvertently Defends Obamacare (Again)

| Thu Jan. 26, 2012 11:15 PM EST
Mitt Romney.

Republicans hate Obamacare. Mitt Romney can't stop defending it.

Not directly of course. But in Thursday night's debate, just as in the one last week, Romney was confronted over his implementation of health care reform in Massachusetts that served in part as the blueprint for the Affordable Care Act. When Rick Santorum accused the ex-governor of supporting a "top-down government-run health care system," Romney calmly explained that under his plan, Massachusetts residents were still purchasing private insurance. When Santorum reminded Romney that his plan compelled individuals without health insurance to buy it on "condition of breathing," Romney gave an eloquent, if conservative, defense of the individual mandate:

[F]or the 8 percent of people who didn't have insurance, we said to them, if you can afford insurance, buy it yourself, any one of the plans out there, you can choose any plan. There's no government plan. And if you don't want to buy insurance, then you have to help pay for the cost of the state picking up your bill, because under federal law if someone doesn't have insurance, then we have to care for them in the hospitals, give them free care. So we said, no more, no more free riders. We are insisting on personal responsibility. Either get the insurance or help pay for your care. And that was the conclusion that we reached.

All of this can be said about Obamacare. It doesn't "take over" the health care system, it regulates a health insurance market in which private companies compete. Individuals are compelled to buy insurance because, if they don't, taxpayers ends up paying for their health care once they get sick. Romney simply can't explain why Romneycare isn't socialism without also explaining why Obamacare isn't socialism. He can't defend Romneycare's individual mandate as an issue of personal responsibility without also doing the same with the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act.

The strange part wasn't that Romney offered this defense—after all, he's done it before. It's that when he offered it, the Republican audience actually applauded (via BuzzFeed).

Now, the Affordable Care Act is anathema to the Republican base. Every Republican candidate for president has vowed to repeal it. Yet framed in conservative terms, and defended by the likely Republican nominee, a Republican audience applauded its key concepts. Not every Republican loved Romney's health care plan when it was implemented, but the perception of the Affordable Care Act as the twilight of freedom in America is largely a function of partisanship rather than ideology. 

The mandate may not survive the Supreme Court. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that more than half of Americans think the mandate is unconstitutional, and the court is not immune to public sentiment. Partisanship is a powerful force, one that not only gives the Supreme Court popular cover for repealing the Affordable Care Act by fiat, but also will likely lead to the Republicans nominating Obamacare's most eloquent defender.

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GOP Candidates: Obama Keeps Snubbing Israel!

| Thu Jan. 26, 2012 11:12 PM EST
President Obama....recklessly plotting to defriend Israel.

Late into Thursday night's Republican presidential debate at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, the conversation inevitably turned to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Occasional front-runner Mitt Romney took that as his cue to talk as little about the peace process as possible and play up President Barack Obama's supposed foreign policy weakness as much as possible.

"The Palestinians want to eliminate Israel," Romney said, painting things with a really, really, really broad brush. He went on to criticize President Obama for supposedly having said "nothing" during his September speech at the United Nations "about thousands of rockets being rained in on Israel from the Gaza Strip." Well, that is not true. (Romney also repeated his claim that the president has tossed Israel under the proverbial bus.)

Newt Gingrich wasn't far behind in attacking Obama, insisting that the Washington response to Palestinian "acts of war" was yet another contemptible example of the current administration's fecklessness abroad and at home. Here's video from the debate:

Let's get this out of the way quickly: Here's the president— delivering that speech to the UN General Assembly that Romney was talking about—addressing all those rockets "from the Gaza Strip":

America's commitment to Israel's security is unshakeable...[S]o we believe that any lasting peace must acknowledge the very real security concerns that Israel faces every single day. Let us be honest with ourselves: Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel's citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel's children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them. Israel, a small country of less than eight million people, look out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off of the map.  The Jewish people carry the burden of centuries of exile and persecution, and fresh memories of knowing that six million people were killed simply because of who they are. Those are facts. They cannot be denied.

Now, check out then-Sen. Obama in July 2008, waxing personal about rockets being launched at Israeli civilians:

If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I'm going to do everything in my power to stop that. I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.

There you have it: Barack Obama saying something about all those rockets.

Also, it should be fairly obvious by now that Barack Obama is not planning on defriending Israel. Despite talk of the "Jewish backlash" that supposedly resulted from Obama's mention of 1967 borders last year, the Obama administration has been rock-steady on military aid and sales, played it super-safe on the Palestinian bid for statehood, and expressed Washington's "ironclad" commitment to Israel's security time and time again.

Furthermore, if Israelis are supposed to be living in fear of President Obama not caring about existential threats coming their way, then, according to plenty of recent polling, somebody forgot to tell the Israelis.

Jacksonville Debate Roundup

| Thu Jan. 26, 2012 10:15 PM EST

You know those basketball rematches where a team that got pummeled last time suddenly comes out totally on fire and wins by a mile? It's never clear quite why that happens, but it happened in the Republican debate tonight. I don't know what Romney ate for breakfast this morning, but he came alive and wiped the floor with Newt Gingrich in this debate. He went after Gingrich for his Freddie Mac connections and made it stick. He was outraged when Newt said he was anti-immigrant, and for once he actually sounded outraged. And when Newt tried to buy some anti-media cred by attacking Wolf Blitzer, he got pwned by both Blitzer and Romney:

BLITZER: Earlier this week, you said Governor Romney, after he released his taxes, you said that you were satisfied with the level of transparency of his personal finances when it comes to this. And I just want to reiterate and ask you, are you satisfied right now with the level of transparency as far as his personal finances?

GINGRICH: Wolf, you and I have a great relationship, it goes back a long way. I'm with him. This is a nonsense question. Look, how about if the four of us agree for the rest of the evening, we'll actually talk about issues that relate to governing America?

BLITZER: But, Mr. Speaker, you made an issue of this, this week, when you said that, "He lives in a world of Swiss bank and Cayman Island bank accounts." I didn't say that. You did.

GINGRICH: I did. And I'm perfectly happy to say that on an interview on some TV show. But this is a national debate, where you have a chance to get the four of us to talk about a whole range of issues.

....ROMNEY: Wouldn't it be nice if people didn't make accusations somewhere else that they weren't willing to defend here?

Ouch. Gingrich has tried that bit before about nasty attacks being OK when you're on some radio show or something but not when you're on national TV, and for some reason he's gotten away with it even though it's transparently self-serving and ridiculous. Tonight he didn't.

This was all in the first half hour, but by then the debate was over. Romney lost a bit of his mojo later on and reverted to the stuttering, stumbling Mitt that we've seen in the last two debates, but not enough to hurt him, especially after Newt was forced to endure ten minutes of attacks over his support for a lunar colony during the second hour. This attack from Romney was both brutal and effective:

ROMNEY: I spent 25 years in business. If I had a business executive come to me and say they wanted to spend a few hundred billion dollars to put a colony on the moon, I'd say, "You're fired."

The idea that corporate America wants to go off to the moon and build a colony there, it may be a big idea, but it's not a good idea. And we have seen in politics -- we've seen politicians -- and Newt, you've been part of this -- go from state to state and promise exactly what that state wants to hear. The Speaker comes here to Florida, wants to spend untold amount of money having a colony on the moon. I know it's very exciting on the Space Coast.

In South Carolina, it was a new interstate highway, and dredging the port in Charleston. In New Hampshire, it was burying a power line coming in from Canada and building a new VHA hospital in New Hampshire so that people don't have to go to Boston.

Look, this idea of going state to state and promising what people want to hear, promising billions, hundreds of billions of dollars to make people happy, that's what got us into the trouble we're in now. We've got to say no to this kind of spending.

Coming from a guy like Romney who's famous for his willingness to say pretty much anything to anybody, this was a great job of jiu jitsu. It was also true. Gingrich really has been pandering to state interests relentlessly, and nowhere more so than in Florida.

I don't know how much debates really matter compared to the tidal wave of advertising that's inundating Florida right now, but if they do matter then Romney won the Florida primary tonight, and almost certainly the nomination along with it. The punters on Intrade obviously agree: Romney's chances of winning shot up to 89% tonight and Gingrich's plummeted to 5%. Adios, Newt.

Mitt Romney Misleads on His Fannie and Freddie Investments

| Thu Jan. 26, 2012 9:59 PM EST

Challenged on his investments in the government sponsored housing enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac at Thursday's GOP presidential debate, Mitt Romney offered a seemingly bulletproof defense: He shouldn't be responsible for those investments, because he'd put his money in a blind trust. In other words, he had no idea which companies he was involved with. As he explained, "My investments for the last 10 years have been in a blind trust, managed by a trustee. Secondly, the investments they've made—we've learned about this as we made our financial disclosure—have been made in mutual funds and bonds. I don't own stock in either Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. There are bonds the investor has held through mutual funds."

It was a good comeback, and when Romney countered by pointing out that Newt Gingrich had himself invested in Fannie and Freddie, the former House speaker appeared to concede the point. But there's a problem: As the Boston Globe reported, Romney's investments in Fannie and Freddie weren't part of a blind trust:

On his financial disclosure statement filed last month, Romney reported owning between $250,001 and $500,000 in a mutual fund that invests in debt notes of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, among other government entities. Over the previous year, he had reported earning between $15,001 and $50,000 in interest from those investments.

And unlike most of Romney’s financial holdings, which are held in a blind trust that is overseen by a trustee and not known to Romney, this particular investment was among those that would have been known to Romney.

The investment was also not on Romney’s 2007 financial disclosure form. A Romney aide said the investments were made in the latter half of 2007, after he had filed the earlier disclosure form. That was around the time that the scale of the housing crisis was coming into focus.

What Newt Gingrich Doesn't Get About Deportation and Gangs Like MS-13

| Thu Jan. 26, 2012 8:55 PM EST
An MS-13 gang member with the gang's full name tattooed on his back.

At Thursday's GOP presidential debate in Jacksonville, Newt Gingrich was asked early on about his position on illegal immigration. Although he defended his proposal that senior citizens and families who have been here for a long time should be allowed to stay, Gingrich took a harsh stand on everyone else. "Look, I think, first of all, we need to control the border, which—I would finish the border fence by 2014...We should also make deportation easier, so that when we deport people who shouldn't be here, MS-13, for example, it should be very quick."

MS-13, for the uninitiated, is a Central-American gang with a large presence in the United States. Newt has cited the group with regularity on the campaign trail. Conflating undocumented immigrants with violent criminal activity is hardly a new concept. But Newt's MS-13 line is missing one key fact—mass deportations are the reason the gang has grown like it has in the United States. Well-intentioned American policies created a cycle by which gang members would return to El Salvador and recruit new members, who in turn travel to the United States themselves. The Los Angeles Times examined the issue in a great 2005 investigation. Here's the thrust of it:

In the last 12 years, U.S. immigration authorities have logged more than 50,000 deportations of immigrants with criminal records to Central America, including untold numbers of gang members like Cruz-Mendoza.

But a deportation policy aimed in part at breaking up a Los Angeles street gang has backfired and helped spread it across Central America and back into other parts of the United States. Newly organized cells in El Salvador have returned to establish strongholds in metropolitan Washington, D.C., and other U.S. cities. Prisons in El Salvador have become nerve centers, authorities say, where deported leaders from Los Angeles communicate with gang cliques across the United States.

A gang that once numbered a few thousand and was involved in street violence and turf battles has morphed into an international network with as many as 50,000 members, the most hard-core engaging in extortion, immigrant smuggling and racketeering. In the last year, the federal government has brought racketeering cases against MS-13 members in Long Island, N.Y., and southern Maryland.