2012 - %3, June

In Iowa, Paying Your Debt to Society Isn't Quite Enough

| Tue Jun. 26, 2012 11:09 AM EDT

Via Ed Kilgore, we learn today that voter suppression is alive and well in Iowa. On his first day in office after winning the 2010 election, Gov. Terry Branstad reinstituted a long and laborious process that prevents most released felons from voting:

Henry Straight, who wants to serve on the town council in the tiny western Iowa community of Arthur, is among those whose paperwork wasn't complete. Straight can't vote or hold office because as a teenager in Wisconsin in the 1980s, he was convicted of stealing a pop machine and fleeing while on bond.

Straight spent a year on the effort and hired a lawyer for $500 to help. Yet he was notified by the governor's office last month that he hadn't submitted a full credit report, only a summary, or documentation showing he had paid off decades-old court costs. They make the process just about impossible," said Straight, 40, a truck driver. "I hired a lawyer to navigate it for me and I still got rejected. Isn't that amazing?"

Iowa's process also includes a 31-question application that asks for information such as the address of the judge who handled the conviction. Felons also must supply a criminal history report, which takes weeks and costs $15. Then the review can take up to six months.

Felons, of course, tend to be poorer, blacker, and younger than the general population, which means they're more likely to vote for Democrats than the general population. So who cares if they've paid their debt to society? A tendency to vote for Democrats is mighty suspicious behavior all on its own, no? Surely anyone foolish enough to belong to one or more of these demographic groups should expect to have a hard time voting whenever a Republican machine is in charge.

Ed adds this: "A credit report to regain the right to vote? That's about the most revealing reflection of latter-day Republican values I've seen in a while....There's not a question in my mind that these people would reinstitute poll taxes if the courts and Grover Norquist would let them."

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How Jan Brewer and Many Others Got the Supreme Court's Immigration Ruling Wrong

| Tue Jun. 26, 2012 10:32 AM EDT

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer sounded triumphant Monday as she declared that the "heart" of SB 1070, Arizona's harsh anti-illegal immigration law, had been "upheld" by the Supreme Court.

"The heart of Senate Bill 1070 has been proven to be constitutional. Arizona’s and every other state’s inherent authority to protect and defend its people has been upheld."

There's just one problem: The high court did not find any provision of Arizona's law to be constitutional—it did not "uphold" any part of the law. The distinction here is a technical legal one, and plenty of reporters and media outlets got it wrong. (My first tweet about the ruling was wrong. Politico, the Los Angeles Times*,  and PBS' Newshour also initially misreported the ruling.) Other supporters of the law, including Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (who is a lawyer) also referred to part of the law being "upheld."

Here's what the Supreme Court actually did on Monday. The justices decided that the lower court that prevented SB 1070 from taking effect was mostly correct—because most of the law's provisions were likely unconstitutional. The Supreme Court declined to block the "papers, please" provision of the law—which Brewer refers to as its "heart"—that requires local authorities to check the immigration status of anyone they arrest. But the high court did not find the controversial provision constitutional, and so it was not "upheld." Instead, the high court deferred judgment on the matter. Saying that part of the law was "upheld" incorrectly implies that the court decided the "papers, please" provision was constitutional. The justices were actually decidedly agnostic on that point.

"The majority said it didn't know enough about how the law would work in practice to rule decisively. Because the law has never gone into effect, it just wasn't clear whether the law would conflict with federal policy." says Adam Winkler, a professor at the University of California Los Angeles School of Law who wrote a column for the Daily Beast noting that many media outlets got the distinction wrong. "The court said to Arizona there's a right way and a wrong way to apply this law and we're watching you."

Although it's anyone's guess how the court might ultimately rule on the "papers, please" provision, Justice Anthony Kennedy's opinion gives very specific guidance on how that part of the law should be enforced. That suggests that in the future, the court could very well find the provision unconstitutional—meaning that Brewer's celebration was beyond premature. 

"They absolutely left open the possiblity of future challenges," says Elizabeth Wydra, chief counsel at the liberal Constitutional Accountability Center. "We achieved victory on three out of the four provisions [Monday], and I think it's going to be a delayed victory on the fourth."

*Correction: This post previously stated that Washington Post reported that the section was "upheld." The headline was actually "upheld for now," which is accurate. 

Norway Gets Ready to Relive the Past

| Tue Jun. 26, 2012 10:29 AM EDT

Matt Yglesias points out today that Norway is in the middle of a gigantic housing bubble, and as I recall, Denmark is too. (I'm not sure about Sweden.) You can say all the usual things about this, but what's most interesting from the "this time is different" perspective is that Norway has already had a gigantic housing bubble. Not the one a century ago in 1890, but the one a mere 20 years ago that led to a banking crisis starting in 1988. It's the red oval in the chart on the right, and even though it looks like a blip compared to the current bubble, it was anything but. It led to the collapse of Norway's banking sector, an all but total collapse of the housing market in Oslo, a taxpayer-led bailout, and Norway's exit from the ECU (the precursor to the euro).

But despite this near-death experience, within a mere two decades Norway is in the midst of a housing bubble that makes the last one look like a pipsqueak. The good news is that they're no longer in a fixed-rate exchange area, which gives them more flexibility, but it's still a bubble, and even with a krone that floats it's a pretty dangerous place to be. We really never learn, do we?

Interested in more? The definitive report on the 1988-92 crisis is here, and it's recommended reading for anyone who wants to understand banking collapses and how they can be dealt with. Also, read this John Hempton post from 2008, which explains what happened and suggests that Spain might be next. The new report from which the chart above is taken is from the San Francisco Fed.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 26, 2012

Tue Jun. 26, 2012 8:39 AM EDT

Spc. Shane Marks, 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, provides security in an overwatch position during Operation Southern Strike II in Afghanistan on June 6. US Army photo by Sgt. Brendan Mackie.

Mapping the Battle Over Arizona-Style Immigration Laws

| Tue Jun. 26, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

As MoJo's Adam Serwer reported Monday, the Supreme Court voted down three of four provisions of Arizona's controversial immigration law, SB 1070, but allowed one harsh measure to stand: The court upheld (for now)* section 2B, which requires law enforcement officers to determine the immigration status of suspects during lawful stops, detentions, or arrests. Along with Arizona, five other states—Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and Utah—have similar "show your papers" laws on the books. Meanwhile, from 2010 to 2011, 30 state legislatures rejected bills modeled after Arizona's.

This year, with the uncertainty surrounding the impending court decision and with legislators unwilling to deal with the type of fallout seen in Alabama, only five states introduced such legislation: Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Rhode Island (PDF), and West Virginia. The Missouri, Mississippi, and West Virginia bills failed; Kansas' regular legislative session has ended without action on the bill, and the same outcome appears likely in Rhode Island, whose session is over July 2. (Four of the five states—Rhode Island excluded—had already tried and failed to pass similar bills previously.)

Following Monday's Supreme Court ruling, Nebraska state Sen. Charlie Janssen, sponsor of a 2011 Arizona-style bill, told the Associated Press he was unsure if he'd repropose it moving forward, saying, "I certainly wouldn't bring something back that the US Supreme Court just shot down." But Mississippi Republican state Rep. Becky Currie, cosponsor of the state's HB 488 (PDF), is undaunted. She told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger that the ruling merely would affect how she wrote future anti-immigrant legislation. Currie also told the paper that she expected a future Mississippi immigration bill to have a "self-deportation effect": "As soon as the bill passes, illegal immigrants will leave the state."

Correction: This article initially claimed that the Supreme Court upheld section 2B, which is incorrect. Read Serwer's Tuesday post to see why.

What Can We Learn From Mennonites' Pee Samples?

| Tue Jun. 26, 2012 2:15 AM EDT

For an industrial chemical released into the environment at more than 1 million pounds a year, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that bisphenol A also shows up in humans. Four years ago, researchers discovered that BPA, which is used in plastic manufacturing, was present in nearly 93 percent of the US population's urine.

So it's disturbing that a growing body of scientific literature suggests that BPA disrupts the body's hormones. Exposure to the chemical has been associated with risk for obesity, breast cancer, prostate cancer, cardiovascular disease, infertility, diabetes, thyroid dysfunction, and neurological problems.

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The War Against the Young

| Tue Jun. 26, 2012 1:05 AM EDT

David Frum writes that the Great Recession has hit the young the hardest but that older Americans don't care. They just want to protect their own lifestyles, and they'll get their way by ruthlessly voting their self interest:

The economics blogger Steve Randy Waldman memorably and bitterly articulated the meaning of these grim facts. The long slump has revealed the preferences of the aging polities of the Western world. “Their overwhelming priority is to protect the purchasing power of incumbent creditors. That’s it. That’s everything. All other considerations are secondary” — including economic recovery.

We could jump-start the economy with a massive jolt of monetary and fiscal stimulus, but such a policy would risk inflation and pose a threat to retirement savings. So we don’t do it. We could borrow money to finance infrastructure programs that would set people to work now and enrich society over the long haul — but that borrowing would have to be serviced by taxes to which older Americans fiercely object. So we don’t do that either.

....The old have always grumbled about the young. No doubt Cro-Magnons complained that their kids didn’t appreciate their effort to put a nice, dry cave above their heads. Yet we seem today to hear a new bitterness in the attitudes of the old, a special glee in reproaching and denouncing the young. In 2012 job seekers outnumber jobs offered by a margin of 3–1, down from a post-Depression record of 5.5–1 in early 2009, with the ratio worst among the youngest workers. As young job applicants collect rejection slips, the leading conservative policy intellectual, Charles Murray, has publicly urged his fellow older Americans to regard unemployed young men as “lazy, irresponsible, and unmanly” and to publicly revile them as “bums.”

Here's a similar sentiment from another observer, trying to predict what politics will look like a decade from now:

At the same time that the generational fight over values starts to cool off, the generational fight over resources will heat up. Partly this will be because of the increase in the elderly population. Partly it will be because of slower growth and the increasing stagnation of the working class. And partly it will be because the [Republican and Democratic] parties will be increasingly split by age group.

Oh wait — that was me. I think Frum is a little more apocalyptic about this than I am, but generally speaking we're on the same page. Both the boomers and the generation before them were enormously lucky to have started their careers in the postwar world, roughly from 1950 through 1980. Good jobs were plentiful; retirement benefits — both public and private — increased steadily; and a variety of factors kept middle-class growth high. But the beneficiaries of this good fortune, like all beneficiaries of good fortune, became convinced that they had done well solely through hard work and native talent. If today's kids aren't doing as well, it must be because they're dumber and lazier.

But they're not. They just aren't as lucky. And the competition between the generations is likely to heat up as time goes by. Welcome to our future.

Romney to Base: I Hate Obama As Much As You Do

| Mon Jun. 25, 2012 8:47 PM EDT

For the second time, Mitt Romney's campaign has dispatched one of its buses to make obnoxious noises at an Obama fundraiser:

Romney's campaign bus circled Obama's fundraiser at Boston Symphony Hall Monday night several times, according to Romney deputy press secretary Ryan Williams and verified by several onlookers who said it was honking its horn as it passed. Williams told BuzzFeed that the bus made "a few" laps before local police closed the roads around the venue before Obama's arrival. They plan on bringing the bus back after Obama leaves to attend another fundraiser.

The fundraiser was inside the hall, the bus didn't interrupt anyone trying to speak, it didn't block any entrances, and it didn't harass anyone trying to get in. As near as I can tell, the only real purpose of this was to demonstrate to Romney's base that he holds Obama in the same contempt they do, and he's delighted to resort to sniggering junior high school displays to prove it. Welcome to Romney 2012.

Still four months to go. Why is God punishing us like this?

Why I Hate Social Media, Part 387

| Mon Jun. 25, 2012 7:15 PM EDT

The latest from Facebook:

Facebook has introduced its latest social media innovation — changing the email addresses posted by users on their profiles, en masse and without warning.

In the change, which took effect on Monday, Facebook abruptly replaced the details users had elected to associate with their account with addresses using a "@facebook.com" convention.

I'm sure this will shortly be followed by yet another faux-tearful apology and a promise to do better. "We just wanted to make our user experience better. We had no idea that when people chose an email address, they actually wanted that to be their address forever."

Jesus. Isn't Mark Zuckerberg rich enough that he doesn't need to keep pulling sleazy stunts like this?

Quote of the Day: Why Republicans Like Voter ID Laws

| Mon Jun. 25, 2012 3:55 PM EDT

From Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, telling a friendly audience about the state legislature's accomplishments this year:

Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.

Apparently this drew a "loud round of applause," and why not? Photo ID laws like Pennsylvania's are mainly about politics, and everyone knows it. They suppress turnout primarily among minorities, the poor, and the young, and those are well-known Democratic-leaning constituencies. In a close election, Pennsylvania's law might very well allow Romney to win the state.

Anyway, it's good to hear someone admit this. Usually they're smart enough to pretend that voter ID laws are about preventing voter fraud.

(Via Steve Benen.)