2011 - %3, December

Immigrant Rights Activists Slam Arpaio, Obama

| Fri Dec. 16, 2011 3:38 PM EST

Immigrants rights' activists had a lot of praise Friday for the Justice Department's investigation into Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, which alleged systemic discrimination against Latinos by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. They had less praise for President Obama, whom they say is enabling Arpaio-style anti-immigrant local policing in the first place. 

"The Obama administration bears a lot of blame for what is happening here in Maricopa county," said former Sacramento police chief Arturo Venegas, who now runs the Law Enforcement Engagement Initiative, a pro-immigration reform group. On a conference call with reporters, Venegas and other immigrants rights activists said the Obama administration's use of the Secure Communities and 287(g) federal programs—both of which use local authorities to find and deport unauthorized immigrants—is a larger problem than Arpaio. "But for those programs we wouldn't have the numbers of racial discrimination and proviling and violations of civil rights that we have, not only in Maricopa county but across the country," Venegas said.

A little background: Secure Communities is a federal program under which the indentifying information of anyone arrested in participating jurisdictions is forwarded to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, which then checks their legal status. The 287(g) program allows ICE to work with local law authorities so that they can enforce federal immigration laws. On Thursday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that because of the Arpaio investigation, DHS would be ending its 287(g) agreement with the Maricopa County Sheriff's office and "restricting" the county's access to Secure Communities. Both programs predate Obama, but they've been especially effective during his tenure: Obama has deported more than a million undocumented immigrants during his time in office, without doing much to advance immigration reform. 

Immigrant rights activists argue that these federal programs are a huge part of the problem. Because local authorities know that under Secure Communities arrestees will have their identifying information forwarded to ICE, cops can racially profile, knowing unauthorized immigrants will be deported even if they weren't committing crimes. Empowering local authorities to enforce federal immigration law through the 287(g) program encourages law enforcement to think and act more like Arpaio. 

"It was the climate set up by Secure Communities and the 287(g) agreement that created Arpaio," said Salvador Reza, a Phoenix civil rights activist. 

For his part, Arpaio responded to yesterday's findings from the Department of Justice with defiance, telling reporters that "President Obama and the band of his merry men might as well erect their own pink neon sign at the Arizona-Mexico border saying 'Welcome all illegals to your United States, our home is your home." (Arpaio has a thing with pink.) 

The head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, Thomas E. Perez, stopped short of calling for Arpaio to step down during Thursday's annoucement. On Friday's conference call, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) was far more blunt. 

"I think the report should add energy and momentum to getting Arpaio out," Grijalva said. "Arpaio is an aberration to the rule of law."

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Friday Cat Blogging - 16 December 2011

| Fri Dec. 16, 2011 3:04 PM EST

This has been new things week. Not really new, of course, just new enough to be newly fascinating. The nights are getting chilly here in Southern California (mid 50s!) so Marian tossed an extra quilt on her side of the bed, and Inkblot instantly fell in love. Every day he hops up on the bed and burrows under it for his late morning nap. Likewise, I got a little chilly a few nights ago and grabbed a quilt, which I then tossed onto my chair after I was done. Domino, who has never shown any interest in this chair before, claimed it immediately. Yes, she's the round black ball in the middle of the nest on the right.

In other news, today is Beethoven's birthday, so go listen to a symphony. Or, better yet, his violin concerto. And in case you're a late riser and missed my fundraising pitch this morning, you still have a chance to contribute to the Mother Jones Investigative Fund today. This is our last beg of the year, and we're trying to raise $75,000 to help fund our reporting activities for 2012. Many, many thanks to everyone who's contributed so far, whether it's $5 or $500.

The PayPal link is here.

The credit card link is here.

Inside Occupy Wall Street's Next Occupation

| Fri Dec. 16, 2011 1:55 PM EST

At first glance, Occupy Wall Street's plan to take over a gravel lot in SoHo tomorrow seems a bit strange. After all, the property isn't all that close to Wall Street. It's owned by Trinity Church, which hardly seems like the kind of symbolic target that OWS found in Brookfield Office Properties, the politically connected owner of Zuccotti Park. And the occupiers have already gotten free food and meeting spaces from Trinity; they now risk the appearance of biting the hand that feeds them.

Of course, organizers behind #D17, as the occupation attempt is known on Twitter, see things differently.  Trinity Church is one of the city's largest landowners and strongly tethered to the 1 percent: Five of the 20 members of its vestry, or church parliament, for example, hail from high-ranking roles at financial firms such as Citigroup and Merrill Lynch, and others come from the insurance behemoth AIG, a market research firm for energy investors, and even Brookfield. The church's two wardens, the men directly below the rector who are responsible for its assets, run an investment bank and group of mutual funds.

"We are not against the church," says #D17 organizer Shawn Carrie. "We are against the church aligning itself with Wall Street."

The Trinity Church parcel, which sits along Canal Street next to the publicly owned Duarte Plaza, has been slated for occupation by OWS even before the eviction from Zuccotti Park. Though the parcel is several subway stops from Wall Street, OWS organizers now see it as their best shot for re-establishing the kind physical presence that many occupiers still consider vital to the movement. But with the church dug in against the idea, claiming that the site is reserved for a future school, organizers have been forced to get creative. In late November, they marched to the lot along with sympathetic clergy members and civil rights leaders to hold a candlelight vigil. They've also reached out to local politicians.

"Our community needs more people who volunteer in community service--and that is what Occupy Wall Street pledges to do," said Keen Berger, the area's Democratic District Leader, in a statement emailed to me by OWS. "Trinity and the Community Board 2 should welcome them at the Canal Street site with two provisos: That they help the local community, and that they leave when construction of the new school begins."

Still, it's far from clear how tomorrow's occupation will play with the public. "I think it's a good idea from OWS' point of view because it will continue the conversation," said Manhattan Community Board 2 member Robert Riccobono. Though he felt that the board was generally supportive of OWS' message, he would not go so far as to endorse the occupation: "You can see why Trinity is concerned. I would be too if I owned that space," he said. "So you have two opposing positions that are both understandable in many ways."

The Nitty Gritty on the NDAA

| Fri Dec. 16, 2011 1:31 PM EST

So what does the much discussed National Defense Authorization Act actually do? This is one of several topics that I've been too fatigued to seriously dive into over the past week, and after getting about 90 minutes of sleep last night I'm sure not going to do it today. Luckily, Adam Serwer has a pretty good rundown here of what it does and doesn't do. It's worth a read, especially if you're confused about all the competing claims made about it as it wound its way through the sausage factory.

Bottom line: It's probably not quite as bad as you think, but it's hardly a triumph of civil liberties either:

So what exactly does the bill do? It says that the president has to hold a foreign Al Qaeda suspect captured on US soil in military detention—except it leaves enough procedural loopholes that someone like convicted underwear bomber and Nigerian citizen Umar Abdulmutallab could actually go from capture to trial without ever being held by the military. It does not, contrary to what many media outlets have reported, authorize the president to indefinitely detain without trial an American citizen suspected of terrorism who is captured in the US.

....Still, the reason supporters like Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are happy with this bill is that it codifies into law a role for the military where there was none before. It is the first concrete gesture Congress has made towards turning the homeland into the battlefield, even if the impact in the near term is more symbolic and political than concrete.

But "symbolic" and "political" doesn't mean "meaningless." Codifying indefinite detention on American soil is a very dangerous step, and politicians who believe the military should have an even larger domestic counterterrorism role simply aren't going to be satisfied with this. In fact, if there is another attack, it's all but certain they will hammer the president should he choose not to place the suspect in military detention.

Read the whole thing for all the details.

Week's Image: Beautiful World

| Fri Dec. 16, 2011 1:09 PM EST

First global image from VIIRS.: Credit: NASA’s NPP Land Product Evaluation and Testing Element.First global image from VIIRS. Credit: NASA’s NPP Land Product Evaluation and Testing Element.A couple of weeks ago I posted the first image from VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite). Now we see it with eyes wide open, providing the sharpest view yet of our world. VIIRS' eyes are based on radiometric imagery in visible and infrared wavelengths, capturing images of Earth's land, atmosphere, and oceans. Its eyes will profoundly deepen our understanding of global change—human and natural—including changes in ocean temperatures, cloud cover, and wildfires. Its vehicle is the NPP satellite flying a Sun-synchronous orbit on a unique path that takes it over the equator at the same time on the ground for every orbit. This keeps the satellite at the same angle between Earth and Sun so that all images are similarly lit. This first complete global view was compiled on 24 November 2011. Click here for higher resolution image. It's breathtaking.

 

 

Quote of the Day: Just Making Things Up

| Fri Dec. 16, 2011 12:24 PM EST

From Mitt Romney at last night's debate:

This is a president who fundamentally believes that the next century is the post-American century. Perhaps it will be the Chinese century. He is wrong.

Seriously, where does he get this stuff? It's just made up out of thin air. Obama's never said this or anything even close to it. We have truly entered the era of the postmodern campaign.

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The Problem With Means Testing Social Security

| Fri Dec. 16, 2011 12:13 PM EST

One of the first things you learn in Means-Tested Welfare Economics 101 is that means-tested welfare programs produce enormous marginal tax rates. Say you have a $5,000 benefit that's available only to people making less than $10,000. If you have market income of $9,000, this means you have total income of $14,000. But if you have market income of $11,000 you have total income of $11,000. You're essentially paying a marginal tax rate of over 100%.

Of course, you could spread this out. Instead of just taking away the entire benefit when you cross the $10,000 threshold, you could take away, say, $500 for every $1,000 in additional income. This means that for every additional $1,000 you make, your actual income only goes up $500. That's better, but it's still a 50% marginal tax rate, which is higher than the tax rate paid by any other income class on any kind of income.

This is all basic stuff, recognized by everyone since the dawn of time. Megan McArdle comments on it today:

Note two things: first, that in this case, at least, the supply siders seem to be completely right. Everyone I've spoken to about the problem seems to agree that the poor respond to these high marginal tax rates by either taking lower-paying jobs than they could, or working less — not in every individual case, but in aggregate.

And second, that this is not a problem that supply siders seem to be applying much brain power or political capital to fixing.

Nope. In fact, they mostly want to make it worse by applying means testing to programs like Social Security and Medicare. Unfortunately, despite plenty of high-wattage brainpower being applied to this problem, nobody's ever figured out how to avoid this basic problem of means-tested benefits. If the means testing is strict (i.e., benefits phase out quickly) it creates a big incentive to simply save less or not work as hard. If the means testing is loose (i.e., benefits phase out slowly), the perverse incentives get smaller, but you end up barely saving any money. It's an especially big problem for Social Security, which is a pure cash benefit.

This is why I'm pretty skeptical of means testing either of these programs more than we already do. Any version of this that avoids big negative incentives would phase out so slowly that it just wouldn't save much money. So why bother?

VIDEO: Tea Party Leader Arrested On Gun Charges Flees Cameras Into Boulevard of Death

| Fri Dec. 16, 2011 11:59 AM EST

Tea Party Patriots leader Mark Mecker has never seen a TV camera he didn't love. He seems to relish his Fox News appearances and hamming it up before the cameras at press conferences, rallies, and any other place he can get his mug on the big screen. But yesterday, Meckler was caught on tape literally running through oncoming traffic in New York City to avoid reporters, after he was arrested for illegally possessing a gun and charged with a felony. Meckler had gone to LaGuardia airport to catch a flight to LA and checked a locked case carrying a box that contained a Glock handgun and 19 cartridges of 9mm ammo.

A local CBS news station, which shot the footage, describes the chase:

As he left the courthouse after his arraignment he was desperate to avoid news cameras. A man accompanying Meckler put his hand over the lens of CBS 2’s camera and repeatedly tried to interfere with our photographer as Meckler raced through the courthouse to a side door.

As two photographers gave chase, Meckler ran to Queens Boulevard, the infamous “Boulevard of Death,” and ran across one lane of traffic, jumped over a wrought iron barricade and then high-tailed it to the other side before disappearing into the night.

Meckler has a concealed carry permit to carry the weapon in California, but that doesn't make it legal in New York City, where Meckler had apparently been tooling around for a few days (on a trip that his lawyer diplomatically described as "temporary transit" through the state). He claimed he brought the gun because he's gotten death threats, which raises the question of whether Meckler was actually packing heat during his entire stay in New York, which would be a big violation of the law there. After all, if he needs a gun because he's gotten death threats, it's not going to do him much good locked in a TSA-approved travel box.

Which may be why Meckler was so eager to avoid reporters. Watch his amazing fence-leaping skills as he navigates the Boulevard of Death here:

Time to End the Eurozone?

| Fri Dec. 16, 2011 11:53 AM EST

Tyler Cowen on the latest news out of the eurozone:

At this point you have to be asking whether it is better to simply end the eurozone now, no matter how painful that may be....As a politician I probably could not bring myself to pull the plug, but as a blogger I wonder if that might not, at this point, be the wiser thing to do. Current crisis aside, does anyone out there see the euro’s governance structure — even with reforms — as even vaguely workable?

Nope, not me. But the sunk costs are simply too big for Europe's leaders to be willing to dissolve the eurozone in response to anything short of a complete financial meltdown. As usual with financial crises, they can probably avoid this meltdown a lot longer than anybody thinks. But can they avoid it forever? It sure doesn't look like it.

Rick Scott to Black Students: But I Lived in Public Housing!

| Fri Dec. 16, 2011 11:13 AM EST
Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

In response to hazing scandals at Florida A&M University that left one student dead, Florida Gov. Rick Scott has demanded the suspension of A&M's president, James Ammons. But students at Florida A&M, a historically black college in Tallahassee, the state capital, don't want Scott meddling with their business, and so on Thursday night, they marched on the governor's mansion and gave Scott an earful.

To his credit, Scott, clad in sweatpants, greeted the marchers outside his home. To his detriment, he decided to talk.

Apparently grasping for some common ground, Scott began his speech by reminding the protesters that he'd lived in public housing as a youngster. The Florida A&M marchers were less than pleased. "We're not poor!" one of them shouted back. Another, A&M student senate president Marissa West, told the Miami Herald that Scott's remarks offended her. "I guess he was trying to make some type of relation to our student body, as if we had lived in public housing," she said.

More on the march, from the Herald:

Students marched en masse from their campus to the Governor's Mansion, about a 2-mile walk, at about 9 p.m. chanting "We are FAMU!" After about 30 minutes of chanting from outside Scott's guarded gate, chief of staff Steve MacNamara told West and Student Body President Breyon Love that Scott had just returned from a trip to Israel and was sleeping, West said. Not long after, she said, Scott came out and ventured into the crowd wearing sweats. He grabbed a megaphone and took part in a Q&A with Love about funding FAMU and worries that it would merge with Florida State. He said he knew nothing about either topic, West said.

But Scott didn't say he would rescind his recommendation to suspend Ammons, so many students remained on his lawn. "This is not the time for FAMU to be without its university president," West said. "We believe in our university president."

It wasn't the first time Scott's public housing yarn blew up in his face. In February, Scott, a first-term governor elected in 2010, made a similar quip to a room full of black, Democratic lawmakers, also at the governor's mansion, the St. Petersburg Times reported. "I grew up probably in the same situation as you guys," he said. "I started school in public housing. My dad had a sixth-grade education." Needless to say, not all the lawmakers in the room empathized with Scott's hard-luck story.