Mojo - October 2010

Immigration Judge to Asylum Seeker: You Don't Look Gay

| Thu Oct. 7, 2010 6:42 AM EDT

Lest you are having some nostalgia for the Bush administration as the midterm elections approach, here's a good example of yet another way that administration's legacy is still screwing up people's lives.

Last week, the 11th Circuit court of appeals reversed a truly dreadful decision by a federal immigration judge installed during the heyday of Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, who helped turn the Board of Immigration Appeals into a dumping ground for unqualified political hacks who couldn't get confirmed to other federal courts. The case involves a Serbian immigrant who was seeking asylum in the US on the grounds that he was persecuted in Serbia for being gay. Mladen Zeljko Todorovic came to the US in 2000 as an employee of a cruise ship and ended up staying here to avoid anti-gay persecution back in Serbia, where he claimed to have been raped while in the military and harassed by the police. 

He applied for asylum, which was ultimately denied for a variety of technical reasons. But during Todorovic's removal hearing, Miami immigration judge Carey R. Holliday said Todorovic's claims of persecution were "highly suspect" because Todorovic simply didn't look gay. Apparently Holliday thought that unless Todorovic was wearing a dress, there was no way the police or military thugs would have known to single him out for abuse. According to the 11th circuit opinion, Holliday said during the hearing:

The Court studied the demeanor of this individual very carefully throughout his testimony in Court today, and this gentleman does not appear to be overtly gay...it is not readily apparent to a person who would see this gentleman for the first time that, that is the case, since he bears no effeminate traits or any other trait that would mark him as a homosexual.

Holliday ordered the man sent back to Serbia, a decision upheld by the Board of Immigration Appeals. Todorovic took the case up the federal judicial food chain, arguing that Holliday's conclusions were based solely on specious stereotypes and not in actual fact as required by the law. The 11th Circuit heartliy agreed. Writing for the court, Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus said:

After thorough review, we conclude that the IJ’s decision was so colored by impermissible stereotyping of homosexuals, under the guise of a determination on "demeanor," that we cannot conduct meaningful appellate review of that decision, or of the BIA’s opinion essentially adopting it.

For this sort of quality judging in the immigration system, we have George W. Bush to thank. Holliday was appointed in 2006 at the peak of the Bush administration's illegal efforts to stack the courts with GOP loyalists rather than nonpartisan civil servants. Holliday certainly fit the profile. He was one of about 20 judges whose appointments came under scrutiny by the Justice Department's inspector general in his investigation into the department's politically based hiring practices. Holliday was a Louisiana delegate to the Republican convention in 2004, where he made headlines for trash-talking former Mother Jones editor Michael Moore, who was at the convention filing dispatches for USA Today. He told the New York Daily News:

I would be delighted if he slapped me. Because I could defend myself, and it would all be on camera. He'd be hit from so many angles—he'd never catch me. Four hundred-pounders move very slowly and with no wind at all. I'm 53 and in good shape.

As an immigration judge, Holliday made news in 2008 when he denied a request by a Bolivian family to hear their claim that immigration officials had unfairly targeted them for deportation because their daughter was an activist campaigning for passage of the Dream Act. In denying their claim, Holliday wrote that the daughter "freely chose to draw unwanted attention to herself and her family...People who live in glass houses should not throw stones."

Holliday had no immigration law experience before taking the judgeship, and last year, an anonymous Justice Department official told the Daily Journal that Holliday was unqualified for the position. In December 2008, a day before the end of his two-year probation period in immigration court, Holliday abruptly quit the bench, a sign, perhaps, that he knew what was coming. But judging from the Todorovic case, his legacy is going to linger for years to come. Meanwhile, Holliday's connections seem to have taken him back to Louisiana. He's now a state workers compensation judge, where he can use his special observation skills to decide whether or not claimants look sufficiently injured to get compensated for getting hurt on the job.  

(H/T The Asylumist)

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Some (Modestly) Good News on Secrecy You May Have Missed

| Thu Oct. 7, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

Lest readers complain that this blog never reports good news, I want to pass on a bit of it. Later this week (or perhaps next), President Obama will sign an Intelligence Authorization Act that expands congressional oversight of covert government actions. Normally, a small group of legislators known as the "Gang of Eight"—the top leaders of both parties in the House and the Senate, as well as the chair and ranking member of both chambers' intelligence committees—are supposed to receive detailed briefings on covert actions. Now, the intelligence community will also be required to provide "general descriptions" of such actions to every member of both the House and Senate intelligence committees.

Even the ACLU, which has slammed the Obama administration on any number of issues, likes this bill. "This policy will ensure that this and future administrations are more accountable. It will also serve as a check on the 'Gang of Eight' and the intelligence committees as they will no longer be able to claim ignorance of national security programs as they have in the past," Laura Murphy, the director of the ACLU's Washington lobbying shop, said last week. 

What remains to be seen is how the new briefing rules will work in practice. The CIA itself has admitted flaws in the process. Last May, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched a political controversy by claiming the CIA had lied to her in 2002 briefings about so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques." That June, in response to Pelosi's claim, the CIA Inspector General's office conducted a review of the agency's congressional briefings. It [PDF] found that while members of the CIA division responsible for interrogations repeatedly claimed that Pelosi and other members of Congress had been "fully briefed," they never "provide[d] specifics about those briefings, nor did they source their assertions."

That July, CIA director Leon Panetta reportedly told a closed-door session of the House intelligence committee that the CIA had failed to tell Congress about a number of "significant actions" between 2001 and June 2009. In a letter to Pete Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the committee, chairman Silvestre Reyes wrote that the panel "has been misled, has not been provided full and complete notifications, and (in at least one occasion) was affirmatively lied to" by the agency.

So to wrap up: it's a good thing that the congressional briefing rules are getting tougher. But there's nothing to stop the CIA from misleading, failing to notify, or simply lying to Congress unless members take affirmative measures to force the intelligence community to play by the rules. That would start with holding the people responsible for the incorrect, misleading, or false Bush-era briefings accountable for their actions. If people know there are no consequences for breaking the rules, they're much more likely to break them.

Happy Birthday, Afghan War!

| Thu Oct. 7, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

[Read more MoJo coverage of the Afghanistan War anniversary in "How to Lose a War in Nine Years": Two experts explain why US opinion turned so dramatically against the campaign.]

Nine years ago today, George W. Bush introduced the world to Operation Enduring Freedom, and the world’s been enduring it ever since. You might be left with the impression that there’s not much new to say about the Afghanistan War, especially if you’ve relied on the mainstream media to tell the story. The Atlantic Wire’s resident conflict reporter, Max Fisher, took justifiable issue with the AP's by-the-numbers reporting Wednesday, summing the problem up in a tweet: "If you have to use a photo from 2006 to fit your narrative about Afghanistan's status in 2010, its time to go home."

But since 9/11, milbloggers—service members, journalists, and researchers who hold more than a passing interest in America’s expeditions abroad—have offered a less monolithic view of the violence. They come from all across the political spectrum. Some still champion the war; some never did and still don’t. They don’t have much to say about the OEF anniversary itself. But taken together, their recent posts offer a telling inside look at a decade-long conflict that’s changed America forever, for better or worse.

How to Lose a War in Nine Years

| Thu Oct. 7, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

[Read more MoJo coverage of the Operation Enduring Freedom anniversary in "Happy Birthday, Afghan War!": What milbloggers in the know are writing, and what it says about the state of the war today.]

What happened? Wasn't Afghanistan the war (almost) everybody agreed was worthwhile? Didn't candidate Barack Obama gauge the political winds correctly when he said, "When I am President, we will wage the war that has to be won...getting out of Iraq and on to the right battlefield in Afghanistan and Pakistan"?

Goodbye to all that. On Thursday, Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) will enter its tenth year, and fair or not, US citizens see it much the same way they see Iraq: as an albatross around the nation's collective neck. Nearly two-thirds of the public now oppose the Afghan campaign; in mid-October 2001, it was favored by a staggering 88 percent of Americans (PDF). Politicians and armchair pundits have cited a bevy of reasons for the war's plummet in popularity—a decline that's been going on so long, it looks inevitable to most Americans now. But I solicited the advice of two political scientists on different sides of the political spectrum who found reason to be surprised by the turn; their conclusions are similar, and they have big implications for the Obama presidency—and future US security.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 7, 2010

Thu Oct. 7, 2010 5:30 AM EDT

Sgt. Kent Marshall, a tanker with Company C, 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, instructs a member of the Basra Special Weapons and Tactics team on engaging a target while moving during a joint training session in Basra Oct. 4. Photo via U.S. Army.

Corn on "Countdown": Pelosi's Plan to Tattoo the GOP

Thu Oct. 7, 2010 1:42 AM EDT

David Corn joined Keith Olbermann on MSNBC's Countdown to discuss Nancy Pelosi's tactic of linking the GOP to big business and why President Obama may need to do the same if the Democrats want to catch up in the polls.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

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Ohio AG Suing GMAC on Foreclosure Mess

| Wed Oct. 6, 2010 2:01 PM EDT

In the latest on the foreclosure front, Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray announced today a suit against GMAC Mortgage, the loan servicing subsidiary of the bank Ally Financial, for "fraudulent practices potentially involving hundreds of Ohio mortgage loan foreclosures." Here's the press release from the Ohio AG's office:

Last week, Cordray sent a letter to Ohio judges requesting that the state courts make special review of all foreclosure cases that involve GMAC Mortgage. The letter was sent in response to recent reports of questionable affidavit procedures by the large loan servicer. It appears that affidavits were being signed en masse, and that those signing them were attesting to having personal knowledge about matters that they in fact knew little or nothing about.

Cordray's announcement is the latest in a flurry of actions against GMAC and other major mortgage companies throughout the country, all stemming from servicers' use of bogus legal filings to foreclose on homeowners. (A fuller description of that mess is here.) More than half a dozen state attorneys general are investigating major financial players like GMAC, Bank of America, and JPMorgan Chase. Some banks have ordered moratoriums on foreclosures in their states until the paperwork debacle is settled, while AGs and members of Congress have demanded more foreclosure freezes. Read more on that here.

In his official announcement, Ohio's Cordray said, "We know that as Ohioans were fighting to save their homes, this loan servicer benefited financially from the dire circumstances. Instead of stepping up and assisting those at risk of losing their homes, it is clear that GMAC chose to compound the problem through fraudulent and unfair and deceptive practices."

Republicans Can Count to 60

| Wed Oct. 6, 2010 1:07 PM EDT

The Huffington Post's Sam Stein had a good story on Tuesday about Republican leaders—Republican Governors Association head Haley Barbour, House GOP Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), and Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee chief John Cornyn (R-Tex.)—throwing cold water on the idea that they're going to be able to get much done if they win back the House and the Senate. I was especially struck by this quote from Sen. Cornyn:

"Even if we controlled the House, unless we controlled the Senate and got 60 votes, we wouldn't be able to pass any corresponding legislation in the Senate," said the Texas Republican. "So I think, we need to keep expectations, again, fairly modest as far as what we can do over the next two years."

In case you missed it, that was a top Senate Republican acknowledging that the filibuster is going to present huge problems for them in passing legislation if they are able to take back the Senate. (The GOP taking back the Senate, by the way, is more likely than you think.) Cornyn has an interest in keeping expectations modest because, until Barack Obama and his veto pen are out of the White House, the Republicans are going to have to work with him to get anything done. Even so, Obama's obviously going to block the GOP's most radical goals. That's probably why they've already decided the aim of the next two years will be to "make it a one-term presidency." If Republicans take back the House and/or Senate, most of their time will be taken up doing things that aren't filibusterable—like launching bogus investigations into everything remotely connected to the scary New Black Panther Party.

Although I wouldn't put it past the Republicans to use the "Constitutional option" to eliminate the filibuster if they take back the majority—and would support their efforts if they tried—I doubt they'll do it while Obama's in the White House. President Palin is a whole other story. But until she (or another Republican) is living in 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., the filibuster is probably going to be a fact of life. The Dems just don't have the stomach for that kind of procedural reform.

Erick Erickson is Probably Right

| Wed Oct. 6, 2010 12:21 PM EDT

RedState's Erick Erickson has a fairly convincing post on the similarities between the current media coverage of the Dems' apparent "rebound" in the midterm polls and a similar Dem "surge" in 1994. As we know, that 1994 Dem recovery proved to be illusory, and the GOP won a convincing victory. Here's the kicker from Erickson's post:

On October 9, 1994, a month out from the November 8, 1994 election, the Washington Post’s Kevin Merida wrote, "One matchup pits William Frist (R), a wealthy heart-lung transplant surgeon from Nashville, against Sen. Jim Sasser (D), an 18-year veteran who chairs the Budget Committee and is making a strong bid to be the next Senate majority leader. Though some polls have showed the race tightening, several independent analysts doubt that Frist has enough to knock Sasser out. But he is trying."

Bill Frist won the race 56% to 42%

At this point, it's sort of hard to count House races, but polling guru Nate Silver's contention that the GOP control is significantly more likely than not seems about right. Senate races are a bit easier. It's hard to see how even the most optimistic Dem can project losing fewer than four Senate seats—North Dakota, Arkansas, Indiana, and Pennsylvania appear to be done deals. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) has made big comebacks before, but right now, he looks cooked too. Michael Bennet in Colorado doesn't look much better. If you assume the GOP will win only those six races, you're still betting that they'll lose two contests—Nevada and Illinois—that Silver gives them a better-than-even shot of winning. And we haven't even talked about Washington or California or Connecticut or West Virginia yet. 

It helps the media to play up the appearance of a Dem resurgence—a closer contest keeps people interested. Don't believe the hype. Barack Obama's party is still in serious trouble.

Is the Stewart-Colbert Rally Becoming a Partisan Affair?

| Wed Oct. 6, 2010 12:07 PM EDT

When Jon Stewart announced his "Rally to Restore Sanity," he billed it as a "million moderate march" that deliberately eschewed partisanship. It's no secret that Stewart's fans skew Democratic and that the rally—coupled with Stephen Colbert's "March to Keep Fear Alive"— is intended to be an antidote the right's Glenn Beck and tea party-fueled hysteria. Until recently, part of the appeal of the rally—which is now expected to attract hundreds of thousands of people to the National Mall on October 30—was the absence of any national political apparatus or clear political agenda.

In recent days, though, liberal organizations have leapt on board to support Stewart's Ironypalooza. Arianna Huffington caught Stewart by surprise on his show by announcing that the Huffington Post would be chartering free buses to the event from New York. The pro-choice group NARAL is planning a big blitz during the rally and is soliciting its supporters to chose a slogan for its PR materials. "They're expected to draw hundreds of thousands of voters from across the country," the group explained. "We need a clever, catchy way to remind them why voting pro-choice is important." Stewart's rally even received a ringing endorsement from President Obama, who mentioned it during a living-room visit to suburban voters: "And [Stewart's] point was 70 percent of the people—it doesn’t matter what political affiliation—70 percent of folks are just like you... They don’t go around calling people names. They don't make stuff up."