Mojo - September 2011

Our Sputtering Economy by the Numbers: Poverty Edition

| Tue Sep. 20, 2011 6:56 PM EDT
A soup kitchen in Salinas, California.

This post first appeared on the ProPublica website.

Last month, we detailed the dismal state of the nation's economy. Now that the Census Bureau has released new poverty figures, we wanted to give you another snapshot of how Americans are faring more than two years after the recession.

Americans below the poverty line in 2010: 46.2 million

Official US poverty rate in 2007, before the recession: 12.5 percent

Poverty rate in 2009: 14.3 percent

Poverty rate in 2010: 15.1 percent

Last time the poverty level was this high: 1993

Poverty line in 2010: $22,314 for a family of four, or $11,139 for an individual

Rough amount the poor are living on per week: $200 or less

Poverty rate in American suburbs: 11.8 percent, the highest since 1967

Percentage of the population making less than half the poverty line in 2010: 6.7 percent

Percentage of the population making less than half the poverty line in 2007, before the recession: 5.2 percent

Poverty rate for white Americans in 2010: 13 percent

Poverty rate for African-Americans in 2010: 27.4 percent

Real median household income in 2010: $49,445

Decline in median household income since 2009: 2.3 percent

Decline in median household income since before the recession: 6.4 percent

The last time median household incomes have been this low: 1996

Real median household income in 1999, in 2010 dollars: $53,252

Median income for full-time male workers in 2010: $47,715

Median income for full-time male workers in 1973, in 2010 dollars: $49,065

Official unemployment rate in August 2011: 9.1 percent

Total unemployed people in August: 14 million

People who were employed part-time for economic reasons in August 2011: 8.8 million

People not counted in the labor force who wanted work: 2.6 million

Net jobs created in August 2011: 0

Long-term unemployed people as of August 2011: 6 million

Unemployed workers per job opening as of July 2011: 4.34 (3.2 million openings and 13.9 million unemployed people)

Uninsured Americans in 2010: 49.9 million

Percentage of Americans without health insurance in 2010: 16.3 percent

Percentage of Americans without health insurance in 2007, before the recession: 15.3 percent

Percentage of children who were uninsured in 2010: 9.8 percent

Percentage of children in poverty who were uninsured in 2010: 15.4 percent

Percentage of American households that had enough to eat throughout the year in 2007: 88.9 percent

Percentage of American households that had enough to eat throughout the year in 2010: 85.5 percent

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Rep. Allen West Gets New Legal Defense Fund

| Tue Sep. 20, 2011 1:45 PM EDT
Florida Republican Rep. Allen West.

Rep. Allen West (R-Florida) is one of the most endangered freshmen in Congress. The fiery tea party favorite is a natural target for Democrats, in large part because his district is the product of major gerrymandering and is set to be redrawn in a way that will bring in more Democratic voters.

But coming to West's defense this week is none other than Joe Miller, the Alaska tea party candidate who nearly defeated incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) last year after beating her in the GOP primary. (Murkowski ran a write-in campaign and won in the general election.) These days, Miller is running a political action committee called Western Representation PAC with a couple of folks formerly associated with the Tea Party Express. The PAC recently purchased the domain name AllenWestDefenseFund.com as a fundraising vehicle for what the PAC says will be an independent expenditure campaign aimed at keeping West in office and propelling him one day into the White House.

A fundraising appeal the PAC sent out this week explains:

If LTC Allen West seems like Presidential material to you, if you would like to see him someday take a larger leadership role in our nation, he needs your help to get there. Democrats will do everything they can to destroy black conservatives because they threaten their cherished but completely bogus narrative that they are the party that supports minorities. When a Republican nominated Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, the liberals forgot their diversity and instead launched a vicious, vulgar, and vile smear campaign. LTC West is rated by nearly every respected political analyst as one of the most vulnerable Republicans in 2012. That is why our team has bought the domain name AllenWestDefenseFund.com and have made this race one of our highest priorities!

Miller and Co. are hoping to raise between $25,000 and $100,000 this week to kick off the campaign.

One issue that might complicate their fundraising efforts: This isn't the first time West, a former Army lieutenant colonel, has had a legal defense fund. If you Google "Allen West defense fund," you will turn up a lot of old, and thus sticky, links to stories about how he was was investigated for abusing a prisoner in Iraq. Back in 2003, he was fined $5,000 and relieved of his command before being allowed to retire rather than face a court-martial. West's family set up a fund to raise money for his defense.

West's prosecution turned him into something of a cause celebre in certain circles, but it's not something Miller's group is mentioning in its fundraising appeals. The glaring omission suggests, perhaps, that the number of potential donors who'd like to knowingly help re-elect a person who did what West did is fairly small. The fact that his new defense fund will only drag up all those old stories probably won't help cure that particular image problem.

It's Official: Obama Has Deported More Than A Million Unauthorized Immigrants

| Tue Sep. 20, 2011 1:37 PM EDT

On September 9, I wrote that the Obama administration, based on statistics from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was nearing its millionth deportation. It seems I was only about three days off. According to Reuters, the administration hit that milestone on September 12. How does that compare with Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush? The answer, if you've been hearing Republicans accuse Obama of "backdoor amnesty" and holding the border hostage, may surprise you.

The Obama administration had deported about 1.06 million as of September 12, against 1.57 million in Bush's two full presidential terms.

That's right, Obama is on the verge of deporting more undocumented immigrants in a single term than Bush did his full eight years in office.

Despite the administration's stated focus on unauthorized immigrants with criminal records, more than half of those deported had no criminal records, 54 percent to 46 percent. But that number doesn't convey what percentage of removals categorized as criminal include serious or violent offenses as opposed to minor ones.

Theoretically Obama's strict enforcement policies were supposed to lay the groundwork for comprehensive immigration reform. But being a bigger enforcement hawk than Bush not only didn't bring any Republicans to the table; it also hasn't torn them from the alternate universe in which Obama is mailing green cards to every unauthorized immigrant in the country. Give that more than half of Latino voters know someone who is undocumented, there could be subsantial consequences for the president when he seeks to win the Latino vote again in 2012. There's always the possibility, though, that the GOP will rescue the president's standing among Latino voters when they seek to harness the anti-immigrant fervor of their base.

Just ten days before Obama passed the million deportation mark, Mitt Romney said that "Three years ago, Candidate Obama promised to address the problems of illegal immigration in America. He failed. The truth is, he didn't even try."

More than a million deportations, and his first term isn't even up yet. I wonder what the numbers would look like if Obama were trying.

Holder: We're Still Trying To Close Gitmo

| Tue Sep. 20, 2011 11:15 AM EDT

The Obama administration is still committed to closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Attorney General Eric Holder told the European Parliament's civil liberties committee on Tuesday:

"We will be pressing for the closure of the facility between now and then - and after that election, we will try to close it as well," Holder said. "Some people have made this a political issue without looking at, I think, the real benefits that would flow from the closure of the facility."

This seems optimistic on Holder's part, and not just because it assumes Barack Obama will be reelected. He's certainly right that partisan politics is a big reason the facility remains open.

Although there was once bipartisan agreement between 2008 candidates Barack Obama and John McCain on closing Gitmo, opposition to moving the detainees to American soil turned out to be even more bipartisan. Shortly after Obama's election Democrats voted to deny the administration funds for closing the facility, and since then Congress has tried to impose more restrictions on the administration's abilities to transfer detainees out of the facility, whether to third countries or to federal courts for trial. Civil liberties groups also balked at the administration's decision to retain and therefore ratify the Bush-era policy of indefinite detention, and panned the administration's plan to move the detainees to a federal prison in Illinois as "Gitmo North."

Holder also committed to holding a military commissions trial for Khalid Sheik Mohammed and the other alleged 9/11 co-conspirators, after the same bipartisan opposition scuttled the administration's plan to try them in federal court. The Washington Times reported in early September that the officer overseeing the military commissions "is taking a go-slow approach that would bring the confessed Sept. 11 mastermind to trial months, or perhaps years, from now." Even if, somehow, the administration found a way to transfer most of the rest of the 173 detainees left at the facility, including the 46 designated for indefinite detention without trial, the commission for the alleged 9/11 co-conspirators would probably still keep the facility open for the foreseeable future. And I don't believe even the administration thinks that scenario is remotely likely.

Poll: Elizabeth Warren Leading Scott Brown in Mass. Senate Race

| Tue Sep. 20, 2011 11:07 AM EDT
Democrat Elizabeth Warren (left) now leads GOP Sen. Scott Brown by two points.

Public Policy Polling's Ton Jensen tweeted on Tuesday morning that his new poll of the Massachusetts Senate race was the "most surprising Senate poll we've done since we found [the Republican, now-Sen. Scott] Brown up on [the losing Dem candidate, Martha] Coakley." Whether the poll lived up to the hype is up for debate (it would be a pretty boring debate), but the results are pretty jarring: Democrat Elizabeth Warren, the Wall Street watchdog and Harvard professor who entered the race last week, leads GOP Sen. Scott Brown 46–44. To put it in perspective, when PPP last polled the race in June, Warren trailed Brown by 15 points.

Courtesy of Public Policy PollingCourtesy of Public Policy PollingThat's a pretty big swing when you consider that a.) Warren has only just started campaigning, and b.) Brown remains fairly popular in the Bay State—and significantly more popular than the national GOP. What's just as striking is the breakdown when Brown is pitted against Warren's Democratic rivals for the nomination (she currently has four). Brown leads every other Democrat by at least 10 points.

We're still more than 13 months away from election day, so the usual disclaimer applies: everything could change. But barring some sort of catastrophic gaffe—say, Warren deciding to shake hands in the cold at Fenway Park in a John Lackey jersey—this is shaping into the marquee Senate race of 2012. And Warren has come a long way from the days when time said she'd rather stab herself in the eye than move to Capitol Hill.

Romney and Fannie and Freddie: Oh My!

| Tue Sep. 20, 2011 9:36 AM EDT
Mitt Romney.

Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney likes to slam Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-run housing giants that he claims triggered the recent housing meltdown. (They didn't.) But what Romney isn't letting on, the Boston Globe reports, is that at the same time he's ripped Fannie and Freddie, he has also raked in cash from personal investments in the two companies, which the federal government took over in September 2008.

Here's the Globe:

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 and 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.

The campaign declined to comment on the record. The Romney aide said the investment was made by Romney's charitable trust.

A spokesman for American Bridge, the liberal opposition research group that pulled together Romney's financial records, said the candidate's Fannie and Freddie investments show that Romney's "hypocrisy knows no limits."

The Globe also notes that the fund containing Romney's Fannie and Freddie funds also included investments in Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, and JPMorgan Chase. If Romney invested in those banks in the second half of 2007, as a campaign aide says he did, then Romney's investments benefited from the federal bailout of those banks, which received tens of billions of dollars to stay afloat.

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Chart of the Day: Tax Increases Still Popular

| Tue Sep. 20, 2011 9:00 AM EDT

Bruce Bartlett's roundup of 29 polls confirms your suspicions: Americans want higher taxes as part of a deal to reduce the deficit. Here's the chart: 

Georgia Parole Board Denies Clemency for Troy Davis

| Tue Sep. 20, 2011 8:35 AM EDT

Seven recanting witnesses, a Pope, a former FBI Director, and an ex-US president couldn't persuade the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles that enough doubt had accumulated about Troy Davis' culpability in the 1989 murder of Georgia police officer Mark MacPhail to call off his execution. For the fourth time in the past four years, Davis has been given an execution date—Wednesday at 7 p.m., according to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution.

The Davis case has been one of several recent death penalty cases in which exculpatory evidence that has emerged post-conviction has highlighted significant flaws in the criminal justice system, particularly when it comes to eyewitness testimony, which according to the Innocence Project, "has played a role in 75 percent of convictions overturned by DNA testing."

Doubts about Davis' guilt however, aren't exactly unanimous. They are not, for example, shared by the family of the slain police officer whom Davis was convicted of killing.

"He’s guilty," MacPhail's widow, Joan MacPhail-Harris, said. "We need to go ahead and execute him."

For all the questions raised about the evidence and lack thereof that led to Davis' original conviction, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles agreed.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell is History

| Tue Sep. 20, 2011 5:01 AM EDT

After 18 years and 14,500 military discharges, the end came easily. "Today marks the end of 'Don't As Don't Tell.' The law is repealed," the Army's leadership wrote in a letter (PDF) released just after midnight Tuesday morning. "From this day forward, gay and lesbian Soldiers may serve in our Army with the dignity and respect they deserve."

What happens now?

Notwithstanding the Army brass' cheery pronouncements, challenges remain. Homophobia and harassment will likely still concern military leaders. And out service members will still experience one significant iniquity, as BBC's Kate Dailey points out: Their life partners will not be afforded the same legal rights and benefits extended to straight spouses, thanks to the federal Defense of Marriage Act. "Health care, housing, the big ones are still out of the reach of many of service members who are legally married but of the same sex," an advocate tells her.

Nevertheless, it's progress on a once-unimaginable scale. In interviews with students at the military's service academies, the AP confirmed what we already knew: These bastions of civic virtue were already relatively gay-tolerant.

…midshipmen and cadets say the issue of homosexuality is not a flashpoint of controversy for many members of their generation. Academy students who were not yet in their teens when the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks happened and have grown up in a nation at war say competence and character are what matter to them, not sexual orientation.

Even more remarkable, though, are the individual service members' stories that are already trickling into the press—and that are likely to turn into a torrent once the policy's shrunk in the rearview mirror. Over at Stars & Stripes, Leo Shane reported on the coming out of Air Force 1st Lt. Josh Seefried, who for more than a year had lobbied politicians under the pseudonym "J.D. Smith." "When I go into work now, my life will be completely changed," Seefried told Stripes. "It's scary, but it's also exciting. And that's how it will be for a lot of gay troops."

Constitution Day: Not Just for Tea Partiers Anymore

| Tue Sep. 20, 2011 5:00 AM EDT

Back in May, tea party groups began urging their members to "adopt a school" and pressure it to teach students about the Constitution—tea party-style. They set up webinars and provided helpful form letters addressed to school superintendents and principals reminding them of the congressional mandate that requires any school receiving federal money to teach students about the Constitution during the week of September 17. And they offered up kits complete with teaching materials from the National Center for Constitutional Studies, a nonprofit founded by Glenn Beck's favorite "historian," the late W. Cleon Skousen, author of The 5,000 Year Leap.

When word got out that the tea party wanted to give America's impressionable kids a civics leson, liberal lawyers fulminated. "To qualify to teach America's children about the Constitution you need to do more than dress up like James Madison," snipped the Constitutional Accountability Center's Doug Kendall.

After thinking about it, though, I wondered if the tea partiers might be on to something. After all, it's really hard to argue against teaching kids about the Constitution. So I decided to take up the tea party challenge. Or at least, I ordered the school kit.