Mojo - September 2011

Chart of the Day #2: Child Poverty in the Great Recession

| Thu Sep. 29, 2011 3:38 PM EDT

Pew Research has a good report up this week on child poverty during the great recession, based on data from the 2010 Census we wrote about previously. The takeaway is that, as you'd expect, poverty rates are increasing among all ethnic groups—but no group's numbers are moving in the wrong direction at a greater clip than Latinos'. Here's a chart:

Latino child poverty has skyrocketed during the recession.: Courtesy of Pew ResearchLatino child poverty has skyrocketed during the recession: Courtesy of Pew ResearchThere are a couple things going on here. One is that Latinos are making up an ever-increasing share of the population, especially among younger generations, so these numbers are bound to rise in the short-term. Another is that the Latino unemployment rate is significantly higher than the natonal average (it's 11.3 percent as of August), and that number correlates to less income.

It's worth noting that poverty rates are still higher overall among black children, at 39.1 percent (compared to 35 percent for Latinos and 12.4 percent for whites). That's about on par with the poverty rate for Latino children with immigrant parents (39 percent).  The full report is here.

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Obama, Rule Of Law Guy

| Thu Sep. 29, 2011 3:07 PM EDT

The Los Angeles Times published an op-ed Thursday from Law Professor Jonathan Turley blasting the Obama administration's record on civil liberties and declaring that "the election of Barack Obama may stand as one of the single most devastating events in our history for civil liberties." Turley's op-ed focuses on the Obama administration's undeniable policy continuity with the Bush administration on national security matters. Issues that might generally fall under the umbrella of "civil liberties" like gay rights or voting rights aren't included. Turley writes:

Obama failed to close Guantanamo Bay as promised. He continued warrantless surveillance and military tribunals that denied defendants basic rights. He asserted the right to kill U.S. citizens he views as terrorists. His administration has fought to block dozens of public-interest lawsuits challenging privacy violations and presidential abuses.

But perhaps the biggest blow to civil liberties is what he has done to the movement itself. It has quieted to a whisper, muted by the power of Obama's personality and his symbolic importance as the first black president as well as the liberal who replaced Bush. Indeed, only a few days after he took office, the Nobel committee awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize without his having a single accomplishment to his credit beyond being elected. Many Democrats were, and remain, enraptured.

Turley's political analysis is overstated, but his policy analysis is not. There's nothing particularly unusual about Democrats' silence on matters of civil liberties and national security, which is easily attributable to mere partisanship. Declaring it the function of a kind of mental affirmative action is silly. The same civil libertarian groups who were fighting Bush, like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights, are doing so now. What they lack is the support or amplification provided by prominent Democrats in Congress when the president was a Republican. Turley also lets the GOP entirely off the hook, as though there's nothing unusual about a party whose mantra is "small government" offering no opposition whatsoever to the expansion of the national security state. Perhaps it's just that Turley's expectations for Republicans are so low that he doesn't even see the contradiction as worth noting. 

Chart of the Day: Recession-Induced Homelessness About To Skyrocket

| Thu Sep. 29, 2011 2:55 PM EDT

There's more dismal news on the economic front. Earlier this month, the US Census Bureau released the latest poverty data, revealing that the poverty rate is at a record high and the number of Americans living in deep poverty has been steadily increasing. (The Census Bureau defines deep poverty as living below half the annual federal poverty line, or about $11,000 for a family of four. About 7 percent of the country now falls into this category.)

Now comes the news that as larger numbers of people fall into deep poverty, they're increasingly landing on the streets. The National Alliance to End Homelessness projects that the number of homeless Americans will increase by five percent over the next three years. That would mean an additional 74,000 people homeless people, pushing the national total towards 1.7 million. Homeless numbers tend to lag behind unemployment and poverty indicators, but the Alliance notes that all the warning signs for increased homelessness are there—most notably an 11 percent increase in the number of people who are "doubling up" and living with relatives or other people. That's often just one step from landing in a shelter. Here's the depressing chart of the day: 

Chart courtesy of the National Alliance to End Homelessness

The Wisconsin GOP's Clever Plan to Block Scott Walker's Recall

| Thu Sep. 29, 2011 11:48 AM EDT

Each morning, the Twitter account @RecallWalkerBot announces the number of days until Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker can legally be recalled. As of  today, the count stands at 96 days. But before that countdown hits zero, GOP legislators in Wisconsin are doing their best to give Walker more power over the recall process and make it harder for recall organizers to gather the signatures needed to trigger a recall election.

As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports, the move by Wisconsin GOPers, who control the state Assembly and Senate, would allow Walker to block a policy by the state's non-partisan Government Accountability Board that allows organizers to collect signatures in a recall effort through online forms as opposed to the usual on-the-ground, in-person mode of signature gathering. Democrats see the effort as a brazen power grab aimed at blunting any effort to unseat Walker once he's recall eligible in January 2012. "You have given the governor control of the chicken coop, so to say," said state Sen. Lena Taylor (D).

Here's more from the Journal Sentinel:

The Government Accountability Board, which oversees state elections, adopted policies this month about recall petitions and what student IDs can be used for voting.

Legislative leaders raised concerns about those procedures, and on Tuesday the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules took testimony from Kevin Kennedy, director of the accountability board. The co-chairs of the committee, Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) and Rep. Jim Ott (R-Mequon), expressed skepticism of the policies and said they would likely ask the accountability board to adopt them as administrative rules.

Walker would have to sign off on such rules, and if he declined to do so, he could stop them entirely. If Walker approved them, the rules would then go before the committee, which could eventually block them, approve them or ask for modifications.

It's still unclear if Walker foes plan to mount a recall effort or not. They would need to gather about 540,000 signatures in a 60-day window to prompt a recall election. Although this summer's recall elections targeting nine state senators were a win on paper for unions and Democrats, their failure to reclaim the state Senate majority arguably slowed their momentum and raised questions about the wisdom of a statewide recall effort against Walker. There's also the question of whether Walker's opponents will try to recall him right away and possibly tee up a recall election during the GOP presidential primary season or wait until later in the year so that the recall coincides with the November general election.

All these questions, not to mention the GOP's meddling with the recall process, hang over Wisconsin progressives. Then again, they've got 96 days and counting to figure it out.

Romney to Share Stage with Far-Right, Anti-Muslim Activist

| Thu Sep. 29, 2011 11:16 AM EDT
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney will speak at the Values Voters Summit in October.

When former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney takes the stage at next week's annual Values Voters Summit in Washington, DC, a gathering of religious-right leaders and activists, he will have interesting company: the GOP presidential candidate will be followed immediately by Bryan Fischer, issues director for the American Family Association.

Since taking the post at the AFA two years ago, Fischer has built a long resume of anti-Muslim, anti-gay, and anti-Native American statements. (He's also written three separate columns calling for an outright war on grizzly bears). Fischer has called for a ban on Muslims in the military, argued that Muslim citizens should be deported, and declared that there should be a moratorium on mosque construction in the United States. He has said that gays are Nazis, and charged that homosexuals were responsible for the Holocaust. Unsurprisingly, he believes that gay sex should be a criminal offense because it is "domestic terrorism."

Fischer has called President Obama a "fascist dictator" and asserted that Native American societies were a "slop bucket" that got what they deserved. Even America's veterans aren't immune to Fischer's criticism: Last November, he warned that the Congressional Medal of Honor had been "feminized."

Making things even more awkward, Fischer has had some pretty icy words for Romney in the past. As he tweeted recently: "All you need to know about Mitt Romney: makes headlines when he DOESN'T pander to somebody." He's also called Romney a "phony" and mocked him for expanding his California home. Perhaps more important, in April, Fischer stated that Romney's Mormon faith "should be an issue" in the 2012 election. Might Fischer raise this "issue" at the Value Voters summit.

Republican candidates have consistently played political footsie with Fischer, despite his extremism. Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, and Herman Cain have all appeared on Fischer's radio program, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry co-hosted a prayer rally in Houston in August with Fischer's organization, the American Family Assocation. Romney's appearance at the Values Voters Summit might help him court social conservative voters who play an outsized role in Republican primaries. But the appearance is a reminder that even a prominent Republican who has tried to stay clear of fringe right-wing conspiracy theories like those peddled by Fischer cannot succeed within the GOP without hobnobbing with extremists.

Reps. Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul, Herman Cain, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum will also be speaking at the event.

Update: Right Wing Watch digs up audio in which Fischer states that Mormons aren't guaranteed First Amendment rights, because they're not real Christians.

Boycott Minerals From Congo? Not So Fast

| Thu Sep. 29, 2011 11:00 AM EDT
A UN peacekeeper takes stock of weapons collected as part of the demobilization effort in eastern Congo.

As the fact-checker for Mac McClelland's "To Catch a Warlord," I started thinking about the topic of her piece as the "Bosco Paradox." The feature is about ICC-indicted Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda, and it investigates the competing priorities that have made his arrest (which should be easy–even Mac has his home address) a near-impossibility. Delving into DRC history, I saw that the Bosco Paradox is just one example of a long-standing pattern: In Congo, obvious solutions often aren't implemented because they'll simply create other problems.

This idea has cropped up recently in reference to a small, Congo-related provision of the year-old Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act. The rule—Section 1502—aims to regulate four of Congo's "conflict minerals:" gold, wolframite, cassiterite, and coltan. These are key for producing popular electronics like laptops and cell phones, and their trade has, for decades, financed DRC human rights abuses. So, Section 1502 requires US companies getting minerals from the DRC to disclose how they're doing so, submitting reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on the measures they're taking to ensure that their business isn't benefiting DRC rebel militias.

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Schools Say No To Tea Party's Constitution Lessons

| Thu Sep. 29, 2011 10:59 AM EDT

Earlier this year, tea party groups sparked a bit of an uproar when they announced plans to pressure public schools into teaching their version of constitutional history during the federally mandated Constitution week that began September 17. Led by a large umbrella group, Tea Party Patriots, activists planned to pressure local school officials into using controversial curriculum developed by the National Center for Constitutional Studies (NCCS). The NCCS was founded by Glen Beck's favorite pseudo-historian, W. Cleon Skousen, who argued in his book The 5,000 Year Leap that the creation of the US was a divine miracle. When the news got out, liberal legal groups expressed outrage and urged schools to reject the plan.

As it turns out, many schools weren't that keen on having tea partiers in their midst. There have been only scattered reports of the Tea Party Patriots successfully getting their curriculum into schools, but there have also been a number of complaints from educators who say tea party activists have been trying to intimidate them. In northern California's Nevada County, a hot-bed of tea party activism, tea partiers were giving out their materials and surveying local schools to ensure compliance with the federal mandate to teach the Constitution. One educator told the local paper that she didn't appreciate the meddling. The Union reported last week:

When Tea Party Patriots starting demanding proof of lesson plans, suggesting instructional materials and even informing administrators that the media would be notified about their level of compliance, some area administrators felt attacked.

“It seems that we aren't being believed for some reason,” said Debra Sandoval, superintendent of Pleasant Valley and Ready Springs School District, which was singled out by local Tea Party Patriots as being the only district that did not respond to their inquiries.

Then, this week, two districts in Florida rejected donations of pocket Constitutions distributed by local tea party and Glenn-Beck-associated 9/12 groups. The booklets were stamped with tea party information and included some language that the district found either too religious or too political to make them suitable for public schools. Many of the booklets came from NCCS. And the St. Petersburg Times reported that while the booklets contained things like the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address, the foreword stated, "Unless Americans remember and preserve our rich heritage of liberty, a new Dark Age of tyranny could lock the majority of mankind into the harsh chains of totalitarian slavery." Other donated Constitutions came with propaganda from the libertarian Cato Institute, which claimed that the Constitution has been misinterpreted, leading to "a government that's effectively unlimited … and increasingly unaffordable."

The school districts said no thanks and send the booklets back. As one of the superintendents told the Times, "When you add all of those things together, it's not just a simple Constitution. You've got to be real careful when you're passing out information to the kids."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 29, 2011

Thu Sep. 29, 2011 5:57 AM EDT

Soldiers from the Lexington-based Company B, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Brigade Combat Team train on military operations in urban terrain Sept. 20, 2011 at the Fort Pickett MOUT village. The soldiers exercised their infantry specific warrior skills during their two week annual training period. US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs.

 

Charges Referred Against Alleged U.S.S. Cole Bomber

| Wed Sep. 28, 2011 6:41 PM EDT
The U.S.S. Cole, after the 2000 bombing.

Almost ten years since he was captured, the alleged mastermind of the U.S.S. Cole bombing is closer to getting a trial.

The Pentagon announced Wednesday afternoon that it's going forward with military commissions charges against Abd Al Rahim Hussayn Muhammad Al Nashiri, accused of planning of the 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen, which killed 17 American sailors. Military prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, which will require a unanimous jury verdict, as opposed to the two-thirds majority needed in non-capital cases.

What's strange is that Nashiri is being charged in a military commission at all. Attorney General Eric Holder originally said that the attack on the Cole "was an attack on a United States warship, and that, I think, is appropriately placed into the military commissions setting." While the attack occurred after Osama bin Laden's declaration of war on the United States, it took place prior to the 9/11 attacks, and therefore before the military commissions system was created. The case was investigated as a law enforcement matter—in fact, last year, one of the FBI investigators on the Cole case, Ali Soufan, chastised the Bush administration for not prosecuting Nashiri earlier.

While such obstacles were not unexpected, what surprised us was the lack of support from home. No one in the Clinton White House seemed to care about the case. We had hoped that the George W. Bush administration would be better, but except for Robert Mueller, the director of the F.B.I., its top officials soon sidelined the case; they considered it, according to Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary, "stale." Even the families of the sailors were denied meetings with the White House, a disgrace that ended only when President Obama took office—and a precedent I hope the administration maintains.

Nashiri's prosecution by military commission may simply be a consequence of his treatment at the hands of American authorities. Nashiri was one of three terror detainees who were waterboarded. He was also subjected to other so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques," including mock executions involving a gun and a power drill. Despite the fact that Nashiri's treatment appears to fall outside even the "legal" enhanced interrogation guidelines authorized by the Bush administration, the Obama administration, which conducted an investigation into interrogations that went beyond those guidelines, decided against filing any charges related to Nashiri's treatment. Since the Obama administration said their intention was to try Nashiri by military commission even before Congress placed restrictions on its ability to transfer Gitmo detainees to the US for trial, it's a good bet that the reason he's being tried by military commission has more to do with the fact that the case against him has been marred by torture.

There's no guarantee of course, that given his past treatment, prosecution by military commission will be any easier. During the trial of former Gitmo detainee Ahmed Ghailani for his involvement in the bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Judge Lewis Kaplan wrote that even in a military commission, the Constitution would likely bar evidence gained through coercive means.

Abu Ghraib on the Allegheny?

| Wed Sep. 28, 2011 5:42 PM EDT

A story out of Pennsylvania reveals the extreme abuse to which some U.S. prisoners are subjected. Yesterday, a suspended prison guard from the State Correctional Institution (SCI)-Pittsburgh was arrested on charges that he sexually or physically assaulted more than 20 inmates–and the district attorney has signaled that there are more arrests to come. As the AP reports:

The 92 criminal charges filed Tuesday include several counts each of institutional sexual assault, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, and official oppression — which amounts to covering up the crimes or allegedly threatening others to do so. The criminal charges mirror allegations contained against [corrections officer Harry] Nicoletti and officials at the state prison in Pittsburgh in two civil rights lawsuits filed by inmates in recent months…

The lawsuits, one filed in 2010 and another on behalf of an anonymous inmate last week, allege the systematic abuse of inmates — especially those convicted of child sex-crimes, or believed to be homosexual —by Nicoletti and other inmates at his direction. The lawsuits say the abuse occurred over the past two years in the prison’s F Block, a reception area where new prisoners are housed for a few days for medical testing and to receive other supplies before they’re moved to permanent cells.

Among other things, Nicoletti is charged with raping inmates, threatening them with other sexual acts, and with having inmates contaminate the food and bedding of his alleged targets with urine and other bodily fluids.

According to the criminal complaint, one of Nicoletti’s victims was a transsexual male who developed female breasts due to hormone treatments. Nicoletti fondled that inmate before raping him, while shouting racial and sexual epithets, including calling him a “weird freaky monkey,” the complaint said.