Mojo - October 2011

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 20, 2011

Thu Oct. 20, 2011 5:57 AM EDT

US Army Sgt. Jon Reiff, team leader attached to the Laghman Provincial Reconstruction Team, gets radio comms with a detached element while on a patrol in Mehtar Lam district, Laghman province in Afghanistan, Oct. 8, 2011. The PRT traveled to visit with the social affairs committee to discuss building a second orphanage. Photo by the US Army.

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The Side Effects of Fast-Tracking Deportations

| Wed Oct. 19, 2011 4:43 PM EDT

Yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security released its deportation statistics for fiscal year 2011, disclosing 396,906 removals of unauthorized immigrants—the most ever. Today, a University of California-Berkeley study claims that Secure Communities, the much-maligned fingerprint-sharing program that links local jails to the DHS database and funnels even more people into deportation proceedings, has helped create a system "in which individuals are pushed through rapidly, without appropriate checks or opportunities to challenge their detention and/or deportation."

The report, based on federal government data and produced by the UC-Berkeley School of Law's Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy, points to a number of problems related to the poor management of Secure Communities (a.k.a. S-Comm), including:

  • S-Comm has led to the apprehension of some 3,600 US citizens due to problems with the DHS database (though none were later booked into Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention)
  • 93 percent of S-Comm arrests have been of Latinos, who make up roughly 75 percent of the country's undocumented population
  • 52 percent of people arrested through S-Comm receive a hearing before an immigration judge
  • 24 percent of those arrested through S-Comm that had a hearing also had an attorney present
  • 39 percent of people arrested through S-Comm report that their spouse or child is an American citizen
  • 83 percent of people arrested though S-Comm end up in federal immigration detention; in comparison, 62 percent of those arrested by ICE are detained

"Based on our findings, we recommend that the Department of Homeland Security suspend the program until the government addresses the issues we identify, particularly wrongful US citizen arrests, potential racial profiling, and lack of discretion in detention," said Aarti Kohli, the Warren Institute's director of immigration policy, in a statement.

But Secure Communities doesn't seem to be going anywhere. With Republican candidates arguing about border fences and undocumented gardeners—and with one of President Obama's top immigration advisers, Cecilia Muñoz, telling PBS' Frontline, "As long as Congress gives us the money to deport 400,000 people a year, that's what the administration is going to do"—it seems unlikely that the administration will pull back from its support of the program anytime soon.

Check out the full report, "Secure Communities by the Numbers":

 

Herman Cain's Sorry Defense of His 9-9-9 Plan

| Wed Oct. 19, 2011 2:22 PM EDT

They're wrong.

That was front-runner Herman Cain's short and sweet defense against critics who said his 9-9-9 tax reform plan would hike taxes on the working and middle classes during Tuesday's GOP presidential debate. Cain's plan would wipe out the current federal tax code and replace it with a 9 percent sales tax, a 9 percent corporate business tax, and a 9 percent income tax. Cain took plenty of heat in the debate after multiple analyses of his 9-9-9 plan—this one by the Tax Policy Center is eye-opening—found it would dramatically increase taxes for the working and middle classes while dramatically slashing taxes for the wealthy.

Or, in chart form (via Kevin Drum):

Tax Policy CenterTax Policy Center

But Cain repeatedly insisted that his critics—and the outside analyses—were wrong. "The thing that I would encourage people to do before they engage in this knee-jerk reaction is read our analysis. It is available at hermancain.com," he said. His plan, he went on, "is a jobs plan, it is revenue-neutral, it does not raise taxes on those that are making the least."

Here's the problem: The analysis (PDF) on Cain's website doesn't support what he's saying. After reading it I called the group who conducted the analysis, northern Virginia-based Fiscal Associates, but no one answered; if they call back I'll update accordingly. [Updated: see below.] Ezra Klein read the Fiscal Associates analysis, too, and had this to say:

Somewhat oddly, the analysis (pdf) Cain posted from [Fiscal Associates] has the word 'draft' emblazoned on the bottom of every page. Confidence inspiring stuff. But even the draft analysis doesn't tell us much. What we need to know to decide whether the plan will raise taxes on those making the least is what tax wonks call 'a distributional estimate'—an estimate of what different income groups will pay under the new proposal. There's no such estimate in the Fiscal Associates Draft.

To be clear, it's not that the analysis confirms or debunks Cain's claim that the 9-9-9 plan won't jack up taxes on the poor and middle class. The analysis doesn't even say what the impact will be. Which begs the question: Did Cain even read the analysis before citing it to defend the 9-9-9 plan on national TV? I emailed the Cain campaign this afternoon for clarification but have yet to get a response.

[UPDATE: This afternoon, I spoke with Gary Robbins, a former tax expert at the Treasury Department who now runs Fiscal Associates and who the Cain campaign hired to analyze the 9-9-9 plan. Robbins confirmed that his analysis, contrary to what Cain says, does not look at how the 9-9-9 plan would impact tax rates for low- and middle-income earners. "I wasn't asked to do a distributional analysis," he says. "Rather I was asked to look at whether it was revenue-neutral, which it is." Robbins says he doesn't necessarily agree with the Tax Policy Center's analysis, but adds that he needs to look at their methodology before making a conclusion about the plan's effects.]

South Carolina Voter ID Law: Yep, Pretty Discriminating

| Wed Oct. 19, 2011 2:15 PM EDT
A voter receives a sticker after casting her ballot in the South Carolina Democratic Presidential Primary at the Turner Memorial A.M.E. Church in West Columbia, South Carolina, in 2008.

Stop me if you've heard this one before, maybe from Glenn Beck or on RedState: Election fraud is rampant, a vile, corrupting force that's decimating the integrity of the American electoral system. It's a widely propagated conservative myth, one that's been used by Republicans around the country to justify new laws requiring voters to obtain IDs in order to cast a ballot.

Critics say that these laws have historically affected minority voters disproportionately. As Adam Serwer wrote back in September, Republican defenders of voter ID laws point to higher black turnout in Georgia during the 2006 and 2010 elections as evidence that such laws don't suppress the minority vote. But in states without such restrictions, the increase in black turnout was much higher.

Under South Carolina's new law, passed in August, prospective voters must present either a valid driver's license or ID card, military ID, or passport. Absent of any of those, people may still cast absentee or provisional ballots. But, under the state's new law, these ballot-casters must eventually produce a valid ID. And though South Carolina is offering free IDs, voters still have to present identification documents—like a birth certificate or marriage record—in order to obtain one.

Previously, South Carolina election officials reported that the law impacts white and non-white voters proportionally—meaning that no group would be worse off because of the law. But the AP analyzed fresh data provided by the South Carolina state election commission. Its findings are unsurprising:

[A]mong the state's 2,134 precincts, there are 10 where nearly all of the law's affect falls on nonwhite voters who don't have a state- issued driver's license or ID card, a total of 1,977 voters.

The same holds true for white voters in a number of precincts, but the overall effect is much more spread out and involves fewer total voters: There are 44 precincts where only white voters are affected, or 1,831 people in all.

The precinct that votes at Benedict College's campus center has 2,790 voters, including nine white voters. In that precinct, 1,343 of the precinct's nonwhite voters lack state identification, but only five white voters do. The former group accounts for 48 percent of the precinct's voters...

A precinct at South Carolina State University has 2,305 active voters, including 33 white voters. There, 800 nonwhite voters and 17 white voters there lack state IDs. More than a third of the voters in the precinct lack state photo identification.

Section Five of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) requires jurisdictions that once used a "test or device" to bar people from voting (like a literacy test or poll tax), and had a turnout below 50 percent in the presidential election of 1964, to clear any changes to their election laws with the Department of Justice. Thanks to its long, storied history of voter disenfranchisement, South Carolina is one of sixteen states that must clear at least some of its election law changes with the DOJ. The DOJ is still reviewing the state's voter ID law to see if it violates the VRA, and has asked the state to clarify how it intends to reach out to voters without valid IDs.

These past few months, Republicans around the country have been waging war against the Voting Rights Act. Republican officials in Alabama, Arizona, and Texas, for example, are locked in battle with the DOJ over redistricting changes that dilute the strength of minority voters. Granted, these suits challenge different aspects of the VRA. But taken as a whole, they suggest that the GOP is eager to test the DOJ's enforcement of the law early and often.

Knowing Nothing About Foreign Policy Finally Gets Cain In Trouble

| Wed Oct. 19, 2011 12:30 PM EDT

Gage Skidmore/Flickr

At Tuesday's debate, Herman Cain was asked by CNN's Wolf Blitzer, whether, like Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who recently negotiated the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit from Hamas in exchange for setting a thousand of Palestinian prisoners free, he would be willing to make a similar decision. He said yes:

BLITZER: Could you imagine if you were president—we're almost out of time—and there was one American soldier who had been held for years, and the demand was Al Qaeda or some other terrorist group, you have got to free everyone at Guantanamo Bay, several hundred prisoners at Guantanamo? Could you see yourself, as president, authorizing that kind of transfer?

CAIN: I could see myself authorizing that kind of transfer, but what I would do is, I would make sure that I got all of the information, I got all of the input, considered all of the options. And then the president has to be the president and make a judgment call. I could make that call if I had to.

This was a pretty disastrous answer, and not an entirely hypothetical possibility: US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl has been held by the Afghan Taliban since 2009. Despite the fact that few of the remaining detainees at Gitmo have even had a trial, let alone been convicted of a crime, much of the country regards them all as guilty as a result of a decade of politicians asserting without qualification that they're all guilty. That's part of why Obama couldn't close Gitmo even when there was a Democratic majority in Congress. Cain tried to explain away this answer in last night's debate.

CAIN: The rest of the statement was quite simply, you would have to consider the entire situation. But let me say this first, I would have a policy that we do not negotiate with terrorists. We have to lay that principle down first. Now being that you have to look at each individual situation and consider all the facts. The point that I made about this particular situation is that I'm sure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had to consider a lot of things before he made that. So on the surface, I don't think we can say he did the right thing or not. A responsible decision-maker would have considered everything.

COOPER: But you're saying you could—I mean, in your words, you've said that I could see myself authorizing that kind of a transfer. Isn't that negotiating with, in this case, Al Qaeda?

CAIN: I don't recall him saying that it was Al Qaeda-related.

Again, a disastrous answer—not only did Blitzer specifically ask about Al Qaeda, but Republicans have spent the last few years opposing the transfer of detainees to US federal court for trial, let alone their outright release. The idea of an American president negotiating for hostages isn't entirely inconceivable—as Marcy Wheeler writes, Ron Paul pointed out last night that Ronald Reagan sold arms to Iran in exchange for the release of American hostages. But given the politics of Gitmo, particularly on the right, Cain's answer was about as gaffe-tastic as it gets. 

Cain's problems are essentially two-fold here. One, he knows almost nothing about foreign policy, let alone the domestic politics of Israel and the reason why Netanyahu could make such a decision. Shalit became such a potent symbol to Israelis in large part because Israel has compulsory service, which means that Shalit could literally be anyone's child, anyone's sibling, anyone's parent. Things are different in the United States, where the burden of our incessant wars is borne by a relatively small part of the population, and military service is much more of an abstract concept. 

The second is that Cain was obviously snowed by the preface of the question, "did Binyamin Netanyahu do the right thing." It's not accurate to say the GOP respects Netanyahu more than the man currently in the White House, it's more like they regard him with a combination of awe and reverence. When Netayahu visited Congress in May the GOP treated him like he was a hybrid of Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan. Cain was operating off a simple principle that, in this particular case, failed him: Everything Israel does is beyond criticism, and everything Netanyahu does is awesome. Had the issue been something other than negotiating with Hamas for the release of prisoners, Cain probably would have been okay. 

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Dump Their Foreclosure Barons—for Good

| Wed Oct. 19, 2011 11:45 AM EDT

It's been a while since Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the twin housing corporations wrongly blamed for triggering the subprime mortgage meltdown and now essentially owned by American taxpayers, made headlines. But don't be fooled: Change is underway at Fannie and Freddie in the wake of the financial crisis.

Most notably, Fannie and Freddie's regulator announced (PDF) on Tuesday that the twins would soon shut down their network of high-powered foreclosure law firms around the country. These firms, paid to process foreclosures as fast and cheaply as possible, ran into trouble in recent years when some of these outfits were found to have backdated key legal documents and falsified signatures on affidavits. One of the largest "foreclosure mills" working for Fannie and Freddie was the now-defunct Law Offices of David J. Stern based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, whose questionable practices Mother Jones exposed last August.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 19, 2011

Wed Oct. 19, 2011 5:57 AM EDT

Sgt. David Smitt, Task Force Destiny, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, Pathfinder Team One, A team leader, maintains overwatch during a joint air assault dismount patrol with gunners from the British Royal Air Force Regiment's 15th Squadron in Kandahar province, southern Afghanistan. During the patrol, the element moved through the village of Nevay Deh and met with some of the local village elders to address some of their concerns. (US Army photo by Task Force Destiny Public Affairs Officer Sadie Bleistein/Released)

Perry Takes Romney To Task Over "Hiring" Illegal Immigrants

| Tue Oct. 18, 2011 11:06 PM EDT
2012 GOP presidential candidates Rick Perry, left, and Mitt Romney.

Ever get the feeling that Rick Perry's oppo research team has been failing him? During Tuesday night's tense CNN debate in Las Vegas, the Texas governor took Mitt Romney to task for the "hypocrisy" of trying to appear tough on illegal immigration, while also having allegedly hired undocumented workers to tend to his posh estate in Belmont, Massachusetts.

Referencing a series of reports published by the Boston Globe in 2007, Perry had this to say about his fellow GOP contender: "Mitt, you lose all of your standing in my perspective for hiring illegals in your home and knowing about it for a year. And the idea that you stand here before us and talk about your strong record on immigration is, on its face, the height of hypocrisy." Romney laughed off the attempted smear and said that he never "hired an illegal in my life," before the two went on to trade remarks on the matter. Here's video of their exchange:

Unfortunately for the increasingly faltering Perry, his latest barb for Romney turned out to be a cheap shot that—given the angry groans and hissing from the audience—Perry couldn't even pull off. By rehashing this nearly four-year-old quasi-controversy, Gov. Perry opened himself up to an easy rebuttal: According to the Globe's exposé, Romney did hire Community Lawn Service With a Heart, a landscaping company that had a track record of employing illegal immigrants, for services like "raking leaves, clearing debris from Romney's tennis court, and loading the refuse onto [their] truck." He did not, however, directly or (according to Romney) knowingly hire any undocumented workers, and dumped the company after the Globe broke the story. After hearing the news, the Romney '08 campaign issued the following statement:

[The company was] instructed to make sure people working for [them] were of legal status. We personally met with the company in order to inform them about the importance of this matter. The owner of the company guaranteed us, in very certain terms, that the company would be in total compliance with the law going forward. The company's failure to comply with the law is disappointing and inexcusable, and I believe it is important I take this action.

Whether Romney was telling the whole story or not (Ricardo Saenz, the company's owner, had a different version of the facts), PolitiFact.com ruled on this controversy years ago and concluded that then-candidate Romney deserved "a little slack for doing what most Americans would do and rely on the legal status of the company hired to do the job." Objectively speaking, Romney's yard-work-gate is, at worst, an example of bad household oversight—not exactly the kind of criminal exploitation the Perry campaign was surely banking on.

Mitt on Foreclosures: "Let It...Hit the Bottom"

| Tue Oct. 18, 2011 11:04 PM EDT
GOP Presidential candidate holds a press conference at a shuttered shopping center in North Hollywood, California in July.

When given the chance to take a shot at his newly minted biggest rival, Herman Cain, Mitt Romney didn't pass it up at Tuesday's GOP debate. The former Massachusetts governor positioned himself as a champion of the middle class—which is why he was so adamantly opposed to 9-9-9. But when it came to an issue of serious importance for the embattled middle class—especially in Nevada, the state hit the hardest by the housing crisis—Romney punted. Rather than intervening to save underwater mortgages, Romney said, "the right course is to let markets work."

At least he's been consistent. Romney was offering a cliff-notes argument of a point he made earlier in the day, in an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal:

As to what to do for the housing industry specifically, are there things that you could do to encourage housing? One is: Don't try and stop the foreclosure process. Let it run its course and hit the bottom. Allow investors to buy homes, put renters in them, fix the homes up and let it turn around and come back up. The Obama administration has slow-walked the foreclosure process that has long existed, and as a result we still have a foreclosure overhang. Number two, the credit that was given to first-time home-buyers was insufficient, inadequate to turn around the housing market. I think it was an ineffective idea, it was a little bit like the Cash for Clunkers program, throwing government money at something which was not market-oriented, did not staunch the decline in home values anymore than it encouraged the auto industry to take off. I think the idea of helping people refinance homes to stay in them is one that's worth further consideration, but I'm not signing on until I know who's going to pay, and who's going to get bailed out.

 

About That Immigration Study Mitt Romney Cited...

| Tue Oct. 18, 2011 10:52 PM EDT
Texas Governor Rick Perry wisely chose not to slug Mitt Romney at Tuesday's debate.

The most dramatic* moment at Tuesday night's GOP presidential debate came past the midway point, when Rick Perry and Mitt Romney clashed over illegal immigration. In addition to consistently referring to undocumented migrants as "illegals," Romney went on to suggest that Perry's record of job growth in Texas was comprised mostly of illegal immigrants. Romney cited a study showing that 81 percent of new jobs in Texas over the last few years went to undocumented workers.

But as Suzy Khimm explained, the study Romney is citing, from the Center for Immigration Studies, is flawed. Among other things:

Perryman points out that the study's conclusions about newly arrived immigrants in Texas aren't likely to hold true for the immigration population on the whole. By restricting its scope to immigrants who’ve arrived after 2007, the study doesn’t take into account any job losses by immigrants who came before 2007, he says. For example, if an immigrant who arrived after 2007 takes the job of a immigrant who came earlier, that still counts as a net gain in the study.

Another reason to be skeptical of CIS: It's the same group that produced a report last March supporting the debunked "terror babies" theory. According to CIS, terrorists are coming to the United States illegally to have kids who will take advantage of their American citizenship to destroy America from within.

*And by dramatic, we mean, "the moment that prompted Rick Perry to actually, physically curl his lip."