Nel's New Day

January 4, 2014

Government, Culture – Pro & Con

This week has seen some peculiar positions on the law and cultural beliefs, both pro and con government positions.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials caused the horrifying destruction of 13 musical instruments after the agency identified them as “agricultural products.” Canadian citizen and U.S. resident Boujemaa Razgui, who was returning from visiting family in Morocco, had his luggage taken during a layover in New York on his way to Brockton (MA). When his bags were delivered to his home the following day, he was missing the flutes that he had made himself. The professional musician had intended to use the flutes in a performance in Boston. It appears he has no recourse for the loss of his livelihood.

Ohio now recognizes same-sex marriage but only after one of the couple is dead. Judge Timothy Black has ordered the state to recognize LGBT marriages on death certificates. The ruling came from a gay couple married in Maryland shortly before one of them died. Without the recognition of their marriage on the death certificate, the man who died could not be buried in the survivor’s family cemetery plot. Black said that the state cannot “discriminate against same-sex couples … simply because the majority of the voters don’t like homosexuality (or at least didn’t in 2004).” Black also wrote, “Once you get married lawfully in one state, another state cannot summarily take your marriage away.” Perhaps that will someday hold true for living same-sex couples in Ohio.

With 18 states and the District of Columbia recognizing marriage equality, Utah is in a quandary. Just two weeks ago, U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby ruled that same-sex couples could marry in that state. The appeals went back and forth until the most recent one landed on the desk of SCOTUS Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She is assigned to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to handle motions such as emergency requests. She can either rule independently or refer the matter to the full court.

Same-sex couples are able to get married in Utah because acting attorney general Brian Tarbet didn’t file a pre-emptive stay against the marriages if the court found against the state’s ban on marriage equality. His failure meant that couples could marry between the time of the court’s ruling and the hearing of an appeal. The state is arguing that allowing same-sex marriage causes irreparable injury to the state and that the inability to be married in Utah causes no injury to gays and lesbians.

Yesterday, lawyers filed a request urging Justice Sotomayor to permit same-sex marriages to continue while the 10th Circuit Court considers the state’s appeal. There is no time limit in her issuing a decision. Meanwhile, same-sex couples are still marrying in Utah. During the first six days after the decision, over 900 same-sex couples received marriage licenses, including Utah State Senator Jim Dabakis.  

The argument about the Roman Catholic nuns in Colorado has gone to bizarre extents as they claim that the federal government is infringing on their freedom of religion. The crisis peaked on New Year’s Eve when Justice Sotomayor declared an injunction until the situation is settled. There’s no timeline.

The background: Little Sisters of the Poor objects to providing contraception insurance because of its religious beliefs. No problem—they don’t have to if they fill out the paperwork to say that they don’t want the insurance to include contraception.

Their current objection, however, is to completing the short form certifying their religious objections. The Affordable Care Act has already eliminated the requirement for religious groups to provide contraceptive insurance. Employers can provide a health care plan that doesn’t cover the medication, and then the employers’ insurance company creates a separate policy to cover contraception. The woman gets free contraception, and the employer is not paying for this part of health care. Paperwork from the employer, however, is required to start the process.

Even if the Little Sisters complete the form, the employees may not be insured for contraception. A district court in Colorado moved to dismiss the case, ruling that it lacks authority to require a “church plan” to provide contraception. The insurance plan is administered by the Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust, exempt from ACA enforcement. Thus Little Sisters filed a federal lawsuit, refuses to sign any paperwork, and has no part in any requirement to provide contraception that most other women will receive.

When I read about Justice Sotomayor placing the injunction, I wondered why it was her responsibility. Further research shows that each Supreme Court justice is assigned to a circuit court. An appeal for emergency assistance goes first to the assigned justice. If the response is unsatisfactory, an appeal can go to another justice and, as a last resort, then to the entire court. [Map of the 13 circuit courts and their assigned justices]

  • District of Columbia Circuit: John G. Roberts, Jr., Chief Justice
  • The First Circuit: Stephen Breyer, Associate Justice
  • The Second Circuit: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice
  • The Third Circuit: Samuel A. Alito, Jr., Associate Justice
  • The Fourth Circuit: John G. Roberts, Jr., Chief Justice
  • The Fifth Circuit: Antonin Scalia, Associate Justice
  • The Sixth Circuit: Elena Kagan, Associate Justice
  • The Seventh Circuit: Elena Kagan, Associate Justice
  • The Eighth Circuit: Samuel A. Alito, Jr., Associate Justice
  • The Ninth Circuit: Anthony M. Kennedy, Associate Justice
  • The Tenth Circuit: Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice
  • The Eleventh Circuit: Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice
  • The Federal Circuit: John G. Roberts, Jr., Chief Justice

The Koch brothers, who control many GOP state legislators through ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), have decided that they can do the same to Rachel Maddow on her MSNBC show. After her story about the brothers’ part in lobbying for state laws mandating drug testing for welfare recipients, they sent her a letter demanding a retraction and providing her with a script. This is Maddow’s response:

“I will not renounce or retract reporting that is true, even if the subjects of that reporting don’t like it. Being a political actor means being subject to political scrutiny. If you don’t want to be known for it, don’t do it. Don’t just complain when people accurately describe your actions. Your actions are what we are reporting on and we will do that on our own terms – as a free press. If you want to control the words that are used when your actions are discussed, then speak for yourself. I will renew my invitation now. Mr. Koch, or the other Mr. Koch, you are welcome on this show any time.”

In good news, Idaho has learned its lesson that privatized prisons don’t work: the corrections department is taking back operation of the biggest privately-run prison in the state because of the past decade’s mismanagement. This move shows that Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter may be reversing his strong support for privatization after lawsuits about gang activity, contract fraud with Corrections Corporation of America, understaffing, and massive violence.

Because of a new law in California, 36-year-old Sergio C. Garcia, a Mexican immigrant without a green card, may be licensed as a lawyer. The legislature passed the law because the state Supreme Court had denied him licensing. Federal law keeps undocumented immigrants from obtaining professional licenses unless state governments denies the ban. Garcia can practice law free of charge, but the court questioned whether he could charge fees. Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote:

“We conclude that the fact that an undocumented immigrant’s presence in this country violates federal statutes is not itself a sufficient or persuasive basis for denying undocumented immigrants, as a class, admission to the State Bar.”

Garcia was brought to the U.S. when he was 17 months old. He returned to Mexico with his parents when he was nine and came back to the U.S. illegally at the age of 17 with his father who has permanent resident status. His father requested his green card at that time. The federal government approved the application the next year, but Garcia has still not received the green card. After earning his law degree from Cal Northern School of Law in Chico, he passed the bar on his first attempt. He has waited four years for his law license. Two similar cases are pending in New York and Florida.

We’ll finish with an insane approach toward evaluating teachers. In 2009, Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of the D.C. public schools who is still widely appearing on talk shows, announced a numerical scale to either fire teachers or give them huge salary increases. During her term, there were allegations of cheating in schools where scores increased, only to fall back after security measures were employed. Despite the problems, schools across the nation have started to use the Rhee method.

“A very small typo” in the programming code last year led to mistakes in firing one teacher, keeping three teachers from receiving bonuses, and providing inaccurate job evaluations for another 40 teachers. After discovering the problems month later, the district tried to rectify the problems. The question is how many other mistakes in programming have destroyed teachers’ careers.

Idaho and California—becoming sensible; education—needs to focus on teachers for evaluation; religious groups—should get reasonable; Customs—pay for the destruction; Ohio—value the living as the dead.

October 23, 2013

Prison Keeps Beds Full with Immigrants

On the same day that the GOP shut down the federal government, I heard a horrifying statistic. Under law, taxpayers must pay to keep 34,000 people in jail, at a cost of about $120 each per day, even as the number of immigrants caught coming illegally into the U.S. has fallen by more than half since the beginning of the most current recession. That’s almost $4 million per day—every day. I knew that the Arizona governor had made a deal with a private prison company to fill the prisons in the state with undocumented immigrants, but I had no idea that it was also a federal mandate.

Since 2009, when then-Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) added this mandate to the Homeland Security Department’s annual spending bill, federal immigration officials have operated under a statutory quota on how many people to hold behind bars. The law requires only that 34,000 beds must be available for these immigrants regardless of the number or them or the crimes that they commit. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency translates this requirement, however, as keeping “a yearly average daily population of approximately 34,000 individuals,” former ICE Director John Morton told a congressional panel last March.

As the editors of Bloomberg wrote:

“Some detained noncitizens are violent criminals who need to be locked up. Others are mothers or fathers who have committed traffic violations. Their forced separation from families and jobs undermines both social cohesion and the economy — at taxpayer expense. Undocumented immigrants tracked in alternative (nondetention) programs appeared for administrative hearings more than 90 percent of the time, according to Julie Myers Wood, a former assistant secretary of Homeland Security in the George W. Bush administration. They complied with final orders 84 percent of the time. Yet ICE detains more than 400,000 immigrants in more than 250 jails and other facilities at an annual cost of $2 billion.”

The editorial goes on to give reasons for this inordinate expenditure. Punishment for undocumented immigrants is very popular with conservatives, and private-prison lobbies keep these detention centers open. Also a 2013 National Immigration Forum report pointed out that local officials have also “treated the increase in bed mandates as a source of revenue for counties and a job creator for their region.”

The White House 2014 budget requested $120 million less for immigration detention beds that House GOP members want, which didn’t make the GOP happy. The GOP also voted down an amendment from Democrat Reps. Ted Deutch (FL) and Bill Foster (IL) to strike the detention mandate from the Homeland Security appropriation bill. Alternatives to detention such as ankle bracelets, curfews, and home visits cost taxpayers much less, but those wouldn’t give GOP governments as much money. Although 41 percent of detainees are Level 1, the lowest-risk group, Congress forces taxpayers to pay for keeping these people in prison.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), the Homeland Security Committee chairman, told ICE officials in February that they were “in clear violation of statute” when the detainee population fell to 30,773 after the sequester caused them to release 2,200 to save money. During a hearing, Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) complained to Morton about getting too few inmates to fill his district’s detention beds.

The GOP is big on privatization, and prisons are at the top of their list. Government jailers Corrections Corp. (CXW) and Geo, two publically-traded companies that actively lobby Congress, have doubled in value in the past three years. Corrections Corp. has spent more than $13 million on lobbyists since 2005, among them past appropriations-committee employees, and Geo has spent more than $2.8 million during that time.

These privately-run prisons suffer from staffing shortages, rapid employee turnover, and cost-cutting that results in dangerous conditions for inmates. At the same time these same prisons waste taxpayers’ money. For example, assaults in one Ohio prison almost tripled after Corrections Corp. took over. A riot at a Natchez (MS) immigrant facility, also run by the same private company, left a guard dead and 20 people injured last year.

Yet state governments keep supporting these private prison companies. California Gov. Jerry Brown committed $1.14 billion over three years for thousands of prison cells, and Geo got a $8.5 million annual contract to hold up to 400 immigrants in Alexandria (LA).

Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Terry Hatter forced immigration judges to grant bond hearings for California inmates detained for more than six months. After 400 such hearings beginning in November, about two-thirds were released on bail. ICE employees had been told to increase arrests and deportations because the numbers were too low. The person responsible for these emails, former ICE administrator David Venturella, is now a high official with Geo, a leading private prison corporation.

The House, with its fixation on shutting down the government, has ignored the plight of immigrants despite a bill passed by the Senate. One of that bill’s provisions would give ICE and judges greater discretion to release detainees of no risk to the community. A benefit of this bill would be an average of 14,000 new jobs in each congressional district over the next decade, with no district having fewer than 7,000. That’s approximately 6 million new jobs. This analysis came from the center-right American Action Network (AAN).

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the Senate’s bill would reduce deficits by $197 billion over 10 years. Although building more miles on the fence between the U.S. and Mexico, doubling the number of border agents, and other border security measures would cost $262 billion, people given legal status and newly admitted temporary workers would increase revenue by $459 billion by paying taxes.

Much of the opposition to immigration reform comes from racism, as Rep. Steve King (R-IA) has frequently demonstrated. In August King spoke at a Tea Party-sponsored “Stop Amnesty” rally and claimed that the United States needs to keep people from coming north into the country because the population gets more violent as one moves further south in Latin America. He asserted that people from a “violent civilization” would create a more violent environment for individuals living in a “less-violent civilization.” Fortunately, the rally was not well attended.

king rally nobody there

A few undocumented immigrants are allowed to stay in the United States, thanks to a loophole that members of Congress can file a “private bill” that will keep people in the country. Congressional members who have voted against the DREAM Act and opposed any other immigration reform have used this loophole so that some of their constituents or friends can stay.

The mandate for imprisoning all undocumented immigrants, even those who have not committed any crimes, promotes the occurrence of domestic abuse and rapes because women cannot report these crimes against them. Thus in criminalizing immigration, the GOP causes far more crimes that won’t be prosecuted.

The GOP, claiming to be the party of “family values,” also breaks up families because parents are deported, but the children born in the United States are left in this country. When 11-year-old Josie Molina, a U.S. citizen, asked Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-TN) for help in a town hall meeting, he told her that her undocumented father would and should be deported. The Tea Party audience loudly cheered.

Since the shutdown, President Obama has declared immigration reform as one of his three priorities for this year. He plans to make a statement tomorrow at 10:35 am, urging members of Congress to finish work to provide a citizenship pathway for millions of people in the U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) plans to take up immigration reform in a piecemeal approach typical of the GOP.

Congressional leaders such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) are using the shutdown as an excuse to not work on immigration reform. Both claimed that they wouldn’t be able to make a “good faith effort” to negotiate with the president because of his refusal to negotiate during the shutdown. Rubio also asserted that the president is “trying to destroy” the Republican Party. Conservatives are also worried that House leaders might meet with Senate negotiators.

GOP members of Congress dragging their feet on immigration reform will find themselves opposed by a coalition of evangelical Christians called the Evangelical Immigration Table. They plan a two-day event on October 28-29 to lobby lawmakers and hold a news conference. The GOP has already alienated women, minorities, poor, and LGBT people; they can’t afford to lose the evangelicals too.

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