GOP Boldly Offering Solutions to Our Nation’s Symptoms

Photo courtesy of Aslan Media

Nothing says leadership more than bravely standing up against a concern that’s not actually a problem.

We’ve had a one-sided battle with Sharia Law in the U.S. No one is fighting for replacing U.S. law with an Islamic moral code, but nonetheless Republicans are heroically fighting against it. Same with aborted fetuses in commercial food stuffs: Not something that’s ever happened but earlier this year Republican freshman Oklahoma state senator Ralph Shortey had the temerity to introduce a bill to outlaw it.

Republicans love what they call “simple solutions” but it’s really just the easiest possible answer to a trumped up crisis. In short: busy work. America needs to streamline for the challenges of the future so we can remain competitive (blah blah blah). Yet Republican offers are akin to organizing all the paperclips in the office by color and size.

Republicans and bureaucracy are, after all, frenemies. Sure they tell the media they despise bureaucracy, but secretly they love it when it makes them appear to be doing something. Even better if it keeps them from doing anything difficult.

For example: We’re in the middle of an obesity epidemic. It’s the number two leading cause of preventable death in this country. The Center for Disease Control estimates 112,000 American deaths a year due to obesity, which is down from their previous estimate of 365,000 deaths from poor nutrition and physical inactivity. The CDC reports in 2008 Americans forked over $147 billion in medical costs on obesity. We’re dying and going broke from being too fat.

But what are Republicans trying to warn us against? Terrorism. China. Russia. Obamacare. ACORN. The New Black Panthers. The Fed. All of which cumulatively killed no Americans last year.

It’s (ironically) lazy to try to and scare Americans about some elusive menace in order to avoid the reality that we’ve become the proverbial elephants in our own living rooms.

Illegal immigration? Republicans say to secure the border, build a fence and arrest anyone who even looks illegal. Mitt Romney said Arizona’s infamous SB 1070 should be a model for the nation, which would be something if Mexicans were still coming into the U.S. They’re not. Immigration from Mexico is now net zero. That is actually a way bigger problem than undocumented workers (whom we love in boom times for a way to circumvent the minimum wage and exploit a non-litigious underclass). It’s the fact we are no longer an attractive enough country to motivate Mexicans to come here.

But as we saw last week with the Supreme Court ruling on Arizona’s law, governor Jan Brewer‘s just doubled down on a non-problem, “We cannot forget that we are here today because the federal government has failed the American people regarding immigration policy, has failed to protect its citizens, has failed to preserve the rule of law and has failed to secure our borders.”

For a party that likes to peddle free market and common sense, they sure get a lot of traction ginning up irrational fears.

Our energy plan is stuck firmly in the last century, but that’s not the point the presumptive Republican nominee decided to make. In March, Mitt Romney told Fox News that President Obama “has done everything in his power to make it harder for us to get oil and natural gas in this country, driving up the price of those commodities in the case of gasoline.” Gas prices were the thing Republicans were going to fix by paying attention to them!

With little fanfare, gas prices are down now, by the way. Production has increased overall under the Obama administration. Republicans managed to sound the alarm and assign blame for a symptom while steadfastly avoiding the cause entirely.

Think I’m way off here? Remember this is the party that in the wake of September 11th—an attack by citizens of Saudi Arabia, organized in Afghanistan by a leader hanging out in Lebanon—decided to invade (wait for it) Iraq.

Because things indirectly involved with real problems hate us for our freedoms.

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Tina Dupuy

Tina Dupuy Tina Dupuy is a native New Yorker born in exile.

The daughter of biblical brimstone hippie revolutionaries, her parents were members of a splinter sect so fringe it makes normal cult apologists shudder. This has given her a rather unique take on life. “My parents were missionaries, not to be confused with ‘mercenaries’ because that would actually be cool.”

Tina’s childhood was spent as glorified luggage, living in several countries on two continents and eventually attending nine elementary schools. The most stable home she had was an adolescent all-girls group home in Northern California where she made few friends by being an (alleged) stuck up nerd who “thought she was better than everyone else.”

Tina’s life long ambition of being a paleontologist was thwarted by the siren call of freelance journalism. An irreverent yet unassuming humorist, Tina is a natural for the work. ”Prostitutes are known for their hearts of gold, you never hear anyone say that about satirists,” she laments.

Sometimes a reporter, sometimes a comedian – always a wedge-issue enthusiast and devout skeptic – Tina is anaward-winning writer, investigative journalist, the former managing editor of Crooks and Liars . Tina appears frequently on MSNBC, Current TV, RT and BBC, and all over the radio frequencies via KCRW’s To The PointThe Stephanie Miller Show and The Leslie Marshall Show. She writes for Mother JonesThe AtlanticSkeptic, Fast CompanyAlternetLA Weekly, Los Angeles Times and Newsday among many others. Her weekly op-ed column is nationally syndicated through Cagle Cartoons.

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Texans React to SCOTUS Ruling on Arizona Law

Photo courtesy of Bob Daemmrich

Opinions on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Arizona’s immigration law, SB 1070, run the gamut. Here’s an aggregated look at where Texas lawmakers and interest groups fall on the spectrum.

For reference, the Supreme Court opinion overturned several tough provisions in the bill, but upheld one of the most controversial: It allows police to inquire into the legal status of someone they stop.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry“Today’s decision by the Supreme Court to uphold Arizona’s right to check the legal status of individuals within its borders is a victory not only for the people of Arizona, but for the rule of law. No state should be held hostage to a federal government that refuses to enforce the laws of the land. But today’s ruling is one step forward and two steps back – simply not good enough. It is bad enough that the Obama administration picks and chooses which laws it wishes to enforce, but for the United States Supreme Court to deprive states of some of those powers that are, in the words of Justice Scalia, ‘the defining characteristic[s] of sovereignty,’ is insulting to the Constitution and our right to govern ourselves. The people of Arizona took action consistent with federal law and in direct response to the failure of this administration to secure our nation’s borders. The absence of federal action on immigration enforcement directly spoils the integrity of our nation’s laws.”

Lt. Gov. (and U.S. Senate candidate) David Dewhurst: “The Supreme Court’s partial ruling on the Arizona immigration law only spotlights the abject failure of the federal government to secure the border. Today’s decision reinforces the need for conservatives in Congress to once and for all quit talking and secure the border. The first step is triple the size of the Border Patrol and authorize them to fight back. Congress must make states and local communities partners in securing the border, allowing them the tools necessary to enforce the laws of our Nation. Any legislation that provides a pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens must be dead on arrival, and we must look at all the tools in our arsenal to address the influx of illegal immigrants, the threat of narco-terrorists and drug cartels.”

Former Texas Solicitor General (and U.S. Senate candidate) Ted Cruz: “The federal government is utterly failing to secure our borders.  When Arizona stepped in to address out-of-control illegal immigration, liberal groups attacked Arizona and the Obama Administration sued the State. Rather than actually enforce our Nation’s immigration laws — which is the President’s explicit constitutional obligation—President Obama instead asked the Supreme Court to strike down Arizona’s law. Today, the Supreme Court upheld the central provision of the Arizona law. Although the Court unfortunately struck down other provisions of the Arizona law, the Court held that there is no barrier in federal law to States’ requiring local law enforcement to check on the immigration status of those criminally detained. This makes clear that sanctuary cities exist only because of state and local decision-making; it highlights that we have sanctuary cities in Texas only because Lt. Gov. Dewhurst killed the bill that would have ended sanctuary cities. Had the Texas Legislature passed that bill—had Lt. Governor Dewhurst not run from the fight and prevented its passage—then today’s decision would have upheld that Texas law as well. We need leaders who will get serious about enforcing the border: triple the border patrol; use walls, fences, and technology; end sanctuary cities; repeal Obama’s newly ordered amnesty; and end benefits like in-state tuition for illegal aliens.”

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin: “The Court rightly rejected 3/4th of the Arizona law as unconstitutional, while reserving the right to reconsider implementation of the remaining provision.  That remaining “show me your papers” rule is very troubling.  Its implementation should be reevaluated because of racial profiling. Today’s decision only underlines the need for prompt, comprehensive immigration reform–write the DREAM Act into law for youth and let those immigrants, who have been longstanding, law abiding, tax paying residents, pay a penalty and get in line to become citizens. Even Rick Perry said the Arizona law was not right for Texas.  Thankfully the Court said it was wrong for America.”

U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso: “Today’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on the Arizona law, better known as SB 1070, is a move in the right direction. However, the unanimous decision to uphold the ‘Show Me Your Papers’ provision that allows a police officer or local law enforcement agency to ask for the legal status of a person being detained or arrested hurts communities across our country. This ruling underscores the need for Congress to take up this federal issue and work on a Comprehensive Immigration Reform package that addresses it. I call on my colleagues – both Democrats and Republicans – to do the right thing and address Comprehensive Immigration Reform. It is unfortunate that partisan politics being played by the Republican majority in the House of Representatives does not allow us, those with common sense, to move meaningful and important immigration legislation forward. For 26 ½ years, I served as a Border Patrol agent and then sector chief and worked to uphold immigration laws in this country, and today, I know first-hand the dire need to reform these same laws. I will continue to support Comprehensive Immigration Reform that secures our country, unites families, helps our country’s economic prosperity and ends a shadow world for millions of people living here.”

State Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso: “I am deeply troubled by the decision handed down today by the Supreme Court. To give state and local law enforcement officers the power to act as federal immigration officers is a recipe for disaster. As a result of today’s decision, I am confident that there will be several pieces of legislation filed during the next legislative session requiring Texas law enforcement officers to ask immigration status. These harmful measures hurt the ability of our police to develop and foster relationships with immigrant communities — relationships critical in combating and solving crime. Once this law goes into effect in Arizona, and once cases of discrimination come to the forefront as a result of this measure, I feel confident that it will be reexamined and repealed by the Supreme Court. The critical question that still remains is whether or not the Arizona law will result in racial profiling.”

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston: “The action that needs to be taken now in response to the Supreme Court decision regarding Arizona’s misguided law is for Congress to now pass comprehensive immigration reform law. Major parts of the legislation that continue to clearly show over reach have been found unconstitutional; particularly when Arizona reached into federal government laws. The Supreme Court reaffirmed that today with their decision. The Court correctly struck down wrongheaded policies that would have pushed families, workers, and senior citizens into the criminal justice system. But the Court made an error in upholding the discriminatory ‘show me your papers’ provision that violates people’s basic rights. This is not the final word on ‘show me your papers’ laws. There will always be a fight in the courts and legislatures to protect America’s basic rights. Finally this case is not complete. If Arizona precedes under the narrow provisions remaining of the law I believe in short order the state will be subject to charges of racial profiling and just as Rosa Parks started the journey to the federal courts to declare unconstitutional segregated accommodations, I believe the final aspect of the Arizona law will be struck down on the grounds of due process and equal rights. It will only be a matter of time until we all see that the Arizona law is but a meager limping downsized measure of the original legislation and rightly so. The Republican led house should get to work and do real comprehensive immigration reform.”

The Texas Civil Rights Project Director Jim Harrington: “This is a great victory against those who would use the immigration issue for their political agenda, regardless of the harm it caused to immigrant families, who often have both documented and undocumented members living together in the United States and trying to make a living. It also removes a blatant pretext for discrimination against members of the Hispanic community, who have long and deep roots in this country and are citizens or have legal status.”

ACLU of Texas Executive Director Terri Burke: “The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court today to uphold the discriminatory ‘show me your papers’ part of SB 1070, Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, shows just how out of touch the court is with reality. When the Texas Legislature defeated a copycat proposal in 2011, they joined with a coalition of business, law enforcement, local government, religious and civil rights leaders because these bad proposals hurt state economies and reputations. Regardless of today’s Supreme Court decision, the tide has turned against laws like these. States are saying no to ‘show me your papers’ laws because they harm business, undermine police work and threaten basic American and Texas values. We’ve seen the corrosive effects that ‘show me your papers’ laws have on a community. Anti-immigrant laws are a stain on the fundamental freedoms the Constitution guarantees. Texas has already spoken: We will not follow the lead of those who would harm our economy and trample the rights of those who live in our great state.”

U.S. Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston: “The Supreme Court’s ruling this morning affirms that immigration and borders are federal responsibilities. This ruling should signal the urgency for Congress and the Administration to take on comprehensive immigration reform on a bipartisan basis that secures our nation’s borders while dealing with those here fairly and humanely.”

U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Conroe: “I am disappointed because when Washington fails to do its job to keep citizens secure, the states ought to be able to act. In my view President Obama should be working with local law enforcement to secure our borders, not fighting our states in the courts. The President’s ‘amnesty first’ ideology has real consequences for families and businesses in border states like ours. I’m pleased that [provision allowing local law enforcement to check a suspect’s immigration status] was upheld, but I strongly disagree with the rest of the Supreme Court’s decision in this case. Our states should never be forced to risk the safety of their citizens because of the White House’s failure to enforce our nation’s immigration laws. I hope Arizona and other states continue fighting for their right to have a safe and secure state for their citizens to live.”

State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin: “Today’s decision leaves intact parts of an Arizona law that all-but-encourage discrimination against full-blooded Americans over the color of their skin. The law was always a reactionary response to the federal government’s sad failure to address immigration in this country: it divides and weakens us as a nation. While the Court was right to reject key pieces of it, the truth is that no part of it – particularly the “show me your papers” provision that the Court maintained – should be law, whether it was upheld or not. We need a Texas solution to the immigration issue that secures our borders, shows zero tolerance to those who commit serious crimes, and recognizes those who meet stringent requirements to serve our country and contribute productively to our economy. And we must assure that nothing so discriminatory becomes law in Texas. Texas can do better, and Texans deserve better, than something as poisonous and nonsensical as the Arizona experiment. Unfortunately, in last year’s session alone, those in control of the Texas Legislature worked successfully to make it harder for minorities to vote. They also tried, unsuccessfully, to follow Arizona’s lead in having local law enforcement enforce federal immigration law. And for the first time in memory, they slashed funding for public schools – schools that are needed more and more to teach Hispanic students who represent so much of Texas’ future. Such initiatives disproportionately affect Hispanics, and they helped make the last legislative session a distinctly anti-Hispanic one. It’s critical to Texas’ future that these efforts cease. Unfortunately, today’s Supreme Court decision will ultimately make them more likely.”

State Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas: “As I have said before many times, immigration reform is such a complex and complicated issue, it is best left at the hands of our federal government and law enforcement officials at that level of government, not the local police. Allowing local police to still ask for immigration status is such a difficult issue that it will create nothing but chaos and more problems than we already have to deal with. Local enforcement officials are hired primarily to deal with local issues, and not deal with federal issues. And they are busy enough and overworked enough with local issues. We certainly do not need to add another layer of  federal bureaucracy, red tape, and complex job requirements that they do have the training, knowledge, or experience to deal with or address adequately. This would be unfair, not only to the local police officers themselves, but the individuals who would be unfairly targeted and racially profiled. Additionally, as I have consistently said in the past, SB 1070 would set a bad precedent, as it would open the doors for all fifty states to do the same and in essence allow state and local police to have ‘inherent authority to enforce all immigration law.’ Can you imagine having fifty different immigration laws, when all we need is just one at the federal level? Immigration law is and should fall under the jurisdiction of our federal government, not of our state and local governments. Additionally, fifty different jurisdictions making fifty different sets of rules regulating immigrants would fundamentally negate the federal government’s interest in a coherent and unified foreign policy, not to mention its interest in facilitating interstate commerce. Permitting individual states, counties and other local municipalities to do the same would exponentially increase the chaos.”

State Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston: “Today’s decision by the Supreme Court affirms my belief that Arizona overstepped its lawmaking authority in enacting an unconstitutional law that was nothing more than an intimidation tactic to insert fear upon specific groups of people. While I do applaud the court in striking down key provisions of the Arizona law, the decision to uphold the portion that authorizes local law enforcement to check the immigration status of individuals they suspect are not in the United States legally could lead to racial profiling and other legal consequences. Texas should not look to Arizona as a model of how to handle immigration reform. The legal ramifications coupled with the impending litigation that is certain to occur is a fiscal burden Texas cannot afford. Immigration is a federal issue and states should not propose laws that undermine the federal government’s exclusive authority.”

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston: “I am very pleased with this decision; we got nearly everything we wanted. The Court ruled that almost all of the harsh provisions of Arizona’s new immigration scheme are trumped by federal law. This ruling is a defeat for those who are trying to use “states’ rights” rhetoric to enact their agenda. It has long been established by the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution that federal law is supreme and may not be countered or circumvented by state law in areas that are meant to be governed exclusively by federal law. This ruling makes it clear that immigration is one of those areas that is under the purview of the federal government, not the states. The Supreme Court is tentatively allowing one provision to stand: the requirement that Arizona police officers must inquire into the immigration status of an individual during a lawful stop or arrest if that officer reasonably believes the individual might be undocumented. This provision is obviously troublesome, as it invites unnecessary racial profiling that will affect American citizens as well as both legal and undocumented aliens. It will institutionalize the idea of natural born suspects. The Court is also troubled by this provision, but for now they will wait to see how Arizona applies it. The Court’s instructions, however, leave no doubt that this too will be struck unless it is applied very, very narrowly. The Supreme Court’s ruling on SB 1070 has particular ramifications for Texas, since Republicans here tried last session to implement many of the exact provisions the Court just invalidated in Arizona. People of color, particularly those in the Latino community, can all breathe a little easier now that the Court has put a clear limit on the ability of states to target some populations under the guise of immigration reform.”

Texas Democratic Party: “Today’s Supreme Court decision only further underscores the need for comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level. We cannot have a patchwork of state immigrations laws that tie the hands of law-enforcement and drive a wedge between police and the communities they are supposed to protect. Police officers should focus on targeting dangerous criminals and not spend their limited resources inquiring about a person’s immigration status. Unfortunately, Rick Perry and his Republicans colleagues continue to use Latinos as a political piñata to earn points with extremists in their Party. Here in our state, Republicans attempted to enact a myriad of burdensome immigration laws that would have unfairly targeted Latinos. We need a comprehensive solution that focuses on the economic realities of our country, not ill-advised state proposals meant to prop-up Rick Perry for yet another presidential run.”

U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio: “I am disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision today, which limits the ability of states to protect their citizens and communities from illegal immigrants. It is the federal government’s job to enforce our immigration laws, but President Obama has willfully neglected this responsibility.  This dereliction of duty has left states to address the crime, job loss, and other costs of illegal immigration. “Unfortunately, under this Administration, today’s ruling essentially puts an end to immigration enforcement since the states no longer can step in and fill the void created by the Obama administration.  This is especially bad news for border states since they have to deal with border violence, drug trafficking and illegal immigration. Throughout the past three years, President Obama and his administration have ignored our immigration laws and have encouraged more illegal immigration by their actions.  President Obama has abused his executive branch authority to allow potentially millions of illegal immigrants to live and work in the U.S.  And under this Administration, worksite enforcement has plummeted 70%, allowing illegal immigrants to hold jobs while 13 million Americans are looking for work. According to a recent poll, two-thirds of the American people want to see our laws enforced.  But President Obama puts illegal immigrants and his partisan agenda ahead of the interests of the American people.  If our immigration laws are going to be enforced, we need a new President this January who will enforce immigration laws, not deliberately ignore them.”

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio: “I’m thankful that most of the law was struck down, but the opinion left open the distinct possibility that the part it upheld, the roadside checks, could still be open to other court challenges. I hope Texas doesn’t follow Arizona’s lead in this regard — it would be ironic if a state that pushed so hard for tort reform passed a law that would invite litigation.”

State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston: “The Supreme Court ruling on states’ attempts to regulate immigration shows how important comprehensive immigration reform is to this nation. However, a realistic policy that ensures economic growth while not wasting taxpayer money in endless litigation and costly Berlin-type walls has become impossible under Republicans in control. Their venomous anti-immigrant rhetoric keeps common sense solutions off the table. People must act to elect leaders that solve problems rather than incite them.”

State Rep. and MALC Chairman Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio: “Today, the United States Supreme Court affirmed what MALC has said all along, ill-advised state action on immigration policy is unconstitutional. MALC applauds the Court for recognizing the role of immigration in the future of our nation and the need for the federal government to have clear authority on immigration matters. Most of Arizona’s discriminatory S.B. 1070 is preempted by federal immigration law and state action is no substitute for comprehensive immigration reform.”

 

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/texas-mexico-border-news/arizona-immigration-law/reaction-arizona-immigration-law/.

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Court Ruling Guts Law, Should Have Gone Further

Photo courtesy of Brittney Bush Bollay

The Supreme Court Monday critically wounded Arizona’s immigration law, striking down three key provisions and sending the message that federal law trumps state law on immigration. The court should have gone one step further and killed the law altogether by striking down the noxious “show me your papers” requirement, but even there it left the measure pretty much toothless and left open the door for further litigation.

The ruling is generally a victory for reasonable immigration policy, the Obama administration and many in the immigrant community. It also should mean that immigration policy and immigration reform need to be settled in the halls of Congress, not in the halls of state capitols. Congress and the Obama administration need to get to work on that.

Arizona’s law was the result of understandable frustration with lack of change at the federal level, a frustration that’s felt in a number of states, including Wisconsin. Arizona’s answer was to try to impose a harsh crackdown on illegal immigrants and impose a law that superseded federal law. But the Constitution is clear; states do not have the authority to supersede or undermine federal law.

The high court recognized that Monday by gutting the Arizona law. It struck down provisions requiring all immigrants to obtain or carry immigration registration papers, making it a state criminal offense for an illegal immigrant to seek work or hold a job and allowing police to arrest suspected illegal immigrants without warrants.

Those provisions went beyond cooperating with federal authorities; they were an attempt to take over federal policy. And they put too much onus on the undocumented worker, not on employers who hire the worker.

The court did leave intact the provision requiring police to check the immigration status of someone they suspect is in the United States illegally. But since the police can’t arrest a person simply for not having papers, it substantially weakened the provision. The court also said that provision could see further litigation, which suggests that it, too, eventually could be struck down.

Still, by leaving the provision intact for now, the court leaves a wedge between law enforcement and the illegal immigrant community. If they believe they can be asked for papers any time, illegal immigrants are much less likely to report crimes or be willing to work with police.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said the law should be read to avoid concerns that immigration status checks could lead to prolonged detention or racial profiling. And it’s true that the law expressly forbids racial profiling.

But it’s still likely that racial profiling will rear its ugly head when law enforcement attempts to meet the requirements of the law. How many citizens carry with them proof of their citizenship? Even if it’s been reduced to a simple question, “Show me your papers” smacks too much of authoritarian regimes that like to keep their thumbs on their citizens.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer tried to put the best face on the ruling in a written statement by saying that the ruling marks a victory for people who believe in the responsibility of states to defend their residents. “The case for SB1070 has always been about our support for the rule of law. That means every law, including those against both illegal immigration and racial profiling,” Brewer said. “Law enforcement will be held accountable should this statute be misused in a fashion that violates an individual’s civil rights.”

We hope so, but we’d prefer another ruling that ensures no racial profiling by striking down the provision.

In the meantime, Arizona and other states should pay attention to the gist of the ruling as spelled out by Kennedy: “Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration while that process continues, but the state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law.”

So if you don’t like immigration policy, and there’s a lot not to like, tell Congress – not your state legislator.

REPRINTED FROM THE MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL

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Billion Dollar Bait & Switch: States Divert Foreclosure Deal Funds

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto

States have diverted $974 million from this year’s landmark mortgage settlement to pay down budget deficits or fund programs unrelated to the foreclosure crisis, according to a ProPublica analysis. That’s nearly forty percent of the $2.5 billion in penalties paid to the states under the agreement.

The settlement, between five of the country’s biggest banks and an alliance of almost all states and the federal government, resolved allegations that the banks deceived homeowners and broke laws when pursuing foreclosure. One part of the settlement is the cash coming to states; the deal urged states to use that money on programs related to the crisis, but it didn’t require them to.

ProPublica contacted every state that participated in the agreement (and the District of Columbia) to obtain the most comprehensive breakdown yet of how they’ll be spending the funds. You can see the detailed state-by-state results here, along with an interactive map. Many states told us they’ll be finalizing their plans in the coming weeks. We’ll be updating our breakdown as the results come in.

What stands out is that even states slammed by the foreclosure crisis are diverting much or all of their money to the general fund. In California, among the hardest hit states, the governor has proposed using all the money to plug his state’s huge budget gap. And Arizona, also among the worst hit, has diverted about half of its funds to general use. Four other states where a high rate of homeowners faced foreclosure during the crisis are spending little if any of their settlement funds on homeowner services: Georgia, South Carolina, Wisconsin, and Maine.

Overall, only about $527 million has been earmarked for new homeowner-focused programs, but that number will go up. A number of large states 2014 in particular New York, Nevada, Illinois, and Florida 2014 have indicated they’ll be dedicating substantial amounts of the funds to consumer programs, but haven’t yet produced a final breakdown.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, who led the coalition of attorneys general who negotiated the deal, argued that only a very small portion of the settlement was being diverted and it will “overwhelmingly” benefit homeowners. The centerpiece of the settlement is a requirement that the banks earn $20 billion in “credits” by helping homeowners in various ways 2014 from reducing principal on underwater homes to bulldozing empty ones. Because the system awards only partial credit for certain actions, Miller said the settlement would bring more than $20 billion in benefits to consumers 2014 he estimated $35 billion. Critics contend those sorts of numbers far overstate the benefits to consumers, because the banks can claim credit for some activities that were already routine.

The banks will only pay $5 billion in actual cash penalties under the agreement. The largest chunk, $2.5 billion, goes to the states’ attorneys general, while about $1 billion goes to the federal government. $1.5 billion will be sent to borrowers who lost their homes to foreclosure during the crisis in the form of $2,000 payments.

Compared with the billions going to consumers, Miller contended, $1 billion going to states’ general funds was minimal. It was always expected that the states would divert some of the money to their general expenditures, he said.

But when announcing the deal, state and federal officials said the states’ $2.5 billion would mainly fund housing counselors and legal aid organizations. Studies have shown homeowners stand a better chance of avoiding foreclosure if they get the help of a counselor, and homeowners lack legal representation in the overwhelming majority of foreclosure cases. The money was divvied up among the states according to a formula that took into account how large the states were and how hard they were hit by the crisis.

As you can see from our breakdown, 15 states have so far allocated over half their amounts to consumer-focused efforts. But the uses range widely. In Ohio, $75 million has been set aside to destroy some 100,000 abandoned homes. In Minnesota, the state is setting up a fund to compensate victims of the banks’ foreclosure abuses.

In two of the states most affected by the foreclosure crisis, California and Arizona, the attorneys general had intended to use most of their funds on homeowner-related efforts before the governors intervened.

After California Attorney General Kamala Harris prepared a proposal to spend the money on counselors, lawyers, and other consumer-related efforts, Gov. Jerry Brown released a proposed revised budget last week that used the state’s $411 million for existing housing programs. In other words, the money would just be used to help fill the state’s $16 billion budget deficit. Harris opposes the move, which still must make its way through the state legislature for it to become law.

In Arizona, the attorney general had similar plans. Then state lawmakers and the governor took $50 million of the $98 million coming the state’s way. Although the budget legislation stated that the money should be used to fund departments related to housing and law enforcement, there will be no new spending. Housing advocates are readying a lawsuit to stop the transfer and expect to file in the coming month, said Valerie Iverson, Executive Director of Arizona Housing Alliance.

Several other large states have diverted most or all of the money:

2022 Georgia directed all of its $99 million to programs designed to attract new businesses. A spokesman for the governor said, “He believes that the best way to prevent foreclosures amongst honest homeowners who have experienced hard times is to create jobs here in our state.”

2022 In Missouri, the state legislature used almost all of its $39 million to fund higher education, which had been slated for cuts. The attorney general’s office kept $1 million for hotlines and outreach related to the settlement.

2022 Virginia put the entirety of its $66.5 million into the state’s general fund without restrictions. In March, Democrats proposed a budget amendment that would funnel that money to foreclosure prevention and homeownership programs, but it was voted down.

2022 Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker announced soon after the settlement was finalized that the bulk of it2014roughly $26 million2014would go into the state general fund. Two million went to an economic development fund, including funds for demolition in blighted neighborhoods. Many state Democrats and housing advocates opposed the plan, but failed to block it.

2022 Texas directed its $135 million to the state’s general fund, of which $10 million has been allocated for basic services to low-income Texans. The legislature won’t formally decide what to do with the rest until next January because it meets only once every two years. John Henneberger, co-director of Texas Housers, an affordable housing group, said that in speaking to legislators, advocates had “received no assurances that this money will be used according to the purposes of the settlement.”

ProPublica will continue to track how the funds are being used in the coming months. Check out our breakdown and interactive map for updates.

 

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Paul Kiel, ProPublica

Paul Kiel, ProPublicaPaul Kiel wrote for TPMmuckraker, Talking Points Memo’s investigative reporting blog, from 2006 to 2008. TPM’s coverage of the firings of U.S. attorneys and politicization of the Department of Justice won a George Polk Award for legal reporting

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Spring Training

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — A 30-mile zone around Phoenix is fast becoming the epicenter of spring baseball, with gorgeous landscape, ideal weather, numerous tourist services and, as of this year, 15 Major League teams all within a long fly ball of each other.

More than a million and a half fans will pay for tickets this month to share the Cactus League experience. The watchwords are “pay” and “experience” — because with each new season, true fans who love the pure simplicity of spring training are paying more while experiencing less.

What used to be a laid back time during which players slowly got into shape, fans rubbed shoulders with their heroes, and team owners treated the process as a necessary expense, is now big business. The most dramatic example is the lavish Salt River Fields, with its state-of-the-art video board, which opened a few weeks ago at the Talking Stick Indian reservation in Scottsdale. Home of the Diamondbacks and Rockies, it is part of a complex that includes the Pima-Maricopa Indians’ hotel and casino.

The marketing spiel for Salt River Fields is that it “feels” like a Major League facility. Certainly the $25 box seats and the $7 ice cream qualify as Big League, but fans might wonder if that’s what spring training is supposed to be about.

In the past 20 years eight new stadiums have been built near here, at a cost of over $500 million. Just 14 years ago I attended opening day at the Cubs’ stadium in Mesa, with its 12,500 seats and what was arguably the most lavish spring training experience. Now, the Cubs and their partners are building a replacement in Mesa, complete with a shopping complex to be known as Wrigleyville West. Ironic, isn’t it, that Wrigley Field in Chicago has endured since 1914 and is a palace for baseball purists, while the Mesa facility didn’t last two decades.

As World Champs, the Giants are the big draw this spring at their stadium in central Scottsdale. Seating on the grass beyond the outfield fence is going for as much as $26, as the Giants try to squeeze whatever they can out of their fall accomplishment. The Dodgers and White Sox, who moved here from Florida last spring, charge $47 for the top ticket at the stadium they share at Camelback Ranch. Sales of the best spring tickets on StubHub are going for $100 and more.

It’s hard to fault the clubs for trying to maximize their business opportunities and to make fans pay whatever the traffic will bear. The communities clustered near Phoenix are also engaged in understandable pursuit of tourist dollars which during spring training now total more than $350 million.

Robert Johnson, a top executive in Cactus League promotions, recently told the Arizona Republic newspaper, “Perhaps we should start treating the Cactus League like the economic and entertainment force that it has become.” He cites promotion of football’s Super Bowl as a model, with its glitz and vast peripheral marketing.

Is that the future for baseball games that don’t even count in the standings?

More owners should follow the lead of the Angels’ Arte Moreno, who sees to it that fans are never taken for granted. At spring training Moreno doesn’t care for $26 seats on the grass; he charges $4 at the Angels park in Tempe.

Pre-season baseball is still a wonderful experience — both here in Arizona and in Florida. It’s a time of rebirth for the land, the players and even the fans, not proximity to casinos, giant video screens, or overpriced merchandise.

If owners and municipal leaders kept their eyes on the ball they’d recognize that.

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Peter Funt

Peter FuntIn print and on television, Peter Funt continues the Funt Family tradition of making people smile – while examining the human condition.

After 15 years hosting the landmark TV series “Candid Camera,” Peter writes frequent op-eds for The Boston Globe and The Wall Street Journal as well as his weekly column distributed by the Cagle Cartoon Syndicate. His writing contains the same pointed social observations that have made “Candid Camera” so popular since its invention by Peter’s dad, Allen, back in 1947. His new book, "Cautiously Optimistic," takes America's temperature in six-dozen essays, guaranteed to make readers think and smile. It's available at Amazon.com and through CandidCamera.com.

Peter Funt actually made his first appearance on “Candid Camera” when he and the legendary series were each just three years old. Peter posed as a shoeshine boy who charged $10 per shoe! Since that time he has appeared in hundreds of “Candid Camera” sequences, hosted over 200 network episodes.

In addition to his hidden-camera work, Peter Funt has produced and hosted TV specials on the Arts & Entertainment and Lifetime cable networks. He also spent five years as an editor and reporter with ABC News in New York.

Earlier in his career, Peter wrote dozens of articles for The New York Times and TV Guide about television and film. He was editor and publisher of the television magazine On Cable. And he authored the book "Gotcha!" for Grosset & Dunlap on the lost art of practical joking.

Peter’s essay on the evolution of television is included in “The Story of American Business,” published in 2009 by Harvard Business Press.

Peter also follows in his father's footsteps as President of Laughter Therapy Foundation, a non-profit organization started by Allen Funt in 1982. Drawing from the Candid Camera library, Laughter Therapy sends special videos, at no charge, to critically ill people throughout the U.S.

Peter Funt received his degree in journalism from the University of Denver. In 2010 he returned to the Denver campus to be honored as a Master Scholar in Arts and Humanities.

He is a past winner of the annual Silurian's Award for radio news reporting, for his ABC News coverage of racial disturbances in Asbury Park, NJ.

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Editorial Cartoon of the Day: January 16, 2011

RJ Matson, Cagle Cartoons

R.J. Matson is an editorial cartoonist syndicated by caglecartoons.com and his work appears in over 800 newpspapers and other publications. He was the editorial cartoonist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from July 2005 through July 2012, he was the editorial cartoonist at The New York Observer from 1989 to 2010, and he has been the editorial cartoonist and staff illustrator at Roll Call since 1986. His cartoons and illustrations have appeared in many other publication, including The New YorkerThe NationMAD MagazineCity Limits, The Daily News, The Washington Post, Washington City Paper, Capital Style, Oak Ridge Now, and Rolling Stone.

Born in Chicago in 1963 , Robert John Matson was raised in Brussels, Belgium and Minneapolis, Minnesota. He received a B.A. from Columbia University in 1985 and won a National Scholastic Press Association Award for cartoons he contributed to the Columbia Daily Spectator. R.J was also a visiting student at Pembroke College, Oxford University for one year.

He moved to Washington, DC in 1985 to work as a reporter for States News Service. In 1986 he became the staff illustrator at Roll Call and the editorial cartoonist at the Montgomery County Sentinel. He was the art director of The Washington Monthly from 1986 to 1988.

R.J. returned to New York City when he became the editorial cartoonist at The New York Observer in 1989. He moved to St. Louis in 2005 to work at the Post-Dispatch. He now lives in Falmouth, Maine, with his wife Mari and their three children, Sofie, Gus and Milo.

He has won two Missouri Press Association Awards for editorial cartoons and he drew Time's Best Cartoon of the Year in 2007.

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I Want Us to Live Up to Her Expectations

A little girl was buried Thursday in Tucson, Ariz.

Christina Taylor Green was 9. She was an A student, a member of her student council, born on Sept. 11, 2001, and, as a result, interested in American politics.

“She saw public service as something exciting and hopeful,” President Barack Obama said at a memorial service Wednesday night.

The tragedy at that shopping center in Arizona on Saturday revealed some of what is worst in America. But also what is best. Courage. Selflessness. The need to comfort. The need to heal.

Daniel Hernandez, a young aide to U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, ran to her when he heard the gunshots. He gave basic first aid, covering her wounds with his bare hands, sitting her upright so that she wouldn’t choke on her own blood. He likely saved her life.

Dorwan and Mary Stoddard were in the crowd, waiting to hear what their elected representative had to say. Dorwan dove on top of his wife when the shooter opened fire. He lost his life, but he saved hers.

In each of these stories, and in dozens more that day, is an element of instinctive heroism and goodness.

Obama honored their sacrifice and then said that reflecting on how we talk to one another would be a fitting way to remember the dead:

“If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate — as it should — let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost. … Let us remember it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy — it did not — but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to the challenges of our nation in a way that would make them proud.”

And he called on Americans to look to the idealism of this child and, perhaps, recapture their own.

Echoing the biblical reference about faith, the president said:

“She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted. I want to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it.”

The losses in Arizona are unalterable. What comes next is not.

Republished from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, distributed by creators.com

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Please Tell Me Why…

Please Tell Me Why …

It probably had something to do with the countless hours involuntarily spent assembling, disassembling and cleaning my M-1 rifle, and in seeing up-close the damage semi-automatic weapons can inflict, but I have never thought of guns as anything other than brutally efficient tools for crippling and killing human beings.

Catcher’s mitts and basketballs and skis are sporting goods. Guns are not sporting goods. Guns are instruments of death and destruction. This point-of-view could explain why in the nearly half century since leaving the Marine Corps, I have never picked up a firearm.

But the shootings in Arizona that left six people dead and another 14, including Rep. Gabby Giffords, clinging to life, raises questions that demand both our attention and our thoughts.

In Arizona, in order to cut toenails and fingernails, and to shampoo another person’s hair for profit, you must first undergo a background check and obtain a license from the State Board of Cosmetology.

To operate as a massage therapist in Arizona, you must, by state law, have had a minimum of 500 hours of instruction from a school recognized by the secretary of the Department of Education.

Before you can legally qualify as a pest-control applicator, you must undergo and pass a state-mandated background check.

Arizona requires a state license to sell minnows or other live bait. The Arizona Board of Athletic Training will decide whether you are qualified to be an athletic trainer. If your life’s ambition is to intern as a cremationist, you must win the approval of the Arizona Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers. Hope to become an Aquatic Animal Processor, cleaning aquatic animals? Not until the Arizona Department of Agriculture approves and licenses your application.

It’s entirely possible that all of this licensing and permits and paperwork are needed to protect the public health and safety of the good people of Arizona.

But please tell me why to buy a Glock 9 mm pistol, modified with a high-capacity magazine to fire 31 rounds, Jared Lee Loughner, an obviously troubled and alienated young man, had to undergo no background check at all.

Citizens are required to pass a test and background check in order to get a driver’s license but not to purchase a weapon of literally mass individual destruction.

Please, somebody, tell me why — and don’t start reciting the Second Amendment. Just as the First Amendment with the guarantee of freedom of speech does not prohibit enforceable statutes outlawing perjury and libel, the Second Amendment keeps machine guns and grenade launchers out of private hands. All that is lacking is political courage, good sense and a genuine concern for public safety.

One brighter note from the Arizona tragedy was pointed out to me by my friend Alan Ginsburg. He noted that on Saturday a Catholic white federal judge, John Roll, a Republican, was killed while on his way from Mass to greet his friend, Gabby Giffords, a 40-year-old Democrat who is Jewish and who, as of this writing, is fighting her way back.

Her life was undoubtedly saved by Daniel Hernandez, 20, who is Mexican-American and a member of the Tucson Commission on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender issues — and who, upon hearing the first shots, ran toward the gunfire and Giffords, not away. The chief of trauma at Arizona University Medical Center, whose professionalism helped put Giffords in surgery just 38 minutes after she was hit, was Korean-American Dr. Peter Rhee, who faced worse as a combat surgeon in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Then our nation was comforted by an African-American chief executive.

It is truly, if sadly, a uniquely American story.

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Mark Shields, The Creators Syndicate

Mark Shields, The Creators SyndicateThe Wall Street Journal has called Mark Shields “the wittiest political analyst around” and “frequently the most trenchant, fair-minded, and thoughtful.” The Washington Post has called Shields “a walking almanac of American politics.” His insights are first-hand and up-to-the minute, drawn from four decades of knowing, covering and savoring the country and its politics.

A nationally known columnist and commentator, Shields has worked in Washington through the administrations of nine U.S. Presidents. He was an editorial writer for The Washington Post where he began writing his column in 1979. That column is now distributed nationally by Creators Syndicate.

Since 1988, Shields has provided weekly political analysis and commentary on national campaigns for PBS’ award-winning "The PBS NewsHour" where he has matched wits with David Gergen, The Wall Street Journal’s Paul Gigot and most recently with David Brooks of The New York Times. For 17 years, Shields was moderator and panelist on CNN’s Capital Gang. He now is a regular panelist on Inside Washington, the weekly public affairs show which is seen on both ABC and PBS.

A native of Weymouth, Mass., and a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, Shields served as an enlisted man in the United States Marine Corps before coming to Washington where he began working in 1965 for Wisconsin Sen. William Proxmire. In 1968, Shields went to work for Robert F. Kennedy in the New York Senator’s presidential campaign and later held leadership positions in three other presidential campaigns. Over 11 years, Shields helped manage campaigns from the courthouse to the White House in some 38 states.

In addition to attending 17 national party conventions and working on or covering the last 11 presidential elections, Shields has taught American politics and the press at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Georgetown University’s Graduate School of Public Policy and he was a fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy Institute of Politics. "On the Campaign Trail," his book on the 1984 presidential campaign, has been praised as “funny,” “irreverent,” and “for bringing that race to a magnificent light.”

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Confronting Hate in Arizona

Faced with rising anger against ideological zealots who have turned the murderous atrocity in Arizona into a political circus, President Obama had to respond. In an excellent speech eulogizing the six dead and paying respect to the critically injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Obama appealed to the nation to cool down and stop the nonsense. His signature line was: “What we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other.”

Unfortunately, his words came too late.

The struggle for political dominance in this country is now so intense that scorched earth is the order of the day. The left is furious that the progressive agenda is failing. The right believes it is on the cusp of losing traditional America and must take drastic measures to save the Republic. In the middle of all this is a relatively inexperienced liberal-thinking president who often looks stunned by the vitriol directed toward him.

There is no question that with the rise of the Internet, where anonymous bloggers can level the vilest accusations, the political debate has changed for the worse. No longer is the smartest guy in the room awarded the trophy. Now, the accolades often go to smear merchants who delight in personal attacks and injurious invective.

But when a federal judge, a sitting congresswoman and a 9-year-old girl hit the floor riddled with bullets, you would think the nasty rhetoric might be shelved for a couple of days to allow for grieving. You would think.

Americans well understand what has happened this week, and they are outraged by irresponsible pundits blaming their political enemies for contributing to the murders. Obama must know that things are getting out of control and that he must begin calling people out. The problem is that some of the president’s most ardent supporters are responsible for the current madness. So Obama kept his criticism generic and avoided specificity, to the vast relief of The New York Times.

The question now becomes whether the public will walk away from the guttersnipes — and I’m betting “no” on that. The easy and provocative stimulation provided by the Net has numbed some folks. What used to be outrageous is now commonplace. Standards of behavior in political analysis are gone and will not come back unless viewers, listeners and readers demand it. And why should they? After all, it is far more entertaining to hear trash talk than civil discourse.

Of course, there are times when bad guys need to be confronted in tough ways. Villains must be called out in no uncertain terms, and robust debate can be a very good thing if facts are used to illuminate harmful situations. But using death to fan speculative defamation should be unacceptable in a noble country. That is rock bottom.

President Obama did a service to the nation by asking people to stop hurting each other with irresponsible words. He is now on the record decrying the ideologues who are damaging the country. Critical mass has been reached.

Veteran TV news anchor Bill O’Reilly is host of the Fox News show “The O’Reilly Factor” and author of the book “Pinheads and Patriots: Where You Stand in the Age of Obama.” To find out more about Bill O’Reilly, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com. This column originates on the Web site www.billoreilly.com.

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Bill O'Reilly, Creators Syndicate

Bill O'Reilly, Creators SyndicateVeteran TV news anchor Bill O'Reilly is host of the Fox News show "The O'Reilly Factor" and author of many books, including the newly released "Killing Jesus." . This column originates on the website www.billoreilly.com.

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Editorial Cartoon of the Day: January 15, 2011

Bruce Beattie, Creators Syndicate

Bruce Beattie has been creating captivating and controversial editorial cartoons since 1986. He is also creator of a comic strip, and his work has been featured in several museum exhibits, including the State of Florida's Museum of History. Beattie graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Oriental studies and attended the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles. He began his career at The Honolulu Advertiser and then moved on to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, where he has been editorial cartoonist since 1981. His awards include the Florida Society of Professional Journalists' Sunshine State Award for Excellence in Editorial Cartoons and the Florida Press Club's Award for Excellence in Journalism. Beattie has served as president of the National Cartoonists Society and has been on the board of directors of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, the Newspaper Features Council and the International Museum of Cartoon Art

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