Report of the Month

The Economic Road Ahead
Without Adequate Public Spending, A Catastrophic Recession for Some

“Unless action is taken (and fast), unemployment and underemployment will plague 35 percent of the labor force over the course of 2010, as people move in and out of a shrinking pool of jobs,” write these longtime trackers of the economy. It remains to be seen whether the bill ultimately approved by Congress will do the job, but without massive governmental action the forecast looked dire. When other sources of economic growth falter, government spending spurs demand for goods and services. This demand in turn creates more production and employment.

Even with this action, the current recession “will be the longest and deepest since the Great Depression of the 1930s.” Without it, progressive economists predicted 17.9 percent of the workforce would be un- or underemployed. For women, that figure would be 18.8 percent; for Blacks, it would be 18.2 percent.

The recession began in December 2007 with a quick 2.3 percent jump in unemployment in its first year. The jump in those underemployed was also large, from 8.7 percent of the workforce in December 2007 to 13.5 percent in December 2008. And the unemployment rate only measures those jobless in a single month. “This fails to capture the total share of workers who will be jobless at some point during the year, which is generally twice as large.” Thus this commonly used statistic understates the pain of a recession. In 2007 alone, some 15 million people were unemployed at some point, although only an average of 7.4 million showed up jobless in a single month.

Recessions also cut many workers’ hours, and their incomes are further reduced as high unemployment cuts into wage gains, hurting the poorest workers the most. The report quotes Sharon Parrott’s recent study for the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities showing that an unemployment rate of just 9 percent would increase the number of poor Americans by 7.5 million to 10.3 million. The number of poor children would rise by 2.6 million to 3.3 million. Unfortunately even massive government action may not forestall those figures.

Other Reports in Review

Turning the Page on Criminal Justice
Smart on Crime: Recommendations for the Next Administration and Congress

Skyrocketing prison budgets combined with spending constraints should create interest in criminal justice reforms that save money, emphasize treatment, reduce racial disparities, and protect the innocent. So argues this report, devised as a guide for the Obama administration. It cites a 2006 Zogby poll that found “by an 8 to 1 margin the U.S. voting public is in favor of rehabilitative services for prisoners as opposed to a punishment-only system.” With numbers like this, the next challenge lies in convincing members of Congress to implement common sense legislation.

Toward that end, the Transition Coalition offers a detailed roadmap in a wide array of areas, including grand jury abuse, mandatory minimums, prison reform, and prisoner re-entry. It emphasizes steps that can realistically be accomplished in the early stage of the new administration by detailing the status of pending bills, existing and potential allies and opponents, and polling results. Where legislation is not pending, the report proposes amendments, plus action by the executive branch where it has jurisdiction.

A top priority is crack cocaine sentencing reform, an issue that has been “seeded, vetted, and is ripe for congressional consideration.” In what has come to be known as the 100:1 quantity ratio, it takes 100 times more powder cocaine than crack cocaine to trigger harsh five and ten-year mandatory minimum sentences. For twenty years, this ratio has punished low-level crack cocaine offenders far more severely than their wholesale suppliers with an enormous racially discriminatory impact. The report compares three bills in the Senate and notes that former Senator Joseph Biden’s Drug Sentencing Reform and Cocaine Kingpin Trafficking Act of 2007 (S.1711) comes closest to rational reform by eliminating the mandatory minimum penalty for simple possession of crack cocaine to bring it in line with simple possession of any other drug.

The coalition also identifies Right-Left coalitions. For example, the Heritage Foundation opposes Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California’s Gang Prevention and Effective Deterrence Act (S.456), which passed the Senate by unanimous consent in 2007. The bill defined “gang crimes” so broadly that it would drastically increase the number of youth who are swept into the juvenile justice system. The report notes that the Heritage Foundation was instrumental in reducing Republican support for the bill in the House, and supports a John Conyers-backed alternative.

–Thom Cincotta

New Day for Human Rights?
Human Rights at Home: A Domestic Policy Blueprint for the New Administration

“When the United States fails to practice at home what it preaches to others, it loses credibility and undermines its ability to play an effective leadership role,” writes Fordham Law professor Catherine Powell in this report for a liberal legal organization.

This blueprint makes concise proposals for how the new administration can narrow the gap between the human rights ideals it professes, and its actual domestic practice.

Reconstitution of the Interagency Working Group on Human Rights is a realistic and necessary first step. Executive Order 13107, issued by Bill Clinton, established the Interagency Working Group in 1998 coordinated by the National Security Council, an important move that gave the group the authority and weight of the White House. Under Bush, this interagency coordination fell into disuse. The Group’s revised mandate should be to mainstream human rights into the government infrastructure through education, training, policy reviews, and coordination of treaty compliance reports. Its early agenda should include a thorough review of the human rights treaties that require ratification or implementing legislation, as well as previous reservations and understandings that should be withdrawn. If you want something done right, do it yourself. To this end, the authors have included a draft revised E.O. 13107 that is ready for the President’s signature.

The authors also recommend an independent agency to monitor the domestic situation in the form of a U.S. Commission on Civil and Human Rights.

–Thom Cincotta

Immigration Policy
Transition Blueprint

The breadth of this transition document demonstrates that we can create a more humane immigration system without debating “who should stay and who should go.” With the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2003, the implementation of immigration policy was transformed into a “singularly focused, blunt, antiterrorism enforcement tool.” This report identifies administrative reforms that can reverse the most repressive features of that transformation.

For example, the United States has increasingly focused on detaining as many migrants as possible, regardless of their health, age, family situation, or of the merits of their claims for asylum or lawful status. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) holds 32,000 immigrants in detention on a daily basis, representing more than a three-fold increase in beds since 1996. Conditions of detention are very often substandard. More than 80 immigrants have died in ICE custody since ICE was established in 2002.

But ICE already has discretionary authority to release noncitizens from detention. It rarely takes advantage of cost-effective community-based programs that connect individuals with legal assistance and help improve court appearance rates. Even when immigrants win hearings, ICE calls for automatic stays that prevent release (Obama can direct ICE to repeal 8 C.F.R.§ 1003.19(i)(2), authorizing such stays).

The authors recommend that DHS use detention only when absolutely necessary. The use of family detention should be ended. Asylum seekers should be given custody hearings rather than detention by default as “arriving aliens.” ICE should be directed to create a nationwide community-based alternatives program and establish protocols to maximize release on personal recognizance. Executive action is recommended to adopt least restrictive means of ensuring compliance with immigration courts and promulgate standards for detention.

Unfortunately, this blueprint is a “to do” list for well-intentioned officials to follow, but it does not serve as a citizen action guide if those policymakers lack the authors’ commitment to human rights.

–Thom Cincotta

One Man: Three Anti-Immigrant Groups
The Nativist Lobby: Three Faces of Intolerance

Much of recent nativist organizing has focused on the scapegoating of immigrants. This collection of four articles, republished by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) from its magazine Intelligence Report, indisputably links three major anti-immigrant organizations to a single source: John Tanton, a 75-year-old Michigan-based White supremacist with many racist connections and a well-developed ability to fundraise.

Tanton founded FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, in 1979, and he is still on its board of directors. FAIR, a beltway lobby organization that played a key role in the derailing of the 2007 immigration reform bill, has its roots in racist and White supremacist thinking and organizing. Its leadership often testifies before Congress and FAIR misrepresents itself as a mainline immigration reform organization.

Tanton created CIS, the Center for Immigration Studies as a spin-off of FAIR. CIS churns out studies that “expose” the negative aspects of immigration, claiming, for instance, fraud in marriages between holders of green cards and American citizens, the success of decreasing undocumented workers by the threat of increased Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids, or evidence that less educated immigrant workers took less educated natives’ jobs. Despite the fact that all these claims have been refuted by reputable investigators, CIS enjoys extensive visibility through mainstream media outlets.

A third organization, the grassroots organizing group NumbersUSA, argues that the population of the United States must be reduced by severely limiting immigration in order to avoid the wholesale destruction of the country due to overpopulation.

In an act that may be the result of an impulse based on hubris, Tanton donated his letters to a library at the University of Michigan, where SPLC researcher Heidi Beirich uncovered much of the evidence linking the man to the groups. The fact that these letters document the nativist lobby’s awareness of Tanton’s racist beliefs and its unwillingness to repudiate him is for the author an indictment of their bigotry.

–Pam Chamberlain

Spring 2009
Vol. 24, No. 1 :

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