Facebook Is a Snitch

“”Social media has become a significant source of information for U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies,” the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law noted in a report released last week. “The Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the State Department are among the many federal agencies that routinely monitor social platforms, for purposes ranging from conducting investigations to identifying threats to screening travelers and immigrants.””

Will New York Copy California’s Most Successful Housing Reform?

“In a truly rare turn of events, California’s successful approach to legalizing more types of housing is serving as inspiration for reforms elsewhere in the country.

Over the past several years, lawmakers in the Golden State have passed a suite of bills that make it much easier for homeowners to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs), sometimes called granny flats or in-law suites, on their property, while also making it harder for local governments to stop such construction.

It’s proven to be one of the few YIMBY (yes, in my backyard)-inspired zoning reforms that has actually led to more housing being built. Now other states and cities with their own affordability crunches are passing or considering their own ADU deregulations.

Last week, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, released her 200-page State of the State legislative agenda. Among other things, it took a swipe at local rules that prevent homeowners from turning their garage or attic into a new housing unit.

ADUs “can provide an affordable multi-generational housing option that helps families live closer together,” reads the State of the State book. “Current land use restrictions prevent homeowners in some communities from building ADUs.”

The governor’s agenda says she’ll propose legislation that would require localities to allow at least one ADU on owner-occupied residential lots. This legislation, per the agenda, would also prevent localities from adopting rules that legalize ADUs on paper, but prevent their construction in practice.

That reflects a lesson learned from California’s ADU experience, where state laws allowing homeowners to build a backyard apartment have technically been on the books since the 1980s.

For decades, however, cities were able to stop them from being built by imposing infeasible requirements that they come with off-street parking, be a minimum size, or receive special, discretionary permits in order to be built.

It took the passage of several additional bills between 2016 and 2019 limiting what localities could require of ADUs, and then several lawsuits to actually enforce those new rules, to really kick off new ADU construction.

The results have been pretty amazing so far.”

“To be sure, neither California’s nor New York’s high housing costs are going to be completely solved by more granny flats. But these reforms are an important piece of the puzzle.”

Elizabeth Warren Blames High Food Prices on Grocery Chains’ ‘Record’ 1 Percent Profit Margins

“Warren could hardly have picked a worse industry to use as an example: Grocery stores consistently have among the lowest profit margins of any economic sector. According to data compiled this month by New York University finance professor Aswath Damodaran, the entire retail grocery industry currently averages barely more than 1 percent in net profit. In its most recent quarter, Kroger reported a profit margin of 0.75 percent, during a time in which Warren claims that the chain was “expanding profits” due to its “market dominance.”

In actuality, for much of the last year, grocery stores have seen enormous boosts in revenue, but not increased profitability, for the simple reason that everything has been costing more: not just products, but transportation, employee compensation, and all the extra logistical steps needed to adapt to shopping during a pandemic. Couple that with persistent inflation—which Warren also recently blamed on “price gouging”—and it is no wonder that things seem a bit out of balance.”

The U.S. Immigration System Needs To Do More To Help Uyghurs

“The world has known for years now that Uyghurs, members of a Turkic ethnic group who number about 13.5 million and mostly live in China, are experiencing persecution by the Chinese government. A number of international observers and human rights advocates argue the Chinese government is attempting genocide, but Uyghurs looking for an escape from China’s brutality have had a difficult time securing relief through America’s refugee and asylum pathways, and their immigration struggles are shared by far too many vulnerable people seeking an escape to the United States.
Under U.S. immigration law, asylum seekers are people who are already present on American soil or at a port of entry and apply for the right to remain in the country. Refugees, on the other hand, apply for resettlement in the U.S. from abroad. Approval to stay in the U.S. under either category requires that applicants prove they have been “persecuted or fear persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.” The two pathways are intended to help the world’s most vulnerable people escape danger.

In the past two fiscal years, however, the U.S. has admitted zero Uyghur refugees. Many Uyghurs who have been lucky enough to reach the U.S. through other pathways, like student and travel visas, also face an uncertain future—as Caroline Simon reported for Roll Call yesterday, there are “roughly 800 Uyghurs caught in the backlog of hundreds of thousands seeking asylum in the U.S.” Until they receive asylum, they can’t apply to sponsor stranded family members.

It’s undeniable that Uyghurs broadly fall into the categories outlined for refugees and asylum seekers. In the name of cultural erasure, they’ve been subject to mass sterilization, kept from speaking the Uyghur language, and forced to pledge loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party. Adrian Zenz, senior fellow in China studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, told NPR that China’s treatment of Uyghurs is “probably the largest incarceration of an ethnoreligious minority since the Holocaust.””

“The plight of the Uyghurs waiting on immigration answers points to broader issues in America’s refugee and asylum infrastructure. For one, the U.S. has been taking in astonishingly low numbers of refugees lately, hitting a record low of 11,411 in fiscal year 2021. Over 667,000 asylum seekers are waiting for their cases to be resolved, and they face an average wait time of around 1,600 days, or 54 months. There’s also the issue of the “last-in, first-out” policy, under which asylum applicants who have arrived in the U.S. more recently are processed first. This means many people who have been present in the U.S. for years cannot petition for visas for family members, which propagates what the Center for Migration Studies of New York calls “the ‘other family separation’ crisis.””

Haitians Meet the New Deporter-in-Chief

“Border Patrol apprehended more than 45,000 Haitians at the U.S.-Mexico border during the fiscal year that ended on September 30—an increase of more than 530 percent from the 4,395 Haitians apprehended in fiscal 2020. More than 17,000 arrests occurred in that final month alone, after the July assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse and a magnitude 7.2 earthquake in August. But as camps of Haitians at the southern border continued to grow and the humanitarian crisis in gang-infested Haiti worsened, U.S. immigration policy stayed the same.

Although Biden presented himself as the immigration antithesis of former President Donald Trump, his administration has invoked Title 42, a public health provision that allows the government to expel migrants upon arrival instead of allowing them to claim asylum, as U.S. immigration law ordinarily allows them to do at any port of entry. Trump invoked Title 42 in March 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Biden has not reversed that policy, despite the advent of COVID-19 vaccines.

“Our borders are not open,” U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas warned in September. “People should not make the dangerous journey.””

Why DOJ is avoiding domestic terrorism sentences for Jan. 6 defendants

“In front of judges and in court filings, the Justice Department is engaged in a delicate rhetorical dance on the domestic terrorism issue. Seeking to satisfy a large swath of the public outraged by the Jan. 6 riot, prosecutors have declared that the event “certainly” qualifies as domestic terrorism. But they’ve kept their powder dry thus far on invoking the terrorism sentencing boost — potentially because its impact can be so severe.”

“Invoking the terrorism enhancement typically adds about 15 years in prison to a defendant’s recommended sentence, sets the minimum calculation at 17 and a half years, and also flips the person charged into the criminal-history category used for serial offenders.”

The Russia Sanctions That Could Actually Stop Putin

“Why is it so difficult to convert America’s economic heft into geopolitical power? When it comes to sanctioning Russia, the U.S. faces three recurring challenges: The sanctions tend to be imposed gradually; they are negotiated with reluctant allies; and the most impactful ones would also be economically costly to the West. As a result, the Russia sanctions in place today are a watered-down compromise, designed to placate allies and minimize domestic costs.
Bending Russia’s macroeconomic fortunes — and Putin’s calculus — will require targeting the country’s financial system as well as key exports such as oil. Such sanctions would have significant effects on Russia’s economy and perhaps on the global financial system, which is why U.S. officials have been hesitant to go this far. But averting a war is a tall order and, unfortunately, won’t be cost-free. “Smart” or “targeted” sanctions won’t work. To really impose pain on Russia, the U.S. and Europe will have to bear some burden, too — although, fortunately, there are ways to minimize the fallout for Western economies.”

“There are two main categories of sanctions that stand a chance of actually changing Putin’s mind — and each comes with downsides that the U.S. needs to consider seriously. First, the United States could threaten to cut off major Russian banks from the U.S. financial system. Blacklisting a major Russian bank, such as Sberbank, VTB or Gazprombank, would make it difficult — if not impossible — for anyone in the world to transact with it.

The Treasury Department has deep experience imposing sanctions on foreign banks, having done so repeatedly against Iran. The largest Russian banks are much bigger than their Iranian peers, which has given U.S. officials pause about sanctioning them in the past. Indeed, this would cause substantial financial distress in Russia. Full-blocking sanctions on Sberbank would be particularly impactful, since most Russians have an account there. Russia’s government would have to step in to bail out the bank and would struggle to prevent a domestic financial crisis. Companies would slash investment. The ruble would fall sharply against the dollar, but it would become riskier to hold dollars in Russian banks. Russian inflation would spike higher and real incomes would fall.

The impact would also be felt internationally. Many Western investment funds own Sberbank stocks and bonds, the value of which would slump.”

“Second, the U.S. could substantially reduce Russia’s export revenues. Russia’s biggest export is oil (around 45 percent of exports), and other exports the U.S. could sanction include gas, coal and various iron and steel products. With Iran, the United States drastically cut the country’s oil exports by allowing Iran’s customers to gradually wind down purchases over time. A similar campaign is possible against Russia, though since Russia exports more oil than Iran, global oil prices would take a bigger hit. (Other countries would eventually increase production to make up for the shortage, but there would be a time lag during which oil prices would remain high.)

The United States could also sanction Russia’s natural gas exports, though this carries even greater tradeoffs. The world — especially Europe — already faces natural gas shortages this year. Energy-intensive European industries, notably in Germany, could face shutdowns if Russian gas supplies were halted. Given the Biden administration’s struggle with spiking energy prices and worsening inflation, it’s not hard to see why Washington may be reticent to impose such sanctions.”

“Russia may have the advantage on the battlefield in Ukraine, but the West has vast power over Russia’s economy. It should be prepared to use it — and also be prepared for the costs.”

Republicans Are Moving Rapidly to Cement Minority Rule. Blame the Constitution.

“Equal representation of the citizenry hasn’t become the enemy of the contemporary Republican Party. It has been the enemy for more than a half-century. Ronald Reagan opposed the 1965 Voting Rights Act from the beginning, explaining later that he believed it was “humiliating to the South.” When the act came up for its third renewal in 1982, Reagan’s lawyers in the Justice Department, led by a twenty-something John Roberts, mightily resisted it and much needed amendments to it. When it came up for renewal again, in 2006, the act nearly broke the House Republican caucus in two.

At the center of Republican opposition to the Voting Rights Act is Section 5, described by the historian J. Morgan Kousser as “one of the most innovative governmental mechanisms since the New Deal.” Section 5 stipulates that states, counties and localities with a history of discriminatory voting rules and practices must get permission or “pre-clearance” from the federal government to make any changes to an electoral “standard, practice, or procedure.” With the burden of proof falling on these jurisdictions, it is up to them to demonstrate that the intent or effect of their change is not racial discrimination.

Well-versed in the ingenuity and initiative of white supremacy, the authors of Section 5 understood that equal representation for all citizens required the nationalization of voting standards and preemptive action by the federal government to protect those standards. If local white officials were not stopped, in advance, from “stacking” or “cracking” the Black vote — concentrating Black voters in one district and reducing their power elsewhere or diluting their power by spreading their votes across districts — African Americans would not be guaranteed equal representation in the polity.”

“In 2013, with Roberts now at the helm of the Supreme Court, the Republicans finally achieved their goal, effectively killing Section 5 in Shelby County v. Holder. Though the Cornell political scientist Suzanne Metler tells Edsall that the GOP is “a longstanding party that helped to protect democracy until recently,” the wave of Republican racial gerrymanders and voting rights restrictions that we are seeing today was set in motion by leading members of the party more than fifty years ago.”

“Americans associate the Constitution with popular liberties such as due process and freedom of speech. They overlook its architecture of state power, which erects formidable barriers to equal representation and majority rule in all three branches of government. The Republicans are not struggling to overturn a long and storied history of democratic rules and norms. They’re walking through an open door.

The 20th century lulled many Americans into thinking that the Electoral College was a vestigial organ like the appendix. Citizens of the 21st century know better. Having witnessed two presidential elections in which the candidate with the most votes lost, they know that rule by the majority or plurality is not a necessary feature of the presidency. Nor is equal representation: In the Electoral College, the vote of a citizen in Wyoming is worth three to four times as much as that of a citizen in California.”

“Though the Framers rejected the idea of a hereditary body like the House of Lords, they did accept a compromise in which the Senate would represent states rather than individuals. Contrary to popular lore, Madison thought the central concern of those states had less to do with the size of their populations than with the source of their labor, whether it was enslaved or free.”

“While some longstanding, wealthy democracies do have upper chambers, the United States is one of the very few to grant its upper chamber equal power to its lower chamber. The extreme inequality of representation in the Senate, in which the vote of one citizen in Wyoming is equal to that of 67 citizens in California, is even more unique. The combined effect of these twin features of Congress, wrote the distinguished Yale political scientist Robert Dahl, is “to preserve and protect unequal representation” and “to construct a barrier to majority rule.””

“American racial politics, past and present, demonstrates the power of this observation. Between 1800 and 1860, the will of the voting majority was repeatedly expressed in the House, which passed eight anti-slavery bills. The will of the slaveholding minority was repeatedly enacted in the Senate, which stopped those measures. In the first half of the 20th century, the majoritarian House passed multiple civil rights measures — from anti-lynching bills to abolition of the poll tax. Each time, those bills were killed in the Senate.”