Browsing the blog archives for April, 2010.


Who Gets What

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Obama Administration

The Dems have put forth an immigration proposal that is heavy on border enforcement, as expected. But according to Greg Sargent, it “also provides a process to legalize over 10 million illegal immigrants already in the U.S.,” which is sensible, but the Right doesn’t want to listen to any solution that doesn’t involve “fences” and “deportation.”

There’s a chance Goldman Sachs will get hit with criminal charges after all.

Which brings us to how these things relate. As Steve M says, some people have been waving away what Goldman Sachs did by saying it wasn’t illegal. So a few greedy people can destroy 8 million jobs and otherwise wreak havoc on the economy and the lives of countless people, but it’s no big deal because it wasn’t illegal.

But somebody’s grandma who has been living in the U.S. for 40 20 years, raised kids, held jobs, goes to church, etc., has to be deported right now because she doesn’t have a green card?

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True Colors

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Immigration

In a sane world, immigration reform wouldn’t be a controversial issue. There is widespread agreement across most of the U.S. political spectrum that border security is important and people shouldn’t be allowed to enter the country illegally unless they have a durn good reason, such as fleeing oppression from a totalitarian regime.

There appears to be a small “open borders” movement, but I don’t think any elected official of any party is seriously talking about open borders, and I don’t know personally of any progressive activists pushing the idea. But I’ll come back to this in a minute.

I think anyone with a lick of sense and even half a clue about the drug wars in Mexico would agree that keeping the perpetrators south of the Rio Grande should be a priority.

Further, there is supposed to be widespread agreement that illegal workers reduce the value of labor, and employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants should get smacked. This may be the real sticking point, although those doing the sticking are pretending they aren’t. I’ll come back to this.

There is disagreement over what to do with illegal immigrants who already are here. At one extreme there are those who call for immediate deportation of all illegal immigrants, and sometimes even the children of illegal immigrants who were born here and are U.S. citizens. In the real world, this would suck up an unimaginable amount of funds and other resources and is not going to happen. But the next time you see someone calling for this approach, ask him if he minds getting his taxes jacked up to pay for it.

At the other extreme there is no extreme that I can see, but merely a desire to find a way to allow people who are already here and who are working and tax paying and law abiding and connected to families and communities to at least achieve legitimate documented status if not citizenship. This is not just being nice; it is a far more practical approach than rounding up and deporting people. Within those parameters there is some disagreement, but nothing that couldn’t be worked out through rational dialogue were such a thing possible in the U.S.

But the Right will never stand for this, because the Right can never get past the notion that “guilty” people must be punished, no exceptions, no matter the nature of the thing they are guilty of and whether the greater good might be served through leniency. (Think Les Misérables.) So the mass deportation idea is a gold mine for wingnut demagogues who want to fire up Teh Stupid and get them to the polls in November.

However, I suspect a large number of Republicans, never mind Democrats, in Congress don’t want to take on the issue of what to do about illegal immigrants already here in a mid-term year, because in truth they don’t want mass deportation even though they might pretend they do. And they don’t want a mass deportation bill to ever come up for a vote, because then they would be forced to take a firm public stand on the issue. They like to be able to bleat vague bromides at their wingnut constituents about deporting illegal immigrants, but they prefer to do so secure in the knowledge that it won’t ever happen.

It won’t ever happen because the dirty little secret is that a portion of the American economy depends on illegal labor. I wish that were otherwise, and I’d like to make it otherwise. But, for example, fruit and vegetable growers (who, note, tend to be in the South and West) say they can’t survive economically without illegal (e.g., just this side of “slave”) labor. There are other industries in a similar fix.

You know plenty of business owners are telling their Congress critters that immigration reform had better not take away their illegals. And you know plenty of Congress critters and their more well-heeled supporters hire illegal housekeepers and pool cleaners and nannies and really don’t want to change the status quo. They just don’t want to have to admit publicly that they don’t want to change it.

For the reasons given above, I suspect the “border security first” approach will prevail this year. I predict serious work on comprehensive reform will be pushed off to next year.

Even so, the Republican echo chamber (which is run by a goodly number of people who hire illegal immigrants, notice) is keeping Teh Stupid stirred up by framing the issue within a false dichotomy — that the issue is a choice between “secure borders” and “open borders.” It isn’t at all; there is no serious support in Washington for open borders that I can see. But by keeping Teh Stupid in the dark about the real issues, it’s easier to push off discussing the illegal-immigrants-already-here issue that Republicans really don’t want to discuss.

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Oklahoma: Statism on Steroids

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abortion

There are some things you can depend on. One of things is what I call the Mississippi Correlation — states with the strictest abortion laws also have the highest infant mortality rates. The same legislators who stay up all night worrying about the fates of frozen blastocysts can tolerate the unnecessary deaths of infants. (See also “Haley Barbour, Baby Killer.”)

So now we have Oklahoma with a new abortion law that mistakes women for Holsteins.

Though other states have passed similar measures requiring women to have ultrasounds, Oklahoma’s law goes further, mandating that a doctor or technician set up the monitor so the woman can see it and describe the heart, limbs and organs of the fetus. No exceptions are made for rape and incest victims.

A second measure passed into law on Tuesday prevents women who have had a disabled baby from suing a doctor for withholding information about birth defects while the child was in the womb.

Oklahoma fulfill’s the Mississippi Correlation nicely. Oklahoma’s infant mortality rate has been stuck at 8.0 for the past few years. The infant mortality rate for the U.S. overall in 2009 was 6.22 (CIA World Factbook).

According to the Commonweal Fund, Oklahoma ranks 39th out of 51 (the 50 states plus the District of Columbia) in infant mortality. Oklahoma also has the honor of ranking #50 in quality of health care its citizens receive (#51 is — wait for it — Mississippi. Who else?).

But never fear; last year Oklahoma took direct action to improve its state’s shoddy health care record by passing — wait for it — tort reform. So now Oklahomans not only get substandard health care; it’s now more difficult for them to sue for malpractice. Way to go, Oklahoma! As the song says,

“We know we belong to the land
And the land we belong to is grand!”

That makes you something like serfs, yes? See also John Cole.

Update: For some better news, see “‘Face’ Time: Men Convicted Of Blocking Abortion Clinic Access” at Jezebel, where I also found this video:

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Financial News

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Obama Administration

As predicted, Republican Senators, plus DINO Ben Nelson, voted as a block yesterday to stop financial reform legislation from going forward. Alexander Bolton reports for The Hill that Harry Reid is scheduling more votes on financial reform and daring Republicans to keep filibustering.

Bolton writes that “Reid also voted against the motion because of a procedural technicality” that will allow him to bring the measure up again for consideration. So if any wingnuts are saying “Reid voted against it, too,” that’s why.

Brody Mullins writes for the Washington Journal,

For the first time since 2004, the biggest Wall Street firms are now giving most of their campaign donations to Republicans.

A Wall Street Journal analysis of 12 large financial services companies, including J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. shows that they have collectively made $1.4 million in political donations, with 52% going to Republicans so far this year. That’s a reversal from last year, according to the most recent round of fund-raising reports covering January, February and March.

Apparently David Brooks wrote a column about the latest revelations from the financial crisis. I haven’t read it, but Kevin Drum writes,

Brooks has the causation backward here, I think. The establishment didn’t miss the housing bubble because of generic groupthink. It missed the housing bubble because of a specific case of groupthink: the nearly unanimous belief that markets can’t be wrong. Thus, if the market price of housing is going up, it had to be the case that housing prices should be going up. All that was left was to invent reasons to explain skyrocketing property prices, and the establishment did that in spades. But it was market delusion that drove establishment delusion, not the other way around.

Righties speak of “the free market” as if it were a natural ecosystem that will always right itself if mankind (the government) doesn’t interfere. And this is the foundational financial delusion. “Markets” have no existence except in the plans and machinations of human beings, which means they don’t inherently do anything. Put another way, “markets” are simply an effect created by humans, and everything that happens in markets happens because a person or people caused it to happen. So markets are as sane, or as crazy, or as wise, or as deluded, or as thrifty, or as greedy, as the people actively taking part in them. One can find certain behavioral consistencies reflected in markets, but this is because there are certain behavioral consistencies in humans.

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Something Rotten in Marketland

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Congress, Financial Crisis, Obama Administration

If you don’t think the financial sector is thoroughly corrupt, check out what Paul Krugman says about it: “of AAA-rated subprime-mortgage-backed securities issued in 2006, 93 percent — 93 percent! — have now been downgraded to junk status.”

The rating agencies emerged as the “free market” version of financial regulation — they sold research to people considering investment. Libertarian theory argues that government oversight isn’t necessary, because the Holy Free Market (blessed be It) is naturally self-regulating. You see, rating companies like Moody or Standard and Poor have to maintain good reputations to stay in business. Therefore, management will take care to run such a company honestly.

Hah. Behold how free market competition corrupted the system:

It was a system that looked dignified and respectable on the surface. Yet it produced huge conflicts of interest. Issuers of debt — which increasingly meant Wall Street firms selling securities they created by slicing and dicing claims on things like subprime mortgages — could choose among several rating agencies. So they could direct their business to whichever agency was most likely to give a favorable verdict, and threaten to pull business from an agency that tried too hard to do its job. It’s all too obvious, in retrospect, how this could have corrupted the process.

It appears that free markets are not so much self-regulating as self-corrupting.

(BTW, I just hopped over to Reason magazine to see what the High Acolytes of Free Markets had to say about the latest revelations on the ratings agencies. Um, nothing.)

A Senate proecdural vote on Wall Street reform is scheduled for 5 pm today. It is expected that Republicans will hang together to block the bill from going forward. They are scrambling to put forward their own bill, a bill designed to cover their asses so they can claim they aren’t really protecting Wall Street.

However, Steve Benen says that Dems are in a “heads we win, tails you lose” mood, and are preparing to hang the GOP with the meme that they are protecting fat cats.

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Changing the Public Debate

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Obama Administration

I was reading “Lessons from the Health-Care Wars” by Peter Dreier at The American Prospect, and this sentence just about jumped off the page at me: “The job of a social movement is to change the public debate so that progressive reforms become politically viable.”

Let me provide a little bit of a larger context:

Reform activists sometimes disagreed on tactics. Some hoped to gain leverage by explicitly criticizing Obama. Others, particularly the major unions, MoveOn, and consumer groups, believed that attacking the newly elected president, already under siege from the right, was counterproductive and wanted to focus public ire on the insurance industry and its allies in Congress.

But this argument misses the point. The job of a social movement is to change the public debate so that progressive reforms become politically viable. Activism on the ground creates pressure for bolder reform and gives liberal elected officials more room to maneuver.

See, this is exactly what all of us smartypants liberal bloggers and activists are not doing — trying to change the public debate.

For example, during the protracted health care fight there were endless arguments about whether we liberals should support the bill with a watered-down public option, or no public option, or with or without mandates, and whether President Obama was fighting hard enough for a public option, or whether he never intended there to be a public option and that the plan all along was to kill the public option and mandate that people purchase private insurance, etc. etc.

And then there were frequent updates on which congresspersons were going to vote for what, and which ones might be persuadable, and which ones needed to be “primaried.”

But we did not do a good job changing the national debate to make the public option important to a broader swatch of the public. And because we didn’t do that, the public option was politically expendable.

It didn’t help that some activists claimed support for the public option in Congress that probably was never there. Those claims quickly hardened into Accepted Fact by many on the Left, who then felt “sold out” and blamed the White House when the public option disappeared.

Like it or not, the Tea Baggers were more effective at setting the terms of the nation’s health care discussion, if only as plants in the right-wing echo chamber. Yeah, they went off script a lot, but they helped reinforce what the medical-industrial complex wanted people to think — that the Democrats’ bill would be too expensive, would raise their taxes, would disrupt the patient-doctor relationship, is mostly an entitlement for poor people, and is somehow taking us down the road to socialism.

Of course, it’s also true that in our current twisted media-political climate, the truth carries a greater burden than propaganda, and teaching the public about how a complex policy might actually work is darn near impossible. Yet that is what we must do if progressives are ever going to stop playing defense.

I’m not entirely sure how to go about changing the public debate, but here are some tactics that won’t work:

Building alliances with Tea Baggers. You’ve heard the story about the scorpion and the frog? ‘Nuff said.

Tea Party-Progressive Dialogue. Annabel Park’s “coffee party” idea was well intentioned, but it was doomed from the beginning. And that’s not just because one cannot have a rational conversation with someone who sincerely thinks the new health care reform law is “socialism” and that the President is a secret Muslim from Kenya. It’s because there is also an element on the Left more interested in acting out and “self-expression” than in doing anything useful. Think Code Pink.

Public Demonstrations Featuring Giant Puppets, Vulgar Signs, Young Men With Megaphones Who Don’t Know When to Shut Up, and Stupid Costumes. I’ve complained about this before. But, folks, people who marched with Gandhi and Martin Luther King managed to be effective without the giant puppets, etc.

I continue to hope that only about 20 percent of the American public is completely unreachable. I’d like to think that there’s a large portion of the American electorate that maybe aren’t as well informed as we’d like, but who are capable of learning if we could find a way to reach them.

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Mob Rule in Arizona

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Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

Is it really “open season” on Latinos in Arizona? Maybe, but that’s partly up to the governor.

The new law, just signed, gives local cops the job of demanding proof of citizenship or a green card from anyone they think might be in the country illegally, e.g., people who look Latino. Those who lack the proper documentation are subject to arrest.

E.J. Dionne quotes Gideon Aronoff, the president and CEO of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society: “Arizonans are now living in a world where police may impound vehicles transporting anyone found to be an undocumented immigrant, which means that Arizonans who don’t check the papers of the kids they drive to Sunday school may now be engaging in illegal activity.”

That last quote suggests a lot of Arizonans who are gung-ho to get tough on illegal immigrants haven’t thought this bill through.

The drug wars in Mexico — genuinely nasty business — has spilled over into Arizona, and it’s understandable that people want something done. As usually, however, the right-wing blowhards who favor this “get tough” move are not necessarily in sync with law enforcement professionals, who say it will stretch their resources very thin.

Note that the law allows citizens to sue police to compel them to enforce the law. This could get dicey. Further, some commenters suggested that Arizona police could lose the trust of Latino communities, which could make law enforcement more, not less, difficult.

How hard law enforcement comes down on innocent Latinos depends in part on what direction the governor might give for how the law is carried out. Right now, there are a lot of unknowns, including what exactly might make a person a “suspect.”

As Dionne says, “It’s rather strange that many who say they mistrust government overreach could support a law of this sort.” Not strange at all, really, if you follow Righties. On this very day some of the same bloggers expressing support for the Arizona bill have been protesting “big government” by making a hero out of Guy Fawkes, and they see no inconsistency to that.

From what I can tell, the righties are laboring with a false dichotomy — you’re for the Arizona law, or you favor “open borders.” That many people really don’t favor open border but still think the Arizona law is an abomination flies right over their empty heads.

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An IQ Test for Nevada

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Obama Administration

Sen. Harry Reid’s Republican opponent —

Update: I’ve been trying to calculate how many chickens you’d need to pay for, say, an appendectomy. I found a website that says an appendectomy goes for $15,850, these days, on average. That seems low to me, but let’s go with it. I couldn’t find a price for live adult chickens, but you can buy baby chicks in bulk for about $1.60 each, according to one supplier I found. That’s 9,906 baby chicks for one appendectomy. Pretty soon, ol’ Doc can quit medicine and become a supplier for Tyson Inc.!

Or, you can go to the other extreme and pay with a chicken ready for cooking. Right now my local grocery has whole roaster chickens on sale for .99 a pound, and the circular says the birds run from five to seven pounds. Let’s round that up to a dollar a pound to make my life easier. You can give the doc 15,850 pounds of chicken, or 2,641 and 2/3 chickens, figuring six pounds to a chicken. Hope Doc has a big freezer.

Update: See “Chickens for Checkups.”

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Quickie Quiz

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blogging

What famous person from history said this?

“We stand for the maintenance of private property… We shall protect free enterprise as the most expedient, or rather the sole possible economic order.”

Note that this quote is translated from another language, so other translations might not be word for word.

Update: The best source I could find for the quote was a book by Derrick Jensen and published by Chelsea Green Publishers in 2004. Apparently Hitler said this in the 1930s to reassure American business that they could invest in the Third Reich.

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There Oughtta Be a Law

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Obama Administration

When news of the Goldman Sachs scandal broke last week, some rightie bloggers had a question for which I did not have a ready answer. If what Goldman Sachs did was so bad, they asked, why did the SEC file a civil suit instead of criminal charges?

The answer seems to be that what Goldman Sachs did probably isn’t criminal — not because it wasn’t really, really bad, mind you, but because no U.S. law exists to cover exactly what Goldman Sachs appears to have done. Richard Adams writes at The Guardian, “the real scandal here isn’t what’s illegal but what’s legal.”

Zachary A. Goldfarb and Tomoeh Murakami Tse write for the Washington Post that Goldman Sachs and the SEC for months “had been involved in secret talks over allegations that the Wall Street bank defrauded customers in selling them investments designed to fail.” Last month the two sides reached some kind of impasse, and the SEC filed the suit to break the impasse.

Further, the SEC had notified Goldman Sachs last summer that it might file the suit. So this has been going on for a while. It’s not clear to me precisely what was being negotiated, however.

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