Draconian Solutions to Phony Problems

After years of hysteria that included calls to trash the 14th Amendment, we learn there are two-thirds fewer illegal immigrants in the United States today than there were ten years ago. The mighty flood was more of a swollen creek.

The annual inflow of unauthorized immigrants to the United States was nearly two-thirds smaller in the March 2007 to March 2009 period than it had been from March 2000 to March 2005, according to new estimates by the Pew Hispanic Center.

Put another way,

After years of rapid growth, illegal immigration is slowing down in California and across the country, with the state’s share of the nation’s estimated 11.1 million undocumented immigrants dropping to 23% from 42% in 1990, according to a new study released Tuesday.

The Pew Survey says the illegal immigrant population peaked at around 12 million in 2007 and has been dropping since.

Fewer illegal immigrants came to the U.S. every year between 2007 and 2009 than in the years in the first half of the decade, the study found. About 300,000 illegal immigrants entered the U.S. each year between 2007 and 2009, a drop from the 850,000 new unauthorized immigrants that entered each year between 2000 and 2005.

Our buddy William Teach notes that 300,000 is still too many, but that’s not going to slow to zero as long as the Koch brothers need someone to clean their pools.

What’s more, the biggest decreases have been in the states that have done the most squawking, including Arizona. Greg Sargent says,

The report also offers more evidence that the criticisms of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and other Republicans about lax enforcement on behalf of the federal government are overblown, let alone hyperbole about an ongoing “invasion” from across the border. While careful to state that “the data in this report do not allow quantification” of all the factors involved in the decline of the illegal immigrant population, it lists major shifts in the level of immigration enforcement and in enforcement strategies,” as one of the major factors that “undoubtedly contribute to the overall magnitude of immigration flows.”

My question is, what will California do if it can’t scapegoat illegal aliens for its economic crisis? Just go into denial, most probably. Maybe New York should send them some shrinks; I think we have a surplus.

Anyway, I submit this is illustrative of most “issues” emanating from the Right in the past several years. Time and time again, real crises are ignored while the Right gins up phony ones for which they propose radical solutions. In no particular order:

  • They gin up a phony Social Security crisis and propose privatization.
  • They gin up a phony “out-of-control lawsuits” crisis and persuade most state legislatures to pass “tort reform” laws.
  • Oh no! Salt-of-the-earth family farmers are being wiped out by the inheritance tax! Not really, but the Right coined the term “death tax” and eliminated it.
  • And need I say … Iraq?

And then there are the phony scandals designed to draw attention away from real issues, such as the “climategate scandal” to discredit the scientific data on global climate change.

Meanwhile, real problems fester. They pooh-poohed the health care crisis for years — America has the best health care system in the world, dontcha know? And all the data saying otherwise is part of the World Communist Conspiracy. The Bush Administration and most of the Right refused to take Islamic terrorism seriously until September 11. Then they quickly took possession of the issue and blamed it all on Bill Clinton.

And the timeline of most of these “issues” goes something like this — somewhere, out of sight, someone with control of vast wealth and with the last name of Koch, Scaife, Bradley, and a few others, identifies a “solution.” Then they put the word out to the vast network of think tanks, media outlets and politicians that they own to sell this “solution” to the public. Then it’s a matter of manufacturing a crisis, either out of whole cloth (as with the “death tax”) or sometimes by seizing on some news item that they can distort (climategate; the McDonald’s coffee episode). Then the Noise Machine goes to work beating the public to death with a highly, um, revised version of the story to make people believe something outrageous happened that didn’t really happen. But the “revised” version of the story will pass into public legend.

Pretty soon a small army of PR firms has created dozens of astroturf organizations, which work together with Fox and other right-wing media outlets to mobilize the, um, “low-information” voters who never quite got the critical thinking thing down. Then, with the right propagandists to lead them, the people will march to the voting booth and vote for more Koch-owned politicians to go to Washington and sell them out. Yee haw.

11 thoughts on “Draconian Solutions to Phony Problems

  1. I wish we had our own 21st Century Charles Dickens to write about people like the Koch’s and Scaife. He would, of course, have given them more illustrative and representational names. Here’s one he could start off with, and it wouldn’t even be a fictional name:
    “The New Yorker article, and those pieces that have echoed it, rely heavily on innuendo and unsubstantiated assertions,” writes foundation president Richard Fink, who is the public face of the brothers’ ideological work.”
    Yes, you read that right, the Koch Brothers Foundation President, who is the public face of it is named Richard Fink.
    Rich Fink!
    I swear, you can’t make this shit up!

    Also, imagine if these greedy troglodytes had decided to spend their loot on bettering people and society instead of enriching themselves and their cohorts.
    You may say I’m a dreamer…

  2. I agree with the point about the Right ginning up “issues”. I just want to add a perspective on illegal immigration in Arizona, for what it’s worth. There are big bad things going on in Mexico. It’s not quite at the level of an unofficial civil war, I don’t think, but the level of violence involved in the war between the government and the drug cartels has to be be taken seriously, given the effect on the lives of the Mexican populace. Mother Jones has been doing a good job covering this stuff.
    The point I want to make is this: For the citizens of Arizona, it may not matter so much that the statistics can show the number of illegals going down. They are simply afraid of the violence leaking over the border even if numbers are down. Whether the violence is leaking over or not doesn’t matter: they are afraid that it will. I think this makes it much more difficult to have a rational discussion with Arizonans about the “Secure the borders” mantra.
    I don’t agree with the policies touted by the right by any means. I’m just saying that any attempt to get to reasonable policy probably needs to address the fear of violence head on.

    • There are big bad things going on in Mexico. It’s not quite at the level of an unofficial civil war, I don’t think, but the level of violence involved in the war between the government and the drug cartels has to be be taken seriously, given the effect on the lives of the Mexican populace.

      I agree the Mexican drug wars are a real concern, and I’ve mentioned them myself a few times. But that has nothing to do with “anchor babies” or Californians believing their economic crisis is caused by illegal aliens. It’s also not a problem that should be addressed by hotheaded vigilantes or treating all Latinos as criminal suspects.

  3. I would think illegal immigration would track right along with GDP, I mean they come here for jobs, less jobs, less illegal’s. So Bu$hco has another success to ad to the bookcase, since he fucked up the economy so bad, he lessened illegal immigration. Way to go!

  4. Great post, maha. Thanks. There’s an article in the recent ‘Vanity Fair’ which presents a ‘view’ of the ‘real’ Palin, sort of a ‘naked’ Palin. It’s pretty scathing. But more importantly it brings to mind how a well-propagandized public figure, or issue, can be successfully sold as other than what she/it is to a forever-hungry-for-make-it-all-better (and gullible) public.

    The Eva Peron(s), David Koresh(s), Jim Jones(s), fictional Elmer Gantry(s) not to mention the Glen Beck(s) and Rush Limbaugh(s) can so easily turn a crowd into a brain-numbed adoring mass. To a person, or to an issue, what’s being sold is hope – an elixir that will make-it-all-better.

    I’ve said this before and I continue to believe that the person or the issue we can do nothing about, we can’t shut them up, we can’t take the issue off the table. It’s the people who believe what they hear who worry me. (Every high school curricula should include a mandatory course in the how’s, why’s, and wherefore’s, of how to successfully sell yourself or your ideas to the masses accompanied by how to successfully avoid getting sucked into what’s being sold.)

  5. Terrific post that summarizes (almost) everything that’s gone wrong in this country. Future generations will be amazed at how such powerful media completely paralyzed a once great nation, and were instrumental in running it off the rails, despite all the things it once had going for it.

    Data, such as the drop in illegals means nothing to wingnuts. In California there are plenty of brown skinned people running around speaking languages other than English, whether here illegally or not, and they will continue to be demonized by angry whites. Do you trust the data, or what’s in front of your eyes? It really isn’t about legals or illegals, it’s more about racism.

    A few weeks ago, I met a couple women who were originally from outside the US – both from formerly socialist countries, one from Chile, one from Hungary. They were not particularly educated, but were living in rather well off LA suburbs. I was astonished to hear from them that their Number One Concern, the Root Evil in the Entire Universe was – illegal immigrants. They happened to be living in areas that may as well have been a thousand miles from the nearest illegal immigrant, but this was their small-minded fixation.

    And thanks, but we have plenty of shrinks of our own. They tend to be Jungian out here; Freud OTOH is big (or used to be) in NYC.

    I really fear that Social Security is going to be hit. Full-on privatization is unlikely at this point, but I do expect some kind of means testing to be introduced. The Government is in debt over its head, and is busy finding ever more insidious ways to improve its balance sheet. This was, afer all, the main reason for health care reform, not necessarily providing more or better care. It’s very ominous that Obama’s social security commision (aka “the Catfood Commission”) is stacked with people who hate social security. Just as it took an anti-communist Republican (Nixon) to establish relations with China, it will take a (nominal) Democrat to gut social security. It will be transformed from an entitlement that you have earned, to a kind of welfare that is doled out to the most needy.

    • moonbat — So the Jungians went West and the Freudians stayed East. That explains a lot. At least one thing I can say for New Yorkers is that they’re mostly not crazy. Well, except maybe for Staten Island.

      Yeah, I fear you are right about Social Security. That’s a shame, because it’s one “problem” that shouldn’t be that hard to fix (raise the bleeping cap!) without taking drastic measures.

  6. The Jungian thing correlates well with the west coast’s preo-occupation with Asian philosophies. The East Coast is (or used to be) more Euro-centric. I’m always amazed when I travel east, to see how this influence is spreading across the US, west to east, and is transforming it. This has changed dramatically in my lifetime, and I would say for the better.

    It’s really amazing to me how the right wing propaganda machine works. Others could talk book-length about this, but I’ll only hit on a couple points. The various brazen announcements by extremists – for example, the abolishing of social security – are part of the Overton Window. They introduce extreme points of view into the national discourse, which shifts it righward, moving the center of discussion. The final position that’s adopted won’t necessarily be the extreme viewpoint initially announced, but it served its purpose, and that is to move the entire center of gravity righward. It’s frightening that public idiots like Glenn Beck apparently understand this.

    Robert Reich had a post up the other day about how Republicans have a story explaining what’s going on (whether it’s true or not), and only a few regressive policies (tax cuts), but the Democrats have lots of policies but no story explaining to the public what’s happening:

    The public doesn’t understand specific policies but it does understand stories that link them together. The stories give the policies context and meaning, and thereby show where policymakers are taking a nation (and, by implication, where the opposition would take it).

    Republicans lack specific policies but they have a story. Obama and the Democrats have lots of specific policies but don’t have a story. That spells even more trouble for Democrats…

    The Republicans thoroughly understand how to manipulate the country through self-serving story telling, and have changed the political landscape in such a way that Democrats are mostly forced to play their game. Reaganism, despite its manifest failures, still rules the country, even when Democrats are in power.

  7. maha,
    Why go for an easy fix?
    As a politician, you have to show you’re serious, so you have to come up with some Rube Goldberg-like mousetrap combinations for Social Security – means testing, age adjusting, privatization, lowering of monthly payments, etc. Except the goal here isn’t to catch or even tame the poor SS mouse, but to kill it.
    What better way to kill the Social Security mouse, than with a “Cat Food Commission?”

    PS: Alan Simpson of the “Cat Food Commission” needs to remember that a Cheshire Cat is not supposed to snarl and spit, but smile or grin. Senator Simpletonson, it’s been your lifetime goal to kill SS, so smile you senile old f***ing asshole, you’re probably going to win!
    I think, if he succeeds, we should make his grave a National Monument. It should be open for free to all Senior Citizens who can pay their respects to the late Senator by emptying their colostomy bags, and squeezing the contents of their Depends on his grave. If you can also ‘hock a loogie’ without spitting out your dentures at the same time, you get free prunes at the cafeteria, just in case you want to pay your respects again later.

  8. As uncledad noted, that period 2007 to 2009 tracks awfully closely with the beginning of a huge recession. People follow the money.

    Why is it that some of the very same people who decry big government action on jobs, taxes, the environment, and other issues suddenly turn about face when the issue is immigration? The solution to immigration woes is more government — more laws, more taxes for more police, more walls, more surveillance …? It’s much the same concerning “defense” (war) and prisons.

    Might I propose that if we are genuinely concerned about the issue of drug cartels, black markets, and subsequent violence in the streets that we actually address the cause of those issues? The economic reality here is that a useful set of commodities, drugs, is being made artificially scarce by a set of vigorous laws and enforcements. The constriction of the supply massively drives up the price — the drugs themselves aren’t especially expensive to produce and mostly involve fixed investment costs. (A few of them, marijuana being the most prominent example, basically grow themselves.) With the commodities being made expensive luxuries, there is huge potential for profits. This provides clear incentive for some people to become criminals to seize those profits, most especially among the poorer segments of society who have little hope of the making the kind of money the black market can bring in any other profession open to them.

    Those who are genuinely interested in reducing crime and violence, rather than demonizing people and propagandizing for political gain, should favor legalization. It is a pragmatic long-term solution to drug wars and the only way to eliminate the black market permanently. There are economic and social causes behind this: you’re not going to eliminate the demand for drugs outright, and it’s very unlikely that we will be able to end poverty and risk-taking profit-driven behavior soon, if ever. Our best hope is to make the political and governmental policy match the social and economic reality as effectively as feasible.

    It’s been posited by some that legalization won’t do much about crime, because the black markets will just transfer their existing activities to other illegal purposes. This opinion misses crucial facts. One, the demand for drugs is what makes drugs into a popular black market. You could never accomplish, not matter how hard or how violently you tried, to turn kidnapping, or slavery [1], or murder [2] into as lucrative a market as drugs are. The difference in demand is huge, and partly so because some drugs are virulently addictive.

    Two, while it is true that some segment of the illegal drugs market might move into, for instance, prostitution, it is a matter of diminishing returns. The dark-alley prostitution market is never going to be able to occupy anything like the total demand of the drug market on top of its existing demand.

    Three, there are network and reinforcement effects going on here. Many of the women who are stuck in prostitution, pretty near to slavery, are there because of inescapable debts they’re racked up thanks to drug addictions — to drugs which, again, were expensive precisely because they were illegal.

    Four, while you can’t legalize kidnapping, torture [3], murder, and the like — you could legalize the legitimate counterpart to prostitution; sex work and sex services given voluntary. If one were to legalize both drugs and sex work simultaneously, the reduction in violent crime would quite plausibly be profound. It’s important to understand that these crime networks have more impact than one can easily and directly measure; their activity creates new victims who were previously completely uninvolved. The new poor, the new addicts, the new indebted feed back into the system perpetuating itself for the next generation.

    Five, with legalization it becomes not merely possible but plausible to regulate, monitor, and improve conditions in the new “grey” market. (You could call it “white”, but nothing changes overnight.) Monies that were previously spent on fighting battles with entrenched cartels and turning small-time criminals into big-time criminals can be spent instead on hospitals and treatment, as well as economic programs to improve and diversify the region.

    Six: critically, decriminalization policy has been tried in a first-world country and it does work. Portugal decriminalized the possession of all drugs in 2001. They expanded treatment programs and relaxed enforcement in the drug arena more generally. Drug use went down, noticeably. This indicates to me that a large part of the reason for drug use in general is the lack of alternatives to the addiction, and the substantial social stigma levied against former drug users (all the more-so on “hard” drugs).


    [1] In the general and historical sense, I suppose slavery has been much more lucrative than the drug trade. But the specific meaning I intend here is the profit to be made by selling the slaves themselves, not in the total economic value of everything produced by the slaves (which is enormously greater, almost incalculable).

    [2] Again, in a very general and historical sense, war has been an extremely profitable form of murder. But the vast bulk of the profits were not earned by payment for the actual murders themselves — rather, it was the theft of land and resources made possible by the murders which yielded the unfathomable spoils.

    [3] Though a segment of a previous administration, and the CIA for decades now, probably wouldn’t blink an eye if you tried.

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