Because They’re Mean, Is Why

See Jonathan Chait’s “Republicans Back to Raising Taxes on the Poor.” They blame the President’s immigration plan.

The predicate for this unlikely conflict is that the tax code contains a bunch of breaks and deductions that were written as temporary, but that Congress usually decides to just renew every year. Most of those breaks benefit businesses — the main one being a tax break for research and development. Also included in that package are several tax breaks for low-income workers that Democrats passed into law in 2009. Traditionally, the two parties have agreed to extend all the tax cuts together at once. It was not exactly what either party wanted — Democrats didn’t like bleeding revenue from the Treasury every year, and Republicans didn’t like extending tax cuts to low-income workers — but the compromise suited both sides well enough that nobody cared to blow it up. Now it’s getting blown up.

Brian Faler and Rachel Bade report that Obama’s immigration relief plan is the proximate cause. Newly legalized workers will pay taxes, and thus be eligible for tax breaks. “If Republicans agreed to extend [those tax breaks] now,” Faler and Bade report, “it would look like they were voting to expand government benefits to illegal immigrants.”

Yeah, those lucky duckies.

So first Republicans made the tax breaks for business permanent, while allowing the tax breaks for low-income workers to expire at the end of 2017. Since they would no longer be tied to tax breaks for the more affluent constituencies that have influence with Republicans, this would mean they would almost certainly expire. Families earning $10,000 to around $25,000 a year would lose nearly $2,500 a year — a punishing blow to the working class.

Amazingly, Democrats in the Senate like Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer agreed to this plan. Before Thanksgiving, Obama threatened a veto, causing Reid to beat a hasty retreat.

Chuck needs to retire. He’s my senator, and I say so.

Meanwhile, the CEO community is apoplectic at the standoff. Business leaders by and large have occupied a middle ground between the two parties (which is an indication of how far right the terms of the economic debate have shifted since Republicans took control of Congress). They share the GOP’s general ideological aims, but don’t share its willingness to blow things up in order to achieve them.

A lot of business leaders have been pleading for immigration reform, actually, because they think it will be good for them. Still, they support Republicans.

Who’s Really Responsible for the Toddler Invasion

Two articles to read together today — one is from the New York Times editorial board

The revised legislation sought to appease the hard-liners, who were insisting on swiftly expelling migrant children but also intent on killing the Obama administration’s program to halt the deportations of young immigrants known as Dreamers. Tea Party members believe, delusionally, that the program, called DACA, has some connection to the recent surge of child migrants, who would never qualify for it. On Friday night, the House passed a bill that dragged immigration reform so far to the right that it would never become law. …

…The Senate’s attempt to address the border crisis, meanwhile, is also dead — filibustered by Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican who engineered the House revolt, was exultant. Nothing will happen there until September, if then.

Meanwhile, the border crisis is still a crisis and people are suffering. The Border Patrol and refugee programs will run short of money for aiding and processing traumatized children. Immigration courts will still be overloaded, due process will continue to be shortchanged or denied. Because House Republicans killed a comprehensive reform bill that passed the Senate more than a year ago, the larger immigration system, choked by obsolete laws, backlogs and bureaucratic breakdowns, still awaits repairs.

Again, it’s important to understand that the Right’s carping about “Dreamers” is a red herring straw man on steroids. The law they claim is responsible for the border crisis does not apply to people crossing the border after June 2012.  Meanwhile, the Right refuses to address the law that does apply, signed by President G.W. Bush, that says these children cannot be deported without a hearing. But Republicans in Congress refuse to provide money to help speed up the hearings; they want to ignore the law and just deport the children. And then they call President Obama a lawless tyrant.

The NY Times editorial is as good a capsule version of where we are with immigration as I’ve found.  Meanwhile, A.W. Gaffney explains who really is responsible for the instability in Central America that is driving so many to take refuge here.

But why is the region so underdeveloped, why is poverty so entrenched, and why has the colonial legacy of inequality proven so resistant to social and political change? Though the situation is admittedly complex, the dismal state of affairs in Central America is in no small part the result of the failure of social democratic and left-of-center governments to maintain power and enact socioeconomic change; this failure, in turn, is sadly (in part) the consequence of the ironic “success” of U.S. foreign policy.

A pattern of U.S. interference with the democratic processes in these Central American countries goes back at least to the 1930s and has continued nearly to the present day. In other words, the U.S. persistently has seen to it that popularly and democratically elected left-leaning leaders were replaced — violently, if necessary –by right-wing despots. And this has a whole lot to do with why these countries are dysfunctional now.

Looking at Congress today, one might argue the U.S. finally is doing to itself what it did to Guatemala — make it an ungovernable mess.  We don’t learn.

On Immigration, Plenty of Stupid to Spread Around

Before I launch into the big ol’ mess o’ derp that is the U.S. Congress, I want to say something to pro-immigration reform activists. Yesterday a group of more than 100 religious leaders and immigration activists were arrested in Washington, DC, after they refused to clear a sidewalk where they were rallying. Coming on the same day Congress had an immigration meltdown and failed to pass even a watered-down bill to meet the border crisis, aka the Great Toddler Invasion, these arrests should have made a big splash. Given the Bigger Asshole rule, how was this ineffective?

Because the activists were not protesting Congress; they were protesting the White House.  Duh, foolish activists.

On to Congress: After weeks of smirking that the President was failing to lead on the border crisis issue, Washington Republicans in the House and Senate showed a degree of resolve and maturity that proved toddlers aren’t just at the border. I’d like to send them all commemorative sippy cups.

Michael Sean Winters at National Catholic Reporter explains what happened yesterday:

Keep in mind that the bill the House was supposed to vote on yesterday was already a deeply slimmed-down version of President Obama’s request for $3.7 billion to supply more border officials to deal with the influx, and facilities for the children, and, most especially, more judges to hear the children’s claims for asylum as refugees. The House bill offered only $659 million, which is no small change, but in DC it is a rounding error. And, to appease his conservative, Tea Party base, Speaker John Boehner also offered a vote on a measure to rein in President Obama’s Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) policy, which has granted certain legal protections from deportation to half a million Americans who were brought across the border as children. That measure was not destined to go anywhere, but at least the Tea Partyers could tell the folks back home that they tried and blame it on the Senate or the President that DACA was not ended.

Note that the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals policy only applies to people who entered the country before June 15, 2012, so it doesn’t have anything to do with the current crisis.

But, the Tea Partyers were having none of it. After a night of pizza and Dr. Pepper in the office of Sen. Ted Cruz, the hard core caucus refused to back Boehner’s bill. Democrats were not going to support it either because it had cut back on providing the funds needed, and would have fast-tracked the deportation of these children. So, Boehner pulled the bill before letting it go to a vote that would have failed. …

… In case you think the U.S. Senate is a paragon of reasonableness, they failed also yesterday in their efforts to pass a $2.7 billion appropriation to deal with the border issue. The bill failed to garner the 60 votes necessary to overcome a threatened filibuster.

Do read all of Winters’s report, and also Eugene Robinson.

I understand the House is going to try again today to pass something regarding immigration. We’ll see.


The Many Hidden Agendas

Regarding abortion — the Fetus People perpetually accuse “pro-aborts” of just wanting to kill babies. Giving women control over their own lives and bodies doesn’t register with the FPs.

But what is their agenda? “Saving babies” doesn’t make sense when you acknowledge that criminalizing abortion doesn’t stop it. It doesn’t seem even to reduce it. Abortion rates tend to be higher in countries where it is illegal than where it is legal. Restricting access to legal abortion just drives it underground. The one factor that does make a measurable difference in reducing abortion rates is use of contraceptives.

There is copious data from many studies over many years supporting these facts. Yet the hard-core FPs remain fixated on criminalizing abortion, closing clinics, and restricting access to birth control and sex education. It’s illogical.

Well, unless “saving babies” isn’t the real agenda.

I’ve come to think there are two kinds of hidden agendas. One is about greed and gain. The other is emotional and psychological, and almost always is buried so deeply in the pysche that people who have it deny to themselves it is there. Demagoguery is all about the people with the first kind of agenda manipulating the people with the second kind of agenda.

In the case of the Fetus People, the only agenda I can think of that makes consistent sense is a fear and loathing of female sexuality. All those copulating women have to be controlled! The FPs will deny this, but this is not a crew famous for self-awareness.

Politicians in conservative districts have been demagoguing this issue for years, because it’s a big, fat button to push that gets big results. So the politicians have been acting from the first kind of hidden agenda. But in recent years, I believe, more and more people suffering from the second kind have been getting into office, especially at state level, and they will not rest until those womenfolk have been properly brought back under patriarchal control. They’ll still get abortions, of course, but they’ll have to do so secretly, illegally, and thereby shamefully. That’s what’s important.

But it’s not just abortion. Let’s look at economic policy. Please do read “Can libertarian populism save the Republican Party?” by Mike Konczal. A bit:

The specifics of a libertarian populist agenda are often lacking, but advocates sometimes point to to things like Rand Paul’s budget plan. This is a plan that calls for flat taxes, cutting discretionary spending through a balanced budget and removing the Federal Reserve’s dual mandate to promote low inflation and high employment.

This brings to mind Eugene Mirman’s joke about bears, where he notes that the common notion that you should play dead if you see a bear “is a rumor that bears spread.” Similarly, the idea that reducing the tax burden on the rich while calling for tighter money and deregulation counts as “populism” sure seems like a rumor spread by the 1 percent.

Yet all kinds of people well down in the 99 percent ranks will support this, partly because they don’t understand it but mostly because there is something about the way the plan will be marketed that appeals to their psychological and emotional issues.

Here’s another one — the bleeping border fence. Is that stupid, or what? Joshua Holland writes,

Only about half of the country’s unauthorized immigrants entered illegally through the Southern border to begin with. And with illegal entries at a 40-year low, and the undocumented population down by a million from its 2007 peak, the right’s fetish for security spending is shaping up to be a boondoggle for giant defense contractors with a consistent track record of bungling past efforts to “secure the border.” . . .

…Reached by phone in Chihuahua, Mexico, Tom Barry, a senior analyst at the Center for International Policy and author of “Border Wars,” told Salon that the effort is simply “absurd.” “Border patrol agents are tripping over themselves now,” he said. “They have nothing to do. They’re reading magazines in their trucks. If they increase the force by the levels they’re talking about now, you’ll have measures of boredom and waste that are almost inconceivable.”

It’s not just a fence, of course, but I’ve spent enough time on rightie websites to know they have a huge emotional investment in a fence. Maybe it’s just that there’s something about a fence that their little minds can understand, but I suspect also they have a deep emotional/psychological need to have a real physical barrier between themselves and those Brown People.

And, of course, the defense industry will make out like banditos. It’s a perfect storm of agendas.

The Right: You Latino People Are Too Emotional

At the American Enterprise Institute blog and Daily Caller, they are struggling to explain why Latinos support Bush Obama over Romney, and the conclusion is that it’s all about emotions. “Hispanics have an emotional connection to Obama, and an emotional disconnect with the GOP,” said the AEI blogger.

According to these “analysts,” Latinos should be deserting Obama and turning to Romney because the economy remains sluggish and because he failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act. It’s like Latinos are not supposed to notice that the last two objectives were blocked by Republicans. They’re not supposed to notice that Romney has said he would veto the DREAM Act and expects millions of immigrants to “self-deport.”

No; if Latinos prefer Obama over Romney, they’re just being “emotional.”

Can Romney Overcome Romney?

© Karen Roach |

It’s been a discouraging couple of weeks for the Obama campaign. Now that the Right has more or less reconciled itself to having Mittens for a candidate, and is more or less solidified behind him, Romney has gotten far kinder coverage in the news than he had before. I’m expecting the media narrative of the 2012 campaign to shape up as well-meaning softie Obama versus tough centrist businessman Romney.

Except Romney is a sock, and Obama can be tough when he needs to be.

And here’s a surprise — in Nate Silver’s forecast model, Obama’s chances of winning the general election went up slightly last week, and Romney’s went down. My sense of things is that Romney had a better week in media than Obama did, so that’s not what I would have expected.

My suspicions are that the more the American people see of Romney, the less they will like him. His own worst enemy may prove to be himself. However, “the narrative” can go a long way toward putting lipstick on the pig, as they say.

The President’s new policy on immigration drew a typical Romney response.

For hours, Romney tried to ignore the news. Finally, after a rally here with a ragtime band playing “Yankee Doodle Dandy” in a town-square gazebo, Romney made a statement that struck a radically different tone from the hard-line approach he took on illegal immigration during the Republican primaries.

“I believe the status of young people who come here through no fault of their own is an important matter to be considered and should be solved on a long-term basis so they know what their future would be in this country,” he told reporters outside of his campaign bus.

“I think the action that the president took today makes it more difficult to reach that long-term solution, because an executive order is of course just a short-term matter. It could be reversed by subsequent presidents. I’d like to see legislation that deals with this issue.”

But he made no commitment to supporting any particular option.

The less-crazy elements of the GOP understand that they can’t keep pissing off Latinos and expect to win elections. But to endorse the policy would stir up the wrath of the rabidly xenophobic base. So Romney had to find a way to say the policy is fine but the President was still wrong to implement it. One wonders how many hours it took the Romney team to craft the message the candidate finally delivered.

And, of course, the biggest reason the President went ahead with the policy change is that there was no hope there would be “legislation that deals with this issue” in the foreseeable future.

Today Romney is accusing Obama of playing politics to get the Latino vote, but he refuses to say that he would repeal the executive order if elected.

A big chunk of the electorate won’t focus much on the elections until the conventions. My prediction is that as people get a closer look at Romney, the more uncomfortable they will be with him. The only question is whether the Right’s propaganda machine can make up for their candidates’ obvious shortcomings.

Update: See also Romney: Being Vague About My Plans Helps Me Get Elected and Romney Dodges Immigration Questions.

The Constitutional Anchor Baby Crisis

A few days ago Rand Paul expounded on the “anchor baby” crisis. Anchor babies are, of course, babies born in the U.S. to illegal immigrants. The babies are citizens by virtue of their birth, and this infuriates righties. In recent years Republican lawmakers have been promoting a bill that would deny citizenship to such babies. Mind you, this is coming from some of the same people who want to extend citizenship to frozen embryos.

Yesterday, in an entirely different context, Jeffrey Goldberg quoted the Babylonian Talmud: “Who is wise? The one who can foresee consequences.” That may become my new favorite saying. Applied to the citizenship question — like it or not, the 14th Amendment gave us a clear, bright line regarding citizenship:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

I can see all kinds of unfortunate consequences of making that clear, bright line fuzzier and darker. Leave well enough alone, I say.

Now, most legal experts say that because of the 14th Amendment, Congress does not have the power to deny citizenship to so-called “anchor babies.” Doing this would require a constitutional amendment. But righties are arguing no, because the 14th Amendment doesn’t say what it says. This argument was presented by none other than George Will a few days ago, and it is a tortured argument, indeed. But when I read Will’s column I didn’t have the time to research what he was saying to see if it could hold mayonnaise, never mind water.

But lo, yesterday, while researching something else entirely, I ran into a discussion of United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898) (see also Wikipedia discussion of Wong). Wong Kim Ark was a man born in the United States of ethnic Chinese parents. At the time, the Chinese Exclusion Act was in effect. You probably remember that this barred anyone of the Chinese “race” from entering the U.S., and it denied citizenship to ethnic Chinese people already in the U.S. Wong challenged this law, and in a 6-2 decision the Supreme Court agreed with Wong, and said he was a citizen of the United States by virtue of being born here. And it seems to me there’s a made-for-television movie script in there somewhere.

Anyway, as I read about the Wong decision I realized that the dissenting argument in the Wong case is exactly the same argument being made today by Will and the Republican lawmakers.

The dissent was based on an interpretation of the phrase “subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” Will and the two SCOTUS dissenters (John Harlan and Melville Fuller) say this phrase means “and not subject to any foreign power.” In their dissent of Wong, Harlan and Fuller point out that native Americans were (at the time) not citizens of the U.S. because the Civil Rights Act of 1866 had given citizenship to “all persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed.”

This act became law just two months before the 14th Amendment was proposed. So, the argument is, this wording gives us insight into where lawmakers’ heads were at the time. And thus, if the parents are subjects of a foreign power, then their baby born in the U.S. is not eligible for citizenship. This was the dissenting opinion in Wong in 1898, and Will repeated this same argument in his Washington Post column. Will doesn’t bother discussing that pesky Wong majority opinion, however.

Will argues further,

What was this [the jurisdiction phrase] intended or understood to mean by those who wrote it in 1866 and ratified it in 1868? The authors and ratifiers could not have intended birthright citizenship for illegal immigrants because in 1868 there were and never had been any illegal immigrants because no law ever had restricted immigration.

As far as I know, the Chinese Exclusion Act was the first attempt to render any sort of immigration illegal, and it didn’t become law until 1882. Congress had passed an earlier version of the exclusion act in 1878, but this was vetoed by President Hayes. But the Wong majority decision says plainly that an act of Congress making Chinese immigration illegal, and denying citizenship status to ethnic Chinese, did not override the clear language of the 14th Amendment.

So, whether Will and the Republican lawmakers like it or not, SCOTUS already nixed their argument.

The majority opinion in Wong is based partly on English common law, which said that babies born in England are English, with the exception of the children of diplomats and children born to hostile forces occupying English territory.

In addition, at the time native American tribes were not considered subject to U.S. jurisdiction and were therefore not citizens. Another case decided in 1884 (Elk v. Wilkins, 112 U.S. 94) had declared that a native American who left his tribe and went to live in a white community didn’t automatically get citizenship, although he could be considered a citizen if he went through whatever naturalization process existed at the time and paid taxes.

Will leans heavily on the example of non-citizen native Americans to argue that the 14th Amendment was not intended to confer citizenship to babies of foreigners who happened to be in the U.S. at the time. But the Elk decision (which Will doesn’t mention, either) did not consider Indian tribes to be foreign states. A tribe was an alien political entity which Congress dealt with through treaties, but not the same thing as a foreign nation.

So, it seems to me the Wong decision — the majority opinion, anyway — more closely speaks to the circumstance of babies born in the U.S. to illegal immigrants than does the Elk decision. And I think I just blew by nerd blogging quotient for the day.

Update: Read more about Wong Kim Ark in “The Progeny of Citizen Wong.”

True Colors

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.

Just Wrong

Immigration authorities separate nursing mother and baby.

Even more heartbreaking, today Bob Herbert writes about a mother battling her health insurance provider while her daughter battled cancer.

One night, after coming home from school, Brittney suddenly found that she couldn’t walk. The cancer had attacked her spinal cord. As the doctors geared up to treat this new disaster, Ms. Hightower received word that her insurance policy had maxed out. The company would not pay for any further treatment.

Ms. Hightower was aghast: “I said, ‘What do you mean? It was supposed to be a $3 million policy.’ ”

She hadn’t understood that there was an annual limit of $75,000 on benefits. “It was just devastating when they told me that,” she said. …

…Sandra Hightower became almost frantic with the combined tasks of caring for her daughter and trying to figure out how to pay for the increasingly expensive treatments.

“Her back surgery, with the reconstruction and all that, was over three hundred and some thousand dollars,” she said. “I had to start doing fund-raisers, bake sales. And the community kicked in, my community here in Nacogdoches. Definitely the high school. And people donated to a benefit fund at the bank.”

After several months, Brittney was declared eligible for federal disability benefits, which enabled her to qualify for Medicaid. “But we still owed for everything before that,” said Ms. Hightower.

Brittney fought like crazy to survive, her mother said. But in the end, she didn’t make it. She died, at age 16, on June 5.

“I see her everywhere,” said Ms. Hightower, who still owes thousands of dollars in medical bills. “When I go to the grocery store, I see her favorite food. I go shopping, and I see the perfect little outfit that she would love.

“I’m so lost right now. And I feel like I failed my baby because I couldn’t bring in all the help she needed.”

I’m sure the wingnuts can dismiss Ms. Hightower by saying she should have chosen a job with better benefits.

Update: Satire? Pathology? You be the judge. A blogger writes,

What would life in the United States be like under a President who is obsesssed with personal power, does not respect the rule of law and has no tolerance for criticism?

Who has to wonder? But here’s the punch line — the blogger was writing about Hillary Clinton. Sort of snarks itself, huh?

Senate Blocks Immigration Bill

This is just as well. I don’t think anything sensible regarding immigration could be legislated in the current political climate.

See also “Immigration Bill Prompts Some Menacing Responses” by Jeff Zeleny in today’s New York Times

Republicans who support the immigration bill are facing unusually intense opposition from conservative groups fighting it. This is among the first times, several of them said, that they have felt the full brunt of an advocacy machine built around conservative talk radio and cable television programs that have long buttressed Republican efforts to defeat Democrats and their policies.

This may be among the first times I’ve noticed a mainstream media outlet admitting there is an advocacy machine built around around conservative talk radio and cable television programs that has long buttressed Republican efforts to defeat Democrats and their policies.