Sunday, September 11, 2011

Republicans Tell Americans: No, You Don't Have the Right to Vote

I've written a great deal on the blog about how changing population demographics in America threaten the future of the Republican party. If the GOP is going to make an effort to appeal to only to the very rich and to white "Christian conservatives," then it is eventually going to be swamped by the increasing majority of Americans who are not part of the Republican party's narrowly-defined base. For example, in 2010, that most Republican of years, Democrats in California swept the election at all levels. Why? According to a recent study of voter registration trends in that state, "The ethnic populations are dominating -- or at least representing a much larger share of the younger voters -- and they are less likely to be registering as Republicans."

The Republican party is well aware that the percentage of Americans making up their party's base is shrinking, and they're attacking the problem in a number of different ways. Unfortunately, none of these efforts involves moderating their extremist, frequently bigoted views, or actually trying to appeal to the interests of minorities. Thanks to the conservative Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, Republican-friendly groups now dominate independent expenditures on elections. The Republican leader of the Wisconsin state Senate openly admits that the GOP's union-busting efforts are designed to help Republicans win, saying that if, "the money is not there under the auspices of the unions, certainly what you’re going to find is President Obama is going to have a much difficult, much more difficult time getting elected and winning the state of Wisconsin."

Republicans have also been very successful in gerrymandering legislative districts to their advantage. They particularly love the part of the Voting Rights Act that makes it illegal to deliberately re-draw a legislative district to lower the minority share of the votes. Republican are only to happy to pack all the minority voters in a state into the smallest possible number of districts. That of course guarantees that Republicans will win every other district. And of course even with the minority vote in America carefully contained, Republicans don't want more minorities in the country, so they've adopted the most hard-line anti-immigrant policies possible. Then of course there's the simple tactic of running on the platform, "government doesn't work," then deliberately running the government as badly as possible. George W. Bush, I'm looking at you.

But even with all of these weapons at their disposal, Republicans are still worried enough about their ability to unfairly manipulate elections that they've had to dust off one of the oldest, saddest tactics of all: suppressing voter registration.

The New York Times has a good summary of the situation: "Less than a year before the 2012 presidential voting begins, Republican legislatures and governors across the country are rewriting voting laws to make it much harder for the young, the poor and African-Americans - groups that typically vote Democratic - to cast a ballot."

"Spreading fear of a nonexistent flood of voter fraud, they are demanding that citizens be required to show a government-issued identification before they are allowed to vote. Republicans have been pushing these changes for years, but now more than two-thirds of the states have adopted or are considering such laws. The Advancement Project, an advocacy group of civil rights lawyers, correctly describes the push as "the largest legislative effort to scale back voting rights in a century." "Anyone who has stood on the long lines at a motor vehicle office knows that it isn’t easy to get such documents. For working people, it could mean giving up a day’s wages."

Republicans like to pretend that the new voter ID laws sweeping the country are a response to a real problem with voter fraud. According to Republican Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, his state's new voter ID law is necessary to “ensure the sanctity of the vote.” But as the Times article linked above points out, "Kansas has had only one prosecution for voter fraud in the last six years. But because of that vast threat to Kansas democracy, an estimated 620,000 Kansas residents who lack a government ID now stand to lose their right to vote." 

In some cases however, Republicans are honest enough to admit that the new laws are not at all a response to a voter fraud problem. In Indiana, Jerry Bonnet, general counsel for the secretary of state, has admitted that the state had little evidence of in-person voter fraud before lawmakers passed a 2005 voter ID law there. And the effect of the new Indiana law? Well, in 2008, a dozen elderly nuns were turned away from the polls for lack of picture IDs.

An editorial in USA Today has pointed out that there is little difference between the new voter ID laws and the Jim Crow tactics that kept blacks from voting in the south for generations. "There is also ample reason to doubt the sincerity of states that say they will provide IDs. When Georgia imposed an ID law in 2005, courts barred the state from charging for them, calling such fees a poll tax - an unconstitutional tactic once used by segregationists to keep blacks from voting. But given the true motive behind such laws, it's likely that states will find other ways to make the IDs hard to get." Former President Bill Clinton agrees, recently saying, "There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and all the Jim Crow burdens on voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today."

And guess what? Having made it a requirement to get a photo ID to vote, Republicans are wasting no time in making it as difficult as possible to acquire an ID, particularly in areas with a high percentage of elderly voters, young voters, students, minorities and low-income voters.

And finally, I'm sad to say that the cynicism behind Republican voter suppression goes beyond just being a tactic to win elections. It's actually a point of their philosophy.

You might think this article from the hyper-conservative American Thinker, Registering the Poor to Vote is Unamerican must be satire. Sadly it is not. "Registering them to vote is like handing out burglary tools to criminals.  It is profoundly antisocial and un-American to empower the nonproductive segments of the population to destroy the country."

I'm not sure what to say about the above quote. But the first thing that occurs to me is how odd it is to equate being poor in America with being "unproductive." Are the retail clerks in America's Wal-Marts, virtually all of whom live below the poverty line despite being employed full-time, "unproductive?" Perhaps we should return to the days when only the owners of large tracts of land qualified as voters.

So to review, Republicans won't trust you to vote if you're young, old, non-white, poor, Muslim, homosexual, urban or an elderly nun living in Indiana. According to Sarah Palin, only those 18% of people living in small towns are part of "real America." I guess pretty soon Republicans will only need about a dozen limousines to transport the remaining Americans for whom they don't have complete and utter contempt.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

They Liked Ike. But They Don't Like These Guys

Whatever you wanted
What could it be?
Did somebody tell you
That you could get it from me?
Is it something that comes natural?
Is it easy to say?
Why do you want it?
Who are you anyway?
                                        -- Bob Dylan

is the only state that allows voters to select "none of these candidates" in statewide elections. The dozen or so Republican candidates for the 2012 Presidential nomination should be glad of this fact. According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, less than half of Republican primary voters say they are satisfied with their current crop of presidential candidates.

Put it another way. In the state of Tennessee, President Obama is not exactly popular. In 2008, he actually lost to his Republican opponent by a bigger margin than did John Kerry, that French-looking Yankee liberal did, in 2004. The Tennessee Republican party produced some of the most vicious, racist attacks on Obama in 2008, and, apparently, the voters there were just fine with that. Well, consider this recent poll conducted by Vanderbilt University. It shows that if the election were held today, Obama would beat all of the announced Republican candidates, most of them by a wide margin.

In a post last October, I offered a run down of the pros and cons of each Republican Presidential candidate. Time for an update. Here are your Republicans, more or less in order of their current standing in the polls.

Mitt Romney
Announced candidate? YES
PRO: Remains (just barely) the front-runner, has the biggest grassroots organization.
CON: As the front-runner, is taking the most flack from the other candidates. In 1993, the Republican position on health care was an individual mandate to buy care from a private insurer. Since both President Obama and Governor Romney passed legislation of this kind, most Republicans have decided that an individual mandate is the mark of the antichrist or something.

Rick Perry
Announced candidate? NO
PRO: Governor of Texas is a good job to have if you want to run for President.
CON: Republicans mostly won't vote for a guy they think might be gay. Has suggested Texas might secede from the Union again.

Michele Bachmann
Announced candidate? YES
PRO: Terrific speaker. Has accomplished a lot in life.
CON: Is patently insane. Claims she had no desire to be in politics, but God insisted. Frequently makes bold misstatements of fact, then insists that those misstatements are true. (A skill learned from Sarah Palin.) Has called for the media to investigate which Congressman are "un-American." Is deeply homophobic.

Rudy Giuliani
Announced candidate? NO
PRO: People vaguely remember that they liked his leadership style after 9/11.
CON: Has more skeletons in his closet than Bela Lugosi. Enjoys cross dressing. Ran for President in 2008, and his candidacy went over like a lead balloon.

Sarah Palin
Announced candidate? NO
PRO: If she does something, cable news will give her 24 hours of coverage. If she does nothing, they'll give her 48 hours of coverage.
CON: This article says it all: Michele Bachmann is the candidate Sarah Palin was supposed to be.

Herman Cain
Announced candidate? YES
PRO: The Democrats are running a black guy? We can do that too.
CON: Is more racist than some Klansmen.

Tim Pawlenty
Announced candidate? YES
PRO: His combined quotient of bigotry, homophobia and plain-crazyness are much lower than most of the other candidates.
CON: Absolutely nothing has gone right with his candidacy.

Jon Huntsman
Announced candidate? YES
PRO: Is somewhere between 3 times and 20 times as smart as the other candidates.
CON: Lacks conservative credentials. And I think this summarizes his candidacy pretty well: "There’s a reason he barely has a pulse in the polls. He speaks so softly that even his aides sometimes have trouble hearing him at events. He is making civility a cornerstone of his campaign, at a time when Republican voters are ravenous for red-meat conservative policies, and an epochal showdown with Obama."

Just a comment that I'd like to thank Newt Gingrich (and Sarah Palin as well) for sort-of-but-not-really running for President and thus soaking up a lot of money and media air time that would otherwise go to the legitimate candidates.

To summarize, Republican primary voters may not be united on what they want in a Presidential nominee. But they are fairly united in what they don't want: any of the candidates they've seen so far.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Welcome to Wal-Mart America: Low-Wage Utopia

A few years ago, author Thomas Frank interviewed Kansas Republican state Senator Kay O'Connor as part of what would become the best book of the decade on politics, What's the Matter with Kansas?. O'Connor offered some very interesting ideas on solving America's problems. First and foremost, we should start funneling public money into sending children to parochial rather than public schools. Then, "these better schools will produce good workers, that will become attractive to more businesses, that will move in to get these good workers, who will work for lower wages because [they're] from poverty families. They aren't expecting eighty thousand a year. They're content to work for six, eight, ten dollars an hour."

Are Kay O'Connor's views typical of conservatives? Well, some of her ideas proved a little far out even for Kansas Republicans. For example, in 2001 O'Connor suggested that it was a bad idea to give women the right to vote. But for confirmation that O'Connor's philosophy of America as a place where workers should neither need or desire decent wages, we need look no farther than America's largest employer, Wal-Mart Corporation.

In recent years, a full-time sales clerk as Wal-Mart was paid about a $1,000 less than the federal poverty line for a family of three. Founder Sam Walton was never one to mince words when describing how his business operates, "I pay low wages. I can take advantage of that. We're going to be successful, but the basis is a very low-wage, low-benefit model of employment."

A recent article on suggests what might be some of the problems with the Wal-Mart model of, "work full-time, but don't get paid enough to live on." The article, entitled, Wal-Mart: Our shoppers are 'running out of money' by Parija Kavilanz suggests that the more than one out of every three Americans who shop at Wal-Mart every week are struggling to make ends meet because of rising gasoline prices.

"We're seeing core consumers under a lot of pressure," (Wal-Mart CEO Mike) Duke said at an event in New York. "There's no doubt that rising fuel prices are having an impact." Wal-Mart shoppers, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck, typically shop in bulk at the beginning of the month when their paychecks come in."

There are two points I'd like to make in regards to the Wal-Mart philosophy. The first is economic in nature. There's a very old doctrine in this country of keeping wages at rock-bottom even when corporate profits are booming. The responsibility of a manager is to make money for the stock holders, not to worry about the country's standard of living. I know there's no hope of getting people like Mike Duke to care, from a moral standpoint, that the people who work for him live in poverty.

But suppose on the other hand, it's Wal-Mart's bottom-line that's being threatened? Has Mr. Duke ever asked himself, "Hmm, we sell consumer goods. Maybe if we paid people a little more, they wouldn't be so devastated by economic downturns and spikes of inflation, and then they could buy more stuff at Wal-Mart. Then we'd make more money and not have to worry so much about recessions either!"

Put it another way. When profits are high, but wages low, most people will be untouched by "economic booms" and continue to eke out a life on the edge of bankruptcy. Investors will then funnel their high profits into speculation rather than expanding production of consumer goods. This will cause investment vehicles to become overvalued. Eventually, investors become uneasy and start cashing in, causing markets to plummet, businesses to fold, massive job losses and a general economic crash. In the 1930s, it was the stock market that was overvalued, and when it crashed, we called it, "The Great Depression." In the 2000s, it was primarily real-estate that was overvalued, and when speculation in "the housing bubble" crashed, we called it, "The Great Recession."

As long as we allow unregulated free-markets, otherwise known as, "letting a handful of people get super rich while screwing everyone else," the boom and bust cycles will continue. But here's the second point I want to make about the Wal-Mart way of doing business and the falling standard of living in America. It's only happening because Americans are letting it happen.

Returning to What's the Matter with Kansas, Thomas Frank wrote quite eloquently about how the response to tough economic times has changed in America over the years.

"The blue-collar, heavily unionized city of Wichita used to be one of the few Democratic strongholds in the state; in the nineties it became one of the most consistently conservative places of them all, a mighty fortress in the wars over abortion, evolution, loose interpretation of the Constitution, and water fluoridation.

Not too long ago, Kansas would have responded to the current situation by making the bastards pay. This would have been a political certainty, as predictable as what happens when you touch a match to a puddle of gasoline. When business screwed the farmers and the workers—when it implemented monopoly strategies invasive beyond the Populists’ furthest imaginings—when it ripped off shareholders and casually tossed thousands out of work—you could be damned sure about what would follow.

Not these days. Out here the gravity of discontent pulls in only one direction: to the right, to the right, farther to the right. Strip today’s Kansans of their job security, and they head out to become registered Republicans. Push them off their land, and next thing you know they’re protesting in front of abortion clinics. Squander their life savings on manicures for the CEO, and there’s a good chance they’ll join the John Birch Society. But ask them about the remedies their ancestors proposed (unions, antitrust, public ownership), and you might as well be referring to the days when knighthood was in flower."

In other words, once upon a time, American workers were ready to fight for their economic rights. Today, Americans are storming the palaces of the rich, shouting, "We will cut your taxes."

Roger Ebert discussed these same issues recently in a great article entitled, The One-Percenters.The article notes that Wall Street has been duping investors and wrecking the economy, all while voting itself record bonuses. And the public's response?

"What puzzles me is why there isn't more indignation. The Tea Party is the most indignant domestic political movement since Norman Thomas's Socialist Party, but its wrath is turned in the wrong direction. It favors policies that are favorable to corporations and unfavorable to individuals. Its opposition to Obamacare is a textbook example. Insurance companies and the health care industry finance a "populist" movement that is manipulated to oppose its own interests. The billionaire Koch brothers payroll right wing front organizations that oppose labor unions and financial reform. The patriots wave their flags and don't realize they're being duped.

Consider taxes. Do you know we could eliminate half the predicted shortfall in the national budget by simply failing to renew the Bush tax cuts? Do you know that if corporations were taxed at a fair rate, much of the rest could be found? General Electric recently reported it paid no current taxes. Why do you think that was? Why do middle and lower class Tea Party members not understand that they bear an unfair burden of taxes that should be more fairly distributed? Why do they support those who campaign against unions and a higher minimum wage? What do they think is in it for them?"

There's no doubt about it. Even as corporate profits have continued to rise and wages fall, and even as we've watched executives pay far less in taxes while their compensation skyrockets as they busy themselves wrecking the economy, millions of American workers have bought into a philosophy that enlists them into fighting against their own interests. So how did it happen? Well, it's no surprise that our corporate-owned media is relentlessly pushing pro-corporate viewpoints. Another reason, I believe, is that the work people do today doesn't create worker solidarity. There's something about the factory work of the 20th century that brought people together in a way that the cubicle-based data-entry work of the 21st century does not.

The battle for workers' rights in America seems to be over at least for now. The workers have surrendered and gone over to the other side. Our best hope seems to be in the country's changing population demographics. There's a lot of people coming to America, and a lot of recent arrivals who are raising a lot of kids. And for the most part, those immigrants come from places that believe in something besides corporate profit.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Why Yes, Donald Trump is the Perfect Candidate

Public Policy Polling found this past week that Donald Trump is leading the Republican field for the 2012 Presidential nomination. In fact, Trump bested other potential Republican candidates by a substantial margin, scoring 26% in the poll compared to only 17% for former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and 15% for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Hard to believe, but Trump is being talked about in conservative circles as someone who can actually beat Obama.

What can I say? Just this: Thank you, thank you Donald Trump for stealing the spotlight from the legitimate candidates and bringing your special brand of insanity to the 2012 race. It's hard for me to pick which aspect of Donald Trump's potential candidacy is most amusing. For example, there's the fact that I've seen several sources refer to Trump as an "unconventional candidate." Unconventional? Really? Well, let's see. He's an old white guy, born to obscene wealth, who professes to be Christian, who's thrice-married, and who has run his personal fortunes into bankruptcy several times. Sounds like a completely conventional Republican candidate to me.

I'm also enjoying watching Tea Party Republicans back yet another candidate who is wildly unpopular with the general public, and thus has no chance of winning should he get the Republican nomination. In 2010, we watched the Republicans give away elections they could have won by nominating wacko candidates in key Senate races like Christine McDonnell in Delaware and Sharron Angle in Nevada. Before they nominate Donald Trump for the Presidency, Republicans might want to consider the fact that just 28 percent of the public have a favorable opinion of him, while 46 percent have an unfavorable opinion.

Trump seems to know exactly how to get the support of the tea-bagger wing of the Republican party. He's chosen to make President Obama's birth certificate the cornerstone of his incipient candidacy. Here's a couple of quotes from Trump on the issue. He noted that, "you have no doctors that remember, you have no nurses," who have come forward to verify that Obama was born in Hawai'i. In the very same interview, Trump also said, "The governor of Hawaii says, ‘Oh, I remember when he was born 50 years ago.’ I doubt it. I think this guy should be investigated. I doubt he remembers when Obama was born. Give me a break! He’s just trying to do something for his party." (For the record, Governor Abercrombie of Hawai'i knew the Obamas when the future President was born in 1961.)

Now, did you catch what Trump actually said in the interview? If witnesses to Obama's birth don't come forward, it's evidence of a conspiracy. However, if witnesses DO come forward, it's ALSO evidence of a conspiracy.

The icing on the cake is that the more Trump hogs the Republican microphone, and the more he plays to the "birther" wing of the party, the more he drags the (slightly) less crazy candidates down with him. As Stephen C. Webster of Raw Story recently noted, "For their part, Republican leaders have largely dismissed the conspiracies has frivolous at best and damaging to the party at worst, but because the fictional narrative had been so propelled by conservative media and many leading Republicans, it seems to have stuck. Now some in the Republican Party are having difficulty confronting the issue, and some even appear to be afraid of offending the so-called "birthers." For example, are Republican legislators in Arizona gearing up to remind voters that Obama has presided over chronic high unemployment, and that he has not fulfilled some of his promises? Nope. Thanks to Donald Trump's inspiration, they're busy  trying to pass a "birth certificate" requirement for future Presidential candidates.

Don't give up, Donald. You're just the kind of leader the Republican Party needs.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Those Pesky Immigrants Just Won't Vote Republican

In my last post I noted that Republican leaders are going to lot of trouble to attack immigrants, and telling a lot of lies while doing it.

There are three small reasons, and one really big reason, why the GOP's leaders are trying to frighten voters with the idea that immigrants are coming to America to either soak up public services at taxpayer expense or to overthrow the Constitution.

The three small reasons are genuine ignorance, prejudice, and short-term political gain. Let's take for example the recent attempts by Republicans to gin up fear of Muslims in the United States. Sharron Angle was the Republican nominee for the Nevada Senate race in 2010. Last October, Angle claimed that the town of Frankford, Texas had been overrun by Muslims who had then imposed Sharia (the code of conduct of Islamic religious law) on the town. I'm sure it was genuine ignorance that led Angle to make this statement, as the town of Frankford does not exist.

But consider Newt Gingrich's statement this week that he fears for the future of his grandchildren because, "I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they're my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American." Is Newt genuinely prejudiced against Muslim immigrants, or is he just trying to whip up support for a possible run for the Presidency? Probably a little of both.

But the real reason why Republicans feel to the need to stop immigration by any means necessary is not because they genuinely believe that immigrants will bankrupt the country or destroy American culture. The real reason is that they recognize that immigration will destroy the Republican party. The GOP is a white-Christians-only-club, and America's immigrant population is not made up of white Christians.

Consider the implications of the most recent census. In 2000, there were 35 million Hispanic Americans. By 2010, that number had jumped to 56 million. In the 2008 election, Obama carried Hispanic voters by a ratio of better than 2 to 1 over John McCain. And turnout by the rising population of Hispanic and other minority voters made all the difference in the outcome of that election.

In a 2009 article in The National Journal entitled Demography and Destiny, Ronald Brownstein gave a great analysis of the 2008 vote: "Start by considering the electorate's six broadest demographic groups -- white voters with at least a four-year college degree; white voters without a college degree; African-Americans; Hispanics; Asians; and other minorities.

Now posit that each of those groups voted for Barack Obama or John McCain in exactly the same proportions as it actually did. Then imagine that each group represented the share of the electorate that it did in 1992. If each of these groups voted as it did in 2008 but constituted the same share of the electorate as in 1992, McCain would have won. Comfortably.

Consider these facts. Then consider that in the next forty years, America's Hispanic population will nearly triple from 56 million to 150 million. Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post summarized the implications nicely in an article last month entitled, "Will the GOP embrace immigration reform or continue to ostracize key voters?"

"Read the census data that have been coming out over the past couple weeks and you're compelled to a stark conclusion: Either the Republican Party changes totally, or it has a rendezvous with extinction.

What the census shows is that America's racial minorities, aggregated together, are on track to become its majority. The Republican Party's response to this epochal demographic change has been to do everything in its power to keep America (particularly its electorate) as white as can be. Republicans have obstructed minorities from voting; required Latinos to present papers if the police ask for them; opposed the Dream Act, which would have conferred citizenship on young immigrants who served in our armed forces or went to college; and called for denying the constitutional right to citizenship to American-born children of undocumented immigrants."

Chris Cillizza, also of the Washington Post, this week made comments along the same lines as Meyerson, noting some of the hard numbers that make the Republican party's future prospects look grim: "And if looking back is worrisome for GOP strategists, looking forward is downright frightening.

Of the nine states where the Hispanic population grew by 100 percent or more between 2000 and 2010, McCain won seven of them: Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina, South Dakota and Tennessee. That means that what had been reliably red states for decades are slowly — or not so slowly — seeing huge growth among what, for the moment, is a reliably Democratic constituency.

Add to that the fact that the four states with the country’s largest Hispanic population — California, Florida, New York and Texas — will account for 143 electoral votes for the next 10 years. That’s more than half of the electoral votes a candidate needs to be elected president. California and New York already are reliably Democratic, while Texas remains, for now, reliably Republican. Florida has been pivotal in the past three presidential elections and is likely to be again in 2012."

The Republican party can do a lot of things to rig the system in its favor. Disenfranchising minority voters. Gerrymandering legislative districts so that Democrats don't have a chance. Using the appalling Citizens United decision to pour enough corporate money into the system to buy every election. Busting public unions so that Democrats lose a traditional bastion of support.

But in the long run, a "whites only" club is not going to be able to control democracy in America.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Republicans to Immigrants: For Hate's Sake, I Spit My Last Breath at Thee

Republicans Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and David Vitter Lousiana want to change the Constitution. But they're not likely to tell you the real reason why. Rand and Vitter have proposed a constitutional amendment to get rid of birthright citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants.

From their press release: "Citizenship is a privilege, and only those who respect our immigration laws should be allowed to enjoy its benefits," said Sen. Paul. "This legislation makes it necessary that everyone follow the rules, and goes through same process to become a U.S. citizen.

Vitter and Paul do not believe that the 14th Amendment confers birthright citizenship to the children of illegal aliens, either by its language or intent. This resolution makes clear that under the 14th Amendment a person born in the United States to illegal aliens does not automatically gain citizenship."

Before I dive into the ulterior motives for this proposal, I want to make a few comments on the logic of the proposal itself, and the history of the Republican party's hatred of immigrants.

Point one: The Fourteenth Amendment begins, "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." To suggest that this language does not mean that everyone born in the United States is a citizen is the linguistic equivalent of suggesting that 2 + 2 = 5.

Point two: The press release suggests that a newborn with no say about where he or she is born might have failed in his or her duty to "respect our immigration laws."

Point three: The comments in the press release actually kill the argument that Paul and Vitter are making. If it's true, as they claim, that the language and intent of the Fourteenth Amendment do not confer citizenship on illegal immigrants born in the US, then all they need to do is to take their argument to the Supreme Court. By proposing an Amendment to overturn the Fourteenth Amendment, they're essentially admitting that their argument is wrong.

Republicans have been trying to redefine birthright citizenship for some years now. Paul and Vitter's proposal is, in fact, just a new spin on an old campaign. Consider this 2006 article written by Rand Paul's father Congressman Ron Paul, Rethinking Birthright Citizenship.

According to Ron Paul, if illegal immigrants couldn't count on having their children born in this country becoming citizens, they wouldn't sneak over the border and run up hospital bills at public expense, and then stay in this country and use other pubic services.

"Hospitals bear the costs when illegal immigrants enter the country for the express purpose of giving birth. But illegal immigrants also use emergency rooms, public roads, and public schools. In many cases they are able to obtain Medicaid, food stamps, public housing, and even unemployment benefits. Some have fraudulently collected Social Security benefits."

In reality, what illegal immigrants contribute to this country far exceeds what little they consume in public services. According to a recent study at the University of Southern California, the state's foreign-born residents are more likely than the native-born to have jobs, and they put more into the economy than they take out of it. The study also found, "that immigrants contribute 32 percent of California’s gross domestic product and 27 percent of total household income — the basis for the researchers’ conclusion that they give more to the economy than they get from it."

Another key conclusion from the study: illegal immigrants’ net contribution to California may be higher than that of legal immigrants, due to the fact that illegal immigrants usually accept lower wages and have less access to public services.

In other words, the reality of what illegal immigrants contribute to this country and what they receive in return are the exact opposite of what Ron Paul claims. Consider for example, the relationship between illegal immigrants and the social security system. In order to obtain work, illegal immigrants usually obtain fraudulent social security numbers. This means they pay social security taxes without any hope of later receiving benefits. Just how big is this contribution? In 2005, the Social Security Administration estimated that illegal immigrant workers in the United States were providing the system with a subsidy of as much as $7 billion a year.

So if illegal immigrants work hard, pay taxes and receive little in the way of public services, just why is it that Republicans hate them so much? Is it just pure prejudice against brown people? Well, not exactly. In my next post, I'll explain further.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Palin and the GOP: When the Sideshow Becomes the Show

Take a look at Jesse Jackson's campaign platform from 1984. Three decades later, it's still a great expression of progressive ideals. From public works programs, to creating single-payer health care, to reducing the military budget, Jackson's platform is more relevant and needed today than it was even during the Reagan years. Maybe if the Democratic Party had adopted some of Jackson's platform in 1984, they wouldn't have lost the election by 18 points.

I want to say some good things about Jesse, because unfortunately, I'm about to compare him to Sarah Palin.

I've heard it said that one of the problems with the 1984 Democratic campaign was that after Walter Mondale secured the nomination, Jesse Jackson continued to soak up so much media attention that if you didn't know better you'd think that Jackson was the nominee rather than Mondale.

Consider what that means. Here it is a Presidential election year, and the person who always seems to be the one speaking on behalf of the Party is someone who is not an elected officeholder, Party official or candidate. Jackson ignored his responsibility to step away from the microphone.

Today, I'm reminded of these lessons every time Sarah Palin starts spewing her latest nonsense. From the media coverage she gets, you would think that Palin is one of the most -if not the most- important person in the Republican Party, rather than someone who very briefly held public office and who now has a favorability rating of 33%.

Sarah Palin wants the spotlight and microphone, and the major media in the country is only too happy to oblige. The massive coverage of her hateful remarks following the tragic shootings in Tucson brought this into focus. As Russ Douthat of the New York Times noted,

"Palin decided that what the country really needed was for her to use the day set aside for mourning (assassin Jared) Loughner’s victims to make a speech complaining about her own victimization. (Or as she put it, rather more pungently, the “blood libel” being leveled by her critics.) Which, needless to say, gave the press exactly the excuse it needed to continue its wall-to-wall Palin coverage for another 48 hours."

"Palin, meanwhile, officially despises the “lamestream” media. But press coverage — good, bad, whatever — is clearly the oxygen she craves."

"To the media: Cover Sarah Palin if you want, but stop acting as if she’s the most important conservative politician in America. Stop pretending that she has a plausible path to the presidency in 2012. (She doesn’t.) Stop suggesting that she’s the front-runner for the Republican nomination. (She isn’t.)"

It also quite clear that many Republicans realize the damage that Palin is doing to their party. I thought Kaili Joy Gray of summarized the situation nicely,

"It isn't how many times her name is mentioned on cable news or in the columns of Very Serious People like (the Washington Post's Dana) Milbank. The problem is how those Very Serious People cover her every nonsensical utterance as if it were a legitimately debatable point within our political discourse, as if her accusation that the president wants to establish "death panels" to kill grandmothers is a valid counterpoint to healthcare reform...The problem is the media's addiction to false equivalence, to balance every point with a contrary one, regardless of its validity."

"It isn't surprising that many Republicans want the media to ignore her. Last week, former Bush speechwriter David Frum said "She should stop talking — now." William Kristol, who has been one of her staunchest supporters, was critical of how she has responded to the Tucson shooting, and advised her to instead "deal with things that are at a sort of presidential level.""

One more observation from 1984. There was a reason why Jesse Jackson managed to steal the limelight from Walter Mondale all the way to election day. Love him or hate him, the public found Jackson a lot more interesting than the actual Democratic nominee for President.

The Republican Party is going to have a similar problem in 2012, assuming that Palin is not going to get the Presidential nomination. In terms of the amount of interest the various potential Republican candidate are generating on the internet, Nate Silver of the New York Times notes, "Ms. Palin’s search traffic, since the start of 2010, is roughly 16 times that of Mitt Romney, 14 times that of Newt Gingrich, 38 times that of Mike Huckabee, and 87 times that of Mr. Pawlenty. (It is about six times greater than these other four candidates combined.)"

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Elect Democrats, Get Republican Government

I'm glancing through my copy of Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Krugman's book The Conscience of a Liberal. The paperback edition, published just as President Obama was about to take office in 2009, includes this optimistic observation:

"The old Democratic majority was a weak coalition of Northern liberals and southern conservatives. The new majority is much more solidly progressive, largely because it was achieved despite the disappearance of the Dixiecrats. Meanwhile, the Republican party, having taken over the South, has lost the rest of the country and has largely been reduced to a Southern rump... Indeed it's a good bet that the remaining non-Southern Republicans in Congress, especially in the Senate, will prove relatively accommodating out of fear for their own reelection prospects" (my emphasis).

Wow, early 2009 seems like such an innocent time now. Republicans prove accommodating? Dream on. The GOP quickly adopted a policy of total opposition and obstructionism. Politically, this policy was a big success. In the 2010 elections, Republican voters turned out in droves, while disillusioned Democrats stayed home. It's not that the country wasn't ready for progressive change, it's just that disappointment over the state of the economy and promises not kept meant that Democrats were not about to get a ringing endorsement in the midterms.

I've heard it said that even when the Republicans are out of power, they act like they're in power, and when the Democrats are in power, they act like they're out of power. During the last two years, the Republicans used the Senates cloture rules like a sledgehammer. The results speak for themselvesMore than 400 bills passed by the House were never taken up by the Senate. Nearly one out of every nine federal judgeships remain vacant. Dozens of Presidential nominees have been held up in the Senate, even though there are no substantive objections to most of them. A single Senator – Richard Shelby (R-AL) – was able to hold up 70 Presidential nominees, including the top intelligence officers at the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, because he was upset about possible elimination of some pork barrel spending in his state.

I had originally outlined this post as a report card on two years of government by President Obama and the Democratic Congress. But again, it's the Republicans who have defined everything that's happened in the last two years. How can the President worry about immigration reform and climate change legislation, when thanks to Republicans he's just inherited the worst economy since the Great Depression, two failed wars, the largest budget deficit ever, and the imminent collapse of America's banking and automobile industries? Combine all this with a Republican congressional caucus dedicated to seeing that none of these problems actually get solved, and it's a miracle the country survived. Mr. President, Senator Reid, Speaker Pelosi, thank you.