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Tuesday, December 07, 2004

No Guts, No Glory

Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) gives a rundown of what the final conference agreement stripped out of the Intellgence Reform Bill:

"Like all Americans, we are pleased that there is a plan in place to reform our intelligence system that failed to see many of the warning signs of an impending attack, and failed to act on information that was gathered," commented Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. "But, unfortunately, the final version of the 9/11 reform bill deliberately failed to close the holes in our immigration laws and enforcement policies that were specifically cited by the Commission as posing an ongoing threat to the security of our nation. In the end, special interest politics trumped homeland security....There is overwhelming public support for all of the immigration reforms that were approved by the House, but gutted by the conference committee.

Although the bill ostensibly calls for increases in border patrol agents, ICE investigators and detention bed space, these are "subject to appropriations" which means that there is no guarantee that money will be made available to implement them. Once again, allows everyone (especially Republicans like Sensenbrenner) to look like they're really doing something when they're actually doing shit.


Monday, December 06, 2004

Taking Back the South, Pt. 3. - What Would a Progressive Immigration Policy Look Like?

The Bush Administration’s policy on immigration has been, to no one’s surprise, designed to facilitate the erosion of worker’s rights, the exploitation of illegal immigrants, the further flow of money from the bottom to the top and the destruction of the middle class. Democrats have been slow to define themselves on this front, in large part because immigration policy pits core values of the Democratic Party against each other – looking out for the rights of minorities and oppressed peoples vs. the protection of jobs and worker’s rights. The Kerry/Edwards campaign barely addressed the subject, yet polls show Americans clamoring for immigration reform.

How do we as Democrats define a progressive policy that balances the needs of a variety of social concerns? This is where practical needs and ideologies clash. This diary has far more questions than answers. The subject demands a whole lot of creative thinking, not sidestepping, so PLEASE CONTRIBUTE YOUR IDEAS!!!!

When I began this series of diaries on “Taking Back the South” and lead off with immigration reform, I was prepared for the inevitable accusations of “racism,” “jingoism” and “anti-immigration” that inevitably keep people from bringing it up in the first place. I am happy to report that for the most part this has not been the case, and I have been delighted with the thought provoking comments that the Kossacks have offered. Before I go any further, let me assure everyone that I am not “anti-immigration.” I believe strongly in the need for immigrant voices to contribute to the cultural dialog in a country that tends to forget that the rest of the world even exists, except as a nemesis.

One of my heroes is Sorious Samura, the African journalist who risked his life to remain in Sierra Leone after most journalists had fled the country in January of 1999. The footage he brought back showing the acts of violence committed by rebel soldiers and the Nigerian led so-called “peace keepers” was considered “too shocking” by the major networks, who refused to run it. When he won an award in London later that year for his work (which was finally broadcast on CNN), he looked down on the assembled brass from ABC, NBC, the BBC, etc, and said “Where were you when my country was on its knees?” Holding up his award, he said: “You see this? You can keep it if it means that you will start to tell the story of Africa properly.” (Brokaw managed to skip this one on his way out the door. Much easier to roll around in all that cushy “greatest generation” crap.)

In short, if we expect the media to advocate for the rest of the world in the American discourse, we will be sadly disappointed. I believe we need a progressive immigration policy that assures that these voices will steadily flow into the culture, and the present system most assuredly does not do that. What follows are talking points for what I hope will be an ongoing discussion about the sticky questions that revolve around the immigration issue, something I think about a lot and do not have any firm answers for. The list has grown so long I am going to divide it up over the course of several days, so PLEASE BOOKMARK THIS DIARY AND COME BACK AND PUT IN YOUR TWO CENTS!

. When it comes to immigration, one of the fundamental questions is how much is enough, and how much is too much? FAIR is an environmental group formed in 1979 to promote immigration reform into the management of population growth in the US. They quote Census Bureau figures that project the US population at current growth rates to be 404 million people in 2050 (116 more than our current population). The high scenario is 520 million people. FAIR and others believe this pits current immigration policy squarely against the interests of environmentalism:

Since 1970, our population has grown by over 85 million people. Over half of our current high rate of population growth is due to new immigration and the children born to immigrants here. More people means more demands for resources, more pollution, more energy use, and more waste. More land is required for agriculture, causing deforestation and soil erosion. More homes, factories, and roads must be built, destroying habitat for other species. If our population continues to grow, we won't reach any of our environmental goals. Our best efforts to conserve water and energy, reduce pollution, control sprawl, and preserve green spaces will continue to be overwhelmed by population growth.

Current US policy effectively adds one million legal and 700,000 illegal immigrants per year to the population according to SUSPS, or “Support US Population Stabilization,” a group of disgruntled Sierra Club members who thought the Club weenied out to the forces of “political correctness” in 1996 when they removed limiting immigration from their agenda to achieve zero population growth. SUSPS advocates balancing immigration with emigration (approx. 200,000 people annually). They, and others, claim that birth rates first dropped to replacement level in 1972; therefore current levels of population growth are the result of immigration policy. “Environmentalists need not apologize for acknowledging this demographic reality,” they state. “To the contrary, environmentalists who refuse to recognize the seismic shift of demographics in the U.S. betray their own cause.”

Most environmentally-based organizations focus on the elimination of illegal immigration and chain migration. For the purposes of discussion, I've included FAIR's recommendations for legal immigration regulation reform:

. Move from a system of expansive “chain migration” to one of discrete “nuclear family” migration.
. Eliminate the immigration categories for siblings and adult sons/daughters.
. Support an enforceable cap on overall annual immigration of about 200,000.
. Deduct the immediate relatives of an immigrant in the year the primary immigrant enters.
. Admissions under any special, new, or temporary programs (such as amnesties, paroles, or lotteries) should count toward the overall cap, and other admissions should be reduced accordingly.
. Enact a blanket moratorium on future immigration (other than spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens) in order to eliminate the backlog and to get a fresh start.
. Explain these ground rules clearly to the primary immigrant before he/she enters the U.S.

So the floor is open. How open should our boarders be? What are our responsibilities to include the voices of all cultures, and how should they be balanced with the needs for population control and environmentalism? I frankly don't know. But I hope there is enough fodder in the above to fuel a thoughtful discussion.

In the coming days I'll try to deal with the problem of the H1-B and L1 visa programs which several people have made reference to, which are creating such havoc in the tech world, as well as the neo-fascist underpinnings of Bush's proposed “guest worker” program.

Other posts in this series:

Taking Back the South Pt. 1 - Welcome to Flea Country"
Taking Back the South Pt. 2 - Bring Me the Head of David Dreier
Taking Back the South Pt. 4 - Immigration and "Democratic Values"


Sunday, December 05, 2004

Taking Back the South Pt. 2 – “Bring Me The Head of David Dreier”

It was supposed to be so easy. Republican David Dreier, the 24-year Los Angeles area Congressman who chairs the powerful House Rules committee, was guaranteed a virtual walk in the park for the 2004 election. He had high visibility, powerful friends in both Governor Schwarzenegger and George Bush, and a congressional district drawn to reassure the election of Republicans.

His Democratic opponent: environmental safety worker, lesbian and political novice Cynthia Matthews. Dreier didn’t even bother to campaign. That is, until he saw the results of an October 6 poll. In a mad last-minute scramble, Dreier had to pull out all the stops – calling on his buddy Arnold and spending a reported one million dollars – to defeat an opponent whose total war chest amounted to $31,000, and who did not even have the backing of the State Democratic Party.

It was the first major shot fired across the Republican bow in the nascent war over immigration policy.

From an anti-Dreier web site:

Just so you know the impact you have had on the lives of people, here is an example: I received an e-mail from a guy who said he was living the "American Dream." He FORMERLY lived in District 26, but lost his home several years ago. When you rammed NAFTA down our throats, the Company for which he worked moved South of the border and opened up shop. They did offer him a job down there, but not at a livable wage. You did his company a favor, but hurt him and his 3 children….Then he took a job with a printer at a reduced salary. While his life style changed, at least he could pay his bills... that is until an illegal alien was trained to do his printing job and he was booted out because the Illegal would work for less money. So... you let his company move out of the country, which cost American jobs, and then you let illegal aliens move in to take the remaining jobs. HOW DO YOU LIVE WITH YOURSELF???

Pretty liberal notions on worker's rights taking root in an otherwise right-wing tomb. It is typical of the rhetoric surrounding the campaign, which received a shot in the arm when two local conservative AM talk radio DJs, John Kobylt and Ken Champiou of KFI Radio's “John and Ken” show decided to take up Matthews' cause. They devoted hours of airtime to venting public rage over Dreier's voting record.

The story gets even funnier when Dreier filed an FCC complaint against John and Ken's employer Clear Channel (yes, Clear Channel…hah!) for engaging in “illegal corporate coordination by promoting Cynthia Matthews' congressional campaign.” The two hosts countered that no Republicans complained when the two spent hours of airtime promoting the recall of Gray Davis (Dreier was co-chairman of Schwarzenegger's campaign.) "It's really massive hypocrisy”, Kobylt said. “Republicans have gotten a good ride with talk radio; then one show goes after one Republican, and suddenly they want to shut us up? "

Despite inexperience, lack of political party backing and woeful under funding, Matthews came away with 43% of the vote to Dreier's 55%, down from the 64% he received in 2002. It is a race noteworthy not only for the sublime irony of two gay candidates running for election in an overwhelmingly Republican district, but also for the price Dreier almost paid for his allegiance to George Bush. California is in the midst of a massive budgetary crisis. Its major cities are struggling to deal with the problems of overpopulation, traffic, school overcrowding, pollution and rising housing costs. A recent study by FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, estimated the annual costs to California taxpayers for undocumented aliens to be $10.1 billion per year, or $1,183 per household headed by a native-born resident. The study goes on to note that “The total costs of illegal immigration to the state's taxpayers would be considerably higher if other cost areas such as special English instruction, school feeding programs, or welfare benefits for American workers displaced by illegal alien workers were added into the equation.”

My point? It's only a matter of time until somebody taps into the latent rage brewing over the situation. Matthews' campaign, though laudable, was small time and run by amateurs, and yet she gave Dreier a run for his money on this one issue alone. It's only a matter of time before somebody with some political savvy and a bankroll comes along and decides to launch a real assault in the California political quagmire. And god help us all if that person is some wingnut. While the scope of this diary is the discussion of the development of a political strategy for retaking the South, it is worth taking a moment to send up a cautionary flare for the state of California that we depend on for its 55 electoral college votes in every Presidential election.

To throw more gas on the California flames (oh, while we're on it, let's go for it….) Right now, the City Council and LA County Sheriff Lee Baca are engaged in a pissing contest with the Department of Homeland Security over how they're going to deal with the 170,000 prisoners who pass through the system each year. Baca estimates that roughly 25% (45,000) are illegal aliens (that percentage seems to be echoed nationwide). However, they only have the manpower to interview about 10% of those prisoners to determine their country of origin so they can be subject to deportation. Right now they're being released into the general population when their prison terms end, and many wind up with return visits. The cost to taxpayers is estimated at $31,000 per year per inmate, yet Baca and the city council are getting guff for wanting to hire 6 more employees to carry out interviews. Building and running prisons in America is big business. Somebody's getting rich off this shit. And when someone with a little political acumen decides to make political hay out of the situation, it could be open season in California.

In order to appease their constituents, the Republican Congress has passed various pieces of legislation designed to “get tough on immigration” and “close our boarders.” They are largely symbolic, toothless and under funded, little more than palliatives, and they fool almost nobody. The proof is in their rank ineffectiveness. (To be covered in greater detail in follow-up blog.)

One major Democrat who has some passing familiarity at blowing with the winds of change in public opinion, and who seems to be quietly building momentum on this front, comes from that savvy Clinton family -- first name Hillary. In a February 2003 interview, she told WABC Radio's John Gambling, "I am, you know, adamantly against illegal immigrants. Clearly, we have to make some tough decisions as a country. And one of them ought to be coming up with a much better entry and exit system so that if we're going to let people in for the work that otherwise would not be done, let's have a system that keeps track of them." She has also been highly critical of business owners who employ illegal immigrants as well as Bush's guest-worker program, and in a move that sounds like something out of a South Park movie, blasted Canada for being lax on border issues. (Yes, children, it's Canada's fault.)

Hillary's increasing outspokenness on immigration is interesting for the political flux it creates. Newsmax asks “Could a campaign that calls for a crackdown on illegal aliens be the political magic bullet that catapults the former first lady back into the White House?” It then goes on to quote one diehard Bush supporter, who said he can't stand the Clintons: "If she ran on a platform of promising to do something about illegal immigration, hell, even I'd vote for her." The sentiment is echoed elsewhere. As one of the anti-Dreier blogs notes, “I am going to laugh my ass off if the GOP is stupid enough to continue this open borders nonsense and allow Hillary and the Dems to run wild with the immigration issue and terrorism. That would be poetic.”

Such a platform might be risky on a national front, but on a regional front it makes more sense. Particularly in the border states where the issue naturally looms large, but also in the Southern states, where perception of the problem probably outweighs the actual burden on the resources of the region. Part of the problem with getting Southern voters to take the cotton out of their ears and actually listen to the Democratic message is because the Republicans have done such a damn swell job of identifying their party with the so-called “values” of the region. It's created a close-minded, knee-jerk, autonomic response to any message from the Democrats as being Northern, effete, snobbish, superior and (shudder) “Liberal.”

You can argue with me if you want, but I have grown up with the firm belief that the South is forever re-fighting the civil war. And all the crowing that followed the post-2004 election sounded to my ears like sheer glee over the fact that this time they won. John Kerry looked to them like nothing so much as a postwar Northern carpetbagger, and that perception was not helped by the fact that he did not bother to campaign in the South. (Don't get me wrong, I think Kerry is a very good man and I voted for him, but we're talking about perceptions here.) Before the rigid ideological framework that dominates the Southern construct of “Democrat” can be changed, it's got to be fundamentally challenged in a very emotional and hard-hitting way. Think sledge hammer.

A Democrat running with an immigration reform message breaks down the predictable political equation. It destroys what people think they know about the clearly delineated lines between Democrats and Republicans. My favorite moment of conceptual breakdown in the last election (and I include this mostly for my own amusement):

October 26, 2004: State and national Republican leaders are blaming each other for a flier blasting Democratic Representative Jim Matheson for his support of an undocumented-immigrant Illegal Alien tuition bill. The problem is the legislation was sponsored by Utah Republicans, Senator Orrin Hatch and Representative Chris Cannon. Party leaders sent out the flier even after realizing the problem with its content. Utah Republicans say the fliers were printed and researched by the National Republican Congressional Committee, and arrived at their headquarters several weeks ago. But a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee says they had nothing to do with the ad, and it was crafted by the state party. Matheson is facing Republican John Swallow in his re-election bid...(from

I don’t know about you, but the specter of Republicans cannibalizing each other like this just fills my heart with joy.

Other posts in this series:

Taking Back the South Pt. 1 - Welcome to Flea Country"
Taking Back the South Pt. 3 - What Would a Progressive Immigration Policy Look Like?"
Taking Back the South Pt. 4 - Immigration and "Democratic Values"


Saturday, December 04, 2004

Taking Back the South Pt. 1 – “Welcome to Flea Country”

Although I currently live in a blue state, I come from a long line of inbred Southern rednecks. My family tree looks more like a Mobius strip. And let me tell you, there is nothing like a good dose of racism, cognitive dissonance, Rush Limbaugh and the flurry of gunfire over Thanksgiving dinner to make one ponder the wisdom of Lincoln’s decision not to let the South secede in the first place.

Alas, the damage is done. We are stuck with them. And while his choice of imagery was perhaps unfortunate, I applauded Howard Dean when he had the guts to say he wanted the vote of the guy with the Confederate Flag on his truck. I would like to open up a dialog that looks at key results from various states in the last election and examines them in the light of how they can influence Democratic policy change, specifically regarding the problem of the South in future elections. It’s just not good enough to wait for a national election to roll around and watch the wingnuts jump up and bite us in the collective political ass every four years. State party leaders are banding together and begging the DNC for help on the local front. And I would like to offer this diary to spark discussion on how we can begin to approach the South on a local level and wrest control from the religious right without selling out the values of the party.

Driving into Springfield, a small town of 14,000 in middle Tennessee, one of the first sights you see is a large corrugated iron building with the banner “Welcome to Flea Country” painted on it. In an attempt to capitalize on the national craze for flea market items, it is a classic example of how a good idea can go suddenly, horribly wrong in the South. People from the Blue States have a hard time comprehending the seemingly willful ignorance of these neighbors. Conventional wisdom has it that Southerners get their misinformation from Fox News. They don’t. Primarily, they get their information from each other. “Well, Myrtle told me down at the Piggly-Wiggly…” continues to carry far more weight than any learned text you would like to invoke.

I had the unique opportunity to be in Springfield staying with family when 9/11 happened. It was a profoundly surreal experience. By noon the local TV news was calling for the roundup of all people of Middle Eastern descent for detainment in concentration camps. My cousins were all very glad that they had been stockpiling tens of thousands of dollars of ammunition for years with which to defend themselves against the Illuminati and the Trilateral Commission, which could now be put to good use against invading Afghan armies.

“You’re joking, right?” I said. “They fight with rags on their feet. Look at the TV. Rags on their feet. They’re the poorest country in the world. How on earth are they going to get the technology to airlift themselves to the US? And even if they could, why the hell would they drop themselves in the middle of Robertson County, Tennessee?” All protestations fell on deaf ears. One Middle Easterner was the same as another, and somebody over there had oil money. It’s all they knew and all they wanted to know. It is no shock that, for the most part, they continue to believe in a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Quaida. They are unteachable.

They are not, however, unreasonable. Okay – not wholly unreasonable anyway. They can always be counted on to act in their own perceived self-interest. Take, for instance, my cousin Ronald. Now Ronald is a big hunter. Politically, he stands just to the right of Attila the Hun. He is a veritable fountain of “queer” jokes. But if you asked him, “hey Ronald, would you rather eliminate gay marriage or have this 50 bucks?” Ronald would take the fifty bucks. Hands down.

How does this translate into policy you ask? Well, the trouble lies in convincing Ronald that he will actually wind up with the fifty bucks. If you start to drone on about tax deductions – too abstract. Doesn’t really understand them. Higher minimum wage – not his problem. Social Security – he’s 35. He’ll worry about that when the time comes. Keeping foreigners, both legal and illegal, from coming into the country and doing his job for less – now you’ve got his attention.

Southerners are often accused of voting against their own economic interests, much to the frustration of Democrats wonder why a largely working class population turn their collective noses up at the party who promotes the rights of labor. I believe this occurs in large part because they do not like traditional Democratic rhetoric on the subject; without using the dreaded “f” word (framing), they construe it as anti-American and negative. Further, they are inherently suspicious of unions or anyone talking to them about worker’s rights (communists). But there is a keen and growing concern in the South that the government is deliberately letting foreign workers into the country whose willingness to work for less is deteriorating their working conditions and threatening their jobs, the economy, the environment, and their standard of living. Not to mention compromising national security. And there is an egregious leadership vacuum on this issue that neither party has been willing, for various reasons, to step in and fill.

I argue that stepping into this vacuum and taking the leadership reigns offers the Democrats the opportunity to shape the debate, to throw it in the faces of the Republicans who are largely responsible for the abuses inherent in the current system, and to use it as a deeply resonant and emotional wedge issue that can help the Democratic party to wrest control of the South from the hands of the religious right. I strongly believe that there is not only increasingly strong public sentiment around this issue, but also a growing grassroots movement that is comprised quite curiously of both members of the left and right that will create its own leadership to broker its political clout if the Democrats do not step in and fill the void.

In future installments, I hope to examine the following issues as they relate to the topic at hand:

. The recent near-defeat of Republican David Dreier at the hands of immigration reform activists in California, with no help from the Democratic Party
. The surprising win of Democrat Brian Schweitzer in the Montana gubernatorial race, and his ability to appeal to Republican voters while retaining a Democratic populist voice
. The success of Arizona’s Proposition 200 despite opposition from both parties, and its aftermath
. The push for immigration reform initiatives in numerous states in the 2006 elections by groups who feel they have no voice in Congress
. The woeful records of powerful Republicans who repeatedly vote in favor of supplying cheap foreign labor to big business at the expense of American workers, the exorbitant weight of the consequential “externalized” costs on the American taxpayer, and the potential vulnerability of these candidates on a state-by-state level in the 2006 election
. The potential catastrophic impact of George Bush’s “guest worker” program and how it can be utilized against powerful Republicans who support him, appealing to both patriotic and populist instincts of the Southern voter
. The remarkable proclivity of the right-wing media to devour their own over this issue (“Savage Nation” and others), and the potential for inciting political mayhem within the Republican party
. The fallacy of the notion that assuming a leadership role on immigration reform will alienate the Hispanic vote, and
. The need to shape the dialog so as not to let the tremendous groundswell of popular concern around this issue be seized and manipulated by racist wingnuts, further consolidating the power of the right.

I hope this topic provides a lot of lively and constructive debate, so please contribute your thoughts. I like to think of it as inviting everyone to share in my annual family Thanksgiving brawl.

Other posts in this series:

Taking Back the South Pt. 2 - Bring Me the Head of David Dreier
Taking Back the South Pt. 3 - What Would a Progressive Immigration Policy Look Like?"
Taking Back the South Pt. 4 - Immigration and "Democratic Values"