Things looked up for immigration reform in January when a bipartisan group of eight senators announced the groundwork for a deal on immigration reform that would provide “a tough but fair path to citizenship” for the 11 mln undocumented immigrants living in the US and enable them to work legally in the US. That is a popular move, as a Gallup Poll (2/5) showed that 72% of all respondents (and 59% of Republicans) support allowing undocumented immigrants living in the US to become legal residents or citizens if they meet certain requirements. But it didn’t take long before the immigration deal began to break up when challenged by the hard right Republican base, which objects to anything that looks like amnesty for those who snuck into the country, no matter how many years they have worked and raised families in this country.
House Republicans are advancing a so-called “compromise” that would provide visas for individuals and families who entered the country unlawfully, which would allow them to live and work in the country but bar them from attaining citizenship.
Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), a key player in the House negotiations on immigration reform, has come out against a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented immigrants, echoing a growing consensus among conservative Republicans that would keep the unauthorized immigrants in a permanent underclass. Labrador’s position is in stark contrast to the framework put forward by a bipartisan group of Senators and President Obama — which would allow the unauthorized to earn citizenship. “The people that came here illegally knowingly — I don’t think they should have a path to citizenship,” Labrador said during an interview with NPR (2/7). “If you knowingly violated our law, you violated our sovereignty, I think we should normalize your status but we should not give you a pathway to citizenship.”
The Washington Post warned (2/6) that the House Republican approach would lead a “permanent underclass of workers.” That hurts when Republican leaders are trying to promote Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) as a Latino spokesman. Rubio, a freshman senator promoted by teabaggers, was picked to deliver the GOP’s State of the Union response (2/12), but the son of Cuban immigrants has little in common with the 31 mln Mexican Americans whose cousins don’t get a green card just by showing up in Laredo, like Cubans do if they make it to Miami. (And Texas Latinos weren’t fooled by Ted Cruz, the new Texas senator who is another Cuban American who was promoted by the tea party and toes the right-wing line. Cruz got 35% of the Texas Latino vote in his Senate race while Mitt Romney got 29% in Texas, according to a Latino Decisions poll.)
Adding to the discord, the House Republican Conference’s new “GOP en Español” initiative to distribute Spanish translations of Republican State of the Union reactions proved to be the last straw for some factions of the party. Reps. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), who have sponsored “English-only” legislation to make English the official language of the US, have stalled the launch of GOP en Español. In an interview with the National Journal, King explained:
“There’s a conflicting message that comes out from the Republicans if we want to recognize the unifying power of English, and meanwhile, we send out communications in multiple languages. Official business and documents needs to be in English.” [...] He says that English is “empowering and unifying” and that the GOP en Español program “sends a subliminal message in contradiction.”
The Arizona House is planning to take up an “English only” bill that would ban state agencies from mailing out information in any language other than English. HB 2283, cleared (2/6) by the House Government Committee, would essentially cut off Arizona’s substantial Spanish-speaking population from government services, including Medicaid and Social Security. As of 2010, 9.9% of Arizona residents had limited English proficiency.
NATURALIZATION HELPS EVERYBODY. A move to naturalize undocumented immigrants would help the economy, Philip E. Wolgin, an immigration policy analyst at the Center for American Progress wrote at AmericanProgress.org (1/10). A December 2012 study by Manuel Pastor and Justin Scoggins of the University of Southern California found that a path to citizenship leads to higher wages for naturalized immigrants both immediately and over the long term. Naturalized immigrants earn between 5.6% and 7.2% more within two years of becoming a citizen, and peak at between 10.1% and 13.5% higher wages 12 years to 17 years from the time of naturalization. Higher wages means more consumer spending, and more spending means more growth for the overall economy. Pastor and Scoggins also found that even if only half of those eligible to become citizens do so, it would add $21 bln to $45 bln to the US economy over 10 years.
Those extra wages also help native Americans, Wolgin noted, as the money is spent on things such as houses, cars, iPads, computers and the like, and as people buy more products, businesses see more revenue and are more willing to hire new workers. “Put simply, more money in the system creates economic growth and supports new job creation for all Americans,” he wrote.
We note that some unscrupulous businesses prefer to hire undocumented immigrants who can be intimidated if they seek higher wages or better working conditions, and the pool of 11 mln undocumented workers helps to keep wages down for documented workers, which is one reason that mainstream business groups have resisted immigration reform in the past, but Wolgin notes that naturalization sends a signal to employers that their workers are fully committed to life in the United States, while also giving immigrants the certainty that they will never have to worry about suddenly uprooting their lives and moving elsewhere.
Ezra Klein noted at WashingtonPost.com (1/31) that allowing immigrants to use social services that their taxes pay for results in a net positive for the US Treasury. A Congressional Budget Office analysis in 2007 found that legalizing undocumented immigrants would increase federal revenue by $48 bln while costing $23 bln in increased public services — “and that’s before accounting for the broader economic benefits of immigration,” Klein noted.
“There are few free lunches in public policy. But taking advantage of our unique position as a country where the world’s best, brightest and hardest-working desperately want to live is surely one,” Klein said. “In the end, economies aren’t mainly about budgets and tax codes, though Congress occasionally pretends otherwise. They’re about workers and business owners. Immigration reform is a way to get more of both.”
This year, union leaders agree with the Chamber of Commerce on the need to enact a way for the undocumented immigrants to gain citizenship but they are working on an accord on a critical issue — the number of “guest workers” allowed into the country on a temporary basis — that has divided business and labor for years, Steven Greenhouse noted in the New York Times (2/7).
Labor unions have urged business to embrace a plan pushed by Ray Marshall, labor secretary under President Jimmy Carter. Marshall suggests creating a commission of experts who would use economic data to determine, for instance, whether 20,000 or 40,000 immigrants should be granted provisional visas to do seasonal work nationwide at shellfish plants, restaurants or apple orchards.
“Instead of a system that works at the whim of any employer, it will be a data-driven system,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. Under the current system, he noted, employers have applied repeatedly for new batches of guest workers. A data-driven system would ensure an adequate flow of immigrants to help employers meet seasonal needs, he said.
The Chamber of Commerce opposes the commission because it would not be able to determine shortages in a timely manner, but Angelo Amador, vice president for labor policy at the National Restaurant Association, said he was optimistic about reaching an agreement on guest workers. “The pressure on both sides is great. If we don’t come up with something, someone else is going to be drafted by other people.”
Eliseo Medina, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union, said labor unions were making a huge push for immigration changes. “If we are going to make conditions better for all workers, we need to make sure that undocumented workers have the same rights as everybody else,” he told Greenhouse. “Otherwise, they’ll be used to lower labor standards.”
MOVE TO OVERTURN ‘CITIZENS UNITED’. Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minn.) introduced a constitutional amendment designed to overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in the Citizens United case that lifted many restrictions on corporate spending in political elections. Nolan and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) unveiled the proposal along with members of Move to Amend (MoveToAmend.org), a grassroots coalition that has been seeking support on the local level in communities for such an amendment. The resolution states in Section 1, “The rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons only,” and artificial entities are subject to regulation by the People through federal, state or local law.
Section 2 clarifies that money is not free speech, stating, “Federal, State, and local government shall regulate, limit, or prohibit contributions and expenditures, including a candidate’s own contributions and expenditures, to ensure that all citizens, regardless of their economic status, have access to the political process, and that no person gains, as a result of their money, substantially more access or ability to influence in any way the election of any candidate for public office or any ballot measure.
“Federal, State, and local government shall require that any permissible contributions and expenditures be publicly disclosed.
“The judiciary shall not construe the spending of money to influence elections to be speech under the First Amendment.”
Six other constitutional amendments were proposed in 2011 to address the Citizens United decision, corporate speech and/or corporate personhood. Sponsors include Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) with SJR 33 and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) with companion HJR 90 backed by Public Citizen; Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) with SJR 29 backed by People For the American Way; Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) with HJR 88 backed by Free Speech for People; Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) with HJR 78 also backed by Free Speech for People; and Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) with HJR 72. None of them advanced.
To change the Constitution, an amendment needs approval of two-thirds of both chambers of Congress and ratification by legislatures of three-fourths of the states.
D.C. CIRCUIT LOSES FOURTH JUDGE. The US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit lost another judge (2/12), bringing a fourth vacany to the 11-member court as Judge David Sentelle, appointed by President Reagan in 1987 and the chief judge since 2008, took senior status. The D.C. appeals court is often considered the second most important court, after the Supreme Court, as it is often responsible for cases involving separation of powers, the role of government, the rights of federal officials and the decisions of administrative agencies.
Ian Milhiser noted at ThinkProgress.org that Sentelle is among the most ideological judges in the country. In April 2012, Sentelle joined an opinion suggesting that all labor, business or Wall Street regulation is constitutionally suspect. Sentelle wrote the controversial opinion (1/25) that struck down President Obama’s appointment of three members to the National Labor Relations Board during the winter 2012 congressional recess. Overturning more than a century of accepted procedure, the three-judge panel concluded that only breaks between congressional sessions, and not during sessions, can be considered a “recess” for the purpose of placing a recess appointment.
“If President Obama’s reelection accomplishes nothing more than allowing Sentelle’s retrograde vision of the Constitution to fade from the federal bench, then Obama will do more to preserve and protect the Constitution than many presidents can hope to accomplish in two terms,” Milhiser noted. If Democrats can get his nominees approved by the Senate, the current 5-3 Republican majority on the court could change to a 7-4 incubator for progressive legal thought.
However, Republicans have blocked two nominees to the court. “With four out of eleven judgeships open, the D.C. Circuit will be further crippled and divided,” said Caroline Fredrickson, president of the American Constitutional Society. “The Senate must make filling these vacancies a priority. Doing so could go a long way to restoring the ability of the federal government to respond to health, safety and other vital concerns that impact every American.”
MOVE TO LEGALIZE MARIJUANA. In 1973, Oregon became the first state in the country to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Within five years, eight other states had followed, but momentum soon lagged, and then reversed in the Reagan era. Lately, however, it’s beginning to feel like the ’70s again, with numerous polls showing a majority of Americans in favor of legalizing marijuana and recent referenda in Colorado and Washington starting to do just that.
Earl Blumenauer voted on that first decriminalization bill 40 years ago in Oregon — as a “child legislator,” he jokes — and now that he’s in Congress, the Democrat thinks we’re approaching a moment where things are about to speed up very quickly for drug policy reform advocates.
Blumenauer, along with Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), introduced legislation in February to make the federal government treat cannabis like alcohol and let states decide whether to keep it illegal. And they think they have a real chance of getting somewhere this time.
On top of his and Polis’ bills (which tax marijuana and end the federal prohibition on it, respectively), he said he anticipates “about a dozen” different pieces of legislation dealing with drug policy reform moving forward. With “a number of folks” already working together in an informal working group, he explained, “We’ve got more people working more systematically.” He declined to elaborate on other members, saying they would be making public statements in the coming months.
More modest goals include ending the federal prohibition on industrial hemp production (it’s legal to make things out of hemp, but illegal to grow it, so the fiber has to be imported), and changing the federal government’s classification of marijuana as more dangerous than cocaine or meth.
The long-term goal, however, is to get the federal government to end the prohibition on marijuana and leave it to states to regulate the drug, just as Congress did when the prohibition on alcohol ended, something that two-thirds of Americans seem to support. “I honestly think that in their heart of hearts, most members of Congress would support that,” Blumenauer said. (Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon.com, 2/8)
BAD FAITH BEHIND BENGHAZI INQUIRIES. Juan Cole, a professor of Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan and a respected observer of the Islamic world, shared Hillary Clinton’s frustration at the bad faith and conspiracy theories that underlaid much of the questioning at the Senate’s hearing on Benghazi. “Republican senators keep saying that it should have been ‘easy’ to find out what happened on September 11, 2012, by simply debriefing US personnel who had been there,” Cole noted at JuanCole.com (1/24). “John McCain, Ron Johnson and the others who make this charge are the most cynical and manipulative people in the world. The Benghazi US mission was very clearly an operation of the Central Intelligence Agency, and that is the reason that the Obama administration officials have never been able to speak frankly and publicly about it. McCain and the others know this very well, and they know that their public carping cannot be ‘simply’ answered because the answers would endanger sources and methods. The consulate was amazingly well-guarded by some 40 CIA operatives, many of them ex-special forces, in a nearby safe house. These were viewed by consular officials as ‘the cavalry.’ It is still not clear what Ambassador Chris Stevens and the CIA were doing in Benghazi, and unless we know that we can’t know why they were attacked.”
Cole, who visited Benghazi after the Libyan elections in May, also noted that, far from bolstering US security, the Republican hearings in the House disgracefully revealed the names of Libyans talking to the US consulate, endangering their lives and harming US efforts to understand the situation in the country, “since who would risk talking to the embassy if they know about Darrell Issa’s big mouth?” (The House hearings also inadvertently disclosed that the consulate annex was a CIA station.)
For the entire “Top Ten Republican Myths on Benghazi that Justify Hillary Clinton’s Anger,” see JuanCole.com (1/24).
Far from Benghazi being the first attack on an embassy or consulate since 9/11, as some right-wing commentators alleged, at least 13 US embassies or consulates were attacked under George W. Bush after 9/11, resulting in the deaths of at least 70 people, according to News International of Karachi, Pakistan (9/18/12). And then, of course, when it comes to intelligence lapses, the key members of the Bush Administration, including Bush himself, failed to pay attention to repeated warnings before 9/11 that al Qaeda was determined to attack sites in the US.
NO DRONES OVER C’VILLE. The City Council of Charlottesville, Va., passed what is believed to be the first anti-drone resolution in the country (2/4). Noting that the rapid implementation of drone technology “poses a serious threat to the privacy and constitutional rights of the American people,” the resolution endorsed a two-year moratorium on drones in the state of Virginia and calls on Congress and the state legislature to pass laws prohibiting information obtained from the domestic use of drones from being introduced into a federal or state court, and precluding the domestic use of drones equipped with anti-personnel weapons.
SANDERS BILL CURBS CORPORATE TAX GIVEAWAYS. Corporations offshoring profits cost both the federal government and states billions of dollars per year. One of the more egregious giveaways is known as “deferral,” which allows US corporations to avoid paying taxes on overseas profits until they bring that money back to the US, giving them every incentive to leave it overseas permanently.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is introducing a bill today that would end this practice and close several other corporate tax loopholes. Under this legislation, corporations would pay US taxes on their offshore profits as they are earned. This legislation takes away the tax incentives for corporations to move jobs offshore or to shift profits offshore because the US would tax their profits no matter where they are generated.
Under the Corporate Tax Fairness Act, US corporations would continue to get a credit against their US taxes for foreign taxes they pay. That means that when an American corporation has profits in a country with lower corporate taxes than the US, they would pay the federal government the difference between the foreign rate and the US rate. When an American corporation has profits in a country with higher corporate taxes than the US, they would pay nothing to the US.
According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, “the provisions in this bill will raise more than $590 billion in revenue over the next decade.”
Due to the proliferation of loopholes, credits, and the use of tax havens, major corporations haven’t paid the full statutory tax rate in 45 years. In 2011, the 12.1% effective rate that corporations paid was the lowest in 40 years. (Pat Garofalo, ThinkProgress.org, 2/7)
SLOWER GROWTH IN HEALTH COSTS NARROWS DEFICIT. A sharp and surprisingly persistent slowdown in the growth of health care costs is helping to narrow the federal deficit, leaving budget experts trying to figure out whether the trend will last and how much the slower growth could help alleviate the country’s long-term fiscal problems. The Congressional Budget Office in new projections erased hundreds of billions of dollars in Medicare and Medicaid outlays. New data also show overall health care spending growth continuing at the lowest rate in decades for a fourth consecutive year, the New York Times reported (2/12).
GOP PROBLEM RUNS DEEPER THAN NUGENT. There was lots of chatter after it was announced that Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas), who had threatened President Obama with impeachment in January when Obama proposed to enforce gun laws, invited Ted Nugent, the National Rifle Association board member who on at least two occasions has threatened the life of the president, to attend the State of the Union message as Stockman’s guest.
But Greg Sargent noted at WashingtonPost.com (2/11) that the real problem for the Republican Part is “all the over-the-top stuff GOP lawmakers say regularly that isn’t quite crazy enough to earn widespread condemnation, as Nugent’s quotes have, but are still whacked out enough to encourage an atmosphere that helps keep millions of GOP base voters sealed off from reality. The problem is the perpetual winking and nodding to The Crazy that is deemed marginally acceptable – the hints about creeping socialism, the claim that modest Obama executive actions amount to tyranny, the suggestions that Obama’s values are vaguely un-American and that Obama is transforming the country and the economy into something no longer recognizably American, and so on — more so than the glaringly awful stuff that gets the media refs to throw their flags.”
Jonathan Bernstein wrote at Prospect.org (2/7) that Republican lawmakers who flirt with this type of talk regularly are helping create an environment in which moderate Republicans are forever on the defensive and in fear of the base. If moderate Republicans want to change this, they will have to dial this stuff back.
Sargent concluded, “The problem isn’t so much Ted Nugent as it is the Steve Stockmans of the world telling their constituents that Obama’s sensible gun reforms rise to the level of impeachment.”
RON PAUL TURNS TO UN IN WEBSITE DISPUTE. Libertarian hero Ron Paul, who once sponsored legislation to end US participation in the United Nations, has turned to the international organization to award him the rights to ronpaul.com and ronpaul.org after he was unable to secure the rights to those domain names via the free market. The website owners, who said they are Paul supporters who have been developing RonPaul.com for five years, reportedly offered to sell the domain name RonPaul.com and its 170,000-person mailing list for $250,000, throwing in RonPaul.org for free. Paul rejected that offer and instead appealed to the World Intellectual Property Organization, an agency of the UN, to confiscate the domain names. His supporters expressed their disappointment on their website blog: “Back in 2007 we put our lives on hold for you, Ron, and we invested close to 10,000 hours of tears, sweat and hard work into this site at great personal sacrifice,” the blog said. “Now that your campaigns are over and you no longer need us, you want to take it all away — and send us off to a UN tribunal? That’s not cool! We want our old pre-retirement Ron Paul Back!”
MEDICAL MARIJUANA BRINGS $10M FOR MICH. Michigan’s legalization of medical marijuana has proven to be a financial boon for the state. The Associated Press reported (2/6) that the program, which was approved by voters in 2008, collected nearly $10 mln from applicants — more than double the cost of running the program. To register as a marijuana user in the state, individuals must pay $100, while those who grow marijuana must also pay a fee.
Jeffrey Miron, visiting professor of economics at Harvard, has estimated that on a national level replacing marijuana with a system of taxation and regulation similar to that used for alcohol would produce combined savings and tax revenues of between $10 bln and $14 bln per year, Natasha Lennard noted at Salon.com (2/11).
APPEALS COURT MULLS INDEFINITE DETENTION. While CIA director nominee John Brennan faced a grilling at his Senate confirmation hearing over the legal reasoning behind Obama’s “kill lists” (2/6), another sprawling stain on the Obama administration’s civil liberties record went back to court. A three-judge panel at the US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in Manhattan heard oral arguments from lead plaintiff, Pulitzer Prize-winner Chis Hedges, and attorneys in the lawsuit over the indefinite detention provision in the National Defense Authorization Act.
The controversial provision 1021(b)(2) of 2012 NDAA gives the government the power to indefinitely hold US citizens in military detention. Hedges, joined by plaintiffs including Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg, filed suit against the president to squash the statute. In a landmark ruling last September, federal Judge Katherine Forrest struck down the indefinite detention provision, saying it likely violates the First and Fifth Amendment rights of US citizens. President Obama’s attorneys swiftly appealed Judge Forrest’s ruling and sought an emergency stay on the injunction.
Attorney Bruce Afran, addressing press and gathered activists in an icy downtown Manhattan plaza (2/6), said the three-judge panel challenged the government to prove that the NDAA provision is nothing more than an “affirmation” of the laws regarding indefinite detention already established by Authorization for Use of Military Force. According to the Dept. of Justice, the NDAA provision is simply a codification of AUMF. The plaintiffs and their supporters vehemently disagree, as did Judge Forrest last year. Afran stressed that 1021(b)(2) “broadens the power of the military” when it comes to the capture and indefinite detention of US citizens and as such “breaches the constitutional barrier between civilians and the military” and constitutes a significant extension of the military state beyond the powers given by AUMF.
Lawyers also noted that, under the NDAA provision, a number of ostensibly protected activities could fall under the bill’s ill-defined “substantial support” for terrorism language. “For example, raising money for Guantanamo inmates. Is that substantial support? … Hosting a webcast with al-Qaida members. Is that substantial support?” asked Afran. The government arguments stressed that it was “not reasonable” for independent journalists or activists to expect detention under NDAA, but as Afran told press, “a statement by the government today is not a statute of rights.” The lawyer insisted that provision 1021(b)(2) constituted an “erosion of basic principles of law.”
According to Afran and fellow attorney Carl Mayer, the judges will likely not rule on the injunction for some months as they wait on the result of a current Supreme Court case (also involving Hedges) challenging the government’s use of electronic surveillance. A decision over the NDAA provision injunction may not come until June. Meanwhile, plaintiffs promised to fight attempts to legalize of indefinite detention of US citizens without charges. “It is the last line before a military state is in place,” Hedges told the shivering crowd outside the court. “Even King George III didn’t have that power!” added Pentagon Papers whistle-blower Ellsberg. (Natasha Lennard, Salon.com, 2/6)
LABOR CONTINUES FIGHT FOR HEALTHCARE JUSTICE. More than two hundred union leaders and activists gathered in Chicago for the Labor Campaign for Single Payer Health Care’s fourth national conference to strategize about next steps for labor in the movement to win universal health care (1/11). With officials from both major parties reportedly contemplating cuts in Medicare as part of a proposed “grand bargain,” delegates resolved to stand up to any cuts in this cornerstone social insurance program.
Conferees were welcomed and inspired by Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, who shared lessons of her union’s recent successful strike. Lewis drew important parallels between the struggles for quality public education and quality universal health care.
A second keynote came from Nicole Bernard representing the French CGT Federation of Social Security and Health Care Workers who described the struggle by French workers to defend their national health care plan and pledged strong support for American efforts to win single payer.
US Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) brought delegates to their feet as he described his plan to resubmit legislation and hold hearings on Improved and Expanded Medicare for All, House Bill676. “Health care is a right, not a privilege,” said Conyers. See laborforsinglepayer.org.
From The Progressive Populist, March 1, 2013
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