The Republican Party is fiercely divided over immigration reform. Many Republican leaders were alarmed when they saw the Latino vote go 70% to re-elect President Obama last November. But they also are afraid that if they let 11 mln undocumented immigrants — with 9 mln of them from Latin America — gain citizenship, most of them will lean toward the Democrats in future elections. The immigration reform bill that the Senate approved on a relatively bipartisan 68-32 vote in June would make immigrants wait 13 years before they could apply for citizenship. The bill also would spend $30 bln on beefing up border security. But House Republican leaders are playing down the prospect of action anytime soon on immigration bill, and they certainly won’t advance the Senate version, because the white supremacist caucus will make sure that any immigration bill that makes it through the House will be so objectionable that it can’t make it back through the Senate.
Ironically, the immigrant bashing we can expect from the white supremacist opponents of immigration reform in the House might energize 12 mln Latinos who already are US citizens but didn’t vote in 2012. If many of them can be persuaded to vote next year, that could present a bigger problem for Republicans — and a lot quicker.
For example, Texas is a cornerstone of Republican power nowadays, but that hegemony depends on suppressing the Latino electorate, which runs two-thirds Democratic when they get out to vote. Hispanics represent 38% of the Texas population, but they were only approximately 20% of voters last year. In Texas, less than 55% of voting-eligible Hispanics registered to vote last year, the Census Bureau reported. That’s 12 points less than all eligible Texas voters and almost 19 points less than eligible Anglo voters.
If Hispanics had turned out at the same rate as whites last November, it would have meant an additional one million votes in Texas, where Romney won by 1.2 mln votes. Romney probably still would have won Texas, but he might have needed more money to secure the Lone Star State. And those million extra Latino voters might not have turned the tide in the US Senate race, where Cuban-Canadian Ted Cruz defeated Paul Sadler by 1.24 mln votes, but that kind of movement might have lured some national Democratic money to help the cash-strapped Democrat put up a fight.
Arizona, which voted for Romney by a 208,000-vote margin, would have seen 217,000 more voters if Latinos had matched the turnout by white voters. And in battleground states, such as Colorado and Nevada, close races could have turned into runaway wins for Obama if Latinos closed the turnout gap.
It is hard to figure out how Republicans regain the White House without Texas’ 38 electoral votes and the numbers are starting to stack up against the GOP. Latinos make up 38% of the population while African Americans are 12%. White Texans voted 26% for Obama in 2008 but in January 32% of respondents told Public Policy Polling they were Democrats, with 43% Republican (1/30). Some of the organizers from President Obama’s campaign have relocated to Texas to try to replicate some of their grassroots organizing successes that helped turn around Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada.
Meanwhile, the Republican answer is to redouble voter suppression efforts such as requiring state-issued photo IDs to vote. Just two hours after the right-wing Supreme Court majority threw out the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance requirement, state Attorney General Greg Abbott said the state would go ahead and implement the controversial voter ID law that federal courts had blocked last year because they found it would discriminate against black and Latino voters. In North Carolina, the Legislature plans to pass its own restrictive voter ID bill; in Mississippi, an amendment to the state constitution requiring voter ID will go into effect; and in Florida, five counties will implement a law making voter registration more difficult and cutting down on the number of early voting days.
By the way, Public Policy Polling reported (7/3) that by a 54/21 margin, Texas voters say they support the Voting Rights Act and only 29% of voters said they favor the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn parts of the law, with 45% opposed. And Hillary Clinton leads Gov. Rick Perry in a Texas matchup, 48/44, but trails Jeb Bush 46/43, Ted Cruz 49/44 and Chris Christie 47/38.
The pundits are playing down Texas Democrats’ chances of getting competitive in the next few election cycles, even with state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) making a name for herself with her much-admired filibuster against the Republican railroaders. But many white Texans who have been voting Republican for the past few election cycles grew up voting Democratic and they still might be receptive to a blue streak if a candidate gave them a good reason to vote Democratic again. And if Democrats can count on teabaggers such as Reps. Steve King of Iowa and Louie Gohmert of Texas to create a whole new generation of Latino Democrats with the upcoming debate over immigration reform, it could put Texas on the fast track toward turning purple.
REVOCOUPTION IN EGYPT. Democracy has gone off the rails in Egypt, after millions of protesters dissatisfied with President Muhammad Morsi’s heavy-handed rule in the past year took to the streets to demand Morsi’s ouster. The army complied, took Morsi into custody and named Adly Mansour, the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, as the interim president.
Morsi had a rough year after taking office in summer 2012, Middle East observer and Arabic scholar Juan Cole of the University of Michigan noted at Truthdig.com (7/1). Morsi did not appoint a government of national unity. He didn’t reach out to the revolutionary youth. “Although he made a neutral technocrat, Hisham Qandil, his prime minister, he put members of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party in charge of key cabinet posts. He thus created the impression that he was trying for a ‘Brotherization’ of the government.
Once he became president, Morsi had an opportunity to address the inequities in the constitutional drafting committee, which was disproportionately in the hands of fundamentalist Muslim Brothers and Salafis, marginalizing liberals, leftists, women and Coptic Christians.
In November 2012, Morsi abruptly announced on television that he was above the rule of law and his executive orders could not be overturned by the judiciary until such time as a new constitution was passed. This enraged substantial sections of the Egyptian public, who had joined to overthrow dictator Hosni Mubarak precisely because the latter had held himself above the rule of law.
In response to the massive demonstrations that his presidential decree provoked, Morsi pushed through the constitution that is unacceptable to a large swath of Egyptians. Only 33% of voters went to the polls, many of them supporters of the president. The constitution was passed, but much of the country clearly was uncomfortable with it. Morsi’s promise of a consensual document was hollow. The referendum could not be certified as free and fair by international standards, Cole wrote.
“All the trouble Morsi caused by announcing himself above the law and ramming through a controversial constitution with some theocratic implications caused a new round of demonstrations and instability, which harmed Egypt’s prime fall-winter tourist season. Tourism represents 11% of the Egyptian economy and employs more than 2 mln professionals, but travelers looking for pyramids, not protests, have stayed away the last two years. In 2011, tourism was off by a third. ... The instability also harmed foreign investment, even from the Gulf oil states, since no one wants to build a tourist hotel or office building that may not make money under Brotherhood policies.”
WHAT’S NEXT IN EGYPT? The White House was reluctant to call the change in government enforced by the Egyptian military a “military coup,” because doing so would require President Obama to stop financial aid to the Egyptian government and military, reducing the limited influence the United States has in that country.
Interim President Adly Mansour set out a timetable for return to elected government, which would include a council of jurists who would have two months to revise the 2012 constitution, which they would present to the president, who would held a national referendum within a month of receiving it. Parliamentary elections would be held by early in January 2014.
But despite the toppling of the Islamist government, Dave Shuler notes at OutsideTheBeltway.com (7/8) that there is little evidence that the people of Egypt want a secular government. Election results from January 2012 show that Egyptians clearly wanted an Islamic government. Democratic Alliance (parties allied with the Muslim Brotherhood) got 37.5% of the vote, more radical Salafist parties got 27.8% and Al Wasat, a moderate Islamist party that split from the Brotherhood, got 3.7%. So Islamist parties got 69% of the vote. Secularists got 31% of the vote, with the largest party being Al-Waft with less than 10%.
“It’s possible that after the unpleasant experience with Morsi that public opinion may change but in what direction? Most Egyptians are clearly not liberal democrats,” Shuler noted.
“In my view the greatest likelihood is for either a return to the status quo ante, perhaps a kinder, gentler Mubarak or another Islamist government, a Morsi who isn’t Morsi. Societies depend on institutions and the two strongest institutions in Egypt are the military and the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Elizabeth Nugent also noted at TheMonkeyCage.org (7/4) that recent surveys indicate that the vast majority of Egyptians are Islamists. In April 2013, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released a report titled “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society,” which included a nationally representative sample of 1,798 Egyptians collected in November and December 2011, which found that 74% favored making sharia the official law of their country.
But a blogger at Firedoglake.com, e-CAHNomics, noted (7/7) that there is a possible candidate who could appeal to progressives, Hamdeen Sabahi of the Nasserist Dignity party, who placed third in the first round of elections, with 21% of the vote, less than 700,000 votes behind the second-place Ahmed Shafik, who was the last prime minister under Hosni Mubarak. Morsi, who got 24.78% in the first round, beat Shafik in the runoff 51.7% to 48.3%. Sabahi’s campaign emphasized a one-time tax on assets of the wealthy to alleviate near-term budget problems and allow him to reinstate life-support systems for the poor, develop infrastructure toward a more sustainable economy.
Interim President Adly Mansour issued a constitutional declaration (7/9) that gave himself limited power to make laws and promised new elections within the year, and he named Hazem Biblawi, a well-regarded economist, as prime minister. The appointment of Biblawi was greeted warmly by the hardline fundamentalist Salafi movement, which appears to have rejoined the ruling coalition, Juan Cole noted. “Manour wants the Salafis inside the ruling coalition if at all possible. That way, he can claim support from a stratum of the religious Right in Egypt and does not absolutely need the Muslim Brotherhood,” Cole wrote at JuanCole.com (7/10).
REPUBLICANS READY TO RUMBLE OVER OBAMACARE. Opponents of the Affordable Care Act were furious that the Obama administration has delayed implementing the employer mandate provision, which conservatives opposed. Brian Beutler noted at TalkingPointsMemo.com (7/5) that Republicans were hoping that the employer mandate would fall apart in the months leading up to the mid-term election. “By delaying the employer mandate, the Obama administration unilaterally sidestepped the GOP’s strategy. And Republicans aren’t happy about it.”
Meanwhile, the administration focuses on rolling out the state-based insurance exchanges, which is the more important component of the law, but Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers’ propaganda arm, started running a misleading ad attacking Obamacare in the opening salvo of the 2014 campaign.
“With no accomplishments, no remotely popular vision of the country, on the cusp of possibly killing immigration reform, and perhaps admitting (at least to themselves) that Benghazi and the IRS are not going to be Barack Obama’s undoing after all, Republicans have been reduced to grasping at their final straw: frightening people about health-care reform,” Michael Tomasky wrote at TheDailyBeast.com (7/8). “The sad thing is, they stand a decent chance of succeeding. It’s too much to say that the fate of Obama’s legacy hinges on the fate of Obamacare. But it’s probably not too much to say that no other single item will loom as large in determining, 10 to 15 years from now, how Obama’s presidency will be seen. And it’s definitely accurate to say that this is going to be the consuming and defining fight of the remainder of his presidency.”
The ad depicts a mother who voices concerns that she won’t be able to pick a doctor for her son, Caleb, and worrying that she’ll have to pay higher premiums with a smaller paycheck. Of course, under the old system, private health insurance companies simply would deny coverage of Caleb’s pre-existing condition. Under the new law, sick people who couldn’t previously get insurance will be able to get it through the exchanges, more types of medical services will be covered and reimbursed and there no longer will be a “lifetime cap” on coverage. But you won’t hear that from the Republicans.
Even the 2011 debt-ceiling fight, the only arguable “win” for Republicans, was a loss for them. Tomasky wrote, “because while Obama lost standing, the Republicans in Congress lost more standing. And, of course, they lost the big fight, the world-historical state versus anti-state fight — the one over Obamacare.
“They are going to spend the next three and a half years trying to reverse that loss. They’re going to start in the mostly red states where incumbent Democratic senators face tough fights next year, or where incumbent Democrats are retiring and the seat might swing: North Carolina, Alaska, Louisiana, South Dakota, West Virginia, Iowa, Michigan. And they’ll never stop. In the House, they’ll try to repeal Obamacare another 38 times. Having largely failed to destroy Obama the president and man, they will, as the sun sets on Obama’s term, try to destroy his legacy. They’ll try to do so largely by attacking Obamacare. The president and his defenders had better be ready.”
NSA SPYING IMPERILS US ‘NET SERVICES. Andrew Miller of TheTrumpet.com noted (7/8) that reports that the NSA has conducted online surveillance of European citizens and the European Union officials is likely to make European companies less likely to use US Internet companies for communications and cloud data storage. American companies can be compelled by “National Security Letters” from government agencies to turn over the data of non-US citizens without a warrant.
“If businesses or governments think they might be spied on, they will have less reason to trust cloud, and it will be cloud providers who ultimately miss out,” Neelie Kroes, European Commission vice president of digital affairs, observed. “... Why would you pay someone else to hold your commercial or other secrets if you suspect or know they are being shared against your wishes?”
Netherlands-based search engine Ixquick already advertises, “No PRISM. No Surveillance. No Government Back Doors. You Have our Word on it,” taking advantage of news that Google and other US internet firms have been forced to meet thousands of requests a year by American government agencies for private data of users, Miller noted.
Sabine Muscat at TheGlobalist.com wrote (7/8) that the leaks about the NSA’s secret spying programs on global Internet and phone communications, have put the Europeans on the offensive in trade talks. “Rather than warding off US calls for weakening EU standards, they can now demand that the US strengthen theirs.”
In the official talks that started 7/8, the data issue will be off the table. However, European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso announced in early July that a EU-US working group on data security would meet in parallel in the same week.
Juan Cole noted, “Hmm. If the NSA PRISM and TEMPORA programs really do cost US firms billions of dollars, there is some hope they’ll buy some congressmen to roll them back. The lord knows that if they do get their wings clipped, it won’t be just because they contravene the Fourth Amendment rights of US residents.”
DON’T FORGET PACIFIC TRADE TARGETS. As trade negotiators from the US and the Pacific rim are proceeding with secret talks on a Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement that would integrate economies and deregulate trade rules, Dispatches notes that the NSA is also spying on Pacific trade partners, which include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
Negotiations are shrouded in secrecy, although representatives of major corporations such as Monsanto, Walmart, Bank of America, JP Morgan, Cargill, Exxon-Mobil and Chevron, among others, have had full access to the draft and have been “suggesting amendments,” Dr. Chandra Muzaffar, president of the International Movement for a Just World, wrote at CounterPunch.org (7/10).
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (eff.org) noted that the pact likely would require all signatory countries to conform with US intellectual property law, including the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, but it also would restrict the ability of Congress to reform the law to meet the evolving needs of American citizens and the innovative technology sector. The leaked IP chapter includes many detailed requirements that are more restrictive than current international standards. (See <eff.org/issues/tpp>)
LACK OF WATER THREATENS GLOBAL FOOD SUPPLY. Wells are drying up and underwater tables falling so fast in the Middle East and parts of India, China and the US that food supplies are seriously threatened, one of the world’s leading resource analysts has warned. In a major new essay Lester Brown, head of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington, claims that 18 countries, together containing half the world’s people, are now overpumping their underground water tables to the point – known as “peak water” – where they are not replenishing and where harvests are getting smaller each year, the London Observer reported (7/6).
The situation is most serious in the Middle East. According to Brown: “Among the countries whose water supply has peaked and begun to decline are Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. By 2016 Saudi Arabia projects it will be importing some 15m tons of wheat, rice, corn and barley to feed its population of 30 mln people. It is the first country to publicly project how aquifer depletion will shrink its grain harvest.
“The world is seeing the collision between population growth and water supply at the regional level. For the first time in history, grain production is dropping in a geographic region with nothing in sight to arrest the decline. Because of the failure of governments in the region to mesh population and water policies, each day now brings 10,000 more people to feed and less irrigation water with which to feed them.”
In the US, farmers are overpumping in the Western Great Plains, including in several leading grain-producing states such as Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. Irrigated agriculture has thrived in these states, but the water is drawn from the Ogallala aquifer, a huge underground water body that stretches from Nebraska southwards to the Texas Panhandle. “It is, unfortunately, a fossil aquifer, one that does not recharge. Once it is depleted, the wells go dry and farmers either go back to dryland farming or abandon farming altogether, depending on local conditions,” says Brown.
“In Texas, located on the shallow end of the aquifer, the irrigated area peaked in 1975 and has dropped 37% since then. In Oklahoma irrigation peaked in 1982 and has dropped by 25%. In Kansas the peak did not come until 2009, but during the three years since then it has dropped precipitously, falling nearly 30%. Nebraska saw its irrigated area peak in 2007. Since then its grain harvest has shrunk by 15%.”
Brown warned that many other countries may be on the verge of declining harvests. “With less water for irrigation, Mexico may be on the verge of a downturn in its grain harvest. Pakistan may also have reached peak water. If so, peak grain may not be far behind.”
NO CLIMATE CHANGE DENIERS AT FRONT LINES OF WILDFIRES. The western US is facing the prospect of worse and worse severe wildfires over the next century, according to a study summarized by *The Scientific American* (and flagged by Juan Cole):
”Their findings suggest that, in the decades to come, fire prevalence will decrease in tropical regions — but will increase, possibly severely, at more northerly latitudes, and particularly in the western United States.
“In next 30 years, we’re looking at pretty consistent disruption of current fire patterns for over half the planet — most of which involve increases” in severity, said lead author Max Moritz, a fire specialist based at UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources.”
CRUZ’S DAD BRIBED OFFICIAL TO ENTER US. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) frequently points to his father’s experience leaving Cuba as shaping his views on immigration: “In my opinion, if we allow those who are here illegally to be put on a path to citizenship, that is incredibly unfair to those who follow the rules.” But Taegan Goddard noted at PoliticalWire.com (6/20), even though the elder Cruz tells NPR he “came to this country legally” he also notes he “basically bribed a Batista official to stamp my passport with an exit permit.”
INSURERS REFUSE TO COVER PISTOL-PACKING TEACHERS. In the wake of the Newtown massacre, several states passed laws to allow school officials to carry firearms on campus, arguing that more guns would keep students safe. In Kansas, where the law kicked in July 1, major insurers have deemed the new policy too risky and are refusing to cover schools that arm their employees, Aviva Shen noted at ThinkProgress.org (7/8).
Des Moines-based EMC Insurance, which covers 85 to 90 percent of Kansas school districts, has a longstanding policy of denying coverage to schools that arm employees, and they seem unlikely to change it to accommodate Kansas’ new law. Two smaller insurance firms that cover the remaining 10% of Kansas schools are also adopting the same policy. Insurers say the risk of giving guns to anyone but law enforcement in a building full of children would make a school’s coverage much more expensive.
“We’ve been writing school business for almost 40 years, and one of the underwriting guidelines we follow for schools is that any on-site armed security should be provided by uniformed, qualified law enforcement officers,” EMC executive Mick Lovell told USA Today.
While no Kansas schools have thus far taken advantage of the new law, districts all over the country started encouraging and even requiring teachers to carry weapons after the Newtown shooting. Over the weekend, a school district in Newcomerstown, Ohio, announced that they would allow employees to carry guns starting in the 2013 school year. The selected employees will undergo tactical training and get certified by the county sheriff’s department.
A week after the Newtown shooting in December, the National Rifle Association pushed for more guns in schools, arguing that “gun-free zones” attract killers. However, as the insurers recognize, arming teachers and custodians poses a far greater danger. Nor do more weapons do much to stop gunmen from doing harm; Columbine High School, the site of one of the most deadly shootings in US history, had an armed guard. Most gunmen wreak havoc in just a few minutes, which would require an armed staffer to have a lightning-fast response time to disarm the shooter. Indeed, even gun shows require aficionados to check their weapons at the door for safety reasons.
FLA. SOLS INADVERTENTLY BAN COMPUTERS, SMARTPHONES. When Florida lawmakers recently voted to ban Internet cafes that are used for online gambling, they worded the ban so broadly that they effectively outlawed every computer and smartphone in the state, according to a recent lawsuit.
In April, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) approved a ban on slot machines and Internet cafes after a charity tied to Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll was shut down on suspicion of being an Internet gambling front — forcing Carroll, who had consulted with the charity, to resign.
Florida’s 1,000 Internet cafes were shut down immediately, including Miami-Dade’s Incredible Investments, LLC, a café that provides online services to migrant workers, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
The owner, Consuelo Zapata, is suing the state after her legal team found that the ban was so hastily worded that it can be applied to any computer or device connected to the Internet, according to a copy of the complaint obtained by the Miami Herald.
The ban defines illegal slot machines as any “system or network of devices” that may be used in a game of chance. Discretion on prosecution is left up to local prosecutors.
And that broad wording can be applied to any number of devices, according to the Miami law firm of Kluger, Kaplan, Silverman, Katzen & Levine, who worked with constitutional law attorney and Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz.
The suit maintains that the ban was essentially passed “in a frenzy fueled by distorted judgment in the wake of a scandal that included the Lieutenant Governor’s resignation” and declares it unconstitutional. (Huffington Post)
From The Progressive Populist, August 1, 2013
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