Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Clinton Rules, 2008 edition

-- by Dave

We've known for a couple of years that the "Clinton Rules" of journalism would be in full effect this election cycle. What's been amusing has been watching its very practitioners -- the Beltway Village Idiots -- defending those rules by claiming, as they always do, they're perfectly appropriate because the Clintons, you know, really are Awful People.

But don't be fooled. The "Clinton Rules" really don't just apply to the Clintons. Barack Obama and his followers will be discovering this soon enough.

We were treated this week to the unpleasant spectacle of Maureen Dowd -- one of the Village's Queen Bees -- sloshing around, as Jane Hamsher says, like a concern troll in explaining why the rising wave of ugly misogyny aimed at Hillary Clinton is happening. Of course, Dowd herself has been one of the main cheerleaders of the Hillary-hate squad, but this doesn't really concern her.

Instead, she tells us, the "Clinton Rules" really are just a Clinton exception:
But Hillary is not the best test case for women. We’ll never know how much of the backlash is because she’s a woman or because she’s this woman or because of the ick factor of returning to the old Clinton dysfunction.

And what, exactly, was the "old Clinton dysfunction"? Well, in the Village view, it was all about the Clintons and what Awful People they are.

But outside the Village, the chief dysfunction in most people's minds was the press's -- particularly the way it let itself become a willing mouthpiece for the right in the name of dragging down the Clintons.

You can understand this, of course, when it came to movement conservatives, who reasonably saw that they weren't going to be able to beat Bill and Hillary Clinton on the issues, and also reasonably saw them as a potential threat to their own designs for long-term national political hegemony. So they made it personal -- tearing down Bill for his philandering ways, and not only dragging Hillary through that mudpit but simultaneously instilling a visceral antipathy toward for not only being ambitious but -- as befalls, they tell us with a shake of their sage heads, ambitious women generally -- cold, calculating, venal: a Bitch.

The Village poobahs not only picked up the conservatives' ball but ran with it. It wasn't just true of Fox News: it was true of every major media outlet, from the New York Times to the Washington Post to CNN and MSNBC. As Chris Matthews' spittle flecked the faces of guests whenver her name arose, and Bill O'Reilly and Tucker Carlson displayed their fear of emasculation whenever the chance presented itself in discussing her ... Hillary became, increasingly, not just a Bitch, but the Queen Bitch herself.

Nurtured by people like Maureen Dowd and David Broder as well as Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, this view has deeply imbedded itself, not just among the right, but among broad swaths of middle America, particularly in "red" states where the antipathy not only has been given free reign but the distance from any actual exposure to the Clintons personally tends to enhance the willingness of people to believe the ugly stereotypes about them. You can see this, particularly, in the recent caucus results in the West, where Democrats in rural areas went heavily for Barack Obama.

So when Maureen Dowd offhandedly admits that the "Clinton Rules" exist, but it's only because Hillary really is a bitch, she's acknowledging that anything goes when it comes to getting her. Beyond its gross abdication of any kind of journalistic standard of basic fairness, it's the kind of thing that plays well with certain elements -- particularly the Angry White Male crowd that loves Rush and hates Hillary -- because it justifies their own visceral, inchoate hatred of The Bitch. To them, Hillary is only the latest and most prominent incarnation of something they fear and loathe already, and always will.

Take this recent piece by an Aspen Times columnist -- and obviously prime speciment of American masculinity -- named Gary Hubbell, who opined:
He also votes, and the Angry White Man loathes Hillary Clinton. Her voice reminds him of a shovel scraping a rock. He recoils at the mere sight of her on television. Her very image disgusts him, and he cannot fathom why anyone would want her as their leader. It’s not that she is a woman. It’s that she is who she is. It’s the liberal victim groups she panders to, the “poor me” attitude that she represents, her inability to give a straight answer to an honest question, his tax dollars that she wants to give to people who refuse to do anything for themselves.

There are many millions of Angry White Men. Four million Angry White Men are members of the National Rifle Association, and all of them will vote against Hillary Clinton, just as the great majority of them voted for George Bush.

He hopes that she will be the Democratic nominee for president in 2008, and he will make sure that she gets beaten like a drum.

The Hillary Haters take their cues from people like Dowd, and the Clinton Rules are how they justify their antipathy. It becomes so deeply imbedded that even Hillary's ostensible defenders succumb to the notion that there's some rational element involved in it at all.

Take, for instance, Stanley Fish's recent NYT blog post in which he discussed, in some detail, the deeply irrational nature of so much of the Hillary hate. But then he noted:
Their mirror image on the left objected to my saying that President Bush fills the same role for liberals that Clinton fills for her detractors. No, no came the protest. However free-floating hatred of Clinton may be, hatred of Bush is firmly grounded in the record of a disastrous presidency that has left us at war, in debt, and in bad odor throughout the world. The two groups differed only in the bad qualities they attributed to their nemesis. Bush haters derided him as stupid. Clinton haters complained that she is too smart (the word “brilliant” is used as a pejorative), seems to know it all, and makes those who hear her speak feel they are less intelligent than she is.

Actually, Fish misses the critical point: it's not just that the anger that's directed at Bush is in most regards founded in rational views (especially considering that, with issues like the Iraq war and the "war on terror" particularly, many people's lives are at stake in those issues). It's that the ugly antipathy directed at the Clintons involves issues that not only are largely personal and ultimately picayune and irrelevant, but they're also deeply and fundamentally irrational.

First, consider what are the chief causes of what right-wingers like to dismiss as "Bush Derangement Syndrome":
-- They despise him for having "won" in Florida by essentially using Republican justices on the Supreme Court to strong-arm the normal democratic processes to a grinding halt.

-- They cannot forgive him for invading Iraq -- not only dragging the nation into war under false pretenses, but with no exit strategy even a consideration.

-- He is a walking disaster area for environmental policy.

-- He is a menace to our civil liberties, particularly in his megalomaniacal grab for executive-branch power in wiretapping American citizens and incarcerating "enemy combatants" at Guantanamo and elsewhere.

-- He has harmed, not enhanced, our national security; the consensus of nearly every anti-terrorism expert in the world is that Bush's handling of the "war on terror" has actually increased the likelihood of future terrorist attacks on American soil.

-- He has turned a historic surplus into a historic deficit and turned the most vibrant economy in history into one of the worst since the Depression.

-- He has numerous dalliances with unsavory corporate crooks who have managed to wreck whole corporations with irresponsible behavior and emerge scot-free.

None of these beliefs are founded in half-baked conspiracy theories. They are based in reported facts that are not in dispute. The only contention is in the interpretation of those facts. Moreover, every one of these beliefs revolves around policy and civic institutions -- they are not personal attacks aimed at impugning Bush's character. (It is true that Bush-haters do have a fondness for "Bushisms" and other ways of depicting him as stupid -- short-sighted and self-serving, perhaps, but not particularly hateful, nor in the least delusional.)

Contrast that, as I've observed before, with the kinds of things that formed the basis for the anti-Clinton animus engendered by the mouth-frothers of the right and recirculated with a "serious" veneer by the Village People:
-- Clinton was responsible for the fiasco surrounding the 1992 FBI shootings on Ruby Ridge.

The facts: Clinton was not in office until January 1993. The Ruby Ridge standoff occurred on the watch of his predecessor George H.W. Bush. Clinton was in charge when upper-level FBI officials mishandled the investigation of the matter -- but he was also in charge when those officials were caught and punished.

-- Clinton and his attorney general, Janet Reno, were responsible for the massacre of the Branch Davidians who died at the culmination of the standoff in Waco.

The facts: Though the standoff was planned before Clinton took office, he had been in charge for about a month when the initial assault occurred Feb. 28, 1993 (Reno did not take office as AG until March 11); and were certainly responsible for giving the go-ahead for the assault that produced such horrendous results occurred on April 19. Subsequent investigation of the matter revealed clearly that the fire that swept the Waco compound was indisputably set by the Davidians, almost certainly ordered by leader David Koresh. It was clear that the brute-force-assault plan was a disaster, largely because it had failed to anticipate the intended mass suicide it would spark. However, there was no evidence (despite various doctored videotapes popular among the militia/Patriot right that purported to show otherwise) that federal officials were responsible for setting the fire.

-- Clinton was the nominal leader of the "New World Order," a government conspiracy to subsume American sovereignty under the United Nations and destroy our freedoms.

The facts: This conspiracy theory was the raison d'etre of the Patriot movement, and like most of the material that circulated in that movement, it was entirely fraudulent, drawing in many respects on well-worn anti-Semitic theories about secret cadres of "international bankers" who conspired to rule the world. Nonetheless, it was peddled throughout the mainstream by a broad range of conservative Republicans, including Rep. Bob Barr, Rep. Helen Chenoweth, Sen. Robert Smith and Sen. Jesse Helms. All of these figures, it should be noted, were also prominent Clinton-bashers.

-- Clinton was responsible for a long string of deaths of people who had the misfortune to cross his path.

The facts: Probably everyone with an Internet account in the mid- to late 1990s received, at one time or another, a version of the "Clinton Body Count." And of course, there remain even today a panoply of Web site devoted to circulating this tale. And any number of conservative columnists and TV pundits made passing references to it, lending it further credence. But the "Body Count" has been thoroughly debunked as a fraud many times; the best remains this assessment from Clinton Body Count.

-- Clinton was a rapist.

The facts: This accusation was raised in 1999, after the impeachment fiasco, by an account of a woman named Juanita Broaddrick who said she had been sexually assaulted by Clinton in 1978. She told her account for a writer on the Wall Street Journal's editorial page (after NBC News, which originally interviewed her, sat on the story -- for good reason). The charges gradually evaporated as it became clear that Broaddrick (who had previously filed an affidavit denying any sexual contact with Clinton) was not a reliable witness, and may have had a profit motive for changing her story. The facts of their encounter have never been definitively established, but there is no sound evidence to suggest that any encounter he may have had with Broaddrick was not entirely consensual.

These, of course, are a mere sampling of the afactual rhetorical turds that were flung by the mainstream Clinton-hating right over the years: Clinton's love child. The airport haircut. The Mena drug ring. The White House travel office. Vince Foster's murder. The 'scandalous' pardons. The vandalization of the White House.

All of these things have two things in common: 1) They are flatly untrue, unsupported by facts and evidence, and mostly the products of hysterical hatred. 2) Their purpose is not the least policy-oriented, but dedicated entirely to denigrating Clinton's character and cast him in the most degraded light.

Indeed, aside from the Lewinsky affair (which only came to light after years of spurious digging through Clinton's personal life), the accusations inveighed over the years by Clinton-haters all were utterly without foundation and predicated on vicious smears and wild accusations. Moreover, all of them were about the Clintons' personal characters, not about their policies or their abilities executing them.

And yet these, in fact, were the foundation of the Clinton Rules. When I read Dowd's column, it took me back to early 2001, when the foremost issue in the minds of the press at the time was the Trashing of the White House -- the supposed "scandal" in which outgoing Clinton operatives "sabotaged" their offices as a way of hurting the incoming Bushevistas.

One of our local radio hosts, KIRO's Dave Ross, had Newsweek's Michael Isikoff on during the midst of the brouhaha to talk to him about it. When Ross mentioned that the stories seemed pretty thinly sourced, Isikoff reassured him that the story was likely to have some substance -- after all, he said (approximately), these Beltway reporters who have been writing all this stuff about the Clintons have good reasons for believing that these were just people of bad character.

Then there was that panel on CNN hosted by Howard Kurtz that featured the following exchange:
KURTZ: But, Chris Caldwell, do you buy the notion that journalists deliberately pumped-up the story, not just of the pardon, which I think everyone would agree, the Mark Rich pardon, very legitimate news story. But, of the $190,000 in gifts; other presidents took gifts, not at this kind of level, and the story about the prank/destruction of federal property, just because they can't stand Bill and Hillary Clinton and because they wanted to portray them as kind of low-class Arkansas hicks?

CALDWELL: Well, you know, these preconceptions that journalists have are not without a basis in fact. One of my colleagues likes to say ...

KURTZ: So, you're saying they are low-class hicks ...

CALDWELL: Well, yes, one of my colleagues likes to say, "The Golden Rule is that all rumors about the Clintons are true". But I think ...

KURTZ: That's quite a journalistic standard.

CALDWELL: That's why I'm not going to tell you who said it. OK? But, no, I certainly don't think the gift story was pumped-up, because it fits a normal Clinton pattern. People are very interested to know what actually was the China that she got for this? Why don't we know for a fact that she got it from this Borsheims Store (ph) in Nebraska where she is reported to have received it. It'd be nice to know what they're reporting as a $190,000. One would like some assurance that it wasn't bought wholesale.

But of course, not only was the gifts story entirely bogus -- which didn't stop the press from avidly circulating it anyway -- but so was the entire "Trashing the White House" story.

So when it comes to character, the Village Idiots consistently look much more dubious than the Clintons. Indeed, their continuing insistence that their vapid, hateful and irrational approach to the Clintons is perfectly justifiable tells us all we need to know about their judgment in general.

It also tells us something else we already know: that the Clinton Rules are not just for the Clintons, but can be freely applied to any liberal in general. And it is virtually guaranteed that it will be applied to whoever is any kind of standard-bearer for the Democratic Party: Al Gore, John Kerry, Tom Daschle, Nancy Pelosi -- they've all been subjected to the Clinton Rules.

So far, Obama has been largely exempt from them (the exception being, of course, the long-running "Obama is a Muslim" tale). Some of that is most likely a product of the anti-Clinton animus: as long as he's hurting Hillary, he'll be cut a certain amount of slack.

I'm sure a lot of Democrats have been taking the depth and breadth of the Hillary Hate into account in their decisions on who to support, and a number of them are leaning toward Obama because of it. The thinking seems to be that because of the Clinton Rules, it might be better to nominate someone else. Certainly, Obama and his campaign have encouraged that view -- and it must be noted that, so far, polling data does indicate he has a real advantage.

But as Stanley Fish quite adroitly observed:
Electability (a concept invoked often) is a code word that masks the fact that the result of such reasoning is to cede the political power to the ranters. Carolyn Kay (456) makes the point when she observes that if you vote against Clinton because you fear the virulence of her most vocal enemies, “you have allowed the right-wing hatemongers to decide who our candidate will be.” Underlying this surrender of the franchise to those least qualified to exercise it is the complaint (rarely overtly stated) that the Clintons have had the bad taste to undergo the assassination of their characters in public and have thereby made us its unwilling spectators.

Moreover, the Clinton Rules are a systemic problem, not a personal one. People today forget that when he was elected in 1992, Bill Clinton's campaign was all about finding a "new vision" and a fresh, bipartisan approach to politics, "reaching across the aisle" and forging the same kind of alliances that Barack Obama likes to tout now. He entered office full of hope that he could work with conservatives and liberals alike to get things done -- essentially the same kind of politics Obama is now touted by the George Wills of the Beltway for representing.

Well, we all saw how that worked out, didn't we?

Don't worry: If Obama is in fact the nominee, you can bet your bottom dollar that the Clinton Rules will be applied to him as well. We've already seen the germ of this with the "cult of Obama" nonsense, which has already morphed into the "Obama equals Hitler" meme.

Trust me, it's just the beginning.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Immigration: Against the right

[Note: I've already posted this at Firedoglake. However, because I intend it to be an informational resource, I'm cross-posting it here as well.]

Part 2 of a 3-part series.

You have to wonder if there would even be an "immigration debate" of any serious dimensions if it weren't for the nativist right. After all, they've been the ones bitching and complaining about "illegal aliens" prominently in recent years -- organizing vigilante "Minutemen" squads and proposing punitive legislative measures and griping endlessly in the media about the supposed ill effects of illegal immigration.

But those measures in turn have prompted a response that, in the end, has changed the nature of the discourse, and made clear that scapegoating and hatemongering are not solutions, they're problems. After all, it was the Republicans' horrendous legislative proposals that sparked the massive street marches in 2006, and the ugliness of much of the media reportage on immigration has more recently sparked a pushback from Latinos as well, embodied by Lou Dobbs' evasive confrontation with Janet Murguia of the National Council of La Raza. Even if the discussion was, for several years, a debate between the nativists and the status-quo corporatist conservatives, it's started to shift.

So to at least some extent, we can thank the right-wing hatemongers for making an issue out of immigration, raising it in the public profile, and making us stop and think about how we are handling immigration now, and how we want to handle it in the future -- relying to at least some extent, one hopes on an understanding of our past and the mistakes that have been made in the hopes of avoiding them.

And one thing is clear when we take that approach: The prescriptions offered by both the nativists and corporate conservatives are poisonous, likely to harm the body politic both culturally and economically, perhaps even at a catastrophic level.

There's a good reason for that: Much of the right -- the nativists particularly -- have been whipped up by scapegoating artists relying on a series of popular delusions that are built on a foundation of falsehoods and distortions. They are fundamentally untrue in important ways, so much so you can't properly call them "myths" -- "canards" or "popular delusions" would be more accurate.

Immigration: Refuting the Right

[Cross-posted at Firedoglake.]

You have to wonder if there would even be an "immigration debate" of any serious dimensions if it weren’t for the nativist right. After all, they’ve been the ones bitching and complaining about "illegal aliens" prominently in recent years — organizing vigilante "Minutemen" squads and proposing punitive legislative measures and griping endlessly in the media about the supposed ill effects of illegal immigration.

But those measures in turn have prompted a response that, in the end, has changed the nature of the discourse, and made clear that scapegoating and hatemongering are not solutions, they’re problems.

After all, it was the Republicans’ horrendous legislative proposals that sparked the massive street marches in 2006, and the ugliness of much of the media reportage on immigration has more recently sparked a pushback from Latinos as well, embodied by Lou Dobbs’ evasive confrontation with Janet Murguia of the National Council of La Raza. Even if the discussion was, for several years, a debate
between the nativists and the status-quo corporatist conservatives, it’s started to shift.

So to at least some extent, we can thank the right-wing hatemongers for making an issue out of immigration, raising it in the public profile, and making us stop and think about how we are handling immigration now, and how we want to handle it in the future — relying to at least some extent, one hopes on an understanding of our past and the mistakes that have been made in the hopes of avoiding them.

And one thing is clear when we take that approach: The prescriptions offered by both the nativists and corporate conservatives are poisonous, likely to harm the body politic both culturally and economically, perhaps even at a catastrophic level.

There’s a good reason for that: Much of the right — the nativists particularly — have been whipped up by scapegoating artists relying on a series of popular delusions that are built on a foundation of falsehoods and distortions. They are fundamentally untrue in important ways, so much so you can’t properly call them "myths" — "canards" or "popular delusions" would be more accurate.

The existence and persistence of these delusions is the chief reason progressives have largely been on the defensive when it comes to dealing with immigration. And it’s an unfortunate fact: If they want to make any headway and forge their own approach to the debate, their first job is going to necessarily entail debunking the nativists’ canards, and dispelling many of the popular delusions about immigrants. The public isn’t going to follow a rational program if they continue to cling to old falsehoods.

Moreover, in refuting these falsehoods, we can begin to see the outlines of a powerful and effective response based both on reason and, as we noted last week, fundamental human decency.

A stroll through the list of canards themselves can be highly instructive.

1. Illegal immigrants are taking jobs away from American laborers and depressing U.S. wages.

In fact, according to a Pew Hispanic Center study:
Rapid increases in the foreign-born population at the state level are not associated with negative effects on the employment of native-born workers, according to a study by the Pew Hispanic Center that examines data during the boom years of the 1990s and the downturn and recovery since 2000.

An analysis of the relationship between growth in the foreign-born population and the employment outcomes of native-born workers revealed wide variations across the 50 states and the District of Columbia. No consistent pattern emerges to show that native-born workers suffered or benefited from increased numbers of foreign-born workers.
In fact, the number of native-born low-wage earners is falling nationally, so it turns out that immigrants play an important role in taking up the slack. According to the Urban Institute:
In 2005, immigrants overall represented more than a fifth of low-wage workers—those earning less than twice the minimum wage—and almost half of workers without a high school education. Unauthorized workers were nearly a tenth of low-wage workers and a quarter of low-skilled workers. The number of low-wage and low-skilled native-born workers fell between 2000 and 2005, due to improvements in their educational attainment but also due to decreasing labor force participation.
According to the study, the number of low-wage workers dropped by about 1.8 million; meanwhile, unskilled immigrant workers increased by 620,000, representing an offset of about a third.

2. Illegal immigrants are a drain on the U.S. economy.

Studies from numerous sources and in a variety of contexts come to a unanimous conclusion: The immigrant community is not a drain on the American economy but in reality has a powerfully positive net effect.

For instance, there is the the CATO Institute study which finds the following:
Immigration gives America an economic edge in the global economy. Immigrants bring innovative ideas and entrepreneurial spirit to the United States, most notably in Silicon Valley and other high-technology centers. They provide business contacts with other markets, enhancing America’s ability to trade and invest profitably abroad. They keep our economy flexible, allowing American producers to keep prices down and meet changing consumer demands. An authoritative 1997 study by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that immigration delivers a ‘‘significant positive gain’’ to native Americans of as much as $10 billion each year.
Meanwhile, the The President’s Council of Economic Advisors found that the average immigrant pays substantially more in taxes than they collect in government services:
One key point is that "snapshot" views of immigration’s fiscal impact, particularly when based on analysis of households headed by immigrants, are insufficient and potentially misleading guides to immigration’s long-run fiscal impact.10 Instead, "Only a forward-looking projection of taxes and government spending can offer an accurate picture of the long-run fiscal consequences of admitting new immigrants" (Smith and Edmonston 1997, p. 10). This approach captures the full costs and benefits of the children of immigrants.

Of course, such projections must rely on assumptions about the future path of taxes and government spending as well as economic and demographic trends. From this long-run point of view, the NRC study estimated that immigrants (including their descendants) would have a positive fiscal impact – a present discounted value of $80,000 per immigrant on average in their baseline model (in 1996 dollars).11 The surplus is larger for high-skilled immigrants ($198,000) and slightly negative for those with less than a high school degree (-$13,000).
Reviewing a number of studies for the Journal of Economic Perspectives, economists Jennifer Hunt of Yale and Brown’s Rachel Friedberg concluded:
"Despite the popular belief that immigrants have a large adverse impact on wages and employment opportunities of the native-born population … empirical estimates in a variety of settings and using a variety of approaches have shown that the effect of immigration on … natives is small. There is no evidence of economically significant reductions in native employment. … Even those natives who should be the closest substitutes with immigrant labor have not been found to suffer significantly as a result of increased immigration."
Even localized studies in areas with high immigration rates find the same. A Texas study on immigration’s economic benefits concluded:
The Comptroller’s office estimates the absence of the estimated 1.4 million undocumented immigrants in Texas in fiscal 2005 would have been a loss to our Gross State Product of $17.7 billion. Also, the Comptroller’s office estimates that state revenues collected from undocumented immigrants exceed what the state spent on services, with the difference being $424.7 million.
A similar study conducted in California by the Public Policy Institute of California found:
… [A]ccording to our calculations, during 1990–2004, immigration induced a 4 percent real wage increase for the average native
worker. This effect ranged from near zero (+0.2%) for wages of native high school dropouts and between 3 and 7 percent for native workers with at least a high school diploma.

… [T]he results indicate that recent immigrants did lower the wages of previous immigrants. Wages of immigrants who entered California before 1990 were 17 to 20 percent lower in 2004 than they would have been absent any immmigration between 1990 and 2004.
As Derrick Jackson reports:
They perform jobs that are inseparable from our standard of living. Undocumented workers are about 5 percent of our overall labor force but — according to the Pew Hispanic Center’s analysis of Census data — are between 22 and 36 percent of America’s insulation workers, miscellaneous agricultural workers, meat-processing workers, construction workers, dishwashers, and maids. The American Farm Bureau, the lobbying group for agricultural interests, says that without guest workers, the United States would lose $5 billion to $9 billion a year in fruit, vegetable, and flower production and up to 20 percent of production would go overseas.
Indeed, the evidence so far indicates that immigration is an essential component of our economic health:
Amid the blizzard of data concerning immigrants’ effects on wages, welfare and municipal budgets, the essential point is this: The latest wave of immigrants — legal and illegal, skilled and unskilled — has stimulated enormous economic activity and wealth generation in this country, and it is implausible that the American economy would fare as well without them.
3. Undocumented immigrants are a burden on the American taxpayers because they don’t pay taxes.

In fact, according to an Immigration Policy Center study titled "Undocumented Immigrants as Taxpayers":
Between one-half and three-quarters of undocumented immigrants pay federal and state income taxes, Social Security taxes, and Medicare taxes. And all undocumented immigrants pay sales taxes (when they buy anything at a store, for instance) and property taxes (even if they rent housing).
They also contribute mightily to the solvency of the Social Security fund:
As the debate over Social Security heats up, the estimated seven million or so illegal immigrant workers in the United States are now providing the system with a subsidy of as much as $7 billion a year.

While it has been evident for years that illegal immigrants pay a variety of taxes, the extent of their contributions to Social Security is striking: the money added up to about 10 percent of last year’s surplus – the difference between what the system currently receives in payroll taxes and what it doles out in pension benefits. Moreover, the money paid by illegal workers and their employers is factored into all the Social Security Administration’s projections.
4. Illegal immigrants are a burden on the health-care system.

Actually, according to a Rand study:
…[I]n the United States about $1.1 billion in federal, state and local government funds are spent annually on health care for undocumented immigrants aged 18 to 64. That amounts to an average of $11 in taxes for each U.S. household.
This compares to 88 billion dollars spent on all health care for non-elderly adults in the U.S. in 2000. Moreover, as Justice for Immigrants notes, non-natives tend to use fewer health-care services. For example, in Los Angeles County, “total medical spending on undocumented immigrants was $887 million in 2000 – 6 percent of total costs, although undocumented immigrants comprise 12 percent of the region’s residents.”

5. Illegal immigrants increase the crime rate.

There have been several studies that have debunked this claim from different angles. An Immigration Policy Center fact-check has most of the details:
Although the undocumented immigrant population doubled to about 12 million from 1994 to 2005, the violent crime rate in the United States declined by 34.2% and the property crime rate fell by 26.4%.2 This decline in crime rates was not just national, it also occurred in border cities and other cities with large immigrant populations—such as San Diego, El Paso, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Miami.
Moreover, according to an the AILF study titled "The Paradox of Assimilation And The Myth of Immigrant Criminality", immigrants are five times less likely than native-born to be in prison, and immigrants from nations that account for most of the undocumented have lower incarceration rates.

6. Illegal immigrants bring disease to American shores.

This canard picked up a lot of momentum thanks to Lou Dobbs’ fraudulent reporting connecting a supposed rise in leprosy rates to immigration, but it’s been around awhile. A Texas legislator last year tried to claim that immigrants were "bringing Polio, the plague, leprosy, tuberculosis, malaria, Chagas Disease and Dengue Fever to the United States in alarming numbers." Earlier, the Washington Times and Michelle Malkin tried to actually claim that sickle-cell anemia — a non-communicable disease — was being brought to American shores by immigrants.

Not only are all these claims utterly without foundation, the sources for the majority of them are largely far-right hate groups and pseudo-scientists who are better regarded as kooks.

7. These new Latino immigrants don’t want to learn English and are reluctant to assimilate.

In fact, according to the Pew Hispanic Center:
Nearly all Hispanic adults born in the United States of immigrant parents report they are fluent in English. By contrast, only a small minority of their parents describe themselves as skilled English speakers. This finding of a dramatic increase in English-language ability from one generation of Hispanics to the next emerges from a new analysis of six Pew Hispanic Center surveys conducted this decade among a total of more than 14,000 Latino adults. The surveys show that fewer than one-in-four (23%) Latino immigrants reports being able to speak English very well. However, fully 88% of their U.S.-born adult children report that they speak English very well. Among later generations of Hispanic adults, the figure rises to 94%. Reading ability in English shows a similar trend.
As Justice for Immigrants notes:
The development of English proficiency among non-English speaking immigrants today mirrors that of Nineteenth and early Twentieth century immigration, when masses of Italian, German, and Eastern European immigrants came to America. While first generation, non-English speaking immigrants predictably have lower rates of English proficiency than native speakers, 91% of second generation immigrants are fluent or near fluent English speakers. By the third generation, 97% speak English fluently or near fluently.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association reports:
Within ten years of arrival, more than 75% of immigrants speak English well; moreover, demand for English classes at the adult level far exceeds supply. Greater than 33% of immigrants are naturalized citizens; given increased immigration in the 1990s, this figure will rise as more legal permanent residents become eligible for naturalization in the coming years. The number of immigrants naturalizing spiked sharply after two events: enactment of immigration and welfare reform laws in 1996, and the terrorist attacks in 2001.
This last point is illustrative of the way a progressive approach to immigration can make more sense and can solve people’s legitimate concerns in a persuasive, common-sense fashion that doesn’t rely either on scapegoating and dehumanization or bogus talking points that only bolster the longstanding prejudices of bigots.

Because I think anyone who’s had experience with the immigrant community can attest there is some slowness to assimilate at work here, and that the sheer size of this wave of immigration, which has created large communities where it’s possible for new immigrants to work and prosper without ever learning English, has a role in this. But the largest single factor in this reluctance is the immigrants’ undocumented status, leaving them in the shadow status of being the embodiment of a kind of dehumanizing cliche: "illegal aliens." As long as these people are forced into the shadows and threatened with deportation, they won’t ever be encouraged to embrace American values and join the culture.

As I’ve discussed previously, when liberals talk about immigration, helping immigrants forge a clear and attainable path to citizenship is an essential cornerstone of their approach — and when they do so, it should be in the context of talking about our shared values as Americans.

As we’ve noted, fundamental human decency has to be the foundation of any positive program of liberal immigration reform. We’ll try tackling that next week.

Obama equals Hitler

-- by Dave

Almost like clockwork, no sooner do liberals start raising eyebrows about the "cult of Obama" than right-wing talkers pick up that ball and run with it:
Fox News Radio host Tom Sullivan took a call from a listener who stated that when listening to Barack Obama speak, "it harkens back to when I was younger and I used to watch those deals with Hitler, how he would excite the crowd and they'd come to their feet and scream and yell." Sullivan then played a "side-by-side comparison" of a Hitler speech and an Obama speech. Sullivan mimicked the crowd during both speeches, yelling, "Yay! Yay!" When a later caller complained that Sullivan was "denigrating" Obama with the comparison, Sullivan said he wouldn't play it again, then begged: "Can I, please, one more time? Just one more time? Then I won't do it again. ... Until the next time."

Of course, this really isn't the first time we've heard Obama compared to Hitler. You may recall that just a few weeks ago, a right-wing racial nutcase in Australia named John Ray, while defending Jonah Goldberg against yours truly, observed the following:
In fact, with his constant inspirational calls for national unity, Obama is eerily reminiscent of the Fascists. If he spoke German he might well be inclined to adopt as his slogan Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuehrer -- as Hitler did ("One nation, one government, one leader"). After all, right to the end most Germans saw Hitler as a warm and kindly father-figure. And if the ruthless power-seeker that is Hillary reminds you of Joe Stalin, don't blame me!

And of course, Goldberg linked approvingly to this post. Yes, the fellow who penned an entire book which, besides being turgid, unreadable, ahistorical and otherwise a complete fraud, was really nothing more than an extended whine that those mean liberals call conservatives fascists.

Normally, one would think that an outrageous analogy like Tom Sullivan's would demonstrate his gross irresponsibility and unfitness to be taking up space on the public airwaves or otherwise polluting public discourse. But hey, if Jonah Goldberg can get on the NYT bestsellers list hawking this kind of nonsense, evidently every liberal is now fair game.

Besides, when a Seattle radio talk-show host made a similaly invidious comparison -- calling Oprah a "Nazi" for her support of Obama -- he wasn't fired or summarily escorted out of the ranks of radio talk-show hosts. No, he essentially earned a promotion, getting a new gig at talk-radio powerhouse KFI-AM in Los Angeles.

I gather Sullivan is hoping to work similar magic for his career. And thanks to Jonah Goldberg, we can probably expect to hear a lot more "Adolph Obama" talk. You have to wonder, though, why liberals would be helping them.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Cult of Obama

-- by Sara

Every political news outlet, from the networks to the blogs, is abuzz today with the question: Is the Obama phenomenon a cult?

People -- particularly Hillary partisans -- are eagerly putting this idea out there. I want to make it very clear before I get started that I'm not a partisan of either candidate: there are things about them both that have my skepticism pegged to the limit. Personally, I'm for the Democrat. But when it comes to the topic of what is or ain't a cult -- that's something I know something about. Or, at least, I seem to understand it a bit better than most of the people who are bandying the term around today.

Any number of religious sociologists have assembled various tools and devices to be used in assessing whether or not a group can be classified as a "cult." (So have many members of what can only be termed the "anti-cult industry," which largely comprises conservative Christians seeking to scare their fellow believers into staying in the fold. One must be careful.) Perhaps the most comprehensive of the bunch is the one assembled by folklorist Dr. P.E.I Bonewits in 1979, which laid out 18 behaviors that are common to religious cults:
1. internal control
2. external control
3. wisdom or knowledge claimed by leaders
4. wisdom or knowledge credited to leaders
5. dogma
6. recruiting
7. front groups
8. wealth
9. sexual manipulation
10. sexual favoritism
11. censorship
12. isolation
13. dropout control
14. violence
15. paranoia
16. grimness
17. surrender of will
18. hypocrisy
It's important to note that these criteria describe an overarching pattern: a group needs to score high on at least 10 or 12 of these to be within even hailing distance of "cult" status. On the other hand, just about any group trying to create social change is going to partake of at least a few of these qualities. When people are setting out on a new course, they tend to put out tremendous amounts of energy. They trust their leaders, ascribe all manner of wisdom and magical power to them, accept their words as dogma, and enthusiastically recruit new members. (Or, in this case, voters: Obama is, after all, running a political campaign.) It's offputting at best and worrisome at worst; but as you can see from the list, it takes a whole lot more than that to make any group qualify as a full-blown cult.

There is no evidence anywhere that Obama is running front groups, using his campaign to enrich himself, sexually manipulating his followers, censoring anyone, or insisting that people isolate themselves from the larger society. There are no draconian efforts at dropout control. Nobody's arming up out of paranoia. And "grimness" is about the last word you'd use to describe an Obama event.

A lot of people may be surrendering their will temporarily. Quite a few are expressing as much anger as hope -- perhaps because expressing this much emotion is new for them, perhaps because they were raised in an era of Rush Limbaugh, perhaps because they're new to politics and wrongly think this is how it's done. (Their candidate is in a fine position to deliver some etiquette lessons. I hope he does -- and soon -- because the backlash is forming.) And, no doubt, there will come a time when Obama's True Believers are crushed to realize that he appeared to promise one thing, and then did another. But, again, these are normal parts of any large-scale social change movement: FDR, for example, inspired at least this much devotion among the desperate and Depression-scarred citizenry of his early years in office; and it was that implacable trust and support that enabled him to lead the country through a time of radical change.

It's notable to me that I'm hearing these concerns mainly from aging Boomers who are still nursing the deep wounds inflicted by the savaging of their own dreams, and fear that their children's naive enthusiasm for Obama will lead them into similar disillusionment. And if that's you, well, then, you're right: it probably will. But another word for that is "growing up." If we love our children, the best thing we can do for them on that inevitable day that they see their hero's clay feet for the first time is not contaminate them with our own bitter cynicism. Somehow, we need to teach them -- which means, even if we don't feel it, modeling for them -- that the only right response to disappointment is to step back, think it through, and find another, better way to re-engage the fight. Quitting is not an option. Given the current state of the country and the planet, neither is failure.

So if Obamamania doesn't come close to making the cut as a "cult," then just what the hell is going on there?

What's going on is that we've finally got a Democratic candidate who understands exactly how the Republicans did it. As I pointed out my very first week on this blog, the GOP didn't come to power by talking about plans and policies; they did it by using strongly emotional appeals that grabbed people by the gut and didn't let them go. Theirs was never a movement based on reason. It was, from the very beginning, a movement of hearts and souls. And it was that deep, emotionally sustaining commitment that drew people in so deeply that they were willing to give 25 years of their lives to bringing about the New World Order their leaders promised them. We may hate what they've accomplished -- but we're never going to be able to do better until we can inspire that same kind of passion for change.

And Obama's doing just that. He's tapped into a deeply pressurized seam of repressed fury within the American electorate, and he's giving it voice, a focus, and an outlet. Are the results scary? You bet: these people want change on a scale that much of the status quo should find terrifying. Are they unreasoning? The followers may be -- but as long as their leader keeps a cool head, that's not as much of a problem right now as we might think; and the heat will dissipate naturally in time. Is this kind of devotion even appropriate? You bet. You don't get the kind of deep-level change we need without first exposing and channeling people's deep discontent. Obama's change talk may be too vague for most people's tastes (including mine); but the fact is that if we're serious about enacting a progressive agenda, rousing people's deepest dreams and desires and mobilizing that energy is exactly how it's going to happen. And Obama's the first candidate we've had in a generation who really, truly gets this.

The energy of Obama's rallies scares the hell out of reason-bound, well-educated liberals; but it's nothing new to anyone who's spent time in the overheated revival-meeting atmosphere that conservative politicians have used to rouse their voters for decades. Stirring up their base in exactly this same way is how they won. Our chronic inability to move people like that is why we've continued to lose.

Hillary is going the old route, with more plans and promises. And she's losing. Obama is trying something that's new to Democratic politics -- but that also has a proven track record when it comes to raising and consolidating truly transformational movements. In fact: that kind of change simply does not happen unless you've got this kind of committed mass movement.

This misguided "cult" talk not only misunderstands how social change occurs; it's also giving the GOP a weapon it will use to the hilt if Obama is the candidate in the general election. They're going to demonize those energetic kids as the re-animated zombie ghosts of the dirty fucking hippies of the 60s. And, in a historic sense, they are. They're our own children, emerging to finish the work that their parents got too tired and too disillusioned to finish. For us old Boomers, they're our very last shot at the dream.

We have a choice here. We can either bless them for their energy and commitment, hand them our tattered old ball, and see just how far they'll be able to move it down the field -- even as we stand by with the Bandaids and Bactine, shouting encouragement and coaching tips from the bench, just as many of us have done at a thousand soccer games through the years.

Or we can doom their fresh efforts with our own cynicism, withdraw our approval, make fun of them, and tell them they're going off the deep end by joining up with some crazy mass movement that will never deliver on its promises of change.

But we betray them, our country, and ourselves if we turn around and do to them what the right wing did to us with the "dirty fucking hippies" slander by perpetuating this "cult" meme. It's not factually accurate. And it's not fair to Obama, his growing cadre of followers, or even what's left of our own abandoned dreams.

Crazy Dangerous, The Last: Running Up to the Edge

-- by Sara

Part I
Part II

The world has no shortage of paranoid in-groups who think the world is out to get them. But not every authoritarian political or religious group that starts down that long country road toward becoming crazy dangerous ends up in Waco or Ruby Ridge. According to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, groups heading toward violence often telegraph their intentions well in advance; and the later parts of the trip follow specific, often highly identifiable patterns. A community or agency that's aware of these patterns may be able to spot gathering trouble, and step in in time to head it off. This third and final post, which combines a section of a public CSIS report with observations of my own, outlines the warning signs that may indicate that a group is done moving through the early and middle stages, and is now actively heading toward an imminent confrontation.

Increasingly violent rhetoric. This isn't news to Orcinus readers, who are well aware that strong words are often a rehearsal -- a promise of strong action to come. But the CSIS further verifies that those watching worrisome groups need to keep their ears open, and listen carefully for a fundamental shift in rhetoric. There's early-stage rhetoric, which establishes the lines of conflict by repeatedly identifying the group's enemies, and asserting their essential evilness. And then there's the more serious later stage, when the talk turns overtly eliminationst, and the group starts expressing its clear intention to eradicate those perceived enemies. When they start shifting to the second stage, it's a sign that they may have accepted the need for violent action in their own minds. It's been justified to the point where they may be actively planning something.

When a group that was once talking about peace, love, unity, and a Better World To Come starts talking about how it's only going to happen by force -- and only after all their enemies are eliminated in an orgy of violence -- they've crossed a threshold beyond which actual violence becomes much more likely. As Dave has told us often, when people start imagining and talking about violent action, they are setting the psychological and social stage for violence. The CSIS believes that this shift in rhetoric should never be ignored.

Identifying enemies with the state. It's a truism of conspiracy theories that sooner or later, no matter who your bad guys start out to be, in the end the theory will metastasize to include the belief that they're somehow aligned with government power -- power that is, of course, being used to persecute you. Paranoia is a close cousin of narcissism; and people who've come to believe they're locked in a Great Cosmic Struggle tend to judge their own importance by the size of the enemies they attract. In that sweepstakes, the government is the biggest contender this side of Satan -- so it follows that if the government is out to get you, you must be somebody Very Important. Conversely (goes the thinking): if your cause is really that transformative, of course the government is going to try to thwart it.

As it takes hold, this belief changes the optics of every encounter between members of authoritarian groups and any government authority. A simple traffic stop or construction inspection takes on whole new layers of meaning. (They know! They're watching us!) Congressman Leo Ryan (the late Tom Lantos's predecessor) probably didn't understand just what it meant when he decided to respond to constituent requests and fly down to Jonestown; but Jim Jones and his followers were strongly predisposed to view the visit as a hostile invasion, and responded accordingly. Ryan and several of his staffers were shot to death on the airport tarmac; and back at the ranch, Jones set out the Flavor-Aid for his doomed followers.

This, too, is a signaling shift, as first-stage beliefs that "our group is above the law" harden into a second stage belief that overt revolt against the state is necessary. When the rhetoric calls for revolution, it's one sign that (taken in a larger context) may point to imminent trouble.

Intensification of illegal activities. The CSIS report doesn't note this, but it's true: As members become more and more separated from the larger society's norms, and more invested in their own version of a "higher law," they may begin to test their new-found "freedom" from legal oversight by disregarding the law in increasingly overt ways. People who were never much trouble before start behaving in ways that bring them into contact (and confrontation) with the authorities. This is a sign that the group has begun to adopt an attitude of open defiance and contempt toward the larger society, and is moving into the strongly oppositional stance that precedes a large-scale attack or confrontation.

The CSIS cautions us that where we see this accelerating pattern of lawless behavior, it's wise to look for evidence that weapons laws are also being broken. The authors note, for example, that locals in Waco, TX noticed that the Branch Davidians were stockpiling weapons in the months before the siege began. If they're brazenly breaking other laws, it's a safe bet that they're also illegally gathering weapons and bomb-making materials as they prepare to either defend their home turf from perceived enemies, or make offensive plans to eradicate those enemies.

Humiliating circumstances. More often than not, the final breaking point is triggered by a specific event that humiliates the group's leaders, or gives them the sense that they're somehow losing their control over the group and its vision. Unfortunately, their egos are huge and their need for control is insatiable -- and, therefore, there are all kinds of relatively small events that carry the potential to set them off in very big ways.

Charismatic leaders are often making bold predictions that don't come true -- and may react violently in the aftermath of this disgrace. They may be subjected to media coverage that doesn't flatter their enormous egos, and proves before the world that nobody really understands them. They may be confronted by dissidents within their own group who challenge their authority, and strike out to reassert their control. They may have a health setback that weakens their sense of omnipotence, and frightens them into hasty action. As we'll see below, they may have a relatively minor -- or not-so-minor -- encounter with local authorities that they interpret as a huge and looming threat.

In most of the famous cases of extremist-group violence, the final confrontation is almost always provoked when the leader's fragile sense of power and control was thrown open to question. This perceived threat is overwhelmingly likely to be the triggering event that finally forces him into violent action.

Confrontation with authority. In the end, though, the final confrontation is too often triggered because authorities -- not realizing their special role in the unfolding eschatological drama -- blunder into it. As the report puts it:
Violence is often not actualized until the group comes into contact with state authorities, which usually embody all that is evil for the movement and which must be vanquished in order for the apocalyptic scenario to be realized. Action on the part of state agencies will almost always elicit a reaction, which underlining the delicacy with which the situation must be handled....Authorities often fail to appreciate the leverage they have over doomsday movements, which depend upon them to fulfill their apocalyptic scenarios. Failure to fully comprehend this symbolic role often results in actions that trigger violence.
If things get to this point, the CSIS report stresses, those in charge of managing the crisis need to move slowly; avoid humiliating the leader or backing him into a corner; and rely on negotiators who have a detailed understanding of the worldview and belief structure of that particular group, and can describe how each unfolding event is being perceived on the inside.

In particular, it warns that law enforcement groups often instinctively respond to defiance in fairly punitive ways. An embattled group is highly likely to interpret these sanctions as an act of war, and respond to by desperately escalating the level of violence. If the authorities respond to this with still heavier sanctions, it creates a "spiral of amplification" that can very quickly spin toward catastrophe.

* * *

It's striking to realize how many different kinds of groups have followed this rocky path through the years. They've been religious, political, and racist; they've been on both the left and right; and they've staked their future on everything from passing UFOs to a literal reading of Revelation. What they all have in common is an essential set of beliefs that leads them to invest everything in a fantasy future, an apocalyptic theology that enables them to justify violence, charismatic leaders who break down their sense of personal boundaries and weaken their attachment to social norms; and an exaggerated sense of isolation from the larger society that causes them to withdraw and project their fears outward -- and to focus their energies on striking back at anyone they think is threatening them.

Once those ingredients are assembled, it's often just a matter of time and circumstance before they catalyze and propel the group toward violence. We've now seen this often enough to know what the pattern looks like, and can see the signs well ahead that indicate a group that's heading down the crazy dangerous road.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Those right-wing sleuths

-- by Dave

Clif at Sadly, No! caught conservative super-sleuth Don Surber calling out our very own Maria Cantwell for some ostensible plaigiarism:
Did Sen. Cantwell plagiarize a comic strip to praise Hillary? …

From Calvin Woodward of the Associated Press:

Sen. Maria Cantwell, one of them, introduced the New York senator to a crowd in Spokane and likened her to four-time Iditarod winner Susan Butcher and the Native American woman Sacajawea, who served as a guide for the Lewis and Clark expedition in the early 1800s. “We like women pioneers here in the Northwest,” Cantwell said. …

Now for the comic strip in question. [Click here if the image doesn't work.]

Maybe she didn’t see the comic strip, which appears in the Washington Post.

Gee, Don, ya think? It's an obscure strip called "Prickly City" that's so deadly unfunny no one but Instapundit fans read it. Hell, we can't even get Cantwell to respond to constituent e-mails -- why exactly would she be scouring right-wing comic strips for her speech ideas? And the strip only makes an obscure reference to the Iditarod, not Susan Butcher.

In other words, if there's a point to be had here, it's an incredibly stupid one.

Ah, but Surber later churlishly responds to his readers that they just "have no grasp of irony" and updates with a note that "perhaps people are taking this a little more serious than I meant."

Well, yeah, actually, people do tend to take charges of plagiarism pretty seriously these days, especially when a prominent public figure is involved. Then again, Surber seems to have flexible views about ripping off other people's ideas ...

Monday, February 11, 2008

Schadenfreude City

-- by Dave

I'm with Goldy. The prospect of watching Washington state's Republican Party self-immolate over its bizarre mishandling of this weekend's caucuses, which when first announced went to John McCain but now are up in the air, is just too delicious not to just kinda sit back and enjoy.

Josh Marshall has been all over this story. In the meantime, the General has a nice Website design for state GOP boss Luke Esser.

The most recent report tonight comes from KING 5 TV:
KING 5 News has uncovered inconsistencies in how the votes from Saturday's Republican Caucus are being reported, raising questions about the accuracy of the statewide count.

As of Monday at 5 p.m., John McCain had 25.4 percent of the vote to Mike Huckabee's 23.8 percent.

New numbers were released Monday at 10 p.m. with 96 percent of the votes counted: John McCain has 25.6 percent, while Mike Huckabee has 23.3 percent.

Luke Esser, the State GOP Chairman, acknowledged Monday evening that mistakes were made in four counties: Snohomish, Benton, Jefferson and Grant.

"Apparently there was a miscommunication as to information that we needed, which was the presidential preference of the delegates who were elected and not the presidential preference of the attendees… So in those four counties, we were comparing apples to oranges," he said.

When voters participating in the caucuses walked through the door, they signed in. In Snohomish County, that sign-in sheet is what Republicans used to report results.

"And then the very last column asked them for their preference if they were to vote today, and those were the numbers we counted," said Geri Modrell, Snohomish County Republican chair.

In reality, Republicans acknowledge the sign-in sheet is not an accurate way to figure out who won. After signing in, caucus-goers had plenty of time to debate and change their minds. What really matters is what delegates they picked in the end to go to the county convention.

For example, the winner on the sign-in sheets in Pierce County was Huckabee, with 609 supporters showing up. But, by the time Pierce County elected delegates, it flipped, and John McCain walked away with 192 delegates, beating Huckabee.

In Snohomish County, caucus leaders say they also noticed the sign-up sheets did not match the final delegates at all.

Saturday night, Washington state Republican Party chair Luke Esser declared McCain the winner. But KING 5 has learned that there's no way the party could have known the delegate preferences from Snohomish County, because that county never reported delegate results, instead relying solely on those sign-up sheets.

"And we had already explained to them that we would not have that information for a couple of days," said Modrell. "I haven't talked to them. I have no idea what they did with our numbers. They obviously would not be able to use those numbers as a comparison with the rest of the counties."

"So we're challenging those results. We want a fair election up there and we're just not sure we had one," said Huckabee.

The Huckabee campaign was already suspicious when McCain was declared the winner so early. Democrats point out that, under Republican rules, delegates are free to change their minds anyway.

"There's really no way that the Washington state Republican Party could have declared that John McCain was the winner," said Tim Killian, Democratic delegate.

There a particularly delicious irony that underscores all these events: This is the same Republican Party that spent the better part of 2005 whining about some minor vote-tabulation issues and supposed "voter fraud" related to the 2004 election of Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire by a handful of votes. Indeed, they handled it with roughly the same integrity and fairness as we had seen in Florida just a few years before.

As I remarked at the time:
What emerges from the bigger picture of the Washington vote is, in fact, almost a replica in miniature of the Republican strategy for the national vote. It has four essential components:

-- Undermine the legitimacy of any Democrat elected to office, regardless of the margin.

-- Undermine public confidence in long-established election procedures, particularly hand recounts, as well as confidence in the integrity of the officials conducting the elections.

-- Undermine the voting rights of minorities and lower-income voters, particularly by purging supposed felons from the voting rolls, thereby discouraging participation in the election process and underscoring their historic disenfranchisement.

-- Undermine the integrity of the voting process itself by introducing readily manipulable electronic voting technology that leaves no auditable paper trail.

And sure enough, within a matter of a few months, Republicans were whipping up phony claims of "voter fraud" that obviously were about some other larger purpose:
What is the GOP doing here? Can you imagine being one of these voters -- a legitimate, long-time voter who expects to cast their ballot as they always have, and suddenly you get a letter from a Republican official who says she's going to challenge your right to vote? That's not just Orwellian: it's Kafkaesque.

But then, it's what we've come to expect from today's Republican Party. It well knows that its grip on power is either maintained, in many places, or obtained, in places like Seattle where it struggles, by the slimmest margins -- and that its interests are more often served by suppressing voter turnout.

After all, it was a similar vote-suppression effort in Florida in 2000 that likely delivered that state to George W. Bush and with it the presidency. Many will recall Greg Palast's reporting on the effort, which has always struck me as a little shaky, particularly his assertions -- which he admits are simply estimations -- that 90 percent of the ChoicePoint voter-roll eliminations were incorrect. But there's little doubt that there was an extremely high rate of error in the purges, certainly in excess of 50 percent.

That's simply unacceptable. If you accept the primacy of the right of citizens to vote, then these attempts at preventing ineligible votes have to be as close to perfect as possible; an error rate of even more than 1 percent is too great. Because anything more than that means you're violating the inviolable.

[There's also a notable hypocrisy in all this for those of us who were observers in the Gregoire-Rossi tussle, because Republicans have made it a constant subsequent talking point -- no, a screaming point, really -- that King County elections officials proved themselves hopelessly corrupt and incompetent in this election, notably by their inability to reify a relatively small number of ballots with the numbers of votes (it was around .3 percent).]

But then, these kinds of vote-suppression effort have become commonplace in the GOP, particularly in areas where there are strong Democratic voting blocs, which are always what Republicans target. Recall, for instance, that there have been broader voter-suppression efforts, including those in Ohio in 2004.

Of course, this effort later turned out to be a driving force in the scandal that erupted over the firings of nine U.S. attorneys by the Bush Justice Department, firings that it turned out were driven by Republican politicos intent on promoting voter-fraud accusations like those we saw here. Indeed, one of the USAs fired was John McKay of Washington state.

This Republican crew can still be heard to bellyache about elections officials in King County. Their own back yard, however, could obviously stand some tending.

More Mythbusting

-- by Sara

This week's guest bloggage, Mythbusting Canadian Healthcare, Part II: Debunking the Free Marketeers, is up over at The Big Con.

This time, I took aim at some of the more broad-based false assumptions that free-market fundamentalists have tried -- sometimes successfully -- to promote in order to keep us from considering government-based health care solutions. The bottom line:
The private sector has had 20 years to prove that it could deliver low-cost, quality care using those vaunted business-style efficiencies; and it has failed us utterly and completely. This fact should be the ultimate nail in the coffin of the old conservative canard that "the free market always does it better." If that was true, privatizing health care would have been the shining example that proved it once and for all. Instead, all we got was a colossally expensive national disaster that's denying full coverage to a third of the country --- and putting our health, competitiveness, financial and social capital, and national security at risk in the process. It's also devastating the aspirations of our entire middle class, which is being hollowed out by our current health policies.
Go check it out. I'll be back here with more in the morning.

If conservatives really, really hate being called fascists ... #6

-- by Dave

... then maybe they ought to quit talking like them.

... Maybe they should give up their ongoing fondness for eugenics -- the once-popular pseudo-science that gave the Nazis the "scientific" veneer for their ongoing project of national purgation for any "undesirable" elements. This included, of course, not just "inferior" races and ethnic groups, but the mentally ill or developmentally disabled, even "defectives" such as the hearing-impaired.

The most famous instance of this is the ardent conservative adoption of The Bell Curve as legitimate science. Even today, 14 years since its publication, you can still find an endless procession of right-wing apologists for its manifestly bad science, including, notably, Jonah Goldberg, who called criticism of Murray "unfair" and referred to his "elan and sophistication" and later called him "a friend."

Maybe that was why Murray, in fact, wrote a nice blurb for the back cover of Liberal Fascism. Which, oddly enough, devotes an entire chapter to the subject of eugenics -- arguing that the existence of eugenics' "progressive" elements somehow substantiated his claim that "fascism is and always has been a phenomenon of the left".

And yet there's little doubt that in fact, The Bell Curve is essentially eugenicist text, arguing for discrete government policies that would affect genetic outcomes. In finding that poor minorities were likely doomed to become "permanent wards of the states," the authors also recommended the elimination of welfare policies that "encourage" poor women to have babies:
We can imagine no recommendation for using the government to manipulate fertility that does not have dangers. But this highlights the problem: The United States already has policies that inadvertently social-engineer who has babies, and it is encouraging the wrong women. If the United States did as much to encourage high-IQ women to have babies as it now does to encourage low-IQ women, it would rightly be described as engaging in aggressive manipulation of fertility. The technically precise description of America's fertility policy is that it subsidizes births among poor women, who are also disproportionately at the low end of the intelligence distribution. We urge generally that these policies, represented by the extensive network of cash and services for low-income women who have babies, be ended. (p. 548)

In other words, it advocated a kind of reverse social engineering by defunding programs that "encouraged" poor black women to have children -- eugenics by deprivation.

Meanwhile, over at National Review, you could find some of Jonah Goldberg's colleagues holding forth recently on the virtues of eugenics. John Derbyshire kicked it off:
Private, commercial eugenics is here, though. It already has a foot in the door, & pretty soon it'll be sprawled on your living-room couch. My children (probably) and my grandchildren (certainly) will practice eugenics.

Andrew Stuttaford chimed in:
Derb, you're absolutely right that this is an issue that will soon (again) be with us, and you're also absolutely correct that the horrified cry of "eugenics" should not, as is too often the case, be allowed to conclude the discussion then and there. Of course, outside the lunatic fringe, nobody can deny that the bestial excesses carried out in the first half of the last century in the name of eugenics (or, more often, junk eugenics) were not only a disgrace, but a warning for the future. At the same time, to argue that this should make the whole science a taboo is an idea that belongs, alongside poor, deluded Wiliam Jennings Bryan, in the dustbin of history. Like almost any science, eugenics can be used for good and for bad, the question is who is to define which is which.

Pretty soon, there was an entire section section devoted to the ongoing discussion, which also drew in Ramesh Ponoru, making similar defenses.

This isn't particularly new for National Review. Back in 2000, Matt Ridley wrote a long exegesis about some of the supposed virtues of eugenics, which had this as its thesis:
The tragedy of that story lies not in the science behind eugenics, but in the politics: It is the coercion that was wrong.

Well, it is true that the horrors of eugenics manifested themselves when put into action by various states -- whether the Nazi Nuremberg Laws and the Holocaust that they eventually produced, or American social experiments involving the mentally disabled. Some of the most inhuman things were given a clinical face. See, for example, the chart below, which showed which kinds of marriages were permissible and which were "verboten" under the Nuremberg Laws:

Indeed, Goldberg in Liberal Fascism (p. 245) offers a similar argument about what was wrong with eugenics in defending The Bell Curve:
Yes, they focused on issues of classic concern to eugenicists -- the heritability of intelligence and its distribution among races -- but their argument was 180 degrees opposote from real eugenics, which means using state power to improve the racial, genetic, or biological health of the community.

But it's simply not accurate to say that the only thing wrong with eugenics was the state coercion behind it. More fundamentally, what was wrong with eugenics -- and indeed, what made the state coercion not merely wrong but a catastrophic travesty -- was its science.

As I've explained previously:
Actually, it's important to understand that the state coercion was wrong, but so was the "science" of eugenics -- in important ways that have to do with the nature of science itself. That is, its "data" and underlying observations were predicated on biases that rendered its outcomes in a predictably biased fashion; which is to say, it was less a science than a reinforcement of bigotry dressed up in academic clothing.

Eugenics was no more a serious "science" than phrenology, which posited that the shape and features of the human skull could reveal all kinds of behavioral tendencies. (Indeed, phrenology drew much of its data from eugenicists.) So at least a portion of the tragedy has to do with the lives that were ruined by the choices made for them by well-meaning people misinformed by a bogus non-science, within the public and the private spheres.

What Derbyshire and his Cornermates thereafter describe as "eugenics," that is, mate selection and prenatal genetic manipulation, is simple genetics. And all of the ensuing discussion, insofar as it recognizes that there are real limits to what can be accomplished through mate selection, is more usefully described within the very real science of genetics and not the pseudo-science of eugenics.

What the example of eugenics demonstrates most clearly is this: Science perverted for ideological reasons produces travesties. If only the defenders of "intelligent design" and the so-called "skeptics" of global warming would pay heed.

[A note about this series.]


-- by Dave

Apropos of absolutely nothing, I thought you all might be interested in some of the shots I took this week of the Beacon Hill tunnel being built by Sound Transit for the new light-rail line in Seattle. I grew up in construction and much of my family still does it, so I was very interested in it. My brother-in-law, who's working on the site, took me down and showed me around a bit.

It was the scene of a fatal accident a year ago. However, that was obviously something of an anomaly -- the emphasis on safety below was pretty obvious. The only time I was nervous at all came when we were lowered in a "man can" by crane into the tunnel.

We also took a stroll down to where the tunneling machine was doing its thing, but we couldn't get close enough for a photo. This tunnel is still unfinished and somewhat crude compared to the west tunnel above:

The yellow tube you see at the top carries fresh air down to the men working on the tunneling machine.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Ron Paul slinks away

-- by Dave

So Ron Paul says he's calling off his presidential bid and focusing instead on keeping his congressional seat, which actually may be endangered:
Ron Paul, the Lake Jackson GOP lawmaker whose Internet-driven presidential campaign has smashed fundraising records but failed to garner substantial voter support, is scaling back his White House efforts and is focusing on the primary race to retain his House seat.

In an e-mail message sent to supporters Saturday, Paul said that while he will remain in the presidential race, he must place a priority on his congressional contest, where he faces Friendswood accountant Chris Peden.

"If I were to lose the primary for my congressional seat, all our opponents would react with glee, and pretend it was a rejection of our ideas," he said. "I cannot and will not let that happen."

With Arizona Sen. John McCain on a clear path to the Republican presidential nomination, Paul said he no longer needs as big a national staff, "so," he said, "I am making it leaner and tighter."

Paul repeated earlier pledges that he will not make a third-party run for president. In 1988, he was the Libertarian Party presidential candidate, and thousands of his grassroots backers have encouraged him to continue his national fight through November.

So much for my prediction that Paul will eventually go the third-party route. Although if he loses his primary, he might yet give it a shot. Or use the leftover money to build an organization for a 2012 bid.
... Jared Woodfill, Harris County GOP chairman, said, "It's very surprising, if not shocking, that he's still in the presidential race. His numbers have gone absolutely nowhere."

Paul's announcement was greeted with sadness by supporters in cyberspace and at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.

"His analysis is correct," said Aaron Biterman, a Paul backer from Arlington, Va. "He should be worried about his congressional seat. We don't want to lose Ron Paul in Congress."

Howie Klein notes that Paul's primary opponent, Chris Peden, is nearly an out-to-lunch wingnut as Paul, just a different kind. And he's got a decent chance of winning, evidently.

I enjoyed this shot from Peden:
The "people who live in District 14 actually deserve an elected representative who cares more about looking out for their interests in D.C. than trying to persuade a bunch of dope-smoking, Kucinich-loving college students in Seattle that America’s problems are the result of a flawed monetary policy controlled by a wealthy and secretive elite."

Actually, I think most of the college students in Seattle went pretty overwhelmingly for Obama yesterday. Including the dope smokers.

But we get the point -- and for the people who actually put Ron Paul in Congress, as opposed to the people who pour money into his campaigns, it's probably a germane one.