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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Bob McCulloch: 0 For 5 In Ferguson

Our beloved writer/friend David Phillips picks up a pen to call out 
Bob McCulloch as the police protector he is, instead of 
the prosecutor he has never been.
With his permission, we republish his blog here.

David E. Phillips

It is remarkably easy to get an indictment from a grand jury. Former New York state Chief Judge Sol Wachtler once said you could get a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich.” There is no defense present. It is an opportunity to run up the score. What typically happens, when a prosecutor is seeking an indictment, is they present the evidence to the grand jury in an effort to achieve just that. Otherwise, why are they there? Normally, potentially exculpatory evidence is not shared with the jurors. Once again, the prosecutor is normally trying to gain an indictment. How easy is it to gain an indictment, you might ask? In 2010, the federal government brought 162,000 cases to a grand jury. They were denied all of eleven times.

Which is why what happened in Ferguson last night was so remarkable and deeply weird.

The prosecutor Bob McCulloch, in charge of Darren Wilson’s grand jury hearing, did none of those things. Watching his press conference last night, I couldn’t figure out what his job was. He sounded more like a defense attorney, not a member of any prosecution. What’s kind of fascinating to me is the idea of a prosecutor presenting the evidence in a way that clearly made it look like he was, at best, ambivalent on reaching an indictment. It is a rare thing for the prosecution to release all the evidence to a grand jury. His delivering of all the evidence to that body has been described as a “document dump.” Now, on one hand, you could argue this is how it should always be done. Maybe it’s the most honest way to do it, right? On the other though, you could point out this is almost never how it is done. In fact, it is beyond rare to find instances of it. Last night, on the various networks, a plethora of legal experts were completely flummoxed and unable to cite a single case in their experience.

McCulloch has a long history of closeness with police in the county. His father was killed in the line of duty in 1964, by an African-American man. McCulloch was twelve years old. As well, his brother, an uncle, and a cousin served in the Saint Louis PD, and his mother worked there as a clerk. The community of Ferguson was so concerned with the prosecutor in this case that they circulated a petition, one that resulted in more than 26,000 signatures requesting his removal from the case, which was something Missouri Governor Jay Nixon could have done when McCulloch refused to recuse himself.

Nixon, who could make a deer in the headlights look positively spry, issued a statement on August 19 that said he would not ask McCulloch to recuse himself, and he would be leaving that decision up to the prosecutor himself. McCulloch took this soft statement of support with indignation, saying Nixon should “man up” and make a decision. He went further still, making his offensive personal, “It’s the typical Nixon doublespeak. He says nothing and he’s ducking.” Nixon offered no retort. This sort of back and forth between a prosecutor, and the top elected official in his state, is positively remarkable.

What’s even more remarkable though, is McCulloch’s inability to return an indictment. Here was a case of an unarmed teenager gunned down in the street by six bullets from an officer’s gun. While eyewitness accounts were–unremarkably–inconsistent, there was no argument that officer Wilson caused the death of Michael Brown under, at minimum, unusual circumstances. Many citizens have been indicted for far less.

Ferguson has a long history of distrust between its citizens, who are 2/3 African-American (66%), and its police force, which as of August of this year, only three of its fifty officers were (6%). A police force that does not reflect the community is a powder keg of unrest. The shooting of an unarmed black youth in the middle of the street, and leaving the body there for four and a half hours, did nothing less than blow the lid off.

Last night, cars were battered, businesses were looted and buildings were set on fire. Martin Luther King Jr. once said “A riot is the language of the unheard.” You can argue that it’s counter productive, but to paraphrase what Ralph Wiley once said, there is a reason why black tend to shout. In the dark of the Ferguson night, they were screaming in response to a prosecutor who does not reflect their community, and quite simply was derelict in his duty. He, and the state of Missouri’s feckless governor, caused this last night. This is a population that does not know what justice looks like. And after watching McCulloch’s defensive and derisive press conference last night, they still don’t.

It was pointed out last night on MSNBC that Bob McCulloch has now brought five cases to a grand jury targeting police officers. He has returned an indictment against none of them. That means Bob McCulloch has indicted as many police officers in his twenty-three year career as I have. Think on that as you watch the people of Ferguson take to the streets.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The President We Don’t Deserve: Occasional Repost

Whenever we see our friend/writer David Phillips post a new piece, 
we can't wait to read it, they are like a wonderful slice of 
turkey with cranberry on Thanksgiving, delicious, and timely. Enjoy.

by David E. Phillips

I often look back on President Obama’s inauguration in 2009 and wonder what we wanted. What we expected from a man inheriting a free falling economy, two wars, and all the rest that Bush and Cheney left behind for him. The soaring rhetoric of his campaign raised expectations to sky high levels. Every president over promises. Perhaps not all intend to, but it is a part of the campaign game. Hope and Change sounded marvelous didn’t it? That wasn’t the problem though. I think the greater issue is, it sounded easy. We should know better. Real change comes not only at a cost, but quite often in painful, ruthless inches that tax both stamina and resolve. Two things this nation has proven itself to be in short supply of.

Oh sure, maybe Obama hasn’t been all we may have hoped he would be. Occasionally, I feel that way. Then I compare him to the alternative. When I do, the air I breathe fills with jasmine, and anything I take a drink of turns to mother’s milk. That is not the prevailing opinion of the average American. For many, change has come too slow during this presidency. It’s okay to hate incrementalism. I’m no fan either. However, in a strange way, it’s almost like science. It’s not going to change whether you like it or not. For better or worse, baby steps is generally how we roll.

The thing is, that’s not all on the President. FDR was once approached by a Democratic Senator with a new proposal. He made his argument for the legislation and, at the end of the discussion, FDR said “That’s great, now make me do it.” Every President needs to be pushed by both their party and the public. Do you really think LBJ wanted to deal with the sturm und drang of the Civil Rights movement? Or FDR the great Depression? All things being equal, I would guess not. However, history met them in the form of pressure. That pressure did not come from above them–how could it?–it came from below, as a groundswell.

I mention FDR and LBJ most specifically because they probably passed more meaningful progressive legislation than any other President of the 20th century (with apologies to Teddy). We forget something though. For most of their tenure, they had very strong majorities in both houses of congress. A fact that allows for the greater passage of meaningful legislation. They also had a motivated populous pushing for change. Whether it was FDR’s New Deal, or LBJ’s Great Society, there was a hunger in the land for something more.

Barack Obama has had neither of those things. Oh, it’s true, he briefly had majorities in both the House and the Senate until he did that awful thing we elected him to do. You know, improve our health care. He did so with a flawed bill that not only wasn’t the “Medicare for all” the far left wanted, or even the more modest public option the left of center would have liked to have seen. That being said, not only was it the best he could do, but it’s also working. Even stout Obama critics from the far left like Paul Krugman accept that now.

He also passed a stimulus bill that many–including Krugman–feel was too small, but may well have staved off another Great Depression. He also moved to stabilize the auto industry. A ringing success that too few have spoken about. It appears that he has also kept us safe. There has been no second 9/11 and bin Laden sleeps with the fishes–literally. He embraced gay marriage. Begrudgingly at first and with an assist from Crazy Joe, but it’s no small thing to be the first leader of the free world to do so.

All of that doesn’t mean I believe he’s always been right. He doubled down in Afghanistan, wasn’t hard enough on Wall Street (although Dodd-Frank is not nothing), has been too slow on immigration, hasn’t solved the riddle of income inequality, and expanded both the drone program to kill, and the authority of the NSA to peep through our cyber windows. Depending on where you fall on the political spectrum of the left, those shortfalls probably fall somewhere in a range between disappointing and outright folly. He has not been a perfect President. If he were, he would be the first.

I will tell you this. His greatest political mistake was not necessarily any of the things listed above. As my good friend and fellow scribe, David Harada-Stone, once said to me, “Obama’s greatest mistake was overestimating the American public.” To this I say, and how.

We are terrible. The only group of people I can think of in this country that might be worse are those that presently serve in congress. Democrats who run from the President, and their own successes, and Republicans who run from sanity.

That truth does not let us off the hook. A few weeks ago, the center-right columnist, Jon Avlon, was on Real Time with Bill Maher, and he made the most simple and yet one of strongest defenses of the Obama presidency I have heard. He essentially said, if you compare the way things are now to the way they were when he entered the office, it is inarguable that things are appreciably better. He’s exactly right. And somehow, this is true despite zero assistance from that not so loyal opposition known as the GOP, and relatively feckless support from the party whose standard Barack Obama bears like a 60 pound stone.

For this, we–the American people–have paid this man almost no dividend. His approval ratings are underwater, and the oh so recent midterms were an unqualified disaster, due in no small part to the inability of those of us on the left to show up. We provided a vacuum for a sour, science denying, willfully ignorant, and yes, appreciably racist hard right to step right in, and wipe the floor with us. We made it so easy; it’s embarrassing.

And that’s mostly how I feel right now about this country, and those that are contained within. Embarrassed. Because if you would have told me at the ass end of the Bush Administration that in six short years, the stock market would be at record highs, millions more people would have health care, job growth would be constant and ever expanding, we would be relatively safe from terrorists and loose nukes, have many fewer troops in harm’s way, be nearing a full acceptance of gay rights, and generally just not walking around trying not to shit our pants as all that we hold dear seems to be crumbling around us, not only would I be ecstatic, I would have purchased a hammer and a chisel from the hardware store, hopped in my car, set my GPS for Mount Rushmore, and requested a photo of the man who would lead us out of that doleful wilderness so I could get to adding a fifth face to that monument. But that’s just me.

So what should President Obama do with his remaining two years surrounded by an obstructionist Republican majority, a reeling Democratic minority, and a public that can’t be bothered to know or appreciate anything he has done? He should tell us all to go straight to Hell, and do what he’s been doing for the last six years…what he by and large believes is right. Only now, he should do it harder. The irony of it all is that will probably end up being what is best for us as well.

There is no point in trying to cure the sickness of apathy, misplaced anger, and reckless stupidity that grips this country, the way many seem to foolishly fear Ebola one day will. In short, we can’t be pleased. Therefore, this president should set his sights higher–not that it will be hard to do. He should look to those who will either come after us, or are still too young to understand the complexities of the difficult times we live in. Those whom he might just be able to leave a better world. Maybe they will thank him for it. Certainly those that go on to become historians will.

And that seems to be just what he’s doing. It has barely been a week since his party and his supporters abandoned him. In that time he has pushed for–in the strongest of terms–the maintaining of net neutrality. Late last night he reached a historic accord with China (China!) to greatly reduce carbon emissions, and next week he’s primed to take major executive action on immigration reform. If you are a progressive, these are exactly the things you should want. If you are anyone else, these are exactly the things you need–whether you want them or not.

I wish I could I say we were worthy of it. That we would recognize it. That we might deserve it. Lucky for us, as Clint Eastwood once said, “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.” And we are damn lucky. Much luckier to have Obama than he is to have us.

Follow David Phillips on Twitter @BrotherJulius83

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Occasional Repost: The Face of Propaganda

When one of our fellow writers hits the nail on the head, we like to share their knowledge in a column we like to call "Occasional Repost." Enjoy this one from our writer/friend Bruce Lindner.

Bruce Lindner

Back in the late '70s during the Iran Hostage Crisis, I got into shortwave radio (prior to that, was my wine, women & song period. Oh, and skiing). Shortwave radio opened a window on the world to me that I never knew existed. The Cold War was still raging, and many say it was at its apex around that time. Besides the Iranian Revolution mess, the Soviets had just invaded Afghanistan, President Carter announced our boycott of the 1980 Olympics and tensions were high from Belgrade to Petropavlovsk. And when Reagan came to power in 1981, his MX Missile program and the threat of the Neutron Bomb further exacerbated the mistrust. The true behemoth of the International airwaves at that time was Radio Moscow. Any time you'd turn on an HF radio, there would be Moscow, on at least three dozen frequencies in forty or fifty languages, saturating the planet with their message. And that message was surreal.

At that time here in the states, other than reading a newspaper, "news" meant Walter Cronkite or John Chancellor. They were true newsmen in every sense of the word. By contrast, Radio Moscow was like Bizarro World. NBC News would report a story of some skirmish somewhere, for example, the situation between the Turks and Greeks on Cypress, complete with video of the incident. Radio Moscow would put their own unique spin on the story, Cronkite's footage be damned. Whatever the West said, RM would fabricate a counter-story, alleging that the U.S. version of events was false. And again, the Soviet reports were broadcast worldwide, to strategically targeted regions in the native language of their intended audience. The US countered their propaganda with propaganda channels of their own; Radio Liberty and the Voice of America, though neither was so brazen in their disinformation as was Radio Moscow.

The Soviet disinformation methods closely mimicked Nazi absolute control of their media during World War II. The Nazis controlled the print media, as did the Soviets with Pravda. Herr Göebbels established his own film industry to promote his vision of a Third Reich utopia, and even produced a "Volksradio;" a reasonably priced tabletop radio for the German masses — that just happened to be restricted to Nazi propaganda only. To my knowledge, the Soviets never went that far, but they did establish "jammers" that conveniently blocked Western broadcasts. So in the end, you heard only what the Kremlin wanted you to hear. An onslaught of state-approved propaganda.

Ultimately, what digital cameras did to photography and CDs did to vinyl records, the Internet did to shortwave radio. Today, anytime you want to hear the news from Radio Bhutan or music from Radio Tahiti, you can just hit their website and stream it. Gone are the days when you had to wait for their broadcast (usually at some gawdawful hour), then hope that conditions were just right for it to come in. There are still numerous shortwave broadcasters, though they're mostly for local, or regional consumption, or in tropical regions where AM radio isn't as effective due to electrical storms. But more than any other broadcast empire, Radio Moscow was unique. It was an enormous state-run giant of 24/7 misinformation, the purpose of which wasn't to inform and enlighten, but to intentionally keep their listeners in the dark. There's never been anything quite like it.

Until 1996 that is, when Rupert Murdoch was granted a license to launch Fox News. When I hear Sean Hannity doing his thing, I'm immediately reminded of the then Radio Moscow announcer, Vladimir Posner. He was at that time, the unofficial English language voice of the Soviet Union, and his commentaries, while entertaining, were often hysterical in their inaccuracy. Whatever was being reported in Europe or North America, bad bad Vlad would put his own spin on it, which was often 180° opposed to what was actually happening. And from the perspective of the men in the Kremlin who controlled him, why not twist things? They'd already convinced their listeners that anything they heard from the bourgeoisie broadcasts of the West were lies, so they had little to lose in the way of credibility.

So it is today with the Murdoch Empire. Fox News viewers and listeners are told daily that the so-called mainstream media is biased, that only THEIR reporting is trustworthy (the term "mainstream media" being Fox contrived jargon itself, devised to separate them from the competition, or in their view, the lesser broadcasters). And it works. Fox listeners & viewers who dare to venture out and listen to any of the three broadcast networks, or perish the thought, MSNBC or CNN, and hear something other than what they WANT to hear, come away reinforced with the notion that Fox tells the truth while all the others lie. It's a self perpetuating system of deception.

What seems so ironic to me, is that the media empire that routinely wraps itself in Old Glory and touts itself as the "Fair & Balanced" voice of truth, has no more than a micron's width of difference between what they're doing today, and what their arch-enemies, the communists did 30 years ago. Or perhaps more aptly, what the Nazis did 70 years ago. Godwin's law aside, that's an inconvenient truth that neither Rupert Murdoch nor Roger Ailes can deny. When it comes to propaganda, Joseph Göebbels had nothing on what Murdoch's doing today.

Bruce Lindner

Find Lindner on Facebook

Occassional Repost: History Gets The Last Word

As you know, occasionally, we will repost pieces we appreciate. Here is a little something from our friend/writer Bruce Lindner who is always right on.

by Bruce Lindner

I sometimes marvel at how short-sighted this president’s adversaries are. As everyone knows, when he was sworn in six years ago, Senator Mitch McConnell announced that his primary goal was to make President Obama a one-term president. And true to his word, he’s hindered this president’s efforts whenever possible. The economy was in the porcelain fixture and President Obama found himself as welcome by the Republicans as if he had a rattlesnake slithering out of his pocket. So whatever was to become of his presidency, he’d either get ALL the blame or ALL the credit; with the Republicans pushing hard for the former.

The Bush recession was so deep and the bleeding of jobs so bad, it had nowhere to go but up. Not that this president’s policies didn’t contribute to turning things around, but the point being, the efforts of the Republican opposition — by their own decree — would be to contribute nothing. Had they had any smarts at all, they’d have cooperated at least enough so that they could later claim part of the credit for whatever successes were inevitably to come. But they didn’t. They stuck to their goal of pushing this president towards failure. Sorry about your luck Mr. Turtle; he didn’t fail. You did.

In the coming decades (assuming Karl Rove doesn’t get to write it), historians will record that the greatest economic dip in almost a century happened under an incompetent Republican administration that rammed through Republican foreign and domestic policies, largely opposed by the Democrats but backed with enthusiastic Republican support. We all know how that turned out. And the man who succeeded him, a Democrat who was met with open, often racially tinged hostility, turned things around before his two terms were up. In less than six years, all the jobs lost during the Great Bush Recession had been restored, the deficit had been whittled down by two-thirds, the stock market had gone through the roof, women’s equality, gay and immigrant rights had been advanced, Public Enemy No. 1 had been vanquished, the taxpayers spared from absorbing the healthcare expenses of uninsured patients, all without so much as a pinky being lifted by a single Republican…except for the ones this president had the courage to seat in his cabinet.

Things may look like the food fight scene from Animal House right now, but when historians have finished documenting and assessing the events of the Obama era, he’s going to come out looking like a saint, whereas the rabid opposition is going to look like a mob of Tasmanian Devils. Because of their own documented words and misdeeds, there’ll be no denying who did what, which party oversaw the Great Recession, and which president reversed it. Not even by Turdblossom himself.If he/she were smart – and that’s a BIG if – the next Democrat who runs for president should run on this record and remind the electorate daily of why the Republican candidate deserves zero credit for where things stand in November 2016. Because they contributed ZERO to any of the achievements listed above. And the record backs it up.

Bruce Lindner

Occassional Repost: Free Advice To The Democrats

A compassionate Policy Geek knows another policy geek when she sees one. Here is an article by our writer/friend Brent Kincaid. Enjoy.

Brent Kincaid

Until November the fifth of this year: 2014, I thought I had a handle on what was happening in the United States Congress. I felt the poor Democrats were being swamped by a bastion of slobbering, neckless inbred baboons from The Old South who, along with their wannabe supporters in the Republican Party, were outnumbered by one member which allowed them to commit treason.

True, it is not regarded as treason by way of the arcane and nearly rationale-free rules of the Congress as it stands today, but only a fool could assimilate a situation in which one party drove the Congress to lock itself up and then lock itself down so that every member was making a salary for literally doing nothing for their pay. That alone cost the taxpayers millions and created a hardship for government workers who were not paid on time. They granted themselves raises, refused to give a break to citizens who wanted something close to the same insurance benefits Congress granted itself, and who would love to have had even half the pension they granted themselves in perpetuity and then denied benefits to veterans that fought to defend our country. It stands to reason many would, and in my paltry opinion, could look upon this as villainous and treasonous malpractice. I felt so sorry for the poor Democrats, and any well-meaning Republican who disagreed with their Tea Party leaders.

I was sure the voters, having seen two years of the stupidest, most unhelpful, non-productive high level shenanigans, and an astounding list of times in which Congress not only did not move in favor of the people it was meant to represent, but instead it moved against them, would cast these bums out on their ears. We also watched Congress vote forty-one times, to reverse the Affordable Care Act, long after it was a law and not a bill before them. They consistently calling it Obamacare and thus confusing the less intellectual of their constituents who couldn’t quite cope with the idea that they were the same thing, thus voted ‘no’ on Obamacare and ‘yes’ for the Affordable Care Act. They were, again, wasting our tax payer money on what was essentially a tantrum on their part. With all that I was sure we were watching the death knell of the not-quite official Tea Party and the Republican control of Congress.

Also, all the numbers were up since Obama took office: unemployment was down, but the rest were up. Any economic indicator you could think of had improved by leaps and bounds. The recession was being reversed. It took eight years for George W. Bush to drive us to the dumper in his SUV with horns on it, and in four years of the Obama administration, that trend had been reversed and our lot was better.

Almost every seat in Congress was up for return or to be filled anew. We had a chance to fix things. We had a change to begin to help everyone in the country achieve The American Dream.

That was before.

Now, I really think I have stepped into some Bizarro World; some alternate universe where logic doesn’t quite exist, where a Saturday Night Live skit has been substituted for American life today.

A decent margin (more than just that one seat) in the House of Representatives, won the election and to my horror, the Senate Republicans won the election. Suddenly, we are threatened with an entire Congress that can act as if it has no requirement to pay the slightest attention to its constituents, but it also has a brand new license to go after the most accomplished president in recent times. The American voters either stayed away from the mid-term elections for reasons of some snit against Obama or because they were lazy, or stupid, or both, and let about one-quarter of the qualified voters decide for them what was going to be law from there on out.

They had heard the warnings that the Republicans were coming after Social Security, Medicare, the Post Office and the potential voters didn’t care. Or they didn’t believe it. Or they weren’t quite bright enough to tell the lies about the danger from the actual danger. They stayed home and, according to some polls, let the over-sixty set decide what to do.

So, now, starting in January, the worst Congress in history has a blank check to loot and maraud at will. They can enact more laws that will drive a bigger wedge between you and your money. They can gerrymander to their twisted heart’s desire. They can move election boundaries around so neighborhoods where they don’t like the people (especially non-white neighborhoods) don’t get to have their vote count as strongly as those of the white, notably Republican constituents.

Was there any focus on tax and resource inequality, reforming the political system, reforming candidate contribution limits, reforming our strange immigration laws, fixing the many, many, many outdated and outright silly traditions within Congress? Not a word of it.

And, now, nobody gets to talk about them because Congress believes it has a mandate from ALL the people (not just the paltry number that voted this time) to carry on raping this country and stuffing the power into the pockets of the very rich, and very wealthy.

Is it any wonder some say GOP stands for Guardians Of Privilege, Gas and Oil Party, Gang Of Patricians, Greedy Old Putzes? Small wonder that I call them Republithugs, Repelicans, Republicrooks and Republithieves, RepubliKKKans and Repugnatants to name a few. It is clear these people have no good ideas for their constituents. It is all about either them or about their financial backers. If they stand against a good idea, they ALWAYS resort to name calling or hiding behind some kind of moral stance derived from a religious book they say they read and understand. They seldom admit it, but they are deriving most of their steam from the Old South Crackers and Good Old Boys that are STILL pissed off that their guy lost the Presidential election…TWICE…and a black guy won.

So, now comes my question and next the advice.

Democrats, WHERE ARE YOU ALL? Why did you let the GOP wander through this election almost without challenge, and why did you say so little? Are you friends with these crooks? Are you afraid to hurt some feelings? They aren’t. They call you everything but human. They don’t respect you and behave as if you don’t exist. So do you.

Is it true what some people say that the Democrats won’t call names and point out the GOP bad behavior because they have an equal amount of their own acceptance of bribes, dark money, and campaign contributions to protect? Are you really what I call you? Dummocraps?

What the hell is going on?

It really is Bizzarro World. These are the most obvious, and proud bunch of carpetbaggers since the post Civil-War Reconstruction era, and you lie back and let them. And some of you make the excuse that you don’t want to be tainted by Obama’s ‘low’ numbers? His numbers are as high or higher than any other lame duck president at this point in his second term and since ALL the other numbers are high, one would think you would have been trotting him out as the number one item in any campaign speech. What wimps! What wussies! Instead of pointing out the numbers that were achieved IN SPITE of opposition from a Congress that was either totally gridlocked, or at least was sitting on its hands, you all fell damn near silent. Did you think your good looks would win you a seat in the next Congress? Well, let me assure you, there ain’t many of you that are all that pretty.

So, here comes my advice. DEMOCRATS: WAKE THE HELL UP!

Before it’s too late.

Brent Kincaid

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Immigration And Our Looming Baby Boomer Problems

Immigrants can save our looming Baby Boomer problems. And there are baby boomer problems, believe you me. Our post-WWII wonders are getting to that age now, and for the next wave of retirees hoping to move to warmer climates, it's not looking good.

What do we know? The Boomer generation has been hit hard with misfortune on their way to retirement age. They will get to 64 or 65, and not have enough to sustain them for their projected life expectancy. Many of them may have to work through to their 80s. Their children had to move home, due to the massive international layoffs of 2008, so that makes even more mouths to feed.

Overall, the Boomers retirement funds were stolen by Enron, by the crash of investment banks, by the crash of pensions, oil and gas deals, or by lying insurance companies who could never make good on their debt. We're looking at you, AIG, Anderson Consulting, and your mystical twin Accenture. But those are stories for another day. Let's get back to the problem we have today.

Don't get me wrong, these baby boomers were made of some tough stuff, from hippies to yippies to preppies, they believe in YES WE CAN. So they tried, they picked themselves up, and dusted themselves off, but they just couldn't replace that nest egg. Not quick enough to retire comfortably. In a few years, the front of this wave will hit our economic markets, eventually affecting every aspect of life in the US. And things will stay that way for another 25 years, constantly coming like a wave.

Of course, there will be no more gold watches after 50 years; who has funding for that anymore? And without enough savings, you need to figure out how to live on Social Security, and how to navigate through Medicare.

And then, just when they are packing up their ferns, and enjoying their goodbye cakes, your average retiree is told their social security is gone, or cut, or no longer tied to inflation. Finding huge donut holes where insurance doesn't cover you appropriately for medication, these become daily realities. 

It isn't going to be cheap to keep these people alive, bottom line. Social Security, and Medicare, are supposed to be tied to inflation, but in reality, they could be cut anytime; even this newly voted-in Congress could do it. {{Shivers}} Now don't be angry at the drama. We have some options. 

What if I told you where to find $606.4 billions dollars. Would you be interested? That's $606.4 billion with "B." Well, you'd probably say we need to get our hands on that life-safety-net type money before it is too late, cause then we'd get behind the problem. And that would be bad. Well, we're hear to tell you, we could get that money back in taxes.

What are we saying? Yes taxes. From the 11 million immigrants currently in the United States, and we would most likely only integrate a portion of those applicants. Anyone with criminal records would have to reviewed, turned away and most likely deported. 

We could get that $606.4 billion injection into Social Security alone, but the payments would have to happen over the next 36 years. If we can get the proposed legislation S. 7844 passed and signed, we make that projected $606.4 billion. If you think of any other way our country could suddenly find an extra $606.4 billion with a "B" to pour into our Social Security fund, please do tell. 

The worst part is, these are only baby steps to solving those problems. Even if the undocumented population were able to gain legal status and citizenship under S. 744, the solvency of the Medicare trust fund could only be extended by four years, but that's enough of a reason for me. Or at least a starting point. Congress needs to make the big reform moves moving forward. Long term. And right now that bill is sitting on the steps of Capitol Hill, left swaddled by the Senate, waiting to be discussed and debated by The House.

At this time, there is another bill created by House Dems, and also ignored. We need to see this problem for what it is. What some members of Congress are not seeing is that this issue will exist for the next 25 years, the length of the Baby Boomer generation.

There are lots of humane reasons why we should process these immigrants completely and now. But, as you see, there are pragmatic financial reasons for doing it too. Citizenship would allow millions of undocumented immigrants to work on the books and contribute to Social Security. Over the next 25 years, these contributions to the Social Security system would support 2.4 million American retirees. 

Everything about S. 744 makes sense. As mentioned, this legislation already passed in the Senate, but the house won't even vote to vote on it. They won't even vote to debate it.

If "some people" could get over their phobia of the 11 million people already surrounding them, perhaps we could move forward. 

We think there's a whole bunch of deportation type stuff as well in S. 744. We know if we can make this happen immigrants, who are currently living in the United States off the grid, could make an additional net contribution of $155 billion to Medicare over the next 30 years. That's 3/4s of a trillion dollars this bill generates. At least that is the projection.

Hear me out on the real digits you need to know about immigration. As Baby Boomers retire en masse over the next 20 years, and yes they are coming, immigrants will be crucial to fill those then empty job posts. It is projected, by several stats gurus, that 58.6 million new workers will be needed to fill those Baby Boomer retirements. That's 58.6 million workers needed, and only 51.3 million native-born Americans are projected to enter the workforce, meaning that immigrants and their children will be crucial to filling the additional 7.3 million job openings while also furthering growth in the labor market. Woah, what did I just say?

Yes, immigrants would, in fact, promote growth in the labor market. We have 11 million immigrants to process. More than two-thirds could enter the labor market replacing retiring workers. The rest are probably already in our labor market, undocumented. What we propose here, is that we get these people legally documented without scaring them to death. If they are working, give them a work visa. No job, end of the line. Refugee, front of the line. Do you have a Sponsor, front of the line. Why? Because all those people could start to have bank accounts, and spend money, creating jobs, yes creating jobs. It is a win, win. Again, these human beings are already here. We have to do something. Our current laws aren't equipped to handle 11 million immigrants all at the same time.

The Policy Geek

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Ebola Today 11/12

The Ebola Virus

US is Ebola Free
Today, the news is better than last week, or the week before, but the struggle continues.

We’ll start with some good news, in fact, the best news. The only patient with Ebola in the United States, for the last couple of weeks or so, has been the subway riding, bowling doctor, who traipsed around New York City after returning from working with Ebola patients in Guinea. Spencer, 33, was infected with Ebola while working for Doctors Without Borders.

Well today, after receiving excellent care at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York City, Dr. Craig Spencer has been deemed free of the Ebola virus, and was released from Bellevue to much hugging and fanfare.

“It’s a very, very good day,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a press conference Tuesday. “Dr. Spencer is Ebola-free, and New York City is Ebola-free.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio hugging Dr. Craig Spencer
Ebola Survivor.
As a reminder, although Spencer wandered around the city that doesn’t sleep, he did so feeling and showing no symptoms. Only after feeling and then reporting symptoms of Ebola on Thursday, Oct. 23rd, was he transported to an isolation ward by ambulance, later testing positive for the virus.

"I’m elated,” said Ram Raju, M.D., president of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, “because we were able to treat and cure a hero.”

That news out of New York brings the grand total of Ebola cases currently in the U.S. back down to zero. ZERO. In the United States, there are currently ZERO cases of Ebola. It bears repeating.

For now, the hysteria that began with the arrival, diagnosis, and subsequent death, of Thomas Eric Duncan in Dallas is resembling so many other Fox “news” crises of the moment, in with a bang and out with a “squirrel!” While the U.S. response faltered at the outset, with the misdiagnosis of Duncan and sending him home, and then with existing federal and state public-health protocols being inconsistent, the nation’s superior medical care ultimately prevailed: All three Ebola patients, whose infections were quickly and properly diagnosed, have been cured, and no one they came into contact with has reported symptoms.

Struggling with the losses.

Back In Africa
What’s happening in the rest of the world? So far, almost 5000 have died from Ebola during this outbreak. The death toll will go higher once they discover all the small villages and towns completely wiped out by the virus, ones that could not get to help that was 2 or more hours away. According to the CDC, the disease itself has been around since 1976, killing 431 that year. What you need to understand, is that there is a reason that Doctors Without Borders exists. This Ebola virus is just one of many diseases that have taken hold in the western part of Africa over the decades. And to understand Ebola, you need to understand that.

For instance, let’s talk about measles for just a moment. Ya know, the disease no one gets anymore. It has a .2% fatality rate, and since the endemic spread of measles was eliminated in the United States (2000), rates of measles had been fairly low. However, before the routine use of the measles vaccine (1963) and the MMR vaccine (1971), measles cases — and complications from those cases — were really high. There used to be about 500,000 cases of measles and 500 measles deaths each year in the United States.

Today, with vaccinations, no one needs to die from the measles. Or even suffer from it. Nonetheless, this year, in the United States, we had 600 cases of the vaccine-preventable disease, and no reports of deaths from measles. In comparison, in the poorest regions of Africa, 122,000 people died of the measles in 2012. DIED. 122,000 people died of a vaccine-preventable disease in one year. Let that soak in. Although that sounds like an incredibly grim death toll, health experts hail the figures as a sign of success of the U.N.’s mass vaccination programs, since the number has plummeted since the 1990s, when more than 500,000 people a year, or about 1,300 a day, died of measles.

What’s our point? We’ve lost 5000 total in this epidemic. Not 5000 a day. To put things in perspective, this isn’t our first rodeo, and it’s not as bad as many others we’ve fought before. And every one who has come to the United States, except for poor Thomas Eric Duncan, has been cured, so we are getting a hold on it.

Ebola Robot Zaps Virus To Instantly Clean.

Technological Solutions
What makes these patients so dangerous to treat is the big messes that are made. Liquids everywhere have to be cleaned up, and removed safely. We’ve found some help in that area from the technology sector.

The Xenex robot, from a company in San Antonio, was first introduced years ago, and it is capable of using ultraviolet light to mess with the virus’s DNA, thereby damaging it enough to essentially make it harmless. This is a clean up robot and, now that healthcare workers have a way to quickly kill off the virus in certain locations, entire parts of hospitals can be cleaned with it. This robot has been sent to 250 hospitals, and is actively being used at this time to keep medical workers out of harms way when cleaning up after one of these highly contagious patients.

When most people hear the word Ebola, they envision hazmat suits and quarantined hospital rooms. But UC Berkeley engineering professor Ken Goldberg envisions robots also helping with specific tasks. In fact, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy reached out for Goldberg’s expertise in robotics, encouraging him and three other researchers and research centers to hold brainstorming sessions on ways to enlist robots in the fight against this deadly disease.

“People have an expectation that the robots are going to go in and do something dramatic.” Goldberg explained. “The capabilities are limited right now. There’s a lot of research that needs to be done. These are some tools that we hope will be useful in both the near term and long term.”

Goldberg sees at least two ways robots may be redeployed in the next three to six months to help contain the spread of Ebola. First, telepresence robots, with cameras and screens that allow doctors to remotely communicate and get a visual read of patients, could be useful in the diagnosis phase.

“When you’re trying to diagnose a patient, there’s a lot of nuance,” Goldberg said. “You want to be able to look from different angles, look at different parts of the patient. You also want to be able to have some kind of intervention. You want to be able to zoom in or hopefully touch, palpate part of a patient. So, there’s a lot of interesting research. How can you do that from a distance?”

Goldberg also sees robots being helpful in the near term with clean up and decontamination. But there’s one major obstacle to overcome: most robots have wheels that would immediately get contaminated. Goldberg explains,

“We don’t know, actually, how to sterilize them. There’s too many intricate, moving parts. So essentially, you’d have to throw the robot out afterward.”

First, engineers need to improve robots’ abilities to perceive clear objects. All the glassware used in labs, like test tubes, beakers and slides, can currently confuse robots.

The second way Goldberg says robots can play a part in the Ebola fight in the long term is by inserting IVs either for drawing blood or providing intravenous hydration. Technology could help cut down on the occurrences of patients being poked multiple times to tap a good vein.

“We use new imaging techniques to be able to find the vein more accurately,” Goldberg said, “and a robotic device that would be able to position the needle more accurately.”

According to Goldberg,

“It could be a couple of years before robots play an expanded role in the fight against Ebola. We’re looking beyond this current health crisis so we’re ready for the next one. Some of us feel this is the end of the world. But those on the forefront of technology know this stuff comes in waves, it has before, it will again, and this is not the biggest monster we’ve defeated.”

Ebola Affecting World Events
In Africa, because of the drastic numbers, there are also drastic results. When talking about soccer (football) “drastic” might be a big word, but not if you live in Africa. Well, things have gotten so bad there that the Moroccan government urged African soccer’s governing body to delay its flagship bi-annual continental competition over Ebola fears. To be clear, Morocco is reported to be Ebola free at this time.

Morocco was slated to host the African Cup of Nations, organized by the Confederation of African Football (CAF), from Jan. 17th to Feb. 8th 2015. The 16 team competition has run since 1957, and the north African country has already spent millions of dollars upgrading its stadiums for this event and December’s FIFA Club World Cup. But the outbreak of Ebola in west Africa has raised fears in Morocco that traveling fans and players could help spread the disease further, so Morocco wanted the cup delayed until June 2015 or early 2016.

As of today, Morocco has been removed as host of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations and expelled from participating in the biennial championship. No replacement host has yet been named for the 3 week tournament. Any postponement could be financially crippling for the CAF. So, that happened.

Back In Maine
The boyfriend of Kaci Hickox, the nurse who defiantly refused to self-quarantine after she returned from West Africa, says the couple will move out of Maine this week after a state court order restricting their movement expires. Ted Wilbur, Kaci’s brave boyfriend, withdrew from his nursing program at the University of Maine at Fort Kent, where the couple lives, and said Friday that he and Hickox were “going to try to get our lives back on track” by leaving the state. So, as of now, her saga is over. Although, we wouldn’t be too surprised if she ended up testifying before Congress one day.

What Is Ebola Again?
Don’t be ashamed to ask. If you haven’t had to time to really learn about this particular disease, this is your chance, as Scientific American has published some insights under What You Need To Know that might be handy. If not, just skip down to the next section, if you please.

How does Ebola actually get a hold of your health? The Ebola virus gives itself a head start when it first slips into a human body by disabling parts of the immune system that should be leading the charge against the invader. It hijacks the functions of certain defense warriors known as dendritic cells—whose primary function is to alert the immune system of the incoming threat. Other targets include monocytes and macrophages, types of white blood cells whose job is to absorb and clear away foreign organisms. These are the first cells Ebola infects, and bends to the process of making more Ebola viruses. The maneuver is the viral version of invading a country by hypnotizing the army, and turning it against its own people. Then, having kicked the immune system’s feet out from under it, Ebola takes off in a run.

Although it only has seven genes, Ebola is an exquisitely effective killer of humans, once it enters a body. Unlike the spiky sea urchin that is influenza, or the golf-ball shaped poliovirus, Ebola resembles noosed ropes under the electron microscopes used to capture viral images. Classified as a filovirus, Ebola is one of two members of that family; the other is Marburg virus, named after the German city where it was first seen in researchers who caught it from imported non-human primates. Both pathogens are among the most lethal viruses that afflict people, but it is Ebola that has become the recognized and dreaded face of the filovirus family.

According to the Mayo Clinic, these are the symptoms, and they happen quickly once a high fever is detected.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Diarrhea (may be bloody)
  • Red eyes.
  • Raised rash.
  • Chest pain and cough.
  • Stomach pain.
  • Severe weight loss.
  • Bleeding, usually from the eyes, and bruising (people near death may bleed from other orifices, such as ears, nose and rectum)
One of the things that makes the spread in Africa travel so fast is their burial customs. Once someone with Ebola dies, they are still quite toxic. It is customary to hold the dead person, to embrace them, etc. before burial, and that behavior, unsafe burial practices, is one of the major things that our military, and the west African governments are working to educate the public on at this time.

Can’t Africa Do Something On Their Own?
Africa’s wealthiest companies and individuals have clubbed together to raise $28.5 million for a fund to fight Ebola. African Union officials and business executives gathered in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on Saturday, Nov. 8th to launch the emergency response fund, which they said would be distributed immediately.
New York's Keeping Track Of Those Possibly Exposed.

Really? No More Cases In The United States?
Monitor operations are working round the clock to keep track of West African visitors who have returned to The States. The New York Times reports today, November 11th:

“Hundreds of workers drawn from all corners of NY City’s Health Department are brought together on the 12th floor of the dept.’s headquarters to doggedly call one telephone number after another like telemarketers in an effort to find anyone who may have recently come to New York City from Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. As you walk across the room, you can hear them speaking French, and at least five dialects of West African languages like Mandingo and Pulaar, to track these people down. This is a 24 hour a day operation now keeping track of almost 300 people, and is believed to be the largest monitoring effort in the country. Up to now, no one being monitored has registered any symptoms worrisome enough to prompt testing for Ebola.”

And that’s just one city, and one team. There are monitoring operations like this happening all over the country, and again, at this time, we have no active cases of Ebola in the United States.

That’s something to celebrate. Even if it might just be a brief respite.

Stay with us daily as we report what we find, and vet what we can.

Discussing The Status Of Immigration Reform

Coming back to the discussion of Immigration Reform, let's policy geek out the issues on the table. In the last couple of days, pundits have suggested which way to go on the issue. Chuck Todd of Meet The Press says, Obama 'has to act.' The Wall Street Journal reports that any executive order attempting to tackle the problem would make durable reform harder to pass. Let's get into this.

What Can The President Do On His Own?
We begin with this, POTUS has broad legal authority to take executive action on immigration. While only Congress can act to permanently fix the nation’s broken immigration system, the president has wide legal latitude to begin the process. Through what is known as prosecutorial discretion, the president can focus resources and time to pursue serious criminal offenders, instead of low-priority immigrants. These low-priority immigrants could be granted deferred action, a process by which they could register, pass background checks, receive a work permit, and a reprieve from deportation.

Why Hasn't Obama Already Done Something?
June 2012, the Obama administration announced that it would use its inherent executive authority to explicitly protect a group of DREAM Act-eligible undocumented youth from deportation. The program allows this population to apply for temporary protection from deportation and for work authorization. As of March 2014, more than 553,000 applicants were granted deferred action, and just more than 20,000 were denied protection.

December 2012, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced it would limit its detainer policy. The agency will no longer issue a detainer request to local police directing them to hold someone identified as a potentially undocumented immigrant unless that person has been charged with a serious crime or has been convicted of multiple misdemeanors. This announcement aligns with the agency’s evolving effort to apply so-called prosecutorial discretion to immigration cases: prioritizing criminals—rather than long-settled and hardworking immigrants—for detention and deportation.

March 2013, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services changed its policy to better observe its principle of family unification. Effective March 2013, the U.S. government reduced the amount of time that spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens are separated from their families when applying for legal permanent resident status. The new rule allows qualified applicants to apply for a hardship waiver while still in the United States. In the waiver, the applicant must establish that if the family were to be separated, the applicant’s spouse or parent with citizenship or legal permanent resident status would suffer extreme hardship.

August 2013, the Obama administration issued a directive that advised immigration authorities to exercise prosecutorial discretion when they detain undocumented immigrant parents. While the directive does not prevent the deportation of undocumented parents, it does allow detained parents to make some caregiving decisions that were formerly difficult to guarantee, such as ensuring their family members are aware of their detention and are able to care for their children.

November 2013, the Obama administration acted to allow undocumented family members of individuals serving in the U.S. military to be paroled in place. Parole in place allows certain family members of U.S. military personnel who entered the country without inspection—but who are otherwise entitled to legal status based on their family relationships—to file for adjustment of status and remain in the United States during the process. Without parole, as we mentioned earlier, they would be required to leave the country and to endure a potentially lengthy separation from their family.

The mystical, magical green card.

Did you know?
In June 2013, the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill with a vote of 68 to 32. The Senate bill remains viable for reconciliation with a House bill until the 113th Congress ends on December 31, 2014. It could be done. All that has to happen is for the lame duck House to take it up. Now what are the chances of that?

The Senate-passed immigration reform bill, S. 744, provides a tough but achievable pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The bill would put the majority of the 11 million undocumented immigrants on a 13-year pathway to citizenship. In the meantime, registered provisional immigrants—the first step on the pathway—who have met certain requirements, passed background checks, and paid fees and fines will be able to live in the United States, work, and travel abroad without fear of deportation. In response, House Republican leaders have not brought any immigration bills to the floor. What DID they do instead? House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced his party would not move forward on immigration until members of the House regained their trust that President Obama would enforce immigration laws. Has this been a problem?
House Democrats have tried their best, introducing a version of the Senate-passed immigration reform bill, H.R. 15. The bill includes almost all parts of the Senate bill, substituting the border provisions with House Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX)’s border security bill. In September 2014, the bill had 199 co-sponsors, but House Republican leadership refuses to even bring it to the floor for debate, let alone call for a vote on it.

S. 744 also significantly increases border security, so the nutcases on the border with their own guns, and their own rules, should be thrilled. The bill mandates significant increases in technology, personnel, fencing, and funding to ramp up border security to an unprecedented level. The bill mandates that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, or DHS, complete 700 miles of pedestrian fencing, increase the number of full-time U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents from today’s 21,391 to 38,405 by 2021, and deploy a litany of technology on the southern border.

S. 744 mandates that all employers in the country use E-Verify—the government’s Internet-based work-authorization system—within five years of the bill’s enactment as a means of ensuring that unauthorized immigrants are not granted employment.

S. 744 clears the long backlog of people who have been approved for a green card. The bill ensures that the 4.3 million people who have been approved for a green card but have been waiting for years, even decades, to come to the United States because of the long backlogs in the system can finally reunite with their family members. Even with this passed, S. 744 would take a decade to clear the backlog we currently have. Yes, it's that bad.

S. 744 expands the number of green cards for highly skilled, advanced-degree professionals; significantly increases the annual cap for H-1B visas; creates a new lesser-skilled “W” visa category; and establishes a bureau tasked with analyzing economic, labor, and demographic data to help set annual limits on each type of visa.

The first wave of baby boomer retirees are leaving the jobs market.

Baby Boomer Problems
There are lots of humane reasons why we should process these immigrants completely and now. But there are pragmatic financial reasons for doing it too. Citizenship would allow millions of undocumented immigrants to work on the books and contribute to Social Security. If undocumented immigrants gained legal status and citizenship, they would provide a net $606.4 billion contribution to Social Security over the next 36 years—the same time period when retiring Baby Boomers will place the greatest strain on the system. These contributions to the Social Security system would support 2.4 million American retirees. Everything about S. 744, legislation passed by the Senate, yet kept off the table in The House, makes sense.

The solvency of the Medicare trust fund would be extended if the undocumented population were able to gain legal status and citizenship. Immigrants, who are currently living in the United States without proper paperwork, could start to pay in to Medicare, and over the next 30 years, make a net contribution of $155 billion to Medicare.

As Baby Boomers retire en masse over the next 20 years, immigrants will be crucial to fill these job openings and promote growth in the labor market. More than two-thirds of new entrants into the labor market will replace retiring workers. However, while 58.6 million new workers will be needed to fill these retirements, only 51.3 million native-born people are projected to enter the workforce, meaning that immigrants and their children will be crucial to filling the additional 7.3 million job openings while also furthering growth in the labor market.

But The Border...
Border agents: 21,391 Border Patrol agents patrolled the borders in 2013—1,391 more than the goal set in 2007.

Fencing: 651 total miles of fencing have been built along the southwest border as of 2012, just one mile shy of what the Secure Fence Act of 2006 mandates. This includes 352 miles of pedestrian fencing and 299 miles of vehicle barriers.

Surveillance: 179 mobile and video surveillance systems and 168 radar and camera towers have been installed along the border—more than what the 2007 benchmarks required. The increase in unmanned aircraft systems and mobile surveillance systems surpassed the 2007 goals by 2 and 47, respectively.

Increased consequences: The Department of Homeland Security has the resources available to detain 1,300 more people per day than the 2007 goal set out to meet. The Border Patrol ended the process of catch and release, a practice where two out of every three border crossers apprehended from outside of Mexico were released into the United States pending removal hearings. The department instead expanded the consequence delivery system to the entire border. This system steps up criminal penalties for people caught illegally crossing the border and often returns immigrants to unfamiliar and far-away border cities in an effort to cut the migrant off from the smuggler who helped with his or her previous border-crossing attempt.

“Operational control”: In 2006, when only 23 percent of the U.S.-Mexico border was deemed to be under “operational control.” Today, 81 percent of the U.S.-Mexico border meets one of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s three highest standards of security: controlled, managed, and monitored. The remaining sections of the border are in its most inaccessible and inhospitable areas. Total control of the border is impossible, but Customs and Border Protection continues to make great strides toward gaining control of important sectors.

Border agents now patrol every mile of the U.S. border daily, and in many places, they can view nearly all attempts to cross the border in real time. Although elevated, today’s apprehension levels remain well below those seen since the 1970s. Even with the influx of child refugees at the southern border, net undocumented immigration is still at historic lows. Including the 66,127 unaccompanied minors and 66,142 families—mostly mothers with young children—who have arrived at the border in FY 2014, overall unauthorized immigration is still low. Tell that to your uncle on Thanksgiving.

Net undocumented migration from Mexico is now at or below zero. ZERO.

Americans want immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship
A majority of Americans support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. A June 2014 poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution found that 62 percent of Americans support an immigration bill that provides a way for undocumented immigrants to become citizens. An additional 17 percent said that they should be allowed to become legal residents.

A majority of Americans believe it is imperative that Congress passes immigration reform by the end of 2014. A July 2014 poll conducted by CBS News found that 59 percent of Americans believe passing legislation that addresses unauthorized immigration is important, while only 6 percent of Americans thought it was not important at all.

Tea Party Republicans support a pathway to citizenship or legal status. A May 2014 poll by the Partnership for a New American Economy, Americans for Tax Reform, and the Tea Party Express revealed that 70 percent of Republican primary voters who identify with the Tea Party support a way for the undocumented to attain citizenship or legal status.

Voters in key Republican congressional districts support immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship. July 2013 Public Policy Polling surveys conducted in seven key congressional districts across California, Colorado, Minnesota, Nevada, and New York unequivocally show that Republican and independent voters want Congress to fix the country’s broken immigration system. Americans support executive action on immigration. An ABC News poll conducted in August 2014 found that 52 percent of Americans support President Obama taking unilateral action on immigration reform if Congress does not act.

CBS News: The majority of Americans favor the pathway to citizenship and soundly reject legal-status-only approaches (January 2014)

In a CBS News poll, a majority of Americans—54 percent—felt that unauthorized immigrants should be allowed to become citizens. Importantly, while most Americans are in favor of the pathway to citizenship, they strongly reject approaches that would leave unauthorized immigrants with second-class status: Only 12 percent of respondents believed that unauthorized immigrants should receive legal status but not be able to become citizens. Two-thirds of Democrats supported the pathway to citizenship, while only 43 percent of Republicans did. However, a smaller percentage of Republicans—9 percent—than any other group supported a legal-status-only approach to immigration reform. This final result should give pause to congressional leadership as they propose, as Republicans did with their immigration principles, legalization without citizenship for unauthorized immigrants.

Fox News: More than two-thirds of Americans support the pathway to citizenship and reject mass deportation (January 2014)

When asked, “Which of the following comes closest to your view about what government policy should be toward undocumented immigrants currently in the United States?”, 68 percent of Americans favored a pathway to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants in the country if they meet requirements such as paying back taxes and passing background checks. Support for requiring all unauthorized immigrants to be sent back to their home countries stood at only 15 percent. Support for the pathway to citizenship has increased slightly, by 2 percent, since May 2013, while support for sending unauthorized immigrants home has dropped 5 percent.

As Greg Sargent of The Washington Post points out, “GOP stalling on immigration is not about ‘distrust of Obama.’” From the polling above, it is clear that it is not about public opinion either. Americans support immigration reform, including the pathway to citizenship, and will be disappointed if Congress fails to pass legislation this year. The window for acting on immigration reform is open through 2014, the public supports it, and now is the time for the House to step up and pass it.

Are you talking about this with your friends? It may come a time, and soon, where we all have to write, call, fax, and visit our representatives to help push this through. Where do you sit on these policy decisions? What do you think?

The Policy Geek

Friday, November 7, 2014

Occasional Repost: The GOP Invited Dems to a Red Wedding, the Dems Obliged

We occasionally repost amazing articles from friends who hit the mark, perfectly. Here is David Phillips take on The Great Democalypse that was the 2014 midterms.

Red Wedding In The Capitol

A Red Wedding.

In Game of Thrones speak, this refers to a scene in the HBO series where the King of the North, his wife, and his mother--along with everyone else in their camp--is led into a trap based around a wedding meant to draw the two warring sides together in peace. The king and his crew let their guard down. They relax and believe that everything will turn out just fine. What follows is a massive bloodletting orchestrated by Lord Walder Frey where no one is spared--not even the honorable king's unborn child. It is a gruesome bit of television that has already taken its place in tube lore. It couldn't compare to what happened Tuesday night in the 2014 Midterms. The Senate flipped, the House got housed, and the guvnas got guvna'd.

Still, to spring this trap on unsuspecting Democrats, Lords McConnell, Boehner, Priebus, and Christie needed the unwitting compliance of two groups of people. Democratic voters and pols. They could not have asked for more.

If showing up is 80% of life, as it has often been attributed to Woody Allen, the Democratic voter was well short of that. Somehow, this happens nearly every midterm election and yet the left seems to never learn that the progress often made in presidential election years must be consecrated two years later. It's a common refrain that Democratic voters are lazy. Nothing about last night will make that refrain less common anytime soon. As usual, the electorate in this off-year election was paler, maler, and staler than in presidential years and again, Democrats paid the cost of too many of their flock only being interested in the big show every four years.

As well, we Democrats are an easily dispirited bunch. Susceptible to disappointment and wanting to punish our party for not doing enough while not recognizing the alternative to our way of thinking is more reliable and therefore more than willing to fill the void during our off-year siestas. This lurching back and forth from election to election is made possible not just by the Right's efforts to disenfranchise minorities and young people--although that's certainly a factor--but by our own occasional lack of interest. And if you think voter ID laws are making it harder to get the base to the polls now, just consider the contests for Governor we lost last night. Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts Florida, Maine, Wisconsin and perhaps Colorado are either flipping and going R or are staying that way. All in states that should be either slam dunks (IL, MD, MA) or at least competitive (the rest). Does anyone think it's going to get any easier to access the ballot box in any of these states now?

PAUSE: If any Democratic leader ever lets Martha Coakley (two time loser in sky blue Massachusetts) or Charlie Crist (who has now lost as a Republican, an Independent, and a Democrat) run for office under their banner again, please push them into traffic. RESUME.

As well, many on the left are feeling less than inspired by our current President. We buy into the fears over ISIS and Ebola, even though not a single American has died from either on domestic soil. We are displeased with the rate of economic growth even though we are outpacing every other first world nation post Bush II's Crash of 2008. We don't think he's done enough on immigration, disentangling us from overseas conflicts, and too much on privacy invasion and national security in general. There are reasonable arguments to be made in each of these cases. They are not won by not voting. Even if you think Obama's merely the lesser of two evils, when presented with the two, what idiot would not take that which would harm you the least?

Not to mention, all the state and local issues we failed to represent for Tuesday night. Even if your congressional vote was hopeless (as mine was), would you not at least want to mitigate the damage by at minimum, keeping your own backyard short of insanity? Don't get me wrong, the average voter in even the red states on election night was pretty strange. By and large voting 'yea' on liberal issues such as the legalization of marijuana and raising the minimum wage, while also voting for candidates who oppose both, but we already know these types vote against their own interests. At least they can be bothered to turn out, no matter how much head scratching ensues by us thinking types afterwards.

As irresponsible as the left leaning non-voter was last night, it's quite possible our candidates were even worse. Nearly all of them ran away from any sort of accomplishment Democrats may have won over the last six years. An improving, if fitful economy. A health care law that is literally addressing the needs of millions of people while also bringing down costs, and a country that is embroiled in fewer major conflicts and has not had one terror attack take place in this country from anyone outside of the occasional lone wolf. That's a story one could tell...if one were willing to tell it. See, when you act embarrassed by that which you have achieved, not only does it show, but your avoidance of those successes allows your foe to define those achievements as anything but. Therefore, you had a lot of politicians with a (D) by their name running on...what the fuck I don't know.

A perfect example is Mark Warner of Virginia. A former very popular Governor of Virginia who won his Senate seat in 2008 with more than 60% of the popular vote. This year, he had to scrape by former Bushie, Ed Gillespie, whom the Republicans (thankfully) barely bothered to fund. Warner was once a short lister for VP and even, in some circles, discussed as a future top of the ticket possibility. Tell me this though, what the fuck does anyone know about Mark Warner? What significant piece of legislation has he ever been attached to? Did anyone in Virginia even know what Warner was running on? Much like Indiana's former nondescript Democratic Governor and Senator, Evan Bayh, the only thing I know about Warner is he wins elections--if this year, only just.

Too many Democratic candidates ran this sort of safe race about nothing last night. Some were even worse. Many of those up for a vote on election day pretended we didn't even have a two-time electoral landslide winning Democratic President of the United States until they were asked directly about him. Then they turned into "See and Says." Only instead of pulling the string and having them--like the toy--say "the cow goes moo" or "the rooster goes cockadoodledoo," the candidate went "I disagree with the president" with every jerk of the chain.

Even worse, Senate candidate in Kentucky, Alison Lundergan Grimes, when asked whether she voted for the president she served as a state delegate for in 2012, fell only one denial short of a Peter/Jesus relationship with her party's standard-bearer. This was the norm for the Democratic candidate in 2014. Take credit for nothing, run on nothing, and when asked about your relationship with a guy who knows how to win elections, speak as if that guy was nothing too. The funny thing is, you know who that guy was more popular than? Both chambers of congress.

This sort of weak-kneed campaigning led to Republicans overachieving everywhere. Even in the few places Dems pulled out a win. Take New Hampshire, where the relatively popular former Governor and current Senator, Jeanne Shaheen, barely outpaced the carpetbagging former Senator from Massachusetts, Scott Brown. A candidate so committed to his new state, he could hardly admit to any interest in staying in it should he lose. I don't know what all Mid-Atlantic states have Dems up for the Senate in 2016, but I do suggest they start their opposition research on Brownie now, just in case.

To these short sighted pols, I would like to ask, what did this "safe" strategy net you? Dems lost to a turtle in Kentucky, a man afraid of a circular fan in Florida, and a proud castrator of hogs in Iowa. I'll now share with you my favorite gallows-humored tweet of the night from former Daily Show correspondent, Wyatt Cenac: "For all the Democratic candidates that campaigned by distancing themselves from the President... it worked. They will be nowhere near him."

I will say this for Democratic non-voters and candidates, you did accomplish something unexpected last night. You made a lame duck President more relevant than anyone could have anticipated. Now he's all that stands between you and the policies you despise. I'm sure that's what you had in mind while watching the electoral map run red like the floor of Walder Frey's banquet room.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Talking About Immigration Reform

Administering the oath of citizenship at naturalization ceremonies.
Taking Action On Immigration
So what exactly is it we are going to do about Immigration? What is it the Republicans are going to propose? What will be included in Obama's Executive Order, should he be pushed to draft something from GOP inaction and obstruction?

Immigrants are taxpayers, entrepreneurs, job creators, and consumers. Hard to believe, we know, but immigrants are people too. They are income earning, often hard working, tax paying, and goods consuming small business owners. Still, there is no doubt the immigration system is broken and in need of serious reform. The U.S. border is not really the problem. People can just fly in for a visit, and stay. The idea that every person trying to get into the United States is crawling over the border, and then running to the nearest welfare office, is ridiculous. In fact, the border now is more secure than ever as a result of decades of steadily increasing border and interior enforcement.

At the same time, what we also have are rigid, out-of-date laws. And We The People know that. The idea that immigration reform is needed, one that includes a clear pathway to citizenship, or work visas, for undocumented immigrants living and working in the United States, is supported by Americans in large percentages. Americans of all political stripes want Congress to pass some sort of safe and sane immigration reform, with just more than half of all Americans in a CNN/ORC International poll arguing that the first priority on immigration should be to provide a pathway to legal status for unauthorized immigrants living in the country. Most intelligent people who have seen a map of the United States realize that a pathway to legal status is key to solving the problem at hand, while building some sort of fence ~~ not so much.

Of course, in this article, it doesn't really matter how many people think we need reform. What matters is that you know we need a legal path for immigrants to follow in order to integrate into our society, pay taxes legally, and save us millions of dollars annually in round-them-up and ship-them-out money. What matters is that you write to your newly elected representatives, and tell them that. Call them, write-in, and sit-in. That's the way this will get done.

Common-sense reform would restore public faith in the system and level the playing field for all Americans, while supercharging the economic benefits from our immigrant population. Amongst all the white collar workers that come here for a better life, these immigrants also watch our children, mow our lawns, clean our toilets, and harvest our food. To ignore that with some sort of isolationist attitude is to doom these caregivers to "illegal" status for no good reason.

(The Star Forum, 2006)
Thanks to our friends at Center For American Progress, below are the latest and most essential facts about immigrants and immigration reform in our nation today. The facts are broken down into the following sections:

Today’s immigrant population

Demographics and political power of new Americans

Immigrants and the economy

Federal immigration policy

Public opinion polling on immigration

In the news: Unaccompanied children at the U.S. southern border

Did you know...
Immigrants are less likely to commit crimes or to be incarcerated than native-born Americans. A 2007 study by the Immigration Policy Center found that the incarceration rate for immigrant men ages 18 to 39 in 2000 was 0.7 percent, while the incarceration rate for native-born men of the same age group was 3.5 percent. In fact, crime rates have dropped as immigration rates have increased. While the foreign-born share of the U.S. population grew from 8 percent to 13 percent between 1990 and 2010, FBI data indicate that violent crime rates across the country fell by about 45 percent, while property crime rates fell by 42 percent.

How many people are we talking about? By the end of 2012, there were approximately 11.2 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, and that number remained constant into 2013 with 11.3 million undocumented immigrants. 

Six states are home to the majority of the undocumented population. As of 2012, 22 percent of the nation’s undocumented population lived in California. Fifteen percent lived in Texas, 8 percent lived in Florida, 7 percent lived in New York, 4 percent lived in Illinois, and 4 percent lived in New Jersey.

Many undocumented immigrants could be sponsored for a green card, but cannot adjust their status because they are presently undocumented. Hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants could qualify for a green card by virtue of having a relative who is a U.S. citizen, but—because of bars to re-entering the United States that were put in place in 1996—most would have to leave the United States for a period of at least 10 years before becoming eligible to reunite with their families. 

For those of you who think you can just marry into citizenship, think again. One in five undocumented immigrant adults has a U.S. citizen, or lawful permanent resident, spouse. Of the 10 million adult undocumented immigrants living in the United States in 2012, approximately 767,000 were married to a U.S. citizen, and 944,000 were married to a lawful permanent resident, yet remained undocumented due to insane backlogs of bureaucratic processing.

(Fly Paper Magazine, 2014)

Election Results
President Barack Obama was re-elected in 2012 with the support of 71 percent of Latino voters and 73 percent of Asian American voters. These groups are a key part of our multiethnic, multiracial, and cross-class Progressive coalition, which also includes African Americans, women, young people, professionals, and economically populist blue-collar whites. These groups generally vote with the Democrats. Unfortunately, without this issue adequately being addressed, a majority of eligible Latino and Asian American voters stayed home on Election Day in 2012, pointing to significant room for improvement in voter participation. Just imagine the Congress we could have had, the leads we would have had, the control we could have kept, if they were motivated to vote.

Here are the sleeping giants we need to tap into in order to take back control of Congress in 2016. While a record 11.2 million Latinos cast votes in the 2012 presidential election, 12.1 million eligible Latino voters did not vote, giving Latinos a 48 percent voter participation rate. Similarly, although 3.9 million eligible Asian American voters cast ballots on Election Day in 2012, 4.4 million did not, giving Asian Americans a 47.3 percent voter participation rate.

What do those numbers mean? Well, 57.5% of all eligible voters voted in 2012, 62.3% of all eligible voters voted in 2008, 60.4% cast ballots in 2004, and in 2000 the turnout rate was 54.2%. Clearly, just in the Latino and Asian sector, their 47% and 48% show-up rates are much lower than the national average. Again, imagine what the outcome would have been, and what the status of control of Congress would have been, had intelligent reform been put into place. If you are angry about the outcome of the 2014 midterms, take a second, and think on those numbers. Then work to figure out how you can support, or even help shape, immigration reform moving forward.

We know that the fast-paced growth of the Latino electorate, and the slow or negative growth among non-Hispanic whites, will change the voter makeup in the United States by 2016. Over the next four years, the number of eligible Latino voters nationwide is projected to increase by more than 4 million people to 27.7 million, which lands us directly at the midterms for whoever will be President next. By 2016, we can expect Texas to have 905,500 new Latino voters, making up 58.1 percent of the net increase in all eligible voters in the state. Most of the races this year were close, very close, down to the wire. How foolish it is that we alienate (pun intended) these demographics by ignoring the realities of the situation. Kicking the can down the street won't get at the problem. Renewing our embargo on Cuba doesn't show our commitment to this growing portion of the electorate. 

Much of the growth in the number of eligible Latino voters can be attributed to the relative youth of the Latino population. More than 90 percent of Latinos under age 18 are U.S. citizens, and about 800,000 Latinos turn 18 and become eligible to vote every year. Again, young voters in general tend to vote with Democrats. If we continue to dismiss the dreamers, how can we hope to continue to lead the electorate? Sure, the Republicans aren't doing any better with this segment of the population, but that is no excuse for us keeping the status quo. We lose when we don't move on this issue, and in our opinion, we just lost by not moving on this issue.

Let's just talk about those who have followed all the rules up til now. Millions of legal permanent residents are eligible to become U.S. citizens and vote. A total of 8.8 million legal permanent residents, or green card holders, were eligible for naturalization in 2012. In 2013, a total of 503,104 people were naturalized and became eligible to vote. Barriers to naturalization, including the $680 application fee, effectively deny many residents the chance to become U.S. citizens and exercise their right to vote. Is it possible that these voters could punch the holes for Democrats when they enter the voting booth?


Radical Republican radio hosts and bloggers claimed that Democrats ran to register undocumented children at the border as Democrats. Well, of course, that's insane. Children don't vote. Non citizens don't vote. That was just garbage. But, what if we did help these immigrants, already living here, already working here, become U.S. citizens. Our grandparents, and great grandparents did it. Why can't they? Why can't they, in this day and age, be processed in a timely and intelligent manner. How can we do something simple like increasing the quality of customer service in this sector? What does it actually cost us to allow eligible residents to become citizens? Does it somehow make our citizenship less valuable? If you listen to Rush Limbaugh, that would be your takeaway.

Nonetheless, A February poll by both Democratic Global Strategy Group and Republican firm Basswood Research found that nearly 79 percent of all Americans want immigration reform, and nearly three out of four Americans will be disappointed if Congress fails to act. Despite members of Congress saying that immigration reform can wait, it is clear that voters disagree.

A Rising Wage Lifts All Workers
One of the reasons big business doesn't want these people legalized is that legalization and naturalization of undocumented immigrants would bolster their wages.The annual income of unauthorized immigrants would be 15.1 percent higher if they were granted legal work status. In addition, if undocumented immigrants earned their citizenship, their wages would rise by an additional 10 percent. This wage increase would occur because legal status provides the undocumented legal protections, grants access to better jobs, promotes investments in education and training, and fosters small-business creation.

Trickling sideways, immigration reform would increase the earnings of all Americans. Immigration reform that includes a five year pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants would increase the earnings of all American workers by $618 billion over the next decade.With higher incomes, all of these people would also spend more, causing an instant boost to the overall economy of the United States. The wages might cut into the bottom line of major corporations, who have been showing ridiculously record profits over the last few decades, but it will also give the American public a new buying power that, in and of itself, could lift us out of the despair we've been left with since the crash of 2008. But then, Obama would be a hero, and the Republicans just can't have that. McConnell's plan, despite his new conciliatory tone, has been and remains STOPPING OBAMA.

11/5/14 ~~ At the 'day after' GOP Press Conference,
Republican strategy remains oppose President Obama at every step.

To be abundantly clear, all studies agree that permitting undocumented immigrants to gain legal status and citizenship would expand economic growth. Naturalized workers earn higher wages, consume more goods and services, and pay more in taxes, which in turn creates economic growth. If the undocumented immigrants in our nation were granted legal status today, and citizenship in five years, the 10-year cumulative increase in U.S. gross domestic product, or GDP, would be $1.1 trillion. So what's the hold up?

We've established granting citizenship to undocumented immigrants would create jobs and increase tax revenues. In fact, if undocumented immigrants acquired legal status today, and citizenship in five years, the economy would add an average of 159,000 new jobs per year, and formerly unauthorized workers would pay an additional $144 billion in federal, state, and local taxes over a 10-year period. Immigration reform would translate into a significant additional decrease in the federal budget deficit. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, or CBO, found that S. 744—the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, as passed by the Senate—would reduce the budget deficit by $135 billion in the first decade after the bill’s passage and by an additional $685 billion in the second decade, when most undocumented immigrants would become eligible for citizenship. Heck, with those numbers, big corporations and the wealthy, who mostly don't pay taxes anyway due to loopholes and deductions, could have their tax rates reduced like Republicans are always begging to do, leaving the draconian budget cuts we suffer today completely unnecessary.

How else can we put this? 
Passing the DREAM Act (which is a section of S. 744) would provide a pathway to legal status for eligible young people who complete high school and some college or military service. If the DREAM Act became law, $329 billion and 1.4 million jobs would be added to the American economy over the next two decades. That's a jobs bill everyone should be getting behind.

Another section of S. 744 calls for an expansion of the Deferred Action program, which would immediately yield billions of dollars in tax revenues, while increasing wages and job security for all Americans. Allowing low-priority unauthorized immigrants who have been in the country for five years to apply for deferred action—a temporary work permit and deferral of deportation—would mean that they could earn higher average wages and benefit from protection from exploitation. This would have a significant impact on the U.S. economy, yielding $6.1 billion in payroll tax revenue in the first year and increasing gains of up to $45 billion over the next five years.

(Decisive Magazine)

We are NOT talking about freeloaders. We are NOT talking about those who "drain our public resources, and live off food stamps, or welfare." Undocumented immigrants pay billions of dollars in taxes annually. Households headed by unauthorized immigrants paid $10.6 billion in state and local taxes in 2010. This includes $1.2 billion in personal income taxes, $1.2 billion in property taxes, and more than $8 billion in sales and excise taxes.

As it stands, despite protestations from the right, immigrants—even legal immigrants—are barred from most social services, meaning that they pay to support benefits they cannot even receive. Taxes paid by legalized immigrants more than offset any use of social programs. The CBO found that increases in costs to social programs are modest and will be more than paid for by the tax contributions of immigrants. The increase in spending in Social Security and Medicare from 2024 through 2033, for example, will be $65 billion—just 4.4 percent of the total increase in tax revenue. That's another 95.6% of their tax revenue for Congress to fight over. Where would they spend all that money? Just imagine.

What happens if we just continue to do nothing?
Inaction on immigration reform carries a heavy cost. Each day the House of Representatives fails to pass immigration reform costs the United States $37 million in missed tax revenue. As of October 2014, the House’s inaction has cost more than $17.7 billion. Maintaining the status quo is not revenue neutral. With only one-third of unauthorized immigrants working in the formal economy and contributing about $12 billion in payroll taxes each year, the United States loses around $20 billion in payroll tax revenue annually.

The United States spends more on immigration and border enforcement annually than the annual gross domestic product of 80 countries. In fact, the United States now spends $3.5 billion more on immigration and border enforcement—a total of nearly $18 billion per year—than it does on all other federal law enforcement combined.

The Need For Action
This issue requires a long discussion. It requires debate. It definitely requires more than stump speeches, or claims of Ebola children on our southern border, or tales of headless migrant farm workers left in the desert. It requires sober and thoughtful consideration by the people we elected to Congress. Can any of you remember when Congress debated fairly and squarely the issues of the day with an eye toward negotiation and high quality results? All we've seen over the last 6 years is a perfectly executed plan by the right to stop all forward movement entirely. Power seekers all, with no regard for the safety, sanctity, or quality of life of the average American citizen. We are in shambles. And if the Republicans really cared about what the rest of the world thought about us, the first item on their agenda, now that they are "in charge," oughta be getting to the business of governing, instead of playing capture the flag.