2013 - %3, January

Here Is a List of Extremists Who Agree With Chuck Hagel on Ending Nukes

| Tue Jan. 29, 2013 3:20 PM PST

Chuck Hagel

Like pundits in search of an apocryphal Barack Obama skeet-shooting photograph, Capitol Hill conservatives have been scampering for a reason to oppose former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel's nomination as defense secretary. Last week, they deemed Hagel too conservative for Obama supporters: He's an anti-Semite! He's not cool with the gays! But now that those ad hominems have failed to inspire much chattering beyond the Beltway, Republicans are attacking Hagel from the right: He's a dirty hippie peacenik who wants to steal our atomic security!

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Immigration Reform and the English Language

| Tue Jan. 29, 2013 1:21 PM PST

Matt Yglesias, after reviewing the evidence about the effect that immigration has on wages—very little, probably—says correctly that "we're stuck in a mostly phony argument about wages that does nothing to ease people's real fears about nationalism and identity." Paul Waldman goes a step further and isolates the real problem: language. "Make them learn English" may be entirely unnecessary, since Mexican immigrants appear to follow exactly the same language path as every other immigrant group, but in political terms "it could be the key to passing immigration reform":

As a group, Americans have contradictory feelings about immigration....Most Americans acknowledge that we're all descended from immigrants of one kind or another....They also appreciate that immigration gives our country vitality, and that immigrants are exactly the kind of hard-working, ambitious strivers that drive our economy and culture forward. But at the same time, many feel threatened when they see the character of their towns and cities change, and nothing embodies that change more than language. When people walk into a store and hear a language being spoken that they don't understand, they suddenly feel like foreigners in their own neighborhood, alienated and insecure. I'm not putting a value judgment on that feeling, but it's undeniable.

So imagine an individual citizen/voter who has those two contradictory feelings. He sincerely wants his country to welcome immigrants, and he thinks that cultural diversity is basically a good thing, but he got a little freaked out last week when he went down to the drug store and felt like he just got transported to Mexico City. He doesn't like feeling alienated, but he also doesn't like that tiny voice inside him that says "Send them back where they came from!" He knows that voice isn't right, but when he sees signs in other languages or hears other languages spoken, that voice gets a little stronger.

What the "make them learn English" provision says to him is: Don't worry, it's going to be OK. We're going to make sure that this wave of immigrants is woven into the American tapestry just like the prior waves of Irish and Italian and Chinese immigrants. They won't take America over. They'll become American.

This is exactly right, and I think we're less than honest if we don't acknowledge that plenty of us lefties feel a bit of this sometimes too. It's human nature. And that gives me an excuse (again!) to link to my second-favorite Chris Hayes piece ever. It's about John Tanton, the founder of FAIR, the nation’s oldest and most influential immigration restriction group. For years, Tanton tried to preach an anti-immigration message based on economic and conservation grounds. But it didn't work. Chris tells us what did work:

Crisscrossing the country, Tanton found little interest in his conservation-based arguments for reduced immigration, but kept hearing the same complaint. “‘I tell you what pisses me off,’” Tanton recalls people saying. “‘It’s going into a ballot box and finding a ballot in a language I can’t read.’ So it became clear that the language question had a lot more emotional power than the immigration question.”

Tanton tried to persuade FAIR to harness this “emotional power,” but the board declined. So in 1983, Tanton sent out a fundraising letter on behalf of a new group he created called U.S. English. Typically, Tanton says, direct mail garners a contribution from around 1 percent of recipients. “The very first mailing we ever did for U.S. English got almost a 10 percent return,” he says. “That’s unheard of.” John Tanton had discovered the power of the culture war.

The success of U.S. English taught Tanton a crucial lesson. If the immigration restriction movement was to succeed, it would have to be rooted in an emotional appeal to those who felt that their country, their language, their very identity was under assault. “Feelings,” Tanton says in a tone reminiscent of Spock sharing some hard-won insight on human behavior, “trump facts.”

Cultural insecurity and language angst are the key issues here. It doesn't matter if they're rational or not. Anything we can do to relieve those anxieties helps the cause of comprehensive immigration reform.

Obama Pretty Much Gives up on Closing Gitmo

| Tue Jan. 29, 2013 12:33 PM PST

The New York Times' Charlie Savage reported Monday that Daniel Fried, the man President Barack Obama charged with closing the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, is stepping down. 

The State Department on Monday reassigned Daniel Fried, the special envoy for closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and will not replace him, according to an internal personnel announcement. Mr. Fried’s office is being closed, and his former responsibilities will be "assumed" by the office of the department's legal adviser, the notice said.

The announcement that no senior official in President Obama's second term will succeed Mr. Fried in working primarily on diplomatic issues pertaining to repatriating or resettling detainees appeared to signal that the administration does not currently see the closing of the prison as a realistic priority, despite repeated statements that it still intends to do so.

The Obama administration bungled its effort to close Gitmo early in the president's first term, and a bipartisan revolt in Congress over the possibility of bringing detainees to US soil, even for trial or imprisonment, led to extremely tight restrictions that slowed the rate of detainees leaving the prison to a crawl. Although closing Gitmo was likely impossible already, the fact that Fried's position is not being filled is an acknowledgement by the White House that one of Obama's key campaign promises is now out of reach. At least fifty-five of the remaining 166 detainees at Gitmo have been cleared for transfer.

For more on Gitmo you can check out my appearance on last Sunday's episode of MSNBC's Up with Chris Hayes.

"Three Months Is a Lifetime": Sandy Victims Slog On

| Tue Jan. 29, 2013 12:18 PM PST
Tony Lazzara has forked out $20,000 of his own money for storm repairs.

When Hurricane Sandy struck Staten Island, it dumped three feet of seawater into Tony Lazzara's basement, just up the road from where two lives became some of the earliest fatalities of the storm. When Climate Desk first met Lazzara, he was dragging sopping furniture out onto the street. Three months later he's still drying out, juggling contractors and insurance agents, and trying to stanch the steady hemorrhaging of his checking account.

"I had a refrigerator, washer, an oven, beautiful cabinets, bedroom sets, couches, you name it," Lazzara says. His insurance didn't help nearly enough, he says: So far, he's had to fork out $20,000 from his own pocket. At least Lazarra still has his home; the same can't be said for the 3,500 families displaced by the storm in New York and New Jersey. Still, his challenges are by now all too familiar to countless Tri-State families for whom the last three months have been an uphill battle to get back on their feet and squeeze aid out of insurance companies and government programs.

"Three months is a lifetime for some people," Lazzara says. "Can you imagine being displaced for three months?"

firefighters
Firefighters rest after the devastating Breezy Point inferno. James West/Climate Desk

Lazzara and folks like him caught a much-needed break yesterday when Congress, after much hemming and hawing, finally passed a $50 billion aid package for victims of Hurricane Sandy—despite opposition from 31 GOP Senators who had previously supported emergency relief in their homes states. While much of the money will go to local governments (to repair infrastructure, reimburse emergency spending, and rebuilding the damaged coastline), some is destined for the pockets of people like Lazzara, whose homes were damaged or destroyed, and to business owners who suffered storm-related losses (the storm's total pricetag is estimated at $50 billion). But Lazzara says he's a long way from popping a bottle of champagne: Bad communication, neglect, and perceived mismanagement by government agencies like FEMA in the storm's wake left him and his neighbors suspicious and cynical about ever actually receiving a check.

"That money's going to sit in limbo forever," he says, "There's going to be a big fight about it again."

Quote of the Day: How Not to Be a Jackass

| Tue Jan. 29, 2013 12:04 PM PST

From the Hispanic Leadership Network, a conservative group offering advice to Republicans on how to use "tonally sensitive" language when talking about immigration reform:

Don't use phrases like 'send them all back,' 'electric fence,' 'build a wall along the entire border'....Don't use the word 'illegals' or 'aliens.' Don't use the term 'anchor baby'....Don't characterize all Hispanics as undocumented and all undocumented as Hispanics.

Good advice! (Via Steve Benen.)

Bring Back Earmarks!

| Tue Jan. 29, 2013 11:08 AM PST

Atrios wants to bring back earmarks:

Giving members of Congress a few nice things (sometimes corrupt, sometimes not) for their districts is a way actually get things done. There's nothing wrong with members trying to bring the pork back to their districts. We should stop seeing this as inherently problematic.

I agree. Political horsetrading may be distasteful in the abstract, but in reality it's the way compromises get forged, human nature being what it is in our sadly fallen state. So if you want to get things done, you need trading chits like earmarks.

But there's more to it than that. The truth is that, within reason, legislators should have the power to direct money to their districts. They're supposedly the ones who know their districts best, after all. The key thing to keep in mind is that sometimes there are projects that are really important to locals that just aren't ever going to pass muster with DC bureaucrats who, for good and appropriate reasons, score spending requests largely via formula. This leads to understandable frustration with how tax dollars are being spent. Earmarks are a relief valve, a way of giving a bit of local control over federal spending to locals themselves, who can spend it as they see fit. It might not be the way you or I would spend it, but that's OK.

I think there was a justified sense during the aughts that earmarks had gotten out of control. Unfortunately, we overreacted. They probably needed to be scaled back, but they shouldn't have been eliminated. Earmarks represent a bit of local control over tax dollars that's basically salutary in modest doses.

Oh, and they don't have any effect on overall spending, either. Earmarks redirect spending, they don't increase it.

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Imaginary Columns, Imaginary Wars

| Tue Jan. 29, 2013 10:21 AM PST

Today brings two very peculiar columns. First up is Jonah Goldberg, with this mighty odd way of framing his distaste for allowing women to serve in combat roles:

What if, during the presidential campaign, Mitt Romney had accused President Obama of wanting to let servicewomen serve in combat? After all, Obama had hinted as much in 2008. What would Obama's response have been? My hunch is that he would have accused Romney of practicing the "politics of division" or some such and denied it.

Really? The hook for the whole column is Obama's imaginary response to an imaginary question from Mitt Romney? That's the best he could do? My hunch is that Romney didn't mention this because he was in enough trouble with women already, and my further hunch is that if he had, Obama would have said it was under review but that he was generally in favor of equal opportunity etc. etc.

Next, Ed Kilgore draws my attention to a lengthy tirade by Kirsten Powers about President Obama's war on Fox News. I guess that's fine. After all, it's no secret that Fox isn't his favorite network. But what is it that set her off? Apparently it was the answer Obama gave when Chris Hughes asked him if it was possible to establish better relationships with Republicans:

One of the biggest factors is going to be how the media shapes debates. If a Republican member of Congress is not punished on Fox News or by Rush Limbaugh for working with a Democrat on a bill of common interest, then you'll see more of them doing it.

That seems....unexceptionable. How did that turn into the latest evidence of a nuclear war on Fox? Beats me.

I dunno. Something in the water today?

Washington DC's Final Glass Ceiling

| Tue Jan. 29, 2013 9:55 AM PST

I don't pay a lot of attention to Los Angeles city politics, but I was intrigued by Jim Newton's rundown of the three main contenders for the mayoralty and their likely choices for chief of staff:

Greuel's chief deputy controller is Claire Bartels, a veteran of City Hall....Bartels' counterpart in Garcetti's camp is Ana Guerrero, the daughter of migrant farmworkers and a seasoned community organizer....Perry employs a chief of staff who is a former critical-care nurse, Kathy Godfrey.

All women. Interesting. There's never been a woman as chief of staff in the White House, has there? Let's check. Nope. Not a one. Along with treasury secretary and defense secretary, I guess this is the final frontier for the glass ceiling in DC.

How the Senate's "Security Requirement" Could Kill Immigration Reform

| Tue Jan. 29, 2013 8:56 AM PST
A protester at a 2010 immigration reform rally in Washington DC.

As President Barack Obama prepared to deliver his speech on immigration reform Tuesday, key points of tension were already emerging between what the White House wants and what the bipartisan Senate "Gang of Eight" proposed Monday. The most important difference between the two plans may be on the Southwest border commission, a panel of regional leaders described in the Senate plan, and whether or not it will have to assert that the border is secure before undocumented immigrants can begin acquiring citizenship.

Obama reportedly opposes the idea that border security conditions would have to be met before immigrants can seek citizenship. Even within the "Gang of Eight" itself, as the Washington Post's Greg Sargent reported Tuesday, it's unclear what security conditions must be met and if the Southwest border commission would have the final say on when the citizenship process can begin. 

If he's serious about immigration enforcement, why does Obama oppose security conditions? Because for the past four years, the Obama administration has broken deportation records for four years running, deporting around 400,000 people a year for a total of about 1.5 million deportations since the president's first day in office. (The administration says that 55 percent of these deported immigrants had been convicted of crimes. But the vast majority of those crimes were minor.) President George W. Bush deported 2 million undocumented immigrants over the course of eight years, and Obama has reached nearly that number in his first term. As far as the Southwest border is concerned, net migration from Mexico in 2012 was zero, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. The United States "allocates more funding for border enforcement than all of its other immigration enforcement and benefit programs combined," according to the Migration Policy Institute.

In other words, it's actually very difficult, given the record numbers of deportations and the massive amount of money already being spent on the border, to see what more can be done by enforcement alone to stop illegal immigration. 

The problem is that Republicans don't trust Obama to enforce the law, and they don't believe the data that suggests he is already doing so. There are also those who simply won't be satisfied until every unauthorized immigrant is purged or "self-deported" from American soil. A completely secure border is impossible outside of the realm of science fiction, but the Obama administration's early efforts to win Republican trust by strictly enforcing immigration law didn't work. All that money and all those deportations were supposed to to lay the ground for a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Instead, the administration's efforts only led to louder shrieks of "amnesty."

The White House and immigration reform advocates want a feasible path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the US. If Republicans make final status for undocumented immigrants dependent on the whims of anti-Obama governors in border states, it's possible those immigrants might not ever get a path to citizenship at all.

Republicans Urge Party to Become More Open, Ignore Major Newspapers

| Tue Jan. 29, 2013 8:53 AM PST
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Ted Cruz had some advice for House Republicans on Saturday: "Stop reading the New York Times."

Cruz, a freshman Republican senator from Texas, was at speaking at the National Review Institute Summit in Washington, a gathering hosted by a magazine that has dubbed him, at various points, the "Michael Phelps" of public speaking and "the next great conservative hope." For three days, Republican heavyweights, including Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, gathered to ruminate on what had gone wrong in November—and what the party can do to right the ship.

At times, the assembled conservative elites tried introspection. The New Republic's Alec MacGillis rounded up 10 such moments from the summit, including notable revelations suchs as "the financial collapse was kind of a big deal," "the voter-fraud bogeyman was a distraction," and "[l]iving without health insurance is a bummer." These are all true. There was even some self-flagellation: Joe Scarborough, the former Republican congressman turned MSNBC host, eviscerated GOPers for shunning empiciricism during the campaign and for embracing Wall Street. Scarborough wondered why not a single Republican presidential candidate came out in favor of "breaking up the banks." (For more on the intraparty wrestling match, see Slate's Dave Weigel.)

But calls for reform were often countered by a renewed quest for purity. There was Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard and a regular on Fox News, who called the idea of female soldiers serving in combat "literally nuts" (editor's note: not literally) and, channeling William F. Buckley, urged Republian senators to stand atop* the wall of history, shouting "Stop!" John Podhoretz of Commentary magazine spent time rehashing his grievances about Georgetown Law School student Sandra Fluke. The American Enterprise Institute's Michael Barone—speaking at an all-white panel called "Do Demographics Doom the Right?"—referred to the peculiar new breed of pro-Obama single women as "the Lena Dunham generation," a nod to the Girls creator who famously invented contraception.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, an architect of the campaign against the Affordable Care Act and Obama's EPA, echoed Cruz's call to unsubscribe from the nation's top newspaper. Rep. Tom Cotton, a rising star from Arkansas, didn't urge attendees to unsubscribe from the Times, but perhaps only because he didn't need to, having previously called for its reporters to be thrown in prison. (Cotton also suggested his party didn't need to change its approach on gay rights, because the string of marriage equality successes in November were probably fleeting.)

Kristol and Podhoretz's comments, as well as Scarborough's tough critique, came at a panel called "What is wrong with the Right?" Thoughtful as the speakers were, the question seemed to answer itself. The five panelists (moderator Reihan Salam not included) were all white males—as was everyone who asked a question.

Then there was Cruz, who hammered Mitt Romney for his 47 percent remarks while asserting, as he has done regularly since the election, that the GOP needs to be "the party of the 47 percent"—not by embracing a new set of policies, but by changing its rhetoric. Even as the movement's elders wrestled openly with where the Republican party is headed, they offered a strikingly familiar road map.

So they beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into their gaffes.

*Update: I'm informed the word I was looking for here was "athwart."