2006 - %3, April

Rush Limbaugh's (Surprise) a Misogynist

Mon Apr. 3, 2006 7:07 PM EDT

Rush Limbaugh's loose banter is rarely worthy of acknowledgement. However, he crossed the line on his Friday show when he criticized the woman who was allegedly raped by several members of the Duke University Lacrosse team.

When asked by a caller why Rev. Al Sharpton has recently been quiet about the immigration debate, Limbaugh quipped that Sharpton is busy "trying to figure out how he can get involved in the deal down there at Duke where the lacrosse team ... supposedly, you know, raped some, uh, hos." When confronted by another caller, Rush acknowledged that his idiocy filter failed, saying "I knew somebody was gonna call and give me a little grief so I'm takin' the occasion of your call to apologize for it. That was, it was a terrible slip of the tongue. I'm sorry." Limbaugh then essentially nullified his apology by stating "I wish you didn't hear me say it."

This is a good opportunity for people to see Mr. Limbaugh's true uncensored feelings. It would be nice to believe this is a solitary incident, but something tells me Rush's misogynistic feelings run much deeper.

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Should Immigrants Be Able to Vote?

| Mon Apr. 3, 2006 4:42 PM EDT

Paul Krugman is still uneasy about large-scale immigration, judging from his column on Friday. Unskilled immigration, he says, depresses the wages of low-skilled workers. Well, yes, but again, with properly-designed policies—living wages, full employment, labor laws that allow unions to flourish, earned-income tax credits, and the like—I think you can mitigate this, while preserving the very, very large benefits immigration brings for immigrants and the countries that send them. It's awfully odd to think that shutting the border is really the best possible thing we can do for low-skilled native workers.

But okay, we've been over that. This passage in Krugman's Friday piece, on the other hand, is new and deserves comment:

Imagine, for a moment, a future in which America becomes like Kuwait or Dubai, a country where a large fraction of the work force consists of illegal immigrants or foreigners on temporary visas -- and neither group has the right to vote. Surely this would be a betrayal of our democratic ideals, of government of the people, by the people. Moreover, a political system in which many workers don't count is likely to ignore workers' interests: it's likely to have a weak social safety net and to spend too little on services like health care and education.

This isn't idle speculation. Countries with high immigration tend, other things equal, to have less generous welfare states than those with low immigration. U.S. cities with ethnically diverse populations -- often the result of immigration -- tend to have worse public services than those with more homogeneous populations.Well, I agree. Creating a Dubai-style underclass of disenfranchised immigrants who have few rights and even less voice in the country they help prop up is an awful idea. That's why everyone should oppose "guest worker" policies that allow companies to import a captive labor force that are here at the mercy of their employers, can't bargain for better wages, speak out against shoddy work conditions, or organize and strike. But I'd go even farther. Why should non-citizens have to be disenfranchised? Why not just let anyone living here legally vote?

It seems a bit crazy, but it's worth putting out there. Non-citizen immigrants seem to be constitutionally barred from voting at the federal level in any case, but nothing's stopping anyone from giving them the vote in state and local elections. And why not? Presumably immigrants should have a say in, for instance, what goes on in the schools they're sending their kids to. And it's perfectly possible: Takoma Park in Maryland allows non-citizens to vote, although I don't think it's affected voter participation or local politics very much there. (San Francisco has considered similar measures at various points, too—it's unsettling, by the way, that 4.6 million people in California, one-fifth of the state population, can't vote.)

Who knows, a bit of civic participation might even make immigrants more "patriotic" or "assimilated" or whatever it is nativists worry about. (Even though the evidence shows that even Hispanic immigrants are assimilating just fine.) At the very least, non-citizen voting would help prevent the United States from turning into another Dubai. It's just not very likely to happen, although maybe a well-placed and influential New York Times columnist could do his part to help this idea gain momentum...

How Britain Reduced Child Poverty

| Mon Apr. 3, 2006 3:18 PM EDT

Jared Bernstein and Mark Greenberg have a good op-ed in the Washington Post today discussing Tony Blair's plan, introduced in 1999, to eliminate child poverty in Britain by 2020. How did it fare? Well, over the past five years child poverty in the country has dropped 17 percent—below the government's target, sure, but still pretty dramatic. Over the same time period, child poverty in the United States has risen 12 percent, to 13 million.

So why don't we have the same sort of national plan here? Well, the short answer is because we have a corrupt Republican administration in power that doesn't really care about poor children and the like. But this one bit from the op-ed, on the power of simply declaring a national goal, is good: "What if you don't end child poverty by the targeted date of 2020, we asked [British policymakers]. The question didn't really interest them. The target, they argued, focused the minds of the politicians, the agencies and the public. Without it, they would never have gotten as far as they have." I hear there's a minority party out there in search of a grand sweeping "vision," and like Bernstein and Greenberg say, what's wrong with this one?

France and Labor Law Reform

| Mon Apr. 3, 2006 2:43 PM EDT

I don't really know whether the riots in France are going to create a political crisis in Paris or what, but I do know I'm not quite convinced by the "sensible" view on this side of the Atlantic that France absolutely needs to make it easier to fire young people if it wants to reduce unemployment. Of particular interest is this 2004 paper put out by researchers at the Center on Economic Policy Research which looks at evidence from the OECD countries and finds no evidence that, in general, "employment protection" laws have much impact on unemployment rates. (The paper also criticizes a much-cited IMF study that found just such an impact.)

That doesn't make a ton of sense at first glance—intuitively, one would think that if companies could fire people more easily, they'd be quicker and more likely to hire people—but then again, if employment really is mostly determined by demand for goods and services, then maybe regulations governing the hiring and firing employees don't matter all that much in the grand scheme of things. The European Central Bank has been keeping interest rates high over the past few years, and maybe that does more to explain France's high unemployment.

It's interesting that other European countries have high levels of employment protection, yet still manage happily low levels of unemployment—Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands. Perhaps deregulation's not the answer after all. The CEPR paper argues that, for instance, changes to labor market institutions "contributed nothing at all" to the drastic reduction in unemployment in Ireland between 1980 and 1998. Meanwhile, Olivier Blanchard and Thomas Philippon argue that the main reason for a similar fall in unemployment in the Netherlands during that period was a national agreement by Dutch unions to moderate their wage demands—and not deregulation. So I don't necessarily see conclusive evidence that European unemployment is high because labor laws are too "rigid" and "inflexible."

Now all that said, granted, in this particular case, Chirac's latest proposed revision to the labor reform—instituting a one-year trial period during which companies could fire young workers with just cause—doesn't seem very draconian or unreasonable. Then again, I don't follow French politics very closely, and if, say, people are looking at this as a potential first step on the march towards creating a more "flexible," American-style labor market in France, I can see why they'd oppose it. And they should.

MORE: This DailyKos diary is worth a read, noting among other things that the true unemployment rate among French youths is greatly exaggerated—although I think the author's neglecting to count people who are discouraged from finding jobs—and that the rate of job creation and destruction in France is the same as in the United States. One can also add that in any case the originally-proposed reform would let employers fire workers for race- or gender-related reasons. Don't we have laws against even that here in the "dynamic" ol' U.S. of A.?

ACLU sues South Dakota school district on behalf of Native Americans

| Sat Apr. 1, 2006 11:28 PM EST

The American Civil Liberties Union has just filed a class action suit against South Dakota's Winner School District. The suit charges that the district maintains an environment hostile to Native Americans by giving Native American students harsher discipline and by forcing them to sign confessions for minor rule-breaking.

According to the ACLU, Native American students in the Winner District are given very different treatment from white students. They are three times as likely to be suspended from school, and ten times more likely to be referred to law enforcement. In the Winner district, Native American students are coerced into signing confessions, which are then used to get convictions in juvenile court.

The Attorney General of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe noted that the school district is the second largest employer in the county, yet only two employees out of more than 100 are Native American.

"Native American students are accused of gang-related activities for walking in groups of three or more or wearing bandanas, while their white counterparts are encouraged to wear bandanas at sporting events. And Native Americans are actively discouraged from participating in sports activities."

The ACLU, in challenging the "school to prison pipeline" which is becoming more prevalent in American communities, has identified several policies and practices which exist: zero tolerance policies which criminalize minor school infractions, the bypassing of due process for children, and policy initiatives emphasizing testing and statistics, which lead to pushing out low-performing students.