Political MoJo

Immigration Reform on the Way?

| Tue Mar. 28, 2006 1:35 PM EST

It's not perfect, but the Senate Judiciary Committee decided to report out a quite reasonable immigration bill yesterday:

With Republicans deeply divided, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted on Monday to legalize the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants and ultimately to grant them citizenship, provided that they hold jobs, pass criminal background checks, learn English and pay fines and back taxes.

The panel also voted to create a vast temporary worker program that would allow roughly 400,000 foreigners to come to the United States to work each year and would put them on a path to citizenship as well.
That doesn't mean a reasonable immigration bill is what will actually become law: the Senate's version of the immigration bill still has to be reconciled with the draconian House version—which apparently envisions the deportation of millions of families with social and economic ties to this country—and the Republican leadership can pretty much dominate that reconciliation process if it so chooses. Whether they'll decide to toss all undocumented immigrants in jail or give them a clear path towards citizenship is unknown. Still, the Senate Judiciary bill is heartening.

But it's also worth pointing out that comprehensive immigration reform can't stop with a bill that only tackles citizenship. Paul Krugman, in an op-ed that was surprisingly negative on immigration yesterday, pointed out that unskilled immigration drives down wages for low-income workers here in America. Well, sure, that's true, but that's an argument for living wages, policies to promote full employment, and the expansion of basic rights to organize. Immigrants who can participate in and strengthen the labor movement in this country will help all workers, native or otherwise. Under the current regime, corporations can use immigration and "guest worker" policies to import a captive labor force, underpay them, and then drive down wages, which accounts for a good deal of the effect Krugman worries about.

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Mass Drug Testing in Virginia

Tue Mar. 28, 2006 1:02 PM EST

Fairfax County, Virginia, recently agreed to a White House pilot program that tests water from the Potomac River Basin for cocaine. The samples have already been collected and shipped off to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, where they are currently being evaluated for traces of the main urinary byproduct of the drug. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors say it is no indication that there is a predominance of drug use in the region, rather, that the White House sees it as a tool to compile a more accurate drug use index.

This is a slippery slope—and could have greater repercussions than simply a change in statistics. Could health insurance companies use the data to increase premiums in the area, citing higher risk clients? Could the results have effects on the way federal funds are disbursed? David Murray, special assistant to national drug czar John P. Walters, said that the wastewater testing "will be very, very useful."

Judge rules that school was within its rights to terminate teacher's contract

| Mon Mar. 27, 2006 8:46 PM EST

In early 2003, Deb Mayer, a teacher at Clear Creek Elementary School in Bloomington, Indiana, led a class discussion based on an issue of Time for Kids, which included an article about planned peace marches against the upcoming war in Iraq. Discussing Time for Kids articles was part of the school's regular curriculum. A student asked Mayer if she would ever particpate in a peace march, and she replied: "When I drive past the courthouse square and the demonstrators are picketing, I honk my horn for peace because their signs say, 'Honk for peace.'" She said she thought "it was important for people to seek out peaceful solutions to problems before going to war and that we train kids to be mediators on the playground so that they can seek out peaceful solutions to their own problems."

That turned out to be a big mistake. According to Mayer, one of her students told her parents that she was encouraging people to protest the war. The girl's father, calling Mayer unpatriotic, called the school and complained. A conference was held, and the father yelled at Mayer, "What if you had a child in the service?" It turns out Mayer had a son in Afghanistan, but that did not settle the matter. The father insisted that Mayer not mention peace in the classeroom again, and the principal agreed to make sure she did not.

The principal then cancelled Clear Creek Elementary's Peace Month, and sent a letter to Mayer, telling her to refrain from expressing her political views. At the end of the semester, the school did not renew Mayers' contract. Affidavits were allegedly gathered from parents which criticized Mayers' teaching style, and an accusation, which Mayers denies, was made that she continued to talk about peace after being told not to.

Mayer sued the school district, on the grounds that the termination was retaliation for expressing her opinion, and that the school had violated her free speech rights. The school maintained that:

Ms. Mayer's speech on the war was not the reason for her ultimate termination. Instead . . . the motivating factor for her termination was her poor classroom performance, the ongoing parental dissatisfaction, and the allegations of harassment and threats towards students.

Mayer's attorney says that the parent affidavits were signed in 2005, two years after his client's termination, and therefore could not possibly have been used in the decision to terminate her contract. In addition, the attorney cites an excellent evaluation that had been given to Mayer.

Earlier this month, Judge Sarah Evans Barker dismissed Mayer's case, saying the school district was within its rights to terminate her because of complaints from parents about her performance in the classroom. According to Barker,

...school officials are free to adopt regulations prohibiting classroom discussion of the war...the fact that Ms. Mayer's January 10, 2003, comments were made prior to any prohibitions by school officials does not establish that she had a First Amendment right to make those comments in the first place.

The judge also suggested that Mayer, by making her comments, was attempting to "arrogate control of the curricula."

Though it may be true that a school has a right to restrict certain speech by teachers, the Mayer case is full of holes. There is no proof other than mysteriously appearing after-the-fact "affidavits" that anyone was concerned about the quality of her teaching, yet there is contrary evidence that she was doing a good job. Furthermore, Meyer spoke only in the context of answering a student's question about standard curriculum content.

Mayer says she has lost her house, her health insurance, her life savings, and her job prospects.

Protests Against Immigration Bill

| Mon Mar. 27, 2006 7:33 PM EST

All sorts of demonstrations are going on around the country today, protesting against some of the immigration bills currently being debated in the Senate. Here in San Francisco, thousands have turned out to protest HR 4437, which would, among other things, make being an undocumented immigrant a felony, criminalize any sort of assistance to undocumented immigrants, and require local police officers to enforce immigration laws. (On the last provision, see Douglas McGray's excellent piece on why hospital workers, police officers, and the like think that becoming immigration "deputies" would be disastrous.)

Anyway, Ed Homich took a few pictures from the local protest here in San Francisco; you can see them below the fold:

T-Bills for Tots

Mon Mar. 27, 2006 4:48 PM EST

The Federal Reserve recently launched a site geared towards kids aged eleven to fourteen. Trying to make financial matters "fun and interesting," children are lead by a giant eagle wearing a patriotic top-hat and a tie through the basic world of the Federal Reserve. Curiously, the site fails to mention the word "debt" anywhere, a gaping hole in any economics lesson. But it does delve into interest rates, inflation, growth and the Federal Open Market Committee.

Another fun kids' site stimulates kids by querying: "Have you ever asked 'Why do we have to pay taxes?' Do your parents pull their hair out around April 15th?" Oh, to be a kid in the age of the internet.

Scalia Speaks Out on Gitmo

Mon Mar. 27, 2006 2:33 PM EST

Antonin Scalia recently questioned the rights of detainees in Guantanamo Bay under the Geneva convention:

"War is war, and it has never been the case that when you captured a combatant you have to give them a jury trial in your civil courts," he says on a tape of the talk reviewed by Newsweek. "Give me a break."

Challenged by one audience member about whether the Gitmo detainees don't have protections under the Geneva or human-rights conventions, Scalia shot back: "If he was captured by my army on a battlefield, that is where he belongs. I had a son on that battlefield and they were shooting at my son and I'm not about to give this man who was captured in a war a full jury trial. I mean it's crazy."Coincidentally, the Supreme Court is set to hear the case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan tomorrow. Hamdan, allegedly a former employee of Osama Bin Laden, is challenging the Bush administration's right to hold military tribunal, questioning whether it violates national and international law by not granting prisoner-of-war protections. Hamdan claims that he did not receive a fair process, an argument that will apparently fall on Scalia's deaf ears. Despite the fact Scalia's assertions were not related specifically to this week's case, U.S. code states , "Any justice, judge, or magistrate judge of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned." More specifically, a judge should withdraw him/herself where if there is "a personal bias or prejudice."

And for a little more background on Scalia's approach to this issue, here is his dissent from Rasul v. Bush in 2004:

"The consequence of this holding, as applied to aliens outside the country, is breathtaking. It permits an alien captured in a foreign theater of active combat to bring a petition against the secretary of defense. . . . Each detainee (at Guantanamo) undoubtedly has complaints -- real or contrived -- about those terms and circumstances. . . . From this point forward, federal courts will entertain petitions from these prisoners, and others like them around the world, challenging actions and events far away, and forcing the courts to oversee one aspect of the executive's conduct of a foreign war."
It's entirely possible that Scalia will recuse himself from Hamdan, much like he did in a case on the Pledge of Allegiance in 2004, after he expressed an opinion on the case beforehand.

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"BUSHIT" Sticker Nets $100 Fine

Mon Mar. 27, 2006 1:37 PM EST

Denise Grier, an Atlanta nurse, was ticketed for driving with a bumper sticker that read, "I'm tired of all the BUSHIT." Accused of brandishing "lewd" material, the officer approached her with his hand on his weapon and dispensed a $100 fine. Grier reportedly has no intention of paying the ticket, saying "I am so appalled at the officer's attempt to squash my freedom of speech. It's not just a Democrat/Republican issue. Y'all need to get beyond that. It's my right to speak, and yours." Stay tuned for her court date, April 18.

Christian Groups Ask Bush to Defend Religious Freedom

Fri Mar. 24, 2006 5:48 PM EST

Earlier this week I posted on Abdul Rahman, a man in Afghanistan who may be sentenced to death for practicing Christianity. Now Christian groups in the United States—the same ones that once applauded when the U.S. ousted the Taliban—are incensed that the President isn't doing more to protect Rahman's freedom of religion.

Bush Declares Congress Irrelevant

| Fri Mar. 24, 2006 4:27 PM EST

Another day, another tinpot dictator declaring himself above the law:

When President Bush signed the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act this month, he included an addendum saying that he did not feel obliged to obey requirements that he inform Congress about how the FBI was using the act's expanded police powers.
Read this old-but-excellent Dahlia Lithwick piece on the uses and abuses (mostly abuses) of presidential signing statements. In Bush's worldview, "it is for the president—not Congress or the courts—to determine when the provisions of this bill interfere with his war-making powers, and when they do, he will freely ignore the law." And these signing statements can have a real impact.

Long-Term Bases in Iraq?

| Fri Mar. 24, 2006 4:02 PM EST

The Bush administration still can't give a clear answer about its long-term plans for Iraq. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said last week, on Iraqi TV, that the United States had "no goal of establishing permanent bases in Iraq." But that same week the House of Representatives also passed a $67.6 billion spending bill that included funding for… permanent bases in Iraq.

Officials claim that the bases currently under constructed will be turned over to the Iraqi government at some future point. But that leaves ambiguous whether or not the Shiite and Kurdish-dominated Iraqi government could sign an agreement to keep U.S. forces in the country over the long term. Meanwhile, John Abizaid, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, told Congress last week, "The policy on long-term presence in Iraq hasn't been formulated."

Now maybe some people can make the case for a long-term U.S. presence in Iraq—it would be nice to hear it. On the other hand, we've heard over and over that the only hope for something resembling stability in Iraq is to bring various Sunni parties into the government. Part of that process will involve a clear statement that we have no long-term designs on Iraq—as is widely feared—in order to defuse Sunni fears. (Indeed, insurgent groups agreed to negotiate with U.S. officials the day after Khalilzad's statement.) But as far as anyone can tell, those long-term designs are still very much unknown—and there's plenty of evidence to suggest that the U.S. really is planning on digging in and keeping some military presence in the country for a long, long time.