Category Archives: Politics

Immigration problems, imagined and real

The United States of America does not have an immigration problem. There are, of course, a large number of Americans who are convinced, not only that illegal immigration does great harm not only to our nation, but to them, personally, and that some final solution should be our highest national priority. Shrieking at high volume that ‘they’re here illegally, illegally’ does not constitute an  immigration policy, but a certain orange-haired buffoon has dominated the polls by making a frankly racist–yes, I said racist, not nativist–appeal. He must find the subsequent poll numbers satisfying, perpetual ego-gratification being The Donald’s raison d’etre. The word ‘policy’ suggests research, cogitation, and an appeal to reason, none of which he, or his followers, seem capable of, but Trump has offered what can be best understood as suggestions to ‘solve’ the ‘immigration crisis,’ essentially involving turning every undocumented child in America into Anne Frank, and building a higher tech 1900 mile all-American version of the Berlin Wall. The costs, human, moral and political, no less than financial, of these preposterous propositions, he poo poos. He’s a fascist fantasist, not a real candidate for the Presidency. Because, you see, America does not have an immigration problem.

No ‘illegals’ flooding across the borders; the numbers of undocumented workers have declined over the last ten years. No need for ‘border security,’ which has succeeded mostly in trapping undocumented seasonal workers here against their wishes. They’re not ‘taking American jobs'; in fact, Hispanic immigrants have more entrepreneurs per capita than another other ethnicity. No crime wave; undocumented workers have much lower crime rates than other groups. I’m not saying that changes in immigration policy aren’t badly needed. Many immigrants are dreadfully exploited by their employers, without recourse. The eleven million or so undocumented folks already here should be able to come out of the shadows; have a clear pathway to citizenship, for example, involving paying a fine (the crime of illegal border crossing is a misdemeanor, comparable to a moving traffic violation, so a fine of a couple hundred dollars sounds about right), passing a citizenship test and background check, and a hearty handshake from a county clerk. We should absolutely pass the Dream Act. We should issue more green cards. There are positive steps that can and should be taken. But border security is not an issue, and the very notion of mass deportations is an obscenity.

What most Americans don’t understand is that Europe does have a huge immigration problem, with horrific human costs, and that there are things we could do to help. Europe is being flooded by immigrants, up to half a million this year alone, with accelerating rates that could push that number to a million. As Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir:

These people are fleeing civil war and violent repression in Syria, Afghanistan and other Arab or Muslim nations of the Middle East and North Africa; they are fleeing poverty, hunger and economic dislocation in sub-Saharan Africa. They try to enter Europe from every possible direction by every possible means: They cross the Mediterranean to Greece or Italy on rickety, overloaded rafts and boats; they walk clear across Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary toward the supposed promised land of northern Europe’s large cities.

And European politicians are torn. Essential European humanist values war against growing nativist dissatisfaction, and against continuing economic struggles. The EU’s response to the financial crisis of 2007-8 was the imposition of precisely the kind of austerity measures Republican politicians called for in the US. Fortunately, we had a President willing to embrace Keynesian stimulus measures instead, despite ferocious opposition which prevented a full recovery. European economies remain stagnant, with a few genuine basket cases: Greece, Spain. And still, desperate, impoverished people come pouring in. And in every European nation, nativist resentment has led to home-grown proto-fascism. Politicians who don’t at least pay lip service to anti-immigration acrimony are electorally punished.

The US could help. We could take them. American immigration restrictions have always made exceptions for refugees fleeing political oppression and the most severe economic deprivation.

The Deseret News, my local fishwrap, published an op-ed piece calling for the nations of the world, including the US, to take ISIS seriously–meaning, I think, American ground forces supporting the illusory ‘good guys’ in the Syrian civil war, and the ‘feet-don’t-fail-me-now’ Iraqi “army.” I don’t pretend to have the faintest idea how ISIS could possibly be defeated, or what US military response is feasible, or potentially efficacious.

But we could take in some refugees. Perhaps even a great many refugees.

We are the richest nation on earth, and call ourselves the leaders of the free world. We can do this; a Marshall plan in reverse. Then, we fed the poor; we rebuilt the economy of a nation that we had helped defeat in combat. We have an even more compelling moral imperative here.

Lately, a favorite Republican talking point in regard to ISIS is that their existence is Obama’s fault. Apparently, he pulled out of Iraq too quickly, destabilizing the region. This particular bit of recent-historical revisionism is really too stupid to require much rebuttal; Obama followed the previously negotiated pull-out deadline the US and Iraqis had already agreed to, after conspicuously voting against the war that, you know, really and actually and genuinely destabilized the region. Saddam Hussein’s Baath party, in a way, kind of was ISIS, though comparatively less brutal–though he did drop poison gas on villages–and war-mongering–if you don’t count his invasion of Iran. And remember, Saddam Hussein was a US ally. He was our guy; we liked him. He was even given the key to the city of Detroit, remember.

Saddam was the evil we knew and were used to; ISIS is the new face of evil, internet-savvy and correspondingly more familiar, and thus, more frightening.  And of course, the refugees flooding Europe are fleeing Syria, but also Yemen and Egypt and Somalia and Lebanon. A lot of them are fleeing to Jordan, which is doing it’s best, but is badly overtaxed. And, of course, they’re desperate to reach Europe. And Europe isn’t all that far.

We could take them. We could help solve this. The Europeans are our allies, our friends, our closest world-associates. If foreign policy is the expression of national self-interest, this is an issue where our interests coincide. We could, and should, accept many more immigrants from the Middle East.

It is, however, sadly, difficult to imagine the response if an American politician called for something like this. One guy, however, could. The guy who isn’t running, the guy who will never run for public office again in his life.

Please, Mr. President, do the right thing. Save some lives, and help out our friends. Make America a safe haven. Say to peoples ravaged by war and violence and starvation: “come.” Come to us, tired, poor, wretched refuse of teeming shores. Homeless, tempest tossed. We’ll raise our lamp for you.

“We’re not gonna take it”

Following a recent rally and speech in Alabama, as Donald Trump left the stage, what I assume is his campaign theme song played loudly, following him off stage. I’ve heard it a couple of times since, following his speeches. It was Twisted Sister’s anthem, ‘We’re not gonna take it.’ If that is indeed Mr. Trump’s theme song, it strikes me as an astonishingly appropriate one.

It’s an interesting question, is it not, the selection and use of a campaign song? There was a time when campaigns commissioned songs from musicians:

Let’s put it over with Grover. Don’t rock the boat; give him your vote. There’s a time for a man who’s a leader of men. Let’s put it over with Grover again.

Sadly, that most perfect of Grover Cleveland campaign songs wasn’t written until 1968, by Richard and Robert Sherman, for a Walter Brennan movie. (The Shermans also contrasted it with a boring one for Benjamin Harrison). Of actual campaign songs, it would be difficult to top Bill Clinton’s choice of Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop (Thinking about Tomorrow)” in 1992. Optimistic, forward-thinking, and catchy; hard to beat. John Kerry’s choice of CCR’s “Fortunate Son” in 2004 was equally inspired, especially given who he was running against; a politically connected guy from a wealthy family whose National Guard service was essentially a ploy to get out of fighting in Vietnam. Mike Dukakis also hit the jackpot with Neil Diamond’s “They’re Coming to America.” Given the anti-immigrant sentiments of today’s Republicans, I’m surprised someone on the Democratic side doesn’t revive that one today. Except that it’s associated with Dukakis, and he lost badly.

I’ve only mentioned Democratic candidates’ theme songs. Sadly, Republican candidates have had a tendency to pick songs by artists who disagree pretty strenuously with their policies. John McCain and Sarah Palin went with “Barracuda,” because that was Palin’s nickname as a high school point guard. But Heart, who wrote and recorded it, turns out, loathed Sarah Palin’s politics, and threatened to sue. Likewise, Tom Petty didn’t take it well when George W. Bush used “I won’t Back Down” for some early events. At least Mitt Romney, when he used Kid Rock’s “Born Free” picked a song by a Republican, though Kid Rock has since disavowed membership in the party, saying he’s “f-ing embarrassed” to have been a Republican.

But now Trump seems to have chosen “We’re not going to take it.” And that song’s absolutely perfect; the song, the band, the message.

Watch the Twisted Sister video:

 

The grotesquely evil and abusive Father, the nerdy kid who can only find solace in the music of, well, Twisted Sister. But the power of music marks the kid’s revenge; one power chord drives the father out the window, crashing to the ground. It’s a song of defiance and rebellion, but it’s a strangely non-specific kind of rebellion. And it’s led by Dee Snider, Twisted Sister’s lead singer, who deliberately dressed like a sort of androgynous gargoyle. The point was to profit by choosing a look parents would loathe. (Look at some of their early videos, like “The Price,” where Snider wore no makeup and dressed in jeans).

Look at that chorus, though: We’re not gonna take . . . ‘it’. What is this ‘it’ we’re not going to take?

We’ve got the right to choose, and there ain’t no way we’ll lose it.

This is our life. This is our song. We’ll fight the powers that be just

Don’t pick our destiny ’cause, you don’t know us, you don’t belong.

Chorus: We’re not gonna take it, no we ain’t gonna take it, we’re not gonna take it anymore.

Oh, you’re so condescending, your gall is never ending

We don’t want nothing, not a thing from you.

Your life is trite and jaded, boring and confiscated

If that’s your best, your best won’t do.

All, of course, sung loudly and emphatically, by a guy dressed like some kind of grotesque glam rock parody.

What do we know about Trump’s supporters? They’re fed up, they’re angry, they’re furious about a political process that seems both hypocritical and ineffectual. They like Trump because he gets things done. They also like him because he ‘tells the truth.’ In fact, he doesn’t actually tell the truth; whenever his claims can be fact-checked, they turn out to be, in almost every instance, ludicrously inaccurate. But he says things–often insulting things– that most politicians don’t say and then he doesn’t back down when challenged. Plus, he’s rich, and he’s spending his own money on this campaign. He won’t be beholden to ‘special interests’ if elected. (He is now accepting campaign donations, which, I predict, will have no impact whatever on his popularity).

Above all, Trump has played the oldest card in the deck. He’s able to reassure voters that all their problems, all their feelings of economic insecurity and worry about the future and sense that the future is slipping away are all the fault of a single, unpopular minority ethnicity. The ‘Mexicans,’ are to blame. And, by golly, he’s going to deport them. Build a wall and keep them out, and get them both to build it and pay the costs involved. Like Nero blaming ‘Christians’ for the Great Fire of Rome, or the Hutu blaming the Tutsi in Rwanda, or the Gio and Mano blaming the Krahn in Liberia, scapegoats are always simple-mindedly easy to identify and splendid targets for finger-pointing. (Note how deftly I sidestepped Godwin’s Law). And the results can be brutal.

In fairness, this has not yet happened with Trump. The rhetoric has been fierce; actual violence has been limited to a single appalling incident in Boston. Still, Mr. Trump can at least be cited for failure to establish a civil tone in this campaign. And unfocused, inchoate rage is discernible underneath the excitement of Trump supporters for his campaign. He’s not going to take ‘it.’ They’re not gonna take ‘it’ anymore. Take that liberal elites. You’re condescending, trite and boring. You’re outa here.

 

 

Birthright citizenship

Over the next fifteen months before we all get to vote on who the next President of the United States will be, lots of things will have happened. We’ll all have seen the Star Wars movie. We’ll know what finally happened with Katniss. Apple will come out with a nifty new dingus, Amazon will deliver by drone, and Wall Street crooks will go unpunished. Kale will come in injectable form, houses will be equipped with holodecks and engineers will be working out the final bugs in transporter technology. 2016 is going to be dope.

We’re in the silly season of Presidential politics, is my point. Candidates are jostling for position, raising money, giving speeches, trying to figure out what voters’ main concerns are and what issues might be profitably emphasized. Trying to get noticed. Now, in August 2015. With football season starting in, like, two weeks. And because one candidate, the most unlikely candidate in years, is leading the Republican race by a big margin, the issues he’s focused on have tended to draw the most attention. Which means Trump, and which means immigration. And, lately, he’s been saying a lot about an obscure but important issue; the idea of birthright citizenship. A policy that has to change, apparently. Trump calls it a ‘magnet for illegal immigration.’

And other candidates are weighing in. Chris Christie: “While birthright citizenship may have made sense at some point in our history, right now, we need to relook at all of that.” Lindsay Graham: “I don’t mind changing the law. I think it’s a bad practice to give citizenship based on birth.” Bobby Jindal: “We need to end birthright citizenship for illegal immigrants.” Scott Walker, asked if he supported ending birthright citizenship, responded ‘yeah,’ before waffling. Carly Fiorina and Jeb Bush wouldn’t go that far, but both agreed that illegal immigration is a serious issue. (HINT: no, it isn’t.)

Here’s the thing: birthright citizenship isn’t a policy, and it isn’t a law that can simply be changed legislatively and it isn’t ‘a practice.’ It’s in the Constitution. And it’s not really ambiguous or obscure. Here it is, from Article One of the Fourteenth Amendment:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside

If you’re born in the United States, you’re a citizen of the United States. Period. And yes, the National Review and Daily Caller have recently made themselves look ridiculous by arguing that ‘all citizens born in the United States are citizens of the United States’ doesn’t mean, you know, that being actually born here somehow means that you’re, like, a citizen or whatever. (I’m absolutely not going to link to those two publications, by the way).  Silly websites are welcome to publish silly articles all they want to–First Amendment–but the facts are that getting rid of birthright citizenship requires an amendment to the Constitution, and that will never, ever happen. And trying to make it happen will also have the charming side effect of destroying the Republican party. Which I would rather not have happen, thank you very much. ‘Cause: Lincoln.

Reading articles about this issue is sort of fun, though. It’s not hard to read between the lines of the various statements of the Republican Presidential candidates to see what a tricky issue this is for Republicans. First of all, they have to pretend that illegal immigrants are currently pouring over our southern border–which they’re not–and that undocumented workers therefore create a host of big social problems–which they don’t. Trump wants to build a big fence, and get Mexico to pay for it. He won’t and they won’t. It’s a silly, nonsense issue. And Trump won’t let it go, because he’s not a serious man. He just pretends to be one on TV.

And it’s not like there aren’t actual, real things that can and should be done for those people who are now in our country, living their lives half-in-shadow and hoping for some resolution to their legal status. We could, for example, pass the Dream Act. We could create a sensible pathway to citizenship. We could end the grotesque exploitation of these workers by employers. There are real things we could really do. Instead, Trump flies around in his helicopter saying ridiculous things on the subject.

And I, for one, hope he keeps running, keeps up in the polls, keeps harping on building big walls and calling Mexicans rapists. Keep it up, Donald. The race for the Presidency, in fact, may already be over. To find out why, some recent history.

In my lifetime, two candidates from California have won the Presidency; Nixon and Reagan. Both were conservatives; Reagan, massively so. From 1960-1996, California only voted for a Democrat for President once. Nowadays, of course, California is a reliable blue state, a Democratic stronghold. What happened?

Immigration hysteria. In 1994, California Governor Pete Wilson, in a close race for re-election, blamed illegal immigrants for all his state’s problems. He strongly supported Prop 187, which denied all sorts of state benefits to undocumented workers. And Republicans haven’t won California since. Hispanic voters noticed. And they vote.

To win the White House, Republicans probably need to win about 45% of the Republican vote. Mitt Romney, you may have noticed, did not win the Presidency. He won 27% of the Hispanic vote, and polled afterwards, Hispanics kept going back to one word–self-deportation–as the main reason they went Democratic.

Self-deportation then, birthright citizenship now; the Republicans keep shooting themselves in the foot with Hispanic voters. Jeb Bush would rather actually come up with a sensible immigration policy: and you can see how uncomfortable Trumpian demagoguery on this issue makes him. He speaks fluent Spanish; his wife is from Mexico. I don’t particularly want Jeb Bush to be President, but this is a policy where his instincts are reasonable. His brother, as President, proposed an immigration bill that wasn’t half bad. Marco Rubio sponsored a decent enough immigration bill in the Senate; he’s not a wacko on this issue. So there was reason to think that Republican outreach to Hispanics could work.

And there’s still plenty of time for Rubio or Bush to revive their respective candidacies. But the Republican electorate is, by and large, insane on this issue. Make any proposal that provides for people who are already here to stay and you’ll get accused of supporting ‘amnesty.’ Blarg.

Self-deportation was a terrible idea when Governor Romney proposed it; birthright citizenship just flat isn’t an issue at all, because the Constitution is very hard to amend, and no amendment ending citizenship for frankly racist reasons has a chance of passage. So it’s not like this is, you know, a thing. But for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, it’s about the best question they ever get asked. “Do you support birthright citizenship?” “Yes. I support the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.” Boom.

Meanwhile, millions of young people, the Dreamers, remain in a preposterous legal limbo. That’s the issue we should be talking about; passing the Dream Act. This is America. We built our nation on immigration. How about this: I will support any candidate who supports full amnesty and the Dream Act. And oppose any who don’t.

 

Planned Parenthood

Let me start with this: there is simply not a political or moral issue about which I feel more conflicted than abortion. As a feminist, I cannot imagine anything more basic or fundamental than a woman’s right to make the most essential decisions regarding her health, her body, or reproduction. Seen from that perspective, I would likely define myself as pro-choice. I likewise believe that the preservation of human life is of paramount importance. And whatever we may think of a human fetus, it is incontestably human. It might become a fully formed human being, with all the rights and privileges we humans grant to other humans. From that perspective, I suppose I would also have to label myself pro-life.

As you’re probably aware, an anti-abortion group calling itself the Center for Medical Progress conducted a sting operation intended to discredit, and if possible, destroy Planned Parenthood. Actors secretly taped meetings with at least four officials with Planned Parenthood, portraying themselves as researchers seeking tissue from aborted fetuses to be used for medical research. The meetings were then heavily and misleadingly edited to create the impression that Planned Parenthood profits from the sale of fetal tissue, and that these conversations were basically negotiations over price. The Center for Medical Progress released the edited videos on YouTube, and they created a sensation. They are exceptionally difficult to watch. The Planned Parenthood doctors come across very badly. They seem callous to the point of inhumanity.

I have not watched the longer videos, the raw material from which the YouTube videos were edited. Fortunately, Sarah Kliff, a first-rate journalist with a background in the relevant legal issues involved, has watched them. Here’s her report:

The videos are sting videos that are designed to smear Planned Parenthood. The unedited footage shows the fake buyers actively attempting to make the discussions look worse for the hapless Planned Parenthood staffers. The Center for Medical Progress argues that these videos show the organization was selling fetal tissue for profit — which is, to be clear, a crime. But abortion clinics are allowed to receive compensation for any time spent procuring fetal tissue — for example, the extra time a staff member has to spend getting consent to donate or the work a lab technician does identifying specific types of tissue. Planned Parenthood says this is all the videos show, and for the most part they’re right. It’s routinely the fake buyers, not Planned Parenthood, who move the discussion toward money.

Planned Parenthood is an organization that believes it can do good in the world by procuring fetal tissue for medical researchers. Their critics find fetal tissue research self-evidently repugnant. To a large degree, what you think of the videos comes down to what you think of the fraught topic of fetal tissue research. But there are also moments that should give supporters of the women’s health provider pause — moments when officials with the group seem to haggle over fetal tissue compensation and appear to make women’s health a secondary priority. These are moments that do not appear any less troublesome when watched in the full video. They are not simply a product of biased editing — and, if anything, the biased editing is making them too easy for Planned Parenthood’s supporters to ignore.

Of course, as Kliff also notes, the main impact of these videos is emotional. These leisurely lunches, in nice restaurants, with well-dressed people chatting casually about fetal tissue over a glass of wine; well, these people seem monstrous. It’s hardly surprising that Republicans in Congress have introduced bills intended to de-fund Planned Parenthood.

So that’s one emotional reaction. But there’s another strong emotional response possible, and it’s the one I experienced recently while watching the recent Republican Presidential debate. Mike Huckabee seriously argued that a fetus should be given all the rights of citizenship, and protected via the Fifth and Fourteenth amendments. Scott Walker’s stance on this issue is to make all abortions illegal, without exceptions for pregnancies that were the result of rape or incest, and without exceptions for instances where the mother’s life is in jeopardy. Think about that. Let’s suppose that a woman presents at a hospital with an ectopic pregnancy. A fertilized egg has attached inside a fallopian tube. There are both surgical and medical treatments possible, but there is no possibility of saving the fetus. And the patient will die without medical treatment. The ‘no exceptions’ stance of many of the Republican candidates would, taken to their logical conclusions, condemn that woman to death.

This is an issue about which it’s difficult to the point of impossibility to have a calm, objective, rational conversation. If one believes that humanity begins with conception, then an organization like Planned Parenthood, which does perform abortions, is essentially engaged in the murder of babies. At the same time, a great many fetuses spontaneously abort in what we prefer to call miscarriages. If, as some claim, God regards every fertilized egg as a human life, then forgive me for suggesting that God is remarkably cavalier with human lives.

Let’s instead keep the uneasy truce that Roe v. Wade created, in which first trimester abortions are all legal, and in which the state’s interest in protecting the fetus begins with viability. And let’s also admit this truth: abortion is much more a tragedy than it is a sin. Is it possible to, not allow abortions, but limit the number that actually occur?

First, let’s admit this reality: if Planned Parenthood were completely de-funded, if it ceased to exist, that action would, in all likelihood, make a difference in the numbers of abortions performed nationally. They would increase; they would go up. Planned Parenthood is much more in the business of preventing pregnancies than it is in the business of aborting them. It is also the only source for women’s health care for many poor women all across the country. It is, in short, an organization that does a great deal of good.

Second, if we take human life seriously, if we’re pro-life (and, remember, ‘pro-life’ is one word I use to describe myself, another being ‘pro-choice’), then let’s genuinely support human life. Let’s end the death penalty for capital crimes. Let’s all commit ourselves to opposing war. Let’s pass a national maternity and paternity leave bill. Let’s find ways to fund child care for working women. And let’s do whatever we can to lower the costs associated with adoption, including adoption by same-sex couples.

Third, let’s support the goal of universal, national, comprehensive (age-appropriate), medically accurate sex education in all American public schools. And let’s admit that, however well-intentioned it may have initially been, that abstinence-only education is a policy failure. That should be easy to do; after all, the states that support abstinence-only programs have higher teen pregnancy rates than states that offer comprehensive education. It just strikes me as morally wrong to ask teachers not to teach any academic subject completely and accurately.

This is an astonishingly divisive and emotionally turbulent issue. And, of course, for some people, it’s an issue where no compromise is possible. But I don’t believe that’s true for most of us. Let’s see if we can find some reasonable middle ground. Start by continuing funding for Planned Parenthood.

 

Aside from Trump. . . .

Like 24 million of my fellow Americans, I watched the first Republican debates. Mostly, I watched for the same reason most of us rubberneck accidents on the freeway. We wanted to see The Donald crash and burn. He did not disappoint. Asked, by Megyn Kelly, about appalling comments he’s made about women in the past, Trump smirked and suggested those comments were all aimed at Rosie O’Donnell. After that gratuitous insult, he then treated us to a seminar on why alpha males, caught in the role of sexual harasser, tend to lose the subsequent lawsuits. Deflect, accuse, wonder why dames can’t take a joke and, geez, guys, it’s all just a bunch of political correctness. The next, day, he topped off this charming display of boorishness by suggesting that Kelly’s ‘rudeness’ to him was due to her menstrual cycle. What a prince.

So, usual Trump tactics and results. Say something insulting and idiotic. Watch your poll numbers go up. Get called on it, double down. Watch your poll numbers go . . . up. Apparently, in 2015, infantile tantrums work. (In all fairness, he did offer one of the few specific and sensible policy suggestions of the night. The man’s a pig; doesn’t mean he’s stupid).

Of course, it doesn’t matter. As the invaluable Nate Silver pointed out today, Trump can’t win. He may continue to go up a little in the polls, but his negatives are off the charts; he’s pretty close to his poll ceiling. He has a solid core of supporters, but twice as many people insist they would never, under any circumstances, ever vote for him, and that’s among Republicans. And as John Oliver pointed out on Sunday, none of this really actually matters all that much. There will be babies born before the 2016 election whose parents haven’t even met yet. We’re way way early.

So what did this first debate tell us? What can we learn from it? And what, especially, does it tell us about who might be the Republican nominee for President?

The most recent poll has Trump in first, Ted Cruz in second, Ben Carson in third. I have immense admiration for Dr. Ben Carson, an admirable man with a remarkable personal narrative. From my perspective, he looked lost up there. He has no political skills, and essentially no understanding of the major issues of the day. Ted Cruz is one of the lizard-people, I’m convinced of it. He exudes unctuous smarm. And he’s detested in the Senate; absolutely detested, including by fellow Republicans.

Carly Fiorina probably won the earlier ‘kiddie table’ debate, which didn’t surprise me, actually. I’ve heard her speak, and she’s very good. She’s well-spoken and intelligent, and understands the issues in a way that the other non-politicians running sometimes don’t. Her problem is her narrative. She was CEO of Hewlett-Packard, which she ran into the ground. She ran for the Senate in California, and got clobbered. 12 of the 30 top operatives in her Senate campaign recently came out with a statement that they would never work for her again, ever, in any capacity whatever. And her former H-P employees make for a formidable (and computer-savvy) group who will do whatever they possibly can to sabotage her campaign. She’s another ‘too much baggage’ candidate, I think.

Of the actual serious candidates, I thought Marco Rubio did pretty well, as did John Kasich. And, speaking as a Democrat, that’s scary. Rubio struck a chord with his talk about a childhood in a family that lived paycheck to paycheck. If he could take that experience, and translate it into concrete policy suggestions that really would help the lower and middle classes, he could be a formidable opponent. And Kasich came across as a decent, honorable, competent man. When the man said that he had attended the wedding of a gay friend, I expected boos from the audience. None followed. Yay. I mean, it’s not like he said anything all that remarkable; basically, ‘I decided not to be a self-righteous jerk when my friend got married.’ But the ‘basic humanity’ bar has been set deplorably low by some of the more unhinged members of the people on that stage.

Let’s make a few basic assumptions. First, let’s assume that Joe Biden decides not to run for President, and that Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee. I know that a lot of progressives really like Bernie Sanders; I’m among them. He’s the Clean Gene McCarthy of this race; a man of integrity, a serious man with serious policy ideas. I think it’s great that he’s in the race. I don’t think he can win. He might even win both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary and still lose the nomination; Hillary Clinton is much stronger with minority voters. But I want the Democratic primary process to be tough, grueling, a real grind. It’s been awhile since Secretary Clinton was in a tough electoral contest. It’s good for her to struggle. I think she can win, but she has a lot of negatives, too.

Let’s further suppose that the Republican nominee, when all the dust settles, is Marco Rubio, and that he selects Kasich as his running mate. Rubio, from Florida; Kasich, from Ohio. That’s a formidable ticket. Ohio and Florida? In play?

Now, they’ve got to run on an economic platform that makes sense. No more ‘tax cuts for billionaires, because wealth trickles down’ garbage. They can’t just say ‘I feel bad for poor people because my Mom was poor, so see, I care about you and your concerns.’ You actually have to govern in a way that reduces income inequality, and puts more money in the pockets of poor people. No more running against ‘Obamacare.’ No more crap about how the nuclear deal with Iran will bring about the end of days. Rubio’s expanded Child Tax Credit idea is the kind of Republican idea that could actually make a difference in the lives of poor people. They need more policy proposals like that one. And if they do that, run as moderates, Rubio/Kasich could win.

Unless, of course, Trump runs as a third-party candidate. He’s kept that door open, as everyone saw last Thursday. And he would absolutely pull votes from Rubio. or any other Republican. But speaking as a Democrat, that’s a lot to hope for. Donald Trump is, fundamentally and essentially, an infant. And infants get bored.

Unenumerated rights

Okay, Civics 101: The Bill of Rights to the Constitution describes basic, fundamental unviolable rights retained by the citizens, areas into which the government cannot intrude. We all know this, and if pressed, we could probably name most of the important ones off the top of our head. Freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom to assemble. When we say we live in a free society, the Bill of Rights is usually what we’re talking about. We take those rights for granted. We just assume, as a matter of course, that we can call the President of the United States or our local congressman a miserable rat fink and not get arrested for it.

What we don’t always consider, though, is the fact that some of the rights that the Constitution does enumerate are pretty strange, and don’t seem to deal with issues that anyone really thinks about anymore. They reflect controversies and issues that were important to 18th century society, but aren’t really significant to our society. The most immediate and obvious is the 3rd amendment, the one against quartering soldiers in your home. I mean, I would be pretty ticked off if someone from Hill Air Force base were to show up at my door and tell me I needed to put up some guys from the 75th Air Wing, so could I clear some space for them please. So, yay 3rd Amendment. The British did that; put troops in citizens houses, and people got pretty ticked off about it. But it’s not something that happens anymore.

If we were starting from scratch, I think that the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th and 8th amendments would all make the cut today. The 3rd and 7th seem iffy to me. The 2nd? If we didn’t already have it, I don’t think anyone would notice. Most countries don’t consider gun ownership a fundamental human right, and they seem to do okay. I bet it’d go.

Anyway, those aren’t all the rights we have. The 9th amendment makes that clear: the fact that some rights are enumerated in the Constitution doesn’t mean that that’s all there are. People have lots more rights than the 10 listed in the Bill of Rights. I see the 9th as kind of a rueful admission that times change, and some basic, fundamental rights will come more clearly into focus in time. As, indeed, has happened.

This issue of unenumerated rights, however, is the key to understanding some of the more controversial Supreme Court decisions. If The People, through their elected representatives, choose to enact laws that deny some unpopular minority its basic rights, it’s clearly the role of the Court to declare those laws unconstitutional. And so if someone were to say ‘hey, everyone hates Norwegians; they’re all still Vikings!’ and got Congress to pass a law banning, say, midsummer celebrations, Norwegian-Americans could say ‘hey, wait, first amendment, freedom to assemble’ and the Courts, presumably, would declare that law unconstitutional.

But what about the right of gay people to marry? Is ‘the right to marry’ an unenumerated right, as the 9th Amendment provides for? After all, Chief Justice Roberts made a point of the fact that the word ‘marriage’ is not found anywhere in the Constitution. Or is a right to marry so fundamental that it simply has to be one of those unenumerated rights the 9th amendment provides for? Likewise, Roe v. Wade. The constitution hasn’t a word to say about ‘privacy.’ Is there a constitutional right to privacy? So what about marriage? What about privacy? Unenumerated but obviously real rights? Or extra-constitutional legislating from the bench?

The real answer, of course, is that we don’t know definitively, and never will. Why would we? The 2nd amendment is really short, and nobody agrees about what it means. All texts support multiple readings; all texts, always, forever. The whole idea of ‘strict construction’ of constitutional texts is quite nonsensical.

But I would like to propose a possible rule of thumb that we might apply to this question. It’s the ‘of course’ rule. In other words, if you ask most people, ‘is the right to marry a fundamental right,’ they’d pretty much all say ‘of course.’ Unenumerated rights exist if basically everyone thinks ‘well, of course, that’s a right.’ Or you can turn it around. Ask most of your friends, ‘should the federal or state government have the final say in whether two consenting adults not of the same immediate family should be allowed to marry?’ Betcha anything the answer is unanimous. In fact, if you really want to have fun with it, say to your teenaged daughter, ‘honey, I think I should have final say over who you marry. I’m your parent, and I know best.’ Then stand back and watch the fireworks. Human beings simply do not make more important decisions in this life than the decision who to marry. So, it’s a right. Unenumerated, but a right. And thanks to the 9th amendment, i would argue (disagreeing with Justice Douglas in Roe) constitutionally protected.

So how about privacy? Is there an unenumerated but constitutionally protected right to privacy? I’ll grant that Justice Blackmun did us no favors with his unfelicitous language about ‘penumbras’ emanating from the 9th and 14th amendments. But let’s apply the ‘of course’ standard.

This is from Bruce Schneier, an internationally respected expert on security; on the measures governments take to protect their citizens.

Privacy is a basic human need. A future in which privacy would face constant assault was so foreign to the framers of the constitution that it never occurred to them to call out privacy as an explicit right. Privacy was inherent to the nobility of their being and their cause. Of course, being watched in your own home was unreasonable. Watching at all was an activity so unseemly as to be inconceivable to gentlemen of their day. You ruled your own home. It’s intrinsic to the concept of liberty.

And of all possible human communications, of all possible human decisions, what could be more fundamental than the right to make our own decisions regarding our bodies, our health, our treatment by our physicians? Doctor/patient confidentiality is just the beginning, not the end, of our right to have our health decisions kept to ourselves.

Of course, in abortion, there’s another consideration; the potential human life we call a fetus. I agree that balancing the right of a woman to privacy in her personal medical decisions, and the right of a viable human being growing in her uterus is a complicated and difficult task. That’s why Roe v. Wade did not legalize all abortions, under all circumstances. We might disagree with some of the specifics with which the Court tried to strike that balance, especially in the light of current medical advances. Still, I can’t help but think that the Court ruled correctly. Our continuing task must be to find ways to make abortion safe, legal, and rare.

So yes, although the Constitution does not explicitly mention marriage, I think it’s unreasonable to conclude that marriage is not a fundamental constitutional right. And although the Constitution does not explicitly mention privacy, a right to privacy can nonetheless exist. Unenumerated rights are rights nonetheless. The 9th amendment says so.

 

 

The appeal of Donald Trump

This is awkward. I read an article yesterday afternoon that helped me understand a phenomenon that otherwise has me baffled; the rise of Donald Trump in pre-election polling, and the reasons why his supporters like him so much. But I don’t feel good about linking to that article. For one thing, it involves a term, a description, a word, that I find disgusting. For another, it posits a tendency among some conservatives that I would find tremendously offensive if it were applied to liberals. I have many conservative friends; I don’t want to insult them. But I also want to write about this article. So here goes.

Let me start back in 2007-8, as Barack Obama began his campaign for the Presidency. His slogan was ‘Hope and Change,’ a perfectly innocuous slogan that nonetheless suggested, to some conservatives, something perfidious. But really, going back to his campaign rhetoric, the kinds of changes he was actually talking about seemed quite straightforward. He talked quite a bit about corruption. He talked a lot about the revolving door between people in government and lobbyists. He talked about bills written by lobbyists, favoring corporate interests. He talked about hyper-partisanship blocking meaningful legislation. I found him inspiring. And then he got elected and none of that happened. Lobbying reform fell by the wayside.

I think Obama has been a good President in many respects. The economy was tanking in 2008; he’s righting that ship. The ACA was a huge positive, as was the Iran deal. But let’s be honest; not much in the US government has changed in any fundamental way. Hyperpartisanship remains a problem; not much can really change there. Liberals and conservatives have substantive differences. But corruption remains as entrenched as ever. And people are getting sick of it. Hence the appeal of Elizabeth Warren; hence the energy behind Bernie Sanders’ campaign. And also, the appeal of Donald Trump.

And I get it. We look around, and the economy is certainly doing better than it was, but we still all know people struggling to find work, and job security feels like a fantasy. A college education was supposed to set you up for a good job; now it basically sets you up for massive debt payments. And the destructive spectre of climate change remains a constant, nagging fear. So when Trump says ‘the American dream is dead,’ it strikes a chord. In fact, the USA remains an incredibly wealthy nation, and the middle class isn’t actually doing all that badly. But that’s not things feel.

I’m trying to see this all from the perspective of those of my friends and family members who self-identify has Tea Party conservatives. It helps that I’m also male, white, and old (I’m 59). Everything’s changing, and it’s scary. Our grandkids are struggling. Obamacare’s probably a disaster; Fox News says so. We’re used to getting excellent health care from great doctors; Obamacare looks like it’s messing with that, changing it. The Iran deal is scary; can we really trust Iran? Seriously, Iran? And it’s worse than that. Almost every night, on the news, we see cops getting in trouble for shooting someone. Maybe those shootings are justified, or some of them, but that constant barrage of stories about it is eroding the respect people have for the police. And the same black activists show up everytime something happens. Couldn’t our first black President provide some healing, some perspective? Like, telling black people to put their lives in order. In fact, all institutions seem to be under attack. Conservatives never have liked abortion, have always feared gun control, and have generally been skeptical about feminism. And, now, suddenly all these frightening changes. And now, even marriage is under attack; suddenly, gay people can marry each other? Seriously? And underneath all of that, driving it, is the spectre of the national debt.

I think that for liberals, underneath every other concern is one huge one, overriding all others; the fear of catastrophic climate change. We’re terrified about the possibility of environmental disaster rendering this poor planet essentially unfit for human habitation. And I think that for conservatives, the one big concern, the one that overrides all others, is the fear of economic collapse, caused by a massive, unpayable national debt. That’s why conservatives question the science behind man-caused climate catastrophe, and that’s why liberals insist, a la Keynes and Krugman, that the debt is manageable, and that the real issue is income inequality. Both sides are terrified, and both sides are convinced, deep down inside, that the other side is fundamentally malevolent. Driving it all is fear.

And, of course, politicians seem utterly useless. Mealy-mouthed, disingenuous, devious, too cowardly to tell anyone the truth about anything. Scaredy cats. Gutless, craven, yellow.

Which brings me to the article I read yesterday, the one I’m too much a ‘fraidy cat to link to. There’s a word out there, a disgusting one, describing a certain kind of gutless conservative. Over the last couple of election cycles, we’ve seen the following pattern. A Republican politician running for office will say something controversial. The national media calls him on it, and the next day, he walks it back, apologizes, backs down. That’s where this word (that I’m not going to use) comes from. What it means is; a coward. A wimp. A wussy guy who backs down to the forces of political correctness. Who, perhaps, even derives some kind of sexual pleasure from his own weak-kneed pusillanimity and lack of basic manliness.

So look at the pattern that Donald Trump has been following. He announced his candidacy by saying, among many other bizarre things, that Mexicans coming across the border are, for the most part, rapists. His ratings went up a little. The national media called him on it. He refused to withdraw the comment; in fact, he doubled down. And his ratings went up a lot. And that pattern has repeated itself many times.

Trump doesn’t sound like a politician and he doesn’t act like a politician. He says what he thinks, even if it strikes mainstream media types as racist or sexist or foolish. He doesn’t care; he never, ever backs down. He’s plugging into something. People are fed up. They’re fed up on the right and they’re fed up on the left. Trump seems like a truth-teller. He’s certainly not wussy. Everything’s about the need to be ‘tough.’ There’s a reason he’s so popular.

But is there something else? I hesitate to bring this up; I really do. But is it possible that Trump’s popularity may, in part, have a racist, or at least racialist origin? Is it possible that Trump’s appeal owes some small debt to conservative discomfort over gender politics? People know Trump’s history; they know he’s been married three times, that his daughter is a model, that he sponsors beauty pageants–and why not; every red-blooded guy likes looking at pretty girls. Lately, the story is that he was accused, by one ex-wife, of having raped her while they were married. (Trump’s lawyer defended his client by saying that there’s no such thing, legally, as marital rape. Legally, that’s not true; rape is a crime of violence, married or not. But in the minds of some conservatives, is it possible that the idea of ‘marital rape’ seems like, well, misplaced political correctness? As his poll numbers continue to rise?)

Trump started off his campaign by saying that the people the Mexican government were ‘sending over here’ were, many of them, ‘rapists.’ That’s nonsense on about ten levels; the Mexican government isn’t sending anyone anywhere, Mexican immigrants, legal and illegal, are exceptionally law-abiding, with less propensity for violent crime than any other group of people. Plus, border control is a nonsense issue; illegal immigration has slowed to a trickle. Still, Trump’s line has resonance on the right. Our country’s under attack. ‘Those people’ are coming over here, and doing any matter of damage, and Trump at least has the guts to say so.

Donald Trump is not going to become President of the United States. I think I can say that unequivocally; too many people hate him, too many people think he’s a buffoon. Look at the polls; his negatives are off the charts. But there’s a reason for his appeal. And it’s more than a little scary.

 

 

The West Wing, and politics today

Surfing the internet this morning, I happened upon this article in the Huffington Post. It’s a provocative piece, by Robert Kuttner, arguing that liberals need to become much more radical in their proposals going forward. He identifies several major economic issues that have become part of the political conversation in the Democratic party–the cost of college and student debt, income inequality, low wage jobs, and the loss of career paths; the emergence of part-time ‘gig jobs.’ Kuttner then examines the various proposals that people have been suggesting. He takes a careful look at Hillary Clinton’s recent speech on the economy, which he quite likes, and thinks represents a step forward in our understanding of the economic difficulties faced by American workers. And then he says this:

The budget deadlock and the sequester mechanism, in which both major parties have conspired, makes it impossible to invest the kind of money needed both to modernize outmoded public infrastructure (with a shortfall now estimated at $3.4 trillion) or to finance a green transition.

To remedy the problem of income inequality would require radical reform both of the rules of finance and of our tax code, as well as drastic changes in labor market regulation.

Politicians would have to reform the debt-for-diploma system, not only going forward, as leaders like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have proposed, but also to give a great deal of debt relief to those saddled with existing loans.

Unions would need to regain the effective right to organize and bargain collectively.

This is all as radical as, well… Dwight Eisenhower.

And none of the changes Kuttner proposals even begin to address the biggest issue of them all; the potential spectre of global climate change, and the economic changes that would be necessary effectively to cope with it.

Here’s the thing: I agree with Kuttner right down the line. I think he’s right on every particular. Unfortunately, he’s also right in suggesting that how difficult passing any of this would be. As he says, “the reforms needed to restore (Eisenhower era levels of shared prosperity) are somewhere to the left of Bernie Sanders.” And Sanders is already being dismissed by the Beltway, by the mainstream media commentators, by Democratic strategists and pollsters, as a wild-eyed radical. Frankly, he’s seen as kind of a crazy person. And he’s actually probably quite a bit too conservative.

Lately, my wife and I have been watching re-runs of The West Wing. It was dismissed in its time as a fantasy show for liberals. Stuck with George W. Bush in the actual White House, we got to spend an hour once a week imagining a better President. Jedediah Bartlett was a Nobel Prize winning economist, unapologetically liberal, though, of course, flawed as all humans are flawed; in his case, by MS, and also by a bit of a temper, and a kind of pompous windbaggery that drove his staffers nuts. I liked the show; I’m not blind to its flaws.

But this time through, binge-watching all those great episodes with my wife, I’ve been struck by the actual issues that the show dealt with. After all, the heart of the show were all these impassioned conversations about public policy by smart, policy and political wonks, Josh and Toby and Donna and CJ, as they walked around the halls of the West Wing. The show’s been off the air for ten years; I would expect that it would deal with a lot of issues that aren’t actually issues anymore. What’s fascinating is how many of the issues the show deals with are still with us today.

They spend a lot of time, for example, talking about the Iran problem; Bartlett’s always trying to curb Iran’s attempts to build nuclear weapons. One whole episode was about an effort by Leo, acting as Bartlett’s emissary, to normalize relations with Cuba. Climate change gets mentioned, but only a couple of times, in passing. Republicans are forever talking about tax cuts, which Bartlett has to consistently bat back. Economics in the show are sort of weird; Bartlett is never a particularly popular President, but we’re told that the economy is humming along, with five and a half (or seven, or nine, depending) million new high paying private sector jobs. Plus a balanced budget, plus low inflation? And an approval rating in the 40s? It’s like they had to have him be good at economics (he’s a Nobel laureate), but unpopular (conflict!), and sort of hoped we wouldn’t notice; Presidents with humming economies are really really popular.

Gay marriage gets mentioned a lot, but always as a kind of pie-in-the-sky thing that only the most wildly liberal politicians ever even mention. Barlett’s (quietly) in favor, but can’t say so publicly. Too preposterous a pipe-dream to ever become reality. But raising the minimum wage is not actually a big deal; Barlett negotiates a minimum wage hike with Arnie Vinick (the Republican Presidential candidate, played superbly by Alan Alda) and it passes without fuss.

Now, I’m not saying that The West Wing was a particularly prescient show, and oh, if we’d only listened! or anything like that. I think that Aaron Sorkin and (later) John Wells reflected the big political issues of their day, and the mainstream thinking on those issues. They tried to position Bartlett in perhaps surprising and provocative ways in relation to those issues, but those were the issues. And I look at Obama’s second term, ten years after Bartlett ‘left office,’ and it’s interesting. We have an Iran deal. We have normalized relations with Cuba. We don’t have a balanced budget, but the world-wide financial crisis of 2007-8 came after the show left the air. (It would have been interesting to see what Bartlett would have done about it. I assume he was a Keynesian (he was a macroeconomist; they’re all Keynesians); probably he would have rejected austerity). But John Wells was show-running for seasons 5-7, the last three seasons, and Wells was clearly less interested in economics than Sorkin was. The whole last season was about the campaign to replace Bartlett, Matt Santos v. Arnie Vinick, and it would have been nice if Santos had ever attacked Vinick’s tax cuts on substance, not because Vinick’s a Republican and we’re rooting for the Democrat to win, but because Vinick’s tax cuts are bad economics.

Whatever. Here’s my larger point: there are issues that were raised on The West Wing that have since been resolved, mostly, of course, because that show was ten years ago and the world moves forward. Liberals favor change; conservatives oppose it; that’s the difference between the two philosophies. Both are necessary. But right now, voters are angry, because they can see how our country’s current economic successes aren’t benefitting ordinary Americans. Economic inequality should be the key issue in this campaign, and it’s starting to happen on the left. (The Right’s all obsessed with nonsense issues, like border security and cutting rich guys’ taxes).

But. But. If we don’t talk about issues, even far-out, will-never-happen-in-my-lifetime issues (like marriage equality), then people won’t think about them, and they’ll never come to pass. The only way to affect change is to start talking about affecting change. That’s why Bernie Sanders is so valuable in this race. He’s not going to win, and there are issues where I think he’s dead wrong. But he’s talking about economic issues that need to be talked about. He’s willing to position himself as a radical, even though actually he’s not radical enough.

Jed Bartlett, of course, never existed. But that TV show was part of the political conversation. If what’s replaced it is another TV show (Veep, say, or House of Cards), well, those are both terrific shows, but not much interested in policy. But there remain fora where conversations about policy can happen. And we need to speak up.

The Iran deal: way better than you’ve been led to think

We got a deal with Iran. Iran wanted something; an end to the economic sanctions that were crippling trade and holding back their economy. The West wanted something too; for Iran to stop trying to build nuclear weapons. My wife and I have been watching re-runs of The West Wing; Iran’s efforts to build a nuclear program were an issue President Bartlett dealt with repeatedly, on a show that’s been off the air for ten years. He was a fictional President; now the real one has announced a deal. And it’s terrific.

Meanwhile, the Republican party has found an issue more unifying even than Obamacare. Every single one of the 67 (est.) announced Republican candidates for President has denounced the deal. 47 Republican senators wrote an insultingly condescending letter to the Iranian foreign minister Mohammed Javad Zarif (a guy with multiple advanced degrees in Foreign Relations from various American universities) explaining the American system of government and, oh, adding ‘we’re not going to ratify any deal you make, so don’t bother negotiating one.’ And their views were tepid compared to those of Bibi Netanyahu, who essentially staked his entire political career on his opposition to it. And who got invited to the US to explain his objections to our Congress. Massively inappropriate, to be sure, but the Right was desperate.

So this week the deal got signed. The negotiations worked. Iran agreed to conditions they had previously rejected. Of course, this is Iran, super-sneaky, terror-sponsoring, Islamic-fanatic, utterly untrustworthy Iran. So newspapers across the country, searching for that ever desirable middle-ground, are calling it ‘deeply flawed,’ in terms that make it clear that, in their view, it’s a lousy deal, but probably the best we could come up with, all things considered.

You want to know who thinks it’s a terrific deal, much better than you’ve been reading? Actual experts in nuclear proliferation.

Here’s Aaron Stein, a nuclear non-proliferation expert at the Royal United Services Institute. (The entire interview with Stein is here.)

It’s a very good nonproliferation deal. If you want it to focus on the problems with Iran running around in Iraq or Syria, this deal is not for you. If you are focused on the nuclear issue specifically, it’s a very good deal. It makes the possibility of Iran developing a nuclear weapon in the next 25 years extremely remote. It would require a Herculean effort of subterfuge and clandestine activity.

It’s important that it puts inspections in place. Inspections are not always designed to catch you red-handed but rather to elicit a response about what it is that you are up to. The threshold for pain is so high that you don’t want to break the rules, and I think this puts that in place while also making it extremely difficult to cheat.

It’s certainly true that the deal allows all economic sanctions against Iran to be lifted. That was what Iran wanted, and it’s in our best interests too, to allow Iran to engage with other nations, including opening diplomatic relations, eventually, with the US. As Klein puts it: “the policy change we wanted was to put limits on Iran’s nuclear program in perpetuity. We got that.” It’s certainly true Iran is currently holding four American citizens, and that we would like them released. But that becomes easier, not harder, now. This negotiation was about one issue, and only one issue. But diplomatic channels now exist to resolve other differences.

Okay, so that’s one guy. What about other nuclear proliferation experts? Well, 30 of them published a letter praising the deal, calling it a “vitally important step forward.” One of the favorite opposition talking points had been that the deal did not call for international inspections; in fact, such inspections are the centerpiece of the deal. And it concluded that “the agreement reduces the likelihood of destabilizing nuclear weapons competition in the Middle East, and strengthens global efforts to prevent proliferation.”

Want some more? How about the non-partisan “The Iran Project,” a group of former analysts and diplomats who have been skeptical about previous diplomatic efforts. After reading the details of this deal, they enthusiastically endorsed it, and called upon Congress to “take no action that would impede further progress.”

You want another opinion? How about Jeffrey Lewis? Director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, with a regular column in Foreign Policy? He’s been a skeptic all along; thought the process was flawed, and doubted Iran would agree to a sufficiently robust inspection regime. But he stayed up all night to read the details when it was released on the internet, and he declares himself pleasantly surprised by it: gave it an A. Can Iran be trusted? Here’s his response:

What you want is to feel like the administration has maxed out what they could have reasonably hoped to achieve. You can’t know that [Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] will be deterred. But I don’t know that there’s any way to make him more deterred than this.

As President Obama put it in his press conference yesterday (I’m paraphrasing here), we had two choices. One was to negotiate an end to sanctions (which Iran wanted) and an end to their nuclear program (which we wanted). The second was to unilaterally invade or attack Iran. Without necessarily always saying so, the idea of invading Iran was in the subtext of most neo-conservative criticism of the administration’s efforts. The magazine National Review has been particularly rabid in their insistence on military action.

And they’re wrong. They’ve always been wrong. The United States of America can’t just invade other countries and impose our will. It doesn’t work, and it’s also fantastically immoral. Instead, the Obama administration engaged with Iran diplomatically. The deal we got is terrific. It’s not ‘deeply flawed,’ and anyone who says it is doesn’t know what they’re talking about. It’s first-rate, excellent. It’s a terrific deal. Well done, Secretary Kerry. Well done, diplomatic corps. Well done, Mr. President.

Illegal immigration

A friend of mine sent me a link to some site called The Revolution, called What if Illegals Left. It’s sort of gone viral on social media and certain conservative sites. I’m not going to link to it here; don’t have much interest in driving traffic their way. I will quote a bit of it, though.

In California, if 3.5 million illegal aliens moved back to Mexico, it would leave an extra $10.2 billion to spend on overloaded school systems, bankrupt hospitals and overrun prisons. It would leave highways cleaner, safer and less congested. Everyone could understand one another as English became the dominant language again.

In Colorado, 500,000 illegal migrants, plus their 300,000 kids and grandchilds would move back “home,” mostly to Mexico. That would save Colorado an estimated $2 billion (other experts say $7 billion) annually in taxes that pay for schooling, medical, social-services and incarceration costs. It means 12,000 gang members would vanish out of Denver alone.

Colorado would save more than $20 million in prison costs, and the terror that those 7,300 alien criminals set upon local citizens. Denver Officer Don Young and hundreds of Colorado victims would not have suffered death, accidents, rapes and other crimes by illegals.

Denver Public Schools would not suffer a 67% dropout/flunk rate because of thousands of illegal alien students speaking 41 different languages. At least 200,000 vehicles would vanish from our gridlocked cities in Colorado. Denver’s 4% unemployment rate would vanish as our working poor would gain jobs at a living wage.

I’m not going to quote any more; honestly, I feel like I need to take a shower. This entire viral post is nothing more than ridiculous nativist nonsense.  None of it’s true, and none of it contributes helpfully to the debate. May I also urge you to not to post anything disagreeing with it on social media. I’m about to do just that, and I’m already dreading the response. A friend of mine did, and 4000 replies later had to shut it down. The anti-illegal radicals are not reasonable people. They’re conspiracy theorists, basically. And you can’t argue with conspiracy theorists.

And don’t be misled by these ridiculous ‘statistics.’ It doesn’t take much fact checking to realize how phony these numbers actually are. Denver Public Schools don’t have a 67% drop-out rate, for example. It’s closer to 23 percent, for graduation within 4 years of completing eighth grade. But the actual drop-out/flunk rate drops to less than 3% if you count students who finish their degrees a year after their graduating class finishes. And Hispanic students do just fine; track about the same as Caucasian students, a few points behind, which vanishes if you project the numbers out a year.

In fact, every econometric study of the issue of immigration has concluded that Hispanic immigration, legal and illegal, has been a net positive for the US economy. Expel ‘illegals,’ for example, and say goodbye to 2 million entrepreneurs. Illegal immigrants have a much lower crime rate than any other category of Americans, and illegal immigrants pay taxes, earn wages, spend money, all of which boost the US economy. Those are the facts, and they are not in dispute.

Plus, honestly, I have no idea why illegal immigration is an issue in this campaign season. Illegal immigration has slowed to a trickle. In part, this is because the economy of Mexico has been growing. In part, it’s because the US has started issuing more green cards, around a million a year. As for the ‘we need to close the border argument,’ it’s difficult to see how much more could be done. The Obama administration spends 18 billion on border control, more than it spends on any other federal law enforcement agency.

In other words, when people in bordering countries are desperate enough economically that they decide to come over to the US, they first apply to do it legally, through a green card. If they lose that lottery (and many do, of course; it’s basically a matter of luck), some risk their lives to come over illegally. Once here, they are far more likely to start a business and hire other people than any other American ethnicity. They commit fewer crimes than most people. They can’t collect ADC, food stamps, unemployment, social security, the EIC, Medicaid, or most other social services. They pay taxes, and do not consume tax dollars. And their numbers are dwindling.

And I’d do it. So would you. If I were desperate to feed my family, if I couldn’t find any gainful employment where I lived, and if a fantastically wealthy country was close by, to my north, I wouldn’t care about immigration laws. The moral thing to do isn’t to obey some persnicketty rule, it’s to feed your kids. I’d Jean ValJean it. So would you. Be honest with yourself, and you know that’s true.

So yes, I can totally see why stopping illegal immigration needs to be a major national priority, or an issue in a national election campaign. Not.