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Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

[reddit-me]John P. Judis at The New Republic pointed me to a relevant fact that hasn’t been covered much in looking at illegal immigration into Arizona — the number of unauthorized immigrants has been decreasing in the past 2 years and the rate of illegal immigration was at its lowest point in the past decade nationally. See for example this chart from the Office of Immigration Statistics (pdf) in the Department of the Homeland Security Department:

For the more visual, I charted the data to demonstrate the drop:

And of course, the national data as well:

As the Wall Street Journal explained:

The larger reality is that border crossings track the economy. The recent downturn has meant fewer illegal entries and more immigrants going home. Before the law, Arizona’s illegal population had fallen 18% in the past year.

If the undocumented immigrant population is falling — including in Arizona — how then do you account for the increasing hysteria? For all the talk of the thousands killed by illegal immigrants, virtually all of these are mere car accidents which are no different than the car accidents thousands of Americans get into every day. For all the talk of an “increasingly violent” border — and there is some justification for this given the struggle going on in Mexico as the military is waging war on the drug cartels with corruption, violence, and abuse apparently rampant on both sides  — the violence on the American side has been minimal.

The exploitative use of the rancher Robert Krentz’s murder — like the use of the young boy killed in a car accident, Dustin Inman — is a pure propaganda tactic meant to focus anger. Where is the Marcelo Lucero Society dedicated to the immigrant stabbed to death by a group of high school students who had decided to go, “beaner hopping”? Marcelo Lucero was killed a short drive from where I grew up on Long Island — and his case only came to my attention because the FBI was investigating the Suffolk County Police Department for ignoring hate crimes against Latinos and undocumented immigrants.

But why the surge in anger and hysteria now?

The flip side of the Wall Street Journal‘s point is that even as undocumented immigrants leave during economic hard times, the resentment of them grows. As John P. Judis explains:

During the Great Depression, immigration to the United States from Mexico virtually ceased, but states began arresting and deporting Mexicans, many of whom were in the country legally. The Mexican population of the United States fell by 41 percent during the 1930s. And the same kind of thing is happening again.

Keep these numbers in mind as we hear again and again over the coming months of the “invasion” and of how the problem is getting worse.

[This beautiful image of the Arizona-Mexico border fence by ThreadedThoughts licensed under Creative Commons.]

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Posted in Economics, Immigration, Politics, The Opinionsphere | 16 Comments »

Must-Reads of the Week: Ezra Klein, Sleeper Issue of 2010, Success, Virtual Insanity, Abdulmutallab, Obstruction, and Madden

Friday, February 5th, 2010

1. Ezra Klein on Rep. Paul Ryan, Health Care, and the Deficit. If you want a serious, policy-oriented daily take on health care and fiscal issues, turn to Ezra Klein. This week, he began the opinionosphere’s discussion of Rep. Paul Ryan’s serious attempt to balance the budget (which has no chance of being embraced even by the Republicans or Democrats.) Later, he interviewed Rep. Ryan – though it read more like a discussion between two serious people about fiscal policy and health care reform. Klein later attempted to see where along the political spectrum the Senate health care reform bill fell:

Take Rep. Paul Ryan’s health-care plan…as the conservative pole on this issue. Then take single-payer and place it on the other side of the spectrum. Where does the Senate bill fall?

It’s closer to Ryan’s plan than to single-payer. A lot closer, in fact.

Yet this basic fact – that Obama has taken a rather conservative approach to health care substantively similar to the 1994 plan Republicans counter-proposed to Bill Clinton – has been obscured by a Republican Party intent on obstructing Obama’s agenda to gain partisan advantage. As Klein explains, the problem is that the incentives for each party don’t line up:

[T]hat’s the underlying reality of health-care reform. Substantive compromise is easy. In fact, the bill is a substantive compromise. It’s a deficit-neutral, universal-coverage scheme that relies on the private insurance market and looks like one of the Republican alternatives from 1994. What’s hard is political compromise. Because there, the two positions are that Democrats are helped if a bill passes and Republicans make gains if a bill fails. There’s no way to split the difference between those positions.

At the same time, however, Klein castigates Democrats as well as Republicans for failing to put the national good over their own political situations:

The distinguishing feature of the budget conversation, however, is that it happens at a very abstract level. This red line needs to come down to meet this black line, and this huge number needs to eventually become this slightly-smaller number. That’s all fine for a floor speech, but when you start trying to muscle the red line into position or subtract from the very big number, things get real specific, real quick. Suddenly, you’re telling seniors that there are treatments they just can’t get and you’re telling workers that the insurance system is going to have to change. And just as Conrad doesn’t have much appetite for doing that to his constituents on the small things that most of them don’t notice, very few legislators have demonstrated much appetite for doing this to the country on the big things that pretty much everyone notices.

2. I do not accept second place for the United States of America. Edward Alden and E. J. Dionne comment on what is brewing to become the big issue of the 2010 elections, not coincidentally countering the main narrative put forth by the right wing.

3. A successful first year. Norm Ornstein and John P. Judis explain some of the significant accomplishments of Obama’s first year in office.

4. Virtual insanity. Andrew Sullivan’s main theme this week has been the virtual insanity of the Republican Party. He writes: “On every single major issue of the day, they are incoherent.” He quotes Daniel Larison:

Republicans have been treating temporary, tactical political victories as if they were far more significant, strategic victories, when, in fact, they have no political strategy worth mentioning.

Then of course are the highlights from that Daily Kos poll in which – for example – 59% of Republicans believe Obama should be impeached for something-or-other.

5. Reid v. Abdulmutallab. Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly gets some hard hits in on the ridiculousness of the Republican response to Obama’s handling of the panty-bomber. And Benen doesn’t even get into the fact that Abdulmutallab is now cooperating.

6. Obstruction. I examined some of the theories of why the Republicans are so uniformly obstructionist.

7. Madden vs. Real Life. As a football-related article for this Super Bowl weekend, Chris Suellentrop for Wired explored how the video game Madden is affecting the real game of football.

[Image by Doug Kim, used with permission of the creator, and in anticipation of the snowstorm that might rock Manhattan today as I’m commuting home.]

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Posted in Barack Obama, Domestic issues, Economics, Health care, National Security, Politics, The Bush Legacy, The Opinionsphere, The War on Terrorism | No Comments »

Let’s keep all that talk of a failed first year in office to a minimum.

Friday, February 5th, 2010

[digg-reddit-me]Andrew Sullivan pointed to two rather positive takes on the Obama administration over the past year from right wing Congress-watcher Norm Ornstein and liberal magazine reporter John P. Judis reporting on the regulatory agencies.

Judis in The New Republic:

[T]here is one extremely consequential area where Obama has done just about everything a liberal could ask for–but done it so quietly that almost no one, including most liberals, has noticed. Obama’s three Republican predecessors were all committed to weakening or even destroying the country’s regulatory apparatus: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the other agencies that are supposed to protect workers and consumers by regulating business practices. Now Obama is seeking to rebuild these battered institutions. In doing so, he isn’t simply improving the effectiveness of various government offices or making scattered progress on a few issues; he is resuscitating an entire philosophy of government with roots in the Progressive era of the early twentieth century. Taken as a whole, Obama’s revival of these agencies is arguably the most significant accomplishment of his first year in office.

The regulatory agencies, most of which date from one of the three great reform periods (1901–1914, 1932–1938, and 1961–1972) of the last century, were intended to smooth out the rough edges (the “externalities,” in economic jargon) of modern capitalism–from dirty air to dangerous workplaces to defective merchandise to financial corruption. With wide latitude in writing and enforcing regulations, they have been described as a “fourth branch of government.”

Judis explains several ways conservatives attempted to eviscerate the regulatory apparatus including appointing lobbyists for those being regulated to head the agencies and through the clever use of cost-benefit analysis:

The conservative version of cost-benefit analysis stressed costs rather than benefits and subjected only regulation–not deregulation–to cost-benefit scrutiny. Conservatives also sometimes adopted bizarre formulas for assessing costs and benefits. They assigned less monetary value to improvements or protections in poor communities because the residents were willing (that is, able) to pay less for them, and they used a spurious correlation between a society’s wealth and the health of its citizens to argue that the costs of regulation outweighed the benefits. Under George H.W. Bush, for example, OIRA argued that OSHA regulations on chemical contaminants would end up harming workers more than exposure to chemicals. Wrote James McRae, the acting head of OIRA, “If government regulations force firms out of business or into overseas production, employment of American workers will be reduced, making workers less healthy by reducing their income.”

(Presumably it was this article that Jon Stewart was referring to in his O’Reilly interview.)

Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute – no fan of Obama’s agenda – can’t deny the significant accomplishments of this Democratic Congress:

[T]his Democratic Congress is on a path to become one of the most productive since the Great Society 89th Congress in 1965-66, and Obama already has the most legislative success of any modern president — and that includes Ronald Reagan and Lyndon Johnson. The deep dysfunction of our politics may have produced public disdain, but it has also delivered record accomplishment.

The productivity began with the stimulus package, which was far more than an injection of $787 billion in government spending to jump-start the ailing economy. More than one-third of it — $288 billion — came in the form of tax cuts, making it one of the largest tax cuts in history, with sizable credits for energy conservation and renewable-energy production as well as home-buying and college tuition. The stimulus also promised $19 billion for the critical policy arena of health-information technology, and more than $1 billion to advance research on the effectiveness of health-care treatments.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has leveraged some of the stimulus money to encourage wide-ranging reform in school districts across the country. There were also massive investments in green technologies, clean water and a smart grid for electricity, while the $70 billion or more in energy and environmental programs was perhaps the most ambitious advancement in these areas in modern times. As a bonus, more than $7 billion was allotted to expand broadband and wireless Internet access, a step toward the goal of universal access.

And of course, this has something to do with Obama, as NPR reported:

In his first year in office, President Obama did better even than legendary arm-twister Lyndon Johnson in winning congressional votes on issues where he took a position, aCongressional Quarterly study finds.

As I wrote last week, listing some additional accomplishments:

He pulled the nation back from the brink of a financial crisis and recession without nationalizing the banks or bailing them out yet again. He moved America back from the panicked emergency measures adopted by George W. Bush in the aftermath of September 11. He salvaged some deal from Copenhagen despite the Chinese attempts to undercut America’s position. He appointed a moderate, liberal pragmatist to the Supreme Court. He has made many long-term bets in domestic and foreign policy which we have yet to see play out. And of course, there is his attempt at health care reform – combining the most significant attempt at cost control in a generation with the most significant expansion of access to medical insurance. (The two goals being surprisingly compatible as Milton Friedman acknowledged.) Though this last bill still has not had its fate decided, these are serious and substantial accomplishments that form the basis of a solid legacy.

(Of course, there are disappointments as well – but let’s keep all that talk of a failed first year in office to a minimum.)

[Image not subject to copyright.]

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Posted in Barack Obama, Criticism, Domestic issues, Politics, The Opinionsphere | 45 Comments »

Obama versus Left-Wing and Right-Wing Populism

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

John P. Judis:

Working-class populism in America has always taken two forms: The first–let’s call it left-wing populism–has typically been directed at speculators who make money from people who work in factories and offices and who don’t seem to contribute to the actual wealth of society. The second form–let’s call it right-wing populism–has targeted immigrants, black sharecroppers, the unemployed, and other out groups who are seen as trying to deprive those who work of their rightful earnings. These two strains often appear together, as they did in the original American populist movement. And these sentiments are most concentrated among the embattled classes–those that see themselves threatened from above and below.

Obama has provoked both left-wing and right-wing populism.

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The Reagan Revolution (cont.)

Monday, March 16th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]I’ve gotten a bit of feedback/blowback about having simplified what went on the in 1980s that led to the indisputable higher levels of income disparity, the concentration of wealth, the decimation of manufacturing, and the rise of finance. This wasn’t about Ronald Reagan and his neoliberal policies – it is claimed – but about basic economic forces. I tried to take that into account by pointing out that Reagan was only accelerating the trends that started in the 1970s – but let me go further now.

Another major factor that aided these trends was not entirely within Reagan’s control. As John Judis explained in The New Republic, in the 1980s:

…Japan was threatened by a cheaper dollar. To keep exports high, Japan intentionally held down the yen’s value by carefully controlling the disposition of the dollars it reaped from its trade surplus with the United States. Instead of using these to purchase goods or to invest in the Japanese economy or to exchange for yen, it began to recycle them back to the United States by purchasing companies, real estate, and, above all, Treasury debt…

With Japan’s purchases, the United States would not have to keep interest rates high in order to attract buyers to Treasury securities, and it wouldn’t have to raise taxes in order to reduce the deficit…[That] informal bargain…became the cornerstone of a new international economic arrangement…

Judis goes on to explain how this arrangement evolved through the 1990s:

Asian countries, led by China, adopted a version of Japan’s strategy for export-led growth… They maintained trade surpluses with the United States; and, instead of exchanging their dollars for their own currencies or investing them internally, they, like the Japanese, recycled them into T-bills and other dollar-denominated assets. This kept the value of their currencies low in relation to the dollar and perpetuated the trade surplus by which they acquired the dollars in the first place…

Until recently, there have been clear upsides to this bargain for the United States: the avoidance of tax increases, growing wealth at the top of the income ladder, and preservation of the dollar as the international currency…

[The current financial system] is sustained by specific national policies. The United States has acquiesced in large trade deficits – and their effect on the U.S. workforce – in exchange for foreign funding of our budget deficits. And Asia has accepted a lower standard of living in exchange for export-led growth and a lower risk of currency crises.

This financial arrangment was not created by Ronald Reagan – but he did acquiese to it – and spent America into a level of indebtedness it had not been in since World War II. This arrangment would not be consistent with a ideological neoliberalism that was discussed before – but this arrangment, most importantly, did benefit many of those who were vocal proponents of neoliberalism. 

The revolutions of the 1980s then, was not merely the result of a political movement within America – not anymore than the revolutions of the 1960s were. There were international factors that helped along both domestic movements. The combination of this special relationship with Japan – and later China and other Asian countries – with the neoliberal revolution of Ronald Reagan – led to a concentration of wealth and power within a small class of people rarely seen in a developed country. As Paul Krugman observed:

It’s important to know that no other advanced economy has seen a comparable surge in inequality – even the rising inequality of Thatcherite Britain was a faint echo of trends here.

Combined with the neoliberal principle, as described by Stanley Fish, that “Short-term transactions-for-profit [are better than] long-term planning designed to produce a more just and equitable society,” it becomes more clear how we ended up in this enormous financial mess. 

Take away the regulations; encourage short-term profits; reduce taxes; trim the social safety net; “starve the beast” by spending without taxing; and then supercharge the economy with constant stimulus spending (which is what “starve the beast” is) and easy debt from China and Japan. What you get from this is not only a revolution that undermines the American way of life in the mid-term – as wealth is concentrated and middle class and manufacturing jobs dry up – but an unsustainable economy that is going to collapse, and collapse hard. 

In other words, you get what we have now.

Today, we are reaping the effects of the generational bargain at the heart of the Reagan presidency.

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Posted in China, Economics, Financial Crisis, History | 6 Comments »

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