Friday, April 19, 2024

A three-fer on immigration, part three

Immigration is going to be an issue in the presidential election, so I am re-posting three posts from 2019 that I think are relevant.

Fair warning: Because these are old, I can't guarantee - and have not checked - that all of the data is current and all of the links are live. That does not affect the arguments.

The Erickson Report, Page 4: A Longer Look at open borders

I promised last week to follow up on the idea of open borders as being worth a look. But what happened is that it wound up turning into A Longer Look - a longer look at open borders.

Open borders, in case the concept is not clear from the name, refers to a policy of unrestricted immigration, of free travel into and out of a nation with little more fuss than crossing the border between two US states. There can be trivial variations on that, such as requiring you to have either money for a few days' expenses or a place to stay, but we're not going to bother with those.

Okay. There are generally two types of argument, which sometimes overlap, raised in support of open borders: an economic one and a moral one.

At the top, one thing that can't be denied is that it would save money on enforcement. Open borders means no walls, no fences, no screening at airports, no ICE, no deportations, no detention centers, no immigration courts. The US spends in the neighborhood of $20 billion annually in immigration enforcement. Meanwhile, one study pegs the economic cost of wait times at the US-Mexico border alone to be more than $12 billion a year. Add the economic costs of wait times at other ports of entry and we could easily be talking about $40 billion a year on border security.

That's a lot of money but still it's small change in the larger, particularly the world, economy, so there's got be more to the economic argument, and there is. The real economic argument is based on hypothetical notions of economic efficiency.

The idea is that just as open borders in goods - "free trade" - supposedly allows physical resources to flow where they can be deployed most productively for their best use, so open borders for workers allows human resources to flow where they can be deployed most productively - and yes, workers do become more productive as they move from a poor country to a rich one because they join a labor market with ample capital and a predictable legal system.

The result of all this increased productivity, it's claimed, is that the world gets richer.

According to, four different studies have shown that, depending on the level of movement in the global labor market, the estimated growth in “gross world product” - the worldwide equivalent of GDP - would be in the range of 67% to 147%. Effectively, open borders would double the world's economic activity.

But here is the first rub and part of why I find the argument for open borders interesting enough to consider but not really persuasive. Let's suppose that's true, that open borders  produce a major increase in gross world product - GWP if you prefer. The world as a whole is richer but are the people richer? Or have we just created, as the very argument itself suggests, an even and ever greater divide between the rich nations and the poor ones, between the increasingly rich few and the increasingly desperate many? Even if we are to say that those coming in improve their own lot, what does that mean for those left behind?

It's argued that migrant workers often send money back home through remittances, which again could benefit a select few in those home countries, but how much of an impact could that have on the scale of a national economy, even for a poor nation?

And yes, what about those already here? Would the new arrivals drive down wages? Do they improve their own lot at the cost of driving down the ability of those already here to maintain theirs?

The New Internationalist, hardly a right-wing source, says that multiple studies say wages are only minimally affected, if at all, by immigration, citing in particular one from Denmark which followed the wages and employment of every worker in the country between 1991 and 2008 and found that low-skilled wages and employment actually rose in response to the influx of refugees during that time.

Okay but even so, that is about low-skilled workers, not the economy as a whole and it's hard to accept that there is no impact when in the US corporations are increasingly using temporary visas known as H-1Bs to replace American high-skilled, particularly technology, workers with foreign workers because they will work for 25 to even 50 percent less than Americans.

More to the point, all of these cases - from the H-1B program to Denmark's dealing with a flood of refugees and all points in between - are still situations of controlled immigration, even if in the case of Denmark temporarily dramatically increased immigration. They are not open borders and it's reasonable to wonder how far those results can be extrapolated.

Meanwhile, the huge and widening wealth gap we are already seeing here at home is well-known enough to require no further reference; so even if we're to say that with open borders, low-skilled workers would be a little better off, the question remains of if open borders are a pathway, even a tool, for making that wealth gap, that gulf, even wider, that chasm even deeper, that barrier even harder to breach, a way to, if you will, give the poor an extra dime so the rich can have an extra dollar. Or ten. Or a hundred. Or a thousand.

Still still still, even if we ignore that, even if we say that well, we are one of those industrialized nations that will economically benefit, so we'll be better off even if it's a pittance so who cares, that only serves to raise a different issue: The fact remains that by some estimates, more than two-thirds of a person’s overall wealth is determined by where they live and work, that accident of place of birth is a major determinant of your wealth.

Which is where the economic and the moral cases come to overlap: Since where someone is born is entirely a matter of chance, the argument goes, there is no moral justification for compelling people to stay in a poor country. By the same token, those lucky enough to have been born in rich countries have no right to exclude others from their good fortune.

But they do: It's estimated that three-quarters of all border walls and fences in the world have been erected since 2000. Approaching 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, everywhere you look the world has more barriers than ever.

Which just puts an exclamation point on the moral argument, since the main intention of most of these barriers is to preserve the privilege of the wealthy at the expense of the poor by restricting their access to the resources and opportunities available in wealthy countries - while the ability of the rich and even more of capital to move when and where they like is barely touched.

And by the way, not just move for the sake of mere residency. In 21 nations, mostly in Europe and the Caribbean but also Canada, the United States, Australia, and other places, the rich essentially - not literally but essentially - can buy citizenship by investing in the domestic economy.

By what right, by what moral standard, do we allow the perpetuation of that self-reinforcing cycle that increasingly secures and protects the rich against the world's poor, against the world's desperate, against the world's refugees, against those whose moral and ethical claim to a share of the world's resources is as great as their own?

I think the moral case for open borders is clear and correct. But I'm still divided because I have said many times about open borders that my heart says yes but my head says no.

Because what of the practical issues? We are assuming that open borders will lead to a large influx of new residents into the US, considerably more than are coming now - otherwise there isn't an issue. So what are the practical issues of dealing with that rapidly swelling population?

What are the implications, for example, for public education? For increasing the number of schools and classrooms and the supply of teachers rapidly enough? For the availability of health care facilities and the number of doctors, nurses, and all the other sorts of health care personnel? For the provision of social services, which we have to assume will need to be greatly expanded?

What are the implications for the housing stock? The people have to go somewhere. Do we wind up with shanty towns or overflowing cities packed with 21st century versions of the darkest days of Hell's Kitchen or the increasingly rapid replacement of farmland with pavement and buildings?

What about the increased demands for energy? What about utilities such as the electric grid? What would be the impacts on air and water pollution?

Speaking of energy, since as Americans our carbon footprint is so large, what would be the impact of the increased demands for power arising from an expanding industrialized population on global warming?

There are also social questions. Even advocates of open borders acknowledge that in the short term unchecked migration could certainly corrode social cohesion due to cultural conflicts between natives and immigrants. Although in the longer run it likely would make little difference - recall Peter Andreas, who I quoted last time about the historically insecure nature of our borders, noting once "undesirable" sorts of immigrants being, a few generations later, "unremarkably American" - it is still a concern that would require attention.

And yet - yes, another but - it could just as easily develop that none of that would be a problem, at least not big ones.


Because open borders not only promote immigration, they promote emigration, they promote immigrants’ return to their original homes. If immigrants know they can go home and then maybe come back again in the future, they are less likely to put down roots. Many will come for a few years, to work or study or save some money, and then go home. This happens routinely in the European Union, which has largely open borders among member states.

Consider that even without open borders, in the 1960s, 70 million Mexicans crossed into the USA - and 85 per cent of them later returned to Mexico. But the more militarized our borders become, the more restrictive our policies become, the more those already here don't leave for fear they would never be able to come back because of the restrictions and the dangers associated with the trip.

And those dangers are very real and extend beyond concerns like arrest, incarceration, and even the tearing apart of families. The number of people dying while crossing borders has reached unprecedented levels.

The group Border Angels estimates that since 1994, about 10,000 people have died in their attempt to cross from Mexico into the US. According to the Customs and Border Protection, over 7,000 people died crossing that border between 1998 and 2017.

Meanwhile, more than a thousand die every year trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to get to Europe, a number that threatens to increase as intensified border enforcement forces people into the hands of smugglers for more perilous journeys while governments, as I noted last time, criminalize programs to save refugees from drowning. Six hundred have already died in 2019.

And the people will keep coming and they will keep dying because on one point history has produced undeniable evidence: No matter how harsh we make their journey, no matter how perilous we make their passage, no matter how dehumanizing we make their detention, no matter how many walls and fences we build, no matter how many guards and guns, dogs and drones we deploy, the conditions of poverty, of hunger, of oppression, of violence, of crime that these human beings experience is bad enough to make the risks worth taking.

Ultimately, it's clear that existing migration policies do not work. The fact is that for all the debates raging in Europe and America, rich countries still take in only a small fraction of the world’s most vulnerable migrants. Indeed, so-called Third World nations take in more refugees than industrialized nations do. Those rich countries - including the US - can and must do more.

I don't know if open borders is a good answer, I truly don't. I believe in it but I have my doubts about its practicality. Maybe I shouldn't worry about practicality in the face of a requirement of morality, but I do. What I can say and do say is that open borders is clearly worth considering and that at the very least we should stop being so afraid to do that.

A three-fer on immigration, part two

 Immigration is going to be an issue in the presidential election, so I am re-posting three posts from 2019 that I think are relevant.

Fair warning: Because these are old, I can't guarantee - and have not checked - that all of the data is current and all of the links are live. That does not affect the arguments.


Following Up: US borders have never been "secure"

Finally for today, we’re Following Up on something.

Last time in taking a longer look at immigration, I said I intended to expand on two points: one, that our borders have always been porous; two, that there is a case to be made for open borders.

As it turns out, I don't have enough time for both, so I'm going to have to put the second point off until our next show. But I will get to it because even while I am not at all convinced that open borders are workable, it is an interesting and definitely arguable notion that deserves to be part of the debate.

Okay. I want to note at the top that in discussing how we have never had "secure control" of our borders, I am relying heavily on some work done by Peter Andreas, a professor of political science at Brown University, who says "The unauthorized movement of people is an American tradition."

In fact, it started even before there was a US: In 1763, King George III prohibited colonists from moving west of the Appalachian Mountains to settle. The colonists simply ignored him.

In the 1780s, Congress passed ordinances with the idea of raising revenue, deterring squatters, and promoting orderly westward migration. But a flood of unlawful settlers undermined the plans to the point where in 1807 Congress passed The Intrusion Act, which criminalized illegal settlement and authorized fines and imprisonment. It didn't work. It didn't work so much what became Vermont and Maine were born of squatters.

That pattern repeated itself for decades: illegal settlement, intense (and sometimes violent) resistance to government authority, and finally official resignation to the facts on the ground. For example, the westward migration included European immigrants who entered the country legally but then settled illegally. Unable to deter or remove those settlers, Congress passed “preemption” acts in 1830 and 1841. These were essentially pardons for illegal settlement, providing legitimate land deeds at discounted prices.

I had previously mentioned the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which barred the entry into the US of Chinese laborers. Turned away at ports of entry, Chinese immigrants simply went to Canada and came in through our northern border.

After the US successfully pressured Canada to deny entry to Chinese, the people-smuggling business moved south - to Mexico. The US-Mexico border already had a history as a route for smuggling goods in both directions; now, it became a gateway for smuggling people as well.

Significantly, Chinese immigrants were not the only “undesirables” coming in through Mexico. By the last decades of the 19th century, Lebanese, Greeks, Italians, Slavs, and Jews, all turned away at official ports of entry, slipped  in from Mexican. Worries over these immigrants was so acute that when the US Border Patrol was created in 1924, its main target was Europeans.

So now we have the descendants of those "undesirables" being, in Andreas' phrase, "unremarkably American" while the Mexicans and Central Americans who were once encouraged as a source of cheap labor have become the undesirables du jour.

US borders today are more heavily policed, closely monitored, and difficult to cross than ever. And officials continue to dream of "secure borders" that never existed even as they are occasionally forced to face reality, as they did most recently in 1986 with, as I mentioned last time, a measure that enabled 2.6 million undocumented immigrants to obtain legal status.

Expecting people to stop coming is insane.

Expecting them to stop finding ways to get in is insane.

Expecting those already here to leave is insane.

Any sane immigration policy must start from those three undeniable facts.

A three-fer on immiagration, part one

Immigration is going to be an issue in the presidential election, so I am re-posting three posts from 2019 that I think are relevant.

Fair warning: Because these are old, I can't guarantee - and have not checked - that all of the data is current and all of the links are live. That does not affect the arguments.

 A Longer Look at Immigration

Now we move to what I hope will be a regular feature of the show. It’s called “A Longer Look” and it’s where we examine a topic in somewhat more depth that we usually have time for.

This time, the topic is immigration.

We have been exposed to, have suffered through, been heartbroken by, the string of stories, extending over the past few years, of the cruelty, the bigotry, the casual indifference to the welfare of human beings, up to and including charging a man named Scott Warren with felonies for, in essence, refusing to allow immigrants to die in the desert, that is the reality of the policies of the Tweetie-Pie administration regarding immigrants and immigration.

We have seen the families torn apart, the children in cages, the dismantling of lives of people who have been in the US in some cases for decades, who have roots here, lives here, families here, some who came as children young enough that they have known no other home, we have seen increasingly furious attempts to deny legal rights to asylum seekers, all these people denied, degraded, dismissed because they are "illegal," more truly because they are "other," they are "not us."

Which at the end of the day should be no surprise since that's what it has always been about.

The very first US law touching on immigration, the Naturalization Act of 1790, limited naturalization - that is, the ability an immigrant to become a citizen - to "free white persons of good character," thus by definition excluding Native Americans, indentured servants, slaves, free blacks - and later Asians.

Starting in the 1850s, tens of thousands of Chinese laborers had been welcomed to the American West as a source of cheap labor, in particular to help build the railroads. When the demand for Chinese labor dried up, a racist anti-Chinese backlash quickly followed. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred the entry of Chinese laborers for 10 years and declared that Chinese could not become citizens. The act was renewed in 1892 for another ten years, and in 1902 Chinese immigration was made permanently illegal until the law was revoked decades later. Chinese remained ineligible for citizenship until 1943.

Our experience with Chinese exclusion provided a basis for later movements to restrict immigration by other "undesirable" groups such as Middle Easterners, Hindu and East Indians, and the Japanese - and, more recently, Muslims and people from, in the words of our president, "shithole" countries.

For example, the Immigration Act of 1924 barred immigration from Asia and set quotas on the number of immigrants from the Eastern Hemisphere - that is, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. The quotas for specific countries were based on 2% of the US population from that country as recorded in the 1890 census. So populations poorly represented in 1890 were heavily restricted, blocked from legal entry, which especially affected Poles and other Slavs along with Jews, Italians, and Greeks, the latter two groups also affected by the notion dating from the 1890s that "Mediterranean" people were inferior to northern, that is, whiter, Europeans. The purpose of the bill? According to the US Department of State Office of the Historian, it was "to preserve the ideal of US homogeneity."

Or, as one writer at the website noted, white supremacy has always been a central feature of US immigration policy.

There were some advances during the 60s and 70s, such as a 1968 act that eliminated immigration discrimination based on race, place of birth, sex, and residence along with abolished restrictions on immigration from Asia.

A 1976 law eliminated preferential treatment for residents of the Western Hemisphere, and a 1986 law included provisions through which over 2.6 million undocumented immigrants obtained legal status.

So let's be clear: While what we have seen these past couple of years may be something of a change from the most recent prior decades, it is not a real change, merely a reversion to the way we had always done things. It has always been about "preserving our homogeneity" in the face of "the other," the "not us."

By the way, know full well that I am not letting Barack Obama, the Amazing Mr. O, off the hook here: He deported more people than any previous president. But I also have to acknowledge that in the latter years of his presidency, it really does appear that efforts were focused on deporting people with actual criminal records, not just who they happened to come across.

But amidst all the news, I recall one case from two years ago that to me encapsulated all that is wrong with our national policies on immigration.

His name is Andres Magana Ortiz and he was an undocumented immigrant who had lived in the US for nearly thirty years. He has an American wife and three US-born children. During his time here he worked his way from migrant coffee farmer to owning his own land and being prominent in Hawaii's coffee industry, even to helping to run 15 other small farms and helping the US Department of Agriculture conduct a five-year study into a destructive insect species harming coffee crops.

He lost his fight to not be deported US despite letters of support from Hawaii's entire congressional delegation and the judge in his case, who, while legally unable to stop Ortiz's deportation, wrote a scathing opinion saying that that “the government decision shows that even the 'good hombres' are not safe,” that remark directed at Tweetie-pie, who had insisted that ICE would only go after the "bad hombres." On July 7, 2017, Ortiz "voluntarily" left for Mexico, just days before he was to be deported.

Here's the question that still haunts me: What was the point of this? What was gained by making him leave? What would have been lost by allowing him to stay? What was accomplished by this beyond satisfying the white-supremacist desires of the bigoted xenophobes occupying the upper reaches of Tweetie-Pie's administration? Just how sick are our national policies?

And consider this: Ignore for the moment that by the usual way such stories were told to us as we grew up, Ortiz is a classical, almost cliche, American success story, rising from migrant laborer to land owner, businessperson, and upstanding figure in the community. Ignore all that and for the moment just focus on the fact that he had been here for nearly thirty years. And it didn't matter.

Because there is no sort of statute of limitations on being an "illegal" immigrant. No matter how long you have been here, no matter how many and how thick are the roots you have set down, no matter how stable is the life you have established, no matter how much you have contributed to your community, it doesn't matter.

Think about that. There is no statute of limitations. Except for murder, terrorism, and sexual crimes against children, federal law has statutes of limitations for all sorts of crimes and all kinds of civil offenses. We have federal statutes of limitation for kidnapping, for fraud, for racketeering, for embezzlement, for all sorts of the most serious crimes. But not for being an undocumented immigrant. Not for crossing a border without the expected official permission. You did it two years ago, ten years ago, thirty years, fifty years, it makes no difference.

This is insane.

Even the notoriously anti-immigration - and note well that I didn't say anti-undocumented immigration, I said anti-immigration - the notoriously anti-immigration Mark Krikorian, even he a few years ago allowed as how even as he disagreed with it as a matter of policy, the idea that an undocumented immigrant who has been in the US for three years - that was his time frame - and has put down roots here should not be deported, that idea "at least makes a certain kind of sense." Even he was prepared to say that even though he disagreed with the idea, it was an arguable point.

So yes, as a first small step to bringing sanity to our policies there should be a time limit. There should be some sort of statute of limitations. There should be a point beyond which being able to show roots in the community and an established life will free you from the daily fear of discovery and deportation, the daily fear of the ripping up of your life and the ripping apart of your family.

Another small step is realizing that our borders have always been porous, that those who rant about "regaining control of our borders" ignore the fact that we have never had such control. I intend to talk more about this next time, more about how we have often found it necessary to recognize that there is a real limit to what could be done and we had to adjust to the facts on the ground - as we did to some extent in the 1986 law I mentioned.

There is one more, very dramatic, even radical step we could take, which again I intend to address next time, a step pretty much everyone on all points of this topic insists they are against but which deserves a hearing, because there is a case to be made - I won't say a genuinely persuasive case because I'm not entirely convinced myself - but there is a case to be made for open borders.

But instead, what we have is a thoroughly-broken system enforced by the well-named ICE because it is cold-hearted to its core, now directed by an administration chock full of bigoted xenophobes who don't care who they deport as long as they can eject and reject "foreigners," "them," "the other."

They are without mercy. They are without compassion. They are without understanding. They are without humanity. They and the system they oversee are an Outrage that must not be allowed to continue.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Sometimes not losing is enough to celebrate

During his struggles for the rights of migrant farm workers, Cesar Chavez was quoted as explaining the celebratory nature of the union's gatherings by saying "We have so few victories we have to celebrate our losses." He was joking, but the truth of it remains: the importance of hope and even finding joy in the struggle.

Because sometimes, it's enough to not lose. The estimable Erin Reed, tireless tracker of LGBTQ+-related legislation, brings an example.

She reports that legislative sessions in Florida and West Virginia have adjourned sine die - that is, without setting a date to meet again. What that means is that any bills that have not passed are dead and must start from scratch when the legislatures get back together.

Which is good news for the human rights of LGBTQ+ people and their supporters and allies because the effect is that over 20 anti-LGBTQ+ bills in each state are now dead. At the same time, again in each state, only one such bill passed. This dramatic contrast to the results of the past few years not only represents a victory for the increasing pushback against such bills but also provides a respite from the assault and space to plan for the battles to come.

While the passage of any such legislation is yet another attack on basic rights of transgender folks, the failures here are nonetheless heartening. It had already seemed to me that the spread of the legislative bigotry was stalling, with most - not all, but most - of the action this year coming in states that had, as Erin put it, "historically targeted transgender individuals" rather than spreading to new ones.

Some have suggested that this has been a case of the bigots and fear-mongers engaging in some CYA in the run-up to the November elections: Anti-LGBTQ+ stands have not been a big winner for them this year, so they want to downplay the issue now, intending to get back to it once the threat of democracy is behind them.

Personally, I suspect that this is less related to the elections than to the right wing's practice of "slash, burn, move on," that is, of glomming onto some issue where they think they can get an inflamed, unthinking response, loudly and viciously defaming/decrying/denouncing their target, doing as much damage as they think they can before real resistance sets in, then moving on to the next boogeyman.

(After all, how much screeching have you heard about Critical Race Theory of late? Even the general all-purpose smear "woke" has become more of a vapid cliche used ritualistically than a verbal weapon.)

That of course doesn't mean those concerned about LGBTQ+ rights can relax; as Clarence Darrow said, "Ignorance and fanaticism is ever busy and needs feeding. Always it is feeding and gloating for more." But it does mean that as part of strategizing we can include going on the offensive to secure rights in some areas rather then solely resisting their denial.

So hold to hope, embrace justice, and celebrate victories (even the small ones), because like the song says, "Every victory brings another" so long as we "carry it on."

Footnote: Another relevant quote from Cesar Chavez:  "Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore."

Friday, February 09, 2024

Letters, I send letters....

The American Friends Service Committee recently had an on-line letter to Congress. As I usually do in such cases, I re-wrote the text to"personalize" it. This is how it came out.


I call on you to demand a cease-fire and humanitarian access in Gaza by endorsing H.Res. 786 “calling for an immediate de-escalation and cease-fire in Israel and occupied Palestine” or a Senate equivalent. 

As part of that, I want you to oppose new military assistance for Israel, including the supplemental funding request under consideration, until there is clear progress toward an ultimate resolution that respects the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians.

According to data provided by the AFSC, since October 7, over 27,000 Palestinians have been killed, 40% of them children. Another 10,000 are estimated to be buried under the rubble. Over 2 million people have been displaced from their homes, and over 70% of homes and other structures in Gaza have been damaged or destroyed. 

The on-going Israeli blockade of Gaza, described more than once as "the world's largest outdoor prison," worsened by the intensified lockdown and now compounded by the US ending aid for UNRWA, has lead to shortages of food, water, fuel, and medical supplies. It is estimated that 85% of the population in Gaza is on the verge of famine.

A cease-fire is needed NOW.

The vicious, bloody attack by Hamas on October 7 deserves no defense and will get none from me. But neither will I defend Israel’s actions in Gaza that so far have killed more than 20 times as many Palestinians and which have been found by the International Court of Justice to plausibly amount to genocide

The lesson of October 7 that should be learned is that further military attacks will bring neither peace nor security for Israel or Israelis. Historically, efforts to militarily "stamp out" a group such as Hamas almost invariably fail, leading instead to decades of suffering for both sides - as this one long since has - that only end when the causes of the conflict are meaningfully addressed.

With that in mind, I ask you this:

    - Given that our Declaration of Independence claims the right, even the duty, of an oppressed people to resistance, and
    - given the existence of Israel is based on the world's recognition of the right of a people to a homeland, and
    - given that you are not going to deny Palestinians both the right of resistance and the right to a homeland,

what is it that you propose Palestinians could and should now do to advance the cause of an independent Palestinian state, particularly now that the Israeli government has openly declared it will "never" agree to that?

Note carefully: You cannot say "No terrorism" because I did not ask what they should not do, but what they should. The lack of a practical answer to that question condemns Palestinians to on-going suffering and oppression and Israelis to continued incidents of terrorism

But for the moment, for this instant, here is what is most important: Please, please do what’s right. Call for a cease-fire and humanitarian access - NOW.


Some of that, I know, repeats things I have said before. They bear repeating.

Wednesday, February 07, 2024

Okay, I feel old

So I read that it appears that Kyrsten Sinema is not running for re-election. The observation is based on her doing what is for a Senate race a minimal amount of fundraising as opposed to previous years.

That’s no loss, in my opinion, but the point is that after the article saying she is spending "outsized amounts" on security, there was this paragraph:

Security has been an obviously special concern for the senator ever since she hid in a bathroom to avoid a confrontation with activists. “She’s Howard Hughes-level paranoid,” one former staffer told the New York Post, referring to the mentally ill entrepreneur portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Aviator.”

In other words, while I would have deleted everything after the last comma, the author felt it necessary to cite a 2004 movie starring a well-known now-49-year-old actor to make sure the article's audience understood the reference.

:sigh: Best get me my lap robe and cup of Postum. My joints are achin' in this chill.

The Rules

Recently, I saw a video about the "Reverse Gish Gallop." The Gish Gallop is a verbal tactic based on the premise that it almost always takes longer to rebut a claim than it does to make it, and, as you likely know, consists of firing out so many claims and charges so fast that there is no way the target can adequately refute of even contest all of them.

People came to expect this so tried to prepare rapid-fire responses to expected claims. The "Reverse Gish Gallop" consists of picking out something you said, some error no how minor, and attack that as if it discredited every other rebuttal you made or at least distracting attention from the fact you had presented them.

That reminded me of some things in what I call my "Rules for Right-wingers," which I post from time to time as reminders. Since the last time was about four years ago, I figured this presented an opportunity to do it again.

The fact is, flakes, nutcases, paranoids, and other assorted bozos are almost the totality of the present right-wing and almost the totality of the national Republican party apart from the bigots and bosses whose only interests are of the self kind. For some time I had observed with varying degrees of annoyance and bemusement the predictable tactics of the wingers in debates - or rather, their tactics in avoiding actual debates. But I finally came to a point where I had had it with the evasions, the dodges, the schemes and slime that make up winger discussions and began assembling a list of those tactics.

So here it is, the latest always-subject-to-expansion-or-refinement list of wingnut arguing tactics and operating procedures. They are listed simply in the order in which they got added. Thoughts (and suggestions for new rules) are welcome.


Rule #1: Attack, attack, attack!
In fact, try to level so many attacks so fast that your opponent never gets to make a criticism of their own because they are so busy trying to catch up to your attacks. However, don't forget to be deeply shocked and offended if anyone on the left responds in kind.

Rule #2: Deny, deny, deny!

Doesn't matter if it's something undeniable, deny it anyway.

Rule #3: When facts are beyond even your ability to deny, change the subject.
This can be done in various ways, for example:
- Introduce irrelevant details on a tangential point.
- Pluck out from what your opponent said an individual phrase you think you can attack, even if it's one that was just tossed out offhandedly, and treat that as if it's the focus of the entire discussion.
- Tie up the discussion in piles of minutia to the point where everyone, including your opponent, loses track of the actual issue.

Rule #4: Issue a lengthy, ranting denunciation of "the left."
This often can be initiated with "whataboutism," responding to criticisms by ignoring them and going "Yeah? Well what about" whatever seems most useful at the moment. Try to include the words "hypocrites" and/or "hypocrisy," arguing that the left can't legitimately criticize the right (because any such criticism is by your definition hypocritical) while insisting that the right can continue to criticize the left. (Note: Where possible, include the phrase "you liberals" or better yet, "you libtards.")

Rule #5: Make the particular stand for the whole.
Find something offensive or silly some liberal or leftist, somewhere, sometime, said or did and label it as identifying the entire left half of the American political spectrum. Demand that your opponent spend their time denouncing that example rather than discussing the original topic.

Rule #6: Never answer a question.
When faced with one, ignore it and respond with a question, preferably on a different point. If possible, the question should be accusatory. If you do not get an answer, repeat the question and loudly demand it be answered while continuing to ignore the original question you were asked. If you do get an answer, ignore it. If necessary, drop the matter without acknowledging having gotten a reply; if possible, repeat the question, insisting it has not been answered, even if it has.

Rule #7: No amount of proof is enough.
Demand every remotely questionable assertion by your opponent be proved in every conceivable detail, right down to dates, times, and places, complete with signed affidavits. Refer to all factual assertions by your opponents as "just your opinion" even if the level of proof you demanded is supplied.

Rule #8: Assert unsourced statistics and facts with great assurance.
Or, more appropriately these days, assert "alternative facts." Reply to requests for proof by saying some version of "You can look it up." You thereby demand that your opponents do the work of trying to prove your argument for you.

Rule #9: Frame the debate in false choices.
For example, "Do you support socialism or freedom?"

Rule #10: Accuse the accuser.
You could call this "I'm rubber and you're glue" method: Insist, even in the absence of any foundation, that any criticism of you actually applies to your opponent. For example, if someone notes you're avoiding a debate, insist "You're the one who won't debate!" Faced with examples of right-wingers lying, reply "That fits you lefties to a T!" If something you said is challenged as bigoted, say "You're being intolerant!" or better yet, "You're the real racist!"

Rule #11: When a claim has been debunked, continue to use it nonetheless.
When it has been debunked so thoroughly and completely that continuing to use it is counterproductive, stop claiming it for a time, after which assert it again as if the debunking had never happened. For numerous examples where this can be found, see climate change denialists.

Rule #12: Never accept responsibility.
Never, never, never admit any responsibility for the meaning or impact of your own words. If you want guidance, see almost any GOPper statement on January 6.

Rule #13: When all else has failed - and even when it hasn't - lie.
Just make crap up. Important: Keep repeating it. See Rule #11.

Rule #14: When you fear a contrary point may be raised, shout.
If that contrary point is a good one, shout very loudly. Your point may not get heard, but neither will your opponent's. (This is primarily for use on television.)

Rule #15: Seize control of the Clock of History.
Choose the period of time most advantageous to your argument and insist that any event outside that time frame, either before it or after it, is irrelevant and must not be considered.

Rule #16: "Both Sides Now."
If the behavior of some rught-wingers is so undeniably bad that it can't be explained away, airily dismiss it with "Both sides do it." Freely employ false equivalencies.

Rule #17: All debate stops when you win - and only when you win.
Remember that there are only two responses to anything in contention: It's "up for debate" and "We won, the debate is over, shut up." Gun control provides a good example: In the 2008, the Supreme Court, for the first time, held that owning a gun is an individual right. Even since then, the pro-gun claim has been "The Supreme Court has ruled. The debate is over." But for the 69 years preceding that, the controlling precedent was that the 2nd Amendment was about a collective right of collective self-defense, not an individual one. In all those years, no one on the right ever said "The Supreme Court has ruled. The debate is over. We lost."

Rule #18: If you can't win by the rules, change them.
A great example of this is the recent attempt by the GOPper-controlled Ohio legislature to toughen the requirements for an amendment to the state constitution in an attempt to head of protection of reproductive rights.

Rule #19: Intellectual consistency and honesty are for wusses and losers.
Should need no example, as there are new ones every day, but I happen to favor this classic: Late in evening of election day, 2012, it looked for a time that Obama might lose the popular vote to Mitt Romney despite having won the electoral vote handily. Tweetie-pie tweeted that such a result would be "a total sham and a travesty" and the electoral college is "a disaster for a democracy."

Rule #20: Sitzfleisch.
It's German for "sitting flesh" and it goes back to the days before chess clocks put time constraints on games and players would sometimes win by simply taking so long to move that their opponent would either give up or become so tired from the wait that they would make foolish moves and lose. More generally it now means winning by virtue of sheer, unmitigated, stubbornness. Right-wingers are past masters at that.

Rule #21: Play the victim.
Whatever it is, the right-wing claims they are the real victims. They are the ones facing discrimination, being oppressed, whose free speech is imperiled, who are being called names, the ones who can't get a decent break.


Okay, that's all the rules I have now, ones which collectively show up right-wingers for what they are: a bunch of selfish, whining, crybabies only interested in their own power and privilege. Which is why playing the victim comes so easily to them.

I'll wrap this up with an observation, one I've made before in discussing this: I frankly expect many of us have at some time or another been guilty of one or more of these sins in the course of a debate, especially if it got heated. But occasional sins in the heat of the moment is not what this is about. This is about a consistent pattern by the right of evasion and deceit. It is being an intellectual coward. It is about being a bully. It is about being a liar.

It is about being a right-winger.

Friday, February 02, 2024

Watch this!

 Trust me. I mean it. Watch this.

It will be worth the 26 minutes of your life.

Why would I do it?

Robert Reich had a poll up about the just-passed bill about the Child Tax Credit. He noted that half of the funding would go toward expanding the tax credit and half would got to tax cuts for the rich and Big Business, resulting in an average increase of 0.3% in after-tax income for beneficiaries and 0.5% for the rich. The question was if you would vote for the bill.

The choices were Yes, it helps the poor; No, it increases income inequality; and Other (in comments). I voted Other and this was my comment:

I would vote for it, but with great and vocal reluctance, using it as an occasion to point out as loudly as I could (not just on the floor but through social media and press statements) the disgusting, stomach-wrenching greed and moral bankruptcy of the rich, those "squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinners" whose only concern is "Gimmie more! Gimmie more!" and often have quite literally more money than they can use and so buy things from apartment-building-sized yachts to private islands to joyrides into the upper atmosphere just to have things to spend it on.

That, and just as loudly pointing out that the very fact that an average income increase of $60 a year potentially could make a difference in the lives of number of people is undeniable proof of just how screwed up, sick, and wretched our economy has become.

We regard the "gilded age" as a time of ostentatious wealth and extreme poverty. We are facing such a time again, one where being a multimillionaire is to be small fry, billionaires seem ordinary, and centibillionaires (with the arrival of the first trillionaire in sight) are presented by the media as affable folk heroes. Meanwhile, nearly 40 million among us remain in poverty with the "official" rate varying between 11 and 15 percent for the last nearly 60 years, some among us so poor that, again, $60 a freaking year makes an actual difference, and some legislators propose to deal with this by revoking child labor laws.

All in line with George Wills' statement "'Back to 1900' is a serviceable summation of the conservatives' goal."

We need to take that sense we have of the "gilded age" as being tacky, distasteful, and apply it to the present and add the moral outrage that radicals and reformers expressed at the time. We need to make possession of that level of wealth something shameful. We need, that is, to stop simply referring to economic inequality and instead make it both a moral campaign and the central economic issue of our age.

So why I would vote for this bill? Because for all the moral and ethical faults it represents, it does provide some benefits to the poorer among us. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, it would benefit some 16 million children in the first year and could raise over 500,000 children above the poverty line when fully in effect. (Bear in mind the $60 after-tax figure is an average for everyone eligible to apply for the benefit, including those above the poverty line, with shrinking benefits as income rises.)

So I would vote yes for the sake of the small benefit it does give those in need while expressing my thorough disgust at the shameless, immoral, inhumane, avarice of those who put me in the soul-killing position of having to do it.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024


Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine recently vetoed an anti-trans care bill, declaring that it's up to parents to make medical decisions for their children. He was applauded by supporters of trans rights.

But a few days later he utterly betrayed those transgender people and their supporters by issuing Executive Orders containing proposed rules that cover much the same ground as the bill he vetoed and are in some ways worse. What follows is a blending of my response to a video on the matter and my more formal comment submitted to Ohio on the proposed rules.

PS: The veto was overridden. There was speculation that DeWine issued the Executive Orders hoping to head off an override; no word yet on if the override will lead to the rules being withdrawn or if he'll seek to combine the worst of both.

For more on what the rules say, check out the invaluable Erin Reed.

Anyway, this is what I said:
The proposed rules stand in stark contrast to the positions and standards of care expressed by, among others, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Endocrine Society, and WPATH (World Professional Association of Transgender Health) - that is, they ignore, indeed reject, the expert scientific and clinical judgments of those who are the leading experts in the field of gender-affirming care in favor of politically-driven posturing and fearmongering.

Rather then protecting anyone's health or safety, these regulations - which are in several ways worse than the bill the Governor vetoed - are a transgender version of TRAP (Targeted Restrictions on Abortion Providers) laws, a method used in anti-choice states to effectively ban abortions without admitting to it by putting more and more restrictions on clinics, often involving medically-unnecessary requirements, to the point where few or even no clinics in a state were capable of meeting them all. That is, don't ban abortions, just make them impossible to get.

The goal is the same here: presenting a facade of preserving access to gender-affirming care while in actuality creating a maze of roadblocks, bottlenecks, and pointless requirements with the effect of making obtaining that care all but impossible - that is, to accomplish by regulation what cannot accomplished by law or, more to the point, accomplish by trickery what can't be accomplished legitimately. I label Gov. Mike DeWine a conscious hypocrite, hoping to get away with talking out of both sides of his mouth, saying on one side "I vetoed the bill" and on the other "I made it effectively impossible to get the care," and using a smokescreen of "protecting youth" as a means to cover an attack all transgender people of all ages.

These proposed rules are, in sum, uninformed and misguided at best, unethical to the point of outright cruelty at worst.

Amend that: It gets worse. Multiple studies have found that obtaining gender-affirming care leads to improved mental health and significant reductions in suicide attempts and actual suicides. Which means that the result of regulations like these is that people will die. We can't say just who, just when, or precisely how many, but based on the data, on the facts, we can say with high assurance that People. Will. Die. Endorsing these rules is endorsing suicide.

I urge these proposed regulations be withdrawn in their entirety and any new such rules be drafted only in consultation with WPATH and other professional organizations dealing with the medical and mental health care issues involved.

Or at the very least have the sufficient honesty to drop the hypocrisy and admit your goal is the total erasure from society of transgender people.

This was not the first attempt this year to deny health care and human rights to members of the LGBTQ+ community. According to the LGBTQ+ Legislative Tracking 2024 site, as of January 14 there have been 219 bills introduced across 25 states and Congress related to community issues. Not every one of these is anti-LGBTQ+ in general or anti-transgender in particular, indeed some may be positive, and of those that are negative, many will not pass or will be combined into a package because they are essentially duplicates. And it’s worthy of note that most of the total are being introduced in states that already have laws denying LGBTQ+ rights; for example, Florida, already so hostile to trans folks that it’s listed as “Do Not Travel,” accounts for 21 of the bills. And some of them have been introduced in states such as Maryland and New Jersey where it can safely be said that their chances of passing are effectively nil.

So the numbers alone do not tell the story, but they do indicate that this onslaught against human rights is not abating. This remains no time to relax - because, remember even if only a small percentage of these bills pass, they still have real consequences for the people affected. But even so, while the infection is not abating, it at least may no longer be spreading.

But that begs the question of what is driving the continued attacks, particularly considering many of these bills amount to little more than piling on. So what combination of ignorance, paranoia, (usually religious) fanaticism, and cold, exploitive, cynical, political ambition is driving it?

That’s a valid question, but it’s one for another time. Hopefully a soon-type time.

Welcome to Fish-Wrapping 101

Or maybe 404.

I have written a number of times in the past about how we are uninformed, malinformed, and misinformed by our mainstream news media and on the impacts on our political discourse that result (some examples here).

Our latest example comes to us from Newsweek. It’s not as egregious as some, where the bias lies in shading and emphasis, but it is so ridiculous that it deserves mention.

One of the things that media outlets, particularly print outlets, know full well is that a good many people never get past the first graph of a news article. That’s why the standard of “the 5 Ws” (who, what, when, where, why) exists; the idea is to get as many of the basic facts as high in the article as possible, if possible in the first graph, to ensure that the greatest number of readers will have them - because that’s often all many readers see and so form the impression they take away from it.

It’s also why the headline is important, as it should (and in practice does) frame the substance of the issue in a single line or two. One thing as readers we should be wary of is that the headline we see on an article from an outside source, for example on a news aggregator or a reprint of a wire service report, may not be the one the original source put on it and so may have a different slant or emphasis than was intended or even present in that original.

So know that in this case, that is not an issue. Newsweek is the original source and the headline involved is theirs.

Okay, the story.

On January 9, there were a series of 13 special elections in Virginia, two for state Senate seats, 11 for ones in the state House of Delegates. How did Newsweek report the results? Here is the headline and first paragraph:

Republicans Annihilate Democrats in Virginia Election Sweep
Republicans scored massive victories in elections held in Virginia on Tuesday, returning two GOP politicians to local legislature following the departure of the incumbents.
So what, beyond the hyperbole, is wrong?

Not one of those 13 races flipped a seat! Not one! The magazine took advantage of two large wins by GOPpers, one in the Senate and one in the House, to use “annihilate,” “sweep,” and “massive” to describe the overall result and focus the first 13 graphs of a 17-graph story on those two races.  Even that overstates it, as the 11 House races were mentioned just once, in the 14th graph, with the final three being about Glen Youngkin, a Biden-Trump poll, and that Newsweek had asked state parties for more comment.

As if that wasn’t enough, the two “big” wins weren’t all that big when you consider that one of the winners had run unopposed in his last race and the other was replacing a GOPper who had retired and also had run unopposed last time. (Thank you, Ballotpedia and Wikipedia.) To say these districts are overwhelmingly GOPper borders on understatement, so the size of the victories were no surprise.

Such is the state of too much of our national news media, where the search from drama frequently outweighs being informative or even making a stab at balance. There is an old saying among newspapers that “if it bleeds, it leads.” A modern version might be using “tricks for clicks” because “if it shocks, it rocks.”

For the moment, though, we have “Newsweak.”

Monday, January 15, 2024

Free Speech: $35,000 and up

A GOPper in the Florida Senate by the name of Jason Brodeur has introduced a bill, SB1780, "that would deal a devastating blow to freedom of speech in the Sunshine State" in the words of The New Republic.

The bill would make calling someone a racist, sexist, homophobe, or transphobe "defamation per se," that is, by definition, making them grounds for a civil suit of "at least" $35,000 plus attorney's fees and court costs. At the same time, it would restrict defenses available to the target of such a suit by, for example, limiting who could be considered a "public figure" and making it easier to find "actual malice" in the accusation.

In the case of a transphobic or homophobic bigot, as Erin Reed noted, it's even worse.

The bill says that in cases of "sexual orientation or gender identity," a person can't defend themselves against a suit by "citing a plaintiff’s constitutionally protected religious expression or scientific beliefs" (lines 135-145). What that means, in practical reality, is that truth is no defense.

Bigot: "Homosexuals should be killed!"
You: "You're a bigot."
Bigot: "I'm suing you for defamation."
You: "But it's true! You are a bigot!"
Bigot: "Doesn't matter, that's my 'constitutionally protected religious expression.' Pay up."

Upon reading about this bill, I fantasized about someone saying this during debate:

"If it please the Chair, I rise to propose a friendly amendment to my esteemed colleague's bill, one to which I'm sure he'll agree as it pursues the same object of his own. The amendment would add to his list of terms to be presumptively defamatory accusations of 'groomer' and 'pedophile' plus claims of connections to 'the deep state,' in each case whether directed at an individual, group, or organization. I will yield to Mr. Broder for his response."

It wouldn't be accepted, of course, but it would serve to make the actual purpose of the bill even clearer than it already was.

One other thing: The bill is almost a carbon copy of one introduced last session, which died in committee. Hopefully this one will meet the same fate.

But if this did pass and was challenged in court, don't be surprised if the defense included claiming there is no First Amendment issue because the accusations aren't banned, the state is doing nothing to impede your speech, it's merely a matter of defining the legal meaning of certain terms. If the response is that there's a penalty for using those terms, the comeback would be "Maybe so, but the state isn't the one imposing the penalty, so nothing to do with us."

This style of argument - don't actually do it, just enable others to sue over it and so impose self-censorship - is central to the "Don't Say Gay" bill and Florida has become saturated with it even though the roots, if I recall correctly, lie in a Texas bill about abortion.

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