Nothing Doing

News stories stall. Everyone has had their say about Obama announcing we’d send a few arms to the Syrian rebels, even if what we’ll send and when we’ll send it is unclear, and to whom, as is what we hope to accomplish. McCain and the pro-war-anywhere-now side of the Republican Party thinks this is too little too late, so we should go all in, right now. Anyone who remembers Iraq, and Vietnam, thinks not. Anyone who has looked into the geopolitics of the situation – with Russia and Iran and Hezbollah lining up against the other Gulf States, and us, and Israel, and now Egypt – sees nothing but trouble if we jump in with our big guns. That’s a recipe for a world war. Anyone who looked into the local politics of the situation sees that both the rebels, and Assad’s government, are really nasty people. Then there’s religion. Some might argue that America must, as a moral imperative, support the theological claims of Sunni Islam against Shiite Islam, but those are few and far between – actually no one is making that argument. This was discussed in Advising War then in The Cold Morning Light and then in This Rolling Disaster – where everyone has an opinion. No one has an answer. Obama may be making a minor move, to buy time.

Let it rest. Obama flew off to the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland and he’ll chat with Putin about the situation. So far it’s this. From the BBC Obama and Putin Push for Syria Summit – the two agree that all the fighting is stupid and both sides should talk – and from the Guardian Putin Backs Assad and Berates West over Proposal to Arm Rebels – Obama’s decision, even if only a proposal, and not much, really, has ruined everything. These are mixed signals, or the signal to noise ratio is absurd. It’s best to wait until it becomes clear just what is noise on the line, and what is not. There’s no news in mere noise. Move on.

The NSA scandal story has stalled too – everyone had their say about what the government should be able to track about us all, and that Snowden fellow is still in hiding. All that was covered in The Oddest Spook and then in Borrowed Outrage and then in All Over but the Shouting – the nation was hot and bothered. But news stories need actual news, and there was none until this gem:

Edward Snowden, the self-proclaimed source of recently leaked top secret National Security Agency documents, has answered the first questions asked to him on Monday in an open-to-the-public live chat on The Guardian’s website.

The second question, from The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, read as follows: “How many sets of the documents you disclosed did you make, and how many different people have them? If anything happens to you, do they still exist?”

Snowden stopped short of answering the question directly.

“All I can say right now is the US Government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me,” he wrote. “Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped.”

That sounds heroic, and he sees himself as a martyr to truth, justice, and the American way – braving death itself. He seems more like a drama queen. There was also this – Snowden: It’s An Honor to Be Called a Traitor by Dick Cheney – which is more of the same. He was playing to the crowd, but there was not much new here – so he should get over himself. Nothing had changed. Move along, folks, nothing to see here.

It’s enough to make a news executive cry. Viewers, and readers, find something else to do if you keep flogging the same story, with the tease that there were more developments in this important story today, then have to obscure the fact that nothing changed, really. People don’t want subtlety clarifying details – they want actual news.

Luckily there’s immigration reform, being pushed through the Senate by that bipartisan Gang of Eight – and they had their first victory. The Senate voted, overwhelmingly, to allow discussion of the proposed bill. Key Republicans couldn’t sustain a filibuster, forbidding any discussion of any such thing. That was news, and then it wasn’t. Everyone has an amendment, and even the Republican force behind it all, young Marco Rubio, has issues with his own bill – no one will get a glimpse at a path to citizenship if they’re gay. Fine, the Democrats dropped insisting on that – that’s something for later – let’s just get something done now, by July, as planned.

So this should be smooth sailing, except there is the House, and John Boehner, and the Tea Party crowd. Things don’t look good there:

House Speaker John Boehner is not going to bring a comprehensive immigration-reform plan to the floor if a majority of Republicans don’t support it, sources familiar with his plans said.

“No way in hell,” is how several described the chances of the speaker acting on such a proposal without a majority of his majority behind him.

It gets better:

The bill has divided Republicans and conservative commentators, with some of the latter offering dire warnings for the party’s future if it happens. California congressman Dana Rohrabacher is none too happy with his party taking up this mantle, saying on WorldNetDaily Radio that Marco Rubio and other immigration backers are using “weasel words” to deceive the public, and declaring that if House Speaker John Boehner allows the vote, then “he should be removed as speaker.”

Responding to Rubio’s comments to Univision that legalization comes first, Rohrabacher called Rubio “confused” and said the American people have no reason to trust him anymore. Rohrabacher noted how “the whole establishment” is putting out ad after ad insisting the bill is not amnesty, slamming their “weasel words” like on the idea of border security being a trigger for permanent legal status. He said the idea that somehow, after legalization, everyone will get right on border security is a “facade.”

In short, these people should never be allowed to become citizens. Boehner will pay for even bringing it up. The man doesn’t even know his own party, or maybe he does:

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) – one of the Republican co-sponsors of an immigration reform bill that would provide a pathway to citizenship for the nation’s 11.1 million undocumented immigrations – told fellow Republicans that the GOP will fail to exist if reform does not become law.

“If we don’t pass immigration reform – if we don’t get it off the table in a reasonable, practical way – it doesn’t matter who you run in 2016,” Graham warned during an appearance Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press. “We’re in a demographic death spiral as a party, and the only way we can get back in good graces with the Hispanic community, in my view, is pass comprehensive immigration reform. If you don’t do that, it really doesn’t matter who will run, in my view.”

Yeah, well, he’s part of the Gang of Eight over in the Senate, and Ezra Klein argues here that even if immigration reform is taken off the table, there is a glaring reason Latinos will stick with Democrats:

Obamacare is really popular in the Hispanic community. Polling often shows support in the 2-to-1, and even 3-to-1, range. It could just be that Hispanics like President Obama and so they like his law. But it could be that 30 percent of nonelderly Hispanics are uninsured, as opposed to 11 percent of whites and 21 percent of African Americans. Hispanics stand to gain a lot from health reform, and so it’s important to them.

Klein points out that Republicans are currently “making a point of demanding that legalized immigrants can’t get Obamacare” and are “considering a crushingly punitive version of the individual mandate, in which undocumented immigrants need to purchase private health care on their own, without subsidies, or they can’t even become legal residents” – which is pretty boneheaded:

The Hispanic community might find this year that Republicans aren’t as opposed to immigration reform as they thought. But they’re also going to find that Republicans are much more opposed to helping the large group of uninsured Hispanics than they ever imagined.

This is a dramatic development, which Jonathan Chait frames this way:

Part of the fascination of the immigration-reform saga is that it provides a test of the Republican Party elite’s ability to tame its own base. For most of the Obama era, the bulging-eyed mania of the conservative activist base helpfully served the party’s interests. President Obama’s initiatives like reforming health care and stimulating the economy were at cross-purposes with the GOP’s goals, and conservative rage created a passion supporters never matched, helping make those laws unpopular as a whole. The Russian roulette debt-ceiling showdowns ultimately strengthened the hand of the Republican leadership by forcing Obama to offer concessions and making him responsible for the chaos the House GOP had sown.

For all this time, the tea-partiers seemed to hold the whip hand. But it was impossible to tell just who was leading whom. Immigration reform is the clarifying event, directly pitting the passions of the base against the party elite’s long-term survival.

Now THAT’S a news story – the Republicans now openly fighting each other for the soul of the party, which might change the political process here in America forever, but the Republican old guard sees what they see:

As a political matter, passing immigration reform is a necessary, though not a sufficient, condition for winning national elections. The Latino vote is not going to stop growing, and while Latino voters hold left-of-center views pretty much across the board, Republican hostility to illegal immigrants is the insuperable obstacle. Political scientist Dan Hopkins compared the GOP’s voting coalition in 2012 versus 2008 and found Latino Republicans defected at a higher rate than any other piece of the party’s voting bloc.

What makes immigration reform such a no-brainer for the elite is that Republican elites not only grasp its political necessity, but, for the most part, also support it on the merits. Immigration reform is helpful to business in any number of ways, one of them being as a legalized channel for low-wage labor.

What’s the problem? They’re the wrong sort of people, so they must be stopped, by any means available:

Conservatives have formed the most plausible basis for a counterattack against the bill – they are demanding draconian restrictions on the ability of legalized immigrants to obtain any kind of subsidized health insurance, for years to come. If they can successfully frame immigration reform as an expansion, or even a tacit recognition, of the hated Obamacare, they’ll unleash the right-wing fury that has thus far failed to materialize as expected.

What will John Boehner do? Chait isn’t sure:

The endgame of a successful law almost has to include the House passing a bill with mostly Democratic support. Boehner probably wants to pass a reform, and possibly a majority of House Republicans do, too, but there’s no chance a majority of them wants to vote for it openly. Until now, Boehner has cagily refused to commit himself to following the will of a majority of House Republicans.

Now John Boehner is not even going to bring a comprehensive immigration-reform plan to the floor if a majority of Republicans don’t support it, so what we have is this:

Boehner is a weak leader, who has clung tenuously to his speakership from the outset and who is given to bluffing. He has managed to hold together the passions of his base with the interests of his party because the two always pointed in at least roughly the same direction. Immigration reform may finally be the moment when he has to choose between one and the other.

Now that’s a news story, the Tragedy of John Boehner – the Willie Loman of American politics – and Paul Waldman makes it all even more colorful:

Ryan Lizza has a behind-the-scenes article about immigration reform in the New Yorker, based mostly on interviews with members of the Senate’s Gang of Eight, which shows some of the personal aspects of how big legislation can get accomplished. For instance, John McCain, ever the prima donna, comes across as seething with resentment that Marco Rubio has gotten more attention on the issue than he has. And the part that may get the most notice is the blunt words of an unnamed Rubio aide, who in regard to the question of whether certain immigrants take jobs from Americans, says, “There are American workers who, for lack of a better term, can’t cut it… There shouldn’t be a presumption that every American worker is a star performer. There are people who just can’t get it, can’t do it, don’t want to do it. And so you can’t obviously discuss that publicly.” Hey dude, guess what: you just did!

Ouch! Of that, Chait says this:

The idea that American workers don’t want to do certain jobs is a long cliché peddled by people who sit in soft chairs all day. American workers will do any job if it pays well enough – American workers toil in coal mines and collect garbage if they’re paid a living wage to do so. You certainly don’t have to take a cruel and ignorant view of the labor market to support immigration reform – indeed, the bill’s labor provisions were negotiated down to be acceptable to the labor movement. The point is that support for immigration reform is perfectly compatible with the ideology of top-down class warfare.

The Rubio aide quote is not only a piece of shocking candor, but also the biggest single blunder the pro-reform coalition has committed so far.

Destroy unions, never raise the minimum wage, and work to eliminate it, have workers pay far higher taxes than rich folks, cut benefits, destroy pension systems, or like Rick Scott in Florida, make paid sick leave illegal – but never say Americans workers are scum. If you don’t say it, aloud, you’ll be fine. American workers, the blue-collar folks, will still vote Republican. They’re not very observant.

Hell, they listen to Fox News, which makes this passage from Lizza’s New Yorker item interesting:

Fox News has notably changed its tone since the election. A Democratic policy staer who worked on the issue in 2007 and has helped write the current bill said, “NumbersUSA and FAIR” – two groups that want to dramatically limit immigration – “managed to convince Fox News back then to be their twenty-four-hour news channel of the anti-immigrant point of view. Fox has now totally bought in to the idea that we just need to figure something out.” Rush Limbaugh, who fiercely opposes the bill, has come to sound resigned. “I don’t know if there’s any stopping this,” he said on January 28th, the day the Gang held the press conference announcing its framework for the legislation. “It’s up to me and Fox News – and I don’t think Fox News is that invested in this.”

McCain told me, “Rupert Murdoch is a strong supporter of immigration reform, and Roger Ailes is, too.” Murdoch is the chairman and C.E.O. of News Corp., which owns Fox – and Ailes is Fox News’s president. McCain said that he, Graham, Rubio, and others also have talked privately to top hosts at Fox, including Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Neil Cavuto, who are now relatively sympathetic to the Gang’s proposed bill. Hannity voiced support for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, which he previously dismissed as “amnesty,” on the day after the 2012 election. “God bless Fox,” Graham said. “Last time, it was ‘amnesty’ every fifteen seconds.”

He said that the change was important for his reelection, because “eighty per cent of people in my primary get their news from Fox.” He added that the network has “allowed critics to come forward, but it’s been so much better.”

Waldman finds this curious:

This shows Fox not as a journalistic organization making news judgments, but as a group that gets targeted for (and responds to) lobbying, much in the same way as Congress. It also shows how attuned powerful Republicans are to what is being discussed on Fox. I suspect Graham’s assessment of the viewing habits of South Carolina Republicans is overstated, but that’s the perception he gets from where he sits. I’ve mentioned this before, but people outside of Washington may not be aware of the strange habit that many inside the Beltway have of keeping televisions on inside their offices all day long, tuned to cable news. At the offices of Republican members of Congress or conservative groups it’ll probably be Fox on those TVs, which over time naturally makes them think that what gets said on Fox is really important to the whole country, whether it actually is or not.

That’s odd, but don’t panic:

I’m sure that some liberals will be inclined to shout “Collusion!” at the news that Republican senators are sitting down with Fox hosts to talk about how they should talk about important issues on the air, but I’m not particularly outraged. If we were talking about Brian Williams, Scott Pelley, and Diane Sawyer, there would be reason to be mad, but we aren’t. O’Reilly, Hannity, and Cavuto aren’t journalists. They host opinion shows. No one expects anything objective from them. And Fox News is, for all intents and purposes, an organ of the Republican Party, and nobody really believes otherwise.

Yes, that oversimplifies things a bit. The different personalities take slightly different approaches – O’Reilly occasionally finds areas where he disagrees with the GOP line, which Hannity will always support whatever the party is supporting. Advancing the interests of the party is only one of two goals the network has (the other being making money), and Roger Ailes’ genius has always been to maintain a near-perfect balance between the two.

Think about it:

If there were consensus on immigration reform within the GOP like there is with most issues, there would be no need to lobby Fox; they’d know exactly what they’re supposed to say. But because the party is divided, the network isn’t sure where exactly it should come down. And in the end, it probably still ends up reflecting the views of the GOP elite: leaning in the direction of reform, but conflicted, with anti-reform voices still hanging around.

That’s why there was this announcement from Fox News:

Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and self-professed ‘Mama Grizzly,’ is rejoining Fox News as a contributor.

The return of the outspoken 2008 vice presidential candidate, who appeared on the fair and balanced network for three years ending in January, was announced by Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes.

“I have great confidence in her and am pleased that she will once again add her commentary to our programming,” Ailes said. “I hope she continues to speak her mind.”

Palin will make her latest debut on the morning show “Fox & Friends,” on Monday. In addition to providing political insight and commentary, Palin will contribute to Fox Business Network.

Yeah, political insight on complex problems here and abroad and maybe, on the business shows, perhaps a detailed discussion of the real problem with synthetic CDO’s and credit default swaps. This must be a joke, but Salon’s Joan Walsh suggests this:

Palin’s return to Fox shows that Roger Ailes knows the GOP can’t win back the White House in 2016, so he may as well focus on consolidating his audience, and keeping them comfortable as they watch the further decline of what Bill O’Reilly called “the white establishment” that was vanquished by Barack Obama.

Some people need a hero, those who pay the bills at Fox News. As Walsh says, Sarah Palin will now become “the face of the white nativist backlash, which is a dangerous development for the GOP, and the country, but a cushy, natural perch for Palin.”

It’s just business – but all of this is a great story, one of epic political conflict and change, with a colorful cast of rogue characters, with the fate of the nation in the balance. If you’re Hispanic it’s not that entertaining. If you work for a living, as opposed to making money from owning the means by which other lesser people scrap by, this is not that entertaining. But at least it’s a real news story, playing out as the Syria and NSA stories stall, for a moment. Should we thank the Republicans? Probably not.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Nothing Doing

  1. Rick says:

    Jonathan Chait:

    “The idea that American workers don’t want to do certain jobs is a long cliché peddled by people who sit in soft chairs all day. American workers will do any job if it pays well enough – American workers toil in coal mines and collect garbage if they’re paid a living wage to do so. You certainly don’t have to take a cruel and ignorant view of the labor market to support immigration reform…”

    Not so fast.

    The idea that this is a cliché is held by people who don’t like the “political optics” of that belief, who tend to see immigration reform as the “fat cats” versus the “American worker”, and who view the claim that “the work immigrants do is work that most Americans don’t want to do” as an insult to the American worker.

    It isn’t. In fact, I would bet that Jonathan Chait doesn’t want to pick crops or clean motel rooms or work on road crews for a living either. And I really don’t mean this as an insult to Chait — I don’t want to, either, probably because I don’t have to, because I think I can do better elsewhere.

    A year or so ago, while discussing this issue with a conservative friend of mine — her parents are immigrants from India and own a number of motels in southern Georgia — I gave my opinion, one I gather shared by Chait, that it’s not that Americans won’t do the work, it’s that the pay is just too low. My friend said no, that’s not the case.

    She said her parents had decided at one point to hire only American citizens to do the housekeeping, and pay them a higher wage than they had been paying. Within a few weeks, the Americans just stopped showing up for work, most of them without even giving notice, leaving them without a work force. When the workers were contacted, they said they had found “better” jobs, often for the same wage. So her parents went back to hiring undocumented workers.

    One reason this issue is tearing the Republicans apart is the same reason it’s tearing the country apart — because we all just want to know which side the good guys are on. The fact is, there are good guys on both sides.

    Whether or not I sit in soft chairs all day, I find it very hard to demonize people who risk their lives to come here to earn money to support their families back home, just as I find it hard to blame the farmer who can’t find laborers to pick his crops, and at a cost that doesn’t price his product out of the market. (And yes, I realize many of those farmers are able to exploit their workers because of the legally precariousness of the lives they are forced to live, but that’s just all the more reason to push for reform.)

    Just as conservatives have their own political tight-rope to walk on immigration, so do liberals have the even more serious task of trying to balance the ethical issues of looking out for the needs of the American worker, at the same time showing concern for the immigrant worker and his family, whose needs may be even more dire. And in spite of what we’ve been told, the two concerns may not be mutually exclusive.

    So while Republicans are caught in the middle of this, in truth, it ain’t so easy being a Democrat either.

    I actually think immigration reform is essentially doable, but probably only if both sides check their political rhetoric, not to mention their prejudices, at the door and just do the right thing for all concerned.

    Rick

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