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“Obama Calculates The Human Cost Of Deportations”: It’s Past Time To Stop The Stupidity And The Lack Of Humanity

The commemorations of the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s fall have thrust into the public spotlight the border guard who ordered the gates opened. The subject of both a new German-language book and film, one-time Stasi Lt. Col. Harald Jäger has recounted why he defied his orders. And his story couldn’t be more relevant to the debate consuming our own nation.

On the evening of Nov. 9, 1989, prompted by an erroneous announcement from an East German Politburo spokesman that his compatriots would be free to cross the border, thousands of East Berliners flocked to the checkpoint Jäger supervised. His superiors told him to keep the gates closed, though he could let a few people through, provided he marked the passports of those he determined were activists and blocked their reentry when they came back.

When one such young couple returned from the West, going home to their small children, Jäger saw that while the wife could reenter, her husband’s passport had been stamped, forbidding his return. Jäger faced a choice. “My responsibility was clear — enforce the law and split the couple,” he recalled to the Financial Times. “But at that moment it became so clear to me . . . the stupidity, the lack of humanity. I finally said to myself, ‘Kiss my arse. Now I will do what I think is right.’ ” He let the couple in. Then he commanded the guards to throw open the gates. The rest is history — and a lesson to a nation now embroiled in a different, but not that different, contest between the imperatives of custom and law, as some construe it, and those of keeping families together.

Of the thousands of words written lately on President Obama’s impending order to exempt some undocumented immigrants from the threat of deportation, most have dealt with the politics of the issue, not the humanity behind it. What the media have largely failed to emphasize is that Obama’s order will be shaped almost entirely by the imperative of keeping parents with their children. The administration is planning to allow the undocumented parents of children born here (and who are, thus, U.S. citizens) to stay and receive work permits. Unfortunately, this will not include parents of the “dreamers” who are already protected by executive order from deportation.

What the pundits have tended to overlook, as well, is the humanity behind Obama’s apparent willingness to act without congressional approval. Every year since Obama became president, the government has deported roughly 400,000 undocumented immigrants, with little regard to whether they’ve broken any law save crossing the border without papers or overstaying their visas — or whether their kids are wondering where their parents have gone. On Tuesday, the Pew Research Center reported that in 2012, some 13 percent of schoolchildren in both Texas and California had at least one undocumented parent. That’s a lot of parents, a lot of kids.

It’s not as if Obama hasn’t waited for Congress to address the immigration conundrum. Nearly 18 months ago, a bipartisan majority of 68 senators passed an Obama-backed bill that would have significantly augmented our border security forces and provided a long and tortuous pathway to legalization for an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. The Republican-controlled House refused to take up the bill, however, though it likely would have passed. Speaker John Boehner and other GOP leaders declined to risk the ire of the nativists in their ranks.

So long as Republicans — many of them from heavily gerrymandered districts with few Latino voters — continue to control the House, that chamber isn’t likely to enact any serious immigration reform. It is likely, however, that the House will stay in Republican hands until at least the first election following the next decennial redistricting — that is, until 2023. Should the wave of deportations without regard to family status continue until then, the number of broken families could easily rise into the millions.

Obama has no doubt calculated the political risks and advantages of acting alone; he could be sued for political malpractice if he didn’t. He believes, rightly, that the president has the authority to direct immigration officials to exempt particular groups from detention and deportation. But beyond the political and legal calculations are those that are simply human.

None of this is to equate the legitimacy of our laws and policies to those of the late, unlamented East Germany. But even democracies can, and not infrequently do, violate the most elemental human rights. Stripping children of their parents is such a violation. It’s time — past time — to stop the stupidity, the lack of humanity.

 

By: Harold Meyerson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 19, 2014

November 24, 2014 Posted by | Congress, Executive Orders, Immigration Reform | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Paul Ryan’s Poor Memory Fails Him Again”: Ryan Just Doesn’t Remember Current Events Very Well

I’ve long marveled at Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) unusually poor memory, and his latest complaints about immigration policy suggest his recall troubles are getting worse (via Jon Chait).

“We’ve gone to the president and said, ‘Give us time to do immigration reform, to work on the issue this year. We want to get this done.’ And this is the reaction he has to that?” said Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the 2012 vice presidential candidate. “He had two years with a super-majority of his own party, and he didn’t lift a finger. And now he won’t give us a few weeks?”

It takes a truly talented individual to pack in this many falsehoods into a single paragraph.

“Give us time to do immigration reform”? Well, Republicans have controlled the House for four years, during which time they haven’t even held so much as a hearing on a piece of legislation. More to the point, the Senate passed a popular, bipartisan immigration bill 512 days ago, and soon after, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) promised the lower chamber would act on the issue. The Republican leader then broke his word and killed the reform effort.

In other words, Obama gave Republican lawmakers “time to do immigration reform,” and the GOP did nothing. Does Ryan not remember this?

“He had two years with a super-majority of his own party”? Actually, no, Democrats had a super majority in the Senate for four months, not two years. It’s a big difference.

“He didn’t lift a finger”? Actually, Democrats tried to pass the DREAM Act, which used to be a bipartisan policy, when they controlled Congress. Republicans killed it with a filibuster.

“And now he won’t give us a few weeks?” Well, President Obama not only gave Republicans all kinds of time, he also received no guarantee – from Ryan or any other GOP leader – that another delay would lead to real legislation. So what in the world is Ryan talking about?

It gets worse. Ryan also complained this week that Obama’s decision to govern on immigration policy means Republicans won’t govern on their own priorities.

Lori Montgomery reported on Wednesday on Ryan’s plans, now that he’ll be chairing the House Ways & Means Committee.

An overhaul of the nation’s tax laws will also rank high on the agenda when Ryan (R-Wis.) takes the helm of the tax-writing panel in January.

“We’d like to do it sooner rather than later, but we don’t control everything,” Ryan said in an interview. He cited Obama’s longstanding refusal to roll out his own tax plan as well as the president’s recent decision to forge ahead with a unilateral ban on the deportation of some undocumented immigrants – a move that has inflamed Republicans.

Again, comments like these suggest Ryan just doesn’t remember current events very well. In reality, Obama presented a blueprint for tax reform and asked lawmakers to work on details that could pass both chambers. A bipartisan tax-reform plan came together, at which point, House Republicans killed it.

That’s not opinion. It’s just what happened.

Complicating matters, Ryan prefers a more right-wing version of tax reform than the one outgoing Ways & Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) unveiled, with Ryan’s version focused primary on – you guessed it – tax breaks for the wealthy.

Chait’s conclusion rings true: “It’s just bizarre for Ryan to lament that Obama’s plans to make immigration enforcement more humane is costing him the chance to cut taxes for the rich.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 22, 2014

November 22, 2014 Posted by | Immigration Reform, Paul Ryan, Tax Reform | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We Were Strangers Once Too”: President Obama Announces Executive Order For Deportation Relief

President Barack Obama on Thursday announced plans to sign an executive order sparing up to 5 million unauthorized immigrants from deportation, arguing that congressional inaction left him little choice but to use his executive authority on the issue.

In the summer of 2013, Obama noted, the U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill on a bipartisan 68 to 32 vote, raising advocates’ hopes that an overhaul was in sight. But House Speaker John Boehner never brought the measure to a House vote, and Obama took Congress to task for its failure to act in his Thursday evening address. House Republicans, Obama charged, “refused to allow that simple vote.”

Until Congress moves on the issue, Obama said, the best path forward is executive action. In his speech, the president laid out a three-point plan. First, the U.S. will beef up border security and continue to focus on capturing unauthorized migrants attempting to cross into the U.S. The president will also establish incentives that will keep highly skilled immigrants in the country — a top priority for GOP-leaning business groups, Finally — and most controversially — Obama said his administration would “deal responsibly” with unauthorized immigrants already in the country.

Emphasizing that the U.S. would continue to deport immigrants deemed security threats, Obama said that he would order agencies to prioritize the most dangerous unauthorized immigrants for deportation. “Felons, not families” and “criminals, not children” would be the focus of U.S. enforcement efforts, the president said. The president referenced the nation’s immigrant history, saying, “we were strangers once too.”

The president’s plan expands the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for those brought to the U.S. as minors; the program will no longer have an age cap. More crucially — contingent on passing a background check — parents of U.S. citizens or legal residents who have themselves been in the U.S. for at least five years will be spared deportation. That protection alone affects an estimated 4 million people.

Obama cautioned that the changes do not apply to any migrants who recently arrived in the U.S. or those who may come in the future.

The president’s invocation of executive authority on the issue drew the ire of conservative Republicans, including incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said executive action would represent a “defiance of the people.” The president is poised for a showdown with the GOP over the issue when a unified GOP Congress takes control in January.

“The actions I’m taking are not only lawful, they’re the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican president and every Democratic president for the past half century,”  Obama said in his address. “To those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill.”

Progressives cheered the president’s announcement.

“Today, parents who have lived here for years and had to constantly worry that they could be torn away from their children will no longer have to look over their shoulders. With House Republicans continuing to block immigration reform legislation in Congress, the president is taking a bold step that is fully within his authority to begin fixing the system,” said Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress and a former Obama administration aide.

 

By: Luke Brinker, Salon, November 20, 2014

November 21, 2014 Posted by | Executive Orders, Immigration Reform, Presidential Powers | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Clever Little Deceptions”: Behind The G.O.P.’s Misleading Shutdown Statements

Senator Mitch McConnell said yesterday that he would not shut down the government, over immigration or anything else, after he takes over as Majority Leader in January. On the same day, Speaker John Boehner refused to rule out a shutdown. Both were being deceptive, but Mr. McConnell, as usual, was a little more clever about it.

The House produced last year’s government shutdown when it insisted on attaching the repeal of various parts of the Affordable Care Act to spending bills necessary to keep the government open. That was a huge embarrassment for Mr. Boehner, making his caucus appear feral and ungovernable, and he has no desire to repeat it.

But his newly expanded Republican majority actually is a bit wilder than the outgoing one, and it is inflamed by President Obama’s plans to take executive action on immigration by sparing up to 5 million people from deportation. Some on the far right want to pass no spending bills if the president takes action; others, as National Review reported, want to shut down only specific departments, like Homeland Security (which includes Immigration and Customs Enforcement).

Mr. Boehner is playing his customary game of appearing provocative in public, to keep his most extreme members at bay, while trying to cut some kind of deal in private. But if he or his members think a shutdown of the Homeland Security department is going to work, they’re kidding themselves. During the last shutdown, most of the department stayed open, in part because many of its functions are considered essential and are funded by fees rather than Congressional appropriations. To have any real leverage, House Republicans would have to threaten to shut down more than that.

Mr. McConnell wants his chamber to appear reasonable and governable in contrast to the House, and likes to portray himself as the leader who averts shutdowns. But he’s the one who has already threatened to use spending bills to stop any environmental regulations that might restrict the burning of coal, which is the same as a shutdown threat.

His plans are evident in the exact wording of his statement yesterday: “We’ll not be shutting the government down or threatening to default on the national debt.” But if he can pin the shutdown on the president, then he can claim he wasn’t the one who closed the government’s doors. During the last shutdown, the spending bills never reached the president’s desk for a veto, because the House’s demands were rejected by the Senate, and everything was blamed on “Congressional gridlock.” With Republican control of both chambers, things will be different, and a shutdown remains very much on the table.

 

By: David Firestone, Taking Note,The Editorial Page Editors Blog; The New York Times, November 14, 2014

November 17, 2014 Posted by | Government Shut Down, John Boehner, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A ‘True National Election’? Not Really”: A Shrunken U.S. Map There The Electorate Is Far More Republican Than The Country Overall

During the White House press briefing yesterday, Press Secretary Josh Earnest suggested to the media that many conclusions will be drawn from this year’s elections, but these lessons should be different from “a true national election.”

The right balked. If there are elections nationwide, how can it not be a true national election?

The answer has everything to do with who’s voting where. Obviously, all U.S. House races are up every other year, but they’re hardly a great barometer of a national race – in 2012, Democratic House candidates earned 1 million more votes than Republican House candidates, but Dems still ended up in the minority.

But the Senate is a different story. You may have heard about “structural” considerations that give Republicans a natural, built-in advantage in 2014, but it’s worth appreciating exactly what that means. Jonathan Cohn had a good piece on this overnight.

Senators serve staggered, six-year terms. And it so happens that the states with Senate elections this year are disproportionately conservative.

How do we know this? One way is by looking at how those states voted in 2012, the most recent presidential election year. In the actual election that took place, with all 50 states plus the District of Columbia voting, Obama won handily over Mitt Romney. Obama got 332 electoral votes, while Romney got just 206. But if the electorate in 2012 had consisted only of voters living in states participating in this year’s Senate elections, Romney would have won comfortably, with 165 electoral votes to Obama’s 130.

This is no small detail. It’s not a true national election because we’re dealing with a shrunken U.S. map – one where the electorate is far more Republican than the country overall.

Patrick Egan did a terrific job digging into the data, concluding:

Taken together, the rules on seat allotments and classes have yielded a Senate election cycle in 2014 that is profoundly unrepresentative of the nation as whole – and particularly tough for Democrats. […]

Simply put, this year’s Senate elections are unrepresentative of the nation to an extent that is unprecedented in elections held in the post-war era. So when we begin to sift through the results on Election Night, the number of Senate seats won and lost will tell us less than we might like about where the two parties stand in the minds of American voters.

Just so we’re clear, this is not to say geography alone is determinative. President Obama won Colorado twice, and voters there appear likely to elect their most far-right senator in state history. President Obama won Iowa twice, and Hawkeye State voters apparently intend to elect the most radical senator Capitol Hill has seen in many years.

The point, though, is that geography has given the GOP an edge it would otherwise lack. The structural considerations have tilted the playing field in ways that put Democrats at a disadvantage before a single ballot was cast.

In September 2012 – 26 months ago – the Washington Post ran a piece with this headline: “A GOP Senate majority? Just wait for 2014.” Aaron Blake reported at the time that the map would be “murderous” for Democrats in 2014 and Republicans would have “a great chance” to take control of the chamber after the midterms.

It’s not because Blake has a crystal ball; it’s because he could see these obvious structural advantages. Throw in some key retirements, dark money from the far-right, and the public blaming Obama for congressional Republicans’ refusal to govern, and we’re left with a recipe for Democratic failure.

As a practical matter, most of the country won’t know or care about any of this, but Earnest’s assessment about this not being “a true national election” has the benefit of being true.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 4, 2014

November 5, 2014 Posted by | Midterm Elections, Politics | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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