Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Prosecutorial Discretion

Nobody really knows how many unauthorized aliens are in the United States, but most studies put the number in the 10-12 million range.[1] What we do know is that the deportation rate is currently at an all-time high—about 400,000 per year. Meanwhile, estimates suggest that, even accounting for deportations and voluntary departures, the unauthorized alien population has been increasing at a rate of about 500,000 a year.

In other words, we're clearly well on our way to resolving the problem. If current trends continue, by my rough calculation, we should have immigration under control right around the time the sun becomes a red giant and destroys all life on Earth.

However, if we want a solution that might take less than five billion years, we can, in broad terms, do one or more of the following:
  1. Grant some form of general or limited amnesty.[2]
  2. Commit more resources to deportation efforts and border protection.[3]
  3. Allow the economy to degrade to the point that the problem takes care of itself.
#1 isn't going to happen anytime soon. #2 might be theoretically possible, but lately Congress has been rather stingy about throwing money around. Honestly, #3 is most likely to work, and is probably why the rate of illegal immigration appears to have slowed in recent years, but let's assume nobody wants to go any further down that route. So we're stuck with the deadly-ball-of-hydrogen plan for now.

That being the case, it would make sense for the Obama administration to put some thought into how they allocate their limited resources. If one alien is a convicted rapist, and another is a college student with above-average grades and no criminal record who was brought to the U.S. by his parents at age 10, they may be equally deportable under the law, but I think it's obvious who the taxpayers want the government to deal with first. Two weeks ago, the White House announced just such a policy:
Under the President’s direction, for the first time ever the Department of Homeland Security has prioritized the removal of people who have been convicted of crimes in the United States. And they have succeeded; in 2010 DHS removed 79,000 more people who had been convicted of a crime compared to 2008. Today, they announced that they are strengthening their ability to target criminals even further by making sure they are not focusing our resources on deporting people who are low priorities for deportation. This includes individuals such as young people who were brought to this country as small children, and who know no other home. It also includes individuals such as military veterans and the spouses of active-duty military personnel.
While the long-term effects of the new policy remain unclear, the immediate consequence was undoubtedly a heap of torn menisci and strained ACLs, given the intensity with which knees were jerked:
This step by the White House amounts to a complete abrogation of the President's duty to enforce the laws of the land and a huge breach of the public trust. Never, in the history of federal immigration enforcement, has an administration willfully and so egregiously usurped Congress's and the people's role to decide immigration issues. In essence, the administration has declared that U.S. immigration is now virtually unlimited to anyone willing to try to enter and only those who commit violent felonies after arrival are subject to enforcement.
What if citizens would stop paying taxes, or refuse to participate in Social Security? If the executive branch can countermand a law of Congress, why can’t the voters – those who grant Congress its authority – do the same?[4]
President Obama is once again over-extending his hand to implement his political agenda previously struck down by Congress. The message to those thinking about coming to the United States illegaly is clear: come here, break the law by entering the United States, a sovereign country, without permission, use public services while burdening American taxpayers while not paying into the system, burden our schools and health care system, all without consequences to the illegal immigrant population.
An increasingly desperate Barack Hussein Obama, in a treasonous attempt to pander to foreigners at the obvious expense of America’s interests and security, has imposed amnesty for illegal aliens by fiat.
Aside from a few basic points of grammatical structure, almost all of that is wrong. It's not amnesty—no one is being legally absolved of their transgressions. It's not a usurpation of Congress—all immigration laws remain in effect, and all aliens who find themselves deportable under those laws are just as deportable today as they were two weeks ago. And it's not unconstitutional—the executive branch is perfectly within its power to decide how to enforce a law, especially when equal enforcement across the board is a practical impossibility. If anything, it's silly that this wasn't already the policy.

What does it say about our collective understanding of immigration that Obama does something not only reasonable on its face, but also likely to address and alleviate one of the more incendiary conservative talking points (i.e. that "illegals" are a bunch of dangerous criminals), and this is the reaction he gets? I wouldn't even call it a backlash, because it's too ill-informed. It's just an excuse. People care enough about immigration to react emotionally, but not quite enough to demand analysis that at least borders on honest and fair, which gives commentators free reign to ignore reality and be as vitriolic as they want.

1. Bear Stearns conducted a study that put the number at over 20 million. This is because the researchers made their "Money Ball" shot, which makes the results count double.
2. Of course, many would argue that "amnesty" would be entirely counter-productive, as it creates a precedent that will lead to increased illegal immigration in the future. I'm not going to get into that now, except to make the point that, as is so often the case, it's probably not that simple.
3. I suppose there's always a case to be made for doing more, but this recent Washington Post editorial makes the case that our border is considerably more secure than Republicans make it out to be. I highly recommend reading it, because it reinforces what I already believe.
4. A little off-topic, but here's the best part of that RedState article, and by best I mean most infuriating:
Secretary of Homeland Insecurity Janet Napolitano proclaimed in a letter to the Senate that she will suspend deportation proceedings and grant amnesty to those who ostensibly fit the criteria of the Dream Act – a bill that was defeated with overwhelming bipartisan support of Congress.
In December 2010 the DREAM Act was passed by the House, 216-198. It was subsequently rejected by the Senate, 41-55. That's 41 voting against passage—or, more precisely, against cloture, because the filibuster has morphed from a rarely-seen act of desperation into a thing that we just have to deal with now.
    There are 535 members of Congress. Fewer than half of them (45%) voted against the DREAM Act. Of the Democrats in Congress at the time, only 14% voted no, compared to 89% of Republicans. And this is "overwhelming bipartisan support" for rejecting the bill. It must be a lot easier to write when you don't care what words mean.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The "Evil Rich"

I was skimming over one of Neal Boortz's recent diatribes on the subject of class warfare—skimming, not reading, because I've seen it all before, but he said something a few paragraphs in that caught my attention (emphasis added):
Let’s take a moment to look at these selfish, cold-hearted rich people, shall we? In November of 2010, Bank of America and Merrill Lynch released a study on philanthropy among high net worth households .. or as the progs like to call them, the evil rich.
My immediate impulse wasn't to wonder if he's wrong, but to wonder just how wrong he is. I did a Google search for "evil rich" (in quotation marks),[1] and I scanned through page after page of results until finally, at hit #68, I found the first non-facetious use of the term. It's a post on a forum called Surfing the Apocalypse, arguing (sincerely, as far as I can tell) for some sort of class action suit "against the evil rich people to stop them from doing the evil deeds they do to everyone else."

Pressing on, I found one more at #90: A post on a gaming forum that refers to Rupert Murdock as a "Super evil rich guy".

And…that's it for the top 100.[2] Two. Neither of which come from sites overflowing with influence and credibility, to put it politely. In the remaining 98 results—excepting a four-year-old New York Post article about the arrest of an "evil rich" Syrian arms dealer (who, by all accounts, is in fact both evil and rich), a handful of cases where "evil" ends a sentence and "rich" begins the next, and one baffling LinkedIn profile—the term is used exactly as Boortz used it. Not to denounce the wealthy for perceived immorality, but to mock and criticize those who support progressive policies.

Moving on to a more inherently political setting, I found four cases of the term being used on the House or Senate floor in the last 20 years. One is off-topic for the same reason as that Post article.[3] Here are the other three:
Representative Jack Kingston (R-GA), Dec. 20, 1995
Here are 89 percent of the people in America who will benefit from the $500 per child tax credit, and almost 90 percent have a family income of $75,000 or less. These are the rich people. So I guess what the extreme left is telling us is that if you make $75,000 or less, as the gentleman from California said, if you got a job, they do not like you. You are one of those big, bad, evil rich.
Representative Cliff Stearns (R-FL), July 22, 1997
Madam Speaker, the Republican Congress has passed real tax relief for all middle-class taxpayers at every stage of their lives, from child tax credits to estate tax reform. We are doing the right thing. Meanwhile, the President is trying to change the debate with this new `imputed rental income formula.' But the truth is in the numbers; and no amount of imagined, imputed income will turn hard-working middle-class Americans into what the President calls the evil rich.
Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), July 29, 2011
To suggest that a debt crisis triggered by $14.3 trillion in debt can be fixed by taxing the luxuries of evil rich people is so childish and lacking in seriousness that the President should have been called out on it immediately. But he wasn't. He was allowed to get away with it.
All Republicans, all conservative, all mocking their ideological opponents—none of whom, as far as I can tell, actually called rich people evil. So yeah, I think Boortz is wrong. It's a little overwhelming, really, how flagrantly wrong he is. And I haven't even brought up all the times the phrase has been used by Boortz himself on his own site.

Not to get all this-seemingly-minor-thing-is-a-microcosm-of-a-much-more-serious-problem here, but this seemingly minor thing is a microcosm of a much more serious problem. And it's not the shameless strawmanning—that's just a regular-size problem. The bigger problem is that I'm not sure conservatives even realize they're doing it anymore. It's like they've forgotten that these strawmen aren't real.

Liberals, for their part, portray conservatives as inhabitants of a fantasy world where the free market always works and the rich are always job creators, and that's not entirely fair either, but it shouldn't be overlooked that the demons conservatives do battle with are often imaginary. Nor should it be overlooked that they created these demons in order to condemn the politics of class warfare—that is, the politics of fostering divisiveness by demonizing those who are different.

1. Could I have reached more meaningful conclusions by opening up the searches to slight variations in the phrasing? Probably, but I have neither the time nor the inclination to go down that rabbit hole, and I doubt the results would have been substantially different.
2. I thought I had another one with hit #70, a post on a Minneapolis-St. Paul forum:
This evil rich man has a mansion and his kids are long grown and out. He has an indoor pool that doesn't get used. So this past weekend my sister's kids wanted to go swimming so I drove all the way to Orono to use this man's pool. We get to the door and he sees us with our floats and says "what the F#ck?" right in front of the kids. I demanded since he is so rich that he needs to let us in to use his pool. We get into an argument and now the kids are crying. His wife called the police and they showed up like I was a bank robber.
That's just part of an outlandish, implausible story that reeks not of progressivism, but of a narrow-minded conservative attempting to channel a progressive's thought process. Sure enough, later in the thread:
Thank you to all that replied!

This post was created as part of a study for my class. We were told to put up similar posts on random forums - in key business markets around the country to get reactions from the masses.

When this was posted in business friendly areas (low taxes, right to work, etc) like major metro areas in AZ, FL, TX, TN, SC, etc, there was a far better rate of reply. More importantly those replies would immediately condemn the liberal entitlement mindset. . . . In areas like Minneapolis people are either to afraid to speak out against this persons illegal actions and entitled mindset, or sadly support it.
3. According to Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ), the people who hunted down and killed bin Laden "sent a powerful message to any other evil rich person that wants to target the United States of America that such targeting is an act of suicide." Like I said, not really what we're talking about here, though the reference to bin Laden's wealth does seem a bit superfluous. Would he have been treated differently if he had been poor?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Country Music Round-Up: Iowa Straw Poll Edition

If there's one thing presidential candidates and pro wrestlers have in common, it's that they can't go anywhere without entrance music. Ok, there's more than one thing. There's also the hyperbolic rhetoric, the manufactured rivalries, the cultivation of a pre-determined public image, etc., but those are topics for another time, because the Iowa Straw Poll—the Royal Rumble of American politics—was held Saturday in Ames, Iowa. The candidates who were present had the chance to address the crowd—and provide an early look at their choices in entrance music.[1] Let's see how they did.

Herman Cain: "I Am America" by Krista Branch
In case you didn't know Herman Cain is positioning himself as the "Tea Party candidate":
Pay no attention to the people in the street
Crying out for accountability
Make a joke of what we believe
Say we don’t matter ’cause you disagree
Pretend you’re kings, sit on your throne
Look down your nose at the peasants below
I’ve got some news, we’re taking names
We’re waiting now for the judgment day

I am America, one voice, united we stand
I am America, one hope to heal our land
Aside from the fact that its title makes me think of Stephen Colbert's book, I don't have much of an opinion on this. As a protest song, it's not specific enough to be objectionable. If I want to hear about how those in power ignore the angry masses at their peril, I think I'll go with "For What It's Worth" or "The Times They Are a-Changin'".

Ron Paul: "America First" by Merle Haggard
Easily the boldest choice. "America First" is country legend/beloved ex-convict Merle Haggard's anti-Iraq War song (written in 2005, before a Democrat took office and it became acceptable for conservatives to criticize the war):
Why don't we liberate these United States
We're the ones that need it worst
Let the rest of the world help us for a change
And let's rebuild America first

Let's get out of Iraq and get back on the track
And let's rebuild America first
Where Herman Cain went with a vaguely-worded Tea Party-approved anthem, I'm impressed that Ron Paul's entrance music has lyrics that specifically endorse one of his more controversial views.[2] There's also a line that rather beautifully articulates his overall message:
God bless the army and God bless our liberty
And dadgum the rest of it all

Tim Pawlenty: Unidentified instrumental music
Here's what I know about Tim Pawlenty: (a) he's seen as the dull candidate, and (b) he was the governor of…I'm going to say Indiana. That's it. And I don't even know if those things are true—I just know that Pawlenty seems so dull, I almost didn't bother to look up whether he's really from Indiana.[3] (Spoiler alert: He's not.)

What I'm saying is, the Ames speech was an opportunity to give people like me a reason to care. Naturally, he came to the stage accompanied by some boring instrumental piece. It seemed familiar, but I don't know what it was or where it was from, and don't especially care to find out. Just like Pawlenty.

Oh, and apparently he withdrew yesterday. Alright then.

Rick Santorum: No music
Still more interesting than Pawlenty.

Michelle Bachmann: "A Little Less Conversation" and "Promised Land" by Elvis Presley
In what I assume was an attempt to belatedly answer the "Elvis or Johnny Cash?" question she inexplicably dodged a few debates ago, Bachmann preceded her speech with Elvis's "A Little Less Conversation", which is about how much more tolerable women can be when they aren't talking:
A little less conversation, a little more action please
All this aggravation ain't satisfactioning me
A little more bite and a little less bark
A little less fight and a little more spark
Close your mouth and open up your heart and baby satisfy me
Ignoring for now that it contains one of the more egregious non-words in songwriting history, or that "a little less fight and a little more spark" makes no sense, the biggest problem is that the song is a political cliché. According to Wikipedia, Howard Dean, John Kerry, George W. Bush, John McCain, and Sarah Palin have used it in past campaigns. And it's not even a lyrically-appropriate cliché. As a small-government conservative Bachmann should be in favor of less action, not more, and any reasonable observer of politics would contend that we need more conversation, not less.

Bachmann was the only candidate to also provide her own exit music, in the form of Elvis's verson of Chuck Berry's "Promised Land", which tells the story of a mildly eventful trip from Virginia to California:
I left my home in Norfolk, Virginia
California on my mind
I straddled that Greyhound
And rode on into Raleigh
And on across Caroline
Other than further clearing up the aforementioned matter of Presley v. Cash, I'm pretty sure she picked this song for two reasons. First, because it mentions a lot of places—sometimes in folksy old-timey slang (Caroline, Alabam', Houston town, etc.)—and political campaigns involve going to a lot of places, just like in the song! Second, because "promised land" sounds religious, and also refers vaguely to some desired goal. Nevermind that the song's protagonist is traveling away from the White House, and that the "promised land" in question is, presumably, Hollywood. It kind of works if you shut off the part of your brain that parses phrases and sentences and makes syntactic inferences about overall meaning, and just listen to the words individually. Is that the kind of superficiality we can expect from a Bachmann presidency?

Alright, fine, maybe I'm trying a little too hard to extract meaning from something entirely meaningless, but this is the Iowa Straw Poll we're dealing with, after all.

Paul: B+
Cain: C+
Bachmann: D
Pawlenty: Crocodile
Santorum: F

1. I've labeled this article as part of my Country Music Round-Up series even though the candidates could theoretically have chosen music from any other genre, because come on, who are we kidding? Cain's is the only song that doesn't sound country, but it's definitely country in spirit.
    Also, since you asked, I'd probably go with…hm, it's hard to think of a non-cynical answer. But it'd be tough to talk me out of using Spinal Tap's "Gimme Some Money", or maybe Cream's "Politician" ("Hey now baby, get into my big black car/I wanna just show you what my politics are").
2. Not that Ron Paul is the only candidate in favor of reducing foreign entanglements, but he's certainly the most unequivocal about it. Regardless, by "controversial" I mean that it's something that can be argued with—and something that might actually cause him to lose a few votes—as opposed to generic platitudes about how America is great and politicians suck.
3. Pawlenty's Wikipedia page might have the least interesting "personal life" section I've ever seen. It contains approximately four pieces of information:
– He often goes by "T-Paw".
– He didn't live in the Governor's Residence during his first term because his wife was a judge in nearby Dakota County and wasn't allowed to live outside her district.
– His wife resigned as a judge to take a position with a Minneapolis-based dispute resolution company. Then, she left that job to work for another Minneapolis-based dispute resolution company.
– He was raised Roman Catholic, but his wife is Baptist, so they now attend an interdenominational church.
    If you use the term extremely loosely, I suppose you could call the "T-Paw" thing interesting, but even then it's only because it's so stupid.