Obama Reaffirms Support for Comprehensive Immigration Reform

21 03 2009

At a town hall meeting in Mesa County, California this week, Obama reaffirmed many of the same principles of comprehensive immigration reform that he campaigned on in the 2008 presidential election. Those guiding ideas include a path to legalization, securing the border, and employer verification. But at the same time he said he did not want to create a system that would discriminate against someone “just because you’ve got a Hispanic last name or your last name is Obama.” He also reiterated his support for a comprehensive approach to immigration rather than tackling the problem in a piecemeal fashion.

Until now, Obama choose to only discuss immigration issues when engaging Spanish only media. This time, however, he is voicing the same message while on CNN, which is somewhat of a big step and could be an indication that it might be on the agenda this coming fall or late summer.

Money quote:

Now, it only works though if you do all the pieces. I think the American people, they appreciate and believe in immigration. But they can’t have a situation where you just have half a million people pouring over the border without any kind of mechanism to control it.

So we’ve got to deal with that at the same time as we deal in a humane fashion with folks who are putting down roots here, have become our neighbors, have become our friends, they may have children who are U.S. citizens. (Applause.) That’s the kind of comprehensive approach that we have to take. All right. Okay. (Applause.)

(H/T: America’s Voice)


Global Warming Deniers Unite!

18 03 2009

Last week, global warming skeptics and deniers organized a conference in New York City to devise a strategy to counter the recent success of the green movement, according to the NYT. Interestingly enough, even as as polls continue to show a persistent majority of people, though with some notable variation, believe global warming is real and not an exaggeration there is still a growing minority of that remain fiercely skeptical about climate change. I suspect public opinion and our politics  will likely become even more polarized in the future and may delay decisive action on what to do about global warming.

Money quote from the NYT:

“The only place where this alleged climate catastrophe is happening is in the virtual world of computer models, not in the real world,” said Marc Morano, a speaker at the meeting and a spokesman on environmental issues for Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma.

But several climate scientists who are seeking to curb greenhouse gases strongly criticized the meeting. Stephen H. Schneider, a climatologist at Stanford University and an author of many reports by the intergovernmental climate panel, said, after reviewing the text of presentations for the Heartland meeting, that they were efforts to “bamboozle the innocent.”

Yvo de Boer, head of the United Nations office managing international treaty talks on climate change, said, “I don’t believe that what the skeptics say should provide any excuse to delay further” action against global warming.

But he added: “Skeptics are good. It’s important to give people the confidence that the issue is being called into question.”

I tend to think that skeptics are not inherently good. Skepticism can also be used to unnecessarily prolong decision making and bold action. Many companies employ lobbyists, pseudo think tanks, and communications professionals to convince people that so-called intelligent design and evolution are of equal scientific value. Over time highlighting excessive skepticism in the face of compelling evidence only serves to undermine the will for action and gives people the false impression that the debate needs to continue indefinitely.

At any rate, below is a graph of Gallup polling illustrating shifts in public opinion on climate change across time. The crunch in 2004 was probably due to superior messaging on the issue by Republicans, particularly those in the Bush campaign.

The gap widens a bit in 2006 in small part because of the release of Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth and the wealth of media coverage on environmental activism. Greater parity among those who believe that global warming is “generally exaggerated” and among those who think its “generally correct” is probably due to it becoming a partisan issue once again, particularly after an election that featured such topics as cap-and-trade, promoting offshore drilling and other energy security issues.

Gallup: Majority Support Making it Easier to Form Unions

18 03 2009

A new Gallup poll found that 53 percent of the American public favors making it easier for workers to form a union, the chief aim of the Employee Free Choice Act.

As expected, the poll found that sharp divisions along party lines with 60 percent of Republicans opposed to making it easier to form unions while 70 percent of Democrats are support the idea. Most independents (52 to 41 percent) also support making it easier to organize a union.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Confidence Factor

13 03 2009

Public confidence is difficult to retain and maybe even harder to build upon, particularly after 8 years of President George W. Bush.

According to the findings of the General Social Survey, people have more confidence in the banking and financial institutions (19 percent) than they do in press (9 percent). I agree that the Enron and other accounting scandals have a lot to do with the public feeling sour about the banking and financial system, but so does the sense, whether warranted or not, that that sector widens inequality than it does energize the economy. This has as much to do with the credit card industry as it does with the growing sense that Wall Street is too opaque.

That said, people also seem to have more confidence in the banking system and major companies (16 percent ) than they do in organized labor (13 percent). I suppose that partially explains why people are so opposed to bailing out Detroit automakers.

They have more confidence in the Supreme Court (32 percent) that they do in the educational system (30 percent), organized religion (20 percent) or Congress or the Executive Branch (11 percent each).

I find that surprising considering the bitter Supreme Court fights over the nominations of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Roberts in 2005 and 2006, respectively. In recent years, the Court also had a number of 5 to 4 rulings on a number of cases on issues where the public is still divided such as gun control, the death penalty, and gay marriage.

At least the scientific community manages to remain in relative good standing with 40 percent.

Only the U.S. military managed to break 50 percent in the survey. Predictably, the patriotic fervor that sprung from 9/11 has not dampened the sense of ambivalence or downright opposition to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or the prosecution of the war on terror.  But I am just guessing here.

Interestingly enough, the military and education were the only social institutions displayed below to gain any measure of confidence among the public from 2000 to 2008.

(H/T: FiveThirtyEight.com)

U.S. Ditches Durban Review Conference

2 03 2009

Citing language referring to reparations for slavery and “repeated and unbalanced criticisms of Israel,” the United States announced it would not participate in the Durban Review Conference this Friday, also known as Durban II, after spending about a week trying to cleanse the document of what it found objectionable. The goal of the conference is to review the progress made since the last gathering in 2001 and take stock of “contemporary manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.”

The reasons for pulling out are consistent with what the U.S. State Department claimed said were its redlines prior to engaging in the preparatory talks.  In a February 20th press release the U.S. said it held strong “reservations about the direction of the conference” because the “draft document singles out Israel for criticism, places unacceptable restrictions on freedom of expression under the guise of defaming religion, and calls for payment of reparations for slavery.”

We are left to believe that since the U.S. could not achieve sufficient progress on all fronts that the document was unsalvageable and therefore the prospect of participation impossible.

Even to engage in the preparatory talks seemed like a big step at the time, but abandoning the process so soon after doing so gives the human rights and international community the impression that admininstration always intended to offer a token presence only to make a quick exit.

Fierce critics of the Durban II such are using this opportunity to say I told you so. ” …the Obama administration has recognized that indeed, the racism conference is an exercise in Israel-bashing, and not worth attending,” so saith the National Review.

Others are weary of what Obama has in store since he the administration did not announce an outright boycott and has stated it will participate in the next Human Rights Council session where many of the resolutions condemning Israel are usually hatched. “Whether Obama actually stays away from Durban II is most likely to depend on his cost-benefit analysis of sacrificing Israel vs. heeding the siren’s call to engage,” declared Anne Bayesfsky in Fortue Magazine.

This is typical of those who believe that the UN itself is an unsalvageable institution, but offer no solutions as to how to prevent the usual suspects from targeting Israel or undermining the mission of the UN. Its as if they think that if the United States is not leading the effort to promote human rights or controlling the direction of UN, America should abandon any hope of working within it. Its ultimately defeatist and limits the ability of the U.S. to reach out to other countries in an imperfect world.

By the same token, however, the Obama admininstration set themselves up for this kind of criticism by invoking the criteria it did given the tight time frame it had to work with. It set a number of ambitious goals it knew it could not accomplish to rationalize its eventual departure and had little to show for engaging in the excercise. Its unclear, for instance, whether or not this has helped the U.S. in its attempt to win a seat on the Human Rights Council or achieve any other strategic objective.

Observers are also left wondering what the Obama administration will do to advance racial justice in its attempt to promote human rights.  Given the unique standing of the U.S., especially with its new president and because of its national experience, it can effectively promote racial justice as part of its larger human rights agenda in the same way it has promoted open societies and free expression as a way of spreading democracy around the world during the cold war. If the U.S. showed leadership in this regard other countries will follow, provided we invest the time and resources. Durban II even with all its pitfalls could have served as a stepping stone to a more livable world by making racial equality part of the criteria in which the community of nations should be judged.

I suppose we will have to wait and see how the Obama admininstration will pivot from this episode and reposition themselves to usher in a new era of U.S.-U.N relations.

Intolerable Speech

2 03 2009

You just cannot make this stuff up. Or if you did people would simply say this would not happen in 2009. But it did. A Utah state senator, who once called a bill he opposed an ugly black baby, called gay activists the biggest threat to the U.S after comparing them to radical terrorists. He remarks led to the Republican leadership there stripping him of his Judiciary Committee Chairmanship.

Here is how Utah State Senator Chris Buttars defended his comments

I was disappointed to learn of the Utah State Senate’s censure on Feb. 20, 2009. However, this action will not discourage me from defending marriage from an increasingly vocal and radical segment of the homosexual community.

In recent years, registering opposition to the homosexual agenda has become almost impossible. Political correctness has replaced open and energetic debate. Those who dare to disagree with the homosexual agenda are labeled “haters,” and “bigots,” and are censured by their peers.

The Utah state affiliate of the ACLU released a rather disappointing and cliched response to the controversy.

While we disagree vehemently with Senator Buttars’ views, we strongly support the Constitution’s free speech protections. Free speech rights are indivisible. Restricting the speech of one group or individual jeopardizes everyone’s rights because the same laws or regulations used to silence unpopular and controversial speech can be used to silence valid discourse.

Free speech in America has been, and always will be critical in the protection and expansion of the rights of civil rights workers, anti-war protesters, lesbian and gay activists and others fighting for justice. The ACLU protects freedom of speech, even that with which many of its supporters disagree.

I am not convinced that Senator Buttars free speech rights are being restricted because he was stripped of his chairmanship. Few people made that argument when then-U.S. Senator Trent Lott was demoted from his position as Senate Majority Leader in 2002 after he lavished praise on Strom Thurmond’s 1948 pro-segregationist campaign and claimed “if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years either.” Those problems of course being integration and much of the civil rights gains that followed the 1950s.

The comments were rightfully criticized as racist.

So when President Bush and and Lott’s fellow Republican lawmakers moved to replace the Mississippi Senator, they sought to distance themselves from comments that a good many Americans found intolerable.  At the same time, however, its not as if Senator Lott was legally restricted from voicing those same opinions again. The same applies here to Utah state Senator Buttars.

Elected officials, like private citizens, can exercise their Constitutionally-protected rights, but its not as if there should not be consequences to what they say whether its through public disapproval or being politically isolated.