President Obama hit the road to campaign for immigration reform (1/29) a day after a bipartisan group of eight senators announced the groundwork for a deal on immigration reform that would provide “a tough but fair path to citizenship” for the 11 mln undocumented immigrants living in the US.

In a press conference, Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), Dick Durbin (Ill.), Robert Menendez (N.J.), and Michael Bennet (Colo.) unveiled a set of principles that will guide legislation introduced in the Senate.

The nation’s undocumented immigrants would be able to work legally in the US “virtually immediately” if the reform principles are enacted, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said at the press conference. “Immediately when the bill passes, people who are here living in the shadows would get a legal right to stay here and work,” Schumer explained, “they would no longer be deported, provided they don’t have a criminal record.” The immigrants would not be eligible for any federal benefits.

Unions welcomed the progress, but pointed out the need for more details. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called the Senate framework “an important and long overdue first step toward addressing our country’s broken immigration system,” but added that “Much remains to be seen on the details of that path, and each detail can have significant consequences for millions of aspiring citizens.”

Greg Sargent noted at WashingtonPost.com (1/29) that Obama went as far as he could in laying down a firm marker that the plan must make it clear from the outset that there will be a pathway to citizenship. Republicans would require enforcement triggers to set in motion the path to citizenship.

Obama also sought to reclaim the need for immigration reform as the next logical step in the American story. Conservatives argue that giving the 11 mln “amnesty” is a reward for illegal behavior, Sargent noted. Obama acknowledged that they “broke the rules” and “crossed the border illegally.” But he also recast the granting of citizenship not as a handout to undeserving lawbreakers, but as something squarely in the American tradition, one that has made the country better and stronger.

Republican national leaders, smarting from the 70% support President Obama got from Latino voters in his re-election, know they need to improve their image in that growing ethnic group, but their tea-party base may have other ideas. National Journal noted that 131 of the 233 House Republicans represent districts that are more than 80% white. “Not only have many of those members opposed measures beyond improving border security in the past, but there are no natural pressure groups for immigration reform in their districts,” Sargent noted. “Meanwhile, at least 216 House Republicans come from districts that voted for Mitt Romney over President Obama in November. Jobs and the economy were the prevailing issues in these areas, but the voters in those districts also proved they weren’t turned off by a candidate who championed ‘self-deportation’ as an immigration policy.”

Indeed, some Republicans already are resisting the reform proposal. Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), who has a long history of anti-immigrant positions, echoed the rhetoric surrounding immigrants and Democratic voters throughout the 2012 election and suggested that Hispanics would never vote for Republicans who don’t provide them without government handouts. “This will be a green light for anyone who wants to come to America illegally and then be granted citizenship one day,” he said, according to ThinkProgress.org. “I hope politics is not at the root of why we’re rushing to pass a bill. Anyone who believes that they’re going to win over the Latino vote is grossly mistaken,” Barletta added. “The majority that are here illegally are low-skilled or may not even have a high school diploma. The Republican Party is not going to compete over who can give more social programs out. They will become Democrats because of the social programs they’ll depend on.”

Times may be changing, even in Texas, which has been red for a generation. Anglos are still a plurality (the largest minority) with 44.8% of the Texas population, as of July 2011 estimates, while Latinos account for 38.1% but they’re closing the gap fast. They are expected to be a plurality in Texas by 2020, according to the state demographer. And with black persons accounting for 12.2% of the population, Republicans can’t afford to keep alienating Latinos.

GUN ATTRITION DAY SHOOTINGS. You may have heard that five people were wounded in accidental shootings at three different gun shows on “Gun Appreciation Day” (1/19). David Waldman went on to count how many other incidents, both accidental and intentional, happened during the day, and reported at DailyKos.com (1/21) a total of 78 separate incidents in 33 states and the District of Columbia on “Gun Appreciation Day,” resulting in 32 deaths and 55 wounded.

FEINSTEIN DEBUTS GUN BILL. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has drafted an ambitious bill that would ban the sale of more than 150 types of semi-automatic weapons with military-style features. The legislation also would ban magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition and all semi-automatic shotguns that have folding or detachable stocks, pistol grips, forward grips, or fixed magazines with room for more than five rounds. The bill would exempt assault weapons “lawfully possessed” on the date of enactment but it requires people who already own assault rifles to use secure storage and safety devices and bars them from selling high-capacity clips.

Feinstein noted that her bill exempts more than 2,200 hunting and sports rifles or any gun manually operated by bolt, lever or slide action, The Hill reported (1/24). It also exempts weapons used by active and retired law enforcement officials.

Feinstein argues the 1994 ban was effective, citing a Justice Department study that found it led to a 6.7% decrease in gun murders. She also pointed to a finding from the Police Executive Research Forum that nearly 40% of police departments reported an increase in criminal use of assault weapons since the ban expired in 2004.

HARKIN TO RETIRE. The Senate will lose a solid progressive populist in two years as Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) announced (1/26) that he will not seek re-election in 2014 as he finishes five terms. “It’s just time to step aside,” Harkin, 73, told AP. He said he had no health problems but promised his wife he would retire before it was too late to enjoy other things in life.

Harkin, who had served five terms in the House before the defeated Sen. Roger Jepsen (R) in 1984, had sponsored the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 on behalf of his brother, who was deaf. He also was a leading proponent of overhauling the nation’s healthcare system, succeeding the late Ted Kennedy as chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and unsuccessfully pushed the public option. He had opposed the year-end “fiscal cliff” compromise that he said did not address the top priority: creating good middle-class jobs. “Unemployment remains way too high. This bill should include direct assistance on job creation measures,” he said, also criticizing the redefining of “the middle class as those making $400,000 a year when, in fact, that represents the top 1% of income earners in America.” He added, “Every dollar that wealthy taxpayers do not pay under this deal, we will eventually ask Americans of modest means to forgo in Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid benefits. It is shortsighted to look at these issues in isolation from one another, especially when Congressional Republicans have been crystal clear that they intend to seek spending cuts to programs like Social Security just two months from now, using the debt limit as leverage.”

Possible Democratic candidates to succeed Harkin include Rep. Bruce Braley, a progressive populist from northeast Iowa who had been considering a challenge of Republican Gov. Terry Branstad; Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a centrist former governor; and former Gov. Chet Culver, son of former Sen. John Culver, was defeated by Branstad in 2010.

Possible Republican candidates include congressmen Tom Latham, a conservative, and right winger Steve King, who would be popular with teabaggers.

Democrats, who now have 55 senators, including independents Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine, will be defending 20 seats in 2014, compared with 13 Republican seats up for election, and the Dems already faced some tough holds, as Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.V.) said he will not seek re-election for a sixth term and there likely will be a race in Massachusetts for the successor to Sen. John Kerry, who was nominated to serve as secretary of state. Democrats also face tough re-election races in Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina and Alaska — all carried by Mitt Romney this past November.

Republican retirements include Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), a conservative who faced a likely primary challenge from the far right.

FEDERAL APPEALS COURT INVALIDATES RECESS APPOINTMENTS. A panel of Republican-appointed judges in the US Court of Appeals in D.C. overturned a century of court precedents that allowed presidents to make recess appointments, as authorized in the Constitution. The court panel ruled that three of President Obama’s appointees to the National Labor Relations Board on 1/4/12, after Republicans had blocked Senate action on the nominees to the board for more than a year, were invalid because Congress was never technically in recess because Republicans held “pro forma” sessions every few days. ThinkProgress.org noted that one of the judges, David Sentelle, previously held that any attempt to protect workers, investors or consumers from unscrupulous businesses is constitutionally suspect.

The D.C. panel’s decision conflicts with a 2004 decision by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld recess appointments by then-President George W. Bush in a case challenging a judicial appointment.

AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka called the ruling “radical and unprecedented,” noting that Bush made 179 recess appointments and Bill Clinton made 139.

Charles Pierce noted at Esquire.com (1/25), “This, children, is what you get when you operate politically under the theory that They’re All The Same. You get 20 or 30 years of primarily Republican judges acting primarily as Republicans, drawn from the legal chop-shops in the conservative movement bubble, and doing their partisan duty like performing seals.”

NEVADA REPUBLICAN GUILTY IN VOTE FRAUD CASE. A Nevada Republican who claimed she was just trying to show how easy it was to commit voter fraud when she tried to vote twice in the 2012 election, pleaded guilty and was fined almost $2,500, the Associated Press reported (1/24). Roxanne Rubin, 56, a casino worker on the Las Vegas Strip, was arrested by the FBI on a felony charge (11/3/12) after she voted first at her polling place in Henderson and then at a second site in Las Vegas (11/29/12). Poll workers at the second site pointed out that, according to their records, she already had voted in Henderson, but she insisted that she had not and demanded a ballot, which the poll workers refused. The matter was referred to the state’s Elections Integrity Task Force, which carried out the investigation that resulted in the arrest, which ended up in the state’s court system and the plea bargain in Justice of the Peace Court. She could end up with a misdemeanor disorderly-conduct conviction if she stays out of trouble for six months and completes an impulse-control class and 100 hours of community service.

STATES BUCK UNION DECLINE. Union membership was down nationwide amid widespread attacks on public-sector unions, but California and a few other states in the Southwest, including Texas, saw increases in union membership.

While the nation as a whole shed 400,000 union members, California union organizers signed up more than 100,000 new members last year, according to figures from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The reason: Latino workers who are more willing to join unions in a tough economic environment, organizers told Alana Semuels of the Los Angeles Times (1/24).

“There’s an appetite among these low-wage workers to try and get a collective voice to give themselves opportunity and a middle-class lifestyle,” said Steve Smith, a spokesman for the California Labor Federation.

Just 11.3% of the workforce was represented by unions nationwide in 2012, down from 11.8% the year before. But 18.4% of California’s workforce was represented by a union last year, according to BLS data. That amounts to 2.5 mln union members in California out of 14.4 mln nationwide.

Workers fed up with years of stagnant wages may be motivated to join a union for financial reasons. Last year, union members made $943 a week, on average, while non-union members made $742, BLS reported.

The Texas AFL-CIO was proud that union membership in the Lone Star State rose by more than 10%, from 534,000 in 2011, or 5.2% of the workforce, to 599,000 in 2012, or 5.7% of the workforce. If you count all workers represented by unions, including those who don’t belong to unions but are covered by union contracts in the “right to work” state, Texas went from 643,000 covered workers in 2011 (6.3% of the workforce) to 721,000 in 2012 (6.8%).

The increase reflects organizing activity in Texas that many might consider surprising, Texas AFL-CIO President Becky Moeller said. “But it’s not surprising to us. Throughout the recovery from the worst recession in our lifetime, the Texas AFL-CIO has received frequent inquiries from Texas workers who are wondering what they can do to improve their workplace lives. For many, the answer remains labor unions – the best way yet devised to gain workers leverage in seeking better wages, benefits and working conditions.”

Texas, long near the bottom of states in percentage of union membership, now sits in 38th position. North Carolina remains at the bottom with a 2.9% union membership. New York is on top with 23.2% union workforce, though California has the most actual union members, at 2.5 mln, followed by New York’s 1.8 mln.

Michigan and Indiana both became “right-to-work” states last year, meaning unions can’t collect dues as a condition of employment. Legislators in Wisconsin and Ohio recently passed bills restricting the bargaining rights of public-sector unions, though the Ohio law was reversed by referendum.

The percentage of people represented by unions last year in Wisconsin fell to 12%, from 14.1% in 2011, while Indiana experienced a significant drop in union membership, to 10% of the workforce, from 12.4% the previous year.

Union membership fell fairly consistently in Rust Belt states as manufacturing jobs, once a labor stronghold, were sent overseas. The decline in unionized manufacturing isn’t likely to shift as companies make efforts to return manufacturing to the United States. Auto companies, for instance, have built new plants in the South, an area traditionally resistant to unionization.

Public-sector workers nationally had a union membership rate of 35.9%, well over five times higher than the private sector. Among these high-membership job categories are teachers, police, firefighters and librarians. In absolute numbers, more public-sector workers were in unions (7.3 mln) than private-sector workers (7 mln).

African-American workers (13.4%) were more likely to belong to unions than Anglo (11.1%, Asian (9.6%) or Hispanic (9.8%) workers. Men (12%) were more likely to belong to unions than women (10.5%).

GOP REPS IN 22 STATES STIFF SANDY VICTIMS. Almost three months after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the East Coast, the GOP-controlled House approved a bill that provides $50.7 bln in disaster relief for the storm’s victims in New York, New Jersey and other states. While passage of the bill was hailed as a bipartisan sucess by some (the vote was 241-180) Dana Liebelson noted at MotherJones.com (1/17) that Republican House members overwhelmingly voted against the funding — unless, of course, their state was hit. In 22 states, every last Republican representative voted against HR 152 or abstained on the bill, which includes $17 bln for immediate repair and $33.7 bln for long-term recovery and prevention. Among the skinflint Republican delegations were Maryland, Georgia and the Carolinas, states that are vulnerable to hurricanes but were largely spared by Sandy. Other states whose Republicans voted against the hurricane aid included Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

By contrast, the only House Democrat who voted against the relief bill was Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.).

The Senate approved the House bill in a 62-36 vote (1/28) with all the “no” votes coming from Republicans. GOP Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Susan Collins (Maine), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Dean Heller (Nev.), John Hoeven (N.D.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Richard Shelby (Ala.), David Vitter (La.) and Roger Wicker (Miss.) voted yes.

Josh Israel of ThinkProgress.org noted (1/29) that at least 31 of the “no” votes came from Republican senators who had previously supported emergency aid following disasters in their own states.

NJ GOV REJECTS MINIMUM WAGE BILL. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is back at work shoring up his Republican base by vetoing an increase in the minimum wage (1/28). Using what is known as a “conditional veto,” Christie said he would sign the bill if the legislature reduced the increase from $8.50 to $8.25 per hour, if it is phased in over three years and if a provision tying the wage to inflation is eliminated. The minimum wage in New Jersey is now $7.25, the same as the federal minimum. Democratic leaders appeared ready to go ahead with an alternate plan to put the wage hike question to voters in November, the Associated Press reported.

FOX NEWS HITS 12-YEAR ‘DEMO’ LOWS WHILE MSNBC GAINS. Fox News had its lowest prime-time ratings in 12 years, while MSNBC was the only cable news channel to grow its ratings from 2012, HuffingtonPost.com noted (1/29). Fox News, which has been the top-rated cable news channel for 11 years, still had nine of the top 10 programs, and its 6 a.m. show drew almost double the ratings of CNN’s top-ranking prime-time show. But Fox had its worst prime-time ratings in the coveted 25-54 demographic since August 2001 and its lowest total day ratings since 2008.

Rachel Maddow also came in 10th, with 1 mln total viewers, beating “Studio B,” “Fox & Friends” and the 11 p.m. repeat of “The O’Reilly Factor.” In January 2012 Maddow came in 14th. “It may not seem like much, but the top of the cable news field has been extremely stable — and if Maddow were to continue creeping up the list, it would mean a real sea change. Overall, MSNBC — perhaps powered by liberal euphoria over President Obama’s inauguration — was the only cable news channel to grow its ratings from 2012,” Katherine Fung and Jack Mirkinson wrote for HuffPost. MSNBC’s Ed Schultz ranked 15th, with 988,000 viewers; “Hardball” with Chris Matthews was 16th, with 907,000; and Lawrence O’Donnell was 17th, with 888,000.

SECOND AMENDMENT PRESERVED SLAVERY. While many gun advocates say the Second Amendment was added to the Constitution to allow the people to rise up against their government, if necessary, Thom Hartmann noted in a column at Truthout.org (1/15) that the real reason the Second Amendment was ratified was to preserve slave patrol militias in Southern states that kept an eye out for slaves who might have been planning uprisings. As Dr. Carl T. Bogus wrote in “The Hidden History of the Second Amendment” for the University of California Law Review in 1998, Georgia statutes required patrols under the direction of commissioned militia officers to examine every plantation each month and authorized them to search “all Negro Houses for offensive Weapons and Ammunition” and to apprehend and give 20 lashes to any slave found outside plantation grounds. By the time the Constitution was ratified, hundreds of slave uprisings had occurred across the South, as blacks outnumbered whites in large areas and the state militias were used to prevent and put down slave uprisings. “As Dr. Bogus points out, slavery can only exist in the context of a police state, and the enforcement of that police state was the explicit job of the militias,” Hartmann noted.

“If the anti-slavery folks in the North had figured out a way to disband — or even move out of the state — those southern militias, the police state of the South would collapse.  And, similarly, if the North were to invite into military service the slaves of the South, then they could be emancipated, which would collapse the institution of slavery, and the southern economic and social systems, altogether,” Hartmann noted.

Sally H. Haden, in her book, “Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolina” (2003), noted that most southern men between the ages of 18 and 45, including physicians and ministers, had to serve on slave patrols in the militia at one time or another in their lives.

Patrick Henry, a Virginia planter who is remembered for “Give me Liberty or give me Death,” but also opposed freeing slaves, was also convinced that the power over the various state militias given the federal government in the new Constitution could be used to strip the slave states of their slave-patrol militias. He knew the majority attitude in the North opposed slavery, and he worried they’d use the Constitution to free the South’s slaves (a process then called “Manumission”). 

James Madison, another Virginia planter and drafter of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, while arguing that the Constitution did not allow the emancipation of slaves, changed the first draft of the amendment that addressed the militia issue to make sure it was unambiguous that the southern states could maintain their slave patrol militias.

His first draft for what became the Second Amendment had said: “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed, and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country [emphasis added]: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person.”

But Henry, Mason and others wanted southern states to preserve their slave-patrol militias independent of the federal government.  So Madison changed the word “country” to the word “state,” and redrafted the Second Amendment into today’s form: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State [emphasis added], the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

“Little did Madison realize that one day in the future weapons-manufacturing corporations, newly defined as ‘persons’ by a Supreme Court some have called dysfunctional, would use his slave patrol militia amendment to protect their ‘right’ to manufacture and sell assault weapons used to murder schoolchildren,” Hartmann concluded.

From The Progressive Populist, February 15, 2013



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