Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Will Republicans Sing "Let's Impeach the President" This Summer?

This is a prediction, and you know how predictions go: if I'm right, I get to crow about it. If I'm wrong, we will all politely forget that I made such an ass of myself.

It is well established that Bush's flagging poll numbers are bound to hurt Republicans running for House and Senate this summer. At the very least, there are indications that Republican candidates believe this to be the case, with some even avoiding appearances with Bush in their home states and districts. And there are more noises from Congress that sound like disagreement with the Administration, although as the tax cuts show, that disagreement falls short of actually affecting legislation that could turn things around.

But if polls continue to show increasing likelihood in a turnover of the House and possibly even the Senate, I predict the Republicans are going to need a stronger show of strength, albeit one which still doesn't displease their base. And President Bush's low approval ratings give them one.

Holding impeachment hearings in the House and then letting the president off the hook ("just like Clinton", they'll say) will give Republicans their "Lieberman moments" of standing tough against the White House. Then they can woo the independent and conservative Democratic voters without having to actually pass any legislation that benefits those voters.

On the other hand, not impeaching just leaves them vulnerable to having Bush hung like an albatross around their necks by an increasingly invigorated and funded Democratic opposition come fall. And if Democrats can take either the House or Senate, then it's much more likely not only that there will be impeachment hearings, but other investigations that could mean not only lost elections but jail time as well.

Friday, May 12, 2006

DHS Stonewalls on Immigration Data

In the past year, the directors of the research center where I work (TRAC) have sued the IRS (and won), sued the OPM, and has now sued the DHS for release of records to which the public have a legal right under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The latest suit, filed this week in DC, is for information about the handling of criminal cases (arrests and convictions) of non-citizens.

[Link] The questions of what US government policy on immigration should be, and how federal immigration laws should be enforced, are currently issues of great controversy and substantial public debate in the Supreme Court, Congress, the White House, and the public. [...] Given the present debate over immigration law and immigration policy, it is essential that the public, and decision-makers in Congress and the Supreme Court, have access to the broadest possible information regarding the effects of US immigration enforcement on aliens.

I believe making this information public is important to Democratic hopes of making gains in the midterm elections.

This morning I listened to a report about San Bernadino's ballot initiative that would among other things turn landlords into immigration cops. Add this to initiatives in Colorado and Phoenix, and it's becoming clear that immigrants wanting to work is this year's version of gays wanting to marry: a local wedge issue that ought to be getting fairly dealt with at a national level, but one that is being exploited locally in order to get out the wingnut base to the polls.

This approach will only work however if rational discourse about our immigration policy and how it is being administered can be suppressed. That means keeping secret how these cases are being handled, similar to how this administration has worked to hide the treatment of prisoners at Gitmo, Abu Ghraib and in the torture palaces of eastern Europe.

For example, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has apparently "upgraded" its interpretation of the definition of aggravated felony, which is one of the grounds used to deny immigration benefits.

A term created by statute to refer to a list of crimes. A person convicted of one or more of these crimes becomes ineligible for many types of immigration benefits, such as obtaining a green card or being naturalized to become a U.S. citizen. He/she also becomes much more vulnerable to removal (deportation) from the U.S. Some of the listed crimes also require a prison sentence of a minimum length. For example, U.S. law says that a person has committed an aggravated felony if he/she is convicted of a "theft offense or burglary offense for which the term of imprisonment is at least one year." Criminal convictions in the past also count toward a decision now about whether someone has committed an aggravated felony. The list, scope, and consequences of aggravated felonies have been expanded over the years by Congress and by court decisions.  

One example is found in the case of Lopez vs. Gonzales. In this case, one of the reasons for deporting Jose Antionio Lopez was his conviction of aiding and abetting cocaine possession, a felony offense in South Dakota which would only be considered a misdemeanor under federal law.

Prior to this case, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) would only consider aggravated felony to be crimes which would have been felonies under federal law. But the BIA retroactively changed the rules to consider Lopez's crime aggravated felony and therefore grounds for deportation and denial of other rights.

This summer, the case will be taken up by the Supreme Court. TRAC feels that release of the requested information by DHS is vital in order to have a reasoned immigration debate. Which, apparently, is precisely why this administration refuses to release it.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Why Colbert is (Still) Important

Certainly there are plausible reasons why the story of Stephen Colbert at the White House Corresponents Dinner last Saturday didn't get much coverage in the traditional media. It can be argued that he wasn't funny. Or that he's just a comedian -- how much ink did Cedric the Entertainer get? Or that it was an insiders' party, and they want to keep it that way. But there are other stories here, and important ones. And those stories are out, and the media can't ignore them because they won't go away. I'll mention three of them.

The Coverup

One story surrounds the large number of people who think something is being covered up. You can't dismiss them as conspiracy theorists and the tinfoil hat brigade. Just go to and type in "Colbert blackout". Perhaps, had it been covered, the story itself might have died down by today. But a coverup, real or perceived, can take on a life of its own. Just ask Karl Rove.

The Bypass

Another story is how the traditional media have been bypassed by streaming video (for the source material) and blogs (for the discussion). Whether you thought Colbert's performance inspired or pathetic, within hours you could find dozens who agreed with you. Not only didn't it matter much whether Colbert's routine was covered by the Washington Post or CNN, by the time they could have covered it, much opinion had already coalesced around these two poles.

The Big Lie
The third story is the beginning of the end of the "liberal media" lie. We could all see the reactions in the audience: if the media were really so "liberal" then why weren't they laughing? The age of Bill Paley giving Ed Murrow free reign is long gone. Whether they can't, won't, or don't want to speak truth to power, the perception is growing that the media are muzzled by their owners. As Colbert stated, "reality has a well-known liberal bias".

I believe we're reaching a tipping point, where the "middle of the road" voter is going to decide to "give the other guys a chance" by either voting or looking the other way come next November. If there's a chance to turn things around, I believe it will depend on breaking the stranglehold the traditional media have had on framing the stories that make up our political consciousness.

Thank you, Stephen Colbert.