Sunday, May 03, 2015

Are Right-Wing Populists Embracing The Racist Ideology Of Jeff Sessions' KKK Wing Of The Republican Party?


Jefferson Beauregard Sessions will never be on a U.S. postage stamp and never be on the same page as Barbara Jordan

In 1999 People for the American Way honored me with a Spirit of Liberty Award. Being a longtime admirer of the organization's work-- not to mention of the founders, Norman Lear and Barbara Jordan-- I was thrilled. Lou Reed and KRS-One did the honors. After the beautiful ceremony (for me and Rob Reiner) PFAW asked me to join their board of directors, which I was happy to do-- and where I met such inspiring and historic figures as civil rights heroes Dolores Huerta, Rabbi David Saperstein, Marge Tabankin, and Julian Bond, former Alabama Republican Congressman John Buchanan (the first victim of the GOP's political purity jihad), former Ambassador James Hormel, and Courage Campaign chairman Paul Song. 

Yesterday I was surprised to see an article by John Fonte about right-wing populism in the fascist-oriented National Review extolling the virtues of former Houston Congresswomen Barbara Jordan, Republicans Acting in the Spirit of Barbara Jordan. Believe me, they weren't celebrating her legislation that ended federal authorization of price fixing by manufacturers; her Community Reinvestment Act, the 1977 legislation that required banks to lend and make services available to underserved poor and minority communities; nor her ground-breaking work on the Voting Rights Act, extending federal protections to Hispanics. But immigration policy is exactly what the National Review had in mind. 

Last month, asserts Fonte, "conservative populism broke out and reached the major leagues of American politics."
On April 15, the editors of the New York Times felt compelled to denounce a Washington Post op-ed by Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), in which he called for reduced immigration to help raise the wages of American workers. The Times' editors were particularly miffed that “Mr. Sessions accuses the financial and political ‘elite’ of a conspiracy to keep wages down through immigration” (“elite” is put in sneer quotes, as if there were no elite). What is important to note is not the Times’ ad hominem attack on Sessions (“choosing . . . to echo an uglier time in our history”) but the fact that the editors believed that the senator’s populist argument required an official response.

Almost simultaneously, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker articulated a populist-tinged message, declaring that our legal-immigration system “ultimately has to protect American workers and make sure American wages are going up.” This set off a firestorm of controversy and placed conservative populism directly into the 2016 presidential race.

Since the 2013 debate on the Senate immigration bill, conservative economic populism has been slowly, but steadily, emerging. In a harbinger of the future, in July 2013, Rich Lowry and Bill Kristol, the editors of two leading conservative journals, National Review and the Weekly Standard, added a pro-working-class populist argument to the more common “enforcement first” stance. In a joint op-ed attacking the Senate bill, Lowry and Kristol wrote that “the last thing” low-skilled workers “should have to deal with is wage-depressing competition from newly arriving workers.”

In June 2014, underdog candidate David Brat defeated House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) in a stunning primary upset by running a strong economic-populist campaign that emphasized immigration. Brat attacked Cantor’s close ties to Big Business and charged that the majority leader “works with multinational corporations to boost the inflow of low-wage guest workers to reduce Virginians’ wages and employment opportunities.”

...After Dave Brat’s victory, Tucker Carlson told Sean Hannity: “He [Brat] wasn’t [just] making the case against amnesty-- lots of people do that-- he was making a case for better wages,” arguing that increasing immigration will depress wages “for middle-class workers.” When the Schumer–Rubio bill was being debated, Matthew Continetti, in the Weekly Standard, advocated a “labor Republicanism,” declaring, “A labor Republican opposes the Senate immigration bill not only because it’s a bureaucratic monstrosity, but also because an influx of cheap labor would decrease low-skilled wages.” After Jeff Sessions’s op-ed in the Washington Post, John Hinderaker of Power Line urged “Republican presidential candidates” to “emulate” the senator’s “populist touch.” In the aftermath of the America-first, “wages and workers” controversy stirred up by Scott Walker, Breitbart’s Matt Boyle reported that conservative intellectuals, activists, and media figures (Lowry, Kristol, Coulter, Hannity, Phyllis Schlafly, and Mark Levin) rallied to Walker’s side.

...The immigration narrative articulated by conservative populists is winning more and more adherents. At the most fundamental level, this narrative argues that immigration policy should serve American national interests and the interests of American citizens-- not the special interests of business, union, political, and ethnic elites. As will be discussed later, the populist narrative today bears striking similarities to the Barbara Jordan immigration plan of 20 years ago.

Opposite the conservative populists stands a formidable elite coalition consisting of Big Business, Big Labor, the Obama administration, the entire liberal establishment, the Republican donor class, and the mainstream media. This coalition favors greatly increasing legal immigration for both low-skilled and high-skilled workers, as well as providing amnesty for illegal immigrants. The elite coalition claims that it is speaking for American interests in strengthening our economy, expanding economic growth, and creating jobs. The American economy, the elites tell us, needs massive infusions of both low- and high-skilled labor. Their core argument is that there is a “worker shortage” in America.

During the past two years, coalitions of diverse corporate leaders have decried this “worker shortage” and called for massive increases (at least double current levels) in both low-skilled and high-tech legal immigration. The corporations involved in these coalitions include American Express, General Mills, Marriott, Hyatt, Johnson & Johnson, Verizon, Procter & Gamble, General Electric, Southern California Edison, Walt Disney, T-Mobile, Cisco, Cigna, Intel, Microsoft, Yahoo, Hewlett-Packard, and Sprint, among others.

The problem with this argument is that these same companies have been firing tens of thousands of American workers (both low- and high-skilled)-- sometimes in the very same week that they have petitioned the White House and Congress for more foreign workers. When asked directly by Bloomberg Businessweek about the layoffs in the light of the alleged “labor shortage,” Facebook e-mailed a one-sentence non sequitur: “We look forward to hearing more specifics about the President’s plan and how it will impact the skills gap that threaten[s] the competitiveness of the tech sector.”

This January, Jeff Sessions released the 23-page Immigration Handbook for the New Republican Majority, in which he noted the negative effect of mass immigration on American workers in both low-skilled and high-tech sectors. In a Washington Post op-ed, Sessions quotes our nation’s foremost labor economist, Harvard professor George Borjas, as reporting that the mass immigration of overwhelmingly low-skilled workers from 1980 to 2000 resulted in a 7.4 percent wage loss for lower-skilled Americans. In the construction industry today there are approximately seven workers for every job opening, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Census Bureau data revealed that between 2000 and 2014 the U.S. admitted about 14 million new immigrants, while the population of U.S.-born workers increased by 16.4 million. Nevertheless, “all net employment gains went to immigrant workers” rather than to American-born workers.

...A Senate Judiciary hearing run by Grassley and Sessions highlighted rampant abuses in the H-1B program. Fired American workers were forced to train their own foreign replacements. This is not what Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg likes to call the race for global “talent.” The new foreign workers were less skilled in terms of experience and education than the Americans they replaced. Further, Computerworld has revealed how fired American IT workers are “silenced” and kept from publicly complaining by the tech companies, which force them to sign non-disparagement agreements or lose severance pay and the chance of reemployment.

Worst of all, Silicon Valley moguls have conspired in anti-market, anti-competitive, monopolistic practices to keep their employees’ wages down. The New York Times reported that federal judge Lucy Koh declared that the executives of seven major Silicon Valley companies (Apple, Google, Adobe, Intel, two Disney subsidiaries, and Intuit) were engaged in “an overarching conspiracy” against their own employees. E-mails revealed that top executives, including Eric Schmidt of Google and the late Steve Jobs of Apple, were personally involved in “no-poaching” arrangements in which the tech oligarchs agreed not to recruit each other’s employees with offers of higher wages. The purpose of the conspiracy was to stagnate the wages of 64,000 employees, who then filed a $3 billion class-action law suit to recoup their wage losses under antitrust laws. Put bluntly, the actions of the tech oligarchs could be described as deliberately “hollowing out the middle class.” In the end, the tech companies paid $415 million to end the suit.

American voters have perceived Republicans as being too close to Big Business. This widely held view certainly contributed to the hemorrhaging of working- and middle-class support for Mitt Romney in 2012. Conservative populism offers a different message. Law professor Glenn Reynolds, a pro-free-market blogger, argues that the tech industry’s wage-suppressing conspiracy offers an “appealing target” for Republicans. Reynolds reminds his readers that the tech oligarchs have been “big donors to the Democratic Party for years.” Commenting on Byron York’s description of Silicon Valley’s treatment of American IT workers, Reynolds declares, “There’s a big campaign issue here, if the GOP can bring itself to say something negative about big corporations.” Gallup reported recently that only 7 percent of Americans agree with Big Business that legal immigration should be increased, while 39 percent favor cutting legal immigration. As Jeffrey Anderson pointed out in the Weekly Standard, that’s a 5.5 to 1 ratio. Good enough for political work.

The conservative populist agenda is, indeed, an “echo” of an earlier time, but not in the sense that the New York Times had in mind. What Jeff Sessions wrote in his April 2015 Washington Post op-ed is similar to the recommendations of the Barbara Jordan immigration commission of the mid 1990s.

Sessions wrote: “What we need now is immigration moderation: slowing the pace of new arrivals so that wages can rise, welfare rolls can shrink and the forces of assimilation can knit us all more closely together.”

Twenty years ago, the Jordan commission recommended “modest reductions in levels of immigration to about 550,000 per year, comparable to those of the 1980s.”

Like the conservatives Jeff Sessions and Scott Walker, liberal icon Barbara Jordan was a patriot, who emphasized putting the economic interests of American workers at the center of immigration policy. Contrary to some hysterical responses to Sessions and Walker, no one today (nor anyone serious in the past) is (or was) talking about ending legal immigration; they simply advocate reasonable reductions. The Jordan commission’s report resulted in immigration legislation proposed by Representative Lamar Smith and Senator Alan Simpson (R., Wyo.) that would have cut legal immigration by about one-third, or back to Reagan-era levels, reversing the 1990 increase backed by George H. W. Bush.

The Jordan–Smith–Simpson project was derailed by a Republican coalition of Big Business lobbyists (wanting cheaper labor) and Jack Kemp–style utopians (who waxed lyrical about increasing immigration). Barbara Jordan became seriously ill and soon died; President Clinton, who had originally favored cutting legal immigration, changed his mind; and the initiative failed. Twenty years later, we are stuck with the fruits of the anti-Jordan victory: wage stagnation and a weakening of the American working and middle classes.

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