Political Reform, Politics

For the People or the Elite? – The Good

The best parts of the For The People Act are found mainly in the section called the DISCLOSE Act, which plugs various holes in our campaign finance reform laws. In particular, the act attempts to roll back the pernicious effects of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and the effects of undisclosed dark money in political campaigns by requiring any entity spending more than $10,000 per election to disclose all donors who gave above $1,000.  Corporate political contributions outside of registered PACs would have to be approved by shareholders.  Candidates would have to immediately disclose any contribution above $5,000 received in the 20-days before an election.  It also controls coordination between super-PACs and candidates by, for example, providing that if the staff of a Super-PAC has any actual tie to a candidate, it will be considered a coordinated expenditure and thus subject to the limits applicable to the candidate’s committee.  Finally, HR 1 would change the structure of the Federal Election Commission to reduce the Commission from six to five members but provide that no more than two can be from one party. This practically means one must be an independent.  Members would be picked from a group vetted by a blue-ribbon panel. To control any bias in their actions, the act provides for stronger judicial review of FEC enforcement decisions, including decisions to dismiss a complaint without investigation.

It also should be noted that the act would more closely regulate websites like this one. Specifically, if a website mentioned a federal candidate within 20 days of the election, it would be required to fully disclose its ownership. To comply with this requirement, I have expanded the disclosure about the ownership of the site in the “About – The Editor” page of this side to include my address.

HR 1 also controls foreign influence in our elections by authorizing new civil and criminal penalties for violations of the Foreign Agent Registration Act. It would be clear that foreign agent includes an agent for a foreign business. It also requires voting machine manufacturers be owned or controlled by U.S. citizens and report cyber-security incidents.

Ethical guidelines for members of Congress and the executive branch would also be strengthened under the act.  Government officials would be required to refrain from participating in matters in which a prior employer had an interest. It reduces the revolving door between business and government by increasing the cooling-off period before a former official can lobby his previous agency from one to two years. It also outlaws a disturbing practice of private sector bonuses to employees who join the government, an especially common practice in the financial services industry. Finally, congressmembers will be required to reimburse the Treasury for any awards or settlements for employment discrimination suits against them.

Even the controversial voter registration and voter integrity sections of the bill contain some important protections. First, it requires states to share voter registration information to reduce duplicate cross- state registrations.  A voluntary system for this already exists called the Electronic Registration Information Center.  It also prohibits the deceptive practices regarding the time, place, and manner of voting. Duplicate paper ballots and risk-limiting audits of election results would be used as a check against the reliability of electronic machines.  A risk-limiting audit is a process whereby officials manually recount enough paper ballots to ensure the electronic tally is correct. Finally, the bill requires an early voting period for two weeks prior to the general election and would make Election Day itself a national holiday, thus encouraging citizens to become involved in the election process other than simply by voting.

These changes would help realize Theodore Roosevelt’s goal of reducing the influence of special interest money in our elections and making them more fair and accurate. However, the act could have been much better. In the next post, I will discuss the bad of the Act; that is, the provisions that would damage the election process but could be reformed or improved to still achieve it.

Domestic Policy, Immigration

Immigration – The New Slavery

19th-century New York City tenement dwellers escaping the heat

If I could I would have the kind of restriction which would not allow any immigrant to come here unless I was content that his grandchildren would be fellow-citizens of my grandchildren. They will not be so if he lives in a boarding house at $2.50 per month with ten other boarders and contracts tuberculosis and contributes to the next generation a body of citizens inferior not only morally and spiritually but also physically.”

Speech to the National Americanization Committee, February 1, 1916

This quotation from Theodore Roosevelt came only 50 years after the end of the Civil War – a war fought to end America’s original sin of African–American slavery.  It echoes Abraham Lincoln’s famous quote “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master”.  Lincoln and TR knew the temporary benefits of exploitation of an underclass weakened the nation in the long run, both morally and economically.

Yet our current lax immigration system shows we have still not learned this lesson. By failing to effectively enforce the immigration laws for the last 30 years, the federal government has created a new and perpetually renewing socioeconomic underclass.  We essentially have a de facto policy of importing foreigners to perform work for wages below the likely prevailing wage for Americans and with no practical recourse for violations of basic laws governing wages and working conditions.  It is a system that smacks of slavery and betrays our values as Americans. 

This exploitation is not confined to low-wage blue-collar jobs. The H1B visa program has been abused by high-tech and other industries to keep the wages of IT technical workers down by bringing in cheaper workers from Asia and elsewhere and then discriminating against those workers after they are hired.  This often leaves them with high student debt or other expenses and no way to pay it off without postponing for years such basic goals as a family and home ownership.   

The conventional justification for this policy is that companies cannot find Americans who will work at these supposedly low class, inferior jobs. Many who make these arguments claim to be advocates of free market economics. They conveniently overlook the most basic rule of supply-and- demand economics; i.e, that while changes in personal preference can change the equilibrium point on the supply-demand curve, there is always a price at which supply will meet the demand.  In short, as a Federal Reserve Board President pointed out, they can solve the problem by paying more.  Instead, they believe certain jobs have an inherent value that is lower than what the market will bear and it is the government’s job to reduce their wages to this assumed inherent value.  The result has made it more difficult for all workers at the lower end of the labor spectrum to climb the ladder of success and achieve the American dream. 

The recent influx of Central Americans has provided a new source of laborers and a new rationalization for allowing their entry – their potential status as refugees.  Advocates of refugee status for Central Americans ask us to sympathize with them because of the unrest and high murder and crime rates in those countries.  Here are the 2017 homicide rates in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador compared to the same statistic for the deadliest American cities during the same period:

2017 US Major City Murder Rates vs. Central America (per 100,000)

  • El Salvador 81.2
  • St. Louis 66.1
  • Honduras 59
  • Baltimore 55.8
  • Detroit 39.8
  • New Orleans. 39.5
  • Baton Rouge 38.3
  • Guatemala  27.3

Sources: Pew Research Center; Council on Foreign Relations

Thus, the advocates of granting refugee status are offering to “shelter” these immigrants by settling them in a country with crime rates that are often worse than the countries they are fleeing from.  Their sympathy for crime victims seems to end at the other side of the American border.

Our high national debt and urgent domestic needs means redistributive taxation cannot solve this inequity.  First, the 11 million immigrants who have lived and worked in the shadows with our implicit consent need to be given legal status and an eventual opportunity for citizenship. We then must say “never again” to such exploitation by adopting strict new limits on immigration and effective enforcement mechanisms. Annual immigration limits should be enacted that are inversely related to the unemployment rate.  The higher the unemployment rate, the lower the immigration limit. Employers should be required to use the E-verify system to insure their workers are here legally. Far from creating more paperwork, it simply would require companies continue to report the social security numbers of new hires as they currently do for withholding tax purposes.

The border needs to be secured, but the best way is with an adequately funded Border Patrol that has sufficient resources to interdict both illegal immigrants and drug smugglers (see this article by a retired agent about the current reality).   We also need more immigration judges and facilities that are flexible enough to quickly adjudicate immigration issues. 

In the end, the most effective and humane way to prevent illegal immigration is to help Mexico and our Central American neighbors control the violence and create more economic opportunity in their countries.  Mexico has begged us for years to stop the exportation of American guns arming the drug gangs against the military. We should set an example of border control and do so. President Trump has failed to fund Obama Administration programs to fight violence and rebuild civil society in Central America.  We should fully fund and expand those programs if we are serious about protecting their citizens and encouraging them to stay in and develop their home countries.

Ending this new slavery will not be easy. Our economy has been built on this exploitation for decades. However, end it we must if we are to be true to our values and secure an opportunity for the American Dream for all Americans.

Domestic Policy, Environment

Theodore Roosevelt and Climate Change

Theodore Roosevelt’s devotion to the preservation of American natural resources is legendary.  The challenge of climate change speaks to the depths of and potential conflicts between TR’s interests in conservation, social justice and national security.  While it is always risky to speculate about how a historical figure would deal with current issues, applying his philosophy to the problem may be helpful as we develop the national consensus necessary to address the issue.

First, as one of the foremost natural scientists of his day whose works are still used as references, TR would have accepted the basic science of global warming and been alarmed by its effect on forests and the environment.   He would have had nothing but contempt for climate change deniers. Indeed, he probably would have come up with one of his pithy insults to describe them.   

At the same time, his sympathy for the common man and inherent nationalism would cause him to bristle at the idea that Americans should bear the primary sacrifice of reducing world carbon emissions.  The man who rode with poor cowboys and led them up Kettle and San Juan Hills would have remembered the average American’s sacrifices to win two world wars, defeat communism, and build an international system that lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty.  He would not ask them for further sacrifices without being able to assure them with a straight face that others were sacrificing equally.

However, as a student of international relations dedicated to keeping America safe and strong, he would know he could not make that kind of guarantee while China and the rest of the world continued to increase their rate of emissions.   The man who foresaw the rise of Japan would have understood the desire of these nations to develop their economies and gain respect in the international community, as I discussed in a previous post.  He would hesitate to embark on an international crusade to force them to reduce carbon emissions if it would significantly damage American national security and create an equally damaging economic upheaval at home.

So how would he have reconciled these conflicting priorities?

Conservation is a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty of insuring the safety and vitality of the nation.

Theodore Roosevelt, The New Nationalism, August 31, 1910

Because of Roosevelt, America led the world in natural resource conservation. He would have expected it to do so again on a threat like climate change, but only to the extent other nations were willing to follow.  He would remember it was China and the developing world, not the United States, that insisted the limits in the Paris Accords be voluntary and unenforceable.  The agreement was a start, not a sacred totem, that bound the United States no more than other signatories. Instead, it freed us to negotiate as the great power we are to develop more stringent limits that were enforceable.  TR would have pushed carbon emission limits in bilateral trade and other agreements with China and other leading nations.  In particular, he would not have entered into the Obama Administration’s climate agreement with China that allowed them to avoid any real limits on their emissions until 2030, effectively ceding economic leadership to them for the next decade.

Nevertheless, he would have insisted it was our moral duty to reduce America’s emissions as much as possible.  In addition to phasing out coal generation plants, he would have pushed for stringent leak detection systems on energy facilities, though he would not have sought the immediate end to oil & gas production because of the economic shock it would cause.  Roosevelt would have been a fan of distributed electric generation in the form of rooftop and small solar and hydrogen fuel cell units, mainly because they give the common man, not corporations, control of a family’s energy supply.   Any mandates and subsidies for preferred clean energy sources would have come with corresponding utility-style rate and quality of service regulation of those industries to prevent excess profits. Displaced workers would be re-trained and new clean energy companies would have been expected to hire them at decent wages. Hopefully, these initiatives would have been accomplished through congressional legislation, though TR would not have hesitated to use the “bully pulpit” of the presidency and executive power to achieve them if necessary. 

All of this would have been contingent on the effect on the American family and our national and economic security, even if it extended the goal of carbon neutrality another few decades.  Carbon reduction goals would have been calibrated to the reductions of other nations to insure the American people were not carrying too much of the load.  The “big stick” of tariffs and other trade sanctions would always be available for use against willfully profligate countries, but it would have been used only when it did not damage other national security goals.  

These limitations, however, would have caused the scientist and political realist in Roosevelt to reluctantly admit that the Paris Accord’s goal of reducing the increase of global temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius was unattainable.  To protect both our resources and our people, adapting America to global warming would have been his highest priority.  In addition to flood control and other infrastructure projects to protect communities from future sea rise and temperature changes, federal funding would have been made available to move people to safer ground.  Agricultural research would concentrate on developing crops that could withstand higher temperatures.  Smart, energy–efficient construction would be required so long as the average family could still afford their own home.  Some of these programs already exist, but they would have been a central plank in any Roosevelt political platform.

Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us, and training them into a better race to inhabit the land and pass it on.

Theodore Roosevelt’s career proves that responding to climate change is not just a globalist mantra.  It is an American nationalist issue that affects our own economic and national security.  Nationalist solutions exist that meet the future needs of the American people without enslaving us to globalist guilt or greed.  They are not without sacrifice, but the preservation of our independence and the American Dream for ourselves and our children are worth it.