Politics versus Policy in the New “Public Charge” Rules

On August 12, the Trump administration announced new rules for immigrants seeking permanent residence status (through issuance of a “green card”)  in the United States. Those rules apply a longstanding prohibition on immigrants likely to become “public charges” (that is, dependent on government benefits) to  applicants who have received certain of those government benefits — among them Medicaid, SNAP (“food stamps”), and housing assistance — for more than 12 months.

The politics of the move are obvious: Trump is throwing more red meat to his anti-immigration “base.” The new rules are of a piece with his border wall project and high-profile ICE raids on workplaces where undocumented immigrants are employed. They’re not intended to solve a problem. They’re intended to keep his voters enthused as the 2020 election cycle heats up.

As actual policy, who can really complain? Well, some people can and will. But if the US government is going to regulate immigration at all (I don’t believe that it should, and the Constitution says it can’t), “pay your own way or go away” doesn’t sound like an unreasonable rule.

Interestingly, though, the policy conflicts with the politics. It discourages the “legal” immigration most Trump voters claim to be fine with, and encourages the “illegal” immigration he campaigned on a promise of “fixing.”

Suppose you are a would-be immigrant to the United States.

You can “get in line,” fill out forms, show up for meetings, submit to questioning, bust your hump meeting various requirements, and still find yourself turned away (or sent back) for any number of reasons.

Or you can walk across the border in the middle of the night and go to work, with a much lower chance of being found out, and sent back, than if you interacted with US immigration authorities.

Adding to the burden of the first approach doesn’t mean fewer immigrants. It just means that more immigrants will take the second approach.

Is that the outcome you signed up for, Trump voters?

Anti-immigration agitators fondly quote economist Milton Friedman: “[I]t is one thing to have free immigration to jobs. It is another thing to have free immigration to welfare. And you cannot have both.” The rule change is a sop to that sentiment. But it leaves out another thing Friedman said about what happens when we try to have both:

“Mexican immigration, over the border, is a good thing. It’s a good thing for the illegal immigrants. It’s a good thing for the United States. It’s a good thing for the citizens of the country. But, it’s only good so long as it’s illegal.”

If Americans want fewer “public charges,” the solution isn’t to single out immigrants for exclusion from government welfare benefits. It’s to eliminate, or at least drastically reduce and toughen  eligibility requirements for, those welfare benefits. For everyone, not just for people who happen to  hail from the “wrong” side of an imaginary line on the ground.

Two evils — immigration authoritarianism and welfare statism — do not add up to one good. We should ditch both.

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Sneering at “Conspiracy Theories” is a Lazy Substitute for Seeking the Truth

On the morning of August 10, a wealthy sex crimes defendant  was reportedly found dead in his cell at New York’s Metropolitan Correctional Center.

“New York City’s chief medical examiner,” the New York Times reported on August 11, “is confident Jeffrey Epstein died by hanging himself in the jail cell where he was being held without bail on sex-trafficking charges, but is awaiting more information before releasing her determination …”

That same day, the Times published an op-ed by Charlie Warzel complaining that “[e]ven on an internet bursting at the seams with conspiracy theories and hyperpartisanship, Saturday marked a new chapter in our post-truth, ‘choose your own reality’ crisis story.”

After three years of continuously beating the drum for its own  now-discredited conspiracy theory —  that the President of the United States conspired with Vladimir Putin’s regime to rig the 2016 presidential election — the Times doesn’t have much standing to whine about, or sneer at, “conspiracy theories and hyperpartisanship.”

Is Jeffrey Epstein really dead? If so, did he kill himself or was he murdered? If he was murdered, whodunit and why?

Those are legitimate questions. Calling everyone who asks them, or proposes possible answers to them, a “conspiracy theorist” isn’t an argument, it’s intellectual laziness.

Yes, some theories fit the available evidence better than others. And yes, some theories just sound crazy. If someone says a UFO beamed Epstein up, or that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump posed as corrections officers and personally strangled him, I suggest setting those claims aside absent very strong evidence.

But there are plenty of good  reasons to question the “official account.”

Yes, prisoners have committed suicide at federal jails and prisons. But prisoners have also escaped from, and been killed at, such facilities. In fact, notorious Boston gangster Whitey Bulger was murdered in a federal prison just last year.

Given Epstein’s wealth and power, the wealth and power of persons accused of serious crimes in recently unsealed court documents, the claim of one of his prosecutors that Epstein “belonged to” the US intelligence community, the well-established inability of the federal government to secure its facilities or prevent criminal activity inside those facilities (including the corruption of its own personnel), the equally well-established unreliability of claims made by government agencies and officials in general, and the already flowing stream of admissions that the Metropolitan Correctional Center’s procedures weren’t followed where Jeffrey Epstein was concerned, the question is not why “conspiracy theories” are circulating — it’s why on earth they WOULDN’T be.

No, I’m not saying that Epstein is alive and living it up in “witness protection,” or that he was murdered by a hit team on behalf of one of his “Lolita Express” cronies. I just don’t know. Neither, probably, do you. Nor do those screaming “conspiracy theory!” at every musing contrary to the suicide theory.

Maybe we’ll find out the truth someday. Maybe we won’t. Pretending we already have, and shouting down those who suggest we haven’t, isn’t a method of seeking knowledge. It’s a method of avoiding knowledge.

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Tweeting Publicly Available Information Isn’t “Shameful and Dangerous”

On August 5, US Representative Joaquin Castro (D-TX) posted an infographic to Twitter naming and shaming his city’s most generous supporters of President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign: “Sad to see so many San Antonians as 2019 maximum donors to Donald Trump …. Their contributions are fueling a campaign of hate that labels Hispanic immigrants as ‘invaders.’”

Condemnations quickly followed.

Donald Trump Jr. compared the tweet to the Dayton, Ohio killer’s “hit list.”

“Targeting and harassing Americans because of their political beliefs is shameful and dangerous,” tweeted House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), apparently forgetting the time he similarly targeted Democratic donors in the 2018 midterms.

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) played the sympathy card: “This isn’t a game. It’s dangerous, and lives are at stake. I know this firsthand.” Scalise was shot and wounded by a Bernie Sanders supporter in 2017.

US Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) called Castro’s tweet “grossly inappropriate” and characterized it as “encouraging retaliation.” While re-tweeting it.

Come on, Republicans. This isn’t even a tempest in a teapot. Castro didn’t “dox” anyone, nor did he call for, explicitly or implicitly, violence against anyone. His tweet included only public information  available to anyone with an Internet connection and a few minutes to waste.

Candidates for federal office are legally  required  to report the names, addresses, and occupations of everyone who donates $200 or more to their campaigns. Those names,  partial addresses, occupations, and amounts donated reside in a searchable database on the Federal Election Commission’s web site.

I personally don’t support these campaign finance laws. I think disclosure of donor information should be voluntary. I would be disinclined to vote for a candidate who concealed where his or her support came from, and hope other voters would as well, but I don’t believe that political speech in the form of campaign donations should be forcibly regulated in any way.

But whether I like it or not, campaign contributions are, by law, easily discovered public information, on the premise that we all have a right to know who’s giving money to which candidates … and to act accordingly (short of criminal violence) with respect to both those candidates and those donors.

And, let’s face it, someone who donates the maximum legal amount ($2,700) to a presidential candidate has an agenda. That agenda might be political (she supports the candidate’s ideas) or commercial (he’s trying to buy influence) or personal (they’re buddies or relatives). Whatever that agenda is, they’re putting real money into it.

If I know a local business owner or acquaintance donated to a candidate or cause I consider evil or dangerous, I may take my business elsewhere or not invite the donor to my next backyard barbecue. If I know a business owner or acquaintance supports the same candidates and causes I support, I might go out of my way to patronize that business or get to know the acquaintance better.

Those possibilities are just costs or opportunities of political donations. If you’re not proud of your agenda, keep your checkbook closed. “Problem” solved.

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Politics Makes People Stupid

I’ll say it again: Politics makes people STUPID!

I listened to someone defending and supporting Trump where they had to discard their life-long touted principles to do so. Just because they want to keep out “those people” and are grateful there’s no “President Hillary”. And perhaps because they like ritual human sacrifice. Disgusting and stupid.

Then I overheard some other people complaining about higher property “taxes” (ransom) and blaming Trump. What I didn’t hear was a reason beyond that they hate Trump so it must obviously be his fault rather than the fault of those who actually impose and collect the ransom, “or else”. Just so stupid.

Then you have other people begging government to violate their right to own and to carry weapons with “laws” because some evil losers who ignored “laws” murdered a bunch of people in places where the right to carry weapons was already thoroughly violated. Stupid, self-destructive, and evil.

Over and over, whenever politics becomes the topic of conversation, I see otherwise sensible people lose all their sense.

People believe politics is their Savior or their Satan– depending on their momentary focus. They even manage to hold both of these contradictory beliefs simultaneously. Crazy!

Politics is antisocial. It is the use of theft and aggression instead of cooperation and trade. Politics makes people stupid.

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Afghanistan: In Search of Monsters to Not Destroy

America, John Quincy Adams said in 1821, “goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” That’s as good a summary ever spoken of the non-interventionist position.

US Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) disagrees. He opposes President Trump’s quest for a peace agreement with the Taliban in Afghanistan as “reckless and dangerous,” entailing “severe risk to the homeland.”

Nearly 18 years  into the US occupation of Afghanistan, at a cost of  trillions of dollars, more than 4,000 Americans dead and more than 20,000 wounded, Graham and his fellow hawks clearly aren’t really looking for monsters to destroy.  They want those monsters alive and at large, to justify both their own general misrule and the perpetual flow of American blood and treasure into foreign soil (read: into the bank accounts of US “defense” contractors).

The US invasion of Afghanistan was never militarily necessary. The Taliban offered to hand over Osama bin Laden upon presentation of evidence that he was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, an offer President George W. Bush arrogantly declined in favor of war.

The extended US occupation of, and “nation-building” project in, Afghanistan, was even less justifiable. Instead of relentlessly pursuing the supposed mission of apprehending bin Laden and liquidating al Qaeda, US forces focused on toppling the Taliban, installing a puppet regime, and setting themselves to the impossible task of turning Kabul into Kokomo.

It hasn’t worked. It’s not working now. It’s not going to start working.  Ever. It should never have been attempted. Afghans don’t want Lindsey Graham running their affairs any more than you want him running yours. Can you blame them after as many as 360,000 Afghan civilian deaths?

Afghanistan is not and never has been a military threat to the United States, let alone the kind of existential threat that would justify 18 years of war. Yesterday isn’t soon enough to bring this fiasco to an end. But Graham and company would, given their way, drag it out forever.

They’re  the kind of grifters H.L. Mencken had in mind when he noted that “[t]he whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” But they’d rather keep old hobgoblins alive than have to manufacture new ones.

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Politicians Shouldn’t Be So Important

President Trump makes people crazy. Or maybe he magnifies the crazy already present in people. It’s like a superpower.

His supporters seem desperate to defend and support just about anything he does; even things they would have opposed had any other president done them — his anti-gun edicts, for example.

At the same time, his detractors foam at the mouth over every little thing he does; always interpreting them in the most negative way possible. It’s obvious he knows this and pokes them just to get an overreaction.

His critics see racism in everything he does. Yet, even one of the congressional economic illiterates he recently targeted admitted it had nothing to do with race. She said “If I was (sic) wearing a MAGA hat, if there was (sic) a Somali person wearing a MAGA hat, they would not be deported. But because I criticized the president, I should be deported.” You can’t be more clear about the real issue than this.

People on both sides — if you consider them different sides — are angry. They see the crazy on the other side and overlook their own.

Meanwhile, I watch, bewildered by the craziness I see all around me.

How can people let politicians become this important to their lives? Whether it’s a provocative president or a squad of trendy socialists, these people shouldn’t have any hold over you. It’s embarrassing to see people defending politicians from other politicians. It’s as though they take politicians seriously.

The insult game is part of what they signed up for when they decided to abandon the productive sector to become politicians. They knew what they were getting in to. Let them pull on their politician pants and get over it. Don’t let them drag you into it and get you upset over a game you aren’t playing.

There are important things for you to focus on. Political drama isn’t one of them.

Politicians can’t hurt you with their inconsiderate words about other politicians, but they can and will hurt you with laws. If you get upset over things they say about each other but want them to focus on making up new laws, you’re encouraging them to make life worse.

They distract you with their infighting while they attack your remaining liberty. This is how they win.

It is said of politics, “It’s a big club, and you aren’t in it.” This isn’t a bad thing. You don’t need their club, nor to lower yourself to their level. You’re better than that.

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