Smoke and Mirrors 2

[This was originally posted one year ago next week. It seems timely again.   I’ve made some changes and additions to reflect today’s reality, but it has held up pretty well.]

Sometimes I wonder what the hell people are thinking.  I know; I know; I’m supposed to be nice, and I’m supposed to be politically correct and I’m supposed to be tolerant, but really?  When people post pictures of a stone wall started in the 7th century BC and tout it as a solution to a 21st century immigration issue, I have to wonder what alien plague has taken over their brains.

Look, people, it’s not possible.  Even a cursory amount of research will show you that it isn’t possible just from a geographical point of view.  On top of that, according to Eric Olson, associate director of the Latin American program at the non-partisan Wilson Center, “From a security standpoint, it really is not an intelligent solution.”

Of course it isn’t an intelligent solution, but here’s Donald Trump still promising to build it for you and get Mexico to pay for it, too.  And some of you people still believe this crap.

We live in a world of satellites and drones and laser weapons, and Donny Drumph wants to spend tens of billions of dollars to build a wall across four states, across Indian land, across wildlife sanctuaries, across rancher’s properties (southern ranchers, by the way, the ones so cooperative with the federal government) and across rivers and streams?  And you think he can do that?  Just because he says so?

As I said, I know I’m supposed to be nice, and I know that you’re not stupid, but that’s just a stupid idea.

Why am I even talking about it?

Are you familiar with the term “low information voter?”  That’s a term political operatives use to describe those members of the electorate who really don’t know anything about the reality of politics and economics (and maybe a few other things as well) and who most likely won’t take the time to educate themselves, either.  The Republican Party actively targets this portion of the electorate.

No one would voluntarily identify as a low information voter.  That’s like saying, “Hello, I’m gullible, please mislead me.”

Even I found it difficult to believe how the conservative movement has institutionalized its efforts to manipulate this segment of the electorate.

David Frum is a political commentator and an editor at the Atlantic Magazine.  He was a speech writer in the Bush (W) administration and he is often not happy with where the conservative movement has gone today.

“Over the past two decades,” he says, “conservatism has evolved from a political philosophy into a market segment. An industry has grown up to serve that segment—and its stars have become the true thought leaders of the conservative world. The business model of the conservative media is built on two elements: provoking the audience into a fever of indignation (to keep them watching) and fomenting mistrust of all other information sources (so that they never change the channel).

“…Backed by their own wing of the book-publishing industry and supported by think tanks that increasingly function as public-relations agencies, conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, and its own laws of economics. Outside this alternative reality, the United States is a country dominated by a strong Christian religiosity. Within it, Christians are a persecuted minority. Outside the system, President Obama—whatever his policy ­errors—is a figure of imposing intellect and dignity. Within the system, he’s a pitiful nothing, unable to speak without a teleprompter, an affirmative-action ­phony doomed to inevitable defeat. Outside the system, social scientists worry that the U.S. is hardening into one of the most rigid class societies in the Western world, in which the children of the poor have less chance of escape than in France, Germany, or even England. Inside the system, the U.S. remains (to borrow the words of Senator Marco Rubio) “the only place in the world where it doesn’t matter who your parents were or where you came from.”” [1]

And the target of this alternative reality is the population of low information voters.

Add to that the lengths the Republican Party is willing to go to succeed in “winning,” (not to mention their definition of “winning”) and you have a truly frightening scenario.

Mike Lofgren is a former Republican congressional staff member who served on both the House and Senate budget committees.  He wrote the following in 2011:

“A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director (emphasis mine – Ed) told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption.  Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress’s generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.” [2]

It worked.  Congressional approval is now 12- 15% – an all-time low.

It is clear, however, that the Republican leadership had no interest in furthering the interests of the country or its people when they embarked on this course of political action.  They literally engaged in actions contrary to the interests of the very country they were sworn to uphold in order to win future elections!  And the Republican leadership did that as a conscious policy.

If you are limited to the alternate reality world spun by the conservative media, rely on data provided by conservative “foundations,” and take everything your like-minded friends share on the internet at face value, you will never hear a word about this sort of thing.  And if you have been a victim of their fomentation of mistrust, you won’t believe it now that it is being pointed out to you.  You are hooked.  You cannot shake the lure, much like the respondents in the new Public Policy Poll.

In that poll which came out the other day (Sept, 2015), 66% of Republicans who support Donald Trump believe President Obama is a Muslim.  Only 21% of those same voters believe the president was born in the US.  Perhaps even more amazingly, 40% of those voters believe Ted Cruz was born in the US when he has never denied the fact he was born in Canada.  These folks have swallowed the alternative reality hook, line, and sinker.

Now, take the whole immigration “crisis.”  There are legitimate immigration issues that need to be addressed and that, in fact, could have been addressed two years ago.

The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 was passed by the Senate.   Written by the so-called “Gang of Eight,” four Democrats and four Republicans, this bill would have revamped immigration law.  It established a path to citizenship over a period of 13 years with substantial security benchmarks that would have to be met along the way for millions of undocumented workers (but not all), devoted previously unknown levels of resources to border security, and required a mandatory workplace verification system for employers that would have ensured that no illegal worker took an American job.

All Senate Republican leaders opposed the bill which still passed with amazing bi-partisan support, 68-32.

The bill was never taken up in the House.

Marco Rubio, one of the authors of that bill, subsequently revoked his support for it.  Other Republican presidential candidates who once favored the bill also have changed their minds.  Chris Christie and Scot Walker were for it before they were against it.  Why?

The simple, unadorned answer is that it doesn’t fit the overall Republican plan to retake the white house.  It isn’t provocative, it isn’t divisive, and it is something that could be seen as a “victory” by liberals and another feather in Obama’s cap, and the last thing the Republican leadership can have is that because “he’s an affirmative-action ­phony doomed to inevitable defeat.”

Instead, the alternative reality machine has created an immigration crisis and pumps out misinformation to the low information voters on a daily basis.

We hear that immigrants are streaming across the Mexican border at unprecedented rates.  Actually, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, part of the prestigious Pew Research Center, migration from Mexico has come to a “virtual standstill.”[3] Overall, foreign-born residents of this country (legal and otherwise) constitute about 12 percent of the population.  In 1900 that number was 20% and probably included many of our great-grandparents. [4] Why the crisis now?

But it’s costing this country a fortune in free health care and food stamps is another lament of the alternative reality machine which you hear all the time.

The only benefit an illegal is entitled to is emergency medical care.  Period.   Hospitals are not allowed to refuse service to anyone.  Do you really want to have to produce your passport to receive care after an auto accident?  “Undocumented immigrants do not qualify for welfare, food stamps, Medicaid, and most other public benefits.  Most of these programs require proof of legal immigration status and under the 1996 welfare law; even legal immigrants cannot receive these benefits until they have been in the United States for more than five years.” [5] So why the crisis now?

But they live here and take advantage of our schools and they pay no taxes.   Really?  If you buy food, you pay taxes.  If you pay rent, you pay taxes.  If you buy a home, you pay taxes.  “Collectively, they paid an estimated $10.6 billion to state and local taxes in 2010, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), a research organization that works on tax policy issues.” [6]  That’s 10.6 billion dollars more than Boeing, GE, and Verizon paid, combined, between 2008 1nd 2011 in federal taxes.

“According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), unauthorized immigrants — who are not eligible to receive Social Security benefits — have paid an eye-popping $100 billion into the fund over the past decade.”

“They are paying an estimated $15 billion a year into Social Security with no intention of ever collecting benefits,” Stephen Goss, chief actuary of the SSA told CNNMoney. “Without the estimated 3.1 million undocumented immigrants paying into the system, Social Security would have entered persistent shortfall of tax revenue to cover payouts starting in 2009,” he said. [7]

Tell me again how illegal immigrants are draining the resources of this country.

The conservative media, of course, will tell you not to trust any of those figures.  In fact, the most recent push from the conservative media is to get you to distrust the award-winning fact-checking sites like and Politifact.  Facts are inconvenient truths and should be shunned.  And if you are a low information voter, they are just too much trouble anyway.

But those illegals bring crime!  They’re not good people.  They’re rapists and criminals!

Trump paraded the families of people killed by illegal immigrants across the stage at his “immigration speech.”  These cases are well-documented and tragic.  But if he had decided to parade the families of people killed by toddlers in the last few years, there wouldn’t have been enough room!

“Nationally, since 1994, the violent crime rate has declined 34 percent and the property crime rate has fallen 26 percent, even as the number of undocumented immigrants has doubled.   According to the conservative Americas Majority Foundation, crime rates during the period 1999–2006 were lowest in states with the highest immigration growth rates. During that period the total crime rate fell 14 percent in the 19 top immigration states, compared to only 7 percent in the other 31. Truth is, foreign-born people in America—whether they are naturalized citizens, permanent residents or undocumented—are incarcerated at a much lower rate than native-born Americans, according to the National Institute of Corrections.” [8]

So…no… wrong again.  While anyone can find a case or two to parade across the media and the internet that is the opposite of a trend, that doesn’t negate the facts.

Well what about those anchor babies?  Huh?  How about them?  We’re going to have to rewrite the constitution to get rid of those anchor babies!

It is true that a child born on US soil is a US citizen (in most cases – there are exceptions).   And it is also true that as a US citizen, that child is entitled to certain benefits.  But it isn’t all that easy.

And it isn’t going to help the parents all that much.  In order for an anchor baby to sponsor their parents for citizenship the parents have to wait until the child is 21 and return home for at least ten years. The child could be enrolled in Medicaid, but the parents could not.  “Having a child can also help an undocumented parent qualify for relief from deportation, but only 4,000 unauthorized immigrants can receive such status per year, and the alien has to have been in the U.S. for at least 10 years.”  [9]

In fact, if a case goes to an immigration judge, having a child who is a citizen rarely makes a difference.  From July 2010 to September 2012, over 200,000 parents of US citizens were deported. [10]

But they are ruining our country!  They are… they are… here illegally!

Yes, they are here illegally.  About half of them came here legally, though, had good jobs, and their visas expired.  They didn’t come here to rape and pillage.  They didn’t come here to squat just north of the Rio Grande and pop out a citizen and then swim back to Mexico.  But we do have to find a way to deal with the issue.  If the 2013 Immigration Act had become law, we could have turned them into a tax resource worth $175 billion in the first 10 years and $700 billion by the second decade.

And some of them have purchased forged papers that make them look like citizens so they take advantage of citizen rights and benefits.  But the number is much smaller than the conservative media would have you believe, and that’s not an immigration problem.  That’s a law enforcement problem.

We have all the laws we need to deal with forgery, fraud, and over-stayed visas.  Congress keeps cutting funding to enforcing those laws, but they are there.  If something is illegal, then there are laws that make it so.  Enforce them.  All of those who perpetrated the 9/11 terrorist attack, the worst attack on the US since Pearl Harbor, were in the US on valid US visas.

The elements in our society who thrive on nationalist, white supremacist ideology have lurked just under the surface of our daily lives for a very long time.  They emerged to oppose the immigration to our country of Catholics in the 1800’s just as they oppose Muslims now.  They emerged to oppose the Irish, the Italians, and Chinese, and just about every other significant immigrant nationality.  They have found a hero in Donald Trump and he has found votes in them.

In his first hour in office, he will eliminate all the bad people who will rape and kill you in your beds.  And if you believe that, you must believe in the magical wall.

We don’t need a wall.  We don’t need to change constitution.

We don’t unless you believe the conservative alternative reality machine with all its smoke and mirrors; unless you are one of those low information voters who really believe that the Luxor hotel just vanished in front of your eyes.

You can choose to educate yourself, think critically, and value things like facts and science or you can allow yourself to believe in the magic and fairytales told by an ideological machine that set out to purposely dupe you and a candidate who is using white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the most low information voters we have seen in modern times to further his own goals.

Your Humble Servant,

Roger A. Shipley, the Willowbrook Curmudgeon


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2 thoughts on “Smoke and Mirrors 2

  1. In addition to the facts you present, there is an additional long-term benefit from immigrants: the solvency of Social Security Insurance. Several years ago I attended a speech by an economist at Emory University on the topic of future trends. One of the points he made was that, because the established middle and upper-class in the US now has such a low birth rate and thus our population is skewing much older, and because the SSI contributions had not been invested to cover future benefits payouts but instead had been spent on other government programs as the contributions came in, the solvency of Social Security depends on contributions of young working immigrants and on their working children as they come of age. Viewed in economic terms, immigrants are a protection against the aging of our population. Not to mention all the service jobs directly related to the care required by that older population. Many nations in Western Europe – where, until recently, immigration was not as common as it has been in the US – are facing serious economic and workforce issues because of the aging of the population.

    In a moral sense, I have been outraged for a long time at the right-wing efforts to keep the citizenry ignorant in order to retain or gain power. Their reduced funding for education and healthcare, the diversion of funds from local government schools to private charter schools (which in many states have little to no oversight), as well as their efforts to remove science from the curriculum and manipulate the teaching of history in the public schools — all these are cynical ploys to keep the population undereducated and manipulable.

    Now tech firms are lamenting that they can’t find enough young people with the skills they need, and yet they take advantage of low corporate tax rates that reduce the ability of local schools, technical colleges and public universities to educate and train the very workers they need. The collusion of corporations and Republicans has created an imbalance in opportunity that is now affecting the corporations’ abilities to grow their bottom line.

    However, we the people bear some responsibility too. The pervasive impatience and focus on instant gratification has contributed to the situation. Stockholders and voters need to apply common sense and develop a longer view of what benefits us as a society and as individuals. As long as leadership — in government and business –believe that they cannot afford to act for long term good because their stocks will tank and they will be ousted or they won’t be re-elected, they won’t have the motivation to do so. We also need to get away from passionate adherence to single issue voting. There are many other ways we can help improve the whole political climate, but I have gone on too long already.

    Thanks for your thoughtful and thought-provoking posts. There are no quick and easy solutions, but those of us who care about the big picture need to keep communicating as much as we can.


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