Meg Whitman, a candidate for governor of California and a frequent critic of employers who hire paper-challenged workers, found herself in a paper jam of her own this month. It was revealed that Ms. Whitman fired her long-time housekeeper in June 2009 after a belated discovery that she had been dusting chez Whitman for years without legal residency. The champion anti-immigration bloviator Lou Dobbs had similar paperwork problems at his 300-acre New Jersey estate and horse farm. An investigation by The Nation magazine turned up undocumented workers tending its grounds and horseflesh and no doubt ducking every time the self-appointed border watchman made his rounds. It is always great fun to catch public figures in glass estates, but the apparent hypocrisy about immigration is a less striking aspect of these gotcha news stories than what they reveal about our national bipolar disorder on illegal immigration.
The truth is that for decades the United States has tacitly accepted, even encouraged, the expansion of a vast undocumented labor force that now has a significant presence in virtually every U.S. industry and community—even in the homes and horse stalls of some of its fiercest antagonists. These workers cannot be “outsourced” back to their native countries without mass disruption to U.S. civic life and, of course, great suffering and more dislocation in their own lives. Despite overstuffed Dobbsian rhetoric, a more compassionate and rational approach—opening doors to legal immigration and legalizing workers in place—is the only practical way forward.
How can any self-described “deficit hawk” argue for an extension of President Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans? It defies reason and the economic evidence. Extending the tax cut for America’s highest earners, the top 2 percent, would withhold $700 billion from the federal government over 10 years. Tax revenue, of course, enables the government to pay down the deficit and to refrain from further borrowing. Yet for the last two years, the recession has caused federal tax revenues to drop even as demand for services like extended unemployment benefits, health care for children, increases in food stamps and aid to the states, for example, have increased. Who needs the money more—the nation’s wealthiest (who for eight years under President Bush received the largest cuts among taxpayers) or those who require government assistance? Already, the nation’s top 1 percent of taxpayers earn nearly a quarter (23.5 percent) of the nation’s total income. And within that, a tenth of one percent (0.1) earn 6 percent of the total.
That’s not all. Data from both the Reagan and Bush tax cuts for the wealthy show that top earners tend to save their excess, which does little to stimulate the economy. The other 98 percent of the population, by contrast, tend to spend their “extra” income because they can actually use the money. Such spending, spread across the country, would boost both the economy and citizens’ morale. If President Obama’s current plan proceeds without compromise, all but the top earners receive a tax cut, and earners from the top tier will be able to take a bow for helping reduce the deficit.
The political reach of the conservative Koch brothers is now well documented, thanks to Jane Mayer’s must-read exposé in The New Yorker. David and Charles Koch, the principal owners of Koch Industries Inc., a private energy company, have bankrolled numerous think tanks and political action groups, including Americans for Prosperity and Citizens for a Sound Economy, to advance their libertarian, free-market philosophy. The most troubling aspect of the Kochs’ activism, however, is their lobbying on environmental causes. Greenpeace alleges that Koch Industries is the “kingpin of climate change denial,” having funded several organizations working against energy legislation. In California Koch-funded entities are among those leading the fight for Proposition 23, a referendum that would suspend implementation of the state’s landmark climate-change bill of 2006. In response Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has rebuked Koch Industries and two Texas oil companies for meddling in local politics.
Prior to the publication of Ms. Mayer’s article, the Koch brothers may not have been called out by name; but her investigation has focused much-needed attention on how much influence one company can exercise in American politics. Unfortunately, in the wake of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission the political power of corporations will only grow. The clout of corporations will harmfully affect many areas of public life, but perhaps none more than the environment, where America’s immense energy companies will fight fiercely to protect their profit margins. There is little chance that Congress will step in to check their power before the mid-term elections; but perhaps, come November, the growing political muscle of corporations will focus legislators’ minds on the urgency of electoral finance reform.