Welcome to America, Where We Turn Away Orphans Out of Fear but Allow Suspected Terrorists to Buy Guns

This is the front page of today's New York Daily News.

This is the front page of today’s New York Daily News.

The American response to the terrorist attacks in Paris has been horrifying. This cowardly refusal to accept Syrian refugees has done real damage to the American ideal of accepting “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Only a handful of governors, including Jay Inslee, have responded to the attacks by opening their arms to Syrian refugees, and the rest have adopted an utterly un-Christian stance of fear and hatred. On the right, presidential candidates have demanded (unconstitutional) tests to “prove” Christianity before refugees are allowed in the US. President Obama, meanwhile, has rightfully mocked anti-refugee protesters of being “worried about three-year-old orphans.” Max Fisher at Vox looked at six ways the anti-refugee rhetoric fails to reflect reality. For one thing, governors can’t legally refuse refugees. For another, America vets its refugees very well. For a third, the Parisian attackers authorities have identified up until now have not been Syrian refugees.

Even worse, many of the same people who refuse to accept refugees have actively fought against policies that would help keep guns out of the hands of terrorists. Today the New York Daily News reported:

The NRA — and their gun-loving Republican cohorts — are refusing once more to stop terrorists intent on getting armed in the U.S.A.

A legal loophole allows suspected terrorists on the government’s no-fly list to legally buy guns, but a bill to fix that will likely wither on the vine. The federal Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act, even in the wake of last week’s terrorist killing of 129 people in Paris, remains a long shot due to its rabid pro-gun opponents.

The News goes on to report, “more than 2,000 suspects on the FBI’s Terrorist Watchlist bought weapons in the U.S. over the last 11 years.” So while Americans fall over themselves trying to deny citizenship to a group of people based on religious grounds, they fail to support actual legislation that could keep weapons out of the hands of terrorists.

This is all backwards thinking. For a moment, let’s set aside the fact that it’s morally right to accept refugees. It’s also economically smart to accept refugees. America’s economy is successful because we’re a diverse nation, one that welcomes a variety of perspectives. As Nick Hanauer wrote here in September:

Innovation is an evolutionary process and, just like in the biological world, diversity is the key to evolution. The more cognitive diversity we have—the more people simultaneously approaching the same problem from as many different backgrounds and perspectives as possible—the greater the rate of innovation. It’s not how hard you try; it’s how many different ways you try to solve a problem that leads to success. Innovation is driven by differences, not sameness.

The evidence is clear: diversity does not hinder growth—it supercharges it. That has always been America’s competitive advantage: we have the most diverse workforce in the world, and for all our problems, we do a better job of integrating diversity than anyone else. Diversity is America’s most valuable resource; it is what makes us the most innovative nation on Earth.

Need more proof that diversity spurs innovation? Consider one of the most famous men of the last twenty years, who happened to be the son of a Syrian migrant. How many future innovators are we turning away out of nothing more than base fear? How many of our other policies are failing us even as the most timid Americans slap together hypotheticals to form a nonsensical refugee system based on nothing more than hearsay? This has not been a good week to be an American.

Gov. Jay Inslee stands up against anti-refugee bigotry

Jay Inslee made a bold and morally brave statement earlier this week, declaring that “Washington will continue to be a state that welcomes those seeking refuge from persecution, regardless of where they come from or the religion they practice.” He scolded over half of the nation’s governors who have publicly stated they do not want refugees in their states, calling such language “of little value except to divide people and foment intolerance.”

Today, Inslee defended his position to NPR: “I think that our nation is tested from time to time, and I think this is one of those times to really dig deep and see what kind of charter our nation and my state has. I’ve always believed my state and the country has always been a place of refuge for those who have been persecuted…”

During the interview, Inslee said he understands the criticism that has been directed his way, claiming, “Fear is a powerful thing and these atrocities strike deep…but I think leadership calls for people to yes, recognize it’s real and act responsibly.”

Inslee pointed out that America has not always been able to overcome the “dark impulses” which fear and death bring about. Specifically, he spoke out about his own state’s experience of “locking up Washington and American citizens” and by that he means when the federal government sent Japanese Americans to internment camps. He noted that during this dark time in our nation’s history, “we lost moorage of who we are as a country.”

You can listen to the full interview here.

Pramila Jayapal: “Language and names matter in signaling that our public lands are for everyone.”

Over at Slog, Washington state Senator (and Civic Skunk Works contributor) Pramila Jayapal notes that today, finally, the National Parks Service is expected to approve a very important name change. For eight years, Washington state residents have fought to change the offensive names of Coon Lake and Coon Creek in the North Cascades National Park to Howard Lake and Howard Creek. She applauds the change to the new names, which honors the history of the land, but she acknowledges that this isn’t enough. She calls for…

…the National Park Service to use its [centennial] anniversary as an opportunity to unveil a new platform for inclusion. Data show that just 22 percent of NPS’s annual visitors are minorities, where almost 37 percent of America’s population is now minority. The NPS platform for inclusion should lay out plans to increase representation of people of color within the park service employees and to have targeted outreach to communities of color to encourage their usage of our natural treasures. Diverse representation creates a bridge to communities who might not otherwise see themselves in certain environments or feel culturally understood.

The thing about inclusion is that it can be hard work. It involves scouring institutions for unwelcoming or exclusionary policies and features. It means reaching out to communities that you may not know. But once you’ve successfully created a diverse environment, the rewards that diversity bring more than make up for the effort. Please go read the essay and think about ways you can make your world a little more inclusive.

Voting is power: A conversation with Ari Berman about the struggle for voting rights in America

The Nation contributing writer Ari Berman’s excellent new book Give Us the Ballot tracks the history of voting rights in America from the 1950s to today. No less a civil rights giant than Congressman John Lewis calls Berman’s history a “must-read” that “should become a primer for every American” on the topic of voting equality. (Lewis, of course, figures heavily into Ballot’s narrative.) This Friday, Berman appears in conversation with Supreme Court Justice Steven Gonzalez at Town Hall to talk about the state of voting rights nationally and in Washington State.


Berman freely admits he’s not an expert in Washington state voting law, but his research into the history of voting in America provides him with a unique perspective into what works and what doesn’t work. Washington’s vote-by-mail system was pitched as a way to increase voter turnout, but we’re still looking at some remarkably bad voting attendance here. As of yesterday,just 15.2 percent of King County voters had turned in their ballots, and turnout might stall at an astonishingly bad 40 percent when all the ballots are in. Is there any way to improve those numbers?“I think turnout is always low for municipal elections, and I’m not sure that’s the best barometer” for a healthy democracy, he explains over the phone. Colorado’s vote-by-mail system is more successful, he says, because it provides many locations around the state where voters can drop off ballots, as opposed to Washington’s limited ballot drop locations. But he promotes one particular type of voting reform more than any other: “States that have same-day voter registration tend to have higher voter turnout. I think that, more than any other single reform, same-day registration has boosted voter turnout in a lot of places.” (Automatic voter registration has been discussed in Washington, but it doesn’t appear to be moving forward.)

One of the main talking points that politicians use to discriminate against minorities at the polls is the idea of voter fraud. “I think that there’s a right-wing echo chamber that has sustained the voter fraud myth for a long time,” Berman says. That consistent push to promote fraud completely ignores the idea of “how rare it is,” he explains—“particularly voter impersonation,” which is the most-discussed type of fraud, but which is in reality “exceedingly rare.” How rare? “There have been a billion votes cast since 2001” Berman says, but only 31 cases of voter fraud.

We’ve seen very little positive movement on voting rights on a national level, but several states are experimenting with laws of their own. Local organizations are promoting the Washington Voting Rights Act, which is modeled on a successful California voter protection law. But that’s not enough. “The state’s voting rights acts are interesting constructs, but they’re no replacement for federal protection,” Berman warns. He understands the reason why they’re necessary—on a federal level, ”you not only have a hostile Congress but you have a hostile Supreme Court,” which requires states to take on the role of “laboratories of innovation.”

Ask Berman if he has any advice for people who haven’t yet voted today, and his answer will likely surprise you. Local elections, he says, matter a lot — local positions are how we get into government in the first place, and a voter rights act in Yakima might lead to the election of the city’s first Latino candidate to the City Council today. But Berman says “I don’t want to rag on people who don’t vote in municipal elections because we have a lot of elections in this country—probably way too many.” Berman says the onslaught of mailers and phone calls and television ads never stops because we have elections every year. He believes that “at the very least every two years should be enough.”

Though he can certainly understand voter fatigue, Berman is a big believer in the importance of voting. When confronted by people who believe that their votes don’t matter, Berman replies, “if their vote didn’t change anything, then why try to restrict voting rights? Clearly, that’s a sign that voting does matter—that people have tried to restrict it throughout history.” Further, “if you don’t vote, it’s not like you’ve gained power. You have less power, you’ve ceded your power to someone else, and they’re going to have more power than you after that.” On a day when every single city council position in Seattle is being decided, the balance of power rests with the people. How you vote—or even if you vote—will determine where that power goes.

Cross-posted to The Seattle Review of Books.

Jeb! thinks the Washington Redskins name is A-OK

Jeb Bush's Official PortraitRemember when Jeb! said that Republicans would have to “lose the primary to win the general” and that American voters are looking for an “uplifting, much more positive message?” Well, that Jeb! has well and truly gone AWOL; over the past two months, he has instead been checking off a list of racial minorities to belittle. I guess he’s found out that to win the primary in 2016, Republican voters are actually looking for racism, hatred, and a dash of white privilege. Go figure.

Today, Jeb! continued this newfound strategy, arguing that the Washington Redskins should not change their name. He added, “Native American tribes generally don’t find it offensive…It’s a sport for crying out loud. It’s a football team…I’m missing something here I guess.”

He was also presumably missing something when he talked about “anchor babies” and then clarified that, lest people think he was referring to Hispanics, that this term was related to “Asian people.” Maybe he was also missing something when he insinuated that Democrats get African Americans to vote for them by offering them “free stuff.” And he was most certainly missing something when he couldn’t tell you “what was on the mind” of the Charleston shooter – you know, that mass murderer who went to a historic black church and yelled, “You rape our women, and you’re taking over the country. And you have to go.”

So, let’s recap. October of 2015 hasn’t even arrived and already Bush has made racist comments towards:

  • Hispanic Americans
  • Asian Americans
  • Native Americans
  • African Americans

Keep utilizing that “uplifting” and “positive message,” Jeb!

Jeb Bush Says Black People Vote for Democrats Because They Get “Free Stuff”

This model from Bush's website is likely the only minority you'll likely ever see wearing a Jeb! t-shirt.

This model from Bush’s website is likely the only minority you’ll likely ever see wearing a Jeb! t-shirt.

At the East Cooper Republican Women’s Club annual shrimp dinner, Jeb Bush was asked how he thinks the Republican Party should reach out to African-Americans. His response is one that you’ll hear repeated a lot over the next few months: “Our message is one of hope and aspiration. It isn’t one of division and get in line and we’ll take care of you with free stuff. Our message is one that is uplifting — that says you can achieve earned success.”

Huh. That statement is at once racist, classist, and disingenuous. At least Mitt Romney had the sense to make most of these kinds of statements behind closed doors, where he thought he wasn’t being recorded.

First of all, let’s talk about the economic side of Bush’s argument. Look: nobody’s asking to be taken care of “with free stuff.” Nobody below the poverty line feels like the king of the world because they have to wait in line for hours to get food stamps. And if we didn’t provide assistance programs to people who need it, we’d be paying in lots of other, more unpleasant ways. If Bush had to live like a poor person for a week, he’d understand that this is not the Monopoly man tossing bags of cash around; poor people have to work to get and maintain benefits, and they do it because they have no other choice.

On a racial level, what Bush said is even more idiotic. The statement is so beyond condescending—to reiterate, he just implied that an entire race of people has been addicted to free stuff and they need to be granted their dignity—that it has to be planned. The way I see it, Bush is doing one of two things here: he’s either dog-whistling to racist voters by playing to the unrealistic stereotype of African-Americans that they have in their heads, or he’s so genuinely out of touch that he believes he’s making an overture of peace between the Republican party and African-American voters. So is he overtly racist, or is he just clueless? I honestly don’t know which is worse.

And the last sentence in Bush’s statement, his claim that the Republican Party is a better party because they believe you can “achieve earned success,” is entirely out of touch with the world around us. People are angry because they want a fair shot at success, and they don’t believe that they’re getting that shot. They’re right; inequality is dangerously high, and the game is rigged in many obvious ways against minorities. Unless Bush starts talking about real ways to counteract these real problems, he’s never going to earn African-American votes, especially if he keeps making condescending points to rooms full of white people at shrimp dinners in South Carolina.

Jeb Bush: “We should not have a multicultural society” in America


American Bridge 21st Century just released video of Jeb Bush at a campaign event in Cedar Falls Iowa. In the video, Bush says that “we should not have a multicultural society” in America. He argues that the United States is not just a place, but is rather “a set of values that people share” that “defines our national identity…not race, not ethnicity, not where you come from.” Because people continue to embrace their cultural heritage, Bush argues, “the assimilation process has been retarded.” In case you thought Bush was misstating his own position, he concludes, “we’re creeping towards multiculturalism, and that’s the wrong approach.”

This is kind of a weird tack for Bush to make, considering the fact that back in February he was promoting the “fact that I’m bilingual, bicultural.” So does Bush still think biculturalism is something to praise, but multiculturalism is not? If so, when does “multicultural” begin? Is it three cultures? Triculturalism is just too far? Or is quadculturalism where he draws the line?

It’s frustrating in 2015 to hear a presidential candidate decry multiculturalism as something that tears society apart. In fact, multiculturalism is how we as a society come together to solve problems better than anyone else. As Nick Hanauer and Zach Silk wrote on this blog last week, “diversity does not hinder growth—it supercharges it. That has always been America’s competitive advantage: we have the most diverse workforce in the world, and for all our problems, we do a better job of integrating diversity than anyone else.”

The homogeneous culture that Bush is arguing for (this month) is a dumber, less vibrant culture. If immigrants were to heed Bush and Bobby Jindal’s calls to assimilate, they would lose part of their unique experiences, and the culture would be poorer for it. Look: would you rather live in a city with a thriving restaurant scene full of food from Vietnam and Mexico and El Salvador and Ethiopia, or a city where the closest you can get to intercontinental cuisine is the International House of Pancakes? This comparison may sound glib, but it’s the simplest case for diversity. We don’t want people to run away from who they are. We want them to share their experiences and heritage, to help make our culture, and therefore our economy, even more inclusive. It’s frustrating that Bush, who apparently used to agree with us on the value of multiculturalism, is making such a regressive about-face.

Immigration Isn’t a Problem; It’s the Solution

If Trump is so smart about business, why does he want to close our borders instead of opening them?

If Trump is so smart about business, why does he want to close our borders instead of opening them?

I have to admit that I don’t really get the whole anti-immigration thing. I mean, I know they’re brown and all that. I get that it’s mostly about race. I just don’t get how anybody rationalizes it to themselves as anything other than that?

For example, economically, immigration is a no-brainer:

The nation’s total fertility rate—a statistical measure of how many children each woman is likely to have over her lifetime—also rose slightly, to 1.862 children, from 1.858. That remains below the 2.1 children needed to keep the U.S. population stable, not counting immigration.

[…] Higher fertility is positive for the economy because it means more workers in the future to propel growth and pay for the social benefits of the elderly. It also means more people to consume the nation’s goods and services.

U.S. fertility is relatively high compared with that in other developed economies such as those in Europe and Japan, due to higher fertility among immigrants, earlier starts to families and social mores that facilitate women returning to work after having children, researchers say.

Certainly the same economic benefits that come from population growth through higher fertility must also come from population growth through immigration, right? So why not celebrate our new countrymen? Why not embrace the undocumented immigrants who are already here, bring them out from the shadows, and invite them to fully participate in our economy? Hell, why not make it easier for would-be Americans from around the world to come to our shores and add to US economic growth?

If not for immigration, the US population would be shrinking, bringing with it all of the same economic challenges currently facing Japan. Immigration isn’t a problem; it’s the solution. As it always has been throughout US history.

We need more immigrants!

I’m not saying anything that anybody who knows anything about economics doesn’t already know. I just don’t get why more people don’t say it out loud.