May 6, 1882: Race and immigration policy collide

May 6, 2014

Today is the anniversary* of our nation’s first** law generally governing immigration.

It’s a history we should work to change, to put behind us, to move away from.

Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred Chinese immigrants from the United States for 10 years.

1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, page 1 - National Archives

1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, page 1 – National Archives

1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, page 2 - National Archives

1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, page 2 – National Archives

We cannot paint over this part of history.  The Chinese Exclusion Act was racist in intent, and racist in content.

What should we learn from it?  Among justifications for the law were claims that immigrants from China were taking jobs from citizens, especially in California.  Chinese workers imported to build the Transcontinental Railroads sought new employment once the routes were built.

Reality probably differed a lot.  Chinese entrepreneurs, with money they had earned working on the railroads, established news businesses.  Yes, a lot of Chinese were getting jobs.  They were mostly new jobs, in new businesses, boosting the economy and creating more jobs.  That came to an almost-screeching halt.

Did America learn?  This law was renewed, then made permanent — not really fixed until World War II, when China was an ally in the War in the Pacific, against Japan.  Even then, it wasn’t a good fix.

The law was repealed by the Magnuson Act in 1943 during World War II, when China was an ally in the war against imperial Japan. Nevertheless, the 1943 act still allowed only 105 Chinese immigrants per year, reflecting persisting prejudice against the Chinese in American immigration policy. It was not until the Immigration Act of 1965, which eliminated previous national-origins policy, that large-scale Chinese immigration to the United States was allowed to begin again after a hiatus of over 80 years.

Can we learn from this history, for immigration reform now? Santayana’s Ghost wonders.

How much is resistance to immigration reform based on racism, the sort of racism that kills the U.S. economy?

The Chinese Exclusion Act proved to be an embarrassment for Uncle Sam:  “A Skeleton in His Closet,” by L.M. Glackens, published in Puck magazine on Jan. 3, 1912. Uncle Sam holding paper “Protest against Russian exclusion of Jewish Americans” and looking in shock at Chinese skeleton labeled “American exclusion of Chinese” in closet. Image from NorthwestAsianWeekly.com

The Chinese Exclusion Act proved to be an embarrassment for Uncle Sam: “A Skeleton in His Closet,” by L.M. Glackens, published in Puck magazine on Jan. 3, 1912. Uncle Sam holding paper “Protest against Russian exclusion of Jewish Americans” and looking in shock at Chinese skeleton labeled “American exclusion of Chinese” in closet. Image from NorthwestAsianWeekly.com

____________

*    I note the image says it was approved by President Chester Alan Arthur (who had succeeded to office after President James Garfield was assassinated a year earlier).  The New York Times calls May 6 the anniversary of Congress’s passing the law; if Arthur signed in on May 6, it was probably passed a few days earlier.  May 6 would be the anniversary of its signing into law.

**  The Chinese Exclusion Act was preceded by the Page Act of 1875, which prohibited immigration of “undesirable” people.  Who was undesirable?  “The law classified as undesirable any individual from China who was coming to America to be a contract laborer, any Asian woman who would engage in prostitution, and all people considered to be convicts in their own country.”  It was not applicable to many immigrants.  The Page Act was named after its sponsor, Rep. Horace F. Page of California.

This is based on, and borrows from, an earlier post at MFB.

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Quote of the moment: Useless men a Congress? Not John Adams, but Peter Stone who said it

October 1, 2013

It’s a great line, an almost-Mark Twain-ism that makes people of all political strips smile.  It’s attributed to John Adams:

I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace; that two are called a law firm; and that three or more become a Congress!

There’s a problem: John Adams didn’t say it.

It’s a line from the 1969 Broadway musical comedy 1776!

The character John Adams in the play said it.  It’s art in pursuit of history, but it’s not really history.

Playwright Peter Stone, Theatrical Rights image

Playwright Peter Stone wrote the witticism attributed to John Adams.  Theatrical Rights image

We should more accurately attribute it to the play’s book’s author, Peter Stone.  What John Adams did not say about Congress, Peter Stone wrote.  Such wit deserves proper attribution.

Especially on a day when the U.S. Congress appears to be not only a collection of useless people, men and women, but useless people bent on destruction of our national institutions.  Congress has fallen down on the job, failing to play its vital, Constitutional role of appropriating money to run the government.

Stone’s mention of “law firms” gives away the quote’s origins being much later than Adams — Adams died, as you know, on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.   “Law firms” is 20th century language.

In an era of law firms so big the people in them cannot comprehend their size, such a statement might emerge.  The distaste with lawyers in the Stone quote also doesn’t ring to the times of the American Revolution.  Good lawyer jokes probably existed then, but they didn’t really rise until the lawyerly pettifogging of the 19th century — see Dickens’ Mr. Bumble in Chapter 51 of Oliver Twistor the entire text of Bleak House, for examples.  Law firms in 1776 simply did not exist as large corporations, but more often as an office of an individual lawyer, or two or three.  Mark Twain joked about Congress, but a joke about both Congress and lawyers probably was rare before 1910.  (I am willing to be disabused of this idea, if I am wrong . . . comments are open.)

Wikiquote’s rapid improvement provides us with a good check on whether Adams said it — Wikiquote points us clearly to Peter Stone instead.

Stone died in 2003, much underappreciated if you ask me.  Stone might be said to be among the greatest ghost speechwriters in history based on 1776! alone,  creating lines for John Adams, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson — three of the greatest authors and (sometimes reluctant) speakers of their day, and of all history.  Stone’s plays include Titanic and Two by Two, his screenplays include Charade, Arabesque, Mirage, The Taking of Pelham 123, and Father Goose.  (The first two of those movies favorites of mine solely for the scores by Henry Mancini.)

1776! plays in revival in California’s Bay Area, at A.C.T. (see reviews from both the San Jose Mercury News and San Francisco Chronicle, linked below).  One might wish Congressmen today would see the play.  In 1776 the colonies in rebellion were unsure what to do next; the Declaration of Independence was not a foregone conclusion.  The amazing collection of men — unfortunately no women — who populated the Second Continental Congress were predisposed to find ways around their differences, to make wise policies, and to keep things functioning.  Rather than shut government down, they carefully instructed individual governments in the states to make preparations to operate without infusions of cash or policy direction from the Crown, even before deciding independence made sense.  In short, they were dedicated to making things work.

Ironic that so many remember Peter Stone’s slam of Congress as incompetent, when the rest of his play book demonstrates that particular congress of men took quite an opposite view of life, and created a model for leadership we marvel at today.

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This is an edited encore post, sadly made salient today by Congress’s inaction on required spending bills.

Photo from the San Francisco Chronicle: Jarrod Zimmerman, as Edward Rutledge, makes a passionate appeal to delegates of the Second Continental Congress in the Tony Award-winning musical

Useless men? Funny quip, but the Second Continental Congress was far from a group of useless men thrown together. Photo from the San Francisco Chronicle: Jarrod Zimmerman, as Edward Rutledge, makes a passionate appeal to delegates of the Second Continental Congress in the Tony Award-winning musical “1776,” coming to ACT. Photo: Juan Davila

 


Do Nothing GOP Congress

June 13, 2013

Poorly-attended hearing of Congressional Joint Economic Committee hearing on jobs, 2013

“Do Nothing Congress?” How about “Missing in Inaction Congress?” Photo and caption from National Journal: When the Joint Economic Committee’s hearing on fixing the nation’s long-term unemployment problem kicked off on April 24, only one lawmaker was in attendance: Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the committee’s vice chair who was holding the hearing. (Niraj Chokshi)

National Journal’s article fairly damns Congress and especially the House for doing very little this year about jobs.

Probably more damning is this little fact:  In a period of time that historically might see 50 or 100 laws passed, Congress has passed into law only 13 measures.  The “Do Nothing” 80th Congress Truman campaigned against passed nearly 900 laws.  The current Congress is on track to pass 52.  Most important, probably, are the authorization and appropriations bills for the different departments of the federal government, much more important than the non-binding budget resolutions conservatives whine about.  Republicans have successfully blocked almost all authorization and appropriations action.  Appropriations bills, of course, must originate in the GOP-shackled House of Representatives.

In the six months and four days since the 113th Congress began, it has passed 13 laws. And, despite lawmakers constantly beating the drum on boosting jobs, none of the new measures have been focused on employment. Here’s a list of what the 113th Congress has passed in its first six months:

  1. H.R.41: To temporarily increase the borrowing authority of the Federal Emergency Management Agency for carrying out the National Flood Insurance Program.
    Sponsor: Rep Garrett, Scott [NJ-5] (introduced 1/3/2013) Cosponsors (44)
  2. H.R.152: Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, 2013
    Sponsor: Rep Rogers, Harold [KY-5] (introduced 1/4/2013) Cosponsors (None)
  3. H.R.325: No Budget, No Pay Act of 2013
    Sponsor: Rep Camp, Dave [MI-4] (introduced 1/21/2013) Cosponsors (1)
  4. S.47: Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013
    Sponsor: Sen Leahy, Patrick J. [VT] (introduced 1/22/2013) Cosponsors (61)
  5. H.R.307: Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act of 2013
    Sponsor: Rep Rogers, Mike J. [MI-8] (introduced 1/18/2013) Cosponsors (5)
  6. H.R.933: Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013
    Sponsor: Rep Rogers, Harold [KY-5] (introduced 3/4/2013) Cosponsors (None)
  7. S.716: A bill to modify the requirements under the STOCK Act regarding online access to certain financial disclosure statements and related forms.
    Sponsor: Sen Reid, Harry [NV] (introduced 4/11/2013) Cosponsors (None)
  8. H.R.1246: District of Columbia Chief Financial Officer Vacancy Act
    Sponsor: Rep Norton, Eleanor Holmes [DC] (introduced 3/19/2013) Cosponsors (None)
  9. H.R.1765: Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013
    Sponsor: Rep Latham, Tom [IA-3] (introduced 4/26/2013) Cosponsors (None)
  10. H.R.1071: To specify the size of the precious-metal blanks that will be used in the production of the National Baseball Hall of Fame commemorative coins.
    Sponsor: Rep Hanna, Richard L. [NY-22] (introduced 3/12/2013) Cosponsors (2)
  11. H.R.360: To award posthumously a Congressional Gold Medal to Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley to commemorate the lives they lost 50 years ago in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where these 4 little Black girls’ ultimate sacrifice served as a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement.
    Sponsor: Rep Sewell, Terri A. [AL-7] (introduced 1/23/2013) Cosponsors (301)
  12. H.R.258: Stolen Valor Act of 2013
    Sponsor: Rep Heck, Joseph J. [NV-3] (introduced 1/15/2013) Cosponsors (127)
  13. S.982: Freedom to Fish Act
    Sponsor: Sen Alexander, Lamar [TN] (introduced 5/16/2013) Cosponsors (3)

Freedom to Fish Act?  No doubt it is important to someone.  But even that someone, or those somebodies, would benefit from a jobs bill, more than from the Freedom to Fish Act.

When I worked for Lamar Alexander, I found him to be among the more fair and forward thinking of elected politicians.  It’s good to see he can still move a bill.

It’s tragic he’s been unable to push the GOP to move on more important matters.

The “Do-Nothing Congress” Harry Truman successfully indicted in 1948 looks like Wilma Rudolph streaking over the finish line in the 1960 Rome Olympics, by comparison.

I recall sitting up to get the news out to Utah, and anyone else interested in the nation, when Congress would pass 13 laws in a night.  At no point did it occur to me to think “these are the good old days of America,” then.

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taken by yours truly during 2007 hof induction...

Baseball Hall of Fame on Induction Weekend, 2007, crowded with people who now need jobs.  Congress passed a bill dealing with the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Ironic, no? All inductees in Cooperstown got there by doing something, doing it with hustle, and doing a lot, a sharp contrast to the 2013-2014 U.S. Congress.  Wikipedia image


Cliffhanger avoidance, from Robert Reich

November 30, 2012

Economist/policy wonk/good guy Robert Reich sends along notes on the discussions in Washington (at his Facebook site, and at his personal site) (links added here for your benefit and ease of use):

Robert Reich

Rhodes Scholar, former Secretary of Labor and UC Berkeley Prof. Robert Reich

Apparently the bidding began this afternoon. According to the Wall Street Journal (which got the information from GOP leaders), Tim Geithner met with Republican leaders and made the following offer:

— $1.6 trillion in additional tax revenues over the next decade, from limiting tax deductions on the wealthy and raising tax rates on incomes over $250,000 (although those rates don’t have to rise as high as the top marginal rates under Bill Clinton)

— $50 billion in added economic stimulus next year

— A one-year postponement of pending spending cuts in defense and domestic programs

— $400 billion in savings over the decade from Medicare and other entitlement programs (the same number contained in the President’s 2013 budget proposal, submitted before the election).

— Authority to raise the debt limit without congressional approval.

The $50 billion in added stimulus is surely welcome. We need more spending in the short term in order to keep the recovery going, particularly in light of economic contractions in Europe and Japan, and slowdowns in China and India.

But by signaling its willingness not to raise top rates as high as they were under Clinton and to cut some $400 billion from projected increases in Medicare and other entitlement spending, the White House has ceded important ground.

Republicans obviously want much, much more.

The administration has taken a “step backward, moving away from consensus and significantly closer to the cliff, delaying again the real, balanced solution that this crisis requires,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) in a written statement. “No substantive progress has been made” added House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio).

No surprise. The GOP doesn’t want to show any flexibility. Boehner and McConnell will hang tough until the end. Boehner will blame his right flank for not giving him any leeway — just as he’s done before.

It’s also clear Republicans will seek whatever bargaining leverage they can get from threatening to block an increase in the debt limit – which will have to rise early next year if the nation’s full faith and credit is to remain intact.

Meanwhile, the White House has started the bidding with substantial concessions on tax increases and spending cuts.

Haven’t we been here before? It’s as if the election never occurred – as if the Republicans hadn’t lost six or seven seats in the House and three in the Senate, as if Obama hadn’t won reelection by a greater number of votes than George W. Bush in 2004.

And as if the fiscal cliff that automatically terminates the Bush tax cuts weren’t just weeks away.

But if it’s really going to be a repeat of the last round, we might still be in luck. Remember, the last round resulted in no agreement. And no agreement now may be better than a bad agreement that doesn’t raise taxes on the wealthy nearly enough while cutting far too much from safety nets most Americans depend on.

If Republicans won’t budge and we head over the fiscal cliff, the Clinton tax rates become effective January 1 – thereby empowering the White House and Democrats in the next congress to get a far better deal.

Watch that space.

It’s especially interesting to me how House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) will work to get a solution, if the GOP continues its blockade to almost all action.

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In Colorado, Ed Perlmutter in the 7th Congressional District . . .

September 19, 2012

In Colorado’s 7th Congressional District, anyone not voting for Ed Perlmutter needs to have their red, white and blue examined:

Congressman Ed Perlmutter

Colorado’s 7th Congressional District Rep. Ed Perlmutter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Perlmutter’s opponent, Joe Coors, is running a dirty campaign against him.

Veterans, military guys, which way are you voting on this one?

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Taj Clayton, running . . . er, ran for you

July 6, 2012

Utah Policy Daily tagged this ad for Taj Clayton’s campaign as a “prime example” of good political campaigning.

As of this minute, it’s got just under 33,000 hits.

That’s the good news.

Bad news?  The “rest of the story is that Clayton lost the primary, to incumbent Eddie Bernice Johnson, who will probably coast to victory in the general election in November (is there even a Republican in the race?).

After redistricting, we live and vote in Johnson’s district, Texas District 30.  Johnson won a three-way race, pulling in more than 50% of the total vote against Clayton and local political activist Barbara Mallory Callaway.  Clayton had a lot of signs up.  I got personal calls from his campaign early on, as opposed to the annoying robo-calls we got from Johnson in the last couple of days before the primary.  Incumbency is tough to beat, and even a great campaign ad won’t do it.

Where was Taj when we were in the 24th District, and we needed a good Democrat to beat Kenny Marchant?

It is a good advertisement.  Voters would probably like to see a lot more like it, to explain to them who the candidates are, and what the issues in the election are.  Ads of this type live in the endangered species zone, when attack ads and negative advertising carry so much clout.

Too bad.

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98% of what Republicans wanted = credit rating downgrade

August 7, 2011

House Speaker John Boehner famously said that he thought the Republicans got 98% of what they wanted in the debt ceiling agreement, crappy as it was. Then, late Friday, Standard & Poor’s announced they had downgraded the U.S. government’s previously unsullied credit rating. God forbid Republicans had gotten 100%, eh?

Ben Hoffman urges us to read the Standard and Poor’s report on why the rating company downgraded U.S. credit.

S&P Explicitly Blames Republicans For Credit Downgrade

by Ben Hoffman

Compared with previous projections, our revised base case scenario now assumes that the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, due to expire by the end of 2012, remain in place. We have changed our assumption on this because the majority of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues, a position we believe Congress reinforced by passing the act.

Source

Obama should have let the Bush tax cuts expire last year, which would have dramatically reduced our deficit. The Republicans held the unemployed hostage and Obama negotiated a bad deal with the domestic terrorists.

Is there more in that report we should read before we get the torches, tar and feathers to meet with our Republican representatives in August town meetings?  Would they get the message with polite questions?


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