Longtime New Republic writer John Judis pulls no punches in his September 19 article, “America’s Worst Republican Could Soon Lose His Office,” concerning Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach,. It’s a deft hit piece, all right, filled with innuendo and multiple levels of guilt by association. It’s not clear what Judis has against incumbent Roberts, but Judis doesn’t hide his contempt for Kobach.
Mind you, Kobach is far from the type I’d vote for, and as a Democrat, I wouldn’t mind seeing him lose. But language like “America’s worst Republican” bothers me, connoting as it does that all Republicans are Bad People, varying only in degree of evil.
I’ve never met Judis, but I was mentioned unfavorably in a piece he wrote in 2000, where he took the interesting position that the industry lobbying group ITAA had more credence than I. I have no problem with that, of course, but there are interesting connections to his present essay, as you’ll see. But first things first.
Judis tells us darkly that Kobach’s history of discriminating against nonwhites began early in his political career;
In 2001, he joined the Bush administration, first as a White House fellow and then as an aide to Attorney General John Ashcroft, where he helped devise the national security visa system that required Muslims and Middle Easterners to register and be finger-printed. (It was suspended in 2011 because it had proved both ineffective and discriminatory.)
I didn’t like the system either, but Judis’ citing this as an example of racist attitudes in Kobach not only doesn’t follow, but also leaves Judis with a lot of explaining to do in light of similar views by liberal California Senator Dianne Feinstein. A June 3, 2002 article in the San Francisco Chronicle, “Feinstein Says Racial Profiling Fears Hinder FBI / Admit That Nationality Is Key, She Says,” makes one wonder why Feinstein is not “America’s worst Democrat,” in Judis’ eyes. In it, Feinstein makes remarks such as that in hunting for possible terrorists, “one isn’t going to look for blond Norwegians.” Sounds very Kobach-esque to me.
One of Kobach’s worst sins, in Judis’ eyes, is that Kobach does legal work for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). Judis’ argument is very mathematical: Kobach has ties to FAIR, and FAIR has ties to the Pioneer Fund. Judis’ SPLC link on the latter describes it as “a racist organization established by Nazi sympathizers in the 1930s to pursue ‘race betterment.'” I’m sure that Judis and the SPLC know that FAIR’s executive director and much of FAIR’s staff are Jewish (and that Tel Aviv University in Israel has also had some Pioneer funding), rendering the implied Nazi connection ludicrous, but why ruin a good argument, eh?
And, if funding connections are so important to Judis (a legitimate question in general, of course), then why did Judis so readily accept industry lobbying group ITAA’s claims in that 2000 article? A tad hypocritical, I’d say.
And needless to say, Judis failed to note the GAO’s harshly critical analysis of the 1997 ITAA report. Indeed, one didn’t need the GAO to see that, as it was clear just from reading the ITAA report itself. An example I’ve often cited is this passage, which clearly shows what the ITAA’s definition of “labor shortage” and “skills shortage” was:
Training employees in IT would seem to be a win-win for both worker and
employer. And often that is the case. However, extensive training creates other issues. ‘You take a $45,000 asset, spend some time and money training him, and suddenly he’s turned into an $80,000 asset,’ says Mary Kay Cosmetics CIO Trey Bradley. That can lead to another problem. New graduates trained in cutting edge technologies become highly marketable individuals and, therefore, are attractive to other employers.
Clearly, Bradley just didn’t want to pay the going rate for IT skills. The “shortage” was one of cheap labor, and H-1B was Bradley’s way out. (The skills issue is a red herring to begin with, as I’ve explained before.)
Oddly, Judis based that 2000 piece on a point that I myself have emphasized many times: One of the big attractions to employers in hiring H-1Bs is their immobility. Judis wrote:
Since the terms of their visas encourage H-1Bs to be docile, many big companies like the arrangement. In Workforce magazine, a vice president of an engineering recruiting firm cheerfully called the H-1Bs a ‘new race of nomads.’ An editorial in the same publication praised (without irony) their ‘remarkable loyalty.’
Bravo! Judis even cites the same quote (“remarkable loyalty”) I had used in my own writings. (Indeed, he may have indirectly gotten the quote from me via a third party; see below.) Again, this is a key point to this day (subsequent legislation did help things a bit for the H-1B visa itself, but the “loyalty” problem continues to be acute for those H-1Bs whose employers are also sponsoring them for green cards).
Judis then praised IEEE-USA’s hiring of Paul Donnelly, who led the organization in replacing their old policy critical of H-1B by one with the slogan, “green cards, not work visas.” This referred to a proposal to give “instant green cards” to foreign workers, instead of H-1B visas. This would solve the immobility problem, since green card holders have full U.S. work rights.
My problem with that proposal, and those like it that came later, including in the current Senate bill, is that they would still would swell the labor market, causing reduced wages and job opportunities, and in particular would exacerbate the already rampant age discrimination in the industry. And again, I must credit Judis for recognizing that:
Some who oppose a higher cap argue that there really isn’t a labor shortage at all and that companies are simply using H-1Bs to replace aging (that is, middle-aged) and more expensive American-born programmers. Norman Matloff, a professor of computer science at the University of California, Davis, has authored a long paper, “Debunking the Myth of a Desperate Software Labor Shortage,” in which he charges that industry is motivated not by a shortage of workers but by a desire for “cheap labor and `indentured servitude.'”
The alert reader will note that Judis himself already admitted the (de facto) indentured servitude! He even stated that employers indeed desire it. The immobility also obviously results in wage suppression. So why did he then say, “Matloff’s arguments are not convincing”? Didn’t he notice his self-contradiction?
One more point about the 2000 article before I return to the present one: Judis wrote, “Matloff has attacked Donnelly for convincing the IEEE to back a ‘proposal under which industry could bring in foreign engineers and programmers on an expedited basis.'” This is silly. I know and like Paul Donnelly (more on this shortly); my main complaint was and is with IEEE-USA, for caving to the pressure put on them from the industry/academia-dominated parent organization IEEE to back off on H-1B and related issues. IEEE-USA had had an excellent Web page, the Misfortune 500, profiling 500 well-qualified engineers who could not get engineering work at the height of the dot-com boom; the parent organization made IEEE-USA take the site down. And IEEE-USA’s claims to fight against age discrimination have proved hollow, to say the least; in one case, its president even offered a training program to “young” engineers.
The amusing irony is that after that 1997 article appeared, Paul wrote to me, saying that he had been Judis’ source, but apologizing for the way the final piece was worded.
In his current article, Judis portrays the immigration issue as boiling down in some quarters to an attempt to keep out the nonwhites. In a nation of over 300 million, there of course are some people who see it that way, but Judis is actually a step behind. A similarly disturbing recent trend in opinion, with much more currency, is that of “good” immigrants, a euphemism for Asians, versus “bad” ones, largely meaning Latinos. One sees this attitude a lot these days, including in “polite society,” and it has been noticed. Regrettably, the same attitude has sometimes surfaced among Asian-American leaders, as I wrote in an invited op-ed back in 1997 (though much less common today). Actually, it wouldn’t surprise me if many in Judis’ social set hold such views. If so, he’s missing the boat with his attacks on Kobach, which in any case are just irresponsible journalism.
Let’s give Judis the benefit of doubt in 2000, chalking it up to ignorance, but that’s not possible for his latest article. Shame of the New Republic for running such a piece.