Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Watch those headlines

Courier headline today, p. 10A:
Dissatisfaction with Obama on oil spill mirrors Bush/Katrina criticism

Every other outlet's headline for the same story:
Obama defending Gulf effort in Oval Office address

Say no more.

The Kourier Koffee Klatsch

The idea of an editorial sit-down with readers is great, giving them the opportunity to talk and the editors to hear about how the paper is working for the community, ideas for change and improvement, kudos for what's right and accountability for what's not. What's not to like? But the point would be having the editors actually listen to the readers. Is that's what's happening here?

Reader Bob Bockrath ... discussed the differences between facts and opinions in editorial pieces.

"We have an editorial board that meets regularly to discuss positions we will take on editorials," Courier Editor Tim Wiederaenders shared during the discussion. "The editorials are opinions of the newspaper and of the board, not of an individual writer."
The fact/opinion question apparently went straight into File 13, and we get boilerplate about editorials that regular readers will instantly spot as hokum. This was the only bit where an editor even appeared to reply to a concern, leave alone offer a solution or change.

The event makes for some nice happy filler for the paper, but I'll bet it's massively frustrating for the reader participants. And don't even try to tell me that George Karsa showed up with nothing notable to say.

Rap on birthright citizenship

Rand Paul nationally and Russell Pearce locally are leading a nutbar charge against birthright citizenship, the concept that anyone born on US soil is automatically a citizen. Pearce is even proposing new state legislation to prevent the issuance of birth certificates to the children of illegals, thereby, he imagines, impeding the citizenship process, which is of course a federal function. It's another election-year stunt from our shadow governor, and he knows it'll go nowhere, but he can keep it in the news and use it to get himself and other nutbars reelected.

The senator is going about it in completely the wrong way, for clearly the wrong reasons. But at its core the idea has some merit, and I think we should be talking about it in a way that's rather less unhinged.

First let me set some bright lines on what I'm thinking. It's not the same as Pearce's proposal. There's no question that the 14th Amendment grants birthright citizenship to anyone, legal or illegal. Congress wrote it this way over the express objections of the amendment's primary drafter, who wanted to include a provision for lawful presence of parents in this country. That was the 1860s, the US still had half a continent to populate, and Manifest Destiny was still public policy.

Things are different now. The entire world is overpopulated and migration pressures are strong and complex. Beyond the charitable aspect (the nice side of paternalism), I just don't see a clear public good in granting citizenship to babies born to people who are not lawfully here. Appeal to tradition if you like, but I'm not sold.

Making that change would require the full megillah of a constitutional amendment to specify that the mother must be lawfully present in the US or a territory, including good visa status. (I don't include the father because paternity isn't always clear; if the birth is happening in the US, the mother is here. Duh.) Since the 1980s the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and South Africa have made changes like this, specifying parental citizenship or minimum residence requirements. I think we can afford to remain a little more liberal than that.

I'm not among those who feel that the children of illegals are a huge problem, certainly not large enough to warrant a constitutional process to address it. But we clearly do need an entirely new regime for immigrant workers, giving much broader legal status and bringing everyone into our systems for worker protection and taxes. This modification of our traditional approach could be a reasonable measure to offer the right in making a deal for sensible immigration policy, and that would be a huge gain.

It's worth thinking about, we can hope a little more clearly than Messrs. Pearce and Paul.

(Hmm: a tasty treat -- the Pearce and Paul Nutbar!)