Saturday, April 01, 2006

WATBs of the Week

Dori Monson, with Stefan Sharkansky in a supporting role.
Forget for a moment how incredibly dishonest it is for Dori to spend an hour disparaging the Democratic Party based on the barroom conversation of a handful of bloggers. The very fact that Stefan and Dori have decided to ignore the very serious topics we discussed and instead focus on our less than solemn language tells you how desperate they are to change the subject from the failed Bush administration and the rubber stamp Republican majority that props it up.

Well, fuck them. The whole point of recording the podcast in a bar is to try to capture the kind of spontaneous conversation and debate that makes Drinking Liberally such an intellectually satisfying and entertaining event. If Dori wants to get all sanctimonious with his screened calls and his feigned outrage, that's up to him. Hell ... he's the "professional."

Funny that Monson can get all worked up when a few Democrats podcasting from a bar and making jokes use the 'F' word, but he utters nary a peep when Vice President Dick Cheney tells a U.S. senator on the floor of the Senate to "go fuck himself."

TalkCheck has the audio. Josh Feit has more.

Tancredo Takes Aim

The 2006 midterm elections haven't even been held yet, and already the jockeying is beginning for the 2008 presidential race, particularly among Republicans. One name that deserves close watching is Tom Tancredo, the Colorado congressman who is trying to ride a wave of resurgent nativism regarding Latino immigrants all the way to the White House.

In addition to the anti-immigrant legislation he's spearheaded, he's been appearing regularly on national news shows as the voice of the extreme right on immigration, including his recent ABC appearance in which he attacked Hillary Clinton for citing Scripture. Tancredo also is frequently a runner-up in online polls for the Republican nomination, which mostly means that he's developing a devoted following. Already, there's an unofficial Tancredo for President site, and he's a favorite presidential contender among the Free Republic set.

The reason that Tancredo is worrisome is that he is a classic right-wing transmitter, someone who straddles both the extremist and mainstream realms and injects far-right ideas into the mainstream while pursuing a similar agenda.

The Nation's Katrina Vanden Heuvel remarked on this the other day in a fashion that sent NewsMax atwitter:
"Tancredo, on your show today -- he looked pleasant. But I will say that what's happened in our country is that some of the white supremacist thinking that used to be represented by David Duke has been absorbed by people like Tancredo."

Tancredo has been Latino-bashing for years, including his remarks claiming that some illegal immigrants are "coming here to kill you and to kill me and our families." He consistently characterizes the current wave of immigrants as "an invasion," including at his appearance at the Minuteman Project kickoff last April in Arizona.

More recently, an NPR report carried these remarks from Tancredo:
"We have a war! We are facing a military on the other side of the border -- an armed military -- who periodically come into the United States of America... armed, threatening our people, threatening the border patrol."

As Across the Great Divide observes:
He's referring apparently to a border incident in which a county sheriff chasing drug dealers watched an olive colored Humvee come from the Mexican side bearing men wearing military-style uniforms who evacuated one of drug runners' SUVs when it got stuck in the river. (One more strike against SUVs!) The U.S. State Dept. says these were not members of the military, but known members of a narco-trafficking ring that employs military-style uniforms, equipment and tactics.

Despite being grounded largely in right-wing nativist hooey, even supposedly mainstream conservative publications like Human Events take him seriously:
One of the big issues facing voters in this year's midterm congressional elections will be border security. The federal government has not done a good job in protecting the U.S. border with Mexico and to paraphrase a famous line in the movie "Network," Americans living along that Mexican border are "mad as hell and they aren't going to take it anymore."

We have seen some Americans taking action. The "Minutemen" group comes to mind. The U.S. Border Patrol can't be everywhere and the "Minutemen" are a good group of citizens who have decided to do something about it instead of just sitting around talking about it.

It seems that the only member of Congress who has had the guts to fight this illegal immigration has been Colorado Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo, and his district isn't even on the Mexican border.

Just recently, Tancredo announced he wants to push for provisions that would expand and strengthen House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner's immigration reform bill. In particular, Tancredo wants a series of border security provisions get an up or down floor vote by House members.

Notably, Bush' proposal for a "guest worker" program goes over like a lead balloon with this crowd:
What really puzzles me is why President Bush is being so touchy-feely on this. I think I know the reason why. Bush, like many other Republicans, does not want to be perceived as a racist. The GOP wants those Hispanic voters voting Republican, and I would imagine if the President said something tough about border security, the Hispanics would vote Democratic. Something they normally do anyway.

Also, the President probably does not want to alienate Mexico and his friend President Vicente Fox. Mexico hasn't lifted a finger in trying to stop illegal immigrants. NAFTA, CAFTA and all these other trade agreements hasn't shifted the Mexican government stance on stopping illegal immigration. Trade agreements do nothing but cost Americans their jobs.

Of course, this is a publication that hawks J.D. Hayworth's anti-immigrant tome, Whatever It Takes, with headlines like "Invasion Overwhelming Southwest Border". So perhaps this isn't so surprising.

Nor, for that matter, is Tancredo's loose-cannon schtick. It isn't reserved simply to domestic policy. Last year, he suggested we nuke Muslim shrines in retaliation for Islamist terror attacks -- a suggestion that no doubt was a hit with our Saudi, Turkish and Pakistani allies.

It certainly isn't a surprise that corporate donors are staying away in droves, which normally might doom a candidate:
Big Business, it seems, is running away from Congressman Tom Tancredo. And Tancredo doesn't care.

As the fourth-term Republican representative has become a national figurehead in an increasingly vocal anti-immigration movement, an army of individuals from across the country is pouring cash into his campaign chest -- making up for dwindling contributions from business interests, who, according to Tancredo, "are not served by my attempt to restrict the flow of cheap labor."

Most of these individual donors don't live in his congressional district, which covers the southern Denver metro area. Many don't live in Colorado, for that matter.

"Ninety-nine percent are giving on the basis of the immigration issue," Tancredo tells the Independent.

That's not so surprising, really, since Big Business is a Big Fan of Bush's guest-worker proposal. And for good cause, since it would be the realization of their wet dream: a labor force that cannot vote.

Perhaps more telling is that churches are openly condemning him:
Various religious groups have lined up against the House-passed bill, which calls for building a fence along portions of the U.S.-Mexico border, plus tougher enforcement against illegal immigrants and those who employ them.

The Washington, D.C., office of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) issued an alert to members saying, "This enforcement-only bill is anti- immigrant, unfair, and unjust."

Elenora Giddings Ivory, of the denomination's Stewardship of Public Life advocacy program, said the church's position on immigration is based on the scripture passage Matthew 25, verses 31-46, which talks about nations being judged, in part, by how they treat strangers.

"We have a position that supports compassionate immigration policy. So any bill that comes forward and does not fit with a compassionate understanding of immigration policy would be held up to that," Giddings Ivory said.

To which Tancredo replied:
"The faith community must step forward and tell leftist activists that undermining border security is not a religious imperative," Tancredo said.

"I call on the conservative majority of churchgoers to contact the activists who are misrepresenting their beliefs."

Tancredo's anti-immigrant campaign, in truth, runs directly counter to the spirit of Christianity, as the later spat with Hillary suggests. It's not hard, after all, to find passages telling Christians to help the poor and feed the hungry. It's much harder to find passages demanding border security.

But don't expect such considerations to even cross the field of vision of a demagogue who has his eye trained on winning the presidency. It's a divide-and-conquer stragegy. Tancredo is not likely at all to win, but he's likely to inflict a lot of damage along the way -- particularly when it comes to finding ways to tear us apart.

Friday, March 31, 2006

That racism thang

Max Blumenthal has an excellent piece up at The Nation regarding how conservatives have co-opted so much of the longtime white supremacist agenda that now the extremist right is looking for new ways to attract followers:
Back in those good old times, in 1982, explaining the Klan's anti-immigrant advocacy, Duke said, "Every new immigrant adds to our crime problems, our welfare rolls and unemployment of American citizens.... We are being invaded in the southwest as if a foreign army were coming over the border.... They're going to take more and more hard-earned money from the productive middle class in the form of taxes and social programs." And Duke called for the deportation of all undocumented immigrants and harsh penalties for businesses that employ them. "I'd make the Mexican-American border almost like a Maginot line," he said, referring to the militarized barrier France constructed between itself, Italy and Germany after World War I.

At the time, Duke was widely dismissed as little more than a turbo-charged version of the paranoid style--"the Klan's answer to Robert Redford," as reporter Patty Sims described him in 1978. But today his anti-immigration rhetoric sounds not so remote from one of top-rated CNN host Lou Dobbs's fulminations during his daily "Broken Borders" segment. Duke's Klan Border Watch, meanwhile, served as the forerunner and inspiration of the Dobbs-touted Minutemen groups that have proliferated from the Mexico border to Herndon, Virginia, the city that hosted the American Renaissance conference, where disgruntled locals hold regular protests outside a day-labor center. Under pressure from Colorado Representative Tom Tancredo, chair of the House Immigration Reform Caucus, and with sponsorship from House Judiciary Committee chair James Sensenbrenner (tough-talking heir to the Kotex fortune), the Republican-dominated House has approved a bill that makes it a felony to be in the United States illegally, mandates punishment for providing aid or shelter to undocumented immigrants and allocates millions for the construction of an iron wall between the United States and Mexico. Duke may have fallen short on the national stage, but his old notions have gained a new life through new political figures.

"Tancredo, he's pretty good. I would probably vote for him for President," Duke told me.

For self-proclaimed white nationalists, however, the mainstreaming of some of their ideas has created new challenges. "Immigration was the white nationalist movement's hot issue, but it's really left beyond them," said Devin Burghart, director of the Building Democracy Initiative at the Center for New Community, a Chicago-based civil rights group. "They've gone through this before, where they've had to reinvent themselves. Now, they're searching for a new issue to take them forward."

The clearest example of the way these far-right memes have invaded the conservative mainstream is provided by Michelle Malkin, particularly in her latest column:
Two weeks ago, I wrote about Autum Ashante, the precocious 7-year-old black nationalist poet, who said white people are "devils and they should be gone." If this daughter of a Nation of Islam activist father had instead been an Aryan supremacist child of a Klan activist, she'd still be all over the network news and pages of pop culture magazines (as a pair of white nationalist teen pop singers, Lamb and Lynx Gaede, have been since last fall). But with rare exceptions, nobody wanted to touch Autum's spoon-fed hatred with a 10-foot-pole. That would be, you know, "intolerant." We have to "respect diversity."

Of course, it always helps to understand that the Nation of Islam is also widely considered to be a racist hate group, and in fact is designated that by the Southern Poverty Law Center. So perhaps it shouldn't surprise us that the daughter of one of the group's leaders is penning racist poetry. And saying so is the opposite of "intolerant."

It should also be noted that her characterization of the treatment of the Gaede twins neglects to mention that their story was originally presented in Teen People without any mention of the fact that they are neo-Nazis.

But the really egregious stuff is what follows:
Aztlan is a long-held notion among Mexico's intellectual elite and political class, which asserts that the American southwest rightly belongs to Mexico. Advocates believe the reclamation (or reconquista) of Aztlan will occur through sheer demographic force. If the rallies across the country are any indication, reconquista is already complete.

The problem is, as I've pointed out previously, the whole notion of "reconquista" as a plot to invade America is just another far-right conspiracy theory that has floated about among extremists for years and is now surfacing, like the fetid turd of an idea it is, in the mainstream punch bowl.

Alex Koppelman at Dragonfire explores this point in some depth:
You might expect Malkin to give her readers some evidence that Aztlan really is "a long-held notion among Mexico's intellectual elite and political class," but she never does.

Why? Because Aztlan and reconquista these days aren't, for the most part, ideas held by Mexicans: they're ideas held by white supremacists and neo-Nazis. The myth of reconquista stems from a misreading of one of the founding documents of the Chicano movement, "El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan."

In much the same way that the Black Power movement meant the words "Black Power" in a metaphorical sense, that is, as a call to African-Americans to recognize after years of being stigmatized that they too were people with something to contribute to society, "El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan" was an appeal to nationalism as a means to achieve a greater self-awareness and self-esteem.

But that's not the way some white supremacists, fearful of a brown mass ready to take over the United States, has interpreted it.

A simple Google search shows that the people talking about Aztlan and reconquista are predominantly not Mexican (though there are some radical fringe groups) but white supremacists.

Moreover, as I explained in some depth, it's really a fairly simple thing to distinguish racist hate groups from ethnic-heritage groups: the former are almost exclusively obsessed with degrading and demonizing "out" groups, while the latter are largely about lifting up and promoting the group they represent (this is, in fact, the chief factor in the SPLC's "hate group" designations). Just as the Klan reveals itself more through its actions than its words, so do groups like MEChA:
For those who would argue that a group like MEChA is only nascent in its racism, and could eventually wreak such horrors if its agenda flamed out of control, it is worth remembering that racist organizations nearly always display their true colors almost immediately. The Klan, as just seen, was violent and terroristic from the start; so, too, were the European fascists, particularly during the fascista and SA years.

And what has MEChA done? Advocate for increasing the numbers of Latinos in higher education. Organize student rallies. Emphasize self-determination.

Here is how one commenter named "cat" on Atrios' boards put it:

MeCHA has been an integral part of student life for decades; many, if not most, of my Chicano friends and acquaintances were involved with it; it was then and probably is now an advocacy organization which worked to bring Chicanos (now Latinos) into the educational institutions, to feed and clothe underprivileged children in the community, including those of the migrant farmworkers, was involved with Caesar Chavez in advocating for better working conditions for the migrant workers, and provided tutoring, mentoring, and fellowship for students, as do many other student organizations.

This view is one expressed consistently by people who have experience with MEChA. Among these is O. Ricardo Pimentel, a columnist for the Arizona Republic, who recently penned a column addressing the current campaign from the right, "California coup plays a race card on Bustamante":

But let us acknowledge that MEChA was born in the racial turmoil and rhetoric leading up to 1969. Its founding historical documents, El Plan de Aztlan and El Plan de Santa Barbara, contain incendiary language.

But the truth is, few joining even back then were thinking of overthrowing government. They were talking about changing society, for the better.

"We all understood the history of MEChA," says Loredo, a MEChA president at Phoenix College in 1987. "We took it in the context of the times, 1969 (the founding year)."

To liberate Aztlan, Loredo and other MEChistas pushed to get more Latinos into college and performed community service. Many, like Bustamante, entered public service.

MEChA elsewhere also led walkouts and protests to form Chicano studies programs and to push for more Chicano faculty hires.

Indeed, Republicans who wish to push the argument that MEChA is racist might want to talk to Mike Madrid, an advisor to the GOP on Latino affairs (and someone for whom this meme is probably the biggest nightmare since Proposition 187), who had this to say in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle:

"It's bizarre to assume this is some kind of radical group, seeking to overthrow part of the United States," said Mike Madrid, who has worked on Latino affairs for the state Republican Party. "It was part of the Brown Beret and Chicano studies movement, but it's mainly a social group and has been for years. To suggest it's involved in paramilitary training or some underhanded conspiracy is ludicrous."

In spite of this, Malkin goes on to argue:
Apologists are quick to argue that Latino supremacists are just a small fringe faction of the pro-illegal immigration movement (never mind that their ranks include former and current Hispanic politicians from L.A. mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to former California Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cruz Bustamante).

But you'll never hear or read such forgiving caveats in the mainstream press's hostile coverage of the pro-immigration enforcement members of the Minutemen Project—who are universally smeared as racists. For what? For peacefully demanding that our government enforce its laws and secure its borders.

Actually, the Minutemen are not "smeared" as racists for peacefully demanding that our government enforce its laws and secure it borders.

They're accurately described as racists and extremists because their ranks are riddled throughout with racists and extremists, something similarly reflected in their leadership. Because their agenda and their rhetoric is predicated on demonizing Hispanics. Because of their origins in the militia movement. Because their vigilantism is the mark not of civic activists, but of violent extremists.

But then, it's not surprising that Malkin continues to defend the Minutemen while continuing to spread far-right conspiracy theories. After all, this is part of a well-established pattern:
Malkin, in fact, has numerous dalliances with right-wing extremists -- the real ones that she claims conservatives are busy policing.

The most vivid instance of this is her long association with VDare, which has been designated a hate group by the SPLC, and for good cause:

Fast forward to 2003. Once a relatively mainstream anti-immigration page, VDARE has now become a meeting place for many on the radical right.

One essay complains about how the government encourages "the garbage of Africa" to come to the United States. The same writer says once the "Mexican invasion" engulfs the country, "high teenage birthrates, poverty, ignorance and disease will be what remains."

Another says that Hispanics have a "significantly higher level of social pathology than American whites. ... In other words, some immigrants are better than others." Yet another complains that a Jewish immigrant rights group is helping "African Muslim refugees" come to America.

Brimelow's site carries archives of columns from men like Sam Francis, who is the editor of the newspaper of the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens, a group whose Web page recently described blacks as "a retrograde species of humanity."

It has run articles by Jared Taylor, the editor of the white supremacist American Renaissance magazine, which specializes in dubious race and IQ studies and eugenics, the "science" of "race betterment" through selective breeding.

As I've said before, Malkin's In Defense of Internment is likewise of a piece of this same willingness to indulge views that are by any measure bigoted, and in some cases, extremist, by ignoring the latent bigotry and its broader ramifications.

These are hardly the only instances. Let's not forget her link in a blog post to an anti-immigrant site operated by an extremist Holocaust-denial organization. (The link is still up.)

Then there are the Minutemen, hailed by Malkin as "the mother of all neighborhood watch programs", and defended with regularity on her blog. As I've observed numerous times, the Minutemen are a magnet for the most extreme racists and xenophobes in America, and their claims to be "weeding out" such extremists are so much hooey.

After all, not only is the Minuteman Project directly descended from the militia movement, the Minuteman leader have a history of extremism. And they haven't changed their stripes, their media makeover notwithstanding. Jim Gilchrist, one of the Minuteman Project cofounders, is currently running for Congress under the banner of the far-right Constitution Party -- which itself is closely bound up with promoting the militia movement. And then there are the charming folks who show up for Minuteman parties.

Given Malkin's extraordinarily high tolerance for right-wing extremism -- indeed, her open participation in advancing their agenda -- it's probably not any wonder that the presence of right-wing extremism, and its positive embrace by the mainstream conservative movement, is simply left out of her narrative.

After all, if you think racial hygienists like Jared Taylor and Steve Sailer and the rest of the VDare gang are "normal," well, then what "real extremists on the right" remain for people like Michelle Malkin to denounce?

Malkin has never explained her continued association with VDare, and it's plain why. Much of her career of the past five years has been built on these associations. Playing a bogus race card is a handy way of disguising that.

Perhaps Malkin can spare us the lectures on racism -- at least until she explains her own behavior. Maybe then we'll have some sense whether she actually understands what racism is about.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Freemen, 10 years later

[FBI headquarters at the Garfield County fairgrounds, March 1996.]

Really, it doesn't seem like it was ten years ago that I was freezing my ass off standing out in the eastern Montana plains watching a lot of other journalists do nothing but freeze their asses off, waiting for something, anything to happen at the Freemen compound near Brusett, just outside of Jordan.

But damn, it was. Anything since then has been fun in comparison, so that may explain why time has flown by.

The Billings Gazette has put together an excellent retrospective on the 81-day standoff (still the longest in law-enforcement history) that brings us all up to date on some of the characters in the drama.

The elderly ranchers on whose property the standoff occurred served their sentences and have returned to the county, but the property is no longer theirs. Most of the radical "Freemen" themselves who were responsible for the standoff are still in prison, though a few are due to get out soon. (See the sidebar on the main piece.)

Be sure to check out the reminscences of my friend Clair Johnson, who covered the standoff from start to finish (unlike me, who spent only 14 days or so there). I relied on Clair's reporting a lot for my book on the standoff, In God's Country. Clair's talk comes with a nice slide show.

Certainly, the thing I remember best about the standoff were the journalists I met on my first day in Jordan who'd had their gear hijacked by the Freemen. They'd made the mistake of driving down the road past the Clark place, where the Freemen had put together a sentry post (complete with shooting positions) atop a hill overlooking the road, from which they would drive down and harass people. It was still there the following summer when I photographed it:

The other memorable part of this was watching the Freemen in court, expounding on their constitutionalist gobbledygook and frazzling the nerves of the normally decorous federal judges. You can get an idea for what I'm talking about by reading one of the many signs they posted around their properties. This photo is of a sign taken from the original Freemen compound near Roundup (click on the image for a larger version):

In any event, the Gazette package is a worthy reminder that it really wasn't all that long ago that right-wing extremists were talking about revolution, threatening and sometimes killing federal officials, law enforcement officers, and innocent bystanders, attacking mainstream American values, and committing acts of domestic terrorism serially.

It's also worth remembering that they really haven't gone away, either. It seems that Democratic presidents in particular inspire their deepest paranoias; the next one is pretty certain to bring them back out of the woodwork, and perhaps stronger than ever.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Blast from the past

I was reading all about Alec Baldwin's run-in with Sean Hannity last night when I got one of those little shots of deja vu all over again:
On Sunday evening, at the suggestion of a friend of mine who works inside the NY radio broadcast community, I guest-hosted Brian Whitman's talk show on WABC radio, which was, ultimately, hijacked by talk-show host Sean Hannity, who called in and demanded to be heard. He was accompanied by another ABC Talk Radio host, Mark Levin, someone I had never heard of before that evening.

After some back and forth between myself and Hannity, most of it predictable, Levin made a comment connected to my divorce proceedings. I turned to Whitman, who knew that I was due to depart the show no later than 8:30 PM New York time anyway, and told him I had to go. I thought that Levin, whoever he may be and whatever code he does or does not operate by, had crossed a line and I was under no obligation to continue in that vein.

Alec Baldwin may not remember Mark Levin, but I sure do.

Levin was one of the Republican right's chief talking heads during the Clinton impeachment, especially on MSNBC, where I was working at the time. One of my jobs at the Web site entailed downloading video from our cable shows and putting them up on the site. Levin was on. A lot.

Levin is George Costanza with an endless vicious streak. He's the embodiment of shrillness. He scowls, he sneers, he yells, he bugs his eyes out, his face turns red, he interrupts incessantly, and he makes the nastiest comments imaginable. Most of all, he exudes a simmering but deep-seated hatefulness. If he were a dog, he'd be an ugly poodle-chihuahua mix in a perpetual roid rage. It's hard to imagine anyone more repellent.

And as someone who was tracking what was said on TV and comparing it to the published facts, it was also clear that he was a congenital liar. He had no compunction whatsoever about repeating any kind of falsehood on the air if it would hurt Clinton and advance the cause of impeachment. This included, of course, a lot of nasty personal insinuations about the Clintons' private lives.

Nowadays, as SourceWatch explains, he's the head of Rush Limbaugh's "legal division" (whatever that is). But he also has a history: He was former Attorney General Edwin Meese's chief of staff, and was Meese's attorney during the Iran-Contra investigation.

He was also closely attached with Ted Olson during the 1990s. And as Meese's chief of staff, he also was directly involved in the machinations that got Olson and Edward Schmults off the legal hook regarding their misleading and likely perjurious testimony before Congress.

Nowadays, he even has a fan Web site. And of course, now that a Republican holds the presidency, he finds the opposition to President Bush "far more shrill" than he can remember. I spent a week chortling to myself about that one.

And more recently, he's been busy leading the right-wing attack on the judiciary, even publishing a book with a title (Men in Black Robes) that echoed similar titles from the extreme-right Posse Comitatus folks. Obviously, Sandra Day O'Connor is not one of his fans.

Baldwin got a taste for how viscerally nasty guys like Levin, and so many of these right-wing figures -- including Hannity -- really are. And I bet if he hung around Bill O'Reilly long enough, he'd start to see that side of him as well.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Those criminal immigrants

TalkCheck recently caught KVI-AM radio talk-show host John Carlson -- the 2000 Republican nominee for governor of Washington state -- regurgitating more right-wing scapegoating nonsense regarding Hispanic immigrants, with a nice scent of race-baiting to boot:
CARLSON: I think what bothers people is not that we have Mexicans up here working, but that we have a lot of them staying, and we've seen a rise in crime and the affect on schools and other things, and taxpayer dollars and things like that.

As TalkCheck notes:
There's nothing new about using immigrants as scapegoats for a variety of society's ills, but Carlson managed to break entirely new ground by accusing them of causing a problem that doesn't even exist. Since the mid-nineties there's been nothing but good news about the crime rate in Washington State. In fact, statistics show that violent crime decreased by 30% from 1992 to 2000, a period that saw sustained increases in illegal immigration. Property crime fell by 16% over the same timeframe.

More interestingly, a number of different studies have found that there is no causal relationship between immigration and crime. In fact, those studies have shown that border states actually have a lower crime rate than non-border states.

Ah, but why should we let a few facts stand in the way of a nice ethnic wedge issue?

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The immigration conundrum

When you get half a million people marching in the streets to protest Republican immigration policies, you better believe that the political pot is beginning to bubble in time for the 2006 election.

It presents a real conundrum for conservatives, and a real opportunity for progressives. That was clear from the events that sparked this weekend's protests:
Saturday's rally, spurred by anger over legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last December, was part of what many say is an unprecedented effort to organize immigrants and their supporters across the nation. The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is to take up efforts Monday to complete work on a comprehensive immigration reform proposal. Unlike the House bill, which beefed up border security and toughened immigration laws, the Senate committee's version is expected to include a guest worker program and a path to legalization for the nation's 10 to 12 million undocumented immigrants.

The Associated Press report of the rally noted that the legislation "would make it a felony to be in the U.S. illegally. It also would impose new penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants, require churches to check the legal status of parishioners before helping them and erect fences along one-third of the U.S.-Mexican border."

The Republicans in Congress who spearheaded these measures -- particularly Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado and Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin -- represent a resurgent Cro-Magnon wing of the party, one that is threatening to swamp the genteel grip of corporate conservatives whose approach to immigration is decidedly different, if equally poisonous.

The Cro-Magnon approach, embodied by vigilantes like the Minutemen, is to blame the pawns. Their policies are predicated on the laughable idea that we can build a fortress wall around the country and just keep people out, a pretty notion that quickly runs aground on the reality that no wall can contain the larger forces driving illegal immigration. They consistently scapegoat the emigres while ignoring -- and indeed abetting -- those same larger forces.

Mind you, this is an easy issue to whip up public sympathy with majority whites. Latino immigration is creating huge demographic shifts across the country, and as with all such waves of immigration, it's creating real cultural frictions, especially as assimilation bogs down in the sheer mass of the wave.

So what the American far right is doing is appealing to white Americans' base racial instincts: associating the immigrants with crime and disease, accusing them of being part of a "conspiracy," complaining that they're polluting white culture. These are all significant features of the rhetoric used by both the Minutemen and their supporters in Congress.

But as Max Blumenthal points out, these ham-handed attacks on Latinos seem to have awakened the sleeping giant of the American Hispanic vote:
In passing HR 4437 and whatever draconian and utterly counter-productive bill emerges from the Senate, the congressional Republicans have become their party's worst enemy. They have cast their white, Southern base in conflict with the Latino constituency the RNC and the Bush White House realize they must win over if they are ever to achieve a so-called "Republican majority."

The Cro-Magnon approach is repellent enough on its own merits, but the other side of the Republican coin on immigration is the Bush plan to create a "guest worker" program that is nothing less than the realization of corporate America's wet dream of having a labor force that cannot vote. It would create a permanent underclass of disenfranchised workers, and would forever change the very nature of immigration as we have historically known it in America, severing it from citizenship.

This two-headed approach to immigration is like being given a choice of refreshing beverage: arsenic or strychnine. You pick.

It's all part of the ongoing Latin Americanization of the United States, in which the standard of living and the economic and political power of the middle and working classes is consistently driven downward and held there. As PZ Myers puts it, "The Republican agenda is to turn the United States into a third-world shithole."

What's especially insidious about this is that, contrasted with the jingos of the far right, Bush's program looks downright moderate in comparison. But it may be more destructive and, well, evil. As James K. Galbraith explained some time ago:
This program will permit any employer to admit any worker. From any country. At any time. The only requirement is that it be for a job Americans are not willing to take. But it is easy to create such jobs: Cut wages. Terminate the unions. Lengthen the hours. Speed up the lines. Chicken farmers have known this for years. Bush's plan is a blank check for every bad boss this country has.

... For millions of citizen workers, what would happen? The answer is clear: Bad bosses drive out the good. Good bosses will turn bad under pressure. The terms of our jobs would get worse and worse. Who would want a citizen worker? A bracero will be so much cheaper, more loyal, and under control. And who among us, in our right mind, would want to look for work? Unless, of course, we needed to eat. Or pay the mortgage. I am not exaggerating: This is a threat to us all.

Even the centrist Robert Samuelson of the Washington Post castigates the broad-reaching effects of Bush's plan:
Guest workers would mainly legalize today's vast inflows of illegal immigrants, with the same consequence: We'd be importing poverty. This isn't because these immigrants aren't hardworking; many are. Nor is it because they don't assimilate; many do. But they generally don't go home, assimilation is slow and the ranks of the poor are constantly replenished. Since 1980 the number of Hispanics with incomes below the government's poverty line (about $19,300 in 2004 for a family of four) has risen 162 percent. Over the same period, the number of non-Hispanic whites in poverty rose 3 percent and the number of blacks, 9.5 percent. What we have now -- and would with guest workers -- is a conscious policy of creating poverty in the United States while relieving it in Mexico. By and large, this is a bad bargain for the United States. It stresses local schools, hospitals and housing; it feeds social tensions (witness the Minutemen). To be sure, some Americans get cheap housecleaning or landscaping services. But if more mowed their own lawns or did their own laundry, it wouldn't be a tragedy.

The most lunatic notion is that admitting more poor Latino workers would ease the labor market strains of retiring baby boomers. The two aren't close substitutes for each other. Among immigrant Mexican and Central American workers in 2004, only 7 percent had a college degree and nearly 60 percent lacked a high school diploma, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Among native-born U.S. workers, 32 percent had a college degree and only 6 percent did not have a high school diploma. Far from softening the social problems of an aging society, more poor immigrants might aggravate them by pitting older retirees against younger Hispanics for limited government benefits.

Moreover, Samuelson notes that many moderate liberals and middle-class voters almost reflexively support the Bush plan, even though it's obviously poisonous to their interests:
Business organizations understandably support guest worker programs. They like cheap labor and ignore the social consequences. What's more perplexing is why liberals, staunch opponents of poverty and inequality, support a program that worsens poverty and inequality. Poor immigrant workers hurt the wages of unskilled Americans. The only question is how much. Studies suggest a range "from negligible to an earnings reduction of almost 10 percent," according to the CBO.

It's time, indeed, for progressives to come up with their own plan for dealing with immigration -- one that goes beyond the scapegoating and the narrow business interests and realistically and fairly comes to grips with the issue.

The negative effects of unbridled immigration on American workers is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how liberals should be thinking about this. They need to understand that mass employment of illegal immigrants is open ground for gross exploitation and civil-rights abuses. It also corrodes the value of citizenship. As Samuelson has noted elsewhere, the current wave "is increasingly sabotaging the assimilation process."

As Bill Sher at Liberal Oasis explained awhile back, it's not only possible, but imperative, that liberals develop a plan of immigration reform that embraces their values and effectively resolves the problems.

The answer, it must be noted, is not to be found in the reforms currently favored by many moderate Democrats embodied in the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill, which essentially just extends the current flaws in policy. As Paul Donnelly explained in one of my threads here awhile back (from this post):
[I]t essentially accelerates the core problem of the current mess to escape velocity. We're now trying to manage immigration by backlog, and when that gets to be too much, we make more exceptions (like 245(i), or amnesty) instead of new rules that will work. The McCain-Kennedy proposal is for 400,000 "temporary" visas a year, plus dependents that brings the total up to about a million annually), ALL of whom will eventually be eligible for green cards -- except, you see, there ain't but 87,000 green cards a year available in these employment-based slots, which McCain-Kennedy doesn't even attempt to address.

So, if we're going to discard the traditional, interest-driven approach, where do we begin?

Getting a clear view of the big picture with immigration is essential. As with many previous waves of immigration, there is a strong "push-pull" dynamic at work in our relationship with Mexico: there are conditions there pushing them over our borders, combined with a strong demand pulling them here.

The latter is most obvious to us here. The big gorilla on our side of the fence is American business' demand for cheap labor, which creates the opportunities many immigrants seek:
"There is a demand for cheap labor and since immigrants have a need to survive, they are willing to provide that supply of labor. It is a complicated topic, but we will not reduce the amount of undocumented immigration without eliminating the demand (for) cheap labor," Rodriguez said.

The most significant contributors to this demand are:
-- Agribusiness, which has been the chief exploiter of immigrant labor for decades, but whose use of undocumented workers has exploded since American farming has become vertically and horizontally integrated under the Big Five food corporations.

-- The construction industry, which makes billions of dollars annually on the backs of illegal workers, and simultaneously exposes them to an array of abuses.

-- Wal-Mart, whose employment practices involving undocumented workers are nearly as abusive as those of the day-labor market, all driven by the demand for those low, low prices.

It doesn't help, of course, that Democrats are as often fully in bed with these corporate interests as Republicans are. Severing that relationship -- or at least permanently altering it -- is going to be essential to any kind of effective reforms that progressives might concoct.

But we're also going to have to come to terms with the "push" from the Mexican side of the border. At some point, we're going to have to begin behaving more like real neighbors when it comes to our neighbors to the south, instead of treating them like the second-class humans as so many Americans are wont to do. Certain imbedded American attitudes -- particularly the notion that poor people are poor because they're lazy and won't work hard enough -- linger in our economic policies and our cultural prejudices. The result is that we come to think of the pervasive poverty of so many Mexicans' daily lives as almost "natural" instead of the atrocity it is.

Marcela Sanchez at the Washington Post went into this in some detail awhile back:
This truth is so obvious it seems a cliche and yet it remains mostly absent from the current debate on how to reform U.S. immigration. For all the talk around the country of border enforcement, guest worker programs, employer sanctions and driver's licensing restrictions, the sad fact is that none of these "solutions'' addresses the root of the problem -- a persistent and large U.S.-Mexican income disparity.

Even the most comprehensive and progressive immigration reform proposal in years, introduced this month by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., is more concerned with making U.S. immigration policy more humane than dealing with income disparity between the United States and Mexico. The bill crafts a guest worker program -- creating new visa categories and quotas and a secure identification system for employers -- but only provides a vague indication that income disparity might be a problem worth taking on.

There have been some ideas put forth for tackling this disparity. Robert Pastor at Newsweek described one such potential solution, particularly in the wake of the economic disaster that NAFTA has proven to be for Mexican workers:
What they should do is think far more boldly. The only way to solve the most pressing problems in the region -- including immigration, security, and declining competitiveness -- is to create a true North American Community. No two nations are more important to the United States than Canada and Mexico, and no investment will bolster security and yield greater economic benefits for America than one that narrows the income gap between Mexico and its North American partners.

Bridging that gap was supposed to be one of the many benefits that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would deliver. And indeed, since NAFTA took effect in 1994, trade and investment among the United States, Mexico and Canada have nearly tripled, making North America the world's largest free-trade area in terms of territory and gross domestic product (GDP). Yet the income gap has widened: the annual per capita GDP of the United States ($43,883) today is more than six times that of Mexico ($6,937).

NAFTA has been inadequate in other ways as well. The agreement made no provisions for cushioning economic downturns like the Mexican peso crisis of 1994-95. It created no credible institutions that operate on a truly regional basis. Thus, after terrorists struck New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, the Bush administration unilaterally tightened security on its international borders while Ottawa and Mexico City reverted to their traditional ambivalence toward Washington.

Illegal immigration has increased and if anything, NAFTA has inadvertently fueled immigration by encouraging foreign investment near the U.S.-Mexican border, which in turn serves as a magnet for workers in central and southern Mexico. As a result, the number of undocumented Mexican workers who live in the United States has skyrocketed in the NAFTA era, from an estimated 1 million in the mid-1990s to about 6 million today. One of every six undocumented immigrants is under 18 years old, and since the mid-1990s the fastest growth of the population has occurred in states like Arizona and North Carolina that had relatively small numbers of foreign-born residents in the past.

An effective program of immigration reform will recognize this dynamic and -- in direct contradistinction with the Republican programs -- seek equitable solutions based on the principle that immigration is inseparable from citizenship, that the goal of immigration is to enhance the pool of citizens and make lives better both here and abroad; that a sound immigration policy will benefit people on both sides of the border.

I think Donnelly's outline of a reform program would be an excellent place to start. His thesis:
"Immigration policy fails because America promises more than it delivers. That blurs legal and illegal, permanent and temporary; outlawing marriages, exiling families and dragging down wages. But foreigners should be legal when they are wives, husbands, kids or employed siblings of legal permanent residents and even citizens: we promised. Failing to deliver makes enforcement nearly impossible, it erodes citizenship and inspires bad ideas like replacing the Ellis Island model with a German-style guest worker plan severing immigration from citizenship.

"So replace the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act with a point system that combines family and employment and other VALUES. Stop subsidizing employers, enough exceptions like amnesty: let's make rules that work. Aim immigration at citizenship by the accumulation of what we WANT in new Americans. Start with green cards for spouses of permanent residents just as for citizens, but recognize that sibling immigration is essentially a hiring network, and that when workers have "temporary" jobs for five years, they ARE permanent -- and ought to be on the path to citizenship. Accelerating Americanization is key."

To which I'll add:
-- Crack down on American corporate behavior -- both in its thirst for cheap labor, and in its constant export of American jobs. Corporations who hire mass numbers of undocumented workers should be held culpable for their lawbreaking and forced to pay fines they can't simply shrug off, as they do. And too many of those who export American jobs to places like Mexico often do so in a way that actually depresses wages in those countries; these kinds of predatory practices should be made illegal.

-- Build support for programs to ameliorate the wage disparity between the two nations: explore the possibility of a North American Community. Reform the provisions of NAFTA so that they help Mexican workers earn decent livings. Don't drive down the American standard of living. Rather, abide by the notion that a rising tide lifts all boats -- including those of our neighbors.

Progressives need to put together a program of immigration reforms now. It need not necessarily be these particular reforms, but we need to begin talking and thinking about it before the summer arrives so that, when elections come, everyone knows where Democrats stand on the issue.

Because if they can do that, those 500,000 people are just the beginning of the tide that will join them in that cause.