Saturday, September 08, 2007

The swiftboating of American journalism

-- by Dave

Every time I hear a professional journalist bleat about how unreliable and unprofessional bloggers are, it's difficult refrain from indulging a low mordant chuckle. It's not as though the public is falling for this high-and-mighty "we're professionals with standards that matter" schtick much anymore.

As Sam Smith of Scholars and Rogues points out, the bloom has long since departed that particular rose:
-- A 2004 Gallup Poll says “Americans rate the trustworthiness of journalists at about the level of politicians and as only slightly more credible than used-car salesmen.”

-- Only about one in five Americans “believe journalists have high ethical standards, ranking them below auto mechanics but tied with members of Congress.”

-- Only “one in four people believe what they read in the newspapers.”

-- Chicago Tribune Editor Charles M. Madigan says: “If you are a journalist, you should probably just assume that you come across as a liar.”

-- A 1999 American Society of Newspaper Editors survey said that “53 percent of the public view the press as out of touch with mainstream America, while 78 percent think journalists pay more attention to the interests of their editors than their readers.”

-- About 22 percent of respondents to a 2003 Pew survey said they thought “the unethical practices of [Jayson] Blair, which included fabricating sources and events, occur frequently among journalists, while 36 percent said they thought wrongdoing happened occasionally. Another 58 percent believed journalists didn’t care about inaccuracies.”

The fact is that the utter failure of the professional media in America to adequately perform its function as truth-tellers and guardians of the public interest in the past decade has had catastrophic consequences for the country, beginning with 9/11 and continuing through the Iraq war. And it's been that failure which is largely responsible for the rise of the blogosphere and related Web media, especially as the way more and more Americans are getting their information.

Indeed, we've been its sharpest critics, and blogs and sites devoted primarily to media criticism -- particularly those on the left, including The Daily Howler and Media Matters, as well as Eschaton or Hullabaloo -- have become some of the most successful, visible and effective voices on behalf of progressives, especially because they recognize the role the media have in fomenting right-wing crap aimed primarily at demonizing and belittling progressives and their causes.

If you've read these sites over the years, you can't help but be impressed by the mounting evidence of a serious dysfunction in the former profession of ink-stained wretches. The basic pathology is a simple failure to be committed to the truth based on known facts, a pathology that embodies itself in the false middle reporting that offers its audience a fake "balance" between the factual and the fraudulent. But now I think it's reaching the point of metastasis: an epidemic of crisis proportions.

Because now, thanks to figures like CNN's Lou Dobbs and Fox's Bill O'Reilly, it's possible to run completely bogus information and successfully pawn it off as real without paying any consequences whatsoever. Indeed, they can now fob off this false reporting as the highlight of their news broadcasts.

Exhibit A: Alex Koppelman's riveting Salon piece (which, unfortunately, seems to have attracted very little blogospheric attention) on the phenomenal case of the grotesque misreportage, by Dobbs and others, of the cases of two border-patrol agents who were convicted of shooting an escaping border crosser.

You all remember the CNN broadcasts about the case, complete with their own "Border Betrayal" logo, such as the piece in the video above. But as Koppelman explains, the facts of the case are almost completely at variance with the cold facts of the case, particularly as they've emerged in court.

That, however, has not stopped Dobbs and the anti-immigrant crowd:
How did Ramos and Compean get reinvented as right-wing heroes? The answer lies in the way Americans get their information, from a fragmented news media that makes it easier than ever to tune out opposing views and inconvenient truths. When people seek "facts" only from sources with which they agree, it's possible for demonstrable untruths to enter the narrative and remain there unchallenged. The ballad of Ramos and Compean is a story that one side of America's polarized culture has gotten all wrong and that much of the other side -- and the rest of the country -- has never even heard.

A number of people, as Koppelman reports, have played leading roles in this, but Dobbs is unquestionably at the fore:
There are five major players in the transformation of Ramos and Compean from cops who tried to cover up a bad shooting into martyred heroes of the great conservative pushback against illegal immigration. The most important of them is Lou Dobbs, the host of CNN's "Lou Dobbs Tonight." Three other players -- journalist Sara A. Carter, activist Andy Ramirez and union official T.J. Bonner -- are previously obscure figures who appeared on Dobbs' show. The fifth is Jerome Corsi, the conservative commentator who coauthored the book, "Unfit for Command," that launched the Swift-boating of John Kerry. Corsi pushed the cause of Ramos and Compean on the Internet while Dobbs was pushing it on TV. All of them have served as megaphones for the right-wing's counter-narrative of the case.

Lou Dobbs, whose show straddles the line between news and advocacy, has nearly doubled his ratings in the past two years by taking a strong stand against illegal immigration. Almost nightly, he includes an opinionated segment on immigration under such rubrics as "Border Betrayal" and "Busted Border." As soon as he noticed the Ramos and Compean story in August 2006, he became the prime mover in its coverage. His program has so far featured more than 100 segments on the Ramos and Compean case, including interviews with both agents that have been clipped and rebroadcast in other episodes.

Dobbs set the tone for his approach to the Ramos and Compean case with his first segment about the agents, on Aug. 9, 2006. (CNN did not respond to a request for an interview with Dobbs.) He introduced a short interview with Ignacio Ramos by saying, "Support is flooding in from all across the country tonight for two Border Patrol agents in Texas who could be sentenced to 20 years in prison for shooting a Mexican drug smuggler. Amazingly, federal prosecutors allowed the smuggler to walk free." The next day, Dobbs ended a second segment on the agents with one of his famous audience polls. The question for viewers was, "Do you believe the Justice Department should be giving immunity to illegal alien drug smugglers in order to prosecute U.S. Border Patrol agents for breaking administrative regulations? ... Yes or no."

Dobbs has been helped along by his CNN Headline News cohort, Glenn Beck, who actually used the occasion of a report on Ramos and Compean to cast his lot with the John Birch Society. Koppelman details the activities of a number of similarly lesser figures, but notes that one in particular has played a behind-the-scenes role in much of the broader reportage: Jerome Corsi.

Yep, that Jerome Corsi. The fellow behind the "Swift Boat Veterans" scam that crippled John Kerry. His views on immigration, of course, are also well known; he teamed up with Minutemen leader Jim Gilchrist awhile back to write a book about the threat to the nation posed by immigrants. Note that back then, Corsi was evincing deep concern about the plight of border crossers in, er, less than convincing fashion:
"Politicians who believe that illegal immigration can be ignored must realize that Mexicans and others are dying every day along our nation's borders," adds Corsi, whose book "Unfit for Command" played a key role in convincing the American people to reject John Kerry's 2004 presidential bid. "These economic refugees are often abandoned and left to die by the human traffickers and Mexican soldiers who smuggle them across the border. It's nothing less than a tragedy."

But when two Border Patrol agents turn out to be among the people shooting at border crossers, Corsi evidently is not all that sympathetic. To wit, from Koppelman:
Lou Dobbs garners more than 800,000 viewers nightly, and he and guests like Bonner have been primarily responsible for the right's reshaping of the Ramos and Compean story. The case, however, has also been a focus of right-wing obsession on the Internet. Reporter Jerome Corsi has been instrumental in advancing the narrative on the Web. A reporter for WorldNetDaily, Corsi is best-known for his role in the Swift-boat movement. His latest book is "The Late Great USA: The Coming Merger With Mexico and Canada," a long conspiracy theory in which he claims to expose secret plans for a "North American Union" that would combine the three countries into one.

Corsi's most important contribution to the reworked conservative version of the Ramos and Compean case is to attempt to absolve the agents of a coverup. In reality, the incident was only discovered, and the agents prosecuted, because Border Patrol Agent Rene Sanchez, hundreds of miles away in Arizona, heard about it through his mother-in-law. In Corsi's version, however, Ramos and Compean's supervisors knew about the shooting as soon as it happened. Corsi relies on an early, ambiguous memo written by the Department of Homeland Security officer who investigated the shooting; the memo lists the agents' two supervisors among the Border Patrol personnel who were either at the location, helped destroy evidence, "and/or knew/heard about the shooting." The memo apparently refers to the known fact that the supervisors were at the scene of the shooting after it occurred but were not aware that it had occurred. At trial, the defense never tried to claim that the supervisors were present during the shooting, the investigator didn't testify that the supervisors were present at the shooting or had knowledge of it, and the supervisors took the stand themselves to insist they'd had no knowledge of the shooting till after Ramos and Compean were arrested. Compean himself admitted at one internal Border Patrol disciplinary hearing that he didn't report the shooting to his bosses because he didn't want to get in trouble.

Corsi is implying that the supervisors perjured themselves at trial. Contacted by Salon, Corsi stood by his scenario.

Unfortunately, there's been little attention paid yet to Koppelman's report, which is damning indeed, and should be broadly viewed by Dobbs' journalistic peers as an indictment of his journalistic standards. But that hasn't happened. Dobbs continues to play the story as factual, and Ramos and Compean are still martyrs of the nativist right.

Sam Smith, I think, has the perspective right on what's happened: The consolidation and commoditization of the nation's media in the past twenty years and more has significantly diminished its capacity to police itself, particularly when the offenders are major media figureheads and work for ratings-driven organizations like major broadcast news networks and major newspapers:
Regardless of publisher perception or economic reality, though, it’s painfully clear that coverage has deteriorated and that cost-cutting and revenue-rage has been at the core of the problem. A concern for the public interest may continue to exist in the newsroom as an inherent artifact of the essential character common in those drawn to the profession (hard reporting is like teaching - nobody is in it for the money), but it will never again be a primary motivator for the dominant organizations of the industry (if, in fact, it ever was).

The result is a news landscape driven by the logic of profit, not by the logic of public and community interest. Established networks, newspapers and magazines are therefore failing in their mission to provide reliable coverage of the events that shape the lives of their constituents.

This explain what’s happening with the news industry, but what does this have to do with “objectivity”? A couple things, actually. First, historically “journalist” has been a profession with canonized ethics and codes of conduct. It has been the physical embodiment of what reporting was, and objectivity was, in some measure, equivalent to the canons in other professions - like the Hippocratic Oath for doctors or the Lawyer’s Oath for attorneys. If the reporter came through a journalism school these principles were ingrained in his or her education from the first day of class; reporters who arrived in the newsroom via other paths got a quick and heavy dose of on-the-job training.

There’s nowhere else I’m aware of where these principles are being taught, so as the traditional institutions fade, so also do the professional codes that defined the activities of those who worked there.

Second, those codes seems to matter less and less even in the legacy organizations. Review the SPJ ethics code, then see how well you think the people at FOX, CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, and even places like USA Today are adhering to them. Those reporters may not be the models of professional behavior we wish they were, but they’re smart enough to know that while they’re not going to get fired for trampling an ethics code, they’re out the door the instant ratings and readership slip.

'Swiftboating', since the Kerry campaign, has come to representing a kind of pirating of the truth for partisan purposes. It's often seen primarily as a kind of campaign tactic, a way of undermining an opponent's message.

But it cannot succeed without the acquiesence of a lazy and compliant media dedicated more to ratings, horse races and beauty contests than to their duties as guardians of the public discourse. What 'Swiftboating' really reflects is the abject failure of journalists to reject this for the obvious propaganda strategy it is and to fulfill their obligations to truthfulness.

And it can't be any more painfully manifested than in the phony reportage on Ramos and Compean.

Friday, September 07, 2007

What's Lynching Got To Do With The Price of Cotton?

-- by Sara

Via Will Shetterly, this Livejournal entry, written last month by loligo:
As early as 1940, social scientists noticed that if you looked at the history of the Deep South, whenever cotton prices fell, lynchings tended to jump. The link seems to pass what one of my professors used to call "the intra-ocular trauma test" ("It hits you right between the eyes!"), but in the decades since then, the size, the meaning, and indeed the very existence of that link have been debated.

Today we have many more sophisticated statistical techniques on hand than we did in the 1940's. In 1990 in the American Sociological Review, Stewart Tolney and E.M. Beck published what is probably the definitive study of the cotton/lynching connection for the years 1882-1930. Importantly, they controlled for price changes due to inflation (among many other variables). They found that when they examined the price of cotton in constant dollars, falling prices meant more lynchings and rising prices meant fewer. However, when the price of cotton rose as part of general inflation, lynchings increased.

In the "King Cotton" regions of the South in that era, there was a dramatic economic gulf between the major planters and employers on the one hand (all white), and the day laborers, sharecroppers, and tenant farmers on the other (some white and some black). Predictably, the black workers were on average even poorer than the whites. So when cotton prices dropped, white and black workers shared all the typical stressors of poverty, though in differing amounts. But this economic pressure brought about another stressor for African-Americans that was completely absent for whites: increased risk of being murdered by an angry mob.

...[T]his study of lynchings shows that race can play a dynamic role in the maintenance of class systems. It certainly worked out well for the white elite, didn't it, that poor whites chose to ally themselves with wealthy whites in racial oppression of poor blacks, rather than making common cause with the blacks against their economic oppressors? I don't know much about the history of progressive movements in the US, but Tolnay & Beck say that there was a brief time at the beginning of the Populist movement when whites and blacks *were* starting to work together... before someone, somewhere stirred shit up, and the Populist movement became radically racist, and the first great wave of lynchings was unleashed.
The "brief wave" was indeed at the very beginning, back in the 1880s when the first Populist stirrings were starting to rise out of a series of financial panics that left American farmers in dire straits. In the years after the Civil War, as James Loewen has pointed out, there was hardly a town of any size in the country that didn't have at least a handful of African-Americans trying to make a go of it -- often, quite successfully. They were the Populist movement's natural allies -- until that "first great wave of lynchings," which really began to take off around 1890, gathered momentum, and swept throughout the South for the next 60 years. (In the North and West, this is also when sundowning began in earnest.)

It's old news that economic stress increases tension between the various working classes in America. But this study brings up a couple points that shed some new light on where we find ourselves today.

First, the study is striking in that it shows very directly how a poorly-performing economy correlates with extreme forms of racial violence. Whether it's violence against African-Americans in the South during the lynching years, Asians on the West Coast in the first part of the 20th century, or Mexicans in today's faltering market, a depressed white working class always means those just below them in the economic pecking order are sitting ducks for a wave of vigilante violence. The more you look at the history, the clearer it appears that the cause-and-effect relationship is both ubiquitous and inevitable. It's a fact of American life that whenever the economy tanks, people of color are going to pay the price in blood.

Right now, of course, the wealth gap in this country is yawning ever-wider. It's as big now as it was during the 1920s heyday of sundowning and lynching across the country. And so we shouldn't be surprised to find "Minutemen" and other racists threatening (and, occasionally, actually committing) violence against Mexican workers -- usually without much regard for their legal status. When you get this many have-nots, there are only two ways to go. They're either going to turn on each other -- or organize.

Which brings me to my second point. This kind of violence has always been instigated with a hard shove from the economic royalists, who would rather have the lower classes killing each other on the courthouse lawns rather than going inside the courthouses to challenge the structural inequalities they find so profitable. We know the Minutemen are backed by wealthy supporters, who are using the group to promote exactly the same kind of racial scapegoating that tore apart the early Populists -- and, no doubt, for exactly the same reasons. Now, as ever, divide-and-conquer is proving to be a handy-dandy little trick that never fails to prevent people with similar economic interests from recognizing their common concerns, and pulling together for real, long-term change.

We've seen this trick so many times before that you'd think we'd be onto it by now. But, now as ever: when the price of cotton falls, the number of lynchings rises. And somehow, the people who actually created both the gross inequalities and the racial animosities that lead to this kind of violence never seem to be the ones who actually end up swinging on the end of the rope.


Back last June, I wrote a piece on how the ghosts of that wave of lynching still haunt communities throughout the South; and the ways that some of these towns are starting to confront that past -- and move beyond it at long last -- using the truth and reconciliation process. My homie Lower Manhattanite over at The Group News Blog has written a story from the inside about the ways this old history lingers on, poisoning families and communities even to this day. It's long -- his stuff always is -- but, even more than usual, it's worth every minute of your time.

It's Freddie. Of Hollywood.

-- by Dave

So now we find out that Fred Thompson's real name is Freddie.
It's been a family secret for many, many years, uncovered only by the most diligent reporting. Few people know this. But Fred Thompson's actual first name isn't Fred.

It's really Freddie. No, seriously.

Official marriage, birth and divorce records in Alabama and Tennessee show that the newest Republican presidential contender was born Freddie Dalton Thompson. (His mother, who lives outside Nashville, refuses to explain how this came to be.)

But Thompson was known as Freddie growing up in Lawrence County, Tenn. And he used the Freddie name all the way through college and all the way through law school.

Given that we've already taken to the "Frederick of Hollywood" moniker, I wonder if Thompson's image isn't going to be morphing into another shape ...

Nightmare on Elm Street, indeed.

Monday, September 03, 2007

A Rendezvous With Destiny

-- by Sara

One of the most important tasks confronting us as we rebuild American progressivism is reclaiming our own long, rich heritage. It's astonishing, when you look through popular history books or watch what's presented on TV (if you watch the so-called "History Channel," you easily get the idea that American history started in 1941 and ended in 1945), to realize that there's a vast, deep, and important current of liberal history that has flowed straight down the memory hole.

We may be the first Enlightenment nation -- but all traces of that radical impulse have been carefully, consciously excised from the stories we tell ourselves about who we are, and what's desirable and possible in the world. Other generations have faced down these same tyrants -- and yet we can't even name most of them, let alone recount how how they did it. And it costs us, because without those stories, we have far less confidence in our ability to fight that battle once again.

(If you're looking for a basic education, David Sirota's Labor Day post offers an excellent book list to start with.)

A week ago, I invoked two of these lost liberals -- Robert Ingersoll and Ernestine Rose, rock stars of their day whose words and example are now utterly lost to modern Americans. Today, in celebration of Labor Day, I'd like to do some more of this -- this time, by resurrecting one of the greatest liberal speeches we've ever forgotten.

Franklin Roosevelt gave this speech when he accepted the nomination at the 1936 Democratic Convention in Philadelphia. It describes our current crisis at least as well as it described the one America faced then. Among other things, the speech included a sentence-- "This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny" -- that became the rallying cry of the GI generation as they moved ahead to rebuild first the country, and then the world.

I offer it as a reminder that we have been here before, and fought our way back. And also how essential it is, at moments like these, to have Democratic leaders who are willing to stand before the country and tell us exactly how we got here, name those responsible, and explain specifically how we're going to defeat them. We're not going to make it through this without an FDR of our own to shine the light.

Here's the speech.
Senator Robinson, Members of the Democratic Convention, My Friends: Here, and in every community throughout the land, we are met at a time of great moment to the future of the nation. It is an occasion to be dedicated to the simple and sincere expression of an attitude toward problems, the determination of which will profoundly affect America.

I come not only as a leader of a party, not only as a candidate for high office, but as one upon whom many critical hours have imposed and still impose a grave responsibility.

For the sympathy, help and confidence with which Americans have sustained me in my task I am grateful. For their loyalty I salute the members of our great party, in and out of political life in every part of the Union. I salute those of other parties, especially those in the Congress of the United States who on so many occasions have put partisanship aside. I thank the governors of the several states, their legislatures, their state and local officials who participated unselfishly and regardless of party in our efforts to achieve recovery and destroy abuses. Above all I thank the millions of Americans who have borne disaster bravely and have dared to smile through the storm.

America will not forget these recent years, will not forget that the rescue was not a mere party task. It was the concern of all of us. In our strength we rose together, rallied our energies together, applied the old rules of common sense, and together survived.

In those days we feared fear. That was why we fought fear. And today, my friends, we have won against the most dangerous of our foes. We have conquered fear.

But I cannot, with candor, tell you that all is well with the world. Clouds of suspicion, tides of ill-will and intolerance gather darkly in many places. In our own land we enjoy indeed a fullness of life greater than that of most nations. But the rush of modern civilization itself has raised for us new difficulties, new problems which must be solved if we are to preserve to the United States the political and economic freedom for which Washington and Jefferson planned and fought.

Philadelphia is a good city in which to write American history. This is fitting ground on which to reaffirm the faith of our fathers; to pledge ourselves to restore to the people a wider freedom; to give to 1936 as the founders gave to 1776 - an American way of life.

That very word freedom, in itself and of necessity, suggests freedom from some restraining power. In 1776 we sought freedom from the tyranny of a political autocracy - from the eighteenth-century royalists who held special privileges from the crown. It was to perpetuate their privilege that they governed without the consent of the governed; that they denied the right of free assembly and free speech; that they restricted the worship of God; that they put the average man's property and the average man's life in pawn to the mercenaries of dynastic power; that they regimented the people.

And so it was to win freedom from the tyranny of political autocracy that the American Revolution was fought. That victory gave the business of governing into the hands of the average man, who won the right with his neighbors to make and order his own destiny through his own government. Political tyranny was wiped out at Philadelphia on July 4, 1776.

Since that struggle, however, man's inventive genius released new forces in our land which reordered the lives of our people. The age of machinery, of railroads; of steam and electricity; the telegraph and the radio; mass production, mass distribution - all of these combined to bring forward a new civilization and with it a new problem for those who sought to remain free.

For out of this modern civilization economic royalists carved new dynasties. New kingdoms were built upon concentration of control over material things. Through new uses of corporations, banks and securities, new machinery of industry and agriculture, of labor and capital - all undreamed of by the Fathers - the whole structure of modern life was impressed into this royal service.

There was no place among this royalty for our many thousands of small-businessmen and merchants who sought to make a worthy use of the American system of initiative and profit. They were no more free than the worker or the farmer. Even honest and progressive-minded men of wealth, aware of their obligation to their generation, could never know just where they fitted into this dynastic scheme of things.

It was natural and perhaps human that the privileged princes of these new economic dynasties, thirsting for power, reached out for control over government itself. They created a new despotism and wrapped it in the robes of legal sanction. In its service new mercenaries sought to regiment the people, their labor, and their property. And as a result the average man once more confronts the problem that faced the Minute Man.

The hours men and women worked, the wages they received, the conditions of their labor - these had passed beyond the control of the people, and were imposed by this new industrial dictatorship. The savings of the average family, the capital of the small-businessmen, the investments set aside for old age - other people's money - these were tools which the new economic royalty used to dig itself in.

Those who tilled the soil no longer reaped the rewards which were their right. The small measure of their gains was decreed by men in distant cities.

Throughout the nation, opportunity was limited by monopoly. Individual initiative was crushed in the cogs of a great machine. The field open for free business was more and more restricted. Private enterprise, indeed, became too private. It became privileged enterprise, not free enterprise.

An old English judge once said: "Necessitous men are not free men." Liberty requires opportunity to make a living - a living decent according to the standard of the time, a living which gives man not only enough to live by, but something to live for.

For too many of us the political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality. A small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people's property, other people's money, other people's labor - other people's lives. For too many of us life was no longer free; liberty no longer real; men could no longer follow the pursuit of happiness.

Against economic tyranny such as this, the American citizen could appeal only to the organized power of government. The collapse of 1929 showed up the despotism for what it was. The election of 1932 was the people's mandate to end it. Under that mandate it is being ended.

The royalists of the economic order have conceded that political freedom was the business of the government, but they have maintained that economic slavery was nobody's business. They granted that the government could protect the citizen in his right to vote, but they denied that the government could do anything to protect the citizen in his right to work and his right to live.

Today we stand committed to the proposition that freedom is no half-and-half affair. If the average citizen is guaranteed equal opportunity in the polling place, he must have equal opportunity in the market place.

These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power. Our allegiance to American institutions requires the overthrow of this kind of power. In vain they seek to hide behind the flag and the Constitution. In their blindness they forget what the flag and the Constitution stand for. Now, as always, they stand for democracy, not tyranny; for freedom, not subjection; and against a dictatorship by mob rule and the over-privileged alike.

The brave and clear platform adopted by this convention, to which I heartily subscribe, sets forth that government in a modern civilization has certain inescapable obligations to its citizens, among which are protection of the family and the home, the establishment of a democracy of opportunity, and aid to those overtaken by disaster.

But the resolute enemy within our gates is ever ready to beat down our words unless in greater courage we will fight for them.

For more than three years we have fought for them. This convention, in every word and deed, has pledged that the fight will go on.

The defeats and victories of these years have given to us as a people a new understanding of our government and of ourselves. Never since the early days of the New England town meeting have the affairs of government been so widely discussed and so clearly appreciated. It has been brought home to us that the only effective guide for the safety of this most worldly of worlds, the greatest guide of all, is moral principle.

We do not see faith, hope, and charity as unattainable ideals, but we use them as stout supports of a nation fighting the fight for freedom in a modern civilization.

Faith - in the soundness of democracy in the midst of dictatorships.

Hope - renewed because we know so well the progress we have made.

Charity - in the true spirit of that grand old word. For charity literally translated from the original means love, the love that understands, that does not merely share the wealth of the giver, but in true sympathy and wisdom helps men to help themselves.

We seek not merely to make government a mechanical implement, but to give it the vibrant personal character that is the very embodiment of human charity. We are poor indeed if this nation cannot afford to lift from every recess of American life the dread fear of the unemployed that they are not needed in the world. We cannot afford to accumulate a deficit in the books of human fortitude.

In the place of the palace of privilege we seek to build a temple out of faith and hope and charity.

It is a sobering thing, my friends, to be a servant of this great cause. We try in our daily work to remember that the cause belongs not to us, but to the people. The standard is not in the hands of you and me alone. It is carried by America. We seek daily to profit from experience, to learn to do better as our task proceeds.

Governments can err, presidents do make mistakes, but the immortal Dante tells us that Divine justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warm-hearted on different scales.

Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.

There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.

In this world of our in other lands, there are some people, who, in times past, have lived and fought for freedom, and seem to have grown too weary to carry on the fight. They have sold their heritage of freedom for the illusion of a living. They have yielded their democracy.

I believe in my heart that only our success can stir their ancient hope. They begin to know that here in America we are waging a great and successful war. It is not alone a war against want and destitution and economic demoralization. It is more than that; it is a war for the survival of democracy. We are fighting to save a great and precious form of government for ourselves and for the world.

I accept the commission you have tendered me. I join with you. I am enlisted for the duration of the war.
Happy Labor Day. Don't just barbecue. Organize. We have our own rendezvous with destiny. And we are also enlisted for the duration of the war.

Crossposted at The Group News Blog.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

The new 'sundown towns'

-- by Dave

I've been reporting off and on about various local efforts to drive out Latino immigrants, or at least make their presence unwelcome, that have been occurring at various locales around the country, usually accompanied by hateful behavior and demonization targeting Latinos in the community.

It's become self-evident that a trend is taking shape. Nezua at the Unapologetic Mexican the other day pulled up a New York Times piece from earlier this month that laid out the scope and nature of the trend:
It’s in places like Carpentersville where we may be witnessing the opening of a deep and profound fissure in the American landscape. Over the past two years, more than 40 local and state governments have passed ordinances and legislation aimed at making life miserable for illegal immigrants in the hope that they’ll have no choice but to return to their countries of origin. Deportation by attrition, some call it. One of the first ordinances was passed in Hazleton, Pa., and was meant to bar illegal immigrants from living and working there. It served as a model for many local officials across the country, including Sigwalt and Humpfer. On July 26, a federal judge struck down Hazleton’s ordinance, but the town’s mayor, Lou Barletta, plans to appeal the decision. “This battle is far from over,” he declared the day of the ruling. States and towns have looked for other ways to crack down on illegal immigrants. Last month, Prince William County in northern Virginia passed a resolution trying to curb illegal immigrants’ access to public services. Waukegan, another Illinois town, has voted to apply for a federal program that would allow its police to begin deportation charges against those who are here illegally. A week after the Senate failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform, Arizona’s governor, Janet Napolitano, signed into law an act penalizing businesses that knowingly hire undocumented immigrants. “One of the practical effects of this failure” to enact national immigration reform, Napolitano wrote to the Congressional leadership, “is that Arizona, and states across the nation, must now continue to address this escalating problem on their own.” Admittedly, the constitutionality of many of these new laws is still in question, and some of the state bills and local ordinances simply duplicate what’s already in force nationally. But with Congress’s inability to reach an agreement on an immigration bill, the debate will continue among local officials like those in Carpentersville, where the wrangling often seems less about illegal immigration than it does about whether new immigrants are assimilating quickly enough, if at all. In Carpentersville, the rancor has turned neighbor against neighbor. Once you scrape away the acid rhetoric, though, there’s much people actually agree on — but given the ugliness of the taunts and assertions, it’s unlikely that will ever emerge.

That's especially the case because the anti-immigrant campaign has dredged up the ugliest side of the American psyche:
Many of the Hispanic residents I spoke with achieved citizenship as a result of the national amnesty offered in 1986, but they’d grown up in households where their parents instructed them to be measured and cautious in their activities. That may, in part, have accounted for the low voter turnout in Carpentersville. Indeed, early on, Roeser told me he was “surprised the Hispanic citizens didn’t get more vocal, saying, ‘This is our town too.’ ” But some of that changed when, the day before the election, 2,000 families in town received a flier. It read, in part:

Are you tired of waiting to pay for your groceries while Illegal Aliens pay with food stamps and then go outside and get in a $40,000 car?

Are you tired of paying taxes when Illegal Aliens pay NONE!

Are you tired of reading that another Illegal Alien was arrested for drug dealing?

Are you tired of having to punch 1 for English?

Are you tired of seeing multiple families in our homes?

Are you tired of not being able to use Carpenter Park on the weekend, because it is over run by Illegal Aliens?

Are you tired of seeing the Mexican Flag flown above our Flag?

If you are as tired as me then let’s get out and Vote for the: All American Team ... Finally a team that will help us take back our town!

This tract, which was sent out by a key supporter of Sigwalt and Humpfer, and with the knowledge of Humpfer, became a marker of sorts, a moment when the wedge was driven so deep (one resident told me, “It’s kind of like the Grand Canyon”) that there would be no easy reconciliation. Most Hispanics didn’t learn of the flier until after the election, but it so offended many of them — especially those who were American citizens and had a foothold in the middle class — that even those who’d never been politically active began heading out to the village meetings to gauge firsthand the mood of their neighbors. What so alarmed them is that it felt less like a debate on illegal immigration than it did a condemnation of Hispanic culture.

Much of the recent discussion of immigration has focused on the immigrants' alleged criminality, a claim that is not borne out by the actual research, which shows clearly that Latino immigrants are largely law-abiding and conservative arrivals. That hasn't stopped the nativists, however, who never saw a handy falsehood they could bear to stop using -- even when it's been clearly disproven:
Sigwalt and Humpfer’s main arguments for ridding the town of illegal immigrants come down to this: their presence has led to both rising crime and overcrowded schools. As it turns out, however, the crime rate in Carpentersville has actually been cut in half over the past 10 years; and while the schools were, indeed, overcrowded four to five years ago (when Antonia Garcia moved her family out), class sizes have now been reduced — although it did require the passage of a tax referendum.

This is all too reminiscent of the "sundown town" phenomenon -- the trend throughout much of non-urban America from 1890-1960 to drive out nonwhites by attempting to forbid them to live within their borders, either by excluding them from housing or from having ordinances that forbade them from setting foot in their towns after dark.

And contrary to common conception, the vast majority of these towns were outside the South, in the Northeast and the Midwest and the West particularly. The South used Jim Crow laws to oppress nonwhites; the rest of the nation simply forced them out of their communities.

And, as I've noted previously, it is not be mere coincidence that many of the places where anti-immigrant scapegoating is reaching a fever pitch happen to be the same reaches of the country where there used to be "sundown" signs in abundance. These were defended white communities that saw the arrival of nonwhites as an "invasion" that threatened their well-being; and though most of these communities have effectively erased all memories of their old sundown signs and ordinances, their longtime tradition of being "defended" communities remains very much intact. That's why they find it so easy to propose and pass laws that attempt to keep out Latinos.

However, their efforts may in this day and age prove futile. As the SPLC's Mary Bauer has explained, measures like these have little chance of remaining on the books because they are so clearly unconstitutional and violate numerous state and federal laws, as well as their clearly vicious intent. What uniformly happens to the laws is that they are overturned, and the communities are forced to pay very costly compensation for their efforts.

More importantly, they've effectively erected racial walls within their communities. And they'll be paying for those -- in distrust, disharmony, and a gaping social divide -- for years to come.