City of Joyful Dread

I caught a fever, a holy fire

Category: Random Shite

An Evasive Columnist

Ross Douthat’s recent column on immigration is somewhat, uh, elusive, although to the ideal Ross Douthat reader (who probably resembles, uh, Ross Douthat), it’s perfectly clear.  So maybe I can translate it or at least ask it questions so that it’s less elusive for those of us who may otherwise be denied entrance to a Ross Douthat column because we lack Ross Douthat proficiency.

The last time Gallup asked Americans if they thought immigration to the United States should increase or decrease, 35 percent chose a decrease, 24 percent an increase, and 38 percent preferred the present rate. Support for increasing immigration has been rising for a decade, but it remains relatively low. To the extent that there is a middle-ground position, it is for something like the status quo.

From polling like this you would imagine that recent immigration reform efforts would have worked in that middle space, trying to tweak the mix of new arrivals without increasing the immigration rate.

Logical enough on its own terms, although if a plurality prefers the present rate of immigration, and a successful reform effort would tweak the mix of immigrants, whom exactly should one want to tweak?

But instead, most recent attempts at a “comprehensive” bill have sought not only amnesty for illegal immigrants, but an increase in low-skilled immigration, above the already brisk post-1960s pace.

Are both the amnesty, which 88 percent of Americans don’t reject outright, and the increase supposed to be bad things, or just the increase?  The math is becoming fuzzy here—62 percent of Americans think immigration should either stay the same or increase, and yet 88 percent of Americans are open to the idea of amnesty for undocumented immigrants who are already here.  It’s almost as if Americans become more accepting of immigrants once they actually know them on a personal level.

Bipartisan bills dramatically at odds with the shape of public opinion are generally bad for both parties. And sure enough, the attempts at immigration reform under George W. Bush and Barack Obama helped give us both a much-reduced Democratic Party and a G.O.P. helmed by Donald Trump.

Yes, surely Obama’s 2012 support for DACA is why the Democratic candidate received 65,915,795 popular votes in 2012 but only 65,844,610 popular votes in 2016 running against a rabidly anti-immigration candidate who won 2,864,974 fewer votes (all vote totals excluding undocumented immigrants themselves, who can’t).

They also helped give us the new reform proposal authored by Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia and endorsed by the president. The Cotton-Perdue bill is written for the 35 percent of Americans who want less immigration, which it achieves by creating a points-based system for applications (with points for English proficiency, education, a good job offer, and so on), limiting family-based migration, and cutting the number of legal immigrants we take by roughly half.

I don’t know that the bill was actually written for the 35 percent of Americans who want immigration to decrease (although crowdsourcing legislation would be interesting); however, they may support this bill limiting family-based migration coauthored by the same pro-life, pro-family senator who previously voted to deny $300 million in federal funding to a children’s hospital in his own state.  (To be fair, he also voted against Hurricane Sandy relief.)

The case for such cuts runs as follows. We are nearing our historical peak for the foreign-born share of the population, assimilation looks slower than for prior cohorts and may be stalling, growing diversity may be increasing social distrust, and our partisan landscape is increasingly shaped by ethnic patronage and white-identity politics.

Assimilation looks slower when you look at economic assimilation, which the NAS report did.  Relative wage growth is down from the 1960s, the peak of the Golden Era of High Taxation (© Thomas Piketty), as is English acquisition.  But this is true for all low wage earners, as real wages have been flat since 1973; the poorer immigrants are, the more likely they will be residentially segregated, decreasing their opportunities to integrate economically, linguistically, and in general.

And maybe it’s me, but wouldn’t white-identity politics (previously known as white supremacy, and the oldest historical form of ethnic patronage) create the need for non-white, non-Anglo ethnic patronage?

An immigration slowdown would make assimilation somewhat easier and give American politics time to adjust to the country’s transformation.

Yes, the strategy of allowing white Southerners time to adjust to the concept that black Southerners wanted freedom to vote, attend schools that had books and electricity, and work for a living wage in the 1950s was vastly preferable to federal government intervention.  The moral of the civil rights movement, after all, is that white supremacy has a time limit, and once that time is up, whites will suddenly embrace change with open arms and open borders.  That’s how it always works.

It would also modestly curb the growth of inequality, reduce some strain on social programs, and offer a slight wage boost to less-educated natives, who are presently in dire socioeconomic straits.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could less modestly curb the growth of inequality, fund social programs, and directly boost the wages of less-educated Americans who are already here?  Something like, I don’t know, adding more tax brackets and increasing the top marginal tax rate even to the Reagan era rate of 50%?  But wait, deficit-financed tax cuts for the next ten years would be a much better answer.  We should Just. Cut. Taxes.  I think even Senator Purdue can support this modest proposal.

But of course there are counterarguments. Immigration may hurt the wages of high school dropouts,

See above with regard to “things that could help the wages of high school dropouts.”  (Hint: you could start by just paying them more, or raising the minimum wage, which one of the authors of this bill kinda sorta supports while the other opposes it.)

but it offers modest economic benefits to most natives, and obvious benefits to the immigrants themselves. And some of the trends that worry immigration skeptics have improved over the last decade. Illegal immigration from Mexico and points south has slowed substantially since the mid-2000s. The future of immigration looks more Asian than Latin American.

I’m beginning to figure out what “tweaking the mix” means.

Conservative fears of a disappearing southern border or an ever-expanding Spanish-speaking underclass should be tempered somewhat by these shifts.

Amazing that more immigration from countries that don’t speak Spanish contributes somewhat to white, I mean, conservative fears of being overwhelmed by The Horde.

Moreover, as writers like Robert VerBruggen of National Review and Lyman Stone at The Federalist have pointed out, you can address many of the costs of mass immigration by embracing the new bill’s points system without also making its steep cuts.

That’s because a system that focused more on skills and education and job prospects would automatically put less pressure on wages at the bottom. It would increase immigration’s economic benefits, and reduce its fiscal costs. And it would presumably bring in a more diverse pool of migrants, making balkanization and self-segregation less likely.

Wealthy immigrants from wealthy countries: tweaking the mix to the max!

So that’s probably the immigration compromise we’re waiting for: a version of the Cotton-Perdue points system, the shift to high-skilled recruitment, that keeps the overall immigration rate close to where it is today.

But without increasing it, because only 24 percent of Americans etc. etc., so we would need to tweak down.  No tweaking up!

But there are two obvious impediments.

The fact that a candidate who strongly supported DACA, wanted to expand the ACA to cover all families regardless of immigration status, and provide federal support for naturalization and integration won 2.9 million more votes than the candidate who didn’t, and….I’m stuck on the second impediment.

The first problem is that the Cotton-Perdue proposal is associated with a president whose ascent was darkened by race-baiting, and whose ability to broker any deal is seriously in doubt.

Right, that would be a problem.  Also, it’s a shame that we can’t have an honest and open discussion about eugenics because it is associated with the Holocaust.

By making immigration central to his campaign, Trump helped make this bill possible. But his campaign rhetoric also makes it more polarizing than its substance deserves, and his incompetence makes its legislative prospects dim.

Translation: By making race-baiting and Latino- and Muslim-bashing central to his campaign, Trump helped make yesterday’s anti-immigration right-wingers look moderate.  But by not being subtle about it, his candor makes it more difficult for their proposals to be taken at face value.

The second problem is that mainstream liberalism has gone a little bit insane on immigration, digging into a position that any restrictions are ipso facto racist, and any policy that doesn’t take us closer to open borders is illegitimate and un-American.

True, being opposed to open borders is clearly American—after all, a previous century’s totally non-racist immigration restrictions even have their own federal government website (which is no longer being maintained—fake news!).

That’s how we got the strange spectacle of CNN’s Jim Acosta, ostensibly a nonpartisan reporter, hectoring the White House’s Stephen Miller last week with the claim that Emma Lazarus’s poem about the “huddled masses” means that the U.S. cannot be self-interested in screening new arrivals.

It was a telling moment, as was Acosta’s self-righteousness afterward. Liberalism used to recognize the complexities of immigration; now it sees only a borderless utopia waiting, and miscreants and racists standing in the way.

It’s outrageous to imply that Stephen Miller is a racist miscreant.

As long as these problems persist — a right marred by bigotry, a liberalism maddened by utopianism — it is hard to imagine a reasonable deal.

Utopianism is the new antiracism.  I mean, antibigotry.  It’s even comparable to bigotry, to the extent that they are both obsessed with bigotry (although one supports it and the other maddeningly opposes it).

But as long as a deal eludes us, the chaotic system we have is well designed to make both derangements that much more powerful, both problems that much worse.

Between bigotry and utopian antiracist antibigotry, the odds of reaching any compromise and moving forward are low.   Clearly, we need someone for whom deals are an art form.

Advertisements

untitled (Bodies #3)

dreaming is
never free

bloodless words becoming
wild needs

remorse unescapable

the best are the ones
you don’t remember

How Soon We Forget, continued

Reagan Youth - Youth Anthems for the New Order (1984).jpg

[I]f a road toward an American form of fascism exists, it will be predicated on the conjunction of several ideological and political factors currently visible. The ‘new patriotism,’ like fascism, is a ‘vehement nationalist ideology.’…In Friendly Fascism, Bertram Gross observes that racism ‘invigorated’ the political dynamics of classical fascism, by serving ‘as a substitute for class struggle and a justification of any and all brutalities committed by members of the Master Race against “inferior” beings.’ Ideologically, there is the need not simply to identify a public scapegoat–Jews in Hitler’s Germany, and national minorities in the U.S.–but to cultivate sharply divergent racial perceptions and conceived racial interests that reinforce the drive to the right.

[…]

The growth of a mass radical Right in the 1980s has also permitted the renaissance of even more extreme racist formations, such as the Ku Klux Klan, and the coalition of various racist political factions under more ‘acceptable’ labels.

[…]

I am claiming that Reaganism has permitted and encouraged the involvement of blatantly racist and anti-Semitic forces in the electoral arena to an unprecedented degree; that the ideological ‘glue’ in the appeals of these formations to low-to-middle income whites is racism; and that the inevitable social byproduct of the ultra-right’s mass political mobilization is terrorism and increased violence. Throughout 1984, literally hundreds of incidents of racially-motivated random violence erupted across the U.S., directly and indirectly provoked by these forces. Klansmen and racist vigilantes had an especially busy year. On 8 April, several hooded and robed Klansmen, passing out leaflets in Cedartown, Georgia, beat an eighteen year old Black youth with brass knuckles; on 19 June, racists leaving the message, ‘KKK: Nigger go home,’ burned the home of an Indianapolis Black woman; on 11 August, a Black family residing in a predominantly white neighborhood of Daytona Beach, Florida had a cross burned in their front yard; on 27 August, racist vandals leaving the mark ‘KKK’ attacked a Black church in a predominantly white Milwaukee suburb; on 7 October three racist whites, in an unprovoked public assault, left a twenty year old Black male a quadriplegic in Fontana, California. Chicago probably experienced the greatest upsurge of racist violence, especially in the aftermath of the election of Harold Washington as the city’s first Black mayor. The Chicago Police Department recorded 127 separate ‘racial incidents’ in 1984, an increase of 24 or 23.3 percent over 1983. The most dramatic were the firebombings of the parsonage of a Black minister in suburban Hickory Hills on 26 August, and a six hour-long stoning attack of the home of a Black family by dozens of whites, who were said to be celebrating Reagan’s reelection. Racial brutality in the U.S. is hardly new. What is ominous is that such groups have openly entered the electoral arena in many states, working vigorously for independent rightists and/or conservatives in the major parties. In North Carolina, Klansmen organized white registration drives, and state leader Glenn Miller ran in the Democratic primary for governor ‘on an open Klan and white supremacy platform.’ Klansmen in Georgia and Alabama succeeded in being named county deputy voter registrars. Although some Klansmen gravitated to the Populist Party, most worked aggressively for Reagan’s reelection. The national leader of the Invisible Empire KKK, Bill Wilkinson, publicly endorsed the President.

Reagan has created the social space or political environment for fascist and terrorist groups to operative with comparative impunity. One example was the emergence of Taiwan-backed death squads, which since 1981 have assassinated eight prominent critics of the regime inside the U.S. In the northwestern states, the Idaho-based ‘Church of the Aryan Nations’ has committed public beatings, robberies and several murders. Federal authorities investigating the formation state that the ‘Aryan Nations’ maintains a computerized ‘hit list’ that targets for assassination major figures in Black, labor, Jewish, and Marxist organizations.

The latest innovation in the Right’s vigilante forces is the series of bombings, threats and assaults on abortion and family planning clinics. There were no bomb threats on such clinics from 1977-180, and only four incidents during 1983. The following year, 27 abortion clinics in seven states were firebombed by evangelical anti-abortionists and rightwing groups, frequently identifying themselves as the ‘Army of God.’ A total of 157 ‘violent incidents’ were reported last year, including assault and battery, kidnapping, vandalism, death threats, and attempted arson. A few neofascist groups have been formed in part to halt women’s legal rights to abortion, such as the southern California-based ‘White American Resistance’ (WAR). WAR leader Tom Metzger, who ran openly as a Klansman for Congress in 1980, and for the Senate in 1982, has publicly attributed abortions to ‘Jewish doctors’ and ‘perverted lesbian nurses’ who ‘must be punished for this holocaust and murder of white children.’ The Reagan administration’s ‘response’ to these bombings was revealing. A national campaign by the National Organization of Women began on 2 March 1984, demanding that the U.S Justice Department investigate anti-abortion terrorism. On 1 August, federal authorities finally agreed to begin to monitor the violence. Federal Bureau of Investigation director William Webster, however, declared that he saw no evidence of ‘terrorism.’ Only on 3 January 1985, in a pro forma statement, did the President criticize the series of bombings as ‘violent anarchistic acts,’ but he still refused to term them ‘terrorism.’ Reagan deferred to Moral Majoritarian Jerry Falwell’s latest campaign–to have 15 million Americans wear ‘armbands’ on 22 January 1985, ‘one for every legal abortion’ since 1973. Falwell’s anti-abortion outburst epitomized Reaganism’s orientation: ‘We can no longer passively and quietly wait for the Supreme Court to change their mind or for Congress to pass a law.’ Extremism on the right was no vice, moderation no virtue. Or, as Hitler explained in Mein Kampf: ‘The very first essential for success is a perpetually constant and regular employment of violence.’
–from Manning Marable, “Race and Realignment in American Politics,” The Year Left: An American Socialist Yearbook, 1985 (Verso Books)

Karl Marx’s 23rd Dream

when Dayton became
too expensive
it went
to Chennai
& when
Chennai became
too expensive
it went
to Manila
& when
Manila became
too expensive
it went
to prison
& when
prison became
too expensive
we gave it away
for free

Visions

Bilibin._Baba_Yaga.jpg

Blessed are those with visions!
said Sandhu Sundar Singh,
for they walk out of darkness into heaven
the light of the Lord
the inconceivable real!

Blessed are those without visions!
said Baba Yaga,
for they sleep at night where there are no stars
& wake where there are no dreams

Baba Yaga as depicted by Ivan Bilibin (1902) courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

AT&T Customer Support

AT&T: “How can I assist you today?”

Me: “I’m traveling outside the US.”

AT&T: “I’m sorry. I couldn’t hear that because of background noise. Would you please repeat your response?”

Me: “I’m traveling outside the fucking US.”

AT&T: “Would you like help with your bill?”

Me: “I’m traveling outside the fucking US.”

AT&T: “Would you like to hear more about U-verse?”

Me: “I would like to own a vicuña.”

AT&T: “OK–I’ll transfer you to someone who can assist you.”

(call transfers from robot 1 to robot 2)

AT&T: “What would you like to know?”

Me: “I would like to talk to a fleecy sheep and a creep.”

AT&T: “I can help you with your international calling.”

Vladimir Ilyich Louie

The dictatorship of the proletariat, i.e., the organization of the vanguard of the oppressed as the ruling class for the purpose of suppressing the oppressors, cannot result merely in an expansion of democracy. Simultaneously with an immense expansion of democracy, which for the first time becomes democracy for the poor, democracy for the people, and not democracy for the money-bags, the dictatorship of the proletariat imposes a series of restrictions on the freedom of the oppressors, the exploiters, the capitalists. However I wish neither to “make an omelette” nor to “break a few eggs”—I simply want chicken.

Books I read in 2015

Fluffya 014

Because no one asked.
Organized by category, because I own a used bookstore (only with more than the usual 1-2 cats, and the hours are irregular, and I buy but never sell).

LABOR
Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell): My Decade Fighting For the Labor Movement, Jane McAlevey
An Injury To All: The Decline of American Unionism, Kim Moody
We Shall Be All: A History of the IWW, Melvyn Dubofsky
Labor Law for the Rank and Filer, Staughton Lynd & Daniel Gross
In Dubious Battle, John Steinbeck
Overview: Big Unions and the law de-radicalize the labor movement and defeat workers’ interests, management and their plutocratic supporters are worse, and the only answer is “never to submit or yield” (Milton, by way of Steinbeck).

SOMEWHERE ELSE
In Spite of the Gods, Edward Luce
The Village of Waiting, George Packer
Pity the Nation, Robert Fisk
India, Togo, and Lebanon.  I only read about 20% of Lebanon, which is still a few hundred pages; it’s enormous (the book anyway).

POLITICS (for lack of a better category)
Waiting to Land: A (Mostly) Political Memoir, 1985-2008, Martin Duberman
Homage To Catalonia, George Orwell
Iraq: The Borrowed Kettle, Slavoj Žižek
In A Time of Torment, I.F. Stone
Accompanying: Pathways to Social Change, Staughton Lynd
Wobblies & Zapatistas: Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism & Radical History, Staughton Lynd & Andrej Grubačić
Rules for Radicals, Saul Alinsky
Somehow I never read Homage to Catalonia during the preceding 42 years.  I only read the 66 actual pages of Iraq, not the 113 page appendices (it’s Žižek).  With all due respect to the fine work of AK Press and PM Press, two of the Lynd books I read in 2015 (Wobblies and Labor Law) were free PDF downloads (I won’t name the website).  I am not now nor have I ever been an Alinskyite (I agree with this) but he’s still essential reading for both the left (full disclosure #1: Tom Sugrue was my former History of the 60s professor) and the right.  Duberman’s “memoir” (part 3, taken from notebooks and diaries) is non-essential reading compared to his Cures (memoir part 1), Paul Robeson, and Black Mountain.

RELIGIOUS STUDIES
Muhammad: A Prophet For Our Times, Karen Armstrong
Because now I know more about Islam than Ben Carson.

NOVELS
Leaving the Atocha Station, Ben Lerner
Ordinary Mayhem, Victoria Brownworth
Woman on the Edge of Time, Marge Piercy
In Dubious Battle, John Steinbeck
I rarely read novels anymore and even more rarely novels from the past 40 years (unless written by Steve Erickson).  Some of these are more and other than novels; Lerner is a poet writing a novelized memoir about a poet; Brownworth’s novel about the horrors of the real world includes the real horrific experiences of others she met as a reporter (full disclosure #2: she’s also my former writing instructor).  I wasn’t aware of this at the time, but In Dubious Battle is also on Obama’s list.

NOVELLA
The Legend of the Holy Drinker, Joseph Roth
My dead half-brother was a fan (so I’m told).  It’s a tragedy of sorts, although its ending is less unhappy in many ways than that of its author.

Anyone else have any recommendations (or warnings)?

p.s. Films I’ve seen in 2015: Trumbo, a week ago.  (Good review and spoiler alert here.)  I don’t get out much.

Umberto Eco on Donald Trump

Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference.  The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders.  Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.

Ur-Fascism derives from individual or social frustration.  That is why one of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.  In our time, when the old “proletarians” are becoming petty bourgeois (and the lumpen are largely excluded from the political scene), the fascism of tomorrow will find its audience in this new majority.

To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country.  This is the origin of nationalism.  Besides, the only ones who can provide an identity to the nation are its enemies.  Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one.  The followers must feel besieged.  The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia…

–Umberto Eco, “Ur-Fascism,” New York Review of Books, June 22, 1995

Malcolm X 2016, Making America Great Again

Kelefa Sanneh misses the mark in his recent New Yorker profile of Ben Carson:

When Carson mentions racial uplift, he often adds a quick disclaimer, noting that his policies are meant “not only for African-Americans but for everybody.” Sitting on the bus, though, he advocated a kind of economic separatism. “If we would learn how to turn our dollars over in our own community, two or three times, before you send it out—that’s how you generate wealth,” he told me. “That’s how the Jews did it. That’s how the Koreans did it.” Half a century earlier, Malcolm X made a strikingly similar argument, saying, “If we try and establish some industry in our own community, then we’re developing to the position where we are creating employment for our own kind.” Of course, Malcolm X’s entreaty was accompanied by a caustic corollary that probably would not impress the Republican electorate. “Once you gain control of the economy of your own community,” he added, “then you don’t have to picket and boycott and beg some cracker downtown for a job in his business.”

No, you’d have a good chunk of the Republican electorate (and most of the Republican Establishment) at “you don’t have to picket and boycott;” they would be willing to overlook the “cracker” part if it means Blacks would leave, form their own businesses, and not unionize yours or theirs. It’s called “black capitalism” (or “community self-development”); Richard Nixon among others was a supporter. In fact, if this were the entirety of Malcolm X’s political platform, he could very well win the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, all else being equal. (He’s dead, but that helps too= he’s been “self-deported!”)