Friday, June 29, 2007

Immigrant Bill Dies in Senate; Defeat for Bush

So say the NY Times’ crack headline writers. For once, I’m irritated by a headline that reads “Defeat for Bush.” It is nowhere near the most salient aspect of this sorry event.

Senator David Vitter, the Louisiana Republican who helped lead opposition to the bill, said: “The proponents did not get even a simple majority. The message is crystal clear. The American people want us to start with enforcement at the border and at the workplace and don’t want promises. They want action. They want results. They want proof, because they’ve heard all the promises before.”

. . .

Mr. Bush, in Rhode Island for a visit to the Naval War College, said: “Legal immigration is one of the top concerns of the American people, and Congress’s failure to act on it is a disappointment. A lot of us worked hard to see if we couldn’t find common ground. It didn’t work.”

I feel that, given the president's recent battles over Iraq and DOJ misdeeds, “Congress” here is likely code for "Democrats"—however, the bill’s failure was primarily Republican driven.

Representative Zoe Lofgren, the California Democrat who is chairwoman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, said: “The Senate vote effectively kills comprehensive immigration reform for this Congress. It’s a vote for the status quo, which most Americans are not satisfied with.”

Thank you, Zoe!

Opponents and some supporters said Senate leaders had made a mistake in taking the bill directly to the floor without hearings or review by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Right, it was a big mistake not to let Senators Cornyn and Sessions rip the bill to shreds in committee. Ever eager to falsely lay blame equally, the Times continues:

Not just conservatives voiced reservations. Senator Susan Collins, a moderate Republican from Maine who is running for re-election, said: “I just don’t think the bill struck the right balance. People were troubled by the proposed solution for the 12 million people here illegally. We did not get that part right.”

Now Senator Collins is a liberal? Is she voting with Harry Reid these days? Apparently not on this bill.

The “right balance” was always a chimera. Restrictionists, pro-immigrant groups, and business have radically different visions of what would constitute a good bill, but all of them must sign on for any bill to pass. Or else business must decide that its financial interests (cheap labor) outweigh its political interests (sucking at Uncle Sam's bounteous teat) and join with immigrant groups to overpower the restrictionists. This might become a more realistic possibility once the long-term decline of the GOP becomes more apparent. A magic bill that would satisfy all three groups is a Broderian fantasy that, like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, most sentient beings should grow out of well before adolescence.

But Senator Harkin said, “The bill, as a whole, has evolved into an unworkable mess, and I cannot support it.”

I could say the same thing about the government.

But restrictionists are thrilled about this watershed victory—in the style of the Church’s victory over Galileo or Hoover’s victory over Alfred Smith—for the GOP:

Opponents of the bill were elated.

Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, said: “The American people won today. They care enough for their country to get mad and to fight for it. Americans made phone calls and sent letters and convinced the Senate to stop this bill.”

Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, a leading opponent of the bill, said talk radio was “a big factor” in derailing it.

Supporters of the bill wanted to pass it quickly, “before Rush Limbaugh could tell the American people what was in it,” Mr. Sessions said.

If you put it that way, I’m elated, too. Not really elated so much as bitter and despondent, but I guess I'm desperate for a silver lining. The restrictionists who reacted so vigorously to the “threat” of comprehensive reform have sealed the fate of the GOP for the next generation. They have done for the Latino vote what their predecessors did for the black vote—made it reliably Democratic for the foreseeable future. Once again, the calm wisdom and foresight of Malkin, Limbaugh, and O’Reilly will pay dividends for years to come.

And for all the Democrats’ recent and historic failures on foreign policy, they are clearly on balance the party that gives a shit about immigrants. The GOP just doesn’t. As Steve Benen points out, outliers aside, this is a fairly clearcut partisan issue:

[L]et's keep in mind that nearly 70% of the Senate Democratic caucus backed the legislation this morning, whereas 75% of the Senate GOP caucus voted to block the bill.
And back to the Times article:

Janet Murguía, president of the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic rights group, predicted that “the growing and increasingly energized Latino electorate” would hold lawmakers accountable for failing to pass a comprehensive bill.

Somewhere dark and quiet, Karl Rove curses under his breath.


There is a big fire burning two blocks away that just filled our apartment with smoke. My fiancée and I looked outside to see the sky lit up and the streets filled with haze. We followed the smoke down the street to Putnam, where there are four firetrucks that we could see, spaced evenly all the way down the block. A bystander with a British accent told us that three houses down the street were on fire. I hope everyone got out ok. The smoke is stinkier than a campfire, but not as smelly as the 9/11 smoke was. Well, that’s enough excitement for one night. Now I am being alerted to an orchestra composed of Thai elephants. They sound about as you would expect. Back to normal for us, if not for the newly homeless down the street.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Moore the traitor

Amanda Marcotte speculates as to why liberals don't like Michael Moore:

But I do think liberals who dislike Moore so strongly are genuine in their distaste and not just trotting it out to appear fair’n'balanced. And I think that Ezra’s review points to why—the overarching theme of Moore’s career has been an attack on American exceptionalism, a disease that infects both the left and the right in this country. Granted, the right suffers from the disease far more, but the belief that America is somehow better or at least different and can’t be held up to the same standards as other countries is endemic. It’s why so many usually intelligent liberal types fell into the trap of supporting the invasion of Iraq, when it should have been clear from the beginning what a bad idea it was—they just believed, in their heart of hearts, that America could succeed at this task that would be impossible for anyone else. Maybe the Marshall Plan’s effectiveness has deluded us into believing we have powers we don’t, or maybe it’s just that exceptionalism is drilled into our heads from the first day we crack open a history book in school. But Moore’s repetitive refrain that Americans would overcome a lot of our problems by learning a little humility grates on a fundamental and widely shared belief, which goes a long way towards explaining why critics particularly don’t like the way Moore sandbags people and takes them down a few notches. It’s a representation of what he’s doing to our cherished belief in our superiority.

The problem is Moore’s right. American exceptionalism is our nation’s tragic flaw and until we set out to fix it, we’re going to continue to make one avoidable blunder (like the Iraq war) after another.

I think she's got it half right. Liberals don't like Moore because they think he threatens America the Idea, but Moore himself is a classic exceptionalist.

From my hazy memory of the three Moore movies I’ve seen, he drapes himself in the flag at every opportunity. His whole shtick is that he’s more of a down-home Midwestern, patriotic, gun-toting, overweight typical American than some blowdried asshole like Sean Hannity or Ann Coulter.

There’s some truth to the idea that liberals attack Moore because they think he is an anti-American anti-exceptionalist, but Moore himself believes he is as American as they come.

But maybe that’s not true in his new movie; I haven’t seen it yet.

Monday, June 18, 2007

paving the road to hell

The New York Times follows up on the Chinese poisoning story, this time retracing the steps of a failed F.D.A. investigation of the poisoning of scores of Haitian children over ten years ago. The circumstances of the poisoning were similar to those of the Panama poisoning last year: poisonous counterfeited Chinese glycerin that was later used in medicine. The story describes the futility of a U.S. federal bureaucracy conducting a cross-border investigation in the face of uncooperative, corrupt Chinese government and business.

The Americans had reason for alarm. “The U.S. imports a lot of Chinese glycerin and it is used in ingested products such as toothpaste,” Mary K. Pendergast, then deputy commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration, wrote on Oct. 27, 1997. Learning how diethylene glycol, a syrupy poison used in some antifreeze, ended up in Haitian fever medicine might “prevent this tragedy from happening again,” she wrote.

The F.D.A.’s mission ultimately failed. By the time an F.D.A. agent visited the suspected manufacturer, the plant was shut down and Chinese companies said they bore no responsibility for the mass poisoning.

Ten years later it happened again, this time in Panama. Chinese-made diethylene glycol, masquerading as its more expensive chemical cousin glycerin, was mixed into medicine, killing at least 100 people there last year. And recently, Chinese toothpaste containing diethylene glycol was found in the United States and seven other countries, prompting tens of thousands of tubes to be recalled.

The F.D.A.’s efforts to investigate the Haiti poisonings, documented in internal F.D.A. memorandums obtained by The New York Times, demonstrate not only the intransigence of Chinese officials, but also the same regulatory failings that allowed a virtually identical poisoning to occur 10 years later. The cases further illustrate what happens when nations fail to police the global pipeline of pharmaceutical ingredients.

It doesn’t make much sense for a U.S. agency, however well intentioned, to half-heartedly try to track down the cause of the deaths of Haitian children, then throw up its hands in frustration and wait for the next wave of deaths. Recall that this is the government that routinely turns away or deports Haitian refugees fleeing the chaotic violence that has engulfed the country for the past fifteen years. The welfare of Haitians or Panamanians or Bangladeshis is not high on the list of priorities of the F.D.A. or any U.S. government agency--and it's certainly absent from the Chinese government's agenda. The job of investigating and preventing cross-border poisonings is not one that the U.S. is able or motivated to do well. The WHO, or perhaps some not-yet-existent arm of the WTO, would be better positioned for this work. However achieved, more sensible cross-border regulation is needed here, or we’ll be looking at another identical headline in five years.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

bullshit detector

Ezra Klein writes about groupthink among strategists on the left before the war:

A few hyper influential types -- Holbrooke, say, and Ken Pollack, and Tony Blair -- came to the wrong conclusion early on, and their decisions, based, as they supposedly were, on more and better information than the rest of us had, were enormously influential. Many who trusted them assumed, like with the early diners in the Chinese restaurant, that they must be in support for a reason, and so they fell in line. There's your information cascade. And once a critical mass of influentials were for the Iraq War, other influentials with more qualms either quieted their doubts or simply reversed them. It's hard to stand outside the group, particularly when you don't see where your information or expertise differ. If everyone else sees a small line, are you sure you're seeing a long one?

From Wikipedia, on the February 15, 2003 global anti-war protests:

Millions of people protested, in approximately 800 cities around the world. Listed by the 2004 Guinness Book of Records as the largest protest in human history, protests occurred among others in the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, the United States, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Syria, India, Russia, South Korea, Japan, and even McMurdo Station in Antarctica. The largest demonstration this day occurred in London, where 2,000,000 protesters gathered in Hyde Park; speakers included the Reverend Jesse Jackson, London mayor Ken Livingstone, and Liberal Democrats leader Charles Kennedy.
The largest protest in human history . . . 2 million people in Hyde Park! That’s like most of Brooklyn, or the population of the entire state of Utah, all crammed into 600 acres. There were half a million people in the streets in New York City and comparable numbers in San Francisco. Interesting fact: New York City was a primary target of the 9/11 attacks. Even so, half a million New Yorkers were so upset by the prospect of attacking Iraq that they faced freezing temperatures and police horses to march down First Avenue to . . . be casually dismissed by the government and media as a bunch of stupid fucking hippies.

For its unabashed endorsement of the Iraq War, the center-left foreign policy establishment deserves to be disbanded and forced to sit through Nacho Libre on a 24-hour loop with their eyelids taped open. Whining about what Holbrooke or Blair or Pollack thought—a favorite tactic of über weenie John Edwards—is just another way of saying you didn’t know what the fuck was going on so you deferred to the judgment of the weenie on your right, who deferred to the weenie on his right, who was Dick Fucking Cheney. Oops. Which I guess is Ezra’s argument, but is it supposed to make us feel better that the entire bunch of them didn’t know their arses from Britney Spears’ confidently ignorant, patriotic elbow?

Bah, I say, bah!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

get a life

On the recent JFK airport plot, Thoreau has it about right:

I think we’re all familiar with the alleged plot against JFK Airport: Four men (one a long time US citizen located in the US, 3 in Guyana or Trinidad) were planning to blow up fuel tanks. One of the men had held a job with an airport contractor, but it was not apparent that he had access to the fuel tanks, and they appeared to have some very inaccurate notions of what happens when you try to blow up a fuel tank (hint: the fire doesn’t normally spread down the length of the 40 mile pipeline to the refinery). Moreover, they seemed to have no real idea of how to go about it, and were seeking help. At that point, their quest for help attracted the attention of the right people, and the predictable happened.

For the record, if the allegations are proven in court then I’m glad that 3 of these guys are under arrest and that a manhunt is in progress for the 4th. A stupid criminal with a bad plan is still a criminal, and should be punished. I’m even more glad that the matter is being pursued via our independent judiciary, rather than in a legal black hole.

But looking at the big picture, it’s also clear that while these guys deserve punishment, they aren’t exactly a dire threat, and that there’s been a pattern here since the 9/11 attacks: We are no longer facing the A-list terrorists of 9/11. Rather, we’re facing amateurs with grandiose but ill-conceived plans: The idiots who were going to destroy Brooklyn Bridge with a blowtorch. The guys in Miami who mostly just wanted to scam Al Qaeda. (”Oh, no, we don’t need bombs. But we could use some cash, cars, digital cameras, combat boots, and guns. Preferably automatic weapons that fetch a nice price on the black market.”) The British guys who were going to blow up a plane with liquids that almost certainly wouldn’t have worked. And probably a couple others that I’m forgetting.

I don’t appreciate assholes who want to blow up me and my neighbors. They are losers, and I’m glad they were caught.

But Mayor Bloomberg has the definitive final word (via TPM):

There are lots of threats to you in the world. There's the threat of a heart attack for genetic reasons. You can't sit there and worry about everything. Get a life. You have a much greater danger of being hit by lightning than being struck by a terrorist.

Take that, Rudy!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


To: The Blogosphere

From: Me

cc: Jubal Harshaw

Re: Appropriate Use of the Word “Grok”

Use of the word “grok” is never appropriate. This change in policy shall be effective immediately.

immigration update

Migra Matters has a useful summary of this week's amendments to the immigration bill in the Senate.

Regarding the Menendez-Hagel amendment (#4 on the Migra Matters list), this bill is full of pernicious provisions, but one of the worst is the one that would nullify family-based petitions filed after January 2005. This would basically yank the rug out from under tens or hundreds of thousands of families who tried in good faith to legalize their status here. The Menendez-Hagel amendment would at least extend the cutoff date to January 2007. Not perfect, but better.

Via Ezra Klein, the Washington Post reports that the bill has so far survived amendments meant to kill it, and has gathered enough momentum to possibly carry it through the Senate. However, none of the advocacy groups pushing for comprehensive reform seems to like the bill very much. If the bill passes, we will be replacing our current dysfunctional system with a new dysfunctional system. At this point, though, I am hoping that any change now will lead to more positive developments down the road as the political dynamic shifts to favor immigrants more than it does now.

Brad DeLong points to a CBO study showing that the fiscal consequences of the bill as proposed will be minimal, with added border security the biggest single cost. But somehow I doubt that will prevent GOP politicians from running "illegal aliens are stealing our social security" ads in the next election cycle.

more dysfunction in the courts

Via ImmigrationProf Blog, Human Rights First has issued a summary report on the overstretched immigration courts.

In March 2002, the Board expanded its use of single-member affirmances without opinions (AWOs) to cases involving asylum, withholding of removal and relief under the Convention Against Torture. This expansion, which followed the Attorney General’s February 2002 announcement of upcoming changes to the Board, was made by the Board under existing streamlining authority – authority that had been included in regulations issued in October 1999.

Later in 2002, the Department of Justice issued new “streamlining” regulations. These regulatory changes also expanded the use of AWOs and brief orders – and made single-member decisions the rule, rather than the exception. Prior to the changes made in 2002, the Board typically decided cases by three-member panels and granted about 25% of these appeals. But this rate dropped dramatically. A law firm working with Human Rights First analyzed about 1,400 asylum, withholding of removal, and Convention Against Torture cases decided by the Board in September 2002. In approximately 80% of these cases, a single Board member affirmed the decision of the immigration judge in a one-sentence opinion. Moreover, the Board granted asylum, withholding of removal, or Convention Against Torture relief in less than 5% of these cases.

In a February 2005 report, the bi-partisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) found a dramatic drop in granting asylum appeals – from about 24% to 2-4% in expedited removal cases – and concluded that “[s]tatistically, it is highly unlikely that any asylum-seeker denied by an immigration judge will find protection by appealing to the BIA.”
These are some sad results, and show how far due process rights of immigrants were eroded by the Ashcroft initiatives.
In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Judge Walker noted that a single immigration judge “has to dispose of 1,400 cases a year, or nearly twenty-seven cases a week, or more than five each business day, simply to stay abreast of his docket” and that each board member “must dispose of nearly 4000 cases a year – or about 80 a week – a virtually impossible task.
Among other things, HRF recommends that the “streamlining” procedures be reversed, that more immigration judges and court staff be hired and trained, and more pro bono work be encouraged and facilitated. This summary report highlights again how strung out the immigration courts are—they need some time in rehab to rest and recuperate in order to provide a fair, workable system for adjudicating immigration cases.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

zombie lies

One of Andrew Sullivan’s readers lets the cat out of the bag:

Indoctrinated since birth in the idea that America is different, there aren't words to express the anguish that I feel that my country now finds itself in the position of saying "But the other guys torturers are much worse than our torturers."
This is one hard-to-kill notion. The reader is aware of and acknowledges that his/her loyalty to the idea of American exceptionalism is the result of a process of indoctrination that began before the reader could speak or even walk. But somehow this knowledge of assisted self-bamboozlement provides little comfort when the mental edifice so carefully constructed and maintained begins to crumble under the weight of contrary evidence.

It’s interesting that the reader would use that word: indoctrinated. The Free Online Dictionary gives us a definition:
tr.v. in•doc•tri•nat•ed, in•doc•tri•nat•ing, in•doc•tri•nates
1. To instruct in a body of doctrine or principles.
2. To imbue with a partisan or ideological point of view: a generation of children who had been indoctrinated against the values of their parents.
Perhaps I’m biased by my religious upbringing, but I tend to think of the second use of the word as more common. Most groups don’t like to admit that they are “indoctrinating” children to accept ideas they might otherwise reject. “Indoctrination” connotes “brainwashing.”

However, let’s take a look at the first, more innocuous usage, “to instruct in a body of doctrine or principles.” Looking closer at the word “doctrine,” we find this definition:
1. A principle or body of principles presented for acceptance or belief, as by a religious, political, scientific, or philosophic group; dogma.
2. A rule or principle of law, especially when established by precedent.
3. A statement of official government policy, especially in foreign affairs and military strategy.
4. Archaic Something taught; a teaching.
(2) is a strictly legal usage not applicable in this context, and using (4) would make the first definition of “indoctrinate” above circular and meaningless: “to instruct in a body of something taught.”

That leaves us with (1) and (3). American exceptionalism is certainly a stated policy of the U.S. government, but that is not exactly what Sullivan’s reader was referring to. The reader was talking about a patriotic belief that “America is different” which is inculcated in each American from a young age through school, church, parents, and community groups. That belief seems to fit the first definition of “doctrine” above: “A principle or body of principles presented for acceptance or belief, as by a religious, political, scientific, or philosophic group; dogma.”

But what body of principles are we talking about here? Here is a passable summary of American exceptionalism from Wikipedia:
The term has also come to describe the belief that the United States has an exceptional position among countries, and should not be bound by international law except where it serves American interests. This position is driven by a (usually implicit) premise that the United States cannot violate international law (and in particular international human rights norms) because of the view that America itself was largely responsible for instigating those norms in the first place. This view has come under stress due to perceived international condemnation of US human rights practices under the doctrine of War on Terror. (Also see: Human rights and the United States.)

The basis most commonly cited for American exceptionalism is the idea that the United States and the American people hold a special place in the world, by offering opportunity and hope for humanity, derived from a unique balance of public and private interests governed by constitutional ideals that are focused on personal and economic freedom[citation needed]. It is therefore used by United States citizens to indicate a moral superiority of America or Americans. Others use it to refer to the American concept as itself an exceptional ideal which gives the country a privileged position, and which may or may not always be upheld by the actual people and government of the nation.
And especially:
Proponents of American exceptionalism argue that the United States is exceptional in that it was founded on a set of republican ideals, rather than on a common heritage, ethnicity, or ruling elite. In the formulation of President Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address, America is a nation "conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal". In this view, American is inextricably connected with liberty and equality. It is claimed that America has often acted to promote these ideals abroad, most notably in the First and Second World Wars, in the Cold War and today in the Iraq War.
That is some strange principle—by definition, America is an exception to the rules that apply to other countries. This is the opposite of principles as they are commonly understood—a set of rules which apply in all cases.

An essential component of American exceptionalism is the idea that American society is built upon the foundation of rule of law derived from the will of the people. That is fine as far as it goes, which is to the country’s borders and no further. There is no room in the full expression of American exceptionalism for robust international rule of law; the two ideas are contradictory. If America submitted to a comprehensive system of international law built upon meaningful global democracy, how would America then be exceptional? If the U.S. were constrained in its actions abroad by international rules, then the voice of its people would be muffled; American democracy would have been thwarted, even if the will of some greater number of people would have been satisfied. This, at least, is the view of the American Exceptionalist. The Voice of the (American) People must be heard!

The U.S., when acting abroad in violation of international rules that apply to other nations, often wields its internal democratic processes as a shield against criticism. Our vigorous political process, while impressive to be sure, isn’t quite the panacea to non-Americans we have collectively decided it to be.

To get to the root of the issue, Americans are generally supportive of international law until it means that the U.S. military would be constrained by outside opinion or that Americans would be held accountable for the actions of the U.S. military. Of course any meaningful conception of international law must include restraints on the use of force (in plain English, “killing people”) by individual countries.

Exceptionalist ideals are so deeply ingrained in the minds of most Americans that they don't even notice them. Exceptionalism isn't often explicitly addressed in the U.S. media because it is the crucial but unacknowledged background to much of what is reported. Everyone is indoctrinated, but few unlearn what they have come to believe and love, and those few are generally reviled.

I can tapdance around this bullshit all day, but at the end of the day, when the music stops, all we are left with is this transparently self-serving turd of an ideology, that we are better simply because we are us. That isn’t much to hang your hat on, much less your dreams and aspirations. Sullivan’s reader may be catching glimpses of light through the web of delusion in which most Americans are cocooned, and this would account for the anguish he/she is feeling. The reader is further along than most, but still has some nasty surprises ahead, I think.

Friday, June 01, 2007

the base

Overheard from Jim Henley:

George Bush’s popularity is now at the Margin of Crazification discussed on Kung Fu Monkey back in 2005 and again early this year:
John: Hey, Bush is now at 37% approval. I feel much less like Kevin McCarthy screaming in traffic. But I wonder what his base is –

Tyrone: 27%.

John: … you said that immediately, and with some authority.

Tyrone: Obama vs. Alan Keyes. Keyes was from out of state, so you can eliminate any established political base; both candidates were black, so you can factor out racism; and Keyes was plainly, obviously, completely crazy. Batshit crazy. Head-trauma crazy. But 27% of the population of Illinois voted for him. They put party identification, personal prejudice, whatever ahead of rational judgment. Hell, even like 5% of Democrats voted for him. That’s crazy behaviour. I think you have to assume a 27% Crazification Factor in any population.
Via comments at OTB. Theoretically, Bush cannot get less popular than this.
What Jim is overlooking is that 90% of that 27% hates hates hates the idea of granting illegal immigrants legal status. As Bush pushes harder for comprehensive reform, we may see him dip below this floor as even the die-hards peel off.