Friday, April 27, 2012

Name That Majority

Rachel Maddow spotted and spotlit this paragraph in a Washington Post profile of two Rabid Right pols whose claim to fame is helping to create Rabid Right tyranny by scaring people about illegal immigrants, mostly from Mexico: Kris Kobach and Michael Hethmon.  The graph quotes Hethmon:

Immigration is “on track to change the demographic makeup of the entire country. You know, what they call ‘minority-majority,’ ” said Hethmon, who is general counsel at the Washington-based Immigration Reform Law Institute. “How many countries have gone through a transition like that — peacefully, carefully? It’s theoretically possible, but we don’t have any examples.”

So if you were wondering why illegal immigration is such a big deal to these folks, apart from the usual cynical lying GOPer politics, you (as usual) won't find it in the facts.  Immigration from Mexico for instance is severely down from its peak, and because of demographics (fewer young Mexican men in the current and future generations) is unlikely to ever increase much. Border enforcement and other federal enforcement of illegal immigration is stronger. And (according to the new Pew study) at least as many Mexican families are leaving the U.S. to return to Mexico as are coming from Mexico to the U.S.  But the real "issue" is a certain political fear: a perceived threat to certain whites who are afraid of losing the "white" majority.

The economic impacts, good and bad, are highly debatable. So let's parse the racial issues.  Part of the impact of immigrants in a given town or city or region is cultural, if they are from unfamiliar places.  That's real, and it is also not new. Before the relatively recent waves of immigrants from southeast Asia and now from Mexico, there were the huge waves of poor people from Ireland, eastern Europe and Italy.

 Countries in Europe experiencing waves of immigration now, even greater in some respect than the U.S., are coping with the often difficult changes, especially when immigrants become the face of all the other change.  All this can inspire a panic turned into a principle of racial and national purity, which has its own ideologies or "pragmatic" fears (for Hethmon wants to sound pragmatic), along with lots of ugly history.  In its most obviously warped expression, it's behind the massacres that killed 77 people in Norway, most of them teenagers, by a man (now on trial) upset by the racial tolerance represented by broadcast of Roots and a popular children's song based on a Pete Seeger ditty about multiculturalism (which some 40,000 people sang to the murderer in Oslo on Thursday.)

But it's more than a racial rainbow that scares Hethmon, it's the end of the white majority, and therefore of white privilege and supremacy.  He is afraid of a "minority majority" in the U.S. caused by immigration.  First of all, he doesn't need to be afraid of new immigration--even without it, the minority majority is in the demographic cards.  The 2010 Census made it clear that we'll achieve this by the middle of this century.  There are already fewer white infants than non-whites.

To get a little personal, those of us of a certain age are watching the world we knew slip away, and it does cause anxiety.  We understand a world dominated by English-speaking white people, English/American institutions and culture.  Even those of us who welcome the wisdoms and liveliness of other cultures into the common culture, are nervous about being overwhelmed by intrusions, and by what we cannot understand.  But let's face it--that applies as least as much to the world of a thousand aps and computer viruses as it does to an influx of other languages and behaviors from other countries.    

But that's very minor stuff compared to the fears of people like Hethmon. What really scares Hethmon? I don't think it's what he says (societal stability, more or less), at least not directly.  What threatens Hethmon and GOPers is finally out in the open--it is the loss of their political control.  That's why this virulent anti-immigration scare stuff is of a piece with voter suppression and other efforts to maintain their control, to keep minorities out of democracy, and (in Michigan for instance) democracy out of minority communities.  That they are likely Democratic voters is of course the proximate reason but probably not the entire one.  White supremacy--their supremacy--is the motive, and he all but announces it.

  Hethmon refers to the lack of any precedent of a peaceful, careful transition.  Well, "careful" is about control, and we don't control who has children, at least not yet, although we can carefully manage any sort of transition--that's what governments are supposed to do, by matching support and solution  to need, with housing, community support, employment policies as well as law enforcement.  But peaceful?  No such transition is possible without violence?  There is no precedent for this?

In a way he's correct.  There was violence and people died--mostly black people--in the struggle for equal rights for African Americans.  On the other hand, you could hardly call African Americans "immigrants." There was also violence involved in the 20th century union movement, mostly by police and agents of the 1%.   For the union movement was largely representing prior waves of immigrants, who were the workers in American industries--in the textile mills, the mines, the steel mills. 

But these were white immigrants, weren't they?  Not always by the definitions of the times.  Even in the 1920s, Italians--with dark skin, hair and eyes (like those in the top photo, or to the right)--were considered black.  Polish and other eastern Europeans may have been pale, but they were--in an expression that survived in Pennsylvania well into the second half of the 20th century--Not Quite White.  For Hitler, these folks weren't "white" or Aryan at all--they were racially inferior and planned for eradication.  The extermination of the Jews was to be just the first act, partly to test the equipment.

If you go by early 20th century definitions, the U.S. is already a minority majority country and has been for at least half a century--not entirely without trouble, but successfully.  Of course, many of the participants don't choose to see it that way.  Some of the most rabid oppressors of new minorities have been and are from these nationalities, previously scorned as Not Quite White.  This entire concept of "race" is fraught.  There's no more scientific justification for it.  It's all about other things now.  And one of those things is power-and-wealth.

But Hethmon and the white supremacist police state that the GOPers support is also congruent with their anti-Obama racism.  This is yet another test of the strength of the American constitutional system and the American culture in creating common ground as a civil culture, as a self-governing society.  In the end, all the issues about economic fairness, equal opportunity, tax equity, equality before the law, rights of women and members of all other groups--they all come down to this: the basis for self-government.  Because without these, we're seeing the future in Michigan (where state appointed dictators negate elected officials) and in the laws passed by GOPer legislatures and signed by GOPer governors that dictate to doctors how to treat their patients, that take away rights of individuals to govern their own bodies and lives, that substitute the rule of the few--including the wealthy 1%--for self-government.  That's the minority we really need to be worried about.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Big Pivot

Leaving the other GOPer clowns weeping, Richie Richney cleaned up in Tuesday's primaries and made a speech billed as the beginning of his general election campaign.  It was the Big Pivot, to a generalized, positive, and severely poll-tested campaign.

Gone was the podium with "Obama Isn't Working" on it (among other things, another dog whistle for old white guys who remember the stereotype of the lazy Negro)--Tuesday it was "A Better America" begins today, presumably chosen after focus groups indicated that "A Worse America" wouldn't really sell.

MSNBC showed most of it, and afterwards their resident GOPer Steve Schmidt was psyched.  If Richney can keep to this, he can win, said Steve.  Rachel thought not--but Rachel's been paying attention, and Richney has already started contradicting his previously stated positions. 

For all the noise to be endured (or ignored) for the next several months, one basic question might well be: are people making up their minds now (there's some historical evidence that this happens in the spring before the election, and then people just turn the campaign off, or else just follow their candidate) or is the decisive slice of the electorate going to start paying attention in October and make up their minds the weekend before the election?

There's no way to answer this unfortunately.  Throw in variables like early voting (and the new limitations on early voting--or voting at all--in Florida and elsewhere) and the new data-rich Internet toys, and it's all pretty unpredictable.  But Schmidt could be right--if the economy is below a lot of expectations, and Richney can sell himself as a viable alternative, low-info voters may throw up their hands and vote for him as the Other Guy (not to mention The White Guy.) 

Right now the numbers are really against him.  President Obama may have a lock on Latino majorities, and they are a big factor in 7 of the 9 swingiest of the swing states.  Still, the movement towards Obama particularly among women was fast, and if those issues fade, who knows what will happen. 

If you're out of scary thoughts, though, here's one: for Richney to win, figures Ezra Klein,  it would take a GOPer surge that would mean a GOPer controlled Congress--and so Richney could actually enact big chunks of the far right agenda.  It could be like Wisconsin, or Florida, or PA, but for the whole U.S.!  Yippee!  On the other hand, Klein writes, if Obama wins he might well still be stuck with a GOPer House, and not enough Dems to deal with filibusters in the Senate.  Same old same old.

Yup, scary.  But once again I heretically suggest, a big Obama/Dem victory could mean returning control of the House to the Dems and retaining the Senate. No one knows what the political landscape would look like then, depending on how this election plays out.  And this campaign.  There's a lot at stake.  And President Obama knows it.  Despite the GOPer noise machine that the establishment media echoes religiously (Pew once again noting that the only candidate in the past few months to get more negative than positive coverage was President Obama), and all the monied mudslides ahead, President Obama is still the best campaigner out there.  This could even be fun.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

“The task of astrology, as that of any helping or healing profession, is to teach us how to carry each moment elegantly, with dignity, for it is the manner in which we receive ourselves that determines whether we grieve or sing, whether what we hear in ourselves is a cacaphony or a melody, whether in that moment we stumble or we dance.”

Charles Ponce’


  In my Earth Day post, I was less than optimistic about the news that Americans are increasingly believing that the Climate Crisis is real, and is intensifying the recent insane weather in many parts of the country.  But I don't dismiss the possibility that this could be the pivot point, when this country really begins to move in the direction of openly and directly confronting the causes and effects of the Climate Crisis.

It's also possible that this may happen more or less by itself, but it seems to me that it will take some expert moves by leaders who must do a much better job of talking about the Climate Crisis and the urgent need to confront it.  I'm not in position to talk about the effectiveness of twittering our way to that end, as my skepticism is obvious.  I don't get the political advantage to be gained by claiming credit where it is not due, as in the perhaps temporary defeat of the tar sands pipeline.  I've noticed that the Climate Crisis demonstrators around the White House have taken credit effectively enough to be given it in the media.  But as I've noted before, the pipeline failed to win approval for reasons other than the tar sands contribution to the Climate Crisis, and if that is not clear to them yet, it will make the politics of achieving a permanent solution all the more difficult, as well as becoming bewildering and painful for those protesters.

In an earlier post I awarded the white male vote to Romney, and suggested that pandering to this sector is a prime cause of the increasingly racist subtext of the Romney campaign.  This needs some elaboration. Romney has a slight lead among white males--largely because of his very large lead among older white males.  And as an older white male I am all too aware of real bias against older people (anyone over 50 is virtually unemployable in any new job or capacity) and the real suffering among older white men in particular.  The fact that the face of the 1% is old and white and male (though there are plenty of female members) doesn't justify stereotyping the rest of us in the 99%, even in the lower depths of it.  Nor does being white and male and older mean we are all racists and sexists and so on.  And don't get me started on the academic idiocies concerning Dead White Male writers... 

So I am not at all saying that white males can't delude themselves into believing Romney will make things better for them, without themselves being racists.  But the R campaign's attempt to encourage and inflame scapegoating is clear, and I still believe it's going to increase, perhaps to a very ugly and dangerously out of control level.

Finally, an addendum to several political posts in the past.  Months ago, the pundit priesthood was declaring that there were but three reasonable possibilities for the 2012 presidential election outcome: a close election with President Obama or the Republican nominee winning, or a GOPer landslide.  I had a different opinion: I saw a very reasonable possibility being an Obama landslide.  Well, it seems the priestly opinion has moved in my direction.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

It's Take Your Planet to Lunch Day!

Earth Day--what does it mean anymore?  If Christmas is the day you eat too much and celebrate and maybe think a little about sharing etc. then Earth Day is a day to party in the outdoors while making Earth Day resolutions and maybe considering the planet as a priority.  For a little while.

That won't do.  But it is worth concentrating for a moment on what gets swept away in the swiftly shifting and inflated obsession of the moment, or even in the sustained effort (or sustained emotion) required to address some worthy and for the moment all-important goal.  But then there's the Earth perspective.  Which has a definite impact on the human civilization perspective.  So from that perspective, when there's not enough fresh water to drink and food to eat, it'll be nice knowing that you can be married to the person you're dying with, even if you're gay.  And when it's too hot to breathe or think, won't it be great if you've got  a middle class house that's powerless now because the system has melted and/or been eaten by rodents and cockroaches, or universal  health insurance for a health system in complete chaos due to rampant epidemics.

When it started, Earth Day was political first, personal second, in the sense that personal behavior, spirituality etc. was part of it but not the part that got people into the streets.  In recent years, it's the personal--all the ways you can save the Earth by recycling your plastic bottles (but heaven forbid anybody suggests you try holding onto your cell phone one minute after there's a new version--into the waste stream with that!)

The facts seem to be that both are necessary and neither can be neglected.  A lot of CO2 need not poison the atmosphere of the future if we'd insulate houses and build them in better ways.  On the other hand, more than 90% of the water that humans use is used by agriculture and industry (as Derrick Jensen pointed out recently.)  Residential consumption of energy is less than a quarter of the total.  And so on.  The consumption of energy, water, land, and the chemicals that are poisoning the planet as well as the production of waste is almost all by industry, including industrial farming.  How their buildings are built is far more destructive than residences, although the land use issues of how we organize where we live is itself a fairly big factor. 

So all of that requires political control, which of course is why we're told again and again--by these corporations and the politicians they've purchased--that government is bad, it stifles "freedom" and it wastes taxpayer's money.  (Whose money do you think the corporations are wasting, by the way? Or are you getting all your stuff for free?  Do you think it would cost less if you weren't paying for lobbyists, political donations and "issue" advertising? )

We could accentuate the positive.  A new poll shows that thanks to the unignorable extreme weather, more Americans believe that global heating is real and is making the weather more extreme.  On the other hand, I expect most Americans agree that massive oil spills, say in the Gulf of Mexico, that go on for months--those are bad.  But since the last one two years ago (as Rachel Maddow demonstrated on Friday), absolutely nothing has been done to prevent the next one, or to be better prepared for another such spill.

Meanwhile, the effects on the Gulf's ecology, on the fish, the habitat, etc. are still accumulating.  There are dire effects on human health as well.  The effects are expected to continue for decades, though the cumulative effects can't be predicted.  So--not great evidence for an adequate practical response to a catastrophe everybody saw unfold on their screens over months.  If the causes and effects of this oil spill haven't been addressed, what hope is there for the attention and will necessary to deal with the substantially by orders of magnitude greater Climate Crisis cause and effects? 

There's even practical good news: a study that says that carbon capture from power stations is feasible--but it will require longterm government commitment.  And that of course is the problem.  There's a lot of good news in fact---clean energy is becoming cheaper and more efficient and more powerful. (And no, those wind farms aren't killing off the birds.) With more research money almost unimaginable breakthroughs are possible.  But gearing up takes large scale, long term commitment--the kind that government is best suited to provide, and which in some cases it is the only entity that can handle it.  But we can't even really talk about this--we're engaged in some hopelessly primitive debate in which one side's philosophy has been a catastrophic failure, and they are doubling down on it.  And we're not debating what it is essential to debate.  However, if this election is lost to Romney and the Republicans, it's pretty much game over.  So we have no alternative but to engage in it.

Earth Day began in the U.S.  We're arguing now over what "American" means.  When you look at the U.S. in comparison with the rest of the world, it seems a self-contradiction.  But I don't think that all the strange reversals are inconsistent.  The U.S. now has comparatively bad public education, lower literacy, higher poverty, higher infant mortality. Our rich are richer and everybody else is poorer, and we're near the bottom in upward economic mobility, into the middle class. The U.S. is virtually alone among democratic nations or even industrial-age nations in having no universal health care, a death penalty, and a very high proportion of its citizenry in prison.  We also lead the planet in guns, and in the circumstances where concealed firearms are legal. 

These are not bizarre coincidences.  This is a pattern.  The United States is a plutocracy with a democratic Constitution.  It has been for a long time, perhaps for its entire existence.  But it started really going bad in the late 19th century, when Mark Twain was making a political analysis in the 1870s that could describe the 1920s and the 21st century so far.  There were some important changes, wrought by leaders we revere, though not all of us for the same reasons.  But those changes have largely been eroded or reversed, and the rest are under sustained attack in 2012.  It's a defensive battle when it needs to be a time of shared vision and positive change.

Now it's no longer just North America that's affected, nor even the West, nor just the global economy.  It's the Earth.  The tension between a ruling plutocracy and the democratic Constitution--of the values and vision of Lincoln, the Roosevelts, JFK and now President Obama--versus the power of the plutocracy and the darkness of ignorance it stirs up, is a battle for the planet.  Although sadly the Earth is not the stated primary issue.  But the Earth as we know it is the ground of any future. 

But we live now, and not for long.  We live in as much harmony with the planet as we can not only for the future but for ourselves, in all our dimensions.  We make the future the work of the present, as we allow ourselves to be what we are, part of the life of this living Earth.