WHY DO WE LIVE LIKE THIS

Posted in Rants on February 14th, 2018 by Ed

Last year I put in a good amount of work on a book project, which I ended up tossing aside after trying in vain to get a literary agent to take me on. Yes, that's how good it was, I guess. A couple responded and told me, with kindness and regret, that books about politics have to come from Somebody, and I am a Nobody. I understand the logic, and it certainly explains why every sixth-tier cable news personality has his or her own terrible book on the shelves.

My goal was to trace out a unified theory of how we got here – a road map of how the United States progressed from a flawed but fairly normal nation to the open-air asylum we live in today. One of the major points was that we – and I use that term pointedly here, as I mean people like myself who are white, educated, and comparatively affluent – have been far too willing to be bought off and throw others under the bus in exchange for tangible economic benefits. We voted repeatedly for people who were and are obviously terrible because, well, just look at this tax cut. Look at that low interest rate. Look at how cheap these electronics are. We as a nation didn't make that choice consciously in most cases, but it was made nonetheless.

We convinced ourselves to ignore all the red flags that we were voting for people with a twisted, militaristic, might-makes-right worldview who, in addition to giving us cheap toys and tax cuts, intended to do some pretty horrible things to the more vulnerable in society. Among the many negative consequences has been the extreme NRA view of the 2nd Amendment codified in American life.

Large majorities of Americans support higher levels of "gun control" than are currently reflected by our laws. Because in exchange for some things we liked, we voted time and again for some people whose views on the 2nd Amendment were extreme at best and insane at worst. The issue just wasn't important. Guns were something "those people" shot each other with in places we no longer needed to go, having abandoned cities for suburbs in the 1970s. Gun violence was the stuff of crime statistics to be flashed on the local News at Nine round-up of how many young black and Hispanic people got gunned down each day.

Now the gun violence has come for the people who voted to let it happen but managed to avoid the consequences, at least for a while. Now the office shootings, random killing sprees, suburban school shoot-ups, and firearm suicide / accident rates have millions of normal, relatively prosperous Minivan Moms and Lawnmower Dads asking, "Gee why is this happening so often?" One of two reactions follows: Either they buy into the fallacy that guns will keep them safe and assemble a private arsenal, or they look at the practically nonexistent restrictions on gun ownership in some areas and struggle to grasp how elected officials could justify it. Can you REALLY get a gun before you're legally allowed to rent a car? Can non-citizens in some states buy a gun on the internet and pick it up 24 hours later, no questions asked?

Yes. They can, because for years the consequences of those policies happened somewhere else. Some cities turned into war zones, but we simply noted where the problems were worst and avoided those areas. Maybe we fell for "Three Strikes" and mandatory minimum sentencing tough-talk from pasty politicians desperate to look "tough on crime." But what we did not do, for the most part, was go about our daily lives wondering if we would get shot. That was a fate many Americans have had to live with for a long time, but it is only recently becoming the reality for the (politically crucial) white, suburban, fairly affluent voting bloc.

Eruptions of gun violence, especially in schools, are now like the backgrounds in old Hanna-Barbera cartoons – and endless loop of the same images that, watched long enough, cease to be noticed. You see them, but nothing registers. We let this happen because we didn't think it was important as long as it only affected others – others who, you know, kinda deserved it anyway because they were lazy and on welfare and on drugs and selling drugs and probably black or foreign or…you get the picture. It was the kind of people we felt safe seeing on the nightly Homicide Round-up. We felt safe because seeing the underclass of disposables gunned down was exactly what we expected to see. It wasn't shocking.

Now it is shocking and the victims are not Reagan's "Strapping Black Bucks" but elementary school kids and co-workers and concert-goers and all the kinds of people we don't expect to see gunned down on the regular. Yet here we are. We do not have to live this way; it is a direct result of choices we made. But the only thing that has changed recently is that now we are all players in a game that many of the neglected and ignored people in our society have been playing for a long time. The fundamental cause is no different now, simply because we get to experience up close what was once safely distant: we elected, and continued to elect, people with insane, willfully inaccurate, and morally bankrupt views on the 2nd Amendment. We are too easily bought off, and so long as we are willing to vote for these people "even though I don't like his position on guns" we will continue to live like this even though we do not have to.

NEW DISCOVERIES

Posted in Rants on February 12th, 2018 by Ed

There are bad narratives in the media, and then there's this:

That's the headline on Damian Paletta's Washington Post piece on Monday, and until I read how bad the piece is I was willing to cut him a little slack on the headline (which often is written by someone else). The amount of credulity it requires to write in 2018 about the "longtime Republican goal of eliminating (the) deficit" can scarcely be conceptualized. I know the writer probably thinks he took a nice dig at the GOP here – Look, they've flip-flopped on deficits! What hypocrites! – but it is flat out misleading even to play along with the narrative that they ever, at any point, gave a shit about the deficit. You don't even need to pay attention very closely to politics to understand that the deficit grows every single year and the GOP differentiates itself only by talking about how they want to reduce it.

They talk about it so much that some percentage of the public must believe that under GOP control the deficit goes down. Your Man in the Street can hardly be blamed for believing it, given how often he has heard it. Reporters for major media outlets certainly have to know better.

The deficit and debt are and have always been nothing but a stalking horse for eliminating things Republicans don't like from the budget. The budget and deficit grow every year like clockwork, even (and perhaps especially, given the cost of the 00s wars) under GOP control. If any meaningful difference between the parties exists on that point, it is that they prefer to spend money on slightly different things. One wants to spend a lot on the military and the other wants to spend a shit-lot on the military. Differences like that.

Deficit hawks are a mysterious bird, appearing only at certain times like when the president is black and then migrating to calmer islands when there's a Republican in the White House.

PERSISTENT FAITH IN THE EMPTY GESTURE

Posted in Rants on February 11th, 2018 by Ed

Last week we saw the apotheosis of everything that is wrong with the approach of the current incarnation of the Democratic Party. Greisa Martinez Rosas sums it up on CNN:

Nancy Pelosi spoke in Congress for eight hours straight about immigrant youth. She shared our stories and called for passage of the Dream Act.

Yet, while she was speaking, Democratic and Republican party leaders were writing a budget deal that would leave protections for immigrant youth out in exchange for dollars on other projects. Our lives — and the moral compass of this country — are in real danger and yet Congress is playing games with both. Speeches, empty promises and crocodile tears will not protect me or my sisters from deportation agents.

I recall in the middle of that spectacle – perhaps four hours into her speech – seeing all of the reliable outlets of the Democratic status quo at maximum fawn. What a powerful speech! And I thought, you know, this is gonna end up looking mighty silly unless it is the prelude to announcing a deal. Then the overwhelmingly cynical part of me that remembers everything Democratic leadership in Congress has done since 2000 crushed me like a piano falling on Wil E. Coyote: this speech is what we're getting instead of a deal.

It isn't a negotiating tool or a way to bring attention to an accomplishment that is about to become official. This is it. The gesture is the substance.

This is politics as an Aaron Sorkin fever dream, the misguided belief that if you give a pretty enough speech and if the Hashtag Resistance of older, better off, centrist Democrats gushes over it enough then maybe Hispanics won't realize that an issue that is very, very, very important to them was once again used as a bargaining chip by the Democratic leadership.

Admittedly, of course, the Democrats are not negotiating from a position of great strength here. But neither are they powerless. In an election year, the GOP has a very small majority in the Senate and is facing pressure on an anti-immigrant stance that is resoundingly unpopular outside of the rabid Trump base. The leadership has, for the past two decades, looks congenitally programmed to throw concessions at the GOP at a moment's notice.

As Will Stancil notes ("Democrats' 'Resistance' to Trump Is Eroding, and So Are Their Poll Numbers") the Democrats can point to some short-term, low visibility 'wins' like getting CHIP funded and avoiding a government shutdown. But in doing so they are bringing back to the surface their fundamental shortcoming: they are so obsessed with showing everyone how Reasonable they can be that they are now normalizing the most abnormal, divisive, and unpopular president in modern times. Rather than digging in their heels for once and saying, "No, fuck this fascist" they held out for maybe 9 months and now are right back to "Let's cut the best deal we can" mode.

It's the Vichy France mentality. There is no point at which they consider the long-term consequences or have a mentality that some things are simply too vile and corrosive to sit down and bargain with. Everything, under the congressional Democrats ancient, white leadership, becomes a matter of deciding that there's no way you can really win so why not just cut the best deal possible and declare anything short of the worst outcome a win.

Lately I've been seeing more clearly one of the underlying problems with the Left, Liberals, Progressives, Democrats, or whatever blanket term you prefer for people who are not conservatives: they are, to varying degrees, unbelievable quick to explain to you why something will not work. People who argue that this strategy of accommodation and deal-cutting is the best one are among the most likely to explain to people farther to the left why taking a firm, no-compromise stand on an ideologically left point is not going to work (Conversely, the farther left are just as quick to lecture the centrists on why deal-cutting is defeat in disguise).

And my question increasingly is, when was the last time anyone tried? How do you know it won't work? Maybe give it a try once and see what happens? I bet your precious poll numbers will benefit, if not your campaign donations. I can't think of the last time the Democrats really took one of the no-compromises, Fuck You stands that the contemporary GOP takes all the time to keep its base white-hot and ready to turn out in droves.

Why not try saying "Fuck the budget deal, if you're not ready to keep these immigrants in the U.S. there's nothing to discuss"? Instead, time and again, they throw the interests of some part of their base (usually people of color, shockingly) onto the table as a bargaining chip and then wonder why those same people are so unenthusiastic about showing up to vote when November rolls around. I'd argue that "Some things are too important to compromise, and the Dream Act is one of them" is a superior, or at least equally good, piece of campaign rhetoric to "We punted on the Dream Act but we got a budget deal, avoiding a government shutdown – AND Nancy Pelosi gave one hell of a speech for ya!"

Stop reverting immediately to "It won't work" and devote more time to asking yourself when was the last time anyone tried it. The beaten, defeatist mentality – the kind that has terrified the Democrats into submission, especially on taxes – always seeks to cut a deal rather than fight. Because fighting won't work, because The Opponent is too powerful, too scary, too obviously bound to win. Folding with concessions is so central to the way the Democrats operate in Congress now that the GOP takes things off the table that are not even relevant to the current debate just to watch them "negotiate" to get it back.

I'm tired of hearing that something that hasn't been tried for decades won't work. Especially given how poorly the alternative strategy employed time and time again – being the kind of Serious Reasonable People that win applause on Sunday TV shows and literally nowhere else – has proven so unsuccessful. It's not like the Party is on some hot streak that one should hesitate to interrupt. Just for shits and giggles, maybe try the thing you forever insist will not work, just once.

THE NARRATIVE FUTURE

Posted in Rants on February 8th, 2018 by Ed

You're reading a website with the subheading, "Dopamine's Only Natural Predator." So by choosing to be here you implicitly accept a certain level of bleakness. I'm conscious of the fact that people don't like to feel hopeless all the time, however, and I try to keep the content from becoming too dark accordingly. Fortunately there is always something to laugh about, even if it's the kind of laugh you make from stubbing your toe on the steps up the gallows.

Two stories that have simmered for the past year intersected yesterday, one of which is getting long-overdue mainstream media attention for the first time.

One is a thing I threw at you back in September – the emergence of this new editing technology that allows the creation, without expensive equipment or expertise, of very realistic looking fake videos. Examples abound on YouTube; Radiolab did an episode on this last summer; now the New York Times is noticing. Right now the tech is still imperfect. If you watch some of the examples available online they still look subtly "fake." It's hard to explain exactly why, but you'll be able to tell something isn't right. But give this, like any tech, five more years to improve and you're going to see videos all but indistinguishable from reality. Think, as an analogy, of the first fully-CGI characters in movies back in the 2000s compared to today. Once the gap between legit video and these edited concoctions is closed, it will be game over for any remaining hope of having one consensus reality. Any real video can be discredited as fake, and any fake video can be accepted as real.

The second item was this belated and shockingly casual admission that Russian hackers accessed voter rolls and voting systems in "a small number" of states in 2016. Now, before you go running for the deep end, it appears highly unlikely that the outcome of the election was affected in any way. That's not the problem. The problem is the final leg of legitimacy beneath our elections is being undermined on the record. As we all suspected, voting systems are not entirely secure (nothing is, obviously) and now the government has admitted that, yes, hackers have tunneled under the castle wall. I think we all kind of knew that. Now we know it.

This is a crucial step in all semi-authoritarian states – the delegitimization of election results. A good autocrat doesn't rig elections so much as he convinces the public that elections as a whole are not legitimate. Everyone's cheating! Who can say who really won?! Every election gets "disputed" and the outcome has to be determined by the state's unelected institutions – the courts, the bureaucracy, and, eventually, the military. As much as it seems like Trumpers would push back against a "Russia hacked the elections" story, this actually serves the long term goal very effectively. Undermine everything, then the power reverts to the status quo. Whoever is already in the driver's seat has a real advantage over everyone else who wants to get in it.

That's the agenda here, to undermine absolutely everything, even previously sacred cows like law enforcement. This is the strategy of denialists writ large. Climate change denialists, for example, don't want to convince anyone that climate change is fake; they want to convince people that no one really knows if climate change is real or fake. There's a "debate." A "controversy." Then the average person who doesn't know their ass from a mine shaft and who doesn't much care one way or the other can shrug and say "Well I guess nobody really knows." And once nobody can say for certain, everyone is free to choose whichever version of the narrative they prefer.

That is why the future is so dark right now – it's a future that looks eerily similar to Putin's Russia where reality is whatever you choose to think it is, nobody can really know anything for certain, and all information is subjective. Add in a burgeoning ability to generate fake images nearly indistinguishable from reality and it starts to look downright reasonable to conclude that we are well and truly fucked.

SIGNIFYING NOTHING

Posted in Rants on February 7th, 2018 by Ed

This week the website for a group calling itself "United States of Care" came seemingly from nowhere to the front and center of social media, at least for people in the "You're not a Trump fan" algorithm. Very Serious People are lining up to applaud its Very Serious Approach to "getting the politics out of healthcare" (what?) and solving this problem once and for all.

A couple things here.

First, the website is absolute word salad. If anyone can figure out what this group stands for you are either a genius or drawing unwarranted conclusions from this mess of boardroomese, buzzwords, Third Way talking points, and frenetic website layout. This may be a record for the most words ever used to say absolutely nothing.

Second, the fact that it didn't exist a week ago and now it's literally everywhere on the internet is a big red flag. There is some very substantial money behind this thing to afford that kind of saturation exposure that ensures that every single journalist, freelancer, blogger, and social media "I like politics" person sees it in 48 hours. That's a marketing budget in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Believe me: I've been pitched these "Get everyone important to see your site!" services and I have at least a general idea of what it costs.

Third, the first two points make perfect sense if you do ten seconds of research into who's behind this thing. If that isn't raising some red flags, you might want to do some googling. Bill Frist, former Republican Senate Majority leader and multimillionaire owner of a chain of hospitals across the South, might not be as interested in "taking the politics out of health care" as the pretty banner makes it seem. Jim Douglas is a fixture on the McCain-esque "Reasonable Republican" circuit. Steve Beshear is one of those conservative Democrats you get when you need to say you have A Democrat but Zell Miller is busy. Dave Durenberger is another retired Republican from the Senate.

If this doesn't turn out to be an Astroturf group for the insurance industry I'll eat my hat. It's brilliantly marketed, the exact kind of thing that looks and sounds GREAT as long as you don't think about it or do any research into what the group is. It's so vague that any viewer can project anything onto the group's mission and goals, and the whole "Let's be Serious, we're Very Serious People, let's meet in the middle" shtick plays extremely well with aging centrist types and people with very low information about politics.

It's hard to draw firm conclusions from anything this intentionally ambiguous, but I'm confident putting my money on the idea that Bill Frist is not genuinely concerned about the little guy's access to health care.

THE ENEMY OF MY FRIEND

Posted in Rants on February 4th, 2018 by Ed

Throwing the FBI under the bus – Amusingly, without any reference to the fact that during the election the FBI *twice* made public statements about investigating one campaign while granting the Senate Majority Leader's request to keep secret that the other campaign was also under investigation, and for something far worse – is nothing new for the American "conservative." While going after law enforcement may be a step further than they usually go (That subjective point is not worth trying to resolve, for what it's worth) it's just the latest in a trend that began decades ago when conservatism in the U.S. branched off from any meaningful historical definition of the term.

Watching the 1980 GOP convention with bemused horror, British conservative Henry Fairlie observed:

Just as Americans in general do not have the habits of deference, so the conservative in American does not have them either. Ultimately he does not defer even to the country's institutions. If one of these institutions, such as the Supreme Court, makes decisions he detests, he will defame that institution. He is as ready as is the common man to bypass the institutions he ought to defend (…)

Ungoverned and unfree and so in the end ungovernable; this is exactly what Ortega foretold in the coming of the common man; and it is what the conservative in America seems to have no resource to resist. No traditions to which to appeal; no habit of deference to authority; no patience with the bridle of institutions.

Europe shudders today, not so much at the three men who have merged this year as candidates, as at the political illiteracy of the popular voice which has chosen them, the American they most fear. The politicians will come and go, and do less good ad harm than is supposed, but what of the people who chose them?

The America which Europe fears is the America of the Reaganites. The America once of the Scopes trial; the America of prohibition; the America of ignorant isolationism. The America then of "better dead than red"; the America of McCarthyism; the America of the last fundamentalists of the 1950s. The America now of the new evangelicals; the America of the Moral Majority; the America of a now ignorant interventionism; the America which can see homosexuals as a conspiracy; feminists as a conspiracy; perhaps even women as a conspiracy. The America of fear. For it is fear that the ungoverned and the unfree are doomed to live. And there was this America in control at Detroit.

It is time that we reminded ourselves, and said aloud and more often, that it is from these people that nastiness comes. It is time that we pointed out to the neo-conservatives that democracy has never been subverted from the left but always from the right. No democracy has fallen to communism, without an army; many democracies have fallen to fascism, from within.

The whole intellectual tradition of conservatism is rooted in defending the institutions of society. Those institutions will be imperfect and will produce outcomes you are likely to find inconvenient, unpleasant, or misguided at times. Yet the consequences of sowing distrust in these institutions are far too great to contemplate and certainly dwarf the short-term pain of, say, losing an election or enduring an unfavorable Supreme Court decision. Compare, for example, the chaos caused by the belief that everything the media reports is a lie to the consequences of one incorrect news report, subsequently corrected.

At some point the people who call themselves conservatives in the United States decided that absorbing short-term losses of any kind was unacceptable and the better strategy moving forward was to set everything on fire and reconstruct reality to their own preferences. I think that point was the rise to power within the House of Newt Gingrich, but as Fairlie suggests the seed was already germinating long previously.

The strategy has, for the most part, worked. That is why the problems we face as a society today seem so insurmountable. There is no one and nothing that cannot be undermined and discredited for short-term gain: the media, the courts, elections, Congress, the White House, public opinion itself, and even law enforcement (to which right-wing obsequiousness is legendary) can readily be thrown under the bus and shit upon. And institutions are being redefined as "trustworthy, but only when We control them" leads nowhere good. It is a paradigm shift that is likely to define politics in this country for the foreseeable future, and cause for the most primal kind of pessimism.

I'm not saying "Don't try," but instead that the kinds of things many people seem to believe will solve our current problems – electing some Democrats to the House, defeating Trump in 2020, etc. – are more likely to be incremental benefits. They will help, but are only one small step toward undoing the damage done in the first two decades of this century. I fully expect that in 2050 we will still be working to fix this mess, and struggling to control the historical narrative surrounding it to a new generation of 20-somethings who will live in a half-nutty world that seems utterly normal to them.

PIVOT TO AWESOME

Posted in Quick Hits on January 31st, 2018 by Ed

Quick updates, full post coming soon.

I have a new piece up in The Nation about the importance of the "power behind the throne" role in politics, and how Donald Trump has chosen to fill it with a TV show – the dumbest one on the dumbest network.

Also, Episode 1 of Mass for Shut-ins: The Gin and Tacos Podcast is now available on iTunes, Google Play, and Soundcloud.

MASS FOR SHUT-INS: THE GIN AND TACOS PODCAST, EPISODE 1

Posted in Quick Hits on January 28th, 2018 by Ed

I am finally done and while I'm afraid many aspects of this production are a bit rough, I hope you like the content.

Episode 001 features an interview with Climate Group CEO Helen Clarkson, the history of impeachment before it became part of the Constitution, the story of USPS Missile Mail, the Corpse Reviver #2 for Cocktail of the Month, and a reading by author Andrew Bentley.

Special thanks to Patreon subscribers for their support, Zachary Sielaff for his assistance with the audio engineering, and the bands that graciously allowed me to use their music: Waxeater, IfIHadAHiFi, Oscar Bait, and The Sump Pumps.

It's available on LibSyn and SoundCloud, and yes I'm working on getting it added to other podcast sources like iTunes and Google Play.

ROSS DOUTHAT GETS THE FJM TREATMENT

Posted in Rants on January 28th, 2018 by Ed

It has been a while since I've done the FJM Treatment because it is a very time-consuming format. It also requires responding to writing that is so bad it barely merits a response. Something special took place this weekend, though, when resident NY Times Conservative Intellectual Ross Douthat penned a missive about the necessity of bringing xenophobic populism and scientific racism "to the table" when crafting immigration policy. Because how can you make immigration policy if you're not accounting for the preferences of the large part of the population that, like, hates foreigners?

Seriously. That is his argument Get ready for a fantastic voyage into the world in which that not only makes sense but passes for an argument worthy of inclusion in the Newspaper of Record for the Western world. Ladies and gentlemen, "The Necessity of Stephen Miller" by Ross Douthat, deemed worthy of inclusion in the New York Goddamn Times.

Hint: Stephen Miller is not necessary, for this or anything other than an exhaustive list of every man who owns a sex robot he named "Bitch."

After 12 years of failed attempts at immigration reform, the current round of negotiations are turning on a strangely personalized question: When a deal is being made, should Stephen Miller be at the table?

No. Are we done here?

Miller is the White House’s point man for immigration policy (and for strange and strident encounters with the press). He is also an immigration restrictionist: He wants a policy that favors skills-based recruitment over extended families, and he wants a lower immigration rate overall. He says he’s concerned about assimilation and crime and native wages; his critics say he just wants to keep America as white as possible, and that by even bringing him to meetings Trump is making a deal impossible to reach.

Yeah he's also, like, super 1910s-era xenophobic racist "restrictionist" with a lengthy history of having, to put it charitably, some problems dealing with people who are not exactly like him. Every word out of his mouth about immigration is shades of Madison Grant, the eugenics movement, Lothrop Stoddard, and the Immigration Restriction League of the WWI era. "Nordic Stock" has been replaced by "skills based," since we can safely assume that if those skills belong to Indian and Chinese people they will be deemed less relevant than the skills of (wink!) Norwegians.

The critics are right about this much: Having someone like Miller involved is a change from the way prior immigration negotiations have proceeded.

Yeah the government has either been composed of flaming racists or have, for brief intervals, recognized the general lack of usefulness of bringing flaming racists to the table.

As Jim Antle points out in a column for The Week, those negotiations have been consistently bipartisan, bringing together John McCain and Ted Kennedy, Marco Rubio and Chuck Schumer, now Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin — but “they have mostly taken place between people who are fundamentally in agreement on immigration,” who favor both amnesty for illegal immigrants and reforms that would probably increase immigration rates.

What a diverse group of old white guys and Marco Rubio.

The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t represent the actual divisions in the country.

This statement is true, except for his baffling decision to describe this as a "problem."

Can we really set policy without bringing the anti-Semites and racists to the table? Yes Ross. Yes we can.

Americans have become more pro-immigration since the 1990s, but there is still a consistent pattern when you ask about immigration rates: About a third of Americans favor the current trend, slightly fewer want higher rates, and about a third, like Miller, want immigration reduced.

One third, huh? Funny how when large majorities favor some liberal policy it's mob rule, but with right-wing knuckle dragging positions a decent sized minority is more than enough reason to grab the erasers and start making changes.

And there are various reasonable grounds on which one might favor a reduction.

mmhmm.

*makes j/o motion*

The foreign-born share of the U.S. population is near a record high, and increased diversity and the distrust it sows have clearly put stresses on our politics.

The distrust it sows when non-white people join the population? Is "distrust" the right word here?

To reiterate, the entire thrust of this Intellectual argument is that immigration makes racist white people uncomfortable and that viewpoint should be treated as legitimate. This is where the bar is for getting in the New York Times on the right these days.

There are questions about how fast the recent wave of low-skilled immigrants is assimilating, evidence that constant new immigration makes it harder for earlier arrivals to advance, and reasons to think that a native working class gripped by social crisis might benefit from a little less wage competition for a while. California, the model for a high-immigration future, is prosperous and dynamic — but also increasingly stratified by race, with the same inequality-measuring Gini coefficient as Honduras.

Ahh, the low skills argument. As someone who has studied and read quite a bit on the restriction / eugenics / scientific racism movements of the late Industrial Revolution and early part of the 20th Century, this language is essentially verbatim from that era. Maybe they didn't name-drop the Gini Coefficient, but the "unskilled, unwashed hordes" stuff is boilerplate.

With that said, illegal immigration has slowed over the last decade, and immigration’s potential economic and humanitarian benefits are still considerable. And it’s also clear that many immigration restrictionists are influenced by simple bigotry — with the president’s recent excrement-related remarks a noteworthy illustration.

OK both of these sentences are very true, and since they are true and the author seems to recognize their fundamental truth I don't really understand what we're talking about here.

This bigotry, from the point of view of many immigration advocates, justifies excluding real restrictionists from the negotiating table.

Uh oh. Here's comes a "but."

But

Sigh.

The limits of this strategy are evident in the repeated failure of “comprehensive” immigration reform over the last decade and more, doomed each time by the gulf between the plans of Republican negotiators and the actual preferences of their voters.

In other words, illegal immigration is falling (see: two sentences ago) and the aging American population really needs more younger workers and the titans of capitalism all but demand cheap foreign manual and skilled (H1-B type) labor, but…somehow immigration policy has "failed" because what we haven't tried is letting some backwoods foreigner-hatin' degenerates take a crack at buildin' them a real big fence and keepin' out the people who talk funny and look different.

Noted.

The present view of many liberals seems to be that restrictionists can eventually be steamrolled — that the same ethnic transformations that have made white anxiety acute will eventually bury white-identity politics with sheer multiethnic numbers. But liberals have been waiting 12 years for that “eventually” to arrive, and instead Trump is president and the illegal immigrants they want to protect are still in limbo. So maybe it would be worth trying to actually negotiate with Stephen Miller, rather than telling Trump that he needs to lock his adviser in a filing cabinet, slap on a “beware of leopard” sign, and hustle out to the Rose Garden to sign whatever Durbin and Graham have hashed out.

Thanks for the confirmation. We need to stop trying to think about the role immigration plays in our society and economy and instead give a louder voice to people who just don't like it and have no defensible reason for not liking it other than a distaste for the many-tongued hordes of the lesser races.

Especially since last week, Trump and Miller actually made an interesting offer: an amnesty and even a path to citizenship for DACA recipients and other Dreamers, more generous than what many restrictionists favor and with no promise of the new E-Verify enforcements conservatives often seek, in return for a shift (over many years) to a skills-based policy and a somewhat lower immigration rate.

So what was proposed would give people who recognize the role of immigration nothing (a phase-out, essentially) and give Stephen Miller and his Cletus Caucus everything they want (racist immigration policy). Wow, quite a deal.

If you’re committed to the view that restrictionists can and must be steamrolled, you’ll respond to this offer the way many Democrats have — call it a “white supremacist ransom note,” punt on policy, and use the issue to rally your base in 2018.

To my knowledge, conservatives have never used immigration crudely to rally their base of provincial, angry, not terribly bright rural white people who are repeatedly told explicitly and implicitly that they are the only Americans who count and they are the modern version of God's Chosen People.

But if you think that lasting deals are forged when all sides are represented, you might consider making a counteroffer: for instance, the same rough blueprint but with more green cards for skilled immigrants, so that Miller gets his cuts to low-skilled immigration but the overall rate stays closer to the status quo.

"Skills" is such a totally disingenuous canard in this argument that I can't imagine anyone, especially anyone on the right, fails to see it for the obvious dog whistle it is.

And no, Ross Douthat of the New York Times, "all sides" being represented is not a precondition of creating effective laws, policies, or anything else. We leave out the shitty sides. Including the shitty sides doesn't make the final product better. It makes it shittier, because it will be informed at least slightly by people and ideas that are shit. Look at how much it has helped to include science denialists in the creation of public health and science policy! And of adherents to totally discredited economic theories with zero evidence to support their validity in the formation of tax policy! Yes, we have ample evidence that when you include voices that are dishonest about their motivations and intentions, factually incorrect, and relentlessly dedicated to an ideology around which every aspect of reality must bend, the end result is better, stronger policy. I mean, how could a nation make energy policy without bringing some Alchemists to the table to represent the 25% of the population that believes the Earth produces oil in its core?

You can't, dummy. Get smart like Ross Douthat, stupid.

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WITHER DETROIT

Posted in Rants on January 27th, 2018 by Ed

Amazon's reality show approach to naming the state and local government that wins the honor of giving it billions in handouts entered the "prelude to Rose Ceremony" phase last week with its release of the most predictable list of finalist cities ever.

Chicago? Austin? You don't say.

You can see the layers of bullshit from a mile away. It's very obvious that the executives have no interest in finding a place that best fit the criteria and instead just want to make sure they can relocate somewhere sufficiently Cool. How can I tell? Because Detroit isn't on the list.

If this process were driven by any kind of legitimate analysis of what each city can offer, places like Detroit and St. Louis would be at the top of the list. Memphis and Louisville too, maybe Indianapolis. Any of them could fit the following description, but for narrative simplicity let's just talk about Detroit.

Detroit is one of the handful of examples of a city in which it really, legitimately makes sense to find a company like Amazon and say "Here, take whatever you want." Billions in tax giveaways to get a company to move to Chicago, Austin, or Pittsburgh make little sense because those cities are, on the whole, already doing pretty goddamn well. Moving Amazon in might even displace something already there (aside from low-income housing residents, whom Amazon will very definitely displace).

Detroit is half empty. It and St. Louis have not one but TWO enormous airports largely idle. If any local government could make the argument, "Look, let's just give them the Renaissance Center for free" and have it not be an exercise in pointless corporate bootlicking, it's Detroit. The company could utterly call the shots in a place like that since there is so much unoccupied construction. "Detroit, we would like our HQ here, can you raze this ten square block area?" Yes. Yes they sure can.

And nobody would be displaced. Ideally that's how a process like this would work. Find capacity that isn't being used and use it. Instead they're going to show up in Atlanta or Austin or Chicago, point to an area that is already occupied, and say "Get rid of them, we want this." And of course the state and local governments will bend over backwards to do it.

But why? It makes no sense of course, but the higher ups at a tech company basically just want to make sure they can live somewhere suitably Hip. The tax breaks are irrelevant – any state government will readily hand those over in staggering amounts these days.

Next time some corporate giant goes through this process they should just admit "We only think the coasts and maybe four places between them are good enough, so everyone else fuck off." Save Buffalo the trouble. In a system with even the faintest echo of economic planning, though, our government at the national level would be working to direct this process toward the places where 1) infrastructure is in place but currently idle, i.e. being wasted and 2) bringing in a new corporate giant won't displace a lot of what is already there.

But planning is Communist, so instead we get this shitshow leading up to the inevitable "We're going to Austin!" announcement, ignoring that the city is already a cookie with vastly too much cream shoved in it, no remotely affordable housing, and an impending water crisis that will resemble something in Road Warrior. But it's just so COOL.