Thursday, April 27, 2006

Lying Really Works: They Misreported, People Mis-decided

Just a quick note about something that seems to have passed under the radar so far: Fox News makes people vote right wing.

A study was published some time ago which examined the effects of the introductions of Fox News into a media market on voting patterns in that market. The study's authors concluded, initially, that there was no significant effect. Now, they've rerun the data, and determined that
We find a significant effect of the introduction of Fox News on the vote share in Presidential elections between 1996 and 2000. Republicans gain 0.4 to 0.7 percentage points in the towns which broadcast Fox News. The results are robust to town-level controls, district and county fixed effects, and alternative specifications. We also find a significant effect of Fox News on Senate vote share and on voter turnout. Our estimates imply that Fox News convinced 3 to 8 percent of its viewers to vote Republican.
Wow. Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution noted the discrepancy between this year's and last year's version, and wondered aloud whether there was some mistake, or if the authors were more sure of themselves this year; in comments, one of the authors chimed in and confirmed that the researchers had done something involving a principle called "heteroskedasticity" and were now confident that Fox News had a statistically significant effect.

If I had time, I'd go dig up some link to that study showing that Fox News viewers were substantially more likely to be misinformed about basic facts of current events than were NPR listeners. I have to run, though, so I leave it as an exercise for the reader - if, that is, AIS has any readers who still wonder whether Roger Ailes' and Rupert Murdoch's network plays it straight.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Mourning a Champion of Cities
The legendary urban theorist and social critic Jane Jacobs passed away yesterday in Toronto. She was 89 years old.

In her book "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," written in 1961, Ms. Jacobs's enormous achievement was to transcend her own withering critique of 20th-century urban planning and propose radically new principles for rebuilding cities.

At a time when both common and inspired wisdom called for bulldozing slums and opening up city space, Ms. Jacobs's prescription was ever more diversity, density and dynamism — in effect, to crowd people and activities together in a joyous urban jumble.
...
"Death and Life" made four basic recommendations for creating municipal diversity: 1. A street or district must serve several primary functions. 2. Blocks must be short. 3. Buildings must vary in age, condition and use. 4. Population must be dense.

Ms. Jacobs's thesis was enlarged by her deep, eclectic reading. But most compelling was her description of the everyday life she witnessed from her home above a candy store at 555 Hudson Street, near 11th Street.

In that description, she puts out her garbage, children go to school, the dry cleaner and the barber open their shops, women come out to chat, longshoremen visit the local bar, teenagers return from school and change to go out on dates, and another day is played out. Sometimes, odd things happen: a bagpiper shows up on a February night, and delighted listeners gather around. Whether neighbors or strangers, people are safer because they are almost never alone.

"People who know well such animated city streets will know how it is," Ms. Jacobs wrote. "I am afraid people who do not will always have it a little wrong in their heads, like the old prints of rhinoceroses made from travelers' descriptions of rhinoceroses."

At the risk of sounding all Colbert, I'll admit that I've never read "Death and Life" all the way through. But the core thesis speaks powerfully to me, as I think it does to anyone who's ever been entranced and thrilled by city living. Pretty much since I moved to New York when I was 22, I haven't really wanted to be anywhere else; one of the big questions Annie and I grapple with is how we can afford to stay in Brooklyn if we're ever to actually own a home rather than flushing big bucks down the monthly rent rathole. We choose to be here, to the detriment of our bank accounts but, we think, to the benefit of our souls and our satisfaction.

There's a deep anti-urban bias in both the culture and the policymaking of the U.S. Your average suburban mom will cloud up facially in considering the dangers of city streets, the filth of the transit system, the crowding and crime. Somehow this view, born in ignorance and fear, has trumped the truth of cities as the setting where new art forms are born, new social understandings take root and tolerance spreads as different communities are forced to interact and intermingle, great ideas hatch through never-ending waves of argument and collaboration, and (not least) great fortunes are made and the economic health of the nation is based. As an unabashed lover of cities and a believer in their vitality and potential, Jane Jacobs will be missed, and should be celebrated.

So it's Come to This

From PoliticalWire:

"Katherine DeBrecht, who wrote Help! Mom! There Are Liberals Under My Bed, is now coming out with a series of conservative books for parents to read to their children. Her next book will take on Hollywood vices, including the pursuit of fame. The idea is to return to family values."


Because I'm evidently the sort of person who can't drive past a car crash without slowing down to look, I clicked through and read the first few pages of the 160 or so user reviews on amazon.com. If you want to do the same, here's the link.

As anyone who's ever read this blog before surely gets, I don't claim to come to this debate unbiased. But the parallel the author and publisher tries to set up--that "Help! Mom!" is only a balancing corrective to what they view as "overtly liberal children's books advocating everything from gay marriage to marijuana use"--is a false one. Those books make their case by connecting positions to core values: you don't judge or define people by their sexuality any more than by their race or religion, but rather by their behavior. And unless I'm very wrong about this, those books (which I haven't read) don't take the approach of demonizing people who oppose gay marriage or drug legalization or whatever. "The Lorax," Dr. Seuss's classic environmentalist allegory, doesn't equate those who recklessly use up natural resources with monsters. (Seuss generally wasn't very big on totemic terror figures in his children's books.)

This one, by the description, really does. All the classic Paranoid Style tropes seem to be present, in more easily digestible form. Maybe today's seven year-old Katharine DeBrecht reader is tomorrow's Ann Coulter follower; maybe when Coulter just comes out and says that liberals should be rounded up and shot, it's more palatable to the child who's already internalized that they're inhuman.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Evolution of "the Internets"
Yeah, we all had a good laugh when Bush flashed his malaprops in the 2004 debates. But a pending sea change in how the online world operates could yet render him a "visionary in error," as Ahmad Chalabi might put it. Legislation is pending in Congress to effectively hand control of the Internet to the same group of telecommunications companies that made out like bandits when Clinton signed the odious Telecommunications Act of 1996. This change really will create different "Internets"--a fast one and a slow one, with preferred and discouraged destinations. And, as was the case ten years ago, both political parties are to blame.

Here's how it's about to go down:

Don’t look now, but the House Commerce Committee next Wednesday is likely to vote to turn control of the Internet over to AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner and what’s left of the telecommunications industry. It will be one of those stories the MSM writes about as “little noticed” because they haven’t covered it.

On the surface, it may seem a stretch to think that those companies could control the great, wide, infinite Internet. After all, the incredible diversity of the Net allowed everything Web sites and services of all kinds to exist in perfect harmony. What’s more, they were all delivered to your screen without any interference by the companies that carried the bits to and fro. Until recently, they had to. It was the law. The telephone companies, which carried all of the Web traffic until relatively recently, had to treat all of their calls alike without giving any Web site or service favored treatment over another.

The result was today’s Internet, which developed as a result of billions of dollars of investments, from the largest Internet company that spent millions on software and networking, to the one person with a blog who spent a few hundred dollars on a laptop. The Internet grew into a universal public resource because the telephone and cable companies simply transported the bits.

Last fall, however, the Federal Communications Commission, backed by the U.S. Supreme Court, decided that the high-speed Internet services offered by the cable and telephone companies didn’t fall under that law, the Communications Act. Out the window went the law that treated everyone equally. Now, with broadband, we are in a new game without rules.

Telephone and cable companies own 98% of the high-speed broadband networks the public uses to go online for reading news, shopping, listening to music, posting videos or any of the thousands of other uses developed for the Internet. But that isn’t enough. They want to control what you read, see or hear online. The companies say that they will create premium lanes on the Internet for higher fees, and give preferential access to their own services and those who can afford extra charges. The rest of us will be left to use an inferior version of the Internet.

Admittedly, it hasn’t become a problem yet. But to think it won’t become one is to ignore 100 years of history of anti-competitive behavior by the phone companies.

Emphasis mine. Given the vertical integration of entities that both "control the roads" and own the destinations, all sorts of monkeying with the market will be not only allowed, but encouraged: if Time Warner owns your connectivity and is allowed to speed your trip to the book or music site they own while slowing your connection to their competitor, what do you think they'll do?

For that matter, it's not a stretch to see them widening bandwidth to political sites and candidates they support, and shutting off your trip to those they don't. Candidates who support legislation not in the interests of the telecom companies could see their online fundraising s-l-o-w-e-d d-o-w-n to the point where users just slam the keyboard and give up.

This site adds more detail on how "the gutting of Network Neutrality" will affect all of us end-users. Here are just some of the groups that will be at risk:

  • Nonprofits—A charity’s website could open at snail-speed, and online contributions could grind to a halt, if nonprofits can’t pay dominant Internet providers for access to “the fast lane” of Internet service.

  • Online purchasers—Companies could pay Internet providers to guarantee their online sales process faster than competitors with lower prices—distorting your choice as a consumer.

  • Small businesses and tele-commuters—When Internet companies like AT&T favor their own services, you won’t be able to choose more affordable providers for online video, teleconferencing, Internet phone calls, and software that connects your home computer to your office.

  • Parents and retirees—Your choices as a consumer could be controlled by your Internet provider, steering you to their preferred services for online banking, health care information, sending photos, planning vacations, etc.

  • Bloggers—Costs will skyrocket to post and share video and audio clips—silencing citizen journalists and putting more power in the hands of a few corporate-owned media outlets.

The Internet has been arguably the most positive and revolutionary technological development of the last fifty years, greatly increasing the ability of Americans and everyone else to communicate, shop, organize, work and play in ways unimaginable 20 years ago. We are now looking at the very real prospect of all those gains being washed away and our ability to join and enjoy "communities of affinity" closely controled by some of the world's wealthiest and most powerful corporations. Please click here to find out more and take action.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Lefty Rage
Today's Washington Post includes a five page (well, five-webpage) profile of Maryscott O'Connor, one of the more distinctive voices of the left-wing blogosphere. Though I don't think this was the writer's purpose, the article provides some good insight into both why community sites like Daily Kos and O'Connor's own My Left Wing might soon help to improve the political fortunes of progressive candidates, and why these sites offer potential danger for American politics even if they do help facilitate better electoral outcomes.

I used to spend a lot more time on dKos than I do now, and I remember O'Connor from at least three years ago. She's always stood out for cutting wit, inflammatory writing and just a burning, visceral loathing for Republicans. She also clearly had considerable gifts as a self-promoter: O'Connor is an attractive woman (though the pic in the WaPo piece wouldn't make you think so; this one, posted on her "My Left Wing" site in explicit response to the bad shot in the Post, gives both a more favorable impression and some insight into her monumental self-involvement, and this is the pic I think was her original on dKos) who wasn't shy about posting pictures of herself in her early dKos pieces, and in them she'd often talk about the vicissitudes of her own life--alcoholism, an unwanted pregnancy that ended in abortion, etc--in (sometimes abstract) connection to political arguments. In an emergent community with few visible leaders--Kos himself is not especially telegenic, and has an unfortunate speaking voice that makes him sound like a 12 year-old--O'Connor quickly acquired a cult following online, and that allowed her to start myleftwing.com... where the key word, I think, is "my."

People like O'Connor and, I think, her hero/admirer The Rude Pundit (whom I remember first hearing of in O'Connor's early dKos diaries; he's now on the permanent AIS blogroll, as I find his rants much funnier, less self-serving and more deeply felt than hers) seem like the necessary counterweight to the hyper-partisans on the right. A piece in the current New York Review of Books, breaking down the recently released, Kos-co-authored polemic Crashing the Gates, strongly makes this case. That it's personality-led might be a bit depressing to those of us who distrust cults, but hardly surprising: a lot of Bill O'Reilly's appeal probably is bound up in his personality, and in that sense too O'Connor, Kos and the rest of them are filling a void. Their outrage fuels the activism and determination to engage without which Democrats likely just can't win elections. What I'm pretty sure they can't do, however, is govern. It's not that they don't have well-articulated views on issues: O'Connor's MyLeftWing manifesto probably compares favorably, in depth and detail, to the major party platforms. But the absolute certainty with which she states her views, the incredulous and contemptuous dismissal of all other opinions, does not bode well for the likelihood of these views serving a fractured, divided and often ambivalent public if they ever gain the legitimacy of office.

So far as I know, none of the rising heroes of the online left are running for office: not Markos Moulitsas, not Air America's Randi Rhodes, and certainly not Maryscott O'Connor. This strikes me as a good thing: if they serve to keep more mainstream Democrats honest and focused on core principles, that's fine. But if and when their chosen champions do take office, that's going to present a new set of challenges: stridency might help win elections, but compromise and civility are required traits if the winners are to make their victories worthwhile.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Domestic Workers: Absent, or Just Not Docile Enough?

One of the great, unresolved issues in the immigration debate is whether or not undocumented immigrant workers are displacing native Americans from jobs that citizens would otherwise be doing. There's been a bit of renewed attention in the media recently about the plight of black males in this country, and their lack of economic progress - and for those of us who sympathize with immigrants and their desire to build a better life away from Third World conditions at home, there's always a twinge in the back of the mind, wondering whether, when we welcome those immigrants, the people who lose out in the U.S. are the ones who can least afford it.

Erik Eckholm had a piece in the NY Times [no longer available free online], "Plight Deepens for Black Men, Studies Warn", in which he noted

Black men in the United States face a far more dire situation than is portrayed by common employment and education statistics, a flurry of new scholarly studies warn, and it has worsened in recent years even as an economic boom and a welfare overhaul have brought gains to black women and other groups. Focusing more closely than ever on the life patterns of young black men, the new studies, by experts at Columbia, Princeton, Harvard and other institutions, show that the huge pool of poorly educated black men are becoming ever more disconnected from the mainstream society, and to a far greater degree than comparable white or Hispanic men.Especially in the country's inner cities, the studies show, finishing high school is the exception, legal work is scarcer than ever and prison is almost routine, with incarceration rates climbing for blacks even as urban crime rates have declined....

¶The share of young black men without jobs has climbed relentlessly, with only a slight pause during the economic peak of the late 1990's. In 2000, 65 percent of black male high school dropouts in their 20's were jobless — that is, unable to find work, not seeking it or incarcerated. By 2004, the share had grown to 72 percent, compared with 34 percent of white and 19 percent of Hispanic dropouts. Even when high school graduates were included, half of black men in their 20's were jobless in 2004, up from 46 percent in 2000.

¶Incarceration rates climbed in the 1990's and reached historic highs in the past few years. In 1995, 16 percent of black men in their 20's who did not attend college were in jail or prison; by 2004, 21 percent were incarcerated. By their mid-30's, 6 in 10 black men who had dropped out of school had spent time in prison.

¶In the inner cities, more than half of all black men do not finish high school.

Inevitably, the jobs that young men without high school degrees could hope to obtain and keep are similar to the ones that young men without legal documentation can hope to obtain: handymen, kitchen staff, agricultural workers, etc.

I was reminded of this by the recent Philadelphia Weekly cover story, "Mi Casa, Su Casa", about the large number of immigrants from a single Mexican village who have come to take jobs in Philly in bars and restaurants. The author reports that
For Philadelphia restaurant owners, the arrival of this new immigrant community was a blessing. For one thing, it coincided with the city's restaurant boom, which was then having a hard time finding reliable workers to take the low-end kitchen jobs. ...And along with their labor and restaurant experience, the community also brought history, culture and values. "They're very professional and very disciplined," restaurateur Guillermo says of the San Matean workers. "People who stay out of trouble."
Note the adjective employed: it wasn't just 'workers' that restaurants were supposedly having trouble finding, it was "reliable workers." Philadelphia is about 43% black, and plenty of the black men are unemployed, and could use the work in the booming business of overpriced restaurants. So, is that really what's going on? Restaurants simply find - or assume - that black males aren't 'reliable' workers?

A deeper picture of what 'reliable' may mean for low-wage employers turned up in Sunday's NY Times - via the Reality-Based Community:
Some [employers] expressed concern about the provision that would have granted citizenship to immigrants who had been in the United States for at least five years, saying it might have encouraged them to quit or be less productive. "The illegals are probably better workers than the legal ones," said Mike Gonya, who farms 2,800 acres of wheat and vegetables near Fremont, Ohio. "The legal ones know the system. They know legal recourse. The illegal ones will bust their butts."

So there's a great big honking hint about the sort of 'reliability' that these employers are seeking: workers who can be relied upon not to know the system, and to bust their butts because they have no legal recourse to do otherwise. American-born workers aren't needed, because they don't take kindly to serf status, and they expect things like raises and time off. That's not the only reason restaurants won't hire black men - the studies referenced by Eckholm, and discussed recently by Orlando Patterson, document depressingly high crime rates, which can't be explained away simply by discriminatory enforcement - but it's one huge reason.

The Simpsons last night tackled this issue when Homer took charge of Burns' newly outsourced nuclear plant in India, and gained the worshipful adoration of his subcontinental workforce because he told them all about overtime, sick leave, vacation, vesting pension options, and other goodies. Lisa congratulated him for having broken new ground as the first to outsource the American worker's sense of entitlement and privilege. A silly laugh was had by all. [Except Maggie.] None of those things, though, are bad things - we should want all workers everywhere, ultimately, to have all of those privileges and entitlements. That's why it's especially important that any serious new immigration legislation provide for the ability of immigrant workers to defend themselves without fear of deportation, and ultimately to achieve citizenship. Low-wage employers shouldn't be able to treat anyone as serfs, whether they're immigrants or natives.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

War in Iran?
Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker reports that the Bush administration is actively planning for military action against Iran:

The Bush Administration, while publicly advocating diplomacy in order to stop Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon, has increased clandestine activities inside Iran and intensified planning for a possible major air attack. Current and former American military and intelligence officials said that Air Force planning groups are drawing up lists of targets, and teams of American combat troops have been ordered into Iran, under cover, to collect targeting data and to establish contact with anti-government ethnic-minority groups. The officials say that President Bush is determined to deny the Iranian regime the opportunity to begin a pilot program, planned for this spring, to enrich uranium.

American and European intelligence agencies, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.), agree that Iran is intent on developing the capability to produce nuclear weapons. But there are widely differing estimates of how long that will take, and whether diplomacy, sanctions, or military action is the best way to prevent it.
...
There is a growing conviction among members of the United States military, and in the international community, that President Bush’s ultimate goal in the nuclear confrontation with Iran is regime change.
...
One former defense official, who still deals with sensitive issues for the Bush Administration, told me that the military planning was premised on a belief that “a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government.” He added, “I was shocked when I heard it, and asked myself, ‘What are they smoking?’ ”
...
“This is much more than a nuclear issue,” one high-ranking diplomat told me in Vienna. “That’s just a rallying point, and there is still time to fix it. But the Administration believes it cannot be fixed unless they control the hearts and minds of Iran. The real issue is who is going to control the Middle East and its oil in the next ten years.”

A senior Pentagon adviser on the war on terror expressed a similar view. “This White House believes that the only way to solve the problem is to change the power structure in Iran, and that means war,” he said. The danger, he said, was that “it also reinforces the belief inside Iran that the only way to defend the country is to have a nuclear capability.” A military conflict that destabilized the region could also increase the risk of terror: “Hezbollah comes into play,” the adviser said, referring to the terror group that is considered one of the world’s most successful, and which is now a Lebanese political party with strong ties to Iran. “And here comes Al Qaeda.”


The truth is that there are no good options in dealing with Iran, and that war always has unintended consequences--a notion that I worry our country has lost its understanding of since the historic success, in terms of meeting our objectives, of the first Gulf War. But what this looks like to me is a repeat of almost all the mistakes that these armchair warriors made in the runup to Iraq. It's just that this time, the target country has a real military, a government with some measure of popular support (which, in all likelihood, would shoot up to near-universal support upon the first news of American airstrikes), and deep, effective, operational ties to terror groups.

Any attack on Iran at this point will have three sets of consequences that I can see, unrelated to whatever happens in terms of the war itself. (Battlefield outcomes are not something I feel I can discuss with anything like expertise; I'm certain we'd "win," but I'm also sure that casualty levels would make Iraq look like Grenada. The Iranians have a bigger, better-equipped, and much better-led military than did Saddam, and haven't had the burden of sanctions holding them back as Iraq did in the 12 years between Gulf Wars.)

Here they are, in descending order of importance:

1) Economic disaster. The day the first bombs hit, where do you think the price of oil might go? Iran obviously won't sell to us at that point, and even the Saudis wouldn't be able to do too much in opening their reserves (which is the usual method of cushioning a price shock) because their public won't exactly be supportive of the U.S. bombing fellow Muslims. So where do we turn? Venezuela?

(On the other hand, Sen. Stevens probably will get his ANWR drilling. So I guess that's something...)

It's difficult to overstate how bad the economic hit might be. Right now the price of oil is a bit over $67 per barrel. My wife and I recently flew to Italy and back; we were told that oil costs accounted for about $200 each of our tickets. That's with the price in the $60s. Care to speculate what the spillover effects will be when we hit three digits? (Later in Hersh's piece, he cites one government consultant who observes that U.S. strategic reserves would suffice for 60 days, but also notes that those in the oil business were much less optimistic: "one industry expert estimated that the price per barrel would immediately spike, to anywhere from ninety to a hundred dollars per barrel, and could go higher, depending on the duration and scope of the conflict." I can't imagine that this would be a particularly short war; 60 days won't be enough.)

2) Security crackdown. Unlike what was said about Saddam and al Qaeda, Iran's ties to Hezbollah and other terror groups are real. Read Robert Baer; these guys know what they're doing. There will be attacks.

(To be fair, Baer is quoted in Hersh's article and says that Iran's government is "capable of making a bomb, hiding it, and launching it at Israel. They’re apocalyptic Shiites. If you’re sitting in Tel Aviv and you believe they’ve got nukes and missiles—you’ve got to take them out. These guys are nuts, and there’s no reason to back off.” Of course, we're not sitting in Tel Aviv. The distinction between America taking action directly, and supporting Israel in a limited strike, is a very important one; if Israel made the determination that Iran was close to going nuclear and attacked, I would hope and expect the U.S. to show support. Admittedly, a big part of this is that I trust the judgment of the Israelis on these questions vastly more than I do the Bush administration, given respective track records.)

Because of this, events that are now conducted with no or minimal security checks will become a lot more burdensome. Imagine cameras everywhere; imagine going through metal detectors every time you enter an office building, public school, sporting or entertainment event. And then imagine all the damage that will be done to First Amendment rights and civil liberties. All the abuses libertarians and liberals (and principled conservatives) worry about now will be far easier for whoever is in power once a much tighter "security regime" is in place. Again, I grant that safety concerns will necessitate higher scrutiny; I'd just prefer to avoid facing the question if at all possible.

3) More loss of face in the international community. It's bad enough now, but an attack on Iran while diplomatic efforts are still ongoing, in advance of winning support or even grudging recognition of the need from the EU and other powers, will alienate many of the friends we have left. Again, economics is the core issue here: nations thinking about changing their reserve currency from dollar to Euro will have one more reason to do so, and the creditor nations who have financed the Bush debt these last five years might reconsider the wisdom of continuing to do so.

And this is even before we get into the possible consequences of using nuclear weapons--which per Hersh, at least some in the administration are strongly contemplating.

As I said, I don't know what the right action is. The questions are, one, whether all these consequences add up to a worse set of outcomes than those that would follow if Iran got the bomb; and two, what we consider the possibilities of either forestalling Iran from getting the bomb through diplomacy and negotiation, or otherwise pushing for regime change through non-military action. (I concede that one feels like a real longshot, though toward the end of the story Hersh quotes a European intelligence official who observes: "The Iranian economy is in bad shape, and Ahmadinejad is in bad shape politically... He will benefit politically from American bombing. You can do it, but the results will be worse. ...If there was a charm offensive with Iran, the mullahs would be in trouble in the long run.” If this is a valid read, it should inform our policy.)

It might be that all these consequences would be worth it. Sometimes you have to fight, for reasons of both principle and safety. The question here is whether we yet have to fight, and whether you trust this group of decision-makers to make the decision, based on their judgments to date.

Here's the summary graf, as I see it, from Hersh:

The Pentagon adviser on the war on terror said that “allowing Iran to have the bomb is not on the table. We cannot have nukes being sent downstream to a terror network. It’s just too dangerous.” He added, “The whole internal debate is on which way to go”—in terms of stopping the Iranian program. It is possible, the adviser said, that Iran will unilaterally renounce its nuclear plans—and forestall the American action. “God may smile on us, but I don’t think so. The bottom line is that Iran cannot become a nuclear-weapons state. The problem is that the Iranians realize that only by becoming a nuclear state can they defend themselves against the U.S. Something bad is going to happen.”

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Selective Compassion, or, Why I Dislike Some Republicans

Hate is a strong word. So I won't say I hate Pete Domenici. I'll just say I strongly dislike him.

He's a classic example of why socialism is still the world's most popular ideology: because (nearly) everyone is a socialist for him- or herself, and then varying degrees of ideology for everyone else outside their immediate family.

An exaggeration, of course, but Republican politicians have always had powerful cases of Selective Compassion: if it affects them personally, they perceive market failures and a need for fuzzy-headed government intervention to improve people's lives. Otherwise, it's strictly everyone for themselves. Thus, the patchwork quilt of isolated GOP votes for this or that example of decency. Bob Dole had a soft spot for some group [Armenians? Kurds?] because of some personal relation he'd had with one or more of that group; otherwise, it was hard-headed realism all the way. Several GOP doctors in the House of Representatives have supported a patient's bill of rights (rights vis-a-vis HMO's, that is, not doctors) because they've dealt directly with affected patients; otherwise, for every other economic transaction, it's freedom of contract, baby, and caveat emptor.

Domenici, for his part, once teamed up with the late, great Paul Wellstone to support parity in insurance coverage for mental health treatment. The much-missed Wellstone wasn't being inconsistent, because he wasn't selectively compassionate. He was just compassionate. Domenici, meanwhile, knew someone personally who was affected by mental illness, and wanted to help them out. He doesn't seem to know any poor people, though, because his compassion hasn't extended to them anytime in recent memory.

His latest hit is a different take on immigration. According to the New York Times,
During the heated immigration debate on Capitol Hill, some Republicans have portrayed immigrants as invaders, criminals and burdens to society. But for Senator Pete V. Domenici, Republican of New Mexico, the image that comes to mind is that of his mother and the day the authorities took her away. It was 1943, World War II was raging, and federal agents were sweeping through Albuquerque hunting for Italian sympathizers. They found Mr. Domenici's mother, Alda V. Domenici, a curly-haired mother of four and a local PTA president who also happened to be an illegal immigrant from Italy. Mr. Domenici, who said he was 9 or 10 years old then, wept when his mother vanished with the agents in their big black car

Wow, incredibly rude, abrupt, disruptive treatment of someone who was contributing to society, causing no problems, and just happened to be an illegal immigrant. No wonder little Pete cried. And hopefully that memory will help shape his response to current proposals regarding illegal immigrants, right? Sure enough,
Mr. Domenici said his experience had persuaded him to introduce legislation that would grant illegal immigrants like his mother, who have deep roots in the community, the chance to become citizens...
which is quite noble - he's employing his compassionate understanding of the complicated issues at play in immigration in order to extend fair treatment towards all who deserve it, right? Err, no:
...while more recent arrivals would be allowed to work here only temporarily. He does not support the bill passed by Mr. Specter's committee, which would not distinguish between recent arrivals and those who have spent several years here. "You ought to try and give people with five years and more the opportunity for some kind of break," Mr. Domenici said.
In other words, only people who resemble his mother get the chance to become citizens. After all, why should people who have been in violation of the immigration laws for a longer period of time, and in theory have had more chances to rectify the situation, get "some kind of break," while people who have been here sooner shouldn't get one? Why, no reason at all - except that Ms. Domenici, all those years ago, was here for a long time before they caught up with her.

If you keep your head down, work steadily, abide by all the laws, support your family in the developing world with the remittances that substitute for our inadequate foreign aid, pay Social Security and sales taxes and keep your mouth shut for four years and eleven months, and the immigration authorities hear about you, no compassion for you - go home, cuz we don't need your kind here. We only need people who remind Pete Domenici of his mother.