Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Best Lack All Conviction

It's been long apparent that John McCain has sacrificed every conviction he ever had on the altar of preserving his political skin. If that weren't already evident, his craven and pandering call for President Obama to militarize our southern border confirms the worst: The man who stood up to the brutal tortures of his North Vietnamese captors now runs like a rabbit from the teabaggers and the right-wing crank radio talk show host challenging him for the Senate seat McCain has held for 24 years. Said McCain at a Phoenix news conference:
If the president doesn’t like what the Arizona Legislature and governor may be doing, then I call on the president to immediately call for the dispatch of 3,000 National Guard troops to our border and mandate that 3,000 additional Border Patrol [officers] be sent to our border as well. And that way, then the state of Arizona will not have to enact legislation which they have to do because of the federal government’s failure to carry out its responsibilities, which is to secure the borders.
McCain, who at one time favored comprehensive immigration reform that included amnesty for illegal immigrants, did not note that National Troops are deployed at the discretion of state's governor; that Border Patrol arrests in the Tuscon and Yuma sectors exceed arrests in Texas, New Mexico, and California combined; that from 2002-2006 Border Patrol agents apprehended 1.8 million migrants crossing into Arizona; or that heightened security in California and Texas (Operations Gatekeeper and Hold the Line) diverted the immigrant traffic into Arizona.

Big John speaks loudly but wields a mighty small stick. For one thing, it's hard to see what he expects to accomplish by adding 6000 National Guardsmen and BP agents to the 3000 already in Arizona. The Arizona-Mexico border is 351 miles long. Even filling his request (which would require diverting agents from other border areas, leaving them more vulnerable to crossing) would place one soldier or agent every 205 feet, or two-thirds the length of a football field. It won't take LaDanian Tomlinson to run through that hole.

Not only that, experts argue that an immigration policy based only on security is counterproductive. Directed at the most heavily trafficked points of crossing, security crackdowns succeed in diverting immigrants to remote and dangerous areas. Not only does this result in more immigrant deaths (not that the people who enacted this law care about that), it encourages illegal immigrants to stay put once they are here and to bring their families over.

No matter what the teabaggers and vigilantes think, the United States is not about to round up 12,000,000 people and deport them. The affront to civil liberties and the cost in dollars is too immense to contemplate. Even if Big John and colleagues wanted to spend the money, their own fiscal policy has rendered that impossible.

The fundamental issue is one that any free marketeer can understand: The United States per capita income is $46,400; in Mexico, it's $13,500. Unless and until there's a more equal balance, people from the south will come to El Norte even for low wage jobs that Americans traditionally haven't wanted to do at any pay. Some of them will smuggle drugs along the way, and why not? The supply is there and the demand is here, it pays, and it's not like they're welcomed into this country with open arms. Moreover, we can't expect much help from Mexico because it is a desperately poor country that depends on the money sent back by the migrants.

Some claim that the employment issue has become more complicated. Says one BP agent:
It’s a flat-out lie that illegals are doing the jobs Americans won’t do. American companies are hiring skilled workers at low wages compared to US wages. We’re now catching welders, auto mechanics, heavy equipment operators, even nuclear power-plant workers. The strawberry pickers are a thing of the past. These people don’t live in wigwams. They have stuff, and want more stuff.
Which makes them different from Americans how?

According to the same article, over 8,000 American companies of all sizes have undocumented workers on payrolls. But if this is the case, doesn't it make more sense to go after the employers and not the workers?

One thing I am not is an expert on immigration matters. But I don't see an answer here as long as the income disparity exists. We can initiate an amnesty program for workers already here, but that does nothing to remove the incentive for others to cross the border. And they'll come for the same reason immigrants have always come to America: For the money and the opportunity.

We could try to build a fence, I suppose, but at what cost? A 2006 non-partisan study estimated a cost of $49 billion for 700 miles of fence (the entire border is 1,952 miles long) that would last for 25 years before needing replacement. Another study found that "the $49 billion does not include the expense of acquiring private land along hundreds of miles of border or the cost of labor if the job is done by private contractors -- both of which could drive the price billions of dollars higher." And the price hasn't gotten cheaper since 2006. Plus, a fence is unlikely to work: When you're talking about a 4:1 income disparity, people will figure out ways to go around, over, or through a fence to get on the 4 side. Anyway, do we really want to fence ourselves in? It seems like an expensive idea driven by paranoia and frustration and doomed to failure. Then where will we be?

We are in grave danger of a policy that will be expensive, fruitless, frustrating, and as futile as the War on Drugs. It's time to face facts: If the United States wants to significantly reduce illegal immigration, then it must recognize a national interest in Mexico raising its standard of living. How we go about assisting in that without provoking a political upheaval at home is another story.

If you want to take the long view, we're harvesting the fruits of Manifest Destiny and imperialism. The Mexican War, which was essentially a land grab, established an artificial political border that never took into account the indigenous populations. A young officer named Ulysses S. Grant served in the Mexican War and later wrote that it was "one of the most unjust ever waged on a weaker company by a stronger." Maybe it's true: As ye sow, so shall ye reap...

Nicholas Lemann analyzes the new discipline of terrorism studies. According to Lemann's readings of these books, everything works and nothing works: The same tactic that works in one locale can fail so dismally in another as to be counterproductive...

Robert Creamer writes optimistically that the Arizona of 2010 is the Alabama of 1963, meaning that the obvious injustice of the law will cause decent people to speak out. I wish I shared his optimism. In 1963, white America outside of the south tended to view Civil Rights as a southern problem; that America was never enthusiastic about addressing race issues in its own back yard. Maybe people will see the Arizona law as an outrage; I hope so. But I fear that too many whites will regard it as a necessary step to stemming a brown horde that they see as overrunning the country. As long as it doesn't raise the price of lettuce...

Robert Kuttner thinks it's a good thing that Obama has rejected a bipartisan approach to health care reform. Along with Paul Krugman, there is no better writer about economic policy than Kuttner...

Freddy Fender sings Ry Cooder's "Across the Borderline" (music starts about 1:20 in and includes an effective montage):

Bruce Springsteen's tender "Across the Border" is one the Boss's best songs:


Nance said...

I feel as helpless as a teabagger right now, in that I have absolutely NO solutions to offer to this problem! We've lived in AZ and we go back and forth between SC and San Diego, so I know something about the drug violence that border towns fear. I blogged on Andre Bauer's most recent travesty, where he blames welfare-recipients' laziness for his state's high immigrant population. Bauer has early onset Sh*tforbrains.

You know, I have the sickening sense that there's some hints of dementia in McCain's judgment since 2008. I hate to see the man lose it while in public office, but such a thing has been known to happen before in America.

Great post. Thanks for doing the legwork!

Roy said...

I'd have to agree with Nance about hints of dementia in McCain. He's often been photographed with that deer-in-the-headlights look on his face, as if he'd been zoning out and the camera flash suddenly brought him back. I've also noted some signs that he may be dealing with the early symptoms of Parkinson's. He really ought to retire when he can still do so with some dignity.

I agree with you that this whole immigration crisis is the manifest destiny chickens coming home to roost. And I hadn't realized that Grant had such things to say about the Mexican War. Interesting.

Great tunes. Back in the late '70s Springsteen was tagged with the "new Dylan" label, but you have to wonder if the Boss is really our generation's Woody Guthrie; his messages are much closer to Woody's than to Dylan's.

John Hayes said...

Another great post--& indeed, "the worst are full of passionate intensity."

RealityZone said...

Thank you for posting this.
We here in Az. need all the help we can get.
Mc Cain is hearing the foot steps of J.D. Hayworth who is his opponent for his senate seat. J.D. is a tea bagging racist and is gaining in the polls.
This is about politics, not immigration reform. They are using Nazi Gestapo tactics in this state to suit their agenda.
This lae must not stand.
Obama and the spineless dems must come out against this NOW! !
They will not. They are too worried about the mid-term elections.

tnlib said...

Don't mean to sound like "I told you so," because that isn't the case at all. But I've been saying since before the campaign that McCain shows signs of dementia (I think the same about Grassley). I also know mental health professionals who think he has some serious problems - relationship with father and POW experence. He's starved for approval and attention - way beyond the norm.

I've followed McCain since the Keating Five. He is a snake who sheds/changes his skin depending on the terrain. HOWEVER, comma, he's 100 percent better than that goon he's running against.

This law simply make me angry.

Kathy said...

Your observation that income inequality is a huge part of the problem is very astute. In desperate situations, a person will do most anything to provide for his family, and that includes risking their lives to cross the border into our country.

I agree with you that raising the living standard in Mexico would help alleviate the problem, but as long as corporate America focuses on stockholder profits over humanity, I don't see that happening. And even if we succeed in raising their wages, how do we prevent companies from moving to other countries where labor is cheaper?

Darlene said...

I'm sorry to see McCain self destruct in front of our eyes. It's time for his retirement.

But if you think McCain is bad, just wait.. If J. D. Hayworth gets elected you will see a real nutcase in action. Everyone except the 'radical right fringe' will wish they had McCain back, even though he's missing a screw or two now.

K. said...

Nance: It's been something like a dozen years since Bill Clinton acceded to the Republican demand to end welfare as we know, and yet the wingnuts still blame them for everything, even though what little assistance they receive is from a program designed by the right.

Roy: Grant's Memoirs are classic. I don't think they've ever been out of print. "Across the Border" is one of the Boss's best -- as good as anything he's written. At his best, his lyrics display a remarkable empathy. And, yes, I agree that he became more Woody than Bob.

John: Thanks for reminding us of the rest of the verse!

RZ: It's pathetic the someone with the reputation McCain once had would run scared from the likes of Hayworth. This is one time that I'd rather die on my feet than live on my knees.

tnlib: You all may have a point about the dementia. Additionally, it seems to me that the thought of being out of the public eye is completely unpalatable to the guy. I've heard it said that the most dangerous place in Washington is the space between John McCain and a TV camera.

Kathy: We couldn't embark on a project to raise the standard of living in Mexico with a successful public education program that could be heard above the screechings of the right-wing echo chamber. The public already believes that we spend way more in foreign aid than we actually do, plus there would be the knee-jerk reaction of "why are we helping out foreigners when we need the money here."

Darlene: You'd know better than me, but if Hayworth got the Republican nomination, we might have a Democratic senator from Arizona.

RealityZone said...

K: It is never a good idea to exist on ones knees. Viva Zapata ! !LOL>

Jeb Bush came out today for immigration reform.
If the dems do not jump all over this first, the "main stream" repubs will.
This is "political" immigration reform.
The battle for the future of the Latino vote is on.

K. said...

Remember this great bit from Catch-22? When Nately tells the old man that it's better to die on your feet than live on your knees, the old man replies, "You have it wrong. It's better to live on your feet than die on your knees."

Barry and Barbara Knister said...

Thank you for the hard work behind this useful post, not to mention the solid writing.

But to those who see signs of dementia in McCain (Nance, Roy), I would answer that educated people often attribute plain dumb words and deeds to mental illness. That way, the criticism looks science-based rather than judgmental.

For me, McCain has been a shrewd manipulator from Day One of his political career. He made a life in politics out of having spent six years as a POW. Was it hard time? Absolutely, and he was first elected as a reward for his sacrifice. But does such an experience qualify someone as an expert on anything besides being imprisoned and tortured? No, as a matter of fact, I don't think it does. He's been able to coast for years, playing one side against the other. And his willingness to bend over and grab his ankles was made manifest when Karl Rove cynically destroyed McCain's earlier run for the nomination. Even after those indignities, he remained a Republican. But chickens have come home to roost in the Arizona desert, and bandit/renegade/rebel/loner McCain may just have to settle for not-so-early retirement. Made less difficult, of course, by his wife's money.

K. said...

Thanks B&B!

I would hate to be Cyndi McCain if Big John loses the the primary. He'll take it out on her for the rest of his life.