In The Guardian, Gary Younge laments anew the missed opportunities of Barack Obama’s presidency. “If there was a plot, he’s lost it. If there was a point, few can remember it. If he had a big idea, he shrank it. If there’s a moral compass powerful enough to guide such contradictions to more consistent waters, it is in urgent need of being reset.”
Sigh. If anything, this was all true of the first term too. As John Maynard Keynes said of another ostensibly progressive president a century ago, “[t]he disillusion was so complete that some of those who had trusted most hardly dared speak of it.”
The indispensable Charles Pierce checks in on immigration reform in the Senate, and underlines anew one of the fundamental truths of our current politics. To wit:
“In 2010, the American people elected what is possibly the worst national legislature in the history of the Republic. They also elected some of the worst state legislatures in the history of the Republic, too, which thereupon enacted redistricting and gerrymandering schemes guaranteeing that subsequent national legislatures elected wouldn’t be much better. In 2010, the country committed itself to decades of gridlock, mediocrity, and a perpetual state of hysterical paralysis in the national government. It would be nice if this were pointed out with somewhat more regularity.”
Update: Some telling stats by way of Dangerous Meta: “The much-criticized 112th Congress — from 2011 to 2012 — was the least productive and least popular Congress on record, according to the available statistics…only 15 legislative items have become law under the current Congress. That’s fewer than the 23 items that became law at this same point in the 112th Congress, which passed a historically low number of bills that were signed into law.”
As the AJC’s Jay Bookman puts it, “it might almost be funny if it wasn’t so sad.” In Georgia, indulging in xenophobia has backfired mightily for Nathan Deal, the state’s Republican governor, who is now desperately trying to get probationers to fill the agricultural labor gap his draconian anti-immigrant bill has created.
“The pain this is causing is real. People are going to lose their crops, and in some cases their farms. The small-town businesses that supply those farms with goods and services are going to suffer as well. For economically embattled rural Georgia, this could be a major blow.” And sadly, when it comes to deep, self-inflicted, and totally unnecessary economic wounds wrought by Republican idiocy, the Peach State here is just the canary in the coalmine.
Come Senators, Congressmen, please heed the call: In a decent companion piece to James Fallows’ foray on the subject earlier this year, The New Yorker‘s George Packer tries to figure out what the hell is wrong with the Senate. And one of the best answers is buried in the middle of the piece: “Nothing dominates the life of a senator more than raising money. Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat, said, ‘Of any free time you have, I would say fifty per cent, maybe even more,” is spent on fund-raising.’“
The other big and much-needed solution: Filibuster reform. But with a handful of Democratic Senators already balking at the idea, that’ll be a tough climb this coming January, and no mistake. Nonetheless, it is very much a fight worth having. “[O]ver the past few decades the reflex has grown in the Senate that, all things considered, it’s better to avoid than to take on big issues. This is the kind of thing that drives Michael Bennet nutty: here you’ve arrived in the United States Senate and you can’t do fuck-all about the destruction of the planet.“
In Foreign Policy, photojournalist Dulce Pinzon shares her photo collection of Mexican migrant workers dressed as superheroes. (Officially here.) “The principal objective of this series is to pay homage to these brave and determined men and women that somehow manage, without the help of any supernatural power, to withstand extreme conditions of labor in order to help their families and communities survive and prosper.”
In honor of Cinco de Mayo and in protest of Arizona’s straight-up ignorant new ethnic profiling law, the Phoenix Suns will don their “Los Suns” jerseys tonight. “Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is on board, and the team even tried to get their ‘Los Spurs’ jerseys, though it was too late to do so. When asked for approval to wear the jerseys, the NBA “was all for it,” said Suns general manager Steve Kerr.“
“This is Machete, with a special Cinco de Mayo message…TO ARIZONA.” If the Arizona GOP won’t heed the carrot of the Suns’ inclusive orange unis, perhaps they’ll fear the sharpened stick of a ticked-off Danny Trejo, in the new holiday trailer for Robert Rodriguez’s full-length version of Machete, also with Jeff Fahey, Michelle Rodriguez, Robert DeNiro, Lindsey Lohan, Jessica Alba, Don Johnson, Cheech Marin, and Steven Seagall. I know I was just badmouthing this project in my review of The Losers, but I have to concede, it still makes for a pretty fun trailer. (Extra points for DeNiro channeling his inner JD Hayworth therein.)
“‘I’m here tonight to say a few words about an American hero I have come to know very well and admire very much — Sen. John McCain. And then, according to the rules agreed to by both parties, John will have approximately 30 seconds to make a rebuttal.’” Now here’s a prez worth hugging…On the eve of his inauguration, Sen. Obama publicly makes nice with his former adversary, John McCain.
And, apparently it’s not just for show: According to the NYT, the president-elect has been trying to forge a bond with McCain (and his No. 2, Lindsey Graham) since soon after the election. “Mr. Obama arrived for their Chicago meeting on Nov. 16 with several well-researched proposals to collaborate on involving some of Mr. McCain’s favorite causes, including a commission to cut ‘corporate welfare,’ curbing waste in military procurement and an overhaul of immigration rules.“
Hey, rapprochement is good, bipartisanship is good. And working Senators McCain and Graham (and, I’d presume Maine’s moderates, Snowe and Collins) is simply smart politics. Still, when push inevitably comes to shove on Iraq, health care, and a host of other issues, hopefully the president-elect will remember to dance with who brung him.
Neither as resonant as Letters from Iwo Jima or Mystic River nor as atrocious as Million Dollar Baby or Flags of our Fathers, Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino is a solid, decently engaging, and even well-meaning two hours of cinema, despite the seemingly endless tirade of dated ethnic slurs issuing from Eastwood’s mouth therein. (Like Alvy Singer, Eastwood’s Walt Kowalski is a bigot, but for the left.) Its goofy and often didactic racists-have-a-heart-too messaging aside, Torino — or, as my dad accurately labeled it, Dirty Old Man Harry — pretty clearly attempts to be the coda and meta-commentary on Eastwood’s famous vigiliante films that Unforgiven (more successfully) was to his westerns.
Yet, even if it’s clunky and heavy-handed at times, and even if its over-the-top ending seems lifted straight out of your average Mel Gibson movie (you’ll know what I mean if/when you see it), I still ended up feeling reasonably charitable towards Torino in the end, perhaps because it’s good to see Eastwood, aged and wizened but with a undeniable twinkle in his eye, still willing to draw outside the lines of his cinematic legacy. (And perhaps because, speaking as someone of the Caucasian persuasion — or at worst a “mick” — we get off easy. I could imagine feeling much less sanguine about listening to a mostly-white audience chuckle and guffaw their way through the litany of racial slurs here, if they felt directed at me or my kids.)
If you saw any of the trailers for Gran Torino, you’re pretty much up to speed. The 1972 muscle car in question is the MacGuffin of this particular tale, and, with the passing of his wife, one of the three things left in this world still loved unconditionally by retired autoworker and Korean war vet Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) — the other two being his aging golden retriever and watery American beer. Basically written off by his biological family as a cantankerous, curmudgeonly funeral-waiting-to-happen (his granddaughter is particularly one-dimensional in this regard — she reminded me of Hillary Swank’s redneck family in MDB), Walt is for all intent and purposes an island unto himself in his Michigan neighborhood, which is now mostly populated by Hmong emigrants. His only friends are the other (white) retirees down at the local, with whom he occasionally shares a drink or three, and his “dago” barber (John Carroll Lynch), with whom he occasionally engages in what passes for witty ethnic repartee.
But when the boy-next-door Tao (Bee Vang) is enticed by the local gang to steal Walt’s Gran Torino as part of his initiation, and the girl-next-door Sue (Ahney Her) gets pawed walking home from school by some local African-American youths (Walt would use another term), Kowalski becomes increasingly drawn into the life of the Hmong community all around him despite himself. And soon, in full defiance of his oft-professed contempt for “gooks” and “zipperheads,” Walt takes it upon himself to educate Tao in the ways of true American manhood (which apparently is comprised of being good with tools and ethnic banter — who knew?) Still, that aforementioned gang ain’t going anywhere, and — worse for Walt, Tao, and particularly these hapless gang members — they don’t seem to have ever watched Dirty Harry. Clearly, somebody in the neighborhood is going to have to stand up to this crew…but, at his advanced age, laying down the law with the barrel of a big gun just doesn’t make Walt’s day quite like it used to.
In the end, Torino actually reminded me less of the glory days of Harry Callahan than of another film I happened to catch last week (on Blu-Ray), Tom McCarthy’s The Visitor. Gran Torino and The Visitor play like the (aging) McCain and Obama voters’ guides to 21st Century Immigrants respectively. In both films, an older white guy in a rut has his heart opened and life transformed by America’s spunky newest arrivals, until he gets a first-hand taste of the downside of new-immigrant life. (In one case, ethnic gangs; in the other, the INS.) Both are commendable films anchored by impressive and even nomination-worthy lead performances (in The Visitor‘s case, by Richard Jenkins)…but both exude more than a whiff of Bagger Vance-ish sentiment in their storytelling. (See also Gbenga Akinnagbe’s character in the otherwise solid The Savages.) In other words, the immigrants in question often feel like static plot points to move the white fellow’s story arc forward rather than full-fledged characters themselves.
Now, there’s no one in Torino as galling in this regard as Haaz Sleiman’s ridiculously friendly Syrian drummer in The Visitor, but the feeling persists nonetheless, particularly in the way Walt’s Hmong neighbors continually just shrug off the voluminous stream of bile emanating from his mouth. Eastwood or no, it’s hard to shake the sense that Walt’s blustery bravado would’ve at the very least cut back on the respectful offerings he’s given and Asian barbeques to which he’s invited during the film, and more than likely quite justifiably would’ve gotten his teeth kicked in a few times before the events shown here. Of course, in the world according to Gran Torino, physical violence is ultimately never the answer. So what the hell are we supposed to use, man? Harsh language?
Among the bountiful harvest that is the Quantum of Solace trailer crop…
I’m all over the place on this one. There are some real red flags here — all the Snydery slo-mo shots of Malin Ackerman’s hair, for example — and some of the dialogue feels as stiff and expository as the ponderous take-a-meeting scenes in 300. Then again, as with the first trailer, I’m still having trouble just wrapping my mind around the fact that they finally made a Watchmen movie. So I’m inclined to be charitable, and the little flourishes throughout (Rorschach’s mask moves!) appeal to my inner fanboy regardless. (Also, while Jackie Earle Hale’s Bale-Batman-growl may be a tad distracting, it’s hard to imagine Rorschach with any other kind of voice.) For now, I’ll call it a push.
Also out of late:
“‘There are powerful arguments that Senator McCain or anyone else in this position is constitutionally qualified, but there is certainly no precedent,’ said Sarah H. Duggin, an associate professor of law at Catholic University who has studied the issue extensively. ‘It is not a slam-dunk situation.’” Well, that explains the love for TR’s Big Stick diplomacy. As it turns out, Sen. John McCain was born in the Panama Canal zone, potentially complicating his constitutional eligibility for president. “The conflict that could conceivably ensnare McCain goes more to the interpretation of the archaic phrase ‘natural born’ when weighed against intent and decades of immigration law…Quickly recognizing confusion over the evolving nature of citizenship, the First Congress in 1790 passed a naturalization law that did define children of citizens ‘born beyond the sea, or out of the limits of the United States to be natural born.’ But that law is still seen as potentially unconstitutional and was overtaken by subsequent legislation, which omitted the natural-born phrase.“
Hmmm. Maybe next time the GOP try to ratchet up the virulent xenophobia, we should perhaps remind them that at least our putative standard-bearer is definitively a “natural-born citizen” of the republic. And I wonder, will “activist judges” on the Supreme Court really forego a strict reading of our constitution and let this foreign-born fellow, John Sidney McCain, run for president? Strict constructionists should blanch at the thought. Update: Sen. Obama co-sponsors a bill to help McCain out.
Heya. Sorry this is going up so late…I spent the evening at the Generation Obama event in Midtown, so my usual prObama take on the debates got even more reinforcement than usual…
First off, it was heartening to watch a surprisingly substantive debate. The Nevada roundtable was too sweet, and the Myrtle Beach slugfest was too sour, but tonight’s much-heralded showdown in Los Angeles actually seemed just right. [Transcript.] Both candidates were able to tease out and discuss notable differences in their policies, particularly on health care, immigration reform, and Iraq, while keeping a civil, friendly tone that didn’t seem as unnaturally forced as back in Vegas.
With all that being said, and to no one’s surprise, I thought Barack Obama came out ahead this evening. (In fact, I agree with Andrew Sullivan — this might’ve been his best debate thus far.) He showed a clear and nuanced command of policy. He made a solid case for his strengths, most notably on the question of judgment (“Right on Day 1.”) He explained well how he’s more electable, particularly against John McCain. He was wry and personable. And — when it came to the Republicans — he was often devastating. (That Romney takedown was too rich.)
Hillary Clinton was also good tonight, but she gave more than a few answers that were real groaners. On immigration reform, her attempt to be Obamaesque by invoking the Statue of Liberty was strange and flat. More problematically, her answer on drivers’ licenses for illegal immigrants made no sense (She’s against licenses for illegals, to protect illegals?) And, worst of all, when given the chance to defuse a zero-sum understanding of the immigrant issue, she instead told a story about an African-American man who blamed Latinos for his job loss, and it was hard not to read an off-putting Bendixen subtext into it.
Most notably, when it came to Iraq in the final third, Clinton was terrible. Rather than just admit she made a mistake in either [a] supporting the war or [b] believing Dubya, she seemed unwilling to concede any possibility of error, and got stuck in an increasingly tortured answer about her position on the AUMF vote. It was unseemly, to say the least, even Dubyaesque. And the more she spun her wheels, the better Obama looked. Update: Apparently, she also butchered the truth about the Levin Amendment.
Still, my general impression is that CNN’s Jeff Toobin basically got the larger chess game right: As a TPM commenter well put it: Hillary Clinton is currently in the lead and is trying to run the four corners until the clock runs out. Barack Obama is surging massively right now and didn’t want to upset that o-mentum unduly. So neither candidate felt they needed to shake up the current paradigm all that much, which helped keep everything friendly.
Instead, Obama wanted to show undecideds that he has presidential gravitas and can policy-wonk as needed. Clinton wanted to staunch her negatives and get the focus back on her rather than Wild Bill. (Which reminds me, no question about Kazakhstan?) In that sense, both candidates accomplished what they came to do.
Now, it’s up to us.
“Only two senators marched for immigrant rights on May 1, 2006, one in Washington and the other in Chicago. I marched in Washington and Barack Obama marched in Chicago. He was not afraid to stand up when others wouldn’t.” Ted Kennedy pitches Barack Obama for 20 minutes on the El Piolín radio show, which happens to be the most popular radio show in America. Notes the article: “You simply cannot pay for advertising like that, nor underestimate its impact on the vote next Tuesday particularly in California.”
The Amazing 2008 Race claims another candidate in Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo, who dropped out today, and endorsed Mitt Romney as the next-best purveyor of gibbering anti-immigrant hysteria.) “Tancredo has consistently polled at the back of the nine-person GOP field.” Well, when the Immigrants and Terrorists come to poison your homes, taik your jerbs, and devour your children, don’t say you weren’t warned.
“A lot of us worked hard to see if we couldn’t find a common ground. It didn’t work…I had hoped for a bipartisan accomplishment, and what we got was a bipartisan defeat.” Harding had the Washington Conference, Nixon had China and the FAP…but it looks like there’ll be nothing to dilute Dubya’s dismal standing in the history books. Arguably his last chance for a positive domestic accomplishment shattered to pieces when the Senate voted 53-46 against closing debate on the bipartisan immigration reform bill. “The outcome was a major blow to Bush, dealt largely by members of his own party…Republicans on both sides acknowledged the immigration fight had riven the GOP.“
The big news last Friday: Dubya and the Senate came to a deal on immigration reform, although the compromise — supported by Democratic Senators Kennedy, Feinstein, and Salazar as well as Republicans such as McCain, Graham, and Martinez — faces some major implementation issues and potential fire from both sides of the issue. Among the critics: Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama: “Without modifications, the proposed bill could devalue the importance of family reunification, replace the current group of undocumented immigrants with a new undocumented population consisting of guestworkers who will overstay their visas, and potentially drive down wages of American workers.“
In related news, two more Republicans enter the 2008 fray: former Wisconsin Governor and HHS head Tommy Thompson and Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo. Well, it’s good news for alliteration. And, moreover, Tancredo is going to hammer the immigration issue like there’s no tomorrow, which will mean a lot of uncomfortable shuffling by the main contenders during the GOP primary debates, so as not to turn off swing voters everywhere. But I’ll bet dollars to donuts neither of these fellows gets anywhere close to the nomination.
Another GOP scandal? Oh, why not. This time, the culprit is California Republican longshot Tam Nguyen, who apparently was the mastermind behind 14,000 letters sent to scare immigrants from the polls. “Written in Spanish, the letters advise recently registered voters that it is a crime for those in the country illegally to vote in a federal election, which is true. They also say, falsely, that immigrants may not vote and could be jailed or deported for doing so, that the federal government has a new computer system to verify voter names, and that anti-immigration organizations can access the records.” Nguyen has said he’ll stay in the race against Democratic congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, even though his own party is disavowing him.
Something in their eyes is makin’ such a fool of he…In a “decision [that] was widely seen as a slap both at the Senate and the president,” the House GOP punt on the proposed immigration reform bill, likely until after the 2006 elections. “House Republicans have long frowned upon the president’s approach, passing instead a bill that would tighten border controls, clamp down on employers who hire undocumented workers and declare illegal immigrants and those who assist them to be felons. Their position solidified this month after a California special election to replace jailed former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R). Republican candidate Brian Bilbray won the seat, beating back a tough Democratic challenge by running hard against the president’s approach.“
“What we have here has become a symbol for the right wing in American politics, a fence between America and Mexico.” Following up on Dubya’s speech Monday night (which, to be honest, I totally missed — late night at the library), the Senate wrangles over immigration reform, voting, as per conservatives’ wish list, “to build 370 miles of triple-layered fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border and to block access to a new guest-worker program by lawbreaking illegal immigrants, even those guilty of misdemeanors or ignoring a deportation order.”
I’m a bit late on this one: In an ugly confluence of several of this administration’s shady dealings, CheneyCo.’s KBR/Halliburton — its attempts at continued war profiteering faltering — recently won a $385 million contract to build immigrant detention centers for the Dept. of Homeland Security. “The contract, which is effective immediately, provides for establishing temporary detention and processing capabilities to augment existing ICE Detention and Removal Operations (DRO) Program facilities in the event of an emergency influx of immigrants into the U.S., or to support the rapid development of new programs.” Um, new programs? (By way of Supercres.)
TIME Magazine unveils Josh Bolten’s new five-point plan for righting the Dubya presidency: 1) Act tough on immigration with “guns and badges”; 2) Humor Wall Street with extensions on capital gains and dividend tax cuts; 3) “brag more”; 4) Talk tough at Iran; and 5) play nice with the press. So, wait, we’re going to war with Iran just so Bolten can squeeze six more months out of lame duck Dubya? Brilliant.
The Senate reaches a compromise on immigration reform that splits the middle between the Frist-Tancredo hardliners and the Kennedy-McCain moderates. “Under the agreement, the Senate would allow undocumented workers a path to lawful employment and citizenship if they could prove — through work stubs, utility bills or other documents — that they have been in the country for five years. To attain citizenship, those immigrants would have to pay a $2,000 penalty, back taxes, learn English, undergo a criminal background check and remain working for 11 years.” But critics argue that the five-year distinction is a hard one to determine or enforce, and has been since it was first put into law in 1986. Update: Things fall apart.
“There is no issue outside of civil rights that brings out the kind of emotions we have seen.” After a weekend of significant grass-roots protest further suggests the political perils of immigration reform for both parties, the Senate Judiciary Committee votes 12-6 to support a bill by Senators Kennedy and McCain that promotes the more moderate Dubya-backed vision of reform, such as a guest-worker program, over that of the hardline GOP border-security crowd such as Frist and Tancredo. “A confrontation between the Senate and House Republicans now appears inevitable.“
“‘The short-term politics of this are pretty clear. The long-term politics are pretty clear. And they’re both at odds,’ said Mike Buttry, a spokesman for Sen. Chuck Hagel.” With Republican unity already shattered by Dubaigate, the contentious question of immigration reform threatens to divide Dubya and the GOP anew, as 2008 hopefuls Frist and Tancredo attempt to outflank Dubya on the right on the issue of border security, while McCain tries to shore up his standing with the Bushies. “For Republican presidential candidates, immigration offers up a difficult choice: Appeal to conservatives eager to clamp down on illegal immigration who could buoy your position in the primaries, or take a moderate stand to win independents and the growing Latino vote, which could be vital to winning the general election.”
“At the same time, prosecutions for the kinds of racial and gender discrimination crimes traditionally handled by the division have declined 40 percent over the past five years, according to department statistics. Dozens of lawyers find themselves handling appeals of deportation orders and other immigration matters instead of civil rights cases.” The Post traces the demise and demoralization of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under Attorneys General Ashcroft and Gonzales.
Second verse, same as the first…New Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez outlined Justice Department priorities in his first policy speech yesterday, and it looks to be more of the same: extending the Patriot Act, strengthening anti-obscenity laws, deporting immigrants, and fixing the “broken system” whereby Senate Dems fulfill their constitutional obligations and vote up or down on Dubya’s freak-show judicial nominees. So, as we all feared, it’s Ashcroft all over again. But will Gonzalez at least undrape the Justice Department statuary?
Also on the history tip, I found this while preparing for my sections this morning on John Higham’s Strangers in the Land and nativism in the 1920′s: Red Scare: An Image Database…plenty of anti-foreign, anti-radical, and anti-union cartoons from the end of World War I. And, along the same lines, here’s an intriguing collection of WWI propaganda posters, such as this anti-German poster to the right. Very helpful in class, particularly as they will augur our reading of John Dower’s War Without Mercy later in the term.