Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Country Music Round-Up: Aughts in Review

It's time for another country music round-up. Of course, it doesn't make mathematical sense for an end-of-the-decade article written in December 2010 to go all the way back to 2000, but I don't care—this one goes to eleven:

Alan Jackson: "Where I Come From" (2000)
Where I come from, it's cornbread and chicken
Where I come from, a lotta front porch sittin'
Where I come from, tryin' to make a livin'
Workin' hard to get to heaven
Where I come from
Fair enough. Alan Jackson clearly does not come from a place with, say, a vibrant local arts scene. And, as reiterated by practically every country song since Little Jimmy Dickens' "Country Boy" (1949),[1] there ain't nothin' wrong with that. But what happens when Jackson finds himself out of his element? Things get uncomfortable, that's what.
I was chasin' sun on 101
Somewhere around Ventura
I lost a universal joint and I had to use my finger
This tall lady stopped and asked
If I had plans for dinner
Said no thanks ma'am, back home
We like the girls that sing soprano
This is a transsexual woman we're talking about, I assume, and for all we know, she's spent her whole life in the decidedly non-country sprawl of Southern California. But, on the other hand, maybe her background is just like Jackson's. I mean, she's willing to pick up hitchhikers—it doesn't get much more country than that. Maybe she also has a strong work ethic, an appreciation for homemade cornbread, an inexplicable love of dirt, and everything else a country upbringing entails.

Maybe she'd love to get out of the big city and go back home, but, for some reason, just doesn't feel like she'd be accepted. Ever think about that, Alan Jackson?

Brooks & Dunn: "God Must Be Busy" (2007)
I know He’s heard my prayers
‘Cause He hears everything
He just ain’t answered back or He’d bring you back to me
God must be busy
The basic message here is hard to argue with—there are a lot of awful things going on in the world, and odds are your problems are pretty insignificant by comparison, so you should probably calm down. It's a fine song, until this part:
There’s a single mom, just got laid off
Went and lost her job to foreign hands
In some far away land
An American lost her job to a foreigner!? And God allowed this to happen!? It's like we're not His favorite country anymore!

Brad Paisley: "American Saturday Night" (2009)
There's a big toga party tonight down at Delta Chi
They've got Canadian bacon on there pizza pie
They've got a cooler for cold Coronas and Amstel lights
It's like were all livin' in a big ol' cup
Just fire up the blender, mix it all up

It's a French kiss, Italian ice
Margaritas in the moonlight
Just another American Saturday night
I like it—a celebration of America's long tradition of incorporating elements of other cultures into our own. Or a celebration of our long tradition of naming stuff after other nationalities to make it seem exotic. A little of both, I suppose. Anyway:
You know everywhere there's something they're known for
Although usually it washes up on our shores
Which is great, as long as it's tasty, alcoholic, and/or legally documented!

Dixie Chicks: "Not Ready to Make Nice" (2006)
I’m through with doubt
There’s nothing left for me to figure out
I’ve paid a price
And I’ll keep paying

I’m not ready to make nice
I’m not ready to back down
I know what you're thinking: This song doesn't belong here—it was written in response to the criticism the Dixie Chicks drew when Natalie Maines went and declared her opposition to the Iraq War and her disappointment with her fellow Texan in the White House.

The backlash was severe. Boycotts were organized. Country stations stopped playing Dixie Chicks songs. Maines even received a death threat. The whole mess was as sad as it was ironic, really, because what could be more conservative than speaking your mind and refusing to back down when people get offended?[2]

Johnny Cash: "Hurt" (2003)
I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that's real
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

If I could start again
A million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way
I have nothing to add, except that this is my all-time favorite audio recording of any kind (and the video's good enough to link to twice).

1. In fact, the two songs—recorded some 50 years apart—bear striking similarities, and that really speaks to the essence of conservatism, doesn't it? Compare the lyrics: Dickens and Jackson appear to hold identical views on the value of remaining true to one's modest background, the joys of a simple country life, and the importance of being wary of city folks who—it's probably safe to assume—just don't get it.
    But, in other ways, the songs illustrate how much things can change over the course of a half-century. Namely, cornbread is no longer spelled with a hyphen.
2. Answer: Blindly supporting a Republican president through two shaky administrations, then letting loose with relentless criticism as soon as a Democrat takes office.[3]
3. Ha ha, just kidding.[4]
4. No, actually, that sounds about right (pun not intended, but neither was it removed upon discovery, so make of that what you will).

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Opponents of the DREAM Act: Evil or Stupid?

As I've discussed before, I'm a big fan of the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to legal status for certain unauthorized aliens who were brought into the country as minors and intend to go to college or join the military.

I'm also a big fan of the principle of reciprocity:
[I]n the context of opinions and debate, the principle of reciprocity states that we should respect the reasonableness and the goodwill of those with whom we disagree, and to treat them with civility, even if we judge their opinions to be unreasonable and/or their views to be unjust or immoral.

If you assume the worst of someone only because of an opinion different than yours, then you’re being an intellectually dishonest asshole.
So, while I disagree with the (mostly conservative) opposition to the DREAM Act, I'd like to believe opponents are motivated by a sincere evaluation of the bill's merits, which isn't entirely implausible. The DREAM Act's benefits are clear, but—in a departure from the impeccable legislation we've come to expect from the legislative branch—it also has its share of problems.[1] Any member of Congress who votes against it, then, should have little trouble explaining why the bill is flawed, and why he or she feels the negatives outweigh the positives. Let's start with Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX):
I am sympathetic to the young, illegal immigrant children who were brought here by their parents. Because their parents disregarded America's immigration laws, they are in a difficult position. However, this bill actually rewards the very illegal immigrant parents who knowingly violated our laws. Once the DREAM Act's amnesty recipients become citizens and turn 21, if they haven't already they can sponsor their illegal immigrant parents, spouse, or children for legalization, who can then sponsor others, resulting in chain migration that will further hurt American workers and American taxpayers.
I hear this one a lot, and it's nonsense. To say that DREAM Act beneficiaries will be able to "sponsor their illegal immigrant parents" is an inherent contradiction. They will, of course, be able to sponsor their legal immigrant parents, via the legal process of which conservatives are so fond (with its 15- to 18-year waiting lists for most Mexican applicants). But if the parents are already here illegally, nothing can be done for them until they leave. On top of that, if they leave after having been here illegally for a year or more, there's a ten-year prohibition on even applying for a visa. By the time those hurdles have been cleared, I'd say it's a little unfair—that is, even more unfair than usual—to call the parents "illegal."

Lamar Smith's apparent belief that family-sponsored visas are a low-hassle way for unauthorized aliens to obtain legal status is, I think it's safe to say, incompatible with reality. That raises the question, is he trying to be misleading on purpose, or does he simply not know the basics of U.S. immigration policy? I don't have an answer to that, but, in Smith's defense, a lot can be forgotten in 14 years, which is how long it's been since he wrote the damn law.[2]

Moving on, Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA):
The DREAM Act specifically focuses on promising young foreigners a bright future if their parents choose to break the law. This will unquestionably encourage desperate parents to bring their children, perhaps millions of them, across our borders illegally.
Also a popular criticism, and not quite as non-sensical, but definitely misleading. Presumably, Rohrabacher's point is that in the future aliens will cross the border in the hope that similar legislation will be passed while they're here (because it's going so smoothly this time around!). In other words, I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt and assuming he's being more vague than dumb, because the DREAM Act unambiguously excludes anyone who wasn't already in the country at least five years before its enactment. Desparate as those future parents may be to get their kids across the border, they're going to have a tough time doing it in 2005 or earlier (and if they can pull that off, we should probably just let them stay).

Again, Rohrabacher surely knows about the five-year provision, but I bet a lot of casual observers—especially those inclined to take his side on this—do not, and I'm just cynical enough to wonder if maybe his vagueness is intentional—calculated to make the Act sound much scarier than it really is. Regardless, it's a counter-productive omission. Instead of making me think about the dangerous-precedent argument (which, presented appropriately, could be somewhat compelling—not that there isn't a counter-argument), it makes me wonder why Rohrabacher doesn't appear to know what he's talking about.

Representative Phil Gingrey (R-GA):
According to the Migration Policy Institute, an estimated 2 million immigrants will be eligible for amnesty under this bill. That number is not too difficult to imagine given that H.R. 5281 would allow these individuals, once they are naturalized and become 21 years of age, to exploit our broken system by sponsoring their immediate relatives with no numerical cap. We call that chain migration. In fact, they could each bring in something like 179 other individuals.
Really? A newly-legalized alien could bring in 179 relatives? That's such an oddly-specific number. Do you have 179 parents, spouses, children, and siblings, Phil Gingrey? Because I have four.

Surprisingly, that's not the most ridiculous part of Gingrey's speech (well, it might turn out to be, if I ever figure out where that number came from). Even worse is that he sees sponsorship of immediate relatives as "exploit[ing] our broken system." Because that's what's wrong with the system—all those nefarious foreigners applying for visas with 15- to 18-year back-ups and patiently waiting for the paperwork to go through.

Representative Timothy Johnson (R-IL):
It is an affront and a sobering reality to the American taxpayers and their children and grandchildren who are going to pay this bill to the tune of billions of dollars over the future. It is also a reality to the 10 percent of Americans who are unemployed who realize that the effect on the infrastructure of America in this bill is going to be absolutely negative with respect to Social Security benefits, jobs, loans, health care, education and otherwise.
I don't have the energy to try to sort out the competing financial guesswork coming from both sides; I just want to point out that Republican Representative Timothy Johnson is one of many conservatives arguing that if we allow roughly one million unauthorized aliens to legally work (which leads to paying taxes), and legally get a college education (which theoretically leads to paying even more taxes, and sometimes to creating new jobs), it would cause billions of dollars of damage to the economy. If that's true, then our economy is fundamentally backward (which it very well may be, for all I know), and we might as well just give up.

Still, maybe I'm being unfair. (See? Always trying to avoid assuming the worst!) Maybe this is just a bunch of meaningless grandstanding for the C-SPAN cameras, which is about as meaningless as grandstanding gets. At least these elected officials aren't actively spreading misinformation for the clear purpose of riling up the public, right?

Here's Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), actively spreading misinformation for the clear purpose of riling up the public:
If the alien is unable to complete 2 years of college but can demonstrate that their removal would result in hardship to themselves or their U.S. citizen or LPR spouse, child, or parent (the ones who brought them here illegally), the education requirement can be waived altogether. The bill actually allows illegal aliens to get legal status indefinitely without any college or military service.
When he says "hardship," he's abbreviating a bit. The actual standard is "exceptional and extremely unusual hardship," a phrase—Senator Sessions may be surprised to learn—that was not chosen simply because some legislative aide likes the way it sounds. Under current law, one of very few ways an unauthorized alien can obtain legal status is by showing that deportation would cause "exceptional and extremely unusual hardship" to a spouse, parent, or child—provided that person is a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident (among other requirements). As the language implies, this exceptionally high standard is met only in extremely unusual circumstances. Sessions is upset about a provision that's essentially the same—in that it carries the same high standard—but would also allow DREAM Act-eligible aliens to attempt to show that deportation would cause "exceptional and extremely unusual hardship" to themselves. Hardly a sweeping reform.

The shot Sessions takes at the parents "who brought them here illegally" is another one for the Evil-or-Stupid file. Granted, the proposed law is poorly written, so he may just be confused, but the existing hardship waiver is poorly written in almost exactly the same way.[3] Assuming the two are meant to be similarly interpreted, the status of the parents is irrelevant to the DREAM Act debate. If they aren't U.S. citizens or legal residents, they can't be the basis for a hardship waiver under either law. If they've somehow obtained legal status, they can already be the basis for a hardship waiver, regardless of whether the DREAM Act passes.

That's just a small part of the latest version of Sessions' "Ten Things You Need to Know About the DREAM Act." The memos—packed with false and misleading claims—have been picked up by countless conservative news sites (Michelle Malkin, in particular, has been all over them), and appear to have provided the souce material for the speeches made by Sessions' colleagues in the House. Naturally, those already inclined to oppose the Act haven't bothered to question the memos' content (or, even worse, if they have they've been quiet about it).

I'm sure it's clear that I think it's wrong to oppose the DREAM Act, but I hope I've also made it clear that I don't think it's insane to oppose it. Why, then, are conservatives so unwilling to fight it on its merits? In the name of reciprocity, I want to believe they think they are fighting it on its merits—they just have two or three (dozen) facts wrong.[4] But everything I've seen and heard points, rather overwhelmingly, toward another explanation:

Conservative ideologues love to get worked up about immigration because it's an issue that (a) people know little about, (b) tends to arouse strong emotions, and (c) can be relatively plausibly blamed for any number of unrelated problems.[5] They know they'll be called out when they go too far, but only by the likes of Media Matters and the American Immigration Council—nobody their followers would actually listen to—so they can pretty much say whatever they want. They make the DREAM Act sound as sinister as possible and in the process portray themselves as patriotic freedom-fighters, protecting America from the terrible menace of foreign-born high-achievers.

Their obvious lack of respect for potential DREAM Act beneficiaries is nothing short of appalling, and their obvious indifference toward honest debate and accurately informing the people they represent is almost as bad—and this just happens to be an issue I know a few things about. Reciprocity be damned—when I hear the same blowhards talking about something less familiar, why should I trust anything they say?

1. An incomplete list:
— Fraud (also an acceptable argument against…anything, really).
— Dangerous precedent.
— Economic impact (projections are all over the map).
— Insufficient time for debate/amendments.
    I'm not saying I agree or disagree with any of those (or that, even if valid, they outweigh the positives of the bill), just that they aren't total nonsense.
2. From the biography on Lamar Smith's website:
He introduced and successfully advanced the passage of a 1996 immigration reform bill. This legislation was the most far-reaching reform of America’s immigration laws since the 1960s.
Prominently displayed on the main page of the same website, as of this article's writing, is the video of Smith's misinformation-fueled speech on the House floor. His audacity would be impressive if it wasn't so infuriating.
3. Immigration and Nationality Act, §240A(b):
(1) The Attorney General may cancel removal in the case of an alien who is inadmissible or deportable from the United States if the alien—

(D) establishes that removal would result in exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to the alien’s spouse, parent, or child, who is a citizen of the United States or an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence.
Sort of looks like the citizen/LPR requirement only applies to children, and not spouses or parents, doesn't it? It could go either way, I suppose, but the settled interpretation is that, to qualify as the basis for a hardship waiver, a spouse or parent must have legal status too. Any chance Sessions has been politely set straight by the ambiguous clause's author, Representative Lamar Smith? Yeah, I doubt it.
4. Another possibility, as always, is that I have it wrong. After all, immigration is complicated, and I certainly don't claim to be an expert, so I'll concede that I may have made a mistake or two. And while I generally endorse the Media Matters and AIC articles I referred to above, I remain wary of anything coming from such a one-sided source (whatever that side may be).
    But for the anti-DREAM Act arguments quoted here—and many, many others I left out—to make sense, there are a lot of things I'd have to be wrong about.
5. Obviously, that goes both ways. Replace "conservative ideologues" with "liberal ideologues" and "immigration" with "tax cuts for the rich," for example.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Great Moments in Breaking From the Herd

Big Government, along with the rest of Andrew Breitbart's online mini-empire, has an unmistakable conservative slant. That is, you pretty much know ahead of time what kind of commentary you're going to get. For example—to choose a topic entirely at random—the controversial Arizona immigration law:
Unlike the reason based protests by tea partiers, the Arizona protesters are acting solely on emotions stirred by a constant barrage of leftist demagoguery. No civil rights have been violated, no racial profiling has taken place, and the motivation for this law was not racism. The motivation is completely founded in reason which is backed by facts and by a definitive understanding of the word 'illegal'.
SB 1070 goes to great length to avoid racial profiling, the specter of which has engendered nearly all of the well-orchestrated hysteria against the law.
This issue is no longer one which we can sit idly by and hope for a solution. We have solutions. First, we need to secure our borders. Second, we need to remove all financial incentives for illegal immigrants. And third, we need to demonstrate the clear and responsible pathway to legal immigration.
This is not an immigration law. It's also not racist. It's not racial profiling. And it's not usurping the role of the federal government (which has abysmally failed here). Instead, it's an employment law and property law.
I don't begrudge illegal immigrants doing what they have to do to take care of their families but I have a family, too, and immigration laws are supposed to protect us from unrestricted access to the infrastructure that comes out of my family's pocket.
Fun fact: That last one—which, by the way, makes some pretty good points—also answers the question of "hey, I wonder what Joe the Plumber is up to these days?"[1]

Anyway, you get the idea. Not all of it is wrong, necessarily, but it's staunchly pro-border-sealing and pro-government-mandated-paper-carrying. It's also rather insistent that of S.B. 1070 could be enforced without racial profiling, which, I'm sorry, is asinine.[2]

Imagine my surprise, then, when I read Ronald L. Trowbridge's article about a similar proposed law in Texas:
There is something downright sick in this prejudicial treatment. Conservatives and libertarians usually champion the supremacy of the individual over the collective. We judge individuals as individuals, not as members of a group. But too many conservatives are now demanding that we prejudicially judge people as members of a group. They have become the collectivists that they supposedly reject.
It doesn't even matter (at least, I like to think it doesn't) that I agree with his viewpoint—I'd appreciate it either way. In an era when it's so easy to isolate yourself from opposing opinions, and thus so easy to fail to notice your core ideology being gradually replaced by an arbitrary list of beliefs, we need more stuff like this. Trowbridge isn't saying conservatism itself is wrong, he's saying the views held by most conservatives on immigration cannot be accurately described as conservative.

The best part is at the end:
John Stuart Mill wisely observed that "He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that." Open, honest debate—even on the contentious issue of immigration—is healthy because it takes us closer to truth and resolution. Let refutations—not just anger—begin in earnest.
How was this call for "open, honest debate" and understanding of where the other side is coming from recieved? Have you ever read anything on the Internet before?
What a load doc. I carry a drivers liscense and a SS card. What part of illegal can't you get through you thick head!!! Any citizen schould be more happy to show IDwhen asked. Moron
Yeah. We all know a lot of you libertarians are retarded when it comes to supporting open borders and mass immigration. Nobody cares.
Cry me a river, Trowbridge! It's such an inconvenience to carry your driver's license with you for identification! Oh, ...wait. We do that every day already. You whining wusses with your bleeding hearts make me want to puke.
That is the single most absurd statement I have ever read regarding illegal immigration.
Those comments, by the way, are all among the dozen or so highest-rated on Big Government's thumbs up/thumbs down voting system. I wanted to see what kind of rating a comment in support of the article might have, but I couldn't find one.

1. I give it less than six months before Joe "The Plumber" Wurzelbacher and John "Don't Touch My Junk" Tyner are co-hosting their own show on Fox News.
2. From the amended version of Arizona S.B. 1070:
A law enforcement official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state may not solely consider race, color or national origin in implementing the requirements of this subsection except to the extent permitted by the United States or Arizona Constitution.
See, they took out "solely." Now the police can't consider race at all…except to the extent permitted by the Constitution, which, it turns out, is kind of a lot.
The likelihood that any given person of Mexican ancestry is an alien is high enough to make Mexican appearance a relevant factor, but standing alone it does not justify stopping all Mexican-Americans to ask if they are aliens.
Seems to me it'd be a lot easier to argue that racial profiling is acceptable in cases like this than to argue it won't be a problem, and I mean "easier" in the sense of "not quite so transparently naïve and/or disingenuous."