It’s Our Country, He Said

Hollywood brings you summer – superhero movies and shoot-’em-ups and Will Farrell playing the unaware goofball again, and a few vampires, a few longing-for-love-or-at-least-respect teenagers, and the usual animated features. It’s fluff. And it’s marketing. School is out and sometimes families take vacation and end up with the kids at the multiplex, and everyone is laid back. No one wants anything heavy. The serious stuff can wait for September through the end of the year. You release the arty and deep this-is-Oscar-material movie in December, when you don’t have to explain the low box-office returns.

No one goes to the movies in December. It’s cold. There’s Christmas shopping. Your movie was brilliant and original, even if no one saw it. Summer is for the opposite sort of thing – the wholly unoriginal blockbuster. This summer it was Toy Story 3 and the A-Team, which at its best was a goofy half-assed television show that joked about itself – ninety-eight episodes from 1983 to 1987, each forty-eight minutes long, as the rest of the hour was commercials. But this summer it was a feature film – not terribly successful, but Fox easily covered their production, promotion and distribution costs, and made a tidy profit. Summer is for junk, and for making big money.

And summer is for escapism – for the kids escape from school and for adults who dare in these hard times, an escape from the pressure of the job, even if it’s only for two or three days – hoping against hope that the job will be there when you get back to the office.

Yep, this summer no one wants to think about how bad things are. The economy tanked at the end of the Bush years and it just won’t come back – things are shutting down. The states are going broke – some states ripping up roads and going back to gravel because there is just no money to maintain paved roads anymore, some cities laying off half their police and shutting off the street lights – no money, as the out-of-work don’t pay taxes – and Camden, New Jersey just closed all their public libraries, permanently. There’s a rundown here – What Collapsing Empire Looks Like.

No one wants to think about this. Congress just passed aid to the states to keep some of those teachers, firemen and policemen on the job at least until the end of the year – and the Republicans screamed bloody murder – this was a payoff to the unions, and everyone hates the pampered and overpaid and generally useless teachers, firemen and policemen, the parasites who are just taking our money for doing nothing. They are the enemy! Or maybe they’re not, but we shouldn’t spend money on them, even if we’ve found the money to do that. It’s just not right.

All that is discussed here – in 2005, Arnold Schwarzenegger called a special election to cut funding for teachers, firefighters and nurses out here in California – by a lot. He campaigned by calling them special interests – and they fought back with television spots. “They aren’t fighting the special interests. They’re fighting us.” When one nurse after another – and one teacher after another – said that on camera, people stopped buying the Schwarzenegger line. He backed off.

So here we go again. And now it’s compounded by the Republicans arguing that teachers, firemen and policemen need to be put in their place – and their unions busted – and we do need to make sure that the top two percent of the wealthy keep getting their massive tax cuts from the Bush years, or everything will collapse. Maybe you have to sacrifice the teachers, firemen and policemen for that, for the greater good.

It is odd, and it’s no wonder people go sit in large dark air-conditioned rooms and watch pretty young people pretend that they’re vampires. In the thirties people watched Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance around London or Rio or Manhattan, and there was always a white grand piano or two involved – the full twelve foot kind – and every room’s ceiling was thirty-feet high. And there was champagne. We prefer vampires. You do want to get away from it all, especially if you’re a teacher.

And Arizona started the backlash against Hispanics, passing a law that required all police to stop anyone who some might think was here illegally – in Arizona that would be Hispanics – and demand that they prove they were here legally, or it was off to jail with them. Much of that was struck down, but appeals are in progress. And other states want to pass similar laws. Require the police to stop anyone and make them prove they belong here. And of course that has soured civil discourse in America. Now it has come down to the question of who really belongs here. See J. B. Williams – Why It Is Time to Deport Liberals – and see Steve King the congressman from Colorado:

King said Obama has misinformed the public about Arizona’s law. King said that under only one circumstance does he support amnesty for illegal immigrants: “Every time we give amnesty for an illegal alien, we deport a liberal.”

He seemed to be serious, or at least angry. That sort of thing makes one want to go see a dumb movie. What is there to say?

There have been movies about this sort of thing of course. In 2006 Robert De Niro gave us The Good Shepherd – “The tumultuous early history of the Central Intelligence Agency is viewed through the prism of one man’s life.” And it disappeared soon enough, even if it got great reviews. The problem might have been one exchange in the film:

Joseph Palmi (Joe Pesci): Let me ask you something. We Italians, we got our families, and we got the church; the Irish, they have the homeland, Jews their tradition; even the niggers, they got their music. What about you people, Mr. Wilson, what do you have?

Edward Wilson (Matt Damon): The United States of America. The rest of you are just visiting.

We were here second, so it’s our place. That cuts too close. The film was released on December 22, 2006 – that’s not a summer movie.

And it has been a hot summer. Steve Benen here discusses a new CNN poll gauging public attitudes on the hot-button cultural issues in the air, and it was curious, as it covered the Republican drive to repeal at least part of the Fourteenth Amendment:

As you may know, the Constitution says that all children born in the United States are automatically U.S. citizens regardless of their parents’ status. Would you favor or oppose a Constitutional amendment to prevent children born here from becoming U.S. citizens unless their parents are also U.S. citizens?

Favor 49%

Oppose 51%

No opinion 1%

Benen argues that’s a depressingly high number for a basic American principle with odd internals:

Looking through the crosstabs, self-identified Democrats oppose a new amendment by a wide margin (61%-39%), Republicans are nearly as strong in the other direction (40%-58%), and Independents are evenly split. Only one region – the South – has more supporters of an amendment than opponents.

This could tear us apart, as could this:

As you may know, a group of Muslims in the U.S. plan to build a mosque two blocks from the site in New York City where the World Trade Center used to stand. Do you favor or oppose this plan?

Favor 29%

Oppose 68%

No opinion 3%

There’s little ambiguity there. And see this – Top Social Conservative: No More Mosques, Period – and this man is serious:

Bryan Fischer, the “Director of Issues Analysis” for the American Family Association, wrote a blog post yesterday on the AFA’s site arguing that the United States should have “no more mosques, period.”

“This is for one simple reason,” he writes. “Each Islamic mosque is dedicated to the overthrow of the American government.”

This guy is scheduled to speak at the Value Voters Summit in September – right there with Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Mitch McConnell, and the usual major Republican politicians. And he says every mosque “is a potential jihadist recruitment and training center, and determined to implement the Grand Jihad.” And of course “because of this subversive ideology, Muslims cannot claim religious freedom protections under the First Amendment.” You see, these tricky people are using First Amendment freedoms to make plans to destroy the First Amendment altogether.

This of course puts that array of Republicans in a tight spot. Do they agree with Fischer and keep the Value Voters on their side? Or do they concede that the largest and fastest growing religion in the world seems to be an actual religion? There may be all of seven million Muslim-Americans. There are lot more Value Voters than that. You have to consider those numbers, and the CNN poll – and the geopolitical implications of saying that Islam is a dangerous farce and not a religion at all. And somewhere in the distant background is the principle of religious freedom, even if a less than tertiary consideration. It’s a puzzle.

And this presents a puzzle too:

Do you favor or oppose a bill in which the federal government would provide 26 billion dollars to state governments to pay for Medicaid benefits and the salaries of public school teachers or other government workers?

Favor 60%

Oppose 38%

No opinion 2%

They said that was a bad idea and that everyone agreed with them that it was a bad idea. Now what?

And there’s this:

Do you think gays and lesbians should have a constitutional right to get married and have their marriage recognized by law as valid?

Yes 52%

No 46%

No opinion 2%

A clear majority of Republicans oppose, but that doesn’t help much. And women support same-sex marriage by an overwhelming margin (67%-32%) while men oppose it by a similar margin (37%-61%). If you say this issue is critically important, can you win back the House and Senate with just older white Republican male voters? Are there enough of them? Will they be able to forbid their wives and daughters from voting? It’s another puzzle.

Maybe it’s enough to oppose all spending, and the leader of that effort is House Minority Leader John Boehner. But Jared Bernstein, Vice President Biden’s chief economist, posted this item on the White House blog:

John Boehner wants a lot of people to lose their jobs.

We were awfully surprised to hear Rep. Boehner come out for killing jobs en masse in his own state and district by stopping the Recovery Act on last Sunday’s news shows.

Though we’re sure he didn’t know it, the Congressman is advocating to kill the expansion of the Butler County Community Health Center and to bring some of the twenty-five highway projects across the district to a grinding halt. Across the state of Ohio, he said that approximately 4 million working families should get an unexpected cut in their paycheck as the Making Work Pay tax credit disappears, unemployed workers should go without unemployment benefits, and major Ohio road projects like the US-33 Nelsonville Bypass project and the Cleveland Innerbelt Modernization project should be stalled or stopped. Oh, and some of the more than 100 clean energy Recovery projects employing workers across the state should be shut down.

Well, that’s inconvenient. It is turning out to be a hot summer. Boehner has some tap-dancing to do. Or he can say he wants all that stuff stopped, now. Maybe the Ohio voters in his district will love him for sticking to his principles. Maybe they won’t. There may not be time to change the Constitution to read that the unemployed and working families cannot vote in elections.

But Republican leaders have embraced partial repeal of the Fourteenth Amendment, knowing full well that that isn’t going to happen either – it takes would take a two-thirds vote in both houses and ratification by three-quarters of the states, and ten years at the least. It’s just posturing to win some votes in the short term. But Harold Meyerson writes here that this will likely cost far more votes in the long term:

By proposing to revoke the citizenship of the estimated 4 million U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants – and, presumably, the children’s children and so on down the line – Republicans are calling for more than the creation of a permanent noncitizen caste. They are endeavoring to solve what is probably their most crippling long-term political dilemma: the racial diversification of the electorate. Not to put too fine a point on it, they are trying to preserve their political prospects as a white folks’ party in an increasingly multicolored land.

Absent a constitutional change – to a lesser degree, even with it – those prospects look mighty bleak. The demographic base of the Republican Party, as Ruy Teixeira demonstrates in a paper released by the Center for American Progress this summer, is shrinking as a share of the nation and the electorate. As the nation grows more racially and religiously diverse, Teixeira shows, its percentage of white Christians will decline to just 35 percent of the population by 2040.

The group that’s growing fastest, of course, is Latinos. “Their numbers will triple to 133 million by 2050 from 47 million today,” Teixeira writes, “while the number of non-Hispanic whites will remain essentially flat.” Moreover, Latinos increasingly trend Democratic — in a Gallup poll this year, 53 percent self-identified as Democrats; just 21 percent called themselves Republican.

Well, that too is inconvenient, and Benen adds this:

I got the sense that the Bush/Cheney team was very cognizant of this. The Bush team proposed a fair and reasonable approach to comprehensive immigration reform; made an effort to promote ethnic diversity in the administration; and made sure the former president spent plenty of time doing outreach (and pretending to speak Spanish). The result was a very competitive contest for the Latino vote in 2004.

Those efforts appear to have been tossed aside entirely, replaced not only with cynicism and divisiveness, but sacrificing the Republican Party’s future for immediate gain. It’s less of a gamble and more of last-gasp strategy – let’s just get all the angry white votes we can get right now, the argument goes, even if it means driving a fast-growing minority away for a generation.

And from Politico there’s this:

Harry Reid’s campaign is not shying away from the Senate majority leader’s questioning of why “anyone with Hispanic heritage could be a Republican,” instead using it to attack GOP Senate nominee Sharron Angle’s relationships with the Hispanic community.

Reid made the comment Tuesday after being asked a question about immigration at a campaign stop with Hispanic supporters.

“I don’t know how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican, OK?” Reid said. “Do I need to say more?”

Angle’s campaign seized on the comment, telling POLITICO in an e-mail that “Harry Reid cannot give any good reasons why people should vote for him, so now he is turning to race and ethnicity.”

He is? Who started this? No wonder people escape to the movies. It’s getting real ugly. And see Bill Hemmer face off against Fox News analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano:

NAPOLITANO: The law has been upheld uniformly since 1868 and without exception. And we start with a couple of basics. The Congress cannot change the constitution of the 14th amendment on its own. It takes 2/3 of each house of Congress and 3/4 of the states to change the amendment… so this is nothing but political chatter by those who are concerned understandably by problems at the border. … I can’t imagine that there’d be a consensus to change the 14th amendment.

HEMMER: But if the [Birthright Citizenship Act] were carried out, you had 100 co-sponsors about a year ago, it would require at least one parent to be a US citizen for a baby to become an American citizen at birth. If you were to enact the BCA as some refer to it, is that a way to get around the 14th amendment, and get done what people like John Cornyn, and John Kyl and John McCain, and we heard John Boehner are trying to do.

NAPOLITANO: No! That would not be a way around it. There is no way to get around the 14th amendment. These people took an oath to uphold the Constitution whether they agree with it or not! All of it not part of it! The Supreme Court has said you cannot take privileges or benefits away from a child because of a crime committed by the parent. Therefore everybody born here is an American citizen, no matter what their parents’ status was at their birth.

There’s more at the link, but you get the idea. Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch may have to huddle up and decide if they really want to keep Napolitano on retainer to Fox News. Maybe they’ll consult with Glenn Beck. Beck is their constitutional expert these days.

But there are complications. See Tim Lee with this:

Each year, thousands of Americans are born to undocumented immigrants. Birthright citizenship guarantees that when they grow up, they’ll enjoy the same freedoms that the children of American citizens do. Ending birthright citizenship means that, instead, they’ll be forced to live underground in the country they call home. This isn’t an “act of symbolic violence against hard-won American ideals of equality.” It’s a sacrifice of the actual freedom and equality of actual human beings who will be born on American soil over the coming decade.

Lee is referring to Will Wilkinson in this item where Wilkinson looks to other countries for alternatives to birthright citizenship, and says we could have sort of human new amendment to the constitution. But it’s all nonsense. It’ll never happen. Amending the constitution is damned difficult, on purpose.

And Jason Kuznicki piles on:

A permanent, multi-generational class of non-citizens would just be fuel for the fire. Twenty years on, immigration foes will look at all the second- and third-generation non-citizens we’ve created, and the mass arrests and deportations will really begin in earnest. Not a problem I’d want to create.

Worse, by then the anti- side may even have a point. A permanently alienated underclass isn’t going to be so loyal or so invested in the American polity. They wouldn’t have any reason or need to be. The genius of birthright citizenship is that it changes the incentives for everyone involved. It says to all populations: You’ve got roughly twenty years to figure out how to live with one another, as citizens. Now get to work.

And see Kate Pickert at Time’s Swampland with this:

If their U.S.-born children wouldn’t become automatic citizens, would illegal immigrants choose not to have children in America? Would revoking this American right under our current Constitution actually really change anything on the ground? Hospitals that now care for undocumented immigrant women would most certainly still do so, even if their babies were similarly illegal. Would states, which control their own schools, disallow non-citizens from attending? What would be the social consequences of having an entire generation of these children grow up in the U.S. without being educated? What if a child was born to an undocumented father and a U.S. citizen mother? What about an undocumented mother and a citizen father? How do you prove this? Will the federal government require paternity tests before granting citizenship? These are the kinds of questions that need to be asked and explored to have a real debate on birthright citizenship. And, centrally, if some undocumented immigrants are coming to the U.S. solely to have children, is it citizenship they’re after? Or are there economic – i.e. jobs for parents – motivating them, along with better living conditions and a host of other contrasts between life in Mexico, say, and life in the U.S.?

The devil is always in the details. And thinking back on that Robert De Niro movie, just who is it that is just visiting? And who gets to build a house of worship on private property with private funds. And if everyone is saying get your sorry ass the hell out of my country do the descendants of Chief Sitting Bull get to say that too?

Maybe it’s best to just go to the movies. Piranha 3D hits the theaters on August 20 – there are good posters in the neighborhood here. It’ll do.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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