The immigration paper bag

“There’s never been a paper bag for drugs.”

If there was ever a paper bag for immigration, Arizona’s just ripped it away. The clip up there is of “The Wire”‘s Major Bunny Colvin, explaining the unspoken compromise between police charged with enforcing laws against public consumption of alcohol, and locals who want to sit outside drinking a beer. The paper bag allows otherwise law-abiding citizens to enjoy a drink in the fresh air, and frees up the police to focus on more serious crime (“If they arrested every dude out there for tipping back a High Life there’d be no other time for any other kind of police work”). A similar compromise for drug-users doesn’t exist, Colvin says.

I was reminded of this scene after Arizona’s Republican Governor Jan Brewer signed into law a set of stringent new restrictions on illegal immigration. The law has set off an outcry here in the States, and it’s not too hard to see why. It requires police to stop people they suspect of being illegal immigrants and demand proof that they are authorised to be in the country. Immigrants must carry around proof of their legal status at all times, and the mere act of being an illegal immigrant in Arizona is now a crime.

The problem is, of course, that it’s hard to have a reasonable suspicion that someone is an illegal immigrant, because, well, in the words of Governor Brewer: “I do not know what an illegal immigrant looks like.” Opponents of the law think it will lead to widespread profiling of Hispanics, since most illegal immigrants are Hispanic. And even though the law forbids this kind of racial profiling, it offers no guidance as to how a police officer is meant to reasonably suspect someone of being an illegal immigrant. Just like police departments that don’t racially profile but nonetheless coincidentally end up harassing large numbers of law-abiding African-Americans, this legislation seems likely to lead to widespread demands of any Hispanic-looking person in Arizona that they show their papers.

In practice, this will make Hispanics more mistrustful of police, and discourage them from reporting crimes and co-operating with investigations. But if this were all it would do, at least Arizona would reach some kind of workable, albeit horrible, compromise. But one of the more absurd aspects of the law is that it permits individual citizens to sue police departments that aren’t doing enough to combat illegal immigration. Not only will police have to try to determine who is an illegal immigrant merely by sight, they will have to demand of these people proof of legal status, and, to avoid costly lawsuits, they will have to do so to the satisfaction of every resident of Arizona. Continue reading


The big picture

One of my biggest frustrations with contemporary takes on American politics is an insistence on taking the short term view. We saw this in the weeks leading up to the Democrats passing health care reform; the narrative then was that Obama was a failure as a President and that the Republicans had successfully defeated his agenda. But when Congress passed health care, all of a sudden we had a slew of successful Obama accomplishments to admire: not just the unprecedented health care reform, but substantial economic stimulus packages, a rescue of Wall Street from the brink, and significant reforms to the tertiary education system to boot. This, whatever happens in the midterms, is not the picture of a party cowed by adverse political currents. It still looks like an ascendancy.

Which is exactly what Ross Douthat’s most recent column suggests:

In a sense, the last eighteen months have been enormously successful for conservatives: The polls have turned decisively against the Democrats, the Obama White House, and liberalism in general; the Republicans have won a series of elections they weren’t expected to win; and conservatives look primed for bigger gains in November. But of course, all of this political success is happening against the backdrop of (and as a backlash against) a series of sweeping liberal policy successes, whose impact promises to be much more enduring than whatever happens in the midterms. Elections come and go, but new entitlements tend to last forever …

Exactly right. And conservatives have shown no signs of having developed credible alternative policies to the Democrat successes Douthat decries. Whatever happens this November, the long term trends are leaning Democrat. Short-term alarmism directed at (or triumphalism directed against) the Democratic agenda does not take this into account.

And isn’t it time we declared that Paperclip character an enemy combatant?

Defense Force Powerpoint slide

That’s the image that ran on the front page of today’s New York Times; it’s a slide from a U.S. military PowerPoint presentation that was meant to show the complexity of America’s current strategy in Afghanistan. According to the article, when General Stanley McChrystal saw it, he quipped, “When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war.”

I mentioned a couple weeks ago that I recently went to Seattle’s Experience Music Project’s annual pop music conference, and after sitting through a succession of post-grads reading their presentations off PowerPoint slides in a monotone, I have little sympathy for Microsoft’s presentation software. But its effects are more severe than sucking the life out of potentially interesting topics like the history of the jukebox or an examination of the rap music produced in Charlottesville, Virginia. PowerPoint, the Times reports, is having a deleterious effect on the military’s operations. Continue reading

In which Sydney seeks more friends, more allies!

Matthew Moore in the SMH:

A 10-YEAR fall in the percentage of migrants settling in NSW and the lowest rate of economic growth of all mainland states has Melbourne on track to overtake Sydney as Australia’s biggest city, a report predicts.

The Going Nowhere report, produced by the economic forecasters BIS Shrapnel for a property developer lobby group, says lower developer levies on new housing land in Melbourne have allowed construction of homes at twice the rate of Sydney. This is fuelling a population and economic growth in the Victorian capital that means it will become the country’s biggest city by 2037.

This is some ridiculous reporting. A bunch of lobbyists cajole some economists into releasing a report saying their crystal ball has figured out Melbourne will be bigger than Sydney in 27 years time, and the Herald reports this as news? And regurgitates the assertion that the only way to avoid a fate Sydneysiders would understandably be horrified by is to implement the tax policies the lobbyists want? Thumbs fucking up, Matthew Moore; you’re all over this one.

I particularly like the way Moore inserts this at the end of the piece:

While the NSW Department of Planning has recently upgraded its population forecasts, predicting Sydney will reach 6 million by 2036, [Lobbyist] Mr Gadiel dismissed those projections and said they ”won’t happen” without radical changes to the planning system to make it easier and cheaper for developers to build more homes.

Thank god we’ve got experts like Aaron Gadiel there to offer incisive critiques of Department of Planning projections like “won’t happen.” And thank god we’ve got Matthew Moore, who’s willing to regurgitate facts like this —

The report, commissioned by the Urban Taskforce, says NSW’s share of national migration has fallen from about 42 per cent 10 years ago to about 30 per cent due to the ”extremely challenging conditions” in the residential property market when prices leapt after the Olympics.

— without considering that Sydney’s share of migration has reduced not because of Melbourne or the local housing market, but because of the booming resource economies in Western Australia and Queensland. In this case, growth is dependent on demand, not supply.

“And what is the use of a book,” thought Alice “without pictures or conversation?”

Cover of President George W. Bush's memoir Decision Points

I’m expecting Alice will like this one then. And that’s the only cheap shot I’m going to take at the 43rd President’s just-announced memoir, Decision Points, which will be released November 9th of this year, immediately after the midterm elections. I expect it will be at least as engrossing as The Pet Goat. (Sorry, I had to take one more cheap shot. I do apologize: the political discourse deserves better.)

A non-cheap shot: Is this too soon? Even while he was still in office, George W. Bush was a man who clearly though he would be vindicated by history. I can understand that he is eager to get his take on the period out there before the conventional wisdom ossifies, but by releasing his memoir within two years of his leaving office, is he really going to do that much to contribute to our understanding of that time period?

It’s difficult to see how Bush could deliver his recollections unencumbered by considerations of contemporary politics. American troops are still in Iraq and Afghanistan, New Orleans is still a mess, and the economy is still underwater; can we really expect Bush to offer a new take on stories that haven’t yet finished playing out? Perhaps Decision Points will be insightful and revelatory, but my suspicion is that it will carry over the same fights the Bush administration was fighting while he was in office, and offer little of historical worth. This would be a better book to write a few more years down the line.

But maybe you disagree. Are you looking forward to Decision Points? What do you think we’ll be able to learn from the book?

The District sleeps alone tonight

Logo for Mike Allen's Playbook feature

I enjoyed the Times magazine’s profile of Politico journalist Mike Allen, the man behind the politics website’s Playbook feature, a daily missive exhaustively detailing the latest in D.C. news, speculation, gossip and ephemera. The blast gets emailed round to, well, I’ll let the Times explain:

Playbook has become the principal early-morning document for an elite set of political and news-media thrivers and strivers. Playbook is an insider’s hodgepodge of predawn news, talking-point previews, scooplets, birthday greetings to people you’ve never heard of, random sightings (“spotted”) around town and inside jokes. It is, in essence, Allen’s morning distillation of the Nation’s Business in the form of a summer-camp newsletter.

But though Allen is an unusual and elusive character, the story is more interesting as an insight into the small town nature of the nation’s capital, from the slightly too-intimate details revealed by Allen’s readers —

Readers describe their allegiance with a conspicuous degree of oversharing. “I definitely read it in bed,” Katie Couric told me. “Doesn’t everybody read it in bed?” Margaret Carlson, a columnist for Bloomberg News and the Washington editor at large for The Week magazine, said in a video tribute to Allen for his 45th birthday party last June. (For the record, the Republican lobbyist and party hostess Juleanna Glover said in the video that she reads Playbook “in my boudoir and while I’m blow-drying my hair.”)

— to the descriptions of power broker-heavy house parties:

McAuliffe, the former Democratic National Committee chairman, arrived after the former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie left. Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren had David Axelrod pinned into a corner near a tower of cupcakes. In the basement, a very white, bipartisan Soul Train was getting down to hip-hop. David Gregory, the “Meet the Press” host, and Newsweek’s Jon Meacham gave speeches about Fischer. Over by the jambalaya, Alan Greenspan picked up some Mardi Gras beads and placed them around the neck of his wife, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, who bristled and quickly removed them. Allen was there too, of course, but he vanished after a while — sending an e-mail message later, thanking me for coming.

It’s also a celebration of the way Politico has shaken up American political reporting, though even this has its detractors. Matt Yglesias critiques the Allen model as valuing short-term scoops over in depth reporting (Ian Shapira does likewise), while the White House, according to the Times, sees Politico as “shorthand for everything the administration claims to dislike about Washington — Beltway myopia, politics as daily sport.”

But while everyone claims to despise the “horse race” nature of American political coverage, which treats government as a battle of opposing interests rather than the pursuit of policy, D.C. essentially demands it be covered in this way. The Times goes on:

 Yet most of the president’s top aides are as steeped in this culture as anyone else — and work hard to manipulate it. “What’s notable about this administration is how ostentatiously its people proclaim to be uninterested in things they are plainly interested in,” Harris, Politico’s editor in chief, told me in an e-mail message.

Folks mightn’t like it, but often politics is a horse race, and its little surprise that the media outlets willing to be racetrack callers end up doing well.

And as for D.C.? Well, as I’ve alluded to before, it’s important to remember that it isn’t only a political town, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t apolitical town, one that delights in receiving updates as to which couple the rest of us have never heard of has just had a baby. And though I was only a part of this specific aspect of the town long enough to at best be considered on its periphery, I did delight in one example the Allen article claimed was an example of Politico’s obsession with minutiae:

Politico’s comprehensive aims can make it goofy and unapologetically trivial at times. A recent item by a Congressional blogger for the site consisted of the following: “Lights are out throughout much of the Longworth House Office Building, a denizen tells me. UPDATE: They are back on.”

The lights at Longworth were off? What was the story behind that? Many of the Congressional officers are there, and I had friends who worked there. This was big news, as far as I was concerned.

And that’s the nature of D.C. It’s the kind of place where you can report that a building has temporarily gone dark, and some people will be interested. Multiply that by scores of little tidbits a day, and you see why Politico is such a success and why Playbook is being written up in the Times. It’s a small, small town.

Weekend update

Long weekend update, that is, for y’all in Australia.

I can now proudly proclaim I’ve eaten KFC’s Double Down, the sandwich that uses pieces of fried chicken instead of bread. Once I’ve recovered, my weekend will consist of reading William Faulkner’s Go Down Moses, watching episodes of the seminal ’90s teen drama “My So-Called Life,” and listening to High Violet, the new album from the National, some of the finest chroniclers of moody American middle-class youth in the game. The band is offering a free download of first single “Bloodbuzz Ohio” over here.

If any readers in the Seattle area want to say hello, I’ll be commemorating ANZAC day tomorrow at the Kangaroo & Kiwi.