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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Monday, 15 May 2006
Pleasing Everyone, Pleasing No One
Topic: For policy wonks...

Pleasing Everyone, Pleasing No One

The week opened with some reframing - Monday, May 15, a speech by Karl Rove at the American Enterprise Institute where he explained the polling showing the president's approval rating at an all time low, and the overall disapproval rating (and the subsets by issue) sky high, was misleading. Why was that? That was because "people like him, they respect him, he's somebody they feel a connection with, but they're just sour right now on the war." The full quote is here, with the key polling data. The general idea was that this was sad, but such things happen - war is always hard and too many people are eventually wimps, and stupid too, as they allow their despair with the war to blind them what a wonderful job the wonderful man they like and respect is doing otherwise. That's one way of looking at it. Laura Bush the day before had said she just didn't believe the poll numbers (discussed here) - she's been on the road, at all the public events, and that disapproval is not what she saw. She was there. No one was so graceless as to mention each and every audience had been vetted, every time, and no one with a grudge or gripe got within ten miles of her, or her husband. She got a pass on her comments, including the one where she declared herself a feminist. It's not as if she's an elected official or policy maker or anything.

But the real reframing of issues was the president's Monday evening television address to the nation, in prime time during sweeps week (driving the major broadcast networks up the wall), where President Bush announced the solution to the immigration crisis, the crisis that comes up when major elections loom.

The context was important. The Republican-controlled House had passed a version of their solution - make being here without proper papers an aggravated felony, make any kind of aid to anyone you knew or should have known was an illegal immigrant a serious crime, even if you're a church offering no-questions-asked hot meals to the poor, and build a giant wall from the Gulf Coast of Texas down by Brownsville all the way west to the Pacific just south of San Diego. Send them all home. Seal the border. Punish them. The Republican-controlled Senate had almost worked out something quite different - send the most recently arrived home and let the others pay a fine and stay as guest workers, and let the long-timers with family, careers, who had been paying taxes and all the rest, become citizens after jumping through some specific hoops. The first version of that fell apart, but a new version will be discussed in the Senate soon. To become a law, the House and Senate must hammer out their differences and send the compromise legislation off to the president for his signature. That seems unlikely.

The president leans toward the way the Senate sees things, and looking at it generously he likes that approach on humanitarian and practical grounds. Looking at it cynically, he knows the corporations, including agribusiness, that bankroll the Republican Party, and are integrated into the Bush family, need cheap no-questions-asked labor, and you don't tick them off by sending it home. And looking at it politically, no one will be happy when lettuce costs three hundred dollars a head and you have to bus your own table at Spago or Denny's - and too you might need at least some of the Hispanic votes to hold onto the House and Senate, where, if you lose one or the other or both, the investigations begin and roll on for your final two years. You don't want to make "them" the bad guys.

The problem was obvious - the speech had to present something for everyone, while at the same time not really offending one side or the other. It was a classic exercise in offending the most people the least.

So just how do you do that? He'd be bold, and so he was, sort of. Too bold - getting in a helicopter in that cool jump suit, leaning out the side and machine gunning women and children in the Arizona desert for the ultimate photo-op - would be a bit over the top. He'd lose the moderates. The business folks would see their potential base of useful cheap labor rotting in the sun and the vultures getting the only advantage. Too cowardly - give those here amnesty and eventual citizenship and say to everyone that we need these folks and they'll be fine citizens so just chill - would drive the conservative "cultural values" core of the Republican Party to their gun cabinets for the revolution to overthrown their king. And there was Lou Dobbs on CNN with his nationally televised jihad to rid us of this plague - he'd buy the guillotine for the festivities.

So the obvious solution was to be moderately bold - throw each side a bone or two and hope for the best. Be very cautiously audacious.

So the major speech was quite odd. You can read a transcript here, or just look at the bullet points here (Associated Press) or here (CNN).

The first cautiously audacious step? Make an admission that no one expects. Say things are actually going badly, all the more effective because people know you just never do that. So say, flat out, that the United States "does not have complete control of its borders and millions of people who have sneaked across the border have stayed in this country, living in the shadows of society." If the president is somehow charged with protecting the border (it's part of his job as commander-in-chief), that's saying that over the last six years you screwed up. Ah ha! - the conservative "cultural values" core of the Republican Party will say, "finally, we're getting somewhere." So they feel a bit better.

The second cautiously audacious step? Say you're sending in the troops to fix it - the federal government will pay for up to six thousand National Guard troops to be deployed to the southern border (the Canadians are no problem). But you're only funding them. They'll be under the command of the state governors, not Bush or Rumsfeld. And by the way, these National Guard units will not be directly involved in "law enforcement activities" (avoiding any pesky posse comitatus issues) - the border patrol will do that stuff. And the National Guard units won't even be armed - they'll be gathering intelligence and building fences and patrolling roads, not involved in "the apprehension and detention of illegal immigrants." We're talking logistics and administration. So you send in the troops, sort of. And they will serve in two-week rotations - each year that means 156,000 troops could be sent down south. And you hope no one asks where they come from, since forty percent of our guys in Iraq and Afghanistan are Guard or Reserves, and there's a hurricane season coming, and floods in New England, and the Guard gets a whole lot of assignments. But you sent the troops to the rescue, sort of.

The third cautiously audacious step? For the other side, particularly the business who love that cheap labor, you suggest a temporary worker program - foreign workers could enter the United States for jobs for a limited period of time. But they're required to return to their home countries when their time is up, or the job is over. And actually, this is pretty clever. They don't really stay here, and the party that depots them is actually not the government - it's the employer. The company says the job is done and they are the ones deporting the used-up worker. So business gets tossed a bone, and it sounds somewhat humane (these people need work), but it's not like they stay, so the red-meat Republicans get something too.

The fourth cautiously audacious step? Dazzle everyone's eyes with something bright and shiny - high technology. Say employers must "be held to account for their employees." Yeah, you're cracking down on businesses that hire people without really caring if they're here illegally. So the proposal is a tamper-proof identification card for every legal foreign worker. This helps the law enforcement folks and leaves the nasty employers with no excuse at all for violating the law. Biometric information and digital fingerprints. That's the ticket. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge - the cards won't be ready for a few years, if ever, so if your carpet factory in North Carolina is full of these illegal folks working hard, you can rest easy. And as for building that big wall, say you're going to build a "virtual wall" with video cameras and unmanned drones watching everything from the sky, and motion detection gizmos in the cactus. The red-meat Republicans may buy into that. It does sound pretty neat. And it buys time - these things take years to work out and the "we're working on it, almost ready" line works wonders. People love technology.

The fifth cautiously audacious step? Redefine amnesty - "I believe that illegal immigrants who have roots in our country and want to stay should have to pay a meaningful penalty for breaking the law, to pay their taxes, to learn English and to work in a job for a number of years. People who meet these conditions should be able to apply for citizenship but approval would not be automatic, and they will have to wait in line behind those who played by the rules and followed the law. What I have just described is not amnesty; it is a way for those who have broken the law to pay their debt to society and demonstrate the character that makes a good citizen." Well, if it were pure amnesty there wouldn't be a penalty. Right. That one may not fool anyone.

The sixth cautiously audacious step? Play the cultural purity card - the "social values" crowd loves that. Say Americans "are bound together by our shared ideals, an appreciation of our history, respect for the flag we fly and an ability to speak and write the English language. English is also the key to unlocking the opportunity of America." No homemade tacos and burritos. These people have to go to Taco Bell like normal Americans, and order in English. They have to act like good white folks. We all forgot our cultural roots. They should too.

So did the president hit the sweet spot? He specifically called on Congress to pass a "comprehensive" immigration reform bill, one "that addresses all elements of the immigration problem in order to achieve a solution."

He punted. This is going nowhere.

The Democrats trotted out Senator Durbin to reply. No problem with the troop idea, but he didn't see where we'd find the Guard troops given how stretched thin things are these days. And he suggested this array of dreams wasn't exactly leadership. But then why should he say anything that harsh? The whole thing was directed to the warring factions in the Republican Party (and Lou Dobbs). Why get involved? Let them have at each other.

Here is a good summary from Kevin Drum -
The immigration speech seemed like it was mostly just the same 'ol same 'ol. Nickel version: Beef up the borders with troops and high tech wizardry but insist that it's not "militarization"; start up a guest worker program that's not called a guest worker program; introduce an amnesty program but insist that it's not an amnesty program (it's not, it's not, it's not!); and crack down on employers who employ illegal immigrants while pretending that they're actually victims of highly sophisticated fraud rather than willing coconspirators aided and abetted by the business wing of the Republican Party.

Actually, I don't really have anything against most of this stuff. Bush's position on immigration seems surprisingly reasonable to me. But it's still kind of fun watching him bob and weave and choose his words with such delicate care in order to avoid the first fully televised political suicide in history, courtesy of the wingnut base he's spent his life pandering to.
Pithy, no?

As for all this as seen from Mexico, the issue may be William Howard Taft.

What? See this -
Mexicans chafed Monday at the notion that President Bush wants to send National Guard troops to help enforce the U.S.-Mexico border, even as President Vicente Fox tried to downplay the seriousness of the move.

Many said the Guard troops could do little to stop determined migrants from finding unguarded places to cross the 2,000-mile border. Neither would the Guard do anything to solve the deeper issues behind the migration, they said.

Some were offended at a "militarization" they thought more appropriate for the border between openly hostile countries and feared that troops could become a permanent presence redefining the U.S.-Mexico relationship.

"It's worrying," said Arturo Solis, an immigrant rights activist in Reynosa, across the border from McAllen, Texas. "The bad thing is that the American government is insisting on confusing immigration with a criminal problem."

The move reminded some historians of 1913, when President William Taft sent troops to the Texas border. Mexico was in the midst of a chaotic revolution, and Taft was warning Mexican generals and rebels not to harm U.S. interests south of the border.

At the time, there was no real threat to American soil, but the U.S. public was clamoring for action, said Lorenzo Meyer, a prominent historian at the Colegio de Mexico.

"It sounds very familiar," Meyer said. "Taft said, 'No, no, no, this is not an unfriendly move. We just want to make sure that nothing happens at the border.' But it sent a signal that a peaceful border was being regarded as dangerous."
Yeah, and the New Mexico National Guard helped track down Pancho Villa in 1916.

A brief comment at Martini Republic sums it up - "Putting troops on the border will alienate one of our few remaining friends in the world. By treating terrorism as a state v. state military problem, when nearly all other nations treat it as a cultural problem, we've blown just about every friend we ever had."

And the Guardian (UK) noticed something else - "In addition to the national guard, which will play a supporting role to the border patrol forces, the plan unveiled by Mr Bush last night calls for an increase in detention centres for illegal immigrants."

More jails. Oh yeah, that.

Well, the hard-line side of the Republican Party is on a rampage, and part of the deport-them-all community says deporting these twelve million or so men women and children is still the best idea -
Not only will it work, but one can easily estimate how long it would take. If it took the Germans less than four years to rid themselves of 6 million Jews, many of whom spoke German and were fully integrated into German society, it couldn't possibly take more than eight years to deport 12 million illegal aliens, many of whom don't speak English and are not integrated into American society.

See Digby here on this Karl Rove strategy, as the speech may have been his calculation to get the party back together and keep control of congress in November -
Immigration may get his base out in the fall, and the issue may make this a closer election than we'd like. But history shows these immigration fevers come and go. Losing any hope of the Hispanic vote with a bunch of Nazi talk about "ridding the country of its problems" is the end of the whole enchilada. The Republicans cannot be a majority if they lose the Hispanics. Rove knows this better than anyone - and it's got him dancing on the head of a pin unable to please anyone.

That is one atomic wedgie he's feeling right now. But hey, when he and his pals decided to exploit racial fears way back when, they consolidated a bunch of people under their tent who have a proclivity for unpleasant behavior toward those of other cultures and races. They are demanding that their party kick some dark hued ass, preferably close enough to home where they can really enjoy it.
Live by the sword, die by the sword. The Republican Southern Strategy of long ago - assimilate all the racists you can find and get them to abandon the party of LBJ and the Civil Rights Act for your side - seems to have drawn in folks who wax nostalgic about boxcars, stuffed full of men, woman and children, heading for the border.

And they're angry. You will find here a discussion of all the conservative voices saying Bush should be impeached for his failure to stop the "Mexican invasion" and protect our nation's borders.

Given the dynamics here, this speech was about the best that could be done. Things are not going well for the White House.


Footnote: What You Missed While We Worried About the Huddled Masses Streaming North

There was that whole thing late last week when we found the government had amassed a huge database of pretty nearly all telephone calls made in America since late 2001 - who called whom and for how long, but not what was said. That was discussed here. The idea is some fancy pattern recognition software will reveal plots by those who want to kill us all. As a few have said, this is like looking for a needle in a haystack, by building the world's largest haystack. It's very odd. And many, like Tim Grieve here, pointed out we have no way of knowing what the government is doing with the information once it has it.

Monday, May 15, we got a hint here - ABC News reporters Brian Ross and Richard Esposito say they've been told by a senior federal law enforcement official that the government is tracking their telephone calls in order to identify their confidential sources. The official told them: "It's time for you to get some new cell phones, quick."

Ross and Esposito say they don't know whether the government got information about their calls through the ginat NSA database program or some other way, but they say that the Bush administration has a motive for learning about the people with whom they've talked - "Our reports on the CIA's secret prisons in Romania and Poland were known to have upset CIA officials."

Yep. And this -"People questioned by the FBI about leaks of intelligence information say the CIA was also disturbed by ABC News reports that revealed the use of CIA predator missiles inside Pakistan."

Ross and Esposito say they don't think the content of their calls is being monitored, but "a pattern of phone calls from a reporter" could reveal the identity of confidential sources.

That'll shut down the press.

Late in the day, the FBI confirmed, but said it wasn't the NSA database they used. The Patriot Act did just fine -
The FBI acknowledged late Monday that it is increasingly seeking reporters' phone records in leak investigations.

"It used to be very hard and complicated to do this, but it no longer is in the Bush administration," said a senior federal official.

... Officials say the FBI makes extensive use of a new provision of the Patriot Act which allows agents to seek information with what are called National Security Letters (NSL).

The NSLs are a version of an administrative subpoena and are not signed by a judge. Under the law, a phone company receiving a NSL for phone records must provide them and may not divulge to the customer that the records have been given to the government.
No warrant, no oversight, so here what was supposed to be used to shortcut everything and get the terrorists is being used to get those who report what's politically embarrassing, and just lies, and illegal. Criticism is terrorism.

The pattern, according to Josh Marshall, here -
I think part of the issue for many people on the administration's various forms of surveillance is not just that some of activities seem to be illegal or unconstitutional on their face. I think many people are probably willing to be open-minded, for better or worse, on pushing the constitutional envelope. But given the people in charge of the executive branch today, you just can't have any confidence that these tools will be restricted to targeting terrorists. Start grabbing up phone records to data-mine for terrorists and then the tools are just too tempting for your leak investigations. Once you do that, why not just keep an eye on your critics too? After all, they're the ones most likely to get the leaks, right? So, same difference. The folks around the president don't recognize any real distinctions among those they consider enemies. So we'd be foolish to think they wouldn't bring these tools to bear on all of them. Once you set aside the law as your guide for action and view the president's will as a source of legitimacy in itself, then everything becomes possible and justifiable.
And see Digby here -
The key here, I think, is to recognize that they will say that monitoring the communications of the press or political opponents is for the sake of national security. This is what comes of seeing your fellow Americans and political opponents as "enemies" to be eliminated. There is no logical or emotional leap to make between spying on terrorists in Dubai and spying on war protesters in Dubuque and spying on reporters in DC. It's the natural result of this Manichean mindset that openly touts a "with us or against us" philosophy and sees political dissent as acts of treason.

Conservatives have been selling the idea of "the enemy within" for many decades. It's what they do. Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger ... rationalized their spying on the press and dissenters as necessary to plug national security leaks. Likewise, the Bush administration will have no problem doing it either.

I personally wouldn't support giving Gandhi and Jesus Christ the unfettered power to spy on Americans. But allowing these people to do it is unfathomable.
And a conservative voice here -
I am - and continue to be - a strong supporter of the President and his administration, but the crusade against reporters who publish stories based on leaks has got to stop. If they want to find the leakers and punish them, so be it. People who violate their oaths and the laws about government secrecy ought to be in jail. But not the reporters. They're simply doing what they're supposed to do - keeping us all informed. That's their job. And it's an important one because only an informed population can prevent a government from drifting inexorably towards tyranny.

... But there is no question the aggressive pursuit of information from and about reporters can do irreparable harm. Enough is enough. Really. It's time for these stutteringly stupid tactics to stop and those conducting these investigations to behave like responsible adults, not five year olds with a playground grudge.

... We can debate the merits of the news that's being broken - and we should. But we can't debate the necessity of having a press that's free to break the stories. And having reporters believe the government is cataloguing their calls or that they are facing jail anytime they write something that might be secret is the opposite of the kind of freedom that we need.
This is interesting. Reporting without telephones? Face to face, or email or instant messaging, until that's monitoring. Then?

Note to self: Chat with the older expatriate Russians in the apartment building here in Hollywood and ask them about how one found out what was really happing back in the Stalin days. The techniques may soon be useful again.

Posted by Alan at 23:08 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 16 May 2006 07:04 PDT home

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