Category Archives: Civil Rights

To Make a Virtue of Necessity: A Review of Melting Pot or Civil War?

Reihan Salam, a wonky conservative columnist and all-around interesting person, wrote a bracing, emotional, personal, and far-sighted new book called Melting Pot or Civil War? A Son of Immigrants Makes the Case Against Open Borders (2018, Sentinel). He admits that just a few years ago he found his views on immigration pedestrian and mostly aligned with the immigration activists. After a few years of research, he says he is more aligned with those, like President Trump, who think America should be more, not less, selective regarding immigration. This book is part-memoir, part economic and sociology literature review, and part-policy prescription; it is well written, nuanced, and generous. We need more books like this about disparate subjects as soon as possible.

Early on in the book, Salam makes the case that we need to forge a new “middle class melting pot,” that minimizes what he calls “between group inequality” (26). Salam is apt to highlight that the current immigration system is “increasing both the number and the share of children being raised in low-income households,” and that “today’s poor immigrants are raising tomorrow’s poor natives” (25), which should worry anyone who cares about the future of a united nation, one that actualizes the “melting mot” mythos of American identity. The data presented by Salam to substantiate his descriptive claims is numerous, and are from sociology, political science, and economics, among other fields.

The question that Salam took on was: How do we make sure we make an integrated America, that precludes racialization and ethnically Balkanized areas of existence? This is where Salam’s idiosyncratic mind comes in, one that is largely conservative but not entirely. In short, he thinks we need to limit low-skill immigration, at least for a time (this is Salam’s hedge); he claims that “a more selective, skills-based immigration system would yield a more egalitarian economy, in which machines do the dirty work and workers enjoy middle-class stability. And a more egalitarian economy would help heal our country’s ethnic divides” (28). But, in the pen-ultimate chapter of the book, he couples this more right-of-center idea with “offering amnesty to the long-resident unauthorized population, and fighting the intergenerational transmission of poverty” (157) sure to satisfy his left-of-center readers. I will get to the details of his package of proposals down below.

__
In a relatively short book (excluding notes, this book runs a crisp 184 pages), Salam is ambitious, far-reaching and explains complicated ideas simply, yet in a way that respects his reader and that does not engage in simple binary thinking. In chapter two Salam briefly describes the existing immigration systems operative in the world: mongenerational, the Qatari model; multigenerational, the US model; and a hybrid model like those seen in Canada, Australia, and Singapore (60).  By doing so, he really focuses the reader to understand the range of alternatives: utopia doesn’t exist, and, we have to choose something (though the status-quo has largely remained the same because of a lack of choosing; almost no one thinks that the status-quo is sustainable, however). So, what are we going to choose? Salam’s choice is not a limitation on the number of immigrants America takes in, but a shift in which migrants we take in. His proposals assume that a multigenerational model is surely the American model of the future.

He has a chapter focused on the intersection between immigration and group identity, and it he portends a possibly dark future since assimilation is differentiated by groups. He introduces the concepts of amalgamation and racialization here. When immigrants effectively assimilate, they join the “melting-pot mainstream,” and become an example of successful amalgamation, or the process of becoming “mainstream American” where ethnic differences become insignificant. When the opposite occurs, ethnic segregation emerges, producing racialized enclaves or ghettos. Both of these realities exist in America. Salam argues that on our current trajectory, the later path is increasingly likely to become reality for second- and third-generation immigrant families. Why does this matter? Because the type of immigration that makes the ethnic enclave life more likely is the family-based system, the one that Salam thinks we should curtail; and because social science research is pessimistic about what happens when ethnic tribalism rises to the surface and becomes political tribalism.

Offshore caregiving
Salam understands that if America did, in fact, decrease low-skill immigration that the source country could be worse off. Salam proposes ambitious solutions here: allow retiring Americans to access Medicare in Mexico, for example. This would create more low-skill jobs in Mexico, staunching the need for Mexicans to move abroad. Salam points out that we will have to get creative to adequately deal with a population that is getting older, sicker, and who are increasingly without kin (137). Salam proposes we shift some of our counternarcotics and counter-human trafficking budget to help develop poorer regions in Mexico (and Central America). Moreover, we should help subsidize Mexico’s efforts (already underway and successful enough) to “halt migrants long before they reach” the America-Mexico border. I like this idea and have nothing substantial to really say about the idea as a concept. Political contingencies always come to mind, and social security politics deserves a blog post of its own.

Creating Megacities
Salam believes that “our long-term objective should be to help all countries achieve broad-based prosperity,” because there is no way that America, or Europe, or countries such as China or South Korea, will be able to accommodate the hundreds of millions of people coming of age who will need work and fulfilling lives. So what does he propose? This, too, is where his idiosyncratic and curious mind shows off: the creation of new cities out of cloth. Call it “conservatism for those who read The Economist,” if you will. However, this is not a new idea, as Salam acknowledges: the world has already created “charter cities,” such as the successful example in China of Shenzhen, which turned a fishing backwater into a “teeming entrepreneurial metropolis of ten million” in just over three decades (144). Also see Paul Romer’s “charter cities,” TED Talk. The reason this idea is less pie in the sky then it seems is that the alternatives are far worse, and that the need is there. We have no choice argues Salam. We should strive to create “dozens of Shenzhens” (151). This is similar to Paul Romer’s idea to create “100 Hong Kongs.” However, Hong Kong was created after two wars, an imperial reign by the British, and has a symbiotic (deep financial integration) and contentious (remember the Umbrella Movement; this will flare up again) relationship with China to this day.

Another weakness of this “charter city” idea is he does not address how the creation of megacities could happen. If the goal is to create better governance, we must do it where people live right now; how to do this is contested. China carefully turned Shenzhen into what it is now, backed by the heavy hand of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and is home to visionary and successful (and heavily subsidized) companies such as Huawei. Even as a concept, the idea of “charter cities,” is underdeveloped, according to Kee-Cheok Cheong and Kim-Leng Goh, in an article for the international journal of urban policy Citites. I would have loved if Salam got more into this debate since it’s the most interesting part of his proposal. I’ve written an essay on what the future looks like for migrants and it’s mind-blowingly complicated, and requires multilateralism at its finest.

Salam digs into his syncretic proposal in the penultimate chapter. His goal is ambitious: how to reconcile those who are aligned with the Dreamers with those who sympathize more with the so-called “angel moms,” or parents of children who were killed by unauthorized immigrants (and often those who have committed earlier crimes who were not deported, or who were deported but returned). How so? First, “large-scale amnesty followed by resolute enforcement” (164). This entails support for DACA and Dreamers coupled with a verifiable and enforced E-Verify program. Fair enough; this is a popular idea.

Finally, Salam supports increasing the very successful Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and a “universal child benefit” (177). He does not go into details of what this would do to already existing child programs such as the Child Tax Credit (CTC) except as to say that his proposal would help the 25% of families who have children who do not receive any tax subsidies or food stamps and hurt the “nearly poor families” (178). Before I endorse such a program, I’d have to see more details.

I would support paring back some mortgage tax reduction programs that the upper-middle class receive, highlighted brilliantly by Derek Thompson and Suzanne Mettler.  Many believe that the Home Mortgage Interest Deduction (HMID) benefits the middle class but it mostly benefits the rich: three-quarters of the benefits accrue to the top 20% of households, those who make around $130,000 a year (Brookings 2017). Depending on how we reform the deduction, revenues could increase by as high as $60 billion per year, which could help support Salam’s proposals and also shore up existing programs such as the CTC. A melting pot requires stirring lest it curdles.

This is a burst of a book; a book that makes you think, and that was written in all earnestness. What should America do about immigration? What should America do about global income equality? What is the balance between humanitarian concerns and concern for second-generation immigrants in your own country? What about the lives of ninth-generation natives or immigrants? None of this is binary, Red or Blue.

I applaud Salam for this effort.

 

Advertisements

White Fear; Black Bodies

Book review:
Hayes, Chris. 2017. A Colony in A Nation (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.).

The excellent and fastidious Chris Hayes is back with his second book; it’s a doozy full of righteous (patriotic) indignation; telling data and statistics; and is bathed in humane empathy in a surprisingly nuanced way. He tries to emphasize with quite literally everyone – that alone should be commended.

The book, A Colony In A Nation, comes off the heels of a highly divisive presidential election, seen by many as largely about identity issues, immigration, and race. The winning candidate, Donald J. Trump, pounced on and utilized white fear in a way that only dog whistles could previously capture.

Long live the dog whistle;
blue lives matter!;
all lives matter!

Hayes’ thesis is, as he himself puts it, “simple.” We have a divided justice system producing a divided country. One part of the U.S., which Chris dubs the “Nation” has a policing regime fit for the rules based democracy that we purport to be. Another part of our country, dubbed “the Colony,” has a policing regime with remarkable similarities to militarily-occupied colonies. These “two distinct regimes,” have disproportionate results.

Black Americans largely live in the Colony and thus live by the dictates of order over law. This order is administered by low-level bureaucrats and “petty officers.” When order prevails, you get results such as: “black men aged 20 to 34 without a high school degree have an institutionalization rate of about 37 percent.” Homicide rates in the Colony? 20 per 100,000. In the Nation? 2.5 per 100,000. There are even predominantly black neighborhoods, adjacent to white neighborhoods that “have a homicide rate that is 9,000 percent higher.”

Hayes illuminates the difference not only with hard numbers, but also with his on-the-ground experiences, some from his college years and some from his reporting from the past few years in Ferguson, Baltimore, and other cities.

In one particularly unique passage, Hayes, the host of the award-winning All In w/ Chris Hayes (MSNBC) visited police training headquarters in New Jersey where he participated in a virtual reality simulator. This simulates 85 different scenarios and recruits are assessed based on their actions. One must be quick. Chris draws his weapon in the first scenario; the officer reminds him that that was the incorrect move. “We’re only one scene in, and already the self-righteous liberal pundit has draw his weapon on an unarmed man holding a cinder block,” Hayes rights – channeling that his training officer was “delighted” to instill some humility into the pundit.

Hayes spoke with many everyday folks, black and white, and referenced many scholarly works on criminal justice, policing, and American history; making this book’s potential audience quite wide and it’s content myriad. (Down below, I’ll finish up my thoughts regarding this strategy).

As Hayes unpacks the causes of this Nation/Colony bifurcation, he starts from the top-down and makes his way downward, to me. You. Voters. Citizens. All of us.

How did this happen?

The War on Drugs, beginning with the election of Richard Nixon in 1968 and continuing through to this very day, is a good answer; a good place to start. (It’s not the earliest place to start, of course but it’s definitely relevant.) It was top-down; Nixon created the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and Congress passed laws such as the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) in 1970, for example. But, Hayes, surmises that the War on Drugs is not the only answer. Hayes claims that “20 percent of the increase in incarceration,” can be legitimately considered occurring due to the precepts of this so-called War on Drugs.

In Ch. V, Hayes details a nice summary of what is known as “broken windows policing.” Beginning in New York City, under multiple mayors, and continued nationally by President Bill Clinton. It’s the idea that a vacant building with a broken window will facilitate and bring forth other crimes.  The idea was that “one could reduce crime by stamping out disorder.” “Stop and frisk,” was implemented; black and brown people were disproportionately stopped, humiliated, and has their constitutional rights violated. (Hayes notes that federal district judge Shira Scheindlin, in 2000, did find the policy constitutional.)

Hayes leaves no stone unturned; it’s quite an impressive feat, he weaves in history and then personal story and then reporting from Baltimore back to law, scholarship, and pointed philosophical musings.

Hayes is his most passionate when he writes about white fear being a “force” that is a “social fact” and “something burned into our individual neural pathways.” But far from coming across as morally superior, Hayes is up-front about his own biases and fear, growing up in the Bronx, a “white straight male.” He talks about getting a pass from police officers, who found weed on him as a twenty-one-year old; at the Republican National Committee conference in 2000 no less. He opens up about his fears; he agrees that that order is nice. Yet he is aware that order usually comes at the cost of violating Constitutional rights of fellow Americans, who belong in the Nation, but who live in and are policed by The Colony. In fact, in the last few pages of the final chapter, he waxes philosophically, shades of Peter Singer regarding the moral sandpit that comes with valuing order over law.

Hayes isn’t careless or ideological when he tackles the War on Drugs. (He does get a bit ideological at other times.) The Crack Years were horrifying and nearly every single crime, violent and non-violent, skyrocketed from the 1970s, into the early 1990s. In fact in 1992, the U.S. “set an all-time violent crime record with 1,932,274 incidents.”  People are driven by fear and fear is hard to assuage. Fear resides in our brain stem, an ancient part of our brain, Hayes reminds the reader.

Above when I mentioned the top-down side of the creation and propagation of the Colony, I referred to the bottom-up side, too. In the last chapter, Hayes references work from law professor James Whitman who concludes: “it is the strong anti-aristocratic strain in the American legal tradition that has made our punishment system so remorseless and harsh.” I agree with this analysis; I also agree that it’s madness that we elect prosecutors.  Perhaps the most democratic part of our system is our criminal justice system. This doesn’t shine a positive light on the American psyche or on direct democracy frankly.

Here is where I began to add up the cons of the book. Educated readers know most, if not all, of what he chose to write about. I must say that I find this book wanting. There are many paths that Hayes could have explored more, but he leaves them after promising introductions. He mentions Racecraft….doesn’t explore it. He begins to paint a picture relating what he calls the Colony to how the British treated the colonists here during the revolutionary days…then he never brings it up again. He begins to explore police training….and leaves it after a page or two. (I wouldn’t begin to write a book on criminal justice; this is extremely hard to do and the book is quite good and ranging.)

Chirs makes the reader fill in a bunch of details themselves. I simultaneously like this and dislike it.

Solutions? He doesn’t investigate any concrete solutions…at all.  I know Hayes has ideas; I’m a big admirer of his previous work. In interviews, for example, he talks about needing radical desegregation as a political and societal project that, if continued to be unmet, should be openly considered a moral failure. Now THAT is what I hoped he was going to explore.

I would be remiss to say that Hayes didn’t fill out his thesis – he did; I suppose I’m just expressing that I wanted the book to be different than what it was.

This book turns out to be about two-thirds journalistic reporting and one-third memoir. I’m not sure if Hayes would classify it as such, but it is how it reads nevertheless. Overall, I enjoyed reading it. The book is well-written – if sporadic- and needing a bit more of a focus.

I do recommend it if only for the last chapter alone.

 

Reparations: Unenforced & Ignored Examples

I have been following closely the on-going discussion regarding reparations for slavery, Jim Crow, red-lining, etc. online between intellectual-historian (this is what I call him) Ta-Nehisi Coates, rapper Killer Mike, and linguist and professor John McWhorter. There are two points I want to mention regarding McWhorter’s examples of prior reparations. McWhorter writes that we have given reparations to Black Americans through legislation such as the 1968 Fair Housing Act of and the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act. The problem with these examples is that the Reagan administration ignored them. I repeat: these laws were only nominal in many ways.

George Lipsitz in his brilliant The Possessive Investment in Whiteness makes this clear:

Reagan’s appointee as director of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, William Bradford Reynolds, filed only two housing discrimination suits in his first twenty months in office, a distinct drop from the average of thirty-two cases a year filed during the Nixon and Ford presidencies or even the 19 per year during the final 2 years of the Carter administration.”

Regarding the 1968 Fair Housing Act, the devil is in the details. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was, by law, not really allowed to do to much in enforcing the act. Title VIII, according to Lipsitz, “forbade the agency to initiate investigations on its own.” What happened when claims actually resulted in a penalty? “A maximum of $1,000.” I am only providing a couple of examples here but the true historic record is worse. One more quick example to bolster my case that the two examples by McWhorter were ignored and made impotent. “As of 1980, only five victims of discrimination has received damages in excess of $3,500.”

There  are two options happening here with McWhorter. First, he genuinely doesn’t know the often-cited and heavily reported examples cited here; which if this is the case, he should probably read up more. Or, second, McWhorter is willfully ignoring the details to simply wage an attack on Coates because he doesn’t thnk Coates is a strong thinker when it comes to history. Just watch the BloggingHeads.tv conservation between McWhorter and economist Glenn Loury to see proof that McWhorter has an obvious revulsion towards Coates.

The truth matters here and the truth is not on the side of McWhorter in this case. Reparations were, effectively, “resist[ed], refus[ed], and renogotiat[ed],” time and time again. Reparations have not truly been given to Black Americans and the proof is in such numbers as how much property Black Americans own and how much savings they have, even those who do make it to a better-than-average tax bracket.

Reparations have only been illusory.

[Edit on 1/25/2016: An excellent overview of reparations was published in the Washington Post on January 21, 2015 that I want to link to. It was written by Professor of Sociology James W. Loewen. HERE it is.]

#FergusonOctober – Shaw/QT Sit-in against police killing black people

I was at the Shaw protests earlier tonight.

The Stltoday article about last night is void of any real content and even the title is trying to get you to start reading the article from a very peculiar point of view. Protesters target? Really, target to me is a mischievous and intentional word choice here, used to discredit. Ask my friend Katie who got pepper sprayed. Ask myself, and the rest of my group, who got tear gassed. The police were doing the targeting. Also, there was countless chants including: “This is what democracy looks like,” and “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” and “What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now.” What is the one chant they highlight in the article: “They say ‘move back’ we say ‘fight back.'” Hmm…. I see how this article is going to go.

Oh yeah, did you catch that we got tear gassed. Katie got pepper sprayed. That is NOT mentioned in the article. There were A LOT of police. The SWAT van was out. The cops were in riot gear. Cops were pushing people. Chief Dotson mentions that protesters “attempting to storm the Quicktrip.” No, protesters walked into the parking lot, and then 50 or so engaged in a sit-in.

The cops got in a line and kept banging their batons and were legitimately intimidating and implying “we will use these on you if necessary.” I’ll try and upload photos and videos later. The protest was 100% non-violent and peaceful. Well, you know, by us. The police: not so much. We got tear gassed when we were dispersing and on the sidewalk. As we were walking back to finish the march, another cop line was lined up across the street, and they were standing there banging their batons on the street.

This is an outrageous little article.