The “Border Beat” (September 29, 2008)

What a week.  The U.S. economy is in collapse and definitely giving some fire and focus to the presidential campaign.  At the same time, it helps to frame the continuing struggles of poor folks in the U.S., in particular, a large percentage of Latinos.  Adding to the fun, the immigration issue is very much alive in the daily lives of millions and the economic downturn is fueling a seemingly endless contest to scapegoat those people as a prime cause.

Welcome to the “Border Beat”!

• “U.S. census survey finds more of California’s immigrants are joining the mainstream” (Los Angeles Times)
You may have missed this story in the economic mess last week but it is worth reading.  Figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show an assimilationist trend among foreign born and Spanish speaking.  In California, where 54% of the population are people of color and 25% are foreign-born, more than half of native Spanish speakers are identifying themselves as “English fluent.”  This is a HUGE contradiction to the notion that “real” assimilation can only take place when the immigrant is in small numbers, isolated from his/her culture and country, and in a “white” majority environment.  Or maybe not.  Maybe it is a testament to the power of “American” culture to assimlate even against the odds.

• “Immigration Slows in Face of Economic Downturn” (Wall Street Journal)
The same Census survey sourced above is also providing more data on the decrease in the immigrant population nationwide.  Historically, this is the natural trend of a depression–less economic opportunity here means less people try to come.  That the article ties this trend also to the ICE raids is a little unfounded.  They play a role, to be sure, but not a direct one as they touch but 1 or 2 percent of the total.

• “Mexicans feeling pinch as income stream from U.S. slows” (Dallas Morning News)
The same news above is portrayed here, from a different angle.  As economic opportunities dry up for immigrants and native-born alike, there is less money to send back to relatives in Latin America.  These remittances (from the U.S.) drive the GDP of more than a few nations and are, in many ways, the goal of immigration in the first place.  They are also a reminder–a sad and trangic reminder–of the scope of the U.S. economy and its downfall.

• “Now is the Time to Resist Wall Street’s Shock Doctrine” (Huffington Post)
Naomi Klein–author of the brilliant book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism–puts the current economic mess into her analytical framework.  She is so cool.

• “New Haven criticized in Mexican flag dispute” (Newsday)
And here we go…. Times are tough and people are pissed, and what better thing to turn to that good, old fashioned nationalism.

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Historical Photograph of the Week

Student protestors and government forces on the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, Tlatelolco (México) on the morning of October 2, 1968.  Later that evening, government forces would open fire killing at least 300. [Source]

John McCain is Still Fighting Vietnam

Let me start by saying that I don’t hate John McCain.  While I think its kind of trite and meaningless to say I “respect” him for his experience in Vietnam, I do have a sincere sense of reverence for it.  Though I am left of center relative to the U.S. political culture, and would never consider voting for a politician of his record, I have long been interested in his repeated inclinations to act differently in the political realm.  I think his maverick status is far overblown, but so is the critique labeling him a run of the mill Republican and/or politician.

That said, he is a politician.  The degree to which he differs from the pack does not absolve him from this “condition.”  And, from my perspective, his great failure as a man seems to be his stubbornness as a politician.  This quality and its accompanying inability to exhibit self-reflection have been part of his long career and continue to exhibit themselves in his campaign for the presidency.

A true maverick wouldn’t buy his own hype. He wouldn’t possess a chronic inability to see the cracks in his own self-constructed facade.  He would exhibit a little introspection on matters of state and the question of war.  Most politicians do that only when they’ve been caught with their proverbial hand in the cookie jar and need to exhibit humility or act contrite in order to save their political career.  That’s expedient.  I don’t necessarily fault a politician for being expedient (that may be the nature of the game), but I do fault one for pretending they aren’t so and then acting accordingly.  John McCain has created and then cultivated his maverick persona as a political tool to make him more effective and win himself reelection.  That is expedience.  Worse, however, it seems he has also nurtured this self-construct as a way to absolve himself when he is stuck in the politics of expediency, corruption, and incompetence he so often criticizes.

It’s his stubborn unwillingness to question himself and his motivations that are troubling in this world of complexity.  I’m not a psychologist, so I’ll leave those kinds of analyses aside, but as a historian who has more than a little bit experience with the process of weighing evidence and forming analysis with respect to politics, McCain has a record of acting in a rash, impulsive, and blind manner, and then sticking to his mistakes as if he were an adolescent caught in a lie.

The clearest example of this tendency is his defense of his actions in the “Keating Five” scandal.  In that episode, as with other times he was in the wrong, he manages to externalize the blame as something outside of himself.  For example, in his 2003 book Worth the Fighting For, McCain can never acknowledge any fault of his own, he is never guilty of a lapse in judgment or wrongdoing, no matter how unintentional.  Even in the final chapter, when he discusses his stance on the South Carolina flag controversy (a position he later recanted) it is the environment of politics and not himself that is to blame.

The recent debate offered numerous examples of McCain’s unwillingness to reconsider the failed stances of his political career.  While you can attribute these to political expediency (“what else can a politician do”), the times in which we live and the examples of his failed decisions are far too important to let alone due to the swarthy mess of U.S. politics.

With respect to Iraq, he is unable to admit his mistakes.  When asked what the lessons of Iraq were, McCain said the following:

What?  Did he just say the lessons are that you can’t lose a war?  He did.  He could have said the lessons were that we need to exhaust diplomacy before going to war; or to question with extreme scrutiny all evidence before going to war; or to honor our soldiers by making sure we never again deploy them for the wrong reasons.  Maybe he couldn’t.  But he could have shown that he is aware that such answers are reasonable and common.

My great fear is that McCain is trapped in Vietnam.  The “again” he refers to in his answer above is Vietnam.  The great lesson of this war, to him, is that you keep fighting until you win–as if all wars are able to be won by the U.S. if we only have the right strategy, use the right weapons, or want it enough.  He exhibits the exact tendency shown by the U.S. government and military in the 1960s and 1970s, as revealed in published evidence like The Pentagon Papers, that is, a government so stuck on thinking of themselves as right they could not (re)consider the litany of fallacious assumptions that got them into war in the first place.

McCain is no maverick when it comes to U.S. foreign policy, including his record on when to use force and how to remain engaged in wars for the wrong reasons.  There is no “honor” in this failure of his, there is only severe tragedy.  In Vietnam, that tragedy amounted to more than 58,000 U.S. lives alone, not to mention the millions left injured in less lethal yet no less real or painful ways. What will McCain’s tally be in Iraq?

Whites and Blacks don’t see eye to eye on racism in the U.S.

I honestly though I would just skip over this story because it was so big there was no way the mainstream media could ignore it.  I thoght by now we would have been inundated with a week’s worth of commentary on what it all meant.  But then the new Great Depression started taking shape…

A new Associated Press-Yahoo poll released Monday suggests white and black Americans have profoundly different views on whether or not there is racism in the U.S.  Read the article here.

This is the largely unspoken and severely misunderstood aspect of the current presidential election, as well as our social relations today.

Why You Should Watch Season 3 of HEROES

Today I came across this week’s television ratings, including those for the Heroes premiere last Monday night.  They came in third behind “Dancing with the Stars” and a combo of bad comedies on CBS.  You can get a round-up of Monday night by reading this article.

I suppose a bunch of never-were real celebrities and Cloris Leachman doing their best to dance beating out my favorite network TV show is in-line with what I think of the U.S. viewing habits.  But more of this nation’s television viewing audience actually chose Charlie Sheen over Masi Oka and crew?

Why?  Well, there is the whole DVR issue; fans of the superhero show watch it heavily in DVR format.  That doesn’t show up on the ratings.  Last year’s writer’s strike interrupted people’s viewing of the show and it’s popularity may rely on people’s ability to watch it continuously and regularly without interruption.  (Even I had a hard time remembering some of the plot lines.)  Of course, the notable season 2 dropoff in ratings only exacerbates that trend.

But maybe people just don’t know how good the show is?

Heroes is a rich conglomeration of some of the best popular cultural trends from the last 30 years.  More directly, combines some of the strongest and most creative strains of popular culture generation x folks grew up with: comics and graphic novels, Japanese animation, mature superhero themes, themes of disease/genetics/blood, and cool effects.  Additionally, it consistently features an assortment of actors of color, some of them occupying major characters in multiple episodes.  This is yet another way it is reflective of a new generation’s vision of the future and all that.

I know it’s not as smart on race and power as was Battlestar Galactica, but it remains challenging TV, even when it succumbs to some of the more generic tendencies of network television.

Catch up with some of the online episodes and do yourself a favor and check out some of season 3 on Heroes.  If you need another reason:

Peter Petrelli is trapped in a husky, cholito, Chicano body.

Michael Moore’s “Slacker Uprising” (2008)

You won’t find Michael Moore’s new movie in your local movie theater, but you can watch it for free.  Slacker Uprising, the sixth feature-length documentary from the well-known political filmmaker, is premiering online for free.  The film can be downloaded or streamed via http://slackeruprising.com/ as well as other outlets.

In the film, Moore describes his work as the “antipropaganda” to the media-led Bush propaganda machine.  He laments, however, that people have to pay money to encounter his work while they can access the news media for free.  Moore and company found the solution in making Slacker as widely accessible as possible.  In addition to the free online access, free DVD copies can be requested for schools and libraries and, for those who want their own, DVDs can be purchased online.

The film chronicles Moore’s fall 2004 tour in advance of that year’s presidential contest.  Moore visited 60 cities in 20 battleground states in an attempt to get the 50 million nonvoters to get off their butts and vote.  The film begins with extended samples of Moore’s public addresses and a smattering of everyday American’s views before deferring to those everyday Americans–in particular veterans and relatives of Iraq war casualties. Most of the “last reel” of the documentary focuses on Moore, spotlighting Republican attempts to cancel his speaking tour.

The film features an all-star cast of celebrities appearing and/or performing around Moore while on tour.  There is a memorable number from Eddie Vedder (performing Cat Stevens’ “Don’t Be Shy”) as well as an always amazing performance by Steve Earle.  Michale Stipes, Rosanne Barr, Viggo Mortensen, Joan Baez, and  Tom Morelo also appear.

At its best, Slacker provides an entry into some of the groundswell political changes among youth culture in the early 21st century United States.  As a college professor who has spent the last 18 years of his life on numerous campuses, I have been struck at the kinds of political certitude you see among young people today.  Most of the students I encounter are passionately and fervently behind their political candidate and sure of their opposition to “the other guy.”  (Most of that support is directed at Obama, but McCain has his disciples as well.)  That this kind of passion and certainty is the seeming majority of the college-age population is a HUGE difference from what I saw statewide in California during the 1990s.

My generation (“Gen X”) was legendary for its so-called “apathy.”  I never found that to be the case, but I did find a dominant current of skepticism and lack of willingness to trust large institutions.  That cultural tendency spilled over into the political realm, too.  I don’t pretend to be the guy whose life experience is charateristic of everyone in his generation, but I do feel I can say with some authority that this was something of the pattern in higher education in this state.

But the trend seems to be changing, and Slacker Uprising is reflective of the shift.  While Moore sees this as an apathetic population becoming active, I would view it as a much broader shift of youth become more specific and certain in their political commitments.  (In my mind, I figure this is how it was during the Regan years, without all the pro-Reagan kind of stuff.)  Moore is masterful and showing some of the public events he creates as being a hybrid of political revival, rock concert, and impending revolution.

Slacker is not as strong or durable as Moore’s other work, often falling into a self-referrential posture.  Moore is the story of his movie now and, in a wierd way, so is his film.  For these reasons, I’m not sure it would have worked as anything other than a widely available form of self-conscious political propaganda.  Especially after Fahrenheit 9/11, he would have had a hard time getting this released in a traditional sense since it seems like another issue of the same magazine, not to mention the concern about becoming a one-note kind of critic.

That said, it is a worthwhile film as a snapshot of the current state of college-campus politics, as well as for Moore’s organized critique of the political setting.  If he’s a bit too heavy handed here–as he just might be–well, Vedder’s performance comes in the first third of the film, so you get some good stuff quick enough; and if you stick around, Rosanne is ball-buster toward the end.

Slacker Uprising.  Directed by Michael Moore, Dog Eat Dog Films (2008).  Running time 1 hour and 39 minutes.

New Obama Music Video

Dave Stewart has written and produced a song in support of (and organized mobilization for) the candidacy of Barack Obama.  It’s called “American Prayer” and it features the talents of Forest Whitaker, Whoopi Goldberg, Sergio Mendes, Barry Manilow, fellow Brit Joss Stone, among others.

I present the song and video to make two points. First, as one example of a growing effort of non-campaign (and even non-political, in the sense that these musicians are not part of the organized political system as a job) produced campaign efforts, this is yet another example of something different from the left.  This “creative” movement is more than noteworthy.  If it sustains itself it may reflect something of a moment when popular political mobilization from liberals and others on the left actually changed.

Secondarily, the song presents an interesting analytic.  It seems to make its political advocacy on the basis of making the “dream” a reality.  In other words, it suggests the election of Obama is racial reconciliation and an opportunity to “end the darkness.”  Provocative and, to me troubling.  If only racial justice were that easy.

Artistically, I’m not sure it’s any better than Dave Stewart’s other recent effort with Ringo Starr.