Thursday, April 19, 2007

Immigration and the family

Many right-wing critics of American immigration policy are fond of saying that current policies would work just fine if only the government would "just enforce the laws that are on the books."

It seems never to occur to them that the main reason the government doesn't do so is simply that the laws as written are largely unenforcable -- or perhaps more to the point, that enforcing them actually creates larger problems, to the point of atrocities, than those they were intended to address.

The chief problem with immigration law in America is the misbegotten nature of the laws themselves. Much of this has to do with their nakedly racist origins, the legacy of which has never been erased.

This is especially the case regarding the effects of current immigration law on families. Those laws, seemingly designed to actually discourage immigration rather than deal with it both thoughtfully and helpfully, have for many years now had a devastating effect on immigrant families.

First and foremost, legal immigrants are not permitted to bring their families with them as fellow green-card holders; this has the fairly obvious effect of separating and dividing families, and in the end encouraging these immigrants to return to their home countries. And if they try to bring their families to America legally, they face a mountain of red tape and interminable waits. As a 2006 study of the issue notes:
A spouse or minor child of a legal resident (green card holder) from Mexico has a 7 year wait (a 5 year wait from other countries). A married child of a U.S. citizen must wait 7 years to immigrate (11 and 15 years, respectively, if from Mexico or the Philippines).

Moreover, as Celeste Fremon at Witness L.A. observes, the immigration law passed 10 years ago, supposedly intended to force officials to deport criminals, has had a widespread and devastating effect on immigrant families:
The new law was a doozy.

It subjected every non-citizen to mandatory deportation for committing an "aggravated felony" -- which the IIRIRA, defined so broadly that convictions ranging from murder to minor, one time drug possession all qualified. Even the theft of a $10 video game, with a one-year suspended sentence, met the definition. Worse, the law was retroactive. This meant that old convictions that had been legally expunged were suddenly treated as "active" under the new law.

The very worst thing about the IIRIRA was that removed all judicial discretion. In other words, even if a judge found that an immigrant father had extreme extenuating circumstances and there was every practical reason to allow him to stay in the country, it was impossible. There was no legal recourse. No due process. The law couldn’t distinguish between those who deserved deportation and those whose removal would do far more harm than good. And the banning from the US was forever.

Immediately upon the law's passage, horror stories of lives ruined and families destroyed began to surface There was the Vietnam Vet with three medals who was deported for an 11-year-old burglary conviction, leaving behind a wife and seven children, all U.S. citizens. People adopted as children by American couples were deported. One former child refugee from the genocidal Pol Pot regime was deported back to Cambodia for urinating in public on the construction site where he was employed. Hard working little league dads who’d been caught with a few ounces of weed in their youth were deported.

And these examples aren't anomalies. When I was researching an article on the subject for the LA Times Magazine a few years ago, I ran across scores of such cases—some exotic, most ordinary. All sad.

Fremon notes that legislation -- dubbed "the Anchor Baby bill" by the nativist right which opposes it -- has been proposed giving judges the discretion to consider the effect of a deportation on American citizen children. It's currently working its way through Congress.

Even more significant, though, has been the significant increase in raids on employers of illegal immigrants in the past year by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. What's happened, of course, is that many of these undocumented workers have spouses and children who are either citizens or legal immigrants. In rounding up massive numbers of these immigrants, and ostensibly concerned about keeping families together, ICE has been sweeping up entire families and placing them in euphemistically titled "family detention centers" that are really nothing less than modern concentration camps. And in doing so, they effects of the incarceration on families has been predictably awful:
The report lauded the goal of keeping families together but urged DHS to close the Hutto facility, saying that "prison-like institutions" are not appropriate for families. "Family detention is not one that has any precedent in the United States, therefore no appropriate licensing requirements exist," the report said.

... The report recommended that ICE parole asylum-seekers while they await the outcome of their hearings. It also said that immigrant families not eligible for parole should be released to special shelters or other homelike settings run by nonprofit groups and be required to participate in electronic monitoring or an intensive supervision program that would use a combination of electronic ankle bracelets, home visits and telephone reporting.

The 72-page report also criticized the educational services for children; the food service and rushed feeding times for children; the health care, especially for vulnerable children and pregnant women; the therapeutic mental health care as insufficient or culturally inappropriate; and the recreation time as inadequate for children. The review said that families were being held for months in Hutto and for years in the case of the longer-established Berks facility.

The report also cited inappropriate disciplinary practices used against adults and children, including threats of separation, verbal abuse and withholding recreation or using temperature control, particularly extremely cold conditions, as punishment.

Moreover, in many of the sweeps being conducted by the ICE, families are also being torn apart as parents are sent off to be deported while their children are left behind. This was pronouncedly the case last month in an immigration raid in Massachusetts:
Massachusetts social workers will travel to a Texas detention center to check on scores of workers from New Bedford accused of being in the country illegally. They were flown there before Massachusetts authorities determined whether all their children were receiving adequate care.

Patrick, at a press conference, and later in a private conference call with Homeland Security officials, protested the decision to fly 90 of the detained workers from Massachusetts to Harlingen, Texas, before state social workers had a chance to inquire about their child-care needs, potentially leaving many children with inadequate care. Two young children were hospitalized yesterday for dehydration after their nursing mothers were taken away, state officials said. Another 7-year-old girl called a state hot line seeking her detained mother. It was unclear last night where their mothers were.

"What we have never understood about this process is why it turned into a race to the airport," Patrick said. "We understand about the importance of processing; we get that. But there are families affected. There are children affected."

The two sides spent the day arguing with each other over the treatment of the detained women and their families, with Patrick's comments prompting a sharp rejoinder from a top Bush administration official.

Immigration agents "worked closely with DSS both before the operation commenced and at every stage of the operation, to be sure that no child would be without a sole caregiver," Julie L. Myers , the assistant secretary of homeland security, wrote in a letter to Patrick.

Myers, as well as a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said that each of the 361 detainees was asked about child-care needs several times. They pointed out that 60 women who were found to be the sole caregivers to their children have since been released, though they will still face a court hearing.

But Massachusetts officials said some of the women -- most of whom were from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Portugal, and Brazil -- may not have been as forthcoming with federal agents as they might have been with state social workers.

"When you come from nations that have a history of violence against women and a history of a government being repressive, what can you expect?," said US Representative William D. Delahunt, Democrat of Quincy. "You have to have people with the ability to connect with these detainees."

State social workers who arrived late Wednesday at the interim detention site at the former Fort Devens army base in Ayer found 20 detainees, whom federal agents had not identified, and who they determined should be returned to New Bedford: four pregnant or nursing mothers, nine single mothers, and seven detainees who were minors under age 17. But by the time they were given access to the detainees, the 90 others who were sent to Texas had already left on a plane.

DSS Commissioner Harry Spence said he expected a team of social workers to be en route today to Harlingen.

"We expect to find some number of pregnant women, minors, and sole caregivers," said Spence.

Of the detainees who have not been returned to New Bedford or sent to Texas, 116 were flown yesterday to a detention center in Albuquerque, with the other 75 placed in various New England jails.

The debate and logistical issues underscored the complexities of the politically charged immigration issue, with tensions emerging between social service and law enforcement needs. Adding confusion was that most children left behind are US citizens because they were born here, and reuniting them with parents sent back to their native countries may be difficult, state officials said.

... Patrick arrived at the church in the early evening, meeting with several emotional families and advocates. "What you see in this room is a human tragedy, where policy touches people," he said. "There were stories of humiliation, fear, anxiety, uncertainty. It reflects , for me, not what this country is about."

South Coast Today has been maintaining a section front on the raids, in no small part because of the devastating local effects of the raid. Among the stories it features is one explaining what befell a local family because of the raid:
Lilo and Maria, illegal immigrants, were working at the factory the day of the raid. According to Lilo, by the time federal agents recognized the couple was married and had children at home, Maria had already been fingerprinted. So they released Lilo to care for the children and gave him an order to appear before an immigration judge May 16 in Boston.

Maria was detained and sent to the Bristol County House of Corrections in Dartmouth, where she awaits her release.

"Minute to minute she is thinking about the children," Lilo, who speaks Spanish, told a reporter through an interpreter.

Lilo has spoken to his wife on the telephone, but he has yet to visit her at the jail that is less than 8 miles from their home.

Lilo, Maria and their children are one of 98 families who were divided during this month's raid at the South End factory, according to data collected by Ondine Galvez Sniffin, an immigration attorney with Catholic Social Services. She said the number may be higher since some detainees might be afraid to tell federal officials that they have children or spouses.

Ms. Sniffin estimated that 21 of the 98 families remain separated, while 70 families have been temporarily reunited. Parents who were reunited with their children must still appear in court for deportation hearings. If the court rules in favor of deportation, families will face a difficult decision: Should the family leave the United States together or should family members, including children, who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents stay behind?
Fortunately, there is at least an investigation into the ICE's behavior in this case:
A federal judge has agreed to allow a team of immigration lawyers to continue investigating whether flying more than 200 illegal immigrants to Texas denied them due process under the law.

But U.S. District Court Judge Richard G. Stearns stopped short of the main demand of the federal lawsuit filed by the Guatemalan consul and the lawyers, which was to return those detainees to Massachusetts.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raided the Michael Bianco Inc. factory two weeks ago, arresting 361 illegal immigrants as well as the owner and several managers. The owner and manager were released on bail the next day, whereas the immigrants were bused to Fort Devens in Ayer. A total of 206 were flown on two separate flights to detention facilities in Texas, where 178 remain in custody.
“The recent ICE actions against hundreds of people in New Bedford, many of whom were sent out of state without due process, raises serious questions about U.S. support for human rights and access to civil legal services,” according to a statement from the attorneys, which includes Greater Boston Legal Services and a number of other private lawyers, all working on the case for free.

But ICE, in declarations made to the court and through its spokesman, asserts that the agency has treated its detainees fairly.

"ICE is fully committed to the legal process for detainees in our custody," said ICE spokesman Marc Raimondi. According to court documents, about 30 detainees have been released after posting bonds, and as many as 60 other detainees have had bond hearings in court. While a number of detainees held in Massachusetts have posted bail and been released, bail has been denied to all but two or three detainees in Texas.

The lawyers claimed that from the day of the raid, ICE has done everything in its power to move the detainees away from their support networks and have denied them access to attorneys, the right to due process and the right to a fair hearing.

"We have very serious concerns about how they went about this," said Harvey Kaplan of the Boston law firm Kaplan, O’Sullivan & Friedman, one of the lead attorneys in the lawsuit. ICE "has done everything they can to rush these people out of the country, everything they can to deny them access (to attorneys)."

Even more disturbing is that the ICE is applying Guantanamo-style tactics to interrogate the detainees:
John Wilshire Carrera, an immigration lawyer with Greater Boston Legal Services, said that in the initial days after the raid, detainees were denied sleep and interviewed in the middle of the night by ICE agents.

He said ICE agents tried on several occasions to get the detainees to sign a form agreeing to be deported.

"They're being pressured into signing documents. That's something I believe is going on," he said. "They have papers where a box is prechecked to waive your rights, and they’ve been asking them to sign it."

Mr. Raimondi, the ICE spokesman, said detainees have been asked to sign voluntary removal orders.

"I stress the word voluntary," he said. As to the other document alleged to exist by Mr. Wilshire Carrera, Mr. Raimondi said he would need more specific information before he could comment.

This was followed by a hearing in Boston in which it became clear that the ICE's behavior resembled nothing so much as a rogue elephant:
The "humanitarian crisis" of families being torn apart because of a federal immigration raid could have been avoided, officials testified at the Statehouse yesterday, if federal authorities had taken the state's concerns seriously from the beginning.

The heads of three state agencies appeared before the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities to discuss the impact of the March 6 raid on New Bedford's children.

"Children were placed in significant jeopardy as a result of the decision not to allow us access," said Harry Spence, commissioner of the Department of Social Services. "All we were asking was that the law be enforced in a way that ensured the safety of the children."

... Gov. Deval Patrick has called the raid's impact on families a "humanitarian crisis."

And the trauma is continuing, according to Dennis Gauthier, head of the DSS office in New Bedford.

His agency discovered two days ago that a 16-year-old girl, "living in fear," had been cared for by a landlord for the past two weeks.

DSS has also placed three teenagers who were swept up in the raid in foster care, he said, because ICE would not allow them to be released to parents who are illegal immigrants.

DSS is still pressing ICE to release 10 parents to care for children, including the mother of a 4-year old boy who is not eating and is severely underweight.

"This child needs his mother back," said Mr. Spence, noting that the child is living with his father. "This child is not safe. This child is at risk. Release the mother with a monitoring bracelet, that's what we've asked."

In the days and weeks before the raid, ICE agents met with state officials. ICE wanted help with traffic, namely a state police escort from the factory to Fort Devens in Ayer with bus loads of detainees. ICE also wanted New Bedford police to shut down the roads around the Rodney French Boulevard factory.

What ICE did not want, according to state officials, was any help or advice in dealing with the families of those arrested.

"The impact on the children and families was an issue that was constantly raised," said Kevin Burke, secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety. "ICE assured us they had policies and procedures in place, that they had done this many times before . . . We kept asking how they were going to deal with all the children."

ICE turned down two requests from the state for access to those arrested before the raid, and numerous requests afterwards, Mr. Burke said. Only when Gov. Deval Patrick, and U.S. Reps. William Delahunt and Barney Frank began making demands of ICE the day after the raid were state social workers allowed to interview detainees.

When asked by state officials for ICE's written policy on what constituted a "humanitarian release," ICE agents responded that they have no written policy, Mr. Burke said.

Recently, Judge Stearns ordered a hold placed on the ICE's deportation plans, at least until the status of these detainees and their families has been determined. Today, he ruled that those who signed the pressured papers cannot be deported.

What's clear is that these effects are the clear result of anti-immigrant agitation that has placed increasing pressure on the Bush administration to act. And when they have acted, the results have been predictably atrocious, especially for families:
Arrests of undocumented immigrants have grown 750 percent between 2002 and 2006, going from 485 arrests to 3,667. That dramatic increase in scale and frequency has produced far more visible humanitarian consequences than ever before, an immigrants' advocate said .

"This is the hidden underbelly of immigration enforcement," said Christopher Nugent, a Washington-based immigration attorney. "This is nothing new. It happens all the time."

Nugent and others said families are separated and children left with friends or relatives every day in the course of normal ICE immigration detentions. But the welfare of children affected by immigration raids has become a bigger issue in recent months as the scope of the immigration raids has expanded.

... "America is going to see more and more of this," said John Keller, a Minneapolis immigration attorney who represented some of the 239 Swift & Co. workers detained in Worthington. The raids are "a very blunt tool that is being applied to family situations."

Children can be separated from detained parents for months, while parents await bond hearings, or deportation. Parents who leave the United States face the choice of taking US citizen children with them, or being separated from them permanently in the hope of giving those children better opportunities here. Social service workers in other cities where raids took place told of scrambling to try to get passports for the US citizen children whose parents chose to take them back to the countries they left.

ICE is not obligated to provide for the children of undocumented workers they arrest, or to go easier on those with children, said Victor Cerda, a former ICE general counsel and a 10-year veteran of immigration enforcement.

And as Mark Silva observes, Bush's own proposed immigration reforms will actually have even more devastating effects on immigrant families:
Under the "guest worker" program that Bush proposes to allow employers to temporarily bring workers into the country, [Sen. Rober] Menendez maintains that workers "would be separated from their children and spouses as they will not be allowed to enter lawfully with the worker."

And under a "temporary worker" plan that Bush proposes to allow millions of undocumented immigrants already here to remain and work, provided they pay fines and learn English, and eventually seek citizenship, Menendez complains that the fines which the president proposes are onerous -- "Under this scheme, a typical family of five would have to pay up to $64,000 in fees and would have to wait up to 30 years in order to finally become U.S. citizens."

The American conservative movement has made an outright fetish in the past 20 years or so of pretending to stand for "family values", wielding such supposed values as a political club to bully their position on everything from abortion to gay marriage.

But while no one has ever adequately explained how allowing gays and lesbians to marry actually undermines families (logically, one would assume that it actually would help families), these same rabid right-wingers have been foaming at the mouth about illegal immigrants and the need to deport them immediately -- with the clear-cut effect of actually devastating many millions of real-life families.

What's become obvious, of course, is that conservatives care no more about real family values than they do "patriotic" values. They just like to wrap themselves in the symbolism and words, while their actions speak much, much louder.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Beyond Imus

-- by Dave

Like Sara, I welcome the firing of Don Imus as a significant blow in the ongoing battle to beat back the rising tide of open bigotry that has been creeping into our public discourse, particularly when broadcast over the national airwaves.

But I'm probably not as optimistic about how significant a step forward it actually will be, mainly because the underlying problems are so deep-rooted and systemic. Considering the course of the discussion in the wake of Imus' firing, it feels more as though we've just tossed a bucket of water back into the ocean.

As Media Matters has already observed, the problem is hardly relegated to Don Imus -- who has been getting away with wink-and-nudge bigotry for many years now, but is hardly the ugliest nor the most prolific purveyor of this garbage. Leading the list are right-wing pundits like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, and Michael Savage.

It's worth noting, though, that there is a structural difference between most of these hate purveyors and Imus (Beck being the exception): they operate in a different sphere in terms of the funding that keeps their voices on the air. Limbaugh, Coulter, and Savage are syndicated, and Coulter makes most of her living through speaking appearances and books. Most of all, they operate within a right-wing bubble that ensures the money will keep coming regardless of what outrageous thing they say, a bubble Imus never was really part of.

What did Imus in, after all, was that in the end he was much more vulnerable to pressure placed upon advertisers. Eleanor Clift actually had it about right:
I thought Imus would survive because of money. He's been a cash cow for low-rated MSNBC, bringing in advertising dollars for three hours of broadcast time and costing the network relatively little to produce. ... Instead, he got canned because of money. Advertisers bailed out, forcing NBC's hand. Though the head of the NBC news division cast it as a moral decision and looked anguished as he made the rounds of the cable shows Wednesday night, if the advertisers had stuck by Imus, the outcome would have been different.

...The difference with Imus is that he's on the public airwaves. It's not a question of whether he can say all the outrageous things he says -- it's where he says them. The marketplace has spoken.

This is an important distinction, because much of the right-wing and even mainstream response to the Imus firing has been to make him out to be a free-speech martyr, sacrificed on the altar of political correctness while hip-hop gangstas still roam free at your CD store; the preferred characterization, ironically, is to call it a "lynching." It's an argument that purposefully confuses privileges with rights.

As Clift notes, first of all, Don Imus' free speech rights were not under attack here: he remains free to go stand on any street corner and spew the same nonsense to passers-by (though he might find it considerably riskier to do so). Hate speech may be deplorable, poisonous, and profoundly irresponsible, it is also still legal. It's a right.

However, working in mainstream media is not a democracy or even a meritocracy. Being one of the select who are given the precious few slots available to talking heads and pundits of various stripes in the press, TV and radio is purely a privilege. It is a privilege granted by publishers, editors, producers and network poobahs who operate with an often idiosyncratic set of criteria that have little to do with actual substance or merit, but usually comes down to whether or not you can make them money.

Mostly this is a privilege that is extended to whites generally and males especially; while a handful of minorities can be pointed out as exceptions, their presence among the ranks of the pundit class is in no way reflective of said minorities' actual presence in society at large (this is particularly true of Latinos and gays and lesbians). So it's no surprise, perhaps, that resulting discussion of a case like Imus' reflects a perspective prone to ignoring the serious ramifications of racial issues and reducing them to zero-sum nonsequiturs that form a narrative friendly to defending white privilege.

That certainly been the case with Imus. Figures on the right, from Michelle Malkin to Ann Coulter, have been eagerly pointing to the misogyny and racially charged language endemic to hip-hop and rap music, by way of suggesting that liberals are hypocrites for attacking Imus while ignoring these musicians. But rap musicians, whose lyrics indeed at times wallow in the execrable, are simply exercisizing their free-speech rights, and operate within the same free marketplace the right in most cases studiously defends. Imus, by contrast, was speaking from a position of unique privilege.

In demanding Imus be fired, the underlying reason for doing so is that, because of speech that could not be described as anything but callous and irresponsible, he was no longer worthy of the privilege of holding such a powerful and influential position.

It is, after all, deeply irresponsible in a diverse democratic society to engage in nasty and ugly stereotyping, racial, religious, sexual, or otherwise. We have the right to do so if we choose as individuals. That doesn't mean, however, that any media outlet is obligated to broadcast that kind of speech.

Generally speaking, media outlets have traditionally understood that the extraordinary power they possess also entails a certain responsibility to the public well-being. Condoning, publishing, or broadcasting irresponsible speech that poisons the public well has generally been understood to be grounds for losing, or being barred from, holding elite positions within the media.

That is, until recent years, when a coterie of right-wing ideologues has repeatedly engaged in profoundly ugly, threatening, and bigoted speech, topped with a heaping helping of misogyny, and it has consistently rebuffed any efforts to hold them accountable. The Imus firing, should the public manage to come to grips with what the matter really is about -- namely, the flagrant use of the public airwaves and national broadcast media to foster an ugly and bigoted public discourse -- really does pose a threat to what many right-wing ideologues have built their entire careers around.

The bubble that encircles the rest of the right wing somewhat insulates them from this pressure; after all, there seems to be an endless stream of money to keep people like Coulter and Limbaugh busy hawking their wares to a variety of audiences and ensuring their continued status as pundit-class elites. But make no mistake, the Imus firing was indeed a shot across their bows as well -- a clear sign that the endless hatemongering that has been their red meat and potatoes for the past decade is reaching its limits with the public.

That, no doubt, is a large part of what's fueling the almost hysterical response from the same crowds over this, particularly the Imus=rappers bloviation that keeps coming 'round like a bad hairball. Another favored theme is to compare Imus' incivility to that of liberal bloggers. Phoenix Woman at Firedoglake has done a nice job of explaining the coded language at work here.

In the case of Limbaugh, the response was predictably paranoid, prompting a rant blaming the incident on a vast left-wing conspiracy to shut down people like him:
Let me just ask you a question. Did America, did this country hear what Don Imus said on the Imus show? They didn't. When Imus said what he said, was there a national uproar? Forget the fact his ratings are insignificant and tiny, which that fact is now starting to trickle out. The fact is, guests on the show, people who listen to the show, nobody said a word. Nobody could have cared less. It wasn't any big deal. America didn't hear it and America didn't hear what he said on the Imus show. No, you know where America heard it? They heard it on YouTube, and they heard it on, and they heard it on cable TV. They heard it on network TV. They heard it on the early news, the evening news, the late news. A combination of all these places said what Imus said thousands of times more than he said it, and that's where America heard it. The Imus audience couldn't have cared less, I don't care how small that it is. So these pretenders... By the way, all of this was set up by Media Matters for America, and everybody thinks of this group as "a liberal media watchdog" out there surveying the media airwaves and making sure that those who say these so-called outrageous things are held to account.

It's nothing more than a Democrat Party front organization! It's George Soros-funded. It is staffed by people that used to work for elected Democrats -- and it's tax exempt. It's a tax exempt group, but they're purely political, and all they are is an arm of the Democrat Party. They're part of the Democrat machine.

[Factual note here: Media Matters has never received funding from George Soros.]
... [A]nd the interesting thing about that to me is that these are the same people who are scouring this country for any sign of racism or any sign of bigotry, any sign of homophobia, and when they find it, they pounce on it! They have shown themselves to be insincere hypocrites. They have shown themselves to be agenda-oriented, here. They have shown themselves to only care when certain people say these things, because, you see, Sharpton and his gang are out there now supposedly targeting the rap industry. But let me ask you a question: When's the last time they picketed an urban radio station? When's the last time they picketed Viacom, which owns MTV? When's the last they picketed Hollywood for putting out movies with these kinds of characters and lyrics?

Zero, zilch, nada, and you know why? Because they're minorities and they don't have "hate in their hearts." Only right-wingers, only conservatives have "hate in their hearts." They couldn't contain the Imus thing. Remember, what happened on Imus' show took two days to hit, much like what I said on ESPN. There was no outrage for two days after my ESPN comments until the Philadelphia print media, all five or six, had the same column on the Tuesday following the Sunday show. That's when people were supposedly outraged and offended. By the way, the same thing happened in that case. Well, worse things happened. What I said was totally distorted. I was making comments about the media, not Donovan McNabb, yet it got totally distorted. Michael J. Fox was the same scenario -- and there is this group. The only reason for last week, Sharpton, these guys are out there supposedly targeting rap music, but that's just to give themselves some street cred. Everybody's asking about that now. So if they go out and they target rap music and say they're going to try to clean it up and the urban radio stations that play it and all these corporate interests that broadcast it and produce it, they hope to have street cred for the next talk radio guy they go after.

Which is, believe me, their aim. That's their desire. The only reason for last week is that it is an excuse to assault conservative talk radio, even though conservatives had nothing to do with what happened last week, even though talk radio is far cleaner than urban radio, far cleaner than television, far cleaner than movies and books. This is a politically directed attack by Democrats and their media outlets.

He's right in one respect -- people have had enough of the bigoted bullying that has dominated the discourse presented by the likes of Limbaugh, and are ready to begin reining it in.

Unfortunately, the larger bubble surrounding the right -- namely, the one inflated by the supposed "liberal media" that rules the roost from the Beltway -- has also largely remained intact. Nearly every discussion of the Imus affair I've seen on cable since has focused not on the real problem it raises -- the spread of bigoted rhetoric through supposedly mainstream media outlets -- but has instead seized on the right's nonsequitur spin: it's really the fault of black people and their culture. The underlying narrative has once again become, predictably, all about defending white privilege.

Perhaps the worst of the lot was CNN's Howard Kurtz, who came to Imus's defense with an incredibly lame but-everyone-talks-this-way argument:
"Journalists like me who have gone on Imus's show have done so because we enjoyed the opportunity to talk about politics and media without the stuffiness of so many other programs. And it's probably true that too many of us looked the other way when he went over the line with some of his cruder comedy bits." Yet, as Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting documented, Kurtz wrote in his 1996 book, Hot Air (Crown) that "Imus's sexist, homophobic, and politically incorrect routines echo what many journalists joke about in private."

As Roger Ailes notes, Kurtz's obliviousness to the problem with this defense would be hilarious were it not so revealing. It's obvious that one of the reasons Imus felt free to indulge such bigotry so freely is that he felt he was just giving voice to what others would only say privately; indeed, that's the excuse nearly all of the right-wing hatemongers give when called on it. It never seems to cross the imaginations of the cocktail-weenie crowd that these attitudes very much embody the institutional racism that is the real target of the anti-Imus pushback -- the same kind of racism they blithely dismiss as nearly nonexistent, and concerns about which are just so much "identity politics".

These attitudes have been the fuel for a lot of what I've been calling the "new racism" -- a regurgitation of old white-supremacist myths about the innate inferiority of other races, couched as a kind of "street realism" aimed at knocking down "political correctness." Limbaugh peddles it about blacks; Savage and Coulter like to target Muslims; and the whole gang of them blithely slime gays and lesbians.

Meanwhile, Glenn Beck poses as a "sincere fellow" who's just asking ordinary, folksy questions that in the end reflect an extraordinarily narrow and bigoted framework that, surprise, favors whites and looks down on anyone "different." And on Fox, the entire cast runs "news" commentary that just coincidentally makes black Americans out to be thugs and moral lepers.

A crystalline example of the way right-wing apologists for this kind of racist creep operate is John Derbyshire's recent piece in NRO reflecting on race:
In the U.S. today, the most glaring differences between black America and white America are in education and in crime. The terrible academic statistics for young black Americans, and the equally appalling statistics on black crime, are well known to everyone. Wishing, as most of us do, to live in a more harmonious country — or, as President Clinton’s 1997 advisory board urged the president, “to build one America” — we’d like to do something about this. The first step is of course to identify causes. What are the causes of those disparities?

Americans have come up with two broad categories of answers to that question, what I shall call the Folk Biology and Social Science categories. The Folk Biology explainers all assume that there are innate and intractable differences between populations that are descended, or mostly descended, from different, small founder-groups in the remote past, inhabiting different environments. Social Science explainers deny such differences and assume that all group disparities arise from social mechanics.

In the particular case of black-white disparities in education and crime here in the U.S., Social Science explanations are spread across a spectrum according to how much, or how little, importance the explainer assigns to the malice of white Americans -- i.e. to racism -- as opposed to cold impersonal or historical factors.

Derbyshire, somewhat typically, sidesteps explaining exactly which view -- Folk Biology or Social Science -- he gravitates toward, but it's clear over the ensuing column that he falls well into the former camp. And he explains why he thinks they are right:
White liberals who would rather pluck out their eyeballs than let their kids attend a majority-black public school nevertheless protest indignantly about the supposed racism of Don Imus. A presidential candidate who subtitled his autobiography A Story of Race and Inheritance will tell you (I am sure) if you ask him, that race is a figment of your imagination, a "social construct," while inheritance is of no importance whatsoever in human affairs, and never has been, and never could be. White Americans, a scattering of bohemians aside, beggar themselves to buy homes as far as possible from big concentrations of their black fellow-citizens. Inside those concentrations, black Americans stew in dependency and hopelessness. When, as happened with Hurricane Katrina, the dependency and the hopelessness decorate our TV screens for days on end, we turn away in embarrassment, having no real clue what to do about any of it.

It seems not to occur to Derbyshire that the behavior of the "Folk Biologists" that he describes here is in fact profoundly racist -- and that this racist behavior, being widespread, deeply systemic, and largely unremarked, might in fact have a profound causal effect on those same hopeless urban blacks for whom he seems incapable of finding any clue about what to do.

James Loewen's book Sundown Towns (explored in some detail here) is a careful historical and demographic examination of deliberate racial residential segregation in America, a balkanization imposed by whites beginning in the late 19th century and continuing through today. As he explains:
What could make living in an all-white town right? The old idea that African Americans constitute the problem, of course. In 1914, Thomas Bailey, a professor in Mississippi, told what is wrong with that line of thinking: "The real problem is not the Negro, but the white man's attitude toward the Negro." Sundown towns only made the problem worse. Having driven out or kept out African Americans (or perhaps Chinese Americans or Jewish Americans), their residents then became more racist and more likely to believe the worst about the excluded groups.

That's why the talk in sundown towns brims with amazing stereotypes about African Americans, put forth confidently with nary an African American in their lives. The ideology intrinsic to sundown towns -- that African Americans ... are the problem -- prompts their residents to believe and pass on all kinds of negative generalizations as fact. They are the problem because they choose segregation -- even though "they" don't, as we have seen. Or they are the problem owing to their criminality -- confirmed by the stereotype -- misbehavior that "we" avoid by excluding or moving away from them.

Of course, such stereotypes are hardly limited to sundown towns. Summarizing a nationwide 1991 poll, Lynne Duke found that a majority of whites believed that "blacks and Hispanics are likely to prefer welfare to hard work and tend to be lazier than whites, more prone to violence, less intelligent, and less patriotic." Even worse, in sundown towns and suburbs, statements such as these usually evoke no open disagreement at all. Because most listeners in sundown towns have never lived near African Americans, they have no experiential foundation from which to question the negative generalities that they hear voiced. So the stereotypes usually go unchallenged: blacks are less intelligent, lazier, and lack drive, and that's why they haven't built successful careers.

As I noted then, sundown towns and their continuing legacy have also had a profound psychological impact on blacks, including the internalization of low expectations, and the exclusion of blacks from cultural capital [pp. 353-355]:
Confining most African Americans to the opposite of sundown suburbs -- majority black, inner-city neighborhoods -- also restricts their access to what Patterson calls cultural capital: "those learned patterns of mutual trust, insider knowledge about how things really work, encounter rituals, and social sensibilities that constitute the language of power and success." ...

Making the suburbs unreachable for nonwhites similarly restricts them from making the social connections that are critical to forming networks that help us find work and move ahead in the workforce. Loewen notes that "the trouble is, these networks are segregated, so important information never reaches black America. ... Sundown suburbanites know only whites, by definition, except perhaps a few work contacts. Thus sundown suburbs contribute to economic inequality by race."

Loewen also notes [pp. 369-370]:
In his famous book An American Dilemma, written as World War II wound down, Gunnar Myrdal noted that residential segregation has been a key factor accounting for the subordinate status of African Americans. Separating people geographically makes it much easier to provide better city services to some than to others, and indeed to label some people as better than others.

It's much easier, and certainly well within the tradition of white response to such challenges, to ignore the larger underlying issues and instead blame the victims -- in this case, by assuming that all blacks are responsible for the behavior of some blacks. (That line of argument too has a grand tradition in American history, particularly when it came to justifying lynching.) It's blacks, you see, who are responsible for the excesses of gangsta culture, not a broader materialism and toilerance for violence that is in fact rampant in all corners of society.

As Pam Spaulding notes, the way the whole affair has played out so far suggests we've taken two steps back along with one forward. No doubt the time came and went long ago that the ugliness of gangsta rap should have fallen into disfavor with the public, and for obvious reasons -- embracing mindless violence and soulless misogyny is bad for us all simply as human beings. Talking about it openly might have helped, but eventually such talk seems to come around to moralists who then embark on efforts to legislate and regulate, and that's a ship many of us will not board, for good reason.

Moreover, gangsta rap, like all pop music, only reflects the environment that created it. If you want to know why hip-hop is violent and misogynistic, consider the hopelessness that Derbyshire describes as endemic to black culture. And then consider that the roots of that hopelessness in fact lie in those mostly white enclaves he celebrates.

It then finally becomes time to examine the reasons for the public's slowness to reject the violent ethos present in so much hip-hop -- including, it must be noted, a large chunk of young white suburbia. And you can't do that without addressing the real culture of viciousness, bigotry, and misogyny that has infected our discourse from above. Don Imus, really, was just the tip of that particular iceberg.