Surface    |    Backfill    |    About    |    Contact


Criticize the Olympics, please

One of the unfortunate features of our political discourse is that real concerns get ignored because one side will get worked up about a stupid angle to a story, and the other side will respond by dismissing the story altogether.

A case in point is a recent flap over a Chicago TV station killing a short piece on residents who oppose the city's bid to host the Olympics. Conservative bloggers jumped all over it because of the insinuation that the orders to kill the story were somehow linked to Obama, who is a big Chicago 2016 supporter. Steve Benen knocks down that insinuation, pointing out that the orders came from the station's higher-ups, at the prompting of the Chicago Olympic committee.

So far so good -- but Benen then declares that the story "isn't especially interesting." But I think it's plenty interesting, and plenty reason for concern, that a media outlet would cave to pressure from an outside group like that. Certainly the media should be responsive to legitimate concerns about its reportage that outsiders raise (e.g. "stop calling trans people by the wrong gender," "stop trying to 'balance' stories about evolution and global warming"). But "stop making the city's Olympic bid look bad" is not one of these cases. Having recently read some research done on Sydney's Olympics experience, there is definite pressure on the public, exercised through the media, to sign on to a pro-Olympics patriotism. But there's also plenty of research showing that mega-events like this are economic and urban-planning boondoggles. I'd oppose Pittsburgh making a bid for the Olympics, and I would hope that despite the wheedling of the Olympic committee, the media takes a critical eye toward Chicago's efforts.


Immigration as Trespassing

Slacktivist has an interesting post that I think springs from a false premise. His core argument is that nativists like Joe Wilson would be threatened if we started referring to undocumented immigrants as "trespassers," because that would remind them of the line in the Lord's Prayer that asks us to "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us."

There are certain elements of the post that he gets right. A rigid "they broke the law and must be punished" rationale has two weaknesses even when taken on its own terms. First, there is value in -- and in the Christian tradition from which most US nativists spring, a command for -- forgiveness of some wrongdoing. Second, the scale of the wrongdoing matters, as a trespass sounds less extreme and thus deserves less of a punishment.

But the reason I say the premise is false is that many nativists do conceptualize undocumented immigrants as trespassers. I don't have time to search for it, but I recall a conservative editorial cartoon from a year or two ago that explicitly analogized undocumented immigration to a stranger breaking into your house and helping himself to the food in your fridge. I can't speak for Joe Wilson, but there have been repeated efforts in Arizona and elsewhere to declare presence in a jurisdiction without legal status to be a form of trespassing, thus giving state and local police authorization to round up anyone without papers even if they committed no other offense. Any discomfort they may feel on being reminded of the Lord's Prayer is overwhelmed by their desire to get those people punished and deported.

What's more, I think that conceptualizing immigration violations as a form of trespass gives us the wrong overall framing of the issue, by presenting the country as a sort of private property owned by its citizens, to which we may admit guests and new members at our whim. I find it odd, and difficult to justify, that we apply this property schema to countries and to actual private properties, but not to intermediate jurisdictions like states, counties, and municipalities. I would rather move the country toward the state/county model. A key difference here, which runs counter to the trespassing framing, is that the burden of proof shifts -- rather than the immigrant having to justify their entrance and continued presence, there should be a presumption in favor of free movement and the natives have to justify any restrictions. Precisely what policies derive from that framing is a question I don't have space for here (though longtime readers may recall I find relatively few restrictions on entrance and activity while present to be justifiable). But the trespass framing would tilt the discussion toward a more restrictive policy system.