Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Arizona: But It's A Dry Stupidity

I have to admit that living in Arizona these past 17 years has been a great experience for me. I've grown to love the enormous diversity and tremendous natural beauty of this state. From the intensely colored sunsets to the out-of-control summer monsoon storms that come barreling like a freight train down the Mogollon Rim straight into the valley, there is something for everyone here when it comes to weather. It is truly a miraculous sight to see the pure white of the San Xavier del Bac Mission emerging from the shimmering layers of heat and the muted colors of the desert south of Tucson; you can see my photos of the Mission on my website here. Arizona is dotted with wonderful, picturesque towns and cities like Sedona, Tubac, Jerome, Payson, Prescott and so many more. The cool, fragrant pine forests of Flagstaff on a bright, crystal-clear morning are unforgettable, as is our Wonder of the World, the Grand Canyon. The mixture of cultures, including Anglo, Hispanic and Native American influences, form an occasionally unstable but invariably rich and fascinating pastiche of art and color. An area so blessed with natural resources, history and culture must have something wrong with it, you might speculate. And you would be right.

The Republican party has held sway in this state for a long time (it seems like centuries). In the last decade it has been completely hijacked and taken over by its far-right, ultra-conservative faction, and that has shown up in Arizona state politics. A couple of weeks ago the Republican-dominated state legislature passed a law which allows anyone with a gun permit to carry a concealed firearm on their person without a previously-required concealed weapons permit. The Republicans have long been the bottom bitch of the NRA and the gun lobby so this is no major surprise. What is a bit startling is the prospect of so many badly-educated, mentally unstable people packing heat under their enormous flabby bellies. I don't feel one iota safer now that any of the meth-heads and alcoholics you see stumbling down the hot sidewalks every single day just might be hiding a pistol. But the Republicans had to bow down and pay tribute to their puppet masters in the NRA, so that's what we have to deal with every day now.

Another sideshow in this never-ending Cavalcade of Idiocy is the so-called "birther bill" making its way through the legislature. This bill would require anyone running for national office on the ballot in Arizona to present proof of citizenship. Proponents say it's needed for all office-seekers to prove they are qualified for the office, but it is a cheap, cynical and badly-concealed back-door attack on Barack Obama. The "birthers" in this country will just not give up their debunked, ridiculed notions that somehow Obama is not a U.S. citizen and has no claim to the Presidency. How sad and pathetic that the birthers still hold on to these childish notions and the Arizona legislature gets right in line behind them. This just adds to the general perception in America of Arizona as a dust-choked, sun-baked nest of batshit-crazy paranoid schizophrenics who see vast, interconnected webs of treachery and conspiracy everywhere they look.

But the biggest thing that has, in the national view, catapulted Arizona to the upper-echelon levels of mean-spirited insanity has been something called the "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act," a noble-sounding but totally misleading title for SB1070, a new set of laws that give local law-enforcement great latitude and great responsibility to enforce federal immigration laws, and allows them to demand proof of citizenship from anyone in the state of whom the police feel a "reasonable suspicion" that they might be here illegally. Now exactly what this "reasonable suspicion" is, no one knows, but I'm pretty sure it has something to do with having brown skin and speaking Spanish.

Opponents of SB1070 were quick to point out that it could easily be viewed as a massive infringement by big government on the personal liberties of people. You'd think that would be tailor-made fodder for the Tea Party movement, as one of their tenets is the evil, pervasive intrusion of government in every aspect of life. If so, why aren't they protesting along with all others at the State Capitol? Where are the obese, sweaty white men in stupid costumes and the senile, confused old people doddering around with their hilariously misspelled signs? The stony, deafening silence of the Teabaggers in the wake of SB1070 speaks volumes to the innate ignorance, duplicity and hypocrisy of their movement. Could it be that their strident, anti-government, all-American populism does not extend to people who came here from other countries?

No one who lives here disagrees that undocumented immigration is a huge problem. Twenty-five years ago it was considered a regional problem affecting mainly the states that share a border with Mexico. Everyone in Montana and Vermont and Wisconsin felt it didn't apply to them and thought it was something that Arizona, California and New Mexico had to deal with, and there was little pressure for Congress to come up with a national solution. Since then, everything has changed: undocumented immigrants have shown up in every state of the continental U.S., taking low-paying, labor-intensive jobs that most Americans don't want, and it has become a national security issue in our post-911 world. Recent estimates state that as many as half-a-million undocumented immigrants reside in Arizona, and this sizable fraction of the population has been criminalized by SB1070. Blame for this new law has been spewed far and wide, but the lion's share has to go to the federal government, which has completely shirked its responsibility to come up with a coherent, effective national immigration policy for so many years. Something had to be done to address the issue, but is SB1070 a overreaching, misguided attempt to do something/anything? The lawsuits and court challenges to this bill are only just beginning and this drama will be unfolding for a very long time into our future.

It's very depressing when you live here and witness so many selfish, cruel and small-minded people continually get elected to state-wide office. It seems that voters intentionally go for the most reactionary, hateful and unqualified candidate there is (J.D. Hayworth, I'm talking to you). Maybe it's due to how poorly-educated and unsophisticated so many people are in this state, or the idea that Arizona is somehow a safe haven for crackpots and crazy people from all over the country. Stupidity just attracts more stupidity - as any personal appearance by Sarah Palin will clearly show - and somehow the dumber you are, the more media attention you will receive. Normally really stupid people would be grudgingly tolerated as some unfortunate genetic consequence of human inbreeding, but when they become state legislators and start writing their mental illnesses into laws that affect us all, then they become a really big problem.

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