C. S. Lewis, The Selfless Brain, And The Rational Approach To Spirituality

When I was an evangelical Christian, my thinking on spiritual matters was very much influenced by C. S. Lewis, who was the most famous Christian apologist of the 20th century. In fact, people, and not just evangelical protestant people, still buy and read both his fiction and non-fiction books in this century, a tribute to not only his writing ability, but his endurance as a respected Christian thinker.

His most popular apologetical work is the classic Mere Christianity, many parts of which I have read dozens and dozens of times. The book, essentially a compilation of BBC radio talks he gave during World War II, presents arguments for Christianity that the average person can understand. The reason I mention C. S. Lewis and that book is because of a fascinating interview with Sam Harris that appeared yesterday on The New York Times’ “Opinionator” page. That interview, which I will get to in a minute, made me think of the following passage from Mere Christianity, which I edited for brevity:

At the beginning I said there were Personalities in God. I will go further now. There are no real personalities anywhere else. Until you have given up your self to Him you will not have a real self….

But there must be a real giving up of the self. You must throw it away “blindly” so to speak. Christ will indeed give you a real personality: but you must not go to Him for the sake of that. As long as your own personality is what you are bothering about you are not going to Him at all. The very first step is to try to forget about the self altogether….

The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up yourself, and you will find your real self.

That’s a fairly orthodox way of stating what “following Christ” means, or should mean, to serious Christians. So, with that in mind, let’s move on to that Times interview of Sam Harris.

Harris, a neuroscientist and philosopher and one of the most interesting thinkers in the country today, is mostly famous for critiquing, often mercilessly, the central claims of fWaking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religionundamentalist religion, especially its Christian and Islamic forms. Like Mere Christianity, I have also read parts of Harris’ first book, The End of Faith, many times. He followed that up with Letter to a Christian Nation, and has expressed his science-based criticism of fundamentalism and theistic religion in several debates, discussions, and interviews that can be found on YouTube and elsewhere. (He also has written two excellent books on free will and the intersection of science and morality, which I urge those interested in those subjects to read.)

Harris has a new book out (which I have not yet read), this one on a subject that might surprise many people, but shouldn’t if you carefully read his other works. In Waking Up: A Guide To Spirituality Without Religion, he tries to demonstrate, “that a certain form of spirituality is integral to understanding the nature of our minds.” The shape of that understanding, and its relationship to that Lewis quote above, can be glimpsed in the interview that Gary Gutting, a professor of philosophy at Notre Dame, did with Harris for the Times. Here is part of it:

G.G.: You deny the existence of the self, understood as “an inner subject thinking our thoughts and experiencing our experiences.” You say, further, that the experience of meditation (as practiced, for example, in Buddhism) shows that there is no self.  But you also admit that we all “feel like an internal self at almost every waking moment.” Why should a relatively rare — and deliberately cultivated — experience of no-self trump this almost constant feeling of a self?

S.H.: Because what does not survive scrutiny cannot be real. Perhaps you can see the same effect in this perceptual illusion:


It certainly looks like there is a white square in the center of this figure, but when we study the image, it becomes clear that there are only four partial circles. The square has been imposed by our visual system, whose edge detectors have been fooled. Can we know that the black shapes are more real than the white one? Yes, because the square doesn’t survive our efforts to locate it — its edges literally disappear. A little investigation and we see that its form has been merely implied.

What could we say to a skeptic who insisted that the white square is just as real as the three-quarter circles and that its disappearance is nothing more than, as you say, “a relatively rare — and deliberately cultivated — experience”? All we could do is urge him to look more closely.

The same is true about the conventional sense of self — the feeling of being a subject inside your head, a locus of consciousness behind your eyes, a thinker in addition to the flow of thoughts. This form of subjectivity does not survive scrutiny. If you really look for what you are calling “I,” this feeling will disappear. In fact, it is easier to experience consciousness without the feeling of self than it is to banish the white square in the above image.

Later in the interview, Harris expresses in another way his argument against the notion that there is a self or an “I”or a “sense of being a subject” inside our bodies:

The moment that you truly break the spell of thought, you can notice what consciousness is like between thoughts — that is, prior to the arising of the next one. And consciousness does not feel like a self. It does not feel like “I.” In fact, the feeling of being a self is just another appearance in consciousness (how else could you feel it?).

Breaking that “spell of thought,” cutting through the illusion that there is a little “me” or “soul” inside our heads or elsewhere, is really what meditation—the kind without “invisible entities, spiritual energies, other planes of existence and so forth”—is all about, Harris insists:

Consciousness exists (whatever its relationship to the physical world happens to be), and it is the experiential basis of both the examined and the unexamined life. If you turn consciousness upon itself in this moment, you will discover that your mind tends to wander into thought. If you look closely at thoughts themselves, you will notice that they continually arise and pass away. If you look for the thinker of these thoughts, you will not find one. And the sense that you have — “What the hell is Harris talking about? I’m the thinker!”— is just another thought, arising in consciousness.

If you repeatedly turn consciousness upon itself in this way, you will discover that the feeling of being a self disappears. There is nothing Buddhist about such inquiry, and nothing need be believed on insufficient evidence to pursue it. One need only accept the following premise: If you want to know what your mind is really like, it makes sense to pay close attention to it.

Recall that C. S. Lewis’ said the first step in truly becoming like Christ “is to try to forget about the self altogether.” But then he says, “Give up yourself, and you will find your real self.” Undoubtedly, Harris would say that such a notion of expunging one’s self in favor of another self in Christ is as misguided as simply sticking with the illusion of the first self. And, also undoubtedly, not many people predisposed to believe in the idea of a soul or self at the center of their consciousness will be convinced by Harris’ arguments.

But before one rejects Harris on this subject, one should remember that he is a neuroscientist. He knows a thing or two about the brain and what science has discovered about how it works, after more than a century of examining it. And I will quote something he said in that Times interview that everyone should consider, especially those folks among us who are inclined to make “faith-based assumptions about what exists outside of our own experience”:

...claims of this kind are generally suspect because they are based on experiences that are open to rival interpretations. We know, for instance, that people can be led to feel an unseen presence simply by having specific regions of their brains stimulated in the lab. And those who suffer from epilepsy, especially in the temporal lobe, have all kinds of visionary experiences.

Think about that. A doctor poking around in your brain can make you feel like We Are Not Alone. Mind-blowing stuff.

As for more on our experiences of the metaphysical and how they appear to be generated, researchers at the University of Missouri “have found a neuropsychological basis for spirituality, but it’s not isolated to one specific area of the brain,” according to a professor of health psychology, Dr. Brick Johnstone. He added,

Spirituality is a much more dynamic concept that uses many parts of the brain. Certain parts of the brain play more predominant roles, but they all work together to facilitate individuals’ spiritual experiences.

As far as that disputed “self” we have been discussing, Dr. Johnstone said,

Neuropsychology researchers consistently have shown that impairment on the right side of the brain decreases one’s focus on the self. Since our research shows that people with this impairment are more spiritual, this suggests spiritual experiences are associated with a decreased focus on the self.

Leaving aside the temptation to snarkily associate “impairment” with enhanced spiritual experiences, I will close by noting that other studies, involving non-impaired people, those who devotedly practice meditation and prayer, have shown that they can purposely reduce the influence of the right side of their brains and thus enhance their spiritual experiences. That seems to me what Harris is essentially arguing.

From all of this the question arises: Is that a good thing? Is earnestly pursuing experiences of self-transcendence or spirituality something all of us should do? Beats me. I’ll have to spend more time thinking about it. But I will let Harris have the last word for now:

A rational approach to spirituality seems to be what is missing from secularism and from the lives of most of the people I meet.

 

Fanaticism In Missouri

Let’s start today’s adventure into the strange world of fanatical belief with Pat Robertson of 700 Club fame. As Daily Kos reported, Robertson, who is 84 years old, took a question on his program from a woman who, along with her husband, is also in her eighties. She said the couple had an old car that had just broken down and they had to borrow the money to fix it. Plus, they “both need dental work, but can’t afford it.” Add to that the claim that they have to use their “credit card to pay for medical needs.” They wonder what they could be doing wrong, since they have demonstrated their faith by declaring “that this is our time of prosperity”—a confessional requirement in the so-called “prosperity gospel” business movement. She said they also “have no unforgiveness” in their lives, which answers an excuse prosperity gospel preachers offer to their followers who don’t experience any promised prosperity.

Oh, and most important, she says she and her husband “give willingly and our tithe is over 10 percent.”

Got it? These older folks love Jesus, give a helluva lot of their income to God, and have a junky car and no money of their own to pay for their health needs. So, naturally, Robertson, who specializes in giving wise Godly counsel, gave these desperate folks some wise Godly counsel:

Ask God to show you some ways of making money. There are many ways of making money, even at 80 years old. You know, you can get on the telephone, people are hiring.

Words fail me.

Our next adventure in fanaticism, though, deserves many words. It is happening here in Missouri.

Mother Jones published an article today (“Missouri Republicans Are About to Pass One of the Harshest Abortion Laws in the Country“) that reports on the fact that next week Missouri legislators, most of them fanatical Republicans, will meet in a special session to attempt, among other outrageous things, to override Governor Jay Nixon’s veto of their fanatical legislation that would essentially rob Missouri women of their right to exercise what reproductive rights they have left in this state. As MJ notes, that legislation “would force women seeking an abortion—including victims of rape and incest—to wait 72 hours between their first visit to a clinic and the procedure itself.”

Yes, even victims of rape or incest would have to wait three days—currently they are forced to wait 24 hours—to avail themselves of their fading constitutional right to not be further violated by having to bear the offspring of rapists or relatives. But that is only the latest restriction on reproductive rights here in this state:

Missouri lawmakers proposed more than two dozen abortion restrictions this year, all of them targeted at the St. Louis clinic. Missouri already has more abortion-related restrictions on the book than almost any other state in the country. Abortion providers must offer women the opportunity to view an ultrasound of the fetus, and abortion clinics in Missouri must meet the requirements of an ambulatory surgical center; these requirements are expensive to meet and they are not medically necessary for most abortions. These laws have resulted in the closure of all but one of the state’s clinics.

The sponsor of the bill in the House, a man—I repeat: a man—from nearby Nixa, Missouri, said,

Taking it from one day to three days? I don’t think it’s creating an extra obstacle for the mothers.

I wonder if this man, whose name is Kevin Elmer and who was elected in 2010, the year that just keeps giving and giving, would want to wait for three days if he had been raped and impregnated? Oh, sorry. Not applicable. And that is the point. But it doesn’t stop Mr. Elmer, and apparently nearly every Republican man (and woman) in the legislature, from taking it upon themselves to force their fanaticism on Missouri women.

Elmer says:

I believe that life begins at conception. And I’m not to discriminate against any life because of how it was conceived. I don’t disregard the significance of the tragic events that those women suffer from. But we’re still weighing that against the right of the unborn child to live…We’re asking all mothers just to give it another 48 hours to think about what is it they’re doing when they kill their unborn child.

First of all, Republicans aren’t “asking” the “mothers” to do anything. They are forcing them. Forcing them to “think.” Forcing them to think about killing “their unborn child.” Now, it seems to me that if you really believe in your bones that zygotes or embryos or fetuses are unborn children, then allowing women—”mothers” in Elmer’s certainty-plagued eyes—one day or three days or thirty days is too many days. They simply shouldn’t be allowed to kill their kids at any time, for any reason. It is absurd to say that mothers have permission to kill their children—if they take sufficient time to think about it. But that is what these confused zealots are actually saying.

Let’s be clear. What Republicans are doing, all over the country, is using the power of government, through various restrictions on female reproductive rights, to essentially force women, even women who have been impregnated by rapists, to become mothers.

Oddly, when Mr. Elmer was running for office, he said the following:

I believe in smaller government that is limited in its taxes, regulation of businesses and controls of local communities…People know what is best for their families and businesses not the collective thought of a government. 

Okay. Now, again, words fail me.

 

 

Remarks And Asides

A guy named José Zamora was having trouble landing a job. For months he sent out hundreds of résumés via email and received no responses. Then he decided, with a stroke of practical brilliance, to alter his resume to fit cultural norms in 21st-century America. He became Joe Zamora. Needless to say, Joe got a lot of responses.

No racism in this country, my friends. Just a fondness for Joés, uh, I mean Joes.

_____________________________

To further prove there is no racism in this country, someone calling herself Xena of Amphipolis, commented on the YouTube video where José told his little American story:

I don’t care what this asshole’s name is.  I would never hire a gangbanger – especially one who talks like that.

The best reply, though, was a truth-teller named Cyan Rivera:

If you’re tired of hearing about the race issue in America, imagine how ex[h]austing it is living it.

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Speaking of exhaustion, how tired are we of reading stories like this:

Russian Bank Hires Former Senators Trent Lott, John Breaux To Lobby Against U.S. Sanctions

Those Russians are pretty smart folks. They know that hiring current vacation-happy legislators would be a waste of time. So, bypass the do-nothings and go right to where all the action is in Washington. Lobbyists apparently never take time off.

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Speaking of Washington, we, the American public, have spent nearly 30 years living with Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court (thanks, Reagan fans!). But as bad as that has been, and it has been really bad, it is not as bad as what happened to Henry Lee McCollum, an African-American with an IQ no higher than 70,  who spent almost 30 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit:

A North Carolina death row inmate exonerated by DNA evidence on Tuesday was once held up by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as an example of someone who deserved to die.

Not only was McCollum the victim of a horrifically zealous prosecutor and a flawed justice system, he became intellectual fodder for a flawed Justice of the Supreme Court.

_______________________________

Speaking of zealots:

Black LGBT Activist Arrested For Distributing Voting Rights Information

The activist should stop whining, of course. He’s lucky to be alive to tell about his encounter with white policemen, especially in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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Henry Kissinger, who, yes, is still alive, wrote a piece in The Wall Street Journal that included this:

A world order of states affirming individual dignity and participatory governance, and cooperating internationally in accordance with agreed-upon rules, can be our hope and should be our inspiration.

Uh-oh. Yep, you guessed it:

kissinger

 Yes, because there is something terribly wrong with the world’s nations affirming human dignity and democracy and cooperating with each other. Can’t have that. One Breitbart commenter wrote:

Kissinger is Bilderberg EVIL!!

I’m not sure if Bilderberg EVIL! is worse than Obama EVIL! but I am sure it is pretty bad stuff.

_________________________________

From London’s The Telegraph comes this surprising headline about 26- to 35-year-old Brits:

Half of young women can’t ‘locate their vaginas’

Now, I don’t consider such news from Britain all that disturbing. After all, here in America half of our legislators don’t know their asses from holes in the ground.

I’ll leave it to you to figure out which half.

__________________________________

Finally, on a happy note, I will leave you with this from Rolling Stone:

The Arab World’s Version of the Ice Bucket Challenge: Burning ISIS Flags

No “Dispassionate Analysis” Here

dispassionate: not influenced by strong feeling

The Huffington Post published today a short piece by Jack Mirkinson (its Senior Media Editor) titled,

Geraldo Rivera Thinks The US Should ‘Behead’ ISIS Beheaders

The author was, apparently, taken aback by Geraldo Rivera’s reaction to the beheading of journalist Steven Sotloff:

geraldo rivera tweetsI guess I should say that I stand second to nobody in my distaste for Mr. Rivera, a regular on Fox “News.” And I suppose I should say that it is obviously not acceptable that any U.S. policy involve beheading even “the ISIS butchers.” Of course that is ridiculous. But the HuffPo piece ended with this advice:

Anyone looking for dispassionate analysis would be wise to look elsewhere.

I thought about that for a minute. Two American journalists have had their heads crudely and savagely sawed off by a psychopathic Islamist terrorist, who then posted the acts on the Internet with mocking commentary and threats of killing more Americans, and the suggestion is that there is something wrong with an analysis that includes a little passion, a little emotion? Huh?

And just what would “dispassionate analysis” look like in this context? How is it possible to analyze this situation without accounting for the brutality of the acts? Without having strong feelings about them?

A leftish commenter wrote in, remarking on my last piece on the murder of Steven Sotloff, to say:

Here in America, our barbarians use drones and planes.

Talk about a dispassionate analysis. Is that what some on the left think of their own country? That our leaders are on the same moral plane with people who do such things as were done to James Foley and Steven Sotloff and thousands of others in both Syria and Iraq? Surely it matters what motivation was-is behind the use of those American drones and planes, doesn’t it? And surely it matters that those ISIL killers couldn’t care less about the civilian population of any country, much less make huge efforts to avoid civilian casualties, as the U.S. does in its fight against terrorist groups like ISIL?  And surely it matters that there is a glaring qualitative difference between psychopaths and those trying to bring the psychopaths to justice, right? Should I even have to write that sentence?

Obviously we want those who are planning the attacks on ISIL in Syria (we are already attacking ISIL in Iraq) to analyze the situation carefully, thoughtfully, deliberately. Nobody is saying that the U.S. military should just start carpet bombing the entire region out of some kind of collective anger or national pride or simply frustration. But I, for one, hope like hell the civilian and military planners are also doing their planning with strong feelings that what they are doing is the right thing, is part of what it means to bring justice to psychopathic killers. Passion and planning don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Finally, I hope President Obama has strong feelings about what he is certainly thinking about doing, and, more than that, I hope he expresses those subjective feelings to the American people, as well as the objective purpose of any actions. It is proper, even necessary in times like these, to do both.  This isn’t a time for the President to play it cool in public or worry about whether it looks like the terrorists got under his skin. Goddammit, if this doesn’t get under his skin then it is hard to see what would. All of us, especially our leaders, ought to be passionate, damn passionate, about justice, especially when we have it in our power—deliberatively applied power—to provide it in this case.

“To Follow The Example Set By The Prophet Muhammad”

Despite public pleas from his desperate mother, journalist Steven Sotloff was apparently murdered by fundamentalist thugs somewhere in Syria. And as 21st-century Islamist terrorist freaks are prone to do, they published a video of his grisly execution.

Steven’s mother Shirley Sotloff had just recently asked the ISIL bastards to release her son, even calling Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi—who laughingly thinks he is head of an “Islamic State”—by his self-bestowed title, “caliph,” which is the name given to the head of state in a Caliphate. I don’t blame her for trying. I don’t blame her for saying anything to get her son back. I would have called that murderous Baghdadi bastard the Islamic Mother Theresa if that would have secured my son’s freedom. Like Mrs. Sotloff, I would have tried to appeal to Baghdadi’s Islamic faith and ask him “to follow the example set by the Prophet Muhammad, who protected People of the Book” and “to be merciful and not punish my son for matters he has no control over.” Yes, I would have said all that, and more, including what the now-grieving mother offered up to Baghdadi last week:

Steven has no control over the actions of the U.S. government. He is an innocent journalist.

Of course none of those words mattered to Baghdadi or the piece-of-shit thug with a British accent who did the dirty work, perhaps murdering Sotloff before his mother made her appeal, an appeal that included an insistence that her son “traveled to the Middle East to cover the suffering of Muslims at the hands of tyrants.” None of that mattered because there is no such a thing as an “innocent” person outside the theological tribe these people belong to. If you are not one of them, if you don’t follow their version of Islam, then you are ipso facto guilty and subject to execution in the name of a strangely unmerciful Allah.

I am confident that President Obama, even has he continues an air assault on ISIL in Iraq, will soon expand the effort into Syria, where, hopefully, one day that blood-loving zealot who murdered Steven Sotloff, along with the delusional leader of ISIL and the rest of his Allah-invoking fighters, will look up and, just for a sweet, sweet moment, see a missile coming their way with a big American flag painted on it.

Steven Sotloff is a freelance journalist being held captive by ISIS militants.

Tased And Confused

Yet another video has surfaced that shows that being a black man in America comes with special responsibilities, like, say, staying out of public spaces so as not to arouse the suspicions of white policemen. Depending on the day and the city, arousing the suspicions of white policemen may get you tased and arrested or, well, killed.

Fortunately for the guy in the video below, Christopher Lollie, he was only tased and arrested. I guess it was his lucky day.

I suspect that most of the readers of this blog will find the video quite disturbing, as it not only demonstrates how stupidly reactionary some cops can be, but how racial profiling works in the real world and why it is un-American. But I also want you to think about something else. Tea Party enthusiasts and sympathizers say they hate big government. Some of them even went so far as to defend militia types earlier this year when they took up arms against federal agents in Nevada, after Cliven Bundy decided he was entitled to graze his cattle for free on federal land and then would not recognize federal authority to stop him. Many people made the point at the time that had the New Black Panthers taken up arms to defend a black freeloader, the Bill O’Reilly’s of the world would have declared the end of civilization. But the Bundy case was a white man standing up against, let’s face it, a not-very-white Barack Obama. Thus, in that case big government police were the bad guys and gun-toting government-haters were the good guys.

To be at least somewhat consistent, if Tea Party conservatives—and they do most of the talking for Republicans these days—were genuinely disturbed by big government and its overreach, they should be outraged at what happened to Christopher Lollie at the hands of St. Paul, Minnesota, cops, who are, after all, government employees. But I doubt you will find too many of them who are willing to express outrage. My guess is that most of them will say that Lollie should have just done what he was told by the police and nothing would have happened to him. Because, ya know, black people have no rights that white policemen are bound to respect, and Lollie should have known and understood that reality and been willing to live with it. For his own good.

The truth is that when it comes to most conservatives, they don’t like big government when it is dispensing food stamps to black people. Oh, they hate that kind of government. But they like big government when it is dispensing Taser-powered electricity to black people just before hauling them off to jail. Or, as in Ferguson and elsewhere, shooting them dead in the streets.

Watch:

Beware Of Dogmatists

dog·ma·tism: the tendency to lay down principles as incontrovertibly true, without consideration of evidence or the opinions of others.

When writing critically about religion, it is sometimes hard to adequately convey both the idea that fundamentalism is undesirable and dangerous and that other, less dogmatic, forms of spirituality can be, and often are, forces for good. People often conclude from some of my criticisms of religious faith: “You hate religion, period.” Well, I don’t. There are many religion-motivated people who do a lot of good in our communities. Each and every day. Thus, allow me to explain, in more detail, where I’m coming from. Then, I promise, I will resume my blogging on politics.

What I don’t like, and what I believe all thinking people should aggressively attack, is any form of religion that does not admit to what a couple of commenters on my latest piece (“‘Without God, I Am No One’—Bullshit That Needs Our Attention“) called “humility,” the idea that one’s vision of God is not necessarily the correct one and that “the next person may understand God even better than I do.”  I have no quarrel with anyone who holds religious views in that context.

My quarrel is with the dogmatists. I believe, and I think the evidence from history supports it, that religious dogmatism is mostly a destructive force, even if it isn’t (these days) always manifested in violence against others. I ambrose biercehappen to think that dedicating precious time and minds and other resources to discussing or settling dogmatism-inspired controversies is a colossal waste, a form of destruction. (And I am one who has spent a lot of time exploring the meandering contours of Christian theology.) So, I want to be clear that the form of religion I dislike is not the kind that admits to uncertainty or doubt. With increasing passion, I am attacking the kind of religious dogma expressed by people like Douglas McCain, whose fanaticism and dogmatism may have finally led him to Syria to kill and be killed in the name of his religion, but who first began by embracing incontrovertible beliefs and essentially enslaving himself to his unquestionable notion of God.

Evidence should always be our guide, wherever it leads. As a former evangelical Christian, I am now open to evidence that God exists or that he doesn’t exist. I have to admit that most of the evidence is for the latter, but I’m not dogmatic about it. I have before described myself as a theist, even though my faith is really a hope that there exists a being who will enforce common notions of justice at some point in the life of this universe or beyond. Really, I suppose, I am an agnostic. I don’t know if it is even possible to discover the existence or non-existence of God. But I do know that I don’t have much faith that a collection of old writings, written by ignorant and bigoted men, has anything at all to do with finding God. In fact, in so many ways, they lead the other way.

One commenter wrote,

It is entirely possible to be a serious, devout Christian and still maintain an awareness that, however binding you may personally find the Bible, the next person is entitled [to] view things differently.

Of course that is true. Most serious, devout American Christians do believe people are entitled to view things differently. After all, we live in a country with a secular Constitution that values no religion over another, and most of us have been taught to respect the religious views of others.

But my argument is not about whether this or that religious dogmatist thinks others are or are not entitled to hold one view or another. I am not saying that zealous believers necessarily want the government to step in and demand that people become fellow fundamentalists and fanatics. My argument is with the zealotry, the fundamentalism, the fanaticism itself. It is about whether we should continue to leave unchallenged the views of people who say things like, “Without God, I am no one,” or, “The Bible is all I need in this life,” people who enslave themselves to their necessarily imperfect idea of God. And I especially think we should challenge the views of people who teach their children such dangerous and injurious ideas. Deliberately closing the minds of children, essentially drowning their imaginations in dogmatism, shouldn’t be something our 21st-century culture accepts in silence. We should object to it, and loudly.

In addition to all that, I think we should challenge religious dogma because—and this may be painful for some to hear—there is an element of narcissism involved in its expression. If you think about it, it is an amazing expression of egotism, even if it is in our culture a regrettably acceptable expression of egotism, to say after some personal escape from calamity, “God blessed me today.” Let me give you an example.

The Christian medical missionary, Dr. Kent Brantly, was recently released from the hospital, to much fanfare, after he was apparently cured of Ebola. No one can say for sure that it was the experimental drug he was given or whether it was his own immune system or some other treatment or mechanism that made him well. It even may have been the prayers that people offered up to God that did the trick. That is certainly what Dr. Brantly claimed:

…there were thousands, maybe even millions of people around the world praying for me throughout that week, and even still today…what I can tell you is that I serve a faithful God who answers prayers…Through the care of the Samaritan’s Purse and SIM missionary team in Liberia, the use of an experimental drug, and the expertise and resources of the health care team at Emory University Hospital, God saved my life—a direct answer to thousands and thousands of prayers.

“God saved my life.” How often have we heard people say that? After the 2011 tornado here in Joplin, I heard that a lot. And I always wondered what those other people, those who didn’t survive the tornado, did to not deserve God saving their lives. And I wondered, when I heard Dr. Brantly talk, why those other people, now in the thousands, who have died or will die at the viral hands of Ebola, did to not deserve God’s blessings? Is Dr. Brantly’s life worth more to God than those others? Are those who survived the Joplin tornado worth more to God than those who didn’t?

People who claim that “God saved my life” should be challenged to explain why others were undeserving of such salvation. They should be challenged to explain why they were so special to the Creator Of The Universe. We would certainly challenge them if they said, “God exempted me from income taxes,” or “God has a plan for my life that includes being President of the United States.”

I submit to you that in any other context what Dr. Brantly said, and what some of those who survived the Joplin tornado said, would be taken as expressions of an unhealthy narcissism. But we don’t bat an eye when people talk that way about God saving them after an illness, a car wreck, or a horrific storm. And my argument is that we should bat an eye. In fact, both eyes, and say, “How do you know?” Or, more to the point, “How can you know?”

I will end this with a YouTube video that was put together by someone named Devon Tracey, an atheist (unfortunately, a much too dogmatic atheist) who took a presentation by Sam Harris and cleverly matched it with images and other video to make Harris’ speech on God and morality much more entertaining. Although there are some points I would quibble with, I urge you to watch with batting eyes:

“Without God, I Am No One”—Bullshit That Needs Our Attention

Fundamentalism kills. In more ways than one.

NBC News has reported that an American—a 33-year-old who was born in Illinois, raised in Minnesota, and studied in California—has now died in Syria, as a fighter for the barbaric jihadist group, ISIL. He was killed by another group of anti-Assad fighters, the Free Syrian Army.

Douglas McAuthur McCain, according to those who knew him, was a “a good guy who loved his family and friends,” a smiling joker who loved music, liked to dance and play basketball. “He was a goofball in high school,” one of his classmates told NBC.

Sometime in 2004, though, Douglas McCain apparently started taking religion seriously, as many Americans do. He posted on Twitter in May: “I reverted to Islam 10 years ago and I must say In sha Allah I will never look back the best thing that ever happen to me.”In sha’Allah” essentially means “God willing.” Lots and lots of people, especially Christian people, say “God willing” and say that their faith is “the best thing that ever happened” to them. It’s pretty common and not all that radical, unfortunately.

McCain also posted a picture of himself holding a Quran, with the caption,

The quran is all I need in this life of sin.

If you replace “quran” with “Bible,” then you have a typical statement from many American Christians, a statement I have heard countless times in one form or another. Again, although it is unfortunate, there is nothing all that radical about someone claiming that an old, old book is all they need in this life, of sin or otherwise.

Another social media posting from McCain expressed what he believed was the source of his existence:

Allah keeps me going day and night. Without Allah, I am no one.

Let’s remember that “Allah” is simply the Arabic word for “God.” In other words, what McCain posted was this:

God keeps me going day and night. Without God, I am no one.

Again, I have heard that same idea expressed numerous times by Christians I have known. Right now you can check out your own Facebook page, if you have one, and probably see a version of it someone has posted. It is all too common to hear people, people who live in your neighborhood and share space in your community, say such things. As I said, it is unfortunate that such sentiments are so prevalent among us.

It isn’t exactly clear how Douglas McCain went from expressing such things, such things that a lot of people express on any given day in America, to actually joining a group of bloodthirsty jihadist killers in Syria. It’s not clear Image: A Facebook profile photo of man identified by NBC News as Douglas McAuthur McCainhow he became “Duale ThaslaveofAllah,” which reportedly was his Facebook name. We will probably never know the mechanics of how that transformation happened, even though it would help us all to know.

Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of people who say the things that Douglas McCain said don’t end up either killing for, or dying for, their deity. Those who think their religion is the best thing that ever happened to them, or who believe an ancient book is all they need to guide them, or who believe that they are nothing without God—a being they have never seen and can’t possibly “know”—most of the time live their lives relatively peacefully, many of them even doing a lot of good in the world.

But I have come to believe that we, those of us who have not utterly surrendered our minds to an unseen—and presumably unseeable—deity, those of us who maintain that any religious views should be accompanied by some degree of doubt and uncertainty, must call out those who say things like Douglas McCain said.

It is time that we make people—especially our young people—uncomfortable when they say things like, “Without God, I am no one.” It’s time we call bullshit on such sentiments. It is time we take on parents who teach their children that they are nothing without God. Or teach them that an ancient, pre-scientific book is an infallible source of information, especially about God, or history, or morals. It is time we stop being afraid of criticizing people’s religious beliefs, if those religious beliefs include offering up their minds, or the minds of their children, as slaves to some Bible- or Quran-revealed divine being.

Because even though we don’t know what exactly led to Douglas McAuthur McCain giving his body to a radicalized and militarized incarnation of Islam, we know that it began with him seriously surrendering his mind to Allah, to God, to a bloodthirsty being first brought to us by ancient and ignorant people who told us their God once murdered “every living thing on the face of the earth” (the Bible) and who told us that God will punish unbelievers “with terrible agony in this world and in the Hereafter” (Quran).

We should do our best to make sure that people understand what it means to completely turn their lives over to the very flawed star of a faith that first came into being in the Bronze Age. Perhaps, and only perhaps, we may be able to prevent more Douglas McCains from wanting to kill and die in the name of God.

A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall On “The Worst People On Earth”

“Oh, what did you see, my blue eyed son?
And what did you see, my darling young one?”

“I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin'”

“I saw a white ladder all covered with water
I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain a-gonna fall”

—Bob Dylan

At times they cut the throats of children, or hang them or shoot them. At other times they, quite literally, saw off with dull knives the heads of men, women, and children, or hang them or shoot them. They rape. They rampage. They slaughter. And they openly teach their own children that such bloodthirsty acts are noble and godly, and a necessary and proper way to praise and honor Allah.

Example:

This photo, of a seven-year-old boy clad in a kids’ Polo golf shirt and struggling to hold up a severed head, was posted on Twitter by a proud dad. That proud dad’s name I won’t share with you. That’s exactly what this sick creep, a loser who left Australia with his family to become a jihadist in Syria, wants. This proud dad represents the kind of people I have described. In a very rare moment of agreement with a conservative columnist, I second Charles Krauthammer:

These are the worst people on earth.

These “people” are, of course, members of ISIL. And as Krauthammer said,

These are not the usual bad guys out for land, plunder, or power. These are primitive cultists who celebrate slaughter, glory in bloodlust, and slit the throats of innocents as a kind of sacrament.

And trust me, after doing some research on what ISIL has done in the past year or so, all of that is a serious understatement.

Speaking more clinically, General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently said of these jihadists,

This is an organization that has an apocalyptic, end-of- days strategic vision and which will eventually have to be defeated.

“Eventually” has already started. And those limited U.S. air strikes against ISIL have done a lot of good. More, many, many more, need to follow. And follow.

I heard someone say the other day that, when it comes to going after the ISIL bastards, he would countenance a hefty raise in his taxes. Me, too. I would gladly pay much more in taxes, if I knew the money was going toward missiles and bombs that would rain down hard, like a land-cleansing monsoon of justice, on the heads of these fundamentalist Islamists. On the heads of anti-humans who, in the name of Allah-God, commit intolerable, and I mean intolerable, acts of terror against not only Christians and people of other faiths, but of fellow Muslims.

President Obama, very soon, needs to address the country and make the case that the United States should, along with the Iraqi military who would provide the foot soldiers for such an effort, make a decisive war on the so-called “Islamic State.” We should also undertake air strikes in what used to be Syrian territory in order to hit ISIL there. No need to worry about borders at this point. They have essentially been erased. If other nations around the world want to join us, and they should, that would be better still. If they don’t, if they continue to tolerate these barbarians and continue to pay them ransoms for hostages or otherwise support them, then to hell with them. We can still act.

I would ask my fellow liberals again, many of whom are confidently balking at such a move by President Obama, just what the hell is our military for, if not to protect the interests of our own citizens right now—one of the best of them was just openly and barbarically beheaded by these bastards, after a failed mission to rescue him—and in the future, when a stronger ISIL may in fact, rather in the poisoned imaginations of these jihadists, actually have a real state? Not to mention help protect the interests of our friends, the Kurdish people? And help protect the rest of the Iraqis, to whom we owe at least something, after we destroyed their country and raised up and supported Nouri al-Maliki, who then helped make Iraq a place where ISIL could do its demonic work? And, finally, what is our military for if not to help ensure that the word civilization retains its meaning in this century?

Now is the time to rid the world of these, its worst people.

“Barking Orders At A Person With Serious Mental Illness Doesn’t Work”

Let’s move a few miles away from Ferguson to the city of St. Louis.

On Tuesday I listened to St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief Sam Dotson describe the shooting of yet another young black man, Kajieme Powell, who was killed that afternoon by St. Louis police, after he refused to put down a knife as he moved toward officers.

Those officers were responding to a call made by a store owner, who said Powell had stolen some energy drinks and pastries and was behaving strangely. Powell was, Chief Dotson said, chief dotson and overhand grip“acting erratically, walking back and forth, up and down the street” while talking to himself. When officers arrived, Dotson said they exited their vehicles without initially drawing their weapons. He also said that Powell did not respond to“verbal commands to drop his weapon” and walked toward the officers, yelling, “Shoot me now! Kill me now!”  And, most important, according to Dotson’s version of what happened, the officers shot Powell because he had “closed within three to four feet with the knife in what is described as an ‘overhand grip.'”

At the time, the explanation seemed reasonable to me. It seemed the shooting was justifiable. Claiming the man was only three or four feet away with a knife menacingly raised in the air seemed to leave the officers little choice. It seemed like a case in which a disturbed young man—neighbors later said he was mentally ill—had threatened the lives of two policemen and they responded with life-taking and life-saving force. But that was the picture the policemen painted of the scene, which often is the only view we get in matters like these.

But not this time.

As you probably already know, someone had a video camera and captured the shooting. And that video shows that what Chief Dotson said wasn’t entirely accurate. And where it wasn’t accurate, it happens to skew in favor of the shooters, the cops. In case you haven’t seen it and want to, here is the video of the killing (be warned, it is graphic):

As you can see, the officers got out of their vehicles with their guns drawn, contrary to what Chief Dotson claimed. And as you can see, Powell did not have the knife up in an “overhand grip.” Nor was he within three or four feet of the officers. And something Chief Dotson did not explain at his press conference on Tuesday was why the officers, between both of them, fired nine shots into Powell, at least two of them after he was down on the ground and clearly not a threat. Those last two shots are perhaps the most disturbing thing, among many things, about the video. Those last two shots certainly seemed gratuitous and seemed like one or both of the officers were in some kind of adrenaline-fueled shoot mode that they could not easily turn off.

The police union told St. Louis Public Radio that the video, which was released by the police chief with the union’s consent, was “exculpatory.” I suppose that is in the eye of the beholder. What I see when I see that video is a disturbed young man, who those around him find mildly amusing. The fact that he has a knife, of course, makes him a dangerous and disturbed young man. But all over this country, each and every day, police confront dangerous and disturbed people. And at least some of the time, perhaps much of the time, things don’t end up like they did in St. Louis. Why is that? Why did these two officers respond the way they did? Why did they get out of their patrol car with weapons drawn? Where were their Tasars? And why have most people in law enforcement, perhaps some who would not have responded as those two St. Louis cops did, defended what happened on that St. Louis street on a Tuesday afternoon?

I suppose it all comes down to perception. And cops seem to have a different way of looking at their jobs than those of us who have never been in the position of a gun-toting authority. But surely it is not unreasonable to expect more out of the police than what they gave us in St. Louis. Surely it is not unreasonable to expect a little more patience from them, at least a little more than 15 or 20 seconds, when dealing with what they had to know was a disturbed man—who else yells at guns-drawn policemen, “Shoot me! Shoot me! Shoot me! Shoot me now, motherfucker!”?

Policemen wear uniforms for a reason. Those uniforms show that they are in a special category of people, people who have the authority to kill in the name of not only the law, but in the name of all of us. When they draw their weapons and aim them, much less shoot, we have every right to expect that they do so only when necessary. We have every right, as citizens, to hold our police to high standards of conduct.

But cops are only as good as the training they receive. Here what Salon’s Joanna Rothkof has to say:

The stigmatization and lack of information surrounding mental illness directly affects the criminal justice system, resulting in inadequate treatment, inappropriate prison time and numerous deaths at the hands of police. Prisons are home to 10 times more mentally ill Americans than state psychiatric hospitals. The Los Angeles County Jail is the largest provider of mental healthcare in the country. Appallingly, 50 percent of Americans killed by the police every year are mentally ill, and this largely has to do with police training.

That is shocking. If police aren’t receiving adequate training related to dealing with the mentally ill, then it seems unfair to blame them when they pull up to a situation, like in St. Louis, and demand compliance from someone who simply can’t comply in the same way you or I could. Rothkof quotes a report (“How lack of police training can be deadly for the mentally ill“) by Aaron Ernst and Christof Putzel:

“Traditional law enforcement tactics are rooted in logic, in reasoning – and in issuing commands for someone to comply so that we can make the situation safe right now by taking a person into custody,” said Douglas County Police Capt. Attila Denes, who has spent much of his career in the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office in Colorado trying to improve police interaction with the mentally ill. “But barking orders at a person with serious mental illness doesn’t work.”

Of course it doesn’t work. But it goes on every day. And, in the end, if we the people allow it to go on, if we don’t insist that our police officers get the training they most desperately need and then hold them to a high standard of conduct, we will continue to see cops killing mentally ill people and then having to defend themselves against the perception that something else could have, should have, been done.

“No Just God Would Stand For What They Did”

“The United States of America will continue to do what we must do to protect our people. We will be vigilant and we will be relentless. When people harm Americans, anywhere, we do what’s necessary to see that justice is done.”

—President Obama, August 20, 2014

If I were a member of ISIL, the wicked Islamist group that even other terrorists find intolerable, I wouldn’t be planning any “Islamic State” celebrations anytime soon. Or ever.

No amount of prayer to Allah, or whoever it is that these fanatics pray to when they are not killing and raping, will stop what will, eventually, happen to them. President Obama, speaking a short time ago on the execution of journalist James Foley, in a way that did not well hide his subterranean, and righteous, anger, said this:

Let’s be clear about ISIL. They have rampaged across cities and villages, killing innocent, unarmed civilians in cowardly acts of violence. They abduct women and children and subject them to torture and rape and slavery. They have murdered Muslims, both Sunni and Shia, by the thousands. They target Christians and religious minorities, driving them from their homes, murdering them when they can, for no other reason than they practice a different religion. They declare their ambition to commit genocide against an ancient people.

So ISIL speaks for no religion. Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day. ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt. They may claim, out of expediency, that they are at war with the United States or the West, but the fact is, they terrorize their neighbors and offer them nothing but an endless slavery to their empty vision and the collapse of any definition of civilized behavior.

And people like this ultimately fail.

And these people will ultimately fail because of us, because of the United States of America. If there is a God, and if he is just, we will be his primary instrument of justice. The President, as anyone who watched him give his remarks could see, has had enough of ISIL, calling it a “cancer” that must be extracted “so that it does not spread,” and saying:

We will do everything that we can to protect our people and the timeless values that we stand for.

Time will tell just what “everything that we can” means. But President Obama has, rightly, put himself and the country on the right side of history by declaring that “a group like ISIL has no place in the 21st century.” And for those, especially my friends on the left, who don’t think he is on the right side of history, then they should declare just what kind of values, what kind of principles, this country and the civilized world actually do stand for.

More than that, those who oppose the United States helping to root out ISIL—killing every single member if necessary—have a duty to explain exactly what “civilization” means, if a group like ISIL is allowed to openly and proudly murder and rape in civilization’s cradle, when we—Americans—most certainly can do something about it.

What A Nail Sees

A reader wrote a comment on my post about what was happening in Ferguson, Missouri,(“GoveWhat a nail seesrnor Jay Nixon Should Call Out The National Guard—To Protect The Citizens of Missouri From The Police“) that went like this:

The events occurring there only show the militarization of many police forces across the US. Surplus automatic army weapons and armored vehicles give local cops an opportunity to use them as lethal weapons. Remember the adage, “If your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

My response:

Yes. And when you feel like a nail, as many African-Americans do, everything coming at you looks like a hammer.

If you don’t understand that, if you can’t fathom what it might be like to be the nail and also believe, with good reason, that those charged with enforcing the laws of this society have hammering on their minds, then you don’t understand what is going on in Ferguson and elsewhere across the country.

Governor Nixon Steps In

“What’s gone on here over the last few days is not what Missouri is about, it is not what Ferguson is about. This is a place where people work, go to school, raise their families and go to church, a diverse community, a Missouri community. But lately it has looked a little bit more like a war zone, and that is unacceptable.”

—Missouri Governor Jay Nixon at a press conference in Ferguson on Thursday

Things may be getting better in Ferguson:

Jay Nixon announcement

From The Washington Post:

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) has given control of security operations in Ferguson to Missouri State Highway Patrol. Capt. Ronald S. Johnson, who heads the highway patrol’s troop in the region, and will now direct the law enforcement response in the riot-riven city.

Johnson—unlike the overwhelming majority of police officers who have been on the scene—is African American—like the majority of people living in Ferguson. He also happens to be a 27-year veteran of the highway patrol who says he grew up in the community and has made it his home. He also said something that should have hope-generating relevance and comfort-generating resonance for Ferguson citizens and protesters:

I understand the anger and fear that the citizens of Ferguson are feeling, and our officers will respect both of those.

Amen.

And thank you, Governor Nixon.

huffpo banner

Governor Jay Nixon Should Call Out The National Guard—To Protect The Citizens of Missouri From The Police

Posted at 11:10 p.m. local time on August 13, 2014:

On Tuesday night Governor Nixon publicly admitted that he “prayed for the parents and loved ones of Michael Brown,” the 18-year-old-African American gunned down by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri. He said he also “prayed for the residents and businesses and children” of the community. He further claimed that he had “prayed for justice” and “for wisdom” and “for peace.”

Well, there is no peace in Ferguson. There isn’t much wisdom, and certainly, at least right now, no justice.

What looks like an occupying force, complete with military-esque armaments and attitude, has threatened the citizens of Ferguson, trampling not only their constitutional rights, but arresting and teargassing reporters who were guilty only of committing journalism. That occupying force is local police. Missouri cops.

This has to be stopped.

Where is not only the Democratic governor of our state, but where is our Democratic attorney general, Chris Koster? He’s the top law enforcement official in the state. His job is to protect Missouri citizens, even if that job involves protecting those citizens from Missouri cops. The attorney general’s only statement on what happened in Ferguson, as far as I can tell, is this:

I support Governor Nixon’s call for a thorough, independent investigation by the United States Department of Justice of the circumstances leading to the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. An outside inquiry led by the DOJ provides both impartiality and credibility to the inquiry’s ultimate findings.

That’s as it should be. But what about the conduct of the local police departments after the shooting? What about this:

Occupation of Ferguson Mo

What happened on Wednesday night here in Missouri is outrageous. We employ a governor, who is the commander-in-chief of the Missouri Army National Guard, and attorney general to deal with such matters. They should stop hiding behind prayers and the federal Department of Justice and do their state jobs. Word is out that Governor Nixon has decided to go to Ferguson on Thursday. Good.

But he should be bringing the National Guard with him.

[Top photo: AP]

“Takin’ It To The Streets” In Ferguson, Missouri?

“There was an eerie flashback to 1965 in parts of the St. Louis region Sunday. Riot gear. Tear gas. German shepherds. Looting. Stores on fire. Dozens arrested.”

—Aisha Sultan, St. Louis Post Dispatch

Today, eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was supposed to start classes at Vatterott College, presumably to pursue his version of the vanishing American Dream. According to a childhood friend, he wanted to start his own business, “make something out of nothing.” But Michael BrownMichael Brown is dead. On Saturday, in the early afternoon, a policeman in Ferguson, Missouri, shot him multiple times and killed him, even though he was not armed. Reportedly, his uncovered corpse was left in the street for four hours. There are conflicting versions of what happened, with the police saying there was a struggle for an officer’s weapon and witnesses saying the black teenager was shot while he was running away, frightened, with his hands in the air.

Senator Claire McCaskill said she was praying that the “God-loving people of Ferguson will find peace and patience as we wait for the results of what will be numerous and thorough investigations of what happened.” Senator Roy Blunt said that Michael Brown’s “recent high school graduation should have been a beginning of better things. 

Ferguson, population 21,000, is part of greater St. Louis, and advertises that it is, “Proud to be a Playful City USA community!” Last night there was nothing playful about the rioting and looting that went on during what was supposed to be a consciousness-raising vigil for the dead young man, who was on his way to his grandmother’s house when he was killed. During tFerguson QuickTrip lootedhe mayhem, a couple of policemen were injured, one after a brick was thrown at him, and many police cars were damaged. Shots were fired at officers and at a police helicopter, though apparently all missed their targets. There have been 32 arrests so far, with more on the way, according to police.

The mayor of Ferguson and its police chief said they were sure the rioters and looters were not from Ferguson, but came from other communities just to take advantage of the situation. Many local residents who were there said the same thing, and most of those interviewed by reporters were appalled at how the night developed, as USA Today reported:

 “Most came here for a peaceful protest but it takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch,” said Deanel Trout, 53, who has lived in Ferguson for 14 years. “I can understand the anger and unrest, but I can’t understand the violence and looting.”

And that is exactly right. Anger and unrest may be appropriate, but violence and looting never is. And that is the problem with this situation. People will tend to focus on the latter as an excuse to ignore the underlying causes of the former. In so many communities, black people have a sense that the lives of their children don’t matter all that much to the aRiot breaks out, store looteduthorities, whether those authorities be police officers or politicians. And in some more dire situations, the children themselves don’t see much point in participating in a civilization that they believe not only ignores their interests, but is outright hostile to them. CNN caught a local cop on camera yelling at protesters in Ferguson: “Bring it, you fucking animals! Bring it!”

According to the Aisha Sultan of the St. Louis Post Dispatch,

Ferguson…is an inner-ring suburb, a place where it’s easy for the economic recovery to bypass the poor. It’s a city of 6 square miles, about 10 miles north of downtown. About two-thirds of the residents are African-American. The median income is $37,000, roughly $10,000 less than the state average. Nearly a quarter of residents live below the poverty level, compared with 15 percent statewide.

It’s part of north St. Louis county, where whites left en masse beginning in the 1960s, creating one of the most extreme cases of “white flight” in the country. But many who remained in power are still white, including much of the law enforcement. A local lawyer said whenever she goes into the North County courthouse all the defendants are always black, the cops always white.

Sultan claims that,

The most economically depressed and violence-torn parts of the city and county, predominantly black neighborhoods, are largely ignored by the civic establishment, unless to explain why the city’s high rank in violent crime isn’t an accurate depiction of the region.

Until we can tell our children — and ourselves — a more honest story about race in this region, we will be left with far worse tragedies to explain.

Hopefully, we will soon find out whether this killing was justified. For now, as Aisha Sultan points out,

For those who have been on the receiving end of disrespect, mistrust, suspicion or brutality, the impulse is to believe Brown was brutally gunned down.

For those who are fearful anytime they cross into the city limits, most likely only for a sporting event, the young man must have done something to “deserve” his fate. 

The FBI is opening an investigation of the shooting. Senator McCaskill said that Missourians “will not be satisfied until we have a complete and transparent understanding of all the facts and circumstances that led to this young man’s death.” Along with that, we need some kind of understanding of why it is that there exists in some American communities, whether it be Ferguson or elsewhere, a group of people who think that violence and looting are acceptable responses to real or perceived injustices. We need to figure out if listening to grievances and addressing the injustices will help reduce the violent responses.

We also need to know why it is, as American Progress points out, that, “1 in every 15 African American men and 1 in every 36 Hispanic men are incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men.” Or why it is that one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime,” and “African American women are three times more likely than white women to be incarcerated, while Hispanic women are 69 percent more likely than white women to be incarcerated.”

And on and on. There is much to know and understand. Including why it is that a lot of Americans think angry blacks protesting the killing of a teenager in Missouri are thugs and angry whites threatening federal officers on a ranch in Nevada are patriots.

You have probably heard of one of Ferguson’s most famous citizens, Grammy Award winner Michael McDonald, who was born and raised there. McDonald sang a lot of hits for The Doobie Brothers, and, ironically, the first hit he had with that band was one he wrote, Takin’ It To The Streets:

You don’t know me but I’m your brother
I was raised here in this living Hell
You don’t know my kind in your world
Fairly soon, the time will tell

You, telling me the things you’re gonna do for me
I ain’t blind and I don’t like what I think I see

Takin’ it to the streets
Takin’ it to the streets
Takin’ it to the streets

Take this message to my brother
You will find him everywhere
Wherever people live together
Tied in poverty’s despair

You, telling me the things you’re gonna do for me
I ain’t blind and I don’t like what I think I see

Takin’ it to the streets

[Photos: top, from a posting on Facebook; riot photos, from stltoday.com; Doobies, Warner Brothers]

Conservative Pundits: Our G-dropping President Is Too Callow For The Job

More than a week ago, President Obama was here in Missouri, in Kansas City. He gave a great speech to a packed house at the old Uptown Theater. The ending, where the President said he did not “believe in a cynical America” but “in an optimistic America that is making progress,” was typical Obama. After all the difficult years in office, after all the foreign and domestic crises, after ten thousand shivs of disrespect from resentful Republicans have been buried in his back, he still bleeds hope. He still resists the temptation of cynicism. He still believes in the country’s future.

But it was a lighter moment during the speech in KC that received most of the attention:

So some of the things we’re doing without Congress are making a difference, but we could do so much more if Congress would just come on and help out a little bit.  (Applause.)  Just come on.  Come on and help out a little bit.  Stop bein’ mad all the time.  (Applause.)  Stop just hatin’ all the time.  Come on.  (Applause.)  Let’s get some work done together.  (Applause.)   

They did pass this workforce training act, and it was bipartisan.  There were Republicans and Democrats, and everybody was all pleased.  They came, we had a bill signing, and they were all in their suits.  I said, doesn’t this feel good?  (Laughter.)  We’re doing something.  It’s like, useful.  Nobody is shouting at each other.  (Laughter.)  It was really nice.  I said, let’s do this again.  Let’s do it more often.  (Applause.) 

I know they’re not that happy that I’m President, but that’s okay.  (Laughter.)  Come on.  I’ve only got a couple of years left.  Come on, let’s get some work done.  Then you can be mad at the next President. 

He then makes fun of Republicans for deciding to sue him “for doing my job.” Clearly, he was having a good time, even though he used the playful bit to make a more serious point:

I want Congress to do its job and make life a little better for the Americans who sent them there in the first place. 

That Kansas City speech has now caused two different conservative pundits to reach into their bag of stupid and pull out a column. First it was Peggy Noonan, who used to write eloquent speeches for Ronald Reagan. These days her eloquence has either been murdered or died of natural causes. In its place we have the following racially-infected pap she wrote about President Obama making our “divisions deeper” by doing what he did in Kansas City:

He shouldn’t be out there dropping his g’s, slouching around a podium, complaining about his ill treatment, describing his opponents with disdain: “Stop just hatin’ all the time.”

Now, you can search that Kansas City speech from now until Osama bin Laden comes back from his midnight swim and you won’t find the slightest bit of “disdain” for his opponents. What you will find is a speech full of justifiable criticism of Republicans in Congress, which most on the right, reflecting their own feelings for Obama, necessarily interpret as disdain. All of the disdain is and always has been on the other side, as any honest observer of the Obama presidency can tell you.

Conservatives don’t like this man. They never have. They never will. They have utterly—utterly—despised him from the beginning. He can’t even have a little fun with them without right-wing pundits impregnating it with some kind of negative historical significance. Talk about your cynicism. Obama “dropping his g’s” and “slouching around” means, apparently, that we have an illiterate street thug in the White’s House purposely pissing off the real owners.

Then comes Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review and an opinion columnist for Politico. His most recent column was titled, “The Callow President.” Before we go on, I will supply you with a handy definition of “callow” from Merriam-Webster:

—used to describe a young person who does not have much experience and does not know how to behave the way adults behave

From that I think you can see where little Richie is going: back to that Kansas City speech. Lowry begins his column this way:

“Stop just hatin’ all the time.” If you haven’t been following the news, you might not know whether this bon mot was uttered by a character on the ABC Family show “Pretty Little Liars” or by the president of the United States.

Of course, it was the leader of the free world at a Kansas City rally last week, imploring congressional Republicans to start cooperating with him. The line struck a characteristically — and tellingly — juvenile and plaintive note.

Lowry next tells us how “certainly true” it is that Obama is a lefty who won’t admit to it, then he writes something that he no doubt thought was a brilliant insight into the mind of our first black president:

the deepest truth about Obama is that there is no depth. He’s smart without being wise. He’s glib without being eloquent. He’s a celebrity without being interesting. He’s callow.

In one column, Lowry disavows all that conservatives have told us about Obama for five or six years: that he is cleverly crafting a plot to undermine and then destroy the country as we know it; that he wants to transform America into Amerika or into some kind of socialist paradise. Now we find out that he isn’t capable of such a thing, that there is no depth to him. He is simply a boy in a man’s job. “The notion that Obama might be a grand historical figure was always an illusion,” says the same guy who, after Sarah Palin’s lackluster debate with Joe Biden in 2008, gushed like a masturbation-ready teenager:

I’m sure I’m not the only male in America who, when Palin dropped her first wink, sat up a little straighter on the couch and said, “Hey, I think she just winked at me.” And her smile. By the end, when she clearly knew she was doing well, it was so sparkling it was almost mesmerizing. It sent little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America. 

Whether he was mesmerized by the sparkling smile on the face of a quasi-vacuous Sarah Palin, whether he was hit in the head and knocked unconscious by little ricocheting starbursts, it is clear that the writer of that disturbing prose, one Rich Lowry, should never, never, never, never, never pretend he knows anything about grand historical figures, even if he, and Peggy Noonan, know a great deal about illusions.

[photos: White House]
____________________________

Real Grounds For Impeachment

When asked a question yesterday about the “untested and unapproved drug” that was given to those two unfortunate American missionaries who were infected with Ebola, President Obama offered up what is certainly, to the goodly and godly number of science-haters in the Tea Party-controlled House, real grounds for his impeachment. He answered:

I think we’ve got to let the science guide us.

How dare he say something so ridiculous, so secular, so anti-God. Let the science guide us? Please. Why would we do that when we have Donald Trump, former front-running Republican presidential candidate, to lead the way? Last week Trump tweeted—with the confidence he always possesses, especially when he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—the following:

The U.S. cannot allow EBOLA infected people back. People that go to far away places to help out are great-but must suffer the consequences!

Take that, you Jesus-loving do-gooders!

Despite Trump’s insistence that Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol stay in West Africa, they didn’t. They’re here, as everyone now knows. And the experimental drug they were given seems to be working, although no one can be sure that their improving health is due to the drug or due to something else, like, say, prayer. Dr. Brantly’s wife released a statement on July 31st that included the following:

Thank you to our good friends and thousands more who have been in constant prayer and fasting for Kent’s deliverance from this disease.

Franklin Graham, who runs Samaritan’s Purse, the missionary group for whom Dr. Brantly was working, said this:

Please keep praying and thank God for all He is doing.

So, was it that science-birthed, government-funded experimental drug that improved the situation, or was it prayer and fasting? Here is an excerpt from a CNN article:

Within an hour of receiving the medication, Brantly’s condition dramatically improved. He began breathing easier; the rash over his trunk faded away. One of his doctors described the events as “miraculous.”

By the next morning, Brantly was able to take a shower on his own before getting on a specially designed Gulfstream air ambulance jet to be evacuated to the United States.

Writebol also received a vial of the medication. Her response was not as remarkable, according to sources familiar with the treatment. However, doctors on Sunday administered Writebol a second dose of the medication, which resulted in significant improvement.

She was stable enough to be evacuated back to the United States.

By that account, it appears it was science that came to the rescue in these cases. Unless, of course, God decided to act at the same time the drug was administered. No one, not even the greatest atheist-scientist in the world, can actually rule out that possibility. It could very well be the case that God, for whatever divine reason, purposely waited to do something for his two servants until that experimental drug could be delivered to them. It’s possible.

But it ain’t likely.

In fact, it is a good bet, an overwhelmingly good bet, that if the government hadn’t forked over some cash to fund scientific research into Ebola treatments (the private sector finding no profit in it and, thus, no real interest), then Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol would likely be dead. And they would likely be dead even if all 7 billion of us fasted and beseeched God, Allah, or Donald Trump to do something about it. The little “t” truth is, as far as enhancing our personal and collective well-being goes, science is really all we have. We can profess our faith in God and beat his door down in prayer, but when it comes down to it, when we are in need, like those two missionaries were in need, our faith in science is what matters most. And, as President Obama said, it should be our guide, even if saying so might get him impeached.

And speaking of impeachment, maybe it is time to impeach (read: “call to account”) God himself.

I want to share with you an article written by Greta Christina for AlterNet (also published on Salon.com). Her piece (“Why You Can’t Reconcile God and Evolution”) is not an attack on “extreme, fundamentalist, science-rejecting” believers. Anyone with an eighth-grade education and a slightly open mind can dope-slap those folks. Instead, Christina addresses “progressive and moderate religious believers” who say, “Of course I believe in evolution. And I believe in God, too. I believe that evolution is how God created life.”

She presents four big reasons why that position is “untenable,” why it “is rife with both internal contradictions and denial of the evidence.” I will leave it to you to read her entire argument, which functions as articles of impeachment against the Almighty, but I did want to offer you here an excerpt from the piece, a part of it that comes from what science, our only real way of knowing things, has discovered. She is arguing that there is “a whole lot of evidence against” the idea that God is the designer of the life we know and then off she goes with a list of design flaws:

Sinuses. Blind spots. External testicles. Backs and knees and feet shoddily warped into service for bipedal animals. Human birth canals barely wide enough to let the baby’s skull pass — and human babies born essentially premature, because if they stayed in utero any longer they’d kill their mothers coming out (which they sometimes do anyway). Wind pipes and food pipes in close proximity, leading to a great risk of choking to death when we eat. Impacted wisdom teeth, because our jaws are too small for all our teeth. Eyes wired backwards and upside-down. The vagus nerve, wandering all over hell and gone before it gets where it’s going. The vas deferens, ditto. Brains wired with imprecise language, flawed memory, fragile mental health, shoddy cost-benefit analysis, poor understanding of probability, and a strong tendency to prioritize immediate satisfaction over long-term gain. Birth defects. 15-20% of confirmed pregnancies ending in miscarriage (and that’s just confirmed pegnancies — about 30% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, and as many as 75% of all conceptions miscarry).

And that’s just humans. Outside the human race, you’ve got giraffes with a vagus nerve traveling ten to fifteen feet out of its way to get where it’s going. You’ve got sea mammals with lungs but no gills. You’ve got male spiders depositing their sperm into a web, siphoning it up with a different appendage, and only then inseminating their mates — because their inseminating appendage isn’t connected to their sperm factory. (To wrap your mind around this: Imagine that humans had penises on their foreheads, and to reproduce they squirted semen from their testes onto a table, picked up the semen with their head-penises, and then had sex.) You’ve got kangaroo molars, which wear out and get replaced — but only four times, after which the animals starve to death. You’ve got digger wasps laying their eggs in the living bodies of caterpillars — and stinging said caterpillars to paralyze them but not kill them, so the caterpillars die a slow death and can nourish the wasps’ larvae with their living bodies.

You’re going to look at all this, and tell me it was engineered this way on purpose?

That’s a fair question. And it is also a fair question to ask why God—to whom millions earnestly prayed in hopes that he would deliver Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol from the ravages of Ebola—engineered, or allowed to come into existence, such a nasty and deadly virus in the first place.

Blind Eye

“It’s high time folks started calling out the Democrats for their racial appeals.”

—Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks, of, uh, Alabama

For years now I have written about white angst, about how, especially in the age of Obama, white folks have gone politically berserk over the prospect of the tanning of American demographics. That angst, I have argued, helps explain the energy of the various Tea Party insurgencies, animated by, as I like to put it, fear of the Scary Negro in the White’s House.

Finally, some whiter-than-the-wind-driven-snow Tea Party Republican in Congress, Rep. Mo Brooks—who came to the House in that infamous and game-changing 2010 election—has just come right out and said it: Democrats are waging a “war on whites.” And, of course, this war is being led by un-snowy Barack Obama, winner of two national elections in which, the pale Alabama congressman claims, the winner engaged in a strategy of dividing the American electorate by “race” and “sex” and “greed” and “envy” and “class warfare” and “all those kinds of things.”

Republicans, obviously, have had nothing to do with dividing the country by race (ignore them claiming that the impeachable Barack Obama is an illegitimate president who may or may not have been born on the Dark—having nothing to do with his complexion—Continent, and ignore them legislating that pigmented kids from Central America need to exit this Jesus-blessed land pronto) or sex (ignore them demanding that the government probe vaginas before women earn their constitutionally-protected reproductive rights) or greed (ignore them running offense for Wall Street quintillionaires) or envy (ignore them arguing that Democratic voters covet the wealthy’s dough) or class warfare (ignore them insisting that if you’re not rich, you didn’t work hard enough). Yep. If you look through your blind eye, you can see that Republicans had nothing to do with dividing Americans.

Speaking of blind eyes, The Nation’s Mychal Denzel Smith points out a part of Mo Brooks’ commentary that many have overlooked. About the immigration issue, Brooks, who told Chris Hayes last Friday that he wants all of the millions of undocumented immigrants deported, said on Monday:

It doesn’t make any difference if you’re a white American, a black American, a Hispanic American, an Asian-American or if you’re a woman or a man. Every single demographic group is hurt by falling wages and lost jobs. Democrats, they have to demagogue on this and try and turn it into a racial issue, which is an emotional issue, rather than a thoughtful issue. If it becomes a thoughtful issue, then we win and we win big. And they lose and they lose big.

Smith writes:

It’s the type of language used to dismiss the real-world concerns of those of us who live on the oppressed side of racism in America. Our issues aren’t considered serious intellectual questions but emotional reactions that are to be dealt with personally. But any discussion of jobs and wages that doesn’t consider race (or gender) is intellectually dishonest. To pretend there are not groups of people who are disproportionately disadvantaged under our current economic model and that our ongoing legacy of racism and white supremacy are not contributing factors means you are not actually looking for solutions. You’re turning the same blind eye that has allowed the suffering in the first place.

Idiomatically, the phrase “turn a blind eye” means to deliberately ignore something or pretend not to see it. This is what Republicans are trying to ignore or pretend they don’t see:

And the blind eye doesn’t see the following numbers, including from Mo Brooks’ Alabama and my own state of Missouri:

POVERTY RATE BY RACE AND ETHNICITY 2011 1012

Yes, as you can see with your good eye, Democrats are waging quite a war on whites.

 

How To Feed The Monster In Gaza

Given how far out on a limb I went recently (here and here) to explain how there is no moral equivalence between Hamas and Israel’s general response to Hamas, I must present this lede from  The New York Times:

JABALIYA, Gaza Strip — An examination of an Israeli barrage that put a line of at least 10 shells through a United Nations school sheltering displaced Palestinians here last week suggests that Israeli troops paid little heed to warnings to safeguard such sites and may have unleashed weapons inappropriate for urban areas despite rising alarm over civilian deaths.

As the story relates, all the evidence points to Israeli troops using imprecise heavy artillery in a densely populated area. And the Times makes clear that Israel, so far, has not made a case that the heavy artillery used in this attack was justified because of “the enew york times photo and captionnemy’s insistence on operating near shelters and other humanitarian sites that endangers civilians.” Nor has the attack yet been justified by claiming Israeli troops were “under great or imminent risk” at the time they allegedly fired the heavy artillery.

What we know for sure is that the July 30th attack “killed 21 people at the school,” which is in a “crowded Jabaliya refugee camp.” We also know that:

Two shells slammed the roof of a second-story classroom filled with sleeping women and children, and one exploded in the school courtyard, where men were bowed in prayer among the eucalyptus trees.

The Israelis knew where this school was. A U.N. spokesman has said they were informed of its exact location 17 times. On the day of the attack, U.N. officials forwarded photographs of the munitions it found and details of the strike to Israel’s Coordination and Liaison Administration, which the Times describes as “the go-between for international organizations and the Israeli military.” The U.N. also has “a list of more than 3,000 potential witnesses, their identification numbers and contact information.” It seems past time for some detailed explanation, if not justification, from the Israelis. And while I will wait for the Israeli response, there seems to be no moral excuse for what happened, Hamas or no Hamas.

In fact, it is exactly these kinds of incidents that feed the Hamas monster.

Desperate Kids Should Not Be A Means To An End

“It’s not just about having a heart. It’s about having a soul. And the soul of our country is about respecting the dignity and worth of every person. The soul of our country is about giving every person access to rights who is in our country.”

Nancy Pelosi, discussing a House Republican bill to address the humanitarian crisis at the border

“We ought to say to these children, ‘Welcome to America. You’re going to go to school, get a job, and become Americans.'”

George Will, stumbling uncontrollably over a rock of compassion

wwhen I was attending church, many moons ago, a popular saying among the congregants, one designed to initiate spiritual self-examination, went something like this:

If Christianity were a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

If we ask the same thing of Americans as a people (roughly 80% of whom identify themselves as Christians of one variety or another), here is some evidence we might want to consider:

america not a christian nation

I think most of us would say that if Jesus were asked those questions, he would side with the kids. At least the Jesus I was first introduced to in Sunday School. But either Jesus has changed a lot since then, or the people who tote Bibles and quote scripture and demand cultural fealty to their version of the Word of God don’t much care what side Jesus would be on, when it comes to desperate children from Central America.

And the people most likely to tote Bibles and quote verses and fashion public policy based on Iron Age ignorance—that is, Republicans—are also the ones most likely to turn against Jesus and the kids:

The responses expose a partisan rift, with 70 percent of Republicans saying Central American children should not be treated as refugees compared with 62 percent of Democrats who believe they should. On whether the United States has an obligation to accept people fleeing violence or political persecution, 66 percent of Republicans say it does not and 57 percent of Democrats say it does.

For a party that wears its Christianity on its sleeve, if not in its heart, that’s a pretty damning indictment. I guess the migrant children should thank God, first for that majority of Democrats, and then for that 30% or so of Republicans who take their Christianity, not to mention their American values, seriously. But maybe I’m being too hard on the folks in that particular poll. Perhaps average people, even average Republicans, shouldn’t be expected to think through these kinds of issues with Jesuitical precision.

But Paul Ryan, who is not an average person, should.

Ryan, who is a Roman Catholic with a reputation for Big Ideas, appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press this past weekend and he was asked the following question about the kids who have come here from Central America:

DAVID GREGORY: Do you think these children and others, tens of thousands of them, should be sent back home?

REP. PAUL RYAN: Yes, I do. Otherwise the humanitarian crisis will continue. Otherwise families in countries far away, on the other side of Mexico, will be giving thousands of dollars to traffickers to take their children over the border and the humanitarian crisis will get worse…

That kind of thinking is fairly prevalent on the right (some Democrats, at one time including President Obama, have expressed a similar idea, too, but few do so today, and Obama is tinkering with a much better idea). Just this morning I matt salmon on msnbcheard another tightfisted Tea Party congressman, Matt Salmon of Arizona (who seriously argued in 1999 that Ronald Reagan’s mug should be carved into Mount Rushmore!), say that he believes,

…the most effective deterrent would be to immediately repatriate those children back to their homes and reunite them in their countries with their families, and that’s what we’re planning to do…and it costs less money to actually move the children back home and bolster the border than it does to indefinitely put them up in the United States while they wait for a trial three to five years from now.

You can see how the concern is not immediately with the children who are here, but with sending a message to people who may come here sometime in the future. And while we all ought to be concerned about the dangerous conditions under which these folks travel to America, and while we all ought to be concerned about the deplorable conditions that exist in their home countries, conditions that drive them to seek refuge in the United States, we cannot ignore the duty we have toward the kids who are here, the duty we have to honor our own laws and the values behind them, and the duty we have to justice itself.

Those who are seeking to send the children back as soon as possible are really, quite cynically and deplorably in my view, using the kids as messengers to send a very stern and un-American message to other desperate people: you are not welcome here. They are using weary and frightened kids as a means to an end. And even if the end was somehow justified, even if the message was less harsh, even if the message was “don’t make the journey because it is dangerous and ultimately pointless,” using the children who are already here to send that message would be immoral and un-American, not to say ungodly.

 

A Reader’s Response to “We Are All Living In Israel”

Related to my piece, “We Are All Living In Israel,” I received the following comment from a very bright and thoughtful reader of this blog:

Yikes and Wow! I have to call “horseshit” on you, Duane. Israel has not honored its commitment to allowing a Palestinian state. Ever. It continues to encroach on the ever-shrinking Palestinian territory. Much of the area in uninhabitable due to the devastation by Israeli bombing. More illegal Israeli settlements are being built in the West Bank with impunity for the right wing zealots who build them. The West doesn’t give a shit. Israel receives empty chidings, but nothing with teeth since Eisenhower. Is Hamas disgusting? Most certainly, but you just spent a number of paragraphs giving Israel the same free pass to butcher and destroy and suffocate Palestine as they brutally see fit — with no need for them to be honest brokers for peace or fairness. A plague on both their houses: Hamas and Likud. You surprise me, sir.

My response is lengthy, but this is a complicated subject:

____________________________________

Ah, my friend. You surprise me, too.

You wrote:

Is Hamas disgusting? Most certainly, but you just spent a number of paragraphs giving Israel the same free pass to butcher and destroy and suffocate Palestine as they brutally see fit — with no need for them to be honest brokers for peace or fairness.

What surprises me is your claim that I have given Israel a “free pass to butcher and destroy and suffocate Palestine as they brutally see fit.” I guess I should begin by asking you to specifically cite a sentence or a paragraph that led you to make that claim. Obviously, since you have read other things I have written, you must know I would never offer a free pass to anyone to do such things. So, I am a bit perplexed as to how you could say such a thing, especially given the nature of the moral argument being made in this piece.

In any case, I will respond this way:

The question I asked was: Should the Israelis be losing the current PR war with Hamas? In other words, do they deserve to be condemned over and above Hamas for what has been happening? And the answer, at least to me, is they shouldn’t be. That’s not to say (and I mentioned this) that the Israelis are historically blameless in this context. If you read Harris’ piece, you will notice that he mentioned “war crimes” on the part of the Israelis. I didn’t go that far because a war crime charge would require a whole legal argument I didn’t want to take the time to make. But I did write this:

Sure, there are bad actors in Israel. Sure, Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli Defense Forces have much to answer for. Sure, any solution to the problem between Jews and Arabs is not enhanced by killing civilians in Gaza. I have several times criticized Israeli actions regarding their dealings with Palestinians.

I said all that because I wanted to make clear that the Israelis (Israeli leadership and those who call themselves settlers, to be precise) have often behaved badly and the Palestinian people have suffered because of that behavior. The problem is that this piece wasn’t about this or that bad behavior on the part of the Israelis in times past. Most of us know that they have done things that deserve condemnation (just like Americans and Europeans), which I have written about (especially regarding the settlement issue). But this piece was about whether the Israelis, compared to Hamas, deserved our “larger” moral condemnation for their response to recent missile attacks. For the reasons I stated, I don’t think so. Here is more explanation:

Most Jews in Israel don’t want to turn Gaza or the West Bank into a Jewish state (which is where the settlement issue comes in; some Jews, with right-wing Jewish leadership in charge, have been, borrowing your word, encroaching on Palestinian lands, a situation that must be rolled back before any real peace is possible; right now 500,000 “settlers” live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem). And there is no charter guiding Israeli officials that explicitly or implicitly states that the Gaza Strip and the West Bank belong to the Jews and all Arabs should be removed. In fact, the Israelis could have, if they had wanted, kept all the land and forced all of the Palestinians to leave (they did, after all, occupy Gaza for 38 years). But they didn’t for reasons that support my claim: they share the same values as most Westerners, even if, like us, they don’t always live up to them.

In fact, a majority of Israelis support a two-state solution (even if Netanyahu doesn’t or thinks one is “impossible”), although a disturbing number of them (maybe a fourth) would tolerate an apartheid state. Call that the Israeli Tea Party. The fact remains that most Israelis aren’t religious radicals that see Palestinians as targets for destruction, even if the oppression of Arabs in Palestinian territory is itself a gross injustice (and, practically speaking, stupid) and a continual source of problems. I could list several actions by the Israelis that deserve our stern judgment, but none of them have at their base an open disdain for Western values (again, even if they often fall short, as in the rush to settle as much Arab land as possible).

Now, look at Hamas, to which this comparison was made. You said the organization is “most certainly” disgusting. Then you move right on. I find people on your side do that a lot. They readily admit how awful Hamas is just before they begin a long list of Israeli atrocities. Usually the criticism is in the form of (as John Judis wrote) “There is no moral justification for Hamas firing rockets against Israeli cities, but…” They tend to ignore the depth of depravity, most of it buttressed by fundamentalist Islamic nonsense, that characterizes Hamas’ long-term strategy. Let’s begin with its charter or “covenant,” made “In the Name of the Most Merciful Allah.” In its preamble it says:

Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.

I could stop there and my moral point about Hamas would be made, in terms of any comparison with Israeli retaliation. The Jews have no such guiding document that uses obliteration of Arabs or Muslims as its main principle. Their response to Hamas is based on the principle of self defense, whatever you think of the proportionality of the response. But I won’t stop with the charter’s preamble. Look at Article Eight, defining the slogan of Hamas:

Allah is its target, the Prophet is its model, the Koran its constitution: Jihad is its path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of its wishes.

“Death for the sake of Allah” isn’t just a noble thing to these people. It is “the loftiest” of Hamas’ wishes. I find that disturbing and there is nothing comparable on the other side. Nothing. Absorbing this kind of thinking is what leads Hamas leaders to get women and children to die in Israeli strikes so as to bring condemnation on the Israelis from world players. That’s what Harris meant by the Jews being “brutalized” by the process, “largely due to the character of their enemies.” It isn’t a pretty thing to admit, but your enemies can drive you to some pretty questionable things, like attacking Hamas targets among civilians, which is part of Hamas’ strategy to win hearts and minds. But such Israeli actions, questionable as they might be, are not on the same moral plane as putting the women and children there to be killed in the first place, or encouraging them to get killed or blow themselves up in the name of Allah. That is what Harris (and I) are trying to say. Yes, the Israelis have done things that no nation should be proud of, but when you are living beside a group of people who officially will your national destruction, and who send suicide bombers into your cities to kill innocents, and who indiscriminately fire missiles at your citizens, then you have a right to respond. We can make moral judgments about the proportion of the response, but that judgment ought to include a thorough understanding of the nature of the enemy the Jews are facing.

And I guess that is where we differ. I can’t get passed the explicit objective of Hamas and other radical Islamic groups and the immoral means they are willing to employ to achieve it. There is nothing morally comparable to it on the Israeli side. Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal told Charlie Rose the other day:

We are not fanatics. We are not fundamentalists. We do not actually fight the Jews because they are Jews, per se. We do not fight any other races. We fight the occupiers.

The problem is that they are fanatics and fundamentalists. Their actions prove it. Their founding document proves it. And, as far as Hamas is concerned, the Jews have no rights at all to “occupy” any part of Palestine. In other words, just as Hamas’ charter states, an Israeli state is impossible to tolerate.

It took me a long time to come to the position I have. Over the years I have read thoughtful pieces on both sides of this moral debate and I admit that when I published this piece I knew it would provoke some to react the way you did. But I want everyone to understand that when we consider what is happening between Israel and Hamas, we are finally left with a “yes, but…” response to the position of both sides. I finally came down where I did because I imagined myself both in the shoes of an average Palestinian, living in a land literally choked off from the rest of the world, and an average Israeli citizen, living in a city that has sustained missile and suicide bomber attacks.

I think I can understand why some Palestinians might resort to violence in the face of the oppression they experience. But I can never understand why a group of people, fighting for a tiny slice of real estate, think that it is okay, in the name of Allah or any other “merciful” being, to kill innocents and have innocents killed to achieve a goal they will never—never ever—achieve. I would hope that, as a Palestinian, I would not only be smarter than that, but more moral than that.

So, as far as the moral case over the recent Israeli response is concerned, I come down on the side of the Israelis (at least as of early this morning; I am willing to admit things could get worse and my future opinion could change), even though, as an average Israeli citizen, I might understand that my government has not always comported itself well in relations with the Palestinians, and I might admit that actions like allowing Jews to settle in Arab lands is a roadblock to peace, as is the harshness of the blockade of Gaza. Because when I look at that Hamas charter and its calling for the obliteration of Israel, when I realize that these terrorists are truly willing to sacrifice innocents on both sides in the name of an Iron Age deity, I realize that it would be immoral not to act, immoral not to fight back, immoral not to defend the citizenry as if the very existence of the nation depended on it.

Because ultimately it does.

Duane

“We Are All Living In Israel”

“[The Israelis] have been brutalized by this process—that is, made brutal by it. But that is largely due to the character of their enemies.”

—Sam Harris, “Why Don’t I Criticize Israel?”

We have all seen the news reports featuring Israeli jets dropping bombs on sites in Hamas-controlled Gaza, sometimes killing civilians. And we have seen Hamas-fired rockets falling on sites in Israel. We’ve heard confusing reports of cease fires and no cease fires. We’ve seen the United Nations plead for peace. We’ve seen the United States gaza deathsdo its best to calm things down. Just today we saw a strike on a park in Gaza near a hospital. Ten people were killed, nine of them children. Both sides blame the other and both sides are making truce demands that neither side can abide.

So, because we Americans like to keep moral score, who is to blame for what we have seen and heard?

There are about 8 million people living in Israel today, about ten times more than when the nation was founded in 1948 as a homeland for Jews, including European Jews fleeing the ravages of persecution. Of that 8 million, 75% are Jews and 21% are Arabs. In 1947 the United Nations recommended a plan to divvy up territory in a way that would hopefully make everyone happy, but most Arab leaders—Arabs were actually in the majority at the time—rejected the offer, seeing the move as another attempt by Europeans to do what they were good at: colonize. The fighting soon began.

And it has continued.

After spending some time, years ago, studying Judaism, I discovered that most people who today identify themselves as Jews don’t do so, thank God, because of any specific religious claims related to the veracity of the Hebrew Bible. Most Jews who live in Israel (the only nation in the world with a Jewish majority) are either openly secular or what I call “flexible” in their adherence to Judaism. These two groups constitute an overwhelming majority of the Jewish population and only a small minority (8% or so) are of the ultra-Orthodox variety we often think of when we think of outwardly observant, true-believing, extremist, sometimes radical, Jews. Because most people in Israel don’t have a religious ax to grind, they would gladly live peacefully alongside Arabs, most of them Muslim. Problem is that many Arab Muslims, with guns and rockets and a radical understanding of the Quran, don’t want to live peacefully with the Israelis.

One of the leading groups of Israeli-hating Arab Muslims is Hamas, a political and military organization that is considered a terrorist group by the United States and Israel and other Western nations. A child of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas was founded in 1987 in order to do what other Arabs could not do: boot out the Jews and establish an Islamic state. To this end, Hamas, which won a majority in the Palestinian Parliament via a democratic election, has attacked both military and civilian targets in Israel, sometimes using suicide bombers. In the present fight, they have encouraged civilians in Gaza to challenge Israeli attacks “with their bare chests.” In other words, Hamas has no problem with civilians, including women and children, dying for its larger cause. Hamas leaders have stored rockets in schools and, according to the Israelis and other sources, placed missile batteries in residential neighborhoods. I will soon get back to this point.

As for the Israelis, several of their attacks have seemed to be out of proportion to the injuries inflicted upon them. And they are certainly losing the PR war because of it. But should they? Let’s start with a point that Sam Harris makes (the bracketed “Note” is from Harris):

One of the most galling things for outside observers about the current war in Gaza is the disproportionate loss of life on the Palestinian side. This doesn’t make a lot of moral sense. Israel built bomb shelters to protect its citizens. The Palestinians built tunnels through which they could carry out terror attacks and kidnap Israelis. Should Israel be blamed for successfully protecting its population in a defensive war? I don’t think so. [Note: I was not suggesting that the deaths of Palestinian noncombatants are anything less than tragic. But if retaliating against Hamas is bound to get innocents killed, and the Israelis manage to protect their own civilians in the meantime, the loss of innocent life on the Palestinian side is guaranteed to be disproportionate.]

Harris speaks of  “a kind of moral illusion,” when it comes to people blaming “Israel for killing and maiming babies” and “for making Gaza a prison camp.” He writes:

The truth is that there is an obvious, undeniable, and hugely consequential moral difference between Israel and her enemies. The Israelis are surrounded by people who have explicitly genocidal intentions towards them. The charter of Hamas is explicitly genocidal. It looks forward to a time, based on Koranic prophesy, when the earth itself will cry out for Jewish blood, where the trees and the stones will say “O Muslim, there’s a Jew hiding behind me. Come and kill him.” This is a political document. We are talking about a government that was voted into power by a majority of the Palestinians. [Note: Yes, I know that not every Palestinian supports Hamas, but enough do to have brought them to power. Hamas is not a fringe group.]

The discourse in the Muslim world about Jews is utterly shocking. Not only is there Holocaust denial—there’s Holocaust denial that then asserts that we will do it for real if given the chance. The only thing more obnoxious than denying the Holocaust is to say that it should have happened; it didn’t happen, but if we get the chance, we will accomplish it. There are children’s shows that teach five-year-olds about the glories of martyrdom and about the necessity of killing Jews.

All of that “gets to the heart of the moral difference between Israel and her enemies,” Harris says, and in order “to see this moral difference, you have to ask what each side would do if they had the power to do it.” Harris makes a point we often fail to consider, when we are thinking about this conflict:

 The Israeli army could kill everyone in Gaza tomorrow.

Even given that Harris is certainly overstating the case, the point is that the Israelis, if they wanted to, could wipe out much of the Arab population not only in Gaza, but the West Bank too. They could cause unfathomable destruction and death, if they had the will to do so. But they don’t. And getting back to the point about the use of civilians, they don’t use women and children as cover, a point that Harris hammers home with ferocity in a passage I will quote at length:

The truth is that everything you need to know about the moral imbalance between Israel and her enemies can be understood on the topic of human shields. Who uses human shields? Well, Hamas certainly does. They shoot their rockets from residential neighborhoods, from beside schools, and hospitals, and mosques. Muslims in other recent conflicts, in Iraq and elsewhere, have also used human shields. They have laid their rifles on the shoulders of their own children and shot from behind their bodies.

Consider the moral difference between using human shields and being deterred by them. That is the difference we’re talking about. The Israelis and other Western powers are deterred, however imperfectly, by the Muslim use of human shields in these conflicts, as we should be. It is morally abhorrent to kill noncombatants if you can avoid it. It’s certainly abhorrent to shoot through the bodies of children to get at your adversary. But take a moment to reflect on how contemptible this behavior is. And understand how cynical it is. The Muslims are acting on the assumption—the knowledge, in fact—that the infidels with whom they fight, the very people whom their religion does nothing but vilify, will be deterred by their use of Muslim human shields. They consider the Jews the spawn of apes and pigs—and yet they rely on the fact that they don’t want to kill Muslim noncombatants. [Note: The term “Muslims” in this paragraph means “Muslim combatants” of the sort that Western forces have encountered in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. The term “jihadists” would have been too narrow, but I was not suggesting that all Muslims support the use of human shields or are anti-Semitic, at war with the West, etc.]

Now imagine reversing the roles here. Imagine how fatuous—indeed comical it would be—for the Israelis to attempt to use human shields to deter the Palestinians. Some claim that they have already done this. There are reports that Israeli soldiers have occasionally put Palestinian civilians in front of them as they’ve advanced into dangerous areas. That’s not the use of human shields we’re talking about. It’s egregious behavior. No doubt it constitutes a war crime. But Imagine the Israelis holding up their own women and children as human shields. Of course, that would be ridiculous. The Palestinians are trying to kill everyone. Killing women and children is part of the plan. Reversing the roles here produces a grotesque Monty Python skit.

If you’re going to talk about the conflict in the Middle East, you have to acknowledge this difference. I don’t think there’s any ethical disparity to be found anywhere that is more shocking or consequential than this.

And the truth is, this isn’t even the worst that jihadists do. Hamas is practically a moderate organization, compared to other jihadist groups. There are Muslims who have blown themselves up in crowds of children—again, Muslim children—just to get at the American soldiers who were handing out candy to them. They have committed suicide bombings, only to send another bomber to the hospital to await the casualties—where they then blow up all the injured along with the doctors and nurses trying to save their lives.

Harris makes the additional point, one he has made in other contexts, that there is disproportionate outrage in the Muslim world and in liberal circles, when some offense, real or imagined, is committed against Islam or against a Muslim:

Every day that you could read about an Israeli rocket gone astray or Israeli soldiers beating up an innocent teenager, you could have read about ISIS in Iraq crucifying people on the side of the road, Christians and Muslims. Where is the outrage in the Muslim world and on the Left over these crimes? Where are the demonstrations, 10,000 or 100,000 deep, in the capitals of Europe against ISIS?  If Israel kills a dozen Palestinians by accident, the entire Muslim world is inflamed. God forbid you burn a Koran, or write a novel vaguely critical of the faith. And yet Muslims can destroy their own societies—and seek to destroy the West—and you don’t hear a peep.

If you are familiar with Sam Harris’ writings, you have heard his criticism of the larger “Muslim world” before, as well as his frustration with those on the left who fail to take seriously the threat of radical Islamists. And set in the context of this present Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he does seem to have a point. Sure, there are bad actors in Israel. Sure, Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli Defense Forces have much to answer for. Sure, any solution to the problem between Jews and Arabs is not enhanced by killing civilians in Gaza. I have several times criticized Israeli actions regarding their dealings with Palestinians. But in terms of a larger moral equivalency, there is no comparison between Israel and Hamas, or between Israel and other even more radical Muslim groups. As I said, most of Israeli society is not wedded to some Iron Age notion of religion. They don’t want to impose Judaism on the rest of the world. There is no correspondence between a nation mostly populated by secularists or flexible followers of a mild form of Judaism and a group of radicalized people who won’t quit until the land is Allah’s or until they, or their women and children, are dead.

Harris will have the last word:

What do groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda and even Hamas want? They want to impose their religious views on the rest of humanity. They want to stifle every freedom that decent, educated, secular people care about. This is not a trivial difference. And yet judging from the level of condemnation that Israel now receives, you would think the difference ran the other way.

This kind of confusion puts all of us in danger. This is the great story of our time. For the rest of our lives, and the lives of our children, we are going to be confronted by people who don’t want to live peacefully in a secular, pluralistic world, because they are desperate to get to Paradise, and they are willing to destroy the very possibility of human happiness along the way. The truth is, we are all living in Israel. It’s just that some of us haven’t realized it yet.

 

Never Let A Tragedy Go To Waste: The Ever Predictable Fox “News”

First there was the stupid and tacky tweets from a Fox “News” radio host and frequent contributor to the TV side of Fox’s propaganda machine. He somehow found the death of 295 people a perfect vehicle to exercise his hate-Obama muscles.

todd starnes tweetThen, this afternoon, even before the fires had gone out around pieces of that downed Malaysian airliner, Fox “News” Channel’s Gretchen Carlson, whose presence on TV is responsible for many dead and wounded Amerian IQs, interviewed someone billed as a political adviser to the Ukraine government.  His name was Tyler Harbor, someone I had never heard of. So, I searched the intertubes and found nothing there. Must be a new guy Fox found. In any case, for some reason Carlson thought him worthy of a segment to discuss what may have happened in Ukraine.

And, quite predictably, he put the blame on Obama. He said the tragedy was “almost” as much our fault as it was Putin’s. He said it didn’t matter to the Ukrainians whether the Russians or the Russian-backed separatists shot down the plane. It’s all the same to them. And we should have done something to stop what is going on there. Except, he said, folks in the Obama administration “really don’t want to help.”  And he told us that the United States used to be a leader and a world power until “this president” mucked it all up.

All in all, Mr. Harbor, whoever he is, was a perfect Fox guest. I’m sure he’ll be back on the air real soon.

Oh, I almost forgot. You’ll be happy to know that Mr. Harbor says that he doesn’t “necessarily” mean that we should put “boots on the ground” to fix the mess in Ukraine.

Not necessarily.

Oh, my.

Pundits, Politics, And Punters

It is always perilous to the mind to reckon up the mind.

—G. K. Chesterton, “Orthodoxy”

conservative columnist David Brooks went to a lot of trouble the other day explaining in The New York Times why it is that,

Most of us spend our days thinking we are playing baseball, but we are really playing soccer.

It seems everyone is anxious to get on the soccer bandwagon and exploit its growing popularity in America. Brooks, who still supports the Republican Party, uses the we-are-playing-soccer metaphor to, perhaps unintentionally, undermine the entire libertarianish economic platform of the party he still supports. He quotes philosopher Simon Critchley, who says, “Soccer is a collective game, a team game,” and by use of that definition, coupled with saying that most of us “are really playing soccer,” Brooks offers soccerbaseballus quite an indictment of his political party.

Yet there is no indication that Brooks will ever abandon the GOP, which these days abhors the very idea, notably expressed by President Obama and Elizabeth Warren, that success is a collaborative effort. Brooks appears content to side with folks who find “collective” a four-letter word. Why is that?

Even though I disagree with his use of soccer as the best metaphor for our social life—because baseball is the perfect combination of “individual activities” that conspire to create intricate collective-team dynamics—he is right about this:

We think we individually choose what career path to take, whom to socialize with, what views to hold. But, in fact, those decisions are shaped by the networks of people around us more than we dare recognize.

The reality may even be worse than Brooks dares recognize. And that reality may explain why it is that Brooks, despite the evidence in his own column(s), still carries ideological water for the Republican Party.

In a great piece at Vox (“How Politics Makes Us Stupid”), Ezra Klein will ruin your day if you think you arrived at your partisan political positions through rigorous and reasoned analysis of the available information:

Cutting-edge research shows that the more information partisans get, the deeper their disagreements become.

You should read Klein’s piece for yourself, but it based on the work of Yale Law professor Dan Kahan, who “set out to test a question that continuously puzzles scientists: why isn’t good evidence more effective in resolving political debates?” Kahan’s hypothesis:

Perhaps people aren’t held back by a lack of knowledge. After all, they don’t typically doubt the findings of oceanographers or the existence of other galaxies. Perhaps there are some kinds of debates where people don’t want to find the right answer so much as they want to win the argument. Perhaps humans reason for purposes other than finding the truth — purposes like increasing their standing in their community, or ensuring they don’t piss off the leaders of their tribe. If this hypothesis proved true, then a smarter, better-educated citizenry wouldn’t put an end to these disagreements. It would just mean the participants are better equipped to argue for their own side.

Of course, as with any social science hypothesis worth its weight in soccer balls, testing was needed. And that testing seems to have confirmed the idea that ideology trumps reason. Even people good at math, who had demonstrated that they could solve a non-ideological problem by working through the evidence to find the right answer, fell victim to their ideological and partisan biases. One test was set up to focus “on a proposal to ban people from carrying concealed handguns in public” and voilà:

Presented with this problem a funny thing happened: how good subjects were at math stopped predicting how well they did on the test. Now it was ideology that drove the answers. Liberals were extremely good at solving the problem when doing so proved that gun-control legislation reduced crime. But when presented with the version of the problem that suggested gun control had failed, their math skills stopped mattering. They tended to get the problem wrong no matter how good they were at math. Conservatives exhibited the same pattern — just in reverse.

It gets worse:

Being better at math didn’t just fail to help partisans converge on the right answer. It actually drove them further apart. Partisans with weak math skills were 25 percentage points likelier to get the answer right when it fit their ideology. Partisans with strong math skills were 45 percentage points likelier to get the answer right when it fit their ideology. The smarter the person is, the dumber politics can make them.

Consider how utterly insane that is: being better at math made partisans less likely to solve the problem correctly when solving the problem correctly meant betraying their political instincts. People weren’t reasoning to get the right answer; they were reasoning to get the answer that they wanted to be right.

All that does seem insane. But it helps explain why a New York Times columnist, smart enough to know better, is still a Republican.

Finally, since Brooks started it, I will finish with a sports analogy that one of his commenters (“Matt”) supplied that tells a better story of contemporary America:

…Life in America today is American football and the 99% are in punt formation. The .01% is a 300 pound lineman, the 99% is a 140 pound punter, the referee is the government and it’s decided not to enforce the roughing the punter rule. And when the punter, bleeding and hurt and on a stretcher, cries foul over not enforcing the rules, he’s hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for arguing with the referees.

Now that is a metaphor that all thinking people should, but obviously won’t, embrace.

blind ref

[Photo: REUTERS/Patrick Smith]

Why President Obama Doesn’t Want To Go To The Border

“President Obama has deported 2 million people, more than any other president in the history of the United States. That means that we as a community of immigrants are suffering. Every single day 1,100 people are deported.”

Carlos Rosa, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights

The Democratic Party, not to mention the country, has come to a moral fork in the road. And it is thanks to some desperate kids from Central America.

On Wednesday, it seemed—if you were watching cable news—the entire world was focused on whether President Obama would go to the Texas-Mexico border and see the crisis unfolding there. It really was a hot issue most of the day. Texas congressman and Democrat Henry Cuellar was quoted on nearly every program. He said,

It is a humanitarian crisis, and he can either do two things. One, as a leader, he can be defiant and say I’m going to roll up my sleeves and see the humanitarian crisis. Or he can look detached, appear detached and say I’m doing everything long distance.

I heard Illinois congressman Luis Gutiérrez say that President Obama should go down to border and wrap his arms around those Central American children. Later in the day, on CNN’s Crossfire, Gutiérrez appeared and was asked a very important question by left-leaning co-host Van Jones. Here’s the way Jones set up his question:

JONES: I do not understand why we haven’t heard Democrats much more passionate about the right of these young people to stay here.

In other words, when you’re fleeing a terrorism, when you’re talking about murders, kidnappings, rape, and children are flooding, not just into the United States but into every country in that region, and they say, “I want to get to America,” I think we should be proud of that. They’re not saying, “I want to go to China.” They’re saying they want to come here. 

But instead, what you hear is the White House saying, “Don’t worry. We’re going to get rid of these people.” Hillary Clinton: “Don’t worry. We’re going to get rid of these people.” Does that bother you? It bothers me.

GUTIERREZ: It does bother me. I wish the president of the United States were going down and visiting the children and visiting the site tonight.

Today, the great Charles Pierce published a piece titled, “Why Obama Must Go To The Border Immediately.” He wrote:

There is a massive and growing humanitarian crisis on our southern border. The president can’t be drinking a beer and shooting pool in Colorado, while laughing off the offer of a joint, while we’re rounding up unaccompanied obama shooting poolrefugee children and sticking them in Army camps. He wasn’t elected to be fundraiser-in-chief. He wasn’t elected even to be the leader of the Democratic party; that’s an honorific that comes with the day job. He was elected to lead the whole country, and it does the country no good to have him up there at a press conference, even telling the truth about the inexcusable dereliction of duty in the Congress and talking airily about how he wouldn’t participate in “theater.” That’s every bit as tone-deaf as anything his predecessor ever said on any subject. Henry Cuellar is absolutely right. This is politically idiotic and morally obtuse. And Joan Walsh is right. This is about more than “optics.” The simple fact that the president is declining to go to the border while Glenn Beck is on the way down there with hot meals and soccer balls is a prima facie abdication of responsibility. It’s also goddamn embarrassing.

Pierce finished with this:

Right now, and very soon, a child that has gone through hell and back to get here is going to look up one morning, and the face of America, the face of charity and, yes, the face of Hope and of Change in their lives, is not going to be Barack Obama. It’s going to be Glenn Beck. I am not comfortable with that at all. 

What person in their right mind would be comfortable with that?

I will tell you why I think President Obama, who has to know how bad it looks, will not go to the border and symbolically wrap his arms around those refugee-children: Because he does not want to look into the eyes of one single child who he is practically pledging to send back home, possibly a child who will end up dead within months of returning. That’s why he is so stubborn about going to the border. Our president is a father with kids of his own. We know he is a good and decent and caring man. We’ve seen that demonstrated, time and again. And we know that good and decent and caring people can’t look into the eyes of desperate kids and tell them, well, “Go back to the hell you came from.”

Van Jones asked the right question, at least the right question for Democrats. Does it bother us simply to say that most of those kids from Central America should be sent back home?

In his statement yesterday, the President said,

While we intend to do the right thing by these children, their parents need to know that this is an incredibly dangerous situation and it is unlikely that their children will be able to stay.  And I’ve asked parents across Central America not to put their children in harm’s way in this fashion.

It is unclear what doing the right thing by those children will actually mean by the time this present crisis has waned. But it seems clear that, to President Obama, doing the right thing 11999380734_6bedcb9c56_oby them will involve most of them going back to very dangerous and depressing places. especially those who have to go back to El Salvador and Honduras. Just how that is “the right thing” will be something Mr. Obama will have to account for at some point.

Think about it: If most of these children are sent home, we know that it is likely that at least one of them will soon after come to some harm, perhaps die a horrific death at the hands of gang members. And we will hear about it. Then Mr. Obama, who now champions sending them back home, will have to ask himself if he is glad he joined forces with Governor Rick Perry, and other Republicans who hate his presidential guts, and became the send-them-back champion.

The President said something yesterday that troubled me greatly, after I had time to think about it. Describing his discussion with Rick Perry, he said:

So the bottom line is, actually, that there’s nothing that the Governor indicated he’d like to see that I have a philosophical objection to.

Perhaps Governor Perry said something in private to President Obama that differs from what he has said publicly. Or perhaps it is the case that our Democratic President is in philosophical agreement with a far-right governor from Texas, who has gone out of his way on this issue to falsely accuse Obama of either incompetence or of some kind of conspiracy. If the President is truly in philosophical agreement—as opposed to political agreement born out of compromise—with people like Rick Perry, I am worried about the moral integrity of the Democratic Party.

Yesterday Tea Party Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson went on right-wing Newsmax TV, which then reported his remarks this way:

“I’ve gone online and have taken a look on Orbitz and taken a look at what does it cost to fly people to El Salvador and Guatemala and Honduras,” Johnson, a Republican, said. “You have fares as low as $207. There’s nonstop flights at $450.” 

“You take those numbers and it costs somewhere between $11 million and $30 million to return people in a very humane fashion,” Johnson said.

“We can put them up in a hotel room and make sure they get a shower and feed them,” he added. 

That’s right-wing, Christian compassion (Johnson is a member of the conservative Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod). It would be “very humane” to give them a room and a shower and some food before you necessarily ship them back to the misery they were trying to escape from. The report on Senator Johnson’s comments added:

Johnson said this would be “a far easier way of handling” the situation, and it would also “send the signal to the folks in Central America that you can’t come into America and expect to stay.”

How’s that much different from what President Obama said yesterday? He told us that part of his $3.7 billion emergency budget request to Congress involved retaining “some flexibility in terms of being able to preserve the due process rights of individuals who come in, but also to make sure that we’re sending a strong signal that they can’t simply show up at the border and automatically assume that they’re going to be absorbed.” Judging by the rhetoric coming from the White House lately (and from someone who wants to occupy the White House again), the emphasis is more on the “sending a strong signal” back to Central America than preserving “the due process rights” of desperate kids. And while I understand that thinking, I believe the emphasis should be the other way around. We can’t ignore the fact that the decision by parents to send their kids on a dangerous journey to the United States is often a rational one.

Earlier this week, speaking of the immigration issue as a whole, Luis Gutiérrez said:

Just as Republicans have said, ‘No, no, no,’ I expect the president to be broad, expansive and generous in the use of his prosecutorial discretion.

Yes. We all should expect President Obama to be broad, expansive and generous when it comes to this issue. You know why?

Because he is a Democrat.

______________________________

[Top photo from Customs and Border Protection; bottom photo from Jewel Samad/ AFP/Getty Images]
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