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.


“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]

Black Mass For A Red State

If you don’t have anything to do this September 21st, perhaps you can go to Oklahoma City (only 3 hours and 11 minutes from Joplin) to attend a special event:

black mass of oklahoma

As you can see, the Black Mass is being offered to curious Okies (or anyone willing to shell out 15 bucks) by Dakhma of Angra Mainyu, which “is a religious and educational church dedicated to Angra Mainyu (Ahriman).” Yeah, I know what you mean. I had never heard of the group or Angra Mainyu. I’ve since learned a little and guess what? Just like all things having to do with invisible or otherwise out-of-reach beings, it is complicated. For shorthand, just think of Satan or the Devil or, since we are talking about Oklahoma, Beelzebubba.

In any case, having an anti-sacramental Black Mass in Oklahoma City (albeit a more tame and legal version accompanied by a local band apparently known for its “dark, turbulent music”) is, as you might expect, not going over well with Christian folks. But a spokesman for the Civic Center Music Hall told a right-wing news outlet that,

since the center is a city-owned facility, the First Amendment of the United States Constitution does not allow us to turn away productions based on their content.

The Civic Center apparently has in the past hosted church services, as well as other “religious-themed events.” So, what’s it to ya if Satan gets in on the act, even if it is a sacrilegious act?

Well, some locals are quite upset. NewsOk pubished a piece (“Catholic archbishop decries plans for satanic Black Mass in Oklahoma City“) that began:

A local group has rented space in the Oklahoma City Civic Center for a satanic Black Mass, prompting Catholic Archbishop Paul Coakley to issue a statement questioning whether that is an appropriate use of public space.

“We’re astonished and grieved that the Civic Center would promote as entertainment and sell tickets for an event that is very transparently a blasphemous mockery of the Mass,” said Coakley, archbishop of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. “The ‘Black Mass’ that is scheduled for the Civic Center in September is a satanic inversion and distortion of the most sacred beliefs not only of Catholics, but of all Christians.”

Now, I find it amazing that the archbishop is worried about the “appropriate use of public space” when it comes to religion in Oklahoma, since I can’t find anything he might have uttered when a Ten Commandments monument was put up on Capitol grounds in Oklahoma City in 2012 (you may remember that the un-spell-checked monument featured, “Remember the Sabbeth day…”). I’m guessing Archbishop Coakley considered that monument appropriate use of public space, even though the ACLU didn’t and brought suit. Also, a group called Satanic Temple has built its own monument of the Devil (complete with stately goat’s head) and expects to have it sitting on the Capitol grounds real soon. Here’s what it looks like:

 A spokesman for Governor Mary Fallin said a couple of months ago:

There will never be a satanic monument on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol and the suggestion that there might be is absurd.

Obviously there is no good reason why that God-awful statue of the Devil shouldn’t sit on public grounds—if other, admittedly more popular, religious monuments are put there. This issue isn’t about popularity or heritage or any other excuse right-wingers have for stamping government with their religious seal of approval. It’s about, as Archbishop Coakley said, the appropriate use of public space. And it should not be appropriate to litter the devil in oklahoma citylawns around any Capitol building, in separation-of-church-and-state America, with monuments to religious belief—or unbelief.

As for that Black Mass at the Civic Center, Christians should get used to the idea that if we are going to open up our public venues for church services or other religion-inspired events—my old church held services for a while in a community college auditorium—then sometimes some folks who don’t much like Christianity might decide to go public, too.

I, for one, wish we would lock the doors to all public buildings, put “keep off the lawn” signs in all public spaces, when it comes to purely religious expressions. There are more than 320,000 churches in the United States—heck, Subway, the world’s biggest restaurant chain, only has around 26,000 stores!—and I ask: isn’t 320,000 churches (and 2100 mosques and 3700 synagogues) enough tax-exempt real estate on which to erect monuments and in which to hold religious services?

Christians Beware: A 10-Point Plan On Immigration Reform

Anson Burlingame responded to my last post, saying he was “frankly confused” about my position on “illegal immigration.” He asked if we should “just open the border and let’m all come in” or “try hard to stop the flow of such people across our southern border?” He also wrote:

You spent considerable time in this blog suggesting what Christ would do in this situation. Do you have a solid answer to that quest, Christ’s intentions regarding American policy toward immigration, or any other country, Christian or not in that regard? Or instead would you leave Christ and his teachings out of political discussions regarding immigration law in America?

Here is my reply:

First, let me be clear about one thing. I don’t believe any public policy ought to be fashioned based on the words of an ancient religious text, Christian or otherwise. We are, of course, partly a product of our past, and in our particular history Christianity played a very large part in shaping who we are culturally and nationally. Thus, in some important ways, we are still, as G. K. Chesterton put it, living in “the shadow of the faith” and I don’t doubt that many of the good things in our public policy sprang from some notion of Christian charity or morality.

That being said, our Constitution is a secular not a Christian document and, over time, we have (almost fully but not quite) embraced the idea that, when it comes to making our laws, religious sects should not be given any more deference than other groups of people. In fact, that idea is enshrined in the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”) for those with eyes to see it, with eyes not scaled over by religious dogma.

Second, my criticism is clearly directed toward those on the right who make certain claims about how this is a Christian nation, when, as I have said, it is obvious that this present humanitarian crisis demonstrates that we are not, never was, and were never meant to be. murrieta protestersKeep that in mind. I am not advocating that our immigration policy should be based on this or that interpretation of the New Testament or of the words of Jesus himself. What I have been doing is pointing out the hypocrisy of folks who claim they believe in the Bible, wave it in our faces and demand our government follow it, but ignore it when it says uncomfortable things like the following from the Old Testament:

The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.

Do you see anything in that scripture about treating those “foreigners” merely as lawbreakers? As illegals? “Love them as yourself,” the Bible says.

In the New Testament we have the claim that Jesus himself spent his early years in Egypt as what some Tea Party-ish Egyptians might have called an “illegal immigrant.” His parents brought him there, it is alleged, to escape a dangerous political regime in Palestine. Yet today we see countless people, many of them undoubtedly church-going Jesus-followers, ignoring Jesus when he says, “I was a stranger and you invited me in” and concluding,

…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

If any of those Central American children are not “one of the least of these,” then I don’t know who would be.

On this point I will add that I have been told all of my life that we are made in the “image of God,” as the Bible says. Such is supposedly why we are special creatures. I find it odd that the same people who believe the Bible is God’s Word, who presumably believe we are all created in God’s likeness, somehow see those seeking asylum here—even if they do so by crossing our border without documentation—as less than special creatures. More than odd, I find the hypocrisy appalling. According to the Apostle Paul, at one time Christians were “foreigners to the covenants of the promise” but now their “citizenship is in heaven,” so I don’t see how so many Christians today conclude that kids trying to find hope in the United States are simply lawbreakers who need to be sent home no matter the danger involved.

Third, you asked me, a local liberal, a fair question:

(W)hat do you suggest American policy should be in terms of controlling immigration across our Mexican border, specifically and should it be any different from how we control other immigration into America for anywhere else?

I’ll start by stating the obvious: We won’t all agree on what is a good immigration policy, one that satisfies our notions of law and order and justice while demonstrating a certain amount of compassion towards those desperately (and perhaps illegally) seeking work or asylum here. Good and honest people can disagree about the emphasis we place on law and order as opposed to compassion. Enforcing the laws and treating people compassionately are both components of any notion of the common good.

I will also tell you that based on my idea of the common good—how I derive such an idea is too long to go into—I begin with the proposition that borders ought not matter, when it comes to people starving to death or escaping some form of persecution. What I mean is that it is only natural for people, who cannot find work enough in one place to support themselves or their family, to seek work elsewhere. Just as it is natural for people to flee from things like forced gang membership by the threat of death or from oppressive regimes that threaten their liberty and well-being. Often there isn’t time to get in a orderly immigration line and wait.

With that in mind, I will give you my thoughts on the matter, with the understanding that I am responding provisionally and generally:

1. Those undocumented young people who are here because their parents brought them here (illegally) should be granted citizenship, without any strings attached, today. Right now. Not another minute should pass before that is done. These kids are American citizens in every way, except for the paperwork. Shame on the Republican Party for standing in the way of getting that accomplished. It is unconscionable.

2. The millions of other people here for years without proper documentation should be given a clear path to citizenship, along the lines adopted by the Obama administration. If you can pass a background check and you arrived here before, say, December 31, 2011 (as in the Senate version of immigration reform), then you can stay and partake of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, so long as you pay some taxes and a penalty and get in line behind those who sought citizenship legally. I would jettison Obama’s requirement that you have to learn English, since there are several palefaces here in Southwest Missouri who find the language challenging. Heck, one of them is a regular columnist for the Joplin Globe.

3. As for those Central American children and others who have come here in the last two years, they should be allowed to stay and eventually become citizens, if they can substantiate a claim that going back might prove dangerous. I will add that the evidence needed for substantiating such a claim would be rather modest, as far as I’m concerned. Most of them will need lawyers, or perhaps paralegals, for this, but so be it. Needless to say, we should provide the adequate funding to pay for legal assistance and basic humanitarian needs, like food, housing, and medical care, including immunizations. We should also establish more (and hopefully temporary) immigration courts to handle the current backlog (estimated to be around 367,000 cases, with 3200 of them in Missouri). Or else we could tell them to go to hell, which is essentially what some Americans, many of them Christians, are endorsing

4. If you have arrived here in the last two years but can’t prove a claim of asylum, then you should be able to prove you have some other reason that merits some type of forgiveness for entering the country illegally, like, for instance, reuniting with family members who are citizens (and immigration law should be changed to expedite the unification of families; that’s the least that so-called family values conservatives should do, don’t you think?). Again, such people would have to go to the back of the line and wait their turn to become citizens.

5. In order to clear up any misunderstandings and to discourage the dangerous trip through Mexico to the U.S. that thousands of children have taken, Congress should change the law so that Central American immigrants entering the country illegally can be deported faster than they can be under current law. Then an advertising campaign in the relevant countries should follow.

6. As for the border issue, for reasons other than keeping desperate people out, I support secure borders. In this age of portable terrorism, it makes no sense to have gaping holes in our border security. I will leave it to the expertise of others to figure out the best way to accomplish this, but I doubt putting up millions of pictures of Dick Cheney along the border would be an effective measure (it would, though, work for me; I wouldn’t come within a mile of the border), nor would building thousands of miles of foreboding fence be a viable option. I do think, however, that if folks like the two pictured below were positioned at the border, it might keep the foreigners, dangerous or otherwise, away:

7. We should open up the legal process and expand opportunities for foreign workers to come here and do what they do best. This would help discourage illegal immigration and perhaps prevent the deaths of hundreds of migrant deaths each year. Such a process should also provide help for U.S. workers adversely affected, help such as financial assistance and job training or re-training.

8. As President Obama has said countless times, we should also make it easier for foreign students educated in the United States to stay here and contribute to the nation’s well-being.

9. Step up law enforcement when it comes to employers hiring and financially abusing undocumented immigrants. Employers who knowingly hire folks without papers and who pay them sub-par wages should have to spend a year in Branson cleaning hotel rooms at the Baldknobbers Motor Inn. That should get their lawbreaking minds right.

10. We should also work more diligently with our nation-state neighbors closest to our southern border (about 80% of undocumented immigrants reportedly come from Mexico and other Latin American countries, which means we should focus our efforts there) in helping them better educate and better provide for their citizens, as well as fight people-traffickers who exploit horrific conditions and make a buck off fear and misery. Again, I will leave it to the experts to figure out how this could best be accomplished, but we should provide funding for a reasonable plan to help improve economic conditions.

Of “Illegal Immigrant Children” And Millstone Necklaces

Let’s play a little game. I’ll provide you with three headlines and you tell me which one is from Fox “News.” Okay? Here we go:

1) Showdown: California town turns away buses of detained immigrants

2) Protesters Block Bus Carrying Immigrants

3) Protests turn back buses carrying illegal immigrant children

I know, I know. That was too easy. That last one, with its purposeful use of “illegal,” tells you all you need to know. And if, like me, you are wondering just how children can be illegal, I’ll get to that in a minute. For now, though, I will note that the obvious Fox headline appeared below an “Illegal Immigrants” header that linked to other stories on Fox, including: “Sheriff Arpaio calls for military action in border crisis.” Damn! I guess the hate-filled sheriff wants to send our troops into Mexico and threaten the kids before they get here! Then we wouldn’t have to worry about all those messy immigration laws! Genius!

In any case, one of the headlines I used was from NBC Los Angeles (“Protesters Block Bus Carrying Immigrants”) and if you bother to read some of the hundreds of comments on that story, you will be amazed at how much support the protesters in Murrieta, California, have. And by support I mean rabid support. It is hard to believe, when one reads through the comments, that the anger expressed is essentially directed toward children. Excuse me. “Illegal” children. As an example, I have selected a comment from “Lola Guin” (an “alternate profile” on Facebook from, uh, Massachusetts), who, as a “Top Commenter,” wrote:

...more of us need to be taking a stand like these good patriots. And to the illegal invader who is quoted in the article, due process only applies to citizens of this country. Illegals are not entitled to such things. When you break the law and invade another person’s country, you’re not afforded privileges like due process. Go back to your own country and make it better. Stop trying to mooch off the hard work of Americans. America is not the birthright of everyone on the planet. Our ancestors worked hard to make this country great. You can’t just show up after America becomes the most successful nation on the planet and expect to reap the rewards without putting in the work. You are NOT entitled to our tax money. Go home and do something with your own nations and get the heck out of ours. We’re all full up here, we can’t even support our own people because we’ve let too many of you leeches in. Trust me, illegal scum. You’re NOT wanted or needed here. Go away.

I remind you that was said to and about mostly kids, “illegal scum” and everything. The comment, so far, received 222 “likes.” Yikes.

I would bet ten-thousand Romney dollars that whoever Lola Guin is that he or she is some kind of Christian. Same with many of the other people whose comments were hateful, bigoted, racist, or some combination. One such commenter to that NBC Los Angeles story happens to be a local woman, a local right-wing woman who often comments on Joplin Globe stories, named Mary Schillaci. A man named Jeff Wagner had the gall to write into the string of vitriolic commentary and say to someone,

I hope you don’t pretend to be a Christian. You make me sick to my stomach.

Our local right-winger from Carl Junction wrote back a shoutin’:

Jeff Wagner How about “God helps those who help themselves.” Fair enough? Their countries need to help their own people and we will help ours with OUR TAX DOLLARS. Americans first!

I think she got that “Americans first!” sentiment from the GOP Annotated Bible, although I can’t be sure. But I am sure that in the real, non-GOP Bible the quote she offered—“God helps those who help themselves”—isn’t in there. If it were, then Christianity itself is a joke because its central claim is that Jesus helped us and saved us precisely because we couldn’t help and save ourselves. So it would be more accurate, by Christian standards, to say that, “God helps those who can’t help themselves.” But I digress.

Judging from her Facebook page, Mary Schillaci has some interest in God. Earlier this year she posted the following:

mary schillaci on facebook

Now, in this present humanitarian crisis, that might be a good message to send to those children coming here from Central America, since it appears many of them are down to nothing. And it is likely that many of those children think that what God is up to is making a place for them here in Christian America.

Fat chance.

Commenting on that NBC Los Angeles story, Rich McKeever (his real name), who is another “Top Commenter,” wrote:

This is what needs to happen. It seems we must take a page from the leftist playbook and take to the streets. It worked at the Bundy ranch, it worked here and it will work elsewhere if we can turn out the overwhelming numbers of people we need to become, as they say, too big to fail.

The idea, thanks to Cliven Bundy and his right-wing promoters, is that if enough folks carrying guns get together and are willing to use those guns against the government, then, by God, those children coming up from Central America won’t have a fightin’ chance! And I say “by God” in this case because, as it happens, Rich McKeever says on his Facebook page that he likes “Being Christian,” which is another Facebook page “where you can learn how to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior, read daily devotionals, and be inspired.” 

Rich also says he likes a group called “Jesus Loves You,” which claims,

We’re giving away the love of Jesus Christ. 

Apparently when they were giving away the love of Christ, Rich was in a different line. Perhaps he was in line waiting to buy up all the ammo before Obama could get his hands on it, I don’t know. But we can see that Rich at least aspires to be a follower of Jesus. And just for him—no, for all those like him who want to simultaneously follow Jesus while being mean to desperate children from Central America—I have another news story for you about children, this time from a 1st-century journalist named Matthew, who was doing a write-up on Jesus:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Whoops! But he’s not finished:

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

Uh-oh. “Illegal immigrant children,” anyone? “Illegal scum”? “God helps those who help themselves?” “Americans first!”? If I were those folks, I’d get to work on learning to swim while sporting a giant millstone necklace. And should they fail to figure out how to make that work, when they hit the ocean floor it might comfort them to know:

When you are down to nothing, God is up to something.


Reactionary Judicial Activism, Unions, And The Walking Dead

In the recently decided Harris v. Quinn, Justice Alito and the conservative majority continued the Court’s assault (which began two years ago in Knox v. SEIU) on public employee unions, which just happens (!) to coincide with a larger assault on those unions by Republicans controlling state governments.

This is activism pure and simple. And it used to be that, in the judicial realm, conservatives were dead set against it (remember “judicial restraint”?). But that was then and this is the age of reactionary judicial activism, an activism increasingly blessed by conservatives-turned-radicals like George Will, who in January of this year was cheerleading for conservative judges to be “less deferential to legislatures” and who wrote:

Conservatives’ advocacy of judicial restraint serves liberalism by leaving government’s growth unrestrained.

In Harris, the conservatives took Will’s advice and took it upon themselves to basically overrule the democratic process—legislators in the state of Illinois in this case—and have given, in the words of Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe“a constitutional underpinning to the anti-union ‘right to work’ stance.” Tribe says,

Harris is the latest chapter in the troubling story of the Roberts court indulging attenuated constitutional arguments against economic regulation.

Tribe concludes his piece on Monday’s anti-union decision this way:

Harris, despite its arguably narrow holding and apparent restraint, is thus part of a dangerous trend of veiling deregulatory economics in constitutional law. The Roberts court seems to be forgetting one of the principal lessons of constitutionalism since the New Deal: Economic policy should be made by legislatures, not courts. Harris is the Roberts court’s most recent retreat from that long-standing and wise consensus. It would do well to retreat no further.

Retreat no further? Come on. This is all about retreating. All the way back to the 19th century.

Back in 1977, the Court, not then openly hostile to the idea of unions, held in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that private sector employees and public sector employees are essentially the same and that public employees represented by unions, even if they were not members, could be required to pay fees for the collective bargaining services they received, even if they objected to the political activities of the union. The Court essentially stopped in its tracks the idea that there could be freeloading public sector workers—those who took the benefits unions brought them but who didn’t want to pay for those benefits. Without such protection from freeloaders, unions—who are required by law to bargain for both members and non-members—could be in deep, deep trouble, especially if freeloading became the norm.

Monday’s decision in Harris V. Quinn, building on the anti-Abood stance Alito adopted in Knox v. SEIU, has guaranteed that public sector unions have something to worry about—if the composition of the Court is not changed before Alito can come up with enough votes to completely overrule the Abood decision, since right now it appears there is some teensy-weensy respect still left for stare decisis.  (Alito may soon have his chance in a case before the Ninth Circuit right now, Friedrichs v. CTA, in which a group of California teachers are seeking a reversal of Abood.)

Here is the way labor and civil rights attorney Moshe Marvit opened his piece for The New Republic:

The Supreme Court on Monday issued a wide-ranging opinion that will heavily impact the future of labor in America. The majority opinion in Harris v. Quinn held that home healthcare workers in Illinois and every other state that has a similar program are only “partial” or “quasi” public employeesas opposed to “full-fledged public employees” and thus don’t have to pay fees for labor representation. While the majority, led by Justice Samuel Alito, did not go so far as to fully gut the ability of public sector unions to finance their existence, the decision in the case was by no means a moderate one. Harris v. Quinn has set the stage for the eventual overruling of Abood; it has confused and perverted the concept of free-riders; and it has created an impossible standard for unions to meet.

A right-wing law professor sympathetic to the freeloaders, John Eastman, sees it pretty much the same:

While not quite the stake in the heart that would kill public employee unions altogether, today’s decision in Harris v. Quinn has at least made Abood a ghoul, one of the walking dead.

Yes, and soon the middle class, the beneficiary of private and public sector union activity, will also be part of the walking dead. (Some think the death, if not the walking, has already come.)

After Monday’s terrible Court decisions, HuffPo featured this graphic:

liberals crushed in court

Take a look at those faces. When I saw that graphic the first thing I thought about was Hillary Clinton. She could win two terms as president. She could change that headline, change those faces, at least those who are getting old (Scalia and Kennedy are 78 this year). For all her faults, for all her snuggling up to Wall Street wallets, liberals who don’t much like her would do well to think about the graphic above (and about the fact that Ginsburg is 81 and Breyer is 76). Those five men, if they haven’t already, may end up doing more lasting damage to the country than even George W. Bush’s decision to invade and occupy Iraq.

And if Hillary Clinton can do anything to stop them, I’m with her all the way.


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