Thursday, June 13, 2019

Dispatches from the US/Mexico border (June 2019)

Elizabeth C. McLaughlin reported on Twitter that people who are detained at the border are first sent to a place called the "Dog Pound," where people are kept in outdoor cages with "no running water, no covers, no tarp, no care, no safety from the elements. It is freezing at night, and deathly hot during the day." They do not receive adequate nutrition, especially for small children. Then they are sent to "The Freezer," which is maintained at 55 degrees F (13 C) and has no beds, where they are kept for weeks. The government is supposed to send them to residential facilities, but those residential facilities are empty and ICE plans to close them. Instead, they are being sent to concentration camps run by the military, including the former Japanese-American internment camp Fort Sill, where lawyers, journalists, and human rights monitors will not be permitted. "The Trump administration will be able to conduct itself in whatever way it wants to without anyone knowing what's going on inside. Think about what that means. Think about why they would want that. This is happening RIGHT NOW," McLaughlin wrote.

Similarly, Bradford Pearson:

Pearson points us to the organization Densho, which has more information about Fort Sill.

Jonathan M. Katz's article "Call immigrant detention centers what they really are: concentration camps" in the LA Times (9 June 2019) made these points:

"Certainly it helps that the news media covers these horrors intermittently rather than as snowballing proof of a racist, lawless administration.

* * *

A year ago, Americans accidentally became aware that the Trump administration had adopted (and lied about) a policy of ripping families apart at the border. The flurry of attention was thanks to the viral conflation of two separate but related stories: the family-separation order and bureaucrats’ admission that they’d been unable to locate thousands of migrant children who’d been placed with sponsors after crossing the border alone.

* * *

It is important to note that Trump’s aides have built this system of racist terror on something that has existed for a long time. Several camps opened under Obama, and as president he deported millions of people.

But Trump’s game is different. It certainly isn’t about negotiating immigration reform with Congress. Trump has made it clear that he wants to stifle all non-white immigration, period. His mass arrests, iceboxes and dog cages are part of an explicitly nationalist project to put the country under the control of the right kind of white people.

After an emergency Caesarean section in Mexico, a 17-year-old Guatemalan girl crossed the border into the US on June 4, 2019 with her premature baby. Immigration legal advocates found her a week later at the McAllen facility, in pain and in a wheelchair, with the baby—its head smaller than an adult's fist—in poor health condition with only the onesie it was wearing. After attention on social media, it was announced that mother and daughter were to be transferred to a more appropriate facility for minors.

Others have died. However:

(And the list would anyway not have included deaths that occurred shortly after an injured or sick person was released from custody.)

A photo taken illegally in federal court shows 37 immigrants in orange prison jumpsuits being processed simultaneously. Such processes have been in place for a decade but are more frequent under Trump.

It's happening for reasons including this:

What is collusion?

Samantha Vinograd wrote: "By putting a "for sale" sign on his forehead -- and indicating that he's open for business when it comes to receiving dirt on his political rivals -- President Donald Trump is encouraging foreign governments to attack his political opponents." Furthermore: By indicating that he's open to receiving help from foreign governments - despite troves of open source information indicating that Russia was trying to interfere in our 2016 election to advance its own agenda - the President's penchant for undercutting his home team continues to march forward."

On 12 June 2019, Trump gave this interview to George Stephanopoulos:

On 13 June 2019, Trump gave a phone interview to "Fox and Friends." Trump appears to say that he'd report an offer to the FBI if the information is "incorrect or badly stated"—implying that, if it's useful, he's taking it! The fidgeting from hosts Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt, Brian Kilmeade at the more cringeworthy phrases is priceless. In this 1 minute 29 second clip (hosted by Axios) you hear and see the following interaction:

Transcript of Donald Trump on "Fox and Friends," 13 June 2019

Steve Doocy: “Mr. President, let’s talk about, early this week, you granted ABC and George Stephanopoulos great access, you spent a couple of days with them. And one of the sound bites they ran over the last 48 hours is essentially you say there is nothing wrong, in your estimation, with accepting dirt from Russia or any foreign country. You’ve taken a lot of heat from the Democrats regarding that since then—“

Trump: “Well I don’t stated it—I think it was accurately stated and I’ve had a lot of support—“

Steve Doocy: “Well then, clarify it.”

Trump:“Yeah, I mean, I’ve had a lot of support. First of all, I don’t think anyone would present me with anything bad because they know how much I love this country. Nobody’s gonna present me with anything bad. Number 2—if I was—and of course you have to have to look at it because if you don’t look at it you’re not gonna know if it’s bad. How are you gonna know if it’s bad? But of course you give it to the FBI or report it to the Attorney General or somebody, uh, like that. But of course you do that. You wouldn’t—you couldn’t have that happen with our country. And everybody understands that. And I thought it was made clear. In fact, I actually said, at the beginning, I think I said I’d do both.”

[Steve Doocy looks to heaven, nods rapidly, looks down at the floor, looks up with his lips tightly pursed. Ainsley Earhardt is frozen like a statue with her hands clasped, staring into the camera. Brian Kilmeade glances down thoughtfully as if trying to come up with an intervention plan.]

Trump:“But if you don’t hear what it is,—

Brian Kilmeade, trying to interrupt: “Right.”

Trump:“you’re not going to know what it is.

Ainsley Earhardt: “That’s right—”

Trump: “—I mean how can you report something that you don’t know—“

Ainsley Earhardt: “—How do you know if it’s bad if you don’t listen to it?”

Brian Kilmeade: “So Mr. President—“

Trump: “No, no! They say, “Oh, he would accept it.’ Well, if I don’t listen, you’re not gonna know. Now, if I thought anything was incorrect or badly stated, I’d report it to the Attorney General, the FBI, I’d report it to law enforcement, absolutely.”

Brian Kilmeade, interrupting: “So—“

The clip ends there.

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert parodied Trump saying "There's nothing wrong with listening."

On 16 June 2019, Chris Wallace asks Mike Pompeo what the heck Trump was talking about.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

On criticizing one's country

"To criticize one's country," said Sen. Fulbright, "is to do it a service and pay it a compliment. It is a service because it may spur the country to do better than it is doing; it is a compliment because it evidences a belief that the country can do better than it is doing." Or, as Carl Schurz said: "My country, right or wrong! When right, to be kept right. If wrong, to be put right."

A little bit of disloyalty to a party line may open up space for a multitude of perspectives and opinions. Michael Eric Dyson:

Whether his take on race is viewed as less or more helpful than mine should be judged, but not by reference to an unchanging, eternal idea of Blackness that is stuck in the Black sky as a North Star to shed light on our doings as a people....It [the term "post-Black"] doesn't mean we're over Blackness; it means we're over our narrow understanding of what Black means. Post-Blackness has little patience for racial patriotism, racial fundamentalism and racial policing. Racial patriotism builds on the parallel between loyalty to the race and loyalty to the nation. Loyalty isn't the problem, but rather the sort of racial fidelity that often flies under the banner of Blackness. Black folk offered the nation a great gift by proving you are most loyal to your country when you're willing to accent its virtues and criticize its failures. Too often racial patriots are just as blind as other American patriots: my country right or wrong becomes my race right or wrong, and even more disturbing, racial patriots often identify their views of Blackness with the only acceptable views of Blackness, and are willing to railroad or expel all others who disagree.

Similarly, Eddie Vedder:

As a touring musician, I would play thirty places in Europe in five weeks and not just pass through or see the sights but actually have an exchange with people. Everything I probably missed out on by not going to college as far as geography, history, world social studies and religion I feel like I've kind of made up for by just being alert on tour. That puts you in a sensitive place because you come back to the United States and you're happy to be back, but at the same time you feel like sharing what you've seen with other people. You want to say, you know, "I've seen some examples where things work a little better as far as healthcare, gun control, the modern-day prison system, the war on drugs"—you want to be able to share that and not feel like you're being unpatriotic or extra critical.

Eric Felten wrote about political criticism as "tough love" that is sometimes mistaken as hostility:

"Republics, and liberal democracies especially, rely on mutual trust between governments and citizens to an unusual degree,' Judith Shklar observed. 'Threats to the established constitution, even when no foreign state is involved in the enterprise, are therefore perceived as attacks on every established political relationship and every social agreement.' For self-government to succeed, we have to know we can rely on one another. Which is where patriotism comes in. It is a promise, both outward and inward, that we can be counted on when it counts. Sneering at the rituals of patriotic observance may be one's right, but it does little to build trust. Those who would challenge the orthodoxies of their countries are likely to have more luck the more they are trusted, the more they make it clear their recommendations are expressions of tough love — with the emphasis on love. If dissent devolves into hatred of one's country or countrymen (as it did for State Department spy Walter Kendall Myers, who told an FBI agent posing as a Cuban spymaster, 'The trouble with this country, there's just too many North Americans...believe me, those North Americans, you don't want them.'), democracy is undermined. 'An enemy is not recognizable as a social critic; he lacks standing,' observes political philosopher Michael Walzer. 'We expect and simultaneously discount criticism from our enemies.'

Some critics, especially by virtue of their minoritized identities, risk being labeled as enemies of the state. Arundhati Roy:

Recently, those who have criticised the actions of the US government (myself included) have been called "anti-American". Anti-Americanism is in the process of being consecrated into an ideology. The term is usually used by the American establishment to discredit and, not falsely - but shall we say inaccurately — define its critics. Once someone is branded anti-American, the chances are that he or she will be judged before they're heard and the argument will be lost in the welter of bruised national pride. What does the term mean? That you're anti-jazz? Or that you're opposed to free speech? That you don't delight in Toni Morrison or John Updike? That you have a quarrel with giant sequoias? Does it mean you don't admire the hundreds of thousands of American citizens who marched against nuclear weapons, or the thousands of war resisters who forced their government to withdraw from Vietnam? Does it mean that you hate all Americans? * * * To call someone anti-American, indeed, to be anti-American, is not just racist, it's a failure of the imagination. An inability to see the world in terms other than those that the establishment has set out for you: If you don't love us, you hate us. If you're not good, you're evil. If you're not with us, you're with the terrorists.

Religious dogma can cause people to close themselves off to criticism, and "any government that imagines it has a divine warrant will perforce deal with its critics as if they were profane and thus illegitimate by definition," Christopher Hitchens wrote, warning that we can see "what happens to a state or society that forbids itself the secular catharsis of self-criticism."

"All cultures, whether Arab, Asian, or Western," wrote Tariq Ramadan, "require a critical and self-critical mind apt to assess habits in light of principles because habits often erode or blur principles. One should therefore be both open and critical: always remain curious and seek what is beautiful and good, and always remain cautiously alert in assessing what is negative and unfair."

That "self-critical mind" of which Ramadan speaks is crucial, too. After all, as James Albert Pike put it: "If a person lacks self-acceptance, he can't live with himself; if he lacks self-criticism, others can't live with him." Or, as Abba Poemen put it, "always to accuse" oneself — that is integrity.


Sen. J. William Fulbright. The Arrogance of Power. New York: Vintage Books, 1966. p. 25.

Eric Felten. Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011. pp. 257-258.

"Not again." Arundhati Roy. The Guardian, Friday September 27, 2002.

"Tour(é)ing Blackness" by Michael Eric Dyson. Foreword to Touré, Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness?: What it Means to Be Black Now. New York: Free Press, 2011.

Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, in an interview with Ann Powers, "The Power of Music," posted online December 23, 2002. Printed in The Nation, January 13, 2003.

"The Death of Theocracy." Christopher Hitchens. Newsweek. Jan. 11, 2010. p. 23.

Tariq Ramadan. What I Believe. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. p. 41.

James Albert Pike. Beyond anxiety: the Christian answer to fear, frustration, guilt, indecision, inhibition, loneliness, despair. Scribner, 1953. p. 22.

Abba Poemen, cited in Kathleen Norris. Acedia & me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life. New York: Riverhead Books, 2008. p. 139.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Quotes: Is capitalism just a phase of history?

Max Lerner:

"But capitalist democracy has its blind alleys as well. Its great weakness is capitalism as an organization of economic and social relations. Capitalism has passed through the stages of guild control, mercantilist state control, individualist laissez-faire, corporate monopoly. Always its apologists have sought to eternalize it, to talk of it as if it were a permanent part of the structure of the universe, built into the fabric of human nature. Actually, of course, it represents only a phase of human history — a few centuries out of all the centuries of civilized life."
Max Lerner. It Is Later Than You Think: The Need for a Militant Democracy. New York: The Viking Press, 1939. p 45.

Erich Maria Remarque:

"Money is an illusion; everyone knows that, but many still do not believe it. As long as this is so the inflation will go on till absolute zero is reached. Man lives seventy-five per cent by his imagination and only twenty-five per cent by fact..."
Erich Maria Remarque. The Black Obelisk (1957). USA: Crest, 1958. p. 16.

Wallace Shawn:

"One day there was an anonymous present sitting on my doorstep--Volume One of Capital by Karl Marx, in a brown paper bag. A joke? Serious? And who had sent it? I never found out. Late that night, naked in bed, I leafed through it. The beginning was impenetrable, I couldn't understand it, but when I came to the part about the lives of the workers — the coal miners, the child laborers — I could feel myself suddenly breathing more slowly. How angry he was. Page after page. Then I turned back to an earlier section, and I came to a phrase that I'd heard before, a strange, upsetting, sort of ugly phrase: this was the section on 'commodity fetishism,' 'the fetishism of commodities.' I wanted to understand that weird-sounding phrase, but I could tell that, to understand it, your whole life would probably have to change.

His explanation was very elusive. He used the example that people say, 'Twenty yards of linen are worth two pounds.' People say about every thing that it has a certain value. This is worth that. This coat, this sweater, this cup of coffee: each thing worth some quantity of money, or some number of other things — one coat, worth three sweaters, or so much money — as if that coat, suddenly appearing on the earth, contained somewhere inside itself an amount of value, like an inner soul, as if the coat were a fetish, a physical object that contains a living spirit. But what really determines the value of a coat? What is it that determines the price of a coat? The coat's price comes from its history, the history of all the people who were involved in making it and selling it and all the particular relationships they had. And if we buy the coat, we, too, form relationships with all of those people, and yet we hide those relationships from our own awareness by pretending we live in a world where coats have no history but just fall down from heaven with prices marked inside. 'I like this coat,' we say, 'it's not expensive,' as if that were a fact about the coat and not the end of a story about all the people who made it and sold it, 'I like the pictures in this magazine.'"
Wallace Shawn. The Fever. New York: Grove Press, 1991. pp. 19-21.

Jeff Schmidt:

"In the blunt words of Roland W. Schmitt, speaking when he was GE’s senior vice president for research and development and boss of the Schenectady facility, 'If it has no payoff for General Electric, it should not be done at all.' He added, 'I can’t truthfully say that all our work advances knowledge.'"
Jeff Schmidt. Disciplined Minds: A Critical Look at Salaried Professionals and the Soul-Battering System that Shapes Their Lives. (Rowman & Littlefield, 2000) Kindle Edition.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Trump's response to the Christchurch mosque shootings

After a gunman killed 49 people at two mosques in New Zealand and released a manifesto claiming to have been inspired by Donald Trump, Trump's reaction was concerning.

The attacks began at 8:40 p.m. Thursday 14 March 2019 in Washington's time zone. The next morning, ten hours later, Trump tweeted condolences...

...but, two hours after that, he was tweeting about his self-perception as a victim in the Mueller probe.

Later in the day, Trump told reporters that he had not seen the shooter's manifesto (despite the fact that this manifesto referenced him and that he had pledged the support of "anything we can do"). He then referred to people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border as "invaders," the same word that the manifesto writer used to describe Muslims in New Zealand.

Trump also told the reporters that he does not believe that white nationalist activity is increasing. (It is, per the Southern Poverty Law Center, which says 2019 has "the highest number of hate groups we’ve ever counted.")

Coming from the man who made the Charlottesville "both sides" comment, we should not be surprised.

Several days earlier, according to an article in the Huffington Post,

"President Donald Trump warned in an interview [Breitbart, March 12] that his supporters could 'play tough' and make things 'very, very bad' if they 'reach a certain point.' He cited the police, military and Bikers for Trump as his backers."

Friday, February 22, 2019

This is something other than condemning violence against journalists

On 22 February 2019, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that POTUS #45 hasn't "at any point has done anything but condemn violence, against journalists or anyone else." (ABC news clip)

What the Press Secretary says is not true. Every day, I remember this tweet by POTUS on 2 July 2017. It shows POTUS at a wrestling match. He throws his arm around the neck of a faceless man who represents a CNN journalist (the man's face is obscured by a CNN logo in the video). He tackles the CNN journalist and punches him repeatedly in the head.

On the day Trump posted this, the immediate reaction of then-Homeland Security adviser Thomas Bossert was to say that he felt "pretty proud" of the president for being so "genuine," and, after all, he assured us, "no one would perceive that [video] as a threat." That interpretation is not obvious. Since the time of this tweet, Cesar Altieri Sayoc Jr. has been charged with mailing pipe bombs to CNN in three separate packages in October 2018, along with 15 other targets that included Democratic politicians. U.S. Coast Guard Lt. In February 2019, U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Christopher Paul Hasson was arrested on firearm possession and may be charged with attempted terrorism, based on his alleged plan to launch a major attack against CNN reporters, other journalists, and Democratic politicians.

POTUS has still not deleted this tweet, and, even if he does someday delete it, it will forever remain an official record of the United States by virtue of the office of the person who tweeted it. You can try reporting the tweet, but it is a fruitless effort; Twitter will not remove it.

We all have to think of other things we can do to #ProtectTheTruth.

You can donate to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Lessons in a ten-year-old NYT op-ed against same-sex marriage

Happy tenth anniversary to this bizarre op-ed, "A Reconciliation on Gay Marriage" (David Blankenhorn and Jonathan Rauch, New York Times, 21 Feb 2009).

Believing in 2009 that "federal recognition of same-sex not likely in the near future" (surprise: that recognition came just four years later), the authors said they wished to avoid "a scorched-earth debate" and to seek instead a "sensitive compromise" between those who supported the right of same-sex couples to marry and those who cited religious reasons for discriminating against those couples.

The authors laid out what they saw as the argument for discrimination:

"The First Amendment may make it unlikely that a church, say, would ever be coerced by law into performing same-sex wedding rites in its sanctuary. But religious organizations are also involved in many activities outside the sanctuary. What if a church auxiliary or charity is told it must grant spousal benefits to a secretary who marries her same-sex partner or else face legal penalties for discrimination based on sexual orientation or marital status? What if a faith-based nonprofit is told it will lose its tax-exempt status if it refuses to allow a same-sex wedding on its property?"

Their solution to appease the religious organizations with these hypothetical problems:

1. Same-sex couples should receive "most or all of the federal benefits and rights of marriage," but those partnerships wouldn't be called a "marriage" but rather a "civil union." (Apparently it makes a difference for some reason. Apparently certain religious organizations want the government to refer to opposite-sex couples as "married," even if those couples are secular and the marriage was performed in a courthouse, and to same-sex couples as having "civil unions," even if those couples are religious and their partnership is ceremonially recognized in a house of worship. Of course they do! That privileges gay-hostile religious organizations in determining what marriage is, and it takes the same power away from gay-friendly religious organizations. Are you still with us?)

2. The federal recognition of the partnership should apply only if the civil union was performed in a U.S. state with "religious-conscience" laws that allow religious organizations to refuse to recognize the civil union. (Not sure how this would play out. Why wouldn't same-sex couples just travel to a state that offers civil-unions-plus-state-level-discrimination to obtain the civil union that is recognized by the federal government, then choose to live in a state that has better state-level recognition? And what if a state has "religious-conscience" laws but then revokes those laws; would the federal government withdraw its recognition of civil unions previously contracted there? This is one reason why it makes no sense for the federal government to treat gay people based on how a particular U.S. state currently treats religious organizations.)

3. "The federal government would also enact religious-conscience protections of its own," they said. (So, clearly the government does not accord same-sex couples "all of the federal benefits and rights of marriage," emphasis mine, if it simultaneously implements exemptions to that recognition that apply to same-sex couples but to opposite-sex couples.)

Do let them explain why this a righteous solution.

"We believe," they said, "that gays can live with such exemptions without much difficulty. Why? Because most state laws that protect gays from discrimination already include some religious exemptions..." This is too beautiful. A newly engineered type of discrimination will not hurt gay people because they already endure similar discrimination. So let's just pile on more of the same! Awesome. But don't gay people object to this? Yes and no. Existing religious-conscience laws haven't attracted much attention — they "are for the most part uncontroversial, even among gays — and therefore the authors question the expressed concern by "most gays" against the idea that new religious-conscience laws would permit discrimination against marriage specifically. (Who's being inconsistent here: the unattributed gay people who only object strenuously to one flavor of discrimination against them while accepting other flavors, or the op-ed writers who can't decide whether gay people do or don't object to being hurt?)

I find this ten-year-old op-ed perennially instructive, even more so in hindsight because it was a proposed "compromise" (cough cough: an under-bus-throwing) that did not have to happen.

Nor should any of us write such under-bus-throwings, about anyone, in the future.

Discrimination is actually hurtful.