Friday, July 25, 2014

Obama's Disconnect a Grand Illusion?


Maybe it's an illusion?

Maybe he's secretly networking with world leaders to try and confidentially resolve some of these issues.  To the public, however, maybe the White House is tricking us by conveying the appearance that he's disconnected and ineffectual.

If President Obama really is hard at work behind the scenes, trying to broker stability, humanity, and the rule of law where precious little currently resides, then he's a master at casually projecting a low profile.

And if Oval Office staffers are actually trying to hide the President's stressful schedule, they're doing a spectacular job.

After all, simply from the way people are acting at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, you'd never know our world is in such turmoil.

Yesterday in Iraq, ISIS blew up the tomb reputed to have housed the remains of a famous religious figure for both Jews and Christians.  Do you remember the Biblical account of Jonah and the whale?  Well, the traditional site of Jonah's grave had been revered for thousands of years in Iraq's Nineveh province, until the ultra-radical Muslim extremists raided the area, and forced all Christians to leave during the past week.  Now that the Christians have fled - after having all of their belongings and property confiscated - ISIS is in the process of either destroying or converting churches and other Christian facilities into extremist mosques.

And the White House has been silent as these ancient antiquities have been seized, and minority groups stripped of their rights, and forced to relinquish everything they'd owned.  Yes, Christians have been a minority in Iraq for centuries, but does this White House regularly ignore the plight of the world's minority groups?  Earlier this week, the President signed an executive order that ostensibly will protect the civil rights of the three percent of our population who may work for government contractors.  He says we can't ignore even the smallest of minority groups.  But he figures Iraq can?

ISIS has also ordered that millions of women in Iraq undergo female circumcision, a barbaric form of torture that the United Nations technically forbids.  Yet again, the White House has been silent, even as Democrats in the Senate this week began another push for ratification of a UN treaty that could undermine parental authority and encourage the practice of abortion.

Apparently, we really can pick and choose which UN mandates we want to embrace.

Meanwhile, over in Gaza, Hamas continues to store its weapons near schools, hospitals, and safe houses, as well as in tunnels running under private property owned by people who have no idea they're sitting ducks for Israel's air defenses.  For his part, Obama's secretary of state has been plotting with Egypt on terms for a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, but with so much of this current administration's foreign policy in disarray, nobody's expecting much of anything good from Cairo.  Like the Egyptians are an authority on peace, stability, and human rights anyway.

In Ukraine, reporters are still marveling that the nine-mile-long debris field from flight MH17 remains virtually unguarded, even as aviation experts are marveling that the Malaysian plane's black boxes have been secured without any apparent sabotage.  But while the President has wagged his finger at Russia's Vladimir Putin for possibly having provided anti-aircraft weaponry to an under-trained insurgency in Ukraine, America's expertise in protecting the world's commercial air space is going without a voice in the Executive Branch.

Maybe it doesn't matter that President Obama hasn't come out as the lead critic of Putin's puppeteering in Ukraine, since the conflicts between Russia and its former republics have festered for centuries, meaning that one politician today won't win peace in that region.  But didn't the rest of us get dragged a little closer to Russia's machinations for power when a civilian plane got shot out of the sky in an area rife with Russian military hardware?  Maybe the black boxes are for the Dutch to decode, but is somebody like Putin going to respect such minority governments on the world's stage as the Netherlands and Malaysia?

Funny how Obama was so keen to aid the rebels in Syria and Egypt, and is now so quiet.  Has he suddenly become an isolationist?

Maybe he's just scaling back his sphere of influence.  Over in the West Wing today, President Obama appears to be concentrating on our newly-arrived juvenile guests from Central America.  He's playing host to the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador; three countries whose youths are swamping America's border with Mexico.  According to the White House public schedule for today, their meeting is scheduled to last for approximately 45 minutes, followed by a press conference.

Here again, however, the President's enthusiasm seems strained.  Does 45 minutes sound like a lot of time to hash out some workable solutions for staunching the flow of illegal juvenile migrants to our country, addressing the humanitarian crises that ostensibly are forcing these kids from their homes and families, and arranging to get these kids back to their home countries, all while making sure they have good opportunities for growing up safe and healthy in Central America?

There are only two items on the White House agenda for today, so doesn't it seem as though the President should have been able to find more time to tackle these tough issues, especially since politicians from both the Democratic and Republican sides of the political aisle says this is all about protecting these poor children?

Maybe the President figures he already knows what these Central American leaders are going to say.  The Washington Post interviewed Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez yesterday, and he was dismissive of the illegality of crossing national borders without permission, focusing on the human toll of treating children like they are criminals.  He also complained about the United States forcing the migrant children to turn around and return to countries like Honduras.

"From Mexico, they come in buses, in big numbers," Hernandez bemoaned, talking about the children being repatriated into his country.  "We’ve had to triple the size of our centers in order to receive these people.  They’re coming en masse, but we’ve said that we need to be careful in order to respect their human rights."

Oh, isn't that magnanimous of the Honduran president?  Trying to teach us about human rights when he presides over a country apparently awash in corruption, human trafficking, and violent crime, that these kids say they need to flee to stay alive.

Of course, President Obama has refused to visit our border with Mexico to witness this humanitarian crisis first-hand, even though he's been invited to do so by both Republicans and Democrats in Texas.  So even though his visit today with Central American leaders may be more photo op than anything else, perhaps he figured it would be a waste of time to listen to these guys pontificate on their own hollow rhetoric so they could all avoid dealing with the core issues creating this crisis.

On the home page of WhiteHouse.gov today, there's a huge banner with a dominant graphic containing the definition of "inversion," which, according to the White House, is "a type of corporate tax loophole."

Under the "Popular Topics" section of their home page, the White House has promos for the US-Africa Leaders Summit, and something called "My Front Porch," where the President invites people to share "how their days look."  Whatever that means.

There's also a blurb about "President Obama is committed to making this the most open and participatory administration in history."

Hmm.  Really?

Open and participatory?

In all fairness, plenty of conservatives have complained for years that they wished President Obama would simply do nothing, because they feared anything he'd do would be bad, or immoral, or wrong for our country.  So to a certain extent, as our world continues to experience some pretty unsettling crises, conservatives should be glad that Obama isn't trying to claim the spotlight and foist his opinions and objectives on our country and our planet.  Perhaps Obama figures that no matter what he does, his critics will never be satisfied.

Yet, if he's committed to an open and participatory presidency, his distance from the world stage must be an illusion, right?  We're simply not seeing all that he's doing.

That's some trick.



Thursday, July 24, 2014

Does Happiness Have a Cajun Drawl?


Are you happy?

Chances are, your happiness depends on where you live.

At least, that's what a Harvard professor and his colleagues claim.  They've analyzed some data from the Centers for Disease Control to chart, by city, the places where Americans are the happiest.

Generally speaking, according to this study, people who live in and around the San Francisco Bay area tend to be the least happy, along with people living around Seattle, Chicago, Indianapolis, Detroit, and from Boston all the way down to Washington, DC.  Alternatively, residents of Montana, Arizona, Texas, and the deep South tend to be the most happy.  Along with a pretty good chunk of Delaware.

Of course, happiness is a profoundly relative concept, isn't it?  "Happiness" is a mixture of contentment, satisfaction, ease, peace, and harmony, at least in proportion to what we know, expect, and experience.  Our happiness is also affected by our personality and our health.  And to a significant degree, we evaluate whether we should be happy by pegging ourselves against the people we consider to be our peers, or with whom we want to be associated.

Throughout all of this, our faith plays a core role in how we view our life, our circumstances, our relationships, our aspirations, and the things in which we place our trust and upon which we peg our chances for inner peace.  And we all have faith in something, whether it's in Jesus Christ, or Mohammad, or ourselves.

Not that this particular happiness study is trying to prove that geography is more important than anything else in how happy we are - or aren't - but it is an interesting snapshot of where we Americans tend to be the most content, and where life apparently is best lived.

Perhaps not surprisingly, then, the New York metropolitan region ranked dead last in terms of its happiness quotient.  It's the most densely populated region of the country, with some of America's highest taxes, housing costs, and insurance rates.  Normal daily work commutes can stretch into two hours one way, competition for employment is fierce, and political corruption is a way of life.  Sure, it's a spectacular place to visit, but even though they may live cosmopolitan lives there, few New Yorkers truly derive deep satisfaction in doing so.

On the other hand, it's surprising to learn that one state holds the top five metropolitan areas with the greatest proportions of happy people.  It's Louisiana, a state more often associated - especially by New Yorkers - with rural, backwater rednecks and a simplistic way of life.  Then again, consider the cable TV show Duck Dynasty, proudly filmed on location in Louisiana's infamous swamps.  The show's mantra is "happy, happy, happy," so maybe there's something to it.

And of these top five cities from Louisiana, not one of them is New Orleans.  The number one metro area is Lafayette, covering two parishes (or counties), with less than half a million people in the city and its suburbs.  The city's main attraction appears to be an exceptionally low unemployment rate of 3.3% in Lafayette proper, which by itself likely accounts for a significant amount of its residents' happiness.  It's a generally conservative place politically, and its economy is based mostly on blue-collar and service industries.

Lafayette does have a symphony orchestra, a regional airport, several colleges, and a couple of museums, but nothing prestigious enough for any of us to have ever heard of - unless we'd lived there before.

The other four cities from Louisiana that top this happiness list are all similarly unremarkable.  Unless, however, you consider how remarkable it is that such unglamorous, unexciting, unsophisticated, and relatively unknown cities can claim the top five spots for being full of so many happy people.

Of the top ten on this list, nine are Southern cities, with Nashville being the largest of the lot, and the most famous.  The one northern city is Rochester, Minnesota, which is home to the highly-regarded Mayo Clinic, as well as a major facility for IBM.  Minnesota is known for its brutal winters, so balmy weather obviously isn't a major priority for Rochesterites, most of whom must be pretty well-educated to work for employers like the Mayo Clinic and IBM.

And as far as big cities are concerned, Nashville has grown so much over the years, its traffic congestion can rival anybody's, and its Tennessee summers can be downright sweltering.  It is, of course, a dominant player in the music industry, but it's also got bragging rights as a prestigious college town, and it's home to Hospital Corporation of America, the largest operator of healthcare facilities in the world.

So what does all of this mean in terms of how legitimate "happiness" is?  We've got the "happy, happy, happy" bubbas down in Louisiana, and it would be easy for coastal sophisticates to write them off as a bunch of simpletons too swaddled by southern breezes and Cajun jambalaya to know how much better life can be beyond their mossy bayous.  But in stark contrast to Louisiana, Rochester and Nashville boast world-class corporate and cultural features with which the stereotypical bayou city can't compete.

Of course, the stereotypical Louisiana bubba likely wouldn't want to compete for jobs in Rochester and concert tickets in Nashville anyway.  Which probably helps explain why they're so happy.  If Duck Dynasty is any guide, they don't even mind being called "bubbas," either, since to many of them, being one is a point of pride, not derision.

Hey - they're not the ones commuting to jobs that stress them out and pay just enough to cover atrocious rents and income taxes.  Louisianans don't go to sleep every night to the lullaby of ambulance sirens and utility company jackhammers.  Not outside of New Orleans, anyway.  Nobody in Lafayette has to stuff themself into an aluminum tin can and rocket through underground subway tunnels with the smell of somebody else's urine turning their stomach.  If anybody in Louisiana wants to subject themself to an assault on their senses, they can visit New York City as a tourist, soak up the bedlam, and then return home, happy that they don't have to put up with that chaos on a daily basis.

Meanwhile, people from all over the world continue to stream onto Manhattan Island, and spill over into the boroughs, thinking that Gotham is where they can find true happiness.  Sexual happiness, economic happiness, artistic happiness, cultural happiness, political happiness... when all the while, where they probably should be going is likely more mundane than the hometowns they've left.

So, is true happiness found in the ordinary?  In the unexceptional, uncrowded, and inexpensive?  Do skyscrapers, an aging mass transit system, historic bridges, ultra-liberal politics, and 24/7 congestion result in happiness?  Or do the people who willingly subject themselves to such things their own worst enemy for figuring that's the price they pay for some sort of urbane significance?  Are they a lot of realists, and cynics, who compete with each other to be the best at whatever jobs they're doing, but who also know that onerous rents will only continue to rise until dangerous crime also rises - one of the city's more perverse balancing acts between boom and bust?

No, New Yorkers aren't very happy people.  It appears that most urbanites across the United States are not.  But they'd probably be even more miserable if they had to live in Louisiana.

Which likely makes Louisiana's bubbas even happier, knowing they won't have to share their idyll with all 'em obnoxious city slickers!


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Second Time Still No Charm for UN's CRPD


Play it again, Uncle Sam.

Well-meaning senators appear ready to make another attempt at passing a controversial United Nations treaty.  It's the same treaty that failed to win enough votes two years ago, even though it would ostensibly help improve the legal rights of handicapped people around the world.

Who would be against such a thing, right?

Actually, nobody is against improving the legal rights of the world's handicapped population.  But plenty of American conservatives have a problem with the language contained in the UN's treaty.  It's called the Convention On the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (CRPD), and at face value, it reads like an unobjectionable declaration of support for the disabled.  What could be sinister about that? After all, it's based largely on the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), and you'd have to be pretty selfish and mean-spirited to oppose such humanitarian legislation.

Unfortunately for everybody, however, there are several obscure problems with how the UN's CRPD is worded, and, as they say, the devil is in the details.  Besides, it's a valid question to ask why the United States needs to ratify a UN treaty regarding human rights.  Think about it:  If other governments around the world need a treaty from the UN before they'll protect their disabled populations, then how will a diplomatic document change their mindset when it comes to the logistics and expenses of treating the handicapped with respect?

American conservatives have also questioned the long-term efficacy of signing any UN treaty, regardless of how altruistic it may seem.  Remember, UN treaties generally supersede the laws of any sovereign nation, and why does our ADA need to be superseded?  We're already the world's punching bag.  Nevertheless, to try and overcome this objection, some senators say new language they've attached to their second ratification attempt should neutralize the convention's authority in the US.  But again, if that's the case, then what's the point of the UN treaty to begin with?

Remember the Kyoto Protocol, that massive 1997 UN treaty that was supposed to save our planet from harmful greenhouse gases?  Guess what?  Canada pulled out in 2011.  Russia and Japan have pulled out, too.  What does that say about the political import of UN treaties?  So why do so many Americans still think it's so important that we keep feigning our diplomatic support for such fickle documents?

If we want a disability treaty with bite to it, why not let our ADA speak for itself as the international guide for respecting the rights of the disabled?

Seriously!  When it comes to the rights of people with disabilities, our ADA, passed in 1990, is already the most comprehensive document of its kind.  If anything, the ADA should be the world's prevailing standard when it comes to protecting handicapped people.  Or maybe America's Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) should be the standard?  Or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990?  Or the 1988 amendment to the Fair Housing Act?

We know why none of these would be embraced by most UN member countries.  And it's because America's legislative efforts encode specific standards for basic mobility and accommodation that, in most countries where human rights are decidedly marginalized, would be virtually unattainable.  Non-handicapped citizens of such countries can only dream of the rights and privileges Americans want for the differently-abled among us.  It goes back to the motivation other countries have when it comes to respecting their citizens who are differently-abled.  A motivation that, frankly, won't materialize simply because of a UN treaty.  Not only that, but this UN document is just vague enough to let countries off the hook if they can't - or won't - provide the social and physical infrastructure necessary to meet the needs of their disabled citizenry.

And it's the CRPD's vague language that poses significant concerns among even advocates for the handicapped in the United States.  No less than the international and influential Christian ministry Joni and Friends, run by quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada, has come out against the CRPD.  Not because the basic intention of the UN's convention is wrong or bad, but because of the way its nuanced language creates ambiguous challenges to life in the womb, parental authority, and our country's current ability to protect all of its people.

In particular, language like "empowerment" and "autonomy" in Articles 6, 16, and 23 could be manipulated to the advantage of pro-abortionists, along with the phrase "sexual and reproductive health" in Article 25.  The lack of language acknowledging parental responsibilities in Articles 7 and 14, combined with granting children "equal rights" in Article 23, could be manipulated to the advantage of social welfare agents of the state seeking to undermine the wishes of parents.  Also in Article 23, an amusingly-worded paragraph authorizing "competent authorities" to override the wishes of a handicapped child's parents could result in extraordinarily troubling government interference in interpreting what's best for that family.

After all, does the phrase "competent authorities" describe any government bureaucracy you know?

If all of this sounds like the reasons for opposing the CRPD are based on moral grounds - which in and of itself isn't a bad thing, of course - consider that in the Preamble of its convention, in Section E, the UN asserts "disability is an evolving concept."  What government body worth its salt would ratify a document with such unstable language?

Okay, maybe that's a bad question, considering all of the bad legislation that comes out of Washington.

Nevertheless, if, as the UN claims, "disability is an evolving concept," doesn't that mean the CRPD is holding in advance certain interpretations to its document that nobody knows yet?  How unsettling does that sound to you?  Doesn't it sound like a legal foothold, or placeholder, into sovereignty rights?

"We know we want to tell you what to do," the UN is saying, "but we don't know how many ways the future will provide us for intruding into your nation's sovereignty, so we're going ahead and claiming that power now."

The only real argument that advocates for the disabled have been able to push in favor of our Senate's ratification of this convention is that it appears to provide handicapped Americans traveling abroad new safeguards in countries where today, accommodations for the disabled are poor or non-existent.  But if you read further down into the CRPD, you will learn that no concrete timetables for providing even the basic ADA-style expectations exist in this convention.  Physical aids like braille plates on elevators and wheelchair ramps require money and initiative that many countries simply lack, whereas philosophical rules can easily be subverted by attorneys working to introduce expanded practices like abortion within a society.

Can't America still model its compassion towards and inclusion of disabled people without ratifying the United Nations' Convention On the Rights of Persons With Disabilities?  The CRPD may be well-intentioned, but it doesn't achieve anything for the people it's supposed to benefit.  Besides, it's unnecessary for us, potentially intrusive and immoral, and certainly counter-intuitive for a nation of laws like ours.

Yesterday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee once again approved this treaty, making it eligible to once again be brought before the full Senate for a vote.  Political pundits guess that vote may take place either before Capitol Hill's August recess, or after the November elections.

Two years ago, ratification failed by only five votes.  Today, its supporters again doubt it will pass, but with eager grass-roots advocacy once again gaining steam from disabilities groups across the country, the tide may be shifting.  Over 800 of these social service organizations have officially endorsed the treaty, along with conservative business interests like WalMart and the US Chamber of Commerce.  Meanwhile, opposition to CRPD has been widely derided as the obstinate, uneducated troublemaking of extremists who want to make mountains out of molehills.  It's the "Party of No" once again being its redneck, belligerent self.

But unlike some of the other issues Republicans block, the concerns being raised over CRPD are not insignificant, are they?  And since when should an organization that can't control Hamas, or protect civilian aircraft over Ukraine, or help Sudan, or thwart Boko Haram, or pick the right side to champion in Syria - or Iraq, or Iran, or Afghanistan - be allowed to bully America into ratifying anything, let alone a sloppy piece of nice-sounding yet trap-infested rhetoric like CRPD?

Please contact your senators and ask them to vote against CRPD.  Not because you're hard-hearted towards the disabled.  But because you're not.

Click here for information on how to reach the senators from your state.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Walsh Should Resist Copying His Foes


He accuses left-wing progressives of being hateful.

And then he goes on to call one of them a "pompous, pasty white carnival barker."  And a "sycophantic hack."

Matt Walsh is quickly garnering fame among young conservatives as a no-holes-barred, tell-it-like-it-is blogger.  Some people find his writing refreshing, as if somebody younger than Rush Limbaugh is finally speaking their language.

But is it the language of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Not really.

In this particular instance, Walsh is venting his rage against the liberal media machine.  It seems that a lot of professional sports writers and fans are excoriating retired NFL coach Tony Dungy over Dungy's lack of enthusiasm for football's first openly gay player.  When asked whether he'd have wanted draftee Michael Sam on his team, Dungy opined that all of the associated distractions over Sam's sexuality would be counter-productive for the team as a whole.  And it appears that many football fans are aghast that Dungy, now working as a network television football analyst, displays what they consider to be blatant bigotry against gays.

In sports circles, Dungy is known as an ardent evangelical.  So even though his quote was not about the morality of Sam's sexuality, liberals have translated it into one.

Walsh's main point in taking on Dungy's critics is that the former football coach did not specifically denigrate homosexuality generally, or Sam specifically.  Dungy merely pointed out that as a coach, he wouldn't have wanted a player's sexuality - which is not a primary consideration when it comes to winning football games - to so dominate his overall team.  And nobody can deny that having the NFL's first openly gay player on their team isn't going to be a significant distraction.  Just look at how Dungy's innocent comments have exploded in the media.

But Walsh doesn't leave it there.  He's not content to merely point out that Dungy's comments have been grossly taken out of context by hard-line gay advocates.  He wants to take things further, and try to prove how the firestorm over Dungy's comments represents an obfuscation of Dungy's First Amendment rights.  If you're not going to be gung-ho about the homosexual lifestyle, Walsh argues, then you're Public Enemy Number One.  And to a certain extent, Walsh is correct.

Walsh believes that liberals hate anybody who does not profess unequivocal support for homosexuality in every facet of society.  If you express hesitation regarding the appropriateness of homosexuality in any form, such as gender distinction when it comes to public restrooms, or whether churches should be able to consider sexual preference when hiring their employees, Walsh says left-wingers will try to discredit you.  And again, for the most part, Walsh is correct.

It's a hard enough point to make in our day and time, with the society we have that, as Walsh accurately portrays, believes traditional morality is now immoral.

But then Walsh goes and blows his whole argument.

Not only does he describe sportswriter Dan Wetzel as the "pasty white carnival barker," but he blasts cable TV talking head Keith Olbermann's own hollow viciousness towards Dungy.

"I’ll say this for Olbermann," Walsh gloats.  "Once he’s fired again, he can look back at his stints on Current TV, MSNBC, and ESPN 2, and take pride in being the only guy who wasn’t good enough to hold a job at the three most irrelevant networks in the history of television."

Aw, shucks, Walsh.  What a mature thing to include in your blog post.

Ironically enough, Walsh catches himself in his own net.  While he blames liberal progressives for wanting to "punish the transgressor for his scandalous lack of progressive piety," and that they're "willing to say anything to make sure that he feels your rage," isn't Walsh doing the same thing?

Meanwhile, if Walsh is writing from a Christ-honoring point of view, should he be so concerned about matching hate for hate?  What about the Fruit of the Spirit?  Doesn't he understand that the core reason people don't like what Dungy may have been insinuating lies not in their personal decision to hate sexual moralists, but in their sinful perversions that manifest themselves through hate?

Not that followers of Christ shouldn't get angry when we see sin, but in our anger, should we ourselves sin?  Sure, Christ twice called the religious leaders of His time on Earth a "brood of vipers," but was He being petty or juvenile, insulting them for dramatic effect?  In both of the instances when the Bible records this phrase, in Matthew 3:7 and 12:34, Christ was contrasting Eden's serpent from good fruit, and He clarified what He meant by teaching how the mouth reveals what is in our heart.

All Walsh does is launch a few petulant zingers to entertain his audience.

Yet Christ never calls us to make fun of our adversaries.  We should pray for them, and pity them, and correct them in truth and love.  Yes, this is a battle, and it's a battle between righteousness and evil.  But don't forget:  it's Christ's battle, and He's already won it.

So what are we to do?  Honor Him by testifying to His goodness, truth, power, and authority.  Oh - and His love.  How?  By modeling the Fruit of the Spirit, so that the world around us will know that we are Christians by our... love.

Not our hate, or mean-spiritedness, or our snappy come-backs, or even our subconscious assumptions that Christ can't possibly use us in the ministry of His grace and reconciliation that He may be working within our enemies.

This battle over homosexuality's political correctness isn't going away any time soon.  So pace yourself, Walsh.  And if you're going to copy anybody, emotion for emotion, don't copy the liberals you like to lambaste.

Copy Christ, the One Who died to pay the debt of your sins.  As well as the sins of any liberals He deigns to redeem.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Border Kids Face Murrieta Syndrome


Not in your backyard?

What types of things don't you want in your community, or near your home, or close to where your family lives?

None of us wants crime, or pollution, do we?  We don't want an unrepentant, self-confessed murderer who somehow got out of jail living next door, do we?  We probably wouldn't want a brass band playing 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  We wouldn't want an open garbage pit, or a crematorium with a faulty smokestack, or a chemical plant that encourages its employees to smoke on the job, either.

Depending on how righteous or affluent you consider your community to be, you might not want bars, or alcohol sales of any kind, or convenience stores, or fast-food restaurants, or used car lots.  You wouldn't want anything that brings down your property values.  Or doesn't bring up your self-esteem.

But what is it about a bunch of kids who've been shooed out of their native countries by their own parents?  Suddenly, all these adolescents have automatically become as undesirable as a halfway house, or a prison for juvenile offenders.  Sure, they're here illegally, but it's a bit more complicated than that, isn't it?  Nevertheless, as word spreads of our government's plans for temporarily housing these children from the border, communities across the country are beginning to flatly refuse to cooperate.

It started in the obscure town of Murrieta, California, earlier this month, when a brazen band of conservatives blocked buses of migrant children from reaching a facility set up to hold them while their petitions for entry into the United States are processed.

Now, the sentiment reaches from Iowa to Michigan and Virginia, in small towns and public statehouses, as local activists and governors alike complain about and defiantly protest the prospect of temporarily housing young detainees from the border.

Call it the "Murrieta Syndrome."

It would be one thing if these communities were reasoning that they didn't have the medical or educational facilities to properly address the critical needs most of these children likely face:  physical illnesses, malnutrition, psychological traumas of all sorts, mastery of a language other than English, and almost certainly a deficiency in scholastic acumen.  These kids might not be unintelligent, but how likely is it that they can perform at their grade level in even a remedial American classroom?

These would be legitimate concerns, especially in states further away from the border, where Spanish-speaking teachers, clinicians, and social workers are in relatively scarce supply.  Plus, some of these communities being targeted by our government for hosting the detainees are pretty small, and some of them are rural.  Even if every one of these children will be deported soon, scattering them to parts of the country that aren't used to visitors who are so utterly different from the locals doesn't sound helpful for anybody, least of all the migrant children, who are already probably in culture shock.

Then there's the question of how dispersing what may end up being 90,000 kids is cost-effective?  Or efficient?  Especially if President Obama thinks we need to be spending nearly four billion dollars on special immigration courts to expedite the processing of these kids?  Shouldn't we be centralizing these processes, and concentrating our resources?  Especially since we don't really know the total scope of this situation?

Yes, that means states like Texas and Arizona would likely bear the brunt of these logistical concerns, but if the emphasis is on exercising a measure of control over this situation, then perhaps it can be resolved that much quicker.  And can't we all find value in an expedited resolution?

As it is, however, there's not a lot of our government's initial response to this crisis that seems to be well-thought-out.

To make matters worse, such rational considerations of sympathetic logistics aren't at the top of the lists being given by communities who adamantly oppose hosting these kids.  Instead, it's more ugliness.

Conservatives may like to belittle President Obama for not taking this current border crisis seriously, but some of them are using these kids as pawns for a much larger battle over illegal immigration.  To these people, the children from Central America are probably all diseased, probably a dangerous risk to the pure young white women in their patriotic American towns, and an unwanted drain on their meager school and public safety resources.  Maybe these people are hardened racists; maybe they're just unsophisticated at couching their opinions in altruistic jargon; or maybe they have legitimate concerns about how order can be maintained with an infusion of unwanted children into their relatively sheltered communities.  But it sure sounds like they're mostly simple racists.

And if that's the case, then no; these children don't belong near people like that.  Personally, I believe that these children need to be returned to the countries  - and, more importantly, the families - from which they came.  And the sooner the better.  Not because we can't afford to house them, or don't want to, but because every day that's used for our intranational bickering is a day lost for each of these kids, and their journey of recovering from this awful episode in their young lives.

Not in your backyard, all you Murrietas of America?

Considering the acrimony you've displayed to "the least of these," the rest of us don't want them in your backyard, either.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Good Politics is Bad News for Border Kids


It's no secret:  good politicians don't necessarily enact good policies.

And in an election year, elected officials believe making risky decisions is bad politics.

For proof, all we need is the dearth of official action regarding the tens of thousands of juvenile immigrants coming across our southern border with Mexico.  A planeload of these kids was flown back to Central America yesterday, but whether you're for deportation or asylum, one plane full of them is a drop in the bucket, numbers-wise.  It's not a sign that comprehensive action is being made to stem the crisis.

Texas governor Rick Perry, a Republican, has been joined by none other than the state's Democratic nominee to replace him this fall, the much-celebrated Wendy Davis, in calling for President Barak Obama to visit our border with Mexico.  Although they may have different designs on the President's proposals, both liberal and conservative politicians in Texas want Obama to see the urgency of the situation for himself.  But the President refuses to do it.

He's asked for billions of dollars to ramp-up our immigration agencies so that these kids can be processed faster through the system, but Republicans are balking at both the pricetag - approximately $41,000 per child, if 90,000 are processed, as experts predict - and the lack of specifics in his request.  Meanwhile, from both left-wing and right-wing corners, the media is having a field day at the expense of all these kids, blasting their partisan opponents for being intransigent while so much is at stake for such vulnerable youngsters.

Of course, it's not just politics that has people playing to their constituents.  

Here in Dallas, two prominent pastors have publicly taken two opposing sides of the debate, with a white pastor from a wealthy, conservative Baptist congregation arguing for a strong border policy, and a black pastor from a liberal Baptist church on the poor side of town trying to shame his white colleague for his lack of compassion.

It's also been argued by some liberal Christians that the Baby Jesus was a child migrant fleeing violence in his hometown.  But this is simply bad theology mixed with inaccurate history.  For one thing, Christ never broke any laws, particularly since immigration laws did not exist when He lived on Earth.  For another thing, the infant Christ did not travel alone, but with His parents, who had been warned in a dream to flee Herod, before any violence had erupted.

From a political angle, the Washington Post today published the results of a poll they conducted with ABC News that indicates upwards of 60% of America's electorate disapprove of the President's handling of our current border crisis.  Roughly half of the voters questioned said they support spending the $3.7 billion the President has proposed to throw at the problem.  And Republicans were roundly faulted for being too vociferous on the deportation issue, and therefore, too uncaring about the plight these children likely face if we simply send them home.

This is July, and our mid-term elections are coming up in November, which doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room for politicians to actually take a stand - a stand that could strongly impact their electability quotient this fall.  Especially since illegal immigration has been a hot-button can they've been kicking down the proverbial road for years now.  Confounding almost everyone seems to be the fact that we don't know how many kids are still in transit, still working their way through Central America, planning to come into our country seeking assistance - or asylum, as some are now calling it.  It will be months before the true scope of this tragedy can be grasped, except by then, we might be deep into election season.

Which situation is more important to politicians?  Those unaccompanied kids at our border, or re-election?

Currently, many politicians may simply be holding their breath, hoping they can wait it out a little while longer before having to commit to something that their constituents may find unpopular.  And to what might they eventually commit?  Well, conservatives will likely lean towards supporting an expedited deportation process, and liberals will likely lean towards blanket amnesty.  Unfortunately for everybody, however, our otherwise liberal President's big-budget plan, as it's currently understood, is geared towards deportation, not amnesty.  And he can't get the support he needs because he's a lame duck, and increasingly, a sitting duck for every politician of both stripes who thinks they can better woo voters apart from him than with him.

So, as is usually the case, these kids are in political limbo.  Right now, as you're reading this, if you're reading this close to its posting date.  If you have kids, what are they doing right now?  And how hard are you needing to work and plan to provide for their food, shelter, education, protection, clothing, exercise, health, socialization, and transportation?  Now multiply that time, expense, and energy by the approximately 60,000 kids who are being babysat by border patrol officials and contract social workers.  How long can this tenuous childcare operation last before resentment, anger, and frustration become rampant?  Both among these kids, and their caregivers?

Many factors have combined to create this tragic dilemma.  And one of those factors involves politicians who have become good at their craft, which means they've become an expert at staying in office.  They become an expert at politics that may be good or bad for the rest of us, but ultimately, is beside the point to them.  And this applies not only to America's politicians, but the politicians in the countries from which these children have come.

A lot of Republican politicians like to claim that we're a country of exceptionalism.  Well, this is one of those times where our politicians on both sides of the aisle can put that exceptionalism into practice.

Of course, Congress has pretty much given itself the entire month of August off.  Hey - it's the Great American Summer Vacation.  Surely the kids will understand, right?


Monday, July 14, 2014

Poor Border Kids? What About Chicago's?


This past weekend, four people were shot to death and 29 others wounded in Chicago.

Over the July 4th holiday weekend earlier this month, 82 Chicagoans were shot within 84 hours, and fourteen of those people died.  Last year, over the Independence Day holiday, those numbers were 70 and 13.

Clearly, the Windy City has a problem with violence involving guns.  And when these weekends are over, the totals are added up, and the media posts them for the rest of America to see, we collectively shake our heads, clucking our tongues , and give thanks for not living in that dangerous metropolis.

But that's about it.  For the most part, Chicago's murderous summers are Chicago's problem, and it's been that way for so long, there's no urgency left to the situation.

Liberals give lip service to gun control, and use the NRA as their handy punching bag, but they can't overcome the reality that even if they banned every gun today, no legislation has the power to stop the shootings, since by now, it's obvious that the city is full of people who have adopted violence as a way of life.  And death.

And conservatives point to Chicago's failed legacy of government-sponsored welfare policies that have created entire generations of families who have been stripped of self-worth and personal responsibility.

Of course, there are many more problems than these at play when it comes to urban crime and violence, but at their core, both sides of the partisan political aisle know that what's going wrong in Chicago has been going wrong for decades, and there are no quick fixes.

Meanwhile, down at the border between Texas and Mexico, America's media machine has become infatuated with the plight of thousands of kids who have been sent here by their parents.  The urgency of this situation is palpable, since most average Americans can't conceive of how parents could intentionally put their children on such a dangerous trek, and have the audacity - or naivete - to expect the United States to welcome them with open arms, no questions asked.

This summer's border children are the media darlings du jour, and on the one hand, they should be.  It's a bizarre story twisted by international strife, parental desperation, political opportunism, and children who are supposed to be sleeping under their watchful parents' sheltering roof every night, not traipsing half-way across a hemisphere by themselves.

On the other hand, however, it's easy to throw out the rules and play on emotions when it comes to kids in crisis, which is what a lot of Americans want to do with these juvenile immigrants.  We look at the immediate needs they face, and we want to fix things for them now, to try and mitigate what we presume to be the most traumatic experience of their young lives:  being in a foreign country with no direct familial resources.   Many of them are sick, some are pregnant, they're almost all undereducated for their grade level, and almost all of them speak only Spanish.

The hardcore cynic could easily find similarities between the children crossing the border, and the children either being killed, or shot at, or even doing the shooting in Chicago.  How many children of the ghetto live in a functional, traditional family environment?  How many of these children live in structurally-sound, fully-code-compliant housing?  How many of them don't face the same type of dangers these kids from Central America supposedly faced in their home countries?  Gangs?  Sexual abuse?  Prostitution?  Drugs?  What's different between inner-city Chicago and Honduras?  Shucks, if you're really progressive and count the street language - or "Ebonics" - in which many urban kids are fluent - you could even say Chicago's impoverished children consider conventional English as a second language.

What's the difference?

A major part of it is the media exposure Central America's youngest emigrants to our border have received.  The saga has everything our media loves to exploit:  children, bad parents, partisan politics, and even sex, considering the young women who've been raped on their journey here.  What do the kids in Chicago have that the media can use to sell advertising revenue?  Guns, violence, rage against the system... nah, we've all heard that before.  Urban violence is old news in the United States.

We tend to pity the kids from Central America.  The kids from Chicago?  Well, it's their own fault for not staying in school, or staying out of trouble, or staying indoors.  Granted, it's not just kids being killed on Chicago's lethal streets.  But a lot of kids are there; watching, fearing, listening, running, ducking, cowering, and seeing loved ones getting shot.  And their angst means less than the anxiety our border kids are experiencing?

Advisers to President Obama say they're going to try and come up with a marketing campaign to tell parents in Central America that all is not golden regarding the chances their children will have regarding a better life in the United States.

Maybe the White House should just send people in Central America some Spanish-language versions of the Chicago Sun-Times.
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Update 7/21/14:  This past weekend, one week later, 40 Chicagoans were shot, and four killed.