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“Ebola And America’s Childish Narcissism”: We, As A Country, Have Never Been Good At Keeping Things In Perspective

I don’t start many columns like this, but kudos to Fox News and specifically host Shepard Smith for decimating this Ebola hysteria the other day. David Ignatius of The Washington Post picked up on Smith’s sentiment with an equally solid column. Ignatius quoted Smith thus: “Today, given what we know, you should have no concerns about Ebola at all. None. I promise. Unless a medical professional has contacted you personally and told you of some sort of possible exposure, fear not. Do not listen to the hysterical voices on the radio and the television or read the fear-provoking words online.”

I’ll go them one better. It’s moments like this one that bring out the absolute worst in the media, some political figures, and, it must be said, a hell of a lot of regular people, too—all of which is to say, the country. America is a narcissistic and inward-looking society at the best of the times. At the worst of times, it’s something even worse; a country with utterly no understanding of the pain and struggle and banal, recurrent death that the rest of the world lives with on a daily basis. So not only should we not panic, but beyond that, instead of turning ever-more inward, this Ebola moment should be precisely the time when we pause and look around the globe and realize how insignificant (though yes of course tragic on their own terms) three deaths are.

In the amount of time it probably took you to read the above two paragraphs, two African children died of malaria. That’s one every 30 seconds, every minute, every hour, every day, every month, every grinding year. And this constitutes a bit of an improvement over 10 or 20 years ago. Many of these children are under five years old. Such an abattoir would never be permitted to continue in the United States, or indeed the developed (and white) world. It would be very wrong of course to say the world does nothing about it. Many amazing people devote their lives to changing this, but somehow it does not change enough, and in recent years the malaria situation has been made even worse by what is to me the single most despicable human activity I’ve ever heard of in my life this side of the gas chambers—the sale of fake anti-malarial drugs for profit.

Want to worry about children? Read the speech given Thursday in the United Arab Emirates by Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Half of the world’s millions of refugees are children, and they live lives of wretched, numbing upheaval and violence. Guterres: “We know that refugee children are at increased risk of child labor and recruitment, and more vulnerable to violence in their homes, communities, or schools, including sexual and gender-based violence. This is one of the reasons, along with financial difficulties, why more and more refugee parents agree to marry off their daughters as children.”

Queen Raina of Jordan also spoke, calling the refugee crisis in Syria “a slap in the face of humanity.” And, she might well have added, of her country, and of Lebanon, both of which have taken in millions of Syrians, placing burdens on those countries’ infrastructures that Americans couldn’t begin to imagine. Lebanon’s Syrian refugee population is equal to 25 percent of its native population. Could you imagine the United States taking in a like number of Latin American refugees? That would be 75 million people! Our right wing went absolutely ballistic this past summer over 60,000 kids, who came here for reasons we helped create. There is all this churning violence out there of which probably 90 percent of Americans are barely aware. In so much of the world, death and violence are just normal parts of life. And to the response “tough, that’s their problem,” there are at least three good retorts.

The first is that we shouldn’t be so holier than thou, because it wasn’t really that long ago in historical terms that death and violence were normal parts of American life as well. This was an extremely dark and brutal (and insalubrious) country well into the 20th century. It was only really after World War II, after the spread of the general prosperity, that violent death and disease were checked in most of the United States. Vast pockets of both continued to exist well after that—in Appalachia and the inner cities, for example—and some exist still. So our “right” to feel smug about these kinds of things is rather new.

Second, we can’t fail to acknowledge that we played a role in making some of this violence happen. It’s unquestionably true with respect to the countries of Central America whence the border-crisis kids were arriving in June. It’s also undeniably the case in Iraq, where our war created millions of refugees and is still doing so (1.2 million so far this year alone, according to the UNHCR). Where our culpability isn’t that direct—Egypt, say, or Gaza—there are regimes imposing violence on helpless people that obviously could not do so without American billions.

Third, well, I happen to be an American, but I recognize, and you should too, that that’s as accidental a reality as anything could possibly be. So I lucked out in the old ovarian lottery, and the little zygote that became me happened to have been formed inside a particular set of borders. I’ve never understood why that should free me of the obligation to worry about those who didn’t have my luck. All the more reason to, I’d have thought.

All societies are like ours to some extent. Lord knows, many are more chauvinistic. But here’s where I think we are unique: in our continued capacity to be shocked that anything terrible could happen to us. This has everything to do with the narrative we are fed and, in a continuous loop through the media (not just news media, but all media, Hollywood and the rest), feed and re-feed to ourselves. We are exceptional. These things don’t happen here. I remember thinking not long after September 11: Why was everyone so shocked? True, the audacity of it was shocking, so there’s that. But they’d tried to do it before to the World Trade Center, and anyway, nearly everyone else in the world lives with this kind of thing, albeit on a less operatic scale. I was surprised only that it took them that long to deliver a blow like that to our shores.

But the point now is that nothing is on our shores. Shepard Smith is right. So it isn’t happening to us, and yet we’re acting like it is, and while we’re not exactly forgetting the people it actually is happening to, we are certainly diminishing their far worse suffering.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, October 18, 2014

October 20, 2014 Posted by | American Exceptionalism, Ebola, Media | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Not A Single GOP Ripple”: So Much For Politics Stopping At The Water’s Edge

We talked earlier about Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who brought three television cameras, three photographers, six reporters, a political aide, two press secretaries, and far-right activist David Bossie to Guatemala for a “stage-managed political voyage.” But it appears that wasn’t the only reason for the trip.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told the Guatemalan president the surge of child immigrants flooding the U.S. border this year is a result of President Obama’s policies, not problems in Central America.

“I told him, frankly, that I didn’t think the problem was in Guatemala City, but that the problem was in the White House in our country, and that the mess we’ve got at the border is frankly because of the White House’s policies,” Paul told Brietbart News in an article published Thursday.

According to the report in The Hill, the Kentucky Republican sat down with Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina for 45 minutes, and the senator discussed politics with the foreign head of state.

“I think what’s happened at the border is all squarely at the president’s lap,” Paul said. “The problem and the solution aren’t in Guatemala. The problem and solution reside inside the White House.”

As a substantive matter, the senator’s position is tough to defend or even understand. President Obama didn’t sign the 2008 human-trafficking measure into law; he didn’t create awful conditions in Central American countries; and he didn’t encourage anyone to lie to desperate families about what would happen to their children. If there’s a coherent explanation for why the White House is to blame, it’s hiding well.

But even putting that aside, since when is it kosher for U.S. officials to travel abroad to condemn U.S. leaders like this?

In fairness, it’s hard to say with certainty exactly what Rand Paul told President Molina during their discussion. I haven’t seen a video of the meeting and all we have to go on is the senator’s own claims.

But if Paul is telling the truth, he traveled abroad, visited with a foreign leader, and spent time trashing the president of the United States.

I seem to remember a time when there were norms that deemed actions like this unacceptable.

Under traditional American standards, some considered it inappropriate to criticize the president when he was overseas. More importantly, when U.S. officials were outside the country, norms called on those officials to refrain from criticizing America’s elected leaders.

I guess that doesn’t apply anymore? These standards were certainly in place during the Bush/Cheney era.

Here’s what happened in 2006 when Al Gore gave a speech at a conference in Saudi Arabia in which he criticized Bush policies towards the Muslim world – as summarized by The New York Times’ Chris Sullentrop:

“As House Democrats David Bonior and Jim McDermott may recall from their trip to Baghdad on the eve of the Iraq war, nothing sets conservative opinionmongers on edge like a speech made by a Democrat on foreign soil. Al Gore traveled to Saudi Arabia last week, and in a speech there on Sunday he criticized ‘abuses’ committed by the U.S. government against Arabs after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. A burst of flabbergasted conservative blogging followed the Associated Press dispatch about the speech… The editorial page of Investor’s Business Daily accused Gore of ‘supreme disloyalty to his country’….”

The Wall St. Journal’s James Taranto accused Gore of “denouncing his own government on foreign soil” and quoted the above accusation of “disloyalty.” Commentary was abundant all but accusing Gore of treason for criticizing the U.S. in a foreign land.

I’ll concede that such niceties may be antiquated, and maybe no one cares about this anymore. But if presidential criticism abroad was outrageous in the Bush/Cheney era, why does it barely cause a ripple now?

Update: Just to flesh this out further, in 2010, then-House Minority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) traveled to Israel in the hopes of undermining U.S. foreign policy towards Israel. At the time, this caused quite a stir in foreign-policy circles – it seemed extraordinary for an elected American official to travel abroad in order to work against his own country’s position.Perhaps now, with the Rand Paul example in mind, the practice is becoming more common.

For even more context, note that in 2007, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) met with Syrian officials in Syria. Republicans, including Cantor, suggested Pelosi may have violated the Logan Act, “which makes it a felony for any American ‘without authority of the United States’ to communicate with a foreign government to influence that government’s behavior on any disputes with the United States.”

One wonders who, if anyone, will raise similar allegations against Rand Paul.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 22, 2014

August 23, 2014 Posted by | Border Crisis, GOP, Rand Paul | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Dumb And Dumber”: House Republicans Vote To Deport As Many Kids As Possible

Dumb and dumber. That’s the best way to describe two bills passed by House Republicans on Friday night. They passed a supplemental funding bill allocating about $700 million for the crisis on the border. It includes changes to current law that will make it easier to send child migrants back to Central America. They also voted to wind down the Obama administration’s Deferred Action program for young immigrants. So forget about comprehensive reform: House Republicans have settled on the “Let’s deport as many kids as possible” approach.

These two bills do not represent a coherent response to our border crisis. They reflect House Speaker John Boehner’s failed leadership as well as the triumph of immigration extremists. While these bills will have zero policy impact, the GOP will likely feel their political impact for years to come — and not in a good way.

To understand why these bills passed, let’s back up for a moment. Recall that Speaker Boehner originally wanted to vote on a border crisis bill on Thursday. But he couldn’t round up enough votes, and the bill was pulled. This was a major embarrassment for the Speaker. Amazingly, Boehner then suggested that President Obama should take executive action on immigration. “There are numerous steps the president can and should be taking right now, without the need for congressional action,” he said in a statement, “to secure our borders and ensure these children are returned swiftly and safely to their countries.”

Huh? Right now the House is suing the president for taking executive action. For the Speaker to suggest that President Obama act on his own on immigration is inconsistent and hypocritical (Does that mean he will support the president’s expected executive action on immigration?).

As it turned out, in order to get the votes for a border bill Boehner allowed a vote on a bill that would end the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) program. Introduced by the Obama administration in 2012, DACA grants relief from deportation to undocumented immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children. About half a million of these young people, also known as Dreamers, have so far qualified for its protection.

In case you’re wondering, DACA has nothing to do with the crisis on the border. Although some Republicans have surmised that it caused the ongoing influx of child migrants, there is no evidence to support this claim.

Now Boehner can say that House Republicans did something on immigration before they left for the August recess. Yet this is a hollow victory, because these bills are going nowhere. The Senate would never approve them and even if they did, the president has pledged to veto them.

The anti-DACA vote, however, will have real consequences for the Republican Party. Consider that recent polling from Latino Decisions showed that 75 percent of Latino voters said that any move to dismantle DACA would make them less favorably inclined towards the GOP. Ana Navarro, a Republican strategist, tweeted that the anti-DACA vote “antagonizes Latinos, energizes Democratic base, and emboldens the GOP ‘No’ caucus.” She is right — and the GOP will be paying the price for years to come. Two hundred sixteen House members, many of whom harbor national ambitions, are now on record as opposing a policy supported by overwhelming majorities of Latino voters.

Obviously, a majority of House Republicans supported these measures — or they wouldn’t have passed. “The changes brought into this (the border bills) are ones I’ve developed and advocated for over the past two years. It’s like I ordered it off the menu,” Rep. Steve King (R- Iowa) told CQ Roll Call. The fact that the GOP position on immigration is now in sync with King, a man who once compared Dreamers to drug mules, should be alarming to Republicans concerned about their long-term viability as a national party. As disappointing as President Obama has been on immigration, these mean-spirited votes make it clearer than ever which party values Hispanic voters.

Friday’s House votes were a sad spectacle. On immigration, the GOP has taken another hard lurch to the right, and Latino voters will not soon forget it.


By: Raul A. Reyes, The Huffington Post Blog, August 4, 2014

August 5, 2014 Posted by | Border Crisis, House Republicans, Immigration | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Dereliction Of Duty”: In The Military, One Gets Court Martialed; In Congress, One Gets Re-Elected

According to the Brookings Institution there are some 47,000 unaccompanied children in the USA from Central America, almost all of whom arrived this year. There is no question that the numbers have overwhelmed an already out-of-date system and there is no question, or should not be any question, about our responsibility to care for these children while our legal process takes its course and they are either deported or granted asylum.

But now Congress, which has been the most grid-locked Congress in history, is about to adjourn for the rest of the summer without taking the actions necessary to assure that these children are cared for and that their legal process is managed properly and efficiently.

This nation has always been built on compromise. This nation became a beacon to the entire world because we had a legislative process that worked. This nation grew great and strong because we elected people to “GOVERN” and to “REPRESENT THE BEST INTERESTS OF ALL AMERICANS.” Now all of this has been thrown out the window and our system is absolutely derelict in its duty to our people, our principles and our heritage.

Maybe I am a heretic — I have been called worse — but I do not care if you are a Democrat or Republican, I do not care if you are an arch liberal or a Tea Party conservative, there are 47,000 children languishing in this country without proper care, without beds to sleep in, without medical attention or schooling. Now, 435 Representatives and 100 Senators are leaving for vacation where they will party, sun themselves, drink too much and eat some of the best food available…all while these 47,000 children languish.

Shame on all of you!

You have abdicated your right to be called “legislators.” You should be called “abdicators” for that is what you are.

In the military one gets court martialed for dereliction of duty, but in Congress one gets re-elected for another term. It is time for the American people on all sides of the aisle to speak up and tell these overpaid abdicators that they dare not leave Washington until they take care of these children!


By: Harry Leibowitz, World of Children Award Co-Founder & Board Chair; The Huffington Post Blog, July 29, 2014



July 30, 2014 Posted by | Congress, Humanitarian Crisis, Immigrants | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ted Cruz Leads GOP To Disaster (Again)”: Marketing And Posturing To Drive The Base Crazier Than Usual:

Ted Cruz (R-TX), cast in the mold of a spotlight-grabbing Sarah Palin on the way to a reality show, was accurately described by Rachel Maddow as a “brand on legs.” This explains why he has gone after the most uncontroversial program Obama passed unilaterally in wake of the failure of legislation to pass; that is, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

As far as ethics goes, using asylum-seeking children “warehoused” in facilities that look like part Katrina shelter/part dog kennel, as an excuse to attack DACA, falls somewhere between heartlessly passing by the desperate victim robbed in The Good Samaritan, and Frank Underwood sociopathically throwing a reporter in front of a subway car… if both victims were dehydrated little girls desperately trying to escape sex traffickers.

Women and children fleeing violence is nothing new: while some of the stories of how my family came here are likely tall tales, the truth seems to be that my great, great grandmother and great grandfather came here, fleeing Northern Ireland. I had family on both sides of the Ulster Plantation divide, which meant my cousins were likely killing each other in alleys: a condition that would continue for years to come.

When my Protestant great, great grandfather disappeared one day, my Catholic great, great grandmother and my then-12-year-old great grandfather were left to both go through Ellis Island, and find jobs in a New York City that was not happy with it’s current influx of immigrants: they faced openly-bigoted laws and hiring practices. The headwinds they faced, however, seem modest compared to what the border children face today.

The child refugees and asylum-seekers of today, unfortunately, fall perfectly into a difficult, complicated and heated political narrative at a time when everyone is already at each other’s throats: after much delay, Obama finally announced that he would be giving additional unilateral relief around the end of the summer. Everything we see now from Ted Cruz is just marketing and posturing to drive the base crazier than usual:

“The staggering conditions that children are being subjected to are a direct result of the amnesty that President Obama illegally and unilaterally enacted in 2012 [DACA],” said Cruz.

It is hard to believe an Ivy-League Senator would be so ignorant, so I really do think he’s simply knowingly lying: the influx is caused by the highest murder rate in the world in these Central American countries, where people flee areas where gangs murder and rape with impunity; the DACA program will not benefit a single child at the border because you must have been in the country continuously since 2007 to qualify; a president’s administration is not responsible for the lies told by the drug cartels often murdering and raping the desperate children they lure into the desert like a giant windowless van full of candy; they aren’t being drawn by the American Dream, they’re fleeing the Central American nightmare as best they can, and other countries have seen large increases in asylum applications as those fleeing Guatamala, Honduras and El Salvador jump up as much as 700 percent.

While the anger on the Left has been slow in coming, it is still coming: the visuals of children in those horrible shelters aren’t leaving any time soon. The harsh rhetoric around this issue is more of the short-sighted politics we have come to expect of the GOP — they do whatever they can to get through the week, and a lot of it makes absolutely no sense from the outside, i.e. the government shutdown.

The big problem that the GOP either isn’t registering, or it’s very independently-minded characters like Ted Cruz and Louie Gohmert (R-TX) don’t care about, is that the GOP brand is being burned to the ground for them to send out another fundraising letter, or for Rick Perry to take another Putin-esque photo op at the border — with many Latinos believing “there but for the grace of God goes me” as the immigration narrative is very much a Latino one, both in popular perceptions as well as in the surge of asylum-seekers, saying things that boil down to “these kennels are too good for these people” isn’t the way to go.

While the course that the Ted Cruz-controlled portion of the GOP is heading down toward is a predictable one, the results are not. During the last big controversy, he led the GOP-controlled House into the street and encouraged them to play in traffic, and I expect more of the same. What kind of car will blindside the more ambitious, less savvy members of the House is anyone’s guess.


By: Ryan Campbell, The Huffington Post Blog, July 28, 2014



July 29, 2014 Posted by | Immigrants, Refugees, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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