Tuesday WTF Reads

Good Morning!

Ambrosius_Holbein_-_The_Island_of_Utopia_-_WGA11475I’m going to continue my focus on the Central American children seeking safety in the US but today’s post will also include some other gems.  The first interesting thing I would like to share and discuss comes from Michael Lind’s essay on the end of social conservatism.  This is something that I’ve been sending out prayers to the greater ethos about for literally decades. Here’s a bit on that from The New Geography.

Michael Lind has released a new essay titled “The Coming Realignment” in The Breakthrough Journal, one of the most innovative magazines around today. He predicts that social conservatism as we know it will fade away, but that does not mean we will have political consensus; only that the terms of engagement may change.

Lind suggests will be two camps, one he calls “liberaltarian” based in the denser urban areas that he calls “Densitaria”; the other, “populiberalism,” will flourish in more  loosely settled suburban areas he calls “Posturbia.” He contends that Densitaria will be primarily occupied by wealthy urbanites and their poor, often immigrant servants, while Posturbia, being dominated by the single family home, will occupy the middle ground. It may not be accessible to the poorest, and not very desirable to the richest; but it will be, however, racially diverse. In many regions  already, suburbs are now more diverse than core cities.

Neither of these cultures will be hostile to the welfare state, but they will have different preferences about what to expect from it. Densitaria will support the means tested welfare programs that have been called “welfare” in American political discourse, but it will want to control their costs, and will want to put restrictions on things that damage the health of potential welfare clients, like smoking and getting fat.  The Posturbians will favor the type of welfare that comes out of the New Deal, which in American political discourse has not been called “welfare”; non-means tested programs like Social Security and Medicare and other forms of social insurance, public libraries and schools, and other government programs available to all and not just the “poor.” The Republican Party could actually become representative of either camp, depending on how things go.

I would remark that polls of Millennials seem to indicate that opposition to abortion and euthanasia continue to resonate, even as other forms of social conservatism, such as opposition to gay marriage fade; the effect of social liberalism will primarily mean that sexual abstinence will not be considered by future pro-lifers the ideal solution to unwanted pregnancy, and they will not be opposed to contraception. Hopefully, pro-lifers will not automatically link up with one of the two camps but will operate in both; but the Densitarian concern with controlling the costs of welfare may make them reluctant to accept restrictions on abortion and euthanasia.

On the other hand, if Posturbians develop an obsession with “overpopulation,” which is a very dated concern but still heard among some secular conservatives (perhaps because what growth we have is increasingly non-white), and are obsessed with keeping their neighborhoods from becoming Densitarian when it comes to school vouchers and tax credits, which I consider a matter of social justice. However, these reforms may actually have more appeal to Densitarians, depending on how the quality of government schools in Posturbia is perceived.

Meanwhile, more children from Central America head to our borders seeking a better and safer life.  What do child migrants from Guatemala leave 1939, THE WIZARD OF OZbehind them?

In Guatemala, that revolution was stillborn. A democratizing movement in the 1940s tried to institute land reform and rein in the oligarchy and U.S. corporations like United Fruituntil after ten years it was crushed by a CIA-backed counter-revolution. The outrage at the counterrevolution drove a Marxist rebellion, and for the next 30 years the Guatemalan Army rampaged throughout the highlands under the auspices of fighting guerrillas.

But often the guerrillas were only the excuse for old-school wars of conquest. That was what happened in the early 1980s in Rio Negro, where the army attacked a village that had refused to make way for a new hydroelectric project, raping and murdering all but one of the inhabitants. Around the same time, in the Ixil Triangle in the western highlands, the (mostly mestizo) army ran a war of genocide against the indigenous Maya. Most estimates say that around 200,000 people were murdered or disappeared during the war.

These people were murdered, by the Guatemalan state, often with medieval savagery. In the highlands, communities were often forced by the Army to hunt for “subversives,” sometimes to hack their own neighbors to death.

This was a war that happened in living memory; the peace accords were signed in only 1996. After the war, Guatemala put on the trappings of a democratic government. The army returned to the barracks. But there was no accounting, and none of the structural things that had driven the conflict changed. Few soldiers were punished for what they had done in the war, and many were decoratedlike the current president, Otto Perez Molina, who in the 1980s participated in the scorched earth campaigns against the Ixil Maya. In his 2012 campaign for president, he was supported by most of the feudal families, who still had a stranglehold of most of the land, wealth, and power in the country.

The only model of power that exists in Guatemala is, in other words, terroristic, extra-legal, and dominated by violence. So is it any surprise that after the war, on the streetswhere people grasped for the scraps that weft, where children grew up with no chance at wealth and less at respectpirate organizations like the MS-13 grew?

What we’re seeing in Guatemala is not quite, in other words, a crime wave. It’s simply the way things have been there for a long time, pushed to the next level. If you are a civilian there, beneath the labelssoldier; gangster; policeman; army; cartelis but one underlying reality: men with guns who do what they want and take what they want. Your options are to buy your own security and gunmen; to join a gang yourself; or to leave.

imagesSouth African novelist and Nobel Prize winner Nadine Gordimer has died.  She sought a more perfect union–absent of apartheid–for her country and was an inspiration to many.  She was said to inspire Mandala among others.

Ms. Gordimer did not originally choose apartheid as her subject as a young writer, she said, but she found it impossible to dig deeply into South African life without striking repression. And once the Afrikaner nationalists came to power in 1948, the scaffolds of the apartheid system began to rise around her and could not be ignored.

“I am not a political person by nature,” Ms. Gordimer said years later. “I don’t suppose, if I had lived elsewhere, my writing would have reflected politics much, if at all.”

Through Ms. Gordimer’s work, international readers learned the human effects of the “color bar” and the punishing laws that systematically sealed off each avenue of contact among races. Her books are rich with terror: The fear of the security forces pounding on the door in the middle of the night is real, and freedom is impossible. Even the political prisoner released from jail is immediately rearrested after experiencing the briefest illusion of returning to the world.

Critics have described the whole of her work as constituting a social history as told through finely drawn portraits of the characters who peopled it.

I admit to having had a subscription to Betty and Veronica and to really following the Riverdale Gang when I was a kid. I’ve know learned that the gangimages (1) may have not aged, but the subjects of the comics have changed.  Archie will die soon saving his gay friend from a bullet.  

The famous freckle-faced comic book icon is meeting his demise in Wednesday’s installment of “Life with Archie” when he intervenes in an assassination attempt on Kevin Keller, Archie Comics’ first openly gay character. Andrews’ death, which was first announced in April, will mark the conclusion of the series that focuses on grown-up renditions of Andrews and his Riverdale pals.

“The way in which Archie dies is everything that you would expect of Archie,” said Jon Goldwater, Archie Comics publisher and co-CEO. “He dies heroically. He dies selflessly. He dies in the manner that epitomizes not only the best of Riverdale but the best of all of us. It’s what Archie has come to represent over the past almost 75 years.”

Keller’s character first joined Veronica Lodge, Betty Cooper, Jughead Jones and Reggie Mantle in the Archie Comics spin-off “Veronica” in 2010. He later appeared in his own solo title. In “Life with Archie,” Keller is a married military veteran and newly elected senator who’s pushing for more gun control in Riverdale after his husband was involved in a shooting.

“We wanted to do something that was impactful that would really resonate with the world and bring home just how important Archie is to everyone,” said Goldwater. “That’s how we came up with the storyline of saving Kevin. He could have saved Betty. He could have saved Veronica. We get that, but metaphorically, by saving Kevin, a new Riverdale is born.”

Here’s hoping there’s still some ability to evolve left in the ol’ human DNA.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Monday Reads: Continued Focus on America’s Refugee Children

Good Morning!

RefugeeChildrenI’d like to continue to focus on the crisis of Central American children from three countries who are looking for refuge in the United States.  This story continues to be a source of misinformation and misunderstanding of U.S. policy.  Most countries rise to the occasion of humanitarian crisis and act progressively to help the victims and to try to determine why the countries are in such crisis. Not so with our country.   A primary misunderstanding comes from a 2008 law that stipulates children from places other than Canada and Mexico be treated differently. 

A 2008 anti-trafficking law that passed Congress nearly unanimously and was signed by President George W. Bush gave new protections to children who were not from neighboring Canada or Mexico, stipulating that their asylum requests be fully adjudicated if they were picked up for being in the country illegally.

Administration officials say smugglers have exploited that statute and the long judicial processes that resulted from it, persuading Central American parents to risk sending their children on a dangerous journey to the United States in hopes that they would be able to stay permanently.

Republicans argue that Obama himself sent a signal that the borders were open to younger immigrants when he issued his 2012 executive order.

There is also the question of whether the Obama administration ignored the signs as the emergency was developing.

As far back as May 2012, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) warned Obama in a letter that “there is a surge of unaccompanied illegal minors entering the United States. Apart from being part of an obvious humanitarian crisis, these unaccompanied illegal minors have left the federal government scrambling to triage the results of its failed border security and immigration policies.”

Clearly, there were signs that the numbers of children from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador was increasing phenomenally since 2009 as calls-in-us-congress-for-refugee-status-for-central-american-kids-1403949284-6551Friday’s post uncovered.  What was the rationale for this 2008 Act and what role has it played in this influx?

The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2008, so named in honour of the great British abolitionist, was among the last pieces of legislation of the George W Bush presidency, passed unanimously by the then Democrat-controlled Congress. The measure provided sanctuary for children from countries such as Guatemala and Honduras (though not Mexico) who might have been victims of sex slave trafficking.

Then, a couple of years ago, President Obama issued an order deferring deportation for children who arrived in the country aged under 16, and who had permanently lived in the US since 2007. The aim was to allow two million people who were, to all intents and purposes, Americans, to live a semi-normal life. But for millions of wretched souls in Central America yearning for a foothold in the US, and the gangs that demand an extortionate price to enable them to get it, the two presidents might have posted signs on the bridges across the Rio Grande, saying: “Come in”.

In terms of numbers, the crisis is nothing compared with the tidal waves of refugees forced from first Iraq and now Syria by sectarian conflict. Even so, some 57,000 children, some of them aged as young as four, and many of them unaccompanied, have made their way across the US border since last October, most of them from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, far overwhelming the capacity of immigration services to process them.

The intentions on the part of the US authorities might have been noble. But the result has been a 21st-century nightmare, exposing the children to journeys of danger and suffering, and the US to accusations of incompetence at best, heartlessness at worst, and charges that the country’s politics have reached a nadir of selfish partisanship.

You might have thought that, faced with a crisis of such poignancy and immediacy, Republicans and Democrats would put aside their differences. After all, the root of the problem lies not in the US but in the children’s lawless but not-too-distant homelands.

Honduras may be the most dangerous place on earth, with a murder rate of 90 per 100,000 (compared to five in the US and one in Britain), and Guatemala and El Salvador are in the top six. Along with the violence, there is desperate need: across swathes of Central America, Mexico apart, half the population lives below the poverty line.

True, America contributes to the problem, as the main buyer of the drugs sold by the traffickers, and the main seller of the guns with which they enforce their rule. But the only lasting solution to the crisis lies in ensuring the populations of Central America have a better life in their own countries. On this, at least, you might expect the parties to agree. But you’d be wrong.

Border Patrol Riverine Unit Rescues Child Stranded on Rio GrandeThe incredibly hateful response by many Americans towards the children and the crisis itself have made odd bedfellows of several activists.  First, this example from the left is from Bill Moyers’group as written by Joshua Holland.

Those seething with so much rage and xenophobia that they’d hurl ugly epithets in the faces of children fleeing bloody violence in Central America bring shame to the whole nation. But the response of mainstream America hasn’t been much better.

The media’s characterization of what’s going on at our southern border as a “crisis,” politicians pointing fingers at one another and Washington’s refusal to provide the resources necessary to care for a small wave of refugees — not to mention the bipartisan push to send them back home — is just as shameful when one considers the context.

In June, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)reported that in 2013, the global population of refugees from war and persecution hit 51.2 million — exceeding 50 million for the first time since World War II.

Half of them were children.

The vast majority were “internally displaced persons,” homeless people within their home countries. Many live in fetid refugee camps run by underfunded NGOs, where they face continuing privation and abuse.

The most surprising response to me has come from Glenn Beck, who appears to be living his faith more than his financial and media interests.AmericasResponsetoChildRefugeeatBorder071314

Glenn Beck says he has come under fierce attack from some of his fellow conservatives for a grave transgression.

His crime? He announced plans to bring food, water, teddy bears and soccer balls to at least some of the tens of thousands of Central American children who have crossed the border into the United States.

“Through no fault of their own, they are caught in political crossfire,” Beck said. “Anyone, left or right, seeking political gain at the expense of these desperate, vulnerable, poor and suffering people are reprehensible.”

Beck, not averse to a certain grandiosity, let us know that “I’ve never taken a position more deadly to my career than this.” But assume he’s right — and he may well be. It’s one more sign of how the crisis at our border has brought out the very worst in our political system and a degree of plain nastiness that we should not be proud of as a nation.

There are many children whose stories can be found in media.  It’s difficult to read about the violence, the crime, and the horrible conditions in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

Children still leave Honduras to reunite with a parent, or for better educational and economic opportunities. But, as I learned when I returned to Nueva Suyapa last month, a vast majority of child migrants are fleeing not poverty, but violence. As a result, what the United States is seeing on its borders now is not an immigration crisis. It is a refugee crisis.

Gangs arrived in force in Honduras in the 1990s, as 18th Street and Mara Salvatrucha members were deported in large numbers from Los Angeles to Central America, joining homegrown groups like Los Puchos. But the dominance in the past few years of foreign drug cartels in Honduras, especially ones from Mexico, has increased the reach and viciousness of the violence. As the United States and Colombia spent billions of dollars to disrupt the movement of drugs up the Caribbean corridor, traffickers rerouted inland through Honduras, and 79 percent of cocaine-smuggling flights bound for the United States now pass through there.

Narco groups and gangs are vying for control over this turf, neighborhood by neighborhood, to gain more foot soldiers for drug sales and distribution, expand their customer base, and make money through extortion in a country left with an especially weak, corrupt government following a 2009 coup.

Enrique’s 33-year-old sister, Belky, who still lives in Nueva Suyapa, says children began leaving en masse for the United States three years ago. That was around the time that the narcos started putting serious pressure on kids to work for them. At Cristian’s school, older students working with the cartels push drugs on the younger ones — some as young as 6. If they agree, children are recruited to serve as lookouts, make deliveries in backpacks, rob people and extort businesses. They are given food, shoes and money in return. Later, they might work as traffickers or hit men.

Teachers at Cristian’s school described a 12-year-old who demanded that the school release three students one day to help him distribute crack cocaine; he brandished a pistol and threatened to kill a teacher when she tried to question him.

At Nueva Suyapa’s only public high school, narcos “recruit inside the school,” says Yadira Sauceda, a counselor there. Until he was killed a few weeks ago, a 23-year-old “student” controlled the school. Each day, he was checked by security at the door, then had someone sneak his gun to him over the school wall. Five students, mostly 12- and 13-year-olds, tearfully told Ms. Sauceda that the man had ordered them to use and distribute drugs or he would kill their parents. By March, one month into the new school year, 67 of 450 students had left the school.

Teachers must pay a “war tax” to teach in certain neighborhoods, and students must pay to attend.

I urge you to read their stories and decide for yourself.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Sunday Reads: Israel-Palestine Conflict and Presidential Break-Out

woman-reading Childe Hassam 1885

Good Morning!!

Is it just me, or is there less exciting news this summer than usual? Today, the top stories are the Israel-Palestine conflict and President Obama’s supposed sudden freedom to be himself. Oh, and the so-called “super moon” that reached its peak last night.

I have to be honest; I don’t understand why Israel is stepping up its attacks on the Palestine territory; Israel-Palestine discussions always seem to lead to bitter fighting on blogs, so I tend to avoid the issue entirely. But I’ll try to pick out some helpful stories on the conflict this morning.

From USA Today: Thousands flee Gaza as Israel ramps up offensive.

GAZA CITY — Thousands fled northern Gaza on Sunday as the Israeli military notified residents of an impending attack and its ground troops briefly crossed the border on a mission to destroy a launching site.

“Civilians are requested to evacuate their residences immediately for their own safety,” the leaflets dropped by air said, before listing specific areas that would “prove to be most dangerous.”

Israeli airstrikes hit more than 200 homes and buildings across Gaza on Sunday, bringing the death toll in the sixth day of the Israeli offensive Operation Protective Edge to 166 with more than 1,000 injured, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.

Despite calls from the United Nations and world leaders, there are no signs the two sides will agree to a cease-fire anytime soon.

“We don’t know when the operation will end,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a Cabinet meeting Sunday. “It might take a long time.”

From the UK Guardian: Israel calls on residents to leave northern Gaza as death toll continues to spiral.

The death toll passed 160 on Sunday on the Palestinian side, with no Israeli fatalities reported. The United Nations called on Israel and Hamas to end hostilities. Instead the violence escalated with more exchanges of rocket fire from Gaza and missiles from Israel….

The military said four Israeli navy commandos were lightly wounded in a shootout with Gaza-based Hamas fighters as they carried out a raid to destroy a rocket launching site on Sunday morning. It marks the first time the sides have directly clashed since Israel began a devastating bombardment in response to rocket fire. Hamas said its fighters had fired at the Israeli force offshore, preventing them from landing.

Both sides have dismissed calls for a truce and Israel has continued to build up troops along the Gaza border ahead of a possible ground invasion.

So is this all-out war?

There has been little sign that either side is interested in an immediate end to the hostilities, which appeared to be ramping up over Saturday night….

The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, said on Friday that “no international pressure will prevent us from striking, with all force, against the terrorist organisation which calls for our destruction”.

Hamas’s Haniya sounded a similar tone, saying: “[Israel] is the one that started this aggression and it must stop, because we are [simply] defending ourselves.”

The latest conflict unfolded after last month’s kidnap and murder of three young Israelis in the occupied West Bank and the brutal revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager by Jewish extremists.

What are we to think about this seemingly endless, unresolvable conflict? I gained a bit of insight from two posts at Tikkun by David Harris-Gershon.

From July 5, As a Jew living in America, the past week has changed me forever

Gershon writes that he was brought up by parents who were very liberal; at the same time he was taught to be loyal to the state of Israel and to believe that the Palestinians were evil.

As an adult, I’ve moved away from such naiveté while holding on to both my Zionist and progressive leanings, despite the growing struggle for coexistence between the two. And it’s not as though I’m mildly informed about the region or mildly invested in Israel and my Jewishness. The opposite, in fact, is the case. I’m a Jewish studies teacher at a day school, yeshiva-educated with a master’s degree from Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I’ve authored a memoir about my experience with terror and reconciliation, and write extensively about the region, often critiquing Israel from a progressive perspective while maintaining my desire for a two-state solution to the conflict.

As an adult, I’ve learned about the cleansing of Arab villages which took place from 1947-1949 to make way for the Jewish state. I’ve learned about the ongoing settlement enterprise, the appropriation and bifurcation of Palestinian lands. I’ve learned the horrors of Israel’s decades-old occupation of the West Bank, about the suppression of basic human rights and the atrocities committed. I’ve studied Israel’s use of indefinite detentions, home demolitions, restrictions on goods and movement, and the violence visited upon those being occupied.

I’ve learned that – and this is just one example of many – a Palestinian child has tragically been killed every three days for the past 14 years. That bears repeating, since such deaths are rarely, if ever, given any attention in America: Palestinian parents have had to bury a child every three days for the past 14 years.

Knowing all this, I’ve still held fast to my ‘progressive Zionism,’ hoping Israel could become that beacon of liberalism I was presented as a child, a beacon which never truly existed in the first place, despite the country’s socialist roots. Why have I done so? For two reasons: 1) deep down, I still believe in the promise of Israel, and 2) I can’t shake the notion that a Jewish state is absolutely necessary for our security….

Gershon writes that he has worked with others to try to get Israel to change its warlike, even racist, policies, but with little success. he has come to the conclusion that the Israeli government has “little interest in peace.”

These realities have forced me to consider the incongruity between my American-borne progressivism and my Zionism. They have forced me to admit, like Peter Beinart, that in order to continue supporting Israel as a Jewish state, with everything it continues to do, I must compromise my progressivism.

However, the mind-numbingly horrific events of the past week have forced me, for the first time, to wonder whether such compromising can be sustained.

Smoke and fire rise above the skyline following an Israeli air strike on July 11 in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Israeli warplanes kept up deadly raids on Gaza Friday but failed to stop Palestinian militants firing rockets across the border (NBC News).

Smoke and fire rise above the skyline following an Israeli air strike on July 11 in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Israeli warplanes kept up deadly raids on Gaza Friday but failed to stop Palestinian militants firing rockets across the border (NBC News).

And from July 12, My Head Is Spinning as Gaza Burns: The Most Timely Book Review I’ve Ever Written

I was sitting in Philadelphia’s airport recently, awaiting a flight back home, the book I had been reading turned face down in my lap. Intentionally. I didn’t want anyone to see the cover. Didn’t want anyone to associate its cover with my views – these people I didn’t know, people I would never know.

I had just opened to the book’s second chapter – “Does Israel Have a Right to Exist as a Jewish State?” – and had closed it quickly. Shocked by the question. Shocked by my imagined (and false) notions of what a chapter with such a title might contain, by the prospect of a stranger seeing me reading it.

So I shut the book – Ali Abunimah’s The Battle for Justice in Palestine, which argues that only a bi-national state can justly end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – and quickly hid it from those milling about.

Gershon goes on to discuss his recent epiphany about the Israel-Palestine conflict.

…recent, unspeakable events of the past two weeks have begun to make me question whether a two-state solution is even remotely possible anymore, particularly as Israeli officials begin embracing various one-state solutions.

Such internal questioning reached a climax on Friday, when Netanyahu explicitly stated that he wanted Israel to control the West Bank indefinitely, marking his first-ever public rejection of the two-state solution and Palestinian statehood.

My jaw dropped.

There’s much more at the link. I hope you’ll check it out.

 

The famous reluctant handshake in Texas

The famous reluctant handshake in Texas

Now for President Obama’s supposed break-out.

From The Washington Post: ‘The bear is loose’: Is Obama breaking free or running away?

Bears, beer and horse heads: What exactly is going on with the leader of the free world?

On a single day this week in Denver, President Obama scarfed down pizza and drinks with strangers, shot pool with Colorado’s governor and shook hands with a guy on the street wearing a horse mask. His top staffers are promoting these stops on Twitter with the hashtag#TheBearIsLoose — a term one of Obama’s aides coined in 2008 when the candidate would defy his schedule.

More than five years into his presidency, Obama is trying to free himself from the constraints of office, whether by strolling on the Mall or hopscotching the country as part of a campaign-style tour. White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer says the president “just wants to get out” and influence “our overall political conversation” by connecting with ordinary Americans.

But to some, breaking free can also look like running away.

Obama’s trip to Colorado and Texas this week took place against the backdrop of a burgeoning crisis on the Mexican border, where tens of thousands of children have been apprehended seeking entry into the United States. In Dallas, Obama dismissed the idea of heading farther south for a border visit as a “photo op” — not long after those photo ops showing him shooting pool and sipping beer in Denver.

Read more at the link. To me it looks like Obama is feeling freed up lately–mostly because he seems to be ignoring Republican nonsense and express his real opinions. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it feels that way to me.

fist bump

Obama’s latest photo-op came at an Austin, TX barbecue restaurant. From The Advocate: Texas Restaurant Worker Gets Gay-Supportive Fist Bump From Obama.

A gay employee at Franklin Barbecue in Austin had “a lucky day to be the register girl” Thursday, as he not only got to wait on President Obama but got a fist bump in support of LGBT rights.

Daniel Rugg Webb, a musician and comedian who works part-time at the restaurant, was on duty at the register as the president came up to pay for more than $300 worth of takeout, The Austin Chronicle reports. Webb slapped the counter and shouted, “Equal rights for gay people!” Obama asked, “Are you gay?” and Webb replied, “Only when I have sex.”

“That’s when he laughed and said, ‘Bump me,’” Webb told the Chronicle. Several onlookers photographed the fist bump and circulated the photo on Twitter. “It was just a lucky day to be the register girl,” Webb added.

From the Austin Chronicle via Buzzfeed:

Webb told the Chronicle:

“As a comedian, it was cool to have a moment where I was making a sitting president laugh — over something that might be considered inappropriate is a bonus,” Webb said of the experience.

He said he had been hoping to get in a joke about Texas Governor Rick Perry, who he described as “famously anti-gay.”

While Webb said he appreciates Obama’s social progressiveness, he expressed hope that the president will close the gap between his own relative forward-thinking on gay rights, and his general quietness on the anti-gay views of many state leaders before he leaves office.

“It would be interesting if he could call some people out for it. People can use a lot of things—religion, freedom of speech—to be anti-gay, but I need people to understand you can call people out for civil rights things,” Webb said.

“We are an anti-gay state. We are a state with a whole bunch of hungry children and sick old people, and [Rick Perry is] grandstanding on things that will get him a better election,” Webb said. “And it’s glaringly obvious. He’s kind of primitive in his social beliefs. I would like to see Rick Perry negatively influenced by any kind of attention. Even Obama laughing at something as, hopefully, acceptable as sexuality can show the difference.”

What do you think? Is Obama really changing?

What other stories are you following today? I have a few more news links, but I’ll post them in comments.

 


Lazy Saturday Reads

NYC-subway

Good Morning!!

I’m mostly going to stick with lightweight stories today, but I need to start out with some sad news.

Tommy Ramone, the last surviving member of the original Ramones, has died. He was either 62 or 65, depending on which source you read. From Variety: Tommy Ramone, Founding Member of Influential Punk Band, Dies at 62.

Born Erdelyi Tamas in Budapest, Hungary, and known professionally as Tom or T. Erdelyi, Ramone played on the first three epoch-making Ramones albums, “Ramones” (1976), “Leave Home” (1977) and “Rocket to Russia” (1977). He also co-produced the latter two albums with Tony Bongiovi and Ed Stasium, respectively. He appeared on and co-produced the 1979 live Ramones opus “It’s Alive.” ….

One of the first high-profile releases to emerge from New York’s punk underground of the mid-‘70s, “Ramones” – reportedly recorded in six days on a budget of $6,400 – brought a pared-down, hyperactive style to the stuffy rock scene of the day. Tommy’s driving, high-energy drum work was the turbine that powered the leather-clad foursome’s loud, antic sound….

The Ramones finally disbanded in 1996 after a show at the Palace in Hollywood. Joey Ramone died of lymphoma in 2001; Dee Dee succumbed to a drug overdose in 2002; and Johnny expired from prostate cancer in 2004.

(From left) Johnny Ramone (1948-2004), Tommy Ramone (1952-2014), Joey Ramone (1951-2001) and Dee Dee Ramone (1952-2002) of the American punk group The Ramones (NY Daily News).

(From left) Johnny Ramone (1948-2004), Tommy Ramone (1952-2014), Joey Ramone (1951-2001) and Dee Dee Ramone (1952-2002) of the American punk group The Ramones (NY Daily News).

 

A personal remembrance by Guardian music blogger Michael Hann: RIP Tommy Ramone: your band captured the sound in my head.

He played drums on just three Ramones studio albums. The ones everyone, but everyone, knows are the three best: Ramones, Leave Home and Rocket to Russia. He’s on the first live album, too, It’s Alive, and between those four records you get the complete summation of why the Ramones mattered, and why they continue to matter. Over the 42 tracks on the three studio albums, lasting barely an hour and half, rock’n’roll is reduced to its undiluted essence: a count-in, a riff, a verse, a chorus. Very occasionally there’s a middle eight. But anything unnecessary – anything that distracts from the rush of excitement – is excised. The aim of a Ramones song is not to make you admire the musicianship or the arrangement. It’s to take you from a standing start to fever pitch in 120 seconds or less. And at the back of it all, playing the unfussiest drum patterns you’ll ever hear – he made AC/DC’s Phil Rudd sound like Keith Moon – was Tommy Ramone.

He wasn’t meant to be the drummer. He was meant to be the manager. Joey was the drummer. “What happened was, they just kept playing faster and faster, and I couldn’t keep up on the drums,” Joey remembered in Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain’s Please Kill Me. “Tommy Ramone, who was managing us, finally had to sit down behind the drums, because nobody else wanted to,” Dee Dee told McNeil and McCain….

…for me (and for others, not lots of others, but enough of us) the Ramones were the best group rock’n’roll ever produced. Not the most inventive, or the most versatile, or the most skilful, or the most emotionally resonant, or the most lyrical – but the best, because every time I put on one of the Ramones’ best records, I was reminded of how I felt the first time I heard it. And the first time I heard it, I felt: this is the sound I’ve been hearing in my head and here it is on 12 inches of black vinyl; this is what I have been waiting for since the first single I ever bought. The Ramones were the sound of juvenile excitement, expressed with such breathtaking singlemindedness that nothing could kill the excitement.

And they were never as exciting without Tommy. Partly that was because those first three albums were such perfect statements of intent that there was very little left for the Ramones to say, and so each new album became another turn around the circuit rather than a manifesto.

Read more at the link.

In Other News . . .

CNN reports: HBO gives ‘Game of Thrones,’ ‘True Detective’ updates.

HBO execs say they have nothing to worry about with “Game of Thrones” — and not just because it’s the most-nominated program at the Emmys this year.

The fantasy series is based on George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” book series, and as “Game of Thrones” approaches its fifth season, fans are concerned it’ll soon run out of source material.

But on Thursday, HBO CEO Richard Plepler and network Programming President Michael Lombardo assured reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour that “Game of Thrones” will get its fully story.

“George is an integral part of the creative team, so next season every move is being choreographed very closely with him,” Lombardo said. “Certainly after next year we’ll have to figure it out with George, but we’re not concerned about it.”

And for True Detective fans:

On Thursday, the freshman anthology series [True Detective] earned 12 Emmy nods, including nominations for best drama, best writing and two best actor nods for Season 1 stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson.

The show’s structure presents a new cast of characters and story each season, and while Lombardo didn’t have any casting news on Thursday he did drop a major tease for Season 2.

“The two scripts we have are — I hate to jinx it — but they are more exciting than the first season,” he promised.

Variety reports that Colin Farrell is “in talks for True Detective, Season 2.” I’m not a big Farrell fan, but I guess I’ll have to give him a chance.  Here’s a bit more on Season 2 from The Wrap: What We Know So Far.

Here’s a weird Game of Thrones tribute from Buzzfeed, A Couple Have Recreated “Game Of Thrones” With Their Pugs And It’s Magnificent: “The Pugs of Westeros” sees canine trio Roxy, Blue and Bono playing doggy versions of the show’s main characters.” Here a couple of the photos of the couple’s dogs in costume.

GAme of thrones 2

 

GAme of thrones1

The pugs don’t look very happy, but I guess pugs seldom do. See more photos at the link.

Here’s an even more bizarre story that caught my eye at ABC News: A Woman Found Out a Serial Killer Once Lived in Her Home From Watching TV.

A Missouri woman has finally been able to break her rental lease after learning that her home was used as a torture chamber by a suspected serial killer over a decade ago.

Maury Travis hanged himself while he was being held in jail in 2002 but police now believe that he killed between 12 and 20 women, many of whom died in the basement of his Ferguson, Missouri, home.

Catrina McGhaw had no idea about the home’s sinister past, however, when she signed a lease in March, she told St. Louis station KMOV-TV.

She says her landlord – Sandra Travis, the suspected killer’s mother – made no mention of the case or the bodies that her son allegedly kept in the basement before he was arrested in 2002.

It was only when a friend called her and told her to watch a documentary on serial killers that she realized that the home was connected to Travis’ case, McGhaw told KMOV.

Travis was never officially charged with the crimes, because he committed suicide.

What would a Saturday post be without a couple of “crazy Republican” stories? Make sure you’re sitting down and don’t have any liquids in your mouth for this one from TPM: Woman Finds Stack Of Anti-Hillary ‘Lewinsky’ Bumper Stickers At GOP Office.

Donoghue talked to TPM hours after a spokesperson for Republican Party of Virginia denied the state party had anything to do with the anti-Hillary bumper stickers. The spokesperson told the Washington Post that the stickers were “an amateur effort” and the state party’s strategy “does not involve that.”

Donoghue says she found the sticker in the GOP office when she gave a ride to a man was out campaigning and looked ill. He told her he was “diabetic and needed insulin,” so she drove him back to Republican headquarters.

It was there in the office, Donoghue said, where she found the Lewinsky bumper stickers.

“The man wanted to repay me for driving him, so I just took one of the stickers as a trophy,” she said. “There was a whole stack of them there.”

Here’s the sticker:

Hillary

 

That should really attract women voters, dontcha think?

Brian Beutler at The New Republic: John Boehner’s Lawsuit Against Obama Proves Obama Isn’t Lawless.

This is how Republicans destroy their own narrative of the lawless Obama presidency: with a faceplant.

When House Speaker John Boehner officially announced that he planned to sue President Obama, he was absolutely clear about one thing. He didn’t know what the bill of particulars would be, or really anything other than that he would take Obama to court. But he knew that the scope of Obama’s lawlessness was widespread enough that it merited significant legal action. This wasn’t a picayune disagreement with the executive, but a pattern of behavior that had upset the balance of Constitutional power at the expense of Congress….

But on Thursday evening, Boehner laid down his cards. All but one were blank. It turns out Obama’s vast and indisputable misconduct is limited to one act of enforcement discretion: his decision to delay implementation of an Affordable Care Act’s requirement (one Republicans despise) that businesses with more than 50 employees provide their workers health insurance or pay a penalty.

“Today we’re releasing a draft resolution that will authorize the House to file suit over the way President Obama unilaterally changed the employer mandate,” Boehner said in a statement. “In 2013, the president changed the health care law without a vote of Congress, effectively creating his own law by literally waiving the employer mandate and the penalties for failing to comply with it. That’s not the way our system of government was designed to work. No president should have the power to make laws on his or her own.”

It’s actually pretty likely that the provision in question will go into effect before Boehner’s legal challenge is resolved one way or another. At the end of the day, by his own reckoning, Boehner may ultimately have zero grounds upon which to sue the president, whose brazen lawlessness Republicans treat as self-evident.

Sigh . . .

I’ll end with the latest FIFA Cup news from NDTV Sports:

FIFA World Cup 2014: Latin America Reluctantly Rally Behind Argentina.

Bogota: With a reputation for arrogance and illusions of European-styled grandeur, Argentines have long been the objects of scorn and the butt of jokes across Latin America

But for at least 90 minutes on Sunday, when Argentina takes on Germany in the World Cup final, most Latin Americans will put aside their irritation with their proud neighbors as they look to Lionel Messi and his teammates to salvage what’s left of the region’s soccer pride. (Related: Argentina fined for flouting FIFA rules ahead of final)

A defeat for Argentina would be historic: Never has a European team been crowned champion on this side of the Atlantic.

But in the wake of Germany’s 7-1 thrashing of host Brazil even the most-devoted believers in the spontaneous and stylish Latin American brand of soccer are wondering if the region is outmatched. (Rio braces for Argentina fan frenzy)

FIFA World Cup 2014: Germany’s Secret Plan to Stop Lionel Messi.

Santo Andre, Brazil: Germany have a secret plan to shut Argentina superstar Lionel Messi out of Sunday’s World Cup final at Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Maracana Stadium.

Assistant coach Hansi Flick said Thursday there is a “special plan” to cope with the four-time Ballon d’Or winner but refused to give details. (Argentina vs Germany: A ‘battle’ of two popes?)

Messi had a relatively quiet match against the Netherlands as Wednesday’s semi-final was settled by penalties.

The 27-year-old was often greeted by two Oranje shirts in Sao Paulo and the Germans are also getting organized. (Five warnings for rampaging Germany)

“We saw how the Dutch managed to keep Messi out, but we too have a special plan for him — although I won’t give that away,” said Flick.

We’ll find out who the best team is tomorrow.

Now, what stories are you following today? Please share your links in the comment thread, and have a great weekend!

 


Friday Nite Lite: Brown Babies Attack Border, Right Wing Brings Out Hazmat Suits

Good Evening

This will be the last post for me for a little while. Things here at home are stressful to say the least and I need some time to work through it…

Hope to be back in a week or so with a better attitude, or at least a better grip on the situation at hand. So…with that said, let’s get to the funnies for tonight. First an op/ed that makes a valid point about the tack these right wing assholes are using against the South of the Border crisis involving children from Central America.

Immigrants and the Cootie Offense

 by Tina Dupuy

In September of 2011, a franchise of the Occupy Wall Street movement, set up camp on the steps of Los Angeles’ iconic City Hall. The encampment was lauded by celebrities like Bill Maher and Tom Morello and embraced by politicians like Congresswoman Maxine Waters and then City Council President, Eric Garcetti. Garcetti, who’d later become mayor of Los Angeles, was quoted by the LA Times as telling the protesters, “This is your City Hall! Stay as long as you need,” And, “We’re here to support you.”

145990 600 Immigrants and the Cootie Offense

 cartoons

Mike Keefe / Cagle Cartoons

By the end of November, the campers had overstayed their welcome and were given an eviction notice by the City. I was there to cover the raid. The City brought out all their War on Terror-funded accoutrements: tanks; armored vehicles; detainment busses; 1,400 police officers in riot gear—all to arrest 200 undernourished activists. As I watched a thousand helmeted policemen clad in black, standing in formation, suddenly a unit of people in Hazmat suits paraded past the television cameras. The first thing I thought was, “Brilliant optics.”

You don’t have to say anything if the police don hazardous materials suits—the message is clear: the protesters are gross.

Dangerously gross.

And if they’re posing a public health threat, it trumps all other matters and the contagion can be scrubbed away.

That the hazmat suits were required in the first place is like she says, brilliant optics, but Tina notices how the Right Wing is using the same tactics for the children here in this immigration dispute shit….

…on U.S./Mexican border: Right wing claptraps use cockroach imagery to discuss immigrants; an infestation of a filthy swarm. Radio host Neil Boortz suggested renaming H1N1, the “fajita flu.” Columnist Brian Frederick wrote, “Boortz stirred up fears that the virus was some sort of ‘bioterrorist’ plot, asking, ‘What better way to sneak a virus into this country than to give it to Mexicans?’” Radio host Michael Savage claimed the terrorists might have known that Mexicans, “are the perfect mules for bringing this virus into America.”

Now there’s an overfill of unaccompanied minors at the border and right wing radio parrots are holding up signs telling these children to get out along with their diseases.

You know where the Ground Zero of our whooping cough epidemic is in this country? In affluent, helicopter-parent neighborhoods where lefty science deniers refused to get their 

spawn vaccinated. You know where it’s not? At the border.

Right wing radio has convinced their flock they’re in Act II of every zombie movie ever made. This is not World War Z, Brad Pitt isn’t going to guess the perfect treatment and building a wall won’t stop a virus from spreading.

How am I so sure? Because I live in Manhattan: a small island of 1.8 million residents, 2 million daily commuters and 1 million weekly tourists. Every day millions from all over the world shove into subway cars sneezing on communal poles while coughing on passersby. If having strange people from foreign places—an open border—was a way to spread a pandemic, New York City would collapse under the weight of used Kleenexes.

What the charge of being a contagion does is effectively dehumanize immigrants and vilify refugees. It makes them no longer a humanitarian crisis, but a public health risk. It gives us license to treat newcomers to this country as rabid animals instead of fellow human beings. They become a threat. And a threat that needs to be neutralized.

It’s sick.

I am so fucking tired of this shit. Like the GOP pushing trans-vag ultrasounds for women who are getting abortions, or making planned parenthood clinics require hospital care standards under the guise of “better care for the woman”. It is all bullshit!  Using health risk as a justification to spread their own disease of hate and intolerance. Fuck them.

Now for the cartoons:

 

Mike Luckovich: Refocused Efforts – Mike Luckovich – Truthdig

 

Shifting Demographics by Political Cartoonist Adam Zyglis

150814 600 Shifting Demographics cartoons

 

AAEC – Political Cartoon by Joe Heller, Green Bay Press-Gazette – 07/11/2014

Cartoon by Joe Heller -

 

AAEC – Political Cartoon by Bruce Plante, Tulsa World – 07/11/2014

Cartoon by Bruce Plante -

Israel vs Palestine – Political Cartoon by Rob Rogers, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – 07/11/2014

Cartoon by Rob Rogers - Israel vs Palestine

 

AAEC – Political Cartoon by David Horsey, Los Angeles Times – 07/11/2014

Cartoon by David Horsey -

AAEC – Political Cartoon by Signe Wilkinson, Philadelphia Daily News – 07/11/2014

Cartoon by Signe Wilkinson -

AAEC – Political Cartoon by John Cole, Scranton Times/Tribune – 07/11/2014

Cartoon by John Cole -

 

Ray Nagin Disaster – Political Cartoon by J.D. Crowe, Alabama Media Group – 07/10/2014

Cartoon by J.D. Crowe - Ray Nagin Disaster

Mike Luckovich: Impeaching Liberty – Mike Luckovich – Truthdig

 

We Don’t Need No Stinking Photo Op by Political Cartoonist John Darkow

150778 600 We Dont Need No Stinking Photo Op cartoons

Great White sharks multiply by Political Cartoonist Dave Granlund

150775 600 Great White sharks multiply cartoons

 

Supreme Court Hobby Lobby.tif – Political Cartoon by Dan Nott, The Gabbler – 07/10/2014

Cartoon by Dan Nott - Supreme Court Hobby Lobby.tif

BORDER CHILDREN – Political Cartoon by Deb Milbrath, Cartoon Movement – 07/10/2014

Cartoon by Deb Milbrath - BORDER CHILDREN

 

Boehners Frivolous Lawsuit by Political Cartoonist Mike Luckovich

150756 600 Boehners Frivolous Lawsuit cartoons

 

Executive Orders – Political Cartoon by Rob Rogers, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – 07/10/2014

Cartoon by Rob Rogers - Executive Orders

 

Strip Club in Amish Country – Political Cartoon by Bruce Plante, Tulsa World – 07/10/2014

Cartoon by Bruce Plante - Strip Club in Amish Country

 

Who would Jesus deport? – Political Cartoon by J.D. Crowe, Alabama Media Group – 07/10/2014

Cartoon by J.D. Crowe - Who would Jesus deport?

 

This is an open thread.


Friday Reads: Our Crisis of Child Refugees from Central America

Children at Border_0Good Morning!

Recently, we’ve seen a lot in the news about the surge in women and children coming in from Central America.  I was aware there had been ongoing civil wars in Honduras and problems in both Belize and El Salvador but really felt I needed more information to figure out what is going on.  The huge numbers alone are disturbing.  I know that we’ve needed immigration reform for some time. I also know that it’s impossible to get nearly anything done in this country anymore, because Republican members of Congress refuse to participate in governance.  They seem to be boycotting democracy and everything else. So, I’ve done some reading and research.  Today’s post will be on this one subject, but you can still consider it the usual Morning Reads post where you can post items of interest to you.

My first question was about the home countries of these refugee children.  Where are they coming from and is this a big change from previous years?  This NBC report has some of those facts and figures. 

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency says that apprehensions of undocumented immigrants along the Southwestern U.S. border remain near historic lows, but agents have seen a sharp increase in the number of unaccompanied minors trying to enter the country illegally over the past five years. Over the first 8 1/2 months of fiscal year 2014, 52,193 unaccompanied minors have been taken into custody — a 99 percent increase over 2013.

 In Texas’ Rio Grande Valley alone, where most border crossings now occur, apprehensions have increased 178 percent over last year, with 37,621 140708-kid-immigrant-chart-1820_bca8e8f35771ee46a2ed5749df51f571.nbcnews-ux-720-440unaccompanied minors apprehended so far this year.

Minors from Mexico or Canada who are apprehended at the border can be quickly returned to their home countries in expedited removal proceedings. But those from other countries – mostly teens but sometimes as young as toddlers – are transferred to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The ORR maintains custody of the minors only until they can be placed with family members in the U.S. or in foster care to await a decision on whether they can remain in the country. That occurs through a formal deportation proceeding, which can take months or years, during which they can petition an immigration judge to remain in the country.

The soaring number of migrant children has strained the system, forcing the federal government to scramble to open additional emergency facilities across the country and prompting President Barack Obama to request Tuesday for an emergency appropriation of $3.7 billion to fund the operation.

ORR also has seen its caseload jump sharply in recent years, rising from an average ofbetween 7,000 and 8,000 unaccompanied children from FY 2005 through 2011 to 24,668 last year, according to figures provided by HHS. This year, officials estimate, the office will receive at least 60,000 referrals.

 The children

Where do they come from?: Four countries – El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico — account for almost all of the unaccompanied minor cases, according to a 2014 report by the Congressional Research Service. As recently as 2009, Mexico accounted for 82 percent of the apprehended children, but the three Central American countries have propelled the recent influx, comprising 73 percent of those apprehended last year, it said.

getimage So, you can see that there’s been a great change in the number of children and their home countries recently. This means there must be something going on in those three countries since around 2009 that has led to the change.  What exactly has happened?  I have assumed that a lot of it has to do with our own foreign policy because those three nations have experienced a lot of US intervention and have been considered client states.  Has what we’ve done in the past come back to haunt us? Here’s a report in The Nation on that.

 But the United States has a particular moral responsibility in the Central America refugee crisis that goes even deeper. Americans, especially young Americans, probably know more about the 1994 genocide in Rwanda than they do about how their own government funded murderous right-wing dictatorships in Central America back in the 1980s. The Reagan administration’s violent and immoral policy included $5 billion in aid to the military/landowner alliance in El Salvador, which prolonged an awful conflict in which some 75,000 people died—a toll proportionally equivalent to the casualty rate in the American Civil War. But once shaky peace agreements were signed in the 1990s, the United States walked away, leaving the shattered region to rebuild on its own.

In response to today’s exodus, President Obama is showing little concern for international law, and none at all for Washington’s own historic responsibility in Central America. Instead, the administration announced on June 28 that it is asking Congress to change the law so America can deport the refugee children more quickly.

The very name of one of the giant criminal gangs—18th Street, or Calle 18—reveals the origins of the current crisis. Eighteenth Street is not in San Pedro Sula, or in San Salvador, or in any of the other Central American cities torn apart by gang warfare. Eighteenth Street is actually in Los Angeles, where the gang and its rival, the Mara Salvatrucha, were born among young Salvadorans who had been displaced by the civil war in the 1980s. After the United States started deporting gang members, they arrived back in Central America, some barely speaking Spanish and knowing only how to do one thing: grab the weapons the region was already awash in and start killing. During the decade-long civil war, family and community life had weakened, so the newly arrived gangs partly filled a vacuum.

America’s responsibility in Honduras, Esperanza and Angelica Ramirez’s home nation, is even more recent. In 2009, the Honduran military overthrew the elected government, and the Obama administration accepted the coup over the protests of brave pro-democracy forces there. The respected International Crisis Group explains that the political turmoil weakened the central government, and in some places the criminal gangs became the de facto authority. What’s more, Washington’s war on drugs, in Honduras and elsewhere, has also raised the overall level of violence.

The Women’s Refugee Commission has been studying this issue for several years and predicted the current crisis.  They have a study and a site that unaccompanied-638x503explores many of the most important issues surrounding this crisis.  This includes treatment of the children during their journey and the risks they face as well as the United States Policy and treatment of the children once they are found by the Border Patrol.  They also have looked at the key issues surrounding the diaspora as well as have come up with policy suggestions. 

There has been a great deal of research into the root causes of this surge of unaccompanied children fleeing the region.  In 2012 we interviewed 161 children to find out why they were coming.  In our interviews, the children reported to us that they were predominately being pushed from their homes due to rising violence and insecurity in their home countries.  Moreover, almost every single child we spoke with reported having a good understanding of the dangers of trying to migrate through Mexico and into the United States without authorization.  They knew of the risks of kidnapping, rape, and even death.  The children we spoke with told us they felt like they would die if they stayed in their home country, and although they might die during the journey, they at least would have a chance.

In 2013, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops traveled to Central America to interview children who had tried to migrate to the United States.  Their report reaffirmed our findings that violence in the three countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras was the overriding factor leading to the migration of these children.[8] One mother they spoke with told them that she knew her son might die on his journey to the U.S. but she preferred that he die trying to find safety, then on her doorstep.

Most recently, in 2014, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) interviewed over 400 children who had left their homes countries.  Most children – even those who had a parent or family member with whom they wished to reunite – cited domestic abuse within the home, gang and cartel violence, deprivation of basic survival necessities, and labor and sex trafficking as the reasons for their migration.[9]  Most significantly, UNHCR found that the majority of the children made statements indicating that they may be in need of international protection.

There have been numerous reports and claims by government authorities that many of these children or the family members who may try to help them migrate are being encouraged to undertake the dangerous journey by false promises from smugglers or inaccurate media reporting on U.S. policies that do not exist or that cannot benefit them.  But it is impossible for us to dispute the root causes that make these children desperate to leave their home countries and seek a safe haven.  No child or parent would agree to pay a dangerous smuggler to take a young child on such a harrowing journey if they did not feel it was the only option.  No promise of a tenuous and temporary status in the United States, such as administrative closure or Deferred Action for Children Arrivals (DACA), would encourage someone to risk their lives, or risk the lives of their child. It is the underlying severe conditions in Mexico and these Central American nations that is forcing this migration pattern, not the lure of intangible reform.

Furthermore, the facts do not support that rumors or U.S. policy with respect to these populations is what is encouraging the migration.  Nicaragua is the poorest country in the region.  At the same time Nicaragua, like El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, has a history of migration to the United States, resulting in many Nicaraguan children having family members in the United States.  Yet, we have not seen any increase in the number of Nicaraguan children arriving at the Southern border. The difference is that Nicaragua, as one of the safest countries in the region, is not experiencing the violence that is driving children from its three neighbors.

1404788895000-childrenrefugees2 The UN is requesting the US treat the people from these three countries as refugees.  They are basically no different that refugees fleeing Syria or Iraq to escape violence from countries torn by civil war. Bordering nations like Jordan routinely provide shelter to refugees fleeing the violence in areas filled with armed violence.  We’re talking women and children in both cases.  These aren’t able bodied men looking for work.  They are victims of violence looking for safety.

Officials with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees say they hope to see movement toward a regional agreement on that status Thursday when migration and interior department representatives from the U.S., Mexico, and Central America meet in Nicaragua. The group will discuss updating a 30-year-old declaration regarding the obligations that nations have to aid refugees.

While such a resolution would lack any legal weight, the agency said it believes “the U.S. and Mexico should recognize that this is a refugee situation, which implies that they shouldn’t be automatically sent to their home countries but rather receive international protection.”

Most of the people widely considered to be refugees by the international community are fleeing more traditional political or ethnic conflicts like those in Syria or the Sudan. Central Americans would be among the first modern migrants considered refugees because they are fleeing violence and extortion at the hands of criminal gangs.

Central America’s Northern Triangle of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras has become one of the most violent regions on earth in recent years, with swathes of all three countries under the control of drug traffickers and street gangs who rob, rape and extort ordinary citizens with impunity.

Honduras, a primary transit point for U.S.-bound cocaine, has the world’s highest homicide rate for a nation that is not at war. Hondurans who are used to hiding indoors at night have been terrorized anew in recent months by a wave of attacks against churches, schools and buses.

During a recent visit to the U.S., Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez said migrants from his country were “displaced by war” and called on the United States to acknowledge that.

Honduran police routinely are accused of civil rights violations. The AP has reported at least five cases of alleged gang members missing or killed after being taken into police custody in what critics and human rights advocates call death squads engaged in a wave of social cleansing of criminals.

Violence by criminal organizations spread after members of California street gangs were deported to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, where they overwhelmed weak and corrupt police forces.

In El Salvador, the end of a truce between street gangs has led to a steep rise in homicides this year.

Salvadorans heading north through Mexico who were interviewed by The Associated Press last month said there also was fear of the “Sombra Negra,” or “Black Shadow” – groups of masked men in civilian clothes who are believed responsible for extrajudicial killings of teens in gang-controlled neighborhoods. The Salvadoran government denies any involvement in death squads, but says it is investigating the reports.

In El Salvador, at least 135,000 people, or 2.1 percent of the population, have been forced to leave their homes, the vast majority due to gang extortion and violence, according to U.N. figures. That’s more than twice the percentage displaced by Colombia’s brutal civil war, the U.N. says.

Immigration experts in the U.S. and Central America say the flow of migrants from Honduras and El Salvador is likely to rise as the two countries experience more gang-related violence.

“They are leaving for some reason. Let’s not send them back in a mechanical way, but rather evaluate the reasons they left their country,” Fernando Protti, regional representative for the U.N. refugee agency, told The Associated Press.

Even though the agreement would not be legally binding on the countries that sign it, advocates say it would help create international consensus to help the migrants.

Those actions could include emergency aid and social services for internally displaced people inside Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

So, this has gotten to be a very long post already.  I’m going to run a second edition of this with more information.  Meanwhile, this gives you some background.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Thursday Reads: Obama KOs Perry, and Other News

22cambridge_span

Good Morning!!

Yesterday President Obama met with Texas Governor Rick Perry to discuss the so-called “immigration crisis.” Perry had initially refused to shake hands with the President as Obama disembarked from Airforce One, but Perry ended up doing it anyway.

From Mediaite: Rick Perry Admits Defeat, Shakes President Obama’s Hand.

Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) was determined not to shake President Barack Obama’s hand when he arrived at Dallas-Fort Worth airport on Wednesday. But in the end, it appears he just couldn’t help himself.

As CNN’s Wolf Blitzer said while Obama was descending the steps of Air Force One, “I’m anxious to see if the governor Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, is there at the bottom of the stairs to receive the president of the United States.”

The anchor betrayed some surprise when Perry walked across the tarmac to greet Obama, shaking his hand and walking side by side to Marine One, where they would have a private meeting about the current crisis at the border.

It’s been ages since I’ve watched CNN, but it sounds like Wolf and his network are practically outdoing Fox News. Do they not see the racial implications of a Republican Governor resisting shaking hands with an African-American President?

On Monday, the Austin American-Statesman reported: Rick Perry declines Obama offer for ‘quick handshake’ at Austin airport.

Gov. Rick Perry Monday turned down what he characterized as President Barack Obama’s offer for a “quick handshake on the tarmac” at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on Wednesday, but said he would juggle his schedule to accommodate a “substantive meeting” with the president on the border crisis any time during his two-day visit to Texas.

In a letter to the president, Perry wrote, “I appreciate the offer to greet you at Austin-Bergstrom Airport, but a quick handshake on the tarmac will not allow for a thoughtful discussion regarding the humanitarian and national security crises enveloping the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas. I would instead offer to meet with you at any time during your visit to Texas for a substantive meeting to discuss this critical issue. With the appropriate notice, I am willing to change my schedule to facilitate this request.”

“At any point while you are here, I am available to sit down privately so we can talk and you may directly gain my state’s perspective on the effects of an unsecured border and what is necessary to make it secure,” Perry wrote the president.

In addition, Perry actually said on ABC’s This Week on Sunday:

“I don’t believe he particularly cares whether or not the border of the United States is secure,” Perry said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” charging the president was either “inept” or had an “ulterior motive” in failing to secure the border.

Perry Obama

Back to the Mediaite story:

Following Perry’s letter, the Obama administration decided to invite the governor to join Obama at a previously scheduled meeting with faith leaders and elected officials in Dallas. Following that concession, Perry decided he would be comfortable greeting Obama on the tarmac, though he did not indicate whether he would deign to shake the president’s hand.

If Perry was wary of the type of photo-op that has haunted Republicans like Governor Chris Christie(R-NJ), and former Republicans like Charlie Crist, he can at least be thankful that the president did not try to hug him. Though, he did give him a few friendly pats on the back.

Mediaite thinks the photos will doom Perry’s chances for the 2016 Republican nomination; but after his performance in 2012, it seems pretty obvious that Perry himself will destroy his presidential hopes all by himself.

So what happened when the two men met? The New York Times reports: Obama Presses Perry to Rally Support for Border Funds. According to the authors, Jackie Calmes and Ashley Parker, Obama “directly challenged” Perry to convince Congressional Republicans to support $3.7 billion in emergency funds to deal with what Perry has called “a humanitarian crisis” — “thousands of Central American children who have crossed the Mexican border.”

Perry frown

And from The Wire: Rick Perry’s Immigration Meeting With Obama Produces Photo for the Ages.

So, how did President Obama’s meeting with Republican Governor Rick Perry go today? In a statement on Wednesday, Obama described the meeting as “constructive,” but, well, this photo also exists. It’s not immediately clear what the context of this photo was — Is Perry sad? Uncomfortable? Telling a funny story? Happy, but trying to look serious? Hmm. Perhaps someone made a joke at Perry’s expense? Or maybe Perry just makes the Robert De Niro shrug face a lot for no reason.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter right now. Until we know more about the context, the photo will be a Rorschach test. In the future, there will be Midrash about this photo.

A couple more links on the border crisis:

The Washington Post: Dana Milbank: In border crisis, Obama is accused of ‘lawlessness’ for following law.

A querulous quartet of conservatives took to the Senate floor Wednesday….to criticize the president for failing to visit the border during his visit to Texas this week, was coordinated by Sen. John McCain and included fellow Arizonan Jeff Flake and both of the chamber’s Texans, Sen. John Cornyn and the man McCain once dubbed a “wacko bird,” Sen. Ted Cruz.

“President Obama today is down in the state of Texas, but sadly he’s not visiting the border,” said Cruz, in a rare collaboration with McCain. “. . . He’s visiting Democratic fat cats to collect checks, and apparently there’s no time to look at the disaster, at the devastation that’s being caused by his policies. . . . It is a disaster that is the direct consequence of President Obama’s lawlessness.” ….

But this border crisis, sowed years ago and building for months, is neither a high crime nor a misdemeanor. It’s a humanitarian nightmare in which children, some as young as 4, can face physical and sexual abuse, injury and death in their lonely journeys. What’s upside-down about the Cruz-Palin argument is that this crisis has actually been brought about by Obama following the law.

The most obvious and direct cause of the flood of children from Central America is the 2008 human trafficking law that ended the rapid deportation of unaccompanied minors who come illegally from countries other than Mexico and Canada. The law essentially guarantees long stays for these immigrants by promising them a deportation process that can take 18 months, during which time they are often placed with family members who have little incentive to have the kids show up for hearings.

Lindsay Graham disagrees with his good buddy McCain, according to The Hill:

Republicans will take the political fall if they don’t provide emergency funds to address the immigrant crisis at the southern border, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) warned Wednesday.

A number of conservatives on Capitol Hill are pushing back hard against President Obama’s request for almost $4 billion to manage the spike of immigrants — thousands of them unaccompanied minors — that’s hit the Texas-Mexico border in recent months.

But Graham, a long-time supporter of an immigration system overhaul, said a failure to provide the funds will exacerbate the crisis while handing Obama and the Democrats a political victory ahead of November’s midterm elections.

“If we do that, then we’re going to get blamed for perpetuating the problem,” Graham told reporters on Wednesday.

Well, it wouldn’t be the first time that right wing Republicans acted against their political best interest.

In other news,

Mike Pence

Mike Pence

Another Republican Governor has made an ass of himself  (not for the first time). Indiana Governor Mike Pence has told state agencies to not to honor the hundreds of gay marriages that took place after a federal court in Indianapolis invalidated as unconstitutional Indiana’s law banning same-sex marriages.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s office is telling state agencies act as if no gay marriages had been performed during three days following a federal court order.

The memo from the governor’s chief counsel tells executive branch agencies to execute their functions as though the June 25 court order had not been issued.

Pence defended the memo Wednesday and the sentiment expressed in it Wednesday afternoon. He said it was his job as governor to carry out the laws of the State of Indiana.

“The State of Indiana must operate in a manner with the laws of Indiana. So we have directed our state agencies earlier this week to conduct themselves in a way that respects current Indiana law, pending this matter’s process through the courts,” Pence said.

A “disappointed” Beth White responded to Pence’s order:

“As Clerk of Marion County, I was proud our office was able to issue these licenses and officiate over 450 weddings for couples, many of whom have been in loving committed relationships for decades. Governor Pence owes these couples an explanation on why he continues to deem them as second class citizens. They legally obtained their license, paid the requisite fee and should be entitled to the same rights and privileges the rest of us enjoy.

It is time for our state leaders to put the issue behind us so that we can focus on strengthening the middle-class, investing in quality education and rebuilding Indiana’s economy. Hoosier businesses depend on the best and brightest employees to compete in the global economy. Indiana is rolling up the welcome mat with this regressive stance on this issue. Although my opponent has a long history of opposing marriage equality, I call on Mrs. Lawson to reject Governor Pence’s ruling today. The Office of the Secretary of State should be welcoming to all employers choosing to invest or reinvest in Indiana. And that includes their prospective employees and their families. Hoosiers deserve common sense leadership that is focused on moving Indiana forward.”

Greenwald

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has released an official statement in response to the latest article and statements by Glenn Greenwald that suggest without any supporting evidence that U.S. intelligence agencies are essentially duplicating the illegal actions of COINTELPRO from 1956-1971.

Joint Statement by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Justice on Court-ordered Legal Surveillance of U.S. Persons.

It is entirely false that U.S. intelligence agencies conduct electronic surveillance of political, religious or activist figures solely because they disagree with public policies or criticize the government, or for exercising constitutional rights.

Unlike some other nations, the United States does not monitor anyone’s communications in order to suppress criticism or to put people at a disadvantage based on their ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation or religion.

Our intelligence agencies help protect America by collecting communications when they have a legitimate foreign intelligence or counterintelligence purpose.

With limited exceptions (for example, in an emergency), our intelligence agencies must have a court order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to target any U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident for electronic surveillance.

These court orders are issued by an independent federal judge only if probable cause, based on specific facts, are established that the person is an agent of a foreign power, a terrorist, a spy, or someone who takes orders from a foreign power.

No U.S. person can be the subject of surveillance based solely on First Amendment activities, such as staging public rallies, organizing campaigns, writing critical essays, or expressing personal beliefs.

On the other hand, a person who the court finds is an agent of a foreign power under this rigorous standard is not exempted just because of his or her occupation.

The United States is as committed to protecting privacy rights and individual freedom as we are to defending our national security.

Take from that what you will. The Greenwald cultists simply dismiss statements coming that from the Government as lies, and assume the worst. My tendency is to base my opinions on evidence. So far I haven’t seen evidence in anything coming from the Snowden leaks that NSA is specifically targeting people because of their political and/or religious beliefs. In my opinion the FBI has done this, but Greenwald’s latest article doesn’t even present valid evidence against the FBI.

On the other hand, I’d like to see Congress do a serious investigation of what NSA and other intelligence agencies are actually doing, and particularly I’d like the government to address the issue of whether the five Americans named in Greenwald’s article were actually targeted and why. The supposed targeting happened before 2008, so perhaps it wouldn’t hurt if more information were released about the reasons.

For further reactions to the latest claims from The Intercept and The Washington Post–and to the DNI/DOJ statement, check out  to the following links.

Bob Cesca at The Daily Banter, Greenwald’s Latest NSA Bombshell is an Incomplete Mess, Lacking Any Evidence of Wrongdoing. Here’s the lede:

Glenn Greenwald’s “grand finale fireworks display” finally appeared online early Wednesday and, indeed, there were fireworks but not the “spectacular multicolored hues” he predicted. The fireworks instead came in the form of a bombshell that exploded in a mushroom cloud of shoddy reporting and the usual hyperbolic, misleading accusations that have been the centerpiece of his brand of journalism for more than a year.

You need to read the entire article to understand Cesca’s article, so please go over there if you’re interested in this issue.

Driftglass,  Beware the Tingler: Glenn Greenwald, The Phantom Menace, and The Present Progressive Tense.

Marc Ambinder at The Week analyzes the IC official statement, What you need to know about the latest NSA revelations.

Benjamin Wittes at Lawfare: On Glenn Greenwald’s Latest.

That’s all the news I have room for today. What stories are you following? Please post your links in the comment thread, and have a terrific Thursday!