Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A "Little Damascus" In Baltimore?

I'm almost afraid to say this, but I don't want anyone out there to be fooled:  Larry Hogan hates Baltimore.  Never mind this self-serving puff piece published under his name in the Baltimore Sun recently.  The Republican Governor of Maryland hates--really, really hates--the largest city in his state, at one time the sixth largest city in the nation and, even today in its pitifully shrunken state, still the 26th largest. Hates it so much, in fact, that he literally threw away Federal funds by cancelling the Red Line project, one that would have brought long-term benefits not only to the city, but to the surrounding suburbs as well.

Why?  Very simple.  Politically, for the "Guv," it was a three-fer.  It satisfied the enemies of "big government," in his party, just as his mentor Chris Christie did in cancelling a proposed new Amtrak tunnel under the Hudson (and look how well that worked out).  It freed up State funds to pay for splash new road projects in Republican-leaning areas of the state (guess "big government" isn't all that bad if it's "big" on behalf of Republican).  And, finally, it sticks a finger in the eye of Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who the "Guv" blames (not without reason) for the rioting that devastated the city in the wake of the Freddie Gray tragedy.  Sadly for Hogan, Rawlings-Blake has wisely decided not to run for re-election, meaning that the hunt will be on for a new political punching bag.

But, in the eyes of the "Guv," not to worry.  According to the aforesaid puff piece, why, he's got loads of good ideas for Baltimore.  For example, let's tear down large sections of it.  Doesn't matter whether anyone's living there or not, does it?  We can just shove them someplace else where it'll be easier to forget about them.  I can understand why that idea might appeal to Hogan's inner real-estate-developer, but it overlooks the inconvenient fact (as Dan Rodricks recently pointed out in the Sun) that much of what he considers "blight" happens to be in neighborhoods where people still live, own property, run businesses, attend churches, and generally strive to live their lives and make their neighborhoods and their city at least a little bit better.  Bulldozers aren't going to make their lives better; arguably, mass demolitions could themselves create areas that could in turn become magnets for criminal activity.

And Hogan's puff piece works hard to overlook an inconvenient truth, bulldozers have the same problem that the Red Line had for the "Guv":  they cost money, and lots of it.  But just try telling that to this Administration.  Start trying to drill down into the issue of how much money will be spent, to say nothing of where it will come from.  Why, that's dirty pool.  How dare you get into the specifics of governing, when everybody else will let us spin glittering generalities?

Hogan has no concrete plan for rebuilding Baltimore, because Hogan has no concrete intention of rebuilding Baltimore.  He just wants to spend the next four to eight years talking about rebuilding Baltimore as a side show to hide his political behind-the-scenes efforts to shift State spending from Democratic to Republican regions within Maryland.  Don't believe me?  Fine.  Take a look at the next budget proposal that comes from the "Guv," and try to use it to prove me wrong.  You won't be able to do it.  Unless, of course, you're Carly Fiorina, and you just make it up.

The sad thing about this is that there is a good idea available to help rebuild Baltimore, and it involves doing it the old fashioned way, by importing human capital.  In case Hogan hasn't noticed, Europe is experiencing a bit of a refugee crisis right now, largely driven by the exodus of people from the geopolitical disaster that used to be Syria.  Many, if not most, of those people are decent, hard working people who just want a place to live their lives.

Why can't that place be Baltimore?  Why can't we volunteer to accept the lion's share of these refugees and resettle them in a city with thousands of vacant buildings?  Why can't we believe in the potential of those people, with help from both the public and private sectors, to rebuild neighborhoods instead of senselessly bulldozing them.  Why couldn't Charm City, whose economy is now built almost exclusively on tourism, be the location of America's first "Little Damascus"?  Why can't we believe in the power of human capital to save cities?  Time and time again, that's the way our cities can be renewed.   There's no reason not to believe it can happen again.  Here.  And now.

How about it, "Guv"?  How about proving I'm wrong?  How about putting some real meat on the bones of your empty rhetoric?  How about doing what real leaders do, and lead?  How about doing something beyond satisfying the demands of your campaign contributors, something that would, absolutely and truly, put people first?

The ball's in your court.  Don't just dribble.  Shoot.

Mr. Boehner's October Miracle? Maybe It Should Be Mr. Obama's

The long-overdue departure of John Boehner from his lack of leadership as Speaker of the House should really be an insignificant story, for a number of reasons.  First, there's the aforesaid lack of leadership.  Boehner took his Constitutional position as the third most powerful individual in our nation's government, and turned it into a nearly five-year excuse to guzzle free bourbon and point fingers at the President trying to fix the economy the GOP nearly destroyed.  Second, and to be fair (but only slightly), Boehner's near-invisibility as a leader is due largely to the fact that the House Republican caucus is effectively ruled by a crazy minority of individuals (I feel using the word "people" would be an act of charity) that are convinced they can turn the moon into green cheese, if only they insist enough that Barack Obama "caves" so that it can happen.

This intransigence, largely an artifact of gerrymandering (and demonstrating the downside of trying too hard to manipulate the power to vote), is not going to go away anytime soon.  So says the establishment chattering classes; here is but one example.  But not everyone is thinking along those lines.  It turns out that there are a few optimists left in the mainstream media in the world, ones who are floating an idea that would allow Boehner to potentially undue the most legislatively and morally egregious act of his Speakership.  That idea:  Boehner using his remaining days at the podium to introduce comprehensive immigration reform, perhaps even reviving the bill the Senate passed in 2013.

Let me, as we lawyers say from time to time, refresh your recollection.  That bill, passed by a more than two-thirds bipartisan majority, was far from perfect,, if (as I am) you're an immigration advocate.  Still, it managed to get Democrats and Republicans on board behind the most significant immigration legislation in decades.  That's because, for all of its flaws, it successfully addressed border control, guest worker visas and the human rights crisis that we have all allowed to fester in our midst--the 11 million stateless souls (even "undocumented" is too polite a way to put it) that have become the most embarrassing political football of our time.

And Boehner, in order to keep himself swimming in free bourbon and away from the crazies in his own party, spiked it.  Didn't allow debate.  Didn't attempt to amend it.  Didn't even allow a simple two-hour floor vote, one that would have shaved a little time off of House members' weeks of paid vacation.  Despite being the leader of "the People's House," Boehner shut down a debate the people of this country needed to have--for no other reason than to pad his ample majority in the 2014 election.

Well, mission accomplished, John.  You got your padded majority.  And now you see what little good it does you.  It doesn't insulate you from the crazies, nor does it keep you in free bourbon (but don't worry, K Street can help you with the latter).  So why not do the right thing, and put this issue behind all of us once and for all?  It would be good for your party, good for the sagging reputation of the House, and, above all, good for the American people.  You remember the American people, don't you, John?  Long ago, before the Supreme Court made elections something that could be bought at Tiffany's or Cartier's, they were the ones that fought the wars and ran the country.  Chris Matthews wants you to do it.  The New York Times wants you to do it, saying it would be an "October Miracle" for you.  Why NOT go for it?

Ah, but here's the rub:  Republicans do not admit making mistakes, even when everyone, including them, knows that they have made them.  Not when it comes to self-financing tax cuts.  Not when it comes to self-financing wars.  Not when it comes to granting its followers the religious freedom to take away the religious freedom of others. And not, absolutely NOT, when it comes to passing legislation that would benefit non-white members of our society.  After all, a party that is becoming whiter by the minute can't afford to share the people's power with THOSE people.  Can they?

Well, what if our President finally inserted himself into the immigration debate in the way that many of us had hoped he would years ago?  What if he went beyond administrative acts of prosecutorial mercy (which are bottled up in the courts in any case)?  What if, above all, he taught the Republicans a meaningful political lesson, to wit:  budgetary blackmail is a two-way street?  Maybe, just maybe, Mr. Obama could be the real author of the "October Miracle."  Maybe he could be the one to force Republicans to embrace the reality of a changing country in a changing world.  And all he would have to do is say something that goes like this.

"Mr. Speaker, I wish you the best in your retirement.  By the way, that retirement is probably going to be spent largely at places, from golf courses to nursing homes, that depend heavily on immigrants. So let me do you a favor.  Let me be sure than you'll have a steady supply of practical help in your declining years.  That's why I've decided not to sign a budget bill until you and Mitch McConnell hold a vote in October on the CIR bill you choked to death last year."

DO IT, Mr. President.  Draw the line, and dare the drunkard not to cross it.  It's the only way to get him to do the right thing.  It may be the only way to do the right thing by 11 million souls.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Wind Power Isn't Practical?

Tell that to Denmark.

"Why I've Leaving The South"

Something else that says it all.

It's About Time!

Democrats renewing their push on behalf of the Voting Rights Act, that is.

Southern White Male Business Owner (40+) Explains Why He's A "Dem"

This says it all.

When It Comes To Fighting Anti-Intellectualism ...

... sadly, we have a long way to go.  I recently wrote about the importance of brains.  Here, however, is ample evidence of what the absence of brains can do.

Here are some additional thoughts along the same lines.

And here is an illustration of how deeply the problem has penetrated the corridors of power.

A Public Health Approach To Gun Violence?

I've long been a advocate of taking a public-health approach to our worst vices, rather than a criminal-justice approach.  Maybe there's something to be said for taking that approach with gun violence.  One wonders, however, whether the NRA could ever get on board with this.

Brains Matter

If you watched last Wednesday's Republican presidential debate, you definitely got an earful.  You heard a lot about what a horrible President Barack Obama has been, and how we need to undo everything he's done.  You heard a lot of posturing from each candidate about how, with the help of their bumper-sticker bromides, they'll save our country from the one-half of its population they so desperately hate.  You even heard the occasional whopper, whether it was Carla Fiorina describing a Planned Parenthood video that doesn't exist, or Jeb Bush talking about how his brother kept America "safe."  (G-d keep us from that level of "safety.)

But you also didn't hear any evidence of something this country hasn't had enough of over the past thirty-five:  intelligence.  No ideas on how to make our nation stronger, or about how to make the lives of most Americans better.  It was a Samuel Taylor Coleridge debate:  blather, blather everywhere, and not a thought to think.

There was a time when, say whatever you will otherwise about it, conservatism had ideas.  You may have thought they were good or bad ideas.  I wasn't necessarily opposed to all of them.  But the ideas were at least there, and conservatives spent time and energy advocating them loudly and fearlessly. Not any more.  There could be no more naked admission of the failure of those ideas, as adopted and practiced over the past three and a half decades, than the refusal of the current crop of Republican presidential candidates to advocate or even mention any of these ideas.  How could they?  Self-funding tax cuts?  Peace through "strength"?  Making America more "godly" by encouraging religious bigotry?  Outside of the incredibly shrinking Republican base, where is the market for any of this now?

The sad truth, of course, is that the solutions to America's problems has nothing to do with the departure of Barack Obama for the White House  In fact, America is better off than it was seven years ago because President Obama has been a tremendously effective advocate for some very powerful ideas.  True, most of those ideas involve the role that government plays in our lives.  But those ideas have been tested over the course of Obama's two terms and have been successful.  The power of public spending and regulation to stimulate a depressed economy and reign in the excesses of financial markets.  The ability of government to work with the health industry and expand access to health insurance for millions of Americans.  The power of government to help create a whole new industry centered around renewable energy, which has the additional benefit of helping to fight climate change.

All of this is based on one simple aspect of President Obama:  he is smart.  He understands the power of ideas, and values good ones.  He understands that stupidity can not be saved by its short-term popularity.  He understands that the value of ideas and the popularity of those ideas are not always the same thing.  And it has not deterred him from advocating good ideas.  And all of us are benefiting from that advocacy.  How much more would we be benefiting, if stupidity powered by money hadn't gotten in the way?

On the state level, in California, a state with a Democratic governor and a Democratic legislature, we can see the power of good ideas successfully fighting the power of devastating drought. California, the birthplace of modern conservative ideology, is now the laboratory for ideas on how to fight the changing climate of our world.  And, because it has embraced good ideas, and enacted them into law, California is winning the battle.

How much more all of us would be winning, if we could embrace a politics of ideas--of good ideas, for that matter?  You will only get that type of politics if you get out next year, get over the idea that there are no differences between the two major parties, and vote every Republican out of office and replace each one with a Democrat.  Otherwise, you will get nothing but what the current Republican presidential clown car is offering.  Rhetoric.  And failure.

Why I'm Saddened, Shamed, And Scared By Evangelical Christianity

I largely destroyed the early years of my adult life by undergoing, in my freshman year of college, a religious conversion that brought me into the ranks of evangelical Christianity.  I don't use the military allusion lightly, for, as I soon discovered, evangelicals truly view themselves as "Christian soldiers," an army of believers bent on bringing the entire world around to its particular band of faith.

Looking back now at this experience, which began to end not long after my 30th birthday (I'm 59 now), I marvel that it was even possible for this to have happened to me.  I had been brought up in an academic, nominally liberal household (more about that later), one in which tolerance was at least given lip service.  Why would I throw that away for a belief system predicated not only on intolerance, but on a near-total rejection of the intellectual part of life?

There is no simple answer but, over the years, I've come to realize that I had grown up with a lot of self-doubt, augmented by the fact that my parents went out of their way to over-protect me from a lot of activities they deemed to be potentially dangerous.  Add to that the fact that I had attention-deficit disorder and a high IQ, and couldn't overcome the one to fully take advantage of the other, and my whole growing-up process was a total mess.  By the time I was ready to step into the world on my own, I did so without a trace of confidence that I could be successful in it.

I was, in short, easy pickings for a moment that feeds its numbers with directionless people looking to almost anything for direction.  And, for the first twelve years of my adult life, I did the best I could to accommodate myself to its demands, even its demand that I only date women who were part of the faith.  That made my life more complicated, because there were very few available women who qualified, and the ones that did had no interest in dating me.  Evangelical women, for theological reasons, look for men who possess a confident, leader-like personality and, back in my college years and early 20s, that definitely was not me.

By the time I was in my mid-20s, I was in a downward spiritual spiral.  My faith was not helping me cope with a civil-service job I dreaded to go to, and my social life was in a near-total rut.  The best thing I had going for me was the fact that I lived in New York, my all-time favorite city.  But even that was not enough to make my life happy, or even functional.  My response to that was to double-down on the bad spiritual bargain I had made, and attend a week-long program sponsored by Bill Gothard's Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts.

And this was the experience that became the beginning of the end for me, evangelically speaking. Gothard's seminar, like all of his programs, are built on his concept of Biblical authority.  Put simply, any authority that is over you has been placed in that position by God, and must be responded to with absolute obedience.  That not only includes the concept of wives submitting to husbands, but children (even adult children) submitting to parents.  Sadly, both my faith and my self-esteem were low enough that I bought into this concept.  Not long after that, doing so cost me the only good relationship I had ever formed with an evangelical woman--because my parents disapproved of the fact that she was black.

I don't blame them, however, for my decision to end the relationship.  I blame me.  I blame myself for my weakness, my insane search for an "authority" that would make all of my decisions for me, and my complete inability to trust my own judgment and instincts--even when those instincts proved to be right, time and time again.  It was only when I realized that I was the only person who needed to be or should be in charge of my life that I broke out of this downward spiral, and began to turn my life around.  Ultimately, that turnaround led me to abandon the faith I had made the mistake of adopting.

I'll never know exactly what my life might have been if I had not wandered into evangelical Christianity.  I have a good life now, with a terrific marriage and family, and two careers (as a lawyer and an actor), so I have no complaints.  But I can't help but feel a sense of frustration over the years I wasted trying to conform to the demands of a belief system that gave me nothing but a sense of failure.  Who knows how I could have benefited others, if I had just lived my life on my own terms, instead of the terms of people who cared more about my obedience than my happiness?

This is why it infuriates me to see something like this, which makes me realize that no one should waste a second of their lives listing to anything Bill Gothard has to say.  To say nothing of how his particular system of religious tyranny has spilled out into our popular culture, thanks to the Duggar family, whose show, mercifully, has been taken off the air.

And that is why I warn everyone, especially those of you with high-school age and college-age children, to be very, very careful if someone you know or love looks like they may be in danger of falling into the evangelical trap.  Do not hesitate to intervene.  Do it with love, but do it armed with the truth.  And the greatest truth that you can share with them is best summed up in the final four lines of the poem, Invictus:

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

Maybe Technology CAN Save Us

Here's one possibility:  solar-powered floating farms.

Even The Oil Companies Admit There's Global Warming

Which is why they are now advocates of carbon pricing.

We Are Not Rotting From Liberalism

We are rotting from a lack of it.  Here's Bill Moyers, probably the best press secretary any President ever had, to explain why the road to the center runs to the left.

Solar Power Is Good For More Than The Environment

It can also be good for your pocketbook.  Take a look.

Tax Increases Need Not Be Unpopular

They can even be advanced by Republicans.

ISIS Is Part Of The Legacy Of The Iraq War

You preach it, Rand Paul.

Shame On You, Andrea Peyser--And Your Publisher, Too!

Perhaps the biggest distinction between classic conservativism and its contemporary counterpart is the inability of adherents to the latter to learn anything.  Even from their own history, and its transparently obvious failures.

Here is Andrea Peyser, New York Post columnist, lecturing the rest of us about the need to never, ever, ever question the conduct of specific police officers in specific instances of potential misconduct, and to never, ever, ever question the intentions of our government (when it's run by Republicans, natch) because ... well, you know, 9/11.

Peyser and her cronies in the vast right-wing noise machine write about 9/11 as though they somehow have a monopoly on outrage and horror over the events on that unbelieveably tragic day. They seemingly fail to realize all of us lost something on that day, even if we weren't a passenger on the planes, a worker in the World Trade Center or the Pentagon, a first responder, a member of the clean-up crews, or a friend or relative of someone in one or more of those groups.  Those people suffered the greatest losses.

But all of us shared their personal grief, their deeper understanding of the dangers in our world, and the loss of many of our freedoms in the quasi-police state created in part by the hysterical "unity" that Peyser found to be so moving.  And none of this even touches on the further debacle, and the related cost in lives and treasure, than can be summed up in a single word:  Iraq.

And nobody should pretend that Peyser's employer, Rupert Murdoch, did not play a major in shaping and directing that "unity." While the city was still in flames and debris, and while bodies were still being retrieved, columnist and nepotism poster-boy John Podhortez was using his column to tell Democrats in New York to "SHUT UP!"  His exact words.  As though they were somehow to blame for all of this.

And the Post's editorial page was none-to-subtlely blaming the attacks on policies promoted by Bill Clinton.  Yes, the former President of the United States.  Not the guy who'd been on the job for just under eight months, who received warnings about a potential attack on the United States, and went back to clearing brush on his ranch.

Yes, a potential attack by Osama bin Laden, one of many bad actors, including the Shah of Iran, bought and paid for by your tax dollars and mine in what could charitably be described as part of a misguided effort to keep Communism at bay (the same Communism that collapsed under its own dead weight, with little help from us).  Oh, but Ms. Peyser thinks that it's "bullying" to bring any of this up.  Well then, Andrea, where the hell were you when our national grief was being used to "bully" us into a war fought almost entirely for the sake of multinational oil companies--again, with your tax dollars and mine?  You were writing for the New York Post, published by Mr. Murdoch, America's number one bully when it comes to the need of American conservatives.

Sorry, Andrea.  I actually agree with you on topics like abortion and marriage equality.  But not on this.  After all of the mistakes this country has made in meddling in world affiars, and after all of the harm that has been brought about by pretending that meddling never existed, you should know better. You, and the Republican Party, although this week's debate among its presidential candidates didn't offer any encouragement in that direction.

And one more thing.  It's precisely because we hold first-responders to the highest standards, and consistently work to weed out the losers, that we have the kind of heroic excellence that we saw on 9/11, and not only on 9/11.  I have the greatest respect for police officers.  But, when it comes to worship, there is only One who receives that kind of respect from me.  All of the rest of us are flesh and blood.  We should all be held accountable for our weaknesses.  It is only by doing so that, as individuals and as a nation, that we can be as strong as well need to be.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Jimmy Carter: The Long-Distrance Runner Who Won The Race That Matters The Most

Cal Thomas, nobody's idea of a Ted Kennedy Democrat (or any kind of Democrat, for that matter), recently published this column about Jimmy Carter that was surprisingly generous in its treatment of him.  Maybe the generosity shouldn't be considered surprising, since both men are evangelical Christians.  But Thomas' assessment of Carter's faith, and the way it has informed both the former President's life and the perspective he is maintaining in the face of cancer, is somewhat at odds with Thomas' assessment of Carter's presidency, which has been (and no doubt still is) far less charitable.

Thomas, sadly, is typical of most evangelicals in embracing the tenets of a political philosophy that is wildly at odds with the terms of the Book that evangelicals think they exalt (whether they've actually read it or not).  Their chosen philosophy, political conservatism, encourages them to worship both God and mammon.  It demands that they beat their plowshares into swords.  And it demands that you not only cast the first stone against a sinner, but that, if the sinner is female, you take careful aim at her uterus.

Whether as a President, or in his personal life, Jimmy Carter never compromised his faith by the demands of secular society, including politics.  In fact, that aspect of his walk with God brought him into conflict with prominent members of his own party, such as Kennedy and Tip O'Neill.  He wanted, for example, to temper the growth of the social democratic project in this country to ensure that it could be sustained fiscally.  On the other hand, he challenged the more militaristic tendencies of Republicans (and even some Democrats) by insisting that American foreign policy be informed by a concern for human rights.  Above all, he insisted that we confront our own desire to "have it all," and face the fact that it was unsustainable.  

No aspect of his Presidency illustrates this insistence more than his energy policy, combining conservation with alternative resources, and insisting, to use his own words, that the struggles for energy independence is the moral equivalent of war.  George Will, a media tribune for the party owned by the oil industry, attempted to mock this philosophy by reducing it to the cute acronym "MEOW" (as he would later attack Carter by stealing his briefing book for the 1980 presidential debates).  Carter was the first President to install solar panels on the roof of the White House; his successor, Ronald Reagan, immediately removed them upon taking office, and later sold arms to an oil-producing country that held our people hostage.  (That latter feat is something to remember as you listen to today's Republican candidates promise to "NEVER" do deals with our "enemies.")

If politics is the art of short-term success, than there can be no doubt that Carter's one-term presidency was a disaster.  If, on the other hand, it can be seen as the patient planting of policy seeds, with a willingness to sow so that others can reap, Carter may arguably be seen as having spent his time in the White House more wisely than perhaps any other President in the 20th century. All of the goals he championed--fiscal responsibility, human rights, and energy independence--are all axiomatic for politicians in both major American parties.  But championing these goals in the 1970s took qualities that no other politician had at the time, or had since.  It took courage.  It took a willingness to put the needs of the many ahead of the few, or the one (in the Oval Office). Perhaps, above all, it took faith.

That is why no one should be surprised that Jimmy Carter is facing death with amazing grace.  He is facing it with the same qualities that informed his presidency.  Above all, he is facing it with the perspective of a man who has lived, and continues to live, his life for the long run.  A President who helped to popularize jogging, Carter has always understood that the race is never about the journey, but about the destination.

Our 39th President has always understood that life is the race that matters the most.  No matter how much longer you will be with us, Mr. President, congratulations on winning the race.  And, at the same time, showing the rest of us how to run it.  May we as individuals, and as a nation, always be worthy of your example.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Jackson Heights: My Old Neighborhood

Actually, I lived in Elmhurst, but Jackson Heights was just a few blocks away, and was the home of the Social Security office in which I worked.  Nice to see things look to be in good shape.

The Republicans Are To Blame For Your Busted Roads, Bridges, Tunnels, Sewers, Pipes and Power Lines

And even a leading Republican Senator has admitted it.

Throw them out.

What Is The Republican Base?

Senior citizens.  The GOP may soon literally RIP.

And Yet, We Live In An Amazing World

One in which bacteria can be used to repair concrete.  If we can be this smart on a consistent basis, there may yet be hope for us.

Immigration Is Not An American Issue

It is an international issue.  Take a look.  Take an even harder look.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again:  in a world in which money moves around it at the speed of light, it's criminal not to give the people who earn, save, spend and invest it the same rights.  All too often, it amounts to the right to survive.

A Vote Of Confidence In Obama--From The Great White North

Canada, that is.

Could Immigrants Really Change American Cultural And Political Values?

It might be difficult for some of you to believe, but that very question was recently posed in this article in Slate.com, in the context of the never-ending promotion (and self-promotion) of Donald Trump's would-be presidential campaign.  As all of us know by now (whether we like it or not), Trump has made immigration the rhetorical focal point of his campaign.  The Slate article itself cites a separate piece advancing the view that Trump's success thus far with making immigration an issue is a consequence of the fears held by many white voters that immigrants are a threat to their cultural identity, and that this fear, not economic or job-related fears, is what really gives the issue, and Trump, the power that both seemingly have.

The authors of both the Slate article, and the article from which it is derived, may have a point. It may very well be the case that fears of immigration may be based on cultural, rather than economic concerns.  If so, I for one would be happy to see the whole debate shift away from the whole crummy-illegals-taking-our-jobs framework that has dominated it over and over again.  For me, this is especially true in light of the fact that study after study after study has shown that immigrants, documented and undocumented, contribute far more in economic activity and public revenue than they receive in public benefits.  People can argue otherwise until they are blue in the face, but the facts ended that argument a long time ago.

And, in any case, it makes sense that immigrants have the potential to change our cultural values and, in consequence, our political values.  But so what?  That is part and parcel of having an open society in which ideas are freely shared in any case.  That was the point of colonization, the war for independence and, ultimately, the Constitution, from the very beginning.  Europeans came to the new world, introducing new technology, and in return sent back new crops to Europe that changed European culture for those not making the journey to the New World.  The effort to create cities and farms where none had existed before led in turn to the creation of a culture in the British colonies that, ultimately, was no longer completely British.  The nation that was born as a consequence of that cultural shift in turn needed human resources from other countries--and welcomed those resources, allowing them to make their own contributions and reshape our culture in the process.

So successful, in fact, has this process been that it is fair to consider this question:  If America is truly a WASP nation, what does it even mean to be a WASP?  Consider, for example, the requirement most anti-immigrant advocates require of all immigrants:  the ability to speak English.  It's fair to respond by asking:  what is English in the first place?  It's a language that has its roots in the broader Indo-European family of languages, which means that, although it eventually became specific to a particular nation and culture, means that it did not spring up in full bloom in a specific spot.  And even as it became identified with both England and the colonies of the British Empire, it was able to absorb and embrace words that have roots in other cultures.  Think about that the next time you go to a restaurant, eat a taco, or kibitz with your neighbors.

This is why English is as widely spoken around the world as it is, because its strength lies in its ability to adapt to the new usages people from different cultures add to it.  It's still English, in its fundamental vocabulary and structure, but it's also a worldwide language--one that is already spoken by the newer arrivals to the U.S., whether documented or not.  You want to speak a language that is native to the soil?  Well, consider Navajo--but forget about English.  It came here as a foreign tongue and, by virtue of its speakers being spread out throughout the world, it is close to a universal language, in part because it accepts other words as "immigrants."

Our nation was founded on the principal that our similarities are stronger than, and ultimately transcend, our differences.  That is why our national slogan was E pluribus unum--one out of many (before Red-baiting made us change it to "In God We Trust" in the 1950s).  We don't require people to abandon those qualities that are unique to them, because we are not threatened by them.  We feel we can learn from them and, in the process, strengthen our own traditions.  We think it is folly-or worse--to divide society into separate tribes; that only produces fear, conflict, and war, while doing nothing to "preserve" cultures.  Ultimately, cultures live or die based not only on their own underlying strength, but the strength they derive from learning the lessons of other cultures.

We need not fear cultural change.  All of us are the products of cultural change.  Our children, and their children, will also be the products of cultural change.  Cultural change cannot be avoided, and it should not be feared.  It has no more place in the immigration debate than economic concerns do. And, if this New York Times article is any indication, perhaps people are slowly waking up to that.  I hope and pray that they are.

Why Kim Davis Is Not A Martyr

It was probably inevitable, after the Supreme Court's historic ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges declaring a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, that someone somewhere in the U.S. would decide to use the decision as a means by which to become the latest "publicity saint" for the VRWC and its media machine.  That "someone somewhere" now has a name:  Kim Davis, a county clerk in Kentucky who now sits in jail, having been found in contempt by a Republican-appointed federal judge for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  Her justification for this refusal?  "God's authority."

No sooner did this story make its way into the national debate than Ms. Davis became, in the words of her attorney, "the poster child for why you need religious liberty exemption laws."  This is the bizarre notion that, in a democracy in which laws are enacted by the consent of the people and their elected representatives, anyone and everyone can nevertheless defy whichever of those laws "offends" them on the grounds that their religion forbids them from obeying it.  That is not to say that their should be no such thing as a conscientious objection to one or more aspects of the law.  As I have mentioned in previous posts, and as I say again here, I have a relative who obtained CO status with respect to military service--and I fully support his decision to do so.  But he did not escape the ambit of the law by obtaining CO status; he was required to perform alternative service, and did so.

In other words, when an individual moral or religious objection is such that it imposes some public burden, such as seeking another individual to perform military service in my relative's place, it is not unreasonable to ask that person to relieve the burdens of society in some other way.  That approach honors both the objection and the individual's status as a member of society.  And that is emphatically not the approach Ms. Davis is seeking to take.

Ms. Davis is an elected official, earning a salary of approximately $80,000.00 a year, plus other public fringe benefits as well (that's speculation but, as a former federal and state employee myself, it's reasonable).  She ran for office and sought to put herself in a position of public service, knowing full well that doing so would, from time to time, require her to serve the interests of individuals whose aims she might find objectionable to her religion.  She certainly did so being aware of the public debate over the effort to legalize same-sex marriage, and could have anticipated how the resolution of that debate might affect her job.

She nevertheless ran for office, won, and is therefore in a position to take a real stand of conscience, one that would honor her religious objection and her commitment as a public official to serve the interests of the whole public.  She could resign.  And, in doing so, she could forswear the inevitable media benefits of her new-found fame (the book deal, the Fox talk show, etc.).  She could go back home and become a full-time wife to her fourth husband, and thereby demonstrate the sincerity of her conservative religious beliefs.

Notice, however, that she is not doing any of those things.  She is hanging on to her relatively cushy public job--again, a job that requires her to serve the interests of all the people who come to her.  She will no doubt run for re-election from jail--and, perhaps, even be re-elected, unless Kentucky law forbids that because she is in jail.  And don't think those media benefits aren't right around the corner; I'd make it ten-to-one that the book deal is already in place.

If Ms. Davis wants to be a martyr, she should get that status the old-fashioned way, by earning it. Forsake the public benefits of her elected office.  Stop using that office to impose her religious beliefs on others.  Doing so is not an act of conscience, nor is it a right granted by the First Amendment; in fact, the Establishment Clause of that Amendment specifically forbids what she is trying to do.  She cannot have it both ways; no one should, in a democracy.  You cannot take an oath to serve the people, and obtain the private benefits of doing so, and then claim a special right not to serve some of the people.  It is worse than the rankest form of hypocrisy; it is an offense to the very ideal of public service itself.  Such an offense does not honor the Constitution.  And I am bound to say, by my own religious beliefs, that it does not honor God.