The boss has landed the key appointment with the Big Man. He’s almost ready, wearing his special suit.
Just before the Big Man’s secretary opens the office door, the Boss’s assistant notices a tiny white speck on the Boss’s shoulder. The assistant moves fast, raising a hand, ready to brush–
But the Boss is already walking through the door. The assistant sees him reach out to shake the hand of the Big Man–
And then–OMG!–the Big Man is raising his hand, and flicking the speck of dandruff off the Boss’s suit himself.
Oh, the shame. the humiliation. The assistant stands frozen. Of course the instant has been recorded by cameras that will flash it all over the world in minutes. The assistant imagines his career crumbing right before his eyes.
This, for the purpose of this celebration, is the Fourth of July. It is the birth day of your National Independence, and of your political freedom.
This, to you, is what the Passover was to the emancipated people of God. It carries your minds back to the day, and to the act of your great deliverance; and to the signs, and to the wonders, associated with that act, and that day.
This celebration also marks the beginning of another year of your national life; and reminds you that the Republic of America is now 76 years old. l am glad, fellow-citizens, that your nation is so young. Seventy-six years, though a good old age for a man, is but a mere speck in the life of a nation. Three score years and ten is the allotted time for individual men; but nations number their years by thousands.
Debates over “civility” are nothing new for Quakers. And other people.
The last time I was thrown out of a retail establishment, it was a screen printing shop in Fayetteville NC, near Fort Bragg. I came in on a warm day in 2007, wanting some tee shirts made for a conference being planned by Quaker House. The shirts were to be black, and the wording something like this:
I handed over a CD with the image on it, and the guy at the desk put down his cigarette & slid it into a computer. I couldn’t see the screen when the image came up; but his widened eyes told me.
He stood up as the CD slid back out of the slot. “Hey, Sarge,” he called, and carried it into a back room.
“Sarge” was out in a couple moments; likely retired Army. He didn’t throw the CD at me, but dropped it on the counter and made clear in a loud voice that anybody at Guantanamo or what we were just learning to call “black sites” was a goddam terrorist who deserved whatever they got, and that he was not about to print such treason as this on any of his shirts.
I didn’t quibble. But I called the next shop on my list before I went in, to see if they too had any objection. The shirts got done. And I didn’t think til later about how the issue of who was being uncivil here could be fitted into the “It’s Complicated” category:
Was it “Sarge,” who at best might have considered my image some very bad joke that didn’t play; or was it I, who brought such a patently offensive message into his patriotic establishment?
I can’t deny it: I’m feeling conflicted about the expulsion of Sarah Huckabee Sanders (hereafter SHS) from the Red Hen Restaurant in Lexington Virginia this weekend.
On the one hand, the report of it sets off alarms and bring back vivid memories from my young activist years. Then most restaurants, especially in the South, were racially segregated. And it took long hard months of protests (that had really started on a small scale years earlier) to begin to break through and open up this part of public space to nonwhite Americans.
A good friend works the late shift in a 24-hour diner near here. During the slow hours, the diner is a stopping place for homeless people. For the last couple of nights, one particular homeless man has come in. Last night he handed over a grimy five dollar bill and ordered some eggs & bacon.
Halfway through eating it he stood and asked for a take-out box. When handed it, he walked around the nearly-empty diner, scooping into it all the scraps and leftovers from plates that hadn’t been cleared, then left.
Such scavenging is strictly against the house rules; but my friend studiously ignored it. She’s become particularly permissive since she met up with two young women camping out behind the dumpster in the back parking lot.
She met them during the recent dry weeks. Then the rains came for several days, often pelting and blowing, and the young women left. We’re in the third week of another dry spell, and newcomers are here, crouched behind a different dumpster by the gas station up the block. They sweat through the mid-nineties days and scrounge for food that’s enroute to becoming trash.
Which brings me to Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the UN, who just threw a fit because that body’s poverty investigator (aka special rapporteur) after making an extensive study trip cross the nation, dared to call for examining poverty in America.
“It is patently ridiculous for the United Nations to examine poverty in America,” Haley wrote in a letter to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Thursday. “In our country, the President, Members of Congress, Governors, Mayors, and City Council members actively engage on poverty issues every day. Compare that to the many countries around the world, whose governments knowingly abuse human rights and cause pain and suffering.”
Why “ridiculous”? Because, she said, there are other countries which have higher poverty rates than ours. (True enough, but that doesn’t feed our hungry or homeless. Read the article for her short “Whatabout” list of countries; interesting that they were places populated by dark-skinned children of God.)
This outburst was not surprising. For that matter its deep roots in southern hypocrisy were easy to expose. Haley is the former governor of South Carolina, which has long been among the states with the highest rates of poverty. Further, it is the runaway leader, Numero Uno for decades, in slurping up federal welfare.
Last year, for instance, South Carolina received almost eight dollars in federal payments for every one dollar the IRS collected there. It’s also in the top ten states for the percentage of residents getting food stamps.
And its poverty figures show some familiar skews: it’s among the top 8 for child poverty, and top 11 for working women who are still poor.
But who could forget race? As you might expect, Haley’s home state is a pace-setter here too. This chart lists poverty by ethnicity:
There’s another key indicator, the proportion of citizens living in mobile homes. Here South Carolina is in front again, beating out even my state:
Nonetheless, Haley declared that
“I am deeply disappointed that the Special Rapporteur used his platform to make misleading and politically motivated statements about American domestic policy issues,” Haley said. “Regrettably, his report is an all too common example of the misplaced priorities” of the United Nations.
Well, tell it to the guy who asked for the takeout box at my friend’s diner. Speaking of whom, he mentioned that he was taking his box of scraps back to the tent camp down near Exit 13 on the Durham Freeway. Was he going to share it there, or keep it and try to stretch it through the long hot day, unless he dozed off and the rats got to it? He didn’t say.
I know that camp. Drive past it almost every day; less than a mile from my house. As such places go, it’s been relatively innocuous. After the last spell of rain, most of the tents seemed to disappear. Besides the downpours, the state had posted a sort-of eviction notice, telling them to clear out or face arrest. A few left; others said they had nowhere else to go. As of yesterday, the tents were back, and no one has yet been arrested.
The camp will probably be cleared soon; nearby property owners will relax. Then it will reassemble somewhere else. The latest report from HUD says homelessness in the US is declining as the economy strengthens; but such numbers are suspect, and disputed for me by data gathered by my own eyes.
Nevertheless, Haley’s indignation is all too common, especially among our current rulers. The UN report clashes with the official story that America is being made “great again”, and poverty ipsofacto is on the way out, or doesn’t actually exist, except maybe for welfare cheaters, (or Republicans indicted by rogue federal prosecutors).
Perhaps I’m not doing her justice here. But in gauging her reaction, beyond Palmetto hypocrisy, there’s the fact that the Special Rapporteur on poverty was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, which Haley had just taken the US out of.
Most observers saw the US departure as a way of deflecting its criticisms of Israel. But reviewing Haley’s outburst about its investigating US poverty suggests that there may be more to her agenda here.
I turn now to my report on the United States. My starting point is that the combination of extreme inequality and extreme poverty generally create ideal conditions for small elites to trample on the human rights of minorities, and sometimes even of majorities.
The United States has the highest income inequality in the Western world, and this can only be made worse by the massive new tax cuts overwhelmingly benefiting the wealthy. At the other end of the spectrum, 40 million Americans live in poverty and 18.5 million of those live in extreme poverty. In addition, vast numbers of middle class Americans are perched on the edge, with 40% of the adult population saying they would be unable to cover an unexpected $400 expense.
In response, the Trump administration has pursued a welfare policy that consists primarily of
(i) steadily diminishing the number of Americans with health insurance (‘Obamacare’);
(ii) stigmatizing those receiving government benefits by arguing that most of them could and should work, despite evidence to the contrary; and
(iii) adding ever more restrictive conditions to social safety net protections such as food stamps, Medicaid, housing subsidies, and cash transfers, each of which will push millions off existing benefits.
For example, a Farm Bill approved yesterday by Republicans in the House of Representatives would impose stricter work requirements on up to 7 million food stamp recipients. Presumably this would also affect the tens of thousands of serving military personnel whose families need to depend on food stamps, and the 1.5 million low-income veterans who receive them. . . .”
Bernie Sanders didn’t think so: “You are certainly right in suggesting that poverty in many countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi is far worse than it is in the United States,” Sanders said. “But … as it happens, I personally believe that it is totally appropriate for the U.N. Special Rapporteur to focus on poverty in the United States.”
And never mind Haley & the UN, or Alston and Bernie. Tonight my friend will be back at the diner, gathering her own data. She hasn’t talked to Philip Alston. But I bet she could give him quite an earful; along with some good waffles.
Or for that matter, she could tell Haley a thing or two as well.
I’m a long way from the Mexican border. But like many others, I can’t tear my eyes away from it, via the media. Many journalists are doing fine work this week, bringing the rending of families there into sharp focus. Here’s a sampling; hope the images and text make some impact.
From the Jackson, Mississippi Clarion-Ledger, an immigration lawyer recounted her border visit a few days ago:
Amelia McGowan, program director and immigration attorney at Migrants Support Center though Catholic Charities in Jackson:
Conversing in Spanish to many of the people seeking asylum, McGowan discovered they had heard rumors about U.S. officials separating children from their parents. And yet they stayed. At the time, the news was not widely reported.
“It seemed like this was a choice they had to make, they had no other choice — for their own survival and for their children’s survival,” McGowan said.
Many of those seeking asylum have traveled for days, seeking legal refuge from abuse or gang violence. With the Monday announcement from Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the U.S. would no longer provide asylum to victims of domestic abuse or gang violence, the refuge they seek will likely not be found in the U.S.
Many are being turned away at the border and told to come back another day. Under a new “zero tolerance” policy, the ones who cross the border without papers or authorization are immediately separated from their children, charged with a misdemeanor crime and sent to detention centers before their deportation hearing. They face up to six months in prison.
Where are the children?
Reports have surfaced of border agents telling parents their children are being taken to bathe. Only hours later do they realize their children are not coming back.
For many of the men detained, they face a mass-production form of “justice” in the nearby federal court. From the New York Times:
TUCSON, Ariz. — They filed into the room seven by seven for a dose of rapid-fire justice: In less than a minute and in quick succession, each migrant pleaded guilty to illegally entering the United States, and was sentenced.
They were overwhelmingly Central American and Mexican men, many of them still in the dusty, sweaty garb they had been wearing when they were caught by Border Patrol agents. They looked dazed, tired and resigned to their fate, many having just completed a harsh trek across the sweltering Mexican desert. Some of their heads drooped as they listened to the judge.
“Good afternoon, my name is Bernardo Velasco, the judge assigned to conduct this proceeding. You are being represented by a lawyer at no cost to you because you are charged with the criminal offense of illegal entry,” the judge told the defendants.
Then he turned to the lawyers: “Counsels, have your clients made a decision to waive their right to a trial and enter guilty pleas?” The lawyers responded in unison, “Yes, your honor.” . . .
There have been many photos of children in detention. The shell of a closed Wal-Mart is among the most notorious. A local TV station had an extensive report:
“. . . as of Wednesday, ORR [federal Office of Refugee Resettlement] spokesman Brian Marriott said, the office was holding 11,351 children in more than 100 shelters across 17 states.
At the Casa Padre shelter, which opened last year, the surge in numbers has been palpable. In March, the nonprofit Southwest Key Programs, which also operates 26 other shelters in Texas, Arizona and California, had a capacity of 1,186, according to a licensing document posted in the shelter. More recently, as children flooded into the system, they had to get a variance from Texas regulators to boost its capacity temporarily to 1,497. The average population of the shelter has jumped by nearly 300 in less than a month, said Martin Hinojosa, director of compliance for Southwest Key Programs.
Today, the shelter is almost at capacity again. Five cot-like beds have been squeezed into bedrooms built originally for four.
Juan Sanchez, the founder and president of Southwest Key Programs, refused to discuss the “zero-tolerance” policy.
“Our goal is to reunite these children with their families as soon as we can do that,” he told reporters Wednesday. He said that more than 70% of the 5,129 children at Southwest Key Programs shelters were unaccompanied, rather than separated from their parents. However, he conceded that the number of children separated was rising.
Reporters allowed to visit the Casa Padre shelter had to agree to preconditions, including that no cameras, phones or recording devices were allowed. Officials also declined to allow interviews with children or employees of the shelter.
The massive shelter retains a warehouse vibe — noisy but highly organized, with scores of staffers leading skeins of boys to various activities. In recreation rooms, some boys watched a soccer match on TV; some took part in a tai chi class; others played pool or foosball (in one case with a cue ball). Still others sat in classrooms. Because of the crowding, the boys attend school in six-hour morning or afternoon shifts, five days a week. The bedrooms reporters were shown seemed antiseptically clean.”
MSNBC corresponding Jacob Soboroff, who visited the facility, tweeted;
I have been inside a federal prison and county jails. This place is called a shelter but these kids are incarcerated. No cells and no cages, and they get to go to classes about American history and watch Moana, but they’re in custody.
However, plans have since been announced that more child detainees will be herded into tent camps — in daytime temperatures that are typically 100+ degrees.
Audio of separated children wailing for their parents, recorded clandestinely and released by ProPublica, has been released. It’s here:
Propublica: “The desperate sobbing of 10 Central American children, separated from their parents one day last week by immigration authorities at the border, makes for excruciating listening. Many of them sound like they’re crying so hard, they can barely breathe. They scream “Mami” and “Papá” over and over again, as if those are the only words they know.
The baritone voice of a Border Patrol agent booms above the crying. “Well, we have an orchestra here,” he jokes. “What’s missing is a conductor.”
Then a distraught but determined 6-year-old Salvadoran girl pleads repeatedly for someone to call her aunt. Just one call, she begs anyone who will listen. She says she’s memorized the phone number, and at one point, rattles it off to a consular representative. “My mommy says that I’ll go with my aunt,” she whimpers, “and that she’ll come to pick me up there as quickly as possible.”
[This] audio recording obtained by ProPublica adds real-life sounds of suffering to a contentious policy debate that has so far been short on input from those with the most at stake: immigrant children. More than 2,300 of them have been separated from their parents since April, when the Trump administration launched its “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which calls for prosecuting all people who attempt to illegally enter the country and taking away the children they brought with them. More than 100 of those children are under the age of 4. The children are initially held in warehouses, tents or big box stores that have been converted into Border Patrol detention facilities. . . .”
The audio was played by a reporter during a White House press briefing, while Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen was defending the policy. Nielsen did not respond to it.
Events are moving so fast that these snippets may be obsolete by now. And there were lots more today, but this is enough for one post.
Double Irony Time:
The Southern Baptist Convention just adopted a resolution condemning the view that the Bible supports slavery, which was the main premise on which the SBC was founded back in 1845. To back up this new view, it cites Bible verses used by 18th Century abolitionists to condemn slavery, which the early SBC long & steadfastly denounced as heretical, subversive, etc. That’s Irony #1.
On May 25, Sa’ed Atshan was chosen by the Swarthmore College Class of 2018 to speak at their “Last Collection,” an opening ceremony of their Commencement exercises.
Here are some excerpts from his talk. (A full length audio version, 26 minutes, is here. A transcript of the talk is here. ) I’m posting them as a sample of Atshan as a speaker, and as a man sharing his identity and evolution with younger peers. I believe much of this would have been in the talk he was planning for Friends Central last year.
But this was an experience denied to the students at Friends Central School. To prevent him from speaking there, two teachers at Friends Central were fired, and a high administrative official left. This shameful incident is now the subject of a federal lawsuit. (More on that lawsuit and its background here.)
Atshan’s Swarthmore talk was intriguing to me for several reasons, but one was a question I’m still seeking the answer to:
What is it about this talk, and about this person, that was worth destroying the jobs of three loyal faculty at Friends Central School to stop him from giving it on their campus?
Many readers will know that the Friends Central administration has refused comment on this matter. So we’re on our own to sort it out. This talk is not a final answer; but is worth reading and pondering as the seeking continues.
Driving up Interstate 95 on the evening of May 19, a few miles north of Fayetteville, North Carolina I spotted this billboard, which I had not seen before. It seemed worth documenting, so I made a U-turn at the next exit and was soon aiming the phone camera at it.
But before I got there I stopped a few miles farther south on 95, where the nearest example of this campaign stands.