joe strummer sang about this border crisis hypocrisy 30 years ago

The image of Americans protesting against busloads of refugee children represents a new low in American hatred of the “other.”  To them, it matters little that these children are refugees and desperately fleeing for their lives.  They are “illegals” that don’t belong here–regardless of their needs, regardless of what U.S. federal law saws, and regardless of the likelihood that U.S. policy towards Central American nations actually helped precipitate this crisis.  This border crisis hypocrisy has American fingerprints all over it.

The roots of the current crisis goes back to U.S. government support for violent right-wing governments in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador in the 1980’s and before. These bloody civil wars created waves of refugees in the U.S. Because their legal status was often in question–and because we supported their governments–we did not consider them refugees.  And, as was true of other immigrants going back a century, their status caused them to avoid the police and made them easy prey for criminal elements that both protected them and took advantage of their situation.  We deported many of these criminals for understandable reasons, but when the civil governments of these countries finally negotiated some semblance of peace, the superpowers lost interest and cut aid, and these “made in USA” gangs ended up filling the void in countries still dealing with devastated infrastructure and desperate poverty. A more detailed analysis of the roots of the crisis is here.

What this crisis demonstrates is something that many social workers have understood for years:  Every effort to sweep a problem under the rug only results in the problem popping up elsewhere. We can take a “hard line” on immigrants but if we ignore or contribute to the circumstances that brought them here, they will continue to knock on our door.  Israel cannot “bomb” the Palestinian question away or starve it into submission. We can’t just “lock people up and throw away the key,” when our prisons leave devastated communities in our wake.

I heard the song “Straight To Hell” by The Clash this morning and so many of the lyrics absolutely nailed the current situation, even though the song came out more than thirty years ago.  The song links abandoned industrial towns to the plight of the Amerasian “war babies” in Vietnam, to the arson of Puerto Rican neighborhoods in New York’s “Alphabet City” neighborhood to clear the way for gentrification (which also happened in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood). In the thirty years since the song was first published, it seems more and more that “King Solomon he never lived ’round here.”

your boss’s religious exemption and you

First Floor at the Statute of John Marshall, q...

First Floor at the Statute of John Marshall, quotation from Marbury v. Madison (written by Marshall) engraved into the wall. United States Supreme Court Building. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The US Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby has opened the floodgates for supposedly secular companies to claim a “religious exemption” from rights that employees and potential employees would otherwise enjoy. Suddenly, a new reality is emerging that when a company owner’s religious beliefs conflict with that of their employees, the company owner prevails. That’s bad news for you if you don’t own a company.

 In case you’ve been living under a rock for the entirety of July, here’s an update. In the above court case, the Supreme Court agreed with Hobby Lobby’s assertion that they should be exempt from the Affordable Care Act‘s requirement that companies  providing insurance coverage to its employees include coverage for certain types of contraception. Hobby Lobby, as a family-owned company, was claiming a religious exemption despite not being classified as a religious organization.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was at times quite blunt in her dissent on the 5-4 majority ruling (in which all five voting in the majority were men and three of the four dissenting justices were women).  “In a decision of startling breadth,” she wrote, “the Court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Think the floodgates haven’t opened?  Think again.

A letter from fourteen people, including the leadership of twelve religious charities, requested a religious exemption from an executive order that would have required all federal contractors to avoid discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people in their hiring practices.  I find the letter noteworthy in the coded language they use when trying to defend not hiring LGBT people.  George Fox University recently obtained a religious exemption from the U.S. Department of Education to deny on-campus housing to a transgendered student who had physically, mentally and legally completed the transition from female to male. While GFU is a Quaker educational institution, many Quakers have spoken out vociferously against GFU’s decision claiming that the act of denying on-campus housing violates Quaker values.

I found it interesting that Catholic Charities USA‘s CEO was one of the fourteen charity leaders that signed on to the letter, which was issued one day after the SCOTUS ruling.  I worked at Catholic Charities of Chicago through much of the 1990’s.  For decades, Catholic Charities of Chicago has secured federal and state grants to perform a variety of human services.  When I worked for them, they were very clear that they did not discriminate against non-Catholics or non-Christians, and that this is what enabled them to obtain such grants in the first place.  I can certify as a non-Catholic that I didn’t feel discriminated against and that the organization clearly embraced diversity.  One of my co-workers was gay and it was a pretty open secret.  He never talked about his experience as a gay person at the agency so I don’t know what it was like for him, but it seemed to me that he was highly regarded.

But Catholic Charities of Chicago hadn’t always been that way. Apparently, until the early 1980’s, Catholic Charities employees who became pregnant were required to quit their jobs. The story was that Cardinal Joseph Bernardin–a broad-minded, arguably liberal cardinal who was well-liked and deeply respected by all–eliminated that policy.  And while they didn’t encourage contraception, their AIDS liaison published a pamphlet about avoiding AIDS that said “And as for condoms–well, the Catholic Church doesn’t encourage the use of contraception.”  Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

Some aspects of this ruling really stand out for me.

1)  This is not about the right to practice one’s own religion as one pleases, but a decision about who’s religious beliefs should get priority when a company owner’s religious beliefs conflict with that of their employees.

2)  This conflict between Hobby Lobby and its employees would not have surfaced had there been a public option in the Affordable Care Act.

3)  Hobby Lobby is not a religious organization, yet it can claim a religious exemption.

4)  While the First Amendment speaks against government establishing or favoring one religion over the other, there are few barriers that would, in effect, keep private company owners from de facto establishing a religion on its employees..

5)  There seems to be relatively little in the way of a litmus test to determine whether a belief is in fact a religious belief or not.  Christians differ on whether contraception is forbidden by the Bible or not. Many Quakers consider GFU’s decision to be antithetical to core Quaker values.

5)  Given that there is a trend and even a push towards more privatization of the public commons (i.e. schools, utilities, public spaces)  it may not matter whether government establishes an official religion or not if a private and powerful entity is pulling the strings.

In the meantime, Justice Ginsburg’s dissent has been put into song. (Though I don’t believe the phrase “slut-shaming geezers” is hers. She was blunt, but not that blunt.)


stunning storms still sweeping southern wisconsin with wild, wet, windy weather

This image was selected as a picture of the we...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The repetitive nature of the storms stills sweeping southern Wisconsin just beg for alliteration.  This has been a freaky summer.  Ever since the EF2 and EF3 tornadoes came through a couple weeks ago, wild wet, windy weather has repeatedly barrelled through the bottom of the Badger State.

Two nights ago around midnight, we and our neighbors were jolted awake by loud clap of thunder that accompanied a lightning strike.  A little while later, I saw fire engines pulling up on the next block–at least two or three of them.  Apparently a house only 200 feet from us or less was struck by lightning, which caused a basement fire and $40,000 in damage.  Luckily no one was hurt.  We learned the next day that a tornado apparently hit counties to the west of Madison.

But Mother Nature was not through with us yet.  As I was driving my taxicab yesterday, I heard radio programs repeatedly interrupted by National Weather Service warnings.  A severe thunderstorm and tornado watch gave way to a severe thunderstorm warning around 4:00 and a tornado warning roughly 45 minutes later.  The warning was based on some rotation spotted in the storm clouds that could easily spawn tornadoes, though none were reported.

What we did get, however, was quite the soaking.  I was driving from a few blocks west of the Capitol to a few blocks east of the Capitol to pick up someone.  Traffic has been extremely congested on Johnson Street and nearby streets due to high-rise construction and the replacement of water and sewer mains nearly a century old.  So traffic was already at a standstill when the clouds broken open.  In some ways, this wasn’t a bad place to have blinding rain, as traffic really wasn’t moving anyway.

The guy I picked up at Butler and East Washington had been trying to get home from his workplace in Middleton, some seven or eight miles west of downtown Madison.  He was taking the bus, but the Madison Metrobuses stopped and pulled over due to the severe weather.  He had just about two miles to go.

Butler Street is about two thirds of the way up the steep hill that leads from the East Side to the Capitol, and so I was driving him down the hill along East Washington.  I noticed starting at about Blair Street (roughly at the foot of the hill) some puddles that were probably six inches deep.  The Prius that I was driving, with its low center of gravity, seemed to hold its own quite well, but I was worried about the effect the deep puddles might have on the sensitive electronics in the car.  The puddles were usually the deepest between the intersections.  At one point I pulled off East Wash (that’s what we usually call it, and the name did seem appropriate in this case) to the lot of the Octopus Car Wash because I didn’t feel comfortable driving in water which now seemed to be almost a foot deep and going over the curb.  But after observing other cars and noticing they weren’t really having much trouble, I decided to hit the road again and I eventually made it past Baldwin, after which we hit higher ground again.

I took a 20-minute break and then decided to take more fares.  I was offered one that would take me back to Capitol Square and then back through areas of the Near East Side that might still be flooded.  I started heading east, but I could go no more than two blocks beyond Baldwin until I realized that I didn’t feel comfortable driving back through those deep puddles, regardless of how the other cars seemed to be doing.  So I called my dispatcher and told him I didn’t feel comfortable running this fare under the circumstances.  He understood, and gave me a different order instead which would take me further east away from the Capitol. I ended up picking up a woman whose Honda Insight stalled and got damaged by flooding near East Towne Mall.  The Insight has an even lower center of gravity than the Prius and while other cars seemed to be handling the deep water just fine, the Insight wasn’t so lucky.  So I ended up giving her a cab ride home, for which she was grateful.

I’m sure there is at least one person somewhere in Wisconsin who believes that these storms hitting Madison’s East Side are somehow punishment for its residents for being, well, liberals.  If that’s the case, God must really have it in for those flaming liberal bastions of Texas and Oklahoma.

A number of years ago I was in Oklahoma City doing advance work for the Global Walk and staying with a defense attorney who had a knack for politically incorrect jokes.  Apparently he was on the outskirts of the city where the tornado sirens couldn’t reach and he had a NOAA weather radio with its own siren on it.  I didn’t discover this until 3 a.m. when the thing went off–on the mantle just two feet above my head in the pitch black guest bedroom.  My host came into the bedroom, moved the weather radio into the hallway, and kindly peeled me off the ceiling,  Given that this particular station covered the middle third of Oklahoma, the darn thing was going off three times a day in the June heat. During one such warning, we were watching the approaching storm and a neighbor’s dog was barking loudly and repetitively.  He jokingly speculated what would happen if the tornado happened to pick up the dog and he began to talk about the impact that the Doppler Effect might have on the dog’s bark.

The next day, three of us were driving a van when a sudden cloudburst hit.  I misjudged the depth of the water as I approached a viaduct and the van immediately stalled.  One member of my party got out to run into the nearby Denny’s restaurant and call the AAA Motor Club while the two of us waited inside.  A few minutes later our friend came outside but just stood there at the edge of the road in the pouring rain and stared at us.  We were wondering why he was just standing there when we noticed that while he was standing up straight, he somehow seemed to be floating backwards.  Then we suddenly realized that it was us floating backwards, so we scampered out the van and trudged through knee-deep water to get out of the road.  We ate at the Denny’s and waited for the storm to pass.  Eventually it did so, and the water subsided, but the engine still wouldn’t start.  We called our host to ask him where we could find a good mechanic.  He told us to have the van towed to his house.  Some of his clients, which he referred to as “his convicts” would occasionally pay off their bills by doing some work for him and two of them were good mechanics.

The next morning, the mechanics opened the hood of the van and found a live garter snake hanging from the radiator hose.  Apparently it found our van during the flood, and since it was a warm and apparently protected place, he decided to make his home there.