The Other Guys

I’m the guy doing my job. You must be the other guy.

President Obama, referencing a line in The Departed

This week’s featured article is Boehner’s Lawsuit and Palin’s “25 Impeachable Offenses”.

This week everybody was talking about the House suing/impeaching President Obama

Speaker Boehner hopes his lawsuit will mollify the base enough to keep them from demanding impeachment before the fall elections. But Sarah Palin isn’t cooperating, as I describe in Boehner’s Lawsuit and Palin’s “25 Impeachable Offenses”.

and the refugee kids at our southern border

It’s a real problem, so naturally the extreme Right has created a conspiracy theory to explain it: President Obama has deliberately induced Central American families to send their unaccompanied kids on a dangerous journey to America, so that he can pressure Congress to pass immigration reform. It’s just like his Fast & Furious plot to flood the border with guns to promote gun control. And just like Benghazi, Obama gave a stand-down order.

In some universe, maybe, but not this one.

Vox does its usual good job describing the reality of the situation: Tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors are fleeing drug and gang violence in Central America and being caught at the U.S. border. (Somehow, these captures prove to Republicans that Obama isn’t securing the border.) The Border Patrol has been overwhelmed trying to provide detention facilities, because of the unexpected consequences of a Bush-administration law.

U.S. policy allows Mexican child migrants to be sent back quickly across the border. However, under a [law] meant to combat child trafficking, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, children from Central America must be given a court hearing before they are deported (or allowed to stay). Given the huge backlog of cases, they may have to wait years for a hearing.

Homeland Security has been trying to relieve the overcrowding by spreading the children out to facilities in other parts of the country, provoking some ugly scenes, like the one in Murrieta, California. Protesters have focused their rhetoric on wildly exaggerated concerns about disease. “We don’t even know what all diseases they have,” Texas Congressman Louis Gohmert said. But Friday, Chris Hayes interviewed Rachel Pearson, who pointed out that Guatemalan kids are more likely to get key vaccinations than Texas kids. (Texas had a measles outbreak last year, while Guatemala and Honduras haven’t had a single case since 1990.) To the extent that the detained kids are unhealthy, the problem is most likely due to the overcrowded conditions DHS is trying to eliminate. So why the disease hysteria? Pearson explains:

What we see historically is that when diseases or conditions occur in people who are social outsiders — immigrants, people of color, women — those diseases are seen by the wider society as markers … that people are impure or lacking in virtue. So whereas lice has one meaning for American kids in a summer camp in Pennsylvania, the meaning becomes totally different if it’s a group of kids that we think of as outsiders.

In other words, irrational fear of disease is one of the screens people use to hide their bigotry.

President Obama has asked Congress for $3.7 billion to deal with the problem. But given the conservative base’s state of outrage over anything having to do with Hispanic immigrants, it’s questionable whether any money can get through the House without something horrible attached to it.

Here’s the weirdest thing about the claims that the Constitution requires securing the border or the no borders, no country talking point: The Founders didn’t secure the border. The hyperbolic charge “anyone can waltz right in to America” is a pretty accurate summary of how things were from the Founding until after the Civil War.

and Israel/Palestine

I’m having trouble finding an article that explains what the current Gaza conflict is about. I mean, Hamas is firing rockets into Israel and Israel is attacking what they believe to be the sources of those rockets, but that’s same-old-same-old. I have no idea why this is happening now. So I’ll punt this issue to next week.

and you also might be interested in …

Follow-up on the Hobby Lobby decision: In a piece in The Immanent Frame that got picked up by Salon, Winnifred Fallers Sullivan (a professor of religious studies at Indiana University) challenged the whole notion of laws that protect religious freedom. The problem: You can’t protect what you can’t define. When the First Amendment was written, religion meant a handful of churches and doctrines; but now things are much fuzzier.

The notion that religion exists and can be regulated without being defined is a fiction at the heart of religious freedom protection.

Justice Alito’s majority opinion holds that Hobby Lobby’s refusal to participate in the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate is a legally protected exercise of religion, and Justice Ginsberg’s dissent denies it. But neither defines what an “exercise of religion” is or gives a test for recognizing it. Both keep repeating the adjective religious, because that word is a veil they can’t see behind.

Is it really possible to distinguish the religious from the non-religious in these cases? Do we have a shared theory of religion that permits such distinctions to be made? Isn’t the religious always mixed with the political and the cultural and the economic? The constant repetition of the adjective seems necessary only in order to reify a notion about which everyone is, in fact, very uncertain.

The law can’t just protect churches, because

[M]uch—perhaps most—American religion today does not happen in churches. Many American Christians have, for a long time, engaged in a kind of DIY religion free from the regulations of church authorities. Their religion is radically disestablished free religion, defined not by bishops and church councils, but by themselves—ordinary Americans reading their Bibles, picking and choosing from among a wide array of religious practices. Indeed, Americans have always been incredibly varied, creative, and entrepreneurial in living out what they take to be their religious obligations—religious obligations that range far beyond the prescriptions of the mainline churches, which seem staid, contained, and tamed to the many who consider their own religious practices, unapproved by traditional religious authorities, to be alive with the spirit. They find their religious community and their religious fields of action in places other than churches—including the marketplace.

Lacking a definition, and recognizing the impracticality protecting everything people might do from whatever motives they might claim as religious, each side tries to stretch the word to cover the kind of religion they like, but not the kind they don’t like.

There is no neutral place from which to distinguish the religious from the non-religious. … Judges cannot do this work.

Sullivan leaves us not with an answer, but with a challenge: “We need fictions to live,” she writes, meaning social/cultural/legal fictions like corporations and churches and rights — all things that will never be detected in a laboratory. And if the old fictions can no longer work together without becoming lies, we need to get on with “creating new fictions together, political, legal, and religious”.

Has anybody ever seen Glenn Greenwald and Chris McDaniel in the same room? Just asking.

Remember Todd Akin? The guy who blew Missouri Republicans’ excellent chance to unseat Claire McCaskell in 2012 by denying the need for a rape exception to abortion bans, because women almost never get pregnant from a “legitimate rape“? He’s back.

His new book Firing Back: Taking on the Party Bosses and Media Elite to Protect Our Faith (foreword by Mike Huckabee) will come out Tuesday. From pre-publication accounts in the media, it appears Akin is un-apologizing for his rape remarks and blaming the Republican establishment, including Mitt Romney, for not going down the drain with him. He claims he was right: “stress infertility” is a real thing, so “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

The only thing he admits to doing wrong is apologizing. And he shouldn’t be held morally accountable for that lie, because it was coerced out of him by the Republican establishment. But Joan Walsh thinks he might be making up that coercion story:

Poor Todd. He doesn’t want to take responsibility for a decision made in the heat of lust – lust for a Senate seat, in his case – so he’s claiming he was cruelly assaulted by party bosses and coerced into apologizing. It’s too bad his conscience didn’t have a way to shut that whole thing down.

Two thoughts: Akin should have to explain how that stress-infertility thing works when you’ve been drugged unconscious. And if Mike Huckabee runs for president and gets nominated, Democrats should make Todd Akin his unofficial running mate.

Liberals (like Paul Krugman and me) have been noting for a while the increasing evidence that ObamaCare is working as designed. Now that realization is starting to appear in the “centrist” media. Politico hedges as much as it can, but acknowledges:

The evidence is piling up now: Obamacare really does seem to be helping the uninsured.

In the quotes that are supposed to provide “balance”, ObamaCare critics deny they ever said the number of uninsured Americans would go up, but of course they did. False prophesies about ObamaCare vanish down the memory hole as soon as they’re disproved, and the false prophets move on to predict new calamities.

And you have to go to the second page of Politico‘s article to find any mention of the millions of people who would have coverage under ObamaCare if the red states would participate in the law’s Medicaid expansion. It’s in a quote from an “Obama administration official” — as if this were some partisan talking point rather than an objective fact.

One of the stories that never dies is the “welfare queen“: Somebody is getting rich off welfare, driving a Cadillac, and so on. Everybody thinks they’ve seen somebody who was cheating — wearing nice clothes or talking on an iPhone while cashing Food Stamps, etc.

Tuesday, the WaPo published an article looking at such a case from the other side: Darlena Cunha described the fast series of reverses that took her and her husband from being prosperous homeowners with a Mercedes to unemployed parents of medically-needy infants who own an underwater-mortgage house … and a Mercedes. “This is what happened when I drove my Mercedes to pick up food stamps” is a fascinating human-interest story that exposes a lot of the assumptions we make about people who (temporarily or permanently) need help.

and let’s end with something creative

In general, I love the Worth 1000 site, devoted to imaginative photoshopping. A recent challenge was Celebrity Time Travel, putting today’s celebrities into classic photos. The winner is called “Morgan Freedman“, though I’m also fond of the Obama/Louis Armstrong combo at #12.


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  • Chris M  On July 14, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    Re: Israel/Palestine, I think the likeliest answer lies in their respective domestic politics for both Netanyahu and Hamas: the Israeli government coalition is unstable and so appeasing the far-right by blowing stuff up became his solution to stabilizing it and buying himself more time. Boehner and Netanyahu actually seem somewhat similar, now that I think of it: both seem like reasonable conservatives, hostages to their extreme right flank loony bin.
    I’m not so sure about Hamas, because it’s a lot harder to map the fissures inside the Gaza strip, but I strongly suspect that the same is going on there too.

    • PJ  On July 15, 2014 at 9:05 pm

      “Boehner and Netanyahu actually seem somewhat similar, now that I think of it: both seem like reasonable conservatives, hostages to their extreme right flank loony bin.”

      And why is it that reasonable conservatives become hostages to their extreme right flank loony bin? The left has loonies, too, but they don’t seem to take hostages in the same way.

      • weeklysift  On July 16, 2014 at 8:07 am

        I’ll take a stab at PJ’s question, at least as far as the U.S. is concerned. (My theory is already speculative, and I’d be irresponsible to compound it with my ignorance of the Israeli electorate.)

        On the extreme American Right you’ll find a mass of low-information voters who want to be told that their bigotry is justified: The black president can’t be trusted, immigrants carry disease, poor people don’t want to work, Muslims are all terrorists, gays are trying to recruit my kids, and so on. There’s no comparable mass on the Left. There are extreme low-information Leftists, but they aren’t united by bigotry, so there isn’t such a clear collection of nonsense that they want to be told.

        [Alternate theory: The target of low-information leftist pandering would be the very rich, who Democrats don’t want to offend because they need campaign money from them. The targets of rightist pandering are powerless groups Republicans can offend with impunity.]

        Consequently, right-wing politicians are tempted to pander to people’s worst instincts in a way that left-wing politicians aren’t. The problem is, once you get elected by feeding people self-serving BS, you have to act like you believe that BS after you’re in office. Otherwise, they’ll turn on you.

  • Philippe Saner  On July 14, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    Looking forward to your take on the current Gaza situation. From where I’m sitting it looks like Israel is acting borderline genocidal, but I don’t know much about the area or its current problems. Hopefully you’ll be able to give me a clearer view.

  • bugsbycarlin  On July 14, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    This reddit comment is a pretty measured and informative take on the current round of Israel / Palestine:

    “This time, however, the situation was different- Israel set the dynamite, realized that they set the dynamite, uttered a silent “oh shit” while backing away from the dynamite, and before they could tell, Hamas lit the fuse with a thundering roar. And now, Israel launched Operation Protective Edge (which sounds like something out of a Billy Mays infomercial), Hamas is firing even further than ever (reaching almost all the way to Haifa), and both sides are paying the Iron Price.”

    [Bias note: I’m fairly pro-Palestine by American standards]


  • By Gaza, as seen from a distance | The Weekly Sift on July 21, 2014 at 11:24 am

    […] Last week I punted on the Israel/Gaza situation, because what I was reading contained more noise and spin than information and insight, and I didn’t want to make that situation worse. This week I can do a little better. […]

  • By Pernicious Effects | The Weekly Sift on August 4, 2014 at 11:16 am

    […] habitation.”) That would also be consistent with our history, because, as I’ve observed before, the Founders did not secure the borders against immigrants. (That started much later.) Also, […]

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