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Begging His Pardon

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on September 13, 2018 by drmiller1960

As you are doubtlessly aware by now, I am planning to write a Critical Thinking textbook, using Trump’s rhetoric as examples of how not to conduct reasoned debate.  However, thanks to the recent hearing on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, I will have to broaden the parameters of my textbook.  Watching Kavanaugh’s testify, I must admit that I was impressed with his linguistic legerdemain.  When asked a direct question, Brett was able to parse it into oblivion.  Look at this example, when Senator Kamela Harris of California asked Kavanaugh a question that, to my ears at least, demanded a “yes” or “no” answer: did Kavanaugh discuss the Mueller investigation with anyone at Marc Kasowitz’s law firm?  Watch Kavanaugh prove me wrong.  Don’t worry—I’ll wait for you while you watch.

Impressive, huh?  Not only does he avoid the question (“Kasowitz? Kasowitz?  Do I know a Kasowitz?”), but he also sparks a parliamentary debate that gives him enough time to add a new doodle to his collection.  Harris, a former US attorney who is so scarily serious that she makes Robert Mueller look positively whimsical, has to admit defeat:  this particular greased piggy simply will not be caught.

Watching this performance, the following thought entered my Critical Thinking Teacher’s mind:  I bet that some one is going to say Kavanaugh’s performance “begged the question.”  And they would be wrong.

Many people make the mistake of thinking that a question is begged when it goes unanswered.  Unlike most logical mistakes, confusing the act of begging a question with avoiding a question is very easy to understand and even forgive.  When a question is asked, but is then ignored, one can imagine that it is shocked and humiliated not to have been answered.  “What’s wrong with me?” the question asks.  “I’m begging you to answer me!”  So, I don’t blame the person making the mistake:  I blame the idiot who gave the fallacy such a stupid, misleading name.  Sheesh.

If “begging the question” isn’t the same as avoiding it, then what the hell is it, you might ask.  Well, aren’t you lucky I’m here to explain it to you?

“Begging the question” occurs when the conclusion you want to make is included in the premise you state in support of your conclusion.  It’s a form of circular reasoning, and it ain’t good.  And, for the record, I have no idea why it’s called “begging the question.”  It is, however, abundant.  Here.  Let me give you an example:

Premise:  I believe that God wrote the Bible

Conclusion:  Everything in the Bible is true because God wrote it.

The conclusion (that everything in the Bible is true) depends upon the truth of the premise that God wrote the Bible.  However, the gruesome violence, blatant contradictions, and obvious multiple biases present in the Good Book make it highly debatable that a divinity worthy of the name wrote it.  Nope.  It is far more likely that it was penned by generations of flawed, frequently mad, doubtlessly inspired human beings.

Here’s an example that’s more up-to-date:

Premise:  The President of the United States is far too busy to deal with minutiae such as subpoenas from special prosecutors.

Conclusion:  The President of the United States should not be subject to subpoenas from special prosecutors because he is too busy to deal with them.

Now, one can only wonder what James Madison and Alexander Hamilton would make of that.  I suppose that they would be worried that a deceitful, underhanded grifter of a demagogue would take that logic and think he was above the law. Whew!  Thank goodness that’s only a hypothetical!

See how begging the question works?  It’s really quite simple, once you get past the difficulties arising from its misleading name.  A better label is “circular reasoning,” and I think that Critical Thinking Teachers the world over should universally adopt it in favor of “begging the question.”  I’ll suggest it at our next meeting.

And as for my hunch that some poor devil would mistakenly label something as “begging the question”? Well, sure enough, the next day, while sipping coffee and eavesdropping on the more interesting conversations of the other people at my local café, I heard the hipster at the table next to me cry out, “He’s just begging the question! We still don’t know if he talked to anyone about Mueller!”

I think you really should be proud at me at this point, because I’ll have you know that I did not turn around and correct the young man.  All I did was register a barely audible “tsk.”  I know.  I am a Christian martyr.

©2018 D. R. Miller

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Jeff Sessions: Cruelly Stupid, or Stupidly Cruel? Discuss.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 10, 2018 by drmiller1960

Pop quiz time!

Oh, stop complaining. I know it’s summertime, and that school isn’t in.  But we at the New York Military Academy for Troubled Scions are made of sterner stuff.  So quit moaning.

Besides, class, how often does life hand your teacher the opportunity to test you on knowledge so recently imparted?  That’s right.  Hot on the heels of my discovery of two new logical fallacies (“screwing the pooch” and “lacking a moral compass”), fate has dropped into my lap the perfect opportunity to assess your ability to understand and distinguish between the two.  And besides that, we’ll get to help out a worthy member of the federal judiciary, too!  Neato, huh?

You might want to re-read “Fantastic Fallacies and Where to Find Them” before taking the test to ensure total comprehension.  However, for the lazy amongst you (and you know who you are), here’s a brief rundown.  “Screwing the pooch” occurs when the argument shows that the person making it (or on whose behalf the argument is made) reveals a depth of stupidity matched only by the Marianas Trench—and that stupidity results in disastrous consequences for a third party.  “Lacking a moral compass,” on the other hand, occurs when the argument reveals a total disregard for the blindingly obvious difference between right and wrong—also with disastrous consequences for a third party.  The crucial difference between them is not intelligence—stupidity often goes hand in hand with immorality.  Just ask David Duke.  The distinction relies upon intent.  Did the perpetrator mean to cause havoc by being an evil piece of work? Or was she so moronic that she couldn’t possibly foresee the shit storm her actions or words would engender, despite all the arrows, flashing red lights, and sirens surrounding the decision?  In other words, are you looking at a Stephen Miller or a Don Jr.?

Clear?  Good. Now here are the facts you need for your test. Be warned:  what you are about to read is not a hypothetical.

The ACLU is currently representing a group of twelve people who are contesting the Trump regime’s new asylum pronouncements, including a mother and child who are fighting deportation.  The judge in the case granted the plaintiffs’ motion to delay deportation until he could reach a decision in the case. So, today, while the lawyers from the ACLU and the DOJ were arguing before D.C. U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan about whether this particular mother and child should be deported, they (oh God, you won’t believe this) were at that moment on a plane being deported to El Salvador.

Yep.  On a plane.  To El Salvador.  Being Deported.  After the Court had granted a stay of deportation.

Judge Sullivan took the news in his stride, and displayed full equanimity and bonhomie when ACLU attorney Jennifer Chang Newell told His Honor about the email she received during the hearing informing her that her client (and her child) were flying the unfriendly skies of ICE Airlines to the lethal situation confronting them back home.

Nah.  I’m just messing with you.  This Reagan-appointed judge was pissed.  As well he should be.

Now, “This is outrageous,” and “I’m not happy about this at all,” might sound fairly mild to you.  But as an erstwhile lawyer, I can assure you that the collective DOJ sphincter was tightening so much that its motions were picked up by the U.S. Geologic Survey’s seismographs on the other side of the country.  In fact, Judge Sullivan was so incensed by this flagrant violation of his order that he is actually considering holding Attorney General J. Beauregard Sessions in contempt of court. Now that is a sentence I never dreamt I would be writing, not because I hold Sessions in high esteem, but because you wouldn’t expect an official who is the chief federal law enforcement officer to have so little regard for the law as to be held in contempt.  I mean, my goodness, it was Jeff’s Christian love of the law that forced him to rip little babies from their mothers’ arms in the first place, right?  How could such a statute-hugger disregard a legally issued and fully enforceable judicial order?

Now, we all know that intent is not necessary to hold Sessions in contempt of court.  The judge does not need to determine whether that impish little devil meant to ignore the court order, or if he is just such an incompetent boob that it accidentally happened.  However, as I warned in “Fantastic Fallacies,” such a determination just might be relevant to the degree and kind of punishment that a tribunal might assess against someone like Sessions.  “Screwing the pooch” might result in a slap on the wrist and a de minimis fine.  “Lacking a moral compass,” however, might warrant being slathered with honey and being staked out on top of an ant hill.  Decisions, decisions.  It’s tough, going through the small and very narrow channels of Jeff’s mind to determine his motivation, and I’m sure Judge Sullivan would appreciate any help he might get along the way.

So, without further ado, here’s your essay question:  Was Sessions merely screwing the pooch, or was he acting without a moral compass?

Answers should be submitted to Judge Sullivan, care of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, or in the comments section below.  Extra research should not be necessary to answer the question.  However, extra credit will be given if you decide to delve deeper into the story.  And, as always, your argument must be factually supported and rooted in reality. I’m not Alex Jones, after all.

©2018 D.R. Miller

Fantastic Fallacies And Where To Find Them!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 5, 2018 by drmiller1960

As a Critical Thinking Teacher, it has been my mission to teach my readers about various, well- established logical flaws that are fatal to any reasoned argument.  I follow in the foot steps of giants, starting with Aristotle, who first categorized thirteen logical fallacies in his light-hearted classic, Sophistical Refutations.  Since then, a long and noble line of Critical Thinking Teachers have identified and catalogued at least twenty-four logical fallacies, as well as twenty-four cognitive biases.  (If you’re curious about learning more about these fallacies and biases, I strongly urge you to go hereafter you’ve finished reading this blog, that is.)  I imagine my intrepid forebears, sifting through the linguistic equivalent of hot messes to seek and destroy these barriers to logical thought, and I shiver in admiration, never daring to believe that I might join their illustrious company.

Until today.

Yes, that is right, dear reader.  Like a zoologist announcing the discovery of a particularly slimy species of mud slug, I am thrilled to reveal that I have found not one, but two new categories of logical fallacy.

And I owe it all to Donald Trump.

The first logical fallacy occurs when the statement is so nonsensical that it belies an incompetence so deeply rooted in and inextricable from the speaker’s intellect that it is damned near geologic in its depth and breadth.  I call this flaw “screwing the pooch.”

The best (and brightest?) example of “screwing the pooch” comes in the Department of Justice’s most recent filings concerning the reunification of immigrant children with their parents. As a bit of background, you need to understand that when the ICE was enforcing Trump’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, it was far too busy deporting the parents whom they coerced into signing away their rights to their children to take down the information needed to eventually reunite them.  As a result, ICE is unable to find the parents of around five hundred children.  They sought them here, they sought them there, but they could not find them anywhere—mostly because they didn’t know where to look in the first place.

In a Joint Status Report filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, lawyers for ICE helpfully suggested (presumably with a straight face) that the ACLU, who is representing the children and parents separated at the border, be responsible for looking for the deported parents.  I mean, God knows that the might of the United States government, including the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security, couldn’t possibly match the financial and human resources of the ACLU.  What makes this such a perfect example of “screwing the pooch” is that the government’s lawyers are basically admitting that their clients are so inept that they couldn’t—and shouldn’t—be trusted to match column A to column B.

Happily, the Honorable Dana M. Sabraw didn’t need a Critical Thinking Teacher to tell him how to refute an argument infected by “screwing the pooch.”  After rubbing his eyes in disbelief at what he had just read, Judge Sabraw issued an order that was the judicial equivalent of, “Are you fucking nuts!?!”  Additionally, George W. Bush’s appointee to the federal judiciary solemnly reminded the DOJ’s finest that, “for every parent who is not located there will be a permanently orphaned child and that is 100 percent the responsibility of the administration.”

Hurray for our independent judiciary—let’s just hope we still have one next year.

Now, the second fallacy I’ve discovered is one I’ve decided to call “lacking a moral compass.”  The result of “lacking a moral compass” is frequently similar to “screwing the pooch”—they both can result in a condition known to my engineering friends as “FUBAR”—fucked up beyond all recognition.  However, there is a vital distinction between the two: “screwing the pooch” is the result of idiocy, while “lacking a moral compass” requires you to know the difference between right and wrong, but not giving a toss about it.  In order to discern which fault is at play, therefore, the listener needs to determine the intention of the person making the fallacious statement before categorizing it as either “screwing the pooch” or “lacking a moral compass.”  As the astute amongst you probably noticed, this is very similar to the kind of determination you need to make before distinguishing ignoratio elenchi from a red herring. (And for the not-quite-as-astute-as-one-might-wish amongst you, you might want to refresh your memory of the difference between the two by re-reading the delightfully written Ignoramus Rex. And, yes, there will be a quiz.)

So, for example, the failure to take down the name and address of a hysterically crying woman who desperately wants to be reunited with her child might be down to the fact that ICE has decided to hire an army of morons.  If that were the case, then the bright spark at ICE making this error in judgment would be guilty of “screwing the pooch.”  On the other hand, if there were a deliberate effort to rip families apart as a deterrent to lawful immigration despite being warned of the permanent damage that could be done to a child as a result of losing her parent, then the person perpetuating this action would definitely be “lacking a moral compass.”  And this is especially true if a senior administration official is actually delighted by the scenes of sorrow taking place at the borders because he thinks it will help his party in the mid-term elections.

Of course, the amount of harm done to the victim of either “screwing the pooch” or “lacking a moral compass” will probably be the same.  After all, losing one’s child or parent permanently will be a source of inexorable pain, quite probably scarring the victim’s psyche irreparably, whether it is the result of cruel stupidity or stupid cruelty.  However, being able to determine whether one merely “screwed the pooch” rather than “lacked a moral compass” might be useful to tribunals that might review the actions of the Trump administration and its cronies—either in this world, or the next.

Finally, while researching the mountains of money that Trump’s corporate backers have been making as a result of his immigration scandal, I might have stumbled upon a third logical fallacy.  I’m tentatively labelling it “who ate the all pies?”  However, I’m not sure if it’s actually a separate fallacy or merely a subset of “lacking a moral compass.” I therefore require further research to ensure that I’m not mistaken—I definitely want to keep my dog’s honor intact, after all!

©2018 D. R. Miller

 

 

Five Fun Facts About Trump’s Immigration Crisis, Part Two

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on July 27, 2018 by drmiller1960

 

If you are reading this blog, then I assume that you’ve read Five Fun Facts About Trump’s Immigration Crisis, Part One, and that you’ve also finished your medicinal gin and tonic to help you overcome your disgust at facts one and two.  If you haven’t read Five Fun Facts About Trump’s Immigration Crisis, Part One, then you are doubtlessly wondering what the hell I’m talking about.  In that case, scroll down the website, find the link to Part One, and read that.

Also, just in case you’ve lost your copy of the Five Fun Facts About Trump’s Immigration Crisis, I’m happy to provide a copy for you here.  Print it, snip it, share it!

The Critical Thinking Teacher’s
Five Fun Facts About Trump’s Immigration Crisis
1. There is no immigration crisis, except the one Trump created.
2. The hands of J. Beauregard Sessions were not tied.
3. Toddlers make terrible lawyers.
4. ICE is not NICE (and HHS is not much better).
5. Deportation centers (and their accoutrements) are amazing profit centers!

Okay. Ready?  Here we go with Fun Facts 3-5.

  1. Toddlers make terrible lawyers!

You would think that this fun fact would be self-evident.  After all, the average three-year-old can’t even say “habeas corpus,” much less understand what it means.  They’re far too busy filling their diapers and screaming for their mamas to take any notice of judicial niceties such as rules of procedure or adhering to underlying statutory requirements.  But there is no right to free, court-appointed legal representation in immigration cases because Sixth Amendment protections are limited to criminal cases.  Immigration cases are civil cases, even though they can result in detention and deportation.  Even children facing deportation have no right to a lawyer.

Here’s why that matters. Lawyers make a difference:  immigrants with legal representation fare dramatically better at every stage of the immigration process than those without.  But access to representation is “shockingly low,” according to research by the American Immigration Council.  From 2012 to 2016, only 37% of immigrants overall had lawyers, and the likelihood of obtaining representation varied wildly depending on the immigrant’s national origin.  Mexicans, for example, had the lowest representation rate (21%) while Chinese immigrants had the highest (92%); it’s hardly surprising that Mexicans also had the highest detention rate (78%), while Chinese immigrants had the lowest (4%).  And if you think this is bad, you need to consider something else:  these figures were from 2016, before Trump’s policy threw thousands of children into an immigration docket that was already stretched to its limits.

Given the lack of representation, immigration judges have to adjudicate cases where children are forced to represent themselves.  Sadly, this is not an entirely new situation:  during the Obama administration, children were left to fend for themselves in immigration courts.  But there was a major difference.  Obama never had a policy objective of separating kids from their families.  Instead, most of those kids were unaccompanied, and tended to be older and, perhaps, a tad more able to represent themselves.  At least, I hope they were.  As it was, only about 40% of them had access to legal advice, thanks to pro bono justice organizations such as the justice AmeriCorps program.

Kids who were accompanied by their parents, on the other hand, were allowed to remain with them, and the family’s case was treated as one.  And being treated “as one” meant that little kids got to be locked up along with mom and dad. Not good, but at least not as dreadful as being locked up without mom and dad.  Additionally, that practice ended in 2014, when a court ruled it inconsistent with the consent decree in the Flores case, which is why ICE started using ankle bracelets and other effective, less expensive,  alternatives to detention. The children whom Trump took away from their parents, on the other hand, have their cases treated individually, which means that each and every one of them will have to go in front of an immigration judge.   This influx of new cases has diluted the pool of available lawyers, meaning that  nearly 70% of the 11,700  unattended children currently detained by ICE have no legal representation.

But let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that 100% of detained children had a lawyer.  Wouldn’t that be nice?  Well, maybe.  In order for counsel to be effective, however, the lawyer needs to work with the client in order to put forward the best case possible.  For example, as we’ve seen, in order to make a successful claim for asylum, the applicant needs to articulate a credible and well-founded fear of persecution in his or her home country.  This is a daunting task, with the result that 50% of applications are denied, even when presented by an adult.  Imagine how much fun it would be to get a three-year-old to explain the basis for her fear of persecution back home in Guatemala.  I’m sure she’ll do it, just as soon as she climbs down from the counsel’s table in the courtroom.  Even an older child, who might have been sheltered from the harsh realities of life by a loving parent, would have difficulty comprehending, much less conveying, the danger he was in from the street gang next door. Furthermore, these kids traveled long distances under hideous conditions, only to be stripped of their family.  Now, call me a bleeding heart liberal if you want, but I happen to think that these kids might be a tad traumatized, don’t you?  How effectively can lawyers represent these children?

Sometimes, I really wonder how Trump can sleep at night.

  1. ICE is not NICE (and HHS is not much better).

You have to wonder about the kind of agency that separates parents from their children as a matter of course.  You really have to wonder about the kind of agency that does such an incompetent, negligent job of separating parents from their children that, as of a 10 July court deadline, only four of 103 children under the age of five have been reunited with their parents.  And on 26 July, over 900 families remain separated. It’s almost as if ICE never considered the possibility that they might have to reunite these families.

But that is only the most flagrant example of the inhumanity of Trump’s policy.  ICE is in charge of tearing families apart and detaining the adults.  HHS (the Department of Health and Human Services) on the other hand, is responsible for placing the children into foster homes.  Well, that’s the theory; as ever, reality bites.  Thanks to the zero-tolerance policy, the population of unaccompanied minors has increased dramatically, making the foster care option more and more aspirational.  Instead, children are being held in a network of over 100 HHS detention centers located in seventeen states and operated by an interesting mixture of non-profit and for-profit entities.   Over the past several weeks, there have been a disturbing number of stories of the harsh conditions in the detention centers currently “sheltering” young immigrant children.  The photos and audio tapes making their way to the public consciousness would do Dante proud, including tapes of  howling children screaming for their absent mothers, photos of detained children lining up in tent cities  or sleeping on concrete floors in crowded rooms and grim pictures of  buses outfitted with baby seats to transport infants and toddlers to detention centers.  The result is so disorienting that we refuse to believe the evidence of our eyes and start to question whether a cage is, indeed, a cage.

Coupled with these already distressing images are new stories about the gratuitous cruelty these already fragile children suffer at the hands of the people charged with their care.  I would like to think that, when confronted with the sight of exhausted, confused, and frightened children, the natural human reaction would be compassion.  Instead, children report behavior from their custodians ranging from the merely callous (keeping harsh lights on all night) to the humiliating (refusing access to showers and toothbrushes) to the downright dangerous (enforced hunger, enforced dehydration, and enforced sleeplessness).  Children are forced to eat frozen sandwiches and use filthy toilets.  They are given drug cocktails and forced to down anti-depressives, Parkinson’s medication, and anti-psychotics regardless of their condition and without parental permission or medical examination.   If this isn’t institutionalized child abuse, I don’t know what is.

Adults in ICE detention centers are not immune from harsh conditions, either. Federal inspections of adult immigration detention centers have revealed moldy food, inadequate facilities, poor access to medical care, unwarranted strip searches, and a general lack of professionalism. Detainees are routinely kept in holding cells that are so cold that they are nicknamed “hieleras”—freezers.  Letters from detainees document the many degradations they face on a daily basis.  The worst of these, of course, is not being told where their children are, how they are doing, or even when they might possibly see them again.  And the list goes on.

Reading these accounts, the only reasonable reaction is to shake your head and wonder, “Who are these people?” Sadly, the answer is not “They’re monsters.”  Instead, they are normal people who under normal circumstances are probably perfectly nice.  I imagine that quite a few of them are the pillars of their community, the ones who coach soccer teams and organize neighborhood pool parties.  I’m also sure that among them are kindhearted individuals who treat their charges with respect and even affection.  I’ve read that some of them hate their jobs.  Some even quit their jobs instead of following unconscionable rules.

Not everyone has the luxury of following one’s conscience, however.  Bills need to be paid and kids need to be fed.  Jobs need to be done.  But for heaven’s sake, and, more importantly, for the sake of your own soul, do your job with humanity.  Find it within yourself not to shine your flash light in a sleeping child’s eyes, to get the plumbers in to fix the toilets, to refrain from shoving psychotropics down a child’s throat.  Call your representative.  Inform the media if horrific things are going on.  Remember:  There are things you can do—you are not helpless in a hopeless situation.

  1. Deportation centers (and their accoutrements) are amazing profit centers!

I don’t think that Trump initiated his “zero-tolerance” immigration policy just because he’s a xenophobic racist who thinks people of color aren’t really people.  Heavenly days, no!  I think Trump initiated his “zero-tolerance” immigration policy because he’s a xenophobic racist who thinks people of color aren’t really people and because penning up people is a great way for his friends to make a quick buck.  It is an ill wind that blows no good, as my mother used to say, and that is certainly true when it comes to the up side of Trump’s immigration policy.  If you happen to be lucky enough to be on the right side of the whole immigration detention biz, that ill wind can turn into quite the hefty windfall. In other words, running an immigration detention center or two can be a license to print money, under the right circumstances.

For example, think of the money to be made if you happen to own a private prison empire.  The  GEO Group, a private prison operator, saw its stocks plummet in the beginning of 2016 after Barak Obama announced that the feds would end its contracts with private prisons.  During the 2016 presidential campaign, the gang at the group made a few well-placed financial contributions to various pro-Trump PACs, as well as $250,000 to a certain inauguration committee.  Coincidentally, I’m sure, GEO Group won a contract with ICE to build a 1000 bed immigration center in Houston, despite an extensive history of health and safety violations at its private prisons.  Indeed, GEO Group is ICE’s largest contractor, winning more than $470 million in contracts this year alone.  Boy howdy! Talk about a gift that keeps on giving!

Similarly, if you are quick off the mark and can convert an abandoned Walmart store into a holding facility for 1400 immigrant boys, then you, too, can turn your “non-profit” into a tidy little money spinner. For example, Southwest Key, a non-profit 501(c)(3) that runs 26 shelters in California, Arizona, and Texas, has earned nearly half a billion dollars from the feds this year—almost half of the money allocated for the unaccompanied minor migrant program for this year.  Of course, operating on such a tight budget means that you have to cut some corners.  Over the last three years, Southwest Key has been cited for 250 violations by the Department of Health and Human Services Commission on Compliance for such minor trifles as general medical neglect, hiring a staff member who showed up to work drunk, employing another who had an inappropriate relationship with an inmate, and feeding a child with a food allergy, you guessed it, food to which the child was allergic.  However, the CEO of this particular non-profit,  Dr. Juan Sanchez, has demonstrated the kind of ingenuity that justifies the $1.47 million he earned last year by convincing his employees that they should return some of their hard-earned wages to Southwest Key in order to provide medical services to the boys in their care. I swear to God, you can’t make this stuff up!

I’m sure that there are ample other opportunities for private enterprise to get their share of the slops at the immigration detention center piggy trough.  Think about all the items you need to operate a typical immigrant detention center:  you can’t just get moldy food, baby transportation buses, incompetent staff, foil blankets, and psychotropic drugs for free, don’t you know? You need sources—and sources need money.  And, by the way, many of the sources have more than a fleeting acquaintanceship with Trump & Co.

So really, are you surprised that so much money is sloshing around this moral quagmire?

Come to think of it, knowing everything you do about Trump, does any of this surprise you at all? But even if we disagree with everything that his zero-tolerance policy stands for, our country is guilty of a terrible wrong—and we, as citizens, must rectify it.  It is our duty to do more than point our fingers.  We’re all stained by this sin, and we all need to expiate it.  It isn’t enough to write blogs, and it certainly isn’t enough to read them.  Well-spent money always helps, as does a call to your representative and Senators.   Here’s a good place to start.  And remember:  There are things you can do—you are not helpless in a hopeless situation.

© 2018 D. R. Miller

 

Five Fun Facts About Trump’s Immigration Crisis, Part One

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 26, 2018 by drmiller1960

 

Facts.  Remember when we used to care about them?  Now it seems that anyone, anywhere can write whatever the hell they want, without any regard for facts whatsoever.  And who can blame them?  Writing a blog, or even a presidential tweet, would certainly be a helluva lot easier if you weren’t required to back up your ideas with factual evidence.

Well, I’m old school and feeling a bit retro, so I thought, in honor of Trump’s failure to meet the deadline for reuniting all the families he tore asunder in pursuit of his “zero-tolerance” immigration “policy,” I’d pull together a few things about Trump’s immigration crisis that have “the quality of being actual”.  But I’m also cognizant that in the hurly-burly world of meta-information overload, it’s more than difficult to allocate enough time to read up on all the facts you need to know about the goings-on of our current president and his cronies.  It’s damned near impossible. So, allow me to assist you.  Here are my Five Fun Facts About Trump’s Immigration Crisis.  Feel free to print them off, cut them out, and then share them with your Fox News addicted uncle.  If he demands to see the underlying facts, tell him to check out this blog.  Not only would that help boost my readership, but it would also free up some time for you to take a soothing bath or a hot stone massage.

The Critical Thinking Teacher’s
Five Fun Facts About Trump’s Immigration Crisis
1. There is no immigration crisis, except the one Trump created.
2. The hands of J. Beauregard Sessions were not tied.
3. Toddlers make terrible lawyers.
4. ICE is not NICE (and HHS is not much better).
5. Deportation centers (and their accoutrements) are amazing profit centers!

 

Of course, you’re more than welcome to continue reading if you want to buck the trend and check out the facts behind the facts! And I’ve even broke the blog into two parts.  That way, if it all gets too much for you, there will be a convenient stopping place for you to get yourself a comforting comforting gin and tonic to soothe your nerves.  You’re welcome.

  1. There is no immigration crisis, except the one Trump created.

Trump has famously harped on about Mexicans and the floods of problems they are bringing across the border with them.  However, unauthorized immigration from Mexico has radically declined since 2000, mainly because of demographic shifts.  Historically, the typical Mexican immigrant was a young male looking for a job. However, as a result of dropping fertility rates, the median age in Mexico has increased from 16.6 in 1965 to 27.5 in 2015, and is projected to continue rising well into the middle of the century. Old people don’t like to migrate, it seems.  In addition to a drop in Mexican immigration to the U.S., there is a dramatic increase in the number of Mexican-born U.S. residents returning to Mexico, resulting in neutral or negative immigration from Mexico, along with lower overall numbers of unauthorized Mexican immigrants living in the U.S.  Given Trump’s warm attitude towards Mexicans, I can only imagine that they will continue to leave the country in droves.  Lucky bastards.

So, this raises the question:  if the people swarming the U.S.-Mexican border aren’t unauthorized Mexican immigrants, who are they?  Well, it turns out that most of them are from the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA)—Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. According to a survey in a  May 2017 report by Doctors Without Borders, a sizable minority (around 40%) of NTCA immigrants are leaving because of the violence in their home countries.  Additionally, 54.8% of Salvadorans surveyed had been victims of blackmail and extortion.  And not only that, but that violence is actually the consequence of U.S. interventions in civil wars in Guatemala and El Salvador, U.S. demand for drugs, and U.S. support for pro-U.S. regimes in Honduras. If you don’t believe me, just ask John Kelly.   In fact, did you know that MS-13, Trump’s favorite immigration bogey-man, started in the U.S.?  Yep.  It started in L.A., among disaffected Salvadoran kids.  The U.S. exported MS-13 to El Salvador when it deported the gang members. And now it’s one of the forces driving tens of thousands of families to take the dangerous, costly journey to our fair lands.  Irony, huh? It gets you every time.

But actually, this question assumes that there are swarms of people trying to enter the U.S.—and such is not the case.  According to Douglas Massey, co-founder and co-director of Princeton’s Mexican Migration Project, the number of unauthorized immigrants from the NTCA who were apprehended by ICE has decreased dramatically from 1.6 million in 2006 to just over 306,000 in 2017.  As Massey points out, that sounds like a lot, but “it is the lowest number of apprehensions since 1970, when the Border Patrol only had around 1,600 officers. Today, there are more than 19,000 officers.”

So, next time your favorite Trumpanistas rail on about the immigration crisis, you should ask them, “Crisis?  What crisis?”

  1. The hands of J. Beauregard Sessions were not tied.

Few images are more harrowing than photos of tear-stained children being held in cages.  The mass incarceration of children based solely on their national origin is the kind of behavior normally associated with fascist dictatorships or wartime xenophobia—not a representative democracy with a Constitution that guarantees equal protection under the law to all persons within its borders.  The very notion that, by hook or by crook, government agents were separating children from their parents and then throwing them into detention centers raised such an outcry that even Trump, who famously hates to back down, was forced to retreat. While the efficacy of Trump’s executive order rescinding his own regime’s policy on immigrant family separation is highly debatable, it at least marked an end to the wholesale incarceration of little kids—but not before 11,700 children, including  2300 children under the age of twelve, were put into some form of detention.  And, sadly, many of them may never be reunited with their parents.

It’s equally appalling that the policy of enforced family separation was cloaked with legality.  Administration officials rushed to assure the public that the law demanded such draconian action. John Kelly, with breathtaking insouciance, assured NPR listeners that the deterrent effect of putting immigrant children into foster care “or whatever” was a powerful law enforcement tool.  But there was nothing more gut-wrenching than watching that little imp, Jeff Sessions, asserting that the law demanded the separation of families.  Seriously.  It was truly nauseous.  Oh, that poor man, impaled upon the horns of the dilemma:  he didn’t want to rip the little tykes from the bosom of their family, but the law forced him. It’s a crime to enter the country illegally, so he can’t just let them go free.  Even Jesus told him he had to obey the law.  So, he had to send the kiddies into the welcoming arms of HHS. Such a shame.

Except for one teensy-weensy detail:  he was full of shit.

In a refreshing change of pace for a member of the Trump regime, which usually engages in false equivalencies, Sessions asserted a false dichotomy.  Instead of saying that two unlike options are comparable, Sessions declared that he had only two options:  obey the law or disobey it, and as Attorney General, he had no choice but to obey the law.  But this is true only to the extent that no other options exist.  And it turns out, there were other options.  Gosh.  What a surprise.

For example, he could have chosen not to detain the immigrants at all, but instead use ankle monitors, bonds, check-ins, home visits, release on their own recognizance, or telephonic surveillance. These are methods that have been used by ICE in the past, and statistics for all immigration cases show that the majority of immigrants show up for their hearings.  And when you look even closer at asylum seekers, the percentage of people showing up to their hearing soars to over 90%.  This compliance rate is not at all surprising, when you consider how law-abiding refugees are.  The New American Economy Research Fund found that not only do communities that accept refugees not experience increases in crime, but nine out of the ten cities that welcomed the most refugees  actually experienced decreases.   Good golly!

It is not an accident that I mention asylum seekers, by the way.  Remember how so many of the NTCA immigrants are escaping violence?  Well, it seems that, under federal law, someone who has a credible and well-founded fear of persecution in his or her home country could claim asylum.  Persecution does not have to be from the government, either:  it could be a fear of violence from groups that the government cannot control such as guerrillas, warring factions, or even a violent gang that was exported to your country from the U.S.   Nor do you have to make this claim at a port of entry—you can do it at the border, despite Trump’s insistence that you have to seek asylum “the right way.”   Not that this is an easy path to entry:  there are stringent requirements for applicants to meet, and the average rate of approval of asylum requests is under 50%.  But regardless of the ultimate outcome of their cases, the fact remains that, at the very point at which so many parentless children were sucked into the detention system, most of them had not committed a crime at all. With so many possible asylum seekers, and given the historical good behavior of asylum applicants, doesn’t it make sense not to detain them?

But what about those other migrants?  Shouldn’t they be thrown into prison without their kids?  After all, if they’re unauthorized, then they’re criminals, right?

Well, sure, I guess so.  But first of all, do we really want to turn away all those able-bodied workers?  Unemployment is at an all-time low, meaning that there are jobs out there that are not being filled.  You know which jobs I mean—the yucky, hard jobs like getting up at three AM to milk cows in Wisconsin, pick avocados in California, and extract crab meat in Maryland.   And with an aging population and a shortage of health aides, you just gotta ask yourself this question:  without immigrant workers, who’ll wipe Grandpa’s butt?

But let’s leave such mundane economic concerns aside.  Let’s assume that we don’t want immigrant workers at all.  We have to lock them up, right?

Well, maybe, maybe not.  The first time you enter the U.S. without authorization, you’ve committed a misdemeanor.  You face either a few weeks in prison or a fine.  Why not fine them, send them home, and let them keep their kids?  Sessions has the ability to make that decision.  Prosecutors have the discretion to decide whether and how to prosecute crimes.  This policy makes sense; in a world of limited resources, you have to choose your battles wisely.  So, you prioritize.   Such prioritization even has a name: “prosecutorial discretion.” Jefferson S. himself exercised precisely this type of prosecutorial discretion when, as U.S. Attorney for Southern Alabama, he chose to pursue the War on Drugs with all the gusto of a Christian Soldier marching forth to war.  In fact, it’s arguable that the AG’s full-throttled approach to immigration law enforcement is itself an exercise of prosecutorial discretion, since DOJ resources are diverted away from prosecuting drug trafficking crimes in favor of taking three-year old babies to an immigration court with a historically high backlog.

So, spare me your tears, Jefferson.  You could have chosen not to be a heartless scoundrel.

© 2018 D. R. Miller

Dear Justice Kennedy: Why Now?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 28, 2018 by drmiller1960

Dear Justice Kennedy:

I just heard that you’ve announced your retirement as of July 31.  Congratulations.  At the age of 81, and with more than thirty years of service to the most demanding judicial position in the country, I have no doubt that you are ready to shake off your robe, slip on your loafers, and settle down with a good book.  I get it.  I really do.

But why now? Honestly, I don’t think you could have chosen a worse time if you had consulted with a necromancer to pick the most horrible day to leave the Supreme Court.  Your resignation is both too early and too late.  The reason why you are too early is blazingly apparent.  Our president, the American Nero, has shown a blatant disregard for the rule of law.  He scoffs at the notion of checks and balances. He is a poster child for bigotry.  And, in a move with the gravest implication for our country, he has even called for the suspension of due process for immigrants. He and his senatorial henchman Mitch McConnell are positively salivating at the idea of replacing you with a right-wing ideologue who has no regard for the rights of individuals. You are famous for your love of the First Amendment.  What chance will the Bill of Rights have in the hands of a Supreme Court packed with justices who mirror the anti-democratic concerns of a narcissist?

At the same time, your resignation is long overdue.  You have already penned or been the deciding vote in a slew of cases that have done (or promise to do) serious damage to the country.  Citizens United has already wreaked havoc on our electoral system.  I honestly believe that you did not intend to usher in an age of unfettered greed and corruption in our electoral process.  Indeed, you believed that the disclosure requirements in the election law would act as a limitation on donations.  But you underestimated the willingness of donors to give money to non-profit PACs that can hide the identity of their donors. Americans for Prosperity, a non-profit PAC set up by the Koch brothers, is planning to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in the 2018 mid-term election. I know that this was not your intention.  However, a quick glance at the out-sized impact of billionaire cranks like the Koch brothers on their Congressional lapdogs is ample proof that the law of unintended consequences is far more robust than my First Amendment right to petition my representatives.  Why should my Congressman/Senator/President listen to me when I do not have unlimited coffers to lavish on them?  Your rush to preserve the free speech rights of the super-rich has left my own rights gasping in the dust.

Your tender concern for the First Amendment rights of the powerful runs roughshod over the rights of individuals in other spheres as well.  Your concurrence in Hobby Lobby ensured that the religious objections of a closely held corporation trumped the health and privacy interests of its female employees.  And on the same day as your resignation, by joining the majority in Janus v. AFSCME, you held that mandatory union dues for non-union governmental employees constitute unconstitutional compelled speech—upending a forty-year precedent, and quite likely gutting the last, strongest bastion of organized labor.  Yes, you might have upheld an inchoate right of some workers not to participate, but at the probable cost of taking away the practical right of other workers to organize themselves, bargain terms and conditions with their employers, and protect themselves from unsafe work conditions.

Oh, I’m not saying that you are evil or a bad man.  In fact, you’ve done many good things, especially regarding the rights of the LGBTQ community.  You made many of my friends extremely happy when you wrote the majority opinion in Obergefell, upholding, in moving, beautiful terms, the Constitutional right to same sex marriages.  But lately, in a string of decisions ranging from the travel ban, to the rights of women to receive full and accurate medical information when they are pregnant, to full minority access to Texan ballot boxes, the Supreme Court has shown a distressing willingness to disregard the needs and rights of the vulnerable, the poor, and the disenfranchised.  Oh, you wrote concurrences, and you didn’t necessarily agree with all of the points being made by the majority.  But the result remains:  you let down the very people who need Constitutional protection the most.

So, farewell, Justice Kennedy.  Enjoy your retirement.  I hope you can sleep at night.

©2018 D.R. Miller

 

Presidential Grammar 101: Commonly Misused Words and Phrases

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 25, 2018 by drmiller1960

PART TWO

I know that words can be difficult, especially in legal situations-that’s why I’m offering the following guidance to our president.

It’s Mueller Time!

I don’t know.  Maybe it’s the stress from having Robert Mueller breathing down his neck.  Maybe he doesn’t want to get his buddy Vlad in trouble.  Maybe he’s just as guilty as sin. But for some reason Trump’s vocabulary really snaps its tether whenever he talks about the Russia investigation. Here are just three examples of what I mean.

No collusion!

With the soul-deadening regularity of a dripping faucet at midnight, Trump inserts the phrase “no collusion” into nearly every communication he broadcasts—regardless of its relevance or otherwise to the subject at hand. It’s interesting that Trump has glommed onto this particular word.

“Collusion” occurs when you enter into an agreement with someone to do something illegal or nefarious. As long as that is all you do, then you’ve committed no crime.  Outside of the antitrust context, where “collusion” is used to describe illegal practices such as price fixing and bid rigging, it is not in and of itself a criminal act.  However, as soon as you take an overt action to bring that agreement into fruition, then you’ve committed the crime of conspiracy. Here.  I’ll show you what I mean by using a wild-eyed hypothetical.

Let’s say that you and I are senior campaign officials for an amoral, racist, sexually predatory billionaire who doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning unless he gets help from a traditionally hostile country. You and I talk it over, and we agree that we really should get in touch with officials from that country and see if they can dish up any dirt on our opposition.  Up to that point, you and I have colluded because inviting a hostile foreign power to interfere in our elections is both illegal and nefarious, but we have not conspired.  Therefore, no criminal act has occurred.

Now imagine that we get an email from the friend of a friend, saying that a highly placed lawyer from that country has the nasty on our opponent.  Rubbing our hands in glee, we have our girl call their girl and set up a meeting with the lawyer.  We’ve just taken an overt step in order to realize our illegal intent, and therefore, we’ve entered into a conspiracy to violate federal election laws. It wouldn’t even matter if the meeting fell through or if the meeting were a nothing-burger because all the lawyer talked about was foreign adoptions—it’s still a conspiracy.  So, Trump’s constant insistence that he didn’t commit collusion is irrelevant and nonsensical because Mueller isn’t going to indict him for collusion.  No, no, no, no! Mueller is going to fry Trump’s ass for conspiracy.

Exonerate

This is a new quirk for Trump, and strictly speaking, it really has nothing to do with the Mueller investigation. But since when does anything to do with Trump rely upon logical connections?  Briefly, Trump started using the second definition of  “exonerate” , to clear or absolve from blame, shortly after the DOJ’s Inspector General issued his report on the FBI’s conduct of their investigations into Hillary’s emails.  Donald had a hard on (ewww) for this report to come out because he thought the IG would find that the FBI was acting with animus against him.  If this were the case, Trump would have some merit in claiming that the Mueller investigation was a “witch hunt” (see below).

After an exhaustive review, the DOJ IG pretty much found that, other than some insubordination on Comey’s part, along with some snarky texts between a couple of FBI lovebirds, everything about the FBI’s investigation was above-board.  This is pretty much what one would expect—after all, if the FBI were conspiring to help Hillary beat Donald, one would hope that they would have succeeded.  I mean, they are supposed to be the best of the best, right?

Trump is right to point out that there is exoneration going on, but his yuge mistake is to assume it was directed at him.  That’s a major problem for narcissists:  it’s tough when they realize that it isn’t all about them.  To be “exonerated” by something, the instrument of exoneration actually has to be relevant to the deed for which one is being exonerated.  Otherwise, my dog could say it was exonerated for ripping apart my slippers because my parrot said the cat was out of the room when it happened.  Right now (but give the NY State’s Attorney General time), the major cloud hanging over Trump’s head is, you guessed it, the Mueller investigation.  However,  the IG said absolutely nada, zip, rien, about the issues underlying the Mueller investigation, so it’s hard to see how Trump is exonerated.  The only way that this report could exonerate Donald is if he were a member of the FBI team investigating Hillary’s emails.

And now that I think of it, given the impact Comey had on the election, maybe this isn’t as crazy a thought as it first appears.

Witch hunt!

Now this is a phrase with an interesting little history.  Like most metaphors, “witch-hunt” started out its linguistic life as a real thing.  Even before the Salem witch trials, there were those who hunted out witches.  The Pendle Hill witch trials of 1612, for example, claimed the lives of eleven innocent people (one died in prison, the other ten were hanged).  The estimate of how many people were killed for being witches varies wildly, but one reasonable estimation is 40,000 people were executed as witches over two hundred years, the large majority of whom were women.  In fact, maybe it isn’t too much of a stretch to characterize the original witch hunts as state-sponsored, misogyny-fueled, mass murder of women.

It was only (relatively) lately that the term took on its political overtones.  While Arthur Miller drew direct lines between McCarthyism and the Salem witch trials in the introduction to his play, The Crucible, the first recorded use of the term in its political sense was in 1919.  Like its later incarnation in the 50’s, the 1919 use of “witch hunt” was in response to a Senatorial investigation of Communism.  Crazy, huh?

Now it’s Trump’s turn to claim victimhood, which is hysterically ironic on several levels.  First, it’s pretty rich for Trump, a self-professed sexual predator, to latch onto a term that originally described anti-female violence.  Next, Trump is not subject to scrutiny because of his lofty political beliefs or because of his gender.  Instead, he is subject to scrutiny because his greed, ambition, and narcissism have led him to commit acts of a treasonous nature.  Allegedly.  Similarly, unlike “witchcraft,” obstruction of justice or conspiracy to have Russia interfere with our presidential election is a thing—a real, provable thing that relies on more than hearsay and unreliable testimony to demonstrate its existence.  Emails, texts, and bank records are just a few of the tools Mueller has used to already secure over twenty indictments and five guilty pleas.

Finally, the hallmark of the traditional victim of a witch hunt is that she is innocent.  Now, some people are saying that Trump isn’t innocent.  I don’t know.  We’ll see what happens.  Believe me.

©2018 D. R. Miller