The Low-Bar Trope


Democratic Primary Debate Participants, 27 June 2019: Michael Bennet, Joseph Biden, Peter Buttigieg, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, John Hickenlooper, Bernard Sanders, Eric Swalwell, Marianne Williamson, Andrew Yang. (Credit: DonkeyHotey / Wikimedia Commons)

You have heard it said before. I’ve said it myself. As a colleague recently grumbled: “The bar is low. All I want is a return to the rule of law.”

Indeed, the bar is set low for the 2020 presidential election if it means Democrats should nominate the person most likely to defeat Trump, that candidates competing for the nomination should do no harm to one another in the primaries, and that they and their supporters should rally behind the Party’s eventual nominee on the assumption that winning the election will return the nation to the status quo ante.

Is a reset enough? Is restoring the state of affairs as it existed before Trump’s presidency the right goal and the likeliest way to win the election? (more…)


Fourth of July Protest


1902 American cartoon about celebrating the Fourth of July. (Credit: Udo Keppler/Wikimedia Commons)

It was the day after the Fourth of July. Three of us met for breakfast at the local deli.  There had been a sizable Families Belong Together rally the previous Saturday in our downtown square attended by two of us. I had missed the rally but had marched with a group in our city’s July 4th parade. Our group carried signs that called for keeping families together and endorsed more humane alternatives to detention.

The three of us were comparing notes over breakfast and, as is our custom, engaging in spirited debate. We like disagreeing with one another. Sometimes it’s each one of us opposed to each of the others; sometimes it’s two against one in short-lived and shifting alliances. Usually we find points of agreement, or at least partial agreement, in the midst of the give and take. We provoke and listen to each other for the sake of friendship.

This was the dialectical context in which I shared with my friends some reflections on the previous day’s parade experience.  (more…)

The Exterminating Angel


The Exterminating Angel, also known as Guardian Angel, is a sculpture by Josep Llimona dated in 1895. Built on the ruins of an ancient cemetery which in turn was built on the remains of an old church of the fifteenth century. The Exterminating Angel is the “Angel of the bottomless pit” who reign over locusts that devastate humanity “not marked on the forehead with the seal of God” (Revelation 9:11). (Credit: Andrés Suárez García)

My mother was a gifted psychic who never believed her talent was a big deal. She scoffed at poseurs and charlatans, was highly suspicious of the use of spirituality for profit, and reserved a deep respect for Catholic nuns and Catholic schooling. Never a churchgoing person, she had a profound faith in the power of her plaster image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (a gift from my father to her before their wedding), and an unswerving belief in the principle of Poetic Justice in the world. She never called it karma, but she maintained, to the end of her life, that eventually we all get our just deserts.

I have been thinking a great deal about my mother during this crisis of abduction and hostage taking of immigrant children by the US government. I remember distinctly the day at the Havana airport when we left Cuba in 1961. At the enclosed glass-area that led to the Pan American airplane, my mother and my aunt were taken away by female guards to be body-searched (Castro militias were looking for unauthorized money or jewels leaving the country). To this day, I remember the fear that engulfed me as I was left by myself with my young sister (I was 7, she was 6) in the departure area. (more…)

They Came for the Children


British Women and Children Interned in a Japanese Prison Camp, Syme Road, Singapore, 1945, by Leslie Cole. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Somewhere in Bernard Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra, the Irish Sage reminds us that when a stupid man does something he is ashamed of:  he always claims it is his duty to do so. In our miserable times, when a shameless man or woman does something dreadful that they enjoy, they always claim the law commands them to do so, even when no law exists to that effect. And when they engage in acts of perverted humanity, actions that can only arise from the diseased topographies of the soul, they claim—in an inversion of the classic serial killer excuse—that God made them do it! (more…)

Crossing of the Rio Grande


“Coronado sets out for the north” by Frederic Remington, oil painting, circa 1890-1900. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

(Donald Trump is hollering that “caravans of immigrants” are headed for the US border. He threatens to suspend both DACA and NAFTA in retaliation.

We know our president does not know very much, and does not care to know. But just so we remember who we are and where we came from, I offer the following from my Stories of the Conquest of the Kingdom of New Mexico. The passage is written with apologies to Ray Bradbury and his much admired The Martian Chronicles.) (more…)

Touch of Evil (Part 2 of 2)


Sheriff Joe Arpaio speaking at a campaign rally with Governor Mike Pence at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona, 2 August 2016. (Credit: Gage Skidmore)

Joe Arpaio was detested in Arizona for the very same reasons for which he was idolized. This explains both his electoral victories (Arpaio was re-elected five times) and the vehemence with which opposing segments of the public—especially minorities—viewed his tenure as sheriff.

He delighted in punishing and humiliating inmates in his infamous “Tent City” jail, where temperatures could rise over 100 degrees in the summer: “I put them up next to the dump, the dog pound, the waste-disposal plant.” Prisoners’ meals were cut down: “it costs more to feed the dogs than it does the inmates.” Successful lawsuits against the sheriff’s office for mistreatment of prisoners and wrongful deaths of inmates have been awarded dozens of millions of dollars. (more…)

Touch of Evil (Part 1 of 2)


Sheriff Joe Arpaio at a rally for Donald Trump at Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix, Arizona, 18 June 2016. (Credit: Gage Skidmore)

There is no more representative picture of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio than the portrait of border sheriff Hank Quinlan created by Orson Welles in his prophetic Touch of Evil (1958). At the end of Welles’ film noir masterpiece, in which “Justice, for once, is represented by a Mexican” (even though the protagonist, Miguel Vargas, is played by Charlton Heston in dark make-up), Quinlan is “defeated by technology, by the truth, by justice…. The powerful end up as victims of their abuse of power.”[1] (more…)

The Chair of Abraham Lincoln


Portrait of Abraham Lincoln, 9 February 1864, by Anthony Berger. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Assume for a moment that the present status of undocumented immigrants in the US is exactly what we want it to be: except for the criminals, we want them working in the country (in spite of our self-righteous talk about walls and mass deportations); but we don’t want to legalize their status—no amnesty and no path to US citizenship. In these times of deplorable political rhetoric, one does well to find guidance in the bosom of Abraham Lincoln, who was once branded “Abraham Africanus I” by a Copperhead political pamphlet.

Lincoln understood the 1857 Dred Scott decision by the Supreme Court as a cog (“piece of machinery so to speak”) in an effort by the Southern states to “declare the perfect freedom of the people, to be just no freedom at all.”

Here is Lincoln’s analysis of the decision: (more…)

Conspiracy Theory: You Cannot Live


Jewish refugees from Czechoslovakia being marched away by British police at Croydon airport in March 1939. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

I’m a big fan of conspiracy theories. They are based mostly on what Mark Twain calls a set of “corn-pone” opinions: “You tell me whar a man gits his corn-pone, en I’ll tell you what his ‘pinions is.”[i] I find it endlessly fascinating to contemplate why a man or woman would entertain a belief that is patently false (the United States, for example, staged the moon landing in a Hollywood set), and yet reject an occurrence that is demonstrably true (the water in Flint, Michigan is full of lead).

To my increasing horror, I have begun to weave a personal conspiracy theory—probably as a result of losing my mind after listening to too many Republican presidential primary debates. Since my theory—if it ever becomes fact—signals a great danger for many of us, pray bear with me lest we suffer the same fate of Trojans who did not listen to Cassandra.


The Part About ‘Illegal’ That I Don’t Get (Part 2)


Immigrant children, Ellis Island, New York, 1908. (Credit: U.S. Government National Archives)

About 45% of the “illegal” immigrant population in the U.S. entered the country through “ports of entry” with legal documents, and then overstayed the terms of their permits. About 55% entered without undergoing immigration inspection.  The Cubans avidly sought—and seek—immigration inspection in order to be declared legal residents of the country.

The “special” status granted to Cuban immigrants has existed since the takeover of Cuba by the Castro Revolution. Cubans have repaid in kind by a steadfast allegiance to US right-wing agendas through the last 50 years. In 1961 they answered the siren call of the CIA to join an expeditionary force that would topple the Castro regime—and then were abandoned by the Kennedy administration on the beaches of the Bay of Pigs. The US barely avoided nuclear war with the Soviet Union over Cuba in 1962. Cubans participated in the US war against North Vietnam and were instrumental in the pursuit and defeat of the guerrilla forces of Ché Guevara in Bolivia in 1967.

Do not forget that several of the Watergate burglars in 1972 were Cuban, and that one of the most fiercely disputed electoral counties (Miami-Dade) in the 2000 Bush vs. Gore presidential election is today (and was also then) largely Hispanic (65%) and Cuban-American (34%).  (more…)