Labeling, law breaking, border walls, and a living, breathing Constitution

labels

Labels. I think this word gets a raw deal. It’s been twisted and misapplied to the point of lowering it to a near expletive. I’d like to buck this political trend by restoring a perfectly good word from its smeared state.

Here goes:

We use labels and categories to organize and provide meaning. I’m a veteran. This label means that I’m a veteran, that I served in our armed forces. I’m also an American and a citizen. People like you and me who were born in their countries are natural-born citizens. Virtually every nation on Earth makes these distinctions and uses categories to organize and provide meaning for their people.

Illegal immigrant. Illegal alien. Legal resident. When it comes to immigration and citizenship, somehow the phrase “undocumented worker” is deemed more palatable and “humanizing” than the aforementioned perfectly viable labels.

Phrase swapping

Here’s the problem with phrase swapping—it alters meaning and pushes political narratives.

In the case of undocumented workers, the phrase implies that those here in the U.S. illegally are working, but are doing so under the radar. Are all working? The phrase invites us not to focus on the fact that they’re breaking the law, but rather that they’re contributing to our workforce in a desperate (yet honest) striving for a better life. They’re dreamers, you see.

After all, aren’t we all here because our ancestors dreamed of a better life in America? Aren’t we all immigrants? It’s who we are as Americans, right? I’m the grandson of an immigrant. My grandfather came here legally and jumped through all the hoops to become a citizen. He was a dreamer—and an honest one.

Phrase distortion is another political propaganda device. For example, the original phrase “illegal alien” has nothing to do with doing, but rather with being. It’s a temporary state that describes the legality of someone’s status in a sovereign nation; it has nothing to with their humanity.

The dehumanizing argument is a political construct designed, among other uses, to “label” and vilify those who believe in their nation’s immigration laws and its sovereignty and reject open borders and policies that seem driven by mere compassion (or worse) rather than compassion tempered by wisdom … and a respect for the rule of law.

Legal, precise and meaningful labels like illegal alien do not strip anyone of their humanity or God-created image. If you disagree and FEEL that they do, I’m not surprised. For years, we’ve been pelted with politically driven and partisan constructs like this one through education, social and other media, Machiavellian politicians and a subjective spirit of the age.

Rule of Law

Do you think it’s right to break the law? And I don’t mean laws you think are wrong; I mean laws that have withstood legal challenges and that the majority of citizens support—like our immigration laws.

Is it right for a father to break the law by breaching an enforced border, so he can work to give his children a better life? Good fathers would do virtually anything to improve their kids’ life chances. Should they break the law?

I applaud fatherly love and devotion, but don’t see how flaunting of the rule of law would provide a good example for one’s children. It seems to me that a father who respects the rule of law would offer an essential character building example for his kids and that this example would go much further in improving their life chances.

Here’s my advice to a father seeking to improve his children’s futures: If you can’t find suitable work to provide for your family in your country, seek employment in ours, but do it lawfully.

I’ve read someone claim that it’s human nature to put labels on people to help us rationalize decisions when we dehumanize others by categorizing them. Really? Labeling people to rationalize or dehumanize them is NOT in my nature. This is another construct and a faulty argument.

It’s faulty because it’s based on the flawed premise that labels dehumanize. I grant that there are people who use labels to devalue others. There are racists and elitists in our midst. But to say that this is in our nature is a stretch. And to say that categorizing people in terms of their legal or illegal status is dehumanizing is to buy into a cheap and transparent political ploy.

It seems to me that attempts to dehumanize come mostly from one side of the argument—i.e. those who believe in border security are heartless, unfeeling, alt-righters, uber-nationalists, and/or racists. The labels-to-dehumanize argument is lazy and partisan and a dishonest justification for anti-border security arguments.

Rubber meets road

Consider this hypothetical:

You live in a southern border town. People who chose to run the gauntlet show up on your porch. They’re tired, thirsty and frightened. What do you do? You give them water—just as I would and just as the neighboring pro-border wall ranchers would had they been standing on their porches. (And just as border patrol agents would.)

Are you breaking the law? It’s not illegal to give illegal immigrants water, is it? Now if you were maintaining water stations and, by doing so, helping people break the law and attracting more people to break the law, would this be wrong?

Now remember: These people are CHOOSING to break the law—they aren’t forced to—a lack of job opportunities in their area of, in this case, Mexico, does not justify their decision to break our laws. Aren’t we all accountable for our decisions?

Let’s consider this example:

You live in France in 1943. You’re working and living on a farm. In the dead of night, a family of Jews appears on your doorstep. They’re haggard, cold, tired, hungry, scared out of their minds and a half-day ahead of the Gestapo. The puppet Vichy government has decreed it unlawful to help fleeing Jews. What do you do?

You do just what I hope I would do—you give them food, water and shelter and a hiding place. Or do you give in to fear and close the door? Why put your life in danger? Because your government’s law violates God’s laws. You help them out of love and obedience to Almighty God and in defiance of your weakling government that’s doing the will of its evil client regime.

Big differences

Let’s review some key differences in these scenarios:

A) One describes a violation of God’s laws.
B) The people in one scenario are forced to flee and break the law; they have no other choice. Instead of looking for work, they’re looking to stay alive.
C) The American government is not a Vichy government enforcing evil immigration laws.

More questions:

Is the rule of law dependent on compassion? Do you think Nancy Pelosi and her colleagues know real hardship? Just because they care about people doesn’t mean they can empathize with them.

How much of their concern for illegal immigrants is powered by real compassion and how much is driven by new voter creation … or a craving for the endorphin release that comes with an eight-hour self-promoting pro-Dreamer speech?

In any case, why do we give them a pass to vilify their opponents, slander them and insult our intelligence by feeding us bull that they’re the only ones who care because they’re willing to brush aside the rule of law in order to help people break our laws?

God and borders

To those who think sovereign nations have no business securing their borders and like to say that God is on their side; here are a few questions to ponder and a counter argument to consider:

What if God recognizes nations and their sovereignty and rule of law regarding immigration? After all, the concepts of national sovereignty and natural-born citizenship originated from God regarding his people.

If this is true, there’s a sanctity to the rule of law. And if all legitimate laws come from God and are instituted by him, as Paul says in Romans 13, all are called to obey the laws of the land—UNLESS they conflict with God’s laws.

Whether or not you accept these as truths, here’s my challenge:

Convince me that the immigration laws that we have on our books conflict with God’s, and I’ll storm the Bastille with you. I’ll resist a border wall to the death. I may even join your silly resistance.

Let’s put rubber to road: Where does God stand on refugees and widows and orphans fleeing intolerable living conditions?

I think we can agree that he stands above and beyond petty politics and weaponized partisan constructs. We’re right to extend help and compassion toward refugees, travelers and the poor and widows. God is right there with us in our compassion and love toward others.

However, if you equate border walls and enforcement of existing immigration laws and those who the value rule of law to a lack of compassion, cruelty, hubris and any other misplaced, cheap and partisan propaganda word-bomb, I say you are wrong. This equivalence (which isn’t) is a form of arrogance and ignorance.

And so is the notion that, in a little over two centuries, we’ve evolved to the point that we’ve outstripped elements of our Constitution’s applicability to our lives and laws.

Our Constitution

Our Constitution is certainly not inerrant. It has its flaws just as we have ours. I have problems with some of Jefferson’s ideas about government and the governed and some of his word and phrase choices in it, but it is nevertheless a beautifully written document. It’s also merely a document; there’s nothing living or breathing about it. But it’s just as relevant today as it was 200 plus years ago.

Here’s why: We haven’t evolved in any way that requires alteration of our Constitution. Human nature and the nature of our fallen world haven’t changed a lick. Solomon is right on—there is nothing new under the sun. People are people now and certainly haven’t evolved significantly in a mere two centuries and some change.

The living-breathing-document-that-must-evolve-jazz is yet another political/social construct. And it is so because those who espouse it arrogantly deny the unchanging nature of our nature. This concept is shortsighted and reeks of presentism. And to some it has evolved from an element of their ideology to a core belief of their secular theology.

Ideology vs. theology

Ideology is an important component of one’s belief system. So is theology. Which has the preeminence in your worldview?

I try to make sure the ideas I embrace regarding government and politics are ruled by my understanding of God’s take on government. When I examine them in this light, I always return to Romans 13.

There’s something liberating about laying my passions and feelings about what’s wrong or right with government next to the black and white words found in the only truly living and breathing document and one that never needs nor allows adaptation to the spirit of the age.

Disagree with me? Bring it.

But do so with substantive, ad hominem attack-free arguments and honest discussion. Don’t take the easy, lazy, low road. It requires little effort to pour to page emotive, amorphous, feel-good and universal-sounding truths; it’s much more difficult to provide logical, thoughtful defenses of ideas. The former is another aspect of our shallow spirit of the age; the latter is a lost art.

Let’s rediscover it.

Government shutdown: A political ploy in which the real losers are those who play the blame game

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Well, well, well … The Great 2018 American Government Shutdown is over. After two and a half days of scare tactics and hype, we can all breathe easy again.

Government shutdown. Is there a two-word phrase as overrated? Here are a few that should truly frighten you:

Nuclear war. Terror attack. Aggressive cancer.

Government shutdown? Meh.

Besides, it’s a contradiction in terms. Our government never shuts down; essential services always continue. It’s more of a government slowdown—and a dishonest political ploy designed to dupe the dopes.

Can shutdowns be inconvenient? Sure. Just ask a national park tourist who shows up to reduced hours or a closed special exhibit. Annoying? You bet. So is trying to get past hordes of schoolchildren bottlenecking self-guided tour routes.

Do shutdowns produce anxiety? Of course. Anytime there’s uncertainty about the operation of the federal government, there’s nervousness. This is especially true when the uncertainty is amplified by propaganda, half-truths and fearmongering.

Truth be told, I’m more nervous about a fully operational federal government.

Do shutdowns degrade military readiness due to payroll or allowance delays? I served in the Navy during two of them and have no memory of any problems they caused. This is because neither affected me significantly.

Most military operations and personnel are unaffected by government shutdowns. Ships still patrol. Troops stay locked and loaded.

This reality makes Trump’s first-day-of-the-shutdown tweet look as silly as it is: “Democrats are holding our Military hostage over their desire to have unchecked illegal immigration. Can’t let that happen!”

Who suffers?

Are furloughed without-pay government employees paid after shutdowns? According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the answer is YES. From their 2017 study, Shutdown of the Federal Government: Causes, Processes and Effects: “… in historical practice, federal employees furloughed under a shutdown generally have received their salaries retroactively.”

But this doesn’t mean families of furloughed employees aren’t stretched financially, especially younger ones who haven’t set aside funds to tide them over until they receive their back pay.

What about the poor? Do they suffer at the hands of whichever party is more effectively vilified for political gain? Not really. Those who get food stamps or use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) continue to do so.

Head Start, a government hybrid version of day care and preschool for low-income families, has been affected before. The 2013 slowdown caused the temporary closing of locations serving nearly 6,300 children before re-opening with the help of private philanthropists or their state.

How about senior citizens who rely on Medicaid, Social Security and Medicare? There are delays in getting new Social Security cards, but medical benefits are not affected.

Do Veterans Administration services continue for vets? My VA called to verify my appointment while I was writing this post. And it’s for a routine blood panel and doctor visit.

The IRS, however, typically furloughs a hefty percentage of their employees. Imagine: the massive government department that taxes (and overtaxes) us doing its work with fewer people and more efficiently. How frightening.

Who benefits?

Short answer: the political party that’s successful in duping the most voters to retaliate in the mid-term elections. Of course, the real or perceived performance of a president and his party can mitigate the winners of this propaganda battle.

For example, in the mid terms following the great government shutdown of 2013, Democrats lost nine House and 13 Senate seats. This is typical and reflected a politically divided America and normal voter fatigue with the party in power.

It happened to the parties of Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and others and will almost certainly happen to our current unprecedentedly polarizing president’s party.

Shamefully, shameless self-serving schmucks like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Shumer know and play the blame game quite well, as do their GOP counterparts. Pelosi referred to the 2013 slowdown as the “Tea Party Shutdown.” Her current creation? You guessed it: The Trump Shutdown.

She even grandstanded it as a snarky “Happy Anniversary” gift to the president based on his May 2017 tweet: “Our country needs a good “shutdown” in September to fix mess!”

shutdown

Contextually, Trump’s tweet has nothing to do with his supposed lack of compassion for poor Americans or his racism or any other Machiavellian political implication Pelosi and other blame gamers try to sell us.

Speaking of Trump and his racism:

Trump as racist

Is he? Here’s an essential question:

Regarding his infamous s***hole country question, is it possible that he used the word to describe countries with failed and/or corrupt leadership, crumbling infrastructure, lack of opportunity, feeble economies, etc. rather than as a description or reflection of their people?

Is it possible that as a president who strongly favors merit-based immigration policies, he’s resistant to letting in large numbers of emigrants who’d be virtually impossible to vet in order to prioritize skilled workers over family members of those with expired visas?

Is it “un-American” to value an emigrant with skills and potential over a DACA “dreamer’s” second cousin twice removed? Former Presidents Kennedy and Johnson didn’t think so. Neither did Reagan. And yes, he signed a bill granting a one-time amnesty for people here illegally in return for tighter border control.

I don’t know the answer to the racism question because I wasn’t inside Trump’s frenetic and often childish brain when he said what he said. I don’t know whether he s***holed people OR their countries because I don’t know him or what’s in his heart or mind.

But I do know this: It’s not racist to describe a country as a s***hole when referring to how badly it’s run or to the poor quality of life it affords its citizens or to whatever makes it so crappy that its people are bailing en masse.

Newsflash: Decrying the sad state of a country can actually have nothing to do with race. The same goes for resistance to piggybacking a DACA/Dreamer deal to a spending bill, which is the cause of this silly shutdown.

Libelous labeling

Yes, labeling someone a racist because he denigrates people of other countries based on their race is a legitimate use of the word.

Labeling someone a racist because you conflate his opinion of a country with your opinion of his opinion of a country’s people is either overly emotional and faulty thinking or calculated dishonesty and character assassination.

Speaking of emotionalism, I watched many politicians and media members engage in precisely this inflammatory political behavior. For the most part, I think journalists are intelligent people. I sure hope so, because I am one.

We’re trained to ask clarifying questions, process information critically and be as fair and objective as possible with the words that come out of our mouths and minds.

What I witnessed in the coverage of Trump’s potty mouth comments about immigration is not genuine journalism. I watched posers trip over themselves to condemn, besmirch and denigrate a president they simply cannot cover objectively, let alone tolerate.

Is it any wonder many media members are complicit in our latest government shutdown blame game? I expect as much from sleazy politicians, but trained journalists should know better. And trust me, they do. They’re following the lead of leaders of one party because they loathe the leader of the other.

Apocalypse or politics?

It’s bad enough that our government is bloated, inefficient and entirely too big for its britches, but for a political party to use its operation as a bargaining chip and threaten its “shutdown” to get what they want is politically immoral and ought to be made legislatively impossible.

To be fair, this practice is partisan, petty and perpetrated by both sides. So is the blaming. House Speaker Paul Ryan pinned it on Democrats by saying, “One party in one house of this Congress is deliberately holding this government hostage.”

No one’s holding the government hostage, Speaker Ryan. It’s not tied up and gagged by ransom-demanding Dems. During a shutdown, our government is free to run on fewer cylinders and at reduced power levels.

If only we could use this “crisis” to make our government a lean, mean, liberty-preserving machine that’s more efficient and less intrusive—and more like our founders envisioned.

Tying essential issues like immigration reform to government shutdowns is a bad way to do the people’s business. It’s playing politics with taxpayer provided government services.

Shut down the shutdown

Instead of shutting down our government, let’s shut down those shut it down for political gain. Let’s fund the government first, and then tackle the hot issues. This would make for more clean and honest fights.

But for now, this should be our message to some government employees who never have to worry about working for free—President Trump and members of Congress:

Stop playing politics with a government that barely runs and does so on borrowed money. Keep the colossal, clunky machine running. Decide on a DACA grace period and extend the work permits for the “dreamers” who are working. Then talk about returning to a smart, merit-based immigration system.

To the dreamers who’ve failed to play by the rules and have not become productive and valuable citizens:

Try again when your dreams are big enough for America. But know this: It’s not your fault our politicians used you and your dreams to shut down a government. They think it’s a way to win, but when it happens, we all lose.

For me, marijuana wasn’t a gateway drug—it was an exit ramp to wasted opportunities.

marijuana

Marijuana as a gateway drug is a decidedly one-sided argument. It goes like this:

Cannabis is no more a gateway drug than alcohol or tobacco and has no business being a Schedule 1 drug. If we can get the Feds to reschedule it, we can study it more carefully and prove that its positives outweigh its negatives.

Yes, let’s reschedule it. Let’s study the tar out of it and see what we can squeeze out of it medicinally. I’m all for harnessing natural products for potential health benefits. But I’ve already studied its effects in my own laboratory—my teenage brain.

Here are my findings

My use helped kill my motivation to earn more than solid Bs. It also helped ensure I scored pretty well on the SATs, yet not good enough for Ivy League schools.

Pot transformed my high school graduation ceremony into a hazy, silly experience in which I forgot that my name card was in my shirt pocket and had to hastily tell the handler how to have the announcer announce me.

My cannabis use helped me stay in my introverted shell. When I wasn’t stoned, I felt even more awkward. My English teacher asked me in front of the entire class, “Are you going to laugh your way through life?” “Yep,” I giggled. I was bombed that day.

Getting high was a way to laugh more and have more fun—grades and future college opportunities be damned. When I wasn’t wasted, I felt like a ghost—like I was there, but not really, if you know what I mean.

It made me feel like a faded version of myself—like Bilbo Baggins’ feeling “thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” Remember Bilbo, the hobbit? He enjoyed his weed—Longbottom Leaf (nerd alert), which was likely a nicotiana tobacco blend, not indica or sativa cannabis. Sorry, stoners.

I remember doing homework at home once—when I wrote my senior theme paper. Otherwise I did it during the class before the class. My using inspired me to skate through school with the least amount of effort. It clouded my mind, degraded my scholastic performance, sapped my drive and enhanced my introversion. For me, it was a gateway drug to nowhere.

Opening the marijuana gate

It happened when a waiter at a restaurant where I worked invited me to smoke a doobie in his car. My mindset before the puff: Drugs were a loser’s game. They were bad, and if you tried them, you were a fool. At the moment of truth, I took a drag, obliterated the taboo and opened the gate.

For most, marijuana is a gateway drug. Not because it makes you want to snort or shoot up, but because it breaks the barrier. Once it’s broken, what’s to stop you from trying other drugs in search of other highs?

It’s not that pot makes you want to try harder drugs; it’s the seemingly harmless lever that opens the gate. Once you take your first draw, you’ve crossed over. You’ve cleared the hurdle—you’ve become a drug user because you used a drug.

A fellow blogger and childhood friend of mine sees things differently even though we grew up in the same church and community and attended the same junior high and high schools. He writes that he only transitioned to harder drugs because of the marketing skills of his dealers.

I respect and validate his experience. But what he claims is after the fact: He blew coke after he opened the gate and stepped through. Would a dealer’s marketing prowess have been as effective had he not smoked pot first? Maybe. I wonder.

For the record, I also snorted cocaine, dropped acid, and took crank. But I did so because I opened the gate to these drugs with that first joint. The people I got harder stuff from didn’t have to market it to me at all. I was all in for new experiences because I’d smoked pot. There were no more taboos because my gate stood swinging in the wind.

Weed your life, not your mind

In my case, marijuana was a gateway to stronger stuff because it greased the skids. It slew the giant of fear and overcame all the warnings from people who tried to steer me clear of a teenage wasteland. Maybe these well-meaning folks need to improve their marketing skills.

I’m not sure about my skills, but here’s my message:

Hey, punks—take it from a doofus like me who wasted his high school years toking with his doofus friends. Don’t do it. It’s stupid and a waste of time. Plus, it sears your lung sacs and does much more damage to them than filtered cigarettes—like five times more.

Do this instead:

Guard your gate. What you think is harmless could let in a flood of wasted opportunities and drown your potential. These friends of yours who are getting high and think you should too will be somewhere in ten or twenty years.

Will they be in solid marriages and be loving, effective parents? In fulfilling jobs? Will they be in rehab?

Junior high and high school can be an exciting and essential time of your life. Play sports. Play an instrument. Get good grades. Talk to your school counselor and find out how to get accepted into colleges you’ll be proud to earn a degree from. Enjoy your prom by not taking it too seriously. Be sober for your graduation ceremony, so you’ll remember it clearly. It only happens once.

And for parents who don’t mind advice from someone who isn’t one yet:

Fill your kids’ lives with you. Take them camping, hiking, shopping, to sports games, and on walks. Watch movies with them, invite them to make dinner with you, help you change the oil, or plant a garden.

Be in their lives when they’re young, and maybe they won’t go looking for kicks with foolish friends. Maybe they’ll respect your decision to value them over your work, which is a reflection of your character. Perhaps they’ll respect your anti-drug stance and want to be like you rather than like their clueless friends.

Say no to stupid

Don’t listen to the nonsense about the harmlessness of marijuana. No drug is harmless. Even moderate pot use can make you harmless. Or worse, it can open the door to drugs that can make you dangerous—like meth.

When you’re young and dumb, getting wasted seems like fun. But after the laughs and munchies, it’s just a fake, drug-induced sensation that doesn’t last. Taking your first drag can easily lead to a first snort, drop, or injection.

People who care about you will tell you it’s a waste of time, talent and life. Ask yourself: Whom will you listen to? Those who want to sell you a phony, drug-fueled loser experience or those who resisted and kept their gates closed and are so glad they did?

It’s your life and your decision. Don’t blow it.