Grounds for Impeachment – Part V-VIII (a continuation)

  1. It is not an impeachable offence to call for a bipartisan deal on “Dreamers.”
  2. It is not an impeachable offence to signal that a bipartisan Congressional deal on “Dreamers” will be vetoed.
  3. It is not an impeachable offence to insist in rally after rally that a wall is currently being constructed on the Mexican-American border.
  4. It is not an impeachable offence to insist in rally after rally that a wall is currently being constructed on the Mexican-American border when a Republican-dominated Congress has only authorized repairs to existing fencing.
  5. It is not an impeachable offence to weaponize your base to attack the media.
  6. It is not an impeachable offence to weaponize your base to engage in racist slurs.
  7. It is not an impeachable offence for a sitting president to pardon a heinous felon like Arizonian ex-Sherriff Joe Arpaio.
  8. It is not an impeachable offence to send a signal to one’s cronies who have been indicted that they can expect a pardon if they “don’t say nuttin.”
  9. It is not an impeachable offence to have a host of colleagues who worked on your presidential campaign indicted, with many admitting they were guilty (Michael Flynn, Rick Gates)
  10. It is not an impeachable offence to fire Andrew McCabe from the F.B.I. without a reasonable cause.
  11. It is not an impeachable offence to single-handedly try to destroy the post WWII economic and security order and to partially succeed.
  12. It is not an impeachable offence just because the billionaire Tom Steyer says it is.
  13. It is not an impeachable offence just because Congressman Al Green says some activity is.
  14. It is not an impeachable offence to have a Secretary of Education who does not believe in public schools.
  15. It is not an impeachable offence to put Scott Pruitt in charge of protecting the environment when he does not believe that humans are responsible for disrupting the environment.
  16. It is not an impeachable offence to put someone in charge of protecting the environment who lives “high off the hog” and travels on private jets and requisitioned air force flights at taxpayer expense.
  17. It is not an impeachable offence to put someone in charge of protecting the environment who practices nepotism.
  18. It is not an impeachable offence to get rid of a series of first class advisers who try to execute your program – an Axis of Adults – Rex Tillerson, former Secretary of State, national security adviser H.R. McMaster, economic adviser Gary Cohn.
  19. It is not an impeachable offence to marginalize both Chief of Staff, John F. Kelly and Defense Secretary, Jim Mattis.
  20. It is not an impeachable offence to get rid of a series of first class advisers because they try to place boundaries around one’s irrationality.
  21. It is not an impeachable offence to continually belittle your Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, for not recusing himself even if the law required that he do so.
  22. It is not an impeachable offence to order White House counsel Donald McGahn to try to stop Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself from the Justice Department investigation into collusion.
  23. It is not an impeachable offence to insist that it is the duty of the Attorney General to protect the president from the Russian probe.
  24. It is not an impeachable offence to lie and say a meeting with the Russians was about adoption when it is was later proven that it was not.
  25. It is not an impeachable offence to help your son draft a letter covering up the reason for meeting with a Russian lawyer who offered to provide dirt on Hilary Clinton.
  26. It is not an impeachable offence to try to eliminate the Foreign Service by failing to fill ambassadorships and senior positions in the State Department.
  27. It is not an impeachable offence to induce a host of very experienced and highly professional diplomats to leave public service.
  28. It is not an impeachable offence to induce your ambassador to Estonia, James D. Melville Jr., to resign because you express the belief that because the majority in a country speak Russian it is ok for Russia to seize a territory like Crimea.
  29. It is not an impeachable offence to withdraw from environmental treaties even if withdrawal threatens the future of America.
  30. It is not an impeachable offence to withdraw from trade treaties even if withdrawal threatens the future of America.
  31. It is not an impeachable offence to undermine all the norms around international trade.
  32. It is not an impeachable offence to undermine all the norms concerning how top world leaders relate to one another.
  33. It is not an impeachable offence to love brinkmanship and confrontation.
  34. It is not an impeachable offence to baffle and offend almost everyone.
  35. It is not an impeachable offence to abandon America’s Kurdish allies.
  36. It is not an impeachable offence to abandon America’s other Syrian allies.
  37. It is not an impeachable offence to declare triumphantly that North Korea was “no longer a nuclear threat” and that “everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office.”
  38. It is not an impeachable offence to legitimize a notorious killer and dictator only to have your own intelligence services confirm that Kim Jong Un has echoed earlier reneging practices in concealing its nuclear stockpile and both improving and hiding its production facilities, especially at its secret Kangson underground uranium enrichment site.
  39. It is not an impeachable offence to declare that you made no concessions to Kim Yong Un when you promised him that you would end your Freedom Guardian military exercises with South Korea.
  40. It is not an impeachable offence to declare that “I made a deal with him, I shook hands with him, I really believe he means it.”
  41. It is not an impeachable offence to use up your credits with the Chinese to get them first to join in sanctions and then ease up on sanctions on North Korea.
  42. It is not an impeachable offence to play footsies with Chinese President Xi Jinping and then slap the Chinese with 34 billion dollars in tariffs.
  43. It is not an impeachable offence to induce the Chinese to slap duties on 500 items resulting in layoffs at American car manufacturers.
  44. It is not an impeachable offence to induce the Europeans to slap a 25% duty on bourbon produced in Kentucky which Mitch McConnell represents in the Senate.
  45. It is not an impeachable offence to induce the Harley-Davidson to shift production abroad when Wisconsin is the home of both the company and Paul Ryan, leader of the House.
  46. It is not an impeachable offence to shunt the Japanese government to the sidelines.
  47. It is not an impeachable offence to ignore Africa.
  48. It is not an impeachable offence to take Australia and New Zealand for granted.
  49. It is not an impeachable offence to malign your closest allies.
  50. It is not an impeachable offence to do one’s best to ensure that Mexicans elect a socialist president.
  51. It is not an impeachable offence to suggest the Findlandization of Europe.
  52. It is not an impeachable offence to make common cause with anti-immigrant political leaders in Hungary, Poland Slovakia and even France.
  53. It is not an impeachable offence to suggest to Emmanuel Macron that France consider withdrawing from the EU.
  54. It is not an impeachable offence to say that the EU was only set up to take advantage of the U.S.
  55. It is not an impeachable offence to withdraw from a denuclearization treaty with Iran.
  56. It is not an impeachable offence to withdraw from such a treaty and then hand Syria over to the Russians and Iranians.
  57. It is not an impeachable offence to insist you have been “tougher on Russia” than your predecessor.
  58. It is not an impeachable offence to agree to let Erdoğan of Turkey take over part of Syria.
  59. It is not an impeachable offence to ignore Africa.
  60. It is not an impeachable offence to reverse the normalization process with Cuba.
  61. It is not an impeachable offence to undermine American cooperation with Mexico on drug and people trafficking, on security and disease control.
  62. It is not an impeachable offence to give the government of Venezuela ammunition to retain power.
  63. It is not an impeachable offence to break trade treaties that will end up hurting American farmers.
  64. It is not an impeachable offence to push Mexican famers to once again grow crops to replace American imports.
  65. It is not an impeachable offence to break trade treaties that will hurt Heinz ketchup.
  66. It is not an impeachable offence to take over an anti-deficit party and run up a ten trillion dollar deficit over ten years.
  67. It is not an impeachable offence to try to obstruct justice, though perhaps succeeding may be.
  68. It is not an impeachable offence to say the Russian probe is a Democratic witch hunt when those on charge, Rosenstein and Mueller, are not Democrats but Republicans.
  69. It is not an impeachable offence to say the Russian probe is a Democratic witch hunt.
  70. It is not an impeachable offence to say the Russian probe is a witch hunt even though in the last two months of last year, the president’s first national security adviser and most trusted traveling companion pleaded guilty to federal charges.
  71. It is not an impeachable offence to say the Russian probe is a witch hunt even though a number of other senior officials connected with the presidential campaign have pleaded guilty or have been indicted.
  72. It is not an impeachable offence to repeatedly threaten to fire Rob Rosenstein who oversees the Robert S. Mueller III Russian probe.
  73. It is not an impeachable offence to get elected with Russian help.
  74. It is not an impeachable offence to question the consensus judgment of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia interfered in the election.
  75. It is not an impeachable offence to demand James Comey’s loyalty.
  76. It is not an impeachable offence to demand Comey’s loyalty and, when it was not forthcoming, to fire him.
  77. It is not an impeachable offence to write in the first draft of a letter firing Comey that it was because of his involvement in the Russian probe.
  78. It is not an impeachable offence to then fire Comey for misconduct in the Hilary probe.
  79. It is not an impeachable offence to then publicly admit that Comey was fired because of leading the Russian probe.
  80. It is not an impeachable offence if virtually no Republicans in Congress will currently impeach.
  81. It is not an impeachable offence if very few Republicans will impeach even if there is a Democratic majority for impeachment.
  82. It is not an impeachable offence to say the Russian probe is a Democratic witch hunt when both Rosenstein and Mueller are Republicans.
  83. It is not an impeachable offence if virtually no Republicans will currently impeach.
  84. It may not be an impeachable offence to breach the foreign-emolument clause of the constitution and make money off foreigners because you are president.
  85. It may not be an impeachable offence to breach the domestic-emolument clause and make money off your own government (the Secret Service, for example, staying at Mar-a-Lago) when you are president.
  86. No offence is impeachable without great political cost if only one party supports impeachment.
  87. It is certainly an impeachable offence if there is a serious breach of trust by the president.
  88. It is certainly an impeachable offence if there is a usurpation of power by the president.
  89. It is certainly an impeachable offence if a president abuses his constitutional duties.
  90. No offence is impeachable even if Bob Mueller indicts the president for criminal activity.
  91. It is not an impeachable offence unless one can be found guilty of high crimes and misdemeanours and one cannot be found guilty if one cannot be tried on such charges in a court of law.
  92. It is not an impeachable offence when overwhelmingly Republicans oppose trying the President for such a crime.
  93. It is not an impeachable offence to choose as the president you most admire, Andrew Jackson, who was responsible for the Trail of Tears and the ethnic cleansing of the Cherokee.
  94. It is not an impeachable offence to choose as the president you most admire, Andrew Jackson, who held that judges could only serve “during good behaviour.”
  95. It is not an impeachable offence, as Donald Trump has demonstrated, to abuse public trust as Alexander Hamilton claimed.
  96. It is not an impeachable offence to undermine democracy by fostering factionalism and helping constitute a sizeable electorate with a “malign common motive” guided by “some common impulse of passion/interest inimical to the rights of other citizens.”
  97. It is not an impeachable offence to undermine democratic representation through use of the census contrary to the claim of James Madison.
  98. It is not an impeachable offence to undermine the three non-political pillars of democracy – civility, fostering a common identity and boosting economic security – by uncouth behaviour, stimulating cultural resentments and weakening the American economic position in the world.
  99. It is not an impeachable offence when one man controls the legislative and judicial branches of government as well as the seat of executive power.
  100. It is not an impeachable offence to allow passions to override a bureaucracy, established procedures and the deliberative process all essential to responsible republican government.
  101. It is not an impeachable offence to make the “common good” subordinate to clashing interests.
  102. It is not an impeachable offence to rely on populism to convert legislative representatives to toadies, contrary to James Madison’s belief that elected representatives should not only listen to constituents but rely on their own knowledge and ideas and look to one another to ensure policies are well crafted.
  103. It is not an impeachable offence to convert a checks and balances political system to one in which a single individual rules.
  104. It is not an impeachable offence to injure society through divisiveness, also as Alexander Hamilton believed and as Al Green claimed in his impeachment resolution in Congress.
  105. It is not an impeachable offence to claim to make America great again as you shrink the American presence in the world and hollow out its long- established institutions.
  106. None of the above alone may result in be impeachment but perhaps the cumulative total may.

With the help of Alex Zisman

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Grounds for Impeachment – Part I

Grounds for Impeachment – Part I

by

Howard Adelman

  1. It is not an impeachable offence to comb your corn-coloured hair forward.
  2. It is not an impeachable offence to be a blowhard.
  3. It is not an impeachable offence to be a bully.
  4. It is not an impeachable offence to be a braggart.
  5. It is not an impeachable offence to be an egotist.
  6. It is not an impeachable offence to be an egomaniac.
  7. It is not an impeachable offence to engage in willful ignorance.
  8. It is not an impeachable offence to be self-contradictory.
  9. It is not an impeachable offence to be emotionally erratic.
  10. It is not an impeachable offence to be temperamentally unfit.
  11. It is not an impeachable offence to fail to be reasonable.
  12. It is not an impeachable offence to fail to be self-effacing.
  13. It is not an impeachable offence to fail to be considerate of others.
  14. It is not an impeachable offence to fail to be knowledgeable.
  15. It is not an impeachable offence to fail to be cautious and modest.
  16. It is not an impeachable offence for a liar to lie and claim not to be a liar.
  17. It is not an impeachable offence for an aspirant to high office to hope to lose.
  18. It is not an impeachable offence to be bored at cabinet meetings.
  19. It is not an impeachable offence to be “post-literate.”
  20. It is not an impeachable offence to obtain all one’s news from TV.
  21. It is not an impeachable offence to tweet your most important messages.
  22. It is not an impeachable offence to not even read a policy brief.
  23. It is not an impeachable offence to not even read a one-page memo.
  24. It is not an impeachable offence to be called by your senior subordinates an idiot, dumb, stupid, a dope or a moron.
  25. It is not an impeachable offence to be an idiot, dumb, a dope and a moron.

Grounds for Impeachment – Part II

  1. It is not an impeachable offence when, in 1973, as President of a corporation having discriminated against black tenant applicants wanting to live in one of your apartments, calling charges that it did “absolutely ridiculous.”
  2. It is not an impeachable offence when, in 1973, as President of a corporation having discriminated against black tenant applicants wanting to live in one of your apartments, copping a plea bargain when presented with the incontrovertible evidence.
  3. It is not an impeachable offence when, in 1973, as President of a corporation having discriminated against Black tenant applicants wanting to live in one of your apartments, to sign a consent decree and pay a fine.
  4. It is not an impeachable offence as a casino owner not to hire a Black accountant because Blacks are allegedly lazy.
  5. It is not an impeachable offence to stiff your suppliers when you were in business.
  6. It is not an impeachable offence for one’s companies to go bankrupt five times.
  7. It is not an impeachable offence to call five young Black and Latino teenagers muggers and murderers even before they were convicted.
  8. It is not an impeachable offence to take out full page ads in four New York newspapers at a cost of $85,000 (tax deductible) calling for the death penalty to be restored.
  9. It is not an impeachable offence to take out ads demanding that the Central Park five be executed.
  10. It is not an impeachable offence to demand the Central Park five be executed for allegedly assaulting and raping a woman jogging in Central Park.
  11. It is not an impeachable offence to demand the Central Park five be executed when, several years later, it was proven that they had been wrongfully convicted based on DNA evidence and the confession of a serial rapist.
  12. It is not an impeachable offence to apply to build a 150-storey building on the West Side of Manhattan so that you can occupy the highest apartment in the world.
  13. It is not an impeachable offence to have become the loudest voice promoting the Birther Movement.
  14. It is not an impeachable offence to wrongly insist Barack Obama was not born in the United States.
  15. It is not an impeachable offence to wrongly insist that Barack Obama was not born in the United States even after a birth certificate was produced.
  16. It is not an impeachable offence to call Obama’s birth certificate a fraud.
  17. It is not an impeachable offence to finally admit that Obama was indeed born in the U.S.A.
  18. It is not an impeachable offence to admit, contrary to a long campaign claiming that Obama was not born in the U.S., but not issue an apology.
  19. It is not an impeachable offence when presented with incontrovertible evidence that Obama was born in the U.S.A. to immediately blame his opponent, Hilary Clinton, for initiating the misinformation.
  20. It is not an impeachable offence to never apologize even for your grossest and most egregious mistakes.
  21. It is not an impeachable offence to have a private affair and lie about it.
  22. It is not an impeachable offence to boast about assaulting women sexually.
  23. It is not an impeachable offence to pay a former lover to keep silent during an election campaign and deny doing so.
  24. It is not an impeachable offence to pay a former lover US$130,000 to keep silent during an election.
  25. It is not an impeachable offence to deny paying a former lover US$130,000 to keep silent during an election and then admit it.

Grounds for Impeachment – Part III

  1. It is not an impeachable offence for someone campaigning for the U.S. presidency to offer to pay the legal bills of those who beat hecklers.
  2. It is not an impeachable offence to be dismissive of a great American war hero because he was captured.
  3. It is not an impeachable offence to denigrate the handicapped.
  4. It is not an impeachable offence to be a serial liar.
  5. It is not an impeachable offence to call Hillary Rodman Clinton “’lyin’ Hilary.”
  6. It is not an impeachable offence to hire as your spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders who, without any sense of irony, insisted that, “The president believes in making sure that information is accurate before pushing it out as fact.”
  7. It is not an impeachable offence to call the esteemed New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN producers of ‘fake news.’
  8. It is not an impeachable offence to try to stop publication of a personally authorized book on oneself that is scathing in its treatment.
  9. It is not an impeachable offence not to disclose your business affairs.
  10. It is not an impeachable offence to urge owners of football teams to fire players who express their right to protest guaranteed by the constitution.
  11. It is not an impeachable offence to fail to provide adequate aid to Puerto Rico after a devastating storm and floods.
  12. It is not an impeachable offence to be complicit in the death of many.
  13. It is not an impeachable offence to be reckless in office.
  14. It is not an impeachable offence to disregard the law of the land when in office.
  15. It is not an impeachable offence to have done business with Russian billionaires.
  16. It is not an impeachable offence to admire Vladimir Putin.
  17. It is not an impeachable offence to try to get Russia readmitted to the G7 and withdraw from the boycott of Russia because Russia occupied Crimea.
  18. It is not an impeachable offence to fire James Comey, the F.B.I. Director, in May 2017 for mishandling the Hilary Clinton file.
  19. It is not an impeachable offence to contradict yourself and admit that James Comey was fired because he would not ease up on the Russian probe and his inquiries into the activities of Michael Flynn.
  20. It is not an impeachable offence to not condemn white-supremacist protesters in Charlottesville.
  21. It is not an impeachable offence to call racists “very fine people,”
  22. It is not an impeachable offence to insist; “that there are good people on both sides,” the racist protesters and the anti-racist protesters.
  23. It is not an impeachable offence to call Black states “shithole countries.”
  24. It is not an impeachable offence to insult Mexicans and call them rapists and drug traffickers, though admitting there may be a few good ones.
  25. It is not an impeachable offence to admit banning migrants and visitors to the U.S.A. because they are Muslims, as long as you do not include that reason in your Executive Order.
  26. It is not an impeachable offence to claim a judge in a court case against you was biased because he was Mexican.
  27. It is not an impeachable offence to claim a judge was a biased Mexican when he was born in the U.S.
  28. It is not an impeachable offence to continually quote racist and xenophobic websites as a source while not acknowledging them.
  29. It is not an impeachable offence to call oneself “the least racist person.”
  30. It is not an impeachable offence to prevent transgender people from serving in the armed forces.
  31. It is not an impeachable offence to discriminate against transgender people in spite of American laws requiring equal treatment of all.
  32. It is not an impeachable offence for delaying indefinitely measures requiring communities to analyze how their housing policies might be fostering racial and economic inequality.
  33. It is not an impeachable offence to allege “millions of votes” were cast illegally.
  34. It is not an impeachable offence to dissolve a commission inquiring into voter fraud on one’s initiative.
  35. It is not an impeachable offence to dissolve a voter fraud commission that one initiates when documentation emerged that, of a billion votes cast over 15 years, there were only 15 allegations of voter fraud.
  36. It is not an impeachable offence to allow your Attorney General to unilaterally rescind an Obama directive backing off legal enforcement of marihuana laws in states that have legalized pot.
  37. It is not an impeachable offence to appoint an inexperienced 24-year-old campaign worker to lead the White House drug policy office.
  38. It is not an impeachable offence to impose tariffs on Canada, America’s closest ally, for “security reasons.”
  39. It is not an impeachable offence to promise that tariffs will create jobs for America.
  40. It is not an impeachable offence to claim that a steel company was opening new plants because of those tariffs when it was not.
  41. It is not an impeachable offence to threaten imposing taxes on a famous motorcycle company for considering moving jobs offshore because of those same tariffs.
  42. It is not an impeachable offence to use administrative efforts to undercut the Medical care system even though one is unable to pass legislation to undermine that system.
  43. It is not an impeachable offence to issue orders to separate asylum claimants from their children.
  44. It is not an impeachable offence to issue an Executive Order to rescind the separation of migrant families.
  45. It is not an impeachable offence to rescind the separation of migrant families without providing a system for reuniting the 2,300 separated children with their parents.
  46. It is not an impeachable offence to threaten to turn asylum claimants back from the border without a hearing.
  47. It is not an impeachable offence to deny asylum claimants a hearing in spite of American laws requiring granting a fair hearing.
  48. It is not an impeachable offence to deny asylum claimants a hearing despite the requirements of treaties to which the U.S.A. is a signatory.
  49. It is not an impeachable offence to be Donald Trump.

To be continued

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

On Asses Galore – Contempt versus Hatred: Balak, Numbers 22:2−25:9

This morning is a time for fables rather than facts, for fabulism rather than fatalism, for feelings rather than arguments. In the criticisms of my blogs on detention, there was one critique that I did not take up. I was accused of hating Trump, of being so biased I could not get the measure of the man. I cannot prove the absence of hatred and bias with facts and arguments, even if for many those would be sufficient. I will try fiction and the imagination.

This week’s parashat begins with a surrealistic mixture of history and creative invention. (For the historical Balaam, see my colleague Professor Carl Ehrlich;s excellent article, “Balaam the Seer: From the Bible to the Deir ‘Alla Inscription.” https://thetorah.com/balaam-the-seer-from-the-bible-to-the-deir-alla-inscription/ Balak was the King of Moab. The Alawites and Edomites had been defeated by the Israelites as the latter prepared to cross into the Holy Land from the eastern side of the Jordan River near Jericho. Fearful of their growing power and record of victories, and unwilling to share the land with them, Balak summoned the famous Midianite prophet, Balaam, to curse the Israelites, thereby allowing his forces to overwhelm them and drive them out of the region. As Balak stated to Balaam, without grasping the irony of what would unfold, “he whom thou [Balaam] blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed.” (Numbers 22:6)

In the drama that follows, there are four main roles beside the supporting cast. Balak is an archetypal authoritarian figure, fearful of losing his position and intent on defeating his real and imagined enemies. He does not come across as a fanatic or blood thirsty beast. Lacking any deep-rooted evil, he does not call for the extermination of the Israelites, only their expulsion from the land. He comes across as a leader who is simply a wily, self-interested and self-absorbed egocentric.

This seems uncontentious. So are the characteristics of the Israelites who have become tough sabras as a result of 40 years in the wilderness. Though they have numbers on their side and a stream of military victories, they are also fickle, give in easily to hyperbolic visions of the ferociousness of their enemies, and quite flaky in their relationship with their God. However, though important to the story, they seem to have been relegated simply to the role of unwanted massive migrants creating deep fears among many Moabites and their leader.

Balaam is something else altogether. He not only seems to be the main figure, but one whose character has been interpreted in a myriad and often opposing ways over the millennia. Focusing on one of only two opposing conceptions, in much of the Rabbinic and especially New Testament literature (Jude 11; 2 Peter 2:15; Revelations 2:14), he is portrayed as a man greedy for money and honours, Machiavellian in his diplomacy and quite full of himself. He is the prophetic identical Midianite twin to Balak, the Moabite king. In a very opposite portrayal, among some rabbinic commentators, he is viewed as a would be somewhat naïve peacemaker, though in both cases, he is seen as intemperate in the treatment of his ass.

It is that ass who can see angels and hear angels and even talk who is the most interesting character, even though the ass plays only a short role in the tale. But it is one full of significance.

The action in the tale begins when Balak decides to summon Balaam, who is a very famous diviner, to curse the Israelites so that his forces can defeat them.  Balaam consulted God on whether to go with the emissaries sent to fetch him. (So you thought that Moses was the only one who spoke to God!) God instructed, “Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people; for they are blessed.” (Numbers 22:12) Balaam obediently said no to the messengers of Balak saying that he was instructed not to go, but without telling them the reason – that the Israelites were blessed, an omission which initiates the controversy over his character.

A new, more prestigious and more numerous delegation came to Balaam a second time. They pressed him again, promising him great honours this time if he cursed the Israelites. He refused them again even if offered enormous wealth. But he did invite them to stay the night, promising he would ask God again. Was the invitation to stay a result of Middle Eastern hospitality or a devious plan of Balaam to have his cake and eat it too?

God duly appeared and advised Balaam: “If the men are come to call thee, rise up, go with them; but only the word which I speak unto thee, that shalt thou do.” (22:20) The emissaries did not call on him again. When they woke up, Balaam had saddled his ass prepared to return to Balak’s palace. Did God say that Balaam could go as long as he was summoned once again by Balak’s emissaries? Or did God tell him he could go on condition that he only spoke the words that God gave him? Or did God instruct him to go?

Thus begins the opening of Act II of the drama. There is an apparent paradox. The text states that God was angry because Balaam obeyed the summons. But had God not told him to go as long as he only said the words that God put in his mouth? Why was God angry? Because there were two conditions: 1) that he was requested a third time, and 2) that he only speak the words that God put in his mouth. Just as he dropped part of the explanation to the emissaries why he could not go, he now seemed to have put aside the first conditions in God’s instruction.

Did that mean that he really wanted the honours and the wealth and setting that condition aside was both opportune and convenient? Or did he conveniently or unconsciously ignore the condition because he did not want to miss an opportunity to play an important role in history in making peace or war?

As Balaam proceeded, the ass on which he was riding saw an angel with a drawn sword standing in the way. The ass went off the path and veered into the field only to receive a beating from Balaam. The ass proceeded again and when it was in a narrow place between fenced vineyards, once again the same angel appeared to block the path. With no field to veer off into, the ass ended up crushing Balaam’s foot against a wall. Again, the ass was smacked by Balaam.

At a place where the path was so narrow and where there was no way to even shift sideways, the angel blocked the way again. This time the ass just flopped down. Balaam hit the ass again. But the ass spoke up. “What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times?” (22:28) I saved you from the angel’s sword and this is the way you treat your long serving ass?

Balaam, seemingly unsurprised that his ass had addressed him, accused the ass of ridiculing him |(a possible clue that he was indeed a figure of ridicule) and threatened that if he had a sword, he would have killed him. The ass replied: “Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden all thy life long unto this day? Was I ever wont to do so unto thee?” (22:30)

What did this part of the story tell us about Balaam’s character? He was certainly impatient to move on. He was certainly insensitive to the feelings of the ass. As a diviner, he seemed to be oblivious that a crushed foot signalled not simply a delay in the journey, but future loss. (He was eventually killed by the Israelites.) And why was he not startled by his ass talking?

Then Balaam had an epiphany; he saw the angel. Balaam bowed down before him. This time the angel, not God, addressed him. “Hast thou smitten thine ass these three times? behold, I am come forth for an adversary, because thy way is contrary unto me.” (22:33) God seemed unhappy with the way Balaam treated his ass. Why did Balaam not wonder why he, to whom God talked directly, could not hear let alone see the angel but his ass could?

Balaam, as was his habit, misinterpreted the intent of the angel and promised to return from whence he came. All along, had he felt guilty about going? But the angel instructed, “’Go with the men; but only the word that I shall speak unto thee, that thou shalt speak.’” (22:35)

When Balaam reached Balak, he told the king that he had the power then to say any words that God put into his mouth. Balak, of course, never clued in. And the rest, they say, is history. Balaam would not curse the people that God had blessed. But Balaam went further, He declared that the Israelites “shall dwell alone and shall not be reckoned among the nations.” (23:9) He was challenging the Zionist dream of Israelites wanting to live as a nation amongst the other nations. In his antisemitism disguised as philo-semitism, the Jews were a separate and exclusionary people.

What a puzzling fable when an ass becomes the vehicle for ostensible redemption. Let us begin resolving the many puzzles by examining the character of the ass. Does the ass not remind you of another ass? Not Buridan’s ass who is a vehicle for philosophical speculation. If an ass, which is equally hungry and thirsty, is placed between a bale of hay and a bucket of water, which should he choose to do first, eat or drink? Aristotle, who was not fond of fables or prone to satirize, put a man rather than an ass in the middle to ridicule a Stoic explanation for why the earth did not rotate.  More simply, if the ass is between two equally delectable bundles of hay (or two dates – Al-Ghazali) equidistant from its mouth, does the ass turn left or right to eat? Whether it is a fable or not, whether ridiculing a physical theory, as in Aristotle, or a problem of rational choice, as with our Persian philosopher, the ass, especially one who speaks, is a sure sign that we are dealing with sarcasm if not satire.

What is being satirized? Think of another ass with which surely most of us are familiar – the gloomy loner, Eeyore, in A.A. Milne’s children’s classic, Winnie the Pooh.  Both Eeyore and Balaam’s ass are long-suffering. Buridan’s ass simply dies without any emotion. Eeyore, unlike the rest of the characters in Milne’s story, does not live in the Hundred Acre Forest in blissful happiness (and ignorance), but across the stream in the sad and boggy Gloomy Place. Balaam’s ass is resigned to carrying his heavy burden, made much heavier because Balaam was an ass.

But Balaam’s ass is different than Eeyore. The latter is burdened with his thoughts and the questions he cannot answer – Why? Wherefore? He is the philosopher not a philosopher’s illustration of an abstract puzzle (Buridan’s ass). Balaam’s ass, unlike Balaam, is the real seer. We know that because Balaam, even after he goes to Balak and blesses rather than curses the Israelites, seems unaware that logically his curse and his blessing were not only redundant, but meaningless if, indeed, God had blessed the Israelites.

In fact, Balaam seems incapable of any thought whatsoever since he never once picks up on the subtlety of God’s message to him. He is a mouthpiece without a headpiece. The mind of Eeyore as a philosophical ass is so clouded with thought that he cannot enjoy the bountiful life around him while Balaam’s ass, burdened with a human ass rather than thoughts, sees and hears clearly what is in front that no human, even a supposedly renowned seer, can see. At least until he has to prove that he is not totally blind.  To hide his sadness, Balaam is the clown in the biblical story, a figure of fun and a serious-all-too-serious version of Cervantes’ Don Quixote who also helplessly tilts at windmills. Balaam, blind to his limitations both before and after his epiphany, is a solemn comic figure like Eeyore, but a ridiculous character like Don Quixote. Look at the site gag of his sitting on his squatting donkey and whacking the ass to get up. Tears come to our eyes out of pity for the ass and our laughing until we cry at the real ass on the donkey’s back.

If Balaam is indeed a human ass, a figure of ridicule, he cannot be the Machiavellian plotter and greedy character that he is made out to be by many rabbis and New Testament writers. It is as if these interpreters lack a sense of humour. But especially the beatific liberal do-gooders. For that is the real object of this satire. Balaam truly believes that he can do Balak’s will as well as God’s at one and the same time. He, in his own mind, is the ultimate mediator, diplomat and deal-maker, someone who thinks he does not have to choose between the authoritarian figure who cannot and will not tolerate the arrival of the new migrants, and God’s will unequivocally on the side of these illegal immigrants. If Buridan’s ass cannot make a choice, Balaam is dumber, for he thinks he will not have to make a choice but, like a god, can reconcile positions that cannot be reconciled. If Eeyore is thankful if and when he is noticed, Balaam is incapable of noticing at all.

The difference between the blindness of Jesus, who in Mathew, rode on the back of a donkey into Jerusalem, and Balaam, who also rode on a donkey, but into Balak’s castle, was that Balaam still believed he could singlehandedly engage in diplomatic reconciliation while Jesus knew that he was a doomed figure, but one willing to sacrifice himself in the belief that such a sacrifice would serve peace.

Whether Donald Trump is Balak or Balaam, a would be political deal maker who is basically a stupid ass, how could I hate him? He is unworthy.

 

With the help of Alex Zysman

Canadian Immigration Detention Policies and Practices

I have not undertaken any firsthand research on American immigration detention facilities. However, I oversaw a major comparative study of Canadian and Australian facilities. But any data from that study would be well out of date. Instead, for my analysis of Canadian immigration facilities and the policies and practices governing them, I have relied on a relatively recent report by students in the International Human Rights Program of Professor Audrey Macklin at the Faculty of Law in the University of Toronto. Audrey is Director of its Centre of Criminology and Sociological Studies and holds the Chair in Human Rights Law. Hanna Gros is the prime author of the 2017 study called: “Invisible Citizens: Canadian Children in Immigration Detention.” Though it focuses on the tiny group of children born in Canada who are detained in detention facilities, the report includes a great deal of the accumulated data on the detention of children and on immigration detention more broadly.

https://ihrp.law.utoronto.ca/utfl_file/count/PUBLICATIONS/Report-InvisibleCitizens.pdf

Dee also IHRP’s September 2016 earlier report, “No Life for a Child: A Roadmap to End Immigration Detention of Children and Family Separation.”

I am also very familiar with the Toronto Immigration Holding Centre at 385 Rexdale Blvd. which I referenced in my last blog. I was part of a consortium about a decade ago that put forth a proposal to construct a new and much more humane facility. The government instead chose to renew the existing contract.

Children are detained in Canadian facilities in Vancouver, Toronto and in Laval Quebec. Compare these three facilities with the 637 American ones in operation in 2015 (May 2016 TRAC Report); American facilities are generally much larger. Further, American law requires that 30,159 beds be available at any one time, a ratio of about 100 beds to 1 in Canada.

The Canadian facilities hold not only immigrant children, but children born in Canada as well. Alpha, the son of Glory Anawa, was held in captivity for almost three years before both were deported. Glory was pregnant when she was detained after arriving at Pearson Airport. Compared to the recent effort at deterrence in the U.S., detained migrant mothers were given a choice: keep your child with you in custody as a “guest” (not a detainee) or surrender the child to foster care. They are called “guests” because the governing federal policy states that no child “may be permitted to remain with their detained parents in a CBSA immigration holding centre if it is in the child’s best interest and appropriate facilities are available.” As “guests,” such children are not accorded detention review hearings. However, detention cannot be used for deterrent purposes.

In America, the elevation of deterrence to a high guiding principle did not start with Donald Trump. It was first elevated to a high status under Obama. However, in February 2015, the Federal Court for the District of Columbia issued an injunction to halt the detention of parents with children solely to deter other migrants. The Judge required that they be released until their asylum cases could be heard.

Two international principles govern child detention. First, children should not be detained. Second, children should not be separated from their parents. What logically follows is that detention should not be applied to parents with children. Is this realistic? In spite of those principles, to what extent are parents and children detained in Canadian facilities?

How many children are affected? According to data that could be obtained, slightly less than fifty Canadian-born children per year were in the Toronto facility. Unlike Alpha mentioned above, the children are usually held in detention for 2-3 days to allow for paperwork to be completed. The median is higher because of rare cases, such as that of Alpha, or because mothers are breastfeeding. No children are forcibly or deceptively (a common American practice) removed from their parents. The number of children held in detention has dropped significantly since the Liberals came to power, but not the number of family separations.

How many have of Canadian and non-Canadian children been held in detention? Over four years, from 2011 to 2015, the Toronto facility, Canada’s largest, held at least 227 Canadian children in detention, an average of 45-48 per year. The children were held for an average of anywhere from 24-36 days and median stay of 15-23 days. (The average is higher because of very long stayers such as Alpha.) 85% were younger than six.

Total    Cdn.   *Others Ave.    Days      Median

Age

National         121       15       106       3.5       15.2       2

Toronto            42      12          30       3.5        4.5        1

Vancouver       36        0          36

Laval               43        3          40       3.3        58          86

  • Others include both foreign nationals and permanent residents of Canada.

In the 2017-18 period coming to an end shortly, 155 were held in detention, an increase from the year before. Why? Yet why so very few when compared to American figures under Trump?

The answer is twofold. Canada does not hold children in detention to deter arrivals. The governing principle is the “best interests of the child,” ironically the same principle in law governing the American treatment of unaccompanied minors who are placed in the care of a very different department, the Office of Refugee Resettlement and placed in the least restrictive setting in their best interests; these “accompanied minors” are generally held in a network of state-licensed, government-funded private care providers that are meant to offer education, healthcare, and case management services.

If, in Canada, the principle of the best interests of the child is applied, why even the low numbers detained? Because it is not the only principle operating. Further, there is a gap between principle and practice. The eight applied principles are:

  • “Best interest of the child;
  • “Right to express views freely;
  • “Measure of last resort;
  • “Limitation of physical restraint and the use of force;
  • “Separation from parents and maintenance of relationship;
  • “Preventing crimes against children;
  • “Child development;
  • “Other relevant factors as determined by the facts of the specific case.”

None of these have anything to do with deterring illegal migration. In Canada, the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Protection Act states: “It is affirmed as a principle that a minor child shall be detained only as a measure of last resort, taking into account the other applicable grounds and criteria including the best interests of the child.”

It is a well-known fact – not a theory – documented by medical practitioners, psychologists, psychiatrists and sociologists, that children are traumatized in detention, even when detained for very short periods. I know how my youngest son’s totally unjust handcuffing, arrest and interrogation of only about four hours affected him. Children are psychologically negatively affected by detention in a way that persists long after their release.

Though children should never be held in detention, is this practical? What else can you do with parents who arrive with children in Canada illegally or give birth to a child when they themselves are illegal but their children are legally Canadian citizens? A mixture of the following:

  • accommodation in NGO-run non-custodial homes
  • regular reporting
  • the use of bonds put up by volunteers or relatives
  • guarantors
  • ankle bracelets (a controversial alternative)
  • treating the alleged illegals with respect
  • ensure they receive independent legal advice
  • provide case support

Unless these alternatives are applied, there is no possibility of reducing the figure to zero. There are detained breastfeeding mothers who do not have a friend or relative to take them in. Sometimes a child has health issues that require hosting the child in an institution. In most cases, parents do not want to be separated from the child and/or the child does not want to leave the parent and the family on its own has no alternative.

The physical facilities in Canadian detention centres are not great. However, much as I object to the Canadian facilities, the conditions are leagues ahead of some of the American ones that have been exposed on media.

In comparing numbers, values, and even practices, Canada is at the opposite end of the spectrum from what has been taking place in the United States even before Trump issued his zero-tolerance policy and effort to separate parents from their children to deter others from coming to America. The modern U.S. detention system really dates back less than 40 years to the Reagan era. Prior to that, INS only detained individuals deemed likely to abscond or if they were believed to pose a danger to property or persons.

Even more significantly, the two countries are traveling in opposite directions. As the report on Canadian detention states, “(T)he Canadian government has shown a strong commitment to addressing issues within the immigration detention regime. CBSA has committed to taking meaningful steps that aim to reduce child detention and family separation as much as humanly possible.”

As I wrote in an earlier blog, incarceration is expensive. By 2014, the annual cost of detention in the American immigration enforcement budget was roughly $2 billion, or approximately $5 million a day (or $159 per detainee/day). (Alternatives cost from $.70 to $17.) It is ironic that a political party ostensibly dedicated to shrinking the government spends so much on confinement, prisons and walls. Other methods than detaining parents with their children are both much more cost effective and certainly more humane. The Canadian government is currently investing $138 million to both improve conditions inside detention facilities and to look for alternative solutions to detaining any child.

Further, consider the long term. “Compromising children’s mental health through detention and family separation risks setting them up for potential pathologies and social dysfunction, which may have very long term affects. As it is, detained children are lethargic, lose their appetite and suffer from anxiety. The long-term prognosis of depression or PTSD is not just a possibility, but likely for many of them.

The Canadian Pediatric Society condemns Canadian current practice, which is relatively benign compared to the American situation, as “contravening its domestic and international legal obligations” since “children in immigration detention live like prisoners in punitive conditions in immigration holding centres and, in some cases, jails. They spend their days in secure facilities, exposed to guard pat-downs and barbed wire fences, with minimal access to outdoor areas, education and play. They lack healthy food and have sleep difficulties…Research conducted in Canadian immigration detention facilities shows that detained children suffer extreme distress, fear, and a deterioration of cognitive, physical and emotional functioning both during and long after detention, including anxiety, selective mutism, and post-traumatic stress symptoms.”

In visiting the Toronto Immigration Holding Centre on Rexdale Blvd., the contrast between it, as deplorable as I find it, and American facilities is enormous. Detainees have beds, semi-private cubicles, access to showers and an exercise yard and some meagre recreational facilities. The few children have a play area with toys but with barbed wire clearly in sight.

What would the pediatric association say about American facilities that Elizabeth Warren visited in McCallen Texas earlier this week which held immigrants who are cared for, not by Homeland Security, but, ironically, by Health and Human Services? And what about the even larger prison in Port Isabel that she visited afterwards that is advertised as a family reunification centre? The head of the facility told Elizabeth, several times, “that they had no space for children, no way to care for them, and no plans to bring any children to his locked-down complex.”

  1. In the enormous McCallen warehouse, detainees are kept in pods, i.e. cages.
  2. The stench – body odour and fear – hits the second the door is opened.
  3. The cages are too crowded for everyone to lie down at the same time.
  4. There is no shower or sink, only a toilet hidden behind a half wall.
  5. The cages with children who looked shell-shocked were bigger
  6. But they had far more people; girls have their own large cage.
  7. The children had nothing – no books, no toys, no games.
  8. The children did not know where they were or where their parents were.
  9. A few, but very few, had been in contact with their parents.
  10. Calls cost money; the only way to donate money for phone calls requires the donor to know an individual’s ID number for the person receiving the donation. In a classic Catch-22, for privacy reasons, the Department could not release those numbers.

Elizabeth made one very interesting finding. There were mothers breastfeeding babies but no men with children. Why? Lack of space. For the safety of the mother and children. Those were the reasons offered. Incomprehensible! The men were released to the care of a Catholic Agency that would take women and babies, but ICE would not release the latter. The only explanation I can think of is that the women were being held hostage to send a message back to deter new arrivals. Further, as Elizabeth wrote, “Parents are so desperate to be reunited with their children that they may be trading in their legal right to asylum.”

The fact is that Canada houses far fewer detainees, does not generally intentionally hold children in detention, but when it does, the government is at least shame faced and seems determined to end the practice. The conditions are poor but infinitely better than the American facilities.

I must say that I still cannot get over the fact that good people support, or at least apologize for Trump’s policies in this area. And I am thankful that even under the Conservative Harper regime, Canadian detention policies were far less costly, far more humane, were governed by proper principles and, though practice deviated from policy in some cases, by and large on any basis of comparison Canada emerged as a beacon of humanity and responsibility compared to the United States even under Obama. Trump has simply made the situation much, much worse.

With the help of Alex Zysman

Protests: Part II On Positions and Personalities

It is often difficult to know how readers receive my writings. I get too little feedback. When, on rare occasions, I write a blog that strikes a strong positive nerve, I hear from some readers. When the ratio of clickers goes up from the usual norm of just over 30% to over 40% of readers who receive and read this blog, this becomes a clue that I have resonated with readers’ interests. But I always know when a blog pisses off some readers. I really hear from them.

Much to my surprise, my blogs on the American immigration crisis of zero tolerance and separated families upset some readers. That is, they were critical of my blog. I do not know if all were critical since a number of responses from readers disappeared in a rare glitch and I have not been able to find them. One I know was from a reader in Manitoba, and I doubt if she was critical. But it was gone before I could open it up. However, the critical blog responses that I received and the one I reprinted from the reader on the Mexican/Texas border were far more numerous and more widespread than I had anticipated.

The list of complaints included the following:

My bias: a) I am a Bernie Saunders socialist;

  1.    b) I am a hypocrite;
  2. i) I am critical of children trying to penetrate Israel from Gaza but not of Central Americans trying to get into the United States;
  3. ii) I defend the Israeli response that entails shooting children but I criticize the Americans simply for rounding up the illegal entrants in the United States and holding them until they can be deported;

iii) I call President Trump a liar but I do not put the same brand on Prime Minister Trudeau who is as much of a double dealer as his American counterpart if not more so.

Evidence of Canadian hypocrisy:

  1. a) Mayor John Tory’s announcement that Toronto facilities and demands have been overwhelmed with finding housing for asylum claimants;
  2. b) The Prime Minister, an alleged hypocrite writ large, talks big while doing so little; e.g., when Canadian interests count, as in Alberta, he guts his environmentalism to ship oil out of the country and, in the case of refugees, appears as a bleeding heart but, in reality takes in only enough refugees to show he has a big heart.

On America, I am allegedly guilty of:

  1. a) impugning the civility of American border patrol officers
  2. b) impugning the American president unjustly for the American Congress legislates; the president executes laws that are made, so do not blame the president for the imbroglio;

On America compared to Canada: – American detention centres are luxurious compared to the Canadian ones.

Quite a list of indictments! Let me defend myself by answering each in turn.

Am I a Bernie Sanders socialist? That would surprise my youngest two sons who were supporters of Bernie while I was critical in spite of sympathizing with some of his platforms. I was wary of his populism, though not nearly of the same dimension as Trump’s. However, my boys (really grown men) argued that Bernie’s populism was needed to counter Trump’s appeal and he was electable and Hilary was not. In any case, anyone who read my blogs during the American election should know that I was not a supporter of Bernie Sanders. Besides, the point is irrelevant to the debate over the current American president’s immigration policies.

My alleged hypocrisy:

I thought my blogs on the recent Gaza fence war indicated that young children were not used by Gazans as defensive shields. There were boys younger than sixteen throwing rocks, but overwhelmingly those trying to get through the fence were not children at all, and the few that were, were not young ones, though some youngsters were included in the peaceful demonstrations held some distance from the fence.

More importantly, those trying to eliminate the fence between Gaza and Israel had no interest in migrating to Israel; their goal was part of a long term struggle to destroy Israel. The comparison might have been apt if the border crossers at the southern border of the United States were Mexicans rather than Central Americans and their goal was at least to recover the territories they lost to the United States in the American-Mexican War in the nineteenth century. The Central Americans wanted to become U.S. citizens and were fleeing violence in their home countries rather than forming part of the contingent perpetrating violence.

Israel shot those attempting to cross the border while America only arrested them. So the charge against me for hypocrisy went. Are Central Americans a security threat to the United States? President Trump wanted to paint that picture. He described Mexican migrants as smugglers, gangsters and drug pedlars. But more Mexicans then were already going back across the border than crossing. This was one of the successes of NAFTA; it opened up greater prospects for Mexicans. But Trump was elected and he wanted to do away with NAFTA.

Further, though some migrants from the violent countries of Central America had been gang members, the vast majority were definitely not. The crime rate among migrants coming into the United States is lower than that of native born Americans.  More significantly, M13, also known as La Mara Salvatrucha and one of the largest criminal organizations in the United States, was a by-product of the California prison system where M13 was created in the early 1980s. 80% of M13 gang members were born in the U.S., though M13 recruits some members from recent migrants from Central America. M13 is also active in Canada. Most members of M13 are children of families from El Salvador. There is no doubt that M13 is a very dangerous gang well known for its practice of merciless retribution if they are “crossed.”

The effort at branding both the legal asylum claimants and those who cross the border illegally as criminals is merely part of President Trump’s effort at distraction and deception and his effort to stir up the insecurities of his base. In that, he has been successful. In recent polls, his support has dropped, probably because of embarrassment over the separation of families, but not by very much. And not to historic lows. Only to the average approval/disapproval rating of 42/58 that he has “enjoyed” for the past twelve months.

I was also accused of hypocrisy because I called President Trump a liar but I did not paint Prime Minister Trudeau with the same brush who, my reader insisted, is as much of a double dealer as his American counterpart if not more so. I strongly disagree. Donald Trump is a serial liar of extraordinary proportions. There is absolutely no comparison. But this is not the place to be distracted with an examination of claims that Justin Trudeau has misled the Canadian public or whether Canada compares poorly or equally to American efforts in helping refugees. I dealt with this yesterday. Tomorrow I will write about how Canada handles immigration detainees and, in particular, families with children.

I did not deal with Mayor John Tory’s announcement that Toronto facilities and demands have been overwhelmed with finding housing for asylum claimants, That issue only came up later in the day after I sent the blog out. One reader’s complaint that 48% of Toronto hotel spaces are occupied by refugees is utterly outlandish. Mayor Tory was only referring to Toronto’s emergency shelter system and the back-up in student residences. Further, the figure used was a projection. “At the current rate of arrivals, the city projects that refugee claimants will represent nearly 54 per cent of Toronto’s shelter population by November.” Refugees currently occupy 40% of the city’s emergency shelter supply.

In fact, there is already a federal program. Quebec, which has a much larger influx than Ontario, is not complaining; it has a triage system in place. However, Ontario just had an election and the new government will have to partner with the federal government to expand existing facilities or distribute the refugee claimants. I believe John Tory’s announcement was simply a wily and indirect way for one very supportive of refugees to put pressure on the new Ford government.

James Kilgour, the director of the office of emergency management, said that the city’s shelter system has reached its capacity to accommodate new arrivals and the city has activated a protocol to secure contingency housing sites and Red Cross staffing support. Over the last six decades, the city has always had both a compassionate and coordinated approach to waves of refugees. When the Hungarian refugees arrived in 1957, I was managing the student cooperative housing at the University of Toronto. We housed many Hungarian refugees that summer. These days, 800 refugees, 200 of them children, are housed in student dorms. 368 refugee claimants were admitted into Toronto’s emergency shelters over the last two months.

On America, I have never impugned the civility of American border patrol officers. I do not know if they are universally civil, but they have been to me when I cross the border. Further, it is in my self interest not to irritate them lest I get targeted. As far as the claim that the American Congress legislates and the claim that the president executes laws that are made, not quite true in a number of respects.

Law is not just made by legislation. It is also made by regulations and policies introduced by the federal government. This was the case with the ban on migrants from a number of Muslim countries by President Trump. The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, just ruled that such a policy fell within the law as long as the president, whatever his personal beliefs and utterances, did not make any reference to such discrimination (anti-Muslim) in the formal policies and regulations. As U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts opined in casting the deciding vote, if the order itself does not mention Islam, the president’s remarks about the travel ban, and his express intent in imposing it, can be left out of consideration. A further factor justifying the Supreme Court’s decision was deference to presidential authority. According to the ruling, the Court must respect the right of the President, within bounds, to exercise his authority in interpreting law. “In addressing the constitutionality of the order, we must consider not only the statements of a particular President, but also the authority of the Presidency itself.”

That ruling will provide a source for considerable discussion and analysis of legal jurisprudence for years to come. But that is not part of my defence here.

I referred to Jeff Sessions interpreting refugee law as excluding those threatened by murderous gangs from making a refugee claim. That interpretation will be determined by the American courts as to whether it is a valid or whether a policy of separating refugee claimants from their children crosses the laws protecting all children in the U.S. Certainly, if Donald Trump deports asylum claimants without giving them due process and a refugee hearing, he would unequivocally be breaking American law.

On America compared to Canada: – American detention centres are luxurious compared to the Canadian ones. So one reader opined. I did not know my reader had ever visited one. I have. Many, in fact. In Canada and Australia. But not the American ones. I visited the Toronto one many times. Entry is generally restricted to lawyers of the detained, interpretors and academic researchers who obtain permission to interview the detainees. The Toronto detention centre, formally called the Toronto Immigration Holding Centre, is located at 385 Rexdale Blvd. It occupies a refurbished old motel near the racetrack. It has a separate section for mothers with children. The detention centre is surrounded with barbed wire and security guards patrol the halls. Cameras can observe any move of those housed there. Thank goodness, we have very few detention centres.

Tomorrow I will examine Canadian policies on detention and its record in detaining families and children. Readers can then judge whether I or Canadian officials have been hypocritical, and, if so, to what degree.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Part I: On Positions and Personalities

Below, I reprint one critical response that I received to yesterday’s blog “On Boundaries and Borders” dealing with the current antics of the Trump administration on asylum seekers who cross the southern border at legal points and individuals who cross the Mexican-American border illegally, whether in search of asylum or simply a better life. The email is well worth reading. It is from a person who has lived for decades in America on the U.S.-Mexican border. I know her well; she is an intelligent, thoughtful, considerate and humane individual. This is an open reply to her.

She wrote:

“Howard, you present a strong academic argument with regard to the border situation and the boundary situation in the United States. It serves no good function to call our president a liar and wish that he and his supporters were behind walls.

“Our social services are stretched beyond their ability to cope and adding 50,000 new requests a year changes some of the country’s ability to provide for the legal poor in the United States.

“Instead of deciding in court whether or not the United States is a safe third country according to your (my italics) treaty, why don’t the lawyers and immigration advocates ask the Canadian government to take five or 10,000 each month. You can start an airlift similar to what the Israelis did in Yemen and receive these people in a much more humane way if you think what is being done here is inhumane. What you see on the television and read in the paper is not what is happening. I have been at an Immigration center in Tornillo Texas and, although there are some issues, they are doing the best they can with the number of immigrants that they have.

“Why doesn’t Canada do something practical and invite those from Central America to come live there rather than looking at the behavior of the Americans. If it is so objectionable, then do something about it except talk.”

The following points are made:

  1. It serves no purpose to call the president of the U.S. a liar;
  2. It perhaps serves less of a purpose to call for Donald Trump (and his supporters) to be put behind walls.
  3. Texan (and perhaps American) social services are stretched beyond their ability to cope.
  4. Adding 50,000 new requests a year changes the country’s ability to provide for the legal poor in the United States.
  5. Going the legal route in accordance with the Canadian Safe First Country treaty to challenge Trump’s immigration policies is not helpful.
  6. Canada should be asked to take in 5,000 or 10,000 per month.
  7. The media misrepresent what is happening in the reception centres.
  8. The people working in those reception centres, such as the one with which she is personally familiar in Tornillo, Texas, are coping as best they can given the influx of such large numbers.
  9. Canada should walk the talk instead of criticizing Trump.

Let me take each point in turn.

  1. Calling President Trump a Liar

Does it serve any purpose to call the president a liar? Normally, definitely not, even when a politician does tell a lie. The rules of civility should give the politician the benefit of the doubt and simply offer a correction. In the case of Trump, that norm needs to be suspended. Why?

  • Trump repeatedly calls people with whom he disagrees liars, mostly when they are not, and, often, much worse;
  • Trump repeatedly refers to those media outlets with the highest standards of proof checking as “the lying media,” echoing, as The Washington Post has noted, Hitler’s branding of the opposition press in Germany in the 1930’s as the “lűgenpresse,” the lying press.
  • In all discourse, truth is a critical reference point; without truth, it is difficult to have either a civil or a rational discussion;
  • As will be seen in my response, the analysis often depends on getting the facts straight;
  • Calling Trump a liar is a fact, not a judgment; he is a well-documented serial liar; the quantity of lies seems to grow over time – recently, he told ten whoppers in one day. (The quality of both the lies and their quantity have been recorded in both The Washington Post and The New York Times);
  • If there are no common objective reference points, you not only have difficulty expressing differences of interpretation and possible policy options, but you undermine the political process itself by creating suspicion about country and civil society institutions; that, in turn, undermines the democratic polity.
  1. Walling in Trump and his supporters

As everyone should know who reads my blogs and other writings, I despise the common use of shame and humiliation. I believe it is dangerous. Yet, during the past week, Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to leave a restaurant in Virginia (the Red Hen in Lexington), Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was booed at a Mexican restaurant, and Stephen Miller was confronted at another Mexican restaurant. Then we know that the general norms of civility have broken down.

But who initiated the breakdown? Sanders may insist that she tries her “best to treat people, including those I disagree with, respectfully,” but if that were true, who was at the podium in the White House is lying, is being condescending and, following the precedent of her boss, insults others?

When a well-known Trump apologist on Fox News, David Bossie, claimed his fellow Democratic Black panelist, Joel Payne was “out of his cotton-picking mind,” no half-hearted and seemingly insincere apology can make up for such insensitivity. Thankfully, Fox News offered a fulsome apology. “David Bossie’s comments today were deeply offensive and wholly inappropriate. His remarks do not reflect the sentiments of Fox News and we do not in any way condone them.”

Shunning, not engaging in counter insults, is an appropriate response in an effort to wall in serial lying and uncivil behaviour. As the Republican, Ana Navarro, has argued, if “you think the child-separation policy is in a different class — a human rights crime, an inhumane policy for which the public was primed by efforts to dehumanize a group of people (“animals,” “infest,” etc.) — then it is both natural and appropriate for decent human beings to shame and shun the practitioners of such a policy.”

Trump is a dangerous man. His populist approach to politics undermines both institutions and years of worked-out acceptable norms in democratic societies. Conservatives, both the trembling and the brave ones, recognize this. His attitude in substituting fantasy for reality is boundless, and he is in deep need of boundaries, for his own sake, for the sake of the GOP, for the sake of America and for the sake of the world.

  1. Stretching American Social Services

Social services in America are indeed stretched behind the breaking point. But why? Your country spends a fortune incarcerating a far higher percentage of its population than any other Western country. Not only is the jailed person not contributing significantly to the economy; it costs a small fortune to house people this way using the rapidly expanding detention industry in the U.S. The vast majority of those interned are no danger to American communities. Many have been imprisoned for very minor infractions, such as smoking pot, and then for much longer terms than in other Western states.

Secondly, not only are funds diverted from social services to prisons, but Trump, through his tax policies, has put greater pressure on those social services. Third, as we know from all our research on refugees, placing people in detention centres generally does not deter arrivals, though perhaps separating a parent from his child may deter that particular refugee claimant from trying again.  It did Arnovis Guidos Portillo from El Salvador who was deported back to his country without his 7-year-old daughter Meybelin. He said, “I would advise anyone who wants to travel to the United States with their children not to do it. I would never want them to have to walk in my shoes.” He said this even though he has been hunted and persecuted by gang members for two years. Note that under Jeff Sessions’ rule, victims of gang violence are not eligible for refugee status.

Nevertheless. however hard it is to be incarcerated in America, however hard it is to be incarcerated with your children, however even harder it is to be both incarcerated and separated from your children, it is far worse to have to live in fear of your and your children’s lives under the terror regimes of both governments and gangsters. Finally, there are proven far better and far less costly ways of ensuring that the vast majority of refugee claimants turn up for their hearings than incarcerating them. Even under the existing punitive regime, 75% do appear. With tested better models, 94% will; the vast majority of asylum claimants need not be in detention centres.

  1. Helping Refugees versus Helping the American Poor

The claim is made that there is a conflict between helping the deserving American poor and providing support and assistance to refugees. If that were true, why do regimes which take the most away from support for refugees also take the most support away from the deserving poor? Why do regimes that provide reasonable support for refugees, at far less cost to the economy than the American punitive system, also provide greater support for their working poor than the U.S.?

To be continued

 

On Boundaries and Borders

 A border may be a boundary around a country, but a boundary need not be a border. Whatever the high degree of overlap between the two notions, they are not the same. But they seem identical. A dictionary or thesaurus often defines one in terms of the other to treat the two terms as equivalent. A boundary does indicate a border; but it also marks the limits of an area. That provides a hint about the difference. A border exists between entities. A boundary surroundsan entity. A border by nature divides. A boundary looks from the inside towards the edge.

What philosophic nitpicking and seeming nonsense! Is it? A hem forms the border of a skirt. But it does not form a skirt’s boundary. The border sharply defines the difference between the edge of the skirt and the legs of a woman. We have high borders or hems for mini-skirts and low-borders or hems for maxis. But we do not have high or low boundaries of skirts. A boundary ties together and unites. A border separates and divides. Donald Trump is unboundaried. But he is obsessed with strong borders.

His capacity to lie recognizes no limits. A boundary provides an abstract limitation to a sphere of activity. A border is concrete, literally no more concrete than when a wall is used as the dividing line. A border forms the outer limit to define a boundary. However, a border has a different role even when the line is exactly the same demarcation.

This week I received an email from Josh Biziak of the Broadbent Foundation asking me to sign a petition requesting that the Liberal Government of Canada rescind the safe third country agreement (SCTA) between the U.S. and Canada. Provoked by the Trump administration practice of separating children from their parents and incarcerating them in separate facilities, Amanda DiPaola, an Associate Professor at St. Thomas University, in an op-ed in The Globe and Mail earlier this week urged the same thing.

This petition was referred to me by two readers who asked for my input.  The point of the petition seemed to be political – to send a message that the U.S. is not a safe country. Why? Because it incarcerates children who accompany their parents. No. Because America separated those children from their parents and incarcerated them in a different facility, often hundreds or even thousands of miles away. The Department of Homeland Security does not even tell most of the parents where their children are or how they can be reached.

The SCTA between Canada and the U.S., as part of the so-called U.S.-Canada Smart Border Action Plan introduced in December 2002 and first implemented two years later, is administered by the Canada Border Services Agency, CBSA. (Note: not the Canada Boundary Services Agency.) The law requires a refugee asylum claimant, with some exceptions (where the best interest of a child is involved, in cases of unaccompanied minors, or where family reunification is at issue), to request asylum first in the U.S. The U.S. is the only country Canada has declared to be a Safe Third Country on the grounds that America has signed both the Refugee and the anti-Torture Conventions and treats asylum claimants in accordance with UNHCR principles. The real reason that America is the only Safe Third Country is because all refugee claimants crossing a land border come via the U.S.

But the law also does a second thing. If an asylum claimant arrives at a Canadian border and does not fall within any of the exceptions, that individual will be sent back to America to wait until Canada is ready to hear the claim. And that time may be too late. The American government may have detained or deported the potential refugee claimant. That is why these claimants cross our border with the U.S. at unmanned places. Then they can apply for refugee protection within Canada and not at the border. Even when the border is at an airport, it is a line of demarcation between the legal political authorities of the two countries; it is not a boundary. In such cases, the SCTA acts to channel asylum claimants to cross illegally into Canada.

That, however, is not the ostensible reason that the Broadbent Institute has asked me to sign the petition. Josh Biziak wants to send a message at this time that Canadians no longer consider America to be a safe third country because the U.S. no longer meets the required standards protecting human rights and, presumably, because the system of separation of powers enshrined by the constitution, in particular, Article I, are no longer in working order.

George F. Will, the erudite conservative writer, excoriated Congressional Republicans for betraying their responsibilities under the Constitution. He declared that this cowering congressional congress had allowed those Constitutional requirements to become dormant, letting its muscular powers atrophy through sloth and timidity by making common cause with the Vesuvius of mendacities. Republican congress members had become the president’s poodles motivated by abject careerism as they prostrated themselves to placate this would-be authoritarian and become his toadies in return for lower taxes.

Though widely reported as 2,300 incarcerated, the actual number of detained children separated from their parents – including not only parents who crossed the border illegally (a misdemeanor at worst), but also those who entered the U.S. at a legal crossing and claimed refugee status, is much larger. Those taken elsewhere to be interned in an American facility, including unaccompanied minors, exceeds 14,000. American law provides that minors cannot be interned for more than 20 days. Since May, the Trump government and its Department of Justice have snubbed their noses at established American law, ostensibly in the name of defending the sanctity of American law.

Why? Not because the U.S. government wants to punish the children, though that is what it is doing by the policy, but because it wants to use the action of separation as a way of deterring new arrivals. After all, the numbers crossing the border now averages 50,000 per month. The new so-called Executive Order only postpones the separation of children from parents and does nothing to reunite children with their parents or release unaccompanied minors. The U.S. is indeed engaged in cruel and unusual punishment of innocent children.

Whether their parents were or were not irresponsible in escaping the violent conditions in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala in bringing their children to the U.S. is beside the point, even though it is almost self-evident that these immigrants from Central America made the trek in most cases to gain a better and more secure life for those children. This issue is unequivocally a red herring. The problem is not whether some of the parents are guilty of a misdemeanor, but whether the U.S. blatantly disregards human rights norms and breaks its own laws, traumatizing children in the process, including some infants still being breastfed.

The argument is that Canada cannot allow economic self-interest and the troubling trade negotiations over NAFTA to undermine morality and law. Canada cannot allow the motivation to stand up to American bullying on a matter of such important principle. Heartbreaking pictures and the sounds of inconsolable children crying must not only move our hearts but our policies as well. Further, the latest imbroglio over whimsical and self-destructive American policies dates back much earlier and even precedes the totally insensitive actions of the current U.S. government.

At a court hearing scheduled for January, a Canadian judge will hear the charge brought against the Canadian government over the SCTA by the Canadian Council for Refugees, the Canadian Council of Churches and Amnesty International. The U.S. has for a very long time not been a Safe Third Country, not only because of its detention policy, not only because asylum claimants in the U.S. have far less access to an experienced immigration lawyer who can help them put their case forward, but because, under the policy of “expedited removal,” asylum seekers have been sent back to Mexico without a hearing and without taking them to court for their misdemeanor offences. The complainants can not only show that very few of these cases involve members of murderous gangs, smugglers, rapists and drug cartel operatives, contrary to the presidential propaganda, but that, certainly in the case of Guatemala refugee claimants, very few claimants are successful in America whereas in Canada, the majority of claims are accepted. In the last three years, about two-thirds of asylum seekers in Canada received positive decisions. (For a primer on Central American migration to Canada and the U.S., read my colleague Allan Simmons’ article on “Central Americans in Canada.”)

https://ir.lib.uwo.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://ca.search.yahoo.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1003&context=mer

The Trump administration not only uses and abuses Congress and walks all over standing moral and legal norms, but has assumed the role of the judiciary in declaring that victims of gang violence and domestic abuse cannot be grounds for a refugee claim. Canadians cannot be comforted by the fact that claimants from Central America have fallen from 2,479 in April to 1,775 crossing into Quebec, the major entry point for those who cross into Canada illegally, even though temporary protected status in the U.S. has been removed from Salvadorans, Hondurans and Haitians. Canada only holds children in detention centres for short periods of time and never by deliberately separating children from their parents to make a political point.

Has the time come, is this the Alan Kurdi moment, when Canadians awake from their indifferent stupor and say enough is enough? Do we declare the Safe Third Country dead? Was it enough that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the U.S. separation policies?

We can reject the American policies. We can ask the Canadian government to change the STCA, as Canadian lawyers urged the Canadian government to do over twenty months ago following Trump’s ill-advised move to ban members of specifically-named countries from entry into the U.S. Trump Executive Order 13769 banned travel from seven African and Middle East countries and suspended the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. That proposition demanding an end to SCTA was pushed by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, the Association québécoise des avocats en droit de l’immigration, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, 200 law professors and both the Canadian Council for Refugees and Amnesty International. In spite of concurrence by all three opposition parties, the Canadian government chose not to act. It was American law that intervened to gut the Trump initiative.

It must be noted that Canada receives less than 1,700  asylum claimants per month on average from the U.S., even during this time of extreme distress, compared to the 50,000 received per month on the U.S. southern border. Our actions should not be determined by self-righteousness. Nor by revenge to score moral points against the U.S. for its punitive and unjust tariffs. Nor should we be motivated by contempt for America’s king of mendacity, Donald Trump. I think we should be motivated by the following in order of priority:

1.    What is best for the refugee claimants;

2.    What is best for the rule of law.

3.    What is best for the anti-Trump polity in the U.S. in the war against the Trump administration

I do not think what Canadians say or do will have much, if any, effect on the Trump regime, perhaps only make Trump more contemptuous in his treatment of Canada. He is and will remain a lying bully. What happens in America now depends on the American polity. There is a very important election in just over four months. Donald Trump in his Nevada speech yesterday “embraced hard-line immigration policies as a centerpiece of the Republican Party’s midterm campaign strategy.” (Washington Post) “Strong borders; no crime.” Yesterday, Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, currently running for re-election and reputedly a moderate on immigration policy, continued to display his lack of backbone and instead demonstrate his obsequious bowing before Trump triumphalism in contrast to his 2016 claims that Trump denigrated human beings.

Trump needs to be penned in and a defensive border put around him that will squeeze him into inaction and possible resignation. He is incapable of being bound by moral norms. His professed concern for the immigrant children is the ultimate in insincerity and self-contradiction. His policies have been upturned before. However, for the first time during his presidency, he has been forced to reverse course, even if that reversal was as heartless as the original policy.

The Trump regime is a menace to refugees everywhere, to Americans, to Canadians and to the rest of the world. If I thought signing the petition would help refugees, if I thought that it would change American government behaviour just one whit, I would sign. However, no matter how just I believe the petition to be, even long before the Trump administration took office, the most important goal at this key turning point in the American presidency is placing the greatest effort on building a wall around Trump’s power while avoiding antagonizing and stirring up the irrational fear of immigrants that Trump has stoked among the American populace.

It is a difficult and subtle balancing act. While our hearts are bleeding, it is even more important to focus on a goal. Unless I become convinced that the repeal of the STCA, as much as it may benefit refugees over the long term, will help put Trump and his cohorts behind a high and strong wall, I opt for strategic thinking over moral purity.