“It Only Happens to Mexicans” (Or How Not to Frame a Critique of the Immigration Policy)

I’ll start off by saying that I like Dan Rodricks. He’s an okay guy. He may be a little hard to follow on some of his arguments, but he generally means well. So I was a little bit surprised to read his latest opinion piece for The Baltimore Sun. In it, he tells us the story of a British academic from Johns Hopkins University who was unable to continue her work at the university because of the immigration policies of the Trump Administration.

The only problem I, and a few Mexican friends of mine, had is the way that Mr. Rodricks framed the discussion from the get go:

“Last month, when it became clear that Tamsyn Mahoney-Steel would have to leave her job at Johns Hopkins University and return to England, the reaction of several friends and colleagues was uncannily the same: “I thought this only happened to Mexicans.””

Uh… What?

The opinion article tells us the story of Dr. Mahoney-Steel and how the H-1B visa was denied just when her academic career was getting good at Hopkins, and how the university was not very strong in their reaction to how she was treated and eventually deported. (Though “deported” is kind of a strong word in that she wasn’t forcefully removed from the country, or separated from her children… From what I’ve read.)

Here’s the final part of the opinion article:

“Mahoney-Steel found that last claim by Tabb “galling,” adding the distinctly British modifier “somewhat,” and remarking that “sometimes you have to laugh at the absurdities of life.” She says she has been buoyed by the kindness of her American friends and colleagues, who surely must understand by now that this kind of lousy thing does not happen “only to Mexicans.””

Again… What?

The reason I keep asking “what?” is because this issue — immigration — is a very, very sensitive issue with immigrants from Latin America in general and Mexico in particular. We’ve been made to feel like we don’t belong here, or even in places where our ancestors existed way before the Europeans arrived, like Texas and New Mexico. So to hear someone say that they’re surprised that a British academic was “deported” and that they thought it only happened “to Mexicans” is, well, offensive.

It’s like someone is saying that deportations and discrimination in immigration proceedings happening to Mexicans is part of the plan. But, when it happens to a British academic then we must do something. Then it’s appalling. Then it’s a problem.

Of course, I don’t think that this is what Mr. Rodricks intended. That’s just not how he rolls. He’s more Left-of-Center than that. But, man, it hit a nerve.

I think that the thesis of his opinion article was more of like: “Don’t ignore the immigration policies of the Trump Administration because it seems that only a certain segment of the population is being affected. Everyone is being affected.” Because writing it the way he did, it’s almost as if writing about homicides he’d write that homicides happen “only to Black people.”

Know what I mean?

Here’s what others are saying about this:

Dr. Collado-Torres: Problems with an article from the Baltimore Sun covering Dr. Mahoney-Steel’s immigration issues

Domestic Threats to Public Health in the United States

True story.

If you’ve been watching the news, you might have noticed that something interesting is going in Italy. They just had a general election, and their results were very interesting. This is from The Atlantic:

“Anyone who’s spent more than a vacation in Italy knows it’s a country with deep reserves of discontent, economic stagnation, and political dysfunction. So the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement, which promises universal basic income and says it wants to clean up politics, and the right-wing League party, which made immigration and economic anxiety central issues, had plenty of anger to tap into ahead of Sunday’s national elections. And then they became the biggest winners, with more than half of the electorate between them.

The people have spoken. But what are they saying? There are two main ways to read the results, and both have major consequences for Europe. One—and this is entirely new—is that one of the three pillar countries of the European Union now effectively has a euroskeptical majority in parliament; both Five Star and the League have called for rewriting treaties with Europe to give Italy more sovereignty. (Although it’s a big question whether they would team up to form a government; the election results have produced a hung parliament.) The second is that voters are punishing Italy’s governing elites—Renzi’s Democratic Party, but also Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party—for overseeing the country’s decline.”

But there is also a public health component to the outcome of this election. From Time Magazine:

“Just over two years later that debate has gone from an online feud to a live political issue in the Italian general election due on March 4. As skepticism about vaccines has become widespread in Italy, so-called “anti-vaxxers” have become a voting bloc for the populist parties vying for votes. As a result, two of the leading populist parties — the far-right League (formerly the Northern League) and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (5SM) — have pledged, if elected, to scrap a law passed in July that made ten vaccinations compulsory for children under the age of 16. If they do, health experts warn it could be a huge step backwards in the global fight for children’s health.”

And why would that be a bad thing? From The New York Times:

“Measles cases soared in Europe last year, and at least 35 children died of the highly infectious disease, according to the World Health Organization. The virus found its way into pockets of unvaccinated children all over the continent, from Romania to Britain. The number of recorded cases quadrupled, to 21,315 in 2017 from 5,273 in 2016, a record low.

The biggest outbreak last year was in Romania, where there were 5,562 cases and which accounted for most of the deaths. The country’s large rural Roma population — also known as Gypsies — often do not vaccinate their children and may not take them to hospitals promptly when they fall ill. The country also has an underfunded public health system.

The second biggest outbreak was in Italy, with 5,006 cases and three deaths; 88 percent of those cases were in people never vaccinated, and another 7 percent in people who had not had all the recommended doses, the European Center for Prevention and Disease Control said.”

So, seeing what happened in Italy, can we look at the United States and see where similar threats of public health are allying themselves with political discontent? I’m looking at you, Texas… From The Daily Beast:

“And then there’s the anti-vaxxer stuff. LaHood, whose son has autism, has appeared at anti-vaxxer conferences, using his district attorney title as proof of credibility. And in a promotional video for the anti-vaxxer movie Vaxxed, LaHood says: “I’m Nico LaHood. I’m the criminal district attorney in San Antonio, Texas. I’m here to tell you that vaccines can and do cause autism.”

Asked about his views at the Feb. 8 debate, LaHood said they were based on “a personal belief” based on “what my wife and I go through medically.” After his son developed autism, “we have an opinion of how that happened.”

In reality, there is absolutely no evidence that vaccines cause autism, and all major medical associations and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have affirmed the safety and necessity of vaccines. The one study that spawned the anti-vaxxer conspiracy has been debunked and retracted. Since it was published, 17 studies performed in seven countries on three continents involving hundreds of thousands of children have found that its hypothesis had been wrong. Meanwhile, parents refusing to vaccinate their children have led to outbreaks of measles across the U.S.

Now, as a district attorney, LaHood’s views on vaccines don’t come into play very often. Then again, some would say that science is not a matter of “personal belief,” and that subscribing to an anti-scientific conspiracy theory, even as a result of personal trauma, is relevant to how a prosecutor evaluates evidence.”

Mr. LaHood would eventually lose the primary, but he’s not the only candidate with anti-vaccine views.

It’s not just anti-vaccine politicians that are a threat to public health. (Or, rather, the policies they would pursue would be a threat.) You also have the candidates who oppose laws favoring safer guns, helmets while riding motorcycles or bicycles, pollution regulations to stave off global climate change, etc. There are very smart and/or very charismatic people vying for political office right now who are not afraid to throw out the science and evidence and go with their gut or with popular sentiment.

I worry also about the demonization of immigrants coming to the United States. There are, of course, hundreds of “news” stories about immigrants bringing diseases into the purity of our country. Never mind that measles cases are being brought in by US residents who travel abroad and are not vaccinated, for the most part. Never mind that children from “third world” countries are well-vaccinated, or that refugees escaping war are well-screened for infectious diseases as part of the process of coming into the United States.

Unfortunately, it’s not just the anti-immigration people in this country who are focused on public health threats from abroad. Back in 2009, everyone expected the next influenza pandemic to come from Asia in the form of avian (bird) influenza. A scientist at CDC told us at a conference that she expected the next pandemic to be swine flu from North America. Guess what? It was swine flu from Mexico, and the first cases were found in Texas and California.

When the Ebola epidemic was going on in West Africa, how many news reports pushed the possibility of cases landing in the United States and killing us all? How many politicians overreacted to those speculations and ordered American citizens into quarantine upon their return from helping save lives in West Africa? Meanwhile, that winter, between 3,000 and 49,000 people would die from influenza in the United States.

I mean, if you just look at the tables for the top causes of death in the United States, threats from abroad are not really anywhere near those lists. We are dealing with hundreds of thousands of deaths a year from heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and suicide. Terrorist attacks? Yeah, there’s been a few, but none of them have come close to killing as many people as sedentary lifestyles and high-fat diets have.

Can you imagine if screeners at the airports stopped overweight and obese people and called them a threat to our public health? Or if cops came after you for smoking? And what if we forced the elderly to do puzzles all day and get plenty of exercise to stop Alzheimer’s? Or we forcibly medicated anyone and everyone who suffered from suicidal ideations? How many excess deaths would we prevent?

I know. I ask too many questions. But did you notice what all of those things have in common? They’re all things that we as individuals do to ourselves. Or, rather, there is the perspective that we do it to ourselves. No one is forcing us to sit for hours and eat unhealthy meals, but we can’t help it sometimes (or many times). Maybe Big Sugar and Big Fast Food haven’t gotten around to sending us political communiques as they threaten us with fatness, so we don’t consider them as enemies.

I’ve noticed this tendency to look out at the world with fear at the school of public health as well. There is a series of events coming up for “Public Health Practice” week, and a lot of the discussions and presentations are about what is going on outside the United States, particularly in areas with armed conflicts. The closest thing I’ve seen to a domestic issue is hurricane relief for Puerto Rico, and, even then, some students are not aware that Puerto Rico is a US Territory.

My sincere hope is not that we turn public health in the United States into some nationalistic version of what it is now. “America First” is just as hazardous to our health as focusing only on threats from beyond our borders. But there is something to be said about panicking over a physician or nurse coming back from helping out in West Africa and getting the sniffles instead of panicking over thousands of people who will needlessly die each winter because we can’t come up with a better influenza vaccine and/or because not enough people get the flu vaccine when they need to.

Photo by Internet Archive Book Images on Foter.com / No known copyright restrictions

You’re Angry at the Wrong People

It’s very common for xenophobic people to say something like, “Illegals are taking are jobs.” They don’t care if it’s true or not because truth is not the primary aim of the xenophobe or the racist. Their primary aim is to get people angry at undocumented immigrants and then let the hate do the heavy lifting. Lately, the same people that say things like these are also saying that the economy is so much better now than during the Obama Administration, with low unemployment and higher consumer confidence.

So, which is it? Either “illegals” are taking jobs, or there are more jobs than ever. Again, honesty and critical thinking are not the goals of those who would vilify and entire group of people for political gain. It’s a tried and true political maneuver by those without vision to find scapegoats and to play on the fears of the people.

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When you dig into the facts of undocumented immigrants and jobs, you find that the overwhelming majority of jobs done by undocumented immigrants are jobs that sit idle without them. According to the Brookings Institute:

“According to a comprehensive National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine analysis, immigration does not significantly impact the overall employment levels of most native–born workers. The impact of immigrant labor on the wages of native–born workers is also low. Immigrant labor does have some negative effects on the employment and wages of native–born high school dropouts, however, and also on prior immigrants, because all three groups compete for low–skilled jobs and the newest immigrants are often willing to work for less than their competition. To a large extent, however, undocumented workers often work the unpleasant, back–breaking jobs that native–born workers are not willing to do. Sectors with large numbers of undocumented workers include agriculture, construction, manufacturing, hospitality services, and seafood processing. The fish–cutting industry, for example, is unable to recruit a sufficient number of legal workers and therefore is overwhelmingly dependent on an undocumented workforce. Skinning, deboning, and cutting fish is a smelly, slimy, grimy, chilly, monotonous, and exacting job. Many workers rapidly develop carpal tunnel syndrome. It can be a dangerous job, with machinery for cutting off fish heads and deboning knives everywhere frequently leading to amputated fingers. The risk of infections from cuts and the bloody water used to wash fish is also substantial. Over the past ten years, multiple exposés have revealed that both in the United States and abroad, workers in the fishing and seafood processing industries, often undocumented in other countries also, are subjected to forced labor conditions, and sometimes treated like slaves.”

So I guess Trump wants to bring back slavery? Kind of? Yes?

What is really happening here is that you — my most conservative of friends — are angry at the wrong people. You’re angry at Juan and Ramón for traveling hundreds of miles under the most horrifying of conditions and getting a job as a slave instead of being angry at the fat, happy and rich dudes at the top of the financial food chain who play fast and loose with other people’s money. It was neither Juan nor Ramón, nor Juanita, who sold sub-prime loans to people with very bad credit to the point of crashing the economy in 2008. None of them had any say in Walmart recently firing hundreds and closing down stores all over the place.

Speaking of which, did you notice that the president congratulated himself for Walmart giving out bonuses under the guise that the recent tax plan allowed them to do so, but said nothing about Walmart continuing to sell a ton of stuff from not-America? Weird, huh?

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Yeah, okay. Not selling American is Walmart’s least of its problems.

Nah, man… You’re angry at the wrong people. Congress had a chance to fix immigration back during the Bush Administration, but they didn’t because they couldn’t come to terms on their differences and do something good for the country. Even after the Republican President had asked Congress to fix immigration, and the Democrats controlled both the Senate and the Housethey still couldn’t get it done. So here we are, ten years later, dealing with immigration again. But, yeah, get angry at Pedro and María and little Carlito.

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No, don’t get angry with Carlito.

And I’m also looking at you, my most liberal of friends. You’re all angry at Trump and his supporters, and you can’t fathom how people voted for him to get him elected. But you ignore the decades that people in the Rust Belt and Appalachia were ignored and even laughed at for wanting something to be done about their declining situation. “Those hillbillies,” you seemed to say. “Look at them not using their white privilege.”

“But, Ren, didn’t you also not fathom how people could possibly vote for a racist misogynist with a history of bad financial decisions?” you ask.

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And, like a big boy, I’ll admit that I was angry at the wrong people. Instead of being angry at the previous administration and the many different state administrations that misappropriated the funds during the recovery so that not everyone benefited, I was angry at people who, understandably, voted for a racist misogynist with a history of bad financial decisions. If you really think about it, the economic downturn and the recovery was the perfect opportunity for the Democrats to finish off the insurgency within the Republican Party and show that the Tea Party offshoot cult, er, branch of the Republican Party were really all nuts. Obama and friends and friends could have tried to pass legislation to benefit the poor and disadvantaged Americans who would eventually vote for Trump. Even if the Tea Partiers blocked such efforts, Hillary and friends and friends could have pointed to such efforts in 2016 and asked for more help in helping others.

But no. The economic recovery ended up leaving a ton of people behind, and they were not going to buy what any Democratic candidate was selling given how Obama didn’t work so well for them. Then you had Hillary Clinton, who wouldn’t let Trump hoist himself by his own petard, make one elitist misstep after another. However, in doing so, we got what can very well turn out to be the most ineffective and embarrassing president in history.

I mean, you know it’s bad when Trump makes you miss Bush 43, a president who took us into Iraq under false pretenses.

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Okay.

What the adults in the country need to do is to sit down and think hard about who — or what — is really at fault for “what is wrong with America.” Is it Hector and Esteban who traveled hundreds of miles at great peril to be treated as slaves? Is it gay and lesbian Americans who ask that they be treated as equals and not as lepers because of whom they happen to be attracted to? Is it Black Americans who ask that their people not be summarily executed by police during not-so-random traffic stops?

Or is it super-wealthy business executives who pay through the nose so that favorable legislation gets passed for them? Is it the college coach who gets paid millions while so many young men and women cannot afford higher education? Is it the drug dealer who sells opiates and other life-ending drugs to the most vulnerable? Or is it the “association” that fights hard for the rights of guns to be unsafe while mass shootings kill children and suicides pile up?

It’s okay to be angry, but it’s better to be angry at the right people.

Immigration, Again

Slavery is “America’s Original Sin,” without a doubt. I think the way that the United States governments since Independence have treated immigrants is a close second. Time after time, the country seemed to settle on what being “American” was, and then the country rejected anyone not fitting the description until it was necessary to re-define the definition.

The first post-independence wave of immigrants came in the early 1800s, and those immigrants were from eastern Europe and Ireland. The Irish immigrants left a very bad famine in search for survival in America. According to the History Channel:

“Another major wave of immigration occurred from around 1815 to 1865. The majority of these newcomers hailed from Northern and Western Europe. Approximately one-third came from Ireland, which experienced a massive famine in the mid-19th century. In the 1840s, almost half of America’s immigrants were from Ireland alone. Typically impoverished, these Irish immigrants settled near their point of arrival in cities along the East Coast. Between 1820 and 1930, some 4.5 million Irish migrated to the United States.”

Later, in the same century, “…the United States received some 5 million German immigrants. Many of them journeyed to the present-day Midwest to buy farms or congregated in such cities as Milwaukee, St. Louis and Cincinnati. In the national census of 2000, more Americans claimed German ancestry than any other group.”

In the west, Asian immigrants also arrived in large numbers, helping in the expansion of the country from sea to shining sea. But the “Americans” were having none of it:

“The influx of newcomers resulted in anti-immigrant sentiment among certain factions of America’s native-born, predominantly Anglo-Saxon Protestant population. The new arrivals were often seen as unwanted competition for jobs, while many Catholics–especially the Irish–experienced discrimination for their religious beliefs. In the 1850s, the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic American Party (also called the Know-Nothings) tried to severely curb immigration, and even ran a candidate, former U.S. president Millard Fillmore (1800-1874), in the presidential election of 1856.”

If those anti-immigration arguments sound familiar, it’s because they are being echoed today by modern anti-immigration groups and individuals. It’s always “they’re taking our jobs” along with underlying racist dog whistles of Mexicans being rapists, Muslims not wanting to assimilate to our culture, and Africans being backwards people. Of course, the reality is much different. The vast majority of immigrants from predominantly non-white or non-Christian (Protestant) countries are not criminals. They are very productive, and — after the Clinton Administration signed into law a welfare reform bill back in the 1990s — do not overburden social welfare systems because they are not allowed by law to be helped by those systems… At least not the systems funded by federal dollars.

So here we are today, arguing over immigration and “immigration reform” again, like we did last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. Legislators on the Right keep arguing for strict enforcement of existing laws on immigration, a near-militarization of the US border with (and only with) Mexico, and a denial of any kind of benefit to illegal immigrants and their families. The most radical right-wingers want the courts to reinterpret the US Constitution as it relates to who is a citizen and even who deserves equal protection under the law.

On the Left, legislators keep arguing for some form of amnesty or “regularization” of everyone who is here illegally. They want to fix the problems abroad that cause people to pick up en masse and make the dangerous trip to the United States. And they want children and young adults who were brought here illegally by their parents to be allowed to stay and begin a path toward citizenship. The more radical left-wingers want open borders and policies that welcome everyone and anyone into the country.

Like all things, the best solutions fall somewhere in the middle of the political spectrum. There is no doubt that a secure border is necessary. We are living in a time when there is a real threat of a terrorist or a terrorist cell to make its way across the border and do some damage to innocent people. Is a wall the best solution? Probably not, from a fiscal and physical point of view. Walls can be breached. People can jump over them one way or another. Walls are expensive, and the money and other resources to build them would best be used to solve other issues that lead to illegal immigration. Still, the Border Patrol and other agencies along our borders (plural) need to be well funded and supported.

Most undocumented immigrants are here because they overstayed their visas, so there needs to be a way to verify that someone who enters for a pre-determined amount of time leaves when that time is up. Now, if they are here because they are escaping violence or persecution back home, the immigration courts need to listen to their please. Unfortunately, immigration courts are backlogged in a severe way right now, and many people end up getting deported before they can argue their case before a judge. So those resources not spent on a wall need to be spent on getting immigration courts working again.

Another big challenge is the drug trade. Because America is so addicted, a lot of drug cartels in Latin America and Asia are willing to inflict a lot of damage to people over there so we can get high over here. That makes people want to leave and go to places that are at peace and where they can prosper. For Europe, those immigrants are now leaving North Africa and parts of the Middle East. For the United States, those immigrants are now leaving Central America and parts of Mexico and South America. Dry up the cash for the cartels, and they are not able (or willing) to shoot it out with police, extort the population, or employ drug mules to bring drugs over the border.

That cash can be dried up by having a smart drug policy in the United States. People addicted to drugs are given help and opportunities to get sober. Economic and social policies are put in place to keep people from needing drugs to escape reality. Recreational use of drugs is decriminalized and taxed. People are not thrown away in jail for many years for having small quantities of drugs for personal use. Do these things and others, and do them well, and the drug cartels go broke. Farmers can then go back to growing food for people instead of marijuana, coca and poppies for billionaire drug lords.

But perhaps the most complicated issue when it comes to illegal immigration — the one thing we probably will not be able to overcome — is the divisiveness between the Left and the Right. Most on each side of the political spectrum believe that the other side is completely wrong, completely insane, completely un-American, or something like that. They’re not willing to compromise or even talk to each other. And it doesn’t seem like they will anytime soon.

So I’m willing to bet good money that next year we’ll be talking about immigration again.

What Do I Tell My Child?

The podcast This American Life had a very interesting episode the other day. It was called “Fear and Loathing in Homer and Rockville.” The podcast dealt with the topic of immigration when immigration had nothing to do with the problem perceived by the subjects of the podcast. Or, rather, immigration was seen as the cause of the problems being seen by the subjects.

In Homer, Alaska, the city council proposed a resolution calling Homer a city that was welcoming of immigrants. They thought this would be a good way to oppose the xenophobic speech and executive orders from that ill-conceived lab experiment we have for a president. Well, it turned out to be a divisive issue even though Homer doesn’t really have any kind of outside immigration. It’s just too far away from anything to have an influx of immigrants. In the end, and after a lot of fighting, the city dropped the resolution.

The reporter in the podcast asked one of Homer’s residents why he opposed the resolution. The resident, a man by the name of Ben, explained that he wanted to research the issue. In doing so, he ended up going to right-wing, nationalist sources whose numbers were a little skewed. That is, they were reporting the correct numbers, but they were not putting those numbers in context. For example, they said that over 400,000 additional crimes had been committed by immigrants in Germany over the previous year. However, the grand majority of those crimes were the crime of entering Germany illegally, not the crimes that we are often told about immigrants, like raping and pillaging.

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In the end, after speaking to a reporter who lives and works in Germany, and after having the numbers be put into context, Ben felt that he was misinformed (if not lied to) by the far-right, nationalist sources he found online. He felt that he was wrong in reaching the conclusion that he did, but he still feels that his city needed to be careful in who they invite to immigrate to them.

The second half of the podcast was about an incident at a high school in Rockville, Maryland. A 14 year-old girl had a sexual encounter in a bathroom at the school, at 9am, with two boys, one age 17 and the other age 18. The boys were illegal immigrants from Central America, and all three were in the 9th grade. (Don’t ask me how or why a 17 and an 18 year-old are in the 9th grade.) At first, the story was reported as an outright rape. Right wing blogs and Fox News talking heads grabbed the story and ran with it as a clear sign that immigrants are rampant throughout the United States. Later, the charges were dropped against the boys when it was found out that the girl had a relationship with one, that she was not forced into the bathroom with them, and when other witnesses came through to show that the girl had made up some — if not all — of her story.

(This doesn’t in any way excuse what happened. A 14 year-old cannot give consent in Maryland, so the boys were charged with lesser charges.)

Even after the true story came out, there were plenty of phone calls, emails and letters loaded with violent language against the school administration and others surrounding the case. The threats came from people angry that illegal immigrants had done this. As one girl in the podcast puts it, she had to be afraid of boys in the school because of what happened and people looking to shoot and kill immigrants because of what happened. Her fear was palpable.

To cap it all off, Ann Coulter, a known far-right loon, was interviewed. She didn’t see anything wrong with the threats of violence over the rape allegations. She said the people threatening violence were just tired Americans, tired of having to deal with “backwards” civilizations, and something about knives and forks. (I’m not kidding you. She said that the lack of use of knives and forks was some indicator of backwardness.)

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Look at this savage!

At the end of the podcast, we had a town without immigrants but with plenty of citizens worrying themselves sick over immigrants. Not only that, they became angry at each other over an immigration resolution, and some of them drank the koolaid offered by right-wing nationalists about immigrants being rapists, murderers and thieves. We also had a number of adults threatening violence against school administrators and students in Rockville over the sexual encounters of three teens. (Or, rather, a girl, a boy, and a young man.)

Also at the end of the podcast, I was left with a lot of questions. My main question was what to tell my child? How to I teach them to deal with bigotry and hate? As a half-Mexican child in what promises to be an almost all-white part of America, The Child will stand out. Perhaps there will be other reasons why they’ll stand out as well, as my wife and I did because of our interests, intellect, and senses of humor.

I haven’t figured out, but I’ll probably go with this:

Yeah, okay, maybe.

My wife had the best advice on this so far. She said that I am going to have to teach The Child how to deal with people who are angry and hateful by modeling the proper behavior. If The Child sees me stay calm and be reasonable, they will stay calm and be reasonable when they encounter that kind of evil themselves.

So I have to stay calm and reasonable, even in the face of some very hideous people out there… Even in the face of our very own president.

To My Most Conservative Friend

Look, I get it. Your formative years happened at a time when things were a little bit different in this country. When you were growing up, gays were not allowed in the military, and they certainly were not allowed to get married. (Or, if they did find a church to marry them, that marriage meant nothing in the eyes of the law.) You also grew up going hunting with dad and pop-pop, and they taught you a love of guns rivaled only by your love of God.

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And your love of bikinis.

You grew up in the time or Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton and Bush Jr, the good times. That’s when America was top in the world at everything. We went over to Iraq and kicked Saddam Hussein’s ass in a matter of hours. Then we did it again in 2003 and did it in a matter of days. Sure, Clinton was a “libtard” (as you call Liberals, yet use “Liberals” as a pejorative as well), but at least he was from the South, he opposed people openly gay serving in the military, and he had a strong Republican Congress to contend with. He was kept in check.

Rush Limbaugh was the dude your parents and maybe a younger you listened to. As you came of age, you moved into a more refined diet of InfoWars and Breitbart, people who understood you and your fear of Muslims. They told you all the things you wanted to hear about immigrants, homosexuals, Jews and, again, Muslims. Steve Bannon actually makes sense to you most of the time, and you wish everyone gave his White Nationalism a fair chance, just like MLK Jr. had his fair chance.

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At least there’s that.

You probably didn’t meet a person of color until well into your teens, or maybe even in college. Maybe even then, they were servants or they had some special scholarship that only covered their classes and books, so they had to work the rest of the time and not engage you in your social circles. Then again, maybe you played sports with a couple of Black kids who were really good athletes, but they were not like “those other people” because they were not criminals or welfare smoochers.

All of a sudden, in 2008, things changed. There was a woman third in line for the presidency in Nancy Pelosi, who was Speaker of the House, and, all of a sudden, another woman looked poised to become President of the United States. Then, out of nowhere, some Black dude named — of all names — Barack Hussein Obama appeared and took the nomination from her. The conservatives rallied around John McCain, celebrated war hero. He would be your champion yet go down in flames around all that “hopey changey” stuff that Barack Hussein Obama was promising.

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How did Obama beat this?

People like Alex Jones or the Age of Autism Antivaccine blog warned you about Barack Hussein Obama and told you about internment camps. The NRA, an organization to which your daddy and pappy belonged and got you a lifetime membership along with your first firearm, told you that Barack Hussein Obama was going to come after your precious, precious guns. Breitbart.com told you about the massive waves of illegal immigrants that were coming over the border and sexually assaulting anyone in sight. Fox News repeated lies and innuendo about shady backroom deals that would take away all of your freedoms and hand them over to “The Gays.”

For eight years, you freaked out. For eight years, you were at or near DEFCON-1 about the federal government. Sure, you smiled at me and were polite in your discussions about issues, but you secretly harbored anger that I got ahead in the world through social justice programs like affirmative action, scholarships and grants while all you had to rely on was a multi-generational system of home ownership, good credit, and free passes from the police and immigration/customs officials.

And who did you have in Congress to stand up to Barack Hussein Obama?

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This “crying bitch.”

For eight years, you saw gay marriage be decriminalized, legalized, and institutionalized. They goddamned redefined the meaning of marriage for you, and suddenly your marriage wasn’t so hot. They allowed rap music, and suddenly your kid was being rebellious. They allowed undocumented workers to go to school and pay in-state tuition, and suddenly you were out of a job. They allowed the Environmental Protection Agency to say, “Hey, maybe clean water is not such a bad thing,” and suddenly daddy and pappy and uncle Joe were out of their jobs at the mines, the oil rigs, and the coal power plants.

For eight years, you saw the Tea Party movement come about and sell you on the idea that they would save you. They would be the federal government and they would save you from the federal government. They promised that those Jews, Asians, Blacks and Mexicans running the show in Washington and literally running the show in Hollywood would not run your life anymore. Anyone willing to compromise on any kind of sensible solution to our problems as a country was a traitor to the nation. You spat on celebrated war heroes. Women became, as they should in your mind, vessels to carry your Christian babies to term while relinquishing their authority over their bodies.

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She’s basically an incubator. Nothing more.

Then, finally, out of the darkness of Barack Hussein Obama and his plan to give everyone free healthcare, free educations so they could have better jobs and we wouldn’t go broke as a nation… Of the social justice programs that made us more competitive in the world because kids would be able to learn a language other than good-old Christian English… Out of that terrible, terrible darkness and despair you felt when “The Gays” got married and “ObamaCare” paid for your pappy’s bypass and your nephew’s leukemia… Out of all that came Trump.

He, and he alone, would save you.

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I mean, here he is literally tackling corporate greed.

Dear Conservative Friends, I get it. I understand that Jesus surely must have stuttered when He said that you should love your neighbor as yourself, and that your neighbor was just about anyone in need. That’s why you get bile in your throat and grab for your gun at the thought of a child from Syria, covered in soot, arriving at our shores.

I understand that the Framers of the Constitution made a mistake in writing “person” instead of “citizen” and that’s why you will make sure that the Constitution protects only certain skin-toned, last-named citizens and not all persons. That is why silly typos like the Equal Protection Clause and the Emoluments Clause are to be ignored when it comes to your president, your icon, your commander-in-chief. That’s why the Lügenpresse must be silenced, in your opinion, because the First Amendment should only protect sellers of snake oil and peddlers of conspiracy theories.

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Not fake news, right?

Seriously, I get it. I see the world through your eyes. I see a world in flames where all the Muslims and their math and astronomy made no contributions to the Civilized World. I see a world in flames where immigrants have brought nothing to this nation but terrorism, smallpox, and genocide. I see a world in flames where you have to carry your gun to go buy coffee at Starbucks because the delicate snowflakes in there have hurt your feelings about your guns and your Bible.

But that all doesn’t mean we can’t be friends, right?

I’m sure you understand why I don’t believe you when you say that a wall across the US-Mexico border will end all your troubles. You understand me when I tell you that I am going to teach my child English, Spanish, Chinese (either one), French, Arabic and Portuguese. Surely, you understand me when I have the Liberal idea that maybe paying taxes is not such a bad thing when the bridge goes out at 3am in the morning and I can sleep in until 7 because those taxes paid a crew to go out there and do something about it.

I’m plenty sure you see things my way when I tell you that my risk of getting shot at home is exponentially larger with a gun around because I live in a quiet neighborhood in a suburb and not in, say, your darkest nightmare of an Inner City filled with people not like you. You see things my way like I see things your way, of course. You’ve shown me time and time again that the Left is actually the intolerant one, right? Those Lefties, those Libtards and their hateful, intolerant speech against Nazis, the KKK, and men who would grab women by the vulva and refuse to let go until they become president.

We’re on the level about all this stuff, right?

Yeah, no, we’re not. We probably never will be. After all, you’ve decided to see a world full of threats and immediate dangers in the forms of people who are not White, not Christian, and not American. (As if “American” had a standard definition on looks, values, genetics, or religion.) On the other hand, I’ve decided to see a world full of possibilities, of hard-working people who want a fair chance at raising their kids so their kids can do better. My glass is not half full. It’s half empty because I gave the other half of water to someone who was thirsty, just like Jesus would (the Jesus described in the Bible, not the caricature misquoted up on stages of megachurches-slash-concerts). Your glass is half empty because some monster made up in the imagination of Breitbart of Alex Jones or Jenny McCarthy or Andrew Wakefield or Ted Cruz stole your water. Or because you drank it all so no one else could have it.

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Or because the cat was drinking it. I don’t know.

Listen, I would be more than happy to work with you toward a better world, but you and I differ severely on what “better” is. Better for me is less hunger, less pain, less disease, less war, less violence, and less hate. Better for me is also less waste, better infrastructure, and a living wage for everyone who puts in a hard day’s work.

Better for you is a wall that splits families.

Better for you is a White Nationalist advising your president on what to do.

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You can’t look away, can you?

Better for you are lies alternative facts and self-aggrandizing.

Better for you is not me.

So, to quote Dan LeBatard, when he was told to “move on.” No, my dear so-called conservative friend, I’m not moving on. I’m going to stay right here. You shuffle along, dragging your anger and your gun, running from boogeymen and Black people, struggling to stay alive in a world set aflame by Obama.

I’m going to stay here and do work, and you and I will be better for it.

To Donald Trump, I’m A Criminal

I tried to be objective and read Donal Trump’s nomination acceptance speech instead of listening to him on television. You can sometimes see something on television and misinterpret it for something worse than it seems.

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Case in point.

So I went over to Politico.com and read their transcript of the speech. All I got from it is that America is a violent, impoverished, dreadful place where immigrants are running amok killing everyone. I’ll explain.

Pretty early on in the speech, he talks about violence and how he’s “The Law And Order Candidate” who will bring crime and violence to an end.

Then he digs into immigrants:

“Nearly 180,000 illegal immigrants with criminal records, ordered deported from our country, are tonight roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens.

The number of new illegal immigrant families who have crossed the border so far this year already exceeds the entire total from 2015. They are being released by the tens of thousands into our communities with no regard for the impact on public safety or resources.

One such border-crosser was released and made his way to Nebraska. There, he ended the life of an innocent young girl named Sarah Root. She was 21 years-old, and was killed the day after graduating from college with a 4.0 Grade Point Average. Her killer was then released a second time, and he is now a fugitive from the law.

I’ve met Sarah’s beautiful family. But to this Administration, their amazing daughter was just one more American life that wasn’t worth protecting. One more child to sacrifice on the altar of open borders.”

The thing is, we don’t have open borders. There’s a rather large and militarized force on the border, arresting people who cross into the US through points other than official ports of entry. Not only that, but President Obama has been deporting people at record levels. Even those on the Left who advocate for immigration reform are mad at President Obama for doing this.

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So much for open borders.

Later in the speech, he went back to that wave of immigrant killings, starting with how badly the economy has been for minorities because of immigrants:

“Decades of record immigration have produced lower wages and higher unemployment for our citizens, especially for African-American and Latino workers. We are going to have an immigration system that works, but one that works for the American people.

On Monday, we heard from three parents whose children were killed by illegal immigrants Mary Ann Mendoza, Sabine Durden, and Jamiel Shaw. They are just three brave representatives of many thousands. Of all my travels in this country, nothing has affected me more deeply than the time I have spent with the mothers and fathers who have lost their children to violence spilling across our border.

These families have no special interests to represent them. There are no demonstrators to protest on their behalf. My opponent will never meet with them, or share in their pain. Instead, my opponent wants Sanctuary Cities. But where was sanctuary for Kate Steinle? Where was Sanctuary for the children of Mary Ann, Sabine and Jamiel? Where was sanctuary for all the other Americans who have been so brutally murdered, and who have suffered so horribly?”

Of course, there were lots of other things on which Trump failed to represent the truth. But I leave that fact-checking to the professionals at NPR, The Washington Post, NBC News, and The New York Times.

There used to be a time when I affiliated with the Republican Party. I wanted people in power who were fiscally conservative, and I was afraid of radical changes because I was very much influenced by the culture on the US-Mexico border, one very much influenced itself by the Catholic Church and Mexican machismo. Then I moved to south-central Pennsylvania, and I got to see over the years how the Republican Party was taken over by xenophobes, homophobes, and religious zealots. I started to see more and more how people with last names like mine or skin tone like mine were not accepted anymore in the Republican Party.

Most of all, I became friends with people outside my socioeconomic status and outside my culture and race/ethnicity. Going to DC and Baltimore on a weekly basis when I was working at the hospital in PA, I befriended more and more Black people. I got to know LGBTQ people — including the coming out of several people who are my relatives — and see them as regular people. And I got to hear from so-called Republicans how all these people were “prone to violence,” “a scourge,” and “the downfall of our society.” None of that is true from a reasonable point of view, and especially not true if you get to know people like I’ve gotten to know people.

If you listen to or read Trump’s speech, you’d think that we were in dire straits. If you think like he and his sycophants do, you’d believe it even more. Even to the extent to voting for him. But I don’t. Call me crazy, but I see the good in people, and I read the evidence before making a decision. More than anything, I don’t fall for the ecological fallacy (or its reverse).

We’ll see next week what Hillary Clinton has to offer, but I’m not holding my breath for her, either. Until then, the nominee has been chosen.

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Eating just a little bit better now and then

On the last day of our trip to Italy, my wife and I were sitting at a coffee shop enjoying a very strong and very expensive coffee. As we looked out the front door, we saw a woman with three young boys sitting on a small bridge. (Venice has a lot of bridges.) All three boys were eating sandwiches wrapped in napkins and drinking bottled water. My wife snapped a perfect picture of them:

 

Nom! Nom!

 

Look beyond the hipster attire for a second and look at what they were eating. These were more than likely homemade sandwiches accompanied by water, not sugary drinks. I bet you dollars to donuts (or euros to, uh…) that very little of what they were eating was processed. I feel safe in my bet because very little of what we ate when we were there, even the stuff bought at the small shops in the touristy areas, was processed. Also, all drinks, even the sugary ones, had regular sugar in them, not any kind of syrup.

Now that we’re back in the States, it’s been hard to replicate the European experience with regards to food. So much — too much — of what we buy at the grocery store is processed. Worse yet, if you want to get something a little fresher, it’s a lot more expensive. And that’s us with the advantage of having a couple of grocery stores within a few minutes from our home. It’s much, much worse in cities like Baltimore where food deserts and food swamps abound.

The lack of readily available fresh food is one of those structural problems that is causing a lot of public health problems right now, and things are not going to get any easier. Too many of us are relying on these processed foods every day, and too many of us are overweight or obese, increasing our risk dramatically of developing diabetes. (That reminds me that I need to go for a long jog tomorrow.) So what do we do? What can we do?

Looking at Baltimore, for example, food stores that offer nutritious food will not open in the food deserts and swamps if there is high crime. There is going to be high crime as long as poverty is abundant. And there will be poverty as long as companies won’t hire minorities at the same rate that they hire members of racial and/or social majorities. And companies won’t hire equally until there is a cultural change whereby minorities are not regarded as unreliable and prone to crime. In essence, we have to attack the causes of the causes (of the causes) of lack of good food if we’re going to make a dent in the coming epidemic of chronic disease.

Good luck with that, right?

And Europe? Europe is on its way to where we are here in America because the homogeneity of that continent is changing with immigration from Northern Africa and the Middle East. Countries that are seeing these immigrants arrive are reacting rather badly, shunning away the immigrants to the poorest corners of their cities instead of welcoming them and integrating them into their respective societies. What Europe is going to end up having, if they don’t do already, is an expansion of food deserts and swamps like we do, and all the other public health problems that come with racial/ethnic/national bias will come along for the ride.

All they had to do in Europe — like we have to do here — is realize that everyone truly does deserve a fair shot at a good job, a safe place to live, good schools for their children, and good food to buy and take home to cook. It’s not rocket science, and it’s not asking for miracles. But we would much rather have discussions about what group of people to dehumanize and blame next. That’s how we roll, I guess.

That day I stepped into a “Kitchen Nightmare”

I’m trying to get through some of the required readings for the week, and I have “Kitchen Nightmares” playing in the background. For those of you who have not seen that television show, it’s about Chef Gordon Ramsay going from one restaurant to another and helping the owners get back on their feet. One of the things he does, besides sampling the food and commenting on how awful it is and why he’s not surprised that the place is having money problems, is step into the kitchen and inspect it. He goes all over the kitchen and looks at the walls, the corners, the back of the stoves, under the ovens, etc. He then goes into the walk-in freezer and looks at how fresh — or not — the food is in there.

That part is funny in a way because Chef Ramsay loves for food to be fresh. He doesn’t tolerate anything that is frozen or comes out of a box. God help you if you cook anything with a microwave. One of the things that always seems to happen is that he starts dry heaving and almost loses his lunch when he finds, for example, a tub full of mayonnaise with an expiration date of a few years back and still chock-full of mayo. That part of his reaction I can totally relate to because of a similar experience I had a few years back.

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