Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Selling of American Inhumanity

How can you tell when the New York Times is about to feed you a gigantic dose of bullshit? Whenever they use the passive voice in a headline, that's when the warning bells should start clanging in your brain: "Caution: Propaganda Hazard Ahead."

Today's dose, slugged "Many Obstacles Are Seen to U.S. Taking in Large Number of Syrian Refugees," seems designed to convince you that it would be a horrible idea for the United States to accept Syrian refugees on our precious shores.

A shadowy group of leaders and politicians and defense industry think-tankers, feeling the urge to push back against the mass sympathy and outrage engendered by the iconic photo of a dead three-year-old, has dictated to obliging Times reporter David M. Herszenhorn the myriad reasons why the European refugee crisis should not be an American problem.

Beware the Terroristic Hordes

Shielding the anonymous purveyors of official cowardice and personal unaccountability, Herszenhorn immediately quotes unnamed "critics" as calling the 14 Democratic senators urging President Obama to give asylum to more Syrian refugees "the Jihadi caucus."

Then he immediately pivots to defending a caring -- but helpless and hand-wringing -- Obama administration against these terrible straw men critics who shall not be named:
The criticism, which Obama administration officials say is baseless because of screening procedures asylum seekers undergo, was a powerful measure of the lack of political will and the practical obstacles that have hampered the United States’ ability to intervene more directly in what has become a full-blown migrant crisis in Europe.
Such obstacles, including an American public weary of overseas initiatives after more than a decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, remain formidable, even as heart-wrenching photographs of dead children this week focused the American conscience on the Syrian crisis as never before and prompted renewed calls for more aid.
Anonymous administration officials cravenly foist the blame for their own paranoia and psychopathy onto a hard-hearted public "weary of overseas initiatives" -- as though feeding and clothing and sheltering people is equivalent to bombing them to death.
 Pleas for more aggressive American-led rescue measures seem all the more futile given the failures to reach a consensus on the country’s own immigration problems, made vivid in the simmering debate over policing the border with Mexico and calls by a leading Republican presidential candidate to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants.
President Obama is not even going to try to do the right thing because he is afraid of what Donald Trump might think. Trump might call Obama a loser if he starts acting all mushy and sentimental. And that will never do during the president's last 500 days when he is trying mightily to burnish his legacy as the Drone President of Warpeace.
 “Even if there were a green light from the Russians and the Chinese, the appetite for yet another military adventure in Syria is very, very limited among the American public,” said Stewart Patrick, a senior fellow and expert on international institutions at the Council on Foreign Relations. “I think in this case, the administration is correct, the situation is so incredibly complex among the combatants, there’s very little evidence that United States or Western intervention would make anything better.
Again, humanitarian aid and the granting of asylum to suffering people is cast as a "military adventure" by one of the Times article's few named sources. (the only quoted government official is a Republican congressman) Stewart Patrick represents the shadow government hiding within an elite ruling class think tank funded and staffed, in large part, by the defense and oil industries. So the Obama administration is going to throw in the towel on asylum, even as it continues to bomb the hell out of Syria and other Middle Eastern locales and continues to spend $68,000 an hour operating the war planes targeting ISIS.

Choosing to help people instead of bombing them and starving them right out of their countries has "moral consequences," Patrick gravely dictates, adding that these choices and consequences should be Europe's problem and not that of the American ruling class and war machine. (quaintly called "the public" for purposes of propaganda and bloody hand-washing.) Besides, the US already throws a few dollars at hungry people, so please just leave them alone already.)
Each year, the United States grants residency permits to as many as 70,000 refugees from around the world, most referred by the United Nations refugee agency, which helps administer asylum requests. Only a small fraction of those have been Syrians, in part because the process typically takes up to two years, and the numbers of Syrians referred to the United States only began to increase after the start of the war four years ago.
While the State Department has said it plans to increase the number, to perhaps 1,800 by next year, it would be of little more than symbolic value given the more than four million Syrians in need of shelter.
 Taking in 65,000 Syrians, as the 14 senators had urged, is virtually impossible under the existing asylum process, which requires lengthy background checks. The small number has opened up the United States to charges of hypocrisy as it has implored European allies to accept more.
Blame it on the snails of the bureaucracy, not on the politicians. Besides, since the refugees are probably going to die anyway, why even bother? 
But Representative Charlie Dent, Republican of Pennsylvania, who just returned from a trip to Europe, said he found America’s allies there unable so far to coordinate an effective response.
“It is incumbent on the United States to be of greater assistance, yes, but the Europeans also have a responsibility here,” Mr. Dent said. “Our European partners have a much harder time exercising leadership. They don’t want the refugees. They don’t want the migrants. At the same time, I don’t know what they are prepared to do to bring about greater stability in the countries where there are problems.”
So, a member of the Party of No has engaged in a fact-free finding mission and found the Europeans not up to his moral expectations. What else is new? If you want to act like a heartless bastard, the best tactic is to point out that the other bastards are even more heartless and inept than you are. Even though they are not: European countries, particularly Germany and even austerity-ravaged Greece, have been welcoming the migrants with open arms.

  To give it the obligatory balanced veneer, the article concludes with two former government officials gratuitously allowing that maybe the United States could do a bit more, like sending the Navy to rescue people in its ships so as to avoid any more drownings. But it would be so, so hard to coordinate landing points and such. (even though all they really need is a compass and a phone and maybe Google Mapquest.)

As I wrote in my published comment to the Herszenhorn article, "Their excuses proliferate as wildly as their obscene military budgets and their weapons of mass destruction. Vetting the applicants would take too long and cost too much money, they say. We have our own immigration problems, they whine. (Never mind that DHS is running privatized concentration camps for Central American mothers and children, hideously euphemized as "family detention centers.")

I concluded with a link to the International Rescue Committee -- where people who are not as jaded and unfeeling as our leaders and their propagandists would like us to be can go to get more information on how to help the refugees.

The IRC, which has so far gathered more than 13,000 signatures from American citizens on a petition demanding that the US Government do more to help the relief effort, notes that this country has only accepted 1,413 Syrian refugees since the civil war began five years ago. Germany, meanwhile, is willing to accept 800,000 this year alone.

President Obama, for his part, did find the precious time Friday to sign a new billion dollar arms deal with the beheading-happy Saudi king, the better to efficiently kill even more hundreds of innocent Yemenis. Because killing is easy, lives are cheap, and Obama has a legacy to burnish and a foundation to fund.

Ka-Ching Goes the Beat of My Cold, Cold Heart


Pearl said...

Another great column, Karen. It came up shortly after I sent in a connection to
Herszenhorn's article to be sure it wasn't missed. What interested me were the excellent comments by readers' pics people recalling the history of this monumental migrant crisis and U.S.involvement in Iraq, etc. as part of the problem.

I wonder of Obama delicately mentioned the need for resettling these homeless people in other nations with space and wealth during his conversation with the King of Saudi Arabia. hint hint.

Suspicous Pearl said...

I see the Herszenhorn article as of noon today has been whisked off the front page as far as I can tell and was only written yesterday. Deserved more time on the front page and possibly more comments.
This is not the first time that a controversial article has disappeared quickly especially when lots of criticisms from readers appeared in the comments section.
When I read an interesting article like this in the NYtimes I usually send it to myself to have a record should there be some questions coming up about the content.
Another concern about Times' articles that disappear rapidly and why.

Karen Garcia said...


I was pleasantly surprised at the virtual sea change amongst Times commenters re immigration. Until the photo of the little drowned boy went viral, the top rated comments were largely in the anti-immigrant mold. Now that this has changed to a more humane response from hoi polloi, the powers that be are pushing back with some truly pathetic propaganda.

Perhaps Herszenhorn's piece was yanked off the top of the home page because it was not garnering the typical xenophobic response from the "public" that our rulers were hoping for.

There is one particularly odious commenter named Josh who poses as a liberal before he spouts his racism, and is regularly chosen as a "Times Pick" by moderators. This dude has rankled me for years, ever since he responded to one of my times comments on immigration by falsely and gratuitously claiming that the children of Hispanic immigrants have lower IQs than the children of native-born white people. I took this as a personal smear and complained to the Times, to no avail. Anyway, I was pleased to see him get maybe 9 lousy reader recs to his latest diatribe.

Pearl said...

Karen. You didn't mention your printed comment to the Herszenhorn article and access to signing a letter to help bring migrants into the U.S. I think the response by the public is what is forcing reporters and columnists to speak more compassionately. Photos plus the internet are making an immense impact and hope it spreads to other areas of needed change.

There are a lot of important things happening right now which together seem to be changing the thinking of many people. Maybe Bernie has truly started a political revolution. Even Biden praised his appeal to voters.

Re: Inhumanity said...

There is room in Alaska for Syrian refugees today. There was room in Alaska for Jewish refugees in 1939-40, according to the Slattery Report produced by the United States Department of the Interior under Secretary Harold L. Ickes.

The foregoing was brought to the attention of President Obama by my letter September 9, 2013: Immediately relocate the population to protect the Syrian people from further harm. Obama’s reply letter March 12, 2014* does not even mention the possibility of relocating Syrian refugees, or use of the Rome Statute and the International Criminal Court to prosecute Bashar al-Assad.

President Obama provided me a link to the White House page on Syria, which has not been updated since November 4, 2013.

In 2013 Associate Professor Bill Myers, University of Alaska Anchorage, challenged his senior seminar history majors for a paper on the territory’s refusal to grant asylum to WWII Jewish refugees. Senior Jordan Norquist responded with a final paper titled "Charity Begins at Home: How Public Opinion Denied Jewish Refugees Asylum in Alaska".

Two other WWII European immigrants successfully emigrated to Alaska. Ruth Webber was 21 when she left Europe in 1941 to join Yule Kilcher in Alaska, a Swiss immigrant. She later became matriarch of a musical family that includes the pop star Jewel. From Jewel's website:

"Ruth was an aspiring opera singer who left pre-war Germany, got on a ship headed to Alaska to marry a man she hardly knew because she felt her future children must be born somewhere free."

"She married Yule Kilcher, who was a young idealist who hiked across the Alaskan glaciers by foot, with a ladder on his back, which he used to bridge crevasses in the ice so he could walk over them. He was looking for adventure and new land, away from the Nazi movement. Alaska was still not a state in the late 40's, so he was given (as all takers were) 600 acres of land for free if he promised to homestead it. He sent word back to his homeland of Switzerland, where many friends expressed wanting to move, that he had found a good piece of land. But none came, except Ruth."

*The text of Obama’s reply letter March 12, 2014 was likely chosen by a White House intern or employee from an approved script, then signed BO electronically, and mailed, without the President even reading my letter of September 9, 2013.

annenigma said...

All the millionaires/billionaires in the world each supporting a few thousand refugee families with food, clothing, and housing for life. Their multiple luxury investment properties aka 'homes' are vacant most of the time anyway (John McCain doesn't even know how many houses he owns), so they'd never notice. The refugees should have headed to the Cayman Islands. We need a new movement: Occupy Mansions.

Here's another idea. Countries overwhelmed with refugees, or actually any country with homeless people, should take over ownership of the U.S. military bases that have been colonizing their countries. Most military bases are self-contained small to medium size cities and could instantly support massive numbers of people comfortably. Military personnel could go back to their own homes.

It's high time we start beating swords into plowshares.

voice-in-wilderness said...

The reaction to the drowned child is a reminder of why the Obama Administration works so hard to make sure pictures from drone strikes get virtually no mention or attention. After all, by bureaucratic definition, anyone killed in a drone strike is a terrorist ready to destroy the U.S.of A. And most of the media are OK with that, with this replay of free-fire zones from the Vietnam War.

Meredith NYC said...

I saw news reports on the web how in Germany and Austria ordinary people are coming out to train stations, etc to give food,clothing and toys to the refugee families. Some are organized on social media. Plenty of picture---reuters and the guardian, etc. This is the other side of the coin from the anti immigrant hostility in EU.