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Week's End Thoughts & Reflections, April 7, 2018

That migrant caravan has the president in such a tizzy he's calling in the military or the National Guard or something to deal with this existential threat to the nation's security. Never mind that the military is less than enthusiastic about the proposed deployment and has its hands full elsewhere, or that the proposal is completely open-ended until Congress deals with the problem, which no doubt includes building a wall. Got to have that wall. I suppose this will all be paid for with more tax cuts.

On Thursday's edition of The PBS NewsHour officials involved with similar deployments at the border during the Bush and Obama administrations explained how present circumstances are different. They think the president's move is ill-advised (What past administrations learned from sending troops to the border).

Then there is the little matter of what the president is saying about the caravan. Three major fact-check organizations found that his statements on the subject are inaccurate on multiple counts, among them:

  • There is no "liberal (Democrat) law" requiring the "catch and release" of people caught illegally crossing the border.

  • People illegally entering the US in 2018 cannot take advantage of DACA because they are not eligible for the program. At its inception in 2012 DACA required applicants to be physically present in the US on June 15, 2012, and living continuously here since June 15, 2007. Nothing has changed about that except for Trump's actions that have left DACA in limbo.

  • The caravan is "an annual, symbolic event held around Easter each year to raise awareness about the plight of migrants" (PBS NewsHour, April 4, 2018). I Organizers say that some migrants intend to remain in Mexico, others will present themselves at the border and request asylum, and some will try to enter the US illegally. Estimates about the numbers in each category vary.

These are not hordes of rapists and drug dealers. The caravan is made up of men, women, and children fleeing political, military, and gang violence in Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. Once upon a time our country offered such people safe haven and refuge. That's what they used to teach us in school, as any rate.

Fact-check References

EPA chief Scott Pruitt is quite a piece of work even by the standards of the Trump regime. It came as no surprise that Pruitt thumbed his nose at ethics principles when he got a sweet deal on his lease of a Capitol Hill condo owned by the wife of a lobbyist with clients subject to EPA regulation. This is almost small potatoes next to his penchant for first-class travel at taxpayer expense, use of special hiring authority to give raises to two staff cronies from his home state of Oklahoma (for the record, he has unconvincingly denied knowledge of said raises), had a soundproof phone booth installed in his office, had aides critical of these practices and others reassigned or dismissed, &c., and anyway this sort of thing is standard operating procedure for the regime. Now we learn that Pruitt is a deadbeat whose landlord had to pester him for rent he failed to pay when it was due. I think it is safe to say that no one could ever accuse this administration of being the best and the brightest.

And the saga just keeps getting better! On Friday afternoon Politico reported the condo arrangement was supposed to be temporary, for six weeks, until the newly appointed public servant got settled in Washington and found a place, but the doofus Pruitt didn't leave when the lease ended. (Eliana Johnson, Lobbyist couple had to change the locks on Pruitt). "The original arrangement," according to an unnamed source, "was that he would be there living out of a suitcase … and it just kept going and going." Dubbed "the Kato Kaelin of Capitol Hill," Pruitt was described as "a difficult tenant who, intoxicated by his newfound power, paid little attention to the headaches he was causing others." Finally his landlords gave him the boot and changed the locks.

Shades of 1968? In the US student activists lead massive demonstrations calling for substantive gun regulations to address the problem of gun violence, while teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky go out on strike over low pay and inadequate funding for textbooks, supplies, and school programs. Meantime, in France, students take to the barricades to protest changes to the university admission process introduced by President Emmanual Macron while rail workers launch three months of rolling strikes in response to proposed changes in the railway system.

"We’re not slackers. We’re just standing up against Macron’s changes to the university admission process," said a working-class student at the Sorbonne University arts faculty at Clignancourt, northern Paris.

Like all the other Macron reforms, it’s about chipping away at the French social model and loosening the public sector. It’s unfair and creates even greater inequality in society. There are other things we’re furious about, such as Macron’s hard stance on immigration. There’s a growing feeling of anger on several fronts. (Angelique Chrisafis, 'We can’t back down': French students dig in for Macron battle, The Guardian, April 5, 2018)

A 19-year old sociology student on strike in Paris differentiated between today's actions and events of May 1968 when students and many professors occupied the universities and massive general strikes threatened to bring down the government. "If 1968 was about the shape of society, our strike is about the French social system and protecting the public sector." The Kevin D. Williamson affair. Within the space of a week the editors of The Atlantic hired and fired former National Review correspondent Kevin D. Williamson. Williamson was brought on board at The Atlantic as an ideas columnist who would offer a conservative perspective. Nothing wrong with that.

It soon came out that Williamson has argued that the law should treat abortion like any other homicide, clarifying in a tweet that by this he has in mind hanging. The revelation sparked outrage from all sides, with demands for Williamson to be fired accompanied by condemnation of the magazine's decision to hire him in the first place, while his defenders leveled charges of hypocrisy, censorship, and liberal suppression of conservative ideas.

Atlantic Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg initially stood his ground, stating that he didn't think "taking a person’s worst tweets, or assertions, in isolation is the best journalistic practice" and that he "would also prefer, all things being equal, to give people second chances and the opportunity to change" (quoted by Sharon Kahn at Media Matters). On these points I think Goldberg is correct. Social media lends itself to writing in precipitous haste. Our thinking can evolve. Our views can change.

This was not the end of the story. It turns out that Williamson defended and promoted his call for the execution of women who have abortions in a September 2014 podcast (Kahn's Media Matters piece has excerpts) and on other occasions. Goldberg reversed his position and fired Williamson after meeting with him and concluding that the language in the tweet did indeed represent his views.

I have come down strongly, and will continue to do so, against censorship and suppression of speech even when it extends to views with which I profoundly disagree. The firing of Kevin Williamson is not censorship. Kevin Williamson has no more right to be published in The Atlantic than I do. He can and no doubt will find other forums for publication. That is as it should be.

What he could bring to The Atlantic, what might have been gained by his hiring, and what is lost with his firing, is a subject for debate. Nonetheless, it is within the purview of the editors to decide whether Williamson's views fall beyond the pale of what is acceptable for a writer who will represent the magazine. Goldberg's explanation is gracious and defensible:

The tweet was not merely an impulsive, decontextualized, heat-of-the-moment post, as Kevin had explained it. Furthermore, the language used in the podcast was callous and violent. This runs contrary to The Atlantic’s tradition of respectful, well-reasoned debate, and to the values of our workplace.

Kevin is a gifted writer, and he has been nothing but professional in all of our interactions. But I have come to the conclusion that The Atlantic is not the best fit for his talents, and so we are parting ways.

Jeffrey Goldberg did the right thing.

I confess to a soft spot for any writer who thinks Uday and Qusay are perfectly good nicknames for the elder Trump boys (Williamson, On My Departure) and can toss off the phrase "billionaire-ensorcelled anti-elitists" without coming off like he's been thumbing through his thesaurus. You can check out Williamson at his best in a piece titled The White-Minstrel Show, published in The National Review October 20, 2017. It is worth reading.

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