Archive for the Current Events Category

American citizens pose for a photo at police headquarters in the international airport of Port-au-Prince, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2010. Associated Press photo/Ramon Espinosa.

In my earlier post I suggested that the overwhelming demands to move children out of Haiti for adoption elsewhere were in a way a twisted expression of American consumerism. I wrote, “It…. matches the consumerist mindset, in which by simply acquiring the right things – even your very own “orphan” – your situation, and that of the world, will improve.”

I didn’t quite expect that in little more than 24 hours, events, driven by a founder of a company that sells consumer products online, would serve to drive home that point and others I was trying to make. It’s the mythology of international adoption that is driving American prospective adopters, politicians and Christian organizations to organize the exporting of Haitian children to the United States, amid calls for legislation to simplify adoptions for prospective adopters by creating a dedicated office for it at the State Department.

Central to those calls was the demand for rapid visa approvals from the State Department. Seldom heard from this crowd was any mention that the Haitians, assisted by aid organizations, might have some interest in monitoring, or even restricting completely, the flow of unaccompanied children out of their country, making the issue of the State Department’s speed rather moot.

Most American churchgoing suburbanites are unable to drop everything, get on a plane and run off to Haiti and see if they can, for themselves, run their own version of what some of us are calling “Rendell’s Raid,” in which the governor of Pennsylvania flew to Haiti, twisted the arms of various politicians, put pressure on what was left of the Haitian government, and finally, packed more than 50 of Haiti’s children on a U.S. military plane. But inevitably, someone with some means and willing accomplices, if not connections, would actually make such an attempt – this time, ending with ten Americans being arrested by Haitian police. At this writing it’s very likely that they’re sitting in jail cells in Port-au-Prince.

It’s clear from all the documentation available online that one of the primary people involved with all this is Laura Silsby, the founder and CEO of, an online gift shopping service based in Boise. Through a bit of digging online, mainly on Facebook, its obvious that there are numerous connections between Silsby and the others arrested, including Paul Thompson, the pastor of Eastside Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho.

It’s on Thompson’s church website where the “smoking gun” can be found, a document completed on January 19 which outlines the entire plan, for a so-called “rescue mission” to Haiti, to scoop up 100 children, some unspecified portion of them directly off the streets of Port-au-Prince, and to transport them to a temporary headquarters in a newly-rented hotel in Santo Domingo. But the whole document reads like a bit of a pipe dream; it has that feel of a lot of evangelical writing, where the expectations of the writer aren’t quite connected to the physical realities of the planet.

Silsby lists herself in this document as the “Executive Director and Founder” of “New Life Children Refuge,” a brand-new nonprofit organization which filed its incorporation papers with the state of Idaho just two months ago. Interesting, that the incorporation papers read “Personal Shopper” at the top of every page, suggesting they were sent from a fax machine at the office. There isn’t any evidence of this “Refuge” having even so much a website or a telephone number, much less any substantial tangible resources, but that didn’t stop Silsby.

From their “Haitian Orphan Rescue Mission” plan (local copy here):

The Plan:

Rescue Orphans from Port au Prince, Haiti

  • Friday/Saturday, Jan 22nd : NLCR team fly to the DR
  • Sun Jan 23rd: Drive bus from Santo Domingo into Port au Prince, Haiti and gather 100 orphans from the streets and collapsed orphanages, then return to the DR
  • Mon Jan 24th: Bus arrives in Cabarete, DR at New Life Children Refuge

The obvious problems with this “plan” are numerous, from even just these few lines. The trip from Santo Domingo to Port-au-Prince, as can be easily learned through a brief online search, is over six hours by scheduled bus under normal conditions. Were they serious about making a daytrip out of this run, it would have been little more than a snatch-and-grab of whatever kids they could have found on the streets over a few hours.

For whatever reason, they didn’t finally attempt to return to the Dominican Republic until January 29, almost a week later than they planned.  Regardless, this plan made their intent very clear: they thought they could just show up in Port-au-Prince unannounced, pick up some kids from some unspecified place that they couldn’t identify beforehand, and drive them back across the border.

As if this complete cluelessness about the conditions under which they could legitimately pick up and transport Haitian kids wasn’t enough, their facilities in Santo Domingo didn’t exist. They were going to rent a hotel for the Haitian children to land in, until they could implement the rest of their “plan” of building their own facility.

  • Interim New Life Children Refuge Location: NLCR is in the process of buying land and building an orphanage, school and church in Magante on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic. Given the urgent needs from this earthquake, God has laid upon our hearts the need to go now vs. waiting until the permanent facility is built. He has provided an interim solution in nearby Cabarete, where we will be leasing a 45 room hotel and converting it into an orphanage until the building of the NLCR is complete. This interim location will enable us to provide a loving environment for up to 150 children, from infants to 12 years old.

It’s not clear where the expectation that building a new orphanage for 150 children in the Dominican Republic would be something that a bunch of suburbanites from Idaho without extensive experience with such a project, and considerable resources, could pull off even over the course of many years. There’s no evidence that anyone involved with this little operation was in any way already familiar with Haiti or the Dominican Republic, except perhaps from some short-term visit as a missionary tourist. Often, when browsing people’s profiles on Facebook, their previous experience and interests are obvious, and when someone is actually familiar with things like international adoption, relief work, or long-term missions – which is clearly what’s intended in this description – it shows. But not here.

Nobody in this crowd seems to have any international experience at all to speak of. When, for example, you look at their Facebook profiles, like that of Laura Silsby, you’ll see things like the fact that they’re a “fan” of Sarah Palin, or a “fan” of the Manhattan Declaration, the anti-gay, anti-abortion, statement issued by a bunch of prominent evangelical personalities including convicted Watergate felon Chuck Colson. Others are “fans” of things like the local anti-abortion groups, or maybe, the Southern Baptist disaster response organization. Anything that might indicate an in-depth knowledge of the task and that part of the world that would be necessary to accomplish that sort of mission? It’s just not there.

There’s another peculiar aspect to this “plan” document. In the “Prayer Requests” section, which often summarizes the things that the writer either doesn’t know or hopes won’t go wrong, are these entries:

Prayer Requests

  • For discernment of God’s will and direction throughout this trip and for Him to prepare the way before us
  • For God to continue to grant favor with the Dominican Government in allowing us to bring as many orphans as we can into the DR
  • For God to guide us to the children He wants us to bring to NLCR and for their physical, emotional and spiritual healing

The second of these reflects the same kind of myopia often seen among adopters, and currently, American politicians, extending to the State Department, when dealing with international adoption. Emphasis is always placed on the receiving end, while any concerns on the part of the family or country of origin of these children is completely disregarded or viewed as false or illegitimate. Here, Silsby only cares that the Dominican Republic grant permission for them to bring in the children they’ve already collected. Even after all the recent press coverage that’s been given to the problem of child trafficking in Haiti, and the work by the Haitian government and NGOs to require full documentation of the status of each child departing the country, Silsby seems to think that that concern does not apply to her.

This became clear after her arrest, where she repeated her claim that approval from the Dominican Republic was all that was required:

But Laura Sillsby from the Idaho group told Reuters from a jail cell at Haiti’s Judicial Police headquarters, “We had permission from the Dominican Republic government to bring the children to an orphanage that we have there.”

“We have a Baptist minister here (in Port-au-Prince) whose orphanage totally collapsed and he asked us to take the children to the orphanage in the Dominican Republic,” Sillsby added.

“I was going to come back here to do the paperwork,” Sillsby said. “They accuse us of children trafficking. This is something I would never do. We were not trying to do something wrong.”

As I wrote previously, when examining the world of international adoption, there’s this element of oscillation between the global and the personal. If you grow up into a privileged, successful, entrepreneurial suburbanite in a country where people you respect are going around saying things like, “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business,” perhaps when you find yourself in a “crappy little country” you might think you can do whatever you want without being suspected of something heinous like child trafficking. Silsby and her entourage seem to have found out otherwise, the hard way.

Also telling in this section is the part expecting “God” to “guide” them “to the children he wants us to bring” to their vaporware orphanage. Prayer requests are often very telling in this way; clearly, they didn’t know what they were doing, down to the basics of understanding that the only children that they might be able to take out of the country, already in the approval process for adoption, would have been identified long before they arrived in Haiti! When I say Silsby was planning a “shopping trip to Port-au-Prince,” clearly, as with other kinds of shopping, she didn’t quite know what she would be getting until she saw the merchandise.

How can someone expect to go to Haiti, do these things, and not understand that they would clearly be suspected of trafficking children?

That kind of expectation – that child acquisition and international transport by Americans can never be questioned or challenged – on the part of people like Laura Silsby is exactly what I was working to explain in my last post, where I wrote:

Television provides an illusion of participation, that by simply watching a moving image the viewer feels that they’re somehow involved in events in a far away place. But because merely being a television viewer is unsatisfying in such times, many feel moved to act in some way. The things that an average American can do with respect to such huge tragedies are few; often the only answer is to send money. The popularization of international adoption, even when the practice is overwhelmingly corrupt and may violate human rights, seems to me to fill exactly this void; the impulse to get one’s hands on the children of an earthquake-ravaged country is created by these media portrayals of external calamity interacting with the cultural predisposition that it’s the American national mission to save the rest of the planet.

This self-defined role of planetary savior, that through adoption almost anyone can indulge in, a romantic and ostensibly altruistic myth, is exactly that: role-playing. It exists independent of the actual children and people of Haiti and their realistic needs. It’s the extension of the American exceptionalist myth, expressed through its military and foreign policy of planetary enforcer and order-keeper (regardless of actual results on the ground after billions of dollars are spent), made accessible to any citizen who’s willing to meet the most basic requirements, and who can afford the fees. It also matches the consumerist mindset, in which by simply acquiring the right things – even your very own “orphan” – your situation, and that of the world, will improve.

The solution for the children of Haiti, created by those who see the world through these lenses, is simplistic, crude and appeals to the acquisitional American who thinks they can buy or trade for anything and by doing so will do no harm, to the point that we now see suggestions like this one: “What if….we could find a plane that had just dropped a load of humanitarian aid and load it up with orphans?” There’s no hiding that the writer of that sentence, a professional promoter of adoption in the Christian context, thinks it’s a fair trade: he drops off aid, he extracts “orphans” to satisfy the enormous demand he’s been helping to create in his subculture for adoptable children. If the “orphans” don’t actually exist, they would have to be manufactured, through the endless redefinition of the term, “orphan,” which today seldom means what people think it means.

When I say that evangelicals (and not exclusively evangelicals) regularly seek to strip-mine less fortunate countries of their children, I’m not using that terminology for its shock value. People like Laura Silsby are seeking to establish an industry of extracting Haitian children for adoption by Americans. The third page of their so-called “rescue mission” lays out a long-term plan – hopefully permanently derailed – to create a fully vertically-integrated industrial operation in Santo Domingo to obtain and prepare Haitian children for export, into international adoption.

Future Buildings and Plans for NLCR in Magante

  • Nueva Vida Refugio de Ninos: Provide a loving Christian home‐like environment for up to 200 children, both boys and girls, initially focused on ages 0 ‐ 10 years old, later expanding to include teens up to age 16.
  • Nueva Vida Escuela Cristiana: Provide a solid education for children in the refuge as well as in the local community if have sufficient space/resources. Plan to begin with PreSchool/Kindergarten up to 6th grade, teaching English/Spanish, Reading, Math, Science, History, Geography, Health, Music/Art, as well as Christian values/truths. Plan to add higher grades and courses on vocational skills when needed.
  • Nueva Vida en Christo Capilla: On site Chapel for the children from the refuge and the community
  • Sick Bay/Medical care: for incoming children that are in need minor medical care
  • Greenhouse/Livestock: Provide for nutritional needs of the children by growing fruits and vegetables and raising cows/chickens for milk and eggs
  • Seaside Villas at Playa Magante*: Villas for adopting parents to stay while fulfilling requirement for 60‐90 day visit as well as Christian volunteers/vacationing families.
  • Provide opportunities for adoption through partnership with New Life Adoption Foundation which works with adoption agencies in the U.S. to help facilitate adoptions and provide grants to subsidize the cost of adoption for loving Christian parents who would otherwise not be able to afford to adopt.
  • Seaside Café at Playa Magante*: small beachfront restaurant serving the community and adopting parents

Looked at from the point of view of an entrepreneur, what are these things? First, establish a warehouse for the merchandise, and processing facilities to make the merchandise suitable for the customer. Second, expedite the process of governmental approval which customers must obtain, making them as comfortable as possible while they fulfill the government’s mandate of a 60-90 day stay. Third, provide financing for the customers. Fourth, provide food and refreshment to the customers, which along with the lodging provides a “bubble” in which customers need not interact with the locals.

But as a business plan, there’s nothing to it, if the people putting it forward can’t seem to grasp the basic illegality of its initial premise. The children of Haiti are not theirs to process and export, to satisfy the endless demand for adoptable children without history, a demand their mythology creates.

I made some observations on my “About” page, some years ago, about the relationship between the practice of adoption and the way in which many Americans view the rest of the world. In recent days, that relationship has become quite obvious in the media coverage that has followed the earthquake in Haiti, and the subsequent actions by organizations, politicians, and prospective adopters in this country.

baltimore-sun-website-201001221610Unlike the self-described “bastards” I know, love, and work with, my personal interest in these matters is a little different, as I have no direct personal involvement with adoption beyond the fact that I live with a “bastard.” For me the subject connects with my interests in understanding how people handle information. Having had a tiny hand in popularizing the Internet years ago, how has the ‘net, and the concurrent growth of 24-hour television news, improved, or warped, how people view the world around them? Of course, one of the primary interests of “Bastards” – obtaining unaltered birth certificates that disclose historical facts of their origins – is likewise tightly connected with this issue of how people handle, or mishandle, or can’t handle, information, or construct elaborate structures of misinformation. Recent events are more about the global than the personal, but still these realms overlap, or oscillate from second to second, from the international to the individual.

I summed it up in a recent one-liner: “A city of millions of people leveled, and what’s on ABC tonight? ‘Is the baby I ordered still on its way?’” I was referring to a multi-night series of stories on Nightline, a program that’s been completely worthless ever since Ted Koppel retired. Days later, the habit continues, as with the Baltimore Sun website pictured. It’s all adopters, all the time. From the looks of it you’d think there have regularly been thousands of adoptions out of Haiti every year, and this vital flow was in danger of being interrupted.

Facts are, that’s not the case. There it is, on the U.S. State Department’s website: “The Total Adoptions from HAITI from 1998 to 2009 is: 2712.”  Twelve years, averaging two hundred twenty six every year. That is all.

Throw “haiti adoption” into Google News right now, how many hits do you get? “About 6,102.” That’s not counting the ads for international adoption and adoption agencies that will also show up on the search results. “Adopt from China, Russia, Haiti, Guatemala, and more!”

It doesn’t help that elected officials here in the U.S. don’t seem to have more important things to do with their time, and hop on the adoption bandwagon while it’s in the media spotlight. Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, his Federal judge wife, and U.S. representative Jason Altmire fly to Haiti on a chartered plane to transport over fifty children from an orphanage run by two Pittsburgh suburbanites. It doesn’t matter that the Haitian government hadn’t signed off on letting 26 of those children out of the country. Two American women pitch a hissy fit, Rendell and Altmire work the White House to pressure what’s left of the Haitian government, and the next thing you know all 54 children are on a U.S. military plane.

When those children got to Pittsburgh – transported on the pretense that they were “already in the pipeline for adoption” – the truth comes out: seven of them hadn’t even been matched with adoptive parents. They ended up in a faith-based residential treatment center that had only 24 hours to prepare for their arrival.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of needy kids here in America, and in Pennsylvania. Eventually, that fact merits a small mention, here in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

But social service providers – and the Rendell administration – have a message for the families willing to open their homes and hearts: Don’t forget the 3,000 Pennsylvania children waiting for permanent homes.

“While the plight of the Haitian orphans has attracted much attention, it is important to recognize the many other children for whom we are always working to find a supportive family and safe home environment,” said Harriet Dichter, acting secretary of the state Department of Public Welfare.

Child advocate Cathleen Palm said that when she heard about the rush to adopt the Haitian children, she wished there was a way to assemble all the needy Pennsylvania children in a stadium and have the governor rescue them.

“We want to make sure people aren’t losing sight of the fact that kids are in crisis in Pennsylvania, too,” said Palm.

Why is it, when Pittsburgh has its own share of needy children, many in foster care, that all this attention – and the involvement of state and federal politicians – has been focused on Haitian children, attention that has as its goal, moving large numbers of them out of their country?

Perhaps a small hint of what might actually be going on here comes from this comment I saw go by on Facebook: ”I saw the little boy that Cooper Anderson helped pull from the rubble and he looked good, but you could tell he is still shell-shocked. That’s the one I would take home with me for a while…”

Television provides an illusion of participation, that by simply watching a moving image the viewer feels that they’re somehow involved in events in a far away place. But because merely being a television viewer is unsatisfying in such times, many feel moved to act in some way. The things that an average American can do with respect to such huge tragedies are few; often the only answer is to send money. The popularization of international adoption, even when the practice is overwhelmingly corrupt and may violate human rights, seems to me to fill exactly this void; the impulse to get one’s hands on the children of an earthquake-ravaged country is created by these media portrayals of external calamity interacting with the cultural predisposition that it’s the American national mission to save the rest of the planet.

This self-defined role of planetary savior, that through adoption almost anyone can indulge in, a romantic and ostensibly altruistic myth, is exactly that: role-playing. It exists independent of the actual children and people of Haiti and their realistic needs. It’s the extension of the American exceptionalist myth, expressed through  its military and foreign policy of planetary enforcer and order-keeper (regardless of actual results on the ground after billions of dollars are spent), made accessible to any citizen who’s willing to meet the most basic requirements, and who can afford the fees. It also matches the consumerist mindset, in which by simply acquiring the right things – even your very own “orphan” – your situation, and that of the world, will improve.

The solution for the children of Haiti, created by those who see the world through these lenses, is simplistic, crude and appeals to the acquisitional American who thinks they can buy or trade for anything and by doing so will do no harm, to the point that we now see suggestions like this one: “What if….we could find a plane that had just dropped a load of humanitarian aid and load it up with orphans?” There’s no hiding that the writer of that sentence, a professional promoter of adoption in the Christian context, thinks it’s a fair trade: he drops off  aid, he extracts “orphans” to satisfy the enormous demand he’s been helping to create in his subculture for adoptable children. If the “orphans” don’t actually exist, they would have to be manufactured, through the endless redefinition of the term, “orphan,” which today seldom means what people think it means.

Here again the hiding of information, and the contrast between “orphans” acquired outside the United States, and the reality of children in genuine need who might be available for domestic adoption, becomes clear. The imperative to hide information about the actual origins of children put up for adoption is one of the reasons international adoption exists. With the barriers of distance, international boundaries, and language, the entire history of what happened to these children may disappear, or be made inaccessible. The same goes for their biological parentage.

Couple that need for information hiding to a catastrophic natural disaster, and the resulting chaos and actual elimination of records, the entire history of where these children came from may be destroyed.

Contrast how that history can be hidden or destroyed in this international situation, with the prospect of domestic adoption out of foster care, where past history cannot be eliminated with such ease. This is, I think, why the governor of Pennsylvania isn’t spending the same amount of time and energy doing something for his state’s own needy kids. The facts about those kids’ lives can’t be wiped out with a plane ride, it lives on in files and records and the memories of people who might be neighbors, instead of being physically separated by thousands of miles.

After more than two weeks have passed since the earthquake, two camps have clearly emerged. One is driven by American foreign policy and all its concomitant myths and baggage as I’ve described them. Faced with a bonanza of the newly-opened opportunity to strip-mine Haiti of its children, American politicians are now calling for the State Department to set up a separate office to make sure that absolutely nothing stands in the way between American prospective adopters and Haitian children. Gordon Duguid, a deputy spokesman for the State Department, is quoted as saying, “we will send no child out of Haiti who does not have cleared, vetted and accepted parents waiting for him or her in the U.S.”  Interesting redefinition there of what a “parent” is, equivalent to “adopter,” a redefinition that’s not necessarily shared by the rest of the world. As is to be expected, there’s no mention of how the U.S. will confirm that children arriving in the U.S. from Haiti will be shown to be genuine “orphans” without any parents or family remaining in Haiti, or even relatives here.

All that matters to the State Department is satisfying the needs of prospective adopters, and all the intermediary organizations that stand to benefit by facilitating such a mass migration.

The other camp, of course, is that of UNICEF and other aid agencies that have placed a priority on the reunification of children with their families.

Meanwhile, the government of Haiti has reportedly halted the departure of so-called “orphans” from the country, for among other reasons, concerns that children might be removed from the country while they still have relatives there who could care for them.

As can be expected, the whining of a relatively tiny number of prospective adopters may now be occupying a disproportionate amount of the time of many American politicians. One example of many is this story from Terre Haute, Indiana, where a prospective adoptive family is “on an emotional roller coaster ride.” As usual, such prospective adopters, by whatever means, believe that the child they visited in some far-off country is already theirs, it’s just a matter of finishing the paperwork. Never mentioned is the possibility that the so-called “orphan” they expect to arrive any day now may not, in fact, be an orphan. Inevitably, increased scrutiny of the cases of children about to depart Haiti, on the part of government and aid organizations, will leave some American prospective adopters empty-handed.

It is in these situations where the fallout from the promotion of the mythology of romantic, altruistic, child-saving international adoption by Americans, will at least be a bit more evident. Children in poor, disaster-ravaged nations are reduced to a mere natural resource, who could easily fill that role if they could only be stacked shoulder-to-shoulder in aircraft headed back toward the United States. Their transport here serves to appease those who never question that myth and who often see their actions as heroic. It’s up to those on the ground without such an agenda to challenge that myth, to put forward the idea that adoption is not a solution to poverty, and to work toward the reunification of families separated by disaster.

For more reading:

Baby Love Child

The Daily Bastardette

Haiti Statement by Adoptees of Color Roundtable

Update: This quote was in the “sidebar” of this blog from February through September of 2008. It’s still relevant when considering the efforts of UNICEF in Haiti today.

If justice comes (and I have serious doubts that it will), it will come from the International community and NOT the United States.

- MichiganGirl, February 5, 2008

Sarah Palin: McCain strategist: Palin thought candidacy was mapped by God

Schmidt, McCain’s chief campaign adviser, said he asked Palin about her serenity in the face of becoming “one of the most famous people in the world.” He quoted her as saying, “It’s God’s plan.” Palin has not ruled out a run for the presidency.

John Edwards: Saint Elizabeth and the Ego Monster

There was nothing legit, however, about Hunter’s behavior. It was freaky, wildly inappropriate, and all too visible. She flirted outlandishly with every man she met. She spouted New Age babble, rambled on about astrology and reincarnation, and announced to people she had just met, “I’m a witch.” But mostly, she fixated on Edwards. She told him that he had “the power to change the world,” that “the people will follow you.” She told him that he could be as great a leader as Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. She told him, “You’re so real. You just need to get your staff out of your way.” She reinforced everything he already believed, told him everything he wanted to hear.

Edwards swooned. He spent hours talking to Hunter, listening patiently to her ideas about the state of American democracy and advice on media strategy. (She had intuitions about Chris Matthews.) He ate every meal with her, sat next to her on the plane and in the car, offered to wheel her bags through airports. He told the staff to treat her like a principal. He behaved as if she were a combination of an adviser and a spouse. If Baldick suggested that she not take a trip, Edwards would resist. When Hunter wanted access to some event that Brumberger thought she shouldn’t attend, Edwards would order, “Let her do it.” Or plead, “C’mon, just let her do it.” Or whisper conspiratorially, “Just let her do it this one time.”

Ronald Reagan: Reagans reported to use astrology in governing U.S.

WASHINGTON (KNT-Special) – U.S. President Ronald Reagan has made key decisions, including the scheduling of major events, based on advice his wife [Nancy Reagan] got from an astrologer, sources close to the couple say.

The closely guarded secret about the Reagans’ fascination with astrology will be detailed in a few weeks in a new book by former White House chief of staff Donald Regan, the sources said yesterday.

Other sources close to the Reagans confirmed that the first lady has a keen interest in astrology and has used it to shape the president’s schedule and influence decisions. They declined to reveal the California astrologer’s name.

Crossposted at Daily Kos

You’ve probably seen it by now, a two-sentence statement that went viral across Facebook and Twitter over the last day or so:

(name) thinks that no one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick. If you agree, please post this as your status for the rest of the day.

After seeing this on a Facebook friend’s blog, I commented:

Somehow I think that’s too complicated for many Americans to understand, but I’ll give it a shot. (Am I cynical enough yet?)

Turns out I was right on the money with my comment.

As I expected, some people couldn’t just take the statement at face value. For at least one, it pulled the cork and caused a rather predictable flood of complaint, usually centering on the great American whine, “I’ve got mine and those people can’t have any.”

Like this exchange which resulted on one Facebook friend’s blog, who’d evidently noticed that someone somewhere was being called “unpatriotic” for posting the original status message.

A: what I don’t get is why it’s “unpatriotic” to say that I want ALL Americans to be healthy…even Americans who don’t have any money.
Yesterday at 9:07am

Idiot-boy: I don’t subscribe to the notion that is is unpatriotic regarding ALL AMERICANS. But I have major issues with illegal aliens on any nationality/ethnicity/color getting free anything at the expense of the dues paying members of society.
Yesterday at 9:14am

Me: “No one” means “no one.” Get over it.
Yesterday at 3:53pm

Idiot-boy: Mike, I don’t know you at all. I was agreeing with A’s opinion regarding “unpatriotic”. She stated ALL AMERICANS! I don’t take exception to the poor of this country benefitting from the system. I will say if you truly wish to care for the entire world say so, I have a hard time distingushing China from Norway from Germany from Mexico when it comes to illegals. And if you want to just have our society collapse under that weight of that cost just say you don’t care what’s left for your kids. And just so we don’t get into a constant pissing contest I don’t have a problem with emergency care for people who are in the country LEGALLY. But if they get care and they are illegal….DEPORT THEM!
2 hours ago

Like I said… too complicated for way too many Americans to understand: people who are absolutely, completely certain that some must “die because they cannot afford health care” if they can’t produce proof of legal residency.

Despite Idiot-boy’s preemptive attempt to cast himself as “I’m not a racist” by including Norway as a possible source of a tidal wave of illegal immigrants to the United States, in practice we all know where this goes. All that matters to some are the words written above by Idiot-boy in upper case: “ALL AMERICANS,” “LEGALLY,” “DEPORT THEM.”

No new program could ever be worthwhile for such people unless it further reinforces who does not belong, who’s neck is under the boot. A totally arbitrary process where the most important thing is that there be the neck of a live person under that boot, not the creation and enforcement of a policy that might actually accomplish something positive for anyone beyond the joy and sense of purpose generated by carrying out the act of retribution. In this case, it’s most important, above everything else, that retribution be directed at those whose only offense is to be part of an unregulatable economic resource that can’t ever be admitted to legitimately exist in this country.

The idea that healthcare should be provided for all who are in this country – regardless of other concerns – is a completely alien concept here, which makes the so-called “healthcare debate” more an exercise of displaying to the world what a backward, uncivilized place America is than anything else. Simple things that might actually benefit people here cause “debate” and ultimately go nowhere, while burning a trillion or more dollars in deserts on the other side of the world is an absolutely necessary thing that keep Americans safe and healthy. There is no awareness here that these matters are handled completely differently in other parts of the developed Western world – even just north of America’s own borders – and no willingness to imagine that, as demonstrated elsewhere, things could be much different.

I think healthcare reform here in America is basically impossible because it’s being attempted about a half-century too late, and as we’re seeing today, any attempt at substantial change will be derailed by nonsensical objections like this.

As any significant reform, much less overhaul, of America’s healthcare system looks more and more unlikely, I thought I’d repost this: a brief article that Sabina and I wrote almost 12 years ago, and had published in a small, long-defunct, obscure journal. In recent times it has been clear to me that the anti-abortion movement was just a precursor, a demonstration of how fictional hoaxes could be used to derail access to healthcare. The same tactics are playing out today at the national level. We were right to point out that abortion may be a mere footnote in the context of then-future efforts to eliminate what many had often taken for granted, such as the availability and affordability of healthcare for even a majority of Americans. Abortion was the means to move their people, overcoming inertia to create a broad campaign to broadly marginalize and demonize science, medicine and healthcare.

body-politic-jan1998Roe v. Wade – 25 Years After

By Mike Doughney and Lauren Sabina Kneisly

as published in the Body Politic, January/February 1998

Access to abortion services is going to continue disappearing in the next 5 years. While providers are aging, few newcomers are learning the technique. Harassment and vigilante action, along with new restrictions, also contribute to the growing unavailability of the procedure. Even new technologies remain unavailable or difficult to obtain under these conditions.

While it is important to have an understanding of why we got here, we should be talking about what must be done now to stop a very broad
movement that is openly fighting a war across many fronts. The Biblical America movement, which has seldom been taken seriously for the past 25 years, continues to gain real power. While each group threatened by this movement independently works in their own field, opposition is fragmented and ineffective in countering progress toward the goals of BA. Sole focus on abortion, without acknowledging the interconnections to other issues exploited by the Biblical America movement, is a grave strategic mistake.

We fail to notice that they are teaching a whole new generation a set of values alien to us. For instance, they’ve succeded in gaining access to public schools, through so-called “chastity programs,” to teach that abortion is to be avoided at all costs. Not only their own children, but our entire culture, is slowly absorbing and accepting the concept of abortion prohibition.

It’s through 25 years of neglect, of accepting Roe as an end and not one point of a process of legitimizing abortion, that we’ve arrived here.

It’s basically pointless to discuss the particulars of abortion “rights” when we are about to be overrun by an antidemocratic, fascist, theocratic movement that will do away with much of what we take for granted; the loss of abortion will be a minor historical footnote.

More at our website, “Biblical America Resistance Front,” at

A lot of people may think that Maryland is some blue-state bastion of liberalism. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that. The state was founded as a refuge for Catholics and others who wouldn’t have been accepted in other semi-theocratic colonies. When something particularly stupid is happening here that involves the screams of moralizers, the political bloc or network that I justifiably refer to as a Catholic mafia is almost always involved.

So it goes with the recent flap over the planned showing of a triple-X movie at the University of Maryland, College Park. The first indication of peculiar Catholic involvement is the mention, in the third paragraph of the first Baltimore Sun article covering the completely-manufactured “controversy,” that the head of the Catholic Student Center in College Park has objected to the showing.

catholic-mafia-at-work-harris-leftCatholic Mafioso (Andrew Harris, left) at work. (Baltimore Sun photo)

Now, if we lived in a normal place where a Catholic mafia didn’t have undue influence on government, the story would end there. But that’s not how things work here.

The next day, a followup story in the Sun featured a photo of one of the members of the Maryland Catholic Mafia in action. State Senator Andrew Harris, who is in fact a member of the Catholic fraternal group, the Knights of Columbus, took to the floor of the Senate to threaten the University of Maryland’s funding because certain Catholics objected to the planned screening of sexually explicit material. Those of you familiar with the K of C already know that political agitation, including anti-abortion activities such as the so-called “March for Life” is simply part of what the organization does; it raises money for these causes and support of them is part of everyday participation in the organization.

We can kind of connect the dots here and infer that Catholic clerical networking in Maryland exists, such that if a single random member of the pedophile-coddling Catholic priestly hierarchy and tradition is sufficiently bent out of shape about something relatively trivial but controversial that might somehow involve a state bureaucracy, there are people to call – particularly when the Senate is in session – that will predictably induce the Senate, or whatever governmental body they’re in, from stopping all work on something that might actually matter for a bit. You’d think state politicians would have their hands full with more important matters, like the rest of the state budget that often gets finished at the last minute of each session, and could keep their collective noses out of other people’s business, like what a bunch of students might be watching at the University of Maryland.

The irony of all this is that obviously Harris has zero familiarity with what kinds of films are shown at Maryland. He’s certainly never taken the sex-ed class that I took when I was a student there. After all, the class was about sex, so part of the course involved rather explicit instruction, textbooks, and films about… sex. And in my time, though I never actually saw one, explicit films were periodically shown by independent student groups on campus. “Tina and her cast of vegetables” was one memorable title I remember being advertised, along with the then-new porn classic, “The Opening of Misty Beethoven.”

Fortunately it appears that the show will go on sometime this week. And should that happen, Harris will likely again make a silly attempt to amend the state’s budget to cut off the University of Maryland. And he’ll probably not get very far. Still, the Senate’s limited time will again be wasted by Harris’ posturing on behalf of Maryland’s Catholic mafia.

It might take a few centuries, but as always, the religious nuts fleeing other theocracies might not quite be able to set up their own, but they can certainly set up things to make it clear that they have political power that they in no way deserve to have, power and influence far beyond their numbers and far beyond that of the average citizen.

University of Maryland student union to screen porn film - Baltimore Sun, April 1, 2009

Screening of porn film at University of Maryland canceled - Baltimore Sun, April 2, 2009

Students at College Park, UMBC plan screenings of XXX film - Baltimore Sun, April 3, 2009

Porn Flick Screening at U-Md. Still On, as Is Funding Threat - Washington Post, April 5, 2009

UPDATE: UM officials won’t stop porn screening, students say – Baltimore Sun, April 6, 2009

UPDATE: UM students watch half-hour of porn film - Baltimore Sun, April 6, 2009


Andrew Harris biography, Maryland State Senate (showing him as a member of the Knights of Columbus)

There are times when the events of the day, and the public reaction to them, make clear that some clearly present, but not always visible, fabric of society has been changed out from under the average person – and few have noticed.

I refer of course to the Eliot Spitzer matter, and the reaction that has since appeared in various blogs, such as here and here and here. I would like to think that these writers have a clue as to what’s been developing in their country lately. Through their reflexive insistence that Spitzer is the victim of some kind of politically-motivated action, they clearly don’t.

Let me put it in simple terms for you: Spitzer was simply on the wrong end of the surveillance state, a system that has in some way been in the pipeline for decades, but in the past decade – and certainly since 9/11 – it has taken on the current form.

There are two main parts to this state. They have to do with law, offense detection thresholds, and technology.

Part one is the combination of creatively applied law, and the setting of law enforcement thresholds such that almost anyone can be considered a suspect. As paranoia and fear increase, these thresholds fall to nearly zero; that is, almost anything that’s merely unusual is suspect.

Have you done anything unusual in recent weeks, that someone with incomplete information about your activities might misconstrue as suspect?

Certainly it could be said that simply traveling under certain conditions renders one suspect. Having someone else pay for your one-way ticket, for instance. Drive back into the U.S. from Montreal in the dead of winter, after two weeks away, and truthfully explain you’re a tourist; ICE will assume you’ve been enjoying mojitos on a Cuban beach in the interim, and on the basis of that assumption, go digging for supporting evidence.

Now that surveillance cameras are all over, your actions under certain circumstances – simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time – may also place you in the ‘suspect’ bin.

Money transfers of certain types and sizes clearly automatically render one suspect. It’s stunning to watch the obvious naivete’ of Jane Hamsher, who right off the bat asks about Spitzer, “Why would the bank tell the IRS and not Spitzer himself if there was a suspicious transfer?”

Dear Jane: Where the hell y’been lately? You live in a state where an enormous portion of the populace is now automatically suspect to some degree. They aren’t going to go call you up and explain to you how and why you are suspect. Instead they will, themselves, determine what they will do with that information. That’s how law enforcement tends to work, you know what I mean?

According to an article in USA Today, over seventeen million transactions were routinely reported to the Treasury Department in 2006. That is, of course, the number that the federal government was willing to disclose. I think we can safely assume that the actual number – including transactions reported by other means – would be significantly higher. The reporting system, like many features of the surveillance state, was initiated as part of the colossal justification for police-state measures that is today called the “War on Drugs.”

In Spitzer’s case, what was done with the information collected by that particular surveillance system is now history. They followed the trail to see where it went, starting with Spitzer’s wire transfer to a suspicious shell company. Federal prosecution of various people followed under various laws including the Mann Act – a law which I would assume Spitzer is quite familiar with, since I hear it’s a topic in first-year law courses. It takes the matter of prostitution, usually only of concern at the local and state level, and elevates it to the status of a federal offense, if state lines are crossed for the commission of prostitution.

I put this under the heading of “creatively applied law” since the little train trip “Kristen” made from New York to DC would easily fit inside many U.S. states. Cross an imaginary line or two on the ground, and a whole different cast of characters are now involved, along with a potential federal rap.

At the same time, there is Part Two: technology has made the collection of this kind of data economically feasible. The transition of financial transactions from paper to electronics – and the granting of access to those networks to government monitors – moves the collection of data from widely scattered caches to easily searchable databases and networks.

It’s kind of quaint to see the collection of digital cellphone calls still be called a “wiretap.” There is, of course, no “wire” and no “tap.” Not so many years ago, someone had to dig through a telephone central office, locate the subscriber’s pair of wires and do something special to enable recording by law enforcement – and all that effort was by necessity known to several people. Not today. Mobile networks have tapping capability built in. I would make an educated guess that someone with certain privileges in the system issues a few commands from a computer and sound files of phone calls start showing up in someone’s mailbox, or something equally simple. The knowledge of who is being tapped may now be closely held by a few people, eliminating the oversight of sorts that occurs when many people must be aware of such matters.

To contrast specifics of the Spitzer matter with past years, consider this: a wiretap on phone lines leading to the Governor’s office would be extraordinary, it would be noted by those involved, and each person with that knowledge increases the likelihood of a whistleblower or leaker. Today, it’s just another stream of bits in a huge system, with no physical point of interest. Machines sort through the electrical impulses and collect the bits of interest for later listening.

The great change in recent years is that the mass collection and storage of phone calls without the physical movement of wires and hardware has become practical. Vast databases enabled by cheap digital storage technology make the sifting through vast amounts of data of any kind, previously both impractical and prohibitively expensive, now a relatively trivial matter. There are still the costs of bureaucracy and hardware – but the advance of these technologies bring those costs down into the range that is now politically supportable and sustainable.

The disturbing truth about the Spitzer matter is that to some degree this is what the future looks like. There need not be any special motivation for such an action. Such things have simply become possible, if not trivially easy. The laws, often anachronistic, unenforced and unenforceable, are there. The motivation to make vast swaths of the American populace potential everyday suspects is there – that, in fact, is the ultimate product of the so-called “war on terror” and its predecessors. The ability to instantly locate and transfer records and recordings – formerly sifting through paper, and moving paper around by courier and mail – is now here.

I’ll turn the next question around, and ask it this way: is there any reason to expect that this combination, this surveillance state, will not be used for its intended purposes at each and every opportunity?

As I see it, the answer to that is clearly “no.” Each prosecution, or even public display of suspects later found innocent and forgotten, justifies the expense of building and maintaining the surveillance apparatus. There is no countervailing pressure to limit its reach, or its application. It will be the great equalizer, targeted on state governors, government officials as well as citizens of every stratum.

Even the enthusiastic supporters of surveillance – such as Spitzer himself – are not immune from its use. While some may claim that Spitzer was specifically targeted by Bush’s Justice Department, I think there’s a simpler explanation: the necessity of frequent, even sensational, public displays of the power of the surveillance system, to reinforce the idea that nobody can ever successfully hide. The take-down of a governor, through a clear display of both financial and telephone surveillance capability, further justifies the system by means of its success. Taking down an occasional crusader against prostitution who worked to further curtail civil liberties under the guise of “anti-terrorist” legislation – which, by the way, elevated mere money laundering to the category of “terrorism” – is just the occasional by-product of the existence of such a system. No one is somehow immune to getting caught in this web; although it’s possible Spitzer may yet avoid prosecution since he’s already served his purpose, his role in the display of capability to potential transgressors, the ultimate point of the exercise. This whole story becomes much like that shooting down of a satellite a few weeks ago, for no clearly obvious reason; display of the ability to puncture matters previously considered private, and not much more, is the objective, along with cluttering the Federal courts with another rather pedestrian prosecution of a prostitution ring.

What then, does the future look like? We are clearly at a point of transition, where the surveillance apparatus gains a foothold but the demonstration of its powers is not yet clearly understood. Beyond this transition are three paths.

There is the possibility of elimination – farfetched and nearly impossible, but I will throw it out there; there is always the possibility that enough people will view the surveillance state as such an obvious threat to those quaint notions of “freedom” and “democracy” that its capabilities, through mass action or defiance, will be dulled or eliminated. Of course, the possibility of this happening is near zero; that’s even clearer when such an obvious demonstration of what the consequences of the vacuum-cleanering of personal transactions is not even understood for what it is!

There is the possibility of, basically, bankruptcy – where the apparatus cannot be maintained due to financial crisis. As has been historically true in other attempts to create totalistic, surveillance states, I think it likely that these elements of the state will be maintained above all else.

The third path is perhaps the one with the outcome that is the least comprehensible today. Let us suppose that the knowledge that people are being watched in every detail, through demonstrations of capability such as this one, actually changes people’s behavior. “Crime,” as detected by the “system,” decreases. But this is not allowable. The system is self-justifying: it must produce a flow of suspects, investigations, charges and prosecutions, all announced by the system, repeated by the media, and picked up by politicians of all persuasions to support the continued expense, overhead, and corrosive but hard to describe side-effects of constant surveillance and its expectation that anything ‘unusual’ is suspect.

Thus the definition of “crime” as we know it today may shift, reflecting the fear of the ‘unexpected’ and ‘unusual.’ Minor transgressions are elevated to major infractions. The system adapts to take advantage of the technology that supposedly identifies suspicious individuals, and acts on those suspicions. Perhaps the act of simply being considered suspicious by someone else – wearing the wrong colors, being in the wrong place at the wrong hour, carrying a camera in certain places – become actionable crimes, driven by the need to use the surveillance apparatus to produce some kind of measurable result.

As for Eliot Spitzer, the individual, himself, and his circumstances, I’ll defer to Arthur Silber, who sums it up in this one meaty paragraph:

Prostitution involving consenting adults cannot defensibly be regarded as a crime. In that sense, Spitzer should never have been targeted at all for that alleged offense. But it is currently illegal, as all basically functioning adults are fully aware. [And whatever else might be said about him, Spitzer appears to be basically functioning. I'll be here all week.] Given Spitzer’s unfathomable stupidity — and in light of the fact that he is now the victim of the kinds of overreaching police state tactics that he himself has endlessly championed and utilized — this can only be regarded as an instance of an especially objectionable, arrogant, overweening, power-mad, vicious son of a bitch himself getting exactly what he has been delightedly happy to dish out to others.