All decent human beings, all people who care about both the economic health of this country and the values it stands for, should reject, resoundingly, the nativist xenophobia hawked, cynically, by the current president to a tragically receptive segment of our population. Illegal immigration is less than one fifth of what it was 20 years ago, and reached that low mark prior to Trump’s election. Our border security is quite sufficient, in reality, with crime rates by illegal immigrants being lower than crime rates by natural born citizens and crime rates by geographic locale being inversely correlated to the proportion of the population that are immigrants in that locale (i.e., more immigrants = less crime). Those are statistical facts.

There is absolutely no evidence that even a single terrorist has ever come across our southern border, according to Trump’s own justice department. The 4000 number that Sarah Huckabee Sanders used refers to people arriving at airports from countries that we consider to be countries that terrorists frequently hail from; they are not even suspected of terrorism, and they do not come across the southern border. In fact, the justice department and anti-terrorism experts in general consider the Canadian border to pose a greater danger of providing a conduit for terrorists, because there is much more radical Islamic influence in Canada than in the Latino countries south of us.

It’s also a fact that at a certain point further investment in border security costs more per person successfully prevented from crossing the border illegally than that person costs us if they do cross the border illegally. In fact, it’s extremely likely that we have already passed that point. Non-partisan analyses of the costs and benefits that illegal immigrants provide to our coffers and our economy range from net benefits on both scores at both the state and federal levels to fairly marginal net costs on both scores. No peer-review study has come to the conclusion that costs are any significant portion of GDP, or that they are anywhere near posing an economic crisis to the country.

Conversely, that which is currently illegal immigration DOES redress a critical and rapidly growing demographic imbalance between retirees drawing out of pension funds and working people paying into them. Developed countries really have little choice, if they want their pension funds to remain solvent, but to legalize and normalize fairly massive immigration of working age people.

Furthermore, the argument that the nativism and xenophobia on very prominent and obvious display by this president and his followers is just a commitment to the rule of law, not an anti-immigrant stance, is belied by both the nature of the issue and the facts. We determine what the laws are, and virtually everyone agrees that we need immigration reform, which means changes in the laws. So the real debate is over what the laws should be and how we should implement them. The divide in the debate is between those who favor a kinder and more open society and those who favor a crueler and more closed society.

That it isn’t just, or even primarily, about enforcing current laws is highlighted by the fact that when Trump proposed changes in the law to make immigration more restrictive and favor “Norwegians” over people of color, and when crueler and more restrictive choices of policy not dictated by currents law were implemented, his supporters passionately supported and defended his choices, demonstrating that the debate isn’t over enforcing the law but rather shutting out precisely the people we used to welcome.

Those who echo Trump’s narrative on immigration often compare the nation to a house, insisting that just as we use walls and locks to exclude people at will from our homes we should do so to exclude them from our country. It is redundant at this point to address the ineffectiveness of a wall (something a review of expert analyses of border security makes perfectly clear), so instead let’s focus on the errors in that analogy.

A country isn’t a house. It wasn’t legally purchased from its previous owners; it was stolen. Its property lines aren’t​ determined by developers selling lots; they’re determined by military conquest. Its walls don’t separate inhabitants from the elements, but rather secure those who managed to divert more of the Earth’s resources to themselves against those who have been violently relegated to diverting less to themselves. And it is not a refuge from the world financed by inhabitants’ labors external to it, but rather a complex economic, social, and cultural entity that thrives by means of its robust interactions with the world around it.

Let’s address the last point first, because it is the one that cuts across values and appeals directly to systemic realities. Our nation functions through an internal and external market economy, engaging in market exchanges within our borders and across borders. Classical (and conservative) economic theory maintains that the fewer barriers there are to such market exchanges, the more wealth is generated by them, the ideal being a “free market,” characterized by unhindered market activity. Advocacy for strengthening national borders and obstructing the flow of people across them is a contradiction of this ideal. Less ideologically pure understandings of market dynamics also recognize the value of allowing labor to travel to where there is demand for it. Whatever limits we feel we must place on that free flow of goods and people in service to a free market, the fact that it is a consideration is one of the principal ways in which a country differs from a house, not just on scale, but also in systemic attributes.

But a country differs from a house in other ways as well, on moral and historical dimensions. We can’t return land to all those with historical claims on it, but we can stop pretending that we have some absolute, inherent moral authority to deprive entry to those who are the descendants of the ones we stole it from seeking to work hard and provide opportunity for their children under our rule of law. Those who *have* always pass laws to protect what they have from those who don’t; one can defend that through a cynical insistence that might makes right but not through a claim to having the morally virtuous position. The morally virtuous position would be to recognize our moral debt to humanity as a result of the historical moral infractions through which we secured our privileged place in the global political economy.

And it’s a pretty easy form of “generosity” to let hard working people come here and do our dirtiest, most difficult jobs for the lowest wages, contributing to our economy, to our coffers, and to our culture. The fact is that most analyses show net gains to our economy, many show net gains to our state and federal coffers, and all show a net gain in our demographic distribution of workers to retirees, a critical imbalance at present that massive immigration redresses.

You people who think we should wall out the less fortunate because you feel threatened by them are the least fortunate of all, coveting material wealth that isn’t being threatened by inflicting passive and active brutalities on those most in need. You’re not Christians; you’re what Christians exhort us not to be.

This entire nativist, xenophobic narrative is a fabrication, refuted by fact, by reason, by our own national interests, and by basic human decency. And it is one that an opportunistic con-artist has leveraged, as he’s leveraged other similarly dishonest scams before, to stoke up the bigotries of a certain segment of our national population in order to serve his own personal self-aggrandizement.

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(The following is a modified excerpt from my novel A Conspiracy of Wizards; see An epic mythology).

As Algonion descended into Lokewood from the foothills of the Thresian Mountains, he could feel the nature of the forest begin to change. He was leaving the height of autumn behind, and entering a realm shrouded in a season of its own, unlike any that ever visited the lands of men. The trees became squat, stark, and twisted; the ground an uneven bed of bulging and pitted stone, acrid fumes seeping from frequent fissures. Electricity crackled in the air and, as he pushed on, small bolts of lightening sparked and stabbed arbitrarily. An eerie mist wafted among the trunks and charred stumps, and only a diffuse gray light filtered through the haze. Unseen wooden chimes rattled frantically wherever he approached, though the air was perfectly still.

All around him, as the lightening grew larger and brighter, tortured limbs flashed in silhouette, reaching for him like a thousand desperate arms frozen in a thousand separate poses, threatening, terrifying, beseeching. The path dwindled and disappeared. The branches closed in on him, grabbing at him, buffeting him, clutching him, obstructing his forward progress. Wherever he turned, many-fingered boughs assaulted him, as though intentionally slung. Jagged bolts struck ever nearer, forcing him to dodge their deadly thrusts. His body began to move as it had in the ice sphere in Vaznalla (see The Wizards’ Eye), dancing among these hazards with liquid grace, anticipating them, flowing between them. But here, the first mistake could be a fatal one.

Avoiding the bright javelins of fire, leaping and tumbling over and under the encroaching limbs, he gave himself over to the movements, freed from all other thoughts, a wild thing at home in the woods. Vaznalla, though an incubator of perfection, was an incubator none the less. Here, he moved as if born anew, challenged by the random rather than contrived. It was as if he were Evenstar’s crystal statue unfrozen into vivid life.

The trees gradually became taller, though no less twisted, rising in a tangle of bare branches. Small fires burned and smoldered wherever lightening had struck dead wood. Lokewood was a simmering maelstrom of sizzling air and boiling earth, pools of mud and lava bubbling all about. Rancid steam rose from cracks in the earth like the flatulence of an ailing giant. Sinkholes sucked at Algono’s feet. Though there wasn’t the slightest breeze, the sound of howling wind was everywhere, of mocking laughter, of ominous hoots and caws. Eyes peered out from every shadow. Wafting tendrils of smoke closed around Algonion like a spectral hand. At last, he discerned Loci faces peering out from among the trees.

(The Loci imps, capable of setting off cascades of chaos by making tiny manipulations both in Nature and in people’s minds and bodies, stood a couple of feet tall, with twisted, gibbous bodies, lopsided faces and crag-toothed grins, protruding eyes glaring with hideous intensity….)

Soon he came upon a group of the imps gathered around a pet of some kind, tormenting it with their blowdarts. Through the throng, he saw what kind of animal it was: A young man, naked and wild-eyed, cringing and curling into a fetal ball, shrieking and crying, robbed of any last vestige of dignity. Algonion recognized him. It was one of the Champions he had seen on the road from Boalus to Ogaropol, years ago. Apparently, the Contest had not gone well for him.

The forest grew thicker around Algonion, complicating his advance, though he never faltered nor slowed. The openings left few choices, channeling him where they would. Sometimes he had to dive up and over branches, sometimes to climb higher still in search of a gap. Eventually he found himself steadily ascending, swinging around one branch, hands and feet coming together to lithely catapult off another. Unfurling like a sail, arms and legs flung wide, he would glide down and grab a limb around which to pivot, using the momentum of his fall to launch himself upward again. He could almost feel his body stretching, arms elongating as he swung, spreading out as he soared, wearing the world like a glove.

At last he saw below him, in the depths and in the heights, a thousand flickering lights. As he descended toward them, he reached the threshold of a Locu city of sorts, a city that could only be called “Pandemonium.” Devoid of straight lines and parallel planes, it was made rather of sinuous surfaces coaxed from the fabric of nature, woven-vine sacks and meshed-branch enclosures, large holes pocking hollow trees, portals to havens of Loca life. Everywhere, bursts of lightening ignited charred stumps, as old flames sputtered and died.

Around these many fires, the ongoing orgy of Loca life was in full bloom. Brawls and assaults erupted as readily as the smoldering woods and belching ground. A Loca who was being dragged by her ear grabbed hold of her assailant’s leg and sunk her jagged teeth into his calf. He released her to attend to the wound, and in that moment she raised him up on her shoulders and tossed him into the nearest blaze, which flared to consume his resinous body. The piercing scream was quickly drowned by the cheers and laughter of the crowd, some of whom gathered to savor the smell of burning flesh, inhaling it as though it were an aphrodisiac.

Then some of the imps noticed Algonion swinging down into their realm. They began jumping about, shrieking and howling. That cacophony, Algonion realized at once, was their language, the language of the forest itself. And though it lacked any recognizable grammar, or for that very reason, it was the subtlest language Algonion had ever heard, subtler even than the mathematical abstractions of the Vaznallam wizards. For, to his amazement, he understood it as though it were his own native tongue, his mind dancing among the woven sounds much as his body had danced among the forest’s interlaced branches moments before. He felt it rather than merely heard it, felt the primal passions of their voice, the captivity of their mother (see The Hollow Mountain), the defilement of their world, the rage that had been festering ever since, that had twisted them over the ages into what they had now become. They clamored around him, ever closer, demanding to be heard, demanding that he deliver them from the frustration and anger of having been pushed aside.

But Algonion could not give them what they wanted. He chirped and growled like one of them, jumped up and down and pounded this and that, trying to explain things that had no place in that idiom. He cooed that he had not the power to command history, no more than they. He screeched that his people would not, could not, leave, that they had nowhere to go. He squawked that the river of time and events could not flow backwards, that the sea could not be sucked into the high mountain springs. He tried to tell them, as a prelude to discussing what could be done, but their tolerance was short, and they would brook no contention from such as he. He felt them turning hostile, spitting and clawing at him with the fury of slighted beasts, feral shrieks now calling the hordes down upon him.

Loci swarmed, popping out of shadows, swinging toward him on vines and boughs, blowing their darts at the despised intruder. Algonion couldn’t dodge them all. He felt stings, and then emotions flying out of control. Sorrow, remorse, hatred, fear, all welling up at once, vying with one another for dominance. Disoriented though he was, he retained enough presence of mind to flee. He dove and tumbled and rolled back through the forest, with no sense of direction, with only the desire to get away. He was no longer focused enough to avoid the hazards, the grasping branches and stabbing bolts. He was scratched and bruised and burned and shocked a thousand times before he escaped those bewitched woods, finally emerging onto an unfamiliar coast, where shallow tiers of stone descended into the sea.

Cast up on the lowest tiers were all kinds of debris: driftwood and shells and pieces of wreckage. The sky was overcast, and a strong, wet wind blew. The sea churned as though tossed by a storm, thrashing about like a beast with struggling prey clamped in its jaws. Algonion heard a noise rising in the forest behind him: The Loci were still in pursuit! As he saw them emerging from the woodline, he turned and ran in bounding leaps down the broad stone tiers to the water’s edge, loping like a large, gangling bird trying to get itself aloft. There were no branches to grasp, but still his body reached, reached out to the air, trying to swing himself to freedom upon its interlaced limbs. If only I could fold myself into the wind, he thought, desperately, wrap myself around it like flesh around a whim….

And, indeed, as he reached the last tier and landed amid the refuse vomited up by the wrenching sea, his body began stretching and folding, collapsing into a new form, like that of a loon. But it was as much Algonion as it was beast, retaining his shape even while assuming another. His perceptions transformed as well, akin to passing through the threshold between lucidity and dreams. He saw the world as a bird would see it, felt the loss in some parts of his mind and the gain in others. Yet it was still Algonion, taking on some aspect of what he was not, but never quite becoming it.

So he shimmered and transformed in his last strides toward the sea, skimming the surface with his dangling feet, his fallen clothes snatched away by the snapping whitecaps. His large wings flapped, and he slowly rose up into the air and sailed out above the frantic waves, quickly shrinking to a more conventional size for a bird of his kind.

(See also The Hollow Mountain, The Wizards’ Eye, The Cloud Gardener, Prelude to “A Conspiracy of Wizards”, The History of the Writing of “A Conspiracy of Wizards” and About “A Conspiracy of Wizards”.)

Click here to buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards for just $2.99!!!

Click here to buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards for just $2.99!!!

Few issues, few demands to balance legitimate competing concerns, better illustrate both the subtlety of the challenges we face, and the dysfunctionality of displacing careful and thorough analyses with ideological scripts. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, on Meet the Press, just repeated the familiar right-wing refrain, “why are they more worried about the terrorists rights than about the rights of innocent travelers?” Some on the left (in an echo of Tea Party Liberty Idolatry) like to repeat the refrain, “those who trade liberty for security deserve neither.” Jindal also suggested that searching grandmothers and children at airport security is unnecessary, because they’re not the terrorists. Some on the left, in one of those all-too-common inter-ideological agreements on an oversimplification, insist that such measures are not about security at all, but rather about the exercise of government control and subjugation. (Vincent Carroll echoed that sentiment as applied to what he considers the government assault on Free Speech, as illustrated by, for instance, the opposition to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which protects corporate political speech from legislative restraints: see Freedom & Coherence).

It’s all Bullshit. Really.

Jindal’s refrain about Democrats’ overzealous defense of terrorists’ rights has been repeated in various contexts throughout American history, and has repeatedly been discredited. The very foundation of our system of justice is that people are presumed innocent until proven guilty. The constant allusion to the presumption of guilt that vests at the moment of being suspected (it is terrorists‘ rights that are being protected, rather than people suspected of terrorism) is as un-American as it gets. It was used to justify Gitmo, which every person I know of who actually visited Gitmo and talked with detainees there recognized held many, many completely innocent people.

The fact is, that despite our procedural bias in favor of protecting the rights of the innocent, we put thousands or tens of thousands of innocent people in jail every year, and some unknown number on Death Row. Violations of civil rights, including excessive violence by police against people who have committed the most minor of infractions, is a constant and real concern. Those on the right who are implicit advocates of decreasing our vigilance against those natural social forces that tend toward a police-state are doing this country an enormous disservice. As Sinclair Lewis said, “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross” (there is some debate about the attribution:

On the other hand, the notion that we don’t have to compromise any of what we consider to be the full extent of our liberties and rights to the concerns of mutual security is equally absurd (sorry, folks). The very existence of any system of law enforcement is an intrusion on personal liberty. That’s what laws are: An intrusion on personal liberty. And enforcing them is, inherently, an invasion of privacy, including, to some extent, of the innocent. The vast majority of Americans prefer the slight invasion of privacy associated with airport security  measures (at least prior to the implementation of the new, more intrusive measures) than the increased risk of violent death associated with their absence. I do, especially when my seven-year-old daughter is traveling with me.

The issue is not settled by some broad-brushstroke platitude on one side or the other, but rather by understanding: 1) the competing values; 2) the dangers of overemphasis of one or the other of those values; and 3) the cognitive and emotional biases that may play into exaggerating one or the other of those values (e.g., fear of criminal violence playing into an exaggerated predisposition to trade rights for security, or fear of government oppression playing into an exaggerated predisposition to trade security for rights). As in all matters, we are challenged to mobilize the best analyses, with all relevant information in play, and make the best decisions we can on that basis, in service to our values and to human welfare, all things considered.

Both Jindall, and some on the left who are indignant over TSA intrusiveness (in a Facebook thread on a post of the video of the little girl screaming “don’t touch me!” while being physically searched), invoke the refrain that small children and old ladies aren’t the terrorists. The fact is, that the terrorists are adaptable, and that there are those in all demographic categories who can be recruited, knowingly or unknowingly, willingly or unwillingly, to carry explosives or other instruments of terrorism across airport security. Without a doubt, the TSA procedures can be better designed, and their treatment of children can be more sensitive to the particular needs involved (i.e., have TSA employees trained in working with children, using techniques that put them at ease). But those current imperfections are not some kind of major scandal. They’re just current imperfections, that we should insist upon refining.

The message is the same message that permeates all of my posts: Don’t reduce the challenges of self-governance to ideological refrains and broad-brushstroke platitudes. Avoid precipitous conclusions driven by political-emotional predispositions. Do the analysis, and recognize that we live in a complex and subtle world, that demands more of us than ideological purity and self-righteous indignation when the presumptions of that purity are violated. The challenge of self-governance is not a trivial one. Let’s stop trivializing it.

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Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

Some events are better than others. At a reception preceding a presentation by Janet Napolitano (Secretary of Homeland Security) yesterday evening, I enjoyed a series of chats with Frederico Peña (former Denver mayor), Su Ryden (current Colorado state representative), Pilar Ingargiola (apparently a co-founder of the small policy LLC for which I currently do frequent short term research contracts), a bunch of guys from Iowa, and Aaron Harber (Denver talk show host).

Then the speeches began (for the smaller crowd invited to the reception; there would be another round for the full audience gathered upstairs in the auditorium where Secretary Napolitano was to speak). Larry Mizel of the CELL (Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab) introduced Michael Bennet (Junior U.S. Senator from Colorado), who had two endearingly spontaneous human moments during his speech: 1) He paused at one point during his introduction of John Hickenlooper (Denver Mayor and Colorado gubernatorial candidate) to say “God, I’m tired,” and 2) after saying that neither John Hickenlooper nor Larry Mizel would take credit for the CELL, nor would either of them give full credit to the other, Hick gestured from the side that he would give full credit to Larry, to which Michael said, “Well, John will give full credit, because he’s…,” quickly checking himself before saying “a candidate” or “running for office.” The audience filled in the blank and chuckled appreciatively.

After the speeches, we went up a back staircase to the auditorium, where the first few rows were reserved for us. Larry and John gave two more short speeches, and then Secretary Napolitano took the stage. Her presentation struck several chords with me, the underlying theme resonating with themes that I have been developing on this blog, and, in fact, with themes that are woven through my novel.

Secretary Napolitano referred to “the threat landscape,” a phrase that parallels my frequently used phrase “the social institutional landscape.” They are, indeed, two aspects of the same landscape, one a destabilizing, chaos-producing aspect, and one the ordering and re-ordering aspect. This was a major theme in my novel (An epic mythology): The interplay of chaos and order, and the ways in which the disorganizing influences (personified in my novel by mischievous imps, the Loci, who I considered to be, in effect, magical terrorists), lead to more subtle and complex, increasingly organic, re-orderings.

Indeed, that was precisely what Secretary Napolitano was describing.  Homeland Security recognizes that the best counterterrorism network would be an all-inclusive one, informing and mobilizing up and down through social institutional layers from the Department of Homeland Security to individual citizens, and creating channels for individual citizens (and others up and down the hierarchy) to inform those more charged with acting on that information.

The “see something, say something” campaign is one aspect of this attempt to mobilize and organize the populace in a decentralized system of cooperative vigilance, utilizing diffuse observation and information to create a counterterrorism network comprised of everyone, with eyes everywhere, far more comprehensive than anything that could be accomplished in any other way. Indeed, it is another example of activating “the genius of the many,” a theme I have discussed in my series of essays on the evolutionary ecology of our own social institutions and technologies (The Politics of Consciousness , Information and Energy: Past, Present, and Future, The Evolutionary Ecology of Audio-Visual Entertainment (& the nested & overlapping subsystems of Gaia), The Nature-Mind-Machine Matrix), as well as my post on “wikinomics” (Wikinomics: The Genius of the Many Unleashed) and “crowdfunding” (Tuesday Briefs: The Anti-Empathy Movement & “Crowdfunding”).

The system is far more involved than just recommending that people report suspicious behavior. It involves a network of  “fusion centers,” basically information way stations and processing centers, through which information is channeled upward and downward. In other words, Homeland Security is consciously trying to create a centralized system of upward and downward flows of information, of utilization and implementation of decentralized effort and in-put. This is the increasingly organic  model of human social organization that I have long been discussing as our inevitable path of development.

To be sure, one model of such decentralization, with, in many respects, little need for a centralizing agent, is the market economy itself. But the market economy, while able to exist almost independently of governments, does so only in a crude, inefficient, and failure-laden form. Refining that organic system into the robust market economy of today required the development of government backed currency and clearly defined and enforced property rights. It has since benefited from the development of a complex regulatory structure that ensures that market actors aren’t able to exploit information asymmetries to their own advantage and at the public expense. And it will benefit in the future from increasingly sophisticated Political Market Instruments (see Deforestation: Losing an Area the Size of England Every Year) which both internalize externalities, and bring a variety of public goods and public bads under the umbrella of market dynamics.

But markets are just one social institutional material among several (A Framework for Political Analysis). Our development of a more organic, robust, sustainable, and fair social institutional and technological landscape does not benefit from monomania, but rather from a commitment to develop all of the social institutional materials we have in productive, integrated, and decentralized but coherent ways.

Despite the decentralization of the counterterrorism regime that Secretary Napolitano was describing, it was a return to a sense of communal effort, and away from our growing extreme individualism. It is a “neighborhood watch” writ large, a community of people watching one another’s back, addressing a collective need, nationwide. One of its benefits is that it helps move us back in the direction of recognizing that we are inherently in a collective enterprise, whether we are satisfying collective needs through markets, or hierarchies, or normative rules of conduct, or values and beliefs which motivate us to do so. We are not just a collection of disconnected individuals, neither in the production of wealth, in the production of human welfare, in the coping with life’s challenges, or in the vigilance against the violence of others. We are inherently interdependent, and need to cultivate the cultural and social institutional acknowledgement that we are, so that we are not constantly fighting to disregard the demand to meet the needs posed by that interdependence.

In terms of counterterrorism, there are other subtleties to incorporate besides the upward and downward flow of information, and the upward and downward flow of its utilization and implementation. There are also privacy concerns, which Secretary Napolitano addresses by having experts in privacy law at her headquarters, involved in the design of our counterterrorism architecture from beginning to end. There is the challenge to create an informed and activated society without creating a more fearful one (something accomplished by the sense of empowerment that participating, and knowing that most others are participating, in our shared vigilance against terrorism). And there is the emphasis on suspicious behaviors rather than suspicious ethnic membership, discouraging the ethnic profiling that is so corrosive to our coexistence in a diverse society, though completely avoiding the noise of prejudice in a decentralized system will undoubtedly prove to be impossible.

Nor will our ability to prevent all terrorist attacks. But the rise of this decentralized and very dangerous form of warfare, benefiting from modern communications and information technologies much as other decentralized enterprises do, increases the demand for intentional and coordinated development of decentralized and organic systems of response. Even terrorists contribute to the evolution of the human ecosystem, albeit at too high a price.

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“This Week” is having a town hall this morning (I’m watching it now), addressing the question, “Should America fear Islam?” There are panelists on both sides of the question, including, on each side, people who lost loved ones on 9/11. One woman, Islamic, said, “America shouldn’t fear any religion. They should fear those who try to make them afraid.”

A woman who lost her pregnant daughter on 9/11 said that she can’t raise her remaining children to fear their neighbors, and that she lost her daughter and doesn’t want to now lose her country. The irony, of course, is that she fears losing her country to those who trade in the fear of losing our country (The same woman said, “I think we should not get into a discussion of whose religion has created more horror on Earth”).

A reverend who thinks that Christianity is the one truth agreed with a radical Muslim that Muslims who don’t practice Sharia law are not real Muslims. To the radical Muslim, that’s an indictment; to the reverend, it’s the justification of his hatred. Another commentator came on to say that the two, the radical Muslim and the radical Christian, are almost identical, flip sides of the same coin of intolerance and hatred.

The reverend had earlier said that he believed that Christianity was the one truth, and that Islam was a lie, and then went on to list the Islamic beliefs and history that he considers justification for his fear of Islam (Sharia law). But, of course, if we exposed Christianity to the same kind of critical examination, we would arrive at much the same kind of realization, that archaic religions fanatically adhered to today do not embrace the advances in our humanity that have transcended their former militancy. To use either of these religions (or any other) as a vehicle for the militancy that is historically embedded within it is the same crime against humanity dressed in different clothes; to use either of these religions (or any other) as a vehicle for compassion and goodwill, as a tolerant lens through which to focus a commitment to humanity, as a social force through which to do good in the world, is an admirable mission.

An FBI agent was brought on to discuss the legitimate terrorist threats, particularly home-grown Islamic terrorism. But he emphasized that the numbers are not dramatic, that the threat of home-grown terrorism does not rise to the level of the threat of mundane violent crime in America. He did not mention what Time Magazine did in its most recent issue (see “American Terrorists in Training”:, the three-fold rise in a single year in the number of radical right-wing militias training to fight their own holy war here on American soil.

One right-winger on the panel said that Islamic law requires that loyal Muslims must lie to advance their religion, and that, therefore, he could not trust the moderate Islamic panelist’s assurance that she is a proud American committed to preserving and promoting a tolerant, peaceful society.

The debate went on to compare the relative levels of violence committed by radical Christianity and radical Islam, whether the building of the Islamic Center in Manhattan is insensitive. Right after Gary Bower insisted that Christians don’t commit acts of violence when they’re upset, a Muslim cleric told of his mosque in a non-controversial location in the heartland of America being destroyed by arson.

A debate broke out whether rising hate crimes against Muslims are real, or committed by Muslims themseves in order to exploit a fabricated victimhood. (Robert?) Spencer cited what a well-informed participant called debunked data (and cited the organizations that had debunked it, including the FBI).

The right-wing extremists on the panel and in the audience kept returning to exaggerated claims of a radicalization that every specifically and professionally informed person (including law enforcement officials) on the panel and in the audience completely debunked. The right-wing man who lost his son insisted that we cannot tolerate Islam in this country, because it is inherently radical and violent. The moderate woman who lost her daughter spoke with the voice of reason and tolerance.

You should link to the video or transcript, and watch or read the whole thing, for the all of it, but most of all for Daisy’s brilliant contribution. Here are two (not necessarily the best) examples: “I believe that in this nation we hold people accountable for crimes after they commit them, and not before.” “They could be sensitive and move the mosque farther away from ground zero; how far away is far enough?”

At the close of the panel discussion, the wife of the Imam behind the cultural center was asked “should you move the center?” She answered, “No. I think American values should prevail.”

So do I.

This week’s Time magazine cover story is a chilling reminder that those mad hatter’s sipping their insanity-laced tea are no laughing matter (,9263,7601101011,00.html). The number armed and very dangerous militias, training to defeat all of us not-completely-insane (sometimes inexcusably Jewish or African American or Hispanic) people who are to them the devil incarnate, with live rounds, and grease paint, and enough loose screws rattle a civilization.

The number of active anti-government militias in America trippled in 2009, from 42 to 127. In one recent training exercise in Ohio, the scenario at which they shot live rounds, including from a belt-fed M-60 machine gun, was that Islamic terrorists were marauding over America because the current pro-Muslim president “had ordered a stand-down against Islamic troops”. One of them opines that he doesn’t know who the Redcoats will be; could be U.N. troops, federal troops, or Mexicans coming across the border (okay, he said “Mexican troops,” but given our current southern-border-xenophobia, and his complete insanity, if I were a bit more Chihuahuan in appearance, that statement would make me even more uncomfortable than I would undoubtedly already be).

These people are linked by “self-described Patriot beliefs,” including the notion that the federal government is a foreign tyrant. Some groups are white supremacists, some are members of a violent branch of  Christianity. Obama the non-white, “non-American”, “non-Christian”, non-Neanderthal alien is their catalyst, their symbol of having lost ground to the “other” that they rally, and rail, against. Some end up walking the walk, as well as talking the talk.

James Von Brunn, the 88 year old white supremacist who shot and killed a security guard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, was also an anti-government “patriot,” who had taken hostages at the Federal Reserve in 1981, had complained on his website that “the American right-wing (is) nothing but talk”, had originally intended to assassinate David Axelrod, President Obama’s senior White House advisor. Von Brunn had written “Obama was created by Jews. Obama does what his Jew masters tell him to do.”

The Time article has more stories of similar wackos, of swastikas and proclaimed desires to assassinate Obama, all simmering and seething through this morass of hatred and ignorance. Most of the Tea Party isn’t so extreme, so violent, though they speak in the metaphors of war and violence. But, to me, they are implicated in this, because they too are a coalescence of ignorance and anger, of a senseless rage toward some despised “other” (see “The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party,” posted just before this).

America, for all of its very real wonders and triumphs as a society and a nation, has always had a certain defective cultural gene, one not quite matched (though not entirely avoided, either) by the post-World War II Western European nations (maybe because they had seen that gene come to fruition right in their midst immediately before and during World War II, and were shocked into enough sense not to let it fester into malignancy again), whose right-wing extremists were never quite what defined them, as they too often are in America.

As absurd as the folks with misspelled signs and internally inconsistent beliefs, relying on a semi-informed “constitutional idolatry,” railing against the government whose services they are relying on to do so, they, and the frothing crests of the waves atop their sea that form these militias and plot these acts of domestic terrorism, are no laughing matter. We need to figure out how to restore some measure of rationality to this country, and we need to do it soon.