One shoe off

September 20, 2007

“The Mexicans are Laying Low”

Filed under: Bad Government,Idiotic ideas,immigration,Jesus,politics — Liz @ 11:01 am

I’ll say this for Muskogee, OK in contrast to many other parts of the state — it is an incredibly racially and ethnically diverse city. The Five Civilized Tribes Museum is in Muskogee, and the Cherokee Nation and Muscogee (Creek) Nation headquarters are in close proximity. Muskogee has a relatively large African-American population, and the Latino population has grown exponentially over the past years. There is even a growing Asian community as evidenced by the number of new Asian families moving in to my parents’ subdivision.

So imagine my surprise when, in my first few days as Spanish interpreter at the Muskogee County Health Department, I found myself with no one to interpret for! Not to mention that the tamale lady was gone from the Farmer’s Market. And the music minister from the Muskogee Hispanic Baptist Church had also disappeared. What was going on?

The answer came from my mother, who spoke with a local Latino leader yesterday during a planning meeting for Muskogee’s “Diversity Day” celebration.

“The Mexicans are laying low,” he said. “So just know that they aren’t going to show up because they don’t know what’s going to happen.”

You see, back in May the Oklahoma legislature approved (and Gov. Brad Henry signed) the Oklahoma Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act of 2007. The law requires all state and local agencies to verify resident status before approving benefits. It denies state identification cards to undocumented immigrants and requires employers to check applicants against a federal database to determine their resident status.

The rest of it is quite reprehensible, though, and deserves to be quoted word-for-word:

“It shall be unlawful for any person to transport, move, or attempt to transport within the United States any alien knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that the alien has come to, entered, or remained in the United States in violation of law, in furtherance of the illegal presence of the alien in the United States.
B. It shall be unlawful for any person to conceal, harbor, or shelter from detection any alien in any place, including any building or means of transportation, knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that the alien has come to, entered, or remained in the United States in violation of law.
C. Any person violating the provisions of subsections A or B of this section shall, upon conviction, be guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment in the custody of the Department of Corrections for not less than one (1) year, or by a fine of not less than One Thousand Dollars ($1,000.00), or by both such fine and imprisonment. “

Of course, if you read the text of the law, it tells you that certain services are exempt from the requirement — for example, services guaranteed by federal law (like WIC), and emergency services (like emergency medical treatment or soup kitchens) are still allowed. Try explaining that to someone who was already in fear of being caught and deported, though.

The deadline for all of this is Nov. 1, which explains why people are becoming more and more worried, and why this issue is going to continue to stay at the forefront of discussions in Oklahoma for the next months. Robert Waldrop wrote an excellent piece about the legislation back when it first passed Oklahoma House. More on this as it develops.

September 15, 2007

This is SO 1984 …

Filed under: 9/11,Bad Government,books,constitution,Jesus,libraries — Liz @ 10:04 pm

<sigh> I’d like to get a hold of a prison chaplain and ask them for a copy of the list.

In brief, the Bureau of Prisons has decided that prison chaplains must remove from their libraries any material not on a pre-approved list. Why? Need you ask? The same reason the government makes every decision lately: to combat terrorism. The feds don’t want prisoners converting to Islam while their in prison.

The bureau, an agency of the Justice Department, defended its effort, which it calls the Standardized Chapel Library Project, as a way of barring access to materials that could, in its words, “discriminate, disparage, advocate violence or radicalize.”

Ms. Billingsley said, “We really wanted consistently available information for all religious groups to assure reliable teachings as determined by reliable subject experts.”

The copy of the list is not public, but according to my Web research C.S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and a whole bunch of Orthodox Jewish books are in. Barth, Niebuhr, Kushner (When Bad Things Happen to Good People) and Rick Warren (The Purpose-Driven Life) are out. Also gone are the Hadith, and the works of Moses Maimonides.

At the Otisville prison in New York, according to one report, the post-purge Muslim section of the library has been reduced to the Qur’an and two other books. Three-quarters of the Jewish books in the same prison were removed.

As a theological student and someone who spends a great deal of time and energy reading religious books, this first of all hits me at a very visceral level. I’m trying to imagine the pain of visiting the prison chapel library and finding gaping holes in the shelves. And what about the anguish of having a treasured prayer book suddenly removed (as many Muslim prayer books have been)?

On an intellectual/ethical level, this is completely unacceptable. One of my core theological principles is that of soul liberty … the freedom (and responsibility) of each individual to choose what her/his conscience dictates is right, free from the control or coercion of church, government, family, friends or any other outside entity. To restrict access to religious texts is unconscionable from a religio-ethical standpoint because it interferes with the individual’s ability to explore her/his relationship to and understanding of God.
From a constitutional standpoint, this kind of restriction interferes with prisoners’ freedom of religion, of a few rights that they still retain. Further, I would argue that the freedom to read is another core human right that prisoners should retain.

Finally, from a pastoral perspective, faith is an important part of many inmates’ lives. To restrict their access to books that encourage and strengthen their faith is to do tremendous damage. In many libraries, the shelves have been all but emptied by this project (called, btw, the Standardized Chapel Library Project. Incidentally, it’s been going on since MAY). The project did NOT, however, include any funds to help the libraries replenish their collections with approved books. So now many inmates looking for enlightenment, encouragement and solace are faced with gaping holes on the library shelves.

September 14, 2007

State of the Nation

Filed under: media,politics,State of the nation — Liz @ 9:36 am

1. We’re dumb and fat. I’m a fan of Mike Gravel, I see his point, I’m inclined to agree with him. North Americans ARE fat. That’s the first thing many foreign visitors notice when they arrive. And I’m inclined to agree that people are pretty dumb, as well (else why would we continue to eat the crap that’s killing us, for example). There is a very strong anti-intellectual current running through the U.S. psyche. Not to mention that we’ve become accustomed to accepting information in sound bites without taking the time to question it. This is not entirely our fault … there are very smart, very wealthy people out there trying their best to tell us what to think, buy and yes, eat.

But the populist in me wants to resist writing off the U.S. as hopelessly dumb. In one of his essays, Noam Chomsky points out that, if you listen to sports talk radio shows, the people who call in by and large show a very sophisticated understanding of strategy, statistics and the minutae of their favorite sport. They question and criticize the “authorities” on the sport — i.e. coaches, referees, analysts … with no qualms whatsoever. People offer confident, sophisticated analysis of athletics. The trick is helping them see that they can also offer confident, sophisticated analysis of arenas with much greater stakes.

2. Our loneliness goes as deep as our genes. Actually, that’s not what the article SAYS, but the headlines that many outlets chose for the story makes it sound as though scientists have found a “lonely gene” (akin to the “breast cancer gene” or a “gay gene”). Actually, it’s even more poignant. Loneliness has profound biological effects, even going so far as to effect us on a genetic level. Lonely people die sooner, and it may not be just because they lack resources.

Like most news reports of medical/scientific studies, this one leaves much to be desired where details are concerned. (And what the Washington Post article doesn’t tell you is that the study only looked at 14 people.)

Still, the idea that loneliness is “killing us softly” not just in a vague way but at a very specific genetic level is compelling. It’s always nice to get biological arguments for your basic theological tenets, in any case. One of mine is that human being, being in the image of God, require community.

Not that I’m one to mix science and religion … as we all know, that leads to things like this:

3. I have a new favorite online hangout since I came the Oklahoma: the Web site of the Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House in Oklahoma City. Bob Waldrop, the author, fascinates  me to no end. Read his “Woe to the rich (immigration version)” (* I LOVE that there is room for more than one version of his “woe to the rich” I also love his argument that laws that hurt the poor and the oppressed are pro-abortion. I’m not turning in my pro-choice credentials any time soon, but I find it a brilliant leap of logic. And an accurate one, as well. It’s a wonder it hasn’t occurred to anyone else yet … wait a minute, I guess it’s not a wonder).  Also, a very good example of public theology from a Catholic Worker perspective (remember, they’ve been at it A LOT longer than many of us).

Click around Bob’s site some more. He’s doing great things with local food, has some great pieces about various social issues and a really good bread recipe.

September 12, 2007

The day after ….

Filed under: 9/11,blogging,journalism,media,writing — Liz @ 1:53 pm

Sept. 12, 2001 was a turning point in my life.

Sept 12, 2oo1 was the day that my first issue of The Bison came out. I’d been roped into editing the paper by some well-intentioned professors who thought that, in the absence of a journalism major who could do the job, an English major who could write well would be a suitable substitute. I came on board two days before the second issue of the semester. One day before the paper came out, Sept. 11 happened and I fell head over heels in love with newsprint.

We put the paper to bed that Tuesday and I went over to my parents’ house. They were sitting in the living room watching the news. They had gone out a bought a t.v. that day.

My first-ever editorial ran Wednesday. I remember referencing Don DeLillo’s Mao II. By some immense irony we had discussed the novel — which among other things talks about how terrorism shapes current reality in the same way fiction once did — in class the day before the attacks. I remember saying something about not letting fear take us over. I like to remember myself making some kind of statement calling for a response that didn’t involve war, but I haven’t read that piece in years (I don’t even know if I have it in my files anymore) so I’m not sure if I did or not. (Maybe I’ll take a drive down to Shawnee and visit the archives and pull that issue out.)

Why does this all come to mind now? Is it because I’m back in Oklahoma again, like I was in 2001? Is it because I’m writing again — and will be on a regular basis, the way I was during my tenure as editor? Is it simply because the days of the week coincide? Because we once again had a Tuesday, Sept. 11? And a Wednesday, Sept. 12?

I think that recalling that column is a suitable prologue to this blog. Looking back through the lens of what I have done since then, the columns I wrote as editor of the Bison were my first attempts at theological reflection. At a university where so many people lived according to a theological framework which was rapidly losing relevance for me, I needed a venue to try out all my new thoughts. Without fail I impressed my professors and bored my peers. On occasion I angered the administration, but not nearly as much as I wish I had. Regardless, “99.44” (as my column was called) saved my life that year.

(Editor’s note: Big fancy prize if you figure out what “99.44” refers to).

in the poor house

Editor’s note: This was written a couple of weeks ago. It’s a little overdue, but I thought I would share it 1) in the interest of having some kind of content on this blog and 2) because the themes of “affluenza,” poverty and consumerism are ones that continually bounce up to the surface.

So, Tony Snow finally announced his resignation. Funny how people around Bush are dropping like flies. It’s like the party guests who go home early, not hanging around to be rousted off the floor or couch and thrown out by the host.

Funny, also, how Mr. Snow cites financial reasons for leaving his job. Apparently, as White House spokesperson he made a paltry $168,000, which he says isn’t enough to support his family. FYI the median income for a family of five in D.C. is $35,754. Yet, Mr. Snow claims he “had to take out a loan” in order to make ends meet when he left his high-paying Fox job to come to the White House. And yet, his income of $168k puts him in the top 5 percent. So, there are 3 options, as I see it:
1) He’s lying, and he’s really leaving because of a) his cancer or b) everyone else is leaving.

2) Tony Snow and his family, like a huge chunk of people, are mired in debt. For the average American, that’s nearly $19,000 in consumer debt, not counting mortgages. The average principal on a mortgage is about $69,000. So, let’s for fun say that the average American owes about $90,000. We’ll pretend Mr. Snow is indeed average. I suppose that, were his family to suddenly need to pay off all their debt all at once, an income $168,000 would be a little tight. (Failing to point out, however, that even that scenario would leave him with $78,000 to live off of. More than twice the median income mentioned above).

3) Mr. Snow lives way beyond his means. There is no reason at all why a five person family cannot have all their needs — food, shelter, clothing, water — met on $168k a year. Yes Mr. Snow has been ill, but federal employees are one of the few groups of people who DO have good insurance. And what about all that money he was making at Fox? Do you mean to tell me he saved NONE of it? He’s burnt through it all?

I’ve been afraid for a very long time that the industrialized world is going to run into an economic catastrophe on the scale of the Great Depression sometime in the next 50 years. My biggest fear, though, is that we’ve lost the skills to deal with that kind of catastrophe. Cable TV and (and to a lesser extent Internet access) have become “utilities” that are considered equal to electricity or gas service. We each spend about $2100 a year on restaurant meals. We’ve forgotten how to soak a bean, much less bake a loaf of bread. God forbid we brew our own coffee, or drink tap water from a glass.

Maybe my Walden Pond complex is coming back … every once in awhile I get this urge to dramatically simplify my life and start valuing NON-thing things. I can’t help but think that as a person of faith I need to take seriously Jesus’ command to live a life where people matter much more than things, and where we stop worrying about the money and live instead lives that are more humane. Lives that are more human.

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