Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Sunday, October 28, 2018

Hondurans are fleeing, not invading

Last year, we saw endless lines of thousands of Rohinga refugees filing out of Myanmar into Bangladesh. This year, it’s similarly endless columns of 7,000 refugees marching ten abreast up a highway towards the U.S. 

            Trump, without so much as a shred of evidence, denounced the Honduran exodus as a “National Emergy” – apparently he can’t be bothered to spell “emergency” correctly – filled with criminals and agitators from the Middle East.

            I wonder how he would have described the biblical Exodus. Certainly there were fugitives from justice in that migration. Moses himself was considered a criminal. So was any person fleeing from slavery. And they were all – all -- Middle Eastern malcontents.

            Reporters walking with the Honduran refugees uniformly report that these are simply ordinary people, hoping for a better life. 

            “We’re not migrating, we are fleeing,” a man called Timothy from the city of El Progreso told a reporter.

            News reports described frequent acts of kindness. One group turned down a ride on a flat-bed truck headed north, rather than leave other walkers behind. Others gave up their place on a raft crossing the SuchiateRiver into Mexico, to a young mother whose two-year-old daughter had recently had a heart operation.

            As the mile-long procession moved through southern Mexico, local villages turned out to cheer, and to hand out food and water.


Impossible conditions

            News reports have offered some statistics behind the exodus. The current minimum wage in Honduras is less than $400 U.S. a month. But essentials such as water, food, and electricity for a household will exceed $500 a month. And few of the maquiladores, the large export companies that benefit from free-trade agreements, bother paying even the minimum wage, because they know they can get away with breaking the rules.

            In a country of nine million people, six million live in poverty.

            In a Canadian equivalent, some 22 million citizens would be living below the poverty line. In the U.S., more than 200 million. Little wonder there’s explosive anger, and despair.

            It’s a cruel irony that these refugees are hoping to seek refuge in the country that caused their misery -- the U.S.-backed coup in 2009 that brought the far-right Partido Nacionalinto power. It led directly to the spiral of violence and corruption that afflicts the country. 

            Honduras currently has the world’s highest murder rate. And a high level of sexual violence. Over 600 women are killed a year. Called feminicides, these murders are rarely prosecuted. Of some 200 LGBTI murders, only two have made it into court.

            Trump’s angry threats to cut aid to Central American countries will, if implemented, make poverty worse, thus increasing the flow of refugees rather than reducing it. 


Mistaken impressions

            Trump blames the media for what he calls “fake news.” But in this case, it’s not the news media at fault, but the so-called “family” entertainment programs. 

            Are there any TV programs that show American families living in poverty? I’ve pretty much given up watching American network television. But my impression, from occasionally sampling what’s available on the 500 channels on cable, that everyone lives in a five-bedroom multi-bathroom house with big couches in their living rooms, thick carpets and immaculate kitchens.

            Even a three-bedroom 1950s bungalow would look like ultimate luxury to poor Hondurans.

            I have yet to see a TV series about a family coping with having a bank foreclose on their mortgage. 

            Or a cook dealing with a stove so old and cantankerous that he can’t scrape grease out of the oven any more. 

            A breadwinner laid off by corporate downsizing. A female officer in the Marines dealing with constant sexual harassment. A parent dying in misery because his children can’t afford the astronomical costs of the U.S. medical system.

            Nope. Never. 

            If you were to go entirely by television – which is the only way that people in Honduras can know about life in America – you’d probably conclude that every American has a good job, ample money, lots of friends, and good health.

            Now that’s the real fake news!


Futile cause

            The notion that mass migrations can be stopped with enough guards, fences, walls, and immigration laws is wishful thinking. Between rising ocean levels, droughts, floods, fires, landslides, hurricanes, and typhoons – all influenced by global warming – there are going to be millions of people, not just thousands, looking for new homes. 

            Some will simply inundate neighbouring nations. Some will aim higher. At what they imagine as our standard of living.

            We’d better get used to it. Because this is the new normal.


Copyright © 2018 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.

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Your letters, generally, supported rehabilitation of prison inmates. 

            Anne McRae, for example, wrote, “Revenge solves nothing, helps no-one, does not even make you feel good.”

            Bob Rollwagen had a similar comment: “Revenge has been a plank in Trump’s policies, a plank in Doug Ford’s policies and likely a future plank in the Federal Conservatives approach to leadership. When will we understand the importance of rehabilitation in the scheme of social progress?

            As Rob Brown noted, "’An eye for an eye’ leads to a lot of blindness. A good reason for choosing a better way.”


Sandy Hayes: “Yes, I have had people who consider themselves /Christian’ quote the ‘eye for an eye’ part -- they seem to ignore the ‘vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord’ or the ‘turn the other cheek’ advice from Jesus. 

            “They also do not seem to believe -- or perhaps they have not strained their brains to find out – that there is NO evidence that the death penalty stops murderers. Having worked in Corrections, I can tell you it is because criminals do not think they will be caught. These murderous souls are not usually caught after their first murder -- so killing them would not prevent future murders. What needs to be done is intervention long before murders are committed. We badly need more mental health assistance and better parenting and support -- not killing them after the deed has been done.”


Tom Watson wrote, “Beats me why the ‘law-and-order, let's get tough on crime’ folks focus primarily on punishment, and are disinterested in rehabilitation. After all, I suppose, if we put people away in prison they're at least out of sight, and therefore out of mind, for a while. Using the same logic, they argue for minimum sentences, but why then would we need judges, just use computers -- this is the crime, this is the time, end of story.”


Laura Hutchison wrote, “You make a valid point regarding revenge. I agree that we must be very careful about our motives for incarcerating someone. I do not know much about Terri-Lynne McClintic, but in the case of Paul Bernardo, I would hope that the Parole Board have the integrity and the knowledge to judge whether it is safe to decide if this man has been rehabilitated. I am certain that each case must be judged individually, and I am glad that I do not have to make the decisions. As a citizen, a parent, grandparent (etc) I have learned that there are some people who are not able to be rehabilitated and therefore must be denied freedom for the safety of others. It is my hope and prayer that these are few and far between. 

            “Examples such as Paul Bernard and Col. Russell Williams have such a long history of abuse of vulnerable people, that I would want the powers-that-be to be extremely cautious about giving them any freedom that might allow them to hurt or take advantage of innocents ever again.”


Ed Olfert had some personal experience to contribute: “For 30 years I have been a volunteer who visits inmates in a federal prison. For 20, I have been involved in Circles of Support and Accountability for high risk sex offenders. I give this time and energy because it allows me to experience the best of what humans are capable of. I refer here to the compassion offered to me by high risk offenders. 

            “The fact that the offender to whom you refer finds herself in a healing lodge in Saskatchewan is a good thing. When this offender rejoins society, I want her to have all the healing we can offer.”


Several of you commented on the transfer of Terri-Lynne McClintic to a Healing Lodge in Saskatchewan. 

            Rob Brown: “I was surprised by the decision to move Terri-Lynne McClintic to a healing lodge. I didn't realize she was indigenous. Is she indigenous? [CSC allows prisoners to self-declare their ethnicity: JT] Can non-indigenous people go to healing lodges? Why or why not? As you can see, I'm not up on these items, despite research with the available data (which is pretty sparse). But I trust the Correction Service knows what it is doing in this case, and I'll leave it at that. 

            “I'm bothered by comments from the father of the little girl McClintic confessed to killing. Ron Stafford said that McClintic is ‘living it up better than a third of Canadians.’ But when you read McClintic's life story, this may be the first time in her life that she has had decent housing and secure food supply. [And she had to go to prison to get it.] And Ron Stafford apparently understands nothing about the goals of Indigenous Healing Lodges.

            “It's all very, very sad.”


Isabel Gibson: I don't think we can rehabilitate Bernardo -- or, perhaps, know whether he has been rehabilitated. Barring that, I'd vote for leaving him where he is, until the end of his life.

            “As for McClintic, I understand that the healing lodge is intended for inmates who are close to the end of their sentences, to help them reintegrate into society.  That's not McClintic's situation -- not now and not anytime soon.

            “For these two, since we can't impose a punishment that fits the crime without descending into savagery ourselves, I'll settle for removing them from society.

            I wonder whether the ‘hunger for revenge’ that you postulate -- or for a punishment balanced with the offence -- might be the flip side of our human ability to keep track of who has ‘done us wrong,’ and who has helped us.  This ability helps us live together in mutually beneficial relationships and might account for some of the outrage we feel when dealing with outliers like Bernardo and McClintic.”


Steve Roney had different reasons: “The issue I see with the case of McClintic is not revenge vs. rehabilitation, but disparate treatment. If people are given different sentences for the same crime, based on their ethnicity, this is a direct violation of equal treatment before the law. It is also logically indefensible: if treatment in a sweat lodge is more effective for rehabilitation than prison, then all prisoners should be sent to sweat lodges instead of prisons. If treatment in a sweat lodge does not work, or we want instead to have prison sentences as a greater deterrent, or at least to keep them off the streets and unable to commit more crimes, then all prisoners should be sent to prison for the full sentence. There is no logical or moral justification for such disparate treatment.”


The letter from Janie Wallbrown, that I printed in full, drew several responses of its own. 

            Isabel Gibson wrote, “Thanks for printing your classmate's letter. It's hard to read, but important.”

            And Gloria Jorgenson added, “I rarely comment on comments but I have to say ‘amen’ to Janie's letter. I have felt that long term welfare recipients would benefit greatly from that sort of instruction. They have lots of time on their hands and little money for recreation so these outings would also double as social occasions. The added benefit of feeling pride at learning something new is also immeasurable. I'd love to know where she did her magic and why that sort of program wasn't adopted by the whole system.”






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To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. (This is to circumvent filters that think too many links constitute spam.)

                       Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on Youtube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8

                       Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. More details at wwwDOTsinghallelujahDOTca

                       Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. <http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca>

                       I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom

                       Alva Wood’s satiric stories about incompetent bureaucrats and prejudiced attitudes in a small town -- not particularly religious, but fun; alvawoodATgmailDOTcom to get onto her mailing list.

                       Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet



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Author: Jim Taylor

Categories: Sharp Edges

Tags: Trump, Honduras, Mexico, refugees



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