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Sunday, July 29, 2018

Quod Erat Demonstrandum


I judge people based on their capability, honesty, and merit.
-- Donald Trump


Give me what I want, or I'll punish the whole country!


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I would be willing to 'shut down' government if the Democrats do not give us the votes for Border Security, which includes the Wall! Must get rid of Lottery, Catch & Release etc. and finally go to system of Immigration based on MERIT! We need great people coming into our Country!

That’s what Trump said this morning. We need great people coming into our country.

Great people.

And you get those people, apparently, with a "merit" based immigration system.

Immigration based on merit.

And not just immigration.

Merit is important to Republicans, to Trump. He says it quite a bit. Merit. In all caps, so apparently he means it this time.

Merit. This is a common theme with Trump, judging people based on “merit.”

What merit? And who decides?


Who decides which immigrants have merit?


No, I mean it. Tell me, who decides which immigrants have merit?

Who decides which people have merit, which human beings have merit and which ones don’t. Who decides that?

See, it’s one thing for an individual, a private businessman, to apply some personal, arbitrary measure of merit to others in his personal interactions. Perhaps we all do this to some degree.

It’s another thing entirely for the government to decide the merits of a human being.

And Trump is no longer a private individual, for the moment, for better or worse, he is the government.


Who decides which immigrants have merit?


Hell, before we even get to that, you'll have to define what "merit" means in this context.

What is human merit? Is there a standard set of criteria? An agreed upon list of traits which constitute merit? Is merit measured in degree, with precision, a scale perhaps from 0 to 100? What is the minimum amount of merit to allow entry? How do you measure it? Who measures it? When do you measure it – i.e. when a person is an infant? A child? A teen? An adult? When? After they’ve had some education. After they’ve made a fortune? After they’ve gained some proven worth? Or is it raw potential?

The inherent merit you’re either born with or not. Is that it? Is it?

People change, they grow, and they sometimes diminish with time – you have only to look at those we once though had great merit until they suddenly didn’t. Bill Cosby comes to mind, along with myriad other entertainers, politicians, and wealthy entrepreneurs who’ve fallen from grace in recent memory.

Merit?

How do you measure that? Because we’ve never been able to do so in any quantifiable manner.

Instead we use vague subjective terms and questionable metrics: Happy. Well adjusted. High IQ. Studious. Smart. Above average. Well educated. Talented.

Take this guy, does he have merit?  The smartest kid in class. 167 IQ. Skipped ahead in high school, National Merit Finalist, graduated at 15, accepted into Harvard at 16, full scholarship for advanced mathematics. PhD by 25. A genius by every measure. His potential for greatness and merit? Unlimited. Trump says, "We need great people coming into our Country!" Great people. Great. Well, then what are the things that make a person "great?" Does that guy, the one just I described have merit? Is he the kind of 25-year-old we’d want helping us make America great? If you met him at the border, would he be the type you’d let in?

Yeah?

That’s Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber.


So, who defines human merit in the context of greatness?


Trump's own mother was an immigrant.

When she immigrated here at the start of the Great Depression. She was a teenager, 18 years old. Her first language was Gaelic, her English nearly incomprehensible to Americans. She had no education, no trade, no special skills, no unique abilities, no money. She was a dirt-poor economic immigrant, one of tens of thousands from Scotland during the depression. She ended up a domestic servant in New York, scrubbing the toilets of the more well-to-do.

Now, what "merit" did she have?

It's not as if America needed another dirt poor non-skilled toilet-scrubber during the Depression. We had plenty of natural born Americans of our own who needed jobs and would have done anything to get them, including scrubbing toilets. What merit did Mary Ann MacLeod have? Why should she have been allowed to come here and take a job, money, a desperately needed livelihood, from an American?

What greatness did she have?

Other than being young, and pretty, and white, and eventually married to a rich guy, I mean?

Much the same could be said of the President's current wife. What greatness did Melanija Knavs have? What merit? Her father was an Eastern Bloc communist. There's nothing special about her education or her experience, she has no unique abilities, no special skills. She did have a trade when she came here, true, but "model" is hardly something great that America needs and can't produce for itself. Her looks got her here, true, but they're fading now and she'll never walk a runway again -- so what merit does she have? Other than being attractive and white and married to a rich guy?


Who decides which immigrants have merit?


How do you define "great people."

What is it that makes an immigrant great?

Who decides what greatness is?

It matters. Very much.

For example: Trump and numerous Republicans have said, or implied, more than once, that immigrants – and in particular, Latinos – tend to vote for Democrats, or at least this is the assumption. And thus, many outspoken Republicans seem to suggest that alone should be enough to bar them from the country. And you don't have to look very far or very hard to find them saying so.

So does that mean we let people into this country, and eventually grant citizenship, to only those who have the "merit" of voting for the political party we like?

Who decides that?

Those currently in power? The same way we decide gerrymandering and voting districts? Yeah?

Or do we compromise? Balance it out? Sure, like before the Civil War when the Union granted statehood only in pairs, one Slave State and one Non-Slave State had to be admitted together in order to maintain balance in Congress.

Like that?

Is that a template for immigrants? We only grant citizenship in pairs, one liberal and one conservative at a time, so as to maintain the balance and assuage Republican fears?

Silly?

Perhaps.

But we've made many such ridiculous compromises in the past, or worse.


Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
-- Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus

Who decides what human merit actually is?

No, seriously, who decides?

Is skill with a scalpel more valuable to America than the skills of a warrior? No, I'm not being facetious here. We have holidays to honor the military, Trump himself wants to see soldiers parade through the Capital. We have no national holidays to honor doctors and nurses, Trump hasn’t ordered a parade for those who save lives rather than those who take them. So, which has more merit, the doctor? or the warrior?

Is ability with complex math more meritorious than, say, facility with music? And we’re back to Ted Kaczynski again, aren’t we?

Some kid, say, hyperactive, no education, no experience, behavioral problems, only skill is screwing around on skateboards. He shows up at the border, you gonna let him in?

No?

No merit. No special skills. No useful education. Just another punk kid, just another troublemaker on wheels. No merit.

That’s Tony Hawk. Pro-skateboarder at 14. World Champion twelve years in a row. Today he’s a 50-year-old man, who still does little more than screw around on skateboards – and he’s recognized the world over, a hero to tens of thousands, a star, a leader in a billion dollar industry, and business is lined up twenty deep for his endorsement.

What merit to America’s supposed greatness does skateboarding have?

Well, that depends on how you define merit, doesn’t it?

How many Tony Hawks didn’t have the luxury of being born here? How many future sports stars are right now six years old and locked in cages on our southern border? And what if those skills, that merit, develops only after someone immigrates to America? What if it's America itself, the opportunities here, that create greatness in a person and not the other way around? What if it's both? I mean, how do you know? How can you know? How can you predict human nature, human potential with any degree of fidelity?

How do you tell the Ted Kaczynskis from the Tony Hawks?

 

Who decides what merit is?


Isn't merit subjective?

Dependent on the moment? Subject to change?

Merit. Human merit. I came from the military. From the Navy to be specific. I spent most of my adult life there. I joined up, at least in some part, because I didn’t know what merit I might have. I had some education, a bit. But I wasn’t a warrior. I wasn’t an egghead. I didn’t fit in much of anywhere. I didn’t have a lot of direction, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with myself.  The military gave me that, direction, purpose, education, perspective.  I learned something about human worth. You see, turns out I was selected for something special. Intelligence work. And back in the day, back during the Cold War, my specialty was pretty damned important. And the prestige of my profession was very high in the military. No one knew what we did. We were special, important, and we were regarded – at least we thought so – with more than a bit of mysticism and respect, and maybe a little awe. It made you feel a cut above the average sailor. Unique. Imbued with special merit, perhaps, greatness even.

But, see, here’s the thing.

Out there, on the pointy end, far from home, onboard a warship, you learn a little something about merit – and maybe something about your own relative worth.

Us? We spooks, those of us who worked behind locked steel doors, well, out there we were no more special – and lot less so – than the rest of the crew. Merit? Let me tell you about merit. Out there, far, far from home, the unnamed and unknown sailors who carried the mailbags to the helicopter in some distant port, the men who flew those machines over the sea and landed them on a pitching deck, the clerk who sorted that mail and handed it out at mail call, well, let me tell you those son of bitches had merit. Because a letter from home, back then before email and satellite network connections at sea, that guy was your lifeline to home. The ship’s servicemen, who washed your laundry every day, down in the bowels of the ship, who sweated their asses off in steam-filled compartments so that you could have clean skivvies, those men had merit.  If you crossed them, you might spend the next three months of your deployment free-balling it. The mess specialists, the ones who cooked your breakfast and served your lunch and made your dinner, those guys had merit, and one hell of a lot more than some codebreaker like me up in the spook-shack, because the quality of navy chow determines in very, very large part the morale of a ship. Bad cooks are a special misery at sea. Merit? There was no glory in sorting mail, in washing clothes, in cooking up dinner, or in the hundred other jobs done by the unnamed and unknown sailors out there everyday, but the ships won’t move without them and it sure doesn’t take you long to learn just how important they are to your quality of life.

That’s America.

Merit? What has more merit? A dentist when you need a cavity filled or the garbage man when your cans are overflowing? The person who waits on your table when you’re hungry or the one who cuts your hair? Those people, the ones who turn up whenever you need help, the ones who stop alongside the road to help you with a flat, the ones who always turn up to help look for a missing child, the ones who fill the sandbags when the water is rising and the winds start to howl, what merit do they have?


Who decides the merit of a human being?


Is merit education? Experience? Skill? Intellect? Able bodied? Ability? Something you’re born with or something you learn?

Or is merit your Race? Religion? Language? Wealth? Health? Politics? Age? Attractiveness? Breeding potential? Skull shape? Eye color?

Who decides what constitutes human merit? What makes a human being great or not?

You know, there have been nations throughout history who have attempted to define exactly that, define greatness, define merit. Measure it. And set human beings on a scale, their worth measured against each other.

Universally, history regards those societies as monsters and we hold them up as examples of horror and the ultimate villainy.


Who decides which people have merit and which ones do not?


You?

Me?

Donald Trump?

Congress? Voters? The mob? Some faceless bureaucrat? A secret committee? Do we contract it out? Outsource the decision to a company in Bangladesh? Who decides?

And how long, once we begin assessing immigrants on their supposed merit, their unmeasurable and unknowable potential contribution to our alleged national greatness, how long before we likewise begin dividing up natural born Americans into categories of relative worth? How long before we begin separating those with merit from those judged to have less, or none?

And what do we do with those who have no merit to our society? What happens to them?

When the state grants itself the power to decide which humans are worthy and which ones are not, then slavery, genocide, absolutism, war, and horror follow almost immediately. Every time.

Every. Time.

Every. Single. Time.

Power corrupts.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

And there is no power more absolute, or more corrupting, than a government who declares itself the arbiter of human worth.


Since I have difficulty defining merit and what merit alone means – and in any context, whether it's judicial or otherwise – I accept that different experiences in and of itself, bring merit to the system.
-- Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States.

117 comments:

  1. If you take one step forward and raise your right hand, in my book you have merit.

    On the other hand so did Ed and Ralph.

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  2. If that happens, the next step is judging the merit of natural born US citizens. Those find wanting go to the camps? How do you stop this freight train when haters get their teeth into it?

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    1. "...the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. it is it’s natural manure." Thomas Jefferson.

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    2. Powerful. Your mind is mind blowing

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  3. I teach school in a prison, and found myself changed by the conundrum it presents. There is an argument that I hear all the time that the benefits of civilization should go to people who deserve them, and offenders don't. On the surface that sounds like it makes sense until you get to the question "who decides who is worthy" as Jim does above.

    My personal answer to this has become to focus on what people need, generally what *they* tell me they need, rather than on what I or anyone else thinks they deserve.

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  4. Minor edit to an excellent piece I will share...

    "the qualify of navy chow"

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    1. Yes, really. That's the way Jim's system works. He knows we're all nit-picky pedants and takes merciless advantage of it.

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  5. I stood in a room full of "Progressives," a lot of whom were not white for a training on racial sensitivity. The facilitator asked those of us who believed in a merit-based immigration system to stand on one side of the room, those who did not on the other, and I was STUNNED at the number of people who went to the merit side. Not because they did so, but because they moved quickly, without a moment's thought. My immediate thought was "WHAT merit?? Do I myself have any of this 'merit'? If I don't know the answer to that, do I trust anyone ELSE to have that answer?" and I stood lonely.

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  6. Would you please cite the source of the Sotomayor quotation?

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    1. It was from transcripts of old interviews that she provided during her confirmation hearing.

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    2. CNN several years ago. The link is on Google but the website times out fetching content that old.

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    3. http://edition.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/06/11/sotomayor.affirmative.action/

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    4. Thank you. I googled but didn't turn up anything.

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  7. “And how long, once we begin assessing immigrants on their supposed merit, their unmeasurable and unknowable potential contribution to our alleged national greatness, how long before we likewise begin dividing up natural born Americans into categories of relative worth? How long before we begin separating those with merit from those judged to have less, or none?”

    But we’re already doing this, aren’t we? Ever since the middle class faded away to almost nothing, there’s the haves and have nots. We’ve heard it from the Republican politicians time after time. The poor are lazy. They’re moochers. They’re bleeding the country dry with welfare and Medicaid. Some are, but most aren’t. “They should get an education and better themselves.” Well, how? Working three jobs that barely pay enough combined to keep the lights on, food on the table, a roof over their heads. With what time and what money can they earn that education to better their circumstances? And that’s just one example.

    Sir, I must beg to differ with you on your statement. It’s not a matter of “if” we get to that point where we judge native-born Americans on their “merits” and decide if they are worth the trouble. We’re there now. And have been for a while. Look at Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell slavering over cuts to Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, food stamps. We’re there. And the powers that be have decided that the poor, the elderly, the infirm, women, and people of color are not worthy. Anyone who isn’t white, male, straight, and rich. It has already happened.

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    1. “It has already happened..”

      It’s always been happening. It’s happening again, but damn, excellent retort. I would only ask, who are the "powers that be?" Is it you, and me?

      Is it possible?

      Leroy

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    2. Tifanne - would you mind if I quoted your last paragraph as a comment on my sharing of Jim's article on FB? I ask because I couldn't agree more, the slide down that slippery slope has already begun.

      One more item I would add if making this list would be religious beliefs. If you don't follow the 'right' religion, or heaven forbid you don't have any religious beliefs, the jury doesn't even have to be called in as you have no 'merit' and have already been deemed not worthy.

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    3. Already happened. In America. And not that long ago - at least up to the mid-20th century. Forced sterilization. 32 states allowed a group of someones to decide who "merited" the ability to procreate. Those who did not so "merit" were usually non-white, foreign, neurodivergent, or born with physical difficulties. The groups who were making these decisions, without the aid of a crystal ball, not only decided that certain people didn't "merit" the ability to reproduce, they were also therefore deciding that the potential progeny had no "merit" based on their parents. And today, those who were harmed have been apologized to, they've been offered financial compensation, and everyone in the country (theoretically) looks back on this time in shame and horror because they know that there is simply no way to truly apologize. They can't 'take it back'. And yet, despite all that, there are some so eager to run down that "merit" trail again - and it's just as likely to end in shame and horror and a bunch of people hurt in a way that can never be taken back.

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    4. Sadly, for a retired medical person, I can't remember the name of the experiment where blacks went untreated for VD, just so the course of the disease over time could be charted.All this was already known; it was racist eugenics at its worst.

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    5. The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment

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    6. I'd say we've been dividing citizens according to "merit" since the USA was invented. It's just that the class of "unmeritorious" has grown in the past 30-odd years.

      EMH

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  8. “And how long, once we begin assessing immigrants on their supposed merit, their unmeasurable and unknowable potential contribution to our alleged national greatness, how long before we likewise begin dividing up natural born Americans into categories of relative worth? How long before we begin separating those with merit from those judged to have less, or none?”

    But we’re already doing this, aren’t we? Ever since the middle class faded away to almost nothing, there’s the haves and have nots. We’ve heard it from the Republican politicians time after time. The poor are lazy. They’re moochers. They’re bleeding the country dry with welfare and Medicaid. Some are, but most aren’t. “They should get an education and better themselves.” Well, how? Working three jobs that barely pay enough combined to keep the lights on, food on the table, a roof over their heads. With what time and what money can they earn that education to better their circumstances? And that’s just one example.

    Sir, I must beg to differ with you on your statement. It’s not a matter of “if” we get to that point where we judge native-born Americans on their “merits” and decide if they are worth the trouble. We’re there now. And have been for a while. Look at Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell slavering over cuts to Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, food stamps. We’re there. And the powers that be have decided that the poor, the elderly, the infirm, women, and people of color are not worthy. Anyone who isn’t white, male, straight, and rich. It has already happened.

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    1. Tifanne - would you mind if I quoted your last paragraph as a comment on my sharing of Jim's article on FB? I ask because I couldn't agree more, the slide down that slippery slope has already begun.

      One more item I would add if making this list would be religious beliefs. If you don't follow the 'right' religion, or heaven forbid you don't have any religious beliefs, the jury doesn't even have to be called in as you have no 'merit' and have already been deemed not worthy.

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    2. That, Tifanee, is the true crux of the matter. Who is rich and who is poor is all a matter of random chance. We cannot choose the family, community, nation, race, ethnicity or religion we're born into. It's all an accident of birth. Yet they who are born 'lucky', white male, good family and all the rest, think they did it all themselves. Obama was totally right in saying, "you did not build that yourself". In building anything, we use the system supported by everyone, also your own unearned advantages of birth, and the experiences of life that happened to inspire you.

      They should teach this in schools. The simple humility of reality. :) pip

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    3. Totally a matter of random chance? Horseshit. Many are born poor around the world of all races and religions, with ability and much effort many succeed. Many don't. Going through life with the opinion that all is matter of chance is ridiculous. There are lots to be drawn in ability ( IQ, physical) and lots to be drawn in life ( health, environment). These are major factors but to just give up on advancing personal quality of life, is a criminal act against your soul.

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    4. pip, I am a teacher and I do teach this in my high school English class. We talk about racism, discrimination, prejudice, and bias. After much reading, thought and discussion, I think the reason why the victims take it so personally is because:
      1. It IS personal; and
      2. They didn't make any of the choices which they are now being graded on. If I didn't make these choices, how can you hold that agains me?
      This subject is such a part of our history but it is also still a problem for anyone who is different. I know other teachers who I consider to be awesome that also teach humility and that everyone is a human being.

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  9. That's some powerful shit right there.....
    Thanks for the reality....always.

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  10. As usual, nail on head. I cannot understand, in any way, how people can be so blind, so dumb. It boggles my brain that there are those out there who are still agreeing with the orangeness. Great job Jim, I wish you would not have to write these any more. I just hope we are not heading for a point where you can NOT write these anymore.

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  11. When I was back in college back in the early 70's, they had a classroom exercise where they gave us a list of descriptions of people; colored, sexes, gay, straight, disabled (back then handicapped), different nationalities, educational levels, I.Q.'s, etc. The story was that only 20 could fit in the bomb shelter and we were supposed to pick out the survivors (merit's). A number of people argued with my choices because I had not selected the old lady or the guy in the wheelchair or the foreigner. I listened and then answered: "If there are only going to be twenty people left to populate the earth, all we need is five males who can produce sperm, and fifteen healthy women to have children. Now you may quibble about the numbers of each, but being young, healthy and able to produce children is the only thing we need to worry about." I think that is the only scenario where you might disregard human potential and human traits and select people on "merit".

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    1. In your strictly utilitarian thought exercise, was there some reason to assume “the foreigner” was not healthy & fertile? Wouldn’t your purely utilitarian reasoning seek to strengthen the gene pool with variety? Was there some reason to assume the elderly and disabled lacked expertise or intelligence that might enable the group to survive longer?

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    2. Hmm, if you were able to freeze sperm, it would be better to have all women, with a few older ones that knew how to take care of health care and other issues. Freeze as much sperm as possible from as many men as possible, and have a wider genetic group to start with. 20 is not enough of a variety to avoid problems.

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    3. I'm willing to bet there'd be some of those young fertile beings who would have liked to have known someone who knew how to can, or sew, or garden, or do any number of mundane things that would help them survive, even if that someone was in a wheelchair or elderly.

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  12. Set aside merit, just for the moment, and take another look at that quote at the top of your piece. Trump judges people by their honesty? Trump? Honesty? What the f ...? Or does he mean DIShonesty. After all, the only ones he seems to admire are folks like Kim and Putin, who are not exactly known for their honesty. Or is it that those who fawn and bow and scrape to the Great Trump are deemed to be honest, and others (like those who apparently peddle Fake News, for example) are not?

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  13. Powerful food for thought sir, well written as always. *tips my hat*

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  14. Thank you for having the skills to line up the right words in the right order to express what a lot of people couldn't explain themselves. Thank you for sharing them.

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  15. Very powerful essay; particularly the part about the state as arbiter of human worth. Sadly, as you point out, we continue to see the results of this here and throughout the world. Thank you for a well written article.

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  16. Right on, Jim. This fucker has no business deciding merit.

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  17. At this time we have a system in place whereby certain development projects, or redevelopment projects, can be given a special status. If foreign investors invest in these projects, they get a certain number of immigrant passes. They get to select and send people straight to the U.S. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200. Do not wait in the lines and go through the interviews and wait and wait and wait. Welcome. Come on in. In this case, "merit" is simply defined by dollars. Pay up, we'll let you send us whoever you want. I wonder who these foreign companies are sending to the U.S. and what benefit they will provide. Or more importantly, to whom will they provide this benefit?
    Letting people in on "merit?" I don't think my first immigrant ancestor, coming straight from jail (for his religious beliefs) would have made it. If he hadn't. who would have replaced his financial support to the Revolutionary war effort? I suppose my Irish ancestor who came over on a bride ship. to marry a man sight unseen, provide him with children and care for his house, might have made it. Willingness to sell oneself into subservience to a man could constitute a form of merit, I suppose. It seems to be a highly regarded trait by many of the public officials in power today.
    Nope. Tis a slippery slope. No human being is of more intrinsic worth than another. I love the Sotomayor quote with which you finish. As always, thanks for another great essay. - Martha Zimmerman

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  18. Far out. I decided to check for an essay, as they're scarce, but it's always worth it. I’m glad that you brought up merit vis-à-vis the military. As a sort of enclosed society, there is no one without merit (setting aside certain cases of history). Saying that as a former puddle-jumper who never got very far, but damn, everybody was important, just as they are outside of that cloistered environment. You spoke well to that fact.

    I was reminded of a Frank Herbert quote, a variation of the one you quoted:

    “Absolute power does not corrupt absolutely, absolute power attracts the corruptible.” That seems to be a recurring theme throughout human history. Power beckons those who for wish it, for no other reason than to have it. Those who have power, and use it for the common good as you did and do, seem a rare commodity in these United States.

    I don’t know how your forays into the Twitter and Facebook universes have been going, but I’m glad you keep returning to the place that I found you.

    Leroy

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  19. I wonder what Melania's merit was?

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  20. Outstanding essay, Chief.

    Merit is not only subjective, it is extremely time sensitive, as well. So the government should not use permanent ink when writing the rules determining merit.

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  21. Pithy and powerful piece, Sir. I enjoyed for entertainment value the passages dealing with Navy life, with which I am familiar, and how merit is established there. Never piss off a Chief, either.

    I have copied this and made some edits (errors only) so the ms reads smoothly -- the reader is not sidetracked -- and I would like to have permission to post the corrected copy elsewhere. I will provide the edited copy should you care to see what I've done first. I found this piece to be particularly important in these days and wonderfully worded.

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    1. I feel like a worm after viewing your blog. But damn, no Frank Herbert? Or Doris Piserchia? No Le Guin?

      Jim, don't do it! He's an imposter!

      Leroy

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    2. BTW,it's anything but pithy. Wouldn't have it any other way.

      Leroy

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  22. Another excellent piece, Chief. Thank you for writing it.

    The term 'merit', and any of the other labels like it, i.e. worth, deserving, etc. are all just one thing.

    Someone's opinion.

    They are nothing more than that and they mean exactly fuckall. They are made up terms, and they need to be let go of.

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  23. As a twenty-year retired CT and a smalltime gadfly, I have little to add to this excellent (as always) essay except to repeat your sentiments about mess-cranks, mail-monkeys, and pecker-checkers. Now THOSE folks got merit!

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    1. I just love all the salty nicknames you guys have for everything.

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  24. "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal..."
    Kind of puts the kibosh on a "merit" bar for citizenship. We certainly haven't always lived up to it, but I do think that by and large as a culture we have striven toward it. Slowly, kicking and screaming sometimes, but moving, none the less.
    It is unlikely that any of my ancestors would have cleared a merit focused bar. Certainly the Irish ones that arrived in the mid 1800s in one of the famine waves wouldn't have. The ones that arrived in the 1880s as political refugees from Italy wouldn't have done much better. The earliest arriving branch of the family tree got here around 1790 - Germans, about whom Ben Franklin had nothing good to say.
    And yet, here I am...
    Everyone is essential in some way. Everyone has merit, else the crops die in the fields or the patient on the operating table. We need custodians at the school as much as we need the teachers and administration. And we could do this all day, but you said it beautifully above, so I'll stop trying to add to it. Thanks for sharing your work.

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    1. Weird that this listed me as "unknown". I said much the thing on the fb wall - didn't want to leave this unclaimed.

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    2. Nicely said, and I take it from the above reply that "Unknown" in this case means Jane Lindamood?

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  25. The most important quality for an immigrant is they want to be here. There may be a lot of wealthy, intelligent, capable people that we might welcome, but if they don't want to be here and don't want to sacrifice for the honor of being an American citizen, then we don't need them The person willing to work honestly to be a proud American is the best immigrant. There is no test for that. It is something that works itself out over 10-20 years. Great Essay! Very Timely Topic!

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    1. Honor? Proud? I think you overestimate the importance of the average American.

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  26. Thanks Jim. Great essay and great quote. Loved it!

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  27. That was a great read Jim. Thank you. Trump is a worse horror show than I thought possible. I have disliked him intensely from back in 1990's but at this point that has migrated over into black hatred for the things he has done and for Trump in person. Trump is the polar opposite of every thing I was raised to believe in. I don't know if Trump is actually a Fascist but the context of his words seems to indicate he leans that direction. The fact that you point this out clearly may be one of the many things we need to do to rid ourselves of this particular horror. I know he is not the entire problem but he is one very large inducement to those who would take the country in that direction. I have found cutting the head off of the snake usually stops the tail from wiggling.

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    1. My dislike and distrust goes back to the early 70's.

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  28. Every human being has inherent worth and dignity and should be treated that way. It’s the only way for it to work. Yes, some people make this very hard to recognize, and some even need to be held separately since they don’t recognize others worth and dignity, and yes even Trump has worth and dignity, he just seems incapable of recognizing it in others, which in my mind makes him terribly ill-suited for his job.

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  29. Actually, Unabomber is spelled with an "a"

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  30. Absolutely spot on. The only problem I had with reading this is everything was a little blurry for a while after reading "The New Colossus". This seems to happen every time I read it. Something to do with our total failure to live up to our ideals.

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    1. Wonderful piece...wish I'd said it and wish I'd found u sooner.

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  31. Thank you. This brought tears to my eyes. I wish everyone - and I mean everyone - would take the time to read through it and really think about what you said. Sotomayor's quote is perfect.

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  32. That is beautiful. Tough and rigorous and, to me, it shows love.

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  33. If you want to know who's really important in a company, think who you would miss the most if they left for a week and were not replaced, the president or the janitor. ~ Peter Drucker

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  34. When I was a child, in school we were taught and sang, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

    This is now not the America I knew.

    Thank you for your post.

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  35. I love to challenge dogma. I love reading people who challenge dogma. Especially when things that are widely accepted as "true" are really entirely subjective. And yet, as a society, we allow ourselves to fall for some one else's definitions of things like values, morality, decency, patriotism, beauty, pornography and merit. Such dogma drives national narratives and supresses critical thinking, supresses dissent. Republicans are really good at that. We must be even better at challenging accepted dogma and redirecting narratives.
    Thanks, Jim for spelling it out.

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  36. I love to challenge dogma. I love reading people who challenge dogma. Especially when things that are widely accepted as "true" are really entirely subjective. And yet, as a society, we allow ourselves to fall for some one else's definitions of things like values, morality, decency, patriotism, beauty, pornography and merit. Such dogma drives natiinal narratives and supresses critical thinking, supresses dissent. Republicans are really good at that. We must be even better at challenging accepted dogma and redirecting narratives.

    Thanks Jim for spelling it out so eloquently.

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  37. What if the parents are bootleggers on one side and brewers on the other side? The son grows up to be a doctor of chemical engineering. Let them in? Obviously personal but its the problem I have when people complain about immigration. It almost always seems to end up as I got mine fuck you.

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  38. Nowadays, every state the world over is very particular about who it lets in. I am so appalled by what has happened here that I would leave in a heartbeat - if I could. I can't; I am elderly, in poor health, very poor, have a BA but not in anything special, no strategic work experience, no special talents. Were I to apply for a visa, every embassy would say "Sorry sir, you don't meet our criteria, come back if you obtain a firm job offer". Wasn't always that way - when I was young and protesting Vietnam, Canada was always an option. The Canadians didn't like it, but they didn't look for you too hard. Australia was completely open. If you could get there, they were happy to see you. Not now. Nations these days guard their gates from people who look like moochers or failures or just plain unimportant pretty securely. Trump is monstrous, but he is not alone in wanting only special people in the door. And, yes, "merit" is nearly completely subjective. The only criteria I can think of that would come close to being universal would be - no felony record, no bad health risks,and no-one incapable of supporting themselves financially.

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  39. That way lies the master race and the untermensch. That way lies the removal of the undesirables. There would be some that would cheer it on. It is lunacy of course... but made even more insane by the characteristics that the crowds that would support this want to promote. Is Trump the perfect man to these people? Is fat and dumb the new master race? Will we replace the grey uniforms of the third Reich with urban camouflage worn around town with a red MAGA hat for an accent? This is no longer the thin end of the wedge. That slipped by some time ago. This is the thick end and if it is not stopped now, the chance will be lost.

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  40. Thank you, as usual, Jim. You speak my thoughts.

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  41. Since people have stopped reading, except for bumper stickers, I will endeavor to create a car wrap that includes this essay. I'll park the wrapped vehicles in rest stops, train stations, airports, food stores, and pharmacies across America. If bumper stickers provide food for thought, this wrap will provide sustenance for the long haul.
    Thanks, Jim, for another great essay!

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  42. Hits everything with pinpoint accuracy. Thank you.

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  43. You say these things so very well. If I decided to do this, put my mind to it, I might be able to sound intelligent. I do not have your life experiences.

    We on the Left need you to grab us by the collars when we get stupid and ignore the horses in front of us because we want the unicorns we're so sure are just out of sight.

    The thoughtful on the Right need you to grab their collars when they're seduced by the siren songs of ill-defined 'merit' or 'freedom' or any of the other buzzwords used by the people who would take away our rights and give them all to oligarchs and politicians and corporations.

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  44. Really? You are going to quote a poem and not credit the author? After you have been justifiably angry about your writing being used without credit, one would think you would be more careful.
    It is "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus, written in 1883.
    I agree with your point in the essay, but I am disappointed.

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    1. If you've been reading me as long as you say then you know it wasn't on purpose. Because of how I formatted the poem, which you can see is distinctly different from the rest of the text, the editor dropped the attribution due to an HTML coding error when the article was pushed from my editor to the blog. I've now fixed it.

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  45. I've been reading your stuff for a long time now. This is, almost certainly, the best thing you have ever written. This is absolutely outstanding. If I were still teaching high school, I would use it as an example of high quality writing. Thank you for this.

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  46. Merit is very easy to determine for each of us. It is impossible to determine for everyone. Just like everything in life, there are things that an entire population will never agree on and this is one of them. To Trump, merit is very simple. A nice looking woman willing to sleep with him or please him. A white man, rich, businessman. People who will vote for him and agree with his personal values. People who are kind of his clones. For me, merit is your ability to compromise and accept others. To live and let live, even when you disagree or don't understand. I don't think a rich person, whoever they are, have any kind of special merit at all. I quite often think "poor" people have 10 times more merit than rich ones. My father was a garbage truck driver. I was 10 when I first realize just how important he was and stopped being "ashamed" of his job. Each time a kid would laugh at my father's job I would ask : "Right and when nobody ever picks up all the trash coming from your trashy house, what will you do with it uh? " And they'd have no answer to that. Anyway. To my neighbor, merit would be a very nice body. He lives for nothing else. He goes to the gym every freaking day. He thinks people not going to the gym are just lazy and unworthy humans. So, in the end, it is super easy to know exactly what each of us think is worthy. And, again, impossible to all agree on it.

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  47. Merit? I have known many high school dropouts who I value much higher than PhDs that I know.

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  48. Since the day when that man descended the escalator (honestly, how ridiculous they looked, and I wonder if the escalataor had malfunctioned if there would have been the mental dexterity to walk down instead of thinking they were stuck until it was fixed) and made his speech about Mexico not sending us their "best" I have asked "why would any country send the US their best?" His statement makes zero sense, who would be willing to send their "best" people to another place instead of using their talents in their own countries? That first statement made while announcing his (then) publicity stunt of running for President of the United States made it glaringly clear that the man was delusional and entitled, not someone who had the capacity to lead our country and navigate the complex relationships between the US and the rest of the world. The President is not just the Commander in Chief of our military, he is also the chief diplomat, the only person who can direct or overrule the Secretary of State without congressional hearings, meaning that they should at the very least possess a bit of compassion, be able to excersize empathy and hold a single thought for longer than 3 minutes. They should be able to show humility and admit mistakes when necessary - without stating that "both sides" are to blame or state that there are "many people" who could have carried out an action while acknowledging the combined and unanimous opinion of the Intelligence community regarding the attacks on the 2016 election and the ongoing efforts to impact the 2018 elections coming up.
    The man who currently occupies the Oval Office - between rounds of golf played at taxpayer expense to his own properties - does not fill most of the requirements that I personally see as necessary for the wellbeing of our country, they are not even partisan requirements, simply basic human decency.
    On a side note, the Constitution instructs that the President say a very specific statement when being sworn in, Trump did not repeat the Oath of Office as spelled out by the Constitution, he changed words. I do not see how that by itself is not grounds to have him removed from office - even if it does leave us at the mercy of VP Pence until the next election cycle.

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  49. A-men Jim. A-Fucking-men! We're all equal cogs in the machinery of life.

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  50. For better or worse, Merit based immigration is used in other countries. Is it right? I think it depends on what the voters in those country decide. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Points-based_immigration_system

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  51. When I first read your twitter thread on this, what popped into my mind was the old signs "No Irish need apply". Yet the US let them come in, most in abject poverty, fleeing a desperate situation in Ireland. A generation later, their children were a valuable part of our melting pot culture. I knew (know) boat-people, refugees from Vietnam. Same story. The adults came here fleeing another desperate situation in their home country. Now, all their children are adults, helping make our country great. In my experience, the refugees contribute far more to their adopted country than any cost involved in bringing them here. If republicans want them to vote republican, then perhaps republicans should put forth policies and programs worth voting for.

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  52. Countries do not send us people. The people decide for themselves to come here. For Trump to make a statement about Mexico not sending us their best, is just sheer stupidity. But then Trump and intelligent is an oxymoron...emphasis on moron.

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  53. Thank goodness for an American finally standing up for REAL immigration reform, for constitutional laws for legal immigrants and for the peace at the border..Do it, shut it down whatever it takes. The Majority of Americans including legal immigrants are with you. We have waited 30 years and millions of anchor births for this, or or any true legislation and action. Thank you. I might not agree with this president on other issues and on his delivery, but this is just fundamental.

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  54. My parents were once watching an interview with Nancy Pelosi where she was being asked about immigration. She brought up guest worker programs for farm workers. My parents saw it very differently. My mom who was white viewed it as an opportunity, a path. My dad who is Latino, said something to the effect of "so they're good enough to come here to pick our food, but not good enough to become citizens." Merit based systems will hurt those we need the most: those who clean out houses/offices, pave our roads, build our homes, pick and cook our food.

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  55. Great = white European.
    Melange had a couple of great things.

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  56. Only scouts can apply as they have badges to prove they have merit!

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  57. Powerful. Your mind is mind blowing

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  58. I read your work and am never disappointed. Thank you for challenging Americans who are not patriots. You give me hope for tomorrow.

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  59. Did you not read it or not understand it?

    The people America needs are those "meritless" brown people. People to pick fruit, clean motel rooms, work manual labor in the blazing sun. We have plenty empty-headed pretty white people. And guess what, even the Republicans in Congress know this (because the people who employ the "illegals" like them powerless and those people write them checks). Did you not wonder why they had not built the idiotic wall -- they need to sound "tough on illegal immigration" to whip up thier base, but not actual do so much as to harm their purseholders.

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  60. Evidently, 'merit' (whatever it is) was not one of the criteria used to pick our current preznit. Why should we hold potential immigrants to a higher standard than the one we use for the white house?

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  61. Very good essay. I think it's obvious at this point that merit means value of their bank account, citizen or not.

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  62. Pretty sure "merit" is code for "White European." Also pretty sure you know this. I figure we'll establish some kind of work-entry program for non-whites so they can be "legally" exploited and given work in the fields and cutting grass when needed, and neglected otherwise. Or maybe the final solution is to force poor white trash to do those jobs. That would be a logical extension of the policies that increase the wealth differential and marginalize those who do not get into the right clubs.

    EMH

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    1. I am a 65yr old white Canadian.I have no idea how to Greg rid of you. I live at the poverty lrvel. Frig off and take Trump with you!!

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  63. I loathe Trump; think that he is utterly anti-American and has done tremendous damage to our country.

    However, I must point out that Canada has had a merit-based system for immigration since 1967, and has yet to experience a genocide since then. (Before 1967, with the Native Americans - arguably yes.) I am an immigrant from Canada myself, although I spent most of my life in the States, but got an education in a Canadian high school. I remember being taught about this.

    https://theconversation.com/canadas-merit-based-immigration-system-is-no-magic-bullet-90923

    Trump couldn't find his butt with both hands and a flashlight; he is a Russian dupe, and the people underneath him are either cowards or traitors. Trump implementing such a plan would be a disaster.

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  64. Also, the United States 1924-1950, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia, with the caveat that Australia treats people trying to emigrate into Australia without going through legal channels in a terrible, inhumane fashion.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Points-based_immigration_system

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  65. You've not failed to entertain, inspire, educate or just remind me of what America has stood for and is very close to losing. Thank you for this and all of the other brilliant pieces you've posted.

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  66. As I was reading this post I couldn’t help but think about the original immigrants to this continent – the Europeans – and their impact on native Americans. They carried no immigration papers and they kept coming, bringing disease, advanced weapons, and slavery. They treated women as second-class citizens. They were dishonest and dishonorable. They called the Indians savages and there was a clash of cultures. It all ended in a centuries-long genocide. They certainly didn’t “merit” that treatment.

    From the 1927 Grand Council of American Indians:

    "The white people, who are trying to make us over into their image, they want us to be what they call "assimilated," bringing the Indians into the mainstream and destroying our own way of life and our own cultural patterns. They believe we should be contented like those whose concept of happiness is materialistic and greedy, which is very different from our way.

    “We want freedom from the white man rather than to be integrated. We don't want any part of the establishment, we want to be free to raise our children in our religion, in our ways, to be able to hunt and fish and live in peace. We don't want power, we don't want to be congressmen, or bankers....we want to be ourselves. We want to have our heritage, because we are the owners of this land and because we belong here.

    The white man says there is freedom and justice for all. We have had "freedom and justice," and that is why we have been almost exterminated. We shall not forget this."

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  67. Well, I just had to read this aloud to my partner, and just reading the phrasing, the rhythms, of the writing was a stirring experience. Not to mention the intellectual journey. Thanks for this piece of greatness!

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  68. My great grandmother came here from Eastern Europe many years ago. She couldn't speak English very well but she was a tough cookie and she worked like a dog in Pueblo, Colorado. The woman she bore would become my grandmother....not educated but smart as a whip! She instilled in her 11 children the love of God, Country, and Family and it has been passed down through the generations to this day.

    Merit... I can't help but think that this undefined term would have gotten her turned away at the border in the current climate in this country. There was a time an individual could come here poor and uneducated, but with a dream - a dream for a better future, not only for themselves, but for those hopeful future generations they would call family.

    Our family has many offspring from those two women and we have worked for a better way of life within each and every generation! That was and is OUR country's foundation: working hard to better future generations, generations we may never see but work to benefit anyway.

    Shame on this President! It is not just the strong and rich you represent but also the weak and poor, and not only those with the color of skin familiar to you from your mirror!

    This man will be judged by future generations for his lack of compassion for the people he does not lead today. Those people that would risk their lives, and those of their children, for just the CHANCE to make it to this country.

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  69. As usual, all of Trump's cult know exactly what he means and more dog whistle politics. Give me your white and wealthy-no brown folks.

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  70. Last week in Texas, through the machinations of contemporary airline fuckery, I ended up taking an extended and very expensive cab ride. The driver was an immigrant from southern Africa. We talked sport, travel, aerospace engineering, and about being fathers in this America. He was a nice man, and spoke intelligently and insightfully on all of these subjects. He is a cab driver. His professional skill is one that most adults in the U.S. posses to varying degrees. That man has orders of magnitude more merit than the two obnoxious drunks on my flight back who were making loud and inappropriate comments at women young enough to be their daughter. They made at least enough money to afford a chartered fishing trip they wouldn't shut up about on our long flight from Dallas to the PNW, but I'd trade those louts 10:1 for the cab driver, no matter the economics.

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  71. I wonder how they would have measured my merit. Pretty sure I would have been found lacking as a 16 year old single mother and high school drop out. Probably given me a pass a few years later, when I was an E-4 deployed to Iraq. Not too much later I was divorced, with two kids, working a low-wage job and on welfare, so that would be another no. Now I’m getting my Masters in Social Work, which could be good (productive member of society) or not (bleeding heart liberal). I think most of us could fall on either side, depending on who did the reckoning.

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  72. Our New Colossus

    Much like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
    With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
    Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
    A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
    Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
    Death of Dreams. From her beacon-hand
    Glows world-wide caution; her staring eyes command
    The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
    “Keep, ancient lands, your worthless dregs,” cries she
    With silent lips. “Spare me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    I send these, the homeless, the tempest-tost from me,
    My lamp is warning! For them there is no door!”

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  73. Merit-based immigration systems do exist, even today: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Points-based_immigration_system

    I'm sure they're imperfect systems. That article mentions the need for frequent adjustment, which I wouldn't rely on the United States to be able to deal with.

    I don't know how anyone makes sure that the Unabombers stay out and the Tony Hawks come in. I don't know that anyone is aiming to. I don't think that sort of argument should be taken to mean that a merit-based approach can't be reasonable and viable. As for who decides, I'd assume our representatives, as voted for by us.

    Refugee and human-rights based immigration should exist too, of course. As I understand it, even that process considered criminal records, which makes it somewhat merit-based.

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  74. Several years ago, in a fit of passion and sorrow, I wrote a dark parody of The New Colossus and set it to music, adding a chorus that's not in the original poem. It's entitled "Mother of Exiles" and is on our "Mobius Street" album. I post the lyric here because it seems entirely appropriate.

    Mother of Exiles by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff

    Not like the copper giantess of fame,
    With sandaled feet upon Atlantic sand.
    Here at our sea-washed sunrise gates are banned
    Those the woman with her torch once claimed.
    Those souls imprisoned, those who cried her name:
    “Mother of Exiles,” from whose beacon-hand
    Glowed world-wide welcome. Now her eyes command
    the ne’er-bridged walls along which rifles aim.

    “Keep, broken lands, your harried poor!” cries she
    With smiling lips. “Give me your trade. Your poor,
    Your huddled masses, matter not to me,
    Nor wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, to some other lee.
    I douse my lamp; just send your gold ashore.
    Mother of Exiles lives here no more.

    My lamp lies shattered on the shore
    And blind, I seek the shards.
    Mother of Exiles—weeping in the bone yards."

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  75. I think Trump is a dangerous idiot. That said, it's worth noting how this discussion can take on the same sort of tone as gun arguments.

    It won't stop all bad actors.
    It will harm law abiding people.
    If we allow this, we're on a slippery slope.
    It works in other countries, why not here?

    Consider how many of the counters we use against one issue also apply to this, and see if there isn't a way to moderate our rhetoric.

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  76. A hunchbacked dwarf with poor English was almost sent back to Europe because it was assumed he would be a burden on society. His name was Charles Steinmetz and he created many breakthroughs in electrical generation and transmission. He had 200 patents to his name.

    Steinmetz is in the light colored suit in the center of this photo. The guy to his right is another immigrant, Albert Einstein. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Proteus_Steinmetz#/media/File:Albert_Einstein_with_other_engineers_and_scientists_at_Marconi_RCA_radio_station_1921.jpg

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  77. It is a good essay. I'm an English teacher and I may use it as a model. It has a lot of questions and I understand your rhetorical purpose for them. However, I teach students not to question but to state. Otherwise, they ask questions that they never answer.

    You answer you questions and you answer them well.

    I just saw the movie "Fury" and Brad Pitt says "Ideals are peaceful. History is violent." I feel like we are in the violent (not war-like) aspect now. However, I believe we should strive to become the poem by Lazarus and especially the ideals set forth in the Constitution. Our country, after two centuries, has still not realized those Constitutional ideals. In any event, we should still keep striving for them and maybe we will get it right. But it will have nothing to do with merit. It will have everything to do with accepting each other as human beings.

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  78. This is pretty much how I approach my teaching job. Here is another roomful of hopeful, sullen, ambitious, checked-out, needy teenagers. Some day soon, they will be entering the realm of "adulthood." Many have one foot through that door already, without my knowledge. I don't know which ones will have what career. Who will be making a difference (for good or ill). Who will lead an ordinary life, working every day, raising a family and doing their part. They all have that potential. Maybe I get to see it, and maybe I don't. Maybe, I get to see it, even when they don't. Maybe they'll remember me, and maybe they won't.

    The point is, merit. Who "deserves" to get that education? ALL OF THEM. Some won't take advantage of it now, but eventually they will. I don't want to judge their merit, I want to acknowledge it. Who has merit? We all do. Who has worth. We all do.

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  79. I judge people based on qualities I do not possess.
    -- Bone-Spur-in-Chief

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    1. That was pretty great, I think I will be quoting you Bob.
      Thanks

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