Blog Break

Attention Driving Out The Snakes regular readers:

You may have noticed I am not writing as frequently as in the past. This is because a number of other matters are competing for my attention, and the blog is a lower priority.

Also, I have to confess I’ve been short on inspiration lately. I need to put some thought into what I hope to accomplish here. To do this, I’ve decided to take a break from blogging for a few weeks.

If you’re subscribed by RSS or e-mail, please don’t cancel. I will be back soon. Also, I will continue to update the Shared Items widget on the sidebar. Check it out to see what I think is worth reading.

Thanks for understanding and have a great summer.

Hell on American Soil II

It occurred to me that certain Red-Blooded Patriotic Americans will look at my post yesterday regarding the treatment of immigration detainees and say something like: "So what? They shouldn't be here in the first place! They had it coming!"

There are two responses to this argument. First, it is not necessarily true that the people ICE has in custody are in the U.S. illegally. Many are being held pending the outcome of immigration proceedings. Sometimes they win and are allowed to remain here.

Second, the right-wing respect for "Rule of Law" is quite selective. We also have laws against abusing and neglecting prisoners. Why should people who break those laws get a pass?

If you don't have time to read the entire series of Washington Post stories, at least take a minute to read about Isaias Vasquez. Here is his story:

Vasquez had come from Mexico to the United States legally with his family when he was 2 years old. He served in the Army for two years until psychiatric problems ended his military career. Years later, when he was convicted on a drug-possession charge, he served the 1 1/2-year sentence at a Texas state psychiatric hospital. The government said the crime made him deportable, and immigration officers picked him up from the hospital and sent him to one detention center, then another. Records chronicle his paranoid delusions and auditory hallucinations.

He had been diagnosed with chronic paranoid schizophrenia in the early 1990s and had been hospitalized 18 times before he landed in Pearsall. But the staff ruled that he was not schizophrenic and cut off his medication.

Instead, on Nov. 29, 2005, they diagnosed him with an "unspecified personality disorder." Vasquez "insisted throughout session he was paranoid schizophrenic and needed medication," a social worker wrote in his medical file. But the evaluation team concluded that "his thought process and content was normal, logical and coherent." They suspected he was faking to keep his Social Security disability benefits.

They decided to take him off a drug for schizophrenia, and another for depression, and cut his dose of a second antidepressant in half. The effects were swift. A week later Vasquez was placed on suicide observation. He "smeared feces throughout the suicide observation room," his medical chart shows. The next day, "he announced in the dormitory that either he killed himself or God would do it for him, and he took all of his clothes off. Then he got down onto the floor and licked it."

The staff's response: They eliminated the last of his psychotropic medicine. "Mental health visits will cease at present time," says a Dec. 15 note in his medical file.


After another month, he was found sitting on his bed with only a blanket around his waist, reading a Bible aloud and screaming, "The world is coming to an end, but not until I finish using my red tape!" He refused his other medications for diabetes, high blood pressure and suspected tuberculosis.

In mid-March, Johnson stuck a handwritten note on Vasquez's cell window: "If you keep refusing to take your . . . medicines . . . YOU put YOURSELF at risk of BLINDNESS, AMPUTATIONS, HEART ATTACKS, KIDNEY FAILURE, STROKES and EARLY DEATH."

Vasquez "covered that area of the window with spit," Johnson wrote in his medical file. "I slid another copy under the door, and he turned it face down and slid it back out, and then he blocked the door with his clothing so I could not slide it under again."

On March 24, "[H]e had saved up 6 empty peanut butter jars and had some sort of yellowish liquid in them. . . . [T]he guards told him to give them up. He refused." The guards subdued him with tear gas.

They gassed him again two weeks later when he refused to give the guards the broken eyeglasses he had "tied to his head with an undershorts waistband. . . . When the room was repeatedly sprayed, he stood stoically."

Unable to persuade Vasquez to take his medicine, the staff discontinued it in late April. A final note on his behavior, from May 1, five days before his release, says he had "smeared feces on window to cell and threw water and feces under door of cell."

Even then, the staff did not reconsider its assessment that he was not schizophrenic or its decision to take away the psychotropic drugs. Their assessment of his problem: "Ineffective individual coping."

Vasquez had won his immigration case. When his common-law wife picked him up, she found him raving and gaunt. Gloria Armendariz drove him straight to the VA hospital. On the way, she recalled, "I had to cut the [car] speakers and put them in the trunk because he kept saying they . . . would listen and videotape him."

At the hospital, guards had to subdue him. He was admitted to the psychiatric ward, "which is where he needs to be," said his lawyer, Lee Teran. The next day, he was started on antipsychotics.

Helped by his medicine and no longer facing deportation, Vasquez, now 49, did something that, in his nearly five decades in the country, he'd never bothered to do: He applied to become a citizen. At the citizenship ceremony last fall, he wore a jacket, a tie and a broad smile.

Yes, the story has a happy ending, but is there any excuse for a human being to be treated this way? If a dog was forced to live in his own filth without medical treatment, people would be outraged. Yet as far as I can tell, no one at ICE has been punished or disciplined in any way for what they did to Isaias Vasquez. You can bet many more such stories remain untold.

This is the thanks our nation gives a sick veteran. God bless America.

Hell on American Soil

The Washington Post has a series of investigative stories about medical care of people being held in the immigration system. It is a stunning picture of incompetence, arrogance, and cruelty. It's not a media hatchet job, either; the facts are well-documented and the government admits some of the worst abuses.

Obviously we have a problem with illegal immigration, and people who are in the process of being deported need to be kept in custody. No one is arguing that they deserve luxury accommodations. At the same time, common human decency as well as an array of laws and treaties demands that prisoners be treated humanely. Part of that is proper medical care. Some of the worst failures have to do with mental illness:

Doctors and nurses who often have difficulty detecting and treating physical ailments are having even greater problems managing the nuances of mental illness, documents and interviews show. Treating mental illness is a challenge in any context, but inside this closed, overburdened world, some psychiatric patients undergo months and sometimes years of undermedication or overmedication, misdiagnosis or no diagnosis.

The records reveal failures of many kinds. Suicidal detainees can go undetected or unmonitored. Psychological problems are mistaken for physical maladies or a lack of coping skills. In some cases, detainees' conditions severely deteriorate behind bars. Some get help only when cellmates force guards and medical staff to pay attention. And some are labeled psychotic when they are not; all they need are interpreters so they can explain themselves. [more]

While those who truly are mentally ill get little or no treatment, perfectly sane people are routinely dosed with powerful psychotropic medicines so they can be more easily transported to other countries.

In a Chicago holding cell early one evening in February 2006, five guards piled on top of a 49-year-old man who was angry he was going back to Ecuador, according to a nurse's account in his deportation file. As they pinned him down so the nurse could punch a needle through his coveralls into his right buttock, one officer stood over him menacingly and taunted, "Nighty-night."

Such episodes are among more than 250 cases The Washington Post has identified in which the government has, without medical reason, given drugs meant to treat serious psychiatric disorders to people it has shipped out of the United States since 2003 -- the year the Bush administration handed the job of deportation to the Department of Homeland Security's new Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, known as ICE.

Involuntary chemical restraint of detainees, unless there is a medical justification, is a violation of some international human rights codes. The practice is banned by several countries where, confidential documents make clear, U.S. escorts have been unable to inject deportees with extra doses of drugs during layovers en route to faraway places.

Federal officials have seldom acknowledged publicly that they sedate people for deportation. The few times officials have spoken of the practice, they have understated it, portraying sedation as rare and "an act of last resort." Neither is true, records and interviews indicate. [more]

What a classic example of governmental incompetence. The ICE is - or claims to be - incapable of providing basic care for people whom everyone agrees have serious psychiatric problems. Meanwhile people who are not mentally ill get the drugs that are unavailable to those who really need them.

It appears that most of these cases occur when ICE deports people on commercial airline flights. This seems to me like a bad idea for a number of reasons. For one thing, it has to be very expensive; tickets to places in Africa and Asia for a prisoner and two or three escorts aren't cheap. The story mentions one incident where the prisoner was in seat 4-A, which is probably first class. It might be cheaper to just to let them stay here.

If I were one of those prisoners, here is what I would do. As soon as they got me aboard, I would start shouting "Allah Akbar!! All of you are going to die!!" No doubt the needle would hit me a few seconds later, of course, but it would be fun to see the other passengers fight to get off the plane.

Anyway, I highly recommend reading the stories linked above. We should not be surprised that such things happen here. In a culture that tolerates the murder of 4,000 babies each day, allowing prisoners to suffer like this is relatively minor. So next time you sing "God Bless America," ask yourself: why should He?

(Hat tip to Mike for the heads-up.)

Politics Will Not Stop Abortion

Today's Peggy Noonan column is particularly incisive about the Republicans and this year's electoral prospects.

The Democrats aren't the ones falling apart, the Republicans are. The Democrats can see daylight ahead. For all their fractious fighting, they're finally resolving their central drama. Hillary Clinton will leave, and Barack Obama will deliver a stirring acceptance speech. Then hand-to-hand in the general, where they see their guy triumphing. You see it when you talk to them: They're busy being born.

The Republicans? Busy dying. The brightest of them see no immediate light. They're frozen, not like a deer in the headlights but a deer in the darkness, his ears stiff at the sound. Crunch. Twig. Hunting party.

By the end of the column she holds out a little hope for McCain and the GOP. But not much.

Rod Dreher is even more pessimistic. As you may recall, I've been slowly concluding that political means are not going to achieve the ends that social conservatives desire. At Rod's post some of the reader comments argue that we need to hold our noses and vote for McCain for one reason only: there is at least some chance he will appoint Supreme Court justices who will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, while there is little or no chance Obama will do so. This idea is compelling at first, but consider this response from one reader:

If McCain is elected he can attempt to appoint as many strict constructionists as he wants but not one of them will even get to a committee vote. There will be NO pro-life justices confirmed to the Supreme Court by this next Senate.

If, by some bizarre occurance, Roe V Wade were to be overturned, within two election cycles there would not be enough Republicans left in office at any level to influence or stop anything and there would be federal legislation codifying roe into law. The reason that no anti-abortion constitutional amendment was ever introduced was very simple. There has never been, and probably never will be, 67 votes in the Senate to pass it.

In other words, if anyone thinks that abortion can be outlawed again in this lifetime--forget it. That battle is lost, probably forever...

If Roe were to be overturned, California, New York, Illinois, Minnesota and Massachussetts at the very least, would immediately codify abortion rights into state law even before all the Republicans would be thrown out of office. That means that abortion would be available to everyone with only a relatively short airplane ride.

And then within four years it would a guaranteed right under federal law anyway and everyone opposed to it would be packed into some internment camp in Cuba.

This is closer to the truth than I think most of us want to admit. We live in a representative democracy. Abortion will stay legal as long as a majority of people want it to be so, which they quite obviously do. Why? Because abortion permits them to indulge their sexual desires without annoying and distracting consequences such as pregnancy. Like it or not, that is a fact in 2008.

If we elect McCain and if he appoints conservative Supreme Court justices and if they overturn Roe v. Wade, then what? All that happens is that states will be permitted to ban or regulate abortion if they wish. Some will do so, but the practice will be just as legal as it is now in many states. Women from other states who want abortions will simply go to where it is allowed. Maybe a few poor women who don't live near a state border will end up carrying their babies to term, but for the most part there will be no fewer abortions than there are now.

This suggests to me that the better strategy is cultural and spiritual. We need to work on building a society in which people appreciate life for the great gift it is. We need to help people respect the power of their sexuality and keep it in the right context.

The sad fact is that American Christians haven't done a very good job of this. Our sexual behavior is often indistinguishable from that of the pagan cultures we say we oppose. Only when we repent and start to lead by example will the culture begin to follow. Yes, it will take many years. That's why the time to start is now.

Wisdom of the Saints XXX

When we speak about wisdom, we are speaking of Christ.
When we speak about virtue, we are speaking of Christ.
When we speak about justice, we are speaking of Christ.
When we speak about peace, we are speaking of Christ.
When we speak about truth and life and redemption,we are speaking of Christ.

St. Ambrose

(Hat tip: Fr. Jay)

The Bishop and the Governor

From Catholic World News:

Kansas, May. 9, 2008 ( - Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City has announced that Governor Kathleen Sebelius should not receive Communion because of her support for legal abortion.

In a column appearing on May 9 in the archdiocesan newspaper, The Leaven, the archbishop said that Governor Sebelius has sent a "spiritually lethal message" by implying that she could remain a Catholic in good standing while supporting abortion on demand.

The archbishop's column cited in particular the governor's veto of the Comprehensive Abortion Reform Act, which would have required abortionists to inform women about the effects of the procedure and alternatives to abortion.

The governor's stand in favor of abortion is particularly painful, Archbishop Naumann wrote, because Sebelius is a Catholic. He reported that he had met with her "several times over many months to discuss with her the grave spiritual and moral consequences of her public actions." Because the governor has now rejected his pleas and her public stand constitutes a scandal to the faithful, the archbishop said that he has now directed her to refrain from receiving Communion. Archbishop Naumann reported that he has asked Governor Sebelius to accept this directive, so that she will "not require from me any additional pastoral actions."

More from American Papist.

Governor Sebelius has been mentioned as a possible running mate for Barack Obama, so this story may make it into the national media soon. "That mean old bishop," they will say. "How dare he tell the governor how what to do! Separation of church and state! Theocracy! Off with his head!"

Actually, Archbishop Naumann isn't telling the governor how to do her job. He is telling her how she must behave in the church over which he, not she, is the earthly shepherd. The governor remains free to join some other denomination which is less concerned about these things. The governor is also free to attend no church at all. What she is not free to do is pretend she is a Catholic in good standing while continuing to act in ways that are contrary to centuries of Catholic teaching.

We should also note that the church does not regard such actions as punishment. The bishop is attempting to convince the governor to amend her life and save her own soul. Because she ignored his private requests, he was forced to make the matter public.

Archbishop Naumann is surely familiar with St. Ambrose who, as bishop of Milan in the fourth century, threatened his own emperor with excommunication for the murder of 7,000 people. The emperor repented and was reconciled after several months of penance. Will Governor Sebelius do likewise? For her own sake, I hope so.

GOP Swimming Upstream

I haven't written much about politics lately. The reason for this is my growing conviction that it just doesn't matter who will be our next president or which party controls Congress next year. All the possible scenarios add up to deep trouble. There are only slight differences in the particulars.

I still think Obama has the edge over McCain. I say this not because he is charismatic, attracts hordes of young voters, or has the black vote locked up. All those things are true but he would win even without them. The tide of 2008 is in the Democrat's favor.

The most recent Gallup Poll has 67 percent of voters disapproving of President Bush; those numbers are worse than Richard Nixon’s on the eve of his resignation. A CBS News poll taken at the end of April found only 33 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the GOP — the lowest since CBS started asking the question more than two decades ago. By comparison, 52 percent of the public has a favorable view of the Democratic Party.

Things are so bad that many people don’t even want to call themselves Republicans. The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press has found the lowest percentage of self-described Republicans in 16 years of polling. [More]
With the economy sinking, an unpopular war with no end in sight, and the most unpopular president in history on his side, McCain is swimming upstream. Unless he can rebuild the entire political landscape in the next few months, there could be a blowout in November.

Yes, McCain is a war hero. All well and good, but so was George H.W. Bush in 1992 and Bob Dole in 1996. Draft-dodger Bill Clinton beat both of them handily. Al Gore and John Kerry may not have been heroes but at least they went to Vietnam. Both lost to George W. Bush of the Air National Guard. Being a war hero is not an automatic ticket to the White House.

With Democrats busy sniping against each other, McCain has had a free pass for the last three months. That is about to change. You are going to see a serious effort to convince the electorate that a vote for John McCain is a vote for a third Bush term. McCain will try to distance himself from Bush, but I don't think he can succeed.

So barring some major surprise between now and November, it seems very likely that Barack Obama will be our next president. It is also likely he will have a big Democratic majority in Congress. This will allow him to actually get things done. Fortunately, parties in that position have a tendency to overreach and get slapped down in the next election. How much damage will be done in the meantime? All we can do is wait. And pray.

Investing in Sin

Investing in sin actually sounds like a pretty good idea. Sin has been a growth industry for several thousand years now. A new exchange traded fund now makes it easy to capitalize on the Fall of Adam & Eve. The FocusShares ISE SINdex Fund is available under the ticker symbol PUF.

There are, of course, endless varieties of sin. The SINdex fund buys the stock of companies in the alcohol, tobacco, and gambling sectors. This is where I begin to question the strategy. Are alcohol, tobacco, and gambling actually sins? If you ask a Southern Baptist, the answer will be “Yes.” Other Christian traditions take a more nuanced view.

Alcohol is obviously not an intrinsic evil; Christ himself turned water into wine. Yet drunkenness – the abuse of alcohol – is clearly condemned in Scripture. So the production of alcoholic beverages is not sinful, unless the producer is specifically trying to make people drunk. Alcohol manufacturers are no more responsible for the misuse of their products than gun manufacturers are for the misuse of guns.

The same can be said for tobacco. Yes, the human body is God’s temple and we have a duty to maintain it as best we can. Where do we draw this line? Big Macs aren’t good for you, either. As far as I can tell, McDonald’s isn’t in the SINdex fund. As with alcohol, moderate use of tobacco products isn’t sinful, nor is it sinful to produce and sell them.

What about gambling? We are obliged to make wise use of whatever money God gives us. We have a duty to our families and all those who are sick and poor. Yet it is not a sin to have fun. If someone has enough money to cover all their other responsibilities and finds gambling to be a pleasant diversion, it is no more sinful than playing golf or watching TV.

Given all this, it seems that the SINdex fund is probably guilty of false advertising. It does not invest in sin at all. If you want to invest in real sin, here is a good example. Producing drugs that are specifically designed to kill unborn babies is clearly sinful. Sadly, it is also very profitable.

How To Defeat America

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes:

I’m a few years older than Osama bin Laden, so I didn’t really know him at King Abdul-Aziz University. We don’t attend the same church and our kids don’t play on the same soccer team. I don’t need to know much about the guy, though, to realize that he is probably the greatest strategist of the 21st century. I don’t have to be a world class strategist myself to have a pretty good idea what he wants to do or to figure out that he has access to the same information I have access to, and given those two things I can certainly imagine what I would think and do if I were in his position.

If I wanted to take down the United States but didn’t have an air force or navy or army to do it with, I’d find a way to get it entangled in another disaster like Vietnam. In September of 2000, I would have read the neoconservative manifesto Rebuilding America’s Defenses (I would have downloaded the .pdf file here) by the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) and understood that if they gained power in the U.S. they would invade and occupy Iraq on any pretense. When their hand-picked candidate won the 2000 election on a technicality, I’d put the wheels in place to give them the “new Pearl Harbor” they were looking for, and come September 11, 2001 I’d have told my people “Let’s make magic happen.”

Then I’d sit in the countryside in prayerful meditation and watch as the American people bought their leaders’ Vietnam guilt trip in six-month installments and squandered their country’s might and wealth into a sand dune until it was all gone.