Weekend open thread: Threat assessments

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

Arguments over the appropriate U.S. response to refugees from Syria were a hot topic this week in personal conversations as well as in the news media. I saw some longtime friendships strained over heated Facebook threads about the question. Governor Terry Branstad’s order "to halt any work on Syrian refugee resettlements immediately in order to ensure the security and safety of Iowans" provoked commentaries in several major newspapers and an unusually strong statement from Iowa’s four Catholic bishops.

The U.S. House vote to in effect stop the flow of refugees from Syria and Iraq generated passionate comments from supporters and opponents of the measure. Dozens of Iowans expressed their disappointment on the thread under Representative Dave Loebsack’s official statement explaining his vote. In an apparent response to negative feedback from progressives, Loebsack’s Congressional campaign sent an e-mail to supporters the following day, trying to distinguish his position on refugees from the Middle East from that of many Republicans, and assuring that "we will not turn our backs on those in need." (Scroll to the end of this post to read that message.)

Calls by some politicians to admit only certifiably Christian refugees from the Middle East triggered strong emotions in many American Jews this week. I saw it on my social media feeds, where many people reminded their non-Jewish friends and acquaintances that the U.S. turned away a ship carrying hundreds of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum issued a rare statement on a political matter (enclosed below), urging "public figures and citizens to avoid condemning today’s refugees [from Syria] as a group."

I’ve seen many people object to that analogy, saying reluctance to admit Syrian refugees is grounded in legitimate fears for public safety, unlike the prejudice that influenced U.S. immigration policy during the 1930s. But as historian Peter Shulman explained in this commentary for Fortune magazine,

Opposition to Jewish refugees was not simply timeless bigotry. With today’s talk of “Judeo-Christian” values, it is easy to forget the genuine alienness and threat to national security these refugees represented. […]

Behind these [1939 poll] numbers [showing widespread hostility toward Jews] lay a toxic fear of Jewish subversion. For decades, Jews had been linked to various strains of un-American threats: socialism, communism, and anarchism, of course, but also (paradoxically) a kind of hyper-capitalism. Many believed that the real threat to the United States lay not from abroad, but within.

One author of a recent letter to the Des Moines Register called for vetting Syrian refugees at the U.S. facility for holding suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay: "My Irish ancestors went through a similar process at Ellis Island. The vetting procedure was very different for them. They were checked to be sure they weren’t carrying diseases into America. We need to be sure that the refugees coming into our country don’t come with a mind disease goal of killing us, instead of seeking a new life for themselves, like my Irish ancestors did." Here’s some news for letter-writer Janet Boggs: when the first large waves of Irish ancestors entered this country during the 1840s and 1850s, many native-born Americans considered them and other Catholic immigrants an existential threat to this country, not harmless migrants seeking a better life. Read up on the Know-Nothing Party.

Today’s Sunday Des Moines Register includes a letter to the editor from Republican State Representative Steve Holt, who thanked Branstad for making "the safety of Iowans" his priority. Holt warned, "If we expect Western civilization to survive, we must abandon political correctness and educate ourselves on the realities of Islam, and the instrument of its implementation, Sharia law." Holt represents half of GOP State Senator Jason Schultz’s constituents in western Iowa; Schultz has been beating the "Sharia law" drum for months while agitating against allowing any more refugees from the Middle East to settle in Iowa. UPDATE: I should have noted that today’s Register also ran a letter to the editor from Democratic State Representative Marti Anderson, who made the case for welcoming refugees. I’ve added it after the jump.

Speaking of security risks, yesterday Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press on questions surrounding the threat assessment teams many universities formed after the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech. I didn’t know that the University of Iowa sent "a detective with the campus threat assessment team" to a fake news conference communications Professor Kembrew McLeod organized in August to poke fun at efficiency measures outside consultants recommended for Iowa’s public universities. I had forgotten about the lawsuit stemming from false accusations that a whistleblower employee in the Iowa State College of Engineering’s marketing department might be a "potential terrorist or mass murderer." Officials spreading such rumors about the employee included the former boss whose shady conduct he had exposed. Excerpts from Foley’s article are below, but click through to read the whole piece.

Continue Reading...

Branstad joins rush to slam door on Syrian refugees

Yesterday Governor Terry Branstad joined the club of 24 governors (23 Republicans and a Democrat) who have said their states will not accept refugees from Syria. They don’t have the power to block resettlement of refugees within their state borders, any more than pandering presidential candidates would be able to adopt unconstitutional religion-based criteria for deciding which people to allow into this country.

Still, Branstad’s knee-jerk reaction to Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris is a disappointing retreat from the more reasonable stance he took earlier this fall on refugees from Syria coming to Iowa.

Continue Reading...

Veterans Day links, with thanks to the Iowans in public life who have served

November 11 first became a day to honor war veterans in 1919, one year after the First World War ended. Congress officially designated "Armistice Day" a national holiday in 1926 and changed its name to Veterans Day in 1954. Many Americans will make a special effort today to thank the veterans they know. In that spirit, Bleeding Heartland acknowledges some of the Iowans in public life who have served in the armed forces.

Iowa’s Congressional delegation includes only one person who has served in the military: Senator Joni Ernst. The number of veterans in Congress has declined dramatically over the last 40 years. In 1971, "when member military service was at its peak, veterans made up 72 percent of members in the House and 78 percent in the Senate." But in the current Congress, just 81 U.S. House representatives and 13 U.S. senators have served in the military. I enclose below more statistics from Rachel Wellford’s report for NPR.

Governor Terry Branstad is the only veteran among Iowa’s current statewide elected officials.

Of the 50 Iowa Senate members, seven are veterans: Democrats Jeff Danielson, Tom Courtney, Dick Dearden, Bill Dotzler, and Wally Horn, and Republicans Bill Anderson and Jason Schultz.

Of the 100 Iowa House members, nineteen are veterans: Republicans John Kooiker, Stan Gustafson, John Landon, Dave Maxwell, Kraig Paulsen, Sandy Salmon, Quentin Stanerson, Guy Vander Linden, Matt Windschitl, Dave Heaton, Darrel Branhagen, Ken Rizer, Zach Nunn, John Wills, and Steve Holt, and Democrats Dennis Cohoon, Jerry Kearns, Todd Prichard, and Brian Meyer.

The population of veterans faces some special challenges, including higher rates of mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). An estimated 22 U.S. military veterans die by suicide every day, which means suicide "has caused more American casualties than wars in Iraq and Afghanistan." The Military Suicide Research Consortium provides information on the problem and resources for those needing help, in addition to white papers summarizing current research on factors that contribute to suicides. For instance, sexual assault in adulthood or childhood sexual abuse both increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and attempts. Also, veterans who know someone who died by suicide "reported more than twice the frequency of suicidal ideation." I was surprised to read in this paper that major public holidays are not associated with higher rates of suicide. On the contrary, "holidays may act as more of a protective factor" against suicide, possibly because of greater "social integration during holiday periods."

Last month the Iowa Department of Public Health released the Iowa Plan for Suicide Prevention 2015-2018, which "seeks to reduce the annual number of deaths by suicide in Iowa by 10 percent by the year 2018 – a reduction of 41 from the 406 three-year average from 2012-2014 – with an ultimate goal of zero deaths by suicide." The full report (which does not focus on veterans) is available here (pdf). Iowans with suicidal thoughts or who are concerned a loved one may be considering suicide can call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK or Your Life Iowa at (855)-581-8111. For online assistance: Suicide Prevention Lifeline or Your Life Iowa.

Continue Reading...

State Senator Jason Schultz still stirring up fear and loathing of Syrian refugees

State Senator Jason Schultz continues to lead the charge against Iowa accepting any refugees from war-torn Syria. He gained attention last month for warning on a popular conservative talk radio program that migrants from the Middle East "want to live under Sharia law," and their presence would constitute "an invasion" spreading Muslim "ideology by force." This week, Schultz beat the drum again as a guest on Jan Mickelson’s WHO Radio program.  

Continue Reading...

Iowa AG Miller to GOP lawmakers: No authority to investigate fetal tissue transfers

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller has informed 56 Republican state legislators that his office has neither "jurisdiction over transfers of fetal tissue" nor the "authority to investigate or demand information about the transfer of fetal tissue." In a letter dated today, Miller noted that "Iowa does not have any state laws governing the transfer of fetal tissue," which means that only offices of U.S. Attorneys are able to enforce federal laws in this area.

Last month, the GOP lawmakers asked Miller’s office “to investigate current and planned abortion operations within Iowa to ensure compliance with the law.” Their letter set out ten detailed questions regarding the disposal, donation, or possible sale of body parts following abortions. Miller directed the legislators to contact U.S. attorneys’ offices in Iowa if they “have reliable information that federal laws relating to fetal tissue are being violated.”

I enclose below the August 24 letter from Iowa House and Senate Republicans, today’s written response from Miller, and a two-page letter Planned Parenthood of the Heartland provided to the Attorney General’s Office regarding the lawmakers’ query. Planned Parenthood’s response noted that the organization “does not now, and has not in the past, participated in” any fetal tissue donation programs but adheres to “rigorous standards of care” and “compliance with all applicable laws and regulations” in every area of its work, including abortion services.

Many Iowa Republicans will be furious, not only because Miller will not act on their unfounded suspicions, but also because the Attorney General’s Office responded to their query in what appears to be a textbook late-afternoon, pre-holiday-weekend news dump.

Also worth noting: Iowa House Speaker-select Linda Upmeyer and incoming House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow did not sign the August 24 letter to Miller, but House Speaker Pro-Tem Matt Windschitl, incoming Majority Whip Joel Fry, and Assistant Majority Leaders Zach Nunn, Jarad Klein, and Walt Rogers did. Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix did not sign the letter, but Minority Whip Jack Whitver and Assistant Minority Leaders Rick Bertrand, Randy Fenestra, Charles Schneider, and David Johnson did.

Continue Reading...

State Senator Jason Schultz has a strange view of treachery

State Senator Jason Schultz weighed in last night on the controversy over Confederate flag displays: "I’m now convinced the whole Confederate flag issue is simply about progressives teaching the establishment R’s how to jump through hoops."

During our ensuing dialogue, Schultz revealed the level of nuanced thinking and temperate choice of words one would expect from a Ted Cruz endorser.  

Continue Reading...
View More...