José can you see…?

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Gerard Harbison is a Professor of Chemistry at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. He is an occasional contributor to Leavenworth St. and his personal blog, as the Right Wing Professor, can be found at

By Gerard Harbison, Ph.D.

The E. N. Thompson forum on World Issues, at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, has an almost three-decade pedigree of inviting distinguished guests to campus to speak on Big Matters — Michael Gorbachev, Elie Wiesel, Desmond Tutu, Robert McNamara, Yo-Yo Ma, to name but five. In my opinion, it’s historically had a slightly left-of-center slant, but not so much to be bothersome. And regardless of one’s politics, it was worth hearing speak an international figure like Gorbachev or Tutu.

However, as O’Sullivan’s Law states, any body that is not explicitly conservative will swing to the left over time, and this has happened to the Thompson Forum. Indeed, 2015 seems to be the year it abandons any lip-service to political balance. The theme is ‘Activism’; the logo is a weird throwback to Soviet Realist art; and the speakers include illegal alien José Antonio Vargas and veteran luddite envirocrank Bill McKibben. The other two guests you’ve probably never heard of, but in no way do they provide balance. One is Wes Moore, a Jamaican-American veteran who hosts a PBS show about returning soldiers, and wrote a best-seller called ‘The Other Wes Moore’. He frequently appears on MSNBC. I fear the worst. But at least he cares about vets. The final speaker is Sheryl Wudunn, who advocates for women’s education in the third world. Not a conservative or liberal cause, but worthwhile and substantial.

Of course there are plenty of conservative activists out there: Mark Krikorian on immigration; Christina Hoff Sommers on feminism (though she wouldn’t call herself a conservative); Roger Clegg or Ward Connerly on Affirmative Action; Michael Cannon on health policy, and so on. E. N. Thompson will not invite them; nor will any other unit affiliated with UNL. When Clegg, Sommers, and Connerly visited here, it was at my invitation or the invitation of a group I was affiliated with.

But let’s talk about José Antonio Vargas. He’s perhaps America’s most famous illegal alien. That is not entirely his own fault; according to his own account he was brought as a boy of 12 from the Philippines, and left with his grandparents, who were naturalized Americans. He says he only discovered his status when he was 16 and found his documents were fraudulent (never get stingy when buying false papers, folks!). So he got a better forged green-card and went to college. Being gay and hispanic, and educated (and, to be fair, a decent writer) he was hired by the Washington Post. His bio. usually says he won a Pulitzer in 2008 for covering the Virginia Tech shootings, but this is almost like me claiming I won a Nobel Peace Prize because they awarded it to the EU. There were eleven reporters with bylines on that story.

Vargas came out as an illegal in 2011 and threw himself full time into activism. The group he founded, DefineAmerican, is currently featuring the documentary, ‘White People’, the usual ideological whine about ‘white privilege’, which tells you a lot about where they’re coming from. He was almost deported once (but this is the Obama presidency). His fame, or notoriety, probably immunizes him from any future threat.

As it happens, I am myself an immigrant. I came here, from Ireland, on a student visa, in 1977. I married an American, had 3 American kids (and soon will have my second grandkid). After 9/11, I decided if the Islamic fanatics were going to come after my wife and my kids, they were coming after me, too. So I applied for citizenship. Before that, I had spent a great deal of time learning about America: its history, its political system, its laws. In other words, I assimilated.

Before I became a citizen, I took my obligations as a resident alien very seriously. When I was hired by SUNY at Stony Brook in 1986 and by the University of Nebraska in 1992, I had to, in each case, insist they make a copy of my green card, because they just assumed I was a citizen. I have never collected welfare of any sort. Resident aliens are not supposed to. When I ran out of money while on a student visa, I ferreted a few coins out of the couches in my dormitory, brought them down to the local vegetable stand, and asked the vendor how many potatoes I could buy for 77 cents. He apparently decided I was sincere, and gave me far too many. (Thanks!). I could have made cash at $5 an hour, with no paperwork, by shoveling snow in Boston, but I knew it was illegal. America is, above all, a country of laws. And those who lack a respect for the law fail, in a very fundamental way, the test of being American.

So you can imagine how much sympathy I have with Mr. Vargas. Yes, it sucks to discover you’re illegal, but he’d only been here for 4 years, a quarter of his life, when he found that out. His parents were still back in the Philippines; and the US taxpayer would have bought him a free ticket home. He didn’t have to lie and cheat and break the law for 15 years. Yet he did. Now his mission is to attack the very idea of an American identity.

Many people, from Alexis de Tocqueville on, have tried to describe, in a more or less friendly way, what it is to be American. Mr. Vargas has very little new to say about this; in fact, he’s not the least interested in describing America; he wants, for his own deeply self-serving reasons, to redefine it. But every country, every people, has the right to define itself; its borders, its laws, its customs, and those who belong as full members of society. America is one of the few countries that tolerates a large alien minority, many of who want to take that right of self-definition from its citizens. Some Latino activists even want to subtract chunks from the national territory. This is the only country in the world where I’ve seen a huge crowd turn up at a soccer game and root against the national team; it happens every time the United States plays Mexico. These people are aliens in every sense. They have no interest in becoming American; they want America to change to be like them. There is no reason any of us should regard such behavior as other than overtly hostile.

One final point. Vargas is not speaking here at UNL for free. You can bet he’s being paid a hefty honorarium. Since he gave up the reporter gig, he needs the money. But because he is an illegal alien, we can’t legally pay him. If we issue a 1099, we need a social security number, and he doesn’t have a legal one. I expect we’ve figured out some legally convoluted way of getting around this, perhaps by donating to a shell organization which will in turn pay Vargas. But it violates the spirit of the law, and if we had a U.S. administration that cared about such things, it probably violates the letter of the law too. The E.N. Thompson forum has not yet responded to my inquiry about how this is being done. That just means they’ll have to respond to a FOIA, instead. And I’m hoping the Attorney General will also be curious.

Stay tuned.


  1. Ed Stevens says:

    Well said, Prof. Delighted to see your work headlining on L Street.

    Fortunately, O’Sullivan’s Law seems to only apply to organizations/enterprises and rarely to individuals. In fact, it has been my lifelong experience that people generally, over time and in the absence of artificial aberrant influences, become more sensible, i.e., conservative. There are, of course, exceptions, else the game of politics (and it is a game) would become grindingly tedious.

    Again, good to see you broadening your polemical horizons.

  2. Sparkles says:

    Of course Alexis de Tocqueville’s observations and subsequent description of “what it is to be American”, was an America of 1835.

    An America wholly unrelated to the world we live in today.

    An America of Jacksonian democracy. A movement away from the plutocratic rule of the wealthy land owner and toward greater democracy for the common man.
    A movement which, for the first time, gave the common man the right to vote.
    A movement toward greater equality that made possible, for the first time, a common man to become a doctor, or a lawyer, or a college professor.

    A movement most closely related to populism, progressivism, the New and Fair Deals.

    The America of which Alexis de Tocqueville marveled is an America vehemently opposed, in fact despised, by today’s Republican party.
    An oligarchical, billionaire beholden GOP that enacts laws fortifying wealth producing inequality and pushes legislation intentionally limiting voter access and voting rights.

    If Revere were alive today, he’d no doubt once again ride to rally Hancock and Adams, and they collectively call for all citizens to rise in the defense of America.
    An America delivered to the hands of a ruling class courtesy of Citizens United.

  3. Lil Mac says:

    RWP, I submit that while you are an academic, firstly, you are a true academic compared to professors of faux sciences and arts, who mostly amount to well-spoken intellectual masturbators.

    Secondly, your view of this particular issue is not at all “academic”, in that sense that something academic is “theoretical; not practical, realistic, or directly useful… learned or scholarly but lacking in worldliness, common sense, or practicality.”

    You were faced with choosing either hunger or criminality in a foreign land, and then faced with danger inside the USA prompting you to citizenship. Your hunger and fear are as Visceral as any that of any Mexican sneaking into the USA. A growling belly, or your child awakening to find robbers standing in his bedroom, such things aren’t academic. But neither are the growling stomachs of the robbers or terrorists academic. Everyone suffers. Not all resort to criminality.

    People makes choices. And people who sneak into the USA, aren’t good people.

    The scum of Dublin Ireland– rapists, murders, illiterate human trash — didn’t invest their time and effort st King’s College and come to the USA on a student visa. Neither are PhD candidates sneaking into the USA from Mexico City.

  4. bynd says:


    You seem to forget even white, bald headed, old men are the product of immigrants. So they have learned from their experiences and helped produced the system we have today. Even Tutu said he has never seen another country where the majority shares it power with the minority as much as the USA. Besides, it isn’t white privilege, it is majority rules. Happens in 98% of the countries in the world. Sorry to ruin your agenda:)

  5. repenting lawyer:

    As far as I can tell, they’re managed by UNL, and should therefore be subject to state FOIA. That’s a strictly amateur opinion, of course.

    If they were smart, they run them under the UNL Foundation, and thus keep the information private.

  6. Macdaddy says:

    Come on, RWP! You expect us to believe the story about the potatoes? We all know you filled your belly with white privilege and kept yourself warm with the fires of racism.

  7. Macdaddy says:

    Solyndra: $500 million down the drain
    CGI: hundreds of millions wasted on incompetence
    Energy Dept grants: $16 billion to top Obama donors
    Siga Technologies: $443 million no bid contract to top Obama donor
    GM: corporation handed over to the unions
    Berkshire Hathaway: owes $1 billion in taxes
    Obamacare: hundreds of billions to insurance companies
    Obama’s stimulus fund: $1 trillion giveaway to a Who’s Who of Democrat organizations
    Al Gore: worth over $100 million thanks to rent-seeking in the green industry
    Clinton Foundation: $2 billion raised, mostly from rich people and corrupt governments
    George Soros: $8 billion in donations to Democrats
    Tom Steyer: tens of millions to Democrat candidates

    All of the above are Democrats. All of them are the exact crony capitalists you accuse the Republicans of favoring. All of them have gotten deliriously wealthy thanks to government. Quit projecting.

  8. Sparkles says:

    As we approach tonight’s debate at the Reagan Library, some conservative wisdom;

    “I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and who have lived here even though sometime back they may have entered illegally.”
    – Ronald Wilson Reagan
    Oct. 21, 1984

  9. You can't have it both ways says:

    Don’t decry Reagan elsewhere and praise his worst policy decision here. Reagan wasn’t perfect and nobody ever said he was. Amnesty was his worst domestic policy decision.

  10. Sparkles says:

    Are you sure that was Reagan’s worst policy decision?

    As Governor, Reagan signed California’s Therapeutic Abortion Act.

    Reagan raised taxes on twelve separate occasions, in 1982, 1984, 1985, 1986 and 1987.

    Reagan, and his Def Sec Donald Rumsfeld, normalized relations with Saddam Hussein, just prior to providing him with U.S. Military intelligence and selling him military weapons and armaments (including chemical).
    Of course this was before turning around a short while later and selling weapons to Iran in order to fund an illegal war in Nicaragua.
    Which, brings us to 1986, when the Reagan Administration acknowledged the CIA was not only smuggling the profits from Iraqi and Iranian arms sales to Central America, they were also involved in the trafficking of mass quantities of cocaine, again in an effort to help illegally fund the Contra rebels.

    Lot’s more empirical evidence of failed economic policy that should be considered when mining the treasure that is “Reagan’s worst..”, but I’ll refrain.

  11. Macdaddy says:

    Reagan made a colossal mistake with amnesty and I remember thinking so at the time. He did not get border security, internal security, or any of the other positives he thought was going to happen. Obama is too stupid to learn from Reagan’s mistake and has doubled down. In fact, Obama seems spectacularly unable to learn from anybody else’s mistakes and often misinterprets them as successes.

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