Thursday, January 18, 2018

Not Fully Informed

Chief of Staff John Kelly tries to clear up a few things.

Trump’s chief of staff privately told a group of Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday that Mr. Trump had not been “fully informed” when promising voters a wall along the Mexican border last year, and said that he had persuaded the president it was not necessary. He also expressed optimism that a bipartisan immigration deal could eventually be reached.

John F. Kelly, the retired Marine general credited with bringing a measure of discipline to Mr. Trump’s chaotic White House during his six months as chief of staff, told members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that he had educated the president about the issue of immigration, adding that Mr. Trump had “evolved” on the wall.

Hold it right there, cowboy.  “Credited with bringing a measure of discipline to Mr. Trump’s chaotic White House”?  So calling Africa and Haiti “shitholes” and tripping over his own message five times before breakfast is supposed to be an improvement?  Okay, so he didn’t call them “fucking shitholes.”

Anyway…

But in telling lawmakers that Mr. Trump had essentially erred from the start in promoting a wall and by claiming credit for dissuading him, Mr. Kelly appeared to be voicing a sentiment some in the West Wing have heard him express privately — that it is his job to tutor a sometimes ill-informed president who has never served in public office before.

At the same time, it suggested that Mr. Kelly, who served as secretary of homeland security before coming to the White House and has hard-line views on immigration that mirror the president’s restrictionist approach, was positioning himself now as a moderating influence.

Mr. Kelly made the remarks at a meeting with members of the Hispanic Caucus, as a group known as the Twos — the No. 2 Democrat and Republican in both the House and Senate — worked toward negotiating a deal to protect from deportation the young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers. The meeting with the Hispanic caucus was first reported by The Washington Post.

What it really means is that we have an attempt at a reverse Wizard of Oz throne room scene: pay no attention to the flaming talking head; listen to the man behind the curtain who’s really running the show.

The problem with that is that even if you take away all the bells and whistles and tweets and fumbles, you still have a policy on immigration that puts young undocumented immigrants in jeopardy, and worse, unsure of what’s next.  Who knows what the nitwits at Fox and Friends will come off the couch with — aliens in the bathtub! — and send Trump around the bend.

If this little chat was meant to moderate the administration’s approach and instill confidence in their leadership, it needs a lot of work.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Pushover

This article in the Washington Post sheds disturbing light on how things work in Trumpland.

When President Trump spoke by phone with Sen. Richard J. Durbin around 10:15 a.m. last Thursday, he expressed pleasure with Durbin’s outline of a bipartisan immigration pact and praised the high-ranking Illinois Democrat’s efforts, according to White House officials and congressional aides.

The president then asked if Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), his onetime foe turned ally, was on board, which Durbin affirmed. Trump invited the lawmakers to visit with him at noon, the people familiar with the call said.

But when they arrived at the Oval Office, the two senators were surprised to find that Trump was far from ready to finalize the agreement. He was “fired up” and surrounded by hard-line conservatives such as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who seemed confident that the president was now aligned with them, according to one person with knowledge of the meeting.

Trump told the group he wasn’t interested in the terms of the bipartisan deal that Durbin and Graham had been putting together. And as he shrugged off suggestions from Durbin and others, the president called nations from Africa “shithole countries,” denigrated Haiti and grew angry. The meeting was short, tense and often dominated by loud cross-talk and swearing, according to Republicans and Democrats familiar with the meeting.

Trump’s ping-ponging from dealmaking to feuding, from elation to fury, has come to define the contentious immigration talks between the White House and Congress, perplexing members of both parties as they navigate the president’s vulgarities, his combativeness and his willingness to suddenly change his position. The blowup has derailed those negotiations yet again and increased the possibility of a government shutdown over the fate of hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants known as “dreamers.”

To some people, this is the art of dealmaking; keep the various parties off guard by changing your position so that no one knows exactly where you stand and thereby getting the best deal possible.

And to the rest of us, it indicates that he has no idea what the hell he’s doing and therefore he can be easily manipulated by whoever is in the room and can get his attention.

So while everyone has been debating over whether he said “shithole” or “shithouse,” the truth is that the policies of this country are being determined by someone who can be distracted and diverted by whoever gets to him first.  In this case it was Chief of Staff John Kelly backed up by Sen. Cotton.

In the late morning, before Durbin and Graham arrived, Kelly — who had already been briefed on the deal — talked to Trump to tell him that the proposal would probably not be good for his agenda, White House officials said. Kelly, a former secretary of homeland security, has taken an increasingly aggressive and influential role in the immigration negotiations, calling lawmakers and meeting with White House aides daily — more than he has on other topics. He has “very strong feelings,” in the words of one official.

So the guy who was supposed to be the one to keep Trump from going off the rails is actually making him worse.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Just One Of 11 Million

From the Detroit Free Press:

His arms wrapped around his wife and two teenage children, Jorge Garcia’s eyes welled up Monday morning as he looked into their eyes one last time near the entrance to the airport security gate at Detroit Metro Airport.

His wife, Cindy Garcia, cried out while his daughter, Soleil, 15, sobbed into Garcia’s shoulder as they hugged. Two U.S. immigration agents kept a close watch nearby.

After 30 years of living in the U.S, Garcia, a 39-year-old Lincoln Park landscaper, was deported on the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday from metro Detroit to Mexico, a move supporters say was another example of immigrants being unfairly targeted under the Trump administration.

Jorge Garcia was brought to the U.S. by an undocumented family member when he was 10 years old. Today he has a wife and two children, all of whom are U.S. citizens.

Garcia had been facing an order of removal from immigration courts since 2009, but under the previous administration, he had been given stays of removal.  But because of the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown,  Garcia was ordered in November to return to Mexico. His supporters say he has no criminal record — not even a traffic ticket — and pays taxes every year.

Nevertheless, Garcia had to be removed, said Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). On Monday morning, accompanied by ICE agents at Detroit Metro Airport, Garcia went through security as supporters around him held up signs that read, “Stop Separating Families.”

If it was solely up to Trump and his minions, this would be happening every day in the name of “freedom” and “security.”

Tell me how that doesn’t make us a shithole country.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Family Values

Via the Washington Post:

The Trump administration announced Monday that it will terminate the provisional residency permits of about 200,000 Salvadorans who have lived in the country since at least 2001, leaving them to face deportation.

The administration said it will give the Salvadorans until Sept. 9, 2019, to leave the United States or find a way to obtain a green card, according to a statement from the Department of Homeland Security. After earthquakes hit the country in 2001, Salvadorans were granted what is known as Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, and their permits have been renewed on an 18-month basis since then.

This means that they will be deporting American citizens — a lot of the Salvadoreans had children born here — and sending them back to a country they’ve never been to.

There are shameful examples in our history of turning on immigrants, usually by those who were one generation removed from being immigrants themselves, and in the last 100 years we saw the consequences of turning away people and sending them back, many to their death.

Even if there is a legal hold put on this, and I can’t imagine that there won’t be, it is still an attack on the basic American value and tradition of providing a safe haven for those seeking refuge from disaster, either natural or political.  It is a large part of the reason this country exists in the first place.  At least it used to be.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Looking Back/Looking Forward

Here we go with my annual recap and prognostication for the year.  Let’s see how I did a year ago.

  • I have no earthly idea what will happen with Trump in the White House.  But I can say that for the first time in my life — and I will hit 65 this year — I am frightened both for myself and my country.
  • At some point in 2017 elements of the electorate will realize that they got conned into voting for Trump and that they were played for fools.  The backlash will begin when they find out he can’t follow through on his bullshit promises, and reach a peak when they find out that repealing Obamacare and deporting 11 million people effects them personally.  When it happens, it will not be pretty.

I’m still frightened.  Nothing — not the Mueller investigation, the revelations coming from various sources, or chatter about impeachment or invoking the 25th Amendment — has calmed my fear that he is still capable of doing something that puts us and the rest of the world in peril.  As for the second bullet point, we are seeing faint glimmers that disillusionment is happening in the nooks and crannies of America where he can do no wrong, and no amount of tweeting and bullshit from Fox News can turn around his dismal approval numbers.  But that just means that fully 1/3 of the electorate still approve of him.  Even his failures — Obamacare yet survives and the deportations haven’t happened — haven’t dimmed the hopes of the dim.

  • There will be a downturn in the economy thanks to the cyclical nature of economics and the instability in the market by the Twitter-In-Chief. He will, of course, blame it on Barack Obama.

Obviously I’m not an economist because if I was I would have known that the economy lags behind and the continued growth and low unemployment rate are a result of Obama’s policies.  Of course Trump is taking credit for it.

  • A year from now the Syrian civil war will still be dragging on.  ISIS will still be a factor, and if Trump does what he says he will do with the Iran nuclear deal, expect to see them re-start their nuclear program.  “Dr. Strangelove” will be seen by historians as a documentary.
  • The refugee crisis will continue and fester once nativists and right-wing elements win majorities in western European countries.

The Syrian civil war goes on but it’s not dominating the news cycles, and ISIS is a lessening factor.  I don’t know if it’s sheer exhaustion.  The refugee crisis goes on but with a lesser magnitude.

  • Our diplomatic thaw with Cuba will freeze as the attempts to end the blockade will not get through Congress. Only until Trump gets permission to open a casino in Varadero Beach will there be any progress.

Trump rescinded some of the Obama administration’s changes in our relations with Cuba but not enough to return us to Cold War status.  The blockade, such as it is, enters its 57th year.

  • Violence against our fellow citizens will continue and take on a more xenophobic tone as the white supremacists think they are now in control. The attorney general will do nothing to put an end to it because, in his words, “they had it coming.”

Charlottesville and Trump’s tacit support of the Nazis proved that to be true, more’s the pity.

  • We will lose the requisite number of celebrities and friends as life goes on. 2016 was an especially painful year. As I always say, it’s important to cherish them while they are with us.

I lost two uncles and a nephew since I wrote that.

  • The Tigers will finish second in their division.

They traded Justin Verlander.  Yeah, he helped the Astros win the World Series, but…

Okay, now on to predictions.

  • There will be indictments at a very high level in the administration as the Mueller investigation rumbles on.  Plea bargains and deals will be made and revelations will come forth, and by summer there will be genuine questions about whether or not the administration will survive.  But there won’t be a move to impeach Trump as long as there are Republican majorities in the Congress, and invoking the 25th Amendment is a non-starter.
  • The Democrats will make great gains in the mid-term elections in November.  This is a safe bet because the party out of power usually does in the first mid-term of new president.  The Democrats will take back the Senate and narrow the gap in the House to the point that Speaker Paul Ryan with either quit or be so powerless that he’s just hanging around to collect pension points.  (No, he will not lose his re-election bid.)
  • There will be a vacancy on the Supreme Court, but it won’t happen until after the mid-terms and Trump’s appointment will flail as the Democrats in the Senate block the confirmation on the grounds that the next president gets to choose the replacement.
  • There will be irrefutable proof that the Russians not only meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, but they’ve had a hand in elections in Europe as well and will be a factor in the U.S. mid-terms.  Vladimir Putin will be re-elected, of course.
  • Raul Castro will figure out a way to still run Cuba even if he steps down as president, and there will be no lessening of the authoritarian rule.
  • The U.S. economy will continue to grow, but there will be dark clouds on the horizon as the deficit grows thanks to the giveaways in the GOP tax bill.  If the GOP engineers cuts to entitlement programs and the number of uninsured for healthcare increases, the strain on the economy will be too much.
  • This “America First” foreign policy will backfire.  All it does is tell our allies “You’re on your own.”  If we ever need them, they’re more likely to turn their backs on us.
  • The white supremacist movement will not abate.  Count on seeing more violence against minorities and more mass shootings.
  • A viable Democratic candidate will emerge as a major contender for the 2020 election, and it will most likely be a woman.  Sen. Elizabeth Warren is considered to be the default, but I wouldn’t rule out Sen. Kamala Harris of California or Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York just yet.  (Sen. Gillibrand would drive Trump even further around the bend.  She was appointed to the Senate to fill Hillary Clinton’s seat when she became Secretary of State in 2009.)
  • On a personal level, this will be a busy year for my work in theatre with a full production of “All Together Now” opening in March and several other works out there for consideration.  I will also be entering my last full year of employment in my present job (retirement happens in August 2019) but I’ll keep working.
  • People and fads we never heard about will have their fifteen minutes.
  • I’ll do this again next year.

Okay, friends; it’s your turn.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sunday Reading

Consciousness of Guilt — David Frum in The Atlantic.

“Every time he sees me he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I really believe that.”—Donald Trump on Vladimir Putin, en route to Hanoi, November 11, 2017.

So, to put it bluntly: At this point in the proceedings, there can be no innocent explanation for Donald Trump’s rejection of the truth about Russian meddling in last year’s elections. Earlier, it may have been suggested, sympathetically, that the case had not yet been proven. That Trump’s vanity blocked him from acknowledging embarrassing facts. Or—more hopefully—that he was inspired by some Kissingerian grand design for a diplomatic breakthrough. Or that he was lazy. Or stubborn. Or uninformed. Or something, anything, other than … complicit. Not anymore.

As yet, it remains unproven whether Trump himself was personally complicit in Putin’s attack on U.S. democracy as it happened during last year’s presidential campaign. What is becoming ever-more undeniable is Trump’s complicity in the attack after the fact—and his willingness to smash the intelligence and counter-intelligence agencies in order to protect Putin, Russia, and evidently himself. Consider what the president said to reporters on Saturday: Then you hear it’s 17 agencies [who agree that Russia meddled in the elections], whoa, it’s three. And one is [former CIA Director John] Brennan, and one is whatever. I mean give me a break, they’re political hacks. … So you look at that and you have President Putin very strongly, vehemently says he had nothing to do with that.”

A year after the 2016 election, the Trump administration has done nothing to harden U.S. election systems against future interference. It refuses to implement the sanctions voted by Congress to punish Russia for election meddling. The president fired the director of the FBI, confessedly to halt an investigation into Russia’s actions—and his allies in Congress and the media malign the special counsel appointed to continue the investigation.  These are not the actions of an innocent man, however vain, stubborn, or uniformed.“Beyond a reasonable doubt” is the standard for criminal justice. It’s not the standard for counter-intelligence determinations. The preponderance of the evidence ever-more clearly indicates: In ways we cannot yet fully reckon—but can no longer safely deny—the man in the Oval Office has a guilty connection to the Russian government. That connection would bar him from literally any other job in national security except that of head of the executive branch and commander- in-chief of the armed forces of the United States.

At any time, this situation would be dire and ominous. It’s graver still at a time when this president seems determined to lead the United States into a preventive war in the Korean peninsula. President Trump may soon demand that this country incur terrible risks and accept heavy sacrifices—even as he leaves Americans in darkening doubt over whose interests he is serving, and why.

Roy Moore Is The GOP — Charles P. Pierce.

The fact is that Roy Moore is very much who the Republicans are. He is representative of a fanatical splinter of American Protestantism that has accounted for a great deal of the success enjoyed by modern conservatism and the Republican Party for over four decades, and there always has been dark sin at the heart of that success.

The rise of what used to be known as “the religious right” did not begin with the legalization of abortion. That’s a nice story that the various Bible-banging charlatans would like you to believe. No, the institutions that would nurture and produce the religious right were the white-only Christian academies and universities that sprang up in the South as part of the massive resistance to desegregation—the churchgoing end of that strategy. The religious right was not born out of opposition to Roe v. Wade. It was born out of opposition to Brown v. Board.

There was always something wretched in its founding that invariably asserted itself in our politics. Dishonesty and camouflage were its primary sacraments. As part of their bargain with these people, Republicans and conservatives agreed tacitly to overlook these things, and so they became accustomed to overlooking everything until, today, alleged pedophilia of the most grotesque sort is the latest thing to be overlooked in the cause of tax-cuts and the restriction of women’s reproductive rights.

Without fastening itself to the enthusiastic remnants of American apartheid, modern conservatism and the modern Republican party never would have become the juggernaut they became, and the religious right was one of the more enthusiastic of those remnants. Small wonder, then, that so many Good Christian Men are either lining up behind Roy Moore, or if-then’ing themselves into incoherence trying not to talk about him. He has all the right positions on all the right issues that discomfort all the right people, and, given that, these people would vote for Satan himself.

He is you. He is all of you. Another monster out of the lab.

Fighting Deportation — Kanyakrit Vongkiatkajorn in Mother Jones.

Eleven cities and counties across the United States announced on Thursday that they will provide free legal representation to immigrants facing deportation, part of a new initiative called the Safety and Fairness for Everyone (SAFE) Cities Network. The initiative, launched in collaboration with the Vera Institute of Justice, a national nonprofit and research organization, helps cities with funding and resources to help train legal service providers and share best practices.

Unlike in criminal court cases, immigrants generally do not have the right to a free court-appointed attorney during removal proceedings, and often have to bear the costs on their own.  Nationally, only 37 percent of immigrants facing deportation proceedings get access to a lawyer, and only 14 percent of immigrants in detention do, according to a report from the American Immigration Council, a nonprofit and advocacy group. As Mother Jones has reported previously, studies have shown that access to legal representation can drastically improve an immigrant’s chances of winning relief from deportation or release from detention. Without it, often immigrants and families are quickly deported.

Vera started soliciting competitive applications from cities and counties to be part of the network earlier this summer. Local governments had to commit some public cash, which Vera would then supplement with additional funding. Atlanta, GA, Austin and San Antonio, TX, Baltimore and Prince George’s County, MD; Chicago, IL; Columbus, OH; Dane County, WI, and Oakland/Alameda County, Sacramento, and Santa Ana, CA were selected.

Vera’s project comes at a time when cities and states are ramping up their efforts to protect undocumented immigrants against a potential crackdown. A Reutersanalysis found that arrests of undocumented immigrants with no criminal history increased by more than 200 percent in the first half of the year. Though deportations have slowed, ICE agents have made 43 percent more arrests since Trump has been in office, compared to the same time last year, according to the Washington PostAttorney General Jeff Sessions has also attempted to speed up deportations and reduce immigration court backlogs, though to seemingly little effect.

For cities like Atlanta, it will be the first time the city has ever provided legal defense for those facing deportation. “This support is needed now more than ever,” Mayor Kasim Reed said.

“Immigrants are our friends, neighbors, and co-workers, but new enforcement tactics are breaking up families and weakening our neighborhoods and our city,” Elizabeth Brown, council member for the City of Columbus, stated in a press release. The city will provide $185,000 to three groups, and received $100,000 in additional funding from Vera.

Providing universal representation is an approach that Vera has tested before. In 2013, the group helped start a pilot project called the New York Immigrant Family Unit Project (NYIFUP) that provided free legal defense services to immigrants detained at the Varick Street Immigration Court. A new report evaluating the program found that immigrants who participated were able to able improve their chances of remaining in the US. Before the project began, only 4 percent of immigrants who had no legal representation at the court were able to win their cases. With the help of the free legal defense, NYIFUP estimates that 48 percent of its cases will end successfully. The program has represented more than 1,770 people and also helped reunite more than 750 people with their families, according to the report.

Outside of the SAFE Cities Network, other cities have taken on their own efforts to provide funds for legal defense. In April, Seattle’s city council unanimously passed a resolution to allocate $1 million to a defense fund for immigrants and refugees, and increased that fund to $1.5 million with the inclusion of King County in August. Earlier this summer, Los Angeles city and county officials also approved an L.A. Justice Fund that, with help from outside donors, would provide up to $10 million for legal defense to immigrants.

“It’s inhumane for people to go to court with no lawyer,” Omar Siagha, a green card holder who was able to win his case through the NYIFP, said in a press release. “Everyone deserves a chance to explain their case to the judge.”

Doonesbury — Humor me.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

He Did It Again

Did anyone really think that Trump would honor the deal on DACA that he came up with “Chuck and Nancy”?

Trump, who pledged to help protect young people known as “Dreamers” brought illegally to the United States as children, called on Sunday for money to fund a border wall to be part of any immigration deal.

In a list of “principles” laid out in documents released by the White House, the Trump administration also pressed for a crackdown on unaccompanied minors who enter the United States, many of them from Central America.

The plan, which was delivered to leaders in Congress on Sunday night, drew a swift rebuke from Democrats, who are seeking a legislative fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that Trump ended last month.

“The administration can’t be serious about compromise or helping the Dreamers if they begin with a list that is anathema to the Dreamers, to the immigrant community and to the vast majority of Americans,” said House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.

“The list includes the wall, which was explicitly ruled out of the negotiations. If the president was serious about protecting the Dreamers, his staff has not made a good faith effort to do so,” they said in a statement.

I think we’ve seen this before.

How could they not know this was going to happen?  Trump was never going to give in on the wall and on demonizing the Dreamers.  It’s his whole shtick; it’s why he descended the Golden Escalator in the first place, and it’s his connection to the base (see below).

The catch is that while he was happy to mess with the Republicans while sitting down with Chuck and Nancy and now he’s turned on them, there’s no reason why he won’t do it again just to be Trump.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Chickenshits

We’ve always known Trump is a bully and a coward, and the craven way he dealt with DACA — sending out Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, whose idea of a legal immigrant is one brought over in the hold of a ship in chains — is only too happy to do Trump’s dirty work.

As an up-and-coming politician in Alabama, Jeff Sessions watched as his state’s poultry industry illegally hired Mexican and Central American immigrants to jobs that had once been filled by poor, unskilled American workers. As a senator, Mr. Sessions argued that displaced American workers like these — not the people replacing them — deserved compassion.

So when President Trump chose Mr. Sessions, now the attorney general, to announce on Tuesday the end of an Obama-era immigration program that shielded young immigrants from deportation, there was no doubt what message he would deliver. Mr. Trump has expressed conflicting emotions about those who were brought to the country as children, but Mr. Sessions expressed no such qualms.

“There is nothing compassionate about the failure to enforce immigration laws,” Mr. Sessions said.

Just a few weeks ago, Mr. Trump was so enraged that Mr. Sessions had recused himself from a Justice Department investigation into Russian meddling into the 2016 presidential election that Mr. Trump publicly expressed his regrets about making him the nation’s chief law enforcement official. The president criticized Mr. Sessions so often that he seemed to be encouraging him to quit. But Mr. Sessions, the first senator to endorse Mr. Trump in the campaign and his first cabinet appointment, endured.

And on Tuesday, Mr. Sessions not only served as the administration’s spokesman, he also spoke directly to Mr. Trump’s base in a blunt, uncompromising way that the president himself was uncomfortable doing.

“The White House needed him to do this because I don’t think Trump would have delivered a convincing performance,” said Mark Krikorian, a Sessions ally and the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. “His own body language and ad-libbing would have undercut his message.”

But Sessions is Rudolf Hess in this grossenscheißesturm.  Trump is still the main villain.  He hasn’t got the guts to back up his own campaign rhetoric, and the only way he can address the issue is in an airplane hangar in front of a hoard of sweating knuckle-draggers who are gullible enough to fall for his fear and loathing and still cough up $40 for a cheap hat — made in China — with some neo-Nazi slogan on it.

So he sends out this squeaky little rabble-rouser — one who is apparently into the political version of S&M by enduring Trump’s tantrums — and makes him do it.  And because he’s into marginalizing people who don’t look or sound like him, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III is only too happy to oblige.

It’s easy to speak of the “rule of law” and what is and what isn’t legal when you remove the elements of compassion and don’t bother to think of the human cost.  Neither of these alleged human beings ever lost a moment of sleep over whether or not they’re impacting anyone other than themselves.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Sunday Reading

Waiting Our Turn — Charles P. Pierce on the aftermath of Harvey.

CORPUS CHRISTI—The hotel had closed in anticipation of the storm from out of the sea. The storm had shifted north far enough that the city got brushed, but not hammered, the way Rockport and Port Aransas did. The hotel is still closed. There’s a note on the door and the lobby is empty except for some pumps that never were used. People who have reservations pull up to the door. They read the note, and look through the dusty windows at all the strange devices littering the floor, and then they drive down the access road a little further to one of the other hotels that are still open.

There are plenty of rooms available, even though it’s a holiday weekend and the fleshpots of South Padre Island are just off the road. Up the coast, off Galveston, at night, you can see dozens of red lights out in the Gulf, tankers and freighters who are waiting to be cleared to come into the port, pausing out there like the tourists who roll up to the abandoned hotel. There’s an adrenaline feeling of unfulfilled dread. It’s not like waiting for the next shoe to drop. It’s more as though people are waiting for the previous shoe to rise again.

For a week now, we have been treated to wonderful images of people helping people. There is some great journalism being done on these stories, particularly by the television people. But there is a nagging sense of being anesthetized by all the great video of National Guardsmen carrying abandoned dogs, or dialysis patients being loaded onto helicopters, or the hundreds of boats plying what once were fashionable neighborhoods in Houston. Behind the scenes, there is serious politics being played and, while there’s nothing enobling about a lot of it, it would be perilous to allow the vast human tragedy of this place to obscure what is being done, because the politics really is the next shoe to drop.

[…]

On Friday, David Sirota and the people at International Business Times, in association with Newsweek, have been diving deeply into the politics that led directly to the explosion and fire at the now-iconic Arkema chemical complex near Houston. Almost simultaneously with the floods and the fires, a federal court gave a win to Donald Trump’s conception of an Environmental Protection Agency in its quest to keep companies like Arkema from having to tell the people who live near its plant from knowing much of anything about what goes on inside it.

Arkema is already benefiting from the rule’s delay: In a teleconference on the crisis Friday, the company refused to release a map of its facilities or an inventory of the potentially hazardous chemicals at the beleaguered plant, as would be required by the heightened safety standards. The company argued that disclosing such information to the public could put the company at risk of terrorism threats, the Houston Chronicle reported. Under both federal and state law, the firms can elect to disclose such information, or not to.

Less than four months ago, Arkema pressed the EPA to repeal the chemical plant safety rule, criticizing the rule’s provisions that require chemical companies to disclose more information to the public. In a May 15 letter to the EPA, Arkema’s legislative affairs director wrote that “new mandates that require the release to the public of facility-specific chemical information may create new security concerns if there are not sufficient safeguards to ensure that those requesting the information have a legitimate need for the information for the purposes of community emergency preparedness.”

Arkema had friends in Texas state government, too. From IBT:

The American Chemistry Council also lauded Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton for co-authoring a letter slamming the chemical plant safety rule. The letter chastised the EPA for proposing to require chemical plants to more expansively disclose castatrophic releases of hazardous chemicals and berated regulators for requiring independent audits of facilities’ safety procedures. “To complicate matters further, EPA is demanding that the auditors have no relationship with the audited entity for three years prior to the audit and three years sullbsequent,” wrote Paxton and Louisiana Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry. “EPA is demanding that a professional engineer be part of the auditing team, that attorney client privilege cannot apply to the audits, and finding and reports be released to the public. It is difficult to fathom how this collection of burdensome, costly, bureaucratic regulatory requirements does anything to enhance accidental chemical release prevention…This unauthorized expansion of the program does not make facilities safer, but it does subject facilities to even more burdensome, duplicative and needless regulation.” Paxton received $106,000 from chemical industry donors during his 2014 run for attorney general.

This is how we got here. If we’re smart, we will learn from this and not do the same damn things allover again, but I think the odds are against that. Decades of propaganda pushing the message that government is some sort of alien entity—and that politics is its alien, beating heart—cannot be overcome that easily.

Katrina wasn’t enough to do it, so there’s no reason to expect that Harvey will be enough, either, not with virtually the entire Texas state government’s bone-deep commitment to that very message. The triumph of that message owes as much to its ability to create alienation and political apathy in the many as it does to its ability to create wealth for the very few.

We’ve forgotten what Pericles warned us about democracy when he looked around at the very first attempt at it. Just because you do not take an interest in politics, he warned, doesn’t mean politics doesn’t take an interest in you. We are those ships out in the dark now, waiting for somebody’s permission to come into port. Our politics, at the moment, is an empty hotel lobby with unused pumps.

The Missing Link — Josh Marshall on what Trump can’t do.

People with certain autism spectrum disorders have difficulty reading social cues which most people understand intuitively. Therapists have developed techniques which can help them learn through training what comes effortlessly to others. I can’t help thinking of this when I see President Trump touring Texas with his litany of jarring, tone-deaf or just plain weird comments. But the deficit in this case isn’t social cue cognition. It’s empathy.

There is, of course, a word for people who have an extreme inability to feel empathy: sociopath. It can also be certain diagnoses of what is called ‘malignant narcissism.’ But even that isn’t quite what gets my attention. Because many sociopaths are actually quite adept at demonstrations of empathy. They don’t feel it. But they can mimic the behavior. That’s what gets me. Trump can’t even pretend. Even your garden variety jerk politician can put on a show of hugs and supportive words. Trump can’t.

There are plenty of cases where Trump is cruel and awful. We’ve seen plenty of those. In those cases, his predatory, probably sociopathic nature is plainly evident. But everybody knows that during a natural disaster the President’s job is consoler-in-chief. You don’t have to be crazy cynical to realize that it’s often a chance for a chief executive to connect with people in a human way. It can gain them support. Trump also clearly realizes this and is actually trying. Maybe he doesn’t really care about supporting people. But he gets that he’s supposed to do this touring, hugging, saying the right thing thing. Since this was generally seen as a strong suit for President Obama, he probably wants to outdo Obama at it as well. But he can’t. He’s trying. But it is painfully obvious he doesn’t know how. It’s not just that he can’t outdo Obama. That’s no surprise. He can’t even go through the motions.

In addition to the basic body language he keeps saying things like “Have a Good Time!” to people stranded in a shelter. Or, ‘it’s going great‘ to people who’ve just lost everything. Or, look at this huge turnout to people who … well, you get the idea. When it comes to acting human or compassionate it’s like the part of his brain governing that species of behavior has been removed. It’s like watching a person who has profound social awkwardness in a meet and greet situation at a cocktail party. It’s painful. But again, with Trump it’s not social awkwardness. It’s a basic, seemingly fundamental inability not only to experience but even to fake the experience of empathy or human concern. That additional part is what is remarkable to me.

How Trump got this way I have no clue. But it’s the behavior of a very damaged or emotionally stunted person.

Let Them Stay — Noah Lanard in Mother Jones on Republicans who want to keep Dreamers in the country.  (How about paying them a living wage while you’re at it?)

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump will decide whether to keep in place Obama-era protections that allow nearly 800,000 undocumented young people, known as Dreamers, to work and study in the United States. As the controversial decision approaches, the policy—officially called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA—has received support from an unlikely group of people: prominent Republican politicians. They’re joined by Democrats, immigrant rights advocates, and the leaders of some of the country’s largest companies in calling on Trump to reject immigration hardliners’ demands to end the program.

DACA provides Dreamers with two-year, renewable permits that allow them to live the United States without being detained or deported. To qualify for the protection, Dreamers have to show, among other requirements, that they arrived in the United States before they turned 16 and have not committed serious crimes. The average Dreamer came to the United States at six years old and is now 25, according to a survey by University of California-San Diego professor Tom Wong.

Many Republicans have long argued that DACA, which is not a law but a 2012 executive action by President Barack Obama, is unconstitutional. During the campaign, Trump repeatedly criticized DACA, calling it one of Obama’s “illegal executive amnesties.” But Trump softened his position after winning the election. “The DACA situation is a very difficult thing for me, as I love these kids,” he said in February. In July, he repeated that it was a “very very hard” decision. Asked about the issue Friday, Trump said that “we love Dreamers”; he’s reportedly torn about whether to end DACA. Later on Friday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that a decision will be announced on Tuesday, ending weeks of speculation about when the decision would be made.

On Friday, House Speaker Paul Ryan became the most prominent Republican to pressure Trump not to end DACA, saying that the president should leave it up to Congress. “These are kids who know no other country, who were brought here by their parents and don’t know another home,” he said in a radio interview. “And so I really do believe there that there needs to be a legislative solution.” Ryan’s comments come one day after hundreds of CEOs and business leaders, including executives at Apple, Facebook, and General Motors, sent Trump an open letter calling on him to keep DACA in place.

Perhaps the most surprising statement in support of DACA has come from Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III, a Republican. In June, Slatery, along with nine other state attorneys general, threatened to challenge DACA in court if the Trump administration didn’t end the program by September 5, which is Tuesday. The White House announcement may be intended to meet the AGs’ deadline, but on Friday afternoon, Slatery announced that he’s changed his mind. “There is a human element to this…that is not lost on me and should not be ignored,” Slatery wrote in a letter addressed to Tennessee Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker. “Many of the DACA recipients, some of whose records I reviewed, have outstanding accomplishments and laudable ambitions, which if achieved, will be of great benefit and service to our country. They have an appreciation for the opportunities afforded them by our country.”

Instead, Slatery suggested that Congress should consider a bipartisan bill introduced by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) that would give Dreamers a path to citizenship. “It is my sincere hope,” Slatery wrote, “that the important issues raised by the States will be resolved by the people’s representatives in the halls of Congress, not in a courtroom.”

Doonesbury — More from the Twit.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Slamming Shut The Golden Door

There’s immigration reform, but this seems particularly racist, vengeful, and ultimately counterproductive.

Trump embraced a proposal on Wednesday to slash legal immigration to the United States in half within a decade by sharply curtailing the ability of American citizens and legal residents to bring family members into the country.

The plan would enact the most far-reaching changes to the system of legal immigration in decades and represents the president’s latest effort to stem the flow of newcomers to the United States. Since taking office, he has barred many visitors from select Muslim-majority countries, limited the influx of refugees, increased immigration arrests and pressed to build a wall along the southern border.

In asking Congress to curb legal immigration, Mr. Trump intensified a debate about national identity, economic growth, worker fairness and American values that animated his campaign last year. Critics said the proposal would undercut the fundamental vision of the United States as a haven for the poor and huddled masses, while the president and his allies said the country had taken in too many low-skilled immigrants for too long to the detriment of American workers.

After listening to the White House’s version of a Josef Goebbels wanna-be in the person of Stephen Miller try to defend the new policy and denigrate the Statue of Liberty’s appeal to the tired, poor, and “tempest-tost” and lifting her lamp beside the Golden Door, Rep. Judy Chu (D-WA) had the most fitting response.

Throughout our history we have gone through fits and starts of trying to exclude immigrants; once it was the Chinese, then it was the Italians, then the Jews or the Central Europeans, usually based on some unfounded fear of losing jobs to them or infiltration by our enemies.  It’s based on racism and xenophobia and it has usually backfired.

Of all the nations on this planet, we are the last who should be shutting the door to people from other places and other languages.

I think that has something to do with this:

Trump has strained relations with a lot of people these days — members of his own party in Congress, the 55-plus percent of Americans who say they disapprove of his performance, his attorney general, his recently ousted communications director and chief of staff. But through all the drama and dismay, one group has never really wavered: the leaders of the conservative movement.

This is no accident. Mr. Trump and members of his administration have spent their first six months in office cultivating and strengthening ties to the movement’s key groups and players with a level of attention and care that stands out for a White House that often struggles with the most elementary tasks of politics and governing.

Their outreach extends to groups across the ideological spectrum — small government, tax-averse Tea Party followers; gun owners; abortion opponents; evangelical Christians and other culturally traditional voters. And it reflects the importance that Mr. Trump and his aides have placed on the movement politics of the right, which they recognize as the one base of support they cannot afford to alienate since conservatives, according to Gallup, are 36 percent of the electorate.

“You want the structures that deliver people, votes and enthusiasm — and he understands that,” said Grover Norquist, the veteran anti-tax activist who has been working with White House officials as they develop a tax legislation package.

After all his time in the real estate con/shell games — which he sucks at — he does know which pigeons to pluck.  They’re both parasitic to each other; Trump needs them to stay afloat, and he’s the only game in town for them.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Short Takes

Italy may stop ship unloading migrants.

Forty arrested for protesting healthcare bill on Capitol Hill.

U.S. to hold off on further airline laptop bans.

Miami-Dade public schools achieve no “F” schools status.

Arkansas Ten Commandments monument run over.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Out Of The Pool

Trump got into office partly because he promised to get rid of the “millions” of undocumented immigrants in the country, and so far a lot of them have either been deported or left on their own accord.

Predictably, that’s having unforeseen consequences, including for those who voted for Trump, in the agriculture industry.

Undocumented immigrants make up about half the workforce in U.S. agriculture, according to various estimates. But that pool of labor is shrinking, which could spell trouble for farms, feedlots, dairies, and meatpacking plants—particularly in a state such as Kansas, where unemployment in many counties is barely half the already tight national rate. “Two weeks ago, my boss told me, ‘I need more Mexicans like you,’” says a 25-year-old immigrant employed at a farm in the southwest part of the state, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he’s trying to get his paperwork in order. “I said, ‘Well, they’re kind of hard to find.’”

[…]

Others feel the same way. “The threat of deportation and the potential loss of our workforce has been very terrifying for all of us businesses here,” says Trista Priest in Satanta, Kan. She’s the chief strategy officer at Cattle Empire, the country’s fifth-largest feed yard, whose workforce is about 86 percent Latino.

In Haskell County, where Cattle Empire is the biggest employer, 77 percent of voters cast ballots for Trump, compared with 57 percent statewide. But Priest and other employers interviewed for this story complained that the immigration policies emanating from Washington, 1,500 miles away, clash with the needs of local businesses.

Representative Roger Marshall, a Republican whose district includes southwest Kansas, says immigration is the No. 1 concern he hears about from constituents. The freshman congressman says he’s confident that once the border is secure, “President Trump will look at this, too, as an economic problem.”

Right.  The guy that created the economic problem is going to solve it?

Here’s the main point: there’s a labor shortage in all markets (thanks, Obama, for fixing the Great Recession) so even if there were Americans who would take the jobs, they’re not available; they already have a job.  And jobs in agriculture are mainly low-paying, highly physical jobs that don’t appeal to those Trump voters who were promised roses and rainbows and so much success that they’d be tired of it.  So mucking out a feedlot of several tons of literal bullshit is not exactly the American dream.

By the way, “more Mexicans” are getting harder to find.  Immigration from Mexico has slowed to the point that there are more people going back there than coming here.