Monday, February 5, 2024

Simple Choice

The Senate released their bipartisan proposal for border security and also included funding for Ukraine and Israel.  This took a lot of work from members from both sides doing something that should be a no-brainer… which makes it instant fodder for the no-brainers in the House.  But now the bill is out there, and this statement from the White House makes it clear that President Biden isn’t in the mood to cave to the whims of those who think their re-election or sucking up to a despot-in-waiting is good for anyone but their fevered dreams of winning an election based on fear and loathing.

It will make our country safer, make our border more secure, treat people fairly and humanely while preserving legal immigration, consistent with our values as a nation. It would give me, as President, a new emergency authority to shut down the border when it becomes overwhelmed. It will make our asylum process fairer and more efficient while protecting the most vulnerable. It will expedite work permits so that those who are here and qualify can get to work more quickly. It will create more opportunities for families to come together – through short-term visits as well as increased permanent lawful pathways. It ensures the most vulnerable, unaccompanied young children, have paid legal representation. And it will provide the resources I have repeatedly requested to secure the border by adding border patrol agents, immigration judges, asylum officers, and cutting-edge inspection machines to help detect and stop the flow of fentanyl. While this agreement doesn’t address everything I would have wanted, these reforms are essential for making our border more orderly, secure, fair, and humane.

The bipartisan national security agreement would also address two other important priorities. It allows the United States to continue our vital work, together with partners all around the world, to stand up for Ukraine’s freedom and support its ability to defend itself against Russia’s aggression. As I have said before, if we don’t stop Putin’s appetite for power and control in Ukraine, he won’t limit himself to just Ukraine and the costs for America will rise. This agreement also provides Israel what they need to protect their people and defend itself against Hamas terrorists. And it will provide life-saving humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people.

There is more work to be done to get it over the finish line. But I want to be clear about something: If you believe, as I do, that we must secure the border now, doing nothing is not an option. Working with my administration, the United States Senate has done the hard work it takes to reach a bipartisan agreement. Now, House Republicans have to decide. Do they want to solve the problem? Or do they want to keep playing politics with the border? I’ve made my decision. I’m ready to solve the problem. I’m ready to secure the border. And so are the American people. I know we have our divisions at home but we cannot let partisan politics get in the way of our responsibilities as a great nation. I refuse to let that happen. In moments like these, we have to remember who we are. We’re the United States of America and there is nothing, nothing beyond our capacity if we do it together.

Speaker Johnson has a rather simple choice: work with the Senate and pass the bill that will do what the Republicans have been yammering for, or go down in history as Trump’s bitch.

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Sunday Reading

Fear Itself — Charles P. Pierce on why we’re frightened.

The fear is not simply in this room, as Edward R. Murrow once told his staff when they were preparing their landmark coverage of Senator Joseph McCarthy. The fear is everywhere in our political life these days. It is vividly clear that it exists in the halls of Congress. It is suspiciously active in the courts; in the former president’s second trial for defaming writer E. Jean Carroll, the presiding judge found it necessary to tell the jurors not to tell anyone that they were sitting on the case. In Georgia, Fulton County DA Fani Willis found it necessary to employ a body double to keep her safe going back and forth to court. Also, the fear is more than a politician’s dread for their professional careers which, when you come right down to it, was a huge part of what McCarthy had for a threat to hold over his victim. The fear this time is of physical danger, and it is everywhere.

The good people at the Brennan Center For Justice have produced a startling report about the cloud of danger hanging over local politicians, over members of town councils, and school board members, and county clerks, especially the ones tasked with overseeing elections. The abuse runs the gamut from distasteful attacks on social media to credible death threats. (Just to be clear, all death threats are credible when you’re the recipient thereof.) Its effects on the good functioning of self-government ripple outward. Good people leave public service, and other good people decline to replace them, figuring the game not to be worth the car bomb. One state legislator told the Brennan Center researchers,

“Last fall was the last really serious death threat I got. It was like date, time, location specific. They were going to kill me and then go to the police station and blow themselves up and take as many officers with them as possible.”

This is not some heat-in-the-kitchen political boilerplate. Not with the number of guns in this country. Not after a 50-year campaign of domestic terrorism by anti-abortion fanatics that culminated in a Supreme Court decision that gave them everything they’ve ever wanted. Not with the Capitol Hill pipe bomber still wandering the streets. Not after January 6, 2021.

Some respondents mentioned viral social media and deregulation of guns as aggravating factors. Significant numbers were unaware of formal procedures to report incidents or of any recent increases in government provided security for buildings or their transport. In a time of heated debate about existential issues such as reproductive autonomy, gun regulation, and racial equity, these threats to the free and fair functioning of representative government implicate everyone. As Virginia House Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn put it, “We were going to help improve others’ lives. But we never thought our lives, or most importantly, our family members’ or significant others’ lives, would be in jeopardy. I think you’re going to lose a lot of good people because of it.”

Not while we have armed sedition on the Texas border. Not while we have the current Republican presidential frontrunner. Not with the only other contender’s expressing the opinion that states can secede from the Union if they want to do so, despite the fact that it was just about the only issue that the Civil War actually settled for good. (Pro Tip: they can’t.) Not in this country. Not now. Again, from the new report:

Officeholders across these demographic categories reported experiencing threats or attacks within the past three years. And the volume and severity of abuse have increased in recent years, they said. More than 40 percent of state legislators experienced threats or attacks within the past three years, and more than 18 percent of local officeholders experienced threats or attacks within the past year and a half. The numbers balloon to 89 percent of state legislators and 52 percent of local officeholders when less severe forms of abuse — insults or harassment such as stalking — are included.

Not in this country. Not now.

The statistical findings should surprise approximately nobody who has been even semi-conscious over the last decade and a half. The election of a Black president broke many brains and a lot of them were put back together wrong, and in such a way as to make them vulnerable to the worst kind of political stimuli.

Larger shares of women than men, and larger shares of Republicans than Democrats, reported increases in the severity of abuse since first taking public office. Women were three to four times as likely as men to experience abuse targeting their gender.  Officeholders of color were more than three times as likely as white officeholders to experience abuse targeting their race.  Larger shares of women and people of color serving in local elected office experienced abuse related to their families — including their children — than did other officeholders.  Women serving in state legislatures were nearly four times as likely as men to experience abuse of a sexual nature.

You will note that more Republicans than Democrats reported that the abuse directed at them has worsened over their terms of office. However, as the study also reports, much of that abuse is coming from inside…the…house.

Republican state legislators reported more increases in the volume of abuse than did Democrats. As their leaders have at times failed to condemn violence and violent rhetoric, state and local Republican officeholders have experienced abuse from within their own party for refusing to back extreme positions.

So, basically, and unsurprisingly, the increase in threats and abuse are bipartisan, but most of it is coming from the same sources. Democrats are being abused because they’re Democrats, and Republicans are being abused for not abusing Democrats constantly, nor harshly enough. The fear is nonpartisan, and it is free-floating, and it seeks targets for its own implacable reasons. Like Joyce’s snow, the fear is general, all over the country.

The fear intensified over the years from 2017-2021, and it hit a kind of peak during the insurrection after the 2020 presidential election. But it did not begin there, I remember sensing a kind of wildness in the air during the 2012 campaign, when Barack Obama was running for re-election. His presidency had begun in an atmosphere of ginned-up white hysteria; even before his administration truly had done much of anything. I’m not sure we can chalk up all that video of white people howling about wanting “their” country back to the signing of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

The atmosphere around the 2012 campaign stank with that raw anger, even with as non-threatening opponent as Mitt Romney. (I remember talking to Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett about it at a rally in Florida shortly before the election.) It became clear that the anger had erupted from sources far beyond the fact of who the Republican nominee was, be that Zombie Dwight Eisenhower or Zombie Richard Speck. Obama’s re-election did not dispel the anger. It remained floating in the interstitial spaces between election, looking for new targets and, especially, searching for a focal point around which it could concentrate.

In 2016, it found one, a candidate with a predator’s instinct for identifying the anger and how to utilize it. It was Donald Trump’s only true political talent, and he has exploited that talent ever since. In return for finding its focus, the anger armored him to the point at which he could act with impunity and without shame, a quality he lacked in any case.

Aristotle called this tune back in the Fourth Century when he wrote his essential Politics. There is very little that is complicated about a despotism except the sources of the anger that give it power.

In fact owing to this tyranny is a friend of the base; for tyrants enjoy being flattered, but nobody would ever flatter them if he possessed a free spirit—men of character love their ruler, or at all events do not flatter him. And the base are useful for base business, for nail is driven out by nail, as the proverb goes.1 And it is a mark of a tyrant to dislike anyone that is proud or free-spirited; for the tyrant claims for himself alone the right to bear that character, and the man who meets his pride with pride and shows a free spirit robs tyranny of its superiority and position of mastery; tyrants therefore hate the proud as undermining their authority.

So the anger begets the fear and the fear begets more anger until the anger is all that’s left and the fear is its only weapon. It is where we are today. It is everywhere.

Doonesbury — Change…

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Sunday Reading

Common Cowardice — Charles P. Pierce.

Working with data from researchers with PEN America, the Washington Post has done its own analysisof the current rage for book-banning in the country’s schools and public libraries, an imbroglio we also recently covered here at Esquire. The results are anger-making, but not much of a surprise.

The Post requested copies of all book challenges filed in the 2021-2022 school year with the 153 school districts that Tasslyn Magnusson, a researcher employed by free expression advocacy group PEN America, tracked as receiving formal requests to remove books last school year. In total, officials in more than 100 of those school systems, which are spread across 37 states, provided 1,065 complaints totaling 2,506 pages. 

The Post analyzed the complaints to determine who was challenging the books, what kinds of books drew objections and why. Nearly half of filings — 43 percent — targeted titles with LGBTQ characters or themes, while 36 percent targeted titles featuring characters of color or dealing with issues of race and racism. The top reason people challenged books was “sexual” content; 61 percent of challenges referenced this concern.

Neither is the nature of the people challenging these books in anyway shocking.

Cindy Martin, a mother of four in Georgia’s Forsyth County schools, challenged three books last school year. In one complaint, lodged against “Check Please! Book 1: #Hockey,” a graphic novel about a college hockey team whose protagonist comes out as gay, she demanded that school officials “remove all copies and burn it.” Martin said in an interview that she stands by her call to burn “Check Please!” which she criticized for “using the f-word, and it’s in the sexual sense.” She said titles available in school libraries promote casual sex and degrade women. She predicted letting children read those books will lead to pregnancy, abortion, sexual harassment, rape and sexually transmitted diseases.

“It has no place in the school system. It really has no place in society,” she said. “I am a believer in Jesus Christ, and I feel he has put this passion in me to protect children.”

For our purposes, however, the Post buried the lede, as we used to say. About halfway down in the story, we come upon this signifying little nugget.

A small number of people were responsible for most of the book challenges, The Post found. Individuals who filed 10 or more complaints were responsible for two-thirds of all challenges. In some cases, these serial filers relied on a network of volunteers gathered together under the aegis of conservative parents’ groups such as Moms for Liberty.

“Serial filers” is not a phrase I ever anticipated writing.

Everybody is jumping at shadows these days. Either American corporations and institutions are simpatico with the book-banners and gay-bashers, or they’re too cowardly to stand up to them. There’s no third alternative. I am inclined toward that second option. Nobody ever went broke relying on the fundamental cowardice of American corporations. A lot of people have gone broke relying on their fundamental patriotism, however.

Over the past couple of weeks, we have seen an unprecedented number of examples of American corporations going weak in the knees under pressure from the noisy fringes. These are people who will poison a river or create an environmental dead zone and not bat an eye at the concerns and complaints of the people who have to live there. But bring the culture war to their doorsteps, and they fold like a five-buck accordion.

First, it was the Los Angeles Dodgers, a sports franchise valued at $4.8 million. For a decade, the Dodgers invited a satirical group called the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to be part of the team’s annual celebration of Pride Night. The Sisters are raucous but good-hearted. However, this year, under pressure from conservative Catholic “groups,” the Dodgers disinvited the Sisters. (This episode rolled back the stone and brought Bill Donahue back from political limbo, and Senator Marco Rubio chimed in from the matchbox in which he is now keeping office hours.) Los Angeles exploded in outrage and support for the Sisters. In a nifty move, the Los Angeles Angels jumped in and invited the Sisters to that team’s Pride Night.

At this point, the Dodgers yielded to pressure from the good guys, and re-invited the Sisters to receive the Community Hero Award they were supposed to get in the first place. I assume that Bill Donahue has returned to the sweaty bogs of his own lurid imagination.

The ending is not so happy at Target, which is a corporation worth an estimated $14.4 billion. This means that Target is wallowing in what Adam Smith called “Fck You” money. Nevertheless, over the past week, Target abandoned its customers from the LGBTQ+ communities all across the country. From Reuters:

Target, which rolled out its Pride Collection at the start of May, is pulling some products from its stores after facing customer backlash, saying it was acting to protect employee safety, the company told Reuters on Tuesday.

Target Corp (TGT.N) is offering more than 2,000 products, including clothing, books, music and home furnishings as part of its Pride Collection. The items include “gender fluid” mugs, “queer all year” calendars and books for children aged 2-8 titled “Bye Bye, Binary,” “Pride 1,2,3” and “I’m not a girl.”

“Since introducing this year’s collection, we’ve experienced threats impacting our team members’ sense of safety and wellbeing while at work,” Target said in a statement.

“Given these volatile circumstances, we are making adjustments to our plans, including removing items that have been at the center of the most significant confrontational behavior,” the Minneapolis-based retailer said.

It was bound to come to physical threats, and certainly Target has an obligation to do what it can to keep its employees safe. (Of course, the company has gone to great lengths to keep its employees safe from unions.) But the fact remains that now that the “items at the center of the most significant confrontational behavior” have been removed, the people making the threats will now move on to putting other items at the center of the most significant confrontational behavior. That’s how this thing works. From Rolling Stone:

Designer Erik Carnell, the gay trans man behind the London-based company accessory and apparel line Abprallen, was honored to see his products sold at Target as part of the company’s pride collection. “I’m especially happy at the thought that young closeted people will see it, and I hope that in some way they’ll feel a bit more comfortable in themselves, as we all deserve to feel,” he wrote on Instagram last week. Now, those same items have been removed from availability online and stripped from store shelves as part of Target’s response to the intense conservative backlash to the LGBTQ+ products that the company says has threatened employee safety. Meanwhile, death threats are filling up Carnell’s inbox.

“This whole situation has been far worse than I could have imagined in terms of pushback against my person,” Carnell tells Rolling Stone over email. “I have received innumerable death threats and threats of violence, these only being outnumbered by the sheer volume of hate messages I’ve received. I am upset over the lies that have been spread about me and the falsehood that I designed so-called ‘satanic’ items for children in Target. I designed items only for the adult sections, none of which had any occult or otherwise ‘satanic’ imagery.”

Target has sold him out. It has sold out some of its clientele. And it has sold them all out cheaply. Remember that Washington Post study about “serial filers”? This is serial filers on a grand national scale. There simply are not enough of these people out there to warrant this kind of pre-emptive surrender. The Dodgers seem to have come to that conclusion late, but the team got there nonetheless. We are at a time in our history in which the path of least resistance leads directly over a cliff.

Here in Miami the most extreme example is one parent who got her tail all puffed up because the library at her child’s school has a copy of a book of poetry that contains the poem that was read at Joe Biden’s inauguration by a young Black woman.  She freely admitted that she had never read the whole book, but was doing it because Jesus told her to and that it advocated communism.  Interesting that someone whose family fled Cuba because of a dictator is now pulling this dictator shit in the “free” state of Florida.

Ron DeSantis says that the stories about book banning are a “hoax” and that no one is doing that.  But when you restrict access to books, whether it’s by hiding it, putting it on another shelf, or making it by request only, you’re banning them.  And allowing one parent to do it without so much as a hearing — what is known in the law as “due process” — you’re violating the very spirit of that which you claim makes America great.

There will always be fanatics and zealots who hate the idea of free speech for other people.  But the worst part is the elected officials and the people who should know better are letting the lunatics run the show.  So either grow a spine, stand up for basic freedoms, or get the fuck out and let real courageous people take your job.  Now all we gotta do is find them.

Doonesbury — Life is a game.

 

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

The Most Important Thing

The sea levels are rising to the point that when it rains heavily on Miami Beach, the streets become canals.  Florida’s hurricane insurer is in deep trouble, and towns lives damaged by Hurricane Ian last fall are still digging out.  Public school teachers can’t make a living wage, and the elderly in need of health insurance can’t get Medicaid.  But people in drag and the books they read are the REAL threat.

The Republican-led Senate on Tuesday approved legislation that would bar children from attending drag shows with “lewd” performances, a proposed restriction that follows a national theme in GOP states and that comes a day after a Republican Florida lawmaker called members of the LGBTQ community “mutants” and “demons.”

Supporters of the measure, titled “Protection of Children,” argue the state government needs to intervene in certain cases to ensure children are not witnessing sexual content, even in cases when parents approve. Democrats and LGBTQ advocates, however, say the broad language and stiff penalties are designed to stifle drag shows and pride parades, events that organizers say are meant to be joyous community celebrations.

The push to target these performances comes as Gov. Ron DeSantis seeks to punish venues that have hosted drag shows with children present, even in cases when state regulators found no “lewd acts.” DeSantis, who is expected to launch a bid for president in the coming months, has said “sexualized” drag shows are dangerous for kids.

So far, the DeSantis administration has gone after private venues’ liquor licenses and all cases remain open. The proposed legislation would broaden the state’s enforcement powers. It would allow the state to pursue any person who admits a child into a private or public live performance that “depicts or simulates nudity” or engages in the “lewd exposure of prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts.”

The penalties — up to a year in prison or up to $10,000 in fines — could be levied against employees, such as ticket-takers and lobby attendants, and permitted performers at public events, under the proposal. The sanctions would not be waived in cases where a child is accompanied by a parent.

The bill also includes criminal penalties for performers who obtain a public permit for an event, and then violate provisions related to “lewd” performances. Equality Florida advocates and LGBTQ community members fear that provision, added on a week before the Senate vote, is an attempt to stifle pride parades, and to dissuade cities from issuing permits for the events.

You want to see a “lewd” performance?  Watch Ron DeSantis and his panty-sniffing mutants and demons rail against George Soros and using thinly-disguised anti-Semitic and racist language to try to ram — heh, he said “ram” — this garbage through the legislature.

“Protection of Children” my ass.  If they gave a flying rat’s ass about the children of this state, they’d take the money they’re going to throw away on defending these cases in court or spending on the state Gestapo force they’re putting out to stop non-existent voter fraud and deal with the things the vast majority of Floridians care about, like the climate, the schools, and the Everglades.

Keep it up, Ron.  You’re making Tennessee look good by comparison.

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Marching Backward

Memo to the Miami-Dade County Public Schools board in regards to your 8-1 vote against recognizing October as LGBTQ History Month:

It is apparent that at least one of you is doing this because Gov. Ron DeSantis and his minions in the state legislature passed the ironically titled “Parents Rights” bill that forces local school boards to conform to their views. My question to you is: why are you serving on the board if all you’re doing is being an echo chamber for ignorance, fear, and loathing?

“I say that you cannot administer a wicked law impartially. You can only destroy, you can only punish. And I warn you, that a wicked law, like cholera, destroys every one it touches. Its upholders as well as its defiers. Can’t you understand? … If you make it a crime to teach it in the public schools, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools? And tomorrow you may make it a crime to read about it. And soon you may ban books and newspapers. And then you may turn Catholic against Protestant, and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the mind of man. If you can do one, you can do the other. Because fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding. And soon … with banners flying and with drums beating we’ll be marching backward, BACKWARD, through the glorious ages of that Sixteenth Century when bigots burned the man who dared bring enlightenment and intelligence to the human mind!” – “Inherit the Wind” (1960)

I am profoundly sorry that I participated in the promotion of a certain member of this school board to the position they now hold. They have turned from an ally to a mouthpiece for everything they promised to work against.  They have turned their back on not just LGBTQ rights, but the dignity and enlightenment that comes with the responsibility to the community, not just the students. It is no wonder that teachers, administrators, support staff, and students are leaving M-DCPS. They have just plain had it with the intimidation of a vocal minority who are trying to eradicate anything that doesn’t conform to their piteous howls of white Christian domination and patriarchy.

You know who you are.

Monday, November 1, 2021

Some Freedom

From the Miami Herald:

In a decision that could have far-reaching free speech implications for faculty at universities and colleges across Florida, the University of Florida has refused to allow three political science professors to continue to serve as expert witnesses in a case that challenges a new state law that restricts voting access.

Political Science Professors Daniel Smith, Michael McDonald and Sharon Austin, in cases before the state, were told by emails earlier this month that their requests to serve as experts would now be rejected. They were seeking permission to serve as experts in the case challenging Senate Bill 90, passed by Florida’s GOP-controlled Legislature in the wake of the 2020 election.

“Outside activities that may pose a conflict of interest to the executive branch of the State of Florida create a conflict for the University of Florida,’’ wrote David Richardson, dean of UF’s college of arts and sciences in response to Smith’s request.

Smith is the chair of UF’s political science department; McDonald is a national expert on elections and Austin studies African American political behavior.

Gary Wimsett, UF’s assistant vice president for conflicts of interest, provided a similar response to McDonald and Austin.

Gov. DeSantis and his wormtongues has been running around the state — and raising money for his campaigns — blathering about “freedom”: parents are free to intimidate school boards into violating common-sense and life-saving medical guidance while the state leads the nation in the number of infections and deaths from Covid-19.  He’s happily and boldly exercised his freedom to tell businesses and municipalities that they can’t restrict the freedom of anti-vaxxers to spread their lies and their germs.  He carries on about “freedom of choice” to not get vaccinated, but when it comes to a woman’s body, they have no choice but to go along with the dictates of the state.  He is all for parental rights, but what about the rights of the parents who don’t want themselves or their children exposed to a fatal disease?

This is cowardice, and Gov. DeSantis is full of it.  He can’t lead because he’s afraid of the wrath of that AK in West Palm who will unleash the minions of his fevered nightmare.  Perish the thought that lives may be saved if he upsets one old man.  But hatred, fear and loathing are bred by restricting the freedoms they claim to cherish.

Josh Marshall:

Most discussions of Florida’s decision to forbid professors at state universities from serving as expert witnesses in cases challenging its voter suppression laws have focused on it as a question of free speech versus the state. And it is certainly that. In every legal sense it is that. It’s an almost comical abuse of power. But I want to highlight a distinction which may seem semantic but I think is more than that.

The danger is less the state than a certain type of political party, the Trumpite GOP.

In the order to the professors the school officials wrote, “As UF (University of Florida) is a state actor, litigation against the state is adverse to UF’s interests.” Needless to say this tosses out whole canons of custom and perhaps law of freedom of speech and academic freedom in the US. But again, this is really a political party and Ron DeSantis as its in-state leader.

One of the features of American democracy is a fairly sharp line between political activity, the electoral activity of parties and the functions of the state. A state governor has budgets and powers to run the state. But he or she can’t use them to run for reelection. Ignoring these distinctions was one of the most defining features of Trump’s presidency. I am the state, as it were.

We can see now that that approach increasingly suffuses the whole GOP. It would certainly be a conflict of interest for people in the state’s solicitor general’s office to be serving as expert witnesses against the state law. It’s a state law and the solicitor general is the lawyer whose job it is to defend the state’s laws before the courts. But public university’s have no comparable role. Again, it’s personalization and party-ification of the powers of the state.

 

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Common Sense Precautions

I didn’t watch Trump’s Oval Office speech, but according to those who did, it was the usual blame-someone-else and aren’t-I-smart? kind of crap that informs little and calms no one.  From the Washington Post:

In an Oval Office address Wednesday night, Trump said that his European travel restrictions will not include the United Kingdom and will include exceptions for Americans who have received “appropriate screenings.” He and administration officials later tweeted that the restrictions apply only to people, not goods and trade, and will not include a bar on U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. Trump spoke sternly about what he called a “foreign virus” that “started in China and is now spreading throughout the world.”

“The virus will not have a chance against us,” Trump said. “No nation is more prepared or more resilient than the United States.”

Yeah, somehow that does not instill confidence. For one thing, there’s no such thing as a “foreign virus.” It’s a virus, period, so even if it came from China or the planet Cardassia, it’s a disease that has to be dealt with.  A virus does not distinguish between U.S. citizens or legal residents; it won’t check your passport before infecting you, and carrying a U.S. passport will not somehow magically protect you unless you blow your nose into it.  Washing your hands and using a Kleenex will.

The NBA is suspending their season until further notice after one player tested positive, and the NCAA is going to hold March Madness in empty arenas.  Nursing homes and adult care facilities, including the place where my parents live, are instituting screening procedures for visitors.  I’ve gotten e-mails from hotel chains, airlines, and public transit reassuring me that they’re being extra careful in their cleaning procedures, and so far the public schools, including the ones where I work part-time, are following prudent but not over-reactive steps to keep the virus at bay.  The trending videos on YouTube are songs to sing for at least twenty seconds while you wash your hands.  I prefer the first two verses of Lewis Carroll’s poem “The Jabberwocky.”

Meanwhile, Florida is bracing for impact.

So far, there are 147 pending test results for coronavirus. There are 476 people currently monitored. Two Florida residents have died from the disease, which can be especially life-threatening for those with complicating health conditions and those of advanced age.

House Speaker José Oliva, R-Miami Lakes said the Miami-Dade case was “to be expected.”

“Miami is the gateway to the Americas,” he said. “People fly in and out of Miami every day. It’s one of the busiest airports of the country.”

The news came after a rash of eight cases was announced Tuesday night and one day after Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office rejected at comments made by Dr. Anthony Fauci, a leading infectious disease expert on the federal Coronavirus Task Force.

Gov. DeSantis is a vocal sycophant to Trump so this response is not unexpected, but it seems that the virus has a powerful sense of karma.

The lesson here is to not panic, be informed, listen to the people who know how to handle a pandemic, and don’t try to find someone to blame for biology, epidemiology, and viral evolution.

And wash your hands.

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

Gesundheit.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Operative Word Being “Blitz”

From the Washington Post:

In the weeks before they were ousted last month, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and top immigration enforcement official Ronald Vitiello challenged a secret White House plan to arrest thousands of parents and children in a blitz operation against migrants in 10 major U.S. cities.

According to seven current and former Department of Homeland Security officials, the administration wanted to target the crush of families that had crossed the U.S.-Mexico border after the president’s failed “zero tolerance” prosecution push in early 2018. The ultimate purpose, the officials said, was a show of force to send the message that the United States was going to get tough by swiftly moving to detain and deport recent immigrants — including families with children.

The sprawling operation included an effort to fast-track immigration court cases, allowing the government to obtain deportation orders against those who did not show for their hearings — officials said 90 percent of those targeted were found deportable in their absence. The subsequent arrests would have required coordinated raids against parents with children in their homes and neighborhoods.

But Vitiello and Nielsen halted it, concerned about a lack of preparation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, the risk of public outrage and worries that it would divert resources from the border.

Senior Trump adviser Stephen Miller and ICE Deputy Director Matthew Albence were especially supportive of the plan, officials said, eager to execute dramatic, highly visible mass arrests that they argued would help deter the soaring influx of families.

The arrests were planned for New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and the other largest U.S. destinations for Central American migrants. Though some of the cities are considered “sanctuary” jurisdictions with police departments that do not cooperate with ICE, the plan did not single out those locations, officials said.

ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations branch had an initial target list of 2,500 adults and children, but the plan, which remains under consideration, was viewed as a first step toward arresting as many as 10,000 migrants. The vast majority of families who have crossed the border in the past 18 months seeking asylum remain in the country, awaiting a court date or in defiance of deportation orders.

You don’t have to be a history buff or a fan of movies like “Schindler’s List” or even “X-Men” to understand the parallels to certain other events like this in history to know that it does not end well.

Lest you think that then-Secretary of Homeland Security Nielsen had a twinge of morality or saw the glaring reference to Europe in the 1940’s, rest assured that her qualms were about logistics, not human rights.

DHS officials said the objections Vitiello and Nielsen raised regarding the targeted “at large” arrests were mostly operational and logistical and not as a result of ethical concerns about arresting families an immigration judge had ordered to be deported.

Nielsen and others also worried that a massive effort to deport parents and children would detract from the Trump administration’s stated goal of going after “criminal aliens.”

“The proposal was nowhere near ready for prime time,” the official said, which is why DHS senior leaders blocked the White House. “They wanted 10 cities, thousands of targets.”

Officials at ICE and DHS declined to comment, and Vitiello and Nielsen did not respond to requests for comment. Miller declined to comment through a White House spokesman.

But administration officials who described the plan said Vitiello and Nielsen’s pushback was a factor in President Trump’s decision to oust both officials — particularly Vitiello.

The president has been livid about the number of unauthorized border-crossers being released into the U.S. interior, and he has repeatedly urged his aides to take the “toughest” approach possible.

Of course.  What are we going to do with all these… people?  Hey, maybe put them all in one place, and while were at it, get them to do some work, y’know, to keep them occupied. Pay them? Are you kidding?  We’re feeding them and housing them and even giving them clothes; don’t those striped outfits look nice?  Oh, and just to make sure that if they somehow get away, make them all wear a badge or something so everyone else can easily identify them in a crowd….

But raising these kinds of questions only gets in the way.

Miller has told the president that some members of his administration don’t have his best interests at heart, and that they are too worried about their own reputations to carry out his agenda effectively, according to current and former administration officials.

The president’s supporters also have been urging him to wield a firm hand.

Speaking on “Fox and Friends” on Thursday, Vitiello’s predecessor at ICE, Tom Homan, said the agency should “do operationally what Congress has failed to do legislatively.”

“ICE needs to do a nationwide operation,” Homan said. “Look for family units and single adults who had their day in court or didn’t show up in court and [were] ordered removed by a federal judge,” he said. “If those orders don’t mean anything, if those orders aren’t executed, there is no integrity to our system.”

Reading that, why do I get the feeling he was this close to saying something about finding a “final solution”?

Lest you think I’m skating too close to Godwin’s Law wherein everything devolves to comparison to a certain regime in central Europe of the 1930’s, remember that fearmongering, then rounding up and detaining “undesirables” and “aliens” is one of the first things authoritarians do to instill fear, loathing, and maintain control.  If it can happen to them, it could happen to you, so watch your step, shut your mouth, and here, wear this red cap just to fit in.

We’re this close.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Keep Marching

Matthew Yglesias in Vox:

The Women’s Marches over-awed Donald Trump’s Inauguration. Protesters at airports checked the initial version of Trump’s travel bans. Ordinary Americans’ phone calls and door knocks defeated multiple attempts to roll back the Affordable Care Act. It all sent a clear message during Trump’s first two years in office: Resistance works.

Engaged protesters were not able to block the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act or Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, but they did render both toxically unpopular. The resistance spurred an unprecedented level of interest in special elections, swinging seats across the country, and powered Democrats to sweeping wins in the 2018 midterms.

And then it stopped. There was no mass mobilization to call senators in advance of the resolution blocking Trump’s border emergency declaration. There were no crowds on Capitol Hill. There are no reports of Republican senators canceling town halls because they’re afraid to face angry crowds demanding a floor vote on the anti-corruption bill HR 1. There are no protesters demanding that Trump accede to Congress’s request for his tax returns in part because no request has been made.

The resistance has demobilized. And for Democrats, it’s probably a huge mistake.

It’s perhaps more a matter of how people look at life in general that has led to this.  Conservatives not only see the glass half-empty, they’re on the lookout for someone, somewhere, to dash it from their lips.  They live in a world of suspicion and hyped-up tension; every stranger is a danger; every person that doesn’t look or sound like them is up to no good, so no matter what the reality is, you can’t trust anybody.  That explains why even after winning elections the right-wingers never stop complaining and campaigning.

Progressives see it the other way: everything has the potential for beauty and comity; we can just all get along if only we’d trust our inner goodness.  Electing their people will turn everything right and we can all take a deep cleansing breath and relax.

But you cannot stop and rest on your laurels and think the defeated will retreat, having learned their lesson.  They’ll be back with a vengeance because that is what they do.  That’s why after the election of the first African-American president so many people pronounced racism was dead and believed we had at last grown past the original sin of slavery and institutional bigotry, only to have it made abundantly clear that not only was prejudice and paranoia still alive and well, it could elect the most dangerous threat to American democracy since Fort Sumter.

It’s easier to scare people with a siege mentality, and it’s a great control mechanism; keep the followers in line (and getting their money) with fear and loathing.  (Organized religion figured that out thousands of years ago.)  The Democrats cannot let their guard down, and they don’t have to make up fake news or gin up paranoia to show the world that they need to keep up the marching.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Peak Freak

So we’re down to the last 24 hours before the polls open for the mid-terms and everyone is in the full-press mode to the end.  My e-mail box is stuffed with pleas from candidates all over the country (that’s because of posting the blog’s e-mail address), the cable channels are filled with warring ads from both parties and PAC’s, and even my phone is getting in on the act with texts urging me to vote early.  I only hope the enthusiasm and urgency was reciprocated by the early voters and will be tomorrow when the polls open.

Meanwhile, Trump is running around the country like his hair was on fire (okay, skip the cheap shot about flammable materials and accelerants) doing his best (or worst) to scare the crap out of the foolish and the weak, going only to places where he knows he’ll get a fawning reception, lying his ass off about what the Democrats will do when they get back in power; lying to the point that reporters aren’t couching their terms in quasi-objective modes but calling him a flat-out liar.

Trump has never been hemmed in by fact, fairness or even logic. The 45th president proudly refuses to apologize and routinely violates the norms of decorum that guided his predecessors. But at one mega-rally after another in the run-up to Tuesday’s midterm elections, Trump has taken his no-boundaries political ethos to a new level — demagoguing the Democrats in a whirl of distortion and using the power of the federal government to amplify his fantastical arguments.

In Columbia, Mo., the president suggested that Democrats “run around like antifa” demonstrators in black uniforms and black helmets, but underneath, they have “this weak little face” and “go back home into mommy’s basement.”

In Huntington, W.Va., Trump called predatory immigrants “the worst scum in the world” but alleged that Democrats welcome them by saying, “Fly right in, folks. Come on in. We don’t care who the hell you are, come on in!”

And in Macon, Ga., he charged that if Democrat Stacey Abrams is elected governor, she would take away the Second Amendment right to bear arms — though as a state official, she would not have the power to change the Constitution.

Unmoored from reality, Trump has at times become a false prophet, too. He has been promising a 10 percent tax cut for the middle class, though no such legislation exists. And he has sounded alarms over an imminent “invasion” of dangerous “illegal aliens,” referring to a caravan of Central American migrants that includes many women and children, is traveling by foot and is not expected to reach the U.S.-Mexico border for several weeks, if at all.

This kind of desperation usually presages a humiliation.  Those of us of a certain age remember the mid-terms of 1970 when the Nixon administration unleashed a barrage of lies and fear that backfired spectacularly to the point that when Nixon formed his reelection committee he instituted a mindset that amplified his inborn paranoia to the point that led to felonies and articles of impeachment.

To their credit, most of the Democrats have ignored the outrageous bullshit and focused on the things that matter to the voters such as the assault on healthcare and the grossly unfair tax cuts that left them holding the bag on the deficit.  They know — and hopefully the voters will too — that schoolyard taunts and conspiracy theory fantasies are distractions that work great in the MAGA mindset but are not solutions to the problems that they see everyday: sure, the economy is doing great (thanks, Obama!) but we still have lead in our water, red tide on the beach, crushing tariffs on steel and soybeans, and a promise to repeal the healthcare provisions that everybody needs.

We will know in 48 hours which way worked.  Being the optimist that I am, I think the voters of this country will deliver a resounding defeat to the voices of fear and loathing.  I believe the Democrats will take control of the House, they will win a number of governorships, and, most importantly, make deep inroads in state and local elections to begin to turn back the sea change, both literally and figuratively, that got us to this stage.  If not, we’re witnessing the unraveling of the promise of democracy and this could be one of the last elections where we really had a choice.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Sunday Reading

Reigns Of Terror In America — Jill Lepore in The New Yorker on the legacy of fatal hatred in our nation.

On Friday, May 9, 1958, Rabbi Jacob M. Rothschild, of the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation, in Atlanta, delivered a sermon called “Can This Be America?” Crosses had been burned and men had been lynched, but Rothschild was mainly talking about the bombs: bundled sticks of dynamite tied with coiled fuses. In the late nineteen-fifties, terrorists had set off, or tried to, dozens of bombs—at black churches, at white schools that had begun to admit black children, at a concert hall where Louis Armstrong was playing, at the home of Martin Luther King, Jr. One out of every ten attacks had been directed at Jews, at synagogues and community centers in Charlotte, in Nashville, in Jacksonville, in Birmingham. In March, 1958, about twenty sticks of dynamite, wrapped in paper yarmulkes, had exploded in an Orthodox synagogue in Miami. The blast sounded like a plane crash.

“Our first duty is not to allow ourselves to be intimidated,” Rothschild told his congregation. Five months later, some fifty sticks of dynamite exploded at his temple, Atlanta’s oldest, blowing a twenty-foot hole in a brick wall, toppling columns, shattering stained-glass windows. “We bombed a temple in Atlanta,” a man claiming to be from the “Confederate Underground” said, when he telephoned the press that night. “Negroes and Jews are hereby declared aliens.”

Rothschild grew up in Pittsburgh, in Squirrel Hill. His family went to Temple Rodef Shalom, just blocks away from the Tree of Life Synagogue, where eleven people were recently shot and killed during services. Robert Bowers, the man charged in the case, had repeatedly posted on social media about a Jewish aid organization he thought was helping refugees cross the U.S.-Mexico border. The shooting followed a series of mail bombs sent to prominent critics of the President, allegedly by Cesar Sayoc, Jr., a Florida man whose white van was plastered with Trump stickers. In the days after these atrocities, Donald Trump announced his intention to end birthright citizenship—to declare, by executive order, that millions of U.S.-born children are aliens. Can this be America?

Rothschild, the liberal from Pittsburgh, moved to Atlanta to take up his pulpit in 1946, the year that a white-supremacist organization was founded in the city. The Columbians asked potential members three questions: “Do you hate Negroes? Do you hate Jews? Do you have three dollars?” On Yom Kippur in 1948, Rothschild sought to stir his congregation out of its silence. “There is only one real issue,” he said. “Civil rights.” The reign of terror Rothschild decried in 1958 had begun four years earlier, after the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, when White Citizens Councils began forming across the South to oppose desegregation. And then the bombings started, targeting the institutions that hold societies, and nations, together: schools, houses of worship, newspaper offices.

Standing at the site of the Atlanta temple blast, Mayor William B. Hartsfield declared, “Every political rabble-rouser is the godfather of every sneaking cross-burner and dynamiter at work in the South today.” In the Atlanta Constitution, the syndicated columnist Ralph McGill wrote, “To be sure, none said go bomb a Jewish temple or a school. But let it be understood that when leadership in high places in any degree fails to support constituted authority, it opens the gates to all those who wish to take law into their hands.” The F.B.I. investigated, as Melissa Fay Greene recounts in a book about the bombing, and five men were arrested. The American Nationalist, a California newspaper, ran a story that announced, “SYNAGOGUE BOMBING A FRAUD: Jewish Groups Use Bomb Incident to Confuse Gentiles.” Only one man, George Bright, was ever tried; he was acquitted. McGill won a Pulitzer Prize. “If you call that a prize,” Bright scoffed. “Pulitzer was just a Jew.”

America’s latest reign of terror began not with Trump’s election but with Obama’s, the Brown v. Board of the Presidency. “Impeach Obama,” yard signs read. “He’s Unconstitutional.” In 2011, Trump began demanding that Obama prove his citizenship. “I feel I’ve accomplished something really, really important,” Trump told the press, when, that spring, the White House offered up the President’s birth certificate. This fall, Senator Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, fell into the same trap. For the five years of Trump’s campaign for political attention, leading up to the 2016 election, and for the first two years of his Administration, attempts to fight Trump on his debased terms have only strengthened him.

Rothschild delivered a sermon to his congregation the Friday after the bombing, its title taken from the Book of Ezekiel: “And None Shall Make Them Afraid.” Eight hundred people crowded into the blasted synagogue. “Never did a band of violent men so misjudge the temper of the objects of their act of intimidation,” Rothschild said. “Out of the gaping hole that laid bare the havoc wrought within, out of the majestic columns that now lay crumbled and broken, out of the tiny bits of brilliantly colored glass that had once graced with beauty the sanctuary itself—indeed, out of the twisted and evil hearts of bestial men has come a new courage and a new hope.”

Courage and hope are not the language of Trump’s most vociferous political opponents. Blame and grievance are their language, the language of the times, the grammar of Twitter, the idiom of Trump, the taste of bile. Trump’s critics have often answered his viciousness with their own viciousness, his abandonment of norms with their abandonment, his fear-mongering with their fear-mongering, his unwillingness to speak to the whole of the country with their own parochialism.

But the bloody-mindedness of deranged and broken men can be countered only by principle and fortitude. Rothschild once introduced Dr. King at a banquet in Chicago. King, he said, had been met with “wild thunder.” Never did he speak with more thunder than during his Christmas Eve sermon in 1967, at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, in Atlanta, not far from Rothschild’s temple. “If we don’t have good will toward men in this world, we will destroy ourselves,” King said. “There have always been those who argued that the end justifies the means, that the means really aren’t important,” he said. “But we will never have peace in the world until men everywhere recognize that ends are not cut off from means, because the means represent the ideal in the making, and the end in process, and ultimately you can’t reach good ends through evil means, because the means represent the seed and the end represents the tree.” Another tree has been cut down. May a new seed be sown.

Only Going To Get More Extreme — Jonathan Chait in New York on what will happen if the GOP retains control of Congress.

Politics since Donald Trump’s election has felt like a static state of misery, as the president’s approval ratings have been surprisingly stable and the only apparent variable has been each party’s chances of gaining or consolidating power in the midterms. But that reading ignores something tectonic: the rapid decay of the institutional Republican Party. Everything that was terrible about the party that nominated Trump is significantly, terrifyingly worse today. Even more distressing: It is likely to lurch further rightward regardless of the outcome of the elections. This will happen right away.

It was not so long ago that most Republican professionals firmly believed the party was still theirs and Trump had merely borrowed it. The GOP Establishment, one congressional staffer told the reporter David Drucker earlier this fall, had “forced Trump to govern as a ‘conventional conservative.’ ” Ten months ago, when the Senate voted to pass a huge tax cut, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared, “If we can’t sell this to the American people, we ought to go into another line of work.”

They couldn’t. They tried convincing the public their tax cuts for the rich will mostly go to the middle class, but the middle class doesn’t believe them. “I would have bet you a lot of money going into this year that if you cut people’s taxes by thousands of dollars per year, that would be politically popular,” Republican consultant Ryan Ellis told Politico. “But it has not worked out that way.” As private Republican polling has confirmed, the party “lost the messaging battle” on taxes.

Rather than finding another line of work, however, McConnell’s colleagues have grasped a disturbing reality: They don’t need to sell their policies to the American people. They’re better off following Trump’s political formula of constructing an alternate reality in which their party is cast as one of economic populists. Recently, Trump has been insisting he has another plan to give the middle class a tax cut. A big one! A whopping 10 percent cut, just for the average taxpayer. “We’re doing it now for middle-income people,” Trump told reporters about a bill he claimed would pass before Election Day.

Reporters quickly noted this was impossible. Congress was out of session until after the election; it would need 60 votes to pass another tax cut, anyway. Trump then insisted he had a secret plan, which he would reveal soon, that would allow a huge middle-class tax cut without adding to the deficit. “We’re doing other things, which I don’t have to explain now, but it will be pretty much a net neutral,” he told reporters. No such tax proposal exists, and nobody actually believes anything like it will ever materialize. Yet Republican leaders are pretending to take Trump’s instructions seriously. “We will continue to work with the White House and Treasury over the coming weeks to develop an additional 10 percent tax cut focused specifically on middle-class families and workers,” promised House Committee on Ways and Means chairman Kevin Brady. Why shouldn’t they go along? What cost is there to sustaining the lie?

Republicans are attempting a similar trick to resolve their political liability on health care, where Trump has ramped up their strategy dating back to the beginning of the Obamacare debate: promise to do all the good stuff Obama­care delivered but without making anybody pay for it. The administration, joined by several Republican states, is suing to overturn Obamacare’s regulations preventing insurance companies from charging higher rates to people with preexisting conditions and, in the meantime, undermining those protections by allowing insurers to sell cheaper plans to healthy people. Yet the Republicans’ health-care message has betrayed not the slightest hint of their anti-regulatory fervor. Arizona’s Martha McSally, who as a member of Congress gave a pep talk to wavering Republicans urging them to vote to repeal Obama­care and not replace it, is running ads for her Senate campaign claiming she “led the fight” to “force insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions.” Florida governor and Senate candidate Rick Scott, whose state is currently supporting the Trump lawsuit, is declaring in an advertisement, “I support forcing insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions.” Trump himself has advanced this lie to its Orwellian conclusion. Not only does he promise to defend the regulations he is actively seeking to eliminate, he has accused Democrats of trying to destroy them: “Republicans will totally protect people with Pre-Existing Conditions, Democrats will not! Vote Republican.”

The defensive effort to steal the economic-populist mantle from Democrats, without making any substantive concessions toward that end, has been largely overshadowed by the louder cultural messaging that accompanies it.
Republicans have stoked white racial paranoia against a shifting array of targets. Kneeling football players and transgender bathrooms have momentarily given way to a convoy of Central American migrants that allegedly contains “unknown Middle Easterners.”

And Trump’s allies have gone from justifying his ­reality-show authoritarian persona as a necessary expedient to embracing it as a positive good. “It doesn’t matter if it’s 100 percent accurate,” a senior Trump-administration official told the Daily Beast, defending the president’s fearmongering attacks on a caravan of potential refugees. “This is the play,” Scott Reed, a strategist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told the Washington Post. “It’s a standard tactic to use fear as a motivating choice at the end of a campaign, and the fact is the fork in the road is pretty stark.” In Texas, when a fan at a Ted Cruz speech exclaimed about Beto O’Rourke, “Lock him up!,” Cruz answered, “Well, you know, there’s a double-­occupancy cell with Hillary Clinton.”

The degree to which Trump’s party has molded itself in his image is worth bearing in mind when contemplating what the next two years might bring.
If Democrats win the House but not the Senate, they will be working with an even more hardened foe: The Republicans who will have lost, or who are retiring, are those most vulnerable to outside pressure; the surviving core, from the reddest districts, will be the most Trumpian. They will be much less likely to abandon their president in the face of incriminating evidence than were Richard Nixon’s Republicans in 1974, and much more likely to escalate his attacks on the rule of law into a full-scale culture war.

In the event Republicans retain full control of Congress — improbable, but about the chances FiveThirty­Eight gave Trump toward the end of October two years ago — the transformation would be even more dramatic. The American people would be led not by a party learning to accommodate its unhinged leader but one trained by him, and the con job they have been enacting on the American people would swiftly come to completion.

Imagine Republicans waking up after Election Day and discovering their aging coalition has been given a new lease on life. They will instantly grasp the possibilities available by campaigning in opposition to reality: telling voters they are protecting popular social programs that Democrats are trying to cut and reinforcing this message through media channels their party effectively controls. What would stop them from launching the full-scale assault on the welfare state that Newt Gingrich and Paul Ryan never mustered the courage to fully enact? Why wouldn’t they go through with abolishing Obamacare and slashing funding to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid?

Though they control all branches of the federal government, Republicans have been held back for two years by the expectation of a backlash and a setback in the midterms. After not one but two expert-defying victories, the Trumpian cult of personality would grow exponentially. For all the unprecedented and brazen acts the past two years have brought, what we have not yet seen is a Trumpian party that feels invincible.

If The Trumpistas Win: Get the hell out.

It’s the ultimate fantasy: Escape the 9-5 by moving to a place where it’s so cheap you barely need to work — and could even retire early. The Panama-based Live and Invest Overseas advises people on how to do just that, and the company has just announced its list of the 10 best places in the world where you can move in 2018 and live very well for very little.

We caught up with Kathleen Peddicord, publisher of Live and Invest Overseas, who told us why each of these places made the coveted list. If want to find more cheap places to live abroad, check out “Quit Your Job: 5 Countries Where You Can Live For Under $1,500 A Month.”

Doonesbury:  He’s back!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

All For Show

Via the Washington Post:

Homeland Security and Pentagon officials said Monday that they will send 5,200 troops, military helicopters and giant spools of razor wire to the Mexican border in the coming days to brace for the arrival of Central American migrants President Trump is calling “an invasion.”

The troop deployment, one week before the U.S. midterm elections, appears to be the largest U.S. active-duty mobilization along the U.S.-Mexico boundary in decades and amounts to a significant militarization of American border security.

Air Force Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, the chief of U.S. Northern Command, told reporters Monday that the deployments, dubbed “Operation Faithful Patriot,” already are underway. He said the military, working alongside U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), will focus first on “hardening” the border in Texas, followed by Arizona and California.

The operative phrase in there is “one week before the U.S. midterm elections.”  Next Wednesday, after the election is over and no matter who wins and the caravan, such as it is, is still weeks away from arriving, the Pentagon will quietly issue orders for the majority of the troops to return to their regular duty back home, leaving a few there to clean up after themselves.  Operation Faithful Patriot, which should really be called Operation Midterm Rescue, will be called off.

The article doesn’t say, but this has got to be costing the Pentagon a bundle; not that they’ve ever struggled for money.  But still, deploying 5,200 soldiers and support staff along with equipment, transport, tents, food, latrines, and all the other facilities that go along with them has got to be running up a tab somewhere.  But wouldn’t that money be better spent by providing for and provisioning the immigrants when they eventually get here so that when they’re arrested, they at least have a place to stay before we force them to go back?

But it really doesn’t matter; they’re not thinking that far ahead, because by Thanksgiving the caravan will still be hundreds of miles away, the numbers dwindling down to the desperate ones who could no more represent a threat to the border than the moths that batter themselves against the screens of the back porch on a summer night.  And Trump and his band of xenophobic nationalists will have found another target or another mass shooting to exploit.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Touched

After the events of the last week — the capture of a mad bomber and the murders in the synagogue — it isn’t hard to imagine that a person would want to tune out and walk away.  To witness so much raw hatred and violence roaring at us, attacking us at the core of our beliefs, be they political or religious.  Both acts combine to touch all of us, to challenge us, and not just on those levels; they touched and harmed us all.

For me, there’s a very good chance that one of the victims at the shooting in Pittsburgh was a relative of friends of mine from my years at camp.  That hasn’t been confirmed, but even if she was not, she was someone’s family and they have been torn from the comfort of their faith and devastated at the most vulnerable level.  As for the bomber based in the suburbs of Miami and sending out his missives of hate, once again we’re seeing a distillation of differences of opinion turned into raw emotion, egged on by a heedless and self-centered narrative that only seeks to amplify the differences and make them poisonous.  And the ones who turned up the volume, provoked the anger, then stood aside as the rage built and turned to the rest of us and trotted out the false equivalencies, the “now is not the time,” or the maddening “yeah-but-what-about”-isms that include people being rude in restaurants as the same thing as mailing a pipe bomb.  Their cowardice and blame-shifting only makes it worse, and if you think the solution to murder in a synagogue is more guns, you have no business offering solutions.

Now is not the time to not talk about this and do something about it, and both karma and the calendar have brought us to the point where we can do something meaningful.  Eight days from today we have our moment to do something positive that will, at least in theory, make a change, and that’s voting.  It’s already going on in many places; I am getting bombarded with texts and e-mails reminding me that early voting is already underway here in Florida.  But this time I’m waiting until Election Day; I need to read up on the various amendments and local races because I do not intend to leave a single vote uncast.  So wherever you are, I recommend you do the same.  And if you’ve already voted, either in person or by mail, know that you have already done something that will make more of a difference and bring about more change than all the bombs and raging and murderous anti-Semites ever will.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

That Old Time Religion

It’s been almost forty years since Jerry Falwell and like-minded ministers saw gold in them thar GOP rubes and hitched their hallelujah wagons to the idea of becoming the busybodies of the nation and make a shitload of money while doing it.  It appeals to both their prurient instincts and their love of money, and it was all tax-free.  Yip-yah!

Now they’ve merged their holier-than-thou lust to the epitome of the conman in Trump who represents the id of these so-called pastors of the Lord: sex and power.  The number of preachers who have been caught with their hands on someone else’s wife or put a rent boy on their American Express has become so numerous that it borders on cliche, and the way they’ve raided the collection basket to feather their 16,000 sq ft “manses” raises the level of tacky to giddy heights. So of course they admire and excuse the excesses of Trump and support his political agenda.  He’s their idol.

It’s reaching the second generation.  Jerry Falwell, Jr. picked up his late daddy’s con with Liberty University, a diploma mill of hatred, bigotry, and superstition, and of course he’s a supporter of Trump. He had him speak to the rapturous crowds (and made attendance mandatory just in case someone had a fit of free will) and backs him on everything from hating the transgenders to booting out the Dreamers because, as we all know, Jesus hated Mexicans.

Not to be outdone by that Jerry-come-lately, though, we have Franklin Graham, the scion of the late Billy Graham who pioneered the path to fame by deigning to talk to presidents.  Now Mr. Graham is going around the country and rallying the foolish and the weak to the Trumpian cause because blatant hypocrisy is all the rage now and there’s always a collection basket at the door.  He’s even marching into the lion’s den of them all, California.

PASADENA, Calif. — Franklin Graham stood in a packed locker room at the Rose Bowl, surrounded by fellow evangelists, pastors, and his top Los Angeles donors. It was two weeks before the California primary, and Mr. Graham was urging them to take a stand against their state’s “blue wall.”

The blue wall of California, Mr. Graham told the gathering, represents secular values that have taken root on the country’s west coast.

“Progressive?” he went on, “That’s just another word for godless.” Now is the time for churches to “suck it up” and vote.

According to the article from the New York Times, Graham is finding big crowds and a lot of money in his hate speech about people who aren’t like Us.  He knows that people are looking for an excuse to justify the blaming of their self-wrought misfortunes on others and ratify the idea that a level playing field is biased against them.  Like a lot of charlatans, he’s very good at finding a problem and blaming it on someone else without offering any sort of solution other than prayer and a plea for more money.  He knows it works, too; it always has.

The exploitation of tribalism is as much a part of human nature as self-pity and flatulence.  It’s the root of nations and religion; we’re Us, they’re the Others, and because we have our self-doubts, they must always be seen as oppressors just waiting to pounce.  Here in this noble experiment of America, we tried to appeal to our better angels, striving for unity of purpose over identity by giving it a new one: a nation of laws, not tribes.  It has always been an uphill struggle; the massacre of the natives under the guise of Manifest Destiny, Reconstruction, the civil rights struggle, the Red Scare, the Cold War, the Sixties, the Southern Strategy, terrorism, and Trumpism have tested the simple concept that yes, we were serious about the idea that all of us are created equal and that we are all entitled to equal protection under the law.

In the case of Mr. Graham and his followers, he is seeking to exploit the fear and loathing that is inherent in the radical idea we should have learned in kindergarten: that it is meet, right, and our bounden duty to share our toys with others and help those who don’t have the same gifts granted by nature or God or whatever it is that gets you through the night.  The notion that Jesus, who, according to the mythology that they claim they hold dear, came along to lift up the least among us would endorse this hatred and Otherism wrapped in the flag and biblical verse should make even the most pious Christian blush with shame.

We have never made it through the nights of fear and loathing without lingering scars and a degree of PTSD, nor have we made it through good times and advancement without backlash from those who thought the status quo was just fine.  Roughly translated it comes out as “I want my country back.”  The problem with that is that it was never “my” country to begin with.  It is Ours.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Thanks For The Warning

David Brooks seems to think that the Left in America will become just as tribal and authoritarian as the Right did when the dust settles after Trump.

Tribalism is in the air, on the left as well as on the right. It is based on a scarcity mentality, the idea that life is a zero-sum war between us and them. It emphasizes division and conflict, not solidarity and cohesion. It draws out the authoritarian tendencies in any movement. On the right, tribalism brings us the ethnic authoritarianism of Donald Trump. On the left, it seems likely to bring us the economic authoritarianism of a North American version of Hugo Chávez.

[…]

In Venezuela we saw how a politician used demagogic sectarian rhetoric to establish an authoritarian regime and then destroy a people. I’m sure many of my left-wing friends believe that that sort of tribal us/them mentality won’t hijack and corrupt their own movement. But as someone who lived through the last 30 years of conservatism, I’m here to tell you, it can. Politicians these days have decided they don’t need the thinkers anymore.

I don’t discount any possibility, but if there’s someone he thinks is going to be the left-wing version of Trump and the knee-jerk non-thinkers, I’d be interested in hearing who that could be.  The only two names that crop up in his column are Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who seem to be the favorite targets of the right as exemplars of Commie pinko agitators.  Oooh.

I may be too hopeful, but I think the Democrats are not going to put up a candidate that equals Trump and his minions in the flaming fake-news rhetoric.  By the time we get to the full-tilt election cycle of 2020 — which is probably sometime next week — the country will be wanting a respite from the shouting, the hatred, and the Twitter feeds.  Mr. Brooks should probably consider what Jon Meacham writes about when he looks at how FDR brought the country together through calmness and appealing to, as Lincoln put it, “our better angels.”

Friday, February 16, 2018

Priorities

Via The Hill:

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) early Thursday warned against rolling the conversation around Wednesday’s deadly shooting at a Florida high school into “taking away citizens’ rights” to own guns.

“There’s more questions than answers at this stage,” Ryan told Indiana radio host Tony Katz.

“I don’t think that means you then roll the conversation into taking away citizens’ rights — taking away a law-abiding citizen’s rights. Obviously this conversation typically goes there,” he added.

Translation: the rights of murderers are more important than the rights of victims of gun violence.

Thanks for clearing that up.

And then there’s Marco Rubio:

“I do think that in some circles, it isn’t fair or right to create this impression that somehow this attack happened yesterday because there is some law out there that we could have passed to prevent it,” Rubio said toward the end of a lengthy speech in which he wavered between dismissing gun control efforts and advising against saying “there is nothing we can do.”

By this logic we might as well repeal laws against murder, arson, and speeding on the interstate because someone is going to do it anyway.

This from the man who received over $3 million from the NRA.

Via Commenter jeffg166.

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 2, 2017

Speaking Of Weak

Via the Washington Post:

Trump moved quickly Wednesday to gain ­political advantage in the wake of the New York terrorist attack, casting blame on Democrats for lax immigration laws and calling the criminal justice system’s handling of suspects “a joke.”

A day after a man, identified by authorities as an Uzbek immigrant, killed eight people on a Manhattan bike path in an act authorities said was inspired by the Islamic State, Trump seized on the deadly crime to renew his calls for a series of hard-line policies.

The president said he would move to eliminate a popular “diversity lottery” for foreigners seeking U.S. visas and direct the State Department to ramp up “extreme vetting” of immigrants. He also suggested he would consider sending the suspect, Sayfullo Saipov, a legal permanent resident of the United States, to the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

It took him five days to say anything about the sniper attack in Las Vegas that killed over 50 people, and then it was on the level of “thoughts and prayers.”  No talk of cracking down on people owning an arsenal that would have fought off a battalion or tightening controls on weapons that clearly don’t belong in civilian hands, but when a legal permanent resident uses a rented truck to kill eight people, suddenly he’s Osama bin Laden 2.0 and it’s off to Gitmo with him.

Why the difference?  Because Trump knows that a guy with a foreign-sounding name, regardless of his legal status and alleged alliance with ISIS, is an easy target.  A white guy with a rifle is his base.  Trump can only play to them, which proves he hasn’t the guts to take on the NRA.  (And there’s no powerful lobby pushing for rental truck rights.)

As for the justice system being “weak,” it may have had its ups and downs but by and large it’s worked pretty well for the last 200 years or so, and if you really want to know how well it works, just wait until Robert Mueller finishes his job.  Trump himself might find out just how weak it really is.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Random Thought

Conservatives and Christian zealots applauded when a county clerk in Kentucky defied the law based on her religious beliefs, and they’re about to elect a senator in Alabama who ordered judges in that state to also defy the law based on his religious beliefs. But they got their tits in an uproar about a silent protest that breaks no law and is in keeping with various religious traditions including Mennonite, Quaker, and Amish.

What am I missing here?

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Not In A Vacuum

The recent attacks of vandalism in Jewish cemeteries and bomb threats against Jewish community centers are part of a pattern, according to Josh Marshall.

Anti-semitism is almost inevitably and almost always part of rightist political movements. It is a natural feature. This is not always explicitly so. It is not always that way at first, but eventually it is always there.

That is the case with Trumpism.

There are various theoretical reasons why this might be so. The most obvious is that rightist politics usually base themselves on cultural, racial or religious purity and unity. This makes Jews outsiders by definition. These rightist movements are also generally looking for outsiders to define themselves against and to pivot against. But these theories matter less than history. Why this is so is much less important than a lengthy historical record which demonstrates that it is so.

[…]

We are of course seeing arguments now about whether this outbreak of anti-Semitic agitation is tied to Donald Trump. I see little point in actually participating in this argument. Republicans and Trump supporters who deny the connection don’t really believe what they are saying. It is obvious that they are connected. We’ve never seen anything like this in decades. Are the KKK and anti-Semitic white nationalist groups really just confused when they say that Trump is the best thing that has happened to their groups in decades? Are we supposed to ignore that the President’s top advisor has clear ties to all of these groups and has spent years bringing them to greater prominence?

This is all obvious – obvious enough that there’s really no point debating the point. Whether Trump personally has antipathy toward Jews is irrelevant. His movement and his actions enable and encourage hostility toward Jews and the hostility inevitably spills over into violence. It is not yet as lethal. But it is no different in its basic contours to the immigrant bashing that led to the murder of the Indian immigrant Garmin employee in Kansas.

It’s not a far stretch to say that when you lead a movement that is attacking an entire community based on their faith — Muslims, for example — you’re opening the hatch to attack other communities as well; “Hey, while we’re bombing a mosque, what about those other folks who don’t worship like us?”

Trump’s recent statement against anti-Semitism was too little too late, and when the Ann Frank Center said so, his minions slammed them for being ingrates.  That right there is enough to tell you that he’s paying nothing but pre-programmed lip service, which actually proves the point.