Monday, July 15, 2019

Small Favors

It looks like Hurricane Barry did not devastate New Orleans.

On Sunday afternoon, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell (D) issued the all-clear for the city, which regained some sense of normalcy even as the skies periodically opened and unleashed another batch of heavy rain.

“We absolutely made it through the storm. Beyond lucky, we were spared,” Cantrell said in a public briefing about the tropical storm. “As those [rain] bands moved closer to New Orleans, it just seemed to go around us.”

And the ICE raids that were threatened did not occur despite all the tough talk.

The nationwide immigration raids that President Trump said would begin Sunday failed to materialize on the streets of major U.S. cities, even as his statement cast a cloud of fear that kept many families indoors. Immigration enforcement authorities said their plans to track down migrants with deportation orders would continue, but their operations over the weekend appeared more akin to routine actions rather than the mass roundups the president promised.

In either case both the natural and the man-made disasters could strike again, but at least we were spared this weekend.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Sunday Reading

Advice For Immigrants — The ACLU has guidance should ICE show up at your door today, or any day.

How to stay reduce risk to yourself

  • Stay calm and keep the door closed. Opening the door does not give them permission to come inside, but it is safer to speak to ICE through the door.

Your rights

  • You have the right to remain silent, even if officer has a warrant.
  • You do not have to let police or immigration agents into your home unless they have certain kinds of warrants.
  • If police have an arrest warrant, they are legally allowed to enter the home of the person on the warrant if they believe that person is inside. But a warrant of removal/deportation (Form I-205) does not allow officers to enter a home without consent.

What to do when the police or ICE arrive  

  • Ask if they are immigration agents and what they are there for.
  • Ask the agent or officer to show you a badge or identification through the window or peephole.
  • Ask if they have a warrant signed by a judge. If they say they do, ask them to slide it under the door or hold it up to a window so you can inspect it.
  • Don’t lie or produce any false documents. Don’t sign anything without speaking with a lawyer first.
  • Do not open your door unless ICE shows you a judicial search or arrest warrant naming a person in your residence and/or areas to be searched at your address. If they don’t produce a warrant, keep the door closed. State: “I do not consent to your entry.”
  • If agents force their way in, do not resist. If you wish to exercise your rights, state: “I do not consent to your entry or to your search of these premises. I am exercising my right to remain silent. I wish to speak with a lawyer as soon as possible.”
  • If you are on probation with a search condition, law enforcement is allowed to enter your home.

Additional resources

Learning To Write, Doggy Style — Ann Patchett on her most influential inspiration.

I first found Snoopy in Paradise, Calif., the tiny town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada that was erased by fire last fall. As a child in the late 1960s, my sister and I spent our summers there with our grandparents. We found the place to be perfectly named.

“We’re on our way to Paradise,” we would say, and “We’ve been in Paradise all summer.”

The sharp detail with which I can remember my grandparents’ house is overwhelming to me now — the room where my grandparents slept in twin beds, the room where I shared a bed with my sister. I remember the cherry trees, the line of quail that crossed the back lawn in the morning to the ground-level birdbath my grandmother kept full for them, “Family Affair” on television. Everything about those summer days is tattooed on my brain. I was an introverted kid and not a strong reader. My grandmother had a stock of mass-market “Peanuts” books she’d bought off a drugstore spinner. Titles like “You’ve Had It, Charlie Brown” and “All This and Snoopy, Too” were exactly my speed. I memorized those books. I found Snoopy in Paradise the way another kid might have found God.

Influence is a combination of circumstance and luck: what we are shown and what we stumble upon in those brief years when the heart and mind are fully open. I imagine that for Henry James, for example, the extended European tour of his youth led him to write about American expatriates.

I, instead, was in Northern California being imprinted by a beagle. When the morning newspaper came, my sister and I read the funnies together, always “Peanuts” first. Even when I was old enough to know better, I was more inclined toward “To the Doghouse” than “To the Lighthouse.” I was more beagle than Woolf. I did the happy dance, and it has served me well.

My formative years were spent in a Snoopy T-shirt, sleeping on Snoopy sheets with a stuffed Snoopy in my arms. I was not a cool kid, and Snoopy was a very cool dog. I hoped the association would rub off on me.

Which is pretty much the whole point of Charlie Brown’s relationship with Snoopy: The awkward kid’s social value is raised by his glorious pet. Anyone could see what Charlie Brown got out of Snoopy, even when Snoopy was blowing him off — he raised Charlie Brown’s social stock. But what did Snoopy get out of it? I’m guessing it was the loyalty, the dog-like consistency, which of course makes Charlie Brown the dog in that relationship. I had no problem with this. I would have been thrilled to be Snoopy’s dog.

Not only was Snoopy a famous World War I flying ace who battled the Red Baron and quaffed root beer in the existential loneliness of the French countryside, he was also Joe Cool on campus. He pinched Charlie Brown’s white handkerchief to become a soldier in the French Foreign Legion and was a leader of the Beagle Scouts, a motley crew of little yellow birds. He was a figure skater and hockey player in equal measure, an astronaut, a tennis star, a skateboarder, a boxer and a suburban pet whose doghouse contained a Van Gogh. This wasn’t just a dog who knew how to dream, this was a dog who so fully inhabited his realities that everyone around him saw them, too. Snoopy heard the roar of the approving crowd as clearly as he heard the bullets whizzing past his Sopwith Camel. Having ventured fearlessly into the world, he could come back to the roof of his doghouse and sit straight-backed in front of his typewriter, to tap out the words that began so many of his stories: “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Wait, am I seriously discussing Snoopy, a cartoon dog, as a writer?

Am I believing in him as he was drawn to believe in himself? Did I want to be a novelist because he was a novelist?

I am. I do. I did.

Snoopy worked hard up there on the roof of the doghouse. He saw his own flaws. He typed: “Those years in Paris were to be among the finest of her life. Looking back, she once remarked, ‘Those years in Paris were among the finest of my life.’ That was what she said when she looked back upon those years in Paris . . . where she spent some of the finest years of her life.” Which was followed by the thought bubble, “I think this is going to need a little editing . . .”

Snoopy didn’t just write novels, he sent them out. In those dark days before electronic submissions, he taught me what it would mean to stand in front of a mailbox, waiting to hear from an editor. Snoopy got far more rejection letters than he ever got acceptances, and the rejections ranged (as they will) from impersonal to flippant to cruel.

Later, I could see we’d been building up to this. It wasn’t as if he’d won all those tennis matches he played in. The Sopwith Camel was regularly riddled with bullet holes. But he kept on going. He was willing to lose, even in the stories he imagined for himself. He lost, and he continued to be cool, which is to say, he was still himself in the face of both failure and success.

Linus rings Charlie Brown’s doorbell and says, “Ask your dog to come out and play ‘chase the stick.’ ”

Snoopy comes out and hands him a note: “Thank you for your offer to come out and play .. We are busy at this time, however, and cannot accept your offer .. We hope you will be successful elsewhere.”

I would be hurt and I would get over it. That’s what the strip taught me. Snoopy walked me through the publishing process: ignoring reviews, being thrilled and then realizing the thrill doesn’t last:

“It’s from your publisher,” Charlie Brown tells Snoopy. “They printed one copy of your novel .. It says they haven’t been able to sell it .. They say they’re sorry .. Your book is now out of print ..”

It was painful, yes, but Snoopy loved his job.

“Joe Ceremony was very short,” Snoopy types. “When he entered a room, everyone had to be warned not to stand on Ceremony.” At which point Snoopy falls off his doghouse backward, cracking himself up, only to climb up again and look at his typewriter lovingly. “I’m a great admirer of my own writing.”

Oh, beagle, isn’t it the truth? That moment when you write a single, perfect sentence is worth more than an entire box of biscuits.

I probably would have been a writer without Snoopy. I know without a doubt I would have loved dogs, though my love for writing and dogs might not have been so intertwined. Of all the “Peanuts” koans I live by, the one that contains the deepest wisdom may well be “Happiness is a warm puppy.” Thanks to Snoopy, I have ascribed an inner life to all the dogs I’ve known, and they’ve proved me right. I have lived with many dogs who were my equals, and a couple I knew to be my betters, but I’ve never been able to name a dog Snoopy. It’s a recipe for failure, because no matter how great your dog is, his ears will never turn him into a helicopter. I did, however, name the dog I have now for Charles Schulz, whose nickname was Sparky.

Sparky is a small gray-and-white rescue who comes with me to the bookstore I co-own in Nashville and stands straight up on his back legs to greet customers. Surely he has the talent and the patience to write a novel of his own; I’m just glad he’s never wanted to. I’ve accepted the fact that my dog is cooler than I am, but it would be hard to deal with if he were also the better writer. And anyway, it would take too much time away from our relationship.

Life could have been different. I could have cut my teeth on “The Portrait of a Lady” — but then again, I could have been stuck reading “Archie” comics. Fate and circumstances stacked the deck in my favor, leaving me to be influenced by a cartoon beagle. It turned out to be exactly the guidance I needed.

Doonesbury — Getting the cue.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Sunday Reading

“Inoffensive” — Masha Gessen in The New Yorker on Trump’s assault on reality.

Donald Trump’s Fourth of July address was most remarkable for the things it did not contain. Immediately afterward, commentators noted that Trump didn’t use the opportunity to attack the Democratic Party, to issue explicit campaign slogans, or, it would appear, make any impromptu additions (with the possible exception of the claim that American troops commandeered enemy airports during the Revolutionary War). The President was so disciplined on the occasion of the republic’s two hundred and forty-third birthday that Vox called his speech “inoffensive.” Slate gave the speech credit for being “not a complete authoritarian nightmare.” The Times noted that Trump called for unity, in a gesture uncharacteristic of his “divisive presidency.” The word “tame” popped up in different outlets, including Talking Points Memo, which concluded that, thanks to the President not going off script, “the whole thing was pretty standard.”

Campaign slogans and glaring Trumpisms were not the only things absent from the speech. Immigrants were missing. Trump’s most recent predecessors presided over Fourth of July naturalization ceremonies. A rhetorical link between the holiday and immigration has long seemed unbreakable. During his last Independence Day as President, Bill Clinton chose to speak in New York Harbor, against the backdrop of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. “Perhaps more than any other nation in all history, we have drawn our strength and spirit from people from other lands,” he said. “On this Fourth of July, standing in the shadow of Lady Liberty, we must resolve never to close the golden door behind us, and always not only to welcome people to our borders, but to welcome people into our hearts.” In a much-criticized series of Independence Day events in 1986, President Reagan lit the torch of the Statue of Liberty and noted the swearing in of twenty-seven thousand new citizens across the country. He also referred to the “immigrant story” of his then new Supreme Court nominee, Antonin Scalia.

That immigrant story is, of course, the story the Trump Administration has demonstratively abandoned. Last year, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services dropped the phrase “nation of immigrants” from its mission statement. That phrase, like most foundational myths and more than some, obscures much of the country’s history: the first immigrants would more accurately be described as settler colonialists, who brought Africans here as slaves. But this was not why the Trump Administration deleted the phrase. Trump has retired the myth of America as a nation of immigrants because he staked his election campaign and his legitimacy as president on the demonization of immigrants—and on mobilizing Americans for a war against immigrants.

Trump’s American story is the story of struggle, “the epic tale of a great nation whose people have risked everything for what they know is right,” as he said in the address. Over the course of forty-seven minutes, Trump enumerated American military conquests and the branches of the U.S. armed forces. A quick listing of civilian achievement—medical discoveries, cultural accomplishments, civil-rights advancements, and space exploration—was thrown in at the beginning of the speech, but the master narrative Trump proposed was one of wars and victories, punctuated by the roar of airplane engines for flyovers and the songs of each armed-forces branch.

The narrative was also one of fear. Trump spoke like the leader of a country under siege. The President and the people who joined him onstage were in a fortress of their own, a clear protective enclosure that, streaked with rain, made for an incongruously melancholy sight, as though we were watching them through a veil of tears.

Trump extolled the strength and battle-readiness of American troops but named no current threat. He promised only to strike fear into the hearts of America’s enemies. But his audience knows who the enemy is. North Korea or China may go from enemy to partner to friend on a whim, but there is one enemy whom Trump has consistently, obsessively described as an existential threat: the immigrant.

Two days before the July 4th celebration, the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General issued an urgent report on the conditions in migrant detention facilities in the Rio Grande Valley. Photographs in the report showed children and adults in crowded cages. Other pictures showed people in extremely crowded holding rooms raising up signs in windows, apparently attempting to attract the attention of government inspectors. The document reported “serious overcrowding” and prolonged detention that violated federal guidelines. Children had no access to showers and hadn’t been provided with hot meals. At one facility, the report said, adults were held in standing-room-only conditions. “Most single adults had not had a shower . . . despite several being held for as long as a month,” the report said. A diet of bologna sandwiches had made some of the detainees sick. The report left no doubt that “concentration camps” was an accurate term for the facilities it described. On the eve of Independence Day, the media reported the story, which looked obscene among other stories. How could we read, write, or talk about anything else?

The President responded in a series of tweets in which he blamed the Democrats and the immigrants themselves. “If Illegal Immigrants are unhappy with the conditions in the quickly built or refitted detentions centers, just tell them not to come. All problems solved!” he tweeted. Most of Trump’s tweeting day, though, was spent on other issues: railing against the Supreme Court’s decision not to allow a citizenship question on the census, for example, and hyping expectations for his Fourth of July extravaganza. In the Trumpian universe, immigrants pose a superhuman threat but are themselves of subhuman significance. Through his tweets, his attacks on the media, and his lying, Trump has been waging a battle to define reality to the exclusion of documented facts. In Trump’s reality, it’s not just that the Administration refuses to be held accountable for running concentration camps—it’s that the camps, and the suffering in them, do not exist.

The July 4th celebration, inspired by Trump’s visit to France during Bastille Day festivities in 2017 and informed by his affinity for the sabre-rattling tyrants of the world, was a high point in the President’s battle to command reality. With the possible exception of rain streaks, the pictures from the rally are his image of himself and the country. Following his speech, Trump kept retweeting images of his own limo leaving the White House, of fighter jets flying, of the red stage and a strange cross-like formation of red elevated platforms, and of himself speaking. In these pictures, Trump is the supreme ruler of the mightiest military empire in the history of the world and his people are with him in the public square. Nothing else exists.

A common maxim of the Trump era has it that two Americas exist, each with its own media and consequently limited view of the world. In fact, though, in one America there is only Trump, his tanks and planes and ships. In the America that a majority of us inhabit, however, there are concentration camps—and Trump with his flyovers. In this America, it is increasingly clear that concentration camps and the public spectacle of mobilization are not in contradiction: one is, in fact, a consequence of the other. It is also clear that the omissions of Trump’s speech are not accidental. In addition to not mentioning immigrants, Trump didn’t mention the complexity of the American project. Until two and a half years ago, Republican and Democratic Presidents regularly reminded the American public that this country’s democracy is a work in progress, that its guiding principles are a set of abstract ideals that continue to be reinterpreted.

“This union of corrected wrongs and expanded rights has brought the blessings of liberty to the two hundred and fifteen million Americans, but the struggle for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is never truly won,” President Gerald Ford said on July 4, 1976. “Each generation of Americans, indeed of all humanity, must strive to achieve these aspirations anew. Liberty is a living flame to be fed, not dead ashes to be revered, even in a Bicentennial Year. It is fitting that we ask ourselves hard questions even on a glorious day like today. Are the institutions under which we live working the way they should? Are the foundations laid in 1776 and 1789 still strong enough and sound enough to resist the tremors of our times? Are our God-given rights secure, our hard-won liberties protected?”

Forty years later, in a much more casual celebration on the White House lawn, President Barack Obama said, “On a day like this, we celebrate, we have fun, we marvel at everything that’s been done before, but we also have to recommit ourselves to making sure that everybody in this country is free; that everybody has opportunity; that everybody gets a fair shot; that we look after all of our veterans when they come home; that we look after our military families and give them a fair shake; that every child has a good education.”

In less than three years, as our senses were dulled by the crudeness of the tweets, the speed of the news cycle, the blatant quality of the lies, and the brutality of official rhetoric, Trump has reframed America, stripping it of its ideals, dumbing it down, and reducing it to a nation at war against people who want to join it. These days, that is what passes for “inoffensive,” “tame,” and “standard.”

No Thanks, David — Jeet Heer in The Nation on dumping the never-Trumpers.

David Brooks wants your pity. As a New York Times columnist and best-selling author, Brooks has all the worldly success anyone could want, and yet he feels increasingly alienated from American politics, a self-described moderate rendered homeless by the polarization of the Trump era. The Republican Party has been captured by a belligerent oaf, while the Democrats, thanks to the leadership of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, are moving to the left.

“I could never in a million years vote for Donald Trump,” Brooks wrote in a recent New York Times column. “So my question to Democrats is: Will there be a candidate I can vote for?” Alas for Brooks, he’s not sure that the Democrats will give him the moderate candidate he wants, since so many of the contenders are aping Sanders and Warren by talking about the need for universal health care and making a broader critique of the power of big business.

“Democrats have caught the catastrophizing virus that inflicts the Trumpian right,” Brooks complains. “They take a good point—that capitalism needs to be reformed to reduce inequality—and they radicalize it so one gets the impression they want to undermine capitalism altogether.”

Instead of capitalism, Brooks believes Democrats should be talking about civility. “Trump is a disrupter,” Brooks states. “He rips to shreds the codes of politeness, decency, honesty and fidelity, and so renders society a savage world of dog eat dog. Democrats spend very little time making this case because defending tradition, manners and civility sometimes cuts against the modern progressive temper.”

One could object that Brooks is overdrawing the lesson. After all, there is only one Democratic candidate, Sanders, who calls himself a socialist; even Warren insists she’s a capitalist, albeit one that feels the system needs a serious overhaul.

The best thing about Brooks’s column is his frank use of the first person singular. Although he makes gestures to other hypothetical moderate voters, he is candid that the question is whether the Democrats will nominate someone “I can vote for.” This “I” is honest, since Brooks is speaking for a tiny faction, Never Trump conservatives, who twice demonstrated in 2016 that they were a powerless rump minority in the real world of politics. Never Trump conservatives failed to stop Donald Trump from getting the Republican nomination. They then failed to mobilize a sufficient number of voters to support Hillary Clinton and keep Trump from his Electoral College victory. Yet the humiliation of these defeats has done nothing to hamper their self-confidence in offering political advice.

Although minuscule in numbers, Never Trump conservatives have an enormously outsize voice in the American mainstream media. They beloved by mainstream outlets that want to present a balanced editorial voice, but are also horror stricken by Trump’s vulgarity and corruption. Besides Brooks, the New York Times op-ed page has two other conservatives who are mortified by Trump, if not always Trumpism: Bret Stephens and Ross Douthat.

Stephens himself wrote a very similar column, although unlike Brooks he pretended to be the voice of a hypothetical average voter who was turned off by the alleged extreme leftism of the Democrats.

The Democrats, Stephens claimed, are “a party that makes too many Americans feel like strangers in their own country. A party that puts more of its faith, and invests most of its efforts, in them instead of us.” He added, “They speak Spanish. We don’t.” This was an allusion to the admittedly faltering efforts of Beto O’Rourke and Cory Booker to say a few words en español (and the marginally better fluency of Julian Castro).

As often with faux populism, there’s an element of playacting in these pronouncements. Stephens himself was born in Mexico and speaks Spanish fluently. Moreover, he didn’t object in 2015 when Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio spoke Spanish during the Republican debates. Would the hypothetical nativist Republican who is so offended by the Spanish of Democratic candidates ever switch parties?

The Never Trump theory that they are the crucial swing voters who will decide presidential elections was already tried and tested in 2016. It failed miserably.

During that election, Hillary Clinton made an ardent effort to win Republican voters, especially foreign policy hawks worried about Trump’s alleged isolationism. She praised her friend Henry Kissinger; she used neoconservative dog whistles like “American exceptionalism”; and she even attacked Trump on occasion from the right, indicating he was a little too evenhanded on Israel-Palestine and not tough enough to confront Russian and Chinese leaders. Moreover, just as Brooks recommends in his column, Clinton highlighted Trump’s assault on civility, his personal crudeness.

Clinton’s pursuit of moderate suburban Republicans, what we might call the Brooks vote, paid some small dividends. She actually did better than Barack Obama with this class. But this victory came at an enormous price: It demobilized many traditional Democrats, especially working-class voters of all sorts (both white and African American).

As Princeton University history professor Matt Karp noted in a compelling post-mortem written right after the election, “In pursuit of professional-class Republicans, the Clinton campaign made a conscious decision to elevate questions of tone, temperament, and decorum at the expense of bread-and-butter issues like health care or the minimum wage. This wasn’t just a tactical move away from some culturally distinct group of ‘white working-class’ voters. It was a strategic retreat from the working class as a whole.”

Karp cites Clinton’s final ad: “Clinton’s final TV commercial exemplified the spirit of her campaign. Planted sedately behind a desk in a comfortable, well-furnished room, the Democrat condemned ‘darkness’ and ‘division’ as the camera slowly zoomed inward. Her gold necklace and bracelet twinkling in the softened light, she spoke for two full minutes about work ethic and core values without ever uttering the words ‘jobs,’ ‘wages,’ or ‘health care.’”

Clinton ran a David Brooks campaign in 2016 and tore apart the Obama coalition. She suffered the worst Democratic Electoral College results since 1988. Fortunately for the Democrats, Trump has governed as a far-right Republican, sidelining most of the economic populism he ran on, which allowed him to shave off some Obama voters. As a result, Democrats were able in 2018 to regain many of those lost voters (doing much better than Clinton in rural areas) while also holding on to the suburban voters Clinton had brought to the party. The 2018 victory was also fueled by the party’s decision to focus on a genuine economic issue, health care, rather than bemoan Trump’s personal grossness.

Never Trump conservatives like David Brooks are an interesting intellectual curiosity and often worth reading for their critiques of the Republican Party. But as political advisers they’ve had their day. Democrats don’t need their votes—and should work on motivating and energizing the base they already have.

Doonesbury — It is what it isn’t.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Your Public Employees At Work

Via the Washington Post:

Congressional Democrats on Monday condemned postings made in a secret Facebook group for U.S. Border Patrol agents that targeted migrants and some prominent lawmakers with attacks that the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus called “vulgar, disgusting and vile.”

The posts sparked special outrage among a delegation of more than a dozen House members who had just started a tour of federal immigration facilities in Southwest Texas when ProPublica broke the story.

Some of the Facebook posts discussed throwing burritos at the visiting lawmakers, while others joked in profane language about the deaths of migrants and included a vulgar illustration of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) being forced to engage in a sexual act by President Trump, according to images of the posts obtained by ProPublica.

Before they toured two Border Patrol stations Monday, several members asked their hosts in a private briefing whether they would be safe inside, said Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.).

The airing of the private attacks, Aguilar said, made it even more difficult for congressional overseers to trust the Border Patrol as the federal government works to address the surge of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“It’s very tough to back them up when their active and retired members are part of this Facebook page,” he said in an interview. “Even if it’s a very small percentage, it’s unfortunate they harbor some very dark imagery and very dark thoughts about migrants and members of Congress.”

Obviously this is a minority of the thousands of dedicated and hard-working men and women who are working to keep the country safe, but it’s still very chilling.  But given the tone of the one who nominally runs the administration, not that surprising.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

That Picture

You’ve seen it.  Here it is again.  If this offends your sensibilities, if it makes you cringe or click on some other site, well, I suppose that’s the risk we all take by allowing this to happen.

Photo by Julia Le Duc/AP

This is the legacy of Trump, but it is also ours because it was as predictable as sunrise and as inevitable as death.

MEXICO CITY — The father and daughter lie face down in the muddy water along the banks of the Rio Grande, her tiny head tucked inside his T-shirt, an arm draped over his neck.

The portrait of desperation was captured on Monday by the journalist Julia Le Duc, in the hours after Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez died with his 23-month-old daughter, Valeria, as they tried to cross from Mexico to the United States.

The image represents a poignant distillation of the perilous journey migrants face on their passage north to the United States, and the tragic consequences that often go unseen in the loud and caustic debate over border policy.

It recalled other powerful and sometimes disturbing photos that have galvanized public attention to the horrors of war and the acute suffering of individual refugees and migrants — personal stories that are often obscured by larger events.

We allowed this to happen.  And like we must with every other violation of our rights and our conscience, we have to stand up and say Never Again or we’re complicit.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Withdrawal Symptoms

To be perfectly clear, I am very glad that the U.S. did not strike Iran for shooting down a drone or have ICE conduct sweeping raids of undocumented immigrants this weekend.  But we got very close to doing both only to have Trump pull back at the last minute.

Not being privy to the internal workings of this administration — as if that would actually clarify things — it appears to the casual observer that on both occasions Trump’s lizard brain acted out only to be pulled back when either cooler heads prevailed or someone — Ivanka? — said it would make him look bad.

To be fair, neither of those qualifiers have ever made any difference in the past for some of his knee-jerk responses, but those have usually been events that didn’t involve heavy artillery and body counts.  And while the images of ICE sweeping through major cities, including Miami, reminiscent of those from central Europe 80 years ago would have given his base something to cheer about, it would have swept away all the indignation his minions have been fomenting about whether or not to refer to the immigrants’ involuntary destination as “detention centers” vs. “concentration camps.”

Of course he and his chorus of sycophants will proclaim that his wisdom prevailed against himself and they were all prepped and ready to go with defenses of the actions had they taken place, speaking over images of smoldering ruins of an Iranian radar facility and parades of immigrants behind chain-link fences.

To quote the immortal digby, “Trump fucked up.”  Again.  He simply cannot do the job that is required of him, which is to evaluate the situation, listen to all the arguments for and against an action, determine the safest course while knowing the risks, and then make a commitment that takes it all into account, including the long-term consequences.  That’s what he’s supposed to do.

But he can’t.  He doesn’t have the requisite judgment to do any of it.  And while it may sound simple, it’s extremely hard and it’s been something that has challenged and daunted many presidents before him.  In my lifetime every president has had to make these kinds of decisions.  Some have succeeded; the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden, and some have been truly screwed up, either by their own miscalculation or just fate.  Two come to mind: the Bay of Pigs under Kennedy in 1961 and the Iranian hostage rescue attempt under Carter in 1980.

The difference between those times and now is that those presidents were willing to publicly admit failure and take the blame.  That will never happen with the current occupant, and I truly believe the reason he stopped mid-stream on both Iran and ICE is because something told him that he’d have to take responsibility in the face of possible failure.  So while he may have career people advising him wisely on the options and consequences, he cannot bear the possibility of being seen as anything other than the smartest man in the room.  To him, nothing is more important.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Sunday Reading

Masha Gessen in The New Yorker on the unimaginable reality of American concentration camps.

Like many arguments, the fight over the term “concentration camp” is mostly an argument about something entirely different. It is not about terminology. Almost refreshingly, it is not an argument about facts. This argument is about imagination, and it may be a deeper, more important conversation than it seems.

In a Monday-evening live stream, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, of New York, called the U.S.’s detention facilities for migrants “concentration camps.” On Tuesday, she tweeted a link to an article in Esquire in which Andrea Pitzer, a historian of concentration camps, was quoted making the same assertion: that the United States has created a “concentration camp system.” Pitzer argued that “mass detention of civilians without a trial” was what made the camps concentration camps. The full text of Ocasio-Cortez’s tweet was “This administration has established concentration camps on the southern border of the United States for immigrants, where they are being brutalized with dehumanizing conditions and dying. This is not hyperbole. It is the conclusion of expert analysis.” Hackles were immediately raised, tweets fired, and, less than an hour and a half later, Representative Liz Cheney, of Wyoming, tweeted, “Please @AOC do us all a favor and spend just a few minutes learning some actual history. 6 million Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust. You demean their memory and disgrace yourself with comments like this.” A high-pitched battle of tweets and op-eds took off down the much travelled dead-end road of arguments about historical analogies. These almost never go well, and they always devolve into a virtual shouting match if the Holocaust, the Nazis, or Adolf Hitler is invoked. One side always argues that nothing can be as bad as the Holocaust, therefore nothing can be compared to it; the other argues that the cautionary lesson of history can be learned only by acknowledging the similarities between now and then.

But the argument is really about how we perceive history, ourselves, and ourselves in history. We learn to think of history as something that has already happened, to other people. Our own moment, filled as it is with minutiae destined to be forgotten, always looks smaller in comparison. As for history, the greater the event, the more mythologized it becomes. Despite our best intentions, the myth becomes a caricature of sorts. Hitler, or Stalin, comes to look like a two-dimensional villain—someone whom contemporaries could not have seen as a human being. The Holocaust, or the Gulag, are such monstrous events that the very idea of rendering them in any sort of gray scale seems monstrous, too. This has the effect of making them, essentially, unimaginable. In crafting the story of something that should never have been allowed to happen, we forge the story of something that couldn’t possibly have happened. Or, to use a phrase only slightly out of context, something that can’t happen here.

A logical fallacy becomes inevitable. If this can’t happen, then the thing that is happening is not it. What we see in real life, or at least on television, can’t possibly be the same monstrous phenomenon that we have collectively decided is unimaginable. I have had many conversations about this in Russia. People who know Vladimir Putin and his inner circle have often told me that they are not the monsters that I and others have described. Yes, they have overseen assassinations, imprisonments, and wars, but they are not thoroughly terrible, my interlocutors have claimed—they are not like Stalin and his henchmen. In other words, they are not the monsters of our collective historical imagination. They are today’s flesh-and-blood monsters, and this makes them seem somehow less monstrous.

Anything that happens here and now is normalized, not solely through the moral failure of contemporaries but simply by virtue of actually existing. Allow me to illustrate. My oldest son, who spent his early childhood in a Russian hospital, was for many years extremely small for his age. I spent useless hours upon hours in my study in Moscow, where we then lived, poring over C.D.C. growth charts. No matter how many times I looked, I couldn’t place him—he was literally off the chart. As far as the C.D.C. was concerned, my son, at his age, height, and weight, was unimaginable. When he was four, I took him to see a pediatrician in Boston. She entered his measurements into her computer, and a red dot appeared on the chart. I felt my body finally relax; my child was no longer impossible! He was on the chart. Then I realized that the pediatrician was working with an interactive chart. (This was in the early aughts, and there weren’t any available to me at home.) She had just put him in the system. His little red dot was still below the lowest, fifth-percentile curve. He was still the smallest child of his age. But a sort of cognitive trick had been performed. My son’s size had been documented, and this made him possible.

Donald Trump has played this trick on Americans many times, beginning with his very election: first, he was impossible, and then he was President. Did that mean that the impossible had happened—an extremely hard concept to absorb—or did it mean that Trump was not the catastrophe so many of us had assumed he would be? A great many Americans chose to think that he had been secretly Presidential all along or was about to become Presidential; they chose to accept that, now that he was elected, his Presidency would become conceivable. The choice between these two positions is at the root of the argument between Ocasio-Cortez and the critics of her concentration-camp comment. It is not an argument about language. Ocasio-Cortez and her opponents agree that the term “concentration camp” refers to something so horrible as to be unimaginable. (For this reason, mounting a defense of Ocasio-Cortez’s position by explaining that not all concentration camps were death camps misses the point.) It is the choice between thinking that whatever is happening in reality is, by definition, acceptable, and thinking that some actual events in our current reality are fundamentally incompatible with our concept of ourselves—not just as Americans but as human beings—and therefore unimaginable. The latter position is immeasurably more difficult to hold—not so much because it is contentious and politically risky, as attacks on Ocasio-Cortez continue to demonstrate, but because it is cognitively strenuous. It makes one’s brain implode. It will always be a minority position.

Frank Bruni in The New York Times on the gay truth about Trump.

I’ll never buy Donald Trump as gay positive. But I’d bet on gay blasé.

“I think it’s absolutely fine,” he said when asked in a Fox News interview about displays of affection between Pete Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten. “That’s something that perhaps some people will have a problem with. I have no problem with it whatsoever. I think it’s good.”

He not only picked an openly gay man, Richard Grenell, to be the American ambassador to Germany but also reportedly moons over Grenell’s good looks. “He can’t say two sentences about Grenell without saying how great of a looking guy he is,” an unnamed associate of Trump’s told Axios’s Jonathan Swan. When Trump catches the ambassador on TV, he gushes, “Oh, there’s my beautiful Grenell!”

During the 2016 campaign, he spoke out against a North Carolina law forbidding transgender people to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity and said that Caitlyn Jenner could use the commode of her choice in Trump Tower.

And then, of course, there was his speech at the Republican National Convention, when he carefully enunciated “L.G.B.T.Q.,” pledged to protect those of us represented by that consonant cluster and, upon hearing applause, added, “I have to say, as a Republican, it is so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said.”

I’m glad he enjoyed it. We L.G.B.T.Q. Americans aren’t enjoying him. Far from protecting us, he and his administration have stranded us, packing federal courts with judges hostile to gay rights, barring transgender Americans from military service and giving a green light to Americans who, citing religious beliefs, don’t want to give us medical care or bake us a cake. When several United States embassies — including the one in Berlin, over which Grenell presides — requested permission to fly the rainbow flag this month in honor of Gay Pride, the State Department said no.

It’s an ugly story, and it pretty much sums up Trump’s approach to governing. His treatment of gay people perfectly reveals the flabbiness of his convictions and his willingness to stand at odds with a majority of Americans if it pleases the smaller number who adore him. He’ll suffer our anger for their ardor. Decency and principle don’t enter into it.

And he is at odds with most of the country, very much so. Take the Trump administration out of the equation and the march toward gay equality continues apace. As gay and transgender Americans prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising on June 28, we inhabit a state of cognitive dissonance, staring at a split screen: insults from the White House on one half of it, positive reinforcement from elsewhere on the other.

Democrats’ embrace of Buttigieg, the first openly gay politician to land in the top tier of presidential candidates, illustrates the trajectory beyond Trump. “As recently as five or 10 years ago, I think, a project like this would have been dismissed out of hand,” Buttigieg told me in a recent interview, referring to his campaign. “It was unsafe for Democrats to support same-sex marriage at the beginning of this same decade that we’re living in now.” President Barack Obama didn’t endorse it until 2012, Hillary Clinton until 2013. A Supreme Court ruling legalized it nationwide in 2015.

Being gay, Buttigieg said, hasn’t been any impediment to his bid for the White House so far. “It led to there being more interest and attention early on,” he said. “Perhaps the most interesting thing is how often it doesn’t come up — all the interviews in which it’s not mentioned. At this point, it’s safe to say that that’s most of the time.”

I was given an exclusive advance copy of a new report by the Victory Institute, a group that promotes L.G.B.T.Q. candidates. It found that the number of known L.G.B.T.Q. elected officials at the municipal, state and national levels in America rose 24.9 percent, to 698 from 559, over the past year. And while some of that is attributable to more politicians coming out, much is attributable to more being voted into office.

With the congressional elections last November, the number of openly L.G.B.T.Q. members of Congress rose to an all-time high of 10 — eight in the House and two in the Senate — up from seven. That same month Jared Polis in Colorado became the first openly gay person to win a governorship. He told me that his sexual orientation was absolutely not a factor in his race: “There might be some people who care about it, but they wouldn’t be considered swing voters, so they’re not relevant in terms of who you have to win over. It never comes up in terms of scrapping for the votes you need in the middle.”

In Chicago in April, Lori Lightfoot became the first openly gay person to win the mayoralty of one of the country’s three most-populous cities. “The fact that I could run as an out lesbian, married, in an interracial relationship, with a child, would have been unthinkable not that long ago,” she said when I spoke with her recently. “You can’t stop progress. You just can’t. It’s like trying to stop a ball from rolling down a hill.”

According to the Victory Institute survey, there are three openly L.G.B.T.Q. members in Oklahoma’s State Legislature and four in Montana’s. They’re all Democrats, but Republicans are changing, too. In Colorado, five Republican lawmakers voted in favor of a bill that banned anti-gay conversion therapy for minors, and six Republicans, including some of the same ones, voted to make it easier for transgender people to have the gender on their birth certificates changed. Polis signed both measures into law on May 31.

While media attention focuses on proposed state legislation to deny rights to L.G.B.T.Q. people, there are probably more examples of bipartisan pushes to protect or expand those rights.

According to Freedom for All Americans, an advocacy group, more than two dozen Republican lawmakers in 15 states recently sponsored legislation to protect gay or transgender people from discrimination. They include the chairman of the Republican Party in Florida and the State Senate majority leader in West Virginia. Republican lawmakers were crucially involved in blocking discriminatory measures proposed in Texas, Tennessee and Georgia, the group said. In South Dakota, where Republicans control both chambers of the Legislature, four different measures to permit discrimination against transgender people were defeated this year.

That reflects Americans’ values more accurately than the Trump administration does. In a Quinnipiac University poll in April, 92 percent of Americans said that employers should not be allowed to fire someone based on his or her “sexual orientation or sexual identity.” When Americans are asked whether a full spectrum of civil rights protections should be extended to L.G.B.T.Q. people, the number falls — but a majority of 53 percent still say yes. And in poll after poll, most Americans say that transgender people should be able to serve in the military, with 70 percent of them indicating support in one survey.

Yet the Trump administration keeps tugging in the opposite direction. Trump has nominated and the Senate has confirmed many jurists with explicit, unabashed hostility to gay and transgender rights, including, just days ago, Matthew Kacsmaryk, who received a lifetime appointment as a United States district judge for the Northern District of Texas. This is a man who in 2015 wrote that gay rights were part of a sexual revolution that was “rooted in the soil of elitist postmodern philosophy” and “sought public affirmation of the lie that the human person is an autonomous blob of Silly Putty unconstrained by nature or biology, and that marriage, sexuality, gender identity and even the unborn child must yield to the erotic desires of liberated adults.”

The choice of Kacsmaryk is hardly an aberration, said Sharon McGowan, the chief strategy officer and legal director for Lambda Legal, an advocacy group that has been tracking these appointments to the federal bench. “The arc of history may bend toward justice,” she told me, “but history will not be kind to those who are complicit in what has been happening over these past two years.” She meant in the White House, in the cabinet and on Capitol Hill, where a stubbornly retrograde social conservatism holds sway.

“It’s a 180-degree turn from the Obama administration,” said Shannon Minter, the legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights and a transgender man. Therein lies part of the explanation: If Trump’s predecessor did things one way, he’s inclined to do the opposite. “It has been shocking to me,” Minter added. Trump’s relatively benign comments before being elected did nothing to prepare Minter for the ban on openly transgender people in the military and for his administration’s edicts, efforts or declared intentions to eliminate protections for transgender people in the Affordable Care Act, allow health care workers to cite religious beliefs in refusing to treat gay or transgender people, let federally funded housing shelters deny access to transgender people, make it easier for adoption agencies to turn away same-sex couples and more.

“I wonder if they’re doing it out of this weird muscle memory left over from the days when launching an attack like this would be useful if you were under fire on other issues,” Buttigieg told me. “If people were displeased with Republicans on the economy, throw out a marriage referendum to fire up your base!”

He noted that the difference now is that the Trump administration doesn’t really crow about these steps. “Their assault on equality is not something they’ve been willing to fully own,” he noted. “I think that’s revealing, that they speak in one language while acting in another. It suggests that there’s a part of the White House that isn’t proud of this.”

Trump himself continues to murmur words kinder than his deeds, such as his tweet three weeks ago exhorting Americans to “celebrate LGBT Pride Month and recognize the outstanding contributions LGBT people have made.”

But the contributions Trump is focused on are the votes and donations from the so-called religious right, given in gratitude for his opposition to abortion and his anti-gay actions. “Because he doesn’t have the ability to broaden his support, he’s playing to a narrow base, and at the center of that base is this right-wing faction that’s often garbed in religion,” observed Evan Wolfson, the founder of Freedom to Marry, a group that led the successful push for same-sex marriage. “He’s throwing them any meat he can find.”

We’re the meat. Hes the Silly Putty, content to mold himself or be molded in different shapes for different reasons. His vitriol toward immigrants isn’t echoed by most Americans, but it pushes convenient buttons. Middle-class Americans weren’t gaga for his tax overhaul, but corporate America was, and he indulged that constituency.

On issue after issue it’s like that: He doesn’t act or speak for the majority, but he accomplishes some narrower purpose, and gets away with it partly because gerrymandering, the structure of the Senate and the Electoral College have led to a government out of sync with the governed.

Trump is on the wrong side of history. But he doesn’t care — so long as it’s right for Trump.

Doonesbury — High there.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Back To Reality

It’s especially harsh to come back from nearly two weeks of not really paying attention to the news and land with a thud: Trump holding yet again a rally in Florida (although Karma sent in torrential rain to prove that his supporters are not smart enough to know when to come in out of it) and touting the various and sundry stupidities and cruelties foisted upon us by this cretinous vulgarian.  Living on the shore of a fjord in Alaska with no internet connection and eating reindeer pizza suddenly doesn’t sound so nutty.

Of course, I didn’t watch any of this kinderspiel in Orlando, and apparently those who did heard nothing new so they didn’t bother to broadcast it (except Fox News, which has announced that it will soon sell time to broadcast his potty-time).  But reports are that he spent most of the time re-running his 2016 campaign themes: attacking a retired grandmother from Chappaqua, New York, for imagined crimes that his own children have committed, and giving evidence out loud that will be used in some future hearing on mental competency (“I’m going to read you a series of numbers and I want you to repeat them back to me…”).  But as Dana Milbank pointed out, it’s all he’s got since he can’t run on his own record of incompetence, fraudulence, criminality, vulgarity, isolationism, greed, racism, and buffoonery.

On top of that, the regime is on the verge of announcing plans for immigration arrests and deportation.  You don’t need to be a historian to see that this reeks of another regime’s method of dealing with their political scapegoat; you can download “Schindler’s List” from Netflix.

It’s no wonder that two dozen Democrats want to run against him in 2020.  I’m surprised there aren’t more; this should be an easy target for them.  Yes, of course I know that Democrats could lose an ice-skating race to a snake, but if the polls are anywhere near accurate this far out and with this short-term memory-challenged electorate, Trump would lose to any one of the top ten Democrats.  And judging by Trump’s reaction to the reality of his falling numbers, he’s killing off the messengers who are delivering the news.  (Meanwhile, he’s got more people working in “acting” positions in his administration than the cattle-call audition for a revival of “Cats.”)

Today will be my first full day back at work, back to reading what’s going on, and wondering why I came back to this harsh dose of reality when there are otters to watch frolicking in Prince William Sound and reindeer pizza to be ordered in.

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.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Real Threat

Hillary Clinton in the Washington Post:

Our election was corrupted, our democracy assaulted, our sovereignty and security violated. This is the definitive conclusion of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report. It documents a serious crime against the American people.

The debate about how to respond to Russia’s “sweeping and systematic” attack — and how to hold President Trump accountable for obstructing the investigation and possibly breaking the law — has been reduced to a false choice: immediate impeachment or nothing. History suggests there’s a better way to think about the choices ahead.

Obviously, this is personal for me, and some may say I’m not the right messenger. But my perspective is not just that of a former candidate and target of the Russian plot. I am also a former senator and secretary of state who served during much of Vladi­mir Putin’s ascent, sat across the table from him and knows firsthand that he seeks to weaken our country.

I am also someone who, by a strange twist of fate, was a young staff attorney on the House Judiciary Committee’s Watergate impeachment inquiry in 1974, as well as first lady during the impeachment process that began in 1998. And I was a senator for New York after 9/11, when Congress had to respond to an attack on our country. Each of these experiences offers important lessons for how we should proceed today.

First, like in any time our nation is threatened, we have to remember that this is bigger than politics. What our country needs now is clear-eyed patriotism, not reflexive partisanship. Whether they like it or not, Republicans in Congress share the constitutional responsibility to protect the country. Mueller’s report leaves many unanswered questions — in part because of Attorney General William P. Barr’s redactions and obfuscations. But it is a road map. It’s up to members of both parties to see where that road map leads — to the eventual filing of articles of impeachment, or not. Either way, the nation’s interests will be best served by putting party and political considerations aside and being deliberate, fair and fearless.

The Republicans, of course, will not listen to this.  All they will say is that she’s a sore loser and E-MAILS!  But what is so striking is that they and a lot of other people were willing — and still are — to take Trump’s word that the Russians did nothing to interfere with the election of 2016 and are just as likely to do the same next year.  Oh, but our real national security is threatened by refugees from Central America who are begging, with their last dime, for asylum.  But the systematic corruption of our electoral system?  Nah.

We have to get this right. The Mueller report isn’t just a reckoning about our recent history; it’s also a warning about the future. Unless checked, the Russians will interfere again in 2020, and possibly other adversaries, such as China or North Korea, will as well. This is an urgent threat. Nobody but Americans should be able to decide America’s future. And, unless he’s held accountable, the president may show even more disregard for the laws of the land and the obligations of his office. He will likely redouble his efforts to advance Putin’s agenda, including rolling back sanctions, weakening NATO and undermining the European Union.

Of all the lessons from our history, the one that’s most important may be that each of us has a vital role to play as citizens. A crime was committed against all Americans, and all Americans should demand action and accountability. Our founders envisioned the danger we face today and designed a system to meet it. Now it’s up to us to prove the wisdom of our Constitution, the resilience of our democracy and the strength of our nation.

The very fact that Trump and his toadies are saying “Move along, folks, nothing to see here,” is reason enough to hold hearings and get to the truth.  It may lead to impeachment; it may not.  But to sit back and do nothing is exactly what the Russians are expecting us to do.  They know we’re too easily distracted by trivial bullshit and shiny objects; while the country is obsessed with the latest Kardashian sighing, they’re robbing us and getting away with it.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

ICEcapades

The widower of a soldier killed in combat in Afghanistan was deported to Mexico, then returned when the media coverage hit the fan.

Immigration officials last week deported the spouse of a U.S. soldier killed in Afghanistan in 2010, leaving the couple’s 12-year-daughter in Phoenix, then abruptly reversed its decision on Monday when the deported man was allowed to return to the U.S.

Jose Gonzalez Carranza, 30, was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers last Monday on his way to his welding job and then deported to Nogales, Sonora, early Thursday morning, according to Gonzalez Carranza and his attorney, Ezequiel Hernandez.

Gonzalez Carranza was married to Army Pfc. Barbara Vieyra, who was killed on Sept. 18, 2010, while serving in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. She was 22.

During an interview, Gonzalez Carranza told The Arizona Republic he was allowed to re-enter the U.S. through the DeConcini port of entry in Nogales, Arizona Monday afternoon.

He said he was then driven back to Phoenix where ICE officials dropped him off at the agency’s headquarters near downtown.

ICE officials offered no explanation for the decision to allow Gonzalez Carranza to return to the U.S. But Hernandez believes the reversal was triggered by media attention the deportation received.

That’s good for Mr. Gonzalez Carranza, but the deportations and family separations are still going on and not every one of them makes it on the nightly news.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Anything You Can Do…

It strikes me as a bit ironic that the Trump administration would brand the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, a force that is endowed with the power to enforce strict rule on citizens and defend the nation from “infidels,” as a terrorist organization on the same day that Trump sacks DHS Secretary Nielsen for not enforcing his policy of separating refugee children from their parents at the southern border.  Apparently she and Trump disagreed about the policy, so he fired her and will bring in someone who will have no qualms about putting children in cages.

Not that Ms. Nielsen had a problem with that; she had already made it clear in testimony before Congress that the policy was fine with her.  She just didn’t want to get entangled in lawsuits because they’re messy and expensive — for her.  She was fired because she let legal considerations interfere with her thinking, and that doesn’t go down well with Trump.

Trump has for months urged his administration to reinstate large-scale separation of migrant families crossing the border, according to three U.S. officials with knowledge of meetings at the White House.

Trump’s outgoing Homeland Security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, resisted — setting her at odds with the president.

According to two of the sources, Nielsen told Trump that federal court orders prohibited the Department of Homeland Security from reinstating the policy, and that he would be reversing his own executive order from June that ended family separations.

Three U.S. officials said that Kevin McAleenan, the head of Customs and Border Patrol who is expected to take over as acting DHS secretary, has not ruled out family separation as an option.

The policy McAleenan would consider, according to the officials, is known as “binary choice” and would give migrant parents the option between being separated from their children or bringing their children with them into long-term detention.

This renewed jihadism against immigrants is coming not just from Trump himself.  The purge of DHS and the reinstatement of the policy — despite Trump’s own executive order ending it last summer — comes from Stephen Miller, the presidential adviser who one person on Twitter claimed was the result of crossing Pee Wee Herman and Josef Goebbels.

Trump is cleaning house in the Department of Homeland Security.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Secret Service Director Randolph “Tex” Alles have been ousted, and at least two officials have been named as possibly heading out the door: US Citizenship and Immigration Services director Francis Cissna and Office of the General Counsel’s John Mitnick.

There is a near-systematic purge happening at the nation’s second-largest national security agency,” an official told CNN.

At least some of the sudden personnel changes come at the urging of White House senior adviser Stephen Miller, who played a key role in Nielsen’s ouster. The President in recent weeks empowered Miller to lead the administration’s border policies “and he’s executing his plan” with what amounts to a wholesale decapitation of the department’s leadership, an official said.

The President has also pushed in recent weeks to reinstate the family separation policy, which Nielsen resisted, a source familiar with the discussions says. Trump rescinded that policy amid public outrage and scrutiny from the courts last summer.

Miller’s heightened influence within the West Wing has been aided by the President, who recently told aides in an Oval Office meeting that Miller was in charge of all immigration and border-related issues in the White House, according to a person familiar with the meeting.

So while the Iranian Revolutionary Guard gets labeled as a terrorist organization, Trump is trying to remake DHS and ICE into something modeled after it.

Last Friday, the President visited Calexico, California, where he said, “We’re full, our system’s full, our country’s full — can’t come in! Our country is full, what can you do? We can’t handle any more, our country is full. Can’t come in, I’m sorry. It’s very simple.”

Behind the scenes, two sources told CNN, the President told border agents to not let migrants in. Tell them we don’t have the capacity, he said. If judges give you trouble, say, “Sorry, judge, I can’t do it. We don’t have the room.”

After the President left the room, agents sought further advice from their leaders, who told them they were not giving them that direction and if they did what the President said they would take on personal liability. You have to follow the law, they were told.

And the march toward authoritarianism continues.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Historically Challenged

Rep. Clay Higgins (R-LA) compared the immigration situation along the southern border to D-Day.

“Let me just put this in context for the American people. Perhaps the most famous invasion in the history of the world, D-Day; 73,000 American troops landed in the D-Day invasion. We have 76,103, according to my numbers, apprehensions along our southern border last month. We have D-Day every month on our southern border.”

Generally, when a person compares two things for “context,” it illuminates the understanding of those things. In this case, the reaction seemed to be “Huh?”

Sheesh.  As Gillian Brockell at the Washington Post goes on to explain, Allied troops were liberating France and Europe from the Nazis, they were heavily armed, the planning for the invasion took almost a year, thousands more people were involved in the logistics, and the casualties and deaths numbered over 40,000 on the first day.

So, no, the border crossing at Antelope Wells, New Mexico, is not Omaha Beach.  For context, go watch the first half hour of “Saving Private Ryan” or the first two episodes of “Band of Brothers.”

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Wrong Border

The Trump minions have been telling us that thousands of terror suspects have been pouring over the southern border which is why we need a state of emergency to end the horror.

Yeah, no.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection encountered only six immigrants at ports of entry on the U.S-Mexico border in the first half of fiscal year 2018 whose names were on a federal government list of known or suspected terrorists, according to CBP data provided to Congress in May 2018 and obtained by NBC News.

The low number contradicts statements by Trump administration officials, including White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, who said Friday that CBP stopped nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists from crossing the southern border in fiscal year 2018.

Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen told reporters on Monday the exact number, which NBC News is first to report, was classified but that she was working on making it public. The data was the latest set on this topic provided to Congress. It is possible that the data was updated since that time, but not provided to Congress.

Overall, 41 people on the Terrorist Screening Database were encountered at the southern border from Oct. 1, 2017, to March 31, 2018, but 35 of them were U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. Six were classified as non-U.S. persons.

On the northern border, CBP stopped 91 people listed in the database, including 41 who were not American citizens or residents.

So it’s the Canadians who are the real terrorists, with their hockey pucks and Tim Horton donuts sneaking in to overtake our nation.  And the way they do it is especially crafty: y’see, most of ’em are white with names like Gordie and Justin.  Very clever.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Looking Back/Looking Forward

Time for my annual recap and predictions for this year and next.  Let’s look back at how I did a year ago.

  • 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.

I’ll give myself a B on that since it was pretty much that way a year ago and the gears of justice grind slowly but irresistibly.  No high-level members of the administration were indicted, but shame and scandal did bring down an impressive number of folks who had hard passes to the West Wing.

  • 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.)

I’ll go with a C on that since I hit the nail on the head in the first sentence; I should have just left it there.  But no; I had it backwards: the House flipped but the GOP still has the Senate, and who knew that Paul Ryan would decide to quit?

  • 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.

I’ll take an A- on that since I got the timing wrong, but I think Brett Kavanaugh did a great job of flailing (“I like beer!”) before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The predator still got on the court, though, and we all hold RBG in the Light for at least another two years.

  • 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.

A+ Duh.

  • 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.

Another A+, but what did anyone expect?  Trump’s half-assed attempts to restrain trade with Cuba, along with Marco Rubio doing his yapping perrito act, only make it more ironic when it’s the administration’s policy to cozy up to dictators like Putin and the Saudis.  If Trump owned a hotel in Havana he’d be down there in a second sucking up to the regime with video to prove it.

  • 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.

I’ll take a B on this since I didn’t factor in tariffs and the trade war(s) he’s launched that led to wild uncertainty in the markets, not to mention Trump’s bashing of the Fed chair that he appointed and told him to do what he’s doing.

  • 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.

I get an A on this because it has and they are.

  • The white supremacist movement will not abate.  Count on seeing more violence against minorities and more mass shootings.

Sadly, a very predictable A on that.

  • 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.)

I get a B on this because it was rather easy to spot and I’m already getting begging e-mails from Ms. Harris.

  • 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.

This was a great year for my playwriting with a lot of new friends and opportunities out there and more to come in 2019 (see below).

  • People and fads we never heard about will have their fifteen minutes.

Yep.  I’ve already blocked them out.

Okay, on to the predictions.

  • Barring natural causes or intervention from an outside force, Trump will still be in office on December 31, 2019.  There is no way he will leave voluntarily and even with the House of Representatives in Democratic control and articles of impeachment being drafted they will not get to the Senate floor because the Republicans are either too afraid to rile up the base or they’re too enamored of their own grip on power to care about the government being headed by a poor imitation of a tin-pot banana republic authoritarian douche-canoe.
  • The Mueller Report will be released to Congress and even though it’s supposed to be classified it will be leaked with great fanfare and pundit predictions of the end of the Trump administration with calls for frog-marching him and his minions out of the West Wing.  Despite that, see above.
  • There will be no wall.  There never will be.  Immigration will still be a triggering issue as even more refugees die in U.S. custody.
  • There will be no meaningful changes to gun laws even if the NRA goes broke.  There will be more mass shootings, thoughts and prayers will be offered, and we’ll be told yet again that now is not the time to talk about it.
  • Obamacare will survive its latest challenge because the ruling by the judge in Texas declaring the entire law unconstitutional will be tossed and turned into a case study in law schools everywhere on the topic of exasperatingly stupid reasoning.
  • Roe vs. Wade will still stand.
  • With the Democrats in control of the House, the government will be in permanent gridlock even after they work out some sort of deal to end the current shutdown over the mythological wall.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will become the Willie Horton for the GOP base and blamed for everything from budget deficits to the toast falling butter-side down.
  • We will have a pretty good idea who the Democratic front-runner will be in 2020.  I think Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s chances are still good (she announced her exploratory committee as I was writing this), as are Sen. Kamala Harris’s, and don’t count out Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, but who knew that Beto O’Rourke, a charismatic loser in the Texas senate race, would raise a lot of hopes?  That said, fifteen years ago when I started this blog, Howard Dean looked like the guy who was going to beat George W. Bush.
  • The economy will continue with its wild gyrations, pretty much following the gyrations of the mood of Trump and his thumb-driven Twitter-fed economic exhortations.  The tax cuts and the tariffs will land on the backs of the people who provide the income to the government and the deficit will soon be out there beyond the Tesla in outer space.  But unlike that Martian-bound convertible, the economy will come crashing back to Earth (probably about the time I retire in August) and Trump will blame everyone else.
  • There will be a natural event that will convince even skeptics that climate change and sea level rise is real and happening.  Unfortunately, nothing will be done about it even if lots of lives are lost because [spoiler alert] nothing ever is done.
  • I’m going out on a limb here with foreign affairs predictions, but I have a feeling that Brexit will end up in the dustbin of history.
  • Personally, this will be a transition year.  My retirement from Miami-Dade County Public Schools occurs officially on August 31, 2019, and I’m already actively looking for something both meaningful and income-producing to do after that.  (E-mail me for a copy of my resume; nothing ventured, nothing sprained.)  My play “Can’t Live Without You” opens at the Willow Theatre in Boca Raton, Florida, for a two-week run on March 30, and I’m planning on returning to the William Inge Theatre Festival for the 28th time, either with a play or most assuredly with a scholarly paper.  I have my bid in for a variety of other theatre events and productions; I think I’m getting the hang of this playwriting thing.
  • I will do this again next year.  I hope.  As Bobby says, “Hope is my greatest weakness.”

Okay, your turn.  Meanwhile, I wish continued good health and a long life to all of you and hope you make it through 2019 none the worse for wear.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Desperation

From the Washington Post:

A 7-year-old girl from Guatemala died of dehydration and shock after she was taken into Border Patrol custody last week for crossing from Mexico into the United States illegally with her father and a large group of migrants along a remote span of New Mexico desert, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Thursday.

The child’s death is likely to intensify scrutiny of detention conditions at Border Patrol stations and CBP facilities that are increasingly overwhelmed by large numbers of families seeking asylum in the United States.

According to CBP records, the girl and her father were taken into custody about 10 p.m. Dec. 6 south of Lordsburg, N.M., as part of a group of 163 people who approached U.S. agents to turn themselves in.

More than eight hours later, the child began having seizures at 6:25 a.m., CBP records show. Emergency responders, who arrived soon after, measured her body temperature at 105.7 degrees, and according to a statement from CBP, she “reportedly had not eaten or consumed water for several days.”

It took them eight hours to find out that she hadn’t eaten or had water.  All they had to do was ask.

Note that these 163 people were not trying to enter the country illegally.  They presented themselves at the border crossing as refugees, turning themselves into Border Patrol, the way you’re supposed to.

This is a result of a border policy that is more concerned about politics than it is about people; about a mindset that says that people who try to violate the sanctity of our borders deserve what they get — trust me, that will be the GOP base response via Fox News — and a president and an administration that doesn’t give a damn about anyone that can’t do something for them.

This is devastating.  It was also utterly predictable.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Good Housekeeping

Via the New York Times:

During more than five years as a housekeeper at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., Victorina Morales has made Donald J. Trump’s bed, cleaned his toilet and dusted his crystal golf trophies. When he visited as president, she was directed to wear a pin in the shape of the American flag adorned with a Secret Service logo.

Because of the “outstanding” support she has provided during Mr. Trump’s visits, Ms. Morales in July was given a certificate from the White House Communications Agency inscribed with her name.

Quite an achievement for an undocumented immigrant housekeeper.

Ms. Morales’s journey from cultivating corn in rural Guatemala to fluffing pillows at an exclusive golf resort took her from the southwest border, where she said she crossed illegally in 1999, to the horse country of New Jersey, where she was hired at the Trump property in 2013 with documents she said were phony.

She said she was not the only worker at the club who was in the country illegally.

This is the real thing about undocumented workers: they are an essential part of our economy.  Not only that, they’ve risked life and limb to get here to do jobs that many so-called “real Americans” wouldn’t do such as make Donald Trump’s bed (that gives me the creeps just writing about it).

But they’re a convenient and easy target for political exploitation — they have no super PAC to buy their way to power — and so Trump can go to some rally in Alabama, rail about the hordes of illegals, and come home to nice clean sheets and a clean house thanks to Ms. Morales.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Welcome To America

And get gassed.

U.S. authorities closed off the busiest port of entry along the U.S. border with Mexico on Sunday and fired tear gas at members of a Central American migrant caravan who had rushed the fencing that separates the countries.

Although the number of people at the border was relatively small, the unrest — with migrants attempting to climb fences and run through car lanes to reach the United States, and scenes of mothers and children choking on tear gas — represented a serious escalation of the crisis.

What had begun Sunday morning as a migrant protest of the slow pace of the U.S. asylum claims process devolved into a chaotic scramble in which hundreds made their way to the border hoping to cross onto U.S. soil. To block that from happening, and as some threw rocks and bottles, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers took the rare step of firing tear gas into Mexico as well as closing all legal vehicle and foot traffic to the San Ysidro border crossing, which U.S. officials say normally has about 100,000 visitors per day.

These migrants wanted to get to the border, turn themselves in, and claim asylum.  But the U.S. is greeting them — and their children — with tear gas.

It’s way too early to know how this escalated to using riot gear — but you can expect Fox News and the Trump folks to elevate it to level of a massive onslaught of terrorists and Muslims — but at some point someone’s going to end up dead.  Maybe more than one.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Sunday Reading

To Whom It May Concern — Mary Norris, the Comma Queen, in The New Yorker on how to know when “who” and “whom” is the word to use.

I stepped down from the copy department of The New Yorker almost two years ago, hanging up my parentheses and turning over the comma shaker to my successor, who I know will use it judiciously, but I still love the magazine and lose sleep when an oversight (as we prefer to call it) sneaks into its pages. Copy editors never get credit for the sentences we get right, but confuse “who” and “whom” and you are sure to be the center of attention, at least briefly. If you thought the “who” in the previous sentence should have been a “whom,” you are not alone. Let’s review.

My test for the correct use of “who” or “whom” in a relative clause—“who I know will use it judiciously”—is to recast the clause as a complete sentence, assigning a temporary personal pronoun to the relative pronoun “who/whom.” “I know she will use it”? Or “I know her will use it”? No native speaker of English who has outgrown baby talk would say “her will use it.” The correct choice is clearly “she”: “I know she will use it judiciously.” If the pronoun that fits is in the nominative case, acting as the subject (“I,” “you,” “he,” “she,” “it,” “we,” “you,” “they”), then the relative pronoun should also be in the nominative case: “who I know will use it judiciously.” Yay! I got it right

Suppose I had written that I turned over the comma shaker to a colleague who I have known for years. Recast the relative clause as a complete sentence with a personal pronoun: “I have known she for years”? Or “I have known her for years”? This time the correct choice is “her,” which is in the objective case (“me,” “you,” “him,” “her,” “us,” “you,” “them”); therefore the relative pronoun should be in the objective case (“whom”). I should have written, “I turned over the comma shaker to a colleague whom I have known for years.” Boo! I got it wrong.

But here’s the rub: if I wrote “who” instead of “whom” here, nobody would care. A “who” for a “whom” is much more grammatically acceptable than a “whom” for a “who,” which sticks to your shoe like something you stepped in that was not just mud under slippery leaves in the dog run. I could finesse the whole issue by writing that I turned over the comma shaker to a colleague I have known for years, doing without the relative pronoun, and nobody would miss it.

So why do we need this aggravation? Does civilization depend on the proper use of “who” and “whom”? Let’s steel ourselves for a closer look.

From the issue of October 15, 2018: “Mark Judge, whom Ford says watched Kavanaugh pin her down . . .” One sees the problem immediately: the context is so sordid that it is impossible to look past it to the syntax! The same is true of an example from the issue of June 4 & 11, 2018: “A woman in California called the police on three black women whom she thought were behaving suspiciously.” The content of the sentences—misogyny, racism, racism and misogyny—is so disheartening that one loses the will to examine the form. And yet it must be done: “Ford says he watched”; “who Ford says watched.” “She thought they were behaving suspiciously”; “who she thought were behaving suspiciously.” Happy Thanksgiving.

A few copy editors have proposed a radical solution to the “who/whom” problem: kill off the “whom.” Emmy J. Favilla, who formerly headed up the copy department for BuzzFeed, titled her 2017 style guide “A World Without ‘Whom,’ ” and David Marsh, the former production editor of the Guardian, called his 2013 book on language “For Who the Bell Tolls.” Both are clever titles, making jokes at the expense of “whom” while exploiting its negative capability. But the writers have a point: if we just used “who,” we would never misuse “whom.” In this way we would hasten the departure of “whom,” which linguists predict will go the way of “thou” and “thine” any century now.

And yet there are those who believe in “whom” and wish to see it used correctly. June Casagrande, a prolific writer on grammar and usage, devotes a special section of her new book, “The Joy of Syntax,” to “Common Mistakes with Whom and Whomever,” and Bryan Garner, the closest thing we have in our time to a reincarnation of H. W. Fowler, devotes a column in the third edition of his Modern American Usage to instances of what he calls “the nominative whom.” (I know there is a fourth edition, but I find the third more manageable to read in bed.) Most of the specimen sentences are from newspapers—the Rocky Mountain News, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Washington Post, the L.A. Times, the Minneapolis Star Tribune—though one is from a novel by the famously erudite William F. Buckley, Jr. The “who/whom” error is especially common in journalism because reporting, getting behind the news, often involves paraphrasing speech and attributing thoughts and feelings: “she thought,” “he said,” “they suspected” are locutions that occur frequently in news stories and to which readers and writers must be alert, because they introduce an object—whatever it is that a source thought, said, or suspected—in the form of a clause with its own syntax.

Here is a sentence (edited for length) from the Op-Ed page of the Times: “The true test of our compassion and grit will be in the coming months and years when the fate of the most vulnerable—who we’ve always known would be most affected by climate change—will be largely in our hands.” Here, too, the context of the sentence is alarming—the wildfire that destroyed Paradise, California—but “who” is correct. Some might be tempted to use “whom” because the antecedent (“the most vulnerable”) is the object of a preposition (“of”), but the relative clause has its own syntax. “We’ve always known they would be most affected”; “who we’ve always known would be most affected.”

I have been avoiding this subject for months, because of an overwhelming feeling that in the current climate, actual and political, no one cares. But we have come to a sorry state when the news itself discourages us from caring about the way it’s conveyed. A while back, I read a piece in the Oregonian about the state librarian, a woman who was getting fired—or, if you prefer, a woman whom the governor of Oregon was letting go—apparently for taking too long to finish some project. She had the support of her fellow-librarians, but government officials had grown impatient with her. After a debate in the state legislature, one state senator voted against the library’s budget, but not because he had anything against the librarian. The article concluded, chillingly, “He voted on ideological grounds that he doesn’t see a need for the State Library to exist, he said.” This is exactly the attitude we’re up against. Why do we need to keep “whom” on the job if it is not performing effectively? Rather than inquire into its virtues or lack of them, let’s get rid of grammar completely! A fable for our times.

So does civilization depend on the vulnerable “whom”? Yes. No matter how bad the news, we must not stop caring. To paraphrase Carson, the butler on “Downton Abbey,” “Keeping up standards is the only way to show the bastards that they will not beat us in the end.”

Leonard Pitts, Jr. — What part of “love thy neighbor” do we not get?”

“All life is interrelated.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Imagine all the people, sharing all the world.”

– John Lennon

A few words about “us” and “them.”

It is, of course, the baseline division of human existence, probably dating from when the first person sparked the first fire. It’s a division that has been painful, bloody — and useful. Particularly in American politics.

“Vote for me,” goes the ageless, implicit appeal, “and I will protect us from them” — whoever “them” may be at any given time. Right now, “them” is, among others, anyone from south of the border who shows up on America’s doorstep seeking sanctuary.

And it might be good to spare a thought for “them” as the nation — or at least, the three quarters of it that identifies as Christian — makes the turn into that faith’s season of light, compassion and hope. As the halls are decked and the joy bells chime, as songs of fellowship ring in the air, it seems an apt time to ponder a tweet from a few days back by one Larry L. Sandigo.

He’s an immigration lawyer in Arizona who works pro bono for a nonprofit legal services organization, the Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project. And his tweet, retweeted over 47,000 times as of this writing, went as follows: “In court this morning, I asked the judge if my client could wait outside. She was being fussy. He said yes, and she was carried out. Even then, I could hear her whimpers and cries. She’s 2 years old. She had on a pink coat. Today was her deportation hearing.”

There’s a lot we don’t know from that tweet. We don’t know his client’s name. We don’t know where she’s from. We don’t know how she came to be here. We don’t know where — or who — her parents are.

But some things we do know. We know that she is in court alone because she is not one of “us.” We know she might be irretrievably scarred because she is one of “them.” And we know that this has become a common thing. We know that this is America now.

And here, someone is piping up in protest with harsh platitudes about limited resources and all the evil that immigrants bring. By these rhetorical means, that someone will try — and fail — to shout down those things we know.

It’s an old dance. We’ve done it many times before. But it feels especially poignant to do it now, as Thanksgiving recedes and people begin to string their houses with light. We prepare ourselves for Christmas, a season celebrated as the birth of a divine baby who grew up to warn that, “Whatever you do unto the least of these, you have done it also unto me.”

Meantime, babies go to court. And is that irony one smells? Or just the faint reek of hypocrisy?

Here’s what we’ve never quite understood about “us” and “them:” Race does not define it. Neither does religion, sexuality, geography, gender, education or money.

No, the only “us” worth talking about is the “us” of people striving for the courage to see community in difference, their own humanity staring out from the eyes of the Other. And the only “them” worth striving against is the “them” of people who lack that courage, who find it easier and safer to live within division.

This is the sermon Martin preached. It is the song John sang. And it is the life that divine baby lived. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” He said. Yet, it remains a lesson learned imperfectly at best, as evidenced by the very fact of a court hearing to turn a baby away from America’s gates.

As the halls are decked.

And the joy bells chime.

And fellowship songs ring in the air.

Doonesbury — Career moves.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Doubling Down

Washington Post:

Trump said Wednesday that he would deploy as many as 15,000 military personnel to the border with Mexico in response to caravans of Central American migrants making their way northward, doubling the figure Pentagon officials have announced would be operating there.

“We’ll go up to anywhere between 10 and 15,000 military personnel on top of Border Control, ICE and everybody else at the border,” Trump said in remarks to reporters before departing Washington for a campaign rally in Florida. “Nobody’s coming in. We’re not allowing people to come in.”

As noted the other day, this number will change again once the election is over and the troops get bored decorating their tents for Thanksgiving, then Christmas, then New Years, then maybe Valentines Day by the time the “caravan” gets to the border.

This is going far beyond just appealing to the base of the GOP.  Now he’s enlisting the military in his political ploy, which, to be fair, is something every president looking down the barrel of ignominy has done to some degree.  But this is just ridiculous.

HT spocko.