All of the lies

I can’t do it. I can’t watch the images of crying children being pulled forcibly from their parents as they approach and try to cross the border from Mexico to the United States. It makes me ashamed to be an American and I hope it makes everyone think twice about pulling the lever next to anyone seeking political office as a member of the Republican Party.

Watching conservative pundits and politicians try to defend this policy shows just how unfeeling they are. And not a single one of the politicians is willing to take responsibility. Kirstjen Nielsen, who attended Georgetown University at about the same time I did (although I have no memory of coming in contact with her) and who now is Secretary of Homeland Security, claimed that it’s because we can’t be sure they’re really the children of the migrants trying to cross the border.

That’s just bullshit. Watch the children being dropped at a child care center in the morning. As their parents leave, they scream and carry on, especially for the first few days of attendance. It’s natural that the do this.

But this is just one of a long line of conservative talking points that are just outright lies, easily disproven by anyone willing to look at the evidence. Like how the survivors of {insert location of any mass shooting in the past 20+ years} are really just crisis actors and the shooting was staged by gun control activists.

The more I think about it, though, the more I realize that there are three big lies we’ve been told for years about the Republican Party which simply don’t stand up to any real scrutiny. And everything else is a natural offshoot of at least one of those three.

The first is that the Republican Party is the party of personal responsibility. When Bill Clinton was president, he fired the entire White House travel office because they either misinformed or underestimated the impact of an extended layover of Air Force One on the tarmac of a civilian airport. Barack Obama fired multiple high level staffers, starting with Katherine Archuleta after data security breaches. By contrast, Reagan and Bush, Sr fired nobody over the various Savings and Loan scandals. Bush Jr fired nobody over the massive intelligence failure that was 9/11, a number matched by the firings of staff over the debacle that was Iraq. And today the main reason for losing a job in the Trump White House is insufficient loyalty to Trump himself.

I guess they only mean personal responsibility when it comes to needing a leg up. This is why they smile and shrug their shoulders at the separation of parents and children at the border. They shouldn’t have come in the first place, I guess.

The second lie is that they’re better on national defense and security than the democrats. They like to spend more money on it, that’s for sure. But as they’re quick to point out about education, throwing money at something doesn’t automatically make it better.

The simple truth is the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security will always get the money they need. Republicans just like giving more money to them with few, if any, strings attached. Both Bushes got us into wars in the Middle East that might have given us access to oil, but with no real benefits beyond that (and it’s questionable how much oil we got access to, and at what cost in terms of lives and terrorist motivations…) And yet it was Barack Obama who actually had Osama bin Laden killed. And it was Clinton who got the Israelis and Palestinians to talk…

I guess that’s why they’re insisting on throwing money at border security in the first place. Of course they need to separate kids from their parents. These entire families are a threat to America. Or something.

And the third lie is that they’re better for the economy. They certainly like cutting taxes, letting the wealthiest people keep more of their money, which they claim will stimulate job creation. While I recognize that there will come a point where the economy will suffer if taxes get too high, the economy also suffers if they get too low. But both Clinton and Obama inherited horrible economies from their predecessors, turned them around, and saw more sustained growth than anyone might have predicted. It turns out that higher taxes on the rich actually helps the government fund needed projects.

(Note that I accept that no president deserves all credit or blame for the way the economy is going, but the general policies they choose to follow can absolutely make things better or worse… it’s why Herbert Hoover gets so much blame and FDR so much credit. Had either done the opposite of what they actually did, and their modern reputations would be quite different….)

Immigration helps the economy more than it hurts. Immigrants want to work, to do jobs that locals might not want to do, often for lower pay than American citizens would want to take, and they put that money back into the local economy. We see that now with the entirely predictable stories of crops rotting in the field because there’s nobody to pick and cultivate them.

But those immigrants didn’t follow the established (but confusing) protocols and are thus labeled “illegal”. So of course they deserve the inhumane treatment they’re receiving from a drunk-with-power border patrol.

I know it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to vote Republican. And they’ve only gotten worse since then. It’s my hope that more of the electorate will see the GOP for what it has become: a bunch of frauds, thieves, and liars.

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How did we get here?

Even before we get to the abhorrent practice of separating families at the border, there’s been something about the whole immigration debate that hasn’t been sitting right with me. It started with the question of why the oldest DREAMers were born in the early 1980s. Millennials, if you would. This strongly implies that something major about US immigration policy changed in the late 1970s.

I think I’ve found the answer, and, although it’s not a straight line (history seldom is), do think it starts with a retired marine general named Leonard Chapman, who was nominated by Richard Nixon to head the Immigration and Naturalization Services in 1973, and who led the INS for four years. One sentence from his biography on the US Citizenship and Immigration Services website stands out to me:

His appointment was confirmed with the unanimous consent of the U.S. Senate and he took the oath of office on November 29, 1973. Chapman served as Commissioner until May of 1977, overseeing a period of rapid growth in the INS’ staff and budget.

Chapman, by all accounts, was a good guy, trying to do the right thing. He made a point of visiting every branch office of the INS to talk to the people who worked there. This would be in stark contrast to his predecessor, Raymond Farrell, who as best as I could tell, was a prototypical bureaucrat who almost never left his desk.

It’s an interesting phenomenon when you talk to people. A lot of people. It gets hard to tell when they espouse less-than-moral or ethical opinions. This was illustrated to me by an episode of the 1990s TV series Quantum Leap. For those unfamiliar with that series, it was about a scientist named Sam Beckett, who involved himself in a time traveling experiment and wound up “leaping” from one place to the next, replacing someone temporarily until he could alter the course of their personal history.

In this particular episode, he leapt into the middle of a ceremony where the person he replaced was formally inducted into the Ku Klux Klan, by his father. In a voiceover explanation of his surroundings, Dr. Beckett observed that, despite their racism and hatred, they were people, too, with many of the same hopes and dreams as anyone else. And, if you look away from the obviously repugnant views they hold, they could even be thought of as “nice” (at least in other parts of their day to day lives).

It’s enough to make you wonder about what Chapman heard when he talked to INS staff, as he called for an increased budget. Undoubtedly, he heard that a lot of people were crossing over the border from Mexico into the US, and that maybe we need to stop, or at least slow, the flow of migrants. What he might not have heard — because it wasn’t tracked the same way — is how often those migrants returned to Mexico.

60s folksinger Phil Ochs gave us a brief glimpse into the pre-Chapman world with his song Bracero. (The title means “laborer” in Spanish and is derived from the Spanish word for “arm”, which is brazo…) If you listen to this song, your first reaction would be to ask what’s changed in the past half century since it came out. Here are my thoughts:

  1. The braceros are more likely called “illegal” or “undocumented immigrants” now
  2. Their ability to return home is harder and significantly more dangerous due to bigger fences and stricter border enforcement
  3. The INS is now known as ICE and has become more military-like (as have many police departments)

I don’t know exactly what General Chapman heard when he spoke to the border patrol agents on his tour of his agency. Surely he heard tales of a porous border through which Mexicans moved freely and without regard for the official immigration rules. Maybe they’re lazy, sleeping all the time. Maybe they were sending too much money back home to Mexico, rather than spending it here in the states. Maybe they were committing other crimes, like theft, or rape, or something. If you don’t know what you’re listening for, you might not hear the racism.

Resentment of immigrants in any country is nothing new. It’s a change to the landscape that those already present have no control over and can be uncomfortable. How many times do we have to hear “they don’t talk like us” or “they don’t hold the same values we do”? It is, by its very nature, a form of xenophobia.

The ICE agents were the only government employees who overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump in his election bid in 2016. This isn’t a surprise. He promised he’d give their agency more money and more help. They’re not necessarily bad people themselves, but when your job is to stop people from doing something, you want help stopping people from doing something. That those people happen to have brown skin is, well, a product of dumb luck in the way things played out. But rules are rules.

And those rules likely came about because a dedicated military man talked to people. But only the people who monitored people crossing the border without talking to the people who actually crossed the border.

The DREAMers only have that name because the rules changed later.

And now we can see the ICE agents gaining power as Trump promised. There are too many forced detentions and no place to put all of the people. So now we’re separating parents from their crying children.

General Chapman may have had good intentions with the way he helmed INS. But I don’t think anyone could have predicted it would come to this. This is not what America is or stands for.

When a building is in a bad enough state of disrepair, the only way to improve it is to tear it down and start over. We need to do that with American immigration policy. Start over, completely fresh.

And as soon as humanly possible. Because we’re acting inhumanely.

Strange Bedfellows, indeed

Columnist George Will is an interesting person. Although he self-identifies as an atheist, he occasionally carries water for religious conservatism. Still, he seems to be backpedaling a little bit on that now that fundamental Christians actually wield a fair amount of power in the government, as evidenced by his treatise on Mike Pence earlier this month.

But I did a double take when I read his opinion piece in today’s Washington Post. The underlying thesis of this piece is that a true conservative would have voted for William Howard Taft in the election of 1912.

If you dig back among the flashbacks on this blog, you’ll find an entry that talks about a November, 2004 dinner party I attended, where we talked about the best and worst presidents. Not mentioned in that entry, was the fact that I asserted at the time, that Taft was our best president. (My host remarked that he was certainly the best lawyer/president.) I also hinted at this position when I talked about presidential greatness towards the end of 2016.

Let me be clear: I truly do like William Howard Taft for what he accomplished, both as president and after. If I had been around to vote in 1912, it’s entirely possible that I would have voted for Taft. I’m not sure I’d have been able to rule out a vote for Debs.

There are a couple of items in this new essay of Will’s that require additional discussion. First is his assertion that Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson were responsible for the modern imperial presidency. I should think that, depending on how you want to look at it, either James Polk or William McKinley deserve that title, depending on whether you would prefer to begin the starting point before or after the Civil War. (Regardless, it seems to begin with open warlike hostilities against a spanish-speaking country or two…)

I also take issue with the implication that Wilson was imperialist from the start. Less than two years into the start of Wilson’s first term, the European conflagration we now know as World War I started when a bomb exploded in Sarajevo, killing the archduke of the Austrian-Hungarian empire. Yes, Wilson wanted to help our allies but it was a reactive measure, not a proactive one.

Finally, Will seems to wax a little bit too nostalgic for the Reagan era. Reagan, like Trump, was a populist with conservative inclinations, not the other way around. Reagan laid the groundwork for the ethical and moral cesspool that is the modern Republican Party. That’s not a conservative or liberal stance. It’s populist, pure and simple. And something Taft had no real patience for.

Does that make me a conservative? Not exactly. While I lean liberal, there are some places where my opinions don’t really hew to what modern liberals would assert.

So for now, I’ll stick with the one thing George Will and I do truly agree on: the lack of evidence for the existence of god.

It’s starting to make sense…

I am the kind of person who is often willing to give people a second chance. Make a mistake, admit your faults, repay any debts in the process, and come out on the other side a little bit worn for wear but otherwise with a clean slate. In theory, that’s how I’d love for our criminal justice system to work.

But for the past sixty years, the Republican Party has perverted this concept. An admission of the faults and debt repayment aren’t necessary to give someone a fresh start. And now it’s all starting to make sense about this modus operandi.

It started in the late 1950s and the election of 1960. Vice President Richard Nixon was treated with, at best, disdain by President Eisenhower. So when he ran for president to succeed Ike, he lost his own bid and retired, ostensibly to become more corrupt.

But he got a second chance at — and won — the presidency in 1968, the first serious GOP rehabilitation.

Then came what is known as the Saturday Night Massacre, when Richard Nixon kept firing aides in the Justice Department until someone would fire the special prosecutor looking into his dealings. Who was that someone? Robert Bork.

Robert Bork would resurface during the Reagan administration. When Lewis Powell retired from the Supreme Court, Reagan first tried nominating Bork for that particular seat, but failed. That seat is now held by Anthony Kennedy.

Also during the Reagan administration, we saw the incident known as the Iran-Contra Affair, in which we sold weapons to Iran (in violation of ongoing sanctions) and funneling the proceeds of those sales to the Nicaraguan Contras (a guerrilla organization fighting against the Sandinista regime ruling that country). Everything about these transactions was illegal, and the masterminded of this plan — Oliver North and Malcolm Poindexter — went to jail and were unapologetic for their crimes.

There were a couple of scandals during the era of George H W Bush, but nothing too serious, relative to the scandals of the Nixon, Reagan, and Bush Jr eras. (His original nominee for Secretary of Defense, John Tower, was a bit too cozy with defense contractors. His nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court when Thurgood Marshall retired was marked by allegations of sexual misconduct when he worked at the EEOC, and there were a few savings and loan bailouts.)

With Bush Jr, the big scandals involved Scooter Libby revealing of the identity of a CIA agent as retaliation against her husband, and a program whereby we tortured terrorism suspects, authorized by Gina Haspel.

And now, amidst all of the scandals and unethical behavior of the Trump era (which promises to eclipse all prior administrations in terms of pure corruption), we have (1) the pardoning of Scooter Libby, (2) Gina Haspel being named head of the CIA, and (3) Oliver North becoming the new president of the NRA.

I could be wrong. Any number of these people could have turned over a new leaf and started living a good, honest, ethical life. But they’re not doing it publicly.

The democrats and liberal organizations aren’t immune from corruption. That much is true. But even at their worst, they don’t hold a candle to the republicans and more conservative organizations.

Madeleine Dean for PA-04

Earlier this year, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the congressional map that had been in place since 2012, was gerrymandered too heavily for partisan purposes, and ordered it redrawn.

In one way or another, I’ve been complaining about gerrymandering for nearly fifteen years now. And that’s just on this blog and its predecessor blogs…

So where previously I was in the Seventh congressional district, now I’m in district 4, with a primary that will be coming up next Tuesday.

There are three candidates vying for the democratic nomination this time around. The winner will face Republican Dan David (who is unopposed in his quest for his party’s nomination) in November. These three candidates are:

Former US Representative Joe Hoeffel
State Representative Madeleine Dean
Shira Goodman, who is the executive director of the gun control group CeaseFirePA

I’ve done a fair bit of research into all of the candidates and feel as though any of the three democratic candidates will serve my district well, and, come November, I will have no problem voting for whomever emerges victorious next week.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t help me to decide which candidate deserves my vote next week. The only measurement outside of my own research I can come up with does not (and should not) form the basis of my voting, but I’ll say it anyway:

As I write these words, I’ve received seven different ads promoting State Rep. Dean, four for Ms. Goodman, and zero for former Rep. Hoeffel.

So I decided to reach out to all three campaigns and ask them the same question. I drafted the following message and prepared to send it to each of them:

Hello! I am a registered Democrat in the newly created 4th congressional district in Pennsylvania (I live in {hometown excised for privacy reasons}) and have been following the primary race between {rearranged listing of all three candidates, with the person receiving the message being listed first} quite closely.

And therein lies my problem. I don’t have any real problems with any of the three candidates and, come November, it’s a safe bet that whoever emerges victorious in the primary, will receive my vote against Dan David. As a result, I legitimately can’t decide, for whom I should vote next week.

So I’m reaching out to all three campaigns and asking the same question. It is my hope that the answer to this question will help me make my decision:

What are the best and worst things Donald Trump has done since he took the oath of office on January 20, 2017?

Thank you in advance!

Jim Phynn

With that message under my belt, I went to the candidates’ web pages. The first and most interesting thing I can say is that no two candidates have the same mechanism for preferred outreach:

Joe Hoeffel has a form to fill in on the web.
Shira Goodman has an email address.
Madeleine Dean has a phone number.

All three mechanisms of outreach have their pros and cons. For example, I spoke with a staffer for Dean’s campaign (and not Dean herself, although I wouldn’t have expected to), while both Hoeffel and Goodman actually responded to my message themselves. (Hoeffel directly and Goodman responded to a staffer who forwarded the answer on to me).

All three told me it was a great question. (Not that I’d have expected anything different; they all want my vote.)

I do have to give a slight ‘ding’ to the Goodman campaign. Hoeffel responded to my message within about an hour. It took Goodman two days to respond (and then, it was only after I tweeted to the campaign to confirm that they’d even received my email…)

I decided to put a summary of their answers to the question into the following grid. They each gave much more substance than what I’m paraphrasing below, but this is the gist of things:

Candidate Best thing Trump has done Worst thing Trump has done
Dean Declaring the opioid emergency The coarsening of political discourse
Goodman Korea The coarsening of political discourse
Hoeffel Firing Anthony Scaramucci The tax bill

I want to say that all three candidates dropped the ball in their answers to the worst thing Trump has done. Political discourse has always been coarse, boorish, catering to the “lowest common denominator” and vulgar. Think of the apocryphal tale of the successful candidate who tarnished his opponent by saying that his brother was a known Homo sapiens, his sister was a thespian, and he himself matriculated in college… Think of the mudslinging that was the election of 1800. Think of Joseph McCarthy. Or George Wallace. Or Richard Nixon. Think of the horrible, misleading, and racist Willie Horton ad that was a staple of the 1988 election. This is not ancient history.

I maintain that Donald Trump is a symptom — not a cause — of the coarsening of civil discourse. That’s not really a good answer to the question.

I would blame Trump more for the tax bill that got rammed through Congress last year if he’d actually had any say in its contents. But he didn’t. The blame for that travesty of a bill belongs squarely at the feet of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. Trump just went along for the ride.

No. If you’d asked me the worst things he’s done, I’d say that it’s his complete and total disregard for the rule of law and international treaties. From his decisions to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal (which will cost US companies thousands upon thousands of jobs) and the Paris climate accords, to the way he keeps trying to impose travel bans and build a border wall, antagonizing most of our allies in the process. That’s the worst thing he’s done.

And that’s also why I’m reluctant to say he’s doing a good job when it comes to the treatment of North Korea. I have no inherent problem with him agreeing to meet with Kim Jong Un next month; indeed, I’d say that about anyone in his position. I would not assume anything about what will come about from the actual summit until it happens and I may be pleasantly surprised all the same. Either way, we won’t know the results of the summit until after the primary so that won’t really help me. And if he does manage to bring peace to the peninsula and stop North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, I will give Trump credit. Still, meetings like this have happened before, with other presidents and other Supreme Leaders of North Korea. Let’s just wait and see.

Dean was quick to point out that declaring the opioid crisis a health emergency was a good start and more needed (and still needs) to be done, but the message is still a good one.

I honestly don’t know what to make of Hoeffel’s response. If it was an attempt to make a joke and effectively say “he hasn’t done anything good”, it rings hollow. “The Mooch” (as Scarmucci likes to be called) was White House Communications Director for all of a week and barely registers as a blip in terms of things that have happened in the over the course of the last year or so. And it doesn’t even delve into the questionable choice of hiring him in the first place.

For me, I think the best thing Donald Trump has done is he has awakened the complacent progressive movement, who may have taken a few too many things for granted. It’s unfortunate that we need to take a step back before we can move forward, but if that’s what it takes, I’m not going to complain. Kind of like how we needed the Titanic sinking to figure out what we needed to do in the way of maritime safety. Feel free to criticize this response because technically it started the week of the election in 2016 and not after he took the oath of office, but that’s what I think Donald Trump has done best: demonstrating the racist, anti-semitic, intolerant, homophobic, bigoted, misogynistic organization that is the Republican Party.

So all else being equal, I will give my vote to Madeleine Dean next week. I think she’s most suited to giving the republicans hell.

There are no words

The pictures and videos from around the world showing the scenes and speeches from yesterday’s March For Our Lives are truly inspiring. I’m not sure exactly what it says that the DC crowd was visible from space.

So naturally I was wondering how conservative media would try to spin things.

As I write these words, I’ve only been to four sites and I don’t think I need to go to any more.

Rapture Ready is completely silent. The thread entitled Gun confiscation for us; gun protection for them hasn’t had any new comments added since March 14. The Gun Toter’s Thread was last updated on January 8.

Fox News has a poll about how people favor gun control and two articles on the march, but all three articles are overshadowed by a larger article reporting that the “blue wave” that most political commentators expect with this year’s election will not be as big as some people currently believe.

Breitbart’s big article is about the trash leftover after the march.

But the truly appalling item is the one in Conservapedia. In their “In the news (what the MSM isn’t fully covering)” has this tantalizing headline:

Free transportation and food brought hundreds of thousands to D.C. for a march for gun control. [1] Was it the most subsidized protest in history?

They’ve got an external link. It’s gotta be something good, right?

Um, no. It’s a USA Today article about how New England Patriots owner helped the Parkland victims’ families, and the Parkland survivors get to DC for the parade. If that’s as many as a couple hundred, I’d be surprised. Certainly not “hundreds of thousands.” And the article says nothing about food.

Conservapedia is run by Andy Schlafly, the son of Phyllis Schlafly, and she apparently taught her son not to let the truth get in the way of a good story.

I’m done. I’m not the first and won’t be the last to express optimism at what I’m seeing these kids accomplish. It can only get better from here.

Here we go again…

After the shooting the other day in Parkland, Florida, I went back and reread the twoposts I wrote following the Pulse nightclub shooting nearly two years ago.

Nothing has changed. The Republican Party still refuses to do anything to actually address the problem. As a result, nothing is even being tried.

There is one thing about this particular shooting that is different from most of the other ones: the shooter is still alive. I hope that a competent investigation can provide details into his motives and motivations.

Donald Trump’s tweet about the shooting makes a good point:

So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!

7:12 AM – Feb 15, 2018

Countless people warned us about how dangerous he was and is. Reporters. Politicians. Trained psychologists. And yet, all those millions of people voted for him and now he’s in the White House….