Memos, Missing Congresspeople, and a Misfiring Press Policy

This past week, like every week since the Inauguration, was a bad week.

The Immigration Memos

This is bar none the most important thing that went on in the last seven days, and I’m going to break them out into their own post tomorrow. For now though, here’s what you need to know.

John Kelly, an ex-four star marine general and current Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, promulgated two memos which outlined DHS’s plan for implementing Trump’s varying statements on and executive orders with regard to immigration.

Those memos addressed a slew of different aspects of current and (apparently) future immigration policy, but here are the highlights:

  • Under Obama, we changed our focus for deportation from other-wise law-abiding undocumented immigrants towards those who committed crimes after coming to the US. The new memos outline a new category for priority deportation which includes anyone convicted, charged, or who has “committed acts that constitute a chargeable offense.” That sounds pretty reasonable until you think about it. When it says “charged” and “committed acts that constitute,” what it means is that immigrants under suspicion of crimes will now be treated as criminals. As in guilty before proven innocent. Likewise, the memos make clear that residing without documents in the US is one of the offenses that DHS will not consider, which means that all 12 million undocumented immigrants are now priorities for deportation.
  • The memos call for the expedited hiring of 10,000 new ICE agents and officers and another 5,000 Border Patrol officers. Not only would that reportedly cost over $2 billion, ICE and the BP have already had trouble recruiting. Trump is currently seeking to relax the standards used to screen candidates, which would serve to further compromise two agencies already penetrated by the far right wing and, in some cases, the same gangs they’re trying to keep out.
  • The memos outline a directive to “assure the assessment and collection of all fines” against migrants “and from those who facilitate their unlawful presence.” Besides mirroring the way that some police departments use their black communities like a piggy-bank, this could potentially target everybody around a given migrant with the idea of making the current upswell of sanctuary movements much harder to sustain. Fine the migrant, the church that hosted him, the members that took him in, on down the line.
  • Both memos outline the “establishment of appropriate processing and detention facilities” and the expansion of “detention capabilities and capacities at or near the border with Mexico to the greatest extent practicable.” Right now, migrants are in general released after they’re assigned a court date, since those dates are usually years in the future. Trump’s administration now plans to hold them in detention for that period, paying around $100 a day per migrant. There are some dark, dark implications here that I’ll get to in the post about this.
  • The memos both mention expanding programs which allow local and state police to act as immigration officers. Which means that men and women with no training in immigration law will now be empowered to stop (brown) people on suspicion of being (brown) migrants and demand papers across the US.
  • And then there are several points which basically call for CBP and ICE officers to do their jobs.
    • Right now, migrants reaching the US can claim asylum, and if they can establish in an interview with an asylum officer that they have a “credible fear” that they’ll be subject to violence if they return to their own country, they get released into the US pending a hearing. One memo calls for an “enhancement…of the credible fear determination” process. Which read straight just means “do the job” and read between the lines in the way that every asylum officer and his/her boss must be reading it means “we want to see fewer asylum releases.” Which would put some of the most vulnerable immigrants in the world back into some of the most dangerous places in the world.
    • Same kind of language with regard to CBP and ICE’s ability to ‘parole’ immigrants into the US pending trial. And same obvious alternative reading, which is, “parole fewer people.”
    • Ditto the second memo in point O calls for public reporting of border apprehension data. Of course, CBP and ICE already do public reporting, so the memo asks specifically for “the number of convicted criminals and the nature of their offenses; the prevalence of gang members and prior immigration violators,” etc. Those are all stats they already collect. The memo is saying that now we’ll be emphasizing them.
    • Finally the memos address the wave of unaccompanied minors coming out of Central America. They acknowledge the plight of these kids and then call for prosecution of the parents of those minors who have family living without documentation in the US. That is, of that portion of the kids who actually make it up here, the ones that the memos themselves say are subject to the most inhuman depredations on the way, Trump’s administration wants to use those kids as a way to track and deport their families in the US, turning them, again, into effective orphans.
      • This is an example of an application of law meant to punish rather than to shape any kind of desirable outcome. Who wins in this scenario? The kids without parents? The deported parents whose kids are now in the US and who will now be trying to enter illegally again? The US citizens who paid to create an orphan who will have to go into the system? I’m pretty sure the only winners are the coyotes getting paid to move people over the border.

On a Lighter But Still Anti-Democratic Note

This past week the Congress was in recess, which means senators and congresspeople were free to do whatever. In past years, this meant they usually went home to do constituent service. Raise a little money, shake a few hands, and host a town-hall with so few attendees you couldn’t fill a coffee shop.

This year was different.

Grassroots organizers like Indivisible and the Wall of Us set about making sure that any planned get-togethers would be packed, and that any congresspeople who hadn’t been planning on meeting with the voters got an earful of invitations to appear.

According to a Vice article,

After outpourings of rage at some early town halls — including crowds at an event near Salt Lake City yelling “Do your job!” at Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee  — many Republicans are ducking in-person events altogether. Instead they’re opting for more controlled Facebook Live or “tele-town halls,” where questions can be screened by press secretaries and followups are limited — as are the chances of becoming the next viral meme of the Left.

For the first two months of the new Congress, the 292 Republicans have scheduled just 88 in-person town hall events — and 35 of those sessions are for Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, according to a tabulation conducted by Legistorm. In the first two months of the previous Congress in 2015, by contrast, Republicans held 222 in-person town hall events.

And it looks like the mass tactics might be working. From the Hill:

Conservative Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) suggested the Democratic protests could spook the GOP and prevent it from tackling its ambitious 2017 agenda, including the repeal and replacement of ObamaCare.

“There are, in my opinion, a significant number of congressmen who are being impacted by these kinds of protests, and their spine is a little bit weak,” Brooks told a local radio station, according to CNN.

“And I don’t know if we’re going to be able to repeal ObamaCare now, because these folks who support ObamaCare are very active,” he continued, “They’re putting pressure on congressmen, and there’s not a counter-effort to steel the spine of some of these congressmen in tossup districts around the country.”

For now, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and his leadership team haven’t asked rank-and-file members to skip these rowdy, rough-and-tumble town halls. But they are encouraging members to also take advantage of alternative, virtual ways of connecting with constituents, including telephone town halls or Facebook Live chats.

Leaving aside that Republicans in Congress think that they need to ‘steel’ their spines against what their actual constituents want, which is about as depressing a picture of current American democracy as you can find, it’s encouraging that some of these assholes might be taking massive resistance to heart.

If you’ve seen the videos, it might just look like a lot of yelling, but excellent Metafilter user You Can’t Tip a Buick has a more nuanced take:

[Quoting an earlier comment] “I don’t get it. Shouting down your elected representative instead of engaging her/him is pointless. No issues are explored; no dialogue takes place. What has happened to civility and respect?” 

Nothing good has come from the wretched election of 2016, but if there were anything good about it, it’s that even middle of the road liberals are beginning to acknowledge that politics is about struggle, organization, and the effective application of force to achieve aims. The “politics is about determining proper behavior through disinterested debate” frame that used to come up so often is just propaganda meant to keep us disorganized and weak.

The point, as such, is to make the representative scared; scared of bad press, scared of the angry mob organizing to remove them from office, scared of having their names and reputations dragged through the mud, and scared of the sheer size and vehemence of the crowd gathered to confront them. This is what democracy looks like.

The internet has been burning up.

Roger Williams and Cory Gardener got town-halled in absentia when they refused to show in front of their constituents.

While Paul Cook of California has been appearing on milk cartons since he won’t come out in public.


And every GOP lawmaker who did make it out in front of a crowd has discovered that not everybody is on board with their smiling acquiescence in the face of Trump’s agenda.

Scott Pruitt Is Even Worse than He Looked

So Scott Pruitt made it a little more than a week ago through the Senate confirmation process and into his top spot at the EPA. Our brave senators hustled him into office because a court-ordered release of documents was on the horizon, and they wanted him in beforehand to avoid those bad optics in their hearings.

Well, the documents are out now and they’re exactly as bad as you’d imagine. From the story of record at the New York Times:

The publication of the correspondence comes just days after Mr. Pruitt was sworn in to run the E.P.A., which is charged with reining in pollution and regulating public health. “Thank you to your respective bosses and all they are doing to push back against President Obama’s EPA and its axis with liberal environmental groups to increase energy costs for Oklahomans and American families across the states,” said one email sent to Mr. Pruitt and an Oklahoma congressman in August 2013 by Matt Ball, an executive at Americans for Prosperity. That nonprofit group is funded in part by the Kochs, the Kansas business executives who spent much of the last decade combating federal regulations, particularly in the energy sector. “You both work for true champions of freedom and liberty!” the note said.

The papers reveal that Pruitt, as Attorney General of Oaklahoma, had sued the EPA repeatedly at the behest of the oil companies that donated to his political campaigns, using the exact text of the letters they sent him in his suits.

Oil companies got a man in Oaklahoma elected AG with the express purpose of having him defend them from the EPA. The corruption laws in this country have been interpreted by the Supreme Court as being blind to all but the most blatant cash-in-hand quid pro quo, so this sort of thing is OK. That man then gets appointed head of the agency he’s spent his entire political career attacking, with no break in his relations with large oil companies. This is the America we live in.

One other thing you need to know about Scott Pruitt is that exactly two Democratic lawmakers voted for him.

Those two haggard old bastards are Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and they, along with Dianne Feinstein of California, are textbook examples of the kind of corporate cheerleader Democrats who are finally going to get primaried into oblivion.

And for Our Next Act, George Orwell Will Turn Right Over in His Grave

Donald Trump is angry about leaks. Confidential—and sometimes classified—information has been pouring out of the federal government since Trump took office. Some of it addresses his personal foibles, like watching cable news in a bathrobe or the way he almost nixed Sean Spicer because he was too ugly for TV, and Paste Magazine has a digest of all those.

In a kind of doubly-embarrassing middle ground, a lawyer at State drafted a memo on preventing leaks for the new Secretary, Rex Tillerson, which leaked within hours of its release.

And then there are the big ones: that the NSA is withholding information from the White House because they think POTUS and his confidants might be passing it straight to Russia; an internal memo which pushed for the use of tens of thousands of national guard troops to help kickstart deportations; the communications about Mike Flynn that went to the Post and the Times and got him ousted; the various telephone calls that have gone south with world leaders; and the draft of an executive order that proposed to restart CIA black site prisons. The San Diego Tribune‘s got a list of those.

While Trump can’t seem to decide if the leaks are real and the news is fake or any other combination, he’s damn sure that he’s going after leakers and anybody who would publish them. On Friday, as a kind of opening salvo, Press Secretary Sean Spicer, rather than holding the normal briefing in the briefing room conducted a “gaggle” with outlets sympathetic to Trump, including the openly white-nationalist Breitbarn and the conservative mouthpieces the One America News Network and the Washington Times. Excluded from that meeting were CNNThe New York Times, The Hill, Politico, Buzzfeed, The Daily Mail, BCC, The Los Angeles Times, and The New York Daily News.

What’s incredible is that not even Sean Spicer is on board with what he did.

Incredibly, Fox News’ anchors are likewise not on the Trump train here, with Shephard Smith and Bret Baier making strong statements.

Now, it’s not clear whether this is an attempted coup against the press or just the camera-challenged Sean Spicer looking to carve out a safe space for himself, but it didn’t go over well, with not just Fox but also the AP and Time boycotting the gaggle in solidarity, which means that whatever went on their won’t be getting much press.

Public Policy Polling has also found that Trump is losing these fights with the media.

PPP’s newest national poll finds that Donald Trump is losing all of his fights with the media- and voters really think he needs to reduce his cable news consumption.

62% of voters nationally think Trump should keep his cable watching to less than an hour a day, and 82% think he needs to keep it under 2 hours a day. Just 6% of voters in the country think it’s a good idea for Trump to spend more than 2 hours a day watching cable news.

Last week Trump declared that the news media was the ‘enemy of the American people’ but we find that only 35% of voters believe that, to 53% who say that isn’t the case. By a 48/44 spread they say it is actually Trump who is the greater threat to the American people than the media. We asked voters who they thought had more credibility between Trump and each of the outlets he singled out for attack last week, and Trump loses out to every one of them by double digits

Where this will go is anyone’s guess, but it doesn’t seem likely that either the media will stop reporting on Trump or that he’ll ever warm up to honest coverage of his administration.

They Just Can’t Stop

Republican lawmakers, true to form, have responded to protests not just by not showing up to their own town halls, but by attacking protest itself. They’ve been claiming since the election that protesters are being paid, but they’re going farther than just trying to discredit the folks in the street now.

According to the Washington Post, the GOP in at least 18 states has introduced bills to make protest more difficult or illegal.

From Virginia to Washington state, legislators have introduced bills that would increase punishments for blocking highways, ban the use of masks during protests, indemnify drivers who strike protesters with their cars and, in at least once case, seize the assets of people involved in protests that later turn violent. The proposals come after a string of mass protest movements in the past few years, covering everything from police shootings of unarmed black men to the Dakota Access Pipeline to the inauguration of Trump.

The Arizona state senate, in a recent and especially egregious example, voted to expand the state’s racketeering laws, meant to combat organized crime, to include those who “plan” to riot. GOP lawmakers in that state have been open that they mean to empower police to arrest not just demonstrators during an event but organizers trying to put an event together. The new law is unconstitutional on its face, but with Neil Gorsuch almost guaranteed a seat on the Supreme Court, that kind of obvious point is getting less comforting by the day.

It’s As Crazy As You Think It Is

Real quick now:

Trump’s senior policy advisor Stephen Miller said that the wall on the border (estimated cost $10 billion and counting) will pay for itself:

“This wall will pay for itself many, many, many times over,” Miller said. “And it’s just astonishing to me that the media is so interested in how much it costs to secure our border and has no interest in the cost of refusing to secure our border.”

This despite undocumented immigrants paying more in taxes than they take from the system.

CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, or Nuremberg for short, was this past week, and everybody in the clown car had a turn at the microphone.

Kellyanne Conway said that women who oppose Trump “just have a problem with women in power.” Vox explains:

…to say that women who oppose Trump are the ones who really have issues with women, and not Trump himself, dodges the deeper problems associated with gender and society. It’s also a classic example of how conservatives often view feminism and other movements for equality.

Conway’s comments make no sense if you know anything about the Women’s March.

The most obvious problem with Conway’s suggestion that Women’s March attendees have issues with women in power is that the overwhelming majority of them voted for Hillary Clinton.

Despite Trump spending, factually, more money on travel and more time on the links than Obama during his first month, Republican rank and file at CPAC can’t be made to understand. Honestly that link’s just going to make you angry.

Trump had his own speech at CPAC, but it’s only worth watching if you want to have a fit. Alternatively, you could just ram your head into a wall until you pass out.

But It’s Not All Bad

Barack Obama finished his vacation and was spotted, subtly, in New York last week.


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