Tag Archives: America

Sick of Sin

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
 
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
 
In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
 
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
 
—Wilfred Owen, Dulce et Decorum Est

 Giving It Up (Kind Of)

A couple of announcements here at the top. The blog’s going to be on hiatus for a few weeks, because I’m traveling around Mexico for Semana Santa and a little reporting. After I get back, though, I’m going to put a pin in the regular Monday roundups. They’re draining, especially in terms of the unremunerated time that I’d otherwise be putting towards the podcast, and I’m not really seeing the numbers that would support keeping them up. So I’m going to keep this one brief, and I’ll only get back into it if something really strikes me as both important and not being covered elsewhere.

And in the unlikely event that you were relying on SFD for a roundup, then Doug Muder at the Weekly Sift and the guys at Crooked Media are your best options. Pod Save America will give you as much as you can handle twice a week, and I think Lovett or Leave It might be the best audio anything anywhere.

Aside from these Monday things, I’m going to really drill down on the next Iran shows, and that usually results in a blog or two. And I’m going to be trying some other, shorter-format podcast things, so the site’ll be active going forward.

Continue reading Sick of Sin

Goethe’s Oak

I’m running a day late this week, mostly due to hangover, but I’ve got an excuse. This was a three day weekend in Mexico, commemorating the birthday of what wasn’t their first president, or even their first republican president, but what was, because of a messy political century from 1820 to 1920 or so, their first real republican, democratic president, and the first indigenous president elected anywhere in Latin America.

Viva Juarez.


Another EO

We only got one real new executive order last week. The new travel ban was actually written two weeks ago, and since it was stopped by a federal court as soon as it was supposed to go into effect, until the next wrinkle on that shakes out, the one worth paying attention to is EO 13781, the “Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch.”

The EO, on its face, appears to be pretty tame, and definitely to appeal to the folks who got POTUS elected. It directs the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, who puts together the budget for the executive branch, to:

…submit to the President a proposed plan to reorganize the executive branch in order to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of agencies. The proposed plan shall include, as appropriate, recommendations to eliminate unnecessary agencies, components of agencies, and agency programs, and to merge functions. The proposed plan shall include recommendations for any legislation or administrative measures necessary to achieve the proposed reorganization.

 

Continue reading Goethe’s Oak

A Peculiar Institution

Today’s post is, to put it lightly, a long one. We’re cresting 4,000 words, and to make it easier for you, if you’ve got a real good handle on the DHS immigration memos already, go ahead and skip down to Part Two.

If not, keep reading, and you’ll get the whole story, from the deeper implications of the memos straight through to how they might, or maybe definitely probably will, create a new system of prison-based forced migrant labor in the USA.


Part One: Let’s Take a Longer Look at Those Memos

Like I said on Monday, the two memos from John Kelly—our new head of the Department of Homeland Security—were the most important thing to come out of last week. They spell out how DHS will go about implementing Trump’s immigration policy as outlined in his executive orders and elsewhere.

I gave a detailed run-through of the two documents on Monday, but the unifying theme was that DHS wants to massively expand the numbers and categories of migrants targeted for apprehension. It’s pretty well-known that President Obama deported more immigrants than any previous occupant of the Oval Office, but after the record-high for deportations in 2013, his administration shifted focus. They began deporting undocumented immigrants who had committed crimes after arriving in the US, almost but not entirely to the exclusion of migrants who had just crossed over and then quietly worked away at building a life here. Obama went further with DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allowed undocumented migrants who arrived as children to obtain work permits and to obtain protection against deportation.

Continue reading A Peculiar Institution

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.

Continue reading Memos, Missing Congresspeople, and a Misfiring Press Policy

Alternate Realities

“Well, now that we have seen each other,” said the Unicorn, “if you’ll believe in me, I’ll believe in you.”

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass

I want to talk about alternate realities. Not the multiverse kind or the virtual kind, but the kind that exist all around us. I watched Spotlight recently and none of us have been able to look away from that train-wreck of an election or this early administration, so hopefully enough of us have seen enough of all three of them to tie this post together.

We’re All in this Alone

Everybody, and I mean everybody, lives in their own reality. From the time you pop out of the womb, you begin aggregating a set of facts, or what seem to you to be facts, about the world around you. And that set of facts makes up your reality. The differences in our realities range from the sacred to the very mundane. Maybe I believe in God and you don’t, maybe you thought that dress was yellow and I thought it was blue. There may be some ultimate arbiter of what’s real—Plato’s realm of the forms or an Abrahamic God or a grand unifying theory of physics—but until one of those things speaks up, we’re each left with our own discrete perceptions of the world. When our differences are small, like that dress, they don’t impede our getting along. When they get bigger, they trip us up in proportion to the magnitude of the difference.

Almost nobody in the 15th century really thought the world was flat (and it may be a very long time since anybody’s actually thought that), but if we imagine, for the sake of argument, that Ferdinand and Isabella, the King and Queen of Spain in 1492, did think the Earth was flat, we can see how they and Christopher Columbus would have a difficult time plotting a new route to India.

It's so cool
Seriously, click on this

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The Center Cannot Hold

So let’s talk about Michael Flynn. It’s hard to keep up with all this, so a quick recap: Flynn is a lifer in the the Army, makes Lieutenant General, and serves for two years as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency under Obama. The DIA coordinates military intelligence and acts, kind of, as the Department of Defense’s version of the CIA. Military spooks.

Flynn gets forced out of the DIA in 2014. Inside sources, including Colin Powell, say that it’s because of a chaotic leadership style in which he was “abusive with staff, didn’t listen, worked against policy, bad management, etc.” Flynn alleged he’d been made to leave because of his controversial views on security, namely that the Us was less safe from terrorism now than before 9/11 and that the President wasn’t saying the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ enough.

Flynn starts an intelligence consulting firm along with his son, which, along with whatever else it does, seems to have been lobbying for the government of Turkish president Erdogan, a religious authoritarian, in Washington. Through 2014 and 2015, Flynn makes multiple appearances as an analyst on the Russian state-owned English-language propaganda arm, RT. RT masquerades as a news agency in the US.

In the same way that any scientist who regularly appears on Fox News is pretty reliably morally compromised, any member of the Us military establishment who’s flexible enough to appear on RT is probably too flexible to be trusted. RT is a big cheerleader for Donald Trump and is now one of the few outlets, like Fox and Breitbart, that qualify as ‘real’ news among the Republican base.

In 2015, Flynn flies to Russia to attend an RT gala and give a talk, for which he is paid by the Russian government.

That’s Mike Flynn dead center and Putin just to his right. Yeah.

Continue reading The Center Cannot Hold

The Widening Gyre

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
—W. B. Yeats, “The Second Coming”

It starts to lose its luster when you say it every seven days, but what a week.
Today I want to talk about three things in detail. The first is the President’s already-infamous press conference from last Thursday, all of Sean Spicer’s forays, and the general confusion they’ve created. Second, the ongoing work of the administration and its allies in the Congress. Third, and this I’m going to break out into its own short post, Michael Flynn’s record-breaking resignation as National Security Advisor.

The Presser(s)

I don’t know how many of you watched the full hour-and-fifteen, but the level of mendacity had, I think, to have been unprecedented, and the style heretofore unseen outside of the West Wing.

The quickest way to get the gist across, though, is a short comparison to eight years ago. Here’s our last president addressing the situation and concerns of the auto industry:

And here’s our current president doing what seems to be his level best to get around to the same topic:

Continue reading The Widening Gyre

A Memorable Series of Revolutions

At the time I originally wrote this, the Senate had just confirmed “Mad Dog” Mattis, the first time since George Marshall at the end of the Second World War that a non-civilian has gotten a waiver to serve as Secretary of Defense. Two days before that, Donald Trump got in front of a crowd to crudely berate two news agencies and to announce that unlike every president in modern history, he would not be separating himself from his business interests. A week before that, congressional Republicans tried to eliminate the only independent ethics committee that oversees the legislature as the very first act of the new session.

Failing that, they scheduled more cabinet confirmation hearings in less time than ever before, hoping to railroad a slate of candidates who are, with little exaggeration, bent on destroying their respective departments. Late last month, North Carolina Republicans, having lost the governorship, used the end of their lame duck session to divest the executive of its powers and invest them, in effect, in the Republican Party, leading the Electoral Integrity Project to categorize the state as having “deeply flawed, partly free democracy that is only slightly ahead of the failed democracies that constitute much of the developing world.” Not only that, but:

North Carolina does so poorly on the measures of legal framework and voter registration, that on those indicators we rank alongside Iran and Venezuela. When it comes to the integrity of the voting district boundaries no country has ever received as low a score as the 7/100 North Carolina received. North Carolina is not only the worst state in the USA for unfair districting but the worst entity in the world ever analyzed by the Electoral Integrity Project.

And since then, was either five months or five years ago, this past January, God, some other stuff has happened: the President’s hired both his son in law and his daughter to be the right and left hand people of his administration; he’s taken advantage of a year-long stall on the part of the Republicans and installed a conservative justice in Merrick Garland’s seat; he’s put two different avowed white supremacists in office in Gorka and Steve Bannon and a much more effective, subtler one in Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Virtually every member of the Administration has lied to the Congress or the Senate about conniving with the Russians, he’s fired FBI director James Comey, while Comey was investigating him and then told Lester Holt that that’s why he fired him.

Something is up, guys.
Continue reading A Memorable Series of Revolutions

Historical Optimism

Part of what I want to get at in this blog and in the cast is why we as a country, culture, people do what we do abroad. Why and how we can continue seeding these disasters overseas. Part of the answer, unavoidably, is that we don’t see foreigners as people, not in the most important sense. Trying to overcome that barrier to human feeling was part of the post I wrote on Looking at History from the Outside.

Another element, I think, is optimism. Historical optimism. I don’t know exactly when the US as a country acquired that outlook, whether it came to us at some point or whether it was baked in from the beginning, but it’s thoroughly ours. One of the many definitions of the American Dream is providing better for your kids than your parents did for you. America, especially once we’d left the gold standard and gotten into Breton Woods, had a hand in creating a global economic system whose goal is year-over-year growth, forever. There’s a philosophy behind both those ideas and many other aspects of American life, which is that things are getting better, in the long run.

Things are getting better in the long run. The arc of the moral universe is long, but it curves toward justice. Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. The idea that things are, in the long run, getting better, has a long pedigree.

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Looking at History from the Outside

Photo credit goes to Michael Doherty
Photo credit goes to Michael Doherty

You ever notice how our history seems exceptional?

I don’t mean American Exceptionalism the way it comes up in the State of the Union, or not exactly. I mean the way it feels when you think about it, compared to when you think about the history of Rome, say, or Mexico. There’s something less straightforward about  it, something more nuanced; we have more shades of gray.

Whether or not you agree with any of that, meditate on it for a minute. Try the Vietnam War. Why were the French in Indochina in the fifties? Because of colonialism, simple. Why were we there in the sixties? Supporting our allies, maybe, or war profiteering, or as part of the containment policy and domino theory. Tell that story to yourself and see if it comes out as cut and dried.

It’s natural and almost inevitable to feel that way about your own history. If you’re American, you probably know more US history more intimately than anyone else’s, and that much just by osmosis. The same is true of French history if you’re French, Canadian if you’re Canadian. I’ve spent a lot of time in Mexican schools, and just like their counterparts in the US, they spend every single semester learning about the same group of guys who founded the Republic, repeated year in and out.

I’ve studied more Roman history, more Latin American history, and more European history than my own, but I have a better feel for how it looked and sounded in the back when in the US than in any other place. Everyone feels this way about their own country’s past, which is, just to note, why the phrase ‘American Exceptionalism’ rubs pretty much everybody in the world the wrong way.

Continue reading Looking at History from the Outside