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Resisting “detention beds” is a good issue for Dems

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Kasie Hunt, an MSNBC anchor, yesterday tweeted: Democrats taking a risk with the stand over detention beds at the 11th hour The wall seems to have been largely neutralized as an issue, at least in Congress Beds arguably much more significant policy to debate But harder to message for Dems.

She made much the same point on the air.

I admit that when I first heard Democrats were raising the number of beds as an issue, in their negotiations with Republicans over wall funding, my first instinct was uneasiness. I could easily see Trump blaming Democrats for wanting to let criminals roam American streets. That’s a lie, of course, but I imagined him dredging up the age-old Republican smear of Democrats: soft on crime.

Then, yesterday morning, that’s exactly what he did on his twitter feed. “The Democrats do not want us to detain, or send back, criminal aliens! This is a brand new demand. Crazy!”

Pandering to his base, Trump once again stokes fear, racism and xenophobia among the low-information white people who see in him their Defender against brown-skinned rapists, murderers, drug fiends and human traffickers.

What are these “detention beds” at the heart of this latest brouhaha? They are essentially prison cells for undocumented people captured within U.S. borders and suspected of committing crimes. After all, you can’t arrest (detain) someone if there’s no place for them to sleep.

Democrats propose capping those beds at 16,500; their argument is that most of the “crimes” committed by undocumented people are visa overstays—hardly violent offenses. Instead, Democrats are asking the government to prioritize the detention of violent criminals. Only the worst would be put into detention.

Republicans predictably are howling. Democrats, they allege, want criminals to roam the streets and prey on our people! Democrats counter that all they’re saying is that this Republican administration has already caused so much damage to families and children, that capping the number of beds will force the regime to stop its cruelest practices.

And that’s where the debate now stands. Over the weekend, Trump’s BFF in the Senate, Lindsay Graham, told Fox “News” that Trump will never sign a bill that limits the number of detention beds, even if the bill gives him the $5.7 billion he wants for his wall (which, by the way, it won’t).

We’ll see.

But back to Kasie Hunt’s tweet. Is it risky for Democrats to take this line? Is it a hard message to explain to the American people?

Not at all. Polls show that Trump’s family separation policy is “very unpopular” among Americans, with 66% of voters–including 91 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of independents–opposed to the policy. It is not hard at all for Democrats to make the argument that “the more detention beds the regime has to lock up people, the more families will be separated, and the more children will be yanked from their mothers, caged, and traumatized for life.”

That’s a potent, easy argument to understand. Of course, Republicans and racists (the two terms are interchangeable) will continue to praise Trump for protecting them from Latino savages. But to get re-elected, Trump (if he’s still in office next year) will have to get votes from independents and Democrats. Those are two groups who are fairly adamantly opposed to family separation. Democrats are going to have a year to strengthen their arguments against an inhumane policy; television will afford plenty of opportunities for sympathetic Latino parents and children to tell the American public how horrible these Trumpian policies are; religious leaders will have lots of Sundays to remind their flocks that Jesus commands them to welcome the immigrant, not lock him up. In the heat of the 2020 presidential campaign, Republicans will have a harder and harder time explaining away Trump’s continuing lockup of children.

So, Kasie Hunt, your analysis is weak. I wonder where you got the concept that this “detention bed” issue is bad for Democrats. Did it just strike you out of the blue? Did you hear it on Fox or Limbaugh? However it came to you, let me assure you that Democrats own the moral high ground on this one. More detention beds = more imprisoned children! That’s the winning argument—winning, because it’s true. And if Trump causes another government shutdown over this, the way he caused the last one, nobody will be talking about “detention beds.” They’ll be talking about air traffic controllers not working, clerical workers not being able to pay their rent, Coast Guard men and women relying on food banks to survive. Those are indeed risky issues, but the risk isn’t on Democrats, it’s all on Trump.


“Death to America” has a message we should hear

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The first time I heard crowds chanting “Death to America” was when I was a little kid in the 1950s, and Vice President Nixon was touring South America. (Actually, the chant was “Death to Nixon,” but it was close enough.)

Nixon’s 1958 “goodwill tour” resulted in anything but; he was almost killed by enraged crowds that surrounded his car. Oddly enough, the attacks took place in a country with which America today is again in dispute: Venezuela. The incident brought the two countries close to war; the Navy sent “fleet and Marine units to the region,” and while Nixon was uninjured, his reputation, already none too good, was further damaged. For Americans, it was a wakeup call that our country was not universally beloved, as we had been taught in school and supposed it to be.

“Death to America” in more modern times was resuscitated in the Iran Revolution of 1979, when Iranian students sieged the U.S. embassy and took 52 Americans hostage. Thanks to television, we were treated nightly to the sight and sound of thousands of [mainly] young, irate Iranians, chanting their familiar cry: Death to America!, and burning the U.S. flag. The Iranians have basically never stopped since, and, with Trump’s pulling out of the Iranian nuclear deal and reimposing sanctions on that country, crowds are again mobilizing and chanting.

It’s shocking for Americans to hear foreigners say bad things about us. We tend to think of the U.S. as a benign country, always trying to do the right thing, helping foreigners when calamities strike, defending them against bad guys, and upholding universal values of peace, democracy and progress. Why would they be so ungrateful? Why wouldn’t everybody see us the way see ourselves?

Over the weekend, a new facet of “Death to America” emerged in Iran. Before, its implication had been “death” to ALL Americans: the people, the institutions, the nation itself. Which is why it was so easy for politicians in both parties to rally the American people against Iran. Presidents, Democratic and Republican, portrayed it as an existential threat, although Republicans have typically more bellicose (remember George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil”?).

But what’s noteworthy about the weekend’s round of chanting was that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, took the time to explain that it wasn’t America as a whole he wanted death for. “It means death to American leaders, who happen to be these people at this time,” he said, “these people” specifically being Trump, John Bolton and Mike Pompeo.

This is an important clarification from the Islamic Republic. Khamenei is signaling that his issue is not with America or the American people, but with three individuals who—let’s face it—are as unpopular with the American public as they are in Iran. The loathing of Trump by a majority of Americans is obvious and mounting. Pompeo is relatively unknown to the population beyond his being the current Secretary of State, but knowledgeable people understand that he’s the kind of neocon who led us into the catastrophe of the Iraq War, and a white nationalist who eggs on Trump’s worst instincts. As for Bolton, he’s an utter fool, described by the New York Times as “likely to lead the country into war.”

Well, some say, that’s the “fake news” leftwing New York Times. But even as firm a conservative bastion as the wonks at Foreign Policy magazine call Bolton a “national security threat.” His is a name Americans ought to be more aware of, and afraid of.

America has a long history of meddling in the affairs of other counties. George Washington, in his Farewell Address, sternly warned the American people to steer clear of foreign entanglements, the sole exception being if we were attacked. Referring to “the insidious wiles of foreign influence,” Washington described “foreign influence,” by which he meant political involvement, as “one of the most baneful foes of republican [i.e. small “r”] government”; and in words that ring down through the centuries, he warned his successors: “Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other.”

Our first President did not mean that America should wall herself off from the rest of the world and turn isolationist. He valued “commercial relations” with other countries, but “with…as little political connection as possible.” Trade is good; political engagements are bad. “Here let us stop.”

Yet America did not stop. Iran, Argentina, Cuba, Egypt, Guatamala, Congo, Dominican Republic, South Vietnam, Brazil, Chile, Grenada, Venezuela, and who knows how many others—all are countries in which the U.S. sponsored coups d’état, or otherwise sought to undermine.

The U.S. is hardly the only major power with a long record of overseas meddling. But no country has outdone America in this respect. Other countries, rightfully, resent us for it. When they say we are trying to impose our values upon them, they have it exactly right. Not all of our cultural values—commercialism, consumerism, anti-intellectualism, disregard for the environment, widespread criminality, horrendous wealth inequality, disrespect for the aged, homophobia, religious interference in government—are admirable. And not all of the values of foreign nations are odious, as American xenophobes tend to claim.

To heed Khomenei’s words is neither to support his regime nor to hate America. It is instead to rein in our meddling in other countries that pose little or no threat to us, and to diagnose our own ills which foreign countries do not wish to import.


Shithole countries, revisited

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I was trying to recall all the smug, vulgar insults Trump has spewed over the years. There are so many! “Rapists and murderers” about Mexicans was one. “Grab their pussies” was one. “Blood coming out of her whatever” about Megyn Kelly. “Would anyone vote for that?” about Carly Fiorina’s face. “Thousands of people were cheering as that building came down” about Jersey City Muslims “celebrating” 9/11. “Just knock the hell — I promise you, I will pay the legal fees,” about Republican thugs beating up protesters at his rallies. And, of course, “good people on both sides” after Charlottesville. But for me, “Shithole countries” sums up everything hideously wrong about Trump.

He said it last year about immigrants from Haiti and Africa. “Why do we want these people from shithole countries coming here?” he said in a meeting that included his new best friend forever, the confirmed bachelor Lindsay Graham, who has yet to say anything on the record about being bothered. It may be that racism still plays well in South Carolina.

Of all the fucked up stuff from Trump, “shithole countries” encapsulates him. It’s anti-Black, for starters–dismissive of entire populations of human beings. It’s the essence of white supremacy, the same Anglo-Saxon arrogance that drove Adolf Hitler to exterminate millions of “inferior” beings. It’s incredibly ignorant. It’s pandering to his base. And it plays into the fact that his father, Fred, was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. The apple seldom falls far from the tree.

All the presidents we’ve known in modern times were aware of the latent racism in America. But all tried their best to steer America away from its worst excesses. Reagan pandered to Southern racists with his Neshoba County campaign speech, but that was about as far as he went on the anti-Black spectrum. Thereafter he backed off. George W. Bush’s policies were of no help to Black Americans, but one never had the sense that the man himself was a racist. Trump is different. His supporters at places like Breitbart, who most definitely are racists, certainly assume that he’s one of them, and with all the dog whistles and coded language, he has done nothing to dissuade them that he’s not. The KKK white nationalists at Charlottesville, egged on by Stephen Bannon, assumed the same thing. This is why racism is crawling out from the rocks under which it usually hides. People who hates Blacks feel emboldened because the President of the United States shares their views.

The white, under-educated, rural conservatives who form Trump’s base are said to be pissed off that “coastal elites” are dismissive of them and their lifestyles. They resent the fact that New Yorkers and San Franciscans consider them “flyover country.” I don’t think that’s true, but it’s what these Southerners and Midwesterners feel, so it’s true for them. Have they ever considered that, if it is true, then coastal residents consider the interior U.S. as “shithole states”? In other words, they support a man who insults foreign countries, but at the same time they resent Americans who insult them. They really can’t have it both ways; what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. And to the extent these same conservatives, in most cases, call themselves “Christian,” they are guilty of violating one of the most profound of Jesus’s teachings: Matthew 25:34, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

These “shithole countries” are poor, destitute, troubled. They are not to the liking of rich white men used to the comforts of a Mar-a-Lago or Trump Tower. In his attitude towards them, Trump displays the typical bigotry of wealthy country club snobs, men who drive from their gated communities to their enclaves of privilege; if they must transit through ghettoes or slums, they roll up the windows and make sure the doors are locked, clucking their tongues all the way: How horrible it is for “these people” to live this way! How fortunate, or talented, I am to have risen to such respectability. Do the Christians of Alabama, Oklahoma, Indiana imagine that their precious Jesus thought that way? He was the first to embrace the unwashed, the rejected, the despised; if he resented any human, it was the wealthy, the Trumps of ancient Judea and Samaria, the money-changers who pretended to love God but who by their actions proved they did not.

“Shithole countries.” Let that sink in. This is the President of the United States, not some drunk white nationalist in a dive bar, ranting about “these people.” The President of the United States…although not, perhaps, for much longer.


Why I am a Democrat

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I was raised to have great respect, even reverence, for the President of the United States, no matter who he or she is. My parents were lifelong Democrats, my father more out of habit, my mother because she had thought long and hard about things and decided that the Democratic Party stood more for fairness and decency than the Republican Party, which was as true then as it is now. My mother communicated those values to me, not so much pedagogically, but in that mysterious way that parents teach their children.

My mother’s experience of politics was influenced by the Depression and by World War II. The Depression taught her that “normal” solutions to economic and political crises sometimes don’t work; exceptional times call for exceptional approaches. That’s why she revered Franklin Delano Roosevelt. She understood that the New Deal was the kind of radical intervention that America needed to save itself from the excesses of capitalism.

FDR died before I was born. By the time I was a little boy, Adlai Stevenson had replaced FDR in my mother’s heart. She was simply and unabashedly in love with him—as, it turned out, many women were. At the same time, my mother loathed Thomas Dewey, who had been our Governor in New York, and had run for president against Truman in 1948. Dewey and Stevenson formed the guardrails of my budding appreciation of politics: Dewey the Republican bad, Stevenson the Democrat good.

These were childish apprehensions. They took no notice of nuance. I was strongly in favor of John F. Kennedy for the 1960 election, but if you’d asked me why, I don’t think I could have given you a coherent answer, except for the fact that he was young, vigorous, handsome and forward-thinking. Those were qualities that appealed to a young Baby Boomer. I was just turned 13.

The Sixties interfered with my appreciation of politics. I took a bit of a sabbatical, focusing instead on more spiritual and cultural issues. When Nixon was elected, I had no horse in the race. I kept very close attention to the burgeoning Watergate situation, however, and in my circle I was the guy who could explain to my friends what was going on. But it wasn’t until the 1978 primaries that for the first time since JFK I took notice of who was running and what they were saying. I fell in love with Jimmy Carter. His honesty and sincerity turned me on; and of course, he was elected. By the 1980 election, I was for him, although I wasn’t particularly turned off by Reagan. Reagan won. I didn’t care all that much. As a newly minted career climber, lately arrived in San Francisco, I was busy focusing on my own stuff.

In 1988 I happened to see an interview on C-SPAN where Brian Lamb interviewed the Governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton. It was like the lightbulb went off over my head. Wow. I knew that was the guy I wanted to be President. I wrote him a letter (addressed only to Bill Cllnton, Little Rock) saying so. He wrote back; I still have the letter. Four years later he was elected President, and I have never looked back on my commitment to the Democratic Party.

In 2000, I didn’t vote for George W. Bush but I never hated on him. I saw in him a good man. We differed on many issues, but I didn’t think he was evil. He seemed to love America, which I do too. I thought his religious attraction to evangelicism perverted his views on things, especially homosexuality, but by then I was mature enough to realize that reasonable people can disagree. By the time the Bush presidency was over and the 2008 election was upon us, I was a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton, so I was disappointed when she lost the nomination to Obama. But it didn’t take me long to fall in love with Obama, and when he won—I’ll never forget him walking onstage in Chicago with Michelle and the girls—I was on my feet in front of the T.V., tears falling down my face.

We’ll have to leave it to historians to decide on the Obama presidency, but in my opinion, he was a near-great. I thought Bill Clinton had kept the flame of liberalism alive while the winds of reaction tried to snuff it out. With Obama, I saw him struggle to advance the cause. He might have been braver, more daring; but he was a bulwark for liberalism, which was under constant attack.

Then came Trump. My mother, steeped in the tradition of liberality and decency, would have loathed him. I’m glad she’s not here to witness this abomination. Even before Trump won with the help of the Russians, I knew he was a disaster. For the first time in my life—and I’m almost 73—I hated the President of the United States. But my hatred isn’t permanent. I still have a deep well of reverence for the office. It won’t take much for me to once again esteem him or her. But not while this vile person occupies the Oval Office.

My candidate for 2020? Any Democrat. I’m liking Sherrod Brown. He should take a woman for Vice President. Who? There’s a lot to be worked out between now and the summer of 2020, when Democrats hold their convention, but the choices seem to be Klobuchar, Gillibrand and Kamala Harris. Meanwhile, I am sooooo thankful that the House of Representatives is resuming real investigations of Trump and his family and associates—investigations that colluding Republicans tried to smother when they ran things. Trump’s attempts to stop or smear the investigations are futile. Let us see his taxes! Tick tick tick…


Trump’s #sad State of the Union

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I did not watch Trump’s State of the Union show last night. I just couldn’t. The advance notice, based on White House information, said he was going to issue a “call for unity,” and this in particular is infuriating. (I know I shouldn’t let Trump make me so emotional, but he just does…) How dare this demagogue, the most vulgar, insulting and divisive president in U.S. history, talk about “unity”? That’s like Charlie Manson inviting the LaBianca family survivors to a dinner party. “Can’t we all get along?”

There is no unity and will not be until this felonious braggart is gone and punished. There can be no “forgive and forget.” Trump has caused too much misery and destruction. His words of conciliation ring hollow—no, not just “hollow,” but cynical in the extreme. Donald J. Trump has never been conciliatory with anyone—not his ex-wives, whom he routinely cheated on; not his business partners or customers, whom he repeatedly ripped off; not his “enemies” in the Democratic Party, whom he insults and smears at every turn; and certainly not the American people, to whom he compulsively lies; not even, probably, in his divided mind, with himself.

Conciliation implies repentance. Does anyone truly believe that Donald Trump repents about anything? Does anyone think he’s ever asked for forgiveness from man or God? Does anyone think he’s ever felt shame? True, he has experienced embarrassment, such as after the Access Hollywood tape came out (and he will experience much more embarrassment as the facts of his criminal behavior emerge). But embarrassment isn’t the same as shame. Embarrassment is being caught doing something nasty; the result is a red face. Shame is the moral judgment one imposes upon oneself, followed by, hopefully, self-improvement. Trump is amoral, incapable of moral self-scrutiny. Everybody, including his dwindling band of supports, knows this.

Like everything else Trump does to try to take the spotlight off his scandals, the State of the Union was a piece of ephemera—gauzy, momentary, fleeting and, almost instantly, irrelevant. Trump keeps on thinking he can do something to get out of his mess. It’s amusing to watch him: the analogies pile up. A worm squirming on a hook? A bug about to be crushed? A cornered rat? It may be that in the future a new adjective will be in use: Trumpian, to describe the last, desperate moments of an individual in imminent danger. We had Hitler in his bunker, losing his mind as he wrote out a Last Will and Testament that had meaning only in his deranged, panicked mind. And now we have Trump, going quietly bonkers, forgetting that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Trump keeps on lying, stalling for time, pretending to be conciliatory, pandering to his base’s worst instincts, damaging the presidency, and hoping that “the investigations” he derides will go away, or that Democrats—scared by his threat that there will be “no legislation” until they do—drop them.

There is no chance of that. The investigations are speeding up in the House of Representatives, as well they should; this is why Americans voted for Democrats last November. If there is “no legislation” the public will know exactly whom to blame; and it won’t be Democrats.


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