A Different Perspective on the Second Amendment – posted 4/13/2019

April 13, 2019 3 comments

Mass shootings have become institutionalized as an almost normal part of American life, as have the responses to such shootings. After each massacre, victims, their families and gun control advocates bemoan the latest atrocity and call for background checks and a ban on assault weapons. Gun rights advocates oppose such reforms and stand behind the Second Amendment.

The same scenario plays out, over and over, with the Second Amendment a powerful impediment, blocking any gun control measures.

The Second Amendment states: “ A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Adopted in 1791, the author, James Madison, wanted to empower state militias, which today are considered the National Guard.

Much of public discussion about the Second Amendment has focused on the militia clause and whether that was intended to limit the scope of the amendment. Whatever one thinks about it, the U.S. Supreme Court settled that question in its 2008 Heller decision, holding that the Second Amendment guarantees the right for every individual, with some limited exceptions, to bear arms.

However, what is not discussed is why the Second Amendment was enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. For all that has been written about it, there has been relatively little discussion about the reasons for the inclusion of that amendment. The conventional view has been that the Second Amendment was there so that people have a right to defend themselves against tyranny. Many colonists had come to America to escape oppressive regimes and absolute monarchies in mainland Europe.

The Native American historian and writer, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz has articulated a provocative and different perspective on why there was a Second Amendment placed so prominently in the Bill of Rights. In her book, Loaded, she argues that the Second Amendment enshrined an individual gun right to allow settlers to form volunteer militias to attack Indians and take their land.

The settlers needed guns for the western expansion of the United States, a massively popular enterprise. The land west of the original thirteen colonies was not an empty wilderness, devoid of population. Many tribes had developed their own nations where they had lived for generations.

The colonial settlers formed militias for the purpose of raiding and razing indigenous communities and seizing their land and resources. The colonists needed the Second Amendment to carry out and legitimate their mission.

This was a project against which Native Americans fought back. Dunbar-Ortiz cites the resistance of such leaders as Buckongehelas of the Delaware, Little Turtle and Blue Jacket of the Miami Shawnee alliance, Joseph Brant of the Mohawk, Complanter of the Seneca as well as the great Tecumseh and the Shawnee-led Confederation of the Ohio Valley.

The Eastern half of the continent was ethnically cleansed of Native Americans by 1850, which forced their relocation to “Indian Country” west of the Mississippi River. Looking at the genocide committed against Native Americans, the Second Amendment can be placed in historical perspective. It needs to be seen in the context of westward expansion and the Indian wars.

Those who like to put a halo on the Constitution and the Second Amendment are not looking at it historically. Whatever its merits and wisdom, there is a very dark side.

Both our revolutionary army and the squatter-settlers used extreme violence against Native Americans, both combatants and non-combatants, with the goal of total domination. Ironically, the settlers justified their violence on the racist basis that they were fighting “savages”.

We have a blind spot in looking at American history. People feel badly about the outcome of what happened to Native Americans but we expunge the vigilante violence that was a big part of the genocide. It is a form of historical amnesia where dark truths are disappeared. Gun rights were inextricably entwined with stealing Indian land and forcibly removing and relocating tribes.

Dunbar-Ortiz also argues that the Second Amendment provided slavers with the means to enforce slavery. She cites slave patrols which were part of the policing of African Americans. In the slave colonies, if slaves attempted to escape, until the end of the Civil War, individuals could claim a reward for capture of the escapee. After the Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan replaced the slave patrols. Gun rights were central to the Klan mission.

Many gun rights supporters will strongly reassert that we need the Second Amendment to protect against tyrannical government now. They will also justify their personal arsenals on the basis of that right. However, that argument makes no sense when you consider the Second Amendment’s origins.

In America’s early years, once independence was assured, the colonists faced no domestic threat of an out-of-control central government. The colonists were far more focused on westward expansion and confronting the Indians. The British Monarch, King George III, had earlier unsuccessfully tried to stop the American expansion.

Manifest Destiny was the agenda of the colonists. The armed American militias of the 19th century were about conquest of Native land and about the subjugation of African Americans. Our gun culture is steeped in this history of racism.

I think reverence for the Second Amendment is part of our problem around guns. When reasonable gun control reforms are suggested, there is an unjustified reaction, asserting the Second Amendment as some type of almost religious icon. History shows it is anything but that. Laws, even constitutional amendments, need to be seen and understood within the context of when they were created.

A historical appreciation of the Second Amendment should lead to an end to its deification and more support for gun control reforms. If we saw the racist and militarist reasons for the Second Amendment, there would be much less sanctimony around its discussion. That alone would move the debate forward and would make gun control reform a more viable option.

Categories: Uncategorized

My remarks about my friend, Alan West – posted 4/6/2019

April 6, 2019 1 comment

Alan was my gym friend. We met years ago, working out at the Hogan Center of Colby-Sawyer College in New London, NH. While Alan often went off on long periods on the stairmaster. we typically each did the elliptical next to each other and we talked.

In our conversations, we learned some incredibly surprising things. It turned out that our lives had overlapped in the past. We both broke the sex line. I am not saying we became transexual. In our junior year in college, Alan at Dartmouth and me at Trinity, we both transferred to Wellesley College.

We were both among the first 18 men who ever went to Wellesley College. There were 1800 women.

Alan and I compared notes and even though we could not remember each other, we lived in the same dorm and knew quite a few of the same people.

I think the odds for that happening were infinitesimally small. But that connection led to years of joking and goofing around about it. Wellesley has not been in touch with us though.

Alan was a great friend – funny, caring and thoughtful. We had great fun joking with our other gym friend, Ron Clark. Al and I were on the progressive side and Ron is a Trump supporter and we had hilarious conversations as Ron is the most entertaining Trump supporter I know. In fact, he may be the only Trump supporter I know.

Al liked to tease and he had the best laugh. We discussed important topics like the invisibility of men over age 55 to women.

He was a puzzle guy. There were always puzzles at Hogan and Alan spent much time putting them together.

I have to say that when Priscilla sent me Alan’s obituary, I was pretty shocked. I really had no idea about many of Alan’s accomplishments. He was genuinely one of the most modest people ever. Totally down to earth and friendly to all.

As we were both federal employees, I also have to say that I am grateful to Alan for his good judgment and his helpful suggestions. I write, and Alan, knowing the federal landscape, had good sense about how to avoid getting into trouble with our employers. He knew the federal government scene well.

I work with disabled people and Alan was a clinical psychologist and had much experience dealing with mental illness. It was always insightful to talk to him if there was a sticky case because he had seen a lot and had wisdom to share.

I respected the way Alan dealt with his illness which could not have been easy for him. He was a self-disciplined man. He always showed up at the gym. I never saw any self-pity. He could be depressed but his family and especially Priscilla helped him enormously. He was very proud of his kids too. That helped him cope.

It is very hard to not have him there. There is a void.

I wanted to end with this quote from Henry David Thoreau:

“My friend is not of some other race or family of men, but flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone. He is my real brother. I see his nature groping yonder so like mine. We do not live far apart. Have not the fates associated us in many ways? Is it of no significance that we have so long partaken of the same loaf, drank at the same fountain, breathed the same air, summer and winter, felt the same heat and cold; that the same fruits have been pleased to refresh us both, and we have never had a thought of different fibre the one from the other?…
As surely as the sunset in my latest November shall translate me to the ethereal world, and remind me of the ruddy morning of youth; as surely as the last strain of music which falls on my decaying ear shall make age to be forgotten, or, in short, the manifold influences of nature survive during the term of our natural life, so surely my Friend shall forever be my Friend, and reflect a ray of God to me, and time shall foster and adore and consecrate our Friendship, no less than the rules of temples. As I love nature, as I love singing birds and gleaming stubble, and flowing rivers and morning and evening, and winter and summer, I love thee, my Friend.”

Alan, I will miss you.

Categories: Uncategorized

Depressing the Count: The Census Citizenship Question – posted 3/31/2019 and published in the Concord Monitor on 4/7/2019

March 31, 2019 3 comments

One of the most consequential cases coming before the U.S. Supreme Court this spring term is the Commerce Department’s effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

When you clear away the fog, the case is really about the Trump Administration’s effort to depress response levels by immigrant communities, particularly Latinos, to the census. They will, of course, say the citizenship question was not politically motivated.

In the trial on the case held in federal court in New York, the Census Bureau’s own experts estimated that 6.5 million people were unlikely to respond to the census citizenship question.

Dale Ho, the ACLU lawyer who litigated this case, has said that 6.5 million would be equal to our 18th largest state. If these people lived in one state,  they would be represented by nine seats in Congress and eleven electoral votes.

Immigrant communities rightly fear that the Trump Administration will use census data to track people down. While it is illegal for the Census Bureau to release data on specific households, the unprecedented hostility to immigrants demonstrated by the Trump Administration has led many immigrant households to worry that their disclosures could be handed over to ICE.

Unfortunately there is precedent: during the Japanese-American internment, the government used census data to identify people. That is why, among others, some Japanese-Americans have been speaking out against the inclusion of a citizenship question in the census. In 1943, the Census Bureau gave the Secret Service a list of name, addresses, citizenship status and other personal information of people of Japanese ancestry in the Washington DC area. Japanese-American citizens were then rounded up.

If there were a significant undercount of U.S. residents, the census would have an enormous effect. The census is used to determine congressional apportionment for the next decade. California, New York, Arizona, and Texas could lose seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as lose federal dollars.

Census data could influence the allocation of more than $800 billion in federal government resources to states, localities and families every year. Census data helps state and local officials identify both current and future needs for the communities they serve.

It is not hyperbole to recognize that the stakes are immense.

The U.S. Constitution requires a census every ten years of all persons living in the country for the purpose of apportioning states in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Constitution explicitly requires an “actual enumeration” of “all persons”. That means the actual number of persons who reside in each state.

In adopting the Fourteenth Amendment, Congress rejected proposals to allocate seats in the House based on voter-eligible population, rather than total population.

Congress has the authority to conduct the census and Congress has delegated the task to the Secretary of Commerce. That delegation is subject to further legal requirements, including compliance with the Census Act and the Administrative Procedures Act or APA. The APA does require that the Secretary be truthful about the reasons for his or her inclusions in the census.

In January of this year, after a two week trial, Federal Court Judge Jesse M. Furman blocked the Commerce Department’s effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. In a 277 page decision. Judge Furman found that the government and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had acted improperly. The Court found the inclusion of the citizenship question was arbitrary and made in spite of overwhelming evidence the question would depress census response.

Judge Furman noted that the Census Bureau itself had strenuously objected to Secretary Ross’s plan because they believed that adding the question would harm the quality of census data and would increase costs significantly.

In his decision, Judge Furman specifically ruled that Ross had violated the APA, which governs how agencies exercise their powers. The APA outlines the requirement to be truthful in the reasons behind a rule. Here is how Judge Furman summarized Ross’s role:

“[Ross] failed to consider several important aspects of the problem, alternately ignored, cherry-picked, or badly misconstrued the evidence in the record before him; acted irrationally both in light of that evidence and his own stated decisional criteria; and failed to justify significant departures from past policies and practices.”

The Court ruled that Ross’s purported reason for adding the citizenship question – to enforce the Voting Rights Act – was “pretextual”, a made-up excuse. In the record there was much evidence of bad faith by Ross. He had denied to Congress in testimony that he had had conversations with the White House about the citizenship census question. That was a lie.

The records show Ross had spoken to Steve Bannon, White House advisor at the time, and Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State. Kobach has been a player in schemes around voter suppression.

Emails showed Ross had been asking around for months about adding a citizenship question. He pushed for it and then added a rationale.

Unfortunately, the plaintiffs in the case never had the opportunity to depose Secretary Ross as the government successfully fought off the deposition.

The case is now heading to the Supreme Court where the Trump Administration hopes it has five friends. Because census forms need to be printed in summer or fall at the latest, the case is on a fast track, skipping the normal appellate procedure which would typically have required a circuit court decision after the trial court. Oral argument is scheduled for late April and a written opinion by June.

There is a risk of a failed census in 2020. Or if not a failed census, an inaccurate and unreliable one, with a variety of harmful consequences. Accuracy goes hand in hand with fairness.

Congress did not help things when it decreed in 2014 that the 2020 census should cost no more than the 2010 count, without adjusting for inflation. The General Accountability Office already designated the 2020 census as one of those few federal programs at high risk of failure.

An undercount in the census would likely harm immigrant (particularly Latino) populations as they would face reduced funding and less political representation. Already marginalized populations would become further under-represented and under-resourced.

Under the cloud surrounding the 2020 Census, it is easy to imagine people freaking out at the sight of census correspondence. The arrival of census takers at the front door would also not be a welcome sight for many.

There will be no way to fix a census undercount. Whatever the Supreme Court ultimately decides, the accuracy of the census remains a critical question that will determine its credibility and the degree to which there will be political and economic fairness over the next decade across the U.S..

Categories: Uncategorized

How the 1% Stay the 1% – posted 3/17/2019 and published in the Concord Monitor on 3/24/2019

March 17, 2019 1 comment

Sometimes a story comes along that exposes deep, dark realities that typically remain hidden. Such a story is the college admissions scandal the FBI code-named Operation Varsity Blues.

While popular mythology and conventional thinking tout America as a meritocracy where anyone can get ahead based on their hard work and talent, this scandal presents a very different picture. It reveals that admission to elite colleges in the U.S. is a stacked deck, rigged to benefit wealthy white students.

According to the New York Times, at 38 top-tier colleges including Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth and the University of Pennsylvania, there are more students from the top 1% of families by income than there are from the bottom 60 percent. Both class and racial inequalities are reflected in which students are admitted to and graduate from our nation’s elite schools.

It is not a simple story; there are always exceptional students from low income families who get into elite colleges, but they are the exception to the rule. The larger pattern though is about class privilege and about how rich families are given preferential treatment or are able to game the system.

Rich people who are born into privilege already have a big edge in college admissions. Maybe it is stating the obvious but elite colleges have become extremely expensive. Even with some financial aid, just to be able to come up with a means to pay the cost at many colleges, let alone elite colleges, is daunting. The cost is too much for many prospective candidates. Having the means to pay full freight is no small thing since otherwise we are talking significant debt.

A close look at Operation Varsity Blues provides a window into the elite college admissions world. The FBI arrested 50 people, including some Hollywood stars and 13 college coaches. The gist of what was going on was very wealthy people paying a guy named Rick Singer, who billed himself as a college counseling consultant, big bucks to buy entrance into some of the most prestigious colleges.

Singer’s clients were paying him between $100,000 and $6.5 million based on a guarantee that he could get their child into an elite school. Most paid between $250,000 and $400,000. Singer had quite an array of schemes. While the allegations against Singer have yet to be proven, here are some of the alleged frauds.

Singer paid ringer stand-ins to take the ACT and SAT test. He bribed test proctors and arranged for them to correct wrong answers. He instructed parents to lie and say their children had learning disabilities. Then kids were given accommodations to take tests in individualized settings, sometimes over two days, with only a proctor present.

Singer also paid bribes to college sports coaches. He would get students designated as recruited athletes, even when they were not athletes. He and the parents would photoshop faces onto athletic bodies and would create fake athletic profiles. Singer made about $25 million from this business.

I thought the sharpest comment about the scandal that I have seen came from Susan Dynarski, a professor at the University of Michigan.

“This scandal is just the extreme, the illegal extreme, but it’s a continuum with legacy admission, with Jared Kushner, with all these other thumbs on the scale that wealthy kids get that are legal.”

Dynarski described legacy admission as “affirmative action for people who’ve had a very privileged life”. She has written that legacies (children of graduates) at Harvard are accepted at five times the rate of non-legacies. That pattern likely holds true at other elite colleges.

A recent lawsuit against Harvard’s admissions revealed that the college maintained a secret list of applicants who are relatives of major donors. Students on the donor list have a 40% acceptance rate. Harvard accepts 4.6% of students who apply.

Legacy admission is really a form of bribery. Colleges see such students as revenue generators for their institution. If a student who is a legacy cannot be accepted, elite colleges may ask them to take a “gap year” and enter a year later. This is called “Z-listing”.

The fact of Z-listing came out in a recent affirmative action lawsuit against Harvard. For years Harvard denied the existence of Z-listing. Z-listing is, in fact, a preferential program for white, wealthy and well-connected students.

Even if you are not a legacy, if your parents can cough up a major donation, your chance of admission skyrockets; the larger the donation, the greater the certainty of admission. Consider Jared Kushner. Kushner’s father gave Harvard $2.5 million around the time of his admission to the college.

In his book, The Price of Admission, Daniel Golden quotes administrators at Kushner’s private high school, the Frisch School, in Paramus New Jersey.

“There was no way anybody in the administrative office of the school thought he would on the merits get into Harvard. His GPA did not warrant it, his SAT scores did not warrant it. We thought for sure, there was no way this was going to happen.Then, lo and behold, Jared was accepted.”

The Kushner example represents a form of corruption that is deeply unfair to hard-working low and middle-income students with better grades and SAT scores. Money talks though and inferior students like Kushner bribe their way into Harvard. It is pay for play. Donations by wealthy parents, in effect, rob other students of their right to a fair shot at admission.

The corruption aside, the other advantages of wealth deserve mention. If you are rich enough, you will have coaches, tutors, test prep courses, opportunities to play more expensive and exclusive sports like water polo, squash, and golf and you will have social networking connections. Maybe you belong to the same country club and you get to socialize with alumni who can put in a good word for you. All those things are an edge in a competitive battle.

Private prep schools also have long-standing connections with the admissions offices of elite colleges that grease the path to admission. The great majority of public schools have none of that.

Another dimension of the separate college admission for the wealthy is how admission at a top-tier college catapults students into high-powered positions in the corporate world and finance. Part of the conceit is that they are the best and the brightest when the truth is they are instead the better connected and richest.

This scandal also points to how misplaced criticisms have been about affirmative action for minority students where there was an effort to remedy a historic injustice. The real and much more widespread affirmative action has been on behalf of wealthy white students. That has played out in front of our eyes for decades without drawing the scrutiny and criticism it deserved.

This story is about how the ruling class in America reproduces itself. Whether you call it the ruling class, the 1% or the power elite, this class of people has an enormous sense of entitlement. For some of them, it was too risky to chance admission to the Harvards, Yales, and Princetons. They had to buy it. Maintaining power and privilege is not only about the cash, it is also about opportunity-hoarding.

For the 99%, we need to recognize this aspect of an ongoing class struggle that we have been losing for decades. Understanding the continuing and accelerating inequality in our society today is just the first step to working for change so that fairness and equality for all will one day disrupt and destroy the prevalence of wealthy white privilege.

Categories: Uncategorized

Immigration Misconceptions – posted 3/9/2019 and published in the Concord Monitor on 3/17/2019

March 9, 2019 Leave a comment

The lawyer and activist, Bryan Stevenson, has written that there is a narrative war going on about American politics and history. He cites the example of slavery and the Civil War. Stevenson says that the North won the Civil War but the South won the narrative war. He says that the South was able to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court that racial equality was not necessary.

The end result was another 100 years of white supremacy, mass lynchings and segregation. There was never any real accountability until the Civil Rights movement.

I think current debate about immigration reflects a new incarnation of the same narrative war Stevenson wrote about. To one side, the United States faces an invasion of illegal immigrants. This is certainly the view of President Trump and his Republican allies.

In this view, Latin America is sending its criminal element here. As Trump famously said, “They’re bringing drugs, crime and are rapists”. Trump has consistently talked about vicious crimes and murders committed by illegal immigrants. Trump has tried to ramp up fear that undocumented immigrants will murder Americans.

Last October, when the the migrant caravans headed north toward the United States, Trump described caravan members as “stone cold criminals” and “Middle Easterners”. It was a big part of his fear-based pitch to voters in the 2018 mid-term elections.

It needs to be said that everything about this view is wrong. It does not make sense of the most basic facts. The pattern of who is immigrating to the United States has changed dramatically. There are fewer male migrants in their 20’s and 30’s and many more families, women and children making the trek to our Southern border. A very large proportion are asylum seekers.

In the three Latin American countries – Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala – the so-called Northern Triangle, there has been a dramatic deterioration in the quality of life. The enormous growth of criminal gangs has made life there much less secure and more dangerous. Violence is widespread in the region. These countries are located between the main producers of cocaine – Columbia, Peru and Bolivia – and the main seller, Mexico. The United States remains the largest consumer of cocaine in the world.

To understand why life in Central America has become so hellish, the geography matters. The Northern Triangle is right in the middle of the drug market, with drugs making their way north to the United States.

While the story is complicated, we in the United States bear responsibility for the dire economic conditions in the region. The wars in Central America that we funded left a devastated economic landscape. Sad to say but the gangs in Latin America may represent the best employment opportunity for young people since there are few options. The average citizen of the Northern Triangle countries gets no protection from the drug traffickers who have been running wild.

As the writer, Roberto Saviano has written, the Honduran migrant caravan from last October was the largest flight from drug trafficking in history.

Migrant caravan members were actually crime victims – not perpetrators. People joined together in a caravan for protection from the gangs and drug traffickers in their home countries. The five countries in Latin America – El Salvador, Honduras, Venezuela, Mexico and Guatemala have the biggest organized crime problem in the world.

When some Americans complain about why immigrants cannot come to the United States legally, they misunderstand the situation faced by the Latin American immigrants. Latin Americans are not joining caravans and coming here just for the better opportunities represented by life in the United States. People are facing dire existential threats from criminal gangs who have made life in their home countries intolerable and impossibly dangerous.

The view that immigrants trying to escape drug traffickers and gangs are criminals is a complete misreading of what is actually happening. Local police in Latin America are failing to offer protection for those threatened by violence. As many as 95% of crimes go unpunished.

In 2013, the Attorney General of Honduras, Luis Alberti Rubi, announced that law enforcement there had the manpower to investigate only about 20 percent of the nation’s murders. He was saying 80 percent of murders would go unpunished. Imagine if our attorney general made a similar announcement here. Such a declaration would be seen correctly as a confession of abject failure to protect the people.

Strong gang presence in Latin America has meant competition for territorial and economic control through extortion, kidnapping and the retail sale of drugs. Staying safe and avoiding being targeted in the midst of all these dangers is not easy. The criminal gangs have made violent threats and sexual assaults common.

When Latin Americans seek to come to the United. States, they are following in exactly the same tradition as earlier waves of immigrants to America. Our great grandfathers and grandmothers who came to America did not have visas and passports. They got the money together for boat fare and they came.

The concept of “legality” is relatively new. Between 1880 and World War I, almost 25 million Europeans immigrated to the United State. They were not standing in some mythological line of legality, waiting their turn. There were no illegal immigrants then because there was no law making immigration illegal for Europeans. That remained true until 1924.

The government excluded only 1% of the 25 million European immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island before World War I and that was mostly for health reasons.

Pinning the label “illegal” on immigrants trying to escape extreme violence themselves is a technique that criminalizes and allows Trump and his supporters to avoid any effort to understand actual circumstances. It also bypasses the legal issue of asylum and whether large numbers of the Latin American immigrants qualify under current law.

The zero tolerance policy toward asylum represented by the Trump Administration is inconsistent with our best traditions. During his tenure, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions dramatically narrowed the grounds allowed for asylum by opining that gang violence (and domestic violence) could no longer be a legitimate basis for a claim of persecution.

Sessions’ opinion could not come at a more harmful time for those trying to escape the gangs in their home countries. Sessions obscured the reality that denial of asylum may well mean return to places where the asylum seeker gets killed by the criminal gangs that they tried to escape.

Equally repellent is the view being promoted of immigrants who have made it into the United States. To quote President Trump in his January argument for the border wall:

“Over the years, thousands of Americans have been brutally killed by those who illegally entered our country and thousands more lives will be lost if we don’t act right now.”

Contrary to the President’s assertions, the vast majority of research finds that immigrants are less likely to cause crime and they are also less likely to be incarcerated than their native-born peers. The desire to stay in the United States is a powerful incentive away from crime.

The negative fear-based view of immigrants often shows up in New Hampshire in any article that mentions Lawrence Ma. Usually, the only thing mentioned is drugs and drug deaths of hundreds of Granite Staters. As someone, who has worked in Lawrence daily for the last 8 years, I resent the unfair portrayal of the city. I wonder if those who trash the city have ever been there. Like other working class communities, Lawrence has many hard working people who are trying to get their piece of the American dream.

Focus on Lawrence as a drug den is extremely one-sided. New Hampshire is not the pure victim being harmed by immigrants from south of the border.

Immigration is a topic where partisans see what they want to see. Fear has been replacing understanding and the narrative war continues.

Categories: Uncategorized

The Democrats and the need for an anti-interventionist foreign policy – posted 2/17/2019 and published in the Concord Monitor on 2/28/2019

February 17, 2019 1 comment

With more Democrats announcing their candidacy for President everyday, one central policy question emerges: will the Democrats in 2020 pursue a foreign policy that is different than the Republicans?

A strong argument can be made that unlike on domestic policy, where there are stark differences, the two parties have a one-party foreign policy. Prior to the 2016 presidential election, it was not apparent that there was any difference between Trump and Clinton. As a supporter of the Iraq War and as a foreign policy hawk, Clinton was in a weak position to offer an alternative to Trump.

In 2018, when Republicans pushed increasing the military budget $165 billion over two years, hardly any Democrats opposed it.

The Democrats need to go a different route in 2020. Instead of mimicking Republicans, Democrats should pursue a fundamentally different, less interventionist foreign policy. The Democrats must act to cut the military budget. The world has dramatically changed since the end off the Cold War but both parties continue to act like the same circumstances are at play.

Instead of learning from historical experience, neither party has integrated lessons that should have been learned from our disastrous military interventions of the last sixty years. With our web of military bases all over the world, we prepare to intervene in every hotspot worldwide, immediately, if any threat is perceived.

Both our experiences in Vietnam and Iraq should dictate a more modest and strategically smart foreign policy. America cannot be the world’s policeman. We should have learned that lesson but we haven’t. There is a mystifying lack of discussion about strategy in what we are trying to accomplish internationally.

No clear goals are articulated. Confusion reigns as to where our national security faces a real threat. Trump’s foreign policy of cozying up to Putin and dictators everywhere while shredding old alliances stands in opposition to any notion of democratic values. It appears to be Steve Bannon’s dream of a Fascist International.

At the same time, American empire bumps up against so many nation’s rights to self-determination. Politicians throw money at the Pentagon, not wanting to be perceived as weak on defense. The end result is a senseless muddle, leading to a continuation of endless Middle Eastern wars and kneejerk imperialism.

I would submit that learning from the Vietnam and Iraq experiences would move us in a different direction. In both wars, Americans were lied into quagmires, with horrendous unforeseen consequences. Over 58,000 Americans and several million Vietnamese died and for what? The Iraq war has taken and continues to take its own brutal toll. The alleged reason for our intervention was a fraud: there were no weapons of mass destruction.

In both situations, Congress took a back seat to White Houses that lied without compunction. Yet, Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress – not the President – the responsibility to declare war.

You might think the harm caused would have led to a deep reassessment but it has not. We continue to act like it is a Cold War world with threats everywhere. Mention the word “terrorism” and the U.S. military will have an expeditionary force waiting in the wings.

This is not learning from experience. Our real national security threat is climate change. It is not another national state rival or terrorism. The spread of fascist and authoritarian governments around the world is a threat to America but it is not a threat we should be militarily engaging. Protecting human rights, the rule of law and democratic government can best be exported by the power of its practice at home.

Part of what makes the anti-interventionist transition so hard is the economic strength of our military-industrial complex. The weapons industries that feed off war want their gravy train to continue. They lobby hard.

A major challenge is demonstrating how a bloated and overfunded military budget leads to underfunding domestic infrastructure and priorities. There is a direct relationship there. Absurdly, the U.S. government spends more on the military than the next ten nations combined, with minimal public discussion about whether such a level of funding is even reasonable. Hint: it is not.

For anti-interventionists, a great place to begin is challenging current priorities such as U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Here is one summary of that war written by Robert Worth:

“Yemen now has the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the worst cholera outbreak in recorded history and among the highest rate of child malnutrition. An estimated 16 million people, more than half the country’s population are threatened by starvation.”

Unconscionably, America has contributed to the death toll by selling huge quantities of arms to the Saudis which they have used in Yemen. Notably, we have sold fighter planes and the F-15. Saudi Arabia is our number one weapons customer.. The Saudis have earned a reputation for indiscriminate bombing of civilians, using our bombs and cluster munitions. These airstrikes are war crimes. Over the last four years, 10,000 civilians have been killed and 40,000 more have been wounded.

Between April 2015 and October 2018, 84,701 children have died from severe acute malnutrition. Reporters describe skeletal, starving children filling already overcrowded hospitals with huge numbers begging for help everywhere.

The Senate has advanced a resolution to remove most U.S. troops in Yemen and to rescind all U.S. military assistance to Saudi Arabia related to its war in Yemen. Democrats unanimously voted in favor as did some prominent Republicans. The bill passed 56 to 41. The bill is a major step in wresting back some war powers from the executive branch. If the bill passes the House, it will very likely face a veto from President Trump.

Still, for the Democrats, staking out independent stands, like on Yemen, will be most important. The Democrats’ best chance in 2020 is to pose dramatic alternatives to the moral collapse and corruption represented by Trump. It will be interesting to see who will stand for something new and who will represent the same old, same old.

Categories: Uncategorized

Where Immigration Restrictionism Has Led – posted 1/27/2019 and published in the Concord Monitor on 2/17/2019

January 27, 2019 Leave a comment

Those who chant “build the wall” and who favor highly restrictive immigration policy need a history lesson. America has had experience with imposing extremely restrictive immigration quotas. In the period before and during World War II, extreme immigration restrictionism held sway.

The results speak volumes: the restrictive quotas were an unmitigated disaster.

There are some clear parallels between the pre-World War II period and our own time. Because of violence and the threat of persecution, unprecedented numbers became refugees. Americans in the 1930’s and early 1940’s worried refugees would take their jobs. The fear was that new immigrants would compete with low-skilled workers and would drive down wages. High unemployment during the Depression reinforced that fear.

Also, some Americans saw immigrants as threatening the national culture because the immigrants were allegedly not assimilating. Proponents of the 1924 Immigration Act favored Northern Europeans over Jews, Catholics and Italians.

Even before World War II, laws from the 1920’s imposed narrow and specific limits on the number who could immigrate to the United States in any given year. The Immigration Act of 1924 restricted immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, especially Jews. The law also effectively prohibited all Asians from immigrating to America.

Strong currents of nativism led many lawmakers to line up on the immigration restrictionist side. America Firsters of that time saw immigrants as representing a threat to the nation’s well-being.

How this played out for Jews seeking relief from Hitler and the Nazis is an object lesson. While people can rightly point to Nazi antisemitism and the Nazis’ accompanying violence, the sad reality is that it was the American unwillingness to offer refuge that was a central cause of the poor response to the Nazis’ monstrous crimes.

Leading up to World War II and during the war, the American State Department (and the FDR Administration) had no intention of resettling large numbers of European Jews in the United States. In fact, the State Department feared Hitler might release tens of thousands of Jews into Allied hands.

The U.S. government under FDR never developed any contingency plan for large scale Jewish immigration nor did they ever seriously get behind rescue options, even after 1942 when the Nazi extermination plan became widely known.

U.S. government officials also feared German refugees could be spies and they worried such immigrants could threaten national security.

A dark truth is that the United States could have saved thousands of Jews from the Nazis but the immigration restrictionists and their supporters prevented it. Anti-immigrant and antisemitic attitudes were widespread.

In February 1939, two members of Congress, Senator Robert Wagner,a Democrat from New York, and Representative Edith Rogers, a Republican from Massachusetts, introduced a bill to allow an additional 20,000 German Jewish children above the allowed quota to immigrate to the United States.

The bill’s opponents took an America First approach to rejecting refugees. The argument made by opponents was that America should focus on helping its own needy citizens, rather than taking in anyone new. The bill never even made it to a vote in Congress. It did not get out of committee.

A Gallup poll from January 1939 asked if Americans would support bringing even 10,000 German refugee children into the United States. Public opinion ran 2:1 against. While polls were less rigorous in those days, there is little reason to doubt its accuracy.

For those who might think knowledge of the Nazi crimes against the Jews was not sufficiently publicized, I would point out that Kristallnacht happened in November 1938. Kristallnacht was a pogrom in which 267 synagogues throughout Germany and Austria were destroyed or damaged, along with vandalism of 7,000 Jewish businesses. The Nazis arrested 30,000 Jewish men and put them in concentration camps. The Nazis also ransacked Jewish homes, hospitals and schools.

Many newspapers, including the New York Times, reported on Kristallnacht and condemned it. It is a hard argument to say Americans were unaware of the Nazi crimes although many never imagined Nazi persecution would lead to genocide. The sad reality is that Americans remained largely indifferent to the plight of Germany’s Jews.

After Kristallnacht, more Jews fled Germany for survival. Hannah Arendt has described the response to the pre-World War II refugee crisis:

“The refugees were welcomed nowhere and could be assimilated nowhere. Once they had left their homeland, they remained homeless, once they left their state they remained stateless, once they had been deprived of their human rights, they were rightless , the scum of the earth.”

Arendt’s quote speaks directly to our time as well. The view of immigrants she describes could be now. Those who favor the application of international law are demagogued as favoring open borders. Dehumanization of immigrants and a failure to understand the circumstances driving them is the new normal.

After World War II, the United States, in an effort of rectification , advanced asylum law to help people fleeing persecution. There was a desire not to repeat the experience that had befallen Jewish refugees.

Recent experience shows America is backsliding, unlearning the lessons about refugees from World War II. We used to think we had a moral obligation to help people fleeing persecution. Now, on our southern border, our government is repeating the same errors made eighty years ago.

Categories: Uncategorized