Archive for August, 2019

Blue and his sister GB – posted 8/18/2019

August 18, 2019 Leave a comment
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The effort to make asylum impossible – posted 8/11/2019

August 11, 2019 2 comments

Behind the Trump Administration’s non-stop talk of a migrant invasion is an effort to redefine and restrict asylum law in an unprecedented way. The Trump Administration is trying to bar Central American immigrants who come to our southern border from almost any eligibility for asylum.

Obtaining asylum is already very hard. In 2018, on a national basis, immigration judges denied asylum in 65% of cases. This was the sixth year in a row denial rates have risen.

The new effort to restrict asylum is multi-pronged. The Department of Homeland Security proposed a new rule that would require migrants traveling from another country to prove that they had applied for and were denied asylum in that country before they could seek asylum in the United States. The rule was designed to sideline the claims of Central Americans passing through Mexico.

This new rule has already been enjoined by one federal court but I expect that fight will be ongoing.

Other practices have contributed to the exclusionary effort. These include the practice of “metering”, where the government greatly limits the number of asylum applications it will process everyday. Then there is the “remain in Mexico” rule which requires asylum seekers to stay in Mexico until the day of their immigration hearing. Also, there is the practice of making it impossible to request asylum between ports of entry.

The effort is designed to persuade asylum seekers to give up their claims and return to their home countries. Instead of being treated like desperately needy human beings exercising their legal rights, asylum seekers are being treated like criminals. Many languish in shelters in Mexico if they can get into a shelter.

Human Rights Watch prepared a report in July on the conditions faced by the migrants in Mexico. They face massive shortages of shelter, food and water. They also are a high risk of becoming crime victims, including victims of sexual assault and violence.

Mexico recorded more homicides in 2018 than it has in any year since the country started keeping records in 1997. Two of the northern states in Mexico where asylum seekers have been returned, Baja California and Chihauhua, are among the most violent in the country.

The efforts to make asylum impossible for Central Americans is contrary to well-established law. I would mention two international treaties that the U.S. has signed and ratified. The 1967 Refugee Protocol guarantees a right to seek asylum. It implements the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees. Also, the Convention Against Torture prohibits deporting asylum-seekers to places where they may face bodily harm.

The experience of World War II created the context for the creation of refugee rights. The dehumanization of refugees by the Nazis is a big part of the historical background of asylum law. Anyone who is unable or unwilling to return to their home country due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on his or her race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group can theoretically qualify.

Article 14(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted in 1948, guarantees the right to seek and enjoy asylum in other countries. These rights are applied without any geographic limitation. They are an aspirational goal. After German fascism, the civilized world saw the absolute need for asylum.

In considering the overall Trump Administration effort to treat asylum seekers as invaders and criminals, I am struck by the lack of awareness of history. There is zero consciousness of colonialism and imperialism and their role in making migration a necessity.

The British Empire, the French and the Americans all deserve mention. The Third World was carved up by colonial powers who profited by taking natural resources and raw materials and by using cheap labor. The exploitation took different forms. Migration became necessary when the Western colonialists and imperialists made life so impossible in home countries that native people had to leave.

The current immigration from the so-called Northern Triangle countries – El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras – provides a good illustration.

In 1979, the United States sponsored a coup by young Salvadoran military officers that led to a vicious civil war. The war lasted over 12 years with an estimated 70,000 to 80,000 killed. U.S.-trained death squads and the Salvadoran military carried out a scorched earth policy that resulted in indiscriminate killings and targeted assassinations.

The United States provided massive military support to the Salvadoran military. U.S. officers took over positions in the Salvadoran military and made decisions about how the counterinsurgency war was fought. During the Carter and Reagan Administrations, military aid averaged one to two million dollars a day. The civil war left El Salvador a wasteland. Criminal gangs have proliferated with 20,000 Salvadorans killed from 2014 to 2017 alone.

Guatemala had its own civil war that ran from 1960 to 1996. This came in the aftermath of a 1954 covert CIA-sponsored coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz. Both before and after the coup, the U.S. supported brutally repressive dictatorships. As in El Salvador, death squads terrorized and committed horrendous crimes against the civilian population. In the 1980’s the massacre of indigenous Mayan people by the Guatemalan military (which had U.S. backing) was widely considered a genocide. When the war finally ended in 1996, the nation was shattered.

Honduras escaped civil war but not a military coup. In 2009, the left-leaning president Manuel Zelaya was removed from power by a U.S.-backed coup. Since that coup ten years ago, 300 people have been killed by state security forces, including 34 members of the Honduran opposition. The homicide rate is the highest in the world.

What is missing in most conventional coverage of migrant caravans and immigration at our southern border is the role of U.S. foreign policy in the U.S.-bound migration.

The writer Suketu Mehta, author of This Land is Our Land, argues there is a case to be made for reparations to be paid by the colonialists and imperialists who have looted Third World countries. To quote him:

“They looted us for centuries. They took whatever was worth taking, and they continued taking after we became “independent” – of their governments, but not of their corporations. The numbers are indisputable; colonial countries enriched themselves at the expense of the subject nations, and there’s a case to be made for reparations to be paid. There is a giant program of reparations under way, but it’s a reverse reparations, by the poor of the world to the rich: to the oil companies, the chemical companies, the mining companies, which have figured out how to corrupt the governments of the developing countries and continue stealing.”

Eliminating asylum for Central American migrants is the height of hypocrisy. The United States played a central role in creating the circumstances that necessitated the seeking of asylum. Intellectual honesty requires a look at the whole picture. Asylum is a human right that must be maintained – not short-circuited.

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Shady and Blue continued – posted 8/10/2019

August 10, 2019 Leave a comment
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The forgotten story of Dorothy Thompson who warned about fascism – posted 8/4/2019

August 4, 2019 2 comments

In studying the history of Italian and German fascism in the 1930’s, it is fair to say that the world was not adequately warned about the danger. To a shocking extent, the American press of that era whitewashed and minimized the fascist threat. This was true with both Mussolini and Hitler.

Benito Mussolini became Italian Prime Minister in 1922. After his infamous march on Rome leading 30,000 Italian fascist blackshirts, he forced the resignation of the liberal government. He quickly consolidated power and in 1925 he declared himself supreme leader for life. Nevertheless, in the United States, Mussolini got remarkably favorable press coverage for years after that.

The New York Times credited Mussolini with returning Italy to “normalcy”. In the aftermath of the Bolshevik revolution, many American papers worried more about the advance of the left than they did about the fascists. In 1928 the Saturday Evening Post serialized Mussolini’s autobiography. The largely favorable press coverage happened while Mussolini’s secret police jailed and eliminated his opposition and at the same time created a one-party dictatorship.

Similarly, the American press largely treated Hitler with kid gloves. The press saw him as volatile and a bit of a buffoon but his dark side was obscured until it was too late. His incremental steps toward totalitarianism were buried in the news. Hitler shut down the newspapers of his political opponents on the left, arrested editors, and sent them to concentration camps.

The American press poorly covered anti-semitism and the increasing danger to Jews. This was true even though Hitler had been very on record with his hatred.

While as a general rule the American press failed to alert the general public to the danger represented by the European fascists, there were notable exceptions. For many years, the journalist Dorothy Thompson ran a one-woman campaign against Hitler and the Nazis. Her heroic story deserves to be much more widely known.

Thompson was bureau chief for the Philadelphia Public Ledger and she wrote for the New York Evening Post. She had moved to Europe in the 1920’s and become fluent in German. In 1931, she managed to wrangle an interview with Adolf Hitler.

The interview became the basis for her 1932 book, I Saw Hitler!. The interview first ran in the March 1932 issue of Cosmopolitan, then a serious magazine. Initially, Thompson wrote:

“He is formless, almost faceless, a man whose countenance is a caricature, a man whose framework seems cartilaginous, without bones. He is inconsequent and voluble, ill-poised, insecure. He is the very prototype of the Little Man.”

Thompson dismissed Hitler although he admitted to her that he intended to create a dictatorship. After their interview, Hitler crushed his opposition, disappeared many, and further advanced his persecution of the Jews. Thompson had to reassess. She realized she had seriously underestimated Hitler and the Nazi movement.

By March 1933, Thompson started writing a string of anti-Hitler articles. Her writing did not escape notice of the Nazis. In the summer of 1934, she was the first foreign correspondent expelled from Nazi Germany. The Nazis put journalists on notice that they would tolerate no criticism of Hitler.

When she returned to the United States, the New York Herald Tribune hired her. Her column “On The Record” was syndicated and it ran in 170 papers around the country. She also wrote a monthly column for Ladies Home Journal and she appeared often on NBC radio. Her expulsion from Germany made her famous and led to her becoming a big media celebrity.

Thompson became a leading voice against fascism, regularly denouncing Hitler and the Nazis. She also demanded that America accept more European refugees. She herself personally helped many refugees get to America and obtain asylum. She was one of the few journalists who spoke out consistently on behalf of the European Jews.

She advocated for Herschel Grynszpan, a 17 year old Jewish boy who walked into the German embassy in Paris and assassinated Ernst vom Rath, a secretary to the Nazi ambassador. It was this event that precipitated Kristallnacht.

Thompson was the inspiration for Katharine Hepburn’s role of Tess Keating in the 1942 movie Woman of the Year. She also inspired her husband of that time, Sinclair Lewis, to write the novel It Can’t Happen Here. Concerned about the possibility of fascism in America, Thompson wrote:

“No people ever recognizes their dictator in advance. He never stands for election on the platform of dictatorship. He always represents himself as the instrument [of] the Incorporated National Will…When our dictator turns up you can depend on it that he will be one of the boys, and he will stand for everything traditionally American.”

Thompson went to the large February 1939 rally organized by the German-American Bund and Nazi sympathizers held at Madison Square Garden. She took her seat in the first row of the press gallery and she loudly ridiculed and made fun of the pro-Nazi speakers. She did get herself surrounded by security goons and ejected from the Garden.

From early on, Thompson argued against appeasement of the Nazis and she recognized that neutrality was not an option. Of her, Winston Churchill wrote:

“She has shown what one valiant woman can do with the power of the pen. Freedom and humanity are her grateful debtors.”

As we face the rise of authoritarian and fascist governments and movements, Thompson’s example is instructive. She showed how to fight back. Reporting on and exposing the current fascist threat is now more important than ever.

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