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When voting became a crime: the unjust punishment of Crystal Mason – posted 3/29/2020

March 29, 2020 Leave a comment

With so much non-stop coverage of coronavirus, it is not surprising that other important stories escape notice. The story of Crystal Mason is such a story.

Mason is a 44 year old African-American woman who lives outside Fort Worth, Texas in Rendon which is part of Tarrant County. In 2018, Texas prosecuted and convicted Mason of illegal voting while she was on supervised release from a federal felony conviction. The Texas state court sentenced her to a five year jail term. The case is now under appeal.

To appreciate the significance of Mason’s case, it has to be seen in the context of Texas’s aggressive assault on voting rights. Mason is the poster child for voter suppression. Texas is sending message to people of color: this is what happens to you, if you vote. Be afraid, we will put you away.

Much has been written about how Texas is in transition from red to blue due to demographic change. Voter suppression is a central intentional part of Republican strategy to fight the adverse demographics. In 2011, GOP lawmakers passed the strictest voter ID requirements in the country.

The 2011 law was initially blocked and an ongoing legal battle ensued. When the U.S. Supreme Court decided Shelby County v Holder, they gave Texas the green light to go ahead with their voter ID law. States like Texas, with a history of discrimination, had previously had to clear voting changes with the federal government. That went away with the Shelby County decision although legal fights continue.

Mason had pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the government back in 2011. She had prepared income tax returns that contained false information to bump up returns for her clients. Even though she cooperated with prosecutors, she received the maximum five year sentence with an additional three years of supervised release and she was ordered to pay $4.2 million in restitution.

Texas prohibits convicted felons from voting while they serve their sentence. Mason was on what is called “federal supervised release”, a set of reentry requirements for ex-felons coming out of a federal prison. If you are on parole, probation, or what is called “supervision”, Texas does not allow voting.

During the time Mason was in prison in 2013, Tarrant County election officials sent a letter to her home informing her that her voter registration was cancelled. Thirty days later, they sent a second letter. Mason never received the letters because at the time she was in prison.

Mason received an early release from prison in 2016 for good behavior. At the urging of her mother, she decided to vote in the 2016 presidential election. She said no one informed her that being in federal supervised release made her ineligible to vote.

Mason’s lawyers are arguing that individuals under federal supervised release have completed the entire term of their incarceration. They are in a different legal category than those on parole, probation or community supervision.

Mason’s case may turn on how the court interprets the terms “supervision” and “federal supervised release”. She maintains that she did not know her voting rights were suspended until after she completed her federal supervised release.

When Mason went to vote a 16 year old poll worker who knew her could not find her name on the rolls but he offered her a chance to vote with a provisional ballot. Mason filled out the affidavit and submitted it. Ultimately, election officials rejected Mason’s ballot because they classified her as ineligible. Considering that Mason’s vote was not counted, the question pops up: did she vote? Her vote added to no tally.

There is a factual dispute about whether Mason read the fine print affidavit before she signed it. Also the 16 year old poll worker testified he knew Mason was ineligible but offered her a ballot anyway. He said he forgot her status as an ex-felon.

Before passing judgment on Mason, it is important to know that provisional ballots are a federally required safeguard for people who show up at the polls and are unsure of their registration status. There are many reasons why a voter might vote provisionally. For example, the voter might have gone to the wrong voting station, the voter’s eligibility could not be established or the voter lacked a photo ID (and that is required in that jurisdiction).

Provisional ballots go back to the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002. That law, in part, was about allowing voters to cast a provisional ballot if the voter stated that she was entitled to vote. It was created in the aftermath of the Bush v Gore debacle in 2000 when almost two million votes were disqualified.

Mason believed she was eligible to vote but she also knew that by casting a provisional ballot the state might disagree. As noted, her vote was not ultimately counted. It is not her fault that the law is muddled. As she has said,

“Why would I vote if I knew I was not eligible? What’s my intent? What was I to gain but losing my kids, losing my mom, potentially losing my house? I would have so much to lose, all for casting a vote.”

In Tarrant County where Mason lives, 4500 people cast provisional ballots in the 2016 election. 3990 of those ballots were rejected by election officials. Mason was the only voter prosecuted. Why she is being singled out and punished so severely defies any sense of fairness.

After Mason’s trial in 2018, she was incarcerated again because the state law conviction for illegal voting was a violation of the terms of her federal release. She remained in jail from September 2018 to May 2019 when she was released. On March 19, a Texas appeals court upheld Mason’s five year prison sentence.

Mason’s lawyers will ask the full appeal court to rehear the case. If that fails, she could then appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest criminal curt in Texas and if she loses, she could potentially appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Only a GoFundMe page and help from her pastor saved Mason from losing her home to foreclosure when she was returned to prison in 2018. A family of twelve including her three children, four of her brother’s children, two grandchildren and three grandnieces live with Mason and have depended on her.

In the most recent March 2020 court decision upholding her five year jail term, Mason faced a panel of elected judges who are all Republicans. Mason is collateral damage in the partisan war.

The deeper problem with our voting system is not voter fraud, it is how few people vote. 900,000 people live in Fort Worth and it is the fifteenth largest city in the country and it has some of the lowest percentage of people voting in America. In 2014, voter turnout was 28.5%. In its most recent mayoralty race, turnout was 6%.

In 2018, Mason’s daughter, Taylor, got a job canvassing for Beto O’Rourke’s U.S. Senate campaign. She told potential voters about her mother’s experience but when it came time to vote, Taylor was a no-show voter. After what happened to her mother, she was too scared to vote.

This year with the election and the coronavirus challenge, much thought must go into what steps can be taken to maximize turnout. Democracy depends on people voting. I fear that the Republican strategy this year will be about how voter turnout can be minimized.

Crystal Mason’s story disgraces Texas and exposes that state’s voter suppression effort for all to see. Let’s hope the courts throw out her absurd and unjust conviction.

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Hiking Bog Mountain – posted 3/28/2020

March 28, 2020 1 comment
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Coronavirus and the need to think big – posted 3/22/2020 and published in the Concord Monitor on 3/29/2020

March 22, 2020 1 comment

The Coronavirus pandemic has upended all conventional thinking. A fundamentally different situation demands a different response. What might have made sense a couple months ago, makes no sense now. I think some of the ideas discussed on the Democratic side during the early primary season deserve much more serious consideration.

For example, universal basic income or UBI, the Andrew Yang big idea, comes to mind. How about something like an emergency UBI providing $1000 per adult and $500 per child monthly for as long as the outbreak lasts? We might only need to do it for four to six months but that would insure some degree of economic security. At this point, the duration of the pandemic is not clear but we do need to put checks into the hands of working families immediately.

We especially do not need people who have the virus going into work if they work in food service or health care. UBI would allow infected people to stay home to slow down the spread of the disease. It would be a public health disaster if large numbers of health care workers get sick and still go into work. Our ability to contend with the pandemic requires front line workers who can stay on the job without getting sick.

Many people have suggested expanding unemployment benefits. That is a very good idea as it is a critical countercyclical tool to help with pandemic-related job loss. Unfortunately, unemployment benefit recipiency is very poor in many states. The amount of benefits is also problematic because benefits are so low, especially in the South. Not enough workers eligible for these benefits ever receive them.

Congress and the states need to immediately increase funding to administer unemployment programs. Across the country, state agencies are understaffed and not prepared to deal with the avalanche of claims. Because unemployment rates have been low until recently, state agencies lack personnel to serve the public. Like other states, New Hampshire is desperately struggling just to respond to the number of new filers.

The economic proposals by both Republicans and Democrats in Congress are inadequate. A one-time check for $1000 is not enough. It is not realistic given how long this pandemic is likely to last.

A second idea is debt moratorium. No one should be evicted from their apartment or face foreclosure from their home because they lost their jobs and they are temporarily without income. Neither should their utilities be disconnected. From a public health perspective, putting families and individuals on the street or putting them in the dark in a time of pandemic would be very dangerous.

A moratorium on debt should also extend to student loans, medical bills and credit cards. The coronavirus pandemic is a national emergency and the millions who have lost and will lose their jobs are not at fault.

Paid sick leave is another idea whose time has come. About a quarter of U.S. workers get no paid sick leave. This includes many low-wage workers, those who are self-employed and those in gig or transient jobs. The new law just signed by President Trump, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, contains major loopholes. Large companies with more than 500 employees are not mentioned in the bill.

The expectation is that workers in these larger companies can rely on existing sick leave policies, a dubious proposition. Smaller and mid-size companies are required to provide two weeks of paid sick leave and up to twelve weeks of paid family and medical leave for employees affected by the coronavirus who have worked at the company for at least a month.

Sick leave is to be paid at the usual pay rate and paid family and medical leave is to be paid at two-thirds of the usual pay rate.

One big concern is how many small businesses will pay for these benefits at a time of depression. The bill provides a tax credit to cover these costs.

There is a loophole for smaller businesses on the paid family and medical leave. The Labor Department can exempt employers with fewer than fifty workers from having to pay these benefits if it “would jeopardize the viability of the business”.

About 35 million people work for small businesses in the U.S.. 12.6 million of these workers have no paid sick leave and 30.5 million have no family leave.

We need to insure that during the pandemic all workers can get paid sick leave. Knowing Congress, they always carve out exemptions. We cannot afford that now.

Lastly, I would mention the cost of medical care around any coronavirus-related testing or treatment. Medical care must be free. Otherwise, the cost of care becomes a disincentive and people will avoid testing and medical treatment.

Time Magazine just did a story about a lady in Boston , Danni Askini, who was uninsured and who developed flu and pneumonia symptoms. She also had lymphoma. After treatment and testing (it turned out she had Covid-19), she got a bill for $34,927.43! Congress’s new law covers testing costs but it doesn’t address treatment. Askini does plan to apply for Medicaid.

I think it is safe to assume many potential patients would not seek care knowing they will face exorbitant medical bills.

Kaiser Family Foundation estimates the average cost of Covid-19 treatment for someone with employer insurance would be $9763. If there were complications, they estimate the cost could double to $20,292. In either scenario, Kaiser researchers felt patients with employer-based insurance could still expect out-of-pocket costs of more than $1300.

The coronavirus exposes the dark side of capitalism, especially around health care. We have money for a huge arsenal of nuclear weapons which are supposed to keep us safe but where are the masks, gowns, and ventilators? How could we have been caught so unaware? The need for Medicare for all is most exposed now.

In the ongoing discussion about bailouts, we need to ask just who will be bailed out? Will it be the billionaire class, cruise ships airlines and Wall Street? Or will it be everyday working people?

Based on past experience, I expect our leaders will think too small. And I worry it will be the wrong people who will benefit. This is just a beginning stab at what ideas make sense for our unprecedented time. We need more than band-aids. Now is not a time for half-measures.

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Shady and Blue, mud season – posted 3/21/2020

March 21, 2020 1 comment
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“You Will Never See Your Child Again” – posted 3/15/2020

March 15, 2020 Leave a comment

It has now been almost three years since the Trump Administration implemented its family separation policy at the Southern border and two years since the issue was widely publicized. While the story has receded from public view, questions remain about what happened and what is continuing to happen. It is only now that the consequences of the family separation policy are coming into clearer focus.

Some of those questions were answered when Physicians for Human Rights, a U.S.-based non-profit that investigates human rights violations around the world, released a new investigative report, “You Will Never See Your Child Again” The Persistent Psychological Effects of Family Separation.

The investigators interviewed 17 adults and 9 children from Central America who had been separated from family members 60 to 69 days. The investigators concluded that the policy of family separation constituted “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” that met a legal definition of torture.

The report itself is very eye-opening and I am going to quote from it liberally. The interviews with adults and children who were victims of the family separations show the vicious intentionality behind the policy. One key finding:

“U.S. officials intentionally carried out actions causing severe pain and suffering, in order to punish, coerce, and intimidate Central American asylum seekers to give up their asylum claims.”

It was the intentionality behind the policy that contributed to why the physicians’ group found the Trump Administration’s policy met a legal definition of torture.

The report found that when immigration authorities abruptly separated parents from their children they were prohibited from saying good-bye or consoling them. Immigration officials forcibly removed children from their parents’ arms, removed parents while their children slept, or simply “disappeared” the children while their parents were in different holding cells or receiving medical care.

Immigration officials failed to provide any explanation as to why families were being separated, where their families were being sent or how they would be reunited.

A mother from El Salvador recounted her interaction with U.S. officials when she asked why her daughter was being taken away from her. The official responded that her daughter was going to be adopted by an American family and she would be deported and would never see her daughter again.

Another mother, when asking about the whereabouts of her child, was ignored by officials and told she was never going to see her daughter again and “she should learn to deal with it”.

Despite being asylum seekers, other parents were accused of breaking the law and were told that separation from their children was punishment for this “crime”.

A mother from Guatemala described immigration authorities using coercive tactics to force her to give up on her asylum claim. She reported that officers told her she was going to be separated from her daughter unless she signed deportation paperwork that was written in English. She said the immigration officials told her they would make sure she would never see her daughter again.

Another mother from Honduras described being told she would be separated from her son. She asked for an explanation and the agent said they were simply “following orders”.

Multiple families expressed a fear of never seeing loved ones again. Two of the mothers interviewed expressed feelings of guilt along with the perception that they were “bad mothers” for letting their children be taken from them. The report says that other parents felt hopeless, were desperate to be reunited with their children, as if their life had no value, and they were shocked this could happen to them in the United States.

Interviewed parents experienced heightened anxiety, frequent crying, nervousness, low appetite, lack of motivation, exhaustion and an inability to sleep. Some reported feeling “devastated”, that their minds were on “overload”, that they could do nothing but think of their children and whether they were safe. Others reported crying and feeling like they were in a “black hole”.

Parents’ grief, despair and terror diminished their ability to concentrate and think clearly to such a degree that it sometimes interfered with their credible fear interviews with asylum officers.

Clinicians wrote that children exhibited reactions that included regression in age-appropriate behavior, crying, not eating, having nightmares and other sleeping difficulties, as well as clinging to parents and feeling scared even after parental reunification.

The interviewed individuals, both adults and children, met diagnostic criteria for at least one mental health disorder including post traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. The clinicians recognized that symptoms were exacerbated by pre-existing trauma from events in the asylum seekers’ home countries. The families had fled physical violence and death threats which led to their making the long and dangerous journey to the U.S..

The report also found that the Department of Homeland Security was unprepared and ill-equipped to handle reunification of families after their separation. The Department originally planned to separate as many as 26,000 children even though they knew they did not have the technological capability to track those cases.

In concluding that the forced separation of children and parents by the Trump Administration met a legal definition of torture, the Physicians for Human Rights utilized the Istanbul Protocol, the UN guidelines for documenting torture.

The Istanbul Protocol, in its upcoming updated editions states that the determining factor for distinguishing torture from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment “may best be understood to be the purpose of the conduct and the powerlessness of the victim, rather than the intensity of the pain or suffering inflicted”.

Here the evidence suggests the harm was severe, especially considering the impact on small children. Government actors carried out the harm and they did it with a clear intentionality related to intimidation and coercion.

The report also concluded that the Trump Administration policy and practice of family separation committed the crime of enforced disappearance which is prohibited under international law. Enforced disappearance is defined as any deprivation of liberty by the state where there is concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person.

While a federal court judge issued a nationwide injunction on the family separation policy back in June 2018 and President Trump signed an Executive Order supposedly stopping family separations, at least 1142 children have been separated from their families since the official end of the policy.

Untreated trauma can have chronic and long-lasting effects on children and adults. As the report says, those who experience trauma, especially as children, have higher rates of chronic medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and premature death. There is also an increased risk of psychiatric disorders.

This story is not over and advocates must maintain a high level of vigilance that more family separations and enforced disappearances do not reoccur.

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The execution of Nathaniel Woods and the dying of legal conscience – posted 3/8/2020 and published in the Concord Monitor on 3/15/2020

March 8, 2020 Leave a comment

During the Trump years, cruelty has become the new normal. Children in cages and separated families have lowered the bar on horrors to be tolerated and what is deemed acceptable conduct by public officials. Still, occasionally a story comes along that manages to shock even the most jaded. Such a story is the saga of Nathaniel Woods, a 43 year old Black man from Alabama who is no longer among the living.

The state of Alabama executed Woods by lethal injection on March 5.

Martin Luther King III responded to Woods’ execution this way:

“In the case of Nathaniel Woods, the actions of the U.S. Supreme Court and the Governor of the State of Alabama are reprehensible, and have potentially contributed to an irreversible injustice. It makes a mockery of justice and constitutional guarantees to a fair trial.”

Woods was a drug dealer. The State of Alabama convicted Woods of capital murder in 2005 in connection with the 2004 murder of three Birmingham Alabama police officers. Under the Alabama felony murder rule, if someone kills a person during the commission of a crime, an accomplice is as guilty as the person who pulls the trigger.

Woods did not kill any of the three police officers who died on June 17, 2004. Nor did he own or possess a gun. He was a drug dealer in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The officers had obtained a misdemeanor warrant for Woods’ arrest. As came out later, two of the officers were involved in a scheme to protect the drug dealers in exchange for cash. Tyran Cooper, the drug dealer who ran his business out of his home, had fallen behind in his payments to the police. Woods was selling drugs out of Cooper’s home.

When the police came to Cooper’s home, the confessed shooter, Kerry Spencer, shot the police officers impulsively. He testified he had been napping and he fired instinctively when he woke up and saw guns pointed in his direction. Whether this is true or not, the shootings were a unilateral, sudden action.

The only surviving officer in the raid, Michael Collins, testified that when he entered the house, Woods surrendered and begged officers not to pepper spray him. This was corroborated by the shooter Kerry Spencer in his own trial. Spencer testified that Woods had nothing to do with the killings. He said Woods yelled at the police: “I give up. I give up. Just don’t spray me with that mace”.

According to Spencer, the police did pepper spray Woods and Woods was holding his face “like he was in pain”.

At trial, Woods had court-appointed lawyers who had never handled a capital case. The lawyers very inadequately represented Woods. They wrongly told him that the prosecution had to prove he was the shooter to be convicted of capital murder. They failed to advise him about an offered 20 to 25 year plea deal. His lawyers missed appeal deadlines and made strategic mistakes that barred the courts from considering arguments that could have been made on his behalf.

Alabama is the only state in America where a defendant can receive the death penalty without a unanimous jury verdict, something else Woods never knew. The jury sentenced Woods to death on a 10-2 vote.

At the trial, since the prosecutors had no objective evidence that Woods planned the crime or participated in it, they offered that he hated the police. Prosecutors presented lyrics to a supposedly original song they said Woods wrote. The lyrics cited expressed lack of remorse for killing police officers.

It turned out that Woods did not write the song. After the court bought the argument and convicted him, it was ascertained that the lyrics the prosectors used came from a song “High-Powered” on Dr Dre’s album The Chronic.

Before Woods’ execution, two state witnesses signed affidavits that they were threatened into cooperating with the prosecution.

At the end, Woods’ clemency attorney was successful in creating some awareness that not everything at the trial was kosher. Alabama Senator Doug Jones said,

“Given the questions and mitigating issues involved in this case and the finality of a death sentence – a delay is warranted to provide time for a thorough review of all the facts and circumstances to truly ensure that justice is done.”

Hundreds of thousands of people appealed to Alabama Governor Kay Ivey for clemency. A change.org petition seeking to stop the execution gathered more than 100,000 signatures at the time of Woods’ execution. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian West and the family of former Alabama and Green Bay Packer quarterback, Bart Starr, also weighed in for clemency.

As expected, Republican Governor Ivey denied Woods’ request for clemency. Then, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a temporary stay on the execution. However, for reasons not explained, the Court, after four hours, lifted the stay to allow the execution to go forward.

Shortly before Governor Ivey denied Woods’ clemency request, Kimberly Chisholm Simmons, a sister of one of the officers killed in the shooting unsuccessfully attempted to reach the governor. She was told Governor Ivey was unavailable at a meeting. In a statement, she wrote:

“I do not think Nathaniel is guilty of murder. Please do not move forward with the hasty decision to execute Nathaniel. My conscience will not let me live with this if he dies. I beg you to have mercy on him.”

Unfortunately, in the matter of the law, mercy often does not register and it did not here. The law should be about drawing appropriate distinctions, especially in matters of life and death. Considering the finality of death, you might think care would go into such consequential decisions. No good explanations were offered by the Governor or any court for why Nathaniel Woods had to die.

I would not expect much from a Southern governor like Kay Ivey. Alabama is indelibly stained with an overwhelming history of racism. The U.S. Supreme Court is another story.

It has gotten to a point where the expectation is that on matters of racial justice, the Court will do the wrong thing. And that is true even when the immediate issue is the life of an African American man who, in no way, deserves the death penalty.

The court’s action in not stopping the unjust execution of Nathaniel Woods is consistent with that institution’s dismal history on race matters. Currently the Court majority appears caught up in a version of color-blindness. The blindness is in not seeing the racism. Historically, hundreds of black people have been lynched in Alabama. That is a history that remains minimized by the state of Alabama and the U.S. Supreme Court. Nathaniel Woods is just the latest victim of a legal lynching.

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The irony of Republican red-baiting – posted 3/1/2020 and published in the Concord Monitor on 3/8/2020

March 1, 2020 Leave a comment

A central part of the Trump re-election strategy is the use of red-baiting. Red-baiting is the use of false or groundless accusations that someone is a communist. It is a vicious, fear-creation tactic which has been used for over 100 years to discredit people, destroy their reputations and careers, and cause their public harassment and shunning.

Republicans and conservatives have long used red-baiting to argue against anyone who has advocated for a more equitable distribution of wealth in America. They have tried to demonize any deviation from free-market economic policy as socialistic and anti-American. During the 20th century, red-baiting Republican politicians shamelessly ruined the lives of numerous outspoken progressives.

President Trump is already falsely calling Bernie Sanders a communist. He is also talking about how Sanders honeymooned in the Soviet Union in the 1980’s.

Left out is the fact that Sanders’ trip to the Soviet Union was part of his official duties as mayor of Burlington, Vermont. Burlington was a sister city with Yaroslavl, a city 160 miles north of Moscow. Sanders and his wife Jane were part of a ten person delegation under the auspices of Sister City International, an organization created by President Eisenhower, to promote peace and understanding through connections between cities.

This year we can expect an avalanche of negative ads dwelling on the red-baiting theme. Republicans are licking their chops thinking red-baiting is such a killer tactic but they could not be more wrong. Not only is it a dishonest tactic, it is outdated and has a declining audience.

Republicans have been saying and will be saying Democrats are part of a radical, socialist agenda that will take away your private health insurance. Whichever Democrat wins the party’s nomination, they will be tagged as socialist, communist or ultra-radical by Trump and his supporters. Such talking points are entirely predictable but they are nothing more than a smear.

Name-calling “communist” as a way to trash people has a long history in America. I would go back to the first Red Scare in 1920. In the aftermath of the Russian revolution, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer used fear of a socialist revolution happening here as justification for rounding up 4000 people all over the country, holding them in seclusion for long periods, conducting secret hearings and ordering their deportation.

During the Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt was branded an ultra-radical and a socialist by his Republican opponents who hated the New Deal. All FDR’s New Deal programs were attacked as “socialist”. Roosevelt was considered a traitor by the billionaire class of his day.

The Cold War was the high point of red-baiting. Senator Joseph McCarthy demagogically accused many people in public life of being communist. Loyalty investigations conducted by congressional committees, particularly the House Un-American Activities Committee or HUAC, traumatized people on the left and put many on the defensive. HUAC equated dissent with being un-American.

The right wing media of the day worked together with Senator McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI and congressional committees to blacklist former New Deal progressives, federal employees, academics and artists. McCarthy and his collaborators destroyed many careers. Back then, just the accusation of being a communist caused economic ruin as those accused often lost their jobs. Public shunning moved many into the shadows and a precarious economic existence.

While it is commonly forgotten now, Republicans and Southern segregationist Democrats called Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement “communist”. FBI Director Hoover was obsessed with showing King had communist ties.

Since the 1960’s, activists who supported racial integration, opposed foreign wars, questioned the nuclear arms race or who have called for higher taxes on the rich have been called “communist” by those who favor the status quo.

At its core, red-baiting is a means to deflect attention from real issues like corruption, income inequality, health care and climate change. If you are focused on a distraction like Trump wants, you are not focusing on real problems.

In the case of Bernie Sanders, red-baiting attacks have been a staple in the Republican playbook for 30 years but they have never worked in Vermont and there is no reason to think they will work now.

Sanders calls himself a democratic socialist but, in practice, he is a New Deal-type Democrat who highlights the needs of working class people much like FDR did. For anyone with knowledge of the left political tradition, Sanders is a moderate. His ideas are hardly radical. They are common fare in Europe and Scandinavia, part of the social democratic tradition. Sanders is more of a left wing populist than a socialist.

Instead of the New Deal, now you have the Green New Deal. Other ideas have become almost mainstream. Whether it is $15 minimum wage, Medicare For All, or cancelling student loan debt, other Democratic candidates have broadly similar ideas.

The irony of the Republican use of red-baiting is that at the same time Trump red-baits, he maintains a bizarrely deferential attitude towards the authoritarian Russian President Putin that is still unexplained. Who can forget Trump’s embarrassing performance at Helsinki when he stood on the stage with Putin and trusted Putin’s denials about Russian election interference in the 2016 election over the findings of American intelligence agencies.

With Republicans, not that long ago, it used to be all about the bad Russians. Republicans used to criticize authoritarian dictators but not any more. Trump exchanges love letters with Kim Jong-un. He has praised the Saudi royals, proto-fascists like Jair Bolsanaro, and generals like Egypt’s el-Sisi.

Considering the authoritarian leaders Trump pals around with and openly embraces, red-baiting accusations against any Democrat are hypocritical. At the same time as Trump red-baits, he is guilty of the same charge he makes against his opponents. In his association with foreign dictators and authoritarian leaders, Trump is far more compromised than any Democratic candidate.

Notably, and unlike Sanders, Trump refuses to tell the Russians to stay out of our elections. Likely, he does not want to give up any advantage.

Red-baiting is intended to narrow the spectrum of what it is possible to achieve politically. It has historically been used against all kinds of change agents. In light of our history of Red Scares, it would be foolish to ignore the tactic and simply assume it will be ineffective. Resuscitating a boogeyman is an old political trick. Red-baiting should be confronted and exposed as the ethically challenged practice it is.

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