The 1619 Project and A More Informed View of Slavery – posted 9/28/2019 and published in the Concord Monitor on 10/10/2019

September 29, 2019 6 comments

Possibly some readers have followed the controversy over the New York Times 1619 Project. That project is an effort to take a new look at the history of slavery in America. 1619 refers to the date the first black slaves were brought to the shores of America.

After the New York Times launched the project in August, conservatives literally freaked out. Among others, former Congressman and Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich argued the project was a “lie” and propaganda. National Review editor Rich Lowry stated that the essays presented an “odious and reductive lie” that “racism is the essence of America”. The general criticism raised by conservatives was that the 1619 Project was attempting to divide and delegitimize America.

The conservatives seem deeply uneasy about looking under the rock that is American slavery. Accompanying a fear of this history is the desire to maintain an innocence about the American past. We all grew up with the triumphalist narrative that focuses on heroic American moments. From the Founding Fathers to Abraham Lincoln to defeating fascism in World War II, there are undeniable heroics.

However, I would suggest fear of history is dangerous and can lead to the promotion of illusions. It is past time that we, as a society, look harder into the history of slavery because that experience still shapes our world. Investigating slavery is like staring into the heart of darkness. There is a desire to look away.

The truth is that there has been an unwillingness to examine the history and the history is little known and understood. In schools I attended, the subject of slavery was largely passed over and I do not think that is too different from the experience of most Americans.

Let me put out some ideas about slavery that I have gleaned from my own exploration. Much of my thinking has been shaped by a brilliant book, The American Slave Coast, written by historians Ned and Constance Sublette.

The Sublettes argue an alternative view of slavery in the United States. Rather than seeing slavery simply as a source of unpaid labor, they see slavery in the United States as a slave-breeding system. They write:

“The story of national expansion premised on the reproduction of captive humans who were labor, merchandise and collateral, all at once, is horrific, and it’s basic to the story of our development as a nation. It’s not a sidebar to American history, it’s central. It’s particularly important, because despite the best work of scholars, American history has always come up against a disinformation process that has sanitized it. But sanitized history won’t explain how we got to the mess we have today.”

Slave-breeding was a commercial enterprise to expand slavery westward. The Sublettes see the struggle that went on between Virginia and South Carolina as a central conflict. Slaveowners in Virginia competed with South Carolina over African importation of slaves.

South Carolina slaveholders obtained their slaves from Africa via the Middle Passage. Virginia bred slaves for the domestic market and aimed to supply high-priced slaves throughout the South. Both states favored the expansion of slavery into western territories as that was seen as essential to the growth potential of the industry and its profits.

The Sublettes argue that the 1808 abolition of the transatlantic slave trade was a huge protectionist victory for Thomas Jefferson and the Virginia slaveholders. By stopping the African importation, Jefferson crippled South Carolina’s ability to compete against Virginia.

W.E.B. Dubois described it:

“Slaves without the African slave trade became more valuable; with cotton culture their value rose still further, so that they were fed adequately and their breeding systematically encouraged.”

Thomas Jefferson had bragged to George Washington that the birth of black children increased Virginia’s capital stock by four percent annually. Jefferson owned over 600 slaves during his lifetime. Washington owned over 300. They were the two presidents who owned the most slaves.

Slaves were the equivalent of money. They also were the basis for increased Southern political representation due to the three-fifths clause in the U.S. Constitution.

The Sublettes show how Native Americans had to be cleared out of the southeastern United States to pave the way for the creation of cotton plantations. Andrew Jackson was key to that effort. More generally, they show how many presidents before Lincoln accommodated slavery. With the exception of the two Adams (John and John Quincy), all the presidents before Lincoln owned slaves.

Some of the stories the Sublettes tell are shocking. President James K. Polk fought the Mexican War, in part, to annex Texas and extend slavery there. He bought slaves in secret while in the White House to feather his post-presidential nest. Polk was the absentee owner of a slave plantation in Mississippi. The overseer of his plantation had a reputation for cruelty and merciless whippings. Polk’s slaves ran away much more than the norm of that time.

Maybe most shocking in the Sublettes’ account was the treatment of African-American women. There was no such thing as rape of an enslaved woman. It wasn’t considered possible that rape could be committed against a slave. Rape of a slave was simply not regarded as rape. Rape was, however, a virtual industry in the South. The historian Kellie Carter Jackson writes:

“Enslaved women had no right to their bodies, no right to their children and no right to refuse enforced breeding.”

The slave-breeding industry is an example of how far human beings will go in the unrestrained pursuit of profit. I would acknowledge the need for much deeper exploration of the history of slavery but the conservatives fear of untold history is misplaced. We do not have that many slave narratives but we need a bottom-up view of the institution. Shallowness of understanding is a much bigger problem than potential bias in telling the story.

In American history, it does not lessen the positives to be honest about negatives. The 1619 Project and other efforts to tell the slavery story should be welcomed.

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White power and the myth of the lone wolf – posted 9/16/2019 and published in the Concord Monitor on 10/3/2019

September 17, 2019 1 comment

After the August Walmart shooting in El Paso, Texas in which 22 people died, I had a strong feeling that I had seen this movie before. That is because we all have seen it many times: a gunman arguing that he was compelled to commit mass murder because of an immigrant invasion.

The murder is preceded by the release of a windy manifesto. The manifesto invariably states that a white genocide is going on. The shooter sees the immigrant invasion as an apocalyptic threat, calling for a state of emergency and unprecedented response. Right before the shooter goes on his rampage, he publishes online in far right sites, giving the supposed justification for his actions.

The shooters appear to be lone wolves. Typically they are young white men, radicalized on the internet. Responding to these shootings, mainstream politicians talk about mental illness and the need for gun control. The predominant perspective presented by the mass media is that these shooters are mentally ill loners with an axe to grind.

I would suggest that this view is fundamentally wrong. The common thread in so many of these shootings is the white power ideology of the shooter. It is an international phenomenon. Before El Paso, there was the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue shooting, the Christ Church, New Zealand shootings, Dylann Roof in South Carolina and the Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik. There have been many other less well known incidents following the same pattern.

In spite of the repetition of similar atrocities, the danger of the white power movement remains drastically underestimated. The historian, Kathleen Belew, author of Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America, nails it:

“Too many people still think of these attacks as single events, rather than interconnected actions. We spend too much ink dividing them into anti-immigrant, racist, anti-Muslim or antisemitic attacks. True, they are those things. But they are also connected with one another through a broader white power ideology.”

The idea of replacement is central to the white power movement. The replacers are supposedly Jews, Latinos, Muslims and Blacks. Those in the white power movement believe white people are heading for the dustbin of history. I think of the neo-nazis and alt-right in Charlottesville chanting: “Jews will not replace us.”

White genocide theory holds that black people within the United States will inevitably rise up and start a race war which will result in the genocide of all white people in America. Dylann Roof explained his actions in shooting nine Black worshipers at a bible study in Charleston by saying he wanted to foment race war. In his actions, he followed the white power movement’s teachings.

It needs to be said that the idea of a white genocide going on now is nonsense and contrary to factual evidence. There is no proof white people are under attack or are going extinct. Nor is there evidence Black people intend a race war. Rich, white people control the levers of power in America, whether in the White House, Congress, the Supreme Court or the heights of the economy. This is not just true now – it has been true for virtually all of American history.

Certainly, there are significant demographic changes prompted by climate change, violence prompting asylum claims and immigrants coming to America seeking a better and safer life but that is a far cry from wild allegations of white genocide. Conflating the increasing population of non-white people in America with a white genocide is absurd.

Also, the idea that there is some shadowy group lurking behind the scenes promoting an immigrant invasion is pure paranoia and worse. Such fantasies fuel irrational hatred, especially antisemitism. Once again, Jews are being cast as the puppet masters , pulling minority strings.

Belew argues that the roots of the current alt-right and white power movement go back to the period after the Vietnam War. She says there was an ideologically diverse groundswell of people including Klansmen, neo-nazis, white separatists, racial skinheads and others who came together after the Vietnam War to create a white power movement.

Belew describes this project as an inherently anti-American effort that is trying to overthrow the federal government in order to create an Aryan Nation. That agenda includes eradication of people of color in America.

The white power movement has pursued cell-style organizing, a strategy called Leaderless Resistance. The emphasis has been on promoting the work of a highly dedicated cadre of totally committed activists. Part of the idea of Leaderless Resistance is to make infiltration by government informants much harder. It is also designed to hide and obscure the white power movement from public understanding.

For years now, social media has played a critical role in the evolution of this movement. The movement has been very effective at using the internet to radicalize and recruit young white men. Activists are very well known to each other as was demonstrated by Charlottesville. There is much shared communication inside the movement. The reality of a coherent social movement cuts against the lone wolf narrative.

The white power movement has been very successful in mainstreaming ideas about immigrant invasion. Just listen to Fox News or President Trump. They are using the talking points of this movement.

Trump has used terms like “invasion”, “alien”, “criminal”, and “animal” while discussing immigration hundreds of times at his rallies in the last year or two. In May at a rally of his, when Trump asked “How do you stop these people?” someone in the crowd shouted “Shoot them!” and Trump laughed.

I think the hidden quality of the white power movement has made it harder for the government and others to recognize how dangerous it is. Not surprisingly, last spring the Trump Administration through the Department of Homeland Security disbanded the group of intelligence analysts focused on domestic terror threats, including neo-nazis and the alt-right.

On September 20, the Department of Homeland Security issued a warning about the threat of white supremacist extremism online. They compared white supremacists’ use of the internet to how ISIS does it. Given how little the government has said about this threat, this was at least some recognition of the danger posed.

President Trump, on the other hand, has suggested he might designate Antifa, a collection of militant anti-fascists, a terror organization. Whatever the wisdom of its tactics, Antifa has zero body count. The same cannot be said about the white power movement. Their body count is extensive. Just as he did after Charlottesville, Trump is trying to draw equivalence  between the sides when there is none.

Denying the existence of a now emboldened white power movement is especially dangerous. Recent events suggest more and worse violence is coming.

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More Shady and Blue – posted 9/7/2019

September 7, 2019 1 comment
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American Gulag, 2019-style – posted 9/2/2019 and published in the Concord Monitor on 9/19/2019

September 2, 2019 1 comment

On August 21, the Trump Administration announced final regulations designed to allow the government to subject immigrant children and families to indefinite detention. The rules are intended to replace a long-standing, court-ordered 20-day time limit on keeping families in immigration jails.

Rather than being paroled into the community pending the hearing on their immigration cases, unaccompanied minors and children with their families would be detained in prison. The average wait time for an immigration case to be heard is about two years and nearly three years in some jurisdictions.

The new rules would replace the Flores settlement agreement, a 1997 federal court settlement that imposed detention standards and time limits. The Trump Administration wants to get outside Flores obligations. It blames the Flores settlement for the high number of immigrants arriving at our Southern border.

The core principle of Flores is that migrant children taken into detention should be released as expeditiously as possible.

A coalition of twenty states, led by California and Massachusetts, has filed a lawsuit in federal court to stop the Trump Administration from rescinding the Flores settlement agreement. If the new rules are not stopped by a judge, the rules would take effect in 60 days.

Maybe it should not seem necessary to explain but the health consequences of incarceration for children are extremely damaging. Clara Long from Human Rights Watch put it this way:

“The detention of children can lead to trauma, suicidal feelings and exposure to dangerously inadequate medical care. No amount of time in detention is safe for children and prolonged detention is particularly harmful.”

There is a wealth of public health studies that demonstrate the adverse health consequences of children being incarcerated. These include both negative physical and emotional symptoms. Depression, sleep problems, loss of appetite, headaches and abdominal pain are common symptoms. Trauma, regression in children’s behavior, suicidal thoughts, nightmares and feelings of hopelessness and despair are also part of the picture.

It must not be forgotten that many migrants are fleeing extreme violence and sexual assault and they need protection and services which address these complicated needs.

Under Flores, children could only be detained in facilities that are licensed by an appropriate state agency. The new regulations remove that requirement and replace it with a new self-licensing system. Department of Homeland Security would have no credible oversight and their performance has been anything but reassuring.

In the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the Trump Administration lawyers have just been arguing that safe and sanitary conditions do not require access to soap, toothpaste or minimally adequate sleeping conditions. Children have been spending the night on concrete floors, covered by Mylar blankets, in cramped, frigid, brightly-lit cells.

There have been many anecdotal stories about rotten food, no access to showers, sexual assault and overcrowded standing room-only cells. Outbreaks of infectious diseases, particularly mumps, have been widespread. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just reported 898 confirmed mumps cases in 57 facilities housing ICE detainees. A large majority of the cases were at detention facilities in Texas.

Racism appears to be rampant in the Border Patrol and ICE. Witness the Border Patrol Facebook group that showed active-duty and retired officers viciously mocking lawmakers and dead migrants. Violent, white supremacist, and misogynistic posts were disturbingly common. According to ProPublica, this Facebook group had more than 9,500 members before it was exposed.

More generally, the Department of Homeland Security has a dismal track record on accountability and transparency with its immigration detention facilities. The public does not fully know what is going on with these detention facilities, how many people are being held, and in what conditions.

This is America’s own gulag, 2019-style. Department of Homeland Security is blocking investigators and congressional staffers from visiting migrant facilities near the U.S.- Mexico border since previous House Oversight staff inspections revealed ongoing problems. During this Administration, seven children have died in custody.

The Flores settlement agreement included detailed child protection obligations for children detained without adults. The agreement is the only established set of protections for immigrant children held in detention. Over the last twenty years, Flores counsel repeatedly went to court to seek enforcement of the obligations. The new regulations do not incorporate the detailed obligations of Flores.

A big part of the Trump Administration argument for the new regulations is the supposed deterrent effect of punishing migrants by imprisoning them pending their immigration hearing. The evidence for that assessment is lacking. Harsh measures have not been lessening illegal entries.

The high cost of child incarceration has also been thoroughly underestimated. An unnamed official at the Department of Health and Human Services told NBC News that housing costs $775 per child, per day. Incarceration costs significantly more than supervision in the community. The cost of private prisons for immigrant children and their families is its own scandal.

While it is impossible to predict with accuracy whether the Court will allow implementation of the new rules. the Flores settlement only terminates when the government issues regulations that are consistent with and implement the terms of the settlement. That is clearly not the case.

I know Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez took much heat when she described the immigration detention facilities as “concentration camps” but her description is accurate. We need a full investigation and expose. Nothing could be more un-American than holding children in atrocious conditions.

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Puppy growth spurt – posted 8/31/2019

August 31, 2019 1 comment
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Welcome only to rich white people: the public charge rule – posted 8/25/2019 and published in the Concord Monitor on 9/8/2019

August 25, 2019 Leave a comment

It is hard to keep up with all the attacks raining down on immigrants from the Trump Administration. I know I immediately think of children in cages and family separations at the border. These have garnered the most attention.

While these attacks are directed against undocumented immigrants, less well known are the attacks coming down on legal immigrants. Central to the Trump Administration’s effort to restrict legal immigration is their new expanded public charge rule.

When non-citizens apply to enter the United States or when they seek to adjust their status to lawful permanent resident, they are subject to public charge rules. Such rules have been in effect since the 1880’s. The government has considered financial resources in determining whether an individual can obtain a green card. Green cards allow foreign nationals the right to live and work permanently in the United States.

Up until now, the rules have been narrowly tailored. The government has defined public charge based on whether the applicant is primarily dependent on monthly government cash assistance or long-term institutional care.

What the Trump Administration proposes to do in their new rule is change green card criteria to greatly expand who could be considered a public charge. Under the rule, if you receive public benefits like food stamps, Medicaid or Section 8 housing vouchers, you could be considered likely to become a public charge and you could be denied a green card.

The public charge rule is slated to go into effect on October 15. After the rule was promulgated by the Department of Homeland Security last fall, the agency received over 266,000 public comments, with the overwhelming majority opposed to the rule change.

It is hard to overstate what a radical departure the new public charge rule is from its current incarnation. The rule broadly discriminates against low-income people. It basically says if you do not have significant wealth, do not bother to come here. You are not welcome.

New public charge would touch many more people than the old rule, potentially millions. It already has had and will have a chilling effect on the willingness of those seeking a green card to access public benefits. People who are legally entitled to public benefits will not apply or they will disenroll if they believe, no doubt correctly, that the receipt of such benefits will negatively affect their chance to obtain permanent residence here.

I think the rule is very consistent with President Trump’s January 2018 utterance:

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”

Trump famously said that he wants to take in immigrants from great European countries like Norway.

Instead of Emma Lazarus’s “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses” we now have “give me your hedge fund managers, your techies and your rich white professionals hungering to get over”. The new rule hits directly at people coming from poorer countries, which certainly includes green card seekers from Latin America, Africa, and South Asia.

While the new rule speaks of looking at the totality of circumstances, it delineates positive and negative factors which would be weighed. For example, the rule heavily weighs against people with disabilities who require treatment and who lack private insurance. A low credit score, absence of a college degree and lack of English language skills also hurt. On the other hand, if you have income over $63,000 for a family of four, you are golden.

The rule flies in the face of the historical experience of America as a nation of immigrants. For generations, foreign nationals have come to America, penniless, with nothing but the clothes on their back. They may have needed a helping hand at first but many became upwardly mobile. Their children have then obtained more education, gotten higher earnings and ended up in higher-paying jobs than their parents.

This whole experience is now being actively disregarded. Public charge is a perfect distillation of racial and class bias.The message is we only want wealthy white people to come to America. The new green card criteria would have a racially disparate effect as people from countries with low incomes are disproportionately people of color.

It is likely public charge will also have a detrimental effect on families’ health. For example, people seeking a green card may well forego essential medical care like chemotherapy or needed insulin. Or newborns will not obtain nutritional assistance they need to thrive.

Whether the new public charge is legal remains to be seen. It is certain to be challenged in court. It is another example of the Trump Administration enacting policy without legislative input. It also is a way to shrink the safety net, part of their effort to deconstruct the administrative state.

Trump supporters always defend his immigration policies on the basis that undocumented people are trying to jump ahead in the line. But with public charge, the attack is on people who are in the line.

Behind this rule is an utterly irrational fear and hatred of immigrants, including those classified legal. Creating fear of immigrants has been a central objective of this Administration. That is tragic because America is so much better than this.

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

August 18, 2019 Leave a comment
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