Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Debate Over Abolishing ICE

ICE was created out of the old INS, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, in 2003. The on-going treatment of asylum seekers under Donald Trump's "Zero Tolerance" policy, principally the separation of children from their families, and their mistreatment in detention centers, has some calling for ICE to be abolished. Benton County Democrats will be considering a resolution to that effect in their regular monthly meeting, August 15th, 2018. Many on the Right, spurred on by Trump, see this as the Liberals' bid for "open borders." This 4 min and 22 sec interview with a former General Counsel for INS provides some useful context for the debate.

Monday, July 9, 2018

We Are a Nation of Immigrants -- Except When We Aren't

America's history of dealing with immigrants has never been that admirable, as it turns out, despite what Lady Liberty may have you believe. But never in its history has America been led by a racist xenophobe supported by a significant segment of the American populace, while a complicit Congress stands in the wings waiting to see if they'll be reelected.

I have been appalled by the Trump Administration’s cruel and incompetent handling of immigrants at our southern border seeking asylum. Separating children from their parents, and then seemingly unable to reunite the families, despite court orders to do so, is heartbreaking and maddening. Following on the heels of this humanitarian disaster is the Supreme Court ruling upholding Donald Trump’s ban on predominantly Muslim countries.

The Court’s conservative majority ruled in a 5 to 4 decision, that Mr. Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric about Islam was irrelevant in deciding the constitutionality of the ban, and instead based their decision on broad presidential powers. I’m not a constitutional scholar, but as the ACLU stated, “this is not the first time the Court has been wrong, or has allowed official racism and xenophobia to continue rather than standing up to it."

My mother and her family immigrated to America from Northern Italy. Her father, my Nono Ugo, came first in 1903, followed by my grandmother and then my mother and her brother in 1924. They were achingly poor. Ugo worked in a meat packing plant. His wife, Cesira took in laundry.

Hog butchering in Chicago circa 1905
My father’s family immigrated from Southern Italy in 1898. My Nono Vincenzo and his wife, Marianina and their five children, including my father, Stefano, lived in a small flat at 76 Carmine St., in Brooklyn. My grandfather worked as a barber. My grandmother took in sewing. All the kids worked as soon as they were able. The family moved to Los Angeles in 1912, where my grandfather was able to open his own barber shop.

My Nono Vincenzo in his barber shop in Los Angeles
More than one million people lived in Brooklyn at the end of the 19th century -- and more than 30% of them were foreign-born: Irish, Germans, Italians, Russian and Polish Jews, and other European ethnic groups, Negroes, and later Puerto Ricans, arrived in NYC mostly during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Mulberry Street, NY, cica 1900
My Italian ancestors at that time were described in terms that mirror what Donald Trump is now saying about immigrants from Guatemala and Mexico, and has said about immigrants from the Middle East. This appeared in an 1891 NYT editorial:

"These sneaking and cowardly Sicilians, the descendants of bandits and assassins, who have transported to this country the lawless passions, the cut-throat practises, and the oath-bound societies of their native country, are to us a pest without mitigation.

The Immigration Act of 1924 barred most Italians from coming into the country — causing immigration from Italy to fall 90 percent.

Trump wants us to believe that the people at our border today are somehow different than you and me, and our predecessors. They are not. They too are poor, frightened people seeking asylum, seeking a better life for their children.

We do have a broken immigration system. Let’s fix it. Not with walls of brick or hate or fear, but rather with reasoned compassion.
"You have to undermine moral boundaries, inure people to the acceptance of acts of extreme cruelty. Like hounds, people have to be blooded. They have to be given the taste for savagery. Fascism does this by building up the sense of threat from a despised out-group. This allows the members of that group to be dehumanized. Once that has been achieved, you can gradually up the ante, working through the stages from breaking windows to extermination."
From; Trial Runs for Fascism Are in Full Flow, by Fintan O'Toole in The Irish Times, June 26, 2018.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Make Like a Bird: Crank Up Your Tweeting

By now, even technology-challenged Americans have heard of Twitter. That's because newspaper articles, "slow Twitter" to the social media literati, regularly quote President Donald Trump's tweets. Often, not as news per se, but as curiosities.

Some say Twitter is passé. Millennials seem to have moved on to social media that allows them to illustrate their shares, generally with photos of themselves making faces at their handheld smart phones. Snapchat now seems to be de rigueur for the younger set, although their loyalties are fickle, consider their move away from Facebook, for example.

Christine Brown's team made social media a key component of the campaign, but the "wave" has been slow to reach its crest. This may be due to the older set, like myself, being something less than swift on the uptake or the touch screen, or arthritic thumbs. There are more young people now taking up the challenge, and that should help.

One way we can all help is to use our Twitter accounts to reinforce OUR message. Here are some examples of tweets I've created (you can find me here: https://twitter.com/Nimasema):

#SeparatingChildren from their parents is immoral and according to #asylum lawyers, is NOT required by law. We have a moral responsibility to counteract this despicable practice by voting out those responsible for creating them as well as their enablers.

@realDonald Trump doesn’t believe consumers need protection from #predatorylenders, #cheatinginsurancecompanies, or any of the other myriad ways struggling American families are taken to the cleaners by #unfairbusinesspractices. I do. That’s why I support a strong #CFPB.

#ClimateChange: April was first month in recorded history with average concentration of atmospheric #CO2 topping 410 ppm. Levels this high haven't been seen on Earth in 3 million yrs, when temperatures were 3.6° to 5.4°F warmer, and sea level was 50 to 80 feet higher than today.

@RepNewhouse says he is "proud" to have voted with #Republicans to pass #HR5895. This bill removes #CleanWaterAct protections for streams, headwaters, wetlands and other water bodies that serves as a drinking water source for 117 million Americans. More manure from Dan.

Democratic Senate Caucus and 3 Republicans voted to restore #netneutrality rules. But Republicans hold a 235-193 advantage in the House, so little chance of a vote to restore. Just another reason to flip the house. We can start by flipping WA4.

According to CBO, the #USdeficit will expand to $804 billion in fiscal 2018, up from $665 billion in fiscal 2017, and the #nationaldebt is on track to approach 100% of GDP by 2028. And Republicans like @RepNewhouse and @cathymcmorris are bragging about it. Incredible!

Remember, your tweets must be a maximum of 280 characters, including punctuation and spaces. Learn to use hashtags effectively, and try to leverage hot topics.

If you have a blog or website, and write about politics, tweet posts from your blog/site.

Get your message out. Make yourself heard!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Let's Improve Our Ground Game

The 2016 season was the first in the Pete Carroll era when the Seattle Seahawks failed to advance to the postseason. Many feel their lack of success can be attributed to the inability of the Seahawks to mount any sort of sustained ground game after the retirement of Marshawn Lynch.

Having a good ground game is essential to a well-rounded offense, and that’s as true in politics as it is in football. The ground game for our Benton County and 8th Legislative District centers around Precinct Committee Officers (PCOs). And like the Seahawks, our ground game is sorely lacking.

As of 2016, Benton County had 244 precincts. Despite a concerted effort by Allison Dabler and her “PCO Army,” Benton County Democrats have filled only 92 of those precinct slots with a PCO, and 15 of those PCO’s have indicted their intention to retire, or have left the area. Going into this year’s midterm elections, that leaves us with two-thirds of our precincts uncovered. We can’t win elections with the equivalent of one-third of Marshawn Lynch carrying our ground game. If you don’t believe me, look what happened to the Seahawks last year.

Precinct Committee Officers are elected every two years during the August primary. One can file for election on line by going to the Benton County Auditor website and filling out the form. There is no fee.

You’ll be required to identify the precinct for which you’re running. If you don’t already know your precinct, go to the Benton County Auditor website and from the Home screen click on “Voting Information,” scroll down to “What precinct am I registered in,” and click on the link. When the map appears, agree to the terms, then go to the upper left corner and enter your address. Your precinct will show on the map. If this sounds daunting, just call John Harder (509-366-3422), who’s now building our PCO Army, and he’ll do it for you.

A candidate who runs unopposed for PCO will be automatically elected; contested elections will appear on the primary ballot. PCOs elected in August will take office on December 1st.
Once Elected, You'll Receive a Cool Looking Certificate Like This
Filing for 2018 begins May 14 and ends May 18th.

Local Democratic Party organizations have the right to appoint PCOs to fill any seats left vacant - either because no one filed to run, or because the elected PCO has stepped down. If your precinct is vacant, Allison Dabler, the BCDCC Chair can appoint you to serve as an "appointed" PCO starting immediately!

As the Washington State Democratic Central Committee website states,

"Precinct committee officers, are the building block of the Democratic Party. They are the grassroots organizing base for all of our activities. It’s their job to get to know their neighbors, educate undecided or swing voters, and make sure Democrats are registered to vote. Before Election Day, they work to turn out voters. All this hard work adds up to precinct-by-precinct victories and the election of Democratic candidates. This is what grassroots politics is all about!"

And this is what having a winning ground game is all about. Let’s get out there and win one for the Gipper! Whoops! Got carried away (That was Ronald Reagan’s slogan). Let’s Get Out the Vote and win for Democrats!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

On the State of the Resistance, 2017-12-09, 19:04:30

By Carl Baker

It's been a year or so now that we've been engaged in this project that I still see as "the Resistance.” An attempt to protect ourselves and our allies from what we see as a federal-level government who's malevolence is tempered only by incompetence (hat tip to Martin O'Malley). And I thought I might offer some thoughts about where we are and how things are going.

Now, I'm a plenty peaceable guy by nature. I avoided the ROTC route through college because I'm not a big fan of violence. Most combat sports hold no particular interest for me, and I'm not even up to first-person shooter video games. Which I love but find myself unable to play. But we are currently engaged in a project with undeniable connections with warfare. And my day job is likewise connected to the execution of combat operations. So I'm finding the analogy with combat irresistible. So if you'll indulge me, I'll run with the analogy for a bit.

In this piece, I frame the folks we're  grappling with as "enemies". And in some sense they are. But they are also fellow citizens who simply (for various reasons) see the world completely differently to how we do. And they're just trying to do the same thing that we are - get their good ideas implemented. In our view, of course, their ideas are bad. But most of the people probably don't actually intend harm. I hope.

When we first began this project, there was near-universal concern (including from me) that we had no central coordinating body. No one was in charge. There was (and is) no way to ensure that each action by our opponents was met by exactly one, well planned, accurately targeted counter action. There was (and is) no way to ensure that each opportunity our opponents create will be exploited by a single, well planned, accurately targeted action.

When they do a thing we might respond with no action. Or we might execute two actions. One well planned and poorly executed and another poorly planned and well executed. Or maybe two independent and uncoordinated actions will spring forth, each successful for different reasons, creating two advantages for us. We don't have the tools in place to coordinate the efforts and ensure that we don't duplicate efforts or miss opportunities.

I'm overstating the case a bit here. Because we do communicate with each other. And we know each other. And when we plan a thing, we know who to talk to. And when we blunder into friendly forces who we didn't expect would be joining us in a particular engagement, we know that they are allies. And we can usually improvise a way to avoid causing problems for one another. There's a bit of a strained analogy here with a military concept called "full-spectrum operations". Which can be seen as simply deploying all of your classes of capability against your opponent to achieve maximum effect. And I think that we are doing this despite (or possibly because of) our lack of central control. We seem to be in a situation where there is no plan, no one is in charge, and no one knows what's going to happen next.  And I'm going to argue that that's a good thing.

Picture the situation from the perspective of our opponents. Who have no idea what kind of resistance to expect. Every time they venture onto the battlefield, they're met by a different opponent with a different set of strengths, weaknesses and tactics. Maybe they're met by several opponents. And there's no central point of coordination to mislead, isolate or otherwise neutralize. They put forward an idea, and it's resisted by folks they've been friends with for years. Angry people they've never met whose existence is threatened yell at them on the Internet. They get floods of phone calls and emails from folks who have been complaining at them for years complaining yet again. And their friends and family ask them at church "Dude, what's up with this thing?"  People protest, write letters to the editor, have friendly meetings with them and their staff, run against them in elections, contribute to their opponents’ campaigns, canvass for their opponents, send flowers, take them to court, and engage in all manner of resistance.  No action is safe. Including no action.

One of our core tenets - a fundamental element of our project - is that diversity is strength. Our society is better and stronger when the full spectrum of people participate. Everyone is helping. Everyone brings their best talents to the part of the project that they're most passionate about. To the part where they are best able to contribute.  So each independent line of effort could possibly benefit from better coordination with partner efforts. But they also benefit from the talent and passion of the workers being free to do their jobs as they see fit. Everyone is passionately bringing their "A" game to the part of the project they care most about.

And that's exactly how this project looks to me. We don't have a plan, no one is in charge, and no one knows what's going to happen next.  Including our opponents. Who have no idea what will happen when they try to do something. This is fantastic for us.  This decentralized control, which seems to be a weakness is actually a strength.   We have our best people doing their best work opposing them. We are all essential and no one is irreplaceable. Everyone is contributing according to their talent and inclination.  This has been going on for a year. And people are still showing up at meetings. They're excited to do things.
Things aren't perfect.  We've had some missteps.  Some people have been excluded who shouldn't have been.  Some people have had to take a break.  When that's happened, others have joined in. Many of whom will be here for the duration.  And when the opportunity arises, some of those who had to step aside will return. Democracy is messy. And we're going to goof up from time to time. But we have to try. And we are.

So I think that the current state of the resistance is that we are in fine shape. We don't have a plan, no one is in charge, and no one knows what's going to happen next. And that's exactly how it should be.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Say Goodbye to the Internet As We Know It

Ajit Pai was chosen by President Donald trump to be the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in January 2017. Pai almost immediately made his intentions clear, “We need to fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation and job creation,” Pai said. It turns out that in Pai’s opinion, the net neutrality rules put in place under the Obama Administration are some of the weeds that need wacking.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia fully upheld the prior FCC’s net neutrality rules on June 14, 2016.

These weedy rules prohibit internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or slowing web traffic or creating so-called paid internet fast lanes. Without network neutrality, ISPs can legally create a tiered internet where some sites will load faster than others.

Right now, for example, ISPs are banned from prioritizing content and services of their affiliates. Remove this rule, and Comcast would be able to provide its NBCUniversal affiliate faster movie streaming than, say Netflix. It’s hard to know who owns what in today’s fast-changing media empire wars. For example, one of the websites I visited for information on this story contained a footnote, saying, “Comcast, through its NBCU arm, is an investor in Vox Media, which owns this website.”

Pai’s rollback also scraps the legal foundation that the FCC’s old Democratic majority adopted in 2015 to tighten federal oversight of internet service providers, and it would get rid of the so-called general conduct standard, which gives the FCC authority to police behavior by ISPs it deems unreasonable. According to Ars Technica, Comcast is already the most hated company in America, so apparently the way they're screwing consumers is considered reasonable.

The only people who seem to want Ajit Pai's revisionist policy are the people at companies like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T. Incidentally, these companies routinely give immense amounts of money to members of Congress. Here in Eastern Washington, Cathy McMorris-Rogers (R-WA5) and Dan Newhouse (R-WA4) are grateful recipients.

Americans can contact their elected representatives and ask them to urge the FCC take action to protect network neutrality with strong legislation. Unless, that is, you live in the 4th or 5th Congressional Districts, where Representatives Newhouse and McMorris-Rogers have made their intentions known. They’re going with the big money players.

You’ll be better served by going directly to the FCC and commenting on the proceeding, which is known (I kid you not) as “Restoring Internet Freedom,” Proceeding 17-108, https://tinyurl.com/m99426b.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Tax Policy: A Reponse to Rep Dan Newhouse

by Bob Scherpelz
Congressman, Dan Newhouse (R-WA4), sent out emails asking what we thought should be in the new tax policy. Here's what I sent him:

Congressman Newhouse:

Last week you sent a letter to us asking what we think tax reform should look like. Thank you for offering the opportunity to tell you my vision.

I would like to propose a radical idea: that the tax system should raise sufficient revenue to adequately fund all the essential functions of our government. We need a strong military, and a capable foreign presence. We need to provide a sound safety net to all of our citizens who need it. We should provide an infrastructure that looks like a world-class country rather than a shabby one. We must maintain our leadership in education and scientific research. I have probably forgotten a few areas, but I think that the USA should be the world's superpower; it should be the leader of the free world; and it should be a just nation, a model to all others. This sounds like an expensive proposition, but our country has tremendous wealth and resources, and if we had the will we could produce the nation I describe.

The nation's tax system should share the burden equitably, which means an aggressively progressive structure. This is based on standard Christian ethics, as President Kennedy stated, drawing from the gospel of Luke: "For of those to whom much is given, much is required". A progressive tax structure will produce better equity, both in income and wealth, working towards a just society.

I know that the Republican party is unlikely to follow my suggestion, since they are discussing large tax cuts, especially for the wealthy. Their justification is that the resulting stimulation of the nation's economy will more than make up for a decrease in tax revenue. A number of economists disagree with this principle and point out that recent tax cuts did not produce the promised economic stimulus. I propose that legislation providing a large tax cut should include an accountability clause. It should have numerical targets, as a function of time, for the growth of GDP, the growth of employment and worker wages, and the decrease of the national debt. If these targets are not met, the tax structure would automatically revert to one that raises enough income to bring the deficit and debt down to appropriate levels.

Eliminating the estate tax would be a terrible mistake. This tax affects only the wealthiest members of our society (I don't know anyone likely to leave $11 million to their heirs), so eliminating the tax would be a gift to the super wealthy. The argument of being "taxed twice" is phony: the recipients of the inheritance will be taxed for the first time. I don't see anything special about a given packet of money, tracking how many times it's been taxed: how many times will a $20 bill have sales tax applied to it.
 Simplifying the tax code would be a good thing, but of course every deduction has a defender. But if popular middle class deductions are eliminated, I hope that there will be a vigorous effort to eliminate the many provisions that benefit the wealthy. I would particularly like to see the "carried interest" loophole eliminated.

Congressman Newhouse, I know that you have a difficult job ahead of you. But there is an approach to taxation that has not been tried in a while: instead of treating taxes as an unjust burden that people should be freed from, I think that you should appeal to Americans' basic generosity and patriotism. Remind them that they are living in the greatest country in the world, that we could and should be the world's leader, but that this is not cheap, and there is no magic pot of money to tap - it is the responsibility of all of us citizens to share our treasure to make this country great. That argument would work with me.

Sincerely, etc.