Never allowed to escape his past

Last week social networks were buzzing with reports that UMASS Dartmouth had rescinded the 2017 acceptance of a black student who had been honest about prior gang affiliations. Right after Martin Luther King day, and right in the middle of Black History month, a young black man had new options snatched away by nervous administrators at a campus in a lily-white community. At a campus meeting on Monday angry students voiced concerns about racism and fairness.

The university for its part shed absolutely no light on the issue. According to a campus spokesman, “We’re just not going to be engaged in a conversation about an admissions case about an individual student.” Whatever the actual facts, the university’s ham-handed refusal to discuss circumstances or safety concerns — or to engage in a “conversation” with students or the wider community — will with good reason be interpreted as a coverup of some good-old-fashioned racism, and less as the well-intentioned effort to keep students safe. The university might as well have invoked “national security.”

UMASS Dartmouth is a public university. Many of us studied there. Many of us know students, employees, faculty, ex-faculty, and regularly attend campus events. Before it joined the UMASS system it was very much a local university, and it still is. In every way it is our university. And the public is entitled to some answers. The administration must open up about the circumstances and reasoning behind changing its mind about this student. And it must publicly and transparently deal with concerns that this was racism again rearing its ugly head in the age of Trump.

Universities are full of people with all sorts of baggage. The UMASS university system was once run by Whitey Bulger’s brother. Despite suspicions he knew where his fugitive brother was hiding, it never seemed to keep William Bulger off a campus or prevent him from becoming president of the Massachusetts Senate. Plenty of white students have had offenses expunged from their records. But this particular student never had the same courtesy extended to him. Despite his best efforts to take a different path in life, this young black man has now been barred from the university for a past that men like him are never permitted to escape.

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Prepare for the 2018 MassDems convention

Massachusetts Democrats are getting ready for the 2018 convention in Worcester. The following information might be useful if you are thinking of jumping into the Blue pool.

The MassDems Convention

The 2018 Massachusetts Democratic convention is an Endorsing Convention — which means that state primary candidates will be vetted at the convention. To appear on the Democratic primary ballot on September 4th, candidates need 15% of the convention delegate vote, so you may have noticed that candidates are scrambling to contact party activists. This year’s convention is also considering charter amendments — changing the rules by which the state party operates. Action Together has a good writeup on what will go on at the convention:

Action Together also has a good summary of how you can jump in:

First things first

Start by attending your Democratic town caucus. You can’t be a delegate if you’re not attached to a local committee. Today was the first day of the caucuses. Check to see when yours is being held:

A little light reading

The rules for delegates, alternates and “add-on” delegate selections will leave you with heartburn and a headache. In general, there are an equal number of male and female delegates and alternates. There are also a number of “add-on” delegates, also gender-balanced, who represent various identities: minority, gender, sexuality, disabled, etc.

You must be registered as a Democrat at the time of your town caucus to be elected as a delegate or alternate. Add-on delegates can register as Democrats at the caucuses. Delegates must be present at the caucuses unless they are serving in the military, and they must not have publicly supported non-Democrats within the last 2-4 years. There may be some exceptions for absences at the caucuses if prior notice has been given in writing to the local chair. Consult your local chair and familiarize yourself with the Convention documents and the various forms and registration deadlines. And don’t show up late for your caucus!

In case you missed the email

You may find additional information in an email the MassDems sent to all town and city Chairpersons:

Get on Richard’s list

Richard Drolet is a good guy to know if you’re a SouthCoast Democrat. He is the Chairperson of the New Bedford Democratic City Committee, which arranges a bus to the convention for Democrats from New Bedford and neighboring towns. Get on Richard’s email list to be advised of City committee meetings (which are open to members of neighboring towns) and plans for travel to the 2018 Convention in Worcester.

Courage needed

Few people who listened to Donald Trump’s first State of the Union speech could fail to miss his remarks on minorities and immigrants. This is a demagogue playing to a far-right base by expanding a deportation machine. This is an unrepentant racist who now makes it clear he doesn’t want even legal immigration if it involves brown people.

In New Hampshire since last summer American citizens on I-93 have been stopped at roadblocks in Thornton, forced to show their ids, and had their cars searched in violation of what’s left of the Fourth Amendment. In Fort Lauderdale last week, agents stopped and boarded a Greyhound bus and again demanded to see everyone’s id. A video of the spectacle provoked widespread condemnation.

This is not a sign of a healthy democracy, nor is it an America most of us want to live in. It’s a little too reminiscent of the pogroms of Germany of 1935. And this is why we need the Safe Communities Act, now before the Massachusetts legislature.

State legislators want to protect the public, and they also want to provide law enforcement officials with the tools to do it. Anti-immigrant organizations like FAIR, and spokesmen for FAIR like Bristol County Sheriff Tom Hodgson, would have us believe Trump’s claim that an overwhelming number of immigrants from Latin America are rapists and cartel members. Those who know the immigrant community know that this is complete hogwash. But some legislators fear making the wrong call.

Hodgson and his former segregationist friend Jeff Sessions claim the Safe Communities Act is a “sanctuary” bill that prevents immigration agents from doing their job. Sessions, like Hodgson, even wants to arrest mayors of cities who won’t deputize their police as ICE agents.

But nobody’s stopping ICE from doing its work. The Safe Communities Act now moving through committee simply says that Massachusetts taxpayers aren’t picking up the tab for federal policing, and we’re not going to go out of our way to deputize our police and prison officials as ICE agents. The bill also says “no” to registries of Muslims, Latinos — or anyone else on the wrong side of the president.

Fear merchants like Tom Hodgson are hoping you won’t read the legislation and will believe whatever they tell you about it. But the Safe Communities Act is 154 lines double spaced, and it’s not difficult to read or understand.

An important calculation the legislature must make when voting on “Safe Communities” is whether the risks to democracy of expanding the president’s deportation machine outweigh any benefits of getting rid of what the president calls “bad hombres.” Most of the deportees we’ve been hearing about recently are guilty of 20 year-old DUI’s and other low level offenses. Expanding a police state to go after them will have only negative consequences.

Let’s leave the determination of dangerousness to local cops and DA’s — and not willingly join the president’s pogrom against brown people. Encourage your legislator to pass the Safe Communities Act. The quality of our democracy literally depends on more states passing courageous legislation like this.

Dammit, Democrats!

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
The Fourth Amendment

Democrats have their Munsingwear all in a knot about Donald Trump’s authoritarian playbook — his attacks on a free press, directing Jeff Sessions to act as his personal lawyer, the firing of Jonathan Comey, and the possibility he may do the same with Robert Mueller.

But recently, when it came time to walk the walk for Democracy instead of just talk the talk, it turned out that Democrats were mostly talk. Sixty-five Democratic U.S. Representatives and twenty-one Democratic Senators handed Trump and the Republican Party an easy victory by extending warrantless spying on Americans. It was a needless and spineless capitulation by Democratic Party centrists, but it was also nothing new from a party that traditionally votes like Republicans on military and security issues. Dammit, Democrats!

Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act extends and expands the ability of spy agencies to monitor your digital communications without a warrant. With Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelation, the public now knows that Section 702 has been used illegally. Millions of communications are vacuumed up and stored annually. The hundreds of thousands of foreign targets have never been approved individually by a court but are essentially retroactive dragnets that frequently involve wiretapping American citizens. This could have been fixed because even Tea Party Republicans wanted the change.

But on January 11th sixty-five House Democrats — including Massachusetts stealth Republicans Bill Keating and Seth Moulton — voted “Yea” on the bill. They were the “usual suspects”: Aguilar (CA), Bera (CA), Bishop (GA), Blunt Rochester (DE), Boyle (PA), Brown (MD), Brownley (CA), Bustos (IL), Carson (IN), Cartwright (PA), Castor (FL), Clyburn (SC), Cooper (TN), Costa (CA), Crist (FL), Cuellar (TX), Delaney (MD), Demings (FL), Deutch (FL), Foster (IL), Frankel (FL), Garamendi (CA), Gottheimer (NJ), Grisham (NM), Higgins (NY), Himes (CT), Hoyer (MD), Keating (MA), Krishnamoorthi (IL), Kuster (NH), Langevin (RI), Lawson (FL), Lipinski (IL), Loebsack (IA), Lowey (NY), Maloney (NY), McEachin (VA), Meeks (NY), Moulton (MA), Murphy (FL), Norcross (NJ), O’Halleran (AZ), Panetta (CA), Pelosi (CA), Perlmutter (CO), Peters (CA), Peterson (MN), Quigley (IL), Rice (NY), Rosen (NV), Ruiz (CA), Ruppersberger (MD), Schiff (CA), Schneider (IL), Scott (GA), Sewell (AL), Sinema (AZ), Sires (NJ), Slaughter (NY), Suozzi (NY), Swalwell (CA), Thompson (CA), Torres (CA), Veasey (TX), and Wasserman-Schultz (FL).

On January 18th twenty-one Senate Democrats voted “Yea” on the Senate version: Carper (DE), Casey (PA), Cortez Masto (NV), Donnelly (IN), Duckworth (IL), Feinstein (CA), Hassan (NH), Heitkamp (ND), Jones (AL), Kaine (VA), Klobuchar (MN), Manchin (WV), McCaskill (MO), Nelson (FL), Peters (MI), Reed (RI), Schumer (NY), Shaheen (NH), Stabenow (MI), Warner (VA), and Whitehouse (RI).

Both members of the Democratic leadership and the former head of the Democratic Party all approved the blanket surveillance. And New Guy Doug Jones. No doubt it’s a good thing the new Alabama Senator is on the job instead of an alleged pedophile. But Jones, who was supported by Democrats of all flavors — I even sent him $50 — just voted away the privacy of 330 million Americans in one of his first official acts. This was not exactly what I was hoping for.

So, while the president bribes porn stars and deals with Russian mafiosi, re-tweets fascists and spits out racist invective, we’re ignoring Congressional and Senate abuses by both parties — one of the worst the dismantling of our democracy.

When I was a boy one of the great crimes of the Soviet Union and Germany of then-recent memory was the practice of arbitrary stops and requiring the papers of citizens: “Papiere!” some thug would demand. Nothing like that could ever happen in the USA — or so we thought. But with the so-called “border exception” to the Fourth Amendment — sometimes known as the Constitution-free zone — The U.S. has snuggled up closer to authoritarian rule. Citizens in Arizona are now accustomed to being stopped by border agents demanding: “Papiere!” But now “Papiere!” has come to New England.

If some day you happen to be driving up to New Hampshire you just might run into the Customs and Border Protection service. Last Fall the New Hampshire Union Leader reported roadblocks on I-93 near Thornton, during which travelers were stopped, asked about their citizenship, and sometimes hauled off to unknown detention centers. In addition, drug-sniffing dogs netted arrests for marijuana, cocaine, and other drugs. All without a warrant.

Likewise, the growing practice of demanding access to a traveler’s computer equipment is also a new feature of our gradual abandonment of the Fourth Amendment. The CATO Institute notes: “thanks to the ‘border exception’ to the Fourth Amendment, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers do not need reasonable suspicion or probable cause to search electronic devices at airports.” The Customs and Border Protection service reports that last year over 30,000 travelers had to fork over laptops, tablets, cellphones, and the passwords to everything in them. As the same statistics show, this practice was in full swing during the Obama administration.

At a time of daily revelations of corruption, incompetence and venality by a sitting president, the bar is admittedly pretty low for the rest of the political establishment. But it’s still worth prodding them to live up to expectations. I’m going to call both my U.S. Senators and thank them for opposing the FISA extension.

And then I’m going to have a long, loud conversation with one of Bill Keating’s staffers.

Class Warfare

Republicans laughing at the "little people"

With the help of more than 6,000 lobbyists the 1% of the 1% — America’s super-rich — managed to ram through a new tax code in the U.S. Congress designed entirely for themselves. Here in the Commonwealth similar looters are unhappy the “little people” have been fighting back.

The RaiseUp Coalition — a broad coalition of workers and social justice groups in Massachusetts — succeeded in getting the so-called “Millionaire’s Tax” on the 2018 state ballot. It took thousands of hours of ordinary people standing in the freezing cold or drizzle, and being chased from supermarket parking lots, to gather the signatures. Now, however, the richest of the rich are trying to have the ballot initiative blocked — by taking away our right to vote on it.

A complaint before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court claims Attorney General Maura Healey and State Secretary William Galvin overstepped their authority by permitting what is essentially a progressive income tax to be added to the ballot.

Healy and Galvin are being sued by Christopher Anderson, Westford, President of the Massachusetts High Technology Council, Inc. (“MHTC”); Christopher Carlozzi, Malden, State Director of the National Federation of Independent Business (“NFIB”); Richard C. Lord, Peabody, President and Chief Executive Officer of Associated Industries of Massachusetts (“AIM”); Eileen McAnneny, Melrose, President of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation (“Foundation”); and Daniel O’Connell, Boston, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership (“MACP”).

When these lobbying groups were pocketing massive tax breaks not one of them one was screaming “Class Warfare!” But now when called upon to pay their fair share, well, things are quite different. Fourteen members of the Mass High Tech Council alone have managed to extort $144.7 million in tax breaks from the state — and the $150 million in salaries of the executives who run these companies were paid for almost entirely by taxpayers. Nevertheless, taxpayer largesse was never enough for these parasites.

If you are a voter, please sign the RaiseUp petition to demand that the tax initiative stays on the ballot.

And if you are a legislator — just pass the Millionaire’s Tax! If the people’s house were really doing the people’s work we wouldn’t need ballot initiatives like this.

Resistance to 287(g)

Three neighboring counties in the bottom right quadrant of the Commonwealth have Republican sheriffs in otherwise Democratic districts. It could have something to do with demographics — or maybe just neglect and Boston-centric politics. But it is surely a sign that not all is well with a party that habitually runs weak sheriff candidates — or none at all.

Barnstable County Sheriff James Cummings recently joined fellow Republicans, Bristol County Sheriff Tom Hodgson and Plymouth County Sheriff Joe McDonald, in signing a 287(g) agreement with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Under such agreements ICE permits prison officials to volunteer as federal immigration agents. The Trump administration, which strongly promotes the program, sees 287(g) as a tool in its larger mass-deportation strategy. And the Republican sheriffs know it. “The president said our role is probably the most critical because we know the players in our communities and we know how to find them,” Bristol County Sheriff Tom Hodgson said.

You wouldn’t know it from Hodgson’s many statements on right-wing talk radio, but 287(g) is not very popular — by any stretch of the imagination. At present ICE has agreements in only 18 states, and with only 60 law enforcement agencies. Massachusetts joins Arizona, California, Nevada, New Jersey, and Ohio — and the entire South — as participants. Now generally limited to a “jails” model because of previous abuses in the older “task force” and “hybrid” models, 287(g) agreements have a long history of civil rights abuses. For instance, in 2011 Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s agreement with ICE was terminated for civil rights abuses.

These ICE agreements impose costs of running a federal law enforcement program on state government and redeploy state corrections employees as federal agents. Sheriffs who enter into the agreements do so out of personal politics — not as part of their job description. And many local police forces find 287(g) programs undermine community trust.

According to the American Immigration Council, ICE agreements with local sheriffs are not properly supervised by ICE. Both the Boston Globe and the New York Times have featured articles on the lack of local accountability for county sheriffs — sheriffs who often operate as spokesmen for the Trump administration and anti-immigrant groups like FAIR and CIS. Understandably, there is growing resistance to 287(g) programs and a desire to slap some limits on them. And a lot is happening recently.

On January 3rd the Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates voted 9-5 to support a resolution opposing the 287(g) program in Barnstable County. Because of weighted voting, however, the resolution failed.

On January 8th at 7PM at the Falmouth Public Library county residents will have a chance to discuss 287(g) agreements and learn about the Safe Communities Act — state legislation which puts some limits on a sheriff’s discretionary powers regarding ICE.

And at the Bristol County prison on January 11th at 6PM county residents will have a similar opportunity to express concerns about the 287(g) program — see http://www.bcso-ma.us/ for details of the public hearing. And do your homework if you plan on attending.

Soul Searching

Last night’s special Senate election in Alabama was balm for weary Liberals — and possibly even held a silver lining for Conservatives. With the repudiation of a xenophobic bible-thumping bigot with multiple accusations of child molestation, Alabamians can almost look themselves in the mirror this morning. Together, Democrats and Republicans breathed a sigh of relief that a man so foul would not be taking a seat in the Senate.

Tennessee GOP Senator Bob Corker called Moore’s defeat “a great night for America.” Florida GOP Senator Marco Rubio tweeted: “For their good sense people are praised, but the perverse of heart are despised. Proverbs 12:8,” But these were exceptions from a party that generally stands for everything Moore represents.

For Americans the closely-watched election had everything in it — race, sex, religion, authoritarianism. It was at once a referendum on the role of religion in government and America’s search for its soul. Although America may have dodged a bullet, the slim margin said a lot about the country’s tenuous relationship to democracy, equality and civil liberties. Ezra Klein put the narrow Democratic “win” in perspective:

“If Moore had merely been a candidate who believed Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to serve in Congress, that the laws of the United States of America should be superseded by his interpretation of the Bible, that homosexuality should be illegal, he would have won in a landslide. Even multiple credible reports that Moore serially preyed on teenage girls were barely enough to lose him the election. […] Like Donald Trump before him, Moore is proof that there is no depravity so unforgivable, no behavior so immoral, that it assures a candidate will lose his party’s voters.”

Mark Galli, the editor-in-chief of Christianity Today, in a piece yesterday, had plenty of criticism for Christian liberals but saved his harshest words for conservative Evangelicals:

“The race between Republican candidate Roy Moore and Democratic candidate Doug Jones has only put an exclamation point on a problem that has been festering for a year and a half — ever since a core of strident conservative Christians began to cheer for Donald Trump without qualification and a chorus of other believers decried that support as immoral. The Christian leaders who have excused, ignored, or justified his unscrupulous behavior and his indecent rhetoric have only given credence to their critics who accuse them of hypocrisy. Meanwhile the easy willingness of moderate and progressive Christians to cast aspersions on their conservative brothers and sisters has made many wonder about our claim that Jesus Christ can bring diverse people together as no other can.”

Aspersions aside, the facts are these: White Alabamians, in their perversity, overwhelmingly chose a racist multiply-accused of pedophilia who doesn’t really believe in the U.S. Constitution over a Democrat who successfully prosecuted the Klan. And it was black Alabamians — black women, especially — whom the nation can thank for their display of the “good sense” mentioned in Proverbs 12:8.

The Alabama election should dispel any notion that Democrats must abandon so-called “identity politics” and throw their efforts instead into chasing “angry white voters.” Angry white voters don’t vote for them. When Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren, and other Democratic luminaries announced their “Better Deal” in Berryville, Virginia, it was a harebrained effort to appeal to white populism. But the Democratic Party is a party of diversity, the working class is much broader than the DNC seems to understand — and that’s where the party’s power must come from. Last night black Alabamians wanted the DNC to remember that.

Before the election, when asked if black Alabama voters would turn out in sufficient numbers, Birmingham City Councillor Sheila Tyson replied, “The problem isn’t going to be with the black voters. If Jones doesn’t win, it’s not our problem.” But black voters delivered. After the votes were in, Democratic strategist Symone D. Sanders told a Newsweek reporter, “Doug Jones would not have won today without the turnout we saw from African-American voters. […] Black women have been absolutely clear in their support for Democratic policies and Democratic candidates. It’s high time for Democrats … to invest in that effort.”

Which was a polite way of telling the Democratic Party to stop focusing on big donors, and losing battles with racists, to democratize and start showing some respect for voters of color who just saved their asses.

But bringing real democracy to the Democratic Party won’t happen easily. In the Monday New York Times Julia Azari and Seth Masket penned an opinion piece, “Is the Democratic Party Becoming Too Democratic?” In it they object to the DNC Unity Commission’s moves to reduce the number of superdelegates and open up the party to [shudder] Sanders supporters. They write that “part of the problem for parties is our insistence that they be run democratically. That turns out not to be a very realistic concept […] party leaders will always have vastly more information about candidates — their strengths and flaws, their ability to govern and work with Congress, their backing among various interest groups and coalitions — than voters and caucusgoers do. That information is useful, even vital, to the task of picking a good nominee.”

Richard Eskow in his dissection, “Democrats Need More Democracy, Not Less” does a great job of refuting Azari and Masket’s argument, pointing out that — repeatedly — party insiders have either championed candidates who were doomed the moment their names appeared on the ballot — or sabotaged candidates who were objectively more “realistic” than the poor choices insiders made. The 2016 Presidential election was no exception.

If the Alabama election teaches us anything, it’s that the Republican Party has completely lost whatever soul it ever had. Democrats, on the other hand, still have theirs. It’s right underfoot, but they’re knocking around in the dark trying to figure out where the hell they left it.