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.

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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.

Defend the Safe Communities Act

From our friends at Progressive Massachusetts:

The Mass Fiscal Alliance — long-time Trumplike nativists masquerading as a Think Tank — is sending out fear-based postcards to voters, designed to undermine progress we’ve made with the Safe Communities Act in 2017.

They use junk data from a known hate group, FAIR, which has a long history of misrepresenting Safe Community/TRUST act policies to stir up panic — and to drive opposition calls to the State House.

Help us respond and counteract MFA’s efforts with the call tools/script below. (As always — know your legislators’ names and numbers — keep them in your contact list for next time!)

If you don’t have time for a call, take a minute to contact your state Representative and Senator using the email template here. Don’t forget to record your outreach below!)

Click on the image below for more scripts, reporting tools, and additional information:

Support the Safe Communities Act

I’m forwarding this appeal from MIRA and ask everyone to contact your representatives to support the Safe Communities Act. And if you can, please help MIRA out with a year-end donation.


Dear Supporters of Safe Communities:

We need your help this week. Please distribute the message below to your networks!

Since last week, the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance has been mounting a rolling attack on the 95 co-sponsors of the Safe Communities Act. We need an immediate response. Can you call or email your state representative and senator today?

The Alliance’s anti-immigrant postcard campaign is sowing fear about the bill, using false and misleading information disseminated by the Federation of American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified as a white supremacist hate group.

The postcards are generating hundreds of calls to cosponsors from angry voters who misunderstand and oppose the bill. And legislators are getting worried.

Now these legislators need to hear from supporters. We need to thank them for their commitment to the Safe Communities Act and to immigrant state residents – and assure them of our support!

If you want to send an email, you can use this simple tool set up by MIRA. If you enter your address and ZIP code, it will direct you to your legislators, and automatically tailor the message for each of them, depending on whether they co-sponsored the SCA.

If you want to call (this makes the biggest and most immediate impact!) find the list of co-sponsors here, and find your legislators and their contact info here, if you don’t already have them.

When you’re done, make sure to forward this email to your own networks without delay!

And PLEASE contribute to MIRA!

Thank you for your support!

For the Safe Communities Coalition,

Amy Grunder
Director of Legislative Affairs
Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition

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.

Now it’s official

A politician’s legacy is not his alone. He often builds on policies and practices of previous administrations. While Trump’s mendacity and incompetence (and dementia) are his and his alone, many of his most noxious initiatives have been bipartisan projects all along. Trump’s recklessness simply airs America’s dirty little secrets and turns already bad policies into unbearable ones. Forget the “kinder, gentler” versions. Now the worst of militarism, racism, and predatory capitalism are simply official.

If we tremble at the recklessness with which Trump toys with American nukes, we forget that Obama authorized a $1 trillion upgrade to them. If we abhor Trump’s new Mexican wall, we forget that Democrats helped build them. Twice. If we despise the racism of the GOP, we willfully forget that Democrats had a hand in drug, crime and prison policies that disproportionately harmed people of color. If we detest Trump’s shady friends in high places, we forget that these were the guys Democrats bailed out in 2008. If we mouth concern about Trump’s affinity for dictators, we forget that the Obama administration kept them in power in Honduras and Egypt and the Ukraine. If we wring our hands over Trump’s saber-rattling toward Iran, we forget that Democrats destabilized Libya and Syria.

None of this would be so offensive if Democrats had changed their ways or said their mea culpas for, say, wrecking Iraq or Vietnam or creating a carceral state. Yet for all the crocodile tears and hypocritical indignation over Trump’s policies, Democrats have some very selective memory.

This week it was Donald Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Democrats responded immediately and harshly. Nancy LeTourneau, in her piece “Trump’s Dangerous Pandering to White Evangelicals on Jerusalem” in the Clinton-friendly Washington Monthly, wrote:

“the announcement from Trump today that the U.S. will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and begin the process of moving our embassy there is a key ingredient to this president’s support among white evangelicals.” [… and ] “this is a perfect example of what happens when we tear down the wall separating church and state. Having a foreign policy that panders to people who welcome war in the Middle East as a sign that we are approaching the climax of history is as nutty as it is dangerous.”

But LeTourneau and the rest of her Pants Suit Nation “forget” the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

That was the year that Barak Obama added a plank in the party platform at the behest of the Israeli lobby group AIPAC to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It was a plank that had somehow been omitted. But a majority of delegates opposed the restoration. Convention Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa kept calling for voice votes to affirm the adoption of the plank, and it kept failing. Finally, Villaraigosa simply ignored the “nays” and declared that it had passed — a moment that revealed how democracy really works in the DNC.

“Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel.” This has been the DNC position since at least 2008. LeTourneu’s complaint that Trump’s foreign policy panders to people who welcome war in the Middle East is certainly true — but it applies equally to her own party. The rest of the language in the plank — completely disregarded by Democrats — called for an open city, not for gifting the Al Aqsa mosque to Israel:

“The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations. It should remain a divided city accessible to people of all faiths.”

Yet for the last fifty years of Israel’s martial law over Palestinians only the United States has defended the occupation and the settlements. The U.S. has consistently shut its eyes to Israeli abuses and Israel continues to demolish Palestinian homes and businesses in East Jerusalem without a peep of protest or without the U.S. using its considerable supply of sticks and carrots. The U.S. could easily cut off military and economic aid or vetos at the Security Council. Or it could sanction Israel’s nukes.

Democrats now fume at settler donors Jared Kushner and David Friedman working so transparently in behalf of Israel, but it was former Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller who first coined the phrase “Israel’s attorney” in 2005, referring to the United States.

Whether out of gutlessness, lack of empathy for those whom Israelis displaced, craven political opportunism, or maybe just the cash, Democrats have presided over an irreversible buildout of Israeli settlements and half a century of oppression of Palestinians. By being “Israel’s attorney” Democrats have neglected the peace process so long that there is no longer any hope of a Two State solution and so-called U.S. “leadership” is a cruel sham.

Trump just made it official.