Moving forward together


Last Fall I attended weekly political discussions which, sadly, ended after the election. Our group ran quite the gamut of political views, but despite a few moments of heat we were usually able to hear each other. Hats off to Ken Hartnett, emeritus editor at the Standard Times, for making such civility possible.

I don’t know if something of this sort already exists, but I’d like to know if anyone is interested in an independent political forum here in the SouthCoast (of Massachusetts). Something issues-based. Something welcoming to both mainstream and progressive Democrats and not intimately wedded to the local party machinery. Something with a reliable venue, a reasonable schedule, speakers, opportunities for discussion – in person and continued online.

I miss discussing politics with real people. More importantly, we have a lot to figure out together these next four years, especially as centrist and left-oriented Democrats kiss, make up, and move forward together.

A good example of this is out in Maricopa County, Arizona — home of [thankfully former] sheriff Joe Arpaio. There Democrats and Progressives are as rare as water and as endangered a species as the white-sided jackrabbit (I’m not making this up). But misery loves company and out in the desert both True Blue Democrats and Berniecrats are moving forward together. Their Blog for Arizona is always interesting and models nicely how we in the center and on the left could be working together.

Let me know what you think.


The Mainstream Fringe


It has not gone unnoticed that Donald Trump’s election day shocker was due largely to support from the so-called “Alt-Right” – a catchy new euphemism for white supremacy and Hitler salutes. But less conspicuously, even “mainstream” Republicans have been cozying up to white supremacy lately. And in general, the political landscape has shifted sharply to the far right in the last two years.

Mainstream conservatives are embracing the fringe.

The National Review

The National Review, which was founded by William F. Buckley in 1955, has struggled with and repeatedly purged itself of white supremacists but seems to be losing the battle. The magazine has had to fire John Derbyshire, who had a little racist sideline on Taki’s Magazine, where Richard Spencer was once an editor; John O’Sullivan, another NR writer who was on the boards of both VDARE and the Lexington Research Institute; Peter Brimelow, NR writer and former editor at Forbes, and a writer for Barron’s, Fortune, and the Wall Street Journal.

William F. Buckley devoted much of his time to weeding segregationists, “Birchers,” anti-Semites, and the lunatic fringe from the pages of the National Review. After he died in 2008 the garden he planted was overrun with weeds.

This week’s National Review, for example, has long-time NRO editor George Will defending Jeff Sessions, a KKK apologist too racist to be appointed as a federal judge but who may now be the Attorney General. Alongside this is a piece by forrmer NR editor Charles C.W. Cooke, who penned “Teach Holocaust Denial and be Proud of It.” And right next to that is a piece by Andrew C. McCarthy blasting Obama’s refusal to veto a UN resolution on illegal Israeli settlements. McCarthy is also the author of a book promoting the conspiracy theory that Obama is trying to bring Shariah law to the United States.

The Heritage Foundation+

The Heritage Foundation, whose opinion-shapers appear regularly in newspapers, has also been afflicted with the virus. Jason Richwine is the most notorious of these, penning a number of articles on blacks and Hispanics on President-elect Trump’s White House advisor Steve Bannon praised Richwine on his Sirius XM radio show. The Heritage Foundation wraps its white supremacy in “scientific studies,” like the one Richwine wrote that blasted immigration reform, claiming illegal immigrants would suck $9.4 trillion of benefits from upstanding white Americans – which one writer joked “will bankrupt the solar system.”

Besides racism, the Heritage Foundation also promotes Islamophobia. A 2014 panel the Heritage Foundation organized to draw attention to the Benghazi controversy soon devolved into a mudslinging match accusing President Obama of funding jihadist violence and promoting Shariah law. The Heritage Foundation had invited Brigitte Gabriel from ACT, which the Council on American-Islamic Relations has identifed as part of a well-funded Islamophobia Network. The panel was led by Chris Plante, a rightwing talk show host, who turned the discussion into an “Islamophobic freak show,” as Salon described it, and included Frank Gaffney, one of the fringiest of the fringe. The panel featured the trio attacking a Muslim student who rose to speak and demanding to know her nationality (it was “United States citizen”).

The Heritage Foundation’s president is Jim DeMint, a former U.S. Senator from South Carolina turned Tea Party leader, and “the most hated man in Washington” by one account. Under DeMint’s leadership the Heritage Foundation has lost credibility and clout. As Senator, DeMint was a divisive politician who went out of his way to greet a racist rally, a move that fellow Republicans slammed, with one warning that “freaks fill the void and define the party.” Call it an “unguarded moment” or a Freudian slip, but DeMint admitted that the purpose of disenfranchising blacks through Voter ID laws was to elect “more conservatives.”

It is not surprising that the Heritage Foundation was founded by Richard Mellon Scaife, who died recently. An heir to the Mellon fortune, Scaife set up a network of rightwing foundations and Islamophobic organizations. In the good old days, billionaires dabbled in art. Now they support hate groups.

(Dear newspaper editors – if you’re reading this – stop publishing garbage from the Heritage Foundation!)

Other mentions

No one could have imagined Ann Coulter’s fulminations could get any worse but now she is attending VDARE’s white supremacy conferences. We always thought Ann was just a fact-challenged provocatuese but now we know better.

The American Conservative Union, which runs the CPAC conference all Republican candidates are expected to attend, is another nexus of white supremacists and Klan admirers.

The Southern Poverty Law Center keeps tabs on all these homegrown Nazis – and it’s not like they didn’t warn us. The NAACP as well reported six years ago on the Tea Party’s deep ties to white supremacist groups and extremist militias.

Paleoconservatism and Trump

Before the Alt-Right there were the Paleoconservatives – anti-Semites and isolationist Eurocentric nationalists. Pat Buchanan, who was an advisor to both Nixon and Reagan, has written for Holocaust denying publications and cited the American Nazi Party’s William Pierce in one of his books. Over time paleoconservatives fell out of favor for their isolationism and were banished to the fringes where they became a natural magnet for the extreme right.

Stephen Mihm writing in Bloomberg News makes a good argument for Trump’s paleoconservatism. And Dylan Matthews writing in Vox suggests that Donald Trump is not merely an opportunist manipulated by the Alt-Right but an “imperfect Paleoconservative” himself. Both articles should dispel the image of Trump as a mere showman. Trump (like his father before him) has been at home in his white, white world a long time.

Sixteen years ago, William F. Buckley had this to say about the next President of the United States:

What about the aspirant who has a private vision to offer to the public and has the means, personal or contrived, to finance a campaign? In some cases, the vision isn’t merely a program to be adopted. It is a program that includes the visionary’s serving as President. Look for the narcissist. The most obvious target in today’s lineup is, of course, Donald Trump. When he looks at a glass, he is mesmerized by its reflection. If Donald Trump were shaped a little differently, he would compete for Miss America. But whatever the depths of self-enchantment, the demagogue has to say something. So what does Trump say? That he is a successful businessman and that that is what America needs in the Oval Office. There is some plausibility in this, though not much. The greatest deeds of American Presidents — midwifing the new republic; freeing the slaves; harnessing the energies and vision needed to win the Cold War — had little to do with a bottom line.

Today the magazine Buckley founded is nothing but a mirror for Trump to gaze at himself adoringly.

A night in jail


Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, and Seasons Greetings!

Last week a friend sent me a link to a piece by Harold Pollack in The Nation which put into words what many of us have been thinking – that the time is soon coming when writing checks and signing petitions won’t be enough. Getting out into the streets and engaging in civil disobedience may be what is required, regardless of our age.

Civil disobedience is as American as Henry David Thoreau, and one could even say it’s been an American tradition since the colonies tangled with King George II. Thoreau spent his night in jail on July 23rd, 1846 when the twenty-nine year-old abolitionist walked into town to accept his punishment for withholding taxes as a protest against slavery.

Our individual actions do make a difference. Rosa Parks, through the simple act of refusing to move to the back of a bus, kicked off the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The Boycott was a turning point in building the Civil Rights movement. And the Civil Rights movement, in turn, inspired activists black and white – like the future U.S. Senator from Vermont pictured above being arrested.

In the face of what’s surely coming from the Trump administration – mass deportations, targeting of Muslims, even greater violations of civil liberties – should Americans dust off this tool of protest even if it means spending a night in jail?

According to Thoreau it’s our duty.

Have a wonderful holiday – and a disobedient New Year.

Lost in the Wilderness


A few days ago I received an email asking me to petition President Obama to use his remaining days in office to shut down our existing Muslim registry. It’s called NSEERS. Although this was a Bush-era program, Democrats missed eight years of opportunity to shut it down before it occurred to them that it was a bad idea.

Last week we learned that David Friedman, a supporter of Israel’s extreme right-wing settler movement, is Trump’s pick for ambassador to Israel. Friedman rather undiplomatically called liberal American Jews “worse than Kapos” for supporting a Two State solution. But with this appointment Trump is simply saying out loud what Democrats have done through neglect for years – effectively subverting a Two State solution and habitually placing Israeli interests before our own.

The week before that, Trump placed a call to Taiwanese president Tsai Ying-wen, riling both Beijing and American liberals for an apparent violation of the long-standing “One China policy.” But hold on a second! – Taiwan has been buying American military equipment for years. Just last year they were in negotiations with the Obama administration to completely overhaul their arsenal. Obviously plenty of Democrats have been talking to Taiwan.

Donations to the ACLU have increased by 965% since Donald Trump’s election. Liberals worry that civil liberties will take a hit — and the last eight years have eroded many. But when they held the reins of power why did Democrats do such a dismal job of protecting whistleblowers and privacy — to the extent Democrats became apologists for the CIA and the NSA’s unconstitutional surveillance of Americans?

Liberals are outraged by Donald Trump’s promise to build a wall along the Mexican border — an American Berlin Wall. But the wall has existed for the last decade. It had bipartisan funding. It can be seen from space or on National Geographic’s website. So why criticize it now – years after Democrats helped build it?

Democratic voters expect their party to oppose wasteful fences, xenophobia, reckless and inconsistent foreign policy, and the abuse of civil liberties. And they did — but only when the other guy did it. Only after Trump tweeted in caps what Democrats themselves have been doing on the QT. This disconnect suggests that Democratic voters are much more liberal than their own party’s centrist leadership.

Meanwhile, some Democrats have been taking criticism of “identity politics” to mean they need to “tone down” the party’s commitments to equality and civil liberties by throwing some constituencies under the bus. This would be a further retreat to the centrism that lost Democrats the election.

The Democratic Party needs a new direction and new leadership. It doesn’t seem ready or willing to part with its congressional leaders just yet, but it has a chance to reform itself, starting with the selection of a new DNC chair. Only then might there be hope for a party that seems lost in the wilderness.

But there can only be hope if the party is willing to change.

Small but Mighty IAC


The Trump presidency is shaping up to be a temporary win for white supremacy and intolerance. No groups in America are less secure now than Muslims and immigrants – and by “immigrants” I mean people here in the United States legally. Retroactive enforcement of the draconian 1996 Immigration Reform Act makes many relatively small crimes deportable offenses – even for those here for decades.

On Saturday I attended a community forum at the Immigrants Assistance Center hosted by Helena DaSilva Hughes. The meeting was intended to calm New Bedford’s frightened immigrant community and provide insights into changes the Trump administration might make and to review immigrant rights under the law.

There were three speakers: Schuyler Pisha, Legal Director at Catholic Social Services; Rita Resende, a lawyer at Watt & Sylvia; and Marcony Almeida-Barros, of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office. Attendees learned what sort of changes the Trump administration could make on Day One; about changes to existing immigration law that are unlikely; and about changes virtually impossible because of the Bill of Rights. If anyone is interested in the details, here are my meeting notes or (if you read Portuguese) there should be an article in “O Jornal” next Friday. The Attorney General’s representative gave a brief outline of services the AG’s office provided to anyone in Massachusetts. “You have rights,” he told everyone. “And you have a state agency to help you.”

The Immigrants Assistance Center (IAC) has a surprisingly tiny budget of $350K, 10% of which consists of donations through fundraising, while the remainder comes from foundations, grants, and small contracts with the City of New Bedford. Each year the IAC, which has a staff of 8, serves about 7,000 people. It could do a lot more with your financial help.

But besides financial support, the IAC could really use your skills:
– grant-writing
– one or two full time ESOL (English as a Secondary Language) teachers, or four part-timers (bonus points if you speak or read Portuguese and Spanish or both)

The IAC is small but mighty. Please help them help our community.

Down the slippery slope


Donald Trump’s last-ditch campaign manager, Steve Bannon, head of Breitbart News which has become a lounge for racists and neo-Nazis, finally got the job done. But even before Bannon, Trump had surrounded himself with Islamophobes, racists and white supremacists and he has continuously promised a Muslim Registry.

With Trump’s meeting yesterday with Peter King to discuss a Muslim surveillance program, it is now even clearer that the incoming administration intends to proceed down this slippery slope.

And who knows what’s next?

A few tech companies have said they’ll refuse to lend a willing hand on such a project, but some have not.

There is a petition to urge other tech companies to follow the lead of Twitter, Microsoft, and Facebook:

And if you don’t like the idea of Bannon in the White House, sign this one too:

Petitions may not accomplish much – and all it takes is for one tech company to build the registry. But it’s important to speak out against all the hate that is finding a home in the new administration.