Red for the Blue

I have suggested a couple of times that Liberals should keep up with the Conservative press. Ignore the Right wing and stay in a bubble at your peril.

But it’s not always easy because their assault on facts is near constant — and the line dividing mainstream Conservatives and Batpoop Crazy Wingnuts evaporates a little more each day. Still, like the SPAM and hoaxes in your Inbox — you’d better know what those people are up to!

For those who’ve tried, and failed, at reading Breitbart, the Federalist, WND, FOX and friends — forget the “Alt-Right” — one option may be the Red for the Blue newsletter. It’s basically the Reader’s Digest and a nuclear contamination response team all rolled into one. It saves you time, and it’s the RftB team whose blood pressure spikes to dangerous levels — not yours. Here’s how they describe their focus:

“Our newsletter reports and analyzes trending news from the political Right. From talk radio to social media to pop up news sites and self-made pundits, we do the work — you stay informed and engaged.”

[thanks to LR for this tip]


2017 Dartmouth Town Election

Democracy is in decline — and it’s partly because some of us are reclining in our La-Z Boy chairs too damn much.

If you’re a Dartmouth voter, press that lever on the side of the chair and it will propel you into an upright and standing position. From there walk or drive to your nearest polling station.

The 2017 Annual Town of Dartmouth Election is Tuesday, April 4, 2017. Polls will be open from 7:00am – 8:00pm.

In some past town elections, voter turnout has been less than 11 percent. Voter apathy is as deadly as lack of electoral choice. But electoral choice depends on you voting. In Massachusetts we are having somewhat of a crisis. Fewer and fewer elections are being contested:

In my precinct (see ballot below) this is certainly true.

There are really only two contested elections on the entire ballot:

  • Select Board (two candidates)
  • School Committee (three candidates for two slots)

In all the rest there is really nothing to vote for. It’s like a North Korean election — a single candidate or slate:

  • Assessor (one candidate)
  • Trustee (two candidates, two slots)
  • Board of Health (one candidate)
  • Planning Board (one candidate)
  • Park Commission (one candidate)
  • Town Meeting Members (twelve candidates, fourteen slots)

And it gets worse. There is even one contest that didn’t even have a candidate:

  • Housing Authority — nobody running

For those taking the Select Board election seriously, here is a report from of a recent “Candidate night”:

And here is the real reason you should get out and vote — the ballot question:

“Shall the Town of Dartmouth be allowed to exempt from the provisions of proposition two and hone-half, so called, the amounts required to pay for the bond issued in order to design and construct a new police station to be located on town-owned property at 1390 Tucker Road, including originally equipping said building, paving, and all other costs incidental and related thereto?”

In other words — should the town pay for the new police station with a temporary tax rate increase?

Well, what voter knows how much money the bond actually represents? Or what the exemption means legally? Or who even knows what Proposition 2-1/2 is? Or what the current tax rate is?

I will wager that many voters will reject this question simply due to its opacity and ridiculous legalese. But here are a few details:

The police station will cost $13.6 million. Cops can’t work out of trailers forever. Taxpayers have to pony up for roads and schools — and police stations. You get what you pay for.

If you’re too cheap to pay, you don’t get anything but bad roads, bad schools, and cops who can’t do their job.

Paying taxes — like voting — is just another cost of keeping society and government running.

What We Do Now

I received “What We Do Now” as a gift for making a contribution to Democracy for America (DFA).

What We Do Now” is 200+ pages containing 27 short essays or excerpts from speeches by a number of liberal politicians, activists and writers. They include VT Senator Bernie Sanders, who wrote about the six American banks that represent 60% of the American GDP; MA Senator Elizabeth Warren, on the importance of crafting a coherent economic message; Anthony Romero of the ACLU, on the dangers our democracy faces — all the usual suspects weighing in on all the usual issues. And I don’t mean to make light of them.

But after two months into the Trump presidency, I dare say we are already doing precisely what the roster of authors suggest — without having read them first. Most of us have already figured out the demagogue’s media tricks, as George Lakoff deconstructs them. And the fact that his own supporters will suffer the most, as Paul Krugman points out. We know what to expect economically, politically, and culturally. And we’re resisting.

Linda Sarsour’s essay was my personal favorite, followed by Alan Lichtman’s piece on rebuilding the Democratic Party. Sarsour takes just the right tone of stridency and progressive opposition. Lichtman, on the other hand, should be required reading (and re-reading) as a warning of how difficult it is going to be to convince Democratic centrists they were wrong. Lichtman betrayed the most partisan bias of any of the authors in the book and is clearly both a Clinton fan and a TPP proponent. But he mis-characterized opposition to the Trans-Pacific trade bill as the “rat-trap of protectionism” and didn’t bother to mention the corporate goodies buried in the TPP that were so problematic for progressives. On this Lichtman can’t see any difference between Trump and Sanders, and this is a form of blindness.

Thus, “What We Do Now” perfectly encapsulates ongoing conflicts and contradictions within the Democratic Party. For DFA to reward me with a book containing an essay by Bernie and another by a Hillary surrogate tells me the fight for the soul of the Democratic Party is far from over.

Trump’s Weaponized Budget

Trump’s 2018 budget, says OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, is supposed to “send a message to our allies and our potential adversaries that this is a strong-power administration.” In fact weaponization of the budget is pretty much Trump’s only objective:

“The core of my first Budget Blueprint is the rebuilding of our Nation’s military without adding to our Federal deficit. There is a $54 billion increase in defense spending in 2018 that is offset by targeted reductions elsewhere. […] We must ensure that our courageous servicemen and women have the tools they need to deter war, and when called upon to fight, do only one thing: Win. […] this public safety and national security Budget Blueprint is a message to the world—a message of American strength, security, and resolve.”

The 2018 budget takes money, quite literally, from food programs for children, seniors, the poor, and strips virtually every federal program of value to the average citizen. Tens of billions of dollars — on top of the excess hundreds of millions already being spent — will be redirected to homeland security and the military. The Washington Post has examined the percentages of cuts to federal programs:

If this budget sends any kind of message to NATO allies whom Trump has described as “freeloaders” it is that the United States will continue to spend more than half its discretionary budget on war. This level of obscene military spending tells allies there really is no need to increase their own defense spending. Allies can continue building their economies and providing for their citizens’ real needs with continued modest defense spending. It will be the American taxpayer who must do without in order to pay for weapons we don’t really need.

And if the 2018 budget sends any kind of message to potential adversaries, it is that the U.S. relishes its role as rogue nation and that they’ll need to raise the level of their own military spending.

But these U.S. “Defense” outlays are not even necessary. Already the United States throws more at war spending than the nearest seven nations combined:

Trump voters chose combat and elected a combatative president. And this is what they will get. But they probably thought they would get some “American greatness” too.

Trump is a sociopath whose idea of playing president is to throw around military power. His supporters were given simple formulas for an American resurgence that simply won’t stand up to scrutiny. These voters should have known better than to trust a casino developer who profited with other people’s money and who regularly stiffed his contractors. He’s a serial liar who’d make P.T. Barnum envious.

But he had help.

Conservative ideologues have been selling a war machine and income inequality for years. For instance, Breitbart News claims the U.S. military has been “depleted” by reductions under the Obama administration.

But Trump voters are not going to get much “make America great” out of the the 2018 budget. The “Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again” threatens economc progress for working Americans and eliminates the lifelines they depend on — all while siphoning away tax money for corporate welfare schemes.

Yet Conservatives are all over the map on budget priorities. The American Spectator applauds the president’s “terrible swift sword.” But paleoconservatives at the American Conservative and neocons at Commentary don’t like the defunding of State Department and UN programs like Unicef. Even with a 9% increase in war spending the American Enterprise Institute claims the Trump budget doesn’t go far enough in diverting taxpayer money to defense contractors. The CATO Institute freely admits the Trump budget is a tool for putting public money into the hands of private investors, but it can’t contain its impatience to steal even more from the taxpayer:

“Trump proposes to devolve to state and local governments and private parties a number of programs now funded by the feds. In theory, the result should be greater efficiency and less regulation. However, in most of the areas I know about, Trump could have gone further and produced even better results.”

The Federalist complains that there is too much hand-wringing over the budget and that it’s all about eliminating bureaucracy — if you don’t count America’s massive “defense” and homeland security complex as a bureaucracy. Free market fundamentalists at the Foundation for Economic Education admit that the Trump budget is Big Government on steroids — but they aren’t buying his hype about job creation. Meanwhile, the Heritage Foundation calls it a “skinny budget” and applauds cost savings by slashing social and health programs for working people. America’s fake news center, FOX News, dismisses the end of the Meals on Wheels program with jokes.

The Marie Antoinette of the Trump administration, “let them eat cake” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, says, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” For school kids, yes, that’s true. But for billionaires there’s no end of caviar to be found in the 2018 budget.

While the GOP is full of ideologues competing for their own pet budget priorities, economists generally dismiss Trump’s budget as a fast-approaching train wreck for the economy. The Brookings Institution says Trump’s budget priorities will seriously hobble the economy by eliminating programs that help small businesses, aid technology and research, and help businesses improve productivity. Brookings warns the president that only competitiveness — not protectionism — can help American business. It concludes:

“Trump’s budget, like much of his rhetoric, is fundamentally backward-looking. It attempts to support a 21st century economy with 20th century tools and ideas.”

In looking at the federal budget, we have to distinguish the pension and health benefits that the federal government holds and manages for retirees — called “entitlements” or non-discretionary spending — as sacrosanct funds. These are for a citizen’s rainy day fund. It’s personal money.

The federal budget also includes “discretionary” expenses — money normally targeted for the common good — whether it’s the EPA, NASA, education, the arts — or for war. Under both Republicans and Democrats discretionary spending has often been mainly for war:

But now, with Trump’s draconian cuts to social, business, and welfare programs, the federal budget has become even more weaponized than in previous years.

For more information on the 2018 budget, read these articles

Family History

Today’s remarks from Iowa’s unrepentant White Supremacist, Rep. Steve King, just underscores the difference between the GOP’s new proto-fascist vision for America — and the one engraved on the Statue of Liberty that celebrates a nation of immigrants.

American history is not just the stories of heroes, sinners, and survivors — or tales of presidents, generals and inventors. It is a record of the struggles of immigrants for a place at the American table. It’s also a personal story.

Almost twenty years ago I became fascinated by genealogy. My mother’s family lived in the United States long before it became a nation. They can be traced back five or six centuries to little Welsh and English villages, and somebody somewhere has a book with all the dry details of begats and property transfers, including the manumission of slaves.

My father’s family had no such privileged roots and were double — maybe even triple — immigrants. My father used to say that his g-g-g-g-grandfather was born on the sea. And, after ordering Canadian archival records, it turned out he was right. Johannes Mooß was born “auf dem Meer” (on the sea) in 1828, enroute from some German-speaking village to Nova Scotia:

I say “German-speaking” because it wasn’t until after the Napoleonic Wars that the Holy Roman Empire was finally dissolved. And it wasn’t until 1815 that the German Confederation, mainly a trade and tax agreement, united German-speaking states. And it wasn’t until 1866 when a Northern German Confederation, and then Otto von Bismarck, founded something akin to the modern state of Germany. But when Margarete Mooß arrived in Nova Scotia, the Europe she knew resembled this:

The land my ancestors arrived in was hardly modern Canada. The French had ceded territory to the English under the Treaty of Utrecht a century before, but “New France” maintained control in Upper Canada. It had been only 70 years since Le Grand Dérangement, or the Arcadian genocide — the forcible expulsion of 14,000 Arcadians from what is now Canada’s Maritime provinces, which killed 9,000 of them. Many people in New England and Louisiana know this history well because they are descendants of Acadian refugees.

Likewise, the United States of 1828 was hardly recognizable as the nation it is today. Michigan, in which my grandfather, father, and I were born, was not yet a state. Mexico owned all of California, Texas, Arizona, and the Southwest. Years later, when the United States grabbed this territory from Mexico, Mexicans suddenly became “Americans.”

We haven’t always had $40 billion walls separating us from other nations. On both my father’s father’s side and his mother’s side there are multiple connections to Canada. The borders between both nations were once as porous as sand — still are — and some of my Quebecois ancestors — the unwanted refuse of Alsace and Normandy — even made a brief appearance in Attleboro, Massachusetts before ending up in Northern Michigan.

Sometime in the mid-1800’s my father’s family migrated to Upper Canada (now Ontario). And sometime during the beginning of the 20th Century my father’s people emigrated once again — or maybe they simply sneaked across the non-existent border — and by pure luck all of us since then have been American citizens.

Fully bitten by the genealogy bug I made phone calls, sent out emails, and scoured genealogy boards. I gathered family trees from Midwestern German and French cousins, Francophone ancestors, people I’m related to in Maryland, Virginia, Michigan, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Ontario and British Columbia. Through marriage on my father’s side it turns out I have Chinese and Indian cousins — “India” Indian and Native American. My sister’s daughters share her background and also that of their Puerto Rican father. Several of my cousins are part Polish. A young cousin married into a Mexican-American family. My own children share all the ancestry I’ve described, plus the Lithuanian and Ukrainian heritage of my wife.

Despite all the ugliness happening right now, our histories and families are literally fusing. This is the reality of America, and its beauty.

As I’ve worked on the family trees, I’ve unearthed Ellis Island records from my wife’s grandfather and his brothers:

I found the stedtl in Lithuania the brothers came from, and a marker that identifies where all those who remained in that village, including a sister Perla, were slaughtered by Einsatzgruppen and xenophobic neighbors on September 11, 1941:

At the time the United States had immigration quotas for Jews, even though everyone knew what was happening in Europe. Today the lesson of protecting vulnerable people is one we have failed to learn.

I’ve never been able to determine where in Germany my father’s people came from, and I’ve followed many false leads. Some of them have been fascinating. Who knew that Germans were invited to live in Bessarabia (Russia) by a czarina in the early 19th century? Or that a century later they were disinvited by another czar and instantly became refugees — some fleeing to North Dakota. Who knew that other German refugees were brought to Nova Scotia to offset Catholic population?

As I’ve researched names on census rolls, cemetery lists, and ship manifests, I’ve discovered a lot about the fragile lives of immigrants of every era. Certainly some come for economic reasons. But unless you are hungry or have been made a refugee, who would choose to leave everything behind, pack a few belongings into a suitcase, and start all over again with almost nothing?

The ancestor born on the sea arrived in steerage and became an indentured servant as a boy. Pitted against citizens already established, and pitted against each other, immigrants work without savings, language, security, the support of nearby family — or much of anything — until they either become part of the fabric of a new nation. Or have to start all over again.

My own family story is nothing special. We all have a story like this. What is both amazing and shocking is that the nation’s xenophobes and racists have as little notion of who they are as of American history.

* * *

Modern day stories of today’s immigrants are no different. Like refugees from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and elsewhere, many have escaped death squads and military juntas:

* * *

Immigrants today are just as likely to be fleeing drug cartels and pan-national gangs as those arriving a century ago were fleeing from cossacks or the Czar. Or, like the Acadians, today’s refugees may be escaping genocide:

Whatever you choose to call them — immigrants, refugees, seekers, dreamers, illegals — they’re not here to take American jobs. They’re here to survive.

* * *

For Trump and his collection of racists and xenophobes, Syrian refugees are not victims — or people or families — but simply a danger to be contained. The most ludicrous aspect of Trump’s dehumanizing Muslim Ban is that it is Europe — not the United States — that has taken responsibility for the human tragedy that perpetual American Wars of Choice have caused.

Building a massive, shameful, wasteful wall and doubling or trebling the number of ICE agents may not be equivalent to another Kristallnacht, but from Trump and Bannon we hear strong echoes of the same fascist rhetoric.

Last October I traveled to Berlin to find out how Germans were dealing with the huge number of refugees literally washing up on European shores, and I worked with a refugee aid group. For a month I handed out shoes, clothing, and supplies to people from all over the Middle East. Many were from Aleppo, a city racked by a civil war the United States has played a major role in. Many were from Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries the U.S. has been waging wars against for two decades.

This is what the cowardly 45th President of the United States is afraid of — people fleeing war zones with their children:

In Germany there is opposition to the large number of people transiting through the country, to be sure. But many Germans have been welcoming. As the sign below says: “we are all foreigners.”

And if more Americans dug into their own family trees and stories, they would recognize just how much we have in common with those we should be welcoming.

Cultural Revolution

Last May China celebrated — “tried to forget” might be more accurate — the fiftieth anniversary of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.

The Cultural Revolution was little more than a murderous pogrom that took place from about 1966-1976. China’s true power elites stood aside and permitted the poor and angry to deflect blame on moderates and intellectuals for all the nation’s woes. Mao Zedong claimed that “bourgeois” elements had infiltrated the Party and to make China great again it needed a good old-fashioned Stalinist purge — and a purge it got. More than 1.7 million Chinese scholars, teachers, and political moderates were murdered in a single decade.

With Mao Zedong’s encouragement, paramilitary groups called the Red Guards screamed the Mandarin equivalent of “Lock Her Up!” as they conducted kangaroo courts and — like today’s Taliban — tried to physically erase a moderate, traditional Confusian culture from Chinese history. Scholars and intellectuals were sent to the countryside for “re-education” and many never returned.

In 1969 Mao declared that the Cultural Revolution had been a success. But China had to wait for Mao’s death in 1976 to restore a measure of normalcy by arresting general Lin Biao and the “Gang of Four,” and by instituting reforms under Deng Xiaoping.

In 1981 the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party declared the Cultural Revolution had been an abject failure:

… on no account should the theories and methods of the “cultural revolution” have been applied. Under socialist conditions, there is no economic or political basis for carrying out a great political revolution in which “one class overthrows another.” It decidedly could not come up with any constructive programme, but could only bring grave disorder, damage and retrogression in its train. History has shown that the “cultural revolution,” initiated by a leader labouring under a misapprehension and capitalized on by counter-revolutionary cliques, led to domestic turmoil and brought catastrophe to the Party, the state and the whole people.

China survived Mao, and we will survive Trump.

Centrists still in charge

One theory was that last week’s election of a new DNC chairman was really a proxy race between the Clinton wing of the party and the Berniecrats. A majority of the delegates who elected the new chair were superdelegates in the 2016 primaries so it was not difficult to predict who would vote for Tom Perez based on who voted for Hillary Clinton.

The results have been tabulated, and centrists remain in charge of the party’s direction. A 57-state strategy is good. But continuing to cash checks from big donors, abandoning “identity politics,” and mouthing the words to faux populism is bad. The DNC needs a truly progressive platform. Perez’s plan to court millenials without a progressive message is simply not a winning strategy.

Click here for DNC Ballot #1 results
Click here for DNC Ballot #2 results

With the exception of Susan Thomson’s, the Massachusetts delegate votes were no surprise either. As predicted, it was business as usual:

Virginia Barnes (Ellison)
Gus Bickford (Perez)
Kate Donaghue (Perez)
Deb Goldberg (Perez)
Elaine Kamarck (Perez)
Debra Kozikowski (Perez)
David O’Brien (Perez)
Melvin Poindexter (Ellison)
James Roosevelt (Perez)
Susan Thomson (Perez)