Voting with the enemy

At every turn Bill Keating is a huge disappointment — healthcare, foreign policy, cheerleading Trump’s Tomahawk missile attack on Syria. The list of betrayals by the Massachusetts 9th Congressional District representative grows daily.

This week Keating and 23 other turncoats parted with fellow Democrats and voted for H.R.3004, Kate’s Law, which the Friends Committee on National Legislation describes this way:

“H.R. 3004 would expand grounds for indefinite detention and decrease legal opportunities for certain migrants challenging their removal. […] Criminalizing entire immigrant communities based on the senseless actions of a few individuals tears at the moral fabric of our society and will not make our communities safer. H.R. 3004 could prevent migrants from adequately accessing asylum and would increase family hardship through separation by offering no meaningful opportunity for family members to pursue a legal route when seeking reunification across borders. These provisions will only fuel the brokenness of our system, which is already heavy-handed on indefinite detention and dangerous deportations at great expense to U.S. taxpayers and our collective moral conscience. ”

As the FCNL points out, slapping even longer detentions and a felony label on desperate people crossing the border accomplishes nothing except to show how cruel Americans can be and drives up prison costs.

But this is not the first time that Keating has supported Republican anti-immigration legislation. In the last Congressional session, Keating again joined with Democratic traitors in supporting H.R.4038, the Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act of 2015. The bill, written by Republican Michael McCaul (TX), now keeps Syrian refugees out of the United States — many of whom the United States made homeless by its thinly-disguised war to depose Bashar al-Assad.

If Democrats act and vote like Republicans, American voters must be forgiven for wondering just what the Democratic Party actually stands for — and what logic there is in voting for a mean-spirited Democrat when Republicans can do it so much better. And the DNC had better get it through their thick, thick skulls that voting with the enemy deprives voters of a choice.

I hope a progressive Democrat will emerge to challenge this DINO representative. The Greens, and even Libertarian foreign policy critics, could offer voters in the Massachusetts 9th Congressional District a needed alternative to bi-partisan warmongering and immigrant bashing. Win or lose, split vote or not, no third party could “spoil” this Congressional seat any more than Keating has already soiled it himself.


Red Lines

According to an article in the New York Times, the president summoned his aides to the Oval Office to discuss his reasons for asking Congress for permission to wage war on Syria — not that American presidents feel obliged to follow the Constitutionally-mandated procedure: “He had several reasons, he told them, including a sense of isolation after the terrible setback in the British Parliament. But the most compelling one may have been that acting alone would undercut him if in the next three years he needed Congressional authority for his next military confrontation in the Middle East, perhaps with Iran.”

If this sounds familiar it’s because it happened four years ago, just barely into Obama’s second term, when Syria looked every bit like the target it is today and Iran, too, was squarely within American crosshairs. Obama had drawn a moral “red line” in the sand warning Assad against the use of chemical weapons. The U.S. seemed to be on the brink of another war.

Bush had gotten Saddam. Obama had already dispatched Ghadafy and was now weighing going after Assad. And why not? The Middle East is America’s playground and American presidents murder foreign leaders at whim. Accusing foreign leaders of atrocities has always been common and self-serving — but it’s especially hypocritical in light of our own practices.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt launched the nation’s first biological weapons program in 1941. From 1943 to 1969, the U.S. developed weaponized anthrax, Q fever, Malta fever, botulinum, cholera, dengue fever, and various dysentery agents.

The American chemical weapons program began even earlier, in 1918, with mustard and phosgene gases, Lewisite, hydrogen cyanide, and cyanogen chloride. After WWII, the U.S. developed sarin, VX nerve agents, and Agent Orange. When it signed the Geneva Protocol, the U.S. specifically exempted itself from defoliants like Agent Orange and gases for riot control. In 1997, the U.S. signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, committing to destroy its 30,000 tons of such weapons. But then it dragged its heels for decades.

A chemical weapons depot in Tooele, Utah once hosted the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the world. Tooele stored 14 million tons of chemical agents, blistering agents, and nerve gas — almost half the U.S. total — and was closed only five years ago. Depots in Alabama and Maryland are still operational. A facility in Colorado is not expected to complete destruction of its stockpiles before 2019. Another one in Kentucky won’t be done before 2023.

The United States is the world’s leading arms dealer. Not individuals or corporations — but the government itself. 78% of the world’s arms come from U.S. government sales to foreign nations. In 2008 Israel committed a war crime by using white phosphorus against civilians in Gaza. The weapon, which melts human flesh, came from a U.S. stockpile stored in Israel. When Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against Kurds, they were stamped “Made in the USA.” As old archives are opened and foreign policy documents leaked, U.S. culpability in historical atrocities is revealed. The German press recently reported that Chile’s dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, had stockpiles of U.S. botulinum toxins.

Israel uses white phosphorus from a U.S. depot on civilians in Gaza

All the moral “red lines” regarding chemical weapons seem to converge in the United States.

From Havana harbor (“Remember the Maine!”), Laos and Cambodia, to fake yellowcake and invented WMD’s in Iraq, the U.S. has seized on many pretexts to bomb, blast, incinerate, and shoot people in faraway lands — as always, the majority civilians.

At this point, no one knows whether Trump’s claims that Assad is using chemical weapons are true or whether they’re simply a welcome distraction from his many corruption probes. But if history is a guide, “red lines” are never used as moral guideposts. They are usually just cynical pretexts to justify another war.

One down, two to go

On Monday, June 26th Mardee Xifaras graciously hosted a Meet and Greet for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Setti Warren at her law offices in New Bedford. Warren spoke to a group of roughly twenty-five visitors about his two terms as mayor of Newton, his military service, Newton’s budget surplus, its improved AAA bond rating, and educational improvements under his administration. Warren referred to two of his governing principles several times: transparency and outcomes-based decision-making.

Warren identified Income Inequality as the #1 challenge for Massachusetts. He supports a number of economic justice issues: Single-Payer Healthcare; Free Public College; the Fair Share Amendment; Paid Family Leave; and a $15/hour minimum wage. In short order Warren managed to check off a few boxes from Progressive Massachusetts 2017 Legislative Priorities, though many were not discussed.

Warren is an unapologetic advocate of raising revenue. He talked about setting reasonable goals and then backing into the funding. It requires considerable guts nowadays to argue that government has a function, that the function is to help people, and that these functions require adequate budgets. But after the Meet and Greet I stood out on the sidewalk comparing notes with two other visitors and they expressed concern that, if not handled cautiously, this could easily sink a candidate.

The economic and budget questioning went on for a while. Neither community policing, judicial reform, decriminalization of poverty, immigration, civil liberties, regional transportation, nor the governor’s relationship with the House leader ever came up in conversation. It was a friendly first meeting and Warren didn’t really get any hardball questions.

Sitting as we were in an office in New Bedford, I asked Warren what he as governor would do about rogue sheriffs. At first he wanted to talk about Safe Communities, which he as mayor brought to Newton. I clarified that I was interested in the discretion a governor had over the fourteen county sheriffs in the Commonwealth. I reminded Warren that Duval Patrick had once curtailed Tom Hodgson’s budget and cited the June 25th Boston Globe editorial on Hodgson’s recklessness in Bristol County. Warren acknowledged that it’s an important issue to local voters, promised to look into what a governor could do, and an aide said he’d follow up with me.

I would have liked to ask Warren — who campaigns on his service in Iraq, on his father’s service in Korea, and his grandfather’s service during the Battle of the Bulge — what he thinks of our perpetual wars or what he thinks of Clinton’s and Kerry’s records on militarism and foreign policy. If this ambitious politician is on his way up the food chain, I’d like to know now — not when he runs for U.S. Senate or a higher office — what he thinks of the U.S. military budget, our foreign policy, or the DHS Fusion centers that operate in the Commonwealth. Would Warren crack down on state police spying on citizens? Would Warren as governor follow New York Democratic governor Cuomo’s example and impose a blacklist on the BDS movement or continue leading trade delegations to Israel, as Charlie Baker does? What kind of relationship would Warren have with Massachusetts defense contractors? The ACLU? Black Lives Matter?

For that matter I’d like all the Democratic contenders to weigh in on these issues. Despite what the Massachusetts Democratic Party thinks, there is no artificial division between foreign policy and domestic policy. Not when 68% of our discretionary budget goes for war. Not when state Democrats regularly wade into national issues.

Setti Warren’s resume follows a familiar pattern: high school class president; university; politics; law school; political appointments; fundraising; political consulting; military intelligence; a failed bid for the Senate; a successful run as mayor; and now the governor’s office. Warren’s father Joseph was a Dukakis advisor and Warren himself has held positions on political campaigns and in government under Bill Clinton and John Kerry.

If there is one thing that nags at me it’s that his is the profile of an ambitious career Democrat. Contrast Warren’s resume with Paul Feeney’s background, for example. Everything about Setti Warren’s speech at the June convention in Worcester came across as well-engineered, maybe even a tad slick. After three decades of non-stop war I find appeals to military patriotism distasteful, but this is apparently a national strategy designed to make the Democratic Party more appealing to the Right. But, in an informal setting where visitors sat around a law office conference table and fielded questions, Warren came off as genuine and answered credibly.

A few visitors have already praised Warren, but love doesn’t normally happen on a first date. Democrats ought to be cautious: an affable, telegenic Republican already owns the governor’s office and Massachusetts Democrats are notoriously complacent. The Democrat to beat Baker had better be damned good and they’d better be a progressive. And progressives should be wary: this race in the Blue Heart of America may say a lot about where the Democratic Party is really headed.

Warren, Gonzalez, and Massie each will have an opportunity to present their vision for the state, answer tough questions, and convince us of their sincerity and electability.

But it’s early. It’s one down and two more candidates to go.

Let them eat cake

White House apparatchik/ consiglieri/ mouthpiece Kellyanne Conway doesn’t think Trump’s famous economic “carnage” is bad enough to throw a Medicaid lifeline to the working poor.

Sounding as out-of-touch and cruel as Marie Antoinette, Conway appeared on ABC’s “This Week” and said that jobless Medicaid recipients should just go out and get a job. “If they are able-bodied and they want to work, then they’ll have employer-sponsored benefits like you and I do.”

Yeah, you lazy slackers. Why didn’t you think of that? Go get a job with her benefits.

For a political party that has so aggressively courted the poor white vote, this is a slap in the face to the very people who tipped the election in Trump’s favor. Of course, the working poor includes both Trump and non-Trump voters alike, and millions of minorities, but very few get medical and retirement benefits. Just ask Walmart workers who quality for food stamps and Medicaid because they work for unlivable wages. Kellyanne Conway’s suggestion would be laughable if it were not so callous.

Conway, who once ran a SuperPAC for billionaire hedge fund manager Robert Mercer and recently bought an $8 million mansion in suburban Washington D.C., spins steer manure for a living. But she doesn’t even have to believe it. For every lie she tells Conway is paid handsomely. And the medical benefits are great.

* * *

Now certainly the Democratic Party is guilty of turning its back on American workers. But out in the woodshed Democrats are taking a much more savage beating than the GOP, which is now doing the cruelest damage to the working class. And yet Trump & Company continue to receive applause for “promises kept” from this base.

It may take four years for Trump voters to realize the severity of their mistake — some people only learn things the hard way. But when American voters finally realize what the GOP has done to them, and to whom Trump’s promises were actually made, they’re not going to like Marie Antoinette and her boss at all.

Slow learners

Today in Science: Politicians may have human DNA

Since January 20th we’ve lived in a very different country, one where raw power is everything, character is nothing, and concern for others is seen only when cameras are rolling. But yesterday I saw some quiet, unrehearsed kindness. I saw a politician being a mensch. It surprised me. And then it surprised me that I’d been surprised. It made me see how cynical I’ve become. In some things I’m a pretty slow learner. But yesterday I realized that politics is not only local but has to be personal.

I had occasion to be in District Court yesterday where I ran into my state representative, Chris Markey, whose politics I have slammed previously. Mr. Markey had stopped and was patiently helping several confused people find their courtrooms, including someone I was there to assist.

Since Inauguration Day it’s been all too easy to lose sight of the fact that most of our politicians — even those we find most frustrating — are basically decent men and women. Like Chris Markey, like most of the Democrats with whom I have political differences, each is more than merely his office, each is not simply an agenda. For each, their politics are formed by values I may not fully understand or ultimately accept— but this is all the more reason to listen with respect and seek out opportunities to talk.

So, Chris, let’s talk.

Carrier Jobs off to Mexico after all

I am not the only slow learner in America. That honor also belongs to Trump voters.

Donald Trump made a big show of saying he’d crack down on US-bound Mexican criminals by building a big, beautiful wall. But this was always a one-way street for gringos. Mexico-bound corporate crooks don’t get a protectionist wall but receive instead big, beautiful tax breaks. Trump and Pence claimed they’d save thousands of Indiana jobs at the Carrier subsidiary of defense contractor United Technologies Corporation (UTC). But in typical Trumpian fashion, the real number turned out to be closer to 700. And now, in spite of millions of dollars of corporate incentives, Carrier is chopping 600 of those jobs anyway. Off to Mexico! Adios, ladrones!

Eventually reality will slowly dawn on Trump’s supporters. Instead of Making America Great Again, the Billionaire-in-Chief is actually presiding over the complete opposite. The Ford Focus assembly line is off to China. Saudi Arabia just took control of America’s largest refinery. And, as for the 33,000 coal mining jobs Trump claims he created, well, it turns out the number is actually about 1,000. Where is Trump’s infrastructure plan? Where are the real jobs? Even Trump’s most vehement supporters have got to eventually start asking some tough questions. Lincoln was right: You can fool some of the people some of the time…

And if Mr. Bigshot Deal Maker had really wanted to save the Carrier jobs, one option might have been to make United Technologies an offer they couldn’t refuse — to hold defense contracts hostage to American jobs. But that’s not how it works in Trumplandia. UTC will get even greater corporate welfare thanks to the biggest military budget since the Big Bang. And unemployed Carrier workers — many of them Trump voters — will get to pay triple premiums for the worst healthcare in the Western world. That is, if they don’t have any preexisting conditions.

And that’s how it really works in Trump’s Great New America.

Election Night

Georgia Special Election

Last night Jon Ossoff lost the Georgia 6th Congressional District special election to Good ol’ Gal Karen Handel. There was, predictably, some crying and finger-pointing but it was generally acknowledged that Democrats need to find a winning strategy. A piece in Washington Monthly advised Dems to stop chasing Romney voters, pointing out just how wrong Chuck Schumer was when he said: “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.”

A McClatchy piece and an article in TPM both reminded readers that Ossoff’s upscale district is nevertheless in the Heart of Dixie and Ossoff’s centrist Democratic “supporters, even when combined with politically moderate independents, couldn’t outnumber Republican partisans.” Demographics, not progressives, and not the DNC, are what defeated Ossoff. However, the loss does not signify the impotence or the end of the Democratic Party. But we seem to be missing opportunities to reach out with an honest economic message to people who might actually be receptive.

Make China Great Again

Donald Trump hasn’t said much about Ford’s plans to move its Ford Focus assembly to China although he will almost certainly blame the move on insufficient tax breaks for billionaires. But will the Billionaire-in-Chief slap huge tariffs on Ford when they begin re-importing the cars? …. Don’t hold your breath.

Make Saudi Arabia Great Again

Another American reversal-of-fortune has occurred on Donald Trump’s watch: Saudi Arabia just assumed total control of America’s largest refinery in Port Arthur, Texas. When asked how the purchase squared with Trump’s protectionist promises, Saudi ARAMCO CEO Amin Nasser smiled and sounded grateful for ARAMCO’s cozy relationship with the administration: “We don’t like to see any kind of protectionist measures…” It’s doubtful that the Saudi billionaires will ever see any.

The Family Business

Speaking of Saudi Arabia, this is a country with no Emoluments Clause. For that matter there aren’t many legal protections for anyone in what is essentially a family-owned business (slash nation) governed by a dictatorship and greased by nepotism. No wonder Trump loves the Saudis so much. Today the Saudi king announced a big shakeup, replacing most of what in a democracy would be cabinet or portfolio members with — what else — members of the Saudi royal family. The dictator also named his 31 year-old son to be the new heir. I thought this was the sort of thing that really disturbs us when Syria and North Korea do it… but guess not. We should probably count our blessings that Trump has run out of children and in-laws to stick in the White House.

U.S. War Crimes

You can’t wage war nonstop for three decades and not kill civilians. The U.S. has killed more than half a million since 9/11 but now it turns out that the US is also responsible for half of all civilian casualties since 2010.

Who are the real terrorists?

ACHA Mystery Meat

You remember it sliding off your lunch tray. They said it was a Sloppy Joe but it could have just as easily been the dead raccoon you saw from the school bus window that morning. Sometimes there was a drumstick shaped thing that might have once been attached to a species of fowl, but it was confusing because there were also pieces of ham and beef gristle attached like Frankenstein’s forehead.

I’m talking about Mystery Meat.

But I’m also talking about the GOP’s new healthcare plan, the ACHA. Trumpcare. Because in both cases nobody really knows for sure what’s in the unsavory concoction.

Mitch McConnell seems intent on forcing a vote on the ACHA by June 30th, though there is still no written draft to examine.

No Democrats have been invited to discuss the bill’s provisions. The Congressional Budget Office has had no opportunity to score the legislation. There will be no committee hearings, and no public input will be allowed. No one has any idea what’s in the GOP’s vat of salmonella and they are deeply shamed by the ACHA. They fear letting the public know how bad it really is.

Like a magician’s trick, this secret bill will be unveiled just moments before a vote. More secret even than the Patriot Act, Congress will be caught totally off guard, will have no time to study it or get feedback from constituents. The Senate majority intends to force this noxious sludge down Americans’ throats by using a process called “reconciliation” — allowing the ACHA (Trumpcare) to be passed by 51 votes instead of the customary 60.

But with grit, testicles (and ovaries), Democrats could slow down the adoption of this gurgling, sulphurous roadkill stew by using Senate rules to object to “unanimous consent” requests, also proposing and arguing for a stream of amendments to the bill. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has indicated his willingness to pursue this tougher strategy to press for scrutiny of the legislation:

“Republicans are drafting this bill in secret because they’re ashamed of it, plain and simple. These are merely the first steps we’re prepared to take in order to shine a light on this shameful Trumpcare bill and reveal to the public the GOP’s true intentions: to give the uber-wealthy a tax break while making middle class Americans pay more for less health care coverage. If Republicans won’t relent and debate their health care bill in the open for the American people to see, then they shouldn’t expect business as usual in the Senate.”

And I hope he means it. Please call your senators and tell them to stay strong, have another coffee, and argue into the wee hours to fight this heinous attempt to betray the public.

Americans deserve to know exactly what’s in the mystery meat they’re being told they have to swallow.