Bill Keating’s Voting Record

I’ve done a little preliminary research on Bill Keating’s voting record in preparation for his Town Hall at Dartmouth High School on August 30th.

I hope other folks will contribute additional voting information and issues. Email me (with URLs) at

Not progressive

Progressive organizations are urging support for eight bills:

  • Medicare for All: H.R. 676 Medicare For All Act
  • Free College Tuition: H.R. 1880 College for All Act of 2017
  • Worker Rights: H.R.15 – Raise the Wage Act
  • Women’s Rights: H.R.771 – Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act of 2017
  • Voting Rights: H.R. 2840 – Automatic Voter Registration Act
  • Environmental Justice: Climate Change Bill – Renewable Energy
  • Criminal Justice and Immigrant Rights: H.R.3543 – Justice is Not For Sale Act of 2017
  • Taxing Wall Street: H.R. 1144 – Inclusive Prosperity Act

Bill Keating has not co-sponsored any of them.


Keating voted YEA with Blue Dog Democrats on H.R. 3192, a Republican bill which reduces transparency for mortgage lending institutions.

Keating also voted YEA with conservative Democrats on H.R. 1737, a Republican bill which neutered the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s oversight of Indirect Auto Lending and Compliance with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.


Keating is a hard-liner on immigration.

Keating and five other Democrats voted for H.R. 3009, the “Enforce the Law for Sanctuary Cities Act,” a Republican bill to withhold funding for states and municipalities with “sanctuary” policies.

Keating and Blue Dog Democrats voted for H.R. 4038, the “American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act of 2015.” The Republican bill adds additional obstacles to the already-onerous screening and vetting of Syrian refugees.

Keating voted YEA on H.R. 3004, “Kate’s Law,” a Republican bill which expands indefinite detention of migrants who repeatedly cross the border. The bill will do nothing to prevent future actions by desperate people but it will increase the number of private prisons in the United States.

Civil Liberties

Keating gets good grades on civil liberties for women’s and LGBTQ issues. However, when it comes to surveillance and Fourth Amendment issues, Keating is no friend and he gets only middling ones: “Keating supported ‘cybersecurity’ legislation, and opposed defunding the government’s Section 702 surveillance programs (PRISM and Upstream); however, he supports banning backdoor searches on US persons. He voted for the USA FREEDOM Act, which purportedly reformed the small amount of government surveillance that occurs under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, and continued to support it even after its reforms were watered down to the point where there was much debate about whether it would do more harm than good to pass it.” Keating also refused to let PATRIOT Act extensions expire under “sunset” provisions, including this and this one.

Militarism and Foreign Policy

Keating voted NAY on a resolution to bar President Obama from using an AUMF to invade Libya. The resolution would have required Congress to declare war — per the U.S. Constitution. Keating did, however, vote YEA on ending the war in Afghanistan.

Keating was reluctant to support Obama’s and Kerry’s Iran deal and has courted the MEK, an exile group which until 2012 was designated a terrorist organization seeking to overthrow and replace the Iranian government with its own “government-in-exile.” Thanks to Republican and Democratic hawks the designation was lifted.

Keating is pro-Likud. He has fought international efforts to support a Two State Solution, advocated moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, opposed the use of the word “Palestine” and threatened to cut off U.S. contributions to the U.N. and funding for U.N. refugee efforts because of the international body’s criticism of Israel’s land theft and occupation.

Keating, along with Democratic hawks, sent a letter to Rex Tillerson affirming their support for Trump’s policies on NATO and for Tillerson’s office. Keating shares Republicans’ view that NATO needs to be stronger to oppose Russia.

Keating cheered Donald Trump’s deployment of tomahawk missiles, which were in violation of both AUMF statements and the U.S. Constitution.

The True Flag

Review of “The True Flag” by Stephen Kinzer (ISBN 9781627792165)

Stephen Kinzer’s The True Flag is an account of the moment the United States embraced Empire and never again looked back. The U.S. had already taken Native American and Mexican land by force and tasted victory in Cuba. Now it was contemplating making the Philippines, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam — and Hawaii — permanent colonies. Powerful business and political interests, including Theodore Roosevelt, who had made a name for himself on San Juan Hill in Cuba, were unapologetic advocates of empire.

For the Imperialists there was little difference between taking Texas or the Philippines. From the moment the U.S. became a nation, Thomas Jefferson described America as a new empire and set forth the goal of taking Spanish territory when “our population can be sufficiently advanced to gain it from them piece by piece.”

But in 1898 there was a powerful, national “Anti-Imperialist League” — founded in Massachusetts, with at least a hundred chapters. It was led by former Senator and Interior Secretary Carl Schurz, magnate Andrew Carnegie, labor chief Samuel Gompers, civil rights advocate Booker T. Washington, Democratic Party leader William Jennings Bryant, co-founder of the Republican Party George Bouthwell, former presidents Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison — all opposed the Treaty of Paris advanced by President William McKinley that would foist “Christian” rule over the “niggers” and savages of the Philippines.

For over a month the issue was debated in the Senate and the true soul of American Imperialism was bared and permanently read into the Congressional Record. Kinzer makes use of the Record, as well as contemporary newspaper accounts in his excellent book.

Behind the scenes were the Imperialists — Henry Cabot Lodge, Theodore Roosevelt, William Randolph Hearst, and Senators from mainly what we would now call the red states. American industry wanted to expand beyond its limited trade with Europe, the states of the North had tasted victory in the Civil War, and suddenly there were new enemies and new markets to conquer. Finally, the crumbs of Spain’s disintegrating empire were simply too tempting to resist, and the Philippines were seen as a stepping-stone to China. Nationalistic, “jingoistic” fervor gripped the nation, and it was not merely industry and commerce itching for war — it was also the average American who was aching for conquest.

While debate over America’s soul was raging in the Senate — and this is how serious the moral risks of Imperialism were seen at the time — the Philippines had already been occupied. In what even at that time had become standard operating procedure, President McKinley instructed General Arthur MacArthur (father of General Douglas MacArthur) to provoke a military response from the Philippine military. The resulting massacre claimed 3,000 Filipino and 60 American lives and galvanized public opinion in favor of possession of the islands.

On the same day that the battle in Manila occurred, three American newspapers published a new poem by Rudyard Kipling called “The White Man’s Burden: the United States and the Philippine Islands.” Kipling’s work was everything Americans wanted to hear, and had been specifically written for the occasion:

Take up the White Man’s burden—
Send forth the best ye breed—
Go send your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need
To wait in heavy harness
On fluttered folk and wild—
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child
Take up the White Man’s burden
In patience to abide
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;

This was an anthem for Christian warriors. This was a rationale for conquest. Moreover, it was a glorification of a better race performing its Christian duty to serve their captives’ needs, these “new-caught, sullen peoples, half devil and half child,” and — curiously — to “veil the threat of terror.”

Since the beginnings of Imperial America, the threat of terror from non-Christians and non-white has always been a rationale for occupation.

The final nail in the coffin of American anti-Imperialism was the betrayal by William Jennings Bryan, head of the Democratic Party, who decided to play along with the Republican Imperialists, supporting the Treaty of Paris, and then begging for Philippine independence. That was his shockingly naive strategy. Bryan, who saw himself as a “pragmatic progressive,” managed to shake the resolve of at least a dozen Democrats, who ended up voting with the Republicans.

Senator Eugene Hale of Maine, a fundamentalist who cheered the U.S. acquisition of Hawaii because of his state’s many missionaries, was nevertheless shocked by the bloody Filipino insurgency and the brutal manner in which is was suppressed: “More Filipinos have been killed by the guns of our army and navy than were patriots killed in any six battles of the Revolutionary War. […] The slaughter of people in no way equal to us […] has stupefied the American mind. No one has said that our mission of commerce and of the gospel was to be preceded by the slaughter of thousands of persons.”

But senators like Hale had been deceiving themselves all along. McKinley and his generals certainly anticipated the slaughter. They planned it.

The Imperialists ran their victory lap and boasted that the United States was now the most fearsome military in the world. Indiana Senator Albert Beveridge felt no need to address the East Coast elites or their swishy European friends. After the U.S. victory over the Filipinos, Beveridge did what today’s chickenhawk Congressmen do — traveled to the Philippines on a “fact-finding mission” and met with the American occupation commander, General Elwell Otis, who was fighting an insurgency with 30,000 troops. Like today’s Senators who strap on the kevlar and pose for patriotic constituents, Beveridge did all that and thanked the troops for their service. American troops, he said, were “Saxon types” with “racial virtue in their veins.” They were “manifest destiny personified.”

“We are the most militant nation on earth,” Beveridge crowed. “We have more of the world, we know more of the world, we are better prepared to bless the world and thus to bless ourselves. The great people of the American Republic, from whom flow all our large and elemental movements, feel that the day of our empire, as a soverign force of earth, is in its first grey dawn.”

And Beveridge had nailed it. This, the theme of Kinzer’s book, was indeed the grey dawn in which the American empire was born. Or at least its paternity acknowledged.

The story ends, as we know, with the United States committing war crimes in the Philippines, including mass slaughter of civilians and the use of an early form of waterboarding, carving out what is now an American gulag in Guantanamo, Cuba, and making the other seized territories permanent gifts to pineapple barons and American sweatshops. Eventually Hawaii became a state. Puerto Rico was plundered by Congress, victimized by investment schemes created for industry that financially bankrupted the island for generations to come.

Now, over a century later, the only thing that’s changed is that a modern-day “Anti-Imperialist League” is all but unimaginable in a nation at permanent war for generations. And Democrats and Republicans are still unanimous in continuing to take up the “White Man’s Burden” — invading any land they fancy and preempting any threat of terror from sullen brown devils with their childish, savage ways.

* * *

Earlier this year Terry Gross did an interview with Stephen Kinzer on Fresh Air.

Reinstate Lisa Durden

The petition

Last month I signed a petition demanding the reinstatement of Lisa Durden, an adjunct professor at Essex County College in New Jersey. Durden is also a well-known media commentator who in that capacity crossed swords with Tucker Carlson on FOX News, only to lose her part-time teaching job two days later. On the surface it seemed like just another case of an American discovering the limits of the First Amendment.

As a former adjunct myself, she had my sympathy. But as I read more, the story had components that touched on issues of race, gender, corporatism, worker protections for part-timers, and censorship of all types:

  • A Black Lives Matter chapter in New York City wanted to celebrate the black roots of Memorial Day — the roots of which most Americans are ignorant.
  • The American Right is always looking for an opportunity to smear Black Lives Matter.
  • Durden came to BLM’s defense and was censored and insulted as both a black person and as a woman.
  • Two days later the “senior management executive” of her community college fired her because free speech and academic freedom are inconvenient luxuries for an institution in crisis — and also because adjuncts are a cheap, disposable resource — just the way corporate America likes it.

Durden’s experience encapsulates a lot that’s wrong with America.

FOX News and Friends

On June 6, 2017 Lisa Durden, who had previously appeared on the Kelly File at FOX News, appeared on the Tucker Carlson show, also on FOX. Carlson began his segment by showing viewers selected quotes from a Black Lives Matter invitation to a blacks-only Memorial Day Party in New York City. FOX News viewers knew where this was going: demonization of Black Lives Matter, best known for raising hell about the American epidemic of police murders.

But Carlson omitted two key facts in his “set-up”: first, the party was a single event in a single city; and second, the organizers wanted to celebrate the black origins of Memorial Day [more on this in a minute]. Carlson also conflated a single celebration with the entire Black Lives Matter movement — which is actually an umbrella organization with many different tendencies and numerous white allies — and then he asked Durden to respond:

“… I thought the whole point of Black Lives Matter, one of the points would be to speak out against singling people out on the basis of their race and punishing them for that, because you can’t control what your race is, and yet, they seem to be doing that. Explain that to me.”

This was supposed to be an easy score against BLM’s supposed hypocrisy but Durden insisted on putting it in context — something ill-suited for FOX viewers.

The reality of White Privilege

Now, Lisa Durden is no shrinking violet. She is equal parts public intellectual and showman. And there is a very good reason FOX kept asking her back, particularly to debate FOX’s black reactionary Kevin Jackson on police violence — conflict sells. Durden also has a tendency to tune her No-BS meter right up to the max. On this particular evening, when Carlson asked her if it wasn’t racist to have a black-only party Durden responded:

“Boo hoo hoo, you white people are angry because you couldn’t use your white privilege card to get invited to the Black Lives Matter, all-black Memorial Day celebration. Wow! Let me contextualize that for you — ”

And that was enough. Carlson had heard “White Privilege” and it effectively short-circuited portions of his brain related to high-level executive function. He was seeing White and he was seeing Red. In addition, a woman was challenging him. Not only that, Carlson had heard a strong black woman refuse to play along with his patronizing attempt to catch her in a transparent trap. Carlson interrupted Durden, cutting off her microphone. She had actually dared to offer viewers an explanation for a black celebration of Memorial Day — to “contextualize” it, as she put it. But Carlson just wasn’t having any.

“No, you don’t need to contextualize anything for anyone considering your logic is nonexistent and your racism abundant.”

Durden’s unsympathetic “Boo hoo hoo” was probably the trigger. But now there would be no opportunity to hear Durden’s reasoning, though she tried unsuccessfully to be heard, to explain to viewers that Memorial Day was a commemoration first celebrated by South Carolina slaves. But the FOX segment only went downhill from there.

Nevertheless she persisted

“A man is the image and glory of God, but the woman is the glory of man” (Corinthians). “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord” (Ephesians). Today’s white male Republicans love to drag their conveniently medieval theology into the public sphere — whether it’s government or a broadcasting studio.

When Elizabeth Warren argued against Jeff Sessions’ racist history during confirmation hearings, Mitch McConnell invoked an arcane Senate rule barring “insults” to former members of the Senate. When Warren argued Sessions’ record was germane to his confirmation, McConnell angrily defended her harsh censure: “Nevertheless she persisted.” Because once a Good Ole Boy tells you to shut up, you’d better do it immediately.

But if persistence is an offense, derision is a capital offense.

During the same confirmation hearings Desiree Fairooz, a 61-year-old member of Code Pink, was forcibly removed and arrested for laughing at Jeff Sessions. Fairooz chuckled when Republican Senator Richard Shelby praised Sessions’ “extensive record of treating all Americans fairly under the law,” adding it “is clear and well-documented.” It is remarkable that there wasn’t more laughter. For more on this topic, see Maggie Hennefeld’s excellent piece in LA Progressive, “On the Criminalization of Female Laughter.”

Five years ago, when Megan Kelly was still at FOX, she hosted a segment with the express purpose of attacking Elizabeth Warren’s mention of distant Cherokee ancestry. Kelly asked both Tucker Carlson and black feminist Jehmu Greene whether this was laughable. Greene defended Warren, pointing out that even the Chief of the Cherokee Nation was only 3% Cherokee and calling out Carlson’s racist and sexist dog-whistles: “You see Scott Brown really questioning her qualifications because he has to appeal to white, working-class voters who feel marginalized because of affirmative action. This smells real stank to women who do not like being called on their qualifications.”

Typically, Carlson made it patronizing and personal, again challenging a black woman’s reasoning: “It’s so offensive and dumb. But leaving that aside, it does provide a window into a system that is fundamentally corrupt that awards people based on their DNA.” Greene then called him out on both the misogyny and racism: “[Your attitude] “is going to appeal to folks like you, voters like you: bow-tying white boys.”

Needless to say, Durden’s persistence and derision didn’t go over well at FOX, the 24 hour racism and sexism channel.

Freedom of What?

Durden’s firing is not unique. People are dismissed, censored, or punished all the time for views employers, schools, advertisers, lobby groups, internet service providers, and even foreign governments don’t like. People can be fired whether they are speaking on or off the clock, as representatives of a group, or simply for themselves. They can be fired for saying nothing but simply being who they are — and that includes being gay or pregnant. They can be fired for being whistle-blowers, even when they are exposing criminal acts.

Sometimes it’s quite amazing how little the First Amendment actually protects.

And it’s not just liberals who run afoul of censorship and retaliation. Bill O’Reilly was fired by FOX by his advertisers, though not because of his chronic sexual harassment. Richard Spencer lost a gym membership expressly because he’s noxious white supremacist scum. Tech entrepreneur Brendan Eich lost his seat on the board of Mozilla for his homophobic views.

Right or Left, in America social and political “norms” must be enforced and outliers punished. On the Left it’s frequently gay-bashers and neo-Nazis. On FOX it’s simply progressive black women.

Academic Freedom

But the First Amendment says that government cannot censor you in word or print. This is commonly understood as applying to public or government entities like community colleges and universities. Durden’s firing should certainly trigger a lawsuit for violation of her First Amendment rights.

And there is also a long tradition in colleges and universities of giving faculty members freedom to say what they want without censorship. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) notes that academic freedom as “common law” has existed since 1940. Many of the rights extended to faculty depend on tenure and teaching status, though there are disagreements among Federal Courts about what rights apply to whom.

Still, the Collective Bargaining Agreement under which Durden was hired “declares its commitment to sustain the principles of academic freedom” as well as “retention of all the adjunct faculty members’ rights as a citizen to free speech and publication. Such rights are not, as such, subject to institutional censorship or discipline.” The only caveat in the contract pertains to “the adjunct faculty member’s unusual influence on the opinions and values of the students with whom the adjunct faculty member works.“

But Lisa Durden never identified herself as an Essex faculty member and was trying to influence Tucker Carlson, not a room full of impressionable undergraduates.


Community Colleges may be called “colleges” but there is a caste system when it comes to teaching in America’s institutions of higher learning. To put it indelicately, adjuncts like Durden are the fast-food workers of the academic world. The AAUP has attempted to show some solidarity with adjuncts but this has never been translated into anything substantial. Instead, it has been up to advocates like Robin Meade, a union organizer for Moraine Valley Community College, to put rights for adjuncts into contracts.

But when Meade spoke out about adjuncts being treated as “disposable resources” at her college she had much the same experience as Durden: The “chief of campus police hand-delivered a letter of termination to Meade at her home. Her college email was immediately cut off and locks were changed on the union office at the college.” Meade appealed to the Illinois Department of Labor Relations and she won. Though this was a labor rights case, it also touched on her rights as an academic.

Seventy-five percent of faculty members in American colleges are adjuncts and, shockingly, they earn less than poverty wages. A majority of adjunct faculty members are women — those facing the most discrimination with tenure track positions. And while 60% of adjuncts in Colorado, for example, are women, they earn significantly less than their male counterparts. And the percentage of adjuncts is increasing nationally, just as part-time workers are increasing in the general labor market.

A typical adjunct can expect to earn $3-$5K for a single semester course. Her union will often — as in Durden’s case — be able to do little for her both in terms of wages or representation. Like Meade, after being fired Durden was denied union representation and treated like a criminal.

Because in the end Durden — like all American workers — was just another disposable resource.

College or Corporation?

While its adjuncts earn $7 to $8 an hour, Essex County College’s president, Anthony E. Monroe, a former healthcare consultant, earns $215,000 every year. Monroe was hired in May to deal with a stream of crises that have plagued the predominantly black college.

In May 2017 the former president and former university attorney were fired for pursuing an investigation of financial misconduct and coverup by the same administrators who ended up firing them. Both women are now pursuing wrongful termination lawsuits against the college. Essex is also at risk of losing its accreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education for “enrollment” and “leadership” issues.

Enter Anthony E. Monroe, Ed.D, MBA, MPH, FACHE.

Monroe’s resume describes him as a “Senior Management Executive” and his own effusive description of his abilities oozes like a jelly donut with corporate flummery:

“Dynamic, energetic, and experienced visionary and strategic executive with 28 year career in complex, world-class institutions that is showcased by an impressive record of leadership and management performance. Significant track record and achievements in delivering strong market, financial, and operational results in very complex and large systems. Recognized for innovative leadership in transitioning underperforming organizations into top producers and guiding others through growth and expansion; skilled in negotiations, changing culture, board relations, creating systemness, improving operations efficiency and project management, driving revenues and market shares, improving productivity and quality, generating savings, enhancing customer satisfaction, managing multi-site operations and integrating systems. Expertise in public health systems operations, physician relations, network development, strategy execution, clinical excellence, financial management, and market growth.”

Monroe came from City Colleges of Chicago, Malcolm X College, where he was president for seven years. He revamped a $251 million dollar campus, put his fingerprints on a $524 million capital plan, oversaw an 80% increase in degrees, saw graduation rates increase by 3%, and so on. Numbers. Widgets. Percentages. And “systemness.”

But Monroe’s other talent was making controversies go away. While president of Malcom X College, Dr. Micah Young, Dean of Medical Sciences, informed Monroe that there were four boxes of rotting cadavers stored in an unrefrigerated closet in the James Craig Lab, and that they represented a slew of health and workplace safety violations. Within a week Young was out of a job.

Young’s lawyer, Dennis Stefanowicz, said, “He tried to do the right thing for the families and for the individuals who gave their bodies to science. When he tried to do the right thing, he ran into a brick wall, and when he brought the issue to light, instead of taking the time to figure out how the problem occurred and figure out how to right the wrong, they just terminated the person who brought the issue to light. It was the easy way out.”

Mission Creep

Monroe’s talent for taking “the easy way out” certainly came in handy within weeks of assuming the presidency at Essex County College. Monroe posted a long-winded justification for Durden’s firing — one sounding like it had been concocted in a corporate H.R. department but not an institution of higher learning:

“While the adjunct who expressed her personal views in a very public setting was in no way claiming to represent the views and beliefs of the College, and does not represent the College, her employment with us and potential impact on students required our immediate review into what seemed to have become a very contentious and divisive issue. […] In consideration of the College’s mission, and the impact that this matter has had on the College’s fulfillment of its mission, we cannot maintain an employment relationship with the adjunct. The College affirms its right to select employees who represent the institution appropriately and are aligned with our mission.”

When Durden’s case finally goes to court Monroe will have to explain precisely why violating an adjunct’s employment contract was necessary, what he thinks the college’s “mission” is, and precisely how Durden’s private opinions were incompatible with that mission.

Black Lives Matter

But let’s not forget where this journey began — with Durden defending Black Lives Matter.

Four years ago George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin. Many on the jury believed Zimmerman was guilty of murder but had been instructed that Florida’s “stand your ground” laws prevented a finding of guilty. Black Lives Matter was born out of this injustice. The killings of black people is an important part of the BLM movement, but BLM’s statement describes it as a liberation movement with broader goals:

“Four years ago, what is now known as the Black Lives Matter Global Network began to organize. It started out as a Black-centered political will and movement building project turned chapter-based, member-led organization whose mission is to build local power and to intervene when violence is inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.

In the years since, we’ve committed to struggling together and to imagining and creating a world free of anti-Blackness, where every Black person has the social, economic, and political power to thrive.

Black Lives Matter began as a call to action in response to state-sanctioned violence and anti-Black racism. Our intention from the very beginning was to connect Black people from all over the world who have a shared desire for justice to act together in their communities. The impetus for that commitment was, and still is, the rampant and deliberate violence inflicted on us by the state.”

The BLM movement foresaw that, especially after the election of Donald Trump, things were going to get ugly, and fast:

“What is true today — and has been true since the seizure of this land — is that when black people and women build power, white people become resentful. Last week, that resentment manifested itself in the election of a white supremacist to the highest office in American government.”

Newsweek cited the Trump administration’s threats:

“The president has targeted the organization, especially protesters who have taken to the streets. The White House website went live after inauguration and promised to end the ‘anti-police atmosphere’ while noting ‘our job is not to make life more comfortable for the rioter, the looter, or the violent disrupter.’ Slate wrote about this shift with the headline ‘In One of His First Acts as President, Donald Trump Put Black Lives Matter on Notice.’”

Ignorance of American History

The history lesson Durden hoped to remind America of was lost the moment Tucker Carlson heard the words “white privilege.” But the history is quite relevant to this entire story.

In 2011 historian David Blight looked at the history of Memorial Day in a New York Times piece, “Forgetting Why We Remember.”

“By the spring of 1865, after a long siege and prolonged bombardment, the beautiful port city of Charleston, S.C., lay in ruin and occupied by Union troops. […] Whites had largely abandoned the city, but thousands of blacks, mostly former slaves, had remained, and they conducted a series of commemorations to declare their sense of the meaning of the war. […] The largest of these events, forgotten until I had some extraordinary luck in an archive at Harvard, took place on May 1, 1865. […] After the Confederate evacuation of Charleston black workmen went to the site, reburied the Union dead properly, and built a high fence around the cemetery. They whitewashed the fence and built an archway… […] The war was over, and Memorial Day had been founded by African-Americans in a ritual of remembrance and consecration. The war, they had boldly announced, had been about the triumph of their emancipation over a slaveholders’ republic. They were themselves the true patriots.”

Though the impulse to honor the half-million Union and Confederate dead was expressed in many such commemorations, black Americans are very likely to have been the first to do so.

This is what Lisa Durden never got to explain to White America.

July 4, 2017

Sometimes it’s not so easy to love this country.

The great patriotic displays on July 4th typically echo our great love of war. Bombs bursting in air, fireworks, rockets red glare. Tomahawks and drones. The new president even wanted a Soviet-style inauguration with rows of missile launchers driving down Pennsylvania Avenue. Many Americans would have loved it.

Today’s editorial sections were predictably full of appeals to American Exceptionalism — the Promise of America, the Dream of America, the Founding Fathers’ Challenge to Us All. They all fell flat because Americans are generally sick of promises and the Great America Again is just about all dreamed-out. People are working two and three jobs and still can’t afford medical care or a mortgage. Police are still murdering black people after centuries. We just won’t stop invading other countries, changing regimes, and slaughtering civilians.

But mainly, these patriotic invocations failed because we can no longer appeal to the America of Yesterday. All its sins and errors — and all the old worn narratives about the country — all have got to go.

Those who care to reckon with our history know just what kind of country it is. And there were plenty of reminders today as some commentators wrote about the country’s warts, even as others were celebrating our Exceptionalism. The late Howard Zinn reminded us ours is a country grown fat from conquest. Frederick Douglass, whom our commander-in-chief pretended to know personally, blasted the hollow democracy of slaveholders as an insult to black Americans. Michael Brenner wondered today whether it was time to finally pronounce dead America’s promises to the common man.

With economic insecurity, the very real possibility of dying without medical insurance, and rampant abuses of civil liberties, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness has become nothing but an empty slogan.

American democracy has certainly failed to live up to the hype, the anthems, the slogans, the appeals to raw nationalism — even the founding principles. More anthems and more nationalism haven’t helped. The day was always coming when we’d have to see that we’re just like every other people. Our democracy is just as imperfect and just as fragile. Nothing exceptional about that.

Love for a country has nothing to do with its clumsy symbols. The flag’s growing constellation is literally a record of territorial conquest. The national anthem has an ugly melody — just as it did when it was a British drinking song. The lyrics were penned by a slave holder. The White House, built with slave labor, is both a symbol of imperial power and a still-unresolved national sin.

Yet despite all this, this is where we live. It’s where we make our homes, make plans for the future, raise our families, drink the water, and involve ourselves in our communities. Progressives may not be out in the streets waving flags and setting off firecrackers, but there are other ways to love this country. And I think we’ve been out every night since January trying to demonstrate, and earn, that love.

Jon Schwarz has a thoughtful piece entitled “How to Love this Freaky Country” and it’s worth the read. Peter Laarman writes about how we need to re-frame the tired old “promise of America” narrative into something more constructive and, yes, more revolutionary. Lyz Lenz, editor of the Rumpus, kicked off a series of essays on patriotism that run throughout the month. These are views that look forward without trying to sanitize the past.

But then there is America itself. There is something mysterious and beckoning about our country. Or perhaps it’s the challenge of understanding the essence of something so vast, as Alexis de Tocqueville tried to do when touring the young nation. The old Simon and Garfunkel song “America” captures this idea so well that the Sanders campaign got permission to use it, repeating the refrain:

All come to look for America.

When interviewed, Art Garfunkel understood the song’s appeal: “We’ve come to look for the country and we don’t really know who we are. We never knew who we were. We’re still working out what Alexander Hamilton was working out: how do we fuse and become a united States of America…”

It is indeed a wonder to walk down the street of a major American city and see so many diverse faces. It is a miracle to drive across the country and see some of the most beautiful geography on the planet. It is astonishing that so much conflict can be packed together with so much amity, and that we have managed to stick together all this time. There is much to hate, much that needs change, but also much to love.

I wish everyone a Happy Independence Day, as we all continue to look for America.

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.