Fat Tuesday Musing on Election Day in Evanston: Mayoral Elections and The Thread of History

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On local election day, a few thoughts on how these decisions matter, and how history plays a constant role in today’s horrors. 

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Border Patrol Loosening Standard for Hiring While Granting More Power

 

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Papers!

The other day we talked about a newly-empowered Customs and Order Protection, taking full advantage of the outskirts of their legal rights, and how they were seemingly taking on the role of vanguard of the Trump administration’s more insidious plans. Today the Times expands on that, talking about how the CBP, and ICE, have more “freedom” to do what they want.

Our speculation is that, as these agencies looked to expand to carry out the brutal immigration policies of the Trump/Bannon/Sessions axis, they would naturally lend themselves to people even more ready to gang up on Mexers and camel jockeys. Both CPB and ICE already have a reputation for attracting more lawless, vigilante types (though that is certainly far from a complete picture of the agents; many of whom are as serious as their serious jobs demand). The fear is that with the license to really bust some heads, these agencies will attract recruits who are frustrated by the lack of head-bashing opportunities their daily lives or other law enforcement jobs provide.

Those fears are not misplaced. Foreign Policy exclusive today looks at how it seems like the DHS will be lowering standards and easing restrictions when it comes to hiring for the CPB.

Molly O’Toole’s article talks about how the DHS wants to reduce the use of certain background checks, including polygraphs, arguing that they are too burdensome, and recruits coming from other law enforcement agencies shouldn’t have to do redundant tests. (You could also say that polygraphs are stupids.) But there is a reason that CPB has such strict background tests: they are super easy to corrupt.

Or, if not easy, really great targets for smugglers, gangs, and human traffickers to bribe or blackmail. They are targeted with sex and money, so that they look the other way. The nature of their jobs requires more probity, the theory goes.

Yet those tough standards, including a mandatory polygraph, were put into place by Congress in 2010, after Customs and Border Protection suffered acute growing pains during the Bush administration, when CBP doubled in size. Some Border Patrol agents didn’t complete background checks before they deployed to the frontlines, officials reported, and the agency saw an increase in cases of internal corruption, and questions over its use-of-force training following a spate of deadly incidents.

I have no idea if the background checks are really too burdensome. It seems like a good idea, given how quickly the department expanded under President Bush, and how much of a problem that caused (as the FP article details). But maybe, in normal circumstances, it would be ok to make it a little easier to get in.

These aren’t normal circumstances. And while the article doesn’t go into the possibility that underqualified Gestapo-wannabes will flood the ranks of CBP and ICE, I think that’s a major fear. A rapid expansion of the ranks for people looking for exercise racialized and expanded powers with lower background standards seems like it will be, at best, a disaster. At worst, it is exactly what Trump and Bannon and Sessions want. Their own extremely loyal white nationalist force.

 

Trump on Paris: Equal Parts Racism, Terrible Government, And Maddening Idiocy

 

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More like the “Arch De Jim Doesn’t Want To Go To Paris Anymore!”

 

I feel that for everyone, there is one Trump habit or event that sticks in your craw more than others, something that seems minor (in the grand scheme of Trump horrors), but that, to you, just wraps everything up in a disgusting, pulsating meat-bow. For me, it’s France. Or, more specifically, what he has to say about Paris, which comes up every time he’s talking about “terror”. He did so in his CPAC speech.

Take a look at what happened in Sweden. I love Sweden. Great country, great people, I love Sweden. They understand I’m right. The people there understand I’m right. Take a look at what’s happening in Sweden. Take a look at what’s happened in Germany. Take a look at what’s happened in France. Take a look at Nice and Paris.

I have a friend, he’s a very, very substantial guy, he loves the city of lights. He loves Paris. For years, every year during the summer he would go to Paris. It was automatic. With his wife and his family. Hadn’t seen him in a while. And I said, Jim, let me ask you a question, how’s Paris doing? Paris? I don’t go there anymore. Paris is no longer Paris. That was four years, four, five years, hasn’t gone there. He wouldn’t miss it for anything. Now he doesn’t even think in terms of going there.

Now. There’s actually a lot going on here. For one thing, it is weird and terrible to try to paint an ally (as France most certainly is) as a dystopian hellhole, and one that it isn’t safe to go to. That’s just being really bad at government. It’s considerably worse than criticizing a particular policy. Saying “Paris is no longer Paris” is attacking an ally on a fundamental, even existential level. French President Hollande is rightfully upset. Part of running the government, and being the face of the country, is getting along with allies and not going out of your way to needlessly insult. Trump is very bad at this job!

But let’s go a little deeper. The whole “Paris is no longer Paris” thing isn’t just about terrorism. Indeed, it’s more straight-up racism. The example here is from “Four, five years ago”, before Hebdo, before Nice, before the Bataclan. There’s a chance that Trump is just riffing and fudging the years, but he’s told this story many times. It isn’t that it is violent. It’s that there are immigrants there. Non-French.

And it is true that while before the wave of jihad violence France, and Paris, were trying to deal with poor immigrants who were not able to assimilate into society. It’s very complex, partly because France, unlike America (traditionally), had very strict requirements about what it meant to be “French”, and there wasn’t much of an attempt to change that, or to help newcomers from different cultures. They were immediately given up on and marginalized. One of the reasons the immigrant experience in America has worked so well, despite its flaws, is that the culture is flexible enough that it changes with new arrivals, and doesn’t try to change them (much).

So when Trump talks about his friend Jim not wanting to go to Paris because it is no longer Paris, he’s just updating and incorporating an older story into a narrative of terrorism. But the story is that Paris is no longer purely white, and that the non-whites would like some rights, and the right to be visible. The heart of it is pure racism; the conflation of religious bigotry with fears about terrorism are at the heart of the white supra-nationalist campaign. It would be subtly very smart, if I thought it was intentional.

I’m not sure it is, though, because of what bothers me the most: that the President of the United States of America, when discussing transnational terrorism, seems to base most of his thinking off a vague anecdote about a buddy of his named Jim.

This is enraging. It makes me so mad I can barely sit still. It’s not even the policy-basing part. It’s that he thinks this means something. He thinks it is interesting and important that a guy named Jim–a substantial guy–doesn’t like to go to Paris, and he always used to. Something’s going on!

Think about it. Imagine you got into a conversation in a bar and someone said, well, let me tell you about terrorism: here’s an incredibly boring story about a guy’s vacation history. You’d nod, and think, well, ok, that doesn’t mean anything. This guy just has a few vague, mostly racist assumptions, a second-person anecdote, and not much else. It would be a bad conversation in a bar, the faintly-lunatic ramblings of a know-nothing blowhard who seems like he’s more interested in impressing you by being friends with a substantial guy who can go to Paris whenever he wants than on actually talking about the issue.

Now imagine a Presidential candidate uses that anecdote as something meaningful. Now imagine the President keeps using it. What the hell? You have access to every bit of intelligence the country produces, and you want to talk about Jim?

I mean, maybe this is why he is “relatable”, because he talks like a normal guy. That’s backward in and of itself; his “normal guy” talk is so sweaty in its desperate lust for your admiration and filled with brags about the powerful people he knows that it should render itself as more out of touch than Romney, but we’re in the upside down, so who knows?

And maybe this is smart. Maybe it is a not-too-subtle dogwhistle about the mongrol hordes in Europe, and how they are coming over here if we don’t do anything. Maybe he knows exactly what he is doing, if just instinctively.

But let us not forget that the President is a man so deeply incurious about the world, and so vastly unlearned, that he bases his ideas on cable news crawls and other people’s idiot stories. That’s where we are.

Sad DHS Memos Don’t Reflect Full Faith in the Alternate Facts

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Pictured: unfavorable facts

In the last post, we linked to an article about the how the Trump administration approved DAPL and Keystone: essentially, throwing out every agreement they didn’t like. There’s a quote in the article that I think is a perfect summation.

Two days before the Trump administration approved an easement for the Dakota Access pipeline to cross a reservoir near the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation, the U.S. Department of the Interior withdrew a legal opinion that concluded there was “ample legal justification” to deny it.

The withdrawal of the opinion was revealed in court documents filed this week by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the same agency that requested the review late last year.

“A pattern is emerging with [the Trump] administration,” said Jan Hasselman, an attorney representing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. “They take good, thoughtful work and then just throw it in the trash and do whatever they want to do.”

Which is pretty much perfect. But it doesn’t just pertain to pipelines, of course. From Lawfare. 

CNN also reports that the White House is pushing officials in the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department to provide information in support of the supposed security rationale behind the executive order banning entry into the U.S. for citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries. The administration rejected an earlier DHS report contradicting the White House’s assertions on the security benefits of the travel ban and now is asking for a revised report, leading to concern within DHS and DOJ over the potential politicization of intelligence.

This is what happens when you have a faith-based organization. Everything has to fit that belief, and that which doesn’t is fake. It’s faith in the bigoted mantras of the Bannon-Gorka-Sessions axis, and faith in whatever idiot things Trump improvised on the campaign. It’s an odd miracle of this peculiar catechism that these are happily aligned.

Trump’s Pipeline Policies: As Bad As Everything Else They Do

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The aftermath of the Enbridge oil spill in Michigan. Image from salmonguy.org

How many pipeline spills do you think there were last year? Three? Ten? 85? Maybe you remember reading about a few, and think, well, things were pretty hectic last year, what with the dying-fish floparound of liberal democracy, so maybe I missed one here or there.

There were, at least, 220 “significant” leaks220 “significant” leaks, when you count oil (in all its manifest and increasingly sludgy forms), natural gas, and refined gasoline. Because that’s what pipelines do. They burst. Whether they are lurking under the Great Lakes or right at the edge of your town, coursing under the fields where you ran as a child, they are a time bomb, ready to go off.

Of course, we need pipelines. Our economy is still based on dead dinosaurs (which, though not strictly accurate, sort of is, and is actually sort of cool, when you think about it), and that matter needs to be transported. It’s a devil’s deal, maybe, but it’s the one we have. Which is why you think it would be super really important to make sure that those pipelines, which are aging, increasingly prone to busting, and more susceptible to extreme weather (which we’re having more of), are monitored, protected, and upgraded.

Now, the upgrading might be part of the administration’s infrastructure plan, though it seems like they are already planning to “punt” that to 2018, partly because they have other priorities (taking away health care from millions, tax cuts for the wealthy), and mostly because Republicans really don’t want to spend any money on infrastructure, as Yglesias reminds us. So let’s not put our eggs in the upgrade basket.

And, of course, the “monitor and regulate our aging pipelines so as to not poison our air, water, and land” is DOA as well. They are looking to “ease” regulations that the Obama administration imposed that call for strict monitoring.

Regulators in the waning hours of the Obama era wrote rules aimed at changing that, and the industry is looking forward to the new administration rolling them back. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration “has gone overboard,” said Brigham McCown, a former head of the PHMSA who served on President Donald Trump’s infrastructure transition team. “They built a Cadillac instead of the Chevrolet that Congress told them to build.”

While Obama was president, the PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration)budget grew by 61 percent. Then, seven days before Trump’s inauguration, the agency finalized a rule toughening up inspection and repair demands, mandating, for example, that companies have leak-detection systems in populated areas and requiring they examine lines within 72 hours of flooding or another so-called extreme weather event. The American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry’s main trade group, characterized it all as overreaching and unnecessary.

Unsurprisingly (though inconclusively, as it was a small sample size) the total number of spills and leaks actually dropped last year, from 462 in 2015 to 417 (the 220 number above was “significant” leaks, obviously a few hundred are no biggie). So yeah, the new energy team thinks that having the Cadillac of pipelines protection is way worse than having the Chevy.

So let’s sum up.

  • No money for upgrades
  • Fewer regulations
  • Less monitoring
  • No admittance that old pipelines are in more danger due to climate change, because what’s that?
  • More reliance on the materials that lead to climate change
  • More pipelines (even if you have to ignore reasonable arguments against)

It’s a maddening and lunatic philosophy. It’s one thing to want to rely entirely on fossil fuels; it is another altogether to deliberately oppose making the usage of them even slightly safer. I don’t even know if you can call that a philosophy. It’s just insanity, and it is the insanity that is running our country.

Anyway, this was another reminder that Donald Trump is a right-wing Republican who governs like a right-wing Republican.

100 Air Miles In: The Border Patrol Is Trump’s Front Line of Control

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After the “Muslim Ban” went into effect, we were flooded with reports of overzealous Customs and Border Patrol agents interpreting the law the way they wanted, resisting court orders, and detaining people while past the point of legitimacy. In other words, they were acting like either rogue agents or a rogue agency–or rather, an agency with a very specific loyalty, and one that didn’t consider itself beholden to the court.

That loyalty, of course, is to Donald Trump. The CBP didn’t endorse Trump, though the Union for Border Patrol Agents did, very controversially. Though the CBP is officially non-political, it is clear that they lean very far right, and have been “rogue”, leading people to call them the most “out of control” law-enforcement agency.

But, as we said, one day you’re rogue, the next vogue. The undemocratic victory of Donald Trump has given them the green light they need, and his executive orders are opening the door. This morning, we’re hearing reports of border patrol agents checking “documents”, proof of citizenship, on domestic flights in domestic airports.

This is a “papers, please” sort of thing. To be clear, the CBP is acting within their jurisdiction.

The authority for this is based on the Immigration and Nationality Act 287(a)(3) and copied in 8 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 287 (a)(3), which states that Immigration Officers, without a warrant, may “within a reasonable distance from any external boundary of the United States…board and search for aliens in any vessel within the territorial waters of the United States and any railcar, aircraft, conveyance, or vehicle. 8 CFR 287 (a)(1) defines reasonable distance as 100 air miles from the border.

But there is a difference between having the authority, and having actual cause to do so. Have you ever had your “documents” checked on a domestic flight before? In a domestic airport? I know I haven’t. I don’t even know what to present: my driver’s license?

This isn’t just intimidation, though it is also that. It’s the muscle-flexing of the new world order. Hyperempowered white nationalists will extend their reach to the full range of the law, and possibly beyond. Or maybe the laws will change and that 100 miles becomes 500. This will only get worse if Trump is able to hire his 10,000 new CBP and 5000 new ICE agents (which is

This will only get worse if Trump is able to hire his 10,000 new CBP and 5000 new ICE agents (which is far from a done deal). Who do you think is going to be applying for Trump’s ICE? Majority civil libertarians, or failed cops with a chip on their shoulders, latent white nationalists with statutes behind them.

To say this is a ‘make or break’ moment is an exaggeration, sure. But it is dangerous. Once we start accepting having our papers checked at any airport, what else do we accept? What happens when a law enforcement agency is loyal to the President, and not to the country? What happens when everyone is the enemy?

Democracies don’t die at the ballot booth. They die when your citizenship hinges on the mood of the armed and empowered.

Arizona’s Anti-Protest Laws: This is How it Begins

I’m going to present this without comment, because it doesn’t need it. I don’t know if this will pass, or if it can, but the seeping paranoia isn’t just in the swamps of the alt-right. The “professional protestor” idea has taken hold of everyone (as if any protest isn’t planned, anyway), and they are using that not just to discredit, but to try to stop dissent. It would be fun to make “snowflake” or “safe spaces” jokes, but this is dead serious. It’s using the full mechanisms of state violence to stop legitimate dissent. From the Arizona Capitol Times.

Arizona Senate votes to seize assets of those who plan, participate in protests that turn violent

Claiming people are being paid to riot, Republican state senators voted Wednesday to give police new power to arrest anyone who is involved in a peaceful demonstration that may turn bad — even before anything actually happened.

SB1142 expands the state’s racketeering laws, now aimed at organized crime, to also include rioting. And it redefines what constitutes rioting to include actions that result in damage to the property of others.

But the real heart of the legislation is what Democrats say is the guilt by association — and giving the government the right to criminally prosecute and seize the assets of everyone who planned a protest and everyone who participated. And what’s worse, said Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, is that the person who may have broken a window, triggering the claim there was a riot, might actually not be a member of the group but someone from the other side.

Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, acknowledged that sometimes what’s planned as a peaceful demonstration can go south.

“When people want to express themselves as a group during a time of turmoil, during a time of controversy, during a time of high emotions, that’s exactly when people gather as a community,’’ he said. “Sometimes they yell, sometimes they scream, sometimes they do go too far.’’

Quezada said, though, that everything that constitutes rioting already is a crime, ranging from assault to criminal damage, and those responsible can be individually prosecuted. He said the purpose of this bill appears to be designed to chill the First Amendment rights of people to decide to demonstrate in the first place for fear something could wrong.

But Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said that chilling effect is aimed at a very specific group of protesters.

“You now have a situation where you have full-time, almost professional agent-provocateurs that attempt to create public disorder,’’ he said.

“A lot of them are ideologues, some of them are anarchists,’’ Kavanagh continued. “But this stuff is all planned.’’

There’s something else: By including rioting in racketeering laws, it actually permits police to arrest those who are planning events. And Kavanagh, a former police officer, said if there are organized groups, “I should certainly hope that our law enforcement people have some undercover people there.’’

“Wouldn’t you rather stop a riot before it starts?’’ Kavanagh asked colleagues during debate. “Do you really want to wait until people are injuring each other, throwing Molotov cocktails, picking up barricades and smashing them through businesses in downtown Phoenix?’’

Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, said the new criminal laws are necessary.

“I have been heartsick with what’s been going on in our country, what young people are being encouraged to do,’’ she said.

She agreed with Quezada that there already are laws that cover overt acts. But Allen said they don’t work.

“If they get thrown in jail, somebody pays to get them out,’’ she said. “There has to be something to deter them from that.’’

Farley, however, said the legislation does far more than simply going after those who might incite people to riot, something which actually already is a crime. And he warned Republicans that such a broad law could end up being used against some of their allies.

For example, he said, a “Tea Party’’ group wanting to protest a property tax hike might get permits, publicize the event and have a peaceful demonstration.

“And one person, possibly from the other side, starts breaking the windows of a car,’’ Farley said.

“And all of a sudden the organizers of that march, the local Tea Party, are going to be under indictment from the county attorney in the county that raised those property taxes,’’ he said. “That will have a chilling effect on anybody, right or left, who wants to protest something the government has done.’’

Sen. Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, said the whole legislation is based on a false premise of how disturbances happen.

“This idea that people are being paid to come out and do that?’’ she said. “I’m sorry, but I think that is fake news.’’

Sen. Andrea Dalessandro, D-Green Valley, had her own concerns.

“I’m fearful that ‘riot’ is in the eyes of the beholder and that this bill will apply more strictly to minorities and people trying to have their voice heard,’’ she said.

The 17-13 party-line vote sends the bill to the House.