“Blue Apron” Food Stamps. Refugees. School Shootings. For the GOP, Meanness is The Goal

On Valentine’s Day, which will forever be known to the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland as the day their young lives became forever associated with trauma, Allison and I decided to watch something old, and romantic, so we could not talk about the daily horrors for a few hours. We had that luxury, of course.

We quickly picked Casablanca, which neither of us had seen for years.  What struck me watching it again, beside how great it still is, is that beside the main three (or four) characters, you are meant to deeply sympathize with the young couple trying to get out of the city.

Real people (2/3rds)

We’re primed to sympathize with them, to feel their plight, to feel the agony of their neverland time in Casablanca. This isn’t just because they are young and attractive, but because the opening narration perfectly lays out their situation.

With the coming of the Second World  War, many eyes in imprisoned Europe turned hopefully, or desperately,  toward the freedom of the Americas. Lisbon became the great embarkation point. But not everybody could get to Lisbon directly, and so, a tortuous, roundabout refugee trail sprang up. Paris to Marseilles, across the Mediterranean to Oran, then by train, or auto, or foot, across the rim of Africa to Casablanca in French Morocco.

Here, the fortunate ones, through money, or influence, or luck, might obtain exit visas and scurry to Lisbon, and from Lisbon to the New World. But the others wait in Casablanca — and  wait — and wait — and wait .

You can feel their desperate pain. These are people whose lives have been upturned by the horrors of war, by the mad headlong rush of violence into their lives. They are broken and shattered and scared and lost, half-dead, barely clinging onto hope. We feel for them, because they are human, and we can see ourselves in them.

We have the same situation in Syria, today. Millions of people have had their lives turned inside out, blown apart by a savagely cruel war. They spent their lives under the cadaverous pallor of the Asad regime, and when some rose up, peacefully, they were slaughtered. Over the next 7 years, their country has been turned into a charnel house, ripped apart by warring factions inside the country (especially the regime), transnational groups like ISIS, and international actors like Russia, Iran, the United States, Saudi Arabia, now Turkey, maybe Israel.

They fled across the self-same Mediterannean. They fled to Europe, many with eyes toward America. But we didn’t see them as people. We saw them as others, verminous danger, and closed our doors.

Not real people

That’s clear in the latest budget, and it is clear in, say, the dozens of refugee resettlement centers that are being closed under Trump and Paul Ryan.

But that’s the GOP. That’s who they are as a party, and it is clear in issue after issue: cruelty is the point, and empathy is a weakness. It is not a coincidence, nor a distortion, that their President is a man entirely incapable of empathy, and whose primary instinct (other than self-aggrandizement) is to be cruel to those he thinks are weaker than him.

It’s how he became President after all, and in every move he makes and every reaction he has, and in every piece of policy crafted in the head of Paul Ryan, making the lives of actual humans even worse is the primary goal. Punching down, and pulling the last shreds of a decent life from those who have so little.

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Bannon, Trump, and DACA: Where The Worst Meet the Worst

I’m going to say something controversial: I don’t think President Donald Trump actually wants to ruin people’s lives. As much as he thrives on petty humiliations and breaking his self-made enemies (note: he’s not actually good at the latter), he doesn’t actually enjoy destroying the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

This isn’t to say he has good ideas, or that he can’t convince himself its ok to do so, as in the case with Syrian refugees and most illegal immigrants. I think he likes the power, and is excellent and avoiding the ramifications of using it, especially if it reflects negatively upon him. But when faced with the idea of destroying DACA, he’s reluctant, which is why he’s punting.

He handed over today’s announcement to Jeff Sessions, who actually does enjoy this, but in the broader sense is giving it over to Congress, telling them they have six months to come up with a legislative solution for the 800,000 people eligible for Dreamer protection.

This actually makes sense. In theory, the legislative solution is the correct one. Most people in the country find it monstrous to kick these people out. Having permanent laws for them, protected by the Constitution, makes sense. That’s why President Obama spent years working with Congress to get something done, and they almost did, before the right wing revolted and Marco Rubio remembered he had absolutely zero courage.

It was only then that Dictator-for-Life Obamafuhrer established protections for a certain class of immigrants via executive order. This wasn’t a solution anyone liked, but since the alternative was to maintain a status quo that nobody liked until such a day came that the GOP wasn’t in thrall to the worst, it seemed reasonable.

And now? Now we have to hope that Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell find the courage and skill to no longer be in thrall to the worst. Sessions and the odious Stephen Miller are I think they gambling on Congress to not be able to square the circle between the hard racist right and those who want cheap labor. And I think Ryan and Mitch are hoping that, with everything else they have to do, they can just sort of ignore this and let DACA die.

It isn’t ideal for them, but the hard right has made killing DACA a primary goal. Politico reports today that Bannon is gearing up for war, as he puts it, because he’s a baby-soft coward who thinks that blogging is akin to physical courage. They are ready to go after anyone who supports DACA or any version of it.

To me, that’s incredibly telling. Everyone eligible for DACA has been lawful, good members of their community, and ready to contribute to the United States (many have already literally served their country). While illegal immigration is a problem, almost no one thinks that deporting these children, many of whom don’t even speak the language of what Bannon would consider their “native” country, is a good idea. Their home is the United States.

And that’s the point. Cruelty, here, is the point–cruelty in the name of white nationalism. It is what animates Bannon, Miller, Sessions, and many of their voters. It is important enough to spook Ryan and Mitch, an even enough to give Trump pause. That Politico article contains the quintessence of Trumpism.

The president is buying himself time on a difficult matter and has complained privately to friends and associates that he has few good options. He doesn’t like ending the program for the “kids” but also chafes at hearing that “New York Democrats” are powering his administration, according to several people who have spoken to the president in recent days.

“Well, I don’t like ruining the lives of 800,000 kids, but on the other hand, some people are saying things about me I don’t like. What choice do I have?”

That he didn’t end it outright, and instead passed it to Congress to do so, is what passes for courage with Trump. We’ll see if the GOP can muster any of their own.

Temperature Forecast for the Middle East: Hot and Dry Conditions Expected for 10,000 Years

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The Empty Quarter looks like a preview of what’s to come

It’s going to be 90 and humid in Chicago tomorrow. Ugh. But, relatively, I don’t feel too bad.

July 10 (UPI) — New analysis of Iranian stalagmites have offered a detailed history of water resources in the region. The findings suggest the Middle East is unlikely to enjoy a relief from its prolonged drought for at least another 10,000 years.

The newest analysis — detailed this week in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews — helped scientists estimate water availability during the last glacial and interglacial periods. The findings suggest water in the Middle East is likely to remain scarce for some time.

We’ve talked about how drought has helped to create and sustain the wars and conflicts in Syria, Yemen, and other areas. That is connected to this. The immediate droughts are, I think, part of the larger pattern, or a dip in a permanent decline (permanent on a civilizational level).

This kind of drought is to be expected in an interglacial period, as the study says. The problem, of course, is that we didn’t know we were in an interglacial period, and so built civilizations as if everything was going to stay the same forever. It didn’t, of course. Mesopotamia was once verdant, but it got used up, made into a harsh desert by human shirt-sightedness, made worse by the normal shifting of rivers, made worse by the normal planetary rhythms, and made worse by war, and made catastrophically worse by the acceleration of climate change.

Indeed: A number of climate models have previously predicted much of the Middle East will become too hot and dry to sustain large human populations by the end of the century.

This is why it is so irritating when dummies say “the world has always been changing, so don’t worry about climate change!” Yes, it is true, the world has always been changing. But what they miss is that when it changes this much, it is catastrophically bad for living things.

And what they miss is that these natural changes, like the drought patterns in the Middle East during interglacial periods, happen on an inhuman time scale, which means that we’ve built our civilizations in ignorance of their impact. And then we accelerate their impact with the very product of our civilization. It’s making everything incredibly worse. It’s like pointing to a map of Pangea and sneering that “the continents are always moving!” while turning on your earthquake machine.

The planet that might not actually be conducive to our existence, long-term. We’re in the glacial flicker, and thought it would be permanent. All of our actions over the last few centuries–and really, all of our existence–have made that existence less tenable.

(For further reading on just how bad it can get, read David Wallace-Wells’ remarkable and remarkably depressing NYMag article “The Uninhabitable Earth.” Maybe not everything he says will come true (and he’s not saying it all will). But a lot of this is inevitable.

If you don’t want to read it, just close your eyes and picture the Middle East uninhabitable in 80 years. Know it will just keep getting hotter and drier, which will make it more violent as people fight and kill for scarce resources, and the refugee crisis makes today’s trickle a flood (exacerbated by what will be happening in Africa, Central Asia, the American southwest, etc). These are not worst-case scenarios. They’re the future.)

The Ivanka Irritation in Two NYTimes Articles


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“Female empowerment is more than a slogan for me–it’s a brand!”


I actually don’t really want to focus on Ivanka Trump, but it is also sort of weird not to, in a way that reflects the grotesque weirdness of our current political moment. I keep thinking, ugh, just ignore her, she’s a self-empowerment facade, a rich kid with smooth PR, a platitudinous ghost-person who is just some barely-earned dignity above any other fake celebrity. Famous for being famous. Before 2016, I doubt I spent more than four total minutes of my life thinking about Ivanka Trump.

But then, this person is a top advisor to the President of the United States. Ignoring her because she’s a political nobody is to ignore the central problem of America at the moment: we’re being run by reality show idiots. Our country has fully empowered our idol worship, celebrity obsession, and anti-intellectual pitchforking. And while Ivanka may be pretty and say nice things, she’s as much to blame as anyone else, and in her own way as much an embodiment of what is happening to us.

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Reminder: Call Your Senator And Tell Them To Vote No On Justice Gorsuch


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Seriously, get on the horn


One way or the other, Neil Gorsuch will be the next Supreme Court justice. If the Democrats try to filibuster, Mitch McConnell will, with “deep sadness at this unprecedented assault on Presidential prerogative”, get rid of the filibuster. Or, knowing this, and knowing that Gorsuch is generally popular, will keep their powder dry, and maybe have some protest votes against him, but will largely let him pass through.

But they shouldn’t. The answer to Gorsuch should be the what Michael Corleone offered to Senator Geary: nothing. Gorsuch should not get one single Democratic vote.

This is partly a matter of politics (we have to fight everything about Trumpism to make sure that none of this is normalized and to get out the vote in midterms and local elections), but also, mostly, principle. It’s not just that this seat belongs to Merrick Garland. It’s that, in denying President Obama his right to nominate a Supreme Court justice, the Republican overturned the 2012 election.

There’s no other word for it: they nullified the election, trampled on the will of voters in the biggest display of contempt for the union since Wallace, or possibly the Civil War. In 2012, by a wide margin, voters elected Barack Obama to a four-year term. Everyone votes knowing that there is always the chance of a Supreme Court seat opening up. Mitch McConnell saw that he had a chance to overthrow the election and literally reduce Obama’s term to three years, and he took it. This wasn’t legally treason, but it was a moral assault on our democracy.

And they won, thanks to the slave-state empowerment of the Electoral College. And now they get to put on an extremely, overwhelmingly conservative justice, against the will of the majority of voters in two straight elections. And they will do so, and the nation will suffer.

Over at Slate, the incomparable Dahlia Lithwick talks about teeth-breaking GOP hypocrisy during the hearings, insulted as they are that anyone would even question Gorsuch. (“GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch lectured the Judiciary Committee about the fact that the Senate ‘owes the president deference over his judicial nominees.’ Hearing this, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont about fell out of his chair.”)

We have to expect their cynicism. We have to be willing to stand up to their calculated outrage (which probably isn’t “phony”, per se; cognitive dissonance rules all). We have to let our Senators know that they aren’t in a hearing for Gorsuch, as we normally understand it. They are in a hearing for Merrick Garland’s seat, which was stolen through a subversion of democracy.

So call your Senator. Tell them you support them voting NO on Gorsuch, and not because of any reprehensible position of the other. That’s important, but in a way incidental, because a right-wing Scalia-y Justice is the outcome of the crime, not the crime itself. Give our Senators the strength and backing to protest this outrage against our very democracy.

A hard right court can destroy environmental pushback, end labor, and annihilate civil rights. Our country will be changed in ways it is hard to imagine. But it already has: the idea of a Presidential term was suddenly subject to a political gamble. That hits at the basis of our country. Tell your Senator to fight back against it. We might not win, but it’s how the fight can start.

Nationalist Bulgarian Paramilitary Border Forces Are Weird and Foreign, Right?


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Trees are the only thing that differentiate Bulgarian border militias from American ones.


The historical roots of the refugee crisis in Europe follow the same lines as the immigration debate here, and have had the same atavistic reaction.

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The Spiteful Illogic of the New Travel Ban


When the first “Travel Ban” executive order was announced a week into the Trump administration some 4600 years ago, some of the key pillars of a free society made their impact felt in a way that shocked even the most optimistic observer. The legal system had a two-pronged effort. Organizations like the ACLU protected the victims of the order’s cruelty and brought their cases to an independent judiciary, which treated the order as what it was: a legal measure subject to review; not the blessed fiat of a New Dawn.

The other pillar, of course, was public protest, which stunned anyone who expected obsequiousness after the snowflakes of the women’s march melted. It is doubtful that legislators, and possibly even the courts, would have reacted with the swiftness they did were in not for spontaneous acts of disobedience, compassion, and righteous fury. Protests were shown again to not be movements of self-expression or sideshows to politics; they are a vital part of civil society.

So, the reaction to the travel ban, and its being held up by the courts, led to the rollout of a newly revised order yesterday. This was supposed to be rolled out last week, but it was delayed so that news of it wouldn’t step on the reception to Trump’s Congressional address last week.

Now, it is a good demonstration of how deeply dumb the President and his people are that they genuinely thought the rest of the week–month?–should revolve around him garnering praise for clearing the lowest possible bar. Trump was reportedly livid that the news of Sessions misleading Russian testimony and subsequent recusal took away from what I promise you he believes is regarded as the finest speech in American history. That’s partly what led to this weekend’s insanity.

But more importantly, as everyone pointed out, the delay for some good ol’ self-gratification contradicted the fierce urgency with which the initial rollout happened, and made Trump’s truly dangerous tweets about how judges were making our country less safe even more reckless. But that hypocrisy is just one of the many contradictions that shows how pointlessly self-defeating (not to mention cruel and un-American) these travel bans really are.

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Border Patrol Loosening Standard for Hiring While Granting More Power


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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.