Saturday, November 28, 2015

Ted Cruz painted into a corner on refugees

GOP presidential contender Ted Cruz has been moving up in the pack and could possibly even win the Iowa caucuses.    He's not leading in the polls there, but political insiders point out that winning Iowa depends to a large extent on good organization that will get its supporters to go out and spend the two hours it takes to participate in an Iowa caucus.    The Cruz campaign is reportedly much better prepared to do that than either Trump or Carson.

Consequently, more media attention is turning to Cruz.   Friday's Atlanta Journal-Constitution had an opinion essay written by Duke University history professor Gunther Peck.   He reviews the history of nations accepting refugees and says that refugees, as opposed to immigrants in general, are usually accepted in response to a foreign policy crisis, such as "Cuban refugees fleeing Castro's victories after 1962" and Vietnamese after the fall of Saigon in 1975.

Peck acknowledges that the impulse to accept refugees is stronger when humanitarian imperatives complement positions that also benefit our national interests -- and that we have not been as open when people were fleeing oppression from governments that were U.S. allies, such as Haiti and Guatemala.

Which brings us to Ted Cruz and the paradox of making his refugee-father's story a central theme of his campaign, while now viciously denouncing President Obama's plan to use his executive authority to expand the number of Syrian refugees we accept, which Cruz has called "nothing short of an act of lunacy."   As Peck puts it: 
"[Cruz] ignored the fact his Cuban-born father would almost certainly have been denied entry and U.S. citizenship if not for Cold War commitments that defined all Cuban migrants as 'refugees.'   More important, he undermined the very executive authority he seeks to wield as a future president." 
When pressed by CNN's Dana Bash to explain his opposition, in view of what it would have meant for his father, Cruz's response was . . . well, rather crude.   In Peck's words:
"Cruz asserted virtually all Syrian refugees were potential terrorists, unlike his freedom-loving father.   Cruz's broad brush strokes might work well with one slice of the Republican electorate . . . .  But Cruz's disavowal of the United States' long history of bipartisan refugee policy is harmful to our national interest.   It weakens the nation's credibility in working with Muslim allies, and makes it easier for ISIS and other religious radicals to recruit jihadists against the U.S. and its allies."
Notice the slick, dog-whistle communication there:   "virtually all were potential terrorists."   That doesn't really say anything other than that 'any human being could be a terrorist.But those programmed to fear unknown terrorists will hear 'Obama wants to let in terrorists.'  And then Peck concludes:
"There is no better way to draw a sharp distinction between the aims and methods of ISIS and that of the U.S. government than to remain dedicated to core humanitarian principles, even in the wake of terrorist attack."
Yes.    Ted Cruz is not the worst of the fear-mongerers.   But that arrogant, willfully ignorant line -- "virtually all Syrian refugees were potential terrorists" is the gist of what's wrong with their position.   It's Dick Cheney type thinking.   If it could possibly happen, assume that it will and muster all self-serving anecdotes (and distort the risk) to strike fear in the heart of the people so they will support what you want to do.

That mentality scares me more than the tiny risk of a terrorist sneaking in as a refugee, despite the most rigorous screening of anyone who comes into our country.   It is totally and intentionally false to equate how easy it is for a Syrian terrorist to get into and travel around Europe -- and how difficult it is for a Syrian to be admitted into the U. S. as a refugee.   That is the crucial distinction that the anti-refugees politicians fail to acknowledge -- and it makes all the difference.


Friday, November 27, 2015

The real terrorist threats in America

Here's how Timothy Egan put it in Saturday's New York Times:
"A bigger threat than a homeless victim of a savage war is a homegrown crazy with an assault rifle.   If only the two-year vetting process now applied to those seeking refuge were used to screen unstable Americans purchasing guns at the mall."

Stop the right-wing bigotry

Last Sunday, more than a dozen white men, some wearing masks and armed with AK-15 assault rifles, stood outside a mosque in Irving, Texas, a suburb of Dallas.   Their proclaimed purpose was to  protest the "Islamization of America, Syrian refugees, and Islam in general."

The group's organizer David Wright, wearing a mask and toting his AK-15, acknowledged that they wanted to intimidate Muslim members:  "I'm not going to lie.   We do want to show force.  It would be ridiculous to protest Islam without defending ourselves."

Local authorities knew about the planned protest and notified Mosque leaders, who in turn advised their members to stay away.   Police were also on hand to ensure members' safety.   So nobody was hurt . . . physically.

But such bigotry continues to hurt all of us.    Just imagine the reaction if the affiliations had been reversed, and a gang of masked, armed Muslim men had gathered outside a Christian church to intimidate its members.

Every time a Republican presidential candidate, or a Republican governor, or Fox News or  right-wing, talk radio bigots blast out anti-Muslim fear and hatred -- this is what results.   Someone is going to get hurt -- and they will all bear some of the responsibility for revving up the fear and vigilante mentality.


Thursday, November 26, 2015

Gov. Deal brings shame to Georgia

In sharp contrast to the heart-warming article (below) about the little boy from Texas, Georgia's Gov. Nathan Deal has once again displayed the craven stinginess and mean spirit of Republican governors and legislatures.

But Gov. Deal went further than all the other governors who said they would not take any new refugees from Syria in their states.  No, Gov. Deal has shamed us Georgians by making us the only state to deny food stamps to Syrian refugees.

Think about that as you digest that big Thanksgiving dinner.

Fortunately, the U. S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the food stamp program, has stepped in with a letter to remind the governor that refugees are eligible and that, to be in compliance with federal law, the state agency must accept their applications.

We're better than that, Gov. Deal.   Stop dragging us down with you.


Good news #11: Generosity begets generosity

Reported by DailyKos:

"A little boy in south Texas did something pretty great last week, and the news spread quickly across the world, via social media. Seven-year-old Jack Swanson took $20 from his piggy bank and decided to give it to a community mosque that had been grossly defaced during a Muslim hate crime.

"Twenty dollars might not seem a lot to some, but to Jack Swanson, it was a life’s savings.  And to Faisal Naem, a board member from the Islamic Center of Pflugerville, Jack’s gift was comparable to “$20 million” to the Muslim community.  Screen_Shot_2015-11-19_at_5.39.14_PM.png

"What many didn’t know last week was that Jack Swanson was saving his pennies for an Apple iPad.  Ardalan Iftikhar heard about the story and said he was moved to tears. Known to some on social media as The Muslim Guy, Iftikar contacted Jack’s mother, Laura Swanson, and within days, Jack received a package in the mail along with this note from Iftikhar:
‘Dear Jack, you had saved $20 in your piggybank for an Apple iPad. But then a local Islamic mosque was vandalised. So you donated your $20 to this local Texas mosque. Because of your amazing generosity and your kind heart. ‘Please enjoy this Apple iPad with our sincere thanks :-). Love The American Muslim Community.’ 
"Jack Swanson will most likely always remember how his kindness was received by many around the world. What a wonderful lesson to learn so young — that when we give to othersfrom our heartsexpecting nothing in return, the good often comes back to usmultiplied. Thank you, Jack, for this lovely reminder."
*   *   *
What a good message for Thanksgiving Day.   Pass it on.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

NYTimes finally, seriously calls Trump a demagogue

The New York Times published an editorial on Tuesday that is a scathing takedown of Donald Trump's serial lies on the campaign trail.  It begins: 
"America has just lived through another presidential campaign week dominated by Donald Trump's racist lies.  Here’s a partial list of false statements: The United States is about to take in 250,000 Syrian refugees; African-Americans are responsible for most white homicides; and during the 9/11 attacks, 'thousands and thousands' of people in an unnamed 'Arab' community in New Jersey' were cheering as that building was coming down.'

"In the Republican field, Mr. Trump has distinguished himself as fastest to dive to the bottom. If it’s a lie too vile to utter aloud, count on Mr. Trump to say it, often. It wins him airtime, and retweets through the roof. 

"This phenomenon is in fact nothing new. Politicians targeting minorities, foreigners or women have always existed in the culture. And every generation or so, at least one demagogue surfaces to fan those flames."

The editorial then goes on to draw parallels between some of Trump's statements and those of Sen. Joseph McCarthy in 1950 (Trump rails against Muslims instead of Communists) and Alabama's Gov. George Wallace's 1963 statement:  "We can no longer hide our head in the sand and tell ourselves that the ideology of our free fathers is not being attacked and is not being threatened by another idea ... for it is." 

The Times editorial concludes: 
"Mr. Trump relies on social media to spread his views. This is convenient because there’s no need to respond to questions about his fabrications. That makes it imperative that other forms of media challenge him. . . .

"It’s become a full-time job just running down falsehoods like the phony crime statistics he tweeted, which came from a white supremacist group. Yet Mr. Trump is regularly rewarded with free TV time, where he talks right over anyone challenging him, and doubles down when called out on his lies.

 "This isn’t about shutting off Mr. Trump’s bullhorn. His right to spew nonsense is protected by the Constitution, but the public doesn’t need to swallow it. History teaches that failing to hold a demagogue to account is a dangerous act. It’s no easy task for journalists to interrupt Mr. Trump with the facts, but it’s an important one."
It's about time the mainstream media began serious criticism and fact-checking of this demagogue.  I emphasize serious, because thus far Trump has been treated mostly as an entertaining buffoon rather than as the dangerous bigot and rabble-rouser that he is.  The television networks are concerned too.

Politico is reporting that representatives of ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and CNN held a meeting to discuss problems of covering the Trump campaign, amid complaints that their reporters are being kept away from interviewing people at Trump rallies and are being confined to a "press pen."

We've waited long enough for Donald Trump to self-destroy, but that shows no sign of happening.   His fact-free boasts and simplistic (fantasy) solutions are too appealing to angry conservatives.   We can no longer risk his lead becoming entrenched all the way to the ballot boxes next November.   It's time for brave journalists to stand up and call him on his bigotry, his lies, and his false promises.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Good news #10: Hysteria over "refugee terrorists" did not sway Lousiana governor's election

Josh Marshall of TalkingPointsMemo says that the governor's election in Louisiana on Saturday could have been "a bellwether for Syrian refugee hysteria and politics," because the Republican candidate David Vitter "devoted the last week of his campaign to demagoguing . . . the issue in a desperate effort to save himself."

And yet Vitter was defeated 56% to 44% by Democratic rival John Bel Edwards, suggesting -- at the least -- that Vitter's scare-tactic was not enough to overcome his scandal-ridden reputation.

Still . . . Louisiana will continue to be a very conservative state all the other state-wide offices were won by Republicans, and Edwards himself is pretty conservative.    But at least we know that, just one week after the terrorist attacks in Paris, voters were not totally swept away by fear and demogoguery.   Vitter lost by about the margin that had been predicted before the Paris attacks.


Who do you trust to handle terrorism?

Conventional wisdom has it that, in times of national security crises, people trust Republicans to keep them safe more than they do Democrats.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll released yesterday asked just that question.   Here are the results:

49%  Hillary Clinton
40%  Ben Carson

50%  Hillary Clinton
42%  Donald Trump

48%  Hillary Clinton
40%  Ted Cruz

47%  Hillary Clinton
43%  Marco Rubio

46%  Hillary Clinton
43%  Jeb Bush

So maybe the Republicans' scare tactics are not as effective as we feared.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Bernie Sanders explains his "democratic socialism"

Bernie Sanders gave a speech at Georgetown University last week in which he clarified what he means to democratic socialism.   Mother Jones magazine has provided these excerpts:
"Almost everything [Roosevelt] proposed was called "socialist." I thought I would mention that just in passing. Social Security, which transformed life for the elderly in this country, was defined by his opponents as "socialist." The concept of the "minimum wage"—that workers had to be paid at least a certain amount of money for their labor—was seen as a radical intrusion into the marketplace and was described as "socialist." Unemployment insurance (the idea that if you lose your job at least you have something to fall back), abolishing child labor, the 40-hour work week, collective bargaining (the rights of workers to engage in negotiations with a union), strong banking regulations, deposit insurance, and job programs that put millions of people to work were all described, in one way or another, as "socialist." Yet as you all know, all of these programs and many more have become the fabric of our nation and in fact the foundation of our middle class.

"Thirty years later . . . President Lyndon Johnson fought for Medicare and Medicaid to provide health care to millions of senior citizens and families with children, persons with disabilities . . . . Today Medicare does not seem to be such a terribly radical idea, . . . but when it was proposed once again we heard right-wing forces describe these programs as socialistic and a threat to our American way of life. . . .  

"The next time you hear me attacked as a socialist—like tomorrow—remember this: I don’t believe government should take over the grocery store down the street or own the means of production, but I do believe that the middle class and the working families . . . who produce the wealth of this country deserve a decent standard of living and that their incomes should go up, not down.

"I do believe in private companies that thrive and invest and grow in America, companies that create jobs here rather than companies that are shutting down in America and increasing their profits by exploiting low-wage labor abroad.

"I believe that most Americans can pay lower taxes if hedge fund managers who make billions manipulating the marketplace finally start paying the taxes that they should.

"I don't believe in special treatment for the top 1 percent, but I do believe in equal treatment for African Americans who are right to proclaim the moral principle that Black Lives Matter.

"I despise appeals to nativism and prejudice of which we have been hearing a lot in recent months, and I do believe in immigration reform that gives Hispanics and others a pathway to citizenship and a better life. I don’t believe in some foreign “ism”, but I believe deeply in American idealism.

"I’m not running for president because it’s my turn, but because it’s the turn of all of us to live in a nation of hope and opportunity not for some, not for the few, but for all."
*     *     *
Sounds great to me, whatever you call it.   It doesn't bother me at all to call it "democratic socialism."    The main thing is to distinguish such social network programs from the fascistic reign of Stalin et al that imposed socialism on the people and used tyranny to control them.   In contrast, democratic socialism is decided by the will of the people through free elections.   That's the big difference.


Sunday, November 22, 2015

"Christian groups recoil at just how un-Christian the GOP's treatment of Syrian refugees is"

From Kerry Eleveld on Daily Kos:

"Christian conservatives . . . .  seem shocked to learn . . . that Republican politicians—after years of demagoguing hate and derision on issues like LGBT rights, among others—are political opportunists rather than actual adherents to anything that would resemble the Golden Rule..

"More than two dozen GOP governors have said Syrian refugees aren't welcome in their state . . . .  Ted Cruz doesn't care who's fleeing the crisis or how desperate they are, he's introducing legislation to ban them from the U.S. if they're Muslim. And Chris Christie is worried that orphan toddlers aren't being properly vetted. . . .

"The near unanimous overt display of hostility toward our fellow humanity has dismayed Christian groups working on refugee issues, reports Nahal Toosi.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement expressing distress over calls by elected officials to halt the resettlement program.
"These refugees are fleeing terror themselves — violence like we have witnessed in Paris," said the statement by Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chairman of the conference's committee on migration. "Instead of using this tragedy to scapegoat all refugees, I call upon our public officials to work together to end the Syrian conflict peacefully so the close to 4 million Syrian refugees can return to their country and rebuild their homes. Until that goal is achieved, we must work with the world community to provide safe haven to vulnerable and deserving refugees who are simply attempting to survive."
 "The National Association of Evangelicals also joined the call for empathy.
“Of course we want to keep terrorists out of our country, but let’s not punish the victims of ISIS for the sins of ISIS,” said Leith Anderson, NAE president.
"The groups also point out that the rhetoric of candidates like Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee, who are supposedly appealing to Evangelical voters, isn't in keeping with their Christian constituencies.
A push by Republican presidential candidates to ban Syrian refugees "does not reflect what we've been hearing from our constituencies, which are evangelical churches across the country," said Jenny Yang, vice president for advocacy at World Relief, an evangelical organization that helps settle refugees.  Most of the people have been saying we want to continue to work with refugees, that what happened in Paris ... doesn’t reflect who refugees are."
"The crisis may not reflect who the refugees are but it's saying a hell of a lot about Republican politicians."
*     *     *
Yes, indeed !!     I'd like to challenge some of those right-wing, self-identified Christians to consider "what would Jesus do?"