I too have zero tolerance

The above photo, taken by photographer John Moore, shows a heart-broken two year old Honduran asylum seeker being taken from her mother at the US-Mexico border. The scene, sadly, is one that has become all too commonplace these past several weeks, as the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy toward migrants crossing the southern border has gone into full effect. According to the most recent reporting, some 2,000 children have been forcefully separated from their parents at our southern border over the past six weeks, and transported to facilities, often operated by for-profit corporations, where they continue to be housed in cages.

Like a lot of people, I was unaware of the severity of the problem until about two weeks ago, when Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley attempted to visit a detention center for these children in Brownsville, Texas, and was told that he could not enter. And, with that, it seems as though the floodgates opened, with each day revealing a fresh, new horror. Yesterday, it was a story of a guard at one of these detention facilities who quit when he was told to stop inconsolable children in his care from hugging one another. And today, not only were we treated to audio of infants, screaming as they were being snatched away from their parents at the border, but also the firsthand account of a flight attendant who witnessed the transfer of 16 of these terrified children. And, of course, photos have started making their way out of these facilities. First, there were the images of the Trump mural in the former Texas Walmart that now houses 1,500 teenage immigrants. And, today, we got to see images of younger children, sleeping on a cement floor, inside a cage.

Speaking of cages, we also heard today that Border Patrol agents would rather that we not focus on their existence. While conceding that they are, in fact, cages, a spokesperson for the agency asked CBS to stop referring to them as such, saying that the term makes them “very uncomfortable.” [You know what I suspect is even more uncomfortable? Being taken from your mother and put into a cage.]

And, it would appear as though, with these stories, public sentiment, even on the right, is beginning to turn against the administration. Senator John McCain today called the Trump policy of childhood separation “an affront to the decency of the American people, and contrary to principles and values upon which our nation was founded,” and, in an op-ed for the Washington Post, former First Lady Laura Bush called the policy both former “cruel” and “immoral”. The Trump administration, of course, has responded by blaming othrs. White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders today responded to the Bush op-ed by saying that this problem was started by her husband, and that Donald Trump is just trying to fix it. And, of course, Donald Trump has blamed the Democrats, saying that this wasn’t his policy, but a law that the Democrats had it within their power to change. This, as we know for a certainty, is not the case. There is no law that requires the snatching of children, and the Democrats, as they control neither the House nor the Senate, would not have the power to change it if it was. As John McCain said today, “The administration has the power to rescind this policy,” regardless of what Trump might say to the contrary.

Oh, and speaking of the lies, here’s one of my favorites. It comes from Trump Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen… “We do not have a policy to separate children from their parents,” she told Senator Kamala Harris under oath this past Friday… a lie she’d then go on to repeat on Twitter. [Harris today said that Nielsen should step down over this.]

For what it’s worth, this absolutely is the policy of the Trump administration. And it’s easy to prove. All you have to do is ask Trump officials, like John Kelly, Stephen Miller and Jeff Sessions, all of whom have gone on the record saying as much… The following is from the New York Times.

…Almost immediately after President Trump took office, his administration began weighing what for years had been regarded as the nuclear option in the effort to discourage immigrants from unlawfully entering the United States.

Children would be separated from their parents if the families had been apprehended entering the country illegally, John F. Kelly, then the homeland security secretary, said in March 2017, “in order to deter more movement along this terribly dangerous network.”

For more than a decade, even as illegal immigration levels fell over all, seasonal spikes in unauthorized border crossings had bedeviled American presidents in both political parties, prompting them to cast about for increasingly aggressive ways to discourage migrants from making the trek.

Yet for George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the idea of crying children torn from their parents’ arms was simply too inhumane — and too politically perilous — to embrace as policy, and Mr. Trump, though he had made an immigration crackdown one of the central issues of his campaign, succumbed to the same reality, publicly dropping the idea after Mr. Kelly’s comments touched off a swift backlash.

But advocates inside the administration, most prominently Stephen Miller, Mr. Trump’s senior policy adviser, never gave up on the idea. Last month, facing a sharp uptick in illegal border crossings, Mr. Trump ordered a new effort to criminally prosecute anyone who crossed the border unlawfully — with few exceptions for parents traveling with their minor children.

And now Mr. Trump faces the consequences. With thousands of children detained in makeshift shelters, his spokesmen this past week had to deny accusations that the administration was acting like Nazis. Even evangelical supporters like Franklin Graham said its policy was “disgraceful.”..

So, by Kelly’s own admission, this policy was adopted by the administration as a “deterrent” to illegal immigration… essentially holding children hostage in hopes of discouraging future asylum seekers, and forcing the Democrats to release the funds to build a nonsensical and ineffective border wall. And Miller echoed this yesterday when he told the New York Times, “No nation can have the policy that whole classes of people are immune from immigration law or enforcement… It was a simple decision by the administration to have a zero tolerance policy for illegal entry, period. The message is that no one is exempt from immigration law.”

And, as you might have heard by now, Attorney General Jeff Sessions turned to the Bible to defend the policy, quoting the Apostle Paul’s epistle to the Romans. “Obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order,” Sessions said, quoting Paul. “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.” Apparently, though, this didn’t sit well with Sessions’ church. The United Methodist Church was fast to issue a statement, accusing of Sessions of selecting pieces of the scripture out of context in order to defend a policy that is, “antithetical to the teachings of Christ.”

And here we are, taking one more giant step down the slippery slope toward fascism. As Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, said today, “If this tale of human suffering doesn’t move you, know this: This is not the culmination of a drift to authoritarianism, this is the start.” [Shaub isn’t alone. Former CIA Director Michael Hayden yesterday pointed out “commonality” between the Republican “zero tolerance” border policy and Nazi Germany.]

So, as doctors warn of the “irreparable harm” being done to these children, and the United Nations Human Rights Council labels what we’re seeing being done here in our country “government-sanctioned child abuse,” we continue going about our daily lives, hoping that someone will stop it all from happening, but knowing that it’ll likely just get worse, as the Republicans control every branch of government, and lack either the will or the courage to stand up in any meaningful way to the cult leader who has assumed leadership of their party. So we sit here, in shock, as Donald Trump lies about the crimes committed by immigrants, and Ann Coulter calls these immigrant children “child actors,” suggesting that none of this is real. [Speaking of the UN Human Rights Council, the United States is poised to be leaving the group, something that would have been absolutely unthinkable pre-Trump.]

Trump, true to form, turned up the anti-immigrant rhetoric today, saying that he will not allow the United States to become “a migrant camp,” and warning that, if we don’t stand strong against immigrants, we may soon have the same kind of violence they’re experiencing today in Germany. Of course, what he didn’t mention was that Germany is actually experiencing its lowest crime rates since 1992.

But all is not lost, friends. We have it within out power to turn this around in November, when we take to the polls to vote out every Republican on the ballot. And, in the near term, we can try to bring some of those Republicans currently serving in Congress around to the right side on the issue of state-sponsored child abuse. As of right now, while 49 Democratic Senators have signed on to support Dianne Feinstein’s Keep Families Together Act, which would end the Trump administration’s policy of child-snatching, not a single Republican has signaled support. While it’s doubtful that we could get a majority in the House, I’d have to think that, if we all called our Senators, we might be able to convince at least a few Republicans to do the right thing… We have to at least try, right? And, then, if that doesn’t work, I think it’s probably time to consider a general strike.

So, can we count on you to call your elected officials today?

It’s super easy. All you have to do is call their office and ask, “Can I count on the Senator to do the right thing and support the Keep Families Together Act?”

Posted in Civil Liberties, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 80 Comments

Gary Peters on health care: “I put it all an the line to make (the ACA) happen, so don’t question my motivations here.”

Michigan Senator Gary Peters held a town hall meeting today at Eastern Michigan University. As it was just announced yesterday evening, attendance was relatively sparse. I’d say there were maybe about 125 people in the audience, most of whom, judging by how people introduced themselves when posing questions to the Senator, were from Ann Arbor. Thankfully, a friend on Twitter told me about the event early this morning, and I was able to shuffle things around and attend. Before we get to the details of what was said, though, I’d like to say a bit about my perception of Peters going into the event.

Fairly or unfairly, my sense is that a lot of us on the left perceive Peters to be ineffective, as he’s not one known for taking bold public stands. He’s not actively fact-checking every Trump tweet like Chuck Schumer, or aggressively going after the big banks like Elizabeth Warren, or visiting the administration’s makeshift child prisons along the southern border like Jeff Merkley. And, given the seriousness of the threat our democracy is facing right now, as the Trumpist cult, pushing an agenda of nationalism, authoritarianism and corporatism, gains even more of a foothold, I can certainly understand the concern. We want to put people in office who stand up and fight, and who, in doing so, inspire participation in the Democratic process. We want compelling leaders who can articulate bold, visionary ideas, and get people fired up and ready to go. And I think it’s fair to say that a good number of progressives do not see Peters as that kind of leader.

So, when I went into this morning’s town hall, that was pretty much how I’d framed things in my mind. I was asking myself, “Is there still a place in the Democratic Party for solid, hard-working policy wonks who are more interested in incremental, bipartisan improvement than in bold (albeit perhaps not immediately attainable) initiatives and fiery tweets?” And, from my perspective, that’s pretty much what this town hall was about at its most basic level. While the Senator took questions about everything from the detention of child immigrants to health care reform, the underlying narrative, at least in my eyes, remained consistent throughout, with Peters telling the crowd what was realistically possible given the fact that the Democrats hold no levers of power, and a significant portion of the audience responding that, unless the Democrats adopt a different, more aggressively progressive platform, they’re never going to retake the House, Senate or White House. And nowhere was this more apparent than in the discussion around health care. Here, to give you a sense of of what I’m talking about, are two videos.

“My commitment for making sure that everyone has access to health care, no matter who you are, no matter where you are, that it’s affordable, has never wavered,” said Peters in response to a gentleman in the audience who, after saying that the Affordable Care Act was a failure, demanded the Senator pursue Medicare for All. “I put it all on the line to make it happen, so don’t question my motivations here. I’m with you. I’m with you all the way. But please understand, when we say ‘the Affordable Care Act is terrible,’ as this gentleman says, that gives further fuel to the Republicans, who say, ‘See, Democrats don’t even like the Affordable Care Act.'”

Personally, I can see both sides of the argument, and I think it’s a good argument for us to be having. No one in the audience was suggesting, as people had during the initial, highly contentious ACA debates, that the government should play less of a role in health care. No one was yelling about the evils of socialism. Everyone was in a agreement that we had to do more, it was just a matter of how we got there. Peters argued that, for the time being, we had to focus on shoring up the ACA, fixing the problems that exist, and making sure that the Republicans fail in their attempts to kill the legislation by attacking its various components. [Most recently, the Republicans have started their assault on the preexisting condition protections afforded by the legislation.] Stopping the assault on the ACA, Peters argued, will save lives today. And, he went on to say, we can’t lose sight of that, as much as we might want to make big, bold moves. Our focus, he said, has to be on ensuring that the hundreds of thousands of Americans who finally received health insurance under the ACA, don’t lose it. With that said, however, Peters noted that he is up for pushing things further forward when opportunities arise. As an example of this, Peters said that he, along with Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, has thrown his support behind legislation that would reduce the eligibility age for Medicare to 55. [This received a big round of applause.]

Again, I can see both sides of this, and I believed Peters when he said that, as a Congressman, when he voted for the ACA, he did so thinking that the vote would end his political career, as he represented a relatively conservative district. And I take him for his word when he says that he eventually wants to see us get to a single-payer system, in which every American has coverage. With that said, though, I also appreciate that the idea of practical incrementalism, especially right now, in the face of crisis, seems wrongheaded to some. They look at the polling showing the popularity of single-payer health care, even among conservatives, and they say that we should go all in, stop defending Obamacare, and go for broke. But, as Peters kept reminding us, until we have a majority in either the House or Senate, it’s all for naught. [One man in the audience demanded that Peters propose legislation on the floor, even if he knew that it would fail to pass. Peters informed him that, as a single Senator, in the minority party, this is not something that he could do. If Senators could do that, Peters told the man, Bernie Sanders would be bringing bills to the floor every day.]

OK, to further explore this tension that I’m talking about, here’s one more clip. This one is about the proposed assault weapons ban, which Peters has not yet signed on in support of. While saying that he might choose to support the bill in the future, Peters said that, right now, he’s focused on universal background checks, which he thinks we can not only get through Congress, but will have a much bigger impact.

There was quite a bit more, but I think that’s all I’m going to share in the way of video, although I do have some pretty good clips of Peters talking about everything from his support of recreational marijuana to the detention of young immigrants at our southern border. [“This is America. This is not who we are. This country should never ever hurt children willingly, like we’re doing now.”] For the time being, though, I was hoping that we could put the individual policies aside and talk about the Democratic Party at a higher level, the potential benefits of embracing a more populist progressive vision, and the possible consequences that might come with the establishment of such purity tests. [Having seen all the moderates forced from the Republican Party, I’m not anxious to follow in the footsteps.] Again, I’m somewhat torn, and I’d appreciate your thoughts on this as I continue to mull it over. I think, at this stage in the game, debate is good. I like it that our Democratic legislators are feeling pressure from the left. I like it that people are engaged, and demanding more. At the same time, though, I realize that, at some point, we need to close ranks and present a unified front in order to retake power and save this country of ours before Trumpism destroys it.

Oh, here’s another big takeaway. I don’t think that anyone, over the hour and a half, mentioned Donald Trump by name, the corruption of his administration, or Russian election interference. And my guess is that, in the whole scheme of things, these subjects, which I follow so closely, won’t really factor into the results we see come November. If the Democrats are to retake either the House or the Senate, it’ll likely have more to do with health care than the Mueller investigation. Of course, I do think that we should keep referencing back to the underlying corruption every chance we get.

Posted in Health, Michigan, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 82 Comments

Conservatives attempt to rewrite Michigan’s social studies standards, erasing mentions of gay rights, Roe v. Wade, climate change, and the existence of racism

Remember how, last week… before the Canadians became our enemies and we began diverting American resources toward the production of North Korean propaganda films… we were talking about how, in order to undo all of the damage that’s been done to the fabric our civil society over the past several years, we’d have to invest heavily in the teaching of civics and history for decades? Well, at the same time we were having that discussion, Republicans here in Michigan were apparently attempting to do the exact opposite, rewriting our state’s K-12 education standards in order to make it even more difficult for teachers to provide meaningful context about the situation we now find ourselves in.

According to an article published today by the Center for Michigan, this effort on the part of conservatives to rewrite Michigan’s social studies standards is being led by Republican State Senator, and gubernatorial candidate, Patrick Colbeck, who, as you might recall, demonstrated his ignorance of history not too long ago when he made the case that, “the KKK was founded as an anti-Republican organization not an anti-black organization.” [“It just so happened that the majority of Southern blacks were in fact Republican,” Colbeck has said at the time.]

Apparently Colbeck, joined by well-known conservatives representing far-right organizations like Citizens for Traditional Values, the Thomas More Law Center, and the Great Lakes Justice Center, have been aggressively attacking our state’s social studies standards these past several months, without the input of any Democratic legislators, let alone civil rights activists with subject area expertise. Among other things, the Center for Michigan is reporting that Colbeck’s group is pushing to remove from the standards any mention of gay rights, Roe v. Wade, climate change, and “core democratic values.” They are also, according to the report, stripping any mention of the KKK, and significantly downplaying the role of the NAACP during the civil rights era.

Here, to give you some sense of how extensive their edits thus far have been, is an excerpt from their most recent draft, which shows their suggested revisions.

And, here, from the article in Center for Michigan’s Bridge Magazine, are a few more examples of changes being proposed by Colbeck and his group of rightwing ideologues.

• The one reference in the current standards to the Ku Klux Klan is cut, with the KKK relegated to a single mention in a list of optional examples high school history teachers can consider using when teaching about social issues between 1890 and 1930.

• Five existing references to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have been cut, with a lone reference remaining in a section on the 1920s on its “legal strategy to attack segregation.”

• The two references to gays and lesbians in the current standards, in sections dealing with the fight for rights for minority groups, have been deleted.

• Both references in the current standards to Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case legalizing abortion, are removed.

• A high school standard about the expansion of civil rights and liberties for minority groups cut references to individual groups, including immigrants, people with disabilities and gays and lesbians. The new proposal includes teaching “how the expansion of rights for some groups can be viewed as an infringement of rights and freedoms of others.” Colbeck told Bridge he added that phrase.

• References to climate change are cut in the proposed standards, with the impact of man on global warming limited to an optional example sixth-grade teachers can use when discussing climate in different parts of the planet. (The standards retain a more generic reference to teaching how “human actions modify the environment.”) In notes Colbeck sent to the state board, the former aerospace engineer argues that climate change is “not settled science.”

So, in short, they’re attempting to rewrite our history, not only suggesting that racism was not a problem in the United States, but erasing the very existence of marginalized groups in America.

Colbeck, you might be interested to know, took to Twitter today to respond to the Bridge Magazine article. Focusing specifically on his suggestion that references to the KKK be “scrubbed,” Colbeck laughably explained that it was done out of respect for Democrats, who, several generations ago, held the leadership positions in the racist organization now held by conservatives like himself.

[For what it’s worth, this ridiculous tweet of Colbeck’s has since been removed.]

The good news is, despite the work being done by Colbeck and others, Michigan’s social studies standards have yet to officially change. In fact, we’ve just entering into a public comment period, where we, as citizens, are able to weigh in. So, if you have the time, please reach out to your elected officials, or, better yet, attend one of the five upcoming Michigan Department of Education meetings on this subject. [I’ll list them in the comments section, but you’ll also find them by following the link to the Bridge Magazine article.] This can be stopped, but it’ll take an overwhelming effort on the part of those of us who still believe in the importance of truth and the value of relating honest, factual history to our children.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Education, History, Michigan, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 58 Comments

The Ballad of Christian Wolfcock

[above: The author’s son is impressed into service.]

My one-day-a-year band, the Monkey Power Trio, has a new record out. It’s a 10″ called The Ballad of Christian Wolfcock, and it was recorded over two sessions – our 20th day as band, which was spent in the godawful exurbs of Atlanta in 2014, and our 21st day as a band, which was spent in a nondescript neighborhood of Cleveland in 2015. While our website hasn’t been updated since 1996, I think you can still order records through it, should you want to obtain a copy before investors scoop them all up. These particular records, if I’m not mistaken, are $15 each, which includes shipping. As for the quality of the material, I’ll just say that it’s not bad for five people who pick up instruments only one day a year, and walk into each session with not so much as even a single idea written down… Here, to give you an sense of it, is a link to one of the tracks on this most recent record. The song is called Feed Your Hunger. [Make fun if you’d like, but I’d like to see you do better in one take, accompanied by drunken 50 year old versions of the kids you sat next to in high school school math class.]

For those of you who might be new to the site, and don’t know this particular part of my origin story, the Monkey Power Trio formed back in 1995 with a promise between old friends one hot, summer afternoon in Brooklyn. On the spur of the moment, we’d decided to make a record. We gave ourselves just one hour. We gathered whatever instruments we could find, and we made our way into an unlocked basement storage room somewhere, where we proceeded to scream and beat on things while an old cassette recorder whirred away, suspended from a string tied to sewage pipe. The result was a 7″ record, which we decided to call The First Hour, acknowledging the fact that we’d agreed, shortly after finishing, to meet up and do the same exact thing every year until the point when only one of us was left alive. And, surprisingly, we’ve stayed true to our word for nearly 25 years now, despite the fact that, every year, it becomes exponentially more difficult for the five of us to get away from our real-world obligations, express ourselves creatively, and put up with one another.

A SPECIAL OFFER: For every copy of The Ballad of Christian Wolfcock to be sold and shipped between now and Sunday, a copy of the record will be surreptitiously snuck into a daycare facility, senior center, public library or forest somewhere in North America and left to be discovered.

Posted in Art and Culture, Mark's Life, Monkey Power Trio, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Police officer fires rifle twice at deer in Ypsilanti neighborhood

Earlier this evening, at about 5:30, I heard two gunshots coming from the direction of Frog Island Park, and, as people do these days, I got on Facebook to ask what in the hell was happening, and whether or not my family was in any immediate danger. Within minutes, I received the above photo from a friend, accompanied by the following message.

…I was watching TV and heard what sounded like two loud gunshots outside. I went into my kitchen, and, at that moment, I saw a small deer running like the wind in my driveway, and then crossing the road. I went outside not long after and saw a police officer in the woods behind my house. I called out to him and asked if someone contacted them about the gunshots (before I noticed the rifle slung over his shoulder). He said “Uh, no – I was called out to put down an injured deer.” I angrily said, “Well, you missed. He just ran through here, and across the street”…

While I don’t necessarily have a problem with police officers putting down injured deer, this whole thing has me wondering under what circumstances officers are allowed to discharge their weapons downtown, in the vicinity of both people and pets… And, this, for what it’s worth, did take place in the vicinity of both people are pets… While I suppose it’s possible that this officer was aiming down the embankment, away from the homes surrounding him, and into the river, this took place within just yards of homes, and just across the street from the entrance to riverside Park, where my kids and I ride our bikes… Here’s a map of the area. The shots, as I understand it, were fired just behind the Huron Valley Art Company building, just off of West Cross, right before the bridge into Depot Town. [If I understand my local history correctly, the Huron Valley Art Company building was both Ypsilanti’s first City Hall and jail.]

Again, I’m not advocating that authorities do nothing when they’re informed of injured animals. As I understand it from others in the community, this deer had been running through town for a while, and was clearly in distress, likely due to an injury. [I’ve heard there were sightings of this deer, prior to the shooting, on both Garland Street and near the intersection of Maple and Prospect.] In instances like this, if someone doesn’t intervene, the deer, assuming they’ve been injured, are likely to die slow and painful deaths. And, in the process, it’s possible that these wounded animals could cause serious accidents to happen. With that said, though, one has to wonder what the official protocol is for the discharge of a weapon in such circumstances.

Posted in Mark's Life, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , | 59 Comments

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