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Two Prongs of a Pitchfork

The Free Press WV

Such gentle abhorrence! It almost doesn’t seem like racism.
“But they’re also not people that would easily assimilate into the United States, into our modern society. They’re overwhelmingly rural people in the countries they come from — fourth, fifth, sixth grade educations are kind of the norm. They don’t speak English, obviously that’s a big thing. They don’t speak English. They don’t integrate well, they don’t have skills.”
Why bother keeping these words of John Kelly alive? There’s so much bigger news out there than the White House chief of staff’s outpouring of ignorance and pseudo-empathy last week, during an interview on NPR.

“They’re not bad people,” he said. “They’re coming here for a reason. And I sympathize with the reason. But the laws are the laws.”
This is so Trump Lite! We’re so sorry, oh uneducated Central Americans, but we have to keep you out of America and we have to, in addition, confiscate any children you bring with you to the border in order to discourage others of your kind from trying to sneak in. The law is the law.
Was Kelly serious in his expression of “concern” or simply cynical? These possibilities feel like two prongs of a pitchfork, the most painful of which is the former. If he seriously believes in the regrettable inadequacy of asylum seekers — as opposed to merely citing it to justify a cruelly racist law — what we have here isn’t simply racism but ignorance, at the highest level of American government, quietly shaping national policy with something like evangelical fervor.

Cynical racism means throwing a bone to the political base, what Matthew Yglesias, writing at Vox, called “the very promise of Trumpism — to narrow the definitions of who belongs, subjecting outsiders to a realm of cruelty and thus bolstering the favored status of the insiders.”

Ignorant racism means believing in it yourself: seeing yourself not as “the boss” but as a moral warrior, truly protecting America from sadly uneducated (uh, non-white) Latin Americans looking for a break and a better deal. Sorry, this country is closed, at least to you.

What I fear is that, while cynicism may have a humane or reasonable limit, ignorance does not. If racist ignorance has survived the civil rights movement — not simply at the level of scattered individuals, but at the level of national decision-making — perhaps it is impenetrable. We will always have enemies to fear and fight not merely because a nice, evil enemy (oh Saddam, where are you now?) makes it easier to rally a country into a sense of unity, but because true believers rule. And true believers are not open to greater awareness.

Thus, as New York Magazine explains: “The Trump administration recently established a policy of separating families who cross the U.S. border illegally, including those who enter our country so as to assert their legal right to seek asylum. Which is to say: If a mother in Honduras gets on the wrong side of local gangs — and flees to the United States with her children to seek asylum from their retribution — U.S. authorities will treat her children as ‘unaccompanied minors’ and detain them in separate facilities while she presses her case.

“Or, as Attorney General Jeff Sessions put it, ‘If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law.’”
What I see, both in Sessions’ smug certainty and in Kelly’s regretful shrug, is a belief that some people matter and others don’t. And a country is great because of its sameness.

This is not the country I believe in, but it is the country, I must concede, that was founded on a stolen continent and built by the labor of the enslaved and exploited. Writing about American gun culture, for instance, Christopher Keelty points out that “the racism that informs gun culture is deeply embedded in American history, and in the history of firearms themselves. . . . In the colonies that would become the United States, European settlers were required by law to own firearms for the specific purpose of fighting off the Indians who had been deposed from their land. Samuel Colt invented his revolver, the weapon that ‘won the west,’ specifically to quell slave rebellions.”

And Michael Daly, noting Kelly’s Irish ancestry, recalls the Pemberton Mill disaster, in Lawrence, Mass. where: “In the late afternoon of Jan. 10, 1860, cast-iron columns in the building that were later found to have been defective buckled under the added weight. The structure suddenly collapsed, killing as many as 167 workers.”

Most of the killed and injured were Scottish and Irish immigrants. The owner of the mill, David Nevins, who had crammed additional machinery into the building after he purchased it three years earlier, creating the unsafe working conditions, was notoriously contemptuous of the Irish, Daly pointed out. He wouldn’t let an Irishman into his house to repair a leak in his roof, but he could use — and use up — these uneducated immigrant souls to make money.

This is the history I hear in Kelly’s words: “They don’t speak English. They don’t integrate well, they don’t have skills.”
It doesn’t matter what happens to them. Or to their children.

Robert Koehler, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

Questioning our Declaration on Human Rights

The Free Press WV

The four-year-old girl was swept up, along with her mother, into an immigration detention center in Dilley, Texas. Conditions were so unhealthy that the little child lost almost 20 percent of her body weight from vomiting and diarrhea yet medical care was so inept that the mother was told the girl had bulimia. Mothers learn not to bother bringing sick children to receive medical care. Everyone just suffers.

So are human rights obsolete?

The world doesn’t seem to think so. But we find human rights under attack, being violated, in many places. We do not wish to believe our country, the land of unalienable rights, is one of those places. How can we prevent such violations?

Our United States of America’s Declaration of Independence states “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” The Declaration of Independence is a document that Americans uphold to the highest standard, yet the words in that sacred sentence continue to be violated along the United States/Mexican border.

Walter Ewing of the American Immigration Council writes,  “Immigrants in detention suffer from physical abuse, inadequate food and medical care, lack of access to legal counsel, coerced signing of removal documents, and prolonged (sometimes permanent) separation from U.S.-citizen children.”

Before immigrants even cross the border into the United States, they are faced with situations that no human being should ever have to experience—often originating in flight from brutal cartels or corrupt armed forces. They are then exposed to intense temperatures, threat of assault, lack of water, and exploitation. To add to the gratuitous cruelty, Border Patrol officers have been caught dumping water canteens left in the vast desert stretches by immigration activists and humanitarian organizations.

Ewing states that “Prevention through deterrence” is a tactic used by immigration enforcement officers to “redirect the flow of unauthorized immigrants into ever-more isolated and dangerous terrain with the explicit aim of placing them in “mortal danger.” The result: 5,287 pointless deaths of border-crossers from 1998 through 2008.”

Suddenly the words “certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” no longer apply to people who grow up outside of the United States borders. Immigrants are being rounded up like cattle and given the worst possible detention conditions. Mothers and their children sleep on the concrete floors of cells with one blanket to share between them. Men stay huddled together outside in freezing temperatures deprived of food and water. The conditions they are forced to live in while at these detention facilities are severe violations of the human rights the United States says they uphold.

Now, of course, Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump have decided to take babies from their mothers’ arms at the border. Did the US really sign that Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

According to the U.S Customs and Border Protection website, the agency is exists to:

“To safeguard America’s borders thereby protecting the public from dangerous people and materials while enhancing the Nation’s global economic competitiveness by enabling legitimate trade and travel.”

Growing up the daughter of hard-working, law-abiding immigrants, I would always hear of stories of the suffering people experienced along the border. My parents are not “dangerous people” and I find it troubling to label immigrants as such. Most are just people who seek a safer life, a more free life—the American Dream.

This nation was built on immigration. In September 1620, the first pilgrims came to the New World. They endured the 66-day journey so that they could have more opportunities than they would have had in England. The pilgrims came over the treacherous sea to escape a life that was not making them happy. There really is no difference in the stories of the immigrants coming to the United States now.

As humans we all want a life that has some meaning. A life leads us on a pursuit of happiness not only for ourselves but also for the ones we love. Immigrants are coming to the United States for a chance to create something that they are proud of. Like the pilgrims, immigrants know the risks but they push their fears aside hoping for something more. How can we call this nation great when we take part in hurting human beings who just want the opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

It is time to see these immigrants as the modern day pilgrims. Human beings who are trying to escape a place of zero opportunity to give themselves and the ones they live a better shot at life. If we are to uphold our values that “All men are created equal and are endowed by the creator certain unalienable rights” we need to start seeing immigrants as equals. We need to start giving them the chance for a better life, liberty, and the opportunity for happiness. If we cannot do that, are we really a nation that cares so much about human rights?

Samantha Banuelos is a Conflict Resolution student with United Nation aspirations.

He can dish it out

The Free Press WV

But he can’t take it. We have an Oval Office Autocrat who governs in the persona of a decidedly unfunny insult comic, but when it comes back at him, he folds like the craven coward he is. Typical fat fifth-grade boy bully pattern. The terror of grade school recess waiting to pick on the skinny boy with glasses, but now in the White House, transmogrified to the tweet-lashing Lyin’ King.

Transactional Trump gives offense without thinking about it, lies when it’s handy, and of course when any of that is pointed out he fumes and strikes out.

His targets cut across all lines, slandering friends and foes alike, in a hate state of psychological primal amygdalic cyber-guttural foam. Katie Couric is a “third rate reporter.” Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s “mind is shot.”

The libelous nicknames are right down there in the seventh-grade swamp, juvenilia from the White House: “liddle Bob Corker.” “Sloppy Steve” Bannon.

The USA has always had the potential weakness of an out-of-control, stupid, loutish, lying, promise-breaking president, but no one really thought we’d get one. Now we do and the entire world is wide-eyed embarrassed for us. Trump breaks the word of the US with rash impunity—backs out of what we committed to with the Paris Agreement (against the strong advice of all scientists with integrity), nixes the TPP, and now makes the US the pariah nation that breaks its word to Iran, Germany, the EU, the UK, Russia and China by pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal with zero evidence that Iran has not fully complied. The world now knows the US cannot be trusted. It took enormous work to get the Iran deal signed by the president and ratified by the Senate—this was not just flipping an Obama Executive Order—and Trump just showed the world that the word of the United States of America is not worth the paper it’s printed on.

I wonder how the Boeing workers are going to feel, now that Trump has ended the sales of civilian aircraft already contracted to Iran, $20 billion in contracts that Boeing won and now are lost. Thanks, Dear Leader. Another brilliant Art of the Deal move.

Naturally, hardliners in Tehran are given ammunition and have done their usual Death to America chants, but joined by more and more Iranians as they now are convinced that the US cannot be trusted. Make America the Great Satan Again!

Linking all issues to the nuclear deal is now, and always was, a loser. Yes, we want Iran to be following perfect practices in human rights, civil rights, and democracy. But they are well along the path toward having a nuclear arsenal and the Iran deal nixed that for as long as the deal lasted—and the intrusive inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency proved that Iran was indeed complying and the deal was working. Trump has now permitted Iran to build nukes. Obama stopped them peacefully. Bolton wants to do it by bringing war. One way is inexpensive in blood and treasure; the other is horrifically expensive in all ways.

Really, Bolton wants war? Yes, he has been outspoken about just that and it is not any coincidence that Trump fired H.R. McMaster and brought Bolton in just as the Iran question is called.

This regime is chaotic, warmongering, lying, insulting, embarrassing, and entirely corrupt. Americans are called to replace it or be rightly seen in just that light. The blessings and curses of democracy.

Tom H. Hastings is Founding Director of PeaceVoice.

Fareed Zakaria: Trump has just proved Iran’s hardliners right

The Free Press WV

Jeb Bush said Donald Trump would be a “chaos president.” And last week, Trump lived up to the billing, choosing to defy virtually the entire world, including America’s closest European allies, and raising tensions in the most unstable part of the globe, the Middle East.

It is hard to understand the rationale behind Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. If Iran is as dangerous and malign an actor as he says, surely it is best to have its nuclear program frozen at a pre-military level and monitored 24/7. The chances of getting Tehran to agree to more stringent terms are close to zero. If the terms of the Iran deal were applied to North Korea, it would require Pyongyang to destroy its nuclear weapons — the fruits of a decades-long effort — and agree to invasive inspections and foreign surveillance in a country so closed it is known as the Hermit Kingdom.

If there is a strategy behind Trump’s move, it is probably regime change in Tehran. His closest advisers have long championed regime change and have argued that the best approach toward Iran is a combination of sanctions, support for opposition groups, and military intervention. As a congressman, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized the Obama administration for negotiating with Tehran and instead suggested that the U.S. launch close to 2,000 bombing sorties against Iran. National security adviser John Bolton has been even more forceful in pushing for regime change, advocating much greater support for the MEK, a militant opposition group with a checkered past and little support within Iran. Both Bolton and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani have given paid speeches for the MEK, and in Paris last July, Bolton declared that the United States should pursue regime change in Iran so that the Islamic Republic would not celebrate its 40th birthday (which would be in 2019). Thus, three of Trump’s closest advisers right now have views on Iran that are so extreme that it is hard to think of anyone outside of Saudi Arabia or Israel who shares them.

Iran is a repressive and anti-American regime that has spread its influence in the Middle East, often to America’s detriment. But it is also an ancient civilization, with centuries of power and influence in the region. The notion that the United States could solve all of its problems with Tehran by toppling the regime is fanciful. It has withstood American pressure and sanctions for nearly four decades. And even if it were somehow possible to topple it, look around. The lesson of the last two decades in the Middle East is surely that regime change leads to chaos, war, refugee flows, sectarian strife and more. It opens a Pandora’s box in a land already rife with woes.

Look beyond the Middle East at the record of regime change. Whether it was an unfriendly ruler like Guatemala’s Jacobo Arbenz or a friendly one like South Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem, regime change was followed by greater instability. Look at Iran itself, where a British-American sponsored coup led to the dislodging of the elected government, which was one of the factors that led to and still legitimizes the Islamic Republic. Consider also America’s heavy-handed intervention in the Cuban liberation movement around the turn of the 20th century, which left a legacy of anti-Americanism that the Cuban Communists exploit to this day. Misjudging and mishandling nationalism may be the central error in American foreign policy.

By contrast, when America has helped open countries to capitalism, commerce and contact, these acids of modernity have almost always eaten away at the nastiest elements of dictatorships. For all its problems, China today is a much better and more responsible country than it was under Mao Zedong. People often point to Ronald Reagan’s campaign against the Soviet Union as one in which pressure against an evil empire helped produce regime change. But they remember only half the story. Reagan did pressure the Soviets. But as soon as he found a reformer, in Mikhail Gorbachev, he embraced him, supported him and made concessions to him. So much so that he drew furious opposition from conservatives in America who called him “a useful idiot” who was helping the Soviet Union win the Cold War.

Iran is a complicated country with a complicated regime. But it does have moderate elements within it that were clearly hoping the nuclear deal would be a path to integration and normalization with the world. Those forces do not have the dominant hand, but they do have power, not least because President Hasan Rouhani has popular backing. But Iran has always had a strong hardline element that believed that America could never be trusted, that the Saudis were mortal foes, and that self-reliance, autarky and the spread of Shiite ideology was their own strategy for self-preservation. Donald Trump has just proved them right.

~~  Fareed Zakaria is a syndicated columnist.  ~~

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