Sunday, December 31, 2023

Name it! We are experiencing a refugee crisis, not a border crisis.

I recently wrote that the GOP's case against Biden's domestic policies is all based on lies. Since then Republicans have found it increasingly difficult to scare-monger about issues like inflation and crime. But images like this are ramping up the salience of the so-called "border crisis." 

Let's be clear about what is going on here. Note that migrants are "waiting for overwhelmed border agents to process them" and that Eagle Pass is a port of entry on our Southern border. Taken together, we know that those thousands of migrants have voluntarily presented themselves to Border Patrol at a port of entry (as the Biden administration requires) in order to seek asylum. 

The first steps in that process are to undergo a background check and participate in a "credible threat assessment." The latter is designed to determine if there is a “significant possibility” they will face persecution on “account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion” if they return to their home country. 

Those who fail to pass this initial step (about 25%) are immediately subject to deportation (ie, from May-September 2023, over 253,000 individuals were removed or returned to 152 countries). Those who pass are released (often to family and/or NGO's) to await their day in court - which can take up to four years due to the current backlog of cases. Those procedures are all codified in the Refugee Act of 1980 - which passed the Senate unanimously and the House on a vote of 211-195.

The numbers tell the story of what is happening today.
  • As of October 2022, there were more than 7.1 million refugees and migrants from Venezuela around the world. Approximately 1.8 million Venezuelans have gone to Colombia and 1.3 million to Peru. U.S. Border Patrol encounters with Venezuelans increased 15,164% between FY 2020 and FY 2022.
  • U.S. Border Patrol encounters with Nicaraguans increased 7,604% between FY 2020 and FY 2022.
  • U.S. Border Patrol encounters with Cubans increased 2,143% between FY 2020 and FY 2022.
  • Between FY 2020 and FY 2022, U.S. Border Patrol encounters increased 560% for Haitians, 465% for Salvadorans, 397% for Hondurans and 383% for Guatemalans.
It is time we named this for what it is. We don't have a "border crisis" in this country. We are in the midst of a "refugee crisis." As Stuart Anderson wrote:
Criticism of the increase in Border Patrol encounters has implied that individuals would not come to the United States if U.S. immigration policy were sufficiently harsh. However, the countries from which people are seeking refuge have experienced economic and political upheavals. These upheavals or continuing violence and repression have created a large number of refugees.

What images like the one in the tweet up above tell us is that, as a country, we are woefully unprepared to deal with the refugee crisis we are facing. But once we've correctly identified the problem, we can compare and contrast the solutions proposed by Democrats and Republicans.

Fist of all, not many people know that the first bill President Biden sent to Congress on January 20, 2021 was a comprehensive immigration reform bill. 

The legislation modernizes our immigration system, and prioritizes keeping families together, growing our economy, responsibly managing the border with smart investments, addressing the root causes of migration from Central America, and ensuring that the United States remains a refuge for those fleeing persecution...The bill creates an earned path to citizenship for our immigrant neighbors, colleagues, parishioners, community leaders, friends, and loved ones—including Dreamers and the essential workers who have risked their lives to serve and protect American communities.

Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) has introduced similar legislation.

Meanwhile, in order to address the backlog of asylum hearings, President Biden has added 302 judges to immigration courts (a 54% increase) and has done several things to address the refugee crisis directly.

Migrants in northern and central Mexico can use a government phone app, known as CBP One, to try to secure an appointment to enter the U.S. at a port of entry along the southern border. The U.S. is distributing roughly 1,000 appointments per day...

Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan migrants also have the option of flying to the U.S. if U.S.-based individuals agree to financially sponsor them. The Biden administration's program allows for up to 30,000 of these arrivals per month.

Biden's supplemental budget request for aid to Israel, Ukraine, and the refugee crisis included funding for additional border patrol officers, asylum officers, and immigration attorneys, as well as detention beds, non-custodial housing and cutting-edge detection technology. Demonstrating that they're not interested in actually solving the refugee crisis, Republicans rejected that request. 

In a subsequent piece I'll fact-check the lies Republicans are telling about this issue and demonstrate that they're not only proposing procedures that won't work - they also want to dismantle the Biden administration efforts that ARE working. 

Friday, December 15, 2023

When Trump left the White House, the Brennan dossier disappeared

Today CNN reporters dropped a bit of a bombshell.

A binder containing highly classified information related to Russian election interference went missing at the end of Donald Trump’s presidency, raising alarms among intelligence officials that some of the most closely guarded national security secrets from the US and its allies could be exposed, sources familiar with the matter told CNN...

The binder contained raw intelligence the US and its NATO allies collected on Russians and Russian agents, including sources and methods that informed the US government’s assessment that Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to help Trump win the 2016 election, sources tell CNN...

The Russian intelligence was just a small part of the collection of documents in the binder, described as being 10 inches thick and containing reams of information about the FBI’s “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation into the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia.

I want to focus on the part of the binder that contained "Russian intelligence" because I'm pretty sure that I know the source of that material. In the past, I've referred to it as the "Brennan dossier." Here's what Greg Miller wrote in his book The Apprentice: Trump, Russia and the Subversion of American Democracy (emphasis mine)

In the months leading up to the 2016 election, senior [CIA] officials held a series of meetings...seeking to make sense of disconcerting reports that Moscow had mounted a covert operation to upend the U.S. presidential race.

By early August, the sense of alarm had become so acute that CIA Director John Brennan called White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. “I need to get in to see the president,” Brennan said, with unusual urgency in his voice.

Brennan had just spent two days sequestered in his office reviewing a small mountain of material on Russia…There were piles of finished assessments, but Brennan had also ordered up what agency veterans call the “raw stuff” — unprocessed material from informants, listening devices, computer implants and other sources. Clearing his schedule, Brennan pored over all of it...

Brennan’ to the White House was driven by...extraordinary intelligence that had surfaced in late July and reached deep inside the Kremlin, showing that Putin was himself directing an “active measures” operation aimed not only at disrupting the U.S. presidential race but electing Trump.

Some of the material Brennan reviewed probably came from our allies, as The Guardian reported back in 2017.

GCHQ first became aware in late 2015 of suspicious “interactions” between figures connected to Trump and known or suspected Russian agents, a source close to UK intelligence said. This intelligence was passed to the US as part of a routine exchange of information, they added.

Over the next six months, until summer 2016, a number of western agencies shared further information on contacts between Trump’s inner circle and Russians, sources said...

The alleged conversations were picked up by chance as part of routine surveillance of Russian intelligence assets. Over several months, different agencies targeting the same people began to see a pattern of connections that were flagged to intelligence officials in the US.

Miller and his colleagues at the Washington Post documented what happened next.

Early last August, an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House. Sent by courier from the CIA, it carried “eyes only” instructions that its contents be shown to just four people: President Barack Obama and three senior aides.

Inside was an intelligence bombshell, a report drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race.

But it went further. The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives — defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.

As the latest CNN report noted, this was the intelligence that informed the "government’s assessment that Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to help Trump win the 2016 election." 

When former Attorney General Bill Barr initiated the Durham investigation, an attempt was made to blame the so-called "Russian hoax" on Brennan. As an example, here's what Margot Cleveland wrote about that at The Federalist:

The evidence suggests that the CIA and intelligence community—including potentially the intelligence communities of the UK, Italy, and Australia—created the contacts and interactions [between Russian agents and the Trump campaign] that they then reported to the FBI as suspicious…

These are the questions Barr and Durham should be asking themselves to arrive at the bottom line: Were the Russia connections contrived by the CIA, and was Brennan the plotter-in-chief hoping to prevent a President Trump—or to destroy him later?

In the end, Durham came up with nothing on Brennan - so he simply smeared Hillary Clinton in a not-so-veiled attempt to blame her for the whole thing. 

Today we learned that when Trump left the White House, the Brennan dossier - with all of its raw intelligence data - disappeared. Nine months later, the CIA was reporting that a concerning number of U.S. informants were being captured and executed. We can only hope that the two events are not connected.

For his part, Brennan - who served under three different presidents - made his views about Trump's relationship with Putin perfectly clear back in 2018.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

J.D. Vance is the one who has advocated for "open rebellion" against the United States

As a recovering therapist, my brain is still hard-wired to wonder about the motivations behind the absurd behavior of MAGA politicians. So when Sen. J.D. Vance all of the sudden is garnering headlines for doing things like raging against diversity initiatives or smearing Ukrainian President Zelinsky, I think that perhaps he's gotten jealous of all the attention the Republican chaos agents in the House have garnered lately. A sure-fire way to rouse the MAGA troops is to push the boundaries of extremism. So Vance is basically saying "Look at me! I can be a chaos agent too!"

But one of the other actions Vance took lately caught my eye. He wrote a letter to AG Garland and Sec of State Blinken demanding answers regarding a recent Washington Post op-ed that he said suggested "open rebellion" against the United States.

The article in question was written by NeverTrump Republican Robert Kagan, an opinion columnist at the Washington Post. The rather lengthy piece was focused on documenting the fact that the odds of an American dictatorship in the next few years are pretty good - given the possible election of Donald Trump. Near the end, Kagan devotes two paragraphs to a couple of options he thinks we'll have as citizens if he's right - both of which he dismisses as unlikely or ineffective. Here's the one Vance focused on:

Resistance could come from the governors of predominantly Democratic states such as California and New York through a form of nullification. States with Democratic governors and statehouses could refuse to recognize the authority of a tyrannical federal government. That is always an option in our federal system. (Should Biden win, some Republican states might engage in nullification.) But not even the bluest states are monolithic, and Democratic governors are likely to find themselves under siege on their home turf if they try to become bastions of resistance to Trump’s tyranny.

Personally, I didn't think that Kagan's article was based on solid reasoning - including that paragraph. But what I could have done is write a response documenting my own thoughts. That is what civil discourse in this country ought to look like.

That's not what Vance did. In his letter he accused Kagan of advocating for "secession, treason, and (likely) political violence," demanding that DOJ open an investigation.

Beyond the fact that such an investigation would take direct aim at free speech, I would remind Senator Vance that his MAGA colleagues in the House have openly called for secession.

But the real reason all of this caught my eye was the blatant hypocrisy. As a reminder, here's what Vance said during an interview with Jack Murphy, head of the Liminal Order men’s group.

“I tend to think that we should seize the institutions of the left,” he said. “And turn them against the left. We need like a de-Baathification program, a de-woke-ification program.”...

“And when the courts stop you,” he went on, “stand before the country, and say—” he quoted Andrew Jackson, giving a challenge to the entire constitutional order—“the chief justice has made his ruling. Now let him enforce it.”

Vance wants Republicans to "seize the institutions of the left," and implement a "de-woke-ification program." If the courts get in the way, he'd basically tell them to f*ck off. 

I know that it has become rather banal these days to point to Republican hypocrisy. But as long as I still have a voice, I'm determined to call out J.D. Vance for the fascist he's proven himself to be. He has no business lecturing anyone about "open rebellion" against the United States! 

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Trump wants us all to remember that he bragged about committing sexual assault

I am glad that so many people (and some journalists) are beginning to call Donald Trump out for the fascist dictator he's promising to be if re-elected. But I don't feel the need to do that myself. That's because, like many of you, it's not news to me.

I've known it since: 

  • he called for the execution of five innocent young Black men in 1989 before they even stepped foot inside a courtroom. 
  • he peddled the racist birther lie about Barack Obama - this country's first African American president.
  • he launched his presidential bid in 2016 by calling Mexicans rapists and criminals.
  • he bragged about being able to sexually assault women. 

All of that happened BEFORE he was elected in 2016!

Last night,  Trump indicated that he doesn't want us to forget that last one. 

The former president bizarrely tried to put a profound new spin on his infamous 2016 “grab ’em by the pussy” scandal at a gala for the New York Young Republican Club in New York City on Saturday evening, suggesting that his handling of the fallout (so he’d been told) transcends even the courage of war heroes...

“We had a meeting when it was looking bad,” he said, describing the scandal as one of many “inescapable situations,” and recalling how he’d been urged to drop out of the race just weeks before the election.

“But you know, the next day, or very shortly thereafter, we had the debate… I went onto that stage just a few days later, and a general, who’s a fantastic general, actually said to me, ‘Sir, I’ve been on the battlefield, men have gone down on my left and on my right, I stood on hills where soldiers were killed, but I believe the bravest thing I’ve ever seen was the night you went onto that stage with Hillary Clinton after what happened, and then that woman asked you the first question about it, and [you] said ‘locker room talk.’”

Frankly, I don't have the words to describe how much of a low-life you have to be to say that. The man doesn't just want us to remember that he was BRAGGING about committing sexual assault. He wants us to think that he has the courage of a war hero for calling it "locker room talk."

The person who did have the words for this vile man was Michelle Obama - who gave this speech in New Hampshire a few days after the Access Hollywood tape was released. I share it here in case there's anyone out there who needs a reminder.

I was literally moved to tears by that speech. She talked about how all of this was affecting us as women.
This was a powerful individual speaking freely and openly about sexually predatory behavior, and actually bragging about kissing and groping women, using language so obscene that many of us were worried about our children hearing it when we turn on the TV...

It is cruel. It's frightening. And the truth is, it hurts. It hurts...

And all of us are doing what women have always done: We're trying to keep our heads above water, just trying to get through it, trying to pretend like this doesn't really bother us maybe because we think that admitting how much it hurts makes us as women look weak.

Maybe we're afraid to be that vulnerable. Maybe we've grown accustomed to swallowing these emotions and staying quiet, because we've seen that people often won't take our word over his. Or maybe we don't want to believe that there are still people out there who think so little of us as women. Too many are treating this as just another day's headline, as if our outrage is overblown or unwarranted, as if this is normal, just politics as usual.

But, New Hampshire, be clear: This is not normal. This is not politics as usual. This is disgraceful. It is intolerable. And it doesn't matter what party you belong to — Democrat, Republican, independent — no woman deserves to be treated this way. None of us deserves this kind of abuse.

I don't know about you, but I needed to hear that in 2016 - and I needed to hear it again today.

But Michelle didn't stop there. She also had some words for the men in our lives (emphasis mine).

I can tell you that the men in my life do not talk about women like this. And I know that my family is not unusual. And to dismiss this as everyday locker-room talk is an insult to decent men everywhere.

The men that you and I know don't treat women this way. They are loving fathers who are sickened by the thought of their daughters being exposed to this kind of vicious language about women. They are husbands and brothers and sons who don't tolerate women being treated and demeaned and disrespected.

Michelle tried to warn us all back then. Too many people didn't listen. Now the man who bragged about committing sexual assault wants us to remember just how cruel and disrespectful he can be. He thinks that makes him some kind of courageous hero. It actually makes him a vile human being worthy of nothing but contempt.

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Conservative white men are allowed to call America sinful. Black preachers...not so much.

At about the same time that Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson was talking publicly about obstructing justice, he sent out a fundraising email.

It's fine with me if an individual thinks that America needs more God. But Johnson is attempting to raise money for Republicans as Speaker of the House - not for a church or ministry. In that context, WTH does me mean when he talks about "returning America to God's good graces?"

Beyond that question, I'd like to highlight a few lines from this email.
I fear that America may be beyond redemption...

I fear God may allow our nation to enter into a time of judgement for our collective sins...

America needs to recognize that we have much to repent for if we want to avoid the judgement we so clearly deserve...

That's pretty standard fare for Christian nationalists (aka, MAGA Republicans) these days. And as Tim Miller noted, it's also pretty standard fare for Johnson, who said this not too long ago:

We are at a civilizational moment. The only question is: Is God going to allow our nation to enter a time of judgment for our collective sins which his mercy and grace have held back for some time or is he gonna give us one more chance to restore the foundation, to return to Him?

In an absolutely brilliant move, Miller compared that sentiment to something Rev. Jeremiah Wright said that came close to toppling Barack Obama's candidacy in 2008.

The government gives [citizens of African descent] the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law, and then wants us to sing “God Bless America.” No, no, no. Not “God Bless America”; God Damn America! That’s in the Bible, for killing innocent people. God Damn America for treating her citizens as less than human. 

What's striking is that both men believe that America is sinful and deserves God's judgment. In the end, both men also believe that through God, we can be redeemed. Here's what Wright went on to say:

But I’m fixing to help you one last time. Let me tell you something. Where governments fail, God never fails. When God says it, it’s done. God never fails. 
I'm old enough to remember that the entire county practically lost it's mind when they heard about Rev. Wright's sermon. Things got so bad that Obama had to give an entire speech reminding us that the story of America is all about "perfecting our union."

And yet, other than not using a four letter word, we hear the same sentiment from folks like Johnson on a daily basis.  It's almost as if conservative white men are allowed to say that America is sinful and call forth God's judgement. But Black preachers aren't. Imagine that!

The root of the problem is a theology that enables sexual abuse

As someone who was raised in a white evangelical Christian family and church, it deeply saddens me every time we hear that another leader o...