"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Monday, February 27, 2017

Insight

This story offers a good insight into the thinking, in some quarters at least, on immigrants:

West Frankfort, Illinois, overwhelmingly voted for President Donald Trump last fall, but now some residents are upset after the Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested and detained a beloved local Mexican restaurant owner. . . .

While residents in the town said that they were still supportive of the president’s moves to deport undocumented immigrants, they told the Times that the president should make more exceptions for people like Pacheco, who have not only been exemplary local businessmen, but also pillars of the community who take part in local charity events.

The comments by residents in the town are illuminating: "Our immigrant is different."

I wonder if any of these people stop to think about the fact that the overwhelming majority of immigrants, legal or not, are hard-working, law-abiding people who just want a decent life and would like to fit in.

You get what you vote for

Another WTF? Moment

This, via TPM:

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Sunday said that President Donald Trump's budget, which will be sent to Congress in March, will not propose cutting funding for all social safety programs.

"We are not touching those now,” Mnuchin said on Fox News’ "Sunday Morning Futures” when Maria Bartiromo asked if the administration planned to cut funding for programs like Social Security and Medicare. “So don't expect to see that as part of this budget."

I wouldn't expect to see Social Security as part of this or any budget: SS is funding entirely by payroll taxes and interest earned on trust fund moneys loaned to the US government. Nothing comes from general revenues. I would expect Mnuchin to know that.

As for Medicare, there seems to be some difference of opinion (if there can be opinions on something that should be this unambiguous): According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 41% of Medicare funding comes from general revenues:


The Medicare website lays it out a bit differently, citing two Medicare trust funds, but apparently at least one of those is funded at least partially by allocations from Congress. However, I don't know if this is considered a budget item or not.

I'm inclined to be a bit dubious about the Kaiser Foundation's assertions simply because they include Social Security, as well as Medicare, in their first graph showing government expenditures, which, while strictly true in that the government administers both programs, is misleading when discussing funding sources, since neither Social Security and at least most of Medicare are budget items.

All of which is by way of saying, as far as Mnuchin's statement goes, "Bullshit."





Giggle du Jour



He lost.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

What's New at Green Man Review

It's that time of week again, and there's some pretty interesting stuff up at Green Man Review, so I think you should take a look.

Today's Must-Read: Define "Great"

This article by David Rothkopf in Foreign Policy, which tom Sullivan quotes extensively in this post at Hullabaloo. Rothkopf's thesis:

The shallow state is in many respects the antithesis of the deep state. The power of the deep state comes from experience, knowledge, relationships, insight, craft, special skills, traditions, and shared values. Together, these purported attributes make nameless bureaucrats into a supergovernment that is accountable to no one. That is a scary prospect. But the nature of bureaucracies, human nature, inertia, checks and balances, and respect for the chain of command makes it seem a bit far-fetched to me. (The bureaucracy will drive Trump, like many presidents, mad, and some within it will challenge him, but that’s not the same thing.)

The shallow state, on the other hand, is unsettling because not only are the signs of it ever more visible but because its influence is clearly growing. It is made scarier still because it not only actively eschews experience, knowledge, relationships, insight, craft, special skills, tradition, and shared values but because it celebrates its ignorance of and disdain for those things. Donald Trump, champion and avatar of the shallow state, has won power because his supporters are threatened by what they don’t understand, and what they don’t understand is almost everything. Indeed, from evolution to data about our economy to the science of vaccines to the threats we face in the world, they reject vast subjects rooted in fact in order to have reality conform to their worldviews. They don’t dig for truth; they skim the media for anything that makes them feel better about themselves. To many of them, knowledge is not a useful tool but a cunning barrier elites have created to keep power from the average man and woman. The same is true for experience, skills, and know-how. These things require time and work and study and often challenge our systems of belief. Truth is hard; shallowness is easy.
(Emphasis added.)

Read them both. (Yes, I know, another twofer. You can handle it.)

Little People In Uniforms

I'm borrowing Digby's title with a little modification: her post deals with ICE agents, who are predominantly men, but it describes a pattern I've seen in TSA agents, who are often women (or for that matter "security" personnel in general). She starts off with a quote from this article at NYT, but I think the article's opening is illustrative:

In Virginia, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents waited outside a church shelter where undocumented immigrants had gone to stay warm. In Texas and in Colorado, agents went into courthouses, looking for foreigners who had arrived for hearings on other matters.

At Kennedy International Airport in New York, passengers arriving after a five-hour flight from San Francisco were asked to show their documents before they were allowed to get off the plane.

The Trump administration’s far-reaching plan to arrest and deport vast numbers of undocumented immigrants has been introduced in dramatic fashion over the past month. And much of that task has fallen to thousands of ICE officers who are newly emboldened, newly empowered and already getting to work.

Gone are the Obama-era rules that required them to focus only on serious criminals. In Southern California, in one of the first major roundups during the Trump administration, officers detained 161 people with a wide range of felony and misdemeanor convictions, and 10 who had no criminal history at all.

The gloves are off, and it ain't pretty. The episode of the San Francisco-New York Delta flight has gotten a lot of play, and it should. ICE's excuse was that they were looking for someone who was to be deported, who turned out not to be on the plane. As one commentator noted, they could have looked at the passenger manifest.



I'd love it if one of the churches whose shelter had been raided filed a suit claiming a violation of religious freedom -- show some of these "Christians" what it's about.

Digby focuses on the attitude shift among ICE and Border Patrol agents after Trump's executive orders on immigrants were issued:

Interviews with 17 agents and officials across the country, including in Florida, Alabama, Texas, Arizona, Washington and California, demonstrated how quickly a new atmosphere in the agency had taken hold. Since they are forbidden to talk to the press, they requested anonymity out of concern for losing their jobs.

The White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, said on Tuesday that the president wanted to “take the shackles off” of agents, an expression the officers themselves used time and again in interviews to describe their newfound freedom.

“Morale amongst our agents and officers has increased exponentially since the signing of the orders,” the unions representing ICE and Border Patrol agents said in a joint statement after President Trump issued the executive orders on immigration late last month.

Two memos released this past week by the Department of Homeland Security, the parent agency of ICE and the Border Patrol, provided more details about how it would carry out its plan, which includes Mr. Trump’s signature campaign pledge — a wall along the entire southern border — as well as speedier deportations and greater reliance on local police officers.

But for those with ICE badges, perhaps the biggest change was the erasing of the Obama administration’s hierarchy of priorities, which forced agents to concentrate on deporting gang members and other violent and serious criminals, and mostly leave everyone else alone.

Quite honestly, I favor the Obama administration's priorities on this. (And a side note for those who are worried about jobs: undocumented immigrants are not taking jobs away from Americans; jobs are being shipped overseas by the "job creators," who are creating thousands of jobs in China, Vietnam, Mexico, the Philippines -- and Ethiopia, which is where Ivana Trump's line of shoes in now manufactured, because labor costs are cheaper. . . .)

And if we could count on ICE and Border Patrol agents to use some judgment in the field, I wouldn't be so concerned: they are hedged in by rules and regs because they do things like this:


The son of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali was detained for hours by immigration officials earlier this month at a Florida airport, according to a family friend.

Muhammad Ali Jr., 44, and his mother, Khalilah Camacho-Ali, the second wife of Muhammad Ali, were arriving at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Feb. 7 after returning from speaking at a Black History Month event in Montego Bay, Jamaica. They were pulled aside while going through customs because of their Arabic-sounding names, according to family friend and lawyer Chris Mancini.

Immigration officials let Camacho-Ali go after she showed them a photo of herself with her ex-husband, but her son did not have such a photo and wasn't as lucky.

Mancini said officials held and questioned Ali Jr. for nearly two hours, repeatedly asking him, "Where did you get your name from?" and "Are you Muslim?"

As Digby points out:

I don't know how stupid you have to be to not know that or realize that if you just let his mother, the former wife of the most famous American Muslim in the world go through, that means he is the son of the most famous American Muslim in the world, but apparently it's not so stupid that you can't be given a uniform and told to guard our borders.

Fasten your seat belts: it's going to be a bumpy ride.

Coda: You don't have to be a person of color or even have a "foreign-sounding" name.

A 70-year-old children’s book author claims she was held for over two hours and insulted as she attempted to visit the U.S. from Australia earlier this month.

According to The Guardian, author Mem Fox says she has visited the U.S. over 100 times before but has never received the treatment she was subjected to when she flew into Los Angeles International Airport en route to a conference in Milwaukee.

“I have never in my life been spoken to with such insolence, treated with such disdain, with so many insults and with so much gratuitous impoliteness,” Fox explained, saying she was held in a room and questioned before a group of people at the airport
.

Making America great again.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

It's Not Just Prisons

Arizona is privatizing the death penalty:


Via Balloon Juice.

"Paid Protesters"

That's the new Republican designation for anyone who demonstrates against The Hairpiece or his minions in Congress. I'm sure you've seen stories like this one:

On Thursday, CNN's Wolf Blitzer refused to allow Rep. Marsha Blackburn to allege her town hall was filled with outsiders without offering up proof to that effect and said, "How do you know only a third of the people that were inside actually were from your district?"

Since Republican town halls have been besieged with angry constituents, conservatives have been claiming they are all paid protesters.

Nobody is believing that nonsense except Trump's most loyal supporters. You know, the ones that wouldn't care if he murdered someone in the street just to make a point.

What's equally ridiculous about Blackburn's claim is that she sent out invitations to her town hall and then checked IDs to make sure they weren't undocumented workers outside agitators.

The thing that amazed me was that Blitzer actually challenged her.

Even Tony Perkins is in on the act: "May God open the eyes of the American people to see organized rabble-rousers for what they are: paid progressive operatives. . . ." Blah, blah, blah. And somehow that segues into repealing Obamacare and defunding Planned Parenthood. Perkins is starting to seem a little stressed.

This is where it starts to get scary:

The NRA’s top gun revealed a paranoid vision of the world in a Friday speech that painted Democratic protesters as well-paid criminals bent on terrorizing the country.

National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre unloaded on “the left,” saying its demonstrators are paid $1,500 a week to wreak havoc.

“They’re angry. They’re militant and they’re willing to engage in criminal violence to get what they want,” LaPierre said at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.

“Many of these people literally hate everything America stands for.”

The irony in that last statement is over the top: we -- the Left -- are not the ones who are hell-bent on dismantling the country and selling it to the highest bidder.

This is the key:

“With all the threats facing America today, your right to protect yourself and your family may be more relevant and urgently needed than ever before,” he said.

“We will not be intimidated.”

That sounds like a call to violence to me -- you know some asshole with more guns than brains is going to take that as license to shoot up the next protest.

Coda: I think this has it right:

(Drew Sheneman via GoComics.com)  

Via Balloon Juice.

Friday, February 24, 2017

"Don't Drink the Water, and Don't Breathe the Air"

That's from an old Tom Lehrer song, from the days before we began to clean up our act environmentally. It looks like we may soon be returning to those days:

We've already seen several indications that EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, will be stripped of its mission — protecting the environment, including the climatic environment — and turned into a profit protection agency instead. At best, as I noted here, EPA would be reduced to a kind of janitor for the fossil fuel giants, "sweeping up after the energy industry's mess-making" as the toxic wastes, perhaps exponentially, increase.

We certainly know that Trump's new head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, has sued the agency many times to prevent it from doing its legally mandated job.

I remember being in Hollywood many years ago, looking down into the Valley from the hills. You couldn't actually see a lot of LA proper because of the smog -- some places, just the top of a palm tree sticking up above the haze.

Pruitt was obviously picked to fit in with the agenda. From the heat of Trump's EPA transition team, Myron Ebell:

“My own personal view is that the EPA would be better served if it were a much leaner organization that had substantial cuts,” he said in an interview. Ebell is director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a small-government think tank where he pushes the notion of “global warming alarmism” and against the science that says it’s a crisis. He acknowledges cutting 10,000 staffers might not be realistic, yet he sees that as an “aspirational goal. … You’re not going to get Congress to make significant cuts unless you ask for significant cuts.”

Sociopaths, one and all. Lead in your drinking water improves the flavor, right?

New Zealand starts to sound better and better.

"Papers, Please"

We've seen this sort of thing before:

Passengers of a domestic Delta flight from San Francisco to New York were told to show their identity documents to uniformed agents of the Customs and Border Protection agency upon their arrival at John F. Kennedy airport on Wednesday evening.

CBP officers are border agents, whose statutory authority is generally limited to international arrivals.

CBP agents inspected passenger identifications on the jetbridge by the door of the aircraft. A CBP spokesman insisted to Rolling Stone that this action is "nothing new" and that there is "no new policy." But the unusual – and legally questionable – search of domestic travelers comes days after the Department of Homeland Security outlined its plans to implement President Trump's sweeping executive order targeting millions of "removable aliens" for deportation.

CBP has no legal authority to demand that passengers on domestic flights show identification.

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer's border search authority is derived from federal statutes and regulations, including 19 C.F.R. 162.6, which states that, "All persons, baggage and merchandise arriving in the Customs territory of the United States from places outside thereof are liable to inspection by a CBP officer." Unless exempt by diplomatic status, all persons entering the United States, including U.S. citizens, are subject to examination and search by CBP officers.

Last I heard, both San Francisco and New York are American cities (no matter what the Republican base thinks).

This is fairly chilling:

Rolling Stone asked CBP to clarify whether the CBP document search was truly a "request" – or instead a legally binding demand by the agents. The spokesman again could not clarify CBP's legal authority, warning only, "It is always best to cooperate with law enforcement, so as to expedite your exiting the airport in a timely manner."
(Emphasis added.)

Take that in tandem with this story, and you can see where we are headed: now that they're in charge, the GOP is implementing everything they accused Obama of doing.

Both stories via Crooks and Liars.

President Bannon Lays Out His Agenda

C'mon -- we all know who's running the White House. This report on Bannon's speech at CPAC is, for some, an eye-opener, I'm sure:

Steve Bannon — President Trump’s chief White House advisor — just made a very revealing statement while addressing right-wing activists.

The overall theme of Bannon’s speech was “deconstruction of the administrative state,” when taking into account the policies he is pursuing. He also told the audience that Trump’s cabinet appointees “were selected for a reason, and that is deconstruction.”

Bannon’s remarks help give context to President Trump appointing ideological enemies of certain federal agencies to then lead those same agencies. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt was recently confirmed as EPA administrator despite suing the EPA 14 times over environmental regulations, usually on behalf of oil companies. On his own LinkedIn, Pruitt describes himself as a “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.”

The statement also explains why Trump appointed former Goldman Sachs executives Steve Mnuchin to head the U.S. Treasury and Jay Clayton to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission. Mnuchin is an avowed opponent of financial regulations, and pledged to repeal them as Treasury chief. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson has called for the defunding of public housing, and former Texas Governor Rick Perry, who now heads the Department of Energy, couldn’t even remember its name while calling it for it to be abolished during a presidential debate.

Betsy DeVos was appointed Secretary of Education without having any experience in public schools, and stating that she wanted to force public schools to teach Christian dogma. Even Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is purging the State Department of longtime staff, including senior-level officials, suggesting American foreign policy may soon take a “deconstruction” approach.

This should really come as no surprise -- Bannon has described himself as a avowed Leninist who wants to do away with the government, and he has the perfect puppet in Trump, who will go along with it as long as he's free to fill his pockets and watch TV. And being, as they are, sociopaths with no concern for anyone but themselves, they don't care about the consequences for the rest of us.

Via commenter David L. Caster at Joe.My.God., in the comment thread on a story about AG Jefferson Beauregard Sessons III reversing DOJ's move toward eliminating private prisons, which itself is worth a read.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Bright Spot

Finally, an assault weapons ban is upheld:

Maryland's ban on 45 kinds of assault weapons and its 10-round limit on gun magazines were upheld Tuesday by a federal appeals court in a decision that met with a strongly worded dissent.

In a 10-4 ruling, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, said the guns banned under Maryland's law aren't protected by the Second Amendment.

"Put simply, we have no power to extend Second Amendment protections to weapons of war," Judge Robert King wrote for the court, adding that the Supreme Court's decision in District of Columbia v. Heller explicitly excluded such coverage.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, who led the push for the law in 2013 as a state senator, said it's "unthinkable that these weapons of war, weapons that caused the carnage in Newtown and in other communities across the country, would be protected by the Second Amendment."

"It's a very strong opinion, and it has national significance, both because it's en-banc and for the strength of its decision," Frosh said, noting that all of the court's judges participated.

The NRA is -- how shall I put it? -- up in arms. And I'm sure there will be an appeal, but the court in this case made a good distinction, although I wonder how it will stand up against a literal reading of the Second Amendment:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

I can see where someone could make the argument that the Second Amendment does, in fact, include weapons of war by the reference to a "militia" -- when the Consitution was adopted, the U.S. had no standing army.

Of course, on the flip side of that, I'd like to see an instance in which someone actually used an assault weapon in defense of home and family.

Via NCRM.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Culture Break: Dead Can Dance: The Lotus Eaters

I was introduced to Dead Can Dance years ago by a friend whose taste in music was as eclectic as my own, although he was more plugged in to the club scene than I was. I think this one's just about my favorite DCD number. From fairly late, and if you're trying to make out the words, give up -- there aren't any. Lisa Gerrard got into just vocalizing, without any actual lyrics.


I ran into this one on Wake, their "best of" album. And of course, I reviewed it.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Sweden? Seriously?

Our president has once again made a fool of himself in front of an international audience.

I think I'll have a T-shirt printed up: Who Is Ferris Renfrow?

(That's an in joke and has nothing to do with the Cheeto-in-Chief.)