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Archive for the ‘Trump administration’ Category

The Trump Admin Would Rather You Not Know Climate Change Affects the Food Supply

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The effect of climate change on food crops has long been my worry, and I starting posting my worries on that over a decade ago. Food wars, I wrote, are terrible things, and I see food wars in our future. Bess Levin writes in Vanity Fair:

Donald Trump is not a big fan of science, math, or data analysis, particularly the kind that hurt his arguments for, say, cutting the number of refugees the U.S. admits to a historic low or claiming that climate change doesn’t exist and the atmosphere would be lucky to be on the receiving end of more carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, some people still believe in scientific studies and tend to get upset when they show the dire consequences of doing nothing about increasing levels of planet-warming pollution, or telling coal plants to let ‘er rip. So, in an attempt to keep the bellyachers at bay, the administration continues to simply bury all the bad news.

Politico reports that the Trump administration has “refused to publicize dozens of government-funded studies” warning about the effects of climate change, breaking with a “long-standing practice of touting such findings by the Agriculture Department’s acclaimed in-house scientists.” Peer-reviewed and approved by the nonpartisan Agricultural Research Service—i.e. not the “Deep State” that Trump thinks has manufactured climate change as a personal attack against him—the papers conclude that climate change could, among other things: reduce the quality of grasses crucial for raising cattle; worsen allergy seasons; and, most alarmingly, result in rice becoming less nutrient-rich, which would cause health problems for the some 600 million people in the world whose diets consist mostly of rice.

While a spokesperson for the USDA said “Research continues on these subjects and we promote the research once researchers are ready to announce the findings,” noting that “not every single finding or piece of work solicits a government press release,” an investigation by Politico found that these unpublicized findings are almost exclusively the type that warn about climate change:

The lack of promotion means research from scores of government scientists receives less public attention. Climate-related studies are still being published without fanfare in scientific journals, but they can be very difficult to find. The USDA doesn’t post all its studies in one place…. The administration’s moves flout decades of department practice of promoting its research in the spirit of educating farmers and consumers around the world, according to an analysis of USDA communications under previous administrations.

According to reporter Helena Bottemiller Evich, since Trump took office in January 2017, the Agricultural Research Service has issued only two press releases for climate-related studies, both of which were beneficial for the powerful meat industry. (One concluded that beef production contributes a relatively small amount of greenhouse gas emissions and the other showed that cutting animal products from one’s diet for environmental reasons “would likely cause widespread nutritional problems.”)

“The intent is to try to suppress a message—in this case, the increasing danger of human-caused climate change,” said Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State University. “Who loses out? The people, who are already suffering the impacts of sea level rise and unprecedented super storms, droughts, wildfires, and heat waves.” The USDA—whose secretary, Sonny Perdue, allegedly punished in-house economists for contradicting the administration—insisted that there have been no directions to limit the distribution of climate science studies.

Of course, what’s reportedly happening at the USDA has happened across the Trump administration. In some cases,   . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 June 2019 at 12:51 pm

ICE Agents Are Losing Patience with Trump’s Chaotic Immigration Policy

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Jonathan Blitzer reports in the New Yorker:

Last Monday, when President Trump tweeted that his Administration would stage nationwide immigration raids the following week, with the goal of deporting “millions of illegal aliens,” agents at Immigration and Customs Enforcement were suddenly forced to scramble. The agency was not ready to carry out such a large operation. Preparations that would typically take field officers six to eight weeks were compressed into a few days, and, because of Trump’s tweet, the officers would be entering communities that now knew they were coming. “It was a dumb-shit political move that will only hurt the agents,” John Amaya, a former deputy chief of staff at ice, told me. On Saturday, hours before the operation was supposed to start in ten major cities across the country, the President changed course, delaying it for another two weeks.

On Sunday, I spoke to an ice officer about the week’s events. “Almost nobody was looking forward to this operation,” the officer said. “It was a boondoggle, a nightmare.” Even on the eve of the operation, many of the most important details remained unresolved. “This was a family op. So where are we going to put the families? There’s no room to detain them, so are we going to put them in hotels?” the officer said. On Friday, an answer came down from iceleadership: the families would be placed in hotels while ice figured out what to do with them. That, in turn, raised other questions. “So the families are in hotels, but who’s going to watch them?” the officer continued. “What happens if the person we arrest has a U.S.-citizen child? What do we do with the children? Do we need to get booster seats for the vans? Should we get the kids toys to play with?” Trump’s tweet broadcasting the operation had also created a safety issue for the officers involved. “No police agency goes out and says, ‘Tomorrow, between four and eight, we’re going to be in these neighborhoods,’ ” the officer said.

The idea for the operation took hold in the White House last September, two months after a federal judge had ordered the government to stop separating parents and children at the border. At the time, the number of families seeking asylum was rising steadily, and Administration officials were determined to toughen enforcement. A D.H.S. official told me that, in the months before the operation was proposed, “a major focus” of department meetings “was concern about the fact that people on the non-detained docket”—asylum seekers released into the U.S. with a future court date—“are almost never deported.” By January, a tentative plan had materialized. The Department of Justice developed a “rocket docket” to prioritize the cases of asylum seekers who’d just arrived in the country and missed a court date—in their absence, the government could swiftly secure deportation orders against them. D.H.S. then created a “target list” of roughly twenty-five hundred immigrant family members across the country for deportation; eventually, the Administration aimed to arrest ten thousand people using these methods.

From the start, however, the plan faced resistance. The Secretary of D.H.S., Kirstjen Nielsen, argued that the arrests would be complicated to carry out, in part, because American children would be involved. (Many were born in the U.S. to parents on the “target list.”) Resources were already limited, and an operation on this scale would divert attention from the border, where a humanitarian crisis was worsening by the day. The acting head of ice, Ron Vitiello, a tough-minded former Border Patrol officer, shared Nielsen’s concerns. According to the Washington Post, these reservations weren’t “ethical” so much as logistical: executing such a vast operation would be extremely difficult, with multiple moving pieces, and the optics could be devastating. Four months later, Trump effectively fired them. Vitiello’s replacement at ice, an official named Mark Morgan—who’s already been fired once by Trump and regained the President’s support after making a series of appearances on Fox News—subsequently announced that ice would proceed with the operation.

Late last week, factions within the Administration clashed over what to do. The acting secretary of D.H.S., Kevin McAleenan, urged caution, claiming that the operation was a distraction and a waste of manpower. Among other things, a $4.5 billion funding bill to supply further humanitarian aid at the border has been held up because Democrats worried that the Administration would use the money for enforcement operations. McAleenan had been meeting with members of both parties on the Hill, and there appeared to be signs of progress, before the President announced the ice crackdown. According to an Administration official, McAleenan argued that the operation would also threaten a string of recent gains made by the President. The Trump Administration had just secured a deal with the Mexican government to increase enforcement at the Guatemalan border, and it expanded a massive new program called Remain in Mexico, which has forced some ten thousand asylum seekers to wait indefinitely in northern Mexico. “Momentum was moving in the right direction,” the official said.

On the other side of the argument were Stephen Miller, at the White House, and Mark Morgan, at ice. In the days before and after Trump’s Twitter announcement, Morgan spoke regularly with the President, who was circumventing McAleenan, Morgan’s boss. In meetings with staff, Morgan boasted that he had a direct line to the President, according to the ice officer, who told me it was highly unusual for there to be such direct contact between the agency head and the White House. “It should be going to the Secretary, which I find hilarious, actually, because Morgan was already fired once by this Administration,” the officer said.

Over the weekend, the President agreed to halt the operation. But it’s far from certain whether McAleenan actually got the upper hand. Officials in the White House authorized ice to issue a press release insinuating that someone had leaked important details about the operation and therefore compromised it. “Any leak telegraphing sensitive law-enforcement operations is egregious and puts our officers’ safety in danger,” an ice spokesperson said late Saturday afternoon. This was a puzzling statement given that it was Trump who first publicized the information about the operation. But the White House’s line followed a different script: some members of the Administration, as well as the former head of ice, Thomas Homan, were publicly accusing McAleenan of sharing information with reporters in an attempt to undermine the operation.

For Homan, his involvement in the Administration’s internal fight marked an unexpected return to the main stage. Last year, he resigned as acting head of iceafter the Senate refused to confirm him to the post. Earlier this month, Trump announced, on Fox News, that Homan would be returning to the Administration as the President’s new border tsar, but Homan, who hadn’t been informed of the decision, has remained noncommittal. Still, according to the Administration official, Homan and the President talk by phone regularly. Over the weekend, Homan, who has since become an on-air contributor to Fox News, appeared on television to attack McAleenan personally. “You’ve got the acting Secretary of Homeland Security resisting what ice is trying to do,” he said.

Meanwhile, the President spent the weekend trying to leverage the delayed operation to pressure congressional Democrats. If they did not agree to a complete overhaul of the asylum system at the border, Trump said, he’d greenlight the ice operation once more. “Two weeks,” he tweeted, “and big Deportation begins.” At the same time, his Administration was under fire for holding immigrant children at a Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas. Two hundred and fifty infants, children, and teen-agers have spent weeks in squalid conditions; they have been denied food, water, soap, and toothbrushes, and there’s limited access to medicine in the wake of flu and lice outbreaks. “If the Democrats would change the asylum laws and the loopholes,” Trump said, “everything would be solved immediately.” And yet, last week, when an Administration lawyer appeared before the Ninth Circuit to answer for the conditions at the facility, which were in clear violation of a federal agreement on the treatment of children in detention, she said that addressing them was not the government’s responsibility. Michelle Brané, of the Women’s Refugee Commission, told me, “The Administration is intentionally creating chaos at the border and detaining children in abusive conditions for political gain.” (On Monday, Customs and Border Protection transferred all but thirty children from the Clint facility; it isn’t yet clear where, exactly, they’ll go.)

President Obama was never popular among ice’s rank and file, but the detailed list of enforcement priorities he instituted, in 2014, which many in the agency initially resented as micromanagement, now seemed more sensible—and even preferable to the current state of affairs. The ice officer said, “One person told me, ‘I never thought I’d say this, but I miss the Obama rules. We removed more people with the rules we had in place than with all this. It was much easier when we had the priorities. It was cleaner.’ ” Since the creation of ice, in 2003, enforcement was premised on the idea that officers would primarily go after criminals for deportation; Trump, who views ice as a political tool to showcase his toughness, has abandoned that framework entirely.  . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2019 at 1:38 pm

Inside a Texas Building Where the U.S. Government Is Holding Immigrant Children

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Isaac Chotiner reports in the New Yorker:

Hundreds of immigrant children who have been separated from their parents or family members are being held in dirty, neglectful, and dangerous conditions at Border Patrol facilities in Texas. This week, a team of lawyers interviewed more than fifty children at one of those facilities, in Clint, Texas, in order to monitor government compliance with the Flores settlement, which mandates that children must be held in safe and sanitary conditions and moved out of Border Patrol custody without unnecessary delays. The conditions the lawyers found were shocking: flu and lice outbreaks were going untreated, and children were filthy, sleeping on cold floors, and taking care of one another because of the lack of attention from guards. Some of them had been in the facility for weeks.

To discuss what the attorneys saw and heard, I spoke by phone with one of them, Warren Binford, a law professor at Willamette University and the director of its clinical-law program. She told me that, although Flores is an active court case, some of the lawyers were so disturbed by what they saw that they decided to talk to the media. We discussed the daily lives of the children in custody, the role that the guards are playing at the facility, and what should be done to unite many of the kids with their parents. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

How many lawyers were in your party? And can you describe what happened when you arrived?

We had approximately ten lawyers, doctors, and interpreters in El Paso this past week. We did not plan to go to the Clint Facility, because it’s not a facility that historically receives children. It wasn’t even on our radar. It was at a facility that historically only had a maximum occupancy of a hundred and four, and it was an adult facility. So we were not expecting to go there, and then we saw the report, last week, that it appeared that children were being sent to Clint, so we decided to put four teams over there. The teams are one to two attorneys, or an attorney and an interpreter. The idea is that we would be interviewing one child at a time or one sibling group at a time.

How many interviews do you do in a day?We do a screening interview first to see if the child’s most basic needs are being met. Is it warm enough? Do they have a place to sleep? How long have they been there? Are they being fed? And if it sounds like the basic needs are being met, then we don’t need to interview them longer. If, when we start to interview the child, they start to tell us things like they’re sleeping on the floor, they’re sick, nobody’s taking care of them, they’re hungry, then we do a more in-depth interview. And those interviews can take two hours or even longer. So it depends on what the children tell us. So I’d say, with a team of four attorneys, if you’re interviewing several groups, which we sometimes try to do, or if you interview older children who are trying to take care of younger children, then you are interviewing, let’s say, anywhere from ten to twenty children per day.

How many kids are at the facility right now, and do you have some sense of a breakdown of where they’re from?

When we arrived, on Monday, there were approximately three hundred and fifty children there. They were constantly receiving children, and they’re constantly picking up children and transferring them over to an O.R.R. [Office of Refugee Resettlement] site. So the number is fluid. We were so shocked by the number of children who were there, because it’s a facility that only has capacity for a hundred and four. And we were told that they had recently expanded the facility, but they did not give us a tour of it, and we legally don’t have the right to tour the facility.

We drove around afterward, and we discovered that there was a giant warehouse that they had put on the site. And it appears that that one warehouse has allegedly increased their capacity by an additional five hundred kids. When we talked to Border Patrol agents later that week, they confirmed that is the alleged expansion, and when we talked to children, one of the children described as many as three hundred children being in that room, in that warehouse, basically, at one point when he first arrived. There were no windows.

And so what we did then was we looked at the ages of the children, and we were shocked by just how many young children there were. There were over a hundred young children when we first arrived. And there were child-mothers who were also there, and so we started to pull the child-mothers and their babies, we started to make sure their needs were being met. We started to pull the youngest children to see who was taking care of them.

And then we started to pull the children who had been there the longest to find out just how long children are being kept there. Children described to us that they’ve been there for three weeks or longer. And so, immediately from that population that we were trying to triage, they were filthy dirty, there was mucus on their shirts, the shirts were dirty. We saw breast milk on the shirts. There was food on the shirts, and the pants as well. They told us that they were hungry. They told us that some of them had not showered or had not showered until the day or two days before we arrived. Many of them described that they only brushed their teeth once. This facility knew last week that we were coming. The government knew three weeks ago that we were coming.

So, in any event, the children told us that nobody’s taking care of them, so that basically the older children are trying to take care of the younger children. The guards are asking the younger children or the older children, “Who wants to take care of this little boy? Who wants to take of this little girl?” and they’ll bring in a two-year-old, a three-year-old, a four-year-old. And then the littlest kids are expected to be taken care of by the older kids, but then some of the oldest children lose interest in it, and little children get handed off to other children. And sometimes we hear about the littlest children being alone by themselves on the floor.

Many of the children reported sleeping on the concrete floor. They are being given army blankets, those wool-type blankets that are really harsh. Most of the children said they’re being given two blankets, one to put beneath them on the floor. Some of the children are describing just being given one blanket and having to decide whether to put it under them or over them, because there is air-conditioning at this facility. And so they’re having to make a choice about, Do I try to protect myself from the cement, or do I try to keep warm?

We weren’t originally planning to be there on Thursday, but one of the reasons why we came back for a fourth day is that some of the children, on Wednesday, told us that there was a lice infestation, as well as an influenza outbreak, at that facility, and so a number of the children are being taken into isolation rooms, quarantine areas where there’s nobody with them except for other sick children.

There was one child-mother who took her baby in there, because the baby got the flu. And then the mother, because she was in there caring for the child, got the flu as well. And so then she was there for a week, and they took the baby out and gave the baby to an unrelated child to try to take care of the child-mother’s baby. Sorry, I was trying to remember where I was going with that.

It’s fine.

Oh, I know what I wanted to tell you. This is important. So, on Wednesday, we received reports from children of a lice outbreak in one of the cells where there were about twenty-five children, and what they told us is that six of the children were found to have lice. And so they were given a lice shampoo, and the other children were given two combs and told to share those two combs, two lice combs, and brush their hair with the same combs, which is something you never do with a lice outbreak. And then what happened was one of the combs was lost, and Border Patrol agents got so mad that they took away the children’s blankets and mats. They weren’t allowed to sleep on the beds, and they had to sleep on the floor on Wednesday night as punishment for losing the comb. So you had a whole cell full of kids who had beds and mats at one point, not for everybody but for most of them, who were forced to sleep on the cement.

Where are these kids from, and where are most of their parents in most cases?

Almost every child that we interviewed had a parent or relative in the United States. Many of them had parents in the United States and were coming here to be with their parents. Some of the children that we interviewed had been separated from their parents. Most of them were separated from other adult relatives. Almost all the children came across with an adult family member and were separated from them by the Border Patrol. Some of them were separated from their parents themselves; other times it was a grandmother or aunt or an older sibling. We don’t know where the parents are being kept.

They are primarily from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. There are a few from Ecuador, one from Peru.

What is the attitude of the guards to your team?

They are on our side. Multiple guards told us while we were there that they are on our side and they want us to be successful, because the children don’t belong there, and the children need to be picked up and put in appropriate places for children. They want us to be successful.

So things like the comb and the punishment, that’s a rare story? Most of the guards care about the welfare of the kids to some extent?

I’m not going to say that most of the guards care about the kids, because we didn’t talk to most of the guards, but I do believe in the inherent goodness of people. And when I’ve talked to guards, they seemed caring, and they had guards who, when the children were there for these very lengthy interviews, would bring the children lunches in the conference room. They’re terrible lunches. That’s how some of the guards are, but the fact is that some of the guards are bad people, and there’s no question about it.

There are some other stories that we’ve heard from the children, such as . . .

Continue reading.

Gratuitous cruelty to children—that’s the US government today.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2019 at 1:33 pm

A conservative’s vision: Let’s make politics great again

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Jennifer Rubin has an interesting post in the Washington Post:

Peter Wehner, a former adviser to President George W. Bush and a prominent Never Trump voice, is out with a new book, “The Death of Politics: How to Heal Our Frayed Republic After Trump.” At a time when politicians are held in low regard and a moral retrograde sits in the White House, Wehner makes the counterintuitive argument that we must recognize politics as a noble endeavor. My conversation with him covered a lot of ground; it has been condensed for length and lightly edited for clarity.

You make the point that Trump simply lit the fuse but that the antecedents of the nasty, crude and rancorous politics had been underway for years. How did Republicans, who used to value civility, faith and respect, become the ones to most fall prey to this phenomenon?

It’s a question I’ve pondered a fair amount. Before turning to the GOP, it’s worth pointing out that the Republican Party hasn’t cornered the market on nasty politics. Ted Kennedy’s attacks on Robert Bork were an ugly inflection point in the history of the modern Supreme Court nomination process. The attacks in 2012 against Mitt Romney by Harry Reid and a super PAC supporting President Obama were dishonest and disgraceful. So were many of the attacks by Clinton supporters against Ken Starr and especially against women with whom Clinton had affairs. Vicious things were said about George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. So it’s not as if the hands of Democrats are clean here. All parties and all political ideologies have a lot to answer for. Because of the nature and stakes of politics, and the built-in flaws in human nature, politics is rarely as high-minded as we might wish.

Having said that, Donald Trump is in a category all his own when it comes to the politics of cruelty, crudity and dehumanization. He’s the face, voice and moral representative — or to be more precise, the immoral representative — of the Republican Party, and some large number of Republicans support him and his tactics that at times seems cult-like. So what happened?

My sense is that on the right there were dark, latent forces that were far more widespread than I imagined. Pre-Trump, they were kept more or less on the fringes of the Republican Party. Trump tapped into them, though — he has an almost preternatural ability to zero in on cultural and ethnic flashpoints, to activate the amygdala region of the brain — and mainstreamed them. One manifestation of that is Trump’s validation of Alex Jones, the conspiracy peddler whose show Trump appeared on during the 2016 campaign and was praised by Trump. But there are plenty of others.

Remember the issue that brought Donald Trump to national political prominence — it was a racist conspiracy theory alleging that Barack Obama wasn’t a U.S. citizen. I warned Republicans about him in 2011 — don’t play “footsie with peddlers of paranoia” and those who delight in making our public discourse more childish and freakish, I wrote — but I didn’t anticipate that the pathologies were so far-reaching.

What else do you think is going on?

On the right there have been rising feelings of resentment, grievances and rage. A lot of people on the right feel like they have been condescended to by the elite culture, disrespected and mocked for their beliefs, and there’s some merit in that. I did an event at Stanford shortly before the 2016 election with Arlie Hochschild, a sociologist who wrote an outstanding book, “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right.” She said to me prescient words. “What his rise is about,” she told me, “is lost honor and humiliation. Trump is a kind of anti-depressant to his supporters.”

This is combined with a “Flight 93” mindset — the sense that many are engaged in an existential struggle with the Left and that virtually any tactics, regardless of how ruthless, should be employed in order to prevail. I have friends who in their individual lives are deeply decent, and yet they have admitted to me that they want to figuratively slit the throat of liberals and those on the left, who they are convinced are comprised of malicious people who want to destroy America and destroy them. If that’s your outlook, it can lead you into some pretty dark alleyways.

There’s also fear many Trump supporters have about the rapid rate of social change, most especially in the area of sexual ethics, that has left them bewildered and fearful. In addition to that, we’re in the midst of massive economic changes. All of this has roiled our politics and allowed some ugly impulses to rise to the surface.

It’s true that so-called “social justice warriors” on the left are increasingly illiberal in some of their tendencies. We see that on college campuses, which are increasingly opposed to open inquiry and viewpoint diversity. But in politics it’s most pronounced these days on the right. The nomination, election and passionate enthusiasm for Donald Trump is evidence of that. In the areas we’re talking about, he’s made everything worse.

You note political polarization is a contributing factor to the rotten state of politics. How do we improve political discourse without tackling polarization, which was brought about by many political, social and cultural factors?

It might be helpful here to define polarization. James Q. Wilson, who was one of America’s outstanding social scientists, described it as not simply partisan disagreements alone, but rather an intense commitment to a candidate, a culture, or an ideology that sets people in one group definitively apart from people in another, rival group. “Such a condition is revealed when a candidate for public office is regarded by a competitor and his supporters not simply as wrong but as corrupt or wicked,” according to Wilson, “when one way of thinking about the world is assumed to be morally superior to any other way; when one set of political beliefs is considered to be entirely correct and a rival set wholly wrong.”

Part of the explanation for the acute state of political polarization is what the journalist Bill Bishop describes as “the big sort.” He’s shown how Americans have been sorting themselves into homogeneous communities. It’s referred to as a “way-of-life segregation.” We increasingly live with people who think, vote and pattern our lives like we do, who reinforce our beliefs. On one level that’s understandable, of course; on another, it’s harmful, since people we begin to view those who live differently than we do as aliens, hostile forces, and even existential threats to our way of life.

What I argue in “The Death of Politics” is that we have to rethink our attitudes toward one another and toward the pursuit of truth. It’s not simply recognizing that people who hold different views than we do aren’t by definition stupid, corrupt, wicked or malicious; it’s that we come to a place where we believe we might have something to learn — or at least something to consider — from those whose views and outlooks and life experiences are different than mine. That’s never easy to do, and it’s harder to do in this environment than any time I can recall.

Can you elaborate on what you mean by that?

You bet. I describe in the book the friendship between the British philosopher and poet Owen Barfield and C.S. Lewis, the twentieth-century British medievalist, literary critic, author and apologist for the Christian faith. They were members of a literary group called The Inklings, and they exercised enormous influence on each other. But their friendship was not based on seeing the world in exactly the same way. In fact, they engaged in some fairly intense disagreements, including on the relationship between imagination and truth.

In his book “Surprised by Joy,” Lewis described what he called a “First Friend” and a “Second Friend.” The First Friend is your alter ego, the person who sees things as you do. You “join like raindrops on a window” is how Lewis put it.

The Second Friend is not your alter ego but your anti-self. He shares your interests but approaches them at a different angle. “He has read all the right books but has got the wrong thing out of every one,” Lewis wrote. “How can he be so nearly right and yet, invariably, just not right?” He went on to say this:

You go at it, hammer and tongs, far into the night, or walking through fine country that neither gives a glance to, each learning the weight of the other’s punches, and often more like mutually respectful enemies than friends. Actually (though it never seems so at the time) you modify one another’s thought; out of this perpetual dogfight a community of mind and deep affection emerge.

“In an argument,” Barfield said, “we always, both of us, were arguing for the truth, not for victory.”

That’s just a very different approach to dialogue and debate — engaging with others in order to refine our views, to widen the aperture of understanding, to see things we would otherwise be blind to. If each of us — pro- and anti-Trump, those on the right and those on the left and those in between — could move closer toward the spirit of the Lewis-Barfield model of dialogue and debate, we’d all be far better off. It would certainly help us think of our national politics as something other than a fight to the death.

It’s ironic that the people leading “Values Voters” contributed mightily to this problem. How does the evangelical community address the grotesque failure of moral and spiritual leadership?

Evangelicals themselves need to . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2019 at 4:10 pm

Hide the problem, don’t solve it: Government moves migrant kids after AP exposes bad treatment

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Martha Mendoza and Garance Burke report for AP:

The U.S. government has removed most of the children from a remote Border Patrol station in Texas following reports that more than 300 children were detained there, caring for each other with inadequate food, water and sanitation.

Just 30 children remained at the facility near El Paso Monday, said Rep. Veronica Escobar after her office was briefed on the situation by an official with Customs and Border Protection.

Attorneys who visited the Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas, last week said older children were trying to take care of infants and toddlers, The Associated Press first reported Thursday. They described a 4-year-old with matted hair who had gone without a shower for days, and hungry, inconsolable children struggling to soothe one another. Some had been locked for three weeks inside the facility, where 15 children were sick with the flu and another 10 were in medical quarantine.

“How is it possible that you both were unaware of the inhumane conditions for children, especially tender-age children at the Clint Station?” asked Escobar in a letter sent Friday to U.S. Customs and Border Protection acting commissioner John Sanders and U.S. Border Patrol chief Carla Provost.

She asked to be informed by the end of this week what steps they’re taking to end “these humanitarian abuses.”

Lawmakers from both parties decried the situation last week.

Border Patrol officials have not responded to AP’s questions about the conditions at the Clint facility, but in an emailed statement Monday they said: “Our short-term holding facilities were not designed to hold vulnerable populations and we urgently need additional humanitarian funding to manage this crisis.”

Although it’s unclear where all the children held at Clint have been moved, Escobar said some were sent to another facility on the north side of El Paso called Border Patrol Station 1. Escobar said it’s a temporary site with roll-out mattresses, showers, medical facilities and air conditioning.

But Clara Long, an attorney who interviewed children at Border Patrol Station 1 last week, said conditions were not necessarily better there.

“One boy I spoke with said his family didn’t get mattresses or blankets for the first two nights and he and his mom came down with a fever,” said Long, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch. “He said there were no toothbrushes, and it was very, very cold.”

Vice President Mike Pence, asked about the unsafe, unsanitary conditions for the children on Meet The Press on Sunday, said “it’s totally unacceptable” adding that he hopes Congress will allocate more resources to border security. [I.e., “don’t blame us” – LG] . . .

Long and a group of lawyers inspected the facilities because they are involved in the Flores settlement, a Clinton-era legal agreement that governs detention conditions for migrant children and families. The lawyers negotiated access to the facility with officials and say Border Patrol knew the dates of their visit three weeks in advance. . .

Continue reading.

The US now has concentration camps for children, who are treated poorly in the camps. The US today has become unrecognizable to me.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2019 at 4:00 pm

Trump Keeps Talking About the Last Military Standoff With Iran — Here’s What Really Happened

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Megan Rose, Robert Faturechi, and T. Christian Mille report in ProPublica:

Just before sunset on Jan. 12, 2016, 10 American sailors strayed into Iranian territorial waters in the Persian Gulf, a navigation error with potentially grave consequences. On their way to a spying mission, the Americans had set sail from Kuwait to Bahrain. It was a long-distance trek that some senior commanders in the Navy’s 5th Fleet had warned they were neither equipped nor trained to execute.

Surrounded by four boats operated by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the U.S. sailors, in two small gunboats, surrendered rather than opening fire. The officer in charge of the mission later said he understood that had a firefight erupted, it could well have provoked a wider conflict and scuttled the controversial nuclear deal the two countries were poised to implement in mere days.

The Navy dialed up an elaborate rescue mission to free the sailors from tiny Farsi Island involving fighter jets and a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group. But the return of the sailors was ultimately secured peacefully. The nuclear deal went forward with the U.S. providing sanctions relief and unfreezing billions in Iranian assets in exchange for Tehran’s promise to curb its nuclear ambitions.

President Donald Trump explicitly invoked the 2016 incident last week as he weighed actions against Iran amid rising tensions. Trump told Time magazine that his predecessor, Barack Obama, had mishandled the high-stakes confrontation, a mistake he would not make. “The only reason the sailors were let go is that we started making massive payments to them the following day,” Trump said. “Otherwise the sailors would still be there.”

But a ProPublica investigation makes clear that Trump’s repeated claims about the captured sailors – Obama’s weakness; that the money was improper – obscure the more troubling realities exposed by the Navy’s 2016 debacle in the Persian Gulf. The Farsi Island mission was a gross failure, involving issues that have plagued the Navy in recent years: inadequate training, poor leadership, and a disinclination to heed the warnings of its men and women about the true extent of its vulnerabilities.

Now, the Navy, and the 5th Fleet based in the Persian Gulf, are staring at the possibility of a military conflict, standing ready for a commander in chief who lacks a permanent secretary of defense and is thus more dependent on uniformed military leaders.

In the wake of the Farsi Island incident, the outlines of the Navy’s fumbles were widely reported. But ProPublica reconstructed the failed mission, and the Navy’s response to it, using hundreds of pages of previously unreported confidential Navy documents, including the accounts of sailors and officers up and down the chain of command. Those documents reveal that the 10 captured sailors were forced out on dangerous missions they were not prepared for. Their commanders repeatedly dismissed worries about deficiencies in manpower and expertise.

Prior to the mission, the sailors had received little training on their weapons, and the crew of one boat forgot to load the limited number of guns at their disposal during the transit. One sailor prepared to record the potentially hostile encounter with the helmet camera she’d been issued but couldn’t get it to work. So she filmed it on her personal iPhone 4. And when they were captured, a rescue seemed unlikely given that no one back at shore had yet realized they were off course.

The Farsi Island episode is consistent with ProPublica’s findings in its ongoing examination of the Navy’s state of combat readiness. ProPublica’s detailed review of the Navy’s two accidents in the Pacific in 2017, which killed 17 sailors from the 7th Fleet, shows that the most senior uniformed and civilian leaders mishandled years of warnings about degraded ships, undertrained and overworked crews, and the potentially fatal costs of tasking vulnerable sailors with an unceasing number of sometimes ill-conceived missions.

Immediately after the release of the Farsi Island sailors in early 2016, Vice Adm. Kevin Donegan launched an investigation that would divide the highest levels of the Navy over the question of who was to blame for the embarrassing incident. The findings of that investigation, completed in February 2016, did not spare the commanders and crew of the two riverine combat boats, or RCBs. They had violated fundamental Navy doctrines regarding navigation and leadership, the report found. Senior 5th Fleet commanders were also faulted and two were relieved of their commands.

Donegan’s investigators, though, dug deeper. They concluded that the riverine unit had not been properly manned or trained before being dispatched to the Persian Gulf. Riverine sailors had had to train themselves. The sailors had done most of their exercises on smaller patrol boats instead of the RCBs used in the Gulf. They had received a minimum amount of training on the latest navigation system. They had never conducted a lengthy training voyage in the open sea, something they would be asked to do routinely in the Gulf.

he investigation’s files included the personal plea of one of the enlisted men taken captive on Farsi Island, Petty Officer 1st Class Kevin Diebold.

“I cannot, nor am I in a position to, determine the exact reasons why my crews were captured,” Diebold wrote. “This is something that should be discussed frankly and openly.”

The seeds of the mishap, Diebold wrote, did not “materialize on the 11th of January, nor do they end, neatly, on the morning of the 13th. It is my hope that the current investigation and the team’s findings are used not to punish 10 sailors, but educate and refocus a critical, if neglected force, if not our Navy as a total warfighting organization.”

The Navy ignored the sailor’s request. In internal Navy memos, commanders criticized parts of the investigation for being “deficient,” “incomplete” and “unsubstantiated” amid disputes over how much training has actually taken place. To address the differing views, the Navy ordered a second investigation and embraced its findings that pre-deployment training and manning for the RCB unit, in fact, had been adequate.

“Pre-deployment training and manning were not contributing factors to this incident,” the second investigation, which was released to the public, concluded.

The Navy’s top commander, John Richardson, signed off on the more reassuring set of findings.

“I’m not prepared to say that there’s a larger problem,” Richardson told reporters in 2016.

Over the weekend, the details of Iran’s downing of an unmanned American drone that further escalated the confrontation remained unclear, but it seemed possible the Navy had again mistakenly entered Iran’s territory. Iran insists the plane had penetrated its airspace; the United States says it was in international territory. Last week, The New York Times quoted an unnamed U.S. official as saying Trump had pulled back in part because of emerging evidence that the Global Hawk drone or a second, manned U.S. spy plane may have indeed breached Iranian territory. Trump cited the high number of possible Iranian casualties.

In a written response to questions, the Navy said it had implemented reforms to improve the coastal riverine units. U.S. trainers now keep careful track of the instruction gunboats and their crews receive while deployed. New maintenance teams are ready to fly into deployed areas to make repairs. The RCB boats have been replaced by a newer gunboat known as the Mark VI.

Rear Adm. Charlie Brown, the Navy’s spokesman, said that many of the changes were still being implemented, but that the Navy’s most senior leaders were confident that “the Coastal Riverine Force is ready to carry out all missions assigned in any numbered fleet area of operations.”

Brown also said the Navy’s investigation was “conducted in an independent manner.”

“There were no instances of facts or opinions being silenced,” Brown wrote.

Brown also offered a broader defense of the Navy’s preparedness.

“No naval forces are deployed without ensuring full readiness,” he said. “There should be no doubt — U.S. Navy Forces deployed globally are ready in all respects.”

In an interview with ProPublica on Friday, Donegan, who stepped down as commander of the 5th Fleet in September 2017, said the margin for error is small in such extraordinary circumstances. Training matters. Mistakes can prove dire.

“My biggest concern is about miscalculation,” said Donegan, who now works as a security consultant. “When you have heightened tensions, no direct communications between the two sides and forces in close proximity, an event that one side thinks is low-level might compel the other side to respond in a way that leads to expanded conflict.” . . .

Chapter 1. “What Are We Doing Here?”

To some at the Navy’s outpost in Kuwait, the last-minute mission for which they were briefed on Jan. 11, 2016, seemed preposterous.

The RCBs would have to travel from Kuwait to Bahrain — a 260-mile trip, two times longer than any they’d ever done — carefully avoiding nearby territorial waters. Once there, the National Security Agency, as part of its intelligence operations, would load up their small boats with listening equipment and have them float along the Persian Gulf’s coastline. The mission was given a name: “Radio Creep.” It was unclear who they’d be spying on, but several officers took the order as urgent, and, given worsening weather conditions, one decided the sailors would have to launch within 24 hours.

The crew raised what seemed to be an essential problem: Only one of the three RCBs was currently operational.

They might be able to fix one of the two disabled boats, Gunner’s Mate Isaac Escobedo guessed, but it would be a rush job, he later told investigators.

The boats had been run 3,000 hours beyond the cut off for required overhauls.

Lt. Kenneth Rogers, the officer in charge of the RCB unit, also had concerns. The boats were needed for another mission; to make it to Bahrain, they’d have to refuel at sea, something they’d only done once before — while they were close enough to base to make it home if it didn’t go well; and the crew, if it scrambled to get at least one more boat ready, would be exhausted when it set out, Rogers argued.

Cmdr. Greg Meyer, Rogers’ boss, was sympathetic to Rogers’ concerns, records show, and took the case up the chain of command.

Kyle Moses, the commodore with ultimate authority over the RCB unit, didn’t want to hear any of it. He thought the worried officers were being “overly cautious.” Moses said he didn’t know why so many of his officers were concerned about the riverine command boats making this kind of trip, since “the RCB is a boat and boats float.”

“Navigation is navigation,” Moses, an explosives expert, later told investigators.

The Navy’s 5th Fleet is based in Bahrain and is responsible for about 2.5 million square miles of water and some 20 countries. The vast expanse includes three critical chokepoints at the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab al Mandab at the southern tip of Yemen. The 5th Fleet has been a vital nerve center for American action and interests in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The 5th Fleet, though, doesn’t have warships of its own and instead relies on vessels and aircraft rotated in from the enormous 7th Fleet in the Pacific as well as stateside fleets.

Riverine boats, if a modest segment of the Navy’s full arsenal of ships and aircraft, have nonetheless been a staple of operations for decades, typically deployed to patrol rivers and marshes, whether they be in Vietnam or Iraq. The RCBs were then the most recent incarnation of the gunboat: 53 feet long, holding crews of eight and loaded with heavy machine guns and high-tech navigation gear.

In the Persian Gulf, the RCBs for years mostly performed escort missions for  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2019 at 2:29 pm

The Unimaginable Reality of American Concentration Camps

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Masha Gessen writes in the New Yorker about the reality of the US today:

Like many arguments, the fight over the term “concentration camp” is mostly an argument about something entirely different. It is not about terminology. Almost refreshingly, it is not an argument about facts. This argument is about imagination, and it may be a deeper, more important conversation than it seems.

In a Monday-evening live stream, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, of New York, called the U.S.’s detention facilities for migrants “concentration camps.” On Tuesday, she tweeted a link to an article in Esquire in which Andrea Pitzer, a historian of concentration camps, was quoted making the same assertion: that the United States has created a “concentration camp system.” Pitzer argued that “mass detention of civilians without a trial” was what made the camps concentration camps. The full text of Ocasio-Cortez’s tweet was “This administration has established concentration camps on the southern border of the United States for immigrants, where they are being brutalized with dehumanizing conditions and dying. This is not hyperbole. It is the conclusion of expert analysis.” Hackles were immediately raised, tweets fired, and, less than an hour and a half later, Representative Liz Cheney, of Wyoming, tweeted, “Please @AOC do us all a favor and spend just a few minutes learning some actual history. 6 million Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust. You demean their memory and disgrace yourself with comments like this.” A high-pitched battle of tweets and op-eds took off down the much travelled dead-end road of arguments about historical analogies. These almost never go well, and they always devolve into a virtual shouting match if the Holocaust, the Nazis, or Adolf Hitler is invoked. One side always argues that nothing can be as bad as the Holocaust, therefore nothing can be compared to it; the other argues that the cautionary lesson of history can be learned only by acknowledging the similarities between now and then.

But the argument is really about how we perceive history, ourselves, and ourselves in history. We learn to think of history as something that has already happened, to other people. Our own moment, filled as it is with minutiae destined to be forgotten, always looks smaller in comparison. As for history, the greater the event, the more mythologized it becomes. Despite our best intentions, the myth becomes a caricature of sorts. Hitler, or Stalin, comes to look like a two-dimensional villain—someone whom contemporaries could not have seen as a human being. The Holocaust, or the Gulag, are such monstrous events that the very idea of rendering them in any sort of gray scale seems monstrous, too. This has the effect of making them, essentially, unimaginable. In crafting the story of something that should never have been allowed to happen, we forge the story of something that couldn’t possibly have happened. Or, to use a phrase only slightly out of context, something that can’t happen here.

A logical fallacy becomes inevitable. If this can’t happen, then the thing that is happening is not it. What we see in real life, or at least on television, can’t possibly be the same monstrous phenomenon that we have collectively decided is unimaginable. I have had many conversations about this in Russia. People who know Vladimir Putin and his inner circle have often told me that they are not the monsters that I and others have described. Yes, they have overseen assassinations, imprisonments, and wars, but they are not thoroughly terrible, my interlocutors have claimed—they are not like Stalin and his henchmen. In other words, they are not the monsters of our collective historical imagination. They are today’s flesh-and-blood monsters, and this makes them seem somehow less monstrous.

Anything that happens here and now is normalized, not solely through the moral failure of contemporaries but simply by virtue of actually existing. Allow me to illustrate. My oldest son, who spent his early childhood in a Russian hospital, was for many years extremely small for his age. I spent useless hours upon hours in my study in Moscow, where we then lived, poring over C.D.C. growth charts. No matter how many times I looked, I couldn’t place him—he was literally off the chart. As far as the C.D.C. was concerned, my son, at his age, height, and weight, was unimaginable. When he was four, I took him to see a pediatrician in Boston. She entered his measurements into her computer, and a red dot appeared on the chart. I felt my body finally relax; my child was no longer impossible! He was on the chart. Then I realized that the pediatrician was working with an interactive chart. (This was in the early aughts, and there weren’t any available to me at home.) She had just put him in the system. His little red dot was still below the lowest, fifth-percentile curve. He was still the smallest child of his age. But a sort of cognitive trick had been performed. My son’s size had been documented, and this made him possible.

Donald Trump has played this trick on Americans many times, beginning with his very election: first, he was impossible, and then he was President. Did that mean that the impossible had happened—an extremely hard concept to absorb—or did it mean that Trump was not the catastrophe so many of us had assumed he would be? A great many Americans chose to think that he had been secretly Presidential all along or was about to become Presidential; they chose to accept that, now that he was elected, his Presidency would become conceivable. The choice between these two positions is at the root of the argument between Ocasio-Cortez and the critics of her concentration-camp comment. It is not an argument about language. Ocasio-Cortez and her opponents agree that the term “concentration camp” refers to something so horrible as to be unimaginable. (For this reason, mounting a defense of Ocasio-Cortez’s position by explaining that not all concentration camps were death camps misses the point.) It is the choice between thinking that whatever is happening in reality is, by definition, acceptable, and thinking that some actual events in our current reality are fundamentally incompatible with our concept of ourselves—not just as Americans but as human beings—and therefore unimaginable. The latter position is

Continue reading.

The US concentration camps are a fact, just as the US concentration camps in WWII for Americans of Japanese descent are a fact. Liz Cheney is an ignorant person who cannot seem to understand what a concentration camp is. The US has them now and the US has had them in the past. But we are living in the now, and we are supporting a government that puts civilians into concentration camps with no trial.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2019 at 2:28 pm

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