Senator Warren Speaks

Selections from her Rolling Stone interview:

Did you grow up listening to country?
Yeah — Hank Williams. I thought everybody listened to Hank Williams. That was the kind of music we were around. That, and rock & roll. Remember, I have three older brothers.

I’ve heard two of them are Republicans.
Uh-huh.

Do you argue about politics?
Well, we have very different views about particular political issues when it comes up. And this has been true for a long, long, long time. When I talk with my brothers, it’s much more about what’s right in the country than what’s wrong in the country. We talk a lot about worry — that young people today have fewer opportunities to succeed than young people had years ago. It’s not true for everyone, but the notion that I could go to a college that cost $50 dollars a semester — that opportunity’s just not out there. That my brothers could go to the military without a college degree, and that was a pathway to a solid middle-class life.

You were a Republican for much of your adult life. Does that give you an advantage to understand conservative voters, to be able to tailor your message—
I would describe it not so much as tailoring as finding the part in the heart where we ultimately, as Americans, agree with each other. Much of the conversation that I now have publicly about corruption — how the rich guys are sucking up all the wealth and leaving everyone else behind — is a long-running conversation I’ve been having with my brothers for decades. They get it. My Democrat brother and my two Republican brothers understand that the rules for billionaires and corporate executives are not the same as the rules for their kids. And they don’t like it. And neither do I.

Your family had financial trouble when you were a kid. Obviously, it’s shaped your political philosophy, but I’m curious how it impacted your personal relationship with money.
I’ve always been afraid there won’t be enough money. Always. I’ve always saved. I’ve always watched the prices of everything. And I’ve always worried about the rest of my family, worried about making sure everyone is OK.

Your dad was the breadwinner before he had a heart attack, and your mom had to go to work to provide for your family. You often describe your mom as encouraging you to get married rather than pursue your education, almost setting you up to end up in the same position she was in.
I think she would have described it as “Be very careful about the man you marry.” That was the pathway to success, not “Go create a path for your own financial independence.” Now, it took a lot of courage for my mother at 50 to take on her first full-time job. But it was never something she was happy about. She didn’t say, “What a great and fulfilling opportunity that was!” She saw it as work born of necessity, because she had to take care of her family and she wanted me to be safe. And to her dying days she still believed that the best way for a woman to be safe was to be married to a man who earned good money.

One of the things that I’m struck by is that, in just the past five years, you went from advocating for incremental changes — I’m thinking of the Buffett Rule, which would have lowered student-loan interest rates, versus the wealth tax, which would wipe out student debt altogether. Did you make a conscious decision to get bolder, or was it a function of the political climate?
I’m actually going to argue with you on the premise of the question. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is big structural change. For a decade, a handful of consumer advocates and researchers had seen what was happening with deceptive mortgages, cheating credit-card companies, and really horrible payday loans. And every one of them had a little piece of the solution. “Let’s change this rule on mortgages. Let’s put in a new protection on credit cards. Let’s do something different about regulating payday loans.” My idea was to build an agency that would fundamentally change the relationship between the government, credit issuers, and tens of millions of customers. The government would act very much like the Consumer Safety Commission and say, in the same way that you can’t sell a toaster that has a one-in-five chance of burning down your house, no one gets to sell a mortgage that has a one-in-five chance of costing a family their home.

Is it hard for you to see what’s happened to the CFPB under [this president]?
No. I mean, look, do I dislike his current director? Yes. Because she [Kathy Kraninger] has made clear she is on the side of the lenders, not the consumers. Mick Mulvaney did everything he could to try to hobble the consumer agency. But here’s the great thing about how that agency worked: When it’s got a good strong director, it’s nimble, and can move forward fast, and that’s exactly what it did in the first five years of its existence. And when it’s got someone who is trying to sabotage its work, it holds steady. It hasn’t gone backwards. The rules haven’t gotten easier. The agency still does its supervisional work, which is way out of the headlines. So I think, if anything, what Mulvaney has shown is you can try really hard to break that agency, but it hasn’t happened.

The slate of plans you’ve proposed would be financed by a wealth tax — an idea that wasn’t in the mainstream before you proposed it. What was the moment that made you decide to target accumulated wealth, and what gave you the confidence Americans were ready for this idea?
The truly wealthy in this country aren’t making their money through working and producing the kind of income that ordinarily gets taxed. Instead, they’ve built great fortunes that now have their own money managers and PR firms to protect those fortunes and make those fortunes grow, and, boy, are they growing — they are growing faster than incomes all around this country.

But what was the moment for you, specifically, when you decided to take this on, when you decided this could catch on in America?
I had a conversation with some tax specialists who showed me how much more money there was tied up in great fortunes than in annual incomes. In other words, they showed how much more money a two-cent wealth tax would raise, even though it’s only on the top one-tenth of one percent.

A wealth tax is a tax on accumulated fortunes, not on [the income of] people that are going out and working every day. It’s time for us to look at those fortunes and think about the kind of country we want to be. Do we think it’s more important to keep [the people who own] those fortunes from paying two cents on the dollar or to have the money to invest in an entire generation?

How would you implement your agenda if the Supreme Court blocks the wealth tax? When you were developing the plan, was that a possibility you discussed?
I went at this the other way: I talked to a lot of the country’s top constitutional scholars, and they were confident that the wealth tax fits within Supreme Court precedents and that, if someone raised an objection, [the tax] could be drafted in a way to meet any challenge.

You’ve described yourself as a capitalist at heart — you believe in markets. But you’ve got a plan that would end the market in health insurance, and to a certain extent, student loans. Was your faith in capitalism shaken by the outcomes those markets produced?
I have always understood that some markets just don’t work. We invest in public education because a market for first grade will not get our children educated. We invest in roads and bridges because a market for infrastructure won’t open up the opportunities we need to make this economy grow. So I believe in markets, but there are two important limits. One is, there are some areas that are not market-driven, and health care is one of them. Second, markets without rules are theft. So even in places where markets can work, the government has a role to play in making sure that the rules create a level playing field and that those rules are consistently enforced.

President Obama said recently that Democrats’ plans need to be “rooted in reality.” Do you think that’s a fundamental misreading of this political moment?
I think of the fight I’m waging as very much rooted in reality — the reality that someone crushed by student-loan debt can’t buy a home, or start a small business, or make much traction of any kind in building some financial security. People with young children, or who are considering having babies, are caught right now in a reality that child care is wildly expensive, and often not even available at any price. A plan for universal child care is rooted in their reality.

One of your earliest forays into politics was battling Joe Biden in the Nineties over bankruptcy reform. There was a big difference back then in your two worldviews. Do you have those same differences today?
Our differences are a matter of public record, and I haven’t changed any of my views. The fundamental problem I see in Washington today is the influence of money. The giant corporations who can spread it around, the billionaires who can buy influence, the lobbyists who are there every day to advance the views of those who pay them well to attend every meeting. It’s why my campaign starts around this question of how power is distributed. Our government works great for those with lots of money and not so much for anyone else. And that’s been a problem for a long, long time.

Did you get the sense that he ever grasped your criticism of the bankruptcy bill?
I don’t want to go back and relitigate 15 years ago.

I’m curious whether you think more Americans are in debt today because of that bill that Biden championed.
Let me say it the other way: A lot fewer people can get the help they need today because of the change in the laws. That’s what the research I did with my co-authors [showed]. There’s been so much work on this, too, about families caught in financial hell who can’t get any help because the bankruptcy laws were tightened to the point of suffocation back in 2005.

A year out from the election, head-to-head polling shows Biden beating [the president] in some battleground states, and you losing to him. More than 40 percent of those who said they would support Biden but not you also said women who run for president “aren’t very likable.” What do you even do with that information?
I think about the last three years, and the role that women have played in politics. Plain old electoral politics. Look, I went to [his] swearing in. I thought it was important. I know others decided not to. I come from a witnessing tradition: I wanted to see it with my own eyes. I wore my Planned Parenthood scarf wrapped around my neck to keep me warm, and watched as he was sworn in. I remember flying back to Massachusetts that night and thinking, “They could take away health care from tens of millions of people by next Friday.” The Republicans controlled the House, the Senate, and the White House. What have we got left? What are we going to do? And, chewing on that as I went to bed that night, got up early the next morning, and then went to the Women’s March and saw exactly what we could do. We could come together, and we could raise our voices, and we could make change. I spoke at the Women’s March on Boston Common and I realized: This is how we’re gonna do it.

It’s women who have been in the fight for a long time, but it’s also women who are coming into the fight for the first time. And friends of women: men who were completely taken aback by what had happened in 2016. Do you remember the coverage on this? You have to really kind of go back and remind yourself. [After] the Women’s March, everyone says, “Well, yeah, but will they still be here in a month?” And the answer was: Yeah! Now there are more women who are in this, and more people who are turning it into action, not just a protest. You’re seeing all over the internet: You don’t like what’s happening? Get out there and run for office! If you don’t wanna run, find someone who does wanna run and go help ’em. Go volunteer! Go knock on doors. Be a campaign manager. And that’s what happened. And then we had the wins in Virginia in 2017, and rolled into 2018. Women have changed the political landscape. In Nevada, to see a women-majority state Legislature. And women responsible for the election of other women and of good, strong, progressive men. Sure enough, one of the first things that happens in the Nevada Legislature is gun-violence legislation passes. Real change. The wave of 2018 is about a changing democratic landscape. 2019 has given us the first stirrings of that. So the battle now becomes: Is America a democracy that is going to be run by the billionaires and the people who suck up to the billionaires, or are we going to be a democracy built on a grassroots movement, on people who engage and say my personal life is at stake here?

But is there anything you can do to address that underlying dynamic?
I do it every day. I go out and meet people every single day, and shake hands, and talk to people about the things that touch their lives. [I’ve met] more than one couple in the selfie line, where she says, “I dragged him here,” and then he says, “But I’m all in now.” I’ll take that.

There is a perception that you made a tactical error on Medicare for All — that this wasn’t your signature issue, but you were under pressure to provide details on how you would pay for it. Do you think you made a mistake?
I’ve spent most of my adult life working on the question of why people go broke. Health care, housing, child care, and sending a kid off to school have created huge pressures on middle-class families. Combine that with largely flat incomes, and it’s pretty easy to see how tens of millions of people across this country are deep in debt and living just one financial bump away from collapse. It’s important to me to talk about all of those issues, and that’s what I’ve done. Not just since I’ve started running for president, but throughout my career. One of the exciting parts of running for president is I get to talk about not just what’s broken, but what we could do to fix it.

What do you think is the single biggest challenge facing the country right now?
That our government works better and better and better for a smaller and smaller group at the top and is leaving everyone else behind. That is shrinking opportunity for tens of millions of people and ultimately undermines our democracy and our entire future.

If you could implement only one of your plans, which one would it be?
It’d be anti-corruption, because then everything else would change.

Is there a specific piece—
All of them, because that’s the thing with corruption: Money doesn’t make itself felt in Washington in just one way. It’s in hundreds of ways, and thousands of ways. It’s the obvious — around lobbying and the revolving door with Wall Street and with the defense industry — but it is also in very subtle ways. The United States Supreme Court has no rules of ethics, so justices can take freebie vacations with groups that will repeatedly appear in front of those same justices to argue cases. That is thinly disguised influence-peddling. Think of it like water that’s flowing everywhere. It’s not like you can say, “Oh, there’s one, and if you stop it here you’ll stop the whole thing.”

What do you think it’s going to take to break down the cynicism and loyalty that Republican elected officials, and also Republican voters, have for [the president]?
I think that it’s going to happen in pieces. It will start right now in the run-up to the 2020 election. It’s important to reframe the conversation away from [him]. [He] wants everything to be about him. The 2020 election is partly about [the president], but only partly. It’s about things that have been broken in this country for decades. [He] is just the latest and most aggressive symptom. It’s about talking about what’s broken and showing the people we can fix it. It’s about optimism that the vote counts. That we can make something happen.

And then the second part is to start delivering on that promise. And when we do, that’s when the world really starts to change. When I get to sign the bill that cancels student-loan debt for 43 million Americans, the whole world takes a click in a different direction. Millions of young people, Democrats and Republicans, who have only seen the government as on the other side — as a debt collector — suddenly it’s a government that’s on their side. I think the student-loan debt forgiveness will be a pivotal moment in reframing the tension in this country away from the tired old left-right, and toward the fundamental question of who this democracy works for.

I’ve read that you get dressed in four minutes. Are there other things you do to cut down on decision fatigue?
I wear my hair the same way all the time. I buy the same kind of shoes, I buy the same pants, and the same tops, a narrow range of sweaters, and a narrow range of jackets.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
Ask yourself what’s the worst that could happen, and if nobody will get physically injured, then give it a try.

What’s one piece of financial advice that you think everyone should know?
Debt is really dangerous — far more dangerous than you think.

Is there anything you wish more people understood about you?
That everything I do — good, bad, and indifferent — comes from the fact that I care. All of it.

Last question: You named your golden retriever after George Bailey, Jimmy Stewart’s character in It’s a Wonderful Life. So I have to ask: Bailey’s Building and Loan, good bank or bad bank?
Good bank. I haven’t watched the movie in years—

I think there are those who would argue it’s a subprime mortgage lender
Actually, I disagree with that. He wasn’t trying to extract value out of those folks. He just used a different method for determining who was creditworthy. In fact, I’m surprised that you asked that question. He didn’t try to do accelerated mortgages that were going to cost people their homes or suck thousands of dollars of value out of every transaction. They were trying to help people build some wealth! It’s why we named our dog Bailey. And Bailey is a very good boy.

R1335_FEA_WARREN_Cchild

If You Want To Feel Even Worse About the 2016 Election

Or imagine how good it will be to get rid of this president, you can watch Howard Stern’s long interview with Hillary Clinton. He’s a very big fan of hers, so he gushes a lot, but as human beings or leaders go, she beats the Toddler hands down.

For the most important part of the interview, go to the brief Russian Meddling & 2020 Election section in part 4 further down the page.

This is part 1.

Part 2

0:00 – Therapy & Religion

4:24 – Family & Upbringing

15:39 – College Years & Obama

20:35 – Meeting Bill Clinton

Part 3

0:00 – Favorite President

5:08 – Falling in Love 

12:55 – Investigating Nixon & Meeting MLK

18:32 – Becoming First Lady & Public Scrutiny

Part 4

0:00 – Life in the Public Eye

9:33 – Economy & Bin Laden Raid

18:31Russian Meddling & 2020 Election

Part 5

0:00 – “The Book of Gutsy Women”

12:17 – Nelson Mandela

21:01 – The Beatles & the Rolling Stones

Sacha Baron Cohen on the Greatest Propaganda Machines in History

The comedian spoke out this week. The problem he discusses may be insurmountable, given that anyone with an internet connection has the technological ability to communicate with everyone else who has one. Nevertheless, it’s encouraging that more people are demanding reasonable limits on the power of these gargantuan, unregulated companies.

The Guardian has a full transcript.

 

The Professor Got Educated

I wish every voter in the country would read this article. Okay, relatively few will, but I’m convinced she’ll be our next president anyway. From “The Education of Elizabeth Warren” in the New York Times, here’s a much shorter version:

By 1981, Ms. Warren and her husband had secured temporary teaching posts at the University of Texas, where she agreed to teach bankruptcy law. She quickly earned a reputation for lively lectures, putting students on the spot and peppering them with questions and follow-up questions…

Even visitors to her class got the treatment. One of them was Stefan A. Riesenfeld, a renowned bankruptcy professor who had come to lecture on the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978. The law, which had expanded bankruptcy protection for consumers, was already under attack by the credit industry, which argued that it made personal bankruptcy too attractive.

Even so, Mr. Riesenfeld explained to Ms. Warren’s class, those who filed personal bankruptcy were “mostly day laborers and housemaids who had lived at the economic margins and always would,” she wrote in her 2014 memoir.

“I asked the obvious follow-up question: ‘How did he know?’” Ms. Warren wrote. After more questioning, it became clear that not only did Mr. Riesenfeld have no real answer, he was irritated by Ms. Warren’s probing.

The subject struck close to home. When she was growing up in Oklahoma, her father’s heart attack had thrown their household into precarious financial territory, forcing her mother to take a minimum-wage job answering telephones at Sears.

She remembers being fearful as she lay in bed at night listening to her mother cry. “She thought I had gone to sleep. I didn’t know for sure the details of why she was crying, but I knew it was bad and that we could lose everything,” Ms. Warren said.

(Later, the oil glut of the 1980s would destroy her brother David’s once-thriving business delivering supplies to oil rigs. Her brother John, a construction worker, would also struggle after the oil market collapsed….)

She wanted answers, more than Professor Riesenfeld could provide….

Dozens of people would eventually be involved in the … analysis of a quarter million pieces of data gathered from bankruptcy cases filed from 1981 through 1985.

Among the researchers was Kimberly S. Winick, then a University of Texas law student … While Ms. Warren didn’t talk a lot about her views, Ms. Winick said she believed that the project’s initial theory was that, “If you filed bankruptcy, you must be cheating.”

“Liz was from a more conservative place,” Ms. Winick said. “And she was somebody who had worked very, very, very hard all her life. And she had never walked away from a debt. And I think she kind of started with the view — let’s see what people are doing and how they’re cadging on their debts and screwing their creditors.”

That was the conventional thinking of the day….

While the [bankruptcy files] did not tell the whole story, they provided enough evidence for Mr. Warren and her co-authors to write, “Repeatedly, we have been surprised by the data and forced to rethink our own understanding of bankruptcy”.

… Over the years, the research elevated Ms. Warren’s status, from little-known Texas professor to sought-after lecturer, writer and consultant in bankruptcy law. It also set the stage for her career in politics.

In 1995, Mike Synar, a former Democratic congressman from her home state, asked Ms. Warren, by then a Harvard professor, to advise a special commission reviewing the bankruptcy system….

It was during that period, in 1996, that she switched her party affiliation from Republican to Democrat, though she insists that her essential conversion was from “not political” to “political”.

“I didn’t come from a political family,” she said. “I hadn’t been political as an adult. I was raising a family, teaching school and doing my research,” she said.

Then she went to Capitol Hill.

“I quickly discovered that every single Republican was on the side of the banks and half the Democrats were,” she said. “But whenever there was someone who would stand up for working families, it was a Democrat.”

She added, “I picked sides, got in the fight, and I’ve been in the fight ever since”.

merlin_159494604_bb8319a0-292c-4940-9d65-d3e2c6834404-jumboUniversity of Texas, 1985.

An appropriate addendum.

Eviction vs. Conviction

We hear a lot about criminal justice in America and how it adversely affects the lives of black men in particular. A similar story should be told about housing in America and how it adversely affects the lives of black women. Lots of black men get convicted. Lots of black women get evicted.

Katha Pollitt’s 2016 review of “Evicted”, by Matthew Desmond, in The Guardian:

What if the dominant discourse on poverty is just wrong? What if the problem isn’t that poor people have bad morals – that they’re lazy and impulsive and irresponsible and have no family values – or that they lack the skills and smarts to fit in with our shiny 21st-century economy? What if the problem is that poverty is profitable? These are the questions at the heart of Evicted, Matthew Desmond’s extraordinary ethnographic study of tenants in low-income housing in the deindustrialised middle-sized city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

You might not think that there is a lot of money to be extracted from a dilapidated trailer park or a black neighbourhood of “sagging duplexes, fading murals, 24-hour daycares”. But you would be wrong. Tobin Charney makes $400,000 a year out of his 131 trailers, some of which are little better than hovels. Sherrena Tarver, a former schoolteacher who is one of the only black female landlords in the city, makes enough in rents on her numerous properties – some presentable, others squalid – to holiday in Jamaica and attend conferences on real estate.

Desmond follows the intertwined fortunes of eight families and a host of minor characters. Arleen Belle and Doreen Hinkston are black mothers clinging to the edge of low-wage employment; Crystal and Trisha are fragile young black women whose upbringing was violent and chaotic; Lamar is a genial black father of two who lost both his legs to frostbite when he passed out on crack in an abandoned house; Scott is a white male nurse who lost his licence when he stole opioids from his patients; Larraine, also white, is a slightly brain-damaged sweet soul. It is sometimes a little hard to keep up with the storylines as they weave in and out of the text, but no matter. What is important is that Desmond takes people who are usually seen as worthless – there is even a trailer-dweller nicknamed Heroin Susie – and shows us their full humanity, how hard they struggle to retain their dignity, humour and kindness in conditions that continually drag them down.

The main condition holding them back, Desmond argues, is rent. The standard measure is that your rent should be no more than 30% of your income, but for poor people it can be 70% or more. After he paid Sherrena his $550 rent out of his welfare cheque, Lamar had only $2.19 a day for the month. When he is forced to repay a welfare cheque he has been sent in error and falls behind on rent, he sells his food stamps for half their face value and volunteers to paint an upstairs apartment, but it is not enough. People such as Lamar live in chronic debt to their landlord, who can therefore oust them easily whenever it is convenient – if they demand repairs, for example, like Doreen, or if a better tenant comes along. Sherrena liked renting to the clients of a for-profit agency that handles – for a fee – the finances of people on disability payments who can’t manage on their own. Money from government programmes intended to help the poor – welfare, disability benefits, the earned-income tax credit – go straight into the landlord’s pocket and, ironically, fuel rising housing costs. Public housing and housing vouchers are scarce. Three in four who qualify for housing assistance get nothing.

Even in the Great Depression, evictions used to be rare. Now, each year, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of renters are put out on the street. Even a paid-up tenant can be easily evicted. Arleen loses one apartment when her son Jori throws a snowball at a passing car and the enraged driver kicks in the front door, and another when the police come after Jori when he kicks a teacher and runs home. Any kind of trouble that brings the police can lead to eviction, which means women can lose their homes if they call 911 when their man beats them up. Think about that the next time someone asks why women don’t call the cops on violent partners.

As Desmond shows, the main victims of eviction are women. Why? They are paid less than men for doing the same job. They are less able to make deals with their landlord, who is almost always a man, to work off part of their rent with manual labour. The main reason, though, is that women are raising children as single mothers. They not only have all the costs and burdens of childrearing, they need bigger apartments – which, since landlords dislike renting to families with young children, are harder to find and a lot harder to keep. Other sociologists – Kathryn Edin, for example – have found that single mothers often get help under the table from their children’s fathers, but Arleen, Doreen and Doreen’s adult daughter Patrice get mostly trouble from men, who are variously abusive, addicted, vanished or in prison. In one of the book’s many small sad moments, Arleen claims she receives child support in order to seem more stable and respectable to a prospective landlord. In fact, she gets nothing.

Desmond lays out the crucial role housing plays in creating and reinforcing white privilege. In Milwaukee, one of the most segregated cities in the US, all black people suffer from housing discrimination and all white people benefit at least a little from the racial dividend – a landlord who will rent to them but not to black people, for instance, or offer them a nicer apartment. Black people have the worst housing in the worst neighbourhoods – the great fear of the trailer-park people, who are all white, is that they will end up on the black side of town. Eviction hits black women hardest of all, and the bleak benches of housing courts, which deal with disputes between landlords and tenants, are full of black women and their children: “If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighbourhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out.”

An evicted woman watches as a removal company moves her property out of her rented apartment on to the pavement.
An evicted woman watches as employees of a storage company remove her belongings to place them on the pavement in front of her rented apartment. Photograph: Sally Ryan/Zuma Press/Corbis

What are the social costs of eviction? It puts incredible stress on families. It prevents people from saving the comparatively small sums that would let them stabilise their situation. They are always starting over from scratch, losing their possessions in the chaos of removal, or putting them in storage and losing them when they can’t pay the fees. An eviction on your record makes the next apartment harder to get. Eviction damages children, who are always changing schools, giving up friends and toys and pets – and living with the exhaustion and depression of their parents. We watch Jori go from a sweet, protective older brother to an angry, sullen boy subject to violent outbursts who is falling way behind in school.

Eviction makes it hard to keep up with the many appointments required by the courts and the byzantine welfare system: several characters have their benefits cut because notices are sent to the wrong address. Eviction destroys communities: when people move frequently, they don’t form the social bonds and pride in place that encourage them to care for their block and look out for their neighbours. “With Doreen’s eviction, Thirty-Second Street lost a steadying presence – someone who loved and invested in the neighbourhood, who contributed to making the block safer – but Wright Street didn’t gain one.”

“There is an enormous amount of pain and poverty in this rich land,” Desmond writes in his conclusion. That is easy to say, and many books by journalists and academics have done so. By examining one city through the microscopic lens of housing, however, he shows us how the system that produces that pain and poverty was created and is maintained. I can’t remember when an ethnographic study so deepened my understanding of American life.to all and safeguarding our independence.

Our Concentration Camps

I’ve found it very difficult to read about the way our government is treating refugees and children at the border. Without going into details, The Salt Lake Tribune, a newspaper in Utah, one of America’s most conservative states, describes the situation in an editorial entitled “Yes, We Do Have Concentration Camps”: 

Yes, we do have concentration camps.

They are not work camps. They are not death camps. At least, not on purpose. Our government is not building massive gas chambers and industrial crematoria. It is not conducting sick medical experiments on members of an unfavored class.

But that does not mean that the places into which we are herding tens of thousands of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers are not properly called concentration camps. Because that is precisely what they are.

When some in the public eye dare to tell that truth, as the media-savvy Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did the other day, enablers of the administration’s cruel policies cry foul. They say that using correct terms such as “concentration camps” — or, worse, invoking the term “Never again” — unfairly equates what is going on now at our southern border with the Nazis’ “Final Solution” — the deliberate murder of millions of people.

It is true that we are not doing that. We are doing this. The two are not morally equivalent. And we probably don’t have reason to fear that this is necessarily going to become that.

But, then, we never do.

Because that starts as this. Some of the people who study, and some of the people who survived or are descended from survivors of the Holocaust, are pointing out that that crime against humanity did not arrive overnight.

It worked its way up, from nasty political speeches (check) to politicians seeking and gaining power with promises to protect the purity of the nation from foreign invasion (check) to denying basic human rights and decency to people of an unfavored class (check).

The same warning is being raised by past residents of the internment camps — concentration camps — in which we confined Americans of Japanese origin or descent during the dark days of World War II.

The places where these tempest-tossed humans are being held are kept deliberately uncomfortable and largely out of view of the public, the press, members of Congress and even the courts. The whole point is to keep them beyond the reach of the rights and protections that, by our Constitution and international treaties, are afforded to all persons, not just citizens.

The people being held there are cold, hungry, dirty and often sick. Children are separated from parents. Children are caring for children. Medical care is not to be found. A few — not millions, but a few — have died.

The administration [in the person of a Department of Justice lawyer] actually told the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals the other day that it is under no obligation to provide refugee children with soap, toothbrushes or anywhere to sleep but cold cement floors in overcrowded cages. They’ve already cut off funding for education, counseling and recreation.

The argument that our government’s failings don’t matter because the migrants have broken the law is legally and morally bankrupt.

People have a moral right to seek a better life, and a legal right to seek asylum. If our border and immigration system isn’t up to the task, that’s not their fault, it is ours.

Federal officials, from the White House on down, work for us, spend our money, act in our name. We hold them to account, not the huddled masses. Complaining that we shouldn’t have to deal with this crisis is like carping that forests shouldn’t burn and rivers shouldn’t rise.

And what are the elected officials from Utah — home of a global church, the welcoming Utah Compact and a population generally decent when it comes to refugees — doing?

Well, Sen. Mitt Romney has a bill to boost the use of the E-Verify system that is supposed to tell employers if job applicants are legally allowed to work in the U.S. Not a bad idea, probably, but kind of like bringing a roll of paper towels to a hurricane.

Good, caring, moral Utahans, and their elected representatives, should be shouting bloody murder over this extended and deliberate abuse of human rights…

Our nation is operating concentration camps for refugee children. We need to stop denying that and decide if we are comfortable with that fact. And how we will explain it to our children.

The president and his administration have committed so many outrages that it is difficult to keep up. The barrage of corruption and cruelty can make decent people numb. When challenged on this atrocity, the president denies there’s a problem or blames the Democrats. When questioned, members of his cult blame the children’s parents. Democrats in the House of Representatives have passed legislation to fix the problem. Republicans in the Senate have refused to consider it. Last week, lawyers and a physician visited two of the camps in Texas and made news when the doctor compared them to “torture facilities”. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez made news when she called them “concentration camps”.

Maybe more Americans are now paying attention. Maybe that attention will be translated into meaningful action (including impeachment — how many grounds do we need?).

Charles Blow of The New York Times wrote his own piece this weekend under the title  “Trump’s Concentration Camps”:

Folks, we can use any form of fuzzy language we want, but the United States under Donald Trump is currently engaged in an unconscionable act. He promised to crack down on immigrants and yet under him immigrants seeking asylum have surged. And he is meeting the surge with indescribable cruelty. Donald Trump is running concentration camps at the border. The question remains: what are we going to do about it?

Of course, they’re not just Trump’s concentration camps. As the Salt Lake City editorial says, they’re ours now too. Is there any doubt that we need to act in order to shut them down?

Memorial Days

Today is Memorial Day in the United States. It’s one of three holidays we have for the military. Memorial Day honors those who died while serving in the armed forces. Veterans Day celebrates everyone who has served, including those serving now. Armed Forces Day, which hardly anyone knows about, only honors those currently serving. 

Two songs from an earlier time: 

More recently, the Vice President addressed the graduating class at West Point, the U.S. Military Academy:

It is a virtual certainty that you will fight on a battlefield for America at some point in your life.  You will lead soldiers in combat.  It will happen.

Some of you will join the fight against radical Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Some of you will join the fight on the Korean Peninsula and in the Indo-Pacific, where North Korea continues to threaten the peace, and an increasingly militarized China challenges our presence in the region. Some of you will join the fight in Europe, where an aggressive Russia seeks to redraw international boundaries by force. And some of you may even be called upon to serve in this hemisphere.

Somehow, he left out Africa, where we already have troops in combat, the polar regions and the Moon, but give them time. There’s no chance we’ll run out of men and women to honor on future Memorial Days.