A Last Chance for Resistance

Posted on Mar 19, 2017

By Chris Hedges

  President Trump exits Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base on Sunday, following a weekend trip to Florida. (Jose Luis Magana / AP)

The crawl toward despotism within a failed democracy is always incremental. No regime planning to utterly extinguish civil liberties advertises its intentions in advance. It pays lip service to liberty and justice while obliterating the institutions and laws that make them possible. Its opponents, including those within the establishment, make sporadic attempts to resist, but week by week, month by month, the despot and his reactionary allies methodically consolidate power. Those inside the machinery of government and the courts who assert the rule of law are purged. Critics, including the press, are attacked, ridiculed and silenced. The state is reconfigured until the edifice of tyranny is unassailable.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn in “The Gulag Archipelago” noted that the consolidation of Soviet tyranny “was stretched out over many years because it was of primary importance that it be stealthy and unnoticed.” He called the process “a grandiose silent game of solitaire, whose rules were totally incomprehensible to its contemporaries, and whose outlines we can appreciate only now.”

Czeslaw Milosz in “The Captive Mind” also chronicles the incremental expansion of tyranny, noting that it steadily progresses until intellectuals are not only forced to repeat the regime’s self-praising slogans but to advance its absurdist dogmas. Few ever see the tyranny coming. Those who do and speak out are treated by the authorities, and often the wider society, as alarmists or traitors.

The current administration’s budget proposes to give the war industry, the domestic policing agencies, the fossil fuel industry, Wall Street, billionaires and the national security and surveillance agencies more than they could have imagined possible before the election. These forces, as in all fascist states, will be the pillars of the Trump regime. They will tolerate Donald Trump’s idiocy, ineptitude and unbridled narcissism in exchange for increased profits and power. Despots are often buffoons. Appealing to their vanity and ego is an effective form of manipulation. Skilled sycophants can play despots like musical instruments for personal advancement.

Trump, like all despots, has no real ideology. His crusade against Wall Street, including Goldman Sachs, and the billionaire class during the presidential election campaign vanished the moment he took office. He has appointed five former Goldman Sachs employees to high posts in his administration. His budget will bleed the poor, the working class and the middle class and swell the bank accounts of the oligarchs. He is calling for abolishing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts and the cutting of programs that provide legal service to low-income people and grants to libraries and museums. If Trump’s budget is approved by Congress, there will not even be a pretense of civil society. Trump and his family will profit from his presidency. Corporations will profit from his presidency. Wall Street will profit from his presidency. And the people will be made to pay.

Despots demand absolute loyalty. This is why they place family members in the inner circles. The Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, whose vanity rivaled that of Trump, and Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein filled their governments with their children, siblings, nephews, nieces and in-laws and rounded out their inner courts with racists, opportunists and thugs of the kind that now populate the White House.

“President Trump’s point man on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is a longtime Trump Organization lawyer with no government or diplomatic experience,” reads the opening paragraph of a New York Times article headlined “Prerequisite for Key White House Posts: Loyalty, Not Experience.” “His liaison to African-American leaders is a former reality-TV villain with a penchant for résumé inflation. And his Oval Office gatekeeper is a bullet-headed former New York City cop best known for smacking a protester on the head.”

Despots distrust diplomats. Diplomats, often multilingual and conversant with other cultures and societies, deal in nuances and ambiguities that are beyond the grasp of the despot. Diplomats understand that other nations have legitimate national interests that inevitably clash with the interests of one’s own country. They do not embrace force as the primary language of communication. They are trained to carry out negotiations, even with the enemy, and engage in compromise. Despots, however, live in a binary universe of their own creation. They rapidly dismantle the diplomatic corps when they take power for the same reason they attack intellectuals and artists.

Trump’s proposed cut of nearly 29 percent to the State Department’s budget, potentially eliminating thousands of jobs, is part of the shift away from diplomacy to an exclusive reliance on violence or the threat of violence. The militarization of the diplomatic corps, with the Central Intelligence Agency and military intelligence operatives often taking over embassies, especially in conflict zones, began long before Trump took office. But Trump will deal the coup de grâce to the diplomatic corps. Despots replace diplomats with sycophants with no diplomatic experience, such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who promise to impose the despot’s will on the rest of the world.

The dismantling of a diplomatic corps has dangerous consequences. It leaves a country blind and prone to wars and conflicts that could be avoided. Leon Trotsky called Josef Stalin’s foreign minister, Vyacheslav Molotov, who negotiated the disastrous 1939 Nazi-Soviet nonaggression pact that left the Soviet Union unprepared for German invasion, “mediocrity personified.” The other signatory of the pact, Joachim von Ribbentrop, was a former champagne salesman. Ribbentrop, as Molotov did with Stalin, parroted back to Adolf Hitler the leader’s conspiratorial worldview. Ribbentrop, again like Molotov with Stalin, knew that Hitler always favored the most extreme option. Molotov and Ribbentrop unfailingly advocated radical and violent solutions to any problem, endearing themselves to their bosses as men of unflinching resolve. This is what makes Steve Bannon so appealing to Trump—he will always call for Armageddon.

There are three institutions tasked in a functioning democracy with protecting the truth and keeping national discourse rooted in verifiable fact—the courts, the press and universities. Despots must control these three to prevent them from exposing their lies and restricting their power. Trump has not only attacked the courts but has also begun purges of the judiciary with his mass firing of U.S. attorneys. The Trump White House plans to fill 124 judgeships—including 19 vacancies on federal appeals courts—with corporatist lawyers such as Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch who are endorsed by the reactionary Federalist Society. By the time Trump’s four-year term is up, Federalist Society judges could be in as many as half of the country’s appellate seats.

Trump has continued to attempt to discredit the press. During his rally in Nashville, Tenn., on Wednesday, he told the crowd, “Some of the fake news said I don’t think Donald Trump wants to build the wall. Can you imagine if I said we’re not going to build a wall? Fake news. Fake, fake news. Fake news, folks. A lot of fake.” He went on to say in an apparent reference to the reporters covering the rally, “They’re bad people.”

The attacks on universities, which will be accelerated, are on display in the budget proposal. The Department of Health and Human Services, the National Science Foundation, NASA, the Department of Education, the Commerce Department, the National Institutes of Health, the Energy Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs all give grants and research money to universities. Colorado State University, for example, gets about 70 percent, or $232 million, of its research budget from federal sources. In February, Trump suggested he might attempt to cut federal funding for universities such as UC Berkeley. His comment was made after a riot at the California school forced the cancellation of a speech there by the far-right ideologue Milo Yiannopoulos, who has called Trump “Daddy.” A university will of course be able to get corporate funding for research if it casts doubt on the importance of climate change or does research that can be used to swell corporate profits or promote other business interests. Scientific study into our ecocide and the dangers from chemicals, toxins and pollutants released by corporations into the atmosphere will be thwarted. And the withering of humanities programs, already suffering in many universities, will worsen.

It will be increasingly difficult to carry out mass protests and civil disobedience. Repression will become steadily more overt and severe. Dissent will be equated with terrorism. We must use the space before it is shut. This is a race against time. The forces of despotism seek to keep us complacent and pacified with the false hope that mechanisms within the system will moderate Trump or remove him through impeachment, or that the looming tyranny will never be actualized. There is an emotional incapacity among any population being herded toward despotism or war to grasp what is happening. The victims cannot believe that the descent into barbarity is real, that the relative security and sanity of the past are about to be obliterated. They fail to see that once rights become privileges, once any segment of a society is excluded from the law, rights can instantly be revoked for everyone.

There is a hierarchy to oppression. It begins with the most vulnerable—undocumented workers, Muslims, poor people of color. It works upward. It is a long row of candles that one by one are extinguished. If we wait to resist, as the poet C.P. Cavafy wrote, the “dark line gets longer” and “the snuffed-out candles proliferate.”

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/a_last_chance_for_resistance_20170319

Open borders are the only way to defeat Trump and build a better world

Everyone’s wrong on immigration:

This entire debate is built on cruel and false assumptions. Here’s the truth: Immigrants’ rights are human rights

Everyone's wrong on immigration: Open borders are the only way to defeat Trump and build a better world
(Credit: Getty/John Moore)

There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, who worked even longer, even harder, for less, but they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.
— Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, March 6, 2017

The immigration debate has become mired in myths, falsehoods and half-truths, with little clarity among liberals or conservatives alike. Conservatives think there’s nothing wrong with Trump defending America to keep “the bad ones” out because, after all, every sovereign nation should have that right. Liberals concede the point, but modify it a bit by claiming exception for the “good ones,” such as the Dreamers (those who were “brought” here at a young age “due to no fault of their own”). Immigrants’ rights advocates seek an elusive middle ground, even as the terrain of immigration has shifted from morality or economics or even national identity to the spectacle of crime and punishment.

Most Americans who have no direct experience with the immigration system are easily misled by xenophobic claims that often sound commonsensical, such as the (false) notion that immigrants drive down wages and make those who are native-born lose their jobs. They may not want to go to the extreme of taking up arms to defend the nation — as do the Minutemen on the southwestern border — but they passively accept the myths. What many don’t realize is that each time a right is taken away from immigrants, with implied consent, it eventually affects citizens’ rights, too. To remain distant from the issue is no longer an option for any of us. Secretary Ben Carson’s comment above had less to do with our past history with slavery than our future ideal for immigrants.

We want to shut ourselves up behind a wall — paid for by Mexico, of course — as we turn citizenship into a privilege derived from exaggerated notions of loyalty. Such self-disciplining consciousness is the other side of the overt criminalization of immigrants. American citizenship has become the sole passage to a utopia of freedom by way of crushing the undeserving other, the poor immigrant.

What is going on? Why has the country turned so anti-immigrant (despite hollow claims from politicians that we remain “a nation of immigrants”)? Did 9/11 cause this? Is it because of President Donald Trump? Or is there something predating terrorism or the authoritarian upsurge? Is changing sentiment toward immigrants rooted in rational anxieties, such as concern about jobs? Or does it represent a free-floating, pessimistic discourse that is as much a part of our self-construction as the optimism we’re more used to hearing?

Here are some of our most damaging misunderstandings in this defining area of national policy:

1. There is no line to get into.

Americans seem to think that if you are a capable person somewhere in the world, you just need to get in line, and if everything checks out, you’re in. Or if you have relatives who have spent their life in America and you want to join them, you’d join the line. The idea that people should “get in the back of the line,” a mantra we hear every time the topic of so-called comprehensive immigration reform comes up, doubles down on the nonsense.

There is no line. There is only a nightmarish engagement with an immigration bureaucracy for those lucky enough to deal with it.

Perhaps there is a theoretical line. If you are a sibling of a Filipino citizen, you may wait up to 20 years to get in — if your family member will take full financial responsibility, at the risk of being pursued in court if an emergency compels you to seek public assistance. If you are a high-skilled immigrant in demand by Silicon Valley, you may seek an H-1B visa. But you must be the type of person who fits corporate America’s vision of a good citizen in every aspect of your life. Immigrants with technical skills arrive on a presumed pathway to citizenship, even if theoretically they are temporary immigrants.

What if you are a bright young person with a visitor visa but want to study and live in the United States? Adjusting your status may not be easy, and if you run afoul of any technicalities, you’re out of luck and “illegal.”

What if your visa has lapsed, yet you found the resources to establish a life here, marrying a citizen and having children? Can you correct your status? You’d have to prove hardship of a kind that would satisfy the immigration bureaucracy, a fantasy of torture and devastation for yourself and your family, rather than any realistic definition of hardship.

The line is a fantasy. Those whom corporate America desires go straight to the front anyway, their papers awaiting them and their families. For those who have ever struggled in life, who may be from poor backgrounds but want to better themselves through education and civic participation, the options are limited.

Many of us know someone who may be an outstanding citizen in every respect, even a prominent member of the community, except for the lack of technical legality. They may even have the money to pursue a legal avenue. Have we ever considered why these people choose to remain “illegal”? If there were a line for accomplished immigrants who desired to fix their status, wouldn’t they join in?

Shouldn’t the immigrant, without having to be tied to an absurd mythology of hardship, be able to fulfill the desire to stay, based on equities built up that would be lost with the finality of deportation? Isn’t that what most people imagine when they say those who want to stay should “get right with the law,” that they should pay the fines and “get their citizenship”? Our immigration practices have become so distorted that such possibilities do not really exist.

2. The distinction between legal and illegal is meaningless.

Both restrictionists and reformists love to say, “I’m for legal immigration but against illegal immigration.” The current regime’s most prominent nativists love to make this claim, even as their intent is to end legal immigration, just as we did, more or less, during the 1920s.

Yet a more absurd proposition is difficult to imagine, given a government that encourages underground migration and suppresses official migration with every resource at its disposal. An immigrant is always in a tenuous situation — as our predecessors knew well before we formalized whom we wanted and whom we didn’t — as he or she moves from temporary to permanent, denizen to resident, illegal to legal, or in the reverse direction, with ambiguity clouding the definition at any given time.

Before neoliberalism reshaped immigration policies in the 1990s, professional workers used to be in an extended limbo because their status, once they were sponsored by an employee, wasn’t exactly clear. They were not supposed to be here, but they were and already working for their sponsor, based on the probability that their labor certification would be approved. We never had a problem with “illegality” in the case of professionals, though we have cleared things up in their favor quite a bit since then.

On the other hand, what is your status if you applied as a refugee from, say, Central America 20 or 30 years ago? Your application was provisionally approved, but has fallen into limbo; a deportation order has not been issued, but your status has lapsed. We wanted you when there was a “Soviet-sponsored” Marxist insurgency that we were fighting, but we don’t care about you when we’ve decided to leave homegrown turmoil alone. Meanwhile, you’ve gone to school, had children, started a business, employed workers and paid taxes. Your children are allowed to sponsor you when they come of age. Shortly before they are able to do so, are you legal or illegal? Do you become legal the day they apply for you or do you have to wait until approval? In the years it might take immigration officials to decide your case, are you legal or illegal?

Many of us know of such ambiguous situations, which apply to all migrants, except those whom corporate America has desired unreservedly over the last 30 years, since we brought immigration into line with neoliberal economic needs. Our federal immigration laws consist of layers upon layers of irrational, inconsistent, even bizarre and inexplicable exceptions, preferences, loopholes, punishments, waivers, mandates and discretions that render the division between “legal” and “illegal” meaningless.

3. Immigration law is by nature exclusionary and racist.

We didn’t always have a federal immigration bureaucracy. The idea began in the 1870s and 1880s, when we had finished building the railroads and accomplished enough developmental goals to feel that we could dispense with cheap imported labor. The presence of large numbers of Chinese and other Asians on the West Coast led to the complaints about unfair job competition that we hear today, buttressed by similar inflammatory rhetoric. The racist Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was our first immigration law, setting the tone for our federal bureaucracy ever since then.

For Justice Stephen Johnson Field, who ruled on the first important case upholding exclusion, Chae Chan Ping v. United States in 1889, Chinese people “remained strangers in the land,” forever alien and unassimilable. We went from individual states setting the conditions for immigration to a federal bureaucracy founded on excluding a subpar race from tainting our racial stock.

From our country’s foundation until our first immigration laws, our openness allowed us to successfully assimilate immigrants of diverse origins, all of whom had at first been looked upon suspiciously, such as the Germans and the Irish. Once we established a federal bureaucracy, it needed continuous rationales to sustain itself and grow. After excluding Chinese people, the country moved on to Japanese people, and then Eastern and Southern Europeans including Jews, followed by subversives during the cold war and finally Muslims and Arabs as the latest targets for exclusion.

Some of us may be under the illusion that we follow objective criteria to decide who comes in and who stays, observing standards that make moral, economic or political sense. That has never been the case since the beginning of federal immigration policy.

The targets have varied, but the logic remains the same. At the beginning of the 20th century, progressives, trade unionists, eugenicists and respectable politicians of all stripes were angered by large numbers of “inferior,” disease-carrying, non-English-speaking Southern and Eastern Europeans, so we shut them out with the 1924 national origins quota system and decided instead to unofficially bring in large numbers of Mexicans.

We preferred Mexican immigrants persisting in limbo to European immigrants we would have to accommodate as citizens. We just had to make sure to periodically evict them from territorial assertion, as we did during the Great Depression, and as we did when we followed up the Bracero Program (importing guest workers) with Operation Wetback (involving mass deportation), a pattern that repeats to this day. We might say that we had an unofficial bracero program since the beginning of the North American Free Trade Agreement until today, but we now want to expel that labor force.

Our history of exclusion is inherent in the nature of the bureaucracy and in all the laws that have been passed to empower it. During World War II we decided not to admit Jews seeking refuge from the European inferno. The logic of Asian exclusion easily led to the internment of Japanese-Americans by our most progressive president. Today we willfully exclude some of the best and brightest amont us, if they happen to be Latino or Muslim or Arab. Exclusion affects whole classes of people and causes great national damage each time.

4. The contemporary havoc goes back to the 1996 law.

But the repugnant national origins quota system, the internment of a whole race of people and the persecution of individuals because of political beliefs are all things in the past, right? We don’t do these things anymore, do we? After all, what was the great liberalization of the 1960s all about, if not to end such practices?

In reality, some of the most barbaric practices we as a nation have followed in terms of removal, slavery and exclusion have come back in full force due to a reconceptualization of immigration under the 1996 law called the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. The key word here is “responsibility,” used in a twisted neoliberal manner, placing burdens that are not so much responsibilities as refusals of humanity.

Though Trump’s so-called travel ban has been getting all the attention, the infinitely greater area of concern is his targeting of every immigrant as potentially a “criminal alien” subject to “expedited removal.” The authority that Trump needs to put his genocidal plan into action was gifted to him under the 1996 law. It vastly expanded the definition of crimes and included everything from shoplifting to child neglect as “aggravated felonies” that could lead to deportation without appeal. “Expedited removal” means that the traditional safeguards offered to those under deportation proceedings are gone, and prosecutorial discretion is limited to the point of nonexistence.

The distinction between legal and illegal is intentionally blurred in such laws. “Aggravated felonies” retroactively subject not just undocumented people but legal permanent residents to deportation. Countless permanent residents have fallen under the net of this repressive law, one of the worst in our nation’s history. Years or decades ago someone may have copped a guilty plea to a misdemeanor to get a lighter sentence, as is common in our criminal justice system. An encounter with the police, bringing the earlier “crime” to light, may abruptly destroy that person’s life.

The 1996 law severely curtails the chances for refugees to have a fair hearing, while asylum seekers are presumed guilty when making a claim and put in a mandatory detention that can last for years. Families who have experienced torture in countries that the U.S. has often had a hand in destabilizing are then placed in detention among hardened criminals and made to wait for years before knowing their fate.

The 1996 law was part of the same movement toward “personal responsibility” — a euphemism for blaming victims for social crimes against them and then punishing them — that also resulted in “welfare reform” and expanded the reach of counterterrorism in a law that became a precursor to the Patriot Act. These three laws — on immigration, welfare and terrorism — overlap in some respects, for instance in curtailing judicial review or ending public assistance for legal immigrants.

5. Neoliberal economic policies are the main cause of “illegality.”

So-called illegality is a self-created bureaucratic problem, which is convenient for the neoliberal state to address as a criminal matter. It comes in handy because it keeps the lid on demands for democracy across racial lines, and it maintains a permanent underclass without rights, acting as a counterweight against universal fairness in the workplace.

The modern problem of illegality began in 1994 with the passage of NAFTA. That agreement offered a set of advantages to American big business and agriculture, creating tremendous pressure on Mexican small industry and farms and leading to the displacement of millions of workers, and many of them headed north. NAFTA freed capital movement at the same time as it restricted labor movement. So on the one hand, we created dire pressure for migration northward — to call it “push and pull” seems disingenuous, as if referring to inexorable laws of economics — at the same time as we cut off pathways to legal migration.

Before the 1990s, we always had a pattern of circular migration from Mexico. Migrants came and went; they didn’t necessarily want to stay for good. Almost 30 million Mexicans entered the country between the start of the Bracero Program and the 1986 immigration law, but most of them went back. But the neoliberal regime made the price of mobility prohibitive. Border controls became so repressive, and the price of re-entry so high, that many migrants decided to put down roots. The children of these migrants have become the Dreamers we now claim are the immigrants worthiest of our compassion.

When we wanted cheap agricultural labor we willfully let in large numbers of immigrants whom we did not want to assimilate. Now that the latest phase of globalization has run its course, the Trump regime wants to repatriate these people, long resident in our country, back “home.” We can always crack the wall open a bit when we need a new burst of cheap labor.

Under neoliberalism, we shuffle off unwanted labor to our private detention system, which daily commits horrors on a scale worthy of history’s worst nightmares. Our policy preference is to put immigrants in detention for long periods of time before expelling them, so that they become revenue-earners for private prisons. Under Trump we are about to witness a massive resurgence of the private prison industry, which lobbies for criminalization of immigrants.

6. Comprehensive immigration reform is a boondoggle.

In every version it appears, comprehensive immigration reform, a favorite prescription of both parties, is nothing but a Trojan horse to sneak in and formalize existing inhuman practices. Each immigration reform bill has been increasingly regressive, starting with the one that actually passed, Ronald Reagan’s 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.

Every comprehensive immigration reform proposal attempts to do three things: 1. It further criminalizes and delegalizes growing categories of people, reducing pathways to citizenship, while offering some sort of legal status to those few who qualify within increasingly narrow boundaries. 2. It seeks to convert immigrants into guest workers to the extent possible, implementing a regime that strays from linear outcomes. 3. As a bargaining chip to sway restrictionists, who may have problems even with limited forms of legal status, it implements new policing measures to harden the already militarized border.

Comprehensive immigration reform is no solution. The 2006, 2007 and 2013 bills were each more draconian than their predecessors. The last one, under Obama, was much harsher than the ones Bush wanted. Militarization, which already stands at mind-boggling levels, with more than 20,000 border patrol agents, would have gone up drastically in each immigration reform bill. To the extent that a wall can exist, it already does. Each time an immigration reform bill is proposed, its legalization provisions don’t become reality, but its militaristic provisions come true by other means.

Ever since the 1970s — with the arrival of Southeast Asian and Caribbean refugees, and the growing visibility of Asians in our population — sharply restrictionist moves have been packaged as comprehensive immigration reform. Environmentalist John Tanton has been at the fount of most recent anti-immigrant advocacy. His Federation for American Immigration Reform, along with associated organizations such as the Center for Immigration Studies and NumbersUSA, seeks to end legal immigration. Immigration reform bills have moved this goal closer and closer in sight, until Trump can almost smell victory. FAIR and its affiliated organizations are consulted by the press on every policy move and given equal footing with the vast array of pro-immigrant groups.

7. The Dreamers have been a destructive wedge issue.

This relates to my point about how some immigrants who are offered ambiguous legalization, rather than universal access to citizenship being offered to everyone under predictable conditions. The Dreamers are the splinter group artfully deployed to silence the demand for rights for all other immigrants.

The concept of the Dreamers arose in the early 2000s (Sen. Dick Durbin was an early proponent), once the 1996 legislation had had time to do its work. Instead of welcoming the immigrant, as we had done through all our history, we would welcome only the Dreamer. Anyone not certifiably a Dreamer would not belong.

Who exactly is a Dreamer? A Dreamer is the postmodern version of a slave, embodying the idea of the pliant immigrant with which we seem most comfortable. The Dreamer is brought here against his will (evoking the rhetoric of slavery), yet harbors no resentment toward the white majority who have enslaved his people. The Dreamer is not expected to mind that his parents may not be recognized as people, even if they have present in the community for decades. The Dreamer willingly pays for college out of pocket, putting up with all the obstacles strewn by anti-immigrant states, particularly in the South and Southwest. The Dreamer is unashamedly invested in the capitalist dream that he or she will have to purchase, as a consumer but not a citizen. The Dreamer is expected to be grateful for grudging symbols of identity, a temporary work permit or a driver’s license. The Dreamer begs to be granted the least token of recognition in return for partaking in our collective dream.

What about elderly and disabled people, the creative and artistic, the bohemian and nonconformist, all those not employed in the professions that neoliberalism elevates? What about the parents of Dreamers? What about those who have committed any transgressions? They don’t count as Dreamers;, they are “criminal aliens.”

The Dreamer is seen as accepting exclusion as a principle in return for being made a provisional part of our nationhood. No doubt Trump will use the Dreamers to split the rest from this small slice, to whom he might grant minimum concessions on the road to ending legal immigration. The Dreamers would be expected to go along, because all comprehensive immigration reform bills, former President Barack Obama’s included, have separated the “good” from the “bad.”

8. Immigrant rights are human rights.

There is a debate whether constitutional rights extend to all “persons” present in the United States or only to citizens. The Constitution clearly says that rights belong to persons, not just citizens. Today the rights of noncitizens are being abridged as perhaps never before, and there’s a paramount need for the defense of the idea that immigrants have all constitutional rights.

Are freedom of speech and association, due process and equal rights limited to citizens? Such would not seem to be the case if we look at much of our judicial history. Yet there is plenty of judicial precedent for those who want to construct a vision of constitutional rights applying to all people.

When the Chinese Exclusion Act set up the federal bureaucracy, states such as California and Arizona started passing legislation discriminating against immigrants. The courts held at the time that equal protection applied to persons, not just citizens, for example in striking down laws that discriminated against Chinese owners of laundries in California. And in the Truaux v. Raich decision, the Supreme Court held in 1915 that Arizona could not restrict the employment of immigrants.

The important recent landmark case is the Plyler v. Doe decision of 1982, when the Supreme Court held that Texas was obligated to provide access to kindergarten through grade 12 education to all people, regardless of status. In succeeding years, the precedent set by the Plyler decision, when it comes to immigrants’ right to public services necessary for a fulfilling life, has not been consistently applied. Also, if kindergarten through grade 12 access is vital, then isn’t the same true for higher education?

We tend to assume that people present on our soil have access to constitutional rights, at the very least the right to due process and habeas corpus (which was stripped from immigrants in the 2005 REAL ID Act). In reality, we have intentionally created a vast population of essentially stateless or displaced people, refusing to extend constitutional rights to them, regardless of the letter and spirit of our founding documents.

Once we go down that path and create two regimes of law, one for citizens and one for everyone else, then it is inevitable that the regime created for immigrants will start affecting citizens as well, and constitutional rights will become restricted for all, as indeed has been the case over the last few decades. We cannot pretend anymore that what happens to “them,” as immigrants, does not affect “us,” as citizens. In every area of law, from the rights of consumers against corporations to the rights of citizens against the police, we have seen a drastic diminishment. Much of that has to do with our callousness toward immigrants.

9. The president has almost unlimited powers.

To the extent that Trump will be able to have his ban against Muslim immigration approved by the courts (and we seem to be headed toward extension to more Muslim countries), it will be because of the plenary power doctrine.

Ever since the federal immigration bureaucracy came into being, the courts have ceded vast powers to the executive to set the guidelines for immigration. Trump will make full use of this authority, some of it latent, some of it used by other presidents.

The Chae Chan Ping decision of 1889 was the first case, soon after the Chinese Exclusion Act, where the plenary power doctrine became inscribed, justifying the government’s power to exclude. After World War II, several landmark cases that were decided amid an atmosphere of Cold War paranoia — Knauff v. Shaughnessy (in 1950), Harisiades v. Shaughnessy (in 1952) and Shaughnessy v. Mezei (in 1953) — reaffirmed plenary power. Immigrants trying to return to the country were stopped or detained, based on alleged subversive views. Granting such unlimited powers is only asking for trouble when an unscrupulous administration comes along to take undue advantage.

Trump will test the limits of the plenary power doctrine with a range of executive orders and legislative initiatives. The only check on his power to do with immigrants as he wishes is for the courts to return firmly to precedents where limits on plenary power have been acknowledged — and for the courts to take a stand against the existence of this power in the first place.

10. Open borders are the only way to go.

We are in a situation of chaos, breeding technical illegality, because federal regulations have become too complex. Comprehensive immigration reform of any type would make these laws even more cumbersome by drastically curtailing family unification (our quotas, even after the 1965 liberalization, have always been vastly insufficient to the needs) and thus inviting more illegality. I don’t want to rest my case for open borders on the economic justification, but studies in the 1980s noted that world economic output would double if open borders prevailed everywhere, and studies in the 2000s showed even greater gains for the world economy.

Americans often compare the nation to a house, arguing that immigrants who enter without inspection or overstay their visas are like robbers whom we have every right to detain and expel. But a country or even a state or a city or a neighborhood is not a house (just as it is simplistic to compare a country’s budget to a household’s). The nation is dynamic and includes all of us. The nation is an abstraction is only as good as the operation of freedom within it. The same is even truer of the world. If the world cannot be put inside a border, then a country trying to do the same is foolish.

A wall is a fantasy, not a reality, that makes us economically and politically weaker. None of the moral grounds for exclusion make any sense, despite our knee-jerk resort to national sovereignty. Imagine if America had kept admitting Asians throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, instead of allowing them in only after 1965. Imagine if we had continued allowing Southern and Eastern Europeans after 1925. Would we have been a more progressive country, less likely to have succumbed to the burdens of an empire, with a more global outlook in the crucial midcentury years?

Today immigrants are treated as criminals for their violations, with deportation as the ultimate life-altering penalty, and yet immigrants are not provided the rights due to a criminal defendant. Immigration is and always has been a civil matter; it is not a crime to be present without authorization. We have in essence two sets of laws, one for immigrants, who do not have the rights of defendants when charged with “crimes,” and one for everyone else. The only solution to this anomaly is to cease treating immigration violations as crimes and to completely end detention for immigration. If an immigrant commits a crime, he or she should be prosecuted under normal laws, as a criminal defendant not as a “criminal alien.”

Ultimately, the only solution is to reduce the complexities, to end the web of regulations and exceptions — which, just as in corporate law, favor the powerful at the expense of the weak — and to finally shed immigration laws altogether.

Immigration should become a purely voluntary affair, no different than filing taxes. We trust citizens to do that, reporting millions of dollars in income. So why can’t we trust people to report their status and file for changes based on equities they have built in our community? As soon as a person steps on our soil, he or she should have full constitutional rights, so as to not be subject to exploitation. Why can’t we visualize immigration without government regulation? We certainly did very well with that regime until the federal bureaucracy emerged in the 1880s, and with revived global understanding we can do so again.

President Donald Trump is taking advantage, for white nationalist purposes, of a legacy of tragically unfair rules that have defined our immigration system ever since it has existed. We are now bearing the full fruits of a system that was begging to end in catastrophe.

In the first six months of 2011, more than 46,000 immigrants with at least one U.S. citizen child were deported by the Obama administration. In the 10 years following the passage of the 1996 law, more than 12 million people were forced to agree to voluntary departure. Though Immigration and Customs Enforcement under Trump is dramatically apprehending immigrants in public venues — a theater of cruelty meant to terrorize everyone — and causing great consternation, this exact process of splitting up families has been going on for two vicious decades, in numbers that classify as one the world’s major human rights calamities.

Countless numbers of immigrants, even legal permanent residents, have been hauled away from their families, their communities, everything they know and love, based on some minor misdemeanor they may have committed decades ago, which has suddenly been reclassified as an “aggravated felony,” and is cause for their deportation to places they have no memory of. Such immigrants do not have the right to be heard by a judge except in a perfunctory manner, with little room for clemency based on individual circumstances.

We do not call our immigrant detention facilities concentration camps, but at any given time we have about 34,000 immigrants serving time in prisons far from home, waiting to be deported. Is this any different than the prison regimes of the most brutal governments we have protested?

Migration is a human right. A person anywhere in the world has the right to migrate, just as there is a right to free speech or association. In fact, most other rights follow from the right to migrate. If governments are allowed to lock up people behind walls, then it’s only a matter of time before other rights will dissipate, too. If we do not recognize migration as an inviolable human right, and if we do not give up the idea of the wall, we are bound to lose human rights for all of us.

American citizenship, by having become associated with the hypernationalist project, will at first look enviable and untouchable, but ultimately will be so cheapened as to be worth nothing. For the courts, as they face the Trump assault, the challenge is clear: Do away with the plenary power doctrine and extend full constitutional rights to immigrants. Rights should depend on personhood not citizenship, as some of our best legal minds have recognized throughout our history.

One thing that would strongly push the country in the opposite direction than the one Trump intends is for individual states, particularly progressive states in the West or Northeast, to pass laws as favorable to immigrants as the ones in Arizona, Georgia and Alabama have been unfavorable. What if, say, California were to pass legislation extending full human rights to all people present in the state? That would set up a historic confrontation, bringing out all the anomalies in our inhuman immigration regime for due public consideration. “Sanctuary” would become a constructive, constitutional, universal concept, not a purely reactive one against police powers.

Every time we say that we should let immigrants stay because they do the dirtiest work that native-born folks aren’t willing to do, we should remember that we do not justify our ancestors’ arrival with that logic. We deserve to be here because we have a human right to be, just as we accepted this in the centuries preceding racist federal bureaucracies. We are here because we are humans, not because of our utility toward someone else’s comfort.

 

Anis Shivani is at work on a novel called “Abruzzi, 1936.” His most recent books are “Karachi Raj: A Novel,” “Whatever Speaks on Behalf of Hashish: Poems” and “Soraya: Sonnets.” “Literary Writing in the Twenty-First Century: Conversations” comes out in April 2017.

Trump’s immigration executive orders: The demise of due process and discretion

The overriding message of executive orders and implementation memos is one of speedy enforcement, not due process

Trump’s immigration executive orders: The demise of due process and discretion
(Credit: Getty/Shawn Thew-Pool/Shutterstock/Salon)

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

The U.S. immigration code, passed by Congress in 1952, rivals the tax code in its level of complexity. The Conversation

In January, President Donald Trump signed three executive orders on immigration that have made matters more complicated for immigrants and the lawyers and advocates who fight on their behalf.

As an immigration lawyer and teacher, I have spent countless hours helping those in need and educating my community, which includes residents, educators, professors, international students and scholars, along with local government about the contents of the orders, and the guidelines released by the Department of Homeland Security in February and how they will be implemented.

Specifically, the two orders on deportations and enforcement, both signed on Jan. 25, reveal that the government is making three major changes.

First, the orders are making virtually every undocumented person a priority for deportation.

Second, they seek to maximize existing programs that allow deportation of individuals without basic due process. This includes the right to be heard by a judge, present evidence or challenge a charge of deportation.

And third, pursuant to its Feb. 20 memorandum, DHS has rescinded most documents that offered guidance on prosecutorial discretion.

Prosecutorial discretion in immigration law refers to the choice made by a government official or agency to enforce or not enforce the immigration law against a person. It has been the central focus of my research, and is a critical component in our immigration system. Officials must choose whom to prioritize for removal because they have limited resources. The government has also recognized other compelling reasons why a person might deserve to not be deported. For example, a person without papers who has lived in the United States for several years and has family ties, steady employment or community leadership may temporarily be protected from removal.

Do Trump’s executive orders signal an end to this practice?

Everyone is a priority

DHS has rescinded the 2014 Johnson Priorities Memo, which provided a framework for determining who is a priority for immigration enforcement and articulated the factors that should be considered when making decisions about whether to deport someone.

For example, the memo instructed DHS to consider amount of time spent living in the United States and “compelling humanitarian factors such as poor health, age, pregnancy, a young child, or a seriously ill relative.”

Now, the government is taking a hard-line approach to immigration enforcement, without explicit consideration for a person’s circumstances. The orders list specific parts of the 1952 immigration statute that target those eligible for deportation for reasons related to crimes or misrepresentation. But enforcement officials will also now target deportable immigrants who:

  • have been convicted of any criminal offense;
  • have been charged with any criminal offense that has not been resolved;
  • have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense;
  • have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter before a governmental agency;
  • have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits;
  • are subject to a final order of removal but have not complied with their legal obligation to depart the United States; or
  • in the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.

DHS guidance does not stop with this priority list. It goes on to suggest that any person without documents might be a priority. It repeatedly states: “All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.”

Arguably, an undocumented parent living in the United States for several years and taking care of children who have formal or permanent immigration status, or United States citizenship, could be targeted as a person “in violation of the immigration laws,” whereas before this same person would have more clearly been eligible for prosecutorial discretion and not been labeled as a priority. Similarly, a student who overstays her visa and then jaywalks may be treated as an enforcement priority because jaywalking constitutes a chargeable offense.

The cumulative effect is fear that everyone is a priority.

Despite major changes to enforcement, the guidance from DHS suggests that individual prosecutorial discretion may be exercised on a case-by-case basis, and preserves three policies relating to enforcement.

One pertains to “sensitive locations” and instructs DHS to avoid enforcement in places like schools, places of worship and hospitals.

The second is a guideline on granting parole to certain arriving asylum seekers after a “credible fear” interview has been conducted. When an asylum seeker is “paroled,” she is released from detention and able to pursue her asylum claim outside of custody.

The final memo that is still intact is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. DACA enables qualifying noncitizens who entered the United States at a young age, often referred to as “Dreamers,” to apply for protection from deportation and work authorization.

While I see the preservation of these guidelines as positive, the overriding message of the executive orders and implementation memos is one of speedy enforcement without discretion or due process.

The Conversation

Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, Samuel Weiss Faculty Scholar and Founding Director, Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, Pennsylvania State University

 

SALON

Trump’s speech outlines plans for class war at home and war abroad

trumpaddress_20170301033859150_7429097_ver1-0_640_360

By Andre Damon
1 March 2017

Speaking before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, US President Donald Trump reaffirmed the core pillars of his presidency: vastly expanding military spending, slashing taxes on corporations, scapegoating immigrants for the crisis of American capitalism, and promoting economic nationalist trade policies.

In contrast to his inaugural speech, Trump couched his extreme right-wing policies in the traditional conventions of American politics. The media, as if on cue, praised Trump’s speech for “reaching across the aisle” and taking a bipartisan approach.

CNN, which last week was included by Trump as part of the “enemies of the people,” headlined its article on the speech, “New Tone, Ambitious Vision.” In praising his remarks, various media talking heads ignored the fact that the administration, packed with fascistic figures such as Steve Bannon, is in the midst of a massive crackdown on millions of undocumented immigrants.

The official response to Trump’s speech by Democrats was given by former Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, who currently does not hold any elected office, and who is generally unknown to the public. Beshear devoted his brief rebuttal to a defense of Obamacare, the broadly despised pro-corporate health care program, while denouncing Trump for “ignoring serious threats to our national security from Russia.”

Despite their tactical differences centering on foreign policy, the generally warm response by the media and half-hearted rebuttal from the Democrats points to the fact that, within the ruling class, there is broad and bipartisan support for the essential goals of the Trump administration: Expanding military spending, strengthening the repressive apparatus of the state, slashing corporate taxes, and eliminating social spending.

The day before his speech, Trump announced plans to increase the military budget by 10 percent, to be paid for by an equal reduction of discretionary social spending. But beyond pledging to provide “the men and women of the United States military with the tools they need,” Trump largely ignored the implications of his military expansion and foreign policy in general.

Trump’s budget directive was criticized by both congressional Republicans and pro-Democratic publications, such as the Washington Post, for not going far enough in proposing to slash spending on social entitlements such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

In his speech, Trump indicated that he would work with Congress to cut these programs, including by turning Medicaid, the insurance program for the poor, into a block grant system, which could be cut by state governments. “We should give our great state governors the resources and flexibility they need with Medicaid,” he declared.

He also proposed a massive attack on public education, in line with the perspective of his new education secretary, Betsy DeVos. “Families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school that is right for them,” Trump said.

At the heart of Trump’s speech was his program of economic nationalism. Trump called for subsidies for US companies to help them penetrate foreign markets, declaring that his administration is “developing historic tax reform that will reduce the tax rate on our companies so they can compete and thrive anywhere and with anyone.” He complained that “when foreign companies ship their products into America, we charge them almost nothing.”

Notably, when Trump declared that his administration will make “it easier for companies to do business in the United States, and much harder for companies to leave,” former Democratic presidential nominee Bernie Sanders applauded. Sanders, together with other Democrats, stated his willingness to cooperate with Trump on nationalist economic policies.

While Trump’s speech was couched in the language of defending “American jobs,” his economic program is, in fact, centered on slashing corporate taxes, eliminating regulations and increasing the exploitation of workers in the United States.

Trump gave a full-throated defense of his vicious crackdown on undocumented immigrants, which has sparked broad popular opposition and demonstrations throughout the country. “As we speak, we are removing gang members, drug dealers and criminals that threaten our communities and prey on our citizens. Bad ones are going out as I speak tonight and as I have promised.”

Trump’s speech included a modification to his earlier immigration proposals, calling for a switch “away from this current system of lower-skilled immigration, and instead adopting a merit-based system.” Such a policy would continue all the cruelty and violence of his ongoing immigration crackdown, while seeking to ensure a steady supply of skilled labor for American companies.

He likewise reiterated his support for his so-called Muslim ban, declaring, “It is not compassionate, but reckless, to allow uncontrolled entry from places where proper vetting cannot occur…. We cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside America.”

Toward the end of his speech, Trump exploited the presence of Carryn Owens, the widow of a US Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens, who died in a raid in Yemen last month. Ignoring the denunciations of the operation by Owens’ father, Trump described the mission as a “highly successful raid.”

Trump’s invocation of this murderous rampage, which led to the killing of 25 Yemeni civilians and eight children, was greeted with the longest standing ovation of the entire speech, from both Democrats and Republicans.

Perhaps the most characteristic aspect of the address was its utterly delusional character. Trump declared, “Everything that is broken in our country can be fixed. Every problem can be solved.” He added that, as a result of his presidency, “Dying industries will come roaring back to life… Crumbling infrastructure will be replaced with new roads, bridges, tunnels, airports and railways gleaming across our beautiful land.”

All of this is a ridiculous pipe dream. The very fact that Trump, a con-man and scam artist, has been promoted to the highest political office in the state is proof of the deeply decayed state of bourgeois rule in the United States.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/03/01/trum-m01.html

Seventy-five years after FDR’s Japanese internment order, Trump prepares mass immigrant roundup

japanese-americans

20 February 2017

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 mandating the indefinite detention of all persons of Japanese descent living on the US mainland for the duration of the war with Japan. In the weeks that followed, the government removed over 120,000 Japanese-Americans from their homes, including 70,000 US citizens, and detained them for three to four years in a network of remote prison camps.

For decades, even mainstream bourgeois commentators viewed the Japanese internment as a humiliating scar on American history. Tom C. Clark, who defended the relocation program as a Department of Justice lawyer before joining the Supreme Court, wrote later that the internment program was “deplorable” and illegal. The Supreme Court’s 1944 ruling in Korematsu v. US  upholding the program is broadly viewed by legal scholars as part of the “anti-canon” of unconstitutional rulings.

Seventy-five years later, the Trump administration has ordered the rounding up of hundreds of thousands if not millions of migrants and the construction of a new network of prisons to house them.

Two memos signed by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly on February 17 and made public on the anniversary of Executive Order 9066 lay out a drastic expansion of deportation and detention of immigrants in the US.

Under the DHS memos, migrants captured without being admitted into the US by a border official face immediate removal with virtually no due process rights. Many thousands of people will now be subject to “expedited removal proceedings” in which they lose the right to appear before a judge.

The government is expanding the list of immigrants who are priorities for removal to include up to two million people, and the administration is claiming the power to remove or imprison undocumented parents who pay to help their children cross the border to join them in the United States.

The memos also mandate an expanded network of internment facilities to house those slated to be deported. They direct Customs and Border Patrol (CPB) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to “take all necessary action and allocate all available resources to expand their detention capabilities and capacities at or near the border with Mexico to the greatest extent possible.”

As well as measures for building a border wall, hiring more ICE officials and deputizing local police, the memos establish procedures for publishing the names and criminal records of immigrants released by state and local officials despite a removal or deportation order. DHS hopes to whip up a fascistic tough-on-crime hysteria against immigrants and local governments that refuse or fail to hand them over to federal authorities for deportation. This recalls the tactics of the Nazi press, which published photographs of Jewish people alongside a list of crimes they allegedly committed.

Trump’s plan to establish a network of internment camps has been prepared by both the Democratic and Republican parties, which have jointly cultivated a climate of nationalism and anti-immigrant xenophobia to advance their policies of war and social counterrevolution.

The attack on immigrants in the US takes place in the context of a global wave of xenophobia. Across the world, the ruling classes are seeking to whip up nationalist sentiment in order to scapegoat migrants for the social disaster caused by capitalism. In Europe, the promotion of anti-immigrant chauvinism recalls the 1930s and the lead-up to the bloodbath of World War II.

Anti-immigrant hysteria has long been a key part of the American ruling class’s efforts to advance its imperialist strategy and suppress opposition to war. Within weeks of the US entry into World War I, the Democratic Wilson administration advanced a series of anti-immigrant and anti-socialist measures—the Sedition, Espionage, and Immigration Acts of 1917—that were used to label socialism a “foreign idea” and arrest and deport hundreds of left-wing radicals and socialists in the Palmer Raids of 1919–20.

The Roosevelt administration justified the internment of Japanese-Americans by citing the Alien Registration Act, known as the Smith Act, which criminalized attempts to expose the class character of the imperialist war. In 1941, Roosevelt prosecuted the Trotskyist movement under this act, jailing 18 members of the Socialist Workers Party on the charge of “sedition.” Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 with the claim that “the successful prosecution of the war requires every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage to national defense.”

The attacks on immigrants are a key component of the ruling class’s nationalist poison. By directing social discontent outward at foreigners or immigrants, the financial aristocracy seeks to facilitate the exploitation of the working class, pitting workers against one another and diverting them from a struggle against their own exploiters.

This policy has been intensified over the past quarter-century, culminating in the extreme nationalism of Donald Trump and his fascist aides. Under the auspices of the “war on terror,” the ruling class has used “national security” as a blanket excuse for illegal war, torture, mass surveillance and deportation. Obama oversaw the deportation of 2.5 million immigrants and the launching or expansion of wars in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. It is these wars and their catastrophic consequences that have forced tens of millions to leave their homes in search of safety abroad.

Trump’s anti-immigrant program is bound up with an attack on the social conditions of the entire working class, citizen and non-citizen alike. As he prepares to deport millions, he is assembling a cabinet of Wall Street billionaires determined to lift business regulations and slash corporate taxes on the one side, and destroy social services—including public education, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security—on the other.

The implementation of Trump’s anti-immigrant policies will require unprecedented attacks on the democratic rights of the entire working lass. Police state measures are being plotted by the administration, as evidenced by John Kelly’s draft memorandum calling for the mobilization of 100,000 National Guard troops to deport immigrants.

The only social force capable of defending immigrant workers is the working class. Workers are objectively united across all national borders in a globally integrated network of production and supply chains, supplemented by family ties and the reality of instantaneous communication. The needs and interests of any one section of workers, national or ethnic, are indissolubly bound up with those of their class brothers and sisters all over the world. Never before in history have the words of the founding program of the revolutionary socialist movement—“Workers of all countries unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!”—been more relevant.

The rights of immigrants are incompatible with the capitalist system, which is incapable of overcoming the contradiction between the international organization of the economy and the outdated nation-state system. Along with imperialist war, the most noxious expression of this contradiction is the militarization of borders to condemn hundreds of thousands people fleeing the horrors of war and destitution to drown in the Mediterranean or die of heatstroke in the desert separating the US and Mexico.

Workers must reject the entire framework of the official debate on immigration. The Democrats’ hypocritical criticisms of Trump’s immigration policies proceed from the same reactionary premise: that so-called “illegal” immigrants are criminals and should be punished, exploited and humiliated.

The only democratic and humane policy is a socialist and internationalist policy: for open borders and full rights for all workers, including the right of workers of all countries to live and work wherever they choose, with full citizenship rights, free from fear of repression or deportation.

Eric London

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/02/20/pers-f20.html

Milo Yiannopoulos isn’t ready for “Real Time” and it shows

Bill Maher’s public service:

Most people have no idea who Milo is, except that he claims to be “Dangerous.” Friday night, Bill Maher showed them

Bill Maher's public service: Milo Yiannopoulos isn't ready for "Real Time" and it shows
(Credit: Getty/Drew Angerer/HBO/Salon)

When it was announced that this week’s episode of HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” would feature so-called “right-wing provocateur” Milo Yiannopoulos, some people freaked out. Many seemed to believe that bringing Yiannopoulos on the show would legitimize a noxious professional troll, as if that horse hadn’t already escaped the barn when America elected one president.

Journalist Jeremy Scahill, co-founding editor of The Intercept, canceled his own booking in protest. In his one-on-one segment with Maher at the top of the show, Yiannopoulos called that approach out: “If you don’t show up to debate, you lose.” On one hand, not every debate is worth sitting in the makeup chair for. (I’ve seen the Milo show; I’ve seen better.) But Yiannopoulos isn’t leading a political movement; he’s an attention-seeking troll. They don’t feed on legitimacy, but rather scandal and outrage, which Scahill helped deliver. For my part, I was irritated that I’d have to sit through an interview with this guy before getting to Leah Remini’s Scientology Dirt Bag, so it’s not like I had a high horse to climb off of.

It’s easy to forget, if you don’t live on the Internet, that most people in America — and quite possibly most “Real Time” home viewers — likely have no idea who Milo is or if they should care about him at all. (Third *NSync alum from the right?) If their first up-close exposure to Milo Yiannopoulos, C-Lister Famous for Something or Other, was last night’s “Real Time,” I can’t imagine they now understand what all the fuss is about.

Yiannopoulos came out quite saucy and self-satisfied — ain’t I a stinker? — so Maher, ever the comedy veteran, heckled him right out of the gate: “You look like Bruno.” Milo pouted, and then turned his exaggerated frown into a smirk after a beat. “You know I told [the make-up artist] to dial down the contouring.”

Despite their flirty greetings, Maher didn’t let Milo off easy. They agreed on a few things, like how liberals are too easily offended, but throughout the interview, Milo seemed squirmy, a bit flustered and obviously outmatched by his host. Maher wasn’t interested in gossiping about Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer and Sarah Silverman, whom Milo lamely joked were funny before they “contracted feminism.” In fact, he dismissed most of Milo’s low-hanging outrage-bait as just kind of stupid.

Maher’s challenge here was not being cast as Principal Skinner arguing with Bart Simpson, and for the most part, he succeeded. “You’re wrong about certain things,” Maher tells him flatly, giving examples from Milo’s own spiels: “Black Lives Matter is a hate group. There’s no such thing as white privilege.”

Maher, a consistent atheist, also dinged Yiannopoulos for “bullshit stupid thinking” when Milo gave Catholicism a pass he doesn’t extend to other religions.

Yiannopoulos insisted that he’s funny and that his jokes “build bridges.” All he cares about, he claimed, is free speech and free expression, which he described as “now a conservative position.”

“I’m the guy who always defends jokes, right up to the point where they pointlessly hurt people,” Maher said, bringing up the campaign of vicious harassment against “Ghostbusters” star Leslie Jones that got Yiannopoulos banned from Twitter.

Milo’s defense was a mess of facile talking points. “I like to think of myself as a virtuous troll,” he said. He also claimed, “What actually hurts people is murder, violence. Mean words don’t hurt people.”

“Which some people would say you’ve incited,” countered Maher, though he didn’t give any concrete examples.

“They would be idiots,” said Yiannopoulos.

For a couple of years in the 1980s, my family lived in Germany, where Nazi symbols were, for very understandable reasons, forbidden. As an earnest 7-year-old who read a lot of children’s literature set during World War II, it freaked me out to see swastikas scratched and inked into naughty graffiti, presented with as much gravity and political intent as butts-and-boobs doodles were back home. Little kids test social boundaries all the time. They’re drawn to the illicit — like giggling over Nazi symbols, which they know are bad but don’t quite understand — because that which is frightening for abstract reasons can also be thrilling, even titillating. Part of growing up — as I hope the kid at my Catholic school who was responsible for that graffiti did, eventually — is learning how one kid’s abstract illicit thrills can be another person’s concrete and dangerous threats, and adjusting your behavior accordingly.

Yiannopoulos is an intriguing conundrum because even though he’s an out gay man in his 30s, not a doodling child, he refuses to connect his own flippant denigration of gay people as hyper-sexed, druggy and untrustworthy — abstract jokes he’s in on — to the concrete threat of discrimination or even violence that LGBT people face from those who may feel emboldened or justified by those attitudes. Maybe he feels those fears are idiotic. Most of his fans are likely in it for the dark thrill of an illicit giggle alone: the permission to laugh at a gay joke because a gay man made it. But how grotesque of a spotlight-chaser does one have to be to ignore the possibility of the fan that isn’t? And how narcissistic is it to forcibly extend that “in on the joke” intimacy to those who haven’t issued an invitation first, like women, black people or Muslims?

On one hand, it’s a pity Maher didn’t have time to delve that deep into a discussion of the philosophy of “j/k lol” with Yiannopoulos. On the other hand, it’s not like Milo said anything on “Real Time” that indicated he’d be up for a challenging intellectual discussion about where the line is, and what it’s used for.

Throughout the segment, Milo demonstrated that as far as provocateurs go, he’s nowhere near Maher’s level. You can disagree with Maher’s positions on politics and religion, but he’s a pro who can back a gag or a flat statement up with reason and consistency. Milo’s a snarky brunch friend on a second round of Bloodies for people who don’t have snarky brunch friends. (Get off Gab once in a while and buy a round, fanboys! You can get your fill of Lena Dunham jokes in person.) He’s managed to build a public speaking and publishing career on little more than being shameless, disgusting and reasonably attractive at the same time. America, land of opportunity!

Maher closed the segment by scolding his audience. “Stop taking the bait, liberals!” he cried. “You’re all freaking out about this fucking impish British fag! You schoolgirls!”

Maher’s using his words as a blunt instrument here, but the sentiment’s not wrong. Exposing Yiannopoulos as a lightweight “famous for doing nothing” vacuous Twitter celeb on TV — as Maher just did — is likely going to be more effective at limiting his cachet and influence than inadvertently building up his illicit, underground cred through outrage. Pushing a malignant thing like Milo Yiannopoulos out into the spotlight isn’t necessarily normalizing it. Sometimes the cliché is true, and sunlight really is the best disinfectant.

Classical music performers take a stand against Trump’s travel ban

Budapest Festival Orchestra in New York

By Fred Mazelis
11 February 2017

Performers in the classical music field have joined the widespread protest over the Trump administration’s attempt to ban the entry of refugees and visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries that he has branded the sources of terrorism.

Symphony orchestras in major US cities (and many smaller cities as well) have large and growing numbers of immigrants in their ranks, and the music they perform is international in scope and history. Visiting orchestras, of course, consist almost entirely of non-US citizens.

Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra

In the case of the highly regarded Budapest Festival Orchestra, currently in the midst of a five-city US tour, the travel ban nearly prevented the participation of one of its members. Only the last-minute intervention of BFO conductor Ivan Fischer succeeded in securing the entry into the US of an Iraqi-born Hungarian cellist who is a vital part of the ensemble’s string section. The cellist is a Hungarian citizen, but holds Iraqi citizenship as well.

The Budapest orchestra’s tour brought it to Newark, New York, Boston, Chicago and Ann Arbor, Michigan. Its programs, featuring the Bronx-born Richard Goode, one of the greatest American pianists, consisted of Beethoven symphonies paired with some of his piano concertos.

Ivan Fischer is a Hungarian conductor and composer whose work, especially with the Budapest Festival Orchestra, has attracted acclaim and wide recognition. He is known as an outspoken opponent of extreme nationalism and the growth of ultra-right elements, both in the government of Viktor Orban in Hungary today, and elsewhere as well.

The 66-year-old conductor, of Jewish ancestry, lost some of his grandparents in the Holocaust. He told the New York Times that he saw echoes of the past–when Jewish musicians were removed from such orchestras as the Vienna Philharmonic and Berlin Philharmonic and later exiled or in some cases killed–in the current conditions of the rise of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant hatred. “Having learned this lesson,” he is quoted as saying, “I have a very strong determination not to allow that ever to happen.”

According to the BFO website, the orchestra has for a number of years been performing in abandoned synagogues in Hungarian towns and villages where the Jewish communities were destroyed in the Holocaust. The local community hears a free concert, and also a brief talk about the synagogue and the history of the local community. Fischer sees this as part of an effort to combat the danger of renewed anti-Semitism, along with hostility to immigrants and refugees.

Fischer is also known for his unusual and imaginative attempts to break down barriers that have been allowed to grow between classical music and today’s audiences. These have involved fresh presentations of important classics, without violating the content and spirit of the compositions. In Budapest he has sometimes held concerts where the programs are not announced in advance, and he has also attracted audiences of tens of thousands for open-air performances.

On his current tour, the Times reports, the BFO’s performance of Beethoven’s immortal Fifth Symphony saw music students from New York’s Juilliard School and Bard College suddenly move onto the stage to join with the older musicians in the work’s closing measures. In a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth, choristers appeared in different parts of the auditorium for the Ode to Joy choral finale.

Conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim is also known as a defender of the rights of immigrants and refugees, as well as an opponent of the brutal and longstanding Israeli occupation of the West Bank. He joined Fischer last December for a fund-raising concert for the Budapest ensemble’s “synagogue project.” The orchestra’s official funding was cut back last year, possibly as retribution for its conductor’s outspoken political stance.

American orchestras have issued statements or otherwise indicated their opposition to the travel ban. One of the more prominent examples was the special program presented by the Seattle Symphony on February 8, a program which originated at the initiative of the musicians themselves. The concert, titled “Music Beyond Borders,” consisted entirely of music by composers from among the seven countries targeted by Trump’s travel ban. The composers included two Iranians, an Iraqi, a Sudanese and a Syrian.

The principal trumpet for the Seattle Symphony, introducing one of the works, noted that about one-quarter of the 80 musicians of the orchestra were immigrants, hailing from 15 countries. The music on the program reflected a cross-fertilization between Western and Middle Eastern classical traditions, and included a large number of instruments not usually heard in US concerts, among them an oud (a stringed instrument related to the lute) and a santoor (an Iranian instrument similar to the hammered dulcimer).

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/02/11/musi-f11.html