Sunday, June 09, 2019

The Erickson Report - Page 3: A Longer Look at Immigration

A Longer Look at Immigration

Now we move to what I hope will be a regular feature of the show. It’s called “A Longer Look” and it’s where we examine a topic in somewhat more depth that we usually have time for.

This time, the topic is immigration.

We have been exposed to, have suffered through, been heartbroken by, the string of stories, extending over the past few years, of the cruelty, the bigotry, the casual indifference to the welfare of human beings, up to and including charging a man named Scott Warren with felonies for, in essence, refusing to allow immigrants to die in the desert, that is the reality of the policies of the Tweetie-Pie administration regarding immigrants and immigration.

We have seen the families torn apart, the children in cages, the dismantling of lives of people who have been in the US in some cases for decades, who have roots here, lives here, families here, some who came as children young enough that they have known no other home, we have seen increasingly furious attempts to deny legal rights to asylum seekers, all these people denied, degraded, dismissed because they are "illegal," more truly because they are "other," they are "not us."

Which at the end of the day should be no surprise since that's what it has always been about.

The very first US law touching on immigration, the Naturalization Act of 1790, limited naturalization - that is, the ability an immigrant to become a citizen - to "free white persons of good character," thus by definition excluding Native Americans, indentured servants, slaves, free blacks - and later Asians.

Starting in the 1850s, tens of thousands of Chinese laborers had been welcomed to the American West as a source of cheap labor, in particular to help build the railroads. When the demand for Chinese labor dried up, a racist anti-Chinese backlash quickly followed. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred the entry of Chinese laborers for 10 years and declared that Chinese could not become citizens. The act was renewed in 1892 for another ten years, and in 1902 Chinese immigration was made permanently illegal until the law was revoked decades later. Chinese remained ineligible for citizenship until 1943.

Our experience with Chinese exclusion provided a basis for later movements to restrict immigration by other "undesirable" groups such as Middle Easterners, Hindu and East Indians, and the Japanese - and, more recently, Muslims and people from, in the words of our president, "shithole" countries.

For example, the Immigration Act of 1924 barred immigration from Asia and set quotas on the number of immigrants from the Eastern Hemisphere - that is, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. The quotas for specific countries were based on 2% of the US population from that country as recorded in the 1890 census. So populations poorly represented in 1890 were heavily restricted, blocked from legal entry, which especially affected Poles and other Slavs along with Jews, Italians, and Greeks, the latter two groups also affected by the notion dating  from the 1890s that "Mediterranean" people were inferior to northern, that is, whiter, Europeans. The purpose of the bill? According to the US Department of State Office of the Historian, it was "to preserve the ideal of US homogeneity."

Or, as one writer at the website noted, white supremacy has always been a central feature of US immigration policy.

There were some advances during the 60s and 70s, such as a 1968 act that eliminated immigration discrimination based on race, place of birth, sex, and residence along with abolished restrictions on immigration from Asia.

A 1976 law eliminated preferential treatment for residents of the Western Hemisphere, and a 1986 law included provisions through which over 2.6 million undocumented immigrants obtained legal status.

So let's be clear: While what we have seen these past couple of years may be something of a change from the most recent prior decades, it is not a real change, merely a reversion to the way we had always done things. It has always been about "preserving our homogeneity" in the face of "the other," the "not us."

By the way, know full well that I am not letting Barack Obama, the Amazing Mr. O, off the hook here: He deported more people than any previous president. But I also have to acknowledge that in the latter years of his presidency, it really does appear that efforts were focused on deporting people with actual criminal records, not just who they happened to come across.

But amidst all the news, I recall one case from two years ago that to me encapsulated all that is wrong with our national policies on immigration.

His name is Andres Magana Ortiz and he was an undocumented immigrant who had lived in the US for nearly thirty years. He has an American wife and three US-born children. During his time here he worked his way from migrant coffee farmer to owning his own land and being prominent in Hawaii's coffee industry, even to helping the US Department of Agriculture conduct a five-year study into a destructive insect species harming coffee crops and helping to run 15 other small farms.

He lost his fight to not be deported US despite letters of support from Hawaii's entire congressional delegation and the judge in his case, who, while legally unable to stop Ortiz's deportation, wrote a scathing opinion saying that that “the government decision shows that even the 'good hombres' are not safe,” that remark directed at Tweetie-pie, who had insisted that ICE would only go after the "bad hombres." On July 7, 2017, Ortiz "voluntarily" left for Mexico, just days before he was to be deported.

Here's the question that still haunts me: What was the point of this? What was gained by making him leave? What would have been lost by allowing him to stay? What was accomplished by this beyond satisfying the white-supremacist desires of the bigoted xenophobes occupying the upper reaches of Tweetie-Pie's administration? Just how sick are our national policies?

And consider this: Ignore for the moment that by the usual way such stories were told to us as we grew up, Ortiz is a classical, almost cliche, American success story, rising from migrant laborer to land owner, businessperson, and upstanding figure in the community. Ignore all that and for the moment just focus on the fact that he had been here for nearly thirty years. And it didn't matter.

Because there is no sort of statute of limitations on being an "illegal" immigrant. No matter how long you have been here, no matter how many and how thick are the roots you have set down, no matter how stable is the life you have established, no matter how much you have contributed to your community, it doesn't matter.

Think about that. There is no statute of limitations. Except for murder, terrorism, and sexual crimes against children, federal law has statutes of limitations for all sorts of crimes and all kinds of civil offenses. We have federal statutes of limitation for kidnapping, for fraud, for racketeering, for embezzlement, for all sorts of the most serious crimes. But not for being an undocumented immigrant. Not for crossing a border without the expected official permission. You did it two years ago, ten years ago, thirty years, fifty years, it makes no difference.

This is insane.

Even the notoriously anti-immigration - and note well that I didn't say anti-undocumented immigration, I said anti-immigration - the notoriously anti-immigration Mark Krikorian, even he a few years ago allowed as how even as he disagreed with it as a matter of policy, the idea that an undocumented immigrant who has been in the US for three years - that was his time frame - and has put down roots here should not be deported, that idea "at least makes a certain kind of sense." Even he was prepared to say that even though he disagreed with the idea, it was an arguable point.

So yes, as a first small step to bringing sanity to our policies there should be a time limit. There should be some sort of statute of limitations. There should be a point beyond which being able to show roots in the community and an established life will free you from the daily fear of discovery and deportation, the daily fear of the ripping up of your life and the ripping apart of your family.

Another small step is realizing that our borders have always been porous, that those who rant about "regaining control of our borders" ignore the fact that we have never had such control. I intend to talk more about this next time, more about how we have often found it necessary to recognize that there is a real limit to what could be done and we had to adjust to the facts on the ground - as we did to some extent in the 1986 law I mentioned.

There is one more, very dramatic, even radical step we could take, which again I intend to address next time, a step pretty much everyone on all points of this topic insists they are against but which deserves a hearing, because there is a case to be made - I won't say a genuinely persuasive case because I'm not entirely convinced myself - but there is a case to be made for open borders.

But instead, what we have is a thoroughly-broken system enforced by the well-named ICE because it is cold-hearted to its core, now directed by an administration chock full of bigoted xenophobes who don't care who they deport as long as they can eject and reject "foreigners," "them," "the other."

They are without mercy. They are without compassion. They are without understanding. They are without humanity. They and the system they oversee are an Outrage that must not be allowed to continue.

The Erickson Report - Page 2: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages

Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages

Next up, a new feature that's a redesigned and somewhat revamped version of popular features f rom the old show, a feature now called Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages

Going chronologically, first up is May 11, the day when a new poll from CivicScience, a Pittsburgh-based market research firm, was released. They had polled more than 3600 Americans on the issue of mathematics instruction.

In response to one question, 56% of the respondents said Arabic numerals should not be taught in American schools; 29% said they should be part of the curriculum; while 16% offered no opinion.

And if you don't get why that is some Clown combination of ignorance and bigotry, these are Arabic numerals: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9.

And before you start going "Oh those stupid right wingers again," know that when respondents were sorted into three categories, GOPper, Democrat, and Independent, not one of those three showed a majority in favor.

Here are a couple of cases where you can't tell if it should be Clown or Outrage, so I'll leave it to you. I report, you decide.

Andrew Napolitano
On May 16 on "Fox and Friends," Andrew Napolitano, who is Fox News' Senior Judicial Analyst, said that tossing out Roe is no big deal because if you want an abortion, you just go to New Jersey or New York "where infanticide is legal."

During legislative debate on May 17, Missouri state representative. and former cop Barry Hovis said “most of my rapes [during his time as a cop] were not the gentlemen jumping out of the bushes that nobody had ever met. That was one or two times out of a hundred. Most of them were date rapes or consensual rapes.”

Later that day, Hovis said he intended to say “date rapes or consensual or rape.” Which in contact actually makes no more sense than the original statement.

The reporter who covered the story noted that Hovis did not correct himself at the time despite, according to a witness, "A lot of 'What?'s ringing around the chamber."

Here's an oldie but a goodie for you: On May 20, NPR reported on a 40-year-old California law that requires public school teachers on extended sick leave to pay for their own substitute teachers - an amount that can easily mean half their paycheck.

The law is finally getting some overdue attention - and of course there are those who say changing it is a bad idea because, of course, it only makes sense that the cost of a substitute can't be borne by the budget of the entire district but must be dumped on the back of a single sick individual.

Ben Carson
Here's the Clown you knew: On May 21, during a hearing before the House Financial Services Committee, HUD Secretary and man perpetually in REM sleep Ben Carson couldn't describe basic terms related to the agency.

For one, he thought that REO, which stands for "real estate owned," which is what happens when a property goes into foreclosure, referred to Oreos, the cookie/

You've heard about that; why it's here is that he didn't even have the self-awareness to be embarrassed or ashamed by his cluelessness about the agency he heads. After the hearing, he tweeted that he planned to send a member of the committee a box of Oreos.

Ben Carson is a classic Clown: He's not stupid - he was a famed brain surgeon, he's not stupid - but it's clear he's lazy and just doesn't give a damn as long as he gets his check and doing nothing for it.

Meanwhile, the Tweetie-Pie administration -

By the way, I call him "Tweetie-Pie" because of his love of tweeting. I used to call him TheRump because he's so obviously an ass, but this seems even more appropriate as he gets more cartoonish every day.

Anyway, the Tweetie-Pie administration continues its attack transgender rights.

On May 22, HUD announced it intends to reverse the requirement that operators of homeless shelters receiving department funding have to “provide equal access ... in accordance with an individual’s gender identity.” The change would allow shelters to segregate transgender people and to consider a person’s biology when determining if they will be admitted to the shelter in the first place.

Then on May 24, Health and Human Services published a proposal to remove a section of the Affordable Care Act that defined discrimination “on the basis of sex” to include gender identity. The change would make it acceptable under law for healthcare providers to refuse care to transgender patients and for for insurance companies to refuse to cover them.

Also on May 24, Alabama was amending its marriage law to let bigots off the hook.

Under existing state law, couples are required to obtain a marriage license from a probate judge and hold a ceremony to “solemnize” the union. Under the new law, the solemnization requirement is eliminated and it is the responsibility of couples themselves to record their own union.Probate judges then would simply pass those records along to a state office.

In other words, this is being done so that bigot judges can say they have no part in issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples and bigot ministers can refuse to do a ceremony.

Here's a deep outrage that can be filed under the heading "We Are Not Alone," that is, we are not the only nation with problems: On May 25, Felix Klein, Germany’s commissioner on anti-Semitism warned German Jews that in the face of last year's 20% rise in anti-Semitic crimes, it could be dangerous for Jews to wear kippahs, the traditional skullcaps also known as yarmulkes, in public. He had already cautioned against wearing kippahs while visiting big cities.

On May 26, in a remarkable and quite typical Clown case of lack of self-awareness, White House principal deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley claimed Democrats receive “complicit” and “compliant” treatment from the news media "in a slant that makes everything negative no matter how positive the subject matter may be.”

I usually ignore Tweetie-Pie for the Clown category because he's such an easy target that it seems unfair to others, but I couldn't let this one pass:

Sebastian Gorka
On May 28, during his trip to Japan, Tweetie-Pie claimed he did Joe Biden a favor by calling him a “low IQ individual” because Kim Jong Un had called him a “low IQ idiot.”

In that spirit, I promise that the next time someone calls Tweetie-Pie - or T-P for short, also quite appropriate - an imbecile, I'll do him a favor and call him a moron.

The Clowns keep coming:

On May 29, after Robert Mueller's presser, right-wing blowhard and all-around creepy person Sebastian Gorka said Mueller wasn't qualified to park a car. Here are Gorka's own qualifications in that area. (He also got an expired meter ticket for the latter one.)

On the other hand, here is a real Outrage: The European Union and EU-member states had donated two classrooms to be used in the West Bank for Palestinian children in grades 1-6.

In October the Israeli Civil Administration, which is in charge of policy in the occupied territories, seized and dismantled the schools. The EU missions in the West Bank called for the immediate reconstruction of the classrooms.

Israel not only ignored that call, on May 31 it emerged that in what can only be considered a deliberately cruel move, Israel is auctioning off the stolen classrooms, not only denying Palestinian children access to an education but looking to profit off doing it.

The auction is expected to be held in the week or so.

Oh, but don't forget: BDS is anti-Semitic. Just ask Israel.

Also on May 31was the mass murder in Virginia Beach. The best summation of the meaning was delivered quite unintentionally by CNN, which opened it's report by saying, quote,
At least 12 people were killed Friday after a gunman opened fire at a municipal building in Virginia Beach. The attack was the deadliest mass shooting in the US since November.
I'll leave you with this, an oft-reprised headline from The Onion:
No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens
Finally for now: On June 1 Rhode Island Bishop Thomas Tobin admonished Catholics in not to support or attend any LGBTQ Pride Month commemorations in June, warning that such events promote a “culture” and “activities” that are “especially harmful for children."

This from a bishop of a church with a long and demonstrated history of child sexual abuse that was actively covered up by the church hierarchy - including in a diocese in Pennsylvania where Thomas Tobin served as an auxiliary bishop.

By the way, Pride Month is particularly significant this year because it marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in Manhattan, and if you don't know about that event, look it up.

The Erickson Report - Page 1: Following Up on reproductive rights

Following Up on reproductive rights

Last time, I spent some time talking about the recent attacks on the right to an abortion.

I want to follow up on that by noting that not all the news is bad - for one thing, you know those so-called “heartbeat” bills, the ones banning abortions once a so-called “fetal heartbeat” can be detected, which is usually around six weeks and before many women even know they are pregnant -

Interrupting here to raise something important to remember: I say “so-called” because the term “fetal heartbeat” in this context is completely bogus. It’s a PR ploy. What’s being detected is cardiac activity, more specifically, some pulsing indicating communication among a group of what will eventually become cardiac cells. There is at this point no cardiovascular system so it is not by any sane understanding of the term a “heartbeat.”

Getting back to where I was, four states have passed such mislabeled bills this year, but they failed in several more, including Republican-led ones. Efforts in Texas, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia all fell short.

Just as importantly, there is a form of pushback in that some places are taking steps to protect that right in the unhappy but unfortunately not unlikely event that Roe v. Wade is overturned.

For example, The Guttmacher Institute reported that 2018 was "the first in recent years when the number of proactive policies enacted outpaced new restrictions." 29 states and the District of Columbia enacted 80 measures that expanded access to reproductive health care.

This year, A variety of states are expanding access to abortion services, repealing restrictions, and updating their codes to do away with decades-old measures that are not enforced.

- Early this year, New York enacted a law to enshrine the protections of Roe intro law and removed abortion from the criminal code.
- Vermont lawmakers passed a state constitutional amendment to ensure abortion rights.
- In Maine, a bill is moving through the legislature requiring the state Medicaid program and private insurance companies to cover abortion care.
- Nevada has removed criminal penalties for people who terminate a pregnancy without consulting a physician.
- llinois removing old measures requiring spousal consent, waiting periods and criminal penalties for doctors who perform abortions and now treats abortion as health care.
- At the end of April, the state Supreme Court of Kansas ruled by 6-1 that the state’s constitution enshrines a woman’s right to an abortion.

Beyond that, it turns out that that Alabama law is not particularly popular there: According to a poll done last year but only released in May, only 31% of Alabama voters support a law as extreme as the one passed.

And it's not just Alabama: According to a new USA TODAY/Ipsos poll, by 55%-45% Americans oppose the so-called "fetal heartbeat" laws and by nearly three to one, 73%-27%, they oppose seeing all abortion facilities in their states closed.

Fifty percent say SCOTUS should uphold the Roe v. Wade decision; another 30% say Roe should be upheld but maybe within stricter limits; only 20% say it should be overturned.

And finally for now, in Georgia At least five county DAs say they will not enforce the state's new anti-choice law

So yes,  not all the news is bad. On the other hand, here are two things to keep in mind:

An Indiana law barred abortions based on the fetus’ sex, race, or disability. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the law and SCOTUS recently refused to hear an appeal from that decision. But as part of that, Clarence Thomas took the opportunity to launch a vicious and wholly irrelevant attack on birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger. I told you - if they kill Roe v. Wade,  they'll be coming for birth control next.

The other thing - and never forget this - is that Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Georgia, Alabama, Ohio, Missouri, and Kentucky, all sporting their new more-restrictive anti-choice, anti-women's health, laws, all of them rank among the 10 worst states for maternal mortality, infant mortality, or both. The connection between lack of access to abortion and lack of access to pre- and post-natal health care is very real.

The Erickson Report for June 5 to 18, 2019

The Erickson Report for June 5 to 18, 2019

This week:

Following Up on reproductive rights

Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages

A Longer Look at immigration

Friday, May 24, 2019

The Erickson Report - Page 3: A Deeper Look: Venezuela

A Deeper Look: Venezuela

What happened to Venezuela as a news story?

It was all over news in April, you couldn’t turn your head without bumping into a Venezuela story. Ever since January we had breathless media reports of building tensions, we had reports of massive demonstrations by opponents of the government, all against a backdrop of - as our media would have it - a dictator desperately trying to cling to power against a rising tide of internal resistance and international condemnation. How long can he hold out, he’s going to fall, it’s got to happen, any day now, any day now, any day now!

Now, there’s still news, but by comparison, it’s crickets. So what happened?

The two leading characters in this are Nicolás Maduro, winner of the last election for president of Venezuela, and Juan Guaido, head of the National Assembly, who have been metaphorically butting heads for four months.

The roots go back earlier - of course you can always go back earlier, claiming ever-earlier roots of most any conflict, but the immediate roots date to 1999. That was when Hugo Chavez was elected president of Venezuela as the face of a movement to raise the poor: to raise their living standards and to raise their voices.

Chavez launched big poverty-reduction programs that had measurable impacts:
- between 2003 and 2009, the poverty rate was cut by more than half
- between 2001 and 2007, illiteracy was cut by nearly a third
- government programs brought food, housing, and health care to the needy

Nicolás Maduro
But during his time in office, he made three serious mistakes, all of which bear on the present moment:

For one, his anti-poverty measures were paid for with oil income, which accounts for 98% of the country’s foreign earnings, which meant they depended on oil prices remaining high.

Notice on Graph 1, which displays the world price for oil, that I’ve marked when Chavez came into office. It was a time of increasing oil prices. Not in an unbroken string, but overall, yes, clearly increasing. Prices continued to generally climb - until around 2008-2009 when they crashed to less than a third of what they had been, saddling Venezuela with debts it couldn’t pay and sending the country into a deep recession from which it has still not recovered.

Juan Guaido
Second, he didn’t account for - or at least didn't count enough for how much international finance and transnational corporations would hate him and how much they would hate what he was trying to do for the poor, how much they would try to smear him, how much they would try to undermine the economy. When he nationalized some parts of the oil industry, the reaction among those self-labeled Masters of the Universe was to declare Venezuela unsafe for investment.

Even though unless they were in certain segments of the oil industry they had no reason to be concerned, even though foreign investment was still welcome, even though private enterprise continued across the economy, still Venezuela was declared too risky for investment, thus denying it needed foreign capital. That hatred, including among his domestic elites, was enough to see an attempted (and US-endorsed) coup in 2002.

Hugo Chavez
They couldn’t stand what he was trying to do and they especially couldn’t stand that despite their best efforts, he kept winning elections that even his opponents were forced to admit were free and fair.

Before Chavez died in office in 2013, he had named Nicolás Maduro as his preferred successor. Maduro was elected in April 2013 but by the thin margin of 1.6 percentage points.

During his first term in office, the economy, still suffering from the effects of the price crash of 2008-2009, sank even further when oil prices hit another decline, leaving the people increasingly struggling and Maduro increasingly unpopular.

Even so, Maduro was re-elected to a second six-year term in May 2018, but in an election that could politely be called controversial. In fact, there is good reason to regard that election as at best unfair if not illegitimate. Most opposition parties boycotted it because the most popular opposition parties were barred from running, leading to charges the poll would be neither free nor fair. As a result, Maduro's re-election was not recognized by the National Assembly, which is controlled by the opposition.

Which relates to Chavez’s third failing: He failed to build a movement that would survive him. The movement was Chavez, Chavez was the movement. When he died, he left behind him a party structure, but there was no movement beyond that structure, no broad base of organized support to call on, to not only hold that party up, but to hold it to point. Yes, Chavez could be authoritarian - although he was never near the incipient dictator much of the media here would have him be - but he could be authoritarian but at least it could be said of him that it was in service to that idea of lifting the poor.

For Maduro, being authoritarian - and he most certainly is that and more than Chavez ever was - is in service to idea of staying in power.

On January 10 of this year, Maduro was inaugurated into his second term. Almost immediately, the National Assembly held itself to be the only legitimate governing body and Guaido, as head of the Assembly, declared himself the legitimate "acting" president. The US recognized Guaido, and the players were all in place.

Graph 1
The US got others to go along with its endorsement of Guaido, intentionally setting the conflict up as an ideological proxy war between the hideous phantasm specter of "socialism" as pesented by the US foreign policy apparatus on the one hand and fields of flowers "democracy" on the other. The crisis in Venezuela deepened and sharpened complete with the US repeatedly dangling the possibility of sending in the Marines.

Across this time, the US kept claiming its only interest was the welfare of the people of Venezuela, but that was a lie. Already reeling from a the deep recession caused by 2008-2009 the collapse of oil prices, Venezuela has been hit with two rounds of severe economic sanctions from the US.

The first round, in August 2017, prohibited the Venezuelan government from borrowing in US financial markets, making it impossible for the country to restructure foreign debt, which made it impossible to obtain more financing which made it impossible to recover from the recession and caused oil production to crash.

Look Graph 2. It compares domestic oil production in Venezuela and Colombia, with Venezuela’s in the dark blue. I want you to notice the vertical dashed line closer to me. It marks the imposition of the 2017 sanctions. Notice what happens to Venezuela’s production in their wake. The result was driving the economy from a state of very high inflation to one of hyperinflation, with all the attendant effects of the population.

The second set of sanctions, laid down in January of this year, prohibited the sale of oil from Venezuela’s national oil company in the US, which has previously been the customer for more than a third of Venezuela’s oil, and also froze nearly $18 billion in Venezuelan assets.

Moreover, the US has pressured other countries not to buy the oil that previously had been imported by the US and has instructed oil trading houses and refiners around the world to further cut dealings with Venezuela or face sanctions themselves, even if the trades are not prohibited by published US sanctions. Put another way, the US has declared to the world “do not deal in, do not refine, do not even transport Venezuelan oil or we will come for you.”

In a report issued in April, economists Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs calculate that US sanctions have resulted in the death of 40,000 Venezuelan civilians between 2017 and 2018, with an additional 300,000 at risk “because of lack of access to medicines or treatment” and another four million with diabetes and hypertension who cannot access needed medicine. They say the numbers “virtually guarantee that the current sanctions are a death sentence for tens of thousands of Venezuelans.”

Some have challenged those figures, claiming they are inflated - but significantly, the challengers have not disputed that fact that the sanctions have resulted in Venezuelan deaths, they only dispute how many.

The US is literally killing thousands of Venezuelans to oust Maduro - and remember, these sanctions started in August 2017 - nearly a full year before the suspicious elections that are supposedly the basis for declaring Guaido the president.

Graph 2
The lie about the welfare of the people also lead to that staged “relief caravan” at the border with Colombia, with the US bringing trucks of “aid” to the starving, desperate people of Venezuela because the US government was just so moved by their need, aid they knew would be refused, aid that was intended to be refused, intended to be refused as part of a cynical political carnival so transparent that international aid organizations refused to take part. In other words, the US was oh so graciously offering some minimal help in order to relieve suffering for which it itself was significantly responsible. Meanwhile, the response of the Maduro government was in effect “don’t send aid, unfreeze our assets and we’ll buy what we need.”

And so we stumbled forward until April 30 when Juan Guaido, apparently believing that the venom and froth coming from such as John Bolton meant the US really was ready to invade on his behalf, declared “the final phase” and “the time is now” for an uprising, declared it in a video designed to make his supporters believe the military had switched sides and he may have already seized a military base near the capital of Caracas.

It turned out that the two dozen or so soldiers appearing with him on the video were all he had and his call for an uprising quickly fizzled, as did his call the next day for a general strike. The opposition could and still did generate mass protests, but they were neither large enough nor, more importantly, sustained enough to force change. Instead of being forced out, Maduro seemed even more secure.

This is not to say things are resolved or that it’s all over - although it is, interestingly and revealingly, that point at which our mainstream media lost interest and Venezuela disappeared from the front page, to be replaced by the latest shiny penny.

But let it be known that there are clear signs that there is more to be told about Venezuela and the opposition might not be reduced to issuing defiant proclamations, our media to the contrary.

For one, Guaido is still dreaming of US military support. On May 5 he told the BBC that he was considering asking the US to launch a military intervention and a few days later he asked for a meeting with the US military for “strategic and operational planning” and said he "welcomes the support of the United States and confirms our government's willingness to begin discussions regarding the cooperation that has been offered." In response, a representative of the US Southern Command said “We are currently following up with” Guaido’s representative in the US, which could mean he's not the only one still thinking about it.

For another, there are signs that Maduro may be bending. On May 13, Venezuela lifted foreign exchange controls on banks for the first time in 16 years. Observers were skeptical that it will do much to lift the economy, but it is a shift.

There was also a report that Maduro was inviting a range of local officials to meet with him and suggest changes in his policies, which could mean he is feeling confident in his position but could also mean he feels the need to look flexible in order to deflect some of the pressure.

And finally, there are multiple reports that representatives of both sides have traveled to Norway for exploratory talks on resolving the crisis. Members of the National Assembly confirmed the reports on background and while Maduro has not directly commented, he did say May 15 that Minister Jorge Rodríguez was on a "very important" mission outside the country.

And finally, on something else that may - emphasize may - help to move things toward a resolution, it develops that the US is unlikely to grant a request from the Venezuelan opposition for an executive order protecting the nation’s assets from creditors. That means Guaido will need to make a critical bond payment by the end of this month to ensure that investors don’t try to seize Citgo, which is owned by the Venezuelan national oil company and was put up as collateral on the note. Supposedly this reluctance is because President Tweetie-pie doesn’t want to get too involved in the opposition’s economic agenda, but in reality it means that the US will not shield Guaido’s administration from the banks - and Juan Guaido may just gotten his first lesson in whose interests he is truly supposed to act.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Erickson Report - Page 2: Listen Up!

Listen Up!

Okay people, it's time to listen up.

There has been a lot of talk about impeachment of late, impeachment, that is, of President Tweetie-pie*. Some folks say it has to happen, some say it's inevitable, some say there is no point, and of course he has his defenders insisting that nothing he's done or accused of justifies it, it’s all "fake news" and in any event nothing rises to the Constitutional definition of "treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors."

Well, listen up: We can't not do it. We can't not impeach. We can't say that what we have seen is acceptable. We can't say that obstruction of justice is okay. We can't say that ignoring the emoluments clause is okay. We can't say cooperating with agents tied to a foreign government to influence our elections is okay.

We can't allow endorsing white supremacy to be okay. We can't say returning to the days when bigotry was the law of the land and publicly acceptable is okay. We can't say a president acting like a mafia boss is okay.

We cannot not do it. Even if know will lose, even if we know the right wing Senate won't convict, even if we are fearful that the mouth-breathing bigots who are such a big part of his base will get all riled up, we can't not do it.

The contrary argument is that it’s better to avoid the conflict and beat him in 2020, an argument spun mostly by people like Nancy Cluck-Cluck Pelosi whose sole concern is how impeachment might affect the political fortunes of the Democrats in 2020, preferring to run and hide for fear of what the GOPpers will say about them, as if they wouldn't say it all anyway, fearful that Tweetie-pie will make himself out the victim as if he won't anyway, as if he hasn't already.

The argument, ultimately, is based on a claim about the Clinton impeachment, noting that his popularity went up in the wake of it - but the comparison is weak if not bogus.

First, Bill Clinton was a popular president: His approval rating was in the mid-50s to the low 60s through all of 1997; when scandal broke into the media in January 1998, it stood at 60.

Trump is an unpopular president; his approval rating has never been above 46; it’s averaged about 42; and is often in upper 30s.

Second, the Clinton impeachment was seen by many as purely political (which it was); many argued the impeachment was wrong because it involved a personal matter that had nothing to do with his job as president and did not involve offenses to the body politic, which are the sort of offenses the authors of the Constitution intended to be the focus of impeachment.

You can’t say any of that about Trump.

What's more, waiting for the election doesn't resolve the issue of the damage that we have seen.

If we let this pass, we are saying that a president can obstruct justice, ignore the emoluments clause, break campaign finance laws, undermine Constitutional government and corrupt the political process, ignore subpoenas, refuse to obey laws even if the plain black letter of the law says otherwise, subvert the very rule of law by turning the Attorney General into their personal lawyer, subvert free speech by encouraging violence against protestors, subvert the free press by calling any critical coverage "fake news" from "the enemies of the people"and even declaring their own twitter feed the only source of truth, even refuse to recognize Congress as a co-equal branch of government - all of that and more, with no consequence beyond maybe losing an election.

We can't let this pass without at least trying to lay down a marker saying this is not acceptable!

Listen up, people: We cannot not impeach.

*So named because of his addiction to tweeting out his every passing thought.

The Erickson Report - Page 1: Abortion rights are under attack and it goes beyond that

Abortion rights are under attack and it goes beyond that

It should come as no surprise that the anti-choice, anti-freedom, anti-abortion, forced birth crowd is feeling pretty good these days, especially as the elevation of Brett The Liar Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court is giving them wet dreams of overturning Roe v. Wade.

Six states have enacted so-called "heartbeat bills" that ban abortions, with very few exceptions, once a fetal heartbeat can be detected - which is usually at about six weeks, a point before which most women even know they are pregnant. Four of those six - Ohio, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Georgia - have passed such laws this year.

It should be noted that none of these laws have gone into effect: Kentucky's, which was to go into effect immediately, has been blocked in federal court. Mississippi's is intended to go into effect July 1, Ohio's July 10, and Georgia's January 1, 2020 - and all three are certain to be blocked by suits in federal district court because they so obviously conflict with Roe v. Wade. But of course the point is not to get them in force immediately - supporters know they will lose in lower courts - but to get one or more of them before the Supreme Court.

Still, it does seem that each is vying to be the most restrictive and to be the one that makes it to SCOTUS and so obtains the glory of being the one that results in Roe being overturned and thus the return of back-alley abortions.

For example, last November, a federal judge ruled Mississippi's ban on abortion after 15 weeks was unconstitutional - and the state responded by banning it after six weeks and adding that a physician who performs an abortion after that time could lose their state medical license.

The Ohio law not only bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, it provides no exceptions for rape or incest.

In Georgia, the law extends the legal definition of "natural persons" to include the fetus once a heartbeat is detectable, which means that women who have abortions after six weeks along with those who perform them could be prosecuted for murder. Even if the woman goes to a different state where the procedure is legal, she could be charged with conspiracy to commit murder, punishable by 10 years in prison.

And don’t wave that off like it can’t happen because it already has. In 2015, in Georgia, a woman named Kenlissia Jones was prosecuted for "malice murder" for taking an abortion pill. The charges were only dropped when prosecutors had to admit that there was no provision in state law allowing for such prosecution. If this new bill were to become law, there would be.

The Alabama legislation is perhaps the most extreme, as it seeks to outlaw abortion outright. It bans all abortions in the state except when "necessary to prevent a serious health risk" to the woman. It classifies abortion as a Class A felony, punishable by up to 99 years in prison for doctors. It does say a woman who gets an abortion can't be prosecuted, but also makes no exceptions for victims or rape or incest.

Overall four states passed such laws this year, but similar bills have been introduced in 13 more and some are moving through state legislatures.

For example, in Missouri, a bill banning abortion after eight weeks has been approved by the state Senate - with no exceptions for rape, incest, or human trafficking. A doctor who performs an abortion after that point could be charged with a felony and face up to 15 years in prison.

But Ohio has a new twist: Following on its "heartbeat bill," the legislature is considering a bill to bar insurance companies from covering abortion services unless the procedure is necessary to save the woman’s life. The bill defines this kind of abortion as a “nontherapeutic abortion,” which “includes drugs or devices used to prevent the implantation of a fertilized ovum.”

This is important: By that definition, using the pill is abortion. Using an IUD is abortion. Use the patch, use the ring, it's all abortion under this proposed law.

There have long been warnings, too often ignored or dismissed, that this issue would not end at abortion; that even if the anti-choice bigots got their way and abortion was outlawed in every state, they would not be satisfied but they would come after birth control next.

Admittedly, some of the effects of this proposed Ohio law are the result of an astonishing level of ignorance about the biology of human reproduction and the very basics of how something like the pill works, but the blunt truth is that a fair about is due to ideology.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pointed to that, noting that abortion bans "aren't just about controlling women's bodies. They're about controlling women's sexuality. Owning women. Ultimately, this is about women's power. When women are in control of their sexuality, it threatens a core element underpinning right-wing ideology: patriarchy."

Exactly. Ultimately, this is not about abortion. That is the current and necessary battlefield, but it’s not the war.

It's not even about birth control. But AOC is too limiting when she says it's about women's sexuality or controlling women's sexuality. It's about more. It's about controlling women's entire lives, controlling their options, limiting their choices. It is about too many men - and, let it be said, a not inconsiderable number of women - looking for a world of Stepford wives (if you're anywhere near AOC's age, look it up) and barefoot and pregnant homilies.

It is about, ultimately, people so rigid and narrow in their thinking, so trapped in their presumptions, so fearful, indeed so terrified, of the future, that they are striving to undo decades of social change and social progress because that's where their ideology, one based on an inability to deal with change, leads them.

Abortion is the current battlefield, but that is the war.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Erickson Report - May 21-June3

The Erickson Report for May 21 - June 3, 2019

This week:

- Abortion rights are under attack and it goes beyond that

- Listen Up! We can't not impeach

- A Deeper Look: Venezuela -16-years-63015289
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