Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Category: Politics Page 1 of 27

Presidential caucuses have been Connie’s specialty in Iowa as she followed the elections of 2004, 2008, 2012 and wrote the 2 books “Obama’s Odyssey: The 2008 Race for the White House.” She also continues to follow politics by avidly reading everything she can get her hands on, including “Rolling Stone,” “Mother Jones,” “Newsmax,” “Time,” etc.

“Symptoms of Withdrawal” by Christopher Kennedy Lawford Offers Insight

I just finished reading Christopher Kennedy Lawford’s memoir (2005) “Symptoms of Withdrawal.”

Yes, it was published in 2005, so I’m a bit behind on this one. Something reminded me of the Las Vegas trip when I won at roulette with one (1) bet on one number and went upstairs to watch young Lawford be interviewed about a book, which I think was this book. It was a long time ago and that would make it 16 years ago. I remember that the Japanese gamblers gathered around the roulette wheel when I placed exactly one $50 bet on one color and number clapped when I took the money and ran. I had had a spirited discussion with my spouse about the wisdom of betting on roulette at all, but I had just won $50 at the poker bar, so I figured I was playing with the house’s money. I wanted to make it upstairs to hear this interview.

The interview was worth it. The adult son of actor Peter Lawford and one of the fabled Kennedy clan (JFK’s sister Patricia is his mother) would have been 50 years old when this book was published in 2005. He shared that his father was the last person to talk to Marilyn Monroe on the phone the night she died, when Marilyn called him. He talked about his much-discussed 17-year addiction to drugs of all kinds, which ultimately led him to quit all of them and become a speaker and writer on the topic.

Christopher Kennedy Lawford was a handsome guy. He looked like a real charmer, and I’m sure he was. By the time he died of a heart attack (brought on, some say, by a hot yoga class) in 2018 at the age of 63 he had gone through 3 wives and was with a new girlfriend in Canada.

I found his book very interesting and I was a sympathetic reader up until Chapter 39. What happened in Chapter 39, you may ask?

The younger Lawford writes, “I left my marriage in sobriety because I was being dishonest and after seventeen years wasn’t sure I wanted to be married anymore.” Young Christopher went on to say, “To tell lies to others is foolish; to tell lies to yourself is a disaster.” He added, “I have always had a certain ambivalence about marriage…Something about that life didn’t feel right to me. It wasn’t Jeannie (his wife) or my kids. It was me.” Interestingly enough, Wife #2 (Lana) uses the quote about telling lies to yourself in her IMDB biography.

In the next paragraph Christopher adds, “Many of the people in my life, including my kids, thought I was crazy to break up my marriage and got very angry with me. At the time, it was something I felt like I had to do. I could not lie anymore to others or myself. I thought we would all acclimate to the change and go on in the new circumstances. I seriously underestimated the pain my leaving caused and how difficult it would be for Jeannie and my kids to adjust.”

He adds, “I had made quite a show of trying to destroy myself, and now, after years of reconstruction, I was left with the knowledge that if you took away my sobriety, the only thing that I knew how to do was take advantage of the circumstances I was born into. I believed I needed to leave home to find out who I was.”

Christopher Kennedy Lawford’s therapist at the time said to him, “What about your children?”

By this point, he had three—2 sons (David and Matthew) and a daughter (Savannah Rose).

The therapist correctly added, “It is vital that you do not recreate unconsciously  what was done to you by your father.” If you had read the book, you’d know that the divorce of Pat Kennedy Lawford and Peter Lawford meant that young Christopher—their only son—-really had no father and depended a great deal on the “fathering” of relatives like Robert Kennedy, until RFK’s assassination, and, after that, on Teddy Kennedy.

The therapist then added something that sounds like malpractice, really: “You can recreate it consciously.  You can choose to turn away from your family, or not. It’s your life, but you must make a conscious choice.”

Christopher Kennedy Lawford then writes, “I think it was at that moment that I understood how to take responsibility for my own life.”

Wellllll.

By this point in time we have learned that the good-looking quasi-Kennedy had always been a big hit with the ladies and was a real “pleaser.” However, all that pleasing did not extend to following the rules when it came to illegal substances and he paints a pretty vivid picture of someone who hit rock bottom more than once before getting sober. He had dabbled in the worlds of both of his parents, taking acting roles on both television and in the movies, and he had wangled some time as a driver to his Uncle Teddy, among other youthful forays into politics.

What it appears happened here is that the always-reluctant-to-grow-up Christopher—having fathered 3 children and spent 17 years as an addict—finally kicked his bad habits and then decided that he could substitute his appeal to the ladies for some of his other weaknesses. In rather short order, he threw over a close-to-20 year marriage and took up with a beautiful young Russian actress named Lana Antonova. [There went the marriage to Jeannie Olsson, which lasted from 1984 until 2000.]

Lana and Chris were married for 4 years and divorced in 2009. She is a Russian-born actress and, since she was born in 1979, she was 24 years younger than her husband.

Enter Mercedes Miller in 2014. That marriage would only last 2 years before the couple divorced in 2016. His last wife, Mercedes was a yoga instructor and Kennedy, who was worth $50 million when he died, was in Vancouver, Canada when his heart gave out. He already had a new girlfriend and was working to establish an addiction treatment center when he died at age 63, just 2 years later than his actor father, Peter.

Christopher Kennedy Lawford lost his Uncle Jack when he was 8. (He turned down an invitation to fly to JFK’s funeral to stay home and host a sleep-over with a friend.) Uncle Bobby was shot and killed when Chris was 13 and he lost his best friend David Kennedy (after whom his own son is named) at the tender age of 28.

He earned a law degree from Boston College Law School, but really didn’t care for the law and never passed the bar. He studied counseling at Harvard University and lectured on addiction at Harvard, Columbia University and other college campuses. He spoke out on recovery issues for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Barack Obama and for the Caron Foundation, a nationwide drug and alcohol rehabilitation network.

This book by Christopher Kennedy Lawford, “Symptoms of Withdrawal,” is the only one of his many books I’ve read. It contained many family photos of the young Lawford with his Kennedy relatives.

I was sympathetic to his tales of how much he missed his father, growing up, and how that turned him to drugs and alcohol, until he turned around and did, to his own kids, exactly what his own father had done to him, breaking up the home he had shared with their mother for nearly 20 years.

It also appears that the young Lawford then snagged himself a “trophy wife” and, later, a third younger woman, whom he also dumped in 2016 (he died in 2018). He speaks at length of how he hopes to be a good father (unlike his own dad) to his three kids, and I hope he achieved that, at least, because he does not seem to have mastered the “good husband” part.

“We can re-create the days when Frank, Dean, Sammy and my dad were together,” Christopher told the Boston Globe in 2005. “But they all ended up dysfunctional, messed-up guys. And they once had everything. Money. Good looks. Success. Yet at the end, they were miserable, miserable men alone, angry, drinking. So what’s that all about?”

What’s that all about, indeed.

 

Liz Cheney’s Last Stand: Another One Bites the Dust

Liz Cheney within the Capitol (Photo courtesy of the Denver Post).

The following represents Liz Cheney’s statement, in its entirety, as she took a stand against Donald J. Trump. It took 15 minutes to throw Cheney out. Now, over 100+ Republicans have announced that they may form a break-away party. Talking heads predict that this is an inflection point and the party may be beyond repair.

From this point forward, Teresa Hanafin of The Boston Globe fills you in, with Liz Cheney’s own statement as she was drummed from her position as #3 Republican leader in a 15-minute meeting in Washington, D.C. today, which saw her booed and which was poorly attended by the Republicans, themselves:

****************

Liz Cheney and backlash over her anti-Trump stance.

“This morning, US House Republicans sacrificed Liz Cheney on the altar of Trump, purging her from the ranks of leadership because of her refusal to lie about the 2020 presidential election.

Her belief in democracy and the rule of law is just too inconvenient for Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and his ilk, her insistence that the party grow up and stop groveling before the Mar-a-Lago narcissist too embarrassing.

They’re angry that she’s pointing out their moral bankruptcy as they support Trump’s continued assault on democracy. They’re upset that she’s highlighting their willingness to set aside principle in order to grab power.

So she had to go.

Even as Cheney’s principled stance has been universally praised by those not in thrall to Trump, some on the left aren’t willing to give her a pass, given her hard-right positions on just about everything.

She supported her father, former VP Dick Cheney, when he told another Big Lie about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. She favors waterboarding, insisting it isn’t torture. She said Hillary Clinton’s handling of her e-mails was worse than Trump’s disgusting comments about sexually assaulting women. She accused then-president Barack Obama of deliberately wanting to shrink the economy and weaken the US abroad.

“Liberals responded to Trump’s derangements by bathing the Bush-Cheney crowd in a flattering nostalgic light,” New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote. In Salon, writer Chauncey DeVega called Cheney “a friendly fascist” who supported virtually all of Trump’s policies.

She’s no centrist.

But as Jonathan Chait of New York magazine points out, these complaints from some liberals ignores just how profoundly significant her stance really is.

To place her policy positions on the same level as her fight for democracy, Chait argues, is to say that the rule of law is just another issue. He writes:

“Cheney’s decision to challenge the party on democracy is remarkable for several reasons.

“First, she is putting the issue squarely. Rather than softening her line or couching her stance in the logic of messaging (i.e., Trump’s rhetoric will hurt Republicans with swing voters), she is straightforwardly instructing her fellow Republicans that their current path is a menace to the Constitution and the rule of law.

“Second, she has absolutely nothing to gain and a great deal to lose.

“And third, the fact she is such a dogmatic right-winger on economic, social, and foreign policy gives her support for democracy more, not less, weight. The very point of her dissent is that support for democracy ought to be separated from policy outcomes.

“Republicans should not succumb to the temptation of siding with a would-be authoritarian merely because he promises to advance their policy goals. ‘He’ll undermine the Constitution, but give us low capital gains taxes and friendly judges’ is not a morally defensible trade-off.

“Democracy is the one question not subject to horse-trading.”

(You can read Chait’s entire essay here.)

Cheney addressed her GOP colleagues before the quick voice vote that removed her.

“If you want leaders who will enable and spread [Trump’s] destructive lies, I’m not your person. You have plenty of others to choose from,” she said. “That will be their legacy.”

“But I promise you this: After today, I will be leading the fight to restore our party and our nation to conservative principles, to defeating socialism, to defending our republic, to making the GOP worthy again of being the party of Lincoln.”

When Cheney emerged from the meeting, she told reporters that she would continue her fight to protect democracy, and that she would do everything she could to make sure that Trump “never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office.”

Last week, I pointed you to Cheney’s essay in The Washington Post in which she made the point that Trump’s insistence that the election was stolen from him led to the murderous assault on the Capitol, and could provoke violence again.

Last night, she spoke to a mostly empty House chamber — the Republicans who had been giving speeches about “cancel culture” didn’t have the guts to stick around to listen to her — and talked about freedom, the Constitution, and duty.

LIZ CHENEY’S SPEECH IN ITS ENTIRETY:

Trump/Cheney/McCarthy: Three on a Match

Mister Speaker, tonight I rise to discuss freedom and our constitutional duty to protect it.

I have been privileged to see firsthand how powerful and how fragile freedom is. Twenty-eight years ago, I stood outside a polling place, a schoolhouse in western Kenya. Soldiers had chased away people who were lined up to vote. A few hours later, they came streaming back in, risking further attack, undaunted in their determination to exercise their right to vote.

In 1992, I sat across a table from a young mayor in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, and I listened to him talk of his dream of liberating his nation from communism. Years later, for his dedication to the cause of freedom, Boris Nemtsov was assassinated by Vladimir Putin’s thugs.

In Warsaw, in 1990, I listened to a young Polish woman tell me that her greatest fear was that people would forget, they would forget what it was like to live under Soviet domination, that they would forget the price of freedom.

Three men — an immigrant who escaped Castro’s totalitarian regime, a young man who grew up behind the Iron Curtain and became his country’s minister of defense, and a dissident who spent years in the Soviet gulag — have all told me it was the miracle of America captured in the words of President Ronald Reagan that inspired them.

And I have seen the power of faith and freedom. I listened to Pope John Paul II speak to thousands in Nairobi in 1985, and 19 years later, I watched that same pope take my father’s hands, look in his eyes, and say, “God Bless America.”

God has blessed America, but our freedom only survives if we protect it, if we honor our oath, taken before God in this chamber, to support and defend the Constitution, if we recognize threats to freedom when they arise.

Today we face a threat America has never seen before. A former president, who provoked a violent attack on this Capitol in an effort to steal the election, has resumed his aggressive effort to convince Americans that the election was stolen from him. He risks inciting further violence.

Millions of Americans have been misled by the former president. They have heard only his words, but not the truth, as he continues to undermine our democratic process, sowing seeds of doubt about whether democracy really works at all.

I am a conservative Republican, and the most conservative of conservative principles is reverence for the rule of law. The Electoral College has voted. More than 60 state and federal courts, including multiple judges the former president appointed, have rejected his claims. The Trump Department of Justice investigated the former president’s claims of widespread fraud and found no evidence to support them.

The election is over. That is the rule of law. That is our constitutional process.

Those who refuse to accept the rulings of our courts are at war with the Constitution.

Our duty is clear. Every one of us who has sworn the oath must act to prevent the unraveling of our democracy. This is not about policy. This is not about partisanship. This is about our duty as Americans. Remaining silent, and ignoring the lie, emboldens the liar.

I will not participate in that. I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy.

As the party of Reagan, Republicans have championed democracy, won the Cold War, and defeated the Soviet communists. Today, America is on the cusp of another Cold War – this time with communist China. Attacks against our democratic process and the rule of law empower our adversaries and feed communist propaganda that American democracy is a failure.

We must speak the truth. Our election was not stolen, and America has not failed.

I received a message last week from a Gold Star father who said, “Standing up for the truth honors all who gave all.” We must all strive to be worthy of the sacrifice of those who have died for our freedom. They are the patriots Katherine Lee Bates described in the words of “America the Beautiful” when she wrote,

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!

Ultimately, this is at the heart of what our oath requires – that we love our country more. That we love her so much that we will stand above politics to defend her. That we will do everything in our power to protect our constitution and our freedom – that has been paid for by the blood of so many. We must love America so much that we will never yield in her defense.

That is our duty.

 

Biden and the Border

The article below is a cobbled-together article from a variety of respected sources, all of them fiarly recent and all of them addressing the border, the border crisis, and the history of the border issues. In light of the constant litany of charges that “the border crisis” was all the Biden Administration’s fault, with little recognition of how long this problem has existed and no discussion of what all of the issues behind it might be, I decided to “copy and paste” some of the more enlightening articles out there…especially if they were current.

Apparently there are those who think that a problem this complex can be solved by simply throwing up a barrier, and that it should happen literally overnight, in the case of the Biden Administration in office only 100 days as of April 29th.

So, what, exactly, is the deal with the border wall, then and now? The following words from others are selections of articles, only, and this is far from the definitive word on the border and what has gone on there historically and is going on there now, but I thought you might enjoy reading some of the information for yourselves all in one place.

***********************

US-Mexico border violence deepens immigration divide | World| Breaking news  and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 27.11.2018

“Some 172,000 migrants were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border in March, the most in two decades. The problem is both push and pull: residents are driven out by hurricanes, crop failure, crime and corruption; they are drawn to the U.S. by family ties, work and stability in an economy expected to explode with post-pandemic opportunities, and an administration promising more humane treatment after the harsher Donald Trump years.

On Monday, VP Kamala Harris (delegated by President Biden to handle the crisis) meets by video with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei in advance of a visit there and to Mexico in June. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Harris would discuss sending immediate aid to Guatemala and “deepening cooperation on migration.”

Harris plans to hold a call with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador next week after a virtual meeting with Guatemalan community groups on Tuesday.

Officials and advisers say Harris will have to figure out a mix of short- and long-term steps, find non-governmental organizations to partner with and use carrots and sticks to fight corruption.”

HONDURAS

“U.S. prosecutors allege Honduran President Hernandez participated in a violent cocaine trafficking conspiracy. His brother was sentenced to life in prison for conspiring to smuggle almost 200,000 kg of cocaine into the the U.S. The effort was part of a state-backed trafficking operation that netted the president’s brother nearly $140 million, according to prosecutors.

President Hernandez was also cited in a separate case in the U.S. last month for allegedly participating in cocaine trafficking. He has dismissed the accusations as lies told by convicted criminals seeking to reduce their sentences and said he remains committed to fighting the drug trade.

Hernandez narrowly won a second term in a 2017 election that Organization of American States observers called “low quality” and whose result they refused to confirm. The country will hold a presidential election in November, and Hernandez is not running. That could allow the Biden administration to hold out hope for better leadership, but there’s little optimism that corruption there is a problem with an easy solution.

“The perception of impunity or the perception that people in positions of power can commit acts of corruption without consequence discourages the population and contributes to the sense that there is no future in their countries,” Zuniga told reporters after visiting.

FLEEING THE VIOLENCE

migrant caravan

Central American migrants en route to the US starting their day departing Ciudad, Hidalgo, Mexico. (Photo AP/Moises Castillo)

“Migrants, including a growing number of women and children, are fleeing the troubled region in record numbers. On average, about 265,000 people have left annually in recent years, and this number is on track to more than double [PDF] in 2019. (And has, during DJT’s final years and now.]

Some migrants seek asylum in other parts of Latin America or in Europe. However, most endure a treacherous journey north through Mexico to the United States. Unlike past waves of migrants, in which most attempted to cross illegally without detection, migrants from the Northern Triangle often surrender to U.S. border patrol agents to claim asylum. In 2018, the United States granted asylum to roughly 13 percent [PDF] of Northern Triangle applicants, almost twice the 2015 acceptance rate [PDF]. Guatemalans currently account for the largest share of the migrant flow, followed by Hondurans and Salvadorans.

Agricultural setbacks, including unpredictable weather and a destructive coffee rust, have fueled food insecurity and become a leading driver of migration. Many households depend on money sent home by relatives living and working abroad. Remittances equal a comparatively large portion—almost 18 percent [PDF]—of the three countries’ economic output. Meanwhile, corruption and meager tax revenues, particularly in Guatemala, have crippled governments’ ability to provide social services.

Decades of civil war and political instability [PDF] planted the seeds for the complex criminal ecosystem that plagues the region today, which includes transnational gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the Eighteenth Street Gang (M-18). Critics say that U.S. interventions during the Cold War—including support for a coup in Guatemala, brutal government forces in El Salvador, and right-wing rebels based in Honduras known as the Contras—helped destabilize the region. Though they have declined somewhat in recent years, homicide rates in the Northern Triangle have been among the world’s highest for decades.

ECONOMIC INSTABILITY

Economic instability. The region’s most significant coordinated effort to address economic instability is the so-called Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity (A4P), which made commitments to increase production, strengthen institutions, expand opportunities, and improve public safety. Announced after a flood of Northern Triangle migrants arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2014, the $22 billion plan is 80 percent funded by El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Corruption. The region has made significant progress in its battle against corruption, a longtime drag on economies. In perhaps the most prominent example, Guatemala appealed to the United Nations for assistance in establishing an independent body to investigate and prosecute criminal groups suspected of infiltrating the government. Widely trusted by Guatemalans, the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) helped convict more than three hundred officials and significantly reduce Guatemala’s homicide rate.

Meanwhile, El Salvador has charged three former presidents with money laundering or embezzlement, and recently announced plans for its own international anticorruption panel. With the support of the Organization of American States, a regional bloc, Honduras also established a corruption-fighting committee and went so far as to fire 40 percent of its police during sweeping reforms in 2016, though citizen confidence in the force remains low [PDF].

What’s been the U.S. approach to the Northern Triangle?

Over the past twenty years, the United States has taken significant steps to try to help Northern Triangle countries manage irregular migration flows by fighting economic insecurity and violence. However, critics say U.S. policies have been largely reactive, prompted by upturns in migration to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Critics say U.S. policies have been largely reactive, prompted by upturns in migration to the U.S.-Mexico border.

George W. Bush administration. President Bush put trade at the top of his administration’s Central America agenda, negotiating the seven-country Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), which includes El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Under his administration, the United States also awarded Northern Triangle governments more than $650 million in development grants through the Millennium Challenge Corporation. During its second term, the administration grappled more with security challenges, including rising crime and drug trafficking in the region, and it responded with an aid package for Central America and Mexico known as the Merida Initiative.

Barack Obama administration. President Obama separated Mexico from the Merida grouping and rebranded it the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) [PDF]. Over the years, Congress has appropriated more than $2 billion in aid through CARSI to help the region’s law enforcement, counternarcotics agencies, and justice systems. Midway through his second term, Obama recast U.S. strategy [PDF] for Central America, forging what was intended to be a more holistic interagency approach to complement the region’s A4P plan.

After an upswing in migration from the region in 2014, the administration partnered with Northern Triangle governments on anti-smuggling operations and information campaigns intended to deter would-be migrants. It also cracked down on undocumented immigrants inside the United States. Court-mandated removals during his administration outpaced those under Bush, totaling about three million. After Mexico, the Northern Triangle countries accounted for the largest shares of Obama-era removals.

Donald J. Trump administration. The Trump administration has kept Obama’s framework for the region, but has prioritized stemming the flow of Central American migrants to the United States and ramping up border security.

Many of Trump’s actions have stoked controversy and sparked legal challenges. In the spring of 2018, the administration implemented a zero-tolerance policy [PDF] that sought to criminally prosecute all adults entering the United States illegally, including asylum seekers and those with children. As a result, several thousand children were separated from their parents and detained in makeshift facilities, many of which were criticized for being in poor condition. Trump officially rescinded the policy following a public backlash, though separations have continued.

OCTOBER 1, 2019:

The U.S. Immigration Debate | Council on Foreign Relations
 Photo courtesy of the Council on Foreign Relations

Apprehensions of Northern Triangle citizens have more than doubled so far this year  (2019) compared with all of 2018.

Meanwhile, Trump has slashed hundreds of millions of dollars in Northern Triangle aid, and is holding back future funding until the region “take[s] concrete actions” to address migration. The administration also tried revoking temporary protected status, a program that allows migrants from crisis-stricken countries to live and work in the United States for a period of time, for Hondurans and Salvadorans.

This seems to have made the situation at the border worse.

CHILDREN AT THE BORDER

A growing influx of migrants has led to a record number of children – 3,200 – being held in US immigration facilities as of 8 March. (*This has supposedly shrunk to 600 unescorted children being held, as of late April, 2021, with faster turn-around on processing and at least four families reunited after the Trump administration removed children from their parental escorts and lost track of many of them. Two shown being reunited recently had been separated from their parents since 2017 and 2018, respectively.)

US media reported that the figure had trebled in the past two weeks. It was also reported that half of the children are being held beyond the legal three-day limit, after which they must be transferred to the custody of health officials.

In January, the month that Mr Biden took office, 5,871 unaccompanied children crossed the border – up from 4,995 in December – according to data from US Customs and Border Protection (CPB).

Are unaccompanied children being held?

Yes.

While in office, Donald Trump faced outrage over the conditions inside border facilities holding minors. Images from inside the detention centres showed children overcrowded in metal cages, others sleeping under foil blankets.

Some of these Trump-era facilities – now renovated and upgraded – are being used again.

Mr Biden has so far left a Trump-era Covid-19 emergency policy in place, which allows US authorities to expel almost all undocumented migrants seeking entry – bypassing normal immigration laws and protections.

But unlike Mr Trump, Mr Biden has decided not to refuse entry to migrant children or teenagers.

CHANGES UNDER BIDEN

Biden immigration policy stirs confusion at Mexico border - Los Angeles  Times
Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Times

“Advocates say that with most children arriving with plans to reunite with sponsors – typically friends or family – they should be transferred immediately to their care.

And according to preliminary plans obtained by US media, such a system may already be in the works.

The Biden administration is reportedly rushing to convert its existing facilities into “reception centres”, meant to rapidly process migrant families with the goal of releasing them into the US within 72 hours of arrival.

The proposal would replace long-term detention with Ellis Island-style processing, allowing migrants to travel to US sponsors before completing asylum screenings. The reports, from the Washington Post and the San Antonio Express, suggest a major overhaul of the US immigration system. All those processed are tested for Covid-19 before being transferred.

What is happening with the Remain in Mexico policy?

On Mr Biden’s first day in office, DHS suspended a controversial Trump-era policy that forced asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their US immigration hearings.

About 70,000 migrants were enrolled in the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) – informally known as the Remain in Mexico program – since it was introduced in January 2019.

Last month, the Biden administration began to gradually process these tens of thousands of people waiting in Mexico, allowing them into the US while their cases are heard.

March 9, 2021

What’s happening to undocumented people already in the US?

Biden’s administration has taken several steps to reform the country’s legal immigration system.

He has proposed a major immigration bill that would offer an eight-year pathway to citizenship to the estimated 11 million undocumented people in the country.

The legislation would also provide permanent protection for young migrants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) program, known as Dreamers.

The aggressively pro-immigration policy – which would greatly increase both family-based and employment-based legal immigration – will face staunch opposition in Congress, among Republicans and some moderate Democrats.

DIFFERENCES: THEN AND NOW

The White House has also started to focus attention on addressing root causes of migration in Central America, with Vice President Kamala Harris charged to shepherd an administration-wide effort to address conditions in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) sent a team to the region in April to scale up emergency humanitarian assistance in light of the pandemic, aftereffects of hurricanes that struck in late 2020, and other challenges. Thus far, work with these countries has focused on short-term measures to reduce the pace of migrants’ arrival at the U.S. border. But the administration has consistently noted that long-term efforts to address poor governance and create economic opportunities in Central America will be key to stem irregular migration.

 

 

 

“The Return: Life After ISIS” Paints Grim Picture of ISIS Women in Refugee Camps (SXSW)

The Return: Life After Isis” at SXSW Online 2021.

This film from Alba Sotorra Clua goes inside the Syrian refugee camps where citizens from 56 different nations and their children are trapped in a hellish existence. After the West withdrew and left the Kurds on their own and thousands of ISIS families faced defeat in Syria, there were over 100,000 captives who ended up living in camps throughout Syria. This camp contains a group of 1500 women and children i tent cities in Qamsall and Beghouz in Northeast Syria.

The newspaper headlines from various countries tell their story: “No regrets. No remorse. No re-entry.” As the women tell their stories, some say they were naïve teenagers who fell victim to the lure of ISIS on propaganda videos they saw on Twitter. Regardless, the countries from which they came do not want them back. Their children might make be accepted, but not the adult parents.

Some women held in the tent city were already married to young men who went off to fight with ISIS. When that happened to Hafida Nawal of the Netherlands, she was six months pregnant. She followed her husband from Holland to the Middle East.  Her husband, too, became disillusioned by the entire experience and agreed that both of them would try to escape, just before he was killed in battle. He said to her, “At least now you have a chance because the women and the children can go, but they (ISIS) will never let the men go.” She describes horrible hunger and how her child was reduced to eating grass, but says she doesn’t know if the hunger or the bombing is the worst. “She now realizes, “Real freedom is what we have in Holland” and says that the realization “doesn’t stop me from regretting.” In June of 2020 the Dutch courts ruled against repatriation.

Hoda Muthana of the United States and Shamima Begun of the United Kingdom voice similar regrets. Shamima was only 19 when she left Britain to join ISIS saying, “I always wanted to be a part of something.  I wanted to feel useful. I feel really bad, as a Muslim, leaving them behind.” She described her upbringing in an Islamic household as one where she was not close to her strict parents, had no friends and turned to Twitter for friendship. She fell victim to the propaganda videos that promise “the path of glory” and “living the true glory” and “surrendering to jihad.’ Shamima, however, was one of the more active online spreading ISIS propaganda as @Ummjihad and says, “You don’t realize you are brainwashed until you snap out of it.” She gave birth in Syria; her son died. Her best friend was killed in a bombing raid. She says “This was just a cult that ruined many people’s lives.” Her citizenship, as well as that of Hoda’s, has been revoked.

The film traces the group for 2 years. It is 2 years of unrelenting horror, deprivation and loss. One woman who emerges as a heroine is Sevina Evdike, a Kurdish woman who continues to work with the women. She urges them to write to anyone who might be able to help them, but no positive word is heard.

The German woman onscreen shares that she felt discriminated against in Germany, but that it is much worse here in Syria.  Kimberly from Canada and the others look cold in their burkhas with strong winds and dust blowing throughout the ramshackle camp. They describe blood running through the makeshift hospital tent after attacks and women showing up who appear to have been beaten all over their bodies with a pipe, despite being pregnant at the time. The Canadian captive says that many do not survive such grievous wounds. They describe the sale of women in marketplaces and there is film footage of such a sale, (shot discreetly from a distance).

All express the same refrain, “I really regret for the rest of my life. I wish I could just erase it.” After Shamima’s son dies, she says, “He was my last hope, the only thing keeping me alive.”

No water, no food, women sold into slavery or used as human shields. It’s a grim companion piece to the similar film “Sabaya” by Hogir Horiri, recently shown at Sundance. (A “sabaya” is a female sex slave.)

All have condemned themselves to a life of unremitting pain and suffering, but, when asked what they have learned from the experience, two positive statements emerge: (1) How strong women can be, and, (2) The value of a human life.

 

“The United States Versus Reality Winner” Screens at SXSW 2021

 

Reality Winner, accused NSA whistleblower (Wikipedia).

This expose of the persecution of Reality Winner (yes, that is really her name) was made possible  because of a Freedom of Information Act that finally  resulted in the release of the audio of Reality’s interrogation by eleven FBI agents.

The director of this based-on-fact film is Sonia Kennebeck. A famous name, Wim Wenders, the 75-year-old thrice-Oscar-nominated German director, served as executive producer.

Another famous face and voice is that of international whistleblower Edward Snowden, interviewed onscreen,  who released NSA classified documents to the Washington Post and The Guardian in June of 2013 and has been in exile ever since. Snowden makes the point that the only thing the authorities want to hear from you in such a case is a “yes” or a “no” to the question of whether or not an NSA employee with a Top Secret Security Clearance voluntarily released information.

Reality Winner—so named by her deceased father, because his wife picked the name of their firstborn, so he was allowed to select the second child’s name—was a supporter of Bernie Sanders. In the course of her work in Augusta, Georgia, she came into possession of the documents that proved that Russia was trying to meddle in the presidential race of 2016 at a time when this fact was being disputed by the Republican party.

Reality was held over a year in jail without bond and charged with the crime in violation of 18 USC/793, the Espionage and Censorship Act, written in 1917 for World War I. The law makes it a crime to provide national defense information to a foreign government, even though the document did not endanger national security.

Despite the fact that Reality Winner had a spotless background and had, in fact, served 6 years in the Air Force, her decision to make public the document that proved Russian meddling has cost her everything—her freedom, her job, her life. She not only was held one full year without being granted bond, she is one of only 8 people ever to be sentenced under the act. She received the toughest sentence of any of them: 63 months in prison, plus 3 months of supervised release.

At first, Reality denied sending the document to “The Intercept.” She said she remembered she had folded the document and put it in the burn bag. After being held in jail without bond and without trial for a year, she admitted that she folded the piece of paper and smuggled it out in her pantyhose. She sent it (with a Georgia postmark) to The Intercept for publication. Matthew Cole and Richard Esposito, two reporters for “The Intercept” contacted the FBI. Another such individual (who spent 2 years in prison for a similar crime), said, “They single-handedly got her arrested.”

When the eleven agents swooped down on Reality’s home, they were aware that she had written online, “The most dangerous thereat is the orange threat we let into the White House.” They knew of her support for Bernie Sanders. They did not, however, ever bother to read her her Miranda rights and did their best to get her to confess guilt in a casual fashion.

Then, the government sat on the documents for over 2 years. The document that proved Russia’s involvement in meddling in our presidential election is now public. It never imperiled our national security. It is fairly obvious that Reality Winner was going to be made into an example to dissuade “leakers” within the Trump Administration. She was recently denied a pardon on compassionate grounds.

The feeling you come away with after the film is that Reality Winner was trying to live up to a patriotic ideal that her father and mother had imbued in her since birth. She held out for a very long time before admitting to the mailing of the document. Conviction was a foregone conclusion, as the paperwork bore a certain “code” that would prove it had been her duty to handle it (she usually handled questions about Iranian air space and spoke Farsi, Darsh and Pashto). The details about the folded paper, plus the postmark, marked this native of Kingsville, Texas for a tough road ahead. As Reality said to her sister, “That’s my whole life. That’s all I had.”

She did put up a good fight, writing, from jail, “This is the worst summer camp ever.  There aren’t even any bears.”

Reality was 25 when indicted and her actions at no time put United States security into jeopardy, but her actions did clear up the unanswered question about whether or not the Russians were actively working to subvert our free and fair elections. The revelation put us in a much better position to safeguard our 2020 election from any foreign interference.

It’s a cautionary tale for our time. It’s certainly not the last or only unfair thing we are learning about Donald J. Trump’s time in office.

YOYO Philosophy Prevails in Texas (*You’re On Your Own)

View from Room 808 in the Sonesta Hotel in downtown Austin.

Today’s Austin American-Statesman column by Ken Herman contained the headline: “Abbott to Texans:   You’re On Your Own.”

In addition to thoroughly disapproving of Governor Abbott’s recent dictum to the state that all mitigation effort are off and everything is 100% “open” in the state of Texas now, Herman ended his column with these words:

“Abbott’s bottom line is we’re all on our own to do what we think is best.  Businesses are free to open to whatever capacity they want.  And customers are free to choose which businesses to patronize.

Sounds very Texan.  The problem is the worst decisions of the worst among us could become a determining variable about when real normalcy returns for the rest of us.  As we have seen since Day One of this life-threatening mess, we’re all still in this together.

Snide sidenote:  Hey! It could have been worse.  Abbott could have put ERCOT in charge!”

 

(*ERCOT, for the non-Texans out there, stands for The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which turned out to be ironically named when the entire system failed.)

Was Trump Truthful During His Remarks at CPAC?

For those of you who have not investigated Donald J. Trump’s remarks at CPAC, here is a run-down of the veracity of his remarks.

  • Trump:  ‘Had we had a fair election, the results would have been much different.” 63 court cases were either thrown out of court or denied outright. There are always isolated cases of fraud and irregularities, but none that would have changed the outcome of the election.  Joseph R. Biden won by an 8 million vote margin.
  • Trump: “The Democrats used the pandemic as an excuse to change all of the election rules without the approval of their state legislatures, therefore making it illegal.”  The “change” to election rules was to allow more voters to use absentee ballots, since there was real risk from voting in person during a pandemic that has killed 500,000 citizens. The Constitution leaves the matter of how elections are conducted to state legislatures.
  • Trump: “This election was rigged, and the Supreme Court and other courts didn’t want to do anything about it.” Texas tried to overturn the election results of 4 swing states. Only Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito thought that the Supreme Court should be hearing such a case. The Trump administration looked high and low to find a state attorney who would lodge the lawsuit for them and—finally and reluctantly—agreed to let the less-than-virtuous Paxton of Texas file the case. Courts at all levels, many of them with GOP-appointed judges, threw out all but one of Trump’s challenges, and the only one that held up allowed observers to move closer to those counting the votes. Even if the Supreme Court had agreed to throw out Pennsylvania’s votes, Joe Biden would still have won in the Electoral College.
  • “Bee Gone: A Political Parable”

    Trump: “We seem to have more votes than we have people in Detroit.”  Detroit has a voting-age population of 503,934. Detroit’s City Clerk’s website says that 250,138 residents voted.

  • Trump: “In Pennsylvania, they had hundreds of thousands of more votes than they had people voting.”

3 million voters requested absentee ballots by the Oct. 27th deadline. In total, about 6.9 million votes were counted in Pennsylvania’s presidential election. The number of registered Pennsylvania voters in 2020 was just over 9 million.

 

Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a man who told something like 35,000 documented lies while in office found it difficult to speak the truth at the CPAC conference.

Republicans Double-Down on Anti-Immigration Stance

Former Trump administration neo-Nazi and Breitbart spawn Steven Miller has been invited to address GOP members of Congress about the Democratic plan for an 8-year path to citizenship for illegal aliens.

This won’t be Miller’s first time trying to stop pro-immigrant legislation. Back when he worked for then-Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, Miller “played a key role in ensuring the failure of a comprehensive immigration bill introduced by a bipartisan group of senators who became known as the Gang of Eight,” the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) said. Miller in fact “drafted a 30-page memo that Mr. Sessions shared with the House Republican caucus,” [The New York Times, 2019].

While the Senate under former Democratic Sen. Harry Reid passed legislation by a wide, bipartisan 67-27, former Republican House Speaker John Boehner blocked it in his chamber. Now House Republicans are bringing Miller back.

“This comes on the heels of news that Donald Trump’s will address immigration in his upcoming CPAC speech. Clearly, the Republican Party is still the Party of Trump,” immigrant rights advocacy group America’s Voice said. “The GOP is doubling down on ugly xenophobia and racism rather than trying to grow its appeal and reclaim lost suburban voters.” They are also trying to clamp down on absentee voting and are actively trying to gerrymander districts that didn’t go GOP in the last presidential election.

The organization said that the “ongoing political transformation of Georgia captures the perils of this approach.”

“In Georgia, a multiracial majority—sparked by the combination of bottom-up organizing by Stacey Abrams, Republican extremism, and changing demographics—delivered two Senate seats for Democrats and flipped an important electoral college state for President Biden,” the group said in the statement. It points to a new NBC News report finding that Democrats’ most significant gains from 2008 to 2020 came from three suburban Georgia counties.

In a testament to this shift, one of those Georgia counties, Gwinnett, elected a sheriff who ran and won on ending a racist and flawed agreement with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.

Joining Miller to “brief” House Republicans are two other notoriously anti-immigrant officials from the previous administration: former acting ICE director Tom Homan, and former acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan. Mark recently became an official hate group member, joining the Federation for American Immigration Reform, an anti-immigrant organization deemed a hate group by the SPLC, as a “Senior Fellow.”

“Instead of changing course, working to reclaim suburban voters, and trying to expand their appeal, Republicans seem intent on speaking only to the cul-de-sac of the Trump base, re-emphasizing that white power is the beating heart of the party,” America’s Voice executive director Frank Sharry said. “They seem to gloss over the fact that Trump’s demonization of immigrants and refugees backfired badly, helping the Republican Party in the past four years to lose the White House, the Senate and the House.”

Mariachi Band Protests @ Ted Cruz Home

Texas Tales of Mismanagement on Feb. 21, 2021

Texas Tales:  “Our Government in Texas Failed Us This Week”

That quote from a Texas representative Lizzzie Fletcher interviewed on CNN at 2:17 p.m. (CT).

Other words of wisdom come from folks like John Bridges, the Executive editor of the Austin American-Statesman.

In Texas, the buck doesn’t stop here; it just gets on a plane to Mexico, [making Ted Cruz one of the first Latinos to flee the United States for a better life in Mexico]. 

Governor Abbott spent more time in his 4-days-too-late Press Conference talking about the Green New Deal than he did talking about the raw deal he and his cronies have dealt the state of Texas. The recommendations for winterization of the power grid were decades old, but Texas authorities in power sought to shift the blame to wind and solar panel, when that is not the truth.

The very idea of a Republican politician lying to protect his political future is not new, but it was refined to a daily performance art under DJT. And, in Texas, the man who said of his initial time in office in a 2013 speech to fellow Republicans,”I go into the office in the morning, I sue Barack Obama, and then I go home,” now has had to ask the federal government for help in a crisis that could be more costly than Hurricanes as famous as Katrina. President Biden will visit Texas this week to see how the federal government can help the state—14 million of us still boiling our water, if we have any—recover from the debilitating effects of a severe weather event that combined freezing temperatures with power and water failures.

First, in an attempt to shove the responsibility off onto solar and wind power not performing during the freak winter storm, Abbott went on Sean Hannity’s television show and blamed the entire mess on Green renewable energy. This was false. The power outages were due to freezing temperatures affecting natural gas plants, with uninsulated pipes causing gases with heavy carbon chains to liquify and intake or outtake pipes freezing. Oil wells can freeze up and did.

According to ERCOT’s Fuel Mix report, the state’s largest energy source last year was natural gas as 46% of the state’s energy needs. Wind supplied 23% and, if properly weatherized as experts had warned the blades should be, these fixtures continue working in sub-freezing temperatures. Coal supplied 18% of the state’s power, nuclear 11% and solar only 2%.

Actually, although half of the state’s wind supply turbines were frozen, on Tuesday the unfrozen turbines collectively produced up to 1,000 megawatts more energy than grid operators expected, because of the high winds that the snowstorm brought. ERCOT CEO Bill Magness said, “It appears that a lot of the generation that has gone offline today has been primarily due to issues on the natural gas system at large.”

In an editorial headlined “Texans Deserve to Have Government That Works” Executive Editor John Bridges (Austin American-Statesman) noted that, “For too long, Texans have elected people more interested inn dismantling government than actually running one.  As we painfully learned this week, small government sounds good right up until the power goes out and the faucets run dry.”

Bridges further noted that the priorities of our elected officials, like Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Attorney General Paxton, have been (1) their own political futures (2) their cronies and (3) their business interests. Right now, in fact, Paxton is embroiled in several legal investigations into impropriety with a local real estate developer, and his entire staff has blown the whistle on him, calling his behavior towards them punitive. Those lawsuits and others involving Paxton highlight why he was the Attorney General who filed the complaint attempting to throw out the electoral college votes of 6 other states on behalf of former President Trump. (The Trump administration didn’t really want Paxton, because of his unsavory reputation and the various investigations into his unethical behavior, but he was the only volunteer to come forward to lodge the spurious lawsuit.)

Bridges goes on to focus on the issues that these elected officials chose to waste time on, rather than making sure our power and water would work if there were a catastrophic weather event.  What were those other oh-so-important issues that tied up much of the Texas legislatures time?

  • The use of transgender bathrooms.
  • Restricting access to abortion.
  • Promoting or protecting the out-of-control gun culture.
  • Suing the federal government for political sport—at least 44 lawsuits during the Obama years by Abbott.
  • Restricting local taxing authority, much of which is spent on public safety.
  • Forbidding cities from controlling their own police budgets.
  • Finding ways to further restrict voter access, such as the ONE mailbox that was to serve as the drop-box for voters in a large Texas city of millions.

Rick Perry—-Abbott’s predecessor as Governor of Texas—famously said that Texans would rather endure a few days of blackouts than have the feds (the department he recently and ironically ran as U.S. energy secretary) involved in Texas’ energy grid. Let’s not forget that this is the same Rick Perry that Donald Trump mocked, saying he put glasses on to “make himself look smarter” and the student who got a grade of “D-“ in a college class entitled “Meat.”

So, as Bridges says, “Speak for yourself, Rick!”

Texans shivering in their own homes, burning candles and their own wood furniture for warmth, and harvesting snow to flush toilets do not agree. If Texas wants its own power grid and wants to run it “the Texas way,” its government must tirelessly regulate, inspect, and enforce the efficiency of that power grid.

An Abilene man froze to death in his bed.  The 60-year-old’s death was one of six tied to the freezing cold reported in and around that western Texas city this week, the Associated Press reported.  A Houston woman and her child died from carbon monoxide poisoning after seeking warmth in their car. As snow blanketed much of Texas on Sunday, an 11-year-old boy in the Houston area gleefully played outside. Seeing the snow was a first for the boy, who came to the U.S. from Honduras two years ago with his mother, she told the Houston Chronicle.

Less than 24 hours later, as temperatures plunged to near single digits and homes across the state lost power, that boy died.

Early that same morning, a San Antonio man left his house for a dialysis appointment — but he never arrived. His wife found him unresponsive nearly two hours later in the frigid weather.

A Black Austin renter described how he grabbed a few belongings from his back-of-the-house apartment and ran for his life. The couple in the front of the house, who had tried to heat the building with their barbecue grill, died in the fire.

The Houston Chronicle reports that more than two dozen people in Harris County alone have died from events related to this week’s icy weather. And the threat is far from over. Thousands of Texans are still without electricity, food and clean water. The entire state is under a boil order for water.

Texas was not prepared for the lowest temperatures it has experienced in 70 years and recent inspections of the power grid that declared it ready for the winter were wrong. It wasn’t.

Much like the unwillingness to acknowledge the problem, Texas stuck its governmental head firmly in the Trumpian sand and did very little to prepare for the onslaught of the pandemic that has now killed 41,000 Texans. Given months to develop a plan for the vaccine rollout, both state and local governments failed to develop and communicate a workable plan.

We are in the “1b” group of citizens with pre-existing conditions, older than 75, who should have been contacted to schedule an appointment for a Covid-19 shot. We have been trying for literally months to find any source of vaccine. The state website crashes immediately. Once you fill out your name, rank and serial number, including selecting a password, you learn that you must “check back later” to see if there is any vaccine availability. (There never is). Lately, when we attempt to sign in, the site says our passwords are wrong, despite having noted them upon entry. We then try to get a “new” password and the site promises to send a note to our mailboxes, but does not. Therefore, the state health site is worthless.

Then there are the sign-up lists for Walgreen’s, CVS, HEB, and the like. Yes, we’re on all of them, too, plus lists that exist in cities as far-flung as Houston and Dallas. It is nearly March and our constant “checking back” yields only the words “No vaccine available. Check back later.”

I even went so far as to secure a local doctor, hoping that having a local doctor for our winter months’ residence, might help. It hasn’t. I fear that our April trip to Mexico is going to see us as the only older members of the family group who have not had even one Covid-19 shot. While we may have some small amount of immunity from contracting a mild case in October, will that be enough? Or will we, too, become victims of this failure to try to protect the citizens of Texas and the United States.

As Bridges says, in his concluding remarks, “Texans don’t ask much of our government. But is it too much to ask that government not try to kill us?”

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