I’ve had a mantra since Trump was elected: "it is going to keep getting worse". It’s depressing but I find being clear helps bolster me for the upcoming pain. There is no realistic scenario where the next two years in America are going to go better politically.

The midterms were a success for the Democrats. They decisively took the House. A victory, hooray! But what does that victory get us? Very little. At best, it slows down the horrible deluge of atrocities that are still coming.

Trump will remain President. There’s no likely path to an actual impeachment; even if Mueller has clear evidence of treason the Republicans in the Senate will protect Trump. And if they decide to get rid of Trump the result would be President Pence. That may be less stupid and crazy but Pence is also a bad and dangerous politician. And it is the entire Republican party that is the problem, not just Trump, and they will remain in power.

The best outcome from these midterms is the Democrats will use the investigatory powers of the House to unearth some of the Trump Administration’s crimes and malfeasance. (There’s an active debate on how aggressive the Democrats want to be.) A little truth-and-reconciliation would help things. Unearth the Trump Organization’s financial double dealings that corrupt the presidency. Get to the bottom of how our country stole thousands of children from their parents at the border and then lost several hundred of them, permanently orphaning the kids. Expose the Republican strategy of denying people voting rights to win elections. A little fresh air will feel good but it won’t actually change anything. We are way, way beyond where appeals to truth or decency matter.

Meantime, the Republicans will continue their campaign of vandalism. They will continue to undermine Obamacare. They will continue to demonize immigrants in a rank display of racism. They will continue to undermine LGBT rights, particularly transgender peoples’. They will continue to destroy our economy with reckless tax cuts. If not via legislation, then via executive action.

And forget our government taking normal action on necessary things like funding infrastructure, improving healthcare, setting reasonable foreign policy. Gridlock is better than active harm, but the best we have to hope for is gridlock.

That’s normal politics. It could get much worse. Trump is entirely unpredictable. It seems quite likely he will draw a page from the Putin playbook and start a war next year to help galvanize support for his re-election. Maybe Iran, Venezuela, Yemen. Maybe some "shithole" country he decides to attack. Nothing will stand in his way of creating a war.

Even that’s somewhat normal by American experience (see: 2003 in Iraq). The scariest thing to me is the rising fascism in American political rhetoric. The increasing appeals to violence. The demonizing of journalism. The frighteningly aggressive rhetoric of Trump’s rallies. The gun and bomb attacks by brownshirts. I was genuinely afraid the 2018 elections would be marred by some violent event, a mass shooting at a polling place or something. I’m glad I was wrong. I’m not going to be any less worried about that after two more years of Trump.

The country is breaking.

politics
  2018-11-08 18:51 Z

The first phase of undoing the Republican policy of separating children from their parents at the border is over. The July 26 deadline to reunite all families passed; the result is about ⅓ are together again. The details of the other thousands of parents and kids are complicated. For example 431 parents were deported without their children, it’s not clear they will ever be reunited. 21 kids are still separated because their parents failed a background check. According to past reports, some kids or their parents are simply just lost, the system can’t find them.

The pain of this separation policy will continue for years. Right now we still have to make sure every single other child separated from their parents is treated humanely and legally and eventually reunited with their family. Long term, the mental health of some of these kids will be permanently harmed by the trauma of separation and incarceration. And we’ve yet to hear about any abuses inside the detention system; given past experience there are horrors to come.

The whole thing has been an atrocity. A deliberate policy of white nationalism enacted by the Trump Administration and the Republican Party. It’s one thing to have differing opinions on immigration quotas or asylum procedures. It is another entirely to snatch children from their mothers. America committed a deliberate human rights abuse. Trump’s rhetoric demonizing and dehumanizing immigrants set the stage. The deep racism of many Americans encouraged this outrage along with the silent complicitly of so many citizens who want to just ignore an atrocity as it happens.

For the past six weeks I’ve been making an effort to tweet every single day about the unfolding story. I’ve been worried it’d be far too easy for this human rights crisis to go unnoticed, for us to forget that there were thousands of children living in cages and crying for their parents. So I’ve carefully read every single story I could find, highlighted something new every single day. I can’t keep that level of engagement up going forward. It seems absurd to allow this atrocity to just go on the pile along with all the other horrible Trump outrages. This particular event, the abuse of children, is singularly evil.

politics
  2018-07-27 22:42 Z

Between May 5 and June 9 at least 2,342 children were snatched from their parents because of a Trump / Republican policy change. That new policy was suspended June 20 but the children are still separated. They joined another 1,768 kids that were taken from their parents Oct 2016 – Feb 2018. As of last week there were a total of 11,869 children being held in HHS custody. These numbers sound comfortingly precise but the reality is a lot more confused. The immigrant child custody system has never worked well and was stressed significantly by adding 25% more kids in one month.

So where are the kids? The government has not published a comprehensive list or map. Several journalism agencies are trying: Reveal and ProPublica both have maps of immigration detention facilities for children, based in part on data from the Texas Tribune. These range from a 10 bed Catholic shelter in the Bronx to a converted Walmart for 1500 kids in Brownsville, TX. So far the reporting is that these shelters have been treating children decently. But between the strain on the shelter system and the historical lack of oversight it seems likely more kids will be abused. Just being separated from their parents is hugely damaging.

What’s next for the kids? The June 20 executive order reduces the number of children being separated in the future but does nothing to help the ones who were already snatched. This CNN timeline summarizes court decisions on what happens next.

  • July 6: parents must be able to contact their children
  • July 10: children under 5 reunited with their parents
  • July 26: all children reunited with their parents

It seems likely that “reunited with their parents” means “placed into immigrant detention with their parents”. This creates a new problem, kids can only be held in immigrant jails for 20 days. So far there is no solution proposed for that limit. Expect another crisis maybe as early as July 10.

Some of the snatched kids have already been given back to their parents. But it’s very unclear how the rest of the kids will be reunited. HHS is talking like they have excellent records. But lawyers for parents say that’s not really true. Many parents don’t have legal representation at all, no help for finding their kids. There’s also a lot of confusion as some parents may have already been deported and various kids have different statuses. The fact that HHS says they are building a system now does not inspire confidence; is that system going to be working and complete in two weeks?

The separation policy is an atrocity. It was deliberately engineered to cause significant harm to children for political gain. The baffling array of different motivations stated for the policy only added to the confusion. But two stated reasons for taking kids away stand out as clearly important. One, to create a deterrent to future immigrants. And two, to create pressure in Congress to change immigration law. Holding 2,342 children hostage for these goals is monstrous.

I literally lay awake at night wondering about what is happening to these children. I feel powerless to do much to help them. I’ve given money, I’ve marched in protest, I’ve called my Congressman. Lately I’ve been trying to tweet one humanizing thing about these kids a day, just to keep some attention on a continuing human rights crisis.

politics
  2018-07-09 15:49 Z

Like any other decent human I’ve been horrified at the atrocity of Trump and the Republicans separating children from their parents. The immediate crisis seems to be over but there’s still an immense need for legal aid for immigrants. To try to unite the snatched kids back with their parents, to help asylum seekers in need. Every person deserves legal representation.

I went looking for well organized legal aid charities in California that I could donate to. I asked on Reddit and Metafilter and found a few helpful lists of organizations: San Francisco Magazine, Slate, Immigration Advocates Network.

I ended up having a hard time picking California specific organizations because there are so many small groups and I don’t know how to evaluate them all. Here’s what I ended up donating to:

politics
  2018-06-21 20:24 Z

America is treating immigrant children as subhuman, taking them from their parents, abusing them, losing them. Social media is full out of outrage about this so it seems a bit redundant to write it all down. But it is an atrocity that is happening and the least I can do is bear witness.

America has a newly aggressive policy of separating children from parents if ICE thinks the parents entered the country illegally. It is a supreme form of cruelty being perpetrated by the state, often against families fleeing persecution and trauma.

Once separated from their parents we harm the children further. Some of those children are physically abused by Border Patrol officers, kids being punched, kicked, sexually assaulted, held in solitary confinement. ICE then destroys the evidence of the abuse. Many kids are placed in foster care but then we lose a large number of them, like literally don’t know what happened to them. Some of them ended up in the hands of traffickers. “Sorry Mom, we lost your kid, check the local brothels.” This problem is not new but much worse under Trump.

All of this is happening in the dangerous context of dehumanizing immigrants.

“I called them animals the other day, and I was met with rebuke,” he said. “They said, ‘They’re people.’ They’re not people. These are animals, and we have to be very, very tough.”
“They exploited the loopholes in our laws to enter the country as unaccompanied alien minors.” Trump added: “They look so innocent. They’re not innocent.”
See, they’re not immigrant children at all. They are criminals. And animals. So it’s OK to abuse them, to separate them from their parents.

It is going to keep getting worse.

politics
  2018-05-26 17:09 Z

This week seems to have broken a lot of my friends politically. Lots of folks withdrawing, feeling despair, etc. Me too, only I may reached that point a week or two ago.

The final straw this week seems to be the new Republican tax law. Cynically creating an enormous new deficit to give tax breaks to the richest Americans. While raising taxes on middle class people, particularly in high tax states like California and New York. It is a terrible law that will cause significant harm to our country. Combined with the destruction of the Affordable Care Act it will bring misery to many Americans.

But there’s so much more awfulness. The sexual misconduct revelations are a constant reminder of how shitty so many men are. Topped off by our Sexual Predator in Chief and his not-quite endorsement of child botherer Roy Moore. Trump’s tweets of anti-Muslim hate propaganda. The reversal of net neutrality. Trump’s off the cuff insults against Native Americans. Ongoing efforts to suppress the vote. Lurching towards nuclear war with North Korea with a State Department stripped of competency.

The only “bright spot”, as it were, is Mueller’s investigation. As if discovering the President’s staff worked with Russian intelligence to subvert the US election is somehow a positive thing. It’s not, it’s terrible, and so far we’ve done nothing to make the 2018 election more secure. Also it’s not really not clear that Mueller can save the Republic even with ironclad evidence of Trump campaign collusion with Russia. The Republicans hold the power and have shown themselves completely uninterested in decency or the rule of law. Remember the outcome of the Iran-Contra affair?

It’s going to get worse. It may not get better. He may get us all killed.

politics
  2017-12-03 18:12 Z

One crucial political aim for 2018 and 2020 is making sure the vote is fair and representative. The GOP has a clear strategy for voter suppression. They also will try to further cement their control of the House starting in 2020 with gerrymandering. Here are some people working to protect voters’ rights.

Jason Kander is leading the fight against voter suppression with the organization Let America Vote. Right now that’s mostly agitation against Trump’s voter suppression committee but it’s backed by legal and political action. (Kander is hilarious on Twitter, I enjoy following his personal account.) The ACLU is also very active in protecting voting rights.

I’ve been spending a lot of time educating myself about gerrymandering. The #1 thing I’d recommend is the book Ratf**ked; the New Yorker review gives a summary. That book is mostly a report on REDMAP, the GOP districting effort in 2010 (and now 2020). The DNC’s districting effort in 2020 is the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, led by Eric Holder. They’ve been relatively quiet but that may be because it’s mostly a technical and per-state issue.

The big news in gerrymandering this fall is the Wisconsin case, to be heard in the Supreme Court in October. It is considering the question about whether an explicitly partisan gerrymander is legal. There’s a lot of excitement about a measure called the efficiency gap which quantifies partisan bias. I’m doing a little work in this area myself, there’s a fun statistics + maps problem there.

I’ve left out a third topic, protecting the vote from foreign influence. I’m not as up to date on that topic. Also it’s a bit different in that voting security should be a bipartisan issue. Unfortunately a bunch of Republicans are ignoring obvious evidence of Russian election tampering as a misguided attempt to protect Trump. Secure voting machines and easy auditability are important themes.

politics
  2017-07-30 16:47 Z

There’s a kerfuffle going on with an NYTimes article about Trump and Xi. Trump calls the article fake news, saying it doesn’t describe his phone call on Thursday with Xi. But the online article starts with that phone call! What’s going on?

The confusion is the print edition of the article does not include the call. You can see that in this screenshot of the front page I took from Newseum. The article was then later updated online to include more facts, including the call.

The current online article is excellent reporting and, I think, accurate. The print edition was probably also accurate at the time it was published; it seems likely the NYTimes had not yet been informed of the Xi call. The problem is the edit to the online article isn’t disclosed to readers. And so everyone’s left confused, including journalists. One of the article authors even retweeted a smug tweet from another NYT reporter mocking Trump’s reading comprehension. But it seems likely to me Trump simply read the older print article.

One of Trump’s weapons is creating distrust for the media. It’s important for newspapers of record to do everything they can to avoid confusion. The NYT really needs a policy of disclosing edits to online articles.

Update: Politico has a story about this.
Update 2: Newsdiffs has the edit history.
politics
  2017-02-10 23:17 Z

It’s been a terrible weekend politically, with Trump’s hateful and foolish immigration order and the backlash to it. But how bad is it really? I’ve been mulling over this terrifying essay by Yonatan Zunger that’s making the rounds of techies, Trial Balloon for a Coup?. And contrasting it to Larry Lessig's calm essay about the power of American constitutional process.

Zunger’s essay is powerful and, I think, well intentioned. He argues that the immigration circus this weekend was the Trump administration testing whether they could seize total political power. It takes some basic facts about the horrible things the Trump administration is doing and mixes them with some speculation such as the Rosneft deal and comes to a conclusion that the American Republic is about to end. If this essay is correct, the rational response is to flee the country immediately.

Lessig’s essay is a calm entreaty to resist Trump via normal legal and constitutional procedures. Specifically the need for Congress to step up and lead the fight. I agree the Democratic congressional leadership is very disappointing right now. I want Lessig’s worldview to be right, because it means my home is not about to explode in a civil war.

But which is true? I’m less certain than I’d like to be. I think the conclusion Zunger comes to is too extreme to be correct. It reads to me like “Obama’s comin’ for yer guns” or "FEMA orders $1B in coffins" rhetoric. There are some threads of truth there but they’re spun together in an inflammatory way to make the most terrifying conclusion. I think it’s bordering on irresponsible fearmongering and distracts us from meaningful resistance.

America is going to hell through constitutional means, no coup necessary. The Trump administration is using its authority to enact a series of policies that will greatly diminish this country. And they are doing so with complete contempt for truth, decency, or democratic norms. I really hope Lessig is right and that fighting back through legal means is possible. I’m not willing to believe a coup is coming, but this last weekend has me rattled.

I’ve been reading a lot about the Reichstag Fire lately.

politics
  2017-01-30 17:26 Z
Interesting pair of maps showing the route of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline

The upper map is the official map from Energy Transfer Partners. It is remarkably free of detail. Enter Carl Sack's map below, which contains a lot more detail and was designed explicitly to help oppose the pipeline. It's objectively a better map in many ways, particularly showing the locations of rivers and the Sioux Reservation.

It's also notable that Sack includes the "Unceded Sioux Territory". My understanding (and I could be wrong) is that land has disputed legal status today, the result of a broken treaty with the Sioux. The passing of this pipeline through that land is a key part of the dispute, though, and mapping it helps us understand the protest against the pipeline's passage through that land.

politics
  2016-11-21 20:13 Z