Political Rants

Minutes to midnight.

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After a week like the one we’ve had, I feel like I have to write this quickly. We are literally on the brink of a major power conflict brewing in Syria, and it’s hard to see how it can effectively be prevented. An apparent chemical attack has, once again, triggered the Pavlovian imperial response from Washington – namely that no problem can’t be solved by dropping high explosives on it. The trouble is that the Syrian conflict is so complicated, with major regional and global powers backing different factions in pursuit of their own narrow interests (and civilians be damned). So while the Trump cabal claims to want to strike at Bashir Al Assad’s government, they can hardly do so without hitting Russian personnel.

Mr. Atomic Clock himselfThreats are being exchanged, partly via Twitter, and this is becoming a very volatile situation. A situation like this makes clear why the Democratic/Liberal approach of blaming everything on Russia is short-sighted and foolish. Trump is now under pressure to be “tougher” on Russia, and it seems he is willing to move in that direction. So in a sense both major political groupings are either pushing for war or indifferent, and that’s a dangerous state of affairs, particularly with this venal, unstable, insecure president. Oh, and did I mention that Monday was John Bolton’s first day on the job as National Security Advisor? Jesus.

Earlier this year the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the minute hand on their doomsday clock to 2 minutes before midnight – the nearest their estimate of risk has come to nuclear Armageddon since 1953. I think they are on to something. President drunk uncle bigot, the Twitter troll, is a crack head, but what he does in his evident dementia is demonstrate how out of control presidential power has become. The power to destroy the world should not be in the hands of the president. I would argue it should be in no one’s hands, but so long as the capability exists, it should be subject to extensive review by more than one branch of government. The more people involved in this process the better. After all, we’re talking about blowing up the whole planet – we should require our war-hungry leaders to keep asking different people until they find someone sane enough to say “no”.

I hope I am just being alarmist about this. All I can say is that, whatever happens in the next week or two, it’s going to be a long, painful three years.

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jp

Political Rants

The other others.

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As is his common practice, Trump has been gesticulating wildly this past week, choosing Easter Sunday to crush the hopes of DACA recipients across America (many of whom consider Easter first among holidays), announcing tariffs practically at random, and threatening to send troops to line our southern border (as northbound crossings are at a 46-year low). I seriously doubt the National Guard will be stopping Norwegians at Nogales, so note to all those disgruntled citizens of Oslo who want to leave free healthcare and university-level education behind for a chance to live in the land of the free: don’t even think about it!

Trump's segregation showroom.The shit storm is usually a smokescreen, a bit of grimy flash powder to distract most of us from what the administration is actually doing and to excite that grisly some of us who get off on targeting dark people. When the president hammers hard on his core themes, you know he’s worried about something. I’m expecting a major attack on Muslims soon – maybe Somali refugees, since they conveniently pull together the various attributes that make for great racist demagoguery: Islam, marked immigration status, dark skin, head scarfs, non-Norwegian sounding names, strange language, etc. He has already singled them out more than once as President, I believe, and certainly during the 2016 campaign.

Much of the raw violence promoted by this administration is being done overseas, both as a function of our military deployments and by virtue of our support for aggressive allies. (This will likely only get worse with the arrival of John Bolton.) We were all treated to a visit by the Saudi prince recently, who likes to be called MBS (perhaps because it makes him sound like a bank). Fortunately he wasn’t drowned by all the admiring drool from the Tom Friedmans of the world. Of course, they never discussed the attack on Yemen except in the context of a friendly slap on the back, I’m sure. Then there’s the Israelis, who are better than anyone at getting away with killing upwards of 20 protesters, wounding 750 more, and blaming the victims. Numbers like these – in response to a protest, no less – indicate an enhanced sense of license on the part of the Israeli leadership. Donnie has your back, guys.

So we have the “others” that live among us and those other “others” in other countries. We’re supposed to be afraid of both, but I’m certain most of us just fear what’s going to become of us over the next three years. Nothing good, I’m afraid.

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jp

Political Rants

Accountability.

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The Trump clown car shed some bozos this week, most notably the media’s favorite cabinet member, Rex Tillerson, former head of Exxon Mobil, who managed to seem avuncular and unthreatening in comparison with most of his colleagues – this while he systematically dismantled the State Department. Still, he did appear to be perhaps the greatest naysayer on tearing up the Iran deal. With the Koch Brothers invention Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State, I’m sure we will nudge much closer to the 2000 bombing runs he once suggested as an effective means of halting the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. In a saner age, that alone might have been disqualifying, but certainly not today.

Trump's new torturer.So, we’ll now have an Iran warmonger as chief diplomat. And in Pompeo’s old position at the head of the CIA, we will have the current deputy director Gina Haspel, a veteran of the Bush II-era Agency and a big fan of “rough” interrogation techniques (also known as torture). Haspel was directly involved in a CIA black site in Thailand where the Agency perpetrated torture of numerous individuals, including Abu Zubaydah, who was waterboarded by our operatives 89 times. She arrived after Zubaydah left, but later saw to it that incriminating tapes of this and similar episodes would be destroyed. For all those boning up on obstruction of justice standards in relation to the Trump White House, you might want to apply those standards to Haspel.

The torture crimes – essentially crimes against human dignity – are bad enough. But the fact that Haspel was part of an operation that was instrumental in the abuse of Zubaydah, whose extracted false testimony was key to the Bush administration’s case for invading Iraq, raises this to another level. You know the plausible story on this – Bush/Cheney and company had decided upon the Iraq invasion well before 9/11 (and on some level, before taking office), but they needed a plausible pretext. They had no convincing evidence for their claims regarding an Al Qaeda connection with Saddam Hussein or an active nuclear program, so they put the torturers to work at doing what they do best – getting people to say anything … ANYTHING … to stop the abuse. The very fact that they waterboarded Zubaydah 89 times indicates that they were looking for some response in particular. They got it, bogus as it obviously was, and from that proceeded the catastrophic Iraq war that is still killing people 15 years later – a conflict that, three years in, had resulted in more deaths than the 7-year Syrian civil war.

No one has been held accountable for the crime of the Iraq invasion, nor for the torture regime. I don’t expect that to happen anytime soon, but the least we can do is to stop rewarding the culprits with higher office. Maybe it wouldn’t be entirely fair to start with Haspel, but we have to start somewhere.

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jp

Political Rants

Empire news.

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With the shit-cyclone rotating around the Trump presidency on a daily basis, it’s hard to keep track of what’s going on elsewhere in the world. Most of the press coverage goes straight to Trump, Kushner, the Mueller probe, Stormy Daniels, on and on. Mind-numbing, and I think that’s probably what they’re aiming at. I always knew reality television was more than just bad entertainment – it gave me the creeps from The Real World and Survivor on forward, and now it’s president of the United States. Not a good outcome for a whole host of reasons.

Anyway, there is a world out there, and stuff is happening in it that I feel we should pay attention to. Here are a few items I’m looking at.

Peace?Korea – This was a momentous week in the standoff over the Korean peninsula, largely thanks to the efforts of South Korean President Moon Jae-In and the willingness on the part of Pyongyang to come to the table. Trump will take credit for anything good that happens, and that’s fine – sure, he’s nearly blown us all up over this, but let him have his squeak toy of triumph, so long as there’s no Korean War II. That would be a good thing for the world, as the hair-hat ass-clown said a few days ago. Will he meet with Kim Jong-Un as was announced on Thursday? No man can say. More on this next week.

Yemen – In the Senate, Bernie Sanders, Mike Lee, and Chris Murphy have introduced a war powers resolution calling on the administration to stop supporting Saudi Arabia’s murderous assault on Yemen. SJ Resolution 54 has been introduced though not voted on yet – I encourage you to contact your senators and urge them to vote for this legislation. You can get their phone numbers off the web, or use the Stance app to send a recorded phone message (see http://takeastance.us/ for details).

Iran – There’s a good interview on Jeremy Scahill’s podcast Intercepted with Iranian scholar Holly Dagres about the history of the relationship between the United States and Iran and how its current system of government is a direct response to our interference (in the form of an coup) in the 1950s. Dagres also talks about the MEK terror group that counts many American political figures among its friends, including John McCain (big surprise), Howard Dean, and others. (Check it out at https://theintercept.com/2018/02/14/intercepted-podcast-americas-distribution-of-violence/ ) Also, give a listen to Jeremy’s interview with Nikhil Singh in that same episode.

All right … back to work with me.

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jp

Political Rants

Recoil.

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As I mentioned briefly last week, it has happened again. Another deranged shooter with a military-style weapon and a mountain of ammunition. This time the target was a high school campus in Florida; last time it was somewhere else that didn’t expect it. The young people who emerged in one piece from that atrocity have demonstrated an emotional and intellectual maturity, an eloquence, and a remarkable facility for organizing that puts us all to shame. When I see them, I hang my head – we, the older generations, simply are not good. Let them take the reins.

Our cheese-headed president had some of them over on Wednesday, along with survivors of other mass shootings, for a “listening session”. What has Trump taken away from this heinous remake of previous atrocities? Well, he is telling Beauregard to look into banning bump stocks, again. That is something the Justice Department has been working on for months, since the Las Vegas massacre. The problem is that the administration is probably barred from doing so without action by the Congress, so Trump’s NRA patrons can rest easy. He also suggested arming teachers, janitorial staff, and, I believe, students, claiming that that Gym teacher could have ended the whole shooting rampage if he had had a gun.

Trump's notion of the ideal school resource officer.Okay, well … I may be the only American to remember this (I hope not), but back in the seventies, this latter suggestion was put forward as a joke on All In The Family – the right-wing caricature Archie Bunker was invited to do a guest editorial on television, and he advocated stopping airline hijackers by arming all the passengers. What was a joke in 1972 is now consider a serious policy proposal. That’s how far we’ve come, people. And this is how far political leaders will go to avoid dealing with an issue. The money is all on one side, and our kids are on the other. If we leave the decision to our current crop of politicians, the kids don’t stand a chance.

Sure, there are something like 10 to 15 million AR-15 style weapons in the United States. That doesn’t mean we can’t do something about this. First thing is to stop selling them. Second, in my opinion, you should be required to register military assault-style weapons and handle it in an appropriate way (i.e. lock it up at appropriate times). If you don’t register it, you can’t keep it. They are simply too destructive to treat like a 30-30 hunting rifle. Third: extensive background checks for all gun purchases (since Trump loves the concept of “extreme vetting,” this shouldn’t be a problem for him). Fourth, no more high-capacity clips and new limits on ammunition sales.

That’s where we need to go if we’re serious about protecting kids. Up to us, people. Elect a Congress and a president that will do it.

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jp

Political Rants

First place.

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I haven’t been watching the Olympics, I freely admit. I’ve never been a sports fan at all – just can’t get interested or excited about it. That said, these Winter Games have been more interesting than usual for me, and it’s not because of our hometown pride Erin Hamlin (though I wish her well). For me it’s all about the ongoing conflict/standoff over the Korean peninsula, and in that regard, theĀ  person who should be taking a gold medal home from these games is President Moon. And that medal should be the Nobel Peace Prize.

Give HIM a gold medal.He certainly deserves it, even if the detente between the two Koreas falls apart. At a time of almost unprecedented tension, and despite the overbearing patrimony of their American “ally”, the South Korean president agreed to what was a stunning demonstration of unity in the midst of one of the most broadly watched sporting events in the world. Sure, it was symbolic, but symbolism can be powerful and it can drive policy. North and South Koreans marching in under a unified flag provided such a stunningly memorable image, I am likely to remember this Winter Olympics far longer than any previous ones. (And I have seen far less of it, as it happens.) The Trump administration seemed flummoxed over this; they deployed Pence, spouting some bellicose rhetoric, but it fell kind of flat.

Brilliant move on Moon’s part. It also helpfully exposes the ugly truth of the Korean conflict. The main dispute is not between North and South Korea, but rather between North Korea and the United States. That’s why our government seems so uncomfortable with the idea of the two Koreas talking to one another. What’s not to like? Perhaps the prospect of eventual economic integration of Northeast Asia outside of the rubric of American economic power. Scary stuff.

Still, we’re number one in another way, and we proved it this week. We just saw yet another mass shooting at a school, this one in Florida. We get the gold medal in gun violence, hands down. And until we elect people who are expressly determined to do something about this terror, we will suck as a nation. Let’s not suck. Let’s get rid of the NRA-funded bums who run Congress and send some progressive legislators to Washington who couldn’t care less about the gun lobby. Time to fix this.

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jp

Political Rants

Take a memo. Please.

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The reverberations of Trump’s rampaging State of the Union speech had barely faded before he started tweeting like an arrested tween. His wild claims about the Nunes memo, reflective of the fevered rhetoric proffered daily by his favorite network, were contradicted by the content of the memo itself, a selective, shabby attempt to draw the public’s attention away from the Mueller investigation with an almost laughable claim of concern for Carter Page’s civil liberties. Why do major modern political scandals always turn on weak spindles like Page and – for Hillary Clinton – Weiner? Maybe that’s the only kind of spindle we’ve got.

Porter sighted with two notorious racists.This, again, feels like a big distraction from what the administration and the congressional majority are actually doing. If we’re obsessing over one or the other revealing memo, we’re not thinking about recent surveys – including one by CNBC – that indicate that the vast majority of large businesses have no intention of spending their tax savings on hiring people. That’s no big surprise, but it’s probably worth mentioning once in a while, right? After all, misguided workers who voted for Trump should be given the opportunity to understand that you can’t trust the rich to help anyone but themselves, and that tax cuts are a poor investment in job creation.

Still, the administration will trot out the handful of examples that seem to fit their narrative, even if they don’t. I’m sure they’ve crowed about AFLAC, even though practically none of their sales workforce is eligible for the bonuses they promised so loudly. This is what they do with immigration and other issues – they essentially hold up the exception and claim it’s the rule. Doesn’t matter … think about the memos! The last few days they have been pushing this story about the FBI agent texts suggesting Obama was “keeping tabs” on the Clinton email investigation – subgenius senator Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) is their wingman on this conspiracy theory. My guess is that they are using this to distract attention away from the fact that one of Trump’s chief aides is a serial spouse abuser who can’t get security clearance to save his life … and yet he STILL handles top secret, burn-after-read briefings for the President. In other words, they don’t want you to think about what an insufferable ass General Kelly is, not to put too fine a point on it.

Just another week in paradise. Is it November yet?

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jp

Political Rants

State of the Yum-yun.

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Seems like a good time to respond to some choice bits from Trump’s first state of the union (or state of the umion, pronounced Yum-yun, if you’re reading the official announcement).

First, the big fat entrance. Rep. Claudia Tenney gets a word in Trump’s ear as he’s working his way down the aisle. Always wearing some bright color and right up front when Trump is in town.

First flub goes to Ryan: “I have the distinct privilege of preventing … presenting to you the President of the United States.”

Now, on to Trump’s remarks, delivered in a slithering, slow voice, lots of breath. Kind of nauseating, frankly.

The chief and his enablers.“A new tide of optimism was already sweeping across our land,” he tells us, referring to a year ago, thenĀ  jumped right in with the anecdotes and the guests of honor. “We always will pull through together, always.” Runs through a litany of lifesavers, mostly from disasters of our own making, through climate change, gun violence, etc. “The state of our union is strong because our people are strong. And together we are building a safe and strong and proud America.” Platitude.

Touting more jobs for Black and Hispanic people. Big cheer for “massive tax cuts,” of course. More take home pay! (Mitt Romney, come back – all is forgiven.) Calls out “cruel” tax of the individual ACA mandate, which very few people actually paid – big cheer from Republican recipients of government subsidized health insurance. Crowing about the titanic benefits of this “new American moment.” “You can dream anything, you can be anything, and together we can achieve absolutely anything.”

Some short takes:

  • “We share … the same great American flag …The motto is ‘In God We Trust,'” he says, then makes a big point about standing for the national anthem. So much for Mr. We’re All In This Together.
  • We’re “…totally defending our second amendment and have taken historic actions to protect religious liberty.” Shoot ’em up.
  • Calling on congress to empower cabinet secretaries to fire people. Is that novel?
  • “We have ended the war on American energy and we have ended the war on beautiful clean coal.” So much for the section on climate change.
  • “Companies are roaring back, they’re coming back. They want to be where the action is.” Well, it’s a kind of silent roar.

Trump starts talking about reducing the price of prescription drugs, and he gestures to the Democrats to stand and applaud. He does it again as he talks about repairing infrastructure, though the focus of this section sounds like he wants to roll back the environmental impact review process. He proposes $1.5 Trillion plan for infrastructure, but it must provide for streamlined permitting. Smell a rat?

Starting to talk about lifting people out of “welfare”. “Let’s invest in workforce development and let’s invest in job training, which we need so badly.” Calls for vocational schools and paid family leave – probably the Ivanka plan. A bleat on prison reform – very vague.

Immigration:

“For decades open borders have allowed drugs and gangs come pouring in.” Now he’s naming “guests” whose kids were killed by immigrants! MS13. Using them to call out “alien minors”. This section is fucking disgusting, worthy of Der Sturmer. He is “calling on congress to close deadly loopholes” in immigration laws. Dirtbags are clapping.

He wants to protect all Americans. How? He wants to defend Americans. “Americans are dreamers, too.” Oh, I see. Pretty much the only immigrants he’s talking about is gang members. MS13 again. Talking about arrests of gang members. So what is the problem? They’re going to prison. But Trump is talking about sending reinforcements. Now talking about bipartisan immigration reform – his draconian plan. Building a “great wall”. His rhetoric on immigration is all about violence by immigrants, merit and race based rules, and “protecting the nuclear family by ending chain migration.” Then he’s blaming opioid deaths on immigrant drug dealers. Just a lot of thinly coded language aimed at racial division.

Next, he’s praising cop – another guest in audience – who stopped a pregnant woman from shooting heroin. Then he adopted the baby. Point? This is not a speech; it is a series of extended anecdotes. It’s like a fucking variety show. He’s using these people as human shields.

Foreign policy and military section:

  • “Weakness is the surest path to conflict, and unmatched power is the surest means to our true and great defense.” Calling for end to defense sequester. Well, the GOP created it, so why not, right?
  • Taking credit for eliminating ISIS.
  • Calling terrorists “enemy combatants”. Sounds like the start of an argument for torture, Gitmo, etc. Just signed an order to re-examine detention policies and keep open Gitmo. Score one for the jihadist propagandists.
  • Touting new rules of engagement. Calling out artificial timelines. Recognizing Jerusalem as capital of Israel. Asking to cut off aid to countries that criticize us at UN. “Enemies of America.” “America stands with the people of Iran in their courageous struggle for freedom.” “Terrible Iran nuclear deal.” “Communist and socialist dictatorships in Cuba and Venezuela.”
  • Threatening North Korea again. “Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite … aggression.” Applauding that kid Warmbier. Extended anecdote about Korean guest who crawled to freedom and a further tirade against North Korea. Jesus H. Christ.

Big fat ending:

Patriotic claptrap roll call. Republicans chanting “USA, USA, USA!”

“The people dreamed this country, the people built this country, and it’s the people who will make America great again.” Yep. When they get rid of you.

Political Rants

Korea’s January thaw.

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Sometime in the coming days, the North and South Korean Winter Olympic Teams will march together under a unified flag, and the Women’s Hockey Teams will play on the same side. And it looks like it’s happening, now that the International Olympic Committee has said it’s okay. Think about that statement for a moment – did they really need to deliberate on this? It’s just a freaking game, people. If it provides a means of reducing tensions, why would your cheesy rulebook ever stand in the way? Score one for President Moon Jae-in, over the objections of his country’s hardliners and, of course, the United States.

The imperialist's nightmare.Think it strange that the U.S. would be against a lessening of tension? Well, it’s not just a Trump thing. There’s a deep imperial institutional bias against ending that conflict, and it manifests itself in a host of different ways. Just Wednesday of this week I saw an NBC story about the North Korean woman who allegedly blew up a South Korean airliner; she is out of jail, living in exile as a defector in South Korea. The bombing was decades ago – so why did the network decide to dredge this story up now and hang it around the father of the current North Korean leader’s neck? I would say that NBC is about as close to the core of the U.S. foreign policy establishment as any institution can be. With a lot of positive stories coming out about the glimmer of North/South detente in Korea, it’s no surprise that this old chestnut would bob up to the surface.

Of course, blowing up an airliner is a heinous crime. We’ve done it – recall the shootdown of the Iranian Airbus back in July 1988, to say nothing of our support for CIA asset Luis Posada Carriles’ downing of the Cuban airliner carrying their Olympic fencing team in 1976 (the perpetrator now living unmolested in Miami). Of course, so too is blowing up a whole country. We’ve done that, too … to North Korea, for instance. Putting that aside for a moment, it seems clear to me that we have a strong resistance to defusing this Korean bomb. When obvious peaceful solutions are available and remain untried, it’s reasonable to assume that there are other considerations at work.

Consider this: the Korean conflict gives us a strong foothold in Asia. When it flares up, the many of the regional players turn to us. It provides justification for our massive military presence in the south and substantial presence elsewhere in the region. Most importantly, the conflict prevents greater international cooperation leading to full integration of that region’s economies, independent of the American-dominated global system. That, I suggest, may be the nightmare scenario that keeps our planners awake at night – not the prospect of nuclear war.

Changing our priorities in Korea is going to take real work. It goes way beyond party and personalities.

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jp

Political Rants

Shit show.

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This just in: President Trump is a racist. Who could have seen THAT coming? The administration’s childish denials of the President’s “shithole countries” comments, the persistent refrain of “tough language” and swearing all around – all of that belies the reported fact that Trump was bragging about his racist tirade to some of his right-wing allies, a few of which let the story slip. Frankly, I think the administration far prefers the focus on Trump’s verbal diarrhea – it keeps the press from focusing on the underlying issues, which make less compelling television. (It also reinforces Trump’s message to his base that he thinks like they do about dark people, foreigners, etc.)

Trump family reunionThere is also the fact that the President doesn’t understand policy, isn’t interested in it, and is incapable of delving any deeper than the surface of any political issue. He is kind of a blank slate, though he does obviously have deep-rooted visceral prejudices. Third-rate thinkers (and ninth-rate speechwriters) like Stephen Miller can scrawl their alt-right graffiti on the guy and he will repeat whatever they tell him. Retrograde bigots like General Kelly and Tom Cotton guide Trump like he’s their senile uncle. So the President’s feint towards compromise last Tuesday was transformed into the spectacle of last Thursday, when Trump denigrated an entire continent as well as the ex-colony that was a primary source of France’s wealth.

The implicit racism of the administration’s argument on immigration is far more stunning than his gutter rhetoric. They want less people from places like Haiti and Africa (!) and more people from places like Norway; they see this as an argument for a more “merit-based” system, because they can’t conceive of the possibility that people from Haiti or African countries are (a) educated, (b) highly skilled, or (c) industrious. Because they are, well, black, the administration thinks of them as a hoard of hut-dwelling wash-outs in search of free services. That is basically a textbook definition of racism, even without the S-bomb. They have a 1940s cartoon-level conception of these foreign lands and the people that inhabit them, and they use that to add fuel to their fear-mongering.

Let’s face it: immigrants, particularly darker ones, are an easy political target; always have been. I hear people much smarter than Trump employing the same tactics, pointing to crimes by foreign nationals and generalizing select incidents to tar entire populations, an art form mastered by the Nazi propagandists. This kind of hate is our enemy, and we need to fight it on the beaches, in the streets, in the alleys, and in the doorways. We must never surrender to it.

luv u,

jp