Friday, March 31, 2017

Proud of yourselves, are you?

"Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime." — Aristotle, Greek philosopher 

Oh yay Iowa. We've made national news again. For being assholes. At least our state legislature and governor are. And this would be one more reason I want to move.

From The Huffington Post:

Heartless In The Heartland

It’s the first time that a state has nullified local minimum wage ordinances that have already taken effect.

By Mitchell Hirsch

March 30, 2017

In an appalling move to keep low-wage workers locked in poverty, the Iowa legislature this week gave final approval to a bill that reverses local minimum wage increases already approved in several counties and bans cities and counties from setting any wage and benefit standards. It is the first time that a state has nullified local minimum wage ordinances that had already taken effect and forced jurisdictions to lower minimum wage rates that had previously been raised.

On a vote of 29-21, Republicans in the Iowa Senate voted unanimously for the bill, which passed the House earlier.  After signing it today, Governor Terry Branstad will forever be known as the governor who robbed tens of thousands of Iowa’s lowest-paid workers of their pay raises.

Immediately, minimum wages for 29,000 workers in Iowa’s Johnson and Linn counties, who have received raises thanks to higher local minimums enacted in the last two years, will be reduced to the poverty-level federal minimum of $7.25 from $10.10 and $8.25 respectively. The Wapello County minimum wage, now $8.20, will also be cut back to $7.25. 

Another 36,000 low-wage workers in Polk County, the state’s most populous, will be denied the raises they were scheduled to receive starting April 1, when the local minimum is set to rise from $7.25 to $8.75 per hour.  And this week, Lee County became the fifth county in Iowa to approve a higher minimum wage. Its first raise, to $8.20 starting May 1, will be reset to $7.25 as well. All told, more than 85,000 Iowans will be robbed of the raises they were to see over the next two years.

Eighty-four percent of these workers are 20 years of age or older. Nearly 60 percent work full-time. More than half are women. Thirty-one percent are parents. Almost a third are at least 40 years old. And now they face not only low pay, but pay cuts.

Who does this to people? How do they sleep at night? And, more practically, how did this happen?

It’s been nearly ten years since the statewide minimum wage was last raised in Iowa, and that was to $7.25 an hour shortly before the federal minimum wage became $7.25 as well. Since then, Republican lawmakers in the state have stymied all attempts to enact any increase, as have Republicans in Congress on the federal level. So Iowa has remained one of 21 states stuck at the shamefully low $7.25 minimum wage.

Faced with such obstruction, most states and more than 40 cities and counties have enacted higher minimum wages in recent years – including seven states and 18 cities and counties last year alone. In Iowa, starting two years ago, local county boards of supervisors began considering ways to raise the pay floor for their lowest-paid workers.  

In 2015, Johnson County, home to the University of Iowa and Iowa City, the state’s fifth largest, became the first county in Iowa to enact a local minimum wage ordinance. It raised the minimum wage in stages over three years, first to $8.20, then to $9.15, and hitting $10.10 this year. Linn, Polk, and Wapello counties enacted higher minimum wages in 2016, with their ordinances raising minimum pay to between $10.10 and $10.75 by 2019. Lee County supervisors began considering a higher wage plan last year – one they adopted this week ― to reach $10 by 2020. Local activists have been looking to spark additional campaigns in other cities and counties.

Seeing the momentum building, a gaggle of business lobbying groups, working hand in glove with their statehouse Republican allies, first sought to slow things down and undermine the county-based raises by getting some towns to opt-out of the increases. But undoing the county raises entirely, and stopping other localities from pursuing their own would likely take a Republican “trifecta” – GOP control of both chambers of the state legislature and the governor’s office.  And, for nearly two decades, Republicans had not won total control of state government.

Then came the 2016 election. The majority which Democrats had maintained since 2007 in the Iowa Senate was lost to the Republicans last November. When the state legislature began its new session this year, Republicans had their “trifecta.” And the business lobbyists unleashed a slew of anti-worker bills, including HF295 to nullify and preempt local minimum wages.

In recent years, more and more cities have enacted local minimum wage laws as a means of improving jobs for local workers – especially when state legislatures refuse to act.  In response, corporate lobbyists from groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are going over the heads of local leaders and pushing preemption laws to strip cities of the power to act. To date, 23 other states have enacted minimum wage preemption laws, including the notorious case of Alabama last year, which blocked a higher minimum passed by the City of Birmingham from taking effect.

But never before has a state government acted to reverse minimum wage increases already in place, and remove long-standing local self-governing rights in such a brazen fashion as today in Iowa.  Unfortunately, they could well be joined shortly by equally heartless lawmakers in Missouri.

For the struggling workers and families harmed so directly by these lawmakers ― these pawns of the rich and of powerful business interests ― it is troubling to realize that there are elected “leaders” who would be so singularly devoted to ensuring that they stayed poor.

Mitchell Hirsch is a policy advocate and writer with the National Employment Law Project.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Kim Weaver takes on Steve King again

"God bless Steve King!!!" — David Duke, white nationalist, antisemitic conspiracy theorist, Holocaust denier and former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. 

EVEN people who don't live in Iowa are anxious to see Steve King get booted out — as well they should be. 

I received an inquiry from Pennsylvania friend wanting to know more about Kim Weaver. Kim, who ran against King (or the Pawn, as I prefer to call him) this past election cycle in a bid to represent Iowa's Fourth District in Congress, has decided to take another run at him.

My take on Kim: she's intelligent, articulate, personable, engaging, principled, feisty and hard-working. I worry that northwest Iowa is too reactionary to elect a woman. The Pawn after all has been saying racist, xenophobic, misogynistic and downright ignorant things ever since he was first elected, and that, hasn't seemed to dissuade Fourth District voters from reelecting him. We gotta try, though

Below is an article from Iowa Starting Line and an MSNBC AM Joy interview with Kim (and California's Mike Levin).

Round 2: Kim Weaver’s Fundraising Against King A Game-Changer?

By Rick Smith

March 23rd, 2017

It’s hard to imagine anything positive resulting from Congressman Steve King’s latest anti-immigrant rants and tweets. However, there may be one silver lining to the dark and ugly racist cloud surrounding King: donations are pouring in to Kim Weaver, encouraging her to run against King again in 2018. Weaver challenged King in 2016, but failed to take out Iowa’s most embarrassing Republican Congressman.

Iowans and many Americans are repulsed by Congressman King’s latest tweet attacks on immigrants, and are expressing their support for Weaver with their donations. Weaver raised over $100,000, mainly in small donations, in the four days following King’s March 12th tweets. She’s up to $144,000 as of today. Weaver said a few weeks ago that she would challenge King again if she could raise $100,000 by September.

This big money infusion could be a game changer for round two of the Weaver vs. King rematch. Having sufficient funding to finance a viable campaign could finally give Weaver a real shot to take King down. In the 2016 campaign it took her two years to raise a total of $170,000. Based on her current fundraising rate, she will soon surpass that 2016 total and the 2018 election is still more than a year and half away.

We all hate the need for big money in politics, but the reality is Democrats like Weaver can’t even get in the political ring with King without it. Getting in the ring translates to building her name recognition and developing a message that gets voters’ attention. Once she gets voters to notice, it’s about building the strength of her punch that can shatter King’s shield of invincibility.

King is vulnerable on his racist anti-immigrant rants. Not all Northwest Iowans agree with his extreme positions. Weaver can hit King hard by exposing him as someone that is betraying Iowa’s historic record of civility and respect for all cultures.

This big financial haul has already given Weaver the ability to hire a top-notch political director. In 2016 had just two staffers. Todd Prieb will soon be joining her exploratory bid. Prieb worked on the successful 2016 election of the first Indian-American Congresswomen in Washington State. Prieb helped elect Pramila Jayapal, a civil rights activist who previously served in the Washington State Senate.

In addition to the boost in donations, Weaver has been interviewed by a variety of national news sources. It hasn’t hurt that both Iowa and national Republican leaders are speaking to the media and distancing themselves from King as well.

King’s March 12th tweet that created all the national rage contained a link to the Voice of Europe, an anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant right wing website. King’s tweet praised Geert Wilders, a Netherlands politician that has made his anti-Muslim rhetoric a key part of his political platform. Wilders is quoted as saying, “I don’t hate Muslims, I hate Islam.” Wilders compares the Islamic holy book, the Quran, to Hitler’s autobiography, Mein Kampf. He wants mosques to be banned in the Netherlands. This is the dangerous guy King has embraced in a special bromance.

King’s endorsement of racism and anti-Muslim European politicians is his weak spot. This doesn’t represent Northwest Iowa’s values and if Weaver can expose his statements as the racism it represents, she can take him down. King is not invincible and if Weaver can maintain her fundraising zeal, she has a chance for a King knockout in round two.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Figure out what you stand for

“Without truth, we don’t have trust. Without trust, we don’t have the rule of law. Without the rule of law, we don’t have democracy.” — Timothy Snyder, author and Professor at Yale University specializing in the history of Central and Eastern Europe and the Holocaust

BELOW is part of a summary from RawStory of an interview Bill Maher conducted with Timothy Snyder  but watch the short video of the segment that's attached at the bottom! It's excellent IMHO, and the summary doesn't do the interview justice. 

I found what Snyder had to say at once frightening and validating.

A Yale historian explains to Maher how Trump resembles 1930s fascists — and makes the Russia connection

By Sarah K. Burris

March 24, 2017

Yale History Professor Timothy Snyder’s latest book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century outlines how democracies fail under dictators as they rise to power. In a conversation Friday with Bill Maher, the host asked Snyder to share the top three lessons about tyranny.

“Don’t obey in advance,” was Snyder’s first instruction. He wasn't necessarily referring to obedience to leaders or authority, but rather not following what everyone else is doing. "Figure out what you stand for and be yourself.” 

His second instruction was that Americans must defend institutions. Many anticipate that “the institution will save us,” but Snyder said that this kind of thinking is wrong. 

“We have to save the institutions. They don’t do it on their own. This is the moment of ‘ask not what the institutions can do for you. Ask what you can do for the institutions.'” 

His third was for Americans to believe in the truth. “Without truth, we don’t have trust. Without trust, we don’t have the rule of law. Without the rule of law, we don’t have democracy,” he continued. 

“It was the fascists who said, 'Facts don’t matter. All that matters is the message, the leader, the myth, the totality. We should be thinking about the 1920s,” he said.

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes noted that the World War II generation is dying off and with it the experience of the ways in which we are a global society and why we helped fight back fascism. 

"We raised a generation without history,” Snyder added.

Investigative journalist Louise Mensch commented that the 1920s also saw the rise of propaganda. “The modern day version of that is fake news, and this country is under attack on its social networks for Russian-funded, Russian-pushed, propaganda that is uniquely tailored to each individual group.” 

Maher tied the conversation together with the news uncovered this week that former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort was working for a Russian billionaire on media and advertising. He argued that it’s treasonous to be employed by someone who is actively working against the Untied States and its interests. 

Hayes raised the concern that many people think Trump himself is some sort of Russian spy, but the reality is that Trump was a mere tool used and manipulated into power. 

“Their propaganda aims for the weaknesses the way a sniper aims for the lungs and head,” Snyder explained, “So, they know us. They know how to work with us and they’ve done it very well.'”

Friday, March 24, 2017

Loving in the face of certain loss

“I know she can’t hear, can’t see, but I always talk to her.” — Mohamed Bzeek 

WHO AMONG us has a heart this big and courage this deep? To know that you will certainly watch them die, yet still take them into your home and heart and love and take care of them every day. 

A Muslim man. You know, one of those evil alien beings that we want to ban from entering this country. This story from the Los Angeles Times was brought to my attention by Liz Neff, and I share it today for a particular reason.

'I know they are going to die.' This foster father takes in only terminally ill children

By Hailey Branson-Potts

February 8, 2017

Bzeek is a quiet, religious man who wants his foster daughter to know she's not alone in this life.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

The children were going to die.

Mohamed Bzeek knew that. But in his more than two decades as a foster father, he took them in anyway — the sickest of the sick in Los Angeles County’s sprawling foster care system.

He has buried about 10 children. Some died in his arms.

Now, Bzeek spends long days and sleepless nights caring for a bedridden 6-year-old foster girl with a rare brain defect. She’s blind and deaf. She has daily seizures. Her arms and legs are paralyzed.

Bzeek, a quiet, devout Libyan-born Muslim who lives in Azusa, just wants her to know she’s not alone in this life. 

“I know she can’t hear, can’t see, but I always talk to her,” he said. “I’m always holding her, playing with her, touching her. … She has feelings. She has a soul. She’s a human being.”

Click here to read the entire article.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Don't set foot in Iowa

“For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.” — Steve King, Iowa Fourth District Congressman, in remarks about immigration reform and the DREAM Act

IF YOU live in Iowa — and even if you don't — by now you've heard of Steve King. Now that I think about it, how could you not have heard of this racist, xenophobic, misogynistic throwback to the early 1900's, who is Iowa's Fourth District Congressional Representative

Iowans with a modicum of sense are acutely ashamed that he's been reelected seven times since he first packed his bags for D.C. in 2003. I asked Paul if we couldn't maybe cede that northwest corner of Iowa to Nebraska and South Dakota. They could split it between themselves. Sorry, NW Iowa, but at some point there have to be consequences.

Below is an article by Greg Toppo from the March 12 issue of USA Today about the latest reprehensible thing King said, but more importantly — so much more importantly — I'm presenting a simple, no-cost, two-step plan for you to help save Iowa and the country.

U.S. Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican who last July said white Christians have contributed more to Western civilization than any other “subgroup,” on Sunday found himself again the subject of criticism, this time for saying that Muslim children are preventing “our civilization” from being restored. 

King, who was retweeting a message endorsing Geert Wilders, a far-right candidate for Dutch prime minister, said Wilders “understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies.”

The original tweet, from the anti-European Union Voice of Europe media organization, displays a cartoon with an image of Wilders plugging a hole in a wall labeled “Western Civilization.” Nearby, bearded protesters hold signs that say, “Infidels, Know Your Limits” and “Freedom of Speech Go To Hell.”

The caption reads: "Hundreds of Islamists shouting 'Allahu Akbar' in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Wilders is right for over 10 years."

Me again:

Then David Duke came to King's defense. You remember him, right? . . . the white nationalist, antisemitic conspiracy theorist, Holocaust denier and former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan

King promptly doubled down on March 14 by telling CNN, "I meant exactly what I said," and that he'd "like to see an America that's just so homogeneous that we look a lot the same, from that perspective."

But then a funny thing happened. People who had planned trips to Iowa started canceling them!! Here's an article from The Des Moines Register.

People are canceling their Iowa vacations because of Steve King's words

By Kevin Hardy, The Des Moines Register 

March 18, 2017, Updated March 20, 2017

The Iowa Tourism Office generally receives about two complaints a month from travelers who leave the state peeved about picking up a speeding ticket or dissatisfied with an unpleasant hotel stay.

But in the days following U.S. Rep Steve King's recent controversial comments, staff responded to about 60 tweets a day, not to mention emails, Facebook posts and calls from potential tourists, officials said Friday.

Many would-be travelers vowed to cancel spring or summer trips to Iowa. Some longtime attendees of an annual bike ride across Iowa promised to ditch the trek after King tweeted Sunday a suggestion that Muslim children are preventing “our civilization” from being restored, officials from the Iowa Tourism Office told The Des Moines Register on Friday.

David Bernstein, a member of the Iowa Economic Development Authority board, aired the tourists' concerns at the board's monthly meeting on Friday. The economic development authority, which oversees the Iowa Tourism Office, says tourism contributes $8 billion in economic activity to the state. And Bernstein said King's statements could hurt businesses looking to woo travelers.

King, who was retweeting a message endorsing Geert Wilders, a far-right candidate who came in second during Wednesday's election for Dutch prime minister, said Wilders “understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies.” While Iowa Republicans disavowed King's statement, former Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard David Duke embraced the congressman's rhetoric.

That left state officials who market Iowa as a travel destination playing defense as they sought distance from King's charged rhetoric. Shawna Lode, manager of the Iowa Tourism Office, said staff members ensured potential tourists, particularly minorities, that Iowans were welcoming of all.

"We’re in a politically charged environment," she said after Friday's meeting. "People have strong opinions about lots of things. They are free to share their thoughts with us, and we’ll continue to say that Iowa is a welcoming place and we welcome all people."

State officials this week offered many responses like this one on the Travel Iowa Twitter account: "Iowans are diverse, progressive and tolerant. We welcome all people to experience our state."

Bernstein, a Sioux City businessman appointed to the board, said the backlash this week reached a "new level."

"This was the worst one ever. I live in his district and have been following him a long time," he said. "And, being Jewish, I am particularly sensitive to his perspective. This was by far the worst set of comments he ever made."

He said the backlash could be particularly damaging to businesses in King's 4th Congressional District, which includes Sioux City and northwest Iowa.

Me again:

Now here's where you come in: DON'T COME TO IOWA. Regardless of how much you miss Aunt Sally and Uncle Walter, and even though your 30th class reunion is this summer, help save Iowa and the country by staying out of Iowa entirely.

That's step one. 

However, this is what will seal the deal: send a letter or email to the local Chamber of Commerce of the area you had originally planned to visit — and for good measure, copy the Iowa Department of Tourism — and tell them that you're not coming there and why!

If you live in Iowa, you can still make an impact by not visitng the Fourth District. 

Below is a map of the district, so you'll know where to avoid. Again, be sure and let the local COC or mayor know why you won't be sojourning there. 

Or even better, relocate your event to the Second District, and let the COCs know you chose the locale because you're rewarding area voters for having the good sense to elect a sane man, Representative Dave Loesback.

We seem to have lost all moral direction here, but everybody still seems plenty in love with making a buck, so do your part and stay out of Iowa and the Fourth District.  

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Chronic fatigue syndrome

"I split my clinical time between the two illnesses, and I can tell you if I had to choose between the two illnesses I would rather have H.I.V. But C.F.S., which impacts a million people in the United States alone, has had a small fraction of the research dollars directed towards it."— Dr. Nancy Klimas, AIDS and CFS researcher and clinician, University of Miami

ALTHOUGH I'm a New York Times subscriber, it was ever-on-top-of-things friend Heidi Utz who made we aware of this piece. I'm sharing it especially for a friend whose birthday is today.

Getting It Wrong on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

By Julie Rehmeyer and David Tuller
March 18, 2017

What are some of the treatment regimens that sufferers of chronic fatigue syndrome should follow? Many major medical organizations cite two: psychotherapy and a steady increase in exercise. There’s just one problem. The main study that has been cited as proof that patients can recover with those treatments overstated some of its results. In reality, the claim that patients can recover from these treatments is not justified by the data.

That’s the finding of a peer-reviewed preliminary re-analysis of previously unpublished data from the clinical trial, the largest ever for chronic fatigue syndrome. Nicknamed the PACE trial, the core findings of the British study appeared in The Lancet in 2011 and Psychological Medicine in 2013. Patients battled for years to obtain the underlying data, and last spring, a legal tribunal in Britain, the General Regulatory Chamber, directed the release of some of the study’s information.

Credit: Jacqueline Tam

The impact of the trial on treatment options for the estimated one million chronic fatigue patients in the United States has been profound. The Mayo Clinic, Kaiser Permanente, WebMD, the American Academy of Family Physicians and others recommend psychotherapy and a steady increase in exercise.

But this approach can be harmful. According to a 2015 report from the Institute of Medicine, now the National Academy of Medicine, even minimal activity can cause patients prolonged exhaustion, muscle pain, cognitive problems and more. In severe cases, a short conversation or a trip to the bathroom can deplete patients for hours, days or more. In surveys, patients routinely report deterioration after a program of graded exercise. The psychotherapeutic intervention also encourages patients to increase their activity levels.

Many patients (including one of us) have remained ill for years or decades with chronic fatigue syndrome, also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, or ME/CFS. It can be triggered by a viral infection, resulting in continuing or recurring immunological and neurological dysfunction. The Institute of Medicine dismissed any notion that it is a psychiatric illness.

Proponents of these therapies argue that these very sick patients harbored “unhelpful beliefs” that they had an organic illness that limited their capacity to exert themselves. According to this theory, patients are deconditioned from too much rest and can recover if they overcome their fear of activity and get back into shape.

But as the new re-analysis by an academic researcher and three patients showed, the promise of recovery using the two treatments appeared to be an illusion. When the study’s findings were first published, patients and some scientists noted a stunning problem: The investigators had weakened their outcome measures from their trial protocol so much that participants could actually deteriorate on physical function and still qualify as “recovered.” Thirteen percent entered the trial already having met the definition of “recovered” on that measure. The investigators have argued that this didn’t matter since participants also had to meet additional recovery criteria.

These critiques received little attention until 2015, when Virology Blog, a science site, published a 15,000-word investigation of PACE written by one of us. This led dozens of scientists and clinicians to demand that The Lancet seek an independent review.

In December, the journal Fatigue: Biomedicine, Health and Behavior published the re-analysis of some of the data. The PACE investigators claimed in the journal Psychological Medicine that 22 percent of those undergoing either psychotherapy or graded exercise “recovered” from their illness. But that was not based on the study’s original definition for recovery but on the looser one adopted by the researchers after the trial began.

Using the original definition, the re-analysis found that 7 percent or less had “recovered” with no statistically significant differences between those who did and did not receive the treatments. In their response, the investigators argue that there is no “generally agreed-on measure of recovery.”

Last week, Virology Blog posted an open letter to Psychological Medicine, which one of us helped draft and which was signed by more than 100 clinicians, scientists, experts and patient groups, requesting the retraction of the PACE recovery study results to “protect patients from ineffective and possibly harmful treatments.” The journal has said it has no plans to retract the study but is open to publishing a re-analysis of data in any papers it has published.

In The Lancet, the trial also claimed that around 60 percent of patients in the exercise and psychotherapy arms “improved.” But according to the investigators’ own recent re-analysis of their data, using their stricter protocol measure of improvement rather than the looser one they used for The Lancet, only about 20 percent receiving each therapy in addition to medical care “improved” — and half of those would have improved with specialized medical care alone.

Even that limited finding is questionable. The improvement rates and other reported findings were based largely on patients’ subjective self-ratings, which are vulnerable to bias. In contrast, none of the trial’s objective measures supported the claims of treatment success.

In short, this episode has damaged public trust in science.

Doctors and medical organizations must stop recommending these two therapies for ME/CFS as treatment options. Next, the disputed findings must be retracted. Finally, health agencies must ramp up funding for medical research to develop accurate diagnostic tests and pharmacological treatments.

A million Americans are waiting.  

Julie Rehmeyer is the author of the forthcoming “Through the Shadowlands: A Science Writer’s Odyssey Into an Illness Science Doesn’t Understand.” David Tuller is academic coordinator of the joint master’s program in public health and journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

Subscribe to The New York Times

Friday, March 17, 2017

Happy St. Patrick's Day, hypocrites

“This would be a grand land if only every Irishman would kill a Negro, and be hanged for it. I find this sentiment generally approved, sometimes with the qualification that they want Irish and Negroes for servants, not being able to get any other.” — Edward Freeman, British historian writing on his return from America, circa 1881

TODAY is Saint Patrick's Day in the United States. Since it falls on a Friday, it will be a full three days of revelry. There will be parades and parties all across the country, green beer will flow freely in bars and pubs everywhere, Chicago will dye its river green and half of everyone out and about will wear green, cuz' ya' know, everyone is Irish on St. Patty's Day

(Except, as Paul reminds me . . . Scots, who are ALWAYS only and ever Scottish!  "If it's not Scottish, it's crap.")

All this (temporary) Irishness, despite the fact that according to The Washington Post, only 11.1 % of Americans actually have Irish ancestry. 

I'm glad when any culture or ethnicity celebrates its roots, and having some amount of Irish in my lineage, I feel at least a little entitled to pay tribute. Nevertheless, this holiday never fails to remind me of what an ignorant bunch of hypocrites, in general, the US citizenry is, at least the 46.1% who voted for he-who-shall-not-be-named and anyone else who is vehemently, hatefully, punishingly anti-immigration. 

This epidemic of hate currently directed at Mexicans and people from Islamic-majority countries, is nothing new to us. America has a grand old tradition of despising immigrants including the Irish. (And don't even get me started on British cruelty to their Irish brethren. The Brits got the whole ball rolling in a big way.)

To all of you wearing green and swilling green beer, here's a little reminder of how we treated our now beloved Irish . . . who we claim to be this weekend . . . when they came to this country.

FYI: This is not the first time I've written on this subject. (See Something There Is That Doesn't Love a Wall.)

Below is most of a piece, reorganized for clarity, from XpatNation.  I hadn't heard of this e-zine either, so here's what they have to say about their mission:

"The United States of America truly is a nation of immigrants, internationals and expatriates. From all over the world people have come to work, settle, find love and the pursuit of happiness. This is not a new phenomenon, but one that has characterized the United States since before its inception. Founded as a place for economic, political and religious refuge, America has prospered, and so too have many lost or ambitious souls looking to make a new life in the new world.

XpatNation is a social news and lifestyle magazine, focusing on the insights and experiences of ex-patriots living in the United States. We bring together the voices, thoughts, perceptions and experiences of the people of the world who have made the USA their home. Using their insight and unique understanding of the global world we live in to discuss culture, lifestyle, geo-politics and day-to-day life of this proud and powerful nation."

The Courageous Irish Community: Bearing The Hatred Of A Racist America

By Jason Muturi 

December 4, 2015 

Irish-American people faced much prejudice, racism and discrimination after their immigration to the United States because they were poor, uneducated, less skilled, considered disruptive and were Catholics in a land of Protestant dominance.

With anti-Irish attitude dominating most of the British-American states in the 17th century, most colonies enacted laws that barred Irish immigrants from new entry into America. Maryland's legislature passed a law placing a tax of twenty shillings on Irish servants. South Carolina enacted legislation that forbade entry of the Irish altogether, while Pennsylvania adopted a law that taxed the importation of Irish servants. The laws served to either bar entry or deprive the Irish of employment opportunities their counterpart established-immigrants had. 

American political cartoon by Thomas Nast titled "The Usual Irish Way of Doing Things",
depicting a drunken Irishman lighting a powder keg and swinging a bottle.
Published September 2, 1871 in Harper's Weekly.

Irish men were branded as lazy drunkards. Irish women were stereotyped as primitive, reckless ‘‘breeders’’ due to their large family sizes compared to those of Protestants. American Protestants were afraid that high birth rates of Catholics combined with 
Irish political takeovers would ultimately result in a Protestant minority and Catholicism becoming the dominant faith. The press derided Irish immigrants as aliens who were undisputedly loyal to their Catholic leaders instead of having allegiance to America and published degrading, hate-mongering cartoons. 

Irish-Americans were subjected to humiliating job discrimination. Desperate for employment, they were willing to work for lower wages and soon filled most of the unskilled and manual labor jobs. Local employers considered the immigrants disposable labor, often using them to perform hazardous tasks. With major employers preferring Irish immigrant workers for their willingness to do the worst work for the least pay, a rivalry ensued between Irish immigrants and Americans.

Signs appeared in business and home windows proclaiming variations of "Help Wanted But No Irish Need Apply.’’ NINA (No Irish Need Apply) slogans were published in local papers with images of Irish women searching for domestic jobs, and a NINA song was written to further denigrate them.

Groups of Protestants burned down a Catholic convent in Boston. In Philadelphia mobs of Protestants rioted against Irish Catholics. At some point, the Irish organized and fought back in a war that lasted three years. Catholic churches were burned, there was massive destruction of Irish immigrant homes and property, and many Irish-Americans died. 

Me again: So when you raise a glass of whiskey or mug of beer to the Irish or put on your green tie or sweater, think about what you can do in opposition to the current torrent of anti-immigration hate. You'd think we'd learn.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Increasingly a police state

"True freedom requires the rule of law and justice, and a judicial system in which the rights of some are not secured by the denial of rights to others." — Jonathan Sacks, British rabbi, philosopher and scholar 

TWO NEWS stories absolutely blew me away yesterday . . . and not in a good way. This is one of them. From NBC News:

American Citizens: U.S. Border Agents Can Search Your Cellphone

By Cynthia McFadden, E.D. Cauchi, William M. Arkin and Kevin Monahan

March 13, 2017

When Buffalo, New York couple Akram Shibly and Kelly McCormick returned to the U.S. from a trip to Toronto on Jan. 1, 2017, U.S. Customs & Border Protection officers held them for two hours, took their cellphones and demanded their passwords.

"It just felt like a gross violation of our rights," said Shibly, a 23-year-old filmmaker born and raised in New York. But he and McCormick complied, and their phones were searched.

Three days later, they returned from another trip to Canada and were stopped again by CBP.

"One of the officers calls out to me and says, 'Hey, give me your phone,'" recalled Shibly. "And I said, 'No, because I already went through this.'"

The officer asked a second time..

Within seconds, he was surrounded: one man held his legs, another squeezed his throat from behind. A third reached into his pocket, pulling out his phone. McCormick watched her boyfriend's face turn red as the officer's chokehold tightened.

Then they asked McCormick for her phone.

"I was not about to get tackled," she said. She handed it over.

Shibly and McCormick's experience is not unique. In 25 cases examined by NBC News, American citizens said that CBP officers at airports and border crossings demanded that they hand over their phones and their passwords, or unlock them.

The travelers came from across the nation, and were both naturalized citizens and people born and raised on American soil. They traveled by plane and by car at different times through different states. Businessmen, couples, senior citizens, and families with young kids, questioned, searched, and detained for hours when they tried to enter or leave the U.S. None were on terror watchlists. One had a speeding ticket. Some were asked about their religion and their ethnic origins, and had the validity of their U.S. citizenship questioned.

What most of them have in common — 23 of the 25 — is that they are Muslim, like Shibly, whose parents are from Syria.

Data provided by the Department of Homeland Security shows that searches of cellphones by border agents has exploded, growing fivefold in just one year, from fewer than 5,000 in 2015 to nearly 25,000 in 2016.

According to DHS officials, 2017 will be a blockbuster year. Five-thousand devices were searched in February alone, more than in all of 2015.

"That's shocking," said Mary Ellen Callahan, former chief privacy officer at the Department of Homeland Security. She wrote the rules and restrictions on how CBP should conduct electronic searches back in 2009. "That [increase] was clearly a conscious strategy, that's not happenstance."

"This really puts at risk both the security and liberty of the American people," said Senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon. "Law abiding Americans are being caught up in this digital dragnet."

"This is just going to grow and grow and grow," said Senator Wyden. "There's tremendous potential for abuse here."

What CBP agents call "detaining" cellphones didn't start after Donald Trump's election. The practice began a decade ago, late in the George W. Bush administration, but was highly focused on specific individuals.

The more aggressive tactics of the past two years, two senior intelligence officials told NBC News, were sparked by a string of domestic incidents in 2015 and 2016 in which the watch list system and the FBI failed to stop American citizens from conducting attacks. The searches also reflect new abilities to extract contact lists, travel patterns and other data from phones very quickly.

DHS has published more than two dozen reports detailing its extensive technological capability to forensically extract data from mobile devices, regardless of password protection on most Apple and Android phones. The reports document its proven ability to access deleted call logs, videos, photos, and emails to name a few, in addition to the Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram apps..

But the officials caution that rhetoric about a Muslim registry and ban during the presidential campaign also seems to have emboldened federal agents to act more forcefully.

American citizens Akram Shibly and Kelly McCormick who had their phones
searched on two separate trips as they reentered the US from Canada.

"The shackles are off," said Hugh Handeyside, a staff attorney with the ACLU's National Security Project. "We see individual officers and perhaps supervisors as well pushing those limits, exceeding their authority and violating people's rights."

And multiple sources told NBC News that law enforcement and the Intelligence Community are exploiting a loophole to collect intelligence.

Under the Fourth Amendment, law enforcement needs at least reasonable suspicion if they want to search people or their possessions within the United States. But not at border crossings, and not at airport terminals.

"The Fourth Amendment, even for U.S. citizens, doesn't apply at the border," said Callahan. "That's under case law that goes back 150 years."

The ACLU's Handeyside noted that while the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement doesn't apply at the border, its "general reasonableness" requirement still does, and is supposed to protect against unreasonable searches and seizures. "That may seem nuanced, but it's a critical distinction, said Handeyside. "We don't surrender our constitutional rights at the border."

Customs and Border officers can search travelers without any level of suspicion. They have the legal authority to go through any object crossing the border within 100 miles, including smartphones and laptops. They have the right to take devices away from travelers for five days without providing justification. In the absence of probable cause, however, they have to give the devices back.

CBP also searches people on behalf of other federal law enforcement agencies, sending its findings back to partners in the DEA, FBI, Treasury and the National Counterterrorism Center, among others.

Callahan thinks that CBP's spike in searches means it is exploiting the loophole "in order to get information they otherwise might hot have been able to."

On January 31, an engineer from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory was pulled into additional screening upon his return to the U.S. after a two-week vacation in Chile. Despite being cleared by the Global Entry program, Sidd Bikkannavar received an "X" on his customs form. He is not Muslim, and he is not from any of the seven countries named in President Trump's original "travel ban" executive order. Half his family comes from India but he was born and raised in California.

Bikkannavar was brought into a closed room and told to hand over his phone and passcode. He paid particular notice to the form CBP handed him which explained it had the right to copy the contents of the phone, and that the penalty for refusal was "detention."

"I didn't know if that meant detention of the phone or me and I didn't want to find out," said Bikkannavar. He tried to refuse but the officer repeatedly demanded the PIN. Eventually he acquiesced.

"Once they had that, they had everything," Bikkannavar said. That access allowed CBP officers to review the backend of his social media accounts, work emails, call and text history, photos and other apps. He had expected security might physically search any travelers for potential weapons but accessing his digital data felt different. "Your whole digital life is on your phone."

The officers disappeared with his phone and PIN. They returned 30 minutes later and let him go home.

CBP also regularly searches people leaving the country.

On February 9, Haisam Elsharkawi was stopped by security while trying to board his flight out of Los Angeles International Airport. He said that six Customs officers told him he was randomly selected. They demanded access to his phone and when he refused, Elsharkawi said they handcuffed him, locked him in the airport's lower level and asked questions including how he became a citizen. Elsharkawi thought he knew his rights and demanded access to legal counsel.

"They said if I need a lawyer, then I must be guilty of something," said Elsharkawi, and Egyptian-born Muslim and naturalized U.S. citizen. After four hours of questioning in detention, he unlocked his smartphone and, after a search, was eventually released. Elsharkawi said he intends to sue the Department of Homeland Security.

The current policy has not been updated since 2009. Jayson Ahern, who served in CBP under both Bush and Obama, signed off on the current policy. He said the electronic searches are supposed to be based on specific, articulable facts that raise security concerns. They are not meant to be random or routine or applied liberally to border crossers. "That's reckless and that's how you would lose the authority, never mind the policy."

The Customs & Border Patrol policy manual says that electronic devices fall under the same extended search doctrine that allows them to scan bags in the typical security line.

"As the threat landscape changes, so does CBP," a spokesperson told NBC News.

Since the policy was written in 2009, legal advocates argue, several court cases have set new precedents that could make some CBP electronic searches illegal.

Several former DHS officials pointed to a 2014 Supreme Court ruling in Riley v California that determined law enforcement needed a warrant to search electronic devices when a person is being arrested. The court ruled unanimously, and Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion.

"Modern cellphones are not just another technological convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans 'the privacies of life,'" wrote Roberts. "The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought."

Because that case happened outside of the border context, however, CBP lawyers have repeatedly asserted in court that the ruling does not apply to border searches.

For now a Department of Justice internal bulletin has instructed that, unless border officers have a search warrant, they need to take protective measures to limit intrusions, and make sure their searches do not access travelers' digital cloud data. The 'cloud' is all content not directly stored on a device, which includes anything requiring internet to access, like email and social media.

Former DHS officials who helped design and implement the search policy said they agreed with that guidance.

On February 20, Sen. Wyden wrote to DHS Secretary John Kelly demanding details on electronic search-practices used on U.S. citizens, and referred to the extent of electronic searches as government "overreach". As of publication, he had yet to receive an answer.

Now Sen. Wyden says that as early as next week he plans to propose a bill that would require CBP to at least obtain a warrant to search electronics of U.S. citizens, and explicitly prevent officers from demanding passwords.

"The old rules ... seem to be on the way to being tossed in the garbage can," said Senator Wyden. "I think it is time to update the law."

Asked about the Shibly case, a CBP spokesperson declined to comment, but said the Homeland Security Inspector General is investigating. The spokesperson said the agency can't comment on open investigations or particular travelers, but that it "firmly denies any accusations of racially profiling travelers based on nationality, race, sex, religion, faith, or spiritual beliefs."

Explaining the sharp increase in electronic searches, a department spokesperson told NBC News: "CBP has adapted and adjusted to align with current threat information, which is based on intelligence." A spokesman also noted that searches of citizens leaving the U.S. protect against the theft of American industrial and national security secrets.

After repeated communications, the Department of Homeland Security never responded to NBC News' requests for comments. Nonetheless, the Homeland Security Inspector General is currently auditing CBP's electronic search practices.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) also has filed two dozen complaints against CBP this year for issues profiling Muslim Americans. CAIR and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are considering legal action against the government for what they consider to be unconstitutional searches at the border.