How We Got Our Immigration Policies: What Now

Introduction

The sonnet at the base of the Statue of Liberty was written by Emma Lazarus at the urging of her friends for an auction to raise money to build a pedestal to put the statue on in 1883. It was engraved on a bronze plaque which was added to the base of the statue in 1903. But apparently America was already sort of in the “fake news” business, since we have not exactly had a love affair with the various immigrant waves that have arrived on our shores, or our desert roads. Since I kept being wrong about what things we have done to immigrants before now, I decided to do some research.

The very first article I found was extremely helpful offering a timeline of immigration events, laws, actions, and even a few statistics. There is also an infographic (not included here). Although I would like to blame all the times America got exercised about immigrants who did not enter America legally (and a few times when we even got hot under the collar about legal immigrants) on the Republicans it is not possible. For one thing during the Civil War the Democrats were the Republicans, sort of, so things get murky.

Clearly we did not get where we are in 2018 in one giant step. In many administrations Presidents and Congresses have dealt with trying to solve the problems of people who immigrated to America without going through proper channels. And the more complicated the rules have become the more people seem to try to go around them.

Sometimes there may have been popular pressure on the government as people felt overrun by waves of one immigrant group or another and the fact of all these new folks settling in seemed to threaten current demographics, or change a favored neighborhood beyond recognition. Other times immigration crack-downs seemed to have been related to historical events such as the Great Depression which made it difficult to take care of even the citizens who had been here for decades and the Second World War which made many Americans paranoid about people from Japan. There was possibly also an element of revenge after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Finding all the reasons for immigration freak-outs would require more research and still might not offer a complete picture. Perhaps you had to be there in those moments.

Late 1800’s to early 1900’s

The timeline I found says that the first dedicated immigration detention facility in the world appeared in America in 1892. People had to stay somewhere between apprehension and deportation. The first guards appeared on the US-Mexico border in 1904.

Calvin Coolidge (Rep)

 “1924 Johnson-Reed Immigration Act (also known as the National Origins Act and Asian Exclusion Act) – Restricted immigration further to the number of immigrants admitted from any country annually to 2 percent of the number who were already living in the United States before the 1890 census. Intended to “preserve American homogeneity,” the Johnson-Reed Act provided a pathway to citizenship for European immigrants while restricting Asians, Arabs, and most Africans completely.”

Herbert Hoover (Dem) and Franklin D Roosevelt (Dem)-The Great Depression into WWII

Entering illegally or overstaying a visa became a misdemeanor in 1929 (just before the Great Depression). During the Great Depression Herbert Hoover (Rep) and later FDR (Dem) “rounded up and deported 500,000 Mexicans and Filipinos, even though 60% of them were US-born citizens. 1942 was the beginning of the Japanese internment under FDR (Dem) (World War II). But FDR also began the Bracero Program which issued temporary visas to Mexicans to work in agriculture. This program ended in 1964.

Harry S. Truman (Dem)

In 1946 the US Army School of the Americas (SOA) began training Latin America soldiers and leaders in Georgia. It eventually earned the reputation of being a school for despots and is often considered to be responsible for the destabilization we still see in South America today.  In 1952 an immigrant’s criminal record or radical political views could be grounds for deportation/detention. It also became possible to grant noncitizens release from detention on bond based on community ties.

Eisenhower (Rep) and Jimmy Carter (Dem)

Eisenhower (Rep)(1954-56) targeted 1 million Mexicans for deportation in the charmingly named Operation Wetback (sarcasm). Under Jimmy Carter (Dem) (1980-81) a new round of mass detentions took place, this time Cubans, Haitians, and Central Americans.

Ronald Reagan (Rep)

Ronald Reagan (Rep) took office in 1981. Reagan wanted to deter Latin American immigration so he began the detention of asylum seekers. A renewed War on Drugs brought militarization to the border. Reagan set up the McAllen Detention Center in Puerto Rico to hold Haitians in 1981. In 1983 he signed the Mass Immigration Emergency Plan which required that there always be 10,000 beds ready to use for immigrant detention. And in 1983 the first private prison company (CCA) Correction Corporation of America (which became CoreCivic in 2016 was allowed to house detained immigrants. GEO Group formed to set up more private detention prisons. In 1986 the Immigration Reform and Control Act was signed and granted blanket amnesty for undocumented immigrants. It also sanctioned employers who hired them. In 1987 GEO won the first government contract which gave GEO taxpayer money to detain immigrants. Busy times.

Bill Clinton (Dem)

Bill Clinton (Dem) in 1994 doubled the Border Patrol and constructed five miles of border wall in the wake of which data showed an increasing number of deaths in the border lands.

“Together known as “The 1996 Laws,” this set of laws has had the greatest impact on expanding the U.S. immigration detention system by expanding the list of “crimes of moral turpitude,” including non-violent drug and other charges, for which both legal immigrants and undocumented non-citizens can be subjected to mandatory detention and deportation. These laws can be applied retroactively, and also impose 3-year, 10-year, and lifetime bars on returning to the U.S. after deportation.”

George W. Bush (Rep) Post 9/11 attacks on World Trade Center

Under George W. Bush (Rep) in 2003 the Supreme Court upheld the right to detain immigrants during deportation proceedings. The Department of Homeland Security was created in 2003 also. Under G.W. private prisons began to be administered by the Bureau of Prisons.

Barrack Obama (Dem)

Under Obama (Dem), 2009 the quota for emergency beds that must be maintained at all times went to 34,000. Obama temporarily ended family detention, but the detention centers remained open. He established DACA in 2012. In 2014 he resumed family detention because of increases in unaccompanied minors, women and children. When the US Justice Department and DHS tried to phase out use of private prisons in 2016, their stocks plummeted. Obama detentions were over 40,000/day  and he had deported over 3 million people, more than all other Presidents added together up to that date.

Donald J. Trump (Rep)

When Trump was elected in 2016 prison stocks rose again. [However by January, 2017, under Trump detentions are over now 44-45,000/day according to The Daily Beast. Family separation is new, although supposedly suspended for now, and it appears that Trump would like to end all immigration through our southern border. He wants a “wall” along the whole southern border.]

Here’s the irony, in Oct. 2017 California, home of the first private prison for immigrants passed the Dignity, not Detention Act. We can see that as American population grew immigration law became steadily more intense until we arrived at where we are now. Countable.com asked me today what I would do with children and unaccompanied minors if they were not detained. I liked when we found families to take them in but this doesn’t even make the list as an official policy and how do you find the number of homes we need.

All of this timeline information, except where noted, was mined from the following article:

https://www.freedomforimmigrants.org/detention-timeline/

Not the Whole Story if Trying to Place Blame

Presidents don’t always write laws or enact laws. A President may initiate a law or rule or act but this is more likely to begin in Congress and then end up on the President’s desk for a signature. This was an excellent article for setting up a timeline and I have tried to condense the contents for you. But what is missing are the political forces that led government representatives to write these bills and put them forward for a vote. Who favored the policy and who did not. We can find all of that, there is a Congressional Record and there are history books but it would require some major digging and will have to be put off for another time, another article. Once again I will repeat that sometimes you had to be there.

Private Prisons (The Daily Beast article)

What sent me on this journey through history was an article in The Daily Beast  12/27/2018 which delineated the role of private prison corporations in the detention of immigrants, a phenomenon that has exploded. What it also makes clear is that these for-profit (on the stock market) private prison corporations are paid through government contracts, in other words, taxpayer dollars. We are basically unable to process the numbers of asylum seekers, visa overstayers, immigrants arriving without going through channels, and so they have become prisoners. They are apparently not required to work but life is so boring that many opt to work. They are paid $1/day, or if they work in the kitchen, $3/day. Much of the data about payments is kept away from the public but from what Spencer Ackerman and Adam Rawnsley were able to uncover we have spent 807 million for private contracts to 19 different facilities where immigrants are detained. The Daily Beast article also contains an informative infographic by Sarah Rogers.

Conclusions

Obviously Trump did not create current immigration policies and although he has escalated them he is not alone in this. That has been the trend for the last 150 years. But Donald Trump is fear mongering by exaggerating the dangers of immigration at our southern border. He would, seemingly, like to end all immigration through the southern border for the time being. Americans don’t see how it is possible to keep increasing detention facilities and detention time frames. We are unhappy with the imprisonment of asylum seekers. We are unhappy that they have to stay in detention too long because there is not adequate staffing on the judicial side to adjudicate asylums or deportations. Separating mothers and fathers from their young children is really very upsetting to most Americans. It does not sit well with our sense of justice to see a two year old in a court that will decide his/her fate without legal representation or anyone who speaks Spanish. Our system is not working. Imprisonment is obviously not the answer. In fact our whole set of laws to foil undocumented immigrants is a soul-sucking mess. Once again the law-and- order people have had their say and their message is always the same, “lock ‘em up”. We can do better, but first we have to stop doing this.

Photo Credits: From Google Image Searches – thedailybeast.com -CoreCivic-Cleveland.com

Addendum- Kennedy-Johnson Presidencies – 1965

 

I left out a number of rules, laws, and firsts from my quick reference immigration list but a colleague pointed out one very important act that I neglected to mention. This is the Hart-Celler act of 1965, initiated in the Kennedy administration and passed after Kennedy’s death by the Lyndon Johnson administration. The Immigration and Naturalization Act abolished earlier quota systems based on national origin and established a new immigration policy based on reuniting families and attracting skilled labor to the US. “In removing racist national barriers the Act would significantly alter the demographic mix in the US,” according to Wikipedia. This act was widely supported in Congress. 74% of Democrats said yes and 85% of Republicans voted yes. But the policies passed in this act are at the heart of our current immigration controversies. Many Americas are unhappy that white folks will soon be the minority in America (although no one minority group will represent the majority) so they want drastic changes in quotas. President Trump would like to go back to quotas that give Western Europeans the advantage in immigration, and many Republicans back this approach. This bill also focused on the policy that Trump has called “chain migration” because it gives an advantage to family members of immigrants already in America. Trump and most Republicans would like to end the practice of “chain migration,” ostensibly because it aids terrorists, but also because they want to change the complexion of America in order to bring back the ‘whiteness’ factor that, to some, represents the true face of America.

 

 

Exit Strategy: Book 4: Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells – Book

Exit Strategy is Book 4 in The Murderbot Diaries Series by Martha Wells and it is the last book in the series. You’re probably getting pretty sick of hearing the term murderbot by now (although there is something horrifyingly titillating about the idea) and our own murderbot has changed his look so much that he is now actually more of a Sec/Unit (Security Unit). In the world of The Murderbot Diaries, murderbots are frightening bots, taller than humans, half constructed of organics and half non-organics, wearing armor and helmets that they can darken to hide behind. They have, we guess by reading between the lines, a reputation for being almost unbeatable, although it sounds as if combatbots can take them down. Why would people create murderbots to begin with? When you read about some of the illegal things corporations get up to in The Murderbot Diaries you can see that they might need to assassinate people who know their secret evil deeds. This is what a murderbot is, essentially, an assassin, although murderbots can also be used for protection from a universe that is still full of unknown alien things.

Our Murderbot becomes what is essentially a detective, hunting down clues to solve two mysteries at once. One mystery is to unravel whether he/it did actually go off the rails and murder a whole group of miners and their security forces (bots). The other mystery is to find out why GrayCris is filing lawsuits against the very person (Dr. Mensah) who should be filing charges against GrayCris. The corporation covers its tracks and destroys negative evidence or kills anyone who could testify. The only untethered witness snoping into their affairs is Murderbot. GrayCris wants Murderbot murdered. They really want this badly. They have lots of connections and humans don’t realize how bad the corporation is. Murderbot has only the allies he meets on his travels and he is almost reduced to parts many times as he investigates.

Murderbot has also been meeting humans who are not rapacious, greedy crooks. He  works for a few groups of humans he encounters at the various transport hubs he hitches rides to. He favors transports that have bot pilots and are on runs that are empty of humans, but as soon as he gets off a transport (with his disguised appearance – yes apparently a bot can adopt a disguise) he keeps meeting these vulnerable humans who need security but who could never afford it. He’s susceptible to honest, but naïve humans and so he helps them. It has the beneficial side effect of allowing our bot to acquire currency cards. Bots don’t get paid. They do not have money. Money is always helpful to anyone, especially to a detective though.

As Murderbot disguises itself so the corporation and HubSystem cannot find it, interestingly, its appearance gets more and more human, less and less like a murderbot. A murderbot is so distinctive it could never sneak around the universe. ART on the deep space university research transport helps Murderbot make its arms and legs two inches shorter. Murderbot stops wearing the helmet and the armor. He grows his hair. He allows his mentor to instruct the med unit (a machine) to place small hairs on his “skin”, the organic parts of him. He keeps the gun ports in his arms but organic flaps cover them most of the time. He grows out his hair. He wears human clothing. And he has the ability to hack security systems so that his presence is erased. He can also hide his weaponry from security scans.

In Exit Strategy  Murderbot must get Dr. Mensah away from the clutches of GrayCris who will do anything to stop her from escaping, as she happens to be on a transport hub that is home to their corporate offices. They are even more avid to capture her now that Murderbot is back and she seems to have evidence of what they have been up to. We can guess what fate will await each of them if caught. Murderbot also has to decide how much human contact he wants and what he wants to do next. If they make it. It is an action-packed wrap up. Later, Murderbot (perhaps).

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – Fiction Unbound

I Can No Longer Open my Food

I can no longer open my food. It is good to know that our food still obeys some safety laws. Apparently things in bottles need either a plastic ring around the bottle top or a sealed liner over the opening once the cover comes off. Some companies choose to be really safe and use both protections. Although companies probably stick to these particular safety rules to avoid lawsuits, these precautions are helpful to us. Wide mouth jars must have an inner seal or be vacuum-packed. They have a little button in the center of the cover (like old canning jar tops) and if it is down when purchased, and if the food has not passed the sell-by date, then the food is safe; if the seal is up don’t buy it. This, again, is helpful. It saves on ER expenses, calls to poison control and lawsuits.

There was a time when it became popular to mess with food stuffs and medicines.  People were finding things in their containers of food or drugs that did not belong there and did not come from the factory. Containers that were porous were found with needle holes in them. It seemed that people were tampering with our food and meds out of spite or to instill distrust in manufactured foods or who knows why people do these things. The Food and Drug administration moved to counteract this trend and make our food tamper-proof. While this is a sad commentary on the human condition it did seem to end food attacks at least until the next time someone has an axe to grind and some pretty creative new methodologies. I will say if it was a social commentary on overpackaging it backfired. Many of my foods are packaged so well that, as I already said, I cannot get into them.

I have had lots of trouble with pickles and I love pickles. Pickles are vacuumed-packed and the jars are fairly rotund. If you don’t have someone with bigger hands on the premises it is difficult to hold the jar and turn the cover at the same time. So while the jar feels like it will slip through your fingers at any minute I apply my little rubber mesh square to the task of opening the jar. Nope. That will not do the job. Forget the fancy jar opener device I bought in the kitchen tools aisle. I have two other options before I have to put the jar back in the cupboard. I can try to break the vacuum seal by prying the lid with a kitchen knife, but sometimes there is not enough room to accomplish the prying operation, and breaking the glass jar is a real possibility. I also find if you run the cover under hot water for a while (a messy operation that requires rushing to open the wet jar before it cools) the rubber mesh square will then successfully help you twist off the cap.

Everything is political but if you don’t like politics skip this paragraph. I know we have a government shutdown and a President who thinks (against military advice) that pulling all our troops out of Syria and Afghanistan is a good idea and that we are trying to make the point that a wall on our southern border is expensive, unnecessary and almost no one wants it. So my problem seems ludicrous in the grand scheme of things. But I still think my beloved salsa company would like to know that I have to switch brands because I cannot open their lid. I also do not think this is a problem that only affects women. Small hands are hereditary. Our President is rumored to have small hands. If he ever got near a kitchen he might have a problems opening jars and bottles. You never know when you will have to open a reluctant can or jar.

I feel like I am writing instructions for a 1940’s audience, as in certain sections of my mother’s oldest cookbooks. The problem seems somewhat archaic for the age of technology and artificial intelligence. All I am wishing for is some innovative food container solutions that satisfy our need to recycle and our need for food safety, but also our desire to actually access the food we buy. I know this sounds whiney and nit-picky, but the frustration is real.

Since we now have robots to vacuum our floor perhaps someone could invent a handy-dandy little robot who would open jars for us when no strong hands are available. Of course I have recently been reading a book about robots and I’m sensing this solution might end up being a bit pricey. Still all we need is a simple, cheap robot without any attitude. Think how well this would do on the Made for TV circuit. It has instant millionaire written all over it. You will be a minor hero to many and we may even get crafty and create a cute kitchen god to hang in our pantries in your honor. And I will finally not have to worry about opening jars and bottles and even meds.

Next discussion-security on our computers is getting so complex that we cannot access our own online accounts. Thoughts?

Rogue Protocol: Book 3: Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells – Book

Rogue Protocol: Book 3: Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells continues the adventures of our rogue Murderbot. This is a very strange Murderbot and, as a reader, questions begin to arise. Are all murderbots unhappy with their assignment as killing machines? Do all murderbots feel guilt and have as many self-conscious thoughts as our Murderbot? Could all murderbots override their governor modules and go rogue? If so why aren’t there rogue murderbots all over the place? Did a vague memory of a mass killing that ghosts around in the wiped memory of our bot trigger it to get control of its governor module? Is our bot especially intelligent (it has a very healthy ego), or is that all learned behavior since it now controls its own memory. When we first met Murderbot all it wanted was to be left alone to watch the humans shows and series that it had downloaded. As it gets deeply embroiled in the problems real humans are having, that seem to center around one particular ruthless corporation, it has less and less time to be alone or to devote time to its entertainment feed. Is it that addiction to the entertainment feed that has increased our bot’s self-awareness, hacking talents, and problem-solving abilities?

We humans have spent lots of time thinking deep thoughts about artificial intelligence and how we will interact with robots. There are classic science fiction books about possible glitches in interfaces between humans and machines that look like humans. Isaac Asimov’s book I, Robot gave us three classic rules for robot behavior.

Isaac Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics”

  • robotmay not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  • robotmust obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  • robotmust protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Part of the fun of the Murderbot Diaries is that here is an autonomous (although fictional) robot that gives us access to its thoughts and feelings. It’s an interesting twist because we are usually exploring what we think about interacting with robots rather than what robots might think about interacting with us.

Our bot took the name Eden for a while, but at the end of the duties it took on in Book 2, after it went to see the scene of the nearly wiped mass murder in the Ganaka Pit (a mining operation) it had to avoid pursuit and rename itself. It decided to call itself Rin. When Murderbot checks through news feeds to see if he is being hunted, he learns that his new “owner”, Dr. Mensah, is having trouble with that same ruthless corporation they have run into before, a corporation that will kill to get what it wants, and kill to keep the illegal things it is doing a secret. Dr. Mensah could have been a victim of this corporation without the skills of Murderbot, but now GrayCris (the bad guys) are trying to blame everything on her and are taking her to court. Eden/Rin’s first thought is to gather some evidence that she can use to get the corporation to leave her alone. He hears about a terraforming operation at Milu which failed. The domes were supposed to fall back into the planet as they normally would, but they were purchased at the last minute by another corporation.

Since GrayCris was the company that built the terraforming domes and left so abruptly Murderbot thought that the company might have been up to something illegal once again. If he could get evidence and if he could get it to Dr. Mensah it might end her legal difficulties and allow her to go home to her peaceful community where security was unnecessary. Of course she can’t stay in her home forever since she is a research scientist, but most people do all kinds of things on other moons or planets without running afoul of a company bent on criminal activity. Murderbot is used to needing distance and a certain disconnection in order to feel comfortable around humans. Some things he experiences in Martha Wells book Rogue Protocol might help him begin to understand how a bot and a human can be friends. Murderbot Diaries are fun and easy to read, difficult to put down and  they feel like a ride on a really fast space transport.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – Fiction Unbound

Artificial Condition: Book 2: Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells – Book

In Book 2 of The Murderbot Diaries(Artificial Condition) our reluctant Murderbot leaves the new friends he made in his last assignment, the leader of PreservationAux, Dr. Mensah and her colleagues. Dr. Mensah has just purchased him so he will not have to accept any more company assignments. Although Murderbot really likes and respects Dr. Mensah, he sees this as just another owner who wants to exercise control over his life. He has hacked his governor module. He has turned himself into a free (rogue) construct (an organic and non-organic entity). He is the bot who has been learning how to keep HubSystems from finding him by hacking into security systems and erasing himself. He cannot see a way that he can tolerate a bucolic life among humans. He is terribly uncomfortable around humans, who are usually equally uncomfortable around murderbots. He let these particular humans see his organic face and they now see him as almost human and they want to protect his right to autonomy, even though very few humans seem to even have a true right to autonomy in this world built by the author, Martha Wells.

Why does Murderbot dress up in human clothing, take off his armor and his helmet and run away from PreservationAux? At first it just seems to be panic about feelings for humans that are not a part of his programming. Murderbot looks for transports that are just being ferried around by bots. He offers to share the 35,000 entertainment feeds he has downloaded with the pilot bots and these bored bots usually go for it. But it turns out that Murderbot is also carrying around a mystery. Was he or was he not responsible for killing multiple innocent humans in a mining incident? Is he too tainted to be around humans? Will he be driven to commit more murders, especially now that he is a “rogue” murderbot? He has research to do and documents won’t provide the answers because someone has erased the incident from the records.

He makes a new friend when he hitches a ride on a university’s deep space research transport that is empty of humans right now and being shuttled by a very classy bot. Of course, Murderbot loves to act all cynical and constantly, but only internally, offers satirical observations on the bot he calls “ART”. “ART” uses the university’s medical lab to make certain adjustments in Murderbot so that it won’t be instantly recognizable by its physical configuration. When Murderbot, now known as Eden, reluctantly accepts a new mission from people so clueless that they will be killed if he doesn’t help, he also ends up getting to find out more about the incident in the Ganaka Mine Pit.

 Artificial Condition by Martha Wells offers us a great mix of mystery, corrupt humans and corporations, threats of imminent death, and humor as we follow this particular Murderbot and find the experience very relatable indeed. Who knew a bot could be such an interesting fictional character? OK, we all did, since there are other examples of robots as main characters in novels, but still this is a great addition to this small area of science fiction.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – Check Midnight News

Fact or Propaganda in the Age of Trump

Deciding if a statement was fact or propaganda used to seem easier. However, being bombarded by fake news is beginning to have a disturbing side effect, not unforeseen, but unsettling even so. We never felt that politicians were completely honest with us and sometimes we didn’t trust any words that came out of certain mouths (Nixon for me). But now when I hear almost anyone who is supposedly offering me facts to support a point, I, always a skeptic, find myself thinking that things I used to accept as facts are sounding like propaganda. In fact, everything is starting to sound like propaganda.

I hear what General Mattis is saying about what will happen if we leave Syria and Afghanistan abruptly and I want to accept his advice on this matter, but this is a man who stayed on Trump’s staff for 2 years for mostly unfathomable reasons. In fact I don’t know who I trust to tell me about what we should think or do about Syria or Afghanistan, or Yemen, or the Taliban or ISIS. Even Richard Engle, often immersed in these conflict areas, does not always present a consistent viewpoint. If we leave Syria and Afghanistan will the Taliban flourish? If we leave Syria will threats from ISIS grow unchecked and bring their particular form of terror back into our living rooms once again? The Washington Post tells us that looting in Iraq and Syria has made ISIS wealthy and that they have that money stowed away somewhere.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/retreating-isis-army-smuggled-a-fortune-in-cash-and-gold-out-of-iraq-and-syria/2018/12/21/95087ffc-054b-11e9-9122-82e98f91ee6f_story.html

This implies that ISIS is good to go and will be back to terrorize the world once again. Or will they? My only strategy is to wait and see what happens because I’m not sure why people are predicting the various possible outcomes to removing troops that they are offering us. Do they stand to gain something from the stance they are taking? Are they offering us sincere assessments based on opinions? Are these educated opinions backed up by actual facts? I do think that abandoning the Kurds to Syrian genocidal tendencies is a good reason to think about staying. I also think that withdrawing into a position of isolation from pressure points in the Middle East and elsewhere leaves Putin’s Russia and Assad in Syria, Saudi Arabia, and even China to fill the vacuum this creates. But this week our President dropped the sanctions on a Russian oligarch whose name is way too familiar to us, Oleg Deripaska, friend of Paul Manafort. Not to mention his behavior to what is clearly a Saudi assassination of a journalist. We don’t even know if our own President is an ally of America or any of our allies.

Ted Lieu (D-CA) just said we should leave because only Congress can deploy American troops and Congress did not deploy these troops. That would not top my list of reasons to leave now that we are there, and yet I am very worried that our Constitutional guardrails are disappearing. Of course we never could believe everything we hear from Washington or in the media, but now I find myself trying to see the political motivations for the “facts” that are being delivered daily. Is someone taking a stand because they stand to gain personally or politically? Are they spouting propaganda? Let’s just say my skepticism is at Def Con 5.

Listen to Mitch McConnell, looking like he got a good night’s sleep and dripping sugar trying to convince Democrats to join Republicans and find a way to end this shutdown on TV this Saturday morning before Christmas. Turning down the volume makes it stop but then you can’t hear what he’s saying. He is trying to hook into Democrat’s humanism about government employees who won’t be paid in order to bribe them to accept language that will please Trump.

Some pundits still think that we should make a deal for DACCA. Have they been paying attention? A deal made with a liar is not deal at all. Our president has no compunctions about making a deal and then backing down on it once he gets what he wants. We cannot trust this man. When people go on camera to make his policies sound reasonable it drives me crazy. We are not being governed by a reasonable person.

Democrats do not want a wall, do not want to fund a wall, no bargaining, no deals. Democrats have offered money for border security which is pretty generous considering the kinds of border security that we see on offer. What Trump considers border security looks to me like a humanitarian nightmare.

We do feel bad for government employees but we cannot allow the Republicans and Trump to take human hostages every time they want some unpopular thing. I know I don’t trust Mitch McConnell one little tiny bit. He is always a political animal. But I find myself having real trouble separating facts from propaganda. What is fake and what is real? I expect this effect of Trump’s mind games to worsen with time and I am shocked that it is starting to affect me. I see these effects even in the way foreign nations are acting and reacting to the media and to leaders with authoritarian tendencies.

Our President seems bent on revenge against the whole wide world, and the American people who did not cheer him at his rallies; but we cannot cheer a man who acts as if he hates democracy and every democratic value. We are in a standoff with our own President and he is trying to make us doubt all that we have ever believed in. And it seems to be working.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – Vox

 

All Systems Red: Book 1: Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells – Book

All System Red: Book 1 of The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells is an instant hit with me. It is a fine addition to the science fiction and artificial intelligence genres. There is a picture of our particular murderbot on the cover of the book but even the term for this class of robots is designed to instill fear. Encountering one could make you start looking back over your life in case you might be a target. Murderbots are big, they are a combination of organic and mechanical elements, which seems like a poor design for a bot that constantly encounters violence and woeful bodily injuries, injuries which can only be repaired with the help of human or tech systems. Many a murderbot ends up on a scrap heap.

But our murderbot is not happy with his assigned role in society. He (it seems like a he) has figured out how to escape the control of HubSystems by overriding his governor module. If a regular murderbot is scary, a rogue murderbot could turn your hair white if it decided that it liked killing and went on a campaign of mass murdering. But our bot discovers 35,000 entertainment modules buried in the  hub system which it can now download at will. He starts binging on series created for human entertainment and he begins to resent any time that he is asked to do the work he was designed to do.

In this first adventure Murderbot finds himself assigned by the company to a group of scientists doing research on an unnamed planet. Mysterious things begin to happen and his humans (horror of horrors) seem to want to befriend him. Martha Wells, you did a good thing, writing The Murderbot Diaries for us to enjoy. I have already moved on to Book 2. These are not long books, sort of a small tray of four tasty amuse bouche. Martha Wells won a Hugo Award and a Nebula Award for best novella All Systems Red.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – Tor.com

Find me on goodreads.com as Nancy Brisson

Of Blood and Bone by Nora Roberts – Book

Of Blood and Bone by Nora Roberts is the second book in a trilogy called Chronicles of the One. This is a dystopian saga, but it is not Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Roberts pits wholesomeness, the sweetness of summer sunshine, bees, honey, family, children, love—life lived simply and communally—against lives that feature hate, fear, intolerance, and brutality.

When Mr. McLeod cracked the shield and dark Magick was loosed on the world, two-thirds of the world’s population died of an incurable virus which became known as the Doom. Many survivors found themselves with magical talents. Some became faeries, some elves, and some witches. The world split into the light and the dark and war was in the air. Humans who survived with no magical talents also split between good and evil. Some humans felt that magical creatures were an abomination and they tortured, killed, or executed them whenever they got the chance. What was left of governments captured magical creatures ostensibly to save them and to study them, but they imprisoned them and strapped them to metal tables so they could learn what they could and then eliminated them. And gangs bent on chaos and mayhem killed anyone who was vulnerable.

The child of Lana and Max, two witches who had to flee NYC in the worst days of the Doom (Book 1),  Fallon Smith, was known to be “the One” who would set things right before she was even born. Fallon has lived quietly on an isolated farm with her family but now, on her thirteenth birthday, Mallick comes to take Fallon away for training. From here on the story resembles the King Arthur story, except this time the King is a woman. Mallick is her Merlin and when she successfully finishes her training she wins the sword and the shield from the sacred well. During her training she also wins three unusual and powerful companions.

It’s a great tale even if Fallon is a bit like heroic Barbie and the young man, Duncan that she meets in New Hope is a bit too much like Ken. Fortunately, although the novel holds out the promise of romance at some point in the future, for now it stays focused on war and setting the world to rights. This seems as if it would make a great YA fantasy series depending on where it goes in Book 3.

I liked Of Blood and Bone. Apparently, in real life, there was a little issue about two similar titles between two authors, but it was settled amicably I believe. I look forward to the third book. But if we find ourselves in a truly dystopian world I don’t expect that Magick (or even magic) will save us. There is too much fantasy in this to put it in the category of dystopian literature. Still when you need entertainment this trilogy could be a fun choice for a quick break from more serious fare.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – Characters Wanted

Are Democrats as Bad as Republicans?

Are Democrats as bad as Republicans? It seems to depend on who’s talking. I hear people, mostly young people, saying that those at the top of both parties favor capitalism and this is making them greedy. Powerful members of both political groups take money from lobbyists and special interests. Senior members of both parties have stock-piled wealth, 20-somethings point out. This makes them indebted to and vulnerable to the those who are looting the middle class and ignoring the poorest Americans. If those in power control the capitalists they hurt their own bottom line.

Voters still matter for now it seems, because parties continue to conduct expensive campaigns to get elected. Given enough time and power parties may find ways to turn voting into an empty gesture. Some feel we are already there. For now what trickles down to voters in terms of policies depends on which power broker goes to Washington to represent us. Neither party has championed workers and the environment as they should have.  I expect nothing from the GOP as they have actively stripped workers of benefits and power; and because they are avowed climate change deniers who seem determined to plunder the planet until every drop of fossil fuel has been burned. Perhaps Democrats, who have tried harder to help the fight against fossil fuels and the development of alternative energies, have made some progress, although not enough; but they have not done nearly enough for workers, especially workers who are parents.

It seems that the real contrast between what various people say about our political parties does tend to be generational (and yes, this is an over-generalization). We know that people of all ages nodded yes to Bernie Sanders’ progressive and worker-focused ideas. But, the children of the Boomers had heard their parents express liberal compassion and, it seems, these children became disillusioned by what Boomers actually accomplished. They looked to their parents and grandparents to be more authentic, to hold the greedy at bay.

Our children (who are hardly children any more) resent the Boomers, feel we “sold out”, abandoned our ideals, and traded them in for financial success and material comforts. Boomer parents and grandparents perhaps convinced themselves that they did what was required of mature people in America and that they did this for their children. They found that their education made them desirable employees and before they knew it they got seduced by big paychecks, promotions, investments, McMansions, vacation homes, power, and convinced themselves that they did this for their families and, of course, providing for their families was important. Perhaps they even convinced themselves that America had cleaned up its act. But it is also possible that conservatives and 60’s and 70’s activists fell for the Gordon Gekko “greed is good” mantra (1987 movie, Wall Street). Did we not see the handwriting on the wall, the empty factories, the workers who lost their pensions? Did we think these were isolated events in an otherwise healthy economy? Did we not notice that wealth was being squirreled away by a few who became rabid protectors of unfettered capitalism? If we had not “sold out”, but had stuck to our activist roots would our economy be different now?

There were roughly three groups of Boomers. There were some who came from wealthy and conservative or liberal families, were educated at top schools, and followed in the footsteps of their families. They tend to make up the rich and powerful “class”; the owners and the CEO’s of businesses. These Americans are capitalists and actively malign socialism.

In the second group were the activists, the hippies, those who demonstrated against the war in Vietnam, and attended women’s liberation  consciousness raising groups, and wanted to fight poverty and racial prejudice and inequality. Many of this second group of Boomers had also been to college, although they may not have been from wealthy homes. Some may have risen to be CEO’s and some may have worked in government jobs and as teachers. This group is not quite as susceptible to fear mongering about socialism.

And in the third group there were the Boomers who went to work after high school and started families while they were quite young. They believed that they would have a great job in a factory for all of their lives (if they stayed healthy), that their pay would steadily increase, they might even be promoted, and that they would have benefits like health care for their families and good pensions when they retired. The third group of Boomers were most injured by a transitioning economy (manufacturing to service) and affirmative action (they say). Many have slipped from solidly middle class into the lower end of the middle class. And yet many of this third group voted for and still support Trump. They are the biggest fans of capitalism and the most frightened by the idea of socialism.

Could any of the Boomers have stopped the migration of manufacturing to nations with cheap labor and plentiful consumers? It seems to be a common understanding that high taxes and union demands for more money contributed to the flight of our factories. However, having China open up to capitalism was probably a far greater motivator. Our government did not really try to stem the exodus because those in our government stood to profit from these new markets.

Most middle class parents thought their children wanted the lives they (the parents) had. But after all the parental talk about “the establishment” and the “military-industrial complex”, the millennials and Gen Xer’s seemed to be angry because their parents did not see the dangers of unregulated capitalism and find ways to rein in the most ardent capitalists who were aligned with the military (such good customers).

Young people are idealistic. They easily feel betrayed by what they see as hypocrisy—the failure of their elders to honor stated values. Many young people see capitalism as a pernicious economic system that hoards wealth and sees people with less money merely as “workers”, rather than people with responsibilities and interests. Union busting has been pursued systematically and successfully by the powerful and wealthy. Small wonder young people are hunting around for another economic system. They also see where greed has gotten us in terms of some scary climate change realities and the frightening possibilities recently predicted. Younger people are aware of the unwillingness on the part of those in power to help us switch to energies that are cleaner than the fossil fuels we have relied on. Younger people accept that fossil fuels have created the global warming that is changing climates and biomes.

These same young people seem embarrassed by materialism. They do not seem to believe in hoarding. They do not subscribe to the doctrine of perpetual growth—that an economy must always offer more—higher prices, higher wages, higher profits, more and better stuff. Where does the constant drive to grow take us? Will a nation fail if it cruises once in a while instead of always going full throttle? (You can almost hear the old capitalists saying, “sacrilege”.)

Millennials and Gen Xers find imperialism despicable—a crime against the humans whose lives are changed by a land and power grab. Annexing territory, now that the earth has been everywhere carved up into nations, has pretty much gone out of fashion, although heavily populated nations may have eyes for more territory eventually. These young Americans (20 and 30 somethings) are not proud of America’s sins, which is how they think of things like regime change and proxy wars, or persistent racism, or acting as missionaries to spread democracy/capitalism (and perhaps even Christianity). In these matters they blame Democrats who did not fight against these policies as much as they blame Republicans who insisted on them.

Our offspring are the future of America and the world. The things they don’t like that they see in the parental generations may determine what America (and the world) will be like in the future. Unless corporations win; and then they will be serfs. It is one thing to choose an organic and low-demand lifestyle for yourself. It is another thing altogether to have a low-income life thrust upon you.

Sadly, since the flaws in economic systems reside in us, rather than in the systems themselves it doesn’t matter if we become socialists, communists, or remain capitalists. It is the messages human minds hear and channel that need work. These message determine the laws we make, which in turn determines the level of corruption those at the top can indulge in. What we used to call the “puritan ethic” or the “protestant ethic” should be replaced with an economic code more suited to the post-industrial age. There may not be enough consumer demand to justify three shifts and long work weeks. Robotic workers which take the place of human workers may provide the leisure hours we once imagined were coming. The idea of “manifest destiny” suited the promise of an almost empty continent and the white supremacist entitlement felt by even our poorest colonists. Now, unless we go to space, there are no new lands to populate. We could change our goals so that we pay attention to the quality of our lives rather than producing endless quantities of unnecessary and unaffordable goods. If we consider all of this, a progressive agenda makes good sense. Short of revolution can it be accomplished?

I am speaking for younger generations I do not belong to and I am sorry about that. I may not have this right, but I am trying to understand an age that could either bring exciting and life-changing developments, or could put us in a new dark age, with capitalists and CEO’s as our “aristocratic masters” for decades. I recently read America: The Farewell Tour by Chris Hedges which inspired some of my thoughts, as he has no great love of capitalism and no great fear of socialism. He is the child of a calm and confirmed pair of activists, though they are not boomers and he is not as young as most Americans who hold similar views. His book has left me with food for thought. This is what books do for us. They send us off into ideas and analyses that continue to occupy our minds. He agrees with younger Americans that the Democrats are just as bad as the Republicans. I am not there yet and whether or not I get there depends on what the Democrats do next.

This is a view from the cheap seats.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – The Happy Quilters

 

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover – Book

Educated is a memoir by Tara Westover. There were seven children in the Westover family and they loved their father and their mother as children do. He, the father, had a powerful charisma, although his entire world view, shared passionately with his children bordered on insanity. He was ostensibly a strict Mormon, but so paranoid that his religious beliefs were completely twisted by his absolute distrust of the government and of socialism, which he saw as synonymous with government; and of what he called “the Illuminati” (all prevalent fears stoked in current conspiracy theories). In addition he was a survivalist who hoarded food, guns, fuel and who did not allow his children to go to school. The family lived on rural land at the foot of a mountain in Idaho.

Gene Westover used religious guilt, end-of-days conviction, and parental disappointment expressed in lengthy religiously-toned sermons to manipulate his children and his wife to perform dangerous work that was well beyond their strength and skills level. His children and his wife, and even he, the father sustained horrible injuries. But doctors and medicine were things he categorized as socialism and therefore “of the devil”. Tara’s mom was a herbalist, and when forced by her husband, a midwife. Everyone in the family, even if almost injured to the point of dying, was treated with externally applied herbal salves and tinctures designed to be taken internally. In a few cases family members were taken to a hospital. Still childhood in this family, even though they loved their parents, sounded like living in one of the rings in Dante’s Inferno. Even negative situations often offer some positive side effects, and, in this case, learning to deal with dangerous situations did give some of these children strength and ingenuity.

Tyler is one of the Westover children who refused to be a part of the insanity whenever he could escape his father’s notice, and he learned ways to do that fairly often. He loved books and music and cleanliness and order. He was the first of the children to go to, and finish, college.

Shawn and Luke, two of Tyler’s older brothers left home but they continued to do jobs that required physical stamina, like long distance trucking and they eventually returned home to work in the family junkyard and to build barns and silos with their dad and the other kids. Shawn had such anger in him, and he had a mean, violent streak, which could be almost lethal when mixed with skills in martial arts and a body made strong by hard work. He started out teasing his little sister Tara, but he eventually became judgmental with unpredictable outbursts of bullying, physical torture and mental abuse, frequently calling Tara, who was twelve and then thirteen, a whore. Her parents never intervened.

Fear that he would do her major harm or even kill her eventually drove Tara to listen to Tyler, who told her that even though her parents lied about the home schooling, if she can pass the ACT she can go to college. Tara had some experiences in the community outside the family domain. She’d been able to sing in the church choir and take part in some community theater. Her dad seems proud when she shines in public. She has taught herself to read and do math through algebra, but gets help from a friend to learn trigonometry. She passed the ACT on her second try and is accepted to Brigham Young University where she becomes an A student. Good fortune slowly pulls her out of the grasp of her delusional family. During her undergraduate days I continued to hold my breathe every time she used a college break to go home. Her professors helped her get into Cambridge in London, and then, for her doctoral studies, into Harvard. She did have to deal with some psychological fallout.

This is a powerful story that aroused my anger and left me at times in despair. Tara Westover makes the point that the lives of her college educated family members differ in quality to the lives of those who did not leave the family, even though Tara’s mother eventually made the family very wealthy with one of her herbal concoctions. Education opened Tara’s eyes to how little her father knew or chose to accept of actual history and how his powerful demeanor and limited world view hurt his family, who he wished to hold onto as virtual prisoners. Tara’s family disputes her version of events in the family. There are lawsuits pending.

Photo Credits: From a Google Image Search – Barnes and Noble