Contradictory Readings in the Tea Leaves

Sheridan          It’s a tough time to be a commentator, pundit, or general political wizard.  It must be like walking a tightrope.  They know it’s scary when they start walking the wire and have to wonder if they’ll made it to the other side.

Take for example a long piece in the press about the continuing popularity of Senator Bernie Sanders and the nonexistent coattails his candidates have shown in recent elections, including the fact that only about 40% of Our Revolution picks have prevailed.  Days later I’m talking to friends in the Bay Area and a Sanders star and Richmond Progressive Alliance stalwart is giving long time Democratic Obama and Clinton operative Buffy Wicks a wild run for her money in a state assembly race.  Given Wicks refusal to endorse the statewide ballot initiative allowing cities wider discretion over rent control, that hot button issue could be her undoing.

An even bigger hole was punched in the “conventional wisdom” when Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, a 28-year old former Sanders organizer in Queens and the Bronx, upset the 10-term Congressman Joseph Crowley, the fourth ranking Democrat in the US House leadership who coveted a shot a being Speaker and upsetting Nancy Pelosi if the Democrats win control in the midterms.  Not only was Cortez advocating single payer health but she called for dismantling the entire Immigration and Customs Enforcement apparatus going to the heart of the beast.

A chart in the Times also measured increased voter turnout by Democrats so far in elections in twenty key Congressional districts that could flip the House.  Before the celebration starts while the game is still underway, it is worth noting that the increased turnout is lower than what the Republicans registered when they wrested control in 2010 in rebellion against Obama.

And, that’s the problem if “premature certainty” creeps in now when the tea leaves are so muddled.  Take immigration where the hard line and hard-hearted Trump-Sessions hateration and escalation on the border and its policy of family separation and child incarceration drove a wedge through the right and united the American people in drawing a line on fundamental values.  A poll cited by the Washington Post is a good example of the perils of prediction:

A new Economist/YouGov poll showed that 54 percent of Americans disapprove of separating families who cross the border illegally. But only 19 percent support “releasing the families and having them report back for an immigration hearing at a later date” — the approach now endorsed by every single Senate Democrat. By contrast, the poll found the most popular policy — supported by 44 percent of Americans and even 49 percent of Democrats — is “holding families together in detention centers until an immigration hearing at a later date.” And it found that 46 percent also support Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy of arresting and prosecuting anyone who crosses the border illegally.

See what I mean.  Politics is not simply a blunt instrument swinging one direction.  We can’t hope to win only talking to ourselves.  It must drive the pundits crazy, but for the rest of us, it’s a reminder to look before we leap and make sure we have people behind us before we jump.

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Detention Centers for Immigrant Families and Children – The Arkansas Welcome Mat

Tent City in Texas where children and being held.

Little Rock       Trump’s executive order claimed to end the family separation policy, but it doesn’t end the crisis or solve the problems.  Officials from the Department of Human Services and Immigration and Customs Enforcement reportedly were scurrying around the country trying to find federal facilities that could house up to 20,000 unaccompanied children and an untold number of others.  They were particularly enamored of military installations, viewing several locations in Texas and Arkansas.

One site they inspected was an abandoned US Department of Agriculture site in Kelso, Arkansas in the southeastern delta area of the state.  That site is only two miles from Rohwer, Arkansas, little known for anything much these days and hardly a postage stamp of a town, but infamous for having served as one of the notorious Japanese-American detention camps during World War II in one of the darker periods of American racial and ethnic history.   Even as tone deaf as the Trump administration has been about its mishandling of the migrant and refugee crisis at the border with Mexico, it is still hard for me to believe they would be clueless enough to allow the media a political field day that would come with setting up a 21st century version of the same horror so close to the ongoing stain of America’s own experience in running concentration camps.

Mayor DeBlasio of New York City was horrified visiting a center in his city that held over 200 children that had been separated from their families at the border and was protesting loudly his inability to get answers from federal authorities on the status and future of these children.  The Mayor of Houston told the federal government he did not want them to construct a planned detention center in his city.  Governor Cuomo of New York said his state didn’t want to have anything to do with children and family detention centers.  In the alternate reality of Arkansas, Governor Asa Hutchinson welcomed the feds interest in his state and made suggestions, including about the feasibility of the Little Rock Air Force Base as a detention facility.  There is controversy in Arkansas over monuments celebrating the ten commandments on the state capitol grounds, but any religious concern by conservative Arkansas politicians for family values evaporates when they start reading the stories about billions of dollars of contracts and jobs galore to run these children prisons.  I think there are a good many passages in the bible about the dangers of serving mammon, which is the greedy pursuit of wealth, as opposed to God, but I’ll leave that argument to others.

While the Trump administration is real estate shopping for prison facilities, their lawyers are begging the federal judge to allow them to extend the time they are able to hold children past twenty days and potentially hold their families indefinitely.  The judge has expressed previous reservations about the handling of immigrants and is the daughter of immigrants herself.  Trump’s pleading faces an uphill battle.

I listened this morning to the director of Catholic Charities in Fort Worth, Texas that have received about twenty of these children between five and twelve years old from the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement.  Some of the young children have no idea what a phone number for their families might be.  Others can hardly speak, complicating resettlement.  They continue with their policy of trying to find family members to take the children and try to connect them to their families, while standing in solidarity with their bishop and his condemnation of the Trump program as an insult to the “right to life” and its dignity.

A piece of paper won’t solve this crisis, nor will hard lines and hard hearts.

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