First they came for the…

A reference to this famed quotation with “children” in the blank came to me today, a reference to the Trump administration’s announced intent to confine undocumented immigrant families indefinitely, thus reneging on the prior agreement that, in a 2015 court judgment, set a 20 days maximum confining migrant children.

Whom did “they” really come for, in the Nazi context? Wikipedia gives the background: German pastor Martin Niemöller embedded the idea in a much more verbose confessional (since he was once a Nazi sympathizer himself) passage in 1946. He mentioned only Communists, the incurably sick, and Jews.

Then people started making the statement more succinct and modifying the victim classes. Here is one version I find very expressive, in Wikipedia from the UK Holocaust Memorial Day Trust:

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

Sad to say, scanning history, we could keep adding groups. Some particular Nazi targets for concentration camps don’t show up in standard versions of the list, such as Roma (“gypsies”), homosexuals, Social Democrats, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Soviet prisoners of war, “asocials,” intellectuals, and pastors (including Niemöller himself).

Recently, versions have been circulated–and appeared on signs at rallies–starting off with Muslims, journalists, and others.

The reference to children came in an email from the news organization Truthout. I didn’t find that reference on their web site but I did find “Billionaires… First They Came for the Economy” and “Climate Change: First They Came For…” (including, in the blank, Arctic sea ice, mountain glaciers, permafrost… you get the idea).

The formulation “First they came for the…” is obviously powerful, and all the more so because everyone reading it must know to fill in the blanks and end with themselves. The moral is clear. As another famous Martin, MLK Jr., said:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Above photo of Dr. Martin Niemöller in 1952 by J.D. Noske / Anefo [CC0] from Dutch National Archives in Wikimedia Commons

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Posted in Civil rights, History | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Freedom from Fear… of guns

Is America’s “romance with guns” finally over? Who could feel romantic about an instrument of mass destruction?

Democrats want to pass new laws; and Republicans, for the most part, don’t. Follow the money, as they say. The career totals chart “Top 20 recipients of funds from gun rights interests among members of Congress, 1989-2018” from Open Secrets shows that all 20 (including PA Senator Pat Toomey and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell) were Republicans.

It’s important that people talk about safety: gun safety, gun violence prevention, public safety, saving the depressed from turning a fatal instrument against their own lives, saving children from traumas they should not have to bear.

Two valiant Chesco legislators, among others, have recently made strong statements.

Rep. Melissa Shusterman (D-157):

“My colleagues and I have over 25 pieces of legislation that have not been passed out of committee that could put Pennsylvanians’ safety before an industry’s profits. The time is now to put an end to these hateful acts of violence. I urge our leaders to call the legislature to Harrisburg and not stand idly by.”

Rep. Kristine Howard (D-167):

“…we need to immediately pass laws requiring universal background checks and implementing a “Red Flag” law giving family members and others the power to ask the courts to remove guns from people who may be a danger to themselves and others.”

A Red Flag law might even have prevented the mass shooting in El Paso, since the accused shooter’s mother called police several weeks earlier. It isn’t clear what she told them, but a Red Flag law might have enabled her to tell police she thought her son should not own an assault rifle, and might have empowered police to take it away pending investigation.

For background, see “What Are ‘Red Flag’ Gun Laws, and How Do They Work?” by Timothy Williams in the New York Times, 8/6/19. Such laws, as just one needed measure to reduce gun deaths and injuries, appear to be helping in 17 states. It’s time for Pennsylvania to join our neighbors New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and as this month New York.

Rep. Howard reminds us that “Public records inform us that 600 women annually in America are shot to death by their partner.” Obviously a Red Flag law would help prevent such tragedies.

Similarly for suicides, which rose to 60% of all deaths by shooting in 2017. Chester County alone had 35 suicides by firearms in 2018, according to the Coroner’s office (download 2018 report).

Most of these killings and deaths could be prevented if our society made it a priority to do so, through measures like Red Flag laws, universal background checks, keeping military style weapons out of civilian hands, readily available mental health treatment, and gun locks especially in households with small children.

Like the US Senate, the PA Senate and House are controlled by Republicans. Will they let any pro-safety legislation through their road block? As some commentators have pointed out, even people who feel positively about guns can feel negatively about domestic terrorism. It is also hard to defend the role of guns in shooting partners and in killing oneself.

FDR’s famed Four Freedoms included Freedom from Fear. He was thinking of the armaments of nations; but today, we need to fear the armaments of individuals as well. Will the federal and state governments help solve the problem or just stand by as it worsens?


AK47, the type of assault weapon used by the accused El Paso shooter, from Wikimedia Commons (by gnokii at openclipart.org)

from Wikimedia Commons. 4 of PA’s 6 adjoining states have Red Flag laws.

Posted in Guns | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Which sort of Republican are they?

The current extreme-right Republican party owes its origins to the Tea Party movement that first manifested itself ten years ago in actions against taxes and government spending. In Chester County it grew out of earlier groups opposing the peace movement and Barack Obama. Its ethos was basically anti-government and in some ways even anarchist à la Steve Bannon, in the sense of wishing to demolish government institutions without knowing or caring what might take their place.

Of politicians associated with the Tea Party and still officially representing part or all of Chester County, Pat Toomey is the prominent survivor, and unfortunately his term in the US Senate is not up for 3 more years. If we voted for Supreme Court, we could add to the list those of the “immortals” who seem determined to take down the traditional national standards of democratic governance.

The bizarre contradiction is that those anti-government and supposedly freedom-loving elements have thrown their support behind an administration that embraces big government, favors corporate interests over actual people, engages in international adventuring in league with foreign dictators, cracks down against free speech and journalists, suppresses voter rights, promotes sexuality-related behavior codes, violates internal law regarding refugee rights, discriminates against racial and religious minorities, puts children in cages, and wanted tanks to rumble through the national capital for our independence celebration.

Those one-time ostensible admirers of freedom now seem inspired by the people-opposing power-centralizing ethos of Czarist Russia, Communist China, and North Korea’s Supreme Leader.

Republican candidates for office at all levels should have to explain which sort of Republican they are: opponents of orderly government or power centralizers. Unfortunately, Republicans who publicly stand up for “government of the people, by the people, for the people” seem to have perished from the earth.

Posted in Republicans, Right wing | Tagged | Leave a comment

Earth Year

The patient bee
comes to the blueberry
bush in bloom.
They haven’t heard
the bad news,
climate and storms.
Nor have the ferns,
the squirrels, the spruces.
One species
among the endangered
knows all about it,
knows it and doesn’t.

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Let’s not lose sight of economic justice

This chart from David Leonhardt, “How the Upper Middle Class Is Really Doing,” New York Times, 2/24/19, shows the winners and losers since income inequality started its leap forward in the Age of Reagan. (The inflation-adjusted chart takes into account government payments and taxes paid as well as salaries and other income.)

The bottom 50% by income gained something–but only about 1/3 of what the per capita DGP gained; and really, with rising costs of housing, health care, and education, and the spread of technology that Americans depend on, that isn’t much of a gain. Incomes for the middle 40% rose only about 2/3 as fast as the per capita GDP. The commonly envied 90th-99th percentile gained the same as the GDP. It’s above that line that the 1% and .01% rack up the big gains.

A later Pew report,”The American middle class is stable in size, but losing ground financially to upper-income families,” shows that nothing really changed here between 2011 and 2016. Basically, the more Americans earn, the more they gain every year, not just in $ but also in %.

It is clear that income inequality is higher in the US than in most other developed countries. With antiquated tax laws that favor investors, real estate developers, hedge fund operators, and heirs of the wealthy over salaried Americans, it’s no wonder that Congress and 2020 presidential candidates are talking about how to reduce economic unfairness.

As shown in this chart from Pew Research Center, “The middle class in the U.S. is smaller than in Western Europe,” 4/20/17, the US has more people in the lower and upper income groups and fewer in the middle than those eleven Western European countries:.

Posted in Economy, Taxes | Tagged | Leave a comment

Now what do I do with those political signs and wickets?

Winners exult, losers lament, and all of us wonder what to do with our growing collection of political signs and their metal support rods (AKA wickets).

They were so important to sway voters’ minds… maybe… and now??

If your candidate might ever run again for the same office, one or more years from now, save the sign in your garage or basement. A little rust won’t hurt; in fact, it makes them more secure in the ground and less easy for evil-doers to pull out.

256px-2008-08-03_White_German_Shepherd_supporting_Barack_ObamaPhoto by Ildar Sagdejev from Wikimedia Commons

You might wish to keep one sign as a memento of each campaign of historic importance… for a future collage on your garage wall, maybe?

Otherwise (and I’ve tried most of these)….

The sign, perched on its wicket and slanted at a judicious angle, is great for shading delicate plants and transplants from hot summer sun.

• A sign can also temporarily block holes in picket fences where rabbits and rodents might otherwise enter your back yard (e.g., while you’ve removed pickets for repair or repainting).

• The paper or plastic part of signs makes a good paint drop cloth. Add more signs to cover more area. You can cut the signs at the sides and fold them out to be twice as large.

• Lay plastic signs on the ground under your eaves to prevent water infiltration, and cover them with dirt or stones.

• In messy weather, use signs to protect carpet underfoot in your car (just be sure not to give a ride to the candidate in question during that time).

• The wicket is excellent for propping up floppy bushes and flowers. For lower plants, cut or bend the wicket supports. The type of wicket that looks like a ladder, with two prongs extending up into a corrugated sign, are the best for supporting plants, which are held in place by the arms.

• Here’s a remedy for those clothes hangers that dry cleaners send back pants hanging on, and whose sticky cardboard crosspiece tends to sag on reuse: cut a piece of wicket to the right length and insert it inside the cardboard. That one won’t ever sag again!

• Wedge a wicket segment between a window sash and the frame above (e.g., above an air conditioner) to prevent it from being raised from the outside.

• Insert wicket lengths between studs to hold up wall insulation and prevent sagging.

• I’ve used a wicket folded triple ply to insert inside a bamboo pole and then into a flag holder whose opening was too small for the bamboo. The metal made a strong link where wood and thinner bamboo had collapsed under the strain.

• To stitch together segments of chicken wire or garden netting to keep out birds and rodents, whether vertically or horizontally: straighten out a wicket (they are surprisingly long when bent into a straight line) and thread the resulting steel rod through the two adjoining segments.

• To weight down garden netting so birds can’t push it up.

• In art works. No kidding, I’ve seen in museums what looked to me like vertical clumps of campaign wickets with pieces of wood or corks jammed onto them. Adaptive reuse at its most esthetic.

How to cut regular metal wickets by repeated bending? Some wickets are thinner and much more bendable than others. Be careful; use gloves and eye protection. It can be done by brute hand strength, or by pliers: bend repeatedly until the metal fatigues and breaks. Hack saws take too long; this is tough metal! I guess a bolt cutter would work.

If all adaptive reuse fails, an enterprising person or organization can collect wickets and sell them to the scrap yard for a few pennies a pound and the satisfaction of recycling metal and thereby reducing carbon emissions.

Posted in Politics | Tagged , | 3 Comments

About a Chester County family separated by ICE

It’s not all in Texas! Over 600 people gathered at the June 30 Families Belong Together rally in West Chester. They heard, among many other speakers, Dida Gazoli of Kennett Square speak about the separation of a Kennett area family whose father and husband was taken in May by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) at his immigration interview for permanent resident status. Jaime Aguilera Valencia now sits in a cell in a federal prison in Philadelphia, awaiting sentencing for re-entering the U.S. from Mexico to care for his American wife and children, who were and are facing urgent medical and financial circumstances.

As the family’s friends and now advocates, Dida Gazoli and her husband created a public group on Facebook for emotional support and the Statement of Communal Support page where community members can use their voice and supporting statements to work against the separation of this family.

Quoting the latter site:

“Jaime was taken into ICE custody on May 9 at his Immigration interview for the I-130 Petition (for “Alien Relative” to establish permanent resident status aka Green Card). According to ICE officials, Jaime was scheduled for deportation on May 14, even though he’d been actively seeking legalization for well over a year. Five days after he was apprehended and incarcerated by ICE, his I-130 Petition was approved by Immigration. Then, on June 5, his immigration attorney’s request for an “emergency stay” was denied. In other words, the same government agency (U.S. Immigration) that approved the first step in legalization, after over a year’s time, abruptly took it away because they do not consider the family’s extreme medical hardship to be an ‘urgent humanitarian reason’ for Jaime to remain with his American wife and children….”

Community Support for Jaime Aguilera Valencia & His Family goes on to show that there is, in fact, urgent humanitarian need based on a dangerous medical condition of Jaime’s wife and 15-year-old daughter. Additionally, the genetic disorder may also affect the couple’s baby to be born in a matter of weeks.

Public figures are often quoted as saying of immigrants, “Let them just get in line and wait for their visa.” Jaime Aguilera Valencia went in for his interview with Immigration officials as part of that process, only to be seized by ICE and separated from a family that needs his support now more than ever. The legalities are complex but a so-called “family reunification” visa generally requires a wait of several years. That process, however, is scheduled to be shut down if current planning in Washington D.C. comes to pass. The Diversity Immigrant Visa program (aka “green card lottery”) is not open to Mexican citizens.

Sofia Soto, Jaime’s oldest daughter, will begin her studies at West Chester University in the fall. She spoke movingly at the Families Belong Together rally about the plight of her father and family (photo from Facebook). She is also one of the local residents quoted last month in a New York Times op-ed by Alfredo Corchado, “The Mexican Revival of Small-Town America.”

As the New York Times article brings out, the success and vibrancy of many towns like Kennett Square today depends on its immigrants… and so does, one might add, the future of our country as a beacon of democracy, human rights, and family values.

photo of the family from Facebook

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