Immigration Issues (DACA Topics Still to Come)

Sometimes it’s hard to know where to begin—which is most assuredly true for immigration issues at the moment.

The Southern Poverty Law Center is suing the government on behalf of immigrant families who have been subjected to a number of illegal/warrantless searches. In one case ICE Agents threatened immigrants with arrest for not cooperating with a search for a criminal suspect, although no such suspect existed. In another case ICE agents entered a house claiming to be looking for a criminal suspect and only revealed their identity as ICE agents once they were inside. These kinds of illegal actions have been experienced both by documented and undocumented families. “ICE agents preyed upon vulnerable families using fear and lies to improperly enter homes — without cause — and detain people who were legally present in the U.S.,” Lisa Graybill, SPLC’s deputy legal director, said in a statement. “The safety of home and the freedom from unlawful searches and seizures are among America’s most fundamental values, and law enforcement officials at all levels are legally required to protect these constitutional rights. The anything-goes method of the ICE agents in these raids obliterated due process, tore families apart, and did nothing to enhance national security.”

THANKS to

  • Lisa Graybill, SPLC Deputy Legal Director, 400 Washington Ave., Montgomery, AL 36104, (334) 956-8200

COMPLAINTS and REQUESTS for supervision to

  • Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), Chair, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, 328 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-5323
  • Senator Claire McKaskill (D-MO), Ranking Member, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, 503 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-6154
  • Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX), Chair, House Committee on Homeland Security, 2001 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-2401 •
  • Representative Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Ranking Member, House Committee on Homeland Security, 2466 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-5876

 

Debbie Nathan, an investigative journalist with the ACLU, Texas, tracks people who have been harassed by the state troopers. Initially these people are stopped on the highway for having tinted windows or improperly placed license plates, then the interrogation quickly shifts focus from minor traffic violations to immigration status, leading to immediate hand-over to Border Patrol agents, immediately separating family members. “The troopers are forbidden from directly doing immigration enforcement,” Nathan said, :[which is] directly enforcing federal immigration law…. Passengers and pedestrians who weren’t even driving are also taken into custody.” The latest figures by the Department of Homeland Security released earlier this month show that “interior removals,” the kind in which Texas Troopers have been participating have surged” this year.

THANKS to

  • Debbie Nathan, Investigative Journalist, Texas ACLU, P.O. Box 8306, Houston, TX 77288-8306, (713) 942-8146

COMPLAINTS to

  • Gary Chandler, President, Department of Public Safety Officers Association
  • Clay Tayor, Vice-President, Department of Public Safety Officers Association
  • Jimmy Jackson, Secretary/Treasurer, Department of Public Safety Officers Association

ALL of the above officers at 5821 Airport Blvd., Austin, TX 78752, (512) 424-2000

  • Governor Greg Abbott, Office of the Governor, P.O. Box 12428, Austin, TX 78711, (512) 463-2000

COMPLAINTS and REQUESTS for supervision to

  • Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), Chair, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, 328 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-5323
  • Senator Claire McKaskill (D-MO), Ranking Member, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, 503 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-6154
  • Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX), Chair, House Committee on Homeland Security, 2001 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-2401
  • Representative Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Ranking Member, House Committee on Homeland Security, 2466 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-5876

 

 

On December 5, the Department of Homeland Security released its end-of-year immigration enforcement numbers, which they claim demonstrate the DHS is “upholding the integrity of our lawful immigration system, and keeping America safe.” Despite these claims about public safety, Human Rights Watch found that the number of people detained inside the U.S. rather than at the border — meaning that they were not new arrivals — increased by 42 percent over last year. Immigration arrests of people with no criminal convictions nearly tripled. From Donald Trump’s Inauguration Day to the end of this fiscal year, 110,568 people were arrested inside the U.S., compared to 77,806 during the same time period in 2016. Among those, 31,888 had no criminal convictions, compared with 11,500 during the same period in 2016. “The recently released numbers by DHS confirm what we know from interviewing dozens of people who were recently deported: that these are mothers, fathers, spouses of U.S. citizens, long-term immigrants who have been ripped from the interior of the country under a system that takes very little count of their ties to the U.S.,” Grace Meng, a Human Rights Watch senior researcher said in an interview with The Intercept.

THANKS to

  • Grace Meng, Senior Researcher, Human Rights Watch, 1630 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 500 Washington, DC 20009, organization phone number (202) 612-4321

COMPLAINTS to

  • Kirstjen M. Nielsen, Secretary, Department of Homeland Security, 245 Murray Lane SW, Washington DC 20528, comment line (202) 282-8495
  • Thomas D. Homan, Deputy Director and Senior Official, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 500 12th St., SW, Washington, D.C. 20536, organization public affairs (202) 732-4242

COMPLAINTS and REQUESTS for supervision to

  • Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), Chair, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, 328 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-5323
  • Senator Claire McKaskill (D-MO), Ranking Member, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, 503 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-6154
  • Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX), Chair, House Committee on Homeland Security, 2001 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-2401
  • Representative Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Ranking Member, House Committee on Homeland Security, 2466 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-5876

 

 

The Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security has criticized several immigration detention facilities for having spoiled and moldy food, inadequate medical care, illegal strip searches, inappropriate treatment of detainees, and bathrooms without running water; for interfering with Muslims’ prayers; and for refusing to allow detainees to contact the Inspector General’s Office (to which detainees have a legal right). Acting Inspector General John V. Kelly, who took over Dec. 1, said the watchdog agency identified problems at four detention centers during recent, unannounced visits to five facilities. The report said the flaws “undermine the protection of detainees’ rights, their humane treatment, and the provision of a safe and healthy environment.” ICE concurred with the inspector general’s findings and said it is taking action to fix the problems, some of which have already been addressed.

THANKS to

  • John V. Kelly, Acting Inspector General, Department of Homeland Security, Washington DC 20528, comment line 202-282-8495

REQUESTS for promised follow-through to

  • Kirstjen M. Nielsen, Secretary, Department of Homeland Security, 245 Murray Lane SW, Washington DC 20528, comment line (202) 282-8495
  • Thomas D. Homan, Deputy Director and Senior Official, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 500 12th St., SW, Washington, D.C. 20536, organization public affairs (202) 732-4242

COMPLAINTS and REQUESTS for supervision to

  • Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), Chair, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, 328 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-5323
  • Senator Claire McKaskill (D-MO), Ranking Member, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, 503 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-6154
  • Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX), Chair, House Committee on Homeland Security, 2001 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-2401
  • Representative Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Ranking Member, House Committee on Homeland Security, 2466 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-5876

 

A Justice Department memo issued December 20 contains changes to guidelines for questioning unaccompanied children in the country illegally, and directs judges to try such cases fairly despite any “sympathetic allegations” that such cases may include. The memo, issued by the Executive Office for Immigration Review, eliminates previously-issued language instructing officials on “child-sensitive questioning” and now requests judges be skeptical of minors who it says may be abusing the system. Other changes to department policy include changes to rules meant to make unaccompanied minors comfortable before court proceedings. Language that previously allowed children to explore a courtroom before trial proceedings, including the judge’s bench, has been changed to allow this only “to the extent that resources and time permit.” The judge’s bench is now strictly off limits.

COMPLAINTS to

  • Attorney General Jeff Sessions, U.S. Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20530, comment line (202) 353-1555
  • Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd, U.S. Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20530, comment line (202) 353-1555
  • Acting Director James McHenry, Executive Office for Immigration Review, U.S. Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20530-0001, (703) 305-0289
  • Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Chair, Senate Judiciary Committee, 135 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-3744
  • Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee, 331 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-3841
  • Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Chair, House Judiciary Committee, 2309 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-5431
  • Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Ranking Member, House Judiciary Committee, 2109 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-5635

 

 

The Trump administration is considering a plan to separate parents from their children when families are caught entering the country illegally. The move is meant to discourage border crossings, but immigrant groups have denounced it as inhumane. Currently, families are kept intact while awaiting a decision on whether they will be deported. The policy under discussion would send parents to adult detention facilities, while their children would be placed in shelters designed for juveniles or with a “sponsor.” In November, 7,000 “family units” were apprehended, as well as 4,000 “unaccompanied minors,” or children traveling without an adult relative. This fall, the White House convened a group of officials from two of its own offices — the National Security Council and the Domestic Policy Council — as well as from Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and the State Department, to look into ways to curtail border crossings, particularly those of children. The family separation policy is among the solutions being considered.

COMPLAINTS to

  • H. R. McMaster, National Security Adviser, White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington DC 20500, comment line (202) 353-1555
  • Andrew P. Bremberg, Director, Domestic Policy Council, Room 469, Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Washington, DC 20502, 202-456-5594
  • Kirstjen M. Nielsen, Secretary, Department of Homeland Security, 245 Murray Lane SW, Washington DC 20528, comment line (202) 282-8495
  • Attorney General Jeff Sessions, U.S. Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20530, comment line (202) 353-1555
  • Secretary Rex Tillerson, US Department of State, 2201 C St. NW, Washington DC 20520, (202) 647-4000

 

More than 70 members of Congress criticized the Department of Homeland Security in a December 18 letter for failing to investigate thousands of sexual assault complaints filed by immigrants in their custody over the last decade. The letter was addressed to the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, the Acting Director of ICE, the Justice Department’s Inspector General, and the Acting Inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security. The signators called for an immediate investigation of these complaints. The letter results from a class-action civil rights complaint filed April 11 with Homeland Security by Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC). The letter states, “We write to express our deep concerns about the prevalence of reports of sexual abuse, assault and harassment in U.S. immigration detention facilities, the lack of adequate government investigation into these reports, and the government’s refusal to disclose relevant records.” According to CIVIC, Homeland Security received a total of 33,126 complaints of sexual and/or physical abuse from January 2010 to July 2016. Of those, only 225—or 0.07%—have been investigated. Three-fourth of these complaints were levied against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CPB) officers and personnel.

SUPPORT the demands made by these congress members

  • Kirstjen M. Nielsen, Secretary, Department of Homeland Security, 245 Murray Lane SW, Washington DC 20528, comment line (202) 282-8495
  • Thomas D. Homan, Deputy Director and Senior Official, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 500 12th St., SW, Washington, D.C. 20536, organization public affairs (202) 732-4242
  • Michael E. Horowitz, Inspector General, Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 4706, Washington DC 20530
  • John V. Kelly, Acting Inspector General, Department of Homeland Security, Washington DC 20528, comment line (202) 282-8495

Underage Immigrants and Abortion Access

Two unauthorized teenaged immigrants who sued the Trump administration to be allowed to obtain abortions while in custody have finally won the right to abortion access. Meanwhile, the legal fight continues over the policy that had prevented them from doing so. The teenagers were being held in government-run shelters for young immigrants who are caught crossing the border illegally and without an adult. But the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), the agency that operates these facilities, had adopted a policy in March prohibiting federally funded shelters from taking “any action that facilitates” an abortion for an unaccompanied minor without the approval of the agency’s director. That director is E. Scott Lloyd, a champion of “religious values” and abortion foe, who was appointed to the position in March (so much appears to have happened in March—coincidence?). Since the girls were not of age, Lloyd claimed the right to act as their guardian and denied them abortion access. A spokesperson for ORR explained that “When there’s a child in the program who is pregnant, [Lloyd] has been reaching out to her and trying to help as much as possible with life-affirming options.” The young women were represented in court by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and were finally granted abortion access in mid-December. The ACLU is hoping to continue the case as a class-action lawsuit, which would prevent implementation of this ORR policy in the future.

THANKS to

• American Civil Liberties Union, 125 Broad St., 18th Floor, NY, NY 10004, (212) 549-2500

CASTIGATION to

• E. Scott Lloyd, Director, Office of Refugee Resettlement, Department of Health and Human Services, Mary E. Switzer Building, 330 C Street SW, Washington DC 20201, (202) 401-9246

REQUEST support for privacy rights and abortion access for minors attempting to enter the U.S. from

  • Senator Chuck Grassley, Chair, Senate Judiciary Committee, 135 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-3744
  • Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee, 331 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-3841
  • Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), Chair Senate Subcommittee on Border • Security and Immigration, 517 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-2934
  • Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), Ranking Member, Senate Subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration, 711 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-2152
  • Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Chair, House Judiciary Committee, 2309 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-5431
  • Representative Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Ranking Member, House Judiciary Committee, 2109 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-5635
  • Representative Raúl Labrador (R-ID), Chair, House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, 1523 Longworth House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-6611
  •  Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Ranking Member, House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, 1401 Longworth House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3072

My Money’s on the Courts

I can remember standing on the steps of the Supreme Court in the spring of 1987, while in Washington D.C. to attend a professional conference. The Bowers v. Hardwick ruling that upheld states’ right to enact and enforce sodomy laws was less than a year old, so my brief vigil was an act of mourning, but it was also an act of hope. I remained convinced that it was the courts that would be first to uphold my civil rights as a lesbian on a national level, which proved to be true when Lawrence v. Kansas overturned Bowers v. Hardwick.

Activist courts and lawyers are among the bete noires of social conservatives. On the other hand, people like me often see them as heroes who will defend the rights of marginalized groups when legislators don’t yet have the political will to take action. A recent example of this is the supreme court ruling affirming the right to gay marriage.

As I watch the current administration attempt to dismantle a host of public protections, my eyes again are on the courts. Specifically, I’ve been watching a coalition of states’ Attorneys General, who over and over again have been among the first challengers of this administration’s failure to protect the public, enforce the law, and abide by the guarantees of our Constitution.

In the past year, state Attorneys General have taken on at least eight issues that I’m aware of:

  • The “Muslim ban”
  • The need for a special counsel to investigate possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government
  • Trump’s failure to fully divest himself of businesses in accordance with the emoluments clause of the Constitution
  • The abandonment of the Dream Act for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
  • The right to abortion access of women (both minors and adults) being detained by immigration authorities
  • Maintaining loan forgiveness programs for specific groups of college graduates
  • The EPA’s failure to meet a deadline for the enforcement of pollution standards
  • Net neutrality

In fact, one pretty much needs a chart to keep track of the action:

Muslim Ban Indepen-dent Counsel Emol-uments DACA Abortion Access Loan Forgiveness Pollution Standards Net Neutrality
CA
CT
DE
HI
IL
IA
KT
ME
MA
MD
MN
MS
NM
NY
NC
OR
PA
RI
VT
VA
WA
DC

One of the lovely things about postcarding is that you don’t have to write exclusively about complaints; you can also write thank-you notes. Take a look at what these Attorneys General have done, pay attention to which have addressed issues you care about, and drop them an appreciative note.

 

  • Xavier Becerra, Attorney General, P.O. Box 944255, Sacramento, CA 94244
  • George Jepsen, Attorney General, 55 Elm St., Hartford, CT 06106
  • Matthew Denn Carvel State Office Bldg., 820 N. French St., Wilmington, DE 19801
  • Douglas Chin, Attorney General, 425 Queen St., Honolulu, HI 96813
  • Lisa Madigan, Attorney General, 100 West Randolph St., Chicago, IL 60601
  • Tom Miller, Attorney General, Hoover Building, 1305 E. Walnut St., Des Moines, IA 50319
  • Andy Beshear 700 Capitol Avenue, Capitol Building, Suite 118, Frankfort, KY 40601
  • Janet T. Mills State House Station 6, Augusta, ME 04333
  • Maura Healey, Attorney General, 1 Ashburn Place, Boston, MA 02108
  • Brian E. Frosh, Attorney General, PO Box 745, Hughesville, MD 20637
  • Lori Swanson, Attorney General , 445 Minnesota St., Suite 1400, St. Paul, MN 55101
  • Jim Hood Department of Justice, P.O. Box 220, Jackson, MS 39205
  • Hector Balderas, Attorney General, 201 3rd St. NW, Albuquerque, NM 87102
  • Eric T. Schneiderman, Attorney General, The Capitol, Albany, NY 12224
  • Josh Stein, Attorney General, 9001 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699
  • Ellen F. Rosenblum, Attorney General, Oregon Department of Justice, 1162 Court St. NE, Salem, OR 97301
  • Josh Shapiro, Attorney General, Strawberry Square, Harrisburg, PA 17120
  • Peter F. Kilmartin, Attorney General, 150 S. Main St., Providence RI 02903
  • T. J. Donovan, Attorney General, 109 State St., Monpellier, VT 05609
  • Mark R. Herring, Attorney General, 202 N. 9th St., Richmond, VA 23219
  • Bob Ferguson 1125 Washington St. SE, PO Box 40100, Olympia, WA
  • Karl A. Racine, Attorney General, 4414th St. NW, Washington DC 20001

Word(s)!

There’s a lot of hyperbole out there at the moment, but it’s not hyperbole to say that we’re living in an Orwellian moment. Words are powerful things. We use them continuously to understand and reshape our world. The writers of the First Amendment knew this (even if they had a limited view of who would be doing the speaking they were protecting).

The first year of the current administration has been a war of words and a war on words. We’ve been introduced to “fake news” and “alternative facts.” Without a word for “it,” it doesn’t exist.

Remember all those years when Reagan didn’t say AIDS?

We hear about “collateral damage” on news reports about our military conflicts. Collateral damage is a lot easier to brush aside than civilian deaths, isn’t it?

What’s the difference between a privilege and a human right? Between religious freedom and discrimination? Between enhanced interrogation and torture? Between extraordinary rendition and abduction?

The power that controls our words can control our world.

With all this in mind, some suggested action items for today:

Forbidden Words of the CDC Diversity, entitlement, evidence-based, fetus, science-based, transgendered, and vulnerable.

The above words aren’t illegal (yet), but the current administration has ordered the Centers for Disease Control not to use them in any of the official documents being prepared for next year’s budget. Instead of evidence-based or science-based, the new suggested usage is “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.” Because community standards and wishes are what science is all about; evidence, not so much. Kevin Drum has his own suggested replacement words over at Mother Jones. The Scibabe has used instagram and facebook to share Kevin Folta’s suggestions.

So, who to contact?

You’ll want to share your outrage with your local representatives. If you’re in California’s 20th Congressional District, like I am, those would be

  • Senator Dianne Feinstein, 331 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-3841
  • Senator Kamala Harris, 112 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-3553
  • Representative Jimmy Panetta, 228 Cannon House Office Building, Washinton DC 20515, (202) 225-2861

If you’re not in California and/or not in the 20th, you can find contact information for your senators here and for your representatives here. Click through; it’s easy.

The Senate Committee that oversees the CDC is Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP!), so you might want to ask the chair and ranking members to stand up to this bit of rhetorical twaddle. And drop a note to the Health and Human Services Secretary while you’re at it.

  • Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TX), Chair, HELP, 455 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-4944
  • Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Ranking Member, HELP, 154 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-2621
  • Acting Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services, Eric D. Hargan, U.S. Dept. of HHS, 200 Independence Ave., SW Washington DC 20201, (877) 696-6775

My guess is that the scientists at the CDC aren’t particularly thrilled about this development, so you might want to send some of them messages of solidarity or thanks for the crucial work they do. You can contact all of these staffers (who have been at the CDC since before the current administration) at the address below the list of their names and titles

  • Principal Deputy Director Anne Shuchat, MD (RADM, USPHS),
  • Associate Director for Communication, Katherine Lyon Daniel, PhD,
  • Acting Associate Director for Policy Von Nguyn, MD, MPH,
  • Acting Associate Director for Science William R. Mac Kenzie, MD (CAPT USPHS)
  • Leandris Liburd, PhD, MPH, MD, Office of Minority Health and Health Equity

ALL are at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1600 Clifton Rd., Atlanta, GA 30333

The Dickey Amendment Since 1996, appropriations funding for the CDC and other organizations has included rules—commonly known as the “Dickey Amendment”—that prevent CDC scientists from conducting research about gun violence. (Because when you can’t talk about a problem, clearly, it ceases to exist.) On December 13, a group of one hundred and twenty-one House Democrats sent a letter to House leadership calling on them to oppose restrictions on gun violence research in the final Federal Year 2018 appropriations bill. The letter urges that the budget “allow the research community to investigate evidence-based solutions that could help prevent gun violence while still protecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners.”

You can scroll to the bottom of this page to link to a pdf of the letter. Did your Representative sign it? If so, thanks are in order. If not, perhaps you’d like to ask some questions. Remember, you can easily find contact information for your Representative here.

Bonus Item One of my favorite printmakers (besides my wife Melissa West) is Annie Bissett. She’s done a whole series based on Secret Codewords of the NSA that you can see here.

In Dangerous Times

Warning: this is about to become a political blog. I am interested in discussing ideas in order to refine them. I am not interested in being argued against—whether politely or not. In other words, if we share a general world view, I’d love to hear what you’re thinking and to reflect on my views in light of your ideas. I am not interested in oppositional debating. I am definitely not interested in being trolled. What I want is civil, productive discourse among people with shared concerns. Not too much whining. Not too much ranting. Lots of “how can we address this together?”

For the moment, the story of how I got here:

After Trump was elected President, I had sleepless nights staring at the ceiling that I knew must be somewhere in the darkness above me. The mingled sense of terror, nausea, and disempowerment dragged along behind me like the chains attached to Marley’s ghost. (I know the analogy isn’t perfect, but it sure felt like I was dragging Marley’s chains.)

I an not a phone person and suddenly everyone was in crisis mode, posting calls to “phone here today” or “if you make one phone call….” What I can do is write, so I figured I’d go with my strength.

Following the lead of the wonderful people at Postcards for America, I decided I would commit myself to speaking out in that format. OK, so postcards aren’t phone calls, but I just can’t (don’t try to argue with me about this) do phone calls. Postcards also aren’t letters—but what they have over letters is that their messages are immediately before the recipient, who can’t decide to leave the envelop sealed and chuck the whole thing.

Because I knew the number of postcards I could write would be very tiny, compared to all the craziness we’re up against, I invited other people to write postcards with me. Every since the inauguration, Melissa and I have been hosting monthly, two-hour bouts of postcarding. It’s sort of like the postal/political equivalent of running a bunch of wind sprints one after another.

Pretty quickly my “job” became assembling lists of issues and addresses that I could bring to our postcarding sessions. My first few attempts weren’t much. Since then I feel as if I’ve been doing work towards a Master’s in Library Science or something. My lists have gotten longer and more specific. I’ve figured out how to tell which pieces of legislation are before which committees. I’ve tracked down governmental and corporate addresses.

We had our latest postcarding session last weekend, and the ideas/issues list I brought was forty-one pages long, with 70+ issues, and multiple addressees for each issue. (Obsess much? Why, yes, I do.) Our postcarders look over the list, choose what speaks to them, and write. Melissa and I brings postcards and stamps. Participants chip in some stamp money when they can. In a two-hour session we can get anywhere from eighty to one hundred and eighty cards done, depending on how many people join us.

I have, however, identified two problems with our monthly format:

1. Things happen quickly, and issues can change/pass/deteriorate significantly between our postcarding sessions.

2. I’m doing a lot of research and delivering it to a relatively limited community. At a good postcarding session we have a dozen or so participants. I also post my issues/addresses lists on Facebook, but I’m not sure how much use they get.

Hence, I am returning to my blog. I’ve done knitting. I’ve done book reviews. Now I’m doing saving democracy. My goal is to post a few times a week, highlighting specific topics and making suggestions for action. Yes, I’ll include phone numbers when I can, even if I hate making phone calls. I know that some of the people who (I hope) will be reading this may prefer calling to writing.

Feel free to respond to what I say, to update me on issues, to suggest topics. I’m going to maintain my practice of previewing comments before they go live, but I promise to be as open as I can to any civil viewpoints. (It’s my party, my blog, my space. I reserve the right to be heavy-handed sometimes about what I do/don’t want on this page.)

Feel free to drop by and check things out—or to subscribe. If you’re a knitter or a reader who hates my politics, I understand that you may ditch me. That’s OK. You get to make your choices. I get to make mine.

I think that explains the underlying premises and ground rules for What If Knits 3.0. Let’s see if we can knit our society together while other forces try to tear it apart.

 

The Surprisingly Compelling World of Argentine Folk Dance

A Simple Story, by Leila Guerriero, translated by Frances Riddle, (New Directions), 128 pages, release date 10 January, 2017

One of the pleasures of good nonfiction is that it can introduce you to a topic you know nothing about, one you wouldn’t expect to be interested in—and it can pull you in and make fascinating what originally seemed obscure. Leila Guerriero’s A Simple Story is exactly this kind of nonfiction.

Guerriero’s focus is on particular competitor in a little-known Argentinian folk dance competition: the Malambo Competition held annually in the village of Laborde. While Argentina has any number of folk dance competitions, Guerriero tells us “The uncompromising spirit and faithfulness to tradition is probably what makes [the Laborde competition] the least-known festival in Argentina.” For U.S. readers, the most familiar form of Argentinian dance is likely the tango, and the most familiar form of this most familiar form is the kind of “show dancing” exhibited by touring companies and in ballroom dance competitions. Malambo is nothing like this.

Malambo still largely remains true to the gaucho tradition from which it arose. It is a grueling dance form combining remarkably fast legwork with a nearly motionless upper body and a face devoid of emotion beyond a stoic ferocity. While the shoulders face forward, the lower half of the body turns left and right—a pivot a bit like an inversion of an owl’s spinning head. Dancing the Malambo is not just a matter of artistry, but also of endurance. At the Laborde competition, dance performances require close to five minutes of nonstop action. The best comparison I can come up with for the demands of the Malambo form (though this would seem like a stretch to real Malambo enthusiasts) is synchronized swimming. Think of the muscle control, the range and speed of movement required—and all of this done while underwater with limited opportunities for breathing. Malambo, of course, is not an underwater art form, but it demands remarkable lung capacity and breath control. A true Malambo artist breathes only through the nose, never gasping or taking visible breaths. In fact, to dance Malambo is to court hypoxia.

Even if you can’t imagine yourself enjoying a book about folk dance, pick up A Simple Story and give it a try. Chances are, you’ll experience what I did—an obsessive need to keep reading and a burning hunger to witness the Malambo for yourself.

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Welcome Back, Tom Harper!

The Iron Water: A Victorian Police Procedural, by Chris Nickson, (Severn House), 224 pages, release date 1 November, 2016

Chris Nickson’s DI Tom Harper series continues to reward readers with both the plotting of the mysteries it presents and its examination of a fascinating historical setting: late 19th Century Leeds. The series’ cast of characters represents an interesting array of class status and political leanings, giving Nickson the opportunity to explore the novels’ settings from multiple perspective.

The Iron Water opens with the testing of a torpedo, a new naval weapon at that time. The torpedo brings a body to the surface of the lake in which it’s being tested; at almost the same time, a severed leg is found in the River Aire. While DI Harper explores these two—possibly connected—cases, the people around him are making significant changes to their own lives. Tom’s wife plans to sell her bakeries in order to work more intensively on women’s suffrage; these are bought by the wife of one of Tom’s former colleagues—a colleague with whom he has a very strained relationship. There’s also a mobster determined to buy his way into respectability and the usual cohort of politicians all too willing to make ethical compromises for their own benefit.

If you haven’t started reading this series yet, you’re in for a treat. If you already know DI Harper, you’ll be eager for the treat that’s in store for you in The Iron Water.

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Culinary Treasure

Bitterman’s Craft Salt Cooking, by Mark Bitterman, (Andrews McMeel Publishing), 176 pages, release date 4 October, 2016

Salt. Yummy, yummy salt. I dread the day that my blood pressure starts to rise and I have to start learning to live without salt. Until then, my philosophy is that I’m going to enjoy salt as much as I can. And on a salt-lover’s journey, there’s no one better to ride shotgun than Mark Bitterman. Actually, he should be doing the driving. I’ll ride shotgun and just keep murmuring “I am not worthy” under my breath.

If you share my passion for salt, you are going to want a copy of Bitterman’s Craft Salt Cooking. This book provides all sorts of salt-based pleasures: a history of the production and use of salt, a craft salt field guide, recipes for making your own craft salts, and recipes for cooking with craft salts organized by food type (meat, poultry, seafood and all the way on to sweets and drinks and cocktails). The book is beautifully illustrated with color photos, so your eyes can start picturing the tastes your mouth will soon be savoring.

Perhaps a whole book devoted to salt sounds excessive. Believe me, it’s not. These are recipes you’ll turn to again and again. The field guide will have you going on your own journeys of exploration looking for unusual types of salt to experiment with. Unless salt is forbidden you for medical reasons, you are going to want a copy of this title in your kitchen within easy reach.

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Race and Baseball in the 1920s—With a Mystery As Well

The Babe Ruth Deception, by David O. Stewart, (Kensington), 304 pages, release date 27 September, 2016

David O. Stewart, author of The Babe Ruth Deception, is a constitutional lawyer, historian, and novelist, which means he’s got a pretty interesting body of knowledge to draw upon when working in any of these fields. The Babe Ruth Deception is his third Fraser and Cook novel, though it’s the first one I’ve read. Fraser is Dr. Jamie Fraser, a wealthy medical researcher and physician married to a Broadway producer. Cook is Speed Cook, who played in the major leagues before they were segregated and is now a promoter of Negro baseball. The pair make for an unlikely team. Between them they’ve got an interesting body of knowledge to draw upon—just like the author himself.

The Babe Ruth Deception is set during and after the 1919 Chicago Black Sox investigation. There’s a new commissioner of baseball, former judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who is determined to uncover any remaining corruption in the game. This is where Babe Ruth comes in: the Commissioner is now investigating the 1918 World Series in which Ruth played. Ruth has secrets he doesn’t want uncovered and seeks help from Fraser—the two men live in the same luxury apartment building. Fraser brings in Cook because of his knowledge of baseball. They face mobsters, who happen are unhappy investors in a film starring the Babe and produced by Fraser’s wife. They also face government investigators. And then there’s the bootlegging…

The mystery here is interesting, but the novel’s strongest point is the relationships among its characters. Fraser shares the racist attitudes of his time, and his individual respect for Cook is counterbalanced by a sense of paternalism and distrust toward the Negro community at large. When it turns out that Fraser’s daughter and Cook’s son are dating and plan to marry, neither Fraser nor Cook (nor either of their wives) is pleased. Fraser imagines his daughter becoming a social outcast; Cook imagines his son becoming the target of a lynch mob. A reader may pick up the novel for the puzzle it offers or for the pleasure of a glimpse of Ruth as imagined by a capable writer—but it’s the genuine tension among characters that propels this story.

 

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Flavors of Life

Umami, by Laia Jufresa, translated by Sophie Hughes, (Oneworld Publications), 240 pages, release date 13 September, 2016

I am deeply grateful for publishers like Oneworld that are offering contemporary international fiction in translation. There’s a special sort of bibliophilic treat in sharing literature’s now from another country.

Umami may seem like an unlikely title for a recent work of fiction set in Mexico City. For a Japanese novel? Maybe. For a cookbook? Yes, that’s been done. But Umami is exactly the right title for this novel, a fact that becomes clearer and clearer as one reads.

The novel’s characters live in a Mexico City mews owned by a widowed professor of Agriculture, the man who introduced the concept of umami to Mexico. He’s named the five small houses surrounding the mews after the five flavors: sour, salty, sweet, bitter, and unmami—the house he lives in. As the names of their homes might suggest, this little community has seen its share of both joy and loss. The Professor mourns his wife. Teenaged Ana—and the rest of her family—mourn the death of her younger sister Luz. Ana’s best friend misses the mother who abandoned her years ago and who appears briefly and unexpectedly before disappearing yet again. These are characters simultaneously familiar and new—and their newness springs not just from their cultural location, but also from Laia Jufresa’s ability to create surprising, yet satisfying personalities.

The novel is narrated from multiple perspectives, which adds to the richness of Jufresa’s characterizations. Each key moment in the novel happens in more than one way, and readers have the pleasurable puzzle of weaving together a reality from these different threads.

When you want a surprising, detail-rich novel with broad emotional range, Umami will offer just the literary meal you’re looking for.

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