The Weight of the Words: Levy – Niskanen Center

Good long read  by Jacob T. Levy of  McGill University on the importance and impact of words. Excerpt is with respect to impact on the public, article covers the full range:

….Within the electorate, the speech of elites matters in a couple of different ways. A large part of the population begins with a tribal sense of what team they’re on, which side they support, but relatively little information about the substantive policy views associated with that. Thanks to Trump’s Twitter feed and Fox News (and the strange reciprocal relationship between them) the Republican and conservative rank and file now have an unusually direct, unusually constant source of information about the things that people like us are supposed to believe and support. I think that we can see the effect of this in the rapid and dramatic swings in reported Republican opinion on questions from free trade to Russia policy. Trump’s stump speeches and unhinged tweets, and Fox News’ amplification of them, are changing what Republican voters think it means to be a Republican. He doesn’t speak for them; how many of them had a view about “the deep state” two years ago? He speaks to them, and it matters.

One example is the attack on the mainstream news media–“fake news,” by which Trump means nothing more and nothing less than “news outlets that aren’t subservient to me.” There have always been media outlets of different political colorations, and there have always been elected officials who disliked and feared media outlets critical of them. The delegitimation of the basic enterprise of independent journalism is something else, and something new to the US. In their important new book How Democracies Die, the political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt point to the delegitimation of the independent press as one of the key warning signs of a genuine would-be autocrat. They note the parallel between Trump characterizing the media as the “enemy of the American people,” his expressed desire to “open up” libel laws, and his “fake news” campaign and the words that preceded action in democratic breakdowns elsewhere. We don’t know how far Trump will be able to go in his attempts to suppress the media, but we know that he’s persuaded millions of Republicans to let him try.

There has been a lot of discussion lately about why Republican elites who presumably know better (like Paul Ryan) seem to have become fully complicit in the administration’s attack on the Russia investigation, fully willing to help conceal, impede, and obstruct when they don’t themselves know what the investigation will find. (If you’re the target of an investigation, you roughly know what you’re guilty of and what you’re not. Paul Ryan has no earthly idea what Trump or his circle have done; why risk having someone else’s unknown crimes hung around your own neck?) The popular theory is that they got their tax cut, and they’re willing to pay any price for that. I think that’s wrong, and underestimates Congressional self-interest. I think the answer is, at least in part: over the last year Trump has successfully radicalized the Republican electorate, with his words, in their support of him personally. Congressional Republicans who, a year ago, were still at least trying to keep Trump at arm’s length don’t dare to anymore. Trump has successfully belittled, marginalized, and demonized his occasional critics among Senate Republicans, with his direct line to the Republican electorate (and, again, as always, its amplification in the Trumpist media). The absurd drumbeat to “release the [Nunes] memo,” by its very absurdity, reveals Trump’s current power over Congressional Republicans. A year ago, more of them would have objected to delegitimizing the FBI. But Trump has successfully communicated to his voters that being on their team means not being on the FBI’s team. He’s changed what being a Republican means.

And he’s trying to change what being an American means. The power of elite speech in a democracy is only partly that of giving partisan cues to one’s supporters. It’s also the power to channel and direct the dangerous but real desire for collective national direction and aspiration. Humans are tribal animals, and our tribal psychology is a political resource that can be directed to a lot of different ends. The alleged realism of those who want to ignore words will often point to some past president whose lofty rhetoric obscured ugly policies. Whether those presidents are named “Reagan and George W. Bush” or “JFK and Barack Obama” varies in the obvious way, but the deflationary accounts are similar; there are blunders, crimes, abuses, and atrocities enough to find in the record of every American president. But all those presidents put forward a public rhetorical face that was better than their worst acts. This inevitably drives political opponents crazy: they despise the hypocrisy and the halo that good speeches put on undeserving heads. I’ve had that reaction to, well, every previous president in my living memory, at one time or another. But there’s something important and valuable in the fact that they felt the need to talk about loftier ideal than they actually governed by. They kept the public aspirations of American political culture pointed toward Reagan’s “shining city on a hill.” In words, even if not in deeds, they championed a free and fair liberal democratic order, the protection of civil liberties, openness toward the world, rejection of racism at home, and defiance against tyranny abroad. And their words were part of the process of persuading each generation of Americans that those were constitutively American ideals.

Trump’s apologists are now reduced to saying that his speech has been worse than his actions so far, the reverse of this usual pattern. The effect is the reverse, too. When he tells us that there are “very fine people on both sides” as between the Klan and their critics, he turns the moral compass of American public discourse upside-down. He channels the desire for collective aspiration into an attempt to make us worse than we are. The norm against publicly legitimizing Klan-type explicit racism was built up over a long time, calling on white Americans to be better than they were, partly by convincing them that they were better. The norm is still strong enough that Trump grudgingly kind of walked back his comments after the Charlottesville protests last year. But a norm that was built up through speech, persuasion, and belief can be undermined the same way. Trump’s own racism, his embrace of white nationalist discourse, and his encouragement of the alt-right over the past two years have, through words, made a start on that transformation….

via The Weight of the Words – Niskanen Center



The Trump Standard Won’t Outlast His Presidency: Noah Rothman on Evangelical Support

Interesting commentary by Rothman on evangelical support for Trump, and the compromise this has entailed:

…In an interview with Politico, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins confessed that the community of moral leaders on the right gave Trump a “mulligan” for the debauchery in which he engaged before he became a political figure. He said that the religious right is “tired of being kicked around” by the left and are “glad” there’s “somebody on the playground that is willing to punch the bully.” What about turning the other cheek, Perkins’s interlocutor asked. “You know, you only have two cheeks,” he replied.

Perkins is getting a lot of grief for that, but his honest assessment of the transactional nature of the evangelical community’s moral compromise is illuminating. “That support is not unconditional,” he said. “If the president for some reason stopped keeping campaign promises and then engaged in that behavior now, the support’s gone.” In other words, if Trump stops delivering for them in office, this community of formerly self-righteous moral scolds reserves the right to rediscover their principles.

Many have offered theories as to why these and many other evangelical leaders compromised themselves for Trump. Less attention has been paid to whether the moral majority’s acceptance of Trumpian turpitude represents a depressing new normal. Is this the standard of ethical degradation to which all will be held in the future? If Perkins’ admission is reflective of unspoken sentiments broadly shared on the right, the answer is no. Trump’s is a standard to which only the politically valuable are held.

There was some justified fear that the Trump standard was being broadly applied in November when the right’s moral gymnasts engaged in a collective defense of Alabama justice Roy Moore. They joined with the institutional GOP to ratify Donald Trump’s support for the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate despite his contempt for the law, the Constitution, and the credible allegations that he had abused underage girls. But once Moore lost, his utility was spent. As Breitbart’s Alex Marlow confessed, the accusations against Moore were credible, but the impulse to protect Trump—not Moore, per se—from his detractors was more important than moral rectitude. This, too, was transactional.

Conservatives might be tempted to retreat into a persecution complex. After all, defending Trump’s repeated indiscretions is a full-time job and one that the left seems conspicuously able to avoid. The Trump standard is the Bill Clinton standard, they might say, and it’s about time that Republicans held a mirror up to Democrats and their enablers in media. Stringent moral standards were shackles by which the right constrained itself, thus allowing the left to operate with impunity. Good riddance.

But the Trump standard and the Clinton standard seem reserved for presidents. Anthony Weiner, David Wu, and John Edwards did not benefit from the Clinton standard. Al Franken and John Conyers’ appeals to precedent didn’t salvage their political careers. Similarly, even in just the last 12 months, personal indiscretions were enough to cut short the political careers of Republicans like Blake Farenthold, Joe Barton, and Tim Murphy.

Some might push back against the notion that we can draw broader conclusions from these politicians’ experiences because Rep. Patrick Meehan and Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens have managed to hold on despite the sex scandals engulfing their careers. Their careers might withstand calls for their resignations; time will tell. But their experiences reinforce the fact that there really are no universal moral standards. There are only individuals. And the actions of those individuals are condemned or condoned as a result of calculated cost/benefit analyses, not morality. It was always ever thus.

If this doesn’t sound like cause for optimism to you, buck up. Presidential politics is unique because the stakes at the presidential level are so high. Both parties tend to reflect their titular leaders, but presidents are transitory figures. The Republican Party’s status quo ante was Mitt Romney, John McCain, George W. Bush, Bob Dole, and so on; men of moral fortitude who had no stomach for conspiratorial thinking, nativist acrimony, or degeneracy. A reversion to the mean is perfectly imaginable.

If such a reversion is in the cards, no one who compromised their stated values in the Trump era should be allowed to forget the bargain they made. Yet this presidency has exposed a valuable truth: too often, ethical considerations are situational and conditional—particularly in politics. If American moral decline is going to be arrested, the country’s self-styled moral leaders must confront that fact and realize the extent to which they’ve contributed to the plunge.

Source: The Trump Standard Won’t Outlast His Presidency

Undocumented Irish Unexpectedly Caught In Trump’s Immigration Dragnet : NPR

Always interesting to see who gets caught when the net is cast so wide. While the Irish man caught is the focus of the story, the overall data is revealing:

The Trump administration has been aggressively deporting foreign nationals home around the globe, from Somalia to Slovakia. Though Mexicans, Central Americans and Haitians make up nine out of 10 people removed from the United States, year-end figures analyzed by NPR show that deportations to the rest of the world have jumped 24 percent.

Some are from formerly “recalcitrant” countries that used to reject U.S. deportees but have now agreed to take them home. These nations include Guinea, Cuba, Bangladesh, Iraq, Vietnam and Afghanistan. Moreover, agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE, are arresting more immigrants in the interior of the U.S. who have overstayed their visas.

A case in point — the unauthorized Irish in Boston.

“It’s really indiscriminate. ICE, in their aggressive tactics of detention, are going after the Irish as much as they’re going after any other nationality,” says Ronnie Millar, director of the Irish International Immigrant Center in Boston.

Sitting in the visiting room of the Suffolk County House of Corrections, Dylan O’Riordan, 19, wears a lemon-yellow jail jumpsuit and a bewildered expression on his pale face.

“I was aware how with Trump immigration was going to get a lot harder, but I didn’t pay as much mind to it as I should have, which was my first mistake,” he says.

O’Riordan was born in Galway, Ireland. Both of his parents had lived in Massachusetts before he was born and already had green cards. They brought Dylan from Ireland to the Boston area in 2010 on a visitor’s visa when he was 12 years old. He overstayed his 90-day visa, and began living his life like any other American teenager, though he was unauthorized.

At 19, he had a child with his girlfriend, Brenna, then dropped out of high school and went to work for his uncle’s roofing company. About four months ago, he and Brenna were shopping at a mall when they got into an argument. “It was nothing at all,” he says. “Some woman called the cops, said I was abusing my girlfriend.”

O’Riordan was arrested for domestic assault and battery, but Brenna refused to file charges. The county chose not to prosecute. O’Riordan had no prior criminal record, so the judge let him go.

Immigrants who overstay their visas are at a unique disadvantage compared to immigrants who illegally cross the border. When they apply for their visa, they waive their right to an immigration hearing if they end up staying after their visa expires.

O’Riordan’s lawyer, Tony Marino, points out that his client was brought here when he was a child, but ICE won’t budge.

“Their position has been, well, he waived whatever rights he had when he came,” says Marino. “Twelve year olds don’t waive rights! I’ve never seen anything like it. I can’t wrap my head around it.”

The ICE office in Boston sent a statement to NPR: “Dylan O’Riordan … overstayed the terms of his admission by more than seven years. ICE deportation officers encountered him in Sept 2017 after he was arrested on local criminal charges. ICE served him with an administrative final order of removal.” He is scheduled to be put on a plane to Dublin later this week.

“You look American, you sound American.”

Dylan O’Riordan is not an isolated case. Irish visa overstayers have been swept up in the administration’s nationwide immigration dragnet. Under strict new rules, anyone here illegally is a target — whether they’re convicted of a crime or not. In 2017, ICE deported 34 undocumented Irish, up from 26 the year before. The numbers are tiny compared to the 128,765 Mexicans ejected from the country last year, but in Boston’s closeknit Irish community the wave of arrests is big news.

via Undocumented Irish Unexpectedly Caught In Trump’s Immigration Dragnet : NPR

Sanctuary cities: Why it’s harder for Trumpism to take root in urban Canada – Adams and Norris

 Adams and Norris on how greater urbanization in Canada provides a degree of resilience to Trump-style politics:

In early 2007, former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani led the pack of would-be Republican nominees for president, but some worried he was “too metropolitan” for heartland voters. On Saturday, another famous New Yorker, Donald Trump, marks his first year in the White House. Paradoxically, the Manhattan magnate’s supporters are overwhelmingly rural and small-town folks.

Big U.S. cities such as New York and Los Angeles – and even smaller places such as Miami and Dallas – loom large in imaginations far beyond America’s borders. As for Canada, we suspect most people around the world tend to imagine the country as defined more by wilderness than urban life.

Despite the lower profile of Canadian cities, however, they arguably exert more pull in the country’s political life than U.S. cities do south of the border. American cities are culturally potent but politically constrained.

One reason is that a greater share of Canada’s population is clustered in a smaller number of cities. America’s 10 largest cities contain just 8 per cent of the country’s population. The proportion of Canadians who live in Canada’s 10 largest: 31 per cent. That clustering in a relatively small number of places is even more evident when we include the suburbs. If we look at the census metropolitan areas of the top 10 Canadian and U.S. cities, we find about a quarter of Americans (27 per cent) and more than half of Canadians (55 per cent) living there.

But it’s not just the fact of urban living that matters; it’s also the nature of the cities. Canadian cities are some of the most diverse on Earth. The populations of two of its largest, Toronto and Vancouver, are almost half foreign-born and more than two-thirds first– or second-generation Canadian. Our cities are largely products of postwar immigration. The past half-century has been especially important: Canada retired its explicitly racist immigration policies in the 1960s, moving to a points system prizing education and language proficiency, leading to huge inflows of talent, energy and youth from around the world.

The United States also had considerable (but proportionally smaller) migration inflows over the same period, which affected cities profoundly. But U.S. cities were also being shaped by forces related to slavery and segregation. In what’s called the Great Migration, millions of black Americans fleeing the violence and oppression of the Jim Crow South moved to northern cities such as New York, Milwaukee, Detroit and Chicago. In many urban neighbourhoods, as black residents moved in, whites moved out to monocultural suburbs – a pattern sometimes called “white flight.” Redlining – denying services to residents of certain areas – housing discrimination and other racist practices also contributed to the de facto segregation of ostensibly integrated cities. The effects of these policies remain to this day.

It’s true that poverty is racialized in Canada and that this is reflected in some of the residential patterns we see in and around big cities. But Canada never had a demographic upheaval on the scale of the Great Migration, which saw the internal movement of about six million Americans. The story of ethnic concentration in Canada is a nuanced one, shaped directly by discrimination in some cases – and indirectly by economic circumstances born of discrimination – but also often driven by people choosing to be close to others of their own background. Ethnic enclaves can support shops with offerings from “home,” as well as community and religious gathering places. The thriving Chinese community in the affluent Toronto suburb of Markham and the South Asian community in Surrey, B.C., for instance, were formed more by affinity than discrimination (which is not to say their residents don’t experience discrimination – just that it didn’t compel them to live where they live).

Destiny and geography

Another quality that differentiates Canadian cities from American ones is that they are connected to a system – and, importantly, a culture – of economic equalization. Although provinces are responsible for health and education, the federal government redistributes resources with the aim of ensuring that all Canadians enjoy comparable levels of service. This ideology shapes the political culture of provinces and cities as well; when disparities are revealed in the levels of service available to people living in different parts of a larger jurisdiction, Canadians tend to agree – at least in principle – that this is unacceptable.

Americans, with their greater skepticism of government and their greater attachment to local control, are less likely to believe that all Chicagoans, for instance, should enjoy the same quality of services. The fact that excellent schools funded by a strong tax base can be just a few miles away from struggling schools with crumbling infrastructure probably doesn’t thrill most Americans, but it is part of their economic and political tradition. Politically viable responses to such inequity (school vouchers, innovative charter schools) tend to be rooted in more individual choice and more entrepreneurialism, not more redistribution of resources and greater social solidarity across social and geographic boundaries.

The composition and characteristics of each society’s cities have important political implications. In Canada, it’s difficult to win a federal election without winning over immigrants and their children, a powerful presence in many urban and suburban ridings. In the United States, for presidential candidates, the diverse urban vote is useful but not make-or-break. Equally important, the urban vote isn’t always diverse; it can be monocultural. Redrawing electoral boundaries can allow candidates to ignore certain people and still win. North Carolina’s lawmakers have twice been ordered by judicial panels to redraw that state’s electoral map because of extreme gerrymandering – one according to voters’ partisan affiliations, another by race.

As for the U.S. Congress, the composition of the House of Representatives, like our House of Commons, largely reflects the distribution of the population. But the U.S. Senate – much more powerful than our largely advisory upper chamber dedicated to sober second thought – gives hugely disproportionate powers to rural states: Wyoming (population: 585,501) has the same number of senators as California (population: 39.25 million). Indeed, the 26 least populous states, whose 52 senators constitute the majority, represent less than a fifth of the country’s population.

When all these factors are combined, they result in a Canadian political landscape where cities matter enormously and an American political landscape in which it’s possible for national political actors to work around cities.

Canada has racists and racism, and like elsewhere, some of them are feeling emboldened by recent political events. But the mechanics of our political institutions are such that, at the national level, courting the dominant-culture majority at the expense of smaller ethnic or religious groups is a dangerous game, as the Conservatives learned in 2015. In the United States, it can be a winner.

Many factors differentiate Canada from the United States. Our history, our institutions, our values, our public policies are all distinct. The fact that so many of us live so close together in a small number of diverse – in a few cases hyper-diverse – cities is one of the key factors that makes a politically dominant Trump-style backlash on a national scale in this country unlikely.

via Sanctuary cities: Why it’s harder for Trumpism to take root in urban Canada – The Globe and Mail

Trump’s ‘s—hole countries’ remark casts remarkable light on immigration policies: Shree Paradkar

Implications of Paradkar’s arguments is that essentially we should have a completely open door rather than managed immigration programs.

And rather than only commentary, some numbers with respect to the Haitians in Canada who were obliged to leave after the 2014 change, versus regularizing their status, would be helpful:

However, the outrage also reveals a society more eager to be scandalized by the President’s words than upset by government actions that harm those same lives for whom they are purporting to demand respect.

Trump’s words on Haiti are particularly galling, given what its citizens have endured and American and Canadian modern roles in undermining that nation’s democracy.

Trump pulled the plug on a humanitarian program that allowed some 60,000 Haitians to remain in the U.S. under special immigration status while their homeland recovered from devastating disasters.

Canada cancelled its own program of giving Haitians special status and began asking Haitians to pack their bags in 2014 under Stephen Harper. That cancellation was completed in 2016, under Justin Trudeau with little fanfare.

Yet, Trudeau is the good guy of the global immigration crisis. Remember that viral tweet that was so celebrated after Trump moved to ban immigrants from Muslim-majority countries? “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada”

Last year, poor Haitians who took Canadian goodness seriously, trying to cross unguarded points from the U.S. into Canada had the lowest acceptance rate — at 17 per cent — for asylum claimants between February and October.

Individual Canadians have been generous after the Haitian earthquake. More recently, Montrealers have been moved to help Haitian asylum seekers.

Still, the overall lack of indignation over the continued rejection of Haitians suggests a Canadian comfort with discriminatory attitudes so long as they’re not overt, Trump style.

via Trump’s ‘s—hole countries’ remark casts remarkable light on immigration policies | Toronto Star

Trump’s speech on Islam is rife with pitfalls. Experts say there’s little upside to it. – The Washington Post

Fasten one’s seatbelts (again):

CNN reports that top White House adviser Stephen Miller is drafting the speech on Islam that President Trump is slated to deliver in Saudi Arabia later this week. As you may recall, Miller was also at the center of crafting and defending the administration’s controversial immigration ban, which has been blocked by the courts because it unconstitutionally bars people from entering the country based on their religion.

Miller’s role perfectly captures the problem with this speech: Trump and his top advisers captivated his base by engaging in the worst Islamophobic rhetoric, perpetuating slurs about Muslims in the United States and around the world. But if Trump uses this speech to make amends for his past statements, he’ll alienate the very base of supporters who were the targets of this anti-Muslim strategy.

The administration is suggesting that he will, in fact, try to make such amends. National security adviser H.R. McMaster, who is also helping to write the speech, told reporters that it will be “an inspiring but direct speech on the need to confront radical ideology and the president’s hopes for a peaceful vision of Islam to dominate across the world.” McMaster further promised that the speech will “unite the broader Muslim world against common enemies of all civilization” and “demonstrate America’s commitment to our Muslim partners.”

But experts I spoke with today warned that this speech is so fraught with pitfalls that they are surprised Trump is even attempting it. They say handling such a nuanced topic as religion is a challenge even for the most learned minds and skilled orators. Yet Trump faces that problem and the additional challenge of striking a balance that is unique to his political situation.

Should Trump deliver the speech McMaster promises, it might briefly please his Muslim audience in Riyadh, but anger his right-wing base at home — something Trump seems unlikely to risk given his current precarious political and legal circumstances. On the other hand, if he were to say something to irk his Muslim audience that might satisfy his domestic base, he could sabotage the purpose of the trip and the speech itself: to solidify cooperative partnerships between the United States and Muslim countries to jointly combat terrorism.

“I would shy away from giving a talk like this in this country, much less in Riyadh,” McCants added.

Trump faces all manner of pitfalls. His first test will be whether he says or does anything to erroneously suggest that Saudi Arabia, a repressive regime that enforces Wahhabism, an extreme version of Islam, is representative of the faith. “Much of what Saudi Arabia encourages as proper Islam is not what many Muslims in the West would accept,” said Daniel Byman, a professor in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and a terrorism expert.

The risks are heightened for Trump not just because of his unpredictability, but also because of his — and his inner circle’s — anti-Muslim track record. It’s hard to imagine that Trump would back away from a posture that earned him so much adoration from his base, or from his defense of his immigration ban, in which he has invested substantial domestic political capital.

“I don’t see President Trump as someone who’s going to walk away from that, “said John Espisito, director of the Bridge Initiative, a project at Georgetown University that studies Islamophobia. “He’s not someone who says ‘I got it wrong.’”

But even if Trump were to try to backpedal from his anti-Muslim rhetoric, it still might not necessarily be credible to his audience in Riyadh. As Espisito pointed out, the Trump team’s Islamophobia runs very deep: His top advisers have claimed that Islam is not a religion, but rather a dangerous political ideology. Trump himself has said, “I think Islam hates us” and that the Koran “teaches some negative vibe.” Top strategist Stephen K. Bannon has compared Islam to Nazism, communism and fascism. Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka has refused to say whether Trump himself thinks Islam is a religion.

Beyond this, Trump would have to actually reverse policy — for example, by dropping his immigration ban— to render any possible conciliatory rhetoric even remotely credible. “If the president extends an olive branch but then doesn’t implement any policy changes,” said Byman, “that’s going to send a louder message than a speech.”

Indeed, the risk is that Trump’s speech could make things worse. Byman warned that if Trump commits an accidental misstep or, perhaps worse, is derogatory— which can hardly be ruled out — his speech could potentially further a widespread perception in the Muslim world that the United States is “hostile to Islam.”

Most crucially, said McCants, Trump’s speech could undermine the United States’ relationship with the countries that have agreed to partner with it in combating terrorism. “He doesn’t have to say happy things about Islam to sell them on the partnership,” said McCants. But if he says anything to alienate Muslims, it could “make it harder for Muslim countries to partner with us.”

And that, in the end, could make it harder to achieve Trump’s own stated goal of defeating what he calls “radical Islamic terrorism” than if he had not given a speech on Islam at all.

Source: Trump’s speech on Islam is rife with pitfalls. Experts say there’s little upside to it. – The Washington Post

The EB-5 Visa: United States Citizenship For Sale? Forbes

Thanks to the nepotism of Trump, increased attention is being paid to the US investor immigrant program. Like all such programs, the benefits are elusive and the potential for fraud significant:

The EB-5 visa program, named because it is the fifth preference employment-based visa, was created in 1990. It was, according to the USCIS, intended to “to stimulate the U.S. economy through job creation and capital investment by foreign investors.” Under the program, entrepreneurs, and their spouses and unmarried children under 21, are eligible to apply for a green card if they invest in a commercial enterprise that meets certain criteria. A green card grants an immigrant permission to remain in the United States indefinitely: green card holders and their families may apply for citizenship but they don’t have to.

And here’s why the visa is making news: just before the new law was signed, Nicole Meyer, the sister of Trump’s son-in-law and presidential adviser, Jared Kushner, flew to China to encourage investors to take advantage of the program by investing in Kushner Companies. Meyer drew fire for comments related to the program, suggesting that her family would be appreciative of their investment. According to a spokesman for the company, the inclusion was not intended to curry favor. Instead, “[i]n the course of discussing this project and the firm’s history with potential investors, Ms. Meyer wanted to make clear that her brother had stepped away from the company in January and has nothing to do with this project. Kushner Companies apologizes if that mention of her brother was in any way interpreted as an attempt to lure investors. That was not Ms. Meyer’s intention.”

The apology has done little to stem concerns over what some believe is a clear conflict of interest. It’s also an uncomfortable position for many on the Hill who find themselves in the position of defending a law that allows investors with money to enter the country on a fast track.

There’s a good reason why Meyer targeted China and not, say, the Philippines. With money to spend and a desire to enter the United States, the Chinese account for more than 80% of EB-5 visas issued. A trip to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) page on EB-5 visas bears that out: the only foreign translation easily accessible on the page is Simplified Chinese.

How much money? For purposes of the EB-5 visa, the minimum qualifying investment in the United States is $1 million. However, if the investment is made in a high-unemployment area or rural area, the investment minimum is just $500,000. Critics allege that the criteria for “high-unemployment area or rural area” are often ignored and easily manipulated. For example, the development touted by Meyer is in Jersey City, a few miles away from Manhattan – and where Forbes offices are located.

Despite criticisms of the program, wealthy investors view it as a way to legally move to the United States – and there’s no requirement that those with the cash possess any specific skills or education, as with certain other visas. It is, some say, citizenship for sale. Jonathan Grode, an immigration attorney and U.S. Practice Director with Green and Spiegel, LLC, stresses that it’s not “buying citizenship.” If the investment fails and the jobs are not created, he notes, the investor is subject to deportation. “I’m not aware of any other program in the world that has that risk,” he says. “So any characterizations to the contrary are unfair.”

Grode says that the EB-5 is a good alternative for high net worth individuals “who want to control their own destiny.” The wait times, he explains, for certain categories of green cards can be extremely long and the E-B5 has no quota backlogs except for those individuals born in China.

The EB-5 visa is, however, not always a sure thing. If an investor doesn’t keep adequate records and the source of funds to be invested is too muddy, then the visa can be difficult to secure. Grode points out that many countries around the world transact in cash or hard currency (gold) and might not have verifiable bank statements: those applicants would need an experienced attorney to help prove that the funds are lawful.

The process can also be very expensive. A $500,000 investment needs to be at risk for loss for several years. According to Grode, additional administrative, government, and legal fees could run another $100,000.

Other visas may be better alternatives, depending on the circumstances. If someone has a U.S. citizen spouse, for example, that process will be far less intense and costly. In addition, for those that want to get to the United States faster and want to run their own business, Grode may suggest a look at other visa options such as the E-2 (treaty investor) and the L-1A (intracompany transferee) first.

Still, the EB-5 remains a viable visa option for those with money. But is it really a path to citizenship? Not exactly. Grode clarifies, “It’s a path to a green card.” According to Grode, EB-5 green card holders do not get any kind of preferential treatment for citizenship when they apply: they are in the same category as all other green card holders. Many, he says, won’t even apply if it puts their native citizenship at risk: they will just remain in the United States on a green card.

Shepard Fairey and Ai Weiwei On Using Art To Fight President Trump

Always find Ai Weisei’s art and activism of interest, and the role art can play in debate:

Among the colorful poster art from the Women’s March protests, you may have seen the red-white-and-blue face of a Muslim-American woman wearing an American flag hijab–one of a series of inauguration-inspired “We the People” images by graphic artist Shepard Fairey, he of the Obama “Hope” poster fame.

Commissioned by the non-profit Amplifier Foundation, Fairey’s “We the People” posters were alluring visual representations of the resistance movement: a group of diverse people pushing back against the Trump administration’s fearmongering and racism.

Like most of his work, the posters were sold on his “Obey Giant” company website for $100 (some $900,000 proceeds were donated to the ACLU), though many of the artist’s original works have fetched upwards of $70,000 at auction.

Today, Fairey has launched a series of limited-edition skateboards in response to Trump’s first 100 days as president. Collaborating with the Skateroom, a San Francisco-based contemporary art brand, Fairey has turned his “No Future” artwork into a kind of skateboard triptych.

The Skateroom has also released three skate decks by Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, showing Ai flashing his middle finger at the White House. The black-and-white “fuck you” to the Trump administration is part of a series of images of Ai flipping off various buildings and landmarks around the world.

Ai Weiwei, who was not available for an interview, said in a statement about the collaboration: “My favorite word is ‘act’. I am partnering with the Skateroom for that very reason.”

Proceeds from Ai’s collaboration will go to Bridging Peoples, a non-profit charity in Turkey dedicated to combatting all forms of discrimination, and B’Tselem, an organization supporting human rights in Israeli-occupied territories.

“During the filming of Human Flow, my documentary on the global refugee condition, I had the opportunity to speak with individuals from both B’Tselem and the Bridging Peoples Association in Turkey,” Ai said. “What these two organizations do is very valuable to society, both in fighting against injustice and in helping those that are unfortunate.”

In a conversation over email, Fairey spoke with the Daily Beast about the meaning of “No Future,” the urgency to create art in the Trump era, and the artists calling for censorship of Dana Schutz’s “Open Casket” painting at this year’s Whitney Biennial.

DB: When did you first conceive “No Future” and what is the message you are trying to convey with this work? Is it an extension of your drive to “question everything”?

SF: The piece does fall within my philosophy of questioning everything, but there are more specific reasons for the image and text. I’m a big fan of wordplay and language in general, so a few of the ideas in the piece began percolating early in Trump’s bid for the presidency.

Inspired by lyrics from the Sex Pistols (“No Future”) and the hubris of the early European inhabitants of what would become the United States that led to their belief that it was God’s will for them to conquer ocean to ocean, I think that what led largely to Trump’s election was the manifestation of the too-common mindset that facts don’t matter; in other words, “manifest destiny”—the truth will not penetrate the barriers of our ideology if the truth doesn’t sit well with our predispositions.

I come from punk rock so the Sex Pistols and their song “God Save the Queen” with the refrain “No Future” was a big protest anthem for me growing up. However, unlike the nihilism of “God Save the Queen” my use of “No Future” employs more of a bait and switch tactic. A lot of people felt defeated and hopeless by Trump’s election, but I feel his election should energize people to resist apathy, ignorance, sexism, xenophobia, and racism.

Source: Shepard Fairey and Ai Weiwei On Using Art To Fight President Trump

The Dangers of Blaming Trump for Anti-Semitism – The Atlantic

Good column by Peter Beinart:

But it now appears that Trump may have been, partially, right. On Thursday, Israeli police arrested a Jewish Israeli American teenager for leveling some of the bomb threats. Earlier this month, prosecutors charged Juan Thompson, an African American who had previously worked at a left-leaning publication, with some of the others. There’s no evidence that either suspect tried to frame Trump supporters or white supremacists. And it’s still possible that right-wingers called in other bomb threats, or committed some of the other anti-Semitic incidents that have erupted since Trump’s election. Still, if two of the primary perpetrators of the JCC bomb scares turn out to be a Jewish Israeli and a left-leaning African American, that will, indeed, turn out to be “the reverse” of what Trump’s critics expected.

Trump’s critics—and I’m one of them—should learn from that.

Many critics have a narrative in their heads: That Trump and his supporters think and do bigoted things. It did not come out of nowhere. Trump really did say that “Islam hates us” and that a judge could not be impartial because he was Mexican American. He really did run a closing campaign ad that featured three Jews alongside language about “special interests” and a “global power structure” that has “trillions of dollars at stake in this election.” Most of his supporters really do dislike Muslims, according to polls. And some of them assaulted African Americans who protested Trump’s rallies.

Still, narratives can explain too much. Trump is like the kid in class who perpetually misbehaves. Liberals—especially Jewish liberals—risk becoming the teacher who sees graffiti written on a locker and sends him to the principal without carefully checking the handwriting.It’s not just the JCC bomb scares. It’s become commonplace to hear Jewish liberals claim that, in the words of former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Trump has given “license and permission to anti-Semites” and thus “opened the floodgates” for anti-Semitic attacks.

But have the floodgates really opened? According to the FBI, anti-Semitic incidents did rise 9 percent between 2014 and 2015, when Trump announced his candidacy. And New York City has announced that there were substantially more anti-Semitic incidents during the first two months of 2017 than during the equivalent period in 2016. But neither the FBI nor the Anti-Defamation League has yet reported national data for 2016. And defining what constitutes an anti-Semitic incident is tricky. If the JCC bomb threats—many of which appear to have been carried out by an Israeli Jew—boost the numbers, does that really show that anti-Semitism is rising in Trump’s America?

If data on rising anti-Semitism is thin, data on rising anti-Semitism by Trump supporters is even thinner. The ADL did find last year that many of the anti-Semitic tweets directed at Jewish journalists came from pro-Trump accounts. Still, there’s no evidence that Trump supporters are behind the recent spike in anti-Semitic incidents, if there even is a real spike. And a February Pew Research Center poll found that Republicans and evangelical Christians—two core Trump constituencies—feel even more favorably towards Jews than Democrats do. Since Trump’s takeover of the GOP, Republican fondness for Jews has actually increased.

If liberals have been too quick to blame Trump supporters for anti-Semitism, they’ve also been too quick to blame Trump’s advisors. Liberals frequently hurl the charge at Steve Bannon or his old publication, Breitbart. But the two Breitbart articles critics most commonly call anti-Semitic—an attack on the Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol that called him a “renegade Jew” and an attack on the Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum that called her “a Polish, Jewish, American elitist scorned”—were both written by Jews. And even the former Breitbart columnist Ben Shapiro, who calls Bannon “one of the most vicious people in politics,” doesn’t think he’s an anti-Semite. Jewish liberals often accuse Sebastian Gorka of anti-Semitism too because of his associations with far-right groups in Hungary. Yet they’ve never produced a single anti-Semitic thing he’s said.

The problem is this. Trump really is fomenting hate against certain groups. He’s called Islam America’s enemy. Gorka won’t even acknowledge that Islam is a religion. Bannon has proposed closing “seditious” mosques. Breitbart hypes every act of violence by a Muslim or an undocumented Mexican against a white person. What’s happening to Jews, by contrast, is far less severe. Yes, Trump was slow to condemn anti-Semitic attacks. Yes, his presidency pleases alt-right white nationalists like Richard Spencer. But unlike Muslims and immigrant Mexicans, Jews wield influence in the Trump White House. They’re mostly white. They’re highly assimilated. And Republicans like them. There’s a reason that, according to Pew, Republicans are almost thirty points more likely to feel warmly towards Jews than towards Muslims. Republicans consider Jews part of the West.

For Jews, this is strange. When they see their government foment hyper-nationalist bigotry, their historical memory inclines them to see themselves as its target. But for the most part, they’re not. As opportunists usually do, Trump and his advisors are going after weaker prey: less assimilated minorities who Fox News has already been demonizing for a decade or more. Anti-Semitism isn’t central to this spasm of American nativism in the way it was a century ago. There’s nothing wrong with being vigilant about anti-Semitism so long as it doesn’t blind you to reality. Strange though Jews may find it, this time they aren’t the main show.

Source: The Dangers of Blaming Trump for Anti-Semitism – The Atlantic

How a Crazy Idea About Islam Went From the Fringe to the White House | Mother Jones

The Islamophobia ‘industry’ and its influence:

In 2011, shortly after the controversy over the so-called Ground Zero mosque and the spread of a conspiracy theory that Shariah was taking over America, the Center for American Progress published a lengthy report titled “Fear Inc.,” which documented what amounted to a cottage industry of Islamophobic misinformation. Prominent players include Act for America, a “national security” group that currently boasts Flynn as a board member. Another is Frank Gaffney, the founder of the Center for Security Policy, which has pushed the unlikely notion that Islamists are secretly trying to infiltrate the American government and prominent organizations—including the National Rifle Association—through a process he calls “civilization jihad.”

“These were people who were always on Fox News, being cited on Pamela Geller’s blog, who were always on Sean Hannity, the Christian Broadcast Network, the National Review, and others,” says Faiz Shakir, the national political director of the American Civil Liberties Union and one of the authors of the report. (Pamela Geller writes a prominent anti-Muslim blog.) “You had major political groups who were then taking this and getting it into the mouths of lawmakers. At that time it was Allen West, Herman Cain, and Michele Bachmann. We went through a period where we had really fought back and marginalized some of these voices,” says Shakir. “They lost some credibility and respect in Republican circles—until Donald Trump came around. He gave them the biggest platform they ever could have imagined.”

This network also had links with what would become Trump’s inner circle. Gaffney appeared on Bannon’s radio show 34 times. Gorka, a former Breitbart editor, has regularly appeared at Center for Security Policy events and on Gaffney’s own radio program. Gaffney once defended the disgraced former FBI agent turned anti-Muslim crusader John Guandolo—who has said that mosques in the United States “do not have a First Amendment right to anything” and has helped draft anti-Muslim legislation.

Trump himself has expressed some of the key tenets of the Islamophobic right. In late 2015, Trump proposed a total ban on Muslims entering the country, justifying the idea by citing a debunked survey commissioned by Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy and conducted by Kellyanne Conway, who would become Trump’s campaign manager. The survey claimed that 51 percent of those polled believe that Muslims in America should have the choice to be governed by Shariah, and a quarter agreed that violence against Americans in the United States “can be justified as part of the global jihad.” A few weeks earlier, he stated that the United States will have “absolutely no choice” but to shut down mosques because “some bad things are happening.”

There have already been previous efforts to prevent mosques from being built using the “Islam is not a religion” argument. “Those are all real efforts,” says Shakir. “They have been on the back burner and bubbling up for a long time, and now they have people in positions of power who can effectuate these radical ideologies that they’ve long held on to.” Until Trump provides some clarity on his true views, people on both sides of the issue may assume that he is unwilling to publicly state that Islam deserves the same legal status and protections as other religions.

Source: How a Crazy Idea About Islam Went From the Fringe to the White House | Mother Jones