Anybody who pays attention knows that the world has a refugee crisis.
What they may not realize is that the United States has a refugee crisis, too. Not a crisis of people fleeing the United States because of persecution or threats of ethnic violence, or an unstable government out of control, or one ruled by a dictator in brutal control — though certainly another column could address the dangers of us becoming one of those nations.
No, the refugee crisis we face is one we’re helping create but refusing to help solve. During President Donald Trump’s first year in office, the U.S. government set a goal of accepting at least 100,000 refugees from around the world. After Trump got settled in, fewer than half that number of refugees were allowed here.
Now, those “goals” are referred to as “caps,” and in the current year the United States has set a “cap” of just 45,000 refugees. It’s doubtful even that modest number will be met. One reason the refugee crisis is so bad is that we intentionally don’t do our part.
As a free and wealthy nation, we have an obligation to take in refugees from other countries that are at war with themselves: Syria, Iraq (we broke it), Afghanistan (we can’t fix it), and many of the unstable African nations always seemingly at war.
Other First World nations are doing what they can; we should be doing even more. We’re the largest of the free, democratic nations in the world. With great power comes great responsibility.
These refugees are not “illegal” immigrants, as xenophobes like to refer to undocumented migrants who come into our country looking for a better life. These are people – good men and women, girls and boys and, yes, babies — who are the targets of ethnic violence or victims of war – many of them the victims of wars we brought brutally to their land.
Deyana Al-Mashhadani is one of these refugees. I met Deyana, now 19, on Thursday during a civil rights tour by refugees under the auspices of the Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS) organization based in New Haven, Conn.
IRIS provides services for hundreds of refugee families. Deyana and 11 other young women visited important civil rights sites in Virginia, Georgia, and Alabama over the past week.
Their pilgrimage was funded completely through private donations. Two Southerners who work for IRIS, Ashley Makar of Birmingham and Laurel McCormack of Georgia, helped put the week-long trip together.
Thursday, I joined the group as it visited the National Memorial for Peace and Justice (the just-opened lynching memorial) and the Legacy Museum in Montgomery. The sites are projects of the Equal Justice Initiative. While the National Memorial for Peace and Justice focuses on lynchings across the South of more than 4,000 African-American men, women, and children between 1877 and 1950, the Legacy Museum deals more with enslavement and unfair incarceration of African-Americans throughout our state’s ugly history.
Both visits were emotional experiences for me; I can’t imagine how the dozen young women refugees were feeling as they observed the exhibits and learned the tumultuous history of our region. What memories will their tour dig up? They’ll write about their experience.
But consider Deyana’s history: Born in Iraq, she and her family fled after the 2003 war started – the one started by us. Her family’s Bagdad home was caught in a crossfire between two rival groups. They huddled in their basement as bullets ripped through their home. After that, the Al-Mashhadanis knew if they stayed: “You die,” said Deyana.
In any event, Deyana said, you see “people die in front of you.”
They relocated as refugees to Syria where they lived for eight years until the civil war exploded there. They moved to Turkey, where after three years, they finally were allowed to come to the United States as refugees.
Deyana and her family are among the lucky few. For the most part, Deyana said, she and her family are treated well. Despite all the forced relocations her family endured, Deyana is well educated. She speaks three languages fluently – Arabic, Turkish, and English – and has started college. She is studying biochemistry and hopes for a medical career.
Yet, so many refugees aren’t as fortunate as Deyana and the other young women on the bus to Montgomery Thursday. The women on the trip this week are from Iraq, Eritrea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Congo Brazzaville. They are finishing high school or entering college. Another Iraqi, Fatima Al Rashed, 18, is headed to the University of Pennsylvania this fall on a full academic scholarship.
These women will make America a better nation.
They do remember, however, where they come from. And they know, as well, that they probably can never go back.
“If I was in Iraq, I could never continue my education,” Deyana said, emotion teasing her voice. “My life is here.”
Our nation does have great power. Yes, it does. Nobody will deny that.
But do we understand our great responsibility?
Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]
Opinion | That climate change hoax is killing us
I grew up with hurricanes. For my first 11 years, my parents and I lived on the Texas Gulf Coast, near Beaumont. My father was transferred by the company he worked for, Texas Gulf Sulfur, to deep South Louisiana in 1967. We lived in Houma, in Terrebonne Parish, but Dad worked near Larose, in Lafourche Parish.
Hurricanes were regular events in Southeastern Texas and South Louisiana. Still are, but in much more frequent numbers. And Alabama gets clobbered every so often, most recently yesterday and today. Sally made landfall near Gulf Shores, and you can be assured the damage will be extensive, especially from flooding.
Flooding was a big factor in Texas hurricanes too, when I lived there. Hurricane Carla, in 1961, devastated High Island, not far from our home. Flooding was widespread. Carla was a Category 4 storm. But notably, that September, Carla was only the third named storm of the hurricane season.
This year, we’re running out of names. Striking Alabama this week, only a few days after Carla struck Southeastern Texas in 1961, Sally is toward the end of the hurricane alphabet. The National Hurricane Center and World Meteorological Organization are literally running out of names for storms this year.
Earlier this week, and maybe still, there were five named storms in the Atlantic. This is only the second time on record that five named storms are in the Atlantic at the same time. And they’re using up the Alphabet. The first time this happened was 1971, at a time when humans were first becoming aware of climate warming.
Little do we know, that before Sally decided to squat on Alabama, Hurricane Paulette made landfall in Bermuda on early Monday morning. There are so many hurricanes around, we can’t even keep up with them.
They’re like Republican scandals.
Probably more than any other indicator, hurricanes tell the story of climate change, the very real climate change that Donald Trump and many Republicans deny or call a hoax.
Like the COVID-19 Pandemic. Like so many events that Trump and Trump Republicans can’t (or won’t) believe. Like the corruption that permeates the Trump administration. Like the wildfires destroying the far West Coast states.
That’s not climate change, claims Trump. It’s because California won’t sweep the forests. I call BS. Even on California being responsible for sweeping. Most of the forestland in California is federal land. Most of the burning areas are on or near federal trees. Yet, the state of California spends more money on forest management than the federal government, which owns most of the land. That’s the truth. No hoax.
Trump should order secret federal teams of ICE forest sweepers to do their jobs.
The hoax from Republicans and the Trump administration is that crazy antifa hit squads are invading the West Coast to reign terror on the populations there. National security experts continue to assert that white supremacists and nationalists are the most dangerous domestic terror threat. But Trump defends those radicals – “they are very fine people” — because they hold up some mysterious white heritage above all others. If Trump is anything, he’s the whitest Angry White Man ever.
Climate change is real. The coronavirus pandemic exists. White nationalists are the most serious domestic terror threat in this country.
Black lives do matter.
Yet, once again and often, Trump shows the orange-hued emperor has no clothes. As Stormy Daniels has previously said, that is not a good look.
Opinion | The presidential race is underway
Now that the national political party conventions are over and the nominees have been coronated, the battle royale for the White House is in full throttle. The nominees, Donald Trump and Joe Biden, will shatter the age barrier — whoever is elected will be the oldest person ever elected president.
If Trump is re-elected, he will be 75 years old when sworn in. If Biden wins, he will be close to 79 years old. When I was a young man, folks at that age were in the nursing home — if they were alive. By comparison, 60 years ago, when John F. Kennedy was elected, he was 42.
If, by chance, you are worried about their traversing all over the 50 states and keeling over in the process, calm your fears. Trump will campaign in only about 10 to 12 states, and Biden will campaign in probably only two. Why, you might ask? There are only 10 or 12 states that matter in a presidential contest.
Under our Electoral College system, the candidate that gets one more popular vote than the other gets all of that state’s electoral votes.
The country is divided like never before in our history. You either live in a red Republican state, like Alabama, or a blue Democratic state, like California. You might say the hay is in the barn in all but about 10 battleground, so-called “swing states.”
There are 40 states that it really does not matter who the Republican nominee is, one or the other of the two party’s candidates are going to win that state and get all of that state’s electoral votes.
Our national politics has become so partisan and divided with such a vociferous divide that old Biden will carry California by a 60-40 margin, and Trump will carry Alabama by a 60-40 margin. Unfortunately for Trump, Alabama only has nine electoral votes. California has 55.
The election is won or lost in swing states like Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
It is in these six states that all the campaign money will be spent and where the two aged candidates might campaign. It will all boil down to certain zip codes in these six states. Current polling has Biden ahead of Trump in most of the battleground states.
Trump, for the first three years of his presidency, reigned over a tremendous economic boom. He had a fighting chance at re-election based on one factor: “It’s the economy, stupid.”
All that changed in March when the coronavirus pandemic hit our nation and devastated our economy. All the growth of three years has been devastated. During the same month of March, the aging Democratic candidate, Joe Biden, captured the Democratic nomination from Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist.
Under the Electoral College system, Trump has to carry most of the key battleground states in order to win. Current polling has Biden ahead of Trump in most, if not all the pivotal swing states because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the economy was busting through the roof, Trump could claim credit for the thriving economy. Likewise, the economic recession caused by the coronavirus is not Trump’s fault. However, it happened under his watch. There is a tried and true political maxim: “If you claim credit for the rain, then you gonna get the blame for the drought.”
There is also a cardinal rule in politics: all politics is local. Folks, Biden was born and raised in Pennsylvania — in the blue-collar city of Scranton, to be exact. Even if Trump were to miraculously carry all five of the large, pivotal states, he will have a hard time carrying Pennsylvania.
I know most of you reading this do not like to hear this dour outlook for Trump. But there is hope. First, I am pretty good at predicting and analyzing Alabama political races — not so much when it comes to national politics. In fact, I am usually wrong.
Another golden, proven caveat in politics: they only count the votes of the people who show up to vote. Older voters tend to be Republican. And older voters are the ones that show up to vote.
We will see in six short weeks.
Opinion | The bully-in-chief angling for a landslide — against himself
Donald Trump loves picking on Democratic Party-led cities where protests and unrest are regular or even nightly occurrences. We never hear Trump discuss Democratic-led cities that continue to have some protests but very little protest violence.
Birmingham is one of those cities. Sure, just as the #BlackLivesMatter protests began after the murder of George Floyd by four Minneapolis police officers, we had a scary night where looters and destroyers went through downtown, breaking windows and acting the fool.
That didn’t last long. Mayor Randall Woodfin and the city police leadership have done a remarkable job in quelling violent protests. One important step was removing a Confederate memorial from a downtown park in a city that didn’t exist in the Civil War.
That’s not to say Birmingham is not a violent city. It’s one of the most violent where gun violence is concerned. As in any large metropolitan area, there are locations that have the most concentrated violence and are a continual challenge for law enforcement and the residents who live there.
There’s not much mob violence in Birmingham, though. Certainly not like that which exists in Portland, Oregon, or Seattle, Washington. Trump won’t highlight success stories in Democratic Party-led cities, even those in a Republican-controlled state.
I do find it hypocritical that Trump isn’t as tough on states where the COVID-19 spread is the worst. As of early this week, there were nine states that had uncontrolled rates of infection, and Alabama ranked No. 8. All the states ahead of Alabama have higher populations, but a few high-population states, including New York, which at one time was the epicenter for coronavirus outbreak, has a very low infection rate today.
Infection in New York, a Democratic Party-controlled state, is less than 1 percent now, because state leaders did what they needed to do to control the spread.
Alabama, not so much. Indeed, of the nine states with the highest infection rates, seven are led by Republicans — Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Texas, Arizona, Missouri and Maryland.
California, the most populous state in the nation, and Virginia, are the states in the top 9 that are led by Democrats.
So why isn’t Trump battering those Republican-run states like Texas and Florida and Georgia, high-population states where the virus continues to quickly spread, like he picks on Democrat-run cities that have protesters?
Because Trump is all LAW & ORDER (attacking peaceful protesters) and not HEALTH & SAFETY (devising a plan to deal with COVID).
Trump basically ignores the virus. We’re nearly 200,000 deaths into this pandemic (nearly 2,300 in Alabama), but Trump golfs, and campaigns, and keeps his head in the sand trap. He admitted in a recorded interview with journalist Bob Woodward that he knew the virus was deadly, but still did nothing. Nada. Zilch. In fact, he intentionally downplayed the danger. And Americans, by the thousands, died. (No telling how many he figuratively shot and killed on that corner at Fifth Avenue.)
I will say this, Trump keeps digging that hole in the sand for himself. He’s alienated so many groups of people that about the only “humans” left to vote for him Nov. 3 are the Angry White Men, most whom are racist and petrified of the day, coming soon, that they’ll be the minority race in this nation.
The latest group that was targeted by Trump for his bellicose bullying was the U.S. military — top generals and admirals, the rank-and-file soldiers and sailors, wounded veterans, and our military dead. Suckers and losers, they all are, says Trump, a man who dodged the draft during Vietnam by getting daddy to pay off a doctor to say Donny had bone spurs.
If Trump is trying to lose in a landslide, that’s OK with me. But targeting Black and brown people, women, Native Americans, our military, the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants — that’s definitely not a strategy for success.
Because as hard as it is for Trump to believe it, there simply aren’t enough Angry White Men in the nation to save him this time. And all the other angry people, the great majority, are highly motivated to vote against him.
Trump can’t lose soon enough.
Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]
Opinion | 1960 Presidential Race marked beginning of television as premier political medium
The 1960 Presidential Race between Richard Nixon and John Kennedy is considered by many political historians to be a landmark presidential contest. This race for the White House, exactly 60 years ago, marked a pivotal change in presidential election politics when the advent of television became the premier medium for political candidates.
John Kennedy was a 42-year-old, charismatic, Democratic senator from Massachusetts. Richard Nixon was a veteran politico who was vice president under the popular war hero, President General Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower.
The presidential debate between Kennedy and Nixon was to be televised nationwide. This was the first televised presidential debate. Television was a new phenomenon.
Kennedy understood the importance of the debate and the new medium of television. He took a full week off the campaign trail and went to the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port and studied and prepared and was rested and tanned.
Nixon, on the other hand, campaigned nonstop, 18 hours a day up until the telecast. He was tired looking and also suffering from painful phlebitis. When he arrived at the NBC studios for the debate, he bumped his bad leg on the car door, and it flared up the phlebitis. He was in severe pain when he took the stage. However, the worst thing he did was fail to shave and he refused makeup. He had a heavy five o’clock shadow. In fact, he had not shaved since five o’clock that morning. He appeared tired and haggard and unshaven. It made him look very sinister. He glared menacingly into the camera and at Kennedy.In short, he was awful.
Nixon was used to radio and, in fact, those that listened to the debate on radio thought Nixon won. However, those that watched on TV thought differently. Kennedy was tanned, relaxed, smiled and was handsome and charismatic. Kennedy won the election that night. The televised debate was the key. Therefore, 1960 marks the beginning of television being the way and means to victory in an election.
Folks, I am here to tell you it has not changed. Television is still the medium that drives the vote. It has been rumored and stated as fact that social media has taken over. But, it has not yet.
It is a known fact in politics that older people vote. That has not changed. It is folks my age, who are 60 and over, who vote and elect people. Young people under 40 simply do not vote. They really do not have time to vote in that stage of life. They are trying to raise a family, build a career and get children to soccer games or dance class after an eight-hour workday and then get dinner on the table.
There are very few 25-year old millennials who vote. They get their information off social media, but it does not translate into voting. Most of them are not even registered or know where they go to get registered or much less where their polling place is. We older people still watch TV and we vote.
As I peruse and study the campaign finance filings of the candidates running for office in Alabama this year, the fact is confirmed. Every major winning candidate for all the viable and primary races for U.S. Senate or Congress spent the bulk of their campaign money on television.
In looking back at the 1960 Presidential Race and comparing it to this year’s 2020 contest, reveals a stark transition in presidential politics. Under the Electoral College System, at that time there were 40 states in play and 10 states that were safe Republican or Democratic enclaves.
Today, it is just the opposite. There are 40 states that are predetermined to be safely solid either Red Republican states or Blue Democratic states. You might say the hay is in the barn in at least 40 of our United States. As I often say, if Mickey Mouse were the Republican nominee, he could carry Alabama; and if Donald Duck was the Democratic candidate, he would carry California.”
Our country is divided, politically, and divisively like never before in history along partisan lines. It is almost 50/50. Therefore, the key to victory is inspiring and firing up your base to vote.
If enthusiasm is any indication, then the needle is moving toward Donald Trump and the Republicans. Although the addition of Senator Kamala Harris to the Democratic ticket may enthuse African American female voters, who are the base of the Democratic Party.
See you next week.