Tag Archives: Trump Administration

File Under “Kick ‘Em When They’re Down”

A few days ago, a neighbor shared a blog post by a friend of hers.

The post referenced a recent report by the United Nations, accusing the Trump Administration of intentionally making life more difficult for poor Americans while taking steps to enrich the already privileged. I had seen an article on the report in the Guardian, but so far as I–and the author of this blog– know, that was the only news source that addressed it.

Were it not for the source, it would hardly be news to learn that the United States can’t take care of its most needy—that it may be the richest country, but it is also increasingly, appallingly, unequal in how its wealth and opportunities are shared. When the various dimensions of human security are examined, critics have long noted that the US falls short, whether in treatment of children, poverty rates, income gaps between rich and poor, or even life expectancy. All this has been amply documented in annual reports of the United Nations Development Programme (http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/2016_human_development_report.pdf), which I’ve discussed in previous blogs (#9 for example).

But now comes an update from a distinguished international legal scholar who is the United Nations special rapporteur for extreme poverty and human rights. Philip Alston visited several deep pockets of poverty, from Los Angeles to West Virginia and Detroit to Puerto Rico, at the end of 2017. His report (UN General Assembly Doc. A/HRC/38/33/Add.1, May 4, 2018) is a devastating indictment of the government that underscores the large and growing contradictions between the American Dream and reality. Alston told The Guardian that Trump’s policies amount to “ a systematic attack on America’s welfare program that is undermining the social safety net for those who can’t cope on their own. Once you start removing any sense of government commitment, you quickly move into cruelty.”

The report acknowledges that previous administrations haven’t distinguished themselves by their concern for these inequities, but quotes Alston to the effect that the Trump Administration has “deliberately targeted the most vulnerable in society, kicking away every ladder of social wellbeing in order to serve Trump’s rich supporters and his alt-right agenda”.

In other words, it’s not that this government can’t take care of the poor. It won’t. It has no interest in doing so.

The blogger, Mel Gurtov, provides examples of the measures that Alston identified as particularly onerous to the most vulnerable:

• Debasing civil society: Supporting limits on voting rights with specious arguments about voter fraud and “covert disenfranchisement” such as gerrymandering and various ID requirements.
• Giving huge tax breaks to millionaires and big corporations while about 40 million people live below the poverty line—among them, 23.8 million considered in extreme or absolute poverty. The richest 1 percent of Americans now account for 20 percent of national income, double the percentage in 1980. “The proposed tax reform package stakes out America’s bid to become the most unequal society in the world,” says Alston in a separate statement (www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22533).
• Putting new limits on basic anti-poverty measures such as work requirements for welfare, food stamps, subsidized housing, health insurance, and veterans’ benefits.
• Limiting opportunity: “The United States now has one of the lowest rates of intergenerational social mobility of any of the rich countries. . . . The equality of opportunity, which is so prized in theory, is in practice a myth, especially for minorities and women, but also for many middle-class White workers.”
• Promoting racist stereotypes that seek to stigmatize non-whites as being mainly poor, lazy, and unworthy of uplifting.
• Tolerating the highest rate of infant mortality, the highest rate of youth poverty, and the highest income inequality among all rich countries.*
• Treating Puerto Rico as a colony, and imposing fiscal discipline that fails to take into account people’s need of social protection. (The mayor of San Juan says it all: Trump’s , total neglect has to be called [out]. The United Nations says that when people are denied the right to access to basic human services — like electric power, like water, like food, like appropriate medical care — that it is a violation of human rights.”)

We’ve gone from a war on poverty to a war on the impoverished.

We’ve become a country without compassion, where the shameless and greedy eat bon bons and watch the poor scramble for crumbs. Our cruelty, together with the President’s erratic and embarrassingly ignorant behavior, has squandered America’s claim to any vestige of continued moral authority.

How long can this go on before it becomes irreversible?

Religion And Moral Authority

Americans face daily reports of truly outrageous (and often previously unimaginable) things this administration is doing. In our name. To our shame.

Nothing we have seen thus far, however–not the disregard for poor Americans, the efforts to ensure that healthcare will continue to be a privilege rather than a right, the dismantling of environmental protections, the attacks on public education and the rule of law– not even the greed and stupidity of the looters who currently rule us–has been as morally repugnant as the Trump Administration’s practice of separating children from their parents at the border.

The pictures of screaming children being torn from the arms of their parents are enough to rip your heart out.

In a column for the Guardian, Marilynne Robinson asks a reasonable question: in the face of this assault on decency and humanity, where the hell are all those “family values” Christians?

She begins by explaining what is happening

As a matter of recent policy, agents of the American government take children from their parents’ arms at our southern border. They are kept at separate facilities for indeterminate periods of time. The parents are jailed and the children are put in the care of non-governmental agencies, sometimes in other states. It is hard to imagine that the higher rate of incarceration and the new system of calculated injury to children would not soon overwhelm existing arrangements no matter how many shelters and beds are provided for a frightened, heartbroken population of the very young, whose miseries are intended as a disincentive to future potential border-crossers.

The only nod to shared humanity in this policy is an obvious understanding that a child’s grief is a particularly wrenching experience for a parent, powerful enough – so the designers of the policy clearly believe – to weigh against the threats to that same child’s safety and health and prospects for a better life that bring parents and children to the American border. This effect would be much heightened by any parent’s knowing that the one sufficient comfort for any child in almost all circumstances, and especially one like this, is to be taken into his mother’s or his father’s arms.

Robinson notes the hardening of American partisanship and the not irrelevant fact that what is left of the GOP is mostly an amalgam of gun owners, people “who claim to be religious,” and people who resent immigration. (What she doesn’t say, but should have acknowledged, is that “resentment of immigration” is more often than not a euphemism for deep-seated and virulent racism.) As she does acknowledge, there are profound differences of worldview between those who fall into those categories and the rest of America–these are fearful people, and Trump has continually stoked their fears of the “other” with his anti-immigrant and racist rhetoric.

Behind much of this is a spurious Christianity that has spread through the culture on the strength of the old American habit of church-going, and which propounds a stark vision, the embattled faction of “the saved” surrounded by continuous threats to their souls – otherwise known as the American population at large.

Obama was impolitic, but not wrong, when he suggested that frightened people cling to their guns and their bibles. Robinson points to the irony of self-described “patriots” who hate the country, and self-identified “Christians” who insult and deprive the poor and the stranger.

Those “Christians” (note quotes) are Trump’s base and enablers. Their overwhelming hypocrisy is the reason  so many Americans, especially young Americans, are rejecting religion. After all, the only justification for organized religion–at least, the only justification that makes sense to reasonable people–is that it is capable of prompting moral behavior.

Of course, history teaches us that religion is also quite capable of excusing atrocities.

When clear-eyed people see religious dogma being used to support adherents’ delusions of superiority, when they see it used to justify and excuse behaviors that all good people condemn as immoral, is it any wonder they see it as a cynical prop to tribalism rather than an appeal to the “better angels” of our humanity?

“Religious” folks who are conspicuously silent when children are ripped from the arms of parents who are seeking sanctuary–who show no compassion for people fleeing intolerable situations in an effort to give those children a better life–aren’t worshipping any God worthy of the name.

 

 

Meanwhile, Behind The Scenes….

Every day, a “Presidential” tweet or administrative outrage occupies the attention of the media and citizens who follow current affairs.

We are mesmerized by the slow train-wreck that Trump and his Keystone Kops are engineering, and for good reason. We rarely have a chance to catch our breath, or to wonder–as my husband often darkly does–what the truly vile people we don’t hear about are doing while our attention is  diverted by the ongoing public clown show.

Recently, my cousin the cardiologist (to whom I sometimes refer) sent me an example.

I have just been made aware that WomensHealth.gov has deleted much of its breast cancer web pages. But why?

It seems there has been a great reduction of breast cancer content on the website of the Office on Women’s Health (OWH) of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), leaving just a single page with rudimentary information on mammograms and breast cancer. Most of the previous, seven-page content is gone.

The removal appears to reflect what my cousin calls “a broader agenda from the current administration.”

For example, under the auspices of the Affordable Care Act, breast cancer screening is offered free of charge for women meeting certain financial criteria, but that information has been deleted from WomensHealth.gov. Now, the information must be accessed on the site via a link to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, which, in turn, requires a click through to yet another link.

Also, the “Government in Action” section of WomensHealth.gov previously contained information on federal programs that provide free or low-cost cancer screening, including clinical breast exams and mammograms. Known as the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, the entity offers screening to all “low-income, uninsured, and underinsured women.” That entire section of the site is now removed.​This information cannot be found elsewhere on the OWH website, or anywhere on the HHS site, despite the agency’s contention that it has been integrated into other parts of the HHS website.

Apparently, most of the breast cancer content on WomensHealth.gov has been deleted.

“Because breast cancer is the most common cancer for women in the US, affecting 250,000 annually resulting in 40,000 deaths a year, it is astonishing that important information about risks, prevention and treatment of breast cancer has been eliminated from the Office on Women’s Health site,” said Joyce Bichler, deputy director of Breast Cancer Action in San Francisco, California.

According to a report from the Sunlight Foundation, a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit government watchdog, the government’s justification for this removal was  “lack of use.” This is transparent bullshit; WomensHealth.gov was visited nearly three quarters of a million times in one recent month. An HHS spokesperson told ThinkProgress that the “pages were removed… because content was not mobile-friendly and very rarely used. Before we update any of the information…we engage in a comprehensive audit and use analysis process that includes reviewing other federal consumer health websites to ensure we are not duplicating efforts or presenting redundant information.”

More bullshit.

The spokesperson directed users to WomensHealth.gov/cancer, which presumably contained the “duplicated” material, but doesn’t even have a dedicated section for breast cancer. The same spokesperson said “sister HHS agencies…have the same information in a much more user-friendly format on their websites.”

This isn’t the first time that important health information has vanished without notice or explanation. The removal of breast cancer information is part of what the Sunlight Foundation calls “wider changes to the OWH website that include the removal of resources related to lesbian and bisexual health, minority women’s health, and other topics.”

“The specificity of these removals adds more evidence to a growing concern: that public information for vulnerable populations is being targeted for removal or simply hidden,” says Sunlight.

Bottom line: Important information intended to assist low-income individuals and people of color access healthcare has been removed from the website–even though the most common cancer in women is breast cancer–and at the same time, the administration is ramping up its assault on Planned Parenthood, an important provider of breast cancer screenings.

Don’t tell me that “war on women” is hyperbole.

The Immigration Debate

Last night, I spoke to the Lafayette chapter of Indiana’s ACLU. They asked that I address immigration. This is the talk I delivered.

It’s tempting to dismiss Trump’s emphasis on immigration—and especially his wall– as both stupid and racist: Stupid, because most people who are here illegally have flown in and overstayed their visas—something a wall would neither address or prevent—and illegal entries from Mexico, which were already diminishing, have declined some 45% since Trump’s election (along with tourism from pretty much everywhere); racist, because that wall he wants is only between us and Mexico, not us and Canada. And he’s made it clear he’d put out the welcome mat for those blond immigrants from Norway….

In fact, a significant element of racism infects the entire immigration debate. My own son-in-law is an immigrant; he’s been in the U.S. on a green card for nearly 40 years, and in all that time, he has encountered exactly zero anti-immigrant hostility. He’s not from Norway, but he is a very pale Brit who hasn’t entirely lost his cute English accent.

Trump’s emphasis on immigration is of a piece with his appeal to White Nationalists generally, but in all fairness, this administration didn’t invent the debate over immigration, nor is it the first to stoke the tribalism that infects that debate. I know facts are out of fashion these days, but it is instructive to look both at our history and the actual impact of immigration.

In a January column on the subject, David Brooks of the New York Times recognized that—when you look at that history and those facts, they point to one inescapable conclusion. Here’s what he wrote:

The case for restricting immigration seems superficially plausible. Over the last several decades we’ve conducted a potentially reckless experiment. The number of foreign-born Americans is at record highs, straining national cohesion, raising distrust. Maybe America should take a pause, as we did in the 1920s. After all, that pause seemed to produce the cohesive America of the 1940s that won the war and rose to pre-eminence.

Every few years I try to write this moderate column. And every few years I fail. That’s because when you wade into the evidence you find that the case for restricting immigration is pathetically weak. The only people who have less actual data on their side are the people who deny climate change.

There has always been a nativist streak in America. If you go to the East Side Tenement Museum in New York, you’ll see that Ellis Island was first established to keep “undesirables” from entering the country. The poem we all quote on Lady Liberty—the “give me your tired, your poor, your masses yearning to breathe free”– was Emma Lazarus’ response to the Chinese Exclusion Act. The Know-Nothing Party (which today’s GOP seems to want to emulate, if not eclipse) was formed largely by people who feared that Irish Catholic immigrants would take jobs from God-fearing Protestant “real Americans.”

The persistent inability of Congress to pass immigration reform is one of the reasons the Executive Branch has been exercising more policy authority—Obama’s efforts to protect the Dreamers, for example, were a response to continued inaction by the legislative branch.

What are the facts—as opposed to the xenophobic fears—about immigration and immigrants?

Immigrants themselves make up about 14% of the U.S. population; more than 43 million people. Together with their children, they are about 27% of us. Of the 43 million, approximately   11 million are undocumented, and as I noted previously, after Trump took office, Customs and Border Protection reported a 36% drop in crossings from Mexico. Since 2007, individuals who flew in and overstayed their visas have outnumbered those who cross the border illegally by 600,000.

What anti-immigrant activists are calling “chain migration” is actually family re-unification and it applies only to close relatives; of the people granted permanent residency in 2016, about two-thirds fell into that category.

Immigrants made up 17% of the U.S. workforce in 2014, and two-thirds of those were here legally. Collectively, they were 45% of domestic workers, 36% of manufacturing workers, and 33% of agricultural workers. Those percentages help to explain why state-level efforts to curb immigration have come back to bite them: in Alabama a few years ago, as many of you will recall, the state passed a draconian new immigration law, and crops rotted in the fields. Farmers couldn’t find native-born residents willing to do the work, despite offering to pay more than minimum wage.

Despite the hateful rhetoric from the Rightwing fringe, most Americans consider immigration a good thing: in 2016, Gallup found 72% of Americans viewed immigrants favorably, and as many as 84% supported a path to citizenship for undocumented persons who met certain requirements. Another poll showed that 76% of Republicans supported a path to citizenship, and it’s worth noting that such support was higher than the 62% who supported a border wall.

What about the repeated claims that immigrants are a drain on the economy? The data unequivocally shows otherwise. As the Atlantic and several other sources have reported, undocumented immigrants pay billions of dollars into Social Security for benefits they will never receive. These are people working on faked social security cards; employers deduct the social security payments and send them to the government, but because the numbers aren’t connected to actual accounts, the worker cannot access their contributions. The Social Security system has grown increasingly—and dangerously– reliant on that revenue; in 2010, the system’s chief actuary estimated that undocumented immigrants contributed roughly 12 billion dollars to the program.

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimates that approximately half of undocumented workers pay income taxes, but all of them pay sales and property taxes. In 2010, those state and local taxes amounted to approximately 10.6 billion dollars.

The most significant impact of immigration, however, has been on innovation and economic growth. The Partnership for a New American Economy issued a research report in 2010: key findings included the fact that more than 40% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children. Collectively, companies founded by immigrants and their children employ more than 10 million people worldwide; and the revenue they generate is greater than the GDP of every country in the world except the U.S., China and Japan.

The names of those companies are familiar to most of us: Intel, EBay, Google, Tesla, Apple, You Tube, Pay Pal, Yahoo, Nordstrom, Comcast, Proctor and Gamble, Elizabeth Arden, Huffington Post. A 2012 report found that immigrants are more than twice as likely to start a business as native-born Americans. As of 2011, one in ten Americans was employed by an immigrant-run business.

On economic grounds alone, then, we should welcome immigrants. But not only do we threaten undocumented persons, we make it incredibly difficult to come here legally. If there is one fact that everyone admits, it is the need to reform a totally dysfunctional and inhumane system. Based upon logic and the national interest, it’s hard to understand why Congress has been unwilling or unable to craft reasonable legislation. Of course, logic and the national interest have been missing from Washington for some time. And compassion went with them.

Which brings me to DACA, and the willingness of this administration and Congress to use the Dreamers as hostages and pawns.

On September 5thof last year, Trump terminated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. As you all know, Dreamers are children who came to the U.S. with their parents; most of them know no other home. A significant number speak only English. There was no particular reason, other than his fixation on immigration—nothing had happened that required or justified an out-of-the-blue termination of a program that huge majorities of Americans favored. At the time, Trump announced that it was the responsibility of Congress to pass legislation by March 5 to avert the crisis he had just caused.  That has not happened.

In January, a federal court entered a preliminary injunction requiring the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to receive and adjudicate DACA renewal applications from young people who previously received protection under the program. A second court entered a similar injunction weeks later, and on February 26, the Supreme Court declined the federal government’s highly unusual request to hear their appeal—and bypass the U.S. Court of Appeals.

So where are we?

Since its inception, more than 800,000 young people have applied for and received DACA status. Thanks to the injunctions, these individuals can apply for additional two-year work permits and protection from deportation. But the injunctions don’t protect other DACA-eligible individuals. According to the Migration Policy Institute, the overall total number of individuals who may have been eligible to apply for DACA or who may have become eligible by aging into the program or obtaining additional education was slightly more than 1.8 million.

Now, because Trump ended DACA, they are locked out of protection.

There are also an estimated 120,000 individuals among that 1.8 million who were unable to apply because they weren’t yet 15 years old when Trump ended DACA.

In addition to potentially DACA-eligible individuals who either did not—or could not—apply under the program before its termination, there are an additional 285,000 Dreamers who came to the United States at a similarly young age as DACA recipients and have lived here for even longer, but who were entirely cut out of DACA from the beginning, because the program excluded otherwise eligible individuals who were 31 or older as of June 15, 2012, when the program was announced.

The irony is that these older Dreamers have the longest and deepest ties to U.S. families and communities, since they arrived here as children at least 20 years ago. Bipartisan legislation, such as the Dream Act of 2017 and the USA Act of 2018 would get rid of the age cap entirely, remedying this situation, and would extend protection to Dreamers who, years ago, arrived in the country before the age of 18. They are currently excluded from DACA because they arrived after their 16th birthday.

It is so obvious where justice lies for these children that even our broken Congress was able to come up with a bipartisan bill—but despite his promise to sign whatever Congress came up with, Trump rejected it. Meanwhile, the media is filled with heartbreaking stories about families being torn apart, by the deportation of longtime residents who have been important, law-abiding assets to their communities—despite Trump’s rhetoric about focusing on the “bad hombres” among them.

Law is important. There should be consequences for ignoring it. But we can protect the rule of law without destroying families, sending children “back” to countries they know nothing about, and spitting on American ideals.

Over the past several months, we have seen escalating reports of horrible behavior by ICE and Homeland Security. Let me just share one such report, from a Washington Post article a few weeks ago, about the increasing practice of separating children from their mothers:

There is no allegation that the little girl, known in court filings only as S.S., is a terrorist, nor is there any suggestion her mother is one. Neither was involved with smuggling, nor contraband, nor lawbreaking of any other variety. Rather, S.S.’s 39-year-old mother presented herself and her daughter to U.S. officials when they crossed the borderfrom Mexico four months ago, explaining they had fled extreme violence in Congo, and requesting asylum.

A U.S. asylum officer interviewed Ms. L, as the mother is called in a lawsuit filed on her behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union, determined that she had a credible fear of harm if she were returned to Congo and stood a decent chance of ultimately being granted asylum. Despite that preliminary finding, officials decided that the right thing to do was to wrench S.S. from her mother, whereupon the mother “could hear her daughter in the next room frantically screaming that she wanted to remain with her mother,” the lawsuit states.

The Trump administration has said that it is considering separating parents from their children as a means of deterring other families, most of them Central American, from undertaking the perilous trip necessary to reach the United States and seek asylum. Now, without any formal announcement, that cruel practice, ruled out by previous administrations, has become increasingly common, immigrant advocacy groups say. In the nine months preceding February, government agents separated children from their parents 53 times, according to data compiled by the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

Make no mistake: Ms. L and S.S. could have been placed together in a family detention center. There has been no explanation of why the determination was made to separate them; nor is there any allegation that Ms. L. is an unfit parent.

This administration sees nothing wrong with calling DACA children criminals despite the fact that their parents brought them here when they were too young to legally form criminal intent. It sees nothing wrong with separating children from their parents while their applications for asylum are pending. It sees nothing wrong with arresting and deporting upstanding, otherwise law-abiding unauthorized immigrants who have lived and worked here for decades are the parents of U.S.-born children.

This profoundly corrupt administration has no concept of the rule of law, no compassion for the people whose lives it is ruining, no understanding of the long-term damage it is inflicting on this country, and no competence for managing the affairs of state. The longer the “party over country” Republicans in Congress facilitate this President, the more damage is done to America at home and abroad.

If there isn’t a “blue wave” in November, the damage may be irreversible.