Monday, June 25, 2018

Trump team's policy -- incompetence? or deliberate cruelty? Or both?

To continue my last post on the sheer incompetence of the Trump administration, I turn to my favorite Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Jay Booker.

One Homeland Security Department official told Politico that the biggest problem is that "the kids' records don't have any information about the parents.  I don't know how they're going to go about fixing that."

After touring one facility, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX) said that, as far as he could tell, the administration had "no established system for even tracking children and parents, let alone putting families back together."  Booker picks it up there:

*     *     *     *     *
"'When the family separation policy was implemented, there doesn't seem to have been any planning as to how parents were going to know where their children were, how children were going to know where their parents were, how they were going to be able to communicate,' Mark Greenberg, an expert at the Migration Policy Institute, told CNN.

"The Justice Department is handling prosecution of those parents.  The Department of Homeland Security is handling detention of the parents.   The Department of Health and Human Services is contracting with the private shelters to hold the children.  No cross-agency system exists to communicate among the three, and the administration has put the onus on imprisoned parents, not on the bureaucracy, to find and return their children.

"As a result, parents are being deported without their children, without even knowing where their children are.  They are being sent back to Third World countries with poor communication systems, and in most cases they lack the education, experience and economic resources needed to reach back to the United States and negotiate the bureaucracy.  Experts say it is very likely that some families will never be reunited, which means that we have created orphans through sheer bureaucratic incompetence.

"Under any administration but this one, that would be unbelievable.   But the three hallmarks that mark a Trump policy are cruelty, deception and incompetence, and all three seem to be on brilliant display here.

"As a policymaker, if you decide that separating parent from child is a necessity to deter the flow of asylum seekers, if you somehow convince yourself that's a wise and moral policy, then surely -- surely surely surely -- you recognize that you have taken on a fundamental responsibility.   Out of respect for the basic unit of society, the family, surely you make it a priority to ensure that what you have forcibly dismantled, you can later put back together again.   As a leader responsible for others, as a human being, surely you do that much.

"They did not do that much.

"You could call that incompetence, which it is, but its import runs much deeper.   The failure of the Trump administration to perform that basic function, to carry out the basic responsibility that they placed upon thgemselves, tells us that they just did not give a damn.   They didn't see these families as human beings to whom they had an obligation.  In the terminology of the president, they saw them as an 'infestation.'"
*     *     *     *     *

Maybe the message on Melania's jacket, as she boarded the plane to fly down to the border to visit the holding facilities for immigrant kids, was a real message -- not of her own disdain -- but more like a secret sign hung outside a prison window, trying to tell the world something she cannot say out loud.   That she is trapped by all kinds of Trumpian non-disclosure agreements and cannot speak freely, but she is trying to tell us that her husband and his people "just don't care."    Maybe the "Do you?" is a plea -- saying to us -- It's up to you to do something about this.


Sunday, June 24, 2018

Cruelty and incompetence may have gone too far and provoked a tectonic shift.

The Trump administration, and hence our government itself, has emerged in full flower this week -- and it is a cruel, chaotic mess.   It's now obvious that the original zero tolerance policy of incarcerating every person who crossed our Southern border without  legal authorization was put in place without planning or consideration of consequences.

Because of laws protecting children from being held in jail, this necessitated separating them from their mothers and/or fathers.   And now we find out that they had no plan whatsoever of how they might eventually reunite parents and children, who in many cases had been shipped to facilities half a continent away.  In another smaller number, some parents have already been deported without their kids, and don't even know where they are -- just somewhere in the U.S.

One activist worker found that, of some 40 mothers she worked with, whose children had been taken from them, not a single one knew where her children are.  And so far, the agency responsible is unable or unwilling to tell them.

Further, we now find out that this was intentional.   Our government was so intent on using separations as a deterrent (despite now denying it) that they weren't even thinking about families as human beings, or the effects of trauma on young lives, and the anguish of parents whose babies were, in effect, kidnapped and being held for ransom by the United States government.

The ransom demanded, of course, being forcing the Democrats to vote for the Republican version of an immigration bill, including fully funding Trump's stupid Wall.  This is coupled with the propaganda, willingly spread by the Trump TV network (aka Fox News) and the right-wing blathersphere.

Of course, those who get their news from other sources already knew that it was Donald Trump, egged on by senior policy adviser Stephen Miller whispering in his ear, that set this whole thing in motion with his original Executive Order.   It was as rashly and inadequately planned as was Miller's first big project:   Trump's original Muslim travel ban.

Here's what happened.   In the Obama administration, which was followed by Trump for the first year, those who crossed the border without authorization were picked up.   If they had no history of other criminal activity, they were given a court date and released -- which the Trump people derisively refer to as "catch and release."   Trump claims that only 3% ever show up to court.  That's not true.  No good records are kept, but one indication is that it may be as high as 70% who return to plead guilty and take their punishment.

The intent and effect of the Sessions-Trump zero tolerance policy is that every one who crosses the border illegally is now put in jail.   So that change is what created the problem of huge numbers of children separated from parents.    That's not to say that there were no separations before this.   Clearly, even for American citizens legitimately put in jail, their children can't go with them, except temporarily while other arrangements are made with family, friends, or social agencies.

It's the scale of the numbers that's different.   And that is different because Trump is treating as "criminal" -- as in serious crime requiring jail -- everyone who commits the misdemeanor of illegally crossing our borders.  That's what's different.   Misdemeanors don't usually get you jail time (think traffic violations, petty theft) if you have no previous record, which most of these parents do not, especially the ones fleeing for their lives and asking for asylum in the US.   Why treat them as criminals?    At the very least, they should not jail the ones seeking asylum who crossed illegally only because they were turned away at the border crossing without an asylum-eligible hearing?

Trump's second photo op Executive Order about not separating children doesn't solve the problem.   It just seems to temporarily calm the PR problem (which is also a very real, human problem) on separation.  But why not do the right thing and reverse the zero tolerance policy that says everyone has to go to jail simply for the misdemeanor of crossing illegally? 
He's done nothing to fix that.   It will result in private contractors now making billions to construct these tent internment camps to house tens of thousands of parents with their kids, plus other big contracts to provide beds and plumbing, and food.  This is not a solution.   If he really wanted to address the real problem, he wouldn't even need to set up a photo op (though of course he would do it anyway -- that man does love photo ops).   He could just send out an order to his Attorney General and Secretary of Homeland Security and tell them to stop putting misdemeanor offenders in jail.  Stop the zero tolerance policy.

Beyond all this, though, it's time to comment on the incompetence of this administration.   We've known the lack of staffing, plus the fact that President Trump does not pay much attention to those  he has -- except to a select few who tell him what he wants to hear.

In a complex policy decision with consequences like this, inter-agency coordination  is necessary.   You can't do it on a whim on the fly.   It requires planning by those who can anticipate problems because they have experience.

In contrast, Trump is as likely to take advice from Sean Hannity, or the friend with no government experience that he had a late night phone conversation with;  or base a decisions on the effect he thinks it will have on international trade, or how it will affect his polls.

This, folks, is what you get with someone like Trump.    He has no respect for those who know what they're talking about -- either through factual knowledge or long experience.   Rather, he believes what he hears in his own head, spouts it as fact (even when it's demonstrably the opposite), and that becomes United States policy.

One simple example:   Trump refuses to quit telling the lie that immigrants (especially those who come from our Southern neighbors) bring crime and drugs and disease;  he has just this week called them as "an infestation."   The fact has repeatedly been pointed out to him:   immigrants are less likely to commit a crime than those who were raised in the United States.   But Trump prefers to believe the voice in his head that says they're all MS-13 gang members or potential members.  He has to paint them as undesirable, even dangerous, in order to shore up his political base.

Long-time GOP strategist and adviser to presidential candidates Steve Schmidt  has resigned from the Republican party, saying that there is now only one major political party that will foster the restoration of our democratic principles and values -- and that is the Democratic Party.    Conservative columnist George Will has now also weighed in -- encouraging people to vote for Democrats in the midterm election.   Only with a Democratic majority in congress will any restraints be put on this president, because the Republicans are unable to muster the spine to stand up to him, according to Mr. Will.

Bad as this week has been, I have the feeling that we've seen the beginning of a tectonic shift.


Saturday, June 23, 2018

SCOTUS' decision on gerrymandering

The Supreme Court last week gave decisions on two cases involving gerrymandering for partisan purposes.    SCOTUS has previously decided against states that draw their voting district boundaries based on race and the voting advantage the party in power gets from that.

These cases in question involve not race -- which has already been ruled illegal -- but partisan politics. i.e, whether the party in power in the state can redraw voting districts simply for their own re-election advantage.  Wisconsin's districts in question were drawn by a Republican majority, while Maryland's were by a Democratic majority.

In both cases, SCOTUS punted on the larger question of whether using partisan political factors as the motive for redistricting is unconstitutional -- what has been termed "letting representatives choose their voters, rather than voters choosing their representatives.

That is the big question SCOTUS sidestepped.  Rather than deal with the big question, they found procedural reasons to reject hearings on these two cases.   In one, it claimed that plaintiffs had not demonstrated that they suffered harm and sent it back to the lower court;  in the other, the reason was lack of standing to sue.

However, the decisions left the constitutional question open for other challenges.

To be clear:   By avoiding the big question, the court DID NOT RULE THAT IT'S ALL RIGHT to use partisan factors;   they just did not rule on that larger question, choosing to put it off for another day, a better case, or whatever.

In fact, the case of North Carolina is in the pipeline and might perhaps be what they have their sights set on for the more comprehensive ruling.

   It's complicated.  Even if they should rule against allowing partisanship in redrawing district boundaries, decisions would need to set up some sort of standards by which to judge how much is too much.   And how it would be proved, how would it be policed, etc.   Only if the court simply ruled that redistricting must be done by some independent, non-partisan group could those questions be ignored.

Critics, who have fought against gerrymandering and see it as a key tool used by those who would suppress voting rights of minorities, were disappointed.   No doubt -- elections can be won or lost simply through just such tactics of the party in power.  The hope was that SCOTUS would issue a sweeping ruling that would make changes in time for the upcoming election.   That didn't happen, but perhaps there's still time for the 2020 presidential contest.


Friday, June 22, 2018

Trump's reversal maybe not all it seemed

Yesterday, after President Trump had signed an executive order to stop the forced separation of children from their parents who had come in illegally, we at first celebrated it as Trump having "given in" to the outrage and pressure from all corners, including congress itself.

But, hold on.   Let's read the fine print.   The Executive Order about keeping families together includes such language as "within the law and resources available."    That's an awful lot of wiggle room.

In addition, they have been forced to admit they have no plan for reuniting those children already separated from their parents.   It says something like:  "will no longer separate . . . "   What about the 2,000 already scattered around the country -- like the 300 who were taken to New York City to a facility there in the middle of the night, without even notifying the Mayor of NYC?   He was outraged.

I have no idea how many, but in some cases the mothers have already been deported without being reunited with their children.    This is criminal.  Some of these parents have done nothing except walk across the river into this country, after being denied entry at the border crossings -- even when they were asking for refugee asylum status.  At most, that is a misdemeanor and should not incur incarceration, the factor they used to justify separating the children from their parents.

We are not through with this, no matter how pious Trump is now trying to portray himself.


Thursday, June 21, 2018

Veteran GOP strategist quits party, writes scathing critique

Veteran GOP strategist, Steve Schmidt, former adviser in the Bush White House, has renounced his membership in the Republican party with a series of scathing tweets, calling it "corrupt, indecent, and immoral" and saying it has become "fully Trump's party."

*     *     *     *     *
Citing a few Republican governors as exceptions, in a series of tweets, Schmidt says the GOP:

". . . is filled with feckless cowards who disgrace and dishonor the legacies of the party's greatest leaders.   

"This child separation policy is connected to the worst abuses of humanity in our history.   It is connected by the same evil that separated families during slavery and dislocated tribes and broke up Native American families.   It is immoral and must be repudiated.   Our country is in trouble.  Our politics are badly broken.

"The first step to a season of renewal in our land is the absolute and utter repudiation of Trump and his vile enablers in the 2018 election by electing Democratic majorities.   I do not say this as an advocate of a progressive agenda.   I say this as someone who retains belief in DEMOCRACY and decency.

"On Ronald Reagan's grave are these words:   'I know in my heart that man is good.  That what is right will always eventually triumph and there is purpose and worth to each and every life.'   He would be ashamed of McConnell and Ryan and all the rest while this corrupt government establishes internment camps for babies.  Everyone of these complicit leaders will carry this shame through history.  Their legacies will be ones of well earned ignominy.   They have disgraced their country and brought dishonor to the Party of Lincoln.

"I have spent much of my life working in GOP politics.  I have always believed that both parties were two of the most important institutions to the advancement of human freedom and dignity in the history of the world.   Today the GOP has become a danger to our democracy and values.

"This independent voter will be aligned with the only party left in America that stands for what is right and decent and remains fidelitous to our Republic, objective truth, the rule of law and our Allies.   That party is the Democratic Party."

*     *     *     *     *
I've long admired Steve Schmidt, even when he was working for "the other party."   He speaks in very strong language, but he is not a hot-head.   He chooses his words carefully and conveys what he means.

Coming from him, this is the strongest statement yet to come forth in this time of horror enacted simply on the whim of a president too easily influenced by one or two advisers -- Stephen Miller, to be specific -- and by certain Fox News broadcasters who toady and feed him his lines.

It's not reassuring to hear reports from journalists' inside sources that say those around the president are very selective in pictures they show him and reports the give him so as not to upset him with conflicting evidence that calls his policy into question.   That makes them complicit enablers of the worst sort.

Schmidt is right.   This is a dangerous time for our democracy.   Not for Democrats, but for our democracy.   This way heads to autocracy, if not even fascism.


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Trump gives in, ends separations.

Pressure from fellow Republicans -- but most especially from public outrage -- grew so strong that Trump finally gave in and signed an executive order ending the separation of children from their parents at the border.  They will now be detained together, probably at military bases.

Growing pressure included:   (1) Microsoft workers calling on their own management to end the contract it has with ICE for data analysis.   They said they could not continue to do work that benefited such an inhumane policy;  (2) American and United airlines, which have contracts to fly government personnel, asked the government not to fly kids on their airlines that had been separated from their parents as part of the zero tolerance policy;  (3) a number of creative people involved in television shows aired on the Fox channel protested Fox's 24-hour, positive coverage of the border situation, including support for Trump's separation policy.


Ivanka Trump's deafening silence on child separations

First daughter and Special Assistant to the President, Ivanka Trump has women's and children's issues as part of her work portfolio.   Yet, she has said nothing publicly about the forcible, horrific separation of parents and children in our border detention centers.

First Lady Melania Trump, former First Ladies Laura Bush and Michelle Obama, and 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton have all called the policy inhumane, immoral, or cruel.

How can Ivanka Trump remain silent?    A mother with small children herself, who posts adorable pics of herself with her children on social media.   I'd like to think she's trying behind the scenes to change her father's actions.   But this is really another example against nepotism -- she should resign in protest, if she can't influence him on this.    But the father-daughter relationship makes that extra difficult.