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WEEKLY WONK

Originally Published: 6/23/2018

Immigrant Children:  The Department of Homeland Security finally admitted that 2,342 children have been separated from their parents since last month. (Washington Post) Outrage has been expressed all week because of the deplorable detention facilities, first reported by Senator Jeff Merkley (D, OR) (TWW, Immigration Detention, 6/9/18), but more importantly the inhumanity of taking children from their parents. The Trump administration has been accused of warehousing these children in Texas (NY Times, Washington Post, Reuters, Texas Tribune), Florida (ABC Local 10), Virginia (Houston Chronicle), and other places. ProPublica obtained a recording of the children crying who had just been separated from their parents while an agent jokes, “We have an orchestra here. All we need is a conductor.” Babies and toddlers are being sent to “tender age” shelters. (AP) And the NY Times did an exposé on the billion-dollar business of operating shelters for migrant children. Trump is really feeding their coffers. Even prestigious Republicans are speaking out. (Washington Post, The Hill, (Washington Post) But first lady Melania decided to make a personal showing in Texas. She wore a jacket designed by Zara that says on the back “I really don’t care. Do U?” (USA Today) Can she really be that obtuse? Or just so self-absorbed she has no inkling of what she’s doing? Or was this orchestrated for some reason? Watch what Stephen Colbert had to say about it. (You Tube) (This is one of his better ones.) Then it came out that the children are being given powerful drugs to keep them quiet. A lawsuit describes children as being held down and injected and being told they would not be released or see their parents unless they took medication. They were told they were receiving vitamins.” (Texas Tribune)

 

Separation Policy:  On May 7th Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the new “Zero-Tolerance” policy. (CBS) The new policy is that adults crossing the border - even those seeking asylum - who are accompanied by children will be prosecuted - even though the so-called crime is a misdemeanor. Children are separated from the adults as they go through the judicial process. By law children cannot be held in federal prisons so they are held in detention centers. (See above.) After the parents’ legal case is over they are supposed to be reunited with their children, but there is no clear system for this to happen (Guardian) and John Sandweg, the former Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) director, said that sometimes the separation is permanent. (NBC) Why are they implementing this? Well, according to Trump, it’s the law that Democrats gave us and they won’t get rid of it. I guess he’s counting on people not understanding how government works because he’s Republican with a Republican Congress. They could change anything they want without help from the Dems. But then there’s the fact that there isn’t any such law. (Washington Post) Sessions claims that following the law is in the Bible (CNN), information he probably got from the White House Bible Study group. (Think Progress) White House press secretary Sarah Sanders defended Sessions’ position. (Guardian) Of course, (a) there is no law and (b) the Bible isn’t a government document. The Trump policy was actually conceived almost immediately after Trump’s taking office by then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. The idea was abandoned as being too inhumane, but aide Stephen Miller, a rabid anti-immigrationist, (TWW, New Negotiations, 1/27/18; Travel Ban, 5/20/17; Stephen Miller, 2/18/17) never gave up. So, following the up-tick in border crossings, Trump implemented the policy. (NY Times) Me? Trump may be holding the kids as hostages until he gets his money for the wall or he may be just creating chaos so that we don’t pay attention to the other things he’s doing. (Check out the plans for the budget below.) If your outrage is as great of mine, I suggest you listen to John Oliver. He vented beautifully for all of us. (You Tube) I also suggest you read The Overton Window as I believe this tactic, which has been employed by the right for decades, is escalating under the Trump effect.

 

Retreat:  After changing the excuses “no fewer than 14 times” (Washington Post), on Wednesday Trump signed an Executive Order ending family separations. The order didn’t drop the “Zero Tolerance” policy. It just trades family separation for family detainment. The families will be incarcerated together. But there’s a problem with this. According to the 1997 Flores Settlement, the government can’t keep children in adult facilities. They must be placed in the least restrictive setting possible. (Washington Post) Also, a review of Flores in 2016 resulted in the court barring the government from keeping children in detention for more than 20 days. (NY Times) Since they probably won’t be able to get these families adjudicated in 20 days, this means the court rulings will probably be violated. So the Justice Department will seek a court order to revisit Flores, allowing them to detain the children for more than 20 days - meaning they know what they’re doing is illegal. His Order also says that families will be detained together “where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources.” This means that any public agency including the Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Defense - federal prisons and military bases - will be made available for the incarceration of these families. (The Nation) And, indeed, the next day the Health and Human Services (HHS) asked the Pentagon to assess how and where they would house as many as 20,000 unaccompanied migrant children. (NY Times) HHS has no plan for returning the children already taken from their parents. (The Intercept)

 

The Migration:  Why the up-tick in migration? Many, if not most, of the recent migrants seeking asylum are coming from Central America. We need to understand why this is happening and our role in the turmoil there. Check out the research by Brookings and how our prior deportations to the region are fueling the fire. (Slate)

 

Canada:  Pipeline incidents, like oil spills, spiked last year across Canada, “and an aging Montreal-Ontario line that has been plagued with safety problems and leaks is a major reason why.” In 2017 there were 41% more incidents than in 2016. (National Observer) The country has, however, become the “first major economy” to legalize recreational marijuana use. (NY Times)

 

China:  Trump threatened China with $200 billion in additional tariffs “if Beijing doesn’t bend to U.S. demands.” (Washington Post)

 

Gaza:  The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the “most serious escalation” of violence in the Gaza Strip “places the besieged enclave on the ‘brink of war.’” He is urging Israel and Hamas to recommit to the 2014 ceasefire agreement. (Al Jazeera)

 

Kansas:  U.S. District Court Judge Julie Robinson struck down the Kansas law “requiring proof of U.S. citizenship to register to vote.” (Reuters) She also ordered Kris Kobach, the secretary of state who represented the state in the courtroom, to attend 6 hours of continuing legal education classes “for ‘repeated and flagrant violations’ of federal rules requiring disclosure of evidence before trial.’” (ABA Journal)

 

Nevada:  After intense lobbying by Nevada’s governor and representatives, the U.S. Treasury reversed a decision and allowed a previously ineligible county in Nevada to reap huge benefits from the new tax law. Storey County will now be designated as an Opportunity Zone, zones that were established to help distressed areas attract money. “Treasury officials had initially deemed that Storey County’s income levels were too high to qualify, based on the metrics they had used to judge every other nomination for the special tax status. But after weeks of prodding from Nevada officials, Treasury relented and gave the designation to Storey County using new data.” (Washington Post)

 

Washington D.C.:  Voters approved an initiative to raise the minimum wage for tipped workers to $15 by 2025. Of course, restaurant owners are against the initiative, but so are workers “who say it will drive up labor costs and force eateries to close.” It’s expected that they’ll pressure the city council not to enact it. (Washington Post)

 

House Budget:  Steve Womack (R, AR), chair of the House Budget Committee, has issued the draft of the committee’s budget resolution, a blueprint of where the committee wants to go. It proposes balancing the budget in 9 years “through a combination of steep cuts in mandatory spending programs [read Medicare and Medicaid], freezing nondefense discretionary spending, and banking on robust economic growth.” (Roll Call)

 

Defense Appropriation: The Senate passed a $716 billion defense bill. However, as expected, the bill included an amendment that would kill Trump’s agreement to allow ZTE to resume business with U.S. suppliers. (TWW, ZTE, 6/16/18) The bill must be reconciled with the House bill and then Trump will need to sign it. Given the ZTE amendment, this could be an issue. (Reuters)

 

Gerrymandering:  The Supremes “sidestepped” weighing in on gerrymandering by sending the cases from Wisconsin and Maryland back to lower courts for more action. They unanimously ruled that Wisconsin Democrats didn’t have standing to sue “because they challenged it on a statewide basis rather than focusing on individual legislative districts.” (Reuters) But the justices voted to remand the case back to the district court “to allow another chance to establish standing.” (Roll Call) They also ruled unanimously against the Republican challengers “to a Democratic plan to redraw a Maryland congressional district.” The court said the challengers had waited too long to seek an injunction since the district was drawn in 2011. They are also sending the Maryland case back to district court. (NY Times)

 

Internet Sales:  In a 5 to 4 vote, the Supremes ruled that Internet retailers can be required to collect sales taxes in states where they have no physical presence. This will provide an even playing field for retailers with brick-and-mortar businesses in the states that have long had to collect taxes. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion and was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch. (NY Times) Now, there’s some strange bedfellows!

 

Privacy:  The Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement generally needs a warrant to collect mobile phone tower records “that show someone’s location over an extended period.” It was a 5 to 4 decision but with a twist. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for the majority. He was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Stephen Breyer. Dissenting were, of course, the usual 4. (Bloomberg)

 

Immigration:  The House couldn’t come up with an immigration bill - again. Any one surprised? This bill that was rejected 193 to 231 was put forth by conservatives - the so-called Freedom Caucus, formerly known as the Teapartiers. The good news is that so many people are against what they propose. (Roll Call) What is frightening is that so many representatives voted against the bill because, as they complained, they “didn’t know what Trump wants.” (Yahoo) They have to wait to find out what he wants?

 

Immigrant Crime:  Trump has been saying that his draconian immigration policies are because of the high crime rate for immigrants. This is not borne out by the facts. According to a 2017 report from the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, 1.53% of native-born Americans are incarcerated, compared with 0.85% of undocumented immigrants, and 0.47% of legal immigrants. The Marshall Project, in a 2018 analysis of data from 200 metropolitan areas over the last few decades, found that crime has fallen despite the immigrant population increasing. And a study published in the Annual Review of Criminology found that immigration has little effect on crime.

 

Food Stamps:  After failing the first time, the House passed a farm bill that includes stricter work requirements for food stamp recipients. (Washington Post) I’ll bet the Senate concurs.

 

Voting Machines:  Election Systems and Software (ES&S), the nation’s largest voting equipment vendor, has - for the last 9 years - “coaxed” state and local election officials to serve on an “advisory board” that has annual ES&S-sponsored conferences at ritzy places. Last year’s was in a Las Vegas resort hotel. Most of the election officials accepted “airfare, lodging, meals and, according to one participant, a ticket to a show on the Strip” from the vendor. (McClatchy) Conflict of interest?

 

Overhauling Government:  The Trump administration has begun its overhaul of the federal government. First step - consolidating the Departments of Education and Labor. Second Step - shifting control of the food stamp program from the Agriculture Department - but I haven’t seen where it’s going yet. Also, the plan calls for overhauling the Postal Service, “including the possible privatization of mail delivery.” (Bloomberg

 

United Nations:  The United States has withdrawn from the UN Human Rights Council. I’ll bet our ambassador, Nikki Haley, was afraid she’d be required to vote on a sanction against us for our incarceration and drugging of children after taking them away from their parents. It was the first time a member has voluntarily left the Council. “The United States now joins Iran, North Korea, and Eritrea as the only countries that refuse to participate in the council’s meetings and deliberations.” (NY Times)

 

Tariffs:  The European Union started charging import duties of 25% on a range of U.S. products “in response to U.S. tariffs imposed on EU steel and aluminum.” The tariff will be placed on steel and aluminum products, farm produce such as sweetcorn and peanuts, bourbon, jeans, and motor bikes. (Reuters)

 

ACA:  Trump has found another way to weaken the Affordable Care Act. He’s instituting a new rule that’ll make it easier for small businesses to band together to create health insurance plans that skirt many requirements of the ACA, offering lower costs but also fewer benefits. (NY Times)

 

Public Transit:  The rightwing group Americans for Prosperity, funded by the Koch brothers, is orchestrating local chapters to fight against expanding public transit in cities and counties across the country. While the Koch brothers have been fighting against taxes and for smaller government for decades, I believe, as an oil company, the Koch brothers are more concerned about public transit that will reduce the public’s dependency on gasoline. (NY Times)

 

Great Lakes & Oceans:  Trump has issued an Executive Order repealing Obama’s Executive Order “that was meant to protect the Great Lakes and the oceans bordering the United States.” Trump has decided it is more important to protect ocean industries than the oceans themselves. (The Hill)

 

Wealth of Millionaires:  We know that wages are falling for most of American workers (TWW, Falling Wages, 6/16/18), but, hey, here’s a surprise. The wealth of millionaires rose in 2017 for the 6th straight year but this time it surged 10.6% to top $70 trillion.” “The number of high net worth individuals . . . those having investable assets of $1 million or more (excluding primary residence, collectibles, consumables, and consumer durables) - grew almost 10%, 1.6 million, to 18.1 million in 2017.” (USA Today) So, now you know where all those lost wages are going.

 

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