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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Trump Budget and Child Abuse

Caution!  This blog may be unsettling, because it is about child abuse, or the threat thereof.  The perpetrators may not only surprise you; the accusations against them may not be to your liking.
I encourage you to read further at a cautious pace, and absorb as much as you can.  It may change your mind about the level of child abuse in this country, and about who some of the people are behind a certain kind of child abuse.
First, let me paint a picture and see if you can envision why this is written in the way it is.
Suppose you knew of a large group of men (and some women) who were involved in a scheme or a plan to abuse or neglect a very large number of young children?  Suppose you found that they had access to some of your money, and were using your dollars to take away from these children some specific things that would cause them to become sick or to lose some safety items that enable them to ward off or protect themselves against harm or death?  Let’s say you had uncovered a conspiracy within this group to take away something from their parents that was enabling those parents to protect them and to enable them to develop into healthy and productive adults?  And, one step further, what if you discovered that this cadre of men and women was using your dollars and your backing to perpetrate this whole scheme while protecting themselves from responsibility, blame or consequences for their actions?  What would you do?
Second, let me give you a brief primer on child abuse definition.  Ready?
Child abuse is a crime that encompasses a variety of behaviors involving physical, emotional, or sexual mistreatment or neglect upon a child.”
State child abuse laws define child abuse as any act (or failure to act) that:
  1. Results in imminent risk or serious harm to a child's health and welfare due to physical, emotional, or sexual abuse;
  2. affects a child (typically under the age of 18);
  3. by a parent or caregiver who is responsible for the child's welfare.
In most states, the harm must have been inflicted by non-accidental means. This includes intentional acts, actions that were careless, and acts of negligence.   Also, the ‘harm’ inflicted upon a child need not be actual, but may include ‘threats’ or ‘risks of imminent harm’.”  http://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-charges/child-abuse-overview.html
Yes, I have taken liberties by bolding and underlining certain words, but those words are key to a definition of child abuse that most of us ignore.  We are much more apt to look for recognizable physical acts of abuse, rather than for inaction, negligence, or risks of imminent harm as being abusive.  But, according to these common definitions used by the states (and the feds as well), they are as illegal as physical or mental abuse.
So, hear me out.  What if you applied this definition of abuse to what you had discovered?  Would you begin to believe that the group was at the very least committing acts that could be labeled negligent, causing threats of harm to anxious parents, including the risk of imminent hurt to their children? Leaving that question aside for the moment,  let us take another step.
What I propose to do now is to lay out for you three examples of what I consider to be child abuse, not in terms of physical or mental or sexual abuse acts, but under the terms we have just discussed: inaction, neglect, threats and risks of imminent harm.  See if you can agree that the perpetrators could well fall under a general definition of caregiver:  "an unpaid or paid member of a person's social network who helps them with activities of daily living.” 
Moreover, if the definition of caregiver is expanded to reflect the care given by others in the social network (that could include all of us), then anyone paid to be responsible for domestic tranquility, the general welfare, and to secure the blessings of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, might well be considered a caretaker in a very broad sense, but also in a very real sense.  More on that thought later.  First, the three examples of child abuse:
EXAMPLE (1) If you were interacting with a group of pre-school children in an educational, care-giving, developmental setting that included an opportunity for those children to develop skills and understanding that would give them a leg-up on other children their age as they entered elementary school, what would you think of a cadre of adults who swooped down on that center and began moving out the furniture, shooing children out the door to fend for themselves?  What would be your response to their firing adult mentors and making them leave the building or of them telling any parents who showed up that their children would no longer have such ineffective and inefficient “fun and games?”  And then, have the raiders shut all the doors and windows and exit the building, leaving behind broken hearts, broken toys, no furniture no teachers and caregivers, just an empty building.
Sound familiar?  That’s right – it’s Head Start, on the Trump chopping block for cuts of enormous size, along with other Education programs (credit FirstFocus.org for much of what follows)
EARLY CHILDHOOD--    Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) funding decreased.  This is the primary government program that helps low-income families obtain child care.  
Head Start funding reduced. Like the CCDBG, the proposed FY 2018 budget seeks to fund Head Start at FY 2016 levels and excludes the increase contained in the FY 2017 final Omnibus appropriations bill. The highly successful Head Start program provides comprehensive health, education, nutrition, and parent involvement services to low-income families to improve the early health and education of young children.   
Preschool Development Grant eliminated.  These grants allowing states to improve their preschool infrastructure by enabling them to develop high quality preschool programs have been zeroed out in Trump’s budget.  But there’s still more…
EDUCATION Title I reduced. The budget is asking for $578 million below FY17 for Title I, which addresses disparities in education resources for low-income students by targeting funds to public schools in areas of concentrated poverty.
Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) cut.  The budget includes a 7 percent reduction to EHCY, which serves more than 1.2 million students experiencing homelessness in the public-school system by providing protections and services to ensure they can enroll in and attend school, complete their high school education, and continue to higher education.
 21st Century Learning Centers eliminated. The budget does not fund the $1.2 billion for before- and after-school programs that support academic achievement for low-income students, including providing nutrition to students during the summer.
EXAMPLE (2) Picture having a child or grandchild with a serious disease, a malformed heart, or a cancerous liver.  Let’s say the only treatment available is at one of the premier children’s hospitals in the nation.  The first thing that comes to mind is of course, the ability of the child to undergo major treatment and even surgery to repair the damage.  The second thing, undoubtedly, is the expense, not only of treatment, surgery, doctors, surgeons, tests, equipment, etc., but also the added cost of having to arrange and pay for temporary residential arrangements away from home at some distance because back-and-forth trips would not be feasible.  Oh yes, and what about the other kids at home?  Another story perhaps. 
Parents find themselves facing costs they never expected in their lives.  They begin to search for financial aid from government and the social worker at the hospital says, “I’m terribly sorry, but the main source of funds in these cases used to be Medicaid, but it isn’t available now for your child’s case.  We’ll have to look elsewhere.  How about family or friends?  Money-raisers? Savings?  All-of-a-sudden, the situation becomes darker with the prospect of long-term care being a necessity.  Where do the parent’s turn?  Bankruptcy becomes one of the options, and despair and fear begin to creep into the picture. 
Got the Picture?  It’s all related to Medicaid and CHIPS re-structuring and funding.
HEALTH-- The Trump budget cuts Medicaid funding by $610 billion, ending the Medicaid entitlement and changing the program into a system financed through block grant or per capita payments to states beginning in 2020.  With more than 37 million children in America relying on Medicaid for their health insurance, cuts of this magnitude would have a dramatic impact on health care access, coverage, and benefits for our nation’s children. The proposed Medicaid cuts are in addition to $880 billion in Medicaid cuts that are currently pending before Congress.  Combined, those Medicaid cuts would result in slashing the program by an astonishing $1.5 trillion over the next decade.
While some child-focused programs remained flat or received modest increases, others are zeroed out in the president’s budget. They include Emergency Medical Services for Children, Autism and Other Developmental Disorders, and Universal Newborn Hearing Screening.  And then, there is CHIPS
Should Congress fail to extend CHIP funding, states will rapidly exhaust their federal allotments. MACPAC estimates that by March 2018, 31 states and the District of Columbia will run out of CHIP funding; by June 2018, all states but Wyoming will be without funding.
 The Trump administration has proposed significant reductions to current CHIP funding levels:
a lowering of CHIP’s upper income eligibility limit to 250 percent of poverty, which would affect programs in 28 states.   
 For the 4.7 million CHIP children covered through Medicaid, federal payments to states would drop to the normal Medicaid matching rate, creating a considerable funding shortfall that states would need to offset.
 For the 3.7 million children covered through separate CHIP programs, all federal funding would cease and states would have to move these children to Medicaid, replace separate program funding out of state revenues, or end coverage entirely.
MACPAC estimates that ending CHIP funding could translate into a complete coverage loss for 1.1 million children, while millions more would face significantly higher coverage costs. Furthermore, ending a public program involves months of planning, multiple administrative steps, and enough time to try to help families find alternative coverage. http://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/issue-briefs/2017/sep/extending-chip-high-stakes-families-states

EXAMPLE (3) Picture, if you will, the enormous factor adequate food is to a child’s life and development. Here’s a brief paragraph that tells the story:





Why Is Nutrition Important for Children?  Nutrition is very important for everyone, but it is especially important for children because it is directly linked to all aspects of their growth and development; factors which will have direct ties to their level of health as adults. For example, a child with the right balance of omega fatty acids in their daily diet has a much better chance at creating a more solid foundation for their brain activity and capabilities in later life. 
 HUNGER AND NUTRITION -  President Trump’s proposed FY 18 budget seeks to cut SNAP (food stamps) by $193 billion over 10 years. Currently, more than 20 million children are served by SNAP.  With nearly half of every SNAP dollar going directly to kids, the program combats hunger for the 1 in 5 children living in “food insecure” households. SNAP is one of the most effective ways to fight child poverty and is also credited with boosting academic performance in kids, which, in turn, helps them lay a foundation for economic self-sufficiency.

And, please don’t forget those school meal programs that are also being cut.  Going hungry in class is not amenable to achieving a quality education.
In many other ways, Trump’s $4.1 trillion budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2018 seeks massive cuts to critical programs that help American children and families.  It takes aim at all areas of life that impact kids: health, education, poverty, housing, immigration, and foster care.    Below is a brief account of how other administration proposals for FY 2018 spending will affect the well-being of children and families. 
HOUSING & HOMELESSNESS -  The homelessness rate of American children and youth continues to skyrocket, but President Trump’s proposed budget aims to make massive cuts to homeless assistance and affordable housing programs that help children and families:   National Housing Trust Fund  This program provides resources to build and rehabilitate housing, including rental housing, for low-income families. About one-quarter of this spending, or $35 million, goes to children. 
 Legal Services Corporation (LSC) eliminated. This important organization provides civil legal services for low income families, including representation for families facing eviction.    The proposed budget also seeks to cut $133 million from Homeless Assistance Grants, $15 million from the Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes Grants, and cut the Tenant Rental Assistance Program by 5 percent.
INCOME SUPPORT -- The White House budget proposes a devastating cut of $21 billion over 10 years to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, the primary cash assistance program for low-income families with children. Fully 75 percent of TANF funding goes to children. Income support is critical to healthy child development and academic achievement. It helps parents provide the resources needed for economic mobility – such as transportation to work, childcare, and educational materials for their kids. 
Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) eliminated. This vital program currently funds an array of services for children, including child care, child abuse prevention, adoption assistance, and transitional services. Currently, states use about 35% of SSBG dollars for child welfare services… 
Cuts to Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit. Trump wants to cut $40 billion from the Earned Interest Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) over 10 years. In 2015 alone, the EITC and CTC helped lift more than 5 million children out of poverty. Low Income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP) eliminated. Nearly one-quarter of all funding for this critical program is directed toward children.   
CHILD WELFARE -- there are several programs that have been reduced or cut that will heavily impact how states use federal dollars to support their child welfare programs, which puts the safety and well-being of children in care at risk.
 Adoption Opportunities Program cut by $9 million - helps children achieve permanency by providing funds to eliminate barriers to adoption and helping find permanent families for children
 The elimination of the Social Security Block Grant and reduction of TANF funds also greatly impacts child welfare systems since states use these funding streams to supplement child welfare programs. Cuts to Medicaid also significantly impact child welfare populations since most are covered through Medicaid and rely on it for physical health exams and mental health services and therapies.
One more point (and there are many more to make in this story): some programs that hurt and harm children with cuts are programs we so not readily associate with them.  Take just two of many: 

 Affordable housing
“President Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget request seeks to raid some of the most flexible and effective grant dollars that communities receive from the federal government to meet affordable-housing and economic-development needs.

Governors, mayors and other officials use funds from Department of Housing and Urban Development initiatives, such as the HOME Investment Partnerships and the Community Development Block Grant programs, to build and preserve housing, support first-time home buyers, open community centers and supplement services for the homeless, elderly and disabled. These funds would be eliminated in this proposal, which could result in 580,000 fewer affordable homes created and more than 350,000 jobs lost over the next five years. Eliminating these programs will leave cities and towns with too-limited funds, leading to local tax increases that stifle economies and limit mobility. (Henry Cisneros (HUD secretary, 1993 to 1997) quoted in the Washington Post)
Environmental Protection – see my Blog post for 6/3/2014 titled ‘Misusing the Power of the Purse” and let me conclude today’s blog post with some words from that posting:
“Now let me add to that the abuse of children that Congress has allowed to happen by neglect and inaction, as well as by active cutting of programs that benefit children and families.  Because I have spoken before of this (see blog postings for 4/13/2014, 2/17/2014, 3/14/2013, 3/3/2013), I will make it brief and to the point.  Pre-natal care is essential for children yet unborn.  Affordable healthcare is a must for children if they are to grow as they should and to face life without the effects of childhood diseases; they must have a first-class education that prepares them for life's work and life's demands, beginning with a pre-K program that starts them off with an advantage; they must be protected from environmental hazards; they must be encouraged and enabled to graduate from college;  they must be nurtured by families that are themselves not put at risk by either private or public decisions that can harm their lives.  Children must be nourished in many ways:  by caring people, with the right foods, the best education possible, and with a vast array of possibilities for living a fruitful and meaningful life. 
 “The Republican Radicals in Congress have decided that none of this is true or possible.  They have instead decided to cut funding for almost every program that benefits, encourages, nurtures and promotes children:  research, universal pre-K education, housing for the homeless and the poor, adequate funding for all schools and the resources necessary to bring about a world-class education for all; they cut Head Start, Aid to children and families, food stamps, and housing subsidies, and still want to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  They have neglected children with special needs; have cut Pell grants and neglected to cut back on interest rates for student loans.  They neglect entirely the special needs of homeless children, children with disabilities, children who will not go to college, and of those who drop out of school.  They have done nothing to reform the juvenile justice system or the over-incarceration of drug-abusers.  They have neglected the potential of minority children and have instead laid the groundwork for them to be labeled as perpetual felons with no vote, no rights and no jobs.  I call this abuse and neglect of children who are our most valuable resource.  The congressional naysayers are child abusers and for that they must be called to account.  Impeachment for them is too mild.” 
I would simply add that the burden of proof as to whether “direct harm” or the threat of such, has been caused to specific children by congressional and presidential action or inaction (neglect) is no further away than the records of social service, Medicaid and other offices, doctors’ medical records, hospital records, housing authorities, etc.  It is simply a matter of equalizing the investigation of abuse and neglect by these politicians with the same unrelenting sleuthing when parents or relatives or strangers are involved.  The proof is there – passing or signing legislation is a potentially abusive action, and we need to make that fact stick through numerous class action lawsuits on behalf of the millions and millions of children who have been abused and neglected by the politicians we elect to represent and protect them as their surrogate caregivers. (Is that why Legal Services got eliminated, so the poor have nowhere to turn?)  
And let’s not forget, voters who continuously return abusive politicians to office are themselves abettors of abuse, neglecting their duty to protect their own children and grandchildren.  I speak directly to those many seniors who supported Donald Trump, and who, by so doing, have unleashed a child abuser upon their own grandchildren and on my grandchildren.  Shame on you!  You, and others, can redeem yourselves by never ever voting again for politicians who willfully or neglectfully support cutting back on programs that benefit our children and grandchildren. It’s time to stand up and challenge the child abusers in the White House and in the Congress.

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, September 29, 2017

Player Protest Not Aimed at Flag

Donald Trump has unwittingly raised issues about patriotism that he doesn’t seem to understand when he tweets about honoring the flag and the national anthem.  Along with many others, Trump appears to believe that the flag in and of itself contains some sort of intrinsic value.  A patriotic symbol is just that – a symbol.  It stands for something, but does not possess worth, nor deserve honoring on its own merit.  It has no life.  It has no inner or outer value or status.  Flags and anthems do not themselves have records of community service or military service or patriotic sacrifice, although they may represent such.

The flag and the anthem do represent some of our history, our deeds and our life as a nation.  Much of that life deserves to be honored and perhaps revered.  But a flag is not that which it represents; it is at most a reminder of that which makes a nation worthy of respect, honor, praise and celebration, even of sacrifice.  To imbue and infuse the flag or the national anthem with an intrinsic power, value or life, is to make animated idolatrous objects of inanimate objects, transforming them into something they are not able to be. 
What makes such idolatry a problem is exactly what Donald Trump has done in attempting to punish or disparage people who will not “respect” (“worship?”) those lifeless objects. For that very reason, it is appropriate to call Trump to account for undermining a fundamental right of all Americans granted under the First Amendment:  the “right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for redress of grievances.” 
There seems to be a tendency in this country to make patriotic symbols, songs, and relics into something they are not meant to be: a test of patriotism.  One problem: symbols mean different things to different citizens, and people with different backgrounds.  Trump wants the flag and the anthem to represent something that he considers patriotic.  He wants the flag to symbolize victory in wars, a history full of triumphs, and certainly the bravery and courage of men and women (maybe?) in the military.  He certainly wants it to represent unfettered capitalism, earning of much profit, the triumph of making contracts and developing land into thriving businesses and enterprises.  Perhaps he even believes that the flag represents the freedoms and liberties that he enjoys as a rich white man.  Clearly, Trump does not recognize that national symbols may represent a much different reality to others.  He obviously cannot relate to many of the players in the NFL who have negative feelings about some of the history that the flag represents to them, not all of it in the past. 
Another problem is the inadequacy of a symbol itself to inspire.  Take the national anthem.  It supposedly represents bravery and honor in battle, and the inspiration of seeing the flag survive the “rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air.” Our national anthem is one more attempt to make the flag into an idol, a living breathing entity with power to inspire even though it has nothing to offer except its inanimate presence.  In contrast, those embroiled in the background battle itself receive no mention.  Further, our national anthem makes no mention of American humanitarianism, our many worthwhile institutions, or our beautiful land.  Our anthem glorifies an object that survives a battle, and glorifies war as somehow positive and uplifting.  ‘America’ and ‘America the Beautiful’ are much more reflective of the national character than what was chosen as our “national anthem.”
Right there is my argument with the Donald and many of his followers.  The focus of this nation’s patriotism needs to be on the People, not on the flag or the anthem, nor on statues, slogans, fables, or even on the wars we have fought and sometimes won.  We need to stop making war and victory in war the over-whelming theme of our symbols, but instead, need to emphasize our constitutional mission of making life better for people -- ourselves and others.  When our symbols of national pride fail to represent our national character, and our fundamental democratic and humanitarian values, they deserve to be questioned as to their validity.  But more to the point of the current protests, it is our government that needs to be called to account for those actions and policies that undermine that character and that Mission.   
So, here we are in a conflict that is as old and as enduring as our country.  And it comes down to racial attitudes, for that is what has blemished our history from our beginnings through 241 years right up until this very moment in time.  Whether we like it or not, our progress and our underlying values; our victories and our feats of strength and bravery do not erase our failures and our flaws, or the facts of history.
We have still within our systems and our institutions a built-in discrimination against certain groups and certain beliefs.  And we not only maintain those institutional and moral flaws, we are, as a nation, being led down a road that embraces discrimination, unequal justice, lack of equal opportunity, and built-in restrictions for those who are of different ethnic, religious, and racial backgrounds, or sexual orientation; plus those with physical or mental limitations or characteristics that we consider ‘not normal’ or ‘unacceptable.’  Like it or not, we are still a nation full of biases, discriminatory attitudes, and values, even hatreds, that belong to a slave-owning mentality.  And Donald Trump is leading us to “make American great again by using the bully pulpit (and his Twitter Tweets) to support and characterize neo-fascists, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis as “good people” and as part of his ‘base.’
We have made progress in certain areas, but we are finding, under Trump, that we have reverted to a neo-fascist, white supremacist, nationalistic fervor and fever that has been kept underground for some time. You may be, as I was, shocked to learn that the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified more than 915 groups classified as ‘hate groups’ in the United States, and this number is growing. We are also finding that discrimination is still evident in our systems and institutions where extremists are not necessarily present, but where ordinary white folk and others keep alive in our culture and its organizations and institutions -- by their denial, their apathy and their aversion to change -- the very discriminatory rules and attitudes that we think we are overcoming (like allowing failing schools in inner cities). We aren’t, we haven’t, but we must.
There is a deep divide in this country about race, immigration and justice (as there has always been) between people of color and those classified as “white.”  That divide has manifested itself in many ways, but began its awful journey with the institution of slavery under which we developed concepts that have never left us, such as:
§  Superiority of one race (white) over other races (mainly dark-skinned)
 
§  The smug and subtle concept that black and brown are colors associated with dirt, unworthiness (blackballed, black-listed, black-hearted), ignorance, animalistic nature, and that such black people will never progress beyond a certain level (welfare queens).

§  The equally subtle constuct that darkness bespeaks a criminal nature; white supremacists declare that these are people who are lawless, who will commit crimes as part of their predatory, animalistic nature.  And our criminal justice system backs that up with harassment, violent handling of demonstrators of color, unjustified killing of black or brown persons who threaten the person or authority of police, and the unequal treatment received in the courts where African American men are sentenced far more severely than their white counterparts, often for the same crime.

§  Central to white supremacists is the axiom that black and brown people are less than full persons or citizens and they should be denied the vote whenever and wherever possible, or their votes should be minimized by gerrymandering them into small districts that have little clout anywhere
 
§  The preservation of symbols of oppression that keep “history” alive: from guns to the confederate flag, to statues of generals on horseback to the arousal caused by the singing of “Dixie” –  some are protesting their existence and want then taken down; others are fighting to keep them displayed somewhere so that Southern history is preserved. But “the history” lives on in the removal of the confederate flag from the statehouse by Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina touted as something that might bind-up the wounds of the past, while ignoring all the statistics that showed clearly that state’s neglect of African Americans in almost every meaningful category of life (see my Blog titled: “Flag Removed: One More Detour?” posted on 7/12/2015).
Well, I’m all for preserving history, but not if that history leaves out a slew of basics, like:

§  the Civil War was fought over maintaining slavery of Africans who were bought and sold at market-places; or, that

§  the economy of the South was built on the backs of those slaves who experienced horrendously de-humanizing conditions, like having their families split apart, being refused an education, being whipped for the slightest ‘offense,’ slave women being used as concubines, men being made into “boys”, and finally, the listing of slaves as 3/5’s of a person so they could be counted in the U.S. census without being declared citizens. 

§  after the Emancipation Proclamation was put into effect, the growth of Jim Crow laws did everything possible to keep former slaves from becoming full citizens who could vote, own property, attend good schools.  Those freedmen could easily get lynched for whatever the white establishment declared to be an offense against (their) society and their Jim Crow laws (many of which were unwritten but nonetheless ‘enforced’ by the KKK and others).   
So, let us come back to where we started: the denunciation of the protests of NFL Players ‘taking a knee’ during the national anthem and pledge of allegiance to the flag.  Trump wants them fired for showing such disrespect to those symbols.  And so do others, according to some recent polls.

I come down on a side that we hear little about.  I want the players, and all the rest of us to be able to protest injustice and bigotry, an over-abundance of violence, the killing of innocent people and the denigration of democratic values and principles such as free speech and freedom of the press, without threats of reprisal.  I personally want the right to express grievances in peaceful demonstrations but still have the support of others for the citizenship, patriotism and personhood of those who are protesting in the spirit of our American Revolution and our Constitution.    
In other words, let us give up the absurdity that there is only one way to react patriotically to the facts of our history, and to our behavior as a nation and as a community.  Like so many of our Founding Fathers, I want the choice and the right to be a revolutionary, a protestor of the loss of primacy of law replaced by the whims of leaders who worship power and control (otherwise known as ‘Law & Order”), and the cult of ‘might makes right’. 

I am not in favor of making idols out of flags, statuary and symbols.  The NFL players are not disrespecting the flag or the anthem; they are expressing a grievance and displeasure with the failure of this administration (and others of the past) to address inequality, lack of equal opportunity, police violence and the patent injustices of the justice system.  They believe that ‘Black Lives Matter’ and that those lives should not be allowed to be snuffed out or devastated by police or by ordinary citizens who keep covert rules and norms alive in our institutions that extend all the way back to slavery. 

Kneeling is a sign of respect.  The player protest grows out of a respect for their brothers and sisters, and mothers and fathers, who have had their lives made less than whole by people who still pledge their allegiance to follow that “partly human” - ‘3/5’s of a person’ – phrase in the Constitution as applied to slaves of the past and to people of color in the present.    Player protests (and many others) are not against the flag and its pledge of allegiance, or about the national anthem.  It is about the 240+ years of bigotry and racism that has plagued our nation’s character and behavior.  It is about lives that matter but that have been, and are still being, singled-out for disruption and punishment beyond the norm for the white establishment. 
Let us at least get it straight that protests are not against inanimate objects; they are against human entities that ignore, challenge and deny the basic rights of a group of citizens simply because they are not of European ancestry.  It is a protest against government that consciously rewards rich white people, and that consciously and concurrently denies travel to this country from Muslim countries, bans trans-gender people from the armed forces, retracts hundreds of regulations that protect citizens (such as young women on college campuses), leaving them with no avenues of appeal.  It is about the violence displayed by neo-Nazis and white supremacists against peaceful protestors in Charlottesville; it is all about the delay in bringing to justice the young white male who drove his car into that city’s crowd of protestors killing a young woman.  It is about not just the attempted repeal of Obamacare, but about the attempt to wipe away coverage for millions of people who now have health care under Obamacare but will be without it under any brand of ‘Trumpcare', because the Republican Party is all about radical Right-wing ideology and not about healthcare for poor people.
This protest is mainly about unequal and destructive treatment of people of color. Trump talks a good game, but his actions speak louder than words:  like not going to Puerto Rico until weeks after the devastation there; like not calling for immediate justice for the Nazi executioner driving that death car in Charlottesville; like not condemning the perpetrators of violence in other cities and suburbs like Ferguson and East St. Louis; instead always coming down on the side of law & order which means on the side of whites while condemning the criminal character of the inner cities and of certain immigrants (Mexicans for one). 

The destructive treatment goes on and on, with little done about any of it, except to excuse those who spend their time promoting such bias and discrimination.  Those that kill innocent black men (and women) keep getting away with those killings, and Donald Trump sits idly by ready to tweet something about the NFL player protest which he may have purposefully planned to divert public attention and anger over his stance on DACA, and his ‘threats’ to North Korea.  He Tweets, but does not act to overcome the deaths and denigration of people of color. 
The player protest is also one of sorrow that there are still many people of color who have given up on voting because they cannot see what good it will do to keep electing people who will not do what needs to be done; to vote for people who do not care about them. 
The protests are against representatives of the people, not against inanimate objects that in themselves have no power to do anything but be symbols.  If Trump and his minions want citizens to respect the flag, the pledge, the anthem and our Constitution, then he and his administration, including Congress, must take actions that correct the overt wrongs, violence and inequities, the overt discriminatory acts and behaviors, as well as the covert acts of restriction, denigration and denial that exist within our institutions.  Let us insist that legislators and administrators ‘take a knee’ to reclaim and rejuvenate their oaths of office to protect all the People (including protestors) and to secure the People's Welfare, with equal justice for all as our patriotic Mission.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Fundamental Manipulations

Since January 22nd of 2017, many have been asking what can we do about the ego-maniacal, undemocratic, unqualified, unsophisticated, inept and narcissistic boor occupying the office of President?  More fundamentally, what can we do about a system that has been captured and re-constituted by oligarchs who are using that system to their utmost advantage and enrichment just as Donald Trump is doing right now as we speak?

 Answers have been in the form of resistance and action, some of which have led to positive outcomes such as the recent departure of certain key advisors in the White House, chief among them: Steve Bannon. While such outcomes are satisfying, they do not resolve fundamental problems that now infiltrate our system of governance.  Here are just a few examples, in brief, that go to fundamentals of our Constitution, like free speech, the right to vote, immigration and naturalization, and the general welfare of our citizens:
  • Citizens United decision by the SCOTUS granted free speech rights to corporations as individuals so that money donated to third party PACs could be seen as unlimited free speech in the form of unlimited contributions.
  • Another decision by SCOTUS invalidated section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which had allowed the federal government to pre-inspect the voting requirements of certain states who had violated freedom to vote in the past, in respect to certain minorities and other groups.  That one decision prompted several states to move quickly to put laws and procedures in place that made it much harder for members of some groups (known to favor Democrats when voting) to gain access to their constitutional right to vote.
  • Attempts to repeal the ACA and to substitute abominable healthcare legislation that would reduce coverage for millions of Americans (22 million according to OMB estimates). Moreover, planned reduction of Medicaid to a barebones program affecting more millions, including persons with disabilities, children and persons requiring long-term care, was also part of that repeal, and now a part of the 2018 Trump Budget proposal.  Savings from the minimization and destruction of the ACA and Medicaid will be used to enrich the richest 1% in our nation.
  • The undoing of DACA by another of Trump’s Executive orders, putting thousands of young “Dreamers” in jeopardy of being deported to other countries and societies.  To many of those young people, those societies are ‘foreign’ because they have spent most or all of their young lives in this country with parents who brought them here without official permission or documentation.  Just one more assault upon immigrants as a group.
One might ask:  How did we get to this point of diminution and destruction of constitutional fundamentals? 
(1)  It can be fairly stated that a major catalyst is that the overall management of government is no longer in the hands of independent and democratically-minded representatives.  The election system we have now is a result of years of neglect, dubious legislation, and unfortunate SCOTUS decisions.  It seems clear that we are now under the control of an election system that does not reflect the concepts of fairness, equality or an outcome that can be proven to be the “will of the people.”  In fact, the pernicious attempts by one Party to control voting and office-holding at every level of society has served to do just that, but has done no good for the 99% of the people under their political control. Here are examples of schemes perpetrated mostly by right-wing Republicans (along with some Democrats) that limit the participation of voters who tend to vote for Democrats:
  • Rampant gerrymandering of districts has produced “safe districts” for many congressional Republicans, which is why Republicans generally reject any attempts to have districts re-drawn by non-partisan groups.  An LA Times article from October 11, 2016 indicates that the GOP made their move in 2010 when Republican-controlled statehouses redrew congressional districts to give the GOP all-but guaranteed seats, which by 2014 swelled the House majority to 247, the largest since President Herbert Hoover.  A gerrymandering of congressional districts, completed six years ago, sought to secure a Republican House majority for years to come by packing Democratic voters into fewer, often urban and minority districts and giving Republican candidates comfortable majorities in the ones they control. But those tailor-made districts yielded a new crop of hard-right, often uncompromising Republican members of Congress, running safely in mostly white, older and rural districts, where Trump’s support is strongest.”
  • ”From Reuters: “When Republicans won full control of 21 states in 2010, they promptly adopted measures that required voters to show one of a restricted set of photo IDs issued by... government. Government studies have shown that these laws can prevent or deter significant numbers of poor and minority voters from voting. By 2015, 13 states had adopted what the National Conference of State Legislatures considers a “strict” voter photo ID law, including seven Southern states formerly subject to federal oversight under a section of the Voting Rights Act that was declared unconstitutional by SCOTUS.” 
Overall, at least 99 bills to restrict access to registration and voting have been introduced in 31 statesThirty-Five such bills saw significant legislative action (meaning they have at least been approved at the committee level or beyond) in 17 states. (BrennanCenter.org)
  • “Super PACs are a relatively new type of committee that arose following the July 2010 federal court decision in a case known as SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission. Technically known as independent expenditure-only committees, super PACs may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, then spend unlimited sums to overtly advocate for or against political candidates. Unlike traditional PACs, super PACs are prohibited from donating money directly to political candidates, and their spending must not be coordinated with that of the candidates they benefit. Super PACs are required to report their donors to the Federal Election Commission on a monthly or semiannual basis – the super PAC's choice – in off-years, and monthly in the year of an election.”  [Opensecrets.org (Center for Responsible Politics)]
    • “As of August 23, 2017, 2,394 groups organized as super PACs have reported total receipts of $1,791,027,147 and total independent expenditures of $1,061,703,002 in the 2016 cycle.”  Of these, over 50% are Republican or Conservative, mainly supported by the richest among us.  Super PACs, which can raise and spend unlimited contributions from wealthy donors, contributed $22.3 million – nearly doubling the $11.8 million they had spent at this point in 2014.
  • A think tank (also called a policy institute) is an organization, institute, corporation, or group that conducts research and engages in advocacy in public policy.  Many think tanks are non-profit organizations, which some countries such as the United States and Canada provide with tax exempt status. While many think tanks are funded by governments, interest groups, or businesses, some think tanks also derive income from consulting or research work related to their mandate.  In some cases, think tanks are little more than public relations fronts.”  (Sourcewatch.org)
    • “there are twice as many conservative think tanks as liberal ones, and the conservative ones generally have more money.”   Many of them devote their efforts to out-think and out-maneuver the Democratic Party (and any other more liberal entity). Many of their ideas have been incorporated into the platforms, budgets, and policies of the Republican Party.  Their influence has moved the GOP farther to the Right.  But what must not be forgotten is that these entities get their operating cash from oligarchs who are intent upon the takeover of our government and institutions -- like the media and schools -- and they gladly “pony-up” large sums of money to maintain that takeover.
  • Paid lobbyists and contributions to congressional candidates and incumbents (and other campaigns) are crucial to the control of legislation, and thus of how government functions. While it is difficult to know exactly how many lobbyists there are, Wikipedia offers the following:
    • A report in The Nation in 2014 suggested that while the number of 12,281 registered lobbyists was a decrease since 2002, lobbying activity was increasing and "going underground" as lobbyists use "increasingly sophisticated strategies" to obscure their activity.  Their analyst estimated that the “actual number of working lobbyists was close to 100,000 and that the industry brings in $9 billion annually.”
 It is difficult to know how many lobbyists are related to conservative issues and how many to liberal or progressive issues, but one thing is clear:  those oligarchs who desire the top lobbying professionals can afford to pay one or more of the top lobbying groups to advocate for their political or economic or socially conservative points of view.
(2) A second major cause is the lack of legislation that would truly benefit the working people of this nation.  But, more specifically, the blocking of legislation intended to address the welfare and protection of the People has played a major role.  And, finally, the many proposals of destruction of social programs and offices of government that are intended to address the basic needs of the People --like food stamps, Medicaid, Social Security, the EPA, community block grants and community action programs --represent a major portion of the 160+ programs that will receive budget cuts in the pending Trump Budget Proposal.
o   “The Trump Administration's fiscal year 2018 budget proposal proposes massive cuts across virtually every major department and agency, with the exception of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs.”  Overall, the budget outline “reallocates $54 billion from civilian programs like the EPA, which faces the largest percentage cuts, to defense-related projects and border security.” (Time.com)
  • The inability to solve or resolve real problems in a forthright and competent process is also part of this lack of meaningful legislation.
    • Legislative Committees unable or unwilling to use proven and professional problem-solving techniques;
    • lack of witnesses before committees who are actually affected by the legislation being discussed; lack of data collection for informed sponsoring of problem-solving legislation
    • witnesses called who represent corporate America, but rarely represent working Americans living with the rigors, inequities and exigencies of everyday life
    • continuous attention to made-up issues that appeal to certain voters or contributors
    • inattention to the views of constituents in home districts;
    • lack of inclusion of opposition party in the legislative process
    • lack of substantive debate
(3)  Government has become overly-identified and obsessed with the needs of Business and the economy, with austerity measures for reducing deficits, balancing budgets, protecting manufacturers and financial entities, the stock market; and, with schemes for aggrandizing a small group of wealthy citizens and corporations, protected by a system of “law and order” rather than one of protection and safety for all citizens. 
  • We are now under the control of an oligarchic value system that is contrary to the democratic values of our Republic.  We are allowing elections to be controlled by a small group of billionaires and millionaires, and we are at the mercy of employees of rich corporations that desire a government entirely created and managed to their advantage.  Among those employees are lawyers, lobbyists, think-tankers, PAC managers, bought politicians, and unexpectedly, the non-voters, occasional voters, un-registered voters, and eligible citizens who don’t vote because they see no connection of politicians to their lives.  Non-voters are included here as “employees” because by their non-participation they contribute greatly to the ultimate control that the oligarchs have accumulated.  The oligarchs actually depend heavily on that non-participation.
As a result of these underlying manipulations of our fundamental democratic values, our mission has been changed, our purposes are questionable, and our rights and freedoms are in danger.  We must, above all, return to progressive democratic values by taking a fresh look at our fundamental document: The Constitution of the United States.  What does it say about our mission?  What purposes are revealed there for us to accomplish?  What values are important to maintain and defend as defining concepts for our way of governing?  And finally, what actions are crucial for citizens to take?  More on these questions in future postings.