Monday, June 25, 2018

No. 273: Trump and His Latest Atrocity

For almost 60 years I have focused in my writings on matters of concern to persons with a professional or consumer interest in insurance. I have deviated occasionally, such as a blog post on President Donald Trump's executive order imposing the original travel ban, and in a later blog post on his executive order requiring that two regulations be withdrawn for each new regulation adopted. Now it is time for another deviation in view of his zero-tolerance policy relating to refugees seeking asylum in our country from life-threatening conditions in Central America.

Recently I have seen numerous comments on the situation written by persons more qualified and skilled than I am. Two examples stand out.

One was written by Stephen R. Leimberg. He is a professional fine art, portrait, and wildlife photographer in Amelia Island, Florida. He previously taught law at Temple and Villanova University Schools of Law in their Tax Masters programs. In the interest of full disclosure, he is a long-time close friend of mine.

The other was written by Robert Weissman. He is president of Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 that champions the public interest in the halls of power. In the interest of full disclosure, the Public Citizen Litigation Group has represented me pro bono on several occasions, and I am a regular donor to the organization.

My usual practice is to offer complimentary packages to readers and invite them to request the packages by email. In this instance I am offering the two statements, which I have edited slightly, as a part of this blog post.

by Stephen R. Leimberg

"Insane." "Close to Obscene." "Pure evil." These are not my words. They are the words of Father James Martin with reference to Jeff Sessions' citing of the New Testament to justify tearing children from the arms of their parents. He rightfully called Sessions' shameful statement "cherry picking," i.e., taking words out of context, and added, "It is wantonly cruel and targets the most vulnerable."

Ask yourself how you would feel as a parent—or as a child—if, after fleeing for your life and enduring a gut-wrenching months-long journey, you were suddenly ripped apart from your loved ones. What would you think if those who administered such unspeakable acts did not even keep track of where those children or parents were incarcerated—so that you could be reunited quickly at some point—even if such horrendous, heinous, morally barren actions were somehow necessary or appropriate? Yet these "follow orders from the top" "public servants" did not have the foresight or competence to establish a means or mechanism to put parent and child back together—or even allow them to keep in touch. How would you feel if—for weeks or even months—you had no idea where your child was taken—or what your child's physical or emotional condition is? More importantly for the long run, what should we think of the character and competence of those who engineered and carried out such atrocities—in our country?

Now you may be saying to yourself, "I was told that these rapist, drug dealing, foreigner migrants will infest our country, and that we cannot let these pests pour in!" Raise your hand if you have no relatives who immigrated to this country to gain religious freedom, escape tyranny, and literally save their lives, or who came to our shores with the hope of a better life for themselves and their families. But wait, you say, "Mine were different from these people. And that was a different time!" Really?

Were they Irish? Fleeing from famine and starvation, "these poor and disease-ridden folks"—according to newspapers of the time—"threaten to take away jobs from Americans and strain welfare budgets, practice an alien religion, pledge allegiance to a foreign leader, and bring crime with them." Yes, at one time America feared and despised the Irish!

Italian? In the late 1800s, it was written of Italian immigrants: "Those sneaking and cowardly Sicilians, the descendants of bandits and assassins, who have transported to this country the lawless passions, the cut-throat practices, and the oath-bound societies of their native country, are a pest without mitigation. Our own rattlesnakes are as good citizens as they are." Read your history. Italians were lynched in this country!

Polish? German? Jewish? Chinese? Japanese? Indian? Pakistani? Go to Google and type in: "your nationality's American Experience." Our country, unfortunately, has always had fearmongers willing to promote and perpetuate a legacy of lies, discrimination, and stereotyping designed to further their own agendas. What is different now is that it has seldom been the nation's highest elected leaders opening the Pandora's box of hate.

We have been awakened by the beyond-callous sheer barbarism of this governmental child snatching. But this mean-spirited morally corrupt action—the utter unraveling of decency—is just the tip of a (melting) iceberg of inexcusable ugliness. And it is not happening behind our backs. It is being thumbed at our very noses. And we have made a deal with a devil to hear or see no evil in return for false promises or lowered taxes for the ultra-wealthy (with trillions of dollars of debt passed on to our children) or the opportunity to make the already more than rich even richer.

Here is a short list of what you and your children are giving up. As you read the list, ask yourself what you are getting—really getting—in return, and give yourself an honest answer. Is it worth it? Is the bargain worth the loss of our country's soul?

Federal funding for science is being cut back. Federal agencies are being directed to ignore science-based evidence. The EPA is a cruel joke. Rules or funding for programs protecting us against harmful water and air pollutants such as car emissions are being emasculated. Threatened species of animals are losing their protections. Weather disasters are increasing. Seas are rising (yes, the seas and waters surrounding Amelia Island), yet FEMA does not seem to care. Offshore drilling is being allowed to expand—risking Florida's pristine beaches. Americans are continually massacred by bullets shot from AR-15/AK-47s and from pistols that can be purchased by those not subject to a universal background check—but no one in our government seems to care, or have the will or fortitude to do something about it. Workers' rights and basic human rights are being rolled back. The internet will be more expensive. Consumer protections are being weakened. Big banks are again being allowed to do some of the same things that triggered the great recession and economic collapse. Health care and food for our most needy in our country are being stripped away.

These are not "right or left," Republican or Democrat, issues. We can live our American dream under either party's normal push and pull. But what is happening now is very different. It is our moral compass that is deviating—and it is pointing south! We are at a crossroad. Wake up! It is ALL of us who are in this—together! What harms your neighbor harms you. We cannot allow our highest elected officials to deliberately and consciously misinform, distort, misrepresent, and mislead—or to turn us against each other. We need to decide who and what we want to be as individuals and as a country—and do what needs to be done to restore integrity and character and decency.

Cruel and Heartless!
by Robert Weissman

Thanks to growing public outrage, President Donald Trump has ended his cruel and heartless policy of ripping children of immigrant families away from their parents. But he proposes to replace family separation with family detention, leaving children in prison camps for an undetermined period of time. Now is the time when we have to intensify our pressure and deliver a roaring message about what we insist America should—and should not—be.

Public Citizen is joining with dozens of other organizations in sponsoring "Families Belong Together" demonstrations in Washington, D.C., and around the country on Saturday, June 30. Find a demonstration near you. This is how we speak out and make a difference.

Like you, over the past couple of weeks, I have been sickened and horrified by stories and images of children from families arriving at the U.S.-Mexican border being taken away from their parents. I've lost track of the number of conversations I've had with people asking: What's wrong with the people inside the Trump administration? Isn't this too much even for them? These are not rhetorical questions. We all are struggling to grapple with how this could happen and why.

This is my best explanation. While the people making policy in the Trump administration surely love their own children, they are utterly without compassion or concern for the children of people they don't know, especially for children of the immigrant families they have rhetorically dehumanized. On an individual level, that lack of compassion is a terrible character flaw. But at a policy level, lacking compassion and a readiness to treat groups of people as less than human can lead to truly grotesque outcomes. It is that combination that has underlaid many of the most horrible events in human history.

The good news in this story is that the American people have made clear they don't want to be complicit in policies that tear children from families. The intensifying disgust and fury has made a difference. Fueled by news coverage, the public engagement has kept the news media focused on the issue. Even in the alternative universe of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, doubts have started to be raised. Trump saw his base of support eroding.

Then, on the very same day he said there was no alternative to taking children from their parents, Trump announced an end to the policy. Except, unsurprisingly, he proposed to replace it with yet more cruelty. Now Trump aims to keep children who are newly arriving immigrants with their parents—but in detention facilities—for undefined and potentially limitless periods. And the new Trump policy does nothing to reunite the 2,300 children already separated from their families. Here is what a group of the world's leading human rights experts said about this approach in December 2016, long before Trump's latest announcement: "Immigration detention is a clear child rights violation and States must prohibit it by law and cease the practice immediately....Let us be clear: immigration detention is never in the best interests of the child."

So we have not yet succeeded in ending the administrations's sadistic policy toward newly arrived immigrants. But we have shown that pressure can move Trump. Indeed, if you have ever doubted that protests and civic engagement make a difference—amid a torrent of Trump lies and his administration's appalling policies—be sure: They do.

So now it is time for us to turn up the pressure. Come to Washington or join a demonstration near you on June 30. Protest for children, and protest for our country. In just a few days, plans have come together for a demonstration at the White House and at least 450 other sites around the country. Hundreds of thousands of people have pledged to join, and the numbers are rising every hour. Together, we are going to force a modicum of humanity and decency on the Trump administration.

We can end family separation and family detention. We can end the administration's other barbarous anti-immigrant policies, including the separation of families that have been in the United States for more than a decade. Taking children away from their parents—or proposing to lock them up together indefinitely in cage-and-cement detention centers—are just the immediate, visible manifestations of an administration that has made cruelty a centerpiece of its agenda. It is up to us to reject this. We get to define what America is.