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Friday, January 17, 2020

Injustice on Repeat By Michelle Alexander

Injustice on Repeat

From mass incarceration to mass deportation, our nation remains in deep denial.

Yunghi Kim/Contact Press Images

Ten years have passed since my book, “The New Jim Crow,” was published. I wrote it to challenge our nation to reckon with the recurring cycles of racial reform, retrenchment and rebirth of caste-like systems that have defined our racial history since slavery. It has been an astonishing decade. Everything and nothing has changed.

When I was researching and writing the book, Barack Obama had not yet been elected president of the United States. I was in disbelief that our country would actually elect a black man to be the leader of the so-called free world. As the election approached, I felt an odd sense of hope and dread. I hoped against all reason that we would actually do it. But I also knew that, if we did, there would be a price to pay.

Everything I knew through experience and study told me that we as a nation did not fully understand the nature of the moment we were in. We had recently birthed another caste system — a system of mass incarceration — that locked millions of poor people and people of color in literal and virtual cages.

Our nation’s prison and jail population had quintupled in 30 years, leaving us with the highest incarceration rate in the world. A third of black men had a felony record — due in large part to a racially biased, brutal drug war — and were relegated to a permanent second-class status. Tens of millions of people in the United States had been stripped of basic civil and human rights, including the right to vote, the right to serve on juries and the right to be free of legal discrimination in employment, housing, education and basic public benefits.

Nevertheless, our nation remained in deep denial that a new caste system even existed, and most of us — even those who cared deeply about racial justice — did not seem to understand that powerful racial dynamics and political forces were at play that made much of our racial progress illusory. We had not faced our racial history and could not tell the truth about our racial present, yet growing numbers of Americans wanted to elect a black president and leap into a “colorblind” future.

Damon Winter/The New York Times

I was right to worry about the aftermath of Obama’s election. After he was inaugurated, our nation was awash in “post-racialism.” Black History Month events revolved around “how far we’ve come.” Many in the black community and beyond felt that, if Obama could win the presidency, anything was possible. Few people wanted to hear the message I felt desperate to convey: Despite appearances, our nation remains trapped in a cycle of racial reform, backlash and reformation of systems of racial and social control.

Things have changed since then. Donald Trump is president of the United States. For many, this feels like whiplash. After eight years of Barack Obama — a man who embraced the rhetoric (though not the politics) of the civil rights movement — we now have a president who embraces the rhetoric and the politics of white nationalism. This is a president who openly stokes racial animosity and even racial violence, who praises dictators (and likely aspires to be one), who behaves like a petulant toddler on Twitter, and who has a passionate, devoted following of millions of people who proudly say they want to “make America great again” by taking us back to a time that we’ve left behind.

We are now living in an era not of post-racialism but of unabashed racialism, a time when many white Americans feel free to speak openly of their nostalgia for an age when their cultural, political and economic dominance could be taken for granted — no apologies required. Racial bigotry, fearmongering and scapegoating are no longer subterranean in our political discourse; the dog whistles have been replaced by bullhorns. White nationalist movements are operating openly online and in many of our communities; they’re celebrating mass killings and recruiting thousands into their ranks.

Edu Bayer for The New York Times

White nationalism has been emboldened by our president, who routinely unleashes hostile tirades against black and brown people — calling Mexican migrants criminals, “rapists” and “bad people,” referring to developing African nations as “shithole countries” and smearing a district of the majority-black city of Baltimore as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.” Millions of Americans are cheering, or at least tolerating, these racial hostilities.

Contrary to what many people would have us believe, what our nation is experiencing is not an “aberration.” The politics of “Trumpism” and “fake news” are not new; they are as old as the nation itself. The very same playbook has been used over and over in this country by those who seek to preserve racial hierarchy, or to exploit racial resentments and anxieties for political gain, each time with similar results.

Back in the 1980s and ’90s, Democratic and Republican politicians leaned heavily on racial stereotypes of “crack heads,” “crack babies,” “superpredators” and “welfare queens” to mobilize public support for the War on Drugs, a get-tough movement and a prison-building boom — a political strategy that was traceable in large part to the desire to appeal to poor and working-class white voters who had defected from the Democratic Party in the wake of the civil rights movement.

Today, the rhetoric has changed, but the game remains the same. Public enemy No. 1 in the 2016 election was a brown-skinned immigrant, an “illegal,” a “terrorist” or a “caravan” full of people who want to take your job, rape your daughter or commit an act of terrorism. As Trump put it: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. … They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems. … They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times

He promised to solve this imaginary crisis through mass deportation and building a wall between the United States and Mexico. He also insisted that his political opponent, Hillary Clinton, wanted “millions of illegal immigrants to come in and take everybody’s jobs.” And he blamed domestic terroristic attacks in New Jersey and New York on “our extremely open immigration system,” which, he argued, allows Muslim terrorists into our country.

The fact that Trump’s claims were demonstrably false did not impede his rise, just as facts were largely irrelevant at the outset of the War on Drugs. It didn’t matter back then that studies consistently found that whites were equally likely, if not more likely, than people of color to use and sell illegal drugs. Black people were still labeled the enemy. Nor did it matter, when the drug war was taking off, that nearly all of the sensationalized claims that crack cocaine was some kind of “demon drug,” drastically more harmful than powder cocaine, were false or misleading. Black people charged with possession of crack in inner cities were still punished far more harshly than white people in possession of powder cocaine in the suburbs. And it didn’t matter that African-Americans weren’t actually taking white people’s jobs or college educations in significant numbers through affirmative action programs.

Getting tough on “them” — the racially defined “others” who could easily be used as scapegoats and cast as the enemy — was all that mattered. Facts were treated as largely irrelevant then. As they are now.

Fortunately, a growing number of scholars and activists have begun to connect the dots between mass incarceration and mass deportation in our nation’s history and current politics. The historian Kelly Lytle Hern├índez, in her essay “Amnesty or Abolition: Felons, Illegals, and the Case for a New Abolition Movement,” chronicles how these systems have emerged as interlocking forms of social control that relegate “aliens” and “felons” to a racialized caste of outsiders. In recent decades, the system of mass incarceration has stripped away from millions of U.S. citizens basic civil and human rights until their status mirrors (or dips below) that of noncitizen immigrants within the United States. This development has coincided with the criminalization of immigration in the United States, resulting in a new class of “illegal immigrants” and “aliens” who are viewed and treated like “felons” or “criminals.” Immigration violations that were once treated as minor civil infractions are now crimes. And minor legal infractions, ranging from shoplifting to marijuana possession to traffic violations, now routinely prompt one of the nation’s most devastating sanctions — deportation.

The story of how our “nation of immigrants” came to deport and incarcerate so many for so little, Hern├índez explains, is a story of race and unfreedom reaching back to the era of emancipation. If we fail to understand the historical relationship between these systems, especially the racial politics that enabled them, we will be unable to build a truly united front that will prevent the continual re-formation of systems of racial and social control.

In my experience, those who argue that the systems of mass incarceration and mass deportation simply reflect sincere (but misguided) efforts to address the real harms caused by crime, or the real challenges created by surges in immigration, tend to underestimate the corrupting influence of white supremacy whenever black and brown people are perceived to be the problem. “Between me and the other world, there is ever an unasked question,” W.E.B. Du Bois famously said back in 1897: “How does it feel to be a problem?” White people are generally allowed to have problems, and they’ve historically been granted the power to define and respond to them. But people of color — in this “land of the free” forged through slavery and genocide — are regularly viewed and treated as the problem.

Damon Winter/The New York Times

This distinction has made all the difference. Once human beings are defined as the problem in the public consciousness, their elimination through deportation, incarceration or even genocide becomes nearly inevitable.

White nationalism, at its core, reflects a belief that our nation’s problems would be solved if only people of color could somehow be gotten rid of, or at least better controlled. In short, mass incarceration and mass deportation have less to do with crime and immigration than the ways we’ve chosen to respond to those issues when black and brown people are framed as the problem.

As Khalil Gibran Muhammad points out in “The Condemnation of Blackness,” throughout our nation’s history, when crime and immigration have been perceived as white, our nation’s response has been radically different from when those phenomena have been defined as black or brown. The systems of mass incarceration and mass deportation may seem entirely unrelated at first glance, but they are both deeply rooted in our racial history, and they both have expanded in part because of the enormous profits to be made in controlling, exploiting and eliminating vulnerable human beings.

It is tempting to imagine that electing a Democratic president or more Democratic politicians will surely fix the crises in our justice systems and our democracy. To be clear, removing Trump from office is necessary and urgent; but simply electing more Democrats to office is no guarantee that our nation will break its habit of birthing enormous systems of racial and social control. Indeed, one of the lessons of recent decades is these systems can grow and thrive even when our elected leaders claim to be progressive and espouse the rhetoric of equality, inclusion and civil rights.

President Bill Clinton, who publicly aligned himself with the black community and black leaders, escalated a racially discriminatory drug war in part to avoid being cast by conservatives as “soft on crime.” Similarly, President Obama publicly preached values of inclusion and compassion toward immigrants, yet he escalated the mass detention and deportation of noncitizens.

Obama claimed that his administration was focused on deporting: “Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids.” However, reports by The New York Times and the Marshall Project revealed that, despite Obama’s rhetoric, a clear majority of immigrants detained and deported during his administration had no criminal record, except minor infractions, including traffic violations, and posed no threat.

Equally important is the reality that “felons” have families. And “criminals” are often children or teenagers. The notion that, if you’ve ever committed a crime, you’re permanently disposable is the very idea that has rationalized mass incarceration in the United States.

Julia Robinson for The New York Times
Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

None of this is to minimize the real progress that has occurred on many issues of race and criminal justice during the past decade. Today, there is bipartisan support for some prison downsizing, and hundreds of millions of philanthropic dollars have begun to flow toward criminal justice reform. A vibrant movement led by formerly incarcerated and convicted people is on the rise — a movement that has challenged or repealed disenfranchisement laws in several states, mobilized in support of sentencing reform and successfully organized to “ban the box” on employment applications that discriminate against those with criminal records by asking the dreaded question: “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?”

Activism challenging police violence has swept the nation — inspired by the courageous uprisings in Ferguson, Mo., the viral videos of police killings of unarmed black people, and #BlackLivesMatter. Promising movements for restorative and transformative justice have taken hold in numerous cities. Campaigns against cash bail have gained steam. Marijuana legalization has sped across the nation, with more than 25 states having partly or fully decriminalized cannabis since 2012.

And “The New Jim Crow,” which some predicted would never get an audience, wound up spending nearly 250 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list and has been used widely by faith groups, activists, educators and people directly effected by mass incarceration inside and outside prisons. Over the past 10 years, I’ve received thousands of letters — and tens of thousands of emails — from people in all walks of life who have written to share how the book changed their lives or how they have used it to support consciousness-raising or activism in countless ways.

Everything has changed. And yet nothing has.

Whitney Curtis for The New York Times

The politics of white supremacy, which defined our original constitution, have continued unabated — repeatedly and predictably engendering new systems of racial and social control. Just a few decades ago, politicians vowed to build more prison walls. Today, they promise border walls.

The political strategy of divide, demonize and conquer has worked for centuries in the United States — since the days of slavery — to keep poor and working people angry at (and fearful of) one another rather than uniting to challenge unjust political and economic systems. At times, the tactics of white supremacy have led to open warfare. Other times, the divisions and conflicts are less visible, lurking beneath the surface.

The stakes now are as high as they’ve ever been. Nearly everyone seems aware that our democracy is in crisis, yet few seem prepared to reckon with the reality that removing Trump from office will not rid our nation of the social and political dynamics that made his election possible. No issue has proved more vexing to this nation than the issue of race, and yet no question is more pressing than how to overcome the politics of white supremacy — a form of politics that not only led to an actual civil war but that threatens our ability ever to create a truly fair, just and inclusive democracy.

We find ourselves in this dangerous place not because something radically different has occurred in our nation’s politics, but because so much has remained the same.

The inconvenient truth is that racial progress in this country is always more complex and frequently more illusory than appears at first glance. The past 10 years has been a case in point. Our nation has swung sharply from what Marc Mauer memorably termed “a race to incarcerate” — propelled by bipartisan wars on “drugs” and “crime” — to a bipartisan commitment to criminal justice reform, particularly in the area of drug policy. And yet, it must be acknowledged that much of the progress occurred not because of newfound concern for people of color who have been the primary targets of the drug war, but because drug addiction, due to the opioid crisis, became perceived as a white problem and wealthy white investors became interested in profiting from the emerging legal cannabis industry.

Some of the reversals in political opinion have been quite striking. For example, John Boehner, a former Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, stated in 2011 that he was “unalterably opposed to decriminalizing marijuana” but by the spring of 2018 he had joined the board of a cannabis company.

Growing sympathy for illegal drug users among whites and conservatives, and concern regarding the expense of mass imprisonment, helped to make possible a bipartisan consensus in support of the Trump administration’s First Step Act — leading to the early release of more than 3,000 people from federal prisons for drug offenses. This development, which benefits people of color subject to harsh and biased drug sentencing laws, is difficult to characterize as major progress toward ending mass incarceration given that Trump continued to unleash racially hostile tirades against communities of color and his administration vowed to reinstate the federal death penalty. He also rescinded a number of significant reforms adopted by Obama and expanded the use of private prisons.

Eric Thayer for The New York Times

Obama also has a complicated legacy with respect to criminal justice reform. Obama was the first sitting president to visit a federal correctional facility, the first to oversee a drop in the federal prison population in more than 30 years, and he granted clemency to nearly 2,000 people behind bars — the highest total for any president since Harry Truman. His administration enacted significant policy changes, including legislation reducing sentencing disparities involving crack and powder cocaine, a phasing out of federal contracts with private prisons, and limitations on the transfer of military equipment to local police departments.

And yet it sometimes appeared that Obama was reluctant to acknowledge the depth and breadth of the structural changes required to address police violence and the prevailing systems of racial and social control.

For example, when black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested in his own home for no reason, Obama responded to the national furor and media frenzy by inviting Gates and the arresting officer to a “beer summit” at the White House to work things out over drinks and peanuts, as though racial profiling is little more than an interpersonal dispute that can be resolved through friendly dialogue.

Most troubling, the modest criminal justice reforms that were achieved during the Obama administration coincided with the expansion of the system of mass deportation. Although the administration agreed to phase out federal contracts for private prisons, it made enormous investments in private detention centers for immigrants, including the granting of a $1 billion contract to Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest prison company, to build a detention facility for women and children asylum seekers from Central America.

Immigrant detention centers were exempted from the phaseout plan for private prisons, which meant that only about a quarter of the population held in U.S. private facilities was affected by the plan. The caging of immigrants for profit was allowed to continue without restraint.

Win Mcnamee/Getty Images

The reality is that, during both the Obama and Clinton years, highly racialized and punitive systems thrived under liberal presidents who were given the benefit of the doubt by those who might otherwise have been critics. Obama and Clinton’s public displays of affection for communities of color, the egalitarian values they preached and their liberal or progressive stances on other issues helped to shield these vast systems of control from close scrutiny.

Many of us saw these presidents as “good people” with our best interests at heart, doing what they could to navigate a political environment in which only limited justice is possible. All of these factors played a role, but one was key: These systems grew with relatively little political resistance because people of all colors were willing to tolerate the disposal of millions of individuals once they had been labeled criminals in the media and political discourse. This painful reality suggests that ending our nation’s habit of creating enormous systems of racial and social control requires us to expand our sphere of moral concern so widely that none of us, not even those branded criminals, can be viewed or treated as disposable.

If there is any silver lining to be found in the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, it is that millions of people have been inspired to demonstrate solidarity on a large scale across the lines of gender, race, religion and class in defense of those who have been demonized and targeted for elimination. Trump’s blatant racial demagogy has awakened many from their “colorblind” slumber and spurred collective action to oppose the Muslim ban and the border wall, and to create sanctuaries for immigrants in their places of worship and local communities.

Many who are engaged in this work are also deeply involved in, or supportive of, movements to end police violence and mass incarceration. Growing numbers of people are beginning to see how the politics of white supremacy have resurfaced again and again, leading to the creation and maintenance of new systems of racial and social control. A politics of deep solidarity is beginning to emerge — the only form of politics that holds any hope for our collective liberation.

The centuries-long struggle to birth a truly inclusive, egalitarian democracy — a nation in which every voice and every life truly matters — did not begin with us and it will not end with us. The struggle is as old as the nation itself and the birth process has been painful, to say the least. My greatest hope and prayer is that we will serve as faithful midwives in our lifetimes and do what we can to make America, finally, what it must become.

Michelle Alexander is a civil rights lawyer and advocate, legal scholar and author of the 10th anniversary edition of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” from which this essay is adapted.“

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Opinion | To Beat Trump, Put Ideals Before Ideas - The New York Times

President Trump at a rally in Toledo, Ohio, last week.

This is an excellent opinion piece.

"Charles M. Blow By Charles M. Blow

Democrats face a real dilemma: The current crop of their party’s presidential candidates are awash in plans and proposals, which in theory is a good thing, but this election will not be decided on that basis.

Donald Trump has transformed the electorate into two camps, sycophants and dissidents, both passionate, both aimed like missiles at November, both with an intent desire to destroy the competition.

This election won’t turn on the definition of “Medicare for all” or its funding mechanisms. It won’t turn on who offers free college and to whom. This election will turn on whether an individual voter sees Trump as a heroic savior or a destructive agent.

This election is about fundamental questions of American ideals: Should foreign countries be invited or welcomed to meddle in our elections? Should a president be allowed to openly obstruct justice without consequence? Should we separate immigrant children from their parents and lock them in cages? Should we have a president who has bragged about assaulting women, paid off women who claim to have been sexually involved with him and been accused by multiple women of being sexually inappropriate with them? Should America have a racist in the White House?

It is issues like these, I believe, that will most animate voters in the election. America is being forced to look itself in the mirror and figure out who it is.

And it seems to me that many of the Democratic candidates are missing that base-level moral conflict, aiming over it or wiggling around it.

The moderate candidates pitch a path to victory to win back white people in the Midwest by being just milquetoast enough not to offend them and to cause them no guilt or consternation about having supported a racist, sexist, transphobe who lies about everything and honors nothing.

The progressives promise us a future with wholesale transformation in every sector: the economy, the military, the health care industry and education. They see a generational opportunity, indeed an existential emergency, to not only alter America’s course, but in some cases to tear down sectors and rebuild them altogether.

But their approaches, I fear, stray too far afield from where most Americans are. Voters simply want to get rid of Trump or to keep him. Liberal voters are not interested in candidates who kowtow to the white nationalists in the Rust Belt who not only voted for Trump but still cheer for him. Whenever I hear candidates talking about their natural appeal to these voters, my spidey senses are activated.

These are those who cheer for a man who saw “very fine people on both sides” in Charlottesville, Va. These are people who see no problem with the separation of migrant families. These are people who abide by the president employing white nationalists in his administration.

I am quite frankly suspicious of the candidate who actively appeals to these people. Their continued support for Trump isn’t just some small mistake they made, like picking up a zucchini instead of a cucumber at the market.

No, their Trump support is a value statement, one that turns on the denial of other people’s rights to freedom, equality and safe existence.

How can a person appeal to me and to that person simultaneously and do so with integrity and honor?

At the same time, transformational change sounds good and smart in theory, but it simply isn’t most Trump-resisting Americans’ most urgent concern. Removing Trump is. Furthermore, the federal government is notoriously inefficient and problem-prone. It would most likely take it decades to carry out a single large-scale change and tweak it until it worked properly. It is impossible for me to believe that any candidate could manage major change in multiple areas at the same time.

This is not to say that the proposals of the progressive candidates don’t have merit. They do. Their goals are the right ones for the Democratic Party and the planet. But this election will not likely be the proving ground for these proposals.

In this cycle, it is hard to sell reorganizing the whole country to people who are simply afraid that Trump is going to destroy the whole country.

That is a reason that Tuesday night’s debate got a bit too far down into the weeds for me. Indeed, although the ability of candidates to make sustained arguments has improved and the number of people allowed on the stage has shrunk, there remains a sort of nerdy gladiator feel to them that numbs with numbers.

Trump has laid out his vision for America: It is the racial Hunger Games. It is a dystopian future in which maximum pressure is applied to minority immigrants and trading partners, all to insulate the white working class. Trump is the white nationalist candidate selling the racial romance of reverting America to a time when white workers were virtually guaranteed success and prosperity, often at the expense and exclusion of others.

The Democratic candidates, too, would be well warned to stick to a vision — a diametrically opposite and dynamically animating vision that will activate and energize the targets of Trump’s aggressions.

If I see Trump as a pestilence I may not see in your tome of plans a cure."

Opinion | To Beat Trump, Put Ideals Before Ideas - The New York Times

Opinion | Another Disability Disaster in the Making - The New York Times

President Ronald Reagan at a news conference in the days following the signing of the Social Security Disability Benefits Reform Act of 1984.

PHILADELPHIA — On Nov. 18, the Social Security Administration announced its proposal to conduct roughly 2.6 million additional eligibility reviews of adults and children currently receiving Social Security disability benefits in the next decade. If undertaken, the change would be likely to result in the loss of benefits for many thousands of disabled citizens of all ages — raising the specter of a failed attempt by the Reagan administration in the early 1980s to shrink federal spending on assistance programs. For reasons both political and humane, President Trump and his policymakers should not make the same damaging mistake.

So far, two Democratic candidates, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have publicly warned against the plan. More are sure to follow.

From 1981 to 1984, the Social Security Administration altered an established review process of people receiving Social Security disability benefits that resulted in removal notices for nearly half a million beneficiaries, a large number of them with mental illness. Most of those whose benefits were cut off were clearly eligible and in need of assistance.

I was a lawyer and activist in the 1980s who fought vigorously, along with many others, against what was clearly an attempt by the Reagan administration to reduce federal spending by way of a purge of the disability rolls. We won that battle, to the relief of millions of disabled Americans and their families, but not before it caused serious harm to thousands unjustly removed as beneficiaries. The victory was enshrined in the Social Security Disability Benefits Reform Act of 1984, which set reasonable standards for the eligibility reviews for benefits.

The Reagan administration’s assault on disability beneficiaries was eventually halted by a wave of opposition that spanned both major political parties. Horror stories of disabled people with conditions like cerebral palsy, or those on round-the-clock oxygen machines, unjustly removed from the rolls filled the media. In Lansing, Mich., a man who was unable to work shot himself after receiving a termination notice; his suicide note read, “They are playing God.” A 1982 Los Angeles Times headline, “Disability Purge Ruinous to Many,” captured the outcry that ensued.

That outcry included more than two dozen congressional hearings, federal class action litigation, and a bipartisan rebellion of at least 18 states refusing to follow Social Security review directives. The injustice of the Reagan plan was so apparent that partisan divisions dissolved into unanimous support: The Senate vote for the reform act was 99-0; in the House, 402-0.

Now the Trump administration wants to repeat one of Mr. Reagan’s most damaging mistakes. Why?
The Trump administration — just like the Reagan administration — claims the increased reviews will allow officials to administer the program more efficiently. But they provide no persuasive support to justify the proposal, or to explain why the current system needs changing.

The current system already presents plenty of hurdles. It can take years to qualify for disability benefits and the eligibility test is so tough that more than 60 percent of applicants are initially denied. Once awarded, the benefits are subject to government review at periodic intervals. To determine the frequency of the reviews, individual conditions are put into one of three categories: Medical Improvement Expected (every six to 18 months), Medical Improvement Possible (every three years) and Medical Improvement Not Expected (every five to seven years). The S.S.A. is proposing to add another category, Medical Improvement Likely, which would allow it to conduct even more reviews. Breaking from past precedent, the agency is not relying on medical data to identify who will be reviewed, but is instead using a “predictive model” that they fail to describe.

The targets of the Trump administration ramp-up are troubling. The first involves older adults with disabilities nearing retirement; the second, with some 627,000 reviews, would re-evaluate impoverished children with disabilities at ages 6 and 12 for no discernible medical reason; the third group targets adults and children with disabling conditions like cancer and serious behavioral mental disorders, including bipolar disorder and (for children) speech disorders.

The S.S.A. provides no persuasive medical or scientific data to explain why these conditions can be expected to improve sooner, nor any data to show that beneficiaries stay on disability too long. It only offers some unsubstantiated hope that more frequent reviews will mean that those terminated will re-enter the employment market — hardly a likely outcome.

Despite congressional inquiries, the S.S.A. refuses to release internal data on how many are expected to lose benefits from the new disability reviews. The agency does project it will save $2.6 billion in reduced payments from those terminated, but will also spend an additional $1.8 billion in increased administrative costs. Is a vague hope of some cost savings worth the risk that many will be unfairly denied support?

In reality, there is likely to be an ideological basis for the reviews, as suggested by the writings of Mark Warshawsky, the deputy commissioner for Retirement and Disability Policy, who was appointed in 2017. While at George Mason University’s Koch-family-supported Mercatus Center, Mr. Warshawsky and a co-author urged the elimination of work-related factors such as age, language ability and education level, notwithstanding that the S.S.A. must consider these factors under the Social Security Act in assessing ability to work. These factors are often especially important for older adults, one group singled out for increased review. Mr. Warshawsky and the same co-author have even questioned the agency’s already strict medical criteria for eligibility, asserting that some disabling diseases are now more “livable.” But improved survival rates for once terminal conditions like cancer do not necessarily correlate to people’s ability to do full-time, substantial employment — the test for receiving benefits.

While a reasonable review process is needed and is already in effect, the proposal is far from reasonable. Arbitrary reviews every two years are excessive. Reviews are burdensome and costly for mentally or physically impaired beneficiaries. For people with mental health conditions like anxiety or depression, the stress of the process exacerbates their existing disabilities. People who miss a step are terminated for noncooperation. Very few lawyers are able to take disability review cases, leaving people with disabilities to go it alone. More red tape and appeals are certain.

The Social Security Administration’s new plan caps off a long list of harmful disability measures that have fallen below the radar of the public and media: allowing the agency to disregard the opinion of the claimant’s treating physician; proposing to remove the inability to speak English as a factor relevant to accessing a job; and making it virtually impossible for children with conditions like asthma to qualify under the already very strict medical disability criteria. Other rules, following Mr. Warshawsky’s views, are in the pipeline, including ones adversely impacting older Americans, as The Wall Street Journal recently reported. 

The proposal is now open for public comment and will be until Jan. 31. Will the more than 42,000 comments already filed convince the agency to withdraw these plans? Or will the White House step in when they see a total of 3.3 million disability beneficiaries in the swing states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida? A disability benefits purge might just be deemed untimely for an election year.

Jonathan M. Stein is a former legal aid lawyer in Philadelphia.

Opinion | Another Disability Disaster in the Making - The New York Times

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Parnas to Maddow: ‘It was never about corruption’

Parnas to Maddow: ‘It was never about corruption’ ever about corruptiont corruption’

Parnas to Maddow: ‘It was never about corruption

Georgia governor nearing decision on allowing refugees into Georgia

Georgia governor nearing decision on allowing refugees into Georgia

“Gov. Brian Kemp is nearing a decision as a key deadline approaches about whether Georgia will accept refugees for resettlement amid enforcement of a more restrictive policy unveiled by the Trump administration.

The executive order by President Donald Trump requires state and local governments to provide written consent to the federal government if they want to accept refugees, giving state officials new powers to block them.

Kemp’s decision could affect as many as 1,052 people who are fleeing persecution in their home countries and who could be brought to Georgia this fiscal year, according to the Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies. But Kemp has stayed largely silent on the issue, aside from suggesting he has some flexibility with his timeline. He said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that it “seems like a lot of what’s been reported on deadlines and what needs to be done is not correct,” though he and his office didn’t elaborate.

Refugee settlement agencies have scrambled since Trump’s Sept. 26 order to secure letters from states publicly saying they’ll accept refugees. Those documents are crucial to the federal funding requests they are piecing together before a Jan. 21 deadline.

Forty-two states — many led by Republican governors — have either issued such letters or have indicated they will do so, according to Church World Service, a refugee resettlement agency. Dozens of cities and counties across the nation have done the same. Kemp is among a handful of state leaders who has not yet taken a stance.

It’s set off a thorny political debate in Georgia, where Kemp is under pressure from conservatives eager to remind him of his pledge to crack down on illegal immigration and round up “criminal illegals” in his pickup truck.

“On one hand, you should reward the people who are seeking to come here legally who are having problems with their homeland,” said Kay Godwin, head of Georgia Conservatives in Action and a prominent Republican activist. “But it can be disturbing to their local communities. People can resent that — and the benefits that refugees are getting. And it goes against a drive to reduce immigration overall.”

They’re opposed by some evangelicals, along with key Democratic leaders, who say Georgia has a moral obligation to help refugees and who have cast it as a crucial economic boost for some struggling communities.

“They are invited guests of the United States as part of our tradition of a nation of welcoming those who are oppressed. They have been thoroughly vetted before they land on American shores through a very extensive process,” said Jim Neal, chairman of the Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies, who met with Kemp’s staff about the issue late last year.

“Then they arrive ready to work. And they go to work. They build new lives in the United States,” said Neal, who is also director of operations for Friends of Refugees, a Christian community development organization. “In Georgia, they are particularly important to some of the state’s key industries: poultry processing, hospitality, manufacturing and distribution and others.”

Your move, Georgia

Trump signed his executive order the same week his administration announced it was cutting to 18,000 the number of refugees who will be given safe haven in America this fiscal year, down from 30,000 in the fiscal year that ended in September and 45,000 the year before that. The Obama administration set a goal of 110,000 for fiscal year 2017. At the time of his announcement, the Trump administration said the U.S. was already at its limit.

More: Georgia could see sharp drop in refugees with Trump plan

“You should be able to decide what is best for your own cities and for your own neighborhoods, and that’s what you have the right to do right now,” the president said of the policy at an October rally.

The issue has long been divisive in Georgia. In 2015, then-Gov. Nathan Deal cited terrorism concerns when he signed an order seeking to halt the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Georgia, joining 30 other state leaders who sought to block them from coming. But at the time, the governor had no legal power to do so. Deal was forced to rescind his order after the state’s top lawyer wrote in an opinion that the state doesn’t have the legal authority to block Syrian refugees “no matter how well-intended or justified the desire to carve out such refugees might be.”

White House officials say the refugee applicants admitted to the U.S. are subject to strict background checks and screened by fraud detection and national security officers. Last fiscal year, 1,189 refugees were resettled in Georgia, up from 837 the year before. The largest numbers last year came from Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, Eritrea and Ukraine. In all, 30,000 refugees were resettled nationwide in the same time frame.

Newly granted with the power to decide whether they want to participate in a resettlement program, some local governments have already laid out the welcome mat.

“America has a well-documented history of helping the downtrodden in their times of need, and to turn our backs on those who are suffering is to turn our backs on the highest ideals of freedom in this nation,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said last month.

Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, urged supporters to lobby Kemp to “uphold Georgia’s 40-year tradition of welcoming the world’s most persecuted.”

Related: Atlanta, DeKalb to continue refugee resettlement following Trump order

Other destinations for refugees, including Gwinnett County, have not announced decisions, though Chatham County has agreed to accept them.

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