Friday, March 31, 2017

Justice Denied

Courthouses should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country's immigration laws… Enforcement policies that include stalking courthouses and arresting undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of whom pose no risk to public safety, are neither safe nor fair… They not only compromise our core value of fairness but they undermine the judiciary's ability to provide equal access to justice.  Excerpts from a March 16th letter from California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye to U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, & Homeland Security Secretary, John Kelley
In the immigration dispute, California is different. Especially Southern California. Especially Los Angeles. 35% of our economy is dependent on our relationship with our vast Hispanic community, with a large component from Mexico and a very significant population from points south. From food choices to street names to local jargon to the names of our friends and fellow workers. Our architecture shines with red-tiled rooves and “Spanish” (read: Mexican) arches, finishes and style. Our roots are Mexican and Spanish, the greatest cultural influences around us. Trump’s wall, his ICE clampdown here (more later) is seen by us as a war declared against a state that is vehemently anti-Trump. Nowhere else in the United States is experiencing this level of federal intrusion into our daily lives.
Go to Florida, where the vast majority of Latinos have their roots in Cuba, and listen to the self-righteous anti-immigration rants from too many conservative political figures in a state with a Republican-majority legislature, a Republican governor, a state that voted for Donald Trump. Marco Rubio, reelected to the U.S. Senate, is in the United States because of a strange ultra-conservative law that granted special immigration status to Cubans who made it to American landfall. Had the laws he seeks to enforce against undocumented Hispanics in California be applied to his father, we would today be spared from his anti-immigrant posturing. Hypocrite! And yes, there are Floridians who are equally disgusted.
For those who argue that the special immigration status accorded escaping Cubans was by reason of the brutal and repressive Castro regime, I suspect that they must be reading-impaired. There was no requirement whatsoever that those making the trip were actually victimized by the Castro regime, however. On the other hand, the brutality of the south-of-the-border civil wars, mercilessly cruel dictators, death squads, horrific drug cartels (catering primarily to demand for narcotics from the United States, which has kindly been the illegal source of most of the guns used to kill down there) and bitterly hopeless poverty that exceeds the numbers of human rights violations in Cuba by a vast multiple. We should treat Hispanics from south of the border with the same dignity and respect we have accorded to fleeing Cubans for decades. But we don’t.
How bad is it here, you ask? As I drive through Hispanic communities here in Los Angeles, I feel the fear. The little Mexican restaurants don’t carry the laughter I used to hear. They listen to the news stories of ICE agents waiting outside their Catholic churches, rounding up parishioners after a service or arresting parents dropping of their (U.S. citizen) children at school, or taking pictures of protectors or about innocent “Dreamers” detained by zealous ICE agents… or, as our California Supreme Court Justice Cantil-Sakauye so aptly points out in the above letter, how many Hispanic witnesses and litigants are so terrified of entering a courthouse (where ICE agents are waiting to arrest them) that they simply do not appear. Justice is not relevant to these ill-directed ICE agents, who simply tell the authorities that they are taking their orders from Washington.
Our police and sheriffs complain that the Hispanic communities are cooperating with them less than ever in the pursuit of really dangerous criminals. People are terrified of anything governmental, stepping back into the shadows, hoping not to be seen or heard. And the last thing locals in those neighborhoods want to do is to complain about anything – from larceny to sex trafficking to murder – to the police. Criminals are acutely aware of this fear and are capitalizing on it with increasing frequency.
No one wants to protect violent criminals. Arrest them. Deport them, and we all cheer. But, even as we do get those nasties out of our cities, that’s not the only thing that is actually happening. Non-violent innocents are being detained and deported too. Parents ripped from their children.
The talk of immigration sweeps, she said, has further frayed already worn nerves among immigrants. A [young lady] living in the country illegally asked [a friend] and her husband to sign a letter stating that if she is deported, they would take custody of her 2-year-old daughter. ‘That’s horrible, to even have to consider that,’ she said.” Los Angeles Times, February 11th. Lawyers in those neighborhoods are flooded with requests to draft powers of attorney to persons with young American-born children (citizens) to friends to look after their kids should they be swept away. Think about that!
That so many of the most vocal anti-immigrant voice are coming from purported Christians stuns me. That they missed the plain reading of both Old and New Testament scripture (see, for example, quotes from my March 16th Sanctuary II blog) about tolerance, kindness to the less advantaged, forgiveness and brotherly love makes me question their commitment to their professed faith. These is a different path. We can have solid borders, but we cannot accept an immigration policy based on hate, fear, disturbing sloganeering, angry and unjustified populism and incredibly incorrect assumptions about immigrants. We need to reintroduce humanity and human rights into our immigration policies.
I’m Peter Dekom, and these hateful and ill-conceived immigration crackdowns are definitely not my America.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

To Work, Perchance to Die

With the number trade union workers in the private sector (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) continuing to decline, now a mere 6.4% of that workforce, more than ever it falls to federal and state government to protect our private employee base. But we haven’t even raised the federal minimum wage ($7.25/hour) since 2009 (the minimum wage had more buying power, for example, in the late 1960s). Even the workplace rules aimed at minimizing workplace accidents and injuries – maintained and encouraged by the federal Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) – are being scaled back, in some cases completely eliminated, by a regulation-averse Trump administration.
Further, the practice of past administrations of publishing fines against employers for workplace safety violations – intended to send a clear message to other employers to follow safety rules – just stopped completely under the Trump administration. By comparison, the Obama administration averaged well-over 400 such reports a year.
Some rules intended to keep workers safe from harm have already been rescinded, even though the Trump administration just got into office, with more repeals and reductions in the works: “As Mr. Trump vows to roll back regulations across the federal government, the early experience in the Labor Department shows that there are many ways to signal the administration’s new direction. Concern among labor unions and advocates of workplace safety is so high that some unions raced to court last month to intervene in a lawsuit seeking to undo a new rule that prevents companies from retaliating against employees who report workplace hazards.
“Jillian Rogers, a spokeswoman for the Labor Department, declined to comment when asked why OSHA had not issued any such releases. But she said that the agency’s enforcement efforts were unchanged and that such efforts were ‘reflected across various media channels,’ like newsletters and social media.
“‘The Department of Labor is continuing to operate business as usual, including enforcement operations,’ Ms. Rogers said.
“In addition to the rule on worker retaliation, several other OSHA regulations or standards, on issues like record-keeping practices and use of a mineral linked to a deadly lung disease, face delay or elimination.
“[In early March], the Senate passed a measure to repeal an Obama-era rule that required companies seeking significant federal contracts to disclose violations of labor standards, like safety and fair-pay rules, or instances when they were accused of such violations. The so-called blacklisting rule was intended to prevent companies that violated workplace regulations from getting federal money.
“Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president for the Professional Services Council, a trade association that represents federal contractors, hailed the measure, which Mr. Trump may now sign into law. He said the rule was onerous and unfair, because companies had to report unproved accusations.
“‘The regulatory scheme was overly burdensome,’ Mr. Chvotkin said. ‘We applaud the change.’
As an agency, OSHA has long struggled to have an impact. Its rule-making procedures are arduous, and changes can take years or even decades to enact.
“Last year, to help the agency flex its muscles, Congress passed a law doubling the fines companies faced for safety violations. The agency also took aim at certain industries it considered repeat offenders.” New York Times, March 13th.
The thrust of the new administration appears to be that anything that interferes with any industrial effort – regardless of whether its involves dangerous chemicals being discharged into the air or waterways, or handled in a manner that jeopardizes the health and safety of the workers handling these materials – must be eliminated. This may kill or injure more of us, but it is the price to pay for “job creation.” Do we want those jobs anyway? Every day, it seems that employees are pretty much going to have to go it alone when dealing with serious safety failures in their places of work. And the government doesn’t want the general public to know about those failures or require employers to report accidents or give OSHA enough time to investigate and punish the wrongdoers.
“Industry groups are pushing back against an Obama-era regulation meant to exert pressure on companies to better comply with record-keeping rules. A provision of that rule, which was supposed to take effect last month, would require companies to electronically submit accident data to OSHA so the agency could post the information on a public website. As recently as early January, OSHA said on its website that it expected the site to be live in February.
“But in recent weeks, the agency changed the wording so that it now states, ‘OSHA is not accepting electronic submissions at this time.’… ‘That was not an accident,” said [Eric Conn, a lawyer in Washington who tracks such cases]. ‘That was a big signal to employers that even if they report the data, it will not be published online.’… Ms. Rogers, the department spokeswoman, did not comment on the wording change.
“In addition, OSHA’s ability to charge companies with failures to properly record workplace injuries may be severely curtailed… For years, the agency had taken the position that it had up to five and a half years after an alleged violation to issue a citation to a company. But a court in 2012 found that OSHA’s interpretation was inconsistent with what the court called the ‘clear’ wording of the law, which gave the agency only six months to bring charges…
“In addition, the agency said recently that it was delaying a rule intended to sharply lower occupational exposure to beryllium, a widely used mineral linked to a deadly lung disease. The rule, which was set to go into effect this month, will be delayed until at least May.
“The action is the latest twist in a four-decade effort by safety advocates to tighten beryllium exposure limits. Those advocates say they are optimistic that the new exposure standard will go into effect with only minor changes, but they added that any long delays or major revisions could jeopardize worker health.
“Michael Wright, director of health, safety and environment for the United Steelworkers, said that if the rule was delayed or overhauled, ‘then we will have a big problem, and we’ll be fighting that with every resource we have.’” NY Times. Guess when all those jobs are replaced by robots, we can just fix or replace the damaged ones.
This effort to end federal rules, even where they appear necessary and make common sense, applies to environmental laws, financial transparency and honesty requirements, worker safety and consumer protection. Coal mines/coal power generation plants are now free to pollute public waterways and our common atmosphere, and their workers are no longer as well-protected as they once were.
There is even a bill pending in Congress, already passed by the House, which would eliminate federal class action lawsuits, thus making it impossible to aggregate “little wrongs” not worth suing over, into a larger case to punish bad corporate behavior. It’s OK to steal a small amount from a lot of people but not OK to steal a large amount from one person… even if the numbers are the same in the aggregate? Welcome to Trumpworld and the GOP rule of big business above all else.
I’m Peter Dekom, and this will be our legacy for the next four years and the years beyond that it may take for us to care about each other again.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Smartest Trump Voter in America

31-year-old Tennessean, James Walker (above), is now my new superhero. A Trump-voter from Nashville, he had the honesty and integrity to admit, after watching Trump healthcare proposal, environmental policies and his subpar cabinet appointments, that he made a “huge mistake.” He didn’t double-down and repeat clear falsehoods like the President, who never backs off of even the most inane accusations and statements. He resisted what had to be the monumental pressure from his populist peers, many of whom hang on every obviously false utterance from the Orange Mouth and label truth as “fake news.” This man has guts!
But I guess watching the GOP Congress stumbling with a healthcare proposal that will obviously hit lower income Americans so hard that many could actually die in the “oh, I can’t get health insurance” crossfire. Lots of Trump voters in that group. He obviously paid attention to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office report that the bill would drop millions and millions of Americans from the medical health insurance rolls. So did a lot of Republican members of Congress.
Walker also may not yet fully appreciate Donald Trump’s fallback plan to healthcare “reform” if Congress cannot bring a bill to his desk soon: let the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) continue, and I, Donald John Trump, will make sure it is so underfunded, that its rules and insurance mandates (which generate the cash to make it work) are completely ignored and not enforced, which must result in more carriers pulling out, until the ACA collapses. Then, Trump can blame the Democrats for what he caused (his followers won’t dig for the truth), and, he surmises, he can then get anything through Congress, “believe me.”
Mr. Walker, my hero, doesn’t live in one of the western states where methane (24 times more dense as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide) is a toxic by-product of oil and gas extraction – where an overwhelming number of Republicans, Independents and Democrats oppose the recent removal of an Obama-mandated ban on just letting methane escape, unchecked, into the atmosphere. But I suspect he gets it.
He might not even be concerned about the obvious failure of Donald Trump to connect with the new leader of the free world, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel or the fact that Orange Mouth has failed to provide a scintilla of evidence that the Obama administration did “tapp” his Trump Tower address during the elections. Mr. Walker may have glanced at the headlines outlining all of the programs – from school lunches, consumer protection and environmental controls – that Mr. Trump proposes to curtail. He may or may not appreciate the Corporation for Public Broadcasting or the National Endowment for the Arts, or that the best scientists and engineers (including the folks who track potential epidemics) are going to get a whole lot less federal research money or that the richest people in the land are probably going to get the biggest tax cut in recent memory, but I suspect he noticed.
Want a need summary of the discord and chaos in Washington these days? Clinton-era, Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, tells it like it is with this March 17 tweet-storm (this is only part of what he said):
·         Republicans (and their patrons in big business) no longer believe Trump will give them cover to do what they want to do. They’re becoming afraid Trump is genuinely nuts, and he’ll pull the party down with him.
·         Many Republicans are also angry at Paul Ryan, whose replacement bill for Obamacare is considered by almost everyone on Capitol Hill to be incredibly dumb.
·         I didn’t talk with anyone inside the White House, but several who have had dealings with it called it a cesspool of intrigue and fear. Apparently everyone working there hates and distrusts everyone else. 
·         The Washington foreign policy establishment — both Republican and Democrat — is deeply worried about what’s happening to American foreign policy, and the worldwide perception of America being loony and rudderless. They think Trump is legitimizing far-right movements around the world. 
And it’s not exactly like the Democrats have any clear and coherent alternative these days; they still are fractious, many tied to the out-of-touch, old-world “liberals” like House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, who simply don’t get/prioritize the plight of the recently displaced/marginalized working class… the massive group that made Donald Trump possible. But exactly how do we get real? Deal with the world as it actually is and maximize who we are? Will the currently administration inflict such incredible long-term damage that we cannot recover? Who exactly are we looking to for genuine leadership? Who should that person be? Now that we know it cannot be Donald Trump.
I’m Peter Dekom, and James Walker represents the best part of America, needs to be admired and supported, and we should be deeply grateful for his courage.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Loop-Holely Men and Women

Although we have a 35% federal tax rate, we know that the average American corporation with more than $10 million in annual revenues pays an average federal rate of 12.6%. You remember how Apple does it, right? Moved all their intellectual property (patents, trademarks, copyrights, etc.) to a related entity in a country (Ireland) where they have negotiated a tiny little tax rate, and then shift most of their profits to that entity by making their operations in high tax rate nations (like the U.S.) pay high prices for the use of that IP. This effectively shifts profits from high tax to low and almost-no tax venues.
But that is one example. In fact, with batteries of lawyers and accountants focused on how to avoid U.S. taxes, there are a whole pile of very profitable companies that pay no federal taxes. Patricia Cohen, writing for the March 9th New York Times explains the playing field: “Complaining that the United States has one of the world’s highest corporate tax levels, President Trump and congressional Republicans have repeatedly vowed to shrink it.
“Yet if the level is so high, why have so many companies’ income tax bills added up to zero?... That’s what a new analysis of 258 profitable Fortune 500 companies that earned more than $3.8 trillion in profits showed.
“Although the top corporate rate is 35 percent, hardly any company actually pays that. The report, by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a left-leaning research group in Washington, found that 100 of them — nearly 40 percent — paid no taxes in at least one year between 2008 and 2015. Eighteen, including General Electric, International Paper, and PG&E, incurred a total federal income tax bill of less than zero over the entire eight-year period — meaning they received rebates. The institute used the companies’ own regulatory filings to compute their tax rates…
“Companies take advantage of an array of tax loopholes and aggressive strategies that enable them to legally avoid paying what they owe. The institute’s report cites these examples:
“Multinational corporations like Apple [see above], Microsoft, Abbott Laboratories and Coca-Cola have ways of booking profits overseas, out of the reach of the Internal Revenue Service. (Those companies were not among the 258 whose rates were calculated by the institute, which said it could not verify the breakdown of their profits between the United States and other countries.)…
“Others, like American Electric Power, Con Ed and Comcast, qualified for accelerated depreciation, enabling them to write off most of the cost of equipment and machinery before it wore out.
“Facebook, Aetna and Exxon Mobil, among others, saved billions in taxes by giving options to top executives to buy stock in the future at a discount. The companies then get to deduct their huge payouts as a loss. Facebook used excess tax benefits from stock options to reduce its federal and state taxes by $5.78 billion from 2010 to 2015, the institute found.
“Individual industries have successfully lobbied for specific tax breaks that function as subsidies: for instance, drilling for gas and oil, building Nascar racetracks or railroad tracks, roasting coffee, undertaking certain kinds of research, producing ethanol or making movies (which saved the Walt Disney Company $1.48 billion over eight years, the report says).” So I guess you can say while the United States has one of the highest federal tax rates on paper, it actually has one of the lowest effective tax rates on earth.
So “people who believe anything a politician tells them” fans, lowering corporate taxes will provide more money to companies who will immediately use that money to hire lots more people… without stopping to figure out if there’s business plan justified by obvious demand. Huh? But it doesn’t work that way. That’s the Trump-GOP plan! And then if we lower taxes enough for U.S. companies to repatriate money they are holding overseas, all that money will create even more jobs. Er… lying politicians… there’s a catch. It never happens that way. Your trickle-down “fund the job creator” supply side economics have simply failed.
For example in the immediate past, Kansas Governor Brownback has virtually bankrupted his state, destroyed the public school system (the courts had to intervene), with unjustified tax cuts for the wealthy that did not result in massive new jobs and new growth… or his much-heralded expanded tax base (never happened). And the last time we lowered corporate taxes to encourage off-shore money to come into the U.S., during the Reagan presidency, what resulted was a flurry of corporate mergers and acquisitions with all that newfound money. And what happens when companies (the purported “job creators”) are merged or acquired? Yeah, they consolidate, eliminate overlapping jobs and increase efficiencies by… yup… laying off tons of workers. The Reagan era unemployment rate got much worse as a result. We call that “Reaganomics.”
But no matter how simply you explain reality to many an “average American,” who may suffer from having been educated through those failing public schools, they seem to buy the slogans (“job creation, believe me”) and not the consistent history of failure for those who tried to implement real programs based on these simplistic and highly-flawed slogans.
I’m Peter Dekom, and while reality can be pretty scary, living in a parallel universe built on flawed assumptions, lies and alternative facts scares me a whole lot more.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Learning on the Job Too

Even if you ignore the absurd personal attacks, the fabricated and seemingly paranoid tweets and the doubling down on indefensible statements and positions, there is this pervasive naiveté, Trump-world inexperienced cabinet appointees with little or no government experience, folks opining on legal rulings with obviously absolutely no legal training or understanding.
You can see this in Donald Trump’s recitation of the statutory provision upon which his Muslim travel ban/executive order is based. He admonished the rallying Trumpsters in Nashville on March 15th by challenging the intelligence of anyone to tell him how anyone could stop his ban based upon the plain reading of the enabling statute (a fairly long statute, originally passed in 1952 and recorded as 8 United States Code, Section 1182 – Inadmissible Aliens) that gives the president the ability to “suspend the entry” of “any class of aliens” that he finds are detrimental to the interest of the United States.
Yup, if that’s all you read, you’d think that the President can pretty much shut down our borders to classes of people he believes are a threat to the country. But what non-lawyer, non-government-experienced Trump never mentioned, the very basis for what courts have used to stop his Muslim ban order, is something called “the Constitution,” which severely limits how statutes can be applied and what considerations the government, including the President, cannot make. Whether the Constitution winds up supporting or overturning that executive order has yet to be determined is not the point. Not addressing that potential and thinking that the statute is enough is the issue.
That Congress can make no law abridging religious freedom (set forth in the Constitution’s First Amendment), for example, limits the Presidential discretion in any matter. Does it apply to this instance? Several federal district courts and one federal appellate court have effectively ruled that as Donald Trump has applied the above statute, he has stepped over the constitutional line. Some people have asked, “If this statute or this section of the statute is unconstitutional; why wasn’t it struck down way back when?” Courts cannot review a statute on their own. Somebody has to bring a case involving that statute, and courts are then obligated to make a decision on the narrowest grounds they can.
Until Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric throughout the election process, reaffirmed in recent rallies, was rather directly linked to his executive travel ban order, there was no reason to for the courts to intervene. But several states’ attorneys general saw that order as disruptive to their own people and violative of their perception of constitutional proscription. Formal cases were filed, and the decision moved through the courts.
Nevertheless, Donald Trump’s rather obvious ignorance of the law, which “failure to get it” is anything but clear to his non-lawyer followers, did not address anything beyond a statute, a law which of necessity lives within a greater legal system with checks and balances, a system designed to check both executive and legislative branches to insure constitutional governance. Donald Trump does not like that system. He does not like judges. He likes to attack them, personally challenging their intelligence, noting that federal judges are appointed for life. Trumps insults to judges are “disheartening” and “demoralizing” according to Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. These insults reflect Donald Trump’s rather profound ignorance of both our judicial system and our Constitutionally-defined legal system… unless he intend to ignore them and rule by fiat… which does not augur well for the survivability of the American “democracy.”
That limited knowledge, an unwillingness to learn the ropes before embracing a policy, seem to be pervasive in the Trump administration. Between “draining the swamp” and attacking anyone who disagrees with Trump administration dictates, there seems to be this arrogance that the Donald was elected purposely to ignore the law and anything else Washington stands for, even including the Constitution.
We have also recently alienated countries in every corner of the world, from England to Germany, from China to Mexico, and now we have our most senior diplomat making “wet behind the ears” mistakes. In the world of diplomacy (I am a Foreign Service brat; grew up with stuff), the words you choose are often symbolic of underlying policies. Experienced diplomats understand this jargon in detail, and misuse of words can send the wrong signals to your negotiating partner. When someone without foreign policy experience steps into a policy leadership role, no matter how “successful” in the business world, there can be some ugly ramifications in the universe of international relations.
Here’s one example from (March 21st), which aggregates views from seasoned professionals: “Secretary of State Rex Tillerson concluded his first trip to China over the weekend with affirmations from Beijing of cooperative and friendly relations between the two countries. Tillerson met Chinese President Xi Jinping, who later said ‘the joint interests of China and the United States far outweigh the differences, and cooperation is the only correct choice for us both.’ In a press conference on Saturday, Tillerson said that China and the U.S. had agreed to cooperate on finding a solution to denuclearize North Korea.
The Cipher Take: While Tillerson’s visit seems to have diffused the tension over some of the Trump Administration’s rather hostile statements directed at China, some experts believe it may have gone too far. Tillerson’s statements acknowledged the term ‘mutual respect’ between the two countries. Previously, the Obama Administration had avoided this term - preferred by Beijing -because it is thought to imply that the two countries are equals in the region and that the U.S. respects Beijing’s ‘core interests,’ namely its claims over Tibet, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and second-tier security interests such as the South China Sea. While Tillerson’s approach may facilitate more productive relations between Beijing and Washington in the near term, it could have far-reaching ramifications for the United States’ relations with regional allies whose interests often conflict with those of Beijing.” Ouch!
This failure by Trump appointees to understand the underlying responsibility of their new government jobs goes beyond an EPA head who simply doesn’t want to believe that carbon dioxide is the greatest cause of greenhouse-gas-driven global warming (the average annual global temperature continues to rise, year-by-year). It extends, for further example, to the new head of the Department of Education, a person who has openly advocated replacing public schools with vouchers that could be used for private education. Traditionally, where vouchers are allowed (e.g., Florida), they are overwhelmingly used to place children in religious schools, clearly the intent of super-evangelically-oriented, Betsy DeVos (the new head of that agency).
But what is most interesting is how little she really understood about the department she is now running, or what its legal obligations are. For example, she had no idea that the law required schools to accommodate students with disabilities. Take these exchanges during her January confirmation hearings: “Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) asked Betsy DeVos about how she’d enforce the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. IDEA, as the law is known, requires that public schools provide children with disabilities a free and appropriate’ education just like other students.
“As DeVos danced around his questions, Kaine grew agitated, asking her point-blank if schools should have to follow federal law… ‘Should all K-12 schools receiving government funding be required to meet the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act?’ he asked… ‘I think they already are,’ DeVos responded, suggesting that no school is failing to meet the law.
“‘But I’m asking you a ‘should’ question,’ Kaine followed up. ‘Should all schools that receive taxpayer funding be required to meet [the law]?’
“‘I think that’s a matter that’s best left to the states,’ DeVos responded, essentially saying the federal government should abdicate enforcement of its own law… Kaine pretty much lost it at that point… ‘So some states might be good to kids with disabilities, other states might not be good, and then what? People can just move around the country if they don’t like [the schools]?’
“When it was her turn to quiz DeVos, Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), who has a son with special needs, returned to the topic of IDEA, and wanted to pin down whether DeVos was even familiar with it… ‘That’s a federal civil rights law,’ Hassan said. ‘So do you stand by your statement a few minutes ago that it should be up to the state whether to follow it?’
‘I may have confused it,’ DeVos responded.” Huffington Post, January 18th. Or this little exchange showing that she really doesn’t even understand the basic terminology used to explain student metrics:
“Sen. Al Franken asked DeVos to explain her thinking on whether test scores should be used to measure students’ proficiency or their growth. That’s an important, and basic, difference because it affects how schools are labeled as succeeding or failing… But DeVos had no idea what Franken was talking about.
“‘I think if I am understanding your question correctly around proficiency, I would correlate it to competency and mastery, so each student according to the advancements they are making in each subject area,’ she said to Franken… ‘That’s growth,’ Franken retorted, correctly. ‘That’s not proficiency.’” By the time DeVos understood Franken’s question, she had no time left to answer.’’, January 17th.
In the end, the United States is only as good as its leaders and representatives, how people see us and define their perceptions of who Americans are. And right now, most of the world doesn’t think much of us. As the world smolders, the United States seems little more than a political circus to governments and press around the world. Keystone cops making freshman mistakes. Can we afford such awkwardness, such obvious mistakes when there are really serious issues over which we seem relatively unconcerned?
“Aggression is growing along the westward reach of Russian influence and the southern boundary of Chinese influence. Intercontinental nuclear capacity may soon be in the hands of a mental pubescent in North Korea. In the Middle East, a hostile alliance of Russia and Shiite powers is ascendant; radical Sunnis have a territorial foothold and inspire strikes in Western cities; America’s traditional Sunni friends and allies feel devalued or abandoned; perhaps 500,000 Syrians are dead and millions of refugees suffer in conditions that incubate anger. Cyberterrorism and cyberespionage are exploiting and weaponizing our own technological dependence. Add to this a massive famine in East Africa, threatening the lives of 20 million people, and the picture of chaos is complete — until the next crisis breaks. 
“It is in this context that the diplomatic bloopers reel of the past few days has been played — the casual association of British intelligence with alleged surveillance at Trump Tower; the presidential tweets undermining Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during his Asia trip; and the rude and childish treatment given the German chancellor. When President Trump and Angela Merkel sat together in the Oval Office, we were seeing the leader of the free world — and that guy pouting in public.
“Every new administration has a shakeout period. But this assumes an ability to learn from mistakes. And this would require admitting mistakes. The spectacle of an American president blaming a Fox News commentator for a major diplomatic incident was another milestone in the miniaturization of the presidency.
“An interested foreigner (friend or foe) must be a student of Trump’s temperament, which is just as bad as advertised. He is inexperienced, uninformed, easily provoked and supremely confident in his own judgment…
“Foreigners see a Darwinian, nationalist framework for American foreign policy; a diminished commitment to global engagement; a brewing scandal that could distract and cripple the administration; and a president who often conducts his affairs with peevish ignorance…  Some will look at this spectacle and live in fear; others [like China and Russia] may see a golden opportunity." Michael Gerson writing for the March 20th Washington Post. 
Should we think that does not matter, I have already watched hundreds of millions, even billions, of foreign investment dollars vaporize in my little entertainment industry alone… because there is an aversion over doing business with an unpredictable new Trump-led America. They have been less-than-subtle. We are increasingly have to go it alone to effect American priorities around the world, with fewer and fewer allies ready to stand by our side.
I’m Peter Dekom, and how many jobs or deals do we have to lose before we wake up and become one nation again… if we ever do?