The facts about Trump’s policy of separating families at the border

Leave a comment

“I hate the children being taken away. The Democrats have to change their law. That’s their law.”
— President Trump, in remarks to reporters at the White House, June 15

“We have the worst immigration laws in the entire world. Nobody has such sad, such bad and actually, in many cases, such horrible and tough — you see about child separation, you see what’s going on there.”
— Trump, in remarks at the White House, June 18

“Because of the Flores consent decree and a 9th Circuit Court decision, ICE can only keep families detained together for a very short period of time.”
— Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in a speech in Bozeman, Mont., June 7

“It’s the law, and that’s what the law states.”
— White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, at a news briefing, June 14

“We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.”
— Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, on Twitter, June 17

The president and top administration officials say U.S. laws or court rulings are forcing them to separate families that are caught trying to cross the southern border.

These claims are false. Immigrant families are being separated primarily because the Trump administration in April began to prosecute as many border-crossing offenses as possible. This “zero-tolerance policy” applies to all adults, regardless of whether they cross alone or with their children.

The Justice Department can’t prosecute children along with their parents, so the natural result of the zero-tolerance policy has been a sharp rise in family separations. Nearly 2,000 immigrant children were separated from parents during six weeks in April and May, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

The Trump administration implemented this policy by choice and could end it by choice. No law or court ruling mandates family separations. In fact, during its first 15 months, the Trump administration released nearly 100,000 immigrants who were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border, a total that includes more than 37,500 unaccompanied minors and more than 61,000 family members.

Children continue to be released to their relatives or to shelters. But since the zero-tolerance policy took effect, parents as a rule are being prosecuted. Any conviction in those proceedings would be grounds for deportation.

We’ve published two fact-checks about family separations, but it turns out these Trumpian claims have a zombie quality and keep popping up in new ways.

In the latest iteration, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen tweeted and then said at a White House briefing that the administration does not have “a policy of separating families at the border.” This is Orwellian stuff. Granted, the administration has not written regulations or policy documents that advertise, “Hey, we’re going to separate families.” But that’s the inevitable consequence, as Nielsen and other Trump administration officials acknowledge.

“Operationally what that means is we will have to separate your family,” Nielsen told NPR in May. “That’s no different than what we do every day in every part of the United States when an adult of a family commits a crime. If you as a parent break into a house, you will be incarcerated by police and thereby separated from your family. We’re doing the same thing at the border.”

Although we’ve fact-checked these family-separation claims twice, we hadn’t had the opportunity to assign a Pinocchio rating yet. We’ll do so now.

The Facts

Since 2014, hundreds of thousands of children and families have fled to the United States because of rampant violence and gang activity in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. U.S. laws provide asylum or refugee status to qualified applicants, but the Trump administration says smugglers and bad actors are exploiting these same laws to gain entry. Nielsen says the government has detected hundreds of cases of fraud among migrants traveling with children who are not their own. President Trump says he wants to close what he describes as “loopholes” in these humanitarian-relief laws.

The Central American refugee crisis developed during President Barack Obama’s administration and continues under Trump. The two administrations have taken different approaches. The Justice Department under Obama prioritized the deportation of dangerous people. Once he took office, Trump issued an executive order rolling back much of the Obama-era framework.

Obama’s guidelines prioritized the deportation of gang members, those who posed a national security risk and those who had committed felonies. Trump’s January 2017 executive order does not include a priority list for deportations and refers only to “criminal offenses,” which is broad enough to encompass serious felonies as well as misdemeanors.

Then, in April 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rolled out the zero-tolerance policy.

When families or individuals are apprehended by the Border Patrol, they’re taken into DHS custody. Under the zero-tolerance policy, DHS officials refer any adult “believed to have committed any crime, including illegal entry,” to the Justice Department for prosecution. If they’re convicted, that triggers deportation proceedings.

Illegal entry is a misdemeanor for first-time offenders, and a conviction is grounds for deportation. Because of Trump’s executive order, DHS can deport people for misdemeanors more easily, because the government no longer prioritizes the removal of dangerous criminals, gang members or national-security threats. (A DHS fact sheet says, “Any individual processed for removal, including those who are criminally prosecuted for illegal entry, may seek asylum or other protection available under law.”)

Families essentially are put on two different tracks. One track ends with deportation. The other doesn’t.

After a holding period, DHS transfers children to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the Department of Health and Human Services. They spend an average 51 days at an ORR shelter before they’re placed with a sponsor in the United States, according to HHS. The government is required to place these children with family members whenever possible, even if those family members might be undocumented immigrants. “Approximately 85 percent of sponsors are parents” who were already in the country “or close family members,” according to HHS. Some children have no relatives available and in those cases the government may keep them in shelters for longer periods of time while suitable sponsors are identified and vetted.

Adding it all up, this means the Trump administration is operating a system in which immigrant families that are apprehended at the border get split up, because children go into a process in which they eventually get placed with sponsors in the country while their parents are prosecuted and potentially deported.

ENOUGH of the misinformation. This Administration did not create a policy of separating families at the border. pic.twitter.com/y0uuYUkSEL

— The White House (@WhiteHouse) June 18, 2018

This is a question of Trump and his Cabinet choosing to enforce some laws over others. The legal landscape did not change between the time the Trump administration released nearly 100,000 immigrants during its first 15 months and the time the zero-tolerance policy took effect in April 2018.

What changed was the administration’s handling of these cases. Undocumented immigrant families seeking asylum previously were released and went into the civil court system, but now the parents are being detained and sent to criminal courts while their kids are resettled in the United States as though they were unaccompanied minors.

The government has limited resources and cannot prosecute every crime, so setting up a system that prioritizes the prosecution of some offenses over others is a policy choice. The Supreme Court has said, “In our criminal justice system, the government retains ‘broad discretion’ as to whom to prosecute.” To charge or not to charge someone “generally rests entirely” on the prosecutor, the court has said.

Katie Waldman, a spokeswoman for Nielsen, said the administration does not have a family-separation policy. But Waldman agreed that Trump officials are exercising their prosecutorial discretion to charge more illegal-entry offenses, which in turn causes more family separations. The Obama administration also separated immigrant families, she said.

“We’re increasing the rate of what we were already doing,” Waldman said. “Instead of letting some slip through, we’re saying we’re doing it for all.”

Waldman sent figures from fiscal 2010 through 2016 showing that, out of 2,362,966 adults apprehended at the southern border, 492,970, or 21 percent, were referred for prosecution. These figures include all adults, not just those who crossed with minor children, so they’re not a measure of how many families were separated under Obama.

“During the Obama administration there was no policy in place that resulted in the systematic separation of families at the border, like we are now seeing under the Trump administration,” said Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute. “Our understanding is that generally parents were not prosecuted for illegal entry under President Obama. There may have been some separation if there was suspicion that the children were being trafficked or a claimed parent-child relationship did not actually exist. But nothing like the levels we are seeing today.”

Trump administration officials say they’re trying to keep parents informed about their kids.

But some families instead have wound up in wrenching scenarios.

“Some of the most intense outrage at the measures has followed instances of parents deported to Central America without their children or spending weeks unable to locate their sons and daughters,” The Washington Post’s Nick Miroff reported. “In other instances, pediatricians and child advocates have reported seeing toddlers crying inconsolably for their mothers at shelters where staff are prohibited from physically comforting them.”

Administration officials have pointed to a set of laws and court rulings that they said forced their hand:

  • A 1997 federal consent decree that requires the government to release all children apprehended crossing the border. The “Flores” consent decree began as a class-action lawsuit. The Justice Department negotiated a settlement during President Bill Clinton’s administration. According to a 2016 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, the Flores settlement requires the federal government to release rather than detain all undocumented immigrant children, whether they crossed with parents or alone. The agreement doesn’t cover any parents who might be accompanying those minors, but it doesn’t mandate that parents be prosecuted or that families be separated. Moreover, Congress could pass a law that overrides the terms of the Flores settlement. Waldman said the Flores settlement requires the government to keep immigrant families together for only 20 days, but no part of the consent decree requires that families be separated after 20 days. Courts have ruled that children must be released from detention facilities within 20 days under the Flores consent decree, but none of these legal developments prevents the government from releasing parents along with children.
  • A 2008 law meant to curb human trafficking called the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA). This law covers children of all nationalities except Canadians and Mexicans. Central American children who are apprehended trying to enter the United States must be released rather than detained under the terms of the TVPRA, and they’re exempt from prompt return to their home countries. The law passed with wide bipartisan support and was signed by a Republican president, George W. Bush. No part of the TVPRA requires family separations.
  • The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. This comprehensive law governs U.S. immigration and citizenship and makes a person’s first illegal entry into the United States a misdemeanor. Clinton, Bush and Obama — the presidents who were in office during the immigration boom of the past few decades — never enforced the INA’s illegal-entry provision with the Trump administration’s zeal. The INA says nothing about separating families. It was sponsored by Democrats and passed by a Democratic-held Congress. President Harry Truman, also a Democrat, tried to veto the bill, describing it as a reactionary and “un-American” measure meant to keep out immigrants from Eastern Europe. Congress overrode his veto.

“What has changed is that we no longer exempt entire classes of people who break the law,” Nielsen said at a White House briefing June 18. “Everyone is subject to prosecution.”

It’s unclear whether 100 percent of adults are being prosecuted. Experts on the ground say there are not enough resources on the border to process all these cases. Trump administration officials say immigrants should show up at a port of entry to request asylum if they want to avoid prosecution, but there’s usually a big crowd and people often get turned away at these entry points, according to reporting from Texas Monthly.

It’s strange to behold Trump distancing himself from the zero-tolerance policy (“the Democrats gave us that law”) while Nielsen claims it doesn’t exist (“it’s not a policy”) and Sessions defends it in speech after speech.

“We do have a policy of prosecuting adults who flout our laws to come here illegally instead of waiting their turn or claiming asylum at any port of entry,” Sessions said in a speech on June 18 in New Orleans. “We cannot and will not encourage people to bring children by giving them blanket immunity from our laws.”

In a June 7 speech, he said: “I hope that we don’t have to separate any more children from any more adults. But there’s only one way to ensure that is the case: it’s for people to stop smuggling children illegally. Stop crossing the border illegally with your children. Apply to enter lawfully. Wait your turn.”

The attorney general also suggested on June 7 that legal developments are forcing his hand. “Because of the Flores consent decree and a 9th Circuit Court decision, ICE can only keep families detained together for a very short period of time,” he said. But as we’ve explained, this is misleading. Neither the consent decree nor the court ruling forces the government to separate families. What they do provide is accommodations for children that the government could extend to parents if it wanted to.

For Trump, the family-separation policy is leverage as he seeks congressional funding for his promised border wall and other immigration priorities, according to reporting by The Washington Post. Top DHS officials have said that threatening adults with criminal charges and prison time would be the “most effective” way to reverse the rising number of illegal crossings.

The Pinocchio Test

The doublespeak coming from Trump and top administration officials on this issue is breathtaking, not only because of the sheer audacity of these claims but because they keep being repeated without evidence. Immigrant families are being separated at the border not because of Democrats and not because some law forces this result, as Trump insists. They’re being separated because the Trump administration, under its zero-tolerance policy, is choosing to prosecute border-crossing adults for any offenses.

This includes illegal-entry misdemeanors, which are being prosecuted at a rate not seen in previous administrations. Because the act of crossing itself is now being treated as an offense worthy of prosecution, any family that enters the United States illegally is likely to end up separated. Nielsen may choose not to call this a “family separation policy,” but that’s precisely the effect it has.

Sessions, who otherwise owns up to what’s happening, has suggested that the Flores settlement and a court ruling are forcing his hand. They’re not. At heart, this is an issue of prosecutorial discretion: his discretion.

The Trump administration owns this family-separation policy and its spin deserves Four Pinocchios.

Four Pinocchios

by Salvador Rizzo/WAPO
Posted by The NON-Conformist
Advertisements

NC Amendment would put voter ID in NC constitution

Leave a comment

Our dear General Assembly leaders(see below) here in North Carolina haven’t given up on voter ID, they recently filed a proposed constitutional amendment to ensconce a voter ID rule in the state constitution…Libergirl.

 

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, left, and House Speaker Tim Moore during a May15, 2018, news conference.

Image: WRAL.com

The bill would ask voters to decide this November whether to add this paragraph to the constitution: “Photo identification for voting in person. Every person offering to vote in person shall present photo identification before voting in the manner prescribed by law.”

Republicans have championed photo IDs as the best defense against voter fraud, but Meredith College political science professor David McLennan said instances of in-person voter fraud are “very minimal.”

“It is not a widespread issue, despite what politicians say,” McLennan said.

More from WRAL.com

Posted by Libergirl

U.S. and China announce new tariffs in escalation of trade war

Leave a comment

President Trump followed through Friday on his threat to crack down on China for its “very unfair” trade practices, imposing a 25 percent tariff on $50 billion in Chinese imports.

Beijing quickly responded. In a late-night statement, China’s Ministry of Commerce said it would impose trade barriers of the “same scale and the same strength.”

The Chinese government said Trump’s tariffs were “damaging” relations and “undermining the world trade order.”

U.S. and Chinese officials in recent weeks had made progress on a deal that involved up to $70 billion in additional purchases of American products. But the Chinese offer was now “invalid,” the statement said.

Chinese officials, who had signaled their intention to retaliate if Trump went through with his tariff threats, are targeting the president’s supporters in farm states and the industrial Midwest.

Anticipating the Chinese response, the president said the United States would “pursue additional tariffs,” raising the specter of the tit-for-tat trade war that business leaders and many congressional Republicans fear.

In a short White House statement, the president said the import tax would apply to “goods from China that contain industrially significant technologies.”

Friday’s action follows an administration report in March that complained China had forced foreign companies to surrender their technology secrets in return for market access and had pilfered other advanced U.S. technologies through a campaign of cybertheft and investment in Silicon Valley start-ups.

“These practices . . . harm our economic and national security and deepen our already massive trade imbalance with China,” Trump said.

The United States last year ran up a $375 billion deficit in goods trade with China, a figure the president blames on Chinese trade barriers. Most economists say the gap is the result of broader forces such as Americans’ low savings rate.

On April 6, the administration published a proposed list of 1,333 products targeted for tariffs. After hearing objections from business groups, U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer dropped 515 items and added 284 new ones.

As a result, the tariffs will be imposed in two steps. On July 6, customs officers will begin collecting the tax on an initial basket of goods valued at $34 billion, which were on the initial list. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), meanwhile, will field comments on the new items on the list, valued at $16 billion.

“These tariffs are essential to preventing further unfair transfers of American technology and intellectual property to China, which will protect American jobs,” the president said.

USTR also plans to establish a process for U.S. companies to request permission to continue importing the targeted items on a duty-free basis, if no alternative suppliers exist.

The Chinese government is pursuing a $300 billion program of subsidies to enable its companies to dominate next-generation technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics and quantum computing, upping the stakes for Trump’s efforts to preserve U.S. technological secrets.

China has a history of targeting industries such as steel or solar energy for growth, which results in excessive investment by its state-led firms. That, in turn, swamps global markets, driving prices to unsustainable levels and making it all but impossible for private companies to compete, a senior administration official said.

Unless the United States can somehow force China to change its industrial policies, American companies will lose out in a range of advanced technology markets, the official said.
“This is not market capitalism,” the official said, speaking anonymously to brief reporters. “These are state policies where they are targeting certain industries.”
Trump’s complaints about China’s trade practices are shared by many business leaders. But there is little support for using import taxes, which are paid by Americans, as a tool against the Chinese.
“Imposing tariffs places the cost of China’s unfair trade practices squarely on the shoulders of American consumers, manufacturers, farmers and ranchers. This is not the right approach,” said Tom Donohue, president and chief executive of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The U.S. announcement comes at a complex juncture in U.S.-China relations.
Following a summit in Singapore between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stopped in Beijing for meetings with President Xi Jinping and other top Chinese leaders.

On Thursday, Pompeo thanked Xi for China’s help with North Korea and even wished the Chinese president a happy birthday.

But at a news conference with China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, tension over trade was clear. Pompeo said the U.S. trade deficit with China is still too high, and Wang called for Washington to make a “wise choice” on tariffs.

After Trump’s statement Friday, Lu Xiang, a trade expert at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, warned that relations between the two countries were heading to their lowest point since China began its economic reforms in the late 1970s.

“This is like holding up a pistol, putting the finger on the trigger,” he said of Trump’s actions. “It’s just one step away from pulling the trigger and firing the pistol. It’s a very dangerous and sensitive moment now.”

by David J. Lynch and Emily Rauhala/WAPO

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Obamacare Critics and Defenders Team Up Against the Trump Administration’s Refusal to Defend the Health Law in Court The DOJ’s argument for striking down the health law’s preexisting conditions rules is weak.

Leave a comment

Last week, in response to a legal challenge filed by Texas and a group of conservatives states, the Trump administration took an unusual step by announcing that it would not defend Obamacare in court. Instead, the Trump administration took the position that the health law’s was unconstitutional, and that its preexisting conditions regulations should be struck down.

The federal government’s suit has drawn rebuke from some unlikely quarters. An attorney with 20 years of experience at the Justice Department resigned this week as a result of the administration’s position. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said it was “as far-fetched a legal argument as I think I’ve ever heard.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell distanced his party from the argument, saying that “everyone” in the Senate favored maintaining coverage for people with preexisting conditions.

Even Health and Human Services (HHS) Sec. Alex Azar, who signed the brief in question, described it as a “constitutional and legal position, not a policy position.”

It doesn’t appear to be much of one.

Among the more unusual responses to the administration’s argument came today in the form a brief filed by five academic experts with wildly divergent views about Obamacare. The brief is signed by Jonathan Adler, Nicholas Bagley, Abbe Gluck, Ilya Somin, and Kevin Walsh. Bagley and Gluck have both defended the health law’s legality in the past. Walsh has published several analyses of the legal arguments surrounding Obamacare. But Adler and Somin, notably, are libertarian-leaning law professors who have been quite critical of the health law over the years. (Both are also contributors to the Volokh Conspiracy, which is published at Reason.com.)

The opening of the brief stresses that the signers have spent the last several years disagreeing with each other, in some cases quite forcefully, about the legal and constitutional merits of the health law. The brief takes no position on the mandate itself. But in this case, they all agree that the federal government’s argument for striking down the law’s preexisting rules is, legally speaking, pretty terrible.

Understanding the brief requires a little bit of background. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that although Obamacare’s mandate was unconstitutional when viewed as a purchase requirement or economic command, it could stand because it raised revenue and therefore functioned as a tax. But last year, as part of tax reform legislation, Congress eliminated the penalty for not complying with Obamacare’s individual mandate. The mandate remained on the books, but for all practical purposes it had been repealed. And it no longer raised any revenue.

As a result, a group of conservative states, led by Texas, challenged the legality of the (now unenforceable) mandate, and further argued that because it is the centerpiece of the health law, all of Obamacare should be struck down.

This is an argument about what’s known as “severability” — whether the remaining parts of a law should be struck down if a court finds one provision to be illegal.

The Trump administration’s argument does not go quite as far as the states. It agrees that the mandate is now unconstitutional, and takes the position that although much of the law, including the Medicaid expansion and private insurance subsidies, can stand, the preexisting conditions rules should be tossed along with the mandate, because the mandate and the preexisting conditions rules are not severable. To back up its argument, the administration cites findings associated with the statute of Obamacare (that were also cited by the Obama administration in court) declaring that the mandate and the preexisting conditions rules are a bundle that should not be separated.

For critics of Obamacare, there is something naturally appealing about this argument: It uses the text of the health law, and the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold it, to attempt to knock it down. I have been open to arguments along these lines under the Obama administration, and I think they made sense at the time.

The problem, as the new brief points out, is that determining severability is about determining congressional intent. And the current Congress has made its position on the matter quite apparent. Often, this requires some sort of guessing. But at this point, we know exactly what Congress thinks about the law it chose to amend, because it very clearly chose to eliminate the mandate penalty while leaving the preexisting conditions rules in place. That is about as clear a statement of intent as you can ever imagine from Congress.

The brief argues that the administration’s argument relies on “time shifting” to make its case, and that the administration’s case effectively gets severability backward by “[disregarding] the clearly expressed intent of Congress and seek judicial invalidation of statutory provisions that Congress chose to leave intact.”

The findings about severability that the administration cites to back up its arguments about the preexisting were made by a different Congress, prior to the elimination of the mandate penalty and other alterations to the law. They were made in the context of what is now, essentially, a different law. They don’t apply.

I have been a critic of Obamacare for years, and I continue to believe there are many problems with the law. The preexisting conditions rules, while popular, distort the individual market and have contributed to rising premiums in the exchanges. (The popularity of those rules, of course, is one reason why Republicans haven’t touched them, and why GOP officials are distancing themselves from the policy implications of their argument.) But critics of the health law do themselves no favors by signing on to a fundamentally weak legal challenge like this.

The bigger problem with this case is that it has the potential to serve as a substitute for a policy agenda. Republicans still need a broad health policy vision that goes beyond simply attacking Obamacare. But as long as they are basing their hopes on a legal manuever as poorly thought out as this one, that’s not something we’re likely to see.

By Peter Suderman/reason

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Hiding the Real Number of Unemployed

Leave a comment

Your government believes that exhausting your unemployment benefits is a cause for celebration — because you are no longer unemployed!

Huh? Well, there is a slight of hand here. Only working people who are receiving unemployment benefits are counted as “unemployed” in official statistics issued by countries around the world. Thus the actual unemployment rates are much higher than the “official” rates, generally about twice as high. Most governments make it difficult to find the actual rate, and the corporate media does its part by reporting the official rate as if that includes everybody.

Then there is the matter of how much of a given national population is actually engaged in paid employment, another useful number difficult to discover. Finally, we can consider wages, both how fast they might be rising as compared to inflation and whether they are increasing in concert with increases in productivity.

To cut to the chase, things ain’t so hot. But you already knew that, didn’t you?

Let’s start our global survey with the United States, where, contrary to expectations, the real unemployment figure is easier to discover that most other places. Perhaps the Trump régime hasn’t gotten around to suppressing it, busy as it is hiding scientific evidence about global warming, pollution and other inconvenient facts. The official U.S. unemployment rate for May was reported as 3.8 percent, the lowest it has been in several years, and less than half of what it was during the post-2008 economic collapse. Predictably, the Trump administration was quick to take credit, although the trend of falling employment has carried on for eight years now.

Nonetheless, you might have noticed that happy days aren’t exactly here again. The real U.S. unemployment figure — all who are counted as unemployed in the “official” rate, plus discouraged workers, the total of those employed part-time but not able to secure full-time work and all persons marginally attached to the labor force (those who wish to work but have given up) — is 7.6 percent. (This is the “U-6” rate.) That total, too, is less than half of its 2010 peak and is the lowest in several years. But this still doesn’t mean the number of people actually working is increasing.

Fewer people at work and they are making less

A better indication of how many people have found work is the “civilian labor force participation rate.” By this measure, which includes all people age 16 or older who are not in prison or a mental institution, only 62.7 percent of the potential U.S. workforce was actually in the workforce in May, and that was slightly lower than the previous month. This is just about equal to the lowest this statistic has been since the breakdown of Keynesianism in the 1970s, and down significantly from the peak of 67.3 percent in May 2000. You have to go back to the mid-1970s to find a time when U.S. labor participation was lower. This number was consistently lower in the 1950s and 1960s, but in those days one income was sufficient to support a family. Now everybody works and still can’t make ends meet.

And that brings us to the topic of wages. After reaching a peak of 52 percent in 1969, the percentage of the U.S. gross domestic product going to wages has fallen to 43 percent, according to research by the St. Louis branch of the Federal Reserve. The amount of GDP going to wages during the past five years has been the lowest it has been since 1929, according to a New York Times report. And within the inequality of wages that don’t keep up with inflation or productivity gains, the worse-off are doing worse.

The Economic Policy Institute noted, “From 2000 to 2017, wage growth was strongest for the highest-wage workers, continuing the trend in rising wage inequality over the last four decades.” The strongest wage growth was for those in the top 10 percent of earnings, which skewed the results sufficiently that the median wage increase for 2017 was a paltry 0.2 percent, the EPI reports. Inflation may have been low, but it wasn’t as low as that — the typical U.S. worker thus suffered a de facto wage decrease last year.

What this sobering news tells us is that good-paying jobs are hard to come by. An EPI researcher, Elise Gould, wrote:

“Slow wage growth tells us that employers continue to hold the cards, and don’t have to offer higher wages to attract workers. In other words, workers have very little leverage to bid up their wages. Slow wage growth is evidence that employers and workers both know there are still workers waiting in the wings ready to take a job, even if they aren’t actively looking for one.”

The true unemployment rates in Canada and Europe

We find similar patterns elsewhere. In Canada, the official unemployment rate held at 5.8 percent in April, the lowest it has been since 1976, although there was a slight decrease in the number of people working in March, mainly due to job losses in wholesale and retail trade and construction. What is the actual unemployment rate? According to Statistics Canada’s R8 figure, it is 8.6 percent. The R8 counts count people in part-time work, including those wanting full-time work, as “full-time equivalents,” thus underestimating the number of under-employed.

At the end of 2012, the R8 figure was 9.4 percent, but an analysis published by The Globe and Mail analyzing unemployment estimated the true unemployment rate for that year to be 14.2 percent. If the current statistical miscalculation is proportionate, then the true Canadian unemployment rate currently must be north of 13 percent. “[T]he narrow scope of the Canadian measure significantly understates labour underutilization,” the Globe and Mail analysis conclude.

Similar to its southern neighbor, Canada’s labor force participation rate has steadily declined, falling to 65.4 percent in April 2018 from a high of 67.7 percent in 2003.

The most recent official unemployment figure in Britain 4.2 percent. The true figure is rather higher. How much higher is difficult to determine, but a September 2012 report by Sheffield Hallam University found that the total number of unemployed in Britain was more than 3.4 million in April of that year although the Labour Force Survey, from which official unemployment statistics are derived, reported only 2.5 million. So if we assume a similar ratio, then the true rate of unemployment across the United Kingdom is about 5.7 percent.

The European Union reported an official unemployment rate of 7.1 percent (with Greece having the highest total at 20.8 percent). The EU’s Eurostat service doesn’t provide an equivalent of a U.S. U-6 or a Canadian R8, but does separately provide totals for under-employed part-time workers and “potential additional labour force”; adding these two would effectively double the true EU rate of unemployed and so the actual figure must be about 14 percent.

Australia’s official seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is 5.6 percent, according to the country’s Bureau of Statistics. The statistic that would provide a more realistic measure, the “extended labour force under-utilisation” figure, seems to be well hidden. The most recent figure that could be found was for February 2017, when the rate was given as 15.4 percent. As the “official” unemployment rate at the time was 5.8 percent, it is reasonable to conclude that the real Australian unemployment rate is currently above 15 percent.

Mirroring the pattern in North America, global employment is on the decline. The International Labour Organization estimated the world labor force participation rate as 61.9 percent for 2017, a steady decline from the 65.7 percent estimated for 1990.

Stagnant wages despite productivity growth around the world

Concomitant with the high numbers of people worldwide who don’t have proper employment is the stagnation of wages. Across North America and Europe, productivity is rising much faster than wages. A 2017 study found that across those regions median real wage growth since the mid-1980s has not kept pace with labor productivity growth.

Not surprisingly, the United States had the largest gap between wages and productivity. Germany was second in this category, perhaps not surprising, either, because German workers have suffered a long period of wage cuts (adjusted for inflation) since the Social Democratic Party codified austerity by instituting Gerhard Schröder’s “Agenda 2010” legislation. Despite this disparity, the U.S. Federal Reserve issued a report in 2015 declaring the problem of economic weakness is due to wages not falling enough. Yes, the Fed believes your wages are too high.

The lag of wages as compared to rising productivity is an ongoing global phenomenon. A separate statistical analysis from earlier this decade also demonstrated this pattern for working people in Canada, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Japan. Workers in both Canada and the United States take home hundreds of dollars less per week than they would if wages had kept up with productivity gains.

In an era of runaway corporate globalization, there is ever more precarity. On a global scale, having regular employment is actually unusual. Using International Labour Organization figures as a starting point, John Bellamy Foster and Robert McChesney calculate that the “global reserve army of labor” — workers who are underemployed, unemployed or “vulnerably employed” (including informal workers) — totals 2.4 billion. In contrast, the world’s wage workers total 1.4 billion. Writing in their book The Endless Crisis: How Monopoly-Finance Capital Produces Stagnation and Upheaval from the USA to China, they write:

“It is the existence of a reserve army that in its maximum extent is more than 70 percent larger than the active labor army that serves to restrain wages globally, and particularly in poorer countries. Indeed, most of this reserve army is located in the underdeveloped countries of the world, though its growth can be seen today in the rich countries as well.” [page 145]

Having conquered virtually every corner of the globe and with nowhere left to expand into nor new markets to take, capitalists will continue to cut costs — in the first place, wages and benefits — in their ceaseless scrambles to sustain their accustomed profits. There is no reform that can permanently alter this relentless internal logic of capitalism. Although she was premature, Rosa Luxemburg’s forecast of socialism or barbarism draws nearer.

By Pete Dolack/Counterpunch

Posted by The NON-Conformist

A Blow to Interventionists, as US and North Korea Move Toward Peace

Leave a comment

Critics and pundits have been reacting dismissively to President Donald Trump’s engagement with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. A few weeks ago Donald Trump was going to start World War III with the Korean peninsula’s “Rocket Man,” or so observers said. Now, the prospect for peace, which has never been formally codified by treaty with North Korea since 1953, seems to have critics equally vexed and upset.
Yet, hoping for peace to fail in order to prevent Trump from gaining a victory is to engage in precisely the type of behavior his critics accuse him of displaying.
It is premature to determine the ultimate outcome of this meeting between Trump and Kim. But such a meeting is precisely what President Barack Obama suggested doing in 2008. The GOP derided Obama for this proposal, and many Democrats likely scorned it at the time as well, and they certainly are now.
Engaging North Korea is challenging. First, there is the legacy of the war from 1950-53, in which the North was completely bombed into rubble. The end of the Cold War did little to alleviate tensions; indeed, North Korea had nowhere to turn when it suffered a deadly famine in the 1990s that took anywhere from 500,000 to 3.5 million lives in a country with a population of 22 million.
After 9-11, President George W. Bush named North Korea along with Iraq and Iran as the “Axis of Evil.” Bush intended to send a strong message to North Korea’s then-Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Il. Yet, the elder Kim drew another conclusion, which was to accelerate development of nuclear weapons in order to prevent regime change. North Korea carried out its first successful test of an atom bomb in October 2006.
The fates of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, executed by hanging, and of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, whose killing and mutilation was filmed by a rebel militia, further fixed in mind the lesson that to protect one’s regime it is necessary to possess weapons of mass destruction. After all, Gaddafi unilaterally gave up his chemical and nuclear weapons programs to improve Libya’s relations with the West. The uprisings of the Arab Spring, however, led the liberal interventionists in Washington and Europe to back the forces seeking his overthrow.
But, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, according to President Trump, is willing to denuclearize. What might be his reasons for disarming and trusting the US, when doing so led Gaddafi to a bloody and gruesome end? And what are the grounds for trusting North Korea this time, when the arms control agreements of the past have fallen apart?
The current situation hints that conditions in North Korea may have shifted in decisive ways. Much of the population in the North appears to have attained a higher standard of living through illegal or semi-legal trade. Such gains are threatened by US-led sanctions, and the triage measures taken by North Korea in the past may not be as effective in keeping the country afloat. Although North Korea remains in principle a socialist state, nevertheless, the government has built complexes for its citizens to engage in this unofficial commerce.
Second, the US proposal to halt military exercises with South Korea is a goodwill gesture that assuages North Korea’s concern for its security and gives neighbors China and Russia greater incentive to cooperate with the US.
Third, Trump’s embrace of Obama’s 2008 strategy to talk with leaders “hostile” to the US, along with rejection of regime change policies of neoconservatives and liberal interventionists may bring about greater regional stability by reducing the risk of armed conflict, a prospect that China and Russia are certain to welcome along with the two Koreas.
Finally, the administration of Moon Jae-in in South Korea has committed itself to engaging the North, breaking with the hardline stances of the two previous presidents. What should not be expected is for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear industry. Nuclear technology can be used to generate electricity and is a prestige item for the North generally.
In short, neoconservatives and liberal interventionists aside in the United States, there is much to cautiously herald in the current moves by Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump toward peace in North Korea.

By Jeffrey Sommers – Peter Paik/Counterpunch

Posted by The NON-Conformist

At the Singapore summit, President Trump got played

Leave a comment

President Trump got played.

After all the hoopla and pageantry and Trump braggadocio at the Singapore summit, with Kim Jong Un standing alongside the U.S. president in front of thousands of journalists, the North Korean leader came out the winner.

Kim had already racked up points just by standing alongside the U.S. president as an equal, showered with Trump’s praise and transformed from pariah to international rock star.  In recent weeks he was welcomed to Beijing and Seoul, and invited to Moscow. China and Russia have already started to loosen up sanctions.

All this might have been an acceptable cost for achieving the U.S. goal: to get Kim to commit specifically to shedding his nuclear weapons within a reasonable time frame, in a verifiable fashion.  But, on this, Trump failed big time: The joint statement that emerged from the summit included no such firm commitments, using vague language on denuclearization that is interpreted very differently by the two sides. “It does not meet the minimum requirements in terms of what we expected them to do,” Ambassador Joseph Y. Yun, the former Special U.S. Representative to North Korea, told CNN.

>> READ MORE: Analysis: By Trump’s own yardstick, North Korea pact falls flat

Instead, Trump made a huge concession up front stopping joint U.S. military exercises with South Korea, a key tool for keeping pressure on the North. And he didn’t even inform the Seoul government beforehand, leaving it publicly grasping for information on U.S. intentions.

“I gave up nothing,” the president insisted in a press conference. He was clearly oblivious to the fact that he was playing into North Korea’s longtime game plan: to emerge as an internationally recognized state, recognized by America and the world — without surrendering all of its nukes.

Let’s look at what the president did give up.

In the run-up to the summit, U.S. and Korean negotiators were wrestling over whether North Korea would make a substantial pledge of denuclearization up front, including details of its nuclear program and a timeline for dismantling it.

But, going into the summit, the two sides could not even agree on a common definition of the term  “denuclearization.”

“Our definition of denuclearization is they give up all their fissile material, facilities, nuclear material taken out, irrevocably and verifiably,” says Dr. Jung Pak, top Korea expert at Brookings and former senior CIA Korea analyst.

The joint statement, however, contained only a vague commitment to “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” – terminology favored by Pyongyang and Beijing.  In North Korea’s interpretation, say North Korea experts, this means an end to the U.S. troop presence in South Korea and nuclear umbrella over that country and Japan – without any corresponding specifics on eliminating its own nuclear program.

By using this language – and ending joint exercises – Trump acceded to Kim’s game plan. He went even further, repeating his desire to pull U.S. troops out of Korea (although not immediately) and emphasizing his desire to save money by so doing.  All this before North Korea makes any firm commitment to giving up its nuclear weapons and missile programs.

True, Kim has frozen his nuclear tests and missile tests – for now.  And he has destroyed an already collapsing nuclear test site and promised Trump more on other sites.  But none of this speaks to the onetime American demand that North Korean completely, irrevocably and verifiably destroy its weapons.

Negotiations will now commence, but if the past is history, they could drag on for a very long time and never reach a firm conclusion.  Meanwhile, U.S. leverage on North Korea is declining,  as China and Russia push to loosen sanctions.  A push for a formal peace between North and South Korea will further weaken any future pressure.  And Trump’s eagerness to halt joint military excercises – and remove U.S. troops – undermines U.S. leverage further.

This gives North Korea little reason to swiftly negotiate an end to its weapons program.  After all, the U.S. president has told the world that Kim is “very smart” and “honorable” and “wants to do the right thing.”  Trump even sloughed off questions at the press conference about North Korean forced labor camps where thousands are tortured and murdered, saying such things happen elsewhere.

How embarrassing it would be for Trump to resume insulting the great Korean leader.  Much easier to insult a democratic prime minister like Justin Trudeau.

The irony here is that, contrary to Trump’s exaggerated claims, Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush got much more specific commitments from Pyongyang. In 1992, 1994 and 2005, the North Koreans pledged to eliminate all their nuclear weapons.  They reneged.

When asked why he’d do better, Trump bragged: “This is a much different president.”  Clearly this president believes his smarts will get results from North Korea, where previous presidents met failure.

The good news is that war on the Korean peninsula looks far less likely than a few months ago. But judging from the Singapore summit, it is Kim Jong Un who has mastered the art of dealing with Trump.

By Trudy Rubin/Phillynews

Posted by The NON-Conformist

 

Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: