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Questioning White House Boasts

Terry H. Schwadron

Jan. 13, 2018

If you work hard at squeezing ears to dampen all the political noise to look at what the Trump administration is accomplishing, you can recognize notable signposts about direction, about where we are headed as a nation. You decide whether they are Genius or whether they make America Great.

Some changes represent progress, even against my own personal leanings, but most suggest that the word from the White House just runs against reality. Some of it is about White House overblown boasting as in seeing corporate PR bonuses as wage increases. Sometimes, as with the immigration meeting he held this week with congressional leaders, it is all a PR front. And sometimes, as with the contradictory tweets about renewing the reauthorization voted this week, it is just plain not understanding what is on the table. Indeed, in that immigration meeting, the president confused all by agreeing with several competing versions of possible bills, only to emerge once again defending his campaign slogans later.

All of this paled, of course, with the presentation to the president of an apparent immigration bill compromise by a handful of senators, the meeting in which the president called out immigration from Haiti, El Salvador and African nations as encouraging inflow from “shithole” countries. That comment managed at one instant to thwart the proposed bill at hand, re-branded himself as a racist, and prompted international mocking of himself. All self-imposed by Trump on Trump.

It’s not a matter of craziness, it is one of whether his left hand knows what his right hand is doing. In any case, all the posturing makes it difficult to know what to believe from the White House.

Here are a few other recent examples.

EMPLOYMENT: To hear the White House tell the story, employment is improving by the day, with wages to follow. Yesterday, the government’s monthly report showed that the U.S. added 148,000 jobs, which is less than the anticipated figure of 190,000 or more. Unemployment is 4.1%, the same as over the last three months. Hourly wages remain at the 2.5% increase it has been for more than a year, although Walmart, a large retailer, said yesterday it will raise its wages to $11 an hour from $9.

In other words, it was good, but not great in a month in which business reported record holiday sales; indeed, retail jobs are down 20,000 over last year.

Over the year, December was the 87th consecutive month of job growth, with the year’s gains slightly below 2016 — or Barack Obama’s last year, if you want to compare boasts. I take it as renewed evidence that employment is not something that changes with presidential back-slapping. Of course, so were the numbers of people leaving jobs for one reason or other. The Bureau of Labor Statistics report show category after category of worker for whom there has been no statistically significant percentage change in employment; the percentage of workers in jobs was up year over year by 0.3% in December. Unemployment last year was 4.8%.

Strongest employment gains were in specialty construction jobs, manufacturing (replacing jobs lost in previous years), health care and food services.

It’s worth looking at the actual government report just to keep perspectives on all the political self-credit in White House announcements.

WORK REQUIREMENTS: Meanwhile, the Trump administration is preparing guidelines that would require Medicaid recipients to work to be eligible for continued support, according to The Hill.com, which sees another juicy political fight ahead. It would be a major shift in the 50-year-old program. Actually, the feds would allow states to add the work requirements, which might include holding a job or being in a job training program.

The rights and wrongs of appearing to punish poor people for being poor, 60% of all adult Medicaid recipients already work, and 78% live in a home where an adult works, according to CLASP.com, a group that looks at policies affecting poverty.

You might look for more on this from Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), who has long worked on conservative Medicaid changes and is pushing to require able-bodied adults to work. Of course, she has not proposed government incentives for job creation, job training or affordable child care in areas of intense poverty. Nine states are seeking to impose work requirements.

WEAPONS SYSTEMS: The president praised Norway in a meeting with that country’s prime minister for buying new American jet fighters including the F-52, which does not exist. Typo? Lack of awareness? Whateveer, you can’t believe even the straightest of announcements without checking.

LIBEL LAWS: Upset with critical press coverage and a most unflattering book about the White House, the president said he would be looking at federal libel law to make suing for false reporting easier. That notion, of course, runs counter to Surpeme Court precenent (Sullivan v. New York Times) and the fact that libel laws are state laws, not federal.

VOTER FRAUD: Headlines last week noted that the president had disbanded the group he had established early on to investigate fraudulent voting. The move to establish the election commission on voter fraud had started with a ton of claims about illegal voting by immigrants, in particular, and never came up with evidence. In part, Trump said he was disbanding the group out of frustration that states were resisting handing over state voter records to this centralized committee as legally questionable and otherwise inappropriate.

Apart from all else, it was widely believed that the committee would use these voter lists in a partisan manner to restrict voting by immigrants and others. Indeed, Trump may yet move ahead with voter identification legislation and other barriers that amount to voter suppression. Trump still claims that he lost the 2016 popular vote by 3 million votes because of widespread fraud.

What did surface were instances of outdated voter registrations rather than actual fraudulent voting. The commission was headed by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who ran a computer voter search for duplicates in his state with an enormous number of false positives. As one who has worked with database matching, I can assure you that name matching provides a poor methodology for finding useful results.

Meanwhile, it turns out that the effort closer to “fraud” was the maneuvering in North Carolina to gerrymander the congressional district lines to the partisan bias of Republicans, according to a federal court judge. The lines have been ordered redrawn in time for this November’s elections.

In Ohio, a court case headed for the Supreme Court highlights the local decisions that purged a military veteran from the voter rolls for “inaction.” The vet obviously had been busy overseas.

It all underscores that “fraud” increasingly seems in the eye of the beholder.

Ahead, however are three efforts worth watching. First, of course, are the continuing state attacks on voters, with 31 states introduced 99 bills during 2017 to restrict access to voting and registration. The next is the coming Census, for which the Justice Department is considering adding a question about immigration status. And Trump has asked the Department of Homeland Security to continue the efforts previously assigned to the election commission, showing that the administration, in fact, is targeting immigrants through these discussions about fraudulent voting.

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terryschwadron.wordpress.com

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Journalist, musician, community volunteer

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