Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Tag:

White House Rescues Fox News After Shameful COVID-19 “Hoax” Coverage

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

Fox News spent crucial weeks minimizing the danger posed by the novel coronavirus COVID-19 in order to protect President Donald Trump, and recent polls show that the network’s viewers are less likely to be concerned about it than other major media audiences. Top Trump administration officials are now praising the network for its coverage, even as Fox comes under fire from other outlets for endangering the public by actively spreading misinformation about the virus.

The Trump administration realizes that Fox’s propaganda is critically important in maintaining the support of the president’s base — 79 percent of weekday cable news appearances by its officials between January 23 and March 18* came on the network. While the network horrifically botched its coverage in the initial weeks of the pandemic, it did so in support of Trump’s own effort to downplay the impact of the virus

After Trump began publicly taking the coronavirus more seriously on Friday, Fox hosts seamlessly pivoted. After saying for weeks that the coronavirus was no big deal and that Democrats and the media were blowing it out of proportion to hurt Trump politically, the network’s hosts shifted to claiming that it posed so serious a crisis that criticism of the administration’s response should be off the table.

The administration appreciates their work.

“Let me just begin by saying thank you on the radio and airwaves all across America and on television,” Vice President Mike Pence told Fox host Sean Hannity during a Wednesday interview on Hannity’s radio show. “What you’ve been doing to broaden public understanding of the coronavirus, spreading the word, especially on the president’s coronavirus guidelines Fifteen Days to Slow the Spread.”

“We’re very very grateful that you’re bringing this important, timely information to the American people,” Pence added. 

Hannity, who has the most-watched show in cable news and advises the president, spent the early weeks of the pandemic decrying the “Coronavirus Hysteria!” and lashing out at people who he claimed were trying to “bludgeon Trump with this new hoax.” He and his guests repeatedly compared coronavirus to the flu, even though it is reportedly much more deadly and contagious. Hannity also invoked “violence in Chicago” to minimize coronavirus concerns. “So far in the United States, there’s been around 30 deaths, most of which came from one nursing home in the state of Washington,” he argued at one point. “Healthy people, generally, 99 percent recover very fast, even if they contract it.”

On his radio show, Hannity said he wasn’t that concerned with coronavirus because “we’re all dying,” told listeners to be skeptical of coronavirus warnings from news outlets and Democrats because “everything now has to be viewed through the prism of, oh, this is about the election,” and claimed that Trump’s opponents are “hoping Americans die and get sick and that we all lose a fortune in the stock market” in order to defeat his reelection campaign.

But on Friday, after Trump declared coronavirus a national emergency, Hannity said the virus was a “crisis” and called on the nation to unite behind the president. “Tonight, we are witnessing what will be a massive paradigm shift in the future of disease control and prevention,” he said. “A bold, new precedent is being set, the world will once again benefit greatly from America’s leadership. … The federal government, state governments, private businesses, top hospitals all coming together, under the president’s leadership, to stem the tide of the coronavirus.”

Hannity subsequently attacked “the media mob” for criticizing Fox’s coronavirus coverage, arguing that they are “doing the bidding of China” and threatening to hire lawyers to sue them for “slander, besmirchment, [and] character assassination.” 

Hannity is not the only Fox host to draw praise from the Trump administration. At the conclusion of a Wednesday night interview on her Fox show, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar told host Laura Ingraham, “Thanks for all you do also to keep us all informed.”

What Ingraham had done “to keep us all informed” in February and early March included lashing out at the coronavirus “panic pushers” and saying, “The facts are actually pretty reassuring, but you’d never know it watching all this stuff.” She claimed that it “seemed like some of the Trump haters” in media “were actually relishing in this moment,” because they view coronavirus as “a new pathway for hitting President Trump,” and she attacked Democrats who expressed concerns about the nation’s state of readiness as the “Pandemic Party.” 

Like Hannity, Ingraham shifted her tone last week, acknowledging the virus was a crisis but arguing that Trump had it well in hand. “In times of crisis, it helps to have a president who makes his own decisions, who marshals the right resources, and surrounds himself with the most competent people to do the job,” she said at one point. “He has a take-charge, hands-on approach to the coronavirus and every other problem he faces. He’ll work with Democrats on a legislative package to help working families. He’ll do for our emergency response system what he’s done for our economy, make it stronger and better, day by day.”

Fox’s terrible early coverage of coronavirus appears to have had a significant impact on its viewers, who polls show are much less likely to take the virus seriously than are people who get their news from more credible sources. But the Trump administration is still happy with the network’s spin, because they share the same top priority: Preserving the president’s political standing.

*This article has been updated with additional information. Data from Media Matters database for weekday cable news programs airing between 6 a.m. and midnight.

Nation Troubled By Incoherent White House Response To Coronavirus

The Trump administration has offered myriad responses in the face of a growing global virus outbreak that has left thousands dead and at least 80,000 infected worldwide, even as health experts warn the United States may be in danger.

Donald Trump claimed on Wednesday that the country was in “great shape” just one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned COVID-19, the disease caused by a strain coronavirus that officials say originated in China, could spread across the nation.

“Low Ratings Fake News MSDNC [sic] (Comcast) & @CNN are doing everything possible to make the Caronavirus [sic] look as bad as possible, including panicking markets, if possible. Likewise their incompetent Do Nothing Democrat comrades are all talk, no action. USA in great shape!” he tweeted Wednesday morning.

Trump, who has asked for just $2.5 billion in emergency supplemental funds to address the threat, also said that he and CDC representatives would discuss the issue further in a news conference Wednesday evening.

Trump’s previous comments have similarly presented a message that everything is “totally under control.” He has also made scientifically dubious predictions that warmer spring weather would weaken the virus.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have criticized Trump’s response, with Democrats faulting the administration’s ‘lack of leadership’ and plan. Congressional Democrats have faulted the administration’s “lack of leadership” and “lack of plan.”

Even some Republican have pushed back on the confusing responses coming out of the administration, with Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) accusing it of low balling the $2.5 billion emergency funding request and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) warning of a potential “pandemic.”

“The U.S. government has a responsibility to protect Americans, and it’s important the American people have clarity on how the United States and the aviation industry in particular is working to contain this disease,” Cruz wrote on Facebook Wednesday.

So far, however, the administration has not offered one cohesive plan of action to address the threat.

Here’s a look how different parts of the administration have responded to the threat so far.

CDC

On Tuesday, Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the agency expects “we will see community spread in this country” and warned that its “disruption to everyday life might be severe.”

National Economic Council

On Tuesday, the National Economic Council’s director, Larry Kudlow, said that novel coronavirus had been “contained,” claiming, “I won’t say [it’s] airtight, but it’s pretty close to airtight.”

Department of Homeland Security

Acting Homeland Security Sec. Chad Wolf told a Senate committee on Tuesday, “Today, the risks from coronavirus to Americans remains relatively low, and we will continue to implement measures designed to keep it that way.”

Pressed by Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA), however, Wolf was unable to provide any estimates of how many Americans would likely contract the virus, but acknowledged, “We do anticipate the number will grow.”

His acting deputy, Ken Cuccinelli tweeted on Tuesday, “CDC putting prudent guidance out while we aggressively work to keep the virus contained. In the US, communities should prepare for the possibility the virus could break out in parts of the US.”

Department of Health and Human Services

On Wednesday morning, Heath and Human Services Sec. Alex Azar told Congress, “The risk right now is very low to Americans. As Larry Kudlow said, from a public health perspective, we technically are in a state of containment in the United States.”

Azar acknowledged though that “that could change rapidly” and warned “we fully expect we will see more cases here in the United States.”

White House

On Monday, White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley told Fox News, “We need some funding here to make sure that we protect all Americans.” He added that “we need to combat this, we need to make sure our people are safe and the president is always going to take action to do that.”

Elsewhere that same day Gidley told reporters that Trump’s “concerns are always the safety and security of the American people, and so in this instance, because he has taken such aggressive action, because he does continue to receive briefings on a daily basis, he just wants to ensure the spread of this virus does not move quickly in this country at all.”

On Wednesday, asked about the contradictory messages, White House spokesperson Judd Deere told the Washington Post that concerns about the outbreak were being fanned by Trump’s critics. “Unfortunately what we are seeing today is a political effort by the Left and some in the media to distract and disturb the American people with fearful rhetoric and palace intrigue,” he said.

He added, “The virus remains low risk domestically because of the containment actions taken by this Administration since the first of the year.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Giuliani Podcast Promotes His Debunked Ukraine Conspiracies

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

You almost have to feel sorry for Rudy Giuliani — almost.

As the personal attorney for President Donald Trump, he ran a shadow foreign policy campaign in Ukraine to smear Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, a front-runner to challenge Trump in the 2020 election. (And he couldn’t have done it without other associates, such as attorneys Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing, indicted henchmen Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, and current Fox contributor John Solomon.)

But now, Giuliani has been left off the actual legal team for Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate. Instead, he’s presenting a virtual trial on his new podcast. And as we’ve already documented, his entire racket consists of telling people to tune in for his next appearance, during which he will show all this proof of Biden’s supposed wrongdoing — only to then ask people to tune in the next time after that, to see it then.

The second episode of Giuliani’s podcast, while seeming to show documentary evidence supporting his case — in the form of various papers he holds up for viewers to see on camera — is really just more of the same lies, distortions, and empty promises he’s dealt in so far.

Now, let’s examine just a handful of bogus claims from Giuliani’s latest round of falsehoods.

Giuliani says Shokin’s reputation for corruption is another big conspiracy by “children of Soros”

In this video, Giuliani focuses on Viktor Shokin, the former prosecutor general of Ukraine who was fired in 2016 at the urging of then-Vice President Biden and the international community. That event has formed the nucleus of right-wing smears against Biden, which allege that he pushed for Shokin’s removal in order to shield his son Hunter, who had joined the board of a Ukrainian gas company, from investigation.

In reality, the push to get Shokin fired was part of a Ukrainian anti-corruption effort by advocates and international supporters of the country. It was well-established that the United States’ position was that ousting Shokin was a critical aspect of anti-corruption measures. At the time of his removal, The New York Times reported that the “United States and other Western nations had for months called for the ousting of Mr. Shokin” for “turning a blind eye to corrupt practices and for defending the interests of a venal and entrenched elite.”

But not according to Giuliani’s telling. In his words, Shokin was an honest and active prosecutor: “If he was corrupt, he sure wasn’t good at it. Because I’ve met him — he’s not a rich man.”

And furthermore, Giuliani asserts, all the aspersions on Shokin’s character were also “created” as part of that grand conspiracy — the whole thing driven, he later claims, by George Soros’ nongovernmental organizations such as the Anti-Corruption Action Center in Ukraine, which he says are the true epicenter of corruption. “Then you wonder why, when they fire Shokin, they can get people from Italy and England and Germany to all say that he’s corrupt,” Giuliani claims. “They’re all people from the NGOs that were being paid off.”

The freezing of Burisma’s assets — Giuliani rewrites history

In his podcast, Giuliani lays out the case of the corrupt Ukrainian oligarch Mykola Zlochevsky, founder of the Burisma energy company. Giuliani claims that after the 2014 revolution in Ukraine — which overthrew a corrupt, pro-Russian government in which Zlochevsky had been a cabinet minister and engaged in all sorts of self-dealing for his company — “he was very afraid that the new government, which was going to be supposedly a reform government, was going to take his business away from him.”

Giuliani then claims Ukrainian authorities like Shokin were right on Zlochevsky’s trail: “And they already began actions against him in the U.K., to take his money away from him.” Thus, Giuliani says that Zlochevsky hired Hunter Biden to protect him from these corruption-busting Ukrainian prosecutors.

But way back in December 2015 — long before this story was ever part of the current impeachment debate or the 2020 election — The New York Times ran a news article that cast a suspicious eye on Hunter Biden’s involvement with the company. And even that coverage made it clear that Ukrainian prosecutors under Shokin were part of the problem by refusing to cooperate in that very investigation over in Britain, leaving little reason for Zlochevsky to even need Biden’s supposed help:

But after Ukrainian prosecutors refused to provide documents needed in the investigation, a British court in January ordered the Serious Fraud Office to unfreeze the assets. The refusal by the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office to cooperate was the target of a stinging attack by the American ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey R. Pyatt, who called out Burisma’s owner by name in a speech in September.

“In the case of former Ecology Minister Mykola Zlochevsky, the U.K. authorities had seized $23 million in illicit assets that belonged to the Ukrainian people,” Mr. Pyatt said. Officials at the prosecutor general’s office, he added, were asked by the United Kingdom “to send documents supporting the seizure. Instead, they sent letters to Zlochevsky’s attorneys attesting that there was no case against him. As a result, the money was freed by the U.K. court, and shortly thereafter the money was moved to Cyprus.”

The Wall Street Journal has also documented that “Mr. Shokin had dragged his feet on those investigations, Western diplomats said, and effectively squashed one in London by failing to cooperate with U.K. authorities, who had frozen $23.5 million of Mr. Zlochevsky’s assets.”

There was no “raid” against Burisma in 2016

Giuliani also claims that under Shokin, the investigation against Burisma had been very much alive, and there was a “raid” of the company in February 2016 — around the same time as Joe Biden was demanding Shokin’s firing. (Giuliani’s phrasing that Shokin “arrested the Burisma company” seems a bit odd; how does one put an entire corporation in handcuffs?)

The Washington Post examined this claim back in December when House Republicans also attempted to advance the storyline that a “raid” had taken place against Burisma. But instead, they found that “nothing significant appears to have happened in February 2016 except primarily the reinstatement of a previous court order. Instead, Zlochevsky’s assets had been seized a year earlier and were only briefly not under a court order because of a prosecutorial error.”

Prosecutions against Burisma had been long dormant, as former Deputy Prosecutor General Vitaliy Kasko told Bloomberg this past May: “It was shelved by Ukrainian prosecutors in 2014 and through 2015.”

What is that document?

Giuliani also holds up what he says is a document from a prosecutorial office in Latvia, supposedly proving that prosecutors were on the trail of Hunter Biden in February 2016.

rudy-giuliani-podcast-holding-up-alleged-document-01-29-2020.jpg

But this isn’t new, either. Giuliani already showed this purported document during his recent series on the right-wing media outlet One America News Network.

The Washington Post reached out last month to the Latvian government to find out whether the document was authentic but did not hear back. The paper also pointed to some suspicious signs that it might have been tailor-made just to go after Hunter Biden:

So what does it show? It essentially shows that Burisma paid four people through these transfers. Who are these people? They are all people who were employed by Burisma at the time. Archer and Hunter Biden served on its board, while Apter joined as chairman around the same time. Hunter Biden said he was convinced to join the board by the fourth person, Kwasniewski, who is a former president of Poland.

Somebody in Latvia apparently regarded these money transfers as suspicious, but there isn’t much to go on here. And even if the money was laundered, does it implicate Hunter Biden in the laundering? (There have long been legitimate questions about potential corruption at Burisma.) The document for some reason names four people as receiving the funds but mentions Hunter Biden as being involved only “in corruption affair.” Why is that? You would think the document might explain, but OANN doesn’t appear to have probed that.

Money laundering experts said there doesn’t seem to be much there there.

(Emphasis in the original.)

Forbes magazine, hardly a left-wing outlet, also took a look at this supposed document and noted the weaknesses of whatever it was supposed to prove:

But the document only states that “according to publicly available information, Burisma Holding Limited and its director Hunter Biden are involved in corruption affair.” The document proceeds to list monetary transactions of Burisma outside of Ukraine, without any mention of investigations or other evidence of allegedly corrupt activities beyond the initial reference to publicly available information.

Giuliani’s most irresponsible claim yet

Giuliani goes on to tell viewers that soon after he spoke with Shokin in late 2019, the former prosecutor general was poisoned with mercury and almost died in an apparent assassination attempt, having to be transported to Austria for both medical treatment and his personal safety.

“So there was an attempt to kill Shokin, which gives you an idea of how serious what we’re dealing with is,” Giuliani says. “This is a very, very serious matter.”

It may well be that Shokin was poisoned by some unknown party. The physician in Austria whom Giuliani cites to say that Shokin was poisoned, Dr. Nikolai Korpan, is in fact a reputable medical practitioner with significant prior experience treating these sorts of cases. (Indeed, it seems to be a common practice for the Russian government to kill people by poisoning, using “mysterious chemical substances” like mercury or dioxins as the method of choice.)

But what Giuliani is clearly trying to imply here — without just coming out and saying it directly, of course — is that Joe Biden or people close to him arranged for this crime to occur. He clearly does not have any evidence to say that, and for charges of this magnitude, it is grossly irresponsible to even be implying it as he is.

Tune in next time — same Rudy channel

Of course, Giuliani closes out with an exhortation for his viewers to watch the next episode, promising that’s when he’ll really get to the bottom of the Bidens’ supposed misdeeds.

“This is a vast crime. This is probably, obviously, going to be the biggest scandal so far of this century — let’s hope there’s none greater,” he says. “It makes Teapot Dome look cheap, when we get finished with the amounts of money, and there’s a lot more to it.”

“And in the next episode, we’ll finish the outline. We’ve got most of it. And then we’ll get right to the testimony, and you’ll get to see some of these witnesses on camera, for yourself, to see that we have something called proof — which Democrats do not have against the president, and never had.”

No Trump Towers For Poor Kids

Reprinted with permission from TomDispatch.

The plight of impoverished children anywhere should evoke sympathy, exemplifying as it does the suffering of the innocent and defenseless. Poverty among children in a wealthy country like the United States, however, should summon shame and outrage as well. Unlike poor countries (sometimes run by leaders more interested in lining their pockets than anything else), what excuse does the United States have for its striking levels of child poverty? After all, it has the world’s 10th highest per capita income at $62,795 and an unrivaled gross domestic product (GDP) of $21.3 trillion. Despite that, in 2020, an estimated 11.9 million American kids — 16.2 percent of the total — live below the official poverty line, which is a paltry $25,701 for a family of four with two kids. Put another way, according to the Children’s Defense Fund, kids now constitute one-third of the 38.1 million Americans classified as poor and 70 percent of them have at least one working parent — so poverty can’t be chalked up to parental indolence.

Yes, the proportion of kids living below the poverty line has zigzagged down from 22 percent when the country was being ravaged by the Great Recession of 2008-2009 and was even higher in prior decades, but no one should crack open the champagne bottles just yet. The relevant standard ought to be how the United States compares to other wealthy countries. The answer: badly. It has the 11th highest child poverty rate of the 42 industrialized countries tracked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Winnow that list down to European Union states and Canada, omitting low and middle-income countries, and our child poverty rate ranks above only Spain’s. Use the poverty threshold of the OECD — 50 percent of a country’s median income ($63,178 for the United States) — and the American child poverty rate leaps to 20 percent.

The United States certainly doesn’t lack the means to drive child poverty down or perhaps even eliminate it. Many countries on that shorter OECD list have lower per-capita incomes and substantially smaller GDPs yet (as a UNICEF report makes clear) have done far better by their kids. Our high child-poverty rate stems from politics, not economics — government policies that, since the 1980s, have reduced public investment as a proportion of GDP in infrastructure, public education, and poverty reduction.  These were, of course, the same years when a belief that “big government” was an obstacle to advancement took ever-deeper hold, especially in the Republican Party.  Today, Washington allocates only 9 percent of its federal budget to children, poor or not. That compares to a third for Americans over 65, up from 22 percent in 1971. If you want a single fact that sums up where we are now, inflation-adjusted per-capita spending on kids living in the poorest families has barely budged compared to 30 years ago whereas the corresponding figure for the elderly has doubled.

The conservative response to all this remains predictable: you can’t solve complex social problems like child poverty by throwing money at them. Besides, government antipoverty programs only foster dependence and create bloated bureaucracies without solving the problem. It matters little that the actual successes of American social programs prove this claim to be flat-out false. Before getting to that, however, let’s take a snapshot of child poverty in America.

Sizing Up the Problem

Defining poverty may sound straightforward, but it’s not. The government’s annual Official Poverty Measure (OPM), developed in the 1960s, establishes poverty lines by taking into account family size, multiplying the 1963 cost for a minimum food budget by three while factoring in changes in the Consumer Price Index, and comparing the result to family income. In 2018, a family with a single adult and one child was considered poor with an income below $17,308 ($20,2012 for two adults and one child, $25,465 for two adults and two children, and so on). According to the OPM, 11.8 percent of all Americans were poor that year.

By contrast, the Supplementary Poverty Measure (SPM), published yearly since 2011, builds on the OPM but provides a more nuanced calculus. It counts the post-tax income of families, but also cash flows from the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC), both of which help low-income households. It adds in government-provided assistance through, say, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF), the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), Medicaid, subsidies for housing and utilities, and unemployment and disability insurance. However, it deducts costs like child care, child-support payments, and out-of-pocket medical expenses. According to the SPM, the 2018 national poverty rate was 12.8 percent.

Of course, neither of these poverty calculations can tell us how children are actually faring. Put simply, they’re faring worse. In 2018, 16.2 percent of Americans under 18 lived in families with incomes below the SPM line. And that’s not the worst of it. A 2019 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine study commissioned by Congress found that 9 percent of poor children belong to families in “deep poverty” (incomes that are less than 50 percent of the SPM). But 36 percent of all American children live in poor or “near poor” families, those with incomes within 150 percent of the poverty line.

Child poverty also varies by race — a lot. The rate for black children is 17.8 percent; for Hispanic kids, 21.7 percent; for their white counterparts, 7.9 percent. Worse, more than half of all black and Hispanic kids live in “near poor” families compared to less than a quarter of white children. Combine age and race and you’ll see another difference, especially for children under five, a population with an overall 2017 poverty rate of 19.2 percent.  Break those under-fives down by race, however, and here’s what you find: white kids at 15.9 percent, Hispanic kids at an eye-opening 25.8 percent, and their black peers at a staggering 32.9 .

Location matters, too. The child poverty rate shifts by state and the differences are stark. North Dakota and Utah are at 9 percent, for instance, while New Mexico and Mississippi are at 27 percent and 28 percent. Nineteen states have rates of 20 percent or more. Check out a color-coded map of geographic variations in child poverty and you’ll see that rates in the South, Southwest, and parts of the Midwest are above the national average, while rural areas tend to have higher proportions of poor families than cities. According to the Department of Agriculture, in rural America, 22 percent of all children and 26 percent of those under five were poor in 2017.

Why Child Poverty Matters

Imagine, for a moment, this scenario: a 200-meter footrace in which the starting blocks of some competitors are placed 75 meters behind the others. Barring an Olympic-caliber runner, those who started way in front will naturally win. Now, think of that as an analogy for the predicament that American kids born in poverty face through no fault of their own. They may be smart and diligent, their parents may do their best to care for them, but they begin life with a huge handicap.

As a start, the nutrition of poor children will generally be inferior to that of other kids. No surprise there, but here’s what’s not common knowledge: a childhood nutritional deficit matters for years afterwards, possibly for life. Scientific research shows that, by age three, the quality of childrens’ diets is already shaping the development of critical parts of young brains like the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex in ways that matter. That’s worth keeping in mind because four million American kids under age six were poor in 2018, as were close to half of those in families headed by single women.

Indeed, the process starts even earlier. Poor mothers may themselves have nutritional deficiencies that increase their risk of having babies with low birthweights.  That, in turn, can have long-term effects on children’s health, what level of education they reach, and their future incomes since the quality of nutrition affects brain sizeconcentration, and cognitive capacity. It also increases the chances of having learning disabilities and experiencing mental health problems.

Poor children are likely to be less healthy in other ways as well, for reasons that range from having a greater susceptibility to asthma to higher concentrations of lead in their blood. Moreover, poor families find it harder to get good health care. And add one more thing: in our zip-code-influenced public-school system, such children are likely to attend schools with far fewer resources than those in more affluent neighborhoods.

Our national opioid problem also affects the well-being of children in a striking fashion. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 2008 and 2012, a third of women in their childbearing years filled opioid-based medication prescriptions in pharmacies and an estimated 14 percent -22 percent of them were pregnant. The result: an alarming increase in the number of babies exposed to opioids in utero and experiencing withdrawal symptoms at birth, which is also known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS, in medical lingo. Its effects, a Penn State study found, include future increased sensitivity to pain and susceptibility to fevers and seizures. Between 2000 and 2014, the incidence of NAS increased by a multiple of four. In 2014, 34,000 babies were born with NAS, which, as a CDC report put it, “is equivalent to one baby suffering from opioid withdrawal born approximately every 15 minutes.” (Given the ongoing opioid crisis, it’s unlikely that things have improved in recent years.)

And the complications attributable to NAS don’t stop with birth. Though the research remains at an early stage — the opioid crisis only began in the early 1990s — it suggests that the ill effects of NAS extend well beyond infancy and include impaired cognitive and motor skills, respiratory ailments, learning disabilities, difficulty maintaining intellectual focus, and behavioral traits that make productive interaction with others harder.

At this point, you won’t be surprised to learn that NAS and child poverty are connected. Prescription opioid use rates are much higher for women on Medicaid, who are more likely to be poor than those with private insurance. Moreover, the abuse of, and overdose deaths from, opioids (whether obtained through prescriptions or illegally) have been far more widespread among the poor.

Combine all of this and here’s the picture: from the months before birth on, poverty diminishes opportunity, capacity, and agency and its consequences reach into adulthood. While that rigged footrace of mine was imaginary, child poverty certainly does ensure a future-rigged society. The good news (though not in Donald Trump’s America): the race to a half-decent life (or better) doesn’t have to be rigged.

It Needn’t Be this Way (But Will Be as Long as Trump Is President)

Can children born into poverty defy the odds, realize their potential, and lead fulfilling lives? Conservatives will point to stories of people who cleared all the obstacles created by child poverty as proof that the real solution is hard work. But let’s be clear: poor children shouldn’t have to find themselves on a tilted playing field from the first moments of their lives. Individual success stories aside, Americans raised in poor families do markedly less well compared to those from middle class or affluent homes — and it doesn’t matter whether you choose college attendance, employment rates, or future household income as your measure. And the longer they live in poverty the worse the odds that they’ll escape it in adulthood; for one thing, they’re far less likely to finish high school or attend college than their more fortunate peers.

Conversely, as Harvard economist Raj Chetty and his colleagues have shown, kids’ life prospects improve when parents with low incomes are given the financial wherewithal to move to neighborhoods with higher social-mobility rates (thanks to better schools and services, including health care). As in that imaginary footrace, the starting point matters. But here the news is grim. The Social Progress Index places the United States 75th out of 149 countries in “access to quality education” and 70th in “access to quality health care” and poor kids are, of course, at a particular disadvantage.

Yet childhood circumstances can be (and have been) changed — and the sorts of government programs that conservatives love to savage have helped enormously in that process. Child poverty plunged from 28 percent in 1967 to 15.6 percent in 2016 in significant part due to programs like Medicaid and the Food Stamp Act started in the 1960s as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. Such programs helped poor families pay for housing, food, child care, and medical expenses, as did later tax legislation like the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. Our own history and that of other wealthy countries show that child poverty is anything but an unalterable reality. The record also shows that changing it requires mobilizing funds of the sort now being wasted on ventures like America’s multitrillion-dollar forever wars.

Certainly, an increase in jobs and earnings can reduce child poverty. Wall Street Journal odes to Donald Trump’s tax cuts and deregulation policies highlight the present 3.5 percent unemployment rate (the lowest in 60 years), a surge in new jobs, and wage growth at all levels, notably for workers with low incomes who lack college degrees. This storyline, however, omits important realities. Programs that reduce child poverty help even in years when poor or near-poor parents gain and, of course, are critical in bad times, since sooner or later booming job markets also bust. Furthermore, the magic that Trump fans tout occurred at a moment when many state and city governments were mandating increases in the minimum wage. Employers who hired, especially in heavily populated states like California, New York, Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan, had to pay more.

As for cutting child poverty, it hasn’t exactly been a presidential priority in the Trump years — not like the drive to pass a $1.5 trillion corporate and individual income tax cut whose gains flowed mainly to the richest Americans, while inflating the budget deficit to $1 trillion in 2019, according to the Treasury Department. Then there’s that “impenetrable, powerful, beautiful wall.” Its estimated price ranges from $21 billion to $70 billion, excluding maintenance. And don’t forget the proposed extra $33 billion in military spending for this fiscal year alone, part of President Trump’s plan to boost such spending by $683 billion over the next decade.

As for poor kids and their parents, the president and congressional Republicans are beginning to slash an array of programs ranging from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program to Medicaid — $1.2 trillion worth over the next 10 years — that have long helped struggling families and children in particular get by. The Trump administration has, for good measure, rewritten the eligibility rules for such programs in order to lower the number of people who qualify.

The supposed goal: to cut costs by reducing dependence on government. (Never mind the subsidies and tax loopholes Trump’s crew has created for corporations and the super wealthy, which add up to many billions of dollars in spending and lost revenue.) These supposedly work-ethic-driven austerity policies batter working families with young kids that, for example, desperately need childcare, which can take a big bite out of paychecks: 10 percent or more for all households with kids, but half in the case of poor families.  Add to that the cost of unsubsidized housing. Median monthly rent increased by nearly a third between 2001 and 2015. Put another way, rents consume more than half the income of the bottom 20 percent of Americans, according to the Federal Reserve. The advent of Trump has also made the struggle of low-income families with healthcare bills even harder. The number of kids without health insurance jumped by 425,000 between 2017 and 2018 when, according to the Census Bureau, 4.3 million children lacked coverage.

Even before Donald Trump’s election, only one-sixth of eligible families with kids received assistance for childcare and a paltry one-fifth got housing subsidies. Yet his administration arrived prepared to put programs that helped some of them pay for housing and childcare on the chopping block. No point in such families looking to him for a hand in the future. He won’t be building any Trump Towers for them. 

Whatever “Make America Great Again” may mean, it certainly doesn’t involve helping America’s poor kids. As long as Donald Trump oversees their race into life, they’ll find themselves ever farther from the starting line. 

Rajan Menon, a TomDispatch regular, is the Anne and Bernard Spitzer Professor of International Relations at the Powell School, City College of New York, senior research fellow at Columbia University’s Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, and a non-resident fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. His latest book is The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention.

Copyright 2020 Rajan Menon