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Fired VA Head Warns Against Privatization Schemes

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

 

Donald Trump did the inevitable Wednesday night and dismissed embattled Veteran Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. The former Obama official has been replaced by the president’s personal physician, Admiral Ronny Jackson, who has no qualifiable leadership experience and raised millions of eyebrows last year after publicly proclaiming that Trump was “in excellent health.” But Shulkin refused to go quietly, warning the country that the chaos in the White House could harm veterans for years to come.

In an op-ed for the New York Timespublished hours after his firing, Shulkin cited his various accomplishments during his tenure as the head of VA, including reducing veteran unemployment from 10.2 percent to 3.5 percent and cutting wait times for health care services. He also issued a blistering rebuke to the wave of free-market cheerleaders who have swept into the federal government since Trump’s election.

Describing the warring factions within the VA under Trump, Shulkin wrote:

It seems that these successes within the department have intensified the ambitions of people who want to put V.A. health care in the hands of the private sector. I believe differences in philosophy deserve robust debate, and solutions should be determined based on the merits of the arguments. The advocates within the administration for privatizing V.A. health services, however, reject this approach. They saw me as an obstacle to privatization who had to be removed. That is because I am convinced that privatization is a political issue aimed at rewarding select people and companies with profits, even if it undermines care for veterans.

Shulkin, who strongly opposes privatization efforts, warns that the VA “has become entangled in a brutal power struggle, with some political appointees choosing to promote their agendas instead of what’s best for veterans.” Privatization proponents, who want to shut down VA hospitals and hand the task of caring for veterans over to the private sector, fail to grasp “the number and complexity of patients that would come from closing or downsizing VA hospitals and clinics, particularly when it involves the mental health needs of people scarred by the horrors of war.”

Shulkin was one of the few remaining government officials who believe it is their respsonibility to help people, not businesses. His departure is worrisome to all of us who feel the same.

Liz Posner is a managing editor at AlterNet. Her work has appeared on Forbes.com, Bust, Bustle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @elizpos.

Fishy Circumstances Of Melania Trump’s Immigration

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

At last, the White House has shared a bit of the mystery behind Melania Trump’s immigration to the U.S. The Washington Post reports that in 2001, Melania received a highly coveted EB-1 visa, generally reserved for renowned leaders in the arts, sciences and business world. Hmm….

EB-1 visas, sometimes called “genius” visas, are normally given to highly accomplished artists, academics, doctors, and engineers around the world. Yet Melania was neither an artist, academic, doctor, nor engineer at the time. She was not engaging in any kind of “extraordinary” enterprise in 2001, unless you count her extraordinary tolerance for dating Donald Trump.

Of the million visas issued in 2001, just 3,376 were awarded to immigrants with an “extraordinary ability,” according to the Post. Melania’s attorney told the paper the first lady was “more than amply qualified and solidly eligible” for the EB-1 visa, but would not provide any of the qualifications Melania cited during her application.

Recipients of the EB-1 visa must provide proof they have won a major award, along with “evidence of commercial successes in the performing arts, evidence of work displayed at artistic exhibitions” or “evidence of original contributions to a field,” the Post writes. Nothing in Melania’s public profile suggests she received any such accolades. Her previous career was in modeling.

For months, the Trump administration has ignored demands to release Melania’s immigration papers, even as Trump has repeatedly spewed his disdain for immigrants, particularly those without legal documentation. He’s been critical of families that immigrate together, referring to them with the conservative slur “chain migration.” Yet Melania’s family followed her to the U.S. using this very same process.

H/T Washington Post

Liz Posner is a managing editor at AlterNet. Her work has appeared on Forbes.com, Bust, Bustle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @elizpos.

Major Newspaper Under Fire For Racist Anti-Dreamer Cartoon

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

 

As the deadline to renew the Dream Act approaches, the 800,000 mostly young Dreamers have endured abuse from the government and mainstream media alike. They’ve become political chess pieces for legislators with little regard for their fate, and have withstood racist and dishonest name-calling from the Trump administration. And while two-thirds of Americanssupport legislation that would give the Dreamers full legal status, they are still being subjected to ugly episodes of racism.

The latest comes from New Mexico, in the form of an offensive cartoon published in the Albuquerque Journal. Los Angeles Times journalist Kate Linthicum pointed out the obscene cartoon Wednesday on Twitter:

Social media users widely denounced the cartoon, as well as New Mexico legislators. Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich cast shame on the newspaper “for stooping to a new low and publishing a heinous and bigoted depiction of Dreamers in today’s paper that serves only to sow division in our community.” Democratic State Sen. Linda Lopez decried the cartoon’s “ignorance, racism and hatred.” Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) tweeted the following: “Words and images are still hateful and offensive, even when they appear in a cartoon. The @ABQJournal should apologize.”

The Albuquerque Journal is the widest-reaching newspaper in the state. New Mexico has a population of over two million.

Editor Karen Moses responded to the backlash with the following statement: “Our editorial pages offer views from all sides of the spectrum, and we realize some of the content will offend readers. We do not agree with many of those views, but their purpose is to spark discussion and debate. In hindsight, instead of generating debate, this cartoon only inflamed emotions. This was not the intent, nor does the Journal condone racism or bigotry in any form.”

The Journal’s editorial page has expressed support for the Dream Act in the past.

Liz Posner is a managing editor at AlterNet. Her work has appeared on Forbes.com, Bust, Bustle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @elizpos.

 

Poll: Americans Give Trump Failing Grades

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Americans aren’t happy with President Donald Trump. While this isn’t news per se, his low approval ratings may leave you wondering just why exactly most citizens are disappointed.

A new poll offers something approaching an answer. According to Politico/Morning Consult’s latest findings, the country is most dissatisfied with the president’s performance in several domestic and international categories.

Of the 1,988 people surveyed in early January, Trump earned an F grade from the majority of respondents. The issues covered include fixing the national debt, immigration and fighting terrorism, among others. When asked for an overall grade on Trump’s first year in office, the lion’s share of respondents (35 percent) gave Trump a failing grade.

Unsurprisingly, the president performed poorest on climate change. A whopping 40 percent said Trump has utterly failed to combat global warming, a grade he likely earned thanks to his retreat from the Paris Agreement and the enormous tax cuts he gifted to the oil and gas industry as part of the GOP’s tax reform bill.

Credit: Politico/Morning Consult

Trump fared almost as badly on foreign relations and health care. In both categories, the largest group of participants (38 percent) gave the president an F.

Politico’s readers tend to lean liberal, though that’s not the case with this poll. Participants are spread evenly between race, gender, geographical location, political leaning, party affiliation, and age. Most earn under $50K and have some college experience, but not a bachelor’s degree.

Interestingly, the poll shows that exactly the same percentage of people think Trump will get better (37 percent) as those who think he’ll get worse (also 37 percent).

Liz Posner is a managing editor at AlterNet. Her work has appeared on Forbes.com, Bust, Bustle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @elizpos.

The Popularity Of Baby Name ‘Donald’ Is Falling Dramatically

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

 

The popularity of certain baby names is always a marker of the political times. For example, between 2008 and 2009, the name “Barack” skyrocketed in popularity.

The Social Security Administration will soon release its ranking of the most common names of 2017, but until then, there are a few predictors suggesting “Donald” won’t be a popular one. The drop in baby Donalds fits a pattern since Trump first declared his candidacy for presidency. Between 2016-2017, the popularity of the name dropped by 50%, according to BabyCenter. Time magazine reported last spring that 2016 marked an all-time low in the name’s popularity. Then in 2016, the number of babies named Donald fell more dramatically than it had in years, as the chart below shows.

Elle believes traffic to popular baby name websites could hint at Donald’s lack of popularity in 2017, writing, “The baby-name site Nameberry notes that overall, the pageviews for the name Donald have increased more than tenfold since 2011. Peak months for the name Donald were in November 2016, around the election, and January 2017, around the inauguration. But the traffic for Donald has been dropping since then, and the name got the same amount of pageviews in November as it did in January 2015.”

Even if you aren’t convinced that visits to a website can accurately predict baby name popularity, naming experts may convince you otherwise. According to one theory, Trump is making his name less and less desirable with every needless controversy he initiates. As Laura Wattenberg, founder of parenting website BabynameWizard.com told Newsweek: “Even parents who are huge Donald Trump supporters are unlikely to name their child Donald,” she said. “In part, we just want to avoid controversy in picking names.”

In general, experts say the trend fits a decades-long decrease in the popularity of Donald, simply because it’s an old-fashioned name that’s fallen out of favor as more young parents select hipper names like Noah, Liam and Mason. “I seriously don’t know who would name their baby Donald anymore, including Trump fans,” Pamela Redmond Satran, co-creator of Nameberry, told Elle. “As a name, it’s as out as, say, Shirley. My guess is that it survives mostly as a family name, with baby Donald named for dad and/or grandpa Donald.”

Liz Posner is a managing editor at AlterNet. Her work has appeared on Forbes.com, Bust, Bustle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @elizpos.

 

Dutch Reporters Blast Lying US Ambassador

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

 

Trump’s ambassador to the Netherlands, Pete Hoekstra, is proving to be just as cringe-inducing as many of this administration’s other appointees.

You may remember Hoekstra from his viral humiliation in December, when he was caught on camera lying about racist and unfounded statements about the threat of radical Islam. At a 2015 conference, he grossly exaggerated its dangers, claiming “the Islamic movement has now gotten to a point where they have put Europe into chaos.” Hoekstra said there is “chaos in the Netherlands, there are cars being burned, there are politicians that are being burned. And yes, there are no-go zones in the Netherlands.”

When a reporter pressed him on the accuracy of these statements last month, he summoned the spirit of Donald Trump, claiming, “I didn’t say that, it’s an incorrect statement. We’d call that fake news.”

The reporter showed him the exact clip in which Hoekstra had made the remarks about chaos and burning, and said, “You call that fake news?” Yet Hoekstra doubled down: “I didn’t call that fake news. I didn’t use those words today.”

On Wednesday, Hoekstra dug himself into an even deeper hole at a Dutch press conference marking the beginning of his ambassadorship, when reporters asked again for him to clarify: “Are politicians being burned in the Netherlands? Is that something you believe?”

“I’m not revisiting the issue,” Hoekstra replied. He refused to say anything further, and the room exploded in protest.

“Why don’t you answer the question?” one journalist called out.

“This is the Netherlands, you have to answer questions,” another journalist said. (Whoever she is, she should be promoted to White House correspondent.)

Hoekstra issued a strange half-apology last month after his first “fake news” confrontation, but provided no clarity on his false statements about burning cars and politicians and mythical Sharia-ruled “no-go” zones in the Netherlands. His racial insensitivity shouldn’t surprise anybody; Hoekstra came under fire for issuing a racist Super Bowl ad against his opponent in their 2012 race for Michigan Senate. (The comedy brand Funny or Die later released a parody of the ad, which is worth a watch if you need some comic relief.)

Watch the video of Hoekstra’s interview below.

Liz Posner is a managing editor at AlterNet. Her work has appeared on Forbes.com, Bust, Bustle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @elizpos.

 

Republicans Just Made It A Lot Harder For Restaurant Workers To Fight Big Chains

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

On Thursday, the National Labor Relations Board, led by Trump appointee Philip A. Miscimarra, undid an Obama-era ruling that protected workers, including subcontractors, from labor law violations. In an unsurprising move, all three Republicans on the Board voted together to undo the rule, while the two Democrats opposed them.

“Frankly, it’s shocking,” Wilma B. Liebman, a former Democrat chairwoman of the Board, told the Times of the decision.

Back in 2015, the Board heard the case of an Iowa construction company, whose subcontractors went on strike to protest unsafe conditions and low wages and benefits. Those workers were fired in retaliation.

A local judge ruled the firings illegal, leading the National Labor Relations Board to declare in 2015 that the old joint-employer rule was “increasingly out of step with changing economic circumstances, particularly the recent dramatic growth in contingent employment relationships.” They then changed the law so that a company would be responsible for illegal practices at all levels, including those that affect sub-contractors and employees at franchises.

This week the Board reversed that earlier decision, and the consequences for the fast-food industry could prove dire. For example, the person who makes your sandwiches at your local Subway could now be considered the responsibility of their direct franchise owner— not the Subway Group corporation itself. Now, if that sandwich maker and their coworkers protested an unfair practice at their location, it would be that much easier for the store owner to fire them, without consequence from the corporate higher-ups. The rule effectively protects corporations against any kind of legal action from lower-level employees.

As the Times describes, the vote is politically motivated, as corporations have been lobbying Republicans to reverse the Obama-era worker protection since it was enacted.

At its most fundamental level, the ruling highlights deep differences in philosophy between most Democratic and Republican members of the labor board. During the Obama administration, the board majority believed that the changing structure of the economy — in which employers have steadily pushed workers outside their firms and into a throng of contractors, franchises and staffing agencies — required updating doctrine to stay true to the intent of labor law…

By contrast, the ruling Thursday from the Republican-led board argued that its predecessors had been guilty of “upending decades of labor law precedent and probably centuries of precedent in corporate law” with no mandate from Congress to do so.

It’s worth noting that the National Labor Relations Board was created in 1935 by President Roosevelt with the express intent of protecting American workers from being taken advantage of by their employers. But today’s Republican-dominated Board wants to slow the pace of progress, despite that fact that more corporations are increasingly trying to shirk responsibility for their workers by labelling them as contractors.

The Times also explains that the reversal endangers workers who want to join a union:

The reversal could also affect the ability to unionize in the first place. A company is free to fire a contractor or end a franchise arrangement if it suspects that workers are on the verge of unionizing. But there could be legal liability for doing so if the company is a joint employer of workers with the contractor or franchisee.

This isn’t the only Obama-era worker protection that could be reversed under this Republican-majority labor board. Also on the chopping block are “rulings that made it easier for smaller groups of workers within a company to unionize, that gave workers access to a company’s email network for organizing purposes, and that conferred a federally protected right to unionize on graduate students at private universities.”

H/T The New York Times

 

Liz Posner is a managing editor at AlterNet. Her work has appeared on Forbes.com, Bust, Bustle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @elizpos.

 

The GOP’s 10 Biggest Social Media Blunders Of 2017

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

 

It’s hard to avoid the yearly recaps that spring up every December. From the ubiquitous lists of celebrity deaths to recaps of the top Twitter hashtags, countdowns are everywhere as the new year approaches. But it’s worth considering another one, for no other reason than that 2017 has left many of us fatigued by the GOP’s atrocious behavior and numb to ongoing offenses. The following Republican social media blunders range from amusingly bizarre to those that painfully reveal the true cruelty of GOP leaders.

Let’s start with the more humorous gaffes, because let’s face it, it’s been a rough year and we could all use a laugh.

  1. The timeDonald Trump Jr. posted this weird-as-hell photoshopped magazine coverdisplaying his dad (in a beard? why?) winning Time’s Person of the Year.
  2. Ivanka repeatedly misspelled words.

Despite her privileged education at Georgetown and Wharton, Ivanka Trump continuously embarrassed herself this year by misspelling and misusing wordslike “albeit,” “juxtaposition,” “relative,” and most ironically, “complicit.”

  1. This photo-op of Steve Mnuchin and his wife.

Credit: Twitter.com/darinself

They look like the king and queen of cluelessness. After Steve Mnuchin and his wife, Louise Linton, posed with a newly minted sheet of money, they were accused of looking “like Bond villains.” “Perhaps it was Linton’s sharp stare and long black gloves,” the Washington Post said. “Clad in all black, Linton clasped the sheet of money the way a royal might hold her hand to be kissed.” It’s an apt comparison, considering another Mnuchin moment…

  1. The time Mnuchin’s wife posted this photo and then ranted on Instagram about her ‘self-sacrifice’ to the American economy.

Credit: Instagram.com/LouiseLinton

After Louise Linton posted a glamorous shot of herself and her husband exiting a private plane on Instagram, a commenter noted that taxpayer dollars allow for their first-rate travel. Linton lashed out in the comments section: “Do you think the US govt paid for our honeymoon or personal travel?! Lololol. Have you given more to the economy than me and my husband? Either as an individual earner in taxes or in self sacrifice to your country? I’m pretty sure we paid more taxes toward our day ‘trip’ than you did. Pretty sure the amount we sacrifice per year is a lot more than you’d be willing to sacrifice if the choice was yours.”

  1. Ted Cruz ‘likes’ porn.

Between Trump’s vicious tweets and the so-called alt-right getting a huge boost from the platform, many of us had moments this year when we wished Twitter didn’t exist. So it was only fair that we got a little gift from the social media site in 2017 in the form of Ted Cruz’s account “liking” a porn page.

  1. Trump couldn’t spell ‘heal.’

Credit: The Sun

After white supremacists marched in Boston and were drowned out by massive counter-protests, it took Trump three tries to correctly spell the “heal” in “we will heal.”

  1. Covfefe

Who can forget Covfefe-gate? Trump supposedly meant to type the word “coverage.” Instead, he gave us a typo for the history books.

Then there were the uglier, less funny, but equally cringeworthy social media moments of 2017.

  1. Few of Trump’s Twitter rants from 2017 made his defenders squirm more than his takedown of Morning Joe.In particular, his vile claim that he once saw showhost Mika Brzezinski “bleeding badly from a facelift” angered many.
  2. Trump’s endorsement of Roy Moore.

    His claim that “we need” child-molester and racist Roy Moore in the Senate stands as one of the worst statements to come from the president this year. But Trump’s spinning of the Alabama election into a push for his dreadful tax cuts, and his pinning the blame on Democrats in Congress turns, this tweet into a three-in-one sucker punch to respectability in politics. Not that there’s much left.

     

    10. Roy Moore challenged Jimmy Kimmel to a standoff.

    Finally, while we’re saying our goodbyes to Roy Moore’s domination of the news cycle, let’s not forget the time he appeared to challenge comedian Jimmy Kimmel to a duel via tweet. So modern, yet so archaic and patriarchal at the same time.

     

    Liz Posner is a managing editor at AlterNet. Her work has appeared on Forbes.com, Bust, Bustle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @elizpos.