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GOP Health Care Bill Recycles Tired Moralizing Of The Poor

Conservatives are a curious bunch. They profess a sunny faith, most of the time, in the unique power of free markets to lift society’s poor and afflicted. Yet when markets fail and government steps in to deliver social goods or services, to alleviate suffering or poverty or misdistribution, conservatives switch their tune to moral outrage.

Case in point: the current debate over repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. The health care system set up by this law, commonly known as Obamacare, is not perfect but it made huge strides toward two vital social objectives: decreasing the number of uninsured Americans and putting a brake on the spiraling trend of national health care costs.

Some conservatives hate Obamacare because of the president whose namesake it is. Others hate it because they think anything the government does to soften the blows of free-market discipline is immoral. It spares the poor from their deserved punishment. And, of course, Obamacare operated through a framework of taxes and mandates and regulations — all things that good conservatives execrate.

The problem is, as a few conservative thinkers have realized, Americans now mostly support the proposition that all citizens are entitled to health care regardless of their resources, and that this can only be accomplished with large-scale government intervention.

So Republicans in Congress face an unsavory choice: to simply repeal Obamacare or to repeal it and replace it with an ersatz version. The GOP’s American Health Care Act seeks to repeal many of the taxes that paid for the Affordable Care Act. It limits future access to Medicaid for poor enrollees. It increases the burden of insurance premiums on older enrollees.

The AHCA is rightly being derided as a cruddy facsimile of Obamacare that massively shifts wealth from the lowest income brackets to the highest. The rationales for foisting this botch on the not-so-well-to-do are grounded in that old conservative disposition to blame the poor for their poverty.

Just listen to them.

Earlier in the week, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican of Utah, boldly dismissed the idea that the GOP’s proposed jacked-up premiums would hurt the poor. These people, he explained, just need to forgo buying the latest iPhone.

A few days prior, Rep. Roger Marshall of Kansas stirred the same pot by claiming that poor people “just don’t want health care and aren’t going to take care of themselves.”

Marshall, an obstetrician, doubled down by adding, “I think just morally, spiritually, socially, (some people) just don’t want health care.”

Both Marshall and Chaffetz have since walked back their comments. But we should expect the GOP to keep pressing plans that limit people’s access to Medicaid. Because too many people firmly believe that expansion to such help will only invite more dependence, less personal accountability, more sloth.

This is a narrative we’ve been hearing from Republicans — and a lot of Democrats, too — for years. They blame low-income people for their own troubles while failing to address low wages, educational gaps, and a range of economic factors that aren’t easily explained by simplistic moralizing.

Misconceptions about poverty are deeply set in American political discourse. Supposed moral deficiencies are a convenient pretense for ignoring differences in economic conditions and opportunity — differences that redound to the benefit of the moralizers. So they shame others for behavior, for failure to heed the rules of the free market, and they regard any attempt by government to ameliorate outcomes as moral hazard.

Such thinking has led to awful public policy, regardless of the party acting under these ideas. It accounted for Bill Clinton’s Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act 1996 to reform welfare. It now inspires the GOP’s dismal health care “reform.”

Yes, personal choices and behaviors have an impact on personal health and economic outcomes. But leave the sermonizing for the pulpit. Most who go without health insurance do so for one of two reasons: They either believe they are too healthy to need it, or they can’t afford it. Obamacare addressed both of these issues.

When devising public policy, we need to take this perspective: “There but for the grace of God go I.”

If we did, our health care and educational systems would be geared to ensure security and opportunity for all, and that none would have to suffer simply because they are poor.

IMAGE: Donald Trump meets with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan on Capitol Hill. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Why It’s Time To Revive The Equal Rights Amendment

We lie to young girls.

We tell them that they can be anything they want to be, that nothing will hold them back from their aspirations but their ability to dream big.

Lean in, women are told in mid-career. Keep your head down, be diligent, and network. You’ll reach your highest goals.

But women in their 60s and older suspect the truth. Women still are not regarded as full equals in America.

They know because they remember. One of the reasons women still struggle for equal pay for equal work and equitable treatment by the law and courts is directly traceable to something that didn’t happen 35 years ago.

In 1982, the Equal Rights Amendment fell short of being ratified. It needed three more of the 15 holdout states to reach 38. Mention this to younger women and they look puzzled. Women aren’t protected as equals under the U.S. Constitution? No, we are not. We skipped a crucial step.

The lack of Constitutional grounding allows for gaps and loopholes. What about the 14th Amendment, goes a common reaction, with its equal protection clause?

Here is what now-deceased U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had to say on that: “The Constitution does not protect women from sexual discrimination. No one ever thought that’s what it meant. No one ever voted for that.”

This huge lapse in constitutional protection is pertinent every day of the year. But let’s play the calendar game and use the upcoming March 8 annual International Women’s Day to grab some attention.

What would life be like for women (and men, because everyone would benefit) if the Equal Rights Amendment had been ratified?

If you do one thing this International Women’s Day, do this: Download a copy of the 2016 documentary Equal Means Equal, directed by Kamala Lopez. Buy a copy of the book by the same title. The author is Jessica Neuwirth, former director of the New York office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Both works shake complacency to dust.

Well-sourced, both walk through a range of problems that are exacerbated by the lack of an amendment: disparities in pay, sex discrimination cases, sexual assault, unequal access to health care, and poverty.

For middle-class women who are college-educated and comfortably situated in their careers and home lives, this might not seem all that relevant. It is relevant, however, albeit perhaps less piercingly than it is to their African-American and Latino sisters and to those who are less economically stable. Wherever gender disparities exist, women of color suffer at greater levels.

We’re almost numb to hearing that women earn less than men. But the problem clearly hasn’t been addressed. Women earn less than men, on average, in virtually every occupation, including nursing, where women far outnumber men.

Another outrage: The U.S. is the only developed country without mandated paid maternity leave. The impact on personal and family income is dramatic.

This ought to be mobilizing information. A resolution to support the Equal Rights Amendment passed out of the Nevada Senate Wednesday. And other states have pending proposals as well. The Republican Party can be counted on as opposition. Getting it to articulate why is key.

You have to wonder if our sexist president would indeed be the commander in chief if the Equal Rights Amendment had been ratified.

History will likely judge President Donald Trump’s electorate harshly for its attitudes about women in 2016. While there were many reasons people chose Trump over Hillary Clinton, strenuous mental gymnastics were required to dismiss his glaring misogyny on the campaign trail.

If women were considered full equals, if they had the Constitution firmly behind them, the nation would not have seen fit to elect a man with heinously backward views of women.

Our president is a grim reminder of how far women have yet to go to be treated as equals in America, and perhaps the best advertisement there is for a new Equal Rights Amendment.

IMAGE: Kansas City in the 1970s. The Republican National Convention took place in Kemper Arena in August 1976. The convention drew Equal Rights Amendments backers.

Trump Order On Transgender Students Is Separate And Unequal

The muddled minds that now run the federal government think it’s fine, preferable even, to legally segregate public bathrooms. In 2017, this should shock.

The targeted group today is transgender students. And the bathroom stalls some want to keep them out of are in the public schools these youths attend.

This is of a piece with the attitudes and beliefs that created “For whites only” drinking fountains in the Jim Crow South. If you don’t see the correlation, you have company in the White House.

President Donald Trump rescinded the guidance the Obama administration issued less than a year ago. Obama directed public schools in America to treat transgender children equal to other children, allowing transgender children to use the bathroom aligned with their gender identity, not the gender assigned at their birth.

Trump’s jab at the rights of transgender children was intended as a thank-you to the religious ultraconservatives who helped elect him. The new president was pressured by his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, whose fingerprints are all over this travesty. Remember this moment as example No. 1 of how Sessions will limit civil rights rather than ensure equal treatment for all.

Sessions reportedly pressed Trump to make the move to circumvent a pending case in the U.S. Supreme Court. The case involves a Virginia transgender high school student who was restricted to using a segregated bathroom by the local school board.

G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board is the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education for transgender students. It could codify their rights as equally protected under Title IX. Arguments were to be heard in March.

But the Trump team wanted to get its licks in first.

Guidance issued by the Obama administration had bolstered the transgender student’s case, but now that the policy has been reversed, the Supreme Court could sent the matter back to the lower court.

G.G. is Gavin Grimm. His story is typical for many transgender youth.

Gavin’s school first told him to use a bathroom in the nurse’s office. But the separate accommodations were alienating and humiliating. Eventually, school administrators relented, and for two months Gavin used the boys’ bathroom. Other students, as they tend to be, were fine with it.

But a few parents and busybodies from town got involved, lodging complaints. The school board overreacted, barring Gavin from the boys’ restroom. In 2015, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, Gavin sued.

As Gavin has so often and graciously explained, he is not making a “choice” any more than a gay or straight student chooses his or her sexual orientation. The doctors who treat children diagnosed with gender dysphoria recognize that truth.

It’s morally and legally wrong to deny a person’s public rights or cast hardship upon him or her simply to bolster the comfort level of a larger group. It shouldn’t matter if the singled out person is a student relegated to a unisex bathroom or a black person restricted from using a water fountain or a family of a particular religion barred from a neighborhood.

Public concerns about transgender people could be alleviated by a broader understanding that gender identity is separate from sexual orientation. The confusion too often spins into generalized fears about predatory sexual behavior like pedophilia, which has nothing to do with gender identity or whether a person is gay or straight.

Most larger school districts have been quietly doing the right thing, accommodating transgender students and easing understanding among classmates and parents.

But not all do so, which is why it’s necessary to have the law firmly delineated on matters of civil rights.

Trump’s secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, appears to understand this. She pushed back against Sessions but lost.

DeVos reportedly insisted the Trump order underscore that LGBT students be shielded from bullying. Perhaps that will ease her conscience. It will not fully protect these students.

The Trump administration is sending a dangerous mixed message.

It is giving school districts the thumbs up to discriminate, while also recognizing that transgender children are at risk.

The righteous path is to be clear and unequivocal: Transgender children deserve equal treatment among their classmates. And they shouldn’t have to wait for a president or his weak-kneed Cabinet to evolve enough that they embrace the full reach of civil rights in America.

Follow Mary Sanchez on Twitter @msanchezcolumn.

IMAGE: Rally to protect the rights of transgender students tonight, by the White House, in response to the administration’s withdrawal of the transgender-rights directive. Victoria Pickering/Flickr

If You Love The United States, Thank An Immigrant

It’s a sad day indeed when 13 percent of the population has to pretend to disappear, just to be seen.

Thursday was a Day Without Immigrants — an event organized via social media to focus on the 40 million foreign-born people in our midst, of whom about 10 million are undocumented.

For one day, a fraction of the immigrants in the U.S. didn’t show up for work. Many classrooms, too, were empty. Landscaping crews didn’t work, cooks didn’t cook, and servers didn’t serve. Tiendas didn’t open. Even a few McDonald’s restaurants had to close.

Alas, it was but a blip.

The following day, Friday, America’s longstanding cognitive dissonance about immigration was on display. The Associated Press reported on a leaked memo by a source in the Trump administration discussing plans to use National Guard troops to round up undocumented immigrants. The administration immediately branded this a lie and “fake news,” but it sounded like a fine plan to some.

Now is a good time to admit why crackdowns on immigrants sounds good to large portions of America. We cling to a good amount of “truthiness” about our own immigrant pasts.

Americans derive from a remarkable and yet troubling stock. For the most part, we’re a bunch of mutts from elsewhere. This we regularly celebrate in everything from stump speeches to TV commercials. It’s even engraved on a national monument: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses….”

And yet we love to rewrite history — especially family histories — to rationalize why it is OK to view newer arrivals, especially those assumed to be illegally present, as somehow less worthy.

You know the drill. In America, no one past the second generation truly believes that their ancestors arrived struggling to learn English. Nope. We imagine our great-grandparents came here out of a desire to be American rather than in search of higher wages or cheap land or to escape hunger or for a shot at getting rich.

Oh, and they arrived legally. Don’t forget that. That’s the biggest farce. Everyone who never actually met their immigrant ancestor believes that their family tree was thoroughly vetted, checked, and found mentally competent and physically topnotch.

In fact, the level of vetting past immigrants underwent greatly varied depending on when they arrived, where they were coming from and how many coins were in their knapsack. States rather than federal government controlled migration until 1890. And only 2 percent of the migrants who came through Ellis Island were turned away. It’s not because they were all stellar proto-Americans; it’s because they didn’t go through particularly stringent screening. For those who arrived in steerage, it was a six-second physical.

If we hadn’t built such false narratives about the past, we might be more willing to understand how the current political tumult over immigration is but a latter-day re-enactment of nativist outbursts of the past. It turns out we have a long history of favoring immigrants of certain nations, races, and religions over those of others — and of erecting selective barriers to legal passage.

The U.S. can do better. A large portion of the undocumented population could have been prevented not by walls, but by policy and law that actually allowed migration to be flexible with labor needs, be it low-skilled or more highly skilled.

Immigrants are now and have always been a self-selected class. It’s typically not the undisciplined who choose to uproot themselves from native soil and venture off for a new start.

It’s a commonplace to say immigrants built this nation. They settled the prairies and dug the canals and laid the rails and mined the coal and worked in the steel mills and factories and slaughterhouses that made America rich.

They continue to contribute a great deal at all levels of the economy. We can continue to enjoy this benefit, while clearing up the murk that is American immigration policy. Demonizing immigrants is not the way. Cruel police or military action is not the way. Reason, justice, and a clear grasp of our national interest are the values that must guide us.

IMAGE: Ludovic Bertron / Flickr

Taking Care Of Refugees Is A Moral Duty

President Donald Trump’s controversial executive order halting the resettlement of refugees in America and banning travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries has raised concern not only among liberals, civil libertarians, and jurists. It has also led a group of prominent evangelical Christian leaders to remonstrate publicly with the president who rode to office in large part on the votes of their flocks.

More than 500 of the nation’s most prominent evangelical pastors, authors, and other worthies signed a letter asking Trump to reconsider the order. The letter, published in The Washington Post this week as a full page ad, reminded the president of the Bible’s story of the Good Samaritan, in which “Jesus makes it clear that our ‘neighbor’ includes the stranger and anyone fleeing persecution and violence, regardless of their faith or country.”

The letter added that “compassion and security can co-exist,” yet while Americans quarrel about policy, innocent people die. “For the persecuted and suffering every day matters, every delay is a crushing blow to hope.”

It’s heartening, amid the wasteland of cynicism that our politics has become, to see church leaders going out on a limb, challenging not only Trump but all Christians in our body politic to attend to a central call of their faith — to serve the suffering — even though it involves sacrifice and risk.

The clergy are looking at the big picture. Many are involved in the web of agencies across the nation doing the important work of settling refugees, and they see the dimensions of the current crisis that are being missed by many Americans: We are in the midst of the largest global migration upheaval since World War II. At least 60 million people around the world have been forcibly displaced from their native countries, according to the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, a nonprofit group that has been aiding refugees for more than a century.

So, it’s not a great time for America, long a beacon to the world’s oppressed, to close its doors.

The headline-grabbing portions of Trump’s order banned Syrians altogether, singled out seven predominantly Muslim countries and temporarily halted all resettlement for four months. But Trump also halved the number of refugees that the U.S. will allow into the country in fiscal 2017, from 110,000 to 50,000. Nearly 30,000 have already arrived since October, so the door really is shutting. That decision, perhaps even more than the portions of his order facing court challenges, could cripple the network of agencies that have been helping resettle the world’s displaced people for generations. Indeed, some could be forced to cut staff or shut down.

Resettlement work is labor- and time-intensive. It’s social work, largely, with case managers helping refugees move into apartments, get training and find jobs, enroll children in school, and learn English. Refugees arrive in their host cities often with little more than official documents stuffed in a plastic bag.

Refugees aren’t immigrants in the typical sense. They don’t leave their countries just to seek better economic prospects. Under a 1980 U.S. law, refugees must prove they have been persecuted or have reason to fear persecution due to their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or association with a particular social group. Essentially, refugees must prove they are fleeing for their lives.

There is a strain of ethnic nationalism in American politics that does not care about the plight of the world’s refugees and intends to limit immigration to the U.S., legal and undocumented alike, only pretending to differentiate between the two. Trump came to power as the avatar of this ideology.

Opponents of immigration offer all sorts of bogus critiques of refugee resettlement. They accuse social services agencies of using refugees to greedily get federal funding; they argue our refugee policies are Cold War relics, no longer needed, and that in any case they don’t aid the most urgent cases.

Here’s the statistic that ought to make us all pause: Fewer than 0.1 percent of the world’s displaced people — yes, those seen on the news floating precariously toward European shores and trudging for miles with their children strapped to their backs — are ever resettled through refugee networks. According to the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, most live marginal lives in urban areas as unrecognized residents, while many others languish for years in primitive and unsafe camps.

That sheds damning light on Trump’s policy. Amid incredible human suffering, the U.S. president has deemed that we should do less, not more.

IMAGE: Nizar al-Qassab, an Iraqi Christian refugee from Mosul, sees his children off at Beirut international airport ahead of their travel to the United States, Lebanon February 8, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

Stuck In Immigration Limbo, Dreamers Are Losing Patience

Progressives Could Learn A Thing Or Two From The Tea Party

An energetic and full-throated resistance is building nationwide to oppose the whims of Donald Trump. Witness the crowds that turned out last weekend to protest Trump’s malicious executive order barring refugees from entering the country and voiding the visas of citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries.

Yet the likeliest way to put a leash on Trump and overcome his enablers in Washington requires much more focus than marching in the street. It’s not as sexy. It won’t give you the same thrill or cachet as playing the agitator extraordinaire. You won’t be able to brag about it to your grandchildren. But it’s what will work.

We need to make our representatives and senators squirm. It’s not that hard, if you know how to do it.

Writing to or calling our elected officials is something we know we’re supposed to do, and yet we so seldom follow through. Even when we do get motivated to write a letter or make a phone call, we often do it wrong. The point is not so much to let our rep or senator know how we feel, although that is part of it. Rather, the point is to make him or her aware that you are watching and listening, and that he or she will pay a price for acting or voting against your wishes.

How do you do that effectively? There’s a handy guide titled “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda.” This easily digested 27-page document is downloadable at www.IndivisibleGuide.com.

As the guide explains, members of Congress react mostly to their constituents. And they don’t like to look bad. Small efforts of vocal, well-timed and articulated advocacy can work wonders.

“Indivisible” groups are forming in major cities and in smaller communities. At last count there were around 4,500, with at least one in virtually every congressional district.

The document offers plenty of insider knowledge, as it was crafted by former congressional staffers. They share their insights into what made their former bosses listen, and squirm.

Thus, “Indivisible” does a great service in helping the well-intentioned but off-script activist. This is covered in helpful table outlining “what your member of Congress doesn’t care much about.” This includes form letters, tweets, Facebook comments that haven’t generated widespread attention, and “your thoughtful analysis of the proposed bill.”

One chapter, “How Your Member of Congress Thinks and How to Use That to Save Democracy,” elaborates the simple but crucial dictum that congressional members worry first and foremost about getting re-elected and protecting their image. Unhappy and outspoken constituents make for bad optics, which inspires more unhappy constituents.

The pamphlet cribs a few sheets from the tea party playbook. Tea partiers, after all, were adept at organizing, keeping their focus local. They didn’t waste energy developing complicated policy agendas. Rather, they relentlessly hounded members of Congress who supported anything that Obama touched. They were the impetus for the extreme obstructionism that transformed the GOP into the “Party of No.”

Tea party efforts cleared the path for decisive midterm victories for the GOP and, eventually, for Trump to take the White House. That is why progressive protesters against Trump, inasmuch as they are on the defensive and need to act accordingly, also need to recognize that playing effective defense presents an awesome opportunity to organize for eventual legislative majorities.

Republicans are firmly in control of Congress at least until the midterm elections in 2018. Retaking the Senate, much less the House, will be a tough uphill climb. The first step toward taking Congress back is to say no to Trump’s agenda now. Hence, the authors of “Indivisible” offer tips for “stiffening Democratic spines and weakening pro-Trump Republican resolve.”

Every dysfunctional president has had his enablers. And members of the GOP who do not stand up to Trump’s more egregious moves — which is to say, virtually his entire policy agenda — fit that definition.

Despite his preening and complaining, Trump did not win the popular vote. He has started with a record low approval rating, and he becomes more unpopular with every display of narcissism or cruelty.

So “Indivisible” offers this solid reassurance: “If a small minority in the tea party could stop President Obama, then we the majority can stop a petty tyrant named Trump.”

The greatest weapon the American public has to fight Trump and his minions is the central institution of our representative democracy: the legislative branch.

Progressives must threaten their representatives with removal if they don’t heed the majority that finds Trump repugnant, and they must organize that majority to speak unambiguously in November 2018.

Mary Sanchez: 816-234-4752, msanchez@kcstar.com, @msanchezcolumn

IMAGE: Activists gather outside the Trump International Hotel to protest President Donald Trump’s executive actions on immigration in Washington January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

Trump’s ‘Travel Ban’ Intended To Create Chaos And Spur Fear

Like malicious children, the Trump administration built cover for its plan.

Pre-emptive exposure, after all, would have brought the light of scrutiny before the damage could be done.

President Donald Trump, after speaking about immigrants in disparaging tones throughout his campaign, threw down executive orders last week with wild abandon. But Trump saved the most immediately disruptive decree for late Friday afternoon.

That’s just late enough in the week to send reporters, immigration attorneys, and constitutional experts scrambling. No one saw this coming.

Citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries suddenly were banned from entry into the United States. Refugees, the most thoroughly vetted of all immigrants, were told they cannot enter the U.S. for at least 120 days. Those from Syria, arguably some of the world’s neediest displaced people at this moment in history, were locked out indefinitely.

At least until the further whims of Trump and his crafty co-conspirators.

State Department officials weren’t briefed in advance. By Monday, career diplomats — people who have served both Republican and Democratic administrations — were crafting a letter in defiance. U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents were left with scant directives. The nation’s airports were kept in the dark. Even Homeland Security Secretary Gen. John F. Kelly did not receive his briefing until Trump was signing the order at the Pentagon, The New York Times reported.

No wonder all hell broke loose. This is not an accident. The order was intended to create chaos, to generate fear among immigrants, and to send a message.

Loud and clear it rang: The Trump administration will pontificate about terrorism and national security, but it is intentionally targeting Muslims. Friday, Trump admitted to the Christian Broadcasting Network that he believes the myth that the Obama administration dragged its feet in aiding Christian refugees, and he now wants them to have priority. Pew Research previously stamped out that falsehood, reporting that last year, 37,521 Christian and 38,901 Muslim refugees were admitted to the U.S.

And if the order was actually about terrorism, the countries affected would not be the seven chosen: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. No terrorists from any of those countries have harmed the U.S. Most of the 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. And Osama bin Laden found shelter in Pakistan.

Military officials were mortified by the inclusion of Iraq. Iraqis are our allies in the fight against Islamic State.

The lie that Trump is interested only in stopping illegal immigration also was uncovered by this order. Legal permanent residents were among those suddenly banned. Monday, CNN reported that Trump administration officials had been warned that barring legal residents from entry would be a grave misstep. But those voices were shut down.

The administration eventually walked back the order’s inclusion of permanent residents after its hand was forced by legal rulings and massive protests at the nation’s airports.

The order affecting refugees and Muslim immigrants was so haphazardly crafted and executed, Trump’s intentions were laid bare. The president has been exposed.

IMAGE: Dozens of pro-immigration demonstrators cheer and hold signs as international passengers arrive at Dulles International Airport, to protest President Donald Trump’s executive order barring visitors, refugees and immigrants from certain countries to the United States, in Chantilly, Virginia, in suburban Washington, U.S., January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Theiler

Trump’s Border Wall Lunacy Won’t End Well

How do you feel about paying for Donald Trump’s border wall, America?

Because if he builds it, the bill is coming to you. Mexico has flatly said it will not pay for the wall. And the cost of the border tax Trump has threatened to impose will simply be passed on to U.S. consumers, who will pay higher prices.

That may be just fine with our tweeter-in-chief, but the American people should think twice. Trump’s obsession with undocumented immigrants and trade with Mexico, which played so well with the Republican base during the presidential campaign, now must be translated into policy, and policy can have far-reaching consequences.

In his first week in office, Trump with great fanfare signed executive orders aimed at undocumented immigrants. First was the decree for the wall, and another was issued to ramp up deportations. More executive orders are promised.

It wasn’t enough for Trump to announce construction of the wall; he took pains again to taunt the Mexican government by claiming it would be made to pay for it. In other words, he felt it appropriate to humiliate a major trading partner, ally, and next-door neighbor.

When Trump suggested that agreeing to pay for the wall was pre-condition for an already planned meeting with President Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico, Pena called it off. Sensing that his schoolyard dominance was in doubt, Trump escalated the drama by saying that Mexico would pay for the wall via a 20 percent tax on all imports.

Mexico is the U.S.’s third largest trading partner, and many U.S. jobs are linked to its economy. Destabilizing Mexico’s economy is liable to increase the number of people trying to migrate north, which has been at net zero for years now.

Moreover, imposing a 20 percent tax on Mexican goods could possibly start a trade war, threatening the global trade regime that the United States has assiduously constructed over the last three decades. And, as economist Paul Krugman suggests, it could just drive up the dollar’s value, ultimately erasing any competitive value it has for U.S. business.

Details, details.

Nevertheless, there is much Trump can do to inflict great harm on Mexico, simply because he wishes to. For instance, he could tax or restrict cash remittances to Mexico from people in the United States. Millions of workers in our country regularly send money to friends and family in Mexico — amounting to more than $25 billion last year —  and stopping this flow would be disastrous to the Mexican economy.

Then again, it’s unclear that remittances could be stopped effectively. Trying to do so would just force people to use other channels, possibly even illegal ones. Do we want to create new problems for the sake of Trump’s ego?

Consider also the fight against drug trafficking. It’s best done in conjunction with Mexico, not against it. How willing will Mexico be to cooperate with us in the future if Trump drives it to its knees?

Trump doesn’t realize what he’s done, or what he is poised to do. He’s already created a backlash with behavior in office that appears to be unhinged. His need for adulation and domination is insatiable. And so far he has failed to win it. Expect this to drive him even deeper into denial.

One key fact Trump doesn’t understand is that the America he is dreaming of is in direct conflict with the one that already exists.

Immigrants and their families are deeply entrenched in America, which is why a wide range of interests pushed back when Trump let his orders fly. Mayors, police chiefs, legal scholars, refugee advocates, educators, and everyday citizens have all signaled their determination to resist his policies.

It’s not that anyone is eager to shield a violent immigrant criminal. Rather, people who interact with immigrants as part of daily life know far more than our president.

Most major police departments work with immigration agents routinely, but they’ve pushed back against acting as a part of a deportation force. Police know that immigrants, both legal and undocumented, can be victims, perpetrators, and witnesses to crime. Law enforcement can’t afford to make entire communities fear them.

The optics will be awful if Trump tries to go after the “Dreamers,” people who were brought to the U.S. as children without documents. Trump will have to peel those people out of college classrooms.

Trump is set to learn that it’s not him that’s great. It’s the nation’s citizens, its constitution and laws,and its ethos and conscience, which is widely shared by everyday citizens.

And they are not about to let a fluke of one election cycle undermine the America they’ve worked so hard to build.

IMAGE: U.S. President Donald J. Trump speaks during the 2017 “Congress of Tomorrow” Joint Republican Issues Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. January 26, 2017.  REUTERS/Mark Makela

When Fear Rules, Constitutional Rights Get Trampled

The defendants before the U.S. Supreme Court sound like a political “Where are they now?” quiz: former Attorney General John Ashcroft, former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and former Commissioner James W. Ziglar of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

They are involved in a civil suit, the last arguments of which were heard by the high court before Donald Trump’s inauguration. At issue is whether the plaintiffs — 760 foreign men, mostly Muslim — have standing to sue the former government officials for denying them the constitutional rights of due process and equal protection.

The case takes new significance now, as Trump has notoriously promised to institute policies with respect to Muslims that are of questionable constitutional legitimacy.

The plaintiffs in the case were rounded up in 2001 in the days and weeks following the Sept. 11 attacks. They were thrown into two detention centers and held for about eight months. The immigrant men say they were targeted because they were Muslim, dark-skinned and Arab or South Asian. They were kept in solitary confinement and put through sleep and food deprivation. A government investigation later found that some were slammed up against walls, strip-searched unnecessarily and yelled at with slurs for praying.

None of these men — not one — was ever charged with terrorism. Instead, most eventually faced deportation for immigration violations such as having overstayed visas or worked without a green card. These are civil crimes, but hardly the stuff of high national-security drama.

It’s worth remembering the shock and fear that followed those terror attacks on U.S. soil. The nation is forever changed for the lives lost that day.

Yet this embarrassing episode — an example of hysteria that led to a clear miscarriage of justice — is as pertinent as ever. We have every reason to believe that our new commander-in-chief and his intelligence and law-enforcement appointees are liable to repeat this behavior.

We just inaugurated as president a man who dogmatically clung to the lie that Muslims in New Jersey were dancing in the streets after terrorists flew planes into the twin towers and the Pentagon. Trump is not known to back down from his lies and calumnies, yet many of his Cabinet nominees and advisers have tried to distance the administration from talk of creating a database for Muslims, monitoring mosques and banning practicing Muslims from immigrating.

On the other hand, Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, waffled in Senate confirmation hearings when asked about a Muslim registry, saying he needed more information. (Here’s some free advice: Check the Constitution.)

The Supreme Court case, brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights, turns on the question of whether top officials in the George W. Bush administration bear any personal responsibility, or if they have qualified immunity, for violations of the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.

An inspector general’s report on the detentions mentioned that some in the administration tried to push back against overreach, but the rational voices were silenced. Hooligans took over. Guards at one detention center were fond of twisting hands, wrists and fingers and dragging the men around when they were handcuffed and in leg shackles. Withholding soap and toilet paper was another game.

Family members had trouble finding out information, left to guess how or why their loved ones had disappeared. Many of the men had been caught in the sights of the government thanks to anonymous tips. Gadflies called authorities, believing that their Muslim neighbors were highly suspicious, perhaps because they worked odd hours. In one case, a man landed in a detention center because someone thought he had made “anti-American statements.”

That’s what happens when fear leads. When those in power bend to it. It’s one thing for a private citizen to answer the call of “If you see something, say something” and mistakenly flag an innocent person. It’s quite another when officials working for the government brush off their duty to respect constitutional rights, holding people for months, even after they knew those people were innocent.

Certainly, anyone with memory of those horrifying days following the attacks that killed 3,000 people can understand how mistakes were made. Some reasons for delay in releasing the men were a lack of resources and muddled communications between the FBI and other agencies.

Erring on the side of recklessness comes at a high price. It undermines the constitutional rights America values most. It harms our international image. It hands a recruitment tool to terrorists.

We know this now. Time to apply the lesson.

Mary Sanchez: 816-234-4752, msanchez@kcstar.com, @msanchezcolumn

IMAGE: WikiCommons/Gage Skidmore

Did We Expect Too Much From Obama On Race?

With less than two weeks to go before Barack Obama vacates the White House, an apparently racially motivated crime has once again ignited debate about how race relations have changed under America’s first African American president.

In Chicago, four African Americans have been charged with kidnapping, beating and tormenting a mentally disabled young white man whom they bound and gagged. They live-streamed the victim’s shockingly cruel ordeal on Facebook.

At one point during the attack, one of the perpetrators cursed “white people” and President-elect Donald Trump. Based on this and/or perhaps his disability or some other evidence, authorities have charged the suspects with hate crimes.

When asked by a Chicago reporter to comment on the incident, Obama called it a hate crime and “despicable.” Yet, in the measured tones that he has always brought to the sensitive issue, he disagreed with the contention that race relations have become worse in his adopted hometown.

As anyone can attest who was around in Chicago in 1985, when Obama first came to Chicago, there’s no question that they have improved. Harold Washington, Chicago’s first black mayor and a progressive reformer, was besieged by hostile white aldermen in an atmosphere of frank racial animosity. A notorious Chicago Police commander was torturing black suspects to extract false confessions in a series of murder cases. Thanks to gerrymandering, blacks and Latinos were underrepresented in the city council.

Whatever its problems today, race relations in Chicago have come a long way since then — which was Obama’s point to the reporter.

Another change is that mobile phone cameras and social media have made the visuals of various crimes and violent incidents widely available to the public; for the better and, perhaps in some cases, for the worse. Violent crime rates have broadly declined in America since three decades ago — even in Chicago! — yet this is not apparent to many, thanks partly to “viral” blood-and-guts news.

A similarly equivocal assessment of “progress” applies to Barack Obama’s legacy as the nation’s first African American president. Most Americans greeted his election as a watershed for American society. And yet the achievement came with unrealistic expectations for what he could do for America under that label.

It was unfair to expect that Obama’s election signaled a massive turning point to America’s past racial divides, as if the event was a stopping point, a culmination, rather than a milestone on a long historical journey.

This is the fantasy of America as a post-racial society. People of all races, arguably goaded by media, bought into it. We liked the sound of hope and change. And an optimistic America is good thing, as long as it’s honest.

It was also unrealistic to believe that a black man waking up every day in the White House and going about the presidential duties was going to suddenly lift all minority-led households.

Many black people, especially those at the bottom economic rungs, became fed up with the lack of change under his watch. They’d bought into the idea sweeping change might come to their lives under Obama. But the problems at the root of the angst — poverty, the state of many urban school districts, gang and drug violence, fragmented and dysfunctional families — started long before he took office and cannot be solved with a stroke of the president’s pen.

There is a second, equally delusional notion that Obama somehow caused race relations to fester and boil. As if his very presence is the reason that Americans are sensing higher racial tensions.

For many, especially white conservatives, any time Obama weighed in on the mistreatment of black people by police, he was “playing the race card.”

It was during Obama’s time in office that these events resonated in the news: the killing of Trayvon Martin; the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, and endless other cases of police shootings followed by unrest; the Black Lives Matter movement; and the horrific assassination attacks on police.

It’s naive to believe Obama flipped some switch for these events to occur. As if the problems between police and urban black communities aren’t far more complicated, more long-standing and entrenched. It’s offensive to both police and those communities to see it any other way.

Obama never should have been expected to heal all racial grievances in America. If that is what you expected, sorry, but the last eight years obviously haven’t sufficed.

Obama’s real and lasting impact on race relations in America will be seen in less sensational policy decisions: who he brought to the federal benches, his efforts to protect the Voting Rights Act, measures to expand access to health care and quality schools. None of this can be easily measured at this point.

So we’ll muddle and march forward. And if we admit Obama’s limitations, we’ll also have to see that the work of creating a more perfect union is really ahead. The goal is to take it on — eyes and ears wide open.

IMAGE: U.S. President Barack Obama pauses as he delivers a speech during a visit at the the Parque de la Memoria (Remembrance Park), where they honored victims of Argentina’s Dirty War on the 40th anniversary of the 1976 coup that initiated that period of military rule, in Buenos Aires, March 24, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Rockettes Balk At Dancing For Our POTUS-To-Be

Guessing how many Radio City Rockettes will show for the Trump inauguration will be something of a parlor game in the coming weeks.

A sad new day is dawning when such a classic slice of Americana is dragged into the political fray. Members of the famous high-stepping troupe are no longer under orders to perform for the president-elect. The choice to dance or not will be voluntary.

Or so goes the about-face from the Rockettes’ union, the American Guild of Variety Artists.

Just before Christmas, members of the Rockettes joined the growing list of professional entertainers who have declined a role in the inaugural festivities for President-elect Donald Trump. Reportedly, a majority of the nearly 100-woman ensemble were repulsed upon learning that management had booked them for the Jan. 20 event.

One Rockette spoke at length with MarieClaire.com, detailing the concerns as a moral question on which the dancers wanted to express solidarity with their many support staff who were demoralized by the Trump campaign rhetoric and misogyny.

“This is not a Republican or Democrat issue — this is a women’s rights issue,” the woman, who was quoted anonymously, said. “This is an issue of racism and sexism, something that’s much bigger than politics.”

For those valid concerns, the ladies are being painted as petulant, hyper-liberal whiners who can’t get over the election results.

Nope. This is a workplace issue. The 13 full-time dancers in the Rockettes, in particular, know their jobs may be on the line if they refuse to perform.

For the rest of us, this saga is a taste of the next four years. When and how will it be appropriate or pragmatic to react to the latest Trump offense or to recall the heinous rhetoric of his campaign?

A tenor of the Trump administration is already on full display. His crazy becomes the norm that everyone else accepts. There appears to be little other choice. If you work in government, or in a business that deals with government, you will ultimately have to answer to Trump. And the only realistic checks on his power, Congress and the courts, are dominated by Republicans who have zero or unknown inclination (respectively) to exercise it.

Thus, many Americans are behaving like families do around a member who is a volatile alcoholic or addict. They walk on eggshells, lest they ignite unwanted fury. Better just learn to live amid the dysfunction, they decide.

The problem is it tends to make people complicit, co-dependent.

We see a parade of business, military and political leaders march into Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago to genuflect before the gilded one. Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Amazon, and Apple have been represented, along with past political rivals. Other industry giants, like Bill Gates, have apparently spoken with Trump by phone.

You can’t fault them for trying to take a measure of the man, or for trying to fill the empty vessel that he is with some of the understanding he will need to lead the nation. At times he seems to be listening, giving hints that he’s open to persuasion on issues of high importance such as climate change, the environment and torture as a tool of war.

But what one suspects their audiences with Trump are all about is flattering him, getting a good word in, kissing his ring, because the man will do as he pleases.

The Rockettes drama may seem trivial compared with the other items of the news cycle. Yet this may turn out to be an object lesson about preserving our core democratic values in the face of power. The office of the presidency is due respect, but we must also demand respect for everyone the incoming president maligned to get elected: women, minorities, the disabled, immigrants. Maybe it takes a chorus line to remind us.

Trump’s disgusting behavior and attitudes toward women are beyond disputable — his own words indict him. Need a reminder? Here are three: his demeaning talk of grabbing women’s private parts, his gross verbal assaults on female newscasters and entertainers who challenged him and his bragging about walking in on undressed teenaged beauty contestants.

His behavior is the very pattern and practice of sexism. No sane human resources director would countenance compelling a female employee to work for such a man. And yet the Rockettes are expected to dance.

“I wouldn’t feel comfortable standing near a man like that in our costumes,” one dancer wrote in an email to her colleagues, according to MarieClaire.com.

Thank you, ladies. Without even stepping on stage, you offered a well-timed reminder of one of the major challenges we face in the coming four years: ensuring dignity for all.

The applause is deservedly yours.

Mary Sanchez: 816-234-4752, msanchez@kcstar.com, @msanchezcolum

IMAGE: Ralph Daily/Flickr

Why Do Some Hate Crimes Fail To Resonate?

The December day began like any other. Will Corporon awoke to the noisy bustle of his life, five children and loving wife. He headed out, a normal day in the life of a hardworking American father.

Until the day’s news reared with an offending slap.

Dylann S. Roof was convicted on 33 federal hate crime-related charges for the execution slaughter of nine African-Americans as they prayed in a historically significant South Carolina church.

Corporon sent me a text shortly after he heard the news: “Hey, Mary, how come there is a federal hate crimes trial for Dylann Roof but not our idiot?”

“Our idiot” is known to the Kansas Department of Corrections as F. Glenn Miller Jr. He drove to the Kansas City area from southern Missouri in 2014 intent on murdering Jews. He shot and killed Corporon’s father and his 14-year-old nephew, and then turned his shotgun on the beloved wife and mother of another family who had ventured out that rainy afternoon to visit her mother in a nursing home. All were Christian.

People in the metro area certainly know the story, have ingrained the victims’ names and faces to memory — William Corporon, Reat Underwood and Terri LaManno. But outside of Kansas City, not so much. That’s part of what makes Will Corporon upset, and with good reason.

In America, deranged people can kill with racial, ethnic, religious or any of a wide range of hatreds and receive far differing reactions from the national media, the general public and seemingly even from the forces of justice.

And so 24/7  news coverage of Roof agitated Corporon, who lives in Arkansas.

What if the idiot had been successful and had killed numerous Jewish people? Would the national outcry have been different? What if the victims had been black? Would advocacy groups or high-profile individuals have stepped in to pressure for federal attention?

“In this day and age, why pass up the opportunity to send a message?” Corporon asked. Fair questions — and hard to answer. I was truly surprised that Miller’s murders did not become a bigger national story.

The most recent federal data on hate crimes detail more than 7,000 people targeted in 2015. Hate crimes targeting the victim’s real or perceived race/ethnicity/ancestry were the most prevalent, accounting for 59 percent of the incidents. Next was religious bias at nearly 20 percent, followed by sexual orientation at almost 18 percent.

Among the hate crimes motivated by race or ethnicity, black people by far were the main victims, drawing more than 50 percent of the crimes. Whites followed at nearly 19 percent. Anti-Hispanic or Latino bias motivated 9 percent of the crimes. Among crimes motivated by religious bias, anti-Semitism accounted for more than half of the attacks, followed by anti-Muslim bias at about 22 percent.

So the despicable actions of both Roof and Miller fit the leading patterns of hate crimes.

There are explanations for the lack of federal hate crime charges in the Kansas murders. Corporon accepts them, to a point. “We did get justice,” he said. “But to me, it’s more about a message that the U.S. government stands up and says, ‘This is a hate crime and we aren’t going to tolerate it.’ 

A decision was made between Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe and the U.S. attorney for Kansas at that time, Barry Grissom. The goal was to get the case to trial quickly. Federal action would take longer.

Like South Carolina, Kansas has no hate crime law. But it does have enhanced sentencing for bias-motivated crimes. Miller was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. Asthmatic and feeble, he will die in prison.

Officials didn’t want to put the community and the families through another trial to reach the same result. As Corporon concedes, they can’t kill Miller twice. The dignity and respect afforded the families during every phase of the trial was a testament to prosecutors and the judge.

Then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called Grissom within hours of the shootings and arrived to speak at a massive community memorial. President Barack Obama asked to be kept abreast as the case proceeded. “It got the kind of scrutiny that you would hope the government would give a case,” Grissom said.

But it never was branded with federal hate crime charges.

In Roof’s case, the opposite occurred. Federal officials moved first; state charges are still pending. Roof’s sentencing in the federal case is set for Jan. 3.

More than 50 years of age separate Roof and Miller. But they are largely the same type of person. Both dwell on concocted versions of racial strife. Roof wanted to start a race war, inspired by online reports of nonexistent murder sprees by black people targeting whites. Miller, a longtime white supremacist, was obsessed by the belief that immigrants, Jewish people and minorities are pitted against white people.

Corporon sees a common theme. “It’s all just another example of ways that we are mean and hostile to each other,” he said.

Yet both crimes also engendered tremendous acts of kindness from people moved by the violence, strangers who were deeply offended by the hatred. Maybe it will be at that level that these hateful acts will be overcome.

Mary Sanchez: 816-234-4752, msanchez@kcstar.com, @msanchezcolumn

IMAGE: Frazier Glenn Miller Jr. File photo by John Sleezer/The Kansas City Star

 

Anti-Immigrant Bias Has Already Cost America Plenty

“A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” You might remember that slogan from decades ago.

Well, the intellectual and creative gifts of many in America are being squandered, especially those of immigrants. A new report shows that, increasingly, new arrivals to our country are more and more educated — college educated — but are not employed in jobs that use their full potential.

Nearly half, 48 percent, of the adult foreigners who resettled in the U.S. between 2011 and 2015 had earned at least a bachelor’s degree, and many have advanced degrees. This steady influx of brain power is a shift that has been occurring largely unnoticed for decades. Before 1990, only 27 percent of adult immigrants came with a college education. That rose to about 33 percent before the 2008 recession hit, and it has continued to rise.

Yet a study coordinated by the Migration Policy Institute found that one in four college-educated immigrants are either performing low-skilled jobs or are unemployed. And it’s costing the nation. Every year, the government loses $10.2 billion in tax revenue because of the underutilization, according to the findings.

In addition, these immigrant families lose out on nearly $40 billion in annual earnings. When you consider how those unseen wages could have been fed back into the economy, it can’t be disregarded as chump change. And that’s considered a conservative estimate.

It does no good for anyone to have a foreign-trained engineer shoveling french fries, pushing a mop or clipping hedges.

The top reason why they aren’t fully utilizing their talents is the most obvious one: a lack of fluency in the English language. Many can function well enough at lower service economy jobs, but they often lack the verbal capacity to work in the business or professional fields they trained for.

Sometimes they’re held back because their licensing isn’t applicable in the U.S. This explains the foreign-trained medical doctor who drives a taxi.

Fixes might include creating better bridge programs between foreign and U.S.-based licensing, helping with business or medical language fluency, and reworking how we structure visas so that these workers fill gaps in the labor force without displacing the U.S.-born. And cultural differences that act as barriers could be addressed, such as by telling a foreign-trained engineer that, in America, personal bragging on a resume is expected.

But not all of the problems are this straightforward. Mindsets need to shift, too. Immigrants also face racial and ethnic bias, including notions of what kind of immigrant is “deserving.”

Researchers found that, overall, college-educated Hispanic immigrants suffered a great deal of what we might call “brain waste” — working beneath their educational attainment. South Asian and East Asian immigrants fared better. Some of that might be attributable to the widespread perception that the latter are “model” minorities.

When the researchers controlled for legal immigration status, language fluency and other factors, black immigrants still fared poorest. That says everything about the rest of us, not them.

A little perspective: The foreign-born are 7.6 million of the 45.6 million college graduates in the labor force.

You might wonder why we should concern ourselves with immigrants when there are so many college-educated U.S.-born citizens who can’t get a job in their field. The study looked at their struggles, as well. They number nearly 7 million. And the authors argued that helping both groups is called for, as about the same proportions of each (22 percent and 24 percent) are out of work and not even looking for a job.

While low-skilled, undocumented immigrants are often the targets of abuse generated in our increasingly nativist political climate, educated immigrants who are legally present catch a lot of flak, too. Many Americans can’t or won’t make the distinction.

The vast majority of college-educated immigrants, 57 percent, are U.S. citizens. Only about 11 percent (840,000) are undocumented, and the rest are either legal permanent residents or hold at least a temporary visa.

Their prosperity and our nation’s prosperity are linked. That’s why we need to reset the national mentality regarding immigration. It’s why Silicon Valley executives and employees have been so offended by the anti-immigrant emotions drawn out during the presidential election. They know the value of skilled foreign workers — their value to business enterprises and the nation’s economy.

It’s a sad indication of the wrong direction this country has taken that The New York Times has started a column called “This Week in Hate” to catalog incidents that offend the values we Americans claim to hold dear.

Hate divides us and weakens our democracy. It also costs us, and that — if nothing else — ought to bring us to our senses.

Mary Sanchez: 816-234-4752, msanchez@kcstar.com, @msanchezcolumn

IMAGE: Anuska Sampedro via Flickr

Trump’s Labor Choice Is Not A Friend Of Workers

Fast-food executive Andrew Puzder is a frenemy to his employees.

He’s gone out of his way to downplay the needs of his workforce. Primarily, this means those Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. workers who have joined the nationwide clamor to raise the minimum wage.

Puzder is President-elect Donald Trump’s selection for secretary of labor. Hold on to your paychecks, this could be a bumpy ride.

Raising the minimum wage, granting overtime pay, inconvenient questions about why so many burger flippers and french fry scoopers are also on public assistance — it all receives a dismissive wave from Puzder. Too much federal regulation, he says. Not good for business.

Given Puzder’s role as CEO of CKE Restaurants, Inc., this is to be expected, as were the shouts of dismay at his nomination.

One organizer (Kendall Fells) pressing to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 said Trump’s choice of Puzder was akin to “putting Bernie Madoff in charge of the Treasury.”

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, told the Wall Street Journal, “With Mr. Puzder, the fox is in the hen house.” She went on to say his nomination is “the greatest assault on workers that we have seen in a generation.”

A moment, please, amid the chaos of name-calling, lest we lose perspective on the complicated problems of low-wage workers and so many others who have a tenuous tether to middle-class status.

Going on four decades now, economic policy has consistently undermined wage earners in favor of pleasing corporate managers and Wall Street. The tools that have been used were widely discussed during the presidential campaign: the off-shoring of jobs, raiding pension funds, all to concentrate profits more in the hands of those at the top income brackets.

This shift basically occurred over the stretch of Puzder’s career. And it happened through the acts of Congress, the courts, state legislators and a press too eager to gulp down the spin that this was all market forces at work. Unions increasingly were seen as the bad guys, out of touch.

So when Puzder says that government needs to get out of the way of business, he finds ready ears to absorb the message. But he’s only telling a piece of the story. The dire situation that too many fast-food workers feel is not, as Puzder likes to posit, simply the work of over-regulation.

Consider the Fight for $15, raising the federal minimum wage. Fast food is where the most public of these battles has been fought, with regular protests outside America’s favorite golden arches and other venues.

The pressure would double the federal minimum wage, on the outset a seemingly an outrageous contention. Puzder has said the protesters might as well be demanding their own firing. He argues that the workers will price themselves out of a job, that bosses like him will merely find ways to offset the higher labor costs through automation, decreasing employment. And it’s true, as some restaurant jobs have been replaced by the efficiency of technology, like touch screens to order food.

But realize that we have also let the minimum wage stagnate for far too long. By some calculations, the minimum wage would be at about $21, had it been allowed to rise alongside productivity gains. That is $5 higher than what many people think is asking too much.

In more tempered writings, Puzder has indicated that he would be OK with a $9 federal minimum. Or perhaps something that eases the increased labor costs on owners over time, incremental increases. If he really gets honest, he’d have to also admit that estimates about how much cost would have to be passed onto customers is also a subject of much debate.

And states and cities have begun to raise their minimum wages, something that Puzder can’t roll back even if he is confirmed.

Despite what many people of solid middle-class status like to tell themselves, the plight of the low-wage workers whom Puzder employs, and often fights, affects you and your household. And not just if they get your order for extra ketchup correct as you go through the drive-thru.

They are connected to the slipping grasp on a chance at middle-class status that so many Americans feel viscerally. It is the anxiety that helped elect Trump.

Puzder was an early and loyal supporter to Trump. The offering of a cabinet post is his reward. The question that remains to be seen is how loyal he can be to yearnings of the American workforce.

Mary Sanchez: 816-234-4752, msanchez@kcstar.com, @msanchezcolumn

IMAGE: Andy Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants, departs after meeting with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump (R) at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016.  REUTERS/Mike Segar/File PIcture

For Some Cuban Expats, Castro’s Death Means Little

For a man who lost so much — his freedom, his homeland and nearly his life — to Fidel Castro, my friend Juan Roque is extraordinarily unmoved by the tyrant’s death.

But that’s Roque’s hallmark: steady vision, calm spirit. It’s a standpoint that more people would be wise to adopt, especially now, as interested parties wait out this uncertain time between Fidel Castro’s death and the possible reversal of the U.S. rapprochement with Cuba under the incoming Trump administration.

Of all the voices chiming in on Castro’s death, Roque’s was the one I sought. We met years ago, when he was an advertising executive at The Kansas City Star. He’s mostly retired now, a grandfather of five living in a suburb of Kansas City.

At 16, Roque was a freedom fighter. He was a youngster brassy enough to alter the birthdate on his passport, convincing the CIA that he was old enough to fight in the Bay of Pigs invasion. He wasn’t, but our intelligence agents didn’t figure it out until it was too late.

Roque was dropped off, along with 1,400 other Cuban exiles, by boat near Cuba. They made it ashore and fought for three days, vastly outnumbered by Castro’s troops. More than 100 of the freedom fighters died before they ran out of ammunition.

Roque, thinking like an indestructible teenager, believed that he could swim 50 miles through shark-infested waters and reach safety. He tried but was captured. He spent the next 20 months in a Cuban jail, subsisting on noodles, bread and water.

The only times he got depressed was when he “made the mistake” of looking out the window and wondering if he’d spend the rest of his life imprisoned.

His mother, part of the underground resistance to Castro, was held in a Cuban jail at the same time. She’d been captured about eight months after sending her son and a daughter to the U.S., not knowing that her son would figure out a way to return. She’d spend 13 years in a Cuban prison.

His stepfather, who had been an adviser to the dictator Castro overthrew, Fulgencio Batista, was also jailed, for eight years. Both parents eventually made it to the United States and are now deceased.

“Nothing good happened to us as a result of Fidel Castro coming to power,” Roque told me. Still, he has long been refreshingly honest about U.S./Cuba relations, despite all that happened to him and his family.

Hatred of Castro can make people lose perspective. It’s one reason why so many, including some who have the ear of President-elect Donald Trump, continue to press for maintaining the embargo. Never mind that the economic blockade accomplished nothing to budge Castro from power — and did much to harm the Cuban people.

It’s a failed policy, although some still mistakenly cast it as a principled stand.

Roque has long favored lifting the embargo, trying to engage carefully, while remaining fully aware of the ongoing humanitarian sins of both Castro brothers. Raul Castro has been in power for nearly a decade now, so the death of Fidel is not the watershed some are celebrating.

“What can possibly happen?” Roque asked. “The Communist Party is still in control.”

Raul is 85 and set to retire from the presidency Feb. 24, 2018. Which is a reason why Roque is a patient man.

At a mere stroke of a pen, President Trump could reverse the executive orders Barack Obama has used to weave connections between the U.S. and Cuba. Those include the permission for businesses to import some Cuban goods, the relaxed regulations on what U.S. travelers can bring back from the island, an opening for U.S. interests to manage hotels in Cuba and for U.S. businesses and individuals to have bank accounts there.

The capitalism genie is out of the bottle. U.S. business interests will not willingly retreat from pursuing opportunities in Cuba.

In fact, the pace of rapprochement did not pause after Castro’s death, not even for his funeral. Two days after his last breath, as Castro’s ashes were ceremoniously making their way across Cuba, Havana was added as yet another Cuban destination reachable by scheduled commercial flights from a number of major U.S. cities.

Eventually, Roque might make a trip back to Cuba himself. He’d like for his beloved wife to see the island. But otherwise, he says, Cuba elicits sadness for him.

Before the revolution, Cuba was prosperous, with a growing middle class, Roque reflects. Castro destroyed that, but Roque refuses to waste the energy mourning it, adding philosophically, “You cannot go through life like that.”

IMAGE: Cuba’s President Fidel Castro gestures during a tour of Paris in this March 15, 1995 file photo. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/Files

#WhatNow? Millennial Voters Want To Bring Empathy Back

They know what is said about them.

Crybabies. Snowflakes. The post-election protesters were cast as millennial whiners, yearning for a safe space to nurture their wounds after Hillary Clinton’s defeat by President-elect Donald Trump.

But that’s not the focus of five college students, all 20-somethings from around the Kansas City area. They’re aiming for something completely different. And they are willing to work for it.

They attended the protests in Kansas City, along with hundreds of others. But they were the ones manning the card table, handing out water bottles and collecting more than 200 signatures of people interested in being involved.

And yes, they voted. In fact, they’ve very engaged politically; several are political science majors. They’ve been meeting almost daily, forming a group they are calling WhatNow.

“It’s not about those that voted for the president-elect and those who didn’t,” said My Hoang Nguyen of Kansas City. “It’s about policy and humanitarian efforts.”

A forum Tuesday will be their first effort, 5:30 p.m. at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, 4501 Walnut in Kansas City. Networking will start, followed by a 6 p.m. panel.

“You may scream in the street, you may make a sign and march, but nothing will change if you allow your emotion to guide…” began a Facebook post by Nguyen, who initiated the work.

For the forum, they want an event where those who see themselves as liberal and those who say they are conservative can sit down. And talk. And more importantly, listen. A place where people could express views — in civil tones — and be assured that they wouldn’t be verbally attacked.

Finding a venue, that proved difficult. There were issues of insurance and security and trying to spark interest from local politicians. They contacted Mayor Sly James’ office, city council members and also reached out to national figures like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

To find conservative voices they’re tapping Republican student organizations of area colleges. They are hopeful that professors who are sponsors for such clubs can help leverage student involvement.

“I think both sides can lack empathy,” said Michele Lazarowicz. “I hope empathy comes back in style.”

Using the hashtag #WhatNow, and Twitter handle @WhatNowKC, they’ve decided on this mission statement: Connecting communities through empathy, education and advocacy.

They bought three website domains and will launch on WhatNowkc.org Tuesday morning. Work around gaining nonprofit status has begun.

The initial group also includes Sandy Altamirano of Overland Park and Jennifer Feeney and Sarah Turello of Kansas City.

They know single-issue voters, say about guns or abortion, can only explain so much of how people voted. They’re not interested in making a bogeyman out of special interest groups. The pitfalls of Machiavellian forces, too often at odds in the two-party system, are also apparent.

“It’s not about whether your person won or lost, but why can’t we all win?” said Turello.

All of this, and much more, is what they are eager to discuss with others.

Like many, they’ve struggled with political divides in their own families. One has a Trump-voting father and a Clinton-voting mother. That raised the concern that one parent might have voted in a way that will eliminate the health care of their college-aged child, if Obamacare is repealed.

They’ve had older adults talk down to them, as if they don’t understand the Electoral College. Actually, they can explain its origin and nuances better than most. The young women worry what Clinton’s loss implies for their future careers, asking how much of the vote was anti-female?

Mostly, they realize there is much to learn about voter motivation. Not only to understand it, but get to know people well enough to grasp how they dismissed or rationalized what felt so personal and offensive to the diverse friendship networks they value. Namely, the sexist and bigoted comments that peppered the Trump campaign.

As Nguyen sees it, Kansas City saw two different types of protesters after the election. There were those who sought solace, unity with like-minded voices drawn together primarily out of concern for remarks that targeted Muslims, immigrants and others. And, there were those who were in a more anarchist frame of mind, a far smaller collective.

Much of the initial response felt like grieving to Nguyen.

It’s not that people didn’t accept the results of the election. They did. And it worried them. Others reacted to the discontent; the crybaby comments.

WhatNow views all the feedback as energy to be captured.

“If we let this passion die down, this power die down, it will be the same thing,” Nguyen said. “And then, eventually, the community will get angry all over again.”

Mary Sanchez: 816-234-4752, msanchez@kcstar.com, @msanchezcolumn

IMAGE: Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton poses with supporters after a campaign event at Rutgers University’s Newark campus in Newark, New Jersey, U.S., June 1, 2016. REUTERS/Adrees Latif