Yes to the Green New Deal – posted 10/14/2019

October 14, 2019 Leave a comment

One thing that separates the 2020 presidential race from past contests is our more dire state of climate emergency. The evidence is right in front of our eyes: the wildfires in Los Angeles, the superstorms like Hurricane Dorian and Maria, the burning of the Amazon rain forest and the melting of Greenland’s ice shelf.

Due to Greta Thunberg, the Sunrise movement, and writers like Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein, we are much more aware that our times are anything but normal.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has reported that if countries want to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius this century, they have to halve global emissions by 2030, become carbon-neutral by 2050 and go carbon-negative thereafter. That is a daunting challenge by any measure.

While most Democrats agree climate change is a major concern and they also agree the United States needs to zero out its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, presidential candidates’ plans about combatting climate change vary dramatically. Most of the Democrats have modest proposals and, in my opinion, pay climate change lip service. Many say they support the concept of a Green New Deal but few address the enormous funding required.

Part of the problem is the too-moderate bent of the Democratic party establishment. For so long they have sold small change as an adequate response to a wide range of problems including climate, economic inequality, lack of universal health coverage, mass incarceration and institutional racism.

During the Clinton era, that approach was best summed up by the term “triangulation”. Be a moderate Democrat but act like a centrist Republican. Too many Democrats have remained wedded to that approach. It actually allowed Trump to run against the Democrats as a status quo party.

Problem is though, when you face an emergency like climate change, small change does not cut it. The scientific community is telling us we have less than 11 years to transform our energy system away from fossil fuels. We could be facing uninhabitability for much of the planet and a Mad Max-like dystopia.

Fortunately, not all Democrats have signed on to a minimalist platform. The progressive wing of the party led by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have endorsed a more full-bodied version of the Green New Deal.

The Green New Deal is both an outlook and a political program. It is inspired by the vision of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who in the face of the Great Depression advanced a New Deal in the 1930’s. In spite of significant opposition, especially from the business community, the New Deal launched a massive transformation that included jobs, relief programs, and infrastructure.

The Green New Deal aims for a similar transformation to avert climate catastrophe and to create millions of new jobs. Some of the component parts include:

  • reaching 100% renewable energy for electricity and transportation by no later than 2030 and complete decarbonization by 2050
  • leading the international fight to reduce emissions throughout the world by rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and working to enforce aggressive climate reduction goals
  • rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure including the nation’s water systems so that we can better deal with floods, hurricanes, and wildfires
  • preserving our public lands and reinstating the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal program that conserved wilderness
  • creating 20 million good-paying jobs in steel and auto manufacturing, construction, energy efficiency retrofitting, and renewable power plants
  • holding the fossil fuel industry accountable, making them pay for their pollution and the damage they have caused
  • helping workers in the fossil fuel industry transition to new work and careers
  • Incentivizing farmers to develop ecologically regenerative farming systems that sharply reduce emissions

Obviously in a proposal of this magnitude, questions abound. How this plan will be paid for is a totally legitimate question. As is the question of how it will get passed considering present opposition.

Green New Deal sponsors acknowledge the size of the price tag but they articulate a plan for payment. The plan generates money from different sources: revenue from selling energy via power marketing authorities, income taxes from the new jobs created, and money related to reducing military spending connected to protecting oil shipping lanes.

When opponents complain about the cost, the best response is consideration of the the cost of doing nothing. You can pick your doomsday scenario.

I think the biggest obstacle to the Green New Deal is the enormous cynicism and defeatism that exists about the state of the planet. Also there is huge cynicism about whether the system here can be changed to push through needed, radical changes. Our government has operated like a paralysis machine.

We can count on Green New Deal opponents to spread fear of an austere future and a too big federal government. That is predictable.

Overcoming the legacy of inaction and passivity is still on the agenda. The scientific knowledge about climate change has been out there for 30 or 40 years and we have not responded.

Naomi Klein put it this way:

“…I have been trying to figure out what is interfering with humanity’s basic survival instinct – why so many of us aren’t acting like our house is on fire when it so clearly is.”

A great place to start in learning about the Green New Deal is to read the full text of Congress’ Green New Deal Resolution introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in February 2019.

As we consider the Democratic presidential candidates, I think a critical distinction to consider is each candidate’s Green New Deal position, if they have one. I would ask these questions: Does the candidate put dollars behind his/her proposal? How comprehensive is the plan? How deep does it go? Is it bold enough?

The extreme weather and climate disasters we face are a national emergency. We need to start acting like it.

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Lisa Baird, 10 Years Later – posted 10/6/2019

October 6, 2019 7 comments

This October marks ten years since my sister Lisa died. I often think about her. To say Lisa was a warm presence does not do her justice. She could fire up any room. Her sense of empathy was off the charts. Even with all her own hardships, she was always very concerned about the people around her. That included her clients as well as family and friends.

When someone dies, it is hard to appreciate the magnitude of the loss. Lisa’s loss shattered and splintered my family. She had held family together. I often think if she had not died how different events would have played out. I have no doubt that family togetherness would have been much more maintained.

It is funny how a charismatic person can have that power to stop potentially warring family factions from warring.

I have many wonderful memories of Lise that go back to early childhood. Although she was two years younger than me, she was a mentor. She often advised me, literally telling me what to say in all kinds of situations. She could have been a script writer. She had an opinion on everything. When younger, she would often come in to my bedroom, do homework and fall asleep on one of my twin beds. We talked non-stop for years. In the era before texting, she was a big phone-caller.

Lise was an early bird, never a night owl. She always had a wide circle of friends. She introduced me to many of her girl friends and I dated some of them. She used to joke that I was “stealing” her friends.

Lise was pretty athletic. I mostly remember her horseback riding and her swimming. She won awards at Camp Red Wing, riding English. She was always a strong swimmer. She did laps and could go for a couple miles. She used to go for long distance swims around Atlantic City with her friend Joyce Abrams.

Lise and I had bobbing contests in the pool at the Longport Seaview in Longport, NJ, when my parents had a place there. I always beat her and she would be pissed off in a good-natured way. She would say, “Boo-boo, you cheated” if she had an angle to argue.

Lise was not usually at a loss for words. She was a talker and her verbal skills were quite remarkable. The fact that she became a lawyer was quite appropriate.

She was a leader. Starting in school, she routinely got elected class president or Student Council president. During her years in the October League, she was district organizer in Philadelphia. Carl Davidson, a pretty famous radical in his own right, described Lisa as a “legendary organizer” in Philadelphia.

Lisa was politically precocious, figuring out capitalism at age 16. As a teenager, she went to meetings of Philadelphia Resistance, a draft resistance organization. At Baldwin School, Lisa locked horns with the head of the school, Ms. Cross. Lisa fought for minority scholarships at a time when the school was overwhelmingly white.

The school did not appreciate Lisa’s efforts. Although she was a fine student, Ms Cross blackballed her. Cross privately contacted all the colleges where Lisa applied, said she had “mental issues” and went on to describe my parents as “hippies” which was beyond laughable.

Lisa got accepted at none of the colleges where she had applied. That was mysterious because Lise was a very good student and I think it is fair to say she was widely liked by other students. My parents found out about the blackballing years later.

Lisa moved to Cambridge Ma after high school with her boyfriend Rusty Conroy. They had met on an American Friends Service Committee summer project on the Northern Cheyenne Indian reservation in Lame Deer, Montana. Rusty was Lisa’s first boyfriend and they remained great friends, always.

Lisa decided to go to college at the University of Texas in Austin. Austin was a very happy time in Lisa’s life. Political organizing became a passion for her. Since Lise never did anything the easy way, she did not finish at UT. She eventually moved back to Philadelphia and eventually finished her undergraduate work at Temple. Along the way, she learned Spanish.

In 1982, Lisa decided to go to law school. Her legal career was diverse. She started off working for Lehigh Valley Legal Services, worked as a staff attorney for Philadelphia City Council, then worked for HIAS and eventually she went into private practice. She had her own office on Cherry Street in Philadelphia.

In thinking about her lawyering career, I think of how much was lost when she died. She specialized in immigration law, representing clients who faced deportation or had asylum claims. Her advocacy skills are desperately needed now.

The synagogue shooter in Pittsburgh was angry at HIAS and that was where Lisa worked for some time. Lisa actually played an important role in pushing HIAS to represent clients from all over the world. HIAS had a past history of representing Russian Jews. Lise represented Ugandan child soldiers, women who were victims of female genital mutilation, Vietnamese boat people, and Chinese and Japanese restaurant workers, among others.

I know Lisa would have been in the thick of the fight against Trump’s immigration policies. She was a warrior. Walking around Philadelphia with Lisa was a trip. She knew so many people and had so many clients. Clients would always be coming up to Lise and saying things like, “Ms. Lee-ze, we will pay you.” Lise was a terrible bill collector. She needed a paralegal and a secretary and she functioned much better when she had one.

Considering her breast cancer, her productivity remained amazing. She did not let cancer slow her down that much until the end. After she died, my mom received a lovely card from the Immigration Court in Philadelphia signed by the judges and staff. The Court appreciated Lisa’s passion and excellence as an advocate. She fought hard for all her clients.

I think of the words of the lawyer, Gerry Spence, which fit Lisa:

“Lawyers should be chosen because they can demonstrate a history rich in human traits, the ability to care, the courage to fight, the will to win, a concern for the human condition, a passion for justice and simple uncompromising honesty. These are the traits of the lawyer.”

Lise brought the same dedication and passion to her role as a parent that she did to her lawyering. She was absolutely devoted to Molly and Lou. They were central in her life. I think all critical decisions she made, she made with her children in mind.

Lisa’s death left a gaping hole in my life that can never be filled. The sibling relationship is so special because you share a lifetime experience. No one else has that same kind of shared knowledge and experience.

When my parents died in their eighties, I at least felt like they were able to live long and good lives. I do not feel the same way about Lise. Her death was not in the natural order of things. She died at 56. I still miss her terribly.

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More Dogs – posted 10/4/2019

October 5, 2019 1 comment
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The 1619 Project and A More Informed View of Slavery – posted 9/28/2019

September 29, 2019 6 comments

Possibly some readers have followed the controversy over the New York Times 1619 Project. That project is an effort to take a new look at the history of slavery in America. 1619 refers to the date the first black slaves were brought to the shores of America.

After the New York Times launched the project in August, conservatives literally freaked out. Among others, former Congressman and Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich argued the project was a “lie” and propaganda. National Review editor Rich Lowry stated that the essays presented an “odious and reductive lie” that “racism is the essence of America”. The general criticism raised by conservatives was that the 1619 Project was attempting to divide and delegitimize America.

The conservatives seem deeply uneasy about looking under the rock that is American slavery. Accompanying a fear of this history is the desire to maintain an innocence about the American past. We all grew up with the triumphalist narrative that focuses on heroic American moments. From the Founding Fathers to Abraham Lincoln to defeating fascism in World War II, there are undeniable heroics.

However, I would suggest fear of history is dangerous and can lead to the promotion of illusions. It is past time that we, as a society, look harder into the history of slavery because that experience still shapes our world. Investigating slavery is like staring into the heart of darkness. There is a desire to look away.

The truth is that there has been an unwillingness to examine the history and the history is little known and understood. In schools I attended, the subject of slavery was largely passed over and I do not think that is too different from the experience of most Americans.

Let me put out some ideas about slavery that I have gleaned from my own exploration. Much of my thinking has been shaped by a brilliant book, The American Slave Coast, written by historians Ned and Constance Sublette.

The Sublettes argue an alternative view of slavery in the United States. Rather than seeing slavery simply as a source of unpaid labor, they see slavery in the United States as a slave-breeding system. They write:

“The story of national expansion premised on the reproduction of captive humans who were labor, merchandise and collateral, all at once, is horrific, and it’s basic to the story of our development as a nation. It’s not a sidebar to American history, it’s central. It’s particularly important, because despite the best work of scholars, American history has always come up against a disinformation process that has sanitized it. But sanitized history won’t explain how we got to the mess we have today.”

Slave-breeding was a commercial enterprise to expand slavery westward. The Sublettes see the struggle that went on between Virginia and South Carolina as a central conflict. Slaveowners in Virginia competed with South Carolina over African importation of slaves.

South Carolina slaveholders obtained their slaves from Africa via the Middle Passage. Virginia bred slaves for the domestic market and aimed to supply high-priced slaves throughout the South. Both states favored the expansion of slavery into western territories as that was seen as essential to the growth potential of the industry and its profits.

The Sublettes argue that the 1808 abolition of the transatlantic slave trade was a huge protectionist victory for Thomas Jefferson and the Virginia slaveholders. By stopping the African importation, Jefferson crippled South Carolina’s ability to compete against Virginia.

W.E.B. Dubois described it:

“Slaves without the African slave trade became more valuable; with cotton culture their value rose still further, so that they were fed adequately and their breeding systematically encouraged.”

Thomas Jefferson had bragged to George Washington that the birth of black children increased Virginia’s capital stock by four percent annually. Jefferson owned over 600 slaves during his lifetime. Washington owned over 300. They were the two presidents who owned the most slaves.

Slaves were the equivalent of money. They also were the basis for increased Southern political representation due to the three-fifths clause in the U.S. Constitution.

The Sublettes show how Native Americans had to be cleared out of the southeastern United States to pave the way for the creation of cotton plantations. Andrew Jackson was key to that effort. More generally, they show how many presidents before Lincoln accommodated slavery. With the exception of the two Adams (John and John Quincy), all the presidents before Lincoln owned slaves.

Some of the stories the Sublettes tell are shocking. President James K. Polk fought the Mexican War, in part, to annex Texas and extend slavery there. He bought slaves in secret while in the White House to feather his post-presidential nest. Polk was the absentee owner of a slave plantation in Mississippi. The overseer of his plantation had a reputation for cruelty and merciless whippings. Polk’s slaves ran away much more than the norm of that time.

Maybe most shocking in the Sublettes’ account was the treatment of African-American women. There was no such thing as rape of an enslaved woman. It wasn’t considered possible that rape could be committed against a slave. Rape of a slave was simply not regarded as rape. Rape was, however, a virtual industry in the South. The historian Kellie Carter Jackson writes:

“Enslaved women had no right to their bodies, no right to their children and no right to refuse enforced breeding.”

The slave-breeding industry is an example of how far human beings will go in the unrestrained pursuit of profit. I would acknowledge the need for much deeper exploration of the history of slavery but the conservatives fear of untold history is misplaced. We do not have that many slave narratives but we need a bottom-up view of the institution. Shallowness of understanding is a much bigger problem than potential bias in telling the story.

In American history, it does not lessen the positives to be honest about negatives. The 1619 Project and other efforts to tell the slavery story should be welcomed.

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We are in denial about domestic terrorism – posted 9/16/2019

September 17, 2019 1 comment

After the August Walmart shooting in El Paso, Texas in which 22 people died, I had a strong feeling that I had seen this movie before. That is because we all have seen it many times: a gunman arguing that he was compelled to commit mass murder because of an immigrant invasion.

The murder is preceded by the release of a windy manifesto. The manifesto invariably states that a white genocide is going on. The shooter sees the immigrant invasion as an apocalyptic threat, calling for a state of emergency and unprecedented response. Right before the shooter goes on his rampage, he publishes online in far right sites, giving the supposed justification for his actions.

The shooters appear to be lone wolves. Typically they are young white men, radicalized on the internet. Responding to these shootings, mainstream politicians talk about mental illness and the need for gun control. The predominant perspective presented by the mass media is that these shooters are mentally ill loners with an axe to grind.

I would suggest that this view is fundamentally wrong. The common thread in so many of these shootings is the white power ideology of the shooter. It is an international phenomenon. Before El Paso, there was the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue shooting, the Christ Church, New Zealand shootings, Dylann Roof in South Carolina and the Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik. There have been many other less well known incidents following the same pattern.

In spite of the repetition of similar atrocities, the danger of the white power movement remains drastically underestimated. The historian, Kathleen Belew, author of Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America, nails it:

“Too many people still think of these attacks as single events, rather than interconnected actions. We spend too much ink dividing them into anti-immigrant, racist, anti-Muslim or antisemitic attacks. True, they are those things. But they are also connected with one another through a broader white power ideology.”

The idea of replacement is central to the white power movement. The replacers are supposedly Jews, Latinos, Muslims and Blacks. Those in the white power movement believe white people are heading for the dustbin of history. I think of the neo-nazis and alt-right in Charlottesville chanting: “Jews will not replace us.”

White genocide theory holds that black people within the United States will inevitably rise up and start a race war which will result in the genocide of all white people in America. Dylann Roof explained his actions in shooting nine Black worshipers at a bible study in Charleston by saying he wanted to foment race war. In his actions, he followed the white power movement’s teachings.

It needs to be said that the idea of a white genocide going on now is nonsense and contrary to factual evidence. There is no proof white people are under attack or are going extinct. Nor is there evidence Black people intend a race war. Rich, white people control the levers of power in America, whether in the White House, Congress, the Supreme Court or the heights of the economy. This is not just true now – it has been true for virtually all of American history.

Certainly, there are significant demographic changes prompted by climate change, violence prompting asylum claims and immigrants coming to America seeking a better and safer life but that is a far cry from wild allegations of white genocide. Conflating the increasing population of non-white people in America with a white genocide is absurd.

Also, the idea that there is some shadowy group lurking behind the scenes promoting an immigrant invasion is pure paranoia and worse. Such fantasies fuel irrational hatred, especially antisemitism. Once again, Jews are being cast as the puppet masters , pulling minority strings.

Belew argues that the roots of the current alt-right and white power movement go back to the period after the Vietnam War. She says there was an ideologically diverse groundswell of people including Klansmen, neo-nazis, white separatists, racial skinheads and others who came together after the Vietnam War to create a white power movement.

Belew describes this project as an inherently anti-American effort that is trying to overthrow the federal government in order to create an Aryan Nation. That agenda includes eradication of people of color in America.

The white power movement has pursued cell-style organizing, a strategy called Leaderless Resistance. The emphasis has been on promoting the work of a highly dedicated cadre of totally committed activists. Part of the idea of Leaderless Resistance is to make infiltration by government informants much harder. It is also designed to hide and obscure the white power movement from public understanding.

For years now, social media has played a critical role in the evolution of this movement. The movement has been very effective at using the internet to radicalize and recruit young white men. Activists are very well known to each other as was demonstrated by Charlottesville. There is much shared communication inside the movement. The reality of a coherent social movement cuts against the lone wolf narrative.

The white power movement has been very successful in mainstreaming ideas about immigrant invasion. Just listen to Fox News or President Trump. They are using the talking points of this movement.

Trump has used terms like “invasion”, “alien”, “criminal”, and “animal” while discussing immigration hundreds of times at his rallies in the last year or two. In May at a rally of his, when Trump asked “How do you stop these people?” someone in the crowd shouted “Shoot them!” and Trump laughed.

I think the hidden quality of the white power movement has made it harder for the government and others to recognize how dangerous it is. Not surprisingly, last spring the Trump Administration through the Department of Homeland Security disbanded the group of intelligence analysts focused on domestic terror threats, including neo-nazis and the alt-right.

On September 20, the Department of Homeland Security issued a warning about the threat of white supremacist extremism online. They compared white supremacists’ use of the internet to how ISIS does it. Given how little the government has said about this threat, this was at least some recognition of the danger posed.

President Trump, on the other hand, has suggested he might designate Antifa, a collection of militant anti-fascists, a terror organization. Whatever the wisdom of its tactics, Antifa has zero body count. The same cannot be said about the white power movement. Their body count is extensive. Just as he did after Charlottesville, Trump is trying to draw equivalence  between the sides when there is none.

Denying the existence of a now emboldened white power movement is especially dangerous. Recent events suggest more and worse violence is coming.

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More Shady and Blue – posted 9/7/2019

September 7, 2019 1 comment
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American Gulag, 2019-style – posted 9/2/2019

September 2, 2019 1 comment

On August 21, the Trump Administration announced final regulations designed to allow the government to subject immigrant children and families to indefinite detention. The rules are intended to replace a long-standing, court-ordered 20-day time limit on keeping families in immigration jails.

Rather than being paroled into the community pending the hearing on their immigration cases, unaccompanied minors and children with their families would be detained in prison. The average wait time for an immigration case to be heard is about two years and nearly three years in some jurisdictions.

The new rules would replace the Flores settlement agreement, a 1997 federal court settlement that imposed detention standards and time limits. The Trump Administration wants to get outside Flores obligations. It blames the Flores settlement for the high number of immigrants arriving at our Southern border.

The core principle of Flores is that migrant children taken into detention should be released as expeditiously as possible.

A coalition of twenty states, led by California and Massachusetts, has filed a lawsuit in federal court to stop the Trump Administration from rescinding the Flores settlement agreement. If the new rules are not stopped by a judge, the rules would take effect in 60 days.

Maybe it should not seem necessary to explain but the health consequences of incarceration for children are extremely damaging. Clara Long from Human Rights Watch put it this way:

“The detention of children can lead to trauma, suicidal feelings and exposure to dangerously inadequate medical care. No amount of time in detention is safe for children and prolonged detention is particularly harmful.”

There is a wealth of public health studies that demonstrate the adverse health consequences of children being incarcerated. These include both negative physical and emotional symptoms. Depression, sleep problems, loss of appetite, headaches and abdominal pain are common symptoms. Trauma, regression in children’s behavior, suicidal thoughts, nightmares and feelings of hopelessness and despair are also part of the picture.

It must not be forgotten that many migrants are fleeing extreme violence and sexual assault and they need protection and services which address these complicated needs.

Under Flores, children could only be detained in facilities that are licensed by an appropriate state agency. The new regulations remove that requirement and replace it with a new self-licensing system. Department of Homeland Security would have no credible oversight and their performance has been anything but reassuring.

In the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the Trump Administration lawyers have just been arguing that safe and sanitary conditions do not require access to soap, toothpaste or minimally adequate sleeping conditions. Children have been spending the night on concrete floors, covered by Mylar blankets, in cramped, frigid, brightly-lit cells.

There have been many anecdotal stories about rotten food, no access to showers, sexual assault and overcrowded standing room-only cells. Outbreaks of infectious diseases, particularly mumps, have been widespread. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just reported 898 confirmed mumps cases in 57 facilities housing ICE detainees. A large majority of the cases were at detention facilities in Texas.

Racism appears to be rampant in the Border Patrol and ICE. Witness the Border Patrol Facebook group that showed active-duty and retired officers viciously mocking lawmakers and dead migrants. Violent, white supremacist, and misogynistic posts were disturbingly common. According to ProPublica, this Facebook group had more than 9,500 members before it was exposed.

More generally, the Department of Homeland Security has a dismal track record on accountability and transparency with its immigration detention facilities. The public does not fully know what is going on with these detention facilities, how many people are being held, and in what conditions.

This is America’s own gulag, 2019-style. Department of Homeland Security is blocking investigators and congressional staffers from visiting migrant facilities near the U.S.- Mexico border since previous House Oversight staff inspections revealed ongoing problems. During this Administration, seven children have died in custody.

The Flores settlement agreement included detailed child protection obligations for children detained without adults. The agreement is the only established set of protections for immigrant children held in detention. Over the last twenty years, Flores counsel repeatedly went to court to seek enforcement of the obligations. The new regulations do not incorporate the detailed obligations of Flores.

A big part of the Trump Administration argument for the new regulations is the supposed deterrent effect of punishing migrants by imprisoning them pending their immigration hearing. The evidence for that assessment is lacking. Harsh measures have not been lessening illegal entries.

The high cost of child incarceration has also been thoroughly underestimated. An unnamed official at the Department of Health and Human Services told NBC News that housing costs $775 per child, per day. Incarceration costs significantly more than supervision in the community. The cost of private prisons for immigrant children and their families is its own scandal.

While it is impossible to predict with accuracy whether the Court will allow implementation of the new rules. the Flores settlement only terminates when the government issues regulations that are consistent with and implement the terms of the settlement. That is clearly not the case.

I know Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez took much heat when she described the immigration detention facilities as “concentration camps” but her description is accurate. We need a full investigation and expose. Nothing could be more un-American than holding children in atrocious conditions.

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