Are Vaccines Safe? (Part 2)

 

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Pediatrician Matthew Davis, M.D. explains how immunizations work:

Vaccination protects against illnesses in two main ways. First, the person being vaccinated is protected, because the vaccine stimulates his or her immune system to recognize the harmful bacteria or virus in the future and provide a protective response. This is the process of being “immunized.” Vaccines are developed to provide the benefits of im munization as effectively as possible to all people who receive them, while producing as few side effects as possible. However, just as people vary in the benefits they get from prescription medicines, people also are different in their immunity from vaccination. Many people get maximum benefit while some not as much. In addition, protection from vaccination can decrease over time. Doctors call this “waning immunity.”

That’s what makes herd immunity — the second form of protection from vaccines — so important. Just as a herd of animals will form a protective circle around its most vulnerable members, herd immunity refers to how well immunized people in a community protect the less- or nonimmunized people in that same community. This is an extremely important benefit of vaccination programs, because not everyone can receive vaccines, for medical reasons, and because some people who have been vaccinated will not fully respond.

Immunization is not an individual enterprise. Herd immunity can only be achieved if everyone is immunized. A person’s refusal to be immunized affects everyone. This is why there are rules about immunization and attending public schools.

Caveat: There are side-effects

We must state unequivocally that there are side-effects of vaccines. One of the most dramatic although rare reactions is a seizure. Child seizures are very difficult to watch. The good news is seizures caused by the MMR vaccine is less frequent than seizures caused by the measles, the disease the vaccine is designed to prevent.

Why so many vaccines at the same time?

Children are given a large amount of vaccines because they are the most susceptible to disease during their early years. “There is no scientific data suggesting a medical benefit from spacing out vaccines over a longer period than the official recommendations” according to the magazine Scientific American.

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Are Vaccines Safe? (Part 1)

 

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This series of blogs will address an issue at the intersection of science and politics, vaccination. Donald Trump seems to think there is a link between vaccinations and Autism:

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Political Associations

A common misconception about anti-vaccination advocates is the conception that they are either uneducated conservatives or a bunch of conspiracy-loving liberals. In truth, anti-vaccination advocates are all over the map politically. One academic source written by Dan M. Kahan of Yale Law School says:

A different popular claim attributes concern over vaccine risks to a left-leaning political orientation. “Vaccine hesitancy” is, on this account, held forth as the “liberal” “anti-science” analog to “conservative” skepticism about climate change (e.g., Green 2011).

The survey results suggest that this position, too, lacks any factual basis. In contrast to risks that are known to generate partisan disagreement generally—ones relating to climate change, drug legalization, and handgun possession, for example—vaccine risks displayed only a small relationship with left-right political outlooks. The direction of the effect, moreover, was the opposite of the one associated with the popular view: respondents formed more negative assessments of the risk and benefits of childhood vaccines as they became more conservative and identified more strongly with the Republican Party.

While this is true, the Democratic Party is not free of anti-vaccination advocates. A significant portion of members of both parties support leaving vaccinations for parents to decide. Thirty-four percent of Republicans and 33 percent of independents believe parents should be able to decide to vaccinate their children. Twenty-two percent of Democrats agree with this belief.

Update on the Travel Ban: Intel Sausage Factory Failure

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The circumstances surrounding Donald Trump’s travel ban and his administration’s connection to Russia is deteriorating to the point of rank corruption. CNN is reporting that the Trump administration sought to push the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to produce an intelligence report that reached their desired conclusion.

One of the reasons the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Trump’s travel ban is because his administration failed to give any evidence that anyone from the seven banned countries carried out an attack in the US. A senior White House official told CNN that the DHS and DOJ are working on an intelligence report that will show the danger of allowing migrates from these seven countries. The White House official knows the conclusion of the report before it is complete! This statement reeks of premeditation and manipulation.

Another point of sausage making is the expansion of the definition of terrorist activity. Here is how CNN describes the situation:

The senior White House official said he expects the report about the threat from individuals the seven countries to include not just those terrorist attacks that have been carried out causing loss of innocent American life, but also those that have resulted in injuries, as well as investigations into and convictions for the crimes of a host of terrorism-related actions, including attempting to join or provide support for a terrorist organization.

If this is not enough, the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) already produced a memo about the dangers migrates might pose to the US. The document is titled “Citizenship Likely an Unreliable Indicator of Terrorist Threat to the United States.” As you can see, the title contradicts the travel bans expressed purpose for existence. Here is a portion of the memo that contradicts Trump’s narrative regarding these seven countries:

There were 82 people who were inspired to engage in terror-related activity since March 2011, when the Syrian conflict began. Half of the 82 were born in the US. The other half were from 26 countries. The top countries of origin are: Pakistan, Somalia, Bangladesh, Cuba, Ethiopia, Iraq and Uzbekistan. Only Somalia and Iraq were included in the ban. Why are the other countries missing?

To be clear, the country that received the strictest travel ban, Syria, did not have one person involved in a terror-related crime since the beginning of the Syrian conflict.

Russia Connection and Intelligence Compromise

Yet another point of sausage making involves the Trump’s administrations connection to Russia. The Trump administration tried to suppress news stories about their connection to Russia by asking the intelligence community to make calls to news outlets to suppress the story. The intelligence community is not supposed to be involved in such political suppression. They are to maintain a level of objectivity, and they are supposed to be disconnected to politics. In this case, the intelligence community is doing political dirty work for an administration it’s supposed to be investigating. The Chicago Tribune:

The Trump administration has enlisted senior members of the intelligence community and Congress in efforts to counter news stories about Trump associates’ ties to Russia, a politically charged issue that has been under investigation by the FBI as well as lawmakers now defending the White House.

Acting at the behest of the White House, the officials made calls to news organizations last week in attempts to challenge stories about alleged contacts between members of President Donald Trump’s campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives, U.S. officials said.

The calls were orchestrated by the White House after unsuccessful attempts by the administration to get senior FBI officials to speak with news organizations and dispute the accuracy of stories on the alleged contacts with Russia.

We are in an era of deep corruption and attempted cover-up. We should be grateful for our news outlets.

Big Data and Voter Manipulation

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I’ve written on this blog about the rise of misinformation in politics, but nothing comes close to the nefarious level of manipulation concocted by a company called Cambridge Analytica. A friend of mine brought an interesting automated system to my attention. Here is how the system works:

By leveraging automated emotional manipulation alongside swarms of bots, Facebook dark posts, A/B testing, and fake news networks, a company called Cambridge Analytica has activated an invisible machine that preys on the personalities of individual voters to create large shifts in public opinion. Many of these technologies have been used individually to some effect before, but together they make up a nearly impenetrable voter manipulation machine that is quickly becoming the new deciding factor in elections around the world.

How effective is this system?

Most recently, Analytica helped elect U.S. President Donald Trump, secured a win for the Brexit Leave campaign, and led Ted Cruz’s 2016 campaign surge, shepherding him from the back of the GOP primary pack to the front.

Who owns and controls the system?

The company is owned and controlled by conservative and alt-right interests that are also deeply entwined in the Trump administration. The Mercer family is both a major owner of Cambridge Analytica and one of Trump’s biggest donors. Steve Bannon, in addition to acting as Trump’s Chief Strategist and a member of the White House Security Council, is a Cambridge Analytica board member. Until recently, Analytica’s CTO was the acting CTO at the Republican National Convention.

The company has over a million personality tests from which they can extract data. Cambridge Analytica holds 4,000 to 5,000 data points for every adult in the United States. The company has information about what car you drive, the foods you eat, and even golf membership.

The power of these systems may be overstated.

Some people doubt the efficacy of these automated systems. One Republican scientist said: “If you get a voter on the phone, why are you asking them what their favourite ice cream is or what their favourite colour is — why don’t you just ask them who they’re going to vote for?” He thinks information about cars, food, and golf membership is useless. He prefers the direct approach: Simply call voters and ask them about their political views.

The Republican scientist might be right. Cambridge Analytica worked for Ted Cruz before they began work for Donald Trump . Obviously, Cruz lost his bid for the presidency.

Here are the comments of Eithan Hersh:

Eitan Hersh, a Yale professor and author of “Hacking the Electorate,” a study of data mining in presidential campaigns, said Cambridge Analytica’s claim about predicting personality is “basically impossible. . . . You can do better randomly guessing.”

I think Hersh’s comments are a bit hyperbolic, but he is not totally off the mark. The reason I think big data is more helpful than Hersh suggests is because the system doesn’t just provide information about how people might vote. Cambridge’s data tells you where to hold rallies, where to send volunteers, where potential donors live, and it gives information about TV ads.

At this point, I think these systems are helpful, yet troubling, but not decisive. My main concern is the use of false information to influence voters.

Republicans: Effective Politics Void of Good Policy (Part 3)

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High-Risk Pools

Tom Price, Trump’s pick for Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary, proposed a health care plan that included the creation of high-risk pools. The plan was called the Empowering Patients First Act of 2015.

High-risks pools are designed to provide people with preexisting conditions another health care option. The plan provides individuals with tax credits to help pay for medical coverage.

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The problem with the Price plan is it forbids insurance companies from rejecting patients with preexisting conditions with a caveat. You cannot be denied health insurance if you have preexisting conditions IF you maintain coverage from 18 months. If you get a new plan before being on a plan for 18 months you can be denied coverage for that condition for up to 18 months . So, if you have breast cancer and choose a new plan after being with an insurance company for 10 months you can be denied coverage.

OK, it’s pretty obvious his preexisting condition caveat is bad, but what about risk pools in general. Do high-risks pools work? The answer is, ‘No.’

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, high-risk pools were tried in 34 states. Coverage costs are between 125 and 200 percent of the standard market rate and from 2002-2010 monthly premiums increased by at least 50 percent in 15 states.

The deductibles in high-risk pools are very high . In 25 programs the deductible was $1,000 or higher.

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Patients have to endure long wait times for care in high-risk pools. People literally died while they were on the waiting list. Richard Figueroa was one of the original staff members of California’s Major Risk Medical Insurance Program (MRMIP) when it started in the early 1990s. He said thousands of people were on the waiting list for coverage only to find that they couldn’t afford the premiums.

High-risk pools often have strict limitations. California’s plans have a $75,000 annual health claim payout and a $750,000 lifetime maximum payout. People with hemophilia often exceed the lifetime maximum payouts.

To be clear, high-risk pools often involves long waits to receive coverage, high prices, limited benefits, limited choices, and death.

Needless to say, this is not a good healthcare solution. This is yet another horrible idea offered by Republicans.

Both parties are bankrupt, but I don’t see them as irredeemable.

Republicans: Effective Politics Void of Good Policy (Part 2)

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It’s time to turn our attention to the Republicans. Republicans are not afraid to stick to their guns and make bold moves. Republicans outflanked Democrats on their judicial nomination. They refused to hold so much as a Senate hearing for a year. Their boldness did not subside, but was ramped up to a new level when they decided to make Donald Trump their nominee. Once again, Democrats were left decimated on the battlefield.

What they have in boldness they severely lack in policy. Consider these four areas:

1. Immigration
2. Health Care
3. Syria
4. Trade

We’ve seen the problems that plagued Trump’s immigration policy in previous posts. Republicans also lack a coherent plan for Syria. Republicans reject the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), but have not offered a better trade plan. They want to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but they have not proposed a replacement. We’ve seen in previous posts the negative consequences of repealing the ACA.

Let’s take a look at two policy proposals offered by Republicans to solve the health care problem.

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Insurance across State Lines

Republicans hope to expand costumer choice and reduce the price of insurance by removing the red tape associated with state insurance. This goal will be achieved by allowing insurance companies to place its headquarters in a state with less regulation. Suppose California required that insurance companies include contraceptive options and chiropractic care. These requirements would make the price of insurance in California higher. If California customers were allowed to buy insurance from Alabama they might get a better deal. California companies will be forced to compete with the Alabama based insurance companies for customers.

The problem with this proposal is that it fails to solve the problem of competition. The customer in California can’t go to Alabama to see the doctor. She will have to find a physician in California. This means the Alabama based company must establish contracts with doctors and hospitals in California. It would be quite difficult for an Alabama insurance company to establish new networks in California.

Empirical studies demonstrate the difficulty of establishing such contracts. Sabrina Corlette is a Research Professor at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms. Her work shows that the problems with interstate purchase has to do with establishing networks among other things.

Corlette co-authored a study of multiple states that allows out-of-state insurance sales. Her findings are illuminating. Not one out-of-state insurer took advantage of the offer.

More telling is the fact that there are no federal barriers to interstate insurance commerce. It is actually the states who want to regulate the insurance market. This means Republicans are proposing a solution to a non-existent problem! If that is not enough, the ACA actually includes provisions to encourage interstate insurance commerce! A provision allowing purchase of insurance across state lines can be found in section 1333 of the ACA. Here is the relevant portion of section 1333 of the ACA:

(b) AUTHORITY FOR NATIONWIDE PLANS.—
(1) IN GENERAL.—Except as provided in paragraph (2), if an issuer (including a group of health insurance issuers affiliated either by common ownership and control or by the common use of a nationally licensed service mark) of a qualified health plan in the individual or small group market meets the requirements of this subsection (in this subsection a ‘‘nationwide qualified health plan’’)—
(A) the issuer of the plan may offer the nationwide qualified health plan in the individual or small group market in more than 1 State; and
(B) with respect to State laws mandating benefit coverage by a health plan, only the State laws of the State in which such plan is written or issued shall apply to the nationwide qualified health plan.

Insurers would also need to create a large risk pool in other states in order to make their plans competitive. It is exceedingly difficult for insurance companies to create these pools in other states.

Another problem lurks is the darkness. The sickest patients would be vulnerable and their insurance prices will skyrocket. Here is how an article in the LA Times describes the problem:

But the prospect is that Blue Shield of California would no longer be issuing policies to Californians; the state’s residents would have the choice of Blue Shield of Texas or Louisiana, or nothing. As industry expert Richard Mayhew of Balloon-juice.com observed early this year, if a law was passed granting a national license to any insurer in any state, “the state with the weakest and most easily bought regulatory structure would have 98% of the viable insurance companies headquartered there within nine months.”

That could create chaos, and higher premiums in the target state’s insurance market — the low-regulation policies would cherry-pick healthier customers, leaving sicker patients at the mercy of in-state insurers who would charge them sky-high prices. As for in-state regulators, they wouldn’t have jurisdiction over out-of-state insurers; if you’re a Californian signed up with Joe’s Insurance of Idaho, who do you call to get redress for a grievance?

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I could continue to list the problems with buying across state lines, but I think my point is well established. Buying across state lines is basically a worthless policy idea.

We will address the second proposal in the next post.

Democrats: An Unprincipled Motley Crew (Part 1)

 

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As my profile indicates, I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat, so I don’t write this as a member of either party. I will give some of my reasons for rejecting the two parties in this series.

There is something happening in the political world that requires our attention. There has been lots of theater in the hearings for Trump’s nominees. Elizabeth Warren is seen as the embodiment of a true Democrat. She gave Ben Carson a hard time during the hearings by asking him if he could guarantee that HUD money will not be used to enrich Donald Trump.

Carson called Obama “the worst thing since slavery.” He compared same-sex marriage to the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA). Yet, Warren and 11 other Democrats voted to confirm Carson:

  1. Sherrod Brown Ranking Member (D-OH)
  2. Jack Reed (D-RI)
  3. Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
  4. Jon Tester (D-MT)
  5. Mark R. Warner (D-VA)
  6. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
  7. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)
  8. Joe Donnelly (D-IN)
  9. Brian Schatz (D-HI)
  10. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)
  11. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV)


The following Democrats voted to confirm Mike Pompeo as CIA director even though he did not categorically reject the use of torture:

• Joe Donnelly of Indiana
• Dianne Feinstein of California
• Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire
• Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota
• Tim Kaine of Virginia
• Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota
• Joe Manchin of West Virginia
• Claire McCaskill of Missouri
• Jack Reed of Rhode Island
• Brian Schatz of Hawaii
• Chuck Schumer of New York
• Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire
• Mark Warner of Virginia
• Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island

Astonishingly, this list includes the former vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine, senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, and Dianne Feinstein. How can this vote be considered a principled vote? Torture is not the kind of thing a person should reach a compromise over.

Senator Rand Paul, R-Ky., stuck to his principles and voted against Pompeo.

Republicans would be up in arms if they saw this level of defection on a core principle. It’s one thing to boycott an election, it’s quite another to vote for a person who did not emphatically rule out torture. Trump has said many times he thinks torture works . He reiterated his belief in the efficacy of torture this month!

According to some reports, Trump recently wrote a draft letter about torture. The letter is consistent with what Trump said in the past about torture:

The draft order does not direct any immediate reopening of C.I.A. prisons or revival of torture tactics, which are now banned by statute. But it sets up high-level policy reviews to make further recommendations in both areas to Mr. Trump, who vowed during the campaign to bring back waterboarding and a “hell of a lot worse” — not only because “torture works,” but because even “if it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway.” (Emphasis Mine)

There is some doubt about the authenticity of the draft letter, but Trump’s comments still stand. Not only should we torture to get information about an immediate threat, but we should use torture as a punitive measure. Where are the Democrats? Where is the loud outcry? Democrats green-lighted a nominee who might implement torture!

Perhaps the Democrats want to bring back the good old days. It might have been illegal then, but it’s a new day:

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To be clear, Pompeo called those who engaged in waterboarding “patriots.”

Democrats are not as principled as Republicans, in my view. Democrats are really bad at politics and seek comprise at crucial political junctures.

A major test of the Democrats’ resolve will come with Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court vacancy. This is one the most consequential battles in the next four years. My thesis will be thoroughly vindicated if the Democrats don’t fight and ultimately defeat Trump’s judicial pick.

Chuck Schumer said he will oppose any nominee who falls outside the mainstream of jurisprudence. I’m going to make a prediction here: The Democrats will provide good photo opts and sound bites, but they will be unsuccessful in forcing Trump to nominate a moderate judge to the bench.

If I am right about this, Democrats will have shown themselves to be weak-willed and virtually inconsequential in major political fights.

If I were a Democrat I would vote out every person who confirms Trump’s judicial nominee.

I am open to correction in this issue, but I suspect that ultimate vindication of my view is right around the corner.

What has Trump Accomplished? (Part 2)

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There is a lot of media buzz about Trump’s executive orders. Have they had an impact? Zachary Karabell wrote an interesting article in Politico arguing that Trump has accomplished relevantly little in his short time in office.

President Trump Has Done Almost Nothing

Just weeks into Donald Trump’s presidency, you would think that everything had changed. The uproar over the president’s tweets grows louder by the day, as does concern over the erratic, haphazard and aggressive stance of the White House toward critics and those with different policy views. On Sunday, White House aide Stephen Miller bragged, “We have a president who has done more in three weeks than most presidents have done in an entire administration.”

But Miller was dead wrong about this. There is a wide gap, a chasm even, between what the administration has said and what it has done. There have been 45 executive orders or presidential memoranda signed, which may seem like a lot but lags President Barack Obama’s pace. More crucially, with the notable exception of the travel ban, almost none of these orders have mandated much action or clear change of current regulations. So far, Trump has behaved exactly like he has throughout his previous career: He has generated intense attention and sold himself as a man of action while doing little other than promote an image of himself as someone who gets things done.

It is the illusion of a presidency, not the real thing.

The key problem here is understanding Trump’s executive orders and presidential memoranda. Trump very quickly seized on the signing of these as media opportunities, and each new order and memo has been staged and announced as dramatic steps to alter the course of the country. Not accustomed to presidents whose words mean little when it comes to actual policy, opponents have seized on these as proof that Trump represents a malign force, while supporters have pointed to these as proof that Trump is actually fulfilling his campaign promises.

Neither is correct. The official documents have all the patina of “big deals” but when parsed and examined turn out to be far, far less than they appear. Take the order authorizing the construction of a border wall between the United States and Mexico. The relevant section of the January 25 order read: “It is the policy of the executive branch to … secure the southern border of the United States through the immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border, monitored and supported by adequate personnel so as to prevent illegal immigration, drug and human trafficking, and acts of terrorism.” That sounds indeed like an order to fulfill a controversial campaign promise. The problem? Congress initially passed a Secure Fence Act in 2006 that required the construction of nearly 700 miles of fortified border. By 2011, under the Obama administration, most of that was completed, with a mix of pedestrian fencing and vehicle fortifications. Since then, there has only been minimal funding for further fortifications.

The result is that Trump issued an executive order mandating something that has in many respects already been done—with no congressional funding yet to redo the current fortified border with a larger, more expensive structure. The president does not have the budgetary discretion to build such a wall, and it remains to be seen whether Congress will authorize what promises to be a controversial and redundant project. This executive order, therefore, changes nothing, and only mandates something that has already been mandated, already been constructed and that the president lacks the spending authority to upgrade.

Then take things like the Keystone pipeline permits, the promise to deregulate and the most recently signed orders about crime. The January 24 order on infrastructure begins with a sentiment almost anyone could agree with: “Infrastructure investment strengthens our economic platform, makes America more competitive, creates millions of jobs, increases wages for American workers, and reduces the costs of goods and services for American families and consumers. Too often, infrastructure projects in the United States have been routinely and excessively delayed by agency processes and procedures.” It then declares that the policy of the Executive Branch is to expedite the permitting of such projects. That was followed by two memoranda on the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines that had been denied permits during Obama’s tenure, which urges the companies to re-submit their permit applications for review.

That might seem like an order to have the pipelines built. But Keystone remains almost entirely an idea, and oil shipments and infrastructure from Canada have long since been routed elsewhere given the years and years of delay in ever authorizing it. The Dakota Access Pipeline is largely complete, with a major dispute over its passage through tribal lands, and here too, it is unlikely that a presidential memorandum has any legal bearing on how that issue is resolved given that it lies within the purview of the Army Corps of Engineers and cannot simply be countermanded by the White House.

Or take the orders of deregulation. Those were widely hailed as a rollback of Dodd-Frank, especially given that the morning that the order was issued, February 3, Trump met with bank CEOs and expressed his dislike for many of the legislation’s provisions. The actual order, however, delivers much less than it promises, merely directing the secretary of the Treasury to review existing regulations and report back on which ones might be refined to achieve better outcomes.

Or the crime orders signed on February 9, which were widely hailed as cracking down on “transnational criminal organizations” and “preventing violence against … law enforcement officers.” Nothing in the text of these orders is either objectionable or in any respect a departure from current law and policy. One order states plainly that it shall be the policy of the administration to “enforce all Federal laws in order to enhance the protection and safety of Federal, State, tribal, and local law enforcement officers, and thereby all Americans.” The other says that the administration will seek to use existing laws to crack down on trafficking. You would have known none of that from the headlines both supporting and denouncing the efforts. Breitbart claimed “Trump Signs Three Executive Orders to Restore Safety in America” while many took these orders as a sign that police will have new, expanded powers and protections. In truth, the orders changed the status quo not one whit.

On it goes: The recent crackdown on undocumented immigrants that followed Trump’s January 25 order on enforcement priorities may depart from Barack Obama’s post-2102 policies to de-emphasize deportation of undocumented immigrants who do not have criminal records, but it appears fully consistent with deportation actions during both Obama’s first term and during significant portions of George W. Bush’s administration. The orders on health care, on defeating ISIS, on rebuilding the armed forces—all were essentially statements of intent with no legal force and requiring no action except a mandate to relevant departments and agencies to study issues and report back.

The travel ban, of course, is different. It was an actual policy order that dramatically changed immigration and visa policies for seven Muslim-majority countries. It was swiftly rejected by the courts, however, which meant that the signature policy of the Trump administration is now not a policy at all—at least, unless and until the White House finds a different approach.

Yes, what the president says matters. Trump’s casual relationship with the truth and his carefree use of tweets set the public agenda and help determine how foreign countries relate to our government. Intent also matters, and clearly, the Trump administration is determined to do a variety of things—from border security to health care to trade to immigration—that many, many Americans find objectionable, wrong and against the best interests of the country.

And yet, words are not the same as actions. Trump can issue as many documents called executive orders and presidential memoranda as he wants. As the fate of the travel ban shows, however, that doesn’t mean that even the more meaningful ones are actionable, and the preponderance of the orders to date would in any other administration have been news releases stating broad policy goals that may or may not ever become actual policy.

But too many of us take these words as action. That confirms both the worst fears of what the Trump administration is and the greatest hopes of what Trump wants it to be: a White House that shoots first and asks question later, a White House of action and change that shakes the status quo to the core and charts a new path for America and Americans. To date, this White House has broken every convention and rule of tone and attitude, toward Washington and toward the truth. But in reality, it has done far less than most people think.

In the time ahead, as Congress turns to actual legislation and the White House presumably does normal things like propose a budget and specify its legislative ideas, there will be real actions for us to probe and debate. Distinguishing between words and action is essential: When senators say silly things about legislation, we know to separate those public statements from votes takes and laws passed. When leaders of other countries speak aggressively, we do not immediately act as if war is imminent; if that were the case, we’d have invaded Iran and North Korea years ago. Words should be taken as possible indicators of future action, but not as absolutes and not always.

Trump poses a challenge to decades of tradition and precedent. He is masterful as conflating words and actions in a way that enrages and alarms his opponents and exhilarates and excites his supporters. It’s more important than ever to distinguish what is from what isn’t. Understanding the difference between what this president says and what he does is one of the only things that will keep our public debate from plunging ever deeper into the hall of mirrors.

What do you think?

What has Trump Accomplished? (Part 1)

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Trump itemized his accomplishments in a news conference on February 16, 2017. The purpose of this short series is to evaluate these accomplishments to see if they are substantial. I quote him so that I am not accused of distorting his words. Here are the relevant portions of the news conference:

Foreign Affairs: “Beginning on day one, our administration went to work to tackle these challenges. On foreign affairs, we’ve already begun enormously productive talks with many foreign leaders, much of it you’ve covered, to move forward towards stability, security and peace in the most troubled regions of the world, which there are many. We have had great conversations with the United Kingdom, and meetings. Israel, Mexico, Japan, China and Canada, really, really productive conversations. I would say far more productive than you would understand.

We’ve even developed a new council with Canada to promote women’s business leaders and entrepreneurs. It’s very important to me, very important to my daughter Ivanka. I have directed our defense community headed by our great general, now Secretary Mattis. He’s over there now working very hard to submit a plan for the defeat of ISIS, a group that celebrates the murder and torture of innocent people in large sections of the world. It used to be a small group, now it’s in large sections of the world.

They’ve spread like cancer. ISIS has spread like cancer — another mess I inherited. And we have imposed new sanctions on the nation of Iran, whose totally taken advantage of our previous administration, and they’re the world’s top sponsor of terrorism, and we’re not going to stop until that problem is properly solved. And it’s not properly solved now, it’s one of the worst agreements I’ve ever seen drawn by anybody. I’ve ordered plan to begin building for the massive rebuilding of the United States military. Had great support from the Senate, I’ve had great from Congress, generally.

We’ve pursued this rebuilding in the hopes that we will never have to use this military, and I will tell you that is my — I would be so happy if we never had to use it. But our country will never have had a military like the military we’re about to build and rebuild. We have the greatest people on earth in our military, but they don’t have the right equipment and their equipment is old. I used it; I talked about it at every stop. Depleted, it’s depleted — it won’t be depleted for long. And I think one of the reason I’m standing here instead of other people is that frankly, I talked about we have to have a strong military.”

Law Enforcement: “We have to have a strong law enforcement also. So we do not go abroad in the search of war, we really are searching for peace, but its peace through strength. At home, we have begun the monumental task of returning the government back to the people on a scale not seen in many, many years. In each of these actions, I’m keeping my promises to the American people. These are campaign promises.”

Immigration: “Some people are so surprised that we’re having strong borders.

Well, that’s what I’ve been talking about for a year and a half, strong borders. They’re so surprised, oh, he having strong borders, well that’s what I’ve been talking about to the press and to everybody else. One promise after another after years of politicians lying to you to get elected. They lied to the American people in order to get elected. Some of the things I’m doing probably aren’t popular but they’re necessary for security and for other reasons.

And then coming to Washington and pursuing their own interests which is more important to many politicians. I’m here following through on what I pledged to do. That’s all I’m doing. I put it out before the American people, got 306 Electoral College votes. I wasn’t supposed to get 222. They said there’s no way to get 222, 230’s impossible.

270 which you need, that was laughable. We got 306 because people came out and voted like they’ve never seen before so that’s the way it goes. I guess it was the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan. In other words, the media’s trying to attack our administration because they know we are following through on pledges that we made and they’re not happy about it for whatever reason.

And — but a lot of people are happy about it. In fact, I’ll be in Melbourne, Florida five o’clock on Saturday and I heard — just heard that the crowds are massive that want to be there. I turn on the T.V., open the newspapers and I see stories of chaos. Chaos. Yet it is the exact opposite. This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine, despite the fact that I can’t get my cabinet approved.

And they’re outstanding people like Senator Dan Coats who’s there, one of the most respected men of the Senate. He can’t get approved. How do you not approve him? He’s been a colleague — highly respected. Brilliant guy, great guy, everybody knows it. We’re waiting for approval. So we have a wonderful group of people that’s working very hard, that’s being very much misrepresented about and we can’t let that happen.

So, if the Democrats who have — all you have to do is look at where they are right now. The only thing they can do is delay because they screwed things up royally, believe me. Let me list to you some of the things that we’ve done in just a short period of time. I just got here. And I got here with no cabinet. Again, each of these actions is a promise I made to the American people.”

Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP): “We’ve withdrawn from the job-killing disaster known as Trans Pacific Partnership. We’re going to make trade deals but we’re going to have one on one deals, bilateral. We’re going to have one on one deals.”

Deregulation: “We’ve directed the elimination of regulations that undermine manufacturing and call for expedited approval of the permits needed for America and American infrastructure and that means plant, equipment, roads, bridges, factories. People take 10, 15, 20 years to get disapproved for a factory. They go in for a permit, it’s many, many years. And then at the end of the process — they spend 10s of millions of dollars on nonsense and at the end of the process, they get rejected.

Now, they may be rejected with me but it’s going to be a quick rejection. Not going to take years. But mostly it’s going to be an acceptance. We want plants built and we want factories built and we want the jobs. We don’t want the jobs going to other countries. We’ve imposed a hiring freeze on nonessential federal workers. We’ve imposed a temporary moratorium on new federal regulations.

We’ve issued a game-changing new rule that says for each one new regulation, two old regulations must be eliminated. Makes sense. Nobody’s ever seen regulations like we have. You go to other countries and you look at indexes (ph) they have and you say “let me see your regulations” and they’re fraction, just a tiny fraction of what we have. And I want regulations because I want safety, I want environmental — all environmental situations to be taken properly care of. It’s very important to me. But you don’t need four or five or six regulations to take care of the same thing.

Law Enforcement: We’ve stood up for the men and women of law enforcement, directing federal agencies to ensure they are protected from crimes of violence. We’ve directed the creation of a task force for reducing violent crime in America, including the horrendous situation — take a look at Chicago and others, taking place right now in our inner cities. Horrible.”

More on Immigration: “We’ve ordered the Department of Homeland Security and Justice to coordinate on a plan to destroy criminal cartels coming into the United States with drugs. We’re becoming a drug infested nation. Drugs are becoming cheaper than candy bars. We are not going to let it happen any longer.

We’ve undertaken the most substantial border security measures in a generation to keep our nation and our tax dollars safe. And are now in the process of beginning to build a promised wall on the southern border, met with general — now Secretary Kelly yesterday and we’re starting that process. And the wall is going to be a great wall and it’s going to be a wall negotiated by me. The price is going to come down just like it has on everything else I’ve negotiated for the government. And we are going to have a wall that works, not gonna have a wall like they have now which is either nonexistent or a joke.

We’ve ordered a crackdown on sanctuary cities that refuse to comply with federal law and that harbor criminal aliens, and we have ordered an end to the policy of catch and release on the border. No more release. No matter who you are, release. We have begun a nationwide effort to remove criminal aliens, gang members, drug dealers and others who pose a threat to public safety. We are saving American lives every single day.

The court system has not made it easy for us. And are even creating a new office in Homeland Security dedicated to the forgotten American victims of illegal immigrant violence, which there are many. We have taken decisive action to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of our country. No parts are necessary and constitutional actions were blocked by judges, in my opinion, incorrect, and unsafe ruling. Our administration is working night and day to keep you safe, including reporters safe. And is vigorously defending this lawful order.

I will not back down from defending our country. I got elected on defense of our country. I keep my campaign promises, and our citizens will be very happy when they see the result. They already are, I can tell you that. Extreme vetting will be put in place and it already is in place in many places.

In fact, we had to go quicker than we thought because of the bad decision we received from a circuit that has been overturned at a record number. I have heard 80 percent, I find that hard to believe, that is just a number I heard, that they are overturned 80 percent of the time. I think that circuit is — that circuit is in chaos and that circuit is frankly in turmoil. But we are appealing that, and we are going further.

We’re issuing a new executive action next week that will comprehensively protect our country. So we’ll be going along the one path and hopefully winning that, at the same time we will be issuing a new and very comprehensive order to protect our people. That will be done sometime next week, toward the beginning or middle at the latest part.”

Domestic Action: “We have also taken steps to begin construction of the Keystone Pipeline and Dakota Access Pipelines. Thousands and thousands of jobs, and put new buy American measures in place to require American steel for American pipelines. In other words, they build a pipeline in this country, and we use the powers of government to make that pipeline happen, we want them to use American steel. And they are willing to do that, but nobody ever asked before I came along. Even this order was drawn and they didn’t say that….”

Emmett Till: A Tragedy in Race Relations in America

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February is Black History Month, so it is appropriate for us to visit a grim episode in American race relations.

On August 19, 1955 Emmett Till went to Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market with a group of friends. He was enjoying a respite from picking cotton. The store clerk was a white woman by the name of Carolyn Bryant.

Till’s visit to the store ended with Bryant accusing him of either whistling at, flirting with or touching Bryant’s hand. The accusation was a scandal and it enraged Bryant’s husband, Roy.

Roy took matters into his own hands and partnered with his half brother J.W. Milam to get revenge. They kidnapped and brutally beat Till. The two men escalated in their perversion by tying Till to a large metal fan using barbed wire. In an act of ultimate desecration, they threw him in the Tallahatchie River and shot him in the head.

Emmett Till was 14 years old!

Trial

Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam were tried by an all-white and all-male jury because blacks and women were not allowed to serve jury duty. The evidence against the two men was overwhelming. Even an eyewitness identified both men as the kidnappers. The jury deliberated and declared the two men not guilty.

Salt in the wound came when the men later admitted to committing the murder.

Funeral

Till’s body was transferred to Chicago and his mother requested that his casket remain open for the funeral. The funeral took place at Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ.

Image result for emmett till funeral

Image result for emmett till funeral

Till’s mother wanted the world to see what happened to her son. Here is what thousands of people saw as they filed pass his casket:

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Carolyn Bryant

It has been 61 years since Carolyn Bryant accused Till of harassment. She finally admitted the truth according to an article written in TIME magazine on January 27, 2017. This is bitter-sweet news. We should be happy the truth finally came out, but we should wonder why it took so long.

Here is a helpful video about this story:

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This blog post continues to honor the wishes of Till’s mother.