ProPublica Investigates Audits

ProPublica: Who’s More Likely to Be Audited: A Person Making $20,000 — or $400,000?

Budget cuts have crippled the IRS over the past eight years. Enforcement staff has dropped by a third. But while the number of audits has fallen across the board, the impact has been different for the rich and poor. For wealthy taxpayers, the story has been rosy: Not only has the audit rate been cut in half, but audits now tend to be less thorough.

It’s a different story for people who receive the EITC: The audit rate has fallen less steeply and the experience of being audited has become more punishing. Because of a 2015 law, EITC recipients are now more likely to have their refund held, something that can be calamitous for someone living month-to-month.

by Paul Kiel and Jesse Eisinger Dec. 12, 2018

Put simply, budget cuts to the IRS have resulted in a situation where a program that was once meant to help the working poor now makes their lives even more difficult. Combine this with a recent bill that will effectively keep tax preparation privatized and expensive, and it’s yet another way we are failing our citizens who are the most in need.


Some Links Regarding Our Border

What’s been going on at our border is unconscionable, and the way the whole affair has been managed is making things even worse. This is by no means a comprehensive list of reading material, but these are some items that have really resonated with me over the past several weeks.

Lawfare: Who’s Really Coming Across the U.S. Border

Over the past week, the separation of 2,000 children from their parents along the U.S. border has forced immigration into the national spotlight. President Trump, who initiated the separations and then sought to quash criticism with a muddled executive order, has portrayed the policy as a harsh but necessary measure to stop a wave of migrants “bringing death and destruction” into the United States. At another point, he claimed that migrants want to “pour in and infest our country,” linking those crossing the border to the gang MS-13.

Despite what the president says, the situation at the border is much more nuanced. There’s not a flood of people racing across the border. The majority of migrants aren’t dangerous criminals. Many are women and families—and many are fleeing gang violence rather than seeking to spread that violence farther north.

For the past two years, I’ve worked to document these issues at the Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas at Austin, and also in the Beyond the Border column for Lawfare—based in part on my fieldwork from across Mexico. There are few straightforward and easy answers to what often feel like basic questions for Central American migration. So it’s worth taking a step back and asking: who are the people arriving at the border? Why are they coming? And how does the current situation compare to migration in the past?

This is a good starting point to understand current immigration trends, the motivations behind immigration, and a look at the people who are coming over. Our current administration wants a simple narrative that all undocumented immigrants are bad people. The truth is far more nuanced and complex.

LA Times: ‘You Don’t Love Me Anymore?’

He said those days in detention were wrenching. For 25 days, he had no news about his son. He was given a phone number to call, but the calls wouldn’t go through.
He finally connected with Jefferson once he reached Los Angeles by bus in late June.
He learned his son was in New York City at Cayuga Centers, an agency that has housed several hundred kids separated from parents in foster care.

That first phone call quickly went from joyful to unbearable.

“Papa, I thought they killed you,” Jefferson told his father, crying. “You separated from me. You don’t love me anymore?”

“No, my son,” Che Coc told him. “I’m crying for you. I promise, soon you will be with me.”

What’s going on is nothing short of traumatic for families and especially for young children. First time crossing the border without proper documentation is a misdemeanor  — up there with such things as disorderly conduct or trespassing. No one in their right mind would condone tearing apart families for a misdemeanor, but we tend to lose our collective minds when the issue is immigration.

ProPublica: Immigrant Youth Shelters: “If You’re a Predator, It’s a Gold Mine”

Using state public records laws, ProPublica has obtained police reports and call logs concerning more than 70 of the approximately 100 immigrant youth shelters run by the U.S. Health and Human Services department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement. While not a comprehensive assessment of the conditions at these shelters, the records challenge the Trump administration’s assertion that the shelters are safe havens for children. The reports document hundreds of allegations of sexual offenses, fights and missing children.

The recently discontinued practice of separating children from their parents has thrust the youth shelters into the national spotlight. But, with little public scrutiny, they have long cared for thousands of immigrant children, most of them teenagers, although last year 17 percent were under 13. On any given day, the shelters in 17 states across the country house around 10,000 adolescents.

The more than 1,000 pages of police reports and logs detail incidents dating back to the surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America in 2014 during the Obama administration. But immigrant advocates, psychologists and officials who formerly oversaw the shelters say the Trump administration’s harsh new policies have only increased pressures on the facilities, which often are hard-pressed to provide adequate staffing for kids who suffer from untold traumas and who now exist in a legal limbo that could shape the rest of their lives.

“If you’re a predator, it’s a gold mine,” said Lisa Fortuna, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Boston Medical Center. “You have full access and then you have kids that have already had this history of being victimized.”

Again, you cannot look at this situation and think it is remotely OK. Think of it like this, what if 70% of all elementary schools in the US had as many police reports in as short of a time period? Wouldn’t we be clamoring for better protections for our children? Wouldn’t we want the people overseeing such a child-hostile climate held accountable? Of course we would, but we repeatedly lose our moral compass when the topic is immigration.

The Nation: A 6-Year-Old Girl Was Sexually Abused in an Immigrant-Detention Center

A Southwest Key Programs document obtained by The Nation confirms that D.L. was reported to have been sexually abused on June 4, 2018. On June 12, one day after D.L.’s father was contacted, the 6-year-old girl was presented with the form stating that, as part of the facility’s intervention protocol, she had been instructed to “maintain my distance from the other youth involved” and had been provided “psychoeducation,” described in the document as “reporting abuse” and “good touch bad touch.” The form, posted below, shows D.L’s “signature”—a single letter “D,” next to the characterization of her as “tender age”—which supposedly confirms that D.L understands “that it is my responsibility to follow the safety plan” reviewed with her.

When D.L.’s mother learned about the incident, she was still being detained in Texas and felt devastated. “I felt really horrible. I couldn’t do anything for her, because we were separated,” she said through a translator in an interview with The Nation. “It was a nightmare. When my husband told me what happened, I felt helpless. She was so little, she was probably so scared, probably afraid to say anything to anyone. It was a total nightmare for me.”

But the nightmare wasn’t over. On June 22, Southwest Key again contacted D.L.’s father and informed him that the same boy initially cited for abuse had hit and fondled D.L. again. According to Lane, D.L.’s father asked how the facility could allow this to happen, and the woman on the phone responded that she was only calling him to advise him that it had happened, that she didn’t have permission to say anything else, and he would have to speak with the director.

If large statistics don’t connect with you, then perhaps a single account will. A young girl was molested and then told it was her responsibility to stay away from her abuser. So now we can add victim-blaming to the list of traumas these children must endure. In this case, the abuse came from another detainee instead of an employee, but this fact remains: she would not have even been in this position without the heartless policies our current administration enacted.




Celebrity Politics

Vox: How to Deal With the Age of Celebrity Candidates

In the excitement over a potential Oprah Winfrey presidency, there is an obvious eye-rolling response: We already elected a celebrity with no political experience to the White House, and look how well that’s working out.

And yet there is a reason many are drawn to Oprah’s candidacy — and it’s a primary reason Donald Trump succeeded. In an era of nonstop politics-as-entertainment media, there’s something appealing about a celebrity candidate known for being an inspirational problem solver on television, who makes us feel like great things are possible. Like a president should.

Each in their own ways, and for very different audiences, both Trump and Winfrey play variations on what we think we want in a president — somebody who will tell us a great story, and who exudes authoritative decisiveness.

The problem here is that the actual job of being president (understanding complex policy trade-offs) is very different from the public role of playing president (reveling in broad, inspirational generalizations).

At this point, Oprah has already downplayed the thought of herself running for president multiple times, and I truly hope it stays that way. The idea of celebrity presidents is kind of appalling, but it’s easy to see how we got here. The president is, in many ways, a figurehead who has to capture the public imagination. Think of the way Ronald Reagan steamrolled through his elections or even how no-one could hold a candle to Barack Obama’s presence and charisma.

The author goes on to propose a system where a given political party not only makes presidential nominations official at party conventions, but they will also collaboratively assemble a Cabinet for their potential candidate. Then, when the general election ramps up, people are not voting for a single person; they are voting for an administration. While this may never happens, it’s an interesting take on how we move our public discourse back to issues that really matter rather than get caught up in cults of personality.


Sexist Rules and Laws

Motto: This Woman Was Fired for a Heavy Period Leak

The decision in Ames’s case was not only shocking, but also reminiscent of cases previously decided by federal courts that ignored blatant discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace. Before the late 1970s, courts routinely opined that adverse employment actions against pregnant women did not qualify for Title VII protection because both men and women can be non-pregnant. It took a specific act of Congress — the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, passed in 1978 as an amendment to Title VII — to reject this flawed reasoning, establishing that discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth and related conditions all qualify as sex discrimination. The contorted reasoning used by courts to discriminate against pregnant women in the last century — the pattern that inspired Congress to take action in the first place — is the same reasoning that the courts used in ruling against Ames.

Ames’s and Coleman’s cases serve as a harsh reminder of the obstacles women face in pursuing sex discrimination lawsuits, and show how much work still needs to be done before women can achieve equality in the workplace. No woman should be demeaned or fired for having a heavy period, lactating or experiencing any other natural part of her biology. Every worker has a right to earn a living in a place that’s free of bias against her body.

If it’s not painfully obvious institutionalized sexism is still a real problem, it should be.


The State of Gun Violence in the U.S.

What constantly boggles my mind is the sheer love for guns we have in our culture.