Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Swamp Effect

Chief of staff John Kelly (left) grimaces and looks away
as Trump makes baseless accusations against Germany 
Ah, remember the lofty aspirations of "Drain the swamp" ?

As you know, Donald Trump repeated those words like some kind of mantra or magical right-wing incantation during his campaign.

But the term was actually one of a number of simple catchphrases (including "Build the wall") coined by the technology firm Cambridge Analytica prior to the 2016 U.S. presidential race.

They weren't intended to be accurate or complicated, nor did they have to be - kind of like Trump's buffoonish, uninformed tirade Wednesday morning at a breakfast in front of America's NATO allies.

As Rebecca Tan observed in a Washington Post article, Trump opened the breakfast meeting by loudly making the baseless accusation that Germany is "captive to Russia because it's getting so much of it's energy from Russia." - causing White House Chief of Staff John Kelly to grimace in frustration and look away from the table (pictured above) as NATO reps stared at His Orangeness with a mixture of disbelief and disgust.

Trump relies on sewing chaos and "blowing things up" in situations where he's the most uninformed politician in the room (which he always is) in an effort to shift attention from his weaknesses.

So constantly falling back on his signature Cambridge Analytica-created catchphrases like "We have to build the wall" are easy things for him to remember, and quick ways to cultivate the anger of his voter base - who connect emotionally to Trump's keywords for bigotry, xenophobia and authoritarian tough-guy talk.

If Trump seems oblivious to the effect that his words have on those around him, it's because he is - his catchphrases are like handy flashcards he can use to connect with his base anywhere, and coveting their approval is about all he does now.

Again, those words sound deceptively simplistic, but they're actually the result of complex computer algorithms that sift through mountains of data to determine keywords that conservative voters are most likely to react and connect to.
Right-wing billionaire Robert Mercer and his equally
fringe-conservative activist daughter Rebekah
Words designed as easy-to-digest verbal / mental red-meat slogans for the white, working class, (mostly) non-college-educated, conservative-leaning voter base that Cambridge Analytica was helping the Trump team to target in the 2016 presidential race.

Cambridge Analytica faced widespread criticism for illegally hoovering up the personal profile data of an estimated 86 million Facebook users in an effort to rally support for Trump.

That kind of flagrant rat-fucking, a term for underhanded political trickery used to win elections made famous by former Washington Post writers Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in their account of their exposure of the Watergate scandal, "All the President's Men", doesn't come cheap.

Fortunately for the notoriously-cheap Trump, it was funded by right-wing billionaire Robert Mercer.

Mercer and his daughter Rebekah (pictured above), are cut from the same cloth as Charles and David Koch or Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos - billionaires obsessed with spending millions of dollars of their own money to erode responsible government in order to try and replace it with a fringe, right-wing cultural-political ideology that functions as a mask for their true mission.

Which is paying no taxes on their billions and having a small cadre of like-minded wealthy conservative elite run the country's courts and political system so they can enrich themselves.

Check out Chris Daly's March 26th blog post, "Congress Is Questioning the Wrong Guy"
 if you want to get a more detailed understanding of the Mercer's murky role in funding not only Cambridge Analytica, but also Trump campaign strategist / white supremacist Steve Bannon and fake-news / misinformation factory Brietbart News.

It's an excellent tutorial on the kind of right-wing nut-baggery that helped get Trump elected president by (in part) appearing at rallies repeating words like "Drain the swamp" over and over and over.

San Bernardino County prosecutor Michael Selyem
and Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters 
By now, that grandiose and non-specific campaign promise seems borne of a distant past far removed from the actions, behavior and rhetoric of the Trump administration.

In recent weeks there's been a disturbing
spike in incidents of white people calling the police on African-Americans for doing stuff like using a pool, barbecuing or mowing a lawn etc.

But over the past few days there've been some troubling examples of members of law enforcement getting their Trump on.

Last week a San Bernardino County (California) prosecutor named Michael Selyem was disciplined and placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation of racist, sexist comments that he posted publicly on social media about the outspoken Democratic California Congresswoman Maxine Waters.

Lately a number of conservatives in the U.S. have gotten their panties in a twist after Waters publicly called on people to peacefully and non-violently confront members of the Trump administration on their roles in the heinous policy of incarcerating asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants - and worse, separating them from their children.

In response to one conservative post criticizing Waters for encouraging Americans to exercise their right to free speech and public assembly protected by the First Amendment, Michal Selyem wrote:

"Being a loud-mouthed cunt in the ghetto, you would think someone would have shot this bitch by now..."

(Being a county prosecutor who graduated from law school, you would think Selyem had the presence of mind to realize that venting his bigotry on social media publicly might not be the best career move.)

Now obviously Selyem has a right to free speech.

On-duty Officer Patrick Connor looks
away as Mia Irizarry pleads for help
But he's a county prosecutor whose views on race could cloud his ability to prosecute people of color based on the law.

Or put into serious jeopardy other cases that he's prosecuted in the past on the grounds that his views demonstrate the kind of racial bias that could get a case overturned in court.

People who work in the court system or law enforcement are clearly entitled to their own political views - but not when it clouds their ability to serve as public servants on behalf of all people; regardless of race or ethnicity.

Earlier today, the Forest Preserves of Cook County (Chicago) announced that Officer Patrick Connor resigned in the wake of national outrage over a video showing him ignoring a Hispanic woman's pleas for help as an enraged white man verbally harassed and followed her because she was wearing a t-shirt with a Puerto Rican flag on it.


As CBS News reported, Mia Irizarry was waiting for family members at a picnic area in a park that she had rented for her birthday when she was accosted by an intoxicated 62-year-old white man named Timothy Trybus who was apparently upset that she had a Puerto Rican flag on her shirt.

Not only did he question her status as a U.S. citizen (as if a drunk guy in a park has the right to do so), he told her she didn't have a right to be wearing the shirt in the United States.

Irizarry remained calm and filmed the incident on her cell phone.

"Why is she wearing that shit?" he asks aloud at one point, evidently unaware that Puerto Rico has been a U.S. territory since 1952...

When Trybus begins to approach her and get more combative, Irizarry calls out to Officer Connor who is standing nearby with his uniform on - clearly on duty.

He simply looks away and begins to casually wander off - clearly sending the signal that he condones Trybus' behavior and words - but what if Trybus had punched or assaulted Irizarry, or worse?

When you have a county prosecutor publicly writing racist, misogynist things about a female member of Congress, or an on-duty police officer ignoring a woman's plea for help, the swamp isn't drained.

It's getting deeper, and the toxic catchphrases constantly repeated by Donald Trump have clearly affected the ability of some individuals in this country to draw a line between their personal views and their humanity.

Like the shocked representatives of NATO member nations Wednesday morning, many Americans recognize that the swamp is in full effect in some parts of this country - let's just hope those folks are registered to vote in November.

So we can really start the process of draining that swamp.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Not That Long Ago Is Now

17-year-old Rep. John Lewis being arrested in 1957
for using a segregated bathroom in Mississippi
As Georgia Democratic Congressman John Lewis observed on his Twitter feed on Saturday morning:

"57 years ago today I was released from Mississippi State Penitentiary, better known as Parchman, after being arrested in the Jackson, MS bus station for using a so-called 'white' restroom during the Freedom Rides."

That was just one of many encounters with police that the 78-year-old Civil rights icon has had over the course of his position as a leader of the Civil Rights movement in America.

It's hard to believe that some state laws still barred African-American citizens from using public restrooms just thirteen years after the United States and the Allies defeated the authoritarian Axis powers of Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan and Fascist Italy in World War II.

But given the current state of the Republican Party under the current leadership of Donald Trump, barring black folks from using public toilets or water fountains (or voting) because of the color of their skin doesn't seem like some kind of snapshot from ancient history.

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which authorized the federal government to forcibly remove tens of thousands of American citizens of Japanese descent from their homes, farms and businesses and relocate them to remote concentration camps where they were interned for the duration of WWII.

As Jonathan Katz observed in an article for Slate.com back in June, these days writers, journalists and citizens debate whether it's appropriate to call the hastily-constructed detention facilities built to house separated immigrant families incarcerated by the Trump administration, concentration camps.

Whatever name you choose to give to those facilities spread across the United States, they were created by an executive order signed by Trump.

Despite his childish attempts to blame Congressional Democrats in the wake of global condemnation for his actions.

Japanese-Americans stand at the barbwire fence of
Manzanar under the gaze of a guard tower in WWII
Last year Democratic California Governor Jerry Brown signed the Civil Liberties Public Education Act which authorized $3 million in state funds to educate citizens on the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII.

As Al Muratsuchi, the California State Assembly member who sponsored the bill observed:

"We have to remember that the incarceration of over 120,000 Japanese-Americans without any due process of law began with an executive order, much like the ones that President Trump has been issuing." 

As 86-year-old Mas Okui told New York Times reporter Inyoung Kang, the former Los Angeles school teacher returns to the remote California desert each year where he and his family were held in the Manzanar internment camp during WWII.

"The only way to teach kids about this is to teach the teachers about what happened to us. I felt it was incumbent on me, and I'll do it as long as I can."

As Kang reported, Okui leads workshop tours of Manzanar to educate younger school teachers on the importance of remembering how the U.S. government incarcerated innocent American citizens because of their nationality and racist hostility to non-whites that was so widespread on the west coast after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Considering that the Trump administration has ordered children as young as three-years-old shipped off to detention facilities hundreds, even thousands of miles from their parents, the internment of Japanese-Americans 76 years ago isn't some kind of distant past.

In fact, given a slew of troubling incidents across the U.S. that have made media headlines recently, it's pretty clear that the so-called "land of freedom" is still populated with conservatives who advocate a society segregated on the basis of race, ethnicity, nationality and religion.

Glenridge residents Adam Bloom & Jasmine Edwards 
Just a day before I posted my previous blog about a woman in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio who called the police on a 12-year-old black boy for accidentally pushing a lawnmower over a small section of her lawn, a man in Winston-Salem, North Carolina called the police on an African-American woman.

Why?

For using the private swimming pool in the community where she owns a home worth over a half million dollars.

Only Wednesday July 4th, as millions of Americans celebrated the nation's independence, Jasmine Edwards (or Jazmine Abhulimen as she's also known) did what many people did on Wednesday; she went to the pool with her son.

But Adam Bloom (pictured above), the self-described "pool chair" for the Glenridge community pool was instantly suspicious.

Now the Glenridge Community Website clearly states that "our pool and playground area provide a relaxing environment for our homeowners and children".

But "ID Adam" took it upon himself to question Edwards' residency and demanded that she show him proof that she lived there - even after she'd already told him that she was a member of the community and entitled to use the pool.

Rather than simply apologize for his mistake, Bloom pushed the issue and called the cops, ostensibly based on his unjustified personal suspicions that Edwards and her son were trespassing on private property.

If you watch the cellphone video that Edwards took of the confrontation with Bloom outside the gate of the pool on Wednesday, she makes the observation to both him and the two police officers that the sign outside the pool does not state that residents must show ID to use the pool facilities.

She also notes that Bloom, who comes off as a smug twit in the video, did not ask any of the white residents at the pool for their ID's, or question whether they were residents of Glenridge.

He only approached Edwards and her son, the only residents of color.

A photo of the Glenridge Community pool 
Overall, Officer Aaron Lazusky, one of the two police officers seen in the video was respectful and seemed to handle the situation pretty well in an effort to try and resolve the situation.

Lazusky politely asks Edwards for her pool card, swipes it to see that it opens the door and tells Bloom that should be sufficient proof that she's entitled to use the pool.

The officer also makes it a point to apologize to Edwards, which is more than can be said of Bloom - who simply walks away when she asks him if he plans to apologize to her.

Bloom only managed an attempt an apology after his (now) former employer, Sonoco Paper Products Co. quickly fired his ass after social media began ID'ing him as a company employee.

Sonoco also released a statement stating (in part) that Bloom's actions: "does not reflect the core values of our Company, and the employee involved is no longer employed by the Company in any respect. Our core values at Sonoco are built on dignity and respect for all, and we do not condone discrimination of any kind, inside or outside of the workplace." 

Now in my view, these recent incidents of white people calling the police on black people doing normal everyday stuff is evidence that the same kind of institutionalized racism that prompted Georgia Democratic Congressman John Lewis to be arrested for using a segregated bathroom back in 1957, is still very much alive in 21st century America.

These incidents are also a reflection of how the Trump administration has eroded civil discourse in this country by actively cultivating a tone of divisiveness based on race, ethnicity, nationality and religion.

Classic hallmarks of the kind of repressive authoritarian rule that the U.S. fought to end in WWII. 

Separated immigrant kids in 21st century America
In any organization leadership starts at the top, and it also sets the tone.

And there's no ambiguity about the kind of tone set by the Trump administration.

Including banning Muslims from some countries from entering the U.S. and separating and incarcerating the Hispanic children of asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants.


Those kinds of policies have sent the not-so-subtle signal to the "Pool Patrol Paula's" and Adam Blooms of the world that it's okay to view people of color with suspicion, contempt and open hostility.

These incidents, where white people have called the police because law-abiding African-Americans are waiting in coffee shops, barbecuing in public parks where it's legal to do so, mowing a lawn or using a community pool, are in effect, attempts to criminalize African-Americans for being black.

From a purely political standpoint, it's remarkable to watch the Republican leadership in Washington shirk from using the powers of the Legislative Branch of the federal government granted to them by the Constitution to check Trump's authority.

Or publicly push back against reprehensible policies they privately agree are wrong.

Aside from the occasional tepid lip service, most Republican leaders in Congress have essentially rolled over and allowed Trump's repugnant views to define the GOP as a party.

Allowing some individuals to bring fringe, extremist views into the mainstream under the protection of the Republican umbrella.

For example, just consider some of the candidates around the country running for Congress on the Republican ticket.

An actual campaign poster for US
Senate candidate Patrick Little 
Back in March I blogged about Arthur Jones, the Trump-supporting former head of the American Nazi Party (really) who's running as a Republican for the Illinois 3rd District Congressional seat.

On Thursday CNN's Marc Rod reported that Republican Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner publicly urged Republican voters to cast votes for "anyone but" the Holocaust-denying Jones in the upcoming mid-term elections in November.

Even the right-leaning Republican Texas Senator Ted Cruz exhorted voters in the Illinois 3rd to vote for Democratic incumbent Dan Lipinski.

Out in California there's Senate candidate Patrick Little.

As Luis Gomez reported for the San Diego Union-Tribune back in May, the California Republican Party moved to kick Little out of it's convention in a desperate effort to distance the GOP from his anti-Semitic views.


This guy is an unapologetic white supremacist who thinks the America's problems can be attributed to a "Jewish supremacy".

If you take a look at his Website, Little also has a flier claiming that he wants to pay African-American descendants of slaves a one-time reparation - go figure.

Don't laugh, as Gomez reported, a SurveyUSA Poll back in May showed Little getting 18% of the Republican vote in California in the race against heavily-favored incumbent Democrat Dianne Feinstein.

Holocaust-denying candidate John Fitzgerald
Would 18% of GOP voters in California have supported a white supremacist who despises Jews as a candidate for the U.S. Senate ten or twenty years ago? MAGA in full effect.

Little isn't alone in California either.

It's been awhile since I've given out a George Lincoln Rockwell Award, so this week's honor has to go to the Republican Congressional candidate for the 11th District of California, John Fitzgerald.

As reporter Julia Jacobs reported for the New York Times on Friday, Fitzgerald won 1/4 of the primary vote for the CA-11th despite dire warnings about the dangers of "Jewish supremacism" posted on his Website, his admiration of Adolph Hitler and his advocating kooky Holocaust denial conspiracy theories as recently as last week.

These kinds of political candidates and the political policies of the Trump administration, along with the kinds of incidents that have taken place in pools and parks across the country recently, reflect darker aspects of American history that took place not that long ago.

And it's not from some distant past, these things are happening now.

Proof positive that the upcoming mid-term elections could be the most important in a generation.

If we hope to learn from history rather than repeat it that is.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

The Threat of Young Blackness in the Age of Trump

12-year-old Reginald Fields cutting grass in Ohio
These past few days have been some genuine scorchers here in the Hamilton, New Jersey area where I live and work.

On Monday, as the temperature and humidity made it feel like it was in the upper 90's, I marveled at the members of the grounds crews working outside on the landscaping of the residential apartment community where I work.

From the vantage point of my mercifully air-conditioned office, I had nothing but sympathy and admiration for their ability to operate equipment in such sweltering conditions.

So it was a little weird reading a New York Times story about a 12-year-old boy named Reginald Fields (pictured above) having the cops called on him because he was cutting a woman's lawn on a hot summer day for some extra money in a Cleveland, Ohio suburb.

I was immediately struck by the absurdity of an enraged white neighbor calling the police on a self-motivated and enterprising young black boy exercising some initiative and work ethic.

For all practical purposes, that was me once.

Cutting grass was my first summer job as a 12-year-old boy growing up in the suburbs of Bethesda, Maryland and it never would have occurred to me that someone might have considered me suspicious for doing so.

As WABC News-5 in Cleveland reported last Thursday, a woman named Lucille Holt-Colden was visibly impressed when she saw 12-year-old Fields with his organized array of lawn-cutting equipment and asked the youngster to cut her grass.

Reginald Fields with his siblings and cousins who
make up "Mr. Reggie's Lawn Cutting Service"
 
But when he brought his gear and his cousins and siblings (pictured left) who collectively make up "Mr. Reggie's Lawn Cutting Service", a white neighbor who owns the property next to Ms. Holt-Colden's home called the local Maple Heights Police Department.

Why?

Because she alleged that Reggie's lawnmower had strayed onto a tiny section of their half of the yard.


Now in the current American political climate, where Trump has essentially sanctioned racial, ethnic and religious bigotry, and encouraged archaic, small-minded thinking, I can't say it's surprising that a white person would call the police on a young black boy for something as petty as running a lawnmower over a section of their grass by mistake.

But it is a truly sad and rather pathetic indicator of the effect that Trump's toxic influence has had on civil discourse in this country.

Honestly, if you have an issue with someone's lawnmower straying onto your lawn, why not just walk outside and just take a few minutes to politely show the kid the boundary lines of the property?

After all, there's no fence or line of shrubs or trees that clearly mark the boundary where Ms. Holt-Colden's property ends and the as-yet-unnamed neighbor's begins.

I'm willing to bet that the afore-mentioned neighbor voted for Trump and has a red MAGA somewhere in her house. 

Lucille Holt-Colden and Reggie Fields  [Photo - NY Times]
Now beyond the question of the lack of basic civility, as I've mentioned in previous essays on this blog, it's fair to ask at what point members of local law enforcement are going to start getting tired of going out on calls because some bigot wants to try and use cops to enforce or legitimize someone's marginalized views on race and ethnicity?

If you want to harbor prejudice against someone, fine, this is America.

The Constitution protect's your right to believe what you want.

But don't pick up the phone and call the cops to try and cloak your repugnant personal beliefs in a veneer of legitimacy or legality - that phone call struck me as a bit gutless.

Regardless, the positive aspect of this story is the overwhelming response that the story's explosion on social media has had on the broader community, and on the life of Reggie Fields.

After more than a million people viewed a video about the incident that Lucille Holt-Colden posted on Facebook, she set up a Go Fund Me Page for Reggie seven days ago to help raise $1,000 for him and his crew of siblings and cousins to buy some lawn cutting equipment.

As I'm writing this, the Go Fund Me page has already raised over $48,000 from people all over the U.S. and from folks from as far away as Scotland.

Seriously, take a couple minute to click the link above and scroll down and read some of the comments from people of all ethnicities and nationalities and read their comments.

As a result of Ms. Holt-Colden's decision to share this story on social media, Reggie now has enough to start a college fund for himself.

Writer Brent Staples
My sense is that this kind of response offers a valuable snapshot of what the vast majority of American people think about the kinds of petty bigotry that Trump delights in cultivating.

While the overwhelmingly positive response from the larger American and global community is a clear signal that most people found the neighbor's decision to call the police on Reggie repugnant, it's indicative of a much broader issue here in this country.

One that has nothing to do with intentional Russian interference in the U.S. electoral system, or the Trump family and members of his campaign being complicit in conspiring with a foreign power to undermine democracy in order to enrich themselves financially.

The decision by that neighbor to call the police clearly points to how some Americans still view what writer Brent Staples calls "young male blackness."

Back in 2012, in the wake of outrage over racist psychopath George Zimmerman stalking, confronting and murdering unarmed African-American teenager Trayvon Martin, Staples wrote a piercing op-ed in the Sunday New York Times.

Titled, "Young, Black, Male, And Stalked By Bias", his thought-provoking and widely-shared essay sparked conversation, timely introspection on race in America, and offered insight into how some people view young men of color.

As Staples noted:

"Young black men know that in far too many settings they will be seen not as individuals, but as the "other", and given no benefit of the doubt. By the time they have grown into adult bodies - even though they are still children - they are well versed in the experiences of being treated as criminals until proved otherwise by cops who stop and search them and eyed warily by nighttime pedestrians who cower on the sidewalks." 

Staples' observations cut to the heart of recent incidents that have taken place in America, where white people have faced ridicule on social media after calling the police on African-Americans engaged in perfectly routine activities.

Allison "Permit Patty" Ettel calling 911 on an
eight-year-old girl selling bottled water
Take San Francisco resident Allison Ettel for example (pictured left).

After a video of her calling the police on 8-year-old Jordan Rogers, who was simply selling bottles of water on the street back on June 22nd, was viewed on Instagram more than 1.4 millions times, she quickly earned the nickname "Permit Patty".

Audio of her ludicrous 911 call reveals her telling an operator, "I have someone who does not have a vendor permit that's selling water across from the ballpark."

Call out the SWAT team!

All kidding aside, the fallout from Ettel's behavior had some pretty serious consequences for her career and TreatWell, the company she until recently worked for.

TreatWell lost business with at least six companies after it was revealed that Ettel was the company's CEO - she was forced to resign and the company released a statement condemning the incident.

She initially lied to the San Francisco Chronicle claiming that it was only a "pretend call" until the actual 911 tape of her call went viral - Ettel then went on The Today Show claiming that 8-year-old Jordan Rogers was yelling as she tried to sell bottled water outside Ettel's (and Jordan's) home - but Rogers's mom disputes that.

Turns out Jordan was trying to help raise money to help the family go to Disneyworld.

More serious was 38-year-old Stephanie Sebby-Strempel who was arrested and charged with third-degree assault and two counts of assaulting a police officer after she repeatedly struck a 15-year-old African-American teenager in the head and chest because she claimed that he and his friends "did not belong" at a pool located in a private community in Summerville, South Carolina.

After video of the incident went viral she was quickly dubbed, "'Pool Patrol Paula" on social media.

The teenager had been invited to use the pool on June 24th by family friends who live in the community, but Sebby-Strempel began yelling at the teenager and his friends and allegedly used racial slurs as she berated the teen (who filmed her with his cell phone) and chased them from the pool.

Apparently enraged over the idea of black teens using the pool, she later slammed a police officer trying to intervene against a wall an sank her teeth into the skin of another officer drawing blood.

"Pool Patrol Paula" Stephanie Sebby-Strempel 
Aside from the jaw-dropping pettiness, there's something deeply troubling about these incidents.

Particularly in the sense that the common thread seems to be apparently-privileged middle-class white women calling police on black people.

Not because they are under physical threat, or being assaulted, or their personal property is being compromised in some way.

Like "BBQ Becky" calling the cops because a group of African-Americans were legally barbecuing in a public park in Oakland back in May, one of the many disturbing aspects of these incidents is that these women feel like laws were being violated.

As if members of law enforcement are going to show up and start reinforcing these women's personal prejudices simply because they picked up the phone.

Again, carefully consider the choice of words of Allison "Permit Patty" Ettel in San Fransisco when she she saw an 8-year-old girl with dark skin selling bottled waters: "I have someone who does not have a vendor permit that's selling water across from the ballpark."

" I have someone." Like Ettel's skin color somehow imbues her with some kind of inherent authority over people who she views as "others" - like an 8-year-old selling bottled water is a threat.

Are these women "racist"? I don't know, but it's certainly clear they have issues with skin color.

As Brent Staples observed in his New York Times op-ed back in 2012:

"Very few Americans make a conscious decision to subscribe to racist views. But the toxic connotations that the culture has associated with blackness have been embedded in thought, language and social convention for hundreds of years. This makes it easy for people to see the world through a profoundly bigoted lens without being aware that they are doing so."

Whether these women are consciously "aware" is a question that only they can answer.

But when you see American children hustling to try and  make extra money in the summer, or  a family barbecuing in a public park, and you try and criminalize those actions, it's not about what they're doing.

It's all about the lens through which you view them.

Monday, July 02, 2018

March For Decency

Display evoking separated children in Dayton, Ohio,
one of Satruday's protests held in 700 different cities
I definitely enjoy my day job, but if there are measurable downsides to working in the real estate industry (aside from obnoxious residents), having to work alternate weekends is certainly among them.

Back on January 21st, 2017, I was proud to be amongst the hundreds of thousands of people around the world to join the Women's March in opposition to the inauguration of Donald Trump.

Had I not had to work this past weekend, I certainly would have been one of the thousands of people who took to the streets on Saturday to express non-violent opposition to the Trump administration's needlessly cruel immigration policies.


Instead, I kicked in a few bucks to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to support their ongoing, multi-pronged efforts to support not just the rights of undocumented immigrants, but the legal rights of all Americans as well.

I felt like it was important to do something besides gripe about Trump's rampant idiocy and the ACLU has filed suit inn federal court to put a halt to the family separations - last Thursday ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt told New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg, "The government's efforts are ridiculous. We can't just let the government go along the way they've been going, where kids can spend eight months separated."

Support for organizations like the ACLU, CASA in Action and the Immigrant Defenders Law Center is more critical than ever.

Especially considering that unaccompanied migrant children forcefully separated from their parents as young as three-years-old have been forced to appear in court to defend themselves.

These kinds of widely-condemned policies result from the Trump administration directing the Department of Homeland Security under Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and the Department of Justice under Attorney General Jeff Sessions to use the federal government as a tool to leverage the right-wing extremist ideology that now defines the Republican Party.

Honestly, what kind of administration directs authorities to have three-year-olds defend themselves in a court of law? If you're a parent, picture your three-year-old child appearing in court alone.

American children got a lesson in Democracy as
they marched for immigrants rights on Saturday
As NBC News reported on Thursday, Lindsay Toczylowski, the executive director of the Immigrant Defender's Law Center in Los Angeles observed,

"We were representing a three-year-old in court recently who had been separated from the parents. And the child -in the middle of the hearing- started climbing up on the table."

That's flat out unacceptable by the standards of any modern civilized society, period.


The absurdity of that kind of nightmarish scenario taking place in 21st century America is just one of the reasons that hundreds of thousands of people turned out in more than 700 different cities across the U.S. and around the world on Saturday.

Last Thursday, an estimated 633 women were arrested after they staged a non-violent sit-in inside the lobby of the U.S. Senate's Hart Office Building in Washington, D.C. to demand that Congress enact legislation to end the Trump administration's policy of separating families locking up those seeking asylum - which is legal under U.S. law by the way.

The women who participated in the D.C. sit-in last Thursday donned themselves in foil blankets to evoke the haunting images of unaccompanied migrant children forcefully separated from their parents by the Trump administration huddled in foil blankets in warehouses and other hastily-constructed migrant detention facilities.

Around midday on the same day, nearby a group of kids wrapped in foil blankets also held their own demonstration inside the Capitol Building as they chanted "Shame!" while onlookers, supporters and members of the press looked on and captured the images on social media.

Speaking of shame, considering the intentional cruelty of the draconian immigration policies enacted at Herr Trump's behest, he doesn't seem to have whole lot of it - and based on her tacky fashion choice last week, neither does his wife.

Melania Trump sports her "troll jacket" last week
Perhaps Melania Trump should consider covering her face in shame with one of those foil blankets in the wake of her odd decision to wear that offensive, tasteless green Zara jacket when she made her second photo-op visit to a Texas border detention facility last week.

With blistering Texas temperatures hovering in the 90's, Melania's decision to accessorize with a $39 olive green Zara coat with the words "I DON'T REALLY CARE. DO U?  emblazoned on the back called into question her taste, fashions sense and ethics.

In an op-ed posted on the dependably-conservative Forbes.com on Sunday, Fruzsina Eordogh called Melania's unseasonable outerwear a "troll jacket" and suggested that:

"The jacket sabotaged not just any peace and goodwill that could have been fostered by positive headlines of the government appearing somewhat competent, it also severely damaged Melania's brand. CNN talking heads called it a "PR disaster.""

Frankly I'm not loosing sleep over the damage to Melania's "brand", if she was so concerned about that she shouldn't have married a lying, twice-married serial philanderer who slept with porn star Stormy Daniels while Melania was pregnant with Trump's child Baron.

I'm not buying Donald Trump's rambling suggestion that his wife's jacket was not meant as a not-so-subtle message to the right-wing supporters who salivate over his vilification of immigrants to the United States.

Zara, the maker of Melania's "troll jacket" also made
this tasteful Holocaust prisoner shirt-thing - WTF?
From calling Mexican people "rapists", "murderers" and "drug dealers"on the first day of his presidential campaign, to his suggestion that there were some "very fine people" amongst the neo-Nazi's who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, Trump has gone out of his way to toss out klutzy wink-wink-nod-nods to the white supremacists and extremists that he openly cultivates and panders to.

As DailyKos reported last week, Zara, the company that makes the $39 jacket Melania wore to a humanitarian crisis in Texas last week, aren't exactly strangers to controversial fashion designs.

As a Twitter user named Molly helpfully pointed out last Thursday, Zara has also come under fire for selling a shirt that looks alarmingly similar to the infamous striped prison garb worn by Jewish prisoners of Nazi concentration camps during WWII (pictured above).

They also sold a shirt that says "White Is The New Black" - really.

Anyway, kudos to the hundreds of thousands in more than 700 different cities and towns who stood up against Trump's immigration policies on Saturday.

Those mass protests last week were about more than just the way the Trump administration treats people who immigrate to this country.

It wasn't just a statement on policy, it was also a march for decency, and what the vast majority of Americans (and people around the world) think this country really stands for.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Antwan Rose, Diante Yarber & Jeff Sessions' Blind Eye

Michael Rosfeld (left) charged after killing unarmed
teenager Antwan Rose by shooting him in the back
Last Wednesday, 30-year-old East Pittsburgh PD officer Michael Rosfeld turned himself in to be arrested and arraigned on one count of criminal homicide in the death of 17-year-old Antwan Rose back on June 19th.

And so begins the slow wait for justice and accountability that has become all too familiar for those American families who've lost sons, daughters, sisters and fathers to unjustified killings by overzealous members of law enforcement.

The circumstances surrounding this latest unarmed American teenager's death are at once familiar, murky and unsettling on many levels.

As journalist Tom Cleary reported in an article for Heavy.com, Antwan Rose was a passenger inside an unlicensed "jitney" cab that was pulled over by East Pittsburgh PD officers because it supposedly fit the description of a vehicle that had been involved in a drive-by shooting in the nearby area of Braddock, PA just a few minutes earlier.

When officers removed the cab driver from the vehicle and handcuffed him to question him, Rose and another passenger opened the passenger side doors and tried to flee the scene.

Almost immediately, Officer Rosfeld pointed his handgun and fired three shots, striking both passengers - take a look at the cell phone video captured by a witness posted on Youtube and watch how quickly Rosfeld starts shooting.

The video is only a few seconds long, and it's not bloody or anything, watch it a couple times - it's pretty clear that the two are running away, not towards the officer, they weren't threatening his life.

Rose was hit in the back and died at the hospital later that evening. The driver of the cab was later released after being questioned - his vehicle had not been involved any kind of shooting as officers suspected before pulling him over in the residential neighborhood where the shooting took place.

Hundreds protest Antwan Rose's shooting in front
of the Allegheny County courthouse on June 22nd
During a press conference held the day after the shooting, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala said of Rosfeld's decision to fire his gun:

"it's an intentional act and there's no justification for it. You do not shoot somebody in the back if they are not a threat to you."

The shooting sparked outrage, and protests and acts of civil disobedience have been taking place since the shooting took place eleven days ago.

While Rosfeld's attorneys are certain to try and use the defense that the officer "felt threatened" by two young men running away from him, the officer's competence has to come into question as he had literally just been sworn in as a part-time East Pittsburgh PD officer an hour and forty minutes before he shot an unarmed teenager running away from him.

He'd also been fired by the University of Pittsburgh campus police for undisclosed reasons prior to being hired by East Pittsburgh PD.

Antwan Rose wasn't some thuggish, violence-prone juvenile delinquent as some American police departments try to retroactively portray young men that are shot on sight because of the color of their skin or their ethnicity in order to try and justify an unjustified shooting.

From the numerous accounts of those in the East Pittsburgh community who knew him have noted publicly in the wake of the shooting, this was a good kid from a good family who was well respected.

He took Advanced Placement (AP) classes and was headed into his senior year with a strong academic record.
Antwan Rose (center) in an undated prom photo
According to the Woodland Hills School District Superintendent Al Johnson, Rose "was an excellent student." 

He also had lasting impact on his local community outside of school as well.

After the shooting Gisele Fetterman, the wife of Braddock, PA Mayor John Fetterman wrote on her Facebook page that Rose had volunteered for a local non-profit charity called Freestore 15104 that she runs when he was just fourteen-years-old.

During his summer vacation no less.

As Fetterman observed, "His life was just starting, he was part of a wonderful family and he was SO LOVED by so many and he didn't deserve this."

This was a motivated kid whose self-discipline is reflected not only in his academic record and volunteer work but also in the fact that he also held down jobs to make extra money from the time that he was at least fourteen-years-old.

Pittsburgh Gymnastics Club owner Kim Ransom told the New York Times that she remembered Rose coming in for an interview on a hot summer day back in 2015 when he fourteen:

"He brought his type-up resume and he was wearing a full three-piece suit with his shiny shoes and he was sweating profusely."

How does a well-liked high school kid like that from a good family end up getting shot in the back?

26-year-old Diante Yarber and a young protester
In my view it demonstrates the massive disconnect between reality and the perception of some police officers in this country - a perception so warped by racial by bias that some cops instinctively react with deadly force in situations where their lives are not actually threatened.

In Barstow, California back on April 5th, a 26-year-old father of three named Diante Yarber was fatally shot ten times at point blank range by four Barstow Police Department officers.

He was killed in the parking lot of a Walmart during broad daylight.

Yarber (pictured above) was wanted on suspicion of car theft when BPD officers spotted his Ford Mustang, recognized him as a suspect, stopped the vehicle and approached the driver's side door.

Yarber allegedly attempted to flee the scene with his brother, cousin and girlfriend inside the car.

Police claim the shooting was prompted when the Ford Mustang he was driving hit one of the police cruisers as he attempted to back up and drive off.

Even though Yarber was unarmed, according to a statement by Barstow Police Department Chief Albert Ramirez, Jr.,  four BPD officers at the scene pulled out their weapons and unloaded about 30 shots into the car because they "feared for their safety and the safety of others".

Ten of those shots struck Yarber in the chest, back and arms, and his girlfriend, who was sitting in the backseat, was hit in the abdomen and leg, while his brother and cousin escaped injury.

Defense attorney S. Lee Merritt described the gunshots that struck Yarber as being "consistent with defensive wounds...as he was shielding himself and trying to escape the onslaught of bullets" according to the findings of an independent medical examiner hired by Yarber's family. 

Jeff Sessions during Senate confirmation hearings
for Attorney General back in January of 2017 
So he was a suspect in a car theft, was not armed, and had three other people inside his vehicle when four BPD officers opened fire at the car which was in a Walmart parking lot in the middle of the day.

Is that smart, effective policing or hair-trigger overreaction based on skin color?

Now after thinking about these two cases, my initial thoughts were actually about Attorney General Jeff Sessions - the nation's top law enforcement authority.

Given that he defended himself against multiple charges of racism that were leveled against him during his tenure as a federal prosecutor in Alabama during contentious Senate hearings for his failed nomination to the federal bench back in 1986, one might think one of Session's first major public announcements as Trump's AG might be something conciliatory.

Something to demonstrate that he's not the bigot his own words and actions showed him to be.

But no, once he managed to squeak through the hearings process and was sworn in as AG, one of his first major initiatives was to announce that the Department of Justice was "reviewing" the various consent decrees that President Obama's Attorney General Eric Holder signed with various police departments around the country.

While many around the country saw those consent decrees as a reasonable step to address the rampant, unchecked abuse of police power used overwhelmingly against people of color, Sessions and Trump viewed the decrees exclusively through the narrow lens of the right-wing ideology that drove Trump's presidential campaign.

And of course Trump's bizarre obsession with trying to undue as many of President Obama's executive and legislative achievements as humanly possible; even when they're in the interests of the vast majority of the American people or the environment.

Baltimore City Council members proposing legislation
that would give them oversight over Baltimore PD
Despite the fact that the consent decrees were put into place by former Attorney General Eric Holder (only after exhaustive research conducted by by the DOJ itself) that proved the existence of of racially-biased police practices on the local level, during his Senate confirmation hearings Sessions said the consent decrees:

"undermine the respect for police officers and create an impression that the entire department is not doing [it's] work." 

Even as Sessions moved to delay and roll back the decrees in the spring and summer of 2017, some police officials and city leaders, as in Baltimore, voiced support for remaining committed to the decrees signed with DOJ.

Remember, Freddie Gray was arrested for having what Baltimore PD claimed was "an illegal knife" and he ended up dying of a broken neck while in the custody of BPD officers.

Not one of the six officers charged with his death were held accountable for Gray's death in a police van. Not one.

And Jeff Sessions claims consent decrees that would establish reasonable federal oversight of the BPD would "undermine the respect for police officers"? Really?

Those consent decrees, voluntary agreements signed between local police forces with proven patterns of entrenched, racially-biased policing practices and the Department of Justice, were intended (in part) as a remedy to bring a measure of federal oversight to try and address the wave of instances of excessive use of physical and deadly force against people of color.

And address rampant police misconduct in those departments where it's shown to be systematic.

Not 1 of the 6 Baltimore cops responsible for
Freddie Gray's 2015 death were found guilty   
Under the Obama administration, the DOJ signed consent decrees with at least 12 different metropolitan police forces with troubled histories of racially-biased policing - including Chicago, Baltimore, New Orleans and of course, Ferguson, Missouri.

Sessions and the Trump administration tried to frame the decrees in the all-too-familiar conservative light of "federal overreach".

But as a June 12, 2017 Op-Ed in The Baltimore Sun noted, the consent decrees were not forced upon local police forces, rather they were intended as:

"legal agreements between themselves and the DOJ to implement specified reforms. The agreements are the penultimate step, short of a protracted trial, that police departments can take to correct problems such as rampant racial discrimination, stop-and-frisk abuses, and inadequate accountability mechanisms."   

As I've often said, I'm no expert on policing, but it seems to me that unjustified shooting deaths of both Antwan Rose and Diante Yarber would at least indicate that there is still a clear need for at least some kind of pathway or room for reasonable federal oversight of police departments when it's warranted.

Sessions' decisions to revoke those consent decrees between local police departments and the Department of Justice are questionable at best - and at worst, indicative of the deep-seated racial bias that he's been accused of for years.

There's no certainty that any of the officers who took the lives of Antwan Rose and Diante Yarber will ever be held accountable for their deaths - the only thing that's certain is that they're both now members of The Counted.

And while the attorney general turns a blind eye to the reality of biased policing in America, the slow wait for justice and accountability continues.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

FEMA & The Elusive Sanctity of Home

Two of the thousands of Puerto Ricans displaced by
Hurricane Maria temporarily living in U.S. motels
As I was getting ready to go to work early Tuesday morning, I heard a news segment on WNYC public radio about the approaching deadline for the approximately 2,300 Puerto Rican families displaced by Hurricane Maria last fall.

If Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials in Washington don't extend an emergency aid program known as the Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) program in the next two days, thousands of hurricane refugees could face eviction this Saturday June 30th.

As a real estate professional who works in the industry, there's nothing more heart-breaking to witness, or be a part of than an eviction - even if a resident has done something to deserve it.  

In the same way that separating immigrant children from their parents and incarcerating them is a violation of the very principles the United States was founded upon, the idea that an agency of the federal government could be responsible for a mass eviction of U.S. citizens who fled an island nation ravaged by a hurricane is simply outrageous.

And just as outrageous as the conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court upholding Trump's overtly racist and discriminatory travel ban earlier yesterday in a closely-watched 5-4 decision.

Even as thousands of Americans prepare to attend mass protests against the Trump administration's heartless immigration policies this Saturday June 30th in Washington, New York and other cities, it could be a really shitty weekend for many of the 2,300 displaced Puerto Rican families currently depending on vouchers from FEMA's TSA program to live in motels around the U.S.

Given Trump's full descent down into a dark, racist, unhinged obsession with scapegoating and vilifying non-white immigrants in a desperate effort to rally the conservative supporters who applaud his vile bigotry and concocted rage, it's not surprising that mainstream media coverage of his repugnant tweets, repeated lies and conflicting statements on immigration is overshadowing so many other important news stories.

Like the ongoing crisis in Puerto Rico and the looming expiration of FEMA's TSA voucher program.

Maria Baez-Claudio and her 5-YO grandson who
has cerebral palsy wait for his school bus to arrive
But not all mainstream media content producers have moved on from reporting on the lasting effects of Hurricane Maria.

For example, "The Disaster Is Not Over", an 8-minute digital documentary produced by NBC News' NBC Latino, looks at the story of Maria Baez-Claudio (pictured left).

She's a healthcare professional from Puerto Rico displaced by Hurricane Maria who currently lives in a Super 8 Motel in Kissimmee, Florida with the help of a TSA emergency rental subsidy voucher provided by FEMA.


She's a the sole caregiver of her 5-year-old grandson Christian Dariel, a wheel-chair-bound special needs child with cerebral palsy who needs constant supervision to eat, and dress - he must wear diapers because he is unable to use the toilet on his own.

As the short NBC documentary shows, Baez-Claudio applied to FEMA for an extension on the emergency rental subsidy she receives, but her application was denied because FEMA officials now claim that Puerto Rico is now "livable".

But as CBS News correspondent David Begnaud reported back on June 1st, on the first official day of the 2018 hurricane season, a staggering 11,000 customers of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority who lost power last fall after Hurricane Maria hit, are still without electricity.

And many of the homes that are still partially standing, particularly those in hard-hit rural areas, still haven't been repaired and have roofs and walls covered by blue plastic tarp at a time when Puerto Rico's hot, muggy season stretches from May to October - temperatures in July are expected to average in the upper 80's and low 90's.

Activists in Florida are currently urging the passage of some kind of humanitarian intervention by Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott and the Republican-majority Florida legislature - but that's the same state legislature that has diverted $1.3 billion over the past decade from state funds earmarked for affordable housing to the general fund to spend on other programs.

Tamara Rivera-Santiago & Marinelys Cartagena in front
of the Lancaster, PA motel where they've been living
Barring action in the next few days, like the 610 other displaced Puerto Rican families currently being housed in motels around the state of Florida, Maria Baez-Claudio and her grandson will be forced to vacate the Super 8 motel where they currently live by Saturday June 30th.

With no clear idea of where she and her grandson will go, or how they will live.

Try and imagine having that on your mind as you look across a motel room at your 5-year-old grandson.

An innocent child afflicted with cerebral palsy.

That same haunting uncertainty is also being faced by hurricane-displaced Puerto Ricans in 30 other states including Lancaster, Pennsylvania where Tamara Rivera-Santiago and her three children, and Marinelys Cartagena (pictured above) and her four children have been staying in the Budget Host Inn just outside Lancaster with the aid of temporary emergency vouchers provided by FEMA's TSA program.

As reporter Tim Stuhldreher reported for Lancaster Online back in April, both women fled their respective towns in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria last fall due to lack of electricity and long lines for  basics like food, fresh water and gasoline. 

According to Stuhldreher's article, Rivera-Santiago had a job in Puerto Rico working at a bakery, but the business closed when it could no longer get supplies from the U.S. mainland to operate - so she had to flee the island with her children.

While Stuhldreher reports that various local charities in the Lancaster area have organized to try and assist some of the hundreds of Puerto Ricans who arrived in the local area after Hurricane Maria (Lancaster already had a fairly large Puerto Rican population before the storm), at least seven families temporarily being housed in the Budget Host Inn with FEMA assistance could be forced to leave this Saturday.

Embattled (and reviled) DHS Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen
While Florida Democratic Senator Bill Nelson is one of many politicians appealing to FEMA to grant another extension of the TSA housing program, the prospect of help from a federal agency in the Trump era isn't good.

Remember, FEMA is under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security which is currently headed by Kirstjen Nielsen - a heartless, right-wing Trump sycophant whose become the face of Trump's vile anti-immigrant bigotry.

Nielsen spent much of the past two weeks defending a widely-reviled border policy that criminalized people seeking asylum in the U.S. and separated their children from them.

Nielsen was famously confronted by protesters who booed and shouted "Shame!" at her at a DC-area Mexican restaurant last week, and according to Yahoo News, last Friday morning, a large group of protesters stood outside her townhouse in Virginia and played audio recordings of unaccompanied immigrant children crying for their parents and chanted "How do you sleep at night?" 

So even though Puerto Ricans are in fact American citizens, in the narrow lens of a Trump administration rooted in racism, xenophobia and bigotry, they are non-white people - the likelihood of DHS extending FEMA's TSA housing voucher program is slim.

In addition to insisting that Puerto Rico is now "livable", FEMA (under Nielsen and Trump) is instead contacting some of the 2,300 displaced Puerto Ricans currently housed in motels around the U.S. and offering them one-way plane tickets back to the hurricane-ravaged island as hurricane season gets underway.

NJ Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy visits a shelter
 in San Juan, Puerto Rico back in December
Given the grim reality that that's how the Trump administration is treating U.S. citizens, the burden is falling to individual states to take action.

Here in New Jersey, back in February, two months after visiting the island of Puerto Rico with other state politicians to inspect the devastating hurricane damage, newly-elected Democratic Governor Phil Murphy signed an executive order creating an 18-member, three-month commission tasked with finding ways to help the 30,000-plus displaced Puerto Ricans currently living in the Garden State.


Back in March, I listened to a segment on NPR's The Takeaway documenting the many difficulties faced by some of the many Puerto Rican Americans still living in motels around the country six months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island - where hundreds of small business that residents depend on are still closed on an island that was already facing an economic crisis.

I heard some of those stories first-hand from displaced Puerto Ricans in months following Hurricane Maria.

One of the most difficult aspects of my day job managing the leasing for a residential apartment community in Hamilton, New Jersey is having to be the person responsible for delivering bad news to anxious people in transition desperate to get an apartment.

It's especially hard when you have good people whose applications are denied due to circumstances that they had nothing to do with; like a messy divorce that torpedoed someone's credit because of an ex-spouse's poor financial decisions.

Or an applicant who works two jobs and has solid income who's application is denied because they were injured on the job and the reduced pay from workman's compensation caused them to be late on their rent four times in a 12-month period before they got back on their feet again.

The Quinones family in their Queens, NY hotel room
But it's even harder when potential applicants can't meet the screening criteria because a natural disaster upended their life and finances.

And the difficulties and stress of the transition made it extremely difficult to find work, and arrange for child care while adjusting to living in a new city or town.

As reporter Alexandra Starr reported in a segment for WNYC back in January, the plight of Christopher and Charline Quinones (pictured left) is a perfect example.
As Starr reported, they're the parents of two young girls and they managed to find temporary shelter in a Extended Stay America hotel in Queens not far from LaGuardia Airport with the help of a FEMA TSA housing voucher.

Both parents wake early for an almost 2-hour commute into Manhattan where they search for work - they're lucky enough that grandmother Rosa can stay "home" and watch the girls during the day.

But the stress of trying to find a job, living in cramped quarters with five people and being far from their relatives who are still back in Puerto Rico weighs heavily on the family - multiply their story by thousands and you get a basic sense of the ongoing humanitarian and housing crisis that's happening to American citizens right.

Back in late November and December of 2017, more than a few people from Puerto Rico who'd been forced to flee the devastation of Hurricane Maria called or emailed my office desperately looking for affordable housing.

Unfortunately, the income and residency requirements that the privately-owned real estate management company I work for uses to screen applicants made it impossible for the displaced Puerto Ricans I spoke or emailed with to get approved for the 2-bedroom apartments they were usually seeking.

Displaced Puerto Ricans in a temporary shelter in
Orlando, Florida days after Hurricane Maria
Decent, affordable 2-bedroom apartments are hard enough to find in the Princeton, Lawrenceville, Hamilton area as it is, and with rents as high as they are these days, it was almost impossible for most displaced Puerto Ricans to find housing in this area.

That's not the case for all, a number of displaced people from Puerto Rico already had family ties or friends living in the U.S. - some were lucky enough to able to temporarily shack up with loved ones, find work and save enough money to get their own place.

But for many displaced people, meeting the application screening criteria, including income and credit checks, plus coming up with the application fees, first month's rent and security deposit (some properties also want last month's rent up front too), just made finding a decent place too steep a hill to climb - even when they had already managed to find work here.

It's not like anyone called me in tears or anything, but I could hear the tension in the voices of Puerto Ricans who called me; they called me from New York, Florida, New Jersey and I even got some calls from as far north as Boston and Connecticut.

To a degree, these were some of the lucky ones, people who'd been able to get flights off the island to reach U.S. cities like Miami, Atlanta and New York relatively soon after Maria totally devastated Puerto Rico - many were able to find temporary shelter with relatives who already lived here.

By the time most reached my office they were coming to grips with the reality that most apartment applicants need to show proof of monthly income to get an application approved.

Trump throws paper towels with thousands of
Puerto Ricans without power and many missing
And these were folks who'd had to flee their homes, loved ones, communities and jobs in a country that was already spiraling into an economic crisis.

It's not easy telling desperate Americans devastated by a natural disaster doing everything possible to get back on their feet that they can't qualify for an apartment.

The Trump administration's handling of aid to Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria was epic fail.

And questionable at best (who can forget Trump throwing paper towels to displaced residents seeking federal assistance?), so in my view FEMA at least bears a moral and ethical responsibility to ensure that Americans displaced by that natural disaster have decent housing while they find a way to get back on their feet.

FEMA provided housing subsidies to victims of other U.S. hurricanes like Katrina for two or even more years - it's only nine months since Hurricane Maria and the federal agency under Kirstjen Nielsen and Trump are already trying to yank housing vouchers out from under the feet of those who still need them.

A decision that's clearly linked with the heartless ethnic and racial bias that's defined the Trump administration's approach to, well, pretty much everything.

FEMA has two days left to grant an extension of the TSA program.

But with the White House currently obsessed with deporting non-white people (even American citizens like Puerto Ricans), this Saturday when the TSA deadline expires, the sanctity of finding a home even could become even more elusive than it already is for those still in need of a helping hand.