Shutdown showdown continues


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President Donald Trump speaks at the American Farm Bureau Federation's 100th Annual Convention, Monday Jan. 14, 2019, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

President Donald Trump speaks at the American Farm Bureau Federation's 100th Annual Convention, Monday Jan. 14, 2019, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)


President Donald Trump talks to the press about the table full of fast food in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, during a reception for the 2018 college football playoff National Champion Clemson Tigers. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)


President Donald Trump, right, and Vice President Mike Pence, left, listen during a reception for the Clemson Tigers in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)


White House shifts shutdown strategy, tries to bypass Pelosi

By CATHERINE LUCEY and JILL COLVIN

Associated Press

Tuesday, January 15

WASHINGTON (AP) — Shifting strategy, the White House invited rank-and-file House Democrats to lunch Tuesday with President Donald Trump, bypassing Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team in an effort to get centrist and freshman lawmakers on board with funding Trump’s long-promised U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Pelosi approved of lawmakers attending the meeting, telling her team that the group can see what she and others have been dealing with in trying to negotiate with Trump to end the partial government shutdown, now in its 25th day with no resolution in sight.

Pelosi predicted that after meeting with Trump the lawmakers will want to make a “citizen’s arrest,” according to the aide, who wasn’t authorized to publicly discuss the meeting and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Lawmakers invited to the White House include centrist Democrats from districts where Trump is popular, including freshmen.

Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., said he attended a meeting of fellow centrist Democrats on Monday night and that a handful of members, most of whom represent districts Trump carried in 2016, were invited.

The White House has not released a guest list.

Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut, another centrist Democrat, said the White House is “grasping at straws.”

“The majority of Americans understand exactly what is happening here,” he said. “The president could open the government tomorrow and he refuses to. We’re very conscious of the fact that this is a bully and when you allow him to succeed by holding the government hostage you can expect to see that play run again.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor that it’s up to Democrats to get the country off the “political carousel” of the shutdown fight. The Kentucky Republican said Democrats have turned Trump’s wall into “something evil” and have engaged in “acrobatic contortions” to avoid dealing with the security and humanitarian crisis at the southern border.

With the government shutdown now in its fourth week, negations between the White House and Congress are at a standstill. Trump has demanded $5.7 billion for the border wall; Democrats are refusing but are offering money for fencing and other border security measures.

On Monday, Trump rejected a short-term legislative fix and dug in for more combat, declaring he would “never ever back down.” The president also edged further away from the idea of trying to declare a national emergency to circumvent Congress.

“I’m not looking to call a national emergency,” Trump said Monday. “This is so simple we shouldn’t have to.”

Trump’s rejection of the short-term option proposed by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham removed one path forward, and little else was in sight. Congressional Republicans were watching Trump for a signal for how to move next, and Democrats have not budged from their refusal to fund the wall and their demand that he reopen government before border talks resume.

In addition to the White House outreach to centrist House Democrats, about a dozen senators from both parties met Monday to discuss ways out of the shutdown gridlock. Participants included Graham and Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Tim Kaine, D-Va.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, McConnell was aware of the group’s effort but added, “I wouldn’t go so far as to say he’s blessed it.” The odds of the group producing a solution without Trump’s approval seemed slim.

Meanwhile, the effects of the 25-day partial government closure were intensifying around the country.

Some 800,000 federal workers missed paychecks Friday, deepening anxieties about mortgage payments and unpaid bills, and about half of them were off the job, cutting off some services. Travelers at the Atlanta airport, the nation’s busiest, dealt with waits of more than an hour Monday as no-shows by security screeners soared.

Trump spent the weekend in the White House reaching out to aides and lawmakers and tweeting aggressively about Democratic foes as he tried to make the case that the wall was needed on both security and humanitarian grounds. He stressed that argument repeatedly during a speech at a farming convention in New Orleans on Monday, insisting there was “no substitute” for a wall or a barrier along the southern border.

Trump has continued to insist he has the power to sign an emergency declaration to deal with what he says is a crisis of drug smuggling and trafficking of women and children at the border. But he now appears to be in no rush to make such a declaration.

Instead, he is focused on pushing Democrats to return to the negotiating table — though he walked out of the most recent talks last week.

White House officials cautioned that an emergency order remains on the table. Many inside and outside the White House hold that it may be the best option to end the budget standoff, reopening the government while allowing Trump to tell his base supporters he didn’t cave on the wall.

However, some GOP lawmakers — as well as White House aides — have counseled against it, concerned that an emergency declaration would immediately be challenged in court. Others have raised concerns about re-routing money from other projects, including money Congress approved for disaster aid. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have also warned that acting under an emergency order would set a troubling precedent for executive power.

For AP’s complete coverage of the U.S. government shutdown: https://apnews.com/GovernmentShutdown

Associated Press writers Darlene Superville, Matthew Daly, Jonathan Lemire, Alan Fram and Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.

The Conversation

To preserve US national parks in a warming world, reconnect fragmented public lands

January 15, 2019

Author: Stephen Nash, Visiting Senior Research Scholar, University of Richmond

Disclosure statement: Stephen Nash does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Partners: University of Richmond provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

The Trump administration’s decision to keep many U.S. national parks open during the current federal government shutdown, with few or no staff, spotlights how popular and how vulnerable these unique places are.

Some states, such as Utah and Arizona, have spent heavily to keep parks open rather than lose tourist revenues. Unfortunately, without rangers to enforce rules, some visitors have strewn garbage and vandalized scenic areas.

The most urgent near-term priority for the park system is to either end the shutdown or cut off public access until it is over, and then restore order once staff can get back in. But beyond the shutdown, the park system faces broader threats, as I show in my book, “Grand Canyon for Sale.”

Climate change will force wild species in all national parks to adapt, often by migrating. The problem is that U.S. policies – especially under the Trump administration – are fragmenting connections between parks and other public lands that give natural systems better odds for survival.

Conservation islands

External threats to national parks aren’t new. Politicians started trying to protect the Grand Canyon from private interests in the 1880s. Finally, in 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt used his power under the Antiquities Act to designate the canyon as a national monument.

During a visit to the canyon, Roosevelt told onlookers, “I hope that you will not … mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the loneliness and beauty of the Canyon. Leave it as it is. You can not improve on it.” A decade later, President Woodrow Wilson signed the bill that created Grand Canyon National Park on Feb. 26, 1919.

Aggressive and well-financed private industries, including logging, mining, grazing, energy production and real estate development, operate on other public lands, where they often pose threats to plants and wildlife. By expanding development and fragmenting existing tracts of land, they also shut down future survival prospects for wild species in the national parks themselves.

Parks in a changing climate

Over all of these issues looms the broadest threat: climate change. According to a meta-analysis of 123 research studies conducted between 1990 and 2010, nearly all the land administered by the National Park Service is located in areas of observed warming in the 20th century. And a 2018 study showed that the parks are bearing the brunt of climate change because many are located in regions that are hotter and drier than the nation as a whole.

Part of the National Park Service’s mission is to conserve wild species and natural systems in the parks “by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Climate change makes this an epic challenge. For example, Grand Canyon National Park’s climate change action plan warns of more frequent droughts, habitat fragmentation, more frequent and intense wildfires and floods, and shrinking water flows in the Colorado River.

And, of course, the gathering heat. In effect, many national parks’ climates will move two or three hundred miles south during this century. By 2100, if global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, Grand Canyon will be as hot as the climate now is along the Mexican border. The climate of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most popular in the system, will slide nearly to Florida. As soon as two decades from now, according to the latest U.S. national climate assessment, the Grand Canyon region and its wild species could endure 40 to 50 more days with temperatures over 90 degrees yearly.

Similar changes are occurring throughout the park system. Glaciers are disappearing from Glacier National Park in Montana. Giant sequoia trees in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in California are threatened by heat, fire and insects. Rising seas are starting to inundate dozens of parks along coastlines, from Florida’s Dry Tortugas to Alaska’s Bering Land Bridge.

Creating escape routes

As climate zones shift, many plants and animals will need to migrate into or out of protected natural areas to stay within temperature and moisture ranges where they have evolved over thousands of years. Scientists are outlining plans to ensure futures for at least some of these species by making it easier for them to move to different habitats. But studies on “climate connectivity” warn that if public lands around national parks are used for drilling, mining, logging and commercial development, they won’t function as survival paths for wild species.

“You can’t manage a national park by itself. That’s increasingly a strategy for failure,” Northern Arizona University biologist Paul Beier told me. “Your park is embedded in the landscape, and we have to get smart about managing the entire landscape, because the climate is moving.”

This research signals that if the goal is to guard the endurance of wild species for future generations, Congress and federal agencies will need to find new ways of managing the nation’s million square miles of federal public lands. National parks will need to depend on healthy adjacent national forests, wildlife refuges, monuments and range lands, maintained in their natural state.

In a 2017 study, researchers found that creating links among isolated preserves an effective way to maintain wild bird populations in Africa and Brazil. “The issues in the American West are the same,” Duke University ecologist and study co-author Stuart Pimm told me. “A lot of the West is protected, but it’s fragmented. Reestablishing that connectivity among public lands will give animals a chance to move, slowing down rates of local extinction.”

Yellowstone to Yukon, a joint U.S.-Canadian initiative, works to create an interconnected system of wild lands and waters that enables both humans and wildlife to thrive.

Promoting extractive use

However, the Trump administration is opening public lands in pursuit of “energy dominance.” The Interior Department has removed millions of acres from national monuments and opened them for uses such as logging and mining. Oil and gas leasing on public lands has tripled since President Trump assumed office.

Public lands generate wealth for other private interests, too. In the West, some 400,000 square miles managed by the Interior Department and Forest Service are leased for cattle ranching. These acres provide only one percent of our national supply of beef, but studies have documented that livestock grazing across the west can foul water sources, erode soil and severely diminish survival chances for wild species.

The lease programs cost the government more than six times as much to administer as they bring in. According to data that I obtained from federal agencies, most leases are held by very large, often absentee cattle operators and by corporate interests.

In contrast, studies by federal agencies and private researchers show that even in raw economic terms, healthy and protected landscapes are worth tens of billions of dollars to their owners – the American public – each year.

Meanwhile, climate change ratchets up. Preserving the nature of U.S. national parks will require connecting and protecting all of America’s public lands.

The Conversation

Why privatizing the VA or other essential health services is a bad idea

January 15, 2019

Authors

Sebastian Jilke

Assistant Professor, Rutgers University Newark

Wouter Van Dooren

Professor of Public Administration, University of Antwerp

Disclosure statement

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Partners: Rutgers University Newark provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.

The Trump administration wants to shift billions of dollars from government-run veterans’ hospitals to private health care providers. That’s true even though earlier this year the administration vehemently denied it would privatize any part of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The privatization of essential government services is nothing new, of course. Over the years, countries have privatized dozens of services and activities that were once the sole domain of governments, such as the provision of electricity and water, road operations and prisons and even health care, with the ostensible aim of making them more efficient.

But before going down that road, the question needs to be asked whether privatizing essential human services such as those for military veterans serves the public interest. New research we recently published suggests that privatization may come at a social cost.

Economic incentives of privatization

Privatization theory assumes that organizations, including those that deliver social services, thrive on competition and monetary gain.

Supporters of privatization argue that companies can perform government functions more efficiently. More competition and more choice for clients are expected to put pressure on providers to be more innovative and aware of financial costs.

In the public sector, however, competition is almost by definition absent, either because users of services cannot be excluded from the service – breathing clean air, for example – or because there is little monetary gain to be made – such as with services to the homeless.

So in situations where there is no real market, governments have attempted to mimic their conditions, such as by giving citizens the freedom to choose a public service provider or negotiating contracts that include certain performance incentives.

But this reliance on performance contracts can lead business providers to focus on short-term financial targets – such as the number of people processed per dollar spent – often at the expense of long-term outcomes for those served.

This gives business providers a strong incentive to concentrate on serving people who are most likely to help them achieve these goals by either focusing on those clients who are most likely to succeed or disregarding the ones that are harder to serve. By focusing on easier-to-serve clients and shunning the ones who are costly, service providers are more likely to make a profit.

However, it’s often difficult to know in advance who’s going to cost more than someone else. As a result, many service providers end up relying on imperfect, discriminatory cues to help them weed out potential cost burdens. Companies do something similar when they use stereotypes about race or ethnicity as discriminatory proxies for unobserved characteristics in job applicants.

Kenny and Mohammed

To learn more about whether for-profit service providers treat people of marginalized ethnic backgrounds differently, we ran a field experiment in the Belgian elderly care sector. We chose Belgium because the industry includes both public and private homes, and one of us is based there.

We sent basic information requests to all public and for-profit nursing homes in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium. Half of the requests, randomly assigned, appeared to come from a Belgian citizen (Kenny Maes), while the rest bore the signature of someone with a North African name (Mohammed El Makrini). The names were chosen based on the results of a separate survey we sent out to 2,000 Belgians asking them to rate several names on their perceived ethnicity, age, level of education and wealth.

In the requests, we asked nursing homes for advice on how to subscribe for a place in their facility. Withholding such information would make it harder for a prospective client to apply for a spot.

Of the 223 nursing homes we contacted, 71 percent responded, with public facilities being a little more likely than for-profit ones to get back to us. In general, each type of home responded to our two senders at similar rates. For example, 76 percent of public facilities replied to “Kenny,” compared with 79 percent for “Mohammed.” The response rate of for-profit homes was a bit more lopsided, but it was not what we’d consider a significant difference given the sample size: 66 percent for Kenny and 57 percent for Mohammed.

The really interesting finding was when we analyzed the actual responses. Upon closer inspection, we found that for-profit nursing homes were significantly less likely to provide information to Mohammed on how to enroll. Only about 43 percent of the for-profit homes that responded offered him the info, compared with 63 percent for Kenny. There was basically no difference among public facilities.

This is direct proof of for-profit providers discriminating against prospective clients based on their perceived ethnicity. But they’re not doing it simply out of ethnic animus. If it was, we’d have seen the same discrimination at the public facilities as well.

Rather, the motivation seems to be primarily economic. This is what economists call “statistical discrimination.” In other words, average characteristics of the minority group – such as language barriers and having different cultural needs and habits that make them more difficult to serve – are used to stereotype individuals who belong to that particular group.

Unintended consequences

The public debate about privatization tends to almost exclusively focus on its supposed financial and managerial advantages – which are hardly clear cut. Meanwhile, the potential social costs of privatization are commonly neglected.

Our research suggests that privatizing human services such as health care can result in less access for groups perceived as harder to serve because of language barriers and cultural differences.

Unfortunately, they also happen to be the groups that need such services the most.

This is an updated version of an article originally published on May 18, 2018.

President Donald Trump speaks at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 100th Annual Convention, Monday Jan. 14, 2019, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/01/web1_122133273-aa329d26a13440ea8524c73130202289.jpgPresident Donald Trump speaks at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 100th Annual Convention, Monday Jan. 14, 2019, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

President Donald Trump talks to the press about the table full of fast food in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, during a reception for the 2018 college football playoff National Champion Clemson Tigers. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/01/web1_122133273-01c99a261798416ba2529923878a7b7d.jpgPresident Donald Trump talks to the press about the table full of fast food in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, during a reception for the 2018 college football playoff National Champion Clemson Tigers. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Donald Trump, right, and Vice President Mike Pence, left, listen during a reception for the Clemson Tigers in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/01/web1_122133273-134c9da4af664f01bc5e7ac0b9f1c280.jpgPresident Donald Trump, right, and Vice President Mike Pence, left, listen during a reception for the Clemson Tigers in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
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