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Trump triples down on racism, changes asylum rules; tick-tock of a tipping point

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Donald Trump’s normalized habit of creating distractions may have reached a tipping point Monday, July 15, as the president instigated a white nationalist twitter attack against four duly elected women of color in Congress and announced a new policy that essentially ends asylum in the US, potentially condemning terrified and tortured LGBT asylum seekers to their deaths.

Trump’s public throw-down telling progressive Democratic LGBT allies Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (from the Bronx), Ilhan Omar (of Minnesota), Rashida Tlaib (of Michigan) and Ayanna S. Pressley (of Massachusetts) – nicknamed “the Squad” — to “go back” where they come from was considered so overtly racist, even journalistic standard-bearer The Associated Press called Trump’s tweets “racist” in a headline.

But political hate rhetoric has consequences. Trump’s cult followers such as mail-bomb suspect Cesar Sayoc are known to take action and a gunman attacked on Republicans warming up for a congressional baseball game. After Trump’s tweets, House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson asked Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger about the need for increased protection. “The President’s rhetoric may insinuate more attacks on members of Congress,” Thompson wrote.

The political and cultural significance has been so jarring that historians may well regard July 2019 as the moment when the 2020 elections started to boil down to candidates either supporting white supremacy or advocating for diversity.

And it may have all started as a distraction. Trump needed to divert media scrutiny away from his association with billionaire registered sex offender Jeffrey Epstein— and his heavily criticized Labor Secretary, Alexander Acosta, who, as a Florida federal prosecutor, had given Epstein a sweetheart deal in 2008. Suddenly, the day before Acosta resigned, the New York Times reported on Thursday, July 11 about a new plan for massive ICE sweeps of undocumented immigrants.

This was an abrupt reversal of Trump’s scuttled previous announcement of ICE “removing the millions of illegal aliens,” tweeted on June 17. This time, there was a list of 2,000 “criminals” with final deportation orders who could expect shock-and-awe-like ICE sweeps in 10 named cities, including Los Angeles, on Sunday, July 14. The Los Angeles Times pointed out the irony of Trump having called Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s announcement of an impending ICE raid last year a “disgrace.”

The ICE raid was a harsh counter to extensive media and social media coverage of the Squad criticizing the inhumane treatment of migrants, including caged separated children, after their July 1 tour of detention centers in El Paso and Clint, Texas. The ACLU reports that despite a court-ordered injunction, Trump’s child-separation policy is still in effect, where an infant can be taken from its “unfit” mother for a years-old traffic violation.

Lights for Liberty organized 800 rallies around the country on Friday night, July 12 protesting the expected massive ICE raids and alerting immigrant families about their rights.

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and LAPD Police Chief Michel Moore took to Twitter to alert undocumented people that law enforcement would not help ICE in the raids. They also posted “know your rights” cards.

Antonio Villaraigosa at rally (photo courtesy John Duran/Facebook)

About 400 people rallied in downtown LA, while a much smaller group gathered in West Hollywood Park to hear former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, local leaders and several members of the West Hollywood City Council decry Trump’s inhumanity towards immigrants and asylum seekers.

As thousands protested, Vice President Mike Pence visited two migrant detention centers in Texas, one with children and the other a Border Patrol station near McAllen with nearly 400 men crammed inside a cage. Some of the detainees said they had been there for more than 40 days, were hungry, and could not shower or brush their teeth.

According to the pool reporter from Politico: “The stench was horrendous. The cages were so crowded that it would have been impossible for all of the men to lie on the concrete.”

“I was not surprised by what I saw,” Pence said later. “I knew we would see a system that was overwhelmed. This is tough stuff.” He blamed Democrats for the situation.

Meanwhile, on a quieter parallel track, an internal Democratic Caucus dispute was developing between the Squad and Speaker Nancy Pelosi over the inadequacies of an emergency border aid package. The dispute intensified after AOC’s chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, called out Rep. Sharice Davids, a moderate out lesbian Democrat and Native American from Kansas, for voting for the aide bill.

Chakrabarti, in a tweet he later deleted, wrote that the liberals “certainly seem hell bent to do to black and brown people today what the old Southern Democrats did in the 40s.” Of Davids, he tweeted: “I don’t think people have to be personally racist to enable a racist system.”

Friday night, the House Democratic Caucus’s official Twitter account slapped back: “Who is this guy and why is he explicitly singling out a Native American woman of color?”

Saturday, a pall hung over the City of Angeles as undocumented immigrant families, friends, allies and advocates cowered in fear, having heard that anyone nearby, even US citizens, could be swept up as “collateral” damage during the raids.

At a Netroots Nation panel Saturday morning, three members of the Squad shared their experiences and were received as rock stars. They also encouraged conference attendees (including TransGriot’s Monica Roberts) to run for elective office – but only as their authentic selves.

“We don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice,” Pressley said. “We don’t need anymore black faces that don’t want to be a black voice. We don’t need any more Muslim faces who don’t want to be a Muslim voice. We don’t need any more queers that don’t want to be a queer voice.”

On another panel, Omar, who came to the US from Somalia as a child, talked about criticism of her as unAmerican. “I believe, as an immigrant, I probably love this country more than anyone that is naturally born,” she said.

“We export American exceptionalism—the great America, the land of liberty and justice. That is, you ask anybody walking on the side of the street somewhere in the middle of the world, they will tell you: ‘America the great.’ But we don’t live those values here,” Omar said. “And so that hypocrisy is one that I’m bothered by, I want America the great to be America the great.”

Sunday, the waiting was unbearable. But he shock and awe didn’t materialize. Some pundits questioned whether inflicting trauma, fear and intimidation was Trump’s sole intention.

Bamby Salcedo, founder and CEO of the LA-based [email protected] Coalition, noted it was Sunday, when most undocumented immigrants do not work. Normally, “ICE preys on people” in the early morning hours or at work.

“Trump and ICE said they were only targeting criminals. But that’s not true because in their minds, all of us are criminals. Everybody who comes from Mexico—I’m part of that—people who come from ‘shit-hole’ countries. People from Central America. Muslims. All people of color in his eyes are criminals,” Salcedo tells the Los Angeles Blade.

“We have seen all those images [of migrants in cages] and images don’t lie about the realities of people,” says Salcedo. “This administration knows what is happening because this is what they think of us—as criminals….This is completely inhumane. They are violating the human rights of people.”

Additionally, the detention facilities are privately run or owned with contractors making $750 per day per warehoused person.

“ICE is a monster money-making machine,” says Salcedo. “They found a way to create wealth by caging people.”

Trump also used Sunday morning to unleash a Twitter tirade attacking the Squad, all U.S. citizens, three of whom are American-born and one, Rep. Ilhan Omar, a naturalized citizen like Trump’s wife Melania.

Trump tweeted: “So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done.”

As Democrats cried foul, news outlets noted the deafening silence of Republicans. “Are you OK with a racist president, Republicans?” asked the editorial board of the Charlotte Observer, the newspaper of record in the city that will host the Republican National Convention in August 2020.

“’Go back where you came from’ is among the worst of racist tropes. It divides us by ethnicity and skin color. It says that even if someone is a citizen or legal immigrant, they are not part of the rest of us. That runs contrary to who we should be as Americans,” they wrote.

Trump sloughed off the criticism, saying the centers had received  “great reviews” and the overcrowded adult male areas were “loaded up with a big percentage of criminals.”

On Monday, July 15, as a judge heard arguments for granting bail to billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, and more Russian interference news broke in advance of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s appearance before Congress—Trump threw his white supremacist base more raw red meat. He defended his racist remarks at a White House event,  alleging the four women of color “hate our country” and are “free to leave if they want.” He also repeatedly alleged that Omar is a Qaeda sympathizer — a false charge.

Trump said he was unconcerned that his tweets were racist. “It doesn’t concern me, because many people agree with me,” he said, such as these white supremacists.  “All I’m saying is if they want to leave, they can leave now.”

The four women, Trump said, “are people that hate our country. They hate our country. They hate it, I think, with a passion.”

And, contrary to evidence, Trump said the ICE raids “were very successful….Many, many were taken out on Sunday, you just didn’t know about it.”

On the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue, the Squad showed their mettle.

“We ran on a mandate to advocate for and represent those ignored, left out and left out and left behind,” Pressley said. “Our squad is big. Our squad includes any person committed to building a more equitable and just world, and that is the work that we want to get back to…And given the size of this squad and this great nation, we cannot, we will not be silenced.”

“This is the agenda of white nationalists,” Omar said. “He would love nothing more than to divide our country based on race, religion, gender, orientation, or immigration status.”

“We don’t leave the things that we love. And when we love this country, that means we propose the solutions to fix it,” said AOC.

“Sadly, this is not the first nor will it be last time we hear disgusting, bigoted language from the President,” said Tlaib, who joined Omar in calling for impeachment.

Trump took to Twitter again on Tuesday, asserting that his tweets were not racist. “I don’t have a racist bone in my body,” he tweeted. California Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy held a news conference backing him up, saying the tweets were not racist. “I believe this is about ideology. This is about socialism versus freedom.” He is counseling his Republican Caucus to vote “No” on a resolution condemning Trump’s racist remarks.

Some Republicans, such as former Trump advisor Anthony Scaramucci, thought Trump’s comments were racist.

California Rep. Karen Bass, Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, told MSNBC that Republicans who used to tell her privately that they were embarrassed by Trump haven’t approached her over his tweets.

“He always throws a racist bomb when he wants to divert our attention,” Bass said, noting the upcoming Mueller hearing. “But I am seriously worried about the lives of our four members,” worried that Trump’s racist hateful rhetoric “will trigger somebody.” Bass agreed that Trump “already has” blood on his hands.

Meanwhile, as the country convulses over Trump’s overt racism, many LGBT leaders are worried over the grave consequences for LGBT asylum seekers and how other countries may now also feel free to end their asylum policies.

“The new rule, published in the Federal Register and set to take effect Tuesday, would bar asylum claims from anyone who has passed through another country en route to the U.S., which essentially would cover anyone other than Mexican residents, who make up a small fraction of asylum applicants,” the LA Times reports. “Only in rare cases, such as when a migrant applies for asylum elsewhere and is denied, would a person be eligible to apply for protection in the U.S.”

“This rule is inconsistent with both domestic and international law, and we intend to sue immediately to block it,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s national Immigrants’ Rights Project, who filed suit in San Francisco federal court Tuesday.  “If allowed to stand, it would effectively end asylum at the southern border and could not be more inconsistent with our country’s commitment to protecting those in danger.”

The rule requires migrants to apply for asylum in their country of origin or a “safe third country,” which for migrants who travel from South and Central America means Mexico, which denies 75% of petitions for asylum.

Trans asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable. Two trans women, Roxana Hernández and JohanaMedina, died in ICE custody. Another, Camila Díaz Córdova, was murdered when she was returned to El Salvador, the country she fled.

“Right now in TJ (Tijuana) the situation is really bad for LGBTQ people, specially for Central American trans women. It is not safe at all,” Salcedo tells the Los Angeles Blade. “What this administration wants to do is really eliminate the right of people for asking for asylum. Seeking asylum is a human right, but obviously, this administration does not see certain people as humans.”

Out LA Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell and Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur were part of a delegation that visited the LGBT center, Jardín de Las Mariposas, in Tijuana.

“I have seen first-hand the humanitarian crisis at our border with Mexico, a situation made worse by the inhumane and racist policies of Donald J. Trump,” Farrell tells the Los Angeles Blade. “His recent order requiring that asylum seekers to the United States petition their country of origin first is yet another step in his efforts at normalizing the pain and suffering of migrants from Central America. This puts everyone who dreams of becoming an American– and hoping for a better life– directly in harms way, including those who identify as LGBT who are already facing persecution at home.”

“Seeking asylum is a legal right under American law and a matter of life and death for many LGBTQ people escaping danger and persecution,” says Zbur. “We’ve seen first-hand the crisis at our southern border, but make no mistake: the crisis has been created by the Trump-Pence Administration — not asylum seekers. We in California will continue to show compassion for immigrants even when this Administration attempts to close the door on them.”

Speaker Pelosi set Tuesday night for a vote on a resolution in which the House “strongly condemns President Trump’s racist comments that have legitimized increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color.”

“Let me be clear, our caucus will continue to forcefully respond to these disgusting attacks [against the Squad],” Pelosi said. “The House cannot allow the president’s characterization of immigrants to our country to stand. Our Republican colleagues must join us in condemning the president’s xenophobic tweets.”

Dateline: July 16. America bears witness to chaos and a House divided.

The House voted 240 to 187 along party lines, joined by four Republicans— Will Hurd, Brian Fitzpatrick, Fred Upton and Susan Brooks—and now independent Justin Amash—to condemn Trump for his racist remarks.

Immediately after the vote, Rep. Al Green announced his intention to file articles of Impeachment against President Donald J. Trump.

What happens from now until November 2020 may determine the fate of American democracy.

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NBC Universal cancels Golden Globe awards broadcast for 2022

NBC Universal announced the network would not broadcast the 2022 Golden Globes awards ceremony

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Screenshot NBC coverage of the Golden Globes from previous years on YouTube

BURBANK – In the wake of an in-depth investigation into the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), the organization responsible for the Golden Globes by the Los Angeles Times, which revealed a lack of racial diversity among its voting members and various other ethical concerns, NBC Universal announced Monday the network would not broadcast the 2022 Golden Globes ceremony.

This past February ahead of the HFPA’s 78th Annual Golden Globes ceremony, HFPA board chair Meher Tatna told Variety magazine that the organization that the organization of international journalists which covers the film, television, and entertainment industry has not had any Black members in at least 20 years.

Actor Sterling K. Brown,  a Golden Globe winner and two-time nominee, posted to Instagram; 

Criticism of the HFPA, which puts on the Globes and has been denounced for a lack of diversity and for ethical impropriates, reached such a pitch this week that actor and superstar celebrity Tom Cruise returned his three Globes to the press association’s headquarters, according to a person who was granted anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the decision, the Associated Press reported.

“We continue to believe that the HFPA is committed to meaningful reform. However, change of this magnitude takes time and work, and we feel strongly that the HFPA needs time to do it right,” a spokesperson for NBC said in a statement.

“As such, NBC will not air the 2022 Golden Globes,” the spokesperson added. “Assuming the organization executes on its plan, we are hopeful we will be in a position to air the show in January 2023.”

NBC’s decision comes as Vogue reported that the backlash to the HFPA came swiftly and decisively. Some of Hollywood’s biggest studios, including Netflix, Amazon, and WarnerMedia, announced they were severing ties with the organization until efforts were made to increase diversity and stamp out corruption, while a group of more than 100 of the industry’s biggest PR firms released a statement in March in which they pledged to boycott the ceremony for the foreseeable future. 

The HFPA did not immediately respond to inquiries by media outlets requesting comment about NBC’s decision.

In February, the organization said it was “fully committed to ensuring our membership is reflective of the communities around the world who love film, TV, and the artists inspiring and educating them.”

“We understand that we need to bring in Black members as well as members from other underrepresented backgrounds, and we will immediately work to implement an action plan to achieve these goals as soon as possible,” it said.

HFPA also announced a full timetable through this summer for implementing promised reform initiatives in response to NBC’s decision.

“Regardless of the next air date of the Golden Globes, implementing transformational changes as quickly — and as thoughtfully — as possible remains the top priority,” the HFPA board said in a statement. “We invite our partners in the industry to the table to work with us on the systemic reform that is long overdue, both in our organization as well as within the industry at large.”

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Coronavirus

LA County expected to hit herd immunity by mid summer

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles County could reach COVID-19 herd immunity among adults and the older teenagers by mid- to late July, public health officials announced Monday. Over the weekend LA Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that appointments are no longer needed for Angelenos to get COVID-19 vaccinations at any site run by the city.

Garcetti’s move is intended to give people who don’t have the time or technological resources to navigate online booking platforms a chance to get the shot.

The percentage of the population the County needs to vaccinate to achieve community immunity is unknown, however Public Health officials estimate it’s probably around 80%. Currently, 400,000 shots each week are getting into the arms of L.A. County residents, and there are over 2 million more first doses to go before 80% of all L.A. County residents 16 and older have received at least one shot.

At this rate, Public Health expects the County will reach this level of community immunity in mid- to late July and that assumes the County continues to at least have 400,000 people vaccinated each week. That would include both first doses that people need as well as their second doses.

This news came as Los Angeles Unified School District officials announced that attendance numbers at all grade levels in the District have been considerably lower than expected as extensive safety measures have failed to lure back the vast majority of families in the final weeks of school.

Only 7% of high school students, about 30% of elementary school children and 12% of middle school students have returned to campuses.

As of May 7, more than 8,492,810 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered to people across Los Angeles County. Of these, 5,146,142 were first doses and 3,346,668 were second doses.

On Monday the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) expanded the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for adolescents 12 to 15 years of age. The Pfizer vaccine is already authorized for people 16 years old and older.

Pfizer’s testing in adolescents “met our rigorous standards,” FDA vaccine chief Dr. Peter Marks said. “Having a vaccine authorized for a younger population is a critical step in continuing to lessen the immense public health burden caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In a statement released Monday by the White House, President Joe Biden the FDA’s decision marked another important step in the nation’s march back to regular life.

“The light at the end of the tunnel is growing, and today it got a little brighter,” Biden said.

Los Angeles County will offer the Pfizer vaccine for 12 to 15-year-olds once the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) affirms the FDA recommendation, which can happen as early as Wednesday. All adolescents 12-17 will need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian to get vaccinated.

To find a vaccination site near you, to make an appointment at vaccination sites, and much more, visit: www.VaccinateLACounty.com (English) and www.VacunateLosAngeles.com (Spanish). If you don’t have internet access, can’t use a computer, or you’re over 65, you can call 1-833-540-0473 for help finding an appointment or scheduling a home-visit if you are homebound. Vaccinations are always free and open to eligible residents and workers regardless of immigration status.

In the meantime, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that unvaccinated people — including children — should continue taking precautions such as wearing masks indoors and keeping their distance from other unvaccinated people outside of their households.

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Health

HHS takes steps to reverse Anti-LGBTQ+ healthcare policy

The announcement came minutes before a scheduled hearing before the U.S. District Court for Equality California’s lawsuit challenging the Trump-Pence Administration’s “Rollback Rule”

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HHS the Hubert H. Humphrey Building (Photo: GSA)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday morning that the Biden-Harris Administration will interpret and enforce Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Title IX’s prohibitions on discrimination based on sex to include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The announcement came minutes before a scheduled hearing before the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts in BAGLY v. HHS, Equality California’s lawsuit challenging the Trump-Pence Administration’s “Rollback Rule.”

The Trump-era policy undermines the ACA’s nondiscrimination protections on the basis of sex — including pregnancy, gender identity and sex stereotyping — as well as protections for patients with limited-English proficiency and those living with chronic illnesses, including HIV. Because the issues in BAGLY v. HHS are broader than what the Administration announced today, the Court scheduled a hearing on the government’s motion to dismiss for June 3rd at 2:30 PM EST.

In reaction to the HHS announcement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement Monday:

“Today, the Biden Administration has taken essential and potentially life-saving action to affirm that all people in America have the right to quality, affordable health care – no matter who they are or whom they love.  During this time of pandemic and always, it is vital that the most vulnerable have access to care, including LGBTQ Americans, who have long suffered injustice and discrimination that has left them dangerously exposed to health risks.
 
“The Trump Administration’s decision to greenlight anti-LGBTQ discrimination in health care in the middle of a pandemic was an act of senseless and staggering cruelty, made in blatant defiance of our values and a Supreme Court ruling made just a month prior.  
 
“Congressional Democrats together with the Biden Administration are proud to uphold the equal right of every American to access the care that they need to pursue a life of dignity and health.  We must now build on this progress and enact the House-passed Equality Act to fully ban anti-LGBTQ discrimination in our nation.”

In addition to Equality California, co-plaintiffs in BAGLY v. HHS include Darren Lazor, The Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth (BAGLY), Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, Campaign for Southern Equality, Equality California, Fenway Health, and Transgender Emergency Fund.

Lazor is a transgender man near Cleveland, Ohio, who experienced numerous counts of discrimination from healthcare providers on the basis of his gender identity from 2012 to 2017. He is a member of Equality California. Plaintiffs are represented by National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), the Transgender Law Center (TLC), the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF), the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation (CHLPI) of Harvard Law School and law firm Hogan Lovells.

The lawsuit asserts that the new rule violates the Administrative Procedures Act by being contrary to law, arbitrary and capricious and a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Notably, it was published on June 19,  just days after the June 15, 2020 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, which found that it is unlawful sex discrimination to fire employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The lawsuit also asserts that the new rule will embolden discrimination and harm LGBTQ+ patients and people seeking reproductive health care, further stigmatize abortion and other pregnancy-related care, harm patients with limited-English proficiency, especially immigrants, and harm people with chronic illnesses, including those living with HIV. The rule will also create confusion about the scope of protections against discrimination under federal law. 

Trans people, like plaintiff Darren Lazor, already face disproportionate discrimination in health care settings, including mistreatment by insurers and humiliation and harassment by doctors – problems that are exacerbated for trans people of color and trans people living in rural regions and the U.S. South. In seeking to deny trans people access to the healthcare they need, the Trump Administration had placed trans people, and especially Black trans women, in danger through deliberately harmful governmental action.

“We are thrilled by the news that the Biden-Harris Administration will take initial steps to reverse President Trump’s dangerous, discriminatory Rollback Rule, which undermined healthcare nondiscrimination protections critical to the LGBTQ+ community, and trans people in particular,” said Equality California Executive Director Rick Chavez Zbur.

“As the world recovers from a global pandemic, it’s more important than ever that every American have access to quality, affordable healthcare without fear of harassment and discrimination. We remain hopeful that under Secretary Becerra and Assistant Secretary Levine’s leadership, HHS will continue to take further steps to rescind the Trump-era regulation and address the harms that it has caused,” he added.

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