Day: December 21, 2018

Trump Administration Moves to Restrict Food Stamp Access the Farm Bill Protected

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration announced on Thursday that it would seek to put in place more stringent work requirements for adults who rely on food stamps, even as the president signed a sweeping farm bill in which lawmakers had rejected stricter rules.

By moving to limit the ability of states to issue waivers to people who say they cannot make ends meet under the requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Agriculture Department found another route to create restrictions, bypassing Congress and drawing immediate criticism that the proposed rule was sure to harm Americans below the poverty line.

The administration, which along with conservatives had fought to include stricter work requirements in the farm bill, continued to argue that food stamps were never meant to be a way of life and that able-bodied adults should be able to find jobs in a healthy economy.

“Long-term reliance on government assistance has never been part of the American dream,” Sonny Perdue, the agriculture secretary, said in a statement. “Moving people to work is common-sense policy, particularly at a time when the unemployment rate is at a generational low.”

The $867 billion farm bill, a huge piece of legislation intended to provide relief for farmers and the poor, encountered a number of obstacles this year as it faced scrutiny from conservative lawmakers who pushed for an overhaul in how the food program’s participants would be evaluated.

In the end, Republican and Democratic negotiators decided to drop two proposals introduced by conservatives and publicly championed by President Trump: one that would have imposed further work requirements on adults using SNAP, and another that would have closed a loophole allowing states to waive the requirements in areas with high unemployment rates.

The proposed rule drew ire from Democrats, who accused the Trump administration of steamrollering a rare bipartisan compromise and ignoring Congress’s mandate to leave the program and its 40 million recipients untouched.

“After a very rough back and forth on that particular issue, basically we left the program alone without restricting people from being able to get it,” said Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, Democrat of Arizona, one of the negotiators on the bill’s bicameral committee. “Now you have Secretary Perdue doing essentially what was, in a bipartisan way, agreed not to do. He needs to know what the intent of Congress is and follow it.”

Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, accused Mr. Perdue in a bluntly worded statement of “blatantly” ignoring the bipartisan farm bill and disregarding “over 20 years of history giving states flexibility to request waivers based on local job conditions.” READ MORE:

Why Mattis Had to Go

The defense secretary could no longer serve a president who no longer thinks he needs to listen to anybody. James Mattis is not an imposing man. At five-foot-nine, with a slight build, he doesn’t have the physical presence you might expect from someone whose nickname is “Mad Dog.” He doesn’t have, say, H.R. McMaster’s bull neck or booming voice. Yet Mattis loomed large over U.S. national security policy, such as it is, under this presidency—so much so that his long-expected but still-sudden resignation Thursday had Washington reporters competing to see who could dial up the most hair raising quotes warning of catastrophe ahead.

(My contribution: One former top official who speaks regularly to the White House offered only a one-word reaction over email: “Alarming.”)
When I met Mattis for the first time, at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, the retired Marine general was still fuming over his treatment by the Barack Obama administration—he was fired as Central Command chief, basically, for urging a more aggressive Iran policy—and though our conversation wasn’t on the record, it was clear he was somebody who wasn’t to be trifled with.

Now, he’s aiming his considerable capacity for outrage at a different occupant of the Oval Office, with the stakes far higher given that the president today is, well, Donald Trump.
Every journalist in Washington knew Mattis opposed Trump on the biggest foreign policy issues of the day, be it pushing back against a revanchist Russia, managing the messy conflicts in the broader Middle East, or handling a surging China. He made it known around town that he was only running the Pentagon to protect it, if not the world, from the president, and for nearly two years he was more or less able to prevent an outright crisis.
The question was always when Mattis would reach his breaking point—when the president’s isolationist instincts, impulsive decision-making and attempts to use the military as a political weapon would push him over the edge.

It wasn’t, apparently, Trump’s deployment of U.S. troops to the Mexican border in a transparent effort to swing the November midterms that did it; Mattis went along with that. It wasn’t the president’s repeated snipes at NATO, the transatlantic alliance that has underpinned American national security for seven decades; nor was it his assiduous adoption of Kremlin talking points or his periodic eruptions at U.S. allies—it was basically all of that, Mattis made clear in his extraordinary resignation letter, which contains not a scintilla of praise for his boss and outlines several major points of disagreement.

“Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours,” Mattis wrote, “I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.”
Obviously, Mattis couldn’t abide Trump’s sudden and apparently unilateral decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria, where they were supporting predominantly Kurdish forces in fighting against ISIS and keeping an eye on an encroaching Iran. Word soon leaked out, too, that Trump plans to yank a big chunk of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, a flailing war effort the president has long questioned as pointless.
It’s not that these moves are indefensible—one can easily imagine a President Hillary Clinton determining that the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze and ordering U.S. forces home.

But in a normal administration, a big move like that would have taken place only after endless rounds of discussions at multiple levels of governments, arguments between agencies, and consultations with allies. There would be plans for every possible contingency, and a carefully coordinated PR rollout. Trump seems to have just ordered it done at the speed of a tweet, and it’s clear his administration hasn’t worked through the dangers that accompany any withdrawal of troops from a war zone.
On Wednesday, the administration hastily announced a conference call to brief the press on the president’s Syria decision, then struggled to explain what it was and when or how it would happen. The Pentagon pointed reporters to the White House; the White House told reporters to talk to the Pentagon. It was a level of chaos I hadn’t seen in a decade of covering U.S. foreign policy.

So it isn’t surprising that Mattis left—with his advice so conspicuously spurned, he might have realized he could no longer be effective. For years, he had ignored or slow-walked Trump’s wilder ideas, such as his reported order to assassinate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but this time the president doesn’t appear to have consulted him at all—and reportedly rejected his desperate final attempt to change his mind over Syria. Any Cabinet secretary would have resigned.
So what now?

Each occupant of the Oval Office claims ever-vaster powers in foreign policy, and Congress has steadily ceded its oversight powers as the complexity of conflicts, and the speed and might of the U.S. military, has increased. So those looking to Capitol Hill for a public intervention may end up disappointed. After all, Republican senators have wished away their differences with Trump on foreign policy for many months, occasionally rebuking him but generally doing little to rein him in.

The Shrinking Middle Class: The Current State of Affairs

Most Americans consider themselves part of the “middle class,” but no one can agree on what term that means. The problem? If sizing up the middle class is difficult enough, it’s even harder to say that circumstances within this group have changed. But they certainly have. As you’ll discover in this Fortune special report, life has gotten more difficult for the millions of people within the middle class. We dispatched more than 50 people to discover why the American dream has been fading for far too many.
In this section, we examine the current state of affairs by speaking with the people affected most by it. What we learned: Chasing the American dream was once exhilarating; now it’s exhausting.

When Umbelina Martinez’s family first came to the United States decades ago, from ­Michoacan, Mexico, they settled in a three-bedroom house in Redwood City, Calif. It wasn’t all theirs; 25 people lived on the property, sharing a single bathroom. Martinez’s family of eight squeezed into one bedroom. “My mom and dad had to step over us kids to get to the door,” she recalls.
Today, the 46-year-old single mother of three has much more spacious accommodations: a 200-square-foot mobile home in a trailer park in Palo Alto, the heart of the technology industry and one of the most expensive cities in the country. She has lived there 13 years.
“Who wouldn’t wish to live in Palo Alto?” she asks, seated in her kitchen, which doubles as a living room, dining room, and storage space. Its thin walls are painted pale green, and there is a black refrigerator set against one wall, topped with a TV monitor. (The small quarters call for some creative design.) Kiwis and oranges rest on a tiny table pushed so close to the door that it almost touches.

Trailer Park Living in Techtopia
Most of Martinez’s neighbors live in two- or three-room trailers with their families. Many keep pets. Their homes come in an array of colors, and some feature tiny gardens blooming with flowers and hot peppers.
If Palo Alto, with its many Silicon Valley billionaires, seems like an unlikely location for trailer living, that’s because it is. The Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, tucked behind a Valero gas station on one of the city’s busiest streets, is home to just over 100 trailers and about 400 residents, including Martinez and her kids; her mother, sister, and brother; and his family. (Her mother lives with her; her sister and brother have separate mobile homes.) The residents of the park are mostly working-class immigrants who hold jobs in nearby restaurants, hair salons, and construction sites. They pay around $1,400 a month for rent and utilities in an area where the median home price is $3.2 million.

“For my family and me, it would be impossible to live anywhere else in Palo Alto,” says Martinez, who works as a banquet server at the nearby Four Seasons Hotel.
Buena Vista started out as a road-stop general store and motel in the 1920s. Over the years, it grew into one of the last sources of low-income housing in Palo Alto. In 2012 its then owners informed the residents of the mobile home park that they wanted to sell the property to an apartment complex developer. The plan included some restitution for residents, who would be evicted.
“I didn’t want the money,” says Don Roberto Munoz, one of Martinez’s neighbors. “I wanted my daughters to stay in the schools here.”
Martinez and others echoed the sentiment. So they banded together, aided by supporters from Palo Alto. In 2017 the Santa Clara County Housing Authority purchased the property for $40 million, allowing tenants to stay put.

Martinez’s sister Maria now serves as the president of Buena Vista’s residents association. “It is important to show that there isn’t just one way of thinking,” Maria says. Just a few miles west of her one-room trailer, the founder of Sun Microsystems is selling his four-story mansion. The price? $96.8 million.