The Rodney Report: Done and Undone

  • Ignoring White Supremacist Attacks
  • Paris Accords: Retreat and Recriminations
  • Hurricane Awareness In a Leadership Vacuum
  • Jobs: Now you see them. Now you don’t
  • Intent, Effect And Teen Sexting

Economic news, violence abroad and children’s safety at home held major focus in Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s most recent newsletter. Reading it, we sense some interesting subtexts -- and some noteworthy silences, as well.

Ignoring White Supremacist Attacks

Frelinghuysen once again expressed outrage and sympathy for overseas victims of Muslim terrorists, while remaining silent about the growing trend of white supremacist hate crimes in the U.S.

Even President Trump—who rarely condemns violence perpetrated by the racist groups who  fervently support him—belatedly Tweeted in honor of two Oregon men murdered by a white supremacist as they intervened in defense of fellow passengers, including a woman wearing a hijab. And despite Frelinghuysen’s ardent support of service men and women, he was silent on  the Maryland murder of Lt. Richard Collins III, a newly commissioned U.S. Army officer who was stabbed to death by a white supremacist. He also said nothing about the nooses left at the African American History Museum in Washington, DC last week.

It’s appropriate for Frelinghuysen to convey concern and condolences after the attack in Manchester England, and the suicide bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan, which claimed the lives of 90 civilians, including 11 Americans. The violence was horrific and stokes fears that a similar attack could happen here.

The Rodney Report has commended Frelinghuysen for speaking out against anti-Semitic  graffiti and threats against Jewish institutions in New Jersey, but we are angered by his silence on the well-documented rise in hate crimes against Muslims, Latinos and Black people since Trump’s election. Many of these involved perpetrators who explicitly referred to Trump during their attacks or invoked him or his rhetoric in racist graffiti.

We call upon Frelinghuysen to condemn attacks like these and foster a climate that can prevent them from happening in the 11th District.  Rather than supporting Muslim travel bans, he should meet with local Muslim groups and discuss concerns. Instead of describing undocumented immigrants as a threat, as he did in his newsletter this year, he should meet with local immigrants and immigrant-rights advocates and also engage with Black leaders and residents. And if he is already doing these things during his “listening tours” or other appearances, he should brief us in his newsletters.

Paris Accords: Retreat and Recriminations

A notable absence from this week’s newsletter was President Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate accords -- quite the glaring omission, in a state that was savaged by Superstorm Sandy.

Signed by representatives of 196 nations, the landmark agreement was a huge step forward. Its goal of limiting global warming to no more than two degrees Celsius is clearly ambitious, yet the agreement already has had a major impact. Green energy use is up worldwide. India, once wholly dependent on coal, is embracing solar power, and China is making a concerted push to change over to renewable energy. Many say there’s no going back to our polluted past, but Trump seems to think otherwise. His decision to renege on this commitment leaves the United States one of three countries outside of the agreement -- and one, Nicaragua, didn’t sign on because they felt the agreement didn’t go far enough. Which leaves the U.S. and Syria.

Since Trump’s  announcement, there’s been plenty of blowback. The governors of New York, California, Washington, Vermont and 5 other states representing 30% of the US GDP, have pledged to stay in the climate pact. So have 187 mayors (and counting). Michael Bloomberg has pledged to personally pay up to $15 million in U.N. funding that will be lost as a result of Trump’s move.

And all of this shouldn’t be too surprising. A recent poll found that 61 percent of the country wanted the U.S. to stay in the accords. It would seem that unlike Trump, most Americans share the views voiced by Tesla founder Elon Musk as he quit the president’s business advisory councils in the wake of the climate decision. “Climate change is real,” Musk said. “Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world.”

 Hurricane Awareness In a Leadership Vacuum

Frelinghuysen’s newsletter did mention climate if not climate change, in reminding us that 2017’s hurricane season has officially begun. We were also reminded that “it’s always wise to prepare yourself, your family and your home,” and that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is a helpful source of information and support. All very true!

The e-newsletter failed to mention that FEMA remains without a leader, nearly five months after Donald Trump took office. Also rudderless is NOAA, the agency that manages the government’s weather forecasting. A nomination is pending for FEMA (Brock Long, the former chief of Alabama’s emergency management agency). A nomination remains to be made for NOAA.

We do appreciate the reminder about hurricane season, congressman. But how about reminding the Trump team, as well?

 Jobs: Now you see them. Now you don’t.

Frelinghuysen’s e-newsletter delighted in a private-sector jobs report from HR software giant ADP, declaring 253,000 new payrolls were added in May, surpassing all expectations. He claimed at least partial credit for the surge, declaring employer confidence was up after “Congress repealed a raft of burdensome regulations this year.” Which burdens are not specified, but Congress did use the arcane Congressional Review Act at least 13 times this year to repeal protections that prevented energy companies from hiding payments to foreign governments, and stopped companies with federal contracts from sidestepping worker wage and safety laws without disclosing the violations. Perhaps exploiting already underpaid workers and bribing foreign governments does make employers bolder in hiring.

It’s also possible that Frelinghuysen’s staff compiled the newsletter before the release on  Friday of a more worrisome report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics which showed only 138,000 non-farm jobs created, drastically lower than expected and part of a monthly average --121,000 new jobs--that is a limping two-thirds of last year’s average. Wage growth is as anemic as it has been for years. It has now been over two years since its last little peak at 2.5%, and real wages have been plummeting relative to GDP for decades with no change in sight.

Yet another possibility: A slowdown in job growth might mean that we are closing in on full employment, so that not so many jobs are available.  Unemployment, measured as a percentage of those actively working or seeking work, is 4.3% -- the lowest it’s been since the turn of the millennium. But the size of our workforce is also diminished, suggesting millions have given up looking for work at all.  429,000 workers left the labor force just last month. At 62.7%,  we are seeing the lowest rates of worker participation since Jimmy Carter was elected president.  Is that really “full employment”?

Intent, Effect And Teen Sexting

A big chunk of Frelinghuysen’s newsletter dealt with Congress’ attention this week to a body of law aimed at safeguarding children from various forms of sexual predation.

Some of these measures enjoyed near-unanimous House support, like a bill providing better training for prosecutors to work with victims of sexual trafficking (the Put Trafficking Victims First Act, HR 2473). Others passed easily by voice vote, including bills providing better access to FBI background-check data for youth organizations, and a requirement that service providers must wait 180 days before notifying suspected child predators that their IP addresses have been shared with law enforcement. The House also easily voted to reauthorize key provisions of the 2006 Adam Walsh Act, such as the sex-offender registry.

Two measures passed with some criticisms: the Strengthening Children’s Safety Act (HR 1842) and the Global Child Protection Act (HR 1862), which broadened the scope and severity of penalties in child predation cases at home and abroad. Some critics were wary of a broad-brush approach in defining what constitutes predation and in deciding how to punish it.

This point became crucial in the anti-exploitation bill that sparked the most intense discussion: HR 1761, the Protecting Against Child Exploitation Act. This bill took aim at a recent federal court ruling in which a defendant in a child-pornography case went free after the court found that prosecutors failed to prove he specifically intended to produce porn before abusing the victim. HR 1761 eliminates the intent requirement in child-porn cases. As well, it broadens the grounds for mandatory minimum penalties.

But these provisions potentially cast a wider, messier net. There is no “Romeo and Juliet” provision to exempt consensual behavior between a couple that falls just on either side of the minor/adult divide – say, a 19-year-old and a 17-year-old. This is troubling in a world where cell phones and tablets are standard teenage issue, and as much as half of teenagers say they’ve experimented with sexting at one time or another, according to several surveys.

Under section 2251 of the legislation, teens prosecuted for taking and sending sexts would face mandatory prison sentences of at least 15 years, and sex-offender registration. Amendments to exempt such cases went down in defeat. This might well leave HR 1761 as a classic broad-brush approach that places great power in the hands of prosecutors determining the nuances in these consensual cases involving minors – cases that carry mandatory, severe penalties. For this reason the ACLU, among others, has come out in opposition to HR 1761.

By Jane J. Hunsecker, Liz Lynch, Lynn Halsey, Liz Jarit, Naomi Rand, and Elizabeth Juviler