Aug 15, 2018

Updated 06/18

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White Americans Are The Biggest Terror Threat


White Americans are the biggest terror threat in the United States, according to a study by the New America Foundation. The Washington-based research organization did a review of “terror” attacks on US soil since Sept. 11, 2001 and found that most of them were carried out by radical anti-government groups or white supremacists.

Almost twice as many people have died in attacks by right-wing groups in America than have died in attacks by Muslim extremists. Of the 26 attacks since 9/11 that the group defined as terror, 19 were carried out by non-Muslims. Yet there are no white Americans languishing inside the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. And there are no drones dropping bombs on gatherings of military-age males in the country's lawless border regions.

Attacks by right-wing groups get comparatively little coverage in the news media. Most people will struggle to remember the shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin that killed six people in 2012. A man who associated with neo-Nazi groups carried out that shooting. There was also the married couple in Las Vegas who walked into a pizza shop and murdered two police officers. They left a swastika on one of the bodies before killing a third person in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Such attacks are not limited to one part of the country. In 2011, two white supremacists went on a shooting spree in the Pacific Northwest, killing four people.

Terrorism is hard to define. But here is its basic meaning: ideological violence. In its study, the New America Foundation took a narrow view of what could be considered a terror attack. Most mass shootings, for instance, like Sandy Hook or the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting — both in 2012 — weren't included. Also not included was the killing of three Muslim students in North Carolina earlier this year. The shooter was a neighbor and had strong opinions about religion. But he also had strong opinions about parking spaces and a history of anger issues. So that shooting was left off the list.

The killing of nine people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina last week was included. The shooter made it clear that his motivation was an ideological belief that white people are superior to black people. The shooting has cast new light on the issue of right-wing terrorism in the United States. But since it can't really use Special Forces or Predator drones on US soil, it remains unclear how the government will respond.


If your ship is going to get boarded by pirates, it's best that it happens in the waters off Indonesia. Unlike their Somali counterparts, Indonesian pirates have shown little interest in kidnapping for ransom. And, writes GlobalPost Senior Correspondent Patrick Winn, a review of Southeast Asian piracy incidents in recent years reveals a theme: the pirates are seldom brutal and like to get in and get out as quickly as possible.

That's good because piracy in the waters off of Indonesia is growing more common, and the pirates themselves are getting bolder. They regularly board giant oil tankers, subdue crews with surprisingly little violence, shut down their communications, disguise the ships in creative ways, and siphon off millions of dollars' worth of gas. Once their pirate ships are laden, they are gone.

While Somali pirates are increasingly a thing of the past, Indonesian piracy is up an incredible 700 percent in the last five years. Indonesia is a good place to be a pirate: A third of the world's shipping traffic passes by the country. There are tens of thousands of little islands and endless small coastal communities among which to hide.

As long as the violence stays to a minimum, the increased piracy is unlikely to raise that many eyebrows. For the oil and gas industry, the lost product amounts to little more than “a rounding error,” according to experts.


Poland is one of the world's most religiously conservative countries. It's as Catholic as Catholic gets. So it's pretty unsurprising that its abortion laws are some of the strictest in Europe. Basically, you can't get an abortion in Poland unless you were raped or are near death. And even then a doctor can refuse to help you.

So desperate activists are trying something new. In a few days, a consortium of women's rights groups will convene in Germany, load a drone full of pills that can be used to safely induce abortions, fly it over the border to Poland and drop the pills to activists on the other side. Some would call that smuggling.

It's been dubbed the "Abortion Drone," which is a truly disturbing pairing of words. But the goal is noble: to deliver a much-needed service to Polish women, to raise awareness in Poland that safe abortion medication exists, and to pressure the Polish government to change its draconian laws. –PRI

Very Cool Way To Separate Egg Yolk

HIV Can’t Be Transmitted If You’re Undetectable

by Dan Avery

The Centers for Disease Control has finally admitted what activists and medical experts have been saying for years: People whose HIV loads are undetectable can’t transmit the virus.

It might seem like a given, but as HIV Plus reports, its the first time the august body has made the claim.

In a memo released Wednesday, National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, the CDC stated that “when [antiretroviral treatment] results in viral suppression, defined as less than 200 copies/ml or undetectable levels, it prevents sexual HIV transmission.”

“Across three different studies, including thousands of couples and many thousand acts of sex without a condom or pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP),” it continues, “no HIV transmissions to an HIV-negative partner were observed when the HIV-positive person was virally suppressed. This means that people who take ART daily as prescribed and achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load have effectively no risk of sexually transmitting the virus to an HIV-negative partner.”

Nearly half of all people with HIV in the U.S. are undetectable, thanks to receiving proper treatment with anti-viral medication.

Bruce Richman, executive director of and the Prevention Access Campaign, tells HIVPlus the statement can’t be overestimated. “The CDC’s new and unequivocal language is a result of [the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’] unprecedented review of transmission risk messaging across departments which will be rolling out core messaging in the coming weeks and months.”

On a less upbeat note, the memo also pointed out that gay and bisexual men are disproportionately affected by the virus, with more than 26,000 being diagnosed with HIV in 2015 alone. That’s two-thirds of all new cases in the U.S.

And Republican threats to the Affordable Care Act; Planned Parenthood; and funding for HIV awareness, treatment and education make our gains even more precarious.

“If Congress repeals the ACA without simultaneously replacing it with programs that ensure comprehensive health coverage for the same if not more individuals… people with HIV and others would lose access to the care and treatment that they rely on to remain healthy,” says Carl Schmid of the AIDS Institute. “People with HIV, who depend on a daily drug regimen, cannot risk losing access to their health coverage, not even for a single day.” -Newnownext

The Wall

by Vanda Felbab-Brown

The cheerful paintings of flowers on the tall metal posts on the Tijuana side of the border fence between the U.S. and Mexico belie the sadness of the Mexican families who have gathered there to exchange whispers, tears, and jokes with relatives on the San Diego side.

Many have been separated from their family members for years. Some were deported to Mexico after having lived in the United States for decades without authorization, leaving behind children, spouses, siblings, and parents. Others never left Mexico, but have made their way to the fence to see relatives in the United States. With its prison–like ambience and Orwellian name—Friendship Park—this site is one of the very few places where families separated by immigration rules can have even fleeting contact with their loved ones, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Elsewhere, the tall metal barrier is heavily patrolled.

So is to be the wall that President Donald Trump promises to build along the border. But no matter how tall and thick a wall will be, illicit flows will cross.

Undocumented workers and drugs will still find their way across any barrier the administration ends up building. And such a wall will be irrelevant to those people who become undocumented immigrants by overstaying their visas—who for many years have outnumbered those who become undocumented immigrants by crossing the U.S.–Mexico border.

Nor will the physical wall enhance U.S. security.

The border, and more broadly how the United States defines its relations with Mexico, directly affects the 12 million people who live within 100 miles of the border. In multiple and very significant ways that have not been acknowledged or understood it will also affect communities all across the United States as well as Mexico.


The wall comes with many costs, some obvious though hard to estimate, some unforeseen. The most obvious is the large financial outlay required to build it, in whatever form it eventually takes. Although during the election campaign candidate Trump claimed that the wall would cost only $12 billion, a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) internal report in February put the cost at $21.6 billion, but that may be a major underestimate.

The estimates vary so widely because of the lack of clarity about what the wall will actually consist of beyond the first meager Homeland Security specifications that it be either a solid concrete wall or a see–through structure, “physically imposing in height,” ideally 30 feet high but no less than 18 feet, sunk at least six feet into the ground to prevent tunneling under it; that it should not be scalable with even sophisticated climbing aids; and that it should withstand prolonged attacks with impact tools, cutting tools, and torches. But that description doesn’t begin to cover questions about the details of its physical structure. Then there are the legal fees required to seize land on which to build the wall. The Trump administration can use eminent domain to acquire the land but will still have to negotiate compensation and often face lawsuits. More than 90 such lawsuits in southern Texas alone are still open from the 2008 effort to build a fence there.

The Trump administration cannot simply seize remittances to Mexico to pay for the wall; doing so may increase flows of undocumented workers to the United States. Remittances provide many Mexicans with amenities they could never afford otherwise. But for Mexicans living in poverty—some 46.2 percent in 2015 according to the Mexican social research agency CONEVAL—the remittances are a veritable lifeline which can represent as much as 80 percent of their income. These families count on that money for the basics of life—food, clothing, health care, and education for their children.

I met the matron of one of those families in a lush but desperately poor mountain village in Guerrero. Rosa, a forceful woman who was initially suspicious, decided to confide in me. Her son had crossed into the United States eight years ago, she said. The remittances he sent allowed Rosa’s grandchildren to get medical treatment at the nearest clinic, some thirty miles away. Like Rosa, many people in the village had male relatives working illegally in the United States in order to help their families make ends meet. Sierra de Atoyac may be paradise for a birdwatcher (which I am), but Guerrero is one of Mexico’s poorest, most neglected, and crime and violence–ridden states. “Here you have few chances,” Rosa explained to me. “If you’re smart, like my son, you make it across the border to the U.S. If you’re not so smart, you join the narcos. If you’re stupid, but lucky, you join the [municipal] police. Otherwise, you’re stuck here farming or logging and starving.”

Any attempt to seize the remittances from such families would be devastating. Fluctuating between $20 billion and $25 billion annually during the past decade, remittances from the United States have amounted to about 3 percent of Mexico’s GDP, representing the third–largest source of foreign revenue after oil and tourism. The remittances enable human and economic development throughout the country, and this in turn reduces the incentives for further migration to the United States—precisely what Trump is aiming to do.


Why the DHS believes that a 30–foot tall wall cannot be scaled and a tunnel cannot be built deeper than six feet below ground is not clear.

Drug smugglers have been using tunnels to get drugs into the United States ever since Mexico’s most famous drug trafficker, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán of the Sinaloa Cartel, pioneered the method in 1989. And the sophistication of these tunnels has only grown over time. In April 2016, U.S. law enforcement officials discovered a drug tunnel that ran more than half a mile from Tijuana to San Diego and was equipped with ventilation vents, rails, and electricity. It is the longest such tunnel to be found so far, but one of 13 of great length and technological expertise discovered since 2006. Altogether, between 1990 and 2016, 224 tunnels have been unearthed at the U.S.–Mexico border.

Other smuggling methods increasingly include the use of drones and catapults as well as joint drainage systems between border towns that have wide tunnels or tubes through which people can crawl and drugs can be pulled. But even if the land border were to become much more secure, that would only intensify the trend toward smuggling goods as well as people via boats that sail far to the north, where they land on the California coast.

The number of tunnels unearthed at the U.S.–Mexico border, 1990–2016

Another thing to consider is that a barrier in the form of a wall is increasingly irrelevant to the drug trade as it is now practiced because most of the drugs smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico no longer arrive on the backs of those who cross illegally. Instead, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, most of the smuggled marijuana as well as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines comes through the 52 legal ports of entry on the border. These ports have to process literally millions of people, cars, trucks, and trains every week. Traffickers hide their illicit cargo in secret, state–of–the art compartments designed for cars, or under legal goods in trailer trucks. And they have learned many techniques for fooling the border patrol. Mike, a grizzled U.S. border official whom I interviewed in El Paso in 2013, shrugged: “The narcos sometimes tip us off, letting us find a car full of drugs while they send six other cars elsewhere. Such write–offs are part of their business expense. Other times the tipoffs are false. We search cars and cars, snarl up the traffic for hours on, and find nothing.”

Beyond the Sinaloa Cartel, 44 other significant criminal groups operate today in Mexico. The infighting within and among them has made Mexico one of the world’s most violent countries. In 2016 alone this violence claimed between 21,000 and 23,000 lives. Between 2007 and 2017, a staggering 177,000 people were murdered in Mexico, a number that could actually be much higher, as many bodies are buried in mass graves that are hidden and never found. Those Mexican border cities that are principal entry points of drugs into the Unites States have been particularly badly affected by the violence.

Take Ciudad Juárez, for example. Directly across the border from peaceful El Paso. Ciudad Juárez was likely the world’s most violent city when I was there in 2011 and it epitomizes what can happen during these drug wars. In 2011 the Sinaloa Cartel was battling the local Juárez Cartel, trying to take over the city’s smuggling routes to the United States, and causing a veritable bloodbath. Walking around the contested colonías at the time was like touring a cemetery: Residents would point out places where people were killed the day before, three days before, five weeks ago.

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Juan, a skinny 19–year–old whom I met there that year, told me that he was trying to get out of a local gang (the name of which he wouldn’t reveal). He had started working for the gang as a halcone (a lookout) when he was 15, he said. But now as the drug war raged in the city and the local gangs were pulled into the infighting between the big cartels, his friends in the gang were being asked to do much more than he wanted to do—to kill. Without any training, they were given assault weapons. Having no shooting skills, they just sprayed bullets in the vicinity of their assigned targets, hoping that at least some of the people they killed would be the ones they were supposed to kill, because if they didn’t succeed, they themselves might be murdered by those who had contracted them to do the job.

I met Juan through Valeria, whose NGO was trying to help gang members like Juan get on the straight and narrow. But it was tough going for her and her staff to make the case. As Juan had explained to me, a member who refused to do the bidding of the gangs could be killed for his failure to cooperate.

“And America does nothing to stop the weapons coming here!” Valeria exclaimed to me.

While President Trump accuses Mexico of exporting violent crime and drugs to the United States, many Mexican officials as well as people like Valeria, who are on the ground in the fight against the drug wars, complain of a tide of violence and corruption that flows in the opposite direction. Some 70 percent of the firearms seized in Mexico between 2009 and 2014 originated in the United States. Although amounting to over 73,000 guns, these seizures still likely represented only a fraction of the weapons smuggled from the United States. Moreover, billions of dollars per year are made in the illegal retail drug market in the United States and smuggled back to Mexico, where the cartels depend on this money for their basic operations. Sometimes, sophisticated money–laundering schemes, such as trade–based deals, are used; but large parts of the proceeds are smuggled as bulk cash hidden in secret compartments and among goods in the cars and trains daily crossing the border south to Mexico.

And of course it is the U.S. demand for drugs that fuels Mexican drug smuggling in the first place. Take, for example, the current heroin epidemic in the United States. It originated in the over–prescription of medical opiates to treat pain. The subsequent efforts to reduce the over–prescription of painkillers led those Americans who became dependent on them to resort to illegal heroin. That in turn stimulated a vast expansion of poppy cultivation in Mexico, particularly in Guerrero. In 2015, Mexico’s opium poppy cultivation reached perhaps 28,000 hectares, enough to distill about 70 tons of heroin (which is even more than the 24–50 tons estimated to be necessary to meet the U.S. demand).

Mexico’s large drug cartels, including El Chapo’s Sinaloa Cartel, which is estimated to supply between 40 and 60 percent of the cocaine and heroin sold on the streets in the United States, are the dominant wholesale suppliers of illegal drugs in the United States. For the retail trade, however, they usually recruit business partners among U.S. crime gangs. And thanks to the deterrence capacity of U.S. law enforcement, insofar as Mexican drug–trafficking groups do have in–country operations in the U.S., such as in wholesale supply, they have behaved strikingly peacefully and have not resorted to the vicious aggression and infighting that characterizes their business in Mexico. So the U.S. has been spared the drug–traffic–related explosions of violence that have ravaged so many of the drug–producing or smuggling areas of Mexico.

Both the George W. Bush administration and the Obama administration recognized the joint responsibility for drug trafficking between the United States and Mexico, an attitude that allowed for unprecedented collaborative efforts to fight crime and secure borders. This collaboration allowed U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agents to operate in Mexico and help their Mexican counterparts in intelligence development, training, vetting, establishment of police procedures and protocols, and interdiction operations. The collaboration also led to Mexico being far more willing than it ever had been before to patrol both its northern border with the United States and its southern border with Central America, as part of the effort to help apprehend undocumented workers trying to cross into the United States.

The Trump administration’s hostility to Mexico could jeopardize this progress. In retaliation for building the wall, for any efforts the U.S. might make to force Mexico to pay for the wall, or for the collapse of NAFTA, the Mexican government could, for example, give up on its efforts to secure its southern border or stop sharing counterterrorism intelligence with the United States. Yet Mexico’s cooperation is far more important for U.S. security than any wall.


Although President Trump has railed against the “carnage” of crime in the United States, the crime statistics, with few exceptions, tell a very different story.

In 2014, 14,249 people were murdered, the lowest homicide rate since 1991 when there were 24,703, and part of a pattern of steady decline in violent crime over that entire period. In 2015, however, murders in the U.S. did shoot up to 15,696. This increase was largely driven by three cities—Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. Baltimore and Chicago have decreasing populations, and all three have higher poverty and unemployment than the national average, high income and racial inequality, and troubled relations between residents and police—conditions conducive to a rise in violent crime. In 2016, homicides fell in Washington and Baltimore, but continued rising in Chicago.

There is no evidence, however, that undocumented residents accounted for either the rise in crime or even for a substantial number of the crimes, in Chicago or elsewhere. The vast majority of violent crimes, including murders, are committed by native–born Americans. Multiple criminological studies show that foreign–born individuals commit much lower levels of crime than do the native–born. In California, for example, where there is a large immigrant population, including of undocumented migrants, U.S.–born men were incarcerated at a rate 2.5 times higher than foreign–born men.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration is promoting a policing approach that insists on prioritizing hunting down undocumented workers, including by using regular police forces, and this kind of misguided law enforcement policy is spreading: In Texas, which has an estimated 1.5 million undocumented immigrants, Republican Governor Greg Abbott recently signed a law to punish sanctuary cities. Among the punishments are draconian measures (such as removal from office, fines, and up to one–year imprisonment) to be enacted against local police officials who do not embrace immigration enforcement. Abbott signed the law despite the fact that police chiefs from all five of Texas’s largest cities—Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, and Fort Worth—published a statement condemning it: “This legislation is bad for Texas and will make our communities more dangerous for all,” they wrote in their Dallas Morning News op–ed. They argued that immigration enforcement is a federal, not a state responsibility, and that the new law would widen a gap between police and immigrant communities, discouraging cooperation with police on serious crimes, and resulting in widespread underreporting of crimes perpetrated against immigrants. There is powerful and consistent evidence that if people begin to question the fairness, equity, and legitimacy of law enforcement and government institutions, then they stop reporting crime, and homicides increase.

Police chiefs in other parts of the country, from Los Angeles to Denver, have expressed similar concerns and also their dismay at having to devote their already overstrained resources to hunting down undocumented workers.

The Trump administration has broadened the Obama–era criteria for “expedited removal.” Under Obama any immigrant arrested within 100 miles of the border who had been in the country for less than 14 days—i.e., before he or she could establish roots in the United States—could be deported without due process. The result: In fiscal year 2016, 85 percent of all removals (forced) and returns (voluntary) were of noncitizens who met those criteria. Almost all (more than 90 percent) of the remaining 15 percent had been convicted of serious crimes.

Now, however, any undocumented person anywhere in the country who has been here for as long as two years can be removed. And although it claims it will focus on deporting immigrants who commit serious crimes, the Trump administration is gearing up for mass deportations of many of the 11.1 million undocumented residents in the U.S., by far the largest number of whom come from Mexico (6.2 million), Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Ecuador, and Colombia. To that end, it is vastly expanding the definition of what constitutes deportable crime, including fraud in any official matter, such as abuse of “any program related to the receipt of public benefits” or even using a fake Social Security number to pay U.S. taxes. The Trump administration is also reviving the highly controversial 287(g) program under which local law enforcement officials can be deputized to perform immigration duties and can inquire about a person’s immigration status during routine policing of matters as insignificant as jaywalking.

Many of the people being targeted have for decades lived lawful, safe, and productive lives here. About 60 percent of the undocumented have lived in the United States for at least a decade. A third of undocumented immigrants aged 15 and older have at least one child who is a U.S. citizen by birth. The ripping apart of such families has tragic consequences for those involved, as I have seen first–hand.

Antonio, whom I interviewed in Tijuana in 2013, had lived for many years in Las Vegas, where he worked in construction and his wife cleaned hotels. Having had no encounters with U.S. law enforcement, he risked going back to Mexico to visit his ailing mother in Sinaloa. But he got nabbed trying to sneak back into the U.S. After a legal ordeal, which included being handcuffed and shackled and a degrading stay in a U.S. detention facility, he was dumped in Tijuana, where I met him shortly after his arrival there. He dreaded being forever separated from his wife and their two little boys, who had been born seven and five years before. But Sinaloa is a poor, tough place to live, strongly under the sway of the narcos, and Antonio did not want his loved ones to sacrifice themselves in order to rejoin him. As Antonio choked back tears talking about how much he missed his family, I asked him whether they might travel to San Diego to speak with him across the bars of Friendship Park. But Antonio wasn’t sure how long he could stay in Tijuana. He was afraid he would be arrested again, this time in Mexico, because in order to please U.S. law enforcement officials by appearing diligent in combating crime, Tijuana’s police force had gotten into the habit of arresting, for the most minor of infractions, Mexicans and Central Americans deported from the United States. Sweeping homeless poor migrants and deportees off the streets made Tijuana’s city center appear peaceful, bustling, and clean again, after years of a cartel bloodbath. Mexican businesses were pleased by the orderly look of the city center, the U.S. was gratified by Mexico’s cooperation, and tourists were returning, with U.S. college students again partying and getting drunk in Tijuana’s cantinas and clubs. If harmless victims of U.S. deportation policies like Antonio had to pay the price for these benefits, so be it.


If immigrants are not responsible for any significant amount of crime in the United States and in fact are considerably less likely than native–born citizens to commit crime, then what about the other justification for President Trump’s vilification of immigrants, legal and illegal, and his determination to wall them out: Do immigrants steal U.S. jobs and suppress U.S. wages?

Life of a typical migrant farm worker

75% born in Mexico
53% undocumented
Schedule 14 hours a day
6 days a week
Pay $11k per year
No overtime pay
No benefits
Risks Heat stress, infections, poison, respiratory illness

There is little evidence to support such claims. According to a comprehensive National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine analysis, immigration does not significantly impact the overall employment levels of most native–born workers. The impact of immigrant labor on the wages of native–born workers is also low. Immigrant labor does have some negative effects on the employment and wages of native–born high school dropouts, however, and also on prior immigrants, because all three groups compete for low–skilled jobs and the newest immigrants are often willing to work for less than their competition. To a large extent, however, undocumented workers often work the unpleasant, back–breaking jobs that native–born workers are not willing to do. Sectors with large numbers of undocumented workers include agriculture, construction, manufacturing, hospitality services, and seafood processing. The fish–cutting industry, for example, is unable to recruit a sufficient number of legal workers and therefore is overwhelmingly dependent on an undocumented workforce. Skinning, deboning, and cutting fish is a smelly, slimy, grimy, chilly, monotonous, and exacting job. Many workers rapidly develop carpal tunnel syndrome. It can be a dangerous job, with machinery for cutting off fish heads and deboning knives everywhere frequently leading to amputated fingers. The risk of infections from cuts and the bloody water used to wash fish is also substantial. Over the past ten years, multiple exposés have revealed that both in the United States and abroad, workers in the fishing and seafood processing industries, often undocumented in other countries also, are subjected to forced labor conditions, and sometimes treated like slaves.

While paying more than jobs she could obtain in Honduras, the fish cutting job was hard for 38–year–old Marta Escoto, profiled by Robin Shulman in a 2007 article in The Washington Post. But she put up with it for the sake of her two young children, one of them a four–year–old daughter who couldn’t walk and suffered from a gastrointestinal illness that prevented her from absorbing enough nutrition. Yet the fear of raids to which the Massachusetts fish–cutting industry was subjected a decade ago, in an earlier wave of anti–immigrant fervor, drove her to seek a job as a seamstress in a Massachusetts factory producing uniforms for U.S. soldiers. But misfortune struck there, too. Like the seafood processing plants, the New Bedford factory was raided by U.S. immigration officers; and although Marta had no criminal record, she was arrested and rapidly flown to a detention facility in Texas while her children were left alone in a day care center. Unlike many other immigrants swept up in those raids, Marta was ultimately lucky: She had a sister living in Massachusetts who could retrieve her children. And as a result of large political outcry in Massachusetts following those raids, with Senators John F. Kerry and Edward M. Kennedy strongly speaking out against them, Marta was released and could reunite with her two small children. But she remained without documents authorizing her to work and stay in the United States and would again be subject to deportation in the future.

Immigrant workers are actually having a net positive effect on the economy. Because of a native–born population that is both declining in numbers and increasing in age, the U.S. needs its immigrant workers. The portion of foreign–born now accounts for about 16 percent of the labor force, with immigrants and their children accounting for the vast majority of current and future workforce growth in the United States, If the number of immigrants to the United States was reduced—by deportation or barriers to further immigration—so that foreign–born represented only about 10 percent of the population, the number of working–age Americans in the coming decades would remain essentially static at the current number of 175 million. If, however, the proportion of foreign–born remains at the current level, then the number of working–age residents in the U.S. will increase by about 30 million in the next 50 years. We need these workers not just to fill jobs but to increase productivity, which has diminished sharply. We also need them because the number of the elderly drawing expensive benefits like Medicare and Social Security—the costs of which are paid for by workers’ taxes—is growing substantially. Nearly 44 million people aged 65 or older currently draw Social Security; in 2050 that number is estimated to rise to 86 million. Even undocumented workers support Social Security: Since at least 1.8 million were working with fake Social Security cards in 2010 in order to get employment but were mostly unable to draw the benefits, they contributed $13 billion that year into the retirement trust fund, and took out only $1 billion.

If immigrants are not stealing U.S. jobs and suppressing wages to any significant extent, is NAFTA doing so? Sal Moceri, a 61–year–old Ford worker in Michigan, fervently believes so. He has not lost his job himself, but he saw his co–workers and neighbors lose jobs and sees new workers accepting lower wages for which he would not settle. Although he calls himself a “lifelong Democrat,” he voted for Trump in 2016 because of Trump’s promise to renegotiate or end NAFTA. In a CNNMoney interview with Heather Long, he blamed NAFTA for the job losses and decreases in wages around him, disbelieving the claims of economists that automation, not NAFTA, is the source of the job losses in U.S. manufacturing. He loves automation and hates NAFTA.

But contrary to Trump’s claim and Moceri’s passionate belief, NAFTA has not siphoned off a large number of U.S. jobs. It did force some U.S. workers to find other kinds of work, but the net number of jobs that was lost is relatively small, with estimates varying between 116,400 and 851,700, out of 146,135,000 jobs in the U.S. economy. Countering these losses is the fact that the bilateral trade fostered by NAFTA has had far–reaching positive effects on the economy.

The trade agreement eliminated tariffs on half of the industrial goods exported to Mexico from the United States (tariffs which before NAFTA averaged 10 percent), and eliminated other Mexican protectionist measures as well, allowing, for example, the export of corn from the United States to Mexico.

NAFTA has enabled the development of joint production lines between the United States and Mexico and allows the U.S. to more cheaply import components used for manufacturing in the United States. Without this kind of co–operation, many jobs would be lost, including jobs provided by cars imported from Mexico. In 2016, for example, the United States imported 1.6 million cars from Mexico—but about 40 percent of the value of their components was produced in the United States. Leaving NAFTA could jeopardize 31,000 jobs in the automotive industry in the United States alone. But now that it is threatened with the collapse or renegotiation of NAFTA, Mexico has already begun actively exploring new trade partnerships with Europe and China.

The big picture: Mexico is the third largest U.S. trade partner after China and Canada, and the third–largest supplier of U.S. imports. Some 79 percent of Mexico’s total exports in 2013 went to the United States. Yes, the United States had a $64.3 billion deficit with Mexico in 2016, but trade with Mexico is a two–way street. The United States exports more to Mexico than to any other country except Canada, its other NAFTA partner. Moreover, the half trillion dollars in goods and services traded between Mexico and the United States each year since NAFTA was enacted over 23 years ago has resulted in millions of jobs for workers in both countries. According to a Woodrow Wilson Center study, nearly five million U.S. jobs now depend on trade with Mexico.

Trade, investment, joint production, and travel across the U.S.–Mexico border remain a way of life for border communities, including those in the United States. Disrupting them will create substantial economic costs for both countries. And a significantly weakened Mexican economy will also exacerbate Mexico’s severe criminal violence and encourage violence–driven immigration to the United States.


If erected, Trump’s wall will not be the first significant barrier to be built on the border. That distinction goes to the 700–mile fence the U.S. began to put up—over protests from those on both sides of the border—some years ago.

These people include 26 federally–recognized Native American Nations in the U.S. and eight Indigenous Peoples in Mexico. The border on which the wall is to be built cuts through their tribal homelands and separates tribal members from their relatives and their sacred sites, while also sundering them from the natural environment which is crucial not just to their livelihoods but to their cultural and religious identity. In recognition of this problem, the U.S. Congress passed an act in 1983 allowing free travel across the borders within their homelands to one of the Native American Nations tribes. But when the fence was built, by waiving statutes like the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1994, Congress compromised that freedom of travel and made it hard for indigenous people to visit their family members and sacred sites.

Trump’s wall will, of course, exacerbate the damage to these Native American communities, causing great pain and anger among the inhabitants. “If someone came into your house and built a wall in your living room, tell me, how would you feel about that?” asked Verlon Jose, vice chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation, in an interview by The New York Times’ Fernanda Santos in February 2017. Stretching out his arms to embrace the saguaro desert around him, he said, “This is our home.” Many in his tribe want to resist the construction of the wall. Others fear that if the border barrier is weaker on the tribal land, drug smuggling will be funneled there as happened before with the fence, harming and ensnarling the community.

As Native American communities, conservation biologists, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service all have highlighted, the wall will also have significant environmental costs in areas that host some of the greatest biodiversity in North America. Deriving its name from the isolated mountain ranges whose 10,000–foot peaks thrust into the skies, the “Sky Islands” region spanning southeastern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico, and northwestern Mexico, for example, features a staggering array of flora and fauna. Its precious, but fragile, biodiversity is due to the unusual convergence of four major ecoregions: the southern terminus of the temperate Rocky Mountains; the eastern extent of the low–elevation Sonoran Desert; the northern edge of the subtropical Sierra Madre Occidental; and the western terminus of the higher–elevation Chihuahuan Desert. Among the endangered species that will be affected by the wall are the jaguar, Sonoran pronghorn, Chiricahua leopard frog, lesser long–nose bat, Cactus ferruginous pygmy–owl, Mexican gray wolf, black–tailed prairie dog, jaguarondi, ocelot, and American bison. Other negatively–affected species will include desert tortoise, black bear, desert mule deer, and a variety of snakes. Even species that can fly, such as Rufous hummingbirds and Swainson and Gray hawks could be harmed, and vital insect pollinators that migrate across the border could be burnt up by the lights necessary to illuminate the wall.

Altogether, more than 100 species of animals that occur along the U.S.–Mexico border, in the Sky Islands area as well as in the Big Bend National Park in Texas and in the Rio Grande Valley, are endangered or threatened. But just as the DHS waived numerous cultural protection statutes to build the fence, it also overrode many crucial environmental laws—including the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970, the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972, and the Clean Water Act of 1972. The Trump administration wants to bulldoze through any remaining environmental considerations.

The administration’s approach threatens years of binational environmental border cooperation that has protected not only many wild species, but also agriculture on both sides of the border. Take the boll weevil, a beetle that flies between Mexico and the United States and devastates cotton crops. In the late 1890s, the boll weevil nearly wiped out the U.S. cotton industry. Since then, the United States and Mexico have spent decades trying to eradicate the pest and almost succeeded. But the wall may so sour U.S.–Mexico environmental and security cooperation that Mexico may simply give up on eradication efforts. This will cause little damage to those in Mexico, since there is little cotton cultivation along that part of the Mexican border, but it will result in significant damage to U.S. farmers.

A poisoned U.S.–Mexican relationship could also prevent the renegotiation of water sharing agreements that are critical to the environment as well as to water and food security, and to farming. For example, the 1970 Boundary Treaty between the United States and Mexico specifies that officials from both the U.S. and Mexico must agree if either side wants to build any structure that could affect the flow of the Rio Grande or its flood waters, water that is vital to livestock and agriculture along the border. The fence was built despite Mexico’s objections to it, and because its steel slats become clogged with debris during the rainy season, it has caused floods affecting cities and previously protected areas on both sides of the border, resulting in millions of dollars in damages.

It wasn’t just Mexico that didn’t want that fence. U.S. farmers and businessmen along the Texas border in the Rio Grande valley opposed it, too, since it blocks their access to the river water and also augments the severity of floods. Now the wall is to be brought to flood plain areas in Texas where water issues precisely like these had prevented the construction of the fence before.

Meanwhile, manufacturing, agriculture, hydraulic fracking, energy production, and ecosystems on both sides of the border depend on equitable and effective water sharing from the Rio Grande and the Colorado River, with both sides vulnerable to water scarcities. Over the decades there have been many challenges to the joint agreements governing water usage, and both Mexico and the U.S. have at times considered themselves the aggrieved parties. But in general, U.S.–Mexico cooperation over both the Rio Grande and Colorado rivers has been exceptional by international standards and has been hugely beneficial to both partners to the various treaties. That kind of co–operation is now at risk.

If in retaliation for the Trump administration’s vitriolic, anti–Mexican language and policies, Mexico decided not live up to its side of the water bargain, U.S. farmers and others along the Rio Grande would be under severe threat of losing their livelihoods. One of them is Dale Murden in Monte Alto, who on his 20,000–acre farm cultivates sugarcane, grapefruit, cotton, citrus, and grain. Named in January 2017 the Citrus King of Texas, the former Texas Farm Bureau state director has dedicated his life to agriculture in southern Texas, relying on a Latino workforce. Yet he has memories of devastating water shortages in 2011 and 2013, when because of a severe drought Mexico could not send its allocation of the Rio Conches to the United States and 30 percent of his land became unproductive, with many crops dying. At that time he hoped that the U.S. State Department could persuade Mexico to release some water, even as Mexican farmers were also facing immense water shortages and devastation. U.S. diplomacy did work, no doubt helped by the rain that replenished Mexico’s tributaries of the Rio Grande. Without the rain, Mexico would not have been able to pay back its accumulated water debt. But without collaborative U.S.–Mexico diplomacy and an atmosphere of a closer–than–ever U.S.–Mexico cooperation, Mexico still could have failed to deliver the water despite the rain. That positive spirit of cooperation also produced one of the world’s most enlightened, environmentally–sensitive, and water–use–savvy version of a water treaty, the so–called Minute 319 of the 1944 Colorado River U.S.–Mexico water agreement. Unique in its recognition of the Colorado River delta as a water user, the update committed the United States to sending a so–called “pulse flow” to that ecosystem, thus helping to restore those unique wetlands. The United States also agreed to pay $18 million for water conservation in Mexico. In turn, Mexico delivered 124,000 acre–feet of Mexican water to Lake Mead. It was a win–win–win: for U.S. farmers, Mexican farmers, and ecosystems. But those were the good days of the U.S.–Mexico relationship, before the Trump administration. A new update to the treaty is under negotiation—once again a vital agreement and a lifeline for some 40 million people on both sides of the border that could fall prey to the Trump administration’s approach to Mexico.

Yet this is a moment when maintaining cooperation is crucial because climate–change–increased evaporation rates, invasive plant infestation, and greater demands for water around the border and deep into U.S. and Mexican territories will only put further pressure on water use and increase the likelihood of severe scarcity.

Rather than a line of separation, the border should be conceived of as a membrane, connecting the tissues of communities on both sides, enabling mutually beneficial trade, manufacturing, ecosystem improvements, and security, while enhancing inter–cultural exchanges.

In 1971, When First Lady Pat Nixon attended the inauguration of Friendship Park—that tragic place that allows separated families only the most limited amount of contact—she said, “I hope there won’t be a fence here too long.” She supported two–way positive exchanges between the United States and Mexico, not barriers. In fact, for her visit, she had the fence in Friendship Park torn down. Unfortunately, it’s still there, bigger, taller, and harder than when she visited, and with the wall about to get much worse yet. –Brookings

Border Wall: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

Reporting Agencies Have Been Lying

by Gillian B. White

A CFPB investigation concluded that Transunion and Equifax deceived Americans about the reports they provided and the fees they charged.

In personal finance, practically everything can turn on one’s credit score. It’s both an indicator of one’s financial past, and the key to accessing necessities—without insane costs—in the future. But on Tuesday, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced that two of the three major credit-reporting agencies responsible for doling out those scores—Equifax and Transunion—have been deceiving and taking advantage of Americans. The Bureau ordered the agencies to pay more than $23 million in fines and restitution.  

In their investigation, the Bureau found that the two agencies had been misrepresenting the scores provided to consumers, telling them that the score reports they received were the same reports that lenders and businesses received, when, in fact, they were not. The investigation also found problems with the way the agencies advertised their products, using promotions that suggested that their credit reports were either free or cost only $1. According to the CFPB the agencies did not properly disclose that after a trial of seven to 30 days, individuals would be enrolled in a full-price subscription, which could total $16 or more per month. The Bureau also found Equifax to be in violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which states that the agencies must provide one free report every 12 months made available at a central site. Before viewing their free report, consumers were forced to view advertisements for Equifax, which is prohibited by law.

That these credit agencies would abuse their power to mislead Americans attempting to take a more active role in monitoring their financial health is not only a violation of trust, it is dangerous.

These agencies—along with a third, Experian—make up the nation’s credit-reporting industry, and, as such, they wield a significant and unique influence over America's’ financial health. Many lenders use only the data from these providers to determine whether someone can get a loan and how much interests he will pay. “Credit scores are central to a consumer’s financial life and people deserve honest and accurate information about them,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray in a statement. Credit-reporting agencies keep track of an individual’s overall debt picture, how much credit they have access to, and how frequently payments are late, among other things. They then assign a score ranging from 300 to 850, which is consulted before one rents an apartment, gets a loan, opens a credit card, buys a car, or even gets a cellphone.*

Much of an individual’s ability to improve his or her finances is predicated on his or her ability to maintain a high credit score. To do that, he or she needs to be able to see accurate credit reports that reflect the information that lenders see when they assess them. The actions of Equifax and Transunion prevented that. And that’s especially troubling because the American credit system is a reinforcing cycle. Good credit often comes from having enough money to pay bills off in a timely manner, which raises one’s score and provides access to more credit at better interest rates. That can amount to tens of thousands of dollars in savings on mortgages, business loans, and credit- card interest. And having good credit means that a person’s score can sustain the decline that comes with lender inquiries for new credit cards or loans, which then gives them access to more credit—and raises their score once again. For Americans with bad credit and little income, the system works in exactly the opposite manner, and leaves people relegated to pricey and predatory options for basic financial needs. In 2010, the CFPB found that 26 million Americans had no credit history, and another 19 million had such limited credit history that they were considered unscorable. These groups were primarily made up of low-income and minority households.

Credit scores and the agencies that provide them have long been a point of contention among consumer advocates, not only because the system further marginalizes those who are already struggling, but also because it offers very limited opportunities to improve one’s financial standing. Even obtaining, understanding, and correcting official credit reports can be tricky, time-consuming, and, in some cases, costly.  As a result, consumer advocates have called for greater accessibility and pushed  alternative credit indicators. That two major providers of score data have been intentionally deceiving Americans confirms what those advocates have been saying all along: This is a deeply dysfunctional system that is hurting the Americans who can least afford it. –The Atlantic

Please Stop Doing This At Restaurants

by Mark Sansom

Tips or no tips, serving in a restaurant can be a pretty thankless task at times. In just one night, staff can serve hundreds of people, many of them hangry, some of them just plain rude. They’ll clock up the equivalent of a half-marathon between the tables and the kitchen, all the while dealing with fed-up coworkers, a backlog of orders, and anything else the night throws their way.

To find out what your overworked waiters really think about you, we spoke to restaurant staff at some of the best London eateries. Read on to find out what their biggest pet peeves are while they’re on the clock. Hopefully you won’t see some of your “helpful” behaviors in the responses.

Good manners cost nothing.

“Speak to your waiter or anybody serving you like you would to somebody on the street or someone you are acquainted with,” says Matt Varona at Carousel London. “Just because they are serving you doesn’t make them your servant.”

It’s basics: be nice to someone and they’ll be nice back. Just because you’re paying a restaurant for a meal, it doesn’t mean the waiter is in your employ. Would you snap your fingers at your hairstylist to get a quicker haircut? We’d hope not.

Remember, we’re shattered.

“It can be a seriously exhausting industry to work in and makes such a difference to the staff when you take notice of them,” says Dan Wilson, co-founder and head chef at Dandy in Stoke Newington, London. “At Dandy we try to treat diners as friends and most of the time that’s what we get back. It makes for a happy and relaxed environment.”

Split shifts, doubles, back-to-backs, all-dayers, 15 days without a break – these phrases are all in a waiter’s lexicon. If it’s a busy service, there’s every chance a waiter’s working day can consist purely of 10-yard sprints for eight long hours. They will be tired. They might be frazzled. A bit of courtesy goes a long way.

Don’t tweak our recipes for us.

“Ask for the plate to come as the chef recommends rather than making numerous changes to the dish,” says Daniel Pimentel, director of food and beverage at Mondrian London. “Obviously we’ll account for dietary requirements, but we’d almost rather you ordered off menu than trying to change the dishes we’ve created.”

The chef and his team have spent weeks, even months perfecting a particular dish. If you don’t like one particular element on it, don’t order it. By the time you’ve swapped out aubergine for carrots and potato gratin for fries, not only have you marked yourself out as a philistine, but you’re creating a completely different dish.

The flavor profiles don’t pair and any element of ingredient harmony has been lost. Unless, of course, you’re in a diner that mainly serves grease. Set Breakfast #5 can happily switch fried eggs for scrambled.

Don’t ask for more salt.

“Some restaurants ban salt and pepper and to an extent I agree with this as any chef worth his position should season a dish properly,” says Varona. “However, if the guest is hell bent on raising his or her blood pressure, then who are we to stop them.”

People’s palates react differently to seasoning – courtesy of a misspent youth on the smokes, perhaps.

If you don’t see salt on the table, taste the food first before you ask for extra. At least then you’ll be able to explain to your waiter (and the chef, should he come blustering out of the kitchen) which elements on the plate require an extra dredge of the white stuff.

Stop assuming I’m an out-of-work actor.

Even if everyone had a college degree, someone would still have to serve tables. Heck, many graduates do now. The video below shows that many servers respect their jobs—and that you should, too:

DO give feed back.

“It’s great when people come up to the pass to let us know how much they’ve enjoyed the food,” says Yohini Nandakumar, founder of Sparrow. “Our head chef, Terry, still keeps a scrapbook with bills left on the table. One of the customers wrote ‘best strawberry dessert ever’. Gestures like that are lovely and don’t go unnoticed.”

Whatever line of work you’re in, it’s nice to receive praise when you’ve done a good job. Whether that means complimenting the waiter on his or her performance, or scrawling a note to the chef to tell him about something you enjoyed, it won’t go unappreciated.

Chefs, in particular, are distanced from how their food is received. If you feel bold enough, ask to go and see the chef to comment on his food. And if you can’t stand the heat, you know what you can do.

Check, please!

“Personally, I think we should update the signing mime and replace with a pin number punching mime, or a contactless waft of a card mime, and I’m working on an Apple Pay mime,” says Richard Temple, at The Vincent. 
“Whatever you do, it has to be mimed, even if your server is standing right in front of you. Feel free to do it from a distance – they won’t mind.”

The international language of asking for the bill isn’t rude; it’s simply the most effective way to communicate what you’re after.

Staff will actually be frustrated if you call them over to ask for it. Just make eye contact, do the sign language thing and they will deliver it as soon as they can – they probably want you to leave as they’ll want the table back after all.

A little knowledge goes a long way.

“The best ways to ensure you get great service is to show a bit of personality, display some knowledge about the ingredients and, most importantly, smile,” says Gilly Gubernari at London’s Radio Alice Pizzeria. “Also, believe what the waiter tells you. Customers often feel as if we’re trying to cheat them in some capacity. Mistakes can happen but we always try to explain why.”

If you know that a certain ingredient is in season, or that the area you’re in is known for a particular type of produce, mention it to your waiter.

It will inevitably instigate a conversation about where the restaurant sources its dishes from, which staff are always keen to talk about. If it’s relayed to the kitchen staff that “table three knows what they’re talking about”, there’s a good chance chef will take extra care over your plate, too.

Find out our names.

“A good waiter would always introduce themselves at the beginning of a meal, so you should really try and remember,” says Pimentel. “If not, it does no harm at all to ask them their name and give them yours.”

You’re going to be in their company for an evening, so why not get to know them? Serving staff will go above and beyond for customers that they like, whether that’s an extra second inverting the bottle while free pouring your drink, or picking up your food first from the pass.

Don’t stack plates.

“Sit back and relax once you’ve finished eating,” says Richard Temple at The Vincent in London’s Hackney. “If you can see that the waiter or waitress is really struggling to reach a plate, then moving it closer is a nice gesture, but stacking actually causes us more hassle. Let us clean the table while you carry on the conversations. Take a sip of your drink and maybe give us a friendly nod.”

Let the guys get on with their job. You might think you’re helping by loading up your plates, but it messes with their system. It’s a lot easier to carry a number of plates by stacking them up your arm than it is to lift a pile with your fingers. Leave them to it.

Keep it simple, stupid.

“Splitting the bill can be a pain, though it depends how you split it,” admits Varona. “If you split it evenly among four people then that is absolutely fine. If you are a table which divides up a bottle of water depending on how many sips you had then yes, this is very annoying. Especially if you expect the waiter to do the divvying up.”

The likelihood is that your waiter isn’t studying for a degree in pure mathematics and, as such, wouldn’t be able to work out what you owe for the eighth of the pizza you had on top of 2.3 handfuls of fries.

Either work out who’s paying what before the card machine comes out, or download an app that does it for you, like Hello Casa. Alternatively, stop inviting that friend who seems to be AWOL when it’s their turn to buy a round.

The tipping debate.

“Tipping is always tricky,” says Varona. “I guess we haven’t got it as bad our American cousins, but it would be nice to live in a world where it didn’t need to happen. You wouldn’t tip the nurse after a visit to the hospital would you?”

For Brits, the act of tipping always seems to be painful: why can’t there be hard-and-fast rules? Hospitality workers rely hugely on the wage bump tips provide, so if you’ve received good service, it’s good to show that with a gratuity.

Ten per cent reads as a “Thanks. You’ve done an acceptable job”; 15 per cent could be considered “Top-drawer service. I’ll be back”; and 20 per cent is construed as, “You’ve made my night. I’d like you to bring me food and drink every day of the week.”

Make eyes.

“I find it a huge lack of respect when someone refuses to look me in the eye when ordering,” says Varona. “How hard can it be?”

You’re not Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, so stop staring at your feet. Unless you’re looking over the bartender’s shoulder to admire his back bar, make eye contact with the guy who’s about to pour you a drink or take your order. You never know, there might be an extra measure in it for you.

If you don’t ask…

“Customers can be often get away with being much more demanding than they are,” says Nandakumar. “If you want a starter as a main, or a smaller portion of a main then you should just ask. The key is to do it with a smile and as nicely as you can; once you have your waiter on your side anything is possible.”

The only stupid question in restaurants is the one you didn’t ask. They might not be able to accommodate what you’re after, but you’ll never know if you don’t try.

Consider what you’re asking for and how much time or hassle it will be for the person doing it. As a general rule of thumb, the more you’re paying for your meal, the more likely the restaurant is to bend over backwards to keep you happy.

Step out of your comfort zone.

“I like customers to trust their server. When they let the waiter guide them and are happy to try something different to what they’d normally choose, in my experience, they really enjoy it,” says Gubernari. “I’d love people to try more products. They’re normally scared by the idea of having something different.”

It’s all too easy to stick to what you know when going out for dinner. But surely the whole point of eating in a restaurant is to try food you don’t usually have at home?

We’re not saying tear up the rule book completely, but if something is a restaurant’s specialty, it’s worth giving it a go. On a very base level, as they’re shifting so much of it, it’s likely to be the most fresh. Ask your waiter to guide you around the menu and explain each dish in more detail and get a clue as to its genesis.

Don’t snap your fingers.

“Never, ever click your fingers at a waiter,” says Pimentel. “You’d be surprised how common this still is. Surely people realise how rude it is!”

Basically, don’t be a douchebag.

Debunking Myths About Estrangement

by Catherine Saint Louis

New research challenges the deeply held notion that family relationships can’t be dissolved and suggests that estrangement is not all that uncommon.

It’s the classic image of the holidays: Parents, siblings and their children gather around the family table to feast and catch up on one another’s lives. But it doesn’t always work that way.

After years of discontent, some adults choose to stop talking to their parents or returning home for family gatherings, and parents may disapprove of a child so intensely that he or she is no longer welcome home.

In the past five years, a clearer picture of estrangement has been emerging as more researchers have turned their attention to this kind of family rupture. Their findings challenge the deeply held notion that family relationships can’t be dissolved and suggest that estrangement is not all that uncommon.

Broadly speaking, estrangement is defined as one or more relatives intentionally choosing to end contact because of an ongoing negative relationship. (Relatives who go long stretches without a phone call because of external circumstances like a military deployment or incarceration don’t fit the bill.)

New research challenges the deeply held notion that family relationships can’t be dissolved and suggests that estrangement is not all that uncommon.

“To the extent you are actively trying to distance yourself and maintain that distance, that makes you estranged,” said Kristina Scharp, an assistant professor of communication studies at Utah State University in Logan.

Last month, Lucy Blake, a lecturer at Edge Hill University in England, published a systematic review of 51 articles about estrangement in the Journal of Family Theory & Review. This body of literature, Dr. Blake wrote, gives family scholars an opportunity to “understand family relationships as they are, rather than how they could or should be.”

Estrangement is widely misunderstood, but as more and more people share their experiences publicly, some misconceptions are being overturned. Assuming that every relationship between a parent and child will last a lifetime is as simplistic as assuming every couple will never split up.

Myth: Estrangement Happens Suddenly

It’s usually a long, drawn-out process rather than a single blowout. A parent and child’s relationship erodes over time, not overnight.

Kylie Agllias, a social worker in Australia who wrote a 2016 book called “Family Estrangement,” has found that estrangement “occurs across years and decades. All the hurt and betrayals, all the things that accumulate, undermine a person’s sense of trust.”

For a study published in June, Dr. Scharp spoke to 52 adult children and found they distanced themselves from their parents in various ways over time.

Some adult children, for example, moved away. Others no longer made an effort to fulfill expectations of the daughter-son role, such as a 48-year-old woman who, after 33 years with no contact with her father, declined to visit him in the hospital or to attend his funeral.

Still others chose to limit conversations with a family member to superficial small talk or reduce the amount of contact. One 21-year-old man described how he called and texted his mother, but not his father, after leaving for college. “They still live together so obviously he noticed and that bothered him,” he said.

Estrangement is a “continual process,” Dr. Scharp said. “In our culture, there’s a ton of guilt around not forgiving your family,” she explained. So “achieving distance is hard, but maintaining distance is harder.”

A complete rupture can be years in the making. It’s been three years since Nikolaus Maack, 47, has had contact with most of his family. But he started distancing himself from his parents and siblings a decade before. “I was staying away,” said Mr. Maack, a civil servant in Ottawa. His father’s temper had always kept him on edge, he said, and he felt that holiday meals were particularly uncomfortable and demeaning. Eventually, Mr. Maack stopped attending Christmas festivities altogether.

Reached by email, Mr. Maack’s father declined to be interviewed but insulted Mr. Maack and said he no longer considered him a son.

Myth: Estrangement Is Rare

In 2014, 8 percent of roughly 2,000 British adults said that they had cut off a family member, which translates to more than five million people, according to a nationally representative survey commissioned by Stand Alone, a charity that supports estranged people.

And 19 percent of respondents reported that another relative or they themselves were no longer in contact with family.

Myth: There’s a Clear Reason People Become Estranged

Multiple factors appear to come into play. In a 2015 study, Dr. Agllias interviewed 25 Australian parents, each of whom had been cut off by at least one child. The reasons for the rupture fell into three main categories. In some cases, the son or daughter chose between the parent and someone or something else, such as a partner. In others, the adult child was punishing the parent for “perceived wrongdoing” or a difference in values. Most parents also flagged additional ongoing stressors like domestic violence, divorce and failing health.

A woman once insisted to Dr. Agllias that she had not spoken to her son and his wife in seven years because she asked her daughter-in-law to bring a specific dessert to a family gathering, and the daughter-in-law had deliberately brought the same one she had baked. The mother-in-law saw it as “a symbol of total disrespect,” Dr. Agllias said, yet she revealed other factors that had undermined their relationship, including that she felt her son’s wife sometimes kept the grandchildren from her and didn’t properly take care of her son. The dessert, Dr. Agllias said, became a symbol of the “cumulative disrespect” she felt.

Myth: Estrangement Happens on a Whim

In a study published in the journal Australian Social Work, 26 adults reported being estranged from parents for three main reasons: abuse (everything from belittling to physical or sexual abuse), betrayal (keeping secrets or sabotaging them) and poor parenting (being overly critical, shaming children or making them scapegoats). The three were not mutually exclusive, and often overlapped, said Dr. Agllias, a lecturer at the University of Newcastle in Australia.

Most of the participants said that their estrangements followed childhoods in which they had already had poor connections with parents who were physically or emotionally unavailable.

For instance, Mr. Maack resented that he was routinely left in charge of his two younger siblings, so much so that he decided never to have children of his own.

After years of growing apart, the final straw was his wedding day.

In 2014, he and his longtime girlfriend decided to marry at City Hall for practical reasons: They realized she wouldn’t be able to inherit his pension, otherwise. He didn’t invite his family, in part because it was an informal gathering. But also because a brother had recently married in a traditional ceremony, during which his father had backed out of giving his speech. He worried that his father might do something similarly disruptive. He did not want to invite him and said he didn’t think anyone else would come without him.

“I agonized over inviting them or not, for a long time,” he said, “but in the end, decided, ‘I can’t have them there.’”

His family found out he was married through Facebook. One brother told him he was hurt he wasn’t even told. And his sister and father made it clear they would no longer talk to him, according to Mr. Maack and his wife. Two other relatives confirmed their account.

These days, one brother still talks to Mr. Maack, mostly through Facebook messenger, but they don’t talk about the others. –NYT

Dad’s Breakfast Pizza

Recipe by: Holly Chadwick

"This recipe can be very versatile depending on your preferences. My whole family used to gather at 10 a.m. every Sunday morning at Mom and Dad's for breakfast. Dad made this up one Sunday, and it has been a favorite of ours ever since =)"


cooking spray
1 pound bacon, chopped
2 (12 ounce) cans refrigerated biscuits (10 biscuits per can
1 teaspoon butter
12 eggs
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheesesalt and ground black pepper to taste

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly spray a 9x12-inch baking sheet with cooking spray.
  • Cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat, stirring often, until the bacon is browned and crisp, about 10 minutes. Remove bacon pieces with a slotted spoon, and drain on paper towels.
  • Open up the cans of biscuits, separate the biscuits, and arrange onto the prepared baking sheet so they touch. Press the biscuit dough down to seal them together into a crust that covers the baking sheet.
  • Bake in the preheated oven until the crust is slightly cooked and very lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Do not overbake. Remove from oven.
  • Melt the butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until the foam disappears. Beat the eggs in a bowl, and pour the eggs into the hot skillet. Use a spatula to lift and gently stir the eggs just until set, but still moist, 3 to 4 minutes. Arrange the lightly scrambled eggs on the semi-baked biscuit crust. Top with the cooked bacon, onion, and green pepper; spread the Cheddar cheese all over the pizza. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.
  • Return to oven, and bake on the top rack until the cheese is melted and bubbling and has begun to brown, about 10 more minutes.