True Colors

     In the autumn of his presidency, Barack Obama has shown his true colors.
     As the stasis of the last few years is transformed into an election train speeding into the last stop, doubts about his presidency have disappeared for a majority of Americans. And in the liberation of his exit, he is doing some liberating.
     To those in private prisons, those trapped in nursing homes, those confined in the shadow of illegal status, Obama has been finding ways to strip away the bottom layer of their servitude, the one most filled with a toxic residue of politics and money.
     So it was that the federal government began shutting down private prisons.
     One of our reporters has a close friend working in the financial department of one of the prison companies, who is revolted by the spectacle of his employer lobbying to keep sentences high, in order to increase profits.
     If you think about it, the private company is doing what, boiled down to just the bones, the slaveholder does, depriving a man of liberty in order to make money.
     So it was right that in August Obama took out that stain on our way of government, so that the public holds full responsibility for the shackles, in charge of putting them on and taking them off.
     When it comes to the vicissitudes of old age, my 89-year-old Aunt Carol understands them well.
     She lives in an apartment within a complex that provides meals, activities and a receptionist. Although her place is pleasant and open and she is free to come and go, she knows the lack of liberty that such institutions can impose.
     Aunt Carol and her late husband had placed his mother in a nursing home in Berkeley which made it very difficult to leave. “Once you go in, you can’t get out,” she said.
     To move her mother in law to a smaller, more pleasant home, where she could end her days, “We took her for a ride,” as my aunt put it. “We kidnapped her.”
     In another instance, a relative had fallen in the middle of the night, and, in pain, lay undiscovered and unattended until well into the next day, despite promises of a high level of care.
     It has been a widespread practice in nursing homes to insulate their impunity, to make all those who enter sign away their day in court, forcing them into a system of arbitration that favors the nursing homes.
     So it is right and good that last month Obama’s administration gave them back their day in court, allowing the old folks to make their keepers pay when they are mistreated. From now on, any nursing home that accepts federal funds cannot impose an arbitration clause on the residents.
     For those living and working in the law’s shadow, Obama tried to protect about 4 million immigrants by deferring their deportation. That regulatory change was blocked by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, with the ruling left in place by an evenly divided U.S. Supreme Court.
     But he has done the same thing through immigration policy. An immigration lawyer who handles matters for Courthouse News said immigration officials release those who are picked up without papers when they are established here, have jobs, have not committed any crimes and are not under a deportation order.
     If those conditions are met, deportation is deferred.
     Through day-to-day policy, Obama’s administration is accomplishing what the Republican majorities in Congress have opposed and the courts have blocked. He is literally freeing a large group of people. They can go about their lives.
     But Obama’s time is about up. Succession is nigh.
     It would have been laughable, in another time, to imagine a charlatan like Donald Trump knocking on the White House door. But so he is. Imagine, just imagine, how he would handle each of these shades of liberty.
     Would a Trump administration shut down private prisons. No.
     Would a Trump administration forbid arbitration clauses in nursing home contracts. No way.
     Would a Trump administration free illegals who are working hard and staying out of trouble. Heck no, that is his signature issue.
     The corporate Gulag would stay, the old folks would be without access to the justice system, and the shadow of illegal status would grow longer and darker.
     

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