Political murder is on holiday and drinking Guinness

We at Politicalmurder.com are taking a break for a few weeks. We’re off to Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and England, where we’ll raise a glass or two to historic buildings, beautiful green scenery, and some traditional music in pubs. All while trying to avoid stories about Donald Trump.

So you will see no new posts at this site. But I’ll try to update the Political murder of the day every day (unless we’re having too much fun or we’re out of Wi-Fi range), so look over to the column on the right to see who died on this day in history, then click the link above.

If you missed some posts from the past, click above on Complete list of posts. You can revisit past opinions on the still-relevant news of the day, such as How media can hit back on Trump’s ‘alternative facts’. I’m always surprised to see what posts continue to be popular, like How Trump turned 2016 into George Orwell’s 1984. Another post that always gets a lot of traffic is Black Lives Matter offers 10-point plan to curb police killing.

Posts about Trump are high on the list, especially those making fun of him. There’s It’s YUGE. Spoof videos mock Trump at #everysecondcounts.eu, which describes videos from comedy writers worldwide. There are several pieces looking at Russian influence on Trump, such as Donald Trump and Russia: Like Watergate and Iran-Contra — only worse, and Is Steve Bannon Donald Trump’s Rasputin? Da! And many still are amazed that Trump has outsourced so much of his job to his son-in-law: Jared Kushner’s endless job list is just another Trump dump.

If you’re looking for something on the non-political side, especially as a new season is starting, try Itching for a House of Cards fix? Chew on Hollywood’s best political villains.

Finally, don’t forget about reading The Political Blogging Murder, a funny mystery set at a Netroots Nation-type of convention, available at this site for a mere $2.99. You can read an excerpt here or by clicking the excerpt link above. Or check out how to order the book here or at the Now available link above.

So, go ahead. Read. We’ll be back with a new post in June. And in the meantime: Sláinte!

Trump visit to Israel could mean land mines ahead

Things may not be so chummy when Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week.

No doubt Donald Trump hoped the Israel leg of his first foreign trip as president was going to be a piece of cake. Instead, the whole thing might crumble more quickly than poorly baked mandelbread.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump bragged that he would be Israel’s best friend. He would move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He loved Israeli settlements on the West Bank and chose David Friedman, an outspoken supporter of those settlements, as the U.S. ambassador to Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made no secret of his disdain for President Barack Obama during his two terms and no doubt thought he had a more friendly ally in No. 45. But the meetings between the two leaders are bound to be testy for several reasons:

  • Trump, displaying his usual lack of understanding of foreign affairs during a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, proclaimed that Middle East peace “is not as difficult as people have thought.”
  • A diplomatic member of Team Trump used very undiplomatic language to say that Netanyahu would not be welcome when Trump visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The Western Wall is “not your territory. It’s part of the West Bank,” the unnamed U.S. official said. The whole report was played on Israeli television, and the statement about the West Bank was described as being met with “astonishment.”
  • Netanyahu had to order his Cabinet ministers to attend a welcoming ceremony for Trump after he found out that most were refusing to attend. The White House demanded changes in what originally was planned as an elaborate ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport because it would be “too hot.”
  • The classified intelligence information about the Islamic State that Trump bragged about and passed on to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at an Oval Office meeting turns out to have come from Israel. Remember that Russia is a clear ally of Iran, one of Israel’s sworn enemies. Way to throw an ally under the intelligence bus, Donnie. Why should any of our allies ever trust us again?

How many ways can you say “unpresidential”?

Trump’s see-sawing statements on Israel have other countries’ diplomats scratching their heads, or at least shaking them. First he wanted to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem; now he wants it to stay in Tel Aviv and is set to announce that during this trip. First he was for a two-state solution, then he wasn’t sure, and now Middle East peace should be no problem. First he was for settlements, then against them. Now, who knows?

No serving U.S. president has ever visited the Western Wall because of the U.S. policy that Jerusalem’s status is part of the ongoing negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. (Some have gone before or after they’ve held office.) Trump is going, but his team is botching that, too. According to a report from The Times of Israel:

The US delegation reportedly rejected the request for Netanyahu to join the visit, saying it would be “a private visit” by the president and that he would go on his own. The Israelis then asked whether a TV crew providing live coverage of the Trump visit could at least continue to film here there.

At this point, the TV report said, a senior American official rudely responded: “What are you talking about? It’s none of your business. It’s not even part of your responsibility. It’s not your territory. It’s part of the West Bank.”

These comments led to vociferous protests by the Israelis, with the discussion descending into shouting, and the Israelis reminding the US team that the Western Wall and adjacent area “is territory holy to Israel.” …

The TV report quoted Israeli officials involved in the discussions with the Trump preparatory team describing them as “boorish” and “arrogant.” One was quoted saying of the presidential visit, “It’s the Trump. Everybody else is a mere extra, including Netanyahu.”

“Boorish” and “arrogant.” Not exactly effective diplomacy at its best.

Meanwhile, Israeli intelligence officials remain furious at Trump’s leaking of intelligence on ISIS to Russians, even as Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman still publicly reiterated the “deep, significant” ties between the two countries. But the worst part is that Israelis knew that something like this was bound to happen, given Trump’s lack of comprehension about the need for secrecy and his total lack of impulse control. A revelation like this—that Trump had shared the ISIS intelligence with Russian officials—was something Israel had feared since January, said an Israeli intelligence officer, according to a report from BuzzFeed.

“We have an arrangement with America which is unique to the world of intelligence sharing. We do not have this relationship with any other country,” said the officer, who spoke to BuzzFeed News on condition of anonymity as he was not granted permission to speak to the press.

“There is a special understanding of security cooperation between our countries,” they said. “To know that this intelligence is shared with others, without our prior knowledge? That is, for us, our worst fears confirmed.”

The progressive Israeli publication Haaretz ran a piece with a wrap-up of what to expect during Trump’s trip to Israel, which will last two days and is scheduled to include visits to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Trump is due to meet with both Netanyahu and Abbas.

Haaretz’ initial take was, “The messiah isn’t coming.”

In the beginning, Donald Trump was the Israeli right’s messiah, writes Chemi Shalev. He will move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, he will allow us to settle and annex, he will throw the two-state solution into the dustbin of history. Compared to such redemption, what difference does it make if Trump nurtures extremism, winks at anti-Semitism, or turns a blind eye to racism?

Then Trump morphed into the left’s surprise savior. He will put Benjamin Netanyahu in his place, he will keep the embassy in Tel Aviv, he “understands,” as [former Israeli Foreign Minister] Tzipi Livni said, “how an agreement with the Palestinians is important to Israel.” Compared to such a godsend, what difference does it make if Trump torments democracy, cozies up to dictators, or erodes the liberal values that are supposedly the left’s guiding lights?

It is clear that tension with the Trump administration over letting the Russians have Israeli intelligence is the last thing that the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs at the moment. … With the carelessness that he is known for, Trump is now getting himself entangled inside that sensitive triad of intelligence, the administration, and the media.

A story in The Atlantic described Trump’s lack of coherency about Israel (not that he’s coherent about anything else, mind you):

Trump’s blithe faith in his ability to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems rooted in the same essential ignorance about issues that has manifested itself elsewhere. …

Trump spoke to The New York Times, where he was characteristically vague. Did he support a two-state solution? “Well, I think a lot of people are saying it’s going to result in a two-state solution. What I would love to do is to, a lot of people are saying that. I’m not saying anything,” he said. …

[Trump] first refused to take an official stance on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, reversing longstanding American policy of opposing new settlements. That cheered the Israeli right but rattled the international community, Palestinians, and liberal Israelis. Two weeks later, he went even further, saying he had no particular commitment to the two-state solution. “I’m looking at two states and one state, I like the one that both parties like,” the president said at a White House press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “I can live with either one.” …

“There is no reason there’s not peace between Israel and the Palestinians — none whatsoever.” That statement begs not to be taken seriously, and Trump almost certainly did not mean it seriously. He’s aware that there are reasons why there isn’t peace. But is he aware of what those reasons are? … Trump has almost never spoken in any detail about the barriers to peace. Instead, he continues to discuss it as though it’s a real-estate transaction—just a matter of getting the right things for each side.

And in some ways, it is a real-estate transaction, except that such an understanding undersells the complexity of the problem, which, as mentioned, has bedeviled generations of American diplomats.

“There is no reason there’s not peace between Israel and the Palestinians — none whatsoever,” Trump said. That’s why this easy-peasy problem is on son-in-law Jared Kushner’s lengthy to-do list. “If you can’t produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can,” Trump said of Kushner. Yeah, right.

Maybe all of these predictions will come to naught. Perhaps Trump will be applauded wildly and greeted with waving palm branches. But why would we expect a better outcome from Trump’s trip to Israel than we would expect of his travels anywhere else? Or from his behavior at home?

Travels with Trump might not be the feel-good story administration officials were hoping for to escape the growing mountains of incrimination in the U.S. over how Trump has handled all the aspects of the Russia investigation. Yet they have no one to blame but themselves.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on May 21, 2017.

Comey firing shows Trump presidency is exhausting — but we keep persisting


Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Mark Warner look as tired as I feel about Donald Trump’s continuous outrageous acts.

Not a day goes by when our heads don’t spin. Not a week passes without some new outrage, some new attempt at distraction, some new blatant disregard for common decency, or some new breezy way to demonstrate that, sorry, rules just don’t apply to Donald Trump’s administration.

Every day, it’s something else. The House passes a draconian version of Trumpcare, the American Health Care Act, to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act that is demonstrably worse than the first version that failed, just so the Republicans’ overgrown child in the White House can claim a “win.” The sister of son-in-law Jared Kushner shamelessly uses Trump’s image to try to lure wealthy Chinese entrepreneurs into the family’s real estate deals by offering U.S. investor visas, all but promising the right to immigrate with the EB-5 (the so-called “golden visa”) for investors willing to plunk down $500,000.

There are the almost-weekly golfing visits to Trump-owned properties, which he profits from, at taxpayer expense—the $35,000 for golf cart rental charged to the Secret Service is merely chump change. There are the daily laughable claims by White House press secretary Sean Spicer trying to twist his boss’s words into something intelligible and plausible (when Spicey’s not hiding in the bushes, that is).

Recently, it was the firing of FBI Director James Comey, which came:

  • Just one day after former acting Attorney General Sally Yates handed GOP senators their asses in open Senate subcommittee hearing testimony about how the White House pretty much ignored her multiple warnings about former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
  • More than three months after Yates herself was fired.
  • One week after Comey testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that yes, Team Trump  was under investigation for its campaign’s possible ties to Russia (when Comey wasn’t making wild and inaccurate claims about thousands of emails being forwarded to Anthony Weiner’s laptop, that is).
  • Days after Comey asked for more resources for the Trump-Russia investigation.

But remember: Comey was fired because of the atrocities he committed as FBI director when investigating Hillary Clinton’s email server, a word choice that Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff called “embarrassing.”

How many times can we exclaim, “Holy shit”?

There’s no shortage of instances and issues that cause our jaws to drop and our blood to boil:

  • A reporter in West Virginia was arrested for asking a question of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. Price and presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway (why’d they let her out again, anyway?) were in West Virginia to find out more about opioid addiction, despite the fact that opioid addiction is supposed to be on Jared Kushner’s to-do list, and Trump is proposing to slash the budgets of programs that combat such addiction, such as the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Veteran reporter Dan Heyman, clearly wearing his press credentials, tried to ask Price a question about whether domestic violence would be considered a pre-existing condition under Trumpcare, and he was arrested for “willful disruption of state government processes” and released on $5,000 bail. In other words, he was arrested for doing his job. Price “didn’t say anything,” Heyman said later in a news conference. “So I persisted.”
  • Trump met with two Russian officials behind closed doors at the White House: Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak, Russian ambassador to the U.S. The meeting was closed to U.S. press but not to Russian media. As one tweeter asked: “Was it a good idea to let a Russian gov photographer & all their equipment into the Oval Office?” And the whole friendly meeting turned out to be Vladimir Putin’s idea, anyway, so Trump was only too happy to comply.
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, no doubt inspired by Trump’s “tough talk” on immigration, are going way beyond acceptable boundaries by picking up and deporting Dreamers who were brought to the U.S. as young children, adults with minor convictions, and adults with no convictions at all.
  • In a moment of sanity, the U.S. Senate narrowly defeated overturning an Obama-era rule on methane waste prevention in the Bureau of Land Management. But the Interior Department said, “To hell with them,” and apparently is deciding to rescind the rule anyway.
  • And let’s not even get started on the EPA.

All the while, the media fight not to become numb to the outrage factor, picking and choosing the most egregious examples of Trumpism and letting lesser ones slide by, thus normalizing Trump’s behavior. Too many members of the American public stand by, bewildered as to what might be “fake news” and what’s real. “This White House has mainstreamed lying” to a degree that’s just staggering to watch, Republican strategist and MSNBC regular Steve Schmidt told Brian Williams on The 11th Hour.

The never-ending drip, drip, drip of Trump-rage has turned into a torrent. It has the potential to drain us. Luckily, there are growing numbers of people willing to spend the time and energy needed to keep fighting the insanity.

Attendance at town hall meetings has exploded (even when Republican members of Congress avoid them), and activism groups are giving online advice on how to find them and what to do when you’re there. The Women’s March, the Day Without Immigrants protest, the International Women’s Day work outage, the Tax Day March, the March for Science, the People’s Climate March, and the Labor March on May 1 (I’m sure I missed some) were all huge successes, and it’s easy to do online searches to find new protests wherever you are. Groups such as Indivisible, with nearly 6,000 local chapters, and Resistance offer calendars of actions to take to stay involved. The Nation has a list of the growing number of anti-Trump groups.

Local and national races are drawing big numbers of new Democratic candidates, including a record number of women. In the two years of the last election cycle, Emily’s List was contacted by 920 women running for office. Since Election Day 2016, that number has grown to 12,000.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown discussed the reasons for the change in a Q&A in USA Today. She said the new movement was all thanks to Donald Trump.

There was a level of complacency in the progressive community, and that level of complacency is gone. People have realized. I’ve got to get out there. I’ve got to march in the streets. I’ve got to register people to vote. I’ve got to help support organizations that elect progressive candidates, and I need to run for office myself.

We have daily urges to bang our heads on the nearest desk and yell “WTF?” We shake our heads and wonder if any of it is worth it. But we better keep yelling to get people to vote in 2018.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on May 14, 2017.

Trump tells Comey ‘You’re fired’: The presidency is not a reality show

Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey felt all too familiar.

The office of the planet’s most powerful position — the leader of the free world — is not like being the host of Celebrity Apprentice.

Donald Trump, a man who is drawn to the limelight like an eclipse of moths is drawn to a blazing inferno, loved to deliver his signature line of “You’re fired!” with a simpering smirk to the latest unlucky schlub to feel his disdain. And he thinks he can continue to follow the same script in the Oval Office.

There is overwhelming evidence of Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election, including hacking into the servers of the Democratic National Committee, which tilted the election in Donald Trump’s favor. There is an open and active FBI investigation into the question of whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. Exactly what that collusion was, how high into the campaign it went, and who was involved in that collusion is all part of that investigation. Leading that investigation was FBI Director James Comey.

Trump has now told Comey, “You’re fired.”

No matter what the White House now says — the laughable claim that the reason for Comey’s firing was that he mishandled the probe of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as Secretary of State — it’s clear to anyone not living under a rock that Trump just fired the guy who is investigating him for his possible ties to Russia. And it’s not the first time Trump has fired someone investigating his ties to Russia and the Trump administration.

Early on, Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned the Trump White House that National Security Adviser Mike Flynn had been compromised because of his ties to Russia. She was getting too close to the truth about Trump and Russia. She was fired, even if the “official” reason was that she refused to back Trump’s executive order of the Muslim travel ban.

Team Trump asked for the resignations of U.S. attorneys general, which is the normal routine in a new administration. But the U.S. attorney general for the southern district of New York, Preet Bharara, was investigating HHS Secretary Tom Price for possible illegal stock trading. He, too, was told, “You’re fired.”

This is not the way things are supposed to work in a democracy.

Donald Trump has always acted as if the rules of law and of common decency don’t apply to him. He refuses to release his taxes. He flaunts the Constitution’s emoluments clause, profiting from investment deals with foreign governments. He charges American taxpayers when Secret Service agents are forced to use equipment and services (such as $35,000 for golf cart rental) at Trump-owned resorts. He gives unprecedented amounts of power to his daughter and son-in-law, even if their “advisory” positions are unpaid. But Ivanka Trump’s chief of staff is certainly paid.

But in this case, it’s not going to work — it’s just going to delay the investigation. Subpoenas have been issued to associates of Flynn in a grand jury looking into the Trump-Russia situation. Senators investigating the Trump-Russia ties are now seeking “any information related to President Donald Trump, his top officials, and his campaign aides” from the Treasury Department’s criminal investigation division.

CNN legal expert James Toobin called Comey’s firing “a grotesque abuse of power.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the firing was part of a cover-up. Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona said he had spent several hours trying to find an acceptable rationale for the timing of Comey’s firing, and “I just can’t do it.” Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont said the move was “nothing short of Nixonian.”

And speaking of Nixon: On Oct, 20, 1973, an embattled President Richard Nixon ordered the firing of Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, who was investigating the Nixon White House over the Watergate break-in and subsequent cover-up. Both Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus refused and resigned rather than carry out the order. Nixon’s order and the aftermath became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre” and was the beginning of the end for the Nixon presidency. Almost overnight, already dropping public perception and opinion of Nixon turned from doubts to calls for impeachment. Nixon finally resigned the following August after the House of Representatives was starting impeachment proceedings.

All Trump and his family of grifters seem to care about now is to see how much they can profit off the presidency. So don’t count on a resignation coming from Team Trump anytime soon.

Democrats and even some Republicans (Flake, Sen. John McCain) now say that the only way out of this mess is to finally appoint an independent commission or a special prosecutor to continue the investigation into Trump’s Russia ties. I’ll save them all a lot of time by suggesting the perfect name:

Sally Yates.

Chicago betting on Obama center to bring hope to South Side

Residents of Woodlawn learn about plans for the Obama Presidential Center, due to be finished in 2021.

Chicago’s South Side, an area with a reputation for rampant gun violence, decaying neighborhoods, and high unemployment, will soon get a $500 million shot in the arm in the form of the Obama Presidential Center.

The new center in Jackson Park is being described as a “monument to the future.” The 500-acre Jackson Park is between the neighborhoods of Woodlawn and Hyde Park, where the Obamas own a home. It sits on the edge of the University of Chicago and the Museum of Science and Industry, the lone building left from the 1893 World’s Fair, the Columbian Exposition.

“Hopefully, it’s a hub where all of us can see a brighter future for the South Side,” former President Barack Obama said at the unveiling of the center’s design.

The city is counting on the new center to jump-start nearby neighborhoods. The new center, with its museum, forum, and library surrounding a public plaza, is predicted to create some 1,200 construction jobs and up to 300 permanent jobs.

But that’s only the beginning. The Obama Foundation says the center will “strengthen the economic climate of the community by bringing hundreds of thousands of visitors to the South Side every year, creating new jobs and opportunities on the South Side, and revitalizing historic Jackson Park.” The University of Chicago predicts that the surrounding neighborhood could add about 2,000 permanent jobs overall and that the center could mean an annual revenue boost of $220 million for the city. The university projects that about 800,000 visitors will visit the library and museum annually.

The first jobs installment will come in the form of a $2 million donation from the Obamas themselves to summer jobs programs in Chicago that aim to provide apprenticeship job training and summer work for at-risk youth.

In all, the new center will be an investment in the community, not just a set of buildings.

As Chicago Tribune columnist Dahleen Glanton wrote:

The Obama Presidential Center, unlike some other presidential libraries, would not be a tribute to the accomplishments of the first African-American in the White House; it would be an institution for training the Barack Obamas and Michelle Obamas of the future.

Of course, the museum will house things like Michelle Obama’s ball gowns and artifacts from his presidency. These are the kinds of things that will draw visitors from around the world. But Obama made it clear that the mission and the bulk of the programs will benefit young people like those who live nearby.

It will be a center where the community feels at home, a place where families can come with their children and spend an afternoon on the playground. It will have an auditorium for concerts, lectures and performances.

The neighborhoods surrounding the site of the new center have a storied history. The populace of Woodlawn changed from being predominantly white to being predominantly African-American by the early 1960s (playwright Lorraine Hansberry used her family’s experience of moving into Woodlawn as the basis for Raisin in the Sun). Other notable residents have included poet Gwendolyn Brooks, sports legends Joe Louis and Jesse Owens, and jazz great Herbie Hancock.

In the past, Woodlawn also was home to some of Chicago’s worst street gangs, such as the Black P. Stone Nation, which became the notorious El Rukns. Its overall crime rate is still 78 percent higher than the national average. But Woodlawn has seen some revitalization in recent years; its unemployment rate of 17.3 percent is actually lower than some surrounding neighborhoods, which are 25 percent and higher.

There are great hopes that the new center will offer change. The Obamas want the center to be a living thing, not a building that “kids are being dragged to for a field trip,” the former president said. “What we wanted was something that was alive and that was a hub for activity for the community and for the city and for the country.”

A model of the planned Obama Presidential Center, with plenty of green space.

Here are just some of the amenities and projects being proposed by the 44th president for the new center and its surrounding campus:

  • A recording studio.
  • A movie studio.
  • A sledding hill, something that Michelle Obama always wanted but apparently never experienced on Chicago’s flat landscape.
  • A live concert venue.
  • A griller’s paradise. Jackson Park is already hugely popular for cookouts, and Obama was adamant that he didn’t want that to change. (Try to find a parking place in Jackson Park on a summer weekend — it’s nearly impossible.)
  • A collection of Michelle Obama’s fashions. (“Let’s face it, you all want to see Michelle’s dresses,” Obama joked at the unveiling of the center’s design.)
  • Paddleboats, bike trails, and food trucks along the 39-acre Jackson Park Lagoon to the east.
  • A new branch of the Chicago Public Library.
  • A new field house. (“We will have basketball,” Obama promised.)
  • Expansive community gardens. There will be rooftop gardens on the Obama library, a public garden, and more. Woodlawn is already a growing area of urban gardens run as expanding businesses.

Another boost for Jackson Park will be a revamped public golf course now in the planning stages from Tiger Woods.

The center also will be a model of efficient energy use. As the center’s website says:

The Center will be a real-life symbol of the President and Mrs. Obama’s commitment to sustainability. The project will, at a minimum, be LEED v4 Platinum, and we are exploring the possibility to surpass those qualifications.

Instead of containing the actual papers from the eight years of the Obama administration, the Obama Library will have the material in digitized form. The actual papers will be kept by the National Archives at another location.

Tribune columnist Glanton says there’s a lot riding on Obama’s promises, but she predicts success.

This is a community that’s heard lots of promises over the decades. And they have seen just as many promises broken. Not everyone here benefited from the change Obama promised eight years ago. Many African-Americans, in particular, are still waiting for the prosperity they thought a black president would bring.

But this time, Obama isn’t making political promises. He’s giving back to the community that he says has been responsible for the best things that have happened in his life. …

These are the people who stood behind Obama before anybody could even pronounce his name. Now the entire city will benefit when he pays the South Side back in full.

“It’s about more than buildings or jobs or contracts,” Obama said. “It’s about hope. It’s about belief. It’s about a story that our kids tell themselves.”

Originally posted on Daily Kos on May 7, 2017.

Obamacare kept people out of bankruptcy. Trumpcare wouldn’t.

As House Republicans continue to scramble for votes to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, new findings from Consumer Reports show one of the little-heralded but important outcomes of the law — a lot fewer people went bankrupt because they couldn’t pay medical bills. Fifty percent fewer, in fact.

Because the ACA removed lifetime benefit limits and pre-existing coverage bans, many who otherwise might have gone bankrupt trying to pay ever-increasing and ever-piling up medical bills were able to avoid bankruptcy.

As the story reports, pinpointing the exact causes of bankruptcy is difficult, and an improved economy and change in bankruptcy laws made it less likely and harder for people to file for personal bankruptcy. But a 2014 study from Daniel Austin, a bankruptcy attorney who taught at the Northeastern University School of Law, gave some in-depth details of why people still declared bankruptcy.

Austin and his team selected a nationwide group of 100 bankruptcy filers meant to represent a cross-section of the U.S. population, studied their paperwork, then followed up with a survey asking filers, basically, “Why?”

His team’s research found that medical debt is the single largest factor in personal bankruptcy. First, Austin analyzed the paperwork of individual case files, which suggested that medical bills were a factor in 18 percent of filings. But when he directly asked the same filers, in a survey, the number was even higher, with 25 percent citing medical bills as a factor in their decision to file bankruptcy.

Austin and his team also isolated 100 bankruptcy filers from Massachusetts, whose residents have been covered by an ACA-like plan since 2006. He found that people in Massachusetts filing bankruptcy had less than half the amount of medical debt as those in other parts of the country.

“The average medical debt in Massachusetts in 2013 was relatively low at just $3,041 (6 percent of total unsecured debt) compared to $8,594 (20 percent of total unsecured debt) nationwide,” Austin writes in his 2014 study, portions of which were published in the Maine Law Review.

“Only about 9 percent of Massachusetts debtors felt their bankruptcy filing was a result of medical bills,” Austin explains. “This compares to 25 percent for debtors from [other] jurisdictions.” Austin’s research found that comprehensive medical coverage in Massachusetts had all but eliminated medical bills as a cause for bankruptcy.

In addition, an annual survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that the number of people who reported having trouble paying medical bills dropped from 56.5 percent in 2011 to 43.8 percent in 2016.

Here are some stories from bankruptcy lawyers in the Consumer Reports story:

“It’s absolutely remarkable,” says Jim Molleur, a Maine-based bankruptcy attorney with 20 years of experience. “We’re not getting people with big medical bills, chronically sick people who would hit those lifetime caps or be denied because of pre-existing conditions. They seemed to disappear almost overnight once ACA kicked in.” …

For more than 20 years [Susan Grossberg, a Springfield, Mass., attorney] has helped consumers push the financial reset button when debt triggered by divorce, unemployment, or a costly illness or medical episode became too much to handle. “Medical debt can get really big really quickly,” Grossberg says. “When you’re in the emergency room they’re not checking your credit score while they’re caring for you.”

With the advent of the ACA — and before that, expanded state healthcare in Massachusetts — she says fewer clients with large medical debts walked through her door.

As Republicans in Congress continue to push members to pass the American Health Care Act, or Trumpcare, a majority of people — 55 percent — surveyed by Consumer Reports in January 2017 said they worried that they wouldn’t be able to afford health insurance under the GOP-proposed system. As it currently stands, the law offers states waivers on requirements that insurers must offer coverage that covers “essential health benefits.” Even as Republicans try to sweeten the bill with billions of dollars to fund so-called “high-risk pools” in those states, many remain skeptical that insurance premiums for high-risk pool insurance would be affordable.

More than 2,000 people answered an online questionnaire from the consumer testing group about their experiences with the ACA. Here’s what Katie Weber of Seattle, who was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a fast-growing cancerous brain tumor, reported. Her coverage first came from her teaching job at AmeriCorps, then her parents’ policy, and finally through Apple Health, Washington state’s version of Medicaid.

Weber says she now spends more time discussing treatment options and less time worrying how she’ll pay for MRIs and drugs. These are covered in full under her Apple Health policy.

“Cancer is really expensive,” she says. “My insurance saved my life.”

National monuments are public lands, not profit centers (UPDATE)


The Native American cliff dwelling that is part of Bears Ears National Monument needs protecting, not drilling.

Going back on yet another campaign statement, Donald Trump has signed an executive order seeking a review of the lands designated as national monuments in the last 20 years.

Let’s be clear: This isn’t about public lands, or listening to a majority of Western voters. This is about cementing his Republican base, sucking up to certain Republican lawmakers, and distracting from the investigation into his Russian ties. It could allow mining, drilling, and development on public lands. It’s also another way of trying to stick a thumb into President Barack Obama’s eye.

Trump’s latest order, one of a flurry of last-minute signings to make his presidency look significant before the 100-day mark, seeks a review of the Antiquities Act, a law signed by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 that authorizes presidents to declare federal lands as national monuments. According to the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association:

The Antiquities Act of 1906 is one of our nation’s most important conservation tools. Used to safeguard and preserve federal lands and cultural and historical sites for all Americans to enjoy, 16 presidents have designated 157 national monuments under this authority.

”One of our nation’s most important conservation tools.” The bad news is that it’s a tool that some Republicans want to undo. The good news is that they probably won’t be able to—at least, not much.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, also known as the Trump bros’ hunting buddy, will review some 30 national monuments designated in the last 20 years, those of 100,000 acres or more, and “recommend which designations should be lifted or altered.” Some of the biggest are in Utah: the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, designated by President Bill Clinton in 1996, and the Bears Ears National Monument, designated by Obama in 2016. Obama issued 29 such designations over his two terms (many for much smaller, historically significant sites). Bears Ears, a 1.3-million-acre parcel with world-class rock climbing, old Native American cliff dwellings, and sacred Pueblo land, will be the first monument Zinke reviews, and he promises to deliver his review in 45 days. He has 120 days to finish the full review.

Making changes to a national monument is rare. According to a story from Reuters:

Zinke said he would seek local feedback before making his recommendations, and added any move by Trump to ultimately reverse a monument designation could be tricky.

“It is untested, as you know, whether the president can do that,” Zinke said.

President Woodrow Wilson reduced the size of Washington state’s Mount Olympus National Monument in 1915, arguing there was an urgent need for timber at the time, one of the few examples of the size of national monuments being changed. …

The Bears Ears area lies near where Texas-based EOG Resources had been approved to drill.

President Dwight Eisenhower also reduced the size of Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Monument by 25 percent. Some national monuments and parks were later assigned to another federal agency or to states, especially if they were deemed to expensive to develop or if they drew too few visitors. Even Mar-a-Lago was once a national historic site.

Assigning national monument status has been a way to avoid public land being used for fossil fuel development. But no president has fully revoked the status of a national monument, and legal experts agree that no president has the power to do so. The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld presidential proclamations under the Antiquities Act.

It might be “tricky,” but Zinke will surely try to find a way to have a negative effect on national monuments. And whatever the Utah governor and senators say now, there was plenty of “local feedback” before Bears Ears received its designation. The Center for Western Priorities, a nonpartisan conservation group, has plenty of documented evidence of all of the contacts between the federal government and Utah lawmakers before Bears Ears became a national monument:

New documents … show years of communication and coordination between local Utah stakeholders and elected officials prior to President Obama permanently protecting Bears Ears as a national monument. The documents directly contradict multiple statements from Utah politicians who claimed the monument designation came as a surprise and without the consultation of state leaders.

The Center for Western Priorities issued the following statement from Deputy Director Greg Zimmerman:

“Despite the hardline rhetoric lobbed against the Bears Ears National Monument by Utah politicians, their internal communications make it clear as day: this region is not just deserving of the permanent protections granted last year, but President Obama’s team went to great lengths over several years to coordinate and collaborate with Utah leaders before protecting Bears Ears, the culmination of 80 years of conservation efforts.”

Interior Department documents reveal repeated contacts with Senator Orrin Hatch, Chairman Rob Bishop, Chairman Jason Chaffetz, and their staffs over four years since 2013, including meetings or calls with the Secretary in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016, as well as feedback in the form of technical assistance on their bill, the Public Lands Initiative, which never came up for a vote.

Chaffetz was forced to withdraw his bill to sell off public lands across 10 states after a public outcry. A poll done each year over the last seven years shows that big majorities of Western voters want public lands kept public. According to a January 2017 story in The Denver Post:

Western voters prioritize protecting water, air, and wildlife habitat and opportunities for recreation over increased drilling and mining on public lands. …

Voters surveyed over the past two months in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming also favored improving facilities in national parks and other outdoor destinations, the annual “State of the Rockies — Conservation in the West” poll found. And voters favored investment in production of wind and solar energy using public land, rather than extracting more fossil fuels.

Majorities in every state except Utah opposed efforts to transfer control of federal public lands to states.

“This is the seventh year we’ve done the poll, and we see consistency on these issues. We still see very strong support for Western public lands and conservation,” said Brendan Boepple, director of the State of the Rockies project, based at Colorado College. “Western voters want to stay the course on management of public lands.”

Rose Marcario, president and CEO of the outdoor outfitter Patagonia, said Zinke’s upcoming review “is an assault on America’s most treasured lands and oceans.” According to a CNN story:

“Bears Ears and other national monuments were designated after significant community input because they are a critical part of our national heritage and have exceptional ecological characteristics worth protecting for future generations,” Marcario said. “It’s extremely disturbing to see the Trump administration apparently laying the groundwork to remove protections on our public lands.”

“Show me the money,” said Ashley Korenblat from Public Land Solutions. “We are confident that a fact-based review of the national parks and public lands protected as monuments by the Antiquities Act will show year-over-year economic growth.”

Trump tried to claim that Obama’s actions on national monuments were an “egregious abuse of federal power” allowing the federal government to “lock up” millions of acres of land and water. Control of these lands should go back to states, he suggested.

Yet Trump sang a different tune not long ago. “I don’t like the idea because I want to keep the lands great,” Trump said in January 2015 during an interview with Field & Stream when asked about transferring public lands to state control, according to the same CNN story.

This was from Zinke, also from CNN:

“We feel that the public, the people that monuments affect, should be considered and that is why the President is asking for a review of the monuments designated in the last 20 years,” Zinke said, adding that he believes the review is “long overdue.”

Yet during Zinke’s Senate confirmation hearing:

Zinke also told senators during his confirmation process that he was against giving public lands back to the states.

“I am absolutely against transfer and sale of public lands. I can’t be more clear,” he said when Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Washington Democrat, asked if, under Trump, federal land would be under “attack by those who would like to take these public lands away from us and turn them over back to states.”

Count on lots of pushback and possible lawsuits from environmental organizations and tribal groups. Outdoor apparel retailer Patagonia became the first to threaten to sue. Daniel Ritzman, the western public lands protection campaign director for the Sierra Club, called the Antiquities Act “one of our country’s kind of bedrock conservation laws.” The National Resources Defense Council called Trump’s executive order “a slow-moving assault on existing monuments.” #MonumentsForAll immediately started trending on Twitter, as did #StandWithBearsEars. This is a statement from Theresa Pierno, president and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association:

“America’s national monuments have become the latest victims in this heated political atmosphere.  Any attempt to undo or alter them isn’t just undermining a century-old law, it’s a betrayal of the people who fought so hard for them, and the land and history we’ve all spent generations safeguarding. …

“An attack on one national monument is an attack on all. These public lands are owned by all Americans. Communities are doing their job to protect them. Our elected officials must do the same.”

About a year ago, I was lucky enough to visit all five of Utah’s national parks. I’m certainly not a rock climber and didn’t make it to Bears Ears, but we drove through Grand Staircase-Escalante with its nearly 1.9 million acres, and the only word for its vastness of layered rock is “wow.” Yet Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has signed a resolution asking Trump to shrink the monument’s land footprint. That resolution, and a similar one asking the Bears Ears designation to be rescinded, caused the Outdoor Retailer trade show to pull out of Utah.

You want to talk about private development? Every federal dollar invested in the national parks yields nearly $10 in economic activity. The national parks support 277,000 private-sector jobs and produce $30 billion in economic activity annually. The outdoor recreation industry employs about 7.6 million people and produces $887 billion in consumer spending.

All of that sounds like a better return on investment than ruining the land with private drilling and mining.

Originally posted on Daily Kos, April 30, 2017.

UPDATE: The Interior Department has now released the list of the 27 national monuments that will be reviewed, both on land and in the ocean. They are:

  • Basin and Range, Nevada.
  • Bears Ears, Utah.
  • Berryessa Snow Mountain, California.
  • Canyons of the Ancients, Colorado.
  • Carrizo Plain, California.
  • Cascade Siskiyou, Oregon.
  • Craters of the Moon, Idaho.
  • Giant Sequoia, California.
  • Gold Butte, Nevada.
  • Grand Canyon-Parashant, Arizona.
  • Grand Staircase-Escalante, Utah.
  • Hanford Reach, Washington.
  • Ironwood Forest, Arizona.
  • Mojave Trails, California.
  • Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, New Mexico.
  • Rio Grande del Norte, New Mexico.
  • Sand to Snow, California.
  • San Gabriel Mountains, California.
  • Sonoran Desert, Arizona.
  • Upper Missouri River Breaks, Montana.
  • Vermillion Cliffs, Arizona.
  • Katahadin Woods and Waters, Maine.

Several other marine monuments also will be reviewed under an order to prioritize an “America first” offshore energy strategy:

  • Marianas Trench, Pacific Ocean.
  • Northeast Canyons and Seamounts, Atlantic Ocean.
  • Pacific Remote Islands, Pacific Ocean.
  • Papahanaumokuakea, Hawaii/Pacific Ocean.
  • Rose Atoll, American Samoa/Pacific Ocean.

Remember: No president has ever moved to rescind a designation made by a previous president. But Trump always thinks rules and precedents don’t have to apply to him.

NEW UPDATE: The public is now able to add voices to the debate. To comment online, go to the official comment folder at Regulations.gov. and follow the instructions, clicking on the Comment Now! box at the upper right. Mailed comments can be addressed to:

Monument Review
MS-1530
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20240

The comment deadline for all national monuments is July 10 at midnight. All comments on Bears Ears are due by May 26.

Donald Trump’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad 100 days

Even the bald eagle doesn’t like Donald Trump. He should have taken the hint.

As we close in on Donald Trump’s first 100 days as president, let’s take stock of just how little the new president has accomplished. Don’t worry, there won’t be a quiz. And if there were, it would be graded on a curve, just like the media grade Trump.

Bills passed:

  • It’s now easier for a mentally ill person to buy a gun.
  • You can now shoot bears while they’re hibernating.
  • Companies can now buy your Internet browsing history.
  • I’m sure some post offices got new names.

Things that happened that he had nothing to do with but claimed credit for:

  • Neil Gorsuch confirmed by the Senate as a Supreme Court justice. (Really accomplished by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for going more than a year without holding hearings on President Barack Obama’s SCOTUS nominee, Merrick Garland.)
  • Adding jobs to the economy that had been long planned under the Obama administration, such as jobs from Ford, Fiat-Chrysler, General Motors, Sprint and SoftBank, Lockheed Martin, Intel, and Walmart.

Failures (remember that Trump’s “Contract with the American Voter” listed 10 pieces of legislation in his “100-day plan.” Here are just a few that didn’t happen or were killed):

  • Repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare (now on Trumpcare 3.0).
  • Tax reform (a last-minute, one-page cheat sheet that would mostly benefit Trump himself doesn’t count).
  • Government hiring freeze (executive order issued, but lifted).
  • Two Muslim travel bans, both struck down by multiple courts.
  • Term limits for members of Congress (who was he kidding?).
  • 532 of 554 key jobs requiring Senate confirmation are still empty — and Trump has not even nominated a candidate for 508 of them, according to Politico.

Promises abandoned (at least for now):

  • The border wall with Mexico, which is unlikely ever to get built and will certainly never be paid for by Mexico.
  • Pulling out of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
  • Getting rid of the Islamic State with his “secret plan.”

Accomplishments:

  • Pulling the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which puts him in a weaker position to bargain with Canada and Mexico over NAFTA.
  • A meaningless Tomahawk cruise missile airstrike on Syria, at a cost of $80 million to $100 million.
  • Dropping the Massive Ordinance Air Blast (MOAB) bomb (aka the “mother of all bombs”), the largest non-nuclear bomb the United States has, on a deserted area of Afghanistan with underground tunnels, at a cost of between $170,000 and a half million dollars. Nearly 100 ISIS fighters were killed. I guess this counts as “bombing the shit out of ISIS,” as he bragged during campaign rallies. Recently, by the way, in that same area, ISIS fighters killed two U.S. troops.
  • His entire family has been getting richer. Son Eric Trump bragged that the Trump “brand is the hottest it has ever been.”
  • Personal profits from weekly trips to Trump-owned properties for golf, mostly to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, trips that cost $3 million each for Air Force One travel, Coast Guard personnel, etc. Oh, and he even charges the Secret Service for agents’ use of golf carts — to the tune of $35,000 so far.
  • His golf game may have improved.
  • He tweeted. A LOT.

It’s “the most failed first 100 days ever,” said presidential historian Douglas Brinkley in a story in The Independent. “I don’t know how it can get much worse.”

One hundred days of Trump already feels like years, but there are 1,361 days to go before the next inauguration. So what does the rest of the world think about Trump’s first 100 days? We’ll sum it up in a tweet from NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel:

The YUGE job losses Trump is ignoring: retail workers

Malls across the country, like the Mall at the Source in Westbury, N.Y., now for sale, are growing emptier and emptier. Which is bad news for those employed by the mall’s stores.

This is not a good time to have a job in the retail industry.

If you’ve been to a shopping mall recently, you may have noticed that many storefronts are empty. Stores that are still open aren’t crowded, and there are plenty of spaces in the parking lot.

About one in every 10 American workers works in the retail industry, and one out of every three retail employees works part time. A retail job is the first job experience for about one-third of Americans, so cutbacks block entry into the job market. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 15.9 million people worked in the U.S. retail industry in January 2017, but that number has been shrinking. Since October 2016, 89,000 retail workers have lost their jobs. The most recent BLS jobs report in early April showed that 30,000 retail workers lost jobs in March—about equal to the number of retail jobs lost in February. The March decrease alone was enough to lower the job growth numbers to just 98,000. The two-month job loss was the worst retail job loss since the Great Recession in 2009.

Donald Trump loves to whine about jobs lost in the disappearing coal industry and in manufacturing. He brags that he will bring back coal and factory jobs—a promise he’s unlikely to keep, even as his executive orders weaken industry regulations. But lost retail jobs hit America much harder, and he’s silent about those. Those 89,000 people who lost retail jobs are more than the entirety—53,000—of those employed in the coal industry. While the coal, manufacturing, and retail industries have all suffered losses because of globalization and technological advances, the job losses aren’t always equal. Department stores have lost 18 times more workers than coal mining since 2001. Linda McMahon, the former World Wresting Entertainment CEO who now heads the Small Business Administration, is more concerned about trashing regulations than measuring the impact of retail job loss.

When retail workers lose their jobs, that affects a lot more than the workers—it affects their families and their communities. The cascading downward spiral means fewer dollars in families’ pockets, fewer dollars spent at other stores, fewer stores to spend money at, and fewer dollars to buy food and to pay mortgages and rent. An estimated two-thirds of the U.S. gross domestic product comes from retail consumption. So store closings and openings can indicate how well the U.S. economy is doing overall.

Overall, BLS numbers show that nearly half of all retail workers are female, and nearly 75 percent of the work force in clothing stores is female. Some 12 percent of all retail employees are African American, six percent are Asian American, and 17 percent are Latino. Those percentages are much higher than percentages in the same demographic groups holding jobs in the coal industry and in manufacturing, which is much more white and male.

But those women and minorities aren’t being interviewed by the news media as the people the economy left behind.

A recent story in The Atlantic laid out three possible reasons why retail job losses remain hidden under the political and media radar: geography, demographics, and nostalgia.

How has the retail bloodletting been so much quieter than the decline in mining and manufacturing? There are several plausible explanations. First, mining and manufacturing jobs are geographically concentrated. Sixty percent of coal-mining jobs are in just four states: West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming. Retail is spread more evenly across the country, so there are “mining towns,” which politicians can visit and photographers can capture and where the pain runs especially deep, in a way there are not “mall towns.” Second, as Slate Chief Political Correspondent Jamelle Bouie tweeted, the demographics of a job can determine its political salience. Coal mining is still 95 percent white and 95 percent male. Department store workers are 40 percent minority and just 40 percent male. The emphasis on work that is white, male, and burly may represent an implicit bias against the working class of the modern service economy, which is more diverse and female. Third, mining and manufacturing jobs feed into a national nostalgia for the mid-century economy, with its unionized workforce, economic growth, and high pay for men without much education.

A story from Slate by that same Jamelle Bouie makes the same argument:

In terms of attention, [coal miners] punch far above their weight class. They constitute a small portion of the American workforce, and yet, elite journalists devote countless words to their lives and communities, while politicians use them and their priorities as a platform for performing authenticity. For those in and around politics, one’s connection to “real America” is often judged by one’s proximity to these workers and their concerns. Which raises a question: Why them and not those retail workers who face an equally (if not more) precarious future? …

Retail work in malls and shopping centers and department stores is largely work done by women. Of the nearly 6 million people who work in those fields in stores like Sears, Michaels, Target, J.C. Penney, and Payless, close to 60 percent are women. … A substantial portion of these workers—roughly 40 percent across the different kinds of retail—are black, Latino, or Asian American. …

Work is gendered and it is racialized. What work matters is often tied to who performs it. It is no accident that those professions dominated by white men tend to bring the most prestige, respect, and pay, while those dominated by women—and especially women of color—are often ignored, disdained, and undercompensated.

Many of us likely had a retail job at some point in our lives. Maybe we worked at a corner mom-and-pop shop or worked weekend and evening shifts at a store in a nearby mall. My own experience was peddling popcorn behind the candy counter at a mall multiplex. The pay was barely above minimum wage, but at least I got to see movies for free.

Sears Roebuck and Co. used to be the biggest name in retail. It advertised itself as the store “where America shops.” It once had a booming catalog business that sold mail-order house kits and was where much of America bought appliances and tools. Now, with competition from big-box stores (also not doing well) and online shopping, Sears is closing stores and might be on the verge of collapse: The company lost $2 billion in 2016, and sales dropped 10.3 percent in the fourth quarter, when many stores finally sell enough to be in the black. According to an NPR story:

Despite its merger with Kmart in 2005, Sears has consistently lost millions of dollars each quarter.

The retailer has closed hundreds of stores, slashed jobs and sold off key assets like the Lands’ End clothing line and its legendary Craftsman brand — although both brands continue to be sold at Sears. Independent retail analyst Sucharita Mulpuru says these changes haven’t worked.

“There are just so many onerous forces relating to competition,” she says. “I think that no matter what they do, they are fighting a losing battle.”

And what of Sears workers? The generous employee discount program is gone, replaced with a “point system.” Some 250 employees at Sears’ corporate offices were laid off last year, and 150 openings went unfilled. If you worked in sales and your store closed, you’re out of luck.

Of course, Sears isn’t alone. In a trend a story in Business Insider dubs the “retail apocalypse,” more than 3,500 stores are expected to close in the next few months of 2017. It’s being described as “one of the biggest waves of retail closures in decades.”

This might have been avoided if malls weren’t overbuilt to begin with. The Business Insider story reports that the United States “has 23.5 square feet of retail space per person, compared with 16.4 square feet in Canada and 11.1 square feet in Australia, the next two countries with the most retail space per capita.” When a major anchor store in a mall closes, smaller stores are soon to follow. “Nearly a third of shopping malls are at risk of dying off as a result of store closures,” the story added. What do those workers do then?

Retail workers aren’t highly paid. Some, especially those in higher-end clothing stores, are paid on commission. They don’t have pensions or 401(k) plans, and they don’t earn enough to save for retirement. As the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, the annual median salary for a retail employee was $22,040 in 2015, and the annual median hourly wage was $10.60.

And they’re not getting very many raises, either. As an AP story puts it: “Average hourly earnings for retail employees, including managers, has inched up just 1.1 percent over the past year, compared with a 2.7 percent average increase for all U.S. workers.”

There are unions that represent retail workers, but they don’t have much power—or membership. The Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union is a semi-autonomous subsidiary of the United Food and Commercial Workers union. But union membership for retail workers has dropped from a high of 15 percent of all retail workers in the 1970s to less than five percent today—one of the lowest rates of unionization in the entire economy.

The bottoming out of the retail market and retail jobs isn’t surprising to anyone who orders merchandise online. E-commerce has grown faster than delivery of packages by drones. According to a story in The New York Times:

Between 2010 and 2014, e-commerce grew by an average of $30 billion annually. Over the past three years, average annual growth has increased to $40 billion. …

This transformation is hollowing out suburban shopping malls, bankrupting longtime brands, and leading to staggering job losses. …

The job losses in retail could have unexpected social and political consequences, as huge numbers of low-wage retail employees become economically unhinged, just as manufacturing workers did in recent decades.

Even Black Friday, the retail sales extravaganza on the day and weekend after Thanksgiving when stories traditionally showed profits, has seen decreases. Figures for 2016 showed that 99 million people shopped in brick-and-mortar stores, 3 million fewer than in 2015. Online shopping, on the other hand, went up, even as people didn’t wait for Cyber Monday: 108 million people shopped online over the Thanksgiving weekend, about 5 million more than the previous year.

As retail workers in brick-and-mortar stores have lost jobs, hiring has picked up in online warehouses for companies like Amazon. But there are too few of those jobs to make up the difference, and many of those jobs are quickly getting automated.

“Until now, retail workers—unlike the car-making and coal-mining industries—have made little political splash,” said a story on Axios Media. “Look for that to change.”

Originally posted on Daily Kos on April 23, 2017.

It’s spring: Time to save the planet


Some 400,000 people took part in the first People’s Climate March in 2014 in New York City. This year, marches are planned all over the world as well as in Washington, D.C.

Upcoming weeks offer several opportunities to join the fight against global warming. And in the age of a Donald Trump administration, the environment needs all the friends it can get.

Trump is proposing to cut the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency by as much as 31 percent. Climate change research and international climate change programs would be eliminated, as would core initiatives to protect air and water quality. A Trump budget would slash the EPA workforce by 19 percent, cutting 3,200 employees. Many regulations affecting fossil fuel industries such as oil, gas, and coal would disappear. After all, budget director Mick Mulvaney considers government funds spent on climate change “a waste of your money.”

We’re not going to change Trump’s climate change-denying ways. But there are many ways to fight for the environment on our own.

We can keep up the pressure with phone calls to lawmakers—if they hear from enough of us, we can kill the EPA cuts just as we killed Trumpcare. We can attend our local representatives’ town halls. We can work within our own communities and states, pressing for local action when we’re not getting any satisfaction on the federal level (the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions offers a blueprint on why and how to promote climate-friendly policies where you live). We can take individual actions, changing our own lifestyles in ways that lower the effects of global warming. And we can take part in group environmental activities such as the marches, teach-ins, rallies, and science fairs scheduled across the country in April.

Think of it as launching our own private war against EPA administrator Scott Pruitt.

The March for Science is on Earth Day, Saturday, April 22. The main march is planned for the National Mall in Washington, D.C., but there are more than 500 satellite marches planned around the world. The nonpartisan March for Science has partnered with Earth Day Network and will hold a science rally and teach-in as part of the Washington event. Astronauts, CEOs of science organizations and environmental groups, and United Nations representatives are among the scheduled speakers at the rally on the National Mall, which will precede the actual march.

Other cities are holding their own educational events, such as a science expo planned at the Field Museum campus on Chicago’s lakefront. The San Francisco march will offer leading scientists from the Bay Area as speakers and an afternoon science fair.

As the March for Science organizers say on their website:

The March for Science is a celebration of science.  It’s not only about scientists and politicians; it is about the very real role that science plays in each of our lives and the need to respect and encourage research that gives us insight into the world. Nevertheless, the march has generated a great deal of conversation around whether or not scientists should involve themselves in politics. In the face of an alarming trend toward discrediting scientific consensus and restricting scientific discovery, we might ask instead: can we afford not to speak out in its defense?

People who value science have remained silent for far too long in the face of policies that ignore scientific evidence and endanger both human life and the future of our world. New policies threaten to further restrict scientists’ ability to research and communicate their findings. We face a possible future where people not only ignore scientific evidence, but seek to eliminate it entirely. Staying silent is a luxury that we can no longer afford. We must stand together and support science.

Besides being the 47th anniversary of the first Earth Day, the date of the march also coincides with the one-year anniversary of the Paris Climate Agreement. The event’s partners include Greenpeace, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Nature Conservancy, the National Society of Black Physicists, the American Medical Student Association, and many others. Another partner is 314 Action, a group aiming to “elect more STEM-trained candidates to public office.”

The People’s Climate Movement march is one week later, on Saturday, April 29. The main People’s Climate March also will be in Washington, with sister marches across the United States and around the world. It will be the fourth annual such march of the movement that started in 2014. The “week of action” between April 22 and April 29 has activities in Washington ranging from artists’ presentations about climate change to meeting with members of Congress.

More than 50 organizations have banded together on the People’s Climate Movement steering committee. They include environmental groups like 350.org, the Sierra Club, the National Resources Defense Council, and the League of Conservation Voters; several labor organizations such as the American Federation of Teachers and the Service Employees International Union; and many others. There also are 500 more groups as supporting partners.

April 29 was chosen for the People’s Climate March because it coincides with the 100th day of Donald Trump’s presidency. No doubt the media will be taking stock of how much Trump has and hasn’t accomplished. No doubt Trump will be tweeting about “winning.” (Oh, who are we kidding? He’ll be playing golf at Mar-a-Lago.) But while he’s on the links, many of us will be in the streets. Let’s turn the media’s attention to the environment. As the website puts it: “We need to mark that day with a massive demonstration that shows that our resistance is not going to wane or fade away.”

With two major marches only a week apart, many might wonder why the two events weren’t combined. Here’s the answer from the People’s Climate Movement website:

While climate change is a top issue for many March for Science organizers, the March for Science strives to be non-political. The Peoples Climate Movement, however, believes strongly in the need to call out the politicians who threaten our climate, communities, and jobs, and put forward an alternative vision for an economy that works for people and planet. The Peoples Climate Movement cares deeply about science — but social, economic, and climate justice are the heart of our work.

Ultimately, the two marches complement each other. On April 22, the March for Science will stand up for science and help educate the public (and all of us!) about the threat of climate change. For the next week, we’ll organize actions in our communities and in Washington, D.C. to advocate for climate, jobs, and justice. And then on April 29th, the week will culminate in the massive Peoples Climate Mobilization where hundreds of thousands of people will step into the streets together to put forward our own vision that works for our communities and the climate.

Educate, organize, mobilize. It’s a path forward for all of us who care about our communities, climate, and the future we need to build together.

The websites of both the March for Science and the People’s Climate March have links to register for the marches in Washington and other activities. There are links for artwork to use on posters. They also have search capabilities to find a local march near you; the number of sister marches seems to be growing daily.

So all of that is group action. Here are a few actions you can take on your own. A recent New York Times story listed some helpful tips in the fight against global warming. The No. 1 directive that will do the most to help the planet is to drive a more fuel-efficient vehicle (when you’re not taking public transportation, that is).

If vehicles averaged 31 miles per gallon, according to our research, the United States could reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 5 percent. … If every American household drove a vehicle getting 56 miles per gallon, it would reduce U.S. emissions by 10 percent.

Though the United States has just 4 percent of the world’s population, it is responsible for 14 percent of man-made greenhouse gases that end up in the atmosphere. Transportation accounts for 27 percent of those emissions. And 60 percent result from driving personal vehicles. … Each year in the United States, 214 million drivers (with 240 million registered vehicles) drive 2.7 trillion miles, emitting about 2.4 trillion pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Other suggestions are things we already know, but it’s good to have some numbers to go along with the actions:

  • Reduce the distance you drive by 1.2 percent.
  • Keep your tires inflated to the recommended air pressure.
  • Cut down driving over 70 mph by 25 percent. The same goes for “aggressive” driving, which can use more gas.
  • Fly 10 percent less.
  • Turn down your thermostat by three degrees for eight hours a day in winter.
  • Replace at least one out of five incandescent light bulbs with LEDs.
  • Reduce meat consumption by 7 percent, and eat less overall (2 percent food reduction).
  • Cut the amount of discarded food by 13 percent.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on April 16, 2017.

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