Doug Jones’ Alabama Senate victory: Black voters, honesty, and shoe-leather campaigning

Alabama Senator-elect Doug Jones.

When you’re on the winning side in an election, you’re happy. If your candidate lost, you’re casting around for someone to blame. Media love to issue morning-after political analyses, assigning winners and losers. Let’s see if we can’t do the same.

Winners

Doug Jones. Obviously, the victor in the contest belongs at the top of the list in a race in which he was not expected to prevail. He’s got a great record: The former U.S. attorney racked up a big win against the Ku Klux Klan in the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four girls. He was involved in the successful prosecution of abortion clinic bomber Eric Rudolph, the 1996 Olympic bomber. Throughout the campaign, he talked about issues that matter to Alabama: jobs, technology development, health care, the closure of rural hospitals.

Here’s what he said at his victory rally:

“At the end of the day, this entire race has been about dignity and respect. This campaign has been about the rule of law. This campaign has been about common courtesy and decency.”

Congratulations, Alabama, you picked someone who deserved to win.

Black voters. They make up 26 percent of the population of Alabama, but they were 30 percent of the special election electorate. Black men supported Doug Jones to the tune of 93 percent. Black women backed him with 98 percent of their vote. A majority of white voters backed Moore.

Maybe now the Democrats won’t take black voters for granted, and maybe now the media will treat them with a little more respect, interviewing them at least as often as they interview their favorite voter du jour, the white working class voter. From a story in The Root:

Black people saved your ass again, America. Because of black people, senators might be able to stop Congress from making it rain on the top 1 percent with the GOP billionaire tax plan. Because of black people, we might be able to stop Donald Trump from appointing Simon Cowell to the Supreme Court (Donald is a fan of the judging on American Idol, and Paula Abdul has that filthy Muslim name). Because of black people, we might finally be rid of the only white man in history suffering from acute ashiness—Steve Bannon. …

Somewhere, above the clouds, four little girls whose souls left their bodies 54 years ago are smiling. Maybe Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley looked down at what another monster had done to other 14-year-olds and said: “Don’t worry, we got y’all.”

Mixed bag

The media. Kudos to The Washington Post for its dogged and thorough reporting on the women who were teenagers when they received unwanted sexual attention from Roy Moore when he was in his 30s. After Moore won the GOP primary, all media declared him a shoo-in until the sexual predator story broke.

But media basically ignored Doug Jones, and the coverage they gave his campaign was mostly slipshod. They kept repeating the mantra that his campaign wasn’t attracting enough black voters; that it was a lackluster campaign; that “Roy Moore has already won.” They were more interested in quoting Moore voters who were still backing the Republican candidate in the same way they can’t get enough of interviews with white voters who are still supporting Donald Trump. The day after the election, media were forced to scramble for stories with headlines like “Meet Democrat Doug Jones, Alabama’s senator-elect.”

Let’s take a look at Jones’ “lackluster campaign,” in a story from AL.com:

Over the past several months, Jones has visited every corner of Alabama and worked hard to earn people’s votes. He built a strong coalition of canvassers and phone bankers, deploying a strong get-out-the-vote operation such that Alabama Democrats haven’t seen in decades. He was willing to speak to any Alabamian, no matter their income, their faith or their race.

His victory speech showed his admirable desire and ability to embrace all Alabamians. Jones’s voter base represents the future of Alabama: an emerging coalition of black voters, LGBT activists, women and young voters. He won by offering these groups a vision that can help our state assert itself in the 21st century. …

And as we saw from Moore’s few campaign appearances, the Alabama Republican Party may be taking its voters for granted. We would all benefit from a better exchange of ideas, from politicians who court the broad center of the electorate rather than build a base that divides Alabama’s people. Jones offered a new path for Alabama’s leaders, Republican and Democrat. They should all walk it.

Here’s a message for the rest of the media: Egg, meet face. Next time around, how about a little more substance in the campaign coverage?

Losers

Donald Trump. Are you tired of all the losing yet? You plucked Republican Jeff Sessions from a safe Senate seat in Alabama to make him attorney general, a position where he lies and plays politics instead of upholding the law. You backed his appointed successor, Luther Strange, who lost to Roy Moore in the primary. Even after the Moore-as-teen-stalker stories, you went all in, exhorting supporters at a Florida rally to vote for Moore and recording a robo-call to remind voters that Republicans needed Moore’s vote for your agenda.

Like everything else this egotist does, the call was more about Trump than about Moore.

Republicans. After the Post stories broke, some in the GOP kept their distance, but the shameless quest to keep the Senate in Republican hands forced many to return to the fold. The Republican National Committee was back with funding — how’d that investment work out? Republicans’ backing of Moore and their reluctance to disown him will be hung around their necks in the 2018 midterm election.

Roy Moore. Talk about running an incompetent campaign. Moore was unfit for office even before he was kicked off the Alabama Supreme Court — twice. Add the sexual misconduct allegations; his questioning of all constitutional amendments after the 10th (meaning women and blacks couldn’t vote); his statements that families were better off when they took care of each other, even under slavery; and so much more. So instead of debating Jones or actually campaigning, he took time off the campaign trail, thinking he could coast to victory. He even took the weekend off before the special election to take in the Army-Navy game. Just concede and fade away, but don’t ride your horse into the sunset — Sassy deserves better.

Steve Bannon. New York Republican Peter King called on the Breitbart chief and former White House chief strategist to get out of national politics, saying he looked like a “disheveled drunk that wandered on to the national stage.” The media used to credit Bannon with being the brains behind Trump (talk about an oxymoron) or call him “President Bannon.” Oh, how the mighty white nationalists have fallen.

White evangelicals. Media, just drop this line of coverage. Black voters are also people of faith, as are LGBT folks, liberal Democrats, etc., etc. White evangelicals don’t own morality, and it’s time you started saying so out loud. They got so hung up on abortion that they were willing to excuse an alleged child molester.

So welcome to the Senate, Doug Jones. Let’s hope a few Senate Republicans have enough spine to scuttle the scam of a GOP tax bill before it can become law and Congress can take a more thorough look next year to do things the right way.

We need more women in power. In media, government, entertainment…


Remember what a complete jerk Matt Lauer was at this 2016 candidate forum supposedly about military and security issues, interrupting Hillary Clinton constantly and badgering her about emails while tossing softballs to Donald Trump?

It’s not about sex. It’s all about power.

Matt Lauer is out at The Today Show after what NBC called a “review” of sexual misconduct at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. His actions were a “clear violation of our company’s standards,” says an NBC story.

Details about Lauer’s behavior — the alleged sexual assault of a co-worker — are still emerging. There are now accusations from several women and a report from Variety that Lauer, once he had a potential conquest in his office, pushed a button under his desk that let him lock his office door without getting up. The now-former NBC star says he is “truly sorry” and that he feels “embarrassed and ashamed” (ya think?). Lauer is just the latest man to be fired for inappropriate behavior, although at the rate these sexual predators are being uncovered, he may soon be yesterday’s news himself.

And — like clockwork! — hours later, the next man to be accused and fired was humorist Garrison Keillor, longtime host of “A Prairie Home Companion” on Minnesota Public Radio and a writer who became a columnist for The Washington Post News Service and Syndicate. MPR dropped him over alleged “inappropriate behavior” without detailing what that behavior was. Keillor later claimed that the incident in question, in which he touched a woman’s bare back underneath her shirt, was accidental. Ironically, Keillor’s latest op-ed in the Post stated that Minnesota Sen. Al Franken shouldn’t resign because of his reported indiscretions. After the Keillor news, the op-ed was removed from the Post’s online front page.

Before that same day was over, there was also a report that a senior producer at CNN, Teddy Davis, was dismissed over allegations from three women about inappropriate behavior. David Sweeney, the chief news editor at NPR, resigned one day earlier over similar allegations by at least three female journalists.

At the same time, Donald Trump, who admitted sexual assault in the Access Hollywood tape (although he apparently is delusional enough that he thinks he can now deny it was him on the tape), is still president. Roy Moore, with his history of stalking and allegedly assaulting teenage girls, has retaken the lead in polls in the Alabama Senate race, although some new polls have him tied or even behind Democrat Doug Jones. And still in office are the aforementioned Franken and Rep. John Conyers, although there were reports that the Michigan congressman, while not resigning, may not run for re-election after numerous sexual harassment claims.

This problem of sexual harassment and assault is systemic, and not just in media, government, or the entertainment world. It’s because too many men in power think basic rules of decency shouldn’t have to apply to them anymore. They earn salaries in the millions and receive applause and adulation in public, often based on ratings or election wins. Matt Lauer looked out on his fan base every morning through the glass window of The Today Show studio.

Because most of my work experience has been on newspapers, I’m going to concentrate on media.

I’ve worked in newsrooms for most of my career, from my college paper to a suburban weekly to dailies in medium-size and large cities to a national weekly. Work environments certainly have improved from the days on my first full-time job, when I was forced to write wedding and engagement notices while a male college friend who started the same day I did covered the police beat. But there wasn’t one workplace where some kind of sexism wasn’t present. Somewhere in all of these organizations, there was sexual harassment from male bosses and male co-workers. (I do feel the need to add that I’ve worked with many men who have always acted professionally and never crossed any line.)

I’m fortunate in that I never experienced direct assault or serious harassment at work. But there were often crude jokes. Teasing that went way too far. Comments from bosses about the appropriateness of women’s apparel. Ogling and “rating” women journalists by their male colleagues, either in the newsroom itself or loudly in bars after work while those same women were present. Reporters who refused to take no for an answer when the young female intern wouldn’t go out with them. Guys in the composing room (yes, it was a long time ago) who stood a little “too close” while you were checking a page. And reports of one male colleague rubbing his naked penis across surfaces that he knew women would be touching next (how juvenile can you get?).

The situation didn’t really start changing until more women started becoming the bosses. And it won’t change completely until there are more women editors, producers, anchors, and more.

Longtime journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Ann Marie Lipinski, former editor of the Chicago Tribune, has written several pieces about the issue of sexual harassment in journalism in Nieman Reports, a website and quarterly print publication about leadership in journalism. Lipinski serves as curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. Her latest has the headline, “When Women Stand Up Against Harassers in the Newsroom: We don’t need more training — we know what to do.”

The reason it is so easy for women to believe the avalanche of accusations about harassment and sexual abuse is that most of us are members of a reluctant sorority. We don’t need to have suffered the worst to have seen that men can abuse with impunity. And it is not coincidental that our industry — where harassers recently have been toppled at National Public Radio, CBS, Fox, NBC, The New Republic, and elsewhere — employs so few women in the most senior roles. The fix is not sexual harassment training, but more people in leadership who already know better.

The trouble is, too many men don’t know better. Along with the Lipinski piece, Nieman Reports had another story, headlined, “The News Industry Has a Sexual Harassment Problem. #NowWhat? How newsroom leaders can create workplaces that truly support women.”

The issue facing journalism is not simply about preventing sexual harassment; it’s about also acknowledging that this behavior is often a part of a sexist and unequal work environment. Newsroom cultures need to change in ways that both stop sexual harassment and foster supportive work environments for women. …

While the press has rightly focused on the misdeeds of prominent men in the media industry, the news industry must also address the less high-profile forms of belittlement, sexism, and harassment many women have come to experience as routine. …

Part of the solution: Put more women in newsroom leadership positions. … The value of women at the top is not only to shape coverage, but also to shape culture.

Makes perfect sense. So how are newspapers and networks doing in putting more women in positions of leadership? As it turns out, not too well.

The Women’s Media Center was started in 2005 by feminist activists Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan, and Gloria Steinem. This is how it describes its mission:

The Women’s Media Center is a progressive, nonpartisan nonprofit organization working to raise the visibility, viability and decision-making power of women and girls in media and, thereby, ensuring that their stories get told and their voices are heard. To reach those necessary goals, we strategically use an array of interconnected channels and platforms to transform not only the media landscape but also a culture in which women’s and girls’ voices, stories, experiences and images are neither sufficiently amplified nor placed on par with the voices, stories, experiences and images of men and boys.

In March 2017, the Women’s Media Center published its latest report — its fifth — on “The Status of Women in U.S. Media.” While there has been progress, the number of women in positions of power in media is still low and has actually dropped in some areas.

Men still dominate media across all platforms—television, newspapers, online and wires — with change coming only incrementally. Women are not equal partners in telling the story, nor are they equal partners in sourcing and interpreting what and who is important in the story.

Most certainly, we salute media advances toward gender and race parity that are noted in this report. Yet, we are deeply concerned about areas where the media lurched backward. …

At 20 of the nation’s top news outlets, men produced 62.3 percent of news reports analyzed during a studied period while women produced 37.7 percent of news reports. … Additionally, in the broadcast news sector alone, work by women anchors, field reporters and correspondents actually declined, falling to 25.2 percent of reports in 2016 from 32 percent when the WMC published its 2015 “Divided” report.

Is it any wonder why coverage of the 2016 election was so slanted against Hillary Clinton?

When men hold all or most of the power, too many of them see no downside to doing whatever they want, because they don’t fear consequences. “When you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump said on the Access Hollywood tape. “You can do anything.”

As a friend wrote on Facebook:

As a heterosexual male I am completely dumbfounded by this behavior on the part of otherwise incredibly intelligent, talented people. I think I agree it’s a power thing. Some men just think rules stop applying to them in a certain level of power. And I’ll bet it begins with them being treated differently by the people around them. Then they think they are somehow special and they lose their normal self controls.

Maybe we should stop treating men at the top like they’re special. And let women run things for a change.

Originally posted on Daily Kos, Dec. 3, 2017.

Join a peace vigil to mark Sandy Hook’s five-year anniversary. Then demand action.

Hardly a week goes by without news of a mass shooting somewhere in the United States. But a mass shooting five years ago still leaves a hole in our hearts and anger in our souls.

It was Dec. 14, 2012, when Adam Lanza used an assault rifle and a semi-automatic handgun to kill 20 6- and 7-year-olds and six adult staff members at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. He had shot his mother to death earlier, and he killed himself after the shooting.

We all remember the horror of that day. We wept along with President Obama, both immediately afterward and during his poignant and heartfelt remarks to the Newtown community. We waited for lawmakers to do the right thing and pass common-sense gun laws.

We’re still waiting.

Even while the details of Sandy Hook fade as our attention turns to other acts of gun violence, it will forever remain fresh in the minds of those affected in Newtown, Connecticut. They started Newtown Action Alliance, a national grassroots organization formed after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings and based in Newtown itself. Newtown Foundation is the charitable arm of Newtown Action Alliance. The group’s mission, as described on its website, is “to achieve the steady and continuous reduction of gun violence through legislative and cultural changes.”

We haven’t seen that gun violence reduction or those legislative changes. So Newtown Action is joining with many of the nation’s gun safety groups by inviting people nationwide to participate in peace vigils and to keep demanding action.

Many had hopes that the death of 20 first- and second-graders would be enough to move lawmakers to pass common-sense gun laws that are favored by a large majority of Americans. Public support for gun safety always rises immediately after a mass shooting, then fades somewhat. Just as in this recent poll by Politico, taken after the Las Vegas shooting on Oct. 1 that killed 58 people, there always remains a big percentage in favor of:

  • Requiring universal background checks (88 percent).
  • Preventing gun sales to those reported as dangerous to law enforcement by a mental health provider (87 percent).
  • Making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks (84 percent).
  • Preventing gun sales to people convicted of violent misdemeanors (83 percent).
  • Barring gun purchases by those on no-fly or watch lists (82 percent).
  • Banning bump stocks, used by the Las Vegas shooter to increase his rate of fire, turning his semi-automatic weapon into an automatic weapon (79 percent).
  • Banning assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines (72 percent).

The list goes on and on. Yet lawmakers still resist passing even a minimum piece of legislation, fearing retribution from the National Rifle Association. But in response to the shooting at a Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, which killed 26 people, there are two new attempts.

Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson of Texas introduced a bill called the “Gun Safety: Not Sorry Act.” It would require “a 7-day waiting period before a semiautomatic firearm, a silencer, armor piercing ammunition, or a large capacity ammunition magazine may be purchased or transferred ownership.” As Jackson said in describing her bill:

The “Gun Safety: Not Sorry Act” will not abridge the Second Amendment, take away gun rights, nor impose greater restrictions on gun ownership, BUT it would significantly reduce gun homicides. According to an October 2017 Harvard University study, the adoption of a national waiting period, from 1994 to 1998 under the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, led to a 17 percent drop in gun homicides.

Handgun purchase waiting periods in 17 states, Texas not being one of them, prevent about 750 gun deaths each year in the United States. An estimated 910 gun deaths could also be avoided if those policies were adopted nationwide.

On the Senate side, a bipartisan group of four senators—Democrats Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Republicans John Cornyn of Texas and Tim Scott of South Carolina—introduced their own bill to strengthen reporting to the national background check system. The bill, which has four co-sponsors, two Democrats and two Republicans, “would require states and agencies to produce plans for sending records to the National Instant Background Check System (NICS) that would show if an individual is prohibited from buying a gun and verifying that the information is accurate,” according to a story in The Hill.

As Cornyn said in introducing the bill:

For years agencies and states haven’t complied with the law, failing to upload these critical records without consequence. … This bill aims to help fix what’s become a nationwide, systemic problem so we can better prevent criminals and domestic abusers from obtaining firearms.

It’s clear that this bill to strengthen background checks is needed. The NICS lacks information on more than 25 percent of all felony convictions, according to a 2013 report by the nonprofit National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics, because too many states don’t turn in reports. Even the NRA admits that about 7 million records aren’t in the system.

There’s always a call for action after every mass shooting. After Columbine. After Virginia Tech. After the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. After Sandy Hook. After Orlando. After Las Vegas. After Sutherland Springs. There is a never-ending litany of names of towns and people affected by gun violence. Yet it never stops.

There will be a national vigil in Washington, D.C., at St. Marks Episcopal Church near Capitol Hill on Dec. 6 to mark the fifth anniversary of Sandy Hook. Among the organizations joining the Newtown Foundation and taking part in the Dec. 6 event in Washington:

  • The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence
  • Everytown Survivor Network
  • Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence
  • Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America
  • Organizing for Action
  • States United to Prevent Gun Violence
  • Women’s March on Washington

The organizers of the Washington event originally invited family members who have lost loved ones to gun violence and survivors to attend. They even offered travel assistance and hotel rooms. But 500,000 people have been killed or injured by gun violence since December 2012. Each year, more than 30,000 people die through gun violence.

That’s an awful lot of people for one church. So Newtown Action Alliance is asking others around the country to hold their own candlelight vigils. Communities across America are invited to hold their own events anytime between Dec. 6 and Dec. 17. Newtown Action is calling these vigils the Nationwide Vigils to #EndGunViolence.

Last year, on the fourth anniversary of Sandy Hook, there were 330 such events in 43 states. Newtown Action is hoping for more than 500 vigils this year in all 50 states.

To host a vigil or event, Newtown Action offers a tool kit to facilitate planning and to coordinate a collective gun violence prevention message. You can find more information on the Newtown website.

To find an event near you, visit Newtown Action’s Facebook page describing the events or the still-growing list of the many vigils planned. They are spread throughout the dates of Dec. 6-17 and in all areas of the country, although many are planned for the anniversary date of Dec. 14. Besides the candlelight vigils, at many of these events, participants will receive educational materials on gun violence prevention. Some will collect materials for care packages for the families of gun violence victims. Others will invite attendees to participate in social media campaigns and sign pledge cards.

On Dec. 14, churches nationwide are invited to ring church bells in remembrance of the 26 Sandy Hook victims at 9:35 a.m., the time the deadly attack in Newtown started. Maybe the sound of church bells ringing will remind lawmakers that we haven’t moved on from the issue of gun violence, even if some of them have.

Let’s not let legislators off the hook. Do it for these children and the brave adults who died trying to save them.

And for the 150,000 people who have died from gun violence ever since.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Nov. 26, 2017.

I’m ready for a world with women in charge

Not a day goes by without a new revelation of sexual assault or harassment by some man in a position of power.

Men in politics. Men in the entertainment world. Men in business. Men in media.

Famous comedians. Senators and congressmen. Little-known legislators. Otherwise-well-respected reporters, and some who weren’t so respected. Top executives at top companies. Political candidates. Campaign officials. Church pastors.

It goes all the way to the top, as the infamous Access Hollywood tape showed us when Donald Trump bragged about “grabbing women by the pussy.” That wasn’t enough to stop him from eking out a win in the Electoral College, even though he lost by 3 million votes. See — even when a woman gets the majority, she still loses.

The Harvey Weinstein bombshells were hardly the first stories of Hollywood and the casting couch. But the eye-opening revelations opened the floodgates. For decades, women were afraid of speaking out — afraid that they wouldn’t be believed, afraid that their complaints would cost them a job, afraid that they would be blamed for someone else’s misdeeds.

Men have always abused women, from prehistoric times on. History abounds with tales, from biblical accounts (Christianity Today has a story with the provocative headline, “David Was a Rapist, Abraham Was a Sex Trafficker“) to stories of the depravity of Roman emperors. Many women branded as witches in the Middle Ages were healers or those attempting for some kind of power in their own right.

No one is claiming that all men fall into the category of those committing serial sexual abuse. But the sheer number of women coming forward, not to mention those using the #MeToo hashtag to describe or at least to acknowledge past humiliations and hurts at the hands of too many men, shows that this problem is widespread and worldwide.

In France, the #MeToo hashtag became #BalanceTonPorc, translated as “rat out your pig” or “snitch your pig.” In Italy, it’s #quellavoltache, or “the time that.”

The United States has had more than its share of sex scandals involving men of power. Thomas Jefferson fathered six children by his slave Sally Hemings. Does anyone honestly think that was a co-equal relationship? As a recent piece in The Washington Post put it, “Sally Hemings wasn’t Thomas Jefferson’s mistress. She was his property.” Remember that Sally Hemings was 14 when she accompanied Jefferson’s daughter to live with Jefferson in Paris and he began a sexual relationship with the slave. Jefferson was 44.

Fourteen, of course, was also the age of the first (of nine!) women accusing Roy Moore, the GOP Senate candidate in Alabama, of sexual assault or unwanted sexual attention when they were in their teens and he was in his 30s. Moore even may have gotten banned from the Gadsden Mall because he was known to target teen-age girls (Snopes reports many anecdotal stories from Moore contemporaries from that time confirming the account, but the shopping mall says it didn’t keep those kinds of records).

Then there are the comedians, who often turn crudity into popularity. Louis C.K. had a mostly male fan base. No one will accuse the boys’ club at Comedy Central of having good taste. The talented Samantha Bee, shut out of the big desk on The Daily Show, had to go to TBS to launch Full Frontal.

There’s a long list of those at the top of the political world who took advantage of women, including presidents, governors, mayors, senators, and congressmen. Congress has paid more than $17.2 million in settlements over 20 years for “violations of employment rules,” including sexual harassment, according to another story in The Washington Post.  Although — by design — the details of those settlements are confidential, that’s a lot of taxpayer money paid out because of legislators acting badly.

So maybe it’s time to put some other people in charge. Maybe a whole different gender.

As columnist Rex Huppke wrote in the Chicago Tribune:

I believe we need more women in charge, and fast. Men have had their chance to run things for … well, for forever, and if the present waves of revelations about sexual harassment and sexual assault by powerful men show us anything, it’s that men have royally screwed things up. …

I believe the problem we have in this country with men who have power sexually harassing or sexually assaulting women has nothing to do with politics or ideology or religion. It has to do with male dominance and entitlement.

And I believe these revelations of swinish male behavior, revelations that will undoubtedly continue, signal one thing: Lascivious behavior stemming from male dominance and entitlement is no longer going to be ignored or begrudgingly accepted.

So, women, next time you buy a product, turn on the TV, go to a movie, or cast a ballot, think who deserves your dollars and your votes. Is it a man, or is it time to give women a chance to run things for a while? Over 70 countries have been led by a woman, mostly in Europe, even if the U.S. still is short of breaking that final glass ceiling. At every electoral level, you’ll have plenty to choose from: There are record numbers of women running for office now, backed by groups like Emily’s List and She Should Run, which has the goal of 250,000 women running for elected office by 2030 to achieve gender parity. So far, since Trump’s election, 20,000 women have contacted Emily’s List and 15,000 have contacted She Should Run.

What do you say, ladies? I’d say it’s past time that it should be our turn.

The deadly link between domestic violence and mass shootings


A candlelight vigil for the shooting victims of Texas gunman Devin Patrick Kelley. Those victims would be alive if the U.S. Air Force had followed the rules on reporting Kelley’s conviction for domestic violence.

The fight for rational gun safety laws is frustrating. But the information that the perpetrator of the latest mass shooting was also guilty of domestic abuse — a conviction that should have kept him from buying a gun — seems to be opening some eyes.

Devin Patrick Kelley, who opened fire with an assault rifle to kill 26 people at a church service in Sutherland Springs, Texas, had been court-martialed for trying to strangle his wife and for fracturing his stepson’s skull. Kelley is just the latest in a series of mass shooters who also have committed domestic violence. Of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history, nine were committed by domestic abusers.

According to research by Everytown for Gun Safety, which has analyzed all mass shootings since 2009, more than half of all mass shootings in the United States are related to domestic or family violence.

In at least 54 percent of mass shootings (85), the perpetrator shot a current or former intimate partner or family member. These domestic violence mass shootings resulted in 422 victims being killed—more than 40 percent (181) of whom were children. A majority of these cases—56—also ended with the perpetrators killing themselves.

Yet the act of mass shooting is not the first instance of domestic violence by these perpetrators. In nearly half the mass shootings the gun safety group studied, the shooters already had committed such domestic violence or threatened to do so.

These findings reaffirm the value of gun violence prevention policies that address the circumstances underlying mass shootings: strong domestic violence laws that keep guns away from abusers, mechanisms that allow for the temporary removal of guns from individuals who have exhibited dangerous recent behavior, and background checks on all firearm sales to prevent people who are prohibited from having guns from buying them.

Still, one-third of mass shootings were done by a shooter who was legally prohibited from owning a gun. Those prohibitions don’t apply to private sales or to previously owned weapons. Or to cases when men who commit domestic violence aren’t even reported in the first place.

Devin Patrick Kelley was kicked out of the Air Force for “bad conduct” (a discharge less serious than dishonorable discharge), and his conviction should have banned him from buying an assault rifle. But the Air Force never reported his conviction to the federal database that gun dealers must check before selling a firearm, an omission it called a “mistake.” According to an NPR story:

Under federal law, his conviction disqualified him from legally possessing a firearm. But there was an apparent breakdown in getting information about his conviction to the proper federal database.

“Initial information indicates that Kelley’s domestic violence offense was not entered into the National Criminal Information Center database by the Holloman Air Force Base Office of Special Investigations,” said Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek in an email.

Top Air Force brass have ordered a complete review of the case.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he would seek oversight hearings on how the Air Force could have made such an error. Sens. Kristin Gillibrand and Richard Blumenthal are asking Secretary of Defense James Mattis for the military to conduct a widespread investigation on whether the military complies with such reporting mandates.

Unfortunately, that answer seems to be “no.” According to a story from Newsweek, “The Department of Defense has only one active domestic violence case reported to the federal gun database.”

You read that right. One case. That’s despite the fact that, in the military:

More than one-third of women and one-fourth of men have experienced physical violence, rape, or stalking by an intimate partner, according to a study conducted for the Department of Veterans Affairs. The study found that 22 percent of active duty service members, over a 12-month period, perpetrated violence against their partners.

A 2015 Pentagon report showed that the armed forces had failed to provide information to the FBI on 30 percent of military members who should be banned from buying a firearm. Of course, that’s for all service members convicted of any felony, not just domestic violence. So the reporting discrepancy may be accurate.

The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System is supposed to ensure public safety by “not letting guns fall into the wrong hands,” as its website touts. The system was established by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993, was launched in 1998, and claims that a store selling guns can “instantly determine whether a prospective buyer is eligible to buy firearms.” Yet reporting in recent years has pointed out huge holes in this system. Besides the lack of reports from the military, if states don’t report data on convictions, if data are incomplete, or if there were arrests without convictions, gun sales aren’t stopped. “Some of the biggest challenges for the database, experts say, are domestic violence and drug cases, which often have inconclusive ends,” says an NPR story on this topic.

The link between domestic violence and mass shootings is inescapable. According to a story from Business Insider:

Nine of the shooters on this list of  the top 10 most deadly mass shootings in modern America  committed violence against women, threatened violence against  women, or disparaged women. …

Forensic psychiatrist Liza Gold, who teaches psychiatry at Georgetown and edited the book Gun Violence and Mental Illness, told Business Insider that mass shooters tend to be “impulsive and angry about a lot of different  things” and many have a history with law enforcement or violence, especially domestic violence.

We’ll let Samantha Bee tell it, as she calls abused women the “canary in the coal mine” for mass shootings:

There are many common-sense gun regulations favored by large majorities of Americans. These include universal background checks for gun purchases, curbs on letting the mentally ill buy guns, and restricting gun purchases for those on terror watch lists. Even an assault weapons ban has a majority of support. Yet efforts to enact such laws go nowhere nationally.

The relatively minor no-brainer suggestion to ban the sale of bump stocks, used by the Las Vegas shooter to increase his rate of firing, seems to have died at the federal level, although some states are going ahead on their own. Massachusetts recently became the first state to ban the sale of bump stocks since the Las Vegas massacre (California already had such a ban). The Illinois State Senate passed such a ban, but the measure failed in the House.

I continue to contend that limiting the size of magazines would be the most effective in lowering carnage from gun violence, as you can’t keep shooting if your ammunition runs out.

Efforts to enact any gun safety regulations are quickly shot down by the National Rifle Association and the legislators they support. But if the election in Virginia is any indication, voters seem to be more open to some kind of gun safety laws—the 17 percent of Virginia voters who listed “gun policy” as their most important issue split evenly between Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie. The NRA spent $2 million on Virginia races and came up mostly empty for the effort statewide, up and down the ticket.

Whatever your party, surely we all can agree that men with a history of domestic violence shouldn’t be able to get their hands on a gun. Not when there’s so much evidence that such men can go on to shoot and kill multiple people.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Nov. 12, 2017.

The GOP’s knee-jerk defense of Roy Moore (UPDATE)

Seriously, Alabama Republicans? You’re defending THIS guy?

Men who are sexual predators come from all professions and political persuasions. How political parties and their adherents respond to allegations of sexual abuse, however, is quite different.

Roy Moore, the Republican candidate in the special election to pick a new senator from Alabama, has been accused of trying to engage in sexual activity with a 14-year-old girl when he was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney in Etowah County, Alabama. The Washington Post published the bombshell yet well-sourced story, which included allegations from three other women, all in their teens, who said that Moore “pursued” them during the same time period. The other three said the contact did not go beyond kissing while on dates with Moore, and drinking wine (the legal drinking age was 19).

The details of the contact with 14-year-old Leigh Corfman are not anything you would want to hear about between a young teen and a 32-year-old man. Corfman says they met outside a courtroom, which her mother verifies, and Moore offered to stay with the girl while her mother was in court for a child custody hearing.

“He said, ‘Oh, you don’t want her to go in there and hear all that. I’ll stay out here with her,’” says Corfman’s mother, Nancy Wells, 71. “I thought, how nice for him to want to take care of my little girl.”

Alone with Corfman, Moore chatted with her and asked for her phone number, she says. Days later, she says, he picked her up around the corner from her house in Gadsden, drove her about 30 minutes to his home in the woods, told her how pretty she was and kissed her. On a second visit, she says, he took off her shirt and pants and removed his clothes. He touched her over her bra and underpants, she says, and guided her hand to touch him over his underwear.

“I wanted it over with — I wanted out,” she remembers thinking. “Please just get this over with. Whatever this is, just get it over.” Corfman says she asked Moore to take her home, and he did.

The story reports that Corfman confided to friends at the time that she was “seeing an older man,” and the friends told the Post that she identified the man as Moore. Corfman says she told her mother the story about 10 years later as Moore started to make a public name for himself.

Moore has denied the charges, blaming Democrats (who had nothing to do with the story) and the Post itself. He has refused to drop out of the race and is using the allegations of being a pedophile (she was 14, after all, and he allegedly tried to get her to touch his underwear-covered penis) to raise money for the Senate election on Dec. 12.

When asked on Sean Hannity’s radio show (I’m sure you’ll pardon me if I don’t provide a link) whether he dated teenage girls, Moore answered, “Not generally, no,” and said he didn’t date any teen “without the permission of her mother.” Nope, nothing perverted about that picture.

Even though many GOP senators have embraced Moore up to this point, Republicans at the national level said that the allegations, “if true,” would mean that Moore would have to leave the race. Note the “if true” caveat, which nearly all Republicans used in commenting.

The only Republicans on record for calling Moore to drop out are Sen. John McCain and Mitt Romney, who is considering running for the Senate from Utah.

Republicans in Alabama, however, are fully in Moore’s corner. The defenses range from “not true” to “he didn’t force himself on her” to “sometimes 14-year-olds make bad decisions” to “I trust Putin more than The Washington Post.”

Steve Bannon of Brietbart News, formerly a top adviser to Donald Trump, used the excuse that whatever contact there was, it was OK because it was “romantic.”

The truly bizarre defenses came from some Alabama Republican officials who tried to give Moore cover from the Bible.

Here’s Alabama State Auditor Jim Ziegler: “Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.”

It seems that Ziegler missed some Sunday school lessons. Let’s look at Matthew 1:25:

“When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.”

Got that? The whole basis of Christianity is that Mary was a virgin when she conceived Jesus and that Mary and Joseph didn’t live together as man and wife until after Jesus was born. And despite the fact that there is no historical record of either Mary’s or Joseph’s ages, Ziegler seems fine with the older-man-teen-girl model of dating.

The problem, of course, is that if the GOP doesn’t back Moore, a (shudder) Democrat might be elected.

Then there’s the Putin defense. According to a story in The Hill, quoting Paul Reynolds, the Republican national committeeman from Alabama:

“My gosh, it’s The Washington Post. If I’ve got a choice of putting my welfare into the hands of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin or The Washington Post, Putin wins every time,” he said.

“This is going to make Roy Moore supporters step up to the plate and give more, work more and pray more.”

Of course, what can you expect from a party that backed Trump, who basically admitted sexual assault on the infamous Access Hollywood tape when he said he grabbed women “by the pussy”? There are multiple women who have accused Trump of sexual harassment, but to Republicans, his crude behavior is either “fake news” or doesn’t matter. They just want their tax cuts.

As a study in contrasts, let’s visit the case of Anthony Weiner. Weiner, as you recall, became infamous for sending explicit photos over his phone to young women of … well, let’s just say the subject matter matched his last name. The multi-term Democratic congressman from New York first gained notoriety in 2011, when these photos came to light.

Democrats, starting with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, quickly called for Weiner to resign, and she was joined by other Democrats. Weiner was forced to resign from Congress. His political career over, he has struggled ever since. He took up the sexting habit once again and is now serving a 21-month prison sentence for sexting with a minor.

In recent months, there has been an avalanche of news reports of women coming forward with revelations about sexual harassment and assault from famous men in Hollywood, the media, in politics, and elsewhere. #MeToo trended on Twitter as women reluctantly shared stories of assault out of their pasts. Celebrities such as Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, actor Kevin Spacey, and political reporter Mark Halperin no longer have careers because of these accusations. At Fox News, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and Eric Bolling all were forced out. Comedian Louis C.K. is just the most recent one to have to face the truth.

Democratic as well as Republican men have committed sexual harassment and sexual assault. But here’s the difference: When those on the left are on the receiving end of these allegations, they are immediately denounced by others on the left. When anyone on the right is accused, they’re booked on Fox News.

The Alabama election is about one month away. Roy Moore still leads in most polls against his Democratic challenger, Doug Jones, who successfully prosecuted the Ku Klux Klan members who blew up a black church and killed four little girls.

Which candidate do you think belongs in the Senate? After all, as Tennessee GOP Sen. Bob Corker tweeted:

UPDATE: Perhaps the dam is springing some leaks. Two more GOP senators, Steve Daines of Montana and Mike Lee of Utah, have withdrawn their endorsements of Moore, and Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey said he thinks Moore should step aside. Rep. Barbara Comstock, a Republican congresswoman from Virginia, has said Moore “does not belong in the Senate.” Rep. Peter King of New York is giving Moore 48 hours to prove his innocence. Ohio Gov. John Kasich doesn’t believe Moore, either. And the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the fundraising arm that helps elect Republicans, has severed ties with the candidate.

In addition, some in the GOP are hoping to persuade Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, who is in the “expressing concern” camp about Moore, to postpone the election completely to give the state Republicans a chance to replace Moore on the ballot, since it’s too late to remove him with the election just weeks away.

NEW UPDATES: Several reports say Ivey will not move the date of the election. Add Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Maine’s Susan Collins, Utah’s Orrin Hatch, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, and Texas’ John Cornyn to the list of GOP senators telling Roy Moore to hit the road. And Arizona’s Jeff Flake says if the choice were between Moore and a Democrat, he’d choose the Democrat.

A fifth woman has accused Moore of sexual assault when she was 16, and various colleagues of Moore said it was “common knowledge” that he dated high school girls when he was assistant district attorney.

NEW UPDATE: The total number of members of the GOP wanting Roy Moore to go away has reached 20.

More climate change victims: health and productivity


A global map of the September 2017 LOTI (land-ocean temperature index) anomaly, relative to the 1951-80 September average. As temperatures rise, health problems in the Earth’s warmest areas will, too.

Despite what climate deniers say, we know the damage that is happening to our planet. But a new, comprehensive ongoing study looks at the devastating health effects of climate change and how global warming will harm people’s livelihoods in the years to come.

Of course, the conclusions about health aren’t really new; they are just restating what other health experts, scientists, and climatologists have been telling us all along. For instance, this recent study from Nature Climate Change detailed the deadly effects of the increased number of extreme heat waves, which expose 30 percent of the world’s population to temperatures above a lethal threshold for at least 20 days a year.

What makes this report from The Lancet Countdown scarier is the conclusion that “The human symptoms of climate change are unequivocal and potentially irreversible—affecting the health of populations around the world today.”

Here are some of the health disasters that already are happening and that we can look forward to as they worsen:

  • The spread of disease-carrying insects.
  • Worsening allergies.
  • Climate-sensitive infectious diseases.
  • Dramatic boosts in exposure to ever-worsening and potentially lethal heat waves.
  • Greater instances of malignant melanoma.
  • Premature mortality due to air pollution.
  • A lessening of food security.
  • A greater vulnerability to undernutrition.

And that’s not all. As the report points out:

The health effects from non-communicable diseases are just as important. Mediated through a variety of pathways, they take the form of cardiovascular disease, acute and chronic respiratory disease from worsening air pollution and aero-allergens, or the often-unseen mental health effects of extreme weather events or of population displacement. Indeed, emerging evidence is suggesting links between a rising incidence of chronic kidney disease, dehydration, and climate change. …

The public and the health systems they depend on are clearly unprepared to manage the health impacts of climate change.

The depressing addition in this study is that, besides the increased health risks, people working in rural areas are experiencing reduced productivity because of higher temperatures. The “global labour capacity of rural labourers, such as farmers, has fallen by 5.3 percent from 2000 to 2016 due to rising temperatures and the inability to work when it’s too hot.” In other words, heat’s impact on humans doing manual labor outdoors lessens their capacity to work, and hence their productivity. Lancet notes a two percent decrease in such productivity between 2015 and 2016 alone, as each year sets new records for being hotter.

The Lancet Countdown is a joint project of 24 universities and intergovernmental organizations, from every continent in the world. It follows the 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change. Its members consist of “climate scientists, ecologists, mathematicians, geographers, engineers, energy, food, and transport experts, economists, social and political scientists, public health professionals, and doctors.”

A story from Think Progress on the Lancet study outlined the detrimental effects of climate change on productivity in many areas, but especially in the U.S. South.

A 2013 NOAA study concluded that “heat-stress related labor capacity losses will double globally by 2050 with a warming climate.”

In fact, by the 2080s, much of the Southern U.S. will see temperatures above 90°F for five months of the year or more, according to the congressionally mandated 2014 U.S. National Climate Assessment. And that’s a startling change from just the recent past.

Large parts of the South will be all but uninhabitable outdoors for large parts of the year.

NOAA’s 2013 study warned that in the case of 7°F or higher warming, we face as much as a 50 percent drop in labor capacity in peak months by century’s end — versus a more manageable 20 percent drop if we sharply reverse emissions trends immediately.

The productivity loss from warming could exceed the “combined cost of all other projected economic losses” from climate change, explained one expert — and yet it has “never been included in economic models of future warming.”

The Lancet study makes several recommendations:

  • Invest in climate change and public health research.
  • Scale up financing for climate-resilient health systems.
  • Phase out coal-fired power. (Someone ought to tell those out-of-work coal miners who don’t think they need new job skills.)
  • Encourage a city-level, low-carbon transition to reduce urban pollution.
  • Rapidly expand access to renewable energy, unlocking the substantial economic gains available from this transition.
  • Agree and implement an international treaty that facilitates the transition to a low-carbon economy. The Paris Agreement is the best example to date. (If only the U.S. had a president who took this problem seriously …)
  • Develop a new, independent collaboration to provide expertise in implementing policies that mitigate climate change and promote public health, and to monitor progress over the next 15 years.

Really, what can we do with an administration in which Energy Secretary Rick Perry thinks that expanding fossil fuels will somehow prevent sexual assault? Perhaps linking climate change to a drop in productivity will cause business leaders to take note, even if Donald Trump and his climate-denying Cabinet never will.

The report reiterates the conclusion of the 2015 Lancet Commission. However gloomy the conclusions, it also sees opportunity:

Anthropogenic climate change threatens to undermine the past 50 years of gains in public health, and conversely, a comprehensive response to climate change could be “the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century.” …

More recent trends in the past five years reveal a rapid increase in action, which was solidified in the Paris Agreement. These glimmers of progress are encouraging and reflect a growing political consensus and ambition, which was seen in full force in response to the USA’s departure from the 2015 climate change treaty. Although action needs to increase rapidly, taken together, these signs of progress provide the clearest signal to date that the world is transitioning to a low-carbon world, that no single country or head of state can halt this progress, and that until 2030, the direction of travel is set.

This project will continue until 2030. For the future, the Lancet Countdown will report annually on progress in implementing the Paris Agreement, future promises that build on the original commitments, and the health benefits that result.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Nov. 5, 2017.

Donna Brazile’s 2016 claims are political catnip for media

Donna Brazile’s explosive accusations about the 2016 election aren’t holding up well, but the media are eating them up nonetheless.

Donna Brazile, the head of the Democratic National Committee in the final days of the 2016 presidential campaign, is making blockbuster charges in her new book that are causing the political media world to gasp.

Brazile’s book, Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House, is about to be released, but both Politico and The Washington Post ran excerpts from the explosive memoir. Never mind that the original claims of “Hillary Clinton’s Secret Takeover of the DNC” (Politico) and the claims that Brazile was going to replace Clinton and vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine with Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Cory Booker (Washington Post) turn out to be not quite as accurate as first reported.

In the case of Politico, further digging showed that the Joint Fundraising Agreement between the Clinton campaign and the DNC also had been offered to Clinton’s primary rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders. Basically, Clinton and her fundraising team lifted the DNC out of a red-ink hole. So no, the election wasn’t “rigged.”

In the case of the Post, the newspaper had to keep publishing “clarifications” about Brazile’s claim that she wanted to replace the Clinton-Kaine ticket with Biden-Booker. It turns out that Brazile thought about starting the process to replace the ticket after Clinton’s pneumonia diagnosis was made public in September 2016 (Clinton obviously recovered). Never mind that this would have thrown out the wishes of those who voted in Democratic primaries and caucuses, for either Clinton or Sanders (Clinton beat Sanders by some 4 million votes).

Brazile’s claims, which no doubt will go a long way toward selling her book, made for explosive headlines for a few days. Most voters, however, have been ready to move on from 2016 for a long time. True, the claims in the book reopened old wounds between die-hard activists who were feeling the Bern and those who always said, “I’m with her,” but most of America feels like it wants — and needs — to relegate the 2016 election to history.

There’s another factor at work, though. Most of the nation’s media are doing a thorough job of covering Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation in connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. All media gave oversize coverage to statements by rogue Republicans who are publicly breaking with Trump and leaving the Senate (Bob Corker of Tennessee and Jeff Flake of Arizona). Even if Flake was facing a likely loss in the primary, his Senate speech excoriating Trump and Corker’s continued criticisms offer the kind of quotes the Beltway media crowd love. In other words, Trump has been taking it on the chin, even as he tweets that “everyone” wants Hillary Clinton investigated.

So why shouldn’t it be the Democrats’ turn (an equal-time charge known as “whataboutism”)? Why shouldn’t the media spend a week or so dishing dirt on Democrats? Any story that throws mud at Hillary Clinton always chalks up big numbers anyway.

Democratic activists are furious that raising the old “rigged” charge will cement party divisions, especially as they work toward coming state elections and look to make gains in the 2018 midterms. In what he called “Donna Brazile’s Growing Pile of Nonsense,” Josh Marshall lamented the fact that Brazile’s charges, however false, mask the problems that do exist in the Democratic world.

Rethinking the way the DNC works would be a good thing. The DNC is the one committee whose stakeholders should be all Democrats – not the DCCC, which works for House incumbents or the DSCC, which works for Senate incumbents. It should never be about one candidate or one election cycle. It is a genuine shame that someone like Donna Brazile, who has worked so hard and so consistently in Democratic politics for decades, has now chosen to make it all about herself.

About 100 Clinton aides published a letter disputing Brazile’s claims and urging all Democrats to move on. So what did we learn from this election rehash?

  • Donna Brazile was overly fuzzy with her facts in her attempt to hype her book (don’t forget that she no longer has her CNN gig).
  • Hillary Clinton made mistakes in her campaign and lost.
  • At this point, the media will publish anything that dumps on Trump or Clinton.
  • Donald Trump is still president.

In other words, nothing new. So c’mon, media. Let’s stick to the present day. There are enough political scandals to keep you occupied for a long time.

Solar power price tag plummets, but climate change is making disaster relief costs soar


Solar panels in a desert in India. Other countries and individual states are tapping into a booming solar market, with costs getting cheaper every year.

While the Trump administration continues to boost dying fossil fuel industries, the rest of the world is stepping up to the true bargain of solar power.

In 2016, the record low unsubsidized solar energy price was 3.6 cents per kilowatt-hour. This year, 3.6 cents is becoming the top price, with bids going lower and lower. Saudi Arabia is building a 300-megawatt photovoltaic solar plant, and every bid it received was cheaper than that—the lowest bid price was 1.79 cents per kilowatt-hour. “For context, the average residential price for electricity in the United States is more than six times that, 12 cents/kWh,” says a story on Think Progress.

Why are oil-rich states in the Middle East investing in so much solar? Because using solar has become cheaper than using the oil they’re sitting on, and it leaves them with more oil to export. According to a story from Bloomberg Markets:

Solar power is getting so cheap that even Gulf Arab states awash in crude oil are embracing the renewable resource. Their motive is as much to keep selling fossil fuels as it is to rein in their carbon emissions.

With almost 30 percent of the world’s oil reserves and some of the lowest costs of production, Arab countries in the Persian Gulf will probably rely for years to come on crude exports as a pillar of their prosperity. But improvements in solar technology mean it will be cost effective to exploit the region’s abundant sunshine instead of burning their oil and natural gas to run power plants. That could allow them to export more and boost their haul of petrodollars.

Solar power increased worldwide by about 50 percent in 2016. The greatest growth came in the U.S. and China, which alone accounted for one-half the number of solar panels installed. The International Energy Agency says solar was the fastest-growing source of new energy worldwide, a shift mainly driven by falling prices and supportive government policies.

Although the U.S. federal government is now going in the wrong direction, many states in this country are headed in the right one. The solar industry has more than quadrupled in individual states in the last five years. To no one’s surprise, the top state using solar power is California, but others on this list from Energy Sage might be surprising. What they have in common are state tax credits, creative loan programs, and (of course) abundant sunshine. Homeowners and businesses are saving money on solar installation.

Which is good. Because the money we’re spending on relief from weather disasters made worse from climate change is only going up. Way up.

Here are the top solar states by cumulative capacity in 2017, with more information from Energy Sage:

  • California. “California now boasts 19,000 megawatts (MW) of installed solar to date, which is roughly the equivalent of the next nine states combined,” Energy Sage says.
  • North Carolina. North Carolina is now a top 10 state for solar jobs.
  • Arizona. Its state solar tax credit cuts the cost of going solar by one-quarter. “Arizona homeowners get the benefit of both their local and the federal tax subsidy and as a result, see some of the best prices for [photovoltaic] installations in the country.”
  • Nevada. “Nevada has slowly grown its solar market every year to now register as both a top U.S. state for installed solar and solar jobs.”
  • New Jersey. The state has “strong net metering policies and good values for solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs)—a process that allows homeowners to earn cash every year for the energy their solar systems are producing.”

Here are the five fastest-growing states in terms of solar power:

  • Utah. Utah has one of the best state incentives available, with an added subsidy of up to $2,000, and homeowners are taking advantage. But the incentive expires at the end of 2017, so the industry has seen a surge all year.
  • Florida. The state rejected a amendment that would have hindered the solar industry, and major price declines are projected for the next few years.
  • Texas. When you think of Texas, you think of oil, but “Texas now holds three of the top 20 cities for solar power in the U.S. in terms of consumer interest and favorable pricing.”
  • Georgia. There has been nearly a 70 percent drop in the cost of solar over the past five years.
  • Indiana. Energy Sage reports a “dramatic surge in consumer interest in 2017,” making it a hot solar market.

It’s good that someone is saving money, because 2017’s extreme weather events, greatly exacerbated by climate change, are costing taxpayers billions of dollars, and the price tag will only keep climbing. A new report from the Government Accountability Office found that “Climate change impacts are already costing the federal government money, and these costs will likely increase over time as the climate continues to change.” Here’s a highlight from the report:

For example, for 2020 through 2039, one study estimated between $4 billion and $6 billion in annual coastal property damages from sea level rise and more frequent and intense storms. Also, under this study, the Southeast likely faces greater effects than other regions because of coastal property damages.

The examples of damages would hit all areas of the country by 2100, and include:

  • Decreased shellfish harvests (Northwest).
  • Increased road damage (Northern states).
  • Increased damage to urban drainage systems.
  • Increased wildfires (Western states).
  • Changes in water supply and demand (mainly California).
  • Increased energy demand (mainly Southern states).
  • Increased heat-related mortality (mainly Southern states).
  • Increased coastal infrastructure damage (mainly Southeast states).
  • Decreased agricultural yields (widespread).

The only benefits predicted from climate change were decreased cold-related mortality in Northern states and a boost in agricultural yields in some areas.

Congress has just approved $36.5 billion in disaster relief because of the recent hurricanes and wildfires. This is on top of $205 billion for disaster relief over the past decade. The U.S. also has spent $90 billion for crop and flood insurance, $34 billion for wildland fire management, and $28 billion for repairs to federal facilities, according to the GAO report.

In case anyone is surprised that an agency connected to the Trump administration actually did research on climate change, the GAO report was requested by Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington.

The GAO report’s recommendation is as follows:

The appropriate entities within the Executive Office of the President, including the Council on Environmental Quality, Office and Management and Budget, and Office of Science and Technology Policy, should use information on the potential economic effects of climate change to help identify significant climate risks facing the federal government and craft appropriate federal responses. Such responses could include establishing a strategy to identify, prioritize, and guide federal investments to enhance resilience against future disasters.

Yeah, like that’s going to happen. Not when the Interior Department is scrubbing any mention of climate change from its five-year strategic plan, instead stressing “energy dominance” over any kind of conservation and calling for more drilling and mining on public land. Not when the Environmental Protection Agency is forcing its top scientists to withdraw from a discussion panel at a climate change conference. And not when EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is yet again adding to his security detail, causing costs for his personal security to skyrocket (now up to $2 million a year in salaries) while the rest of the agency’s budget is being slashed.

When it comes to solar power and renewable energy, it’s obvious that the rest of the world has more sense than the Trump administration.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Oct. 29, 2017.

Polls: Media offer fake news, but news from Trump seen as phoniest of all


Sorry, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, but the American people don’t think what you’re dishing has much credibility.

With conclusions that should surprise no one, a new poll reports that most people in the country admit to being duped at one time or another by a false report or conspiracy theory masquerading as news. But the majority of Americans in this poll said the biggest source of fake news is none other than the administration of Donald J. Trump.

A survey of more than 1,000 Americans by the education company StudySoup asked respondents to judge news outlets on whether they were considered trustworthy. The study also asked respondents to evaluate whether they had been taken in by false news stories and whether they believed a list of claims that included several false stories. There was an expected partisan divide on what was judged believable and what was not trusted.

In this project, we set out to reveal which news outlets Americans trust most, and which they consign to the fake news category. Going further, we studied how many citizens actually believe theories that have been roundly debunked. Our findings demonstrate just how polarized the state of news is in the present, and how facts are an increasingly endangered species in our discourse.

Polls about media often show a variety of conclusions, often based on political affiliation. A new Politico/Morning Consult poll showed that 46 percent of Americans think the media make up stories about Trump (which Trump immediately took to Twitter to brag about). But another poll by the Newseum showed a boost in perceptions about the media: 43 percent of Americans say news outlets try to report the news without bias, an improvement from only 23 percent in 2016 and 24 percent in 2015.

Trump constantly attacks legitimate news organizations as fake news. But the StudySoup survey showed that nearly 60 percent of Americans consider what they’re being fed from the Trump White House as the real fake news. No surprise there, as the Washington Post count of Trump’s accumulated lies topped 1,300 by mid-October.

The StudySoup poll was broken down by political affiliation and by age. It revealed that:

  • 55.8 percent of Republicans said they “probably or definitely” had been fooled by a fake news story while 25.3 percent said they hadn’t.
  • 46.6 percent of Democrats said they had been taken in while 37.3 percent said they hadn’t.
  • 32.3 percent of millennials don’t believe they have ever been fooled by a fake news story.
  • 52.7 percent of Generation Xers admit that they have been duped.
  • 20.2 percent of baby boomers say they aren’t sure.

The poll measured reactions to 36 different news sources. The outlets ranking highest on the fake news scale were all right-wing, with these at the top: Breitbart News, Fox News, Infowars, the Rush Limbaugh Show, and the Glenn Beck Program. A left-leaning news source also getting high marks in the fake news department was BuzzFeed, perhaps because people tend to think of them as a source of Facebook quizzes and celebrity gossip more than a credible source of information. As expected, the right-wing outlets were rated as accurate by Republicans and fake by Democrats, with opposite marks about BuzzFeed (and MSNBC).

The news outlets that received high marks for being believable were the PBS NewsHour, BBC News, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and The New Yorker, among others. This impression came from both Republicans and Democrats and from all age groups. (Note: It’s highly doubtful that all people answering the survey questions were familiar with all 36 of the news outlets and shows named in the poll.)

When it came to believing specific falsehoods, there was a correlation of which lies or truths people believed and their favorite news outlets. This is stating the obvious—for instance, nearly half of Fox News fans believed that Hillary Clinton was involved in the death of a staffer for the Democratic National Committee or that Barack Obama faked his birth certificate.

Those whose favorite news sources were in the credible category were most likely to believe news reports that are real. Nearly half of respondents (46.3 percent) who listed BBC News as a favorite news outlet said they believed climate change was real, although the fact that the percentage is under 50 percent is depressing.

When we correlated belief in unfounded conspiracies with respondents’ favorite news outlets, an interesting mix of outlets emerged. For instance, lovers of Fox News were most susceptible to trusting in the Obama birther belief, Sandy Hook hoax, and Clinton murder myths (though the network is currently embroiled in a lawsuit involving the specious Clinton story). Yet fans of BBC and PBS NewsHour were also among the most likely to believe these false stories – perhaps an indication that these outlets resisted covering the conspiracies at all, let along debunking them. …

As our results make clear, America’s media cynicism is a double-edged sword. While it equips us to assess information critically, it also prevents us from broadening our perspectives beyond the sources we already entrust. Just as our findings show that we are willing to interrogate suspect claims, our suspicion of institutions fuels lingering myths, casting their debunking into doubt.

The most interesting statistic came from the perception of the White House as a source of fake news. In all, 58.5 percent of those polled said the news coming from the White House was false. It’s no surprise that the reaction was partisan; 78.6 percent of Democrats thought the Trump administration was fake news central, while only 20.3 percent of Republicans doubted the “alternative facts” delivered by the Trump White House. In a generational breakdown, 61.3 percent of baby boomers, 60.9 percent of millennials, and 53.1 percent of Gen-Xers saw Trump speaking with a forked tongue.

That’s why it should come as no surprise that multiple members of the Trump campaign regularly retweeted tweets from a fake Twitter account pushing Russian propaganda that purported to be an account of GOP officials in Tennessee. The account, @Ten_GOP, billed itself as the “Unofficial Twitter account of Tennessee Republicans,” but was operated from the Kremlin-backed “Russian troll farm,” or Internet Research Agency, according to a report from The Daily Beast. The account’s tweets regularly pushed falsehoods about voter fraud, outrage over Hillary Clinton’s email, WikiLeaks material blaming the Obama administration for the release of CIA material, and other nonsense. It took Twitter 11 months to shut down the account, which finally closed in August, but it had some 136,000 followers during the election.

Of course, Republicans would probably just say that whole report was fake news, too.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Oct. 22, 2017.

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