New solar projects worldwide leave fossil fuels in the dust

China is way out in front of the United States in starting new solar energy projects.

Donald Trump and Republican energy officials might think they’re talking a good game with proposed boosts in offshore drilling, coal industry jobs, and tariffs on solar panels from China. But worldwide, the new energy construction projects and investment emphasis are concentrated in solar. And it’s a trend where China is far outpacing the United States.

The world installed 98 gigawatts of new solar power projects in 2017, more than the additions of coal, gas, and nuclear plants combined, according to a new report about global trends in renewable energy investment. The report is a joint effort of the United Nations Environment Programme, the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management in Germany, and Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The report reflects not only a strong emphasis on solar energy but also the amount of investment money going into those projects, and where that money is coming from.

Trump has regurgitated tweets with threats about tariffs for weeks, renewing fears of a trade war with China. But as Think Progress put it, “We’re fighting the wrong trade battle with China. The future is clean energy.”

So even as Trump focuses on backward-looking energy sources like coal and backward-looking trade policies such as these latest tariff wars, the forward-looking Chinese have seized the initiative on the core job-creating industries of the future.

There are estimates that renewable energy options such as wind and solar could produce four times as many ongoing jobs as would a fossil fuel investment such as a natural gas power plant. As the report makes clear, the global energy map is changing, and where investors are putting their money is changing along with it — especially when it comes to the developing world.

Some key findings from the UN report:

  • Renewables accounted for a record 157 gigawatts of renewable power in 2017, up from 143 gigawatts in 2016. New fossil fuel capacity accounted for only 70 gigawatts last year. Solar alone accounted for 38 percent of the net new power capacity.
  • By far, the leading location for renewable energy investment in 2017 was China, which accounted for $126.6 billion in global total investment, the highest figure ever. Solar investment alone in China was $86.5 billion. In contrast, U.S. investment in all renewables fell by 6 percent from 2016 and totaled only $40.5 billion.
  • Costs for solar energy continue to fall. The benchmark cost of electricity for a photovoltaic panel project dropped to $86 per megawatt-hour, down 15 percent from a year earlier and down 72 percent since 2009. A fall in capital costs combined with efficiency improvements contributed to that price drop.
  • Global investment in renewable energy edged up two percent in 2017 to $279.8 billion. Since 2004, the cumulative investment is $2.9 trillion.
  • Although the total amount of energy coming from renewable resources is still dwarfed by that coming from fossil fuels, because of all of the existing energy infrastructure, it is growing. The proportion of world electricity generated by wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, and hydro power rose from 11 percent in 2016 to 12.1 percent in 2017. (Ten years ago, that all-renewables figure was five percent). While that doesn’t sound like much, solar has become the cheapest new form of energy in nearly 60 countries worldwide.
  • The added contribution of more renewable energy from 11 percent to 12.1 percent of all power had the effect of preventing the emission of 1.8 gigatons of carbon dioxide. That’s roughly the same amount produced by the entire U.S. transportation system.
  • The biggest investments in renewable energy came from the developing world. Developing economies, including China, Brazil, and India, committed $177 billion to renewables, a hike of 20 percent, while investments from developed countries were down 19 percent.
  • The future of investments in renewables could be changing, as developed countries have started dropping government price supports, while countries with developing economies, such as Mexico and countries in the Middle East, are providing more support.

The foreword to the UN report singled out China as the leader.

China has been the leading destination for renewable energy investment, accounting for 45 percent of the global investment. The country has initiated 13 offshore wind projects, which in addition to reducing emissions will generate jobs in all stages of construction and operation. This demonstrates the potential for renewable energy to fight climate change and boost economic growth.

China also became the largest buyer of electric vehicles. The Chinese bought 2 ½ times as many electric cars as did car buyers in the U.S.

Of course, China still remains the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, due to its sheer size, population, and traditional reliance on coal and other fossil fuels. Overall worldwide, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere reached 406.5 parts per million in 2017, up 2.3 ppm from 2016. And 2017 was the second hottest year on record.

Still, the report’s authors recognize the renewables movement as positive and groundbreaking. Said Erik Solheim, the head of the UN Environment Programme and one of the report’s authors: “The extraordinary surge in solar investment shows how the global energy map is changing and, more importantly, what the economic benefits are of such a shift. Investments in renewables bring more people into the economy, they deliver more jobs, better quality jobs, and better paid jobs. Clean energy also means less pollution, which means healthier, happier development.”

Too bad that Republican leaders in the U.S. are still sticking their heads in the oil-soaked sand.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on April 15, 2018.

 

How Parkland school shooting is shifting electoral landscape

Moms Demand Action members descended on the Louisiana State Legislature to show support for a “red flags” bill that would allow police to seize guns from people who pose a risk to themselves or others. (Photo by Michelle Gajda)

We won’t know the full extent until after the midterm elections, but gun violence is sure to be a key factor driving people to the polls this year. And for once, the numbers are likely to favor those in favor of common-sense gun safety laws, not those backing the positions of the National Rifle Association.

You can see the evidence in many ways across the country:

  • Public opinion polls continue to show a swing toward stricter gun laws since the Valentine’s Day mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Support for stricter gun laws is hitting record highs.
  • The #MarchForOurLives events on March 24 attracted millions of participants at 800-plus marches in all 50 states and on six continents, including at least 850,000 in Washington, D.C., alone. A recent poll conducted by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that one in five Americans have attended a recent protest, political rally, or speech.
  • There are huge surges in numbers of people volunteering for and donating to gun control groups. At least 75,000 new volunteers showed up at meetings of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America shortly after the Parkland shooting, and the numbers only continue to grow. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has started three new chapters and reported increases in donations. More than 450,000 people have signed a “vote courage” pledge on the website of Giffords: The Courage to Fight Gun Violence, and new donations total $1.2 million.
  • The #MarchForOurLives events also featured voter registration, and all of the gun safety groups are joining together to make sure those young marchers are also registered to vote.
  • It’s not just general opinion polls: A PPP poll found that stopping gun violence was the top priority for one-third of Florida Democratic voters. A CBS News nationwide poll found that two-thirds of American voters say candidates must agree with their views on guns to earn their vote.

Of course, that issue resonates with two-thirds of voters on both sides of the gun issue. But maybe enough numbers have shifted in the direction of gun safety that the results will be different this time around.

One sign of change is shown in which races Democrats are choosing to contest, and where they want their voices to be heard.

Lucy McBath on her way home from the Washington march.

Take this example: Lucia “Lucy” McBath, who lost her teenage son to gun violence, originally wanted to run for a seat in the Georgia State House. But after the Parkland shooting, she’s thinking bigger.

Now she’s running for Congress.

McBath lost her son, Jordan Davis, in 2012 when a white driver approached the vehicle Jordan was in at a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida. The white driver, Michael Dunn, complained that the teenagers’ rap music was too loud. Words were exchanged, and Dunn fired 10 shots into the teens’ car, killing Jordan. It took two trials, but Dunn was finally found guilty of first-degree murder in 2014.

McBath became a spokeswoman for Moms Demand Action, reaching out to faith communities, and became active as part of the Mothers of the Movement, a group of women who lost children to gun violence. They spoke at the Democratic National Convention in 2016, and campaigned for Hillary Clinton.

But now she has turned from activism to politics. She traveled to the Washington March for Our Lives event, meeting with Parkland survivors beforehand.

A story in The Washington Post quotes from a letter McBath wrote to her supporters on why she was making the change, saying that “her voice was needed in Washington.”

“In the last few weeks since the tragedy in Parkland, we’ve all witnessed the reaction from Washington,” she wrote. “It’s been much of the same response after every other mass shooting. ‘It’s not time to have the debate.’ ‘Let’s wait and see.’ ‘It isn’t the time to act.’ So, with much prayer and reflection, I’ve decided to listen to the voters I met and to those brave students from Parkland and run for Congress in my home district of Georgia’s 6th.”

McBath becomes a high-profile candidate in what could be a high-profile race. Georgia’s 6th Congressional District is held by Rep. Karen Handel, who edged out a two-point win over Jon Ossoff in a 2017 special election. As McBath told Mother Jones after she met the Parkland survivors:

The students are the whole demographic of individuals we’ve needed to stand up and to act on their own behalf, not just for themselves but for all gun violence victims. …

My goal is to win [the election], but the overreaching goal is to make sure that we are forcing our legislatures to do right by the people. I want to be part of that process [and] I know that my voice will have a great deal of impact because this is what I do.

The race won’t be easy: McBath already faces three other Democratic candidates in the May 22 primary. The seat has been held by Republicans for nearly 40 years, but who knows—after Parkland, Georgia voters may think it’s time for a change.

Candidates running for office can seek endorsements from gun safety groups. Moms Demand Action will endorse candidates who meet the group’s criteria as supporting common-sense gun laws. Candidates for both state and federal offices can fill out a questionnaire at the group’s website to earn that endorsement; those that do will earn an electronic image that can be used on campaign websites and elsewhere on social media to show that they are certified candidates. You might have seen this image already on campaign sites or in tweets. (The NRA, of course, also sends out questionnaires to candidates, basically demanding support, to develop the group’s letter-grade ratings. It keeps the contents of its questionnaires secret, but it sends its ratings to voters. The Moms Demand Action questionnaire is available to the public as a PDF.)

In the same vein, people whom gun safety groups have given the name gun sense voters can use the same questionnaire to ask candidates for their positions on gun safety. The gun sense voter program is a joint project of Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety.

The GiffordsPAC also endorses candidates, and its list of endorsements is growing, in races for governor and for the U.S. House. It backed several successful candidates in 2017 elections, especially in Virginia, including Gov. Ralph Northam.

No one working for a Blue Wave in the midterms feels complacent—we’ve still got an uphill battle against gerrymandered districts. Gun safety groups might have received a surge of new donations, but so did the NRA—the rate of donations to the gun lobby group tripled after the Parkland shooting.

When it comes to the gun issue, though, consider this: In the statewide election for a new Supreme Court justice in Wisconsin, the new justice is progressive Judge Rebecca Dallet. The GOP spent big money backing Judge Michael Screnock, Gov. Scott Walker’s handpicked candidate. Screnock received an NRA endorsement and NRA help during the election.

And he lost by double digits.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on April 8, 2018.

The nation’s underpaid teachers are rising up

Photos of crumbling books and broken chairs that teachers in Oklahoma are forced to use have gone viral.

You’d think that some state lawmakers never learned the lessons they heard in elementary school. Especially the ones about respect.

Teachers in reliably red states like West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona are rising up — and starting to win — over matters of teachers’ pay. They’re posting photos of dilapidated textbooks and equipment, telling stories about working multiple jobs, and sharing tales of providing meals for students out of their own pockets. And they’re not teachers in unions. They’re just teachers who are sick and tired of living hand to mouth.

In West Virginia, teachers statewide went on strike for nine days. The strike affected all levels of education, K-12. After crying poor and at first reneging on a deal cut by the state’s governor, the West Virginia Legislature finally passed a five percent raise for the state’s teachers and other government workers.

Now the same situation is playing out in Oklahoma, where teachers were paid even less than in West Virginia and staged walkouts. According to a report by the National Education Association, teachers’ annual salaries in Oklahoma rank among the lowest in the country.

Due to their low pay, public school teachers are about five times more likely than the average full-time U.S. worker to have extra part-time jobs — 17.9 percent are forced to moonlight just to feed their families. From a report in Vox:

Before the first class bell rings, many teachers deliver newspapers, drive buses, or do custodial work. After class and on weekends, they might work as supermarket cashiers, Lyft drivers, or restaurant servers. It’s exhausting.

“I didn’t know it was going to be this hard to make a living,” said Victor González, a high school ESL teacher in Oklahoma who works two part-time jobs during the week — one as a custodian and another as a digital video operator. “We’re still figuring out how to make ends meet.”

Here’s how The Washington Post described the lot of teachers in Oklahoma:

Adjusted for inflation, Oklahoma schools have lost about 30 percent of their funding over the past decade. The state’s teachers are among the worst paid in the nation and about 20 percent of the Oklahoma’s school districts have moved to four-day school weeks because they can no longer afford to keep the lights on for five. Schools have been unable to purchase textbooks or make repairs — many students have to share tattered textbooks that are missing pages.

Oklahoma teachers got a raise, but now 100 teachers are on a 110-mile march from Tulsa to the state capital in their quest for increased funding for students. And what answer did they get from their state’s officials?

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin compared striking teachers to “a teenage kid that wants a better car.” She is now trying to backtrack those remarks. She signed legislation raising teacher salaries, but the state’s teachers want more money for students, who still will be forced to use those crumbling textbooks. She further infuriated teachers when she said, “I hope they can come up here and say ‘thank you’ on Monday and go back to the classrooms.”

Oklahoma State Rep. Kevin McDugle posted on Facebook that he would not vote “for another stinking (education) measure when they’re acting the way they’re acting.” He later apologized has since deleted that post.

McDugle may face more than bad publicity, however. After those vitriolic words, Cyndi Ralston, who has taught in Oklahoma schools for 30 years in McDugle’s district, decided to run against him for his house seat. As a Democrat.

“If Kevin McDugle won’t fight for teachers and students, then I will,” Ralston wrote in her own Facebook post. “If Kevin McDugle won’t back parents over oil companies, I will. If Kevin McDugle won’t treat his constituents with respect and dignity, I will.”

Teachers in Kentucky and Arizona are next. According to a story from NBC News:

Kentucky has also had teacher walkouts: On Monday, every public school in Kentucky closed when teachers gathered at the state Capitol to protest a pension overhaul bill that Republican lawmakers passed last week. About two dozen schools in two Kentucky counties were still closed Tuesday.

Meanwhile, in Arizona, where the average teacher pay is 43rd in the nation at about $47,000 a year, according to the National Education Association, educators are also mobilizing.

Last week, about 2,500 teachers rallied at the Arizona state Capitol demanding a 20 percent raise. On Wednesday, Arizona teachers, wearing red, held a “walk-in” where they held up protest signs and walked into their schools alongside those in the community who support their demands, reported NBC affiliate 12 News in Phoenix.

One teacher in Oklahoma summed up the attitude of many others.

“We’re not interested in a better car,” said Jami Beshear, a middle school special education teacher in Oklahoma City. “We’re interested in our students having a better future.”

Voices of black and brown youth: ‘We march for our lives every day’

March attendees showed support for a broad message about everyday gun violence.

The 800-plus #MarchForOurLives events around the country and the world are still resonating. The speeches from survivors of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas School in Parkland, Florida, moved us all, and some of those those teens are now household names.

For me, though, nothing resonated more than the voices of African-American and Latino youth for whom gun violence is nothing new.

Just like the national march in Washington and marches across the country, the march in Chicago featured the voices of youth. Significantly, the Chicago march featured many voices of kids living on the South and West Sides of the city, many of whom repeated the line, “We march for our lives every single day.”

Nearly all said they were personally affected by gun violence, whether they lost a friend, family member, neighbor, or classmate. Some had witnessed death firsthand. Some had learned about it later from a relative, teacher, or police officer. They wanted the 85,000 people attending the march, who were mostly white, to get a sense of what facing violence daily can be like.

Nationwide, the student organizers of these events realized quickly that to be authentic, they needed to be inclusive, and the Chicago march was no different. As Chicago Tribune columnist Dahleen Glanton wrote:

While planning the Chicago march, the privileged students came to realize that a “March for Our Lives” could not only be about keeping children safe at school.

In a city where nearly 500 people have been shot this year, it had to also be about protecting kids who face violence every minute of the day.

Speaker after speaker rattled off statistics about school shootings, gun deaths, and injuries. Over 400 students and adults have become victims of school shootings since 2012, the year of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. The U.S. has averaged one school shooting every 63 hours in 2018.

In Chicago, as Glanton wrote, there have been nearly 500 shooting victims in 2018 alone (so far). Of those shootings, there have been 87 fatalities, 33 of them 25 and younger, mostly concentrated on the South and West Sides. When it comes to gang violence, some gangs are now using assault-style rifles such as the AR-15.

When gun violence is this widespread, it’s not surprising that these speakers know these facts about such violence firsthand.

Besides talking about the need for stronger gun safety laws, speakers and performers also stressed what’s missing in their communities, like jobs, social services, and school counselors and social workers. They talked about how factories and employers abandoned their neighborhoods long ago. They reminded attendees how, after Chicago closed some 50 elementary and high schools, children and teens were forced to walk farther to get to school, often crossing into neighborhoods in rival gang territories. “We don’t need a $95 million police academy,” one speaker said, referring to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s approved-but-unfunded proposal to build a state-of-the-art police training facility on the South Side. “We need money for schools.” As a matter of fact, there have been student protests against the academy. Students have gone to City Hall to erect tombstones with names of people killed in police shootings, such as Laquan McDonald, plus names of schools, mental health clinics, and other services the city has closed down.

The Chicago event featured multiple performances of music, dance, and rap poetry, some of which were performed in the “Louder Than a Bomb” poetry slam competition held annually in Chicago with 120 area high schools. The video below (shot by an attendee below the stage, but still audible) is of four young women from Hinsdale Central High School, in a mostly white western suburb of Chicago.

“Hinsdale Central?” I thought. “Are we going to see four blonde girls?”

That’s not what happened. In this powerful performance of their original piece called “Trigger Warning,” these young women (L to R: Ellie Peña, Ayana Otokiti, Amani Mryan, and Kai Foster) talked about more than just school shootings. Foster said her family moved from the South Side to the suburbs “because her mother wasn’t sure about the school system.” Peña said she was a Mexican gay born in the barrio but “had forgotten Spanish in order to remain safe.” Mryan said she was “visibly Muslim but learned to act white.” Otokiti said media pay “attention to shootings involving people of color only when they’re involved in a gang.” Here are some of the poem’s lines.

The media constantly questions the demeanor of the shooter:

Was he isolated?

Did he have any friends?

Did he have a troubled family?

Who the hell cares? …

But I heard he was:

An orphan!

A troubled teen!

A broken boy with no friends!

Those are all really weird ways to say domestic terrorist!

Wrote Glanton, who also is African-American, in her Tribune column:

It was the first time some privileged adults had ever heard young blacks and Hispanics tell their personal stories of losing friends, siblings and parents to Chicago’s gun violence. It was the first time some had heard the raw emotions spill out in poetry and music.

And the words of these underprivileged youths were powerful.

The privileged adults nodded in agreement and applauded when the underprivileged teens demanded more social services, mental health services, and resources be designated to fight the violence on Chicago’s South and West Sides.

But what will happen now?

We can’t say yet whether the young people’s decision to share their privileged platform will change the way privileged adults react to young African-Americans who are dying so frequently.

But we do know this.

The young people have begun to listen to each other. That’s at least a start in closing the gap between the privileged and the underprivileged.

There’s lots of evidence of that listening. Chicago teens also were represented in the Washington March for Our Lives rally, especially after a group from Chicago met with Parkland survivors earlier in March, including student activist Emma González. In a series of tweets, González wrote:

Those who face gun violence on a level that we have only just glimpsed from our gated communities have never had their voices heard in their entire lives the way that we have in these few weeks alone. Since we all share in feeling this pain and know all too well how it feels to have to grow up at the snap of a finger, we were able to cover a lot of ground in communicating our experiences. People of color in inner-cities and everywhere have been dealing with this for a despicably long time, and the media cycles just don’t cover the violence the way they did here. The platform us Parkland Students have established is to be shared with every person, black or white, gay or straight, religious or not, who has experienced gun violence, and hand in hand, side by side, We Will Make This Change Together.

“Chicago has been plagued with gun violence way before the Parkland shooting,” said Chicago march speaker Juan Reyes, a student at Chicago’s Whitney Young High School (Michelle Obama’s alma mater). “Suddenly, people are talking about students not feeling safe in schools. But in reality, students in our city’s South and West Sides have never felt safe.”

Originally posted on Daily Kos on April 1, 2018.

Austin bomber is finally called a domestic terrorist. It’s about time.

It took the police long enough. Police in Austin, Texas, have finally admitted that the man who terrorized the city for 19 days by sending package bombs was a terrorist.

The series of bombings rocked the city. The explosions killed two people and injured several more. Frightened residents were told to stay inside and avoid opening packages left on porches.

Finally, a lucky break combined with good police work put authorities, including the FBI, on the trail of 23-year-old Mark Anthony Conditt. Rather than surrender, Conditt blew himself up in his car with the seventh bomb he had constructed.

Yet for weeks, police refused to label Conditt a terrorist, instead calling him a “troubled young man motivated by frustrations in his life.”

Why did the police hedge? The obvious answer is that Conditt is white.

Conditt is not only white, but he was home-schooled in a “Christian home” (nearly all media stressed the point of his religion).

Despite the fact that the bombings targeted predominantly African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods in Austin, police refused to assign any racial motives to Conditt’s activities. As The Washington Post reported:

Interim Austin police chief ­Brian Manley said Conditt made a 25-minute video “confession” on his cellphone explaining how he built seven explosive devices.

“Having listened to that recording, he does not at all mention anything about terrorism, nor does he mention anything about hate,” Manley said in a news conference Wednesday. “But instead, it is the outcry of a very challenged young man talking about challenges in his personal life that led him to this point.” …

This hesitancy to describe the suspect as a terrorist angered many on social media who believed it presented a double standard. Would Conditt be characterized in the same way if he had been a person of color, such as a black or Muslim man?

“Once, before I die, I’d like to hear a cop or prosecutor declare — and mainstream media report — that the confession of a black- or brown-skinned suspect to a crime of violence is ‘the outcry of a very challenged young man, talking about challenges that led him to this point,’ ” tweeted David Simon, a writer and producer known for the television series “The Wire.”

“Murdering multiple people and being called ‘challenged’ is the height of white privilege,” tweeted comedian, actor and writer Kumail Nanjiani, who is of Pakistani heritage. “If this terrorist bomber was a brown guy, my mom wouldn’t be able to leave her house for a week.”

Let’s ask the families of the victims if they think it was terrorism. This “very challenged young man” killed Anthony Stephan House, 39, an African-American money manager, and Draylen Mason, an African-American 17-year-old whose acceptance to the prestigious Oberlin Conservatory of Music arrived after he was dead. After the first bombing, police actually suggested the possibility that House might have set the bomb off himself.

There’s never a presumption of innocence where darker skin color is concerned.

What else do we know about Conditt? He ran in “conservative survivalist circles.” According to a report from Buzzfeed:

Cassia Schultz, 21, told BuzzFeed News that she ran in the same conservative survivalist circles as Conditt in high school.

Schultz said they were both involved in a group called Righteous Invasion of Truth (RIOT), a Bible study and outdoors group for homeschooled kids, created and named by the kids and their families, that included monthly activities such as archery, gun skills, and water balloon fights. Conditt and his younger sister would usually attend the activities along with 15 to 20 other kids, according to Schultz.

“A lot of us were very into science; we would discuss chemicals and how to mix them and which ones were dangerous,” said Schultz. “We were into weapons and stuff. A lot of us did role-playing, and RPG [role-playing games]; we’d have foam weapons and act out a battle.”

Schultz described Conditt as a “pretty normal kid.” She said that a lot of children who were part of RIOT carried knives and learned how to shoot guns at gun ranges, but she didn’t recall bombs or bomb-making being a specific topic of discussion at RIOT.

Good to know, I guess. Knives and gun skills were all OK. But bombs weren’t a “specific topic of discussion” at RIOT, even though the kids in this group learned how to mix chemicals and learn “which ones were dangerous.”

Merriam-Webster defines terrorism as “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.” It might have a political aim, and it might not. It might be based on religious beliefs or a racial animus, or it might not. The effect is the same: People are still petrified.

It’s still terrorism. Maybe next time — which we hope there won’t be, but there always is — the police can say that up front, no matter the terrorist’s skin color.

Trump’s crooked Cabinet: Liars, thieves, & scoundrels edition (UPDATE)


Who’s the biggest freeloader in this gang of grifters?

Barely a day goes by without a new story about mind-blowing, expensive malfeasance by another member of Donald Trump’s Cabinet.

Not that we had hope for any of them at the beginning of Trump’s term. Senate Democrats were correct to vote against most of the Cabinet nominees, even if it didn’t do any good in the long run — they were all confirmed, even if it took a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence in the case of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, she of the “I don’t visit underperforming schools” school, as she revealed in her disastrous 60 Minutes interview.

The Cabinet secretaries are lavishly overspending, flying high on the public’s dime, mixing politics with their official duties, and basically showing the rest of the world that they’re ignorant of exactly what their department is supposed to do.

Although there’s a long list of Trump staff appointees who have left or been shoved out the door of the White House itself, only two Cabinet secretaries have had to hit the road — so far.

  • Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was fired by tweet (or told he was getting the ax while he was sitting on the toilet — really, either scenario is despicable). The official reason given was muddy, but the rest of the world knows that it was because Tillerson dared to criticize Russia for its likely role in using a nerve agent to poison ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the United Kingdom.
  • The publicity was so bad about Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price’s high-flying ways that he was forced to resign. A Politico investigation discovered that he had spent taxpayer money on military and private chartered jets to the tune of $1 million, when his predecessors had flown commercial.

Maybe Trump and co. just figure that the public has grown numb to such wretched excess—after all, the Secret Service already has spent $150,000 on golf cart rental alone for Trump’s numerous outings on the links, so what’s a few private jets? Some in the Cabinet are ringing up bills that are approaching or are as big as the Price-isn’t-right level. But no one — certainly not Trump himself — is calling for any other Cabinet secretary’s ouster because of outlandish travel costs (at least, that we’ve heard about; who knows what someone might have said to raise Trumpian ire?). Nevertheless, there are a lot of ways that some others in the Cabinet have been living large. Hearing about them one at a time is bad enough. Grouping them into a crooked Cabinet roundup tells the whole sordid — and expensive — story.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Tom Price was forced to resign, but that was so 2017—acceptable outlandish flight prices obviously have gone up. Now, Mnuchin’s the one who has spent nearly $1 million on private and military flights. Taking commercial flights, as his predecessors did, is obviously for the little people, as Mnuchin and his actress wife, Louise Linton, showed us when they took a military flight to Tennessee to see last summer’s eclipse, even though the official reason was to “check out the gold” at Fort Knox. Mnuchin always used the excuse that he needed to take military flights because of the necessity for “secure communications” when he was on board. Believe it or not, a Treasury Department investigation cleared Mnuchin.

EPA Director Scott Pruitt. Speaking of secure communications, let’s not forget about the soundproof booth that Pruitt claimed was essential for his office. It was bad enough at the original reported price of $25,000. But the total costs were actually more like $43,000, once you add in the prep work renovations of pouring two feet of concrete, installing a drop ceiling, painting, etc. And that’s not Pruitt’s only transgression. He, too, seems to be addicted to expensive travel: His trips on chartered, military, business-class, and first-class flights totaled $163,000—paltry by Mnuchin standards, but still a good chunk of change. Several evolving excuses were offered: He received a blanket waiver to always fly first class (he didn’t); he had to sit near the front of the plane for security reasons (how is it secure when everyone in coach has to file by your seat?); he faced “unprecedented threats” from the general public (I assume that’s when a fellow traveler yelled something like, “WHY ARE YOU POISONING THE PLANET?”). One trip to Italy alone, with a private tour of the Vatican, cost $120,000. And all of this doesn’t include Pruitt’s 24/7 security detail, at a reported $3 million annual cost, which is needed because—well, let’s be honest, it’s not needed.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. The $31,000 price tag of the now-infamous dining room set is chump change compared with what’s spent on other Cabinet secretaries’ flights. But it was the laughingly stupid excuses that really exposed Carson’s idiocy. First he blamed the furniture order on his staff, saying he knew nothing about it. Then, when emails surfaced that he did know about it, he tried to claim that the old furniture was dangerous because people were being “struck by nails” from the existing table and chairs. Finally, he told a House Appropriations subcommittee that #Tablegate was all his wife’s fault, that she chose the furniture, and that he knew nothing about it. Underside of bus, meet Candy Carson. At least that’s a better excuse than the one offered by New York Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney, who blamed the botched purchase order on the “deep state.” Oh, and did we mention how inappropriate it was for Carson to enlist his own son, Ben Jr., to arrange an official HUD speaking tour? Especially because the honored guests who would hear Dr. Carson’s message were all doing business with the younger Carson and his wife? But when the boss’s White House is a cesspool of nepotism, why should HUD be any different?

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. There have been multiple reports about Zinke’s high-flying habits: A half-dozen taxpayer-funded flights on private jets; flights on a chartered jet owned by an oil executive; official trips that were mostly to meet with big GOP political donors or for campaign events, with a scant amount of official business thrown in; and a special helicopter ride so he could ride horses with Mike Pence. Zinke was miffed that senators dared to ask him questions at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing. He whined about “misleading questions” and “innuendoes” regarding his travel and the new $139,000 doors in his office. Hey, it’s good to know that those jacked-up fees at national parks are paying for something, right? At least the public knows when he’s in Washington, courtesy of the special “secretarial flag” he orders his staff to run up the flagpole when he’s in the building.

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. The VA secretary’s big trouble came over a 10-day trip to Europe with only three days of meetings with European officials. The trouble came when the $122,000 trip also included free tickets to Wimbledon. And a boat cruise on the Thames. And a tour of a Danish castle. And shopping in Sweden. And all travel expenses for Shulkin’s wife, Merle Bari. Shulkin has since reimbursed the costs of his wife’s travel, especially after a report found that Shulkin’s chief of staff had doctored emails to justify paying for Bari’s expenses. The European trip, by the way, came less than two weeks after Shulkin signed a memo instructing top VA staff to determine whether “employee travel in their organization is essential.” Now there are reports that Shulkin might be the next secretary to go.

Other Cabinet secretaries also have jumped on the expensive travel train, although to a lesser extent. Energy Secretary Rick Perry insists that the $56,000 he has spent on chartered jet travel is “essential” for him to do his job. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao used government jets seven times, but the Transportation Department’s ethics counsel approved all of those uses.

To be fair, some Cabinet members fly commercial when they travel or repay the difference between private and commercial flights themselves, like Small Business Administration head Linda McMahon. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has used military aircraft only to fly to disaster sites. And Education Secretary DeVos and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, both extremely wealthy, fly on their own private jets when not on commercial flights; DeVos uses her own jets exclusively.

All of this pricey travel has spurred two senators, Iowa Republican Joni Ernst and Michigan Democrat Gary Peters, to ask the White House Office of Management and Budget to provide more detail about White House policies on travel spending. Somehow, I doubt they’ll get much satisfaction.

Of course, it’s not the egregious behavior — it’s the optics. The White House reportedly called several Cabinet members on the carpet because of their high expenses. But it wasn’t because of the high expenses at all — it was because the details of those expenses were all over CNN.

In the end, these Cabinet secretaries are sometimes chastised but are mostly cleared through internal investigations of their free-spending ways. There are always rumors that Trump is considering dumping some Cabinet members and replacing them with others in a game of White House Cabinet Room musical chairs. But it probably won’t matter as long as they do the jobs Trump considers most important: Sing Trump’s praises and never disagree with him.

And never, ever, say anything negative about Vladimir Putin.

UPDATE: Just as reported, Shulkin is now history. The new nominee, Ronny Jackson, is the doctor who reported that the 71-year-old Trump magically grew an inch taller than what is reported on his driver’s license and weighs in at just 239 pounds, conveniently one pound shy of obesity. If you want to be a Cabinet secretary, it’s all about the flattery.

And there are new reports of wrongdoings by Pruitt. Instead of livin’ large, he stayed at a condo co-owned by the wife of an energy industry lobbyist for the bargain price of $50/night in Washington’s expensive rental market. Sure enough, that lobbyist’s company’s pipeline extension project won approval from the EPA.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on March 25, 2018.

 

Republicans running out of excuses for losing: Lessons from Conor Lamb’s victory

When you run against a handsome candidate (holding a baby lamb, yet) you’re bound to lose. At least according to GOP reasoning.

Not to rub it in, but it must totally suck to be a Republican candidate these days.

Democrat Conor Lamb squeezed out a narrow victory in a Pennsylvania congressional district that Donald Trump won by 20 points. In 2014 and 2016, Democrats didn’t even bother to field a candidate against the Republican incumbent, Rep. Tim Murphy, who had held the seat since 2003. Except the staunch anti-abortion congressman had to resign when he was caught suggesting in text messages to his lover that she get an abortion.

The district had been rated R+11 by the Cook Political Report. Republicans and outside groups poured a gusher of money into the race between Lamb and GOP State Rep. Rick Saccone—about $10.7 million on the GOP side from outside groups, compared with $2.6 million on the Democratic side. But as the Beatles sang, “Money can’t buy me love.”

Even though Saccone still hasn’t conceded, the rest of his party knows that the loss is a disaster, even if the preferred term is “wake-up call.” The GOP tried to spin the loss of this congressional seat in more ways than a field full of wind turbines in a tornado, but they just looked dumber and dumber.

The nitwits on Fox & Friends chalked up Lamb’s victory to his good looks: “Absolutely, cuteness counts,” said co-host Brian Kilmeade. Here was the take from ThinkProgress:

Rather than contemplate that Trump’s popularity has sagged or that Saccone’s conservative policy proposals did not win votes, perhaps it was easier to blame the outcome on the dashing good looks of the 33-year-old Democrat trumping those of the 60-year-old Republican — though it is worth noting that septuagenarian Donald Trump beat out more than a dozen younger candidates in his 2016 run.

And speaking of looks: Possibly the most innovative excuse came from a GOP strategist who chose to remain anonymous (wouldn’t you?) in this comment to The Washington Examiner when he blamed it all on Saccone’s mustache. ″It’s a porn stache,” the strategist said. Hey, if my party’s president was embroiled in a scandal with adult film star Stormy Daniels, I wouldn’t bring up anything with the word “porn” in it. Just sayin’.

Many in the GOP blamed the candidate himself for running a “lackluster campaign.” From a story on Huffington Post:

“This may not be nice to say: The fact is that the Saccone campaign was a joke. If we had a candidate who could walk and chew gum at the same time, we would have [easily] won the race,” said Corry Bliss, executive director of the Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC, in a statement.

Ever think it might be something else, GOP? Like your policies are unpopular, your incumbents look weak and scared when they run away from their own constituents, your president’s approval numbers are circling the drain, and you’re ignoring the will of the American people on issues like DACA, health care, and gun violence?

Before the election, Saccone and the Republicans tried to paint Lamb, a center-left Democrat, as a flaming liberal. GOP ads touting their big tax scam bill had no effect, so they went after Lamb personally: He was weak on crime and was hit with everything else in the usual GOP playbook, including the culture wars. He was “Nancy Pelosi’s little Lamb.” Obviously, when all else fails, bring up Nancy Pelosi.

Saccone himself minced no words. “The other side,” he said, “… has a hatred for our president … for our country. I’ll tell you some more, my wife and I saw it again today. They have a hatred for God.”

Yet after Lamb won, the GOP claimed that the guy who had a hatred for God (Lamb is a devout Catholic, BTW) secretly ran as a Republican all along, or at least as a conservative Democrat. That’s quite a conversion in 24 hours.

Not so fast, Lyin’ Ryan.

Probably the most ridiculous excuse came from Trump himself. The weekend before the election, Trump spent an hour at a Saccone rally either insulting people or bragging about himself to his red-meat base, predicting that Saccone would win easily. After the loss, during a private fundraiser in Missouri for GOP Senate candidate Josh Hawley, Trump said the only reason Lamb won was because … he was like Trump. According to an audio recording from the fundraiser sent to The Atlantic:

“The young man last night that ran, he said, ‘Oh, I’m like Trump. Second Amendment, everything. I love the tax cuts, everything.’ He ran on that basis,” Trump said. “He ran on a campaign that said very nice things about me. I said, ‘Is he a Republican? He sounds like a Republican to me.’ ”

Spoiler alert: Lamb never said any of those things. Seeing how Trump seems to get policy ideas and talking points from Fox & Friends, I’m surprised he didn’t mention Lamb’s looks, too. Other claims from Trump officials that Lamb “really embraced Trump’s policies and positions” are just as laughable. Said an analysis on CNN:

Instead of blaming Saccone or crediting Lamb, it makes far more sense to consider that the President’s performance in office was the key factor in Pennsylvania. Having purchased what Trump was selling once, Americans have been carefully assessing what their votes bought.

You can use whatever cliches you want: The winds have changed, the tide has turned, the handwriting is on the wall. But there’s a definite blue wave at work. The Pennsylvania race might be the first House seat that flipped, but Democrats have flipped 39 seats from red to blue in state races since Trump took office. The Cook Political Report keeps changing its ratings, making House races more and more favorable for Democrats. Currently, the score is that only three districts with a Democrat in office are rated as toss-ups, while 27 GOP seats are toss-ups. There are actually more solid Democratic seats (175) than Republican seats (167). The generic congressional ballot polling on midterm elections keeps favoring Democrats, although the percentage point difference grows and shrinks.

The latest entry from Sabato’s Crystal Ball, another election soothsayer, points out that recent House special elections all featured “pronounced swings” against Republicans, and there are two more tests coming up.

As things stand, two other congressional districts will have special elections before the 2018 midterm election: AZ-8 on April 24 and OH-12 on Aug. 7. Based on the 2016 election, the presidential lean of the two districts favors Republicans — R +24.5 in AZ-8 and R +14.1 in OH-12. However, if the swings in those contests follow the average swing during the Trump era (D +13.7), they will be competitive races. This is particularly true of OH-12, which would see its Republican lean essentially neutralized by the average swing in congressional contests. The PA-18 result should scare Republicans, but if the GOP loses OH-12 just three months before the midterm election, those fears will grow exponentially.

Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight sees a huge enthusiasm gap between voters in the two parties. He claims that a Democratic wave could become a tsunami, mostly because of high voter turnout in traditionally blue areas.

Republicans have one less excuse for their string of really awful special election performances. It’s true that other measures aren’t as bad for Republicans as these special elections — for instance, they trail Democrats by “only” 8 or 9 percentage points on the generic congressional ballot, which suggests a close race for control of the House this year that only narrowly favors Democrats. By contrast, the 16- or 17-point average Democratic overperformance in special elections so far suggests a Democratic mega-tsunami. …

There were signs of an enthusiasm gap even within Pennsylvania 18 on Tuesday night. According to the Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman, turnout in Democratic-leaning Allegheny County equaled 67 percent of presidential-year turnout, but voters turned out at only 60 percent of presidential levels in Republican-leaning Westmoreland County. That sort of turnout gap suggests that registered-voter polls could be underrating Democrats in this year’s midterms — and could turn a challenging year for Republicans into a catastrophic one.

We need to take all of this with shakers full of salt until it’s time to vote in the fall—especially in the Senate, with 26 Democratic incumbents facing re-election, some in tough races. Still, candidates with a “D” after their names can see the enthusiasm, while many in the “R” column must be sweating bullets. Combine that with the huge number of women candidates (Emily’s List now says the number of candidates seeking assistance has reached an unheard-of 34,000), the newly registered 18-year-olds who are focusing like lasers on gun violence, Trump’s miserable approval ratings, and the continuing investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, and you just might have that big blue wave after all.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on March 18, 2018.

Kids will lead on gun reform when lawmakers won’t

Thank you.

As we look at video and photos of the hundreds of thousands of students who walked out of class to fight for gun reform, we can be thankful that they’re not afraid to step up.

Hundreds of students at our local suburban school in Illinois, Oak Park and River Forest High School, joined with others around the country to remind elected officials that the rules have changed. No longer will the issue of gun safety fade away after a mass shooting.

You bet we’ve had #Enough.

Because the kids aren’t going to let that happen.

The National Rifle Association, Donald Trump, and Republican lawmakers still think they can just wait it out until the country’s attention turns to the latest Trump scandal. But the game has changed. These kids and their protests are going to be in their faces. Especially on Election Day, when those who have turned 18 make their way to the polls for the first time.

Many of the students, including the adult onlookers, were dressed in orange, the color that has come to symbolize the gun control campaign. This was a silent march and protest. Instead of chants, students marched in the street while adults faced them from the sidewalk, many holding signs simply saying, “Thank you.”

Many students carried signs. Some signs listed the names of those killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, with the admonition, “It ends now.”

Many of the signs simply pleaded their case:

  • No more devastation, because I want an education.
  • It could have been us.
  • Give us a shot with life, not bullets.
  • Books, not bullets.
  • Schools, not war zones.
  • We march because they can’t.
  • Protect people over guns.
  • Congress: Protect children.
  • How many deaths will it take?
  • Ask yourself: Do you need that gun?
  • Teachers are teachers, not security.
  • #NeverAgain.
  • #WeWantChange.
  • Fear has no place in school.
  • Thoughts and prayers aren’t enough.
  • We are the future.

Yes, you do.

We know Congress won’t do anything right now, given its current makeup. And while some states are passing laws, it’s only a first step.

Multiple polls show that vast and growing majorities of Americans favor common-sense gun safety measures, such as universal background checks for all gun sales (even private ones), a ban on assault-style weapons, a ban on bump stocks, three-day waiting periods to buy weapons, prevention of sales of firearms to people who have been convicted of violent misdemeanors, restrictions on gun purchases by those who have been reported to law enforcement as being a threat to themselves or others, expanding treatment and screening of the mentally ill, and limits on the size of ammunition magazine clips, and the creation of a national database on gun sales.

Lawmakers on the wrong side of the gun safety issue are going to get a big wake-up call come November.

One couple brought their granddaughter, knowing how frightening the future might be. Let’s follow this toddler’s advice and flex our electoral muscles over gun reform.

Let’s keep it safe for kids like her. And vote!

Who ISN’T corrupt in the Trump White House? Kellyanne Conway is latest example

Grifters all: Senior adviser Kellyanne Conway is just the latest Trump appointee to face ethics charges, even if there’s no downside for her.

White House senior economic adviser Gary Cohn is the latest to join the revolving door of Donald Trump appointees who are running for (or being pushed toward) the exits. One name we’d love to add to that list is Kellyanne Conway.

Conway, the senior adviser who loves to brag that she’s been offered the post of communications director “many times,” was found to be in violation of the Hatch Act, the law that forbids officials in the executive branch to campaign as a part of their official duties. This latest violation was in reference to appearances on (where else) Fox News, during which she advocated for the election of Alabama Republican and shopping-mall exile Roy Moore to the Senate.

The White House Office of Special Counsel found that she overstepped the bounds of the Hatch Act. Not that anything will happen to @KellyannePolls, who remains one of Trump’s staunchest backers and can always be counted on to lie in the face (remember her “alternative facts” claims?) of any cable TV interviewer.

Nope, she’s still hanging around. According to a report from The Washington Post:

The OSC’s letter to Trump read: “In passing this law, Congress intended to promote public confidence in the Executive branch by ensuring the federal government is working for all Americans without regard to their political views. Ms. Conway’s statements during the Fox & Friends and New Day interviews impermissibly mixed official government business with political views about candidates in the Alabama special election for U.S. Senate.”

The punishment for the violation was left to the White House, which wasted little time making clear that there wouldn’t be any punishment.

“Public confidence in the Executive branch.” There’s an oxymoron in the time of Trump. With chartered jets, first-class air travel, $31,000 dining room sets, and $139,000 doors, there’s no reason for confidence anywhere. That doesn’t even include the guilty pleas and indictments of Trump officials being racked up by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. So far.

Conway, of course, had been found in violation of ethics rules before when she became a shill for Ivanka Trump’s fashion line. Nothing happened to her then, either. Nor did anything happen to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin when he promoted one of his own private ventures, The LEGO Batman Movie.

Which brings us to the question: How egregious does an offense have to be to get fired from this White House? Because there’s a long list of guilty parties, and most of them are still hanging around.

The Hatch Act, also called “An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities,” was passed in 1939 in response to charges that some Democrats had used jobs in the Works Progress Administration as rewards, also having those in WPA jobs as campaign workers. The law was named for its sponsor, New Mexico Democratic Sen. Carl Hatch.

Full disclosure: Our daughter actually worked for the Obama White House for six years, albeit in a lower-level capacity. But she had to undergo a rigorous security clearance, with FBI agents visiting our neighbors (she was not long out of college) to find out information about her. Neighbors jokingly asked us if she was signing up to work for the CIA.

But when it came to the Hatch Act, there was no question about the delineation of roles. Every employee was told in no uncertain terms: You. Do. Not. Campaign. As. Part. Of. Your. Official. Job. Every employee attended a mandatory reminder session every year. No political phone calls from White House phones. No email from government computers. The list of advisory rules went on and on.

Of course, that was then, under President Obama, who obviously thought that laws applied to him and to those his administration hired. During the Trump years, there apparently are no rules.

Some complain that the Hatch Act is outmoded in today’s world, especially in an age of constant TV presence and social media. Maybe that’s true. But it’s still the law.

The WaPo piece adds that two other administration officials also were found to have violated the Hatch Act in some of their tweets backing or attacking certain candidates: U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and social media director Dan Scavino. Apparently nothing happened to them, either.

Now that Trump has officially launched his re-election campaign, the White House Office of Special Counsel took the step of issuing new guidance:

“For example, while on duty or in the workplace,” the guidelines read, “employees may not: wear, display, or distribute items with the slogan ‘Make America Great Again’ or any other materials from President Trump’s 2016 or 2020 campaigns; use hashtags such as #MAGA or #ResistTrump in social media posts or other forums; or display non-official pictures of President Trump.”

HA! Yeah, like that will stop any Trump appointee from doing any of those things. Sarah Huckabee Sanders will probably wear a red “Keep America Great” hat while holding the press briefings.

Columnist Jennifer Rubin, also writing in The Washington Post, makes the point that Trumpland stopped worrying about following any rules from Day One.

The expectation of compliance with the law and concern about the appearance of impropriety are entirely absent from this administration for one very simple reason: Trump has set the standard and the example. Don’t bother with the rules. If caught, just make up stuff. …

The brazenness with which this administration tramples rules designed to prevent both corruption and the misuse of taxpayers’ money for personal or political purposes should not surprise, but it should draw our condemnation. Congress has encouraged this lawlessness by failing in its fundamental duty of oversight and in failing to beef up ethics rules.

Going forward, no president should be able to withhold release of his tax returns, or maintain control of active businesses. No president should allow his unqualified family members to hold high government posts — especially when they cannot even qualify for a security clearance. No president should be allowed to enrich himself while in office. (It is bad enough that they do it after they leave office.)

We won’t be holding our collective breaths waiting for any of that.

Son-in-law Jared Kushner, who incredulously still has a job as Trump’s senior adviser despite the yanking of his “temporary” top security clearance, is now said to have a security clearance lower than the White House calligrapher.

But let’s give the calligrapher a pass. The calligrapher, Patricia Blair, has been in that office for many years and has served three presidents. The only reason she has any security clearance at all is that she needs access to the president’s schedule to ensure the accuracy of invitations.

So at least when it comes to beautiful handwriting, maybe the White House has some standards after all.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on March 11, 2018.

Thanks for celebrating women with new Barbies, Mattel. Now make them normal size.

Don’t get me wrong, Mattel: I’m thrilled to see these role models. But why did you have to make them so skinny, as usual?

In honor of International Women’s Day, the toy giant Mattel is releasing a new batch of Barbies based on real-life women who can only be called “sheroes.” But even sheroes need a little meat on their bones.

“Barbie is committed to shining a light on empowering role models past and present in an effort to inspire more girls,” Mattel said in a news release announcing the new group of 17 dolls. The new figures are based on a series of women from around the globe of different nationalities, ethnicities, races, cultures and vocations, all of who have made a difference in the world. They are listed as either sheroes or “inspiring women,” such as aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, NASA mathematician and physicist Katherine Johnson and artist Frida Kahlo.

The 2018 sheroes include boxing champion Nicola Adams, fashion designer and entrepreneur Vicky Martin Berrocal, chef Hélène Darroze, soccer player Sara Gama, actress and philanthropist Xiaotong Guan, conservationist Bindi Irwin, Wonder Woman filmmaker Patty Jenkins, snowboarding champion Chloe Kim, windsurfer Çağla Kubat, golfer Lorena Ochoa, designer and entrepreneur Leyla Piedayesh, volleyball champion Hui Ruoqi, ballerina Yuan Yuan Tan and journalist Martyna Wojciechowska. You can link to the accomplishments of all these women at the online news release.

These accomplished women join other Barbies inspired by women of note of past years, including gymnastics champion Gabby Douglas, film director Ava DuVernay, ballerina Misty Copeland, and fencing champion Ibtihaj Muhammad. Mattel started its Barbie sheroes series in 2015.

Now, a few of these dolls, such as the Barbie based on model and body activist Ashley Graham, who gained fame by breaking the stereotype of the skin-and-bones mannequin and being a “curvy model,” a term she prefers over “plus-size,” have more realistic proportions. There is some height difference, too, in these new models. But most of them have the dimensions that could still fit into all of the skinny Barbie fashions, from the slinky black sequined “Solo in the Spotlight” gown to every bikini Barbie ever wore to the pool in her Dream House.

Chicago Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens wasn’t thrilled with the look of the new dolls, saying, “they couldn’t house a vital organ among them.”

Remember those charts a few years back that showed how Barbie’s proportions would translate if she were a real woman? She’d have a 16-inch waist, according to one chart, which would be 4 inches thinner than her head and leave room for only half a liver. Her wrists would be 3.5 inches around, her ankles would be 6 inches around, and she’d likely have to walk on all fours.

Which seem like some major impediments to the feats accomplished by Earhart, the first female aviator to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, Kahlo, a legendary artist, and Johnson, a mathematician hired by NASA to calculate the trajectory of the first American-manned flight into space. …

Creating the Inspiring Women dolls ($29.99 each) with more realistic proportions would have meant other Barbie clothing and accessories wouldn’t fit them, which may have struck designers as limiting.

But it would have been symbolic and powerful to use this new series as a line in the sand — a moment to say, “Real women in history deserve realistic body types. Here you go.”

Here is an interview Stevens did on the subject, in which all three women agreed that Mattel missed a major opportunity.

The study about Barbie’s unrealistic dimensions cited by Stevens was sponsored by Rehabs.com in 2013. Rather than just dump on Mattel, the study drew attention to eating disorders, including anorexia, and the fact that too many girls obsess about their weight and body image. Rehabs.com seems to be a for-profit company with rehabilitation centers for alcohol, drug, and behavioral disorders, including eating disorders. So even if its motives in the study were to increase business, that doesn’t make the conclusions any different.

An even bigger reason for the almost-one-size-fits-all-Barbies is that, with the millions of Barbies sold, Mattel needs a standard manufacturing process so that Barbie doll molds can be used interchangeably. Having several of them in multiple sizes would cost more. And some changes have been made: In 1998, Barbie’s waist actually grew bigger, and her bust grew smaller.

Mattel says it chose the new figures after polling 8,000 mothers around the globe and finding that “86% of moms surveyed are worried about the kind of role models their daughters are exposed to.” It adds, “Barbie honors women who have broken boundaries in their fields and have been an inspiration to the next generation of girls with a one-of-a-kind doll made in their likeness.”

Fair enough, and laudable. Girls need more and better role models from all walks of life, and from all over the world. It’s moving to see dolls in all different skin tones, with every color and texture of hair, sometimes even covered with a head scarf. But it would be even healthier to expand the manufacturing process to include dolls of more normal size.

There’s no doubt that Barbie is big — make that YUGE — business. According to Mattel’s “Fast Facts About Barbie” page:

  • Barbie’s full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts (who knew?)
  • Barbie stands 11.5 inches tall.
  • Barbie has had more than 180 “inspirational” careers.
  • Barbie is the most popular fashion doll ever produced, and the brand continues to dominate sales in the fashion doll segment with gross sales in 2014 of $1.01 billion worldwide.
  • Although she has never won an election, Barbie has run for president six times.

COME ON, MATTEL. You can do better than that. Couldn’t we at least have a Gov. Barbie or Mayor Barbie, or something?

It’s been decades since I played with a Barbie doll, and it was never my go-to choice of plaything anyway. My strongest memory of playing with Barbie was when a friend discovered that some—not all—of Barbie’s clothes actually fit the Ken doll, too. Was some toy designer deep within Mattel having a little fun at the public’s expense? Or were they more open-minded than we thought? I guess we’ll never know.

Our two daughters were never big Barbie aficionados, either. I know they both received one each as birthday gifts, but some of their friends looked down their noses when the girls admitted that they had only one Barbie. Whereas we used to change Barbie’s outfits depending on our chosen adventure for the fashion doll, apparently as years passed, that practice morphed into the need to have multiple Barbies, each with their own outfits, hairstyles, and career choices. No, our girls cast the Barbies aside and instead turned their vast collection of stuffed animals into opposing armies (they were “Beanie Baby Wars” in our house), supposedly to determine whether cats or dogs would achieve world domination. As I recall, the outcomes were usually a draw.

But back to the Barbie sheroes. To be fair, many of the women used as Barbie models were thrilled with Mattel’s new emphasis on women empowerment, unrealistic body types be damned.

So thanks, Mattel. Let’s celebrate women’s accomplishments all month—and every month! But let’s remember that most women come in all sizes and shapes, not just those who fit into a size zero bathing suit.

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