Of course Trump’s tweets were racist. But they’re a losing proposition in the long run

Donald Trump’s itchy Twitter fingers are getting him in trouble once again.

Donald Trump’s tweetstorm telling four Democratic congresswomen of color to go back to the “crime-infested and corrupt” countries they came from reflected the kind of racism he espoused during his campaign and throughout his presidency. He’s planning to double down on that racism to try to win reelection, and immediate polls showed that his standing rose with Republicans.

The trouble for him is that the racism expressed in these tweets are sinking him with the swing voters he desperately needs.

Trump sent a flurry of incendiary tweets clearly aimed at the four progressive congresswomen known as “the squad” — New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley, and Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, all of whom have been strongly critical of Trump. Besides telling them to return to their countries (three were born in the United States, and Omar moved to the U.S. as a refugee from Somalia when she was a child, and all are American citizens and members of the U.S. House of Representatives), he questioned their patriotism, lied about their past statements, and said they “hate” America. It was the kind of message Americans have come to expect from Trump, except it reached a level of overt racism that he usually doesn’t express out loud — or only expresses at his rallies.

There’s a big partisan divide on how people view Trump’s racist missives. A USA TODAY/Ipsos Poll showed that a clear majority of Americans object to Trump’s messaging: 68 percent think the tweets were offensive, and 59 percent called them “un-American.”

The tweets were widely condemned around the world as well. British MP David Lammy branded Trump’s comments as “1950s racism straight from the White House.” Reactions from Belgium, Germany, New Zealand, and the West Bank included phrases such as “sickening,” “ugly sentiments,” “clearly racist,” and “an insult to values America purports to uphold.”

In the USA TODAY/Ipsos Poll, 93 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of independents polled agreed that the tweets were offensive. Even 37 percent of Republicans gave them that label.

On the Republican side, though, the reactions tell a different story. Fifty-seven percent of Republicans polled said they agreed with Trump’s tweets, including a third that “strongly agreed” with Trump’s words.

Well, sure. That’s his base. Those are the people who will vote for Trump in November 2020 no matter how racist he sounds. But that base isn’t enough to win reelection.

As a USA TODAY story describing the polls put it:

The dispute could be costly for Trump among key voters in his bid for a second term. Three-fourths of the women polled call his tweets offensive. Independents, by more than 2-1, say the comments are “un-American.”

One interesting takeaway from the poll is that most Americans are fine with political criticism. From the USA TODAY/Ipsos poll:

There is a broad consensus among those surveyed that it is patriotic “to point out where America falls short and try to do better.”

There’s no doubt that Trump’s Twitter thumbs went into overdrive because he was trying to shift the focus from an outbreak of negative publicity. His bad news included losing the fight to get a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, the continuing horror stories of migrant children being locked in cages at the border, and the wealth of material showing him with multiple ties to Jeffery Epstein, the billionaire newly indicted on sex trafficking charges, including a video of Trump and Epstein (and a lot of young women) whooping it up at a Mar-a-Lago party.

In the weeks leading up to the Trump tweetstorm, a mostly media-driven battle had emerged between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the four women of the squad. The differences were blown up by media interviews, incendiary tweets, and messaging by both sides.

After Trump took to his phone, however, all Democratic sides united in response. The Democratic-led House passed a resolution condemning Trump’s tweets, with four GOP votes and one vote from Michigan’s Justin Amash, a Republican recently turned independent when he publicly backed Trump’s impeachment.

There’s no secret why those in the GOP are so frightened of crossing Trump: They’re afraid of losing the support of Trump voters. As former Republican Rep. Joe Walsh wrote in The Washington Post:

In a world where more Republicans still sincerely thought of our party as the Party of Lincoln, condemning the president’s words should have been a no-brainer, and, in theory, should have been the tipping point where Republicans started hopping off the Trump bandwagon.

But it won’t be. …

Most of them care only about getting reelected. The same rudderless politicians who’ve let Trump give plum jobs to unqualified cronies and run up the deficit are too scared of his base to do anything other than comply.

Keep your base, Trump and his fellow Republicans. You could be in for a rude awakening when you wake up on Nov. 4, 2020, only to find that the majority of people in this country are so sick of Trump’s racism and your unwillingness to stand up to him about it that they voted for Democrats.

GOP’s new methods of ratf**king: spreading lies online via social media

A shouting match ensued between Playboy writer Brian Karem (center) and former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka (right) after a White House social media summit for conservative online activists.

Republicans are showing how scared they are of losing the 2020 election by returning to one of their tried-and-true forms of spreading disinformation and resorting to dirty electoral tricks — ratfucking. The danger is that employing those dirty tricks on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and elsewhere gives their lies a wider audience, as it did in 2016.

A Wikipedia definition of ratfucking should sound familiar to anyone who follows politics. “Ratfucking is an American slang term for political sabotage or dirty tricks. It was brought to public attention by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in their non-fiction book All the President’s Men.

It’s not a new practice, but it was perfected by operatives of Richard Nixon for his 1972 reelection campaign, the campaign where indicted Trump adviser Roger Stone got his start as a 19-year-old. Even those operatives’ actions were just a continuation of what they did as Republican undergraduates at the University of Southern California, when they “engaged in shady tactics to win elections.” More recent examples are Karl Rove’s moves against John McCain in 2000, when voters were asked if they would be less likely to support McCain if he had “fathered an illegitimate black child,” or Roger Stone telling the National Enquirer in 2016 about the “rumor” that Ted Cruz had five secret mistresses. (Donald Trump himself was happy to hint that Cruz’ father had assassinated JFK. Oh, who am I kidding — he makes up and spreads this crap all the time.)

We know that disinformation spread through Russian election interference helped Trump win the Electoral College in 2016, even as he lost by nearly 3 million votes. Since Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to hold votes on House-passed election security bills giving money to states to shore up election systems or on bipartisan Senate measures for cyberinformation-sharing, Americans can expect the same foreign interference in next year’s presidential contest. We’ve already seen lying tweets continuously repeated by bots until an insulting hashtag starts trending and deepfake videos, such as one that made House Speaker Nancy Pelosi look drunk.

Donald Trump held a social media summit at the White House for right-wing allies that was closed to outside media. Invited guests included such known liars as James O’Keefe, famous for his doctored and misleading videos; QAnon conspiracy theorists; and right-wing members of Congress who claim that tech companies “censor conservatives.” Representatives of actual social media companies weren’t invited. As Think Progress reported before the summit:

It would be easy to dismiss the summit as just another presidential stunt, following closely on the heels of Trump’s largely rained-out Fourth of July celebration. But giving trolls full-fledged White House attention in the run-up to the 2020 election could become a serious problem, as it would further encourage them and others to spread the same sort of misinformation that thrived during 2016.

So what does ratfucking look like these days? Here are a few examples.

Fake “campaign websites.” As a New York Times story described it, a Trump digital consultant has developed “campaign websites” for several Democratic presidential hopefuls. These fakes look like legitimate campaign websites, except that they portray the candidate in negative ways, distorting their records just enough to look real but to give a bad impression of the candidate.

The most successful of these fake sites is one purporting to be the campaign website of former Vice President Joe Biden, calling itself “Joe Biden for President.” Its address is joebiden.info rather than than joebiden.com, the actual website of the campaign, and it has received more online visits than the real site.

The site is filled with images of Biden’s often “overly friendly” manner of affection through physical contact. It also lists past Biden quotes, gaffes, stances, and votes that would definitely not endear him to progressive voters.

A tiny disclaimer at the bottom proclaims: “This site is political commentary and parody of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign website. This is not Joe Biden’s actual website. It is intended for entertainment and political commentary only and is therefore protected under fair use. It is not paid for by any candidate, committee, organization, or PAC. It is a project BY AN American citizen FOR American citizens. Self-Funded.”

Self-funded. Except that the brains behind these fake candidate sites is a Republican consultant for Trump’s reelection campaign. From the Times story:

His name is Patrick Mauldin, and he makes videos and other digital content for President Trump’s re-election campaign. Together with his brother Ryan, Mr. Mauldin also runs Vici Media Group, a Republican political consulting firm in Austin whose website opens with the line “We Kick” followed by the image of a donkey — the Democratic Party symbol often known by another, three-letter, name. …

Yet in anonymously trying to exploit the fissures within the Democratic ranks — fissures that ran through this past week’s debates — Mr. Mauldin’s website hews far closer to the disinformation spread by Russian trolls in 2016 than typical political messaging. With nothing to indicate its creator’s motives or employer, the website offers a preview of what election experts and national security officials say Americans can expect to be bombarded with for the next year and a half: anonymous and hard-to-trace digital messaging spread by sophisticated political operatives whose aim is to sow discord through deceit. Trolling, that is, as a political strategy.

It turns out that the fake Biden site wasn’t news to the real Biden campaign. “Imagine our surprise that a site full of obvious disinformation is the handiwork of an operative tied to the Trump campaign,” said campaign spokesman T.J. Ducklo.

There are also fake websites for other Democratic front-runners: A “Millionaire Bernie” labels Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders as a greedy socialist. “Elizabeth Warren for Chief” recalls her claims to Native American ancestry. “Kamala Harris for Arresting the People” repeats the false claim that as a prosecutor, she “put parents in jail for children skipping school — and laughed about it.”

The new “birtherism” against Kamala Harris. There have been multiple coordinated Twitter attacks against the California Democratic senator. The most recent was a bot-spread campaign against Harris, who was born in Oakland to a Jamaican father and an Indian mother, claiming that she couldn’t truly represent American blacks. The original instigator was a self-described “black activist” calling himself Ali Alexander. He insisted that Harris cannot represent the black experience in America because she has “no ancestors who suffered American Slavery, the Civil War, nor Jim Crow.” His tweets were retweeted by bots and went viral, even being retweeted by Donald Trump Jr., who later deleted his retweet.

It turns out that “Ali Alexander” is a pseudonym for a well-known right-wing activist and Trump supporter. As Huffington Post described the scam:

Alexander is actually a far-right political operative and conspiracy theorist Ali Akbar, or Ali Abdul Razaq Akbar, whom Politico profiled last year as an “increasingly prominent pro-Trump supporter.”

Other Democratic candidates came to Harris’ defense, and the fake attack seemed to die out once it was exposed. I guess a birtherism campaign, like the one Trump used for years against President Obama, sounds pretty stale in 2019.

Republicans donating to the Marianne Williamson campaign. Self-help author Marianne Williamson was one of 20 candidates in the first round of Democratic debates. She got off a few good lines, but she also had some bizarre moments, such as promising to call New Zealand’s prime minister to say, “Girlfriend, you are so on” and to call European leaders to tell them, “We’re BAAACK!”

Just the kind of candidate you want to make sure stays in, right? Well, sure, if you’re in the GOP.  According to an MSN story:

GOP strategist Jeff Roe, who ran Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’ 2016 presidential campaign, tweeted out to his 16,000 followers asking fellow Republicans “to donate $1 to keep this vibrant democrat on the debate stage. One debate performance is not enough.”

At least several people appear to have taken up the challenge based on responses to Roe, accompanied by copies of receipts of their campaign donations.

We still don’t know if small donations by a growing number of Republicans will be enough for Williamson to reach the 130,000-donor threshold that the Democratic National Committee has established for inclusion in the third round of debates in September. But it’s the number of donors, not the amount raised, that dictate making it to the stage, so Republicans could spend next to nothing and still look forward to Williamson vowing to “harness love for political purposes.”

The inept dirty tricksters. Luckily for Democrats, some of those on the GOP side are just pathetically bad at trying to throw Republican wrenches into the works. The Washington Post ran a personality profile (we’re using the term “personality” loosely) on right-wing nutter activist Jacob Wohl and former GOP lobbyist and conspiracy theorist Jack Berman, two would-be ratfuckers who keep bungling their attempts to burn Democrats or anyone else standing in Trump’s way.

That was before their spree of bungled smears — including a disappearing sexual assault accuser against special counsel Robert Mueller (announced at a news conference that Burkman conducted with his pants zipper down) and a botched attempt last month to paint Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg as a sexual predator. …

The truth or falsity of a Burkman-Wohl-concocted story is merely an inconvenience. Let the media’s “puritanical” fact-checkers puzzle it out: That’s the view of this twosome who fancy themselves as sub rosa players in the 2020 presidential contest and busy themselves trafficking in Internet rumors they hope will damage Democratic candidates.

Like notorious dirty tricksters before them, they operate in a realm where it matters little whether their claims are proved — they hardly ever are — but only whether they somehow slip into a corpuscle or two of the national bloodstream. But today it’s a more dangerous game: They operate in an era when notions about truth and fiction have been upended and in which many Americans get their information from self-affirming, partisan silos, making their brand of political cyberwarfare hyper-relevant.

Wohl already has been permanently suspended from Twitter for creating fake accounts to negatively affect the 2020 election (Wohl called it an “intellectual exercise”) and was fined by an Arizona regulatory commission for securities fraud (he never paid). Burkman has reached out to Republicans in Iowa to offer his services (“Nobody returned my call,” he said).

Here’s the danger, though. Even if these two are untalented idiots, if undecided voters have caught wind of anything they’ve concocted and believe just enough to raise doubts, that whiff of doubt has done its job.

Sometimes those theories spark dangerous actions. The “pizzagate” conspiracy theory about a global child trafficking ring being run (by Democrats and Hillary Clinton!) in the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant sounds like a schlock movie script that no one in Hollywood would touch. Yet it was enough for an armed right-winger to travel to Washington in December 2016 and start shooting inside the pizzeria to “liberate child sex slaves” while restaurant employees fled in terror. Even this year, a California man tried to set fire to the restaurant after he watched a YouTube pizzagate video.

I hate to think of the lies they’ll come up with next that may go viral.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on July 14, 2019.

Chicago Race Riots of 1919: violence that cemented the city’s segregation

The Chicago Race Riots were national news everywhere and were covered widely by the city’s premier African-American newspaper, the Chicago Defender.

On July 27, 1919, a hot summer Sunday 100 years ago, Chicago’s beaches were packed with people trying to beat the heat. Some black youths were playing on a makeshift raft launched from the 29th Street Beach, popular with the African-American community.

As the raft drifted over an imposed “invisible line” that separated black swimmers from white beachgoers, who swam from the 26th Street Beach, a crowd of whites noticed the black teenagers and grew angry. Some of them started throwing rocks at the young men.

George Stauber, a 24-year-old white man, was among those in the crowd of angry whites. He hurled stones at the boys until he hit 17-year-old Eugene Williams, in the head. Williams, who couldn’t swim, fell off the raft and drowned.

Police were called. Daniel Callahan, the first police officer to arrive, refused to arrest Stauber, which angered the black crowd that had gathered. Instead, Callahan arrested one of the black men present, on a minor complaint from a white man.

The black teen’s death and the lack of police response triggered what remains the most violent episode in Chicago history, the 1919 Race Riots. The riots were part of a string of nationwide outbreaks of racial and labor conflicts that year, which collectively came to be known as “Red Summer.”

By the time the violence stopped seven days later, 38 people were dead — 25 blacks and 13 whites. Two-thirds of the 520 Chicagoans who were injured were black. Two-thirds of the 138 people indicted for riot-related crimes also were black, even though white citizens were the ones who started the attacks. Some 4,000 troops from the National Guard were called in to quell the violence.

But it would take the black community a long time to recover — fires and vandalism left more than 1,000 black families homeless. White gangs even laid down steel cables over streets so fire trucks could not get to burning homes in black neighborhoods. And the segregation that separated white and black communities in the city, long a cultural norm, deepened and is ingrained to this day.

Those involved in a history project marking the anniversary point out that the conditions that sparked the riots — the segregation, the attitudes, and the police inaction — are as prevalent in 2019 as they were in 1919.

Chicago 1919: Confronting the Race Riots is a year-long initiative about the history of the riots. The project is holding events throughout the city all year to teach current Chicagoans about the history that few of them know. The effort is being funded primarily by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and is being led by the Newberry Library with support from 13 other local institutions. Partner organizations include the DuSable Museum for African American History, the Chicago History Museum, and many others.

Chicago was a major destination for thousands of Southern blacks during the first part of the Great Migration in the early 1900s, as whole families moved to Midwest and Northern cities. Chicago also was a destination for European immigrants, many of whom arrived at the same time. The groups settled in different but sometimes adjacent neighborhoods and competed for housing as well as jobs in the stockyards and meatpacking plants. The city’s population grew from 1.6 million in 1900 to 2.7 million by 1920.

The unrest started the night of July 27, 1919. Fights broke out between black residents, angry about the lack of an arrest for Williams’ death, and nearby whites, especially those from the city’s South Side Bridgeport neighborhood, home to many Irish immigrants. Soon, the fights erupted into rioting.

One of the white ethnic gangs active in attacking black residents was the Irish Hamburg Athletic Club in Bridgeport, named specifically in a post-riot report as an instigator of violence. The club had a 17-year-old member who would become famous: Richard J. Daley, the long-time mayor of Chicago from 1955 until his death in 1976. Daley never acknowledged whether he was part of the violence.

A Chicago Sun-Times story recounted Newberry’s historical summary of the riots:

After the beach confrontation, “Whites loaded into automobiles and sped through black streets, firing indiscriminately at African Americans and their homes. As whites attacked, black people fought back in unprecedented numbers: a street-level expression of the growing race consciousness catching fire across the country.

“… The riots were terrible,” the summary continues. “So was their aftermath and expulsion from history. Only a handful were tried or saw any prison time — most of them black. Many of the riot’s most vicious offenders were whites protected by law enforcement and local politicians.”

The DuSable is one of the partner institutions in the initiative, and Director of Education Erica Griffin sees an invisible arc connecting Eugene Williams and Laquan McDonald — the 17-year-old shot 16 times by police officer Jason Van Dyke, triggering days of mass protests.

In the aftermath of the 1919 riots, Illinois Gov. Frank Orren Lowden sought to investigate the city’s race relations. Mayor William Hale “Big Bill” Thompson charged the Chicago Commission on Race Relations with the task.

Led by black sociologist Charles S. Johnson, the commission issued a 672-page report 2 1/2 years later, “The Negro in Chicago: A Study of Race Relations and a Race Riot.” Its findings of systemic racism came with 59 recommendations for municipal reform that went nowhere.

A 2017 video from Decades TV explains what led to the riots, what the culture of the city was leading up to them, and the aftermath. The video is narrated by long-time Chicago and national newsman Bill Kurtis (you might recognize his voice from NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me”) and features commentary from Peter Alter, historian and director of the Studs Terkel Center for Oral History at the Chicago History Museum.

A story about the history project in the Chicago Tribune recounted how the riots led to even more segregation. This is from Adam Green, a University of Chicago history professor and an adviser to the project.

Before 1919 there was tension over blacks moving into “white” neighborhoods and even some racially motivated bombings as the black population grew in the Great Migration, Green explained.

But after the riots, the city — meaning white Chicago — essentially decided to separate the races officially. “The city’s response to the cataclysmic events of the riot in many ways was to double down on segregation as a solution to keep the peace,” Green said. “So restrictive covenants, for instance, were first drafted and implemented by the Chicago Real Estate Board, the governing (industry) group in the city, in 1925. … Housing segregation of course has been a dominant shaping factor within the city and has largely structured it as a dual and unequal city in relation to whites and blacks.”

The Chicago Sun-Times also interviewed an eyewitness to the riots, Juanita Mitchell, who was 8 years old at the time and had just arrived in Chicago with her mother and sister. Mitchell was 107 at the time of the interview in March 2019 and still lives in the Chicago area. Here’s some of what she remembered:

“My father had died. My uncle was a doctor, and my aunt had gotten permission from him to take in her sister and her two daughters. We had just gotten to their home on 35th & Giles,” Mitchell told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“We met my aunt. We were in the living room. That’s when I saw my uncle at the window, and I heard him in a gruff voice say, ‘Here they come!’ I didn’t know what he meant. I said, ‘What’s going on?’ My uncle said, ‘The race riot. The white people are coming down 35th Street with loaded guns.’ ” …

“My Uncle Cesar said, ‘Here they come!’ That’s when he grabbed us and hid us in the living room behind the piano. I saw him go in his pocket and come out with the longest gun I’d ever seen. I was a little girl, so it was big to me,” she said.

“My mother began to cry. We stayed hiding with my Aunt Iona behind that piano ’til things quieted down on 35th Street. So that was my introduction to Chicago.”

Besides the violence, the deaths, the injuries, the arrests, and the loss of black residents’ homes, many African-American businesses and workers were affected. The majority of blacks who worked in Chicago’s stockyards were non-union, and union whites always had been resentful of their hiring. After the riots, white stockyard workers threatened to strike if black workers were allowed back on the job. The African-American workers were able to return only under the protection of special police and militia members.

Among the new books about the riots is 1919, a collection of poems by Eve L. Ewing, an acclaimed author and a professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. The book is published by Haymarket Books and is available from Amazon and elsewhere.

As Ewing told the Chicago Tribune, the poems in this book show how history repeats itself. The poems cover all the aspects of the riots and the events leading up to it: the Great Migration and the racial tensions.

“It’s not about commemorating this thing that happened 100 years ago,” Ewing told the Tribune in a phone interview. “It’s about asking more critical questions about what we’re going to do over the next 100 years.” Ewing also is serving as one of the scholarly advisers to the Newberry Library helping to coordinate the yearlong programming effort remembering the riots.

Another new book describing the riots and the aftermath was written specifically for young adults. A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919, by Claire Hartfield, recently won the Coretta Scott King Author Book Award. The book is published by Clarion Books and is available from Amazon.

The title comes from a Carl Sandburg poem about the incident, “I Am the People, the Mob.” Sandburg wrote the poem after he covered the riots as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News.

Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red drops for history to remember.
Then — I forget.
When I, the People, learn to remember, when I, the People, use the lessons of yesterday and no longer forget who robbed me last year, who played me for a fool — then there will be no speaker in all the world say the name: “The People,” with any fleck of a sneer in his voice or any far-off smile of derision.
The mob — the crowd — the mass — will arrive then.

The “Chicago 1919” events started in February and will continue all year to help people learn more about the riots. On the actual anniversary itself, July 27, 2019, there are two events. The Chicago History Museum and the DuSable Museum of African American History are co-sponsoring an event at Margaret S. Burroughs Beach, 3100 S. Lake Shore Drive. (The artist and writer Dr. Margaret Burroughs founded the DuSable Museum in 1961.) The same day, Newberry Library will sponsor an afternoon of public performances, debates, and events in Washington Square Park, known as Bughouse Square for its long history as a space for free speech.

A few days later, a large-scale bicycle tour along the South Side lakefront will take riders throughout parts of the city affected by the riots. The tour is sponsored by Blackstone Bicycle Works, a community bike shop and youth education program that provides educational and vocational opportunities to youth from some of Chicago’s most underserved neighborhoods. The tour will start at the only marker of the riots in the city — at 28th Street and the lake. It reads: “Dedicated to All the Victims of the Race Riot That Began Near This Place.”

Other upcoming events include film screenings, spoken word poetry slam performances, a program about the role of law enforcement in racial violence, and readings from many of Chicago’s black writers and poets.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on July 7, 2019.

The NRA is falling apart, one bad shot at a time

Two down, one to go: Top NRA Executive Wayne LaPierre (from left on poster) is still around, but top NRA lobbyist Chris Cox and NRA President Oliver North were forced to resign.

The National Rifle Association is facing several self-made crises all at once, and it couldn’t happen to an organization that deserves it more. Consider:

  • Its finances are a mess. The group is losing both members and revenue. At the end of 2018, the NRA reported losing $55 million in revenue.
  • Gun sales are continuing their downward trend.
  • The NRA cut ties with its longtime advertising and public relations firm, Ackerman McQueen. Now the two are suing each other.
  • NRA President Oliver North was forced to resign in April during a power struggle with Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre. The NRA is now suing North over the attempted coup.
  • Speaking of LaPierre, the organization still hasn’t recovered from the bad publicity about LaPierre’s ultra-expensive clothing purchases, including $300,000 on designer suits.
  • Speaking of both LaPierre and North, the NRA’s top lobbyist and second in command, Chris Cox, was suspended after text messages showed he was one of the leaders behind the move to oust LaPierre — a move Cox strongly denied, but his aim was way off. He was forced to resign.
  • The NRA shut down production of its online media arm, NRATV.

Whose fault are all these problems? Those inside the NRA are pointing fingers at each other. Board members criticized LaPierre’s shopping sprees. One board member called for LaPierre to be fired. Two NRA board members scorched NRATV to reporters from The New York Times, citing the image of Thomas the Tank Engine in a KKK hood. And the organization is awash in multiple expensive legal disputes.

Talk about a circular firing squad.

After spending $30 million to support the election of Donald Trump in 2016, the gun group thought it would be safer than a skeet disc left in the box. But instead of hitting the target with policy wins, the NRA seems to be firing blanks — or shooting itself in the foot. As Vox said in a story explaining the NRA’s woes:

These seemingly unrelated threads are all part of a systemic issue: allegations of ongoing financial mismanagement at one of America’s largest single-issue advocacy groups — mismanagement that could cost the NRA its tax-exempt status.

There’s lots of trouble on the political firing range. Let’s look at a few examples.

The “Trump slump.” When Democrats are in power, gun sales rise, because the NRA has an obvious bogeyman to target. It’s the group’s most effective way to scare gun owners into buying more guns and to get members to fear regulations. President Obama was often referred to as “the best gun salesman in America,” because every time there was a mass shooting, he would call for common-sense gun regulations such as universal background checks. You know, the kind that are backed by 90 percent of Americans. The NRA would respond with one of its knee-jerk statements that “Obama’s trying to take your guns,” and gun sales would shoot up. But with gun sales down, even gun sellers refer to the drop in sales as the Trump slump.

Gun sales are often measured by the number of FBI background checks for gun sales. Since Trump has been in office, the number of those background checks has dropped each year, meaning that fewer people are buying guns. No bogeyman, no need for a new gun. Gun sales were down 6.1 percent in 2018, the second straight year of losses.

The money and membership drop. Gun sales weren’t the only measure showing a loss. According to the most recent NRA financial figures, reported by the Daily Beast, the NRA received only $98 million in contributions in 2017, down from nearly $125 million in 2016. Even that amount wasn’t good news, as $19 million came from a single anonymous donor. Membership dues also were down 21 percent: $128 million in 2017 membership dues compared with $163 million in 2016.

That revenue drop meant that the NRA drastically cut the amount of money it invested in the 2018 midterm elections — only $10 million, compared with the $25 million it spent in 2014.

LaPierre the clothes horse. The media had a field day with the reports of the NRA executive shopping at stores in Beverly Hills. On a single trip, he dropped $39,000 on Zegna suits. But NRA board members were furious. According to a story in GQ:

That LaPierre’s clothes suggest hypocrisy hasn’t gone unnoticed at the NRA. Aaron Davis, a former NRA employee, told the New Yorker that not everyone approved of the direction of certain departments. Davis recalled taking a board member to lunch and awkwardly requesting a donation: “He just looks at me, and he goes, ‘You know, I like you, but I hate your department.’ I said, ‘Why?’ He says, ‘Because N.R.A. is not fancy Italian shoes with thousand-dollar suits. N.R.A. is the backbone of this country, wearing bluejeans and boots.’ ”

That board member might believe his spiel about bluejeans and boots, but LaPierre and his staff dress more like top executives than cattle hands, and have for years. Even worse, LaPierre tried to hide his clothing purchases by charging them to the NRA’s now-former ad agency, Ackerman McQueen. And speaking of the ad agency:

NRA and “Ack Mack” are suing each other. Ackerman McQueen, called “Ack Mack” by NRA staffers, had been the NRA’s agency since the 1980s, producing recognizable ad campaigns such as “I’m the NRA, and I vote” and popularizing the Charlton Heston meme that his guns would have to be pried from his “cold dead hands.” But the relationship began misfiring.

The NRA sued Ackerman McQueen for $40 million in damages, charging that it was behind the coup attempt to oust LaPierre. The gun group also charged the agency with “misleading, defamatory” leaks of confidential documents that were the substance of Oliver North’s coup attempt, and with not cooperating with an audit. Recently the NRA had been paying the firm more than $40 million a year. Billings from Ackerman McQueen increased nearly 50 percent since 2015. As reported in Rolling Stone:

The decades-long partnership began to sour last summer, in the wake of threats from regulators to challenge the NRA’s nonprofit status. Scrambling to get its finances in order, the NRA sought to audit Ackerman McQueen’s books. When the agency stonewalled instead of cooperating, the NRA sued for access to its financial records.

But why should the NRA have all the lawsuit fun? Ackerman McQueen filed a counterclaim lawsuit of its own for $50 million, claiming that its reputation had been smeared by the NRA. One of Ackerman McQueen’s most recent project was launching NRATV in 2016. And speaking of that:

NRATV gets shot down. Shutting down NRATV brought the predictable (and somewhat delicious) Twitter reactions from those working against gun violence, such as Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. This tweet from Parkland mass shooting survivor and anti-gun violence activist David Hogg was typical:

And from Moms Demand Action leader Shannon Watts:

NRATV was never a particularly good investment for the gun group. It was expensive, its online views were never very high, and, according to LaPierre, it was becoming “too far removed from the core mission of defending the Second Amendment” (I guess Thomas the Tank Engine in a KKK hood was a little much, huh?). No conspiracy theory seemed too bizarre for NRATV talking heads — for instance, they suggested that the pipe bombs mailed to media outlets and Democrats in 2018 were false flags. They often spewed what has been described as red meat for the hard right.

Among the public faces of NRATV was the lightning rod Dana Loesch, who seemed more interested in a Twitter war with Moms Demand’s Shannon Watts than with being effective. Loesch, a failed actress, often labeled Moms Demand members “bored women drinking boxed wine” and once derided gun-control advocates as “tragedy-dry-humping whores.”

As a story on Huffington Post put it: “NRATV is survived by a host of lax gun laws that have enabled dangerous criminals to commit mass shootings with assault weapons.”

No more ammunition from NRA’s top lobbyist. Chris Cox was widely seen as the heir apparent to Wayne LaPierre, who is 69 years old. Cox’s official title was principal political strategist for the Institute for Legislative Action, the NRA’s lobbying arm, and he had been with the NRA since 1995. He was seen as one of its most effective message carriers — he publicly announced the NRA’s support for Donald Trump in 2016 — and he was a fervent defender of the AR-15.

But Cox was named in the lawsuit against Oliver North as being part of the conspiracy. He was placed on administrative leave for his alleged role in the Oliver North coup attempt. He denied involvement in the internal struggle, telling The New York Times:

The allegations against me are offensive and patently false. For over 24 years I have been a loyal and effective leader in this organization. My efforts have always been focused on serving the members of the National Rifle Association, and I will continue to focus all of my energy on carrying out our core mission of defending the Second Amendment.

Riiiight. Except that, given the text messages tying him to the coup attempt, he had no choice but to resign. Guess he’ll miss the $1.1 million annual salary, although I bet there’s an opening somewhere in the Trump administration for someone with his skill set. Maybe in ATF—the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives?

Originally posted on Daily Kos on June 30, 2019.

Democratic debates showcase a new rising star: Kamala Harris

One good debate performance does not win an election, but Kamala Harris was the breakout debate star over Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and the other hopefuls.

With the first two Democratic debates finished, political pundits everywhere are issuing the usual “who won” and “who lost” evaluations. But there was one winner who rose above the rest — Kamala Harris.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren came through with her usual “I have a plan for that” workmanship. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro showed why he belonged on that stage when he talked about immigration — he saw a Google surge of more than 2,400 percent after the Wednesday night debate. South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg held his own, giving a heartfelt answer about how the killing of a black resident by a white cop is affecting his community.

Some former favorites such as former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke seemed overmatched. Neither of the polling leaders, former Vice President Joe Biden or Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, had a particularly good night. With 10 candidates, and limited time to talk, it’s difficult for candidates to get all of the ideas out that they want to stress. And let’s face it: Some of the also-rans, like Marianne Williamson, Andrew Yang, Eric Swalwell, Tim Ryan, John Hickenlooper, and others, just don’t belong on that stage. Let’s hope the Democratic National Committee raises the stakes for getting into the next round of debates.

Then there was Kamala Harris. Actually, there was Kamala Harris and the rest of the field.

The California senator often has showed her toughness asking questions as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. But she took that toughness to another level on the second night of the debates. She took on Biden’s earlier comments about his history of working with segregationist senators: “If those segregationists had their way, I would not be a member of the United States Senate, and I certainly would not be a serious candidate for president of the United States.” Biden didn’t really know how to respond to her personal story on busing. The image of her as a pig-tailed young girl is now being developed into a T-shirt for supporters.

On both nights, given the number of people on stage and the need for the lower-ranked candidates to claim airtime, the Democratic hopefuls interrupted each other. Like a mom telling kids in the back seat to settle down, Harris took charge and quieted the ruckus.  “America does not want to witness a food fight, they want to know how we’re going to put food on their table,” she said as the rest of the field fell silent.

This is how the latest story giving candidates’ rankings (she’s now ranked No. 1) in The Washington Post described Harris’ performance:

The real winner this week was Harris. She had a compassionate story to illustrate every policy question, and the crowd ate it up. But Harris also was bold enough to take on the Democratic favorite headlong, and she definitely came out ahead. She didn’t spend that much time detailing her policies (reversals have dogged her in the past), but we have plenty of debates to come.

There are many descriptions of her dominance:

Satirist Andy Borowitz suggested that a frightened Donald Trump is now sending a campaign contribution — to Joe Biden.

Ever since Biden entered the race, he has been described by pundits as “the most electable candidate” to beat Donald Trump, and that has turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy in polls. Much of his support has been from African-American voters: Around 50 percent back Biden, according to an average of CNN polls.

After the first round of debates, that could change. Harris was mobbed after the debate, and many surrounding her were black women. A Politico story suggested that it was too early to tell how this first debate might affect African-American support for Biden, but his campaign might have reason to worry.

David Axelrod, the former strategist to Barack Obama, opined on CNN that the clash could hurt Biden with African Americans. He cited a recent poll showing Biden walloping the field with the highest African-American vote share while Harris had 12 percent.

“These kinds of exchanges can have an impact on that number, and that number is one of the reasons why he is sitting in such a strong position nationally,” Axelrod said. “So this has some perilous implications for him in this regard. On the other end of the equation, the question still remains if not him, who?”

What Axelrod failed to mention is that in 2008, black voters backed Hillary Clinton, thinking her as the inevitable and most electable candidate. Until they started voting for Barack Obama.

Harris, the former California attorney general, says she is ready to “prosecute” Donald Trump in 2020. “It was easy to imagine her utterly demolishing Trump on a debate stage,” wrote Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson. “It was possible to imagine Biden doing the same thing, but you had to wonder.”

It’s still six months before the first votes are cast at the Iowa caucuses. There are more debates and a lot more campaigning to do before then. We won’t see new poll numbers for several days.

But in the weeks and months to come, there’s no question that “Momala,” as her two stepchildren call her, is a new force to be take seriously.

How Trump tariffs are hurting U.S. consumers

Walmart is among the retailers who plan to raise prices because of the Trump administration’s tariffs on Chinese-made goods.

It’s not just the nation’s farmers who are feeling the negative effects of the tariffs that Donald Trump has imposed on imports from China.

The resulting trade war between the two countries cut off one of farmers’ biggest customers. There already have been a record number of bankruptcies for Midwest farmers. Soybean futures have hit the lowest price levels in a decade. Commodity prices for pork and cotton also are spiraling down. But more than just farmers are feeling the pain.

If Trump imposes even more tariffs, as he’s threatened, those added costs will be borne not by China but by U.S. companies and U.S. consumers. Those consumers may be forced to pay higher prices for shoes and clothing at stores like Walmart and Target. Walmart imports 26 percent of its products from China, while Target imports 34 percent of its merchandise from China. Others already feeling the pinch are people buying new appliances from manufacturers that rely on imported materials and parts — prices for washing machines already are up 12 percent because of the tariffs.

So far, Trump has imposed 25 percent tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese goods, from semiconductors to furniture, and there are threats of new tariffs on cellphones, computers, and clothing. If that happens, tariffs will hit 67 percent of total imports of consumer goods from China, 66 percent of automotive vehicles, 19 percent of industrial supplies, and 38 percent of capital goods, according to a list of goods that would be affected from the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office.

When Trump regularly threatens to impose more tariffs on Chinese goods, raise existing tariffs, or impose tariffs on other countries, such as India and Mexico, U.S. businesses can’t plan on future manufacturing with any certainty, so they order fewer supplies. Already, steel production is down, and plants are closing.

The total tariffs would mean that the average family could expect to pay $2,294 more annually for goods, according to a report from Tariffs Hurt the Homeland, a bipartisan campaign against the levies. CNBC compiled a list of common items that are expected to cost consumers more if all of the Trump tariffs go into effect. (There’s an even bigger list of nearly 6,000 items that would be affected.)

  • Air conditioners
  • Appliances including refrigerators
  • Auto parts
  • Batteries
  • Bicycles
  • Clothing
  • Cosmetics
  • Crafts
  • Electronics
  • Food including produce, seafood, beans, nuts, etc.
  • Furniture including cribs and outdoor furniture
  • Handbags
  • Home improvement items including carpeting and flooring
  • Luggage
  • Mattresses and bedding
  • Personal care products
  • Sporting goods
  • Toilet paper
  • Tools and hardware
  • TVs
  • Vacuum cleaners

You can call them what you want: the Trump tariffs, the Trump trade war, or, as Democratic presidential candidate and California Sen. Kamala Harris, calls them, the Trump trade taxes. But whatever you call them, the long-range effect will not be good for U.S. consumers or the U.S. economy.

Here are some of the other, less-reported victims of the Trump tariffs:

The steel industry. Trump loves to brag about how his tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum imports were helping U.S. steel companies. Initially, steel production and profits rose, along with some steelworker salaries, although Trump’s claims about steel companies opening up new plants were (surprise!) false.

But the long-term effects have been the opposite. U.S. Steel is halting production at plants near Detroit and in Gary, Indiana. According to a Washington Post story:

Despite initially surging under the tariffs, steel prices have fallen dramatically amid weakening demand from key consumers, including the auto industry, energy industry and agricultural industry, said Phil Gibbs, a steel industry analyst at KeyBanc Capital Markets. …

Trump’s steel tariffs are costing U.S. consumers and businesses more than $900,000 a year for every job created, according to a report by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a think tank that supports free market policies.

From Fortune:

Steel and aluminum tariffs have increased production costs for manufacturers, which translates into higher prices for consumers. The Peterson Institute for International Economics found that tariffs last year increased the price of steel products by nearly 9%, pushing up costs for steel users by $5.6 billion.

The outdoor recreation industry. A new analysis from the Outdoor Industry Association estimates that current and potential tariffs could cost the companies that distribute and sell outdoor clothing and recreational equipment an estimated extra $1.5 billion in costs per month. As reported by the Denver Post:

The new set of proposed tariffs would likely cover $61 billion in outdoor recreation goods, or just about everything the industry gets from China. If the administration slaps on tariffs of 25 percent, The Trade Partnership said the industry could end up paying $1.5 billion more a month, which companies would have to absorb, pass along to customers or both. …

The goods imported by outdoor recreation companies on the last list of tariffs included hats, camp chairs, stoves, backpacks, kayaks, bicycles and bicycle parts. Outdoor shoes, apparel and helmets, which were dropped from the last round, are proposed for the next round of higher taxes.

The retail industry. The U.S. retail industry is having a hard enough time, with more than 6,000 stores closed already in 2019, topping 2018’s total. But since so much retail merchandise comes from China, retail chains could be forced to raise prices for consumers as well as to absorb costs. A CNN story gives details:

Retailers depend heavily on China in their supply chain. China accounted for about 41% of all apparel, 72% of all footwear, and 84% of all travel goods imported into the United States in 2017.

Retailers are warning about looming price hikes. According to a story from Yahoo Finance:

Executives of more than two dozen American companies have made it clear they will raise prices on consumer goods to protect their profit margins and stay competitive. Citi estimates that a 25% tariff would increase inflation by more than three times what the estimated effect of the current tariffs are.

Even high-end products could be affected. “The production of some items, like cashmere and silk garments, is virtually impossible to move out of China in part because of where the delicate materials come from,” reported The New York Times.

U.S. and Chinese trade negotiators are attempting to rekindle trade talks before the scheduled summit between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the upcoming G20 meeting in Japan. But officials from the two countries have worked on this issue for more than a year — and failed. According to Yahoo Finance:

If they fail to reach an agreement, there’s a good chance Trump will follow through on his threat to place additional 25% tariffs on $300 billion worth of Chinese goods.

Given the recent history of threats from Trump and retaliatory tariffs from China, and Trump’s seeming inability to follow through on his tough-guy trade talk, many are skeptical about a satisfactory outcome.

Time to open our wallets wider.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on June 23, 2019.

The movement against single-use plastic is growing. Try it in July.

This cleanup activity at a beach in the Philippines shows only a tiny part of the plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. (Photo by Daniel Müller/Greenpeace)

Canada is the latest country to join the still small but expanding movement to phase out or ban single-use plastic — plastic that gets carried from rivers into oceans, killing sea creatures, altering their habitats, and causing an overall blight to the environment. And plastic is not biodegradable, which means it will be with us for thousands of years.

On June 10, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a plan to phase out single-use plastic as early as 2021. Canadian government figures show that each year, Canadians throw away 3 million tons of plastic waste, and one-third of the plastics used in Canada are for single-use or short-lived products and packaging.

Besides the obvious negative effect that plastic waste has on the environment, Canada’s move also is born of necessity: Many developing nations that once accepted imports of recycled plastic waste are now closing borders to the garbage or sending it back to the country of origin if the waste is too contaminated.

Of course, Canada is not alone in tossing plastic. “Globally, one garbage truckload of plastic waste enters the ocean every minute, and that amount is increasing steadily,” according to a statement on a Canadian government website, a statistic echoed by the World Economic Forum and Greenpeace. Countries around the world produce roughly 300 million tons of plastic each year, and only 10 to 13 percent of that is recycled.

The World Economic Forum describes the heavy price paid across the globe of a throwaway society:

The worldwide total volume of plastic has reached 8.3 billion metric tons, the equivalent of more than 800,000 Eiffel Towers, according to a 2017 article in Science Advances. Of this enormous amount, 6.3 billion metric tons have been disposed as waste. …

The biggest problem is that plastic does not biodegrade easily. It stays around for thousands of years. Slowly, it leaks chemical substances that are harmful for the environment, for animals and for people.

In marine areas, many mammals, fish and birds suffer from ingesting plastic or becoming entangled in plastic materials. More than 90% of all birds and fish are reported to have plastic particles in their stomach. In this way, toxic chemicals accumulate and pass through the food chain.

No surprise: The U.S. is much worse about throwing away plastic than any other country. Americans threw away 34 million tons of plastic waste in 2015, the most recent figures available.

So consider accepting the environmental challenge of avoiding single-use plastic for a plastic-free July.

According to 2015 figures from the Environmental Protection Agency:

While plastics are found in all major MSW [municipal solid waste] categories, the containers and packaging category has the most plastic tonnage at over 14 million tons in 2015. This category includes bags, sacks and wraps; other packaging; polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles and jars; high-density polyethylene (HDPE) natural bottles; and other containers. …

Plastics are found in nondurable products, such as disposable diapers, trash bags, cups, utensils, medical devices and household items such as shower curtains. The plastic food service items are generally made of clear or foamed polystyrene, while trash bags are made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) or low-density polyethylene (LDPE). A wide variety of other resins are used in other nondurable goods.

Bans against plastic bags and other items in U.S. cities and states and countries across the globe take many approaches, but they concentrate on plastic straws, plastic bags, plastic plates and cutlery, and single-use plastic containers such as soft drink or water bottles.

In the U.S., three states have plastic bag bans: California, Hawaii, and New York (New York’s goes into effect in 2020). Four states, Delaware, Maine, New York, and Rhode Island, have mandatory recycling or reuse programs. Nearly 200 cities also have banned or taxed plastic bags. The National Conference of State Legislatures has a roundup of what states are doing to cut down plastic bag use.

Just to be ornery, 10 states — Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, and Wisconsin — have placed preemptive bans on banning plastic bags, passed by (no surprise) Republican legislatures. The Texas Supreme Court ruled that Texas cities like Austin and Laredo can’t legally ban plastic bags, either. Too bad, since 10 billion plastic bags are used worldwide every week.

Globally, plastic bags are banned or taxed in 32 countries, although sometimes enforcement is spotty. The European Union Parliament voted in March to ban 10 single-use plastics that most often end up in the ocean, including plastic cutlery, plates, and cotton-swab sticks, by 2021. Member states will have two years to implement the directive once it is published in the official EU rulebook. At the G20 meeting in Japan, representatives of 20 countries, the world’s major economies, took a first step in agreeing to cut the amount of plastic waste that is building up in the world’s oceans, but right now the agreement is voluntary.

Here’s why new worldwide regulations cutting the amount of plastic waste are crucial. Developing countries that once accepted imported plastic waste are no longer doing so, have instigated stricter rules when plastic garbage is contaminated, or are sending it back to its countries of origin, mainly the U.S, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.

In May, at a meeting on United Nations-backed conventions in Switzerland, 187 nations agreed to control the movement of plastic waste between national borders. The countries agreed to add plastic to the Basel Convention, a treaty that regulates movement of hazardous materials from one country to another, to limit the effects of plastic pollution around the world. The new rules dramatically restrict international trade in plastic waste to prevent plastic dumping.

Given the attitude of the Trump administration about all things environmental, it’s no surprise that the U.S., the world’s largest exporter of plastic waste, was not one of the co-signers of the new amendment to the Basel Convention. Starting in 2021, the U.S. will have fewer options to legally dispose of plastic garbage. China stopped accepting such plastic waste two years ago, the developing countries that take it now, such as Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines, will need a specific agreement.

As Kate O’Neill, associate professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at the University of California at Berkeley, wrote at GreenBiz:

The United States signed the treaty in 1989, but never ratified it and is not bound by the treaty’s terms. However, Basel Convention member countries cannot accept any restricted waste imports from the United States unless they have reached a bilateral or regional agreement that meets Basel’s environmental provisions. …

The new plastics restriction allows less-wealthy countries to exercise their sovereign right not to accept materials they are ill-equipped to handle.

If avenues for disposing plastic waste are being cut off, what are Americans to do? Use less plastic. A lot less.

The nonprofit Plastic Free Foundation started in 2011 in Australia and now has programs in more than170 countries. It runs an ongoing campaign to get people to drastically cut down the use of plastic altogether and has issued a challenge for a Plastic Free July. For one month, the organization invites people to go plastic-free/low plastic to “choose to refuse” to use single-use plastic. Obviously, the group hopes for a wide buy-in — and that people develop permanent habits.

The website (the group promises a new, improved website soon, with more tips) offers some practical suggestions on how to cut down, if not totally eliminate, the use of plastics in many areas of life. “Imagine a world without plastic waste. That’s our mission — to build a global movement that dramatically reduces plastic use and improves recycling, worldwide,” the site says. You can register to sign up for the challenge, whether it’s for a day, a week, or the whole month, or “from now on.” You can also take a “Pesky Plastics” quiz to measure your current plastic-free habits.

Some suggestions are easy:

  • Always have reusable bags available for shopping — and not just for groceries. (Shouldn’t this be a total no-brainer by now?) Carry a few in the car for an unexpected shopping stop.
  • Make do with reusable containers for leftovers, such as saved and cleaned glass jars and lids or reusable plastic storage containers, instead of plastic wrap.
  • Carry a reusable water bottle instead of buying a new plastic bottle of water.
  • Take a reusable cup to coffeehouses instead of getting a new one to throw away.
  • Tell servers at restaurants NOT to bring straws in drinks. Bring reusable containers with you for leftovers instead of getting a plastic “doggy bag.”
  • When shopping, look for products wrapped in paper rather than plastic.

Other suggestions would take more effort and might run into some regulations on food packaging:

  • Line a garbage can with layers of newspaper instead of using a plastic garbage bag.
  • Use a folded newspaper to pick up dog waste.
  • Take your own small reusable containers when making purchases at delis, butcher shops, and fish shops. (That’s going to mean a learning curve by the sellers.) The group warns of the need to tell the seller what you’re doing so that they don’t put the item in plastic first. This may work fine at a sandwich shop but could be harder in a grocery store, although some might be fine wrapping meat or fish in paper.
  • Buy items in bulk and share with friends or family.

“Remember, it is a challenge, not a competition,” the website says. “The challenge is intended to make you think about all the single-use plastic you consume every day.”

When Donald Trump is replaced by a Democrat in the White House in January 2021, whoever that president is can correct some of the damage he and his administration have caused by reinstituting environmental regulations, rejoining the Paris climate accord, reissuing car mileage standards, and taking countless other climate actions to help the environment. While those actions are absolutely necessary at the macro level, it’s up to individuals to do what they can at the micro level.

Like using a lot less plastic.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on June 16, 2019.

The risk Democrats take in not impeaching Trump

Trump basically admitted, “Of course I’d break the law to win.”

Every day, Donald Trump shows the American people why he’s not fit to be president, and his most recent remarks about his willingness to accept help from a foreign adversary to win an election is just the latest example.

In an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, Trump said he wouldn’t bother to call the FBI if China or Russia came to him with dirt on an electoral opponent. “It’s not an interference, they have information — I think I’d take it,” Trump said.

Just like he did in 2016.

Look, House Democrats. Let’s get real. This is what the Mueller report was all about. It’s past time to begin an impeachment inquiry into this charlatan.

The whole reason Robert Mueller was appointed as a special counsel was to investigate the ties between Russia and the Trump campaign in the 2016 election, and to see how Trump had obstructed the investigation of those ties. Despite the constant whining about “no collusion, no obstruction” from Trump, other Republicans, and Fox News, Trump admitted in this ABC interview that he would love to collude with a foreign power.

“Somebody comes up and says, ‘hey, I have information on your opponent,’ do you call the FBI?” Trump said in the interview. “You don’t call the FBI. … Oh, give me a break — life doesn’t work that way.”

The Liar-in-chief is either being ignorant or disingenuous, but that’s exactly the way life works. And it’s past time that the Democrats exposed this illegal behavior by starting an impeachment inquiry.

Experts in the intelligence community were appalled by Trump’s remarks.

Even Trump’s toadies on Fox News admitted that he had gone too far.

Brian Kilmeade, a “Fox and Friends” host, called on Trump to clean up the comments.

“You don’t want a foreign government or foreign entity giving you information because they will want something back,” he said Thursday morning. “If anybody knows that it is the President. There is no free lunch. If someone wants information they want influence. I think the President’s got to to clarify that…He opened himself wide up to attacks.”

Just to make it clear: It’s a crime for a campaign to knowingly solicit or accept items of value from foreign nationals. That includes “dirt” on election opponents.

Democratic presidential hopefuls weren’t shy about labeling Trump’s remarks for what they were: a threat to national security. At least 15 hit back hard immediately, and several renewed calls for impeachment proceedings: Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, California Sen. Kamala Harris, and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

What about House Democrats? Well, they all were stunned and labeled Trump’s remarks illegal, outrageous, etc. But where’s the “I” word — impeachment? From CNN, reporting on remarks by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

“The President gave us once again evidence that he does not know right from wrong,” she said at her weekly press conference. “It’s a very sad thing, a very sad thing that he does not know right from wrong.”

She repeated her belief that Trump has participated in “a criminal cover up.” And she mentioned legislation that will mandate campaigns to report foreign offers of assistance. …

Pelosi said Trump’s comments to ABC were “appalling” but suggested it would not trigger any sudden impeachment push.

Look, Madam Speaker: It’s great to hear you using words like “criminal.” But proposing legislation is a nothing response. You know the Senate would never pass it anyway.

Listen to advice from lawyer George T. Conway III, husband of presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway (how the heck do they still get along), and Neal Katyal, former U.S. acting solicitor general, in their The Washington Post op-ed: Trump just invited Congress to begin impeachment proceedings.

For the past three decades, many constitutional law classes have begun with Nixon’s breathtaking statement to David Frost in May 1977: “Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.” Generations of students have gasped, shocked that a former president could say such a thing. This time, it’s not a former president but a sitting one. Every principle behind the rule of law requires the commencement of a process now to make this president a former one.

The 2018 midterm elections showed an energized Democratic voter base. A record number of women ran for office and won. Voter turnout for a midterm election was higher than it had been for decades, and younger voters turned out in droves. Democratic voters said they cared most about issues such as health care, gun violence, and more, but they wanted to vote for candidates willing to fight back against Trump.

House Democrats, are you really willing to tamp down all that enthusiasm as we face a presidential election next year? Do you want to give the impression that you’re more worried about the politics of an impeachment fight than doing the right thing?

The Mueller report listed Trump’s 10 instances of obstruction of justice. If the many, many criminal actions and statements of Donald Trump aren’t worth investigating, what will be?

Start an impeachment inquiry NOW.

Is the rise in tornadoes tied to climate change? Scientists aren’t sure — yet

Tornadoes are moving eastward. A man gathers his belongings from his damaged home in Trotwood, Ohio, on May 28 after powerful tornadoes ripped through the Dayton area.

This spring has seen outbreaks of tornadoes and storms throughout much of the country that are almost unheard of.

The sheer number of tornadoes is mind-boggling, and the growing area affected by the twisters is even worse. Since mid-May, there have been 225 confirmed tornadoes in 12 days, with 400 individual tornado reports also logged by the National Weather Service. The matter that climate scientists are now studying is whether the increase in tornadoes is related to the human-made climate crisis. Yes, there is evidence that moist, warm air can exacerbate conditions that spawn tornadoes. But the very nature of tornadoes means that the scientific jury is still out.

Many of us who didn’t live in areas where tornadoes are prevalent grew up thinking of tornadoes as something from The Wizard of Oz. As we grew older, we realized that every spring, tornadoes were common across what is known as Tornado Alley, the area of the Great Plains and Midwest that contains the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, eastern Colorado, and South Dakota. Also affected are Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Iowa, Illinois, Tennessee, Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

Now, however, climate scientists and meteorologists are more frequently using a different term: Dixie Alley. These are the states in the Southeast that have seen an increased number of deadly tornadoes in recent years. There is some overlap in the two “alleys,” as the states that make up Dixie Alley are eastern Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, upstate South Carolina, and western North Carolina.

It’s not that states in Dixie Alley never had tornadoes before. It’s just that the whole onslaught of tornadoes is spreading east and south, growing more frequent, and getting worse.

It should be a no-brainer, right? Higher temperatures and warmer air, all tied to global warming, should be the reason for more tornadoes when warmer air and cooler air collide. But here’s why those who are experts in climate science say that more study is needed. This is from a PBS News Hour story:

“Whether this is climate change or not, what all the studies have shown is that this particular part of the U.S. has been having more tornado activity and more tornado outbreaks than it has had in decades before,” said Mike Tippett, a Columbia University applied mathematician who studies the climate.

Tippett is among a group of scientists trying to dissect why the South has become a hotbed for tornadoes and severe thunderstorms.

Some signs point to human-made climate change, but those conclusions are mixed at best. Weather and climate scientists have confidence, for instance, in the parallels between tornadoes creeping east and global warming — but are less convinced that climate change is increasing the number of tornadoes overall.

Most of all, their research highlights the barriers in forecasting that keep us from predicting where and when tornadoes might strike. …

Given that these tornado trends coincided with those of warming oceans, there might be a link to climate change — except no one knows for sure.

There’s no such uncertainty for other weather catastrophes. We know definitively that hurricanes are exacerbated by the climate crisis. Warmer ocean temperatures and higher sea levels intensify the effects and the size of hurricanes. Besides the hurricane that devastated Galveston, Texas, in 1900, which remains the deadliest storm in U.S. history, the worst hurricanes have occurred more recently: Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Hurricane Maria in 2017, and Hurricane Michael in 2018. It doesn’t take a scientist to see how those storms caused the most deaths and property damage — we need only to look at the pictures and read the reports.

But tornadoes? That’s a different story that’s still developing. Records on tornadoes have been kept only since about 1950, and there are few records of tornadoes in unpopulated areas. Also, compared with hurricanes, tornadoes are tiny, even when they’re a mile wide.

“They happen in small areas, and they don’t last that long,” Tippett said. “It’s hard for us to use our scientific tools — whether they are physics models or other statistical tools — to have a good, clear idea of what’s going to happen.”

This limited resolution explains why weather forecasts cannot typically predict where a tornado will strike until 13 minutes before it hits — and that hampers climate change predictions, too.

Scientists expect climate change to increase America’s propensity for warm moist air, which should mean more thunderstorms and tornadoes. As far as anyone knows, wind speeds should stay the same.

But tornado patterns are too small to explore deeply in the global computer models meant to simulate huge sections of the planet.

The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions also says whether a link exists between tornadoes and climate change is currently unclear.

Researchers are working to better understand how the building blocks for tornadoes — atmospheric instability and wind shear — will respond to global warming. It is likely that a warmer, moister world would allow for more frequent instability. However, it is also likely that a warmer world would lessen chances for wind shear. Climate change also could shift the timing of tornadoes or the regions that are most likely to be hit, with less of an impact on the total number of tornadoes.

A bigger problem is that, as more and more tornadoes develop and move southward and eastward, they hit areas that are more populated, causing more property damages and killing more people. “We get caught up on the climate aspect, but the real issue going forward with tornadoes — and hail storms and hurricanes and insert your favorite natural disaster — is the fact that we have more human exposure,” Victor Gensini, lead author of a study on tornado frequency that appeared in Nature, told Pacific Standard in March.

We all believe that we should listen to scientists when it comes to interpreting the climate crisis and resulting weather patterns. We know that there’s a 97 percent consensus of scientists that global warming is caused by human action. Even when scientists say it’s likely that the number of tornadoes is growing because of climate change, they know that more study needs to be done.

Unfortunately, more study is what the Trump administration doesn’t want. The administration and many in the GOP are taking the exact wrong track: Denying that climate change is man-made or that it exists at all. Rolling back environmental regulations and vehicle emission standards. Dropping out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Appointing a former coal lobbyist as head of the Environmental Protection Administration. Pushing fossil fuel energy and putting up roadblocks to renewable energy. Expanding drilling in federal lands and waters.

Now, the administration seeks to undermine the very science needed to develop policy on climate change. According to a story in The New York Times:

Parts of the federal government will no longer fulfill what scientists say is one of the most urgent jobs of climate science studies: reporting on the future effects of a rapidly warming planet and presenting a picture of what the earth could look like by the end of the century if the global economy continues to emit heat-trapping carbon dioxide pollution from burning fossil fuels.

The attack on science is underway throughout the government. In the most recent example, the White House-appointed director of the United States Geological Survey, James Reilly, a former astronaut and petroleum geologist, has ordered that scientific assessments produced by that office use only computer-generated climate models that project the impact of climate change through 2040, rather than through the end of the century, as had been done previously. …

The administration’s prime target has been the National Climate Assessment, produced by an interagency task force roughly every four years since 2000. Government scientists used computer-generated models in their most recent report to project that if fossil fuel emissions continue unchecked, the earth’s atmosphere could warm by as much as eight degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. That would lead to drastically higher sea levels, more devastating storms and droughts, crop failures, food losses and severe health consequences.

Work on the next report, which is expected to be released in 2021 or 2022, has already begun. But from now on, officials said, such worst-case scenario projections will not automatically be included in the National Climate Assessment or in some other scientific reports produced by the government.

A Democratic administration can change all that in January 2021.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on June 2, 2019.

Abortion bans are the latest offensive in the long-running GOP war on women

Women across the nation, like these in Chicago, are joining #StopTheBans public protests against draconian abortion laws.

The flood of new anti-abortion laws from GOP state lawmakers is aimed squarely at triggering a court fight to overturn Roe v. Wade, now that Donald Trump has appointed conservative, Federalist-Society-chosen justices to the U.S. Supreme Court and equally conservative judges to federal courts.

But this latest round of repressive laws follows a huge number of abortion restrictions passed nearly 10 years ago, when Republicans captured many state houses and governor posts in the 2010 midterm election. Those laws also came in reaction to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which sought to ensure greater coverage of reproductive care for women.

Never mind the fact that two-thirds of Americans want Roe v. Wade left in place, ensuring access to legal abortions. Never mind that similar percentages of men and women in the U.S. have the same attitude of support about abortion. By party, only a plurality of Republicans — 48 percent to 45 percent — want to ban abortion completely, while Democrats want to keep it, 87 percent to 11 percent. And this is no surprise: Support for legal abortion is highest among the youngest voters and the most educated voters.

Public support for legal abortion hasn’t really changed all that much in recent years. What has changed is new incendiary language by Republicans, as they spout nonsense about “being born alive,” “protecting abortion survivors,” and “infanticide,” all the while trying to strike a holier-than-thou attitude and citing religion as their excuse. But although using such language is an attempt to gin up the evangelical base (or rally the troops at a Trump rally), it does little to change public opinion.

We need to remember that this latest push isn’t the first time Republicans in charge of statehouses passed ultra-restrictive laws. Although some ultimately didn’t survive court challenges, many of the laws passed earlier in the decade remain on the books. For all practical purposes, these laws made abortion unavailable in several states: A Washington Post analysis shows that “Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and West Virginia each have only one abortion clinic left because of legislative restrictions.”

Here’s what happened to the availability of legal abortion in 2011, from a roundup by The Washington Post:

2011 marked a sea change for abortion rights. States passed 83 laws restricting access to abortion, nearly four times the 23 laws passed in 2010. A lot of that had to do with the 2010 elections, which ushered in a wave of Republican legislators and governors. This year, the number of states with fully anti-abortion governments — in which both the governor and the legislature oppose abortion rights — increased from 10 to 15.

That cleared the way for new restrictions. Five states banned all abortions after 20 weeks of gestation; until last year, only Nebraska had such a restriction. Seven now require an ultrasound, or the offer of one, prior to the procedure. Eight will no longer allow private insurance plans to cover the procedure.

The GOP attempts at restrictions didn’t begin or end in 2011. A 2013 report by the Guttmacher Institute summed up the bad news: “More State Abortion Restrictions Were Enacted in 2011–2013 Than in the Entire Previous Decade.”

This legislative onslaught has dramatically changed the landscape for women needing abortion. In 2000, the two states that were the most restrictive in the nation, Mississippi and Utah, had five of 10 major types of abortion restrictions in effect (see Appendix). By 2013, however, 22 states had five or more restrictions, and Louisiana had 10.

In 2000, 13 states had at least four types of major abortion restrictions and so were considered hostile to abortion rights (see Troubling Trend: More States Hostile to Abortion Rights as Middle Ground Shrinks); 27 states fell into this category by 2013. …

Four types of restrictions dominated the legislative scene during 2013: abortion bans, restrictions on abortion providers, limitations on the provision of medication abortion and restrictions on coverage of abortion in private health plans. Together, legislation in these four categories accounted for 56% of all restrictions enacted over the year.

The most recent Guttmacher report gives an overall list of restrictions that have only grown over the years, and breaks them down, state by state:

  • 42 states require an abortion to be performed by a licensed physician.
  • 19 states require an abortion to be performed in a hospital after a specified point in the pregnancy, and 19 states require the involvement of a second physician after a specified point.
  • 43 states prohibit abortions after a specified point in pregnancy.
  • 20 states have laws in effect that prohibit “partial-birth” abortion (an invented and non-medical term).
  • 16 states use their own funds to pay for all or most medically necessary abortions for Medicaid enrollees in the state. 33 states and the District of Columbia prohibit the use of state funds for abortions except for a few cases.
  • 11 states restrict coverage of abortion in private insurance plans.
  • 45 states allow individual health care providers to refuse to participate in an abortion.
  • 18 states mandate that women be given counseling before an abortion that includes information on at least one of the following: the purported link between abortion and breast cancer (5 states), the ability of a fetus to feel pain (13 states) or long-term mental health consequences for the woman (8 states). Need we add that there is no scientific basis for any of these “facts”?
  • 37 states require some type of parental involvement in a minor’s decision to have an abortion.

The new abortion bans masquerading as “fetal heartbeat laws” in Alabama, Ohio, Georgia, and elsewhere are being challenged, but not only in court. After women grew skilled at holding public protests after Trump’s election (remember the millions of people at each Women’s March in 2017 and 2018), voters and candidates both see this new fight over abortion as an issue that could play a major role in the 2020 election. The Democratic women running for president aren’t being shy in their language. From a Huffington Post story:

“Access to safe, legal abortion is a constitutional RIGHT,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tweeted. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who’s made women’s rights the centerpiece of her flagging campaign, appeared at a pro-choice rally in Georgia. “As a party, we should be 100 percent pro-choice, and it should be non-negotiable,” she said in a Washington Post interview. Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) were similarly vocal.

While many of the many Democratic men running for president also issued statements, there was something different ― more personal, more passionate ― about the way the women responded. It felt unprecedented. Powerful. …

The abortion battle feels like an inevitable next step in what’s been a growing war on women that escalated the day Donald Trump was elected and has only felt more palpable every day since ―  the marches, MeToo, the Kavanaugh hearings.

Since the onslaught of new laws, the Democratic hopefuls are stepping up their game. Warren and Gillibrand are proposing legislation to ensure abortion access, including getting rid of the Hyde Amendment, which disallows any public funds to pay for abortions. Kamala Harris raised over $160,000 for abortion groups. Cory Booker is proposing an “Office of Reproductive Freedom” in the White House.

And a few states are stepping up to ensure abortion access. The Nevada Assembly, with its majority of women as lawmakers, passed a bill to decriminalize abortion and remove some decades-old abortion requirements. A Vermont bill about to become law states that abortion is a “fundamental right” and protects the right to contraception, sterilization, and family planning. The Illinois Reproductive Health Act also lists abortion as a fundamental right and would require insurers to cover the procedure as well as removing other restrictions. After months of being stuck in a subcommittee, the bill was passed by the Illinois House.

Given the success of women candidates in 2018, when many didn’t shy away from talking about abortion and reproductive rights, there’s no reason to think that candidates won’t be vocal in their support, especially in Democratic primaries, when the vast majority of voters will be pro-choice anyway. The issue also is driving up the number of women candidates in states where such laws have been enacted.

It’s hard to believe that the right-wing base could grow even more excited about fighting abortion than they are now. Some legal experts doubt whether these laws would even make it to the Supreme Court. But whatever the eventual legal outcome, fighting for women’s reproductive health could drive Democratic voters as well.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on May 26, 2019.

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