2018 midterm success hinges on Democratic determination — and wild cards

With less than six months to go before the 2018 midterms — and as more states hold primaries to see who will face off in the fall — it’s time to check in with various predictions about which candidates and political parties will wind up on top. It’s also time to look at other factors that could upend all conventional wisdom about midterm elections.

Pundits and pollsters constantly pontificate about and measure how voters feel. How likely they are to vote in November. How likely the House and/or Senate are to flip. Which politicians—of either party—won’t have a job come January.

Polls breathlessly report any tiny tick of change, whether it’s Donald Trump’s approval rating or the gap in the generic congressional ballot measurement. The average difference in the generic congressional ballot race has been roughly seven or eight points for months, tipping to the Democrats, according to FiveThirtyEight.com, which updates its aggregate polls daily.

Yet any tightening generates sound-the-alarm headlines, casting doubt on good results for Team Blue in November. A new CNN poll, for instance, proclaims that Democrats’ advantage is “nearly gone” (actually, it’s down to three points in the poll). By the next week, the gap may widen again by a bit. Then the headlines will proclaim that it must be because too many people hate Trump and Republicans are doomed once more.

More important than slight shifts in weekly polling are the ongoing measurements of voter enthusiasm. Traditionally, Republicans, with a higher preponderance of older (and hence more reliable) voters, perform better in midterm elections. FiveThirtyEight.com reports that the average GOP advantage in midterms since 1978 has been about three percentage points, with obvious swings back and forth, depending on which party holds the presidency. In 2018, just about every poll notes an enthusiasm gap against Republicans.

Enthusiasm breeds more enthusiasm. Voters who are enthusiastic about a candidate are more likely to talk to their friends, neighbors, relatives, and co-workers about voting. They’re more likely to spread news through social media and volunteer for campaigns.

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows that two-thirds of Democrats have a high level of interest in voting on Nov. 6, while only half of Republicans do. This poll also shows how the enthusiasm gap is widening; earlier polls showed voters of both parties roughly even in their intentions to vote.

Interestingly, the numbers of those with a high interest in voting (66 percent Democratic, 49 percent Republican) are identical to the poll numbers in 2010. Only then the numbers were reversed: 66 percent of Republicans had a high interest in voting, compared with 49 percent of Democrats. And we all remember what happened then: Democrats took “a shellacking,” as President Obama famously said.

Given restrictive voting laws, gerrymandered districts, and a lopsided Senate electoral picture (with 26 seats up in November held by Democrats versus only eight held by Republicans), a shellacking is likely too much to hope for. But a light coat of varnish would be just fine.

Here are some other factors that could affect midterm outcomes. In 2016, many votes were cast with a racist, misogynist, and “throw-the-bums-out” mentality. This year, there are issues and circumstances that could cause conventional wisdom and normal predictions to be thrown out the window. Heck, they might as well be thrown from the top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

Growing generational differences. The latest findings from the Pew Research Center show that Millennials strongly favor Democrats over Republicans, although a plurality of them identify as independents.

By greater than two-to-one (62% to 29%), more Millennial voters say, if the election were held today, they would vote for the Democrat in their district or lean toward the Democrat than prefer the Republican candidate. … Millennial registered voters support the Democrat by a wider margin than in the past.

Older generations of voters, according to Pew, are closer in their voting preferences. Gen-Xers favor Democrats by five points, baby boomers are roughly equal in their partisan leanings, and those in the older “silent” generation tip toward Republicans by nearly 10 points.

And for those—especially polling outfits—who say that younger voters don’t show up in non-presidential years, look no further than young voter turnout in Virginia in 2017. In 2010, only 21 percent of those 18-22 voted in the Commonwealth. In 2014, that same figure was 17 percent.

In 2017, that figure for that same demographic group jumped to 34 percent.

Women voters—and women candidates. We already know that Trump’s support among women is dropping, down to 35 percent in one poll (the gender gap between men and women voters is being described as the “Stormy Effect”). We also know that attitudes toward Trump are a factor in the record numbers of women running for office at all levels—the latest numbers from Emily’s List show that 36,000 women approached the group for electoral help in 2018, compared with 920 in 2016. Those numbers include 309 women running for the House, 29 running for the Senate, and 40 women running for governor. And those numbers could still grow—some states still have not reached filing deadlines. According to an Emily’s List news release:

Nationally, campaign operatives say they cannot name a single state that does not have a record number of women running for state legislatures, and female candidates alone could flip party control of at least seven legislative chambers. The stage is set for a historic year for female political power at a time when state governments are filling the power vacuum left by a feuding Congress.

The candidates include teachers, businesswomen, military veterans, and lawyers. Some are single mothers, and many are first-time candidates. Some have been inspired by the #MeToo movement, which has unleashed an outpouring of complaints from female legislators, lobbyists and staffers of sexual harassment, abuse and toxic work environments in America’s statehouses. Some want to focus more on health and family issues they believe legislatures are ignoring. They are Democrats, Republicans, and independents, representing a wide array of views on issues.

The women share one mission: to break up the old boys’ clubs they see in the nation’s statehouses and bring in more female perspectives.

By the way, these women are winning. Bigly. According to an analysis by Politico:

There were 20 open Democratic House primaries with women on the ballot Tuesday night, and voters selected a female nominee in 17 of them.

It’s a sharp turnaround from past years, when female Democrats faced big hurdles in trying to win support from voters. A good number of the primary winners Tuesday night are running in heavily Republican seats with little chance of winning general elections. But they are still part of an important trend: Evidence is building that Democratic voters are tilting toward supporting women this year.

Note to Politico: Those women might be running in heavily Republican districts, but counting them out is a mistake. Just ask some of the Democrats—many of them women—who have flipped some 40 seats in special elections since 2016. This could easily be another “Year of the Woman,” but even more successful than 1992.

Gun safety will be an issue this fall. The National Rifle Association may have loved having both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence at its recent convention, but the momentum is still on the side of those favoring common-sense gun safety laws, including universal background checks; “red flag” laws allowing officials to take guns from those who pose a danger to themselves or others when officials are alerted by families or other members of the public; and bans on bump stocks, high-capacity magazines, and military-style assault weapons. Support for these solutions has reached record highs. Publicity about the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, may have ebbed, but the students’ efforts have not, as they work for widespread voter registration of young, first-time voters with groups such as HeadCount, which pushes voter registration at music concerts.

According to an analysis by the Brookings Institution:

Republican intransigence on guns may represent an example of a policy that helped them in the past but will hurt them in the future. Most public opinion surveys show overwhelming majorities in favor of gun action. A February 2018 survey by Quinnipiac University found that young people between 18 and 34 supported the Democrat’s position on gun violence by 62 to 27 percent. The GOP can ignore that message at its own peril.

A news release from the gun safety group Giffords offered some more chilling news for Republicans from polls about guns and voting:

  • Gun violence prevention is the top issue among young people in deciding who to vote for in the 2018 midterm elections.
  • 37 percent of Americans under 30 indicate they will “definitely be voting in the upcoming midterms.”

For polling organizations who use historical voting data as significant weighting factors to develop election predictions: It might be time to update your models.

Originally posted on Daily Kos, May 13, 2018.

EPA chief Scott Pruitt is one hot mess of corruption

How bad is it that Pruitt’s sweetheart deal for cheap rent in a condo belonging to an environmental lobbyist’s wife is now the least of his scandals?

In the quagmire that is the swamp of the Trump administration and Cabinet, one name stands above — or should that be below? — all the rest: Scott Pruitt.

A new scandal about the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency emerges almost daily. If you miss one, don’t worry — there will be a new one out the next day with some other piece of corrupt malfeasance, whether it’s a shady deal, a lavish taxpayer-funded trip, or undue influence by fossil fuel lobbyists.

The latest scandal involves Pruitt’s desire to be a world traveler without paying for it himself. He asked aides to rustle up reasons for him to visit multiple countries, ostensibly for environmental reasons but really so Pruitt could push the U.S. business interests of influential outsiders. At least a dozen nations were on his travel bucket list on six continents — guess there’s no profit with penguins. Never mind that the guy who is supposed to be in charge of protecting the U.S. environment has no business visiting a new country every month to peddle liquefied natural gas or water purification products. But lobbyists, Republican donors, and conservative activists all had a hand in shaping his travel schedule until even he was too embarrassed to continue on the Pruitt world tour.

The Washington Post revealed a memo by head of Pruitt’s security detail (who has now “retired” from the EPA) outlining the supposed need for all of Pruitt’s high-flying habits. The justification was that if the EPA administrator rode in coach, people would “lash out” at him. Maybe they’re yelling like, “WHY ARE YOU POISONING THE PLANET?”

Pruitt is facing nearly a dozen federal ethics investigations by congressional committees, the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, the EPA Office of Inspector General, the White House Office of Management and Budget, and the Government Accountability Office. Requests for such probes have come from both Democratic lawmakers and members of the general public through an EPA OIG hotline.

It goes without saying that this kind of behavior would never be tolerated in a Democratic administration. Republican lawmakers and Fox News pundits would be fighting each other to see who could scream the loudest with demands for resignations, firings, and more.

In a normal presidency, any of Pruitt’s numerous scandals would be enough to earn him a swift kick out the door or a statement that the EPA chief wanted to spend more time with his family. There are reports that some senior White House officials are calling for him to be fired, but for now (at least) he’s still in charge. So it’s time once again to ask: Why does Scott Pruitt still have a job?

Steve Benen, who writes much of the content at the Maddow Blog for MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, compiled a “baker’s dozen” of Pruitt scandals, from his $43,000 soundproof phone booth to his 24/7 security crew to his insistence on first-class airline travel. But that list was incomplete within days and needed updating, mainly to include more details about the $100,000 trip to Morocco to “sell U.S. natural gas,” a trip arranged by a lobbyist who quickly became an agent for the Moroccan government. Here are both of Benen’s lists in convenient abbreviated form — all credit goes to the Maddow Blog for this succinct and handy scandal roundup.

  • The EPA’s inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s controversial travel habits.
  • The House Oversight Committee is also exploring the EPA chief’s use of public funds for first-class travel.
  • The EPA’s inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s behind-the-scenes talks with the National Mining Association.
  • Pruitt’s exorbitant spending on an around-the-clock security detail is the subject of three inspector general investigations.
  • The House Oversight Committee is also examining the EPA chief’s security expenditures.
  • The Government Accountability Office has already investigated Pruitt for exceeding federal spending limits when he bought a $43,000 phone booth for his office.
  • The White House Office of Management and Budget is also investigating the phone booth.
  • The EPA’s inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s use of funds set aside for the Safe Drinking Water Act and diverting the money to give generous raises to two of his top aides.
  • The EPA’s inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s four-day trip to Morocco late last year.
  • The Government Accountability Office is investigating Pruitt’s ouster of scientists from the EPA’s science advisory committee.
  • The Government Accountability Office is investigating whether Pruitt broke lobbying laws with comments he made to the National Cattleman’s Beef Association.
  • The House Oversight Committee is investigating Pruitt’s living arrangement at a lobbyist’s condo.
  • And as noted above, the EPA’s inspector general is now also taking a closer look at Pruitt’s time at that condo.

And the new list of charges:

  • Pruitt has been accused of lying to Congress while giving testimony under oath.
  • Pruitt appears to have done a highly lucrative favor for a major Trump supporter who helped Pruitt get his job.
  • Two of Pruitt’s top aides abruptly resigned.
  • The Associated Press reported that the lobbyist whose wife rented a condo to Pruitt for $50 a night “sought EPA committee posts for a lobbying client, according to a newly released EPA memo.”
  • The Washington Post reported that Richard Smotkin, a former Comcast lobbyist and longtime Pruitt associate, helped arrange Pruitt’s controversial and trip to Morocco last year. Taxpayers ended up paying for the trip, which Pruitt took for reasons that the EPA has struggled to explain.
  • The New York Times reported that a former lobbyist for foreign governments played a central role in attempting to set up a trip for Pruitt to Australia, and then “took steps to disguise his role.”
  • Taking Points Memo reported that in early 2017, after Pruitt took the reins at the EPA, he “directed his future chief of staff to explore the creation of an EPA office in Pruitt’s hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, even though an EPA office with authority over Oklahoma already existed in Dallas, Texas.”

All of this is enough for a person to develop “Scott Pruitt fatigue,” as a recent Vanity Fair story suggested. So let’s look as some possible reasons why this swamp monster still has a seat at the Cabinet table.

Fleecing the taxpayer is a way of life in Trumpland. Private and military jets, first-class travel, expensive furniture, and campaign trips masquerading as official business are all SOP in the Trump administration. The presence of graft and grime is seen as a feature, not a bug. When the majority of Cabinet secretaries are flying high on the taxpayers’ dime, questionable travel expenses mean nothing. After all, the biggest money-waster is Trump himself with his regular golfing trips: In 2017 alone, trips to Mar-a-Lago in Florida and to his Trump property in Bedminster, New Jersey, cost taxpayers more than $13 million.

Pruitt strokes Trump’s ego — bigly. The most effective way to stay in Trump’s good graces is to lavish praise on the president, and the Cabinet members who are still around keep delivering. All good news must be attributed to Trump; all bad news must have been Barack Obama’s fault. “This president has shown tremendous courage to say to the American people that America is going to be put first,” Pruitt said in an April news conference in which he announced a rollback of auto-efficiency standards.

All of Pruitt’s actions are pro-fossil fuel and anti-environment. According to a story at Vox, the EPA launched 16 deregulatory actions in 2017, more than any other federal agency. Instead of protecting the environment, all of those actions went toward loosening regulations on coal, oil, and gas, while fossil fuel industries cheered from the sidelines. As a Mother Jones story pointed out, most of the EPA’s deregulatory actions and planned initiatives match up with specific industry requests, “ranging from air-pollution limits for oil and gas operations to water-pollution restrictions on coal-fired power plants.” The saving grace for the rest of us is that much of the deregulation has been done in a sloppy manner and is being challenged in court by states and environmental groups. Launching a deregulation is not the same as an actual deregulation, as federal rules take a long time to rewrite.

Pruitt is doing his best to help undo Obama’s legacy. It’s not enough for Trump just to push deregulation for fossil fuel industries. That must be coupled with undoing some of Obama’s successes, and no area is being pinpointed more than the advances Obama made on climate change and the environment. That’s another way that Pruitt stays in Trump’s good graces—by reversing whatever Obama tried to do. Vox described Pruitt as “the happy conductor of the Trump train.”

Pruitt is fulfilling long-held Republican dreams. Just as many Republicans are willing to ignore Trump’s lies, moral failings, and disregard for the law (not to mention human decency), they’re willing to give Pruitt a pass as long as he’s getting rid of regulations and giving big donors like fossil fuel industries a chance to make more money. Although some in the GOP are alarmed about Pruitt’s ethical failings, many others just shrug off the charges as “nitpicking.”

The Three Stooges Syndrome. Steve Benen has a new theory of how Pruitt’s getting away with so much corruption. He takes it from an episode of The Simpsons, explained by the “Three Stooges Syndrome.”

In the episode, C. Montgomery Burns goes to a doctor’s office, and the physician tells him he’s “the sickest man in the United States.” The doctor adds, “You have everything,” including “several diseases that have just been discovered.”

When Burns, disheartened, says that the prognosis sounds like bad news, the physician says, “Well, you’d think so, but all of your diseases are in perfect balance.” He tells the plutocrat about what he calls the “Three Stooges Syndrome,” in which no one ailment can doom Burns because they’re all trying to break through an open doorway simultaneously.

When Moe, Larry, and Curly all tried to exit a door at the same time, they inevitably would bump into each other, so none could actually make it out the door. In other words, there’s so much wrong about Pruitt that one scandal can’t rise above another.

But the worst part of the Scott Pruitt scandal roundup is this: All of Pruitt’s scandals pale in comparison to the damage he’s trying to inflict on the planet.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on May 6, 2018.

Waffle House shooting shows why all states need ‘red flag’ laws

The alleged shooter might not have had access to weapons if laws were uniform across states.

By now, most people know the details about the Waffle House mass shooting near Nashville, which killed four people. But still unresolved is the question about the legal status of the alleged shooter, Travis Reinking, possessing guns. That’s why every state needs to enact “red flag” laws.

State and local officials in Illinois revoked the firearms license and confiscated the guns belonging to Reinking after multiple arrests and bizarre behavior that suggested evidence of mental illness. He reportedly believed he was being stalked by pop star Taylor Swift; he went swimming at a public pool in his underwear, exposing his genitals; and he told officials in Washington that he had a right to inspect the White House grounds “because he was a sovereign citizen.”

Reinking’s guns were turned over to his father, Jeffrey Reinking, who does hold a valid firearms license, or FOID card (Firearm Owners Identification card). He promised officials that he would keep the guns away from Travis. But the elder Reinking returned the weapons to his son when the 29-year-old moved to Tennessee. One of those weapons was the AR-15 used in the Waffle House shooting.

Here’s where the legality of the gun transfer gets murky.

A federal official from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives said at a news conference that the weapons transfer was probably illegal under federal law and that Jeffrey Rein­king might be charged. But Tennessee officials suggested that Travis Reinking’s possession of guns, while illegal in Illinois, might have been legal in Tennessee. According to a story on NPR:

Laws are different state to state. And a restriction in one state doesn’t always translate to another — even if it was intended to.

Susan Niland, a spokeswoman with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, said even though Reinking was forbidden to have guns in Illinois, it didn’t mean he couldn’t have them in Tennessee.

“It does not appear that there is anything in his record that would have been deniable from our end,” Niland said.

If every state had a red flag law, which allows police to confiscate guns from people deemed to be a threat to themselves or others, and those laws were reciprocal from state to state, Travis Reinking’s possession of those weapons and his father’s transfer of those guns back to him would definitely be illegal. Everywhere.

Red flag laws have been enacted in only eight states, but nearly 20 more states and the District of Columbia are considering such legislation, and some bills are working their way through state legislatures. Since the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 people were killed, such laws are gaining bipartisan support. After the Parkland shooting, Florida became the sixth state to pass a red flag law, signed by Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, another Republican, signed multiple gun restrictions into law on April 11, including a red flag law. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, also a Republican, signed a red flag law on April 23, along with other gun safety measures. In Rhode Island, Gov. Gina Raimondo, a Democrat, signed an executive order essentially establishing a red flag measure.

The laws are seen as successful in preventing gun violence, although most are too new to measure the effect. Connecticut was the first state to pass a red flag law, in 1999, and a 2016 study suggested that Connecticut’s law may have reduced the number of suicides in the state. California, Washington, Oregon, and Indiana have similar laws.

Here’s an explanation of how the laws work, from a story in USA Today:

Red-flag laws vary by state, but they generally allow law enforcement or family members to petition a judge for a “gun violence restraining order” or “extreme risk protection order” to temporarily restrict a person’s access to firearms.

The judge can issue an emergency, temporary order — without the gun owner being present —  to prevent immediate danger. But a full hearing must be scheduled quickly, offering the gun owner the ability to respond.

A longer order can be issued during the full hearing if there is enough evidence that the person is dangerous.

Unsurprisingly, the National Rifle Association has opposed red flag laws, although there is evidence that the gun lobby is changing its tune: Its top lobbyist, Chris Cox, released a YouTube video asking Congress to pass incentives for states to pass red flag laws. But the NRA-ILA, the group’s political arm (ILA stands for Institute for Legislative Action), still has web pages urging NRA members to contact state lawmakers to vote against any proposed bills. And although some members of Congress have made noises about red flag legislation, no one expects any movement from either the House or the Senate, especially in the current session.

Passage of red flag laws are a high priority for the antiviolence group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. The group’s chapters across the country are making their presence felt in state capitals as lawmakers consider these new laws, attending hearings and legislative sessions.

To check on the status in your state, the affiliated antiviolence group Everytown for Gun Safety has a searchable, interactive Gun Law Navigator with complete, up-to-date information on the status of gun laws across the country. Another complete reference to gun laws nationwide is this guide available from The Washington Post, which is updated periodically.

Travis Reinking is reportedly not talking to authorities about any motive. He considered himself a “sovereign citizen” as part of the right-wing extremist movement and thus said he was not subject to U.S. law. Spoiler alert for Travis: You are.

Not much has been gleaned about the attitude of Travis Reinking’s parents about guns. His father, Jeffrey Reinking, isn’t commenting publicly (not a big surprise), but there are reports that he had taken away and returned his son’s guns three separate times. There are other clues, too: Travis’ mother, Judy Reinking, posted on Facebook that mass shootings only started after God and Jesus were removed from public school classrooms. A Chicago Tribune story described Travis Reinking this way: “He came from a Christian family and was home-schooled.” The story quoted neighbors saying, “They are a really good family.” (Once again: A white shooter is always a “troubled young man.”)

Illinois lawmakers are considering their own version of a red flag law, which would add more protection than current law. One provision being considered would let law enforcement officials keep confiscated weapons, rather than hand them over to a relative. This is similar to the way police can confiscate and keep property under civil forfeiture laws, in cases where assets might be used in criminal activity, typically drug trafficking. Such confiscation is legal even when suspects aren’t convicted.

Now officials in Tazewell County, Illinois, which contains the Reinkings’ home in Morton, are reviewing whether to charge Jeffrey Reinking with a felony. So far, they’re noncommittal. According to a story in the Pantagraph in Bloomington, Illinois:

Transfers of weapons from one family member to another as a “bona fide gift” are exempt from a requirement under Illinois law that the owner first verify with state police that the recipient of the gun has a valid FOID card.

“At this point, our office does not possess enough information to determine if Jeffrey Reinking committed a criminal offense. When our office receives information from the criminal investigation, particularly from the FBI, we will be in a position to determine if any violation occurred,” Umholtz said.

“More information”? Seems pretty clear to me.

Red flag laws are not a panacea and are just one tool to cut down on gun violence. They join other common-sense gun law proposals that are gaining in public support, such as expanded universal background checks and bans on assault weapons, bump stocks, and high-capacity magazines. An ABC News/Washington Post poll taken in April showed that 85 percent of those surveyed supported red flag laws.

Red-flag laws have the support of more than 8 in 10 Democrats, Republicans, and independents, including at least two-thirds who support them “strongly.” … Most Americans living in gun-owning households also back proposals for a red-flag law.

Travis Reinking has been charged with four counts of criminal homicide. Whether or not Jeffrey Reinking ever faces criminal charges for returning his son’s guns, one thing is sure: The family is likely to face one heck of a civil suit from the families of those killed and injured in the Waffle House mass shooting.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on April 29, 2018.

The Ronny Jackson saga: a tale of sucking up and flaming out (UPDATE)

There’s a podium that White House physician Ronny Jackson will never speak at again.

So Navy Admiral Ronny Jackson withdrew his name from consideration as the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. You could say Dr. Jackson was the Harriet Miers of the Trump administration, except Harriet Miers never prescribed Percocet.

Harriet Miers, you may recall, is a Republican lawyer who was once counsel to President George W. Bush. In 2005, Bush nominated her to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, even though Miers had never been a judge. She finally withdrew from consideration, but it wasn’t because of her lack of experience. She was criticized by many conservatives because she wasn’t a staunch enough abortion opponent.

Like Jackson, Miers was unqualified for the job. Unlike Jackson, Miers didn’t expose raw ambition by sucking up to a president who was all too willing to succumb to flattery. She also didn’t do the kinds of things that Jackson allegedly committed:

  • Earning the nickname “the Candyman” for freely prescribing drugs to White House staff without examinations or paperwork.
  • Crashing a government vehicle after a retirement party, allegedly while drunk.
  • Writing prescriptions for himself, known as self-prescribing — a huge no-no in the medical world.
  • Heading up what was described as a “toxic work environment” at the White House Medical Unit.
  • Drinking on the job excessively, especially on overseas trips.
  • Providing a “large supply” of the opioid Percocet to a White House staffer, throwing the medical office into a panic when it couldn’t account for the large amount of the missing drug.

The descriptions from Jackson’s colleagues (none attributed directly) in a report released by Senate Democrats are brutal.

Jackson was described as “the most unethical person I have ever worked with,” “flat-out unethical,” “explosive,” “100 percent bad temper,” “toxic,” “abusive,” “volatile,” “incapable of not losing his temper,” “the worst officer I have ever served with,” “despicable,” “dishonest,” as having “screaming tantrums” and “screaming fits,” as someone who would “lose his mind over small things,” “vindictive,” “belittling,” “the worst leader I’ve ever worked for.” Day-to-day environment was like “walking on eggshells.”

Jackson was viewed as someone who “would roll over anyone,” “worked his way up on the backs of others,” “was a suck-up to those above him and abusive to those below him,” a “kiss up, kick down boss,” “put his needs above everyone else’s.”

Most Americans probably had not heard of Ronny Jackson until he gave a now-infamous assessment of Donald Trump’s health. It was beyond laughable.

Jackson gushed about how healthy Trump was. He bragged about Trump’s “incredible genes” and his “excellent health.” Trump’s cardiac health also was described as “excellent,” despite the fact that Trump has no daily exercise beyond his frequent golf games (where he rides in a cart) and his well-known diet of Diet Cokes, cheeseburgers, Kentucky Fried Chicken, red meat, and double scoops of vanilla ice cream.

“I told the President that if he had a healthier diet over the last 20 years he might live to be 200 years old,” Jackson said to the laughter of reporters.

Ronny. They weren’t laughing with you. They were laughing at you.

Nevertheless, with Trump, flattery will get you anywhere. So it wasn’t long before Trump fired VA Secretary David Shulkin (who had his own travel-related ethical challenges) by tweet and named Jackson as his successor.

Never mind the fact that Jackson has very little administrative experience. And he had nowhere near the experience to run an agency with an annual budget of $186 billion that serves over 9 million veterans and oversees 360,000 employees. The nation’s injured veterans deserve better than a flattering flunky to oversee their care.

You almost have to feel sorry for Ronny Jackson (note I said almost). Earlier, general reports never questioned his medical competency. But he sounds like an awful person to work for.

Jackson also is a rear admiral. The military doesn’t exactly make it easy to criticize a superior officer, so it’s understandable that these criticisms weren’t out in the open before. And while he will continue in his post in the White House Medical Unit, his reputation and his career are in ruins.

So ask yourself, Dr. Jackson: Was it really worth shaving all of those pounds off Donald Trump’s weight, just to make him feel less fat?

UPDATE: Now it seems that Jackson is out of a job as Trump’s physician as well as the VA. Two administration officials report that Jackson will not return as the president’s physician, although he will remain with the White House Medical Unit.

The privilege of whining about white male privilege

President Barack Obama addressing the White House press corps in 2013. Yes, there are women and people of color. But the crowd is still overwhelmingly white and male.

You’d think we wouldn’t need to say this out loud in 2018, but obviously, we do: White men who are miffed that someone else besides them is in charge need to get over it.

Because any slight that any of them has ever felt pales in comparison with what the rest of us have put up with for our entire lives.

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen has been getting a lot of deserved backlash for a tone-deaf column he posted with the headline, “Privilege is real. But being a white man shouldn’t disqualify me.

Cohen is a reliably conservative columnist at the Post. His readers know where his point of view is coming from. Apparently he’s still angry that he was passed over for a newsroom position 40 years ago and that he was told, “We needed a woman.”

I said nothing, although I seethed. In short order, I was made a columnist, so I didn’t even get a chance to cry. But the instant rush of utter unfairness lingers. The woman chosen was qualified, but her qualification had nothing to do with her sex. I was told she was just a needed statistic.

I guess he can’t process the idea that maybe the woman was chosen because she was a better fit for the job and he was being told words to make him feel better. That the publication needed a broader perspective than what he would be able to offer. That readers might want to see faces looking at them from a column photo that looked more like them, rather than exclusively pale males.

Well, he got his column and he’s been writing it ever since, from the perch of one of the nation’s leading newspapers (and has been well-compensated for it, too). He’s hardly “disqualified.” So on behalf of the women, people of color, LGBTQ folks, and any other minorities who have been passed over time and time again for jobs for which they have been qualified, let me just say:

Richard Cohen, shut the fuck up.

Did I say that Cohen has been getting a lot of deserved backlash? No, he’s being excoriated. He’s being put in his place, both politely and with plenty of snark.

Consider this from Chicago Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens:

It’s likely that editor — or someone above him — decided to publish the best newspaper possible, and he determined that doing so with half the population’s eyes and ears and voices mostly missing was proving difficult.

It’s likely that editor — or someone above him — understood that women’s dollars count the same as men’s, and the newspaper ought to try getting its hands on some.

It’s likely that woman made the newspaper better in a way that Cohen could not. …

Thankfully, we’ve evolved. And so should our understanding of what fairness demands.

It doesn’t demand that you get every single position you want. It demands that your qualifications are weighed equally next to the qualifications of another person.

And if the table is already filled with what you would bring to it, fairness demands that someone else is offered a seat.

Elle has a collection of how Cohen has been getting skewered on Twitter. Among my favorites:

Matthew Yglesias at Vox brings us details of Cohen’s past writings and experiences about race and women, and how those feelings might be feeding his current diatribe.

  • He followed up on the same theme decades later, writing in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s death at the hands of George Zimmerman that racial profiling is good: “If young black males are your shooters, then it ought to be young black males whom the police stop and frisk.”
  • Later that year, he discovered that being enslaved was bad after watching 12 Years a Slave but counterbalanced that with a column observing that “people with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children.”

There was also the time back in 1998 when he allegedly sexually harassed Devon Spurgeon, at the time a 23-year-old editorial aide. He has obviously continued to write his column for the past 20 years, and he and his powerful friends in journalism cast him as the victim in this situation.

Enough about Richard Cohen and his sordid past and writings. Let’s look instead at a 2017 report from the Women’s Media Center on “The Status of Women in U.S. Media” and see if Cohen’s complaints hold up (spoiler alert: they don’t). Yes, there has been progress, but the still-low number of women in positions of power in media has actually dropped in some areas.

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

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

It’s even worse for women of color in media. Despite the brilliance and success of Joy Reid, most of the faces in the news business are still white and male. Women in Media’s 2018 report, “The Status of Women of Color in U.S. Media,” contains data of discrepancy:

Women of color represent just 7.95 percent of U.S. print newsroom staff, 12.6 percent of local TV news staff, and 6.2 percent of local radio staff, according to industry research that is based on news organizations’ replies to professional association queries.

We all know that some white men feel they’re getting a raw deal—it’s one of the big reasons why Donald Trump is president (Cohen points out that Trump received 63 percent of the white male vote). Trump’s entire campaign was based on playing to the racist fears of white voters about the “other.” Yet for every anecdote about some white male not getting a promotion, there are volumes of stories about women and minorities who suffered the same fate.

Cohen writes:

Some of the resentment in the white, male electorate is based on the conviction that the deck is suddenly stacked against them. That’s Trump’s constituency, right there. … Someone has to tell those guys how deceived they are, how they have benefited all these years from being male and white. Forgive them if they do not understand.

Yglesias answers:

There’s a phrase I learned a few years back that goes, “When you are accustomed to privilege, equality can feel like oppression.”

Cohen’s career, I think, exemplifies the wisdom contained in that aphorism. He’s a guy who’s enjoyed a well-compensated, high-status, easy-to-do job for decades who nonetheless quite sincerely feels put upon by the fact that he lost a job to a woman sometime in the 1970s and sometimes get called a racist because he thinks young black men should be subject to discriminatory treatment.

He feels, on these grounds, a profound affinity for Trump voters. And because the demographic of put-upon older white men does, in fact, exert disproportionate influence over American social and economic institutions, there continues to be a well-compensated and not very taxing job for him into his late 70s.

White men aren’t being arrested at Starbucks while waiting for a friend. White men aren’t missing out on jobs because they’re attractive and “too big a risk,” as life coach Tony Robbins claimed in denouncing the #MeToo movement as a platform for women “to gain significance.” White men aren’t on the losing end of the pay gaps between genders and between races. And the obvious: Unarmed white men don’t get shot and killed by police at the same rate as do unarmed black men.

These facts are incontrovertible. The fact that they’re still true in 2018 is despicable. But obviously, they need repeating. So once again, I say:

Richard Cohen, just shut up already.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on April 22, 2018.

Why did father of Waffle House shooter give his son his guns back?

The four victims of the Waffle House shooting.

What earthly reason could there be for returning weapons to Travis Reinking, the now-arrested suspect in the Nashville-area shooting at a Waffle House restaurant that killed four people and injured more?

The 29-year-old Reinking has shown multiple signs of being mentally ill. According to a report in The Washington Post:

While Reinking was at large, police had warned he was dangerous and said he showed “signs of significant instability,” [Metropolitan Nashville Police Department Don] Aaron had said at a news briefing earlier Monday.

He pointed to Reinking’s arrest outside the White House last year as well as a string of bizarre encounters with law enforcement officials in Illinois. Reinking once told law enforcement officers that the singer Taylor Swift had been harassing and stalking him — a delusion that authorities in Illinois said Reinking had had for years.

Last year, police records show that Reinking went to a local pool in Illinois wearing a pink dress and swam in his underwear while coaxing life guards to fight him. Soon after, he traveled to the nation’s capital and tried to cross a security barrier near the White House, declaring himself a “sovereign citizen” who wanted to speak with President Trump.

After an FBI investigation, state and local officials confiscated Reinking’s weapons. Twice.

The weapons were given to Reinking’s father, who agreed to keep them secure and away from Reinking, officials said. But the father later acknowledged giving the weapons back to his son, police said, who had moved to Tennessee.

How is this legal? How is it legal for Reinking’s father to give his son his guns back, guns that included semiautomatic weapons like an AR-15? Turns out, it’s not.

Reinking’s father could potentially face charges for returning the guns, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. His father and other relatives could not immediately be reached, and a woman who answered the phone at a number registered to Reinking’s relatives in Illinois said, “We have no comment.”

I don’t think I would have any comment, either. I don’t know what you could say when you realize that your action of giving your mentally ill son (also tied to right-wing groups and who had declared himself a “sovereign citizen”) back his guns, which he then used to murder four people. Four young people whose lives were cut short. The victims:

  • Taurean C. Sanderlin, 29, of Goodlettsville, Tenn., a restaurant employee who was fatally shot while standing outside.
  • Joe R. Perez, 20, of Nashville, who was also standing outside.
  • DeEbony Groves, 21, of Gallatin, Tenn. She was a senior majoring in social work at Belmont University.
  • Akilah DaSilva, 23, of Antioch. He was a musician and a student pursuing a career in musical engineering at Middle Tennessee State University.

Let’s also point out the heroic actions of James Shaw Jr., a good guy without a gun, who wrestled the AR-15 away, burning his hands and getting his elbow grazed with a bullet in the process.

James Shaw Jr. doesn’t consider himself a hero. But he was.

Police aren’t commenting yet on Travis Reinking’s motives in the shooting, and Reinking hasn’t made any comments so far. But his victims were all people of color. Ties to right-wing groups suggest that this was racially motivated domestic terrorism. The definition of “sovereign citizen,” according to a report from Raw Story:

The FBI says that sovereign citizens are “anti-government extremists who claim the federal government is operating outside its jurisdiction and they are therefore not bound by government authority — including the courts, taxing entities, motor vehicle departments, and even law enforcement.”

We don’t know Reinking’s father’s views on guns, the National Rifle Association, mental illness, the sovereign citizen movement, or anything else. He might share the same political beliefs or not. No one is saying.

But if Travis Reinking’s father isn’t arrested — and quickly — that just goes to show (once again) that justice is not equal across racial lines.

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.

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