Environmentalists on plan to shrink national monuments: See you in court

Utah officials told Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke what they wanted changed at Bears Ears National Monument. If they get their way, the gray blob would be all that’s left.

The leaked report from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke about shrinking or altering 10 national monuments and opening them to mining, drilling, increased grazing, logging, and other development spells trouble for the country’s open land.

But many environmental groups are threatening legal challenges to these moves. According to a story in USA Today:

Ben Schreiber, a political strategist at the environmental group Friends of the Earth, called Zinke’s statement that he would shrink a “handful” of monuments “another in a long line of blatant handouts to the oil and gas industry.” Several monuments under review … overlap with possible coal, oil or natural gas reserves, according to an analysis of federal data by Greenpeace, an environmental group.

“If Secretary Zinke recommends shrinking Bears Ears National Monument it will be another slap in the face to Native American tribes who lobbied for years to get it designated as a National Monument,” Schreiber said in a statement. “Zinke’s action is illegal and he can rest assured that his latest giveaway to corporate polluters will be litigated in the courts.”

Zinke spent nearly four months on a “review” of 27 national monuments to see if past presidents had “overreached” in setting aside large swaths of land for protection. Donald Trump issued an executive order (at the request of oil and coal companies) seeking the review in April, and Zinke delivered his report to Trump in August. But it was kept under wraps until it was leaked to The Washington Post. The Grand Canyon Trust is referring to the draft report as “ZinkeLeaks.”

Utah state officials have been pressing for a change in boundaries—if not the complete reversal of designation—for two national monuments: Bears Ears (designated by President Barack Obama in 2016) and Grand Staircase-Escalante (designated by President Bill Clinton in 1996), and delivered their wishes to Zinke as part of his study. The Utah proposal on Bears Ears would reduce the land by 90 percent—from 1.3 million acres down to 120,000 acres.

Other national monuments on the shrinking and chopping block are Nevada’s Gold Butte and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou, as well as two Pacific Ocean marine monuments—the Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll. The “recommendation” for all of these and four other monuments is to allow outside commercial use, which Zinke referred to in the report as “traditional use” of such lands. Other monuments that would be affected by the “traditional use” Zinke wants to impose are the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine (logging), the Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks National Monument in New Mexico (grazing and—get this—border security, because of the possibility of “drug smuggling”), the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument in New Mexico (grazing), and the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Marine Monument off the coast of New England (commercial fishing).

Under the 1906 Antiquities Act, presidents have the authorization to designate land, historic places, or culturally significant areas as national monuments. While other presidents have made small alterations in national monuments, “No president has ever stripped protections from monuments in the way Zinke is proposing,” says a story in the Los Angeles Times. “At stake are millions of acres of unique geological formations, rare archaeological artifacts, and pristine landscapes and seascapes.”

People had the opportunity to make their feelings about changes in status to national monuments during a public comment period. As the Los Angeles Times reported:

More than 90% of the 2.7 million Americans who weighed in on the monument review in written comments to the Interior Department were opposed to shrinking borders. Zinke acknowledged the intense opposition in his report to Trump, but attributed it to “a well-orchestrated national campaign organized by multiple organizations.”

In other words, the public comment period was merely window dressing, and Zinke was more than willing to dismiss the overwhelming majority of comments that went against his development agenda. Not exactly democracy in action.

But the best argument for an economic boost is to leave national parks and monuments in their natural state. Every federal dollar invested in the national parks yields nearly $10 in economic activity. The national parks support 277,000 private-sector jobs and produce $30 billion in economic activity annually. The outdoor recreation industry employs about 7.6 million people and produces $887 billion in consumer spending. Those jobs and that spending, not the imposition of harmful activities like mining, will boost the economic growth in areas around national parks and monuments. This report from Medium spells out the benefits of leaving them be:

Monument designations protect the land from being exploited by oil, gas, coal, mining, and timber companies, as well as from other harmful activities. Valid mineral rights and existing livestock grazing are generally preserved when new monuments are created.

National monuments also allow hiking, fishing, hunting, camping, mountain biking, and motorized vehicles on roads.

A recent report from outdoor sporting groups details the widespread use of national monuments by anglers, bird-watchers, river rafters, hikers, and hunters, as well as the broad local support that led to their creation. The lands are well used and well loved by generations of area families, as well as tourists.

National monument protections are a boon to local economies (ask Utah’s Escalante-Boulder Chamber of Commerce), and research shows that Western counties with public lands had healthier economies and created more jobs than those without.

Reams of evidence show monument status helps states and local businesses promote the cultural and natural treasures in their backyards. From gear outfitters to hotels and restaurants, the tourism industry is booming as more Americans seek the wide open spaces and historical context that national monuments provide.

Here are a few of the ways changing boundaries and opening up these national monuments for commercial development will cause harm.

From The Washington Post:

National Geographic explorer in residence Enric Sala, who has conducted scientific surveys in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, said in an email that any effort to restart commercial fishing within its boundaries “would not only harm the ecosystem the monument is supposed to protect, but also its ability to help replenish tuna fisheries around it.”

The recommendation for one national monument in the Atlantic, Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Marine Monument off the New England coast, was to reopen it to commercial fishing, a recommendation welcomed by the east coast commercial fishing industry. But as reported in a separate Washington Post story:

Mystic Aquarium senior research scientist Peter J. Auster, whose institution pushed for heightened protections for an area 130 miles off the southeast coast of Cape Cod, noted that federal catch data shows that landings of mackerel and butterfish — two of the main species targeted by local fisherman near the monument — have risen this year compared with 2016, when the monument was established.

Auster said that to allow trawlers, pots and pot gear in the monument, which spans 4,913 square miles, “will have significant effects on conservation of marine wildlife in the monument.”

Many western ranchers welcomed the recommendation opening up five monuments to increased grazing, as ranchers already have some grazing rights on these and lots of other public lands. State and federal officials, as well as representatives of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said they felt as if their voices were “finally being heard.” But there are downsides to expanded grazing: denuded streambanks, fouled waters, erosion, and trampled soils.

Changes also would affect and remove protection of Native American artifacts. According to a report from the Grand Canyon Trust:

The state of Utah’s proposed map is outrageous. It would “unprotect” countless antiquities and objects of scientific interest including the oldest known archaeological sites in Utah — both a 13,000-year-old Clovis camp and the state’s oldest rock art site. It also leaves at risk thousands of other sites that the Antiquities Act was designed to protect: cliff dwellings, rock art, ancient roads, largely unexplored treasure troves of dinosaur bones, and ancient sites and landforms sacred to indigenous peoples. Utah’s proposed boundaries even leave the historic Mormon Hole-in-the-Rock Trail vulnerable to mineral development.

If Trump accepts and acts on Zinke’s recommendations, environmental and outdoor groups, Native American tribes, state attorneys general, and outdoor outfitters such as Patagonia are ready to launch litigation. According to a story in The Guardian:

“We will 100% challenge this in court because presidents don’t have the authority to change monuments,” said Kristen Brengel, vice-president of government affairs at the National Parks Conservation Association.

“It would be horrific to change these areas of beautiful rivers, canyons and architectural sites. Trees are meant to be vertical in conservation, not horizontal. That’s not how you manage a national park unit.

“We hope the president won’t act on these recommendations but if he does, we will be ready.”

Designating a national monument, while done with the stroke of a pen, is not a quick or uncomplicated process, and making changes to one also couldn’t be done overnight. As the Medium piece pointed out, “Monument designations take years of study, collaboration, and review to ensure they contain ‘historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures’ or ‘other objects of historic or scientific interest,’ as required by the act.” Legal actions against Trump’s potential move will draw out the process even longer.

Changing the boundaries of a national monument once it has been established has never been challenged in court. If Trump carries out Zinke’s recommendations, it will be. And soon.

Originally posted on Daily Kos, Sept. 24, 2017.

We need one final push to bury Trumpcare 4.0

If only Lindsey Graham knew how to moonwalk.

Just like the zombies tromping out of the graveyard in Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Senate Republicans have returned in a last-ditch effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

The big difference is that Sens. Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, Bill Cassidy, et al don’t dance as well as the undead. But the Graham-Cassidy bill could leave just as many people fighting for their lives.

Senate Republicans face a deadline of Sept. 30 to pass the bill with only 50 votes (Vice President Mike Pence would be the 51st vote and tie-breaker), using a process called reconciliation. After that, because Oct. 1 is the start of a new budget year, the Senate goes back to its regular order of requiring 60 votes to achieve cloture and move a bill forward. Since that will never happen with this bill or any of the other monstrosities that congressional Republicans have tried to foist on the American public, this is their last chance to undo President Obama’s signature achievement of moving the country toward universal health coverage.

GOP senators know the bill is awful; they’ve admitted as much. Iowa’s Chuck Grassley was quoted in The Des Moines Register, on a conference call with Iowa reporters:

“You know, I could maybe give you 10 reasons why this bill shouldn’t be considered,” Grassley said. “But Republicans campaigned on this so often that you have a responsibility to carry out what you said in the campaign. That’s pretty much as much of a reason as the substance of the bill.”

In other words, yeah, we know it totally sucks, but we’re going to fulfill our campaign promise, even if it kills a good chunk of the U.S. population.

Graham-Cassidy would cut health spending by 34 percent and give states block grants to spend money however they want. That’s not an abstract; that means people won’t be able to get insurance and needed care. It would eliminate all insurance subsidies and end Medicaid expansion. It would let health insurers jack up rates on those with preexisting conditions and even deny coverage for some needed services altogether. States could drop requirements for what the ACA deemed “essential health benefits,” such as maternity care. A baby born prematurely with a serious medical condition could reach his or her lifetime cap before even leaving the neonatal intensive care unit.

Republicans are scrambling to pass the bill before the Congressional Budget Office can deliver a comprehensive score. Because a CBO score would be as catastrophic as the scores for Trumpcare 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0, which said that up to 32 million people would lose insurance and premiums would shoot up. In the absence of a CBO score, health industry analysts have done their own estimates, concluding that tens of millions would lose coverage and that federal funding to states for health coverage would fall by $299 billion by 2027.

Vox asked nine Republican senators exactly what the bill does. The answers the reporters got were … underwhelming, as they all but admitted they didn’t know how finances would work out. There was a lot of mumbling about returning power to the states, even though “details are still being developed”; how the bill would save money and create efficiencies (how is creating 50 insurance systems more efficient and less bureaucratic?); how the bill wouldn’t hurt their own home states (while taking money away from blue states that expanded Medicaid); and how it gave them a chance to institute a Medicaid work requirement (think those seniors on Medicaid in nursing homes will be lining up for jobs?). As long as it repeals Obamacare, it suits them just fine.

Of course, it all comes down to politics. “If we do nothing, I think it has a tremendous impact on the 2018 elections,” said Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas. Actually, here’s his best quote:

Look, we’re in the back seat of a convertible being driven by Thelma and Louise, and we’re headed toward the canyon. … So we have to get out of the car, and you have to have a car to get into, and this is the only car there is.

But don’t just take my word for it. Vox also has a list of many health care and related groups opposing Graham-Cassidy:

  • AARP
  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • American Cancer Society
  • American Heart Association
  • American Medical Association
  • America’s Health Insurance Plans
  • Association of American Medical Colleges
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield
  • HIV Medicine Association
  • Kaiser Permanente
  • Planned Parenthood

Also strongly not on board, according to a story in The Atlantic:

  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
  • American Hospital Association
  • American Psychiatric Association
  • American Public Health Association
  • Children’s Hospital Association
  • Federation of American Hospitals
  • National Institute for Reproductive Health

The AMA, hardly a bastion of liberalism, gave a basic reason to reject Graham-Cassidy. “Doctors cannot support the bill, as it violates the precept of ‘first do no harm’—a guiding tenet of the profession.”

Is it too much to hope that the Senate also do the same and not harm America?

Media still don’t get ‘What Happened’ to Hillary Clinton in 2016 election

People at a New York City bookstore lined up to get a signed copy of Hillary Clinton’s book on the 2016 election.

Judging by the reactions and judgment of many (mostly white and male) members of the media about What Happened, Hillary Clinton’s book about the 2016 campaign, the former Democratic nominee is supposed to just fade into oblivion.

Instead, Clinton is showing the world what she’s always been: whip-smart, well-spoken, and able to distill politics to its core. And if anyone doesn’t like that, well, as she’s quick to point out, “Don’t buy the book.”

Of course, smart-and-effective Hillary Clinton is not the impression the media gave you of Clinton during the campaign, or since, or ever (i.e., “Clinton rules”). It was non-stop coverage of her emails and endless stories about how she just wasn’t “likable.” Descriptions of her nearly always contained adjectives such as “calculating” and “untrustworthy.” All that negativity became its own narrative, as her approval ratings kept dropping more quickly than Michael Flynn (now possibly facing indictment himself) could lead Donald Trump’s crowds in chants of “LOCK HER UP.” Even today, her approval is lower than Trump’s, a fact that the media seem almost gleeful to point out.

So even before the new book was released, as it jumped to the top of the Amazon best-seller list with pre-orders, an abundance of stories bemoaned the fact that Clinton was reliving and relitigating an election in which many journalists would rather ignore their culpability.

Many stories used almost identical headlines that Democrats were “dreading” the Clinton book release. And sure enough, those stories, such as this one by Politico, quoted several Democrats saying just that, even if some of them chose to remain anonymous.

Twitter lit up with hits against Clinton, only to have many of those shot down by Clinton backers, almost all of whom were female. One of the silliest hits was from Chris Cillizza of CNN: “It wasn’t the email story. It was how she handled the email story.” Among the many comebacks was a list of the 50-odd tweets and stories he himself had written critical of Clinton and her emails.

It’s almost as if there are different standards when it comes to coverage of men and women in politics. (Ya think?) Consider this tweet:

Media: Hillary Clinton needs to be quiet.

Also Media: Let’s hear what Steve Bannon has to say.

Hillary Clinton will sell a lot of books and make a lot of money in the process. If that’s what it takes for her and her supporters to come to terms with the 2016 election, so be it. Those who want to ignore the book can turn instead to The Art of the Deal on remainder tables.

“It is by now abundantly clear that Hillary Clinton no longer cares what the haters think,” wrote Philip Bump in The Washington Post. It’s almost as if the the phrase “zero fucks to give” was invented for the Clinton book tour.

Ezra Klein did an hour-long interview with Clinton about the book and the election for Vox; both the video and the transcript are online. It’s almost a wonk-to-wonk exchange of two knowledgeable people who know their stuff cold. The interview covers lots of ground, including her mistakes; her campaign’s mistakes; how to develop (and pay for) realistic policies; how legislation actually gets passed; sexism, racism, and white resentment; the James Comey letter’s effect; Russian involvement in the election; perceptions of successful women; and the election itself. And, invariably, how the media covered the election—or, in her case, didn’t bother to do the hard work of actually covering it.

“When you get 32 minutes in a whole year to cover all policy? [The reference was to a study concluding that broadcast TV spent only 32 minutes of coverage of the 2016 campaign on candidates’ policies, compared with three times as much airtime on Clinton emails.] How does that work? And you compare it even with ‘08 when we had 200 minutes on broadcast TV. Is it that people are really not interested, or is it that it’s just not as enticing to the press because the other guy’s running a reality TV show, which is hard to turn away from?”

The comprehensive study of the role of media in the 2016 campaign, from Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, reiterated what everyone already knew: Donald Trump got an inordinate amount of free air time and positive or neutral coverage, including complete coverage of speeches from campaign rallies, while Clinton got short shrift, and most coverage was negative in tone. All of this might seem like ancient history to political junkies and to the media, but journalists still refuse to own up to their role in Trump’s election. It’s a lot easier to criticize Clinton for daring to write a book than it is to issue a media mea culpa.

As columnist Heidi Stevens wrote in the Chicago Tribune:

The belief that Hillary Rodham Clinton should not have written “What Happened,” her account of the 2016 presidential election, is so patently absurd that I’m loath to even address it.

It’s also so widely held that I’m loath not to. …

The folks who are rolling their eyes, hard, at the notion of Hillary Clinton doing all the good she can, for all the people she can, will likely not read “What Happened.” That’s a shame. It’s a first-person, front-row account of arguably one of the most pivotal elections in American history.

But plenty of others will. And I would urge the pundits and the platform-holders to think twice before adding another voice to the “Go away, Hillary” choir.

Women, especially those who backed and worked for Clinton’s candidacy, understand this at a visceral level. After all, we’ve been there. We’ve been told to shut up (and also to SMILE!). We’ve seen others take credit for our ideas. We’ve been interrupted in meetings (see Pelosi, Nancy). We’ve been asked patronizing questions when we had more expertise than the questioner. We’ve seen men get promotions and salaries that we deserved. We’ve been criticized for being “bitchy,” “bossy,” and “overly aggressive” while men demonstrating the same characteristics are described as “assertive.”

The public is regularly subjected to stories about Trump voters who are “still with him” despite his many missteps, sometimes the exact same group of voters interviewed multiple times, often aired for five minutes at a time (yeah, I’m talking to YOU, NPR). How many interviews have you heard with Clinton voters, despite the fact that she received 3 million more votes than Trump? I’m guessing the answer is zero, until a few members of the media bothered to talk to people who camped out in line overnight to buy Clinton’s book and meet her.

More from Stevens:

“On Being a Woman in Politics” is a fascinating chapter examining the tightrope Clinton has walked during her life in public service. It’s a tightrope I suspect millions of women will recognize: Be ambitious but not too ambitious; tough but not too tough; motherly but not too motherly; devoted to your husband but not too devoted.

“I didn’t want people to see me as the ‘woman candidate,’ which I find limiting, but rather as the best candidate whose experience as a woman in a male-dominated culture made her sharper, tougher, and more competent,” she writes. “That’s a hard distinction to draw, and I wasn’t confident that I had the dexterity to pull it off.

“But the biggest reason I shied away from embracing this narrative is that storytelling requires a receptive audience, and I’ve never felt like the American electorate was receptive to this one,” she continues. “I wish so badly we were a country where a candidate who said, ‘My story is the story of a life shaped by and devoted to the movement for women’s liberation’ would be cheered, not jeered. But that’s not who we are. Not yet.”

Full disclosure: I haven’t had a chance to crack open What Happened yet, but I look forward to it. When I evaluate candidates, I like to listen to all of them and usually choose the one who’s the smartest in the room with the best ideas. She was certainly the smartest and had the most well-thought-out plans. No matter who you backed, that much is true. After all, during the primary debates, one of the most accurate things Clinton said was, “I am not a single-issue candidate, and I do not believe we live in a single-issue country.”

So why is MSNBC’s Chris Hayes shocked, shocked, that the book makes for good reading, as he showed in this tweet? “I’m reading the Clinton book and it’s…quite good! Compelling and candid and written with a pretty remarkable intimacy. It’s worth reading.”

As one of his commenters tweeted back: “I think you should spend some time reflecting on why this surprises you.”

Indeed, Clinton has been so good at her book interviews that … well, this tweet sums it up:

Please don’t point that out. It opens the wound all over again.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Sept. 17, 2017.

The heat is on: How climate change is making Western wildfires worse

A firefighter climbs a burning hillside at the La Tuna Canyon Fire in Los Angeles County. With 7,200 acres burned, it’s one of the largest fires ever to hit the area.

Let’s look at the other set of natural disasters that is being exacerbated by climate change.

Major wildfires are burning in British Columbia in western Canada and in at least nine states throughout the American West: California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. California, Montana, and Oregon are bearing the worst of it. So far in 2017, more than 8 million acres have burned. More than 26,000 firefighters are working on controlling the roughly 80 major fires still burning. Homes are being evacuated or burned to the ground. It often rains in Seattle; it does not, however, usually rain ash.

The state of Montana is being described as a fiery apocalypse. Wildfires have been burning for months across the western half of the state, over 1 million acres have burned, and two firefighters have died. Gov. Steve Bullock has declared a statewide fire disaster, having already declared state fire emergencies in July and August. Bullock has deployed the Montana National Guard as firefighters. “Montana is in one of the worst fire seasons in modern history and on its way to becoming the most expensive,” he said in his declaration.

The smoke has gotten so bad that it is causing health problems. In the worst-hit areas, people with respiratory illnesses and heart conditions are being advised not to go outside. Residents are forced to cover their mouths and noses with scarves and masks to avoid breathing in smoke and ash. In Montana, the state’s Dept. of Environmental Quality warned of “unhealthy” and “hazardous” air quality and advised all people in western Montana to avoid prolonged outdoor exposure. Parts of the state are described as having air quality as bad as Beijing’s. Even if you live elsewhere, you can still be affected: The amount of smoke is great enough that it’s drifting across the rest of the country.

There are 23 fires burning in California, throughout the entire state. The huge La Tuna fire in the Los Angeles area is now mostly contained, but it might be rekindled if winds pick up. And high temperatures are making conditions worse: At least 15 cities in the state have had their hottest summers on record. Temperatures climbed to over 100 degrees in San Francisco, where summer usually means wearing a jacket. Up until this year, the average summer temperature in June, July, and August for the entire state was 70.4 degrees. This summer, that average is 73.6.

The National Interagency Fire Center, which coordinates wildfire-fighting, reports that about 500 single-family homes and 32 commercial buildings have been destroyed, and nine firefighters have died overall.

National parks are not immune: Fires have hit Glacier National Park in Montana and are nearing Yosemite National Park in California as well as Mount Rainier National Park in Washington. The fires have burned buildings and are threatening Lake McDonald Lodge in Glacier and a grove of 2,700-year-old sequoia trees near Yosemite (the trees’ thick bark helped them survive). The Multnomah Falls Lodge, threatened by the Eagle Creek Fire in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge, seems to have escaped destruction only because of heroic actions by a group of firefighters.

Welcome to climate change inferno.

There are wildfires in the U.S. every summer, and they are a natural part of a forest ecosystem, clearing away overgrown underbrush. Just like the catastrophic hurricanes hitting the Caribbean, the Gulf Coast, and the Southeast U.S., wildfires are not caused by global warming. They are just worse because of it.

Some wildfires are started by lightning strikes, but human activity is responsible for 84 percent of fires. Authorities say the Eagle Creek Fire in Oregon, which has burned 31,000 acres and joined another wildfire, started when a teenager threw some fireworks into a dry canyon.

Wildfires aren’t just raging in the United States. Nearly 3 million acres have burned in British Columbia, the most ever lost to wildfire in the province. In Portugal in June, 62 people died as fire swept through the center of the country. A series of wildfires tore through southern and central Chile in January, where a prolonged drought and high temperatures combined to make the fires worse and burn 700,000 acres. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet called the fires “the greatest forest disaster in our history.”

Today, there are a lot more fires, their severity is worse, and the fire season lasts longer. A study from the Sierra Nevada Research Institute says the increase in fires is due in part to “warmer temperatures, dry summers, below-average winter precipitation, or earlier spring snow melt.” Other points from the study:

  • Large forest fires in the western U.S. have been occurring nearly five times more often since the 1970s and 1980s.
  • Such fires are burning more than six times the land area as before, and lasting almost five times longer.

Other factors can be added to the mix:

  • Years of past fire suppression means that fires have more kindling to fuel them.
  • Less logging in the northwest means that more trees are available to burn.
  • Warmer weather means greater survival of the mountain pine beetles that have killed off big swaths of pine forests. Dead trees are more likely to burn than live, healthy ones. At the same time, higher temperatures and drought mean that stressed trees are less likely to survive a beetle infestation.
  • Warmer temperatures mean more evaporation of the moisture that is available, making vegetation and land drier and more susceptible to burning. Even after a relatively wet winter, record-breaking heat still caused enough drying out to create fodder for large fires.
  • Widespread drought, including the unprecedented drought in Montana and the Dakotas, makes fires more likely. And how clueless is it when Donald Trump tells people in North Dakota that at least they’re “better off” than victims of Hurricane Harvey?
  • The amount of carbon released in the air during a huge wildfire means the fires themselves contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
  • More homes are being built closer to areas prone to wildfires, putting 1.2 million homes in 13 states at higher risk of burning. Fighting fires to save those homes adds to the overall bill.

According to a story in Inside Climate News:

“These unprecedented extreme events, on the daily to the seasonal scale, are exactly the types of events that are more likely due to the global warming that’s already occurred,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA. “That’s not so much a future projection, but an observational reality, and that’s something we expect to increase in the future. When we get these extremes, there’s a human fingerprint.” …

Nine of the 10 worst fire seasons in the past 50 years have all happened since 2000, and 2015 was the worst fire season in U.S. history, surpassing 10 million acres for the first time on record. So far this year, wildfires in the U.S. have burned 8 million acres, but the fire season is far from over. (In 2015, 8.4 million acres had burned by early September.) The average fire season is 78 days longer than it was in the 1970s—now nearly seven months—beginning and extending beyond the typical heat of summer.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, every state in the western U.S. has experienced a 75 percent increase in the average annual number of large wildfires over past decades. The extreme heat waves in the western U.S. have only made the problem worse. These points are from a report the group published in 2014, but they’re just as true today:

  • Temperatures in the American West have gone up quickly. Since 1970, they have increased by about twice the global average.
  • Snow melts earlier in the spring. Hotter, drier conditions last longer than they used to. The result is a longer wildfire season and conditions that are primed for wildfires to ignite and spread.
  • This is a recent and dangerous alteration of the natural, long-standing, and necessary role of wildfires as part of the forest landscape.
  • The threat of wildfires is projected to worsen over time as rising temperatures lead to more frequent, large, and severe wildfires and longer fire seasons.
  • Since 1970, regional temperatures have increased by 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit. By mid-century, temperatures are expected to increase an additional 2.5 to 6.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

What is the response of the Trump administration, besides climate denial from Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt? Trump proposes to cut the budget of the Dept. of Agriculture’s Forest Service, which also coordinates response to wildfires. Its wildfire fighting program would be cut by $300 million. Wildfire prevention efforts would be cut by $50 million. And volunteer fire departments would get a 23 percent reduction.

All of these cuts are proposed despite the fact that fire suppression costs have skyrocketed. The cost of fighting wildfires went from $440 million in 1985 to more than $1.7 billion in 2013.

Rising temperatures from climate change mean more wildfires, longer fire seasons, and a more widespread area affected by fire. Isn’t it time that people started accepting the obvious?

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Sept. 10, 2017.

Hurricane Harvey is climate change on steroids

When you’re wading through floodwaters that have spread to the size of Lake Michigan, something is badly out of whack.

Climate change didn’t cause Hurricane Harvey. But it made what already was a major storm a hell of a lot worse.

Pointing this out is not “politicizing” the issue—it’s stating the obvious. The overwhelming size of Hurricane Harvey and its destruction in Southeast Texas is a frightening warning about the future if we don’t start taking meaningful steps to slow climate change—and hope that it’s not too late already.

The Earth has always had hurricanes, torrential rain storms, and floods. They have produced tragedies, killing victims, wiping away property, and leaving people homeless, often for years. It’s hurricane season, and hurricanes hit the Gulf Coast every year. Houston, a city built on a swamp, has a history of flooding.

But this was the worst rainstorm in U.S. history. It was 50 inches of rain—an otherworldly amount—in Southeast Texas. It was 20 trillion gallons of water over a matter of days, one-sixth the volume of Lake Erie. It was a storm of catastrophic proportions, and global warming exacerbated it all.

“Now is the time to say it as loudly as possible: Harvey is what climate change looks like. More specifically, Harvey is what climate change looks like in a world that has decided, over and over, that it doesn’t want to take climate change seriously,” wrote meteorologist Eric Holthaus in Politico Magazine.

Many climate change experts have weighed in on how an overabundance of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are making normal weather patterns more extreme and thus worse for the people experiencing them. No matter how heartening the photos and stories in Houston of people helping and rescuing each other, we’re still left with the overwhelming destruction of the storm. The dotted lines between climate change and catastrophic weather are getting more solid every day.

What made Harvey so catastrophic, besides the 50 inches of rain, and why was there so much of it?

Warmer water. The waters of the Gulf of Mexico are unusually warm this summer—between two and three degrees above normal—which gave Harvey extra energy and moisture. As Holthaus wrote:

Climate change is making rainstorms everywhere worse, but particularly on the Gulf Coast. Since the 1950s, Houston has seen a 167 percent increase in the frequency of the most intense downpours. Climate scientist Kevin Trenberth thinks that as much as 30 percent of the rainfall from Harvey is attributable to human-caused global warming. That means Harvey is a storm decades in the making. …

A warmer atmosphere enhances evaporation rates and increases the carrying capacity of rainstorms. Harvey drew its energy from a warmer-than-usual Gulf of Mexico, which will only grow warmer in the decades to come. At its peak, on Saturday night, Harvey produced rainfall rates exceeding six inches per hour in Houston, and its multiday rainfall total is close to the theoretical maximum expected for anywhere in the United States.

A stalled jet stream. As climatologist Michael Mann (his writing is being reported in many places, and it’s all a must-read) told Think Progress: “The kind of stalled weather pattern that is drenching Houston is precisely the sort of pattern we expect because of climate change.” Even after it was downgraded to a tropical storm and finally a tropical depression, Harvey just hovered over the Houston area, dumping more and more rain.

This conclusion is nothing new. A 2012 study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, co-written by climate scientist Jennifer Francis, a leading expert on how global warming and the related Arctic amplification affect the jet stream and extreme weather, explained it further.

“Enhanced warming of the Arctic affects the jet stream by slowing its west-to-east winds and by promoting larger north-south meanders in the flow,” NOAA said. “The researchers say that with more solar energy going into the Arctic Ocean because of lost ice, there is reason to expect more extreme weather events, such as heavy snowfall, heat waves, and flooding in North America and Europe but these will vary in location, intensity, and timescales.”

Even beyond climate change, there have been so, so many other factors that made this situation—and could make future situations—worse:

Regulatory flood protections gone. Just days before Harvey hit, Donald Trump signed an executive order that abolished many flood protections established by President Obama. Trump, pretending that he cares about the country’s infrastructure, got rid of the regulations that put a curb on building roads, bridges, and other infrastructure in areas that are susceptible to flooding. Although that executive order didn’t affect anything—yet—it means that construction projects can go full throttle on land that shouldn’t be built on. This “will lead to more costly and damaging consequences of these floods,” said Rachel Cleetus of the Union of Concerned Scientists, in a story in The Independent.

Trump rescinded an Obama executive order requiring builders who receive federal funds for a project to account for the risk of flooding in their construction plans. Trump called it “job-killing.” How many people in Houston are going to work right now? asks Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post.

Overdevelopment and deregulation run amok. Houston has grown into the nation’s fourth-largest city and sprawls across Harris County, an area of nearly 1,800 square miles with a population of 4.5 million. Much of the area’s most recent development, devoid of any zoning rules, has been built on what always was swampland. What should have still been land to absorb rainfall and buffer the developed areas is now concrete. According to a story in The Washington Post:

As the country’s fourth-largest city expanded, replacing prairie with impermeable surfaces such as pavement and concrete, the land was rendered less and less capable of absorbing floodwater. Without proper adaptive measures, this made an already flood-prone place more vulnerable. A ProPublica and Texas Tribune investigation found last year that those who have overseen Houston’s flooding issues discounted scientists’ warnings as “anti-development.” In the coming months and years, the city may pay a high price for such shortsightedness.

Looming public health crises. Public health experts warn that flooding of this size, especially in an urban area, carry a multitude of health risks. Floodwaters are likely to be mixed with sewage and animal waste, increasing the risk of E. coli exposure. Direct contact with floodwater (as if residents had any choice) can cause skin infections. People forced to go without medical treatment, especially dialysis and cancer patients, face serious health setbacks. Temperatures have headed back into the 90s, and with so much standing water, there will be an upsurge in the mosquito population. In other words, it’s not just colonies of floating fire ants, as frightening as those look.

Toxic chemical exposure disasters. The Arkema chemical plant in nearby Crosby, Texas, 20 miles northeast of downtown Houston, has now exploded, sending toxic fumes into the air and sending some people to area hospitals, at least as a precaution. The French firm Arkema says it has no choice but to let the fire burn itself out. Floodwaters in an area with so many oil refineries (at least one gas spill has been reported) carry the risk of exposure to a boatload of harmful chemicals. The Sierra Club has issued a list of other potential disasters-in-waiting, including problems at 10 Houston-area chemical facilities and oil and gas refineries. The Washington Post reported that the floods threaten to turn Houston’s Environmental Protection Agency Superfund sites into a “toxic soup.” You think Superfund site cleanup is going to be high on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s agenda?

Economic downturn and a whopping rebuild expense. Climate change is already having an effect on local economies, and it hits the poorest residents the hardest. A study in Science magazine broke down the effect of warming temperatures, county by county, in the U.S. It shouldn’t be any surprise that the areas most affected are in the Southeastern U.S., with some counties in Arizona and New Mexico thrown in. “Not surprisingly, Atlantic coastal communities are projected to take a toll from rising seas and strengthening hurricanes,” said a report on the study.

Harvey is already predicted to be the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history, with a potential price tag of $160 billion. According to a story in USA Today:

“Parts of Houston, the United States’ fourth largest city, will be uninhabitable for weeks and possibly months due to water damage, mold, disease-ridden water and all that will follow this 1,000-year flood,” said AccuWeather president Joel Myers.

The Federal Reserve, major banks, insurance companies and other business leaders should begin to factor in the negative impact this catastrophe will have on business, corporate earnings and employment, Myers said.

Right now, the face that 35,000 people are homeless is more concerning than corporate earnings. But perhaps an economic downturn is the only problem Republicans think is worth addressing.

Meteorologist Holthaus offers some thoughts on what to do about the new weather reality:

Adapting to a future in which a millennium-scale flood can wipe out a major city is much harder than preventing that flood in the first place. By and large, the built world we have right now wasn’t constructed with climate change in mind. By continuing to pretend that we can engineer our way out of the worsening flooding problem with bigger dams, more levees and higher-powered pumping equipment, we’re fooling ourselves into a more dangerous future.

It’s possible to imagine something else: a hopeful future that diverges from climate dystopia and embraces the scenario in which our culture inevitably shifts toward building cities that work with the storms that are coming, instead of Sisyphean efforts to hold them back. That will require abandoning buildings and concepts we currently hold dear, but we’ll be rewarded with a safer, richer, more enduring world in the end. …

The symbolism of the worst flooding disaster in U.S. history hitting the sprawled-out capital city of America’s oil industry is likely not lost on many. Institutionalized climate denial in our political system and climate denial by inaction by the rest of us have real consequences. They look like Houston.

Once Harvey’s floodwaters recede, the process will begin to imagine a New Houston, and that city will inevitably endure future mega-rainstorms as the world warms. The rebuilding process provides an opportunity to chart a new path. The choice isn’t between left and right, or denier and believer. The choice is between success and failure.

And as awful as Harvey as been for Southeast Texas, and now Louisiana, we need to remember that extreme weather events are happening elsewhere in the world, too. The worst monsoon in years (some estimates were 10 times the normal amount of rain) caused catastrophic flooding in South Asia and killed 1,200 people in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh, and displaced millions. Mumbai, home to more than 20 million people, is awash with floods, including its financial district. Nearby Indian states also are flooded, and huge numbers of farms have lost crops. “This year farming has collapsed due to floods and we will witness a sharp rise in unemployment,” said Anirudh Kumar, a disaster management official in the Indian state of Bihar, whose citizens often migrate to cities in search of jobs, according to a story in The Telegraph. At the same time, in Niger, at least 44 people died and hundreds of homes were lost because of heavier-than-usual rains during the rainy season.

“Couldn’t you hear what the scientists were saying?” asks former Vice President Al Gore in An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. “Couldn’t you hear what Mother Nature was screaming at you?”

It’s high time more people started listening.

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

Former white supremacists now living Life After Hate

After meeting each other online, ex-members of neo-Nazi and other hate groups banded together to help others trying to leave the hate movement.

What do you do when you’ve seen the light about white supremacy and racial hatred? In the case of these ex-white supremacist activists, you make amends for your past work in the neo-Nazi movement by forming a group to fight against the hatred you used to stand for.

Christian Picciolini is a co-founder of the Chicago-based Life After Hate, a group founded in 2011 by former members of far-right extremist movements. The organization helps others in similar circumstances—people who recognize that hate is taking over their lives—and helps them to get out of the white supremacy movement before it’s too late. Three of the group’s four founders are veterans of white supremacist groups.

Life After Hate conducts research (with academic partners) about the white hate movement. It provides outreach and education to schools and community organizations with information about the toxic environment of the white supremacist movement and how to counter it. Its Facebook page offers specific advice about how best to engage—and how not to engage—with hate groups.

The group faces an uphill battle. According to a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are 917 hate groups across the United States, up from 784 in 2015 and 892 in 2016, and up from 602 since 2000.

The SPLC has documented an explosive rise in the number of hate groups since the turn of the century, driven in part by anger over Latino immigration and demographic projections showing that whites will no longer hold majority status in the country by around 2040. The rise accelerated in 2009, the year President Obama took office, but declined after that, in part because large numbers of extremists were moving to the web and away from on-the-ground activities. In the last two years, in part due to a presidential campaign that flirted heavily with extremist ideas, the hate group count has risen again.

There’s no need to spell out why hate groups are on the rise. But it’s nice to know that ex-members of those same groups are fighting back.

A recent story in the Chicago Tribune described Picciolini’s journey. (He also told his story in Romantic Violence: Memoirs of an American Skinhead.) Picciolini was recruited as a white supremacist at age 14 in a southern Chicago suburb, standing in an alley and smoking a joint, when a skinhead leader grabbed the joint out of his mouth, saying, “Don’t you know that smoking marijuana is what the Jews and communists want you to do to keep you docile?” Picciolini later said he was attracted to the movement leader’s “confidence, power and message, one that placed the blame for all of his struggles on other people, mostly minorities.”

Picciolini bounced back and forth between schools, moving upward in the hate movement. One high school he attended took out a restraining order against him after he assaulted a black student and a black security guard. But finally, his life changed. According to the Tribune account:

In 1994, Picciolini opened a record store in Alsip called Chaos Records, the only shop of its kind devoted to white power music, which he imported from Europe and sold to customers around the U.S. To make more money off those he called the enemy, he started carrying hip-hop and other genres to draw in black clientele. But getting to know the new customer base changed his life, he said.

“Blacks and Jews showed me compassion and they were the ones I least deserved it from,” he said. By then, his wife and two sons had already left him. “I became so embarrassed.” …

Picciolini launched an online journal to document his journey. Other former white supremacists found their way there and contributed. At a conference in Ireland in 2011, the small group of contributors met and vowed to help others in need of a way out. After that trip to Ireland, Life After Hate was born.

(I had no idea that “white power music” was a thing. I’ve heard of white supremacist rock bands, but I figured they had a tiny following. It’s no surprise that the music didn’t sell all that well.)

The group also was the subject of a profile in the SPLC Intelligence Report. That 2016 piece featured interviews with Picciolini and some of the other co-founders of Life After Hate. This describes the motivation of Angela King, the organization’s deputy director, in finally leaving the world of white supremacy. King spent time in prison for taking part in an armed robbery of a Jewish-owned store that was judged a hate crime, and she described her transformation:

When I was first incarcerated, I went in with the mentality that I was not responsible. I just sat in the car [during the robbery]. But I very much thought I was going to be in there fighting for my life every minute, with my back against the wall.

The most ironic thing happened in there. Women of color, women who I never would have met, who I never would have shown any type of respect or human kindness toward, showed me kindness and compassion even knowing that I was a skinhead and serving time for a hate crime.

Up until that point in my life, I dealt with everything pretty much with anger, aggression and violence. And to be shown kindness, it completely disarmed me. I had no idea how to react to that. Once I started to kind of re-form the bonds of human connection and started actually finding the human being in myself again, the fallacies, the stereotypes, those white lies that are told by the far right, it started to kind of just crumble away on its own.

Kathleen Blee is a professor of sociology and dean of the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh who also was interviewed for the SPLC piece. She explained why the work of groups such as Life After Hate is so important in the fight against white supremacy: “If people are going to successfully leave racist groups, they need people they can turn to for advice, people who have been through the same process, people who can help them build a new set of friends and a new set of supporters outside of that racist world. … One of the reasons [hate] groups hold together is because there’s a sense of invincibility. It’s an us-against-them mentality. Watching people exit can be a really powerful message both to potential recruits and to people in the groups.”

Life After Hate has programs and partners in the U.S. and worldwide. Those include Formers Anonymous, described as “a recovery network of people seeking redemption and freedom from a lifestyle of self-destructive involvement with crime, violence, power, and control through change and recovery”; the Strong Cities Network, a “global network of mayors, municipal-level policy makers and practitioners united in building social cohesion and community resilience to counter violent extremism in all its forms” that was launched in 2015 at the United Nations; and the Against Violent Extremism Network, in which “former violent extremists and survivors are empowered to work together to push back extremist narratives and prevent the recruitment of ‘at risk’ youths.”

As part of Life After Hate, Picciolini is the director of ExitUSA, a program with the slogan, “No judgment. Just help.” As it says on its website:

Our team is made up of people who were part of the white power movement, but got out before it destroyed us. We left, and you can too. We’re here to share with you that it is possible to change and have a better life. … Our team of “Formers” are dedicated to helping you get the support and skills you need to build a new life free from hate.

The site gives opportunities for contact via email or phone, with queries about how best to safely contact those reaching out for help. Picciolini won an Emmy for his public service announcement campaign about ExitUSA:

In January, Life After Hate won a $400,000 federal grant to counteract hate groups from the Obama administration’s Countering Violent Extremism initiative. Naturally, the Trump administration eliminated that grant in June. So the group is hoping to find those missing funds through website donations of tax-deductible gifts. So far, it has reached 70 percent of its goal.

The organization, whose volunteers have helped about 200 people disengage from hate groups, is busier than ever. According to the Tribune story:

Since Donald Trump was elected president, referrals to his group have gone from two a week to five a day, Picciolini said. And since a car plowed into a crowd protesting a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., last Saturday, killing a woman, those referrals have skyrocketed, he said.

Life After Hate will be featured on an upcoming Full Frontal show in September. Here’s the Samantha Bee preview:

And here’s another video explaining Picciolini’s journey and the group itself.

If we’re lucky and if there’s any justice, the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who wave those Confederate flags and Nazi banners, chant disgusting slogans, and threaten people online and at rallies someday will learn that there’s Life After Hate.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Aug. 27, 2017.

How to fight white supremacy: Charlottesville, SPLC offer blueprints

The Rapture Restaurant in Charlottesville, Virginia, was clear about the openness of its customer base. (Photos by Sandy Anderson)

The rise of white supremacy in the United States, with Donald Trump as its head cheerleader, has heightened tensions across the country. The “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the killing of Heather Heyer when a neo-Nazi rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, has spurred marches, vigils, and actions nationwide to counter the hate speech of the white supremacist crowd. The crowds in Boston showed the power of numbers when demonstrating peacefully. But many still feel lost, wondering about the most effective methods of fighting racial hatred.

Racial bias and hatred are nothing new in this country, but since the rise and election of Donald Trump, white supremacist groups have become emboldened to spew their specific brands of hate both online and in person. They are using any excuse to target minorities of any kind. The removal of statues honoring Confederate Civil War leaders is just the latest spark igniting publicity-seeking actions, often by heavily armed participants. What has been labeled the “Trump effect” has given rise to a sharp increase in bullying against minorities in the nation’s schools.

The Southern Poverty Law Center is offering some new and updated tools on how to respond. The SPLC has updated its publication, “Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide.” Because much of the white supremacist action is aimed at the nation’s college campuses, it also has a new guide specifically aimed at colleges: “The Alt-Right On Campus: What Students Need To Know.”

Both online publications offer specific suggestions and actions on how to counter such groups both on a college campus and in everyday life.

And in Charlottesville itself, the community is showing the world how to fight back.

From “Ten Ways,” the SPLC offers what it calls “10 principles for fighting hate in your community.”

There are lots of suggestions for action, like join forces in the community with diverse coalitions. Faith leaders, the business community, schools, local media, elected officials, and local law enforcement are all described as potential allies. Education of the entire community — including the media — is described as key.

There also are suggestions on what not to do.

Do not debate hate group members on conflict-driven talk shows or public forums. Your presence lends them legitimacy and publicity. They use code words to cover their beliefs. And they misinterpret history and Bible verses in a manner that may be difficult to counter during a live forum. …

Do not attend a hate rally. Find another outlet for anger and frustration and for people’s desire to do something. Hold a unity rally or parade to draw media attention away from hate.

Hate has a First Amendment right. Courts have routinely upheld the constitutional right of the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups to hold rallies and say whatever they want. Communities can restrict group movements to avoid conflicts with other citizens, but hate rallies will continue. Your efforts should focus on channeling people away from hate rallies.

“Every act of hatred should be met with an act of love and unity,” the SPLC writes. The seemingly spontaneous “Taking Back the Lawn” candlelight vigil on the University of Virginia campus, four days after the alt-right march, outdrew the neo-Nazis. Organizers were careful not to share the event on social media to tip off white supremacists; instead, the word about the event spread by word of mouth and text messaging.

In “The Alt-Right On Campus” are tips on how to counter white nationalist campus speakers without resorting to violence. “Take action to inoculate the campus against such extremism before these speakers appear on campus,” the SPLC writes.

The thrust of the advice seems to be, “Don’t give them what they want.”

When an alt-right personality is scheduled to speak on campus, the most effective course of action is to de­prive the speaker of the thing he or she wants most — a spectacle. Alt-right personalities know their cause is helped by news footage of large jeering crowds, heated confrontations, and outright violence at their events. It allows them to play the victim and gives them a larger platform for their racist message.

Denying an alt-right speaker such a spectacle is the worst insult they can endure.

While there’s nothing wrong with peaceful student protests against a hateful ideology, it’s best to draw attention to hope instead. Hold an alternative event — away from the alt-right event — to highlight your cam­pus’ commitment to inclusion and our nation’s democratic values.

When the town was invaded by the forces of hate, groups in Charlottesville took action. They banded together to fight back. Partly in protest and partly as a safety measure, some businesses shut down for at least part of the day on Aug. 12, the day of the “Unite the Right” march. The coffee house Atlas Coffee sent part of that day’s proceeds to the SPLC. A stationery store called Rock Paper Scissors printed posters — a simple heart with only the word “C’ville” and a purple poster with the name “Heather” — and offered them for free distribution.

Other posters with a clear message are on display throughout Charlottesville.

Businesses weren’t the only ones.

The group UnityC’ville, made up of civic and human rights organizations as well as local businesses, put together a counter program during the day of the march and is raising money for injured victims, including those injured by the rammed car. A GoFundMe page already has raised nearly triple the original goal of $50,000.

The Charlottesville Clergy Collective, a group of local churches and faith leaders of different races, formed after the 2015 shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, to discuss and address race relations in the Charlottesville area, which has a history of racial segregation. Their response to the alt-right march events has been inspiring, even as there was initial disagreement within the group on exactly how to respond.

The night before the march, while the tiki torch brigade was shouting and chanting Nazi slogans, clergy and worshipers were inside a local Episcopal church for a prayer service, planning their own peaceful march. There was also a prayer service at a local synagogue. They were all trapped inside their houses of worship as the armed white supremacist thugs massed across the street; at both venues, participants had to sneak out back and side doors. Inside the synagogue, participants had removed the Torah, including a scroll that had survived the Holocaust, for safety, amid threats that the building would be burned.

The next day, we all saw numerous photos of clergy from a variety of faiths walking with elbows linked in a show of solidarity, holding the line. Before and after the alt-right march, the Clergy Collective offered counseling and opened area churches for drop-in support and community care gatherings.

The memorial service for Heather Heyer drew an overflow crowd. Many wore purple, Heather’s favorite color. Makeshift memorials, flowers, and messages still lined the street where the 32-year-old was fatally injured when the driver plowed into the crowd of counter-protesters.

Her mother, Susan Bro, spoke with simple eloquence.

“They tried to kill my child to shut her up, but guess what, you just magnified her,” Bro told the attendees. “I’d rather have my child, but by golly if I got to give her up, we’re going to make it count.”

One of Heather’s co-workers also shared memories of her friend.

“Maybe if you didn’t speak so loudly, they wouldn’t have heard you, and you would still be here,” said co-worker Feda Khateeb-Wilson. “But thank you for making the word ‘hate’ real. … Thank you for making the word ‘love’ even stronger.”

Originally posted on Daily Kos, Aug. 20, 2017.

If you’ve ever dreamed of offing a political pundit …

If you enjoy making fun of both political leaders and the media — especially Sunday morning talk show hosts — in our nation’s capital, this is the book for you.

At long last, you can read Off With His Talking Head as an e-book for the bargain price of $2.99. Elsewhere on this site, you can read a first-chapter excerpt and find details on how to order the murder mystery. It’s now available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Smashwords, and other electronic outlets.

Here’s the back-cover blurb:

When a conservative pundit known in Washington for his drinking and lecherous ways dies at a black-tie fundraiser, everyone assumes it’s a heart attack. But environmental activist Laura Delaney and reporter David Wainwright suspect murder. As they examine suspects and motives, they discover a political bribery scandal, delve into the world of political talk shows, and find a way out of the political correctness mess for the Washington Redskins. Involving potatoes.

It’s a funny murder mystery that even features recipes of dishes cooked up by the main characters, especially foodie Steve Cheng, Laura’s gourmet apartment-mate who owns the world’s best collection of environmental pun T-shirts. (Side note: A few female readers admitted that they developed a crush on Steve in the first book, The Political Blogging Murder.)

So give it a try. After all, with today’s headlines, we deserve all the fun we can get.

Rise of the younger voter: Millennials’ growing power

Okay, voters aren’t THIS young, but younger voters outnumbered older ones in 2016. How will that play out in future elections?

New research shows that for the first time, younger voters outvoted their elders in 2016.

According to the latest data from the Pew Research Center, millennials and those in Generation X — voters in the 18-35 and 36-51 age ranges — edged out baby boomers and members of the so-called silent and greatest generations in the November 2016 election. The difference was slight — fewer than 2 million votes — but it was a marked difference from previous elections.

Part of that shift is for an obvious reason: older generations are dying off. But exactly how younger voters choose candidates and which candidates they’ll vote for in the future, especially in November 2018, is a question worth exploring.

The good news? Polls before and after the presidential election show that younger voters lean toward Democrats and away from Donald Trump, who earned only 36 percent of millennials’ votes. Millennials say they prefer Democratic candidates in 2018 by 30 percentage points, one of the reasons The Hill reports that the majority in the House of Representatives is now “up for grabs.” (We’re obviously not including in those numbers the kinds of millennials who took part in the Nazi and white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia; they’re not on the Blue team.)

Millennials are also running for office in YUGE numbers. More than 60 percent of those running for office who received Kickstarter funding from the website Crowdpac are millennials,

The bad news? When it comes to midterm elections, young voter dropoff has historically been significant compared with their elders. For example, voters 18-29 made up 13 percent of the electorate in 2014, compared with 19 percent in 2012. “Minorities and Millennials, the groups most alienated from Trump, are traditionally the constituencies least likely to vote in midterm elections,” says a story from The Atlantic.

Polls consistently show voters favoring Democrats in upcoming midterm elections, some by as much as 14 percentage points. But it’s crucial that Democratic candidates, their campaigns, and the party infrastructure make sure that young voters get to the polls in 15 months.

According to the Pew analysis of Census Bureau data, millennials and Generation Xers cast 69.6 million votes in the 2016 general election, compared with 67.9 votes of older voters. A big reason for the age-vote shift is the sheer number of millennials — their 34 million votes in 2016 show a steep rise from the 23 million votes they cast in 2008, even though the percentage (49 percent) in 2016 was lower than the 51 percent of millennials who voted in 2008. All of this should be good news for the Blue team.

The ascendance of the Millennial vote is noteworthy because Millennials are more likely to be self-described independents, but they also are more Democratic than older generations in their political preferences. Among Millennials, 44% were independents in 2016, compared with 39% of Gen Xers and smaller shares of Boomers (31%) and members of the Silent Generation (23%). At the same time, Millennials lean to the Democratic Party to a much greater degree than other generations. In 2016, 55% of all Millennials identified as Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents, while just 33% identified as Republicans or GOP-leaning independents. By comparison, 49% in Generation X, 46% of Boomers and 43% of members in the Silent Generation identified with or leaned Democratic. And on issues such as marijuana legalization and same-sex marriage, Millennials take more liberal positions than those in older generations.

These figures also are a good reminder why immediate voter analysis after an election should be taken with shakers full of salt. What was conventional wisdom about voting immediately after the November 2016 election (left-behind working-class voters! economic anxiety!) has turned out to be only surface analysis. And even the numbers given last November, mostly from exit polling data, have turned out to be incomplete.

The millennial generation is the only voting-age group whose actual numbers and percentage are growing, due to both greater participation and immigration, in which younger naturalized citizens can add to the voter rolls. Pew reports that the baby boomer vote, while still making up the greatest number of voters and the highest engagement of voting, peaked in 2004 with 50.1 million votes — the 2016 total was only 48.1 million. Baby boomer turnout rate remains at 69 percent, but the total number is dropping because of deaths and emigration. Gen-X participation reached a high of 35.7 million votes in 2016, its peak point up until now.

The number of millennials is now equal to the number of baby boomers in the voting-age electorate, according to another Pew analysis. Both groups each make up roughly 31 percent of the U.S. population.

Voting by former immigrants who are now U.S. citizens is a greater factor than many think. On average, naturalized citizens register to vote (71.3 percent) and vote (61.9 percent) at high rates, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. Younger, new American citizens who are part of the millennial generation will cause that group’s voting numbers to swell, and they’re statistically bound to lean Democratic.

And wherever they were from originally, those naturalized voting citizens will find ballots in a variety of languages:

The federal government has long required election ballots in some U.S. jurisdictions to be printed in languages other than English, based on the number of voting-age citizens who live in those communities and have limited English skills and low education levels. New data from the Census Bureau show that 263 counties, cities and other jurisdictions in 29 states will now be subject to this requirement in future elections, a slight increase from five years ago.

Is it any wonder that Donald Trump and the Republican-led Congress are seeking ways to limit legal immigration along with tamping down access to polls?

Not only are millennials more engaged, they’re also running for office in greater numbers than ever before. The progressive group Run for Something helps candidates under 35 years old, and it has received nearly 9,000 inquiries. It’s early enough in the electoral cycle that the organization is helping the much smaller number of 800 candidates — so far.

There’s no way to add up the number of younger candidates for local and national offices nationwide, but several news sources have noticed an uptick, with a variety of explanations. Bloomberg View columnist Conor Sen suggests that millennial candidates see running for office as a logical career step.

It’s the modern equivalent of starting a tech company in the late 2000s — a play for power, where the odds are most favorable. … In 2008 a young person could envision striking gold with a tech startup. Now that seems implausible, but rising through the political hierarchy seems imaginable. In 2017, conditions are in place for an unprecedented surge in the number of people looking to run for office. …

The same crop of people who were in their late teens and early 20s in the aftermath of the great recession are growing up, and are now old enough to run for office, like [Georgia’s Jon] Ossoff, age 30 — and their cohort could vote for them in the same way young people consumed the products of Zynga and Snapchat. …

A new civic wave might elect only a few dozen out of the hundreds who are running for national office, but a new generation can take comfort in knowing that its values will be the ones being heard in Congress rather than those of the current generation that can’t seem to get anything done.

Whether they’re running for office or just voting, capturing millennials’ loyalty is key in the long run. New York Magazine suggests that the rewards could be worth it.

In the end a vote is a vote, and Democrats can claw back a lot of congressional seats through a combination of relatively small improvements among 2016 Trump voters, 2016 congressional Republican voters, and stay-at-home-prone Democratic millennials and minorities. But figuring out what makes millennials vote in proportionate numbers would be priceless.

More younger voters. More millennials running for office. More progressive values. Let’s hope that’s a winning combination in 2018 and beyond.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Aug. 13, 2017.

The Obamacare repeal attempt that just won’t die

You mean there are still some Republicans trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act?

Just when you thought your health insurance was safe.

The Senate failed to pass a plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act—their attempts at “replacements” were too pathetic to even qualify as such. Many Republican senators have seemingly thrown in the towel. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has declared that it’s time to move on from the health care fight.

Utah Republican Orrin Hatch was designated as the poor slob GOP senator who would deliver the bad news to the White House. “There’s just too much animosity and we’re too divided on health care,” Hatch told Reuters.

Divided they may be, but a bipartisan group of senators has scheduled hearings on how to shore up the ACA health insurance marketplace. The effort is being led by Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander and Washington Democrat Patty Murray, and the hearings will be held after senators return from an August break. “If your house is on fire, you want to put out the fire, and the fire in this case is the individual health insurance market,” Alexander said in a statement. “Both Republicans and Democrats agree on this.”

There’s also a bipartisan effort moving forward in the House. Before the House went on recess, a group of more than 40 House members—Democrats and Republicans—offered the beginnings of a plan to stabilize individual markets and provide other fixes. This is aimed at strengthening the ACA, not repealing it.

Too bad Donald Trump refuses to hear that message.

“Don’t give up Republican senators, the world is watching: Repeal & Replace” was just one of Trump’s tweets demanding continued action on what Trump always calls “failing Obamacare.” In another tweet, he threatened not only the insurance markets but also the insurance of members of Congress themselves if lawmakers don’t keep up the repeal-and-replace battle. “If a new HealthCare Bill is not approved quickly, BAILOUTS for Insurance Companies and BAILOUTS for Members of Congress will end very soon!”

Trump keeps repeating threats to defund the ACA’s cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments that subsidize health insurance for low-income people with the greatest health care needs who buy individual policies in ACA marketplaces. Not paying those subsidies would destabilize insurance markets, especially as insurers are due to submit rates for 2018 by September 27. Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, says the administration will review the payment policies on a month-by-month basis.

The bipartisan Senate efforts are aimed specifically at a one-year fix, to appropriate money for the CSR payments. Sen. Alexander, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee that deals with health policy, is aiming to involve not only all members of his committee in the process but the Senate Finance Committee as well. As explained by Alexander and reported by Talking Points Memo:

“I hope to get a consensus about how to stabilize the individual market, keep premiums down, keep insurance companies in the individual market so people can buy affordable insurance,” Alexander told reporters Wednesday, saying he hopes to pass such a bill before the end of September, when insurance companies will submit their 2018 rates. “I would expect them to lower their prices as a result of the certainty that Congress is providing.”

Senate Democrats want more than a one-year fix but are willing to talk.

“Insurance companies want to know that these payments will be there not just this year, but next year,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) told reporters Wednesday. “They make long-term decisions when they choose what rates to set and how long to stick around. We should set our sights higher than just fixing this for a year.”

Murphy, who sits on Alexander’s committee, said he’s well aware Republicans will likely demand some “flexibility”—code for deregulation and the rollback of protections—in exchange for appropriating the money, and Democrats are willing to hear them out.

“There’s a big middle ground between existing law and the Cruz amendment, between the existing minimum health benefits and the total elimination of the minimum health benefits,” he said.

Unfortunately, cutting off CSR payments is just one of the ways Trump could muck up the ACA. According to a separate piece on TPM, Trump has five sabotage arrows in his quiver. He also could—and did—redirect funds intended to spread the word about ACA signups to anti-ACA ads. He’s already shut down ACA assistance centers in 18 cities. The Trump administration could stop enforcing the insurance mandate, sending a signal that it’s okay to skip buying insurance—the IRS won’t bother with the tax penalty. And the Dept. of Health and Human Services could expand waivers for states to get around some of the law’s requirements.

Too bad for Trump that states can now join the lawsuit on the legality of the payments. Even if Trump decides to stop CSR payments, those states’ actions—potentially, at least—could force the payments to continue during litigation.

The bipartisan House proposal, meanwhile, is a five-point plan from a group calling itself the “Problem Solvers Caucus.” While the plan may never see the light of day, given House Speaker Paul Ryan’s reticence to allow anything that would save rather than repeal the ACA, it would:

  • Provide mandatory CSR funding.
  • Create a stability fund that states can use to reduce premiums and limit insurer losses, especially for people with preexisting conditions.
  • Change the employer-sponsored insurance mandate from companies with 50 employees to those with 500 employees. It also would define a full-time workweek as 40 hours instead of 30 hours.
  • Repeal the medical device sales tax.
  • Give states greater leeway to innovate and allow for the sale of health insurance across state lines.

These bipartisan efforts from lawmakers are getting support from organized medical groups like the American Medical Association.

“While we are relieved that the Senate did not adopt legislation that would have harmed patients and critical safety net programs, the status quo is not acceptable,” [AMA President David O.] Barbe said in a statement. “We urge Congress to initiate a bipartisan effort to address shortcomings in the Affordable Care Act.”

ACA repeal is still technically possible for the Senate through the reconciliation process, which would mean it needs only 51 votes. The proposals senators failed to pass were all amendments, rather than a vote on the House-passed American Health Care Act itself. We can’t be lulled into complacency by talks of bipartisanship.

A few Republican senators—Ohio’s Rob Portman and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham—apparently are still on the ACA repeal Trump train. Graham, along with Republican Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Dean Heller of Nevada, is floating a proposal to let states make their own decisions through block grants, saying, “We haven’t tried all options yet.” The fact that this version would eliminate all subsidies and end Medicaid expansion doesn’t seem to be stopping the effort despite its slim chances and the estimates that millions would lose coverage.

Give it up, Sen. Graham. George Romero, who directed the 1968 zombie cult classic, The Night of the Living Dead, died in mid-July. Let Trumpcare die, too.

Originally posted on Daily Kos, Aug. 6, 2017.

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