Violent #WhiteSupremacy is nothing new, especially in America

Friends and families of the victims of the mass shootings at two New Zealand mosques try to find solace.

Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” In a darker vein, the arc of bigotry and hatred is long, but it inevitably bends toward violence. And there’s no shortage of violence by right-wing terrorists these days.

The terrorist attack by a white supremacist against two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, which killed 50 people, is just the latest in a series of attacks by angry white bigots, whether they identify as neo-Nazis, white supremacists, white nationalists, anti-Semites, the alt-right, or whatever new label they’re claiming, even as Iowa Rep. Steve King (R, Bigotry) wonders how those terms became offensive. The Southern Poverty Law Center reported that the number of hate groups in the U.S. is at an all-time high of 1,020. The FBI saw a rise in the number of domestic terrorist arrests in late 2018. White supremacists committed the most extremist killings in 2017, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

We are horrified by white supremacists’ terrorist killings, such as the mass shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue in October 2018 that killed 11 worshipers. Or the June 2015 shooting in a prayer service at a Charleston, South Carolina, African-American church that killed nine people. Or the 2014 shooting deaths of three people at a Jewish Community Center and a Jewish retirement community in Overland Park, Kansas, where the gunman yelled, “Heil Hitler!” Or the 2012 shooting in a Sikh gurdwara in a Milwaukee suburb that killed six people. Or the 2008 shooting in a Knoxville, Tennessee, Unitarian church that killed two people, done by a man who described his hatred for African-Americans (along with Democrats and liberals) to police after his arrest.

As the New Zealand attack shows, the white supremacist movement is not limited to the U.S. One of the worst incidents was a 2011 terrorist attack in Norway in which an anti-immigrant extremist, Anders Breivik, killed 77 people through a bombing and a mass shooting. The New Zealand shooter’s “manifesto” listed the Norwegian perpetrator as an inspiration, as did the writings of a Maryland Coast Guard lieutenant who planned a mass attack but was arrested in February before carrying out his scheme. The term “going Breivik” is used by those in white supremacist circles to show a full commitment to the cause.

Racism has always existed and persisted in human history. In the U.S., the subjugation of Native Americans by killing them and taking their land and the institution of slavery itself are by definition violence by white supremacy.

The modern movement, however, really solidified after the Civil War.

An opinion piece by MSNBC’s Chris Hayes in the online journal Think describes how the roots of modern white supremacy started as a backlash to Reconstruction. Every time there is progress, there is a reaction against that progress that pushes in the other direction. The most recent rise in white supremacy, first as a reaction to the election of Barack Obama but even more so after the election of Donald Trump, is more of the same.

Slavery is conquered at Appomattox, then followed by the evils of Jim Crow, which are conquered by King and the civil rights movement, followed by an era that leads to the first black president.

But this story, and the analogy of the long imperceptibly trending line of progress, is wrong. It does not allow for what is perhaps the most significant feature of the story of racial justice in America: backlash and backwards movement. And 50 years after King’s death, that’s the most brutal reality we must confront. …

What happened after Reconstruction was a concerted effort of white supremacist terrorism, violence and reaction that choked off equality and reasserted white rule in the South. The moral arc of the universe during that time didn’t just flatten, it actually bent in the other direction — and sharply so. …

That is the movement to preserve American racial hierarchy and white supremacy. It has gone by different names at different times, but it has not ceased to alter the trajectory of American history.

There are multiple examples of that trajectory in U.S. history. Here are just a few.

Lynchings in the 19th and 20th centuries. What can you call lynchings but white supremacist terrorism? The NAACP counts 4,743 lynchings between 1882 and 1968, admitting that the number is likely low. Of those lynched, 72.7 percent were black. The rest were white, and many of those were lynched for helping African-Americans or for committing other crimes, mostly in Western states. “Whites started lynching because they felt it was necessary to protect white women,” the NAACP says on its History of Lynching page. In addition:

Most of the lynchings that took place happened in the South. A big reason for this was the end of the Civil War. Once blacks were given their freedom, many people felt that the freed blacks were getting away with too much freedom and felt they needed to be controlled. Mississippi had the highest lynchings from 1882-1968 with 581. Georgia was second with 531, and Texas was third with 493. 79% of lynching happened in the South.

Madison Grant. The formal father of the white supremacy movement was a patrician New Yorker named Madison Grant. His 1916 book, The Passing of the Great Race, inspired Adolf Hitler’s Nazi movement as it used racist pseudoscience to “spread the doctrine of race purity all over the globe.” From an overview of that influence in The Atlantic:

Grant’s purportedly scientific argument that the exalted “Nordic” race that had founded America was in peril, and all of modern society’s accomplishments along with it, helped catalyze nativist legislators in Congress to pass comprehensive restrictionist immigration policies in the early 1920s. His book went on to become Adolf Hitler’s “bible,” as the führer wrote to tell him. Grant’s doctrine has since been rejuvenated and rebranded by his ideological descendants as “white genocide” (the term genocide hadn’t yet been coined in Grant’s day). In an introduction to the 2013 edition of another of Grant’s works, the white nationalist Richard Spencer warns that “one possible outcome of the ongoing demographic transformation is a thoroughly miscegenated, and thus homogeneous and ‘assimilated,’ nation, which would have little resemblance to the White America that came before it.”

Sovereign citizen movements. The term covers several right-wing, often white supremacist groups that reject federal authority. The Posse Comitatus Act, literally, “power of the county” in Latin, was passed in 1878 to prohibit the use of federal troops to enforce Reconstruction policies, specifically in Southern states. The act was amended in the 1980s to allow the government to use the military to fight drug trafficking but still limits the use of U.S. soldiers on American soil.

The Posse Comitatus movement was started in 1969 as a right-wing, antitax extremist group. It was founded by William Potter Gale, an anti-Semite and member of a Nazi-inspired organization called the Silver Shirts. Its proponents claimed to recognize only a county sheriff as a legitimate holder of government power. There were acts of anti-government resistance and violence throughout the country that resulted in the deaths of several members of law enforcement. Other such groups include the Montana Freemen, the Christian Identity movement, militia movements, and the “township” movement, which also recognized only small local groups as legitimate government.

“The key distinguishing characteristic of the sovereign citizen movement is its extreme anti-government ideology, couched in conspiratorial, pseudohistorical, pseudolegal and sometimes racist language,” according to an explanation by the Anti-Defamation League.

Oklahoma City bombing and The Turner Diaries. The 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City is remembered as an anti-government act by its two perpetrators, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols — and it was, as a continuance of the militia movement. But the two were strongly influenced by The Turner Diaries, a 1978 dystopian novel by William Luther Pierce, published under the pseudonym “Andrew Macdonald.” The plot of the book revolves around “a United States where non-white minorities have disarmed and oppressed white Americans, leading to an armed white nationalist revolution.” It is described in an Atlantic article as “crudely written and wildly racist.”

The Turner Diaries first made headlines when a violent white nationalist gang appropriated the name of The Order, following the tactical blueprint for terrorism in the book. Turner catapulted to national prominence when it was revealed to be a key inspiration for Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people using a truck bomb strikingly similar to one described in detail in the book. Since then, The Turner Diaries has inspired hate crimes and terrorism across the United States and in Europe in more than a dozen separate plots through the present day. …

While it would be a mistake to credit The Turner Diaries for the entirety of this transition in white nationalism, the novel demonstrated how to successfully leverage racial fears and resentments in the service of violence, without a call to a specific ideology, and the book remains widely influential today.

While Turner is rightly infamous for the violence it has inspired, most notably in Oklahoma City, its impact on the shape of white nationalism — and the movement’s current resurgence — is an equal part of its dark legacy.

There’s a long list of people pushing the hatred of white supremacy, on social media, on right-wing extremist websites, on YouTube videos, on right-wing radio. But when the language of a white supremacist killer half a world away is echoed by the president of the United States, we cannot — and must not — be silent.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on March 24, 2019.

Sorry, Trump: Coal is going down, renewables are headed up

Donald Trump can tout coal all he wants, but its use as an energy source is headed downward in this country.

Here’s more evidence that Donald Trump’s 2016 promises to bring back coal jobs were a sham: A new report from the Trump administration predicts that the amount of coal production in the U.S. will keep dropping in coming years, while the percentage of energy coming from renewable sources will keep growing.

In its monthly report labeled a short-term energy outlook, the U.S. Energy Information Administration cut its projected estimate of coal production in 2019 by 8 percent. In 2020, coal production is expected to drop a further 4.5 percent. “EIA expects declines in both steam coal and metallurgical coal (used in the steel-making process) exports in 2019 and in 2020,” the report said. U.S. coal production in 2019 is expected to be 694.9 million tons, the lowest production since 670.16 million tons were produced in 1978, according to a market insights report from Standard & Poor’s Global.

The percentage share of electricity generation in the U.S. from coal also is headed downward: from 27.4 percent in 2018 to projections of 24.7 percent in 2019 and 23.4 percent in 2020. The amount of electricity generated from coal was over 30 percent as recently as 2016.

At the same time, power generation from all renewable resources is expected to rise. “Wind, solar, and other nonhydropower renewables together provided about 10% of electricity generation in 2018. EIA expects they will provide 11% in 2019 and 13% in 2020,” the report said.

The biggest energy generator in the U.S. remains a fossil fuel — natural gas. As a matter of fact, fossil fuels still make up about two-thirds of all electricity generation in the U.S.

When comparing coal and renewables, the changes might be small, but at least they’re going in the right direction. Renewables are the fastest-growing source of electricity production in the U.S.

And all of this is far from enough to fight the effects of climate change.

A story from Think Progress on the EIA report pointed out the obvious problem with coal, the dirtiest of all fossil fuel polluters:

Coal power is increasingly unprofitable in a world of cheap natural gas and rapidly dropping prices for renewable energy sources like solar and wind. …

The inescapable problem for coal was — and still is — economics, not politics. As one leading industry analyst explained last year, under Trump “the economics of coal have gotten worse.”

The ongoing price drops in wind and solar power mean that in many areas, building and running new renewables is now cheaper than just running old coal plants. And new renewables have actually become more affordable than new natural gas plants.

At least four major coal companies have declared bankruptcy in the past three years, although some merely used a Chapter 11 filing for restructuring purposes. The most recent, Westmoreland Coal Company, is the nation’s oldest coal firm. Its recent court-approved bankruptcy plan also allows it to restructure worker benefits.

According to a report by the Sierra Club, Westmoreland had more than $1 billion in debts, and many of its mines already were closing or being sold off. Of course, the effort to save the company wasn’t going to help currently employed or retired coal miners.

The irony is that even the mines that Westmoreland’s lenders are using the bankruptcy process to acquire will be worthless in a few years. The Rosebud and San Juan mines each sell coal to a single power-plant buyer, and each of those power plants has announced that it is shutting down. The Rosebud Mine provides coal to the Colstrip plant, which has announced that it will close two of its four units in 2022 and is widely expected to close the remaining units in 2027. The San Juan Generating Station, the sole purchaser of coal from the San Juan Mine, already closed two of its four units in 2017, and is on track to shut down completely in 2022.

Westmoreland’s bankruptcy further demonstrates that thermal coal production is no longer an economically viable or sustainable industry by highlighting the cruel measures the company is willing to take to minimize costs. In its filings, Westmoreland has described its obligations for employee health and safety, the environmental reclamation of its mines, and the restoration of polluted waterways as “burdensome regulations.” The company has now begun using the bankruptcy process to try to strip away those obligations. Specifically, it’s indicated its willingness to force renegotiation of collective bargaining agreements and pension and retiree health benefits. And it has announced its intention to default on its pension, healthcare, and black lung obligations.

We don’t expect much from the coal industry, but renewable energy is another story. While Trump’s misguided tariffs on solar cells and modules dampened growth in solar energy, even causing a slight decrease from 2017, there is still projected growth in years ahead: Fourteen percent growth is predicted in 2019 compared with 2018. And total photovoltaic capacity in the U.S. is projected to double in the next five years.

Those interested in tapping that growth better hurry: The solar investment tax credit, which allows businesses and homeowners to deduct 30 percent of the cost of installing a solar energy system from federal taxes, is slated to expire in 2021.

There’s also a tiny ray of hope in the EIA report about a projected drop in greenhouse gas emissions, but there’s reason to be skeptical.

After rising by 2.9% in 2018, EIA forecasts that U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will decline by 1.6% in 2019 and by 0.5% in 2020. The 2018 increase largely reflected increased weather-related natural gas use because of additional heating needs during a colder winter and for higher electric generation to support more summer cooling use than in 2017. EIA expects emissions to fall in 2019 and in 2020 because of forecasted temperatures that will return to near normal and natural gas and renewables making up a higher share of electricity generation. Energy-related CO2 emissions are sensitive to changes in weather, economic growth, energy prices, and fuel mix.

It’s pretty disingenuous to make predictions about energy use, given that much of the country just went through bitter cold during a polar vortex, using a lot of natural gas to heat homes, and heat waves last summer, driving up the need for air conditioning. Although 2018 was the fourth hottest year on record, it only received that rank because the three prior years were even hotter. What’s to say we won’t hit record heat again in 2019?

Even if this drop in the bucket about a slight downturn in greenhouse gas emissions turns out to be true, it won’t make much difference in the long run. Not when we’ve got only a 12-year window to make the massive changes needed to limit global warming before it’s too late.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on March 17, 2019.

Students are leading a worldwide climate strike on March 15. Grown-ups, take note.

Greta Thunberg draws huge crowds everywhere she goes in her fight for climate action. The English translation of the Swedish words on her sign are “school strike for the climate.”

Greta Thunberg is launching the same kind of movement to fight climate change that the kids from Parkland, Florida, inspired against gun violence after a mass shooting at their high school. And she’s aiming to do it on a global scale on March 15, asking students around the world to join a school strike to demand real solutions on global warming.

That sounds like it would be worth cutting class for.

Thunberg is a 16-year-old Swedish political activist who is leading a worldwide youth movement on climate change. In the last year alone, she gave a TEDx talk on climate change in Stockholm, addressed two sessions of a United Nations Climate Change Conference, demanded reductions in CO2 emissions at a European Commission conference, and spoke truth to power at the World Economic Forum in Davos. To further prove her point, while many government and business leaders traveled to Switzerland on private jets, she took a 32-hour train ride, as she has insisted that her family give up flying to reduce their carbon footprint.

Thunberg was described in The Nation as the “international climate-change counterpart” to New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who introduced the Green New Deal resolution in Congress along with Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey. The story calls her a “charismatic young woman whose social-media savvy, moral clarity, and undaunted truth-telling have inspired throngs of admirers to take to the streets for a better world and call out the politicians, propagandists, and CEOs who are standing in the way.”

On March 15, tens of thousands of high-school and middle-school students in more than 30 countries plan to skip school to demand that politicians treat the global climate crisis as the emergency it is. Shakespeare made the Ides of March famous with his soothsayer’s warning in Julius Caesar, but ancient Romans actually saw it as a day for settling debts. What bigger debt is there than the theft of a livable future?

Thirty countries? The current total has grown to more than 90, and there’s time for more students to join. The highest involvement has been in Europe and Australia, but U.S. students are catching up. News for Kids reports that over 100 protests are planned across America, including in Alaska and Hawaii. Students in 30 states have vowed to join the climate strike. More than 30,000 students stood with Thunberg at a January strike in Belgium, and officials in several countries are already giving students a pass for cutting class. A Youth Climate Strike website shows the locations of U.S. climate strikes, and students can search for the one nearest to them.

I have a feeling that “tens of thousands” figure will turn out to be a vast understatement.

Thunberg first learned about climate change when she was 8 and had trouble understanding why the subject wasn’t the most important issue for everyone. She started her recent quest when she began camping out outside the Swedish Parliament, accusing lawmakers of failing to uphold commitments to reduce carbon emissions that were agreed to under the Paris climate accord. She missed classes for three weeks, attracting more and more attention to her cause until she settled on her Friday strike dates. From there, she stunned attendees in Davos by telling them that “our house is on fire.” As described in a story on Vox:

“I don’t want your hope,” she said in her Davos speech. “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.”

Thunberg’s trademark is her hand-lettered sign with the words Skolstrejk för klimatet (school strike for the climate). Although she isn’t yet a household name in the United States, in Europe, it’s another story. She travels from country to country, drawing huge crowds and inspiring students—many along with their families—to attend climate rallies every Friday. Her Facebook page has 266,000 likes. She has 236,000 followers on Twitter, and she often issues tweets in both English and Swedish with the hashtags #ClimateStrike, #Klimatstrejk, #FridaysForFuture, and #SchoolStrike4Future. She tweets and retweets action plans and news about climate science. FridaysForFuture lists events and lets interested parties register their own upcoming strikes. The U.S. contact email is USA@fridaysforfuture.org.

The best news is that Thunberg is getting adults to pay attention.

The extent of Thunberg’s influence is growing (remember, she’s just 16). The number of those planning to participate in the March 15 strike keeps growing, too, and now has reached six continents (alas, no penguins).

In her TEDx talk video, Thunberg describes herself as being “diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, OCD, and selective mutism. That basically means I only speak when I think it’s necessary. Now is one of those moments.”

Thunberg looks even younger than 16, with her short stature and ever-present long braids, but she speaks like an old soul, despairing of what the future will be like for her children and grandchildren. She has a thorough grasp of the details about climate change, describing the extent to which developed countries need to limit emissions and rattling off facts and figures about fossil fuel use. She exhorts students joining the March 15 strike to study the details of the Paris climate accord. And she has little use for those who tell her that she shouldn’t skip school for her strikes.

“Why should I be studying for the future, when the future will be no more? When no one is doing anything whatsoever to save that future? What is the point of learning facts in the school system when the most important facts given by the finest science of that same school system clearly means nothing to our politicians and our society? …  We can’t save the world by playing by the rules, because the rules have to be changed.”

The Sunrise Movement, the U.S.-based youth climate action group pushing the Green New Deal, is on board with the climate strike. Leaders of the group have been preparing for the strike with nationwide conference calls. While the climate strike is bound to be huge in Europe, it will be interesting to see how widespread it is here.

A 13-year-old seventh grader from New York City is trying to make sure U.S. students will have an impact. Alexandria Villasenor has been taking her climate action fight to the United Nations headquarters every Friday, the same way her counterparts across the globe go on a climate strike each week. She was inspired by Thunberg’s speech to the U.N. Climate Conference, in which Thunberg said, “You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes. … You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden you leave to us children.”

A Washington Post story profiled Villasenor, who is building a global following of her own. Each Friday she receives emails about how the climate strike is spreading to different countries around the world. As she told a British reporter, “My generation is really upset.” She says the deal struck at COP24, the U.N. climate meeting in December, was insufficient. “We’re not going to let them … hand us down a broken planet.”

Thunberg, Villasenor, and others like them across the globe aren’t messing around. Just as Thunberg was inspired by the student survivors of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school and Villasenor was in turn inspired by Thunberg, they feed off each other’s energy and serve as inspirations to others to get involved. As the Post story said:

Adults who underestimate the movement do so at their own peril. Since late last year, strikes in European cities have regularly drawn tens of thousands of participants. More than 15,000 people showed up for a strike in Australia — even after their prime minister urged them to be “less activist.”

When a Belgian environment minister suggested that the growing protests were a “setup” this month, she was forced to resign. The following day, 20,000 young people were back in the streets of Brussels.

That day, Alexandria shared an image of a Dutch protest on Twitter, alongside the declaration, “It’s coming to America. You haven’t seen anything yet.”

Besides the March 15 climate strike, some U.S. students have a climate action project of their own. As told on 60 Minutes on March 3, a lawsuit filed on behalf of 21 students in 2015 charges that the U.S. government failed to protect them from the effects of climate change by continuing to allow the burning of fossil fuels. Few took Juliana v. United States seriously, but judges are allowing the case to go forward—the U.S. Supreme Court rejected two motions by the Trump administration to delay or dismiss the case. “Four years in, it is still very much alive, in part because the plaintiffs have amassed a body of evidence that will surprise even the skeptics and have forced the government to admit that the crisis is real,” Steve Kroft said on the show. Those representing the 21 students have 36,000 pages of evidence covering 50 years of inaction by U.S. officials.

It’s just one court case, and maybe just one missed day of school for many of those who will take part in the March 15 climate strike. But all of these “climate kids” are doing their best to save the world. As Parkland survivor David Hogg tweeted, “So when are we going to start walking out against climate change in the US? We live on planet Earth too.”

Originally posted on Daily Kos on March 10, 2019.

When politics and sports collide: Why I am no longer a Cubs fan


Joe Ricketts hoisted the Chicago Cubs’ World Series trophy at a 2016 victory parade. But his history of GOP activism, racism, and anti-Muslim bashing has turned me off to the team.

Fan loyalty is often passed down in families. If you grew up watching and going to baseball games with your parents, like I did, chances are you developed the same love for a team and consider yourself a lifelong fan.

But when it comes to the Chicago Cubs and me, it’s over. I no longer will bleed Cubbie blue.

We can accept the fact that most owners of professional sports teams tend to be conservatives. We likely don’t vote the same way, and we probably make donations to different political causes and candidates. We’re willing to pay too much for tickets, food and beverages at the ballpark, and official fan merchandise, especially if our team is winning. And we hate the way taxpayer dollars are used to build new stadiums for billionaires even as they claim that they hate big government.

If you love your team, you often turn a blind eye to what you loathe about the owners. When New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was charged with soliciting a prostitute, Pats fans, still thrilled after another Super Bowl win, reacted with a basic, “Meh.”

But the latest news about the family that owns the Chicago Cubs is too much. Joe Ricketts’ hateful, anti-Muslim emails, recently unearthed and published, were disgusting. The plan to launch an exclusive Cubs TV channel in partnership with the conservative Sinclair Broadcasting Group in 2020, forcing fans to pay a higher cable bill to watch the team, was the last straw.

Joe Ricketts made his fortune as chairman of the brokerage firm TD Ameritrade. His family — mostly with his money — bought the Chicago Cubs in 2009. Joe Ricketts is not directly involved in running the team — that assignment goes to son Tom Ricketts, who is Cubs chairman. Three other Ricketts offspring — Pete, Todd, and Laura — are on the board and are co-owners of the team.

The politics of the Ricketts clan runs the gamut — patriarch Ricketts is a GOP mega-donor and staunch conservative. As for the Ricketts siblings: Pete Ricketts is the GOP governor of Nebraska. Todd Ricketts is finance chairman of the Republican National Committee and will oversee fundraising for Donald Trump’s reelection efforts. Tom Ricketts describes himself as a political moderate. Laura Ricketts, a board member of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Housing Opportunities for Women organization, is a liberal who was a top fundraising bundler for President Obama in 2008 and 2012. She also is the first openly gay owner of a Major League Baseball team.

Except for Laura and perhaps Tom, they’re an ultra-conservative bunch. They donated heavily in support of Scott Walker in 2016 until they switched to Trump, while Laura held fundraisers for Hillary Clinton.

In 2012, Joe Ricketts gained notoriety when news leaked that he was considering spending $10 million on a super PAC to run a stealth campaign against Obama that would feature the racially incendiary sermons by Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the minister at a Chicago church Obama once attended. The plan was dropped once the word got out, but Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was so incensed that the negotiations for the city to pay for renovations at Wrigley Field died.

A personal note: NPR did a story on Joe Ricketts after that story broke in 2012, painting him as a small-government conservative who hated big government spending. The story even let Ricketts identify himself as an independent. I was so incensed I sent a letter to NPR that actually got read on the air:

Brian Naylor left out a crucial part in his story about Joe Ricketts and his super PAC formed to defame President Obama. Like many Republicans (independent, my eye), Ricketts claims to hate big government spending. Yet the first thing he did after buying the Chicago Cubs was to ask for money from the state of Illinois and the city of Chicago for tax breaks to renovate Wrigley Field. He hates government spending — except when it’s for HIM.

The Cubs broke my heart in 1969, 1984, and (especially) 2003. I am a lifelong Cubs fan and have gone to countless games throughout the years. But I will never set foot in Wrigley Field again. This jerk broke my heart in a way that was even worse than the Cubs bullpen.

That was the first major crack in my Cubs fandom. I did stay away, only going to games when friends visited from out of town and wanted to see a Cubs game. But the Cubs — and their legendary bad bullpen — were improving.

In 2016, the entire town (myself included) went crazy when the Cubs broke a 108-year drought and won the World Series. I was back in the fold, singing Steve Goodman’s “Go Cubs Go” at the end of every win. So what if they didn’t repeat? The Cubs were champs, and my parents were looking down and smiling.

Then came the emails by Joe Ricketts published on Splinter News. Many referred to a supposed video of Obama claiming to be Muslim. Others spewed misinformation about Sharia law and Islam in general, calling it a cult. There were racist jokes and conspiracy theories. All of it was the stuff that crazy uncles email after they hear it from Rush Limbaugh or on Fox News. “Go USA — kick their raghead asses,” said one email. It all went downhill from there.

Ricketts tried to undo the damage with a post on his personal site. “I deeply regret and apologize for some of the exchanges I had in my emails. Sometimes I received emails that I should have condemned. Other times I’ve said things that don’t reflect my value system. I strongly believe that bigoted ideas are wrong.”

Talk about too little and too late.

Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts tried to contain the damage. According to a report in USA Today:

His son, Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts, called the father’s emails “racially insensitive” and said “the language and views expressed in those emails have no place in our society.”

He also sought to distance his father, a longtime backer of conservative politicians, from the baseball franchise, one of baseball’s most valuable and iconic Major League teams.

“My father is not involved with the operation of the Chicago Cubs in any way,” Tom Ricketts said in a statement. “I am trusted with representing this organization and our fans with a respect for people from all backgrounds. These emails do not reflect the culture we’ve worked so hard to build at the Chicago Cubs since 2009.”

But Chicago’s Muslim community didn’t consider that enough.

Kamran Hussain, president of the city’s Muslim Community Center and 15-year season ticket holder, wrote a letter to the Ricketts family Tuesday in which he said the Cubs response had “fallen short and has the ring of PR or ‘damage control’ for most Muslims and others of good conscience in Chicago.” Hussain urged the Ricketts family to meet with Chicago Muslims to clear the air.

As bad as all this is, there’s also news that will hit fans in their wallets. The Ricketts will launch the Cubs’ new TV network, called the Marquee Sports Network, in 2020 in conjunction with Sinclair Broadcasting. It’s the end of seeing Cubs games for free, and how can there any doubt that Sinclair will try to put its conservative spin on the new channel?

We all know that owning a professional team is a business, and businesses are in it for the money. The Ricketts family jacked up ticket prices when they poured a ton of money into Wrigley Field renovation and expansion, battling the city all the way. The Cubs opposed the reelection of Tom Tunney, the alderman whose ward contains Wrigley Field and who has challenged their expansion plans. Too bad for them — he was just reelected.

Will any of this matter to a diehard Cubs fan? Likely not, said Phil Rosenthal of the Chicago Tribune:

The Cubs and the Ricketts family, which owns them, want a lot these days.

They want a new 44th Ward alderman because they want to be able to expand and profit from their Wrigleyville empire with fewer constraints.

They want people to shell out for a bigger monthly cable bill after this season because they want their own Cubs TV channel.

The Cubs also want people to believe they will fare better than last season’s one-and-done wild-card team without evidence they’ve significantly improved vis-a-vis their chief rivals.

Now they want people to ignore the racist jokes, fanciful conspiracy theories and out-and-out Islamophobia found in the emails of Joe Ricketts, the billionaire patriarch who bankrolled his family’s 2009 purchase of the ballclub.

They may not get what they want, the Rickettses and the Cubs, but one can’t help but suspect fans are unlikely to hold any of their requests against them in the long run.

That’s the thing about sports fans in general, and especially Cubs fans. The customers are loyal beyond reason. If losing didn’t shake them, what will?

Consider me shaken. Chicago Cubs, you are dead to me. At least until Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo lure me in again…

Originally posted on Daily Kos on March 3, 2019.

Trump’s legacy: Hate groups are at an all-time high

A neo-Nazi rally in Georgia in April 2018. The Southern Poverty Law Center report gives details on a continued growth of hate groups in the Trump era.

A new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center tells us what we already suspected when we see and read news reports: There are a record number of hate groups in the United States, driven by both shifting demographics and Trumped-up fears of immigration.

The SPLC gives us the discouraging numbers both on its website and in its spring Intelligence Report:

  • The number of hate groups reached an all-time high of 1,020 in 2018.
  • The number was the fourth straight year of hate group growth, or 30 percent growth overall.
  • In  2018,  at  least  40  people  in  the  U.S.  and  Canada were killed by people either motivated by or attracted to far-right ideologies, embracing ideas and philosophies that are cornerstones of the alt-right. “Violence that has traditionally been in the shadows of racist extremism is increasingly taking to the streets,” the report said.
  • During the first few years of President Obama’s second term, hate crimes actually fell by 12 percent.
  • When Donald Trump announced that he was running for president and started his anti-immigrant rhetoric about “building a wall,” the number started rising again.
  • Hate crimes grew by 30 percent from 2014 to 2017 (2018 hate crime figures are not available yet from the FBI).

This report was released about the same time as the news about the arrest of a Coast Guard lieutenant and self-described white nationalist with a cache of weapons and ammunition in his Maryland apartment, along with a hit list of liberal politicians and journalists. The story about the planned mass killing as an act of domestic terrorism is shocking. It’s shocking but not surprising, given the rhetoric and influence coming from Trump and right-wing media.

Trump’s constant harping about “fake news” and various news outlets being “the enemy of the people” and his insistence that Democrats “don’t care about border security” can have real-world consequences. It was only last October that pipe bombs were sent to CNN, George Soros, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama, among others.

The SPLC report quotes former U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford saying that Trump has “unearthed some demons.”

I’m sure we’ll hear that Christopher Paul Hasson, the Maryland would-be domestic terrorist who was arrested on illegal weapons and drug charges, likely has some serious mental health issues. But that doesn’t lessen the depravity of what he was trying to accomplish. From the report in The Washington Post:

Christopher Paul Hasson called for “focused violence” to “establish a white homeland” and dreamed of ways to “kill almost every last person on earth,” according to court records filed in U.S. District Court in Maryland. Though court documents do not detail a specific planned date for an attack, the government said he had been amassing supplies and weapons since at least 2017, developed a spreadsheet of targets that included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and searched the Internet using phrases such as “best place in dc to see congress people” and “are supreme court justices protected.” …

Officials with the U.S. attorney’s office in Maryland outlined Hasson’s alleged plans to spark chaos and destruction in court documents, describing a man obsessed with neo-fascist and neo-Nazi views.

“Please send me your violence that I may unleash it onto their heads,” Hasson wrote in a letter that prosecutors say was found in his email drafts. “Guide my hate to make a lasting impression on this world.”

Hasson’s hit list included Democratic presidential candidates, Democratic leaders, CNN and MSNBC journalists, and other Democratic lawmakers. Although he was part of the Coast Guard, he was also served in the Marines and the Army National Guard. So that’s scary right-wing influence in multiple parts of our armed services. How many more like him are out there?

There are a lot more like him, as detailed in the SPLC report. Among the other particulars:

  • The number of white nationalist groups surged by nearly 50 percent in 2018, from 100 groups to 148.
  • The previous high of 1,018 hate groups was in 2011. That growth was seen as a backlash against President Obama, but the number started to drop after his reelection.
  • Distribution of hate group flyers has reached an unprecedented level in the U.S. and spread farther than the usual target of college campuses.
  • Technology and social media have ramped up the spread of hateful rhetoric and online threats, and tech companies aren’t working hard enough to stop them.
  • The hate groups described include the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, white nationalists, racist skinheads, Christian identity groups, neo-Confederates, black nationalists, and anti-LGBT, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, and general hate groups. (Antisemitism sentiment is shared by several of these outfits.)

And even Trumpian rhetoric apparently isn’t enough for these haters.

That was the landscape of the radical right in 2018. In the U.S., white supremacist anger reached a fever pitch last year as hysteria over losing a white-majority nation to demographic change — and a presumed lack of political will to stop it — engulfed the movement. White supremacists getting pushed off mainstream web platforms, President Donald Trump’s willingness to pass a tax cut for the rich but failure to build a wall and a turn to the left in the midterm elections drove deep-seated fears of an accelerating, state- and Silicon Valley-orchestrated “white genocide.”

Even Trump’s opportunistic November attacks on a caravan of migrants moving slowly north through Mexico were seen as all talk and no action by the white supremacist and anti-immigrant movements. …

The midterms tended to validate hate groups’ fears for the future. Even more angering to hate groups were the dozens of women…elected to the new U.S. Congress, including two Muslims. For white supremacists, these newly elected officials symbolize the country’s changing demographics — the future that white supremacists loathe and fear.

There is speculation that the “all talk and no action” belief could cause some people, such as Robert Bowers, the gunman accused of killing 11 worshipers at a Pittsburgh synagogue in October, to act on their own, like the proverbial “lone wolf.” As Think Progress pointed out:

“I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered,” Bowers wrote on the far right social media Gab, just prior to the shooting, referencing a baseless conspiracy theory about billionaire and liberal philanthropist George Soros supposedly financing a caravan of immigrants headed to the U.S.-Mexico border. Soros is a frequent target of anti-Semites who claim he wields massive influence in progressive politics.

“Screw your optics, I’m going in,” Bowers wrote.

The Maryland Coast Guard terrorist suspect isn’t reported to be a member of any organized hate groups, and he seemed to be ready to act alone. “I never saw a reason for mass protest or wearing uniforms marching around provoking people with swastikas etc.,” he wrote. “I was and am a man of action you cannot change minds protesting like that.”

But Hasson drew inspiration from the writings (and the drug use and suggestions) of Anders Breivik, a right-wing extremist who was convicted of two 2011 terror attacks in Norway that killed 77 people. Hasson’s hit list of potential targets also echoed Trump’s language, such as calling Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren “poca Warren.”

The SPLC report echoes the conclusions of a January report from the Anti-Defamation League, which said right-wing extremists were responsible for 50 extremist-related murders in the U.S. in 2018. (The ADL report gives a higher number of deaths than the SPLC report). “Over the last decade, a total of 73.3 percent of all extremist-related fatalities can be linked to domestic right-wing extremists,” the ADL report said.

Summations about the SPLC report feature warnings and advice from two SPLC officials:

“The numbers tell a striking story – that this president is not simply a polarizing figure but a radicalizing one,” said Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project. “Rather than trying to tamp down hate, as presidents of both parties have done, President Trump elevates it – with both his rhetoric and his policies. In doing so, he’s given people across America the go-ahead to act on their worst instincts.” …

“Hate has frayed the social fabric of our country,” said SPLC President Richard Cohen. “Knitting it back together will take the efforts of all segments of our society – our families, our schools, our houses of worship, our civic organizations and the business community. Most of all, it will take leadership – political leadership – that inspires our country to live up to its highest values.”

As always, the SPLC includes a link to its interactive hate map so you can see where there’s “hate in your state.”

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Feb. 24, 2019.

2020 electorate will be more diverse than ever

Whether they differ by gender, age, ethnicity, or partisan leanings, next year’s voters will be more varied than ever before.

The growing number of Democrats running for president in 2020 are a diverse group of candidates. But they won’t be as diverse as the people voting for them.

According to projections from the Pew Research Center, a higher number of those who will cast votes for president next year will be younger than their counterparts in past presidential election years. There will be more eligible Latinx than African-American voters. And because of an increased number of naturalized citizens, one in ten voters will have been born outside the United States.

Nonwhites will account for a third of eligible voters — their largest share ever — driven by long-term increases among certain groups, especially Hispanics. At the same time, one-in-ten eligible voters will be members of Generation Z,  the Americans who will be between the ages 18 and 23 next year. That will occur as Millennials and all other older generations account for a smaller share of eligible voters than they did in 2016.

These projections from Pew — long considered the gold standard of polling research — are just that, based on demographic trends. But if the 2018 midterm election taught us anything, it taught us that conventional wisdom about certain voting habits and voting trends from past elections don’t necessarily apply anymore. The old polling models of who votes and in what numbers need a major overhaul.

Too bad pundits — and some candidates — haven’t learned that lesson.

It’s perfectly fine and even logical to look at traditional factors when trying to decide what voters are looking for in a 2020 presidential candidate. Although no one can predict who will show up on Election Day in 2020 (and who will cast ballots in the growing number of states with early and mail-in voting), exactly who those voters will be seems to be the most important factor of all.

The 50.3 percent voter turnout rate in 2018 hit a 50-year high for a midterm election, with 118 million certified votes. In 2014, turnout was 36.7 percent, the lowest turnout in 72 years. The 50-plus percent number is still lower than the average turnout in a modern presidential election, which usually ranges somewhere in the high 50th percentile — from 55.7 percent in 2004 to 61.6 percent in 2008.

Nevertheless, voter turnout in 2018 delivered some clues on new voting habits, and the voting shifts are worth noting. Voter registration surged in several states with key races, especially in the number of new young voters up to age 40. Much of that upsurge came after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, one year ago.

These factoids are from a compilation story by Bloomberg on voter numbers:

  • Voter turnout increased in House races across the country from 2014 to 2018. The vast majority shifted left.
  • Turnout from 2014 to 2018 increased in every district except two.
  • State election laws can influence turnout (see election results in Georgia, North Dakota, etc.).

Lots of factors can weigh on whether someone votes, but the biggest reason for high turnout in 2018 likely has more to do with the national political climate than local races and candidates.

“The obvious explanation is Donald Trump,” said Michael McDonald, associate professor of political science at the University of Florida who also runs the United States Election Project. “That really spurred an interest in politics—and whether you love him or hate him, you’re showing up to vote because you want to have your say.”

While it’s true that members of Trump’s base wanted to have their say, an even greater number of those who disapprove of Trump wanted to have their voices heard. We’ve seen these voting results reported many times since November 2018, but if you voted then, you probably will vote in 2020. According to another set of data from Pew Research about 2018:

  • The gender gap in voting preference is not new, but it is at least as wide as at any point over the past two decades.
  • Women college graduates stand out for their strong preference for the Democratic candidate.
  • Whites with less education — particularly men — supported the Republican.
  • Majorities of voters ages 18 to 29 (67%) and 30 to 44 (58%) favored the Democratic candidate.
  • Voters ages 45 and older were divided (50% Republican, 49% Democrat).

Probably the most important fact of all from Pew — because first-time voters are often given less weight in polling — “Among voters who said this was the first midterm in which they voted, 62% favored the Democrat and just 36% supported the Republican.”

So who will be the voters in 2020, and where will they come from? Here are more observations from Pew Research on the likely 2020 electorate and how they might vote:

  • Younger generations differ notably from older generations in their views on key social and political issues.
  • Nearly a quarter of the electorate (23%) will be 65 and older, reflecting not only the maturation of Baby Boomers but also increased life expectancy.
  • Baby Boomers and older generations, who will be 56 and older next year, are expected to account for fewer than four-in-ten eligible voters in 2020.
  • The changing racial and ethnic composition of the electorate likely has political implications in part because nonwhites have long been significantly more likely than whites to back Democratic candidates.

Probably the most interesting — and potentially most significant — projection from Pew:

Post-Millennials are on track to be more racially and ethnically diverse than their predecessors: In 2020, Gen Z eligible voters are expected to be 55% white and 45% nonwhite, including 21% Hispanic, 14% black, and 4% Asian or Pacific Islander. By comparison, the Boomer and older electorate is projected to be about three-quarters white (74%).

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com recently joined former Obama economic adviser Austan Goolsbee at a forum at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics. Goolsbee, who teaches at U of C, and Silver, an alumnus, discussed predictions about 2016 and 2020. Silver still defends his 2016 work, since he said he gave Donald Trump a better chance of winning than other outlets. Yet for his 2020 predictions, he sees no reason to revamp his analytical model. “Not only do I think that adjustments are unnecessary, I think it’s the wrong thing to do,” Silver said. His current predictions are “even money” for a Trump reelection with a slight edge to California Sen. Kamala Harris to be the Democratic nominee. (Way to go out on a limb, there, Nate!) He further predicted a “messy election” and “trench warfare” in the Democratic primaries, despite the fact that most of the declared candidates enjoy collegial working relationships.

But after the 2018 election, how can anyone say that analytical models don’t need adjusting? The sheer number of women candidates and voters made up a very different electorate than past numbers would suggest. Almost every subgroup of women in CNN’s national exit polls moved towards Democrats, CNN reported days after the midterms. Those groups included white women, Latinas, white college-educated women, white non-college-educated women, Democratic women, and independent women. The percentage of black women voters — traditionally the most reliable Democratic voters of all — stayed about the same.

Maybe the Nate Silver of February 2019 should remember what the Nate Silver of November 2018 tweeted 10 days after the midterms (via a story from Vox):

As FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver pointed out, some 60 million people voted for Democrats in the House this year. That’s a big number, considering about 63 million people voted for Trump in 2016. …

Voters do appear to have been extra-engaged in 2018, and how that will translate over the next couple of years remains to be seen.

“Trump’s not going away in 2020,” McDonald said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see record turnout.”

Any candidate who takes any voter for granted as we approach 2020 might find himself or herself on the losing end of an election — if he or she is on the ballot at all. Pundits who predict that “this is what voters are looking for” (as Politico did in a “How to Choose the Most Electable Democrat in 2020” piece) might as well turn in their laptops.

When “crazy socialist” ideas such as Medicare for all, greatly increased taxes on the wealthy, an ambitious climate action plan like the Green New Deal, and common-sense gun laws such as universal background checks are getting high support from voters, all bets could be off.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Feb. 17, 2019.

Parkland one year later: We’re still #MSDStrong

Young people led the March for Our Lives rally last spring. They haven’t given up, and neither should we.

In one sense, one year after 17 people died in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, nothing has changed. Then again, so much has changed.

The students who survived the shooting became national leaders as they worked through their heartfelt pain and anger. They spoke with eloquence, honesty, and facts. They weren’t afraid to call out the National Rifle Association and lawmakers who refused to take action on gun violence, often speaking through tears in videos that quickly went viral.

As student David Hogg, who was then managing editor of the student TV station at Stoneman Douglas and who will head to Harvard in the fall, reminded everyone: These kids knew what they were talking about when it came to facts about guns and violence. MSD students in debate classes and on the debate team had researched and argued about gun control the previous fall, gathering information that served them perfectly in their media interviews and talks with legislators.

Those students built a movement — one that went beyond gun violence. They spent the summer criss-crossing the country, registering young people to vote. They went from March For Our Lives to the Vote For Our Lives movement.

Attendance surged at meetings of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a group that saw an additional 500,000 people sign up, donate, and volunteer. Those same volunteers in their recognizable red shirts flooded state legislative sessions all year, making sure lawmakers felt pressure to enact common-sense gun safety laws. They had successes and disappointments, but last year eight states passed “red-flag” laws, which allow police to confiscate guns from people deemed to be a threat to themselves or others. Other states raised the age of allowable gun purchases, and several retailers stopped selling assault-style weapons.

Moms Demand also backed candidates running on a gun safety platform — an unheard-of position in days when the NRA seemingly had unstoppable influence. Many of those candidates won, both in primaries and in the midterm elections in November 2018. Now those elected officials are aiming for common-sense gun safety laws at the state and national level.

There has been no national gun safety legislation in decades. Yet now that Democrats are in the majority in the House, the House Judiciary Committee passed a measure that would require background checks for all gun sales and most gun transfers within the U.S. While it likely won’t even be voted on in the Republican-led Senate, much less be signed by Donald Trump, it forces the gun safety conversation out into the open.

Support for common-sense gun laws surged after the Parkland shooting. While that initial support has somewhat subsided, backing for universal background checks is still supported by 92 percent of Americans. Given that the NRA has lost much of its influence, I wouldn’t like to be a GOP lawmaker trying to explain to a constituent a vote against universal background checks.

In the year since the Parkland shooting, there have been nearly 350 mass shootings in the United States, or an average of about one a day. In the six-plus years since 20 children and six adults died in a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, there have been nearly 2,000 mass shootings.

And lest we forget, in remembering the Marjory Stone Douglas High School victims, Valentine’s Day marks another anniversary of a school mass shooting:

When will it stop?

Green New Deal rollout renews battle over climate change in Congress

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke about environmental issues at the January Women’s March in New York. Now the Green New Deal resolution shows that she means business.

Nearly every week brings news of another scientific study about the devastating effects of climate change and the critical importance of doing something to counteract it. With their new majority in the House of Representatives, Democrats now have a way to bring the issue to the forefront, and they’re going big. Because they’re not going home.

A joint resolution for a Green New Deal now has been released by New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ed Markey. While it still doesn’t offer any actual legislative proposals, the resolution outlines more substantive details about the plan, which is a framework on how the country can move forward on climate action.

The overall aims of the Green New Deal, a jobs plan as well as an environmental one, are ambitious, to say the least. They include a plan to phase out fossil fuels and expand renewable energy by 2030, hoping for 100 percent use within 10 years; to build a national energy-efficient smart energy grid; and to create and guarantee millions of jobs at a living wage. A story on NPR said that “the Green New Deal framework combines big climate-change-related ideas with a wish list of progressive economic proposals that, taken together, would touch nearly every American and overhaul the economy.”

The nonbinding joint resolution is still more of an outline. The complete details of the proposal can be found online. These details are from the summary portion of the Green New Deal:

  • Five goals in 10 years, including net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.
  • National mobilization of the U.S. economy through 14 infrastructure and industrial projects, including upgrading and/or replacing every building in the U.S. for state-of-the-art energy efficiency.
  • Social and economic justice through 15 requirements, including job guarantees and “massive” federal investments to groups and businesses participating in the project.

Currently, the plan has backing from more than 65 House members and nine senators, including several 2020 Democratic hopefuls. Here’s a preliminary review from Vox:

It’s worth noting just what a high-wire act the authors of this resolution are attempting. It has to offer enough specifics to give it real shape and ambition, without overprescribing solutions or prejudging differences over secondary questions. It has to please a diverse range of interest groups, from environmental justice to labor to climate, without alienating any of them. It has to stand up to intense scrutiny (much of it sure to be bad faith), with lots of people gunning for it from both the right and center.

And of course, it eventually has to give birth to real legislation. …

The goals — achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, creating jobs, providing for a just transition, securing clean air and water — are broadly popular. The projects — things like decarbonizing electricity, transportation, and industry, restoring ecosystems, upgrading buildings and electricity grids — are necessary and sensible (if also extremely ambitious). …

Overall, this is about as strong an opening bid as anyone could have asked for.

The Sunrise Movement, the grassroots organization backing the Green New Deal, is asking voters to contact representatives and senators to be co-sponsors of the resolution. To build support and to show that they mean business, Sunrise Movement members plan to visit and even occupy congressional offices personally in mid-February in an action described as “Operation Green New Deal Blitz.”

Democrats began the environmental salvo by holding three House hearings on climate issues, concentrating on topics ranging from climate change itself to actions by the Interior Department during the partial government shutdown that kept oil drilling open. A story from Think Progress described the new focus:

“[This is] the issue of our time, the challenge of our time, the opportunity of our time,” said Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY), who chairs the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on the environment.

Testimony followed from scientists and economic experts, who helped to lay out a “green transition” — an eventual decarbonization of the economy coupled with the creation of new jobs in sectors like renewable energy.

At the same time, a second hearing on Capitol Hill, chaired by Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), also took aim at climate change. “In 2018, there were 14 weather and climate disasters, each with damages over $1 billion, total cost $91 billion,” Grijalva said.

The response from most Republicans was predictable. A few, such as Oregon Republican Rep. Greg Walden, described the need for bipartisan climate action. But Walden never bothered to hold a hearing devoted to climate chance when he was chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Most of the GOP representatives who bothered to show up at the hearings attacked the new emphasis on climate action as a form of “socialism,” “too expensive,” and an ill-thought-out proposal from new members Congress who are “too young” to know any better. From another Think Progress report:

Words and phrases like “socialism” and “top down” and “Soviet-style” are beginning to be used by Republicans to describe the Green New Deal, a major policy proposal to rapidly reduce emissions. The proposal has quickly gained momentum since the midterm elections in November through the popularity of one of its primary boosters, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and the youth-led nonprofit, the Sunrise Movement.

Republicans like Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado cited the 10-year-old proposal from the U.S. Green Party, not the new plan, in focusing his criticisms. Lamborn said the U.S. military would have to “close all overseas bases.” Not to be outdone, Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas claimed that the environmental plan would make America less safe. “We will not be able to protect ourselves properly from the threat of Russia, China, and even ISIS,” Gohmert said. (The always fact-challenged Gohmert didn’t provide specifics.)

It’s hard to fathom how cutting greenhouse gas emissions would embolden ISIS. So instead of Gohmert’s imaginary threats, here are reports of actual new environmental threats, including the fact that 2018 was the fourth hottest year on record. But the fact that it was fourth warmest means only that it barely got beat by the three years that preceded it.

Two new analyses from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration gave the data about 2018.

Global temperatures in 2018 were 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit (0.83 degrees Celsius) warmer than the 1951 to 1980 mean, according to scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York. Globally, 2018’s temperatures rank behind those of 2016, 2017 and 2015. The past five years are, collectively, the warmest years in the modern record.

Rising temperatures also play havoc with the oceans. Climate change will subtly alter the color of the world’s oceans, intensifying its blue and green regions, by the end of the 21st century. This isn’t a cosmetic change; it reflects significant changes to marine phytoplankton, or algae, which makes up the foundation of the marine food web. In other words, the less phytoplankton, the less life. The researchers who developed a model to measure the loss of phytoplankton published their results in Nature Communications. Their predictions said these color changes signal “early warning of wide-scale changes to marine ecosystems.”

Of course there was no mention of climate change in Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech, only braggadocio about fossil fuel dominance (a claim that wasn’t even true). There was no mention of the increased number of extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change. Nor did he talk about the two new major reports (including one from his own government) warning that the world has 12 years to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Trump always is derisive about climate change and climate action, as his tweets showed during the recent polar vortex cold snap. But one thing that the election of Trump has accomplished: A lot more Americans are now more worried about the issue. According to a piece by Maggie Koerth-Baker at FiveThirtyEight:

Americans are just more interested in climate change, in general, than they used to be. Polls suggest that in the past two years, the American public started to believe more in climate change — and worry more about its impacts.

So what gives? Big natural disasters probably have something to do with it, but both the journalists and the sociologists I spoke to think there’s another factor at play. As Slate’s science editor, Susan Matthews, put it: The urgency of climate change was one thing before President Trump’s election and something else entirely after. …

Ultimately, it would probably take both public support and presidential support to reduce the threat of climate change. And, for the last 40 years, those two things haven’t lined up very well.

Given that last year gave us 14 weather and climate disasters, according to NOAA, totaling around $91 billion in damages and killing at least 247 people, it’s way past time for presidential support.

Since many of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have announced support of a Green New Deal, the time for action could be January 2021. The question is: How long will Republican senators hold out?

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Feb. 10, 2019.

Hey, Howard Schultz: We don’t need another unqualified, inexperienced billionaire as president (UPDATE)

Let people drink your overpriced coffee. Now take your money and go home.

When you’re white, male, and super-rich, you must think that the rest of the world owes you their attention.

And too many in the media (many also white, male, and wealthy, if not super-rich) are treating the teases from former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz about running as an independent as the most important story in the 2020 presidential race.

Note to media: Didn’t you learn anything from your mistakes in 2016? That’s how we ended up with Donald Trump.

Schultz is all over the airwaves with his pronouncements, from 60 Minutes to The View to NPR’s Morning Edition to a slew of morning shows. He doesn’t offer specifics about any policies. When it comes down to it, he just doesn’t want to pay any more in taxes, so he trashes all Democratic plans suggesting that idea. He thinks that gives him a “centrist” platform that will appeal to independents, saying that politics in America is “broken,” yada yada yada..

Maybe this is just a big ego trip for Schultz. Maybe it’s all about hyping sales for his new memoir, From the Ground Up. Maybe this is all a trial balloon that is soon going to pop. But we got the same “trial balloon” assurances about Trump in 2015.

Schultz says he’s a “lifelong Democrat” and has contributed thousands of dollars to Democratic candidate. (Of course, being a “lifelong Democrat” doesn’t mean he always bothered to vote.) Democrats are understandably furious that he might siphon enough votes away from a Democratic nominee to deliver a second Trump term. A new internal poll done by Schultz’ own people showed him drawing 17 percent support (highly unlikely) and tipping the election to Trump. Many moderate current or former members of Congress — from both parties — also are giving the idea of a Schultz candidacy a big thumbs-down.

Schultz repeats the centrist pablum that “both parties are broken” and that voters want more choices. A Politico story on Schultz destroys that argument.

Every election year, polls show that a majority of Americans say they would like to see a third party or independent candidate—and then they never vote for one. The fantasy of a Democratic-Republican unity ticket looks appealing until it runs up against the brick wall of policy. Schultz’s initial ventures into specifics are less than encouraging. Asked what he thought the corporate tax rate should be, he said, “I don’t want to talk in the hypothetical about what I would do if I was president.” Memo to Howard: That’s called “running for president.”

Schultz is hardly the first to want to use his wealth to run for office. So if he is really interested, let him do what others have done: Develop a platform and run in primary contests.

One fair metric is how have other billionaires have performed in public office. There are many examples of awful governance, such as Trump and Florida’s Rick Scott. Others, such as New York’s Michael Bloomberg and other wealthy leaders over the course of American history, have done better. But most of them at least started out in some form of public service.

Here in Illinois, the winner in the gubernatorial contest last November was billionaire J.B. Pritzker, whose fortune comes from the Hyatt Hotel chain and private equity investment. Pritzker spent $171 million of his own money in the election. (His opponent, GOP incumbent and near-billionaire Bruce Rauner, spent close to $70 million of his own money on the race, after spending millions four years ago.)

Rauner made a fortune in a private equity firm before he switched to politics. He eked out a win in 2014 in a bad year for Democrats. He had never sought public office before, and it quickly became clear that he didn’t know what he was doing. Illinois didn’t have a budget for more than two years because he had no idea how to deal with the Democratic majority in the Illinois Legislature (which has its own issues, but we won’t dwell on those here). He, like Schultz, claimed he was socially moderate and fiscally conservative. Rauner was a complete failure as governor.

It’s way too early in the game to judge Pritzker as the state’s chief executive — also his first elected office. But at least he’s been involved in politics before. In college, he served as a congressional aide to a California congressman. He worked on political campaigns and served on the staff of Illinois Sen. Alan Dixon. His foundation focuses on early childhood health, nutrition, and education initiatives.

With his wealth, he has formed political alliances with Democrats through campaign donations. During his campaign, he also formed alliances with several unions that backed him. Although some campaign positions were short on specifics, he backs action on progressive issues that matter such as climate change, gun violence, and more. He was very clear about backing a progressive income tax for the state — a tax in which he would pay more, not less.

People enter politics and public service from all walks of life, and with a wide variety of experience. There’s no rule that a successful CEO can’t run for office, and he or she doesn’t necessarily have to choose one of the major political parties.

But just because Schultz made a fortune with his Starbucks franchises doesn’t mean he’s qualified to be commander in chief. Or formulate foreign policy. Or oversee the executive branch of the government.

Schultz already has hired some top talent for his possible team. Republican Steve Schmidt, a GOP strategist who worked on John McCain’s 2008 campaign, became a “never Trumper” and an analyst for MSNBC. On the other side, Bill Burton, who worked on President Obama’s 2008 campaign and went on to serve as Obama’s deputy press secretary, also is on board. Talk about strange bedfellows.

Schmidt already had become an outsider to Republicans because of his Trump criticism and his MSNBC job. Burton is now drawing the vitriol of Democrats. Interestingly, in the 2016 contest, Burton often warned against voting for a third-party candidate, lest that throw the race to Trump.

Good luck getting work in politics after this gig, guys.

Maybe this whole thing is just a ploy to make sure that tax rates for rich people don’t go up. Declared candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren has been very clear in her plan to tax the super-rich. Freshman Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez has suggested raising the tax rate as high as 70 percent on income over $10 million, all to fund the Green New Deal. Raising taxes on the wealthy is turning out to be a popular idea as well — a Fox News poll says 85 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of Republicans want to raise taxes on those making over $10 million.

Of course, the wealthy don’t want to pay any more. MSBNC’s Joy Reid tweeted that one “charitable” reading of Schultz’s presidential tease is “an attempt to terrify Democratic primary voters into nominating someone who vows NOT to raise his taxes to give broke people college and healthcare.”

That’s probably the most likely reason for Schultz’s ego-filled crusade — keeping his money. Third-party candidates who run for president don’t win. Schultz would probably do better to take Washington Post columnist Alexandra Petri’s advice to go to space.

Going to space will satisfy the primary urge that motivates runs for president: the desire to spend vast amounts of money on something not useful. But, unlike running for president, it combines all the fun of wasting money on something not immediately helpful to anyone with all the fun of not accidentally contributing to a second term for Donald Trump! Schultz has said it is time to rise above the party system. Well, how better to rise above the party system than to climb aboard a spaceship and hover at least 62 miles above the Earth, probably even farther?

Actually, we need to give Howard Schultz the same advice that too many gave to Hillary Clinton after Clinton — the most experienced and qualified person ever to run for the office of president — received and still receives from too many (mostly male) pundits and political activists:

JUST GO AWAY.

UPDATE: In mid-June, Schultz announced that he was suspending his campaign. Except for his senior advisers, he laid off all of his campaign workers. Schultz had not been on the campaign trail for months, citing three back surgeries and recovery time. He insisted he was not ending his campaign, but would revisit his candidacy after Labor Day. If former Vice President Joe Biden was not leading the Democratic field after Super Tuesday primary voting in February 2020, Schultz said, then he might re-enter the race.

My original advice still stands. JUST GO AWAY.

More and more Americans believe in #ClimateChange. When will lawmakers catch up?

Increased frequency of extreme weather events, like Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Florida, is causing people to feel the effects of climate change personally.

Defying GOP denial, a growing number of Americans now say they believe that climate change is happening — and is affecting them personally.

A new report says that 73 percent of Americans believe that the climate is changing, and 72 percent say that change is personally important to them. “The proportion of Americans who are very worried about global warming has more than tripled since its lowest point in 2011,” says the report’s executive summary.

The report comes from a survey by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. Besides the increase in beliefs about climate change, 62 percent now say that such change is caused by human actions, an increase of 10 points since 2015. Only one in seven Americans believes that global warming is not occurring.

Why the increase? It’s mainly because of extreme weather. More frequent and intense hurricanes, prolonged droughts, hotter wildfires, bigger floods, and an increased number of tornadoes have convinced a big majority of Americans that it’s past time to take the issue seriously. According to a story about the report in The Guardian:

About two-thirds of Americans believe that global warming is influencing the weather, in the wake of a string of deadly extreme events in the US. About half say the disastrous wildfires in California and Hurricanes Florence and Michael, which flattened parts of North Carolina and Florida, were worsened because of rising global temperatures.

The Yale survey results mirror the findings of a similar new poll by the University of Chicago and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, which found that seven in 10 Americans believe in climate change. That poll measured how much the public is willing to pay to counteract the effects of global warming. A $1 surcharge to a monthly electric bill to fight climate change was OK with a majority of Americans, but more expensive surcharges gained less support. Overall, 44 percent were in favor of a carbon tax compared with 29 percent opposed.

To no one’s surprise, the difference in beliefs and attitudes is partisan. As the Guardian story says, “While 86% of Democrats say climate change is happening, just 52% of Republicans concur.”

This is why Democrats are willing to tackle the problem, with many lawmakers willing to sign on with an ambitious program like the Green New Deal, even as the details of that deal are still being developed. Republicans, unfortunately, are busy sticking their heads in overheated sand.

Here are just a few of the conclusions in the Yale study’s executive summary:

  • More than half of Americans (57%) understand that most scientists agree that global warming is happening, the highest level since 2008. However, only one in five (20%) understand how strong the level of consensus among scientists is (i.e., that more than 90% of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused global warming is happening).
  • Nearly half of Americans (46%) say they have personally experienced the effects of global warming, an increase of 15 percentage points since March 2015.
  • About half or more Americans think they (49%), their family (56%), and/or people in their community (57%) will be harmed by global warming. Even more think global warming will harm people in the U.S. (65%), the world’s poor (67%), people in developing countries (68%), plant and animal species (74%), and/or future generations of people (75%).
  • About two in three Americans (65%) think global warming is affecting weather in the United States, and three in ten think weather is being affected “a lot” (32%). About half think global warming made the 2018 wildfires in the Western U.S. (50%) and/or hurricanes Florence and Michael (49%) worse.

You can link to the entire report here.

There’s nothing like seeing footage of burning homes in a California wildfire or photos of rubble where houses once stood after a hurricane to convince people that the problem is real and getting worse.

A story on the AP-NORC poll in The Hill explained that personally experiencing extreme weather events is behind the uptick in attitudes. Those experiences also have led to a limited willingness to pay a price to counter the effects of climate change, the poll suggested.

Three-quarters said weather events like hurricanes, droughts and floods influenced their views, the most of any of the options polltakers presented to respondents.

Eighty-three percent of those polled who believe in climate change want the federal government to take action to mitigate it, and 80 percent want their state governments to act, the survey found.

“It is striking that 67 percent of respondents support a carbon tax when the funds would be used to restore the environment, compared to 49 percent when the funds are rebated to households,” Michael Greenstone, director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, said in a statement. …

Given a handful of options for where the funds raised from a carbon tax would go, 67 percent said they would be most supportive of a tax if it paid to restore forests, wetlands and other natural areas.

There’s no chance of anything happening on the national level as long as there’s a Republican majority in the Senate and Donald Trump is in the White House. During the recent spate of cold weather and snow, one of Trump’s snide tweets said he wished for some “good old fashioned Global Warming right now!”

News flash, Donald: It’s winter. And massive winter storms are just one manifestation of global warming.

Hey, at least Trump is not saying that climate change should be left to a “much higher authority,” as Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed on Fox News.

More immediate action is being tried at state and local levels. States have passed their own laws and regulations, with California leading the way with an ambitious set of energy laws. But it’s not the only state doing so.

The U.S. Climate Alliance was formed by a bipartisan group of governors (most are Democrats, but not all) representing states that are taking their own actions to fight climate change. The alliance originally had 12 members and is now up to 17 states and Puerto Rico. Illinois became the newest member in January when new Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed an executive order to join the group.

If your state isn’t part of the list (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington), it’s worth contacting your state officials to find out why and to apply a little pressure.

The group has three core principles:

  • States are continuing to lead on climate change. All of the states recognize the serious threat to the environment, people, communities, and the economy.
  • State-level climate action is helping the economy and strengthening communities. These states are creating new jobs in clean energy industries while cutting air pollution and boosting public health.
  • Climate Alliance states are showing the nation and the world that ambitious climate action is achievable.

The alliance now “represents 43 percent of the U.S. population and a nearly $10 trillion economy. The climate and clean energy policies of these states have created 1.4 million renewable energy and energy efficiency jobs, equivalent to over half of all clean energy jobs in the United States,” according to the alliance website.

So states representing nearly half the U.S. population are moving ahead with their own programs. But it’s going to take replacing GOP troglodytes, starting at the top, to really make a difference.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Jan. 27, 2019.

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