#ClimateChange emerges as top issue for Democrats in 2020

Students in New York joined the worldwide Climate Strike on March 15. If they’re old enough to vote next year, they’re likely to judge candidates on their climate change solutions.

We’ve come a long way from “It’s the economy, stupid.”

A new CNN poll conducted by research firm SSRS shows that 96 percent of registered Democrats list climate change as a very or somewhat important issue when evaluating potential presidential candidates. If the 2018 midterm election was about health care, 2020 may hinge on what candidates intend to do about the fact that the Earth is warming to unsustainable levels. Eighty-two percent of those polled saw it as a “very important” issue — by far the most important concern of all issues listed.

Health care was up there as a concern — 75 percent of voters in the poll saw the issue as very important, while 16 percent saw it as somewhat important, for a 91 percent total. But this may be the first time that climate change gained the No. 1 survey spot. (Another April poll of Iowa voters from Monmouth University still listed health care as the top concern, but climate change was close behind.)

Actually, climate change has been rising as an issue for voters for a while, and not just for Democrats. A poll from December 2018 asked voters about climate change, and majorities of Democrats and Republicans agreed that the world is experiencing global warming, even if some on the GOP side disagreed whether it was caused by humans. Majorities also called for government action to address the climate.

It isn’t surprising that younger voters in both parties are more concerned about climate change than their older counterparts. The difference is especially striking among Republicans; according to Pew Research, millennial Republicans are twice as likely as Republicans in the baby boomer or older generations to say the Earth is warming because of human activity. And given the higher rates at which younger voters showed up at the polls in 2018, those younger voters are going to be looking critically at how seriously candidates will take action to combat climate change.

As usual, the media are obsessed with the horse race (“Biden got a bump from his announcement!”) in each polling cycle. This is true even though this latest CNN poll is being done more than a month before the first debates, and eight months before any votes are cast in the Iowa caucuses.

Polls about which candidates are on top, however, can change quickly. Consider that this far out in past presidential election cycles, those polling at the top included Fred Thompson, Joe Lieberman, Howard Dean, Rudy Giuliani, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, and other non-presidents who only got into the Oval Office with an invitation. Or, in Rudy Giuliani’s case, by serving as a crazed and laughable defender of Donald Trump.

But absent a catastrophic event such as 9/11, what voters care about can have a more lasting effect than who they care about.

How do we know? For Democratic voters in the CNN poll, climate change ranked even higher than choosing a candidate who has a good chance of beating Trump. Of all of the qualities sought in choosing the Democratic standard bearer, the ability to top Trump was very important (46 percent) or somewhat important (45 percent) for the voters polled, for a total of 92 percent.

Don’t get me wrong; that’s still of utmost importance to Democratic voters. In the CNN poll, the ability to beat Trump weighed far more heavily than experience (77 percent very important/somewhat important combination), a willingness to work with the GOP (77 percent), holding progressive positions (66 percent), representing the future of the party (64 percent), being consistent on issues (62 percent), and bringing an outsider’s view to Washington (39 percent).

But candidates hear what questions are being asked at forums. They know the questions they get when they visit early voting states. The issue has become important to voters, even though climate change was all but ignored during 2016 presidential debates.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who has sought to establish himself as a climate change champion, might not be polling above 1 percent. But he’s bringing climate specifics to the forefront with his three-point plan of action, which aims for 100 percent carbon-neutral electricity, 100 percent zero emissions in vehicles, and 100 percent zero carbon pollution in all new buildings — all by 2030. He also is asking for a climate change-only debate, a proposal backed by at least one other candidate. So far, the Democratic National Committee has been noncommittal at best.

Perhaps the emphasis on the issue was the reason that climate change became the first major policy proposal from former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke. His ambitious $5 trillion proposal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and zero them out by 2050, along with Inslee’s plan, could very well be the most comprehensive climate action proposals by any of the candidates.

Of course, Inslee and O’Rourke aren’t alone. According to a wrap-up of candidates’ climate change positions by the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund, “Climate change is getting unprecedented attention from the growing field of 2020 presidential candidates.” The blog by the NRDC is continually updated as candidates develop their climate change policies.

All of the Democratic candidates have ideas and proposals on climate action, the NRDC said. Those ideas include co-sponsoring the Green New Deal resolution, instituting a carbon tax, increasing investment in renewable energy, expanding green jobs, putting a moratorium on fossil fuel drilling, and much more.

The December 2018 survey about climate change was conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. That survey shows that seven in 10 Americans think that climate change is happening, and six in 10 say the warming of the Earth is being caused by humans.

A New York Times report on the survey showed that majorities in both parties (no surprise — more Democrats than Republicans) backed carbon dioxide emission limits on existing coal-fired power plants and a requirement that fossil fuel companies pay a carbon tax, then use the money to reduce other taxes. Majorities in both parties also said environmental protection is more important than economic growth when there’s a conflict between the two.

The survey also found that majorities in both parties think the government should fund research into solar and wind energy, offer tax rebates to those buying energy-efficient vehicles and solar panels, and encourage schools to teach children about the causes and consequences of global warming, and potential solutions. A majority of Democrats and Republicans believe the United States should participate in the Paris climate accord and reduce greenhouse gas emissions regardless of what other countries do. …

So while Americans have been focusing on the split between Democrats and Republicans, the more important gap may now be between Republican voters and the leaders they elected.

Donald Trump and many in the GOP are still climate deniers. Trump and the Republicans are betting that the perception of a strong economy, low unemployment, and a heated stock market will carry them to victory in 2020, so they don’t need to worry about the climate.

Most Americans, though, don’t see it that way. The majority of U.S. citizens don’t feel that their financial situations have improved and think that the GOP tax reform scam law primarily helped the wealthy. And in only three years, the Yale survey said, the percentage of Americans who say that global warming is real has grown by 10 percentage points.

Sounds like more and more Americans are taking the long view and are willing to consider some hard choices in how to save the planet.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on May 5, 2019.

Retail apocalypse: Too many stores (and jobs) are going, going, gone

Signs like this in a Manhattan store in October 2018 are all too common all over America.

Barely a week goes by when we don’t hear about another chain of retail stores declaring bankruptcy or slashing the number of stores nationally.

We’re only a third of the way through 2019, and already U.S. retailers have announced the closure of nearly 6,000 stores — 5,994, to be exact. That’s already more than the 5,864 stores that closed throughout the country in 2018. And the investment firm UBS projects that 75,000 stores could close by 2026. That would include more than 21,000 clothing stores, 10,000 consumer electronics stores, and 8,000 home furnishing stores. By then, online shopping is expected to make up 25 percent of retail sales, up from 16 percent now. Overall, retailers have closed more than 15,000 stores since 2017, UBS says.

It’s easy to think about this situation as just a change in buying habits — more people buy items online, and fewer patronize brick-and-mortar stores. That’s true; the average U.S. household spent $5,200 online in 2018, up nearly 50 percent from five years earlier. And people are still buying — retail spending overall grew 4.6 percent in 2018. But every time a store closes, people lose their jobs, especially women.

Economists differ in their projections about the world and the U.S. economy in 2019. Many see slower growth than in 2018, and some even predict a recession. The National Retail Federation sees a slowdown over last year’s spending, meaning that people won’t be buying as much, online or at physical stores. Even the latest report of economic growth showed a slowdown in consumer spending.

Retail sales make up 70 percent of economic growth, and projections on retail sales aren’t good. A healthy economy generates annual retail sales growth of 3 percent or more. But the report from February showed that sales fell by 0.2 percent.

Business Insider keeps a running total of the stores that have announced bankruptcies and liquidation. In some cases, filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy allows companies to restructure and reopen on a smaller scale, shedding debt as well as employees. Other times, the stores’ workers are out of luck — and out on the street.

In 2019 alone, as of mid-April, this was the bankruptcy list (some of these are national, some are regional):

  • Beauty Brands, a salon and spa company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January. The company already had closed nearly half its stores in late 2018.
  • Innovative Mattress Solutions, a Kentucky-based firm, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January.
  • Shopko, a Wisconsin-based retailer, announced closure of all 363 stores when its owners failed to find a buyer after filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
  • Gymboree, a children’s clothing company that also operated Janie and Jack and Crazy 8 stores, said all of its more than 800 Gymboree and Crazy 8 stores are due to close.
  • FullBeauty Brands, an online plus-size clothing retailer, was in and out of bankruptcy in 24 hours.
  • Charlotte Russe, a woman’s clothing retailer, announced plans to close all of its stores after it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
  • Things Remembered, a personalized keepsake chain, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy so it could be purchased by another gift store chain while closing most of its 400 stores.
  • Payless ShoeSource filed for its second bankruptcy in February (this is referred to as “Chapter 22,” after a business’s first go-round with Chapter 11). It announced closure of all of its 2,500 stores, which will affect 16,000 employees.
  • Diesel, an Italian jeans company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after heavy losses and planned “some” store closures.
  • Z Gallerie, a Los Angeles-based home furnishings retailer, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and announced plans to close 17 stores.
  • Roberto Cavalli, a fashion company that operated in North America as Art Fashion Corp., filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy, having already closed all of its North American stores.

Even this list goes out of date quickly: another day, another retailer announces major closures. Office Depot, operating under Office Depot and OfficeMax, is closing 50 stores this year.

A CNN Business wrap-up of bankruptcies and store closures also included many retailers that are struggling financially and are set to close stores:

Other retailers, such as Family Dollar, GNC (GNC), Walgreens (WBA), Signet Jewelers (SIG), Victoria’s Secret and JCPenney (JCP), are struggling and are shrinking their store footprints to save money.

Family Dollar will close 359 stores this year, while Signet Jewelers, the parent company of mall stalwarts Kay, Jared and Zales, will close 159.

Even thriving retailers such as Target (TGT)and Walmart (WMT) are quietly closing a handful of their stores — although those companies are opening some, too. And department stores such as Nordstrom (JWN), Kohl’s (KSS) and Macy’s (M) are shuttering a few stores each.

Republicans, especially Donald Trump, love to brag about the economy and a low unemployment rate, even though much of that growth is merely continued from the strengths of the economy during the latter part of President Obama’s administration. Yet even with a low unemployment rate overall, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the retail unemployment rate is nearly 12 percent. BLS also says any growth in job opportunities in the retail industry is slower than the average for other occupations.

Trump and the media don’t pay much attention to retail layoffs. While women make up roughly half of all retail employees, store closures mostly affect women and minorities, not white men. From a story on U.S. retailers in The Guardian:

The retail sector has been the biggest loser of jobs for the last two years in a row in the US, as thousands of stores closed as shoppers moved online. It remains one of the US’s largest employers, providing 15.8m jobs, but the reordering of the retail landscape is having a profound impact on the nature of its workforce.

Between November 2016 and November 2017, the sector fired 129,000 women (the largest loss for any industrial sector for either sex) while men gained 109,000 positions, according to an analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). In the whole labour force women gained 985,000 jobs over the year, while men gained 1.08m jobs. …

“There are still jobs being created in retail but they are jobs with different skill sets,” said Andrew Challenger, vice-president of outplacement experts Challenger, Gray and Christmas. But despite those gains “there is real job loss going on and we may not see those jobs coming back. In many cases these jobs are being lost in places where retailers are the largest employers in the area.”

Challenger described the losses as one of the most dramatic changes in the jobs market the US had witnessed since manufacturing was rocked by outsourcing and automation.

These aren’t high-paying jobs to begin with. The median hourly wage for retail salespersons was $11.63 in May 2018, according to BLS, and the average annual retail salary is only $25,310. When these workers are shown the door, severance packages are rare. According to a Vox story:

Some retailers have tried to revamp stores or introduce other new features to increase foot traffic to brick-and-mortar stores, but these efforts have been met with mixed results. Many of these formerly successful retail chains have filed for bankruptcy, including Payless, Sears, Toys R Us, Claire’s, and more. And that’s created ripple effects for workers, too: Toys R Us workers fought for (and won) severance pay after the chain filed for bankruptcy, and Sears workers are still fighting for severance.

All of these layoffs and store closures wouldn’t be as much of a problem if malls in the U.S. weren’t overbuilt to begin with. All of those closed stores, especially in emptied-out malls, make for a lot of empty real estate. A story in Forbes claims that the malls need to evolve and offer more services and “experiences” that people want, not just stores. In turn, these new offerings could provide work for laid-off employees.

Today’s shoppers are looking for more than just what’s just available on a website. They want an experience. Malls have always been a destination, but the concept of a “mallrat” no longer exists. The days of meeting friends at the mall and shopping all day are gone. Malls are still considered a destination, but it’s because they now offer amenities, experiences and entertainment to enhance the shopping experience. They are now not only anchored by department stores but with popular restaurants, bars, salons, cinemas, and fitness centers. …

What’s next as Generation Z shoppers take over as the big spenders and increase their shopping power? The answer: shopping malls must continue to transform to survive the generational changes. As with so many other areas of retail and beyond, it’s evolve or die.

It’s a nice idea, but those kinds of jobs will still be entry-level, low-paying work, and won’t do much to help a laid-off mom trying to put food on the table for her family.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on April 28, 2019.

#Election2020: Who’s got policies? Who’s got platitudes?

What do some of these Democratic candidates stand for?

With some 19 Democratic presidential candidates and counting, it’s hard to keep track of who stands for what: which candidates have developed policy expertise and proposals on which issues, and which ones sound good but still keep talking in generalities.

For most candidates, there’s no shortage of policy positions. A Think Progress piece argues that the focus of this election (so far, at least) has been policy, policy, policy.

So just how do a swelling numbers of Democrats convince an inattentive citizenry to turn away from other distractions and pay attention to their political palaver?

Short answer: Nearly all of them are staking out early policy positions on a wide range of issues to burnish a self-flattering political image, before the full-scale campaign onslaught begins in earnest. …

These early-season policy ideas are the introductory gambits for candidates to test out on the hustings and in media interviews. Their early campaign messages are aimed to draw support from narrow, targeted slices of the Democratic electorate, in hopes of building a groundswell of broader, national support for their nascent campaigns.

Maybe in the long run, those policy details won’t matter. Maybe the majority of Democratic primary voters instead will turn toward a candidate who offers a feeling of comfort or “likeability.” Or the quickest candidate, or the sharpest, or the brightest, or the most honest. Or even the one who passes the proverbial test of “someone you could have a beer with.” And Democratic voters have been clear about one thing: They want to nominate the candidate who would best be able to beat Donald Trump.

Unfortunately, there’s little evidence that we can evaluate who that candidate is right now, despite early opinion polls or the amount of money raised. We can see who’s getting the most media attention, airtime, and Sunday morning talk show invitations. But the media can be fickle: Just ask former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

Candidates’ positives and negatives right now are meaningless. Any candidate with high approvals will see those numbers take a nosedive when the right-wing attack machine — whether that’s charges about “socialism,” Donald Trump’s ridiculous tweets and demeaning nicknames, Fox News slander and innuendo, or outright lies spread by conspiracy theorists — starts peddling falsehoods and negative stories about Democratic candidates. Mainstream media will pick those up and repeat them verbatim with little context or explanation.

But here’s what the emphasis on policy does: It takes issues that are important to Democratic voters and forces them into the forefront. For the most part, candidates agree on these issues. All of the Democratic candidates are talking about health care. All are talking about climate change, whether they’re backing the Green New Deal or other specific policies. All are talking about immigration, gun reform, and jobs. All are talking about evening the playing field for poor families and increasing taxes for the super-rich.

Here are some of the policies that candidates have espoused so far. This is by no means a comprehensive list — and it doesn’t include every candidate. But it offers a shorthand breakdown on what different Democrats would set as priorities in the White House.

Some of the most well-thought-out policies are coming from the women candidates. Even better, they’re endorsing each other’s proposals.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is quickly establishing herself (and has been described) as the queen of policy. When she speaks to voters, she offers a wide list of ideas, stressing government intervention into areas where private markets have failed. Those ideas include the federal government building affordable housing, paying for child care, enforcing antitrust laws, and breaking up big companies, including tech giants. The mainstream media might not be giving her much love, but she’s getting plenty of attention explaining those policies to Iowa voters.

One of her early proposals that remains popular with Democrats is to impose a wealth tax on those with fortunes worth over $50 million. The tax on the “ultra-millionaires” is explained at Vox:

Warren’s proposal, of course, is for a progressive wealth tax in which the 2 percent rate does not apply to the first $50 million and the 3 percent rate only kicks in when you have more than $1 billion, so nobody would actually be taxed that much. The operation of the tax would, however, exert a dramatic gravitational pull on large fortunes and tend to pull them down to the tax thresholds.

That’s especially true because the mere existence of the wealth tax would, on the margin, encourage wealthy individuals to dissipate their fortunes on charitable giving and lavish consumption. If you try to horde wealth the government is going to tax it, so you might as well spend it.

California Sen. Kamala Harris wants to expand the earned income tax credit with her LIFT the Middle Class Act and to give all American public school teachers a raise. She’s proposing that the federal government spend $315 billion to increase teacher salaries over 10 years. A story from Vox explains why it could be a popular winner:

Education is rarely a major issue during presidential campaigns. But Harris’s plan could tap into a wave of energy and enthusiasm from teachers strikes around the country in the past two years, most recently in Los Angeles and Denver but also in traditionally red states, such as West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona.

Those strikes have attracted public sympathy as well as solidarity from Harris and her fellow 2020 contenders. Two-thirds of Americans support teachers’ right to strike for better pay and benefits, according to a recent USA Today/Ipsos poll, and six in 10 believe teachers are not compensated fairly.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar has a plan on an issue that Trump conveniently forgets about every time there’s an “infrastructure week.” Her $1 trillion proposal would go way beyond the roads and bridges usually discussed when candidates discuss infrastructure. Here’s an explanation from Vox on how it would work:

The central element in Klobuchar’s proposal is a $650 billion increase in federal spending on infrastructure programs.

She specifies rural broadband, municipal waterworks, energy efficiency retrofits, school construction, airports, seaports, inland waterways, and mass transit as all worthy of increased funding, along with — of course — highways and bridges.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has successfully pushed his Medicare for All legislation into the Democratic mainstream, and it has some of his Democratic rivals as co-sponsors. His latest version spells out what would be covered in a generous benefit package, even as it offers few specifics on how to pay for it. According to an explanation from Vox:

The biggest difference between this plan and the version Sanders introduced in 2017 is the addition of a long-term care benefit that would cover care for Americans with disability at home or in community settings. This benefit was also added into the House version of the Medicare-for-all bill earlier this year.

The plan is significantly more generous than the single-payer plans run by America’s peer countries. The Canadian health care system, for example, does not cover vision or dental care, prescription drugs, rehabilitative services, or home health services. Instead, two-thirds of Canadians take out private insurance policies to cover these benefits. …

What’s more, the Sanders plan does not subject consumers to any out-of-pocket spending on health aside from prescriptions drugs. This means there would be no charge when you go to the doctor, no copayments when you visit the emergency room. All those services would be covered fully by the universal Medicare plan.

There’s no question that the approach is growing in popularity, even earning some cheers from the audience at Sanders’ Fox News town hall. The immediate economic downside is for insurance companies; the more talk about a single-payer system, the worse the stock prices are for those insurers.

Beto O’Rourke is taking some heat for not having enough policy ideas. A Politico piece with the headline, “The big idea? Beto doesn’t have one,” explains that he’s still in listening mode.

It’s not that O’Rourke doesn’t have positions. He does, and in the month since announcing his presidential campaign, he has expressed many of them with specificity. He has robust ideas about immigration, including a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. He has lauded the “Green New Deal” and called for a new Voting Rights Act. He was an early champion of legalizing marijuana — and co-wrote a book about it. He wants universal pre-K education, and he has touted a bill by Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) to dramatically expand Medicare coverage while maintaining a role for private health insurance. …

But none of those positions is unique to O’Rourke. And with his relatively meager legislative record — and a belief that he can transcend ideological lanes within the Democratic Party — O’Rourke appears unclear about where he fits on the policy spectrum.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for “listening tours” to see what voters are saying. But if you’ve announced your candidacy for the most powerful office in the world, you should be a tad more sure of what you stand for.

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg is another candidate who is still finding his issue footing. He is beloved by the media and by the crowds that turn out to hear him, he’s got a killer biography and background, and he’s great on TV. He has, in the headline of a Los Angeles Times piece, “everything except policies on major issues.

That’s not an accident. He says voters aren’t looking for policy papers. They care about values and character, and knowing that a candidate cares about their lives. …

At a CNN town hall last month, voters asked his views on healthcare, unemployment, veterans’ benefits, climate change and whether technology companies like Facebook should be regulated.

His answers were a blend of generic Democratic positions and suggestions that more venturesome ideas should be considered.

Some candidates that might be considered long shots are carving out their own particular electoral niche, even if it depends mainly on “rebuilding the Blue Wall” with working-class voters in the Rust Belt, in the words of Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan.

For instance, one of the most recent entrants in the race, California Rep. Eric Swalwell, is making gun violence — an issue he has long worked against — central to his campaign. He held an early campaign town hall in Broward County, Florida, not far from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where 18 died a year ago in a mass shooting. Besides passing common-sense gun legislation on universal background checks, a position held by a vast majority of Americans and backed by all candidates, Swalwell wants to ban assault-style weapons. He wants to make gun reform one of the “top-three issues” of the Democratic nominating contest.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, described by the League of Conservation Voters as the greenest governor in America, is making sure that candidates talk about climate change this presidential election, unlike in 2016, when the issue was all but ignored in every presidential debate. The need to address climate change has come up in audience questions in just about every town hall that CNN has sponsored for Democratic candidates. Inslee has gone so far as to call for a climate-change-only debate. His four-part plan, described on his campaign website, includes and builds on ideas from the Green New Deal, which he’s backing (as are other candidates).

Former Obama Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro has the most thorough plan on immigration policy. He basically offers the opposite of Trump’s policies and provides a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. He also backs investigating Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection, and the Department of Justice’s role in family separation policies. As CNN explained:

Castro, as president, would increase refugee admissions, reunify families that have been separated at the border and allow deported veterans who served in the US military to return to the United States. …

Castro’s plan also reimagines enforcement along the border, including the reconstitution of Immigration and Customs Enforcement by “splitting the agency in half and re-assigning enforcement functions” within the agency.

There’s more, of course. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand wants to solidify a woman’s right to choose and to close the racial wealth gap. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker wants to go further with an issue close to his heart, criminal justice reform, and issue “Baby Bonds” for newborns that will be worth thousands when those kids turn 18 to help pay for college.

Many fans of Andrew Yang let me know on Twitter that his multitude of policies on such issues as a universal basic income, Medicare for all, and what he calls human-centered capitalism on his campaign website make him a serious contender. We won’t know until the first votes are counted.

How about this: Take the best ideas from the various candidates and put them into the Democratic platform. And then have that platform mean something for a change. I’ll take Jay Inslee on climate change, Eric Swalwell on gun violence, Julián Castro on decriminalizing immigration, Elizabeth Warren on going after the wealthy, Kamala Harris on paying teachers, Amy Klobuchar on infrastructure, Bernie Sanders on health care (Medicare for All, Medicare for America, improving the Affordable Care Act, or any combination thereof — it’s better to act than to fight about it). And let’s include Pete Buttigieg’s and Beto O’Rourke’s appeal to millennials. We’ll talk about Joe Biden if and when he gets into the race. And I’m sure you’ll forgive me for skipping over some other candidates, including former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel.

Is America ready for a president who carves out new territory? Who knows? Most likely, 99.9% of those reading this would have no problem with a president who is gay, Latinx, African-American, a woman, an African-American woman, a Democratic Socialist, or one who follows any religion — or none at all. Is the rest of America?

Let the debates begin.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on April 21, 2019.

GOP lawmaker claims nurses play cards all day. She better hope she never gets sick. (UPDATE)

One of the many snarky and deserved responses to the remarks of a (no surprise) GOP state senator.

There’s a story out of Washington state that has nurses up in arms. A Republican (as if she could be in any other party) state senator objected to a bill giving meal breaks and rest periods for nurses, implying that they don’t have enough work to keep them busy and don’t need mandated breaks.

Never mind the fact that nurses are likely the hardest-working members of a medical team. If you’ve ever been in a hospital, as a patient or a visitor, you know that. Anyone with any brains does.

That GOP senator is facing heated backlash. The take-home message: Never piss off a nurse. From a CNN story:

A Washington state senator has drawn the ire of nurses after remarks she made suggesting that nurses in smaller hospitals “probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day.”

The Washington State Senate considered a bill Tuesday, SHB 1155, that would provide nurses with uninterrupted meal and rest periods.

“By putting these types of mandates on a critical access hospital that literally serves a handful of individuals, I would submit to you those nurses probably do get breaks. They probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day,” Washington state Senator Maureen Walsh said on Tuesday during a debate on the Washington state Senate floor.

The charitable interpretation is that Walsh has never spent time in a hospital to watch nurses work. The true interpretation is that she’s a GOP robot who objects to any regulation.

Nurses in Washington state are not taking this lightly.

The Washington State Nurses Association called Walsh’s remarks “demeaning” and said there is “zero logic” in covering nurses in some hospitals, “while leaving others without any protections.”

“No, Senator, nurses are not sitting around playing cards. They are taking care of your neighbors, your family, your community,” Mathew Keller, WSNA’s director of nursing practice and health policy, said in a post on the union’s website.

The bill passed the Senate (it had earlier passed the House), with Walsh voting against it. It will go back to the House to approve some amendments before it goes to Gov. Jay Inslee for his signature.

But nurses aren’t done with Walsh yet. From the executive director of the National Nurses Union, via a story on Crooks and Liars:

Nursing groups are publishing Walsh’s contact information so they can make their feelings known. They also are suggesting that nurses send Walsh a deck of cards. From a nursing FB group: ATTENTION ALL NURSES:  Please mail Senator Maureen Walsh a deck of cards.  The address is: 504 15th Ave SW, Olympia, WA 98501

In her case, it shouldn’t be a full deck.

UPDATE: After a national outcry from nurses, Walsh was forced to apologize for her comment and said she would be “happy to accept” the invitation to shadow a nurse during a shift. Walsh’s office had been inundated with on online petition with 650,000 signatures and with phone calls, emails, and (yes) packs of cards from nurses in protest.

My #MuellerReport take-home message: Trump is guilty of obstruction of justice

The Mueller report is putting a permanent scowl on Donald Trump’s face.

You don’t have to read all 448 pages of the report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller to understand that Donald Trump is guilty as hell. He’s much worse than Richard Nixon ever was.

I confess that I skimmed many pages (lots of blacked-out redacted sections stops the reading flow) of the whole report and looked more at overviews, including those written by the Mueller team itself. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock (or are a Trump supporter wearing Fox News blinders), you know that, despite Attorney General William Barr’s pathetic efforts at spinning the report to claim that Trump is innocent, Trump is guilty of obstruction of justice. The original four-page Barr report was pitiful in its brevity and conveniently skipped over any damning material. The news conference where Barr kept repeating “no collusion” was laughable.

There is only one reason that Trump isn’t guilty of criminal conspiracy with Russia: He and his team were just too dumb or too incompetent to make the connections that Russia intelligence kept offering them. Some people who were part of the Trump campaign likely are guilty of criminal conspiracy (Carter Page and George Papadopoulous), but, as any good prosecutor will tell you, you don’t make the charge unless you think you can get a conviction. That’s why Mueller’s ultimate conclusion on that point was to say there wasn’t enough evidence to warrant a charge.

The other mitigating circumstance is that so many people lied or pleaded the Fifth Amendment in their interviews with the Mueller team. You can only work with the information you have. Trump’s lawyers never let him testify under oath, knowing that he would have committed perjury before speaking a full sentence. As it was, his written answers contained more than 30 instances of “I don’t know” and “I can’t remember.” This, from the guy who loves to brag about his brain.

Obstruction of justice is another matter.

You’ve likely been reading stories and hearing talking heads on cable news explain the big takeaways of the report, and about how is is a “blueprint to impeachment” or an “impeachment referral.” Now it’s up to Congress to hold further hearings and do more investigation, issuing subpoenas and forcing people to testify under oath, and holding them in contempt if they refuse. “There is sufficient evidence that President Donald Trump obstructed justice to merit impeachment hearings” is the implication reached in The Atlantic.

In his report, Mueller took pains to detail why he “determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment” as to whether the president had broken the law by obstructing justice. He began by noting that he accepted the opinion of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) — which issues guidance for the executive branch on questions of law — that a sitting president cannot be indicted. …

A footnote spells out that a criminal investigation could ultimately result in charges being brought either after a president has been removed from office by the process of impeachment or after he has left office.

There are multiple ways to access the report, from multiple news organizations. Many offer a search function, such as this online version from CNN, so readers can look for names (those that aren’t redacted) and specific terms.

I found the most useful shorthand version was this Washington Post timeline. It breaks the report into three easy-to-understand sections on Russian interference, Russian contacts, and obstruction. While we may have heard many of these points in news stories, the constant drip-drip-drip in reporting all of the misdeeds made it easy to overlook or forget something. Reading them all together just makes you say, “Damn. They did THAT?” The timeline is complete with references to news stories that reported the exact same facts that the Mueller report offers.

The extent of the Russian interference is astounding:

  • Russian intelligence services (GRU) started a plan to interfere in the election back in 2013, although it didn’t get really revved up until 2014 and 2015.
  • GRU spent thousands of dollars every month on social media ads on Facebook, Twitter, and other sites targeting voters mainly in swing or “purple” states, just to tip the election.
  • GRU hacked into Democratic National Committee network by sending “spearphishing” emails and released DNC emails through Wikileaks. The most obvious timing was the release immediately after the Access Hollywood tape was released in October 2016, where Trump bragged about grabbing women by the pussy.
  • GRU created hundreds of false Twitter and Facebook accounts to push negative messages about Hillary Clinton. Many of the accounts were specifically aimed at African-American voters to suppress turnout.
  • GRU phony accounts reached more than 100 million people through Facebook alone, no doubt influencing their votes.
  • GRU pushed positive messages about Trump and Bernie Sanders (and later Green Party candidate Jill Stein, who also has been friendly with Russia). The purpose was to try to turn off as many voters as possible to Hillary Clinton.

Here’s one piece from the Washington Post timeline (one of many) that spells out direct involvement between the Trump campaign and Russia. It was this action by Papadopoulous, over too many drinks in London, that started the whole Russia probe in the first place.

George Papadopoulos tells an employee of a foreign government that the Trump campaign had received indications that the Russian government could assist the campaign with leaks of information damaging to Hillary Clinton. That government then contacts the FBI, triggering an investigation.

Papadopoulous pleaded guilty to the charge of lying to the FBI and served a short prison sentence. It sounds like he was guilty of much more.

Richard Nixon was an angel compared with Donald Trump. I seriously doubt Nixon knew about the Watergate break-in beforehand — it was a low-level operation (he always referred to it as a “third-rate burglary”). The Nixon team had enough bad apples that they likely thought of the break-in and other nefarious deeds all on their own. Nixon’s crime was covering everything up later.

Trump, on the other hand, was the guy behind many misdeeds in the first place. He also did his best to make up stories or shift the blame to cover them up later.

  • Trump himself was the one who made up the “adoption” story for the June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and others with Russians. As news reports said all along, and team Trump finally admitted, it was to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.
  • It was Trump who tried to get FBI Director James Comey to stop the Russia investigation and to stop any prosecution of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
  • It was Trump who directed Comey to be fired, not FBI Deputy Director Rod Rosenstein (although he followed Trump’s direction to write a letter, blaming Comey’s “treatment of the Clinton email probe”).
  • Multiple times, Trump directed Mueller to be fired or tried to stop the investigation. Many on his staff refused or just ignored his directions.

If a jury were to find Trump innocent of obstruction of justice, it would only be because every time Trump gave an illegal order (for instance, by firing Robert Mueller), White House officials refused to comply.

The big question looming over Washington is: Should Trump be impeached? There are multiple issues to ponder, especially after Speaker Nancy Pelosi famously said that he’s just “not worth impeaching.” Of course, that was before many of the details of the full report came out, and many Democrats are coming around. So consider:

  • The House needs only a majority of members to impeach.
  • Impeachment proceedings would start in the House Judiciary Committee, led by New York Rep. Jerry Nadler, who is already issuing a subpoena for an unredacted version of the full report.
  • Two-thirds of the Senate would have to vote to convict Trump. A Senate with a Republican majority would never do that.
  • Impeaching Trump without removing him from office creates a risk of stirring up his base.
  • Not impeaching Trump will anger many Democrats and could discourage them about the 2020 presidential election (not to mention control of Congress).

There is absolutely no question that Donald Trump deserves to be impeached and removed from office (for more reasons than what is outlined in the Mueller report). Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who read the entire Mueller report on a campaign flight, is the first Democratic presidential candidate to issue such a call, and she has gained many new supporters because of it.

On the campaign trail, however, candidates are finding out that voters are more interested in talking about health care, gun violence, pocketbook issues, climate change, and other matters closer to home. Whatever the House Democrats decide to do about impeachment, next year’s election will depend on one thing: if the ultimate Democratic nominee’s campaign is successful in getting out the vote from the majority of the country that is sick of Donald Trump.

‘Democrats must nominate a white guy in 2020.’ Oh, really?

Why aren’t we hearing more in the media about presidential candidates (clockwise, from top left) Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Tulsi Gabbard? Could it be because they all lack a Y chromosome?

If you’re tired of reading about the endless debate of whether Joe Biden’s habit of physically demonstrating his affection is appropriate or the countless stories of how awesome it is that Pete Buttigieg learned Norwegian to read a book, you’re not alone.

If you’re thirsting for discussion of actual issues that affect the country and policies to address those issues, you may be in for a drought. Given the media’s track record on covering the 2020 Democratic race so far, we’re more likely to get an ocean of coverage about men.

The media loved the feel-good story of the record number of women running for office in 2018 — and winning. But it’s almost as if the nation’s newsrooms — still disproportionately white and male — figured that they had given women pats on the head, and now it was time to get back to concentrating on white male candidates, who (in too many of their opinions) are the only ones who have a real shot at beating Donald Trump next year. Likely because the women aren’t “likable” enough. And the more they push that line, the danger is that more voters might believe there’s no alternative.

The gushing coverage of Buttigieg (whom I like, don’t get me wrong) and the emphasis on what are being described as the B-Boys (Biden, Bernie Sanders, Beto O’Rourke, and now Buttigieg) is, in the words of Margaret Sullivan of The Washington Post, a “self-fulfilling prophecy” (this was written before Buttigieg started receiving so much attention). This is especially true when the media concentrate on who’s ahead in the latest polling, even if it’s way too early for horse-race journalism:

Somehow, despite a remarkably diverse Democratic field — which includes a record number of women, a gay man and several people of color — the B-Boys (that is, Beto, Biden and Bernie) — were off and running.

The news media undoubtedly was part of the equation. With more than 18 months to go before the 2020 election, the love and attention was not being dished out in equal measure. …

When many Democratic voters put sheer electability (unseating President Trump) as the top priority, this media-driven momentum takes on even more power.

That’s potentially dangerous.

It would be a shame — and counterproductive — if premature judgments end up transforming all this diversity and talent into a shrugged-off bunch of also-rans.

I’ve got news for the media. Primary and caucus voters are going to decide this contest, not pundits.

If white guys are the best Democrats have to offer, why are there a record number of black women mayors currently serving in U.S. cities? Lori Lightfoot made history as the first black (and openly gay) woman to be elected as mayor of Chicago. Her opponent, Toni Preckwinkle, was another African-American woman, who, even though she lost, remains the second most powerful politician in the city as president of the Cook County Board and the Cook County Democratic Party. And although Chicago has a celebrated Democratic machine, it’s not exactly liberal and had nothing to do with delivering Lightfoot’s win.

This NPR story quoted the head of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University about the rise of African-American women, who remain Democrats’ most consistent and loyal voters:

But the rapid rise of black women mayors in large American cities is a sign that black women are making strides in an area where all women have long been absent, said Debbie Walsh, the center’s director.

“One of the challenges that we’ve seen over time for women, in general, is women in executive leadership,” Walsh said. “There’s an assumption that women in legislative positions, whether federal level, state level or even at the city level work well in committee, work well on councils. It fits for the stereotype for women.”

“Breaking that final glass ceiling of women as executives really opens up a world of possibilities. To be the person who is the final decider, the place where the buck stops, is something that we think voters may be more hesitant about,” Walsh continued.

A Politico piece saw sexism in coverage but also attributed the imbalance to voters who might fear another woman on the top ticket.

With an all-male cast of Democratic candidates soaking up most of the oxygen and posting better polling numbers, there is now more evidence to suggest that gender bias is a real problem for female candidates.

At the same time, other evidence suggests that female candidates may not be at a significant disadvantage in lower-level races. Indeed, Smith and Paul didn’t find significant evidence of gender bias in operation even in primary match-ups (though this result is highly limited, given they compared only the two aforementioned pairings). This finding coheres with the hopeful results we saw in the 2018 election, when an unprecedented number of female members of Congress were elected. But it also leaves open the question of how well women will fare when it comes to the highest profile race of all: the presidential election.

Why might presidential races be different? One plausible theory is that in seeking the Oval Office women are competing less for a service position and more for a position of perceived power and authority—indeed, virtually the most masculine-coded authority position imaginable.

How many times do we have to say it? Hillary Clinton received nearly 3 million more votes than Donald Trump.

If local voters can elect so many black women as mayors, surely voters on the national scale can muster up the courage to vote for a woman as president. In Illinois alone, there are an eye-popping number of black women in office.

But pundits insist that we’ve got to nominate a white guy to beat Trump. Got it.

Just like all Democratic voters, black voters want a candidate with the best chance to beat Trump, as was described in a recent Washington Post story about the National Action Network convention, a group founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton. But there are contrasting arguments as to who that candidate might be.

“The old white guys have been in the political arena. They know what the job entails,” said Yvonne James, a 79-year-old New Yorker who carried a canvas bag at the convention with images of the Obamas and other “strong black men and women” stitched onto it. “So if it boils down to them or somebody who’s kind of new, let’s go with the experienced choice.” …

It’s been 15 years since Democrats last nominated a white man for president, choosing John F. Kerry, who would go on to lose to George W. Bush in 2004. With so many strong alternatives this time, some Democrats say, they aren’t keen on doing that in 2020.

“That’s the American norm; people vote for what they know. But the old, safe norm is what got Trump in there. I think it’s time to shake up things a little bit,” said Tiffany James, the 37-year-old head of NAN’s South Carolina branch. She arrived at the convention in a shirt that read “Black Women 2020” — promoting a push to put their agenda front and center.

On the plus side, CNN is giving every announced candidate his or her own town hall, publicizing them in advance, giving candidates plenty of time to answer questions, and reporting on them afterward, both on air and online. Most of the Democratic candidates are being interviewed on various MSNBC shows. Candidates are making their own calls on whether they’re willing to go on Fox News.

To counteract the Buttigieg-learned-Norwegian stories, Vogue came out with a piece listing hobbies, pets, and other human interest stories about women candidates. Elizabeth Warren was a star debater in high school, and her dog, Bailey, won a “poll” with Iowa caucus-goers. Kamala Harris cleaned test tubes in her scientist mother’s lab and mastered Indian cooking. Amy Klobuchar learned about Minnesota on bicycle rides with her dad and attended the University of Chicago Law School with former FBI Director James Comey, who described her as “annoyingly smart.” Kirsten Gillibrand interviewed the Dalai Lama, ran two marathons and plays on the congressional women’s softball team (remember when the media in 2012 obsessed about Paul Ryan and his workout routines?).

The coverage remains way too uneven. An opinion piece in the online magazine Dame lamented the unfairness of that fact:

So is it all that surprising then, that we see tremendous gaps in coverage between the growing pile of white male candidates and Senators Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and Kirsten Gillibrand, and Representative Tulsi Gabbard — five female veteran lawmakers—contending for the Democratic nomination? …

When Beto O’Rourke says that he wings speeches and is “born” to lead in a race with numerous prepared, engaged women who had to fight sexism even after being elected to high office, who come to the table with policies they’ve sponsored and proposals at the ready, it is an ugly reminder of the work women have to do to be considered competent versus the unearned entitlement of men. …

The quality of media coverage of women seeking power, the speed with which men ignored, dismissed, and diminished women as voters and opponents, the ways we treat women’s bodies as public property — these were all issues raised in 2016. That we are still grappling with them again shows how deeply embedded misogyny is and how unserious we are about truly resolving it.

In January, a Glamour story celebrated the fact that multiple women in a presidential contest no longer seems out of the mainstream:

“This field of wildly qualified, incredibly impressive women is making the most consequential political race of our lifetime look and feel more like the reality we all aspire to — basic equality — and that is such a positive thing for the American public to be witnessing,” writes Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Now, if only the mainstream media saw it that way. Please — give women candidates as much overall coverage as certain men.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on April 14, 2019.

More women running — and winning elections — is the new normal

An awful lot of candidates were inspired by the Women’s Marches to run for office. How about in your community?

As exciting as it is to have multiple Democratic women running for president, it’s just as exciting when people you know and admire run for office — and win.

Three women I know recently won local elections — as a village trustee, as a member of a community college board of trustees, and as a local school board member. All are smart, progressive women who, like thousands of others around the country, were inspired to get involved in local politics after their deep disappointment in the 2016 election results.

After Hillary Clinton’s loss in the Electoral College — even though she beat Donald Trump by nearly 3 million votes — women got mad. And then they got energized.

Women turned out in record numbers to run for office at all levels. Emily’s List reported that, while only 910 women sought electoral help in 2016, some 42,000 women indicated an interest in running in 2018. A record number — 256 — won House and Senate primaries. Obviously, not all of them won in November, but there are now 127 women in Congress, a 15 percent increase from the last term and another record. And what was true in all modern U.S. elections also was true in 2018: Women vote in greater numbers than men, both in absolute totals and as a proportion of eligible voters.

Here are three women, none of whom had ever held elective office before, who decided to make a difference on their own. All are successful in their professional careers and wanted to expand their influence. They got involved in Women’s Marches, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense groups, and volunteer community organizations, but all saw openings where their interests and skills could serve a wider purpose.

All three launched grassroots campaigns, raising money on their own and enlisting friends as campaign volunteers. All three received endorsements from local newspapers, faculty organizations, and/or progressive groups. All three aimed their campaigns at each community’s local issues, whether those were financial concerns, environmental sustainability, affordable housing, racial equity, new ideas for educational excellence, or opening education to a more diverse population.

And all three of them won.

Susan Buchanan went to Congress to seek greater funding for graduate training in occupational health and safety.

The new village trustee. Susan Buchanan is a family physician specializing in occupational and environmental medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she’s an associate professor. She has a master’s degree in public health and is also board-certified in preventive medicine. She currently serves as a commissioner on the local board of health in Oak Park, a Chicago suburb. From there, it was logical to take the step step to run for the Village Board.

“As a family doctor and researcher, I understand the importance of studying problems in depth while listening to and addressing the needs of my patients and communities I serve,” she said on her campaign website. “I will provide the same quality of care to our village’s residents. I will listen and do all I can to protect the health of our community — its economic, social, and environmental health—while ensuring the most vulnerable among us have a voice and receive the services they need to thrive.”

Buchanan received the most votes in a crowded field of 11 candidates. Although she was new to electoral politics, she has a long record of activism: She volunteered at the Chicago Community Health free clinic on Chicago’s West Side, treating Hispanic families, and is on the board of directors for the Chicago chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. She was also an election observer in El Salvador and a volunteer physician in Nicaragua.

One of her key issues in the race was environmental sustainability. “In the Chicago area, heat waves and rainfall are increasing. That means higher risk of heat illness and asthma attacks, flooding, mold overgrowth, and allergies. The Village of Oak Park government has an important role to play in combating the further degradation of our environment. Scientists tell us there are actions we can take at the local level to decrease our carbon footprint, and I support using evidence-based approaches to do as much as we possibly can as individuals and as a community.”

Suzanne Hoban

The new member of a community college board. Suzanne Hoban is the executive director of a health clinic in Woodstock, northwest of Chicago. With a master’s degree in public health, she founded the clinic over 20 years ago as the first charitable clinic in McHenry County. Her volunteer community involvement spurred her to serve the local community college, and she was just elected a member of the McHenry County College Board of Trustees.

Hoban is a board member of the Illinois Association of Free and Charitable Clinics and the Leadership of Greater McHenry County. She is also a member of the Senior Services Grant Commission of McHenry County. But it was her late father’s position as a community college teacher and administrator that inspired her to run for the college board of trustees.

“I grew up thinking that everyone understood the value of community colleges,” she said on her campaign website. “After all, in the early 1970s, my father’s doctoral thesis was on the incredible possibilities of this radically new concept of education for the entire community. He spent his career at Waubonsee Community College in various roles as dean, teacher, and administrator. The community college was a part of our family’s life every day. It was only as I grew older that I realized that many people have no concept of the role that community colleges can play in a community.”

Hoban’s answers in a campaign profile interview with The Daily Herald earned her that newspaper’s endorsement. “I believe a community college should be the hub of community learning — a campus where students can pursue associates degrees and professional or technical certificates; a resource that local businesses can tap into to enhance employee skills, and a place accessible to any community member who wants to learn something new — from painting to beekeeping.”

Emily Berry

The new school board member. Emily Berry is a former reporter who now works in corporate communications. She got involved as a PTO volunteer in her kids’ schools in the Milwaukee suburb of Shorewood. She first ran for the school board in 2017, only narrowly getting edged out by incumbents.

Berry already had been attending school board meetings as an interested parent and observer. Her school involvement propelled her to start a blog on local educational issues two years ago, one that has received a growing readership in the community. This time around, she was successful in her run for a seat on the Shorewood School Board. Her winning campaign slogan was (of course), “Pick Berry.”

“I am a proud Democrat and a strong believer in public education,” Berry said on her campaign website. “The time I’ve spent volunteering in our schools, attending board meetings, and researching in my free time has reinforced my strong support for public schools as the heart of our community. My support and care for our schools also means I am determined to see clearly where we can do better and where we may even be failing our students.”

Here’s an excerpt from a recent blog post dealing with racial equity. “Just a few months ago, our fall play was cancelled after objections to the racial slurs in the play. Suddenly systemic inequities that have been harming generations of black students in Shorewood were laid bare. … A survey and analysis of African-American students (commissioned long before the events in October) produced a series of evidence-based recommendations around how the district could start to better support non-white students. … I think it’s past time for the board to weave language around equity through board policy. … I just hope they move quickly past it and on to some more tangible changes, including and especially two things: first, asking administrators to take specific and targeted steps to hire more non-white teachers, staff, and administrators, and second, to ask teachers to look at ways to deliberately redesign their materials and teaching practice to be anti-racist, inclusive, and equitable.”

Maybe the issues in your community are different from the ones these three women faced. Perhaps your time, talents, and interests don’t lend themselves to a run for elective office, or maybe you’re better suited to a role as a campaign volunteer working a phone bank, writing campaign postcards, or knocking on doors (that’s certainly true for me).

Women in politics at the national level receive media coverage, even if there’s a severe imbalance in the over-coverage of male presidential candidates (that’s a whole other story).

But more and more women are stepping up at local as well as national levels. We need to support progressive women candidates and take them as seriously as we do those running for president.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on April 7, 2019.

Kill #Obamacare? Trump voters won’t care. But we will — in 2020

The ACA saved a lot of lives and delivered health insurance coverage to millions of Americans, but facts are inconvenient for Trump supporters.

No doubt you’ve heard about Donald Trump’s latest move in his series of vindictive acts against President Obama — a new attempt to overturn the Affordable Care Act.

Seemingly out of the blue, and against the advice of his own attorney general and Health and Human Services secretary, the Trump administration now says it will back a federal judge’s ruling on a lawsuit filed by 20 GOP-led states that the entire ACA is unconstitutional and should be thrown out. The announcement came in the form of a short letter from three Justice Department lawyers to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is now considering the case after a conservative, GOP-appointed judge in Texas made the original ruling in December 2018.

Never mind the fact that the ACA has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. The votes of Trump’s two appointees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, would merely be trades for two justices who voted to kill the ACA and who are no longer on the court, the late Antonin Scalia and the retired Anthony Kennedy. There’s little reason to believe that Chief Justice John Roberts would change his vote if and when it reaches that stage again, even if the absence of the health insurance mandate changes the tax issue.

As many pundits and just about every Democrat has pointed out—gleefully—by putting ACA repeal back on the table, especially with no substitute, Trump has handed Democrats a winning issue in 2020. Guess that’s what happens when you go golfing and listen to Lindsey Graham, who apparently sold him on the idea at Mar-a-Lago.

The Donald Trump of March 2019 apparently has forgotten the words of the Donald Trump of two years earlier, who famously (and ignorantly) said, “No one knew health care could be so complicated.” Now he claims that “I understand health care now, especially, very well.”

Even worse, Trump is putting Florida GOP Sen. Rick Scott in charge of his new “party of health care” effort. Because what could possibly go wrong when you put the former hospital system CEO who oversaw one of the biggest cases of Medicare fraud in history? The guy whose hospital system admitted to 14 felonies related to fraudulent billing and practices under his leadership, while he escaped with $300 million?

In another move that makes zero sense, Trump now says that the GOP will deliver a new mythical health care plan after the 2020 elections. Sure, because that’s what voters really want — their health insurance taken away without any idea how to replace it.

Better access to health care consistently polled as the No. 1 issue for Democratic voters in 2018, especially when it came to continued coverage of preexisting conditions. That was true across the board, and specifically in possible swing states such as Nevada and Florida. Health care ranked lower, however, with Republican voters, who are still stuck on immigration as their No. 1 concern.

In the never-ending series of ridiculous Trump tweets, Trump thinks he can make people believe that the GOP will now be “The Party of Healthcare!” To say this was a dumb political move on Trump’s part is putting it mildly, even as White House aides try to spin the move as a “branding exercise.”

But in the end, Trump voters won’t care. They’ll vote for him anyway.

Even as Trump went all in on ACA repeal, Democratic presidential hopefuls jumped on the opportunity to respond to the idiotic proposal. South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, for instance, told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes on his All In show that the move “reminds so many of us why we’re Democrats.”

This tweet was from California Sen. Kamala Harris:

Potential candidates are touting varied proposals on Medicare for all vs. an optional Medicare buy-in. But the Democratic messaging after Trump’s new wacky move was simple: “Build on Obamacare with a public option.” Democrats are introducing a plan that would strengthen the ACA and expand health care.

Republicans were not happy about Trump’s move to reignite the Obamacare wars.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy failed in his attempt to talk Trump out of his potential political face-plant. As an anonymous GOP aide told The Washington Post:

“It’s the dumbest thing I have ever heard,” said a senior GOP aide, who requested anonymity to speak candidly. “It is the equivalent of punching yourself in the face repeatedly.”

Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins said she “vehemently” disagrees with the Trump move to strike down all of the ACA. I suppose that’s one step above her usual stance of being “concerned,” even if that rarely translates into voting against Trump policies.

The best take might have been from satirist Andy Borowitz: “Shame on Donald Trump for trying to take away people’s ability to see a doctor. His life was saved by a podiatrist.”

Democrats often point out that Republican voters and Trump voters in particular often vote against their own self-interests. It doesn’t matter if it’s Trump’s trade war with China, which is hurting farmers and causing some to go bankrupt. Or how changes in EPA regulations on coal-burning plants would worsen air quality the most in the areas of the country where Trump received the most support. Or how Trump’s steel and auto tariffs hurt American car manufacturers, thus hurting the autoworkers who are losing jobs in places like Lordstown, Ohio. Or how GOP lawmakers in red states are working against Medicaid expansion, even when such expansion has been approved by voters.

Trump voters are all too willing to believe the Trumpian spiels about an immigrant invasion, how he has supposedly kept his campaign promises, how he’s the “greatest” and “most successful” president in history, and how the William Barr memo means he’s “totally exonerated” from any charges of collusion or obstruction of justice stemming from the Robert Mueller report. Yada yada yada. This list doesn’t even include the wall that Mexico isn’t paying for — and no, the wall hasn’t been started yet, despite the attempts at a “Finish the wall” rallying cry.

This chart, from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, demonstrates the partisan issue gulf in the run-up to the 2018 midterm election. Why worry about health care when there are immigrants to bash?

Most of all, what Trump voters care about is Trump. Trump’s approval rating is stuck in the low 40s and is unlikely to fluctuate much, but hard-core Trumpinistas are only too willing to wear red hats, scream, and wave signs at Trump rallies in those safely red districts where he did well in 2016.

Trump voters are baked in at this point. The only way to beat them is to turn out and vote in greater numbers, like we did in 2018.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on March 31, 2019.

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.

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