Mother Jones Magazine

Walker, Warnock, and the Epic Battle for Georgia’s Soul

So. Much. Prayer.

Kicking off debates, woven into speeches, and emanating from pulpits serving as campaign pit stops, God is everywhere in the Senate runoff between Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock and his Trump-backed challenger Herschel Walker. I grew up in the Southern Bible Belt, and even I’m blown away by the sheer amount of Jesus inundating the campaign as the final vote draws near.

Voters are already turning out in record-setting numbers ahead of December 6 to help determine if Democrats, who clinched the narrowest of Senate victories again in November’s midterm elections, can enjoy a certain measure of legislative breathing room, including more control of Senate committees, as a counterweight to the new Republican House majority.

But if one listens to the mood of the campaigns, the stakes have become, for wont of another word, apocalyptic. 

During recent trips to Georgia to visit family and friends, it became clear that in addition to voting red or blue, voters also will be choosing between two wildly different visions of Christianity itself, as embodied by these two dramatically contrasting candidates: One, whose religious lineage traces directly from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement; the other, who preaches the gospel of right-wing Christian nationalism, where the waters between church and state are muddy and the topics of conversation revolve around incendiary culture war politics. Mother Jones readers don’t need me to point out which is which.

Christianity itself, in other words, is on the ballot in Georgia.

In this new video—my first for Mother Jones—I speak to two religious leaders who are outspoken about this divide, to try to understand the political stakes. But I’m also trying to delve deeper into the religious dynamics of this battle for Georgia’s soul in my conversations with Derek Berry, the senior pastor of the Tabernacle Baptist Church, in Hiram, Georgia, and Rev. Dr. Neichelle Guidry, the dean of Spelman College’s Sisters Chapel in Atlanta.

While Walker-backing Berry wants to rewrite the nation’s laws in God’s image—”I don’t believe the false narrative of the separation of church and state,” he told me—Guidry, a Warnock supporter, sees faith as a vehicle for inclusion.

“I think that he is someone who has not weaponized his faith, but, rather, sees his faith as a vehicle for doing good things,” she said. “Doing justice, love mercy, walking humbly.”

Joe Biden Called Out Antisemitism. Why Can’t Some Republicans?

On Friday, President Joe Biden dropped a tweet that in one fell swoop urged political leaders to condemn antisemitism, white supremacy, and Holocaust denialism. 

The simple statements, which neatly fit into Twitter’s 280-character limit, came one day after Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, appeared on Alex Jones’ Infowars to openly praise Adolf Hitler and Nazism. (“I like Hitler” is a direct quote from West.) The appearance was the latest instance of ugly anti-semitism by West since tweeting in October that he was going to go “death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE.” 

As it so happens, Biden’s message also follows Donald Trump’s dinner with West and the virulent anti-semite, Nick Fuentes. 

I just want to make a few things clear:

The Holocaust happened.

Hitler was a demonic figure.

And instead of giving it a platform, our political leaders should be calling out and rejecting antisemitism wherever it hides.

Silence is complicity.

— President Biden (@POTUS) December 2, 2022

Some Republicans, including Mitch McConnell and Susan Collins, have spoken out against these high-profile acts of antisemitism. But others have either been far too mild in their criticism—or altogether silent. Fox News host Tucker Carlson hasn’t said a peep, despite hosting West on his show three days after West’s “death con” tweet.  The Twitter account for Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee didn’t delete a controversial tweet praising West until yesterday’s Infowars appearance, when apparently the antisemitism became too overt for even the GOP to pretend it wasn’t happening. Others, like Mike Pence, have expressed regret at Trump’s dinner with Fuentes but claimed that the former president was not an anti-semite himself.

So Biden’s tweet today raises a curious question: If the president can unequivocally denounce antisemitism in a single tweet, why is it so hard for some on the right to do the same? 

“Mr. Trump explicitly sanctioning tax fraud! That’s what this document shows!”

Manhattan prosecutors on Friday flatly accused Donald Trump of helping executives at his companies commit tax fraud. The allegations came during closing arguments of a trial in which the ex-president’s businesses are charged with allowing key employees to reduce their taxable salaries while simultaneously providing them with off-the-record benefits—like company cars and apartments. For much of the trial, both sides told the jury that the case wasn’t about Trump himself. But after defense attorneys continually referred to Trump in their own closing on Thursday, prosecutors took the opportunity to target him directly.

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass showed jurors a memo in which Trump signed off on a request by chief operating officer Matthew Calamari, who had asked for his salary to be reduced by the exact amount that the company was spending on his annual rent.

“Mr. Trump explicitly sanctioning tax fraud! That’s what this document shows!” Steinglass told jurors, leading to a flurry of noisy objections from Trump’s attorneys.

New York Superior Court Judge Juan Merchan eventually sided with the defense, but it did little to blunt the prosecutor’s point, and Merchan allowed Steinglass to tell the jurors that Trump knew all about the alleged tax fraud going on at his company. Neither Calamari nor Trump has not been charged with any crime, but Trump’s longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, pleaded guilty to scheming to reduce his own taxable income in exchange for more benefits from the company.

Steinglass’ claim follows his statements on Thursday that Trump “knew exactly what was going on with his top executives” and that the Trump Organization as a whole “cultivated a culture of fraud and deception.”

Throughout the month-long trial, defense attorneys have argued that “Weisselberg did it for Weisselberg”—that is, they sought to portray him as a powerful executive who used his position to cheat on his own taxes without the knowledge of Trump or the Trump Organization as a whole. In fact, defense attorneys argued, Weisselberg actively hid his misdeeds from Trump and his adult children—he betrayed them.  

Prosecutors were initially content to paint Weisselberg—along with other employees who had helped adjust salaries—as executives of a larger business enterprise that deserved to be held responsible as an institution.

But following the defense’s closing on Thursday, which continually invoked Trump’s name, Merchan ruled that prosecutors, too, were mostly free to talk about Trump.

“This case is not about politics, it’s just two corporations helping its executives cheat on their taxes,” Steinglass said in his closing, echoing what he said during opening statements. 

Trump’s attorneys were visibly irritated in court on Friday morning, and they repeatedly objected throughout Steinglass’ closing almost every time he mentioned Trump’s name.

“I’m here to remind you that Donald Trump is not on trial, and we don’t have to prove a thing about what he knew or didn’t know,” Steinglass said. “But the defense has gone to great lengths to try and disclaim Donald Trump’s involvement.”

“This whole narrative that Donald Trump was blissfully unaware is just not true,” Steinglass told jurors.

After jurors left the room, Trump attorney Michael van der Veen angrily demanded a mistrial over Steinglass’ tone during his closing, including the prosecutor’s statement that Trump had personally sanctioned the tax fraud and another instance in which Steinglass referred to Trump and his adult children as “unindicted co-conspirators,” (Steinglass quickly retracted the latter comment after a rebuke from Merchan.) Van der Veen also complained that Steinglass had referred to van der Veen’s defense strategy as “nonsense.”

Steinglass told Merchan that Trump could be called a co-conspirator because he was involved in one of the specific acts for which a crime had been charged. Merchan said he wouldn’t declare a mistrial because Steinglass had taken back the statements in front of the jury.

Jurors were dismissed for the day and on Monday will return to deliberate.

Bats Are Nature’s Death Metal Singers. Who Knew?

This story was originally published by the Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

It has long been known Ozzy Osbourne has a taste for bats. But now it seems the mammals are also fans of his.

Bats greet each other with death metal growls, scientists have discovered, and possess a vocal range which far surpasses that of most humans.

While they emit ultrasonic chirps to echolocate flying insects in the dark, they also engage thick structures in the larynx called ventricular folds to communicate with each other at low frequencies.

The production of sound from ventricular folds, which sit just above the vocal cords, is believed to be rare in the animal kingdom, with bats now gaining membership to an exclusive club populated almost entirely by death metal and Tuvan throat singers.

“If you listen to a bat colony in the summer you can hear these calls very clearly,” said Prof Coen Elemans, who led the research at the University of Southern Denmark. “We don’t know the function of the calls, but they make them when they are annoyed with each other, and when they fly away or join a colony.”

Ozzy Osbourne recalled that he thought the bat was a rubber toy until he bit down and “something felt wrong.”

The finding emerged by chance when the scientists set about studying how bats produce high frequency sounds for echolocation. While taking high speed video of bat vocal cords in action, the researchers noticed the ventricular folds vibrating at low frequencies ranging from one to five kilohertz.

“The only use in humans for these vocal folds is during death metal singing and Tuvan throat singing,” Elemans told the Guardian. “The oscillations become very irregular, they become very rough, and that’s what you get with death metal grunting.”

Osbourne, the Black Sabbath frontman, famously bit the head off a bat while on stage in Des Moines in 1982. He said he believed the bat was a rubber toy until he bit down and “something felt wrong.” The animal may already have been dead when it was thrown on to stage by a teenage fan.

Very few human singers have a vocal range of five octaves, with Mariah Carey and Prince being famous examples. The Danish work solves the mystery of how bats achieve seven.

“We’ve shown that the vocal membranes used for echolocating have a range of three to four octaves, and this different structure then extends the range down,” Elemans said.

Bats have evolved a highly specialized larynx with adaptations that make it perfect for producing ultrasonic chirps up to 120 kilohertz. These high frequency calls act like a flashlight and pinpoint flying insects ahead of the bat. But the chirps are highly directional and travel only a few meters, so the animals needed another means to make low frequency calls to communicate over large distances with one another.

“We think the selection on these echolocation calls is so severe that in order for bats to have a range for communication, they needed to do something totally different,” said Elemans. The study is published in Plos Biology.

Donald Trump’s Lawyers Might Have Made a Huge Mistake

During closing arguments on Thursday in the criminal tax fraud case against Donald Trump’s companies, Trump’s attorneys did their best to blame everyone but Trump himself. They told the jury that the alleged fraud was the fault of rogue employees, some of whom had been employed by the Trump family for decades. But after laboring for weeks inside a Manhattan court room to minimize mention of their famous client, attorneys for both Trump-owned companies on trial invoked the former president’s name and discussed his role, which, they insisted, was minimal.

That may have been a major tactical error.

Trump’s companies—not Trump himself—are the defendants in the case. But as soon as prosecutor Joshua Steinglass started his own closing statement, he went straight at Trump, personally. “Donald Trump knew exactly what was going on with his top executives,” Steinglass told the jury. His closing was then paused for the evening, set to resume on Friday morning with what Steinglass told the jury will include much more detail about Trump’s role in the alleged tax fraud. The cliffhanger elicited furious protests from Trump’s attorneys, who reiterated as they had throughout the trial that everyone, including the judge and prosecutors, had agreed that Donald Trump the person was not on trial.

But Judge Juan Merchan swatted down that objection, telling Trump’s team late Thursday that they were the ones who had opened the door to direct focus on the former president. “It was the defense who invoked the name Donald Trump numerous times,” Merchan said. 

That was one of a several apparent errors Trump’s defense team made on Thursday, and it set up a potentially dramatic close to the trial when Steinglass finishes his closing statement on Friday. Trump’s attorneys, who have already spoken, will have no opportunity to argue back. 

Their final defense argument started on a rocky note Thursday when they began showing jurors a series of slides that were described as quotes from the trial transcripts of key testimony delivered by witnesses. But following an objection from Steinglass, it turned out that not all of those quotes were accurate. In fact, at least one shown to jurors was something that prosecutors had previously objected to and that Merchan had agreed was to be removed from the official transcript. However, the only thing the defense team had actually removed from the passage before presenting it to jurors was the prosecutor’s objection and the judge’s words agreeing with that objection.

“It’s problematic, and I don’t fault people for being upset about this,” Merchan told defense attorney Susan Necheles, who has represented the Trump Organization in the trial. Necheles was allowed to edit her statement, but throughout the day continued to get scolded by Merchan for repeatedly crossing boundaries of what the attorneys were allowed to tell the jury. 

The case centers on millions of dollars in fringe benefits paid to top Trump Organization employees—benefits like cars, apartments, and even envelopes of cash—that prosecutors say the company provided instead of paying salary. That set-up allowed the company to pay employees more without the employees having to pay income taxes on the benefits, according to the prosecution. This summer, Trump’s longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, pleaded guilty to 15 counts of tax fraud, admitting that he lied on his tax returns about compensation he received from the Trump Organization; he promised to testify against the company but not Donald Trump personally, in exchange for a lighter jail sentence. Weisselberg will be sentenced following the conclusion of this trial, but if prosecutors say he cooperated with their case, they will recommend five months in jail—likely to be served at New York City’s Riker’s Island jail—for the 75-year-old.

Trump’s attorneys used their closing statements to blame all the wrongdoing in the case on Weisselberg and an outside accountant, Donald Bender, who helped prepare the company’s taxes. According to Necheles and fellow Trump attorney Michael van der Veen, who represents Trump Payroll Corp.—one of several hundred subsidiaries of Trump’s business empire—Weisselberg is a confessed tax cheat, and it’s all on him.

“Weisselberg did it for Weisselberg,” van der Veen repeatedly told the jury. 

Both Necheles and van der Veen tried to belittle Weisselberg and Bender, accusing them of greed and—particularly in Bender’s case—incompetence. Both lawyers mockingly mimicked Bender’s voice on the stand.

Jurors seemed unimpressed, watching stone-faced or with expressions of boredom as the attorneys made their case.

On Friday, Steinglass will continue his closing argument. Jurors will begin deliberations on Monday.

Correction, December 2: Judge Juan Merchan’s name was misspelled in an earlier version of this article.

To Save Whales, Should We Stop Eating Lobster?

The North Atlantic right whale isn’t doing well. There are fewer than 350 of these stocky baleen whales believed to be left in the wild—and the numbers are shrinking. In the last six years, vessel strikes, entanglements in fishing gear, or other unknown causes have killed or injured at least 92 whales, prompting scientists to declare the die-off an “Unusual Mortality Event.” At the rate they’re dying, experts warn, the whales are at risk of disappearing forever.

But the question of who, specifically, is to blame is controversial. In September, one of the nation’s most influential voices on sustainable seafood weighed in: The Monterey Bay Aquarium announced that its Seafood Watch program, a popular consumer seafood rating guide, had red-listed several fisheries that use vertical fishing lines due to the risk they pose to North Atlantic right whales. Included in the group was the American lobster fishery. In short, the message to consumers was: If you care about the survival of whales, avoid eating lobster.

Maine is responsible for landing about 80 percent of the country’s lobster.

Several food suppliers listened. In September, meal kit companies HelloFresh and Blue Apron said they’d pull lobster from their menus. And last week, Whole Foods announced it would temporarily stop selling lobster fished in the Gulf of Maine after another seafood monitoring group, the Marine Stewardship Council, said that Maine lobster would lose its “sustainable” rating.

The American lobster fishery is a behemoth, particularly in Maine. Last year, according to the governor’s office, the fishery brought in a record $725 million in sales at the docks, 82 percent of the value of all of Maine’s seafood that year. The fishery employs more than 4,500 people (for reference, that’s about a third of the number of teachers in the state), and is responsible for landing about 80 percent of the country’s lobster, around 100 million pounds per year. So it was no big surprise that these new ratings didn’t sit well with the state’s fishers and their friends in Congress.

A month after the Monterey aquarium released its assessment, Maine’s entire Congressional delegation—including Sens. Angus King, an Independent, and Susan Collins, a Republican, as well as Democratic Reps. Jared Golden and Chellie Pingree—announced they planned to introduce a bill to cut off all of the science institution’s federal funding. In a press release, King called the aquarium’s red listing a “baseless attack” on a “proud, sustainable fishery” and a “clear attempt to put thousands of Maine people out of work”; Collins said there was “zero evidence” behind Seafood Watch’s “absurd decision”; Pingree referred to it as “unscientific”; and Golden said it was “a slap in the face to lobstermen and their families.” Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, also announced support for the bill.

It’s difficult to overstate how unusual this is: Every single one of Maine’s top lawmakers put their partisan interests aside to defend lobster fishing (and eating) and condemn an aquarium on the other side of the country. The lawmakers argue that there is no proof their lobstermen were responsible for right whale deaths. In an open letter, they wrote, “[T]here has not been a known right whale entanglement with Maine lobster gear since 2004, and right whale deaths or serious injuries have never been attributed to Maine lobster gear.” They issued a similar statement in November, after Whole Foods’ decision. Marianne LaCroix, executive director of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative, an organization that promotes Maine lobster, told me the red-listing “seems like a drastic step to take for a significant unknown.” 

According to government data, entanglement in gear is indeed the leading cause of injury and death for right whales. And it’s easy to see why: Typically, fishers catch lobster or crab with traps on the sea floor. Ropes called “endlines” connect the traps to a buoy marker at the ocean surface, while “groundlines” connect up to dozens of traps together along the floor. Because right whales feed on zooplankton by diving with their mouths open, the gear, particularly endlines, can easily get caught in their baleen plates or wrap around their bodies. More than an estimated 80 percent of North Atlantic right whales have been entangled in fishing gear at least once, according to research reviewed by the aquarium.

But when it comes to whether Maine’s lobster fishery is to blame, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the federal agency tasked with regulating endangered whale deaths, doesn’t seem to be on the same page as the aquarium. As the agency told me in a statement in October, “The US wild-caught American lobster fishery is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under state and federal regulations.”

The debate, I’ll admit, left me confused. Should we all be cutting back on Maine lobster? Or was the aquarium’s listing “unscientific”? Is it true that right whale deaths have never been attributed to Maine lobster gear? And should the aquarium consider any aspect of human welfare, like jobs or the economy, in its ratings?

Let’s start with the aquarium’s decision. Seafood Watch gives one of three ratings to seafood coming into US markets: green, meaning that a particular seafood is sustainably caught and managed; yellow, which means that the researchers see some potential issues and are monitoring them; and red, which usually means, according to Jennifer Dianto Kemmerly, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s vice president of global ocean initiatives, there is a “very severe” environmental impact associated with the seafood “and/or management’s not doing enough” to address that impact. In its rating, the aquarium considers the health of the “target stock” (in this case, the lobster population), the impact of fishing on other species (like whales) and the habitat, and the effectiveness of how the fishery is managed.

In the case of lobster, she says, management is a big problem. “NOAA is supposed to be working with the states and the industry to identify measures to reduce risk to this whale,” Dianto Kemmerly says. But the agency is not doing that, she argues, pointing out that in July, a court found the Biden administration to be in violation of the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act over a failure to limit whale deaths. By NOAA’s own estimates, the species can only sustain less than one whale death per year.

While there have been no recorded whale deaths so far in 2022, there have been five known entanglements and one vessel strike. At least one right whale, named Snow Cone, got tangled in new fishing gear this year while still carrying old gear, and is not expected to survive. A year ago, NOAA scientists determined the agency would need to work with fisheries to reduce the risk of entanglement to right whales by about 90 percent. In an emailed statement, the agency says it has since achieved about half of that goal—47 percent—with its most recent set of regulations and is currently working to revise them. NOAA has, by court order, until December 2024 to do so. 

Researchers estimate that the North Atlantic right whale population for 2021 was 340 individuals.

North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium

So it’s clear that these whales are in deep trouble, but are Maine’s lobster fishers directly responsible for any of these entanglements or deaths? Data is too limited to tell. According to NOAA, only about a third of right whale deaths are documented. And even for whales that are known to have died from entanglements, the gear may not be recovered with the carcasses. Or if it is, it may just look like generic rope, unattributable to any fishery. In fact, the aquarium notes, only 10 percent of documented whale deaths can be linked to a specific type of gear and only 12 percent to a specific location. So it’s true that no single right whale death has been linked to Maine lobster gear. But that’s true of almost all right whale deaths—the majority of them can’t be linked to any specific fishery.

“What we definitely do know is that right whales have been entangled in the American lobster fishery.”

In 2020, a law went into effect requiring Maine lobstermen to start marking their gear and making it identifiable. But entanglements can often last “a very long time, years even,” Dianto Kemmerly says, before whales die from starvation or lacerations to their skin as a result. So it may be years until a right whale dies from newly marked gear, revealing a clearer picture about whose gear is responsible. And the whales may not have that kind of time: While gear marking is helpful, says Hannah Myers, a marine biology PhD student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks focused on whale behavior and policy, “we can’t really wait on that.” “What we definitely do know,” she says, “is that right whales have been entangled in the American lobster fishery.” The vast majority of endlines are fished in the state of Maine, she notes, with an estimated 900,000 lines in the water at peak season. “That’s just a total minefield for whales to be swimming through,” she says.

While whale sightings in the Gulf of Maine have decreased over the past decade—something the Maine lawmakers note in their open letter—the whales’ movements aren’t totally understood by scientists. “Right whales are perverse beasts,” says Robert Kenney, a whale researcher at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography and a member of the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team, which advises the federal government on how to reduce entanglements. “Every time you think you know what they’re doing, they do something different.”

Even with all the uncertainty, both Myers and Kenney expressed support for the aquarium’s decision. “I think it’s totally appropriate for the Monterey Bay Aquarium to list Atlantic lobster as ‘red’ because of the bycatch risk that fishery poses to the world’s most critically endangered large whale species,” Myers said.

In all of this, it’s important to keep in mind that Seafood Watch’s assessment is an environmental one. It doesn’t take jobs or the economy into account. No part of their equation considers that all of Maine’s lobster fishers are, by law, self-employed. It doesn’t consider how many of them often come from generations of lobster fishers before them. And it certainly doesn’t consider lobster’s cultural importance to the state, like the Maine Lobster Festival or the lobster license plate or the sanctity of a well-prepared lobster roll.

Seafood Watch’s assessment is an environmental one. It doesn’t take jobs or the economy into account.

But should it? What responsibility does the Monterey Bay Aquarium have to people? Some, apparently. In 2018, the aquarium, along with two other organizations, Liberty Shared and the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, released an early version of what is now the Seafood Social Risk Tool. Its purpose is to help businesses “take the first steps in identifying and managing the risk of human rights abuses in their seafood supply chains.” So the aquarium recognizes human impacts in some lists. When I asked Dianto Kemmerly if she thought Seafood Watch should take people’s economic livelihoods (on top of their human rights) into account, she emphasized in an emailed response that the mission of the aquarium is to “inspire conservation of the ocean” and that Seafood Watch helps ensure “people and the planet can thrive for the long-term.” She said that there are currently no plans to include economic indicators in the organization’s assessments. 

Regardless of the aquarium’s recommendation, for the North Atlantic right whale to avoid extinction, according to Kenney and Myers, there simply needs to be a drastic reduction in the amount of vertical fishing line in the ocean. Getting whale deaths below NOAA’s threshold of one animal per year, “is achievable,” Kenney says, “if we take rope out of the water.”

Solutions may not have to hurt fishers’ bottom lines. Some lobster fishers are currently experimenting with “ropeless” or “on-demand” fishing gear, a technology that can raise traps off the seafloor with pop-up buoys or inflatable lift bags without requiring a marker at the surface, eliminating virtually all risk to whales. Earlier this year, NOAA released a plan to encourage the adoption of the technology and is currently allowing experimenters to try it out through its gear library. But on-demand gear is expensive, NOAA wrote in its report, and fishers may not be able to afford it on their own without “financial incentives” or “supplemental funding.”

Other fixes could include reducing rope strength to make it easier for whales to break free if they do become entangled, or scaling back the number of endlines in the water, which would reduce the chances of entanglement in the first place.

Whatever the cure, it will need to happen quickly. As Myers put it, “One of the most important things for right whales right now is time. We’re moving towards solutions. But we have very, very little time left to act.”

It Took Ye Praising Hitler Before the House Judiciary GOP Took Down Its Infamous Tweet

On October 3, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West (now Ye) attended Paris fashion week wearing a shirt that said “White Lives Matter.”

Three days later, the Twitter account associated with the Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee (ranking member: Jim Jordan) tweeted, “Kanye. Elon. Trump.”

When Ye tweeted on October 8 that he wanted to go “death con 3 on THE JEWISH PEOPLE,” the House Judiciary GOP’s tweet stayed up.

Throughout October, as Ye claimed that a Jewish doctor had misdiagnosed his mental illness; repeated stereotypes about Jews controlling finance and the media; and refused to apologize for his remarks or disavow anti-Semitism, the tweet remained.

Today, after West explicitly praised Hitler on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ InfoWars podcast, the tweet came down.

“I see good things about Hitler also,” Ye said. “This guy that invented highways, invented the very microphone that I use as a musician, you can’t say out loud that this person ever did anything good, and I’m done with that. I’m done with the classifications. Every human being has something of value that they brought to the table, especially Hitler.”

Within about an hour of West’s comments going viral on Twitter, the House Judiciary GOP deleted its tweet.

As for a public apology and repudiation of white supremacy and anti-Semitism, well, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Madison Cawthorn: Young Men Should Be “Punched in the Face” for Doing Stupid Things

On Wednesday, outgoing North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn made a bizarre final speech on the House floor, jamming at least eight alpha male podcasts worth of toxic masculinity into a minute and 22 seconds. 

“It used to be a rite of passage in this country for young men to be punched in the face when they did something stupid,” Cawthorn said at the top of his remarks. “Our nation used to believe that there was strength and purpose in taking the hits, learning from your mistakes, and growing through the adversity.” 

According to Cawthorn, Americans are facing the consequences of a “participation trophy society.” The “nanny state” now controls the once mighty United States. People who identify as “soft metrosexual” are more valuable. The speech was something of a trademark swan song for the North Carolina congressman, who after months of embarrassing self-inflicted scandals, including tossing around claims about sex parties and lawmakers doing cocaine, lost a primary challenge in May.

So the question arises: Does Cawthorn identify as one of the young men in this country who should be physically assaulted for doing something stupid? Based on this list, it sure might seem so.

Herschel Walker Said He Got Into Law School. That Seems Highly Unlikely.

In 2014, Herschel Walker delivered a speech to a group of National Guard members in Wichita, Kansas about overcoming hardship to build resiliency and achieve success.

Walker, now the Republican nominee for US Senate in Georgia, explained how he sought treatment for Dissociative Identity Disorder, formerly called Multiple Personality Disorder, after wanting to kill a man; he bragged of the time he continued to play in the 1981 Sugar Bowl against Notre Dame despite dislocating his shoulder earlier in the game; and he boasted of how he got his wisdom teeth removed without anesthesia.

He also brought up the time he was accepted to law school. “I was going to law school. I was accepted to law school,” Walker said, according to video of the speech obtained by Mother Jones.

But Walker was likely either not telling the truth or leaving out an incredibly important piece of context: It is not possible that Walker was accepted to a nationally accredited law school because he did not complete his college degree, a prerequisite for admission and enrollment. If he was accepted to a law school, and that admission was not revoked, the school was unaccredited—a category of law school whose graduates are not eligible for the bar exam (and thus cannot become practicing lawyers) in most states. 

Walker’s campaign did not respond to Mother Jones’ request for an explanation. 

The American Bar Association is recognized by the US Department of Education as the sole national accrediting body for US law schools. As such, it establishes minimum acceptance requirements for the schools to which it grants accreditation. These acceptance requirements state that “a law school shall require for admission to its J.D. degree program a bachelor’s degree.”

Walker did not graduate with a bachelors. He dropped out of the University of Georgia before the end of his junior year to play professional football in the United States Football League, a fledgling and short-lived professional league that played in the spring and summer. His first game with the New Jersey Generals team was March 6, 1983—several months before University of Georgia’s June finals. Walker went on to play 15 years of football in the USFL and the National Football League. (After years of publicly misrepresenting his academic credentials, Walker admitted to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last year that he did not graduate.)

According to the ABA’s 1983 standards, accredited law schools are permitted to accept applicants who have successfully completed “three-fourths of the work acceptable for a bachelor’s degree,” so long as no more than 10 percent of the remaining credits necessary to graduate were without “substantial intellectual content.” But this exception is intended to allow law schools to accept undergraduate seniors who will have graduated by the time law school begins, according to the ABA. It is not a work-around to completing a bachelor’s.

“The requirement would be that the student does have to have the bachelor’s degree in hand by the time they matriculate at the law school,” says Bryan Zerbe, the director of admissions at the ABA-accredited UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. (Since Zerbe has not personally reviewed Walker’s academic transcripts, he was speaking generally about ABA requirements and not of Walker’s specific case.)

The ABA does have an exception to its bachelor’s degree requirement. Its 1983 standards, which are similar to today’s, state that “in exceptional cases,” a law school may admit an applicant who does not satisfy the bachelor’s requirements, but only if the candidates possess a “clear showing of ability and aptitude for law study.” 

Current law school acceptance requirements for ABA-approved schools. Today’s requirements are very similar to those of 1983.

Adam Vieyra/Mother Jones; ABA

In the 12 years Zerbe has reviewed law school applications at UC Hastings, the school has never accepted an applicant under this subsection of the ABA’s standards, now called the “extraordinary case” clause. When students reach out to UC Hastings about this clause, the school’s guidance is typically that they find a way to complete their degrees before applying to the law program. The circumstances would “have to be very, very, very extraordinary for us to be willing to forego the bachelor’s degree requirement,” Zerbe says.

Beyond the “extraordinary case” clause, the only other way Walker could have been accepted to a law school is if it was one that was not nationally accredited. There are a couple dozen such law schools in the country, some of which do not require a bachelor’s degree for admission.

Attending a unaccredited law school comes with great risk. To be a practicing attorney, one must sit for the bar exam. Only 18 states allow students from non-ABA accredited law schools to sit for the test. When the are permitted to sit for the exam, graduates of unaccredited law schools face much lower success rates: Students from in-person non-ABA accredited schools had a pass rate of 15 percent in 2018, compared to the overall pass rate of 54 percent the same year.

The other explanation for Walker’s claim is that it is false. It wouldn’t be the first time he embellished his resume.

Walker long claimed he graduated in the top 1 percent of his class at the University of Georgia, despite not graduating at all. He used to tout being the valedictorian of his high school class, though his high school did not name valedictorians at the time. Walker also insinuated in interviews and speeches that he had a career in the military and FBI. (In a 2022 interview, Walker claimed he was “clearly joking” about being an FBI agent.)

As Walker hit off the question-and-answer portion of that 2014 speech to Kansas National Guard members, he did warn the audience that he often speaks off the cuff. During the Q&A session, he was asked to name his favorite television show. Walker answered Judge Judy, saying he liked the show because he had always been interested in law. That was when he claimed he had been accepted to law school.

Moments before, he had said, “You might not like my answers, because football players are bound to say something stupid.”

This MAGA PAC Raised Nearly $2 Million Off the Trucker Protests. Where Did All the Money Go?

Alex Phillips was standing one block from the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, when he warned an interviewer that members of Congress who went along with certifying the results of the presidential election would suffer the consequences in the midterms. As President Donald Trump’s speech at the Ellipse echoed from the loudspeakers, he told the far-right Citizen Media News, “2022 is coming up fast. I’m going to make it my point to do what I can to get these people gone.”

The owner of a small Virginia rural broadband company, Phillips is the founder of American Priority, an outfit that in 2018 started hosting an annual pro-Trump convention known as AMPFest for MAGA fans shut out of more traditional Republican confabs. He had been involved in organizing some of the “stop the steal” rallies in the runup to the insurrection and had been on the permit for and spoken at the “Rally to Revival” in DC on January 5 the night before.

Just hours before a pro-Trump mob rioted at the Capitol behind him, Phillips announced in the interview that he was starting a political action committee called the Great American Patriot Project (GAPP) to get more involved in elections. “We’re going to raise money and we’re going to fund candidates and we’re going to fund corrupt GOP out. We’re going to fund new people in,” he continued, giving out the website and asking for donations. “We’re going to build this organization one state at a time, one candidate at a time.”

“We’re going to raise money and we’re going to fund candidates and we’re going to fund corrupt GOP out. We’re going to fund new people in.”

On paper, Phillips seemed to make good on his promise. Since then, the PAC has raised nearly $1.8 million, largely from small donors, which would have been a sizable chunk of change in a midterm election where the balance of power in Congress was decided by a razor-thin margin. But that assumes his PAC actually spent any money on political campaigns. How GAPP raised all that money and what it spent it on is an unusual story even in the wild west of campaign finance, where political action committees that raise millions but spend little of it on elections are a major scourge, particularly on the right. The story of GAPP involves trucker convoys, bouncy houses, and country western stars. It also involves exactly zero election campaigns.

After Phillips unveiled its creation on January 6, the Great American Patriot Project’s first move was to announce a three-day strategy retreat focused on retaking control of the White House and Congress from the Democrats. The event, scheduled for Orlando during CPAC, the oldest and largest annual conservative political convention, promised to mix politics with karaoke events, pool, and cocktail parties. The location was undisclosed “in order to ensure the safety of attendees and protect them from violent and often deadly harassment from domestic terrorist organizations like Antifa and BLM,” reported Roger Stone protégé Jacob Engels in a post promoting the event.

Despite Phillips’ promises to get the PAC involved in candidate recruitment and support, its public-facing activities during its first year involved setting up a bare-bones website calling for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to be impeached. It also started a social media campaign to “stop the smear” against Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who the New York Times had recently reported was being investigated by the Department of Justice for sex trafficking. Both efforts appear to have been little more than fundraising appeals for GAPP.

In the fall of 2021, GAPP tried to jump on the protests raging over critical race theory in school boards across the country. It created a website that featured a searchable database of names of teachers it had scraped from the Zinn Education Project, which had posted a public pledge signed by teachers committed to teaching the truth about the role of racism in American history. “The parents of America deserve to know if their children’s minds are being poisoned by the racist ideologies that are part of Critical Race Theory,” Phillips said in a press release, adding that he planned to raise $250,000 to out teachers who taught students about systemic racism.

Recognizing that the project could fuel harassment against the teachers it named, the site claimed that “this database is in no way, shape, or form meant to DOXX these individuals, simply hold them accountable for their bigoted beliefs.” Teachers on the list getting harassed, of course, is exactly what happened, according to the Zinn Education Project. Even with promotional tweets from Gaetz and other MAGA luminaries, the project floundered, and the CRT website soon vanished. “We took down the website because we no longer wanted to focus the PAC on this issue,” Phillips wrote in an email. “From our perspective, the public had become aware of this issue.”

By the end of 2021, the GAPP PAC had raised less than $6,000 according to the FEC, and it had given no money to candidates, nor had it made any outside expenditures to support or oppose a federal political candidate—all of which is its ostensible mission. The PAC might have just closed up shop at that point, were it not for the truckers.

In late January, truckers in Canada organized a convoy and headed for Ottawa to protest new regulations that required drivers crossing into Canada from the US to be vaccinated against Covid. The truckers occupied downtown Ottawa, blocked bridges, blasted horns day and night, and tied up traffic across the country for weeks. Eventually, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared a public emergency and brought the protests to an end in late February. But their success in headline-grabbing inspired a similar movement in the US.

In late February, the People’s Convoy set off from California and headed to DC, with others joining to converge on the Capitol Beltway in early March. Hundreds of trucks, RVs, and other cars drove in circles around DC tying up traffic to protest everything from vaccine mandates to gas prices. As it had with the CRT protests or the Cuomo impeachment, GAPP was quick to capitalize on the right-wing protest du jour. Only this time, the PAC hired a big-time fundraising firm, Olympic Media, to help with the effort. The company has done digital advertising for people like recently defeated North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn, Matt Gaetz, and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).

The PAC created a website for the American Truckers Freedom Fund and went on a media blitz to drum up donations with hundreds of social media ads and plugs from Fox News luminaries like Sean Hannity. The site promised to be an alternative to GoFundMe, which in Canada had refused to turn over more than $10 million in donations raised for trucker protests there, after deciding that the protests were inciting violence. It ended up refunding all the money to donors.

GAPP’s website claimed that all donations to its trucker fund would be processed through an “independent fundraising platform” that would “assure that individual truckers receive direct assistance for food, fuel, and supplies.” In fact, the “fund” appears to have been just Phillips’ GAPP PAC, with donations run through the same payment platform as contributions routed through its other websites. Nonetheless, the money poured in.

As hundreds of truckers made their way to DC, emails and social media ads from the American Truckers Freedom Fund started promoting a huge two-day tailgate party at Virginia’s Dominion Raceway to welcome them. GAPP had hired country western stars like Eddie Montgomery to greet the beleaguered drivers and their fans, and brought in bouncy houses for the kids, plus an anti-vaccine doctor and other speakers to entertain all those freedom-loving patriots. “The speedway can hold 10,000 and I wouldn’t be surprised if it is completely full,” Erica Knight, a spokesperson for the event, told the Washingtonian’s Andrew Beaujon.

But on March 6, when the big day arrived, the truckers didn’t. Neither did their fans. The event was by most accounts a huge flop. “The ‘concert’ to ‘welcome’ the ‘convoy’ just started,” tweeted one blogger who was there to watch. “There’s about 5 people present.” As the evening progressed, others posted photos of empty bleachers at the raceway and reports of never-inflated bouncy houses. “There are more trucks parked at the Sheetz around the corner than there are at the convoy rally at the racetrack,” tweeted Molly Conger, from Charlottesville, Virginia, who’s a member of a loosely affiliated group of anti-fascist researchers who track far-right groups.

No matter. Alex Phillips took the stage before a Jumbotron fit for a Super Bowl to promise that the truckers would arrive soon. Meanwhile, he played emcee and introduced the next band, which performed for about 100 people.

so some trucks finally arrived, but the place is still incredibly empty. this is clearly not what the organizers envisioned when they rented out an event space for 5000 people. alex phillips ranted a bit about vaccines & introduced the next band… pic.twitter.com/bxLlB46qlN

— molly conger (@socialistdogmom) March 6, 2022

Some truckers eventually rolled in hours late, but they didn’t stick around very long. 

The fundraising effort, however, continued. In the first three months of 2022, largely propelled by the truckers’ project, GAPP raised $1.6 million, mostly from small donors. Did all or even most of that money go to help the truckers and their families as promised? Well, no.

According to Federal Election Commission records, more than 60 percent of the $1.8 million GAPP raised ahead of the midterm election—$1.1 million—went to pay Olympic Media, the fundraiser hired to raise it. “We are a new PAC and do not have a house mailing list of our own of any significance to help expand our reach and get our messaging out there,” Phillips said in an email in response to questions about the fundraising fees. “We are not a marketing company and had we taken on the task ourselves, would likely have spent funds inefficiently, which would not have been in the best interest of our donors.” 

The PAC’s second-biggest expenditure went to Phillips’ for-profit company, ALX, which he founded with “stop the steal” organizer Ali Alexander in 2018. The company does business as American First Events and mostly organizes American Priority’s conventions. (Corporate filings in Virginia show that Alexander was removed as a director of the company in 2019.) The PAC paid ALX more than $200,000 for “event management,” golf kart rentals, bouncy houses, and other items apparently related to the tailgate party at the Dominion Speedway.

From donations raised on behalf of the truckers, the PAC even paid ALX $10,000 to sponsor AMPFestWest, one of Phillips’ conventions held in Palm Springs in June, which I attended (until the group tossed me out even after giving me a press pass). At a meet-and-greet on the first night of the convention, three months after most of the trucker protests had ended, organizers unveiled the debut (and only issue) of America’s Convoy Commemorative Magazine, whose cover promised articles like “God’s Chosen Vessels: Truckers.” Promotional copies were available for $9.95.

“AMPFest panels and speakers cover many issues and at that time there were complimentary issues that were at the focus of the GAPP PAC’s mission statement,” Phillips explained in an email. “We thought that ALX Events had the resources and connections to best produce such an event that would best further the interests of the PAC and its supporters.” 

The payments to ALX raised enough eyebrows at the Federal Election Commission that, in June, the elections regulator sent GAPP a letter requesting more itemized donor info as well as more detail on what, exactly, those event management costs were really for. It followed up again in September with a letter repeating demands for more donor information and chastising the PAC for sloppy reporting. And again on November 17, the FEC sent the PAC another letter with more questions about its donation reporting and requesting more detail about the fundraising commissions it claimed in its disbursement filings.

ALX “got paid for their services just like any other consultant or any other vendor got paid,” says Christopher Montgomery Woodfin, the PAC treasurer, who blamed the trouble with the FEC on a “glitch.” He told me in an interview that most of the payments to ALX were reimbursements for other vendors the company had paid, though the PAC has paid Woodfin’s firm directly—more than $60,000 since March 1—for legal services. 

It’s not illegal for a PAC to pay a company for golf carts, for instance, or even to funnel lots of its money to the company of the guy who founded it. Paul Seamus Ryan, a campaign finance expert who is now deputy executive director of the Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation, says the rules for PACs and political fundraising are minimal. “There are virtually no restrictions on how the money raised into a federal PAC of this sort can be spent,” he tells me.

“It is very odd to use a PAC to help fund a trucker protest when the truckers are not running for office.”

It is unusual, however, for a PAC to do so much fundraising for activities that have nothing to do with a political campaign. Usually, political organizations set up nonprofits to do the sort of fundraising GAPP did for the trucker protests, if only because it keeps them out of trouble on the tax front. With a nonprofit, they also don’t have to disclose any of their donors or spending as a PAC is required to do. “It is very odd to use a PAC to help fund a trucker protest when the truckers are not running for office,” says Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, a professor at Stetson University law school, where she teaches election law. “The point of running a PAC is that you are raising and spending money to influence an ongoing election.”

Phillips says that the group decided to run the trucker fundraising through the PAC in the interest of transparency in the process “so that all activities associated with this fund would be open to the public and not behind the cloak of a 501c4 or other similar” nonprofit. He explained that the PAC did not get involved in any specific elections or back or oppose any candidates because it wanted to maintain control of how the funds were spent. “Since we did not yet have endless cash reserves to just send out to candidates who may or may not end up making the issues the PAC supports a priority,” he said, “we decided the best way to support the candidates to this point is with messaging and support of their general positions on key political issues.”

Not only did the PAC fail to support or oppose any political candidates in the election, but GAPP also doesn’t seem to have done much to help the truckers it was fundraising for.

The convoy protest started to run out of money not long after the Virginia tailgate party. On March 22, attorney Christopher Marston, who’d run the fundraising arm of the People’s Convoy, told the trade publication FreightWaves that the convoy had only enough funding to survive another week of driving around the Beltway. The reporter informed him that GAPP had been raising money for the drivers. Marston said he was unaware of their financial contribution. “Nobody has reached out to coordinate support and I wish they did,” Marston said. 

GAPP’s only expenditure directly related to support for individual truckers appears to be $60,000 worth of gift cards to gas stations the PAC purchased, according to FEC records—slightly less than it paid Woodfin, the PAC’s treasurer. Truckers from the convoys I spoke with said that few truckers had received the gas cards.

“I genuinely tell you nobody got no gas cards,” says Brian Brase, one of the co-founders of the People’s Convoy, the largest of the convoys. “As far as our convoy, the People’s Convoy, none of us was in contact with these people.”

Kip Coltrin is a trucker from Louisiana who organized a separate convoy, American Truckers Freedom Convoy, that went from Fresno to the Dominion Speedway. He worked with GAPP to set up the gas card reimbursement rates, and he says he even encouraged people to donate to the group online after it reached out to him. He was supposed to be a speaker at the speedway rally—his name was in the ads for it—but when he got there, they told him he’d been bumped.

And then, after the event, he had to hound GAPP for the gas reimbursement they’d promised him. He told me he’d taken 46 days off work to direct the convoy, a serious financial hit, and he needed the money. “I was in a situation where I told ’em straight up you’d better get off your ass and get these reimbursements,” he told me. He says he eventually received about $3,800. “There was one other guy who got his. He just stayed on ’em. They did pay him. Beyond him, to date, I haven’t heard of anyone else being reimbursed.”

“I was in a situation where I told ‘em straight up you’d better get off your ass and get these reimbursements.”

Coltrin says he has a list of 24 truckers who signed up on the GAPP website to receive reimbursement for fuel costs related to the convoy and have yet to see a dime. He’s been sending Phillips nasty emails since June demanding that the PAC pay up as promised, but he’s gotten no response. “Dealing with them has been nothing but smoke and mirrors and bullshit,” he told me. “At the tail end of March, after the convoys were over, they still had the ads up saying, ‘send your money.’ I told ’em ‘go get fucked.’”

Phillips said that GAPP had a rigorous process in place to ensure that only truckers who participated in a convoy received the financial support. That process included a requirement that they pledge not to break any laws, a hurdle he says probably also deterred some convoy participants from attending the speedway event. He says they investigated claims of people who say they haven’t been paid and “determined that in those cases, the individual had either not formally requested financial assistance through our process, only registered to come to the Concert event, did not follow the verification/application process resulting in an invalid submission, or did not sign the indemnification form.” He says that all but $1,000 of the gas cards have been distributed to legitimate convoy participants.

In an interview, Woodfin couldn’t tell me whether the PAC had provided any support to truckers aside from gas cards and the tailgate party at the Dominion Raceway, which he said accounted for most of the PAC’s expenditures. “The event expense and all of that stuff, that’s all still considered an operational expense,” Woodfin said. “I don’t really separate that from the money that goes to the truckers for the gas cards.” 

Brett Kappel, a campaign finance lawyer with Harmon Curran, a DC-based law firm, says the law allows a PAC to give away stuff like gas cards to people “as long as it’s not part of a bargain to vote or register to vote. The Federal Election Campaign Act essentially lets you set your money on fire if you want to.”

In the meantime, all those “corrupt” politicians that Phillips warned last year would suffer the wrath of his new political committee can rest easy. The PAC finished the midterm election season without backing or opposing a single candidate, and now has less than $4,000 in the bank. “A more active FEC would spend more time policing things like this,” says Torres-Spelliscy. “If you’re raising money with a political committee, you should be doing something that supports or opposes a political candidate. You can’t just run the equivalent of your kids’ birthday party using PAC money, even if you invite a lot of people.”

Forced Labor, Child Miners, Payment in Drugs—Clean Energy Supply Chain Has Issues

This story was originally published by the Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The Australian clean energy industry has warned of growing evidence linking renewable energy supply chains to modern slavery and urged companies and governments to act to eliminate it.

A report by the Clean Energy Council, representing renewable energy companies and solar installers, has called for more local renewable energy production and manufacturing and a “certificate of origin” scheme to counter concerns about slave labor in mineral extraction and manufacturing in China, Africa and South America.

Released on Tuesday, the paper said slavery in all supply chains was a global problem. But Australia is on a trajectory toward generating the vast majority of its electricity from solar, wind, hydro, and batteries by 2030 and needs to play an active role in addressing it in renewable energy industries.

“We’re at a moment in time when renewable energy supply chains are going to be scaling up significantly,” Dr Nick Aberle, the Clean Energy Council’s energy generation and storage policy director, said. “That means now is a critical opportunity to shape the future direction of those supply chains.”

  • About 2.6 million Uyghur and Kazakh people have been subjected to coercion, “re-education programs” and internment in the Xinjiang region of northwest China, which is the source of 40-45 percent of the world’s solar-grade polysilicon. A report by the UN office of the high commissioner for human rights three months ago found Xinjiang was home to “serious human rights violations,” and the US has listed polysilicon from China as a material likely to have been produced by child or forced labour.
  • On batteries, there were major issues with the mining of between 15 percent and 30 percent of the world’s cobalt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Amnesty International found that children, some as young as seven, were working in artisanal cobalt mines, often for less than $2 a day. Mining conditions were reportedly hazardous, and workers often did not have adequate protective equipment and were exposed to toxic dust that contributed to hard metal lung disease.
  • On wind energy, there had been rapid growth in demand for balsa wood used in turbine blades that had reportedly led to workers in Ecuador’s Amazon region being subject to substandard labor conditions, including payment being made with alcohol or drugs. The demand for balsa has also reportedly increased deforestation, and affected the land rights of Indigenous people in Peru. Some balsa wood suppliers have more recently provided Forest Stewardship Council certifications, which verifies responsible forest management and fair wages and work environments.

NSW’s anti-slavery commissioner, Dr James Cockayne, said urgent action was needed to address “the severe modern slavery risks in Australian renewable energy supply chains and investments”.

“We need to see industry, government, the financial sector, and civil society working together to provide access to competitively costed, slavery-free renewable energy,” he said. “If we don’t, modern slavery risks significantly complicating the just transition to a decarbonised economy.”

Aberle said the government should create a taskforce of government, industry and civil society representatives to develop a plan to ensure Australia’s clean energy supply chain was “reliable, cost effective and slavery free”. He said strategies that should be explored included whether to establish domestic supply chain capabilities and how to improve “traceability and detectability” within existing supply chains.

The report, compiled with the consultants from Norton Rose Fulbright, cited the US Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which came into force earlier this year and created a presumption that any products made in Xinjiang were linked to modern slavery and could not be imported into the US unless an importer provided “clear and compelling evidence” that there was no slavery in a product’s supply chain.

It said a globally recognized certificate of origin scheme would be complex but was “imperative to achieving landmark change.” Existing examples of work in this area included a solar stewardship initiative launched in September 2022 and a global battery alliance that was developing a “battery passport” system to improve traceability.

The Australian and US governments earlier this year said they wanted to break their near-complete reliance on China for clean energy and critical mineral supply chains, citing evidence the country was responsible for about 80 percent of solar energy technology manufacturing.

Are Police Helicopter Fleets Worth the Money?

This piece was published originally by Capital & Main.

Los Angeles’ police and sheriff’s departments have amassed among the largest helicopter units of any local law enforcement agencies in the world, costing city and county residents tens of millions of dollars each year for patrols that disproportionately hover over low income communities of color, according to government records.

The helicopters have hovered for decades with little evidence of their necessity. The departments’ claims about the effectiveness of aerial patrols rely mainly on studies they conducted more than 50 years ago. Recent, comprehensive tests suggest no correlation between the use of aerial patrols and declines in crime rates, and that such patrols cost more than they’re worth in terms of benefits, according to a review of the research and interviews with experts. 

A university research team is looking at whether the flights may be disrupting sleep and causing health problems, with disproportionate harms in low income Black and brown neighborhoods. And advocates like Beni Benitez, 22, are calling to shift funds out of helicopter units and into improving access to education, housing and other necessities. “Why is it that we’re still funding these systems that keep oppressing us, and hurting us and harming us, when the solution is investing in us?” he said. 

When a Hughes Aircraft Company salesman pitched Los Angeles’ police and sheriffs on a “flying police car” in the mid-1960s, urban unrest, especially the Watts revolt in 1965, convinced both agencies to test frequent aerial patrols as a way to control racial justice protests by surveilling neighborhoods and coordinating officers on the ground.

Los Angeles law enforcement agencies’ desire to test helicopters coincided with President Lyndon B. Johnson declaring a “war on crime” and setting aside money for local law enforcement agencies. 

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s rented three Hughes helicopters and obtained the biggest law enforcement grant ever awarded by the federal government to test patrols in 1966. The authors of the report on the pilot program, Project Sky Knight, claimed chopper surveillance could prevent crime and “multiply force” by making law enforcement visible and audible across wide swaths of the landscape.

The LAPD conducted a similar federally funded test of helicopter patrols soon after, supported by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which also touted the benefits of aerial policing, including for reducing property crimes and increasing arrests. 

Once effectiveness was “proven” by both agencies, Aviation Unit Chief Hugh MacDonald, who helped spearhead Sky Knight, retired from the sheriff’s department and joined Hughes Aircraft in using the reports to market helicopters to other law enforcement agencies, hundreds of which adopted the aircraft.

The federal government continues to fund local law enforcement helicopter units. The Justice Department has given more than $2 million to such units since 2008. The Department of Defense has also donated more than 300 “demilitarized” helicopters, originally valued at $94 million overall, to sheriff’s, state police and highway patrol departments in 30 states since the 1990s.  Florida, Alabama, California, Tennessee and Texas sheriffs have received most of those helicopters.

Los Angeles’ police and sheriff’s departments now maintain at least 17 helicopters each and keep those choppers in the air for regular day and night patrols.

This drawing of an aircraft hovering over residential areas topped a 1969 flyer distributed by activists in protest of proposals to build a helicopter landing site near Los Angeles’ Elysian Park.

To this day, the LAPD’s Air Support Division defines its “functional objectives” based on the early study, according to its policy manual. The department also promotes the NASA study on its website

But even if the findings weren’t outdated, they were likely inaccurate to begin with, experts said. 

The federal government itself has acknowledged that “historically, the debate regarding the benefits and costs of airborne policing has been void of rigorous evaluation and empirical data,” according to the National Institute of Justice’s most recent review of law enforcement helicopter operations in 2012.

Nicholas Shapiro, a University of California, Los Angeles, professor who is currently studying the health and climate impacts of law enforcement helicopters in Southern California, said, “There’s just huge logical leaps” in the early studies. 

Shapiro’s research team identified fundamental problems with the crime predictions and comparisons underpinning the LAPD helicopter study, such as conflating increased arrests with prevented crime and comparing real crime rates to modeled predictions. The study’s authors also excluded data from 1965, when the Watts riots occurred, because they acknowledged this data would skew their results. 

Elliot Framan, a researcher who worked on the 1970 study of LAPD’s helicopter program, said an updated review would be warranted. “Clearly, police procedures and equipment, much less the situation on the ground, have changed enormously,” he said. “A new study might be more effective and worthwhile.” 

Paul Whitehead, a sociologist and professor emeritus at the University of Western Ontario, agrees that the early studies were flawed. Whitehead was invited by the city of London, Ontario, Canada, to conduct a more recent study of helicopter patrol effectiveness in 2000. 

The early studies had “very poor research designs,” Whitehead said, which “lead to serious questions about the validity of their findings.” Many were “done with the purpose of finding the evidence that helicopters improved policing. And everything was aimed at reaching that conclusion even before the first piece of data was collected,” he said. 

As such, Whitehead sought to address those deficiencies in his own study, which remains the most comprehensive of its kind. 

Whitehead found that helicopters did not reduce crime rates and, because they were so expensive to buy and operate, any cost savings that came from using them for patrols did not come close to equaling their expense. 

“Do helicopter patrols reduce crime? The answer is no,” Whitehead said. 

Since then, a more limited test in 2019 by four police districts in Sweden similarly found that helicopter patrols had no significant effect in deterring crime.

As Los Angeles’ helicopter patrols persist, some residents are raising concerns that the flights may be disproportionately targeting Black and Latino neighborhoods, harming the mental and physical health of their residents. 

Over the years, the LAPD has internally tracked limited data on its helicopter flights, and used that data, along with predictive policing algorithms, to plan hundreds of flights each month. The department flew more than 6,000 of these data-driven missions in 2021, which is a 30% increase since 2019. But many of the metrics the department documents replicate problems from its early study and appear to generate patrols mostly targeting low income communities of color.

This use of data “provides a sort of technological veneer to reaffirm the kinds of policing practices they’ve already been historically engaged in,” said Andrea Miller, a Pennsylvania State University professor who studies the relationship between technology and security. Miller said that when police departments like the LAPD use past crime data to predict future crimes and decide where to concentrate their patrols, it creates a cycle wherein the most policed communities continue to be overpoliced.

Areas in South Los Angeles, including the 77th Street, Southwest and Newton police divisions that cover neighborhoods including Hyde Park, Crenshaw and Historic South Central, are among those most frequently patrolled by police helicopters and for the longest time, according to LAPD records. 

Residents have noticed the persistence of these patrols. 

Neighborhood associations have protested against law enforcement helicopters since the flights began in the 1960s, mainly because of air and noise pollution. At the time, Silver Lake residents thwarted the LAPD’s effort to build a heliport in Elysian Park. But by the 1980s, the police department built the world’s largest law enforcement helipad in downtown, allowing for today’s around-the-clock flights. 

“I feel like I’ve never lived in a place where helicopters weren’t disturbing the peace,” said Tauheedah Shakur, 26. She grew up in South Los Angeles but recently moved to the Westlake neighborhood near MacArthur Park because of rising housing costs. Shakur said that helicopter noise and lights often wake her in the night, heightening her anxiety, which can cause panic attacks. She worries that police officers observing from the sky could someday mistake her for a threat. 

“I’m just afraid that one day they’ll get trigger happy from the helicopter and shoot me in my community. These are constant things I worry about,” Shakur said. Concerns like those are what a team of researchers at UCLA are setting out to study. 

Environmental scientist Nicholas Shapiro is examining whether Southern California’s law enforcement helicopters are disrupting sleep and negatively affecting mental and physical health, educational attainment and workplace performance. 

Gina Poe, a UCLA neuroscientist specializing in sleep studies, and Kate McInerny, a UCLA student, are working with Shapiro to measure how loud the helicopters sound at different distances and altitudes. They will pair that sonic map with flight records to figure out how much the noise disturbs sleep in various neighborhoods. 

The researchers are also studying whether there are racialized disparities in where agencies are concentrating patrols. Their preliminary analysis suggests patrols tend to fly more frequently over Black communities, for longer durations and at lower altitudes, which could have greater health effects.

Although the Federal Aviation Administration typically regulates how low aircraft can fly, law enforcement helicopters are exempt from those restrictions and often hover below the altitudes permitted for other flights. 

Flying low has caused at least one situation when helicopter noise prevented officers on the ground from hearing each other, with deadly consequences. In July 2021, LAPD officers in two separate cars responded to a call about a man with a knife. As the helicopter chopped overhead, the officers who arrived later couldn’t hear confirmation that the man was no longer armed and fatally shot him. The California Department of Justice is investigating the shooting.

The LAPD did not respond to Capital & Main’s questions and said it was “unable to accommodate [our] request” for a ride-along on a helicopter flight.

Capital and Main

Kenneth Mejia, an accountant recently elected to oversee Los Angeles’ finances as city controller, said that in his new position he will audit the police department’s performance, with a focus on helicopter operations, because they are an expensive part of everyday life for Angelenos.

Mejia said a proper audit of the helicopter unit would look at how funds are being spent and determine if any of that money could be better allocated to other services, departments, resources or assets, such as housing assistance, animal services or youth development.

“Everyone wants to know, why do we have so many helicopters?” Mejia said. “Is that money being used efficiently? Effectively? Is crime going down? Are the helicopters actually doing something? If so, show us the numbers.”

The police budget in Los Angeles is currently around $3.2 billion, almost half of the city’s discretionary funding and 30% of the entire budget. Costs include the initial purchase of helicopters and specialized software and equipment like cameras and searchlights. Then there are ongoing expenses like maintenance, insurance and fuel, as well as the costs of training and employing flight personnel and outfitting them in safety gear.

High costs have led some agencies to scale back their helicopter operations in recent years. The police department in Kansas City, Missouri, was an early adopter that rapidly expanded its unit in the 1970s. But by 1995, the department reduced its aerial personnel from 30 to eight. And in 2001, it shrunk its fleet from seven to three helicopters.

In Los Angeles, neither the police nor the sheriff’s department release their total helicopter budgets, and public city and county databases do not clearly identify expenses associated with aerial operations. But Capital & Main identified at least a portion of those costs by compiling city spending records.

The LAPD’s helicopter unit cost at least $215 million over the last decade.

The LAPD Air Support Division spent at least $27 million in 2021, including roughly $7 million for new helicopters and equipment, $5.2 million for maintenance, $3.6 million for parts, $1.5 million for labor, $1.3 million for fuel and at least $8.5 million in payroll, according to city records. 

Since 2009, the LAPD has spent at least $43 million on helicopters, equipment and training. Some specialized equipment has also been donated by the Air Support Angels Foundation valued at $138,300 in 2022 and a total of almost $50,000 in the three years prior. 

The city of Los Angeles also spent about $77 million on maintenance, $50 million on parts, $27 million on labor and $19 million on fuel for the LAPD’s helicopters between 2010 and 2021, according to city records.

The Los Angeles City Council created a Youth Development Department in 2021, and funded it with $1.4 million. This year the council increased the budget to $2.5 million. That is roughly equal to the cost of fuel and infrared cameras for helicopter policing last year.

Capital & Main requested budget and operations records from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Aero Bureau but the department did not provide them. In 2020, the Sheriff’s said that helicopter maintenance alone costs at least $23 million per year. The Sheriff’s total budget this year was $3.6 billion, but because its Aero Bureau is paid for through a “specialized and unallocated” account, it’s unclear how much of that is spent on helicopters. 

The Aero Bureau has been accused of misspending in the past. In the 2010s, retired Sergeant Richard Gurr alleged that a $29 million Board of Supervisors-approved contract to update 12 helicopters included millions in overcharges and unnecessary equipment. Los Angeles County’s auditor-controller investigated this and other alleged improprieties in 2012 and found that most were unsubstantiated, although there were “weaknesses” in the bureau’s purchasing practices, such as a lack of competitive bidding for repair services. 

Last year, the county audited the Sheriff’s Department and found that it failed to get permission before building a helicopter landing pad on private property near Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s home. Villanueva lost his reelection campaign and will be replaced by Robert Luna, a former Long Beach police chief. 

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department declined to respond to Capital & Main’s questions and requests for public records.

Copyright Capital & Main

Trump’s Dinner Fiasco Was a Win for Fascists Playing the Long Game

The 24-year-old white nationalist Nick Fuentes dined with Donald Trump and Kanye West (who now goes by Ye) at Mar-A-Lago last week. For the last six years, Fuentes has built up a following on Twitter, Twitch, and other social media platforms while touting his support for antisemitism, fascism, and the creation of a white ethnostate. In that time, he has become one of the clearest successors of the white power, alt-right movement. 

The dinner created a media and political frenzy, with Capitol Hill reporters rushing to ask Republican officials if they would rebuke Fuentes and condemn Trump for meeting with the holocaust denying white nationalist. Trump himself didn’t disavow the white nationalist but claimed that he didn’t know who Fuentes is. This attention is exactly what Fuentes wanted, and it is his latest successful attempt to influence not just Trump but the entire American right.

For years, it appears that Fuentes has been relying on something called “entryism”–a style of building political power in which a movement doesn’t create its own party or clear factions, but instead invades another preexisting party and then attempts to slowly bend it towards its own ideology.

It’s not a new political strategy, but Fuentes has taken it more literally than most people. In 2017, he dropped out of Boston University to focus on his career as a conservative influencer following the backlash he received from other students for attending the Charlottesville, Virginia white supremacist rally in 2017. Through his nightly streams, where he’d riff for hours on conservative politics, he built up a small, niche audience, whom he calls “Groypers.” In 2019, he started encouraging that physical army of followers he had amassed online to go out into the real world and literally invade right-wing political events.

He deemed this the “Groyper Wars.” At Fuentes’s online behest, his followers stormed events of prominent conservatives like Charlie Kirk, Donald Trump Jr., and Rep. Dan Crenshaw on college campuses. Using the Q&A portions of events, Groypers both tried to bring in new, young conservative recruits, but also to bully Kirk and the like into supporting their further right positions. It didn’t always go over well: “I fucking hate Nick Fuentes. Everybody should know they’re supposed to hate Nick Fuentes. He’s one of the worst human beings I’ve ever come across,” Crenshaw told CNN’s Melanie Zanona in February.

In other cases though, Fuentes’s infiltration strategy worked. After initially butting heads with Fuentes and rejecting his positions, Kirk, the leader of the prominent conservative youth outreach group Turning Point USA, appears to have partially come around to Fuentes’s positions. Last April, for example, Kirk tweeted “There is an undeniable War on White People in The West,” which sounded like a quote straight out of one of Fuentes’s nightly livestreams. Groypers quote tweeted Kirk’s message and declared it a victory. Fuentes himself responded to the tweet on Telegram by writing: “Charlie Kirk declaring that there is a war on White People yesterday is just a testament to how thoroughly Groypers have taken over the conversation at the national level.”

Fuentes has mostly moved on from the Groyper Wars strategy as he has made actual inroads into the GOP. In March, nine current and former elected officials, including Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin (R-Idaho) and serving members of Congress Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), spoke at Fuentes’s America First Political Action Conference (AFPAC), Fuentes’s white power “alternative” to CPAC. 

AFPAC is designed to try to bring as many conservatives into the Groyper fold as possible. It’s held at the same location and on the same dates as CPAC to try to create cross-pollination between the events. It starts after the main CPAC events during the day, almost certainly to ensure that a CPAC attendee can make it over to AFPAC after a day of attending panels and milling around in more polite conservative society. 

This history serves as a reminder that what happened with Trump’s dinner is just the latest version of what Fuentes has been doing for a long time, albeit on a smaller stage, to try to slowly bend the GOP towards his brand of racist, fascist politics.

Trump has played footsie with white nationalists before to build his own power. But in this case, Fuentes may gain more from his association with Trump than vice versa. After the 2016 election, Fuentes briefly opposed Trump before turning back to supporting him, likely because he saw him as the best option to advance his political goals. Now, his latest time with Trump has granted him new political legitimacy: After the dinner, Fuentes took to his livestream to do a victory lap. With a grin, he disagreed with Trump’s assessment that the former president didn’t know who Fuentes is. Fuentes also called Trump, as well as his potential Republican opponent in the 2024 presidential primary, Florida Governor Ron Desantis, “too incrementalist”; a nod to the idea that for Fuentes, his support of Trump is merely a means to advance his more extreme political project. 

Trump is far more powerful now than Fuentes, but at 76, he can only do politics for so many more years. The 24-year-old Fuentes’s arrival at his dinner may foreshadow what comes after: an effort to bend the American right towards an even more virulent and hateful strain of conservatism.

Herschel Walker Once Said He Was the Target of Racism. Now He Claims It Doesn’t Exist.

Not too long ago, Herschel Walker said he had experienced racism, having been stopped and harassed by the police because he was a Black man. And he expressed his fear that police will abuse his son because he’s Black. Yet during his campaign for Senate in Georgia, Walker, the Republican now in a December 6 runoff against Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock, has repeatedly declared that racism does not exist in the United States. This is all part of a confusing series of remarks about American racism that Walker has made in recent years.  

In July 2020, a year before he would announce his Senate bid, Walker appeared on the podcast of David Harris Jr., a Black conservative, and discussed assorted matters relating to race. Referring to his son, Walker noted that he was “afraid if the police stop him because he’s Black.” Moreover, Walker recalled his own troubling encounters with law enforcement officers: “I’ve been stopped by the police. I’ve been harassed by the police before.” Discussing one incident when he was pulled over by cops, he said, “Why in the world are you gonna stop me? Because I’m Black and drive an SUV? And then they saw my name and they said, ‘Oh well, I’m sorry.’ And I said, ‘I know what it was.'”

Walker told Harris he was upset by this episode: “Was I hurt? Yes. Was I mad? Yes.” He characterized the event as racial profiling. Though he was not yet a Senate candidate, he said that he wanted to “change that mentality [of the police] by going to Washington and getting more money into training police officers.” The goal was to address racism: “Put the programs in place so that [the police] can see that all Black men are not monsters. All Black men, when you meet them, are not monsters. All Hispanic kids are not monsters. That we’re not all criminals.”

“Don’t let the Left try to fool you with this racism thing. This country isn’t racist,” Walker said last year.

During this interview Walker also expressed his support for Donald Trump—who became an owner of the New Jersey Generals football team shortly after it signed Walker in 1983—and denied Trump was a racist. Walker acknowledged the existence of racism while downplaying its significance within American society: “I know that things are not better, but they’re better than they were yesterday.” Walker put forward a narrow definition of racism that seemed pegged to the civil rights protests of the 1960s: “Racism is when you have the dogs that’s gonna attack you. Racism is when you have these police officers with billy clubs coming to hit you in the head because you’re in the wrong place.”

It can sometimes be difficult to figure out what Walker is saying. Talking with Harris about his opposition to Black Lives Matter, he said, “That’s what’s so great about America, United States of America, we can say no. You remember that Nike slogan: ‘Just say no’? Now you can’t just say no because you’ll get in trouble. But you can’t say no because—oh jeez—you’re racist, or you’re an Uncle Tom…Guys, I’m as Black as you can be.” (The Nike slogan is “Just Do It.”) All in all, in this interview Walker presented a convoluted picture. He had been a victim of police racism and he was worried his son would be. This was a recognition that racism did exist. Yet Walker downplayed criticisms of American racism. 

A few weeks earlier, on a different podcast, Walker had also dismissed criticisms of racism: “In Washington, all you hear is the word ‘racist.’ ‘You’re a racist.’.. They use that word like it’s just easy…Racism is something when people are harmed. That’s what racism is, when people are harmed, people are shot…That is what racism is. Racism is not, ‘I don’t like your beliefs.'”

As a Senate candidate, Walker has fully embraced and advanced racism denialism. In a campaign speech in September 2021, Walker said, “Don’t let the Left try to fool you with this racism thing. This country isn’t racist.” The next month, on the UFC Unfiltered podcast, Walker declared, “We don’t have racism” in the United States. He said he was running for Senate to counter “all this [talk of] racism, this woke theory. This is the greatest country in the world.” At a campaign event in May, Walker appeared to suggest racism wasn’t real. “Where is this racism thing coming from?” he asked, asserting that the charge of racism was deployed only to censor people. 

In other instances, Walker has made strange and inaccurate comments related to racism. During a radio interview in October 2020, he defended Trump’s debate comment about the Proud Boys—”stand back and stand by”—by insisting that the Proud Boys were “not a racist group.” He added, “They have Blacks and whites and a lot of different people in it.” (According to the ADL, the Proud Boys “are a right-wing extremist group with a violent agenda. They are primarily misogynistic, Islamophobic, transphobic and anti-immigration. Some members espouse white supremacist and antisemitic ideologies and/or engage with white supremacist groups.”)

When Walker testified in the House last year against reparations for slavery, he said, “Years after slavery ended, in Dr. Kings’ ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, [King] said, ‘The signing of the Emancipation Proclamation was a great beacon of light. But a hundred of years later, we’re still not free because of segregation and discrimination.’ Today, I call that reparation.” (Was he suggesting that reparations were the equivalent of segregation?) 

While campaigning in October 2021 at a Republican gathering held at the Memory Lane Car Museum in Young Harris, Georgia, Walker spoke (semi-coherently) about race, and he seemed to say that only slavery can be considered racism and that since the end of slavery there has been no racism in America. Bigots, he contended, were not racists, “just stupid.” He told the audience of Republicans that they should never worry about being called racist and that the charge of racism was just a weapon used to shut people up. According to an audio recording of those remarks obtained by Mother Jones, Walker said: 

There’s something I wanna talk about. When I saw they wanted to bring race to get you quiet—that’s what they trying to do. They’re trying to fool you because when you start arguing with people the first thing they say is that you’re a racist. I’m gonna tell you something, and it’s gonna help you out, and it might hurt some people’s feelings, but if you do, if you like that, it won’t be that bad. You’re not a racist unless you’re 185 years old in today’s world. You have to be 185 years old because you have to learn that from your parents. Because maybe they don’t know any better, and that’s okay. You’re not a racist today because they have television, they have the internet, they have something else to show you that we’re all the same. So you’re not a racist, you’re just stupid. If you haven’t learned yet that we all bleed, we all work, we all do the same thing you’re not a racist. So if somebody calls you a racist don’t worry about it. 

This weird assertion that racism has been absent from American life for almost two centuries was not a one-off remark for Walker. Nine days later, at the South Georgia Republican Rally and Low Country Boil in Pelham, he reprised his claim that racism no longer existed in the United States. According to an audio recording of that speech, Walker said:

And right now, we got problems, and no one can acknowledge those problems. One of those problems we have, let’s be honest—I was shocked when they said we was a racist country and we was a racist state. But nobody want to mention that, but I’m going to mention it. Now let me tell y’all about racism. Y’all need to listen to this. You can’t be a racist today unless you are 185 years old. Let me tell you the reason why: You learn racism from your parents. You learn it from your parents and you don’t know any better. In today’s life, if you a racist, you’re not a racist, you’re just stupid because we got television, we got internet. We know someone is not a racist. You just stupid because you never learn that we are all the same.

Two months later, while appearing on a local conservative talk show in Georgia, Walker dismissed the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, noting there was no need for its provisions designed to protect the voting rights of Black Americans and other voters. He even oddly claimed it was an insult to Lewis, the civil rights hero who became a Georgia congressman, to name the legislation after him:

What’s sad about that is using the name of a great man to brand something that is so bad, I think it is terrible to do. Senator Lewis was one of the greatest senators that has ever been, and for African-Americans that was absolutely incredible. To throw his name on a bill for voting rights I think is a shame. First of all, when you look at the bill, it just doesn’t fit what John Lewis stood for, and they know that. I think that it’s sad for them to do this to him.

Walker appeared not to know that Lewis served in the House, not the Senate, and that Lewis himself had voted for this bill months before he died in mid-2020. Following his death, the Senate version of the measure was named to honor Lewis. 

And Walker got another race-related piece of US history wrong at a March gathering of Georgia Republicans in Carroll County. He told the crowd:

When I decided to run, I started opening up the Constitution. The Constitution—it’s interesting. It was written in the 1700s. You know that, don’t you? So let’s just assume that the Constitution was probably written by people that may be racist… But when you read the Constitution, it doesn’t talk about racism. The Constitution talks about treating everybody fair and how man’s all treated. So that must meant that God’s hand must be in it a little bit. 

The Constitution does not “talk” about treating all Americans fairly. It accepted slavery and even included a racist provision that counted each slave as three-fifths of a person for the sake of determining the number of House members from each state. These “other Persons,” as they were described in the Constitution, were, of course, not allowed to vote, and this provision increased the political power of the racist South. 

Walker has a long history of off-the-wall comments about…well, many topics, including bulls, vampires, and werewolves. But on the contentious question of race, his statements have been especially erratic, contradictory, and bizarre. He has acknowledged being the target of racism. Yet he has told GOP audiences that racism does not exist and that they can disregard any charges of racism hurled against conservatives and Republicans. His claim that no American born after the mid-1830s can be a racist—because of television and the internet—is notably bonkers. With these remarks—seemingly designed to win over Republican voters—Walker has denied both American history and even his own past.

“Something Needs to Change or Else We Will All Quit”

It is not news that public schools in the United States are now conflict zones. Across the country, K–12 teachers, school administrators, and counselors have become targets of a right-wing crusade against critical race theory, gender identity, and social-emotional learning. Books are being banned from libraries as conservative extremists have taken over school boards. 

In a new report titled “Educating for a Diverse Democracy: The Chilling Role of Political Conflict in Blue, Purple, and Red Communities,” education professors with UCLA and UC Riverside tried to unpack the impact of “a virulent stream of hyper-partisan conflict” in high schools nationwide. They spoke with 682 high school principals across the country and explored how their schools attempted to prepare students to participate in a diverse democracy while teachers and school administrators were forced to manage protests from activist parents.

Researchers John Rogers from UCLA and UC Riverside’s Joseph Kahne found that educators are refraining from teaching topics that could be perceived as controversial and divisive. They also found that many considered quitting the profession altogether, and that about one-quarter of principals reported an increasing number of incidents of students verbally harassing LGBTQ classmates, a jump from the 15 percent reported in a similar survey from 2018.  

Almost 70 percent of the principals interviewed said that political conflicts over hot-button issues impacted their schools during the 2021–2022 school year. Half of them reported attempts by parents or other community members to challenge or limit the teaching of race and racism, and almost half reported objections to policies related to LGBTQ student rights. Forty-five percent of those surveyed also said there was “more” or “much more” community-level conflict during that school year than before the pandemic. “This was not business as usual,” the report states.

“Prior to COVID, I could have a conversation with any of these people and it would be civil and in the end, we might agree to disagree,” a principal in Nebraska said. “Now it is a time where if they don’t get what they want, they want to shout louder and take the issue to someone higher up.”

In their analysis, the regions were divided politically: Purple communities were where between 45 and 54.9 percent of votes went to former President Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election; in blue districts, Trump won less than 45 percent of the vote; and in red districts, Trump received more than 55 percent of the vote. The researchers concluded that these political conflicts are happening more often in what they categorized as “politically contested” purple communities. Outside groups, the report notes, “have specifically targeted these communities through a ‘conflict campaign‘ to gain partisan advantage.” 

“The current political climate has increased distrust, or decreased trust, with public schools and public educators in our community.” 

Most principals said that the main sources of tensions could be traced to a small group of parents and community members who worked in opposition to a “silent majority” of parents in the rest of the school. Some mentioned the ties between the vocal opponents and national parental rights groups like Moms for Liberty, which has helped propel conservatives to school boards all over the country. One principal in North Carolina described the attacks as “small clusters of hate.” Another, in Minnesota, said, “The current political climate has increased distrust, or decreased trust, with public schools and public educators in our community.” 

That climate has had a chilling effect on teachers and school administrators, affecting the way they approach their jobs. A principal of a high school in Ohio—where some parents demanded banning Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye—said he has stopped meeting with parents alone in his office because he assumes he is “going to be accused of something I didn’t do at some point.” His staff is also concerned about addressing certain topics such as Jim Crow and the civil rights movement in the classroom. “We are trying to weather this storm and see if we can get through it,” he said. In some cases, principals have actively discouraged teachers from discussing politics or current events so, as one principal put it, “our school can function with as little disruption as possible and hopefully without violence.”

Teachers in high schools most affected by conflicts also tended to be the ones less likely to receive the support and professional development necessary to deal with these situations, the researchers concluded. Interviewees reported that fearing the hostility toward schools may make it harder to find and retain teachers, particularly in rural areas. “Something needs to change or else we will all quit,” said a principal in California. Another in Nevada observed, “I know I’m not the only one who is counting days now until retirement, and I’m getting closer.” 

The Tragedy of the Oxford High School Mass Shooting Deepens

In the year since a mass shooting at Oxford High School in Michigan left four students dead and many others injured and traumatized, questions have loomed about whether the carnage could have been prevented. The most intense media focus has been on the role of the shooter’s parents. They bought a semiautomatic pistol for their deeply troubled son just days before the attack, allegedly ignored warning signs and rebuffed concerned school officials, evaded law enforcement in the immediate aftermath, and now face unprecedented manslaughter charges in a trial scheduled to begin early next year.

But big questions also remain unanswered about how the school system handled 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley, who pleaded guilty in October to 24 criminal counts, including murder and terrorism. In a dramatic development on Monday, two recently departed members of the district’s board—former president Tom Donnelly and former treasurer Korey Bailey—said that they resigned in September over the handling of a board-approved independent investigation into the attack and what led up to it. The two alleged stonewalling involving the district’s own legal counsel, amid a flurry of pending civil lawsuits against the school district and several of its employees.

“A year later, we are frozen in time when it comes to the facts” of the tragedy, Donnelly said during a nearly hourlong press conference.

Their starkest revelation, however, was that the school district had long ago adopted a threat assessment policy for preventing violence—but never used it. Donnelly and Bailey further described that they didn’t find out until nine months after the mass shooting about the existence of that policy, which was based on federally developed protocols for school systems. “This document changed everything from my perspective,” said Donnelly, particularly as the school district continued messaging to the community that it had done everything possible before the attack to keep the schools safe.

According to Bailey, the threat assessment policy, which lays out a collaborative team approach to evaluating and managing potentially dangerous behavior, was first established by the Oxford school system in 2004. It was updated “several times over the years,” he said, including most recently in June 2021, about five months prior to Crumbley’s lethal rampage.

“The district certainly didn’t use it as designed in the months leading up to the shooting,” said Donnelly. “There’s no evidence that we’ve ever used it as it is designed.”

According to the New York Times, the Oxford school district maintains that the independent investigation is moving forward, with the purpose of bringing transparency and accountability. A law firm associated with the district’s insurance carrier said in a statement to the Times that “multiple staff members received threat assessment training before the Nov. 30 tragedy” and that “many of the former board members’ allegations show a misunderstanding of the facts.”

Court documents and testimony made clear by last spring that Crumbley gave off numerous warning signs for months before he opened fire. Through various threatening communications, he signaled his suicidal despair and rageful intent to kill, including in the final days beforehand. Had the school system been operating an adequate threat assessment program, it may very well have been possible to detect the danger and intervene before it was too late, as I detailed in a story in April:

When prosecutor Karen McDonald announced murder and terrorism charges, she cited “a mountain of digital evidence” showing premed­itation and planning by accused shooter Ethan Crumbley…The evidence includes an ­Instagram post where he boasted about the Sig Sauer pistol he used, and a drawing discovered by a teacher the morning of the attack in which the teen depicted a shooting and wrote, “My life is useless,” “Blood everywhere,” and “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.”

These were textbook warning signs of both a youth in despair and an escalating plan for violence, according to Marisa Randazzo, a former chief research psychologist for the Secret Service who contributed to a landmark study of school shooters after Columbine in 1999. “We know and can help a student who is struggling like this,” she told me. “This is particularly heartbreaking, because this is a case where a trained threat assessment team would be able to do a lot.”

As my reporting further documented, there was a catastrophic lack of information-sharing regarding Crumbley’s concerning behaviors—a pervasive problem in the history of school shootings and a core failure that the field of threat assessment seeks to remedy. Here that failure culminated in a meeting at the school involving two school officials, Crumbley, and his parents on the morning of the attack, after which Crumbley was allowed to return to class.

A jury will determine whether his parents could have possibly known that he had a gun and ammunition in his backpack and was prepared to kill. The school officials never asked about whether he had access to a weapon or sought to inspect his belongings, according to the former superintendent serving at the time.

Donnelly and Bailey alleged on Monday that the district has withheld other potentially crucial details. According to the Detroit Free Press, they said those include the results from a behavioral-risk survey that Crumbley took as a freshman and again as a sophomore—just months before the shooting—that is designed to help educators identify social-emotional and behavioral problems in students.

One certainty about the Oxford High case is that a painful picture of missed opportunities will continue to come into view. That is virtually always the case amid the broader ongoing national crisis of school and mass shootings. The hope now is that the accumulating knowledge from those many lessons learned can bring about the kind of broad-based change that is necessary to contend with the complex reality of this epidemic.

Or, as Donnelly put it to the Free Press, “If Oxford Strong means anything, it has to be more than just enduring the pain. It has to include being able to handle the truth.”

These Scientists Are Looking for “Glacier Blood”

Researchers Pablo Almela Gomez, Joe Giersch, and Jim Elser search for patches of snow algae in Glacier National Park. Sarah Mosquera/High Country News

This story was originally published by High Country News and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Jim Elser scanned the snowfields clinging to the lower slopes of Clements Mountain in Montana’s Glacier National Park. While nearby tourists snapped pictures of soaring rock faces and searched for wildlife, Elser, an ecologist at the University of Montana and the director of the Flathead Lake Biological Station, concentrated on just one thing: finding snow algae. 

Elser and his research team tramped past flourishing purple asters and yellow arnica wildflowers, gaining elevation until they crested a ridge above a small basin. Marmot chirps replaced the sound of idling car engines at the Logan Pass parking lot, which swarmed with August visitors. A soft hum came from the bulky rectangular device strapped to the back of his colleague, Joe Giersch, an aquatic entomologist at the University of Montana; the device, a light-measuring tool, was warming up in preparation for the scientists’ data collection. 

Then, from roughly 100 yards away, the three scientists noticed a faint blush on the slushy snow ahead. They beelined toward it. 

Rouge-colored ribbons of algae ran 400 square feet across the sunny slope—Chlamydomonas nivalis, a red-pigmented green algae found in high alpine and polar regions around the globe. The algae’s striking appearance on snow has earned it nicknames ranging from the delicious-sounding—watermelon snow—to the ominous—glacier blood. Scientists believe this algae could play a major role in melting glaciers and snowfields. 

The scientists hope to figure out what allows snow algae to thrive, and where it’s most likely to live. 

Sparkling fresh white snow is the most naturally reflective surface on Earth. When algal blooms take hold, they darken the snow, which then absorbs more heat and melts more quickly. This can create a feedback loop: As temperatures rise and more snow melts, the snow algae—which needs nutrients, light and liquid water—flourishes and expands. The algal bloom alters its own habitat, and appears to alter the surrounding habitat in the process. Just over half of the total runoff in the West comes from snowmelt, but the extent to which snow algae contributes to melting isn’t currently included in standard snowmelt models. These scientists hope that their work can help us better understand the role it plays as the climate changes. 

This summer, researchers from around the country crisscrossed the mountains of Washington, Oregon, Wyoming, Utah and Montana, looking for stained snow. They collected samples and tested the reflectiveness of snow algae patches. Sometimes, they stumbled across a site too late and found only pools of blood-red water, where patches of snow and algae had already melted. Finding intact snow to sample became a race against the summer’s heat, and the algae’s growth. “It’s an ephemeral bloom on an ephemeral substrate,” Elser said. “The seasonal snow is going, and whether or not those patches have snow algae on them is also unpredictable.”   

The late summer sun beat down on our necks as we examined a patch of snow algae. A third member of Elser’s field team, Pablo Almela Gomez, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Minnesota, held a long wooden pole. At the end of the pole, the spectroradiometer, a small black tube, dangled over a plot of snow. “This is the nicest algae patch we’ve seen in a while,” Giersch remarked. Only a few pine needles and small pebbles freckled the red splotches.

The scientists used the device to record the snow’s albedo, a measure of what fraction of the sunlight beaming down is reflected back up. Red snow means lower albedo, which means more absorbed sunlight and faster snowmelt. Other factors also influence albedo, including dirt, dust and ash from wildfires. Sand from the Gobi Desert can blow all the way to the Pacific Northwest, while dust from the shrinking Great Salt Lake sometimes coats the Wasatch Mountains. The team also measured the pigment concentration of the snow with a second spectroradiometer to figure out how much of the red color spectrum, most likely from the snow algae, was present.

A bighorn sheep supervised from a jagged cliff high above us as the team worked through the rest of their routine: measuring the water content of the snow, collecting bags of snow samples, and taking a snow core that revealed two layers of algal blooms, including a distinct rusty band a few inches below the surface.

“We talk about the whole West being in a drought, and if there’s going to be another factor that perpetuates earlier melt, that’s important.” 

Later that day, in a lab at the University of Montana’s Flathead Lake Biological Station, Elser and Almela Gomez would use the samples to test which inputs help snow algae grow. They’ll melt the snow, mix it together, and add nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. Then, after five to 10 days under grow lights in a cold incubator, they’ll measure the chlorophyll levels to see how much the algae grew. 

The two types of nutrients come from different places. Previous work suggests that the phosphorus is found in rocks ground up by glacial movement, while nitrogen is blown in from the chemical fertilizers and manure in agricultural areas. The researchers suspect that both types of nutrients encourage algae growth, but they’re particularly interested in nitrogen. They believe algal blooms might be especially common in the Intermountain Rockies due to wind patterns, and they’re hoping to learn more about the dynamics involved. 

The team’s work is part of the small but growing field of snow algae research. The scientists hope to figure out what allows snow algae to thrive, and where it’s most likely to live. The Living Snow Project, a citizen science initiative created by Western Washington University researchers, asked skiers, climbers and hikers to help collect pink snow samples. Scientists have also converged on surging algal blooms in the French Alps. 

Learning what influences snow algae growth is an important step in understanding a changing water supply. More algae potentially means more melt, and knowing where algae might quicken snowmelt is especially crucial for the drought-prone Western US. Gradual snowmelt is good; it creates a more predictable water supply downstream for reservoirs, and infuses streams with the cold water that fisheries and other aquatic life rely on throughout hot summer months. Rapid snowmelt, however, brings a host of other problems. 

Elser compared the snow’s role to ice in a cocktail. “The ice is melting, but your drink is still nice and cold until that last piece of ice goes away,” he said. “Then it’s like, ‘What happened? My drink is warm.’” If snow algae hastens snowmelt or melts all the snow quickly, streams may end up warmer than usual and have less water as the summer advances. “It’s a pretty big deal,” said Scott Hotaling, a member of the snow algae research team and an assistant professor at Utah State University who studies changing mountain ecosystems. “We talk about the whole West being in a drought, and if there’s going to be another factor that perpetuates earlier melt, that’s important.” 

Water managers and snowpack surveyors agree that faster melt is an issue, but they don’t necessarily agree on the role snow algae plays. Previous studies suggest that it could be significant: A 2021 article in the journal Nature Communications found that algal blooms were responsible for up to 13 percent of the surface melting that occurs on Greenland’s ice sheet, while a study in Alaska suggests that snow algae accounts for 17 percent of the total melting on one large icefield, a 21 percent increase. “A lot of studies have been done on these big ice sheets, where you have flat surfaces,” said project member Trinity Hamilton, a geomicrobiologist at the University of Minnesota. But mountains, of course, aren’t flat. And researchers don’t yet understand how variations in topography and slope could shape where snow algae grows.  The future findings of Hamilton and her team could locate these missing pieces of the puzzle.

“Really knowing how much water is coming from the snowpack and the timing of that is going to be critical for anybody who needs to know about water supply, whether it’s ag producers or for flood control,” said Erin Whorton, a water supply specialist with the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Idaho Snow Survey. “Snowpack is incredibly important to the way we operate in the West.” 

Once snow algae’s effects are better understood, Whorton believes they should be included in models that predict the timing of snowmelt. But not everyone agrees. Is snow algae’s liminal existence in the high alpine a major threat, a pesky annoyance, or something in between? “There are so many variables in snowmelt that one really just needs to stick to the basics of climate variabilities,” said Scott Pattee, a water supply specialist with the NRCS Washington Snow Survey. “It’s really no more concerning than dirty or trashy snow, which can (also) accelerate the melt.” 

After the day of fieldwork in Glacier, the men packed up their gear and started slipping and sliding their way back down the snowfield. The Garden Wall rockface unfolded like a postcard in the distance. The snow we had just walked on now ran in rivulets, emptying onto the rocks below. We picked our way through muddy patches of trail and descended past a small waterfall, driven by an underground spring and snow melt. Some portion of the melt, however small, was caused by the living pink bloom we’d visited earlier that day. Time will tell if it will further dry out the already parched West. “The algae are just trying to survive,” Almela Gomez said. “They’re not guilty of anything.”  

Oath Keepers Founder Convicted of Sedition in Capitol Attack

A jury has convicted Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group, of seditious conspiracy and other crimes, a milestone in the Justice Department’s sprawling investigation into the January 6 attack on Congress. Jurors also convicted Kelly Meggs, the leader of the group’s Florida chapter, of seditious conspiracy.

But the same jury acquitted three other defendants on sedition charges. Kenneth Harrelson, Jessica Watkins, and Thomas Caldwell were found not guilty on that count, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years imprisonment. The jury also acquitted Rhodes, Harrelson, and Caldwell of conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding. All the defendants were convicted of obstructing an official proceeding, which also carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

While mixed, the outcome affirms that the riot involved an attempt to violently overthrow the US government. The verdicts, which follow a marathon eight-week trial, are the most significant convictions so far in what the Justice Department has called the largest criminal investigation in American history, with nearly 1,000 people facing various charges related to January 6. 

The mixed verdicts may reflect a conclusion by the jury that Rhodes and Meggs played leadership roles in the attack. The jurors, though they deliberated for just a three days, appear to have parsed the evidence against individual defendants, judging that the case was weaker against Caldwell, who did not enter the Capitol; Harrelson, against whom prosecutors admitted they had less evidence of conspiracy; and Watkins, whose emotional admission of wrongdoing on the stand may have been persuasive.

Three members of the Oath Keepers and one Proud Boys member had already pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy charges. But Tuesday’s result marked the first jury trial to result in a sedition verdict since the 1995 convictions of 10 Islamic terrorists— including the so-called “Blind Sheikh,” Omar Abdel-Rahman—who plotted to blow up New York City landmarks.

Less than a year ago, Attorney General Merrick Garland faced attacks from the left amid concern that the DOJ would not charge anyone with sedition. Federal prosecutors have since indicted 11 Oath Keepers with that crime—a second Oath Keepers trial is set to start in December. Five leaders of the far-right Proud Boys are set to go on trial for seditious conspiracy and other charges next month. Garland also recently named a special counsel, Jack Smith, to oversee the department’s separate investigation into whether former President Donald Trump and aides will face charges related to their efforts to use false claims of election fraud to retain power after Trump’s 2020 defeat. That investigation appears to be advancing, though it remains unclear if it will result in charges.

Prosecutors had a heap of evidence against the Oath Keeper defendants. During the trial, they showed that Rhodes and allies in his group began discussing the potential use of violence to help Trump hold onto power as soon as media outlets reported that Joe Biden had defeated him. “We aren’t getting through this without a civil war,” Rhodes wrote in an Oath Keepers chat two days after the election. “Prepare your mind body and spirit.”

As Mother Jones first detailed, some Oath Keepers, including Harrelson and Meggs, engaged in what prosecutors called paramilitary training in the fall of 2020. Group members plotted to bring guns to the Washington, DC, area on January 6 and stashed them in hotel rooms with guards as part of a plan to deploy a “quick reaction force” if the street violence they anticipated broke out. Meggs, Harrelson, and Watkins stormed the Capitol along with other Oath Keepers on January 6, and prosecutors cited messages showing that Rhodes and Caldwell celebrated their actions.

But the government’s case had one big weakness. Prosecutors lacked evidence that the Oath Keepers ever had a clear plan to invade the Capitol before they did so. Lawyers for the Oath Keepers tried to exploit that fact, arguing the defendants had come to Washington to provide security at rallies supporting Trump due to their fear of attacks by antifa, or just to watch the president’s speech earlier that day. Defense attorneys also argued that the Oath Keepers only planned to take up arms if Trump deputized them under the Insurrection Act, a law allowing the president to respond to uprisings.

“There was no meeting of the minds to conspire,” James Bright, a lawyer for Rhodes, said in his closing statement. “There was no plan.” That may have been the Oath Keepers’ best argument. But the problem with it was that prosecutors did not need to prove the defendants had conspired to storm Congress.

To show criminal conspiracy, the government only needed to demonstrate that the defendants had a “mutual understanding” that they would try to stop Biden from taking office. One key witness, Graydon Young, an Oath Keeper who cooperated with prosecutors, testified that the Oath Keepers had an “implicit” understanding that they would try to help Trump retain power.

“I felt like it was common-sense,” Young said on the stand last month. “We talked about doing something about fraud in the election when we got there on the 6th, and when crowds went over the barricades into the building, the opportunity presented itself to do something.”

This was a problem for Rhodes and Meggs. Given the chance to turn their alleged preparations for violence into action, they seized it. “We took the castle,” Meggs told Watkins on January 6, according to Watkins’ testimony at the trial. “Now we are standing our ground.” Defense lawyers argued that Oath Keepers’ talk about civil war, their stockpiling of weapons, and their travel to Washington were all incidental to the attack on Congress, which they depicted as spontaneous. But the Oath Keepers’ rhetoric appeared to converge with their actions on January 6.

Rhodes did not enter the Capitol on January 6. But Rhodes—who has assiduously promoted the Oath Keepers, aligning the group with various far-right causes since launching it in the wake Barack Obama’s election—may have done the most to sink himself with his own statements. “Next comes our Lexington,” Rhodes told colleagues in the wake of the riot on January 6, in a Revolutionary War reference that suggested he hoped the violence would escalate.

“My only regret is that they should have brought rifles,” Rhodes told an associate, who secretly recorded him, a few days after the attack.

Rhodes’ words also undermined Oath Keepers’ claim that they only planned violence if Trump invoked the Insurrection Act, seeming to admit it was a facade. In a recording from an online meeting in November 2020, which prosecutors obtained, Rhodes told group members that stance was “our official position.” He added: “The reason why we have to do it that way is because that gives you legal cover.”

Sentencing in the case is not yet scheduled, but is unlikely to occur earlier than March.

Joe Biden Is Moving to Stop a Rail Strike. Workers Are Upset.

Joe Biden, the Amtrak-obsessed president who has prided himself on being “pro-labor,” is urging Congress to step in and halt a looming railroad strike.

This move is a massive change of course for a president known to some as “Union Joe.” In 1992, Biden was one of just six Senators to vote against halting a rail strike. But now, to help keep commerce moving despite sick pay demands, Biden appears to be stopping a massive action from workers.

How did we get here?

Earlier this year, unionized railroad workers—discontented with unpredictable work schedules and a lack of sick days—appeared poised to go on strike. As my colleague Noah Lanard reported at the time, the workers were concerned less about compensation than about grueling hours and punitive attendance policies.

A rail strike could have crippled supply chains and caused huge economic losses. So, in September, the Biden administration stepped in.

Biden struck a tentative deal with unions and railroad companies that included a 24 percent raise by 2023 and a cap on health care premiums. But the deal lacked movement on sick leave

For the tentative deal to become official, 12 different rail unions would need to ratify it by December 9. Four unions voted against it. The lack of sick leave was a sticking point.

What happened this week?

On Monday, Biden announced that he would override those votes and push forward a deal some unions disapprove of.

In a statement, Biden said that his Secretaries of Labor, Agriculture, and Transportation had informed him that there was “no path to resolve the dispute at the bargaining table.” So, instead of brokering a deal with more flexible time off, Biden has asked Congress to override the four dissenting unions and impose the deal fleshed out in September.

“I share workers’ concern about the inability to take leave to recover from illness or care for a sick family member,” Biden said in a statement. “No one should have to choose between their job and their health—or the health of their children.”

A union strike would almost certainly aggravate the inflation which has dogged Biden throughout his entire time in office, and it’s in Biden’s interest to keep the flow of goods moving as the holiday season approaches. Still, as Politico points out, Biden’s stance is a far cry from his positions in the past.

Who is upset?

Leaders of some rail unions are not happy. “It is not enough to ‘share workers’ concerns,” the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division said in a statement. “A call to Congress to act immediately to pass legislation that adopts tentative agreements that exclude paid sick leave ignores the railroad workers’ concerns.”

“We feel like the deal missed the mark,” conductor Beau Trego told the Washington Post. “We’re going to work sick, fatigued. You have so many other jobs where people work 9 to 5 and still have sick days, but we don’t. Hopefully, they go back to table and come up with something better.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appears to be on board with passing legislation to prevent a strike. But it’s unclear how such legislation would fare in the Senate, where Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has expressed his commitment to brokering a deal that would grant workers paid sick leave.

Meanwhile, Republicans (ahem, Marco Rubio) are already jumping on the opportunity to paint themselves as the pro-union party.

Given that Democrats campaigned in the midterms on protecting democracy and are now choosing to override the results of union elections, the critiques of hypocrisy aren’t hard to come up with here. Democracy dies, it seems, in the workplace, too.

An Investigation: Who Is Mitch McConnell Condemning?

One week after Donald Trump entertained an unrepentant antisemite and white nationalist at his Mar-a-Lago residence, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has offered an uncharacteristically harsh assessment of the former president’s hopes for reelection. Or at least that was the implication.

“First, let me just say that there is no room in the Republican Party for antisemitism or white supremacy,” the top Republican told reporters on Tuesday. “Anyone meeting with people advocating that point of view, in my judgment, is highly unlikely to ever be elected president of the United States.”

The remarks, which arrived unprompted, signaled the highest level of condemnation after Trump confirmed his meeting with Holocaust denier, Nick Fuentes, at Mar-a-Lago last week. To be sure, McConnell’s comments are extraordinary in their unvarnished display of GOP infighting, as well as an attack all but certainly directed at the man still viewed as a powerful party head despite his poor performance during the midterms. But they’re still miles away from a full-fledged disavowal. 

In fact, where are “Donald” and “Trump” in McConnell’s remarks blasting the man who recently linked antisemitism and the GOP at his private Florida club? Why is the statement written as aspirational rather than an unequivocal moral condemnation? And why can’t McConnell, who declined to unequivocally defend his wife against Trump’s anti-Asian attacks, provide a straightforward answer to perhaps the most important question of all: Will he support Trump if he captures the Republican nomination? Here’s what he offered instead:

Where are “Donald” and “Trump” in McConnell’s remarks blasting the man who recently linked antisemitism and the GOP at his private Florida club? Why is the statement written as aspirational rather than an unequivocal moral condemnation?

Spit it out, Mitch! pic.twitter.com/r0Di66F57q

— Mother Jones (@MotherJones) November 29, 2022

McConnell’s unexpectedly blunt remarks today do appear to mark a significant shift in the lines of 2024’s sand. But based on what was still missing, we’ll see if the top Republican is willing to be slightly less mealymouthed the next time Trump does something horrible in this post-midterms juncture.

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