Mother Jones Magazine

Donald Trump Just Found Another Infuriating Way to Undermine Science

He has done it again. President Donald Trump just found a new way to undermine science—and benefit industry—from the federal level.  On Friday evening, when it was unlikely to receive much coverage, the president issued an executive order directing federal agencies to “evaluate the need” for and severely limit the number of expert panels that advise them. 

According to the executive order, Trump wants agencies to gut at least one-third of their advisory committees within a few months:

Each agency shall, by September 30, 2019, terminate at least one-third of its current committees established under section 9(a)(2) of FACA, including committees for which the:

(i)    stated objectives of the committee have been accomplished;

(ii)   subject matter or work of the committee has become obsolete;

(iii)  primary functions have been assumed by another entity; or

(iv)   agency determines that the cost of operation is excessive in relation to the benefits to the Federal Government.

Agencies have turned to experts for guidance on “everything from air and water pollution to drug safety and foodborne illnesses,” according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. There are about 1,000 advisory committees governmentwide, according to the U.S. General Services Administration.

The Environmental Protection Agency will be further crippled by the executive order. An EPA spokesperson told The Hill that the agency will “will review its [Federal Advisory Committee Act] obligations in line with the President’s executive order.” Similarly, a spokesperson from the Interior Department, which has more than 100 federal advisory committees, told the publication that it “looks forward to another opportunity to review” their committees, in order to “improve the utility of these advisory committees.”

This move culminates a concerted effort by the Trump administration to remove science from the government that began almost immediately after he was sworn in. “For the past two years they have been shrinking and restricting the role of federal science advisory committees,” Gretchen Goldman, the research director with the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS, said in a statement. “Now they’re removing the possibility of even making decisions based on robust science advice. It’s no longer death by a thousand cuts. It’s taking a knife to the jugular.”

Meghan McCain Asked Twitter for Father’s Day Dad Stories. Thousands of People Replied.

Meghan McCain, the daughter of Arizona Senator John McCain who died of brain cancer in August 2018, on Wednesday asked her Twitter followers in the “#DeadDadsClub” to share stories of their dead fathers on her timeline ahead of Father’s Day.

“Anyone else out there who is dreading Father’s Day this Sunday – I feel you, and have been trying to come up with something positive to do Sunday,” she wrote. “Maybe we will all feel less alone?” What the co-host of The View may not have expected, perhaps, is the outpouring of support and personal stories thousands of her followers shared in response to her tweet.

Anyone else out there who is dreading Father’s Day this Sunday – I feel you, and have been trying to come up with something positive to do Sunday. So, I want you to feel free to share #deaddadsclub stories on my timeline and I will share it. Maybe we will all feel less alone?

— Meghan McCain (@MeghanMcCain) June 12, 2019

McCain’s ask came a few days before President Donald Trump’s critics decided to dub Friday, June 14, #JohnMcCainDay, in an apparent effort to troll the president on his birthday. Started by Andy Lassner, the executive producer of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, the hashtag went viral.

Honoring an American hero today.

Let’s celebrate @realDonaldTrump’s birthday today by having #JohnMcCainDay trend.

I’m sure this would mean a lot to patriot like Donald Trump. #JohnMcCainDay

— andy lassner (@andylassner) June 14, 2019

(It’s no secret that Trump wasn’t a fan of the senator when he was alive, a feud which continued past McCain’s death. In May, the president’s staff reportedly asked the Navy for the USS John S. McCain to be out of sight ahead of the president’s visit to Japan.)

The Census Bureau announced Saturday that more than 60 percent of the 121 million men in the United States are fathers, the Associated Press reports. In honor of fatherless children, and belatedly, #JohnMcCainDay, here are some of the moving and remarkable stories shared on Meghan McCain’s timeline:

My dad died unexpectedly 10 months before my wedding. 14 years later and I still can’t watch a father/daughter dance. I always leave the room and cry. Thinking of you this Sunday …. #deaddadsclub

— NurseNora78 (@DeglowNora) June 12, 2019

My father died the day before my wedding of emphysema after a long battle. I knew he would never walk me down the aisle as I sat by his bedside and addressed my wedding invitations. My wedding and my father’s death will always be intermingled. My marriage didn’t last either.

— Shannon Green (@Shannon99138495) June 12, 2019

My Dad 86, died from cancer 6.25.18. I was former Navy. Retired from 2nd career 10 days before he passed. He was the best Dad to his only child, me. I was blessed to have a Dad who loved me unconditionally. He loved his grandchildren, great grandkids and son in law. #deaddadsclub pic.twitter.com/Bgqaaj6sTY

— All Are Created Equal (@DesignerNails) June 12, 2019

My dad passed 5 years ago on June 18th a few days after Father’s Day. I spend the day as normal as I can but give myself one hour doing something my father enjoyed. This year, by complete coincidence, I am playing basketball – the sport he taught me as a young girl #deaddadsclub

— Maggie Mae Ramold (@mmramold) June 12, 2019

My dad, an Air Force fighter pilot, died in a plane crash 31 years ago. I was young so I barely knew him but have a few amazing memories. Even though I’ve been a member of #deaddadsclub for awhile, it’s still painful. My heart goes out to you, the McCain family, & all in the club pic.twitter.com/PoGiqkW7tr

— Brittany Conklin (@BE_Conklin) June 13, 2019

I lost my dad to glioblastoma when I was 13 years old, on October 19th, 2004. I miss his voice and the feel of his scruffy cheeks on mine when he would give me a hug. He gave so much to his kids. Hardest part is knowing that my daughters never met him. #deaddadsclub

— Alex Kolster (@alexkolster) June 13, 2019

My dad died on 8/15/18 after a 3 1/2 year battle with cancer. I treasure my memories of him. He did not want us to mourn, but remember him in simple ways. He was a proud US Marine. My heart is broken. pic.twitter.com/0TMMaimGRm

— Penny Davis (@pennyedavis) June 12, 2019

It’s been 16 years since my dad passed. I struggle to recall the detail of my fondest memories. I don’t have a good answer re Father’s Day. I still break down on occasion. But I try to be like him for my kids and now my two grandkids and it makes me feel like I’m honoring him.

— Brett L. Tolman (@tolmanbrett) June 12, 2019

This is my father, Jack Bernard Gaines. Losing both parents to cancer by the time I was 26, I empathize and admire your courage in sharing. They both taught me to find my “Safety in Self” and “… finish what’s begun; before our days are done. We must be true.” #deaddadsclub pic.twitter.com/JMeGIylnrR

— Jeffrey Gaines (@jeffreygmusic) June 13, 2019

My dad passed away last September, a few weeks before his 92nd birthday. I was able to spend some time with him in the days before he passed, and I will always treasure that.

Try not to dread Father’s Day though. Bask in the memories of your shared experiences. #deaddadsclub

— Cam Edwards (@CamEdwards) June 12, 2019

This handsome gentleman is my dad, Gary Lukatch. He very unexpectedly died on April 1, 2019 while on holiday in Beruit, Lebanon. He was 75 years old, and Lebanon was the 75th country he had visited. I am still in shock and miss him every minute. pic.twitter.com/3Gv1LCuYk6

— DemoTeachers (@DemoTeachers) June 15, 2019

He would always call me peanut. Even in my 30s. #deaddadsclub pic.twitter.com/dkhWjmUc6u

— Carolyn Schamberger, APR (@cschamz) June 12, 2019

This is a photo of me and my father at my Bar Mitzvah. He passed away suddenly last March in 2018. He was only 67. I was only 24. Not a minute goes by where I’m not missing nor thinking of him pic.twitter.com/PhlQ1tvYae

— (((Oren Glickman))) (@GlickmanOren) June 13, 2019

I lost my Dad on March 14th this year. He was 90 years old. He loved the @Raptors and it breaks my heart knowing he isn’t here to watch them play in the finals. He had the best sense of humour even making us laugh a few days before he died. I miss him so much. #deaddadsclub pic.twitter.com/ckGVXgQaFH

— Theresa (@T_4an) June 13, 2019

Join Me On a Dive Down the Rabbit Hole of Health Care Admin Costs

I went down a rabbit hole last night, so today I’m going to torture you by telling you all about it. It started on Twitter, where I learned that various versions of the chart below are extremely widespread:

Two things immediately struck me. First, the number of administrators suddenly skyrocketed between 1993-96. I can’t think of any good reason for this. Second, it shows the number of physicians growing by only 150 percent, and I know that’s not right. In reality the number has more than tripled. So that got me curious: where did this chart come from?

The number of physicians is pretty easy to get. Right now there are a little more than 1 million physicians and surgeons in the US. It’s also pretty easy to get numbers for the entire health care sector: about 16 million. The hard part is figuring out how many administrators there are. Of the sources cited in the chart, neither the BLS nor the NCHS is going to help with this, so I went searching for Himmelstein and Woolhandler. They are prolific writers, but the closest I found to this chart was this one that goes up to 1987:

This matches the orginal chart through 1987, though it’s worth noting that H&W are forced to make a lot of assumptions to get here.¹ The reason is simple: there is no remotely reliable measure of the number of health care administrators in America. In fact, I can’t figure out where H&W got theirs. It’s allegedly sourced to the 1989 Statistical Abstract of the United States, but I sure can’t find it there and I have no reason to think the federal government has ever tracked this. But let’s plow ahead anyway.

In 2003, H&W estimated that health care administration costs (not personnel) had increased from $450 in 1987 to $1059 by 1999—and this is a very broad number since they include things like the time doctors spend on admin chores. Adjusted for inflation and population growth, that’s an increase of about 80 percent. But the chart that kicked off this post shows an increase of around 4x during that period. The H&W number is far more believable. I suspect that the 4x increase is an artifact of some kind, perhaps due to a reclassification of job functions. Or maybe it was just a mistake. In any case, it’s been carried over in every chart since.

This takes us to 1999. But what about now? Here’s a page from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2018:

Everyone here is a practitioner or a medical assistant, not an administrator. It adds up to 13 million. With a total of 16 million people in health care, that leaves 3 million unaccounted for. Those are the administrators, receptionists, billing clerks, etc. Insurance adjusters and other outsiders add about 2 million to the total, all of them administration, which gets us to roughly 5 million administrators out of 18 million total, or 28 percent. H&W estimated that administration and clerical workers made up 27 percent of the health care labor force in 1999, increasing at a rate that would get us to 30 percent by today. So the right number is probably between 28-30 percent. Let’s call it 29 percent.

Put that all together and it suggests that the number of administrators has increased about 30-40 percent since 1999.

So what should our chart really look like? I have three different suggestions. The first just puts together the data points that I’ve outlined so far:

The second comes from the federal government, and it’s their estimate of government admin costs plus private insurance admin costs. This does not include hospital billing clerks, IT departments, and so forth, but it still ought to provide us with a benchmark of sorts for the growth rate of administration:

Finally, here’s a chart based directly on figures from Himmelstein and Woolhandler (Table 2 here):

This is nowhere near the 3000 percent growth on the original chart, but it’s still pretty high. It’s probably safe to say that health care administration has grown somewhere on the order of 1000 percent over the past 50 years. But why?

This is what brings us to the final, most correct chart. Here’s the thing: fifty years ago we didn’t have MRI techs or transplant hospitals or routine ultrasounds or proton beams for cancer patients. Four years ago I spent a couple of weeks at City of Hope to treat my cancer; the treatment I got—not to mention the entire campus in its current form—didn’t even exist in 1970.

In other words, the main reason that administration has gotten bigger is because medical care has gotten bigger. Since 1970, adjusted for inflation, health care spending has gone up about 600 percent and the number of health care workers has gone up about 500 percent. It’s only natural that the number of administrators would go up at least that much as well.

So the real question is: how much has administration gone up above and beyond the overall growth in health care? Here’s the answer based on two of the estimates above:

Once you take into account the growth in health care generally, the share devoted to administration has gone up by 50-100 percent. That’s a lot! But it’s also not that surprising. In 1970, the health care industry spent approximately $0 on IT management. Today they spend a bundle, and all of that is admin overhead. Purchasing has exploded too, since there are far more things to purchase these days. Regulations have grown along with technology, so compliance offices have grown. Doctors and hospitals have always spent hours on the phone arguing with insurance companies, but that’s probably grown too.

I don’t mean for any of this to excuse the growth rate of administration, which might be higher than it should be. And there’s certainly no question that our absolute level of administrative overhead is insanely high. H&W estimate, for example, that the share of workers dedicated to administration is about a third higher in the US than in Canada. Needless to say, this is largely because Canada doesn’t waste boatloads of money on private insurance and all the overhead that implies.

Bottom line: the health care system has grown tremendously over the past 50 years, but that’s mostly not because we have a lot more doctors. It’s because we have MRI techs and ultrasound specialists and more kinds of nurses and more kinds of pills and enormous proton beams to cure cancer. (Those proton beams are massively expensive and require large staffs, but that doesn’t mean you need any more oncologists per patient.) To manage all this new stuff, we need bigger admin and support staffs. As a result, admin and support have grown about 50-100 percent on a relative basis. That’s the real number.

¹Note that their estimate include a huge jump between 1984-87. However, this makes some sense since the Reagan administration changed the Medicare payment system in 1983 in a way that might plausibly have led to a big increase in administration costs.

Remember When Trump Waved a Paper at Reporters and Said It Was a Secret Deal with Mexico? Here It Is.

Earlier this month, after his trip to Europe, President Donald Trump announced he had cut an immigration deal, including secret provisions, with Mexico that would stop, for now, his proposed and widely-criticized tariffs.

I am pleased to inform you that The United States of America has reached a signed agreement with Mexico. The Tariffs scheduled to be implemented by the U.S. on Monday, against Mexico, are hereby indefinitely suspended. Mexico, in turn, has agreed to take strong measures to….

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 8, 2019

The president did not disclose those details, but did flash what he said was the agreement at reporters, and promised to reveal its contents in the future. On Friday, the Mexican government released the text. It turns out, the “deal” Trump heralded was a whole lot of nothing. In fact, it is more of an arrangement to continue discussions.

“The United States and Mexico,” the agreement reads, “will immediately begin discussions to establish definitive terms for a binding bilateral agreement to further address burden-sharing and the assignment of responsibility for processing refugee claims of migrants.”

Politico described the back and forth as a classic example of how Trump creates a crisis, exacerbates the crisis, “[a]nd finally, cut a vague, imperfect or constitutionally questionable deal at the last minute, claiming victory and savaging the critics.” 

The document, shared on Twitter via Bloomberg’s Mexico bureau chief Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, indicates that a future agreement between Mexico and the United States would be part of a “regional approach to burden-sharing” in processing migrant claims. Mexico also commits to “immediately begin examining” its laws and regulations to identify “any changes that may be necessary” to accommodate a future agreement.

As Rachel Withers at Vox explains:

“The release of the letter doesn’t reveal any new commitments from Mexico, and more or less lines up with the joint statement released on June 7. In the declaration, Mexico agreed to take ‘unprecedented steps to increase enforcement to curb irregular migration,’ including deploying its National Guard throughout the country and giving priority to its southern border. It also declared that ‘those crossing the US Southern Border to seek asylum will be rapidly returned to Mexico where they may await the adjudication of their asylum claims.’

The agreement doesn’t mention anything about not imposing the tariff on Mexican goods that Trump was threatening, and is, at most, an agreement to have discussions about a potential future deal.”

Read it here:

Well, Mexico just released the full page that @realDonaldTrump carried when he said there was a secret agreement pic.twitter.com/A5ocd4WV6p

— Carlos Manuel Rodríguez (@carlos_rgz) June 14, 2019

America Is Targeting the Russian Electric Grid — But Don’t Tell the President

The New York Times reports that we have been aggressively installing malware in Russia’s electric grid:

Since at least 2012, current and former officials say, the United States has put reconnaissance probes into the control systems of the Russian electric grid. But now the American strategy has shifted more toward offense, officials say, with the placement of potentially crippling malware inside the Russian system at a depth and with an aggressiveness that had never been tried before. It is intended partly as a warning, and partly to be poised to conduct cyberstrikes if a major conflict broke out between Washington and Moscow.

….Officials at the National Security Council also declined to comment but said they had no national security concerns about the details of The New York Times’s reporting about the targeting of the Russian grid, perhaps an indication that some of the intrusions were intended to be noticed by the Russians.

This was obviously an “official leak.” But why? To make sure that Russia knows how vulnerable they are? Or to send Russia into a tizzy looking for malware? Hard to say. But here’s the best part of the story:

Pentagon and intelligence officials described broad hesitation to go into detail with Mr. Trump about operations against Russia for concern over his reaction — and the possibility that he might countermand it or discuss it with foreign officials, as he did in 2017 when he mentioned a sensitive operation in Syria to the Russian foreign minister.

I appreciate the sentiment here, but it makes so sense. If the intelligence community is willing to talk to the Times, they obviously aren’t concerned about Trump’s blabbing. Nor are they concerned about the fact that he might cancel the operation.

My amateur guess is a little different: this is really a way of making sure the American public knows about the cyberwar program. Trump could still stop it, but he now knows that his cancellation would be leaked and he’d look like a Putin stooge—not something he can afford more of right now. This is not a subtle form of bureaucratic battle, it’s hardball of the most explicit kind. The intelligence community—including Trump’s own NSC—pretty obviously wants to make sure there’s no chance of Trump not getting the message.

HuffPost Just Published a Bombshell Story About the EPA

This story was originally published by HuffPost and appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

A top Environmental Protection Agency official gave a presentation last year at a gathering of some of the most zealous deniers of climate science, highlighting the influence a small, fringe movement hawking crank theories now wields in Washington.  

Emails HuffPost reviewed reveal Bill Wehrum, the EPA’s assistant administrator for air and radiation, gave a presentation in early February 2018 at an event organized by the Cooler Heads Coalition, an umbrella group of tax-exempt charities and right-wing nonprofits that includes some of the most ardent proponents of climate change denial.

Three other EPA officials―associate administrator Tate Bennett, senior counsel David Harlow and then-spokeswoman Liz Bowman―attended the confab with Wehrum, the emails show.

In an email dated Feb. 6, 2018, Myron Ebell, who has led the Cooler Heads Coalition for more than two decades, offered gratitude for the EPA officials’ attendance at the previous day’s event, and invited the group to the next meeting a month later.   

“Thanks Bill, David, Liz, and Tate, for coming to Cooler Heads and for your presentation and taking questions, Bill. It was most useful,” Ebell, who led the Trump administration’s EPA transition team, wrote. “We look forward to seeing any or all of you at future meetings.”

The EPA declined to comment on the nature of Wehrum’s presentation and whether any officials attended other events with the Cooler Heads Coalition.

“EPA takes time to meet with stakeholders on a variety of regulatory issues, this is no different,” said EPA spokesman Michael Abboud.

Ebell did not respond to calls and text messages requesting comment.

The revelation is not surprising from an administration that’s attempting to eliminate or delay, by The New York Times’ estimate, at least 83 environmental regulations, particularly rules to curb climate pollution. The EPA is expected to announce a proposal next week to replace Obama-era power plants rules with a regulation that would, by the agency’s own estimates, allow for enough pollution to cause up to additional 1,400 premature deaths per year by 2030. 

“The fact that Bill went to talk to a group like this is the cherry on top of a toxic sundae,” Joseph Goffman, a former senior counsel and associate administrator for climate who served in the Obama-era EPA, said by phone. “It’s the toxicity of the sundae that’s really going to have the damaging impact on people’s lives.”

But the emails show the degree to which top officials at the nation’s leading public health agency have cultivated chummy ties with “fringe conspiracy theorists,” the Sierra Club, which released the records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, said in a statement, calling the relationship “despicable.” 

“It removes any illusion that the EPA is acting in good faith to ensure the public trust.”

“It removes any illusion that the EPA is acting in good faith to ensure the public trust,” said Robert Brulle, an environmental sociologist at Drexel University. 

The Cooler Heads Coalition formed in the late 1990s as mounting evidence of global warming began to fracture the industrial alliance that mobilized a decade earlier to downplay the threat of unfettered greenhouse gas emissions. A year before its merger with oil giant Mobil, Exxon gave $95,000 to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the right-wing think tank where Ebell works, in a grant titled “Global Climate Change Program and other support,” according to documents published by the Climate Investigations Center.

Yet as the oil industry started distancing itself from widely debunked scientific contrarians, far-right philanthropists and dark-money groups stepped in to fund the Cooler Heads Coalition’s members. The financiers include the Donors Trust, Donors Capital Fund, and the foundations of the oil industrialist Scaife family, the manufacturing scion Bradley family and the Mercers, the Long Island hedge funders who backed President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.

That marked a shift from climate denial as a practical means of protecting carbon-polluting industries toward a new ideological fervor, enshrining opposition to climate science as a key part of anti-government dogma, said Riley Dunlap, a researcher and professor emeritus at Oklahoma State University who tracks climate denial groups.

“The Cooler Heads Coalition grew out of the frustration that industry was no longer opposing climate change as much as they thought,” Dunlap said. It’s “really a radical group of climate change deniers.”

The realities of climate change were clear to scientists even before rising seas started to inundate coastal cities like Miami on sunny days and extreme hurricanes and wildfires devastated Puerto Rico, California and Texas in recent years. At least 97% of peer-reviewed research concludes that emissions from burning fossil fuels, industrial farming and deforestation blanket the planet in gases that trap the sun’s heat in the atmosphere. A 2015 paper, meanwhile, found significant flaws in the methodologies, assumptions and analyses used by the 3% of scientists who concluded otherwise.  

At 70%, the vast majority of Americans understand climate change is happening, and 57% recognize humans are the primary driver, according to polling data from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. In October, the United Nations released a dire report warning that, unless world governments slash emissions by nearly half over the next decade, the planet is projected to warm beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit, causing about $54 trillion in damages and killing millions. A month later, the National Climate Assessment, a congressionally mandated report by scientists at 13 federal agencies, confirmed the findings.

That’s done little to sway Wehrum.

In January, he said he was still on the fence about climate change, telling E&E News, “I’m trying to figure that out.”  

“I’ve had a series of briefings with climate change experts to help me better understand this,” Wehrum told Reuters that same month. “Everybody is still exploring the science of climate change.”

A former corporate lawyer who lobbied on behalf of clients to weaken air pollution rules, Wehrum has ramped up those efforts since joining the EPA, becoming a chief architect of the Trump administration’s deregulatory agenda. He remains in close touch with his former law firm, according to The Washington Post.

“It’s not surprising that Wherum would have been featured at a Cooler Heads Coalition event,” Kert Davies, director of Climate Investigations Center, said by email. “He fits right in with the roster of climate deniers and other charlatans that Cooler Heads has hosted at events over the past two decades.”

The White House Sent the Weirdest Flag Day Tweet—and the Internet Can’t Stop Laughing

June 14 was Flag Day, a minor holiday that was established by Woodrow Wilson in 1916 to celebrate the day in 1777 that the Continental Congress made the stars and stripes the official American flag. In honor of the event, the White House Twitter account posted this celebratory tweet:

pic.twitter.com/c40BQpZFtW

— The White House (@WhiteHouse) June 14, 2019

The photo, highlighting the moment President Donald Trump hugged the American flag at the Conservative Political Action Conference in March, triggered a cascade of outrage and hilarity from politicians, commentators, and professional comedians on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show and TBS’ Full Frontal, some describing the tweet as “weird” and “not what Betsy Ross intended.” 

Remember when @WhiteHouse wasn't a parody account? https://t.co/qhDQEtiIzi

— Rep. Mark Pocan (@repmarkpocan) June 14, 2019

We, too, celebrated #FlagDay with a ceremonial flag hugging here at the Trump Presidential Twitter Library in D.C.! #DailyShowLibrary pic.twitter.com/VozSak8tGy

— The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) June 14, 2019

This is not what Betsy Ross intended #FlagDay2019 https://t.co/Vlk32WUke1

— Full Frontal (@FullFrontalSamB) June 14, 2019

In which the official @WhiteHouse Twitter account celebrates #FlagDay by tweeting a picture of Trump giving a flag a #MeToo moment. https://t.co/jTk3mfxrOD

— Miranda Yaver (@mirandayaver) June 14, 2019

Michael Cohen just wrote that flag a check for $130K.

— Chris Jackson (@ChrisCJackson) March 4, 2019

The almost universally critical responses apparently didn’t deter the president from invoking Flag Day again on Saturday, when he tweeted support for a proposed bill from Sen. Steve Daines’ (R-Mont.)—who introduced similar legislation in in 2017 and 2018—  that would prevent the “physical desecration” of the American flag. This is a cherished issue for Trump, who has called for punishment for burning the American symbol. Shortly after the 2016 election, he tweeted, “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!” 

All in for Senator Steve Daines as he proposes an Amendment for a strong BAN on burning our American Flag. A no brainer!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 15, 2019

 

Trump didn’t respond, much less acknowledge, to the avalanche of criticism for having his aggressive embrace of the flag as the official White House acknowledgment of the holiday. But the criticism just kept coming:

This is real real weird.

— Chris Howie (@MrChrisHowie) June 14, 2019

This isn't some idiotic campaign or RNC account. It's the official White House account. How far toward the Third World we've sunk. https://t.co/8ynyxvxlw5

— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) June 14, 2019

I prefer American Presidents who don't hug adversarial foreign powers and accept campaign assistance from foreign countries.#FlagDay https://t.co/7korDM6Em6

— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) June 14, 2019

There's some sort of orange shit stain on the flag.

— Brandon Bird (@Brandon_Bird) June 14, 2019

Yes. The official White House post for Flag Day is the Imbecile-in-Chief humping it at CPAC. This really is like living in a Third World dictatorship…except less competent. https://t.co/f9LjLPyfi2

— Fred Wellman (@FPWellman) June 14, 2019

From the official US Flag Code:

"The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way….The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. " https://t.co/t4XsNBjIfR

— Jay Bookman (@jaysbookman) June 14, 2019

There’s So Much Plastic in the Environment That Bees Are Making Nests Out of It

This story was originally published by Atlas Obscura and appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Last summer, scientists in South America were studying the impact agricultural practices have on the surrounding ecosystems, and specifically how natural areas and fields are pollinated as a result of their proximity to one another. In the midst of this analysis in San Juan, Argentina, the team of researchers made a totally unexpected discovery: a bee’s nest made completely from plastic.

San Juan is a region with a desert climate abutting the Andes that is nonetheless known for wine production, among other crops. Most growing operations there are family run, which provides a lot of data for those studying the relationships between human activity and nature. In this case, that means human-made materials finding their way into an unexpected place.

“The nest was found in a chicory field for seed production in San Juan, Argentina,” says Mariana Laura Allasino of the National Agricultural Technology Institute, who coauthored a report on the find in the journal Apidologie. The nest belonged to a bee from the family Megachilidae, which are solitary bees that often build nest cells from material they collect, such as soil, bits of leaves, and even animal fur. In this case, the nest cells were made of “light blue plastic, of shopping bag consistency,” and “white plastic, thicker than the previous one,” Allasino says.

“Due to our activities, human beings are contributing to the ecosystem’s degradation and biodiversity loss,” says Allasino, via email. “The most fascinating thing about this finding is that it suggests the adaptive flexibility that certain bee species would have in the face of changes in environmental conditions.” It’s almost a positive message. While we can’t tell yet if the plastic was harming the bee or its ability to reproduce, she says, it is a demonstration of just how adaptable nature can be.

Birds and other animals have long been known to incorporate pieces of plastic and other artificial materials into their nests, but it is quite rare to see among insects. In fact, the only other recorded case was when Canadian researchers discovered natural bee nests partially constructed with plastic (alongside natural materials) in 2013. The nest found by Allasino and her team is the first ever documented made entirely of plastic. “The replacement of natural materials by plastic could be due to a limitation in the availability of vegetation in the fields or an overabundance of waste, which could be directly related to the management of agricultural activity,” she says. “Plastic waste is something usual we can find in an agricultural field that comes from neighbors who throw waste in the fields or from the inputs of agricultural practices.”

The researchers in Argentina plan to analyze DNA from the dead larvae found in the plastic nest to confirm the exact species. (It’s not known whether the nest material had anything to do with the fate of the larvae.) “We will continue to set trap-nests for solitary bees to know the species that are present in the fields,” Allasino says, “and to increase the probability of finding another nest with the same characteristics as the one we already found.”

A Nasty Swine Flu in China Means Big Trouble for US Farmers

A relentlessly rainy spring and President Donald Trump’s trade war with China aren’t the only forces haunting the Midwest’s corn and soybean farmers. A deadly, highly contagious disease called African swine fever—thankfully, harmless to humans—is sweeping through China’s hog farms, literally killing demand for feed.  

African swine fever has already wiped out at least 20 percent of the nation’s hog herd this year, according to the Dutch agricultural lender Rabobank. That amounts to about 90 million pigs—more than the entire US hog population, the globe’s second-largest behind China. That’s bad news for American farmers, because China imports large quantities of our soybeans. China houses nearly 60 percent of the entire globe’s pig herd—and fattening nearly half a billion pigs for slaughter every year requires it to import two-thirds of all globally traded soybeans.

African swine fever has already wiped out at least 20 percent of the nation’s hog herd this year.

The problem will likely linger. “We hold the view that it will take over five years for China’s pork production to recover fully from ASF,” Rabobank notes. That’s because there’s no cure or vaccine for it—the only way to stop ASF is to kill all exposed pigs and impose draconian sanitation measures. The virus moves easily among pigs, and can travel great distances in contaminated feed and equipment, workers’ clothing and shoes, feral swine, and ticks. It has already spread to Mongolia, Cambodia, North Korea, South Korea, and Vietnam; and west to parts of Europe.

The United States has so far managed to avoid this plague, but the United States Department of Agriculture is on high alert. In recent months, it has rolled out a surveillance system and is “actively preparing to respond if ASF were ever detected in the US,” the agency reported in May. In April, a US pork trade group canceled its annual World Pork Expo in Des Moines, Iowa, citing an “abundance of caution” and fear that attendees from “ASF-positive regions” might carry the disease to the United States. 

But China’s struggle with the infection is already roiling the US farm belt. Fewer pigs to fatten in China translates to less need for feed. The US agricultural lender CoBank estimates that the swine-fever crisis means China will import about 15 percent less soybeans over the next year than it would have with the swine fever crisis. Soybean demand would be lower still, if Chinese authorities weren’t responding to the pig shortage by ramping up production of other soy-eating meat sources, mainly chicken, CoBank notes.

ASF represents yet another setback for US soybean farmers, but it’s a potential boon to the our meat industry. China will have to import more meat, including chicken, to make up for the domestic pork shortfall.

US-based meat giant Tyson Foods—a massive producer of pork, chicken, and beef—is licking its chops: China’s ASF woes offers “significant upside to our pork business, while also lifting the chicken and beef businesses as substitutes,” CEO Noel White wrote in a May 2014 note. The industry is already cashing in. Even though China maintains a 62 percent tariff on US pork as part the trade war, it bought 143 thousand metric tons of it in the first three months of 2019—almost five times as much as it imported in the entire year of 2018. The stock prices of Tyson and chicken giants Pilgrim’s Pride and Sanderson Farms have all surged upwards of 40 percent in 2019, driven in part by speculation that US meat producers will benefit from the spread of ASF. 

If the US meat industry does get a major export boost from ASF in Asia and Europe, that will ultimately be good news for the Midwest’s farmers, who will be well-positioned to supply the feed. But the impact on soybean and corn prices will likely be muted, CoBank says. The ASF crisis appears to be accelerating a trend among Chinese consumers to eat less pork and more chicken—and chicken is more feed-efficient, meaning it requires less soybeans and corn per pound than pork.

Of course, if ASF does manage to jump the ocean and take root on US hog farms, corn and soybean prices would tumble anew. So in addition to the climate chaos that’s soaking their fields at planting time and the political chaos that’s pinching their foreign markets, the Midwest’s farmers are feeling the squeeze from a virulent animal disease spreading on the other side of the world. 

The Trump Administration Is Trying to Use the Scott Warren Case to Scare Activists. It’s Not Working.

The highly publicized federal case against humanitarian aid worker Scott Warren, who was accused of helping migrants at the US-Mexico border, ended in a mistrial on Tuesday. Warren, a volunteer with the humanitarian aid group No More Deaths, was charged with one count of conspiracy to transport and two counts of harboring undocumented immigrants following a 2018 arrest. He was facing up to 20 years in prison.

Since 2004, volunteers with No More Deaths have left food, water, and other supplies for people crossing over the harsh desert of the US-Mexico borderlands. In January 2018, two Central American migrants—Jose Sacaria-Goday and Kristian Perez-Villanueva—showed up at No More Death’s aid camp, The Barn, in Ajo, Arizona. According to The Intercept, Warren found the men shortly after and gave them food, water, clean clothes, and shelter. Border Patrol agents spotted the group outside of The Barn several days later, and say they saw Warren pointing north while speaking to the men. They accused him of instructing the migrants on how to bypass a nearby Border Patrol checkpoint.

Last month, Amnesty International released a statement urging the US government to drop all charges in the case. “The US government is legally required to prevent the arbitrary deaths of migrants and asylum seekers in border areas,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International. The group also created a campaign online where people can email US attorney Michael Bailey urging him to drop the charges. Nearly 19,000 emails have been sent so far. 

The jury was tasked with deciding whether Warren’s intent was to aid Goday and Villanueva further into the US by shielding them from law enforcement or if it was to simply provide humanitarian help. After three days of deliberations, it failed to reach a unanimous decision—eight jurors sided with Warren, while four thought he was guilty. While the hung jury is a win for Warren, the victory may be temporary. A status hearing is set for July 2 to determine whether or not the government will seek a new trial.

In an op-ed published in the Washington Post last month, Warren warned that his case “may set a dangerous precedent, as the government expands its definitions of ‘transportation’ and ‘harboring.'” He said these have “always been applied selectively: with aggressive prosecutions of ‘criminal’ networks, but worries that “now, the law may be applied to not only humanitarian aid workers but also to the millions of mixed-status families in the United States.” According to Warren’s attorney, Greg Kuykendall, the only thing Warren is guilty of is providing the men with “basic human kindness.” 

According to Warren’s attorney, Greg Kuykendall, the only thing Warren is guilty of is providing the men with “basic human kindness.”

“This is a microcosm of this much bigger issue that’s at play right now,” says Jason De León, a professor of Anthropology and Chicana/o Studies at UCLA. De León also runs the Undocumented Migration Project, a nonprofit that researches undocumented migration between Latin America and the US. I talked to him about the significance of Warren’s case and the impact it could have on future humanitarian aid efforts at the border.

Mother Jones: Why do you think Warren’s case specifically has become so high profile?

De León: The severity of the charges was one of the things that really made this case more public. The prosecution is being incredibly aggressive—much more so than we have seen in previous cases. You had folks doing a lot of the same things that Scott Warren and [No More Deaths] were doing getting arrested for littering. Whereas now, rather than just go for this lower charge, they advanced it up to be issues of human trafficking. You hadn’t really seen that before.

Both sides are pushing for this case to be more public for different reasons. There was an interest in making an example out of Scott Warren. And at the same time, you’ve got all of these pissed off people who support migrant rights. Who don’t think humanitarian aid is a crime. Who also recognize that this is an important battlefield right now. And so this has to be high-profile so that people can understand that this is what the federal government is doing.

MJ: NPR recently reported that there’s been an increase in charges like Scott Warren’s where people are being federally charged with bringing in and harboring migrants, especially after former Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered prosecutors to prioritize these cases in 2017. Can you talk more about the spike in these arrests under the Trump administration?

DL: Even before Trump, the antagonism between the Border Patrol and humanitarian groups like Tucson Samaritans and No More Deaths has really been ramping up with agents being very aggressive in terms of their harassment of humanitarian workers. Under Trump, you’ve seen folks who were already doing these aggressive things towards humanitarian groups now feeling emboldened. In a lot of ways, the anti-immigrant and racist sentiments we have seen amplified under the Trump administration are exactly the same things we’re seeing with the border patrol, except now there’s nobody keeping them in check. Now we’re seeing a much more concerted effort by the federal government to put an end to humanitarian work that’s been going on for close to two decades. It’s open season now on these humanitarian groups.

MJ: What messaging do you think this case sends to other humanitarian aid groups and just everyday people? What cultural and symbolic impacts do you see this case having?

DL: The federal government is trying to make people afraid to help folks. These are scare tactics. But I don’t think it’s working. If anything else, the Trump administration is emboldening activists and people who are fed up of dealing with this to be more public and be more vocal. There are a lot of Scott Warrens in the world—people who are willing to go to jail for their beliefs in human rights.

MJ: What legal precedent would be set if the federal government convicts Scott Warren?

DL: If they can make the charges stick, that would just embolden them to just keep doing it. But they’ve been trying to do that with migrants for a long time, charging them with felony reentry to slow them down and stop them from coming. We’ve seen that throwing the book at them hasn’t worked. Killing migrants in the desert has not stopped this flow of people.  Even if a legal precedent is set to start really coming after these humanitarian groups, I’m not totally convinced it’s going to work. We saw this with the sanctuary movement in the 1980s when they were charging pastors with harboring migrants because they knew these people were going to die if they were sent back to their home countries. No matter what the federal government throws at folks, they know that human life and caring for another individual is more important than any change in a federal law that they know is morally wrong.

We don’t live in a moment where being cautious about this issue is going to be helpful.

MJ: How has the US government’s Prevention Through Deterrence policy historically been applied to humanitarian aid groups?

DL: Migrants have been dying in the Arizona desert in high numbers since the mid-90s. As soon as locals started noticing this spike in death counts, they immediately started mobilizing trying to do whatever they could to help alleviate some of the sufferings. That involved leaving water for migrants, giving first aid. Of course, Border Patrol doesn’t like that because it undermines the primary goal of Prevention Through Deterrence, which is to slow migrants—whether that be through death or through physical suffering. Someone giving water and bandages to folks lies against the core mission of Prevention Through Deterrence.

I think Border Patrol has always thought of humanitarians as this sort of thorn in their side. Except now, they just feel like legally they’ve got a firmer footing to stand on because they’ve got the support of the White House to really come at these folks. You could not have done this under the Obama administration. Even though Obama was doing horrible things to migrants—deporting people and detaining them and doing all kinds of stuff—they were still, at least superficially, pretending to care about migrant human rights. Whereas now, you can put babies in cages, you can have kids die in custody, and nobody is blinking. 

MJ: Is there anything that you feel has gotten lost in the coverage of Scott Warren’s case?

DL: A lot of people don’t understand that Prevention Through Deterrence is a border enforcement strategy purposefully designed to force migrants out into places like the Sonoran Desert where there’s a high likelihood of death. We’ve known that for a long time. It’s been publicly stated. We knowingly put people in harm’s way through this policy. We have killed thousands of people with the Arizona desert and the south Texas backwood, and yet no one seems to think that that is a crime. No one seems to think that that is something we should be prosecuting. 

People have to understand that Scott Warren and others like him are reacting to a federal [policy] that has knowingly put people in harm’s way. At some point, there’s going to have to be a legal reckoning for the American government. The law, hopefully, will cut both ways and the people who have designed these policies and who continue to keep them in practice will eventually be held legally accountable for this loss of life.

I Got Yer Exploding Bullets Right Here

Here is Kevin Williamson over at National Review:

I Was Promised Exploding Bullets!

You know, Charlie, I have been looking all over for some of those “exploding bullets” I keep reading about, but I am unable to find any for sale. The reason for that is that — cool as “exploding bullets” sounds! — they do not really quite exist.

(This would not come as news to people who understand how bullets work, but never mind that.)

The “exploding bullets” thing is an eternal myth, spread by, among other sources, shoddy public-radio journalism (shout out to KERA in Dallas!). Firearms are, for some strange reason, a subject to which America’s editors are all too content — proud, even — to assign reporters who are utterly ignorant.

The Washington Post published Adam Weinstein’s hilarious defense of this ignorance under the headline “The NRA and its allies use jargon to bully gun-control supporters.”

This is a very peculiar post. First off, it links to an earlier post about a report on KERA that “contained a preposterous invention: Chicago’s criminals, the report said, covet something called ‘R.I.P.’ bullets, which are, in the report’s words, ‘designed to explode inside the body.’ ” But this is not at all preposterous. For starters, teenage gangbangers probably believe lots of stuff. So what? And in this case, the R.I.P bullet does indeed exist and it took me only 10 seconds to find it: it’s the “Radically Invasive Projectile” from G2 Research, a bullet with eight copper petals that separate upon impact. Or, in vernacular, it explodes into nine separate pieces when it hits you.

Then Williamson goes after Adam Weinstein for his “hilarious defense of this ignorance.” But Weinstein’s piece, which ran over a year ago, says nothing about exploding bullets. It’s about the way gun folks try to pretend you can’t have an opinion about gun control if you don’t know what AR stands for¹ or get confused about the difference between a magazine and a clip.² Or the difference between automatic and semi-automatic.³

I dunno. It’s a slow day over at National Review, I guess.

¹You don’t really need to know this, but the answer is Armalite, the name of the original manufacturer of the AR-15.

²You don’t really need to know this either, but the answer for most of the guns you see on TV is “magazine.”

³This you actually should know:

  • Automatic: you pull the trigger and a hail of bullets flies out of the muzzle as long as you keep pressure on the trigger. This is what you see in war movies or on TV shows about drug lords. It’s illegal for a civilian to own an automatic rifle manufactured after 1986. Ownership of pre-1986 automatic rifles is legal but very rare. They’re quite expensive and require an extensive application process to register with the ATF.
  • Machine gun: another name for an automatic rifle.
  • Submachine gun: This is the gun you associate with Al Capone. It’s an automatic that’s nearly the size of a machine gun but uses smaller handgun rounds.
  • Semi-automatic: you pull the trigger and a single bullet is fired. Pull it again, and another bullet is fired. You have to pull the trigger for every round you fire.
  • Manual load: a gun that requires you to manually load a new round after every shot. Virtually all rifles prior to the 20th century required manual loading: flintlocks (think Revolutionary War), lever action rifles (think old-time Westerns), pump-action rifles (think skeet shooting), bolt-action rifles (think deer hunting), and so forth.

In real life, nearly all rifles you’re likely to see are semi-automatics or manual loads, and all handguns are either semi-automatics or revolvers.

Hey, Taylor Swift, LGBTQ People Don’t Need an Ally. We Need an Accomplice.

This week: “You Need To Calm Down” by Taylor Swift (Republic Records, 2019)

Why we’re into it: This is a great pop song, even if we can’t excuse the weak allyship.

From the moment the first beat hits, it’s clear this is a Taylor Swift song. In what’s become a signature of hers, the song comes in hot, wasting no time sinking its Swifty pop hooks into your ears. She arrives within the first few seconds on a bouncy synth beat, flipping iambs into trochees (“Patrón” is rendered “PUH-trone”). It’s catchy and fun, an earworm of a pop song, and it revives a bit of hope that her next album Lover won’t be the mess that “ME!” was. It is also, yet again, her take on trying to “own” the haters. In this case? Homophobes.

Under all the rainbows and catchy hooks, “You Need to Calm Down” is allyship misunderstood.

Earlier this month Swift posted a much-circulated letter addressed to her Republican senator, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. In it she asked Hunt to support the House Equality Act, a sweeping bill that would protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in our workplaces, our schools, and in other public accommodations. It was a bold and unexpected move from the apolitical pop star. But that old, apolitical Taylor is dead. From old Taylor’s ashes has risen a new outspoken pop star who hopes she’ll release a more blatant political pop song.

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HAPPY PRIDE MONTH!!! While we have so much to celebrate, we also have a great distance to go before everyone in this country is truly treated equally. In excellent recent news, the House has passed the Equality Act, which would protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in their places of work, homes, schools, and other public accommodations. The next step is that the bill will go before the Senate. I’ve decided to kick off Pride Month by writing a letter to one of my senators to explain how strongly I feel that the Equality Act should be passed. I urge you to write to your senators too. I’ll be looking for your letters by searching the hashtag #lettertomysenator. While there’s no information yet as to when the Equality Act will go before the Senate for a vote, we do know this: Politicians need votes to stay in office. Votes come from the people. Pressure from massive amounts of people is a major way to push politicians towards positive change. That’s why I’ve created a petition at change.org to urge the Senate to support the Equality Act. Our country’s lack of protection for its own citizens ensures that LGBTQ people must live in fear that their lives could be turned upside down by an employer or landlord who is homophobic or transphobic. The fact that, legally, some people are completely at the mercy of the hatred and bigotry of others is disgusting and unacceptable. Let’s show our pride by demanding that, on a national level, our laws truly treat all of our citizens equally. Click the link in my bio to sign the petition for Senate support of the Equality Act.

A post shared by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on May 31, 2019 at 9:05pm PDT

Swift has a lot of experience in dealing with haters and that experience shines when she’s singing about that. “Say it in the street, that’s a knock-out. But you say it in a tweet, that’s a cop-out.” It’s when she tries to include this idea that homophobes need to “calm down” that she falters and stumbles into the tropes that many queer people struggle with in their allies.

“You need to calm down, you’re being too loud,” she directs the homophobes and haters. “You need to just stop, you need to just stop, like can you just not step on his gown? You need to calm down.”

This “can you just stop?” attitude is where many allies fall short, not just Swift. LGBTQ people are still facing hatred, barriers, and violence, at astonishing levels. Governments around the world and here in the US are attacking us. We’re still fighting every day for our humanity to be recognized. The idea that we can just ask oppressors to stop stems from the same assumption that homophobia is nothing more than a character flaw; it’s right around the corner from the idea that “all sides” deserve respect. 

It’s time for allies to evolve. LGBTQ people need accomplices now. An accomplice is someone who is putting as much on the line, maybe even more, than the other. An accomplice ends up in jail with you. An ally is someone you hope will answer your one phone call.

While “You Need to Calm Down” features a shoutout to the LGBTQ organization GLAAD and an allusion to those infamous homophobic protest signs, its message of allyship is half baked and loaded with the sentiment that queer people need to accept any handout of humanity allies provide. 

“I ain’t tryna mess with your self-expression,” she sings. But homophobia isn’t “self-expression”; it’s violence.

Taylor is at her best when she’s her exaggerated self. That’s what’s always made her so fun. Within all the nonsense, there was a sliver of self-awareness. But “You Need To Calm Down” has no semblance of that. Instead it comes off like another #Pride campaign tailored to make money off of queer people.

Taylor’s not ill-intentioned at all; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Allies aren’t bad people, no, no, no. It’s just that right now LGBTQ people don’t need allies. We need accomplices.

Trump’s Immigration Id Is Coming to the White House

On Friday morning, while celebrating his birthday by calling into Fox & Friends, President Donald Trump began rattling off the “fantastic people” enforcing his immigration agenda. One name caught the show’s hosts off guard. Trump unexpectedly announced that Thomas Homan, the former head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was returning to the his administration.

“What is he doing?” Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade asked. “What is Tom Homan doing?” After initially ignoring the questions and leaving Kilmeade dumbfounded, Trump finally got around to saying that Homan will be his new White House “border czar,” a vague but likely influential role that doesn’t currently exist.

The real surprise is that it took Trump this long to bring Homan back. Since retiring as ICE’s acting director last June, Homan has used his new incarnation as a Fox contributor to ceaselessly praise Trump and attack Democrats. The appearances have furthered Homan’s shift from a loyal bureaucrat under Barack Obama to Trump’s immigration id. After winning the government’s highest award for civil servants under Obama, Homan has become a knee-jerk Trumpian whom many of his former colleagues struggle to recognize. Trump’s announcement on Friday completes Homan’s transformation.

Homan will now have more access to the president than ever, as Trump contemplates ever harsher ways to make a dent in the record numbers of families crossing the border. In a number of recent TV hits, Homan has made clear what one of those policies should be: massive ICE operations to arrest families who received deportation orders but did not comply with them. Such has plan existed for months, Homan recently said. ICE just needs to go out and make it happen—negative press be damned.    

Unlike ousted Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen or her acting replacement Kevin McAleenan, Homan, a ruddy-faced barrel of a man, will never be accused of being overly polished. And that is just how Trump likes it. Standing before a wall of police officers at a 2017 speech, Trump mused that someone who saw Homan on television thought he looked “very nasty” and “very mean.”

“I said, ‘That’s what I’m looking for,’” Trump recalled. “’That’s exactly what I was looking for.’” As Mother Jones wrote in a profile last year, Homan, who began his career as a Border Patrol agent in 1984, lived up to that image as ICE’s acting director:

He has appeared on Fox News to say that politicians who limit cooperation with ICE should be charged with crimes and has staged retaliatory operations against their cities in the meantime. ICE arrests were up 41 percent last year and 171 percent among people without criminal records. ICE is now pursuing even the most sympathetic undocumented immigrants. That is part of Homan’s goal. Testifying before Congress last year, he warned, “If you’re in this country illegally…you should be uncomfortable. You should look over your shoulder, and you need to be worried.”

It was a striking change in tone for a man who was well liked by the immigrant advocates who joined the Obama administration. Cecilia Muñoz, who ran the White House Domestic Policy Council and worked closely with Homan, told me last year, “I find the Tom Homan that I see on TV now unrecognizable compared to the one that I saw in the Situation Room.” But others were less surprised. A former DHS colleague explained, “Tom doesn’t do nuance. Tom is brute force.”

Homan is returning to a dramatically different situation at the border. When Homan announced he was leaving government, roughly 10,000 parents and children traveling together were crossing the border each month. Last month, more than 80,000 did—a number that would have been all but unimaginable just a year ago. Homan places essentially all the blame on Democrats who have refused to pass a law that would allow the Trump administration to deter families by detaining them indefinitely. (The Obama administration enacted that very policy, only to have it blocked by a judge in 2015, in a ruling that requires families to be released after about 20 days.)

When Trump first picked Homan to lead ICE on a permanent basis in November 2017, his nomination went nowhere. The Senate didn’t even get the paperwork. It was unclear why. Trump obviously liked him, and Homan was already doing his part on Fox News. Homan announced last April that he was retiring while his nomination was still pending.

As border numbers have surged in recent months, Homan’s encomiums to Trump have reached new heights. Earlier this week, on the Fox Business Network show hosted by informal Trump adviser Lou Dobbs, Homan was sycophantic even by his standards. “Look,” Homan said with a smile, “President Trump is just a great president.” There were so many obstacles—Democrats, a meddling appeals court in California—yet Trump had accomplished more on the border in two years than any of the five other presidents he served, Homan said at a time when border crossings are the highest level in more than a dozen years. 

“He’s a great president. He’s keeping his word,” Homan continued, jabbing his fingers at the camera with enthusiasm. “He’s defending America. I’m proud that he’s my president.” Three days later, Trump couldn’t contain his excitement and announced that Homan will soon be reporting directly to him.

Friday Cat Blogging – 14 June 2019

Here’s Hilbert enjoying a nice day on the bench in the backyard. Don’t cats look cute when they have their paws curled up in front of them? It’s so dainty and elegant, especially for an animal that one minute later will be rolling around in the dirt and waving its paws at the sky in hopes of attracting a squirrel to chase.

Chart of the Day: Corporate Profits Are Up, Corporate Taxes Are Down

Politico reports on the impact of the Republican tax cut:

Federal tax payments by big businesses are falling much faster than anticipated in the wake of Republicans’ tax cuts, providing ammunition to Democrats who are calling for corporate tax increases. The U.S. Treasury saw a 31 percent drop in corporate tax revenues last year, almost twice the decline official budget forecasters had predicted. Receipts were projected to rebound sharply this year, but so far they’ve only continued to fall, down by almost 9 percent or $11 billion.

This practically begs for a chart, doesn’t it? I’m here to help. The chart below shows corporate profits before and after the Republican tax cut, compared to corporate tax receipts (through May) before and after the tax cut. As you can see, President Trump signed the tax cut into law on December 22, 2017, and it was a very merry Christmas indeed for his big business pals.

Profits are up, taxes are down. And why are corporate taxes down? Because Republicans lowered their tax rate. Duh. You’d think that after 40 years there wouldn’t be anyone left in America who still believes that lowering tax rates will increase tax revenue. But the Republican Party seems to have an endless supply of marks for its con game on behalf of the rich.

Ayanna Pressley Wants to Ditch an Old Anti-Abortion Law. House Democrats Aren’t Listening.

The Democratic majority in the US House appears likely to pass a spending bill which will include the Hyde Amendment, a measure that blocks federal funds from being spent on abortions, despite clear opposition from the the party’s base and from 2020 candidates.

On Tuesday, Rep. Ayanna Pressley’s (D-Mass.) proposal to strip the Hyde Amendment from an upcoming must-pass spending bill was rejected by the House Committee on Rules on a point of order. The spending bill, which includes funding for Health and Human Services and other Democratic priorities, is now likely to proceed with the Hyde language intact.

“My amendment to repeal Hyde is only one of many tools Democrats are using to fight back” Pressley said in a statement. “The Hyde Amendment’s days are numbered and we will fight in the name of reproductive justice on every front.”

House leadership has been hesitant to take up a fight over the Hyde Amendment. “I wish we never had a Hyde Amendment,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Tuesday at The Peter G. Peterson foundation summit, “but it is the law of the land right now and I don’t see that there is an opportunity to get rid of it with the current occupant of the White House and some in the United States Senate.”

However, Democratic 2020 candidates have not shied away from discussing the issue. Last week, former Vice President Joe Biden reversed his position on the Hyde Amendment after facing major backlash for publicly coming out in support of it. “If I believe health care is a right, as I do, I can no longer support an amendment that makes that right dependent on someone’s ZIP code,” Biden told supporters last Thursday. Right now, all of the frontrunners in the 2020 democratic field—including Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, and Elizabeth Warren—have voiced their support for repealing Hyde.

“The Hyde Amendment’s days are numbered and we will fight in the name of reproductive justice on every front.”

Activist involved in the reproductive rights movement are glad that the Hyde amendment has been a part of the national dialogue. “We’re really heartened about the conversation that’s happening at the national level,” says Destiny Lopez co-director of All*Above All, a national organization dedicated to repealing the Hyde Amendment. “People inherently understand that this is about fair treatment and they want policies that will ensure that people have the full range of reproductive health care.” 

The Hyde Amendment was introduced in 1973 by Republican Rep. Henry Hyde as a way to block Medicaid dollars from being used to cover abortions in lieu of being able to ban abortion outright. Currently, 15 states use their own Medicaid funds to cover abortions, but this means that in the other 35 states and the District of Columbia, someone who gets their health care coverage through Medicaid does not qualify for abortion coverage, with some limited exemptions. 

Lopez’s organization believes that once voters understand the full impact of the Hyde Amendment they won’t support it. “Essentially,” Lopez says, “we’ve created this really discriminatory system based on where you live and how much money you make and your type of insurance.”

For many people, getting an abortion without health insurance can be cost prohibitive. In the first trimester, an abortion can cost anywhere from $75 to $1,633. However, late-first trimester or second trimester abortions can run up to $3,000 or more. This does not include travel fees, hotel costs, childcare fees, or the time-off work. “The cost of the abortion is one thing,” Lopez explains, “but there are a number of expenses anyone seeking abortion is going to face particularly if you’re already struggling to make ends meet.”

“[Hyde] is perpetuating cycles and systems of poverty,” Lopez says. “We know that if a person is denied abortion access it is likely that they will go deeper into poverty and so you know it is a very systemic problem, and I would argue a racist policy, because it primarily targets black and brown people.” 

Despite the failure to get the Hyde amendment taken off the spending bill, Lopez sees progress on this issue. “I think that for a long time our movement called folks pro-choice who maybe still supported the Hyde Amendment,” Lopez says, “and I think that dynamic is changing. It is harder and harder to say that you support abortion rights and still support Hyde.”

Pressley, for her part, has not taken this legislative defeat lying down, and says she is committed to fighting against Hyde and other restrictions on abortion access. “We are actively mobilizing and organizing to ensure that every person has access to self-determination and bodily autonomy, regardless of where they live, how much money they make, or their preferred pronouns,” Pressley said in a statement. 

Here’s the Harriet Tubman $20 Bill That Trump Killed

Via the New York Times, here is an early prototype of the Harriet Tubman version of the $20 bill:

Apparently the Times has good sources within the Bureau of Engraving! They report that this design was completed back in 2016:

The development of the note did not stop there. A current employee of the bureau, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter, personally viewed a metal engraving plate and a digital image of a Tubman $20 bill while it was being reviewed by engravers and Secret Service officials as recently as May 2018. This person said that the design appeared to be far along in the process.

It’s worth noting that the Tubman bill was never intended to go into circulation anytime soon. Probably not until 2030, or the late 2020s at best. When Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin delayed the bill, the only thing he delayed was the unveiling of the design next year, in time for the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. He was apparently afraid that a mere public unveiling of the bill would send Donald Trump into a tizzy that might embarrass everyone. It’s like having a five-year-old for president.

America Needs a Lot More Labor Unions

Unionize! You have nothing to gain but your bosses’ obscene rents!

“Deluded” is meaner than I’d be, but if you work at a place like Facebook, Amazon, Apple, etc — unions let workers grab a share of corporate rents. There’s more of that cash up for grabs in big tech companies than media companies. Go and get the bag. https://t.co/YrIgawA4hT

— Dylan Matthews (@dylanmatt) June 14, 2019

The lack of interest in tech-sector unionizing is indeed a bit of a puzzle. There are gargantuan piles of money floating around in the Apple/Google/Facebook space, and workers could easily get a bigger share of it by unionizing. And yet they don’t. It’s very odd.

Now, this is not my biggest concern in the world. Most tech workers make plenty of money already, which is probably why it’s hard to get them interested in unionizing. It’s the ill-paid service workers in America that really need to unionize. Still, why shouldn’t tech workers get themselves a bigger share of the pie?

It’s weird. There are lots of lefty policy proposals that are inherently risky. What would happen if we broke up Facebook? We don’t know, really. What would happen if we implemented a huge carbon tax? It’s hard to say. We can study these things and come up with educated guesses, but that’s all.

But then there are the things where we know the answer. Universal health care? We already do it for the elderly, and dozens of other countries do it for everyone. It works fine. Unionizing? The US was heavily unionized in the 50s and 60s and it worked fine. High marginal tax rates on the rich? We’ve done that too, and so have other countries. Up to a point, it works fine.

And then there are the things that we know don’t work. Military intervention in other countries? That’s got a very poor track record. Pumping teratonnes of carbon into the atmosphere? Bad idea. Economic warfare via tariffs? It’s been over a century since that was even arguably a good idea.

And yet we keep resisting all the good stuff and continuing with the bad stuff. What the hell is wrong with us?

Trump: “Of Course” You Report Foreign Campaign Dirt

The inevitable Phase 2 of Foreigndirtgate took place this morning:

Under fire for saying earlier in the week that “I’d take it” and scoffing at the notion that he should call authorities, Mr. Trump shifted by saying that while he would still look at incriminating information provided by a hostile foreign power about an election opponent he would “absolutely” report such an encounter. “Of course, you give it to the F.B.I. or report it to the attorney general or somebody like that,” Mr. Trump said on “Fox & Friends” in a telephone interview on Friday morning. “But of course you do that. You couldn’t have that happen with our country.”

If this follows the usual pattern, Phase 3 will happen in about a week. That’s the part where Trump, counting on the fact that memories have gotten a little foggy, claims that he’s always said he’d call the FBI if some foreigner offered him campaign dirt. His spear carriers in Congress and the media will all join in, agreeing that the liberal media, as usual, is deliberately impugning Trump’s integrity by misquoting him.

A Researcher Found a Bunch of Voting Machine Passwords Online

A little more than a week ago, the Department of Homeland Security confirmed that it was going to forensically analyze computer equipment associated with part of the 2016 elections in North Carolina in association with questions about Russian hacking. The news prompted an information security researcher to announce that he’d found evidence of other election security issues in North Carolina last fall, which he’d kept quiet until now.

Chris Vickery, the director of cyber-risk research at UpGuard, a cybersecurity services firm, tweeted June 7 that he had found an unlocked online repository that contained what he said were passwords for touchscreen voting machines. The repository, he said, also contained other information, including serial numbers for machines that had modems, which theoretically could have allowed them to connect to the internet.

Vickery said that after he found the open repository in September 2018, he immediately told state officials, who locked the file. State officials have told Mother Jones that the passwords were nearly 10 years old and encrypted—a claim disputed by Vickery and a Democratic technology consultant in North Carolina—but admitted that the file shouldn’t have been publicly available online.

In a statement provided to Mother Jones, State Board of Elections spokesperson Patrick Gannon said the passwords were encrypted and only applied to machines from one county that used them in 2010. Any suggestion that the passwords’ discovery in an open online repository posed a danger to elections was “false and irresponsible,” he said. Even if an attacker could have decrypted the passwords, the passwords would’ve been changed before the 2011 elections and every subsequent election, and “there is no way they could have been used to affect any election.”

But others disagree. Matt Bernhard, an election security expert at the University of Michigan, acknowledged that the passwords would have had limited use for anyone wanting them for ill purposes, given that they seem to apply to individual voting machines. But, he said, the fact that they were publicly accessible reflects a lack of election security protocols that has plagued election officials over the years.

“In the space of problems with North Carolina’s elections, this is fairly far down on the totem pole.”

“I think, really, it’s catastrophically dumb…profoundly stupid that they were online at all,” Bernhard told Mother Jones. “In the space of problems with North Carolina’s elections, this is fairly far down on the totem pole.” He noted that what’s important about the suspected breach was that “this is not a North Carolina-specific problem. It’s generally reflective of just a lack of security posture of election officials at all levels. Hopefully this is a good teachable moment for all of them.”

Vickery said last week that he shared what he had found in light of the Department of Homeland Security telling the Washington Post June 5 that it was conducting a forensic analysis of laptops used in Durham County, North Carolina, during the 2016 election. The laptops in that case are associated with what are known as poll books, which are devices used by local election workers to check voters in when they show up to cast their ballots. Problems with the poll books manufactured by Florida-based VR Systems led to significant delays in Durham County, and forced some voters to leave without casting a ballot.

In 2016, VR Systems believes it was targeted by the Russians (but denies it was hacked), and senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) have asked the FBI to respond to questions about what happened at that time. Wyden, who serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Klobuchar, who is the ranking member of the Senate Rules Committee, which has oversight of federal elections, have both taken an interest in election security.

Vickery’s find relates to an entirely different kind of voting technology. The passwords he found were for iVotronic touchscreen voting machines manufactured by Omaha-based Election Systems & Software, one of the country’s largest voting equipment vendors. Vickery said he found the passwords in an open State Board of Elections folder on an Amazon server, accessible to anyone who came across it.

“Immediately I understood the importance of it,” he told Mother Jones. He then confidentially got in touch with state election officials who closed access to the file and took it offline. The officials told him the passwords were old and had been changed years ago. Vickery said the most recent file in the folder had been uploaded in 2016.

State elections officials “immediately removed the outdated and encrypted password information” when Vickery notified them, Gannon wrote to Mother Jones in response to questions. The board has “taken steps to try to prevent similar information—even if it is harmless—from being posted to the website in the future.” Gannon added that “legitimate concerns about cybersecurity must be addressed,” even while “erroneous, misleading and politically charged attacks on the State Board and its employees unnecessarily decrease voters’ confidence in elections, which may decrease voter turnout, while taking resources away from important issues.”

Charlie Collicutt, director of the Board of Elections in Guilford County, North Carolina, explained that the passwords applied to a subset of iVotronic voting machines in Guilford County. He’s not sure why the file was uploaded to a publicly accessible folder, but reiterated that the passwords were changed after 2010. The passwords were “ciphered” somehowwith letters or symbols systematically changed to other letters and symbols—and there there might be confusion around referring to them as encrypted. Either way, he said, “This file was a one-off that was posted years” after the passwords within it applied to the machines.

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