Mother Jones Magazine

Rep. Rashida Tlaib Calls Out the President: “He’s Afraid of Us”

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) has clearly gotten under the skin of President Trump, who has frequently attacked the first-term congresswoman in starkly racist terms and even lobbied Israel to block her from visiting the country.

Now Tlaib says she knows why: He’s afraid.

In a recent conversation with the Guardian, billed as her first in-depth interview since the cancellation of her Israel trip, Tlaib said, “It’s been very clear to me, especially this last week, that he’s scared of us.” 

She continued, “He’s afraid of women of color…because we’re not afraid of him and we’re not afraid to speak up and say that we have a white supremacist in the White House who has a hate agenda.”

This type of blunt public criticism of Trump is what first introduced much of the public to Tlaib. Shortly after she was elected to Congress, she said it was time to “impeach the motherfucker.” Now that her profile and that of “the Squad” has grown, Tlaib and freshman Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and Ayanna Pressley (D- Mass.) have become a constant target for Trump. He has repeatedly attacked them in Twitter rants, saying they should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

Tlaib’s interview with the Guardian comes shortly after the Israeli government denied her and Omar—the first and only two Muslim women to be elected to Congress—permission to enter the country. The White House had previously denied reports that Trump was pressuring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for such a move, but later, in a tweet, Trump all but confirmed the behind-the-scenes efforts. 

Later, after some back and forth about Tlaib’s plans to visit her grandmother in the West Bank, Trump again attacked her in vile terms:

Sorry, I don’t buy Rep. Tlaib’s tears. I have watched her violence, craziness and, most importantly, WORDS, for far too long. Now tears? She hates Israel and all Jewish people. She is an anti-Semite. She and her 3 friends are the new face of the Democrat Party. Live with it!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 20, 2019

“He’s afraid because we have a real agenda for the American people,” she told the Guardian. “He can bring it.”

Here Is Your Weekend Tariff Primer

It’s hard to keep track of all the China tariff action these days. Here’s a short primer.

Imports from China have been broken into lists, which are just what they sound like: lists of various products. Lists 1 and 2 accounted for about $50 billion worth of Chinese imports annually and were subjected to 25 percent tariffs last year. These were mostly industrial products, not consumer products.

List 3 included food and other consumer items in addition to industrial goods, clocking in at about $200 billion worth of Chinese imports. Trump imposed a 10 percent tariff on List 3 last year and upped it to 25 percent earlier this year.

List 4 is everything else and amounts to about $300 billion worth of imports. Trump imposed a 10 percent tariff on List 4 products earlier this month. On Friday, he announced that this would increase to 15 percent and the tariffs on the other lists would increase to 30 percent.

However, because Trump doesn’t want to interfere with Christmas, List 4 was split into List 4a and List 4b. The tariffs on List 4b, which includes lots of popular consumer items, won’t go into effect until mid-December.

Keep in mind that tariffs are imposed on the “customs value” of products. An iPhone that retails for $1,000, for example, has a customs value of around $400. A 15 percent tariff comes to $60, or roughly 6 percent of the retail value.

All told, we import about $550 billion in goods from China annually, and when List 4 takes full effect at the end of the year all of it will be subject to Trump tariffs. Products on Lists 1-3 will be subject to tariffs of 30 percent and products on List 4 will be subject to tariffs of 15 percent. Unless Trump changes his mind between now and December, that is.

Former Rep. Joe Walsh Just Made It Official: He’ll Challenge President Trump for the Republican Nomination

Former Republican lawmaker Joe Walsh officially announced his longshot run for the presidential nomination on Sunday, challenging President Donald Trump. After hinting at it in recent interviews, Walsh announced his candidacy in an interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week, criticizing the president and attempting to address his former support of Trump and his own long history of racist statements.

“We’ve got a guy in the White House who’s unfit, completely unfit to be president. And it stuns me that nobody stepped up, nobody in the Republican party stepped up,” Walsh told Stephanopoulos. “In the Republican party, everybody believes that he’s unfit. He lies every time he opens his mouth.”

When @GStephanopoulos pointed out the massive uphill climb Joe Walsh has thanks to President Trump's overwhelmingly high approval rating within the party, the controversial former congressman argued that conservatives don't have an alternative to Trump https://t.co/JmbrJf0GKe

— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) August 25, 2019

The conservative radio show host from Illinois served one term in the House of Representatives. He was a vocal Trump supporter in 2016, tweeting, “if Trump loses, I’m grabbing my musket. You in?” Now he hopes he can flip other former Trump supporters to weaken his base. 

“I have—I helped—I helped create Trump. There’s no doubt about that, the personal, ugly politics. I regret that. And I’m sorry for that,” Walsh told Stephanopolous. “I went beyond the policy and the idea differences and I got personal and I got hateful. I said some ugly things about President Obama that I regret.”

Walsh has a long history of racist comments. He promoted birtherism and other conspiracy theories against former President Barack Obama. He also defended the use of racial slurs on his nationally syndicated radio show, among other controversial statements. 

Walsh joins former two-term governor of Massachusetts Bill Weld in challenging the president for the Republican nomination. Weld has called Trump a “clear and present danger to our country, to the globe and to himself.” 

.@realDonaldTrump is a clear and present danger—to our country, to the globe and to himself. #AmericaDeservesBetter#25thAmendment

— Gov. Bill Weld (@GovBillWeld) August 21, 2019

When asked about Walsh’s challenge, the Trump campaign reportedly commented a single word: “Whatever.”

Anglers Don’t Know How to Stop the Hordes of Hungry Sea Lions

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

With the lights of Moss Landing, California, twinkling in the distance, Captain Porter McHenry stood on the top deck of the Merva W, a large commercial fishing boat. Ocean water sprayed his face and dampened his thick brown beard. A third-generation fisherman, McHenry employs a crew of three. In the dead of the night, his yellow rain jacket was briefly illuminated as he ignited the long wick of an orange firecracker and chucked it over the side of the boat into the waves. 

Seconds later, a bright flash and boom broke the sea of darkness.

The 3-inch explosives, known in the fishing world as “seal bombs,” create a blast comparable to that of a small stick of dynamite. West Coast fishermen from California to Alaska use them to scare away seals and sea lions trying to steal their catch, including squid, anchovies and salmon. Once thrown overboard, the bombs detonate below the water’s surface, producing a noise that can travel for over 40 miles underwater. “Sometimes you can throw a bunch of ’em, and sea lions will stay away for a couple minutes,” said McHenry, “and you’re able to catch.” 

McHenry’s bomb forced a school of anchovies to crowd together. The fishermen cast a net, which unfurled across the water like a blanket.   

But a nearby pack of 30 hungry, burly sea lions was only momentarily deterred.

The animals thronged the bulging net, some plunging in and out to sneak extra mouthfuls of fish. The fishermen start to haul in the more than 10 tons of anchovies in the net. One sea lion swam back in and thrashed around wildly before diving back into the waves.  

This unabashed thievery has left fishermen feeling frustrated, forced to use a deterrent that doesn’t seem to work. Interviews with fishermen and marine biologists and a review of studies reveal that seal bombs are unsuccessful at scaring sea lions away from fishing nets. And the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the federal agency in charge of handling nuisance sea lions, knows that seal bombs are ineffective. Yet the agency continues to enforce its policy against lethal deterrents, leaving fishermen with few options other than to illegally kill sea lions or watch the animals gobble up their valuable catch.

“This is our livelihood. This is what we do to pay our bills and help our families,” said commercial fishermen Clark Walker, who works on McHenry’s boat. “If they leave us with no resources, we’re screwed.”

Before the seal bombs became the go-to method for dealing with sea lions, West Coast fishermen used shotguns. Until the late 1950s, fishermen freely shot at sea lions encroaching on their boats. Oregon even paid people to track down and kill the animals for $10 per carcass. But when the species’ population plummeted to the verge of collapse in the 1960s, conservationists stepped in.

The Switzerland-based International Union for Conservation of Nature, a global authority on species conservation, listed California sea lions as very rare. This listing helped motivate President Richard Nixon to sign the Marine Mammal Protection Act into law in 1972, making it illegal to hurt, harass or injure any marine mammals. As a result, the sea lion population tripled from just under 90,000 in 1975 to over 270,000 in 2008, and the animals did not have to be listed under the Endangered Species Act. This was a conservation success, but the sea lion resurgence has since become a huge nuisance for West Coast and Alaska fishermen, who lose money with every mouthful the animals take from their catch.

And the monetary impacts extend beyond the lost fish. “Not only do they eat the catch out of the net, but they do significant harm to the net, which is pretty expensive,” said Kathy Hansen, a commercial fisherwoman and director of the Southeast Alaska Fishermen’s Alliance, a nonprofit commercial fishing organization. Hungry sea lions are also known to chase boats, and fishermen spend more money on fuel fleeing from them.

Watching this is “like beating your head into a wall,” said Rudy Zeiss, a fourth-generation commercial fishermen from Santa Cruz.

Since the 1970s, fishermen have employed non-lethal deterrents. Seal bombs, which are regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, became the popular choice. They are portable, easy to ignite and have the added benefit of creating a pressure wave that forces fish together while briefly spooking sea lions. Fishermen set off as many as 37,500 seal bombs per month in Southern California from 2005 to 2016, according to a study done by the Scripps Acoustic Ecology Laboratory. In 2009, researchers recorded over 3,000 explosions in a single night at one fishing site.

But there is growing concern over whether the bombs pose a significant risk to other marine life, both directly, by hitting animals, and indirectly, by blasting loud noises, researchers say. The noise ripples out into a marine ecosystem filled with animals that rely on underwater sounds to find their next meal.

What’s more, research across the West Coast indicates that these explosions are only somewhat effective in fending off sea lions.

Two studies in 1987 revealed that sea lions were only deterred for an average of roughly four minutes. These findings were replicated in a report by NOAA and the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, which examined the use of seal bombs in rivers and bays in Oregon, Washington and California from 1997 to 2008. They found that the explosives were ineffective in stopping sea lions from preying on fishery catches 

“These are animals that are about eating food, reproducing and resting,” said Robert Anderson, the marine mammal program manager at NOAA. “Those things are extremely hard-wired and hard to break.”

Researchers hypothesize that seal bombs may even act as a dinner bell by luring sea lions towards a fresh meal. Between the seal bombs and blaring lights that fishermen use, hungry sea lions are easily tipped off to where they can find free food.

Despite this, many fishermen still think the bombs are better than nothing. Former Alaska Trollers Association Director Dale Kelley said that seal bombs “provide the singular most effective and legal non-lethal means to deter sea lions from vessels and catch.” And, according to Rudy Zeiss, the explosives give commercial fishermen like him “some type of chance to make a living here. Honestly, they may not do much, but even the peace of mind thinking that it’s doing something helps. It helps everything, it helps morale.”

Finally, in 2018, NOAA abandoned non-lethal methods and permitted the use of lethal force in Oregon. Specifically, officials allowed the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to start euthanizing sea lions in the Willamette River, where sea lions are harming the local salmon population. Instead of staying in their natural ocean habitat, California sea lions have traveled upriver to Willamette Falls, where salmon pass through every year on their journey to spawn. According to more than a decade of data, the number of sea lions at the waterfall has increased from 27 per day in 2014 to at least 40 per day in 2017. “None of us got into the type of work that we’re in to do something like a lethal removal program, but you kinda end up there,” said Anderson, who is managing the program.

But for commercial fishermen out in the open ocean, NOAA has no solution. According to John Ewald, director of public affairs, NOAA is developing “specific measures for deterring Endangered Species Act-listed marine mammals.” However, “through this effort, we are not evaluating effectiveness of deterrents, nor are we developing deterrent methods or technologies.”

NOAA’s own 11-year report on the use of seal bombs in Oregon, Washington and California shows that non-lethal deterrents aren’t working, yet allowing a lethal removal program in the open ocean would require passing new laws in favor of culling a once seriously threatened species in its natural environment. This conflicts with the agency’s mission to be stewards “of the nation’s ocean resources and their habitat.”

So, rather than develop new tools, NOAA is doubling down, focusing its efforts on teaching fishermen how to use seal bombs and other non-lethal deterrents properly. But with no new and more effective deterrent in sight, fishermen are left with a growing sense of frustration and few other options. National Geographic report last year found that West Coast fishermen are now illegally using shotguns; between 1998 and 2018, around 700 sea lions were found with gunshot or stab wounds. 

There is “no way other than shooting them,” says fisherman Clay Eldredge, who is based out of Half Moon Bay in California. “But you go to prison.” The penalty for killing a sea lion can be a year in prison and a fine of up to $28,520. However, without eyewitness accounts, video evidence, or confessions, tracking down perpetrators is close to impossible. Since 2003, just five fishermen in California have been convicted.  

“It’s the last option for the fishermen,” says Eldredge. “It’s all we’ve got.”

Welfare Reform Was a Disaster for the Poor. Trump Wants to Make It Even Worse.

This week marked the 23rd anniversary of welfare reform, a law that ripped a hole in the nation’s safety net under the guise of encouraging personal responsibility among poor families. The nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has marked the anniversary with a look back at how low-income families have fared under the “reform,” and it isn’t heartening.

Very few eligible poor families now receive cash benefits compared with 23 years ago. Overall, CBPP estimates that the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program could be serving 2.5 million more families living below the poverty line than it does now. Some states are worse than others on this front. At the very bottom end of the scale are Louisiana and Texas, where according to CBPP, only four out of every 100 eligible families receives cash assistance from TANF.  If Louisiana served the same percentage of poor families as it did in 1996, nearly 70,000 families in the state would have received assistance in 2017. Instead, only about 6,000 did. In Texas, the caseload would have been well over 250,000 families. Instead, only 25,000 Texas families received TANF in 2017. 

The reason for the large drop in the number of poor families benefiting from TANF is pretty simple. In 1996, Congress passed legislation to eliminate the old Aid to Families with Dependent Children program, which provided cash benefits mostly to poor, single mothers. As an entitlement program, the AFDC program budget adjusted automatically to meet the need, so it didn’t require an act of Congress to increase benefits during a recession. But by the mid-1990s, it had become hugely controversial and plagued with false, racist stereotypes about layabout welfare recipients supposedly living large on the public dime.

With a seal of approval from President Bill Clinton, the GOP-controlled Congress replaced AFDC with TANF, a block-grant program that gave the states a fixed amount of funding, about $16 billion, regardless of how many people were on the welfare rolls or how high the unemployment rate went. The revamped law required strict new work requirements for recipients and imposed time limits on how long someone could receive benefits. States took the opportunity to drop millions of families from the welfare rolls, all while keeping the federal money. States today spend only about a quarter of their TANF budgets on cash assistance to help poor families buy diapers, keep the lights on, and avoid evictions. The rest of the money goes into other things, including anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers, abstinence-only sex education, and the foster care system—the very place welfare benefits were supposed to keep kids out of.

The original cuts came at a time when the economy was booming during the Clinton years, but since then, the impact of the change has become clear: TANF is doing little to alleviate poverty. That hasn’t kept Republicans from continuing to attack the program as free stuff for the underserving.

In November, President Donald Trump issued an executive order demanding that federal agencies review their welfare policies and find ways to crack down on the lazy and indolent. “Our country still struggles from nearly record high welfare enrollments,” White House adviser Andrew Bremberg said when the order was issued. “Part of President Trump’s effort to create a booming American economy includes moving Americans from welfare to work.”

Report: Trump’s Businesses Could Save Millions If Fed Cuts Interest Rates

In recent months, Donald Trump has repeatedly attacked the Federal Reserve and its chairperson, Jerome Powell, for setting interest rates higher than Trump would like. “The only problem we have is Jay Powell and the Fed,” the president tweeted on Wednesday. “Big U.S. growth if he does the right thing, BIG CUT – but don’t count on him! So far he has called it wrong, and only let us down.” On Friday, he went further, declaring, “My only question is, who is our bigger enemy, Jay Powell or Chairman Xi?”

Trump pretty clearly sees recent economic turmoil—much of which he has caused by provoking a trade war with China—as a major threat to his reelection bid. He’s hoping the Fed can juice the economy enough for him to win a second term. But as the Washington Post reported Saturday, Trump may have an ulterior motive. It turns out that his businesses could save millions of dollars in interest payments if rates fall:

In the five years before he became president, Trump borrowed more than $360 million via four loans from Deutsche Bank for his hotels in Washington, D.C., and Chicago, as well his 643-room Doral golf resort in South Florida. 

The payments on all four properties vary with interest rate changes, according to Trump’s official financial disclosures. That means he has already benefited from falling interest rates that were spurred in part by a cut the Federal Reserve announced in July, the first in more than a decade—and his payments could drop by millions of dollars more annually if the central bank grants Trump’s wish and further lowers short-term rates, experts said.

[…]

The central bank’s benchmark rate is one factor in determining interest owed on variable-rate loans, the kind the president has on his properties. Mortgage rates have also been driven down because of the trade war with China and anxieties about global growth.

When Trump became president, he refused to divest from his vast array of business ventures—despite the obvious conflicts of interest they pose. His hotels and clubs have continued raking in money from foreign officials (though the Trump Organization says it donates these profits), and he’s threatened to impose tariffs on wine imports that compete with his winery. Now he stands to benefit from bullying the Federal Reserve.

Here’s My Summary of All the Climate Plans

Here’s my summary of the climate change plans from all of the top-tier Democratic candidates. My assessment is based mostly on three things:

  • How practical is the plan? I’m not interested in kitchen sinks. It’s easy to propose a plan that does everything, but if it has no chance of gaining public support then it’s not a serious effort.
  • The plan should allocate huge sums for energy R&D. The past two decades have made it clear that the public—and that includes everyone reading this—is not willing to endure huge lifestyle changes in order to save us from planetary suicide. The only way we’re likely to beat climate change is by finding new technologies that provide lots of carbon-free energy at low prices.
  • The United States is responsible for only about 15 percent of global carbon emissions. This means that while subsidies for things like solar and wind are good ideas, they are nowhere near enough. Even if the US completely decarbonized by 2050, it would have virtually no effect unless the rest of the world joins us. Any serious plan has to address this head on.

I understand that this is not the usual way of grading climate plans. The usual way is to count up how many boxes have been checked and how much money is being promised. This rewards the same old kitchen sink plans that have been failing to gain public traction for the past two decades and I have no interest in going down this path. Climate change is shaping up to be the biggest catastrophe in human history, and it demands not wishful thinking, but a clear-eyed view of reality and human nature.

I’m interested in plans that demonstrate some thought; show a willingness to prioritize; and take into account what the public is and isn’t likely to support. In other words, plans that are likely to work. Here are my grades:

Candidate Grade Comments Joe Biden C+ $1.7 trillion plan is not bad. It takes R&D seriously and spends considerable time acknowledging that we’ll get nowhere unless we get the rest of the world on board. Unfortunately, it’s way too timid. Multiply the R&D by ten and it would be pretty good. Cory Booker Inc. No plan yet. Placeholder is mostly about environmental justice and doesn’t look promising. Pete Buttigieg Inc. No plan yet. Even the placeholder looks like an afterthought. Kamala Harris Inc. No plan yet. Placeholder is mostly about taking on big oil and promoting environmental justice. Beto O’Rourke F $1.5 trillion plan is small and allocates only $200 billion for R&D. It’s so full of jargon that it’s hard to figure out what it really means. Once you cut through the cant, there’s nothing much there. Bernie Sanders D- $16 trillion plan is the king of the kitchen sinks: just say you support everything so you don’t have to prioritize anything. It is plainly meant more to impress than to provide a practical way forward. There’s more about vanquishing the left’s enemies and providing jobs than there is about genuinely tackling climate change. Elizabeth Warren C- $2 trillion plan is incomplete and too small, but it’s genuinely focused on climate change rather than using climate change as a cover for other progressive priorities. It needs more thought, and like Biden’s plan, the R&D spending needs to be multiplied by ten.

Top EU Official Blasts Trump’s Plan to Invite Russia to G7 Meeting

President Donald Trump has reportedly been complaining up a storm about having to represent the United States at this week’s meeting of the G7 in Biarritz, France. It’s hard to blame him, really. He hates it when he can’t sleep in his own bed or at one of his own resorts. Plus the Europeans don’t like him very much. He was greeted upon arrival by French President Emmanuel Macron, who pestered him at an impromptu lunch about climate change and other issues, such as inequality, that Trump doesn’t care about. And Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, which represents the 28 members of the European Union, kicked off the week’s meetings by taking Trump to task for his repeated insistence that the G7 invite Russia to rejoin the group of world economic powers. 

The group expelled Russia in 2014 after it invaded Ukraine and annexed the Crimea Peninsula. Russia continues to support anti-Kiev rebels fighting the Ukrainian government. Trump has blamed President Barack Obama for Russia’s expulsion, and he apparently believes the invasion of Crimea was justified because people who live there speak Russian.

Trump said on Tuesday that he believed it is “much more appropriate to have Russia in” the G7 meetings than out because “a lot of the things we talk about have to do with Russia.” The comments prompted Tusk to make a public statement Saturday throwing cold water on the idea of Russia rejoining the group.

G7 News: Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, announces that “under no condition” will the EU agree to Trump’s suggestion to invite Russia back into the G7. In fact, Ukraine may be invited as a guest to next year’s summit. #G7Biarritz #G7Summit pic.twitter.com/e2iL6v1Sq8

— Stephanie Kennedy (@WordswithSteph) August 24, 2019

“One year ago, in Canada, President Trump suggested reinviting Russia to G7, stating openly that Crimea’s annexation by Russia was partially justified and that we should accept this fact,” Tusk said. “Under no condition can we agree with this logic.” Officials from Germany, France, and the United Kingdom made similar comments earlier in the week.

Tusk went on to explain: “When Russia was invited to G7 for the first time, it was believed that it would pursue the path of liberal democracy, rule of law, and human rights. Is there anyone among us, who can say with full conviction, not out of business calculation, that Russia is on that path?”

Instead, Tusk, who is Polish, suggested that next year, “it would be better to invite Ukraine.”

Cory Booker and Pete Buttigieg Don’t Have Climate Plans

Cory Booker and Pete Buttigieg round out the top tier of Democratic candidates, but neither one of them has released a climate plan yet. Booker’s placeholder is here; Buttigieg’s is here.

Neither one looks very promising, but I’ll withhold judgment for now. When they release their plans, I’ll grade them then.

Beto O’Rourke Gets an F for His Climate Plan

Beto O’Rourke’s climate plan presents a problem: it’s so full of jargon and voodoo accounting that it’s genuinely hard to figure out what he’s saying. For starters, he calls it a $5 trillion plan, but it turns out that he plans only to “mobilize” $5 trillion by “leveraging” a $1.5 trillion direct investment. Of that dubious $5 trillion, he targets $4 trillion on infrastructure buildout, including this:

More than $1 trillion through limited-duration, performance-focused climate change tax incentives that accelerate the scale up of nascent technologies enabling reductions in greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors, through efficiency and alternatives.

What does that mean? It reads like a parody of corporatese, not a real attempt to say something. In any case, what O’Rourke is actually proposing is $600 billion in spending on infrastructure buildout that, in some unstated way, will spur a total of $4 trillion in infrastructure buildout.

On the R&D front, O’Rourke proposes spending $200 billion. This will “catalyze follow-on private investment,” but he doesn’t pretend to put a number on that. There’s no detail about what this money will be spent on, which is OK since that decision should be left to experts, but it would be nice to include at least enough to show that he’s given it some thought instead of just repeating platitudes.

Beyond this, he proposes a “legally enforceable standard” to meet the goal of net zero emissions by 2050:

This standard will send a clear price signal to the market to change the incentives for how we produce, consume, and invest in energy, while putting in place a mechanism that will ensure the environmental and socio-economic integrity of this endeavor — providing us with the confidence that we are moving at least as quickly as we need in order to meet a 2050 deadline.

I guess this means a carbon tax? Or cap-and-trade? Once again, the jargon quotient is so high that it’s hardly possible to say what O’Rourke really means here.

Taken as a whole, O’Rourke’s plan is the smallest one out there; it targets only $200 billion for R&D; it doesn’t even acknowledge that the rest of the world exists; and it’s so full of buzzwords and funny money that it’s genuinely hard to figure out what he really means. He gets an F.

Joe Biden Gets a C+ for His Climate Plan

Joe Biden has proposed a $1.7 trillion climate plan over ten years that includes the following major components:

  • Net zero emissions by 2050.
  • $400 billion (over ten years) on R&D targeted at: grid-scale storage; small modular nuclear reactors; zero net energy buildings; using renewables to produce carbon-free hydrogen; decarbonizing industrial heat needed to make steel, concrete, and chemicals; leveraging agriculture to remove carbon dioxide from the air; and sequestering carbon dioxide from power plants deep underground.
  • Special attention paid to R&D on nuclear power and carbon sequestration.
  • A climate adaptation agenda.
  • A lengthy plan to “rally the world” to address climate change.
  • All the usual shoutouts to climate justice and protection for fossil-fuel workers who lose their jobs.

This is . . . surprisingly good. There are two key components to any good climate plan: (a) it can’t rely on lifestyle sacrifices that people simply won’t accept, and (b) it has to be truly global. The United States accounts for about 15 percent of total carbon emissions, so even if we spend trillions in subsidies to become carbon free it will represent only a drop in the ocean unless the rest of the world comes along.

Biden’s plan doesn’t say this as explicitly as I just did, but its emphasis on R&D and global action is obvious: nearly 20 percent of the report is taken up by R&D and another 20 percent by the need to work with other countries. What’s more, Biden has obviously taken some expert advice on the R&D front. His suggestions for general areas to spend money on are quite good.

That said, Biden’s suggestion of $400 billion in R&D is laughably small. Multiply by ten and you might have something serious. This is the place where Biden’s natural caution and centrism work against him. He’s on the right track here, but climate change is the single biggest catastrophe our planet has ever faced. If we’re going to do something about it, we’re going to need the single biggest response our planet has ever put forth.

So: right idea, but pitifully small. I’ll give it a C+. A sharp bump upward in the R&D budget would get Biden a solid B.

Donald Trump Has Grievances

Trump administration officials have outlined their plans for this weekend’s G7 meeting:

As the officials outlined Trump’s agenda for the meeting, they indicated the president would spend much of his time touting his own economic record and bluntly criticizing several allies for their slowing growth. He has a long list of grievances he plans to air, the officials said.

In other words, the same as usual. How about if this time we don’t even bother to cover the Trump show?

Look No Further Than Brazil’s Amazon Fire for the Dangers of Deregulation

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

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro took power this year promising to open the Amazon rainforest to industry, roll back environmental and indigenous protections, and stack his Cabinet with ideologues who dismiss climate change as a Marxist hoax.

But the record wildfires now raging in the Amazon offer a terrifying rebuke and serve as a stark reminder of what’s at stake as Bolsonaro’s policies allow ranchers, loggers, and miners to destroy the world’s largest forest and repository of carbon dioxide at an unprecedented pace.

The blaze this week produced apocalyptic images as smoke billowed more than 1,800 miles southeast to blacken the daytime sky over São Paulo, the Western hemisphere’s biggest city. Video of an indigenous Pataxó woman shouting as orange flames engulfed her tribe’s reservation in Minas Gerais went viral. 

It was only the latest of what new research this week found to be a record year for wildfires in the Amazon. Satellite data from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, or INPE, showed an 84 percent increase over the same period last year. 

The disaster eerily paralleled the historic storms and wildfires that rocked the United States in 2017, just as President Donald Trump—to whom Bolsonaro is often compared—began his assault on environmental regulations and announced plans to withdraw from the Paris climate accords. 

Fires are common in the Amazon during the region’s dry season, but this year has not been drier or windier than normal, experts have said, meaning many of the outbreaks have likely come from ranchers and farmers. And many environmental advocates have pointed to rapid destruction of the forest as the driver in the spread of the flames.

“It’s not a revenge of nature; it’s something very, very human,” said Nurit Bensusan, a top official at the Instituto Socioambiental, a Brasília-based nonprofit that advocates for conservation and indigenous rights. “It’s a sign of worse things to come.”

The fires come after INPE data detected an 88 percent uptick in deforestation in June compared with the same month a year earlier. It’s a remarkable reversal. In the late 2000s, Brazil ramped up environmental enforcement and dramatically reduced deforestation as its economy grew by roughly 8 percent per year. But as economic growth slowed, the acreage of Amazon cleared each year increased, particularly after center-right President Michel Temer took power in 2016. 

Bolsonaro accelerated the upward trend. The right-wing president who relied on the backing of influential agribusiness interests to win election in 2018 has loosened or attempted to eliminate environmental protections over the Amazon, and Brazil is now felling trees at a rate of roughly one soccer field per minute. By July, the Amazon lost an additional 520 square miles of forest—an area roughly the size of Los Angeles. At the start of this month, the president sacked his space agency chief in what was widely seen as a retaliation for publishing data that conflicted with the Bolsonaro administration’s agenda. 

The move was only one of Bolsonaro’s most brazen. Before his inauguration, he named Ernesto Araújo, who railed against the leftist “ideology” of “climatism,” as his foreign minister. For environment minister, he appointed Ricardo Salles, who questioned human-caused emissions’ role in warming the climate and mocked assassinated environmentalists. Almost immediately after taking office, the president shifted control over indigenous reservations from the agency devoted to tribal welfare to the Ministry of Agriculture, overseen by a top ally of agribusiness. His administration muzzled environmental enforcement agencies and hastened approvals of new pesticides. 

The increased pace of deforestation, experts have warned, is pushing the Amazon closer to a “tipping point” past which it will not be able to recover—precisely what scientists worried would happen if Bolsonaro won last year’s election and pursued his promised agenda.

“When Bolsonaro discourages law enforcement from stopping deforestation, he is sending a message to those who are interested in destroying the Amazon,” federal congressman Alessandro Molon, the opposition leader in the lower house of Brazil’s bicameral legislature, said in a WhatsApp message Wednesday. “Bolsonaro dismisses scientific data and facts to focus on his personal beliefs. This is absolutely irresponsible! The consequences of the president’s acts will be felt by the entire planet.”

Driving deforestation is the world’s surging appetite for red meat. Brazil is the world’s second-largest producer of beef after the United States. Even before Bolsonaro took office, corporate meat giants were grazing cattle in protected areas with relative impunity, according to a joint investigation published this year by The Guardian, Repórter Brasil and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

More than a quarter of the deforestation that occurred globally from 2001 to 2015 was due to the conversion of land for the production of commodities like beef, soy and wood fiber, a 2018 study published by US researchers found. 

The ongoing crisis in Brazil is exactly the type of unobstructed exploitation that a United Nations report earlier this month warned must end in order to avert catastrophic planetary warming. As much as 76 percent of the planet’s ice-free land has been altered by humans. And agriculture, forestry, and other land use currently account for approximately 23 percent of total human greenhouse gas emissions, according to the findings. 

Forests like the Amazon are key to limiting future warming, as the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change drove home in a separate report late last year. 

“The Amazon not only contains enormous stores of carbon but regulates local and regional weather regimes,” James Watson, director of science and research initiatives at the Wildlife Conservation Society, told HuffPost in a recent email. “There is clear evidence that when it gets degraded, there are more droughts, more fires and more carbon released, which is a vicious loop you can’t turn back from.”

Though other nations, the United States included, have failed to adequately move to address climate change, the rapid destruction of the Amazon has made Bolsonaro the biggest global villain of the international environmental movement. In August, Norway and Germany suspended millions of dollars in funds provided to Brazil in order to help limit Amazon deforestation. 

Bolsonaro also faced protests from environmental and human rights activists in New York in April, when he was scheduled to appear at an event at the American Museum of Natural History. The event was canceled after the museum faced an onslaught of criticism. 

But Bolsonaro has attempted to use any efforts to exert international leverage over Brazil to boost his cause instead. He has played up long-standing concerns among Brazilians that efforts to protect the forest could encroach on the nation’s sovereignty and has sought to wield climate change and the Amazon as a political cudgel against leftists, environmentalists and the international community—all frequent targets of a president who has placed several so-called anti-globalists into his Cabinet.

“This seems to be at the heart of a lot of what the president believes. It’s not just about climate change—it’s also about globalism, sovereignty and economic development,” said Oliver Stuenkel, an international relations professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo. “For the president, it’s, if you believe in [climate change], it’s a conspiracy meant to keep Brazil from developing…And he knows this causes agony and outrage among his international opposition.”

After the decisions from Germany and Norway, the president responded with terse insults to leaders of each country, then abruptly shuttered the Amazon Fund’s steering committee. Bolsonaro has also decried domestic and international reporting about the Amazon and criticism from former environmental ministers—eight of whom signed a letter this year saying his policies had increased Amazon destruction—as “fake news,” a message his more rabid followers are eager to help spread.

“The Amazon is ours,” Bolsonaro said at a press junket with foreign reporters last month. “No country in the world has the moral right to talk about the Amazon. You destroyed your own ecosystems.”

The president returned to his habit of peddling conspiracies related to the Amazon on Wednesday, when he suggested that environmental groups may be setting fires in an attempt to discredit him.

“The Amazon is on fire. The president says NGOs may be behind this. The lack of commitment to the truth is a chronic pathology,” Marina Silva, a former environmental minister and presidential candidate, said on Twitter. “This irresponsible attitude only aggravates an environmental disaster in Brazil.”

Kamala Harris Doesn’t Have a Climate Plan

Kamala Harris’s climate plan is here. It’s just a placeholder with a few platitudes about fighting big oil, “building a clean economy that creates good-paying jobs for the future,” etc. I’m a little surprised that Harris doesn’t have something more by now, but there’s still plenty of time left. When she releases a plan, I’ll grade it then.

With “Lover” Taylor Swift Says Goodbye

On October 24, 2006, Taylor Swift, all of 16 years old, released her debut album, Taylor Swift. The album peaked on the Billboard 200 at No. 5—a worthy spot for a debut album—and was eventually certified as seven-times platinum by RIAA. Since then, every single Swift album has peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. For 13 years Taylor Swift has been a constant in our lives, and over the past decade, millions of people have devotedly listened to every track, religiously bought her every album, and dissected every aspect of her life.

But as Swift drops her seventh LP, Lover, you can’t help but notice something’s different: It’s a goodbye.

This is not Swift’s final album. It’s not a goodbye to her fans or to the music industry. Rather, it’s a goodbye to an era. By effectively returning to the sounds and storytelling that made her the chart-topping teenager millions fell in love with 13 years ago, Lover is a reintroduction to a Swift we’ve ultimately forgotten.

Swift’s career is best looked at in parts. There’s the country-heavy, young-lust–filled first act of her early three albums, Taylor Swift, Fearless, and Speak Now. Then there’s the mainstream second half of her body of work that saw a new legion of fans join the Swiftdom: Red, 1989, and Reputation. (Red serves as the dividing point of her arc, representing the awkward—but still banging—era in which she was transitioning from “country” to “pop.”) Looking at Swift’s career in these two parts, a larger picture begins to form: Act 1, a tale of young love and an exciting world told with bright eyes and an innocent heart. Then comes Act 2, a tale of a young adult finding her identity in a nastier world, struggling to understand what mature love looks like among feuds and heartbreaks.

Like Red before it, Lover is Swift’s awkward goodbye to an era of her work that exemplifies a period of learning, loss, and love.

Lover, as a whole, showcases Swift’s unmatchable talent of using specificity to evoke the familiar emotions that come with searching for love, finding love, and moving on once that love has been lost. There’s “Cornelia Street,” which speaks of the inability to return to spaces that stir up, as Swift puts it, “the kinda heartbreak time could never mend.” “Death by a Thousand Cuts” takes the simple, yet excruciating familiar pain of a cut and righteously equates it to the pain of fresh heartbreak. And “Soon You’ll Get Better” is the Dixie Chicks-assisted letter to her mom, Andrea, who’s currently in a battle with cancer. The Dixie Chicks’ background vocals reinforce the emotion of Swift struggling with the idea she’s centering herself—a common criticism that even we’ve reinforced at times—as she fears losing her mom. “And I hate to make this all about me/But who am I supposed to talk to?/What am I supposed to do?/If there’s no you,” she sings.

Swift doesn’t lose her power among the 18 tracks. “Paper Rings” is yet another Swift/Antonoff production that conjures the similar sporadic energy that made Kesha’s Rainbow come to life. (Special shoutout to “It’s Nice to Have a Friend” and “False God” that elicit a similar odd energy.) “The Man” borders on tiresome, but what is a Taylor Swift album without at least one song about the way the world views her? It’d be boring, that’s what.

1989 and Reputation, while both excellent, came with expectations. 1989 could only be consumed as Taylor Swift’s “first official pop album.” Reputation was designed to be listened to with an entire multi-year feud in mind. Lover can be seen only through the prism of Swift’s entire 13-year arc. It’s a summing up and an augur of what’s to come.

A Tennessee Republican Accused of Sexual Misconduct With Underage Girls Just Said He Isn’t Running Again

Tennessee state Rep. David Byrd, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by three women who were underage at the time, quietly told his Republican colleagues in the state House that he would not seek reelection next year due to the controversy. In his comments, made during a closed-door caucus meeting, he also reportedly insisted he would not be stepping down. 

I wrote about the case against Byrd late last year, not long after he had won election in a landslide, despite common knowledge of the allegations and a recorded conversation between him and one of his accusers in which he apologizes to her. (He does not specify what he is apologizing for in the recording.) Byrd did not respond to requests for comment when I was writing that story and, as I explained then, he “has not exactly denied the allegations against him; rather, he emphasizes repeatedly that they are from more than 30 years ago.”

As the Tennessean reported Friday:

Speaking to his colleagues, Byrd addressed the protests he has faced, which he said were led by out-of-state actors, while touting last year’s election results. 

He criticized Enough is Enough, a political action committee that formed in 2018 that has focused its attention on Byrd this year, and the “liberal media.”

Byrd also gave a warning to his colleagues—if he were to be expelled or not seek reelection, his critics would win and could result in other GOP lawmakers being targeted. 

During my investigation, I spoke with Christi Rice, who alleges that Byrd abused her over the course of her sophomore year when he was her high school basketball coach. Byrd apologizes to her in the recorded call. As she told me last year:

“Honestly, I don’t remember the very first time he touched me,” Rice says. “It was more that he talked about it: He wanted to see me naked, he told me he spent more hours with me in a day than he did his wife, that when he had sex with her he was thinking about me.”

Rice tells Mother Jones that she remembers Byrd leaving her what she calls IOUs, that insinuated she owed him a sexual quid pro quo. The first came the morning after a late-night basketball game that prevented her from being prepared for a surprise biology test the next morning. Byrd, who was also Rice’s biology teacher, told her she didn’t need to worry when she fretted to him about her potential score. When the test landed on her desk, she said, the answers were already filled in. Shortly thereafter, she received the first IOU, signed with his initials, “DAB.” For weeks, he teased her, saying she owed him, but he hadn’t decided precisely what her payment would be. Eventually, he told her: Rice was to disrobe in the girls’ locker room after her teammates had gone home so he could “accidentally” walk in on her. The second, Rice says he told her, was for her to unbutton her shirt and lean over in front of him, pressing her breasts together.

The third he inscribed as a note in her yearbook. It reads, “You are one of the hardest working players I have ever coach [sic]. You have finally got a personality that I think fits you to a ‘T.’ Be good and work hard and I’ll bet you get that scholarship. Good luck.”

It’s signed simply, “Coach.” Above the inscription, the number three is written, underlined three times.

Rice says he told her it was for sex.

I also spoke at length with Robbie Cain, who was on the basketball team with Rice. She has a similar account:

Cain told WSMV about an incident during the summer of 1986, when she was alone in a hotel swimming pool while on a trip with the basketball team and Byrd tried to touch her genital area, and encouraged her to touch his. But Cain tells Mother Jones the abuse she experienced goes far beyond what was published in that report. She recalls Byrd asking her for “ABC gum,” an acronym for “already been chewed”—in other words, he wanted her to transfer the gum from her mouth into his. Later, he inscribed into her senior yearbook, “To the girl who could not dribble and chew gum at the same time.” Years later, long after she had graduated, she ran into him at a restaurant, and he repeated the phrase to her: “The girl who could not dribble and chew gum at the same time.”

She adds that as a player, she struggled with pain in her ankles. On occasions when the pain was overwhelming, Byrd would carry her into the basement of the high school, where he would instruct her to take off her pants and get into a hot tub, he told her, to ease her ankle pain.

Cain, in searing detail, also recalls that particular night reported by WSMV at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Nashville—”I’ll never forget it in my life,” she says. The girls’ basketball team was staying there, and she went with her teammates into the pool for a swim. She says Byrd joined them, but one by one, the other girls left the pool, until it was just her, alone with her coach.

“The next thing I know, he’s got me over on the side of the pool, and he’s telling me he wants me to reach down and touch him between his legs because he wants me to feel how I make him feel—he kept telling me how it’s throbbing,” Cain tells Mother Jones. “I was like, ‘No, no, no.’ I just remember screaming, ‘No,’ and getting out of that pool.”

In the lead-up to last November’s election, the PAC Enough is Enough campaigned against Byrd’s election, but he still won reelection with nearly 78 percent of the vote. Still, things seem to have shifted for Byrd during this term in the legislature. Rep. Gloria Johnson, a Democrat from Knoxville, has been leading efforts to oust him from office. Most recently, the legislature met for a special session this summer that was called in part to elect a new speaker. (The former speaker, Rep. Glen Casada—one of Byrd’s most vocal defenders in the statehouse—had been forced to resign after sexually explicit, misogynistic text messages surfaced between Casada and his chief of staff, Cade Cothren.) During that session, Johnson filed an expulsion resolution that sought to push Byrd from his seat. The chair of the House Judiciary Committee made a motion to refer that resolution to his committee “as quickly as the speaker will allow” to hear testimony under oath from Byrd and his accusers. As the Tennessean reports, “because the statute of limitations has passed on the allegations against Byrd, a judiciary hearing is essentially the only remaining way subpoenas could be issued against Byrd to compel testimony.” 

Yesterday, Speaker-select Cameron Sexton sent a carefully worded request to the state attorney general that asked for an opinion regarding expelling Byrd. “May the House of Representatives expel a member for conduct which occurred more than twenty-five years prior to the member’s initial election to the House of Representatives and that is publicly known at the time of the member’s most recent re-election to the House of Representatives?” the letter reads. 

Johnson recently told Mother Jones that Sexton’s request wouldn’t likely be effective in furthering Byrd’s ouster, because it only focuses on this legislator’s past conduct. In contrast, she says, “my resolution goes to everything really that surrounds this—so there’s the crime that happened 30-plus years ago, but there’s also a continuation of the crime through the cover-up, and he has participated in this cover-up while he’s been in session; there’s no question,” she says. During Byrd’s reelection campaign last year, ads were run by a PAC affiliated with Casada that compared Byrd to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and President Donald Trump, both of whom have been accused of sexual assault, and decried the accusations as “lies and fake news” propagated by liberals.

“Those are not Tennessee values,” Johnson says of the efforts to protect Byrd. “Those are not my values, and those are not Tennessee family values.”

Those who have been protesting Byrd’s presence in the capitol are unlikely to cease their calls for his expulsion in the wake of this news. Rice, for her part, has been tweeting that she will participate in any investigation should the Judiciary Committee move forward. 

After today’s vote we know who sides with alleged child molester #DavidByrd rather than survivors.

Below you’ll find our official statement.#ExpelByrd pic.twitter.com/SzxWmcTklu

— Enough is Enough TN (@stopbyrd) August 23, 2019

Exclusive: In a Devastated Town, Bernie Sanders Explains His Plan for a Climate Change Revolution

Bernie Sanders wants the United States to combat climate change like a nation at war. The Democratic presidential candidate detailed his new climate platform on Thursday in Paradise, California, while surrounded by devastation that wouldn’t look out of place on a battlefield. Today Paradise is a ghost of itself after last year’s deadly Camp Fire; thousands of homes and buildings were lost, triggering an exodus taking almost the entire town’s population.

Sanders chose Paradise to launch his climate agenda for the same reason he thinks the public has woken up to the threat. Climate change is visceral, and in Paradise and elsewhere, voters are seeing its damage firsthand. There’s a difference between telling voters climate change is an existential crisis at an indoor rally and describing it while surrounded by the hazardous ash, rubble, and charred trees that once made up the Holly Hills mobile home community. 

“People learn with their own eyes,” Sanders said in an exclusive interview with the Weather Channel and Mother Jones, conducted as part of the Climate Desk partnership. “So you come to a beautiful place like this, Paradise, California, and you see the horrible, horrible damage that’s done. You turn on the television, in a community of 26,000 people, 86 dead, some 18,000 structures burned down to the ground, $16 billion in damage. People are saying, ‘What is going on?’”

In announcing his $16.3 trillion proposal, Sanders joined a handful of candidates who have toured Paradise, as well as the pack of frontrunners who had already released their own climate change plans. His robust plan would “launch a decade of the Green New Deal,” promising 10 years filled with an unfathomable and polarizing amount of change: essentially eliminating unemployment with 20 million jobs, new job protections, and a social safety net to go with it. The plan includes funding for displaced fossil fuel workers to find new livelihoods or take early retirement. He envisions a fully clean transportation sector by 2030, by electrifying fleets and launching a $2 trillion car buyback program. He promises a $40 billion climate justice fund, new infrastructure, and a more sustainable agriculture sector. And he says he can do it all while modernizing the power grid, retiring nuclear plants, and halting fracking. All together, the Sanders camp say the changes could cut US pollution 71 percent over the next decade, putting the nation on path to go completely carbon-free by 2050.

The proposal has many elements that seem to fulfill wish lists from Sanders’ left-leaning base. According to Julian Brave NoiseCat of the progressive think tank Data for Progress, Sanders’ plan has “all of the eco-socialist favorites: public ownership, prosecuting fossil fuel corporations, phasing out nuclear, massive federal investment in the economy.” Data for Progress has scored the candidates’ plans against a 48-point rubric they assembled to judge Green New Deal proposals. As a cosponsor of the initial resolution put forward by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Sanders’ plan will surely score highly.

Sanders aims to fund his proposals primarily by making polluters pay. That’s familiar ground for the senator, whose long legislative history on energy issues includes pushing to close oil industry tax breaks. By ramping up polluter penalties, fines from federal lawsuits, and taxes, while counting on more revenue from the millions of jobs created, Sanders claims his programs will pay for themselves in 15 years.

“My plan is a very expensive plan,” he admits. “There will be some job loss, but we create 20 million new jobs. But the fundamental question is do we respond to the degree that the scientific community tells us we must, or do we not? And from a moral perspective, I think we have no choice but to act.”

Recognizing the scope of the economic changes required, Sanders emphasized investments in people who risk being left behind in the transition—from fossil fuel workers to frontline communities, predominantly made up of people of color, that suffer most from climate change. 

“When you’re talking about a major transition in the economy you have to make sure we protect the oil workers…the fossil fuel industry, and the coal miners. They are not my enemies,” Sanders says. “People say, ‘Bernie, your plan is going to have an impact on this part of the economy and that part of the economy’…We’re talking about a planet that will become increasingly uninhabitable and expensive for our children and our grandchildren.”

Sanders insists frontline communities will be at the forefront of his policymaking. His stance against investing in research and technology to captures carbon from fossil fuel plants—on Thursday, he called it a “false solution”—helped win over environmental justice activists who say the technology enables continued pollution in disadvantaged communities. One such group, the Climate Justice Alliance, has endorsed Sanders’ proposals despite past skepticism of Green New Deal proposals.

Whether his plan—or another with similar ambitions—has any chance of becoming law is an entirely different question, one that, even if a Democrat is in the White House in 2021, will fall largely into the hands of Congress. Sanders says that, beyond reinstating the Obama administration’s climate-related executive orders reversed by Trump, he’ll harness the White House’s bully pulpit to press for change. From the Oval Office, Sanders hopes to drive action worldwide, spurring renewed commitments to global climate financing and bigger pledges under the Paris climate change agreement.

“I believe the scientific community and I believe we have to act boldly. I’m not here to suggest that my plan is going to solve every problem,” says Sanders. “But my plan understands the severity of the crisis.” 

Friday Cat Blogging – 23 August 2019

Hopper headed over to the fence yesterday hoping to dig a hole into our neighbor’s yard—even though she can get there perfectly well already by jumping over. However, she was foiled by sneaky human technology, so she decided to just plonk down in the dirt and sniff her surroundings. What better way to spend a sunny afternoon?

NYC Schools Are Doing OK!

Bob Somerby points me today to the lastest test scores for New York City students. Here’s an entirely gratuitous chart showing how they compared to the statewide average for 8th graders:

On average, city kids did better than the rest of the state. That’s not bad. Maybe New York City schools aren’t quite the cesspools we’ve been led to believe.

But there’s bad news too. Since 2013, the racial difference in test scores has widened in New York City. Among grades 3-8, the black-white gap has widened by 3.5 points in math and by 1 point in English. And that’s not the only gap that’s growing. Check this out:

The black-white gap has been around forever and it’s a national disgrace. But the male-female gap is nearly as big. I would be curious to see this for 8th graders only since this difference might start to wash out as boys catch up to girls in the maturity department, but although NYC provides grade-level information for lots of things, they don’t have it for this.

Remembering the Two David Kochs

David Koch, who died Friday at 79, knew he was living on borrowed time. And for nearly three decades, time was generous with the loan.

On February 1, 1991, he was in the first-class cabin of USAir Flight 1493 when the Boeing 737 collided with a SkyWest commuter flight immediately after landing. “My god, I’m going to die!” he thought to himself as thick black smoke engulfed the cabin. Koch made it out, but nearly a quarter of the passengers on his flight perished. The following year, Koch, who with his brother Charles transformed their father’s oil and cattle ranching company into a $110 billion conglomerate, experienced another close call when he was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer. “I thought I was going to die, certainly in months, if not in weeks,” he once recalled. Again, he beat the odds. His doctors couldn’t cure him—but they could forestall the disease, employing a variety of treatments over the years to slow its spread. A memorial to Koch posted on the website of Koch Industries did not specify the cause of his death, saying only that he had spent “many years…fighting various illnesses.” Last year, in failing health, he stepped down from his role as executive vice president of the company.

David’s brushes with mortality changed him, and by changing David Koch, who leaves behind an estimated fortune of more than $50 billion, these events played a part in shaping the world. Before these episodes, Koch was a Manhattan playboy known for cruising around town in a Ferrari and throwing hedonistic parties at his homes in Aspen and the Hamptons. (In 1990, he lamented to New York magazine that a fellow New York cad, Donald Trump, had landed Marla Maples before he had the opportunity. “Marla’s a babe. I wish Donald hadn’t gotten there first.”) After the plane crash and the cancer diagnosis, David settled down with a 27-year-old fashion designer’s assistant from the Midwest, Julia Flesher, with whom he would have three children. And he began pouring his fortune—in donations of as much as $100 million at a time—into philanthropy, including cancer research, the arts, public television, and more.

David’s older brother Charles, the chairman and CEO of Koch Industries, released a statement on Friday praising his brother’s “institution changing philanthropic commitments to hospitals, cancer research, education and the arts.” David’s family, in their own remarks, noted that “David’s philanthropic dedication to education, the arts and cancer research will have a lasting impact on innumerable lives—and the we will cherish forever.”

It was in this benevolent, Carnegie-esque mold that David would prefer to be remembered. But, of course, there is another part of his legacy these statements conspicuously left out—David’s role as a conservative mega-donor and political boogeyman who was one half of the enigmatic Koch brothers duo.

Together with Charles, he poured millions into politics in a decades-long bid to advance a conservative, free-market worldview, one passed down to the brothers from their hard-charging father, Fred, a founding member of the John Birch Society terrified by what he saw as encroaching communism. In 1980, David Koch ran for vice president on the Libertarian ticket. His primary qualification at the time was his overflowing bank account—as a candidate, he could spend as lavishly on the campaign as he chose. He infused the campaign with upwards of $2 million, and, ultimately, Koch and his running mate garnered a little more than 1 percent of the popular vote, a high-water mark for a party that had formed less than 10 years prior.

The Libertarian Party run crystallized a role that David would play throughout his life as the public face of Charles’ political projects. It was Charles who had elevated the libertarians from obscurity, funding the movement almost singlehandedly in its early years and co-founding its flagship think tank, the Cato Institute. Similarly, when the tea party emerged during the early years of the Obama administration, thanks in part to the organizational assistance of Koch-created Americans for Prosperity, David, the group’s chairman, was the more visible presence. It was during the Obama-era, as the Kochs ramped up their political operation to fight what they perceived as a socialistic onslaught, that David Koch’s two worlds came uncomfortably into conflict—in one, he was the benefactor behind the renovation of the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center in New York City, a board member of Boston’s WGBH, and sponsor of NOVA, and the man who had ponied up $65 million to overhaul the plaza in front of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the other, he was the modern-day robber baron financing climate change denial and an intemperate right-wing movement of anti-regulatory and limited-government activists. 

In the crucible of politics, Charles and David’s identities became virtually fused together as the monolithic Koch brothers. But they were far different men. That was evident by looking at the way both men lived, Charles on the Wichita compound, hemmed in by strip malls, where the brothers grew up, and David in an 18-room duplex at one of New York’s most elite addresses, 740 Park Avenue, where a  plaque in the marble entryway to his home read: “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”

Charles was the visionary and strategist behind their political and corporate empires. David was his loyal deputy, and though an eager participant in both endeavors, his passions seemed to lie elsewhere. When I was working on Sons of Wichita, my biography of the Koch family—there are four Koch brothers, by the way, not two—a Koch Industries veteran summed up their differences this way: “David,” he said, “is a true philanthropist. David’s [giving] is about making the world a better place. Charles’ is about changing the world.”

David’s numerous detractors—some of whom tastelessly  took to Twitter today to wish him eternal damnation in hell— would argue over whether David, at least in the political realm, shaped the world for the better, though in other areas his backing has unquestionably done so. In the end, he leaves behind a complicated legacy. His name memorialized at Lincoln Center, at the Met, at a cancer research center at M.I.T., will tell one story; the significant, though less-visible imprint of his giving on our polarized political culture will tell another.

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