Mother Jones Magazine

MIT Tried to Cover Up Donations From Jeffrey Epstein

In the weeks since Jeffrey Epstein’s arrest and subsequent death in a New York City jail, we’ve learned a lot about the willingness of some of America’s most elite institutions—and the people who run them—to pal around with a convicted sex offender so long as the checks kept clearing. One prominent beneficiary of the financier’s largesse was the MIT Media Lab. The research center not only continued taking Epstein’s money after his 2008 conviction for solicitation of prostitution and procurement of minors for prostitution but, per new reporting from Ronan Farrow in the New Yorker, made a deliberate effort to hide the relationship, even from the lab’s own staff.

Although the source and extent of his wealth was always shrouded in mystery, Epstein was well known in philanthropic circles before his 2008 guilty plea as an avid philanthropic supporter of academia, in particular advanced scientific research. He courted prominent scientists, wooing them with flights on his jet and showering them with cash, even as rumors spread of his interest in underage girls. After his stint in jail, he quietly returned to philanthropy. In the wake of Epstein’s arrest this past summer, MIT publicly acknowledged accepting $800,000 over the course of 20 years from Epstein’s foundation, and just last week the MIT Media Lab’s director, Joi Ito, a well-respected media intellectual who sits on the board of the New York Times, admitted to taking $1.2 million from Epstein for investment funds he controlled separately, as well as $525,000 to support the lab. [Update: Ito has resigned from the Media Lab.] 

Those two revelations were explosive enough, leading to the resignation of two top researchers at the lab, who criticized Ito’s willingness to take the money—including accepting donations years after Epstein’s conviction. But Farrow’s reporting found that the connection to Epstein went much deeper. Development staffers at the lab were well aware of Epstein’s history and took steps to limit any mention of his name in internal reports and on Ito’s work calendar. Some took to referring to Epstein as Voldemort, or “he who must not be named,” Farrow writes.

In September, 2014, Ito wrote to Epstein soliciting a cash infusion to fund a certain researcher, asking, “Could you re-up/top-off with another $100K so we can extend his contract another year?” Epstein replied, “yes.” Forwarding the response to a member of his staff, Ito wrote, “Make sure this gets accounted for as anonymous.” Peter Cohen, the M.I.T. Media Lab’s Director of Development and Strategy at the time, reiterated, “Jeffrey money, needs to be anonymous. Thanks.”

After one of the lab’s top researchers, Ethan Zuckerman, raised concerns with Ito in 2013 about his relationship with Epstein, Farrow reports, the development staff sought to keep Epstein out of Zuckerman’s sight when the financier came for a visit. Epstein did bring two young women with him, causing particular consternation among the staff, as Signe Swenson, a former development associate and alumni coordinator at the lab, tells Farrow.

On the day of the visit, Swenson’s distress deepened at the sight of the young women. “They were models. Eastern European, definitely,” she told me. Among the lab’s staff, she said, “all of us women made it a point to be super nice to them. We literally had a conversation about how, on the off chance that they’re not there by choice, we could maybe help them.”

Swenson resigned in 2016 partly because of “her discomfort about the lab’s work with Epstein,” according to Farrow. Zuckerman resigned in August.

The New Yorker story also contends that MIT pursued Epstein not just for his own money, but for his help in wheedling money out of other wealthy individuals. Internal MIT documents allegedly credit Epstein with helping steer a $2 million donation from Bill Gates and a $5.5 million donation from investor Leon Black. A spokesperson for Gates told the New Yorker that “any claim that Epstein directed any programmatic or personal grantmaking for Bill Gates is completely false.” Black declined to comment to Farrow.

Congress Wants to Know If the Air Force Is Propping up Trump’s Golf Course

The House Oversight Committee is investigating whether the U.S. military is being used to steer taxpayer money to President Donald Trump’s Scottish golf course, according to a new report from Politico. According to the report, House Democrats who control the committee have launched a broad investigation into military spending that might benefit Trump’s Turnberry golf resort and nearby Prestwick Airport, which has struggled to stay afloat but which is vital to the relatively remote golf course’s operation.

Politico reported that since April, Congressional Democrats have specifically been investigating why an otherwise routine Air National Guard supply flight to Kuwait was directed to stop in Glasgow—instead of an Air Force Base in Germany, Spain, or even nearby England—and the five-man crew was put up at the Turnberry golf resort, 50 miles south of Glasgow. The resort’s website describes a level of luxury far removed from the basic quarters Air Force flight crews usually enjoy at the airbases where they land. The most basic room at Turnberry features 

a hard carved walnut burl mahogany bed, with complementing hand crafted bedside tables featuring delicate gold leaf detail. Mimic silk wallpaper and cream wool carpets provide a doubly luxurious setting. Marble and gold is abound in the en suite bathroom with separate shower and free standing bathtub.

According to Expedia.com, the cheapest room at the resort can be booked next weekend for $286. 

The resort has been something of a money pit for the president. After purchasing it for $60 million in 2014, Trump has poured cash into the resort trying to upgrade it—yet it has continually struggled to make any money. According to Trump’s personal financial disclosures, the course brought in $20.3 million in revenue in 2017, but it still failed to turn a profit, losing roughly $4.5 million

Revelations of a new investigation into spending at the course comes on the heels of a controversial stay by Vice President Mike Pence at Trump’s Irish golf course—which also loses money—on an official visit to that country.

The broader Congressional investigation into spending at Turnberry also includes an examination of an increase in military spending on fuel at the Glasgow Prestwick Airport, which is the airport most convenient to Turnberry. The airport, which is much smaller than Glasgow’s main airport, was purchased by the Scottish government in 2013 to keep it from closing, but Scottish newspaper the Daily Scotsman reports that it has continued to lose money. The US military has become the largest source of revenue for the airport. According to the Scotsman, sales of aviation fuel to the US military have dramatically increased since the start of the Trump administration, with US taxpayers shelling out more than $11 million dollars between October 2017 and March of this year. The paper revealed on Saturday that in the past six months an additional $5.9 million has been spent. 

The Guardian newspaper has also reported that Scottish lawmakers have likewise begun raising questions about the airport’s operation, with opposition lawmakers demanding to know more about a plan by airport officials to turn the airport into a spaceport with US backing. As part of the plan, airport officials have allegedly been promoting the proximity to Turnberry. According to the Guardian, they have struck a deal with Turnberry to provide free rounds of golf and stays at the course to visiting American military and civilian air crews. 

You Don’t Need a President to Know Which Way the Wind Blows

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

Official warnings about Hurricane Dorian, which continues on its tight-spinning crawl along the Southeastern US coast, have now been supplemented, underscored, and bungled by the nation’s president. Amid the chaotic weather reports emanating from his mouth and Twitter feed, Trump has already mistakenly declared that the storm endangers Alabama, misattributed a request for emergency relief in North Carolina, and gone to weird lengths to ballyhoo and exaggerate the storm’s historical significance.

This interference with the spread of useful information is as mystifying, in its way, as it is annoying. This administration and its leader have proved willing to display a floundering disregard for almost every form of technical expertise over the past few years. But still, one might hope that an exception would be made when it comes to weather forecasting. This White House isn’t known for being overstocked with scientific experts, but it does happen to have extraordinary and surprising depth in the field of meteorology. So why not use it?

In February, for example, the Trump administration booted the acting head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Timothy Gallaudet, in favor of Neil Jacobs, an expert in…weather forecasting. In choosing a meteorologist to run NOAA, Trump broke with a decades long tradition in which marine scientists like Gallaudet or space experts filled that role. Jacobs is the first weather guy to run the agency since 1977.

In taking the role, Jacobs joined another highly respected weather modeler in the upper echelons of the nation’s science bureaucracy. Last summer, Trump named the extreme-weather forecaster Kelvin Droegemeier as his director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Since most presidential science advisers have been physicists or engineers, it seemed like Trump was maybe making a point in bringing on a world authority on tracking storms—something like a meteorologist in chief for America, who could help the White House improve its shabby handling of hurricane emergencies.

The fact that we have such a deep bench of weather expertise in Washington only makes this week’s Oval Office clown show more depressing. I realize that Jacobs and Droegemeier shouldn’t really be the government representatives to answer questions on TV, or tweet out the best advice and information on a storm. Still, in the context of this image-first administration, I can’t help but rue the absence of their expertise in public settings. Droegemeier, in particular, could be far more involved in White House messaging on Dorian. After all, he isn’t just a very well-credentialed scientist and a founder of the Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms (though that alone would qualify him to speak out on the topic). Droegemeier also happens to be what the president might call a weather nerd “from central casting.” Bespectacled and big-eared, he’s a meteorologist named Kelvin who collects vintage handheld calculators and says he fell in love, as a teenager, with the power and majesty of tornadoes. If Trump can’t or won’t march this guy out for television briefings on a dangerous storm, what was the point of bringing him to Washington?

“That’s not his job,” University of Washington meteorologist Cliff Mass told me earlier this week, in reference to Droegemeier’s absence from the White House weather updates. “Kelvin should not be out there communicating the forecast.” Yes, of course that’s right. In a perfect world, this sort of messaging about a hurricane would be left to proper sources at the National Hurricane Center.

This is not that world.

It’s not as though Droegemeier is doing that much else with all his weather expertise. When he was appointed, some prominent scientists expressed relief at having a storm expert so close to the Oval Office. It’s very important to draw connections between extreme weather events and climate science, one former presidential science adviser told Nature in August 2018, and “there’s nobody better to do that than Kelvin Droegemeier.”

It’s very important to draw connections between extreme weather events and climate science, and “there’s nobody better to do that than Kelvin Droegemeier.”

Yeah, well. When the science adviser gave a speech about his main priorities at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in February, shortly after he’d been formally confirmed for his role, Droegemeier made no mention of climate change. In a follow-up interview with Science, he professed to have insufficient mastery of the facts. “I’m not a climate scientist,” he said to a reporter, indulging in the now-infamous formulation, “and my work [as a meteorologist] is actually at the opposite end of the spectrum.”

Let’s put to rest the fantasy that Droegemeier will teach the president about the links between climate change and extreme weather. No one in the world is getting through to a guy who tweets “where the hell is global warming?” whenever there’s a cold snap and relies on his “natural instinct for science” on the topic. Still, as Droegemeier himself points out, meteorology is distinct, in lots of ways, from the study of the climate. (You need a very different kind of model to guess the amount of rain in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, tomorrow than to predict average temperatures around the world in the year 2100.) And while our government may be flubbing its analysis of long-term, global trends, there’s every reason to believe that we’re in a golden age of government support for weather science.

In fact, in contrast to the crazy-making battles over global warming, there’s been a recent push by Democrats and Republicans alike to strengthen and improve the nation’s meteorological resources. This project started in earnest after 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, which produced, amid its devastation, a significant anxiety over the sad state of US storm forecasting. It turned out that American weather models and supercomputers had lagged four days behind their European counterparts in successfully predicting the hurricane’s fateful turn toward New York and New Jersey. By 2013, both parties in Congress were working on a comprehensive plan to fix systemic problems with the nation’s weather prediction.

This project culminated shortly after Trump took office, with his signing of the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act in April 2017. Since then, his administration has continually requested appropriations in support of weather science research even while suggesting cuts to science budgets elsewhere. Trump’s latest budget request, for 2020, proposed an 18 percent cut to NOAA’s funding overall, including a 45 percent cut to its climate research. But tucked amid the details was a recommendation that $15 million be appropriated for a new “virtual center” that’s meant to bring US weather models up to the level of our rivals’, in support of the goals laid out by the Weather Research Act.

Congress, for its part, has been even more aggressive about putting money into meteorology. For the 2018 budget, legislators increased the total budgeted for weather research by one-sixth, to $132 million. The following year, it added another 3 percent.

That’s why meteorologists like Mass have been feeling optimistic. “The head of NOAA is a weather modeler, and the president’s science adviser is a weather modeler,” he said. “It’s not only that you have those two people in place—Congress is in on it, too. There’s a tremendous opportunity right now to fix some of the fundamental flaws with weather prediction.” And yet, rather than seeing the fruition of this work, we’re getting oak-tag storm maps on TV that look like they’ve been altered with a Sharpie.

I’m glad the science is improving in the background. But as Dorian bears down on our shores, it’s worth remembering that somehow, and in spite of everything, our feckless and incurious commander has managed to recruit a brilliant team of experts on the weather. In the coming days, and in the face of life-threatening inundations, maybe it would be nice to hear from them instead of him.

This Apple Might Be the Most Anticipated Piece of Produce in History

After two decades of research and development, it’s no wonder the Cosmic Crisp, a new variety of apple, is causing such a stir even before it hits supermarket shelves: There have been launch parties, press conferences, Instagram Influencers, and a $10.5 million marketing budget.

On this week’s episode of Bite, Seattle-based writer Brooke Jarvis, who wrote about this new chapter in apple history for The California Sunday Magazine, told us about all the hype around the apple, a carefully bred cross between two other varieties called the Honeycrisp and the Enterprise. 

It’s been estimated that the Cosmic Crisp is the largest launch of a single produce item in American history, Jarvis said. More than half a billion dollars in investment have gone into planting Cosmic Crisp apple trees. Within the first three years of breeding, growers planted more than 13 million of them. They’re expecting half a million boxes of the fruit to be on the market this December.

But Jarvis noted that not everyone she interviewed was a fan of the Cosmic Crisp, which can only be harvested by growers in Washington state.

“There are people who are concerned about the movement towards more controlled intellectual property of agricultural products,” said Jarvis. “The reason that [Gala and Fuji apples] spread so widely is that in that case really anyone could grow them. All you had to do was get your hands on a sapling. Those days seem to be over.” To learn more about this much-hyped apple—like how it tastes, and what it means for the future of produce—tune in to this week’s episode of Bite.

 

Trump to Ukraine: No Aid Unless You Smear Joe Biden

Unfortunately, Fred Hiatt is right: this is astonishing.

I shouldn’t be astonished, but this is astonishing: The Trump administration withholding military aid from an important ally–apparently for one reason only: to corruptly pressure it to interfere in the 2020 election @postopinions @jacksondiehl https://t.co/vpoUVh4izE

— Fred Hiatt (@hiattf) September 6, 2019

We already knew that Donald Trump had directed Rudy Giuliani to press the Ukrainian president to open an investigation of Joe Biden’s son in an effort to hurt Biden. But apparently he’s doing more than just pressing:

Mr. Zelensky has so far failed to win the backing of President Trump. Not only has Mr. Trump refused to grant the Ukrainian leader a White House visit, but also he has suspended the delivery of $250 million in U.S. military aid to a country still fighting Russian aggression in its eastern provinces.

Some suspect Mr. Trump is once again catering to Mr. Putin, who is dedicated to undermining Ukrainian democracy and independence. But we’re reliably told that the president has a second and more venal agenda: He is attempting to force Mr. Zelensky to intervene in the 2020 U.S. presidential election by launching an investigation of the leading Democratic candidate, Joe Biden. Mr. Trump is not just soliciting Ukraine’s help with his presidential campaign; he is using U.S. military aid the country desperately needs in an attempt to extort it.

This week’s obsession with Sharpiegate was all good fun, but today we learned that Trump, as usual, is taking it very, very seriously indeed: he strong-armed NOAA into issuing a late-Friday press release saying, wrongly, that Alabama had been in danger from Hurricane Dorian all along. In the great scheme of things, this doesn’t matter much except as yet another example of how Trump works. On a much bigger, more corrupt scale it’s the same thing that’s happening with Ukraine.

This Entire Week Has Been Incredibly Depressing. But Then Today in New York I Saw a Young Woman Give People Hope.

Outside the United Nations headquarters in New York, a group of about 25 students braced themselves against strong winds from Hurricane Dorian on Friday. Ranging in age from elementary to college students, they held signs that read “As the oceans rise, so will we” and “GREED KILLS,” and chanted, “We are unstoppable, a better world is possible.”

These student-led strikes have been going on in New York every Friday for 39 weeks and are known as Fridays for Future. This week’s protest featured Greta Thunberg, the Swedish climate activist who began the school climate strike movement which gained traction worldwide.

“We shouldn’t be talking about ‘believing’ in the climate crisis,” Thunberg said during the rally that followed the students’ quiet protest. “Either you understand and accept the science, or you don’t. As long as we keep talking about believing, or thinking climate change is real, then it’s seen as something you choose to believe in, and then it gets turned into an opinion. And if it’s an opinion, it can be debated.”

Alexandria Villaseñor, the 14-year-old climate activist who organizes the weekly, student-led strikes in New York known as Fridays for Future, said that she wants to see world leaders reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally. The eighth-grader was present for about half of Wednesday’s town hall. “I think any potential world leader needs to really realize what’s at stake here and has to realize that they have to stand up for our generation, or else my generation will continue to demand that they do,” she said.

The students have wide-ranging visions of an environmentally sustainable future, but they have identified three specific demands that they want to see enacted in New York. Sixteen-year-old Olivia Wohlgemuth read the demands: no more fossil fuels, a just transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, and holding polluters accountable.

On Sept. 20, the students are planning a citywide strike beginning at 12 p.m. at New York’s Foley Square and culminating in a rally in Battery Park at 3 p.m.

Greta Thunberg surrounded by student climate strikers

Sam Van Pykeren

Alexandria Villaseñor, a 14-year-old climate activist from New York

Sam Van Pykeren 

Caroll Kern, a 26-year-old fashion designer who joined the student protestors

Sam Van Pykeren Sam Van Pykeren

Hurricane Dorian Could Slam 67 Toxic Sites. But Hundreds More Are at Risk.

Ten days before Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas on August 25, 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that reversed an Obama administration directive that required infrastructure projects using federal funding—like roadways and stormwater infrastructure—to be designed to accommodate the rising sea levels associated with climate change.

After Harvey dumped more than 60 inches of rainfall over southeastern Texas, one of the sites designated to be in need of clean up—which the EPA calls Superfund sites—flooded. Even a year later, local media were reporting on concerns about high levels of toxins still present at the San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund site.

There are thousands of contaminated sites in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency says on its website, “due to hazardous waste being dumped, left out in the open, or otherwise improperly managed.” And as Hurricane Dorian made landfall over the coast of North Carolina Friday and dropped heavy rainfall in the area, scientists worry about a repetition of what happened with Hurricane Harvey: Chemicals being swept up in stormwaters and spreading into nearby communities. 

“The thing that I’m worried about the most is Superfund sites hold the most dangerous chemicals known to mankind,” Jacob Carter, a research scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, says. “If the hurricane breaches Superfund sites, those chemicals can be carried with floodwaters into communities, likely disadvantaged communities which tend to be located closest to Superfund sites.”

There are multiple ways chemicals can end up leeching from Superfund sites during a hurricane like Dorian. The sites don’t even have to be directly in the storm’s path to be at risk, but in the general area that’s facing storm surge and flooding. 

But water is not the only problem. Projected winds of over 100 miles an hour could create a “wind swath,” which means the areas potentially affected by sustained winds of tropical storm force or hurricane force. 

For the current forecast of states that Dorian might affect, Union of Concerned Scientists research assistant Casey Kalman identified the hundreds of Superfund sites that are most vulnerable to Hurricane Dorian. There are 67 Superfund sites within the probabilistic storm surge area from Dorian, and within that group, 10 sites are particularly vulnerable by being in both the probabilistic storm surge area and the storm surge inundation area. And there are also 287 Superfund sites within Dorian’s “wind swath.”

“Those chemicals can end up in parks where children play and homes if they’re flooded,Carter notes. 

The maps below show the number of counties in North Carolina and South Carolina that have sites with known or threatened releases of hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants which the EPA has listed on their National Priorities List. In 2018, the New York Times reported, “The Carolinas are home to more than 70 high-priority Superfund hazardous-waste sites, including a former smelting plant in North Charleston near the coast that is contaminated with arsenic, antimony and other substances linked to health problems including cancer.” Following Hurricane Florence’s damage to the Carolinas, EPA noted as of October 3, 2018, that their assessment teams conducted preliminary inspections on 113 NPL sites, finding issues at only one site. Their update reads, “Due to flooding, the EPA found offsite impacts at the Burlington Industries Cheraw site located in Cheraw, SC. EPA is currently conducting a removal action at this site.”

Plus, Hurricane Florence triggered toxic coal ash spills in the Carolinas. At the time, Waterkeeper Alliance collected water samples across North Carolina to survey the damage and found high levels of arsenic in the Neuse River. When chemicals are swept up in floodwaters, “it’s impossible to characterize how much contamination washes away,” says Daniel Estrin of Waterkeeper Alliance, “and it never really goes away.”

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Here’s a Better Look at Blue-Collar Wage Growth

Earlier today I noted that weekly blue-collar wages had increased a lot in August. Unfortunately, this is a series I don’t look at routinely, and I made a mistake I’ve criticized in others: looking at annualized monthly growth, which is often very noisy:

On an annualized basis, blue-collar wages in August did indeed grow 7.7 percent from July. But that’s hardly unusual, and there are plenty of months where wages have declined by that much. It’s better to look at year-over-year growth:

Adjusted for inflation, blue-collar wages were up 1 percent in August compared to last year. That’s decent growth, but nothing astronomical.

North Carolina Braces for Another Flood of Hog Poop

It’s emerging as an annual rite: A massive hurricane roars across North Carolina and deposits epic amounts of water on the state’s coastal plain, home to a tangle of rivers intertwined with one of the globe’s most intense concentrations of industrial-scale hog and chicken operations. 

What could go wrong? Well, in 2018, extreme rains and flooding from Hurricane Florence inundated the region, killing millions of chickens and thousands of hogs and overtopping at least 49 manure “lagoons”—open cesspits that store hog’s feces and urine. In the aftermath, positive tests for E. coli and total fecal coliform bacteria in the region’s private wells spiked, state data analyzed by the Raleigh News & Observer shows. (Here’s Environmental Working Group’s map of Florence’s rainfall amounts and the placement of big livestock operations in southeastern North Carolina.) Two years earlier, Hurricane Matthew triggered a strikingly similar catastrophe

As Hurricane Dorian makes landfall at the coast, what preparations has the region’s meat industry made to prevent yet another replay? In a recent statement on its website, the North Carolina Pork Producers Council, the industry’s trade group, claims “Great strides in hurricane preparation, response.” But the document lists no actual preparations—it mainly downplays the impact of previous hurricanes. (The NCPCC has not returned multiple requests for comment.)

According to Will Hendrick, senior attorney and manager for the environmental nonprofit Waterkeeper Alliances’s North Carolina division, the industry has changed “nothing whatsoever” in response to the the 2016 an 2018 hurricanes—in fact it has pushed to lighten regulations, he says. 

One example is the rule preventing hog facility operators from spraying fields with manure just before big storms. To dispose of hog manure, operators tend to spray it on nearby farm fields as fertilizer. Doing so before a massive rain event, however, virtually ensures that the sprayed feces and urine will be be washed away into waterways. Operators are tempted to do it, because spraying opens space in their lagoons, reducing the odds that they’ll be overtopped by a flood and gush more manure. 

Under current state code, farmers have to halt spraying within four hours of a hurricane warning, tropical storm warning, or flood watch issued by the National Weather Service. The NC Department of Environmental Quality recently extended the spray window to 12 hours, with new rules that don’t take effect until Oct. 1.

Meanwhile, some hog operations appear to be violating the four-hour rule that remains in place until next month. Aerial flights commissioned by the NC Waterkeepers documented five instances on Thursday of CAFO operators spraying manure onto fields after the four-hour window, Hendrick says. 

In 2016, Tropical Storm Hermine and Hurricane Matthew also inspired spasms of pre-storm spraying beyond the four-hour limited, reports Barry Yeoman in a recent article for the Food and Environment Reporting Network. A group called Cape Fear River Watch documented the violations in aerial photos, but the DEQ declined to take action against them. 

While North Carolina’s low-lying coastal plain houses more than 900 large operations housing more than 3.8 million hogs, at least the industry is not growing: A moratorium on new open-air manure cesspits has been in place since 2000. The poultry industry, however, has been expanding dramatically in the region, and now produces more total manure than its hog counterpart, according to a February report from Environmental Working Group. Altogether, the state’s inventory of farm chickens jumped from 106.1 million in 1997 to 873.6 million in 2018, US Agricultural Census data show. 

As it is with hogs, the flood-prone coastal plains is a major site of poultry production. North Carolina’s Duplin County, which endured massive flooding during Matthew and Florence, is by far the largest producer of both hogs and chicken.

Note the heavy coastal concentration of hogs… 

 

USDA, NASS

… and chickens:

USDA NASS

Why would the industry cram so many animals—and their waste—in a region so prone to massive storms? As I showed in a post last year: 

Short summary: Residents of the area tend to have lower incomes—and are more likely to be black and Native American—than other parts of the state. In other words … the industry has parked itself into an area populated by marginalized people with few resources to defend themselves against environmental threats.  

 

4 Automakers Sided With California Over Air Pollution. Now Trump’s DOJ Is Investigating Them.

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

The Justice Department has reportedly opened an antitrust investigation into four major automakers that struck a deal with California on vehicle-emissions standards in July, sidestepping opposition from the White House.

The automakers―Ford Motor Co., BMW AG, Volkswagen AG and Honda Motor Co.―had said they would voluntarily agree to recognize the state’s authority to set vehicle emissions rules. This clashed with the Trump administration, which argued that federal law should prevent California from setting its own emissions rules.

The Justice Department is now looking into whether the automakers violated federal competition law by making the agreement, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

A spokesperson for Honda, reached by the Journal, said the company plans to cooperate with the investigation.

“Honda will work cooperatively with the Department of Justice with regard to the recent emissions agreement reached between the State of California and various automotive manufacturers, including Honda,” the company said.

In the months after taking office, the Trump administration has worked to roll back efforts to cut emissions standards that were set by the Obama administration. The White House has argued that the standards make vehicles more expensive and less safe for consumers.

Advocates of the emissions agreement argue that it would significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to help curb climate change as well as encourage a transition to electric vehicles.

Mary D. Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board which sets the state’s air quality standards and verifies automakers’ emissions compliance, was among those who immediately spoke out against the DOJ’s investigation. In a statement obtained by HuffPost, she questioned the motive of the Environmental Protection Agency and its administrator, Andrew Wheeler.

“The US Department of Justice brings its weight to bear against auto companies in an attempt to frighten them out of voluntarily making cleaner, more efficient cars and trucks than EPA wants. Consumers might ask, who is Andy Wheeler protecting?” she asked.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who advocated for the emissions deal, similarly spoke out against the Trump administration on Friday while calling the president a “bully.”

“The Trump Administration has been attempting and failing to bully car companies for months now,” he said in a statement obtained by HuffPost. “We remain undeterred. California stands up to bullies and will keep fighting for stronger clean car protections that protect the health and safety of our children and families.”

Newsom, earlier on Twitter, additionally criticized the president’s plan to revoke the state’s legal authorities to regulate emissions, declaring: “We’ll see him in court.”

Mathew Miller, who served as a spokesperson for former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, also called news of the DOJ’s investigation “disturbing.”

“This is a really disturbing abuse of power and another sign of how politicized DOJ has become,” he tweeted. “Antitrust law doesn’t exist to punish companies for adopting policies you don’t like.”

The 2020 Dems Have No Serious Plan for Addressing the Single Biggest Source of US Pollution

The CNN Climate Crisis Town Hall made it clear that Democrats are encountering a much stronger appetite than ever before from their base for substantive action to address climate change. Even though the baseline for what constitutes a strong climate action plan has changed, there are still rifts among the candidates on the role of nuclear power, the future of fracking, and carbon pricing. Naturally, CNN spent a lot of time interrogating them on these issues during the seven-hours of their forum on climate. 

Yet, there was one crucial area that was treated as an afterthought: Transportation.

All the presidential candidates have one easy answer for what they would do, which is to reverse President Donald Trump’s unprecedented rollback of auto pollution standards. The Trump administration is trying to revoke California’s waiver to pursue stronger standards for fuel efficiency that cut the transportation sector’s footprint. On Friday, Trump officials sent a letter to California warning that a recent deal it struck with four major automakers “appears to be inconsistent with federal law.” The Justice Department has also launched an antitrust inquiry into the automakers’ arrangement, reports the New York Times

Yet a 2021 reversal of this doesn’t mean the transportation problem is going away. Transportation has become the top source of US pollution, accounting for 29 percent of greenhouse gas pollution, even as the power sector has become cleaner. The margin is only expected to grow. With electric vehicles sales still at barely 1 percent of the US market, Americans’ desire for SUVs after a brief slump has become reinvigorated. Globally, industries like the shipping business and air travel are growing.

“I don’t feel that the party is really reckoning with the importance that land-use planning will have as a tool for fighting climate change,” Leah Stokes, UC Santa Barbara Political Science Professor, told me. “I think that the Democratic primary has not focused as much on density, land-use planning and its links to transportation.”

“I don’t feel that the party is really reckoning with the importance that land-use planning will have as a tool for fighting climate change.”

Decarbonizing these sectors gets a lot harder than sustaining and adding to the recent progress the US has made in retiring coal plants—admittedly a lot of that effort has been replaced by another climate problem, natural gas. Any change requires shifting the kinds of cars people want to buy and the way we travel. It eventually also requires figuring out how to get existing vehicles off the road in exchange for more fuel-efficient options. 

Dealing with all this requires a different vision than slapping new infrastructure on top of the old systems. It’s easier, and more politically popular perhaps, to focus on the job-creation aspects of the plans. And that’s probably why so many of the plans emphasize the old-fashioned New-Deal-style jobs programs over tackling our highway addiction.

“If we are able to move in a direction that we have 500,000 charging stations for electric vehicles, what does that do?” Joe Biden said at the town hall. “Well, that gives us a corner on the electric vehicle market. That will create thousands of good jobs in the automobile industry.” Elizabeth Warren adopted her plan from Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who centered his entire campaign around climate. It goes further to embrace the goal of hitting 100 percent zero-emissions for new cars by 2030. It also proposes charging stations for cars at every federal highway rest stop, a clean fuel standard involving biofuels, and a cash-for-clunkers program. 

Bernie Sanders’ plan does all this and more, but it also includes one more policy that isn’t about to help cut transportation emissions. Not to pick on Sanders—his plan is just the most detailed out there—but what he is suggesting goes to the heart of the American problem of how we think about infrastructure. Alongside funding for public transit and upgrading water infrastructure, he also include more funding for highways and roads, promising more resiliency to climate impacts but not much else. Highways tend to exacerbate pollution by increasing the reliance on personal vehicles at the expense of a robust public transportation program.

Here are some of the relevant parts of Sanders’ plan

“Increase funding for roads. Our national roads and highway system is crumbling. That’s why Bernie’s Rebuild America Act provides $75 billion for the National Highway Trust Fund to improve roads, bridges, and other transportation infrastructure in the United States and another $2 billion for other surface transportation needs.

Retrofit our public infrastructure to withstand climate impacts. Beyond repairing our existing crumbling infrastructure, we must ensure that our public highways, bridges and water systems are ready for climate impacts we know are coming. We will invest $636.1 billion in our roads, bridges, and water infrastructure to ensure it is resilient to climate impacts, and another $300 billion to ensure that all new infrastructure built over the next 10 years is also resilient.”

This is exactly the kind of infrastructure that incentivizes more SUV driving and more sprawl. Not only that, but the building of highways and roads involves cement, which unleashes even more carbon into the atmosphere. His proposal does also include funding for mass transit. 

“Even in Bernie Sanders’ plan,” Stokes noted, “there is two times as much marked for road infrastructure, generally, as public transit. I understand some of that [almost] $700 billion is for water and infrastructure, but there’s a lot of money for low-density status-quo.”

A line in Sanders’ plan might unintentionally summarize the essential problem of this kind of dated thinking among many of the candidates: “We will invest in nationwide electric vehicle charging infrastructure, to increase access to these resources for all,” he wrote, “just as we built an interstate highway system in the 1950s and 1960s.”

Fixing the transportation problem won’t be as simple as an upgrade to the 1950s-era interstate highway system. It requires a different way of thinking about urban planning and public transportation that doesn’t incentivize Americans to stick with their SUVs. 

The town hall had robust discussion, but it didn’t even crack the surface of these problems—which suggests that they may be here to stay. 

Health Officials Are Investigating 450 Cases of Serious Lung Illness Linked to Vaping

Health officials say they are now investigating 450 possible cases of serious lung illness linked to vaping in 33 states and one territory. Three people have died under similar circumstances and one death is still under investigation. 

Initial descriptions of 53 early-reported cases of lung illness in Illinois and Wisconsin were published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Friday. The median age for those patients was 19, 82 percent of them were male, and all reported using an e-cigarette device in the 90 days before they experienced symptoms including shortness of breath, nausea, and vomiting. Patients reported using products containing THC, a chemical that is responsible for the “high” effect of cannabis, and products containing nicotine. No single product was linked to these initial cases of lung disease.

It’s still unclear why mostly young, otherwise healthy people are reporting lung illness in connection to vaping in recent months, but the number of cases related to severe respiratory illness this summer was double last summer’s rate, suggesting that there has been a spike in reports.

“What it appears at this time—although again, I would caution that this is preliminary—is that there does appear to be an increase of cases starting May-June of 2019,” Jennifer Layden, chief medical officer and state epidemiologist at the Illinois Department of Public Health, said on a press call Friday. “That is higher than it was in 2018. So it would suggest that it’s a new phenomena.”

As the Washington Post reported Thursday:

State and federal health officials investigating mysterious lung illnesses linked to vaping have found the same chemical in samples of marijuana products used by people sickened in different parts of the country and who used different brands of products in recent weeks.

The chemical is an oil derived from vitamin E. Investigators at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found the oil in cannabis products in samples collected from patients who fell ill across the United States. FDA officials shared that information with state health officials during a telephone briefing this week, according to several officials who took part in the call.

Officials on Friday’s press call said vitamin E acetate is still under investigation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not made any conclusions about the role of vitamin E acetate in these lung illness reports.

In the meantime, “people should consider not using e-cigarette products,” officials recommend.

This is a developing story. It will be updated as more information becomes available.

It’s Friday and Donald Trump Is Still Talking About Alabama

As Hurricane Dorian made landfall over North Carolina on Friday, President Donald Trump logged onto Twitter to rage-tweet about Alabama, a state that never faced a threat from the storm that devastated the Bahamas. 

“The Fake News Media was fixated on the fact that I properly said, at the beginnings of Hurricane Dorian, that in addition to Florida & other states, Alabama may also be grazed or hit,” Trump said in a trio of tweets. “They went Crazy, hoping against hope that I made a mistake (which I didn’t).”

This marks the sixth consecutive day that the president has continued to insist—despite official pushback from the National Weather Service—that Alabama was once projected to be affected by Dorian. In his newest tweets, Trump notably downplayed the alarm he initially had expressed in his erroneous Sunday warning to now claim that he had only indicated that Alabama might be “grazed or hit.” 

The original tweet, which is still available on the president’s timeline, claimed that Alabama was among a string of states that would “most likely be hit (much) harder” in the hurricane’s path.  

On Friday, Trump also attacked critics who have ridiculed him for once more refusing to simply acknowledge an error. The president made no reference to new reports that he personally doctored a now-widely mocked hurricane map he had used Wednesday to try and show that he had been right all along.

….This nonsense has never happened to another President. Four days of corrupt reporting, still without an apology. But there are many things that the Fake News Media has not apologized to me for, like the Witch Hunt, or SpyGate! The LameStream Media and their Democrat…..

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 6, 2019

Here’s a Misleading Picture of Religion Around the World

Here’s an interesting example of misleading with statistics. At least, I think so. Here’s the original chart from Pew Research:

Sure enough, there’s a strong trendline showing that people who say religion is very important also believe that religion has been growing more important since 2000.

But wait. It’s pretty obvious that the test countries are broken cleanly into two different groups, and the slope of the trendline is almost entirely driven by the second group being higher than the first on both measures. But what if you look at the two groups separately?

These trendlines are just eyeball efforts on my part, so don’t take them too seriously. Still, I don’t see much of a trend within either group, and the dots are scattered pretty widely around the trendlines.

So my tentative conclusion is that there’s no correlation at all between religion being personally important and believing that it plays a more important role than it used to. The whole effect is driven by the difference between these two groups, which, roughly speaking, is the difference between high-income countries and low-income countries. That might be an interesting topic, but it’s quite different from what Pew says about this.

Johnson & Johnson Was on Trial for the Opioid Crisis. 33 Lawmakers Took Its Money Anyway.

Nearly three dozen members of Congress accepted campaign contributions from Johnson & Johnson during the embattled company’s trial in Oklahoma earlier this year for its role in causing the opioid epidemic, an analysis of federal campaign filing data reveals. The money has gone to Democrats and Republicans, party leaders and back-benchers, freshmen members and long-time incumbents. Two Oklahoma lawmakers—Sen. James Lankford and Rep. Markwayne Mullin, both Republicans—accepted donations from the company, despite the enormous publicity the trial generated in their state. So far, none of the lawmakers has announced plans to return the donations.

Johnson & Johnson—probably best known for making baby powder, soap, and other household products—has long been lobbying Congress and donating money to politicians. But since the Oklahoma trial started in May, it has drawn new scrutiny over its lucrative pharmaceutical business, which, the state argued, fueled the opioid crisis by overselling its pain medication and promoting the idea that such drugs were safe. The state also accused Johnson & Johnson of quietly dominating the opioid market by growing mutant poppies in Tasmania and selling its narcotic products to some of the leading drug companies, including Purdue Pharma, the maker of Oxycontin. Last week, the judge presiding over the case ruled that the company helped cause a crisis that “ravaged the state of Oklahoma” and ordered it to pay $571 million in damages. According to the judge:

Defendants promoted their specific opioids using misleading marketing. Among other things, they sent sales representatives into Oklahoma doctors’ offices to deliver misleading messages, they disseminated misleading pamphlets, coupons, and other printed materials for patients and doctors, and they misleadingly advertised their drugs over the internet—all of which occurred in Oklahoma. But Defendants also pervasively promoted the use of opioids generally. This “unbranded” marketing included things like print materials that misleadingly touted the safety and efficacy of opioids as a class of pain medication, as well as online materials that promoted opioids generally. 

As Mother Jones has reported, recently unsealed court documents related to separate litigation detailed how Johnson & Johnson and other big drug companies helped create a “pain movement” in order to sell more pills. Janssen Pharmaceuticals, part of Johnson & Johnson’s drug division, was one of five companies that together funneled almost $9 million to patient advocacy groups and organizations that lobbied on opioid policy, according to a 2018 investigation by former Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill.

Johnson & Johnson has also poured money into directly influencing federal lawmakers. So far this year, the company has spent $100,000 on lobbying efforts that include “general issues regarding health care and opioids,” according to its federal filings. The company did not respond to a request for comment about what those lobbying efforts specifically entail.

All the while, the Johnson & Johnson’s political action committee has been plying lawmakers with cash, giving a total of $86,500 to more than 70 members of Congress and nearly two dozen PACs in the first half of 2019 alone, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. (The most recent FEC filings cover the quarter ending June 30, meaning that any contributions made since then aren’t included.)

Thirty-three of those lawmakers appear to have received Johnson & Johnson contributions—totaling $69,000—during the trial, at a time when headlines about the company’s involvement in the opioid crisis would have been hard to miss. Among them is Lankford, the Oklahoma senator, who, according to his filings, received a $2,000 contribution on May 28, the day the trial began. Mullin, who represents Oklahoma’s 2nd congressional district, pocketed $1,000 from Johnson & Johnson in June, just days after Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter described the company as an opioid “kingpin” that had sought to “brainwash prescribers with pseudoscience.”

Other high-profile recipients of Johnson & Johnson donations since May include Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, who received $6,000 in contributions to his campaign and leadership PAC; North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, who took in $2,500; and Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, who accepted $5,000 for his campaign and leadership PAC. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), who has a lengthy history of taking money from pharmaceutical companies, received $6,500 in Johnson & Johnson contributions in June. None of these lawmakers responded to requests for comment.

Are You Liked? Sure. But Are You Well Liked?

This looked like good news in the Wall Street Journal today:

This seemed promising. Maybe I’m really more popular than I think. Anyway, it turns out that some researchers studied college freshmen for a year:

They found that participants systematically underestimated how much they were liked. In fact, it wasn’t until May, after living together for eight months, that people accurately perceived how much they were liked. So try to focus your social energy on spending quality time with friends and don’t worry too much about the outcome.

Well shit. Everybody I know has known me for a lot longer than eight months, so I guess my perceptions are pretty accurate after all. I would place myself squarely in the “tolerated” category, along with “but his wife is nice so we should invite them over.” I guess it could be worse.

House Democrats Announce Investigation of Pence’s Ireland Trip

The House Oversight and Judiciary committees have launched inquiries into efforts by President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and others to spend taxpayer funds at properties that Trump owns—a move the lawmakers say is part of their broader investigation into corruption by the administration.

The Oversight Committee sent letters Thursday to the White House, the vice president’s office, the Secret Service, and the Trump Organization requesting documents related to Pence’s stay earlier this week at the Trump International Golf Links and Hotel in Doonbeg, Ireland. The Trump property is about 180 miles from Dublin, where Pence had meetings. Pence claimed that he went to Doonbeg because he had ancestors there and that Trump’s club could easily accommodate his security detail. But Pence’s office admitted, amid conflicting claims, that Trump suggested the vice president stay there. The committee wants to know the cost of the stay. Trump’s June visit to the property cost around $3.6 million, the Government Accountability Office found. 

“The Committee does not believe that US taxpayer funds should be used to personally enrich President Trump, his family, and his companies,” wrote Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who chairs the Oversight Committee.

Also on Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.)—who chairs the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties—asked the White House for information on Trump’s promotion of his properties to foreign governments, including the president’s stated intention to host a G7 summit at his floundering Trump National Doral golf club Miami. Trump also reportedly promoted Doral in a G7 meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. 

Democrats say these efforts to secure both US and foreign government spending at properties that Trump refused to divest from after his election are wasteful and may be illegal. Trump’s efforts to host the G7 at Doral may violate Constitutional bans on the president receiving extra compensation during his tenure or accepting “emoluments,” including money, from foreign states. 

The lawmakers noted that they are looking into alleged obstruction of justice and “public corruption” by Trump and others.“Potential violations of the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution are of grave concern to the Committee as it considers whether to recommend articles of impeachment,” Nadler and Cohen wrote.

The letters come as the Judiciary and Oversight committees are fighting against a Trump Administration policy of blanket resistance to government oversight. The slow pace of investigations, and Democrats’ reluctance to expand the number of Trump scandals they are investigating, has frustrated many Trump critics. The inquiries Thursday may signal Democrats are adopting a more aggressive posture.

Chart of the Day: Net New Jobs in August

The American economy gained 130,000 jobs last month. We need 90,000 new jobs just to keep up with population growth, which means that net job growth clocked in at a very sluggish 40,000 jobs. A lot of people gained employment (590,000) but a lot of people also dropped out of the labor force (364,000). The headline unemployment rate stayed steady at 3.7 percent.

On the wage side of things, the news was very bright. Hourly wages for blue-collar workers increased at an annual rate of over 4 percent after adjusting for inflation. Weekly wages rose about 8 percent after accounting for inflation. These are quite astounding numbers. I hope I didn’t make some kind of dumb arithmetic mistake here.

So this is a mixed report. Job growth was pretty tepid but wage growth was terrific. Go figure.

Elizabeth Warren Is Doing to the Pentagon What She Did to Wall Street

The confirmation hearing for Secretary of Defense Mark Esper was a snoozer.

A few Senate Armed Services Committee members spent nearly three hours heaping praise on Esper, a decorated Gulf War veteran, for his decades of service in the military and as a staffer on Capitol Hill. The comity was interrupted only once, when one of the panel’s newest members, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), chose to focus on a more recent line on Esper’s resume: specifically the seven years he spent lobbying for the defense giant Raytheon. 

“This smacks of corruption, plain and simple,” she told him. “Will you commit that during your time as defense secretary that you will not seek any waiver that will allow you to participate in matters that affect Raytheon’s financial interest?”

Esper declined Warren’s request to make such a commitment and passionately defended his record. Committee chair James Inhofe (R-Okla.) apologized for what Esper “had to be confronted with” from Warren, describing the interaction as “unfair.” No one else had followed up on Warren’s efforts to have Esper stay out of Raytheon’s affairs entirely. Days later, 90 senators voted to confirm him. 

Warren, a consumer protection icon who entered politics with a reputation as the bane of Wall Street, has spent the past several months treating defense contractors, generals, and civilian Defense Department officials to the same sort of withering criticism she grew famous for heaping on banking regulators and Wells Fargo CEOs. Her perch on the Armed Services committee has produced heated exchanges with Pentagon leaders over the department’s carbon footprint and its bloated war-fighting budget, but no topic has invigorated her more than the influence wielded by the $226 billion defense industry.

“It’s clear that the Pentagon is captured by the so-called ‘Big Five’ defense contractors—and taxpayers are picking up the bill,” Warren declared in November. “The defense industry will inevitably have a seat at the table, but they shouldn’t get to own the table.”

Defense giants and their allies in the Pentagon have long benefited from what Warren decried in May as “this business of more, more, more for the military.” Despite winding down its Middle East wars, the United States is still projected to spend $1.25 trillion on national security this year, according to the nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight (POGO), and Pentagon officials continue sounding the alarm for more funding to ward off China and Russia’s development of new cyberweapons and missiles. Warren, like many lawmakers from both parties, has frequently criticized corporate lobbyists for their swampy wheeling-and-dealing in Washington, but her “focus on DOD to this degree is new,” says Mandy Smithberger, director of POGO’s Center for Defense Information. 

“The defense industry will inevitably have a seat at the table, but they shouldn’t get to own the table.”

By tackling Pentagon spending and contractor malfeasance, Warren, one of the top-tier Democrats in the 2020 presidential primary, has been able to shore up her national security chops and tie the Defense Department to her attacks on corrupt government bureaucrats. This approach has also allowed her to be a different sort of Pentagon critic in the Democratic primary, unlike Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), who have more directly assailed American military interventions. “It’s a ‘good government’ position, not a ‘left’ position,” says Gordon Adams, a former Pentagon official whose 1981 book, The Iron Triangle: the Politics of Defense Contracting, outlined the problem of close ties between government officials and industry leaders. “She’s saying the relationship is too cozy. And, she’s dead right.” Warren’s signature ethics plan would go “much broader than the current law,” says Craig Holman of Public Citizen, a consumer rights advocacy group. She proposes barring ex-national security officials from lobbying for foreign governments and urges prohibiting defense contractors from hiring senior DOD civilian and military leaders “for four years after they leave the Department.” 

Despite criticizing the defense industry’s “stranglehold” on the Pentagon in November, Warren cannot completely disavow these companies, which have tremendous influence in her home state of Massachusetts. General Electric enjoys what the Boston Globe dubbed”near-deity status” in Lynn, where the company’s aviation plant has been based for more than a century, and both GE and Raytheon, the firm at the center of her exchange with Esper, are among Massachusetts’ top five employers. During her first Senate campaign in 2012, she tried to win their support and called William Swanson, then Raytheon’s chief executive, to chat about the “defense industry in Massachusetts” and the impact of federal budget caps on defense spending, the Globe reported at the time.

In February 2015 she received the type of headline from Politico her presidential campaign would likely cringe at now: “Warren takes care of defense business back home.” The article cited her support for several defense programs that employed Massachusetts residents but received less-than-stellar reviews from watchdogs like the Government Accountability Office. One program Warren supported, the Army communications network known as the WIN-T, had been slated for cuts until she and other Massachusetts lawmakers campaigned to rescue it. Four years later, Senate Armed Services Committee chair John McCain (R-Ariz.) deemed the program a “failure,” and even Gen. Mark Milley, then the Army’s top uniformed officer, admitted he had “serious, hard questions” about its efficacy. (The Warren campaign would not say whether she would still support this program now.)

Ted Kennedy, who occupied Warren’s seat in the Senate for more than four decades, also had to balance his broader industry criticism with support for economic engines in his home state, such as the GE plant in Lynn. “A lot of defense contractors would be criticized, but when it came to jet engines at Lynn—that he would vote for,” Adams says. (The full Massachusetts congressional delegation, including Warren, championed a $517 million contract for the plant in February.)

Warren’s campaign consulted POGO and People Over the Pentagon, a coalition of progressive groups that advocates deep cuts in defense spending, in the months following the campaign launch in February. Their influence is apparent in her Pentagon ethics plan, which Warren released shortly after the White House announced in May that Trump would nominate Patrick Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, as secretary of defense. (Trump never formally nominated him; Shanahan withdrew from consideration in June after reports emerged of violent turmoil within his family.) 

Warren had her own history with Shanahan, who left Boeing in the summer of 2017 to serve as deputy to Trump’s first defense secretary, James Mattis. In March, she sparked an internal investigation into Shanahan for allegedly favoring Boeing during Pentagon meetings. He was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing, but the central issue for Warren—an appearance of bias—remained relevant when Esper, the former Raytheon lobbyist, was later up for the same position. “My fundamental concern is that the relationship between the Defense Department and giant defense contractors has become far too cozy,” Warren said in a statement opposing Esper. Only five senators joined her in voting against him. 

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