Mother Jones Magazine

Happy Labor Day From Donald Trump!

Happy Labor Day from Donald Trump!

A new wave of tariffs by the Trump administration…is likely to hit American households in the most direct way yet. By how much? About $460 over a year for the average family.

Happy Labor Day from Donald Trump!

In an interview ahead of Labor Day, AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka said workers across the nation are suffering under President Donald Trump’s supposedly “booming” economy….”He’s opposed every increase in the minimum wage. He’s changed the regulation to take overtime away from a couple of million people. He’s proposed a trillion dollar cuts to Medicare and Medicaid… He’s rolled back health and safety standards towards workers.”

Happy Labor Day from Donald Trump!

President Trump confirmed Tuesday that he plans to nominate Eugene Scalia — son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia — to head up the Department of Labor….Scalia has a decades-long record of challenging Labor Department and other federal regulations, winning praise from business interests but condemnation from unions and other labor advocates….Most of his career has been spent as a partner in the Washington office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, where he has run up a string of victories in court cases on behalf of business interests challenging labor and financial regulations.

Happy Labor Day from Donald Trump!

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) will soon propose a $35,000 salary threshold for overtime pay requirements….The reported dollar figure is lower than that proposed by the Obama administration — $47,476 annually.

Happy Labor Day from Donald Trump!

The minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is nearly 40% lower than in the 1970s, adjusted for inflation — and Trump has done nothing to lift it….Trump is also moving to strip unions representing federal workers of bargaining power

Happy Labor Day from Donald Trump!

On January 25, 2019, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) held that airport SuperShuttle drivers who were seeking to unionize at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport are independent contractors, rather than employees, and therefore do not have the right to collective bargaining under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)….The NLRB ruling will further empower businesses at the expense of the millions of employees who are currently misclassified as independent contractors.

Happy Labor Day from Donald Trump!

When President Donald Trump came into office pledging to cut regulations “massively,” he made a point of exempting regulations that protected workers’ health. But almost two years in, the Trump administration has done the opposite, rolling back worker safety protections affecting underground mine safety inspections, offshore oil rigs and line speeds in meat processing plants, among others.

Happy Labor Day from Donald Trump!

Happy Labor Day from Donald Trump!

Lunchtime Photo

I don’t have any suitable Labor Day pictures, so here’s a picture of the Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Everyone told me I had to see it, and I suppose people used to labor here, so it’s at least minimally appropriate.

The weird smoothness of the water is due to the fact that I used a long shutter speed. I normally do this for waterfalls to produce a silky look, but for some reason I felt like doing it here. The change it produced compared to a normal shot is small, but kind of interesting.

May 8, 2019 — Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia

Here’s Why I’m No Longer Thrilled by Carbon Tax Plans

I’ve gotten a few emails asking why I’m not thrilled with the “tax-and-dividend” proposal that’s part of Andrew Yang’s climate change plan. Tax and dividend is a hot topic these days, so my skepticism probably deserves to be teased out a bit. Here it is.

Tax-and-dividend starts out with a carbon tax. In Yang’s case, it starts at $40/ton and gradually increases to $100/ton. To give you an idea of what this means in real life, it’s equivalent to a gasoline tax of about 36 cents per gallon, rising over time to 88 cents per gallon. There are three obvious things to say about a carbon tax at this level:

  • It’s pretty small. An increase of 10 percent in the price of gasoline would have a tiny effect. Even 88 cents wouldn’t do much. Nor is this just a guess: we know a fair amount about the price-elasticity of gasoline, and we know that it’s quite modest.
  • It’s a regressive tax. Obviously a flat gasoline tax hurts the poor more than the rich.
  • It affects different regions differently since the effect on electricity prices depends on how carbon-heavy your electricity is currently. In California, for example, electricity prices would likely increase by only about 50 percent because California already relies heavily on renewable sources. In the South, by contrast, the price of electricity would triple because of the region’s heavy reliance on coal. The map at the top of this post, from the Carbon Tax Center, gives you an idea of which states would probably be hardest hit by a carbon tax.

This is where I start: a smallish carbon tax would generate a lot of opposition—from anti-taxers, from advocates for the poor, from states that are hardest hit—but wouldn’t produce a big effect. It’s not clear that it’s worth it.

So maybe we make it bigger? How about $400 per ton? That would add three or four dollars to the price of gasoline and would increase the price of electricity by 10x or more. That would have an effect. Needless to say, it would also generate massive opposition. This is probably not the hill we want to die on, because die we would.

But wait. How about a middle approach? Yang proposes that we impose a carbon tax but then give back some of the money. He’s vague on how this would be done, but presumably the money would be doled out mostly to low-income families. Maybe some would also be earmarked for regions that pay an especially high price.

But now you have a different problem. The whole point of a carbon tax is to make energy more expensive so that people will use less of it. But if you just give the money back, it means people can use their dividend to offset that higher cost. They can go on using the same amount of energy as always without any pain.

Of course, there would still be middle-class and high-income people who would have to pay higher prices and wouldn’t benefit from the dividend. That’s no big deal for those with high incomes, who can absorb the modest price increase without even feeling it. So that leaves the middle class: too rich to qualify for dividends but still poor enough to feel the pinch of the carbon tax.

Is that what we want? A carbon tax that, in practice, is shouldered almost exclusively by the middle class? It’s not what I want. Not that it matters anyway: put some meat on a plan like this and Republicans will instantly start producing ads showing precisely how much it will cost real American families struggling over their real American bills at a real American kitchen table. It’s not as if you can wave your hands and hope that nobody notices. Even a modest carbon tax would be a very big political lift.

I should be clear here: this is a change in my thinking. Ten years ago I wrote a piece for Mother Jones extolling the virtues of cap-and-trade, which is basically just a variant of a carbon tax. Everything I said then is true: carbon taxes are economically efficient; they’re fairly easy to implement; they produce funding for green initiatives; and they spur technology innovation. But those were more optimistic times, a brief period when it seemed like people were finally taking climate change more seriously and Barack Obama’s charm might be able to put a deal over the finish line. Needless to say, that’s not what happened.

What happened instead was that hard-hit states in the South and the Midwest rebelled. Obama himself had other, higher priorities. The bill got larded up with exceptions and subsidies for every interest group you can think of. And then it failed anyway.

What I failed to pay enough attention to was basic politics. Politically, the key to any climate change policy is simple: it’s all about pain vs. effectiveness. You definitely want to support policies that are low-pain but highly effective. You might want to support policies that are high-pain but also highly effective. But high-pain combined with only modest effectiveness? That’s a killer. The public just won’t support it, no matter how convinced the rest of us are about its righteousness. You should run away.

So that’s where I am with carbon taxes. From a white-paper point of view, they’re great, but from a real-world point of view they just don’t cut it. Progressives won’t support a regressive tax so they fiddle with it. But in fiddling with it they make it less effective. Then states that would be heavily hit get in on the action and demand some concessions of their own. The Senate being what it is, there’s no choice but to cave in. Special interests chime in and get some concessions. Negotiations bring the original tax rate down a few notches. By the time you’re done there’s not much left. You’ve got a smallish incentive and a large group of middle-class voters who are pissed off. It’s quite possible that when it’s all said and done, you could end up with a carbon tax that accomplishes little and produces less net support for climate change action than you had going in.

Now, my analysis could be wrong. I’m wide open to opposing arguments. But I fundamentally think that if progressives truly want to fight climate change, we need to focus on initiatives that produce low pain but have the potential to be highly effective. That’s not easy. But nobody ever promised that it would be easy.

Retreat from Rising Seas? It May Be Controversial, but It’s the World’s New Reality.

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

Indonesia just found itself a new capital. The country’s president, Joko Widodo, announced last Monday that the new seat of government will be on the island of Borneo, hundreds of miles to the northeast of the current capital, Jakarta. The crowded city’s aquifers have been drained and the ground is caving in, making it one of the fastest sinking cities in the world. The Java Sea threatens to swallow 95 percent of the city over the next 30 years.

Retreating from coastlines and riversides might have once been considered unthinkable. But across the world, it’s already happening—in Australia, Colombia, Vietnam, and here in the United States. Thousands of homeowners in Houston have asked the local county to buy their chronically flooded properties. A New Jersey town is moving residents out of risky areas near the rivers and turning the land into a natural buffer to protect other homes. The US military is at work constructing a new site for an indigenous Yup’ik community in Alaska that asked to be relocated after thawing permafrost beneath the village caused it to slide into the river.

An overheating planet and unchecked development along the coasts have let the sea expand into new territory, leaving many people who live along the shores unsettled (in both senses of the word). According to the United Nations, up to 1 billion people could be displaced by storms, droughts, and floods in 30 years. In the United States, the cost for protecting people and property from rising seas and intense downpours is expected to climb into the hundreds of billions of dollars in the coming decades—and that’s a conservative estimate.

There’s “an ongoing mass migration” away from our coasts, said Elizabeth Rush, author of the Pulitzer-prize nominated book Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore. “These changes will happen whether we like it or not,” Rush said. “How profoundly and how detrimentally they reshape our coastal communities is up to us.”

“These changes will happen whether we like it or not. How profoundly and how detrimentally they reshape our coastal communities is up to us.”

“Managed retreat” is a controversial response to climate change. It’s the idea that communities and governments should be strategic about moving people away from areas that have become too waterlogged to live in safely. The phrase used to be, and maybe still is, taboo—Rush called it “a four-letter word”—but it’s beginning to make its way into the public conversation as one of the tools we can use to adapt to sea-level rise.

Presidential candidate and former tech executive Andrew Yang released a plan on Monday preparing for the “inevitability” of sea-level rise, promising coastal communities $40 billion to help people “move to higher ground” or elevate their homes, plus another $30 billion in seawalls, sewer upgrades, natural barriers, and other forms of protection from the rising seas.

The idea is also getting attention from academics, with a first-of-its-kind conference about coastal relocation earlier this summer. In a recent paper in the journal Science, researchers from universities across the country made the case for managed retreat. There’s no longer any question that some communities will have to move, they write, “but why, where, when, and how.” Although it’s usually treated as a last resort, the researchers conclude that in some cases, relocating neighborhoods away from flood zones can open up new opportunities for those in harm’s way.

But there are many obstacles. Among the biggest: Managed retreat has a reputation problem. In California, where more than 30 cities and counties are mired in difficult discussions about how to protect their coastlines, few things have managed to get people more riled up than the idea of abandoning America’s prime real estate. When officials in the town of Pacifica said that moving inland instead of fighting the ocean was the most cost-effective option, outraged homeowners mounted a campaign against the city officials, flooding town meetings, putting up signs all over town, and, eventually, voting the mayor out of office.

It’s no surprise that conversations around coastal retreat are framed in war terms— the battlefield image is already baked in with the word “retreat,” after all. “We need to stop picturing our relationship with nature as a war,” said A.R. Siders, the lead author of the coastal retreat study and assistant professor at the University of Delaware, in a press release. “We’re not winning or losing: we’re adjusting to changes in nature.”

But there are less fraught ways to talk about the issue. “I joke and say, why don’t we call it ‘moving’?” Rush said. “But I’m sort of not kidding about that.”

There’s some value in using a more familiar, common-sense word. “It puts it into a broader conversation about what it means to move, what it means to be displaced,” Rush said. “These are questions that human beings have been facing long before climate change became a stressor.”

It’s not exactly a new idea. Early hunter-gatherers lived in impermanent shelters, moving around in search of more plentiful food. Indigenous communities in the Americas lived along the Mississippi River in shelters that could be packed up and moved when the river swelled and flooded the surrounding area. Things are different in the modern world, now that we’ve dammed the rivers and built concrete foundations right along the edge of the coast. But that hasn’t stopped people from moving away from danger. Consider the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. People who had moved to the Great Plains during a wetter period had to migrate again as drought and dust storms came rolling in. The regions’ deep-rooted prairie grasses had been plowed by farmers, leaving the soil less resilient to drought.

One thing that the media often gets wrong about managed retreat, Rush said, is that it doesn’t necessarily spell the “end” of a community—it just means moving the people in the most vulnerable areas out of harm’s way.

She points to New York City’s Staten Island, where three communities came together and secured buyouts after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The state offered those who relocated a 5 percent bonus above market value if they stayed nearby but out of the high-risk flood zone. Several years later, a study found that 79 percent of buyout participants still lived within the five boroughs.

“A lot of people in Staten Island still go to the same butcher, they still meet at the same seafood restaurants and eat cod sandwiches, they still see the same people on the weekend,” Rush said. “They just don’t live anymore in a house that floods.”

In her journeys to visit coastal communities around the country, Rush has seen managed retreat fail and succeed. The difference between the two, she said, is whether the idea to move away from flood-prone areas comes from the ground up or the top down. A lot of people really want to get out of their homes, but it can be “deeply upsetting” if some local official comes in and tells them they have to sell their house, especially because these communities often feel neglected (see Hurricane Katrina). A grassroots approach, like the one taken in Staten Island, tends to get more folks on board.

And depending on your vantage point, managed retreat can be seen as a solution, rather than a defeat. Build a sea wall, and you lose the beach and the wildlife communities that depend on it. You can put your home up on stilts, but the infrastructure below ground is still vulnerable. Managed retreat, Rush said, “is one of the few strategies to respond to flooding that actually takes seriously the scale of the risk.”

Andrew Yang Gets a C- For His Climate Plan

When I evaluated the climate plans of the top Democratic candidates, I didn’t include Andrew Yang because he wasn’t really a top candidate. But he’s an interesting candidate, and several people have asked what I think of his plan. So let’s take a look.

In terms of spending, he’s proposing $4.9 trillion. However, $400 billion of that is “Democracy Dollars,” which is unrelated to climate change. That gets us to $4.5 trillion, but this is over 20 years, so you need to cut all of Yang’s numbers in half to get a ten-year figure comparable to the other candidates. This gets us to about $2.2 trillion over ten years, slightly larger than Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren. Based on this number, here are some of the details:

  • $1.5 trillion to finance loans for household investments in renewable energy.
  • A carbon tax of $40 per ton, rising to $100 per ton, with half returned to American families.
  • And end to all fossil fuel subsidies.
  • $100 billion for grid modernization.
  • $25 billion in R&D for thorium-based molten salt reactors and nuclear fusion reactors.
  • $150 billion for sustainable agriculture.
  • $125 billion for “net zero” ground transportation.
  • $35 billion to help people move to higher ground.
  • A small amount of R&D focused on geoengineering.

There are things to like and things to dislike about Yang’s plan. I like the fact that he’s willing to explicitly support 4th Gen nuclear power as a “stopgap” measure, which is a good way of putting it. I like that he’s willing to allocate money directly to adaptation. I like that he’s willing to talk about geoengineering.

I’m less enamored with his carbon tax and dividend proposal. It’s true that the regressive nature of a carbon tax is a problem, but simply returning the money to low-income families means the carbon tax will probably have little value in reducing carbon emissions. This is the worst of all worlds: a carbon tax that will generate public opposition but not really accomplish much.

I’m not excited about the huge loan program for household investments. This is something that I need to look into further, but I’m not sure that residential solar provides the biggest renewable bang for the buck.

Yang also goes out of his way to allocate specific amounts for a large variety of programs. This probably doesn’t matter that much, but it still sets a bad example. Yang shouldn’t pretend that he knows down to the dollar how much we should spend on every little thing.

Finally, as you all know, I judge climate plans largely on how much they dedicate to R&D. Yang never says directly how much R&D spending he supports, but it’s possible to subtract from his topline number all the spending that definitely isn’t R&D. By my rough accounting, this leaves about $250 billion max for R&D over the next ten years. This is a pretty small number.

Yang also barely even mentions the global nature of global warming. Even if the United States gets to net zero carbon emissions, what are we going to do to spur the rest of the world to follow? Yang has a sentence or two about this, but that’s all.

Put all this together, and by my admittedly idiosyncratic standards Yang’s plan isn’t especially impressive. I’d give it a C-.

Catastrophic Category 5 Hurricane Dorian Makes Landfall in the Bahamas

Hurricane Dorian made landfall Sunday afternoon at Elbow Cay, Abacos in the Bahamas. The Category 5 storm came ashore with wind speeds up to 185 miles per hour and gusts up to 220 miles per hour.

The National Hurricane Center is reporting that Dorian is now tied with the 1935 Labor Day hurricane for the strongest Atlantic hurricane landfall on record. Scientists don’t think that climate change will  increase the frequency of hurricanes, but it will make them more dangerous. As the planet warms, we can expect to see more intense rainfall associated with storms and more destructive storm surge, which is when a storm’s wind pushes water inland.

The eye of #Dorian has made a second landfall at 2 pm EDT (1800 UTC) on Great Abaco Island near Marsh Harbour. Maximum sustained winds were 185 mph at the time. This is tied for the strongest Atlantic hurricane landfall on record with the 1935 Labor Day hurricane. pic.twitter.com/O9hrotTTbS

— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) September 1, 2019

Footage of the hurricane shows trees bending from the force of the winds.

RIGHT NOW – A look from just minutes ago in Marsh Harbour, Abaco, as the western eyewall moves over Grand Abaco Island with wind gusts more than 200 mph.
: National Fisheries Association of The Bahamas #bahamas #Dorian #HurricaneDorian @WeatherNation pic.twitter.com/xMMiPdW1k3

— Meredith Garofalo (@GarofaloWX) September 1, 2019

Storm chasers in the Bahamas are reporting that the boards used to shield windows are being pried off by the winds.

11:40 am. Pounding. CRASHING. Boards prying off windows. We're moving children to a safe space, wrapping them in blankets. 969 mg. #DORIAN

— Josh Morgerman (@iCyclone) September 1, 2019

And it’s not just the wind, the storm surge is also inundating communities. 

Wow! New video coming in out of the #Bahamas. The surge from #HurricaneDorian is putting the whole town of New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay, Abaco underwater video by Chamon McIntosh #dorian #hirricane #Dorian2019 pic.twitter.com/jHBDNPK5ny

— James Wieland (@SurfnWeatherman) September 1, 2019

The storm, which was expected to hit Puerto Rico but abruptly changed course, is expected to impact the southeastern United States next week. But as the island was preparing for the storm earlier this week, Donald Trump took to twitter to attack Puerto Rico and its leaders and to repeat the lie that the territory has received $92 billion in Hurricane Maria relief aid.

Wow! Yet another big storm heading to Puerto Rico. Will it ever end? Congress approved 92 Billion Dollars for Puerto Rico last year, an all time record of its kind for “anywhere.”

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 27, 2019

Despite Hurricane Maria reaching Category 5 status, Trump said that he’s never heard of a storm in that category.

Trump: "I'm not sure that I've ever heard of a Category 5."

This is the fourth Category 5 hurricane to strike the United States during his presidency. Irma, Maria, Michael, Dorian. pic.twitter.com/xWLYuQRTBU

— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) September 1, 2019

Watches and warnings have been posted along the western Florida coast, while Georgia and the Carolinas remain on alert. 

One Day After Mass Shooting, New Laws in Texas That Expand Gun Access Go Into Effect

Texas’ new gun laws, which expands where Texans can bring their guns, goes into affect on Sunday, just one day after a gunman killed 7 people and wounded 20 others in Midland and Odessa. 

The nearly dozen new laws, championed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, vastly expands where individuals can bring their guns—including school parking lots, foster homes, churches, and rental properties. One of the laws, inspired by the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, allows Texans to open and conceal carry during natural disasters. Another prevents homeowners associations from regulating gun ownership. And it’s not just guns. Texans will now be legally able to carry pointed keychains, clubs, and brass knuckles. 

The expansion of gun laws was in response to the shootings at a church in Sutherland Springs in 2017 which left 26 dead and 20 injured and a shooting at Santa Fe High School in 2018 where 10 people died and another 13 were wounded. But instead of making it harder to obtain guns, the Texas legislature pushed the “good guy with a gun” narrative, which claims that only someone else with a gun can stop a gunman. Before the laws went into effect, a white supremacist gunned down 22 people at an El Paso Wal-Mart in August.

At the National Rifle Association convention in 2018 held in Dallas, Abbott proposed a solution for gun violence plaguing his state. “The answer to gun violence is not to take guns away, the answer is to strengthen the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens,” he said during a speech. “The problem is not guns, it’s hearts without God.”

Texas already had some of the least restrictive gun laws in the country, and now, after two mass shootings in one month, gun laws will be even more relaxed. Former Democratic state Rep. Wendy Davis, who ran for governor in 2014 and is currently running for Congress, said she was “heartbroken and so angry” over the new laws. “Unbelievably, Texas’ gun laws are set to become MORE lax tomorrow,” she also said, “thanks to lawmakers who are more interested in courting the NRA than they are protecting the lives of people they were elected to serve.”

I am heartbroken and so angry about this. Unbelievably, Texas’ gun laws are set to become MORE lax tomorrow thanks to lawmakers who are more interested in courting the NRA than they are protecting the lives of people they were elected to serve. #Odessatx https://t.co/nu1OJnTR3v

— Wendy Davis (@wendydavis) August 31, 2019

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Mocks the “Straight Pride” Parade

On Saturday afternoon, dozens of people made up of far-right activists, Trump supporters, and free speech advocates took to the streets in Boston for a so-called “straight pride” parade. The mostly male group attracted a large amount of  protesters—and a mocking tweet from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

“For men who are allegedly so ‘proud’ of being straight, they seem to show real incompetence at attracting women to their event,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “Seems more like a ‘I-Struggle-With-Masculinity’ parade to me.” 

For men who are allegedly so “proud” of being straight, they seem to show real incompetence at attracting women to their event.

Seems more like a “I-Struggle-With-Masculinity” parade to me.

Hope they grow enough over the next year to support / join LGBTQ fam next #Pride! https://t.co/DUb52ktWOP

— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) August 31, 2019

The marchers carried “straight lives matter” signs as well as American flags and pro-Trump signs. 

The #StraightPrideParade now on its way to City Hall Plaza. #Boston25 pic.twitter.com/44RayYZVRU

— Kelly Sullivan (@ksullivannews) August 31, 2019

The organizers of the parade, titled Super Happy Fun America, said the point of the parade was to raise awareness of the alleged issues facing the straight community and poke fun of pride parades that are held around the world in support of the LGBTQ community. But according to a Buzzfeed report, the organizing group has ties to white nationalist groups.

Protesters clashed with marchers and Boston police reported that 34 arrests had been made and the city’s EMS spokesperson said nine people had been taken to the hospital. Ocasio-Cortez followed up her tweet with a call to contribute to the bail fund for the activists who’d been arrested while protesting. 

One way to support the local LGBTQ community impacted by Boston’s white supremacist parade?

Contribute to the Bail Fund for the activists who put themselves on the line protecting the Boston community:https://t.co/z2NRSqHMve

(Any $ left over goes to @MassBailFund+@Boston_GLASS) https://t.co/G9xhIda6sF

— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) September 1, 2019

A Bee Picture

I’ve been taking lots of bee pictures lately, so here’s a picture of a bee. Because why not? It’s better than whatever’s in the news lately.

RBG Says She’ll Be Back in Full Force by the Start of the Supreme Court Term

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s health has been on a lot of people’s minds lately. Having just completed a three-week radiation treatment for a cancerous tumor, the 86-year-old justice made her first public appearance promoting her memoir at the Library of Congress National Book Festival in Washington, DC, on Saturday.

“First, this audience can see I am alive,” she said with a slight laugh, to huge cheers. “And on my way to being very well”

"This audience can see I am alive. And I am on my way to being very well."

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks at 2019 Library of Congress National Book Festival. pic.twitter.com/Q98rfpFnaO

— The Hill (@thehill) August 31, 2019

Ginsburg has been treated for various types of cancer since 1999, and was operated on for lung cancer last December. A recent press release from the Supreme Court noted “there is no evidence of disease elsewhere in the body.”

Ginsburg has sought to assure the public she can continue her duties on the court at the same time Democrats worry President Donald Trump may have a chance to nominate a third judge before the 2020 election.

The new Supreme Court term begins in early October. “I’ll be ready when the time comes,” Ginsburg said at the event.

Betsy DeVos Just Made It Harder For Defrauded Students to Get Their Debt Canceled

Just in time for the start of a new school year, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Friday finalized a new suite of changes to an Obama-era policy that targeted fraud at for-profit colleges. The new DeVos rule significantly raises the bar students have to clear in order to qualify for debt forgiveness when their schools close while they’re enrolled.

After state and federal investigations into fraud at some of the country’s biggest for-profit college operators caused the schools to shutter, thousands of students found themselves deep in debt for incomplete degrees. As my colleague Eddie Rios reported last year:

The Century Foundation, a Washington-based think tank, found in May that more than 127,000 debt relief claims were filed to the Education Department by March 2018, up 29 percent from August 2017….More than 98 percent of those claims came from students who attended for-profit colleges. 

The Obama program has cleared $222 million in loans from nearly 20,000 borrowers since 2016, according to the New York Times. But as a result of the new DeVos rule, after July 2020, students filing for debt relief will have to prove their colleges intentionally deceived them, that it influenced their decision to enroll, and that it made them financially suffer. The change also sets a three-year deadline for filing a claim; the Obama rule had no deadline and automatically relieved their debts if they didn’t enroll elsewhere within three years. 

The Trump administration has repeatedly tried to delay rules for for-profit colleges and student loan forgiveness. Last year, a federal court called the delay “arbitrary and capricious,” ordering DeVos to implement the Obama-era rule. Student and consumer advocates plan to legally challenge DeVos’ latest replacement, as well. 

Student loans and Devos’ unpopular run as secretary of education have become a centerpiece of Democratic presidential politics. The 2020 field quickly condemned DeVos over the weekend.

I will nominate a Secretary of Education who has been a public school teacher—Betsy DeVos need not apply. pic.twitter.com/L5L9x6IrcN

— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) August 31, 2019

My AG office took on Corinthian Colleges and won $1 billion for defrauded veterans and students.

Betsy DeVos is now making it harder for defrauded students to have their debt canceled. Who is she working for? https://t.co/5aq2142xHb

— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) August 31, 2019

 

Betsy DeVos and for-profit charter schools are breaking our promise to students with disabilities. That will end when we are in the White House. pic.twitter.com/zQOL17oLzS

— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) August 31, 2019

 

Quote of the Day: Don’t Blame Me For Your Crappy Management

From our crybaby-in-chief:

A lot of badly run companies are trying to blame tariffs. In other words, if they’re running badly and they’re having a bad quarter or if they’re just unlucky in some way, they’re trying to blame the tariffs. It’s not the tariffs. It’s called bad management.

Can you imagine how Fox News would play this if Oba—

Oh forget it.

Here’s Why the Carolinas Are So Much More Vulnerable to a Hurricane Like Dorian Right Now

Puerto Rico has escaped the worst of Hurricane Dorian. And it looks like Florida might, too: On Saturday morning, the storm again shifted paths, and it appears likely to skirt Florida’s eastern coast instead of making a direct hit. That doesn’t mean the danger is over for Florida, and it does put the rest of the southeastern coast, especially Georgia and the Carolinas, in harm’s way sometime next week. South Carolina has already declared a state of emergency. Worse still is if the Category 4 storm makes landfall in vulnerable areas still recovering from last year’s Hurricane Florence. 

The stakes have grown much higher when a hurricane threatens to hit the coast. There are a lot of reasons for this. As I explained two years ago, “Some are psychological, others are practical, and many are self-inflicted.” Climate change is part of the problem, with warmer temperatures fueling deadlier, wetter storms. Rising sea levels increase the chances of coastal flooding. But it’s also the blind spots that North Carolina politicians have developed on climate change. While seas are rising, these lawmakers have encouraged building in low-lying areas, and in some cases discouraged state law from reflecting scientific realities. 

The Carolinas are flanked by low-lying narrow barrier islands that have seen housing and tourist development during the past few decades “in places where it probably should not have been,” according to the Associated Press. Much of that development has been subsidized by a federal flood insurance program that shelled out $1.5 billion to cover flood claims in two dozen coastal counties even before Hurricane Florence struck. Last year, when Florence made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane, it dealt the region $24 billion in damages and 53 deaths. The floodwaters breached hog lagoons and coal ash pits and threatened Superfund sites

Unwise development isn’t the only problem. As in Florida, North Carolina politicians have also allowed climate change denial to dictate their decision-making.

In 2010, a panel of scientists advising the North Carolina Coastal Resources Commission, which guides the state’s coastal development, issued a report projecting 39 inches of sea-level rise by the end of the century. The report triggered political backlash from developers and the Republican-controlled legislature, which preferred that the commission rely only on historical data. The state ended up passing a law requiring a broader range of projections to dilute findings that sea level rise would accelerate. Newer research has found that the sea level is rising even faster along the southeastern coast than global averages. Instead of considering the best science out there, the governor-appointed commission ultimately limited the science panel’s projections to 30 years into the future. 

North Carolina’s Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, elected in 2017, has begun to loosen these restrictions on how development plans incorporate the latest science. Last year, a month after Florence struck, Cooper issued an executive order to create an interagency climate change council. In late September, the Coastal Resources Commission will look at updating the 30-year limit placed on the science advisory panel as it prepares a five-year update to its 2015 report, according to The News and Observer.

Hurricane Dorian may end up reinforcing the hard lessons from Hurricane Florence in North Carolina—even if those lessons won’t reach President Donald Trump.

.@realDonaldTrump, who canceled a planned trip to Poland this weekend in order to monitor #HurricaneDorian, has just arrived at his golf course in Virginia, the White House says.

— Jeff Mason (@jeffmason1) August 31, 2019

Opportunity Zones Provide Big Opportunities For the Rich

The 2017 Republican tax bill was designed as a gift to corporations and the rich. However, it also contained a nod to the poor: a tax incentive to spur development in low-income “opportunity zones.” If this seem out of character for the modern GOP, don’t worry. The New York Times explains that there was, naturally, a gigantic loophole:

Some opportunity zones that were classified as low income based on census data from several years ago have since gentrified. Others that remain poor over all have large numbers of wealthy households. And nearly 200 of the 8,800 federally designated opportunity zones are adjacent to poor areas but are not themselves considered low income.

Under the law, up to 5 percent of the zones did not need to be poor. The idea was to enable governors to draw opportunity zones in ways that would include projects or businesses just outside poor census tracts, potentially creating jobs for low-income people. In addition, states could designate whole sections of cities or rural areas that would be targeted for investment, including some higher-income census tracts.

The result is predictable:

Billions of untaxed investment profits are beginning to pour into high-end apartment buildings and hotels, storage facilities that employ only a handful of workers, and student housing in bustling college towns, among other projects. Many of the projects that will enjoy special tax status were underway long before the opportunity-zone provision was enacted. Financial institutions are boasting about the tax savings that await those who invest in real estate in affluent neighborhoods.

….Even supporters of the initiative agree that the bulk of the opportunity-zone money is going to places that do not need the help, while many poorer communities are so far empty-handed.

But don’t worry:

“The early wave, that’s not what you judge,” said John Lettieri, president of the Economic Innovation Group, an organization that lobbied for the establishment of opportunity zones.

It will all trickle down eventually.

Three Weird Health Care Mysteries

Would you like to hear about three weird ways that cancer has changed my health? Of course you would. These are all very peculiar changes that are seemingly unrelated to the multiple myeloma itself, though who knows? Maybe they resulted from it in some strange way; maybe they’re due to the chemo drugs; or maybe they’re just things that happened coincidentally. I have no idea. Here they are:

Breathing: All my life I’ve been a mouth breather because my nose is chronically too stuffed up to breathe through. I even had my deviated septum corrected a couple of decades ago (it didn’t help). But when I was in the hospital five years ago my nose cleared up. I figured maybe the hospital air was super filtered or something, but after I got home my nose stayed cleared up and it remains clear to this day.

Peeing: My bladder has gotten tougher. Or my prostate has gotten bigger. Or something. But I can slurp down a big ol’ Diet Coke with my popcorn at the movies and not have to get up halfway through. I sleep through the night almost all the time. For some reason, I’ve regressed to about my 40-year-old self. I just don’t have to pee as often as I used to.

Sweating: I am much more tolerant of cold weather and much less tolerant of hot weather. If I lived in Duluth this would be an unalloyed benefit. Unfortunately, I live in Southern California. This is a big change for me: I used to be a typical SoCal boy, playing tennis in 90-degree heat and barely sweating a drop. These days, all it takes is a walk around the block in 80-degree heat for me to start sweating like a pig. It’s very strange.

This is all very mysterious. But after five years I have to figure that these are permanent changes. I wonder what caused them?

“The Amazon Stays, Bolsonaro Goes”: Protesters in Brazil Demand Action on Rainforest Fires

This story was originally published by National Observer and is shared here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. 

Last Friday, in the streets outside the government buildings in Brazil’s capital city, I walked with nearly a thousand people in desperate concern over the relentless and unprecedented burning of one of the most important ecosystems in the world.

A swarm of people took over Brasilia, protesting in Brazilian/carnival style, with more rhythm than any march I had been to before. People screamed, danced and sang, led by a giant banner that read “Amazônia fica, Bolsonaro sai” (“the Amazon stays, Bolsonaro goes”).

But it wasn’t a time to celebrate and the mood wasn’t entirely jovial. Protesters fired smoke bombs outside the Ministry of Environment, screaming “Sai Salles” (Get out Salles), referring to Ricardo Salles, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s environment minister.

The planet’s lungs are on fire, and the city was angry—angry that the great Amazon rainforest, one of the planet’s most biodiverse and ancient wildernesses, has been burning for weeks.

Young or old, the entire crowd shared the same concern: Bolsonaro doesn’t care about the environment, he doesn’t care about the Amazon, and he doesn’t care about Indigenous people’s inherent, constitutionally protected and internationally recognized rights.

The president campaigned on pledges to stop the demarcation of Indigenous lands, sell off large parts of the Amazon rainforest to mining and agribusiness, discredit scientific data pointing to a drastic increase in deforestation in recent years, and cut back on environmental protection and regulation measures. So far, he has kept those promises.

It’s not a new phenomenon for a Brazilian government to take a pro-industry stance—the country is, after all, the biggest exporter of beef in the world—but in recent memory, no other president has taken such bold measures against Indigenous rights and the environment.

‘Captain chainsaw’

The march in Brasilia was one of many pro-Amazon marches across Brazil and the world last week.

The world’s largest tropical rainforest, 10 times the size of Texas, the Amazon is vital to all living beings. It’s home to an incredibly diverse population of plants and trees, which convert carbon dioxide into 20 percent of the world’s oxygen supply, and is the primary determinant of weather systems in Brazil and of rainfall around the world.

So when word got out that there has been an unprecedented number of forest fires in the Amazon—more than 70,000 in the whole country and nearly 40,000 in the Amazon, which is a 77 percent increase from the same time period last year—the whole world turned its head toward Brazil.

When we looked, we saw that the majority of the fires had been started by farmers clearing land for agribusiness, emboldened by Bolsonaro’s ascent to power.

Immediately after his government took office, following a widely criticized anti-corruption crusade that sent the former left-wing president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to prison, Bolsonaro filed an executive order to transfer the regulation and creation of Indigenous lands to the agriculture ministry, which many in the country see as in the pocket of the agribusiness lobby.

It was a clear conflict of interest, which is why the move was stopped by Congress and the Supreme Court, but it sent a message that Indigenous rights stood in the way of industrial development.

In a tweet from Jan. 2, Bolsonaro spoke of “integrating” Indigenous people and people living in quilombos, reserves for descendants of enslaved people.

“Less than a million people live in these places, isolated from true Brazil, exploited and manipulated by NGOs,” Bolsonaro wrote. “Together we will integrate these citizens.”

Brazil is home to approximately 900,000 Indigenous people from 305 tribes, most of whom live on reserves, according to Brazil’s Socio-Environmental Institute. More than 120 traditional territories claimed by Indigenous groups have not yet received government recognition.

The National Foundation of Indigenous Peoples (FUNAI) is the federal government body responsible for the demarcation of Indigenous lands in Brazil.

Once in power, Bolsonaro’s government deposed of FUNAI’s president and put a federal police deputy in his place, Marcelo Xavier da Silva, a man with strong ties to agribusiness who once worked on a controversial congressional inquiry that attacked the very organization he was now charged with running.

A cada dia o dito Jair se consolida como o pior governo de todos os tempos . Ele quer governar à revelia da lei, passando por cima do Parlamento e da Constituição Federal .O cara teima em querer governar por Decretos e Medidas Provisórias, é preciso dar um basta nessa balbúrdia!

— Sonia Guajajara (@GuajajaraSonia) June 20, 2019

In a June 20 tweet, Sônia Guajajara, Indigenous rights activist of the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, called Bolsonaro’s government the “worst government ever.”

“He wants to rule by default, bypassing Parliament and the Federal Constitution,” Guajajara’s tweet said. “The guy wants to rule by decrees and provisional measures, we need to stop this mess!”

Another Bolsonaro appointee, Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta, suggested that there would be spending cuts in health care for Indigenous people.

“We have figures for the general public that are much below what is spent on health care for the Indigenous,” he said, in effect warning the Indigenous population that a dark future awaited them.

And then, this month, the fires seemed to fulfill that apocalyptic prophecy.

A thick blanket of black smoke descended on São Paulo—a city of more than 12 million people—last week, prompting people to share photos on Twitter. #PrayforAmazonia started to trend, and celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, Cristiano Ronaldo and Madonna shared photos on social media, urging a conversation that Indigenous people in Brazil, environmental conservationists and scientists had long been crying out for.

Enquanto o mundo reza pela #Amazônia, os xinguanos se reúnem e lançam no ar uma flecha. O governo brasileiro deve proteger nossas florestas e respeitar os modos de vida dos povos indígenas e comunidades tradicionais.

Conheça a rede https://t.co/GUGv7Z2w8v.

Kamikia Kisedje pic.twitter.com/7OOzh5X4gR

— ISA (@socioambiental) August 24, 2019

In a video recorded by Indigenous filmmaker Kamikia Kisedje, a group of Xingu people from the Kubenkokre village in the Brazilian Amazon say they will continue to resist destructive production and protect their way of life for their children and grandchildren.

“We say no to mining in our lands, no to deforestation,” O-É Kaiapo Paiakan said, standing in front of the community of Amazonian peoples. “No more invasions and disrespect. No more pesticides in our rivers and foods. No more criminal fires in the forest. We are with you, standing for the Amazon.”

Discrediting data

On the ground, I’ve been hearing a lot of debate about what’s next for Brazil, the Amazon, and the planet. While most people want to see the fires put out and agree that the environment is in a dire state, no one seems sure about the best way forward.

Is it safe to have the armed forces trekking through Indigenous lands?

Will the illegal activity be stopped in remote parts of the rainforest with weakened environmental policies?

Will anyone care the day after tomorrow?

If nothing else, the fires have shed light on the country’s ongoing political emergency.

Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) has reported increased and concerning rates of deforestation in the Amazon, but the Bolsonaro administration has dismissed the findings. After INPE’s director, Ricardo Galvão, defended the data and provided more scientific evidence to back up the reports, he was dismissed from his role earlier this month.

In an interview with the BBC, Galvão said that previously, the INPE and the ministry formally collaborated to prevent deforestation in the Amazon from 2002 to 2014. But the current environment minister, Salles, has insisted that ideological biases guide scientific data and that deforestation statistics have been sensationalized. He has gone as far as to suggest hiring a foreign company to replace INPE, which Galvão said would amount to a conflict of interests.

On Monday, the G7 offered US$22 million in fire-fighting aid to Brazil. Bolsonaro called the move and further international criticism of his government an “echo of colonialism,” chastising countries with colonial histories and relationships for trying to play saviour to the Amazon, acting as if Brazil is a “no man’s land,” as Bolsonaro tweeted Monday.

While some may argue he has a point, many Brazilians heard only hypocrisy coming out of the mouth of a man bent on supporting industrial development at the risk of continuous violation of the rights of the country’s most exploited people and one of the planet’s most important ecosystems.

On the other hand, US President Donald Trump, whose journey to presidency isn’t unlike Bolsonaro’s, tweeted his support for the president and the 43,000 armed forces that have recently been sent to fight the fires, while precious lives and lands remain on the line.

Consumer Spending Is Kind of Meh

The Wall Street Journal doubled down today on the notion that consumer spending is strong:

U.S. households ramped up their spending in July, providing reassurance that the economy’s decadelong expansion continued to roll despite slowing factory activity and global growth. Personal-consumption expenditures, a measure of household spending, increased a seasonally adjusted 0.6% in July from June, a pickup from the previous two months, the Commerce Department said Friday, continuing a solid performance by the economy’s main driving force.

First of all, this isn’t adjusted for inflation, even though real numbers are released at the same time as nominal numbers. Second, take a look at monthly growth in consumer spending over the past couple of decades:

It’s all noise. There’s no way to pull any useful information out of this. If, instead, you compare year-over-year growth—which makes more sense in the first place—you get this:

There’s still some noise, but there’s also a clear signal: consumer spending grew in July at about the rate as June and May and April and March. It’s actually a little below the average of the past couple of years.

I should note that this works in both directions. If you look at personal income, it didn’t increase at all between June and July. It was completely flat. Bad news! But if you look at year-over-year growth, things look a little different:

Income growth has been showing some decleration over the past year, but it’s still pretty positive.

I know this stuff seems kind of tedious, but it matters if you really want to know the state of the economy. The Journal summary of July is that consumer spending was strong but income growth was weak. In reality, they were both fairly average.

Friday Cat Blogging – 30 August 2019

Two of our favorite people in the world had their first baby a week ago. Everyone is back home now and thriving, and that means it’s time for young Dylan to make the acquaintance of Tony the cat, who you may remember from last year. All my plans for this week’s catblogging went out the window as soon as I saw the pictures of this momentous occasion. Mom is the one snapping photos for the historical record; Dad is being careful to stay still and not alarm anyone; Tony is cautiously checking out the tiny human; and Dylan is obviously a little . . . unsure . . . of what to make of this gigantic orange furball that weighs as much as he does.

As you can see, Tony settled down a few minutes later, apparently approving of the new addition, who will surely grow up to be an excellent servant someday. Dylan appears to be settling in too, but still keeping a watchful eye out. That’s probably wise.

NOTE: No cats or babies were harmed in the making of this post.

After Over A Decade, Lindsay Lohan Is Finally Dropping New Music

In a recent interview on “The Kris Fade Show,” Lindsay Lohan, the teen-queen-turned-Mykonos-businesswoman herself, previewed a snippet of “Xanax,” a new track she’s set to release soon.

Everything you’d expect from Lohan is here. It’s as if Ashley O—Netflix’s fake pop star that took over the summer—gave Lohan a reject from her latest album. And that’s a good thing. If released, it would be Lohan’s first track since 2008’s “Bossy” and a return to her rightful place among the pop music gods.

Lohan’s been teasing new music for awhile, both in a May Instagram post and with a photo of her in the studio in June, but this is the first time fans have heard actual music. It’s a classic club track, and Lilo’s lyrical prowess is on full display: “I try to stay away/But you get me high/Only person in this town that I like/Guess I can take one more trip for the night.” (Sarcasm!) 

After an unexpected cancellation of her MTV show, “Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club,” maybe this is just the project Lohan needs to find some footing again. We’re waiting, ready to stream when you are Lindsay. Until then we’ll just be listening to “Rumors” on repeat.

Michael Flynn and His New Lawyer Are Feuding With Federal Prosecutors

Former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn is slowly breaking up with the federal prosecutors he agreed to assist nearly two years ago, risking a stiffer prison sentence in what might be an effort to win a pardon from President Donald Trump.

On Friday, Flynn’s lawyers and prosecutors said in a joint status report that they cannot agree on when Flynn, who has completed his cooperation, should be sentenced. The impasse resulted from demands by Flynn’s recently hired lawyer, Sidney Powell, for a security clearance and for information that she claims prosecutors are withholding. A right-wing pundit fond of criticizing deep-state plots against Trump, Powell has flirted with conspiracy theories, while hinting that the government is hiding prosecutorial misconduct leading up to Flynn’s November 2017 guilty plea on charges that he lied to FBI agents about contacts with Russia’s ambassador. “There is other information relevant to the defense that is either classified or being suppressed by the government, not the least of which are transcripts and recordings of phone calls that supposedly underpin the charges against Mr. Flynn,” she wrote in Friday’s filing.

But prosecutors in the office of the US attorney for the District of Columbia, who took over the case from special counsel Robert Mueller, said they have already “exceeded” their discovery obligations and asserted that Powell doesn’t need any classified information. They noted that defendants by law can only obtain classified material if it “relevant” and “helpful to the defense.” No such material exists, they stated.

The dispute marks a major shift from last December, when Mueller’s office praised Flynn’s cooperation and recommended that Flynn avoid serving any prison time. While prosecutors have not officially altered that recommendation, the decision on whether to jail Flynn, and when to sentence him, falls to US District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan—and Flynn’s fallout with prosecutors seems likely to hurt his cause with Sullivan. In a December hearing, Sullivan appeared to surprise prosecutors and Flynn’s former attorneys by excoriating the former general and indicating unease with prosecutors’ request for leniency. Sullivan even asked if prosecutors had considered charging Flynn with treason. The judge’s reaction led both sides in the case to seek a delay in sentencing, giving Flynn time to strengthen his case for how he has helped the government, in part through his testimony in ongoing cases.

That exercise doesn’t seem to have gone well for Flynn. His case has long been hobbyhorse for pro-Trump pundits, who argue he was unfairly targeted by Mueller—despite Flynn’s public admission that he lied to the FBI about multiple matters. Flynn’s former lead lawyer, respected defense attorney Robert Kelner of Convington & Burling, seemed to ignore Flynn’s status as a conservative cause célèbre. But in June, Flynn replaced Kelner with Powell, a frequent Fox News guest who sells anti-Mueller tee-shirts on her website. Powell quickly began suggesting that Flynn had been railroaded.

“Counsel has identified crucial and troubling issues that should concern any court,” she said in a July 11 filing, without elaborating. Powell also walked back Flynn’s admission, made as part of his guilty plea, that he had lied in Foreign Agents Registration Act filings submitted to the Justice Department regarding work his company, the Flynn Intel Group, did for the Turkish government. Through Powell, Flynn claimed he had not lied in his FARA filings, which were submitted by his then-lawyers, because he never read them. That reversal led prosecutors to drop plans to call Flynn as a star witness in the trial of his former lobbying partner, Bijan Rafiekian; that, in turn, led the judge in the case to throw out one of charges against Rafiekian. (Rafiekian was nevertheless convicted of illegally lobbying for Turkey.)

Earlier this month, Mother Jones reported that Flynn agreed to speak at a fundraiser and conference organized by a proponent of the bizarre QAnon conspiracy theory, which holds that Trump is secretly battling a ring of pedophiles that includes high-ranking Democrats. The organizer said he had worked closely with Powell to set up the event, which would have benefitted Flynn’s legal defense fund. Flynn subsequently pulled out of the event, and it was cancelled last week.

Flynn’s hiring of Powell and his conduct since has fueled speculation that, despite the risk of incurring a harsher sentence from Sullivan, he is angling for a pardon by ingratiating himself with Trump partisans and conspiracy theorists who see the entire Mueller probe as a deep-state plot.

In a November 22, 2017, voicemail for Kelner released in June, Trump’s former lawyer, John Dowd, seemed to dangle the prospect of a pardon for Flynn. Dowd left the message after realizing Flynn had decided to plead guilty and cooperate with Mueller. The message is somewhat cryptic, but Dowd seemed to imply that if Flynn were to cooperate without implicating Trump in wrongdoing, he should know Trump still liked him. “Remember what we’ve always said about the president and his feelings towards Flynn, and that still remains,” Dowd said.

Twenty-two months later, Flynn has changed lawyers and broken with prosecutors But if Dowd was subtly offering a path to a pardon, Flynn has stayed on it.

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