Mother Jones Magazine

Tech Is No Panacea for the Classroom

The Wall Street Journal reports that parents are starting to have a few wee concerns about digital classrooms:

When Baltimore County, Md., public schools began going digital five years ago, textbooks disappeared from classrooms and paper and pencils were no longer encouraged. All students from kindergarten to 12th grade would eventually get a laptop, helping the district reach the “one-to-one” ratio of one for each child that has become coveted around the country. Teaching apps and digital courses took the place of flashcards and notebooks.

Despite the investment, academic results have mostly slipped in the district of about 115,000 students. Over the last decade, American schools embraced technology, spending millions of dollars on devices and apps, believing its disruptive power would help many children learn faster, stay in school and be more prepared for a competitive economy. Now many parents and teachers are starting to wonder if all the disruption was a good idea.

Did educators and parents really believe that laptops and tablets and proprietary software would help kids learn faster? If so, did they have even the slightest evidence that this was true? It sure seems unlikely to me. My offhand guess is that it makes no difference, and my backup guess is that might harm learning. Do we really want kids associating learning with the same device that they use to play games, watch videos, chat on Facebook, and compare Juul flavors? I fully understand that I’m a dinosaur, but I think learning should be associated with a separate, serious environment that is explicitly dedicated to doing things that might be hard.

But I suppose I’m wrong.

How to Stop Russia From Attacking and Influencing the 2020 Election

The Russians are coming. 

That’s the message about the 2020 election from FBI Director Chris Wray (who this summer said Moscow is determined to interfere in the next presidential contest) and from former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats (who warned that Vladimir Putin’s regime and other foreign actors will concoct new methods for messing with American politics in 2020). Yet Donald Trump and his administration have done little to signal that thwarting another Russian attack—or an assault on the election from any other source—is a priority. In the months before Kirstjen Nielsen was booted from her post as Department of Homeland Security secretary, she was instructed not to raise with Trump the issue of preventing Russian interference in 2020. (Any talk of Russia’s attempted subversion of US elections apparently irks Trump—as it should, for his election victory is indeed tainted by Moscow’s intervention.) And Trump, who has never fully acknowledged Putin’s attack in 2016, recently noted that he would accept secret help, in the form of dirt on a political rival, from a foreign government for his reelection campaign. That remark, his call to allow Russia to reenter the G8, and his general Russia-didn’t-do-anything stance certainly send a signal to Putin: Feel free to do it again. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has blocked votes on a variety of election security bills. 

All of this is particularly maddening because there are steps the US government could take to prevent a repeat of 2016 or something worse. A new report released by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, chronicles what other Western governments have done to counter Moscow’s efforts and outlines steps that could be adopted in the United States to beat back an attack on the next election. (CAP was founded by John Podesta, who certainly cares a lot about Russian attacks: When he was chair of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, his emails were hacked by Russian operatives and leaked by WikiLeaks through the final four weeks of the 2016 campaign.)

The study, written by James Lamond and Talia Dessel, notes that “Russia is consistently shifting and updating its interference tactics, making it even harder to protect future elections,” and the paper examines several case studies of Russian intervention since the 2016 election. In 2017, Moscow sought to influence the French presidential election to boost the odds for Marine Le Pen, the National Front candidate running against Emmanuel Macron on an anti-immigrant, anti-EU, anti-NATO, and pro-Russia platform. During that race, Russia mounted a disinformation campaign using rumor and forged documents, cyberattacks on campaign officials, and a leak of stolen data. That same year, Russia-linked trolls and bots amplified the messages of the far-right Alternative for Germany party, known as the AfD, in Germany during the federal election there. (The Kremlin also boosted the themes of the left-wing anti-fascists—a sign Moscow was aiming to sow overall political discord.) In 2018, Russian state propaganda outfits consistently smeared Sweden, while a populist, anti-immigrant party was vying for power in that country’s election. In 2019, Russia-linked operatives used disinformation efforts during elections for the European Parliament to suppress voter turnout. 

Moscow’s information warfare in these cases had mixed results. Despite what the report calls “perhaps the most expansive foreign interference campaign Russia launched since the 2016 American election,” Macron decisively vanquished Le Pen. (Her party, though, had been rescued from financial trouble with a $12.2 million loan from an obscure Russian bank. And Le Pen reaching the run-off that she lost to Macron might have been a Russian success.) In Germany, Angela Merkel secured her fourth win as German chancellor, but the far-right AfD achieved its own victory, becoming the third-largest party in the Bundestag. The Swedish election led to a loss in seats for the center-left and center-right parties and a boost for the anti-immigrant party. The European Parliament election resulted in small gains for the anti-EU parties likely favored by Moscow but it yielded less of an anti-EU wave than widely expected. 

In each of these instances, the CAP report details, governing forces took actions to foil Russia’s attempts at undermining democracy. The French government provided cybersecurity seminars for political parties. (La Pen’s National Front, for some reason, did not accept this assistance.) And France’s national election commission and its national cybersecurity agency frequently warned the public, the media, and the parties of the risks of cyberattacks and disinformation. The outgoing president, François Hollande, privately warned Putin not to mess. Various media outlets and Google implemented fact-checking projects to counter disinformation. And a traditional media blackout—imposed in the final days of French campaigns—prevented the widespread dissemination of hacked material that was leaked with the intention of harming Macron. Throughout the campaign, the government and Macron’s campaign constantly informed the public of the threat of foreign intervention. 

The German government adopted measures to fortify its cybersecurity to protect its election system. It developed a “hack-back” strategy that included the use of possible offensive cyberattacks against hackers. Merkel’s government conveyed a clear message to the Kremlin: Russian interference would not be tolerated. It offered assistance to political parties to strengthen their cyber-defenses. Merkel’s government frequently reminded the public of the threat of Russian interference. And, the report notes, “With the encouragement of the German government, all the political parties, with the notable exception of the Russia-aligned AfD, pledged not to use social media bots, and parties also pledged not to use leaked information.” (Germany also uses paper ballots—a system, the CAP report points out, that’s tougher to manipulate from the outside.)

The Swedish government regularly issued updates about its plans to secure the election and ran a program to educate voters about the threat of interference. Swedish media developed a joint fact-checking operation to call out foreign disinformation. (“The incredibly forceful and proactive approach from the government is perhaps the most important lesson from the Swedish experience,” the report states. “Unlike many other Western governments that were caught off guard by Russian interference, the Swedish government was prepared and vigilant, working through multiple channels to prevent Russia’s interference campaign from being more effective.”) In the run-up to the European Parliament elections of 2019, the EU established a Rapid Alert System that allowed member states to share information about disinformation schemes. (The RAS, however, had a spotty record.) The EU also created a task force to identify Russian disinformation campaigns and produce public reports about Moscow’s efforts. The CAP study also notes that the 2017 Dutch election apparently occurred without any serious Russian involvement—and that might be because the Dutch government engaged in robust preparations that may have undercut Russian efforts to mount disinformation efforts there and to hack the email accounts of Dutch officials. 

So what can the United States gather from all of this? Well, not surprisingly, CAP has drawn some lessons and proposes a set of recommendations. The first lesson: “A forceful government response is the most important deterrent and mitigating factor.” And that would entail sending Moscow a “clear, bipartisan message” to keep away or risk severe punishment, including tough sanctions. Lesson two: Develop situational awareness among voters. As the authors put it, “Public awareness about foreign influence campaigns is perhaps the single most important defense against such interference and an essential tool toward building a resilient democracy.” The paper recommends that Congress hold hearings to highlight how Russia supports fringe political outfits around the world and that legislators should require the government to notify the public when foreign interference in American politics is detected. CAP also calls for media outlets to “refuse to quote stolen material that clearly has been released as part of an influence operation by a foreign power, as this creates a reward or incentive for Russia to hack and release stolen information.” It urges the adoption of a paper-ballot system and stricter regulation of foreign money in US political campaigns. 

This is a fine wish list. There are obviously some immediate roadblocks, such as Trump, Trump, and Trump. And, oh yes, the Republicans. Trump and his cronies will not be formulating a robust, comprehensive, and bipartisan strategy to impede Putin anytime soon. McConnell has even managed to bring the Federal Election Commission, which could more vigorously investigate the flow of foreign money into American politics, to a standstill. (In 2016, McConnell single-handedly prevented the Obama administration from presenting a bipartisan warning to the public by refusing to participate in any effort to call out Moscow, perhaps fearing that would place him at odds with then-candidate Trump, who was falsely claiming Russia was not interfering in the election.) And it will be damn hard to persuade American reporters to eschew hacked material that is publicly released. Moreover, the US voting system is a crazy quilt of local systems, many under-financed; it is difficult to implement defensive reforms that cover all of it. 

But this report shows that American democracy need not be vulnerable to Moscow manipulation or assaults from other quarters. Even with Trump and his GOP comrades refusing to honor their obligation to defend the country, other players can take defensive actions. Political parties, individual members of Congress, government officials not under Trump’s thumb, media outlets, and local election officials can proceed on their own with a variety of measures that will render it tougher for foreign adversaries to subvert American democracy. What matters most is will. Government officials, political professionals, the media, and the voters have to give a damn. If they do, there are ideas to implement—even if Trump has no interest in impeding Putin. 

Credit: Kremlin Press Office/Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty

Manufacturing Index Suggests Economy Is Starting to Contract

We’re at a point now where there seem to be about equal numbers of good and bad signs related to the economy. Today we got one of the bad ones:

Anything under 50 indicates a weak economy. Bloomberg explains:

U.S. factory activity unexpectedly contracted in August for the first time in three years as shrinking orders, production and hiring pushed a widely followed measure of manufacturing to its lowest level since January 2016.

The Institute for Supply Management’s purchasing managers index fell to 49.1 in August, weaker than all forecasts in a Bloomberg survey of economists, data released Tuesday showed. Figures below 50 signal the manufacturing economy is generally contracting. The group’s gauge of new orders dropped to a more than seven-year low, while the production index shrank to the weakest level since the end of 2015.

This has happened before a couple of times since the end of the recession, and both times the PMI Index turned back upward after a few months below 50. On the not-so-bright side, the slide over the past 12 months has been especially steep, and steeper still over the past six months. When you lose more than six points in six consecutive months without even a hint of a turnaround, it’s not a good sign.

The Crazy Story of How Alabama Accidentally Passed a Bill Upending Parental Rights

After Alabama lawmakers banned almost all abortions in May, with no exception for rape or incest, Jessica Stallings, a rape survivor from Fort Payne, was frustrated. But not for the reasons you might expect.

Stallings, a mother of two, actually supported the strict ban. She had been raped as a teen by her uncle, multiple times, and decided not to abort the resulting pregnancies. She loved her children, now teens themselves. But she was upset that it was still exceptionally easy for rapists in the state to get parental rights over the babies born from these assaults. A court had given her uncle permission to regularly visit her kids.

Alabama was one of just two states that didn’t have a law requiring courts to terminate the parental rights of convicted rapists in similar circumstances. So Stallings shared her story with the public and lawmakers, hoping to inspire change. And it seemed a fix was in the works: Rep. Will Dismukes, a young Republican who had just been elected to his first term, had prefiled a bill in February called Jessi’s law, or HB 48, that would allow courts to end a convicted rapist’s parental rights over a child born from the assault. Or so it seemed.

The law passed at the end of May, about two weeks after the abortion ban was enacted. But it didn’t do what Stallings’ supporters expected, and it went much further than the parental rights laws in most other states.

Between the time Dismukes introduced the bill and the time it passed, the language in the bill had been amended drastically. The bill now forced courts to take away parental rights from anyone who had ever been convicted of any first-degree rape, incest, or sodomy—even if no child was born from the assault, even if no child was victimized, and even if the assault had nothing to do with the person’s children.

It’s a “contradiction to the very purpose and goals of the juvenile court,” attorney Juliana Taylor says of the law.

“Let’s say a man is arrested, charged, and convicted of rape at 19 years of age, and 20 years on is now a 39-year-old man who has done his time, who has changed his life, who has had a child,” says Juliana Taylor, an attorney in Montgomery who specializes in family law and has studied the new legislation. “In the law, there’s no choice: The judge must remove the person’s parental rights,” even if it’s not in the best interest of his child, even if there’s every reason to believe the person is a good parent. It’s a “contradiction to the very purpose and goals of the juvenile court,” she says.

Under the law, a 16-year-old who has sex with a willing 13-year-old—a crime in Alabama, since the 13-year-old isn’t old enough to consent—could also lose parental rights decades later if he ever has a child, says Gar Blume, a longtime attorney in Tuscaloosa who has received national honors for his work on juvenile law. “It is so broad,” he says of the legislation, “that anybody ever convicted of a sex offense essentially is having their right to parenthood severely constrained, or there’s the potential for that to occur.” He described the law as “blatantly unconstitutional.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle voted for the bill. It passed overwhelmingly in the House and unanimously in the Senate. But it’s unclear if lawmakers realized how sweeping the effects might be. “I’ve heard that maybe it was unintentionally made too broad,” Sen. Cam Ward, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told me in July. The Democratic caucus is also a little concerned with how broad the bill is, added Amanda Brown, a legislative analyst for the caucus. 

How did this happen? I was curious, because I had written about Stallings’ story and spoken previously with an advocate specializing in parental rights laws who was convinced, before the law passed, that the goal was more narrow, that lawmakers only wanted to stop convicted rapists from getting custody over children who were conceived from rape. So I began calling up Rep. Dismukes and any other lawmaker who would talk with me about how and why the bill had changed.

Tracking them down was an exercise in patience—for weeks I left messages, and most went unanswered. In the end, based on interviews with a couple of lawmakers, more attorneys, and the legislative analyst, it seems that the law was not originally proposed to help people like Stallings. And sloppy sentences inserted into the bill created confusion about what it would do. Even now, lawmakers, including the one who introduced the legislation, aren’t exactly sure how broad it is. And family law attorneys are worried about the consequences.

To understand what went down, it helps to go back to the beginning, where the first seeds of confusion were planted, on Valentine’s Day. That day, months before the legislature passed the abortion ban, Rep. Dismukes put forward one of his first-ever bills, Jessi’s law, in the state House. A 29-year-old from Prattville, Dismukes was a former college baseball player who became an ordained minister and worked for his family’s flooring company after a stroke squashed his dream of playing in the Major Leagues. He had been elected the previous November and sworn in a few months before introducing the bill, and he was the youngest lawmaker in the state.

The bill, as he introduced it, seemed clear enough. A synopsis (copied below) stated that when a court was deciding whether to take away someone’s parental rights over a child, it could consider whether the person had been convicted “of rape in the first degree or of incest…if that instance of rape or incest resulted in the conception of the child.” Similar language was repeated in the bill text.

In other words, the bill seemed to suggest that if a man was found guilty of raping a woman and impregnating her, he could lose rights over the resulting baby. Forty-eight other states had similar laws, some requiring a conviction and some not, according to Analyn Megison, who helped pass legislation in Florida years ago after her rapist attempted to get custody of her child. Alabama had tried and failed to pass a bill like this in the past, added Rebecca Kiessling, a family law attorney in Michigan who has studied the issue nationally.

But Dismukes, it turns out, had something else in mind entirely. After I finally got him on the phone in July, he told me that when he introduced the bill, he wasn’t thinking about people like Stallings: He intended instead for courts to terminate parental rights in cases where a parent had raped their own child and the child had gotten pregnant. “The original was focused on raping your own children,” he said, something he reiterated multiple times. “It said you lost parental rights in a case of rape or incest when it involved the conception of a child.” (The bill, he added, was named after a woman called Jessi who was sexually assaulted by her father.)

His proposal worried some lawmakers, who thought it was too specific in that it wouldn’t protect boys who were raped by a parent or girls who were raped but not impregnated. “Sen. Vivian Figures, who is a Democrat lady, said why don’t we make it stronger, and let’s remove ‘in the case of conception of a child,'” Dismukes recalled. He thought she had a point. So on May 28, the Senate amended the bill with that in mind. The House approved the changes the same day, and Gov. Kay Ivey allowed it to become law. The synopsis of the new legislation (below) also seemed clear, focusing on parents who raped their own children, as Dismukes intended:

But the synopsis—which is what many busy legislators focus on reading—is just a summary. It has absolutely no legislative effect, according to Blume, the juvenile law attorney. And the actual text of the bill didn’t match. It went much broader.

The first relevant passage of the bill that passed came on page five, in a section dealing with instances when a juvenile court can remove a child from a parent’s home quickly, without making any effort to keep the family together. It states, in the paragraph below, that this must happen if the parent has been convicted of first-degree rape, sodomy, or incest, regardless of who the victim was. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be the child itself that was the victim or the other parent that was the victim,” says Laurel Crawford, a former child custody attorney who leads the Montgomery Volunteer Lawyers Program. “It can be they raped, sodomized, or had an incestral relationship with anyone.” According to Blume, the second sentence of the passage strangely states that even if the parent in question actually assaulted an adult, the law requires the juvenile court to operate as though he or she really hurt a child. “It’s a very inartfully worded paragraph,” he says.

 

One key detail in the above text, according to Blume, Taylor, and Crawford, is the word “shall,” which, unlike terms such as “should” or “may” or “could,” removes all discretion from the judge to act differently. Another key phrase is “other sexual abuse,” something that could include lesser crimes like inappropriate touching.

The next crucial passage (below) comes toward the end of the law, on page nine. It says a court “shall” terminate the parental rights of a parent who has been convicted of first-degree rape, incest, or sodomy, and again, it does not specify who the victim was. Nor does it include any time constraints. The crime could have occurred decades ago, before the individual was even a parent. The judge has no discretion to act differently. At least, that’s how Blume, Taylor, Crawford, and other attorneys they have spoken with interpret the wording.

This is also how Kiessling, the expert in Michigan, and Brown, the legislative analyst for the state’s Democratic caucus, interpret the law. Brown speculated that Democratic senators supported the measure because they were concerned about ramifications of the abortion restrictions that had just passed.

“Requiring [a court] to terminate the parental rights of someone without giving them an opportunity to be heard and without giving the discretion to the judge is not right, because there can be extenuating circumstances,” says Crawford. These extenuating circumstances happen more often than you might expect, adds Blume. He recalls representing a 17-year-old boy with intellectual disabilities who was accused of sexual abuse while riding the school bus after another kid, a 13-year-old girl with behavioral problems, asked if she could perform oral sex on him. Over the course of six months, Blume handled that case and another similar one, and he has heard of others. Any children who settle or admit to similar offenses could later lose parental rights.

“Did the legislature mean for this to happen this way?” Taylor says. “I have no idea. But that’s what it did. I don’t see a way around it.”

“We have very few lawyers in the legislature,” adds Blume.

It’s unclear if lawmakers understand what they’ve done. In July, when I asked Rep. Dismukes whether the law allows courts to terminate the parental rights of anyone convicted of first-degree rape, he said he wasn’t sure. “I don’t want to quote you wrong on it,” he said. “The way I understand it and interpret it is you lose the parental rights of the child you raped, and if there is a child that comes from that rape, those parental rights as well. Whether it extends past that point, that would be Bryan Taylor or David,” he added, referring me to speak with the governor’s legal adviser or a communications official, respectively. (The governor’s office said it couldn’t answer my questions and referred me back to Dismukes. The communications official never picked up his phone or responded to my messages.)

“I’m not trying to pawn you off to an attorney, but I’m not an attorney.”

Dismukes added that if someone is convicted of raping a woman who then gets pregnant, the new law does allow courts to terminate the parental rights of the rapist over that child. But when I asked specifically what part of the legislation allowed for that, he again recommended I speak with other experts. “I drafted that bill two or three weeks before we even started session,” he said. “It’s kind of like a baby, you know: You look at it so much and you work on it so much that you know it frontward and backward, when all of a sudden it passes and then it changes and you get it for one day, you’re just sort of limited. I’m not trying to pawn you off to an attorney, but I’m not an attorney.”

“I think we should protect all mothers of circumstances of rape and make sure no one has some type of parental right after they rape somebody,” he added.

Hoping for more clarification, I called every member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The only one who agreed to speak with me was Sen. Cam Ward, the committee chair. When I asked him if the law allowed courts to terminate parental rights of anyone convicted of first-degree rape, he also wasn’t sure off the top of his head. “I’d have to look back,” he said. “But I’ve heard the same thing, that maybe it was unintentionally too broad. There may have been some confusion there in the end.” When asked how I might determine whether the law was indeed that broad, Ward initially urged me to talk with a nonpartisan legislative aide who helped draft the law, but later said an aide would probably never agree to an interview. He added that he didn’t offer the amendment himself—that it was either offered by Dismukes or Sen. Clyde Chambliss (R). Ward also recalled Sen. Figures (D) urging amendments. “I just wasn’t involved in negotiations for that bill so I just can’t speak to it as well as they can,” he said.

When I called Chambliss’ office, a spokesperson declined to comment and told me to call John Rogers, a different communications official, who did not return any of my messages. When I tried to call back Chambliss’ office to explain Rogers wasn’t answering, the office did not pick up the phone or return any of my messages. When I called Sen. Figures’ office, a spokesperson said the senator was unavailable and would follow up with me. She never did, and her office did not pick up or respond to any of my subsequent messages. None of the other lawmakers I contacted ever responded to my messages. When I tried to call Dismukes back repeatedly, he never answered his cellphone and nobody picked up at his office. Both voicemails were full so I couldn’t leave a message. He never responded to my emails.

The real irony is that, while the law is incredibly broad, it won’t actually help Jessica Stallings, whose uncle had visitation rights over her children. Jessi’s law only allows courts to terminate parental rights if there has been a conviction of sexual abuse. Stallings’ uncle was never convicted of rape or incest, even though she says she was 15 and he was 22 when she got pregnant with his child. “It went to grand jury twice, and both times they said there was not enough evidence to convict him, even though we had DNA and court documents and birth certificates and medical records,” she told me earlier this year. “I had every piece of the puzzle I could possibly have, and they kept kicking it out.” Her uncle’s attorney declined to speak with Mother Jones about the case, citing attorney-client privilege.

Out of every 1,000 sexual assaults, on average only nine are referred to prosecutors, and only five lead to a felony conviction.

Some lawmakers argue that this conviction requirement serves as a safeguard, to ensure men are not falsely accused and stripped of their parental rights without a guilty verdict in court. But family custody attorneys counter that the requirement limits who can be protected, since so many rapes are unreported or underprosecuted. Out of every 1,000 sexual assaults, on average only nine are referred to prosecutors, and only five lead to a felony conviction, according to a study by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. In June, according to the Washington Post, Sen. Figures said she planned to introduce new legislation that would allow people in Stallings’ situation to petition the courts to terminate the parental rights of their rapists, even without a conviction, as long as they have clear and convincing evidence a rape occurred—the standard required in roughly half of all states.

The Alabama law went into effect September 1. Lawmakers could revise it, to focus in more narrowly on situations like Stallings’, when they begin their next session, but that seems unlikely. “You’ve got to have a sponsor who’s willing to stand up in front of their fellow legislators and then have it reported back home that they were trying to make it harder to terminate the parental rights of sex abusers, and that doesn’t win anybody a whole lot of votes,” says Blume. If a parental rights case goes before a court, a lawyer can also argue the law is unconstitutional, “because parental rights are a fundamental right, and a due-process-protected right,” says Taylor, and under the new law, judges will have no discretion or ability to weigh the evidence. “Because it says ‘shall,'” says Blume, “all notions of due process fly out the window.”

In August, Dismukes announced that he plans to run for Congress, to fill the seat of Rep. Martha Roby, who will not seek reelection. “Our country is fighting a radicalized movement on the left that is threatening our freedoms, liberties and way of life,” Dismukes said in a press statement. “Republicans need a bold new conservative in Congress who isn’t afraid to stand up to the socialists on the left and the big-government politicians in our own party. I am someone who has proven, in my very short time in Montgomery, that I will do what is right for the taxpayers, regardless of party.”

“I think I have proven that I will look at an issue and study it and make the decision that’s best for my constituents,” he added.

Playing Class Clown Could Cost Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin His Job

Gov. Matt Bevin was praising Kentuckians as “the most hospitable people on the earth,” but you could barely make out his remarks over the chorus of boos. He was speaking in May at the Kentucky Derby’s trophy presentation, and observers would later debate whether the jeers were intended for Bevin, who polls show is the nation’s most unpopular governor, or for race officials, who had disqualified the favorite and Triple Crown contender, Maximum Security. The answer, it seemed, was a little of each.

Bevin had revved up his reelection campaign earlier that day, airing his first ad during the Derby coverage, a prime way to reach a wide swath of his state. As Churchill Downs, the site of the famous horse race, faded to commercial, viewers received one clear message: If you’re for President Donald Trump, you should back Matt Bevin. “President Trump is taking America to new heights, but it hasn’t been easy. People are afraid of change, but I’m not. Neither is the president, and together our changes are working,” Bevin said in the ad, as images of the two flashed across the screen, culminating with Bevin flashing a thumbs-up next to a smiling Trump.

“Many Kentuckians see their governor as the personification of the state, and this is a state that often comes in for ridicule.”

For Bevin, winning a second term should be a breeze. He’s running in a state Trump won by 30 percent. Trump still gets high marks in polls there, and Republicans fully control the state government. But as Election Day nears, Bevin is flailing. In May’s Republican primary, he won just 52 percent of the vote in a race against three nominal challengers, a paltry showing for a sitting governor.

Bevin’s unpopularity appears to be less about Kentuckians rejecting his conservative agenda than voters growing tired of their governor’s unfiltered, Trumpian persona and penchant for generating headlines with ill-advised remarks. “Many Kentuckians see their governor as the personification of the state,” says Al Cross, the longtime dean of the state’s political press at the Louisville Courier-Journal and now a journalism professor at the University of Kentucky. “And this is a state that often comes in for ridicule. Socioeconomically and demographically, culturally, we get looked down on by people on the coasts. And often get made fun of. And Kentuckians are sensitive to that. They don’t want their governor to be a jerk.”

Bevin often takes to social media to spout off and pick fights with his many critics. “Boy, it takes so little to trigger a whiny liberal,” he stated in a video posted to Facebook last October. “Let the whiners whine. I love the fact that you’re this easily upset.”

President Donald Trump steps off Air Force One with Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin.

Mandel Ngan/Getty

There has been plenty to whine about—and it’s not just liberals who have been up in arms. When Bevin visited a chess club at a majority-black and -Latino school in West Louisville, he said this activity was “not something you necessarily would have thought of when you think of this section of town.” After the Parkland mass shooting in Florida, Bevin posted a video calling for an “honest conversation”—about violent video games, films, and music. Bevin angered public health officials when, in the course of decrying government-mandated vaccines—“this is America, and the federal government should not be forcing this upon people”—he described exposing his children at a chickenpox party. Last winter, Bevin even managed to piss off Today show co-anchor Al Roker by complaining that “we’re getting soft” when a record cold snap forced school closures in Kentucky. “This nitwit governor in Kentucky, saying, ‘Oh, we’re weak,’” Roker said. “These are kids, who are going to be in subzero windchill. No, cancel school. Stop it!”

No one really foresaw Bevin’s rise. He grew up in rural New Hampshire and joined the Army before moving to Louisville in 1999 and founding an investment firm that notched him a net worth of at least $15 million, according to a disclosure he filed in 2014, when he first ran for political office. That first campaign ended in stinging defeat, as Bevin tried to ride the tea party wave and unseat then–Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell ran ads dubbing Bevin an “East Coast con man.” Bevin’s challenge died after he was caught on video at a pro-cockfighting rally.

The primary ended with hard feelings all around between Bevin and the state Republican Party. “You can’t punch people in the face, punch people in the face, punch people in the face, and ask them to have tea and crumpets with you and think it’s all good,” Bevin told Politico after he lost, explaining why he wasn’t endorsing McConnell. “Life doesn’t work that way.”

A year later he ran for governor, positioning himself as a no-nonsense businessman running against the establishment. This time, Bevin won a four-way primary by 83 votes and later cruised to a nine-point victory over his Democratic opponent. “Kentucky’s gubernatorial races so often become a predictor of the presidential election the next year,” says Jonathan Miller, a former Democratic state treasurer. Kentucky has trended Republican at the national level for decades, even as Democrats dominated state politics. (They still boast a voter registration advantage.) Bevin became the state’s second Republican governor since 1971, and with Trump atop the 2016 ticket, Republicans took control of the state House for the first time since 1921.

He’s “Scott Walker’s politics with Paul LePage’s mouth.”

In January 2017, Bevin and the new Republican majority quickly set to work passing a conservative wish list: tort reform, a host of abortion restrictions, and a so-called right-to-work law that brought Kentucky into line with every other Southern state. Kentucky had seen its uninsured rate drop from 20 percent to 8 percent thanks to Obamacare, but Bevin shuttered the state health insurance exchange and now wants to add work requirements to the state Medicaid program that could result in tens of thousands of Kentuckians losing their health coverage. (Those requirements are on hold while they’re being disputed in the courts.) He’s “Scott Walker’s politics with Paul LePage’s mouth,” says Jason Bailey, executive director of the left-leaning Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.

But Bevin’s pugilistic style and cringe-inducing statements are bogging down the state GOP at the very moment it has its first opportunity in a century to enact its agenda. “He has made life more difficult for himself than it probably had to be,” says Scott Lasley, a political science professor at Western Kentucky University and the 2nd District vice chair of the state Republican Party. A dispute between Bevin and his lieutenant governor, Jenean Hampton, dominated headlines earlier this summer after his administration fired two of Hampton’s aides without consulting her. “Pray for me as I battle dark forces,” Hampton, who was dropped from Bevin’s reelection ticket, tweeted after the firings. A few weeks ago, Hampton sued Bevin, arguing that the firings were illegal. Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear (son of former Gov. Steve Beshear) has also become a persistent thorn in Bevin’s side, dragging him into court to challenge his policies. Beshear will face Bevin on the ballot in November, and Beshear’s campaign has already racked up the endorsement of one Republican state senator.

But Bevin’s biggest mistake may be spending the past two years picking fights with public school teachers. He successfully pushed a law to allow charter schools, saying he wanted to “end the monopoly that exists in Kentucky’s school system,” and he’s attempted to weaken pension benefits for public employees. Once again, Bevin piled personal invective on top of right-wing policy.

Teaches and their supporters protest attacks on public education, in Frankfort, Kentucky.

Bryan Woolston/AP

Last year, when teachers held a sick-out to protest Bevin’s proposed pension cuts, the governor unleashed an unhinged rant. “Here’s what’s crazy to me,” he told a reporter. “I guarantee you somewhere in Kentucky today a child was sexually assaulted that was left at home because there was nobody there to watch them.” (Republicans in the state House passed a resolution condemning Bevin’s comments, which he later apologized for.)

In April, Bevin said that teachers taking a sick-out day to protest his pension proposals had led to a child being shot: “One thing you almost didn’t hear anything about while we had people pretending to be sick when they weren’t sick and leaving kids unattended to or in situations that they should not have been in—a little girl was shot, 7 years old, by another kid.” (Beshear tweeted in response: “Despicable. Matt Bevin is unfit to govern. Kentucky families, teachers, and kids deserve so much better than this governor.”)

And Bevin has compared teachers and other public employees concerned about his pension plan to drowning victims. “They’re fighting you, biting you, pulling you under,” he said. “You just need to knock them out and drag them to shore.”

“This governor just keeps opening his mouth and putting his foot in it,” says Stephanie Winkler, a fourth grade teacher from Madison County who recently concluded her term as president of the Kentucky Education Association (KEA), a powerful advocacy group for educators that has tangled with Bevin. “And it’s on the minds of people. Anybody that works in a public school.”

Like many other states, Kentucky has seen a precipitous drop in education funding following the Great Recession. Teacher salaries and spending per pupil are down about 6 percent, adjusted for inflation. Alongside colleagues in West Virginia, Arizona, and Oklahoma, Kentucky teachers joined the “Red for Ed” strikes of 2018, with educators frequently descending on the state Capitol to protest. Last December, when Bevin called a postelection special legislative session to once again try to pass changes to the pension system, teachers flooded Frankfort to sing modified Christmas carols urging lawmakers to leave things alone. After less than 24 hours, legislators shut down the special session without debating any proposals.

“They know if I say, ‘Matt Bevin,’ they’re like, ‘He is mean.’”

“The professional attacks are bad enough. But then when you add on top of that the utter disdain that he has for teachers and public education in general, it’s not just a professional insult, it’s a personal insult,” Jacqueline Coleman, the Democrats’ candidate for lieutenant governor, tells me in the hallway of John Hardin High School, after addressing a crowded lunchroom of teachers at a KEA conference in Elizabethtown, a city of 30,000 people an hour south of Louisville. Coleman, wearing a bright red blazer in a nod to Red for Ed, has never held elected office before. But it’s clear why she ended up on the ticket alongside Beshear. Coleman is a former high school civics teacher and basketball coach who was working as an assistant principal until she took leave to campaign. “We are taking this personally, and rightfully so,” she says. (Davis Paine, Bevin’s campaign manager, says in a statement: “The Governor will not be deterred by KEAs misinformation campaign and will continue to champion policies that strengthen our education system and support teachers.”)

In late July, Bevin called another special session. This time, Republicans—with no Democratic votes—passed a smaller pension cut that will limit benefits for a subsection of public employees, affecting about 7,000 people who work for local health departments, some regional universities, and a few other semi-government offices. So far, Bevin has not made any noise about restarting the debate over public school teacher pensions, but given his focus on the issue during his first term, it’s likely he would resurrect it during a second term.

“I’m concerned that if you start taking things like that away, you’re just going to lose some of that draw for the future teachers,” Josh Underwood, a high school physics and aviation teacher who is a trustee on the teachers’ pension board, told me in between checking people in at the front desk of the KEA conference back in June. “I mean, you don’t necessarily go into teaching for the retirement, but it is a consideration.”

Just before speaking with Underwood, I had met one such future teacher. Cameo Kendrick, a 27-year-old single mom and rising senior at the University of Kentucky, spends part of her time working as the president of KEA’s Aspiring Educators Program, a group of college students preparing for careers in education. Over the past several years, she’s joined the protests at the state capitol, bringing her kids along bearing signs supporting teachers. “They loved it. They came home and they were like playing with their barbies and saying little chants.”

“They know if I say, ‘Matt Bevin,’ they’re like, ‘He is mean.’”

Kendrick is full of verve and seems like just the sort of teacher Underwood was talking about schools needing. “I really believe that my generation of educators, and my generation of people in general, are really raising the generation that’s going to save the world,” Kendrick says. But our conversation ended on a bit of a dour note for the future of her home state. While saying that Kentucky needs more teachers like her from diverse backgrounds, Kendrick said she didn’t think she could handle working in a state where the governor demonizes educators, and would likely look for teaching jobs in other states after graduation: “I don’t see myself putting in a single application in the state when I graduate, to be completely honest.”

The teacher backlash poses a real risk for Bevin. According to Winkler, the former KEA president, schools are the biggest employer in most of Kentucky’s 120 counties, and more than half of KEA’s members are Republican. Last year, Jonathan Shell, the state House majority leader, lost his Republican primary to R. Travis Brenda, a math teacher fed up with Shell’s role in co-writing a pension-cut bill.

 “A lot of teachers in this state are Republicans, and a lot of Republicans are teachers,” says Al Cross, the veteran Kentucky journalist. “In November 2019, teachers are going to remember what Matt Bevin said about them.”

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?

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