Mother Jones Magazine

Appealing to Black Voters in South Carolina, Elizabeth Warren Fires Up White Liberals

Elizabeth Warren came to the South Carolina Lowcountry on Saturday and played all the standards. At a town hall in Goose Creek, about 20 miles north of Charleston, she talked about corporate greed and government decisions that put the wealthy few ahead of the working many, before rounding into her proposals for voting reforms that would strengthen democracy. This was an important part of her message in South Carolina, the crescendo where she could address herself directly to the procedural impediments facing the state’s many Black voters. The crowd was with her, too, cheering wildly when she promised to end the gerrymandering practices that have historically disempowered racial minorities and to “end racist voter suppression.”

The curious part was that, by my count, the audience of 750 or so people was at least 80 percent white. Several attendees I’d spoken with had driven up from Charleston, an ever-gentrifying, ever-whitening coastal city full of transplants who’ve fled colder climates for the Sun Belt. For this predominantly white crowd, some of the day’s biggest applause lines were about ending structural racism against Black people.

In its swing through South Carolina, host of the fourth nominating contest in the Democratic presidential primary, Warren’s campaign has gotten a glimpse of the central dynamic in the so-called “Great Awokening,” the name given to our current era of expanding racial consciousness among white liberals. Pitching herself to Black voters who are essential to winning the state’s primary, Warren finds herself firing up white liberals.

I asked Warren after the Goose Creek town hall why she thought a majority-white audience responded so enthusiastically to the explicitly antiracist parts of her message. “I think people understand that our democracy is broken,” she told me, reiterating her points about why rich people don’t deserve a bigger share of it. She added, “One of the most fun parts about being out and doing this town halls”—Goose Creek is her 160th of the cycle—”is how engaged people are over rebuilding our democracy.”

It’s hard to say whether the Warren campaign might have expected a different mix of folks to show up to see her on Saturday. Goose Creek High School serves a majority-minority student body that’s 40 percent Black, 30 percent white, and 15 percent Latino; the town and surrounding areas hew closer to 70 percent white, though nearby North Charleston—about halfway between Goose Creek and downtown Charleston—is nearly 50 percent Black.

But the town hall was the last stop on Warren’s three-day swing through the Carolinas focused on wooing nonwhite voters and highlighting her racial equality message. It included an appearance at an environmental justice forum aimed at highlighting how communities of color disproportionately suffer the effects of environmental inaction, as well as an education forum in Summerton, South Carolina, a majority-Black town in the state’s “Corridor of Shame,” so called for its history of educational inequality, poor school funding, and low educational achievement. On Thursday, Warren appeared in Raleigh, North Carolina, alongside Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), who had endorsed Warren’s candidacy earlier that day.

Warren’s mission set her up for some obvious questions. At the environmental justice forum, moderator Amy Goodman pressed Warren on whether Iowa and New Hampshire—“two of the whitest states”—should be the first states to host presidential primaries. Warren huffed a little and dodged the question, noting she’s “just a player in the game on this one.”

Elizabeth Warren berates Amy Goodman for asking her a reasonable question she refuses to answer, then ends the interview by replying to Goodman's "thank you" with a scoffed "yeah."

Her disdain for the left couldn't be more blatant.pic.twitter.com/CeALdRy4e3

— DSA Otherkin Caucus ❼ (@QueenInYeIIow) November 9, 2019

Following her Goose Creek town hall, a reporter pointed out the majority-white audience and asked what the campaign’s strategy is to diversify its crowds. Warren replied with her own question, asking the reporter if she’d seen the majority-Black audience who gathered in a high school library to see her speak with educators in Summerton. 

“It’s keep showing up and keep reaching out,” Warren said of her approach. “I want to introduce myself to every single voter in South Carolina. And that’s true, regardless of what their race is, what their gender is, what their party affiliation is—2020 is our chance, our chance to turn around a country that’s working great for those at the top and not so much for” everyone else.

At its core, Warren’s campaign poses the question of whom government works for—the answer, of course, being the wealthy and well-connected. But there’s a line she almost always chases that point with. “Why are working families finding the path so much harder than generations ago?” she’ll say, as she said in Summerton that morning and again that afternoon in Goose Creek. “And why, for people of color, is it even rockier, even steeper?”

Warren is acknowledging the entwinement of racial and class inequalities in a way that seemed to energize the white supporters I spoke with at her events in South Carolina. Christine Jasonis, a white retiree and South Carolina transplant originally from Connecticut, says Warren’s education and Medicare for All plans appeal to her, but she feels “very strongly” about Warren’s antiracism. “If I was a mother of a young Black man today, I would be terrified,” she says. “We fought too hard for this.”

Alec Neller, a white twentysomething who recently graduated from college, told me systemic racism was his top voting issue—and a reason he’s drawn to Warren. “Everyone should have the opportunity to succeed and do what they dream. It makes for a stronger United States and a stronger world,” he said. “I think Trump put [racial inequality] on the table by attacking certain minority groups and calling certain countries ‘shitholes.’”

Trump’s oafishness, while emboldening racists across America, has also had the effect of making racism more obvious to the sort of white liberals who might not have been paying close attention. “You have people saying, ‘Oh, I thought racism was supposed to be over, but clearly, it’s not,’” said Jillian Clayton, a white woman who’s backing Warren.

Clayton, who attended the College of Charleston in the mid-2000s and has lived in the area since, sees something similar at work in her own city. White residents witnessing Charleston’s transformation have become highly attuned to gentrification’s effects, she said, even if they’re also reaping some of its benefits. “We see it happening every day,” she said. “People are getting pushed farther and farther away from the city.”     

Back in March, Vox’s Matt Yglesias wrote about the Great Awokening through the lens of researchers and pollsters who have observed a sharp increase in concern among white Democrats about racial inequality and discrimination over the past five years. Yglesias pointed to polling from the Pew Research Center that, back in 2014, found that most Americans didn’t think there was any work left to do to address Black-white inequality. Now, more than 80 percent of self-identifying Democrats say the country needs to make changes to give Black Americans the same rights as whites. Until recently, according to the left-leaning think tank Data for Progress, most white Democrats ascribed racial inequality to a lack of individual initiative. Today, as Yglesias writes, white liberals are now “less likely than African Americans to say that black people should be able to get ahead without any special help.”

The Great Awokening was Yglesias’ coinage, a reference to the religious revival among white Northerners in the years before the Civil War that lent a moral fervor to abolitionist movements. And he predicted similar results for this current moment. “The fundamental reality is that the Awokening has inspired a large minority of white Americans to begin regarding systemic racial discrimination as a fundamental problem in American life—opening up the prospects of sweeping policy change when the newly invigorated anti-racist coalition does come to power,” Yglesias wrote.  

Warren has been steadily rising in the polls of South Carolina, where more than 50 percent of the primary electorate is Black. The Post and Courier’s first poll back in May put Warren at a dismal 8 percent behind Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and Joe Biden, who received 46 percent of support. The latest Post and Courier survey, conducted in mid-October, found Warren in second place at 19 percent, only 11 points behind Biden. Though pollster Pat Reilly did not directly explain Warren’s rise, he told the Post and Courier that Biden’s drop came “principally from African-American women who are moving to other candidates,” though “none of the top candidates are seeing a decisive jump as a result.”

The rate of conversion suggests that Black women might be moving toward Warren. At the event in Summerton I watched the candidate use her own story to establish a connection. The education forum had been an intimate gathering of a few dozen attendees—among them local elected officials, business owners, and faith leaders, all of whom told me it was too early for them to throw their support behind any of the Democratic candidates. As Warren recounted her familiar anecdote about how, as a preschool teacher in the 1970s, her contract wasn’t renewed when she became visibly pregnant, a number of Black women in the audience nodded knowingly. A few told me afterward that their friends had had similar experiences during that era.

But there was still work to be done, as the demographics of the Goose Creek event suggest. Just before Warren began speaking there, I met Amelia Duvall, who was standing by herself near the back of the gymnasium. Duvall, a Black woman and business owner from nearby Ladson, had attended the town hall alone. She’s supporting Warren, but when I asked her what she thought of attendance, she shook her head. “She’s gotta get more people in here who look like me,” she said.

Turns Out, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Is Huge in Iowa

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was welcomed to Iowa with a roast. On Friday, while the first-term Democratic congresswoman from New York was introducing Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders at a rally in Council Bluffs, the state’s Republican bigwigs took their shots at the Lincoln–Reagan Dinner at a Marriott ballroom in downtown Des Moines.

Doctor Ocasio-Cortez,” state GOP chairman Jeff Kaufmann announced, would be in town the next day with “Crazy Bernie.” “She’s got a problem with our cows here!” he said, referring to the Green New Deal she and Sanders had come to Iowa to talk about.

Joni Ernst, the state’s Republican junior senator, brought up the pair again, and again the audience booed. “We know what kind of reception they’re gonna get!”

Did we? At three stops over two days, Ocasio-Cortez was greeted with only a smattering of protests—I saw four people with weird signs on Saturday making fun of her for being a bartender—and large crowds in Council Bluffs, Des Moines, and Coralville. These were her first appearances with Sanders since she endorsed him in Queens last month. Technically, she was here in the first-in-the-nation caucus state to talk up the Green New Deal, the sweeping economic and environmental overhaul she introduced in Congress to combat climate change, now a major plank in the Sanders platform. But more than that, she was here as a sort of proof of concept—living, breathing evidence that the political revolution Sanders had promised wasn’t just happening but evolving.

The centerpiece of Ocasio-Cortez’s visit was a three-hour long climate summit at Drake University on Saturday. People heard from speakers such as Zina Precht-Rodriguez, an organizer at the Sunrise Movement, and the writer and activist Naomi Klein. Panelists discussed chicken farming and water quality and renewable energy while sitting in front of big watercolor panels painted by the artist Molly Crabapple—workers in orange vests putting up solar panels, workers in orange vests working on wind turbines, workers in orange vests…farming, maybe? I could go on about the content of the thing, but the content wasn’t what was revelatory; what was remarkable was the fact that it was happening at all.

“Four years ago when I was running around Iowa and New Hampshire and going all over this country, I talked about climate change, and people nodded their heads and I said, yeah, it’s a serious problem,” Sanders told the crowd in Des Moines. “I was on a national debate [and] a moderator said, ‘What do you think is the great national security crisis facing this country?’ And I said climate change. People kind of didn’t fully appreciate that answer. But the point is that over the last four years, as I go around the country today, people do understand.”

This is a meaningful shift in the United States, driven in large part by a revitalized activist movement. But it’s also a shift in how Sanders approached the issue. Four years ago, Sanders wasn’t avoiding the issue of climate change. (He was talking up “fossil fuel billionaires,” and pushing a climate agenda of his own.) But he wasn’t running on it quite like this, with three-hour summits where people who aren’t running for any office at all talked about the poultry industry, and corporate consolidation of pig-farming, and electrification of freight rail. He wasn’t doing a full weekend of events on the theme, in a state where corn and beef are king. No, this was something new, because in the time since the last campaign ended and this one began, the kinds of idealistic young lefty activists his campaign had counted on in 2016 had latched onto something else entirely and built it into a new organizing force.

And it was being shepherded, to a large degree, by the woman on stage with him—a former campaign organizer who’d protested at Standing Rock, then went and ran for Congress, and then almost immediately introduced the Green New Deal. She is Sanders’ most powerful surrogate in 2020 precisely because her career is the story the movement wants to believe about itself.

Ocasio-Cortez also just happens to be uncommonly good at this, adept at inverting the arguments that have traditionally been wielded against people with politics like hers. “When it comes to a Green New Deal people say—always, always, always with this question of ‘how are you going to pay for it?’” she said. “As if we’re not paying for it now.” She rattled off a list of recent, headline-grabbing shocks—the California wildfires, Hurricane Maria, decreasing crop yields.

“Coal miners are being denied their pensions while coal barons are being bailed out by the federal government,” she said. The message of Bernie 2020 is that you’re already paying for it.

Later that day, Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders spoke to a crowd of a few thousand at a field house in Coralville, near the University of Iowa campus. Sanders gear was in abundance, but he wasn’t the main draw for everyone. Caleigh Stanier, a high school junior, told me she came for Ocasio-Cortez, not Sanders.

“I admire her charisma,” she said. She’d watched the congresswoman’s Netflix documentary, Break Down the House, and seen some of her stuff on YouTube. She was drawn to a young female politician with the “boldness” to push a program like the Green New Deal.

Ditto for Jordan Mehling. Though she’ll be supporting Sanders for the second time next year, Ocasio-Cortez was the impetus to make the trip down from Minnesota. Watching the young Democratic Socialist challenge Washington political types had been an inspiration. “Before AOC came into my view, I cared about these things and I liked Bernie because he was standing up for these things that I also believed in, but”—but—”She’s the one who sort of made me feel if she can do it why can’t I do something as well?” Here was someone her doing the maximum. “I can at least be doing the minimum.”

Jessica Hillman, who had driven out from Chicago to see Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, saw the congresswoman as something like a generational bat signal.

“We all wanted to do something meaningful, we all wanted change, but we didn’t feel like we had any power,” she said. “We couldn’t connect with other people and then when she came out it was almost like a message that was sent out that connected us all together.”

I saw a little girl jumping up and down as Ocasio-Cortez began to talk, and two young women rush into the crowd to get closer. Afterward, supporters flocked to the far side of the hall for handshakes and selfies. I came upon a University of Iowa student named Harry Manaligod excitedly telling a group of friends about shaking the congresswoman’s hand.

“I came for Ocasio-Cortez,” Manaligod told me. “She’s like a completely different league. I feel like there’s so many politicians that have made sacrifices to achieve their goals, and I feel like she’s not the kind of person that’s gonna let one thing fall to the wayside to get her goals accomplished.”

Further down the line, a grown man walked away grinning. “I can’t wash my hand now!” he shouted.

Sanders’ core identity is that he’s a man who doesn’t change—Ocasio-Cortez told the crowd Saturday night that she endorsed him because he had been fighting for people like her before she was born. The consistency is the thing; you hear it again and again. So much so that there is a frustration among supporters that other candidates have profited at his expense by simply appropriating aspects of his agenda.

“Every candidate is saying what Bernie has been saying,” said Robin Ruetenik of Coralville. “It’s a coattail orgy.”

But if this campaign turns out different from the last, it’ll be because of the subtle ways he and his movement have evolved. In 2016, Sanders was traveling around the country, promising a new day in America that you could only faintly begin to discern. In 2020, the revolution he promised isn’t quite so hard to imagine—she takes the stage right before him. That’s its own form of renewable energy.

Trump’s Plot to Kill DACA Arrives in the Supreme Court, and the Protesters Are Here, Too

President Donald Trump’s decision to cancel the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program arrives in the Supreme Court on Tuesday, trailed by the anger of the program’s supporters. Just today, a group of demonstrators arrived in DC after marching from New York City. Thousands more people across the United States are expected to take to the streets on Tuesday, when the court hears a suite of cases challenging whether the Trump administration acted in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner in canceling the program that shields more than 700,000 young people from deportation.

The Home Is Here marchers, among them one of the plaintiffs in the case, left New York City on Oct. 26 and arrived Sunday morning in DC, chanting and dancing. Supporters from California and other parts of the country also traveled to the nation’s capital, and earlier this week students walked out in support DACA. There’s a national call for students to walk out of school on Tuesday. 

WE HAVE ARRIVED AT THE SUPREME COURT!

230 miles, and we have made it all the way to defend our community! #HomeIsHere pic.twitter.com/OhdW1smKUY

— Make the Road NY (@MaketheRoadNY) November 10, 2019

SCENES: California is HOME to more than 200,000 people with #DACA. The highest number in the U.S.

Today we waved goodbye to a strong delegation of #DACAmented leaders who will represent California at the Supreme Court on November 12.#DACA, California has your back! pic.twitter.com/fYthS6eHtM

— CHIRLA (@CHIRLA) November 10, 2019

Here’s a DACA refresher ahead of the hearing:

On June 15, 2012 after months of pressure from immigration rights groups and in the midst of a heated re-election campaign, President Barack Obama signed an executive order that gave birth to DACA. The program allowed those who at the time were between the ages of 16 and 31, who were brought here as children, and who didn’t otherwise have immigration status, to apply for a two-year work permit that also protected them from deportation. They also had to meet a series of requirements and have no criminal record. Thousands received DACA in the coming years—they’re known popularly as Dreamers, a callback to the failed DREAM Act that offered similar but broader protections—although many struggled with the decision to apply in the first place because it was only a temporary status.

On the campaign trail in 2016 Trump threatened to end DACA, calling it an overreach by the Obama administration. Immediately after Trump’s election, DACA recipients felt scared and confused by their uncertain future. They were particularly vulnerable to deportation in the event that Trump took away their status; the government already had all of their information. Many were also afraid for their undocumented family members, who were now also exposed. 

In office, Trump turned the rhetoric down a bit, saying said he would treat DACA recipients “with heart” and work with Congress on the matter. But in September 2017, the Trump administration announced it would cancel DACA. Courts quickly ruled that the administration did not have the authority to end DACA so abruptly and without adequate explanation, and the government was compelled to renew the program for those who had already been granted temporary protected status.

Since then lower courts have ruled against the Trump administration, saying his move was “arbitrary and capricious.” It’s been two years of limbo for DACA recipients.   

Tuesday morning the Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to wind down DACA is lawful and judicially reviewable. The court is not expected to make a decision until the spring.

Let’s Remember a Trump Official’s Terrible Old Tweet About the Berlin Wall

Hey Monica,

I saw an old tweet of yours resurface on Saturday to mark the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It’s from 2015, when you were a Fox News commentator and not a flack in the Trump administration, though these days is there any difference?

This is a US Govt official praising the GODDAMN BERLIN WALL, the symbol of 70 years of oppression and division under the Soviet boot.

In any other administration, this person would be fired immediately and never work in this town again. What an embarrassment these clowns are. pic.twitter.com/eomvcO63J6

— Molly McKew (@MollyMcKew) November 9, 2019

In so many ways you’re right. Walls do work. The Berlin Wall, for instance, worked for 28 years to sanction oppression, normalize human rights abuses, rob innocent citizens of any autonomy, and reward despots. It divided Germany between the prosperous and democratic west, and the Soviet satellite in the east, where hundreds of thousands of people participated in a security apparatus in which they informed on neighbors, co-workers, family members, even spouses. Did you know that at least 5,000 East Germans tried to escape? And this wall worked so well, 239 people died attempting to cross it, attempting to overcome its barbed wire and soldiers trained to kill.

But here’s the thing. For once, you may have just been a little bit off message with your tweet. It may have slipped your mind back then, in the thrill of being there, that not all walls are created equal. Sure, I get that you totally believe that our wall on the southern border that the president is so determined to build is a good wall. The Great Wall of China is an amazing wall. But somehow, as a loyal Republican with a PhD in international relations from Columbia and a former researcher for Richard Nixon in his emeritus years, you have forgotten that the Berlin Wall was one of those bad walls. One that in 1987, your sainted Ronald Reagan memorably told Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down.” 

You may have missed some of the memorials scattered throughout the city for those who were killed during the Holocaust. Berlin is a city that takes history really, really seriously. Maybe the next time you’re there, you should head out to this residential area in the periphery of heart of Berlin to visit the former Stasi prison, Hohenschönhausen, where men and women were sent after they’d been deemed unreliable members of society because they, say, wrote a letter to a friend in the west, or expressed an opinion that skirted uncomfortably close to criticizing the regime. They were tortured there. Some people lost their minds there. Some people stayed for years without having any idea of why. They were all living in that walled-off part of Berlin. Their crimes and their punishments would not have borne up to much scrutiny in a place where the rule of law prevailed. But in a walled-off country, no problem. 

You are clearly too young to remember this program from the early ’60s called That Was the Week That Was. (To be honest, it’s not like I remember it very well either.) It was a satirical look at current events, and in January 1964, when the Berlin Wall had been functioning for three years and authorities permitted a brief period of visitation for Christmas, they ran this strange hand ballet by puppeteer Burr Tillstrom. The creator of one of the earliest kid’s programs on TV, Kukla, Fran and Ollie, about a little group of adorable puppets who had adventures, Tillstrom in this depicted for American audiences a moment when a couple was finally separated by the wall. A parent and child? A brother and sister? It doesn’t really matter. I don’t remember when I first saw it, but it just has stuck with me in all its weirdness and raw emotion. 

Why is this so strangely affecting? The universality of hands, I think, helps—so free from gender, age, and any other obvious markers. It depicts with such austerity so many human emotions underlying a narrative of unjust separation and a too-brief reunion between the saved and the damned: shyness, rhapsodic moments, sweet generosity, the sheer agony at the unfairness of it all once visiting hours have ended. 

The Berlin Wall didn’t just divide that city. It literalized the image of the Iron Curtain that had descended across Europe after World War II, dividing the continent between the totalitarian communist system and liberal democracy. My family is Hungarian, and I had a quite a few relatives living on the other side of that metaphorical wall. My grandparents lost their home and were deported to the countryside. My grandfather lost his pension. My aunt was first sentenced to death and then life imprisonment for being too friendly with the Americans. My father’s cousin was murdered by the secret police. Walls work, sure, but to say it is only to beg the one question that matters: work for whom

The Standard-Bearer of the Latin American Left Is out of Prison and Ready to Fight

A day after being released from prison, Brazil’s former leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the standard-bearer of the Latin American left, pledged to fight right-wing leaders across Latin America, starting with Brazil’s ecocidal authoritarian president, Jair Bolsonaro.

“I want to tell them I’m back,” said Lula, as he is known, in a 45-minute speech to cheering supporters in front of a metalworkers union headquarters in São Bernardo do Campo.

Sobre reencontros… #equipeLula pic.twitter.com/ElsPMOYh8m

— Lula (@LulaOficial) November 10, 2019

The 74-year-old was imprisoned in 2018 after being found guilty of receiving bribes for public contracts. Lula has denied those charges, saying he was the victim of political persecution. “They didn’t arrest a man,” he said Friday after a judge ordered his release, “they tried to silence an idea and ideas don’t go away.”

 

And then Lula dropped a sizzle reel on Twitter.

Lula Livre pic.twitter.com/EJRrynjJjE

— Lula (@LulaOficial) November 8, 2019

Lula has received support on Twitter from leaders all over the world, including Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders. 

As President, Lula has done more than anyone to lower poverty in Brazil and to stand up for workers. I am delighted that he has been released from jail, something that never should have happened in the first place. https://t.co/UNZZqjjMVF

— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) November 8, 2019

Lula served as Brazil’s president from 2003 to 2010 and left the presidency with “sky-high approval ratings.” He won’t be able to run for office until 2025 because of Brazil’s so-called “clean record” law, which prevents candidates from running for public office for eight years if they’ve lost their political jobs because of corruption, but he’s already planning his political comeback.

Meanwhile, Bolsonaro asked his followers on Twitter not to give ammunition to “the scoundrel.” 

California Could Have Helped Low-Income Residents Weather PG&E Blackouts. But It Didn’t Happen.

This piece originally appeared in High Country News and appears here as part of our Climate Desk Partnership.

Exactly a year ago, as the devastating Camp Fire swept through the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. Frank A. Jr. Funes, a disabled 69-year-old Vietnam veteran, woke in the early morning hours to a phone call. It was his pastor, checking to see if he had evacuated. Immediately, Funes looked outside his window: His neighbor’s house was already burning, and the flames were licking at his own fence. He, his wife and their 4-year-old grandson rushed out the door. “I didn’t have time to grab anything,” he said. “The wind was blowing like crazy, and the fire was just right around the house.”  

That day, Funes lost the house he had lived in for the last seven years. He has since found a new home 15 miles away. But the winds are a constant reminder of how vulnerable he and his neighbors are to wildfires. Already this year in Northern California, the Kincade Fire has burned nearly 78,000 acres and destroyed 174 homes. Now, whenever the gusts kick up, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), the region’s largest utility provider, preemptively cuts power to decrease the likelihood of a sparked transmission line starting a fire, as happened with last year’s Camp Fire. These shutoffs could last through the rest of November and for the foreseeable future, and Funes, like many others, feels helpless without electricity.

When PG&E shut off power in early October, 2.1 million people lost electricity. Amid the darkness and confusion of the next two days, residents caught a glimpse of what researchers call “the climate gap.” Those with solar panels, and more importantly, solar battery storage, fared pretty well during the outages. Tesla electric-car owners, some of whom had home solar systems, boasted about making pizzas in the midst of the blackout, while others watched movies in their parked cars. Meanwhile, those with limited means ended up buying expensive and polluting gas-powered generators at prices ranging from a couple hundred to a few thousand dollars. Many people, including some who rely on food stamps, were forced to throw out spoiled food. Those with medical disabilities—like Funes, who uses an electric wheelchair—worried about how long the outage would last and how much it would cost to keep the generator running. Just moving the generator in and out of storage was a physical challenge for him and his wife.  

The state already has a plan in place to help remedy this disparity. In 2017, California designated funding to help disadvantaged residents and community organizations access new technology like solar batteries, through its Self Generation Incentive Program’s Equity Budget. It sounds like the perfect solution, one that by 2019, had accrued $72 million. The problem is, for residents, not one installation has taken place.

“If we don’t address the upfront cost barrier to adopting the technology, it will not reach low-income families, period. That was the biggest failure of the initial program.”

For years, so-called “early adopters”—people who buy things like electric vehicles, or install solar panels on their roofs—have been rewarded with rebates. But people who cannot afford the upfront costs miss out on the savings and new technology. As a result, by the end of 2017, solar panels were three times as likely to be found outside of disadvantaged communities, per capita, than in them, according to “Distributed Solar and Environmental Justice,” a research study conducted by Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy (PSE). Meanwhile, low-income residents pay significantly more for electricity than early adopters do. That’s partly because a larger portion of their paychecks goes to energy costs, says Boris Lukanov, a senior scientist with PSE and lead author of the study—about 7.2% of a low-income family’s paycheck, compared to the average of 3.5% of their more fortunate neighbors pay. But it’s also because in places like California, where solar adoption is high, the cost of moving electricity around the grid falls on those who use more power. That includes disadvantaged residents, whose housing infrastructure might not be the most energy-efficient, and whose access to solar installations is limited, due to the high cost. Working-class communities often have the most to gain from sustainable energy, and not just for financial reasons: Low-income and communities of color are disproportionately impacted by high gas emissions.

Across the country, well-intentioned local and state governments hope to close that energy gap and assist their most disadvantaged residents through programs like the Equity Budget. But they keep running into problems. Stan Greschner, chief policy officer at GRID Alternatives, a nonprofit that works to make clean energy more accessible, said the reason is pretty simple: Low-income residents simply can’t afford any extra expenses. Even if a program like the Equity Budget covers half of the cost of a solar battery, the price is still too high for the struggling residents it’s trying to benefit. “If we don’t address the upfront cost barrier to adopting the technology, it will not reach low-income families, period,” Greschner said. “That was the biggest failure of the initial program.”

Areas with elevated (orange) and extreme (red) wildfire threat would be prioritized for solar subsidy programs.

California Public Utilities Commission

This past September, the California Public Utilities Commission announced sweeping changes to the budget in hopes that more people will be encouraged to apply. The solution, it turns out, is more nuanced than simply having to pay for the upfront cost of solar batteries. Starting in 2020, the program will aim to cover nearly all of the costs for a battery installation for residents who live in a disadvantaged or low-income community.  

Disadvantaged communities, as defined by California, face a “combination of economic, health, and environmental burdens.” In addition, residents who meet that threshold and live in high wildfire-risk zones like Los Angeles or the Sierra Nevada will get their energy storage needs met through yet another initiative, the Equity Resiliency Program, which provides an extra $100 million in funding. Crafted in anticipation of events like this fall’s wildfires and blackouts, it’s aimed at providing disadvantaged and medically vulnerable residents like Funes with greater energy resiliency. Tribal nations will also be eligible for this new funding.  

Some structural improvements make the program easier to apply for. And because funding can now be coupled with existing solar panel incentives aimed at disadvantaged residents, people can take advantage of both programs at the same time. This is good news for renters, too: Forty-three percent of California’s low-income residents live in multi-family housing, which will now be able to pair existing solar panel subsidies with storage options. The savings in solar energy would be passed down to tenants, and the buildings could serve as “resiliency centers” for the greater community whenever an outage hits.

How the utility rolls out the new program “could very well be the key to success or failure of this program,” said Greschner. Disadvantaged communities have often been targets for financial schemes and are understandably wary of flashy incentives. One recent scam, tried to peddle fake solar installations to large Spanish-speaking immigrant populations. And many residents won’t even know about the program unless the marketing materials are available in a language they can read—something that is so far uncertain in the new marketing plan. In Lukanov’s study, the authors stated linguistic isolation was strongly associated as to whether or not residents had solar panels. “In a lot of communities, the heads of households are non-English-speaking,” Greschner said. “They don’t respond to a utility bill insert (in English) that says, ‘Hey, you qualify.’ ” They need to be reached in different ways and in their language, and so far, programs in the state have fallen short in that respect, Lukanov said.

Nonetheless, for people like Funes, who heard he could add battery storage to his house once the new Equity Budget rolls out, the changes couldn’t come quick enough. He got his solar panels last year, but without storage, they are useless during the blackouts. “I am praying for the batteries to go through,” he said. Lately, he’s been distributing pamphlets to his neighbors, telling them about the solar panels and the possibility of battery storage. But for now, he’s left to the whims of the Santa Ana winds, and of PG&E. “(The power) is going to be going out all the way through November,” Funes said. “I read in the newspaper and on the internet that it is going to be this way for 10 years.”

Are Hollywood Franchises Hogging Up All the Movie Screens?

A couple of weeks ago Martin Scorcese declared that Marvel superhero movies weren’t cinema. This prompted the usual tiresome round of social media outrage, even though it was obvious from the start that Scorcese’s point depended entirely on the meaning of “cinema.” Sure enough, the whole affair went pffft when he eventually explained what he meant. His generation of filmmakers, Scorcese said, considered cinema to be high art. “There was some debate about that at the time, so we stood up for cinema as an equal to literature or music or dance.”

Since even ardent fans can’t seriously consider Marvel superhero movies to be high art, that was the end of this little kerfuffle. But then Scorcese said something more:

So, you might ask, what’s my problem? Why not just let superhero films and other franchise films be? The reason is simple. In many places around this country and around the world, franchise films are now your primary choice if you want to see something on the big screen. It’s a perilous time in film exhibition, and there are fewer independent theaters than ever.

In other words, big tentpole movies are taking over the multiplex and leaving no room for small, high-quality films. But this got me thinking. Is it really true that Scorcese’s kind of cinema is being crowded out these days? Here are a few data points to consider. First, the total number of movie screens has increased steadily over the past few decades:

The share of movies that are sequels or adaptations or otherwise part of a franchise has stayed roughly flat over the past decade:

And the number of movies that are big studio releases has stayed about the same since 1995, while the number of indie releases has skyrocketed:

None of this gets us precisely to the problem Scorcese is talking about: namely that franchise movies are taking up all the screens. After all, the number of big studio releases may be the same as it was a couple of decades ago, but they open on more screens than they used to. Without more data, it’s impossible to say for sure how many screen-days are being dedicated to franchises vs. smaller pictures.

Still, given that the number of releases has been stable while the number of screens has doubled, the data suggests that tentpoles and franchises probably aren’t hogging up a bigger share of screens than in the past. Besides, if screens were truly becoming a lot scarcer, it’s hard to explain why the number of indie releases has tripled in the past two decades.

Don’t take any of this as conclusive. It’s just what I was able to find without going too far down a rabbit hole. If anyone knows where to find better data, let me know.

Donald Trump Doesn’t Get Completely Booed at a Big Game. But Did He Jinx the Home Team?

Donald Trump rarely makes public appearances outside of his rallies, but recently he decided to attend a baseball game in Washington, DC. He did not receive a warm welcome.

Full on “LOCK HIM UP! LOCK HIM UP!” chants heard throughout the crowd at Nats Park after President Trump was announced and shown on screen here #WorldSeries pic.twitter.com/1ktVXkHYFy

— Monica Alba (@albamonica) October 28, 2019

Then, he tried a Ultimate Fighting Championship fight at Madison Square Garden in his hometown of New York City. Also didn’t go well.

Trump has entered the building lol #UFC244 #UFC #TRUMP pic.twitter.com/DhQqiU8Z18

— Joe Mastoloni (@JJMast1) November 3, 2019

But today, after traveling on Air Force One all the way to the deep red state of Alabama, Trump finally found a crowd that was, mostly, happy to see him as the University of Alabama hosted rivals Louisiana State University. 

Roaring cheers, chants of “USA,” some booing and crowd shakes their red-and-white pom-poms as the Trumps are introduced at the Bama-LSU game pic.twitter.com/JvIY54l6Jx

— Seung Min Kim (@seungminkim) November 9, 2019

Trump is sitting in real estate investor Jim Wilson’s box at the Alabama football game today, the White House says. Wilson is a Trump supporter who has helped raise money for the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action.

— Rebecca Ballhaus (@rebeccaballhaus) November 9, 2019

In the first few minutes following his introduction, Tua Tagovailoa, the starting quarterback for Alabama, which is ranked number two in the nation and hasn’t trailed in a game at home since 2015, promptly threw an interception leading to an LSU touchdown. On the next drive, Alabama’s punter botched a kick and LSU took a 10-0 lead. They eventually recovered a bit but still trailed at the end of the first quarter. And the final score was crushing for the Crimson Tide; Louisiana won, 46-41.

John Bolton Just Signed a Multi-Million Dollar Book Deal

It remains unclear if House Democrats will be able to get Donald Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton to testify in their impeachment inquiry. Bolton has said that if a judge rules he can ignore a White House order to keep quiet, he would appear before Congress. But the Associated Press reported on Saturday that Bolton has signed a multi-million dollar book deal. Even if Trump can keep his mustachioed former aide out of the witness seat, it looks like he’s going to join a long list of former White House advisers to tell the inside story.

According to the AP, Bolton got a $2 million advance from Simon & Schuster, and while it’s not clear what he will say in the book, the price tag suggests it will be a pretty juicy story. 

Bolton once would have been an unlikely candidate to be either the Democrat’s potential star witness or the author of a Trump tell-all. For years, he has had a reputation as one of the most conservative and hawkish Republicans in Washington, from his work as ambassador to the United Nations under the Bush administration to serving Trump in the White House. But he and Trump clashed often over Bolton’s mistrust of Trump’s favorite dictators in Russia and North Korea. And Bolton was reportedly horrified at Trump’s attempts to force the Ukrainians to carry his political water. According to other witnesses who have testified before the Democratic impeachment inquiry, after catching wind that EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland and White House acting chief-of-staff Mick Mulvaney had discussed the plot to pressure Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, Bolton snarled “I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up.”

The news of Bolton’s book deal comes the day after his attorney dropped hints that his client knows a lot more about the president’s efforts in Ukraine than has previously been revealed. Bolton was scheduled to give a deposition to House Democrats on Thursday but didn’t show up. The White House has ordered former staffers to not cooperate, but Biden’s attorney has said that Bolton will testify anyway, if a judge settles the dispute between the executive and the legislative branch. 

The Federal Reserve Acknowledged the Reality of Climate Change. That’s Actually a Big Deal.

During a conference on climate change and the economy in San Francisco, one year after the deadly Campfire’s wildfire smoke made the city’s air quality among the worst on the planet, the Federal Reserve announced that it would incorporate climate change into its considerations when making policy decisions. The choice stands in stark contrast with the Trump administration, which maintains that climate change is a hoax despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The announcement was made during a speech by Fed Governor Lael Brainard, who said taking climate change seriously would be central to the future of the US economy.

Ann Saphir reported on the announcement for Reuters:

“To fulfill our core responsibilities, it will be important for the Federal Reserve to study the implications of climate change for the economy and the financial system and to adapt our work accordingly,” Fed Governor Lael Brainard said in remarks released at the start of the Fed’s first-ever conference on climate change and economics.

The Fed, she said, will need to look at how to keep banks and the financial system resilient amid risks from extreme weather, higher temperatures, rising sea levels and other effects of the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

And increasingly, she said, “it will be important for the Federal Reserve to take into account the effects of climate change and associated policies in setting monetary policy to achieve our objectives of maximum employment and price stability.”

But what does this announcement mean, in a practical sense? Monolithic financial institutions don’t typically turn on a dime, and according to David Wessel, director of the Hutchins Center on Fiscal & Monetary Policy at the Brookings Institute, this will not result in different actions by the Fed in the near term. The task of implementing new monetary policy is deliberate and incremental, but that doesn’t mean this announcement isn’t notable. “The significance isn’t that it’s gonna change anything on regulation, supervision or monetary policy,” Wessel says. “They stopped pretending that this is someone else’s problem.”

Wessel says there’s serious weight behind a financial institution as large and respected as the Fed weighing in on this issue. “The Fed board of governors in DC has 402 PhD economists,” he says. “Doing something like this does raise the visibility of the issue. It adds to the seriousness: Sober people are taking climate change seriously.” Though sober people within the banking world have been taking climate change seriously for some time. The Network for Greening the Financial System (NGFS), a cooperative effort between banks from some of the world’s largest economies—like Germany and England, with the International Monetary Fund and World Bank taking observer status—was established in 2017 to align the financial world with the Paris Climate Agreement. The Fed has been a notable outlier, until now. Along with announcing the bank’s new stance on climate, Brainard expressed an interest in the central bank participating with the NGFS in the future.

The Fed taking those proactive measures is something of an anomaly, Wessel says, noting that the NGFS member banks are all parts of governments that have recognized the urgency of addressing climate change. “I think that’s why other central banks are more ahead,” he says. “They are thinking about this.”

The GOP Just Released Its Own Witness List for Impeachment Inquiries—and It’s All About Biden and Clinton

House Republicans released a wish list Saturday morning of witnesses they’d like to see testify when Congress holds its first public hearings on President Donald Trump’s “perfect” call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelinsky next week. Not surprisingly, most of them have nothing to do with the impropriety of the call itself. 

House Democrats control the impeachment inquiry process but asked for Republican input on potential witnesses last week. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the highest-ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee that will be leading the public impeachment inquiry, sent the list to Democratic chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), along with a lengthy letter complaining about the unfairness of the inquiry to Trump. Nunes, who has long been one of Trump’s most ardent defenders, described the process thus far as “opaque and unfair,” writing, “Your actions have great damaged the integrity of the Intelligence Committee and any legitimacy of your ‘impeachment inquiry.”

While House Democrats have said they want to hear from key diplomatic personnel who may have been involved with the quid pro quo arrangement, in which Trump tried to use the threat of withholding American support for the beleaguered nation in its ongoing dispute with Russia in exchange for the Ukrainian president promising to investigate the son of former vice president Joe Biden. After initially objecting to the notion that there was such an arrangement, the GOP has now more or less acknowledged it occurred but insists that it was not improper. Nunes’ proposed witness list seems designed mostly to make the case against Hunter Biden and, of course, Hillary Clinton. 

The whistleblower might make an obvious witness, given all he knows about the phone call, but Nunes’ reasoning is in keeping with the general Republican talking points in defending Trump.

Most noteworthy on the list is the anonymous whistleblower whose concern after hearing Trump pressure Zelensky pushed Democrats into pursuing a possible impeachment. The whistleblower might make an obvious witness, given all he knows about the phone call, but Nunes’ reasoning is in keeping with the general Republican talking points in defending Trump. He states the president should be “afforded an opportunity to confront his accusers”—an allusion to the Sixth Amendment, which covers criminal prosecutions and not impeachment inquiries. Nunes also cites the whistleblower’s alleged “bias” against the president, the evidence of which is apparently that he is a registered Democrat (his attorney denies any political bias). Rather than grilling the whistleblower on Trump’s actions, Nunes’ main interest seems to be changing the subject.

Nunes also wants to hear from Alexandra Chalupa, a former employee of the US Embassy in Ukraine, who was also a former Democratic National Committee staffer. Conservative news outlets have pushed the somewhat muddled theory that Chalupa, while working at the embassy, was researching Paul Manafort’s activities in that country in the early 2010s and may have improperly passed that information to Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016. Chalupa has denied any wrongdoing, saying she did no opposition research for the DNC. The DNC has also denied any wrongdoing, noting that Democrats were investigating Trump and Manafort’s ties to Russia and Ukraine long before Chalupa was hired. 

Without any hint of irony or further explanation, Nunes cited questions about what Chalupa did or didn’t do in 2016 as the reason she was needed to testify about Trump’s July 2019 call with Zelensky.

“Ms. Chalupa is a prime fact witness who can assist Congress and the American Public in better understanding the facts and circumstances surrounding the Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 election,” Nunes wrote in his letter, highlighting a topic that is notably not part of the impeachment inquiry. 

Nunes’ list also includes Biden’s son, Hunter, and Devon Archer, a former business partner of the younger Biden. Both sat on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian natural gas company, that Trump was pushing Zelensky to investigate as corrupt. Nunes wrote in his letter that testimony from the two men would “assist the American public in understanding the nature and extent of Ukraine’s pervasive corruption, information that bears directly on President Trump’s longstanding and deeply-held skepticism of the country.” Biden and Archer would seemingly fit into a strategy of not denying Trump took steps to pressure Zelensky into investigating a political opponent’s family, but rather excusing and contextualizing Trump’s behavior by arguing that the president’s actions were thoroughly justified because of Ukraine’s history of corruption. 

Read Nunes letter here

This Is What Happened at the First Presidential Environmental Justice Forum

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

Only six candidates turned out for the first ever presidential forum on environmental justice at South Carolina State University on Friday night.

Issues such as lead-contaminated water, food deserts, childhood asthma and proximity to polluting chemical plants and industrial pig farms disproportionately affect low-income communities, tribal nations and people of colour.

The Democratic candidates who participated were Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.); former members of Congress John Delaney and Joe Sestak; the billionaire Tom Steyer; and the author Marianne Williamson.

Warren, who launched an ambitious climate and environmental justice plan last month, said a third of the $3tn she has pledged to spend combating global heating over the next decade would be ring fenced for communities devastated by generations of environmental racism.

She pledged to tackle big corporations including big polluters by introducing anti-corruption legislation on her first day as president.

Asked about Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg’s recently leaked comment that a Warren presidency would “suck” for the company, she responded: “Boo-hoo.”

Steyer, the hedge-fund manager turned environmental philanthropist who bankrolled an “impeach Trump” ad campaign, said he would declare a state of emergency on his first day in office to tackle the climate crisis.

He compared current environmental inequalities to Jim Crow segregation laws implemented after the abolition of slavery, when people of color and native Americans had inadequate and inferior public services.

“If we’re going to repair these injustices, the people affected have to be at the front of the line for green jobs,” said Steyer.

The Flint water scandal in 2014 propelled environmental inequalities on to the national stage. Since then, it has emerged that thousands of water sources in communities across the US are contaminated with lead. This includes Newark, New Jersey, where Booker was mayor. He pledged to fund a national programme to replace lead pipes.

The New Jersey senator, who founded the first environmental justice caucus, is vegan, because of what he says to the cruel and polluting “corporate animal industry” responsible for massive greenhouse gas emissions and health problems in nearby communities.

Booker defended supporting nuclear power, a position criticized by environmental justice groups given the health risks posed by nuclear waste, arguing that it was the only way to meet climate targets within 12 years.

“Fifty percent of our non-carbon energy producing capacity come from nuclear,” he said. “So I’m a realist.”

Delaney, a former congressman from Maryland, said cutting carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 would be impossible under the Green New Deal, a broad social and economic pact supported by high-profile Democrats such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The deal plans legislation to achieve universal healthcare and higher minimum wages as well as clean energy, sustainable infrastructure and green jobs.

Delaney said he wants to cancel fossil-fuel tax subsidies, freeing up money to invest in technology to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The environmental justice forum was hosted by the National Black Caucus of State Legislators and leaders from frontline and tribal communities, civil rights, youth and environmental organizations.

It was moderated by Mustafa Santiago Ali, a former Environmental Protection Agency official, and Amy Goodman from the independent news organization Democracy Now.

The caucus will host a forum on gun violence and mental health next month.

Most Republicans Think Pressuring Foreign Countries to Investigate Political Rivals is Normal

A new poll on how Americans feel about impeachment shows that most of those surveyed—of all political stripes—think impeachment is a necessary tool, and presidential abuse of power is a legitimate reason for using it. But a majority of Republicans say they think that a president trying to use the full weight of America’s international power to attack a domestic political opponent is normal. 

The poll, conducted early this week by Vox/PerryUndem/Ipsos, was somewhat reassuring about the public believing there should be limits on a president in that it found that a large majority of Americans—71 percent—say some way to remove politicians who do wrong is essential. But when the pollsters started asking more specific questions about what constitutes an impeachable offense, Republican respondents started showing increasingly more tolerance for bad presidential behavior. 

For example, 88 percent of Republicans think using the Oval Office to enrich yourself is an impeachable offense (versus 95 percent of Democrats) and  67 percent percent of Republicans think abusing presidential power for political advantage is impeachable (versus 93 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of independents). But what about being dishonest to the American people? Seventy-four percent of Democrats found that impeachable as did 56 percent of independents—but only 50 percent of Republicans. 

And while most independents and 77 percent of Democrats think an American president using his power to force foreign countries to investigate a political rival—as a growing mountain of evidence is showing Donald Trump did with Ukraine this summer—only 22 percent of Republicans thought it was a “high crime and misdemeanor,” and, yes, impeachable.

Only 22 percent. 

Why such a high tolerance for such norm busting that Republicans like Mitt Romney called Trump’s attempts to force other countries to dig up dirt on former vice president Joe Biden “wrong and appalling”? And Romney wasn’t too far out on a limb with that—65 percent of Americans say it’s “morally wrong” to do just thaat. But, here comes the apparent cynicism: According to the poll, a whopping 65 percent of Republicans in this country think it’s the kind of thing presidents “do all the time.” The numbers are virtually reversed for Democrats with 63 percent saying it is not something presidents do all the time; only 37 percent of Independents thought it was normal behavior for a president. 

Online Voting is a Really, Really Bad Idea

Casting votes over the internet—at least for anything more important than a Twitter poll—is not secure.

“This level of secrecy hardly inspires confidence.”

This is not a controversial position. In September 2018, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, alongside some of the foremost election and information security experts in the country slammed the idea, noting that despite whatever illusions of convenience it may provide, it opens the door to a wide range of security vulnerabilities. Their conclusion was simple: “secure Internet voting will likely not be feasible in the near future.” And just this summer, after more than two years of investigation, the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a report on Russia’s 2016 election interference operations, which included a warning to states to “resist pushes for online voting,” noting that nobody has proven that it can be done safely.

You wouldn’t know that if you listened to representatives from Voatz, an app-based company that claims it can securely administer online elections. The company’s product requires users to upload a government photo ID, and then uses a video selfie along with fingerprint and face scans to verify voters’ identity. The company says it then records the user’s vote on an immutable blockchain, a technology that creates records on a distributed system, making manipulation of the data virtually impossible. Voatz boasts its system stores votes “on multiple, geographically diverse verifying servers,” and claims that their systems have been regularly tested by simulated hackings and audited by independent third parties.

On Thursday, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) called the company’s bluff, asking the Department of Defense and the National Security Agency to conduct a cybersecurity audit of the company. In a letter calling for the audit, Wyden says the company won’t release the results of its own security audits, and won’t even identify whoever it hired to conduct them. “This level of secrecy hardly inspires confidence,” he writes, noting the DoD recently joined other federal agencies in issuing a statement affirming that Russia, China, Iran, and other “malicious actors” are actively working to attack US elections.

An NSA spokesperson confirmed the agency had received the letter, but declined to comment further. The Department of Defense also confirmed receipt, saying it would respond to Wyden.

In a statement posted to the company’s blog after Mother Jones asked for a response to Wyden’s letter, the company said that it had not been contacted by the senator’s office but welcomed “any and all additional security audits by the Department of Defense and NSA regarding our platform.”

While it did not respond directly to Wyden’s charge that it’s audit results and auditors remain private, the statement said the company is “committed to providing as much transparency as possible about our system while at the same time needing to protect our intellectual property as one of the youngest election companies in the country.”

The company says it has run “54 successful elections (public and private),” and pilot programs in West Virginia, Oregon, and elsewhere—including a student council race—primarily enabling overseas and military voters. It says “attempts to tamper with the system were actively thwarted” during the 2018 West Virginia pilot, a reference to what was likely a group of election security students looking at the app’s vulnerabilities, and notes that it participates in the HackerOne bug bounty program, which facilitates the reporting of vulnerabilities that the company that the company allows outsiders to test.

That said, the West Virginia officials say they were happy with the program but seem to acknowledge doubts about its security. Last year after the state’s pilot, a state official told the Washington Post in response to questions about Voatz’s vulnerabilities that while the test had gone smoothly and was “very successful,” the secretary of state “has never and will never advocate that this is a solution for mainstream voting.”

If it’s not good enough to use at home, how could it be safe enough to use abroad?

Wisconsin’s Statehouse Is at War Over Its Dairy Crisis

In Wisconsin, one of the nation’s key battleground states for the 2020 presidential election, dairy is big business. But low milk prices and chronic overproduction are squeezing small- and mid-sized dairy farms, which are shutting down at a rate of more than two per day. Massive dairy operations, meanwhile, continue to proliferate, concentrating manure and causing tension with neighbors over putrid odors and fouled water. This week, these twin crises have inflamed a long-simmering squabble between Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and the GOP-controlled Wisconsin Senate.

 In January, Evers’ appointed Brad Pfaff to lead the state’s department of agriculture, trade, and consumer protection. Pfaff, who grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm, had previously served as an administrator in President Barack Obama’s Department of Agriculture and deputy chief of staff to US Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.).

But in Wisconsin, the governor’s choices for cabinet posts like ag department chief are subject to approval by the full senate. And Evers faces a senate still stinging from the midterms: In 2018, he narrowly defeated GOP stalwart Scott Walker, who had served as governor from 2011 to 2018, and had gained national fame for his attacks on public-sector unions and his hot pursuit of the anti-tax and deregulatory agenda favored by his financial backers, the Koch brothers.

Still under GOP control, the senate has refused to vote on most of Evers’ cabinet picks, leaving them to serve as acting heads of their departments. And on Tuesday, the senate effectively fired Pfaff. It voted Pfaff out along party lines, 19-14—the first time the legislative body has voted to remove a governor’s cabinet pick in at least three decades. For now, Pfaff’s deputy agriculture director, who isn’t subject to approval by the senate, will run the department.

The Republicans’ complaints with Pfaff were two-fold. In July, Pfaff rebuked the senate for refusing to release $100,000 in allocated state funding for mental health services for farmers. Since milk prices started to slide in 2015, America’s Dairyland (Wisconsin’s official nickname) has seen about a quarter of its dairy farms fold. As the attrition grinds on, calls to a mental-health hotline for farmers have spiked, and there’s evidence of an uptick in farmer suicides (though precise data is hard to come by). “There’s no two ways about it: Republicans have chosen to leave farmers behind,” Pfaff said back in July, after Republican lawmakers declined to release the funds. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald shot back that Pfaff’s comments were “flippant” and “beneath your position.” The senate ultimately released the funds in September. 

Pfaff had also been pushing through new rules on large dairy farms, forcing them to keep manure pits at least 600 feet from neighbors’ property lines (current regulations require a 350 foot setback). The dairy industry vigorously opposed by the changes, and the senate Republicans declared them “burdensome.” 

The Wisconsin Farmers Union, which represents small- and mid-sized farms, supports manure reform. According to Kara O’Connor, the union’s government relations director, the state’s manure pit regulations have not changed since 2006 and “are desperately in need of an update, because they’re deeply out of touch with the reality that’s unfolding in rural communities.” The number of massive dairies that confine several thousand cows has expanded steadily since the current rules were formulated, and “we have a lot of members who have expressed deep concerns about odor from these operations,” she said. 

The tension between Wisconsin’s governor and his legislature is playing out in the hothouse of national presidential politics. Sen. Fitzgerald, who spearheaded Pfaff’s firing, is now running for Congress. He has denounced impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump as a “political witch hunt” and a desperate attempt to deny Trump a second term.

“Are they struggling? Absolutely. But I think at the end of the day we need to get behind them rather than saying, ‘Ah maybe you should go larger.'”

And a top Trump official has weighed in on Wisconsin’s dairy crisis. Responding to a reporter’s question about the plight of the state’s farms at the World Dairy Expo in Madison in early October, US Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue declared that “in America, the big get bigger and the small go out…I don’t think in America we, for any small business, we have a guaranteed income or guaranteed profitability.”

Days later, Gov. Evers lashed out at Perdue. “He kind of put the pox on small farming in the state,” Evers told reporters, according to the Journal Sentinel. “Are they struggling? Absolutely. But I think at the end of the day we need to get behind them rather than saying, ah maybe you should go larger… I, frankly, resent that the Department of Agriculture secretary from the federal government came in and kind of lambasted them.”

Back in 2016, Trump won Wisconsin by fewer than 23,000 votes. Four years earlier, then-President Barack Obama took the state by more than 200,000 votes. According to New York Times electoral analyst Nate Cohn, Wisconsin is a toss-up for 2020, with former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) holding slim leads in polls over Trump, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) locked in a dead heat with the president. Warren and Sanders  have both called for policies that stabilize prices for farmers, an idea that’s increasingly popular in Wisconsin dairy country. Over the past two years, members of the Wisconsin Farmers Union and the more more industry-aligned Wisconsin Farm Bureau both voted to express tentative support for supply management—an idea embraced by Canadian dairy farmers but widely seen as radical in the United States.   

“Until recently, dairy farmers have been hesitant to support supply management because of this thought that ‘getting government involved’ was going to put them out of business,” O’Connor of the Wisconsin Farmers Union said. “But dairy farmers are walking up to the fact that the economic climate will put them out of business a lot more swiftly and efficiently than any government policy every has.” 

Methane Detectives: Can a Wave of Technology Slash Natural Gas Leaks?

Driving along County Road 28 south of Platteville, the signs of Colorado’s oil and gas boom are everywhere you look. Storage tanks and wellheads dot the horizon. Bundles of pipe sit by the roadside, waiting to become pipelines. Drilling rigs loom behind enormous brown temporary sound barriers, a stone’s throw from homes and businesses.

This infrastructure is impossible to miss, but the methane that leaks from it can be much harder to detect. That’s why Greg Rieker and a colleague are out here on a cold, sun-drenched morning in the middle of the Denver-Julesburg Basin—one of the nation’s fracking hotspots—fine-tuning their frequency comb laser.

Standing atop a small trailer housing the $150,000 device, Rieker gestures across a grassy expanse toward a well pad half a mile away. “We’ve used this system to pinpoint a leak to about a 5-square-meter area,” he says. “It’s a question of, when leaks start, seeing them and sizing them properly so we can alert an operator there’s a problem. There are 20,000 wells out there. This is a Colorado-grown solution, using Colorado technology.”

Rieker is a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder and chief technology officer of LongPath Technologies, a startup that aims to provide oil and gas companies with a new method for detecting methane leaks from their operations. He is among a growing cadre of scientists and entrepreneurs working to develop and deploy novel technologies to address the growing issue of methane leaks across the fossil fuel supply chain.

In the United States, fugitive emissions from the oil and gas industry total an estimated 13 million metric tons per year, amounting to $2 billion in lost revenue; globally, the value of leaking gas is $30 billion.

Methane is a potent contributor to climate change, trapping 86 times as much heat as carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. It is responsible for about a quarter of total atmospheric warming to date, but it only lasts about a decade in the atmosphere, making reducing methane emissions a relatively fast-acting lever for climate action.In the United States, fugitive emissions from the oil and gas industry total an estimated 13 million metric tons per year, amounting to $2 billion in lost revenue; globally, the value of leaking gas is $30 billion.

In the United States, fugitive emissions from the oil and gas industry total an estimated 13 million metric tons per year, amounting to $2 billion in lost revenue; globally, the value of leaking gas is $30 billion.

That climate impact was the primary reason the US Environmental Protection Agency, under President Barack Obama, issued a rule in 2016 that set limits on methane emissions from new and modified oil and gas sources and required that operators monitor and repair leaking equipment. In August, President Trump’s EPA announced a replacement rule that would discard those requirements, effectively freeing companies from the obligation of regularly monitoring and plugging methane leaks from their operations.

Oil and gas giants like BP, ExxonMobil, and Shell have opposed the recent rollback, and pledged to continue with voluntary measures to cut their own methane emissions. Behind those pledges lies the fear that not tackling these leaks will undermine the industry-promoted narrative of natural gas as a “clean” fuel and invite tighter restrictions down the road.

The frequency comb laser from LongPath Technologies sends beams of laser light across oil and gas fields, detecting gas clouds and measuring the size of leaks.

S. Sizemore / Longpath Technologies

A study published in Science last year estimated that total methane emissions from US oil and gas are 60 percent higher than EPA inventories—equivalent to 2.3 percent of natural gas production leaking into the atmosphere. If companies are sincere about stopping those leaks, industry experts say there is an urgent need to incorporate new monitoring technologies into their vast operations, from the wellhead to pipelines, to compressor stations to storage facilities. “When you look at the future, the Achilles heel of the gas industry is the methane emissions,” executive director of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol, said at an American Petroleum Institute forum in September.

Rieker is betting that his laser-based system can catch leaks more effectively and affordably than the current industry standard, which involves using a $100,000 infrared camera to randomly scan a well pad’s welter of valves, tanks, separators, and compressors a few times a year. The camera’s ability to detect leaks is highly dependent on weather conditions and the operator’s skill; it also only collects data as a single snapshot in time, and doesn’t indicate the size of a leak. Rieker’s frequency comb laser, meanwhile, sweeps continuously across the plain for weeks and months, hunting for and tallying up errant methane molecules.

Dozens of other entrepreneurs are also working to find new ways to detect fugitive emissions by making devices autonomous, cheaper, more precise, better at catching big leaks—or all of the above. Many of these novel solutions are emerging from the labs and office parks of northeastern Colorado. As Washington retreats from monitoring methane, the state’s Front Range has become the de facto capital of methane detectives.

Part of the reason is the state has the toughest methane leak regulations in the country. (The Obama-era EPA modeled its own proposed methane rule on Colorado’s.) Those rules were adopted in 2014 to tackle the persistent ozone pollution that plagues the Denver metropolitan area and other parts of the state, largely as a result of fossil fuel production. Methane contributes to ground-level ozone formation, and is also co-emitted with other volatile organic compounds that are ozone precursors.

The fossil fuel industry wants accurate, low-maintenance, autonomous systems that can be left in the field, sending data to the cloud.

But there are other factors spurring the research here, too. The proximity of dense oil and gas fields, fast-growing residential areas like Longmont and Boulder, and premier research institutions like University of Colorado (CU) Boulder, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have made this part of Colorado both a proving ground and a hotbed of innovation around leak detection.

Dirk Richter is a research scientist at CU’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, where he designs and builds high-precision instruments for atmospheric sampling in a lab just across campus from Rieker’s. He’s also a founder of Quanta3, a startup that he and a colleague launched in his garage to develop a system that could provide continuous, ground-based monitoring of gas leaks.

The industry, he says, wants accurate, low-maintenance, autonomous systems that can be left in the field, quietly sending data to the cloud without requiring frequent checkups. Whereas Rieker’s system is the first-ever field application of some Nobel Prize-winning physics, Richter’s device relies on tunable laser diodes, which are widely used in fiber optics cables. These have the advantage of being lightweight, durable, and proven from many years of development for telecommunications.

“We are focused on making rugged sensors for an environment that’s not very kind,” Richter says. “Oil and gas fields are windy, dusty, hot or very cold places.” The other overriding constraint, of course, is cost. “Laser spectrometers on aircraft can cost $250,000 each. We can offer a solution that in volume costs $3 per site per day, less than a cup of coffee to operate.”

Dirk Richter (left), founder of Quanta3, inspects his company’s methane detection system at a Statoil well pad in Karnes County, Texas.

John Davidson / Environmental Defense Fund

Fiji George, the director of climate and sustainability at Cheniere Energy, the biggest LNG exporter in the US, says that if they become mature, commercially viable technologies, continuous monitoring solutions such as Rieker’s and Richter’s are the “holy grail” for the industry.

Both startups have ongoing field pilots with industry partners: LongPath, Rieker’s company, has field trials underway monitoring gas storage facilities in Colorado and California. Quanta3, Richter’s company, has partnered with big fossil fuel firms like Equinor (formerly Statoil) and Shell to test its systems in the Eagle Ford Shale formation in Texas and in Alberta, Canada, respectively. (The sensor in the Eagle Ford kept transmitting its automated updates throughout Hurricane Harvey in 2017.)

Many of the new detection offerings involve variations on laser absorption spectroscopy—an established technique that combines a laser source, mirrors, and detectors to measure the amount of light absorbed by a gas—all hooked up to software that translates that signal into a methane concentration number. Out of an office next to the tiny Boulder airport, Stephen Conley runs Scientific Aviation. He and a small team of aviator-scientists operate a fleet of small aircraft to provide emissions monitoring services to industry and regulators alike. A seasoned atmospheric scientist and a veteran pilot, Conley was the first person to detect and measure the biggest methane leak ever recorded in the US, which started at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility in Southern California in October 2015.

Earlier this year, Conley rolled out a new service: drones mounted with lightweight laser-spectrometer sensors and air sampling canisters to monitor methane emissions much closer to their sources. While an airplane-mounted system like the one he flew thousands of feet above Aliso Canyon can find leaks as small as 10 kilograms per hour, his drones, he says, can detect much smaller ones, down to 10 grams per hour. Scientific Aviation has also chosen to make its designs and software open source. “We published our methodology, so anyone in the world can do this,” says Conley. “We’re not here just to make money. We’re here to reduce global methane emissions. We believe in the cause.”

A drone equipped with laser-spectrometer sensors and air sampling canisters, developed by Scientific Aviation.

Scientific Aviation

Not all new solutions depend on laser spectroscopy, however. Ball Aerospace, headquartered in Broomfield, Colorado, has developed a LiDAR system for aerial, high-resolution mapping of leaks. Some other firms are pursuing solutions that adapt electrochemical sensors or handheld gas sensors used to detect alcohol levels in drivers to sniff out methane.

Most of these Colorado innovators test their technologies at the Methane Emissions Technology Evaluation Center (METEC), a facility on the outskirts of Fort Collins, funded by the US Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program. On the surface, the METEC facility looks just like the drilling sites out on County Road 28. But there is no oil or gas being pumped to the surface—only methane in carefully controlled releases from 200 different leak points. With the capacity to run demanding, complex simulations where visiting crews must hunt for multiple small leaks at a time, METEC is the only facility of its kind in the country. “I’m here to pour cold water on everything,” says Dan Zimmerle, the Colorado State University researcher who runs METEC.

METEC tests both stationary systems like Rieker’s as well as mobile ones, including aerial systems mounted on helicopters and, increasingly, drones. “There’s just been an explosion in the number of technologies and the range of systems you see,” says Arvind Ravikumar, an assistant professor of energy engineering at Harrisburg University who led an extensive field test study of different methane monitoring technologies at METEC last year.

This surge of invention “presents a huge opportunity to reduce emissions at lower cost and much faster than we used to before,” says Ravikumar. “If we’re going to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, our current practice of fossil fuel use cannot continue. But we have to strongly consider what’s doable with oil and gas—we’re not going to turn off all these pipes tomorrow. Every ton of methane and carbon dioxide reduced is an advantage in the long-term climate mitigation challenge.”

“This problem won’t be solved by any one technology,” says one scientist. “It’ll be a suite that covers the entire supply chain.”

Yet industry experts say that without federal regulations to force operators to invest, there’s a limit to how much these ventures can grow. Shell, BP, ExxonMobil, and other fossil fuel companies issued a wave of press releases after both the EPA rollback in August and during United Nations’ climate meetings in New York in September, pledging to continue their voluntary efforts to cut methane emissions. But so far, these pledges haven’t translated into substantial investments in new methane leak technologies.

“Based on the press releases, I should have sold thousands of sensors,” Richter says. “They’re not backing it up…with investments of their own. I think federal regulation is still the required means to make them actually do something. When there is a rule that forces everybody to do the same thing—that’s when they will invest.”

If that investment materializes, the benefits could multiply even beyond the removal of super-warming pollutants from the atmosphere. With close to a million active wells around the US that will require ongoing monitoring, and 300,000 miles of interstate gas pipelines—not to mention thousands of compressor stations and over 100 liquefied natural gas facilities—methane detection using all these new tools could become a significant economic engine.

“These are jobs that would happen in west Texas, rural Colorado, rural Arkansas,” Ravikumar says. “It has the potential to bring in a lot of economic activity, with contractors out there on a regular basis and a whole host of support services that would need to come up in those regions.”

What’s more, scientists, entrepreneurs, and industry analysts see room for many different methane-sensing technologies to find a market. “This problem won’t be solved by any one technology,” Rieker says. “It’ll be a suite that covers the entire supply chain.” Drones are better for sniffing leaks along pipelines, whereas his laser is much better suited to monitoring a dense field of wells or a storage facility. “It’s a problem we can solve and we’ll all be a lot better off for it.”

Amazon Spent a Ton of Money on Seattle Elections. It Probably Wasn’t Worth It.

When Amazon pumped $1.5 million into influencing Seattle’s City Council elections in its final weeks—a rather startling bump on the $25,000 spent four years ago, according to Reuters—it begged the question: Can Amazon buy an election? (And, uh, is Prime delivery worth your complicity?)

Jeff Bezos and Amazon think they can buy elections.

They spent $1 million to stop City Council candidates @d1forLisa, @TammyMoralesSEA, @VoteSawant and @ElectScott2019.

Show Amazon that they can't buy our democracy and that their corporate greed won't stand. Get out and vote!

— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) November 5, 2019

The main race to watch was that of Kshama Sawant, a socialist who led an attempt to impose a “head tax” on rich technology companies in the form of a per-employee charge on large corporations making more than $20 million per year. It was passed in 2018, and then quickly repealed by the council, but it got the attention of tech giants in town like Amazon and Microsoft.

At first, it appeared she lost her bid for reelection, and that Amazon had flipped the seat. But this afternoon, as the votes have trickled in, Sawant took the lead—edging over 50 percent. As KUOW reported, several of the candidates supported by Amazon’s money are trailing. (There is another round of votes to be dropped into the results this Friday evening at 8 p.m..)

Even so, the Amazon-bought-the-election narrative doesn’t quite fit. Sawant’s opponent, Egan Orion, told local outlets he wished Amazon had stayed out of it. “In my race, it was completely unnecessary,” he said. “We had record fundraising.”

Not to be too Kai Ryssdal, but let’s just run some numbers on how crazy it got. About 74,000 people are registered to vote in Seattle’s District 3. Orion raised $402,056; Sawant raised $523,056. According to public filings, Orion netted nearly $420,000 in independent expenditures. Notably, the PAC that Amazon was funneling the big bucks to, Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE)—associated with the Seattle Chamber of Commerce—gave $278,891 to Orion, but they also gave around $20,000 to Sawant too, weirdly. People for Seattle, another business affiliated PAC, added another $40,463 to Orion; Sawant’s independent expenditures totaled $22,044.

That is—if you include both candidates—more than $20 per registered voter.

Once the vote total comes in on Friday night, it could be even higher, if we make the bold assumption that not everyone registered actually cast a ballot.

As I wrote in October, there has also been a tension between the flood of money from independent expenditures and a new public financing model called Democracy Vouchers, which aims to calm (if not actually defeat) the influence of corporate cash by giving each Seattle resident up to $100 for political spending.  Some critics expressed concern that it only further motivated powerful PACs and corporations to invest in local races. Locally, it seemed Sawant’s leftist persona (which leans to Trotskyite) had ignored the ire of the tech companies, inspiring a flood of cash. We noted in earlier reporting that the technology upper crust certainly pitched in:

People for Seattle, a PAC close to the Chamber of Commerce that has nearly $400,000 in contributions from tech executives like Tom Alberg (Amazon), John Stanton (“wireless pioneer“), Christopher Larsen (Microsoft) has circulated flyers that call Sawant an “extremist.”

Whatever the case for the money surge, what seems surprising is that it still fell short. Sawant looks primed to win; one of the candidates CASE gave the most to, Jim Pugel, a former police chief, is behind too. (Pugel got less coverage than Orion’s claim to beat Sawant, but he received a $319,600 boost from CASE and $135,835 from People for Seattle.)

Perhaps Seattle will see a return of the head tax after all.

Jim Jordan Joins the Intelligence Committee as a New Lawsuit Says He Shrugged Off Sexual Misconduct Claim at Ohio State

Ardent Trump defender Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) is joining the House Intelligence Committee tasked with marshaling the impeachment inquiry. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Cali.) delivered the news on Twitter, noting that Jordan would “continue fighting for fairness and truth” on what he called the “Impeachment Committee.” 

On Friday, we caught a glimpse of Jordan’s line of questioning in the impeachment inquiry when former top White House National Security Council Russia adviser Fiona Hill’s deposition was released. But a day earlier, allegations that Jordan turned a blind eye to reports of abuse during his tenure as an Ohio State University wrestling coach came back to haunt him.  

Rep. Jim Jordan posits that it all worked out, Ukraine got security assistance and Trump & Zelensky hit it off in NYC.

Fiona Hill disagrees w/ regard to overall US-Ukraine relationship. Calls the whole process "extraordinarily corrosive." pic.twitter.com/FHxkuD4IxO

— Kylie Atwood (@kylieatwood) November 8, 2019

Jordan’s so-called pursuit of fairness in the impeachment inquiry is complicated by claims from former wrestlers that Jordan knew of and ignored complaints that the team doctor was sexually abusive for decades. The latest accusation arose from a referee who said he told Jordan and then-head coach Russ Hellickson in 1994 that OSU team doctor Richard Strauss masturbated in front of him in a shower after a wrestling match. It was documented in a lawsuit filed on Thursday by 43 former sexual abuse survivors against Ohio State—the suit is the 13th of its kind.

“Yeah, that’s Strauss,” Jordan and Hellickson allegedly said at the time, shrugging off the incident.

As NBC News reports:

John Doe 42 said that when he informed Jordan and Hellickson about what happened, their response was, “Yeah, yeah, we know.”

“It was common knowledge what Strauss was doing, so the attitude was it is what it is,” he told NBC News. “I wish Jim, and Russ, too, would stand up and do the right thing and admit they knew what Strauss was doing, because everybody knew what he was doing to the wrestlers. What was a shock to me is that Strauss tried to do that to me. He was breaking new ground by going after a ref.”

The scope of Strauss’ abuse was an “open secret” at Ohio State: An independent investigation found that at least 177 former OSU athletes were sexually abused by Strauss over the course of two decades. The report revealed that Ohio State employees knew about the abuse allegations at the time but the investigation couldn’t make “conclusive determinations” about whether specific coaches knew of complaints against Strauss, who killed himself in 2005. 

Ohio State officials also revealed in October that they were aware of 1,429 instances of fondling and 47 rape allegations against the abusive doctor. Eight former wrestlers have claimed that Jordan knew of the allegations but failed to intervene. That includes Dunyasha Yetts, who wrestled at Ohio State in 1993 and 1994, who claims that he told Jordan directly about a personal incident in which Strauss tried to take off Yetts’ shorts. Yetts also told NBC News that he and other teammates told Jordan about Strauss’ behavior. 

Jordan, the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee, has repeatedly criticized Democrats for trying to impeach the president before the election and described the impeachment inquiry as an “unfair and partisan process.” He has refuted claims that he knew of and ignored Strauss’ abuse when he was at Ohio State University.

“Congressman Jordan never saw or heard of any kind of sexual abuse, and if he had he would’ve dealt with it,” a spokesperson told the Washington Post on Friday.

As the lawsuits by former athletes mount, it’s clear that the matter of who knew what during Jordan’s tenure at OSU isn’t going away. 

Trump Is Trying to Woo Black Voters by Saying What He Always Says

The election is one year away, the impeachment inquiry is heating up, and Donald Trump wants those black votes. On Friday, the president went to Atlanta for the launch of Black Voices for Trump. The new grassroots coalition is an attempt by Trump’s reelection campaign to win over more black voters than he did in 2016.

Good luck with that.

Though this was supposed to be a rally to announce a new black coalition, it was a standard Trump rally. Trump took shots at Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Party. He called members of the press the “fake news media.” He touted all the things he sees as accomplishments for the African American community, like a lower unemployment rate and the First Step Act, a bill that curbs mandatory minimum sentences and allows inmates to petition for quicker release but has come under its own share of criticism. He also accused immigrants of taking jobs from black people. And of course he complained about the Russia investigation and the impeachment process. 

The festivities in Atlanta got started early, with black Trump supporters lined up and decked out in their Blacks for Trump tees. 

The Florida-based group Blacks for Trump traveled to Atlanta today to support @realDonaldTrump’s launch of the “Black Voices for Trump” coalition. pic.twitter.com/C2cejZS5zk

— Nicquel Terry Ellis (@NTerryEllis) November 8, 2019

The shirts were obviously a big hit! (The women behind this white couple seem just as confused as the rest of us.)

Oh this “Blacks For #Trump” rally in #Atlanta is already off to a comedic start! pic.twitter.com/g0qFZO7QwD

— Isaac Hayes III (@IsaacHayes3) November 8, 2019

After being introduced by Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, Trump asked the crowd which term they preferred, “black” or “African American.” The crowd began chanting “Blacks for Trump! Blacks for Trump!” much to the president’s delight. He also reminded the crowd, “People forget, Abraham Lincoln was a Republican!” 

It’s unclear how this will bring new black voters to his side. They care about the same things other progressive voters care about. They want climate action, anti-racist policies, and a fairer tax system. And those things are anathema to Trump. 

And despite the dozens of retweets of the Trump campaign’s account from black supporters, the president is deeply unpopular in the black community. In 2016, Trump got 8 percent of the black vote. At the rally, he said African Americans were joining his side “in record numbers,” but his approval ratings among black voters hovers around the teens, depending on how far out he is from saying something racist on Twitter.

If you’ve been paying even a modicum of attention since Trump first walked onto the political stage, those low numbers aren’t surprising. Trump launched his political career by propagating the lie that Barack Obama was a secret Muslim born in Kenya. He became one of the loudest birthers demanding that Obama provide his birth certificate and school records. In 2017, after white nationalists descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, and one killed Heather Heyer after plowing his car into a crowd of protesters, Trump said that there were “very fine people” on both sides. He also reportedly referred to Haiti and African countries as “shithole countries.” In 2019 alone, Trump suggested four brown and black congresswoman “go back” to their countries, despite the fact that three of the four were born in the United States; called Baltimore, which is part of the late Elijah Cummings’ congressional district, “rat infested” after Cummings criticized the Department of Homeland Security for poor conditions in immigrant detention centers; and compared the impeachment inquiry process to lynching.

If Trump was serious about bringing new black voters into the fold, he’d have to offer them something different from his usual rants. Or maybe he’s just hoping black people will simply forget the last three years.

Steve Bannon Says Trump Team Saw Roger Stone as “Access Point” to Assange

Donald Trump and members of his campaign have said many times that they never colluded with Russia in 2016. But according to bombshell testimony in federal court Friday, the Trump team did believe that it was collaborating with WikiLeaks, the organization that publicly disseminated Democratic emails that had been stolen by Russian government hackers.

The revelations came during the trial of longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone, who is accused of lying to Congress about his contacts with the Trump campaign. Stone was originally a member of that campaign; he departed in 2015 but remained an informal adviser to Trump. Steve Bannon, who became CEO of the campaign in mid-August 2016, testified Friday that campaign officials saw Stone as their “access point” to WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange.

Bannon testified that in the spring and summer of 2016, before he took over the Trump campaign, Stone had in “implied” in conversations with Bannon that he was in contact with Assange. “The campaign had no official access to WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, but Roger would be considered if we needed an access point, because he had implied or told me he had a relationship with WikiLeaks and Julian Assange,” Bannon said. 

“It was generally believed that the access point to WikiLeaks or Julian Assange would be Roger Stone,” Bannon said in prior grand jury testimony read in court on Friday. Bannon appeared under subpoena and said he would not have agreed to testify otherwise.

On October 3, 2016, when Assange held a strange press conference that failed to live up to expectations of dramatic revelations about Hillary Clinton, Bannon emailed Stone to ask: “What was that?”

Four days later, when WikiLeaks began publishing emails hacked from Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, Bannon, according to his testimony, “heard that Roger Stone was somehow involved in the release of those emails.” Bannon said he didn’t recall where he heard that.

Shortly after WikiLeaks released the emails, Alexandra Preate, a Trump campaign aide who worked for Bannon, texted Stone a two-word message: “well done,” according to evidence presented earlier in the trial.

Bannon’s testimony is bad news for Stone, who faces charges that he lied about several topics in 2017 testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. One of those alleged lies was Stone’s claim that he did not communicate with the Trump campaign regarding information Stone claimed to have about WikiLeaks. Bannon’s testimony could bolster the government’s case that Stone committed perjury. 

But the testimony is also terrible news for Trump. Previously, prosecutors revealed that Stone and Trump spoke frequently during the 2016 campaign. Those include calls on June 14, 2016, the same day the Washington Posreported that the DNC had been hacked by Russia. On July 31, 2016—not long after WikiLeaks released thousands of DNC emails and documents stolen by the Russians, Stone spoke for about 10 minutes with Trump. Prosecutors don’t know what the men discussed in either call, but they implied that they believe the topic was the hacked emails.

In written answers to special counsel Robert Mueller, Trump stated, “I do not recall discussing WikiLeaks with [Stone], nor do I recall being aware of Mr. Stone having discussed WikiLeaks with individuals associated with my campaign.” Trump may have avoid perjury by claiming a memory lapse, but the Stone case is making it hard to avoid concluding that Trump probably told a whopper to Mueller.

Prosecutors have also detailed contacts related to WikiLeaks between Stone and former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and Blackwater founder Erik Prince, a Trump campaign adviser. Stone now denies that he really had any inside information on WikiLeaks, and there’s no evidence he communicated directly with Assange. But multiple members of the Trump campaign apparently thought he was working with WikiLeaks to advance their cause. That sounds like attempted collusion.

Pages