Mother Jones Magazine

Stupid-Looking Statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest Comes Down in Nashville

When I heard the news that the incredibly stupid-looking Nathan Bedford Forrest statue in Nashville, Tennessee, was finally taken down after two decades, I thought back to a moment in the John le Carré novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, when the Communist mole (name withheld) says that his decision to defect to the Soviets was “an aesthetic choice as much as a moral one.” I had this thought because taking down this statue was a good aesthetic choice as much as it was a good moral one. In addition to depicting a white supremacist mass murderer, the statue was objectively hideous. 

The fiberglass abomination was sculpted in 1998 by Jack Kershaw, the former attorney for Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassin and the founder of the white nationalist organization the League of the South, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated a hate group. Kershaw was seemingly unaware of how dumb the statue looked. When faced with complaints about his creation, he told the Times-Picayune that “somebody (needed) to say a good word for slavery.” 

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Deconstructing the Design and Demolition of Confederate Monuments 

Standing 25-feet-tall in plain view of the highway, the statue was an appropriately deranged monument to American racism. It depicted Forrest, a Confederate general who directed the massacre of mostly Black Union soldiers during the Civil War after they had surrendered. Forrest later led the Ku Klux Klan while it waged a domestic terror campaign during Reconstruction. But the statue, which appeared to be screaming in pain or rage, bore only a passing resemblance to Forrest. 

With its maniacal eyes, disproportionate head, and violently contorted posture, it consistently served as fodder for late-night hosts and an embarrassment to the city of Nashville, which passed a resolution to obscure it with vegetation. In 2015, Gawker deemed it “the most fitting monument to the ugly idiocy of southern history” and argued that it should be kept forever because it is “so hilariously stupid.” 

I have some sympathy for this perspective, but it’s also worth congratulating Tennessean motorists, who are no longer cursed with a highway view of one of the ugliest statues in the United States. So, congrats, Tennessee! You’ve rid yourselves of a bad one.

Canadian Pilots Rally to Supply Towns Isolated by Flooding

This story was originally published by Canada’s National Observerand is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

It was cold and near sundown at the Langley, British Columbia, airport Friday afternoon as Shaun Bradley Heaps in his signature shorts greeted a team of fellow pilots returning from an emergency mission delivering food and necessities to flood-ravaged southern BC towns.

“There’s butter chicken and samosas over there,” said the pilot and member of the West Coast Pilots Club, pointing towards the glowing yellow door of a nearby hangar. The coolers filled with curry, boxes of crispy samosas, and chapatis hand-wrapped in aluminum foil were donated by a local Sikh temple earlier that day, he said.

Inside, roughly a dozen other pilots and volunteers were relaxing after delivering essential goods through rugged mountain passes. For more than two weeks, this volunteer flying squad—Heaps’ brainchild—has collected thousands of pounds of food and other essentials from across the Lower Mainland and used privately owned propeller planes and helicopters to deliver it to roughly 30 communities isolated after last month’s floods. Money for fuel and supplies has come out of their own pockets or from donations.

November’s devastating floods storms washed out bridges and roads, including this section of Highway 1, cutting off roughly 30 towns and hamlets across southern BC, including many Indigenous communities, from food and supplies.

Jesse Winter/Canada’s National Observer

On Friday alone, the crew shipped roughly 9,000 kilograms of goods to places like Merritt, Boston Bar, and Siska. “A bunch of private pilots are doing more than the federal government,” Heaps said as he waited for another flight to land.

“We’re just keeping on resupplying and resupplying.”  

While he acknowledged authorities have provided some support, people in the stranded communities are telling him the provincial and federal governments seem content to leave it to volunteers and donations to meet people’s ongoing needs. “So we’re just keeping on resupplying and resupplying,” he said. “How [else] are they supposed to survive?”

The coordination needed to keep the system running smoothly was on full display Friday morning even before the first flights took off. Crews in fluorescent yellow vests hauled pallets packed high with goods out of the West Coast Pilots Club’s airside warehouses to the tarmac where about a dozen planes were waiting.

Held together with plastic wrap, each pile had been carefully built by the volunteers to contain most items on “shopping” lists sent to the group by impacted communities, said Brenda Lennax, the team’s dispatch manager. Lennax runs several small businesses in Maple Ridge, BC. When the floods hit, she told all her clients she was taking time off to help out—even as her own family was evacuated. “I’m supposed to be here,” she explained during a brief lull in the packing frenzy.

Volunteers rush to pack planes with food and necessities donated by community churches, temples, and mosques. congregations.

Jesse Winter/Canada’s National Observer

The first plane was loaded within 15 minutes: Costco-size boxes of granola bars and Kraft Dinner squeezed behind passenger seats. Twelve-packs of water and pop were propped against mega-packs of diapers, baby wipes, and toilet paper. Bags of chicken and livestock feed covered the floor. Fleece blankets filled any remaining crannies before the pilot latched a cargo net over the load to keep it in place.

“It has all been coming from all the Sikh temples, Sikh communities, Hindu temples, Jews, Muslims—all community churches are donating a ton of food,” explained the group’s supplies and provisions manager Pritpal Singh Sekhorn as he double-checked each load. “(The flying squad) is bringing everyone under one umbrella to reach the flood-affected communities as soon as possible.”

There are enough donations to fill three airport hangars and a nearby warehouse nearby—and Heaps said more keeps coming. “It’s endless. And if we need dog food, they send dog food. They bring batteries, horse feed…(we) make a phone call and it shows up.”

Most communities are still weeks or months away from regular road access and people and animals need to eat, so the excess of supplies is unlikely to go to waste. And with Christmas near, the flying squad is doubling its efforts to make the holiday easier for people cut off from friends and family.

“It’s all about love,” Lennax said.

 

The Guy Who Tried to Sue a Fake Twitter Cow Is Going to Lead Trump’s Media Company

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) is leaving the US House of Representatives to take on a position as CEO of Trump Media & Technology Group, the former president’s latest nebulous enterprise.

Nunes, an ardent Trumper, has spent 10 terms in Congress. His main social media qualification seems to be like that he likes to hold a petty grudge. During his tenure as chair of the House Intelligence Committee, he released an eponymous memo alleging that the FBI’s investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia was politically motivated. After his district’s biggest newspaper, the Fresno Bee, called him a “Trump stooge” in 2018 (they had endorsed him in every election from 1996 to that point), he waged war on them. Solid stuff—none of which stopped him from continuing to be reelected. But nothing shows that Nunes has the aggrieved mentality of the chronically online quite like the issue of a certain fake cow.

In 2019, Nunes took offense to a number of satirical Twitter accounts, including one purporting to be his cow, and sued both the platform and several individual users for defamation.

That’s the stuff.

Now, Nunes will lead Trump’s social media company, despite having no previous experience in tech. His departure from the House comes on the heels of new draft maps of California congressional districts that would have likely made his reelection campaign much more competitive.

The Justice Department Is Suing Texas for Gerrymandered Maps

Months after Texas Republicans approved gerrymandered redistricting maps that diluted the voting power of communities of color, the Justice Department is suing the state for violating the Voting Rights Act.

As my colleague Ari Berman wrote, Texas’ new election maps increase the number of districts with white majorities—even though 95 percent of the state’s population growth in the last decade has come from communities of color.

This gerrymandering is a brazen attempt to cement Republican dominance in the state despite demographic change:

The maps consolidate white power as the white population is shrinking as a percentage of the state, and eliminate political competition at a time when longtime GOP strongholds are trending blue. The number of safe GOP seats would double in the new congressional maps, from 11 to 22, and the number of competitive districts would fall from 12 to just one. GOP candidates for Congress received 53 percent of the statewide vote in 2020, but are forecasted to control 65 percent of US House seats under the new map.

The suit came after the gutting of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court in 2013. For the first time in nearly 50 years, the federal government did not have to approve the redistricting maps before they went into effect. The only option for Justice Department was to sue, using the parts of the VRA left intact.

“The complaint that we filed today alleges that Texas violated Section 2 by creating redistricting plans that deny or abridge the rights of Latino and Black voters to vote on account of their race, color or membership in a language or minority group,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said of the suit on Monday.

Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said that some aspects of the maps signaled “discriminatory intent.” “The Justice Department will not stand idly by in the face of unlawful attempts to restrict access to the ballot,” she said.

Garland also called on Congress to pass legislation reinstating the government’s ability to review redistricting maps before they’re enacted.

Read the full suit here.

Donald Trump Suggests Georgia’s GOP Primary Will Be “Rigged”

Donald Trump is already stoking fears of election fraud in the Georgia governor race. This time, his baseless allegations are aimed squarely at a member of his own party.

This morning, former Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) announced that he would run against incumbent Republican Brian Kemp in the GOP gubernatorial primary. It didn’t take long for Trump—still angry at Kemp for refusing to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election—to suggest that a Kemp win would be possible only through fraud.

“This will be very interesting, and I can’t imagine that Brian Kemp, who has hurt election integrity in Georgia so badly, can do well at the ballot box (unless the election is rigged, of course),” Trump wrote in a statement. “He cost us two Senate seats and a Presidential victory in the Great State of Georgia.”

Never mind that Kemp himself signed a voter suppression law inspired by Trump’s false claims of election rigging. Or that controversy about suspiciously-timed stock trades did more to harm the two Republican senators’ 2020 election campaigns than Kemp ever could. It’s no longer just Democrats on the receiving end of Trump’s election fraud lies and insinuations: It’s anyone, even a right-wing governor, who refuses to bow to the former president and his attempts to undermine democracy.

How Is the US Actually Doing on Tracking Variants Like Omicron? We Asked Some Experts.

Back in February—a lifetime ago in pandemic time—I spoke with several experts who warned about the United States’ ability to sequence and track coronavirus variants. At the time, scientists in the United Kingdom had identified the pandemic’s first “variant of concern,” a strain later called Alpha. The UK boasted the “gold standard” of genomic surveillance strategies, sequencing about 6 percent of positive COVID samples in early 2021; the US, meanwhile, was sequencing about 0.3 percent. “We’re blind to what’s happening,” one expert in infectious diseases and vaccinology told me.

“I feel like the sentiment this time last year was, the US doesn’t sequence enough. We’re behind, we’re behind. And I think it was a fair argument. But at this point, I think it’s just a really lazy argument.”

Alpha would eventually be outperformed in the UK (and the world) by another variant, Delta. But its emergence, among the rise of other variants of concern shortly afterward, was a wake-up call: Without a robust genomic surveillance program, researchers warned, the US would fail to monitor variants as they were introduced or to detect new, homegrown ones—leaving us less prepared to fight the virus.

Enter Omicron. First reported to the World Health Organization by South African officials around Thanksgiving, the variant has since been detected in dozens of countries, including the US. And in much of the news media, the prevailing narrative about the US’s genomic surveillance has remained the same: The country “lags behind” our foreign counterparts, has been “slow to the party,” and is at risk of “flying blind.”

But after talking with a few experts last week, it became clear that this isn’t exactly the case anymore. In fact, the US is far from straggling behind. And in a sea of alarming headlines about Omicron, this is truly good news.

“I feel like the sentiment this time last year was, The US doesn’t sequence enough. We’re behind, we’re behind. And I think it was a fair argument. But at this point, I think it’s just a really lazy argument,” says Joseph Fauver, an assistant professor at the College of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, which is working with the state to track variants. “I am unapologetically on the side of, we’re doing an exceptional job. That doesn’t mean we couldn’t be doing things better. But there’s so much data being generated right now, across the US and across the world.” 

Here, based on my conversations, is what you need to know about Omicron, future variants, and genomic sequencing:

We’ve seen a huge increase in SARS-CoV-2 genome sequencing. Thank federal funding.

Early this year, when experts called for an investment in the country’s ability to track SARS-CoV-2, the Biden administration listened. In February, it announced a $200 million “down payment” to track variants, followed by a $1.7 billion investment in April. “The CDC, with the support of the White House and federal government, really rolled out a robust plan to get genomic surveillance up to speed across the country,” says Bronwyn MacInnis, the director of pathogen genomic surveillance in the Infectious Disease and Microbiome Program at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

The effort was three-pronged: First, federal health officials worked to connect the institutions that were doing COVID testing—shops like Labcorp, Quest Diagnostics, CVS, Walgreens, and the Broad Institute, where MacInnis works—with labs that could sequence their samples—at private companies and state health departments, for instance—giving scientists what she calls a “10,000-foot view” of what strains are circulating across the states.

Second, the administration injected funds into local and state labs, giving them the ability to be “more nimble,” MacInnis says, and zoom in on local outbreaks or perform targeted testing in places where it was needed.

The third piece, MacInnis says, was to continue to support academic research centers like hers that are using their lab capacity to track SARS-CoV-2. “It’s not perfect,” MacInnis says about the effort as a whole. “It’s also not easy. But it is really strong.”

By Fauver’s estimate, the US has sequenced about as many, if not more, SARS-CoV-2 genomes as we have for all other viruses combined.

The data backs that up: At the start of 2021, the country was sequencing a few thousand genomes per week. In late November, that level hit nearly 100,000 per week. By Fauver’s estimate, the US has sequenced about as many, if not more, SARS-CoV-2 genomes as we have for all other viruses combined.

“At the beginning of this year, we still weren’t sequencing enough to really get a good snapshot of what was circulating in the US,” adds Alexandra Phelan, an assistant professor at the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University, whose work focuses on pandemic preparedness and response. “If we look at us now, we are actually in a much, much better position.”

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As a result, we have a much clearer view of what variants are circulating here.

In addition to sequencing tens of thousands of samples per week, we're also hitting our goal in terms of percent of cases sequenced. In early 2021, scientists had set a goal of sequencing five out of every 100 positive COVID samples. According to a preliminary, but widely cited analysis by Illumina, a San Diego-based company that makes genomic sequencing equipment, the US would need to sequence five percent of samples in order to detect a variant that makes up between 0.1 percent and 1.0 percent of cases.

As of now, on average, we're there: "I would say most states are now at or close to that five percent mark," MacInnis says, "and many are well beyond it." (Last week, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told reporters the agency is sequencing at a rate of about one in seven positive samples, or about 14 percent.) 

"It's unrealistic at this point to sequence every positive case. And it's also kind of unnecessary."

Five percent may not sound like a lot, but testing well beyond that has "diminishing returns," MacInnis says. "It's unrealistic at this point to sequence every positive case. And it's also kind of unnecessary." With a rate of five percent, she says, "we have the power to detect emerging threats at an early stage." If a new variant is going to result in "any meaningful number of cases," Fauver adds, "we will absolutely detect it with that level of sequencing."

As cases rise, like they are now, genomic sequencing gets harder.

One way to make researchers' jobs easier? Lowering the total number of COVID cases. Think of it this way: The rate of genomic sequencing is the number of SARS-CoV-2 sequences divided by the number of positive tests in the US at a given time. If we want to increase our rate, we can either increase the number of genomes sequenced or lower the number of cases. “There's effectively unchecked COVID transmission occurring right now,” Fauver says, “making it really difficult to raise that percentage.”

This is also partly why countries like Iceland or New Zealand are able to sequence a huge percentage of positive samples: low case counts. The US may rank 22nd in the world for our percentage of sequenced genomes, but we're also dealing with a lot of cases. "The absolute value of that number really matters," Fauver says. "I think it's really easy to sequence 100 percent of cases occurring in a week if you only have 1,000 cases."

Plus, Fauver points out, lowering case counts also reduces the chances of new variants being introduced in the population in the first place. "If you're not infected," he says, "you're not going to be a part of generating a new variant."

We still have some "blind spots" around the country.

While the US is sequencing at a rate of five percent, that number, experts emphasize, is an average. Some states aren't sequencing nearly as many genomes as others. Oklahoma, Phelan notes, has sequenced less than 1 percent of all its samples over the pandemic. By contrast, Washington, which was among the first states to be impacted by the coronavirus and is home to several academic institutions, has sequenced at a rate of about 8 percent since January 2020. In Wyoming, it's 20 percent. In Vermont, it's 22 percent. 

Those disparities exist, Fauver says, in part because of what kinds of institutions exist in each state. Take California, for example. The state has published nearly 300,000 sequences since the start of the pandemic, more than any other state. Yes, it's a big population—"but," Fauver says, "think of all the groups in California that are producing whole-genome sequencing data." County labs, state labs, institutions like The Scripps Research Institute and UCSF, non-profits like the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, and private companies like Illumina all operate in the state. "All that is going to push California's numbers up a lot," he concludes. In Nebraska, where Fauver is based, researchers have been able to generate "really high-quality data routinely," he says, but the effort is primarily being run by the state, in combination with a small handful of academic partners.

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On top of state disparities, in general, experts are concerned that the states that aren't sequencing as many samples are often the states with lower vaccination rates. That is, the states where new variants are most likely to emerge are also the places that aren't looking as closely. "There is a risk that there is undetected spread," Phelan says.

In a 2020 report, Phelan and others called on the federal government to establish a unified approach to genomic data sharing. We still need it, she says: "A lot of this data is fragmented because the country and the health systems are fragmented," she explains. "We still need a comprehensive and systematic sharing across the country between states and at the federal level."

“If [sharing information] is met with travel restrictions, I don't see the incentive for these folks to share their data.” Travel bans and other measures may disincentivize sharing of genomic data.

Shortly after South Africa reported Omicron to the WHO on November 26, the US instituted travel bans against it and seven other countries, all in Africa. Since then, the Omicron variant has been detected in many other countries, including Canada, the UK, Australia, and Germany, and dozens of others, but the US hasn’t issued any travel bans against them.

While travel bans may slow the global spread of a variant in early stages—"It's just a basic matter of mathematics,” Phelan says—they are unlikely to stop a variant in its tracks. For one, they can give governments a false sense of security, Phelan says, and are often “inappropriately targeted" to protect public health. In the case of Omicron, for example, "It's hard to not see that as deeply discriminatory."

Experts also worry these restrictions may discourage other countries from publishing their COVID data in the future. “If [sharing information] is met with travel restrictions, I don't see the incentive for these folks to share their data,” Fauver says. “So yeah, I think it sends the exact wrong message.”

And "not only does it disincentivize reporting about variants, but this will impact future outbreaks," Phelan says. If imposing discriminatory travel bans becomes the norm, she adds, "I do worry that we're much less prepared for the next pandemic."

Foreclosures Are Fueling America’s Racial Wealth Gap

This past June, to commemorate the massacre of hundreds of Black Americans and destruction of their thriving community by a white terrorist mob in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a century ago, the Biden administration promised it would work to address the racial wealth gap. Specifically, it said, federal officials would expand access to “two key wealth-creators”—home and business ownership—and take actions to address racist practices in the housing market.

Important steps, to be sure, but new research points to an equally vital priority: helping families weather the kinds of economic shocks that propel homes into foreclosure.

The wealth gap is dire. Based on data from the Fed’s 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances, median wealth for white families nearing retirement was $315,000, nearly triple that of Hispanic families and six times that of Black families. Racial disparities in average wealth are even greater.

More than half of the median wealth gap between Black and white people at retirement age can be attributed to racial differences in housing wealth, based on data from Panel Study of Income Dynamics. Per the latest census figures, 75 percent of non-Hispanic white people own homes, compared to 45 percent of Black people, 50 percent of Latinos, and 60 percent of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. And crucially, white homeowners enjoy more robust growth in property values than homeowners of color, on average, and therefore end up with a substantially larger return on investment.

Equalizing racial homeownership rates alone won’t help much, because white buyers, on average, enjoy a substantially higher return on investment.

The conventional wisdom attributes these ROI differences to market forces that suppress property values in neighborhoods where people of color are the majority. (The New York Times Magazine had a good piece on this recently.) The new research, however, indicates that the disparity may also be rooted in racist labor practices, compounded by differences in family wealth and access to capital. When a family’s mortgage suddenly becomes unaffordable, they might have to sell quickly for cheap—or their lender does it via foreclosure.

Amir Kermani, an associate professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, and Francis Wong of the National Bureau of Economic Research based their working paper on a dataset of 6 million individual housing transactions from 1990 through 2017. The data shows lower average annualized return rates for Black homeowners (-3.7 percent) and Latino homeowners (-2 percent) relative to white homeowners—differences that would result, over a decade, in a 44 percent smaller investment return for Black sellers and a 22 percent lower return for Latinos.

But those differences in average returns, the researchers found, were due almost entirely to higher rates of foreclosures and short sales among homeowners of color, and the fact that these “distressed sales” are more steeply discounted in communities of color than in majority-white ones.

Take away the distressed sales, Kermani and Wong determined, and the racial disparity evaporates. Black homeowners secured roughly the same rate of return as white sellers, on average, and Latino sellers pulled ahead of the white homeowners—though the picture varies by neighborhood, with some doing better and some worse in terms of housing returns. “These findings are surprising in light of a previously documented pattern in which minority homeowners pay higher prices for homes, but subsequently suffer diminished home values as a result of discriminatory market forces (e.g. white flight),” the co-authors wrote.

Kermani, in an interview, was careful to note that the paper’s conclusions apply only to the 27-year window studied. But for that time period, he and Wong wrote, “minority homeowners were more exposed to rapid house price growth driven by gentrification, allowing some homeowners to achieve very high returns.” 

Gentrification, of course, is a blessing for some homeowners but can be a curse for others, altering the culture of a place and rendering it less affordable. Still, the new findings suggest that policymakers might want to prioritize helping financially distressed property owners stay in their homes in the wake of a job loss, illness, or death—all of which the pandemic brought us in spades.

Homeowners in minority neighborhoods paid 10 percent to 13 percent more in property taxes for “the same bundle of public services.”

Getting tough on discriminatory interest rates would help. In recent decades, major lenders have been caught charging customers of color more than white customers for car and home loans. Notably, Wells Fargo was fined $175 million in 2012 to settle federal claims that it had routinely overcharged Black and Latino borrowers, contributing to the mortgage meltdown that sparked the Great Recession. In 2019, a research team led by Adair Morse at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business found that human lenders and FinTech algorithms alike assigned higher interest rates to Black and Latino borrowers relative to white ones, to the tune of $750 million per year in excess mortgage payments.

Ending the over-taxing of communities of color would be a boon, too. In a 2020 paper, economists Troup Howard and Carlos Avenancio-León documented a widespread racial “assessment gap.” In almost every state, they found, homeowners in primarily Black and Hispanic neighborhoods were paying 10 percent to 13 percent more in property taxes for “the same bundle of public services” than owners in mostly white areas.

Combined with these wrongful practices, plain old income instability and lack of ready capital “help explain why minority wealth has remained persistently low despite rising homeownership rates and decades of policies designed to improve homeownership opportunities for minorities,” Kermani and Wong wrote in their paper.

Consider the pandemic. Even before the coronavirus came calling, Black and Latino workers, on average, were paid less than white workers (and women less than men) for similar work, and about one in four Black and Latino families were in debt. Those workers were (and are) overrepresented in sectors that pay poorly and offer scant benefits, not to mention put workers at greater risk, from both the virus and pandemic-related layoffs. During the first six months of 2020, one study found, the employment gap between white men and Black men increased by 44 percent—and the employment gap more than doubled between white men and Latinos or Asian men.

White workers are not only more likely to keep their jobs during an economic shock; those who experience layoffs are more likely than workers of color to have a financial cushion to stave off the creditors. Beyond substantially greater retirement savings and assets, white families are three times as likely as Black families and four times as likely as Latinos to have received an inheritance. All of which leaves families of color more vulnerable to events that could force a fire sale and wipe out their equity.

Based on a separate pre-pandemic dataset, Kermani and Wong found that Black and Latino workers were more likely than white workers to experience job losses regardless of business sector, geography, education, and income. “The fact that even minorities with more than $100,000 salary are more likely to be laid off” than their white counterparts, Kermani told me, “I would not have guessed that.”

He and Wong calculated that equalizing racial homeownership rates alone would trim the Black-white gap in housing wealth at retirement by just 1 percent, whereas equalizing housing investment returns across races would slash the Black-white gap by 39 percent. Equalizing both homeownership and housing returns would reduce the gap by 50 percent.

“I think we are very wishful in thinking we can solve all the problems of the world with finance.”

Short-term fixes, Kermani says, could include policies that make mortgages more flexible and loan modifications easier—or subsidized savings accounts to help lower-income homeowners pay the mortgage in case of an economic shock. But even modifying 50 percent more loans in the neighborhoods with the highest share of residents of color in their dataset, Kermani says, would only lower the gap in housing returns in those neighborhoods by 16 percent to 20 percent. “There are no silver bullets in the downstream,” he explains.

What we should really be talking about,” Andre M. Perry, who co-authored a Brookings study on the devaluation of assets in Black neighborhoods, told the New York Times Magazine, “is how to get capital into the hands of potential homeowners, business owners, tax credits to current homeowners.” 

To fully tackle the housing wealth gap will require addressing what Kermani calls “upstream” issues. “I think we are very wishful in thinking we can solve all the problems of the world with finance,” he says. “There is a limit with what you can do with finance, and what you really need to focus much more on is just more stable jobs. It seems once you have these disparities in the upstream, it’s going to have a lot of consequences in the downstream. You really have to fix the problem from the source.”

New Report Leaves Activists Doubting Administration’s Fossil Fuel Pledges

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

On the Friday after Thanksgiving—a day the federal government notoriously reserves for dropping politically inexpedient information—activists were blindsided by a long-anticipated report from the US Department of the Interior. The document was a review of the agency’s oil and gas leasing program, which manages fossil fuel extraction on federal public lands and waters.

Climate activists were hopeful that the Biden administration would recommend a wholesale ban on new federal oil and gas leasing. But while the report proposes a substantial overhaul of the leasing system, many environmentalists viewed it as weak on climate action. They believe that Interior’s recommendations signaled an unwillingness to take bold steps to address the urgency of the climate crisis. 

The administration could’ve executed “with power, speed and agility. Instead, it’s running that gantlet weak, slow, and tentative.”  

“We’re sympathetic to the political gantlet the Biden administration must run,” said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center, in a statement. “But it had a choice to run it with power, speed and agility. Instead, it’s running that gantlet weak, slow, and tentative.”  

Rather than call for a halt on new oil and gas leasing, the report focused on increasing royalty rates on new leases, said Jeremy Nichols, director of the climate and energy program at WildEarth Guardians. “The fact that it applies to new leases signals new oil and gas development,” he said. “The department seems to be signaling that it wants to do everything it can to keep the oil and gas industry going. That is not a climate solution.”

Changing the royalty rate would, however, benefit Western states. New Mexico and Wyoming hold over half the program’s leases and together take in well over a billion dollars a year from combined royalties—the revenue shares paid to state governments by oil and gas companies. The money helps fund schools, roads and other public goods.

But royalties are incredibly volatile and exist at the whim of a boom-and-bust industry. Onshore oil and gas companies currently pay a 12.5 percent royalty rate—a figure set more than a century ago. The report notes that many oil-producing states and private landowners require much higher rates, up to 25 percent in some cases.  

Firms pay $150,000 to cover future cleanup of all their wells on public land—but cleaning up just one well can cost that much. 

The Interior Department also recommends addressing the root financial cause of so-called “orphaned wells” on public land. When oil and gas companies go bankrupt, they often liquidate their assets, an act that can result in wells becoming abandoned. When that happens, the cost of cleanup falls on taxpayers. According to a report by the Western Wildlife Federation, in 2018 there were 8,050 inactive wells “orphaned or at risk of being orphaned on federal lands” across five Western states.  

To solve this problem, the Interior Department argued that “bonding levels”—the amount of money companies pay up front to cover future cleanups—need to be raised to pay for these wells before they are abandoned. The current leasing system allows companies to purchase what are known as blanket bonds, in which a single bond covers a large number of wells.

That allows a company to buy one $25,000 bond to cover all of its wells in a single state, or a $150,000 bond to cover all the wells it operates on public lands across the country. The problem with this model is that the average cleanup cost for a single orphaned well can run anywhere from $20,000 to $145,000, according to a Government Accountability Office report. 

Conservationists and environmental activists welcome these recommended reforms, said Nichols, but Westerners are already paying increasing amounts for climate inaction as wildfires, floods and drought worsen. “It seems like this administration is cowering,” he said. “There’s an unwillingness for them to own the issue and play a role in confronting the climate crisis.”

“Giant of the Senate” Bob Dole Dies at 98

Former Republican presidential candidate Sen. Bob Dole, who represented Kansas in Congress for 27 years, died Sunday at the age of 98.

“Senator Robert Joseph Dole died early this morning in his sleep,” the Elizabeth Dole Foundation wrote in a public statement. “He had served the United States of America faithfully for 79 years.”

Dole held a variety of political roles across his decades in Washington: He twice served as majority leader of the Senate, ran for Vice President on the Gerald Ford ticket, and mounted three failed bids for the presidency—a record he enjoyed joking about in later years.

January 17, 1997 — White House Medal of Freedom Ceremony: "I, Robert J. Dole, do solemnly swear — oops, sorry wrong speech. I had a dream that I would be here this historic week receiving something from the president, but I thought it would be the front door key." pic.twitter.com/MwgoSbJckg

— CSPAN (@cspan) December 5, 2021

Throughout, he earned a complex reputation as both a harsh adversary—a “partisan hatchet man” who didn’t hesitate to attack opponents like Vice President Walter Mondale—and a skilled bipartisan negotiator who successfully passed landmark legislation, including the Americans with Disabilities Act. Dole, who suffered severe injuries during his World War II service that left him without use of his right arm, championed the ADA alongside Republican cosponsors including Sen. John McCain, as well as prominent Democrats like Sen. Ted Kennedy. 

On Sunday, lawmakers from both parties recalled their relationships with Dole. Among them was President Joe Biden, who issued a statement on his half-century-long friendship with the Dole family. He recalled meeting with Dole and his wife, Elizabeth, soon after being sworn in as president, and offering support to their family after Dole’s lung cancer diagnosis—reciprocating the kindness that the Doles had shown the Bidens as their son, Beau, battled cancer.

“Though we often disagreed, he never hesitated to work with me or other Democrats when it mattered most,” Biden wrote of their time in the Senate, praising Dole’s work on the ADA, Social Security reform, childhood nutrition laws, and the creation of a national holiday honoring civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) commemorated Dole as “a giant of the Senate,” saying that “working with him and writing legislation with him are among my fondest memories” of his years as a senator. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) praised Dole’s “profound patriotism,” “conservative victories,” and “bipartisan achievements.”

Onlookers also remembered Dole in conjunction with comedian Norm Macdonald, who famously portrayed Dole on Saturday Night Live, and who himself died aged 61 in September. In one of those portrayals, the real Dole gamely joined Macdonald’s fake one for a skit poking fun at his unsuccessful presidential bids, and Dole even issued his own tribute to the comedian after Macdonald’s passing:

“Norm @normmacdonald was a great talent, and I loved laughing with him on SNL. *Bob Dole* will miss Norm Macdonald.” pic.twitter.com/gPsdyJ5tS9

— Senator Bob Dole (@SenatorDole) September 14, 2021

 

 

With the Supreme Court Ready to Gut Roe, Amy Klobuchar Says Congress Needs to Act—and Fast

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments on the constitutionality of Mississippi’s Gestational Age Act, a controversial state law banning almost all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Through their lines of questioning, the court’s six conservatives strongly indicated that they’re likely to overturn—or at least gut—the court’s seminal ruling in Roe v. Wade, which prohibited abortion bans before the point of fetal viability, or about six months.

On Sunday’s Meet the Press, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said the pro-choice response should come from her Congressional colleagues: Turn Roe‘s protections into federal legislation, taking Americans’ access to abortion out of the justices’ hands altogether.

“I think the most sane route to get this done right now would be to bring this up before the US Senate to codify Roe v. Wade into law,” Klobuchar told host Chuck Todd.

The 1973 Roe decision barred individual states from enacting restrictions that outlawed abortions before fetal viability. In one scenario, the Supreme Court could weaken abortion rights by undoing this portion of Roe, allowing Mississippi and other states to decide when in a pregnancy to cut off abortion access. (Earlier in the term, the Supreme Court heard arguments on the constitutionality of Texas’ Senate Bill 8, an even more extreme abortion ban that outlaws the procedure after six weeks.)

A Congressional move to codify Roe would preempt states from constraining or virtually erasing abortion rights. It would also keep abortion access from varying wildly across states, which would mean more of the prohibitively long drives and flight driven by the Texas law—and would force others, especially poorer people, to carry unwanted pregnancies to term. Klobuchar said on Sunday that a federal abortion law would prevent that inequitable “patchwork” of laws, noting that some pro-choice Republicans have signaled support for the idea.

Democrats have floated the idea of passing a federal law enshrining abortion rights for years: In 2007, during his first presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised that it would be “the first thing I’d do as president.” In the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries, candidates including Klobuchar cited pro-choice legislation as a key part of their reproductive rights platforms, and President Joe Biden has said that his administration is “committed to codifying Roe v. Wade.” A group of House Democrats have drafted legislation doing just that—which passed the House in September. But its progress has stalled in the Senate, where the bill needs a filibuster-proof 60 votes to pass. With Democrats’ slim majority in the upper house, Klobuchar said, she and her colleagues are “looking at the rules” regarding filibusters.

Days After the Michigan School Shooting, a GOP Lawmaker Posted a Gun-Filled Family Photo

On Saturday, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) posted a holiday-themed family photo to his Twitter account. The image featured a decorated Christmas tree, Massie’s smiling wife and kids, and seven guns that appear to be a mix of semi-automatic rifles and machine guns.

“Merry Christmas!” he wrote. “Santa, please bring ammo.”

Merry Christmas!
ps. Santa, please bring ammo. pic.twitter.com/NVawULhCNr

— Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) December 4, 2021

Massie shared the photo less than a week after prosecutors charged 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley for allegedly killing four people and wounding seven at his high school in Oxford, Michigan—the deadliest such shooting in the US this year. That timing, mixed with the jarring visual, evoked a barrage of criticism from Massie’s fellow lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, as well as from gun advocates. (Massie’s last brush with public condemnation came in August, when he wrote another tweet comparing vaccination mandates to the Holocaust.)

“I’m old enough to remember Republicans screaming that it was insensitive to try to protect people from gun violence after a tragedy,” wrote Rep. John Yarmuth (D–Ky.), Massie’s House colleague from Kentucky, on Twitter. “Now they openly rub the murder of children in our faces like they scored a touchdown. Disgraceful.”

“I promise not everyone in Kentucky is an insensitive asshole,” he added in another tweet.

Illinois GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger chimed in, tweeting that he supported the second amendment, “but this isn’t supporting [the] right to keep and bear arms, this is a gun fetish.”

In a CNN appearance on Saturday, Manuel Oliver, whose son Joaquin was killed in the 2018 shooting at Parkland, Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, described Massie’s post as “very nasty,” calling it “something that should teach us who should we elect, and not.”

Fellow Parkland father Fred Guttenberg, who lost his daughter Jaime in the shooting, replied directly to Massie’s post.

“Since we are sharing family photos, here are mine,” he wrote above his last photo of his daughter and another of her grave.

.@RepThomasMassie, since we are sharing family photos, here are mine. One is the last photo that I ever took of Jaime, the other is where she is buried because of the Parkland school shooting.

The Michigan school shooter and his family used to take photos like yours as well. pic.twitter.com/MsQWneJXAp

— Fred Guttenberg (@fred_guttenberg) December 4, 2021

Are Pollution and Poverty Alerting the Sex Ratio of Our Babies?

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

A swathe of pollutants and indicators of poverty have been linked to changes in the ratio of baby boys to girls born to millions of parents.

A study of half the US population and the entire Swedish population examined more than 100 possible factors and found, for example, that mercury, chromium, and aluminum pollution correlated with more boys being born, while lead pollution increased the proportion of girls. Proximity to farming also affected the sex ratio, possibly due to higher chemical exposures.

Measures of deprivation, such as a high number of fast food restaurants and vacant buildings, were also linked to statistically significant changes in sex ratios, as were indicators of stress, including road deaths and the Virginia Tech shootings. However, other factors, such as the season of birth, outdoor temperature, rates of violent crime, and unemployment, did not show significant correlations.

“This is a list of suspects to investigate, and all the suspects have some credible evidence.”

The research only demonstrates correlations between the various factors and sex ratios at birth, not cause and effect. Future work to examine the effects of chemicals on human cells or animal models in the laboratory would be needed to show causal links, the researchers said.

“This is a list of suspects to investigate, and all the suspects have some credible evidence, but we’re very far from conviction,” said Andrey Rzhetsky at the University of Chicago, who led the research.

The sex of babies is determined at conception, when exactly half of embryos should be girls and half boys. But hormonal factors can terminate more female embryos, or more male ones, during pregnancy, leading to skewed sex ratios.

“The question is why, and there are many suggested factors, such as stress or something in the environment,” said Rzhetsky. “It makes sense that it can go up and down because the physiology of male and female embryos is not identical. They have different hormonal backgrounds.”

“There are a lot of myths about sex ratio and birth, but when you dig into the research, it turns out that everything that was tested on real data was done on relatively small samples [risking spurious correlations], and some statements are not founded in observations at all,” he said.

The new research, published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology, is the first investigation of numerous chemical pollutants and other environmental factors using large datasets from two continents. It used data on 150 million people in the US over eight years, and data on 9 million Swedish people over 30 years.

The factors that linked to significant changes, such as mercury pollution and proximity to industrial plants, saw the sex ratio shift by up to 3 percent. In a population of 1 million, that would mean 60,000 more girls than boys, or vice versa. Previous research on the impact on sex ratio of toxic pollutants called PCBs were inconclusive, but the new analysis found it significantly increased the number of boys.

“The thinking is that pollutants may influence the very early stage of fertilization.”

The researchers also examined two highly stressful events in the US: Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007. They only found a significant change in the sex ratio 34 weeks after the Virginia Tech shootings, with more girls born. To investigate this further, Rzhetsky said, studies would need to focus on those most affected by the events, rather than whole populations.

The size of the populations analyzed meant the study had strong statistical power, but the scientists noted they did not have data on the sex of stillborn babies and that the US population studied all had private medical insurance, and so were not fully representative of the entire population.

Gareth Nye, an expert in pregnancy at the University of Chester, UK, who was not part of the study team, said: “The thinking is that pollutants may influence the very early stage of fertilization, leading to one sex direction over another. [But] without cellular research, these will always be associations.”

“There is no doubt that pollutants play roles in health and disease and that this form of computational research has a role in helping us understand why,” he said. But he said that, while the populations studied were large, the number of US births was relatively small, with the total over 8 years less than the annual average of 3.8 million births: “This doesn’t necessarily mean [the study is] of lower quality, but does indicate the conclusions may not be as certain.”

The January 6 Committee Has a Plan to Prevent Another Attempt to Steal an Election

Donald Trump had a plan to steal the 2020 election: he wanted GOP-controlled legislatures in key states Joe Biden won to override the will of their state’s voters and appoint their own electors for Trump, which Vice President Mike Pence would count when Congress met on January 6, nullifying Biden’s victory.

This brazen attempt to overturn the 2020 election didn’t succeed, but Trump and his allies are doing everything they can to ensure a different outcome in 2024, and they’re helped by an obscure 1887 law called the Electoral Count Act that is in desperate need of a rewrite.

The Electoral Count Act, which grew out of the disputed election of 1876, says that a legislature can appoint its own electors at odds with the winner of a state’s popular vote if it concludes that voters “failed to make a choice” on Election Day. The act does not specify what “failed” means, an ambiguity that provides an opening for Republicans to claim—like they did in 2020—that unproven accusations of voter fraud could result in a “failed election,” giving the legislatures the power to usurp the preferences of a state’s voters.

The risk of a constitutional crisis is why both Democratic and Republican members of the House committee investigating the January 6 insurrection are planning to recommend that Congress revise the Electoral Count Act to prevent an attempt at stealing the 2024 election, according to the New York Times.

“There are a few of us on the committee who are working to identify proposed reforms that could earn support across the spectrum of liberal to conservative constitutional scholars,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told the paper. “We could very well have a problem in a future election that comes down to an interpretation of a very poorly written, ambiguous and confusing statute.”

“The 1887 Electoral Count Act is directly at issue,” added Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.)

A bipartisan group of experts with the National Task Force on Election Crises has been working for months to recommend reforms to the Electoral Count Act. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent summarizes the key ones:

  • Dramatically raise the threshold for objections to electors in Congress, well above one member from each chamber. Reform could also codify what grounds must be met for objections to be heard by the full Congress.

  • Clarify how congressional disputes over electors are resolved. The statute needs to explain precisely what happens in Congress in every such scenario.

  • Clarify the “safe harbor” provision so it’s absolutely clear that if a state resolves its own disputes over electors by that deadline, Congress must count them.

  • Clarify the vice president’s role so it’s clear it does not include resolving congressional disputes over electors.

While Republicans have steadfastly refused to support Democratic-sponsored legislation that would make it easier to vote, writers and experts for conservative outfits such as National Review, the Cato Institute, and the American Enterprise Institute have supported changes to the Electoral Count Act, suggesting there could be bipartisan support in Congress for revising it, although it remains to be seen whether such reforms could garner 60 votes in the Senate.

The ongoing threats to democracy go well beyond the Electoral Count Act and include a wave of new voter suppression laws, gerrymandered maps, and election subversion laws at the state level. But revising an antiquated law that could lead directly to a stolen election should be the bare minimum of what Congress does.

The Parents of the Michigan School Shooter Are In Deep, Deep Trouble

A judge in Michigan set a $500,000 bond each for James and Jennifer Crumbley, who have been charged with manslaughter after their 15-year-old son killed four students with a semiautomatic handgun at Oxford High School. Ethan Crumbley faces murder and terrorism charges.

The Crumbley parents were supposed to turn themselves in yesterday after prosecutors announced the manslaughter charges, but they instead withdrew $4,000 from an ATM and fled. They couple were found by police early Saturday morning hiding in commercial building in Detroit, 40 miles south of their home. Detroit police chief James White said at a press conference that the Crumbleys may have been attempting to flee to Canada. 

As my colleague Mark Follman wrote on Friday, “the case against them is a first of its kind in a high-profile school shooting.”

The details of the criminal complaint against the Crumbleys, who pleaded not guilty on Saturday, paints an incredibly disturbing picture of how the parents encouraged their son’s gun use and may have overlooked his murderous plans, Follman writes:

According to the criminal complaint described by McDonald at a press conference, the Sig Sauer 9mm pistol that Ethan used to kill fellow students was purchased by James Crumbley at a local gun store with his son present on November 26, four days before the rampage.  

“Just got my new beauty today,” Ethan posted on social media that same day, according to the complaint, along with photos of the Sig Sauer weapon.

“Mom and son day, testing out his new Christmas present,” Jennifer allegedly posted on social media the following day.

In the days leading up to the attack, an Oxford High teacher had “observed Ethan searching ammunition on his cellphone during class,” according to McDonald—a common warning behavior in school shooting cases. That prompted attempts by worried school officials to contact his parents via phone and email; the school got no response from the Crumbleys, said McDonald. Shortly after that outreach, Jennifer exchanged text messages with her son, according to McDonald.

“LOL, I’m not mad at you,” she allegedly texted to Ethan. “You have to learn not to get caught.”

By the morning of the shooting, graphically violent images Ethan had drawn in class prompted school officials to convene an urgent meeting with the Crumbleys and their son at the school. In his backpack, Ethan had the Sig Sauer and dozens of rounds of ammunition, according to prosecutors. Whether the parents may have suspected or been aware of that is unknown, but according to McDonald they did not ask about the whereabouts of the newly purchased weapon or inspect Ethan’s backpack. They left the high school, refusing a recommendation to take Ethan with them, according to McDonald. “He was returned to the classroom,” she said. Investigators further determined that the gun had been stored in an unlocked drawer in the Crumbley’s home. Prosecutors have not alleged that the parents were aware that Ethan planned to kill.

New Evidence Suggests Trump DOJ Official Conspired With White House to Overturn 2020 Election

Jeffrey Clark, an assistant attorney general in the Justice Department under Donald Trump, played a key role in Trump’s conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election. And new evidence obtained by the House committee investigating the January 6th insurrection suggests he was working more closely with the White House than was previously known.

In late December 2020, Clark drafted a letter that he wanted the Justice Department leadership to send to election officials in Georgia falsely stating that “the Department of Justice is investigating various irregularities in the 2020 election for President of the United States” and recommending that Georgia’s legislature convene to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the state.

When DOJ leadership refused to send the letter, Trump considered replacing Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen with Clark. He backed down at the last-minute, but Clark’s maneuvering at the Justice Department amounted to an unprecedented attempt at interference in the 2020 election.

The House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection voted on Wednesday to hold Clark in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer the committee’s questions. Among the key questions the committee wants answered: to what extent did Clark coordinate his election subversion letter with the White House?

“I also wanted to ask him about metadata in that draft letter that indicates some involvement with the White House Communications Agency [in] the drafting or preparation of that letter,” the January 6 committee’s chief counsel said at a November 5 deposition for Clark, which was first reported by Rachel Maddow on Friday night.

BREAKING: January 6th Committee finds White House metadata on Jeffrey Clark letter pushing Georgia to overturn Trump's election loss. pic.twitter.com/134Cg9NYZW

— Maddow Blog (@MaddowBlog) December 4, 2021

This suggests that the White House may have played a role in crafting Clark’s letter, which was drafted shortly before Trump called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on January 2, 2021, and told him to “find 11,780 votes” to overturn Biden’s victory in the state—a call that is now under criminal investigation by the district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia.

Clark was expected to plead the Fifth Amendment—a possible acknowledgment of having knowledge of criminal activity—in response to the January 6th committee’s subpoena during a scheduled deposition on Saturday, but due to a “medical condition” the meeting has been postponed until December 16.   

For Some, Shipping Bottleneck Presages a Polluted Holiday Season

This story was originally published by Nexus Media News, a nonprofit news service covering climate change.

To describe the pollution in his neighborhood, Christopher Chavez appeals to the senses: “There are the days where you can see it, and then, there are the days you can smell it.” 

The 34-year-old West Long Beach native and environmental activist struggles to describe the acrid scent of exhaust fumes before concluding it smells like “port.” Lately, he says, “you can see puffs of black smoke coming from the ships constantly. All that stuff is getting into our air.”

In recent months, a record-breaking backlog of ships idling just miles from Chavez’ doorstep has released as much particulate matter as 50,000 diesel trucks each day, according to state regulators.  Long Beach neighbors the two busiest ports in the United States, the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach. Just four miles apart, they field a combined 40 percent of containers that enter the country. 

Daily emissions from the ports exceed those of the region’s six million cars, state regulators say.

Despite successful efforts to reduce shipping emissions in recent years, these ports are still the largest fixed source of pollution in Southern California. Daily emissions exceed those of the region’s six million cars, according to state regulators. And that’s during normal operations, without scores of ships idling offshore.

Pandemic-related supply chain issues have slowed the flow of goods into American homes, even as the ports move to speed up operations. For many, that means delays on holiday gifts, but for locals like Chavez, who was diagnosed with asthma as a child and now works for the Coalition for Clean Air, the excessive pollution related to shipping and trucking congestion at the ports raises concerns about his health, and that of his community. 

West Long Beach is an industrial, working-class and largely Latino section of Long Beach, a city of nearly half a million people that stretches across the southern border of Los Angeles County. 

California officials have found it has some of the highest concentrations of diesel pollution in the state, and elevated concentrations of PM2.5—a class of particulate matter linked to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, including lung cancer. 

Black Long Beach residents were hospitalized with asthma at eight times the rate of white residents.

Adults in Long Beach are hospitalized with asthma at a rate about 35 percent higher than in the rest of California, according to a 2019 community health survey. In one zip code close to the ports, the rate of adult asthma-related emergency room visits is twice the state average. The city’s Black and Brown residents in particular bear the brunt. According to the survey, Black Long Beach residents were hospitalized with asthma at eight times the rate, and Latinos at twice the rate, of white residents.

Nationwide, the burdens of air pollution disproportionately hurt the poor and communities of color, several studies have shown. A 2019 study from the Union of Concerned Scientists found that in California, Black people were exposed to 43 percent more PM2.5, and Latinos 39 percent more, than white residents were.

That exposure can translate to serious health complications—about 200,000 Americans die early every year due to air pollution, according to research published by JAMA Open Network. Edward Avol, a professor of clinical preventive medicine at the University of Southern California, says air pollution has also been linked to kidney, liver, and nervous system problems. In children, it can slow or prevent lung development.  Excessive exposure “can have lifelong consequences,” he says. “And we’re particularly concerned about those effects in children because they have such a long trajectory of life ahead of them—we hope.”

Chavez still remembers the fear he experienced when he began struggling to breathe as a kid. Growing up, he assumed asthma diagnoses were something that “just happened” to kids since it was so common among his peers.

Jan Victor Andasan, 31, is another Westside resident who was diagnosed with asthma growing up, as was their younger brother. Today, Andasan, who uses they/them pronouns, is an organizer with East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice. They said these health disparities played out to deadly effect as Covid-19 swept through the community. 

“We’ve had folks pass on because our bodies were already damaged and deteriorated as a result of various types of pollution.”

Zip codes in West Long Beach saw the city’s highest death rates, which local health officials attributed to the area’s relative density, poverty, large household size, and high number of “essential” workers—including port workers. “We’ve had folks pass on because our bodies were already damaged and deteriorated as a result of various types of pollution—and one of those sites [of pollution] is the port,” Andasan told me. 

Both the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach have taken steps to clean up their acts over the past 15 years. As part of a clean-air plan, they have offered incentives for ships to use newer, cleaner engines, and have begun phasing out fossil fuels by upgrading to electric-powered equipment.

Despite an increase in ships, the ports have been able to reduce emissions significantly. In October, the Port of Long Beach announced it had reached its 2023 emission-reduction goals three years early, decreasing nitrogen oxide output by more than 60 percent.  But the recent supply chain bottleneck is “negatively affecting these gains,” says Phillip Sanfield, a spokesperson for the Port of Los Angeles.

“We can’t draw an exact line to say that if [pollution] goes up this much today, tomorrow somebody is going to be sick,” notes Avol, the USC professor. But there is little doubt about the correlation between higher levels of pollutants and more health problems, he says.

As a short-term solution to reduce coastal emissions, the ports recently adopted a new queue system that requires ships to wait farther offshore, Sanfield says. Looking forward, Gov. Gavin Newsom has pledged to take an “aggressive” approach in demanding more federal funding to improve port infrastructure. The state has also entered into a partnership with the US Department of Transportation to fund port projects that “address equity and environmental justice.”

Chavez sees the current crisis as an opportunity to think about greening the local economy. “This constant push and pull that you see between this notion of do we have clean air or do we have a strong economy—it’s a false narrative,” he says. “If we invest in our communities and we invest in clean technologies, and actively work on deploying these technologies, it’s going to create jobs.” 

Andasan hopes all recent media focus on the ports will bring more attention to the needs and demands of communities that shoulder the toxic burden. “As an organizer, when I sit in with officials, they tell us the economics of [the issue],” he explains. “This isn’t about money for us. This is about us wanting to live the best quality life.”

The Chilling Alleged Role of the Michigan School Shooter’s Parents

On Tuesday, 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley allegedly used a semiautomatic pistol to kill four students and wound seven other people at Oxford High School in Michigan. He faces murder and terrorism charges and will be tried as an adult. On Friday morning, Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald announced that her office will also prosecute Ethan’s parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, who are charged with four counts each of involuntary manslaughter. The case against them is a first of its kind in a high-profile school shooting. Like any other Americans facing criminal charges, the Crumbleys are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

It was already clear this week from initial evidence about the contours and timeline of the attack that the backdrop to this case was dark. But the new evidence detailed by McDonald on Friday was nonetheless shocking, even for close observers of the mass shootings phenomenon. For the past decade, I’ve studied scores of these attacks in my reporting for Mother Jones and for my forthcoming book on behavioral threat assessment, an emerging field that works to prevent mass shootings. I know of no other case involving such stark details of alleged parental negligence and involvement.

According to the criminal complaint described by McDonald at a press conference, the Sig Sauer 9mm pistol that Ethan used to kill fellow students was purchased by James Crumbley at a local gun store with his son present on November 26, four days before the rampage.  

“Just got my new beauty today,” Ethan posted on social media that same day, according to the complaint, along with photos of the Sig Sauer weapon.

“Mom and son day, testing out his new Christmas present,” Jennifer allegedly posted on social media the following day.

In the days leading up to the attack, an Oxford High teacher had “observed Ethan searching ammunition on his cellphone during class,” according to McDonald—a common warning behavior in school shooting cases. That prompted attempts by worried school officials to contact his parents via phone and email; the school got no response from the Crumbleys, said McDonald. Shortly after that outreach, Jennifer exchanged text messages with her son, according to McDonald.

“LOL, I’m not mad at you,” she allegedly texted to Ethan. “You have to learn not to get caught.”

By the morning of the shooting, graphically violent images Ethan had drawn in class prompted school officials to convene an urgent meeting with the Crumbleys and their son at the school. In his backpack, Ethan had the Sig Sauer and dozens of rounds of ammunition, according to prosecutors. Whether the parents may have suspected or been aware of that is unknown, but according to McDonald they did not ask about the whereabouts of the newly purchased weapon or inspect Ethan’s backpack. They left the high school, refusing a recommendation to take Ethan with them, according to McDonald. “He was returned to the classroom,” she said. Investigators further determined that the gun had been stored in an unlocked drawer in the Crumbley’s home. Prosecutors have not alleged that the parents were aware that Ethan planned to kill.

“I cannot recall a case where there was this kind of enabling going on,” said a longtime threat assessment expert. “This looks next level.”

A longtime threat assessment expert I spoke with on Friday indicated that the scenario with the parents in Michigan appears to be highly unusual. The expert, who specializes in school security, said: “I’ve seen many uncooperative or belligerent parents over the years dealing with threat investigations, lots and lots of denial. It can understandably get emotional. But no, I cannot recall a case where there was this kind of enabling going on, from what this one looks like, at least at a distance. This looks next level.”

An attorney representing the Crumbleys did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

There is at least one prior high-profile case in which a parent purchased a gun for his son: Kipland Kinkel, a student who committed a mass shooting at Thurston High School in Springfield, Oregon, in 1998, had obtained one of the weapons he possessed that way. Kinkel subsequently killed both of his parents at home the day before his rampage, in which he killed two students and wounded 25 other people. Kinkel remains in prison for life without chance for parole.

As of Friday afternoon, with Ethan Crumbley in jail and awaiting trial, local authorities announced that James and Jennifer Crumbley had not yet been arrested and that the county’s Fugitive Apprehension Team was searching for them along with the FBI and US Marshals Service. According to CNN, attorneys for the elder Crumbleys said in a statement that the couple had “left town on the night of the tragic shooting for their own safety” and were returning to be arraigned.

“I want to be very clear,” McDonald said on Friday, “that these charges are intended to hold the individuals who contributed to this tragedy accountable, and also send a message: that gun owners have a responsibility. When they fail to uphold that responsibility, there are serious and criminal consequences.” She added: “Justice for the victims and their families is at the forefront of today’s announcement. We need to do better in this country. We need to say, enough is enough.”

Parents of Michigan School Shooting Suspect Charged With Involuntary Manslaughter

In a rare move, a prosecutor in Oakland County, Michigan, filed involuntary manslaughter charges against the parents of the 15-year-old student who allegedly shot and killed four of his classmates and wounded seven others at Oxford High School. Allison Anderman, director of local policy at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, told the New York Times that she couldn’t think of another time when the parents of a high-profile mass shooting suspect had been criminally charged in connection to the crime.

On Friday, prosecutor Karen D. McDonald filed four involuntary manslaughter charges against James and Jennifer Crumbley, one for each student killed. In a press conference detailing the reasons for the charge, McDonald said that Ethan and his father, James Crumbley, purchased a Sig Sauer 9mm pistol together from a local gun store on Black Friday. After the purchase, Ethan Crumbley reportedly posted a photo of the weapon to social media with a caption reading “just got my new beauty today” along with a heart emoji. Four days later, he allegedly used it to kill four people and injure seven more.

McDonald alleged that at some point prior to the shooting, a teacher had caught Ethan Crumbley searching for ammunition on his phone during class. Crumbley’s parents didn’t respond to two voicemails and an email from school authorities about the incident, but in text messages with her son, Jennifer Crumbley revealed that she’d learned what had happened, according to McDonald. 

“Lol, I’m not mad at you, you have to learn not to get caught,” Jennifer Crumbley allegedly wrote.  

Prosecutor alleges parents of Oxford High School shooting suspect left gun unlocked and failed to take action on reports of disturbing behavior at school. The mother allegedly wrote in a text to him after one report: "lol I'm not mad at you, you have to learn not to get caught" pic.twitter.com/BiR9VTu1U7

— CBS News (@CBSNews) December 3, 2021

During the press conference, McDonald also outlined a timeline of key events on the day of the shooting: In the morning, one of Ethan Crumbley’s teachers found a drawing on his desk of a semiautomatic, a bullet, and a bleeding figure that so disturbed her she took a photo of it. The drawing allegedly contained the words, “the thoughts won’t stop, help me” and “blood everywhere.” 

James and Jennifer Crumbley were summoned for a meeting with school authorities and their son. The two parents “failed to ask their son if he had his gun with him or where his gun was located and failed to inspect his backpack for the presence of the gun which he had with him,” McDonald said. They also resisted the idea of their son leaving the school. 

When the news of the shooting had been made public, Jennifer Crumbley allegedly texted her son: “Ethan, don’t do it.” James Crumbley later called 9-1-1, saying that a gun was missing from his home and that he believed his son may be the shooter, according to McDonald.

McDonald said that the gun was stored unlocked in James and Jennifer Crumbley’s bedroom. But Michigan is one of many states that lacks a law requiring gun owners to lock away their firearms. Gun control advocates have pushed for such statutes, called child-access prevention laws, but have consistently run into strong opposition from guns rights groups like the National Rifle Association, which instead favor safety campaigns aimed at educating children and their parents. In 2017, NRA spokesperson Jennifer Baker said that her organization opposes “one-size fits all government mandates” and claimed that existing laws are enough. 

“I have tremendous compassion and empathy for parents who have children struggling,” McDonald said during the press conference. “I am, by no means, saying that an active shooter situation should always result in a criminal prosecution against parents. But the facts of this case are so egregious.”

If convicted, James and Jennifer Crumbley could face up to 15 years in prison. 

Twitter’s New Privacy Policy Is Making It Harder to Spread Warnings About Online Fascists

On Tuesday, Twitter rolled out an update to its privacy policy that bans people from posting certain “images or videos of private individuals without their consent.” Many journalists and researchers immediately lambasted the new so-called “private information policy,” including activists who use the platform to spread documentation of far-right movements and their supporters.

“This is absolutely intended to make it more difficult to show our work when calling out identified fascists, and it’s an invitation for Nazis to go back through antifascist accounts and retroactively report shit to get us banned,” tweeted independent extremism researcher Gwen Snyder.  

Twitter’s lack of clarity is exploited by extremists.

Within days, those concerns were vindicated. By Thursday morning, Snyder had been locked out of her own Twitter account, and met with a prompt asking her to delete, as she wrote in a Tweet explaining the lockout, a “May 2019 thread documenting a public Proud Boys rally attended by the GOP Philly mayoral candidate & Capitol riot defendant Zach Rehl,” if she wanted to regain access. 

Chad Loder, another independent extremism researcher and activist, has identified about a dozen similar Twitter users, including himself, who have been locked out of their accounts under the new policy. Loder has compiled records of posts that triggered the suspensions—they include tweets that capture right-wing extremists planning an assault, contain footage of public rallies, and document Alex Jones’s political contributions, among other things.

When I asked Twitter about Snyder’s ban, they soon responded to say that her tweet was not actually a violation of its rules and that forcing her to delete it was an error. But as Snyder warned, and her experience seemingly demonstrates, the far-right has already taken advantage of Twitter’s new policy to target people who are keeping an eye on them. The Washington Post found one white power and Nazi sympathizer account on the chat platform Telegram that was urging followers to use the rule and report a list of 50 Twitter accounts. I was able to find other far-right Telegram channels sharing the same list, and other accounts pushing followers to file reports with Twitter targeting activist and researcher accounts.

Twitter has argued that its new policy mitigates serious harms that outweigh the damage caused by restrictions on users’ ability to conduct and share research. In a Tuesday post announcing the policy, the company wrote that “misuse of private media can affect everyone, but can have a disproportionate effect on women, activists, dissidents, and members of minority communities.” In an emailed statement elaborating on the claim, Twitter suggested the policy could target users who shared private images of a rape victim, potentially revealing their identity. It’s unclear why Twitter had not already made a specific policy banning such images and videos. A spokesperson did not reply to a request for clarification before publication. 

As Matthew Ingram points out in the Columbia Journalism Review, Twitter’s new rules are vague and ill-defined. This ambiguity leaves them ripe for manipulation and uneven enforcement. Images and video of “public figures” may be treated differently under the new rules, though Twitter did not specify what a public figure is or specifically when content of them will be exempt and when it won’t.  

The policy seemingly tries to draw carve-outs for people using the platform as a journalistic tool by exempting things like “eyewitness accounts or on the ground reports from developing events” and posts that “add value to the public discourse or are shared in the public interest.” Sometimes, deciding what this is will be clear. Often it won’t be, leaving Twitter to attempt to delineate what is and isn’t in the public interest and what deserves privacy. For now, that lack of clarity is being exploited by extremists.

The Democrats Have a Discipline Dilemma

For 45 seconds, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) bit her lip, leveled her gaze, and held her cellphone steady before a pair of microphones as a hateful voicemail unfurled from its speaker. “We see you, Muslim sand nigger bitch,” a low voice mumbled, adding “piece of shit” and “jihadist” to his string of epithets. The caller predicted Omar “will not live much longer,” claiming “plenty” would “love the opportunity to take you off the face of the fucking Earth.”

The menacing message is one of the hundreds of threats that have been made on Omar’s life during her three years in Congress—threats that multiply in the wake of high-profile anti-Muslim attacks, such as the one launched by Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.). During an event in her district last week, Boebert falsely claimed she had once paused before getting into an elevator with Omar until verifying “she doesn’t have a backpack,” a thinly veiled insinuation that Omar could be carrying a bomb.

Omar shared the incendiary voicemail during a Capitol Hill press conference she held with Reps. André Carson (D-Ind.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Congress’ only other Muslim members, to call upon Republican House leadership to hold Boebert accountable for her actions. “To suggest I will blow up the Capitol—it is not just an attack on me, but on millions of American Muslims across this country,” Omar said. “It is time for the Republican party to finally do something—to confront anti-Muslim hatred in its ranks and hold those who perpetuate it accountable.”

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) stood to the right of the lectern in solidarity with his Muslim colleagues as they spoke and wrapped an arm around Omar when she left. Later that evening, he issued a statement demanding that the Colorado lawmaker be stripped of her committee assignments. The next day, fellow Squad member Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) called for the same—as did the leaders of House Democrats’ influential identity caucuses.

Boebert tweeted an apology to “anyone in the Muslim community” on Monday and promised to reach out to speak with Omar directly. The exchange ended badly: Omar hung up on Boebert when, according to Omar, the Colorado lawmaker tried to “double down on her [anti-Muslim] rhetoric.” House Democratic leadership has not yet decided how to hold Boebert accountable for her actions. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), the House’s fourth-ranking Democrat, promised reporters yesterday that they will take action to punish her, but didn’t specify how.

That’s because doing so comes with risks. Any punishment Democrats choose could easily backfire—either by providing more ammunition for future dangerous behavior or turning Boebert into a martyr, thereby strengthening her political position. “This is hard,” Pelosi told her caucus in a closed-door meeting Wednesday, Axios reported, “because these people are doing it for the publicity.”

Islamophobia has been a fixture of the American political landscape since 9/11 but has taken on fresh relevance in the House as right-wing lawmakers like Boebert and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) make anti-Muslim rhetoric a centerpiece of their nascent congressional tenures. And coping with this violent rhetoric is a problem that is showing no signs of fading.

In February, House Democrats ejected Greene from her committee assignments for online behavior suggesting the first-term Republican supported the execution of high-profile Democrats, such as Pelosi and former President Barack Obama. Democratic leadership took similar action against Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) in November with a vote that both censured the Arizona lawmaker and stripped him of his committee assignments for posting a violent anime video that depicted him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). Rising to Gosar’s defense, Boebert delivered an unhinged diatribe on the House floor that deflected attention to Omar—whom she described as a member of the “Jihad Squad” and, among other falsehoods, accused the Minnesota lawmaker of being married to her brother.

“It seems like every week, we’re having to respond to a Republican member of Congress doing or saying something that’s, in my opinion, complete insanity.”

“It seems like every week,Bowman told me, “we’re having to respond to a Republican member of Congress doing or saying something that’s, in my opinion, complete insanity.”

The last Republican to be punished for such inflammatory rhetoric was former Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who was removed from his committee assignments for his comments questioning the offensiveness of white supremacy in 2019. But, unlike the cases of Gosar and Greene, King had been disciplined by his own party. House minority leader Kevin McCarthy called King’s comments “definitely not American” and explained the punishment as “a very strong stance about that.” In contrast, this year, McCarthy has sat back and watched Democrats take the lead, framing the opposing party’s rebukes as an effort to silence conservatives. “There’s an old definition of abuse of power: rules for thee but not for me,” McCarthy repeatedly said in the wake of the vote.

“I think it’s ridiculous—it shouldn’t be on us to take care of it,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told me Wednesday. “The Republican leader should be the one who’s reprimanding his own caucus stripping her committee assignments.” But, if McCarthy is unwilling to act, “we might have to be the ones to do it.”

Without a public response from McCarthy, Democratic leadership has slow-walked any official retaliation in hopes of pressuring him to act. In a statement last week, Pelosi criticized House Republican leadership for its “repeated failure to condemn inflammatory and bigoted rhetoric.” But further condemnation at the hands of Democrats could actually embolden Republicans to continue—and perhaps even escalate—such conduct. The Speaker cautioned against any action that would “contribute to their fundraising” or draw further attention to “how obnoxious and disgusting they can be.” 

Pelosi and her leadership team have discussed bringing forward a House resolution that condemns Islamophobia, an indirect rebuke of Boebert that may be less likely to produce the martyr status the right seeks. Such a move would follow the contours of a resolution Democrats brought to condemn “anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism and other forms of bigotry,” in the wake of Omar’s criticism of Israel in early 2019. She had questioned the influence of the pro-Israel lobby at a Congressional Progressive Caucus event in February 2019, comparing its influence to the fossil fuel industry and the National Rifle Association.

But Omar’s allies feel that Democrats should still seek a more severe punishment, such as removal from her congressional committees. “That language, that behavior can’t be normalized,” Bowman told reporters on Wednesday afternoon. “It literally leads to an increase in death threats for Congresswoman Omar. People are in jail right now as a result of credible death threats.” On Thursday afternoon, 38 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus issued a statement in which they slam Boebert for “repeatedly weaponiz[ing] dangerous, anti-Muslim bigotry.” Anything short of strenuous disciplinary action, their statement said, “creates a dangerous work environment and furthers a climate of toxicity and intolerance.”

Democratic leadership has yet to publicly respond to that letter. Whatever action they ultimately take competes with a long to-do list Democrats have vowed to complete before year’s end—including raising the debt ceiling, funding the government, and passing Biden’s domestic agenda. But, as Omar said during her press conference on Monday, the action lawmakers take against Boebert could be a matter of life and death. As she noted, “We cannot pretend that this hate speech from leading politicians does not have real consequence.”

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