Mother Jones Magazine

Insurrectionist Anti-Vax Doctor Simone Gold Was Just Sentenced to 60 Days in Prison

For most of the past year, Simone Gold, a prominent Covid misinformation spreader who is both an emergency room doctor and Stanford-educated lawyer, has insisted that she is the victim of a political prosecution after she was arrested and indicted for helping storm the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. Her organization, America’s Frontline Doctors, has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from her supporters who believe her claims that the government is just trying to silence her views on mask mandates, vaccines, and other pandemic responses. 

On Thursday, however, that “free speech” campaign came back to haunt her as a federal judge in the US District Court for the District of Columbia sentenced her to 60 days in prison for her role in storming the Capitol. Gold had spent more than 45 minutes inside the Capitol that day, and as she stood on a statue of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Capitol Rotunda used a bullhorn to rally the crowd with a speech promoting bogus Covid cures. In March, Gold pleaded guilty to the most serious misdemeanor in the indictment, and in a sentencing memo, her lawyers said she was deeply remorseful for her actions at the Capitol. The prosecution, they said, threatened her medical license and had even put her on the no-fly list, hampering her ability to make a living on the speaking circuit she’s been on for the past year. (She had to drive to DC from Florida for the hearing.) They cited her elite professional credentials as a reason that she should receive time served and probation for her crime. 

But US District Court Judge Christopher Cooper was not persuaded by Gold’s credentials nor her claims of remorse for her actions. “You were not just a casual bystander,” Cooper told her, noting that he didn’t believe that she had “truly accepted responsibility” for her role in the riot that day.

As evidence, he pointed to fundraising language on her group’s website calling her prosecution a “political prosecution” and an attack on free speech. He also read from several of the dozens of nearly identical letters he has received from her supporters all claiming that Gold had done nothing more than exercise her free speech rights. Her group’s website site, he said, is “mischaracterizing what this proceeding is all about. That’s not why we’re here. January 6th was not about free speech or Covid.” He told Gold that while he had heard a great deal about this from her and her supporters, “What I haven’t heard is anything about the five people who died that day, the four people who commit suicide” because of the trauma of the event, or the terrorized members of Congress and their staff who were in the building being threatened by the mob she was part of. 

During the hearing, Cooper disclosed that he had also received a letter from Kristina Lawson, the president of the California board of medicine, which is considering revoking Gold’s medical license. Lawson urged him to throw the book at Gold, who she alleged has organized a major harassment campaign against her since her indictment on the January 6 related charges. “Her actions have provoked and inspired menacing threats against me from individuals across the country,” Lawson wrote. “I have been stalked and accosted at my home and place of employment, causing great anxiety and fear. Through Simone Gold’s acts of attempted intimidation, she continues to seek to undermine public officials and the role of our government as she did with her participation in the violent insurrection on January 6, 2021.”

As evidence, she pointed to a video Gold produced and released in March 2022 that depicts Lawson as a Nazi with a swastika on her arm. Lawson also said Gold had encouraged her 400,000 Twitter followers to call and email Lawson, which resulted in death threats—all of which happened after she pleaded guilty to a federal misdemeanor for illegally entering the US Capitol. 

“Since December 6, 2021, not a day goes by that I don’t look over my shoulder wondering if I am being followed. I have had to hire private security to ensure my safety, and the safety of my family and my colleagues,” Lawson wrote. “Simone Gold and her organization have actively targeted me because I am a public official. She orchestrated a series of terrorizing events in an attempt to intimidate me and silence me. Consistent with the crimes she committed on January 6, 2021, over the course of the past six months she has attempted to impede and obstruct California’s legal processes by targeting and terrorizing me. She is dangerous and must be stopped.” The letter was sensational, and even Gold’s lawyers seemed to want it entered into the record because it proved their argument that Gold was at risk of losing her medical license because of the prosecution, but Cooper said the correspondence wasn’t related to the charges before him and involved fact-finding he wasn’t authorized to do, so it would not impact his sentencing decision. 

“She has attempted to impede and obstruct California’s legal processes by targeting and terrorizing me. She is dangerous and must be stopped.”

Gold’s truthfulness was a central issue in the hearing. A few days after the insurrection, she had given an interview to the Washington Post in which she claimed that her location at the Capitol that day was “incredibly peaceful.” But prosecutors played a video in court that was anything but peaceful. It showed the violent mob that Gold was at the front of, pushing through a broken door into the west side of the Capitol. The mob pushed a police officer to the ground in front of her. Yet Gold continued to claim she hadn’t seen the officer go down. “I find it implausible that you didn’t see that,” Cooper said, noting that in fact, Gold used the opportunity of the officer’s fall to advance into the building.

Noting that she had impressive professional credentials, including her Stanford law degree, which she had cited in her sentencing memo as a reason why she should not be sent to jail, Cooper said those credentials were in fact evidence that she should have known better. “I think you well knew what you were doing,” he said.

The probation officer investigating her case had pushed for a six-month sentence because of issues he’d had with her honesty. He disclosed that when an officer tried to conduct a home visit as part of a presentencing investigation, he discovered that the address Gold had provided was that of a UPS store in Florida. Her lawyer claimed in court that Gold had made a mistake and that she had given the fake address because she had experienced death threats and was wary of giving anyone her home address. Gold, who had lived in Beverly Hills, California, for many years, relocated to Naples, Florida, after claiming to be traumatized by her arrest at gunpoint at her California home last year. But the probation officer said that Gold’s lawyer was aware of the error but did not correct it until his office contacted her days later.

In a high, quiet voice very different from the one she uses in her fiery public speeches, Gold addressed the judge before he sentenced her. A half dozen of her supporters were in the courtroom to watch, repeatedly violating the mask rules and getting chastised by the marshals. Gold described her upbringing as the child of a Holocaust survivor and physician who raised his children to serve others, and who impressed on her the Jewish value of saving a life, a reason she decided to practice medicine. “I’m just trying my best. I was imperfect. I try to help people,” she said, choking up. “I’m shocked that the government thinks I’m not remorseful.” She insisted that she had already suffered from her actions because “the punishments will chase me forever.”

But Cooper was unmoved. “I find it unseemly that your organization is raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for its operations and your salary based on your participation in January 6. It does a real disservice to the victims of that day.”

Gold showed little emotion as Cooper sentenced her to 60 days in federal prison, and imposed a fine of $9,500, payable to the Architect of the Capitol to help compensate for the more than $2 million in damages the building suffered there during the insurrection. In his parting words, Cooper told Gold, “Good luck to you.” 

How Many Times Can Someone Pop Up in an Investigation Before They’re Asked in for Questioning?

This story has been updated to include John Eastman’s Jun. 16 statement.

The January 6 committee just announced that it plans to invite right-wing activist and Supreme Court spouse Ginni Thomas for questioning after months of stating that it was unlikely to solicit her testimony. The about-face occurred after the New York Times reported that she’d been in contact with lawyer John Eastman as he sought a legal basis to keep Trump in power. 

“At this point, the information we have come upon…it’s time for us to invite her to come and talk,” committee leader Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) told reporters Thursday.

This will no doubt trigger howls of condemnation from Republicans, who will claim that it’s yet another indication of the partisan skew of the (bipartisan) committee’s investigation. But at this point, it’s difficult to figure out what else the committee could have done. 

Like an antidemocratic muppet, Thomas has continually popped up in the background of the committee’s investigation, spouting QAnon talking points to some of the most powerful people in Trump’s inner circle. She also played what we journalists like to call an “active role” in pressuring state legislators to overturn the will of the voters. 

If you need a refresher, here’s what we know about her activities in the lead-up to January 6:

  • In texts, she urged Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows to overturn the election, citing a slew of extreme, QAnon-related conspiracy theories. 
  • She emailed 29—as in 20 + 9—Arizona state legislators, pushing them to throw out the popular vote and send an alternate slate of electors to the Senate, the Washington Post reported. 
  • As noted above, she reportedly corresponded with lawyer John Eastman as he orchestrated a legal campaign to keep Trump in power, although the exact content of her emails has yet to emerge. In a Substack post published on Jun. 16, Eastman denied that he had discussed with either of the Thomases matters “pending or likely to come before the Court” and claimed that Ginni Thomas had instead asked him to give an “update about election litigation to a group she met with periodically.” 
  • She literally attended the Stop the Steal rally on the ellipse but left before other attendees got violent. She claims that she was “cold.” 

It’s important to note that there’s still a greater-than-zero chance that the role Ginni Thomas played in the plot to overturn the 2020 election turns out to be a distraction. The revelations about Thomas’ behavior seem to show a sincere but floundering effort to keep Trump in power. In her email blast to Arizona lawmakers, Thomas didn’t, it seems, depend on her (frighteningly) extensive connections to the conservative elite but on FreeRoots, which the Washington Post described as an “online platform intended to make it easy to send pre-written emails to multiple elected officials.” Nevertheless, an incompetent coup attempt is still a coup attempt, and an ineffective coup-plotter is still a coup-plotter.

In addition, there’s still no hard evidence that Clarence Thomas had been aware of his wife’s activities or that they affected his rulings. Justice Thomas, after all, agreed with his fellow Supreme Court justices when they rejected an infamous post-election lawsuit filed by Trump supporters, although he was the sole public dissenter in a subsequent decision that forced the release of Trump’s records to the January 6 committee. 

The January 6 committee has been tasked with investigating the events that led to the attack on the Capitol and the sprawling effort of Trump’s inner circle to subvert the transfer of power. Nothing could be more germane to that goal than interviewing a Supreme Court spouse who engaged in a truly unprecedented pressure campaign to overturn the 2020 election, regardless of whether her ultimate role turns out to have been peripheral. 

A Fugitive Chinese Mogul Spent Big to Overturn the 2020 Election

A fugitive Chinese mogul who has worked closely with Steve Bannon—and who is under federal investigation for fraud—spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to support efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

Through a series of opaque financial transactions, a company controlled by the exiled businessman Guo Wengui spent more than $400,000 for hundreds of his supporters to take part in a November 14, 2020, rally in Washington promoting Donald Trump’s false claims of election fraud. The company also gave $100,000 to an organization run by prominent pro-Trump attorney Lin Wood—apparently to finance litigation that was aimed at reversing Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia. These payments are detailed in receipts, wire transfer records, and WhatsApp messages obtained by Mother Jones.

Wood said in interviews that the $100,000 donation to his nonprofit, the Fightback Foundation, was arranged by Bannon, the former Trump adviser and influential right-wing media figure. According to Wood, Bannon claimed the money came from a donor in Illinois. Documentation obtained by Mother Jones indicates that the funds came originally from Guo. Bannon did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did Guo and his attorney.

Guo’s backers distributed fliers that read, “Jesus is king; Trump is President.”

Guo is a former Chinese real estate developer—once ranked as the 74th richest person in China—who fled that country in 2014 ahead of corruption and other charges there. After arriving in New York, he set up shop in a lavish Manhattan apartment and gained attention by launching a torrent of unsubstantiated accusations of corruption and sexual misconduct by Chinese Communist Party elites.

Partnering with Bannon, Guo launched Chinese-language media companies and developed a sprawling network of zealous backers from the Chinese diaspora, including club-like organizations in the United States and cities around the world. Guo uses that network to raise capital for various business ventures—a fashion company, crypto currency—and to advance often bizarre conspiracy theories about China, Covid, and US politics. The New Federal State of China, launched in 2020 by Guo and Bannon, purports to be a government-in-waiting, ready to replace the Chinese Communist Party, which Guo claims is poised to collapse. As Mother Jones has reported, Guo and his backers aggressively supported Trump in 2020, promoting false claims about Chinese influence over Hunter Biden and publishing sexually explicit material from Hunter’s laptop. In 2021 Guo promoted the unfounded conspiracy theory that Chinese hackers had switched votes from Trump to Biden.

The new information shows that Guo played a previously unreported role in financing the promotion of false election fraud claims in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s defeat. Guo’s spending on these efforts was not against the law. But Guo—a divisive figure with extensive legal problems—had ample reason to seek Trump’s favor. Guo is pursuing political asylum in the United States. If denied, he could face deportation and probable imprisonment in China. He was then, and remains, under investigation by US federal prosecutors for possible fraud and other malfeasance. Since 2020, the US Security and Exchange Commission has also been investigating his role in what it has said was an illegal public offering by a Guo media company. The SEC forced three companies linked to Guo to pay a $539 million settlement last year. According to two sources with knowledge of the probe, the commission is continuing to investigate Guo personally.

Guo has also been accused in lawsuits filed by former business partners and Chinese dissidents of working as a Chinese agent while posing as a CCP critic. No court has ruled on the legitimacy of those allegations, and Guo denies them. He denies all allegations of fraud and other wrongdoing, as well.

The November 14, 2020, rally—dubbed the “Million MAGA March” and loosely organized by a disparate group of far-right figures—was one of several large demonstrations in DC in which Trump supporters promoted the false claim that the election had been stolen. These events culminated in the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Peaceful during daylight, the November rally, which attracted tens of thousands of Trump backers, was followed by nighttime violence involving members of the neofascist Proud Boys. No Guo supporters have been accused of engaging in illegal conduct on November 14, and there is no evidence that Guo had any connection to the violence that weekend.

Guo spent heavily to ensure his New Federal State of China would have a presence at the November rally. The documentation obtained by Mother Jones shows that a company controlled by Guo paid vendors who provided equipment for an NFSC event that day in which Guo’s supporters praised Trump and condemned the Chinese government. 

This included a $46,000 payment to a Maryland company to rent a stage, a large LED screen, a sound system, lights, and a tent. According to the contract, these items were originally supposed to be set up in Freedom Plaza, where thousands of pro-Trump rally-goers gathered at the start of the Million MAGA March. For unclear reasons, Guo’s backers instead ended up using a space about half a mile south of Freedom Plaza, on the National Mall near the Washington Monument. The Guo-controlled company paid another $10,000 for a DJ. It paid $139,000 to rent studio space from which Guo supporters broadcast a livestream during the rally. The CEO of the firm that rented out the space said they “have declined to do any further business with the company” after learning that Guo was behind the event.

The livestream emphasized the Guo backers’ role in the Million MAGA March. It showed his fans in Freedom Plaza, holding anti-CCP signs. On the Mall, a larger group of Guo’s followers, clad in matching blue New Federal State of China hoodies and hats, held pro-Trump signs by the Washington Monument. One video shows the group dancing to a version of “YMCA”—a Trump rally mainstay—with MAGA-inspired lyrics. Guo, from Manhattan, appeared on the livestream, at one point declaring the rally was held “to support the president.”

“All the expenses for this Washington event were paid in advance by my personal company.”

The Guo-controlled company paid more than $300,000 to transport around 250 Guo supporters to the rally and to tout their presence there. That included $130,000 for transportation, hotel rooms, and $300 per diems. Guo’s backers at the rally highlighted the NFSC’s support for Trump, distributing fliers that read, “Jesus is king; Trump is President,” with the organization’s logo and flag beneath.

In addition, the firm paid $150,000 for 50 trucks with advertising displays. It spent another $30,000 on a separate set of 10 trucks with digital billboards. Images from the day show that these ads displayed a combination of pro-Trump and anti-CCP messages as the trucks traveled around downtown DC. In one video montage, trucks with displays that read “Uphold the Constitution” and “President Trump, American Hero” passed the Tidal Basin. One vendor familiar with those rentals said that Guo’s backers had secured “as many trucks as they could” and noted that renting 60 trucks for a single event “is unheard of in this industry.” 

Guo and his backers used multiple organizations to make arrangements for November 14. For instance, one company owned by a Guo associate in New York signed contracts with some of the vendors. On another contract, “Rule of Law”—a reference to nonprofits launched by Guo and Bannon in 2019—is listed as the client. Another limited liability corporation that Guo controlled then paid the vendors. Guo did not legally own that firm, but in WhatsApp messages obtained by Mother Jones, Guo’s personal assistant, and occasionally Guo himself, directed the payments. “All the expenses for this Washington event were paid in advance by my personal company,” Guo said in a November 13 audio message in Chinese to a group of his employees and supporters, referring to the LLC. 

According to people who have worked with him, complex financial arrangements are standard practice for Guo. He officially owns almost nothing, with assets like his yacht nominally owned by family members or other associates through offshore companies. In February, Guo, who is often identified as a billionaire in press reports, filed for bankruptcy, claiming to have virtually no assets, along with up to $500 million in debts. Creditors and judges have questioned these claims, suggesting Guo is hiding assets to avoid repaying what he owes. 

Guo’s support for efforts to overturn the election went beyond simply funding a rally. Transaction records reveal that on December 3, 2020, the same company that had paid vendors for the November 14 event wired $100,000 to the Fightback Foundation, a nonprofit run by Wood, the pro-Trump lawyer. In a note accompanying the wire transfer, the person who sent it indicated it was for “DC RENTING.”

In interviews with Mother Jones, Wood confirmed that his group received this payment. But he said the Fightback Foundation had no involvement with the November 14 rally or any events in Washington. Wood said the donation was instead meant to support a federal lawsuit he filed in November 2020 which aimed to overturn Biden’s victory in Georgia by alleging the state’s mail-in ballot procedures were illegal. Wood said he does not know why the wire transfer indicated otherwise.

According to Wood, Bannon called him shortly after Election Day in 2020 and said he could help arrange donations to finance Wood’s litigation. Wood recounted that Bannon said he could provide up to $5 million and asked: “How much do you need?” Bannon later called back, Wood recalled, and announced he had found a donor in Chicago “who wants to give $100,000.” (The Guo-controlled company that made the wire transfer was incorporated in Chicago.)

Wood told Mother Jones that he found the donation suspicious—”it smelled like a rat”—and decided to put the money in escrow. After a year, however, Wood’s organization transferred the money into its general fund. Another person who worked with Wood at Fightback, who asked not to be identified, also said that Wood in 2020 had mentioned Bannon’s involvement and that Wood had expressed suspicion about the money at the time. “We were just unsure of its origin,” the person said.

Wood said that Mother Jones‘ inquiry validated his initial concern about the donation. The real source of the money, he said, “was probably Guo.”

America Can Cut Emissions in Half by 2030—if We Choose To

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

You can’t see them or hear them, but there are huge, hidden forces propelling the United States into the energy future. Last year, the Biden administration committed to eliminating half the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, a critical step in fighting climate change. Half sounds like a lot—and it is—but scientists think it’s doable. 

Different teams have modeled how exactly this decarbonization might play out—by rolling out more solar and wind energy, for example, and more electric vehicles—and landed on several paths to cutting emissions in half in the next eight years.

A new paper in the journal Science took six of these scenarios and found that they share several major points: the keys to a clean-energy future. “Reducing our emissions by 50 percent is technically feasible, it’s economically viable, and there are massive additional benefits,” says Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory energy economist Nikit Abhyankar, a coauthor of the paper. “So this is what we call a no-regrets strategy.”

The first area where those scenarios agree is that we’ll have to target the power and transportation sectors. To halve emissions, Abhyankar says, by 2030 the US grid will need to be running on about 80 percent carbon-free electricity (including hydropower and nuclear power), up from 40 percent today. The good news is that we’re already heading in that direction. In recent years, the US has been making significant progress in its effort to ditch coal for natural gas power plants. Yes, that gas is still a fossil fuel that spews carbon, but not nearly as much as coal. 

Meanwhile, the costs of solar and wind energy are cratering. The price of solar technology has dropped 99 percent in the past four decades. And it’s getting less expensive for homeowners and utilities to store renewable energy: Between 1995 and 2018, the production of lithium-ion batteries jumped 30 percent per year while getting 12 percent cheaper each year. Earlier this month, the California utility PG&E commissioned a battery storage system that can provide power to over 200,000 homes for four hours. For homeowners, Tesla’s (very expensive) Powerwall battery can both charge a car and power a home during an outage, providing some independence from the grid.

“What we found is this transition might also avoid over 200,000 premature deaths,” and $800 billion to $1 trillion in healthcare costs.

The bigger challenge is the grid itself. The switch to renewables is happening on ancient infrastructure designed for on-demand energy generation—if you need more electricity, you burn more fossil fuels. The US grid is also actually three distinct grids with little interconnection: eastern and western grids, and one just for Texas. That means if demand spikes in one region and the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing there, operators can’t import large amounts of power from elsewhere. This is the intermittency challenge of renewables: They’re critical to fighting climate change, but the grid just isn’t designed for them

But, Abhyankar says, wind and solar power has gotten so cheap, and energy extraction so much more efficient, that this may not be a big problem in the short term. Extremely efficient panels and turbines can still generate enough electricity to make economic sense, even for regions that don’t have the number of sunny days Phoenix has, or the wind the Midwest has. That opens up the option of generating green energy locally, instead of having to import it across state lines. “Contrary to the conventional way of planning the grid—where you’ll choose the best of the best resource, site the renewable capacity there, and carry that electricity long distances—that trend has started changing because of the falling costs,” says Abhyankar. “And that might play a major role up to 2030 or so.”

That said, he adds that it’s not a permanent solution. A future grid that runs entirely on renewables needs to be more flexible, since operators won’t be able to burn fossil fuels to fill temporary gaps between energy demand and generation. (At night during a heat wave, for instance, people could be running lots of air conditioners, but there would be no sun to power them.) That means the infrastructure must be rebuilt to make it capable of shuttling renewable power over long distances. “In the long run, though, there’s just no alternative: We have to upgrade the transmission,” he says. 

EVs may also prove to be valuable assets for smoothing out power supply and demand by forming a distributed network of car batteries that—along with home solar panels—grid operators could tap into when needed. “If we could leverage the batteries from electrical vehicles or batteries in homes, for instance, or if we could operate the rooftop [photovoltaics] of a set of customers and have them coordinate to provide a certain service to support our transmission network, that would absolutely help in trying to cope with intermittency,” says Patricia Hidalgo-Gonzalez, who is director of the Renewable Energy and Advanced Mathematics Laboratory at UC San Diego and wasn’t involved in the new paper. “That could alleviate the stress in the grid very dramatically as we have more and more renewables.”

The studies agreed on two more points: the economic and health benefits of decarbonization. Every step of the fossil fuel lifecycle, from extraction to processing to burning, is terrible for the human body. “There are massive non-economic benefits,” Abhyankar says of transitioning to clean energy. “What we found is this transition might also avoid over 200,000 premature deaths, and over $800 billion to a trillion dollars of other health [costs].” As more cars go electric, for example, air quality will improve, reducing the number of people affected by respiratory diseases. 

The final point of agreement among the studies Abhyankar and his colleagues reviewed is that it’s not the expense that will hold back the deployment of renewables, batteries, and EVs. “The key point is: Cost is not going to be very high,” says Abhyankar. “In fact, some studies found it might result in significant consumer savings.” For instance, although putting solar panels on a home can be a costly upgrade—especially without a significant tax rebate—in the long run it will save the homeowner money. 

The Build Back Better program would have juiced the manufacturing of renewable tech, but Sen. Joe Manchin torpedoed it.

Instead, the stumbling block is the policies needed to deploy them at a wider scale. Even though Democrats currently control Congress and the White House, they’ve struggled to pass substantial climate legislation. The Build Back Better program would have juiced the manufacturing of renewable tech in the US, among other climate benefits, but West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin torpedoed it. “It comes as absolutely no surprise that we’re nowhere near on track of meeting our target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by roughly half by 2030,” says environmental economist Mark Paul of the New College of Florida. “I think that everybody across the climate and policy community is well aware that we’re going to absolutely blow past those targets, unless we have sizable action in Washington.”

And everywhere, for that matter. For instance, states could mandate that more of their energy generation come from renewables, while the feds could give bigger tax rebates for people to buy EVs and cities could invest in charging stations for them, especially in lower-income neighborhoods

Another bottleneck, Paul says, is the lack of skilled labor to deploy and maintain solar and wind systems, and energy-saving home technologies like heat pumps. Public investments in trade schools could help boost this workforce. “This actually presents a pretty profound economic opportunity to revitalize the American working class that’s been struggling,” says Paul. “We just need policy to steer the ship in the right direction and ensure that this transition happens as quickly as possible.”

Why Haven’t We Figured Out How to Make IUDs Less Excruciating?

On a scale of 1 to 10, Sarah Holzer considered the pain of breaking her tailbone a definite 10. That is, until 12 years later, when, at 27, she went in for her IUD insertion. She was nervous as she waited in the doctor’s office, having heard from friends that it might be painful, but she had been assured at her previous appointment that it would be just a quick pinch. When it came time for the procedure, the nurse held down her shoulders, pinning her to the table, and that was when Holzer realized it was really going to hurt. She ended up blacking out from the pain. Immediately afterward, she threw up. “Once I got an IUD,” she told me, her pain scale changed. “A bone break to me is maybe now like a 2.”

It sounds extreme, but Holzer isn’t exaggerating—and she isn’t alone

The IUD is one of the most effective birth-control devices on the market, and the copper version is the only widely available nonhormonal option besides barrier methods like condoms or diaphragms. According to the CDC, more than 8 percent of women ages 15 to 49 are using IUDs, or intrauterine devices, as of 2019.

“Once I got an IUD,” she told me, her pain scale changed. “A bone break to me is maybe now like a 2.”

IUDs were initially popular in the US in the 1970s, until problems with the Dalkon Shield IUD led to widespread fear of the devices and the misconception that they were all dangerous. (While there were infections and unintended pregnancies related to Dalkon Shield, IUDs today are considered incredibly safe.) They became widely used again in the last decade, after the Affordable Care Act helped to bring down their costs for many patients. And now, as anti-abortion activists continue their assault on abortion access, IUDs may soon become even more popular—because they can last for up to a decade. Dr. Christina Bourne, the medical director of Trust Women, which runs abortion clinics in Oklahoma and Kansas, estimates she has placed twice as many IUDs in the past month as she has in the past year.

Today, there are five types of IUDs available in the US. To place an IUD, a provider inserts a speculum and then usually uses a tenaculum, a device that resembles a pair of scissors with hooked ends, to stabilize the cervix before inserting the IUD through the opening of the cervix and into the uterus. The process takes about five minutes, but the experience of insertion can be excruciating.

Providers know this process can be extremely painful for some patients, but there has not been enough research on the topic to understand why this is the case. As a result, options on how to treat patients are limited. Aside from recommending that patients pop an ibuprofen beforehand, there are no comprehensive guidelines around how best to make the procedure more comfortable. Some providers use lidocaine gel or local anesthesia, and while a 2019 review found promising evidence that these strategies have the potential to lessen pain, not enough research has been done to make any one method the standard of care.

There are even some gynecologists who prescribe misoprostol prior to an IUD insertion. Misoprostol is a hormonal drug that is used to prevent stomach ulcers, but it is perhaps best known for its use in medication abortion to induce cramping that helps empty the uterus. The rationale is that it could help to dilate the cervix, reducing pain during the IUD procedure. But several studies have shown that the effects of misoprostol to ease the insertion process are insignificant, if it helps at all, and the side effects are often so awful that two days of misery negates any small possibility that the pills might aid the insertion process. Dr. Leah Torres, medical director of West Alabama Women’s Center, says she does not use misoprostol as pre-treatment for IUDs for this reason. “In medicine, decisions regarding interventions should be made weighing benefits against risks,” Torres says. “In this case, the risks—unpleasant side effects—seem to outweigh the benefits.”

Essentially, providers are left to do the best they can with the tools they have, and women are expected to endure the pain, says Katherine Winters, a nurse midwife in Seattle. It is “frustrating,” she says, “that I don’t have better options to provide to people that just want good birth control.”

“I absolutely believe that if men were the ones getting IUDs, the procedure would look a lot different by now.”

There are still other barriers to potentially useful methods of pain management. For example, sedation isn’t commonly offered because it is too expensive for many patients and requires medical equipment many clinics don’t have. Laughing gas, which is commonly used in the UK for labor and minor procedures, could be an option, but is not widely used in the United States. Leena Nathan, the medical director of UCLA Community OBGYN Practices, has done IUD insertions on patients in an operating room before, especially when they are already undergoing another procedure, and believes that sedation is a good option for some people. Torres believes moderate sedation should be the default. “In my opinion, that this is not a default practice or option for IUD insertion speaks to the deeply rooted misogyny and patriarchal practices in medicine,” she says. “Outpatient clinics interested in and willing to incur additional costs should include this as an option for IUD insertions.”

Complicating matters further is that it’s not always certain a patient will feel any significant pain. Though Holzer’s ordeal isn’t atypical, it’s also common for patients to feel only slight discomfort, or even have very different experiences of insertions. Patients who have given birth vaginally tend to have an easier time than patients who haven’t because their cervix has dilated; one study estimates that about 17 percent of women who haven’t given birth vaginally experience substantial pain, compared with 11 percent with a previous vaginal delivery. Yet aside from childbirth history, it’s extremely difficult even for experienced providers to anticipate how a patient might react.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists admits that more research is needed. The authors of a 2019 review of pain interventions acknowledged, “In the modern era of medicine, our inability to recommend any positive treatment for pain relief with [IUD] placement creates professional discomfort,” to say nothing of the discomfort it causes actual patients. Yet despite the fact that practically everyone in the field agrees that IUD insertion pain is a giant problem without a good solution, very little work is being done to develop less painful, long-acting, reversible contraceptive options for women. Study after study has found that government agencies like the National Institutes of Health underfund medical research about women. Winters, the midwife, finds this unacceptable. “I absolutely believe that if men were the ones getting IUDs, the procedure would look a lot different by now,” she says.

 

 

 

The looming Supreme Court decision on abortion rights means it’s more important than even to remove barriers from access to contraception. And for people currently making decisions about contraception, the pressure is on.

Beyond the anecdotes of individual providers, research backs up the idea that potential shifts in reproductive policy can drive demand for IUDs. One study found that there was a 22 percent increase in long acting reversible contraception insertion rates in the month following the 2016 election—likely spurred by fears about what the new administration would do to the Affordable Care Act, and thus access to contraceptives, as well as the future of Roe. Many of the fears that led more patients to get IUDs in the wake of Trump’s election nearly six years ago are finally being realized, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see a similar or even greater uptick in patients interested in IUDs now

The reality that nearly half of all Americans live in states where abortion could be banned would be reason enough to drive more patients to seek out IUDs, but on top of that, birth control itself could be the next fight for the anti-abortion movement.

The reality that nearly half of all Americans live in states where abortion could be banned would be reason enough to drive more patients to seek out IUDs, but on top of the fears about how to manage an unwanted pregnancy, birth control itself could be the next fight for the anti-abortion movement. As my colleague Kiera Butler has reported, Christian activists who believe that birth control itself is a form of abortion are being bolstered by secular wellness influencers who have begun to promote a view of hormonal birth control as “unnatural.” 

IUDs in particular could be at risk because they can stop a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus and some people against abortion view fertilization as the point life begins. Some IUDs can also be used as an emergency contraceptive, which is another possible target for the anti-abortion movement. 

Oklahoma, for one, recently passed an abortion ban that starts at fertilization. And though that bill specifically carved out an exception for emergency contraception and IUDs, it lays the foundation to go further and provides a terrifying example of legislation that calls a fertilized egg an “unborn child,” at a time that comes before the scientific community would generally even consider a person to be pregnant, and at least 9 weeks before ACOG would even call the embryo a fetus. Then just last month, Missouri state Sen. Denny Hoskins said that “anything’s on the table,” in discussing his opposition to the emergency contraception Plan B. This comes after Missouri voted last year to ban state funding for contraceptives like Plan B and some IUDs. Though that language didn’t make the final bill, the Missouri Independent reported that there could be renewed energy for that fight once Roe is overturned.

The irony is that the IUD has been proven to be effective in curtailing abortion rates when access to them is expanded. When Colorado introduced a program in 2008 that removed financial barriers and improved overall access to IUDs, teen birth and abortion fell significantly, and the state avoided nearly $70 million in public assistance costs over five years. If pain weren’t a problem, who knows how many more women would benefit from IUDs? The loss is hard to quantify.

Also hard to quantify is the trauma that many patients experience during insertion—and how that can color a patient’s future health care interactions. When Holzer expressed how painful she had found her insertion, she recalls the physician assistant telling her, “I knew that if I was honest with you that you wouldn’t have actually gotten the IUD.” When Holzer left her doctor’s office, she sat in her car for an hour still reeling. “It made me very distrusting of anything any doctor ever says to me,” she says. “I really haven’t gone to the doctor that much since.”

Additional reporting from Becca Andrews.

Stop Spreading Those Deeply Misogynistic Rumors About Lauren Boebert

The political action committee that helped bring down Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) has released a series of salacious and likely false accusations against Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.)—and online liberals are eating it right up. But if the Cawthorn allegations, which centered around an explicit video, were fueled by homophobia, then the Boebert allegations are being fueled by a no less pernicious force: misogyny.

Several news sites in recent days have breathlessly amplified claims that Boebert had two abortions while working as a paid escort, a small news cycle that’s prompting loud accusations of hypocrisy from the blue-wave Twitter crowd. To be sure, these outlets have published unverified claims from a politically motivated organization as if they were facts, all in pretty clear violation of good journalistic practice. These claims come from a heavily redacted set of anonymous text messages sent to a member of the American Muckrakers PAC, without corroboration. And, as Will Sommer of the Daily Beast points out, one of the photos that the source characterized as being of Boebert is actually of another woman entirely—not exactly the mark of a trustworthy tipster.

Last month, I published a feature on Boebert, for which I interviewed many people who personally knew her. I had to sift through a lot of unverifiable information before deciding what to publish online. There was really no need for rumor-mongering about Boebert; the truth was dramatic enough. We know that Boebert was present on the night that a man exposed himself to two teenage girls at a bowling alley—then went on to marry him. We know that she denied responsibility for selling tainted pork sliders that had sickened 80 people at a local rodeo. And we know, as I reported, that she consistently failed to pay employees at her restaurant, Shooters Grill.

A lot of the criticism of Boebert is warranted, but she doesn’t deserve to be the victim of sexist tropes. After my story on Boebert was published, many self-professed liberals used misogynistic language to describe her. One commenter called her a “batshit crazy woman.” A Twitter user replied to the article link with the word “Skank!!!” A recent Reddit thread related to a follow-up post contained some comments too obscene to post here.

In promoting the explicit video of Cawthorn and pushing unverified abortion allegations against Boebert, the American Muckrakers claim that they’re demonstrating political hypocrisy. Cawthorn, the PAC’s co-founder said, deserved to be outed as having dressed in drag and made homoerotic jokes with his friends because he “holds himself to be above everybody.” But the group’s attempt at exposing hypocrisy really came off as a cynical play on voters’ homophobia. Sure, one could call Boebert a hypocrite for allegedly having abortions despite publicly opposing them. But accusing Boebert of having done sex work and gotten abortions involves an obvious layer of contempt, of shaming a woman for things that she shouldn’t have to be ashamed of—especially when there’s no shortage of actually shameful things to talk about. 

Keep in mind that Boebert once referred to her colleague Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) as the “jihad squad.” If the public outcry over her explicitly hateful comments wasn’t enough to get her to tone it down, I doubt the label of “hypocrite” will do the trick.

Insurrectionist Tells Judge Her Elite Credentials Should Keep Her Out of Prison

When Simone Gold was making her meteoric rise in the right-wing ecosphere, she never failed to mention in public appearances that she was both an emergency room doctor and a Stanford-educated lawyer. The credentials made her popular among anti-vaxxers, evangelicals, and others who supported her nonprofit, America’s Frontline Doctors (AFLDS), which she launched in opposition to pandemic lockdowns in 2020. Even after she pushed her way into the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, she yelled in the Rotunda, “I am a Stanford-educated attorney!” before giving speeches to passing rioters complaining about vaccine mandates and urging the use of the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine for Covid treatment. She spent an hour in the Capitol that day, pushing her way to the door of the House chamber as members of Congress fled the violent mob.

In March this year, even as Gold pleaded guilty to a federal misdemeanor for illegally entering a restricted building during the insurrection, she demanded that the judge refer to her as “doctor.” And now, as she awaits sentencing this week, she’s arguing that her elite professional credentials should keep her out of jail. The Justice Department disagrees. A sentencing memo filed by the government in the US District Court for the District of Columbia last week indicates that prosecutors are asking the judge to sentence Gold to 90 days in jail because of, not in spite of, her gold-plated resume. “The Court should reject any contention by Gold that her previous career as a doctor and her legal education are mitigating factors,” prosecutors wrote. “They are not.” 

Far from mitigating her crime, they argue, Gold’s professional credentials indicate that of all the people who joined in the mob at the insurrection that day, she should have known better. Not only did she fail to use her medical skills to help a Capitol police officer who had been pushed to the ground by the mob right in front of her as she entered the building, prosecutors write, but:

“Gold, having attended a premier law school, could be expected to have been amply aware that entering the US Capitol with a forceful mob, and rushing past broken windows to do so, was illegal. Gold could be expected to have had an understanding that breaking into the House Chamber on the very day that, under established law, the United States Congress certifies the results of the presidential election, would have particularly harmful consequences for our democracy. Yet Gold joined a mob that attempted to do exactly that.”

In pushing for jail time, prosecutors also argue that Gold doesn’t seem the least bit sorry for her participation in what occurred at the Capitol. “Gold refuses to take responsibility for her crime and, worse yet, she is actively using her crime to tarnish law enforcement, enrich herself, and cause harm through misinformation and vitriol.” The memo goes on to detail Gold’s use of her prosecution for fundraising purposes for AFLDS, which it notes, pays her a staggering $20,000 a month. The group’s website describes Gold’s case as the “political persecution of a law-abiding emergency physician,” and includes a video depicting her bound and gagged as a political prisoner. The website indicates that she’s raised more than $430,000 for legal fees. Prosecutors write in the sentencing memo that “Gold’s public insistence that she is the victim here—despite her deliberate participation in a violent riot—bespeaks a disturbing lack of remorse.”

“Gold’s public insistence that she is the victim here—despite her deliberate participation in a violent riot—bespeaks a disturbing lack of remorse.”

They are doubtful that she possibly could have needed that much money to pay for her defense in a case in which she pleaded guilty as soon as the government offered a deal. “It beggars belief that Gold could have incurred anywhere near $430,000 in costs for her criminal defense: after all, she pleaded guilty—in the face of indisputable, readily identifiable evidence—without filing a single motion,” the memo reports. “Absent a significant sentence imposed by this Court, however, Gold’s criminal conduct will be a windfall for her.”

By contrast, the sentencing memo filed by Gold’s lawyers arguing against jail time naturally highlights her “lifelong service as a physician in some of the most underserved communities in our nation.” It also argues that the government has already significantly traumatized Gold by sending officers to knock down the door of her California home and arrest her “at gunpoint.” The “20 officers and agents with AR-15s (for someone with no criminal history) handcuffed and humiliated her,” the memo says, adding, “The trauma was so bad that Dr. Gold could not stay in her home because each time she saw certain areas of her home where officers had pointed guns at her and handcuffed her, she winced and shuddered at the memory. So she moved.”

The defense memo also reveals that the California state medical board is threatening to revoke Gold’s medical license for “an instance of misinformation,” and that the state of Florida’s Department of Health is also investigating her for “treason.” (The letter from Florida has been filed under seal, so no other details are available in the public court records.) Her lawyers argue that no jail time is needed because, basically, hasn’t she suffered enough? 

“This has been a long road for Dr. Gold and her family,” they write. “She is a single mother, and very proud of her two children. She will never get over the day she was arrested and incarcerated. She is now fearful of police. She has repeatedly been threatened on social media cites [sic] and news outlets. Her relationships with many friends and family are strained because of her actions. She lost her job and had to search for another one. Her ability to travel and do her job has been hampered by the fact that TSA put her on a no-fly list even BEFORE she pled guilty…Her personal character and reputation will forever be tarnished.”

And yet, the lawyers write, the quality of Gold’s character is obvious: “Despite all she has been through, the constant harassment by TSA and the inability to fly even before she entered her plea of guilty, she presses on.” They ask the judge to sentence Gold to time served because of her family obligations, including caring for her elderly mother and “raising her two boys.” (The memo fails to mention that both “boys” are now college-age adults.)

On Tuesday, the day after the second congressional hearing on the insurrection, Gold filed a response to the government’s sentencing memo, taking issue with some of the points made by the prosecutors in their sentencing memo. Contrary to assertions by the government about Gold’s invoking her prosecution to help raise money for legal fees, the lawyers insist Gold has paid them with her personal funds and not from her nonprofit group—the one that pays her $20,000 a month from the money she raised by framing her case as a political prosecution. They also object to the way in which the government contextualized Gold’s entrance to the Capitol, insisting that she was in no position to help the fallen Capitol police officer she pushed past to get inside. She was “packed among others at the door,” they argue, and thus, the mob she was in made it “physically impossible” for her to render aid to him.

One of the most peculiar points in the document appears in a footnote, in which Gold’s lawyers complain about the probation officer’s presentencing report for the 56-year-old Gold, which identifies the co-defendant in the case as her “38-year-old boyfriend.” That would be John Strand, an international underwear model whose washboard abs have graced the covers of everything from romance novels to fancy photography magazines. He works for Gold’s nonprofit group as the creative director and accompanied her to the Capitol on January 6. “How is John Strand’s age at all relevant?” the lawyers complain. “This is a personal attack on Dr. Gold’s private life and really uncalled for here.”

John Strand, creative director of America’s Frontline Doctors, and Gold’s co-defendant who was also arrested for allegedly storming the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Strand, who was indicted along with Gold on multiple criminal charges, is still awaiting trial. But apparently, none of the money Gold has raised for legal fees is going towards his defense. Strand is represented by a court-appointed attorney. He is set to go to trial in July but last week, his lawyer asked for a continuance because he has had significant trouble finding a single expert who could help him wade through the voluminous discovery files and video footage in the case on the budget allotted to court-appointed investigators. (The judge denied the motion.)

Gold’s sentencing hearing will take place Thursday morning, and despite her request to do it virtually, the judge has required her to appear in person in DC, a city the court has banned her from since her arrest last year. Strand’s pretrial release conditions also bar him from entering the District of Columbia, but he has asked the judge to allow him to wait outside the courthouse during Gold’s sentencing hearing to offer moral support—and possibly a ride back to Virginia, where they are staying.

Prosecutors have objected.

Hundreds of Little Blue Penguins Washing Up Dead on New Zealand Beaches

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

The penguins lie in orderly, evenly spaced rows, wings splayed, their trademark glossy blue plumage dulled by sand. There are 183 in all, carefully collected by local people, laid out and photographed for later investigation. The birds were found at Ninety Mile Beach last week, just the latest in a phenomenon of dead penguins washing up on New Zealand’s beaches in huge numbers.

The kororā, also known as little blue penguins, are the world’s smallest penguin, and are native to New Zealand. They have been a common sight on northern coastlines, seen hopping up the dunes at dusk with their characteristic, slightly stooped waddle, however the Department of Conservation (DoC) classes their population as “at-risk, declining.”

Their deaths have shocked and bewildered locals, who in recent months have found hundreds washed ashore and decaying on the beaches in the North Island. The 183 at Ninety Mile Beach came the same week that more than 100 were found dumped and decaying at the nearby Cable Bay. Local residents photographed another dead flock of 109 at Ninety Mile Beach the close of May, a resident found 40 at Tokerau Beach, also in the Northland regionin mid-May. The DoC has other reports of at least 20 dying on the same beach at the start of the month.

In Northland social media groups, locals discuss the deaths with a growing sense of distress and alarm—are the birds being caught and dumped by fishermen? Is there something in the water? Have they caught some new kind of disease, like avian malaria?

Hi @docgovtnz, 3 dead blue penguins on 90 mile beach today, about 12km north of #Ahipara. All within a 100m stretch of each other. Run over by cars? Or victims of a certain fishing method? #NewZealand #Aotearoa #Wildlife #Penguins@nzherald @NZStuff @Breakfaston1 pic.twitter.com/isuo4OV1Yk

— Jeff Rice (@EvolvingCaveman) May 2, 2022

Graeme Taylor, a DoC principal science adviser who studies sea birds, believes more than 500 penguins have washed up since the start of May 2022, and that the figure may be approaching 1,000. It is impossible to give an accurate number, mainly because some are found and buried by people, he says.

Earlier in the year, he says, scientists from the Ministry of Primary Industries decided to test some of the dead birds in case a new virus or disease was sweeping through the colonies. They looked for infections and toxins. They concluded that the birds were starving to death.

“All of the bodies were found to be super underweight. These birds should be around 800 to 1,000 grams, but they were way down around half that weight,” Taylor says. “There was just no body fat on them, there was hardly any muscle to show. When they get to that stage of emaciation, they can’t dive.” Eventually, the birds simply die—of starvation or hypothermia from the lack of blubber to keep them warm.

The DoC believes Kororā are not starving because of overfishing. Rather, climate change was creating waters too hot for the fish they feed on. Data released last year saw the hottest ocean temperatures in recorded history, the sixth consecutive year that this record has been broken. In New Zealand, that has combined with a La Nina weather conditions to create marine heatwaves. As waters warm, the small fish that kororā eat go deeper in search of cooler waters, or leave the area entirely.

“This little species [of penguin] can dive down to 20 or 30 meters routinely, but it’s not that good at diving a lot deeper than that,” Taylor says. Hot water temperatures through winter had likely kept the fish out of reach.

Mass deaths of sea birds are not unheard of historically: severe storms, heatwaves or weather events can result in birds washing ashore in the tens or hundreds. What has changed, Taylor says, is the frequency. Previously, deaths in these numbers would occur maybe once a decade. Over the past 10 years, he says there have been at least three mass-death years, and their frequency was increasing.

“As you start seeing it happen regularly like this, then there’s really not much chance for the birds to recover.”

Ian Armitage, a member of the governing council for Birds New Zealand, which runs beach patrols to monitor dead sea-bird numbers, says the number of penguins found this year has been unusually high, particularly in the far north. Recent storms and high water temperatures mean he expects more mass deaths. “This event is probably not over and will continue through the winter,” Armitage says. “Many more little penguins found.”

As human-driven climate change continues to heat the globe and its oceans, eventually, the species could be wiped out in warmer North Island regions. “As you start seeing it happen regularly like this, then there’s really not much chance for the birds to recover between the events, and rebuild the numbers again,” Taylor says.

In the South’s colder waters, he says, populations are still doing well. “But the northern population are definitely in a very poor state. And when we get summer events like this happening at the frequency that’s been happening in the past 10 years, they really will be under pressure to be able to survive.”

First Roe, Then Plyler? The GOP’s 40-Year Fight to Keep Undocumented Kids Out of Public School

On August 31, 1977, Rosario Robles walked her five children to Bonner Elementary School in Tyler, Texas. Rosario and her husband, Jose, had immigrated to the United States from Mexico five years earlier and settled in the “rose city” southeast of Dallas, where Jose found work at a local pipe factory and the family bought a house. But never before on the first day of school had Rosario been asked to present proof of legal residency for their children—American passports, for instance, or birth certificates issued by US hospitals. When she couldn’t, the school’s principal denied the children admission, even driving them home in his own car. 

Also in Tyler, Humberto Alvarez, a Mexican-born father of four children enrolled in Douglas Elementary School, was told that the Tyler Independent School District would charge undocumented students an annual tuition fee of $1,000 per student, or the equivalent of roughly $5,000 today. Alvarez, who had left his home country in 1974 and started working at a meatpacking plant in Tyler, couldn’t afford the fee, so the requirement effectively excluded his children from the school system. Basically, the statute allowed for different school districts and schools to implement different policies.

These new policies came in the wake of the Texas legislature voting to amend the Education Code with a section, known as 21.031, that withheld state funds from public school districts for the education of children who had not been “legally admitted” into the country. The statute allowed districts to deny enrollment to foreign-born children without legal status, or to charge them tuition. Other school districts in Texas, including the state’s largest district of Houston, implemented similar practices. In Tyler, the school district board of trustees justified the policy as a way to “prevent the potential drain on local educational funds should Tyler become a haven for illegal aliens.” Jim Plyler, the superintendent of Tyler schools at the time, referred to the children as a “burden,” even though only about 60 of the 16,000 enrolled students lacked legal status.

In September 1977, the Robles, the Alvarez, and two other families filed a class-action lawsuit against Plyler arguing the Texas statute violated their constitutional rights. The plaintiffs had been living in Tyler for anywhere between three and 13 years in mixed-status households, where their US-born children who were citizens weren’t barred from school, unlike their Mexican-born siblings. The families were represented by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), a national Latino legal civil rights organization. As University of Houston Law professor Michael A. Olivas (who died in April 2022) wrote in his 2012 book, No Undocumented Child Left Behind: Plyler v. Doe and the Education of Undocumented Schoolchildren, MALDEF’s national director of education litigation, Peter Roos, and the group’s president, Vilma Martinez, considered the case to be the “Mexican American Brown v. Board of Education.” 

The group of plaintiffs inspired sympathy: Undocumented children who weren’t responsible for their parents’ decision to migrate, with parents who worked. They also had an ally in William Wayne Justice, a federal judge who was both revered and reviled in rural Texas for his liberal views and for having ordered desegregation in Tyler schools in 1970. On September 14, 1978, Judge Justice ruled that the state’s reasoning that the statute would relieve the school district from a financial burden and regulate immigration was irrational and a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.

By 1980, most districts in the state had implemented practices excluding undocumented immigrants. In July 1980, a federal judge in Houston deciding on the combined cases arrived at a similar conclusion as Judge Justice. The two parallel lawsuits moved separately through the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed the lower court’s rulings, before being consolidated as Plyler v. Doe, which the Supreme Court heard on December 1, 1981.

“It is thus clear that whatever savings might be achieved by denying these children an education, they are wholly insubstantial in light of the costs involved to these children, the state, and the nation.”

On June 15, 1982, in a 5–4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the students and established that all children without reference to their immigration status have the constitutional right to a public K–12 education. “By denying these children a basic education, we deny them the ability to live within the structure of our civic institutions, and foreclose any realistic possibility that they will contribute in even the smallest way to the progress of our nation,” Justice William J. Brennan Jr. wrote in the majority opinion. “It is difficult to understand precisely what the state hopes to achieve by promoting the creation and perpetuation of a subclass of illiterates within our boundaries, surely adding to the problems and costs of unemployment, welfare, and crime. It is thus clear that whatever savings might be achieved by denying these children an education, they are wholly insubstantial in light of the costs involved to these children, the state, and the nation.”

Peter Schey, the president and executive director of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law Foundation in Los Angeles, had been the lead counsel in the consolidated statewide class-action lawsuit and went on to argue the case before the Supreme Court, sharing time with MALDEF’s Peter Roos. When news about the 1982 Supreme Court decision broke, he was on a trip to Nicaragua to document human rights abuses committed by the Contras, a US-backed rebel group opposing the Sandinista socialist government. Listening to BBC News on the radio with his delegation as they sat around a campfire when the broadcaster announced the historic decision by the Supreme Court, Schey jumped up screaming, “We won! We won!”  

In building his case before the lower courts, Schey brought in expert witnesses such as child psychiatrists who could testify about the harmful impact of school exclusion on the learning progress and development of the students, and criminal justice scholars who warned of a potential increase in juvenile crime if kids were pushed out of the classroom. Two young girls who had been affected by such policies also described their experiences to Judge Woodrow Seals of the Southern District of Texas in Houston, who heard the case. After 24 days, Judge Seals decided in favor of the children, writing, “It is possible to perceive the impact of the creation of a permanent underclass of persons who will live their lives in this country without being able to participate in our society.”

The ruling represented a victory in what had been an uphill battle for Schey and his team, since they were fighting on behalf of 100,000 or more children—a much larger number than had been covered by the earlier Tyler case. “The fact that one could win a case in a very small school district where the impact of enrolling children would be relatively minimal would not answer the question of whether the law was irrational on a statewide level,” Schey says.

The two favorable rulings, which the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld, were promising, but the fact remained that while the appeals from Texas were pending, the children kept missing out on school. Schey filed an emergency request with the Supreme Court to vacate a stay blocking the immediate enrollment of the children, which the court granted. “It was one of the most important cases I had handled in terms of the impact on thousands and thousands of innocent children,” says Schey. “We were just very lucky. All Texas needed was one more vote and over 100,000 children would have had their lives destroyed.” 

“It was one of the most important cases I had handled in terms of the impact on thousands and thousands of innocent children.”

Despite the split decision, even those who voted in the Supreme Court justices agreed that the Texas statute constituted bad public policy. “Were it our business to set the nation’s social policy, I would agree without hesitation that it is senseless for an enlightened society to deprive any children—including illegal aliens—of an elementary education,” Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote in his dissenting opinion. “However, the Constitution does not constitute us as ‘Platonic Guardians’ nor does it vest in this Court the authority to strike down laws because they do not meet our standards of desirable social policy, ‘wisdom’ or ‘common sense.'”

Monolingual Hispanic students raise their hands to answer a question during a class taught in Spanish at Birdwell Elementary School in September 2003 in Tyler, Texas.

Mario Villafuerte/Getty

During the 40 years since the Plyler decision, there have been direct and indirect attempts to undermine it, most recently by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, where it all began. In a May interview with the conservative radio program The Joe Pags Show, Abbott said, “Texas already long ago sued the federal government about having to incur the costs of the education program, in a case called Plyler v. Doe and the Supreme Court ruled against us on the issue. I think we will resurrect that case and challenge this issue again, because the expenses are extraordinary. And the times are different than when Plyler v. Doe was issued many decades ago.”

“The expenses are extraordinary. And the times are different than when Plyler v. Doe was issued many decades ago.”

Immigrant activists and educators immediately repudiated Abbott’s statement, some characterizing it as nothing more than an empty threat aimed at scoring points with voters. “He was throwing out a political dog whistle to appeal to the extreme right who might believe he would really attempt to implement the policy,” says Thomas Saenz, MALDEF’s president and general counsel. “I don’t really believe that Governor Abbott would ever follow through on his threat to attempt to reverse Plyler. No governor really wants thousands of kids on the street, instead of in school, and any politician who precipitates that occurring is doing so at tremendous risk to their political future.” 

The governor may have felt emboldened by the impending overturn of Roe v. Wade by the current Supreme Court conservative supermajority. But unlike the landmark 1974 case that guaranteed the constitutional right to have an abortion, Saenz says, Plyer has actually been codified into federal law by Congress in 1996. “Before you even get to whether the Plyler precedent was correct or not, you have a federal statute that is, in effect, a congressional endorsement of Plyler,” he says. “So they would first have to explain why that statute doesn’t prevent them from violating Plyler even before you get to the Plyler decision behind it. It’s a double barrier that wasn’t present in 1982 and that doesn’t exist in Roe v. Wade.”  

Attempts to challenge Plyler abounded over the years but haven’t survived legal challenges. One of the most egregious attempts took place in California in 1994, when then–Republican Gov. Pete Wilson campaigned for reelection on the infamous anti-immigrant Proposition 187, also known as the “Save Our State” initiative (which some political analysts credit with helping turn California blue). Prop. 187 would have barred undocumented immigrants from attending public schools and accessing non-emergency health care. Voters approved the ballot measure by almost 60 percent, but the courts blocked the implementation of most of it largely based on the Plyler precedent. 

Two years later, Republican Rep. Elton Gallegly of California introduced an amendment to a series of immigration laws known as the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which would allow states to deny public education to undocumented students or charge them tuition—a direct attempt to overturn Plyler v. Doe. The Gallegly amendment passed the House, but President Bill Clinton vowed to veto the bill over its inclusion, and the amendment ultimately was withdrawn. 

In 2011, Alabama enacted legislation requiring schools to collect information about the legal status of students and report it to the state. The provision was struck down in court, but it was part of a larger strategy to undermine the right of undocumented children to access public education. As one of its authors, Michael Hethmon, an attorney with the Immigration Reform Law Institute, a legal arm of the anti-immigration Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), later admitted to the New Yorker Times, the goal was to force litigation in the hopes of sending the Plyler case back to the Supreme Court so it would be overturned. That same year, Arizona’s Senate President Russell Pearce proposed an unsuccessful measure requiring proof of citizenship for children to enroll in schools and banning undocumented students from attending state universities and community colleges. Pearce, who had been one the architect of some of the country’s toughest anti-immigration laws, was recalled from office in 2011 in large part over his crackdown on immigrants. 

During Donald Trump’s presidency, Stephen Miller, his senior adviser and the mastermind behind the president’s draconian anti-immigrant policies, sought to circumvent the 1982 ruling. Miller reportedly pushed White House officials to consider issuing a guidance memo giving states the option to deny undocumented students enrollment in K–12 schools. At the time, a spokesperson for the Department of Education said “the memo wasn’t issued because the Secretary would never consider it.”

“The fact still is, that excluding these kids from school is much more costly to society and to the government than the cost of providing education.”

As recently as late 2021, Bruce Griffey, the Republican state lawmaker in Tennessee who recently called pro-vaccine legislators “medical Nazis” and sponsored a “Don’t Say Gay” bill, introduced legislation to withdraw state funds from public schools for students who are “unlawfully present” in the United States. Saenz estimates his organization receives calls every year about school clerks asking for social security numbers to enroll kids, a clear violation of Plyler. “The fact still is,” he says, that excluding these kids from school is much more costly to society and to the government than the cost of providing education.”

In the years since, scholars and legal analysts have disagreed on the merits of Plyler and the significance of its legacy. In 1983, Chief Justice John Roberts, then a lawyer for the Reagan administration, strongly criticized the decision, suggesting the Department of Justice should have filed a brief siding with the state of Texas and against the children. When asked about it years later in his 2015 Supreme Court nomination hearing, Chief Justice Roberts evaded questions about whether he had come to agree with the decision and if he considered it to be settled law. “I haven’t looked at the decision in the Plyler v. Doe in 23 years,” he said. 

Law professors have argued that because no state other than Texas had a law in the books at the time excluding undocumented students, the decision merely impacted an “outlier statute.” But it’s easy to imagine that had it not it been for this precedent, several other states might have followed Texas’ lead. “The pressure was tremendous,” Roos told NBC News recently. “I was confident in our case, but there was a sense that if we lost, other states would pass laws like Texas. So the outcome could affect millions of kids, and that was a heavy weight on my shoulders.” In his book The Schoolhouse Gate: Public Education, the Supreme Court, and the Battle for the American Mind, Yale law professor Justin Driver writes, “It is difficult to identify many opinions in the Supreme Court’s entire history that have more profound consequences in more vital arenas than Plyler v. Doe’s guarantee that the schoolhouse door cannot be closed to one of modern society’s most marginalized, most vilified groups.” 

Olivas, author of No Undocumented Child Left Behind, agreed, writing, “The opinion has single-handedly enabled innumerable children to use education to expand both their minds and their horizons.” Plyer “may be the high-water mark of immigrant rights in the United States and is likely among the most important educational and immigration cases decided in Texas.” 

“If there were no Plyler, there could be no undocumented college students.”

In determining that undocumented children could not be punished for their parents’ actions, the Supreme Court decision also created the legal foundation for President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)—a program enacted exactly 30 years after the Plyler decision that has granted relief from deportation and work authorization for hundreds of thousands of undocumented young people who came to the United States as children. As Olivas observes, it is a simple causality: “If there were no Plyler, there could be no undocumented college students.”

By holding that undocumented immigrants can assert a claim to equal protection under the 14th Amendment, the Supreme Court also created a precedent that has been cited, for instance, in challenges to Trump’s failed attempt to exclude immigrants from the Census. Schey says the case also provides “future protection to vulnerable populations who are discriminated against by a state or the federal government when that population has no responsibility for the status that is the basis for their discrimination.” In 2007, Jim Plyler, the Tyler school district superintendent, told Education Week he was “glad we lost the Hispanic [court case] so that those kids could get educated.”

The Los Angeles Times tracked down the “children of Plyler” for a story in 1994. Most of them had finished high school in the Tyler Independent School District. Years later, they became legal residents or citizens as a result of the 1986 immigration reform legislation that conferred status to millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Laura Alvarez, who hadn’t known she had played a role in the case until the newspaper contacted her, worked for years as a teacher’s aide for the same Tyler district that had excluded her years earlier.

“As a result of that decision there’s no question several million children later became permanent residents and then citizens of the United States, have received an education,says Schey, “and have gone on to become productive members of their communities.” 

An alternative scenario in which that wasn’t the case would look more like what Carola Suárez-Orozco, a Harvard Graduate School of Education professor in residence and immigration expert, described a hypothetical trajectory of two siblings, one who was born in Honduras and the other in the United States. One would have no education while the other “would be entitled to attend school as a citizen. The siblings would experience the consequences of a Solomonic decision,” she says, “played out in countless iterations, for a situation they had no role in creating.” 

McConnell Announces Tentative Support for Bipartisan Gun Safety Plan

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated Tuesday that he’ll likely support the bipartisan gun safety plan negotiated by 20 senators, a significant about-face for a politician who has spent decades working tirelessly to fend off even the most milquetoast of gun reforms.  

“I’m comfortable with the framework, and if the legislation ends up reflecting what the framework indicates, I’ll be supportive,” McConnell told reporters. 

NEW: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says he supports a bipartisan framework on gun safety and will likely vote for legislation that reflects it.

This would make 11 Republicans in favor of the bill which would likely pass the Senate.
pic.twitter.com/kkjK52fLMa

— Alex Salvi (@alexsalvinews) June 14, 2022

If McConnell’s tentative support holds firm, the plan—which still needs to be written as formal legislation—could very well lay the groundwork for the first significant gun laws enacted in a generation.

Drawn up in the aftermath of the sickening mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, the bipartisan deal falls well short of some of the proposed restrictions that seem to garner the support of broad swaths of the American public. As my colleague Mark Follman wrote on Sunday, the deal is slated to include: 

Enhanced background checks for gun buyers under 21, funding for states to implement “red flag” laws, and greater protection from gun violence for victims of domestic abuse. The proposal further contains “major investments” in mental health services and resources for communities nationwide, and funding for school security and violence prevention programs.

Beyond McConnell, though, even these extremely modest reforms are already triggering a backlash from Republican Senators, who have begun to voice skepticism about the (non-mandatory) red flag laws that the framework helps fund. Just look at GOP Sen. Kevin Cramer, who reportedly quipped that the Republicans are “more interested in the red wave than we are in red flags, quite honestly.” 

Is It Unethical for Nicholas Kristof to Do an Ad for His Cider as a Substack Post About the Ethics of His Cider?

Asking questions about the ethics of something you’re already doing can be a useful evasion. Still, it’s a dodge. Just own it.

But let me ask for your feedback. I’m curious.

Is this an ad?

When I say this, I am asking: Is this post from erstwhile New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s Substack “asking for feedback on an ethics question” actually just an ad for his new cider? Is it a bizarre way to avoid admitting the normal fact he wants people to buy his alcohol? Is it a wild attempt to unnecessarily preempt blowback? 

Thoughts?

Mostly I inflict my views on others; this time I'm asking for your views about an ethical question of my own. Is it OK for someone like me who has highlighted the toll of addiction and alcoholism to be raising wine grapes and cider apples? https://t.co/e9pdZVZXey Thoughts?

— Nicholas Kristof (@NickKristof) June 14, 2022

In case it helps inform your opinion, we got here because in 2021, Kristof attempted to run for governor of Oregon. He quit the Times, writing in his final column it was “fair to question my judgment.” From there, he launched his campaign as an encapsulation of the deaths of despair thesis. Kristof bemoaned that he’d fled to a better life while his friends were caught in the collapse of the working class. He harped on rising deaths caused by drugs and alcohol. 

This made it surprising, and ironic, when he said he was going back to Oregon both as a political candidate and to make an alcoholic drink. As Olivia Nuzzi noted in a story for New York magazine, Kristof was starting a cider business. His explanation of this contradiction was that, basically, alcoholism doesn’t work like that. Can’t really be from cider.

(Many disagreed!)

Nick Kristof's view on alcoholism is one of the dumbest things I've ever read. https://t.co/2xWNn8L9ZS pic.twitter.com/VnbiNl3pGw

— Bradford Pearson (@BradfordPearson) April 12, 2022

In the end, this “controversy” did not change Kirstof’s ability to garner votes.

That’s because Kristof did not meet the residency requirements, according to the state Supreme Court, and was dropped from the ballot.

Out at the Times and out of the race, Kristof’s been doing a bit of Subtacking, where he has remained consistent when it comes to his fear that drug use these days is acute and particularly harmful.

But he needs feedback, you see, because he’s also stayed at the cider game. And he has a question: Am I being bad?

As he writes in explaining his question, he’s seen “how the wine industry had created good jobs, while spawning related jobs in tourism, retailing, restaurants and B&Bs.” He’s noted how “a glass of good cider and wine can promote social networks and reduce social isolation, which is another crisis I’ve written about often.”

In fact, Kristof has a potential comparison: “I wonder if alcohol isn’t something like motor vehicles: a powerful tool that causes death but also makes life more joyful for most.” (Hmm, do cars work like that?)

So I repeat: Why ask this now—months after the article and the dunk tweets about his hypocrisy? Well, as Kristof writes (with added bolding for emphasis from me):

All this has been on our mind because we just launched our new Kristof Farms cider a week ago, after it won a “best in class” among 151 ciders at Glintcap, the biggest international cider competition. We’re proud of this cider, and we think it adds sparkle to life.

That’s why I’m trying to think through these issues. My take is that a good cider or wine can, on balance, make life better and that they are worth producing and taking pride in, and have real economic development benefits. But I’m genuinely interested in how other people see this. What’s your take?

Oh, what’s my take? No, no. I’m just asking questions, too.

Specifically: Why did you try to shoehorn in an ad for your cider as some weird journalism ethics question? Why not just post “new cider (and career) just dropped” like any other journalist would?

Is Rudy Giuliani Drunk…Right Now?

The claim that Rudy Giuliani had been “inebriated” when he, as Donald Trump’s conspiratorial hype man, pushed the former president to prematurely declare victory over Joe Biden is indeed a distraction. But a day after the American public learned of Giuliani’s apparent condition on Election Night, the question arises: Is Giuliani wasted…right now?

I am disgusted and outraged at the out right lie by Jason Miller and Bill Steppien. I was upset that they were not prepared for the massive cheating (as well as other lawyers around the President) I REFUSED all alcohol that evening. My favorite drink..Diet Pepsi

— Rudy W. Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani) June 14, 2022

Hints of an inebriated state abound. There’s the misspelling of “outright” and Bill Stepien, the former Trump campaign manager. The continued push of the false claim that Trump won. And perhaps most egregiously, the choice of Diet Pepsi over Diet Coke as one’s preferred diet soda. Taken together, it’s giving vintage Trump tweet with a fresh hint of melting Giuliani.

But his denial of being drunk only underscores this key takeaway from my colleague Dan Friedman. Giuliani may have taken the time to shoot down the headline-generating drunk claim—garnering yikes and laughs—but his statement conveniently forgets to address the January 6 committee’s most damning allegation. That he, as Trump’s personal lawyer, pushed the then-president into falsely declaring victory, ultimately helping to lay the foundation for the violence at the Capitol.

Scientists Race to Create Wheat That Can Withstand Global Warming

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

A dozen or so farm workers perched on wooden stools carefully emasculate wheat spikes using nail scissors and tweezers—the first step in a years-long breeding process to develop climate-resilient varieties.

It’s late afternoon, and the farmhands are shaded by wide-brimmed sun hats as they work in an experimental wheat field in northern Mexico, preparing the wheat flowers to be cross-pollinated in a couple of days. For each pollination, both wheat parents have been selected by crop scientists for desirable traits such as fungus resistance, photosynthesis efficiency, and yield.

It’s a quiet scene, but the stakes increase every year as concerns grow that our food system is not ready for the climate crisis.

Scientists at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Sonora are focused on developing wheat varieties which can better cope with drought, rising temperatures and excessive rainfall. In other words, wheat that can thrive under the extreme and unpredictable weather conditions farmers are experiencing globally due to the rapidly warming planet.

“We’re trying to stay ahead of climate change and give farmers everything,” said breeder Leo Crespo as he inspected new varieties planted last winter in meticulously divided micro-plots. Some are lofty and green with open leaves, while others are dry and stumpy.

The diversity is the crucial to breeding resilience and adaptability, which is why scientists are turning to wild and forgotten wheat varieties from across the world to search for those with temperature- and drought-tolerant traits such as deep roots, waxy leaves and stress hormones.

“Breeding is a continuous process. We have to keep the evolutionary wolf from the door.”

But it’s a complicated, never-ending race against time, as global heating drives climate disasters and the emergence of new, adapted or more aggressive pathogens. “Breeding is a continuous process. We have to keep the evolutionary wolf from the door by breeding varieties which are resistant to a wide range of diseases and improve yields even if there’s drought or heatwave,” said Crespo, 39.

Wheat is the most widely consumed grain globally, accounting for a fifth of our carbohydrate and protein intake, and is farmed in every inhabited continent to make bread, chapatis, pasta, couscous, noodles and pastries eaten by billions of people. The wheat we eat today can be traced back to wild grasses domesticated by Neolithic farmers in western Asia and northern Africa, coming to Mexico relatively recently with Spanish settlers.

Wheat does best in temperate climates, but no matter where humans took seeds, wheat adapted to the local ecosystem, evolving over generations as each variety or landrace developed good and bad quirks.

Diversity was the norm, and before the second world war thousands of landraces were being cultivated across the globe, often side by side with other crops—which partially buffered communities from ecological disasters such as disease epidemics and extreme weather. But yields were often low as many wheats were tall and gangly, and would be harvested too early or else tumble in windy conditions.

Global wheat production tripled after the Green Revolution in the mid-20th century after Norman Borlaug, an American plant pathologist deployed to Mexico by the Rockefeller Foundation, used a semi-dwarf gene from a Japanese wheat to create shorter stem varieties which when farmed with fertilizer and water improved yields beyond anyone’s dreams.

This was the birth of extractive industrial agriculture and Borlaug’s discoveries in Mexico changed the way the world farmed wheat, rice and many other crops.

Uniformity, standardization, and fossil fuel-driven technologies became the gold standard and Borlaug was awarded the Nobel peace prize as malnutrition declined. But the loss of diversity in crops, ecosystems and traditional sustainable practices came at a huge environmental and human cost. And now the climate crisis is making us pay.

Some wheat varieties from “Agriculture for the Kansas Common Schools,” 1914.

Library of Congress via Flickr

“After the Green Revolution the focus was on breeding high-yield disease-resistant specialists for different regions, but the mega-varieties were not bred to cope with unpredictable climate conditions. Now we need generalists, and there’s enough diversity to cope with unpredictable climate events—we just need to find and exploit it, but funding is an issue,” said Matthew Reynolds, head of physiology at CIMMYT’s wheat program (which Borlaug led until his retirement in 1979).

CIMMYT is an international research organization that develops new maize and wheat varieties as “international public goods” for national food programs and the private sector. Its funding comes mostly from government development agencies and foundations like Bill and Melinda Gates and the Carlos Slim Health Institute, but with some direct and indirect private sector money—and influence.

The end goal is to create varieties that can adapt to and thrive in unpredictable conditions without expensive and ecologically damaging fungicides that commercial seeds are designed to require.

It’s a painstaking, never-ending process. Every year 5,000 newly bred lines or varieties are tested between November and April, in four different environments: severe and intermediate drought, late season heat and optimal conditions. Simultaneously they are tested in Kenya for stem rust, a fungal disease and serious threat to wheat.

At the end of the season, some of the best-performing wheats are selected as parents for the next generation of crosses, while others are taken to Toluca to evaluate their susceptibility to other diseases. (Zinc and protein composition—which determines the grains’ end use—is also measured.)

In the end, about 1,000 make it through to the second year, when two further test conditions are added, and so it goes on until year five, when the best performers are sent to 100 or so countries to grow and test in their nurseries. This is critical, as wheat is grown on about 544 million acres worldwide, from hot and humid conditions in Bangladesh to the arid heat of Nigeria and the chilly mountains of Turkey.

“No one is getting rich selling drought-resistant wheat seeds in Africa, so we need public programs to develop diverse seeds.”

After six years, the program ends up with 50 or so new wheat varieties which countries can take and test before releasing to their farmers. The goal is to shorten the breeding cycle to four years to help farmers with few resources better cope with the rapidly changing climate and emerging disease threats.

“The private and public sectors are not in this together. No one is getting rich selling drought-resistant wheat seeds in Africa, so we need public programs to develop diverse seeds and reach small farmers who are not served by commercial seed companies,” said Luigi Guarino, director of science at the Crop Trust.

About 70 percent of the world’s wheat can be traced back to seeds developed here, yet just four transnational agrochemical companies control 60 percent of the global seed market. The big four focus on yield, and produce most of the world’s fungicides and pesticides, which degrade the environment and reduce biodiversity, making farms more vulnerable to climate change shocks.

It’s unclear how many wheat varieties with useful climate- and disease-resistant traits have been lost as a result of the industrialization of our food system, but there are about 800,000 unique wheat seeds stored in gene banks globally, of which nearly a quarter are at CIMMYT. The collection includes wild grassy ancestors, landraces and obsolete varieties that developed disease susceptibility but may contain useful traits such as deep roots, which are good at finding water during drought, or the ability to delay stress-related premature aging, which affects photosynthesis.

About a third of the CIMMYT seed collection has undergone genetic fingerprinting, which allows physiologists to identify which previously unknown diversity might be helpful. Once tested in the fields, promising varieties end up in the breeding pipeline, with some eventually fast-tracked to be tested across the world as part of a bigger climate change project.

But in order to breed new seeds that can adapt to the rapidly heating planet, scientists must figure out what’s happening at night—an under-researched area until now.

A 2007 study found that for every 1C increase in night-time temperature there is a staggering 6 percent drop in wheat yields—a steeper decline than hotter days. The climate crisis is triggering record-breaking day temperatures, but night temperatures are increasing significantly faster.

This is potentially catastrophic and “makes understanding plant night-time responses to temperature so important to researchers, breeders and farmers,” said Lorna McAusland, a wheat physiologist at the University of Nottingham collaborating with CIMMYT.

In one field, heaters are installed over micro-plots growing eight popular or elite varieties in order to better understand how higher nocturnal temperatures reduce yield.

Drones take thermal images which help scientists on the ground measure things like canopy temperature and water loss or transpiration—the plant’s internal air conditioning system. It’s long been thought that plants rest at night, conserving water for photosynthesis and to transport nutrients. If the air conditioning is overworking at night in order to keep cool, the plant could run out of water, get dehydrated and stop growing or die.

Initial results found that some varieties lost more water than others, so now researchers must tease out the genetics to help breeders improve nighttime heat tolerance in future seeds. The aim is to outpace human-made global heating and breed climate-resilient varieties so yields do not collapse, as worst-case scenarios predict. “Researching night-time temperatures is the new frontier,” said Reynolds.

Agroecologists, regenerative farmers and others would say that diversity in farmers’ fields—plots with different crops and diverse varieties—is crucial to build climate resilience and minimize the ecological footprint of agriculture.

Still, the diversity in these experimental plots is striking, given the uniformity of commercial wheat fields. Crespo said: “Diversity is essential in breeding but not all diversity is good, and that’s the challenge.”

The 1/6 Committee’s Biggest Challenge: Assessing Whether Trump Is Bonkers

One key mission for the House committee investigating the January 6 riot is affirming reality and highlighting the obvious: The 2020 election was not rigged to steal victory from Donald Trump. The committee’s hearings that began last week and continue until next week are unlikely to persuade Trump cultists that Trump’s Big Lie is a big lie. But there is great value in showing reality-based Americans a full and coherent picture of Trump’s efforts to overturn the election, which led to the insurrectionist riot at the Capitol. Even though Trump’s sham crusade—which has been embraced by the Republican Party, the conservative movement, and right-wing media—is predicated on bogus and disproven claims, it deserves an official pushback, and the January 6 committee focused on that task during its hearing on Monday. In doing so, the committee raised a significant question: Is Trump bonkers?

The opening night of the hearings and Monday’s session presented clear and compelling evidence that Trump’s inner circle knew there was nothing fraudulent or fishy about the election and that this was repeatedly conveyed to Trump. Before Election Day, Trump had been told by his advisers that mail-in ballots, which likely favored Democrat Joe Biden, would be counted later in the day and could shift the results in swing states—that is, this would not be fraud. On election night, Bill Stepien, the longtime GOP operative who managed Trump’s campaign, and other campaign aides concluded that the final count would likely require several days of tabulation. They urged Trump to not declare victory or allege the election was being stolen from him. But an allegedly inebriated Rudy Giuliani, who was at the White House that evening, counseled Trump to do both. Whether or not Trump needed to be egged on by Giuliani—he had for months been claiming that he could only lose through fraud—he followed his lubricated lawyer’s advice. He asserted massive fraud had robbed him of victory, and millions of his cultists believed him. A dangerous disinformation campaign was launched. 

In subsequent weeks, Trump aides and advisers repeatedly concluded that there was no evidence of electoral theft. The committee played several clips of onetime Attorney General Bill Barr calling Trump’s allegations “bullshit” and “nonsense.” Yet in this time period, the Trump camp divided into what Stepien called “Team Normal” (the Trumpers who adhered to reality) and the squad led by Giuliani and attorney Sidney Powell that spread convoluted conspiracy theories involving Venezuela, supposed German vote-harvesting farms, rigged voting machines, and other craziness. The normies included Matt Morgan, the campaign’s top lawyer, whose team of attorneys searched and found no significant fraud. Referring to the Giuliani and Powell, Eric Herschmann, a Trump White House lawyer, told the committee, “What they were proposing…was nuts.”

The committee outlined numerous instances in which Trump was informed a specific allegation of fraud was bunk. Barr noted his own frustration with Trump repeatedly citing one spurious charge after another. He described to the committee a meeting he had at the White House on November 23, 2020. Trump insisted that there had been major fraud and that as soon as this would be revealed, the results of the election would be reversed. Barr told him that the fraud allegations were “not panning out.” As Barr left the meeting, he asked White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Jared Kushner how long Trump was going to “carry on with this stolen election stuff.” Meadows said that Trump was becoming “more realistic” and recognized the limits of how far he could push these claims. Kushner told Barr, “We’re working on it.”

Yet Trump kept at it. At a December 1 meeting—after Barr had earlier that day told the Associated Press there had been no serious fraud—an irate Trump raised numerous phony charges with Barr, who explained why each one was baseless. Barr also told Trump that Giuliani and Powell’s allegations about Dominion voting machines switching votes from Biden to Trump were reckless and “crazy stuff.” Yet the next day, Trump in public repeated the outlandish allegations about the Dominion machines. Derek Lyons, a Trump White House lawyer, also testified to the committee that he told Trump the voting fraud allegations were unsubstantiated. 

This didn’t matter to Trump. He kept flinging the crap. 

This raises an indelicate question. Was he delusional? Barr recalled a December 14 meeting with Trump in which the president delivered a long monologue claiming there was now definitive evidence that Dominion voting machines had been part of a colossal fraud scheme. He handed Barr a report that asserted this and told Barr that he would have a second term. Barr flipped through the report. It looked amateurish to him. He saw no supporting evidence. “I was demoralized,” he told the committee, adding, “if he really believes this stuff, he has become detached from reality.” Barr noted that Trump had no interest in “the actual facts.” The next day Barr resigned. 

Detached from reality—that’s a frightening prospect regarding a person who controls a nuclear arsenal. But this is a matter that warrants attention, especially since Trump may seek the presidency again. Is it possible that Trump believed his own BS? That he couldn’t accept his loss and embraced a falsehood as true? Or was his promotion of this lie a cynical stance that he adopted only as a tactic to whip us his base, undermine the political system, and retain power? Meadows, according to Barr, believed Trump would come around to acceptance of reality. But Barr wondered if Trump had gone around the bend.  In a deposition with the committee, Alex Cannon, a Trump campaign lawyer, provided a clue, though it was not directly related to Trump. He recounted a conversation with Peter Navarro, a Trump trade adviser, who asked about the Dominion conspiracy theory. Cannon said that there was nothing to it. Navarro accused him of being an agent of the Deep State. It seems that the crazies in Trump’s orbit did believe their Dear Leader was the victim of an extensive and nefarious plot.

During the hearings, members of the committee have not directly addressed this topic, which could have legal implications. Trump’s state of mind might bear on the issue of whether he acted with corrupt intent when he conspired—in at least seven different ways, as Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo) has repeatedly pointed out—to overturn the election. But the committee did suggest a crass possibility: Trump championed the Big Lie not out of belief but in search of big bucks. The committee noted that Trump raised $250 million with his fake stolen-election allegations in the weeks between Election Night and January 6. Trump donors were told this money was going to an “Official Election Defense Fund,” but no such fund existed. This was merely a marketing tactic, a Trump campaign aide told the committee. Instead, the money was spent on other things, such as Meadows’ Conservative Partnership Institute ($1 million) and the Trump Hotel Collection ($204,857), one of Trump’s hospitality businesses. The committee appeared to be suggesting the Big Lie was good for big grift. (All this money, by the way, was raked in not by the Giuliani-Powell nutters, but by the so-called Team Normal, the Trump regulars running his campaign and other Republican entities.)

Trump produced an unprecedented flood of lies and false statements during his presidency—over 30,000, according to the Washington Post. Is it possible he cannot tell fact from fiction? As a narcissistic egomaniac, does he believe he can manufacture reality? His psychological relationship with the truth has always been difficult to fathom. Trump cannot cite any confirmed evidence of fraud, yet he has unwaveringly insisted dark sinister forces stole a grand electoral landslide from him. Again and again, reality was presented to him, but he acted as if it did not exist. Is this because he cannot recognize reality or because he doesn’t want to recognize reality for assorted transactional purposes? So far, the committee has not provided an authoritative answer. But that may be above its pay grade. In any event, there is a fundamental truth that transcends resolution of this issue: Whether or not Trump believes in his Big Lie, he has successfully encouraged millions of Americans to do so, and that includes the thousands who assaulted the Capitol on January 6. In either case, Trump is a threat to the republic.

The Supreme Court Just Shot Down Bond Hearings for Detained Immigrants

The Supreme Court on Monday issued two decisions on immigration-related cases that, while less high-profile than the pending “Remain in Mexico” case, could have far-reaching implications for detained immigrants. 

In a blow to the rights of detained immigrants, the Supreme Court ruled in Johnson v. Arteaga-Martinez that federal law doesn’t require the government to grant bond hearings to them after six months of detention to prove that they are at risk of flight or pose a danger to the community. “On its face, the statute says nothing about bond hearings before immigration judges or burdens of proof, nor does it provide any other indication that such procedures are required,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in the 8–1 opinion, in which Justice Stephen Breyer concurred in part and dissented in part. 

In this case, Antonio Arteaga-Martinez, a citizen of Mexico who faced deportation proceedings and sought relief based on a fear of persecution or torture in his home country, was detained in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security for four months. After that period, he filed a petition for habeas corpus with a district court in Pennsylvania challenging his continued detention without a bond hearing. The district court had sided with Arteaga-Martinez, ordering the government to grant him a bond hearing before an immigration judge. The government appealed, but the appeals court affirmed the prior decision. At the bond hearing, an immigration judge authorized his release under supervision pending a decision on his deportation case. The Supreme Court reversed the rulings from the lower courts, finding that immigrants detained for longer than six months aren’t entitled to bond hearings. 

Justice Clarence Thomas suggested the court should overrule a precedent under another case known as Zadvydas v. Davis that prevents the government from detaining immigrants indefinitely. Mary Yanik, director of the Tulane Law School’s immigrant rights clinic, said on Twitter that such a reversal “would be a radical departure” from existing protections and result in no constitutional rights for people facing deportation. 

The justices also ruled on a related case, Garland v. Gonzalez, which consolidated two class-action suits brought on behalf of immigrants in similar circumstances as Arteaga-Martinez. In a 6–3 vote, the Justices also decided that immigrants trying to challenge their detention can’t seek relief from lower courts on a classwide basis. Instead, they have to individually petition the courts, which effectively makes it harder for immigrants to challenge immigration policies. “Injunctive relief on behalf of an entire class of aliens is not allowed because it is not limited to remedying the unlawful ‘application’ of the relevant statutes to ‘an individual alien,” Justice Alito wrote for the majority.

The ruling, Justice Sotomayor wrote in a partial dissent, “risks depriving many vulnerable noncitizens of any meaningful opportunity to protect their  rights.”

SCOTUS bars classwide injunctive relief in immigration cases. This means that if (when) DHS is violating the rights of noncitizens on a classwide basis, federal courts cannot enjoin it on a classwide basis. What justice is there in that? https://t.co/kwxnt22XdA

— David Cole (@DavidColeACLU) June 13, 2022

Herschel Walker Has Many Flaws, But He Is Not a Cop

Herschel Walker talks a big game. As I’ve written before, the former college football star, who is now challenging Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) for a Georgia Senate seat, claims to have considered committing murder, repeatedly played Russian roulette, and suffered from dissociative identity disorder-related blackouts that allowed him to forget allegedly pointing a gun at his ex-wife. 

Another one for the list: Walker has claimed to have a history in law enforcement. He doesn’t—even if his resume does sound like the making of a fine police officer. As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported today, Walker said on at least three occasions that he had worked in law enforcement—and he once even claimed to be an FBI agent.

Pressed by AJC, Walker’s campaign said that he was an honorary deputy at Georgia’s Cobb County Police Department, which, a former DeKalb County district attorney said, is “like a junior ranger badge.”

As for being in the FBI, well, Walker spent a week at an FBI training school in Quantico, Virginia, in 1989. He never graduated college, a prerequisite for joining the FBI.

Honestly, I’m not sure which is worse: a cop running for Senate, or a non-cop pretending to be one.

Don’t Be Distracted by “Inebriated” Rudy Giuliani

Donald Trump presumably wasn’t drunk when he prematurely declared victory at 2:30 a.m. on November 4, 2020. The 45th president, who famously doesn’t drink, was following a previously formed plan to try to steal an election he lost.

Hence, the “apparently inebriated” condition of Rudy Giuliani when he urged Trump to baselessly claim he’d won—as Rep. Liz Cheney, the Republican vice chair of the House committee investigating January 6, memorably put it during a hearing Monday—is kind of a distraction.

We know Giuliani drinks. And it’s been revealed before that the former New York mayor was in his cups on election night when he reportedly told Trump to “just say we won.” To be sure, it’s interesting that Trump aide Jason Miller said that Giuliani, then Trump’s personal lawyer, was “definitely intoxicated” that night when Giuliani disagreed with Trump campaign aides who told Trump he was losing. But it seems unlikely that Rudy, even dead sober, would have given different advice, or that Trump would have followed a different path if he had.

Giuliani responded to this testimony a day after the hearing, tweeting Tuesday that claims he was drunk on election were lies.

I am disgusted and outraged at the out right lie by Jason Miller and Bill Steppien. I was upset that they were not prepared for the massive cheating (as well as other lawyers around the President) I REFUSED all alcohol that evening. My favorite drink..Diet Pepsi

— Rudy W. Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani) June 14, 2022

Before election night in 2020, it was clear that Trump would never admit he lost. Instead he would use the early leads he was expected to have in many states— a result of his backers disproportionately voting in person rather than by mail—to declare victory and to advance the false claim that late-night shifts in favor of Joe Biden were the result of cheating. This was part of Trump’s larger plan to use election fraud conspiracy theories to challenge the legitimacy of his defeat.

Trump made his intentions clear when he refused to say he would concede if defeated and railed against expanded mail-in-voting efforts that states implemented due to Covid. “The only way we’re going to lose this election is if this election is rigged,” he said in Wisconsin in August 2020.

In September 2020, a widely-cited Atlantic report outlined how Trump might use his power to “obstruct the emergence of a legally unambiguous victory for Biden” and use uncertainly to try to remain in power. On November 1, 2020, Axios reported that Trump intended to declare victory on election night if it looked like he was ahead.

And on November 3, on his “War Room” podcast, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon said that Trump would declare that he won early on election night, regardless of the actual results. “He’s going to claim victory,” Bannon told his listeners, as Media Matters noted at the time. “He’s going to set the ground rules. He’s going to set the parameters. He’s going to set the narrative about no games.”

The only slight surprise was that Trump followed this plan even though, as conservative election attorney Ben Ginsberg testified Monday, the contest, ultimately, “was not close.”

The fact that Trump had a preexisting plan to pretend he won the election even if he lost shows that he was not confused. He was lying. He knew his claims were false, or just as bad, didn’t care whether they were or not. He was not led astray by a tipsy adviser. He intentionally undermined confidence in the election because he wanted to retain power.

This was a key point of Monday’s hearing. “Donald Trump lost an election, and knew he lost an election,” committee chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) explained in his opening remarks: “And as the result of his loss, he decided to wage an attack on our democracy.”

*This article has been updated with Giuliani’s denial that he was drunk on election night.

Feds Expand Investigation Into Funding for Trump’s Media Empire

Investigators with the Securities and Exchange Commission are expanding their probe into the plan to take Donald Trump’s social media startup public—news that could indefinitely delay, or even completely derail, what’s supposed to be an enormous payday for the former president.

Last year, Trump announced the creation of Trump Media & Technology Group, which he said would be an alternative to “woke” Silicon Valley companies like Twitter, Facebook, Netflix, and Amazon, which he believes are unfairly persecuting MAGA world. The new company’s first, and so far only, product is Truth Social, a Twitter look-a-like with 3 million users. While other social media company founders have become enormously rich by taking their companies public, Trump has skipped the traditional method of doing an initial public offering—which requires time, a lot of work, and scrutiny of the company—by opting instead to merge with what is known as a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC. A SPAC is essentially an empty shell of company that is already public—it merges with a company like Trump’s TMTG, and voila, Truth Social will be publicly traded and Trump potentially a much, much wealthier man.

Trump’s proposed partner is a company called Digital World Acquisition Corp, which went public last fall at $10 a share and subsequently rocketed to $97.54 after the planned merger with Trump’s start-up was announced. Enthusiasm for the stock came in large part from retail investors, excited by the idea of monetizing the social media power Trump once exerted through his Twitter account. But Truth Social’s rollout has been painfully slow, hobbled by technical glitches. Trump himself didn’t start to use the platform until last month. And in December, DWAC disclosed to its investors that the SEC and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) had both begun investigating DWACs origins.

But word of that investigation didn’t take much shine off of the company’s stock price. DWAC hit its highest share price well after the the probe became public. Many investors reasoned, accurately, that the presence of an investigation doesn’t necessarily mean much, since any investigation, no matter how serious, must be disclosed. But the question has dangled over the company ever since. And on Monday, DWAC revealed that it had received additional subpoenas from the SEC asking for even more documents, indicating that this probe is not about to go away, and may, in fact, be quite serious. 

In a filing on Monday, DWAC disclosed the expanding investigation, which is being conducted under a provision of securities law known as “Section 8(e),” and said the SEC is looking at information included in its “registration statement”—essentially the company’s prospectus for investors.

“Any resolution of the investigation could result in the imposition of significant penalties, injunctions, prohibitions on the conduct of Digital World’s business, damage to its reputation and other sanctions against Digital World,” the filing notes. “In addition, the Section 8(e) order of examination of the Registration Statement can be expected to delay effectiveness of the Registration Statement, which could materially delay, materially impede, or prevent the consummation of the Business Combination.”

Specifically, the SEC appears to be investigating how much of a relationship DWAC may have had with Trump and his social media company before the plan to merge the two companies together was publicly announced. The whole idea of a SPAC is that it merges two completely separate entities—they can’t coordinate before the SPAC goes public. Investigators appear to be suspicious that some coordination may have occurred. As we explained in December, when the investigation was first announced:

When a normal company goes public, it has a purpose—a business plan or a product—and investors get to look at the business and decide whether it’s something worth buying. But that’s a long arduous process that involves quite a bit of scrutiny. A SPAC, on the other hand, is a publicly traded company that can be launched quickly and easily into the market, where it will eventually find a business to acquire—but it’s not allowed to have a preexisting plan to merge with a specific company. In October, however, the New York Times reported that Patrick Orlando, the CEO of DWAC, had met with representatives of Trump about his proposed media idea as far back as April—despite the fact that DWAC did not go public until Sept. 3. Representatives of TMTG told the Times that the conversations were about a potential partnership between Trump and another SPAC that Orlando also was the CEO of, and were not related to DWAC’s involvement with Trump. 

DWAC has denied any improper activity, but investors seem even more nervy than before—by mid-day on Monday, DWAC’s stock had dropped more than 13 percent to around $38, nearing its lowest point since launching last year.

Here’s a Climate Solution Your Cat Is Gonna Love

This video was created by Pattrn and is shared here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Methane levels have increased more rapidly over the past two years than at any other point on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. What’s to be done?

In this video from Climate Desk partner Pattrn, we hear from researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology  working on ways to trap methane before it enters the atmosphere, using a compound most cat people and their pets will certainly recognize. You may ask, “How the heck would something like that work in practice?” They’ve got an answer for that. This fun video clocks in at less than three minutes. Check it out:

Former Trump Campaign Manager Poised to Testify to January 6 Committee

Bill Stepien invoked the Fifth Amendment rather than comply with a legislative subpoena to testify about Bridgegate, the 2013 scandal in which staffers and political appointees of New Jersey’s GOP Governor Chris Christie closed down access lanes to the George Washington Bridge to tie up traffic and punish a Democratic political rival. Now, the House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol has subpoenaed Stepien, who is scheduled to testify on Monday, though it’s unclear how cooperative a witness he may be. 

Christie, for whom Stepien worked as a campaign manager, told the New York Times in 2020 when Trump hired Stepien to replace Brad Parscale as campaign manager that Stepien “is a guy who is, in my experience with him, allergic to press attention, or public attention of any kind really.” 

Nonetheless, Stepien was smack in the middle of the Trump campaign machinations on election night in November 2020, and members of Congress are likely keen to hear about what went on inside the White House that night. Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Phillip Bump reported in their book I Alone Can Fix It that as the election returns rolled in, Stepien cautioned Trump that the early returns may look favorable, but that there would still be mail-in ballots to be counted that might favor Biden, and that the margins could shrink considerably, something Trump apparently didn’t want to hear. Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, according to Leonnig and Bump, urged Stepien to “just say we won,” regardless of what the vote tally in various states turned out to be. 

The House committee kicked off anticipated hearings on Thursday with a prime-time performance that garnered more than 20 million viewers. Six more days of testimony are scheduled, starting Monday with Stepian and Chris Stirewalt, a former Fox News political editor. Stirewalt was part of the team that made Fox the first network to declare that Joe Biden had won the state of Arizona, a decision that Trump viewed as premature and left him apoplectic. Fox fired Stirewalt in January 2021 after the pro-Trump  “stop the steal” frenzy had created a backlash against the network for correctly calling the hotly contested swing state for Biden.

Pages