Mother Jones Magazine

What to Really Look for With the Senate Deal on Guns

On Sunday, a bipartisan group of 20 US senators announced a “commonsense” proposal for making progress on gun safety, including 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.

“Families are scared, and it is our duty to come together and get something done that will help restore their sense of safety and security in their communities,” announced the group of lawmakers led by Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Republican John Cornyn of Texas, who were reportedly working on the legislative text along with Democrat Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Republican Thom Tillis of North Carolina.

Though by no means a done deal—as underscored by a somewhat tepid and hedged statement of support from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell—the announcement clearly aimed to soothe a nation deeply distressed by a recent spate of mass shootings, including the massacre of 19 school children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas.

The agreement in principle falls well short of major legislative changes that a strong majority of Americans consistently say they want in public opinion polling, including comprehensive background checks for gun buyers. But if ultimately passed by Congress in the form outlined on Sunday, the plan would bring significant change in a political arena that has remained in an infamous state of paralysis for many years. Notably, the support of 10 GOP senators indicates a possible path to get beyond the threat of a filibuster. 

Even if the full proposed set of measures goes through, however, the legislative details will of course matter greatly. Key questions hang over several in particular:

Enhanced background checks for buyers under age 21. Though still narrow in terms of overall gun buyers, the young demographic came grimly into view with the recent mass shootings in Uvalde and in Buffalo, New York, where the accused perpetrators both were 18 years old when they legally purchased AR-15-style rifles and other weapons. Senate Republicans already dismissed outright the idea of raising the gun buying age to 21; instead, the proposal describes “an investigative period to review juvenile and mental health records, including checks with state databases and local law enforcement.” But how long might that period last, and with what scope? It’s unclear how such efforts would gather information that frequently isn’t shared among disparate authorities or remains sealed under juvenile law. And many school and mass shootings have involved perpetrators who had no official record of criminal or mental health problems. 

Funding for red flag laws in states. What the proposal calls “crisis intervention orders” (also known as “extreme risk protection orders”) was the subject of model legislation produced by the Justice Department in June 2021 and currently exists in 19 states. The laws seek to keep guns away from people deemed by a judge to be a significant danger to themselves or others. (A majority of mass shooters are both, being suicidal.) This policy goes straight to many Republicans’ desire to blame mental health for mass shootings—to fundamentally false effect—instead of access to guns. Initial research on the efficacy of red flag laws has shown promise for preventing violent outcomes, but there are also questions about how well the laws are understood let alone put to use. In the case of the Buffalo shooter, New York’s law was not applied. Nor was Indiana’s red flag law used in 2021 to keep legally purchased firearms from a 19-year-old who committed a massacre at a FedEx facility.

Protection for victims of domestic violence. This addresses the so-called intimate partner or “boyfriend” loophole, by expanding who can be disarmed if they are convicted for domestic violence or subject to a domestic-violence restraining order. The proposal would add to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System abusers “who have or have had a continuing relationship of a romantic or intimate nature”—and not just current or former spouses. Many women have been shot to death by such individuals beyond the reach of state laws, and violent misogyny is a rising behavioral factor among mass shooters. Yet, under what parameters that information in the NICS system would even be used toward possible enforcement of gun prohibition or removal remains wholly unclear.

“The language is still not negotiated” on the domestic violence measure, a person knowledgeable about the ongoing process told me on Sunday.

Additional hedging came from Republicans on Sunday. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah announced his interest in reviewing the pending legislation by first declaring that he “will always stand on the side of the Second Amendment.” According to reporting from Politico, a GOP aide warned that “the details will be critical for Republicans, particularly the firearms-related provisions,” and that “one or more of these principles could be dropped if text is not agreed to.”

Nonetheless, this may be a signal moment for one of America’s most fraught political problems. The Democrats and gun safety advocates appear to have embraced like never before a strategy of seeking incremental change at the federal level. And some Republican lawmakers appear to recognize that a nation frayed by all manner of existential turmoil may not do well to see the mass murder of innocent children again be met with congressional inaction, despite even some shocking indication of its acceptance. 

If Congress does prove capable of passing bipartisan legislation that is recognizably close to the proposal announced on Sunday, that will go a long way toward breaking free from the entrenched national narrative of polarized deadlock and despair. Beyond the merits of the new measures themselves, it would create undeniable momentum for further progress on our nation’s unacceptable—and solvable—epidemic of gun violence.

Small Nuclear Reactors Still Have a Big Waste Problem

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

Lindsay Krall decided to study nuclear waste out of a love for the arcane. Figuring how to bury radioactive atoms isn’t exactly simple—it takes a blend of particle physics, careful geology and engineering, and a high tolerance for reams of regulations. But the trickiest ingredient of all is time. Nuclear waste from today’s reactors will take thousands of years to become something safer to handle. So any solution can’t require too much stewardship. It’s gotta just work, and keep working for generations. By then, the utility that split those atoms won’t exist, nor will the company that designed the reactor. Who knows? Maybe the United States won’t exist either.

Right now, the US doesn’t have such a plan. That’s been the case since 2011, when regulators facing stiff local opposition pulled the plug on a decades-long effort to store waste underneath Yucca Mountain in Nevada, stranding $44 billion in federal funds meant for the job. Since then, the nuclear industry has done a good job of storing its waste on a temporary basis, which is part of the reason Congress has shown little interest in working out a solution for future generations. Long-term thinking isn’t their strong suit. “It’s been a complete institutional failure in the US,” Krall says.

But there’s a new type of nuclear on the block: the small modular reactor. For a long time, the US nuclear industry has been stagnating, in large part because of the tremendous costs of building massive new plants. SMRs, by contrast, are small enough to be built in a factory and then hauled elsewhere to produce power. Advocates hope this will make them more cost-effective than the big reactors of today, offering an affordable, always-on complement to less-predictable renewables like wind and solar. According to some, they should also produce less radioactive waste than their predecessors. A Department of Energy-sponsored report estimated in 2014 that the US nuclear industry would produce 94 percent less fuel waste if big, old reactors were replaced with new smaller ones.

Krall was skeptical about that last part. “SMRs are generally being marketed as a solution—that maybe you don’t need a geological repository for them,” she says. So as a postdoc at Stanford, she and two prominent nuclear experts started digging through the patents, research papers, and license applications of two dozen proposed reactor designs, none of which have been built so far. Thousands of pages of redacted documents, a few public records requests, and a vast appendix full of calculations later, Krall, who is now a scientist with Sweden’s nuclear waste company, got an answer: By many measures, the SMR designs produce not less, but potentially much more waste: more than five times the spent fuel per unit of power, and as much as 35 times for other forms of waste. The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences earlier this week.

Startups seeking licenses to build SMR designs have disputed the findings and say they’re prepared for whatever waste is generated while the US sorts out permanent disposal. “Five times a small number is still a really small number,” says John Kotek, who leads policy and public affairs at the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s trade association.

But the authors say the “back-end” of the fuel cycle, which includes waste and decommissioning, should be a bigger factor in what they consider to be the precarious economics of the new reactors. “The point of this paper is to prompt a discussion,” says Allison Macfarlane, a former chair of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and a coauthor of the paper. “We can’t get to how much it is going to cost until we understand what we’re dealing with.”

Designing smaller reactors may make them easier to build, but it also creates a problem: neutron leakage. Reactors produce energy by firing neutrons at uranium atoms, causing them to split. This sends out more neutrons, which in turn find other targets and cause a chain reaction. But some of these neutrons miss. Instead, they fly out of the core, hitting other parts of the reactor that become “activated,” or radioactive. Inside SMRs, there’s less space for the neutrons to jostle around in, so more of them leak. There’s no getting around the issue. “We’re basically dealing with gravity here, the laws of physics,” Krall says. “It’s something you have to engineer your way around.” 

One fix is to encase the core in materials like steel and graphite that reflect or reduce the speed of the neutrons rattling inside. But in time, these materials are being so thoroughly bombarded with neutrons that they become radioactive themselves, and need to be replaced. In addition, some of the reactor designs include sodium or liquid metal coolants that develop their own radioactivity issues. The authors point to experimental reactors in Scotland and Tennessee, where scientists have spent decades trying to figure out how to decommission parts that have become contaminated by the cooling systems. So that was the first problem Krall’s team found: The crowded conditions inside SMRs mean more neutron leakage, but the materials needed to contain such leaks inevitably become radioactive waste.

Problem number two is the fuel. The other major workaround for neutron leakage is to use fuel that’s more highly enriched with Uranium-235—the atoms that are actually split. But the researchers estimate that even with a greater concentration of atoms to hit, these reactors will end up with higher volumes of leftover fuel, given a lower rate of “burn up.” Once spent, the fuel needs to be handled with special care. With a higher concentration of fissionable atoms in the waste, its “critical mass”—that is, the amount of material to sustain a chain reaction—declines sharply, making the waste more volatile. The result is a bigger volume of material that needs to be divvied up into smaller batches for safe-keeping.

Those varied streams of waste complicate the calculus for a permanent storage facility, which needs to be carefully designed to ensure the surrounding geology can safely sequester the material for thousands of years. “What is clearly dead-on is that you’re going to have a whole bunch of types of spent nuclear fuel, and that is going to be much more difficult to manage than having one type of fuel,” says Peter Burns, a nuclear expert at the University of Notre Dame who wasn’t involved in the research.

And Burns, for one, isn’t shocked by the magnitude of the findings, though he adds that it’s important to keep the issue in perspective. After all, SMRs are one potential solution to the climate crisis that resulted from another part of the energy industry’s failure to clean up its waste. “The back end of the coal cycle was to release all the gas to the atmosphere, and anything that didn’t fly away you put in an ash pile,” he says. “I would argue that the nuclear industry has done a fantastic job of dealing with waste, but eventually it has to be disposed of. The extent that a proliferation of SMRs will make the issue worse is real.”

Representatives for SMR builders say the calculations overestimate the amount of waste their facilities will emit, the exact size and nature of which varies by design. Diane Hughes, a spokesperson for NuScale, the reactor designer that was the subject of the paper’s most extensive analysis, says that the researchers’ assumptions lead to an overestimate of spent fuel. She adds that the company’s design, though smaller, is chemically similar to existing reactors, and doesn’t create novel kinds of waste.

Jacob DeWitte, CEO of Oklo, which hopes to build a sodium-cooled design, notes that radioactivity in the spent coolant is typically short-lived, and that the contamination issues that afflicted previous sodium-cooled reactors were specific to those designs. “This is a limited-scope analysis which is designed to point out negative comparisons,” DeWitte says. All of the companies contacted by WIRED noted that the overall volume of waste is small and can be easily stored while the US figures out a permanent solution for it.

Kotek of NEI adds that the drive to develop new reactors is also pushing the industry toward new solutions for waste, like reusing spent fuel and developing safer and cheaper methods of storage. It has also added urgency to dealing with long-term disposal, he says, noting that the Biden administration’s support for advanced nuclear power as part of its decarbonization plans has been accompanied by a push for a new office to handle waste.

One big factor that isn’t included in the analysis is the potential to recycle nuclear fuel, which could significantly reduce how much goes to waste. The authors cite concerns about other forms of waste generated by recycling processes and the failure of recycling to catch on for the current generation of US reactors, despite more success in places like France. But many SMR companies, including Oklo, have baked the idea into their business, in part to reduce operational costs and also because of the current lack of easy sources for newly enriched fuel. DeWitte says that the company also hopes to find ways to recycle other forms of non-fuel waste, like the activated steel.

And he points to ongoing work on permanent storage, funded in part by the Department of Energy. Oklo is working with another startup called Deep Isolation, which is exploring the idea of drilling boreholes deep into the ground and sending down canisters of waste. In theory, that could expand the kinds of places that could serve as repositories, since they don’t rely on finding a place with the right type of natural cavern, like Yucca Mountain.

But the pathway for making that happen—getting that method approved and then finding a place to do it—is uncertain. Macfarlane, who is now head of the University of British Columbia’s public policy school, notes that any solutions for SMR waste will run into the same pushback that Yucca Mountain did over environmental concerns. “It’s a societal problem, not a technical one,” she says. She believes both US regulators and the vendors themselves should be doing more to anticipate how waste will be handled before the reactors are approved and built to anticipate and factor in the costs. The SMR industry looks brightest to her in places that are doing a better job of figuring out long-term storage, she adds, pointing to Finland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. “The real issue is that the US doesn’t have a plan for its spent nuclear fuel,” Macfarlane says. “I’m not feeling optimistic right now.”

Gun Violence Protests Draw Thousands Across the Country

Thousands of people joined hundreds of protests across the country on Saturday to demand that lawmakers take action against the epidemic of gun violence in the United States.

After a series of mass shootings, including in Uvalde, Texas, and in Buffalo, New York, demonstrators staged more than 450 protests nationwide. The largest, in Washington, DC, was organized by March for Our Lives, the group founded by student survivors of the 2018 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida. President Biden expressed his support for their cause. “I join them by repeating my call to Congress: do something,” he tweeted.

The second March for Our Lives on the National Mall, standing against gun violence four years since the original, with thousands in attendance under the Washington Monument. David Hogg speaking: "All Americans have a right to not be shot, a right to safety." pic.twitter.com/MHirplU49l

— Alejandro Alvarez (@aletweetsnews) June 11, 2022

As people filled the Mall in DC, Manuel Oliver, whose son, Joaquin, was one of the students killed in Parkland, addressed the crowd. “Our elected officials betrayed us and have avoided the responsibility to end gun violence,” he said, according to NBC News. Near the National Museum of African American History and Culture, organizers set up a field of artificial flowers to represent people who died in gun violence nationwide. Mayor Muriel Bowser drew cheers as she urged lawmakers to pass mandatory background checks and ban assault rifles. “We don’t have to live like this,” she said, adding that people in other countries “don’t live like this.” Some children in the crowd had traveled from Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman killed 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

Mayor of D.C. Muriel Bowers is calling for gun reform and statehood for Washington, D.C. at the March for Our Lives protests.

"It is common sense to ban assault rifles in our country." https://t.co/PqOwvb6OyL pic.twitter.com/91rmfl19Ih

— ABC News (@ABC) June 11, 2022

Kids, parents & activists from Newtown are boarding a 5am bus in Sandy Hook now to head down to DC for the March For Our Lives pic.twitter.com/T8EYpjeSGI

— Taylor Hartz (@taylorjhartz) June 11, 2022

The rallies on Saturday came four years after March for Our Lives held its first major protest in Washington, after a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018. Since then, more than 115,000 students have been exposed to gun violence on K-12 campuses during the school day, according to a Washington Post database. Last month, a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde. Ten days before that, 10 Black people were shot and killed at a grocery store in Buffalo. In addition to mass shootings, smaller shootings have spiked across the country during the pandemic: Homicides rose an estimated 30 percent in 2020, mostly from gun violence.

The heightened anxiety over the prevalence of shootings was on display during the rally in DC on Saturday. During a moment of silence for victims, some members of the crowd heard a noise that scared them, a person yelling near a group of counter-protesters, and many began to run away in terror. An organizer onstage urged the crowd to calm down and said there was no threat, but people remained shaken and some children reportedly cried. 

The guy has been arrested but I was in the crowd when this happened and it was very scary. Heard a guy yelling during a moment of silence and then we were all running and trying not to get trampled. Kids were crying and traumatized. We left and saw a ton of cop cars. https://t.co/lfC6f9ql5j

— Alyssa Brown-Ruiz (@Lyssa_B_Ruiz) June 11, 2022

Beyond DC, protesters in Parkland gathered outside an amphitheater and demanded lawmakers pass red flag laws. In Houston, people yelled angrily outside the office of Sen. Ted Cruz, who told reporters a few hours after the Uvalde shooting that he still opposed gun control measures. In the days leading up to the rallies on Saturday, March for Our Lives leaders scheduled dozens of meetings on Capitol Hill to urge lawmakers to take action.

Hundreds are shouting “F* Ted Cruz!” outside the senator’s downtown office after walking from Houston’s City Hall in a March for Our Lives protest for gun control. @tedcruz @FOX26Houston pic.twitter.com/6TgfmR6pgo

— Chelsea Edwards (@ChelseaFox26) June 11, 2022

Congress has not passed any gun control measures during Biden’s term. The House of Representatives approved two background-check bills last year, but neither came to a vote in the Senate because Republican lawmakers opposed them. The House passed another bill on Wednesday that would raise the minimum age to purchase semiautomatic rifles and ban high-capacity ammunition magazines, but again, but it’s not expected to pass the Senate.

The slow pace of reform has frustrated many of the protesters. “We hear a lot about prayer, and prayer is wonderful,” Garnell Whitfield Jr., whose 86-year-old mother, Ruth, was killed during the Buffalo shooting, told a crowd during the rally in DC. “But prayer requires action. You pray and then you get up and walk.”

March For Our Lives Denver #MarchForOurLives #NeverAgain pic.twitter.com/THVhE6wnxP

— Katie Robb (@katie_robb_) June 11, 2022

An Uvalde Mom Reports That Her Grieving Fourth Grader Nearly Suffered Cardiac Arrest

A fourth grader who survived the Uvalde school shooting in Texas has been hospitalized after she nearly went into cardiac arrest after her best friend’s memorial late last month, according to her mother, Jessica Treviño.

Illiana Treviño, 11, had gone to the memorial to leave a teddy bear and flowers for her friend Amerie Jo Garza, one of 19 children killed by the shooter at Robb Elementary on May 24. Before her death, Amerie, 10, had protected Illiana from bullies at school.

During the memorial, Illiana told her mother she wasn’t feeling well. Her heart rate began to spike and they went to a hospital, where, Treviño reported, doctors said Illiana been on the cusp of a heart attack. She remained hospitalized as of Thursday, according to People. “Her Heart can’t take the stress and trauma of the past week,” Illiana’s father wrote on a GoFundMe page raising money for the family’s expenses. “We are barely seeing the ripples side effects of what this tragic incident has brought to our community.” Treviño told People that her daughter had been otherwise healthy before the incident. 

“Her heart can’t take the stress and trauma of the past week.” 

Illiana is not the only one to experience heart problems after the school massacre. Two days after fourth-grade teacher Irma Garcia was killed during the shooting, her husband, Joe, died from a heart attack. “I truly believe Joe died of a broken heart and losing the love of his life of more than 25 years was too much to bear,” Irma Garcia’s relatives wrote on a GoFundMe page. The pair were buried alongside each other in twin brown caskets.

On the day of the shooting, Illiana hid in her classroom while the gunman walked by; she escaped without physical injuries. Amerie, in another room, was shot after she tried to dial 911 on her cellphone, according to her grandmother. The police stood outside the school for an hour waiting for backup.

When Illiana later saw her friend’s face flash across the news as one of the dead, “she just started screaming and crying,” Treviño told People. The day before the memorial, Illiana sobbed during a vigil she held with her parents for Amerie.

Illiana is no longer in the ICU and was transferred to a hospital in San Antonio. Doctors told her mother she is showing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. “Her body was basically reacting to the shock,” Treviño told People, adding that her daughter is now terrified at the prospect of returning to class without her best friend. “Amerie made her feel safe and made her feel okay to go to school.”

Denver Deployed Mental Health Workers Instead of Police—and Some Crimes Went Down

Over the past couple of years, many cities have started dispatching mental health clinicians in response to certain 911 calls instead of the cops. One of the main goals behind this strategy is to reduce police killings of people who are experiencing mental health crises—and as I’ve written previously, that’s been fairly successful, since the health clinicians aren’t armed like law enforcement are. Now, a new study in Denver suggests the strategy might be making cities safer in another way: by reducing crime.

The study, published in Science Advances, examined the results of Denver’s new Support Team Assistance Response (STAR) program, which sends mental health clinicians and paramedics to 911 calls involving people who aren’t violent but are accused of things like public intoxication, indecent exposure, trespassing, and drug use. The program launched as a pilot in June 2020, as people around the country were protesting the murder of George Floyd. Over the next six months, the clinicians responded to 748 incidents.

Reports of lower-level crimes dropped by about 34 percent in the neighborhoods where STAR responders worked compared with the neighborhoods where they didn’t.

To get a sense of how this affected crime, Stanford researchers Thomas Dee and Jaymes Pyne examined police data across the city—in neighborhoods where the STAR responders worked and in neighborhoods where they didn’t, both before the pilot program started and in the months afterward. Reports of many lower-level crimes—things like trespassing—dropped by about 34 percent in the neighborhoods where STAR responders worked compared with the neighborhoods where they didn’t. Over six months, that meant a reduction of nearly 1,400 reported criminal offenses.

Some of that change can be explained by the fact that police weren’t responding to so many of these calls anymore—the medical workers were—which meant that even if there were a low-level crime taking place, the cops wouldn’t be there to record it in their data and arrest the person. But not all of the change can be explained by that fact. The researchers believe that a fairly significant chunk of the reduction in reported crimes was due to a drop in actual crime.

What makes them think so? As I mentioned earlier, STAR only responds to certain types of 911 calls. The researchers knew that before STAR launched, each of those 911 calls led to an average of 1.4 criminal offenses recorded by the police. Based on that, and given how many incidents STAR responded to, the medical workers should have caused a reduction of about 1,000 reported crimes over six months. But instead there was a reduction of nearly 1,400 reported crimes, many more than expected. This, the researchers wrote, “suggests that the STAR program reduced actual crimes,” possibly by connecting people with mental health care that made them less likely to have another crisis in public or become a repeat offender.

STAR did not seem to have an effect on more serious crimes, things like burglaries and shootings that the medical workers weren’t tasked with responding to. And that’s important, too: Some skeptics of the program had worried that if the police weren’t cracking down on low-level offenses like trespassing, then criminals would be emboldened to violate the law in bigger ways. “Under the broken windows theory, less police enforcement of low-priority criminal violations will increase the prevalence of more serious and violent offenses being recorded,” the researchers wrote. “Our evidence suggests that this was not the case in Denver’s treated precincts.”

“[P]roviding mental health support in targeted, nonviolent emergencies can result in a huge reduction in less serious crimes without increasing violent crimes,” Dee, one of the researchers, summed up in a statement.

Meanwhile, there was another big benefit to the program: It saved money. The city spent about $151 each time the STAR team responded to an offense during the six-month period, according to the researchers. By contrast, had the police responded and proceeded with an arrest, the resulting prosecution and jail time would have cost $646 on average. It’s possible the program could also make the police better at their jobs: When cops don’t have to respond to so many low-level calls, they have more time to investigate violent crimes like rape and murder. As researcher Dee put it in a statement: “These results are extraordinarily promising.”

Denver is one of many cities experimenting with this strategy. For a deeper dive on how it’s working in San Francisco, read my latest investigation, “The Alternative to Police That Is Proven to Reduce Violence.”

One Woman’s Quest to Sow Sustainable Farms

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

For the past several weeks, Marie-Claude Comeau has spent her days in the fields on her farm in Manseau, a small town in Québec, prepping them for the upcoming growing season. But unlike most farmers who are sowing crops destined for dinner plates, Comeau is planting a field of crops not for harvest, but for their seeds.

Few Canadian farmers grow their own seeds, a practice that takes time and specialized skills to do well. Instead, the majority of Canada’s seeds, particularly for vegetables, come from specialized seed farms as far afield as Tanzania. Comeau is one of the rare farmers whose business is entirely devoted to producing seeds for North American distributors.

As global supply chains continue to struggle, food prices surge, and climate change threatens the world’s farmland with droughts or floods, growers like Comeau say their locally grown seeds are key to making Canada’s food supplies more sustainable.

“(Seeds) are the basis for resilience. You can’t have a resilient food system without local seed,” explained Comeau. To that end, the Quebec farmer and 11 more from across Canada will participate in a federally funded project to showcase Canadian seeds and teach more people how to grow them.

“Large corporations control most of the world’s commercial seeds, and if you control the seeds, you basically control the food.”

Spearheaded by SeedChange, a global organization that promotes local seed, the three-year effort will increase interest in local seeds, boost seed production, and help teach farmers how to save their seeds. It will also focus on sustaining heritage seed breeds otherwise at risk of extinction and breed new varieties better adapted to local climate and soil conditions.

“Today, large corporations control most of the world’s commercial seeds, and if you control the seeds, you basically control the food,” explained SeedChange executive director Leticia Ama Deawuo.

The approach has shrunk seed diversity by favoring varieties designed to do well on large industrial farms that rely on artificial fertilizers and pesticides. While they might perform well on big farms, these varieties tend to be ill-suited to more sustainable practices and less resilient in the face of extreme weather.

These types of seeds are also more vulnerable to supply chain disruptions than locally grown seeds, as was laid bare in 2020 when a pandemic-induced gardening boom left both farmers and gardeners scrambling to find enough seed. Bolstering local seed production is key to preventing this kind of disruption, whether from global pandemics, war or other crises.

“If farmers can access the seeds they need in a time of crisis, they can act quickly to protect communities from hunger or to compensate for rising food prices” by growing more products locally, said Deawuo.

But for Comeau, growing seeds is about more than food security. Growing seeds lets her “complete the whole circle” from seed to vegetable to seed once more over the course of a year or two. Aligning her life with this cycle was “really appealing” to her when she started farming after university.

For Comeau, growing seeds is about more than food security. Growing seeds lets her “complete the whole circle.”

Comeau didn’t grow up farming. Originally from a small town near her farm, she moved to Montreal as a teen. It would be years before she left the city to work on a Quebec vegetable and seed farm. It was there she found her love for seeds.

“I learned this really specific skill that is seed saving,” she said. Even when farmers can save seeds—some big seed companies patent seeds and make this illegal—seed saving requires special skills, time, and effort not all are willing to commit. She was “very privileged” to find seed-saving mentors, and wants to pass on the favor to the next generation of growers.

The SeedChange project will give her the resources to grow trickier vegetables like onions and carrots—both are biennials and only produce seed in their second year of growth—and teach agricultural students about her work. She also plans on growing squash to show them cross-pollination techniques used to create hybrid varieties.

“(There’s) no official curriculum in any school that’s dedicated to saving seeds” even if it is such a key element in making food supplies more resilient, she said. “That’s why I decided to target future farmers—students—so they will be able to acquire some knowledge.”

I Can’t Stop Thinking About the Thin Blue Line Flags in the January 6 Video

There is a lot to examine in the 10-minute video compilation of the Capitol insurrection produced by the congressional committee investigating the attack. Some of the footage, which aired during Thursday’s primetime hearing, had never been broadcast before. Other clips are now receiving fresh attention. You can watch a MAGA protester read President Donald Trump’s tweet condemning Mike Pence through a megaphone to an angry mob. You can see another clip in which the mob chants about executing the vice president. Elsewhere, the video lingers painfully as Trump supporters beat police officers attempting to stop them from entering the Capitol.

pic.twitter.com/Po7qA3xecf

— January 6th Committee (@January6thCmte) June 10, 2022

But to me, one of the most visually striking things about watching the video—and about watching the events unfold in real time last year—is the incredible assemblage of flags. There are so many flags, in more varieties than I can properly identify. There are regular American flags of course, but also: blue Trump flags, red Trump flags, American flags with Trump’s face on them, three-percenter flags, a Christian flag, Gadsden flags, a Confederate flag with an assault rifle on it, a Colorado flag, and various other niche symbols that people more familiar with the various court filings might have a better chance at deciphering.

One flag in particular stands out. It’s one of the first flags you see, and it also happens to be one you can see just about every day in one form or another: It’s the so-called Thin Blue Line flag.

The flag’s promise of power and force mattered more than the police officers themselves.

The Thin Blue Line is the unofficial (and sometimes official) emblem of American police departments. It’s a metaphor for the antagonistic way in which many cops view their jobs—as the “thin blue line” between civilization and chaos. And it’s been widely adopted by opponents of the Black Lives Matter movement and by the American right, in general.

We see it in the opening scene of the January 6 video, waving behind a woman who tells a cameraman, “I’m not allowed to say what’s going to happen today, because everyone’s just going to have to watch for themselves.”

It is a striking, though not surprising, flag to see in the context of an insurrection in which Trump supporters attacked the cops who tried to stand between them and Congress. One of the two in-person witnesses at Thursday’s hearing, Capitol police officer Caroline Edwards, described the scene that day as “carnage,” and said she was “slipping in people’s blood.”

But in another sense, the mob understood the flag’s meaning perfectly well. The symbol has never been about the idea of respecting laws in the abstract; the very idea of redesigning the American flag in such a manner and aggressively foisting it upon everyone else is a statement of dominance and control and authority. Like the Punisher logo it’s often blended together with, the Thin Blue Line flag is a rejoinder to people who question the work that cops do, laced with no small amount of malice. The right-wing political apparatus considers police officers both allies and mascots for its project. During the campaign, Trump even rallied with members the NYPD’s Police Benevolent Association at his golf course. But ultimately, actual laws and actual order were completely non-essential to his own idea of “law and order”; the flag’s promise of power and force mattered more than the police officers themselves. And on January 6, the thin blue line was just in the way.

How Tesla Is the Fake Meat of Cars

About a decade ago, Silicon Valley cash began flowing into startups that promised hyper-realistic imitation meat—not your hippy uncle’s tofu pup or garden burger, but facsimiles that taste (and “bleed“) just like the real thing. Nearly from the start, one model for the project kept popping up: Tesla. Buoyed by a hefty dose of venture capital, the company had leapt past the hidebound auto industry and in 2012 began churning out all-electric vehicles that quickly became the toast of the luxury car market—embraced not just for their environmental friendliness, but mainly for their design and performance (a few pesky fires aside). In short, the argument went, Tesla broke through because its cutting-edge technology made a better car, not because it made a greener car. You didn’t have to give a damn about climate change to covet one. 

The faux meat upstarts vowed to to something similar with meat: They’d make burgers as delicious as the real thing, and lure in carnivores who don’t care about industrial meat’s environmental impacts, like greenhouse gas-spewing cow burps and manure “lagoons,” or its social flaws, such as gruesome working conditions in slaughterhouses. “We’re changing the rules of game, let’s build the Tesla of meat,” Ethan Bown, CEO of Beyond Meat, told a trade journal in 2015. “It feels to me that what you’re trying to do in meat is what Tesla did in electric cars,” journalist Ezra Klein gushed to a clearly pleased Patrick Brown (no relation to Ethan), founder and CEO of Impossible Foods, on his podcast in 2016. A year later, Impossible declared an ambitious goal: “Impossible Foods wants to supply people with all the delicious, nutritious and affordable meat they want,” the company’s 2017 sustainability report states. “We want to replace a prehistoric means of food production with one that can sustainably feed 10 billion people by 2050.”

The whole model of a consumer-led, tech-centered approach to climate change is looking tattered. 

In both cases, the underlying idea was that better consumer choice—enticing us to buy a greener car or burger—could drive the kind of societal change needed to rein in global warming, if only entrepreneurs could hit upon the right technical breakthroughs.

Much has changed in the years since. Both Tesla and meat-that’s-not-meat startups have experienced meteoric rises and come down to earth a bit. For all their achievements and market penetration, the incumbent industries they aimed to disrupt—Big Oil and Big Meat—are chugging along. And the whole model of a consumer-led, tech-centered approach to climate change is looking tattered. 

To see what I mean, check out the trajectory of Beyond Meat. In 2015, it emerged as a media darling, typified by an Outside Magazine piece titled “This Top-Secret Food Will Change the Way You Eat.” In it, writer Rowan Jacobsen reported he had gotten an early taste of the company’s soon-to-debut Beast Burger and it had convinced him to give up meat. He described the experience:

I tossed one on the grill. It hit with a satisfying sizzle. Gobbets of lovely fat began to bubble out. A beefy smell filled the air. I browned a bun. Popped a pilsner. Mustard, ketchup, pickle, onions. I threw it all together with some chips on the side and took a bite. I chewed. I thought. I chewed some more. And then I began to get excited about the future.

Jacobsen reported that Beyond had achieved pea-burger nirvana by hiring Tim Geistlinger, a “biotech rock star who had been working with the Gates Foundation to develop antimalarial drugs and a yeast that makes clean jet fuel out of sugar.” (Note: Jets still fly on fossil fuel). But Geistlinger couldn’t quite describe to Jacobson the technological feat that had made that Beast Burger so tasty—because it was proprietary information. “Eventually, Geistlinger suggested trying something radical—the big Beast Burger secret, which involves a certain combination of temperature, pressure, timing, and chemistry that he could tell me about only in veiled terms,” Jacobsen wrote. 

That “certain combination of temperature, pressure, timing, and chemistry”—the burger’s special sauce, so to speak—served the company well for a while. The Beast was a hit, and a year later, it gave rise to an even more-popular successor called the Beyond Burger, which the company hailed as “our new ‘raw-beef’ style burger that looks, cooks, and tastes so much like beef [that] it’s being shelved in the meat sections at Whole Foods.”

After that product, too, took off, Beyond took its shares public in May 2019—and Wall Street proved as ravenous for imitation meat as Silicon Valley. On the day of the initial public offering, Beyond shares surged 192 percent, the best-performing US IPO raising at least $200 million “since before the 2008 financial crisis,” Bloomberg reported. By the end of its first day of trading, Beyond’s market value stood at $3.8 billion—a heady level for a company that had never turned a profit. Riding a wave of hype, the company’s shares tripled within three months.

But things have been rocky ever since, and in 2022, Beyond stock has plunged. At its current share price, the stock market values Beyond at $1.5 billion, just 10 percent of the all-time high it reached in 2019. And the giant companies Beyond hoped to topple are doing just fine. Over the past year, while Beyond shares were sliding 84 percent, the stock of its animal-based meat rival Tyson jumped 12 percent, outperforming the overall market. What happened? 

While Beyond was riding high in 2019, the established food industry was taking note of its success and plotting its response. In a November 2019 piece, the Washington Post’s Laura Reiley reported that meat-processing giants Cargill, Tyson Foods, and Smithfield, along with Kellogg’s and other processed-food titans, had engaged their formidable flavor-engineering R&D teams to take on Beyond and other newcomers in a “headlong race to produce signature plant-based meats.” The upstart had awakened the sleeping giant. 

The upstart had awakened the sleeping giant. 

As competition from those well-capitalized players heated up, plant-based meat sales boomed during the height of the pandemic in 2020. But over the past year, sales growth has flattened or even gone negative, according to various market-data firms. “Consumers aren’t embracing [high-tech burger and other meat facsimiles] with the same level of enthusiasm they did a few years ago,” Bloomberg’s Deena Shanker reported in May, after Beyond disappointed Wall Street with lower-than-expected revenues. “Many no longer see the products as healthy, citing concerns over how processed they are. Others are turning away after trying one product they don’t like.” 

Today, after all the bluster, Beyond owns a 20 percent share of the US plant-based meat market, second to Morningstar, an old school veggie-burger brand now owned by Kellogg’s, which owns a 27 percent slice, reports CNBC. Apparently, Geistlinger’s top-secret “combination of temperature, pressure, timing, and chemistry” wasn’t quite the killer app Beyond and its boosters thought it would be seven years ago. 

Impossible Foods clocks in at third, owning 12 percent of the plant-based meat market. It has a story similar to Beyond’s: loads of investor and media adulation and a special-sauce technology (genetically modified “heme“) said to make soy-protein patties taste just like beef. In 2019, the company announced what it called a “simple mission: to replace the need for animals as a food-production technology–globally, by 2035.” While Impossible reports that sales are booming—it claimed in March that quarterly revenues had jumped 85 percent over the previous year’s—it has yet to go through with its long-anticipated IPO. That hesitation is just another signal of Wall Street’s lost appetite for high-tech faux meat players. 

Ironically, Tesla, Impossible’s and Beyond’s role model, finds itself in a similar place. After early investor Elon Musk took the company’s CEO position in 2008 (he now also serves as its “technoking“), Tesla rode a wave of hype—and generous public subsidies, despite Musk’s avowed fiscal conservatism—to dizzying heights. While the entrenched automotive industry kept churning out gas-burning SUVs, along with hybrids for green cred, Tesla ramped up production of high-performing all-electric vehicles.

The media took note. In a 2013 profile typical of Musk’s press from that era, The New Yorker’s Tad Friend hailed Musk’s “manifest determination to save the world—single-handedly, if necessary.” Wall Street bought in, too. The company’s stock rose steadily from 2013 to late 2019—at which point it took flight like a rocket from Space X, another Musk company. By October 2021, the stock market valued Tesla at an extraordinary $1 trillion—more than the combined valuation of five well-established competitors (Toyota, VW, Daimler, Ford Motor, and GM). And for a time, its CEO enjoyed status as the world’s richest human

Tesla shares have surrendered more than a third of their value over the past two months. 

But simultaneously, Musk fixated on an even more ambitious goal than ending the internal-combustion car: creating ones that can drive themselves. Safe self-driving vehicles have proven much more elusive than Musk and other boosters claim, experts say. But that hasn’t stopped Musk from declaring their imminent arrival. (In a San Francisco pilot project, Tesla rival Chevrolet has just begun running a small fleet of fully autonomous all-electric taxis, which can only operate when all of these conditions hold: good weather, nighttime, and low traffic.) Here’s a supercut video of Musk promising autonomous Teslas “next year,” every year between 2014 and 2021. And just two weeks ago, on a trip to Brazil, he extended that streak to 2022. Meanwhile, the company has insisted on offering features called “Autopilot” and “full self-driving,” which despite their confident names, “are intended for use with a fully attentive driver, who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any moment,” the Tesla website states. The company hails the safety of Autopilot, but it has come under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for reportedly causing Teslas to crash into emergency vehicles and, more recently, for “allegations of unexpected brake activation” in recent-year models. 

While Tesla keeps generating alarming headlines (“US has over 750 complaints of Teslas braking for no reason,” AP reported on June 3), its old-line competitors are successfully rolling out their own all-electric cars, though they’ve been stymied this year by a chip shortage. In early June, Musk told Tesla executives in an email that he intended to lay off 10 percent of the company’s salaried staff because of his “super bad feeling” about the economy, Reuters reported. Jostled by fast-emerging competition, safety issues, and the technoking’s erratic lunge to buy Twitter, Tesla shares have surrendered more than a third of their value over the past two months. 

The whole notion that replacing every gas-burning car on the road today with a nifty electric model is looking less and less like a planet-saving panacea. Just like oil, rising demand for minerals to power EVs is generating massive geopolitical tensions, and threatens to trigger a cold war with China. Here in the United States, the scramble for copper, largely to satisfy the EV boom, has given rise to a vast proposed mining project atop sacred Apache ground in Arizona that “threatens to deplete groundwater as the Southwest faces a historic megadrought,” my colleague Maddie Oatman reported recently. Thea Riofrancos, a political scientist at Providence College, has documented the ill effects on mining lithium for EV batteries in places like Chile’s Atacama salt flat, where extraction operations require “enormous quantities of water in an already parched environment,” making freshwater “less accessible to the 18 indigenous Atacameño communities that live on the flat’s perimeter,” and disrupting the habitats of species such as Andean flamingos.   

In short, as Riofrancos put it, a “transportation system based on individual electric vehicles…with landscapes dominated by highways and suburban sprawl, is much more resource- and energy-intensive than one that favours mass transit and alternatives such as walking and cycling.” While many reporters were marveling at the wonder (and glitches) of Musk’s cars, the US mass transit network has sunk ever deeper into decay. In its “2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure,” the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the the nation’s transit system a “D-,” finding that nearly half of Americans lack reliable access to transit service. (Musk’s own answer to mass transit, getting cities to pay his Boring Company to dig tunnels and ferry people underground in Teslas, is absurd.) 

And suburban sprawl, as American as a hulking Ford F150 (now available in an all-electric version), proceeds apace. “Between 2001 and 2019, the built-up landscape of America—buildings, roads and other structures—has expanded into previously undeveloped areas, adding more than 14,000 square miles of new development across the contiguous United States—an area over five times the size of Delaware,” the Washington Post found last year. The phenomenon is most prominent in the Sun Belt stretching from Florida to Southern California—the very region with the least mass transit infrastructure

Just as the rise of techy meat substitutes have so far failed to dent the US appetite for meat—currently near all-time highs—Musk’s successes don’t seem capable of stemming the mounting environmental wreckage of the Anthropocene. Maybe striving to build the “Tesla of meat”—or of anything—was always a wrong turn. Or at best it was a supplement to, but not a replacement for, the real political work of reining in the abuses of our lightly regulated, powerful meat and fossil fuel industries. 

“You Do Not Want to Be Assigned to a Location Which Is Hostile to Your Existence”

This article first appeared on The War Horse, an award-winning nonprofit news organization educating the public on military service. Subscribe to their newsletter.

The first week after Staff Sgt. Alleria Stanley reported to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, she says, three separate people approached her to offer advice: For her own safety, she should avoid certain areas near base.

“‘Don’t go down these roads.’”

“‘Don’t go here.’”

“‘They’ll kill you,’” Stanley says she was warned by fellow servicemembers who thought she might be at risk—because she is transgender.

“That’s the briefing you would get in Afghanistan or Iraq. I got it in Missouri.”

It reminded her of conversations she’d had while deployed. “That’s the briefing you would get in Afghanistan or Iraq,” says Stanley, who served in Afghanistan in 2005. “I got it in Missouri.”

Stanley came out in 2016, following then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s authorization of transgender troops in the military. She stayed on active duty after President Donald Trump largely reversed that policy. And she rejoiced when President Joe Biden reversed the reversal during his first week in office. But now, Stanley—who also has two transgender children—says the tidal wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation in states like Missouri is starting to make serving her country feel untenable.

Army Staff Sgt. Alleria Stanley.

Courtesy of Alleria Stanley

“You do not want to be assigned to a location which is hostile to your existence,” she says.

In Florida, a new law limits the discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in schools. In Arizona, foster and adoption agencies can reject prospective LGBTQ parents because of their identity. In South Dakota, businesses can deny services to LGBTQ people under the auspices of religious freedom.

For the tens of thousands of LGBTQ people who serve in uniform, and the tens of thousands more who have gay or transgender children, these new state laws and policies have them rethinking their service. A poll by the Modern Military Association of America, the nation’s largest advocacy organization for LGBTQ service members and veterans, found that more than half of military families with LGBTQ children surveyed have altered their planned military service by declining orders, requesting transfers, or retiring early. While a spokesperson noted the sample size was small, she said the recent trend in state and local legislation is having an impact.

“The other statistic that’s undeniable is that a hundred percent of our members are worried about it,” says Cathy Marcello, who coordinates MilPride, the Modern Military Association of America’s program for families with LGBTQ children. “Everyone’s hoping that the next set of orders that pops up is not for Texas.”

While gay and transgender troops are allowed to serve openly, and many families with LGBTQ children find support and acceptance, they also say that can depend on location and whom they serve with. The realities of day-to-day life and the uncertainty over what might come next make planning for a career and family life difficult. And as the military branches scramble to design policies to support LGBTQ families, many service members worry that it won’t be enough.

“If you want to stay in the military, there’s certain places that you just need to serve,” says Becca Stewart, an Air Force spouse with an LGBTQ child living in Texas. “You don’t really know where to go, and you don’t really know who to trust.”

“They Did Not See Transgender Children”

So far this year, 39 states have introduced more than 265 bills that could negatively affect LGBTQ rights and protections, according to data from the bipartisan group Freedom for All Americans. That shatters last year’s record: In 2021, legislators across the country introduced a total of 191 such bills, according to an analysis by NBC News. This is a recent trend: In 2018, legislators introduced only 41 anti-LGBTQ bills in the entire country.

These bills span a variety of issues, including limiting discussion of LGBTQ issues in school curriculums, restricting bathroom facilities and school sports based on biological sex, exempting businesses from needing to provide certain services to LGBTQ people, and restricting health care for transgender youth, among other things. In Missouri, lawmakers are debating whether restrictions on gender-affirming care for transgender and nonbinary youth should apply to adults younger than 25 years old—which, Stanley points out, applies to active-duty servicemembers younger than 25.

Bills Restricting LGBTQ Rights & Protections, Sonner Kehrt/The War Horse

Data Source: ACLU

And then there are policies that don’t depend on lawmakers, like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s direction to the state’s Department of Protective and Family Services to investigate for child abuse parents who provide gender-affirming care to their trans children.

“This is something that will definitely need to be addressed, and it is going to become an issue for DOD when we have huge swaths of states where children are not safe or don’t have equal rights,” Marcello says. “And certainly it is a problem for DOD when you have military members who would be criminals in certain states.”

Officially, the Department of Defense is supportive of LGBTQ troops. Gay service members have been allowed to serve openly since the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell 10 years ago. Transgender troops’ path to acceptance has been more fraught in recent years. In 2016, then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter reversed a long-standing prohibition, paving the way for transgender military members to serve openly. But just over a year later, Trump surprised many in the Defense Department when he tweeted that he was reinstating the ban on trans troops. The official White House policy that followed ultimately created an exception for some trans service members who came out following Carter’s policy change, but for the most part, it once again barred transgender troops from serving. During his first week in office, President Biden signed an executive order reversing the ban.

Retired US Air Force Maj. Laura Perry, center, 45th Medical Operations Squadron master social worker, poses for a photo after a speaking engagement, Dec. 2, 2016, at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia. Perry spoke about her journey as a transgender veteran and what the opportunity to openly serve has given military members in this community as part of Moody’s Diversity Day celebrating LGBT Pride month.

US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Janiqua P. Robinson

The lack of more permanent protections makes transgender troops feel as though their careers hang in the balance of each coming election, advocates argue. And LGBTQ military families of all stripes, many say, navigate an exhausting, confusing patchwork of limited resources and unofficial policies that can be dependent on the branch of service, duty location, and individual health care providers and commanders, who have outsize influence on the culture at a base. That’s before taking into account the wave of anti-LGBTQ bills.

“Certainly it is a problem for DOD when you have military members who would be criminals in certain states.”

When Jessica Girven’s daughter, Blue, came out as transgender in 2016, the family lived in Germany, where Girven’s husband was stationed in the Air Force. Girven knew the Defense Department had recently published guidance stating that TRICARE, the military’s health care system, would cover gender-affirming care for transgender children on military bases. But when Girven and Blue went to see Blue’s longtime doctors on base, Girven says they refused to treat her—not just for care related to her transition, but for anything at all.

“We were informed that she could no longer be seen at that clinic because they did not see transgender children,” Girven says.

Girven tried to enroll Blue in the Air Force’s Exceptional Family Member Program, which permits families with specialized medical needs to request duty locations where they can receive care. But even though there was nothing in the program’s policy that prohibited parents from enrolling transgender children, the Air Force denied Girven’s request.

Ultimately, Girven went public with her family’s story and lobbied lawmakers for a change. Blue was able to enroll in the Air Force’s program, though legislative attempts to ensure affirming care for transgender military dependents have not passed. The family transferred to Maryland, where they found doctors who would treat Blue. But, Girven says, “it took nine congressmen, and the joint chiefs of staff, and so much congressional support to get our family to Maryland.”

“Just a Drop in the Bucket”

In April, the Air Force astonished many when it put out a brief statement that acknowledged the impact the wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation is having on Air Force families and highlighted resources, like the Exceptional Family Member Program, available to support them.

“We are closely tracking state laws and legislation to ensure we prepare for and mitigate effects to our Airmen, Guardians, and their families,” stated Under Secretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones in the announcement. “Medical, legal resources, and various assistance are available for those who need them.”

Many LGBTQ Air Force families welcomed the acknowledgment of the difficulties the legislation imposes. But it doesn’t do enough to support the realities of being an LGBTQ military family, some say.

“I really do appreciate that there was that support and there was that acknowledgment that it’s really difficult for military families with LGBTQ kids right now,” Stewart says. “But I think it’s just a drop in the bucket. It was basically an explanation of policies that are already in place to help military families. There wasn’t necessarily anything new in there.”

Nathan Bruemmer, board president and executive of St. Pete Pride, speaks at an LGBTQ+ Pride Month luncheon at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, June 10, 2021. Bruemmer, a transgender man, was separated from the Army National Guard under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and now works as an LGBTQ+ consultant, educator, and advocate in the Tampa Bay area.

US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ryan C. Grossklag

It’s unclear, for instance, how quickly Exceptional Family Member Program transfers will happen in practice and what “access to care” means. Not all transgender children have gender dysphoria, which is the medical condition under which transgender children are typically enrolled in the program, says Stewart, who works with many military families with LGBTQ children. Enrolling in the program might require outing a child. And, for many families, it’s not about access to care. A gay child, for instance, might not have any specialized medical needs—but if his family received orders to Florida, his school might not acknowledge his sexual orientation, under legislation passed earlier this spring. And the Air Force’s policies do nothing to explicitly support gay and transgender troops themselves.

So far, no other military branches have officially acknowledged the ongoing legislation or announced specific plans to support affected military members and families. Coast Guardsmen can discuss concerns with their command, and if there is a reasonable worry that troops or their families will face incidents “perceived as hostile, harassing, or discriminatory in nature,” the service may consider an alternate assignment, Coast Guard officials told The War Horse in a statement. Military.com has reported on a draft Army policy that would go much further than the Air Force’s guidance, effectively redefining its “compassionate reassignment” policy to accommodate soldiers who feel local or state laws discriminate against them because of “gender, sex, religion, race, or pregnancy.”

“It took nine congressmen, and the joint chiefs of staff, and so much congressional support to get our family to Maryland.”

The Army would not confirm the draft policy to The War Horse or comment on whether other policies to support LGBTQ troops or families are under consideration.

“The Army does not comment on leaked, or draft documents,” an Army spokesman said in a statement to The War Horse, adding that soldiers may seek a compassionate reassignment under current rules. “The chain of command is responsible for ensuring soldiers and families’ needs are supported and maintain a high quality of life.”

But even if broader policy changes were under consideration, the logistical problems of implementation and the long-term implications on troops’ careers are unclear.

“There are certain duty stations you need to go to for career advancement,” Marcello says, referring to job assignments considered key for promotion. “There will be places that people will absolutely want to avoid. And it will hurt their careers.”

The Army’s Sergeants Major Academy, where senior noncommissioned officers train, is located at Fort Bliss, Texas. Enlisted medical personnel in every branch will likely need to rotate through Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, where the majority of medical training takes place. In fact, one of the few medical units in the military dedicated to serving transgender troops is in San Antonio. And many of the military’s largest bases are in the same states that are considering these bills.

Military families sometimes “geo-bachelor,” with the active-duty member taking orders somewhere while the rest of the family stays behind. It can be an expensive option, as families maintain two households, and a difficult one emotionally. But it comes up a lot when families discuss anti-LGBTQ legislation.

“We made a decision a long time ago that we won’t geo-bach,” says Samuel Castro, a master gunnery sergeant in the Marine Corps whose son Enrique came out to him as gay when the family was stationed in Texas. “That’s not in our genetic makeup as a family.”

Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sgt. Sam Castro, his wife, Liz, and their two sons, Enrique and Vicente.

Photo by Trish Alegre-Smith, courtesy of SoYourLife Photography

Instead, if he received orders to a state where he felt his son would feel unsafe, he would lobby hard for orders elsewhere—a lesson he tries to impart to the younger Marines he mentors, he says. “You do have a requirement to advocate for your family.” In turn, the military’s effectiveness depends on how well it supports families. “Military readiness and combat readiness is a direct derivative of family readiness,” he says.

“Service members should not have to choose between serving their country and protecting and serving their family,” his wife, Liz, adds.

“It affects national security.”

Last November, Alleria Stanley woke to find bullet holes in her car at her off-base home, she says. Strangers regularly take pictures of her when she’s out. She’s been followed and denied service at businesses.

On base, things are better, but support and resources are often hit or miss. For instance, while many military bases recognize Pride Month in June, no Pride events are planned this year at Fort Leonard Wood, she says. Pride flags remain banned on military bases, following a Trump-era policy. And just last month, the Air Force canceled a planned Pride Month event in Germany, for which Sen. Marco Rubio took credit.

“The underlying stigma in certain branches—it’s still there,” Liz Castro says. “Some people still have that mindset.”

US Air Force Tech. Sgt. Nykita Stoudemire, left, an Air Reserve Personnel Center reserve assignments technician, joins hands with her wife, Marissa, in Aurora, Colorado, June 21, 2018.

US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jazmin Smith

The nature of military service means the extended network most people rely on during difficult times—longtime friends and neighbors, family nearby, a hometown community—doesn’t exist for many military families, her son Enrique says. Most military families change duty stations every three years, often transferring to different states or even different countries.

“I don’t have that support structure present,” Enrique says. “Every three years, it’s disrupted and removed.”

That’s why the military must demonstrate consistent support for LGBTQ military families, they argue.

But the issue extends to military readiness. While the LGBTQ legislation is one issue, Liz Castro says the repeal of Roe v. Wade could lead to a patchwork system where all sorts of rights protected on base do not extend off base in certain states—a concern echoed by some legal experts.

“If the homefront is not okay, then the service member cannot go forward and do their job.”

“If the homefront is not okay, then the service member cannot go forward and do their job,” Liz Castro says. “That affects national security.”

A recent National Military Family Association study found that 44% of military children follow their parents into the military. Children who don’t feel safe while their parents are in the military—or who see that their parents don’t feel safe—may be less likely to join, Marcello says. “It limits the pipelines to military service.”

For Jessica Girven’s family, safety is the most important thing, and she worries her daughter is no longer safe in a military family. “There’s a lot of this country that we won’t even drive through anymore,” she says.

Her husband will retire this summer. “We can’t run the risk of being sent somewhere where she doesn’t have the rights, where her health and education are at risk,” Girven says.

Stanley’s youngest child will graduate from high school this year, and Stanley herself has reached the end of her career—she’s also retiring.

“We’re at the end of it,” she says. “We are transitioning away from it, to borrow a term.” But if she weren’t already at retirement age, if her children were younger, she would be facing a similar choice.

“I spend every day talking and working with other families who’ve run into issues, and I don’t want that for my family,” she says. “And then to add on that, you’re not even safe at home. No. How could I ask that of my family?”

This War Horse investigation was reported by Sonner Kehrt, edited by Kelly Kennedy, fact-checked by Ben Kalin, and copy-edited by Mitchell Hansen-Dewar. Abbie Bennett wrote the headlines.

“Superspreaders” Are Dragging Climate Conspiracies Into the Culture Wars

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

Climate policy is being dragged into the culture wars with misinformation and junk science being spread across the internet by a relatively small group of individuals and groups, according to a study. The research, released on Thursday, shows that the climate emergency—and the measures needed to deal with it—are in some cases being conflated with divisive issues such as critical race theory, LGBTQ+ rights, abortion access, and anti-vaccine campaigns.

The study, published by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue and the Climate Action Against Disinformation coalition, found that although outright denials of the facts of the climate crisis were less common, opponents were now likely to focus on “delay, distraction, and misinformation” to hinder the rapid action required.

“Our analysis has shown that climate disinformation has become more complex, evolving from outright denial into identifiable ‘discourses of delay’ to exploit the gap between buy-in and action,” said Jennie King, head of climate disinformation at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue.

The most prominent anti-climate content came from a handful of influential pundits.

The report looked at social media posts over the past 18 months and particularly around the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow last year. It found that the urgent need for wide-ranging mitigation and adaptation strategies were continually downplayed or condemned as unfeasible, overly expensive, disruptive or hypocritical. And it identified a number of specific “discourses of delay,” including:

• Elitism and hypocrisy: These posts focused on the alleged wealth and double standards of those calling for action, and in some cases referenced wider conspiracies about globalism or the “New World Order.” The study identified 199,676 mentions of this narrative on Twitter (tweets and retweets) and 4,377 posts on Facebook around the time Cop26 took place

• Absolution: It found 6,262 Facebook posts and 72,356 tweets around Cop26 which absolved one country of any obligation to act on climate by blaming another. In developed Western countries this often focused on the perceived shortcomings of China and, to a lesser extent, India, claiming they were not doing enough so there was no point in anyone acting.

• Unreliable renewables: Over a longer period—from January 1 to November 19, 2021—the study found 115,830 tweets or retweets were shared, alongside 15,443 posts on Facebook, that called into question the viability and effectiveness of renewable energy sources.

The report found that the most prominent anti-climate content along these lines came from a handful of influential pundits, many with verified accounts on social media. Analysis of 16 accounts “super-spreading” climate misinformation on Twitter revealed 13 sub-groups that largely converged around anti-science and conspiracy communities in the US, UK, and Canada. It said many “influencers” in this group originally came from a scientific or academic background and some were previously involved in the green movement.

It added: “This allows them to present as ‘rationalist’ environmentalists and claim greater credibility for their analysis, while continually spreading the discourses of delay and other misinformation or disinformation. It also gives them significant appeal online and the potential to galvanize far broader audiences, since they are frequently invited by conservative media outlets as ‘climate experts’.”

The report called for an internationally agreed definition of climate misinformation and disinformation, adding that tech companies should restrict paid advertising and sponsored content from fossil fuel companies and known front groups or individuals that repeatedly fell short of that standard.

King said: “Governments and social media platforms must learn the new strategies at play and understand that disinformation in the climate realm has increasing crossover with other harms, including electoral integrity, public health, hate speech and conspiracy theories.”

Ed Yong Would Like America to Have a Bit More Empathy, Please

The catfish, it turns out, is one hell of a taster. And I don’t mean that they are good-tasting, as in, fried, battered, and served on a baguette. (I’ll leave that distinction up to you.) I mean, catfish are really good at tasting. As science journalist Ed Yong explains in his new book, An Immense World, these fish are basically swimming tongues: Their smooth, slimy bodies are covered in taste buds, giving them the ability to sample the flavor of anything they touch. “If you lick one of them,” he writes, “you’ll both simultaneously taste each other.” Or, as one physiologist told Yong, “If I were a catfish, I’d love to jump into a vat of chocolate. You could taste it with your butt.”

“In an era of mass extinction, climate change, and, obviously, pandemic risk, there had always been a question in my mind of, Is this work of service to our society in a moment of multiple, overlapping crises?”

An Immense World is full of delightful and fascinating animal profiles like this. While you may know Yong from his Pulitzer Prize–winning Covid writing for the Atlantic, the book takes him back to the kind of science reporting he did so often before the pandemic, as a self-described “nerdy outsider who writes about quirky nature stuff.” Much of the book, which comes out June 21, focuses on animals’ ability to perceive the world—through smell, taste, sight, touch, sound, surface vibrations, echoes, magnetic fields, and more—from ants to elephants to Yong’s own corgi, Typo. I learned, for instance, that zebras may have evolved to be striped not to ward off lions or hyenas, as I’d heard before, but disease-carrying flies! And that the blue and yellow coloring of a reef fish may stand out to us, but to predators, their colors act as camouflage, blending in with the water and corals. And that some scientists theorize that migratory birds may be able to see the Earth’s magnetic field using magnetoreceptors in their eyes.

But the book isn’t just a gift to science nerds and animal lovers (your girl is guilty on both counts). It’s also a call-to-action, a plea to, as Yong puts it, “preserve the dark” and “save the quiet.” In the final chapter, Yong asks the reader to consider the harms of sensory pollution—an environmental problem that, unlike so many others we face today, can be “immediately and effectively addressed.” Turn off the lights, and we instantly reduce light pollution. Stop the honking, whirling, and beeping—and with it, goes the noise. (We effectively accomplished this in early 2020, Yong notes, when pandemic lockdowns meant the world was much quieter and darker.)

Much like how nature needed a reprieve from us humans, An Immense World was an essential reset for Yong himself. At the end of 2020, when Yong announced via Twitter he was going on book leave, he wrote, “This year has been the most professionally meaningful of my life, but it has also shredded me.” He needed a break.

Read the rest of our summer reading series

When I called him last month, Yong told me that this book (his second, after the 2016 bestseller I Contain Multitudes) felt like a “salve for the soul” to write. “I’m feeling pretty burnt out now,” he said. “But I think I would be catastrophically so if I hadn’t taken a break and existed in this much happier, more joyful headspace for a while.” He hopes that the same feeling extends to readers, especially now, after more than two brutal years of Covid. “We could all use a little bit more joy right now,” he said.

Over the course of almost an hour, we talked about how covering Covid can be particularly taxing, the importance of empathy, and the perplexing minds of octopuses (and yes, according to Yong’s book, it is octopuses or octopodes, not octopi). You can read our conversation, edited and condensed for clarity, below.

I want to start with the idea for the book. You shared on Twitter that the idea came from your wife, Liz. You said, “This book was her gift to me and also mine to her.” Could you talk a little bit more about that, and how the idea of writing about animal perception originated?

The origin of the book really dates back to a London cafe, I think it was late 2018. It was a rainy day and sort-of winter. I get these periodic bouts of self-flagellation in the winter. I usually get super morose and start claiming that my career is over and I have no good ideas left. And I was sort of bemoaning the fact that I didn’t have an idea for a second book, and that writing about weird animal biology felt like maybe it wasn’t rising up to the challenges of the moment. And Liz gave this very impassioned speech about how telling people about nature and making them feel connected to the natural world is actually more important than ever, and that maybe I should write a book about the ways animals perceive the world. And when she said it, it just sort of made sense.

What do you mean when you say you weren’t sure if writing about weird animal biology rose up to the challenges of the moment?

I’ve written about lots of topics in my career, but a lot of the things that I’ve loved writing about are how animals behave. A lot of weird nature stories. And in an era of mass extinction, climate change, and, obviously, pandemic risk, there had always been a question in my mind of, Is this work of service to our society in a moment of multiple, overlapping crises? And I think that my answer to that is actually, yes. I think it is. The natural world is in peril. And we won’t muster the societal will to protect it if we don’t care about it.

Writing the book “gave me a sense of wonder about the world at the moment when it felt like the world was collapsing, or the natural world was just repeatedly kicking us in the ass.”

What’s unusual about the book is that you wrote half of it before the pandemic and half during the pandemic. What was that process like? How did the pandemic affect the final product?

Most of the reporting had been done [before Covid]. There were a few trips that I had planned that had to be canceled. But most of the writing wasn’t actually that profoundly influenced by the pandemic, other than it went a lot faster. I think you wrote [in 2020] that I was producing feature articles for the Atlantic “like they were samples at Trader Joe’s.” [Editor’s note: You can read that piece here.] So doing that, getting a lot of practice—long-form is a muscle. You can absolutely build it up. So when I started writing the second half of the book, it just flew. It really flew. 

At the time you announced your book leave, you said that covering Covid was like “staring into the sun” and that you “needed to blink.” Was it as much of a reprieve as you hoped or expected it to be?

Yeah, very much so. I’ve joked that it says a lot about what it’s like to cover Covid that writing half a book in four months felt like going to a spa. It was a massively restorative activity, which is, I think, not how the vast majority of writers think about the process of writing a book. But it did feel like that to me. It gave me joy. It gave me a sense of wonder about the world at the moment when it felt like the world was collapsing, or the natural world was just repeatedly kicking us in the ass.

We, of course, do still need to grapple with the problems that we’re facing. And no, I don’t think looking away is a long-term solution. But I think that we could all use a little bit more joy right now. I think that’s crucial for our mental health. And I hope this book will deliver that to people.

Over the last two years, you’ve built up an audience that knows you for your writing on Covid. How do you hope or anticipate that this book will land among the people that know you as Ed, “Covid writer”?

I don’t know. My wife, Liz, will laugh at me for this because she correctly notes that I have a massive tendency to underestimate my own accomplishments. So my knee-jerk reaction is to think, Oh, well, none of the however-many people who know me because of the pandemic will want to read this book. But I don’t think that’s true. I hope they will.

Certainly, in terms of topic, it’s going to be a very different experience. More joyful, less grim. But there are still threads that carry through. With pandemic writing, I tried to make it as beautiful and lyrical as possible. I felt like there was a pact between me and the reader: I know this is really horrible. So I’m going to make the reading experience as pleasant as possible for you. And I hope that that effect will be even heightened for the book because the subject matter is itself beautiful and joyful.

“With pandemic writing…I felt like there was a pact between me and the reader: I know this is really horrible. So I’m going to make the reading experience as pleasant as possible.”

A lot of the book, for me, was really trippy. For example, what we see as “color” is really just our brain’s translation of light wavelengths our eyes are picking up. And then on top of that, there are animals that see more colors, or more dimensions of color, than we do. And that realization just made me extremely aware of my own sensory limitations. It’s almost like, large swaths of the animal kingdom are having a party that I’m not invited to. Did you experience anything similar?

Oh, yeah, absolutely. Repeatedly throughout the book, I think the reason why it feels trippy to you is that it feels trippy to me. I very much tried to put that on the page. The colors that we see are different from colors that other animals see. So what color is a sunflower, right? It looks yellow to me, but to a bee, it’s got an ultraviolet bullseye. And birds have tetrachromatic visions: There are four classes of color-sensing cells in their retinas. We have three, meaning they see a much wider variety of colors than we do. It also means that our white is not bird white. And that kind of blows my mind. You just find yourself asking yourself these stupid questions like, What even is white?

I’ll give you another example. In the chapter on heat, we learn that we have specific receptors that detect hot and cold and we have thresholds for what we deem to be hot. Other animals have different senses with different thresholds. So let me ask you this, is ice cold?

I don’t know anymore.

It’s a ludicrous question to ask because the answer is yes for me, but no for, say, a cod. Because they just don’t have the same sensors that detect cold in a painful way. And that’s wild to me. 

At one point in the book, we get a glimpse of what echolocation might feel like. You interview Daniel Kish, a man who is blind and uses echolocation to get around. I really liked that section, and it made me wish we could interview animals in the same way. So let’s say you could speak to any animal and have them sit down for an interview. What animal would you want to hear from most and what would you ask them?

I maybe want to say mantis shrimp because I’m so fascinated by them. I genuinely don’t know how their eyes work. But I kind of think that mantis shrimp [which are known for punching their prey] would be dicks to interview, just very aggressive. I don’t think it’d be a fun experience.

[pauses] Hmmm.

Octopus? It might be the octopus. The octopus has this incredibly weird setup where the majority of its neurons are in its arms. The arms do taste and touch with their suckers, and are partially independent of the brain. The brain does vision. How much do the arms and brain talk to each other? Where is the intelligence of the octopus? That’s very fascinating and kind of “galaxy-brain” to think about.

But I think that the lesson from the Daniel Kish section is that, even if you’re the same species and you speak the same language, it’s still unachievable [to know what he’s experiencing], which is kind of bonkers, right? Kish lost his eyesight at a really young age. He doesn’t remember what it’s like to see. But he still talks in visual metaphors because our language is full of them. He can describe what it’s like to echolocate to me. But are we saying the same things? Like, when he says that something is “bright” does that mean the same thing to him as it does to me? Maybe not. So even despite the massive advantage that we have, there is still this uncrossable chasm between our sensory worlds. It really drives home the nature of this challenge, and the humility and imagination you need to approach this entire topic with.

“Our white is not bird white. And that kind of blows my mind. You just find yourself asking yourself these stupid questions like, What even is white?”

On Twitter, you wrote that the book is about “radical acts of empathy” and “perspective-taking”—in this case, the perspective of animals. And you “can’t help but feel that it’s relevant in a world where the lack of those qualities has cost us so dearly.” Can you talk a bit more about that?

I’ve argued repeatedly that a lot of Americans have moved on from the pandemic prematurely because they’ve accepted the fact that it disproportionately affects marginalized groups of people, whether it’s the elderly, poorer people, Black and Brown people, the sick and immunocompromised, or disabled people. And I think part of that is this sort of catastrophic failure of empathy of trying to understand what it’s like to live a life that’s very different from your own. We’ve seen this throughout the pandemic. I’ve seen people talk about unvaccinated people in the most grossly dehumanizing ways, casting them as all, like, evil idiots who deserve to die, when, in fact, there are so many reasons for whether people are vaccinated or not. I’ve seen people discount the experiences of long haulers and health care workers and immunocompromised people and people who’ve lost loved ones to Covid.

I’m not naive enough to think that reading a book about amazing animals is going to make people less ableist or racist or classist. My book isn’t going to fix inequality. But I hope that it gets people more used to the idea of thinking outside their own lived experiences. The beguiling thing about our subjective experience with the world is that it feels total. It’s all we get, so we think it’s all there is to get. But it’s not. And the book is an argument for why that is. And I hope that is a lesson that people will take into other aspects of their lives, too.

The January 6 Committee’s Battle for Reality

A democracy is only as strong as its ability to recognize what threatens it. If a nation cannot comprehend the danger it faces, it is not in a position to adopt measures to protect itself. On Thursday night—in prime time!—the House committee investigating the January 6 riot tried to sound the alarm. But the fact that the committee needed to highlight the obvious—that the constitutional order was jeopardized by a president who schemed to overturn a free and fair election and who incited an insurrectionist attack on the US government—was itself a warning that this threat has not been fully or adequately addressed. 

Opening the first of a series of hearings, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the committee chair, delivered passionate remarks that noted the assault on the US Capitol placed two centuries of constitutional democracy at risk and that it was part of “sprawling, multi-step conspiracy” orchestrated by Donald Trump to negate the election and overthrow the government to retain power illegally. Thompson asked his audience to try not to view this hearing as a political endeavor. The committee, he said, “will remind you of the reality that happened that day.” And that is the committee’s challenge: to counter Trump’s Big Lie and defend not just constitutional government but reality itself. 

Thompson did that with the first piece of evidence the committee presented. It was a clip from a deposition of former Attorney General Bill Barr, who told the committee’s investigators that he had three post-election conversations with Trump in which he said the election was not stolen and that this assertion was “bullshit.” In her opening statement, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the ranking Republican on the committee, showed testimony from Ivanka Trump in which she said she had accepted Barr’s conclusion that there was no significant election fraud. That is, according to the president’s daughter, Trump was defying reality—either lying about the election or delusional, perhaps both. 

Cheney hammered this point further: Assorted Trump campaign officials, she said, concluded there was no evidence the election was stolen. A top campaign lawyer informed White House chief of staff Mark Meadows that the campaign had uncovered no significant voting wrongdoing. Meadows replied to him, “So there’s no there there.” (My recollection is that this conversation is not in Meadows’ recent book.) Barr also told Trump that the allegations that voting machines had been rigged against him was “complete nonsense” and “crazy stuff.” Yet that didn’t stop Trump. He kept repeating this accusation. He refused to acknowledge reality. 

Cheney also signaled the committee is determined to show that Trump engaged in a profound dereliction of duty on January 6.  She noted that half a dozen witnesses have told the committee that while the violent melee was under way aides and confidantes pressed Trump to take steps to end the riot—and he refused to do so. Worse, he became angry at advisers who asked him to intervene. Cheney also disclosed that in response to reports that the marauders were threatening to kill Vice President Mike Pence, Trump, according to one witness, said maybe Pence “deserves it.” And she said that during the course of the riot, Trump placed no call to any element of the US government to protect the Capitol. 

This was powerful stuff. The committee showed much savvy in how it structured the opening hearing. It teased important revelations to come. Cheney described what’s coming up in the five subsequent hearings the committee has scheduled, including detailed examinations of Trump’s various plots to undermine the election (pressuring state election officials and legislators, pushing the Justice Department to declare the results fraudulent, muscling Pence, and more) and the link between these schemes and the assault on Congress. During the opening presentation, the committee showed disturbing and graphic video of the violence of January 6—including new footage. The panel’s nine members sat stone-faced on the dais, as the images played. Journalists in the room watched in horror, shaking their heads, even though they had seen such video previously. Caroline Edwards, a Capitol Hill police officer on the front lines of the battle that day, provided visceral testimony: “I was slipping in people’s blood… It was carnage. It was chaos… It was hours of hand-to-hand combat.”

Much coverage of the January 6 committee and its hearings has up to now focused on the political implications: Will this help the Democrats for the coming midterm elections? Such framing is a disservice, as it turns this singular event into merely another point of made-for-cable-TV conflict. The Republicans have tried mightily to cast the 1/6 riot as just another partisan matter in the never-ending scuffle between Ds and Rs. This has become their go-to tactic when defending the sins of Donald Trump and the excesses of Trumpism. The Russian attack on the 2016 election and the Trump crew aiding and abetting this assault on American democracy? Just a partisan witch hunt. Trump’s effort to pressure a foreign leader to generate dirt on a political rival? More Democratic caterwauling. And the seditious January 6 raid? Though GOP leaders in its initial aftermath expressed shock and blamed Trump—Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell told colleagues Trump’s conduct was impeachable, and House minority leader Kevin McCarthy castigated Trump publicly—the Republicans reverted to their default position on Trump wrongdoing: no big deal.

Hours before the hearing began, the National Republican Senatorial Committee sent out a fundraising email that referred to the committee’s work as “the radical Democrats’ political persecution of Americans” and claimed the committee was “planning to openly attack anyone that supported Pres. Trump.” It compared the committee to “Communist and Authoritarian countries like China and Russia [that] PROSECUTE their political opponents.” The “bogus” hearing, it asserted, was a “sham” and “patriotic Americans” had to step up to “end this madness.” 

Before the hearing began, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who was one of a dozen or so House Democrats who were in the audience, tried to decouple the committee’s work from the regular and never-ending political rigamarole. “This oversight function of the House is not tied to the issue of the day; it is tied to the Constitution… It’s the most fundamental form of oversight: Does the Constitution have enough protection in it to prevent the overthrow of the government?” But a discussion of that depends on the acceptance of the basic fact that January 6 posed a threat and presented a problem. Many Americans do not believe that. A Morning Consult poll this week found that 53 percent of Republicans would vote for Trump in the 2024 GOP primary contest. 

The committee did a good job of defending the Constitution this evening. But it remains to be seen what it can do to beat back Trump’s war on reality. 

January 6 Committee Opens With a Narrative MasterClass

Look, who knows what the upshot of the January 6 Committee hearings will be. That Trump and his cronies tried to overthrow election results has been clear for more than a year to those who are paying attention.

But what if you haven’t been?

Well, the January 6 Committee has made a deft play to get your attention, and they’re doing it by deploying all the tricks of a limited-run HBO series or podcast. First, they use structure—a “seven-part plan” to overthrow a free and fair election, as Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) told us, and they’re going to devote an episode to each part of that plan. Care to see which members of Congress begged for a presidential pardon for their role in the coup? Tune in to episode 4!

“While the violence was underway, President Trump failed to take immediate action to stop the violence and instruct his supporters to leave the Capitol,” says Rep. Liz Cheney in her opening statement for the Jan. 6 hearing.

More: https://t.co/RSSQwb8trE pic.twitter.com/4pSthhzHt5

— NewsNation (@NewsNation) June 10, 2022

In the prologue, they laid out where they’re going to go, and which night you can tune in for what part. They’re dropping little previews of the juicy depositions (I especially appreciated the way they let Jared show himself to be the callous traitor he is) and other evidence to come. And then they cut to a film, a timeline of sorts, of what went down that day—maybe 10 minutes of how the rioters talked of their plans, how they started to breach the Capitol, how Trump egged them on from the bandstands and then via Twitter, how the police fought for their lives and the lives of members of Congress.

By the end of the ransacking clip, my pulse was racing. I had a bit of a PTSD reaction. Then they dropped the mic and went to a 10-minute recess, allowing room for the TV pundits to express how they, too, were blown away by the storytelling.

Maybe it’ll bog down. Maybe none of it will matter. But one thing is for sure: Lawyers, TV producers, and storytellers of all stripes will be coming back to this first hour for years to come.

Cheney: Trump Said Capitol Attackers “Were Doing What They Should Be Doing”

While rioters rampaged through the Capitol on January 6, President Donald Trump told staff with him that he approved of the attack, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) revealed on Thursday during the first hearing of the select congressional panel investigating the attack.

“As you will see in the hearings to come, President Trump believed his supporters at the Capitol, and I quote, ‘Were doing what they should be doing,'” Cheney, the vice chair of the panel, said in her opening statement at the hearing.

It was already known that after insurrectionists stormed the Capitol on January 6 it took Trump more than three hours to tell the attackers to leave, even as aides, his family members, and frightened members of Congress pressed him to try to call off the mob he had incited. But Cheney revealed new information that Trump had not only rejected those pleas but vocally sided with the mob.

“You will hear testimony that the president did not really want to put anything out, calling off the riot or asking his supporters to leave,” Cheney said. “You will hear that Trump was yelling and angry at advisers who told him he needed to be doing something more.”

When Trump learned that attackers were calling to “hang Mike Pence,” because the vice president had refused to comply with Trump’s illegal call for Pence to assert his power to block the certification of electoral votes, Trump said he agreed with the mob. “Maybe our supporters have the right idea,” Trump said, according to Cheney. “Mike Pence deserves it,”

Cheney didn’t name the witnesses who provided this information to the committee, but she indicated the committee will reveal that information at upcoming hearings.

World’s Plodding Embrace of Efficiency Is “Inexplicable,” Says Global Energy Chief

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

The failure by governments and businesses to accelerate energy efficiency efforts is “inexplicable,” according to the head of the International Energy Agency.

Fatih Birol said saving more energy was “utterly essential” in cutting household’s rocketing bills, ending reliance on fossil fuel regimes such as Russia, and rapidly lowering the CO2 emissions driving the climate crisis.

New analysis by the IEA showed that doubling the rate of energy efficiency improvements seen in the last decade would, by 2030, slash global energy use by the same amount used in China every year, saving households $650 billion. It would also cut oil and gas use by far more than Russia exports to the European Union. Ending these exports is a key EU goal after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The IEA said greater efficiency could be readily achieved with existing technologies and would pay back fully the investment through lower running costs, especially at today’s high energy prices. Important measures include the rollout of electric cars and heat pumps, more efficient household appliances such as fridges and TVs, and people nudging down home thermostats and choosing greener travel.

“It’s no longer a question of whether we should implement more energy efficient solutions globally—it’s a question of how.”

In the UK, making homes warmer and cheaper to heat through better insulation is key. The UK government has committed about $46 billion to helping households with energy bills but has not announced any new efficiency measures, leading critics to accuse ministers of spending billions but still leaving people “at the mercy of global oil and gas prices.”

Launching the IEA report, Birol said: “Energy efficiency is a critical solution to so many of the world’s most urgent challenges. But inexplicably, government and business leaders are failing to sufficiently act on this.”

“The oil shocks of the 1970s set in motion major advances in efficiency, and it is utterly essential that efficiency is at the heart of the response to today’s global energy crisis,” he said.

Denmark is hosting an IEA summit on energy efficiency, attended by dozens of ministers from around the world. The country’s climate and energy minister, Dan Jørgensen, said: “It’s no longer a question of whether we should implement more energy efficient solutions globally—it’s a question of how we are going to do that. By increasing our energy efficiency, we can reduce our dependence on Russian oil and gas completely, and move closer to achieving climate neutrality.”

The IEA report used energy intensity—the amount of energy used per dollar of GDP—as its measure of energy efficiency. Increasing the rate of improvement from 2 percent a year, seen from 2010 to 2020, to 4 percent would lead to a cut in energy use equivalent to 5 billion metric tons a year of CO2 by 2030. This is the same amount emitted by the US today, and a third of the global emissions cut needed to prevent the worst effects of the climate crisis.

This global push for energy efficiency would also cut oil use by almost 30 million barrels a day—about three times Russia’s production in 2021. It would also reduce gas use by four times the amount the EU imported from Russia in 2021, and help create 10 million new jobs, the IEA said.

Energy efficiency advances have already had a huge effect on global emissions, with improvements since 2000 resulting in 8 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions a year being avoided. This is close to the annual output of China, the world’s biggest polluter.

“The leaders meeting at the IEA [summit] needs to make this the moment when the world hits the accelerator on efficiency, or we may pay the price for years to come,” said Birol.

Kim Fausing, CEO of engineering company Danfoss, said: “We don’t need to wait. We need action because the greenest energy is the energy we don’t use.”

“Do we want a new normal of energy efficiency or a new normal of billion-pound bailouts every quarter?”

The UK government approved a new gas field in the North Sea last week and new tax breaks could see $10 billion of additional projects, according to analysts.

Michael Bradshaw, professor of global energy at Warwick Business School, said: “Investing in fossil fuel production is not compatible with the Paris Agreement. The ‘no regrets’ solution is a reduction in fossil fuel consumption through efficiency, demand reduction, and an increase in clean energy sources.”

On Tuesday Tony Danker, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, called on the UK government to make “an all-out national effort” on energy efficiency, saying people must not be left “at the mercy of global oil and gas prices.” He said: “Do we want a new normal of energy efficiency or a new normal of billion-pound bailouts every quarter?”

A new report from green thinktank E3G sets out an $10 billion efficiency strategy to upgrade more than 3m homes by 2025, saving families from about $560 to $1,250 a year.

Senior policy adviser Juliet Phillips said: “The UK government must decide whether it wants to go on spending £37 billion [about $46 billion] a year just to stand still, or to invest now in permanent solutions for lower bills.”

9 New Books That Will Make You Smarter This Summer

Beach reads and romance novels may offer escape. But maybe you want to devote your free time this summer to learning something new; soaking up fascinating tidbits on the ways animals communicate, or diving into under-covered turning points in US-Mexico relations, for instance. We’ve got you covered with our hand-picked list of brainy and engaging new nonfiction books:

Bad Mexicans: Race, Empire, and Revolution in the Borderlands, by Kelly Lytle Hernández. Before there was Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata at Xochimilco, there was a radical newspaper, a pair of exiled brothers, and two governments trying desperately to shut them up. In Bad Mexicans, Lytle Hernández, a UCLA professor and author of an eye-opening history of the Border Patrol, tells the story of the Magonistas—the dissidents who lit the fuse for the 1910 Mexican Revolution from across the border in the United States. Led by Ricardo Flores Magon (and assisted by his brother Enrique), the Magonistas faced kidnapping, deportation, and imprisonment. But they found common cause among Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in cities like San Antonio and Los Angeles, and drew support from leading figures of the American Left (including this magazine’s namesake). Lytle Hernández paints a rich portrait of American communities as a crucible for revolutionary ideas—all while packing her pages with enough spies, trials, chases, and raids to fill a mini-series. I’ve been waiting for a book like this: A riveting popular history of a revolutionary moment that—because it involved Mexicans, because it involved anarchists, and because it involved both of those things at once—has never claimed the place it deserves in the American historical canon. —Tim Murphy

Read the rest of our summer reading series

Come to This Court & Cry: How the Holocaust Ends, by Linda Kinstler. Only a few pages in, the origin of this book’s title becomes clear: It is drawn from the British prosecutor Sir Hartley Shawcross’ closing arguments at Nuremberg in 1946. “Mankind itself,” he said, “comes to this Court and cries: ‘These are our laws—let them prevail!’” When I read this, I scribbled a note in the margin: “Title, with a twist.” Come to This Court & Cry is a cross-continental search for the lost stories of two of the Holocaust’s villains in wartime Latvia, one whose body was stuffed in a trunk in Uruguay in 1965 and another, the author’s grandfather, who disappeared mysteriously in 1949. Along the way, it is a sobering reminder that despite the horrific crimes of the Holocaust, justice was illusive. And that as time goes by, villains can be resurrected. It’s not hard to turn the lessons of this book onto other countries and other eras, including the United States, as it grapples with its government’s actions even as recently as January 6, 2021. This important book is part mystery, part history, and part parable for our time. And the title is, as Kinstler later explains, less a cry for justice than a mourning for what cannot be fixed. —Pema Levy

Elite Capture: How the Powerful Took Over Identity Politics (And Everything Else), by Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò. In a matter of years, Black Lives Matter went from being considered a fringe rallying cry to a hashtag and slogan that significant corporations weren’t afraid to associate with. Despite this, nothing for Black people, or any other non-white races, has gotten materially better. In Elite Capture, Georgetown assistant philosophy professor Táíwò deftly guides us through how, by isolating identity from class, the masters of society can pay lip service to racial and social injustice without ever doing anything that would actually resolve it. In what is maybe the clearest articulation of this “elite capture” phenomenon that I’ve read, Táíwò provides the start of a roadmap that can hopefully lead us beyond it. —Ali Breland

How You Get Famous, by Nicole Pasulka. Before RuPaul’s Drag Race launched the quirky art form into the mainstream, queer queens and kings in Brooklyn were putting their own spin on the pastime, experimenting with performances that were often rawer and riskier than those of their pageant-perfect forerunners. Pasulka, a former Mother Jones fellow and an astute and compassionate observer of subcultures, traces the paths of several mainstays of the Brooklyn scene, from dread-locked nerd Thorgy Thor to hot mess Aja to Merrie Cherry, a socialite and the self-proclaimed “Mother of Brooklyn.” Pasulka’s account, dripping in plush detail and drama and just enough historical asides, relishes in “the sight of a performer who has embraced all the extremes and excesses of gender in order to transcend it, and who has done so in a cloud of sweat, spit, and makeup, while the music throbs and the crowd screams at the top of their gay lungs.” It’s “a reminder that we can be anything—at least for a few minutes—and we can be celebrated for it.” —Maddie Oatman

An Immense World, by Ed Yong. When the Atlantic’s Yong announced in late 2020 that he was taking a break from covering Covid to finish writing a book, the soon-to-be Pulitzer winner was candid about the toll his job had taken: “It’s been months of continually staring straight into the sun,” he tweeted, “and I need to blink.” The result of that blink is An Immense World, a book that Yong told me felt like “a salve for the soul” to write. It takes you into the fascinating realm of animal senses, from how dogs can detect scent histories of their neighborhoods, to the way sea turtles navigate by Earth’s magnetic field, and elephants chit-chat in infrasound. It’s a trip. I’ll warn you that, at times, the book wanders into the weeds (there is, for instance, a very detailed explanation of mantis shrimp vision). But, if like Yong, your soul needs a break—and some damn joy—An Immense World is a trip worth taking. —Jackie Flynn Mogensen

Somewhere We Are Human: Authentic Voices on Migration, Survival, and New Beginnings, edited by Reyna Grande and Sonia Guiñansaca. At a time when immigrants are being dehumanized and vilified, this collection of essays, poems, and visual art by undocumented and former undocumented people reads like a collective manifesto to reclaim the narrative. The intimately told and carefully curated stories make for a tapestry of diverse experiences and perspectives that mirror the vast and complex realities of migration, which often get lost or erased from the conversation. Artists, writers, and advocates from all over the globe share their struggles with assimilation and belonging in a country that forces people to become invisible to feel safe. “For years my mother would take the clothes American women she cleaned for gave her, hand-me downs, their garbage fill a wardrobe. For years she would style women looking to cross the border through the bridge, she would dress them in white women’s excess, style them, teach them how to say ‘American’ to cross the bridge safely. American is a costume,” Jesús I. Valles, a Texas-based queer Mexican immigrant, writes in a poem titled “you find home / then you run.” Their experiences with motherhood, queerness, self-image, and beyond transcend boundaries of immigration status and physical borders. Even if you think you’ve heard these stories before, you haven’t really until you’ve read them as told in their own words and in their own terms. —Isabela Dias 

Trigger Points, by Mark Follman. Mass shootings might not be the ideal beach-book subject, but Trigger Points, from Mother Jones’ national affairs editor, is as compellingly readable as it is timely. In the wake of Uvalde and Buffalo and Las Vegas (and, and…) Republican politicians only offer “thoughts and prayers.” Not so Follman’s characters, who are educators, psychologists, FBI agents, and even survivors who work across disciplines to identify and divert would-be shooters—not before they “snap” (a common myth) but before they act. When these unsung heroes succeed, life goes on and they remain under the radar—until now. Trigger Points humanizes their efforts with unparalleled access, showing a path to violence prevention that even the most avid gun nut could embrace. —Michael Mechanic

What Your Food Ate: How to Heal Our Land and Reclaim Our Health, by David Montgomery and Anne Biklé. In their latest plunge into the earthy world beneath our feet, the husband-wife team of Montgomery (a geographer) and Biklé (a biologist) train their expert science-writing chops on a claim made by pioneers of organic agriculture 80 years ago and generally dismissed by conventional agronomy ever since: that human health depends directly on the health of the soil that feeds us. “Soil-dwelling bacteria are the worker bees of the subterranean world,” they write. “They produce the enzymes and organic acids that release the minerals held in rocks and organic matter for plants to take up.” Decades of assault by toxic chemicals and heavy farm machinery has robbed farmland soil of organic matter and impoverished its microbiome, they show, drawing from rich veins of emerging peer-reviewed research. The result: a steady decline in key minerals and inflammation-fighting phytochemicals in our food supply since the post-World War II launch of industrial farming—and a rising tide of diet-related diseases. Montgomery and Biklé don’t have much to say about the political economy that makes industrial agriculture such a durable force; but they will have you itching to start a vegetable garden, fed by the produce of a nearby compost pile, as an alternative to it. —Tom Philpott 

Who by Fire: Leonard Cohen in the Sinai, by Matti Friedman. It was a story from the 1973 Yom Kippur War that was hiding in plain sight: A famous, depressed, angry composer and singer leaves his wife and infant son on a luxurious spot on a Greek Island, and goes to that sudden war a mere 800 miles away. Unsure of what will happen, he feels driven to be there, as a Jew and as a 39-year-old man at the height of his powers, but desperate to shatter his comfortable life and what he felt were his rotting sensibilities. Leonard Cohen arrived in Israel without his guitar, and somehow, faced with the existential moment not just of seeing young men who may die, but also seeing a young country on the brink, was renewed. “I learned these wonderful kids don’t need glorious battle-anthems. Now, between battles, they’re open to my songs maybe more than ever before,” Cohen told a reporter. “I came to raise their spirits, and they raised mine.” With remarkable insight, discipline, heart, scope, stunning reporting, and sometimes quite beautiful writing, Friedman, a Canadian journalist based in Jerusalem, has recreated those days of war and music, regeneration and humility, that freed Cohen to create some of his greatest works of art. —Marianne Szegedy-Maszak

The Gruesome Attraction of Prison Tourism Is Being Challenged At Last

This article was published in partnership with The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization covering the US criminal justice system. Sign up for their newsletters, and follow them on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

Eastern State Penitentiary, a former prison turned museum in Philadelphia, used to lure in visitors every Halloween with an event called “Terror Behind the Walls.” The haunted house, with evil doctors, a jailbreak, and zombie inmates jumping out to scare visitors, was one of the museum’s most lucrative fundraising events. But starting last year, the museum decided to drop the gore and emphasize the educational. Now the event is more optical illusions, eerie soundtracks, and live performances focused on the museum’s mission of highlighting issues of incarceration. 

Museum curators debated the appropriateness of the haunted house over the years. Sean Kelley, Eastern State’s senior vice president and director of interpretation, said he had grown uncomfortable with the use of prison scenes in the haunted house. “I’m amazed at how numb many of us can be about these sites. The whole subject of incarceration is less a source of amusement than it was 10 years ago in America, but there’s still like a layer of people thinking that it’s funny,” he said. “But it’s not funny to us.” 

Prison tourism often relies heavily on the spooky, the gruesome, and the salacious to attract visitors for a playful afternoon of ducking into cells and taking selfies in striped jumpsuits. But the entire industry, built largely on entertainment at the expense of incarcerated people’s dignity, is grappling with a growing criminal justice reform movement—and the business is being challenged by questions about exploitation and voyeurism. 

Terror Behind the Walls haunted house at Eastern State Penitentiary.

Terror Behind the Walls haunted house at Eastern State Penitentiary.

Some prison museums are less scholarly history than grotesque spectacle. At the West Virginia Penitentiary, visitors can sit in a defunct electric chair, and play “Escape the Pen,” an escape-room style game where players have a one-hour “stay of execution” granted by the governor to escape death. On the penitentiary’s TripAdvisor page, there are pictures of smiling children sitting in the electric chair. (Tom Stiles, the tour director, said that the West Virginia Penitentiary tour “does not try to disrespect an inmate or an inmate’s life. It does not try to disrespect the institution itself. We tell historical facts.”) The Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City encourages visitors to take photos in the facility’s old gas chamber used to execute 40 inmates, over half of whom were Black. The facility offers an eight-hour overnight ghost tour, asking attendees if they can survive the night on “the bloodiest 47 acres in America.” Texas Prison Museum, where the gift shop sells branded “Solitary ConfineMINTS,” displays nooses, images of a lethal injection execution, and a defunct “Old Sparky,” and lets visitors pose for pictures in a replica prison cell. 

Gas chamber at Wyoming Frontier Prison.

West Virginia Penitentiary

In historian Clint Smith’s book How the Word Is Passed, he recounts his visit to the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, a prison built on a former slave plantation. Upon entering, he is greeted by a disturbing image of a white man on horseback overseeing a group of Black men working in a field. The photo hangs in a gift shop that sells Angola branded t-shirts, shot glasses, and koozies that say “Angola: A Gated Community.” Smith writes that he looked around the gift shop, wondering whom it was attempting to serve: “Who saw the largest maximum-security prison in the country as some sort of tourist destination?” 

In addition to the prison tour and museum gift shop, Angola operates an annual prison rodeo, in which incarcerated men with no prior training compete for the entertainment of thousands of visitors. The most dangerous event is the Poker Game. Officials release a bull into an area where Incarcerated men are seated at a table; the last man seated at the table is awarded $500. The 2022 rodeo sold out in April. (An Angola spokesperson said the museum is a separate nonprofit from  the prison or the Department of Corrections and “exists to provide a historical record of the prison’s past and present,” and that the voluntary prison rodeo “offers a unique opportunity for incarcerated persons to spend time with their friends and loved ones outside of regular visitation.”) Prison tourism extends to hospitality as well. In Boston, the Liberty Hotel occupies the site of the former Charles Street Jail, which once imprisoned suffragists and civil rights activists, including Malcolm X. In the 1970s, a judge found conditions in the jail so horrible that they were inhumane. Today, guests staying at the luxury hotel can receive a tour of the jail with a complimentary glass of champagne, and dine at the restaurant, Clink, and the bars, Alibi, and Catwalk, set on the former jail catwalk. 

West Virginia Penitentiary

A child grabs a noose at the Wyoming Frontier Prison in Rawlins, Wyoming.

“The way the United States approaches prison tourism re-inscribes the kind of politics that support mass incarceration,” said Jill McCorkel, a professor of criminology at Villanova University. “It turns human suffering into a spectacle.” To her, the “gold standard” of prison tourism sites are Robben Island in South Africa, where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated, and Kilmainham Gaol, a former prison in Dublin, Ireland, for their thoughtful depiction of the sites’ history. 

“The way the United States approaches prison tourism reinscribes the kind of politics that support mass incarceration. It turns human suffering into a spectacle.”

Over the past several decades, interest has surged in mass incarceration as a humanitarian cause, fueled by exploding prison populations and outbreaks of deadly violence—from the 1971 Attica prison uprising to the current chaos at New York’s overcrowded Rikers Island jail complex. In some ways, the changing tone of prison tourism sites reflects the shifting public perception of the stresses and inequities of the penal system. It is part of a broader rethinking of how we memorialize the past, from Civil War statuary and former slave plantations to lynching sites and concentration camps. 

Colorado Prison Museum, Cañon City, Colorado

Prison burial exhibit, Colorado Prison Museum.

Last legal hanging, Colorado Prison Museum.

A new prison museum is in the works adjacent to the still-operational Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, New York. Brent Glass, the executive director of the forthcoming Sing Sing Prison Museum, says that Sing Sing’s history represents “every chapter in America’s criminal justice history.” Opened in 1826, Sing Sing is one of the best-known prisons in the country. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed there, the Yankees have played exhibition baseball games against incarcerated men, and Warner Brothers Studios has used the prison as a film locale. 

The fact that Sing Sing still houses over 1,500 men complicates the ethics of building a museum designed to tell the prison’s history while thousands of incarcerated men and their families are still living that history. Glass says the museum has been designed in conjunction with formerly incarcerated people and their families, taking into account any sensitivities that might arise.  

“We’re not at all interested in pandering to voyeurism. And we’re not interested in exploiting, as some museums do, the paranormal interest,” Glass said. “We think this story is compelling enough and interesting enough as a human story, a story of history, and a story of encouraging people to imagine a more equitable justice system.” 

Last year, Alcatraz introduced an exhibit called The Big Lockup: Mass Incarceration in the United States, designed to “tell untold stories important to our nation’s history concerning the complex issue of incarceration.” The Fauquier History Museum at the Old Jail in Warrenton, Virginia, has a new exhibit that focuses on the runaway enslaved people who were held in the jail and how the jail was a barrier to freedom for many enslaved people in the 19th century. The museum director told The Washington Post that he wants to “eliminate some romanticism about old jails and prisons.” 

Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary

Confiscated shanks, Eastern State Penitentiary.

The seriousness with which Eastern State Penitentiary handles the subject matter sets it apart from most prison tourism sites. A timely art installation engraved on the glass encasement of the prison’s greenhouse illustrates the case of Doris Jean Ostreicher, an heiress whose illegal abortion and death led to the imprisonment of the bartender who performed the abortion, Milton Schwartz, the bartender who performed the abortion. What once was the hospital ward now holds an exhibit on diseases in prison, from tuberculosis to AIDS to Covid-19. Photos and narration from both incarcerated people and correctional officers tell the story of the prison in the 20th century. 

One thing a visitor learns on a two-hour self-guided audio tour of the Eastern State Penitentiary is that the United States prison system faces the same problems it did when the cells of the old prison were full: the spread of disease, gang violence, isolation, mental illness, and the disproportionate number of incarcerated Black and brown people. Many correctional facilities still don’t have air conditioning and heat. During the narration on the ESP audio tour, a formerly incarcerated man recounts being told by correctional staff upon his release that “they’ll see him in six months.” Last year, a formerly incarcerated man told me that correctional staff at his facility said upon his release that “they’ll leave the lights on for him.” What prison tourism can show us is how far we haven’t come. 

Eastern State Penitentiary

At the end of the audio tour at Eastern State Penitentiary, a 16-foot steel sculpture called “The Big Graph” offers a visual representation of mass incarceration in America. It illustrates the racial breakdown of prison populations since 1970 and charts other nations’ rates of incarceration compared to the United States. (The US sits far above the rest) The exhibit called “Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration” was added in 2016 in an effort to contextualize the impact of Eastern State Penitentiary and US prisons. 

Eastern State’s Sean Kelley teaches a Zoom class to incarcerated men at SCI Chester in Pennsylvania and during one recorded class, the men shared their thoughts about prison museums. Robert S., an incarcerated man at SCI Chester, said he doesn’t have a problem with prison museums, but organizers should make sure that people have an understanding of the effect on the people who were housed there. “The museum is for amusement, but this was someone’s pain,” he said. “This was someone’s struggle. This was someone’s life. It wasn’t amusement to them.”

Yuma Territorial Prison

The Texas Abortion Ban Has Turned Clinics Into Travel Agencies

Patients entering the bright third-floor offices of Houston Women’s Reproductive Services used to follow the familiar steps for a routine medical appointment: check in, get your blood pressure taken, have other vitals examined. But for the past nine months, the typical rhythms and protocols have been completely upended. These days, patients seeking abortion care are rushed straight to an ultrasound—lab work comes later. They are often overcome with palpable anxiety. “Our patients are absolutely panicked when they come in. They are nervous wrecks, they are trembling with fear,” says administrator and founder Kathy Kleinfeld. “It’s heartbreaking. So we try to get them the answers they need right away.”

The answer they need immediately is if they are within the narrow six-week mark and can qualify for an abortion in Texas under a draconian law, Senate Bill 8, that bans abortion care in the state once embryonic cardiac activity is detected. “We are all holding our breath during every sonogram,” says Kleinfeld.

The small staff of four full-time employees is also consumed with urgency and anxiety; if abortion care takes place past the strict timeframe, that could mean costly and destructive career-ending lawsuits.

“We are all holding our breath during every sonogram.”

There are some who are within the window and can obtain abortion care at the clinic. They usually “burst into tears” of relief, says Kleinfeld, though they still have to wait 24 hours following the ultrasound, as mandated by another 2011 state law. But then, there are the more than 300 in-person patients—and thousands of callers—who the clinic has been forced to turn away since the ban took effect. These are the people, Kleinfeld says, who feel “devastated” and “deeply shocked.” Some end up confused and dazed, burdened with processing how and even if they can secure the resources and manage the logistics required to make the trek out of state. How is it possible to get child care, time off work, and money for transportation and lodging? Providers and advocates resoundingly stress it is low-income Texans and people of color who have been disproportionately affected by the severe law and who are most likely to carry unwanted pregnancies to term.

As a result, Texas clinics have been transformed into what are essentially somber travel agencies. Since September of last year, when SB 8 took effect, an average of nearly 1,400 Texans traveled out of state for abortion care each month, a figure nearly equivalent to the number that traveled every year between 2017 and 2019, according to the Texas Policy Evaluation Project. Some are forced to travel hundreds, even thousands, of miles for an abortion, causing a “domino effect” by delaying care for others at health clinics across the country, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Kleinfeld now refers to her clinic staff as “navigators,” as they are tasked with shepherding distraught patients to medical care far from home—helping them find transportation, lodging, and even meals. “We are like de facto travel agents because of this law,” she says. “Our secondary—and even primary—jobs now are to truly be navigators.”

One of these navigators can’t believe how her work has changed—and feels shock at history repeating itself. As a college student at the University of Texas at Austin 50 years ago, she helped guide people in Texas to abortion access prior to Roe. “It’s absolutely scary watching this happen again,” says Kitty, who asked to be identified only by her first name. She hears the same “desperation, sadness, and anger” as she did when she was assisting abortion-seeking Texans in the late ’60s and early ’70s. “It’s unbelievable.”

It is also a harbinger of what is to come across the country if, as expected, the Supreme Court guts the landmark 1973 ruling in the coming weeks, which would be followed by 26 states certainly or likely banning abortion care. “All the adjustments we’ve had to make,” Kleinfeld explains, “are unfortunately a preview of what clinics in other states may soon need to do.”

 

 

 

Living under what was the nation’s most restrictive abortion law for most of the past year, Texas clinics have been forced to adapt and transform their practices, or face SB 8’s punitive consequences. Erroneously dubbed a “heartbeat” bill by anti-abortion advocates, the law offers no exceptions for rape or incest and is, in effect, a near-total ban as it cuts off abortion care before most people are even aware they are pregnant. Its novel private enforcement mechanism empowers any individual—including anti-abortion vigilantes with no connection to the patient—to sue abortion providers or anyone who “aids or abet” care for damages of at least $10,000, effectively chilling clinic operations. The law has already inflicted irreparable harm in a state that’s home to 10 percent of the country’s reproductive-age population.

While medication abortion and telehealth may seem like an ideal solution for abortion-seeking Texans, particularly those who cannot travel, state lawmakers added major barriers to that option as well. Senate Bill 4, which took effect in December, bars the mail delivery of abortion medication and shortens when a patient can take that medication from 10 weeks to seven weeks of pregnancy, despite the fact that the Food and Drug Administration lifted federal mail restrictions and approved use for up to 10 weeks; SB 4 instead requires doctors to give the pills in-person. Providers who violate the law could be saddled with a state felony, a $10,000 fine, and up to two years in prison. Kleinfeld says requests to travel out of state for telehealth services are rare. (Of course, some Texans have not let SB 4 prevent them from accessing self-managed abortion online, turning to channels outside the US health care system; after SB 8, Austria-based provider Aid Access saw a sharp rise in Texans requesting abortion pills.)

“One thing has been very clear. When patients decide they want abortion care, they are very determined to be unpregnant.” 

So over the past few months, Kleinfeld and her team have become experts on, as she puts it, the “complex web” of abortion hurdles in surrounding Southern states and beyond. She has memorized a list of restrictions, which she expertly rattles off: If a patient wants care in Arkansas, they’ll need to make two trips to the clinic and wait 72 hours between the ultrasound and the procedure; New Mexico doesn’t have a waiting period; in Louisiana, they must wait 24 hours and make two clinic visits, and so on. When we speak in mid-May, Kleinfeld tells me she needs to be vigilant about shifting laws—particularly in Oklahoma, where nearly half of displaced Texas patients were getting abortion care. At the time, a six-week ban, modeled after Texas’, was in effect in Oklahoma, drastically narrowing a crucial pipeline for abortion-seeking Texans and forcing Kleinfeld to further redirect patients. In the weeks since, a total ban has also been put in place there, dealing a final blow to that line of care. “It’s been so important to know the laws in other states as we try to arm patients with the most accurate information to navigate access,” she says.

One strategy for implementing the most effective “travel agency” has been to strengthen lines of communication with abortion funds and out-of-state providers. Clinic staff sometimes texts other clinic staff directly on their personal cellphones to ask how long patients will need to wait for the next appointment; other times they juggle a number of different Slacks and listservs (“There are so many,” remarks Kleinfeld) among providers across the nation. Collectively, they all feel an unprecedented sense of solidarity in their mission to connect patients to care.

“It’s never been more imperative to network with outside clinics and abortion funds,” Kleinfeld explains. “That’s certainly been a big change, we now need to be in constant communication.”

Whole Woman’s Health, which operates four clinics in Texas and five in other states, has made a similar pivot. Its Texas clinics have seen approximately 50 percent fewer patients since SB 8 took effect and a rise in those seeking care outside the state. So Amy Hagstrom Miller, the organization’s president and founder, has hired new staff solely focused on helping patients get appointments across state lines. They call this new travel assistance service the “Abortion Wayfinder” program, which seeks to streamline and facilitate a sometimes complicated process. By networking with other abortion support groups, Whole Woman Health’s staff members make appointments in other states on behalf of displaced Texas patients, including at its own Virginia and Minnesota sites. If needed, Whole Woman’s Health will dip into its own abortion fund, Stigma Relief, and coordinate with national and local abortion funds to provide financial support to cover the procedure, as well as travel and other logistics. Over the past few months, the program has helped 60 low-income patients, with $1,000 each.

Nonetheless, even with assistance, the financial burdens of travel and managing the logistics aren’t always easy for patients, especially those who are already struggling economically. Some don’t have credit cards, for instance, which makes booking hotels and flights more difficult; others have never taken an Uber before or boarded an airplane. One patient, says Hagstrom Miller, refused a flight to Alexandria, Virginia, as she had never flown before and couldn’t leave her children behind. Instead, she made the 26-hour drive from the border city of McAllen, with her whole family in tow. (These stressors are far from unique: Nearly 60 percent of those who have abortions are already parents, and of that number, a third have at least two children, according to the Guttmacher Institute.) Other providers note the difficulty in travel for undocumented residents navigating access amid in-state Border Patrol checkpoints. Minors confront other complications; some hotels, for instance, require guests to be at least 21 years old.

So what may seem like a straightforward journey from one place to another often becomes fraught with unexpected difficulties and challenges, particularly for already vulnerable Texans. Hagstrom Miller explains that the need for the program was obvious to those who worked there, but the challenge was creating an infrastructure to support all of its various elements. “One thing has been very clear,” Hagstrom Miller adds. “When patients decide they want abortion care, they are very determined to be unpregnant.” 

For transportation that doesn’t involve air travel, they are working to devise scalable ride-sharing programs with other groups. They also manage a database that keeps track of which airlines have the most reliable schedules and service and the team has developed relationships with hotels that specifically don’t stigmatize against abortion and even with sandwich shops in other states to help patients obtain meals—unusual roles they never thought they’d fill.

“I think we will see that some clinics will remain open without providing direct [abortion] services but will be there to support patients and do everything possible to help them get access to care in other states,” says Elizabeth Nash, who tracks state reproductive health policy at the Guttmacher Institute. “Texas clinics have already started figuring this out…It’s a real testament to the perseverance of these clinics.”

 

 

 

Working hand in hand with the clinics are abortion funds, which have long been on the frontlines of connecting low-income patients with access. They too have seen their operations change as they face unprecedented demand. Fund Texas Choice offers financial assistance to patients for transportation to clinics and has functioned as a de facto state travel agency since it started in the wake of House Bill 2, which shuttered half of Texas’ clinics and gave way to several “abortion deserts” in the massive state. (Although the multi-part state law was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2016, most of the defunct clinics have been unable to recover and reopen their doors, underscoring HB 2’s lasting impact.)

“Texas clinics have already started figuring this out…It’s a real testament to the perseverance of these clinics.”

These efforts have only grown under SB 8. Before the law took effect, less than half of the 40 clients Fund Texas Choice served a month required out-of-state travel; today, 99 percent of the now 100 clients it serves monthly do, involving on average more than 1,300 miles roundtrip. As surrounding states continue to restrict abortion care, Fund Texas Choice program manager Sahra Harvin worries about how the increase in distance will in turn hike the average cost per client, especially amid rising gas and airfare prices. While the group was able to assist every caller before SB 8, call volume has jumped sixfold, and even after adding new staff, they are still unable to meet demand.

“We don’t need to imagine a post-Roe environment. We know firsthand what it looks like,” says Harvin. “We’ve seen how there are not enough hours in the day to help everyone that calls us, and that demand will likely rise. It should not be up to funds and practical support organizations to ensure the people of this state access essential health care—we are just filling the gap where the state has failed.”

Similarly, Texas Equal Access Fund, which operates in the state’s north, went from supporting a quarter of its callers in traveling out of state to almost 90 percent. The majority of clients seeking help from the Lilith Fund, which serves central and south Texas, are also now going out of state, which has led the group to increase the amount spent per client from an average of $348 in 2020 to $587 in the months since SB 8 took effect.

This is further hurting the most vulnerable Texans, including Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, people with disabilities, people in rural areas, young people, and undocumented people, who constitute most of these funds’ callers. Indeed, more than 70 percent of TEA’s callers are BIPOC, with Black women making up the majority of its client base. Most lack health insurance and, due to federal Medicaid rules and a Texas law that prohibits public and private insurance covering abortion, they must pay out of pocket.

“Abortion bans are systemic discrimination and racism in action—and the impact of SB 8 and other abortion restrictions have been extremely harmful to our most marginalized communities,” says Kamyon Conner, TEA’s executive director. “The added cost and logistics to go to another state make getting an abortion very hard for people who don’t have access to paid time off or are unable to take any time off to get care. We worry that people will just go without the care they need.”

Anti-abortion laws are “blatant misogyny and white supremacy in action,” echoes Lilith Fund executive director Amanda Beatriz Williams.

 

 

 

With the future sustainability (and job security) of Texas clinics up in the air—especially independent providers, which face a greater threat of closure—investing in building clinics elsewhere may turn out to be the most strategic path forward for the post-Roe world.

Some providers are already eyeing expansion in “safe haven” states that are working to enshrine abortion rights and even expand abortion access. In her office, Hagstrom Miller keeps a map of the US that outlines which states will likely protect abortion access if Roe is struck down. While she’s had it up since 2019, today it’s become indispensable. She uses it to explore where she might open a new clinic next; her team is currently evaluating cities in Illinois and North Carolina as possible options. After SB 8 went into effect, Whole Woman’s Health opened a new clinic in Minnesota, which is expected to be a safe-haven state; it’s situated near the Minneapolis–St. Paul airport for easier access for out-of-state patients. Today, some 30 percent of that clinic’s clients come from Texas, a figure that is expected to rise “drastically,” she says.

“You will feel immense guilt and grief as you are forced to carry out the state’s will against your own conscience.”

But Nash from the Guttmacher Institute stresses that not even people who live in those safe haven states are immune from the damaging policies of abortion-hostile states, since patient displacement is causing a ripple effect across clinics in all regions. “Despite what’s been happening in Texas, and now Oklahoma, it hasn’t seemed to quite penetrate into the public consciousness,” says Nash. “Some of that is because abortion is very stigmatized and some of that is because people don’t think these laws will affect them. But, in fact, what we are seeing is that what happens in one state causes disruption across the country. Providers from California to Maryland are seeing the effects of high patient volume, delayed wait times, and capacity shortages.”

While all the changes that Texas abortion clinics have been required to make have been exhausting, one of the most difficult and emotionally taxing parts has been turning away more and more patients while adhering to a law that directly contradicts their values and principles as compassionate medical providers. Beyond acting as travel agents, clinic directors say staff have become informal trauma counselors, as they interact daily with angry, terrified, confused, and desperate patients, some of whom are forced to continue pregnancies against their will in a state that has a tattered social safety and family planning net. In many cases, there is nothing staff can do for them other than to “listen, hold their hands, and dry their tears,” says Hagstrom Miller.

“You will feel immense guilt and grief as you are forced to carry out the state’s will against your own conscience,” she says, offering advice for other abortion providers. “The psychological and emotional impact this will have on you will be traumatic. But please remember, it is not your fault. There is no way to fully prepare other than to make time and space for the sadness.”

Kleinfeld says that in order to continue the work even while turning hundreds of clients away, she and her team try to focus on the individual victories—the patients who are able to get care within the narrow sliver of time still allotted by law. When we speak again in early June, she shares the story of a young woman who called her Houston clinic panicked since she believed she was eight-weeks pregnant and thus past the legal limit in Texas. Kleinfeld advised her to come in for an ultrasound anyway; it turned out the patient had miscalculated the date of her last period and was only five-weeks pregnant and able to receive abortion care at her hometown clinic.

“She was over the moon,” says Kleinfeld. “She was so relieved and so happy that she didn’t need to travel out of state…When a patient comes in and is actually within the legal limit, it’s like, ‘Hallelujah!’ Those moments help keep us going.”

Colorado to Investigate Lauren Boebert for Alleged Misuse of Campaign Funds

Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) has come under investigation from several state agencies over her alleged misuse of campaign funds, the New York Times reported today.

Boebert allegedly used campaign funds to reimburse herself for $22,259 in mileage—a sum strikingly similar to the $20,000 she paid in tax liens for her previous failure to pay unemployment premiums on her restaurant, Shooters Grill. The allegations were brought to the Colorado attorney general’s office by the American Muckrakers PAC, which recently tanked Madison Cawthorn’s congressional run.

“Had Representative Boebert paid her restaurant staff properly and also paid the unemployment premiums to the State of Colorado, an investigation never would have been necessary,” David B. Wheeler, one of the PAC’s founders, told the Times.

As I reported last month, five former Shooters employees told me that Boebert did not pay them on time. Several said that they were paid in cash without taxes deducted. 

In April, I spoke with Scott McInnis, who represented Boebert’s district from 1993 to 2005 and now serves as Mesa County Commissioner. At the time, McInnis shrugged off the allegations that Boebert had misused campaign funds. “I remember when they made a big wahoo out of the mileage she submitted for reimbursement or something. I just chuckled,” he told me, adding that the district is so big that a representative could easily rack up thousands of miles driving to campaign events.

But local news outlets suggest that the 38,712 miles Boebert purports to have traveled is an outrageous sum, even in Colorado’s huge 3rd District. As the Times reports, Boebert’s campaign later said that the mileage reimbursement included other expenses, like hotel rooms. It also claims that she paid off the tax liens before the reimbursements reacher her account.

Jared and Ivanka Knew Trump Was a Loser. But Don’t Believe This Rehab Job.

As the congressional committee investigating the attack on the US Capitol prepares to kick off its primetime hearing, a curious report has emerged on the front pages of the New York Times. Taken at face value, it offers a behind-the-scenes look at how Jared and Ivanka dealt with Donald Trump’s increasingly delusional claim that he had defeated Joe Biden and secured a second term. 

“We’re moving to Miami,” Kushner told his wife from their $18,000-a-month mansion, deciding that they’d hit eject even if Trump refused to accept defeat. The Times goes on:

No matter how vociferously Mr. Trump claimed otherwise, neither Mr. Kushner nor Ivanka Trump believed then or later that the election had been stolen, according to people close to them. While the president spent the hours and days after the polls closed complaining about imagined fraud in battleground states and plotting a strategy to hold on to power, his daughter and son-in-law were already washing their hands of the Trump presidency.

Their decision to move on opened a vacuum around the president that was filled by conspiracy theorists like Rudolph W. Giuliani and Sidney Powell, who relayed to Mr. Trump farcically false stories of dead voters, stuffed ballot boxes, corrupted voting machines and foreign plots. Concluding that the president would not listen even to family members urging him to accept the results, Mr. Kushner told Mr. Trump that he would not be involved if Mr. Giuliani were in charge, according to people he confided in, effectively ceding the field to those who would try to overturn the election.

I’m no investigative journalist. Far from it! But to believe this account, at least entirely, is to ignore one of the most persistent storylines of the Trump era. We’ve seen this play out time and time again: flattering stories, somehow leaked to the press, depicting Jared and Ivanka as the least-awful members of MAGA-world. It’s hardly a coincidence that this latest one, which could help shield the couple from any accusation that they played a role in fomenting violence at the Capitol, is emerging just as the January 6 committee is presenting them as the hearings’ star attraction

But alright, let’s assume that this account is true, that Jared and Ivanka, knowing that Dad was a loser before the race was officially called, decided to exit fast. It certainly wouldn’t be a leap to read that they spent the final days of the Trump White House checked out and overwhelmingly focused on their own reputations. But opening Trump’s orbit to clearly unhinged characters, and eventually, the January 6 insurrection, is incredibly damning on its own—and once again shreds the notion that Javanka quietly operated as some kind of moderating force against Donald Trump. That image was manufactured by Ivanka herself. But how on earth is the media still doing the couple’s dirty laundry?

I’ll leave you with the only good reason to actually click on the Times report today: That Kushner, whose parents reportedly bribed his way into Harvard, turned to a James Patterson-led MasterClass to write his forthcoming book on Trump’s legacy.

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