Mother Jones Magazine

What Peter Navarro Did After His First Court Appearance Is Truly Bizarre

Peter Navarro, a former adviser to Donald Trump facing contempt of Congress charges, ranted about United States government in a court hearing in DC on Friday, alleging that Congress conspired with the Justice Department to deprive him of his rights. “I am … disappointed in our republic,” Navarro told the judge.

On Saturday, Navarro was in New York, praising the New Federal State of China, a supposed government-in-waiting for Beijing launched in 2020 by Guo Wengui—also known as Miles Guo, an exiled Chinese businessman—and Steve Bannon, another former Trump aide. Navarro last year became “an international ambassador” for the group. It’s not clear what, if any, responsibilities that role entails. And Navarro has not responded to questions about what he may be paid.

“Yesterday about this time I was in a jail cell with leg irons and handcuffs on for standing up for an important constitutional principle in this country, but I would not let that stand in the way of coming to see you, the great Miles Guo, and to be here with my brother in arms Steve Bannon to talk really about the importance of freeing China form the Chinese Communist Party,” Navarro told a host who was interviewing him as part of the New Federal State’s second anniversary celebration.

Bannon, too, was indicted for contempt of Congress last year. Both men have refused to cooperate whatsoever with subpoenas from the select congressional committee investigating the January 6 attacks, which is seeking information about the advice they gave Donald Trump on his efforts to use false election-fraud claims to remain in office. 

The anniversary event was held at the 3 Columbus Circle offices of Gettr, the conservative social media application Guo helped finance. Gettr’s CEO, former Trump spokesman Jason Miller, has claimed that Guo is merely an investor and does not own Gettr or take part in its day-to-day management. Miller also attended the event Saturday.

In February, I wrote in depth about the New Federal State of China for Mother Jones, after attending the organization’s first anniversary gala a year earlier. 

It was the anniversary gala for the New Federal State of China, a supposed government in exile dedicated to the overthrow of the CCP, launched by Guo and Bannon at another surreal event one year before. On that occasion, Guo signed a declaration of principles in his own blood and, declaring “Love you,” planted a kiss on an uncomfortable-looking Bannon as planes dragged congratulatory banners overhead. The launch was held in New York harbor with the Statue of Liberty and the Lady May, Guo’s $28 million, 150-foot yacht, in the background. That is the same boat on which federal agents arrested Bannon later that summer on charges of defrauding donors in a quixotic campaign to fund border-wall construction…

The NFSC has no full-time staff and no website, and it is not even a legally incorporated entity. What funding it receives seems to flow from the Rule of Law Society and the Rule of Law Foundation, nonprofits launched by Guo and Bannon. The two organizations are part of a web of more than 60 commercial, nonprofit, and online groups that Guo controls—what the mogul and his far-right adviser call the “whistleblower movement.”

In summary, the organization is deeply strange and, in many respects, fake. Guo and Bannon claim it is poised to receive diplomatic recognition as the rightful government of China. That is ridiculous and false. But the assertion has helped Guo raise large amounts of money from supporters among the Chinese diaspora. The title of “ambassador” conveyed on Navarro, appears to be part of an effort to create the appearance that the organization is some sort of sovereign body.

What does it mean that Bannon and Navarro refused to cooperate with a congressional inquiry into the coup attempt they advised Trump on, and also work with Guo’s bizarre organization? It shows they are extremists, committed to promoting causes that are both bizarre and dangerous.

The Long, Hype-Strewn Road to General Artificial Intelligence

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

Last month, DeepMind, a subsidiary of technology giant Alphabet, set Silicon Valley abuzz when it announced Gato, perhaps the most versatile artificial intelligence model in existence. Billed as a “generalist agent,” Gato can perform over 600 different tasks. It can drive a robot, caption images, identify objects in pictures, and more. It is probably the most advanced AI system on the planet that isn’t dedicated to a singular function. And, to some computing experts, it is evidence that the industry is on the verge of reaching a long-awaited, much-hyped milestone: Artificial General Intelligence.

Unlike ordinary AI, Artificial General Intelligence wouldn’t require giant troves of data to learn a task. Whereas ordinary artificial intelligence has to be pre-trained or programmed to solve a specific set of problems, a general intelligence can learn through intuition and experience.

An AGI would in theory be capable of learning anything that a human can, if given the same access to information. Basically, if you put an AGI on a chip and then put that chip into a robot, the robot could learn to play tennis the same way you or I do: by swinging a racket around and getting a feel for the game. That doesn’t necessarily mean the robot would be sentient or capable of cognition. It wouldn’t have thoughts or emotions, it’d just be really good at learning to do new tasks without human aid.

This would be huge for humanity. Think about everything you could accomplish if you had a machine with the intellectual capacity of a human and the loyalty of a trusted canine companion — a machine that could be physically adapted to suit any purpose. That’s the promise of AGI. It’s C-3PO without the emotions, Lt. Commander Data without the curiosity, and Rosey the Robot without the personality. In the hands of the right developers, it could epitomize the idea of human-centered AI.

But how close, really, is the dream of AGI? And does Gato actually move us closer to it?

For a certain group of scientists and developers (I’ll call this group the “Scaling-Uber-Alles” crowd, adopting a term coined by world-renowned AI expert Gary Marcus) Gato and similar systems based on transformer models of deep learning have already given us the blueprint for building AGI. Essentially, these transformers use humongous databases and billions or trillions of adjustable parameters to predict what will happen next in a sequence.

Deep-learning AIs are librarians and, as such, they are only as good as their training libraries.

The Scaling-Uber-Alles crowd, which includes notable names such as OpenAI’s Ilya Sutskever and the University of Texas at Austin’s Alex Dimakis, believes that transformers will inevitably lead to AGI; all that remains is to make them bigger and faster. As Nando de Freitas, a member of the team that created Gato, recently tweeted: “It’s all about scale now! The Game is Over! It’s about making these models bigger, safer, compute efficient, faster at sampling, smarter memory…” De Freitas and company understand that they’ll have to create new algorithms and architectures to support this growth, but they also seem to believe that an AGI will emerge on its own if we keep making models like Gato bigger.

Call me old-fashioned, but when a developer tells me their plan is to wait for an AGI to magically emerge from the miasma of big data like a mudfish from primordial soup, I tend to think they’re skipping a few steps. Apparently, I’m not alone. A host of pundits and scientists, including Marcus, have argued that something fundamental is missing from the grandiose plans to build Gato-like AI into full-fledged generally intelligent machines.

I recently explained my thinking in a trilogy of essays for The Next Web’s Neural vertical, where I’m an editor. In short, a key premise of AGI is that it should be able to obtain its own data. But deep learning models, such as transformer AIs, are little more than machines designed to make inferences relative to the databases that have already been supplied to them. They’re librarians and, as such, they are only as good as their training libraries.

A general intelligence could theoretically figure things out even if it had a tiny database. It would intuit the methodology to accomplish its task based on nothing more than its ability to choose which external data was and wasn’t important, like a human deciding where to place their attention.

Gato is cool and there’s nothing quite like it. But, essentially, it is a clever package that arguably presents the illusion of a general AI through the expert use of big data. Its giant database, for example, probably contains datasets built on the entire contents of websites such as Reddit and Wikipedia. It’s amazing that humans have managed to do so much with simple algorithms just by forcing them to parse more data.

Gato is such an impressive way to fake general intelligence, it makes me wonder if we might be barking up the wrong tree.

In fact, Gato is such an impressive way to fake general intelligence, it makes me wonder if we might be barking up the wrong tree. Many of the tasks Gato is capable of today were once believed to be something only an AGI could do. It feels like the more we accomplish with regular AI, the harder the challenge of building a general agent appears to be.

For those reasons, I’m skeptical that deep learning alone is the path to AGI. I believe we’ll need more than bigger databases and additional parameters to tweak. We’ll need an entirely new conceptual approach to machine learning.

I do think that humanity will eventually succeed in the quest to build AGI. My best guess is that we will knock on AGI’s door sometime around the early-to-mid 2100s, and that, when we do, we’ll find that it looks quite different from what the scientists at DeepMind are envisioning.

But the beautiful thing about science is that you have to show your work, and, right now, DeepMind is doing just that. It’s got every opportunity to prove me and the other naysayers wrong.

I truly, deeply hope it succeeds.

A Russian Billionaire Is Selling his $500 Million Company for $1 After Ukraine Sanctions

Russian oligarch and billionaire Roman Abramovich, one of the most high-profile Russian oligarchs, will sell off his stake in a European telecom company for just £1—the equivalent of one US dollar, for an investment that was worth half a billion dollars before the oligarch faced stringent Western sanctions thanks to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s instigation of the war in Ukraine. The news that Abramovich will sell the company that he and two business partners once invested as much as $375 million (about £300 million) in comes in a report from the UK paper The Times, just a week after the British government okayed a deal for Abramovich to sell the Chelsea Football Club, one of the Premiere League’s top teams and one of the most valuable sports franchises in the world, for $5 billion.

In both cases, Abramovich will see little, if any, profit from the sales, with any possible financial upside for him being frozen until he is no longer sanctioned. In the case of the telecom company, Truphone, Abramovich will be allowed to recoup up to one-third of his original investment, but he won’t receive any of it as long as he remains under sanctions. With the sale of Chelsea F.C., to an investor consortium led by Todd Boehly, an American investment banker who is also a part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the $3 billion that Abramovich invested in the team will be placed in a special fund the U.K. government can use to benefit victims of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The remaining $2 billion will be invested in the team, leaving Abramovich with nothing. 

The sale of his assets represents a dizzying fall for Abramovich. He earned billions in the early years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, gaining control of huge oil and aluminum resources in the chaos of Russia’s transition out of communism and parlaying the money into western investments, including Chelsea, various tech firms, and private equity investments in the United States. He also became a citizen of both Israel, where he made huge philanthropic donations, and Portugal. Abramovich previously was active in Russian politics, but he resigned a governorship in 2008, and has since denied being close to Putin. However, both the European Union and the United Kingdom placed sanctions on him shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in March. The US has, allegedly, considered sanctioning him, but has reportedly held off at the request of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who argued Abramovich could be helpful in negotiations with Putin. 

In 2021, estimates of Abramovich’s wealth rose to as much as $14 billion, but following the start of the war and the sanctions targeting him, it has plummeted to near $6 billion. While Abramovich has appeared to be relatively cooperative in the sale of his telecom company and soccer club, he is not going down without a fight against the sanctions. Last week, the oligarch filed a lawsuit against the European Union to remove himself from the sanctions list there. Nearly two dozen other Russian oligarchs also appear to have filed similar suits in the EU.

Justice Department Won’t Prosecute Two Top Trump Aides for Defying Jan. 6 Committee

The Department of Justice informed the special congressional committee investigating the January 6, 2021 insurrection that it will not prosecute Mark Meadows, former president Donald Trump’s last chief-of-staff, or Dan Scavino, a high-ranking Trump aide, for refusing to comply with the committee’s subpoenas requiring them to testify about Trump’s involvement with the attack on the Capitol. The DOJ made the announcement on Friday evening, the same day a federal grand jury did indict a third Trump aide, Peter Navarro, for his refusal to comply with a similar subpoena. 

Congressional subpoenas are similar to a subpoena from a court in that compliance with them is not optional. But congressional committees rely on the DOJ to actually pursue a contempt of Congress charge. Both Meadows and Scavino negotiated with the January 6 committee for weeks before eventually declining to come in for interviews with committee members, and Meadows did turn over thousands of records for the committee to review. In a letter to the January 6 committee, the DOJ was vague in its reasoning for not pursuing contempt charges against the two men, with a top agency official writing only that “based on the individual facts and circumstances of their alleged contempt, my office will not be initiating prosecutions for criminal contempt.” He also stated that the department’s review of the matter was over. 

The committee said it was pleased with Navarro’s indictment but found the decision on Meadows and Scavino puzzling.

While today’s indictment of Peter Navarro was the correct decision by the Justice Department, we find the decision to reward Mark Meadows and Dan Scavino for their continued attack on the rule of law puzzling.

— January 6th Committee (@January6thCmte) June 4, 2022

Navarro is an ally of former Trump advisor Steve Bannon, who has also been charged with contempt of Congress for his own refusal to testify before the committee. Since receiving his subpoena, Navarro has been antagonistic towards investigators, doing things like suing the committee, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and the U.S. Attorney for Washington D.C., claiming they have no right to investigate. Navarro has never cooperated with the committee in any way, refusing not just to testify, but also to turn over records. Meadows, Scavino, and Navarro have all attempted to claim executive privilege, a rule that shields top presidential officials from some congressional scrutiny, as their reason to not testify. But although Navarro served in the Trump administration, he was not as high in the ranks as both Meadows and Scavino at the time of the January 6 insurrection. Prosecutions for contempt of Congress are rare, but it appears that DOJ prosecutors may be drawing a line based on executive privilege, perhaps giving more credence to claims from higher-level administration officials. 

Following his arrest on Friday, Navarro appeared outside of a Washington D.C. courthouse to complain that after openly defying a legal subpoena, and being criminally indicted for doing so, he had been treated by police as an actual criminal.

"They intercepted me gettin' on the plane and then they put me in handcuffs, they bring me here. They put me in leg irons. They stick me in a cell."

— Former Trump adviser Peter Navarro on being charged for contempt of Congress for defying a January 6th Committee subpoena.

— The Recount (@therecount) June 3, 2022

Navarro’s arrest also elicited an outraged and rather bizarre complaint from Trump ally Rep. Louie Gohmert from Arizona, who went on Newsmax Friday to complain that the DOJ is biased against Republicans because it has dared to arrest people for lying to the FBI. (Deceiving the FBI is a crime that the DOJ frequently prosecutes people for, regardless of political affiliation.)

Rep Louie Gohmert on Navarro indictment: "If you're a Republican, you can't even lie to Congress or lie to an FBI agent or they're coming after you"

— Jason Campbell (@JasonSCampbell) June 3, 2022

Uvalde Mom Who Was Handcuffed Says Police Warned Her Not to Tell Her Story

The Uvalde, Texas mother of two young Robb Elementary School students who was handcuffed by law enforcement at the scene of last month’s school shooting that left 19 children and two adults dead, gave a detailed description on Thursday of her attempts to save her children. Speaking to CBS News, Angeli Gomez said that she has since received a phone call from law enforcement, warning her to stop telling her story of how she scuffled with police who had set up a perimeter around the school but refused to enter the building and attempt to stop the shooter. 

Gomez, whose two sons are in second and third grade and survived the attack, told CBS that after being at the school earlier in the day for a graduation ceremony, she sped to Robb Elementary upon hearing a shooting was in progress. Upon arriving, she said she drove past a police line, and was handcuffed by federal agents after she confronted them over their inaction. She was eventually released by local police officers. Gomez recounted to CBS how she then hopped a fence and finally went into the school and found her children. Gomez was captured on video bringing her children out of the building herself. She also said she saw no police officers inside the building.

Gomez also said that since she began telling her story to the press, she received a call from “law enforcement” warning her that because she is on probation for a charge she says is close to a decade old, she could face legal trouble and be charged with “obstruction of justice” if she continues to speak to the media.

Draft Order Would Have Given Armed Trump Supporters Power to Seize Voting Data

As MAGA-world scrambled in November 2020 to concoct claims that the presidential election had been stolen, a business associate of Mike Lindell—the My Pillow executive promoting outlandish conspiracy theories—circulated an especially extreme proposal: a draft executive order that would have empowered armed Trump supporters to seize voting data and conduct investigations of supposed “election tampering.”

The proposal identified three individuals who would be granted this power. Two were associates of former national security adviser Michael Flynn: retired Army Colonel Philip Waldron and Texas businessman Russell Ramsland. Waldron and Ramsland, at the time, were working closely with Flynn and lawyer Sidney Powell to promote the unsubstantiated and loony allegation that the Chinese Communist Party, in cahoots with billionaire George Soros and an array of other actors around the globe, had rigged US voting machines to throw the presidency to Joe Biden.

Trump supporters would “be granted the authority to be armed when conducting these investigations.”

It is unclear how far this proposal got; Trump never implemented it. But it’s an indicator of just how bizarre the effort to overturn the election was. The draft order was shared among a group of Trump backers organized by Powell, who was concocting conspiracy theories and developing implausible legal strategies to keep Trump in power. In a now infamous December 16, 2020, Oval Office meeting, Powell and Flynn reportedly pressed Trump to issue an executive order allowing either the military or a civilian agency to seize voting machines. Public reporting indicates that Ramsland and Waldron helped to formulate this proposal. But the idea may have may have taken at least some inspiration from the separate draft executive order distributed by Andrew Whitney, the Lindell associate.

Whitney, a British pharmaceutical entrepreneur, had recently gained some notoriety by encouraging Trump to embrace an oleander-based treatment that Whitney claimed could “cure” Covid in two days.

The draft order includes a bracketed space reserved for “language to convey the authority of the Office of President of the United States of America.” Then it says: “Due to compelling evidence of election tampering,” three individuals and their companies would have authority to “actively research, physically obtain and/or remotely retrieve, and further retain in a 3rd Party protected data storage site all data and/or code regarding US election fraud, election manipulation, voter fraud, election interference, voter eligibility, and election systems wherever it resides.”

“These individuals,” the order adds, will “be granted the authority to be armed when conducting these investigations since most of the operations would be conducted under hostile conditions.” It also says the US Marshals or other law enforcement “shall be seconded to the teams sent into the field” to seize data.

Two of the three figures who the order would have tasked with carrying out this plan have since become well known for their post-election machinations. Waldron, who runs Rising Tide Services LLC, created an infamous PowerPoint presentation that urged Trump to declare a national emergency in order to remain in office. Waldron has said he spoke to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows “eight to 10 times.” Ramsland ran a firm called Allied Security Operations, which claimed to offer clients a combination of cyber and physical security services and which Ramsland has said supplied research to Powell and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani. Neither Waldron nor Ramsland responded to requests for comment.

The third individual named in the draft order told Mother Jones that he had nothing to do with this proposal and was unaware of its existence and uninvolved in the efforts to overturn the election.

The draft was sent from a ProtonMail address that belongs to Whitney, according to people who corresponded with him. It’s not clear if Whitney actually wrote it. He didn’t respond to inquires. The document was sent to Jim Penrose, whose online bio says he used to work for the National Security Agency, and who was working closely with Flynn at the time. It was also sent to Doug Logan, the head of a cybersecurity firm, Cyber Ninjas, that was later involved in a so-called audit of Arizona’s election results.

Whitney, Penrose, and Logan were part of a group of Trump backers who assembled in mid-November 2020 at a property purchased earlier that year by Lin Wood, a prominent trial lawyer who has embraced pro-Trump conspiracy theories, including QAnon. Led by Powell, the group, which also included Flynn and Overstock founder Patrick Byrne, used the estate—called the Tomotley Plantation—to plot legal efforts to keep Trump in office.

It is not clear who else, if anyone, ultimately saw the draft order that Whitney sent to Penrose and Logan. But the email, according to sources involved, was an early part of a process in which numerous people working with Powell, including the group on Wood’s property, workshopped radical proposals that eventually reached Trump, in altered form. “Pretty much everybody who was in Sidney’s orbit was involved in the drafting of some of this stuff,” one person involved in the efforts said.

Various media outlets have reported on draft executive orders linked to efforts to encourage Trump to try to seize voting machines. One proposal reportedly would have used the Homeland Security Department, not the Pentagon; Trump, according to the New York Times, was open to the idea. But other Trump advisers, including White House Counsel Pat Cippolone and even Giuliani, reportedly blocked it. The former New York mayor reputedly said that “we would all end up in prison” if Trump signed an order allowing the military to confiscate machines.

Wood, who has since turned against most of his former guests, claimed in an interview that Whitney had come to his property in the second week of November 2020 not to participate in the election fraud crusade, but to promote oleandrin, his supposed Covid cure. The Washington Post reported last year that Whitney won support for this product from HUD Secretary Ben Carson and Lindell and was able to secure a White House meeting about it with Trump in July 2020. Lindell, who, according Axios, invested in a company that develops the drug, later claimed that Trump had said during the meeting that “the FDA should be approving” the product. (It didn’t.)

Whitney had previously pitched oleandrin to a series of conservative pundits. John Solomon, the right-leaning former Hill columnist who helped Giuliani push false claims about Joe Biden and Ukraine in 2019, gave the product a puffy write-up. Whitney also hawked it on the show of pro-Trump live-streamers Diamond and Silk.

But in November 2020, Whitney found a new focus. In a four-page memo he sent to Wood on November 18, titled “Their Plan Revealed,” Whitney speculated that the left, which he referred to as “the Communists,” would use violence and possible collaboration with “armed foreign elements” from “China, Venezuela and Cuba” to retain power in the United States. He also predicted that they would engineer a stock market crash, “a second pandemic,” or an electrical grid failure to distract from Trump’s efforts to expose election fraud. To stop this, Whitney urged Trump to take a series of executive actions, including pardoning WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, declassifying “all documents on Russiagate,” and ordering the”immediate arrests of violent activists, enablers (BLM, ANTIFA, others).”

“Can we get this to Sidney, and Gen Flynn, or POTUS directly?” Whitney asked Wood in an email.

Wood told me he doesn’t think he complied. “I doubt that I did anything with that, including bothering to read it,” Wood said.

Key Roundup Ingredient Harms Wild Bee Colonies, New Study Shows

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

The critical ability of wild bumblebees to keep their colonies at the right temperature is seriously damaged by the weedkiller glyphosate, research has revealed.

Glyphosate is the most widely used pesticide in history, intended to kill only plants. The harm to bumblebees—vital pollinators—was not identified in regulatory risk assessments, which only test whether a pesticide rapidly kills healthy, individual bees. However, the collective failure to regulate colony temperature could have a massive impact on its ability to produce the next generation, the scientists said.

The damage seen in the study occurred when the colonies were running short of food. This is common in farming regions, where wildflowers can be killed directly by glyphosate. The research is the first on wild bees, of which there are 20,000 species, though glyphosate had already been shown to harm honeybees by damaging larvae and the senses of adults.

Standard risk assessments are performed on well-fed, parasite-free bees, not affected by the many stresses they encounter in the real world. The severe decline of many insects reported in recent years has been described by scientists as “frightening” and “tearing apart the tapestry of life.”

“The tests will miss sublethal effects and, in the case of the bumblebees, this directly impacts on whether a colony will reproduce or not,” said Dr Anja Weidenmüller at the University of Konstanz, Germany, who led the study. “In our agricultural landscapes, [food shortage] is a very common stressor that’s more normal than unusual.”

“Bumblebees are a vitally important group of pollinators; the new findings are especially important given the widespread global use of glyphosate.”

The study, published in the journal Science, examined colonies of buff-tailed bumblebees, one of the most numerous bumblebee species in Europe, and often used to represent wild bees in toxicity studies. These bees can raise their body temperature to incubate the colony’s brood, which uses up as much energy as flying.

Fifteen colonies were divided into two halves by a wire mesh, with one half exposed to glyphosate at levels seen in fields. The exposed bees were able to keep the nest temperature above 28C (82.4F) for 25 percent less time than unexposed bees. “That can have massive effects on colony growth,” said Weidenmüller.

The ideal temperature for the brood to develop is 30-35C. Below 28C development stops and at 25C only 17 percent of the larvae survive. The short flowering season means delayed development is very damaging. “There’s a race to reach the colony size [needed to produce new queens], so if you think of glyphosate imposing a time cost on them, they pay for it heavily,” she said.

Determining how glyphosate causes the damage requires more research, but it is known to harm the microbiome in the guts of honeybees and is likely to do the same in bumblebees. This could mean the bumblebees need to spend more time feeding and less time heating the nest. The pesticide could also damage the bumblebees’ senses, disrupting the complex social interactions needed for a successful colony.

“Bumblebees are a vitally important group of pollinators [and] the new findings are especially important given the widespread global use of glyphosate,” said Prof James Crall, at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, who was not part of the study team. “[Current] environmental safety testing is insufficient for identifying often unpredictable effects on behavior, physiology, or reproduction that occur at sublethal exposures.”

Crall said a possible practical upside of the new study was that it showed providing more food for wild bees could mitigate the damage of glyphosate, highlighting the value of establishing wildflowers and native habitat in agricultural areas.

A chief scientific adviser to the UK government warned in 2017 that the assumption by regulators around the world that it was safe to use pesticides at industrial scales across landscapes was false. The virtual absence of monitoring of their effects in the environment meant it could take years for the impacts to become apparent, said Prof Sir Ian Boyd, now at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.

“Glyphosate has been on the market for over 40 years now,” said Weidenmüller. “It was long declared to be harmless for animals. But more and more studies are showing that is not the case.”

The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen in 2015, and billions of dollars have been paid to settle lawsuits. However, an assessment published by the EU’s chemicals agency on Monday concluded that classifying glyphosate as a carcinogen was not justified.

Dolores Romano, at the European Environmental Bureau, said: “This shows the urgent need to address the systemic deficiencies of the process to classify hazardous chemicals in the EU, such as the extremely high level of evidence required, the major gaps of data sources, the dismissal of independent scientific evidence and the lack of a precautionary approach.”

The GOP’s Interest in Mental Health Care Is a Familiar Deflection After a Mass Shooting

One week after the mass shooting tragedy in Uvalde, Texas, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), the House Republican Conference chair, reiterated her opposition to gun control during a press conference that was focused on milk choice in school lunches for New York students. But lest anyone think she was indifferent to the slaughter of children, she insisted that this time, she and her Republican colleagues in Congress were not just offering thoughts and prayers. “What we are focusing on is making sure that we have increased resources for mental health,” she said, ticking off a number of measures Congress has passed, with help from Republicans, to improve the mental health system over the past few years, including improving the mental health records that went into the national background check system.

Today when I asked Rep. @EliseStefanik about passing new firearm legislation in Congress in the wake of the Buffalo and Uvalde mass shootings, she had this to say-

— Thomas Connolly (@tom_connolly418) May 31, 2022

Her comments were immediately criticized as another sop to the gun lobby (the same industry that employs her husband) and code for Republicans’ intention once more to obstruct any meaningful efforts to combat the nation’s gun violence epidemic. After all, Republicans invoke mental illness after every mass shooting. In 2019, after two mass shootings over a single weekend that left 31 people dead and dozens injured, President Donald Trump insisted, “Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger.” But the funny thing is that Stefanik was right about one thing: Republicans in Congress have quietly done some good work on mental health in the past several years. 

President Donald Trump insisted, “Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger.”

After the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012, which left 20 first-graders and six adults dead, it seemed for a brief moment like the country’s political leaders might actually pass some aggressive measures to address gun violence. But then, like now, they fell back on muted calls for better mental health services in lieu of real solutions, like, say, an assault weapon ban. Data from the National Center for Health Statistics show that between 2000 and 2010, only five percent of gun-related murders were caused by someone with a mental illness. And yet, a few Republicans did follow through and introduce legislation to start to reform the tattered mental health system in the years after Sandy Hook, acknowledging that it was failing huge numbers of Americans with serious mental illnesses.

Leading the charge was former Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), a child psychologist who was forced to resign from Congress in 2017 after having had an affair with a woman half his age and then asking her to have an abortion during a pregnancy scare. But before all that, in 2013, around the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting, Murphy introduced the “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act” to try to plug some of the gaping holes in the mental health system. The bill wasn’t sexy; it launched a host of innovation grants to fund pilot projects and other evidence-based efforts to fix the system. It required the federal government to collect more data to figure out where new reforms were needed. And it would have updated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act to address some parts of the privacy law that prevent families of adults with mental illness from communicating with doctors about their loved ones. Plus it proposed strengthening measures that require insurers and federal health programs to treat mental illness on par with other diseases.

Then-House Majority Leader Paul Ryan lent his support to Murphy’s bill in 2015, after yet another mass shooting, this one in San Bernardino, California, in which 14 people died and 21 others were injured. “I think we need to improve our mental health laws so we can address these problems before they get out of control,” Ryan said. “Mental health is a component to a lot of these shootings that, I think, we have not looked at seriously enough.”

It took three years, but finally, a watered-down version of Murphy’s bipartisan bill was rolled into the omnibus 21st Century Cures Act, which added funding to the National Institutes of Health and tackled everything from Lyme disease to opioid overdoses to prescription drug development. President Barack Obama signed the bill in December 2016. Among other things, the measure created the first cabinet-level position of Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Disorders at the US Department of Health and Human Services to coordinate mental health research and programs across the federal government. Other provisions were designed to help people with serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder get treatment in the community. The bill authorized suicide prevention grants and created new requirements for various government agencies to collect data on everything from psychiatric bed availability to the involvement of mental illness in homicides.

“The federal legislation that makes up the Cures Act is very much systemically focused,” says Lisa Dailey, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit focused on mental health reform and research. “It’s addressing many years of kind of business-as-usual that wasn’t working very well. A lot of the things that were addressed might not be very easily visible, but they were things that needed to be addressed.”

The law, which is up for reauthorization this year and has bipartisan support, became the most significant mental health reform measure in the US in 50 years. And yet, even with these efforts, data indicate that about 40 percent of people suffering from a serious mental illness never received any sort of mental health care in 2020. Moreover, you’d be hard-pressed to make the case that the law prevented a single mass shooting, given how many of them there have been since Obama signed it. There were 45 such episodes between January 2017 up to and including the Uvalde shooting in which three or more people were killed in an indiscriminate public rampage, according to this Mother Jones database. There were 31 such shootings in the six years before the bill passed.

If Republicans are serious about wanting to do more to improve the mental health system, that’s great. From a dire lack of psychiatric hospital beds to a shortage of mental health professionals and school counselors and research on brain diseases, the need is obvious. But none of those initiatives are likely to put a dent in the nation’s gun violence problem without a concomitant effort to control access to firearms. Just consider the recent school shooting that took place a few miles from the US Capitol a month before the Uvalde elementary school bloodbath.

In April, a 23-year-old man named Raymond Spencer set up a sniper’s nest in an apartment across the alley from the Edmund Burke School, a private school in northwest DC. At 3:15 p.m., just at dismissal time, he fired hundreds of bullets into the school with a semi-automatic weapon he’d purchased legally in Virginia. Set up on a tripod, the gun was equipped with a scope with a camera attached to it that he used to record a video he posted of the shooting on 4chan. The circumstances of this shooting contradict nearly all of the GOP talking points about preventing school shootings with mental health care and armed guards. Burke had two security guards on duty that day, both armed—one a retired Metropolitan Police Department officer, the other an off-duty DC cop. Retired officer Antonio Harris, who was outside the building helping direct traffic when the shooting started, became one of the first victims and the most seriously injured after being hit from hundreds of feet away.

Three other people were injured, including a 12-year-old student. By some miracle, no one was killed, but it took police hours to find the shooter, leaving kids locked down in terror in the school waiting to be rescued until long into the evening. When police finally found Spencer’s apartment, he killed himself with a handgun as they opened the door. Police found four assault weapons, two handguns, and nearly a thousand rounds of ammo among Spencer’s possessions.

More than a month later, we still don’t know much about Spencer other than that he worked as a lifeguard in Montgomery County, Md., during high school. He’d updated the Burke Wikipedia page while he shot at its students to reflect the shooting, but no one seems to know why he targeted the school. He’d never been a student there. Estranged from his family for more than a year, he wasn’t in school. He didn’t have a job, a partner, or any current friends who have come forward to talk to the media about him. He’d had no previous encounters with the police or mental health services.

“This guy was just an absolute loner,” D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III told the Washington Post. “A lone, motivated person,” Contee said, with “no history of law enforcement contact, decides to go off the rails. How do you prevent something like this?”

The answer, of course, is not more psychiatric beds or even more psychologists. The one thing—the only thing—that served as a red flag in Spencer’s case was the fact that he had bought enough high-powered weapons and ammo to effectively arm a small cell of Ukrainian resistance fighters. If he hadn’t been able to buy assault weapons with high-capacity magazines and massive amounts of ammo legally, Raymond Spencer might not just be alive, but he might have simply remained an unhappy loner who someday might have been able to take advantage of some of the mental health reforms Republicans have succeeded in passing.

Ron DeSantis Is Hard at Work Doing Bad Shit

Ah, early June. The weather is warm, the water is fine, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is casually doing the most diabolical shit.

You name the progressive cause, and DeSantis has taken substantive steps to stymie it over the past few days, waging attacks on everything from gun control to vaccine mandates to trans rights.

Yesterday, DeSantis joined a growing contingent of Republican governors who are trying to make it harder—or impossible—for trans kids to access gender-affirming medical care. His method is bureaucratic. Unlike in Texas and Alabama, DeSantis wants to circumvent the state legislature by placing the decision in the hands of the state Board of Medicine. The Florida Health Department, led by Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, has made clear that it opposes these medical procedures. In a letter, the Board of Health requested an opportunity to “establish a standard of care” to curtail what Ladapo described as “complex and irreversible procedures.”

“The current standards set by numerous professional organizations appear to follow a preferred political ideology instead of the highest level of generally accepted medical science,” Ladapo wrote.

As my colleague Samantha Michaels has reported, treatments like puberty blockers and hormonal therapy can greatly reduce the risk of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation among trans kids. “Typical gender-affirming treatments for kids are deemed safe and effective by major medical associations like the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics,” she writes.

The cherry on top? Hours before the Florida Board of Medicine issued its letter, the state Agency for Health Care Administration issued a controversial report that suggests that gender-affirming care is ineffective for people of all ages. The existence of the report threatens to ban Medicaid coverage of these treatments. As the Kaiser Family Foundation has reported, transgender adults tend to report lower household incomes and higher rates of unemployment than cisgender adults—which means they are likely to rely on Medicaid at higher rates than cis adults.

So, in multiple ways, DeSantis and his administration have tried to tamp down on gender-affirming care without even having to vote on it in the legislature.

As if that weren’t enough, DeSantis turned his crusade on, uh, the Special Olympics. The organization had a vaccine requirement for the games set to be held in Orlando this weekend. This makes sense, since, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with disabilities might be more likely to get Covid, and those with underlying medical conditions have a higher risk of becoming severely ill.

But Florida has a law banning vaccine mandates, which allowed it to threaten the Special Olympics with a $27.5 million fine, according to ABC News reporter Jay O’Brien. Not wanting to stir the pot, the organization dropped its vaccine requirement.

SCOOP: The State or Florida threatened the Special Olympics with $27.5 MILLION in fines because the organization had a vaccine requirement at its games in Orlando this weekend.

Late yesterday, the Special Olympics pulled the requirement. 1/3

— Jay O'Brien (@jayobtv) June 3, 2022

And, lastly, in DeSantis’ world, free speech is all well and good, except when it comes to a baseball team advocating for kids not getting shot in school. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays, which has a pitcher from Uvalde, where 19 children and two adults were killed in a mass shooting last week, made several social media posts in support of gun control during its May 26 game. Among them was a pledge to donate $50,000 to Everytown for Gun Safety’s Support Fund, which promotes education, research, and litigation to reduce gun violence.

— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) May 26, 2022

Days later, DeSantis vetoed state funds for a new practice facility for the team. I wonder why.

DeSantis’ actions could be cast as just more culture war, as if all these actions against gun control, vaccine mandates, and trans care were designed to gin up his base. But it’s not all talk: These decisions will have material consequences for the most vulnerable Floridians.

Peter Navarro, “Trump’s Looniest Economic Adviser,” Has Been Indicted

Peter Navarro, a former economic adviser to Donald Trump, was indicted Friday on two contempt charges for defying a subpoena from the House committee investigating the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. He’s now the second former Trump aide to be charged with contempt related to the panel’s probe, after Steve Bannon.

According to the indictment, Navarro, who previously defied a House subpoena in Congress’ Covid probe, has failed to comply with January 6 committee’s requests for documents and an interview with congressional investigators. Each charge carries a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of one year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.

Once branded “Trump’s looniest economic adviser” by the Wall Street Journal, Navarro is notably representing himself in a lawsuit challenging the House subpoena, which he’s called the “fruits of a poisonous tree.” 

As for Bannon, who in April asked a federal judge to dismiss the contempt charges, his trial is set for next month.

Ohio Republicans Pass Bill Allowing Teachers to Carry Guns With Just 24 Hours of Training

It’s been barely a week since a gunman in Uvalde, Texas, massacred 19 children and two teachers, but Ohio Republicans have already snapped into action with a new bill that reduces the amount of training required for teachers and other school staff who want to carry handguns on school grounds. 

House Bill 99 was reportedly rushed through both the state House and Senate in a single day. Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, has already announced that he plans to sign it into law. 

Barring an unexpected development, this means that school staff will no longer have to go through the 737 hours of training required under current law to wield deadly weapons on campus. The new minimum amount of training outlined by the bill is 24 hours. 

Under the tortured logic of the new Ohio legislation, armed school staff with only 24 hours of training will now be expected to do what Uvalde law enforcement could not: incapacitate or possibly kill a would-be mass shooter before a multitude of lives are lost. Such a policy could also make it more likely that a school employee will shoot someone who isn’t a deadly threat. 

Republicans claim that they’re streamlining redundancies in the current training program. But many Ohio teachers seem unwilling to shoulder the grave new responsibility that the state legislature has thrust upon them. Teachers unions reportedly lined up against the measure, with representatives from the Ohio Federation of Teachers testifying in opposition.

Ohio lawmakers are considering a bill to allow armed teachers in schools & limit them to 24 hours of training

Shari Obrenski, VP of Ohio Federation of Teachers: "We aren't trusted with the books we choose, but somehow we're supposed to be trusted with a gun in school?"

— Tyler Buchanan (@Tylerjoelb) May 31, 2022

Mike Weinman, a representative from the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police, also spoke in opposition, contrasting the proposed 24 hours of training for teachers with the 60 hours of firearms training required for Ohio police officers. 

“Our communities expect officers to be highly trained in the use of force and de-escalation; we should expect the same from armed school staff members,” he said. 

The Ohio bill continues a long-running pattern in which GOP-dominated state legislatures react to mass shootings by making guns easier to obtain. According to the Texas Tribune, Texas politicians have consistently responded to previous massacres by green-lighting bills that increase the presence of firearms. After the racist mass shooting in El Paso in 2019, for example, the Texas state legislature passed a bill allowing Texans to open-carry handguns without a permit

Imprisoned in a Sauna With No Exit

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

Late last June, farmers in Walla Walla, Washington, noticed something odd happening to their onions. Walla Walla, an oasis in the middle of the state’s high desert, is bursting with vineyards, wheat fields and acres of the city’s eponymous sweet onions. As temperatures climbed above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, then above 110 degrees, the oversized onions began to burn, pale blisters forming underneath their papery skins. When the temperature reached 116, the onions started cooking, their flesh dissolving into mush.

Four miles away is the Washington State Penitentiary. It’s one of the country’s oldest prisons, established in the 1880s, before Washington achieved statehood. In June 2021, over 2,000 people were incarcerated in its large concrete buildings. In the Hole—the name incarcerated people use for the solitary confinement unit—the air conditioning had stopped working. Dozens of people spent 23 hours a day locked in small concrete and metal cells, even as temperatures continued to soar. 

Washington isn’t known for extreme heat, but far above the fields and prison, two air pressure systems had collided, creating a massive heat dome: a cap of warm air that sealed in the heat and blocked the flow of cool marine breezes from the Pacific. The resulting weeklong heat wave brought some of the hottest temperatures that the state has ever experienced. 

State officials and media had begun to sound the alarm the week before. “‘Heat dome’ may push Western Washington temperatures into record-breaking territory,” the Seattle Times wrote on Sunday, June 20, the first day of summer. Two days later, the National Weather Service started issuing excessive heat watches and warnings for the upcoming weekend covering almost all of Oregon and Washington. Seattle and King County offered emergency guidance: “Spend more time in air-conditioned places. If you don’t have air conditioning, consider visiting a mall, movie theater or other cool public places.” Around the state, people began stockpiling ice and ice cream, and fans and air conditioners became harder and harder to find.

That was when Darrell Cook started to worry. 

Cook, who is incarcerated at the Twin Rivers Unit inside the Monroe Correctional Complex, the state’s second-largest prison, had been following local news broadcasts about the impending heat wave on TV. Cook has diabetes, which puts him at risk for heat-related illness, such as heat stroke. He was concerned about the other men in his unit, too. 

The combination of extreme heat and incarceration has been dubbed an “overlooked crisis.” Incarcerated people are vulnerable to heat for many reasons: Nationwide, almost 20 percent are over the age of 51, and underlying medical conditions like obesity, hypertension and asthma are common. By definition, people in prison are confined to a space they have no control over. And many suffer from mental health issues and take psychotropic medications, which can reduce the body’s ability to regulate temperature.  

Summers at the Twin Rivers Unit, 30 miles east of Seattle, have always been miserable, Cook said in a phone interview. The facility lacks air conditioning, and large glass skylights in a common area create a greenhouse effect, while the unit’s open showers drive up the humidity. Cook compared the resulting muggy, grimy atmosphere to a petri dish. On the news, broadcasters emphasized how dangerous the heat would be for anyone stuck in buildings without air conditioning, especially elderly people with medical conditions. That described a good portion of the population at Twin Rivers, Cook thought. 

High Country News obtained 95 grievances submitted to officials by people incarcerated in 10 of Washington’s 12 state prisons during the unprecedented heat wave. These reports, acquired via a public records request, reveal extreme conditions—and the state prison system’s failure to establish coherent and actionable heat plans that would keep the people they are responsible for safe. The incarcerated people interviewed for this piece recalled dangerous indoor temperatures that lasted for days, causing heat exhaustion and rising panic, and prison staff resorting to making up rules that lacked consistency. Many heat provisions were implemented ad hoc, after incarcerated people complained or begged for relief. 

The overall picture shows a state prison system floundering under the heat. Interviews with officials, legal and policy experts and incarcerated people show that not only has the Washington State Department of Corrections failed to address many of the problems that were exposed, it is also failing to prepare for an increasingly hot future.

The Cascade Mountains stretch like a spine up the state of Washington. Eighty percent of the state’s nearly 8 million residents live in western Washington, which is buffered by the ocean and much more temperate than eastern Washington. Nine of the 12 prisons run by the Department of Corrections are located there. According to Jacque Coe, the department’s former communications director, all of the units at the three state prisons east of the Cascades are air-conditioned. In contrast, only a handful of those on the west side are.

“In the event that the temperature exceeds the comfort zone”—66 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, a standard from the American Correctional Association—“for a prolonged period of time, alternate methods of heating and cooling will be put in place as a temporary measure to keep the unit within acceptable guidelines,” Sean Murphy, the deputy secretary of the Department of Corrections, wrote in response to legislative officials and concerned family members before the heat wave.

But only one Washington prison had a plan in place before the heat wave hit, according to documents released by the Department of Corrections in response to a public  records request. One other prison released heat provisions two days into it. (Prison staff receive yearly training on recognizing the symptoms of heat exposure, according to the Department of Corrections.) 

That Friday, June 25, before the heat wave began, Jeannie Miller, assistant secretary of the Administrative Operations Division, sent an email to all Department of Corrections staff. The three-page memo noted that the upcoming extreme weather meant that there would be “little to no relief from the heat overnight.” It warned of the high risk of heat-related impacts, especially for heat-sensitive people without cooling and adequate hydration, and included tips from the Washington Department of Health on how to stay cool—using fans to blow hot air out, staying in air-conditioned spaces, and covering windows and using awnings, which can reduce the heat entering a building by as much as 80 percent.

The first day of the heat wave, Saturday, June 26, was hot with barely a whisper of a breeze. Amtrak slowed down trains to avoid derailments due to heat-warped tracks.  Seattle broke its all-time June temperature record—97 degrees—with a new record of 102. 

The Monroe Correctional Complex, where Cook is incarcerated, implemented an Incident Action Plan, mandating cooling stations in some facilities and misting stations and sprinklers outside. People were permitted to cover their windows and wear shorts and sandals. It was the only state prison to put an emergency heat plan into place.

On the other side of the Cascades, an incarcerated man with asthma at the Airway Heights Corrections Center near Spokane was struggling with the heat. Unable to stand it any longer, he filed an emergency grievance. “It is very hard to breathe with the extreme heat and humidity,” he wrote. 

The grievance process, established by federal law in 1996, is supposed to give those incarcerated a way to document complaints and resolve them internally. In theory, after a grievance form is received, a resolution specialist has up to 10 working days to respond and try to resolve the issue informally—or an hour, if it’s an emergency grievance.  

Six hours later, with the heat still rising, the man wrote another grievance, his handwriting larger and more urgent, spilling over the form’s small black lines. “Heat is too great and causing me trouble breathing,” he wrote, requesting that fans be put in the dayroom. This time, he submitted the grievance to the resolution box in the unit. Suzanne Cook, Darrell’s wife and a criminal justice advocate, said that, in practice, the grievance process is a bit of a joke.

The incarcerated individuals interviewed for this piece agreed; few expected their grievances to be addressed fairly or timely, and some feared retribution by prison staff for even submitting them. “They’re only a snapshot of what is happening inside,” Suzanne Cook said. Christopher Blackwell, an incarcerated writer in Washington, echoed this sentiment in a recent article, calling the prison grievance process “broken and unjust.”

At the top of the man with asthma’s first grievance is a note implying that a sergeant read it seven hours after he wrote it; the official response suggested he buy a fan. 


Sunday, June 27, was even hotter than Saturday. Around Seattle, thousands of Puget Sound Energy and Seattle City Light customers reported outages as people cranked up their air conditioners. At least one Safeway closed its freezer aisle due to the heat. 

Inside Washington’s prisons, the trickle of grievances became a small stream. Officers at the Twin Rivers Unit started rationing ice and ice water and retreating to their air-conditioned offices, while temperatures in some of the cells reached 100 degrees, according to grievances. Darrell Cook saw signs of heat exhaustion mounting around him. “They were calling medical emergencies literally two, three (times) an hour,” he said. 

At 1:30 p.m., Cook found James Ruzicka, facedown and shirtless on Ruzicka’s bunk, the sun glaring down on him through an uncovered window. Ruzicka, who has a chronic lung disease, had passed out from the heat. “I was working in the pot tanks,” a part of the prison kitchen, he recalled in a phone interview. “It was like an oven.” He was put in a trauma room to cool down and then sent back to his cell, where Cook brought him water and managed to cover his window. 

To the east, behind the walls of the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, several people begged to be taken out of the Hole, where conditions were stifling. “It is out of line how hot it is in our cells,” reads one grievance. “It’s too hot to live in these conditions, please help!!” another person scrawled in large letters.

“It’s like sitting in a sauna, not being able to move, not being able to go anywhere. It’s miserable.”

Bradley Cooper, 48, recalled lying on the bed, which takes up much of the room, with just his boxers on, sweat dripping onto the hot metal bed frame. “It’s like sitting in a sauna, not being able to move, not being able to go anywhere,” he said in an interview. “It’s miserable.” 

“Is the heat in your home climbing to unreasonable levels?” the Washington Emergency Management Division tweeted that afternoon. “Don’t risk it. Find a cooling center, a grocery store, a shopping mall.” 

With no air conditioning, no fan, and the sun streaming through his curtainless window, Shane Brewer, a 36-year-old man incarcerated at the Washington Correctional Complex on the Olympic Peninsula, desperately sought some relief. From his bunk, he watched the heat spiral off the metal bars covering the windows. People were overheating in the cells around him, some breaking out in ugly red splotches like chicken pox—heat rash.

“We know policy no obstructed windows,” he wrote in an emergency grievance, squeezing the words together to fit them in the small complaint box. “How about a policy when it is 103° with no ventilation and the only way to breathe is to lay on the ground?”

After measuring the cells with a temperature gun, a sergeant decided to allow window coverings. (The Department of Corrections said it had no knowledge of this, and that it was not part of any formal guidance.) But without curtain rods or hooks, people had to be creative, Brewer wrote in an email. Some poked plastic spoons through blankets and jammed them into the window seals, hanging the blanket loosely over the window. 

Brewer wedged four 4-ounce Crawford body lotion bottles as tightly as possible between the edges of the blanket and the metal grills, taking care not to touch the piping hot metal with his bare hands. This stretched the blanket more tightly across the window, he explained. 

Nights were the worst; sleep was almost impossible, Brewer said. He would lie down on the bare concrete floor and cover himself with a wet towel, hoping for a few hours of rest.

Joan Wong/High Country News

At 2 a.m. on Monday, June 28, the temperature in a cell at the Washington Corrections Center for Women measured 94 degrees Fahrenheit, according to an emergency grievance submitted later that day. In a particularly alarming trend, climate change is causing average nighttime temperatures to warm even faster than average daytime temperatures, said Deepti Singh, a climate scientist at Washington State University who studies extreme weather events. This is especially dangerous because it limits the body’s ability to cool down, significantly increasing the risk of heat-related illnesses.

As the day got hotter, lanes on Interstate 5 in north Seattle buckled from the heat. A reading of 108 degrees was measured at the Seattle-Tacoma airport, the hottest temperature since record-keeping began there in 1870.  

The Department of Corrections sent a one-page email to all state prisons with examples of how some facilities were trying to mitigate the extreme heat. The Office of the Corrections Ombuds, a watchdog agency set up to oversee the department in 2018, sent a team to Monroe. The agency had been receiving heat-related complaints from across the state via a hotline for incarcerated individuals, with the majority coming from Monroe, Sonja Hallum, the interim director of the Ombuds, said. 

Cook recalled that the visit created a flourish of activity in his unit; suddenly, maintenance crews were all over, installing water misters indoors and out, and putting ice-water coolers in the dayrooms. When they arrived, the cells registered around 95 degrees; the temperature of the glass skylights above the common areas was 128 degrees. Vents were sucking hot air from the roof and pushing it inside; some incarcerated people had resorted to covering them completely. 

The unit is made up of pods, each of which houses up to 168 men. Each pod was allowed to send 50 people to cooling stations—air-conditioned dining halls—three times a day for an hour on a first-come, first-served basis. (Multiple incarcerated people said the cooling stations became available June 28; the Department of Corrections said they were set up two days earlier, on June 26.) The dining halls had been closed since COVID-19 first became a public health concern in February 2020, so Cook tried to go as infrequently as possible to avoid exposure, as well as pushing, shoving and stampeding. 

At noon, the Seattle Immigration Court closed because of the heat; its HVAC system was broken. Paula Chandler, an associate superintendent at the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor, sent her staff a list of hot-weather provisions that authorized window coverings but insisted that doors could be opened only partway—no wider than a trash can. That was a change from the weekend, when staff had allowed fully open doors. Partially closing them reduced airflow and provoked a deluge of emergency grievances. “Please help, people are overheating,” one woman wrote. “Emergency,” another scrawled in large letters at the top of a grievance form. 

Temperatures in some cells soared to 114 degrees; the heat was so intense it set off the fire alarm: “It was just really bad.” 

Melinda Barrera, a 41-year-old woman who had been at the prison since 2012, was in the hallway when she saw someone collapse in a heat-induced seizure. She didn’t see the second person collapse, even though it happened just outside her cell. Officers ordered everyone back to their rooms while medics arrived, she said. Temperatures in some cells soared to 114 degrees; the heat was so intense it set off the fire alarm. People wore sopping wet clothes in an effort to stay cool, and some were vomiting or had diarrhea. “It was just really bad,” Barrera said over the phone. “I can’t stress that enough.”

By Monday night, people incarcerated at the prison had submitted 38 grievances, almost all of them emergency. That same day, the associate superintendent who had issued the heat provisions changed the rules and allowed—temporarily—the women to open their doors all the way. 

In Walla Walla, after three days of extreme heat in tiny cells with broken air conditioning, 39 of the 65 people in solitary were finally moved to a different unit.

When asked why all of them weren’t moved, the Department of Corrections replied: “Careful consideration was given to determine how and where these individuals would be moved in order to maintain safety and security when it was determined that repairs would take longer than anticipated. There are limited maximum custody beds; moving the individuals to other parts of the facility was not a safe and secure option.”

By Tuesday, June 29, temperatures in western Washington had begun to creep downward, but the heat wave persisted until the weekend in the eastern part of the state. Temperatures at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation measured 120 degrees—a new statewide high temperature record. 

That day, the resolution office pasted a small sticker to the bottom of the grievances filed by the people who had been trapped in solitary at the state penitentiary. “Sorry for the inconvenience,” it read. “Extra Ice and beverages were provided while the logistics were being completed.” 

On June 30, the Ombuds Office issued a report with suggestions for how to better cool the units at Monroe—shading cell windows, for example, lowering shower temperatures, and increasing access to ice and fans. After the report came out, the people in charge of the Twin Rivers Unit noted in a bulletin to the incarcerated population that they would consider tinting the skylights and allowing residents to continue covering windows while permanent fireproof curtains were manufactured. Ultimately, neither reform materialized. Instead, the facility hung curtains over the common area windows for the remainder of the heat wave. 

More than a month after the man with asthma at the Airway Heights Corrections Center near Spokane submitted his second grievance, on July 30, the grievance coordinator finally responded. “You can order fans from the store,” the response reads, repeating the earlier suggestion. “If you need any medical, please let staff know.”

Washington State climate scientist Deepti Singh says future Northwest heat waves could be longer, hotter, and more widespread.

After the heat wave finally broke, the devastation it had wrought became clear. More than a thousand people died in the Pacific Northwest, 100 of them in Washington alone. The toll it took on incarcerated people was both physical and emotional; they experienced harmful and chaotic conditions that left them scared for their safety. (The Department of Corrections confirmed that nine incarcerated people received medical attention for heat-related emergencies; two people were hospitalized.)

The heat wave was an exceptional event, but it is by no means the last of its kind: A study concluded that climate change made the heat wave 150 times more likely to occur. Researchers predict that if global temperatures continue to rise, similar events could happen as often as every five to 10 years before the end of this century in the Pacific Northwest. According to Singh, the Washington State University climate scientist, future heat waves could be even longer, hotter and more widespread.  

One question looms for incarcerated people and their families: When the next heat wave hits, will Washington’s prisons be prepared?

There is no person or department—at the state or federal level—directly responsible for mitigating the effects of climate change on incarcerated people. And that’s problematic, Michael Gerrard, a climate policy expert and director of the Sabin Center at Columbia University, explained in an interview. “Without an official or an office charged with that responsibility, the work will be ad hoc and sporadic,” he said.

Most states lack formal heat mitigation policies for prisons, Carlee Purdum, an assistant research professor at Texas A&M who studies how different hazards and disasters, including extreme heat, impact incarcerated people, said. The Department of Justice’s 24-page Climate Action Plan from 2021 doesn’t address the risk of extreme heat to the incarcerated population; in fact, it doesn’t mention incarcerated people at all. When asked about the plan, the department declined to comment.

In Washington, responses to the heat wave varied significantly across facilities and units. The incarcerated people interviewed for this investigation said a lot depended on who was in charge. Some of the staff tried to help as much as they could, Barrera said. One officer measured room temperatures so that people had the information they needed to make complaints. But low-level officers can’t really do anything if their higher-ups aren’t on board without facing repercussions, she added.

“Climate change and extreme temperatures are making it clear that air conditioning is not a luxury. It’s a necessity for life.”

Where extreme heat provisions did exist, the volume and the nature of the grievances indicate that they often weren’t adequate to keep incarcerated people cool and safe. Access to things that would cool their bodies and help prevent heat stress was restricted or denied altogether. Window coverings are essential for mitigating heat, but in many instances, people had to petition, beg or risk infractions to block their windows. And some provisions, such as increasing airflow and fans, are ineffective after temperatures reach 95 degrees; according to the Centers for Disease Control, they simply circulate hot air at that point. 

Air conditioning is one of the best ways to reduce exposure to high heat in congregate settings, like prisons. “Climate change and extreme temperatures are making it clear that air conditioning is not a luxury. It’s a necessity for life,” Purdum said. But whether modern air-conditioning systems can even function within prisons’ crumbling, leaky infrastructure is unclear. This investigation revealed that, in several instances, prison air-conditioning units or other air-flow systems were either overburdened or not working. In more than one case, they simply pulled in hotter air from outside, making things worse.

In previous years, officials had considered installing portable AC units in incarcerated individuals’ living quarters at the Monroe Correctional Complex Twin Rivers Unit—the dining hall and staff offices already have AC—but the plan was halted due to building design and power and ventilation requirements, according to the Department of Corrections. After air conditioners failed during last year’s heat wave, emergency repair projects were started at Airway Heights Corrections Center and at the health-care building at the Washington Corrections Center for Women. The only additional AC construction underway is at one of the Washington Corrections Center for Women’s living units, a project that started before the heat wave.

The Department of Corrections provided contradicting replies when asked what it had done since last year’s heat wave to prepare for future extreme heat. When asked specifically about the curtains at Monroe Correctional Complex, the department said it had located material for them, and that installation was expected prior to the summer heat. As of publication, however, the curtains had not yet arrived. There are no plans to permanently cover the facility’s skylights. One other facility, Washington Corrections Center in Shelton, treated skylights to reduce the amount of heat entering the building.

When asked to comment on incarcerated peoples’ allegations that it failed to keep them safe, the Department of Corrections did not provide a response. 

This April, on the first abnormally warm day since fall, the temperature in Darrell Cook’s cell crept up to the 70s; it receives sunlight throughout the day. If it gets too hot this summer, Cook said that he would cover his windows regardless of the regulations, preferring to face potential repercussions rather than suffer through the torturous heat again. 

For many, the experience of being left to suffer remains a deeply dehumanizing experience. “They were put in charge of mine and other human beings’ care and they didn’t take it seriously,” Barrera said. “People don’t allow their neighbors to treat animals with that type of disregard, so why was it OK to treat us like that?” she asked. “And how can it be justified? … It’s inhumane.”   

This piece was produced in partnership with Type Investigations.

What to Say if a Kid Asks, “What Does It Feel Like to Die?” and Other Questions About Mass Shootings

An estimated 311,000 children in this country have experienced gun violence at school since the Columbine school shooting in 1999. A recent analysis reveals that in 2020, firearms surpassed cars to become the leading cause of death for people under 19 years old. And some of the country’s worst school shootings have devastated the country just over the last decade: Sandy Hook Elementary (2012), UC-Santa Barbara (2014), Marysville-Pilchuck High School (2014), Umpqua Community College (2015), Marjory Stoneman Douglas High (2018), Santa Fe High (2018), Oxford High (2021). And last month, Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

Those statistics should shock you. There is nothing about school shootings that is “normal” or inevitable. But these attacks, and the news cycles following them, have become a sad, familiar part of our lives. (It’s not just school shootings; all mass shootings have increased in the last decade too, according to our database.) And over and over, parents and caregivers, including those on Mother Jones’ staff, have found themselves preparing to talk to their children about guns, death, and loss.

“It’s so important that you have, in a way, metabolized your own reactions. Because otherwise, we’re likely to bubble over with our own reactions and our own feelings and our own worries.”

For parents that are looking for tip sheets, there are several expert-approved guides (like this one, from the Child Mind Institute, or from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network) to choose from. But those primers, of course, can’t cover all the questions parents have about discussing gun violence. For instance, some Mother Jones staff members wondered: What do you tell a kid when adults in their lives—police, politicians, or voters—fail them? How can a teen’s sense of agency to affect change help them process trauma? Another staff member shared with me that his child asked, what does it feel like to die?

While the tip sheets can certainly be useful, I wanted to go deeper and answer some of these hard questions. So I called Dr. Chandra Ghosh Ippen, a psychologist and the associate director of the Child Trauma Research Program at the University of California, San Francisco, who has authored several children’s books aimed at helping children process trauma. Below are some of the takeaways from our conversation, in her own words. Her responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.

On why it’s important to approach difficult conversations like a baseball catcher: First, try to have that difficult conversation yourself, with your friends and loved ones, so that you’re approaching the conversation from a place where you’ve metabolized it a little bit. So it’s not quite as raw. We [adults] can start by really thinking about our own emotional states, where we’re coming from, and getting the help and support that we need.

I use a lot of baseball metaphors when I do treatment. And I think a lot of times, grownups like to pitch. But when we’re in a situation like this, what we want to do is think of ourselves as catchers. And so we can say, “Hey, we’re here. Something hard has happened in our community, in our country, to people we care about, to small children”—whichever way you want to start it. And then, “We don’t know what you’ve heard. We don’t know how you’re feeling. But we’re here for you.”

And so that’s why it’s so important that you have, in a way, metabolized your own reactions. Because otherwise, we’re likely to bubble over with our own reactions and our own feelings and our own worries.

On how kids may rationalize death in unexpected ways: Especially working with young kids, what I’ve learned is that sometimes they have fears and worries and fantasies that grownups could never understand. I worked with a child once who said that he knew how the bad guys had killed his mom. And we didn’t know. And he said, they took her legs and put her in a bag. He was only four, and she died when he was three. And his grandma finally realized that what had happened—this took us months—was that he had gone to her funeral where there’d been a half-open casket. And being really little, he had thought that it was half-open because her legs were gone. That’s an example of fantasy. But you can see how disturbing it was for him to reflect on his mother’s death because he had that image in his mind. Another child that I’ve worked with, her father was killed in front of her. Paramedics came on site. She was two and a half at the time. And she didn’t know that what the paramedics were doing was helpful.

There are a lot of things that we as grownups understand that younger children don’t understand. And then there’s this mixture of fantasy that contributes to the horror of it. Because if you believe that the helpers aren’t helping, then you feel even less safe.

“There are a lot of things that we as grownups understand that younger children don’t understand. And then there’s this mixture of fantasy that contributes to the horror of it.”

On how kids may bring up difficult topics when you least expect it: If something is very disturbing to children, they might not tell you right away. You might ask them a really heavy question, and they might really need to do something else. And that doesn’t mean that they didn’t hear you. It doesn’t mean that it’s not important. It just means that they need to come back to it when they’re ready. So when I talk about getting into the catcher position, it’s a longer-term position.

What we often see is at bedtime, at bath time, when they’re headed to school—that’s when kids might pop up with a question or a detail. It comes at the moments that we don’t expect it. Especially with younger kids, and even in teens, we see that they talk about it when their mind is reminded of something [stressful or traumatic].

On how children may carry trauma in the long term: I tell people that trauma is sort of like asthma. And so with asthma, you don’t get rid of it. You don’t cure it, you manage it. And so if you’ve had a traumatic experience, you can think about it like when you’re exposed to pollen: You’re going to have more symptoms, you’re going to have more questions. The pollen is the things that remind you of the danger. If you have a child with asthma, you may be pretty vigilant about pollen. So if you have a child who has either been affected by this tragedy or by other tragedies, you may want to be aware of, are there things that might be their “pollen”?

And then you can ask, “How can I make you feel safe?” Because their body is remembering danger. How can you help them to recognize that there’s nothing wrong with them? We can expect that people will have a reaction on the anniversary of an event like a shooting, or we can expect that people might have a reaction anytime they hear about the police not quite doing what we hoped that they would do. For the children who were in the school, it might be the sound of glass breaking. There will be lots of things that remind them and they might want to talk about it, or their bodies may not be functioning as well. We would want to understand that.

On what you might say to a kid who asks what death feels like: If we go into the catching position, we realize that this is a little one or a person with deep thoughts and deep fears. And so what we want to do is to lean into the conversation and to say, “You seem worried about this, tell me about it.” We want the child to share. “Have you been thinking about this and worrying about this?” And we might want to hear first, before we answer. And some kids really do want an answer. There, we might say, “We don’t know.” And maybe say, “But this is what we believe.” And that takes us back to our spiritual, religious beliefs.

“I tell people that trauma is a lot like asthma. So if you have a child who has either been affected by tragedy, you may want to be aware of, are there things that might be their ‘pollen’?”

What to say to a child whose trust in adults is broken: I think, again, we’re going to want to get into that catching position and listen to them about how angry they are. When you’re angry because somebody didn’t protect you, or you’re sad, it’s important for people to join with you in that, so that you don’t feel stranded in your anger or your sadness. So I might say, “I’m angry too.” And we want to actually acknowledge whenever there’s been a rupture [in trust].

But then, it has to go beyond that. It has to go from “yes, it happened, it was wrong” to “and this is what we’re doing to repair this harm and lack of protection.” Because if we don’t have this next step, then the acknowledgment feels a little bit hollow. It’s still better than having somebody say, “Oh, no, no, no. Everything was fine. They did everything they could.” That would feel very hollow. But what is the real action? What is it that we’re doing?

On how activism may help kids cope: There’s a concept [in the field of psychology] that an experience of danger, like a traumatic experience, robs you of your sense of competence and capacity. So when these things happen, you often feel stuck, you often feel hopeless. And so the idea of being able to do something, being able to use your voice, being able to transform the experience, is a big part of healing. And it’s important that that come from the inside—from the inside out—and it not be, So-and-so is doing this. Why am I not doing this?

On how attacks on people of color can add layers of pain for those communities: I think when you’re from the cultural group [affected by a shooting], and your group has not always been cared for or has been under threat from a variety of different groups, there’s a layering of pain. You have to deal with the horrible tragedy, and depending on the response from the larger community, you may be reminded that once again your group is in danger, once again your group is not being protected by or attended to by society. That makes it an even heavier burden.

For people who live in regions outside of where the event took place, some people might ask, “Why are you so affected by this? You’re all the way over there.” And you might say, “Well, it’s a reminder of the historical pattern.” As a collective trauma, it is painful in its own right, and it’s a reminder of hundreds of years of suffering.

“We need to help our children understand our collective past history, so they can begin to understand other people’s reactions with enduring compassion.”

Having fear without protection is a theme for many cultural groups. And, unfortunately, our society has been a big source of fear for too many groups. So, in this circumstance, if it feels as though society is not responding, not protecting these communities, that will greatly affect how people feel and how they will do in the long run. This is why what we do as fellow community members matters so much. We need to ensure that families are supported by society. We need to attend to the services they want and ensure they receive them. We need to advocate for funding to support them, and we need to ask ourselves whether they feel we have truly listened and made changes in response to what they went through. And it matters what we do in the long run; it matters that our support of these communities is not just as long as the news cycle.

How parents could translate that knowledge into conversations with children: As parents, we need to acknowledge that the pain that individuals and communities are feeling may go beyond this tragedy. A recent event can remind people of the past, of what they went through and of what their people went through, and of society’s lack of action. We need to help our children understand our collective past history, so they can begin to understand other people’s reactions with enduring compassion, and so we can think about how we help people and communities heal not only from this tragedy but from the wounds of the past.

The Education Department Just Took Its Biggest Debt Cancellation Step Ever

Late on Wednesday evening, the Education Department announced that it will automatically cancel $5.8 billion in loans for 560,000 borrowers who attended Corinthian Colleges, a chain of fraud-ridden for-profit schools. The move is the single largest student debt cancellation action ever taken by the department. It concludes a multi-year push by ex-Corinthian students and advocates for debt relief for people who enrolled at the schools, which engaged in widespread deception of prospective students.  

“When fifteen former Corinthian College students launched a debt strike in 2015, we were determined to fight for relief for all defrauded borrowers,” Nathan Horne, one of the first Corinthian students to organize for debt relief, said in an emailed statement. “We didn’t know it would take eight long years for justice to finally be done.”

At its peak, Corinthian had more than 105,000 students across more than 100 campuses of several chains of schools, including Everest, Heald College, and WyoTech. In the spring of 2015, Corinthian declared bankruptcy amid charges of fraud from multiple state attorneys general, including Vice President Kamala Harris when she was still California’s top prosecutor. At the time, Corinthian also faced scrutiny from the Education Department itself, which fined the chain $30 million for luring students into enrollment with false job placement numbers that the schools inflated through eye-popping tactics that included paying outside companies to hire their graduates for as little as two days in order to then include those students in their placement rates.

The department’s initial crackdown on Corinthian was motivated by activism from Corinthian students themselves, as well as their allies at the Debt Collective—a debtors’ union formed by former Occupy Wall Street activists to advocate for debt cancellation. In 2014, members of the collective helped develop a legal mechanism called “defense to repayment” by which Corinthian students could ask the Education Department to nullify their debt because they’d been lied to by their schools. As I explained in a story about the collective:

Member Luke Herrine, an NYU law student, was doing a summer internship with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) when volunteers with the Debt Collective stumbled on a Facebook group of students at Corinthian Colleges. In the group, alumni of the for-profit, 100-plus campus chain had begun commiserating over their struggles with the enormous loans they’d taken out, lured by Corinthian’s inflated job placement and salary numbers.

Herrine pored over the Higher Education Act, which governs federal student loans, and found a clause allowing borrowers to contest repayment of their loans if the school had lied to students during enrollment. Based on this discovery, the Debt Collective created an application on its website so students of fraud-­ridden for-profit colleges could send “defense to repayment” (DTR) claims to the Education Department, as Hanna and other members barnstormed a dozen cities recruiting indebted former Corinthian students.

That February, the “Corinthian 15” officially announced a debt strike; within a month, their ranks had grown to more than 100, with hundreds more sending in DTR applications. In March, the 15 and key collective members traveled to Washington to meet with education officials. At the end of their conversation, Herrine placed a red box containing 257 DTR applications in front of Ted Mitchell, a department undersecretary.

Defense to repayment eventually enabled more than 100,000 Corinthian students to get their loans canceled by the Education Department. But Wednesday’s action is especially significant because the department will preemptively cancel all remaining loans for hundreds of thousands of additional Corinthian alumni without requiring them to apply for this relief. This type of action, known as a “group discharge,” has only been taken by the Education Department in a few smaller, select cases, explains Eileen Connor, the director of litigation at Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending.

The Debt Collective and Corinthian borrowers have spent years trying to push the department to institute this sort of automatic relief, particularly once the department itself issued findings related to Corinthian’s fraud. Yet for years, many people saw the notion of a group discharge as far-fetched, Connor says. Given that history, it is notable that the department has fully changed course, taking an action that it avoided for years. And as the Biden administration edges closer to a decision on whether to cancel $10,000 or more of student debt per borrower, its pivot on discharging Corinthian students’ debt may hint at a growing willingness to take other debt cancellation steps that have long been deemed impracticable. 

“It’s really remarkable that something’s happening today that when people were calling for it initially, it was treated as almost impossible to imagine,” Connor says. “As a demarcation of where we are, you can see such a shift. For people who are today making calls for broad-based debt cancellation, that is heartening.”

How American Influencers Built a World Wide Web of Vaccine Disinformation

Last year, Saphinah Kenyando was struggling to decide whether to get vaccinated against Covid. Kenyando, who is 38 and teaches chemistry and biology at a high school in Kenya, had read about horrifying side effects—blood clots, long-term disabilities—that sounded worse than the virus itself. She watched a (possibly doctored) clip from former US President Donald Trump saying that the effects included gruesome facial deformities that develop as a person ages. And she wondered whether the rumors circulating on Facebook, WhatsApp, and YouTube were true—that a person could take the jab and drop dead shortly thereafter.

In addition to her academic role, Kenyando also serves as the school chess coach, a duty she takes very seriously. She believes the game imparts valuable lessons to students: Make the right move, and you’ll reap the benefits. Make the wrong one, and you’ll be forced to deal with the fallout. “Chess is life,” she says. “Every decision we make in life is about the game of chess.” That’s how Kenyando framed her own decision on whether to get herself and her children vaccinated against Covid. She decided to hold off until she had more information.

Saphinah Kenyando, high school teacher and chess coach, focuses during a match.

Lameck Orina

The misleading posts Kenyando had seen were just a small portion of the avalanche of disinformation that flowed through social media in Kenya as the pandemic intensified and the virus infiltrated the households of everyday Kenyans. Wanja Kimani, a house cleaner in Nairobi, read that the vaccine could cause mental illness. Lucy Wambui, a human rights activist in Nairobi, heard that Covid doesn’t exist in the slum where she lives and concluded that the vaccine is a way to control populations in neighborhoods like hers. She warned her own elderly father that he shouldn’t get vaccinated.

In the United States, the proliferation of disinformation about Covid vaccines and treatments has been widely publicized, and most of these myths come from a few powerful influencers. Last year, the anti-extremism group Center for Countering Digital Hate found that 65 percent of vaccine disinformation on Facebook and Twitter came from just 12 people, including the activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and the natural lifestyle influencer Dr. Joseph Mercola. The target audience, the media reports, is in bastions of American conservatism—in rural communities, among evangelical Christians, and among Trump voters.

But there is increasing evidence that American vaccine disinformation campaigns don’t stop at the borders. Over the last year, global public health experts have documented rising rates of vaccine hesitancy in other parts of the world, from Africa to South Asia, from Eastern Europe to South America. While some disinformation is locally sourced, these experts have traced many of the myths to American anti-vaccine activists who create an onslaught of social media content at virtually no cost, says Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, based in Washington, DC, and the United Kingdom. They can afford to “flood the zone and see what sticks.” In the United States, it might be a patriotic meme about how vaccine mandates are a form of government overreach; in other parts of the world, a post that plays up historical distrust of Western interference into local communities might gain more traction. Each piece of disinformation has a way of finding “the right audience,” Ahmed says, “like a homing missile.”

Covid didn’t create vaccine skepticism. The health experts we spoke to described how anti-vaccine groups began sowing the seeds of distrust in the developing world long before the pandemic. But much as in the United States, what started as a fringe phenomenon in many countries has been gaining momentum. The biggest worry is that this rising tide of vaccine hesitancy could undo 100 years of progress in combating the spread of infectious disease, bringing back polio, measles, and many other easily preventable deadly illnesses. Angus Thomson, who studies vaccine disinformation as a senior social scientist with UNICEF, is alarmed by reports worldwide. “It’s painting a global picture, and it feels like we’re climate scientists in the early days,” he said. “You get the distinct feeling that there is a massive sea change occurring.”

In 2019, Steven Lloyd Wilson, an assistant professor of politics at Brandeis University who studies disinformation, was invited by a colleague to participate in a World Health Organization conference about vaccine hesitancy. At the time, he was only vaguely aware of the anti-vaccine movement, and what he knew of it was mostly based in the United States. “I’m a political scientist. I’m looking at political issues,” he said. “It just wasn’t on my radar—anti-vaccination is a public health thing. This isn’t political.”

“It feels like we’re climate scientists in the early days. You get the distinct feeling that there is a massive sea change occurring.” 

Nevertheless, one of his colleagues persuaded him to launch a study about the influence of foreign disinformation on vaccine acceptance around the world. In February 2020, he teamed up with a doctor in South Africa to collect and analyze negative social media posts about vaccines and compare that data with vaccination rates and attitudes. 

Wilson wasn’t anticipating much to come out of the analysis. “I expected there to be some little statistically significant effect,” he recalled. So he was floored when the study ultimately found that negative vaccine posts were highly correlated with both skepticism of vaccines and declining vaccination rates all over the world. “We were very happy that our research design really worked,” he said. “And simultaneously very disappointed in the state of the world, that this was something real and worldwide.” 

In part, the breathtaking success of worldwide anti-vaccination campaigns is due to the fact that there is an entire, incredibly lucrative cottage industry devoted to pumping out vaccine disinformation. Many of the most successful anti-vaccine activists rake in advertising money from their popular YouTube channels; some further enrich themselves through sales of supplements, detox regimens, and other wellness products, the Center for Countering Digital Hate has found. Social media makes it cheap and easy to reach international customers—and international versions of popular social media platforms lack even the basic disinformation censors found in American versions. Children’s Health Defense, the prominent and influential anti-vaccine group led by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., recently launched a European version of its site. Joseph Mercola, the influential anti-vaccine osteopath, offers Spanish and French editions of his site; his videos have been translated into many languages, according to the New York Times. In a 2017 affidavit, Mercola reported his net worth to be in excess of $100 million. 

American influencers’ messages often resonate with communities that seem to have little in common with the United States, says Joe Smyser, CEO of  Public Good Projects, a nonprofit in Washington, DC, that collaborates with UNICEF on studying vaccine hesitancy. Recently, his team followed the path of an American op-ed criticizing pandemic restrictions from its origin in the United States all the way to East Timor, where it took off on local social media. And when Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul said he opposed government vaccine mandates, “that got a lot of traction in social networks across Vietnam,” Smyser says. “It was used to push back against the Vietnamese government and Vietnamese public health officials.”

But there is another reason that anti-vaccine content finds its way around the world, with consequences even more dangerous and pervasive than those from anti-vaccine activists. In his study, Wilson’s team found that foreign governments—particularly Russia—were amplifying all kinds of messages both in support of and against vaccines. This is a well-established destabilization tactic that leverages social media to polarize an entire population around a particularly contentious issue—Russia used it to undermine the 2016 US presidential election, for example. The point isn’t to promote any single viewpoint; it’s to sow chaos. “A lot of the time, you’ll have bots pushing six completely contradictory, mutually exclusive stories,” Wilson says. “But what unifies all of them is trying to get people to throw up their hands and say, ‘I guess it’s impossible to know what the truth is.’” 

Just as Wilson was wrapping up his study, the pandemic began—and suddenly, his research took on new meaning and urgency. Around the world, social media channels were flooded with wild claims about the new disease and the tools to fight it. He watched in horror as powerful people—even heads of state—amplified the “disinformation campaigns online that have managed to blow it vastly out of the original proportion of a few individuals who were hardcore believers.” 

Public Good Project/Nimbus Capture

Which narrative takes off in any given country depends on the culture and history of the place. In May 2020, Kenyan evangelical pastor Fred Akama posted a rant on Facebook, which began “THE GATES OF BILL SHALL NOT PREVAIL.” Bill Gates “predicted that a viral pandemic would hit the world,” the post continued, with the clear implication that the philanthropist was somehow complicit in and profiting from the creation and spread of Covid. Akama also accused Gates of having unethically close ties with the World Health Organization and vaccine producers and called him an enemy of the Christian faith. He has more than 15,000 followers on Facebook. 

Akama wasn’t the only social media influencer in Kenya warning about Bill Gates’ motives. “If you look at the kind of stuff that is circulating in East Africa…you find that the content seems to be very similar,” says Eric Mugendi, who works at Meedan, a San Francisco–based technology nonprofit supporting fact-checking and verification of organizations. “The kind of language that was being used and the types of people who were spreading it—a lot of times it was religious leaders,” Mugendi says, arguing that anti-vaxxers often link their arguments to Gates and liberal philanthropist George Soros. They accuse them of wanting to test vaccines’ efficacy on Africans, profit from vaccine sales, control the human population through microchipping, and prevent the growth of the African population. 

“The unifying factor is encouraging distrust of elites and experts and Westerners on any level.”

Disinformation campaigns that play up nefarious motives of powerful people are common worldwide. In the United States, a widely shared video called Plandemic popularized the conspiracy theory about Gates early in the pandemic. This strain of disinformation is particularly effective in Africa because of deep-seated anxiety that Western governments want to slow population growth in the developing world, notes Wilson of Brandeis University. “The unifying factor is encouraging distrust of elites and experts and Westerners on any level,” he says. 

Ultraconservative groups in Africa have a long history of spinning a variety of Gates conspiracy theories. The anti-abortion movement in Africa has employed this tactic for at least a decade. In a 2017 article in Pacific Standard, Kathryn Joyce reported on a prominent Nigerian anti-abortion activist Obianuju Ekeocha, who in 2012 spoke out against a Gates Foundation contraceptives campaign. American anti-choice groups helped Ekeocha create a new group, Culture of Life Africa. This complemented an ongoing campaign by Human Life International, a hardline US anti-abortion group operating around the world. Its mission? To spread the message that “Western governments and NGOs are using great sums of money and influence to destroy the traditionally life-loving African culture.”

There’s a convergence these days between seemingly unrelated public health issues, as many of the same US-sponsored organizations that oppose abortion have pivoted their messaging to address Covid vaccinations. One such group is CitizenGO, an ultraconservative petition mill with outposts worldwide. CitizenGO Africa, whose anti-abortion work Mother Jones covered here, is led by a Kenyan woman named Ann Kioko, who was trained in workshops by the American Leadership Institute, a conservative organization that counts former Vice President Mike Pence, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and Karl Rove among its distinguished alumni. 

In 2020, CitizenGo posted an online petition titled “Bill Gates and WHO: Hands Off Africa” intended to send a “firm message to the Bill Gates Foundation and the World Health Organization that Africa is not a test lab, Africans are people with human dignity and Africans will not be used to try vaccines whose purpose is not known.” The petition accuses Gates of having Covid vaccines “tested on Africa as he stages them [vaccines] as the only solution to the pandemic.” It also accuses Bill and Melinda Gates of attempting to control the African population via contraception and abortion. “Melinda Gates told the Washington Post she is frustrated with the Trump administration’s decision to cut funding for international ‘reproductive-rights projects,’ (READ ABORTION) calling it ‘incredibly disappointing,’” the petition read. 

In some ways, the extreme paranoia about birth control efforts could be understandable, given the legacy of the staggering violence of colonialism in Africa—and that history of exploitation continually undermines public health campaigns. But it was a specific strain of disinformation about a tetanus vaccine that allowed rumors about secret forced sterilization to flourish. Alphonce Shiundu, the Kenya editor of Africa Check, a fact-checking nonprofit that promotes accuracy in public debates and the media, says his organization has traced the origins of this myth to an event in 1994. Researchers in India were “developing a contraceptive vaccine to help women prevent unplanned pregnancy.” Its active ingredient was part of a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin, known as hCG, which is produced during pregnancy. To make the vaccine, researchers “coupled hCG to a protein similar to the tetanus toxin.” When a woman was jabbed, her immune system would fight both the protein and the hCG hormone, an Africa Check report recounted. 

Although this contraceptive vaccine was completely unrelated to the tetanus vaccine, the American anti-abortion group Human Life International leveraged the research from India and used it to mount a disinformation campaign in Mexico, the Philippines, and Nicaragua, claiming that the tetanus vaccine alone would reduce a woman’s fertility without her knowledge. 

The World Health Organization tried to quash the rumors and followed up with extensive independent testing and found that, “without exception, when interpreted by independent laboratory staff, including those in the Philippines that conducted the original tests which started the rumor, all samples of tetanus toxoid vaccine have proved negative for hCG.”

“If tetanus toxoid vaccines given to millions of women in many countries were capable of causing infertility there would by now be ample demographic data to confirm this. We know of no such data.”

Even MaterCare International, a group of Catholic obstetricians and gynecologists, issued a statement saying, “If tetanus toxoid vaccines given to millions of women in many countries were capable of causing infertility there would by now be ample demographic data to confirm this. We know of no such data.”

But the damage was done.

Fast-forward two decades: In 2014, the Kenya Catholic Bishops Association fought vigorously against a tetanus vaccination campaign in the country. Perhaps the most prominent anti-vaxxer was Dr. Stephen Karanja, previously the chair of the Kenya Catholic Doctors Association. (In addition to his assault on the tetanus vaccine, Karanja opposed schoolgirls being vaccinated against cervical cancer, arguing that the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine was unnecessary because it affected those “whose lifestyle involves irresponsible sexual behaviors.”) And in 2019, a Facebook post by a Kenyan user that was made to look like a news article made the rounds in Kenya, announcing: “Abortion drugs discovered in Bill Gates’ vaccines. UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have been accused of secretly sterilizing millions of women in Africa by doctors in Kenya after abortion drugs were discovered in tetanus [vaccines].” 

Unsurprisingly, when Covid vaccines became available in Kenya in 2021, Karanja came out vehemently against them, recommending hydroxychloroquine tablets instead. He died of complications from Covid last year. Karanja’s death didn’t stop other Kenyan influencers from running with his infertility narrative. Public health experts are trying hard to counter it, but they have found time and again that the distrust of the West has staying power, says Shiundu. “The anti-vaccination movement just keeps harping on it and just keeps redirecting it every time.” 

Now, in Kenya and other parts of the developing world, public health experts worry that anti-vaccine activists will leverage fear and uncertainty around Covid vaccines to undermine long-standing and highly effective vaccination programs in the developing world. There are signs of this happening already, even as global nonprofits are fighting the disinformation at its source. UNICEF and the Public Good Projects have teamed up to monitor and report new strains of vaccine disinformation as they emerge with a surveillance tool called the Vaccination Demand Observatory. On their public dashboard, which is updated weekly, anyone can see examples of social media posts making false claims about vaccines. In April, the VDO dashboard reported upticks in disinformation around the vaccines for cholera in Bangladesh, rotavirus in Egypt, and typhoid in Nepal. That trend is particularly worrying in the context of pandemic-related disruptions in routine vaccination programs. According to the World Health Organization, as of May 2022, vaccination campaigns in 43 countries are still postponed. In April, WHO warned of a “perfect storm” of conditions for a measles outbreak, noting that in many countries an uptick in cases had already begun.

In Kenya, vaccine denial and rejection also fosters a dangerous economy of charlatans “selling health misinformation,” says Mugendi of Meedan. The Kenyan health system is biased toward the rich. Those who can afford good treatment buy it. Those who can’t, take shortcuts. People try dangerous treatments to find a silver-bullet cure at low cost, which creates an underground market of false cures and false hope. It also “makes people question genuine actors in the space,” Mugendi says.

“I was told that when you’re injected, exactly after four months you will die.”

Disinformation thrives even in rural places with limited access to social media. Hayi Hassan, 62, and Hussein Ali, 75, are Somali animal herders living in Northeast Kenya who didn’t get the vaccine because they’d heard it could cause blood clots or death. “I was told that when you’re injected, exactly after four months you will die,” Ali says. Neither of them believes Covid is serious. “I haven’t seen any people dying in Garissa town, so I’m probably safe,” he says. What’s more, as elders, they figure they’ll likely die soon anyway. At their age, the idea of walking 37 miles in the blazing sun to get to the nearest hospital for a jab they think they don’t need sounds ludicrous.  

Through word of mouth, says Public Good Project’s Smyser, anti-vaccine messages take on a life of their own. In one case study in Papua New Guinea, the team looked at the spread of vaccine disinformation in a remote village. “Nobody had a phone, except for one guy who used to climb up to the top of the hill, and climb a tree, and hold the phone up, and download a bunch of stuff,” Smyser recalled. “And then he’d bring it back down and the whole village would read it.” 

Public Good Project/Nimbus Capture

The very ubiquity of these rumors makes combating them a challenge. Yet some fact-checking agencies report that they have made modest progress. On a recent day, the Vaccine Demand Observatory’s tool reviewing social media posts included one on false claims about Covid vaccines for children in Vietnam, another about rumors about vaccine dangers promoted by Bangladeshi politicians, and another on disinformation about the safety of Covid vaccines for older adults in East Timor. This kind of surveillance isn’t for the general public as much as for researchers, who can learn a lot from tracking the paths of disinformation in real time.

The global development nonprofit IREX has developed media literacy curricula that it tailors to individual countries. “It’s going to look different depending on the content and the context, geography, culture,” says Katya Vogt, the director of the project. “You can’t just create one multi-use tool.” In Ukraine, for instance, the group worked within the school system, weaving lessons on how to identify disinformation tactics into the literature, social studies, and history lessons. In Tunisia and Jordan, the program administrators determined that it would be more effective to train youth leaders to teach groups of their peers and create their own social media content about spotting disinformation. 

In Kenya, nonprofits are working to improve media and digital literacy. Africa Check has hired a slew of Fact Ambassadors to promote accurate information through Kenya’s social media and other channels. Those ambassadors “will come back to us with anecdotes about how they sent something to one of their relatives in a WhatsApp group who kept on sending all these conspiracy theories and treatment regimens for Covid-19,” says Shiundu of Africa Check. “And these people, after they reluctantly read, they were exposed to accurate information, and they slowly updated their beliefs.” 

Saphinah Kenyando

Lameck Orina

Last year, Kenyando, the school teacher who wavered on the Covid vaccine, was virtually introduced to Peter Ongera, a Fact Ambassador, who helped correct some of the misinformation and disinformation she’d absorbed over the past two years. Kenyando had another compelling reason to get the jab: One of her students had qualified for the African Individual School chess championship, and Kenyando needed to be vaccinated to travel to Ghana, where the tournament would be held. 

Kenyando got the shot. Then she took her children to get vaccinated. “I took them having done my own analysis,” she says. She listed her reasoning as wanting to “protect myself and family because of the nature of [my] work. As a teacher and sports lady I interact with so many people,” and because it “was a requirement from the employer to have all teachers vaccinated.”

But she worries that the same myths she saw are still circulating. “The falsehoods about the Covid vaccine, much of it was online,” she says. “There is power in information. Irrespective of how it comes, the first moment that somebody gets the information, they take it as the true Gospel.” 

The Magazine Supply Chain Is in Chaos. Mother Jones Isn’t Immune.

It was Inauguration Day, and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were being sworn in. It seemed like the nation had, just barely, survived one crisis after another—the Trump presidency, a horrific pandemic, and a coup attempt that had been thwarted only two weeks earlier.  

But at Mother Jones, I had a different sort of crisis to contend with. As production director, I coordinate the manufacturing of our print magazine. We were finishing up the March+April 2021 issue, which was scheduled to go on press in a week. Trump was on the cover again. This time, he was cradling Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, two wannabe authoritarians wiggling like infants impatient to be released from their restraints.

Our frozen paper was stuck in a massive traffic jam of cargo waiting to be transferred to trucks.

There was an urgent email from my supplier: Our order of 70,000 pounds of paper would be delayed. The rolls were on a train car that had been loaded at a paper mill in the Pacific Northwest and was bound for the printer in Wisconsin. The shipment, he regretted to inform me, wouldn’t arrive until Monday, a mere 48 hours before it was needed on press.

That unsettling news ignited a flurry of calls and status updates. On Monday I learned that inclement weather over the weekend had caused the train to miss two switches somewhere near St. Paul. By the time it finally made it to the Milwaukee rail yard, it was stuck in a massive traffic jam of cargo waiting to be transferred to trucks, which were in short supply across the country due to 80,000 unfilled trucker positions. Even if our paper somehow reached the plant by press time, it would arrive completely frozen from its winter trek across the northern states. The massive rolls of paper—50 inches in diameter, weighing 2,500 to 3,800 pounds each—would need at least two days to thaw before they could be hoisted onto a high-speed web printing press.

We print Mother Jones at Quad, a firm that employs 15,000 people in its manufacturing facilities in the Milwaukee area and additional plants around the world. The four Wisconsin facilities mail so many magazines and catalogs that they are considered the largest post office by volume in the state. Ultimately, it was Quad’s employees who rallied to locate enough paper to bail us out, and our coverage of Trumpism and the aftermath of January 6 made it to subscribers and newsstands on time.

But that wouldn’t be the last time the global supply chain crisis would threaten to derail Mother Jones.

Making a magazine has always been a complex story of sourcing, sustainability, and logistics. Paper manufacturing and transport are essential to the $760 billion global print market. The whole process—harvesting timber and hauling it to pulp mills, getting the ingredients to the paper machines, shipping paper to pressrooms, and delivering the finished product to readers—depends on an interconnected network that is vulnerable to global and local events.

I’ve purchased paper through all kinds of market conditions over the years: energy shortages, sudden plant closures, tariffs, and transportation disruptions. I’ve always been able to procure it, but in the last 18 months, everyone I speak with starts each conversation, “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Supply could no longer keep up.

The Pacific Northwest mill we bought paper from was hit with a ransomware attack that hobbled it for months. We switched to a mill in Wisconsin, reasoning that purchasing from a company closer to our printer would be an additional supply chain safeguard. But with the trucker shortage, which is likely to double within the next 10 years, it turns out that even a few hundred miles can be an obstacle.

On the first day of this year, 2,000 workers at a major paper company in Finland went on strike, shuttering mills and stymieing production of everything from packaged food to medical products. The paper shortages across Europe during the long-running labor dispute also meant there was no possible relief for the shortages in North America. After four months, the workers finally got the bargaining agreements they’d held out for, but concerns remain for the supply chain.

Mother Jones is a bimonthly periodical that uses two kinds of paper: an 80-pound grade 3 for the cover pages and a 40-pound grade 5 for the body pages. Demand for publication paper—called “graphic paper”—has steadily declined as digital information sources have proliferated, so there are fewer mills making it than there were a decade ago.

The pandemic squeezed supplies of graphic paper even further—9 million tons have disappeared from the global market since 2019 due to mill closures or machine conversions to packaging grades. Publishers of periodicals buy graphic paper regularly and must weather the ups and downs of availability, pricing, and transport. Demand from other paper buyers, however, decreased significantly during the 2020 lockdowns as businesses curtailed normal operations. Mills turned their attention to packaging, tissue, and labels, converting even more paper machines away from making graphic paper. Then, by the second quarter of 2021, demand for graphic paper rose dramatically, exceeding pre-pandemic levels. Supply could no longer keep up.

All this led to the resurgence of a phrase that had faded since the 1990s: strict allocations. When the demand for paper exceeds manufacturing capacity, mills impose a system that allocates all portions of their output to specific merchants—even their best customers can get only a fraction of what they want.

The precarious situation had worsened as we approached peak season in the fall of 2021, when demand for print is at its greatest. Our paper supplier warned me that our order, this time for the January+February 2022 issue, could not be delivered until after we were supposed to go on press. Strict allocations were in effect.

Our paper prices have increased 38 percent in just the last six months.

Without that shipment, our inventory at the printer was short by about 10,000 pounds. If I couldn’t close the gap, we might not be able to print enough copies to serve all our readers. But we’ve made a promise to those readers, and Mother Jones subscribers are the primary support for our independent journalism. Quad’s press time was tightly booked, and it had its own supply chain and pandemic staffing challenges. I didn’t want to lose our slot; the press date is a hard deadline, and missing subscriber and newsstand delivery schedules has real financial consequences. I had missed only one scheduled press date in my whole career. That happened in January 1988 when a roof collapsed at my printer in Waseca, Minnesota. Tragically, two people died on the pressroom floor, and several others were injured.

This time, it was my paper supplier who saved the day; she managed to find a few rolls and, better still, get them delivered in time to close the inventory gap. That paper would cost nearly double the price we were paying at the time, but I jumped at the opportunity.

The supply-demand imbalance for publication paper is likely to continue through at least 2023. Our prices have increased 38 percent in just the last six months, and each of our deliveries has become a nail-biter. The paper shipments for our May+June and July+August 2022 issues were delayed beyond our original press dates. No longer a once-in-a-career occurrence, these late deliveries forced us to push back our production schedule. To make matters worse, the Wisconsin mill we’ve been purchasing from recently announced that at the end of the year, it’s converting its graphic paper machine to instead make packaging.

Currently, magazine publishers, and the readers they serve, must rely on last-minute heroics in an increasingly chaotic market. This is not sustainable. We need to shore up manufacturing systems to meet demand, find more ways to train and support workers, and stabilize our supply chains. As I consider the tremendous forces at work and all that is required from so many to produce a print magazine, what lingers in my mind is how tenuous it all is, how interlocking our nations, our industries, and our democratic imperatives are. Our readers will have to wait to have the next issue of Mother Jones in their hands. But I know they appreciate what a miracle it is that the magazine, and our journalism, exists at all.

Top Scientist: We Can’t Adapt Our Way Out of This Climate Crisis

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

The world cannot adapt its way out of the climate crisis, and counting on adaptation to limit damage is no substitute for urgently cutting greenhouse gases, a leading climate scientist has warned.

Katharine Hayhoe, chief scientist for the Nature Conservancy and a professor at Texas Tech University, said the world was heading for dangers unseen in the 10,000 years of human civilization, and efforts to make the world more resilient were needed but by themselves could not soften the impact enough. “People do not understand the magnitude of what is going on,” she said. “This will be greater than anything we have ever seen in the past. This will be unprecedented. Every living thing will be affected.”

While countries can start to adapt to some of the impacts, for instance with seawalls and flood barriers, and by making their infrastructure more resilient to extreme weather, if global heating is allowed to continue then the world will rapidly reach a point beyond what can be adapted to. “If we continue with business-as-usual greenhouse gas emissions, there is no adaptation that is possible. You just can’t,” she said, in an interview with the Guardian.

“Our infrastructure, worth trillions of dollars, built over decades, was built for a planet that no longer exists.”

These impacts would be felt across the world, she warned. “Our infrastructure, worth trillions of dollars, built over decades, was built for a planet that no longer exists,” she said. Changing that infrastructure would cost further trillions, so allowing greenhouse gas emissions to continue to grow would mean ever-rising impacts and costs.

The whole of modern life is at stake, she added. “Human civilization is based on the assumption of a stable climate,” she said. “But we are moving far beyond the stable range.”

Earlier this month, Stuart Kirk, the head of responsible investment at the global bank HSBC, made headlines by suggesting that financial institutions should discount the risks of the climate crisis as the world could adapt to its impacts. He noted that Amsterdam was built on land below sea level, and suggested that areas climate scientists have predicted would be vulnerable to inundation, such as Miami, could be similarly adapted to cope with the risk.

“Who cares if Miami is six meters under water in 100 years?” he asked an investor conference. HSBC moved quickly to disown Kirk’s comments and suspend him. HSBC Asset Management’s chief executive, Nicolas Moreau, said Kirk’s remarks “do not reflect the views of HSBC Asset Management nor HSBC Group in any way,” and reiterated the bank’s commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050. “HSBC regards climate change as one of the most serious emergencies facing the planet, and is committed to supporting its customers in their transition to net zero and a sustainable future.”

Hayhoe, who has been a lead author on US national climate assessments, said Kirk’s comments seemed to reflect an attitude that was gaining ground among “climate dismissers,” who try to minimize the level of risk from climate change by saying the impacts would be manageable.

However, the world’s leading climate scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, warned earlier this year that continued global heating, beyond 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, would wreak devastation across the globe in the form of floods, droughts, heatwaves, and other extreme weather, with swathes of the planet becoming unsuitable for agriculture and effectively uninhabitable, causing extreme harm to human society in many places.

Hayhoe said the IPCC findings had not been broadly understood by many people. “This is an unprecedented experiment with the climate,” she said.

“The reality is that we will not have anything left that we value if we do not address the climate crisis.”

To Argue Against Gun Control, Lauren Boebert Notes That “We Didn’t Ban Planes” After 9/11

The New York Post isn’t exactly known for its tact. It has doxed a medic for her work on OnlyFans, published a photo of a man seconds away from being struck by a subway train, spread disinformation, and endorsed Trump—twice. But a comment from Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) last week apparently went too far, even for the Post.

In an appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show days after a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, Boebert argued against “politicizing” the tragedy, but followed up with a bizarre remark. “When 9/11 happened, we didn’t ban planes,” she said. “We secured the cockpits.”

Boebert: When 9/11 happened, we didn’t ban planes

— Acyn (@Acyn) May 27, 2022

The Post branded this comment “tasteless” and “senseless.” Hard to argue with that. It’s also worth noting, as the Post does, it’s basically wrong. The 2001 terror attacks led to the construction of a massive security state, including the formation of the Transportation Security Administration, the passage of the PATRIOT Act, and changes in federal law to allow for the ongoing detention of “enemy combatants” at Guantánamo Bay. “Securing the cockpits” entailed making sure that no weapons got on planes—not that that stopped Boebert’s colleague Rep. Madison Cawthorn from trying. In this light, Boebert’s comment could be read as an accidental endorsement of gun control.

It’s not surprising that Boebert would do anything in her power to avoid the topic of gun control. After all, she’s a fan of guns, big time. As I wrote in my recent profile of the Colorado congresswoman, Boebert owns a restaurant where staff are encouraged to open-carry firearms. (One former employee told me that Boebert jokingly pointed a loaded gun at him when he said he would have voted for Barack Obama for a third term.)

Compared to 9/11, the nation’s response to mass shootings has typically been, basically, nothing. Boebert’s comment begs the question: How would one secure classrooms? Would the congresswoman prefer that entering a school every day be as cumbersome and perplexing as going through airport security? (Many kids already walk through metal detectors upon entering school every day.) And what’s to prevent a shooter from doing as the Sandy Hook gunman did and entering a school not by entering an unlocked door, but by shooting through a window?

Or is the question of how to actually stop shootings not the actual point for her?

How John Durham’s Probe Has Exposed Trump’s Russia Con

Donald Trump has bad timing. On Friday, he sent a letter to the Pulitzer Prize Board reiterating his demand that it rescind the awards given to the New York Times and the Washington Post in 2018 for their coverage of the Trump-Russia scandal. (That’s not what he called it.) He based this request on the prosecution of Democratic lawyer Michael Sussmann, who was indicted by special counsel John Durham for allegedly lying to the FBI during a September 2016 meeting when he shared with the bureau computer data research that suggested there might be a connection between a Trump-related business and Alfa Bank, a large Russian financial entity. Trump claimed the Sussmann case showed the “Russia hoax was a dirty campaign trick promulgated by Crooked Hillary Clinton and her associates.” Five days later, the jury, after only several hours of deliberation, acquitted Sussmann. Oops.

The quick not-guilty verdict was a sharp slap at Durham’s three-year-long investigation, which was launched by William Barr, when he was Trump’s loyalist attorney general, and which has come across as a political crusade mounted to undermine the various Trump-Russia investigations. Durham was tasked by Barr to investigate the origins of the FBI’s probe of the Russian attack on the 2016 election (which, according to multiple investigations, was waged to help Trump win) and the interactions between Trump associates and Russian operatives. Put simply, Durham’s job was to find that Trump had been set up by the bureau. When the Justice Department in late 2019 issued a report concluding the FBI had legitimate cause to investigate the Russian assault and the Trump campaign, Durham, in an unusual move, released a statement declaring, “we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened.” A-ha, Trumpists exclaimed. Durham was on track to reveal that the FBI investigation was bogus from the get-go and Trump was right: It was all a hoax and a witch hunt. 

Yet after years of toil, Durham has produced nothing to suggest the Russia investigation was a Deep State hit-job against Trump. He has brought three cases that have nothing to do with the origins of the investigation. One involved an FBI lawyer who altered an email used to obtain a search warrant after the investigation was started. (The attorney pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year of probation.) Another led to the indictment of Igor Danchenko, a source for the so-called Steele dossier, for allegedly lying to the FBI about his sources. His trial is scheduled to begin in October. This prosecution, too, has nothing to do with the origin or legitimacy of the FBI’s investigation, which was not triggered by the Steele reports. The third was the Sussmann case that just exploded in Durham’s face. It, too, was essentially unconnected to the FBI’s core investigation, given that the meeting in question happened months after the bureau began examining the Russian assault and that the FBI quickly dismissed the Trump-Alfa Bank tie. 

Despite declaring over two years ago that he had reason to question the FBI’s opening of the Russia investigation, Durham has failed to make good on his assertion. His investigation has yielded zilch in this regard. His prosecutions are all sideshows.

But Durham has done Trump and his cultists a great favor by providing material they can exploit for one of their favorite pastimes: deflection. 

For over five years, Trump and his minions have endeavored to beat back the Trump-Russia scandal with denial and distraction. They have done all they could to change the subject from the basics of the affair: the Kremlin attacked the 2016 election to help Trump; while this assault was underway, the Trump camp had troubling interactions with Russian operatives and was told the Kremlin intended to covertly assist Trump; Trump hid from the public his effort to land a major development deal in Moscow (for which he sought help from Vladimir Putin); the Trump campaign aided and abetted the Russian attack by denying and/or downplaying it; and, as president, Trump tried to impede the investigation. All of these are confirmed facts that make a damning case that Trump committed a grand act of betrayal to become president. Trump and his defenders, though, have tried to change the subject: the problematic Steele dossier, an improperly obtained search warrant, baseless conspiracy theories about the Democratic Party’s computer servers being whisked away to Ukraine, and, most recently, the Sussmann meeting. 

Look at Trump’s letter to the Pulitzer board. It dwells on details that came out during the Sussmann trial about the Clinton campaign promoting the Alfa Bank allegation. This case, Trump claims, shows that Clintonites were trying to spread opposition research about him, particularly iffy data about a purported computer server tie between his business and Alfa Bank. He declares he was the victim of “shameful smears” from the Clinton campaign—and these covert attacks were the basis for the FBI investigation. The Clinton crew, of course, was trying to disseminate negative information about Trump—especially worrisome material about a possible Trump-Russia connection. But this had nothing to do with the investigation already begun by the FBI, which was launched independently of the Clinton effort. 

Trump writes, “I again call on you to rescind the Prize you awarded based on blatantly fake, derogatory and defamatory news. If you choose not to do so, we will see you in court.” Putting aside whether Trump can sue a journalism awards committee for content it honors, he is yet again engaging in deflection. Nothing in the Sussmann case undercuts the investigations or the reporting related to the central elements of the scandal. Trump is trying to turn the thin gruel Durham has served up into a feast.

In the reality-based world, Durham actually has undermined Trump and his bogus narrative. He has failed to demonstrate that the Russia investigation was a witch hunt or hoax cooked up by Trump’s enemies. His small-beer cases do not challenge any of the main findings of the investigations, which justifiably taint Trump’s 2016 victory and presidency. Durham’s work (so far) shows that Trump’s attempts to distract from the scandal have been nothing but a big con. Trump shrieks about Sussmann, the Steele dossier, and other matters so the public doesn’t see what’s clearly there: a record of misdeeds, lies, and treachery. In a way, Durham has provided a valuable service. His inability to uncover evidence of a hoax confirms that Trump’s denials and diversions have been the real hoax all along. 

The Fight for Student Debt Relief Started a Decade Ago—at Occupy Wall Street

As a 28-year-old art student, Thomas Gokey convinced the Federal Reserve to give him bags of shredded currency worth $49,983, the exact amount of his ballooning student loan debt. He had a plan to use the minced cash to make a work of art that would both symbolize his loans and help to pay them off: He pulped the scraps, turned the paste into four enormous sheets of paper, and began offering piecemeal sales—$4.22 a square inch.

In 2011, when the artwork was accepted by an annual competition in Michigan—“the American Idol of art,” as he describes it—that had been founded by the son of billionaire heir (and future Education Secretary) Betsy DeVos, Gokey saw another shot at paying off the debt. Up until then, he hadn’t found a lot of buyers willing to purchase bits of his loans, but he did start having conversations with people about their own debt, and about debt’s role in society. He’d also read anthropologist David Graeber’s new opus on the topic; Gokey found it “a secret decoder ring” unveiling how debt enshrines divides of gender, race, and class.

The week of the contest, Gokey weighed joining an upcoming protest against economic inequality that he’d heard was planned for a small park near Wall Street. But he trekked off to Michigan for the competition in hopes of chipping away at his loans, and convinced that whatever this protest was, it wouldn’t amount to much. He quickly regretted it. “I was still thinking of this as an individual problem,” he says. “Instead of joining the occupation from day one, like I should have done, I went to Betsy DeVos’ art fair and tried to sell my debt.”

His artwork, Total Amount of Money Rendered in Exchange for a Masters of Fine Arts Degree to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Pulped into Four Sheets of Paper, failed to win prizes or garner enough sales to make any real dent in Gokey’s debt. Within days, he and his sleeping bag were on a Greyhound bound for the Occupy Wall Street uprising.

In Zuccotti Park, Gokey started going to meetings where other protesters discussed making demands. To Gokey, that seemed off: Government and financial institutions would not capitulate merely out of kindness or shame. What power did the people in the park, or Americans at large, have to demand that these institutions do much of anything? Gokey started thinking about where they might find leverage: What was their closest point of cooperation with Wall Street and the government, and what would happen if they blew it up? Coming off his Hail Mary attempt to pay off his student loans, Gokey realized what that junction point was: debt. In the run-up to the Great Recession, Americans had accrued record amounts of household debt. And in just a decade, student debt had quintupled and was approaching $1 trillion. (Today it is at $1.75 trillion.) It was these financial ties to the institutions they’d come to protest that could give them bargaining power.

“If we could organize something like a debtors’ union, we could force the government and Wall Street to do anything.”

“It was like a switch flipped in my head,” Gokey says. “Our debt together actually gives us leverage. If we could organize something like a debtors’ union, we could force the government and Wall Street to do anything.”

Today, Gokey and six Occupy collaborators are the co-founders of the nation’s first debtors’ union, known as the Debt Collective—and they are closer than ever to proving themselves right. Over the last decade, their group has laid crucial organizing and legal groundwork that has helped shift the terms of debate around the idea of canceling student loans. They’ve helped to transform the concept from a fringe pipe dream into a near political inevitability, as the Biden administration is poised to take unprecedented action to cancel some or all of about 45 million Americans’ outstanding student loans. The latest White House plan, according to news reports, would forgive $10,000 per borrower. 

“The idea that these debts aren’t carved in stone, which is what they feel like—changing that as a norm has to start somewhere, and they started it,” says Eileen Connor, a Debt Collective collaborator who directs litigation at Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending.

Occupy Wall Street was soon evicted from Zuccotti Park. But Gokey and other Occupiers who had engaged on the issue were undeterred: Soon, they returned to the park for a new protest, clad in faux graduation robes made of trash bags. “Hardly anyone cared,” remarked a dismissive Reuters correspondent on the scene. “They want all student debt in the country forgiven. All $1 trillion of it, if the government would be so kind.” But the budding union also began exploring something Graeber himself had raised on an internal Occupy listserv: Why not beat predatory financiers at their own game by buying up debt on the secondary market and—instead of using aggressive tactics to collect—simply cancel it?

Why not beat predatory financiers at their own game by buying up debt on the secondary market and—instead of using aggressive tactics to collect—simply cancel it?

Gokey began cold-calling brokers, asking to buy about $50 worth of unpaid debts, which are sold for pennies on the dollar. The brokers, used to cutting deals for tens of thousands of dollars, usually hung up. It took nine months, but eventually he found one who agreed to sell about $400 worth of credit card debt. Gokey scratched out a personal check; in return, he was emailed a spreadsheet with personal information on nine people: Social Security numbers, account numbers, and balances. Their $14,000 in debts were now Gokey’s to do with as he pleased.

Floored by this revelation, the activists launched the Rolling Jubilee project, named for the biblical tradition of a year when all debts are forgiven. Astra Taylor and Laura Hanna, co-founders of the collective and the owners of a company that produces films on philosophy and democracy, took the lead on organizing The People’s Bailout, a fundraising telethon featuring famous friends like comedian Janeane Garofalo and members of Fugazi and Sonic Youth. They hoped to raise $50,000, but eventually brought in $750,000—enough to buy about $32 million worth of debt on the secondary market.

Some 9,000 people had their debts wiped out, receiving the good news via a red box that arrived in the mail. The activists’ phones began ringing. Some callers asked for help with other debts. Many were simply incredulous: “It was like, ‘I got this letter. I don’t understand it. Is this real?!’” Gokey recalls.

Some 9,000 people had their debts wiped out. “It was like, ‘I got this letter. I don’t understand it. Is this real?!’” Gokey recalls.

New member Luke Herrine, an NYU law student, was doing a summer internship with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) when volunteers with the Debt Collective stumbled on a Facebook group of students at Corinthian Colleges. In the group, alumni of the for-profit, 100-plus campus chain had begun commiserating over their struggles with the enormous loans they’d taken out, lured by Corinthian’s inflated job placement and salary numbers.

Herrine pored over the Higher Education Act, which governs federal student loans, and found a clause allowing borrowers to contest repayment of their loans if the school had lied to students during enrollment. Based on this discovery, the Debt Collective created an application on its website so students of fraud-­ridden for-profit colleges could send “defense to repayment” (DTR) claims to the Education Department, as Hanna and other members barnstormed a dozen cities recruiting indebted former Corinthian students.

That February, the “Corinthian 15” officially announced a debt strike; within a month, their ranks had grown to more than 100, with hundreds more sending in DTR applications. In March, the 15 and key collective members traveled to Washington to meet with education officials. At the end of their conversation, Herrine placed a red box containing 257 DTR applications in front of Ted Mitchell, a department undersecretary.

Someone snapped a photo of Mitchell looking sour at his newest headache. But within two months of the strike’s launch, Corinthian had been issued $30 million in fines; it soon declared bankruptcy. Then the department announced it would make up to $3.5 billion in loan forgiveness available to 350,000 former Corinthian students, citing, for the first time, defense to repayment. The Education Department built its own DTR application based on the collective’s and has since used the tool to forgive billions; under Biden alone, the department has canceled $1.5 billion held by 90,000 borrowers who’d attended for-profit schools.

Under Biden alone, the Education Department has canceled $1.5 billion held by 90,000 borrowers who’d attended for-profit schools.

By 2017, Herrine, who would go on to pursue a PhD in law, started developing another legal theory based on the Higher Education Act: that something called “settlement authority” gave the department carte blanche to tweak or even throw out its claims against debtors. In a University of Pennsylvania law school journal article, he argued that the department, with help from the president, could immediately cancel all student debt, Congress be damned. Two years later, a tweet from Herrine caught the eye of Julie Margetta Morgan, then a vice president at the left-leaning Roosevelt Institute, who invited him to expand his argument into a white paper. Morgan then went to work advising Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 presidential campaign, and Warren began touting the use of settlement authority to cancel up to $50,000 of each student’s debt. (Morgan now works at the Education Department.) Candidate Joe Biden was less enthusiastic, somewhat grudgingly promising to cancel just $10,000 in debt.

At the outset of the Covid crisis, the Trump administration paused repayments on student loans, and once in office Biden has repeatedly pushed back restarting collections, announcing a sixth pause extension on April 6. Two days before, the collective had staged a demonstration in front of the Education Department’s headquarters urging Biden to go beyond the temporary pause and cancel all student debt “with the flick of a pen”; they’ve even crafted a draft executive order. “We have literally had to do the government’s homework and hold their hand through this entire process,” says Taylor, “to say, ‘Actually, no, you can do this, and let us show you how.’” The protest featured a “debt burn” where borrowers took the mic, shared visceral stories about their debt burdens, and set their loan paperwork on fire.

The two-year payment freeze has created relief for debtors and, collective members say, proved that the federal government can get along fine without student loan revenue. While cancellation hasn’t come yet, the Debt Collective has already reframed the student debt crisis in a way that only Occupy activists would have dreamed possible. But they’re also clear that a mere extension of a payment pause, or even the partial cancellation that the Biden administration appears close to announcing, would be insufficient: They’ve seen too much pain and gathered too many stories from thousands of debtors over the past decade. Gokey, now 43 years old, still has about $30,000 to pay off himself. “This debt has sort of destroyed my life,” he says. “It has taken our lives from us. But what we’ve built has given a lot of life.”