Mother Jones Magazine

“Nothing Can Be Done” Is a Lie

Minutes after news of the mass shooting in Uvalde broke, I went to pick up my child from school. The yard was full of kids playing, and I tried to look cheerful and untroubled as I watched him grab his backpack and run toward me. I thought about the parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles who were expecting to greet their kids at the end of this day, only to learn that they would never do that again.

Because of a gun. Because of so many guns, in so many hands, including so many of the wrong hands.

But this is not a story about guns, or even about this latest horrific news. You’ve already heard all about that. Maybe you’ve been glued to your Twitter feed or cable TV, watching as people you agreed with, or not, argued about what should happen now. Maybe you felt despair as you processed this awful news on top of so much other awful news. Maybe you prayed.

This isn’t a story to tell you what to do. It’s not to fuel your outrage or sadness, or to offer an insta-fix. There are plenty of people who want you to sign petitions and donate to causes right now, and you’ll make your own decisions about that.  

But there is one thing that not enough people are saying: Just because this is happening again, and again, doesn’t mean it will forever.

I know that’s a hard thought to hold on to right now, amid all the familiar responses that add up to nothing—the shock, the public prayers, the speeches. But change so often seems impossible up until it happens. It’s only been 18 years since assault weapons were made legal (again) all over the country, and 14 years since the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution protects an individual right to bear arms. It may take decades until America (like Australia) takes action to protect children and others from high-powered weapons. But it took hundreds of years to end chattel slavery, for women to gain the right to vote, for people to be able to marry whom they love.

So this is a time to keep our eye on that longer arc of history, and not get lost in the despair of the moment. And that goes for how we process news, too. In the last few weeks, I’ve had so many conversations with friends, colleagues, and MoJo supporters who find themselves tuning out from the news. And I want to say something that journalists don’t often say: That’s okay!

Right now, if you need to look away or slow down your intake of news–for a day or two, or forever—do it. Don’t feel guilty. Things will not get any worse because you are not following every twist and turn. You won’t miss out on the important stuff, because the important stuff is what happens over time, beyond today’s headlines.  

Case in point: Ten years ago, after a gunman opened fire in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, my colleague Mark Follman, along with fellows Deanna Pan and Gavin Aronsen, set out to find out how often these tragedies were happening. No one had bothered to compile that data, so they did. (More on this project here.) They counted 58 mass shootings over the three decades preceding Aurora. About two a year.

Almost exactly a decade later, the number of mass shootings in the database is up to 128. There have been 70 during those ten years—24 percent more than in the entire 30 years before. Seven a year.   

Mark became a father during the time he worked on this project, and being a parent makes it hard to resign yourself to horrible things. So he started looking at the bigger picture—including compiling, with another amazing team of colleagues, the total cost of gun violence in America—and he came across a whole field of research and intervention called threat assessment. Mark eventually wrote a book about it, which has given him the grim distinction of being one of the experts that get called on each time a mass shooting happens.

Threat assessment starts from the realization that mass shootings don’t come out of nowhere. The perpetrators don’t “snap.” They plan their crimes, often over years, and they give warnings. Which means there are big windows during which it is possible to intervene. In hundreds of cases, threat assessment teams have done so.

If the shooters in Uvalde and Buffalo had been kept away from weapons, perhaps given mental health or other interventions, dozens of families might have their loved ones alive today. That’s not the same as a national assault weapons ban, but it’s not nothing.

That’s just one of the things that can happen—over the long haul, if not in the next week or two. But that’s only possible if people who care about preventing this horror don’t give up. I promise Mother Jones will not. Our team will be there, reporting the truth and shining a light on hypocrisy. (Just this morning, senior news and engagement editor Inae Oh noted that when Texas governor Greg Abbott, Sen. Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump speak at the NRA convention this weekend, attendees will have to abide by a strict rule: No guns. “Now imagine if we were all offered the same protections as our former president,” Inae writes.)

This tweet from Sherilynn Ifill, the president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, really rang true for me:

I don’t have a lot of words today, except to say that there is a concerted effort right now to convince you that ‘nothing can be done.’ It is designed to make you give in to the exhaustion of this moment. Don’t believe it. It’s a lie. We have power if we mobilize it.

Here’s a story of someone who mobilized her power: Lucy McBath, whose son Jordan, a Black teen, was murdered by a white man for playing loud music.

In 2017, McBath decided to run for the state legislature, then set her sights on Congress. She defeated a Republican incumbent in 2018, was reelected in 2020, and has been a powerful voice on gun violence and racial and economic justice. Republicans tried to boot her when they redrew Georgia’s congressional map last year. McBath ended up running against another Democratic member of Congress, Carolyn Bourdeaux, and last night she prevailed.

This is not entirely a good-news story—that Bourdeaux and McBath had to compete at all was a result of the extreme gerrymandering that has enabled politicians to override the majority of Americans on issues like gun reform. “Even if McBath wins,” MoJo’s Ari Berman wrote earlier this year, “Democrats will have lost a House seat in 2022 in a state that is trending blue, and communities of color will have less political representation—even though they account for all of the state’s population growth over the past decade. Moreover, because of the new redistricting maps, Republicans are set to control nine of 14 congressional districts in a state where Democrats won the presidency and two Senate seats in 2020.”

That’s grim, and it’s even grimmer for McBath, who has faced endless attacks from Republicans and Fox News, including one lying about her mother-in-law’s signature. But she has not given up. “All of the preparations and the battles that I’m having to fight now to save people’s lives, to take this work to a whole other level, is tough,” she told MoJo‘s Jamilah King back in 2018. But, she added, “what else could you do to hurt me? Bring it on.”

So as you hug your loved ones and grieve for Uvalde, disconnect from the headlines if you need to—but don’t give up. Gun violence is not a force of nature. It is a choice, one motivated by profits and politics. We owe it to ourselves not to make it a fate.

The Fear of Deportation Only Makes the Uvalde Trauma Worse

Hours after yet another mass shooting killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, desperate parents were still trying to find out if their kids were dead or alive. They were asked to provide DNA samples to help with the identification of the victims as reporters at the scene described the sound of “agonized screams” from families who had just learned the worst possible news.

In a community like Uvalde, about 85 miles west of San Antonio and not far from the border with Mexico, the unfathomable grief and trauma might be further complicated by the fear of immigration enforcement. The immigration status of the victims and families continues to be rightfully undisclosed, but the school district’s population is 90 percent Hispanic, leading to concerns by immigrant rights advocates that the presence of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agents might further traumatize relatives in mixed-status families seeking information from authorities and trying to reunite with their children.

Agents with Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the branch of DHS that operates within a 100-mile border zone, were among the first law enforcement to respond to the shooting. That isn’t surprising considering that Uvalde is a heavily militarized area of South Texas and many agents reside in the area and some had children in the school. Roughly 80 border patrol agents, some of whom were off duty, were present at the scene. Among them were members of the SWAT-like elite team known as BORTAC, or Border Patrol Tactical Unit, who reportedly shot the 18-year-old gunmen. That’s the same unit that Donald Trump deployed to Portland as part of a violent crackdown on racial justice protests in the summer of 2020 that the city’s mayor Ted Wheeler characterized as “urban warfare.” At the time, a former CBP agent told the Guardian that, in her experience, BORTAC were among “the most violent and racist in all law enforcement.” 

Border patrol agents may have prevented the shooter from continuing to carry out a massacre on Tuesday, but there’s no denying their presence could be triggering for people in the community. “The same officer involved in deportation of your family member could now be telling you your child has died…this is what systemic trauma looks like,” Thania Galvan, an incoming assistant professor at the University of Georgia’s Department of Psychology tweeted.

Uvalde is ~80% Latinx w/ large immigrant pop. U.S CBP assisting w/ response b/c it’s the biggest law enforcement agency in area. The same officer involved in deportation of your family member could now be telling you your child has died…this is what systemic trauma looks like.

— Thania Galvan, PhD (@ThaniaGalvanphd) May 25, 2022

Juliette Kayyem, a DHS assistant secretary during the Obama administration, called on the agency and the White House to explicitly reassure the Uvalde community that they would be safe from immigration enforcement. “I don’t know motives, we don’t know motives. I am just telling you demographics. It is a predominantly Hispanic population with a large immigrant community, relatively near San Antonio,” Kayyem said on CNN. “We need the federal government to say right now, everyone is essentially safe harbor right now in terms of immigration status.” She noted that members of the community needed “not to be fearful of immigration status,” and pointed out that a strong law enforcement presence was inevitable under these circumstances. But, when someone’s immigration status may be uncertain, they may “not react to police presence as you or I may.” 

Uvalde is over 80% Hispanic, with large immigrant community. I do not know any motives, just demographics. One thing needs to be made clear by feds: no immigration enforcement, no questions asked, safe harbor, get your kids, do not hide, etc. Now.

— Juliette Kayyem (@juliettekayyem) May 24, 2022

On Wednesday, DHS issued a statement saying that “to the fullest extent possible,” its agencies—Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—would not conduct enforcement activities in “protected areas,” adding that agents would not “pose as individuals providing emergency-related information.”

But the fact that DHS felt the need to issue a statement saying its agents wouldn’t disguise as helpers in the aftermath of a mass shooting at an elementary school in itself could spark concerns in the community. Especially in a state that is controlled by aggressively anti-immigrant politicians. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has spent billions of dollars and deployed thousands of National Guard and state troopers in a failed operation to “secure” tbe border, and the state has led a successful lawsuit against the Biden administration to stop the termination of Title 42, the infamous pandemic-era border policy shutting down asylum. Just a couple of weeks before the shooting, Abbott indicated he might challenge a Supreme Court decision guaranteeing the right to public education for undocumented students. 

As immigration and criminal law expert César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández noted on Twitter, ICE deported a survivor of the 2019 Walmart shooting in El Paso, Texas. The undocumented woman known as Rosa had offered law enforcement assistance in their investigations into the white supremacist attack targeting Latinos that killed 23 people and injured dozens more. But, two years later in 2021, her previous help didn’t stop the immigration agency from sending her back to Mexico after a traffic stop. She was also reportedly in the process of applying for a U visa, which offers temporary status and protection from deportation for undocumented survivors of certain crimes who cooperate with law enforcement. 

Two massacres in Texas. Two DHS responses. Today, DHS said it won't conduct immigration enforcement activities in Uvalde. In 2021, ICE deported a woman who survived the El Paso massacre & helped prosecutors put together their case against the shooting. Will DHS keep its promise? pic.twitter.com/jrjnPKpzy4

— César (@crimmigration) May 25, 2022

“It is shocking to me really that after seeing all the different communities it has happened in, we still don’t believe that it can happen in our own community and if we’re not willing to do something,” Mary Ann Jacob, a survivor of the Sandy Hook shooting that happened ten years ago, told ABC News. “Our legislatures are not going to do anything, unless we push them to do something. So vote for people who care about what you care about and make sure that they are going to drive change.” While some elected officials offer their rehearsed thoughts and prayers, Uvalde survivors and their relatives will be left to mourn and process this tragedy for months and years to come. They should be allowed to do so without wondering whether they might put themselves or their families at risk. As Dr. William D. Lopez, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health who studies the health impacts of law enforcement violence in the US told Prism, “deportation upon death is not how a community will heal.”

NY Judges Force Donald and Ivanka Trump to Sit for Deposition in Civil Fraud Case

A New York appellate court dealt Donald Trump another blow Thursday when it ruled that the former president and his daughter must sit for sworn depositions in the New York’s civil fraud investigation into the family business. New York State Attorney General Letitia James subpoenaed Donald and Ivanka Trump back in December, but Trumps’ attorneys argued that the they shouldn’t have to because, they said, James’ whole investigation was baseless and politically motivated. Arthur Engoron, the lower court judge handling the case, disagreed, writing in his decision that there was actually “copious evidence” that the Trumps might have committed fraud and no evidence that James’ probe was motivated by an improper political bias. 

In Thursday’s ruling, four appellate judges from the New York Supreme Court’s First Department agreed with Engoron’s assessment, writing that the Trumps presented no evidence of politically motivated persecution or selective prosecution.

During oral arguments back in February, the Trumps’ attorneys seemed far more focused on appealing to public perception than on convincing Engoron. At one point, Alina Habba, Donald Trump’s personal attorney in the case, complained that James refused to go after Trump’s 2016 presidential rival.

“Are you going to go after Hillary Clinton for what she’s doing to my client, that she spied at Trump Tower in your state?” Habba demanded to know. “Are you going to look into her business dealings?”

In his own public statements, Trump has complained that James, who is Black, is one of several “radical, vicious, racist prosecutors” investigating him. In court, Habba claimed the investigation was about “viewpoint discrimination,” but the appellate judges were thoroughly unconvinced. To successfully make the argument that you are being illegally singled out for investigation, you have to show that someone else is not being investigated for a similar offense when they should be, and the judicial panel concluded—arguments about Hillary Clinton aside—that the Trumps “have not identified any similarly implicated corporation that was not investigated or any executives of such a corporation who were not deposed.”

A representative for Trump did not return a request for comment on the appellate court’s ruling.

Despite the victory on Thursday, James may not get much out of the interviews. Donald and Ivanka Trump still have the right to refuse to answer questions if they might incriminate themselves by doing so. Last year, Eric Trump sat for a deposition with James’ investigators and refused to answer more than 500 questions. 

The appeal by Trump, and the subsequent rejection by a higher court, are part of a familiar pattern in James’ inquiry, which has been going on for more than two years and has slowly but steadily moved closer to the former president. After initially cooperating with investigators in the early months of the investigation, Trump family attorneys have become increasingly combative but have had few if any victories in their efforts to stop James from probing further. Like the arguments made by Habba at the February hearing, most of Donald Trump’s legal arguments have seemed to be fashioned to appeal to his own sense of outrage or intended primarily for public consumption. 

Last month, Donald Trump was held in contempt for refusing to turn over records that James subpoenaed in December, despite repeated rulings from Engoron that the Trumps must comply. Engoron eventually wound up fining Trump $10,000 per day until he cooperated. Trump ultimately racked up $110,000 in fines to be paid to James before he was able to convince Engoron that everything that should be turned over to James had been. The same appellate court that on Thursday rejected Trump’s arguments about the deposition is also considering Trump’s efforts to overturn the $10,000 fines. But last week, Trump forked over $110,000 to be held in an escrow account until that appeal is settled. 

Mass Shootings and Our Never-ending Doomcycle

The beats are almost always the same. 

A shooter enters a crowded space with a loaded gun, usually one modified to kill dozens of people in seconds—and usually one that they obtained legally. They open fire and murder innocents. Earlier this month it was 10 patrons at a Buffalo supermarket; this week it was 19 children and two of their teachers in Texas. As the news spreads, well-intentioned people flood Twitter with reminders not to share unverified information about the shooting in its early moments. Some people share it anyway. If the shooter has proclaimed their motivations on paper, more well-intentioned people vociferously demand that others don’t share the document. Some people share it anyway. 

Within a few hours of the shooting, large swaths of the public demand a policy solution—gun control. Others claim to be upset about how the tragedy is being too quickly politicized. If there is footage of the carnage, the videos ping around tech companies’ platforms endlessly, despite their commitments to the contrary.  The location of the tragedy inspires a hashtag: #[place name] strong. The Onion republishes the same article it always publishes, about how this all keeps happening. People vow to handle this at voting booths at the next election. But eventually, they seem to forget, and almost nothing changes. 

In the 15 years that I have been old enough to pay attention to the news, this is the only story arc I have known. With mass shootings, but also, it feels, with almost every other issue that has become a point of political contention, from police brutality to LGBTQ discrimination to whatever the culture war du jour is. The problems differ, but the pattern is the same: public outrage and political will swell, wane, and then little changes. The doomcycle repeats itself. 

When police killed another Black man, George Floyd, in the summer of 2020, protestors flooded the streets. Politicians vowed to enact major policy change. But two years later, those police reform demands have faded. When another lawmaker, this time in Texas, proposed a bill that would criminalize medical care for transgender kids, businesses and advocacy groups criticized the policy—yet it has moved forward unabated. And when school districts in 26 states (and counting) banned books about racial justice and gender identity, parents and students voiced their opposition at school board meetings across the county, only to be drowned out by board members and other parents.

I don’t even know how to write about these things anymore. I am paid to write about disinformation and extremism—things related to the culture wars, moral panics, and shootings motivated by the far-right. But lately, I’ve started to feel like I’m re-writing versions of the same story: repeating the same plotline over and over again as the issues I’m covering actually seem to be moving backward. 

School shootings seemed like they would be at least partially resolved by now, yet they seem either stagnant or worse than they were 10 years ago. Far-right massacres and right-wing domestic terrorism incidents—like Dylann Roof’s murder of nine Black parishioners in Charleston or a white supremacist’s shooting of Latinos in El Paso—have become more frequent. Culture war staples that seemed to have finally moved towards broad public acceptance, like equality for LGBTQ people, are under renewed attack. The inevitability of the future being better isn’t a given in the way that it once was assumed to be. Saying that “the arc of history is long and bends towards justice” in 2022 sounds more like a desperate grasp for past hopes than a bold prediction. 

The only difference in the cycle is the growing sense of disenfranchisement every time. Each iteration reinforces the feeling that we are locked into an increasingly immutable series of events. There is not a sense of total futility yet, but there isn’t optimism either: An April Harvard youth poll found that most Americans under 30 don’t believe that politics provides a path out of our current challenges. There is not a clear way forward, at least through the traditional avenues that the old guard prefers. Non-traditional avenues are flanked and shut down by political wings concerned with electability.  

New Republic contributing editor Alex Pareene put it deftly this week: “Anyway, 19 little kids are dead, and I don’t expect anything meaningful will be done to prevent the next 19 little kids from getting killed.” We know what will happen next. Maybe not the exact order, but we know all of the beats. Reactionaries will whip up yet another moral panic about race, or transgender people, or another group. Another shooter will enter another crowded space, with another gun. Hopefully, fewer people will die and children won’t be among the dead. Eventually, they will though. The arc of history will bend towards it. 

For the Right, Everything Is Fodder for the War on Public School—Even Mass Shootings

How do we stop this? In the aftermath of Tuesday’s horrific tragedy in Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman shot and killed 19 children and 2 adults, that question has followed a frustratingly similar script as past mass shootings. Liberals pled, to mostly deaf ears, for gun control laws in the one country where this happens. Conservatives pled for more guns, pearl-clutching about the politicization of a tragedy born of political decisions. Recently, there have been mass shootings in Buffalo, New York and Laguna Woods, California. In New York City, a man shot and injured 23 people at a subway station in Sunset Park.

Over the last few months, we have not even had time to finish a cycle of mourning and remembrance before another shooting happens. Each is met with realitydefying talking points from Republicans. Rinse and repeat. More death.

And so to use this as a moment for shitposting would be obviously obscene when many are genuinely desperate for a solution.

Still, it happened.

Because this most recent shooting occurred, like Sandy Hook and Parkland and so many before it, in a school, some conservatives are adding a disgraceful, yet altogether unsurprising, wrinkle to the mix: It’s the schools themselves that are the problem.

Writing in The Federalist on Wednesday, staff writer Jordan Boyd argued that Tuesday’s tragedy made a “somber case for homeschooling.” More specifically, Boyd singles out “government schools” as the culprit. “The same institutions that punish students for ‘misgendering’ people and hide curriculum from parents are simply not equipped to safeguard your children from harm,” wrote Boyd. 

Boyd continues, “You can’t protect your kids from everything. There’s no telling when a crazy gunman might open fire in a movie theater or a grocery store. You can, however, do your best to prevent them from being sitting ducks at frequently targeted locations such as schools by keeping them by your side.”

This is an unserious argument made in bad faith. The gunman at Sandy Hook was homeschooled. Initial reports of good guys with guns on the scene in Uvalde, do not fill one with confidence, either. Videos show police officers more concerned with restraining parents than with rushing in to stop the shooter. But, perhaps most importantly, Boyd is hiding the ball.

The article is using a horrific tragedy to shoehorn in another argument against public schools. These are the same people who have spent the last year leading an assault on public schools through the dueling moral panics of schoolteachers brainwashing children with critical race theory and sexually grooming them. The Federalist has often written about and boosted homeschooling as a bulwark against the idea of big government and has dutifully covered the critical race theory and grooming stories. The goal, with all of this, as the CRT-panic architect Christopher Rufo has repeatedly stated, is to rally parents behind a plan to “lay siege to the institutions,” with public education first on their proverbial hit list. Do they hate public education because it fails to protect children? Because it actually fills kid’s heads with bad ideas about race or gender or sexual identity? Or do they just hate public education because it’s public?

How to go about enacting, let alone passing, effective gun control in a country with a historically unprecedented number of firearms is, to be sure, a thorny and complex issue. Only in a monstrous society would children be so often sent to their death at the place they go to learn and socialize. Fixing the problem and its underlying issues deserves far more than a shoulder-shrug emoji in written form.  

And so to offer a solution that is little more than part of a continuing war on public education? That makes a “somber case” for the nihilism of some on the right that allows them to use anything for their war on public schools—even mass shootings.

Blaming Chesa Boudin for Crime Is Empirically Wrong

San Francisco is on the cusp of a historic recall election that could boot out one of the country’s most progressive district attorneys, Chesa Boudin, who took office in early 2020. Boudin, whose parents were incarcerated when he was just a baby, has rattled the establishment by trying to lower the city’s jail population and divert low-level offenders from prisons—changes that he says will, in the long run, keep the community safer. His critics, who include venture capitalists and a Republican billionaire, accuse him of turning San Francisco into a lawless Gotham City.

Their fight against Boudin is part of a broader tough-on-crime movement that has gained momentum during the pandemic. In Los Angeles, progressive District Attorney George Gascón faces a well-funded recall effort, too. Last year, so did multiple prosecutors in Virginia who campaigned on similar promises to make the legal system fairer for low-income people and people of color. In March, an Illinois lawmaker introduced a bill to recall reformist State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, accusing her of creating a “crisis of confidence in the Cook County judicial system.”

“People are using fear narratives to paint a picture that reform and safety are opposite.”

In all these places, “people are using fear narratives to paint a picture that reform and safety are opposite,” says Akhi Johnson, a former prosecutor who now works at the Vera Institute of Justice, a think tank that collaborates with progressive district attorneys. For instance, one anti-Boudin group in San Francisco wrote recently on its website that “as car break-ins, burglaries, and overdoses reach a crisis level in San Francisco, Boudin’s refusal to hold serial offenders and drug dealers accountable is putting more of us at risk.” Fearmongering like this can be persuasive: A few polls suggest that a majority of San Francisco voters (between 57 and 68 percent) now want to oust Boudin in the recall, including many Democrats. (One poll, commissioned by Boudin’s supporters, suggested that 48 percent of voters want to recall him.)

Boudin’s critics say they feel unsafe under his leadership. But the thing is, while the pandemic has undoubtedly heightened existing crises around homelessness, drug use, and mental health in San Francisco and elsewhere, crime rates are not spiraling out of control, and there’s no evidence that Boudin or other DAs are responsible for the upticks that have occurred. In fact, academics who studied progressive prosecutors around the country found that their policies did not cause violence to rise. With less than two weeks until the votes are counted in San Francisco, here’s a breakdown of the most relevant research about crime rates, progressive prosecutors, and the link (or lack thereof) between the two.

Overall, crime is not rising in San Francisco.

Watching cable news or even walking along some San Francisco streets, you’d be forgiven for believing that crime has soared. Viral videos show sprawling homeless encampments, sidewalks littered with drug needles, and men stuffing their backpacks with stolen goods during smash-and-grab robberies. Assaults against Asian American elders have stoked fear, even encouraging some volunteers to launch their own citizen safety patrols. 

We shouldn’t downplay these public safety problems, because most of them have multiple victims—from the people forced to sleep in the rain because of skyrocketing rents, to the Asian American grandmothers at risk of attack on their errands, to the children who walk past syringes on their way home from school. These problems began long before Boudin took office, but for many San Francisco residents, it seems like they’ve gotten worse in the last couple of years. According to local and national data, an overwhelming majority of San Franciscans, like a majority of Americans, believe crime rates have gone up. Some of them may be reacting to media reports about shootings or other acts of violence, says the Vera Institute’s Johnson: “The tragic incident sticks with them; the fear piece of it tends to latch on.” 

But what does the data say? The short version is that crime did shift dramatically during the early months of the pandemic—in San Francisco and around the country. But today, as the city increasingly returns to pre-pandemic behavior and more people leave their homes to work and socialize, crime has also largely shifted back toward pre-pandemic levels in the city and the state. In other words, lawlessness has not gotten markedly worse under Boudin.

Crime has also largely shifted back toward pre-pandemic levels in California.

Let’s start with violent crime. Earlier this year, the San Francisco Chronicle analyzed police incident data to compare the city’s 2022 crime rates with rates during the previous four years. Police data isn’t perfect, since it only reflects crimes that are reported to the cops, but it’s some of the best information we have available. And contrary to what the viral videos might suggest, the paper found that overall violent crime in San Francisco had declined during the pandemic, hovering at its lowest point since 1985. From 2019 to 2021, according to an analysis by Mother Jones, rape, robbery, and assault in the city decreased by 45 percent (resulting in 185 fewer cases), 27 percent (846 fewer cases), and 6 percent (158 fewer cases), respectively. A far cry from Gotham.

Still, you might wonder about property crimes, which have long plagued San Franciscans. These thefts are more common in San Francisco than elsewhere in California—perhaps because of the massive wealth gaps in the city, with Silicon Valley millionaires living in close proximity to people who can’t afford rent. Some property crimes did get worse during the pandemic, like burglaries, which rose 52 percent in the city in 2020 and stayed elevated in 2021. But as office buildings reopen and more workers return to the city this year, burglary rates are also returning to normal. And overall, property crime in the city dropped by about 11 percent from 2019 to 2021, according to police data. One exception to that trend: car thefts, which continue at a fast clip. But that’s not unique to San Francisco. Researcher Magnus Lofstrom of the Public Policy Institute of California told the Chronicle that cities nationally are experiencing more motor vehicle thefts than before the pandemic, potentially because the price of used cars spiked, giving thieves a greater incentive.

It’s possible, as some Boudin critics assert, that police data does not accurately reflect the true levels of property crime in the city: Many people don’t bother dialing 911 when their Amazon package gets snatched from their porch. But that’s always been true, even before Boudin came to office.

What is new, however, is that cops appear to be making fewer arrests for these types of crimes than they used to. In fact, the police clearance rate in San Francisco has dropped to its lowest in a decade, at just 8.1 percent. Some officers say they see no point bringing a suspect to the station because they believe Boudin is unlikely to pursue the case. (They’re wrong—more on that later.) Earlier this month, Boudin said his office had to go so far as renting a U-Haul to bust a boba shop that was accused of fencing stolen goods, after the police allegedly declined to help. 

Homicides are up in SF, but not as much as they are in most big cities—including Republican-led ones.

Homicides are another exception to the trend of falling crime. Murders rose by an estimated 30 percent nationally during 2020—the biggest single-year increase on record. And they rose in San Francisco, too, by about 36 percent between 2019 and 2021. Most were from shootings.

We shouldn’t downplay these numbers either, because each death represents someone who didn’t make it home to their families, disproportionately in communities of color. Some criminologists speculate that the pandemic played a role, as the economic downturn made it hard for people to find stable work that can keep them from crime, and as more people purchased guns and struggled with their mental health. Other academics suspect that growing distrust of police exacerbated the situation, with people taking disputes into their own hands rather than deferring to law enforcement.

Murder rates were a whopping 40 percent higher in the 25 states that voted for Donald Trump.

But again, let’s put the data in perspective. In San Francisco, the 36 percent spike in homicides equates to 15 additional homicides in 2021 compared with the year before the pandemic, when there were a total of 41 homicides. Even with that uptick, San Francisco has one of the lowest homicide rates of all major cities in the United States—roughly six killings per 100,000 people last year, compared with 10 per 100,000 in the similarly populated Washington, DC.

San Francisco’s gun violence rate also pales in comparison to that of some rural areas, including those with more traditional, tough-on-crime district attorneys. In one recent study, the think tank Third Way found that murder rates were a whopping 40 percent higher on average in the 25 states that voted for Donald Trump in the last election compared with states that voted for President Biden. “For example,” the report’s authors note, “Jacksonville, a city with a Republican mayor, had 128 more murders in 2020 than San Francisco, a city with a Democrat mayor, despite their comparable populations. In fact, the homicide rate in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco was half that of House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy’s Bakersfield, a city with a Republican mayor that overwhelmingly voted for Trump. Yet there is barely a whisper, let alone an outcry, over the stunning levels of murders in these and other places.”

“If there’s an uptick in certain types of crime, it’s immediately blamed on DAs pursuing reforms,” adds the Vera Institute’s Johnson. “However, where DAs are continuing to pursue tough-on-crime tactics and crime is going up, the same questions are not asked of them.”

Boudin is not the first DA to try lowering the prison population.

When Boudin took office in early 2020, he made national headlines for some of his bold, unorthodox policies. A couple of weeks into his tenure, he announced that his prosecutors would no longer seek cash bail, because he argued the cash-bail system unfairly keeps low-income people in jail before their trials, whether or not they’re innocent. For certain low-level crimes, he also began diverting more offenders to alternative programs like mental health and substance abuse treatment, rather than trying to incarcerate them.

Boudin, however, is not the first district attorney to experiment with similar policies—not nationally, and not in San Francisco. His predecessor George Gascón also tried to lower jail and prison populations in the city before moving to Los Angeles. And it’s not like Boudin isn’t going after any crimes, especially more serious ones. According to a San Francisco Chronicle review, he’s prosecuting a greater percentage of homicide and narcotics cases than Gascón did, and a lower percentage of petty theft cases. His overall charging rate was 48 percent, just six percentage points lower than Gascon’s rate in 2018 and 2019 and about the same as Gascón’s rate in 2016 and 2017. (Boudin says the pandemic is partly responsible for the slight differences in his charging and conviction rates: The coronavirus forced courts to close, slowing down trials. Plus, new California laws allowed more people to be diverted from the prison system to alternative treatment programs.)

Outside California, other district attorneys have pursued similar goals for years. In Illinois, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx has tried to reduce the incarcerated population since she was elected in 2016, long before Boudin started campaigning. Like Boudin and Gascón, she supports banning cash bail and has made changes to keep fewer people in jail before trial, while also prioritizing diversion programs. Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, who took office in 2018, campaigned on similar promises and has likewise sought shorter sentences for certain offenses. From Brooklyn to Austin to New Orleans, other prosecutors are following their lead.

Similar DAs elsewhere have not caused jumps in violence.

In fact, as far as crime levels go, some of these DAs appear to be performing better than their more conservative district attorney peers, according to recent research by academics. That’s good news for anyone who worries about the future of public safety under Boudin.

For example, University of Oxford professor Christopher Stone recently examined levels of violence in Brooklyn, Chicago, St. Louis, and Philadelphia—cities where progressive chief prosecutors have worked since 2014, 2016, 2017, and 2018, respectively. “Not only had violent crime not risen more under progressive prosecutors than under the old guard, but in every place I looked the progressive prosecutors were presiding over greater reductions or smaller increases in violent crime than in their surrounding counties,” he wrote in January.

In another series of studies, three economics and politics scholars from Texas A&M University, Rutgers University, and NYU noticed that some prosecutors in the Boston area were more lenient than others, dismissing certain misdemeanor cases rather than pursuing charges, in a style that mirrors that of progressive district attorneys. Using countywide data from 2000 to 2018, the researchers wanted to find out what happened to the “lucky” defendants who faced dismissive prosecutors, and whether their lack of punishment incentivized them to commit more crimes in the next couple of years. It didn’t. Instead, these defendants were 58 percent less likely to be arrested for another crime than other people who were charged by stricter prosecutors for the same original offense.

“There are public safety benefits to being more lenient, especially toward first-time nonviolent misdemeanor defendants,” says Jennifer Doleac, an associate professor of economics at Texas A&M who co-wrote the study along with Amanda Agan of Rutgers and Anna Harvey of NYU. One possible reason why prosecuting someone could make them more likely to get rearrested later is that it can disrupt their lives, forcing them to take time off work for hearings and contributing to mental distress. And for those who are convicted, a criminal record might make it harder to find employment or housing.

“The best evidence so far…implies that progressive prosecutors’ reforms are not the cause of rising homicide and shooting rates.”

The same trio of scholars then examined crime rates after former District Attorney Rachael Rollins took office in Boston’s Suffolk County in 2019. As a progressive, she wanted to mostly stop prosecuting a list of 15 nonviolent misdemeanors, things like trespassing and drug possession. “We found no evidence that this policy change resulted in a rise in crime,” Doleac wrote recently. Doleac and her colleagues are now studying whether those results hold true in other places, and so far they appear to: In 35 urban districts around the country, the researchers found, crime rates did not increase after prosecutors implemented progressive reforms like pursuing less pretrial detention, more diversion from jail, and less prosecution of minor offenses.

Meanwhile, Fordham University criminologist John Pfaff recently examined murder rates in 69 jurisdictions in 2020 and found that they were all almost equal regardless of whether a progressive prosecutor or a more traditional prosecutor was in charge. Put another way, the homicide wave has touched just about every part of America, from red states to blue, from rural town to big cities. “In short, the best evidence so far…implies that progressive prosecutors’ reforms are not the cause of rising homicide and shooting rates,” Doleac wrote of her research. “[T]heir current policies do not appear to be doing any harm—and in some cases appear to be doing substantial good.”

Maybe these DAs need more time, not less.

As San Franciscans decide whether to recall Boudin and cut his time short, the science seems to suggest that he and other progressive DAs have not had a big impact on short-term crime rates. It’s worth imagining, says the Vera Institute’s Johnson, what kind of effect these attorneys might have on long-term crime rates, years down the road, if given a chance to keep working. These DAs are looking for long-term solutions,” he says.

Investing in people’s housing, education, mental health, and substance abuse treatment helps communities create conditions to be safer over time. Plus, when prosecutors go softer on low-level offenses, it frees up more resources to focus on solving homicides, rapes, and other crimes that are more costly to society. 

Districts around the country have already let tough-on-crime prosecutors and politicians lead for decades. These officials helped lay the groundwork for the current moment, neglecting to build a social safety net that could keep people adequately secure during a pandemic, and investing heavily in police departments and prisons (where viruses spread like wildfire). Boudin, on the other hand, took office less than three years ago. What might he and other progressive DAs accomplish if, rather than fighting recall elections, they were given the same amount of time to prove themselves?

The progressive prosecutor movement “is a relatively new shift, for the most part,” says Doleac of Texas A&M, noting that some reformer DAs began working shortly before the pandemic. She hopes to study the long-term effects of their policies—assuming they can get reelected. “It’s something that I and other people will be watching, for sure. We’re just gonna need more time, that’s the bottom line.”

ExxonMobil Must Stand Trial Over Alleged Climate Lies

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

Massachusetts’ top court on Tuesday ruled that the nation’s largest oil company, ExxonMobil, must face a trial over accusations that it lied about the climate crisis and covered up the fossil fuel industry’s role in worsening environmental devastation.

Exxon claimed the case, brought by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, was politically motivated and amounted to an attempt to prevent the company from exercising its free speech rights. But the state’s Supreme Judicial Court unanimously dismissed the claim in the latest blow to the oil industry’s attempts to head off a wave of lawsuits across the country over its part in causing global heating.

Healey’s lawsuit accuses Exxon of breaking the state’s consumer protection laws with a decades-long cover-up of what it knew about the impact on the climate of burning fossil fuels. The state also says the company deceived investors about the risks to its business posed by global heating.

Exxon claimed the lawsuit was in breach of legislation against what are known as strategic lawsuits against public participation, used by wealthy individuals and corporations to silence critics. The Massachusetts court ruled that anti-SLAPP laws do not apply to government cases.

Healey, who is running for governor, hailed the ruling as “a resounding victory in our work to stop Exxon from lying to investors and consumers in our state.”

In March, a federal court also refused to put a block on the state’s legal action and ruled that Exxon was obliged to turn over documents to investigators.

The industry took another hit on Monday, when a federal appeals court green-lit a lawsuit by Rhode Island against 21 fossil-fuel firms.

The oil industry suffered another defeat on Monday when a federal appeals court ruled that a lawsuit by Rhode Island against 21 fossil fuel companies, including Exxon, BP, and Shell, can go ahead in state court. Fossil fuel companies are attempting to move cases into what they regard as the more friendly forum of federal courts.

Among other things, state systems often permit a much broader discovery process, which could force Exxon and other companies to hand over highly embarrassing documents revealing what they knew about the climate crisis and when, and how they responded.

At least 10 other federal courts across the country have rejected the industry’s attempts to get similar cases out of the state systems.

Richard Wiles, president of the Center for Climate Integrity, welcomes the latest ruling to keep the process in state courts.

“The ruling is a major victory for Rhode Island, which is now one step closer to putting oil and gas corporations on trial for fueling the climate crisis, lying about it, and then sticking the state’s taxpayers with the bill for the damages,” he said. “Four circuit courts in a row have now handed major defeats to Big Oil companies in these cases, rejecting the industry’s efforts to escape accountability.”

So far this year, federal appeals courts made similar rulings in Colorado, Maryland and California.

In March, a Hawaii state court gave the go-ahead for a case to remain within its jurisdiction. Honolulu’s lawsuit alleges that the oil giants “engaged in a coordinated, multi-front effort” to deny the threat posed by global heating, to discredit the science of climate change, and to deceive the public “about the reality and consequences of the impacts of their fossil fuel pollution.”

The chair of Honolulu city council, Tommy Waters, called it a “big and important win.”

“We are facing incredible costs to move critical infrastructure away from our coasts and out of flood zones, and the oil companies that deceived the public for decades should be the ones helping pick up the tab for those costs, not our taxpayers,” he said. “The reason these companies are fighting so hard to block this case is they don’t want even more evidence to come out. This is just like Big Tobacco, when they tried to take advantage of the public.”

Trump, Cruz Headlining the NRA’s Texas Conference This Weekend. For the Gun Lobby, It’s Déjà-Vu.

On Tuesday, an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. The massacre, inflicted on a group all huddled in one classroom, is now the country’s second-deadliest school shooting on record. The gunman had purchased two AR-15-style rifles in the week before carrying out Tuesday’s rampage, thanks in large part to the gun lobby’s vigorous push to allow gun sales to people under 21.

Gov. Greg Abbott and Sen. Ted Cruz have both offered their thoughts and prayers in the wake of the Uvalde shooting. But the two Republicans have been curiously silent about their upcoming weekend plans to headline, alongside the party’s de-facto leader, Donald Trump, the National Rifle Association’s annual conference just a few hundred miles east of the Uvalde shooting in Houston. 

Governor Abbott, if you have any decency, you will immediately withdraw from this weekend’s NRA convention and urge them to hold it anywhere but Texas.

— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) May 25, 2022

Could that silence be a sign of stressful deliberations over whether to continue with this weekend’s gathering? It’s highly unlikely, and in fact, such an assumption would be far too generous considering the men’s history of gleefully brandishing guns in order to attract voters. Cruz, in a video that has re-emerged today, even fried bacon on a similar gun to the one used in Tuesday’s shooting. Abbott and his fellow Texas Republicans have loosened gun laws, even after other mass shootings.

As for the NRA, the gun lobby has literally been in almost this exact same position before. Just days after the 1999 Columbine school shooting in Colorado, the NRA similarly debated over whether to proceed with its annual conference, also just days after multiple people were killed inside a school and just a few miles away. Here’s a snapshot of those private moments in the immediate wake of Columbine, obtained by NPR last year, and slightly edited for context:

“You have to go forward,” Marion Hammer, a longtime NRA lobbyist, says. “For NRA to scrap this and the amount of money that we have spent …”

“We have meeting insurance,” Wayne LaPierre replies.

“Screw the insurance,” says Hammer. “The message that it will send is that even the NRA was brought to its knees, and the media will have a field day with it.”

Yes, the NRA ultimately decided to proceed with the event, largely basing the decision on the view that doing otherwise would send the message that the gun lobby had been “brought to its knees.” Yes, one executive at the time argued that the media would “have a field day” if they moved to cancel. This was 1999, after the deadliest school shooting in decades, a horror that’s often considered the first of modern times. The US has witnessed countless acts of gun violence, inside schools, supermarkets, parking lots, and beyond since then, each without ever prompting meaningful gun legislation but instead, the same parade of tired responses—from thoughts and prayers to now isn’t the time for politics to let’s pin this on the mentally ill—take the place of action. 

So you can probably expect Abbott, Cruz, and Trump to keep their marquee appearances this weekend, where they’re all but certain to clamor for pro-gun proposals they, in bad faith, argue would have stopped Tuesday’s massacre. (They’re already on Fox News crowing for armed bodyguards; that’s been effectively disproven as helpful.) If anything, this weekend presents an opportunity for these three men to thunder over how damn tough they are.

But one thing you won’t see when Trump takes the stage? Guns. They’re too dangerous for the event.

Now imagine if we were all offered the same protections as our former president.

How “America First” Crippled the Nation’s Solar Industry

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

The economic theory behind solar tariffs is simple: Solar cells and panels made abroad are often cheaper, thanks to lower manufacturing costs and generous government subsidies from countries like China. So taxing imported panels should give the US solar industry a fighting chance at survival. 

At least that has been the thinking over the last 10 years and under three different presidential administrations. There’s just one problem—the majority of the US solar industry has never supported them, arguing the tariffs have done nothing to bolster domestic production and have actually slowed the pace of decarbonization.

This contradiction has become abundantly clear over the last two months. In late March, the Biden administration quietly announced plans to investigate a complaint from a small solar manufacturer called Auxin Solar, which argued that Chinese firms are circumventing trade restrictions by manufacturing solar panels and cells in Southeast Asia.  

The response from the US solar industry was swift. Trade groups called the investigation a “disaster,” “devastating,” and a move that would “effectively freeze” solar development at a time when more renewable energy sources are desperately needed. Eighty percent of the solar panels imported into the US come from Cambodia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand. If the investigation supports Auxin’s complaint, those countries would be subject to additional tariffs on imports to the US Earlier this month, a bipartisan group of 22 senators sent a letter urging President Joe Biden to quickly issue a preliminary finding, or risk “massive disruption” to solar companies unsure if prices for panels are about to skyrocket. 

The US was projected to install around 27 gigawatts of solar capacity in 2022; now that number could be as low as 10 gigawatts. 

Some negative consequences from the investigation have already come to pass. Two weeks ago, an Indiana utility announced that several solar projects had been delayed due to the upheaval in the market, and that as a result, two coal-fired power plants will now stay open until 2025, instead of 2023. The Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group, estimates that 81 percent of solar installers in the US have seen shipments canceled or delayed. According to an analysis from the Oslo-based energy research firm Rystad, the US was estimated to install around 27 gigawatts of solar capacity in 2022; now that number could be as low as 10 gigawatts.

But the Auxin case is only the latest event to raise questions about the effectiveness of solar tariffs. The US has multiple layers of overlapping tariffs on solar panels manufactured in China, Southeast Asia, and most other foreign countries. At the same time, 86 percent of American solar jobs are in installing panels, not creating them. If tariffs increase the cost of the technology, they could slow growth and increase costs for the rest of the industry. Many analysts argue that tariffs are responsible for US solar prices being 43 to 57 percent higher than the global average.  

President Biden has promised to cut emissions by 50 percent over the next eight years. That move would require an increase in solar capacity of 10 percent every year. If Biden—and the rest of the US—is serious about addressing climate change, are tariffs really the best option? And if not, can anything be done about them? 

Workers install solar panels on a home in Palmetto Bay, Florida in 2018.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images via Grist

To understand US solar tariffs, you first have to understand the essential components of solar panels. Panels are made in four essential steps. First, chunks of polysilicone are melted at high temperatures into heavy, cylindrical blocks, or ingots; the ingots are sliced into thin sheets, called “wafers;” the wafers are then embellished with phosphorus and semiconductors to make solar cells. Finally, the cells are soldered together to make “modules”—better known as solar panels.

American scientists invented the solar cell, and for many years the US was a leader in manufacturing cells and solar panels. But in the 2000s, China, in an attempt to secure energy independence and dominate the renewable energy market, began to accelerate its solar industry, ramping up production of polysilicone and taking control of every level of its solar supply chain. (The country was also accused of providing unfair subsidies and utilizing forced labor.)

Prices for panels dropped precipitously. By the time the US instituted its first set of tariffs on imported panels and cells from China in 2012, during Obama’s presidency, domestic manufacturing had already plummeted, and some American producers had been forced out of the market. The solar start-up Solyndra, for example, went bankrupt in 2011. Installations, however, soared, thanks to the low-cost technology available abroad. 

The 2012 tariffs were aimed specifically at China, then later expanded to include Taiwan. So-called “anti-dumping and countervailing duties” tariffs, they were intended to counteract the effects of Chinese subsidies for the solar industry. According to a decades-old trade law—the Tariff Act of 1930—the US is legally obligated to impose tariffs if there is evidence of unfair subsidies by foreign countries. “China is effectively a non-market economy,” said William Reinsch, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), in Washington, DC. “The concept is that you offset the harm that has been done.”

When President Donald Trump was in the White House (and waging a trade war with China), another set of tariffs was added—this time on imports of cells and modules from a much longer list of countries, including many in Southeast Asia. These “safeguard” tariffs were intended to step down every year until 2022; but in January, President Biden extended them for four more years, with a few key exemptions

President Trump holds up a January 2018 executive action placing tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines.

Mike Theiler-Pool/Getty Images via Grist

All these tariffs should be helping to boost solar manufacturing in the US, but many solar and trade experts claim they are doing nothing of the sort. “Tariffs have had no impact on creating solar manufacturing,” said Pol Lezcano, the lead North America solar analyst for BloombergNEF, a New York City-based energy research firm. “The only thing the tariffs have accomplished is to really bring costs up for everybody else.” According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, the cost of installing utility-scale solar in the US is among the highest in the world.

Other experts have argued that the tariffs were too little, too late. Varun Sivaram, a former senior research scholar at Columbia University and current member of the Biden administration, argued in 2018 that if a tax on imports had been put into place earlier than 2012, it could have helped “level the playing field.” “But if Obama’s tariffs closed the barn door after the horse bolted,” he wrote, “then Trump’s [2018] tariffs amount to putting a lock on the door.”

A key trade group argues that Trump’s—now Biden’s—“safeguard” tariffs have cost the solar industry 62,000 jobs and some 10.5 gigawatts of installed capacity.

There is evidence that the tariffs did boost panel assembly in the US, even if they didn’t boost the manufacturing of solar cells themselves. “There was a large increase in PV module assembly,” said David Feldman, a researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Washington, DC. Companies from South Korea and China, Feldman explained, set up assembly plants in the US, even though the cells they were using were imported from abroad. 

But Lezcano argues that the increase in the US’s assembly capacity—from 1 gigawatt to approximately 5 gigawatts over the past decade—doesn’t come close to what is needed to meet the country’s projected demand. “Module assembly in the US is very small and supplies mostly small-scale solar projects,” he said. 

The Solar Energy Industries Association, which has been an outspoken opponent of the solar tariffs, argues that Trump’s—and now Biden’s—“safeguard” tariffs alone have cost the industry 62,000 jobs and an estimated 10.5 gigawatts of installed solar panels. (That’s about 8.5 percent of the entire installed solar capacity in the country today.) “There’s now more than a decade of evidence proving that tariffs do not encourage US solar manufacturing,” Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the association, said via email. “Even after multiple layers of tariffs over the years, the United States solar manufacturing sector has failed to meet domestic demand for solar equipment.”

A solar panel production line in Hai an, Nantong City, China.

Zhai Huiyong/Getty Images via Grist

Some members of the industry do support the tariffs: Auxin Solar, for example, is among a handful of manufacturers that have filed trade complaints. These companies argue that American solar manufacturing is critical to the industry. “We are grateful Commerce officials recognized the need to investigate this pervasive backdoor dumping and how it continues to injure American solar producers,” Mamun Rashid, the CEO of Auxin Solar, said in a statement.

In recent weeks, many of the complaints about the Auxin investigation—and solar tariffs in general—have been targeted at the Biden administration. The Department of Commerce is responsible for investigating the complaint and determining a response. But according to Reinsch, the Biden administration has little leeway in how the US levies tariffs; those decisions are baked into national trade law. “The law is not optional,” he said. 

But some have begun to suggest other ways around the tariffs. Emily Benson, an associate fellow at CSIS, argues that Congress could pass a law that would limit the executive branch’s ability to levy tariffs on goods needed to quickly transition to clean energy. “It’s in our best interest to achieve one ultimate goal, which is a reduction of emissions,” she said. Allowing coal plants to remain on the grid as investigations are resolved, she argued, “is, from a climate perspective, not something we can afford.”

Bills to repeal solar tariffs are already floating around in Congress. Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) introduced a bill in mid-February that would repeal the 2018 “safeguard” tariffs and also create a Department of Energy program to encourage domestic solar manufacturing. “Solar tariffs are hurting America’s clean energy economy,” Rosen said in a statement.

Reinsch is skeptical that a tariff carve-out for solar energy would pass Congress—and argues that it would be a dangerous precedent to set. “The allegation here is that the Chinese are cheating,” he said. “And a lot of people are going to say, ‘If the Chinese are cheating, they ought to pay the price.’”

Benson understands that, for many trade experts, the idea of carving out an exemption from tariffs might seem radical. But she argues that the urgency of the situation may make it necessary. “Are the trade rules we have today suited to combat climate change?” she said. “That’s the very heart of the question.” 

The Worst Lawyer in Texas Just Put an End to the Bush Dynasty

If you were to lay out in one place the Bush family’s contributions over the last half century, it would not be a particularly balanced ledger. In one column, you’d have PEPFAR; birth control; good reflexes; and one very succinct distillation of Donald Trump’s inaugural address. In the other: the never-ending War on Terror; two wars with Iraq; Iran-Contra; torture; war crimes; Clarence Thomas; Samuel Alito; same-sex marriage bans; tax cuts for rich people; illegal surveillance; global warming; the AIDS epidemic in the US; private equity; the Department of Homeland Security; air pollution; the Florida Recount; Terri Schiavo; “school choice”; the bungled Hurricane Katrina response; the savings and loan scandal; the Great Recession; Willie Horton; the War on Drugs; and the Texas Rangers’ baseball stadium

So you do not have to shed any tears over George P. Bush—son of Jeb, nephew of Dubya, grandson of H.W.—face-planting in his bid to unseat Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in Tuesday’s Republican primary runoff. In fact, it would be weird if you did. Bush, the state’s land commissioner, has coasted through his political career on the back of his family name, and he’s now come to at least a temporary stop, in part because of it. But as notable as it is that the Bush dynasty is over (for now), the most important story from the race is that Paxton’s own career isn’t. Paxton, who narrowly held on to his job in the 2018 Democratic wave, heads into the general election as a clear favorite against either Rochelle Garza or Joe Jaworski.

Paxton’s biography is a sort of amalgamation of all the kinds of things that tend to cost public officials their jobs. He has been under indictment since 2015 for alleged securities fraud. Much of his staff quit en masse in 2020 and accused him of abusing his office to help a campaign donor whose home had recently been raided by the FBI. He allegedly cheated on his wife with a state-senate staffer who went on to work for said donor. And he is a bad lawyer. His lawsuit attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 election was so error-strewn and poorly argued that the state bar is now suing his deputy over it. It was also so nakedly cynical that it earned Paxton an invite to the Ellipse on January 6th.

But rather than being run out of the party, Paxton has now found an enduring place in it, in part because of that same shamelessness that’s characterized his personal and professional dealings. State attorneys general are a huge nexus of power for a political project that has achieved many of its greatest successes by aggressively working the legal system. If your movement is going to be built around chipping away at individual rights and Democratic power via the courts, if it is going to turn every ballot or enacted law into a legal battle, then you need people like Paxton to keep churning out briefs. And he has done that, tossing pitch after pitch at the Supreme Court, waiting for them to take a swing. Sometimes the Supreme Court dismisses your Electoral College lawsuit. Sometimes it tells you you’re right about “Remain in Mexico.”

As I wrote earlier this year in a profile of Paxton for the magazine:

[Y]ou don’t need to be brilliant or ethical or charming to wield a lot of power in state government; you just need to keep the right people happy for long enough. And Paxton, for all his transgressions, has been a dependable vehicle for reactionary interests, inside and outside his state, for years. He’s led a legal crusade against immigrants, voting rights, environmental regulations, health care access, and trans equality. He’s scuttled local efforts to protect citizens from gun violence and COVID-19. And he’s taking an axe to Roe v. Wade

Paxton’s persistence in the face of endless scandal makes him a model apparatchik for the current moment. He will never be president, but in a golden age of Republican corruption, in which anyone with ambition must bend the knee to an aspiring autocrat, a warm body with nothing to lose can do a lot of damage. By laundering the theories of conspiracists and hacks, he did as much as anyone short of Trump to make the Big Lie the new party orthodoxy. And in the process, he held a black light up to the rest of the conservative legal movement—the institutions and officials and donors who have turned jobs like his into some of the most powerful in state politics, and the compromises they’ve made to do it.

Bush, like several other Republican candidates, looked at Paxton’s record and somewhat reasonably concluded that someone should be able to beat this guy. But Trump’s years of stirring up conservative resentment at the FBI and the so-called “Deep State” has softened the landscape for scandal-plagued officeholders, and Paxton has embraced the “witch hunt” ethos. The work Paxton has done as AG—targeting trans kids; restricting abortion access; making life hell for migrants; and rallying a crowd just hours before some of its members stormed the Capitol—just aren’t deal-breakers right now.

George P. had the support of his uncle. But in the end, Paxton had the backing of the one ex-president the party still reveres.

Biden on Texas Mass Shooting: “Why Are We Willing to Live With This Carnage?”

In a brief address Tuesday night, following the senseless massacre of at least 18 children and a teacher at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, a beleaguered Joe Biden asked the nation “when in God’s name” America would stand up to the gun lobby. 

He mourned “beautiful, innocent, second, third, fourth graders” and spoke of the scores of children at the school who saw their friends “die as if they are on the battlefield.” 

Biden also spoke as an adult who has lost children himself.

“To lose a child is like having a piece of your soul ripped away,” he said. “There’s a hollowness in your chest you feel like you’re being sucked into it… It’s never quite the same.” 

Biden urged Congress to pass common sense gun laws and expressed outrage over the way Americans seem to have grown inured to the “carnage” occurring around them every day. 

“These kinds of mass shootings rarely happen anywhere else in the world,” Biden said. “Why? They have mental health problems. They have domestic disputes in other countries. They have people who are lost. But these kinds of mass shootings never happen with the kind of frequency they happen in America. Why? Why are we willing to live with this carnage? Why do we keep letting this happen?”

Brian Kemp Humiliates Donald Trump (and David Perdue) in Georgia

In a rebuke of Donald Trump and his wild lies about the 2020 election, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp crushed his challenger, David Perdue, in the state’s Republican gubernatorial primary. Kemp needed to secure more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a June run-off. Numerous news outlets projected that the incumbent would easily clear that bar, and Perdue reportedly called him to concede. Kemp’s victory sets up a high-profile general election rematch with Democrat Stacey Abrams.

Trump seemed to view the Georgia primaries as an opportunity to mete out vengeance on Kemp, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, and other Republican officials who refused to go along with his desperate attempts to overturn the state’s presidential election results in 2020. Nowhere did the former president fight harder to topple a Republican incumbent than in Georgia. Trump reportedly convinced Perdue to run, held a rally to breathe life into his floundering campaign, and filmed and financed ads supporting him. 

Perdue—a former senator who was unseated by Democrat Jon Ossoff early last year—centered his gubernatorial campaign on the 2020 election, joining a bus tour that featured election deniers like MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell; repeatedly attacking Kemp as a RINO (a Republican in Name Only); and attempting to blame Kemp for the fact that Joe Biden currently occupies the White House. But this proved to be a losing message, as the polls showed Kemp’s lead widening and widening.

To top off the humiliation, former Vice President Mike Pence—another person Trump has repeatedly blamed for the failure of his coup attempt—has publicly backed Kemp’s campaign while urging Republican voters to move on from the 2020 election.

Kemp may have resisted becoming an accessory to an illegal power grab, but it’s worth noting that he’s far from a moderate. A self-proclaimed “politically incorrect conservative,” he once ran ads in which he threatened to kidnap undocumented immigrants. Throughout this year’s campaign, he performed a careful tightrope walk, shying away from attacking Trump directly while stressing his own conservative credentials, like his decision to sign one of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the nation. 

In an interview Monday, Kemp told reporters that he “had a great relationship with President Trump.”

“I’ve never said anything bad about him,” Kemp said. “I don’t plan on doing that. I’m not mad at him. I think he’s just mad at me. And that’s something that I can’t control.”

The defeat of Trump’s favored candidate in the Georgia’s gubernatorial race cuts a sharp contrast to the Ohio Senate primary, where Trump’s endorsement propelled venture capitalist JD Vance to victory. It may illustrate that Trump’s approval remains an asset among Republican voters, but not necessarily a golden ticket. Vance, after all, triumphed over a deeply divided GOP field, securing just 32 percent of the vote. That’s nearly identical to the 31 percent received by Mehmet Oz, the Trump-backed TV doctor who is narrowly leading in Pennsylvania’s hotly contested Republican Senate primary. Early returns from Georgia suggest that Perdue could win a smaller portion of the vote.

The far-right politics Trump represents still dominate the GOP, but it appears that the defeated president’s endorsement may only be powerful enough to persuade a minority of the party’s voters. 

Herschel Walker, Star Running Back Who Claims a Bumper Sticker Stopped Him From Shooting Someone, Wins Georgia Primary

Herschel Walker, a former star running back whose actual political stances are ill-defined to nonexistent, has secured the primary nomination for Republican senator in Georgia, according to multiple outlets.

Walker is a divisive figure, even among conservatives. While former President Donald Trump and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) encouraged him to run for office, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was once so concerned with Walker’s candidacy that he suggested that ousted Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue look into running against him.

He used to have a habit of playing Russian roulette, which he considered “the ultimate game of competition.”

Three women have accused Walker of threatening behavior, including against his ex-wife, who said he repeatedly pointed a gun to her head. Walker says that he has dissociative identity disorder—he even wrote a book about it—and claims that blackouts from the disorder have prevented him from recalling incidents when he may have acted violently.

Still, Walker has admitted to his share of erratic behavior. He used to have a habit of playing Russian roulette, which he considered “the ultimate game of competition.” He told Howard Stern, “I love competition so much.” At the beginning of his memoir, he recounts an incident when he drove across town intending to shoot someone who had inconvenienced him, thinking about “the visceral enjoyment I’d get from seeing the small entry wound and the spray of brain tissue and blood—like a Fourth of July firework—exploding behind him.” A “Smile. Jesus loves you” bumper sticker caused him to change his mind.

Walker grew up in Georgia, but he lived in Texas for a decade before establishing residency in the Peach State in 2021. His sudden entry into politics is surprising, but his unwillingness or inability to articulate any political position at all is downright baffling. He hasn’t bothered to show up to a primary debate. The issues page of his website, which does not appear to be currently working, describes “putting Georgia and Georgians first” and promises to “stand for conservative family values” and provide “support for small businesses and American workers.” As the Washington Post reports, when asked on a podcast whether he would have voted for President Biden’s infrastructure bill, he said, “Until I can see all of the facts, you can’t answer the question.”

Here’s his take on John Lewis, who had his skull fractured by police as he marched for voting rights in 1965: “I think, then, to throw his name on a bill for voting rights, I think, is a shame. First of all, when you look at the bill, it doesn’t fit what John Lewis stood for, and I think that is sad for them to do this to him.”

Despite the controversies, Walker has coasted to victory in the primary, far outraising his opponents and garnering endorsements from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and, eventually, McConnell. His status as a star running back for the University of Georgia was surely helpful. Walker won the Heisman Trophy in 1982. He is almost universally understood as one of the best college athletes of all time. As we saw with Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville two years ago, college football fame can be a useful platform for political success. People already know your name. And, particularly in Walker’s case, they know you win.

Walker even gets a bit of a Trump bump from his playing days. Coming out of college, he famously spurned the National Football League to join the nascent United States Football League. There, he played for the New Jersey Generals, which Trump owned. (Here’s a whole documentary about how the former president wrecked the league, by the way.)

In the general election, Walker will face off against incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, who defeated Loeffler by two points in the 2021 runoff election. Given Democrats’ anticipated losses in the midterms, Warnock will have to put up a fight. Thankfully for Democrats, they have no shortage of Walker’s dirty laundry to air.

Following Texas Shooting, a Senator Begs His Colleagues: “What Are We Doing? What Are We Doing?”

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) took to the Senate floor Tuesday evening to issue a desperate plea, just several hours after 14 children and one teacher were killed in a mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

"What are we doing?
What are we doing? …
What are we doing? …
What are we doing?
Why are you here?!"
@ChrisMurphyCT to his Senate colleagues after a gunman opened fire in an elementary school, killing 14 children and a teacher. pic.twitter.com/XnMIZRzZKF

— Mother Jones (@MotherJones) May 24, 2022

“What are we doing? Just days after a shooter walked into a grocery store to gun down African American patrons, we have another Sandy Hook on our hands,” he said, referring to the 2012 school massacre in his home state. “Our kids are living in fear every single time they set foot in a classroom because they think they’re going to be next.”

“What are we doing?” he repeated again, before beseeching his fellow lawmakers to finally act. “Why do you spend all this time running for the United States Senate? Why do you go through all the hassle of getting this job or putting yourself in a position of authority? If your answer is that, as this slaughter increases, as our kids run for their lives, we do nothing, what are we doing?”

“Why are you here?” he said.

The full Mother Jones database of mass shootings since 1982 can be found here. This is the third mass shooting in 2022. Our news team is covering the major developments here. And you can read a deep dive on Murphy’s efforts to push gun control over the past decade here

At Least 18 Children, 1 Adult Killed in Texas Elementary School Shooting

At least 18 children and one teacher were killed in a mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday, according to reporting from multiple outlets. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott confirmed the news. The school teaches second through fourth grades. It was the second to last day of school before summer break was set for Thursday.

At a press conference, Abbott said the suspect is an 18-year-old high school student who, police believe, worked alone. “He shot and killed horrifically, incomprehensibly, 14 students and killed a teacher,” the governor said earlier in the afternoon. Abbott also said that the suspect reportedly shot and killed his grandmother before opening fire on the school. The suspect is deceased, according to police.

Our full database of mass shootings since 1982 can be found here. This is the third mass shooting in 2022.

This is a breaking news story and will be updated.

Trump Pays $110,000 Fine to New York’s Attorney General

Former President Donald Trump’s long contempt of court saga is over, for now, with attorneys for New York State Attorney General Letitia James, who is conducting a civil fraud investigation into Trump’s business practices, confirming that Trump paid $110,000 in fines to escrow account last week.

James’ investigation centers on whether or not Trump and his company intentionally inflated the value of some of his assets to get better deals from banks and insurance companies and low-balled estimates on the same properties when it came time to pay taxes. Trump and the Trump Organization have denied wrongdoing. James’ investigation has generated prodigious amounts of evidence about how the Trump Organizations operated under Trump’s direct and close control over the years. Some of that evidence has already created substantial issues for the former president, including an announcement from the independent accounting firm Trump used for years that it no longer stands by any of the financial statements it created for him. James has most recently focused on Trump’s personal role in the valuations his company developed.

As part of that probe, back in December, James subpoenaed Trump, seeking written documents, notes, calendar entries, and cellphone data. She has received almost nothing in response. In April, after months of Trump’s attorneys attempting to argue over what Trump would be willing to turn over New York Judge Arthur Engoron ruled Trump was personally in contempt of court and fined him $10,000 a day until he complied with the subpoena. Earlier this month, after Trump finally began to cooperate, Engoron agreed to pause the $10,000 a day fines after 11 days, so long as Trump was fully in compliance by May 20. 

In a letter to the judge on Friday, Trump attorney Alina Habba affirmed that Trump had wired James’ office the $110,000 and provided a number of affidavits from various people in Trump’s orbit assuring the judge they had indeed done a thorough search of Trump’s various properties to comply with the subpoena. On Monday, James’ office sent the judge its own letter, in which the AG’s office argued that Trump has yet to turn over a few relatively minor details. But, the AG’s team wrote, “we recognize those efforts were undertaken in good faith and included timely payment of the accrued contempt fine.”

In decades of running his real estate and hospitality empire, Trump racked up a long history of sometimes failing to pay money he owed, with long lists of creditors—often small-time contractors—who claim he stiffed them. He’s also fought elaborate legal battles with major lenders over whether he really has to pay them at all—in 2009 he sued German financial giant Deutsche Bank after missing loan payments, claiming the bank actually owed him $3 billion for ruining the global economy. But this contempt fine was one that Trump was very unlikely to be able to avoid, legal experts said, and this time he does appear to have paid it promptly. 

In the end, Trump has apparently turned over very little additional evidence, but he has had to provide fairly detailed descriptions of the efforts his employees and Habba have undertaken to demonstrate that the requested records don’t exist. (Habba told Engoron she personally searched all the desk, dresser, and nightstand drawers at Trump’s various residences and offices.) Engoron has not ruled on whether Trump has indeed met all of the requirements to purge the contempt holding; if he rules Trump hasn’t, he’ll have to decide whether to restart the fines.

In the meantime, the $110,000 Trump paid to James will wait in an escrow account, because Trump has appealed the original contempt ruling to a higher court. If Trump ultimately loses the appeal, James’ office will receive the money currently being held in escrow. 

Can One Bay Area Housing Complex Radically Change Affordable Housing?

This story was produced in collaboration with the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.

The walls of Royce McLemore’s small office are covered with fresh and yellowing news clippings, group photos, and thank-you cards—testaments to her commitment to the community at Golden Gate Village, a public housing development in Marin City, California. 

The 300-unit complex is located between some of the region’s wealthiest cities and is home to about 700 very low-income tenants, the majority of them Black. And it’s where McLemore has lived most of her life. Her grandmother moved the family to Marin City from San Francisco when McLemore was just 3 years old. Then, in 1976, McLemore moved her five kids into a four-bedroom apartment there; it’s where she’s been ever since.

In a conversation this spring, McLemore tells me about a refrain of her grandmother’s: “root hog or die.” The expression about the necessity of self-reliance for survival serves as an undercurrent for her life’s work.

The 79-year-old has long had the sense that existing systems—from public education to the Marin Housing Authority (MHA) that oversees the area’s public housing to city government—have neglected the local Black community. Black residents make up only 3 percent of Marin County’s population. Marin City is an exception—though even the city’s Black population, now at about 23 percent, is half of what it was a decade ago.

Golden Gate Village, tucked in the hills and trees of Marin County, is just minutes from the mansions and luxury of Sausalito and Richardson Bay. The complex boasts 300 units, housing about 700 people on 32 acres; it has had a contentious relationship with the Marin Housing Authority since at least 2012.

Golden Gate Village has been and remains a foothold for low-income Black residents. But, for the past decade-plus, McLemore has been leading a struggle with housing officials to keep it that way—fighting to “preserve legacy,” she says, and determine its fate.

The residents there have an embattled history with MHA, which includes a 2012 class-action lawsuit over tenants’ rights violations and a class-action lawsuit filed in August 2020 over unaddressed mold, rodent infestations, and faulty wiring, among other persistent problems. HUD has given the complex repeated “failing or near failing physical scores.”

Siblings Kalanii (left), 9, and Teandre Collins (right), 7, with their friend Lanessa Williams (center), 9, make their way toward the skatepark adjoining Golden Gate Village.

The tension reached a new climax earlier this year when, fed up with critically deferred maintenance and deeply skeptical of MHA’s slow-paced plan to renovate, the Golden Gate Village Resident Council, led by McLemore, pushed forward its own detailed 26-page alternative rehabilitation proposal, “The Resident Plan.” It lays out a total green renovation, as well as an ambitious pathway to give residents more self-determination and long-term stability: by converting Golden Gate Village into a tenant-owned cooperative.

Royce McLemore, president of the Golden Gate Village Resident Council, in her apartment of 46 years. She has led the fight to save the complex from demolition and continues to push for the residents’ plan for a green renovation and the conversion into a tenant-owned cooperative.

McLemore has only ever had two different keys for the unit she’s been in since 1976. She and other residents view “The Resident Plan”—which includes a green renovation and its conversion to a tenant-owned cooperative—as a key step toward self-determination and reparations, and an example of what’s possible when it comes to addressing failing conditions of much of the nation’s public housing.

The Golden Gate Village Resident Plan, crafted with the help of a land trust and resident equity expert working pro-bono, outlines the idea of a limited equity housing cooperative (LEHC). In this setup, monthly payments would go to covering residents’ share of the mortgage and maintenance instead of rent, giving them a stake in the property, and tenant-shareholders would have a vote in the building’s governance. A professional management company would oversee day-to-day operations, and restrictions on resale of shares would keep the property affordable. The plan notes that the model would give tenant-shareholders the right to pass their homes down to heirs and “the knowledge that all decisions regarding their homes and the future of Golden Gate Village will be decided by the GGVRC and GGV residents – not the MHA, not HUD, not an outside developer.”

The move is part of a surge of innovative grassroots efforts to take on a national housing affordability crisis. Chief among them is a renewed interest in resident-controlled cooperative housing and community land trusts, in which a nonprofit owns land on a community’s behalf, keeping its housing costs low. These options are seen as ways to ensure long-term or permanent affordability and stem displacement, which disproportionately affect communities of color. 

The LEHC model has a long history. In fact, Golden Gate Village is less than a mile away from a 56-unit Section 8 property, Ponderosa Estates, that has been an LEHC since 1980. However, there isn’t much of a precedent for the cooperative conversion of traditional public housing, especially the size of Golden Gate Village. That suits McLemore because, ultimately, she’s hoping the residents’ plan can pave a new path and serve as an example of what’s possible.  

The stakes are especially high in Marin County: As a grand jury report put it, “Given current housing trends in Marin, it is unlikely that residents would be able to relocate in the County if GGV is gone.” Decades of restrictive and exclusionary housing, environmental, and transportation development policies have made it the most segregated of the nine Bay Area counties, a region struggling with the displacement of poor and Black residents across the board. “The vastly different trajectory of postwar development in Marin County demonstrates the tremendous differential of political power between low-income communities of color and wealthy white communities, which contributed to lasting regional patterns of racial exclusion,” a 2019 UC Berkeley report concluded.

“What we want is to be a model for the nation, and what can be done to preserve housing for poor people,” McLemore says. “You’re always going to have poor people, and we deserve a right to safe, decent, and sanitary housing.”

A photograph of McLemore watering her backyard garden 20 years ago. She still enjoys her garden regularly, often harvesting salad greens for shared dinners with friends and families.

Two of McLemore’s foster children, Joshua (left), 17, and Isaiah, 15, work in her backyard garden. McLemore has been the brothers’ foster parent for nine years. 

 

 

 

Golden Gate Village’s roots go deep. Marin City sprung up to accommodate the influx of workers who arrived to build ships in World War II. In 1960, Golden Gate Village was built to provide the mostly working-class Black community that remained a better alternative to the area’s substandard wartime housing. The complex has been home to generations of families. Even with the disrepair, its setting is idyllic—just minutes from the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s nestled against the green hills of a national park, with views of the San Francisco Bay. 

“This is the only place in Marin County, where you can be poor and live and really take advantage of all of the things that the wealthy and people from all over the world come here to see,” McLemore says.

McLemore got deeply involved in the Golden Gate Village community during the crack epidemic that swept through Marin City in the 1980s; she decided to clean up the neighborhood because she “refused to live like a prisoner,” she says. McLemore, who is deeply religious, would post up in the courtyards and parking lots and pray and read from the Bible until people cleared out.

In 1990, she co-founded what would become Women Helping All People, a nonprofit, run out of Golden Gate Village, that started as a support group for women in public housing, especially those coming out of addiction. Women Helping All People eventually expanded to provide tutoring; literacy, computer, and GED classes; landscape training; and other lacking community services, like family counseling and mutual aid. In 2000, the nonprofit even established its own school, the Women Helping All People Scholastic Academy. In addition to all this, McLemore has also fostered some 200 kids since her own moved out, something she’s still doing today.

Joshua helps neighbor True Hoff, 7, as they play basketball in the backyard.

Over the years, McLemore has watched Golden Gate Village and Marin City change—there aren’t as many kids in the courtyards, for instance, and some longtime residents and their families have moved away. But any chill of encroaching displacement has failed to shake the strong sense of community there. Remaining residents know each other and stop to chat, and those who’ve left are drawn back, returning frequently to join barbecues or just hang out. “You have these older guys that used to live in the city would give an arm and a couple of legs if they could be back,” McLemore says. “You don’t care who’s living in your mom’s old house. You’re here, this is home.”

Residents feared these roots would be further threatened by MHA’s plan to renovate. The authority’s proposal would have involved the removal of several units and brought in a private developer to build additional buildings, which many worried would only further delay desperately needed rehabilitation to the original buildings and lead to potential gentrification and displacement. MHA has insisted on a commitment to restoration and helping anyone who wants to stay do so. But this has done little to sway skeptics, given local history and countless examples of mass displacement of communities of color, and particularly public housing residents, during major revamps.

Part of the problem goes beyond what MHA controls. The agency is significantly constrained by the federal government’s chronic underfunding of public housing that’s spanned Republican and Democratic administrations alike. As a result, the federal fund for public housing repair faces a $70 billion backlog. (President Joe Biden’s now-defunct Build Back Better plan aimed to address this.)

An Angela Davis mural hangs from the fence of the adjoining skatepark at Golden Gate Village.

Many residents contribute their time and money to maintaining the grounds at and surrounding Golden Gate Village, including Danielle Hoff. While Hoff grew up in Sausalito, her mother grew up at Golden Gate Village and she has since returned to her mother’s roots and is raising her son there. 

“Housing authorities often haven’t been given enough funding to maintain the properties,” says Eli Moore, a program director at UC Berkeley’s Institute of Othering & Belonging. “That’s been part of a kind of political project that really sees public housing as this stigmatized racialized burden on society rather than a necessary public service given that the private housing market fails to produce housing that’s affordable to people at all income levels.”

The authority in Marin says it alone is facing $63 million in deferred maintenance. The average $400 in rent from tenants and only about $800 per unit from HUD leave MHA perpetually short on funds.

“We’re really stuck right now because the funding from HUD is not enough to support this older property,” says Kimberly Carroll, interim executive director at MHA, of Golden Gate Village. As a result, the agency, like many others across the country, is turning away from the traditional public housing platform toward private-public partnerships with more secure funding, like Section 8, or the housing choice voucher program, where tax credits, private capital, and philanthropy can be leveraged. “There isn’t any other way to make this puzzle work.”

Such public housing conversions can pose risk to long-term affordability, according to Deborah Thorpe, deputy director of the National Housing Law Project, a legal and advocacy nonprofit. Still, they don’t have to, particularly with proper engagement and oversight; San Francisco managed a conversion of all its public housing with little displacement, she notes. “Often the most successful conversions are the ones with tenants and advocates at the table from day one,” Thorpe says. 

 

 

 

With the Golden Gate Village residents’ plan, that’s what McLemore is aiming for—and then some.

Before coming up with the idea for an LEHC, in 2017 the Golden Gate Village Resident Council successfully prevented any demolition of the complex by getting it national historic status, in part because of its ties to notable architects, including Frank Lloyd Wright’s disciple Aaron Green. 

Then, leveraging the upswell of social conscience in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020, the council rallied broader community support and pressure. McLemore began giving tours of the property to interested neighbors and launched a GoFundMe to support the Resident Council’s efforts. Hundreds of people started showing up to virtual board meetings. 

Ricky Hill and his son Silas, 8, pause for a portrait during their BB gun shooting practice in the woods next to Golden Gate Village. Hill grew up in the complex, and his mother and grandmother still live there as well. Hill and Silas use the woods almost every day, riding their motorbikes, shooting BB guns, or doing other adventurous outdoor activities.

Whitney Polk (left) speaks with a group of mothers as Nyma Bynu (right) snuggles with her baby brother Nyzir.

Crucially, the residents’ council assembled a pro bono team of outside professionals—including lawyers, architects, a real estate developer, an accountant, a communications specialist, and a community organizer—to turn their original vision for revitalization, first developed and presented to officials in 2014, into a fully fleshed out plan that it presented in January. Beyond the direct impact for those who live there, “the Resident Plan also provides Marin County, itself, an opportunity to make a meaningful, not simply performative, contribution toward reparations and racial equity,” the proposal reads.

It includes a green retrofit energy modeling report, historic landscaping analysis, design guidelines, possible financing options, and other elements to satisfy HUD requirements and concerns, in addition to building resident equity via the cooperative model.

There are also risks with cooperatives like the LEHC, experts point out; unless carefully structured and financed, the LEHC could leave the residents, now the new owners, overburdened with the costs of restoring the beleaguered complex, for example.

Still, the potential upside for communities struggling with agency and dire conditions in crumbling public housing developments is attractive. As a model, LEHCs have had some success in preserving affordability and community control in San Francisco, New York City, Atlanta, and elsewhere, often in collaboration with outside nonprofits and community land trusts.

Many children at Golden Gate Village have families who’ve lived there for generations. Golden Gate Village residents feared that any demolition at the complex would permanently dismantle these roots.

From left: Harmony Arnold, 5, Giana Zachary, 8, and Avonni Kassa, 3, play outside after school. 

Marin City sprung up to accommodate an influx of workers who arrived to build ships in World War II, eventually becoming a predominantly Black working-class town. Today, while Black residents make up only 3 percent of the county’s population, Marin City is still a stronghold for the community—even as the city’s Black population, now at about 23 percent, has halved in the last decade.

Golden Gate Village is featured in the book Aaron G. Green: Organic Architecture Beyond Frank Lloyd Wright. The book was given to McLemore by a group of architects that were grateful to her for securing Golden Gate Village on the National Historic Register, which has protected it from demolition.

“The affordable housing landscape has changed,” says Thorpe, from the National Housing Law Project. “We’re in the midst of a crisis, and the longer we go on with the chronic underfunding of public housing, the more advocates, tenants, and other stakeholders are really seeing the writing on the wall. And we have to think about more creative solutions to this problem.”

California, the poster child for the housing crunch, recently committed $500 million to help finance community ownership efforts. Some local, state, and federal officials have also started to follow suit, exploring and pushing for more democratic and bottom-up government-sponsored housing. 

“I think the broader movement politics that people with direct experience are experts on the issues that they’re living through, and that they should be honored and supported in developing solutions and leading the work is the most principled and the most effective way to build power for social change and policy change,” UC Berkeley’s Moore says. “You get more creative solutions, and you especially get a better, stronger, more real implementation of policies, because the folks who have a stake in it are there to stay and they’re not just there to win, and then move on.”

 

 

 

In March, after sustained pressure from Golden Gate Village residents and their supporters, MHA commissioners voted to move ahead with the core tenet of the council’s historic rehabilitation plan without new construction. While officials haven’t endorsed the residents’ plan in its entirety, or the LEHC proposal specifically, they say they are open to considering all its components and announced the formation of a committee made up in equal parts by MHA and Golden Gate Village council representatives who will work together to make decisions. 

“This is a big victory,” McLemore says, adding, “We’re going to hold them to their word.”

There’s still a long road ahead. It took two months to get the committee’s first meeting, which will take place on Friday, on the books, and the urgent questions about how rehabilitation will ultimately be funded, among other issues, still need to be sorted out. There have also been some recent interactions between residents and the housing authority that McLemore sees as red flags and the housing authority says are miscommunications.

McLemore goes through paperwork during a meeting with the Marin Housing Authority. Most of her day is inundated with paperwork, calls, and Zoom meetings, many for her effort to save her community.

Joshua (right) and Isaiah clean up the the office of Women Helping All People, a nonprofit McLemore started to assist people in the community, after completing their homework for the day.

In the Women Helping All People office in March, in a second-floor Golden Gate Village apartment with an adjoining room occupied by desks and tutoring supplies, McLemore’s cell and office phones ring off the hook. Since Covid derailed some of the organization’s programming, she’s been using excess funds for mutual aid, helping residents with bills and other issues. She directs houseware and furniture donations, takes resident complaints, and handles logistics for callers.

As long as McLemore is here, she’ll keep pushing for Golden Gate Village residents’ seat at the table and a say in determining the community’s future.

“It’s gonna take the people to stand up to power and let them know we’re not going anywhere,” McLemore says. “We don’t have anywhere else to go.”

McLemore’s family, including several children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, gather at her place for a barbecue.

McLemore’s family friend Carl Dedrick (left) and Joshua tend to the grill during a barbecue at McLemore’s home. McLemore and Dedrick grew up together and have been friends for decades.

McLemore and friend Jackie Dedrick wave to a long-time neighbor, Juanita Perez, who just got married in her backyard at Golden Gate Village.

Climate Denial Group Is Masquerading as a Charity, Critics Say

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

The Global Warming Policy Foundation, a climate skeptic think tank, has been reported to the Charity Commission by Green Party Member of Parliament Caroline Lucas and Extinction Rebellion.

The move comes after the Guardian revealed that the group received funding from fossil fuel interests.

The think tank has charitable status, but climate campaigners say the questions about its funding mean it should be stripped of this. In a letter to the Charity Commission, the signatories, including the writers Irvine Welsh and Zadie Smith, say the GWPF is “not a charity, but a fossil fuel lobby group.”

The GWPF, set up in 2009 by the former Tory chancellor Lord Lawson, has enjoyed a recent revival in its influence in parliament. It has MP Steve Baker as a trustee and has its research promoted by the Net Zero Scrutiny Group of Conservative MPs.

The letter also claims that the think tank flouts the rules that charities must be run for the public good. The commission states that “a purpose must be beneficial—this must be in a way that is identifiable and capable of being proved by evidence where necessary and which is not based on personal views.”

American Friends of the GWPF received $620,259 from the Donors Trust, funded by prominent oil and gas investors the Koch brothers.

It also says “any detriment or harm that results from the purpose (to people, property or the environment) must not outweigh the benefit—this is also based on evidence and not on personal views.”

The signatories say that the GWPF does not abide by this as it “works against the public need to prepare, mitigate, and adapt to the unfolding climate emergency” and therefore does not serve or benefit society. They argue that the group’s funding could show a conflict of interest, and that it is not working for the public good.

Through its American arm, the group received $210,525 in 2018 and 2020 from the Sarah Scaife Foundation—set up by the billionaire libertarian heir to an oil and banking dynasty. The US-based foundation has $30 million worth of shares in 22 energy companies, including $9 million in ExxonMobil and $5.7 million in Chevron, according to its financial filings.

Between 2016 and 2020, the American Friends of the GWPF received $620,259 from the Donors Trust, which is funded by the Koch brothers, who inherited their father’s oil empire and have spent hundreds of millions of dollars funding the climate denial movement.

The letter concludes: “We look to the Charity Commission’s own guidance that a charity must make sure ‘protecting people from harm is central to its culture.’ We contend that the ongoing global harm caused by climate change is exacerbated by the vested interests that use the GWPF’s undeserved charitable status as a front for their interests.”

A spokesperson for the GWPF declined to comment on the letter to the Charity Commission. The think tank did respond to previous revelations about its funding, saying the companies it receives money from do not count as oil and gas interests, owing to the wealth created from fossil fuels being historic.

Madison Cawthorn Is Now Under Investigation Over Possible “Improper Relationship” and Potential Fraud

Madison Cawthorn’s new status as a lame duck, often a quiet period for defeated politicians, appears set to be just as tumultuous as the scandal-plagued track record that got him booted from Congress.

On Monday, the House Ethics Committee announced an investigation into two sets of allegations related to the embattled Republican: that Cawthorn may have dabbled in some light insider trading related to the cryptocurrency Let’s Go Brandon, and that he engaged in an improper relationship with a staffer. (Cawthorn’s office has denied the panel’s allegations, claiming that Cawthorn is being targeted for “political gain.” This comes just a week after the North Carolina Republican lost his seat in the GOP primary for the state’s 11th congressional district. 

Ethics investigations into members of Congress are relatively rare. That Cawthorn is on his way out makes Monday’s announcement even more unusual, though perhaps ultimately unsurprising considering how much both sides of the aisle appeared to loathe him. In his short career, Cawthorn, the youngest member of Congress, got caught in a series of headline-making scandals that included lies about his college acceptances, allegations of past sexual harassment, dubious claims he made about supposed drug-fueled orgies running amuck in the shadows of DC, and much, much more.

Following his defeat, a vengeful Cawthorn on Thursday appeared determined to leave Congress with some last-minute weirdness, vowing to expose “those who say and promise one thing yet legislate and work towards another.” Cawthorn’s Instagram post enlisted the help of something called “Dark MAGA,” which as my colleague Ali Breland explained, doesn’t appear to be much more than a handful of bad Photoshop jobs.

Top Senate Republican Who Voted To Overturn 2020 Election Admits Biden Won Fairly

The false claim that Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election has become gospel among most Republicans. Polls over the past year have shown that nearly 70 percent of all Republicans believe that President Joe Biden stole the election from Trump. The stolen election conspiracy theory runs so deep that, according to the New York Times, more than 350 Republican state legislators in nine critical swing states had taken steps to either discredit or overturn the 2020 election results. Election deniers represent 44 percent of GOP legislators in those states. 

In light of this it seems notable that on Sunday, the man charged with helping the GOP win back the Senate, went on national television and admitted that Biden was in fact the country’s duly elected president:

"You have recognized President Biden is the duly elected president of the United States, correct?" @margbrennan asks Republican Sen. Rick Scott.

"Absolutely," he says. pic.twitter.com/dOw3ndgS2U

— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) May 22, 2022

Rick Scott, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is not the only Republican senator to publicly acknowledge that Trump lost the 2020 election, but he doesn’t have a lot of company. In December 2020, a Washington Post survey of all GOP members of Congress found only 27 who would come out and admit that the election was not, in fact, rigged, and that Trump had lost fair and square. Nearly 90 percent of the Republican members simply refused to say who they thought won the election.

In the Senate, Scott is joined only by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who voted to impeach Trump, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), and latecomer Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), who finally admitted in January that Biden had fairly won the election. For this indiscretion, Rounds was promptly attacked by Trump, who released a statement saying, “‘Senator’ Mike Rounds of the Great State of South Dakota just went woke on the Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020. He made a statement this weekend on ABC Fake News, that despite massive evidence to the contrary, including much of it pouring in from Wisconsin, Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and other states, he found the election to be ok — just fine. Is he crazy or just stupid?”

What makes Scott’s admission particularly noteworthy is that he was one of eight Senate Republicans who voted to overturn the 2020 election results. Scott has hitched his wagon so closely to Trump, particularly in messaging and fundraising campaigns for the 2022 midterm elections, that he invented an award to give to the former president in April 2021. Making Trump the first recipient of the “NRSC Champion of Freedom” award, Scott called Trump “a proven champion for all Americans.” Trump has reportedly urged Scott to run against McConnell for the senate leadership post, and his PAC has defended Scott’s unpopular “11-point plan to rescue America” that included raising taxes on poor people and sunsetting Medicare and Social Security, two programs used by millions of voters in his home state. But now, Scott, the richest member of the Senate, seems to be gearing up to run for president himself. Last week, he launched a second national ad campaign targeting Biden, calling him “incompetent” and “confused.” 

 

Given Scott’s acknowledgment of Biden’s legitimacy and his recent moves suggesting he is mulling a presidential bid, it’s a wonder that Trump hasn’t denounced him in a press release. Though perhaps Trump, a famous devotee of TiVo, has yet to watch Scott’s appearance on Face the Nation.

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