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Joe Manchin says he won’t support nondiscrimination bill for LGBTQ people as written

Mon, 03/18/2019 - 4:33pm

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said Monday that he would not support the Equality Act, which would expand and clarify federal protections for LGBTQ people, without significant changes.

Manchin, the only Senate Democrat who is not supporting the legislation, said he wants to provide more control to local officials. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) is the only Democrat in the House who does not support the current legislation.

“I strongly support equality for all people and do not tolerate discrimination of any kind. No one should be afraid of losing their job or losing their housing because of their sexual orientation,” Manchin told the press. “I am not convinced that the Equality Act as written provides sufficient guidance to the local officials who will be responsible for implementing it, particularly with respect to students transitioning between genders in public schools.”

Advocates pushed back on that reasoning Monday. “Legal discrimination remains a ubiquitous and dangerous force in the lives of far too many people, especially the lives of transgender youth who can be discriminated against in schools, just for being who they are,” Eliza Byard, executive director of GLSEN, told Think Progress in a statement.

Byard said the guidance for local officials that Manchin referred to “is most often provided by federal agency regulations for implementation after passage of legislation — and every other Democrat in Congress recognizes this is no reason to hold back their support of the Equality Act.”

LGBTQ people are relying on a patchwork of state protections against housing and employment discrimination. This means a transgender woman fired for her gender in New York, which recently passed the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination (GENDA) Act, faces a different legal landscape than she would in North Dakota, where there is no employment nondiscrimination law. Although the New York legislature passed GENDA in January, there is still some chance that if challenged, it will be no match for the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority.

The Equality Act would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation in housing, employment, education, federal programs, jury service, public accommodations, and credit and lending. It would also  include protections against discrimination in public spaces and services like retail stores, transportation services, banks, and legal services.

Manchin notably referred to one of the most vulnerable groups who would be supported by the Equality Act: transgender youth. Although many school districts have changed their policies to be inclusive to transgender students who want to play on the sports team of their gender or use a bathroom corresponding to their gender, many school districts still have discriminatory policies and practices in place.

School administrator suspended for unleashing tirade against trans student who used the bathroom

A GLSEN National School Climate Survey shows an upward trend from 2013 to 2017 in the frequency of school staff making negative remarks about gender expression. Seventy-one percent of students reported hearing negative remarks about gender expression from teachers or other school staff.

In 2017, the Education Department and Justice Department withdrew Obama administration guidance for school districts on bathroom access for transgender people. The Education Department told BuzzFeed News last year that it wouldn’t investigate or take action on complaints from transgender students on the issue of restroom access, saying, “Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, not gender identity.”

The National Center for Transgender Equality has stated that although some courts have said Title IX, the federal civil rights law, protects transgender students, it supports the Equality Act’s ability to “make clear, once and for all, transgender students are protected, from harassment, exclusion from school facilities, and other forms of discrimination.”

A lack of clear protections for transgender people can contribute to health issues and harassment. Trans people have reported avoiding bathrooms and avoiding eating or drinking so that they would not have to use restrooms, according to a 2015 survey of trans people across the United States. Twelve percent of trans people said they had been harassed, attacked, or sexually assaulted in a bathroom, and 8 percent reported having a urinary tract infection or kidney infection as a result of avoiding bathrooms.

There is also no evidence to support the idea that transgender people using bathrooms and other facilities that correspond with with their gender will result in any increased violence or harassment in bathrooms, a myth pushed by conservatives. A 2018 study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law found that incidents of women and children being attacked in public restrooms are rare and unrelated to local nondiscrimination laws.

LGBTQ rights groups, West Virginia Democratic groups, and national political strategists responded to Manchin’s statement on Monday.

David Stacy, government affairs director at the Human Rights Campaign, released a statement saying HRC is committed to continuing to work with Manchin to ensure nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people pass Congress. “Federal courts are already holding schools accountable for discrimination against transgender students, and guidance and best practices are readily available,” Stacy said. The West Virginia Democratic Party weighed in as well. “If this past Legislative Session didn’t prove that we need to fight against discrimination and hate even harder in West Virginia then I don’t know what does,” the party said in a statement, calling on Manchin and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) to “lead by example.” In February, Eric Porterfield, a Republican delegate in the state legislature, said LGBTQ groups were “the closest thing to political terrorism in America” and “a modern day version of the Ku Klux Klan.” When a journalist asked him what he would do if he realized his children were gay, he said he’d take his daughter out for a pedicure and his son hunting and fishing. Then he said he’d “see if [they] can swim.” Manchin said he will keep working with the bill’s leaders until he sees a version of the legislation he can vote for, Politico reported. The House is expected to consider the legislation later this year. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said passing the Equality Act is one of her top priorities.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Donna Brazile and Fox News are a bad pairing in the Trump era

Mon, 03/18/2019 - 3:10pm

It’s like Donald Trump teaming up with Elizabeth Warren, Derek Jeter leaving the Yankees for the Red Sox, Mick Jagger joining the Beatles.

Donna Brazile going to Fox News?

It’s hard to believe, but on Monday, the longtime Democratic political operative and liberal television commentator joined Fox to offer political analysis on Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network.

What is she thinking?

In ordinary times, I’d be all in for a prominent liberal — Brazile even served a brief stint as interim chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) — providing an alternative outlook on a conservative news outlet. One of the problems with our heavily polarized political climate is that too many people only receive information (or “information”) that reinforces their views.

But these, as you may have heard, are no ordinary times.

Obviously, in those innocent pre-Trump days, Fox positioned itself decidedly to the right. That was its business model, and a wildly successful business model it has been.

But in the Trump era, Fox has become something else indeed. While in the past Fox was hardly hardly centrist or low key in its conservatism, it now seems more like an arm of Team Trump. It closely follows Trump’s lead (remember all that coverage of the now-you-see-them, now-you-don’t migrant “invasions” from Central America?). It ignores stories critical of the president. And it often provides fodder for an endless feedback loop, in which Trump watches his beloved Fox & Friends and supportingly tweets out assertions on the program that mirror his own views.

None of this was exactly invisible. But the case that Fox had become in effect a propaganda arm of the Trump administration was made powerfully in an influential article by Jane Mayer in The New Yorker earlier this month.

Brazile has long been associated with the fight for liberal causes. Is this really the kind of operation she wants to be associated with?

This development comes at a particularly ugly time at Fox. The network on Saturday pulled the show of one of its hosts, Trump favorite Jeanine Pirro, after she questioned whether Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) could be trusted to uphold the Constitution because the Muslim lawmaker wears a hijab. Fox condemned the remarks in a statement.

And Fox stalwart Tucker Carlson has come under fire for racist, misogynistic, and homophobic remarks he made in calls to a radio shock jock between 2006 and 2011. The calls were unearthed by the progressive nonprofit group Media Matters for America. Fox has not commented on and Carlson has not apologized for his past statements.

In announcing Brazile’s hiring, Fox said she would be appearing both on daytime and prime-time programming. For her part, Brazile said she realizes she will attract some flak from the left for joining the enemy. Indeed, many pointed out on social media that by joining the network, Brazile was legitimizing its propaganda and racism.

“I know I’m going to get criticized by my friends in the progressive movement for being on Fox News,” she said. “My response is that, if we learned anything from the 2016 election. It is that we can’t have a country where we don’t talk to those who disagree with our political views.”

And, she added, her own political views won’t be moving rightward. “You can be darn sure that I’m still going to be me on Fox News.”

CNN jettisoned Brazile in 2016 in the wake of the disclosure that when she was vice chairman of the DNC and a CNN commentator, she leaked debate and town hall questions to Hillary Clinton during the 2016 Democratic primary.

So it’s understandable that she wants to return to prime time. I’m not sure this is the best way for her to do it.

Rem Rieder is a former media columnist and editor-at-large at USA TODAY and, previously, the longtime editor of American Journalism Review.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

These are the stories of LGBTQ people who need the Equality Act’s protections

Mon, 03/18/2019 - 1:11pm

Congressional Democrats reintroduced a sweeping nondiscrimination bill last week to bolster protections for LGBTQ Americans. If passed into law, the bill would clarify existing protections and fill the gaps in federal nondiscrimination laws.

The bill would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation in housing, employment, education, federal programs, jury service, public accommodations, and credit and lending. It would also update the law to include protections against discrimination in public spaces and services like retail stores, transportation services, banks, and legal services.

According to the Movement Advancement Project, only 21 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws explicitly prohibiting discrimination and gender identity in employment and housing. Twenty states and D.C. explicitly prohibit discrimination in public accommodations. Only 14 states have non-discrimination laws covering credit discrimination.

A 2017 nationally representative survey conducted by the Center for American Progress found that among those who experienced sexual orientation or gender identity-based discrimination in the last year, 43.7 percent said it negatively affected their physical well-being. Nearly 40 percent said it negatively impacted their school environment and 52.8 percent reported that it negatively impacted their work environment. (ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed at the Center for American Progress.)

LGBTQ people have successfully argued that they’re covered by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the past. The term “sex-based stereotypes,” for example, has been used in cases to defend the rights of both queer couples and trans people. In 2017, a federal appeals court ruled for the first time that the Civil Rights Act protects LGBTQ workers from employment discrimination. Judge Richard Posner wrote at the time, “I don’t see why firing a lesbian because she is in the subset of women who are lesbian should be thought any less a form of sex discrimination than firing a woman because she’s a woman.”

Still, the legal landscape’s protections right now are unclear and uneven. The Equality Act would bolster protections for LGBTQ people, and would help prevent stories like the following from happening again.

Employment

In 2013, a transgender woman named Aimee Stephens told her funeral home employer that she was going to dress differently to better reflect her gender. Her employer responded by firing her and offering her a severance package, which she did not accept. She worked there for six years, and co-workers testified that she was a “very good embalmer” and that people were happy with her work.

Stephens filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Then, the EEOC sued the funeral home. In 2018, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in her favor and said, it is impossible to fire a worker based on their status as a trans person without an employer participating in sex-based discrimination.

“Discrimination ‘because of sex’ inherently includes discrimination against employees because of a change in their sex,” the court said.

The lawyers representing the funeral home have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the case.

Meanwhile, the Department of Justice recently disagreed with the idea that queer workers are covered by the civil rights law. In 2017, the department filed a brief in the case Zarda v. Altitude Express, arguing that the federal law’s prohibition of sex discrimination does not include the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Zarda v. Altitude Express centers on Donald Zarda, a New York skydiver who is now deceased. In 2010, Zarda said he was fired because of his sexual orientation. Given his physical proximity to students during the skydive, Zarda said he thought it would make female clients more comfortable to know about his sexual orientation before the skydive. One female client told her boyfriend of Zarda’s sexuality and the boyfriend decided to complain to Altitude Express. Then, the company fired him.

The Second Circuit did not accept the argument that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on sexual orientation. The LGBTQ civil rights organization Lambda Legal requested that the ruling be reconsidered, but the Justice Department argued against including sexual orientation under the civil rights law. It also referred to the Equality Act of 1974 sponsored by Rep. Bella Abzug (D-NY), which would have prohibited discrimination on the account of sex, marital status, or sexual orientation in public accommodations, federally assisted programs, housing, and financing. The bill died in committee.

“Congress neither added sexual orientation as a protected trait nor defined discrimination on the basis of sex to include sexual orientation discrimination,” the Justice Department wrote in its brief. “… In fact, every Congress from 1974 to the present has declined to enact proposed legislation that would prohibit discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation.”

Clarification from Congress would certainly help strengthen protections for LGBTQ people and make it more difficult to argue that it’s unclear whether LGBTQ people have these rights.

Housing

A married couple in Denver — Rachel Smith, a trans woman, and Tonya Smith, a cis woman — were looking for a new home with their two children in 2015.

When the couple found the right home, a rental townhouse, Tonya Smith emailed the landlord and described her family, including the fact that Rachel Smith is transgender. The couple visited the townhouse and met a couple that lived nearby. But the Smiths said that after they returned, they received an email from the landlord telling them they were not welcome to rent the townhouse because the neighbors were concerned. The landlord claimed their family would be the talk of the town, making it difficult for their neighbors to “keep a low profile.”

In 2017, U.S. District Judge Raymond P. Moore ruled that they were protected by the Federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, and wrote, “Such stereotypical norms are no different from other stereotypes associated with women, such as the way she should dress or act (e.g., that a woman should not be overly aggressive, or should not act macho), and are products of sex stereotyping.”

But other housing discrimination cases involving LGBTQ people have not succeeded. In January, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit from a married lesbian couple in Missouri, Mary Walsh and Beverly Nance, who said they were denied housing by a senior living community called Friendship Village. According to their lawsuit, they were denied occupancy in 2016 because Friendship Village has a policy that defines marriage as “the union of one man and one woman, as marriage is understood in the Bible.”

The couple claimed Friendship Village’s actions violated the Fair Housing Act and Missouri Human Rights Act. But U.S. District Judge Jean C. Hamilton said the Fair Housing Act did not protect against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Given the courts’ disagreements on whether queer couples are covered by the Fair Housing Act, it would make a difference for Congress to weigh in through the Equality Act.

Public accommodations

Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — the part of the law focusing on public accommodations, such as hotels, restaurants, theaters, and sports stadiums — doesn’t cover protections against sex discrimination, but only includes race, color, religion, and national origin. That means there is no legal remedy for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in public accommodations under current federal law.

In 2013, Ally Robledo, a trans woman, was denied access to an Idaho grocery store, and workers called the police on her when she used the restroom. Lewiston Police Captain Roger Lanier referred to Robledo as a “a male subject who was using the female restroom” and said customers were uncomfortable. She was given a no trespass order after leaving the grocery store.

Robledo said at the time that she doubted it would have been more socially acceptable for her to use the men’s restroom and that when she has used the men’s restroom, “I found myself in a lot of dangerous situations.”

The Equality Act would protect Robledo, and others like her. The legislation would be the first national nondiscrimination bill of its kind for LGBTQ people.

The Equality Act has been introduced before — first in 2015 — but has not been able to get through the Republican-controlled Congress. Last fall, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who is now House speaker, said that if Democrats won the majority they would make the Equality Act a top priority. If the bill does pass the House, it’s unclear if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) would even bring it up for a vote. His press secretary would not give NBC News a yes or no answer.

According to a 2018 PRRI survey, 71 percent of Americans said they favor laws protecting LGBTQ people against discrimination in public accommodations, housing, and employment. But 64 percent of Republicans said business owners should be able to refuse service to gay and lesbian people compared to 24 percent of Democrats and 42 percent of independents.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

What to do when ICE knocks on your door? A Sacramento advocacy group tells immigrants their rights

Mon, 03/18/2019 - 1:05pm

The Sacramento Immigrant Coalition launched an educational campaign Monday centered on informing immigrants of their rights when interacting with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The bilingual publication, titled “If ICE Comes Knocking,” will be distributed among Sacramento, Yolo, and San Joaquin counties as well as published online.

“This is a document that we are hoping will serve as a tool to remedy some of the situations that we are seeing in our community around Sacramento,” said Carlos Montes, a member of the Sacramento Immigrant Coalition. “We have seen families who have been separated, who have been detained at their jobs, so this document is a tool to help those individuals and families, as well as their allies who want to help with the pain that immigrant communities face.”

The newsletter will include real stories from local immigrant interactions with ICE and give practical suggestions on what to do in those cases. For example, the newsletter warns immigrants that they make ICE’s job much easier when they volunteer information, and that while ICE agents and local law enforcement officers may ask them about their country of birth, they have a constitutional right to remain silent and not answer any questions about their immigration status. The publication also instructs immigrants, both undocumented and documented alike, to create an emergency preparedness plan that includes all necessary documents and a list of contacts in the event that they or a loved one encounters ICE agents.

“We’ve gotten over a thousand copies out already,” Dwayne Campbell, the education committee chair of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) in Sacramento, said at a press conference. “We take them to places like, English as a second language classes, we take them to classes at the university and tell them to please take it to your local church, take it to your local bar, take it to any place where migrants hang out.”

“Most of all, people can take it home,” Campbell added. “As you may know, an awful lot of the undocumented families are in mixed status families. So an English speaker can take this home and he’s got it in Spanish for the person in the family that needs it.”

The Sacramento Immigrant Coalition has also produced a comic made for children that instructs them to call the group’s rapid response line if they believe their parent is in danger.

To supplement both documents, the Sacramento Immigration Coalition has trained over 300 legal observers who will be a part of the their rapid response network and provide support and provide resources to those targeted by ICE.

Grassroots campaigns informing immigrants of their rights when interacting with immigration law enforcement have become critical now more than ever as the Trump administration is detaining a record number of non-criminal immigrants. In the first 14 months of the Trump administration, 58,010 undocumented immigrants without criminal convictions were arrested.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

The Midwest’s flooding crisis is a terrifying preview of climate impacts to come

Mon, 03/18/2019 - 12:18pm

Deadly and historic flooding is plaguing states across the Midwest, isolating entire towns and upending the region in what experts worry is an ominous preview of future climate change impacts.

National media has been slow to cover the tragedy, which has left several states, including Nebraska, Missouri, and Iowa, all reeling from turbulent weather conditions. As of Sunday, nine million people across 14 states were under a flood advisory.

And while the devastation is shocking, locals say it’s becoming more commonplace.

“This level of flooding is becoming the new normal,” John Hickey, director of the Sierra Club’s Missouri chapter, told ThinkProgress.

In a statement Friday, Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) said, “Nebraska has experienced historic flooding and extreme weather in nearly every region of the state.”

Nebraska is experiencing its worst flooding in half a century. At least three people are dead after several major rivers in the state rose to record levels. The Missouri, Platte, and Elkhorn rivers all crested over the weekend to record-shattering levels in the aftermath of last week’s “bomb cyclone” — a massive weather event that brought high-speed winds, snow, and heavy rain to the region.

More photos from Fremont, Norfolk, Schuyler, and Bellwood. pic.twitter.com/5yalLY5kZ7

— Gov. Pete Ricketts (@GovRicketts) March 15, 2019

The historic flooding is the result of rain coupled with a considerable amount of pre-existing water on the ground. February brought a record-setting 30 inches of snow to the state, which locked in several inches of water. With eastern Nebraska’s rivers already higher than usual following the state’s fifth-wettest season in 124 years, the bomb cyclone unleashed a mountain of water, submerging parts of the region.

Two of the deaths associated with the deluge in Nebraska include a man who refused to leave his house and another who drove around a flood barrier. The third was a Nebraska farmer attempting to help others, who was in a tractor. At least two other people are missing and presumed dead as of Monday morning and some small towns have been completely cut off by the flooding.

Water use is also becoming a problem. According to mandatory water restrictions circulated by the city of Lincoln, Nebraska, the city’s drinking water is still considered safe but residents are being advised to follow mandatory water use restrictions. This includes postponing laundry, bathing, and washing dishes, in addition to minimizing the flushing of toilets.

Other states are preparing for flooding impacts. In Iowa, nearly 2,000 people at eight different locations have been evacuated in the past seven days. Minnesota, Wisconsin, and South Dakota are also bracing themselves for flooding, along with Missouri and Kansas.

President Donald Trump and other politicians have weighed in on the devastation and offered condolences, but few lawmakers have connected the events to climate change. One exception is Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a Democratic presidential contender who addressed the flooding on Twitter.

“Long-term, we must take bold steps to stop climate change, which makes extreme flooding much worse,” Sanders tweeted on Saturday.

Connecting any one weather event to climate change is often impossible or incredibly challenging, but experts say the flooding is indicative of larger climate impacts. According to the government’s National Climate Assessment (NCA) released last fall, the Midwest is likely to see an uptick in flooding associated with global warming.

“The NCA basically said, ‘Hey, climate change is going to mean more floods in Missouri and in the Midwest,’ so this is not a surprise,” Hickey, of the Sierra Club, said.

In a statement to ThinkProgress, environmentalist and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben also drew the connection between global warming and the devastating flooding.

“Increased flooding is one of the clearest signals of a changing climate,” said McKibben. “Since warm air holds more water vapor than cold, we get increased evaporation in arid areas (think drought, and wildfire) and when that water comes down it tends to do so in torrents.”

Citing Nebraska’s flooding in particular, McKibben argued that the state’s “current trauma is part of everyone’s future.”

Experts more broadly argue that the flooding sends a message to lawmakers. Arvind Ravikumar, a professor at the Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, told ThinkProgress that government at every level needs to do more to prepare for climate change.

“All of this comes down to cutting carbon emissions — climate change isn’t just about decreasing sea ice anymore. It is about the impact in our communities from Alaska to California to Texas to Florida,” said Ravikumar. “And the longer we delay climate action, the worse off we will all be.”

That reality hasn’t sunk in for many lawmakers. Several states, including Nebraska, have been slow to introduce plans addressing climate change, while the Trump administration has worked to roll back regulations that would help mitigate the impacts of global warming.

Still, Hickey said, in states like Missouri, local communities understand what’s happening and the ways in which climate change is impacting their lives.

“I think a lot of people get it,” he said. “I was talking to a farmer… this past growing season, there was both a drought and a flood. The National Climate Assessment says [we’ll have both] and he was clear it was about climate change.”


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Beto O’Rourke is right on climate, and the AP ‘fact-check’ is wrong

Mon, 03/18/2019 - 11:51am

Speaking to an Iowa audience about the threat of climate change last week, Democratic presidential contender Beto O’Rourke said, “we have no more than 12 years to take incredibly bold action on this crisis.”

Associated Press fact checkers described his remarks as “faux facts” in an analysis published over the weekend, saying he “misrepresented the science on global warming” from last year’s report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). But O’Rourke is right, and the AP is wrong.

Last October, the IPCC warned that the world must make sharp reductions in global carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 to keep temperatures from rising above 2°C (3.6°F) to have any plausible chance of averting catastrophic climate change. Environmentalists, including the youth-led Sunrise Movement and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), quickly seized on this time frame as a means of calling for urgent climate action.

Renewed emphasis on the 2030 time frame has sparked debate, with some arguing the statements made by Ocasio-Cortez and now O’Rouke are exaggerated. But experts say it’s no overstatement. 

As Michael Mann, a climatologist at Pennsylvania State University, told ThinkProgress via email, “I judge Beto’s quote as accurate.”

As Mann previously explained to ThinkProgress, “There is no scenario for stabilizing warming below 2°C that doesn’t require rapid reductions in carbon emissions over the next decade.”

The 2°C threshold has long been widely accepted by scientists and the nations of the world as a point beyond which climate impacts rapidly become catastrophic; it’s the target nations agreed to stay “well below” in the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

What’s more, as an IPCC special report released last year makes clear, 1.5ºC (or 2.7°F) should be viewed as a key threshold for dangerous climate change that humanity should do everything possible to avoid. The higher temperatures get, the more extreme the impacts.

“Beto O’Rourke correctly interprets last year’s IPCC 1.5 degree report when he said that we have no more than 12 years to take incredibly bold action on this crisis,” Andrew Jones, co-director of Climate Interactive, told ThinkProgress. The U.S. think tank was responsible for generating some of the scenarios for the IPCC report.

“The report found that the world needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 30-50 percent by 2030 — I’d call that incredibly bold,” Jones said.

And that is precisely why the report led to headlines at the time like, “We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN” by The Guardian, and “The world has just over a decade to get climate change under control, U.N. scientists say” from the Washington Post.

Scientists say Ocasio-Cortez’s dire climate warning is spot on

O’Rourke and Ocasio-Cortez aren’t the only politicians talking about this time frame. On Sunday, another Democratic 2020 presidential hopeful, Pete Buttigieg (D-IN), was asked on Fox News about the Green New Deal’s call to decarbonize the economy by 2030. “The bottom line is scientifically, the right year to do that was yesterday. We have got to do this. This time table isn’t being set in Congress, it’s being set by reality, it’s being set by science,” Buttigieg replied.

But since progressive politicians keep getting attacked for accurately portraying the science, let’s take a deeper dive into this issue.

Fact checking is all about examining the specific words people use. The AP said it was fact checking this statement made by O’Rourke in Keokuk, Iowa, last week: “This is our final chance. The scientists are absolutely unanimous on this. That we have no more than 12 years to take incredibly bold action on this crisis.”

The AP critique starts out by stating, “THE FACTS: There is no scientific consensus, much less unanimity, that the planet only has 12 years to fix the problem.”

But O’Rourke did not say, “the planet only has 12 years to fix the problem.” What he said was, “we have no more than 12 years to take incredibly bold action on this crisis” — and for that claim there is a very robust consensus.

In fact, one of the scientists the AP spoke to made this very point: the 12-year time frame is a “robust number for trying to cut emissions.”

Cornell University climate scientist Natalie M. Mahowald told the AP that a 12-year time frame is a “robust number for trying to cut emissions” and to keep the increase in warming under current levels.

What was Mahowald’s concern? The AP writes, “But she said sketching out unduly dire consequences is not ‘helpful to solving the problem.'” Again, that’s not what O’Rourke did or said.

The AP quotes another scientist explaining that the IPCC “did not say we have 12 years left to save the world.” But that’s not what O’Rourke said either.

What O’Rourke asserted was, “we have no more than 12 years to take incredibly bold action on this crisis” — and, as climate experts Mann and Jones explain, that is what the science says.

As to the point that there is “no scientific consensus” behind the claim that bold action to address climate change is needed within the next 12 years, there actually is a strong consensus because that’s how the IPCC process works. The panel of scientists come up with a consensus “Summary for Policymakers” based on a review of the peer-reviewed literature.

The summary is usually something relatively cautious and understated since each IPCC report must be approved unanimously (or virtually unanimously), line by line, by every government in the world; this includes Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the United States under the Trump administration. So it’s hardly inappropriate for a policymaker like O’Rourke to use the word “unanimous” to describe the findings.

In fact, the IPCC report released in October makes the strongest case so far that going beyond 1.5ºC warming is much, much more dangerous than we realized just a few years ago. It shows that as the planet warms from 1.5°C to 2°C, the risks grow rapidly for some very dangerous tipping points, including the irreversible collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet (which by itself would ultimately raise sea levels 20 feet).

For instance, the report notes that “limiting global warming to 1.5°C rather than 2°C is projected to prevent the thawing” of as much as 1 million square miles of permafrost. And that matters because the northern permafrost contains twice as much carbon as the atmosphere does today.

The most dangerous climate feedback loop is speeding up

This means we face the very real possibility of a snowballing catastrophe — where, say, efforts to keep warming to 2°C end up thawing a huge area of permafrost, which results in carbon emissions that take us far past that threshold.

So a rational and moral society would endeavor to stay as far away as possible from 2°C and as close as possible to 1.5°C — which is precisely what the world’s nations unanimously committed to in the Paris climate agreement. The accord requires a series of increasingly deeper emissions reductions aimed at keeping total warming “to well below 2°C [3.6°F] above preindustrial levels.”

Not only that, but the Paris climate deal further committed the world “to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C [2.7°F] above preindustrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.”

And the 2018 IPCC report makes clear that limiting warming to 1.5°C requires very deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions — “a 40-50 percent reduction from 2010 levels” — by 2030.

Even holding warming below 2°C requires deep cuts. In order to limit global warming to below 2°C, CO2 emissions must “decline by about 25 percent by 2030 in most pathways” compared to 2010 emissions, the report states, “and reach net zero around 2070.”

So reexamining O’Rourke’s central claim — “we have no more than 12 years to take incredibly bold action on this crisis” — we see that this is a factually accurate statement. It is one that reflects an overwhelming scientific consensus as well as unanimity among the world’s major governments.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Maryland could become the first state to stop participating in the federal family planning program

Mon, 03/18/2019 - 10:25am

Maryland could be the first state to stop participating in the country’s only federal family program, should the Trump administration’s so-called gag rule go into effect.

On Saturday, the Maryland House of Delegates passed a bill that would end the state’s participation in Title X, if the administration prevents the program’s federal family planning funds from going to clinics like Planned Parenthood that provide abortion or refer patients for abortion elsewhere. Instead, beginning in 2021, the governor would be instructed to set aside more state dollars to effectively create its own family planning program.

In 2017, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) signed a bill that created a state-based family planning program, in case the federal government decided to impose a gag rule. This new bill takes an additional step, declaring Maryland would not participate in a program that provides substandard care, explained Robyn Elliott, lobbyist for Planned Parenthood of Maryland.

“This is really about equity across Maryland,” Elliott told ThinkProgress. “Maryland has worked for many years to ensure everyone has access to a broad range of evidence-based contraception…. Why would we leave a part of Maryland out in terms of having access to the same high standard of care?”

The Maryland Department of Health receives between $3 million and $4 million dollars annually from the federal government under the Title X program, Elliott said. The state doles out these federal dollars to various providers, including eight Planned Parenthood clinics. Should the administration’s rule barring abortion providers from participating in Title X take effect, the state would no longer be able to dispense federal dollars to these clinics.

Under current law, federal dollars can’t pay for abortion services. Providers use Title X dollars to pay for other health services like contraception, pelvic exams, and cervical or breast cancer screenings. In 2010, Title X clinics prevented 53,450 cases of chlamydia, 8,810 cases of gonorrhea, 250 cases of HIV, 1,900 cases of cervical cancer, and 6,920 cases of pelvic inflammatory disease, according to the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association.

California files lawsuit over Trump administration’s family planning gag rule

But the Trump administration argues that by allowing providers like Planned Parenthood to participate in the Title X program, federal officials are basically subsidizing abortion. (It’s worth noting Title X-funded clinics receive more money from Medicaid, a federal-state insurance program for low-income people.)

The administration’s new rule, issued in early March, fundamentally reshapes the country’s sole grant program dedicated to family planning. The grant program would require providers to physically and financially separate abortion from other medical services. Providers wouldn’t even be able to provide abortion referrals during pregnancy counseling. The administration is also giving crisis pregnancy centers an opportunity at receiving federal dollars, even though these centers have a history of misleading patients. Under the Trump administration, the Title X program would emphasize fertility awareness and abstinence education.

The administration is mirroring what conservative states have long tried to do. In 2011, Texas excluded Planned Parenthood from a Medicaid-based program that served around 244,000 women. Within a year, 82 clinics closed, a third of them run by Planned Parenthood.

“The exclusion of Planned Parenthood affiliates…in Texas was associated with adverse changes in the provision of contraception,” a 2016 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found. “For women using injectable contraceptives, there was a reduction in the rate of contraceptive continuation and an increase in the rate of childbirth covered by Medicaid.”

Under the proposed bill, Maryland would create a state-based family program that continues to include abortion providers like Planned Parenthood.

“We want to make sure Marylanders who get family planning services under Title X have access to the very same methods as people with private insurance. It’s that plain and simple,” said state Rep. Shane Pendergrass (D), sponsor of the Maryland Title X bill.

“… Because of the federal rules, they will no longer have that access under Title X. So it’s time to walk away from the federal Title X dollars,” she added.

ThinkProgress reached out to the governor’s office for comment on the bill, but did not hear back by the time of publication.

Maryland is likely the first state aiming to mitigate the gag rule’s damage through legislative action. The state is also one of 21 others suing the administration over the rule. There are currently at least six lawsuits challenging the administration’s changes to the Title X program.

Gillibrand, Warren commit to undoing Trump administration’s abortion gag rule on day one

“We are singularly focused on and confident that the courts will block this unlawful regulation. Communities across the country recognize the peril that will befall their most marginalized residents if this rule takes effect. We are all fighting to protect providers and their patients however possible, and our hope is that our legal action will make it so that states don’t have to bear this burden, and many will be unable to do so,” Jessica Marcella, vice president of advocacy and communications at the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, said in a statement to ThinkProgress.

Most legal experts think these lawsuits will have a tough time prevailing in federal court, as the Supreme Court previously upheld a similar Regan-era regulation.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Hawley praises Trump Jr. op-ed, promotes conservative censorship conspiracy

Mon, 03/18/2019 - 9:57am

Missouri Republican Josh Hawley presented himself as a “constitutional conservative” committed to “fighting for the people’s liberties” in his 2018 campaign for U.S. Senate. But on Monday, he endorsed Donald Trump Jr.’s call for action to force private tech companies to protect and privilege conservative hate speech on their platforms.

“@DonaldTrumpJr. nails it. Time for conservatives to stand up to #BigTech,” he wrote.

.@DonaldJTrumpJr nails it. Time for conservatives to stand up to #BigTech https://t.co/WWMfcEWJio

— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) March 18, 2019

Hawley, who has previously pushed to punish giants like Google and Twitter for perceived slights to conservatives by taking away the liability protections they and other common carriers receive, tweeted a link to an op-ed by the president’s son published by The Hill on Sunday.

Trump Jr. — who in theory is busily running his father’s companies and staying out of politics — wrote that “our love of the free market dictates” that conservatives “must do whatever is necessary to ensure” that tech companies do nothing to restrict even the most dangerous rhetoric from their platforms. He also repeated a litany of disproven conspiracy theories about “shadowbans” of conservative users and about YouTube’s limitations on how much money Trump supporters can make through their videos.

Donald Jr. admits there is no barrier between President Trump and his businesses

Trump Jr. suggested, for example, that Facebook’s “stealth censorship was specifically aimed at conservatives.” However, this popular right-wing talking point has never been proven and all of the major tech companies have repeatedly denied any anti-conservative bias. Prominent conservative figures like the pro-Trump activists known as “Diamond and Silk” have notably seen less of a drop since the social media site changed its algorithms than many left-leaning content providers.

While Trump Jr.’s op-ed complains that “social media censorship can quickly lead to banishment from such fundamental services as transportation, online payments and banking,” he neglects to acknowledge that these restrictions have been made to white nationalists and neo-Nazis, rather than garden variety conservatives.

The op-ed also quotes comments Hawley made on the topic earlier this month at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). There, Hawley proposed that “Google and Facebook should not be a law unto themselves,” and argued the tech behemoths “should not be able to discriminate against conservatives. They should not be able to tell us we need to sit down and shut up!”

It is particularly noteworthy that Hawley and Trump Jr. are claiming online censorship days after an alleged white nationalist killed 49 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The suspected gunman in that attack was reportedly inspired by online far-right postings, and platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube struggled to remove violent video of the shootings originally posted by the gunman and later reposted by far right trolls celebrating the incident.

A report from the social media tracking company NewsWhip also noted last week that recent changes to Facebook’s algorithm have actually led to increased engagement on posts by conservative outlets like Fox News and, among the less mainstream sites, LifeZette and Breitbart. Misleading articles from right-wing sites like The Daily Signal and LifeNews were also listed among the most-commented and most-shared news stories, according to Nieman Lab.

This article has been updated with additional information from Nieman Lab regarding the promotion of conservative news stories on Facebook.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

The fate of one of America’s worst gerrymanders appears to rest in Clarence Thomas’ hands

Mon, 03/18/2019 - 9:39am

Viewed in isolation, Monday’s Supreme Court argument in Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill went very well for the Republican Party. The members of the court who spoke up during Monday’s argument looked likely to split along party lines — with the newly appointed Trump judge, Brett Kavanaugh, pushing hardest to uphold a racial gerrymander that all but ensures that Republicans will control Virginia’s lower house.

Yet there are two reasons why this initial impression may prove deceiving. The first is that the Supreme Court did not stay the lower court’s decision striking down Virginia’s state House map, allowing the lower court to produce new maps that give Democrats their first shot at winning a majority in that House in many years. If a majority of the Supreme Court intended to reverse the lower court, it is odd that they would allow the lower court to move forward with the process of drawing new maps.

The second reason why Virginia Republicans may not wind up with much to celebrate comes from an unusual source — Justice Clarence Thomas. Thomas, as is his ordinary practice, did not speak at all during Monday’s arguments on Bethune-Hill. Yet his past statements in this very same case suggest that he is quite hostile to Virginia’s gerrymandered map.

Democrats may soon win full control of the commonwealth of Virginia’s government, in other words, thanks to an unusual alliance between Thomas and the Supreme Court’s liberal wing.

Bethune-Hill involves 12 state legislative districts that were each drawn to ensure that at least 55 percent of the voting age population within these districts is black. The Republican-controlled House of Delegates, which is now defending the maps against the wishes of the state’s attorney general, claims that it needed to apply this 55 percent threshold to comply with the Voting Rights Act. When the maps were drawn, this act prevented states from drawing maps that show “retrogression” — that is, maps that diminish the number of districts in which racial minorities can “elect their preferred candidates of choice” relative to the previous map.

Though this rule against retrogression was in effect when the maps were drawn in 2011, it’s now largely defunct thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision deactivating much of the Voting Rights Act. That decision was on party lines, with Chief Justice John Roberts writing the majority opinion.

The Supreme Court’s first Bethune-Hill decision, which upheld one of the challenged districts and sent the rest down to the lower court for further review, held that courts must treat legislative maps as presumptively unconstitutional when the plaintiff shows that “race was the predominant factor motivating the legislature’s decision to place a significant number of voters within or without a particular district.” And there shouldn’t be much doubt that race predominated in the remaining eleven districts.

The evidence in this case suggests that Virginia’s mapmakers largely consulted with just one African-American member of the state house and determined that her district would need a black voting-age population of at least 55 percent to prevent retrogression. The 55 percent threshold “‘was then applied across the board to all twelve’ districts,” according to the Supreme Court’s first Bethune-Hill decision.

And yet, several Republican members of the high court seemed inclined to give the state’s gerrymander a pass.

Kavanaugh was the most outspoken defender of the gerrymander, claiming that “everyone agrees” that the state needed to have 12 majority-minority districts — and that if the state had chosen a lower threshold than 55 percent, African-Americans likely would have complained that those maps did not do enough to prevent retrogression.

That may very well be true, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Supreme Court’s first Bethune-Hill decision requires an individualized assessment of whether each district was drawn with too much attention to race. “A court faced with a racial gerrymandering claim,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in that opinion, “must consider all of the lines of the district at issue; any explanation for a particular portion of the lines, moreover, must take account of the districtwide context.”

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito also appeared sympathetic to Virginia’s gerrymandered maps, although they played their cards a little closer to their chests than Kavanaugh. Roberts twice asked what his court should do with the fact that the lower court initially ruled in favor of the Virginia maps before the Supreme Court’s Bethune-Hill decision, then reached opposite assessments about which witnesses were credible after the Supreme Court ordered a new trial. Notably, one of the three members of the lower court panel that heard this case changed between the two trials.

Alito, meanwhile, seemed primarily concerned with a threshold question in this case — whether the House of Delegates is allowed to appeal the lower court’s order in the first place.

Virginia’s Democratic attorney general elected not to appeal the lower court order, and the Republican house is only allowed to appeal if it has “standing” to do so — that is, if it can show that it was either authorized by state law to represent the state or that it was somehow injured by the lower court’s order. While liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan all appeared skeptical that the House has standing in this case, Alito tried time and time again to rescue the House — at one point claiming that the House would be injured if the lower court’s order caused it to print different stationary for its new members.

Thomas was characteristically silent, and he was nearly matched by his frequent ally, Neil Gorsuch, who asked just one brief question. Yet, in a partial dissent in the first Bethune-Hill case, Thomas took a rigid position, suggesting that any consideration of race in redistricting may need to be struck down.

“To comply with [the fully operational Voting Rights Act, a State necessarily must make a deliberate and precise effort to sort its citizens on the basis of their race,” Thomas wrote in his first Bethune-Hill opinion. “But that result is fundamentally at odds with our ‘color-blind’ Constitution, which ‘neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.'”

Thomas’s opinion suggests, in other words, that Virginia could not apply a 55 percent threshold no matter what the circumstances. It strongly suggests that he will ultimately vote to strike down Virginia’s maps.

Should the court split 5-4 (or 6-3) with Thomas (and maybe Gorsuch) in a majority striking down the Virginia maps, that would be a stunning indictment of Roberts and Alito. Roberts is the author of the court’s decision nuking much of the Voting Rights Act, and he often calls for lawmakers to take a color-blind approach in other cases involving race. If Roberts abandons this color-blind worldview in a case that benefits the Republican Party, he risks undermining his own image as a justice who places the law above partisanship.

Alito, moreover, seemed sympathetic to Thomas’ views in the first Bethune-Hill decision, quoting favorably from Justice Antonin Scalia’s declaration that “when a legislature intentionally creates a majority-minority district, race is necessarily its predominant motivation and strict scrutiny is therefore triggered.”

Based solely on Monday’s oral argument, however, Roberts and Alito seemed more open to the Virginia maps than their previously stated positions would suggest. The fate of one of the worst Republican gerrymanders in the country — a map that allowed Republicans to hold onto the Virginia House of Delegates even after Democrats won the statewide popular vote by more than nine points — could very well rest with Justice Thomas.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Steve King denounces hatred two days after posting Facebook meme threatening Democrats

Mon, 03/18/2019 - 9:03am

Congressman Steve King (R-IA) tweeted Monday about the importance of denouncing hatred “in all its forms,” two days after posting a meme threatening Democrats with “8 trillion bullets.”

“Nigerian militants kill 120 Christians in horrific, sickening and utterly repulsive acts of mass murder and terrorism,” King tweeted. “Terrorism knows no boundaries. Our hearts and prayers go out to all in #Nigeria.”

“We stand against hatred in all its forms,” he added.

Nigerian Militants kill 120 Christians in horrific, sickening, and utterly repulsive acts of mass murder and terrorism. Terrorism knows no boundaries. Our hearts and prayers go out to all #Nigeria. We stand against hatred in all its forms. https://t.co/v24DxOY8PU

— Steve King (@SteveKingIA) March 18, 2019

King’s tweet cited a report by the human rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide, which recently catalogued a series of attacks and ongoing violence perpetuated by Fulani militants in northern Nigeria, which has resulted in the deaths of 120 people since early February.

The violence stems from ongoing conflict between the militants, who are predominantly Muslim, and local farmers, who are mostly Christian. Last year, the Global Terrorism Index listed Fulani militants among the deadliest extremist groups in the world, noting the militants had killed six times more people than Boko Haram in 2018 alone.

King posted the tweet one day after coming under scrutiny for a threatening and transphobic post on his official “King for Congress” Facebook page, which suggested Republicans would beat Democrats in a second civil war because they had more bullets.

“Wonder who would win….” King wrote above a meme that showed red states battling blue states, along with the words, “Folks keep talking about another civil war; one side has about 8 trillion bullets, while the other side doesn’t know which bathroom to use.”

Screenshot, Steve King for Congress Facebook

The bathroom comment appeared to be a reference to the ongoing efforts to ensure transgender individuals are able to use the restroom which conforms with their gender identity.

By Monday afternoon, the post appeared to have been deleted.

King has a history of making anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, and white nationalist comments. In March 2017, King tweeted, “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” And in a January interview with The New York Times, he questioned when terms like “white nationalist” became offensive.

In an October 2018 interview with a far-right Austrian publication, King also promoted the “Great Replacement” conspiracy, a theory which claims governments are working behind the scenes to reduce the white populations in their respective nations, in favor of substituting a non-white majority.

“If we don’t defend Western civilization, then we will become subjugated by the people who are the enemies of the faith, the enemies of justice,” he said at the time.

That theory was most recently promoted by the alleged gunman who opened fire on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand last week, killing at least 49 people.

The suspected shooter espoused the Great Replacement conspiracy, as well as other right-wing ideology promoted by conservatives like King in a multi-page manifesto posted online prior to the attack. As ThinkProgress has previously noted, Tarrant’s manifesto fully embraces this spurious notion, regularly citing statistics in birth rates between ethnicities.

#ChristChurchMosqueAttack was an horrific, sickening, and utterly repulsive act of mass murder and terrorism. Terrorism knows no boundaries. From America, our hearts and prayers go out to all of New Zealand. We stand against hatred in all its forms.

— Steve King (@SteveKingIA) March 15, 2019

Over the weekend, King tweeted condolences to the victims of that attack. “[This] was an horrific, sickening, and utterly repulsive act of mass murder and terrorism. Terrorism knows no boundaries,” he wrote. “From America, our hearts and prayers go out to all of New Zealand. We stand against hatred in all its forms.”

This article has been updated to note that the incendiary post on King’s Facebook page was later deleted.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Kellyanne Conway: If people read New Zealand shooter’s manifesto, they won’t blame Trump

Mon, 03/18/2019 - 8:23am

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Monday morning that everyone should read the manifesto published by the suspect who targeted two New Zealand mosques last week, killing dozens. “People should read it in its entirety,” she said on Fox & Friends.

Conway seemed to be making an attempt to defend President Donald Trump, whom the shooter described in his manifesto “as a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” The shooter, Conway insisted on Monday, is “not conservative” and “not a Nazi” — implying that this sets him apart from the president, who Conway said “condemns hate and evil and bigotry.”

But Trump has been criticized for not directly condemning the white supremacy and Islamophobia that appears to have motivated the shooting. This weekend, he instead spent his time calling on Fox News to “bring back” host Jeanine Pirro, who was suspended last week after making Islamophobic comments on her show Justice with Judge Jeanine.

Conway went on to juxtapose the New Zealand shooting with the shooting that targeted the Republican congressional baseball team during a practice session in 2017. “We didn’t run around saying, ‘Gee, the guy said he watches MSNBC or he’s a Bernie supporter,'” she said. That shooter, however, didn’t leave a manifesto explaining his act of violence. Details about his political leanings were gleaned from his social media accounts after the fact.

It’s unclear from her comments what exactly Conway is trying to convey. She described the New Zealand shooter as a “rotten, evil, hateful, person” who wanted attention, but at the same time urged people to give him attention. She seemed to believe it was worth reading the manifesto because those who read it would likely conclude Trump was not actually a motivating factor in the attack.

There is generally consensus among criminology experts that such manifestos should not be widely published or elevated. As criminology professor James Alan Fox explained Friday, “Following up with excessive details about the killer’s lifestyle and belief system tends to humanize the assailant and can invigorate others of like minds.” Donald Trump, Jr. recognized this dynamic in the immediate aftermath of the shooting as details began to circulate on Twitter, tweeting that the media shouldn’t give the shooter the attention he wants.

Don’t give the POS NZ shooter what he wants. Don’t speak his name don’t show the footage. Seems that most agree on that. The questions is can the media do what’s right and pass up the ratings they’ll get by doing the opposite? I fear we all know the answer unfortunately.

— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) March 15, 2019

That’s not to say there aren’t important takeaways from the manifesto. In this case, in particular, the troll-laden document reflects several white nationalist concepts that have been repackaged and mainstreamed by conservatives, including Trump. The shooter appeared to believe these ideas justified his actions, which speaks to how dangerous these ideas can be when left unchecked.

But the Trump administration seems more concerned with avoiding blame than doing anything to proactively respond to the proliferation of this hateful language. Trump said as much in a tweet Monday morning.

The Fake News Media is working overtime to blame me for the horrible attack in New Zealand. They will have to work very hard to prove that one. So Ridiculous!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 18, 2019

In this light, it’s clear Conway’s priority is controlling the narrative. On Saturday, she chided reporters for trying to politicize the shooting. “You can actually shut up and pray for people and wait for the authorities to make their judgments,” she admonished in a different Fox News appearance.

She doubled down on those comments Monday. “By the way, folks, if you’re not an expert on this, stop weighing in like you are,” she said on Fox & Friends. “We don’t need to hear your opinion on every single thing.”

The White House narrative is an attempt to frame the shooter as being so exceptional that his rhetoric doesn’t reflect on Trump or any of his supporters. Indeed, the president told reporters Friday that he doesn’t think white nationalism is a big problem. Moments before, however, he had framed immigration as an “invasion” — the exact term used in the killer’s manifesto.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Republican congressman introduces bill to fix the injustice of college sports

Mon, 03/18/2019 - 5:00am

The latest opposition to the NCAA is coming from an unlikely place: The U.S. House of Representatives.

On Thursday, Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) introduced the Student-Athlete Equity Act, a bill that aims to hit the NCAA where it hurts the most: in the tax code. Currently, the only compensation college athletes in this country receive for their labor comes in the form of scholarships and having educational costs covered by the university. If a student-athlete sells an autograph, promotes a lacrosse stick brand on their Instagram, or accepts a free tattoo from a fan, it counts as an NCAA violation under the current system.

But Walker’s bill would amend the definition of a qualified amateur sports organization in the tax code, and remove this restriction on student-athletes using or being compensated for the use of their name, image, and likeness

“We’re not asking the NCAA or the schools to spend a dime on these athletes,” Walker told ThinkProgress in a phone interview on Friday. “We’re asking for them to have the same rights to the free market that you and I have.”

It’s no coincidence that Walker is introducing this bill during March Madness — the men’s NCAA Division I basketball tournament, which begins on Tuesday, is the college sports cartel’s most egregious showcase of athlete exploitation. The television networks, sponsors, NCAA, universities, coaches, and trainers all rake in millions, while the players get no share of the haul.

This arrangement has bothered Walker for decades. He first became aware of the inequities in this system back in the early 1990s, when the University of Michigan’s Fab Five — the Wolverines’ 1991 recruiting class considered by many to be the best of all time — took the basketball world by storm, and, in many ways, changed the face of college basketball forever. While three of the Fab Five — Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, and Juwan Howard — went on to have long NBA careers, Jimmy King only spent a couple of years in the league, and Ray Jackson never made it to the pros.

That didn’t sit well with Walker. “Everyone made mint from them, everyone had their hands in the cookie jar, but two guys never made any money off of this,” he said. “It got me thinking about the whole system, watching how it operates.”

Jay Allred, an advocate for college athlete protection in North Carolina, said that Walker’s bill would be a great step forward for student-athletes.

“Only two percent of these kids are going to go pro, according to the NCAA. But, you know, there’s a lot of kids that have a great earning potential while they’re in college, and they should be allowed to make that money,” he says.

Allred warns that Walker is likely to see fierce resistance from the NCAA, along with the most powerful college athletic departments in the country. He used the case of Zion Williamson — the freshman basketball phenom at Duke, who is projected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft this summer — to prove his point.

“[If Walker’s bill became law], then at age 16, Nike could have said, ‘Zion, we want to sign you to a multi-million dollar contract, right now.,'” Allred said. “But if Nike’s able to sign into a multi-million dollar contract right now, there’s going to be less incentive for Nike to go out there and sponsor all these universities to the level that they sponsor them. I think that’s going to be a big issue for them.”

The exact details of Duke’s current contract with Nike, which runs through 2027, are not public; however, Nike has deals to the tune of $250 million with other prominent athletics departments.

Of course, Walker might not have to look outside of Congress for roadblocks. He is already receiving pushback from his fellow Republicans in the House, who would rather Walker focus his effort on other matters, such as the daily duel with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Plus, fighting for the rights of student-athletes — especially the young, black men who make up the bulk of the athletes in the highest profile college sports, such as men’s basketball and football — is not exactly a pillar of the GOP platform.

But Walker is undeterred. He’s logged many hours meeting with the NCAA, and listening to their empty promises. He sees no motivation on the NCAA’s part to resolve this, and he recognizes the way the current amateurism model is exploiting minorities and low-income families.

“A lot of these student-athletes come from impoverished communities, and there is a lot of money made on the backs of these young men and women. And these students, they can fight in the war, but they can’t have any access to their image or likeness,” Walker said.

“I say, if you see injustice and you don’t do something about it, I think, shame on you. It doesn’t mean there aren’t other battles to fight.”

The bill already has bipartisan support — the lead cosponsor of the bill is Representative Cedric Richmond (D-LA) — and Walker feels very optimistic about its future. Since the bill is targeting the tax code, it will have to go through the House Committee on Ways and Means, so his next step is to meet with them and get a markup on the calendar. From there, he hopes there will be enough support in the committee to send the bill to the House for a vote. With luck, his bill could be enacted as early as next year. Walker plans to continue this fight long after March Madness has subsided.

“I would not spend this much time or political capital on this if it was just for show,” he said. “This is genuinely a place in our society where there is injustice.”


Categories: SCCDP Allies

A Pittsburgh Jewish group is raising money for New Zealand’s Muslim community

Sun, 03/17/2019 - 1:25pm

New Zealand’s Muslim community is receiving support from an American Jewish group that knows far too well the pain they are currently experiencing.

Last October, a crowdfunding campaign called “Muslims Unite for Pittsburgh Synagogue” raised over $200,000 to help the victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in the city’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. Now, just over four months later, a Jewish group in Pittsburgh has launched its own campaign in support of New Zealand’s Muslim community, which was devastated by a similar attack on Friday.

“The Muslim-American community extends its hands to help the shooting victims, whether it is the injured victims or the Jewish families who have lost loved ones,” the Muslim coalition’s online campaign page stated last October. “We wish to respond to evil with good, as our faith instructs us, and send a powerful message of compassion through action.”

Now, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh is returning the favor. The group started a campaign to “help people in need” following the attack on a pair of mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, that killed 50 people and wounded another 50.

In a statement on its website, Meryl Ainsman, the Jewish group’s board chair, said the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh stands in solidarity with the Muslim community in Christchurch.

“Unfortunately we are all too familiar with the devastating effect a mass shooting has on a faith community,” Ainsman said. “We are filled with grief over this senseless act of hate. May those who were injured heal quickly and fully, and may the memories of the victims forever be a blessing.”

As of Sunday evening, it is unclear how much money the Pittsburgh group has raised. David Guzikowski, its donor services associate, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The group is still working on identifying an international partner “so that your money goes directly to help,” the group’s website read.

A fundraising page has been setup and the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh is accepting checks from communities members that are sent to: 2000 Technology Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15219.

Similar interfaith solidarity has taken place in the past. In 2017, for example, Muslims raised over $100,000 to repair a vandalized Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia, and Jewish groups helped rebuild a Florida mosque that burned down in a mosque attack. Also in 2017, the leaders of a Jewish congregation in Victoria, Texas, handed the keys to their synagogue over to Muslim leaders after their mosque was burned down.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

The youngest known victim of the New Zealand mosque shooting was just 3 years old

Sun, 03/17/2019 - 12:12pm

The youngest known victim of the mass shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, was just 3 years old.

Mucaad Ibrahim was at the Al Noor mosque for Friday prayers with his older brother, Abdi, and his father. They were listening to the imam’s sermon when a gunman entered and opened fire on the congregants inside. Mucaad is among the 50 people killed in the massacre, police confirmed Sunday.

Mucaad was born in New Zealand to a Somali family who fled the civil war there more than 20 years ago.

Mohamud Hassan, a 21-year-old member of the Somali community in New Zealand, told The Washington Post that Mucaad seemed to think the shooting was like something from a video game his older brothers played, and he actually ran toward the gunman. In the chaos, he became separated from his dad and brother.

Family and friends who knew him said he was especially smart for his age, loved talking to older people, and was always laughing.

Abdi wrote on Facebook that his little brother was “energetic, playful and liked to smile and laugh a lot.”

“Verily we belong to God and to Him we shall return. Will miss you dearly brother,” he added.

“He’s been loved by the community here,” Ahmed Osman, a family friend, told the Associated Press. “It’s been tough days. It’s been really tough days.”

“He could have grown up to be a brilliant doctor or the prime minister,” said Hassan.

Several other children were also injured or killed in the shooting. One 4-year-old girl is in critical condition at a children’s hospital in Auckland. A 13-year-old Syrian refugee is also in the hospital, and he is not yet aware that his 14-year-old brother and his dad were both killed in the attack, according to the organization Syrian Solidarity New Zealand.

One boy, 14-year-old Sayyad Milne, is unaccounted for but was likely killed, according to his father.

“I’ve lost my little boy,” his father, John Milne, told the New Zealand Herald. “I haven’t heard officially yet that he’s actually passed, but I know he has, because he was seen.

“I remember him as my baby who I nearly lost when he was born. Such a struggle he’s had throughout all his life. He’s been unfairly treated but he’s risen above that and he’s very brave. A brave little soldier. It’s so hard… to see him just gunned down by someone who didn’t care about anyone or anything.

“I know where he is. I know he’s at peace,” Milne added.

In Islam, the dead are supposed to be buried quickly, typically within 24 hours, but people are still waiting for authorities to release the bodies of their loved ones.

The suspected gunman responsible for the attacks, Brenton Tarrant, appeared in court on Saturday and flashed a white power sign. The 28-year old, who is charged with one count of murder, published a manifesto shortly before the attack, describing himself as a “racist” and “ethno-nationalist eco-fascist.” He also said he feels no remorse for the attack but only wishes he “could have killed more invaders, and more traitors as well.”

The Red Cross New Zealand continues to update a list of people unaccounted for after the attack.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Australian prime minister says far-right senator should be charged for punching ‘egg boy’

Sun, 03/17/2019 - 11:51am

The Australian prime minister is coming to the defense of the so-called “egg boy,” who egged a far-right senator after he blamed last week’s attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Muslim immigration to the country.

Fraser Anning, a senator from Queensland, Australia punched the 17-year-old William Connolly, after the teen cracked an egg on his head during a news conference on Saturday. He lunged at Connolly again, before some of his supporters pinned the teenager to the ground.

Someone has just slapped an egg on the back of Australian Senator Fraser Anning's head, who immediately turned around and punched him in the face. @politicsabc @abcnews pic.twitter.com/HkDZe2rn0X

— Henry Belot (@Henry_Belot) March 16, 2019

The egg-smash protest was in response to Anning’s statement following the shootings, in which he said, “The real cause of bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place.”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison condemned Anning’s “appalling” and “ugly”  remarks, which he said have “no place in Australia.” Morrison added that “the full force of the law should be applied” to the far-right senator for hitting the teen.

“I want to absolutely and completely denounce the statements made by Senator Anning… on this horrendous terrorist attack, with issues of immigration, in his attack on Islamic faith specifically,” Morrison said.

Anning has not backed away from his comments, but actually doubled down on the notion that Muslim immigration was the cause of the Christchurch attack during a speech to about 100 of his supporters on Saturday, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Morrison was not alone in condemning Anning. As of Sunday afternoon, over 1 million people signed an online petition on Change.org to remove Anning from office while a separate online fundraiser through the website, GoFundMe has so far raised over $35,000 to help Connolly pay for his legal fees and for more eggs.

“Senator Fraser Anning’s views have no place in the government of our democratic and multicultural country. Within the bounds of Australian law, we request that he be pushed to resign from his position as Senator, and if appropriate, be investigated by law enforcement agencies for supporting right wing terrorism,” the petition to remove Anning from office, read.

Morrison was not alone in his strong stance against Anning and his far-right views. All major parties in Australia are also calling to formally censure Anning for his comments. Australia’s opposition leader Bill Shorten attacked extreme right-wing politicians for failing to disown their racism and hatred.

“You who want to practice in the name of free speech hate speech, you who hide behind liberty to practice evil, well you have created this swamp of hate,” Shorten told Australian reporters.

New Zealand’s prime minister also called Anning’s comments a “disgrace” and its high commissioner Annette King said she was delighted they were “condemned from the very top of the government here in Australia and the people of Australia.”


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Mick Mulvaney forced to defend Trump from charges of white supremacy on Fox News

Sun, 03/17/2019 - 11:09am

Defending President Donald Trump against charges of white supremacy is a thankless and never-ending job, and it is apparently grating on the nerves of acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Mulvaney bristled at having to answer for his boss in the wake of Trump being mentioned in the manifesto linked to the gunman who killed 50 people last week at two mosques in New Zealand.

“The president is not a white supremacist,” Mulvaney said, responding to host Chris Wallace’s question about the shooter’s apparent support for the president.

Police are examining a lengthy, rambling document reportedly written by the shooting suspect, Brenton Harrison Tarrant, who identified himself as an “ethno-nationalist eco-fascist,” a term that’s been described as white nationalism. In his statement, Tarrant argued that left-leaning politicians are “presiding over the continued destruction of the natural environment itself through mass immigration and uncontrolled urbanization.”

The document also noted that Trump is a “symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose” with white nationalist objectives, but rejected the U.S. president as a “policy maker and leader” for his cause. “Dear god no,” Tarrant wrote.

Mulvaney seized on that part of the manifesto as proof that it’s just as “absurd” to label Trump a white nationalist as it would be to call Democratic leaders terrorists for their support of environmental policies that Tarrant opposed.

“I’m a little disappointed you didn’t put up the next sentence,” he said, “‘What about for his policies and as a leader? Dear God, no.’ I don’t think it is fair to cast this person as a supporter of Donald Trump, any more than it is to look at his ‘eco-terrorist’ passages in that manifesto and align him with Nancy Pelosi or Ms. Ocasio-Cortez,” Mulvaney said, referring to the House speaker and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), both Democrats.

“This was a disturbed individual, an evil person and any attempt to try to tie him to an American politician of either party probably ignores some of the deeper difficulties that this sort of activity exposes,” Mulvaney added.

When Wallace noted that Trump was specifically mentioned in the document — not Pelosi or Ocasio-Cortez — and asked if Trump was planning a speech to condemn anti-Muslim white supremacy, Mulvaney voiced exasperated frustration at having to defend the president.

“The president is not a white supremacist,” Mulvaney replied. “I’m not sure how many times we have to say that. To simply ask the question every time something like this happens overseas or even domestically, to say, ‘oh my goodness, it must somehow be the president’s fault,’ speaks to a politicization of everything that I think is undermining sort of the institutions that we have in the country today.”

But the president’s own comments on white nationalism have fueled, in part, the polarized reactions among political leaders. Indeed, Trump downplayed white nationalism as an international issue, saying Friday that the New Zealand shooting represented nothing more than “a small group of people that have very, very serious problems.”

Critics responded to Trump on the Sunday talk shows, denouncing the president as out of touch on the subject.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), one of three Muslim lawmakers serving in Congress, said on CNN’s State of the Union that the president should offer supporting messages to the global Muslim community instead of sending out offensive tweets.

Trump “is the most powerful man in the world right now,” Tlaib said. “The fact that we continue to stay silent is what’s going to make us as a country less safe.”

Also appearing Sunday on State of the Union, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, demanded that Trump speak out against anti-Muslim bigotry and white nationalism.

“At the very least, he should be giving strong statements, public speeches defending Muslims in this world,” Klobuchar said. “I think it’s on all of us to condemn this hate.”

Mulvaney, however, brushed aside calls for Trump to be more forceful in his denunciation of white supremacy, calling it political rhetoric from people who hate the president.

“There are folks who just don’t like the president and everything that goes wrong they’re going to look for a way to tie that to the president,” he said.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

University of Tennessee will be free for low-income students starting in fall 2020

Sun, 03/17/2019 - 8:43am

Joining a small, but growing list of U.S. colleges and universities seeking to make higher education more accessible to a greater number of qualified students, the University of Tennessee announced recently it would guarantee free tuition and fees to admitted in-state residents with a family household income of less than $50,000.

The novel program — called “UT Promise” — provides a financial aid package for in-state students who enroll at one of the system’s campuses in Knoxville, Chattanooga, or Martin. The UT Promise covers the cost of attending classes at the selected campuses, after all other financial aid, such as Pell Grants and HOPE Scholarships, are received.

Interim university President Randy Boyd unveiled the novel program Thursday during the university’s annual State of UT Address in Nashville, noting the program will begin with the incoming class in fall 2020 and seeks to eliminate cost as a barrier for students to obtain an undergraduate degree. Students already enrolled will be eligible to apply for the program.

“This isn’t a school just for the wealthy or the elite,” Boyd said in his speech. “This is a school for everyone. It is critically important that we take a lead role in ensuring students can achieve their dream of obtaining an undergraduate college degree. It is our mission and responsibility to do everything we can to ease the financial burden for our middle- and working-class families, and UT Promise is an ideal conduit to achieve that.”

According to the most current figures collected in the 2017/2018 U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics survey, Tennessee residents pay $30,930 per year to attend university on a full-time basis, a figure that includes $11,110 for tuition, $10,696 for room and board, $1,598 for books and supplies, and $1,860 for assorted other school fees.

The UT Promise isn’t available for out-of-state students, who are charged about $49,000 per year.

Under provisions of the program, admitted in-state students must qualify for the Hope Scholarship and meet the academic qualifications to be eligible for this new scholarship. In addition to the financial incentive, UT Promise students will be matched with volunteer mentors and will be required to complete four hours of service learning each semester.

According to a statement released by the university, 46 percent of the Tennessee system’s students graduate without debt and the goal of the new scholarship program is to make college more affordable to a greater number of in-state students. The university noted that five years ago it became the nation’s first state to make its community college system tuition-free for new high school graduates and later expanded that free-tuition program to older, returning adult students.

Funding for the program is expected to be provided by the University of Tennessee Foundation, which simultaneously announced an endowment campaign to support the scholarships. Until that funding stream is fully engaged, the university will cover all costs associated with the UT Promise, Boyd said.

College costs have skyrocketed over the past decade or so, as average tuition and fees at private four-year schools rose 26 percent and, worse, at four-year public schools soared by 34 percent. To combat the rising prices, which prevent many financially strapped students from even applying to college, university administrators and state officials have developed innovative scholarship programs to persuade students to apply to in-state schools.

Similar free-tuition programs are available in Oregon, Nevada, Arkansas, New Jersey, Maryland, Rhode Island, Delaware, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Indiana. Lawmakers in eight other states are considering similar programs.

Generally, the programs offer prospective students two years of free tuition at participating state community colleges or other associate-degree programs and vocational schools, with the opportunity to transfer into larger, flagship state universities. Also, for the most part, the financial aid is labeled as “last dollar” scholarships, meaning the program pays for whatever tuition is left after all other financial aid and grants are collected by the institution.

In some cases, the free tuition program is tied to beefing up the state’s future workforce. New York, for example, in 2017 became the first state to cover four years of tuition with its “Excelsior” program without tying the money to students’ academic performance. The Excelsior program requires attendance at a City University of New York (CUNY) or State University of New York (SUNY), taking at least 30 credits per year of classes and a plan to reside in the state for as many years as a student participated in the program.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Fox News pulls Jeanine Pirro off air after bigoted comments about Ilhan Omar

Sun, 03/17/2019 - 8:27am

A week after she questioned whether Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D-MN) Muslim beliefs were “antithetical to the United States Constitution,” Jeannine Pirro was pulled from the air Saturday.

Pirro made her bigoted remarks on her show Justice with Judge Jeanine last Saturday, prompting a wave of backlash and a rare rebuke from Fox, which often allows its hosts to say Islamophobic, racist, sexist, and factually incorrect views. A number of companies last week announced they would pull their ads from her show in response.

It is unclear whether Pirro’s show was pulled from its 9 p.m. Saturday slot permanently, and Fox News said in a statement it would not comment on scheduling matters.

Instead of Pirro’s show on Saturday, Fox News aired a rerun of a show called Scandalous, which documents various scandals committed by prominent Democratic politicians and their families.

Pirro does have at least one powerful ally in her corner. President Donald Trump tweeted Sunday morning that Fox News should bring the show back because the “Radical Left Democrats” and “Fake News Media” are using “every trick in the book to SILENCE a majority of our Country.”

Bring back @JudgeJeanine Pirro. The Radical Left Democrats, working closely with their beloved partner, the Fake News Media, is using every trick in the book to SILENCE a majority of our Country. They have all out campaigns against @FoxNews hosts who are doing too well. Fox …..

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 17, 2019

….must stay strong and fight back with vigor. Stop working soooo hard on being politically correct, which will only bring you down, and continue to fight for our Country. The losers all want what you have, don’t give it to them. Be strong & prosper, be weak & die! Stay true….

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 17, 2019

….to the people that got you there. Keep fighting for Tucker, and fight hard for @JudgeJeanine. Your competitors are jealous – they all want what you’ve got – NUMBER ONE. Don’t hand it to them on a silver platter. They can’t beat you, you can only beat yourselves!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 17, 2019

Last week, Pirro questioned whether Omar could follow the U.S. Constitution since she is a Muslim who wears hijab.

“Is her adherence to this Islamic doctrine indicative of her adherence to Shariah law, which in itself is antithetical to the United States Constitution?” Pirro asked viewers.

Scholars of Islam say there is no one thing known as “Sharia law.” Rather, it’s a set of principles interpreted differently by Muslims across the world.

Pirro hasn’t apologized for her comments but in a statement last week said she asked the question on her show so she could “start a debate, but of course because one is Muslim does not mean you don’t support the Constitution.”

Trump, who weighed in on Pirro’s absence on Saturday, has a long history of expressing Islamophobic sentiments and making similar comments that peddled the bigoted falsehood that Muslims were somehow un-American.

Following the 2016 Brussels bombing, Trump, who at the time was running for office, claimed that Muslims were “not assimilating” and wanted “Sharia law” in the United States. After becoming president in 2017, Trump said on CNN that “Islam hates us… There’s a tremendous hatred. We have to get to the bottom of it.”

Pirro is just the latest Fox News host to face advertising backlash over offensive comments. Last week, several companies announced they would pull ads from Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show after Media Matters for America posted a compilation of offensive comments he made on previous radio interviews with shock-jocks. During those interviews, Carlson defended statutory rape, made lewd comments about a Miss Teen USA contestant, and questioned the humanity of racial minorities.

Fox News, in a statement, defended its prime-time host. “We cannot and will not allow voices like Tucker Carlson to be censored by agenda-driven intimidation efforts from the likes of Moveon.org, Media Matters and Sleeping Giants.”


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Americans are dying because they can’t afford their insulin. That’s now a 2020 campaign issue.

Sun, 03/17/2019 - 4:00am

Once a month, Sarah Stark makes the trip to her local pharmacy to pick up the insulin she needs to keep her diabetes in check.

She has health insurance through her job and uses a $100 manufacturer’s coupon to help defray the cost. Even so, she ends up paying a whopping $728.40.

Stark, 28, is not the only one to experience sticker shock when making the purchase. Invariably, the pharmacist who rings her up is taken aback by the price of the medication, and asks if she’s certain she wants to complete the purchase.  

Not that Stark really has a choice. She’s a a type 1 diabetic who has had the ailment since childhood. She’s willing to pay the price for her daily dose of insulin, even though it poses financial hardship.

“Those out of pocket costs add up,” Stark said during a recent interview with ThinkProgress. “Not a lot of people could afford that co-pay… and I’ve seen them have to walk away.”

The issue is a matter of life and death — and it’s one Stark says deeply informs the choices she makes at the ballot box.

“I one hundred percent vote with my pancreas,” she said. “One of my values is that health is a human right. I’m not interested in a candidate who doesn’t feel that way.”

Insulin pricing may seem like a niche issue, but it’s one that affects millions of people across the country. As the 2020 Democratic primary field grows, a few candidates have latched onto the rapidly spiraling price of the medication as a campaign issue, revealing the range of ideas in the party for addressing monopolies and reforming the health care system.

More than 30 million people in the United States have diabetes and as of last year, an estimated 7.4 million people like Stark used insulin daily, according to the American Diabetes Association.

Without her insurance and the manufacturer’s coupon, Stark’s insulin would cost about $1,005, so Stark has it easier than some diabetics, 3 percent of whom, according to the Diabetes Patient Advocacy Coalition, have no health coverage at all.

In recent years, insulin prices have skyrocketed, according to figures compiled by the Senate Finance Committee, which is investigating possible price gouging in the industry.

Between 2001 and 2005, Eli Lilly’s Humalog increased from $35 to $234, a 585% increase, the Senate panel found.

Novo Nordisk’s Novolog rose from $289 in 2013 to to $540 in 2019, an 87 % increase. Sanofi’s Lantus, meanwhile, increased in price from $244 to $431 between 2013 and 2019, an approximately 77 % increase.

“Drug companies in general have figured out how to price better from a profit-making perspective,” Columbia University economist Bhaven Sampat explained.

“They’ve gotten more sophisticated about finding the maximum price the market can bear and gotten less bashful about it.”

That, coupled with the fact that generic versions of a drug cannot be made until the original patent expires — which hasn’t happened for insulin yet — has helped create conditions for a system that requires people like Stark to fork over hundreds of dollars each month just to remain healthy.

Apparently sensing rising fury from consumers, Eli Lilly recently announced it would offer a half-price version of Humalog. The new drug however would cost $137 a vial, a price that is still unconscionably high, said Christel Aprigliano, CEO of the Diabetes Patient Advocacy Coalition (DPAC).

“It’s not sustainable,” Aprigliano told ThinkProgress. “It truly has become a perverted system in which the list price of a drug that is life essential for 8 million Americans just has become unaffordable… [and] the people who are paying the list price are the people who can afford it the least.”

Aprigliano said she’s heard time and again of diabetics being forced to choose between a life-saving drug and paying other bills, like rent or buying food. Additionally, she said, one in four people on insulin has rationed their medication — purposely taking less than they need — in order to stretch the expensive drug over a longer period of time.

“We shouldn’t have to spend our days wondering whether we pay rent or pay for food or for my child’s health,” Aprigliano said.

As the Democratic primary race begins to take shape, that message seems to have reached the ears of some 2020 contenders.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) talked about the issue in her announcement speech last month, sharing the story of a 26-year-old man who, three days short of payday, was forced to ration his insulin and ultimately died due to lack of access to the medication.

“This disgrace should never have happened in the United States of America. Not with a simple drug that’s been around for nearly a century,” Klobuchar said in Minneapolis. “The obstacle to change? The big pharma companies think they own Washington. Well they don’t own me.”

Klobuchar said the Senate needs to pass legislation that would allow health care providers to import drugs from other countries. Additionally, she would stop Big Pharma’s practice of “paying off generic companies to keep their products off the market,” and “harness the negotiating power of 43 million seniors” to lift the ban on negotiating cheaper drug prices under Medicare.

The issue of rising insulin has caught the attention of two other 2020 contenders, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), in the early days of their campaigns. Just days before announcing his presidential bid, Sanders was tweeting about insulin pricing.

“Today in 1922, researchers at the University of Toronto announced the discovery of insulin. They sold the patent for $1 so it would be available to all,” he wrote. “97 years later, Eli Lilly is charging ~$300 and Americans die because they can’t afford their medication. Outrageous.”

Conservative estimates have found that, under Sanders’ Medicare for All plan — a central plank of his White House bid — the government would save $61 billion on pharmaceuticals.

The single payer advocacy group Physicians for a National Program has estimated that, given the government’s strengthened negotiating power under a single-payer system, drug savings — especially for high cost pharmaceuticals like insulin — would be three times that.

Another 2020 contender, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who co-sponsored Sanders’ Medicare for All bill, has proposed yet another idea: Let the federal government begin to produce its own pharmaceuticals, including insulin, in order to counter the exorbitant costs of some drugs.

Sampat, the Columbia University economist, thinks Warren’s idea could work. He believes that the federal government would be immune from patent infringement.

The argument some of his colleagues have made against government involvement in production, Sampat said, is that such a program would be inefficient. But, he said, “We’re dealing with an extremely inefficient system already. We could tolerate someone doing that with 80 percent of the acumen.”

Both Stark and Aprigliano said they are excited that a health issue as specific as the rising cost of insulin has become a campaign issue. But Stark said that she’s glad candidates are considering proposals to lower the cost of insulin and other drugs, talk isn’t enough. She the presidential contenders to walk the talk, and swear off donations from pharmaceutical companies.

Booker — who during his Senate campaign took more money from Big Pharma in 2014 than any other Democrat — did exactly that last year.

“It arouses so much criticism and [we] just stopped taking it,” Booker told NPR in June. In a statement following the interview, Booker’s spokesman Jeff Giertz said the donations from Big Pharma “became a distraction from his efforts to bring down prescription drug costs” and that they would not resume.

In the last election cycle, 2020 contender Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), joined Booker, Sanders, and Warren in taking $0 from pharmaceutical companies, according to Kaiser Health News.

Those who did take pharmaceutical dollars last cycle ultimately took relatively modest donations: Klobuchar took $8,500, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who is also a presidential contender, took $9,500. (Like Booker, however, Gillibrand has a long history of accepting drug company donations, having accepted more than $200,000 since 2007.)

Aprigliano said the next item on her wish list in the  fight against ever-inflating drug prices is a candidate willing to take up rebate reform.

Right now, pharmacy benefit managers and health plans don’t have to disclose how many rebates they pass along or the total value of such price breaks. One way to bring down insulin prices, advocates say, would be to make sure that patients pay the price negotiated between manufacturer and middle man, rather than a mysteriously negotiated list price.

Aprigliano said the challenges faced by people who rely on insulin and other medications illustrate the ways in which our broader health care system is broken, and she wants to hear the more candidates address these concerns on the campaign trail.

“There’s so many things that are complex,” she said. “This shouldn’t be one of them.”


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Growing number of states support new law to have the president chosen by popular vote

Sat, 03/16/2019 - 3:01pm

Colorado has joined 11 other states and the District of Columbia in pushing legislation that will require their electoral votes to be assigned to whichever presidential candidate wins the nationwide popular vote.

On Friday, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) signed the popular vote bill into law. However, the law will only take effect if enough states adopt it. Collectively, states representing at least 270 Electoral College votes — the amount required to win the presidency — need to sign on to the legislation; the states that have adopted the bill so far represent 181.

In addition to D.C., this includes California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. If New Mexico were to join — the state senate approved the legislation on March 14 — it would bring the total electoral votes represented to 186.

Given Republican-led states haven’t shown support for the initiative, its success is far from guaranteed.

The push for the popular vote legislation, however, is significant in the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election. During the 2016 election, for instance, Hillary Clinton received more votes (2.9 million representing a 2.1 percent margin) than any other losing presidential candidate in U.S. history.

Even President Donald Trump has made statements in favor of the popular vote. In 2012, prior to becoming president and when he though Barack Obama might lose the popular vote but still win reelection, Trump called the Electoral College a “disaster for democracy.”

And even after he won the presidency in 2016 he touted the popular vote, saying “I would rather see it where you went with simple votes … There’s a reason for doing this, because it brings all the states into play.”

According to the Constitution, states can choose how they allocate their Electoral College votes during national elections. The majority award their electoral votes to the presidential candidate that wins the most votes in their states, in what’s known as “winner-takes-all.” Just two states — Maine and Nebraska — split their votes.

One challenge though is that because electoral votes reflect a state’s representation within the House and Senate, some have larger Electoral Colleges than others. This leads presidential candidates to focus on the few key battleground states where voters are narrowly split between Republican and Democrat. In turn, most other states are ignored.

While winning the popular vote isn’t required to win the presidency, many view it as a means to bolstering their public platform. But it is precisely because just a handful of states determine the winner that some experts have called for change.

Not counting the popular vote would mean “the great majority of American voters exercise no real political voice in the outcome of presidential elections,” Stanford sociology professor Doug McAdam previously argued.

And the issue is only going to be exacerbated going forward; half the U.S. population lives in just nine states.

“This is a new American demographic, which shows that the electoral system of the 18th century doesn’t work anymore,” Reed Hundt, chairman and co-founder of Making Every Vote Count, told the Washington Post. “No one at the time the Constitution was written thought that 80 percent of the population would be irrelevant.”

In 2017, the New York Times editorial board made the case for the president to be chosen according to the popular vote.

Focusing on battleground states “may be smart campaigning, but it’s terrible for the rest of the country, which is rendered effectively invisible, distorting our politics, our policy debates and even the distribution of federal funds,” the editorial argued.

“Candidates focus their platforms on the concerns of battleground states, and presidents who want to stay in office make sure to lavish attention, and money, on the same places,” the Times continued. “The emphasis on a small number of states also increases the risk to our national security, by creating an easy target for hackers who want to influence the outcome of an election. Perhaps most important, voters outside of swing states know their votes are devalued, if not worthless, and they behave accordingly.”


Categories: SCCDP Allies

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