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Updated: 44 min ago

Another tragedy strikes Afghanistan with no coherent U.S. policy in sight

1 hour 30 min ago
The latest attack is further proof that Trump has failed to approach sustainable policy approach to tackle Afghanistan’s problems.fghans carry an injured man after a suicide car bombing in Helmand province southern of Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, June 22, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Abdul Khaliq

Over 250 people have died in mass attacks in Afghanistan since April — a sign that America’s longest war isn’t getting any better under the Trump administration.

On Thursday, at least 34 people were killed and 60 wounded when a car bomb went off outside of a bank in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province. Both civilians and security forces were among the casualties, many of whom were lined up to collect their salaries when the explosion occurred. Several journalists and media workers were also among the casualties.

“I was waiting in front of the bank to take my salary, but I was worried about an explosion so I didn’t join the crowd,” Rahmatullah, a border police officer who sustained an injury to his leg, told the Guardian. “And then suddenly the blast happened. I saw [a] lot of injured and dead people.”

Helmand has long been a Taliban stronghold, and the extremist group quickly claimed responsibility for the blast.

Thursday’s attack is just the latest tragedy to strike Afghanistan, which has experienced an uptick in violence recently. On Sunday, suicide bombers attacked a police station in eastern Afghanistan, killing at least five people and leaving another 30 wounded, many of whom were civilians. In late May, a truck bombing in Kabul, near an area frequented by diplomats and considered one of the city’s safest areas, killed 80 people and injured 350. A massive attack on a military base in April also saw high casualties. There have been multiple mass-casualty attacks in the country over the course of the last three months — as of Thursday, those attacks have killed more than 250 people.

The recent tragedies are a grim reminder that Afghanistan, which has suffered through decades of war, is still a volatile place for many. But they’re also yet another indicator that the United States, which has spent 16 years at war in the country, is no closer to developing a sustainable policy approach to tackle Afghanistan’s problems. If anything, President Donald Trump’s administration has repeatedly failed to establish its long-term plan for the country, where U.S. policy has often hurt more than helped.

The Trump administration has no idea what it’s doing in Afghanistan

More than 2,300 U.S. citizens have been killed in Afghanistan since the war began, and another 17,000 have been injured (numbers are much higher for Afghans, who have endured the brunt of the war’s losses.) Under former President Barack Obama, efforts were made to scale back the presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but Trump has taken the opposite approach. While most analysts are skeptical that the Taliban — the country’s primary source of violence — can be defeated by an increase in military might, the U.S. president has indicated he’s ready to do just that. Last week, Trump gave Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis complete authority to determine troop levels in Afghanistan.

Mattis, who has acknowledged the United States is in a stalemate with the Taliban, has said he will brief policymakers on his plans by mid-July.

“We are not winning in Afghanistan right now,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee the day of Trump’s announcement. “And we will correct this as soon as possible.” Reuters noted that correction is expected to involve a call for thousands more U.S. troops on the ground.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the committee’s chairman, also told Mattis he believed there needs to be “a change in strategy, and an increase in resources if we are to turn the situation around” in Afghanistan.

Turning the situation around will be easier said than done. At present, the Afghan government is believed to control around 59.7 percent of the country, with the Taliban overseeing around 40 percent by some estimates. While those numbers have fluctuated over the years, they still speak to an unchanging, and underlying, problem, one that no amount of U.S. interference has solved. Even with thousands more troops in the country, Obama was still unable to sway the direction of the war or of Afghanistan’s warring factions.

Trump himself has reversed course more than once when it comes to Afghanistan. “It is time to get out of Afghanistan,” he tweeted in 2012. “We are building roads and schools for people that hate us. It is not in our national interests.”

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It is time to get out of Afghanistan. We are building roads and schools for people that hate us. It is not in our national interests.

 — @realdonaldtrump

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But now the president seems to have changed his mind. Despite rarely mentioning the country on the campaign trail or during his first months in office, Trump abruptly switched tracks in April when the Pentagon detonated the “Massive Ordnance Air Blast” or the “Mother of All Bombs,” in Nangarhar, located in eastern Afghanistan.

“Everybody knows exactly what happened,” Trump said following the blast. “What I do is I authorize my military. We have the greatest military in the world and they’ve done a job, as usual.” Vice President Mike Pence later said the bombing, along with another strike in Syria, was meant to send a warning to North Korea, indicating both countries had been used as props in a larger show of aggression.

With the Trump administration stepping up troop numbers in Afghanistan, the long-suffering nation may receive more U.S. attention than it has since Trump took office. But according to the New York Times, White House officials are still debating just what exactly a U.S. role in Afghanistan should look like — with no coherent approach emerging.

In the meantime, residents in areas like Helmand are still working through the aftermath of tragedy, a trend they have endured for many, many years.

Another tragedy strikes Afghanistan with no coherent U.S. policy in sight was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

New documentary puts trans people on both sides of the camera

2 hours 18 min ago
‘More Than T’ shows how trans people tell trans stories.CREDIT: More Than T

One might think that a documentary made largely by transgender people that tells the stories of seven transgender people would mostly be about transgender issues. But it’s not — and that’s the point.

On Friday night, Showtime will premiere More Than T, a look into the lives of seven very different trans people who have far more to say about themselves than what it was like to transition.

“Attorney, Artist, Actor, Advocate, Counselor, Mentor, Minister” — these are the terms the documentary uses to introduce its subjects, and they’re only the beginning of each person’s story.

https://medium.com/media/e435fa20ae02e816bdf934ce73ba86e7/href

The film is a project of the M·A·C AIDS Fund, a charity founded by M·A·C Cosmetics. The organization sought out Silas Howard, the first trans director on the Amazon show Transparent, with the goal of creating a series of vignettes. Howard recruited Jen Richards of Her Story and Nashville to help out, and the project turned into a film and an even wider education effort.

This Webseries Sets A New Standard For Media Made By LGBT People

“We really wanted a diversity of voices to be represented,” Howard told ThinkProgress in an interview. “It’s still sorely lacking in mainstream media, and what’s interesting about gender nonconforming and trans communities is we’re so often at the intersection of the most vulnerable.” The film captures these intersections across race, gender presentation, socioeconomic class, and age, portraying a community that fails to fit into a single mold.

“They’re so inspiring in that — in spite of everything they’ve been through — they talk about their circumstantial privilege and that they are still the anomaly and they’re reaching toward helping other people,” he said. “That gratitude and grace that they all embody is just very inspirational to me.”

More Than T arrives just as many are engaged in a renewed conversation about the importance of casting trans actors in trans roles.

For instance, the announcement of cisgender actor Matt Bomer’s starring role as a transgender woman in the film Anything raised concerns last August — and the first preview clip for the film, released last week, seems to confirm fears that the movie will fall into familiar tropes.

By casting Bomer, the film regurgitates an all-too-familiar, narrow portrayal of a transgender character: the role is played by a cis actor; the character is a sex worker; the character is worthy of pity but not respect; and the character is not “passable” in their gender presentation.

In response, several trans actors produced a new video explaining why Hollywood must do better by them.

https://medium.com/media/bdb553ebf19392123d943772af5cccd9/href

Howard’s documentary casts an even darker shadow on this stale portrayal, and he believes that trans people telling trans stories adds a certain urgency to the project.

“The media may have a certain focus and storytelling may have a certain focus, but we’re not isolated in a bubble of our own identities and needs,” he said. “We’re all codeswitching. We’re all coming from different backgrounds.” Likewise, Howard didn’t make the film for a trans audience. “This is maybe the filmmaker’s delusion, but I make my work for everyone,” he said. “I hope that the specificity makes it universal. I hope people that think they have nothing in common with anyone in this community feels touched by somebody’s experience in the world.”

And the film doesn’t stand alone. Its cast, along with numerous other members of the transgender community, also feature in a series of “Trans 102” PSAs that Richards wrote and produced in partnership with Refinery29. These videos cover a variety of topics, including basic language and pronouns, trans visibility in the media, trans health care needs, being trans in school, and of course, bathroom access.

https://medium.com/media/c62d2f6b26cfcdc21c344187d6c045ef/href

So viewers can learn from the film that trans lives are far more complex than just the steps involved in transitioning, but still come away equipped with resources to better understand how to respect trans people.

Howard hopes the film can be an opportunity for viewers to reflect on empathy and compassion at a time when it can feel like those things are in short supply.

“I feel like right now it’s crucial for all of us because we’re so targeted, because this administration is just so hateful and it’s really bringing out this toxic blame,” he said. “I like the idea of spending time in our day to try to understand what other people are going through, and I hope that this adds to that. Stepping outside our lives — that’s what storytelling does for us.”

More Than T premieres Friday night on Showtime and is also available on demand.

New documentary puts trans people on both sides of the camera was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Trump brags about lying on Twitter to influence Comey’s sworn testimony

2 hours 28 min ago
Trump admits he purposely misled the public about “tapes.”CREDIT: Fox News screengrab

In President Trump’s first interview in more than a month, he admitted that he falsely suggested his conversations with former FBI director James Comey were taped to influence Comey’s sworn testimony.

Trump acknowledged he didn’t actually make any tapes on Thursday. But speaking to Fox & Friends in an interview that aired Friday morning, Trump said the “tapes” tweet was just a ruse to keep Comey honest.

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James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!

 — @realDonaldTrump

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“When he found out that there may be tapes out there — whether it’s governmental tapes or anything else, and who knows — I think his story may have changed,” Trump said. “You’ll have to take a look at that because then he has to tell what actually took place at the events. And my story didn’t change — my story was always a straight story, my story always was the truth. But you’ll have to determine for yourself whether or not his story changed, but I did not tape.”

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@POTUS on why he wanted former FBI Dir. James Comey to believe there were tapes of their conversations https://t.co/pCuibM5Z6k

 — @foxandfriends

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In response to Trump’s comments, interviewer Ainsley Earhardt praised him, saying “it was a smart way to make sure [Comey] stayed honest during those hearings.”

“It wasn’t very stupid, I can tell you that,” Trump said. “He did admit that what I said was right. And if you look further back before he heard about [the ‘tapes’ tweet], I think maybe he wasn’t admitting that. So you’ll have to do a little investigative reporting to determine that, but I don’t think it’ll be that hard.”

Trump’s public admission that he was trying to influence sworn testimony before Congress could be considered witness intimidation or obstruction.

Trump’s suggestion that he force Comey to tell the truth also directly contradicts his previously statements. In a tweet posted following Comey’s testimony, Trump characterized the former FBI director as a liar.

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Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication...and WOW, Comey is a leaker!

 — @realDonaldTrump

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During another part of the Fox & Friends interview, Trump expressed annoyance with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, characterizing Mueller’s relationship with Comey as “bothersome.” He went on to assert his innocence of any wrongdoing.

“Look, there has been no obstruction. There has been no collusion,” Trump said. “There has been leaking by Comey, but there’s been no collusion, no obstruction, and virtually everybody agrees to that.”

body[data-twttr-rendered="true"] {background-color: transparent;}.twitter-tweet {margin: auto !important;}

There has been no obstruction. There has been no collusion. There has been leaking by Comey." -@POTUS https://t.co/tqpEuMNUJM

 — @foxandfriends

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During congressional testimony last month, former CIA Director John Brennan confirmed he’s aware of communications between the Trump campaign and Russian officials that sparked concern about possible collusion.

Brennan declined to get into details, saying that specifics about the people involved and what was said remain classified. But he said he “encountered and am aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign that I was concerned about because of known Russian efforts to suborn such individuals, and it raised questions in my mind whether or not the Russians were able to gain the cooperation of those individuals.”

That “information and intelligence,” Brennan added, led to the FBI’s counterintelligence probe of the Trump campaign, which began in July 2016 and is now being handled by Mueller.

In Trump’s last interview more than a month ago on NBC, he admitted to firing former FBI Director James Comey because of his annoyance with an active investigation into his campaign.

Trump brags about lying on Twitter to influence Comey’s sworn testimony was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

A brief field guide to all the lawyers hired to defend Donald Trump and his administration

3 hours 15 min ago
The many, many (many) lawyers who are paid to defend all the president’s men. CREDIT: AP Images. GIF by Adam Peck

For a man who is so insistent he has done nothing wrong, President Donald Trump sure does keep a lot of lawyers close at hand.

Since taking office five months ago, Trump has brought aboard a small army of private litigators and tasked them with defending him and his administration from mounting accusations of legal misconduct. In recent weeks, several of his top lieutenants—including his son-in-law, his vice president, his attorney general, and his former NSA director—have also hired their own outside counsel. And that’s on top of the White House’s own team of government lawyers who are charged with defending the administration’s unconstitutional executive orders.

Presidents and other administration officials hiring personal lawyers isn’t without precedent. President Bill Clinton retained a personal lawyer during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and Nixon Vice President Spiro Agnew hired George White as his personal attorney while he was being investigated on charges of bribery, extortion, and tax fraud. But no president in recent history has kept so many personal lawyers on his payroll at the same time.

So prolific are the Trump White House’s legal troubles that even some of Trump’s lawyers are now hiring lawyers. With fresh allegations surfacing on an almost daily basis, we thought it’d be helpful to put together a field guide to the seemingly endless parade of white dudes with law degrees making appearances on cable television.

Marc Kasowitz

Like many of Trump’s personal lawyers, Kasowitz has been in the Trump orbit for years defending his many business failures, including his ill-fated venture into Atlantic City and his Trump University scam. Kasowitz was brought aboard shortly after Robert Mueller was hired as special counsel leading the ongoing Russia investigation.

Even though he only represents Donald Trump, Kasowitz has reportedly taken on an outsized role inside the White House. According to the New York Times—which Kasowitz has twice threatened to sue on Trump’s behalf—he advises administration officials on how best to talk about the Russia investigation and offers legal advice to various White House staff, two jobs normally filled by the White House Counsel’s office. Kasowitz himself has bragged about his role in former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s firing. Outside experts have characterized Kasowitz’s involvement as highly unusual, and at least two prominent lawyers rejected job offers to join the White House because of Kasowitz’s prominent role there.

Kasowitz is not completely without qualifications, though. His online bio serves up glowing quotes from clients and fellow lawyers. And when it comes to the ongoing investigation into potential connections between Trump associates and Russian operatives, Kasowitz is intimately familiar with the subject at hand: two of his clients are OJSC Sberbank, the largest state-owned bank in Russia, and Oleg Deripaska, a Russian tycoon with close ties to Vladimir Putin.

Fun Fact! For all his accomplishments, Kasowitz has yet to master fifth grade spelling.

Michael Cohen

Another one of Trump’s longtime personal lawyers, Cohen found himself in hot water after his name appeared in an unverified dossier written by former British intelligence official Christopher Steele. The dossier alleges that Cohen served as a go-between for the Trump campaign and Russian officials, and that he met with Russian contacts in Prague before the election — allegations that Cohen and the White House have vigorously denied.

Cohen has been tied to the administration’s dealings with Russia in other ways, too. Shortly before NSA head Michael Flynn was fired for lying about his communications with a Russian envoy, Cohen —who has no foreign policy experience or expertise—delivered a memo to Flynn outlining a possible “peace plan” between Russia and Ukraine that, crucially, would also give the administration justification for lifting sanctions on Russia.

Cohen’s dealings landed him on the short list of Trump campaign officials being targeted by congressional investigations. ABC News reported last month that Cohen initially refused to cooperate with the investigation, but has since said he would comply if subpoenaed, which he was earlier this month. On Friday NBC’s Katy Tur reported that Cohen has hired a lawyer of his own, former U.S. Attorney Stephen M. Ryan.

Fun fact! In addition to their shared fondness for the Motherland, Cohen and Trump are both grossly obsessed with their own daughters’ attractiveness.

Jay Sekulow

One of Trump’s newest legal hires made his debut on last week’s Sunday talk shows to deliver a full-throated defense of the president after reports that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating the president for obstruction of justice related to his firing of FBI Director James Comey. It did not go well.

In appearances on all four Sunday morning programs, Sekulow denied the president was under investigation, confirmed the president was under investigation, suggested the investigation was a witch hunt, insisted the president wasn’t afraid of the investigation, reiterated the president wasn’t under investigation, and admitted the president might not know whether or not he was the subject of an investigation. He left all four hosts—and millions of viewers at home—bewildered.

Trump’s affinity for Sekulow makes sense, though. As ThinkProgress’ Ian Millhiser notes, he’s basically the Donald Trump of lawyers.

The very shady way that Donald Trump’s new lawyer got very, very rich

Donald McGahn

In most administrations, the toughest job in the White House belongs to the president. But in this administration, where the commander-in-chief is far more likely to be golfing or watching television than reading security briefings, the mantle of workhorse likely falls to Donald McGahn, chief White House counsel. McGahn and his staff are stuck with the unenviable task of defending the administration’s unconstitutional executive orders and illegal procurement of emoluments from multiple lawsuits, many brought by entire states.

McGahn served as general counsel to the Trump campaign before joining the White House, and was a Republican appointee to the FEC before that. During the 2012 election, when Trump first mulled the idea of running for president, it was McGahn who put the kibosh on a possible FEC investigation into the improper use of Trump Organization money to finance campaign activity.

Who is Donald McGahn, the fiery lawyer at the center of virtually every Trump controversy?

McGahn was also a key player in the Michael Flynn saga. Then acting Attorney General Sally Yates reportedly first aired her concerns about Michael Flynn’s Russia dealings with McGahn, alerting the counsel’s office in two separate meetings that it might be unwise to have an NSA director who could be subjected to blackmail by a foreign government. Yates testified that McGahn’s response was basically “so what?”

Fun Fact! McGahn was a lawyer for Tom DeLay in the early 2000s, defending him after he was indicted for illegally funneling money to a Texas PAC and accepting contributions from — you guessed it! — Russian oil tycoons.

Robert Kelner

Speaking of Flynn, nobody is of greater interest to investigators than the former NSA director. Flynn’s contact with Russian diplomats before Trump took office is indisputable, but the extent and scope of his conversations are unknown and of particular interest to Special Counsel Robert Mueller and to the congressional investigation.

In late March, Kelner told CNN that his client “certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit,” and reportedly offered his client’s cooperation in exchange for immunity.

No such deal has been publicly disclosed, but at least one Democratic lawmaker thinks that Flynn is quietly cooperating with the special counsel’s office in their investigation.

Fun fact! Unlike most lawyers currently in the Trump orbit, Kelner has no loyalities to the first family, and was a vocal #NeverTrump Republican during the campaign.

Sheri Dillon

Finally, a lawyer who has almost nothing to do with Russia*! It’s easy to forget that before the administration found itself neck deep in a Kremlin-sized political scandal, Donald Trump was—and still is—defending himself from accusations he and his family are profiting off of the White House.

To combat those claims, he trotted out Sheri Dillon, a tax lawyer who had previous experience within the Trump empire. Before a throng of television cameras in January, days before the inauguration, Dillon proclaimed that Trump’s business dealings did not violate the constitution’s emoluments clause, and that Trump would be stepping down from all positions within his own company. As if to emphasize the point, she pointed to a huge stack of manilla envelopes on a table beside her. Those unlabled envelopes appeared to contain nothing but blank pieces of paper.

“We believe this structure will serve to accomplish the president-elect’s desire to be isolated from his business and give the American people confidence that his sole interest is in making America great again,” she said at the time. No word on who “we” refers to, because virtually everyone pointed out that, whether or not Trump’s name was listed next to “CEO,” his personal fortune was still directly tied to his businesses.

*Fun Fact! Sheri Dillon and her law firm were named “Russia Law Firm of the Year” in 2016. I did say almost nothing.

Jamie Gorelick

Besides Michael Flynn, perhaps nobody is of greater consequence to the Russia investigation than Trump son-in-law/senior adviser/resident mute Jared Kushner. The real estate tycoon’s fingerprints are all over some of the White House’s biggest decisions, including the firing of James Comey.

As of now, Kushner is the only current official within the Trump administration who is being actively investigated in the Russia probe. To help navigate those waters, Kushner retained the services of Jamie Gorelick, a well-respected D.C. lawyer who also represents Ivanka Trump. Gorelick’s involvement surprised and angered many who know her as a strong champion of liberal causes, but she has a long record of defending clients with whom she disagrees politically, dating back to Richard Nixon.

Kushner is reportedly reconsidering his legal team, though not because of Gorelick’s political leanings. According to the New York Times, Gorelick is not known as a criminal trial lawyer, and given Kushner’s role in the Russia scandal, a criminal trial lawyer might be necessary. Abbe Lowell, one of D.C.’s best, is said to be among those approached by Kushner’s team.

Fun Fact! Gorelick has strong ties to the Clinton family, having served as Deputy Attorney General under Bill Clinton during his first term.

Richard Cullen

Kushner isn’t the only one seeking out a criminal defense attorney. Vice President Mike Pence joined the parade of administration officials with their own outside counsel last week, announcing that he hired former U.S. Attorney Richard Cullen.

Ironically, despite his prominent role within the administration, Pence’s involvement with the Russia probe is likely more limited than most thanks to the late hour at which he joined the campaign. Paul Manafort, another central figure in the investigation, was instrumental in recruiting Pence to the ticket, but there is no indication that Pence himself is a focus of the special counsel’s office. Yet.

Cullen has served several Republican lawmakers, including George W. Bush during the 2000 Florida recount and former Senator Paul Trible during the Iran-Contra affair.

Fun Fact! Cullen and James Comey once worked together, and Cullen is the godfather for one of Comey’s daughters, according to the Washington Post.

Chuck Cooper

Technically speaking, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is the most powerful lawyer in the country. So what does that make Chuck Cooper, the private lawyer hired by Sessions earlier this month?

Cooper reportedly began advising Sessions in the run-up to his June 13 testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Though Cooper did confirm he is representing Sessions, he wouldn’t say whether he was hired in relation to the ongoing Russia investigation. Sessions has been drawn into the scandal as well after it was revealed he met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at least twice in 2016 and failed to disclose either encounter during his confirmation hearing. A possible third encounter was disclosed by former FBI Director Comey during a closed hearing with the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to CNN.

Cooper and Sessions have known one another for decades, since they worked together in the Justice Department during the Reagan administration. Cooper also served as an adviser during Sessions’ confirmation hearing earlier this year.

Fun Fact! Cooper was last seen in the national spotlight defending California’s homophobic Proposition 8 before the Supreme Court, while simultaneously planning his stepdaughter’s same-sex wedding.

Graphics by Adam Peck

A brief field guide to all the lawyers hired to defend Donald Trump and his administration was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

What’s next for Uber?

3 hours 16 min ago
Hint: The solution still involves founder and ex-CEO Travis Kalanick.Exterior view of the headquarters of Uber in San Francisco. CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Risberg

Uber is a hot mess. But it didn’t just get that way.

For a company that’s just six years old, Uber has already racked up quite a strong list of contenders for “Worst Year Ever.” There was 2014, when an executive was overheard threatening to stalk and harass a journalist who had written a critical story, and a litany of attacks committed by drivers against their passengers, which CEO Travis Kalanick flippantly dismissed in an infamous GQ profile. Or 2016, when the company lost several legal fights brought by drivers, regulators, and labor boards. But the world’s largest ride-sharing company has truly begun to crumble in 2017, the culmination of years of reporting on the company’s brash and fraternity-esque work culture.

In a 2014 Vanity Fair piece, investors characterized Kalanick’s personality and leadership style almost fondly, crediting him for using “douche as a tactic, not a strategy” and dismissing critics by arguing that “it’s hard to be a disrupter and not be an asshole.” Kalanick likened himself to “fire and brimstone,” saying he was a “passionate entrepreneur.”

For any organization, workplace culture is usually dictated by leadership from the top down. But when that culture is toxic, a company rots like a diseased tree — crumbling from the inside and then collapsing altogether.

The Uber we’ve come to know fully collapsed late Tuesday when Kalanick resigned as CEO, under pressure from five of the company’s biggest investors. He still controls a majority of the company’s voting shares and maintains his seat on the board of directors.

The sexist workplace culture at Uber that Travis Kalanick leaves in his wake

The great Uber scandal of 2017—former engineer Susan Fowler’s scathing indictment of the company’s pervasive sexism combined with an executive exodus—was the catalyst for that collapse, triggering a harassment probe that led to more than 20 firings, two executive and board member resignations, and now the resignation of the company’s CEO.

But there were other signs that Uber’s do-what-you-want-and-win-at-all costs culture was harmful to its employees. Thirty-three year old Joseph Thomas killed himself in April after working just five months at Uber. In less than half a year, the father and husband who taught himself to code felt beaten down by Uber’s culture, his wife Zecole Thomas told USA Today. It was a culture where Thomas discouraged his wife from visiting him at lunch because it wasn’t “that kind of environment” and, in the lead up to his suicide, he began questioning his own skills that he honed at LinkedIn. He had no history of mental health issues, nor did he display any difficulty in handling stress. But he was black — and, like Fowler, a minority at a company that seemed to facilitate marginalization on every level of management.

Uber’s exclusion of women and people of color, while not atypical for Silicon Valley, was likely a byproduct of the company’s “always be hustling” ethos that rewarded high-performers regardless of how inappropriate their behavior. And as is often the case, those excluded groups can often be barometers for a company’s culture — leaving companies with toxic environments at a higher rate than their white male counterparts.

“Values are hot air. They don’t mean anything. If you go work in an organization, they say ‘we value integrity’ or ‘we value team work’ — God knows what it really means.”

Armed with 47 recommendations from an investigation led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, a newly appointed COO to oversee business changes, and Kalanick’s resignation from CEO, there’s an opportunity for change at the ride-sharing company.

But what does it mean for a company to change its culture? Is it even possible for Uber — a multi-billion dollar company that derived its success from bending and breaking the rules — to survive such catastrophic events?

Charles O’Reilly, an organizational business management professor at Stanford University, says it is, but there are a lot of variables.

“Often what happens when people talk about culture, they talk about values,” he said. “Values are hot air. They don’t mean anything. If you go work in an organization, they say ‘we value integrity’ or ‘we value team work’ — God knows what it really means.”

Real values, O’Reilly said, are “the pattern of behavior that’s reinforced by people on systems.” The people in this equation are senior management, middle management, and then your peers. The system is how those people are rewarded. That is how duties and tasks are measured, what behavior is rewarded and approved of, and what gets employees high status.

“When there is great agreement about what the pattern of behavior is that you have to engage in to succeed, that is a social control system,” he said.

Every organization — non-profits, government, startups, and major corporations — has a system. And for employees to be deemed successful, they have two choices: assimilate to the culture or risk being outcast.

“What you’re trying to drive out is behaviors that are associated with not being respectful and inclusive of others…You want to be very clear with people that that’s not going to tolerated in the future.”

At Uber, boorish behavior—even crossing ethical or moral lines—was not only tolerated, but expected in the pursuit of getting results.

“You’ve got to push the boundaries, you’ve got to constantly do whatever it takes to perform. That’s who Kalanick is,” O’Reilly said. “What that ultimately legitimizes is behavior where people can be aggressive, people can cross ethical or moral boundary lines. And part of the problem is, they’ve succeeded in part because of that.”

The sexual harassment, inappropriate company outings, and the exclusion of women and people of color all became permissible — and rewarded. But whether or not that changes with any permanence will likely still hinge on Kalanick, who remains integral to Uber’s business as a founding board member. Kalanick also still has control of the board through super-voting powers and strong allies. According to an email obtained by Buzzfeed, Uber managers are urging employees to sign a petition to reinstate Kalanick that reads: “Uber is T.K. and T.K. is Uber. I don’t see another leader doing as good a job as him, external or internal.”

To change, Uber will need to rebuild from the root, implementing new behaviors and examples for employees to emulate.

That usually doesn’t happen without a change in leadership. Even with Kalanick’s role reduced, that change could be undermined if he’s still viewed by employees as a de facto leader — and if his behavior doesn’t change.

Uber will have to navigate from one end of the spectrum of Silicon Valley’s sexist and discriminatory corporate culture, to the other, adopting a zero-tolerance workplace where derogatory comments, retaliation, harassment, and exclusion are punished without exception. It must also become a place where leadership proactively seeks diverse applicants, and models an environment where everyone feels listened to and comfortable speaking up.

“People aren’t diverse, the environment is homogenous.”

Joelle Emerson, founder and CEO at Paradigm in San Francisco, has helped shape diversity programs for tech companies throughout Silicon Valley, including Uber’s biggest competitor Lyft. For her, Uber’s problems are in a sense everyone’s, because diversity and inclusion issues are often subtle in workplaces.

“I’ve been kind of worried that other tech companies would distance themselves from Uber because it’s very extreme,” Emerson said.

Companies and their products influence daily life. But “given our political climate, we’re going to have to rely on companies to drive social change,” she said.

There are three types of companies, she said: those that mimic the systemic inequalities that exist in broader society; those that amplify inequities, such as Uber; and those that aspire to be a workplace that tries to correct them.

Emerson said most of the recommendations given to Uber were pretty good, but added that there’s cause for concern with how diversity was discussed without the necessary caveats.

For example, the report recommended anonymizing resumes as a new policy to get a better applicant pool. But that doesn’t always work and can sometimes encourage more homogeneity.

The Rooney rule, which mandates an organization have one representative of a marginalized group in the management tier, was another example. It’s a good goal, Emerson said, but also doesn’t always work in practice. It could lead to tokenism rather than inclusion and stagnate employees’ growth.

Setting goals, not quotas, for representation is important, she said, but there has to be a strategy there to support it.

The workforces at Uber and other tech companies need to focus on demanding accountability on inclusion and diversity initiatives rather than reactive apologies after bad behavior, Emerson said.

In the months and years ahead, Uber employees can expect to feel some discomfort as the culture shifts, Holder’s recommendations are implemented, and new faces give marching orders. After all, change is hard even when everyone agrees it needs to happen.

“If inequality felt normal to you, then equality feels like discrimination.”

There might even be strong pushback from some employees or members of management, Emerson said, as people who are part of the company’s predominantly white and male majority may feel threatened as other groups are elevated to an equal level.

“If inequality felt normal to you, then equality feels like discrimination,” she said.

Once faced with unhappy workers who bristle at the changes, it will be even more important for Uber’s new leadership to hold fast to the recommendations and explain why the company is committed to these changes.

“Clarity of vision and mission are very important. Clear, consistent leadership are key,” Emerson said, which means Uber may have to slow hiring in favor of casting wider nets to get better quality candidates.

If Uber is committed to making changes, it could change its culture in 12 to 24 months, according to O’Reilly.

“What you’re trying to drive out is behaviors that are associated with not being respectful and inclusive of others, and sort of being aggressive to the point where you cross ethical boundaries. You want to be very clear with people that that’s not going to tolerated in the future,” said O’Reilly.

The company’s hiring of Harvard Business School’s Frances Frei will be integral to accomplishing these goals, O’Reilly noted.

“Francis Frei, she understands this stuff. She’s written about companies that have very positive cultures. My guess would be is she’ll be very sophisticated. The real question for me is, what’ll they do with Kalanick?”

O’Reilly and Emerson strongly believe that Kalanick can change and, ultimately, that the future of the company will rest on how he adapts and if he’s still seen as a leader internally. He’s still a founder, will remain on the board and retains voting control.

“His perspective is really going to matter,” Emerson said.

Perhaps the outlook of Uber’s impending metamorphosis looks a little better now that Kalanick has stepped down as CEO. But what’s certain is that Uber still has a hard road ahead: the company is still grappling with labor disputes from drivers, its ongoing self-driving car lawsuit with Google, driver assault victims, and criminal investigations pertaining to its evasion of law enforcement. The company is also being sued by an Indian rape victim for the mishandling of her medical records by Uber executives.

It’ll be some time before we know for sure whether Uber’s changes are here to stay, and consumers can feel better about hailing a ride with the app. But here’s to hoping the company can take turn its controversies into triumphs.

As Emerson said: “You want to see any company that affects our society do well.”

What’s next for Uber? was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Rick Perry loses his cool when confronted by Sen. Franken on climate science

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 3:40pm
When told “humans are entirely the cause” of recent warming, Perry said, “I don’t buy it.”Energy Sec. Rick Perry. CREDIT: AP/Andy Wong, File

After a week full of misleading and inaccurate statements, Energy Secretary Rick Perry remained incredulous and defiant when confronted with climate science-related facts in a budget hearing Thursday.

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) informed Perry that scientists have concluded that “humans are entirely the cause” of recent warming, to which Perry responded, “I don’t believe it” and “I don’t buy it.”

And when Franken reminded him this was the conclusion of a team of climate science skeptics funded by conservative petrochemical billionaires Charles and David Koch, Perry raised his voice and said: “To stand up and say that 100 percent of global warming is because of human activity, I think on its face, is just indefensible.”

CNBC allows Rick Perry to spout nonsense on live TV without any fact checking

What is indefensible is that the U.S. Secretary of Energy continues to reject established climate science and remain completely impervious to facts — which was made all too clear by a review of this week’s events.

Monday on CNBC, Perry falsely claimed that carbon dioxide was not the primary cause of recent global warming, along with a bunch of other nonsense. He also defended his right to be a “skeptic.”

On Wednesday, the American Meteorological Society (AMS) wrote Perry a letter informing him that he was simply wrong. The central role of greenhouse gases — of which CO2 is the “most important” — is “based on multiple independent lines of evidence that have been affirmed by thousands of independent scientists and numerous scientific institutions around the world,” the letter read.

The AMS called these “indisputable findings,” and pointed out, “we are not familiar with any scientific institution with relevant subject matter expertise that has reached a different conclusion.”

The AMS also explained that while some aspects of climate science are not fully resolved, this wasn’t one of them, adding, “skepticism that fails to account for evidence is no virtue.”

On Thursday, at an Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing, Franken asked Perry to defend downplaying the role of CO2 — and Perry reiterated his denial. Oblivious, Perry repeated, “what’s wrong with being a skeptic?”

Franken vs. Perry on climate science

Perry went on to call for a so-called “red team” exercise where scientists argue back and forth with a “blue team” on the issue. “But that is exactly how science works,” replied Franken, with teams of scientists pushing back and forth on one another until a consensus is reached.

Franken then pointed out that the Koch brothers had actually helped set up a “red team” of skeptics to take a new look at all of the historical data on global surface temperatures. He then quoted what the head of that team, Dr. Richard Muller, said in the New York Times about their findings:

Call me a converted skeptic. Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.

At that moment in the questioning, Perry lost his composure, not merely rejecting this scientific reality but asserting angrily that it is “just indefensible.”

For the record, not only is it defensible, but in 2013, the world’s leading climatologists concluded in their summary of the latest science that “the best estimate of the human-induced contribution to warming is similar to the observed warming over this period.”

To clarify this science-speak from U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the best estimate is that humans are responsible for all of the warming we have suffered since 1950. Every major government in the world signed off on this conclusion back in 2013.

But the U.S. Energy Secretary is not just unaware of the science; when presented with it, he’s sure it can’t be true. That’s what makes him a denier and not a skeptic.

Rick Perry loses his cool when confronted by Sen. Franken on climate science was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Florida just passed a controversial new education bill

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 3:09pm
Like high school, it’s been dramatic.https://medium.com/media/cab9cef9bac6ddf773bac3e97b465123/href

Last week, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed H.B. 7069, a massive education bill that creates major budgetary changes for public schools across the state. The bill diverts funding from traditional public schools and sends it to charter schools, which are also funded by taxpayers but not regulated as closely by the state. ThinkProgress’s Phoebe Gavin breaks down why this piece of legislation was so controversial in the Sunshine State.

You’re watching an episode of “In Session,” a weekly series exploring interesting policy changes on the state level.

TRANSCRIPT:

PHOEBE GAVIN, THINKPROGRESS: As students packed up their backpacks and got ready for summer vacation, Florida passed a controversial bill that intensified the fight between charter schools and traditional public schools

So, let’s back up a second here. Yes, charter schools are public schools, but they are run by private institutions and therefore are not subject to the same kinds of regulations as traditional public schools

MEAN GIRLS: That’s against the rules, and you can’t sit with us.

GAVIN: And because charter schools aren’t as regulated, their results have been all over the map. Sometimes they perform much better than traditional public schools, sometimes they promise parents the world and do worse.

FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH: F-F

GAVIN: In fact, charter schools have a worse track record than traditional schools in Florida. So what does this bill mean for education in the Sunshine State Well,the bill is huge — 278 pages to be exact.

There’s a lot in it, including daily recess and expanding vouchers for students with disabilities, which pretty much everyone can get behind.

But it’s the bill’s provisions about funding for charter schools that has caused an uproar. Districts have a certain budget, millions of dollars across the state, to spend on school construction. This bill forces districts to share that money with charter schools.

10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU: This isn’t a negotiation.

GAVIN: It also sets aside $140 million to build additional charter schools in low-income areas so they can directly compete with neighborhood schools.

House Republicans, who crafted the bill, said traditional public schools don’t need the funds:

HOUSE SPEAKER RICHARD CORCORAN: They are building $40 million Taj Mahals up and down the state.

GAVIN: But opponents, like the Superintendent of Lee County, say the money is essential for the public school system.

SUPERINTENDENT GREGORY ADKINS: It is legislation that has a major impact on our public education system, yet neither educators, nor the public, were ever given the opportunity for input.

GAVIN: The bill was written behind closed doors, it wasn’t even released to the public until 3 days before the end of an already extended session. And since it’s a budget bill, the legislature couldn’t debate or make amendments.

BRING IT ON: This is not a democracy, it’s a cheer-ocracy. I’m sorry, but I’m overruling you.

GAVIN: It only passed the senate by 1 vote. Then, Floridians started weighing in.

NEWS 6: Calling it dangerous and a slush fund for charter schools.

GAVIN: Some charter schools in Miami-Dade county even offered students extra credit if they told the governor they supported the bill. And in the end, Governor Rick Scott chose to sign it at one of Florida’s charter schools that will be receiving funding as a result of the bill.

GOVERNOR SCOTT: We can look at these students, all these smiling faces, their lives will be better. They’ll have the opportunity to live their dreams in this country.

GAVIN: What this controversial bill means for education in the Sunshine state is yet to be seen. But the fact is the bill is diverting money away from traditional public schools towards a system that fails at a much higher rate.

FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF: You’re still here? It’s over. Go home. Go.

Florida just passed a controversial new education bill was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Many Republican senators are unhappy about the AHCA draft

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 2:33pm
A few lawmakers are in full support of the bill. Others think it needs a little work. Some have deep concerns.Credit: AP Photo

The “discussion draft” of the GOP’s American Health Care Act, released earlier today, received neutral-to-negative responses from GOP moderates and conservatives alike.

Senators Ron Johnson (R-WI), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Rand Paul (R-KY), posted a joint statement shortly after the bill’s release indicating that they weren’t ready to support the bill as written. “[It] does not appear this draft as written will accomplish the most important promise that we made to Americans: to repeal Obamacare and lower their healthcare costs,” reads the statement in part. Johnson said he was “not a ‘yes’” on the bill.

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GOP Sen. Ron Johnson speaking to reporters outside Capitol: "I am not a 'yes.'" Says GOP /Dems should start over on bipartisan health bill.

 — @TeddyDavisCNN

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Cruz released a lengthier statement on his own website immediately afterward, saying of the bill, “[There] are components that give me encouragement and there are also components that are a cause for deep concern.” Cruz’s concerns included the bill not going far enough to repeal the Affordable Care Act, not lowering premiums, and not giving Medicaid enough “flexibility.” He added later that the bill would need “significant changes” before passing the Senate.

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@tedcruz just now. "This current draft doesn't get the job done." Said he &amp; others expect "significant changes" to draft

 — @Phil_Mattingly

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He seems to believe the bill can be fixed, however, as he handed out pamphlets on how it could “get to ‘yes’” during a Senate lunch.

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Sen. Ted Cruz handed these out today in Senate lunch. How he can get to yes.

 — @FoxReports

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Moderate senators also withheld their support. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) took issue with the bill, telling reporters that they both disagreed with sections of it that would defund Planned Parenthood. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Dean Heller (R-NV) both said they had “concerns” about the policies presented in the draft. “If the final legislation is good for Ohio, I will support it,” said Portman in a statement released Thursday. “If not, I will oppose it.”

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Just asked Murkowski about defunding @PPFA. "I support Planned Parenthood." The bill defunds it for a year. "I do not support defunding.

 — @sahilkapur

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Susan Collins says she opposes health bill language defunding Planned Parenthood, calling it "unfair and short-sighted" and "just wrong.

 — @sahilkapur

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Susan Collins stops short of calling Planned Parenthood defunding language a dealbreaker for her, saying she and Murkowski want it removed.

 — @sahilkapur

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My statement on the U.S. Senate's draft health care reform bill: https://t.co/YiQLfRJutB

 — @SenDeanHeller

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Some GOP senators refrained from giving an opinion, only making vague condemnations of the ACA and suggesting that they would review the bill closely. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) posted a statement on his website where he denounced the ACA without saying anything about the AHCA draft, other than that he would be “studying it” and “ looking at the ways it would help Iowans affected by Obamacare’s failures.” Others who took a similar stance included John McCain (R-AZ), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Shelley Capito (R-WV), who said in a press release that she would examine the bill to see “whether it provides access to affordable health care for West Virginians, including those on the Medicaid expansion and those struggling with drug addiction.” (Odds are, it doesn’t.)

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Closely reviewing Senate healthcare plan - any bill must ensure Arizonans have access to affordable &amp; flexible care https://t.co/E4Yj1GJNXk

 — @SenJohnMcCain

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@marcorubio withholds support for health bill, says he wants to study FL impacts, invites state leaders to weigh in https://t.co/Id4bLBhoia

 — @learyreports

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My statement on the Senate #healthcare draft. https://t.co/4yGW8CUV4x

 — @SenThomTillis

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My statement on the Senate health care discussion draft: https://t.co/hlC90OCrSo

 — @SenCapito

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Despite all this trepidation, some Republican senators gave their outspoken support for the bill. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) spent the afternoon apparently trying to get the hashtag #BetterCare trending in reference to the bill. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) called it “the best possible bill under very difficult circumstances.” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) released a statement with a long, detailed list of bullet points emphasizing what he saw as the “benefits for Tennesseans” in the bill, although he did also pledge to “continue to review” the draft.

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Obamacare has been a disaster from day one. It's time that Americans received #BetterCare. https://t.co/M1mEJGTZW6

 — @SenateMajLdr

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My statement on the discussion draft of the Senate health care bill. Read here: https://t.co/cpchhzoDMx #BetterCare

 — @SenPatRoberts

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Outside of Congress, moderate Republicans gave the bill harsher reviews than their Senate compatriots. Governor John Kasich (R-OH) said he had “deep concerns” about the bill and its minimal coverage. He added, “sustainable solutions to the many complex problems facing our health care system will never be solved with a one-party approach that’s developed behind closed doors, without public discussion and input.” Governor Charlie Baker (R-MA) also expressed his concerns.

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Gov. John Kasich on the U.S. Senate's health care system proposal: #HealthcareBill

 — @JohnKasich

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While Republicans have mixed opinions on the bill, Democrats don’t: not a single Democratic senator supports it.

Annabel Thompson is an intern with ThinkProgress.

Many Republican senators are unhappy about the AHCA draft was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Barack Obama calls on Republicans to oppose Senate health care bill

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 1:58pm
“I hope that our Senators step back and measure what’s really at stake.”Barack Obama in Germany last month. Credit: AP Photo

Shortly after Republican leadership finally pulled back the curtain on the health care legislation they have been working on in secret for weeks, reaction—much of it critical—began pouring in. None was more forceful or unequivocal than the reaction from former President Barack Obama.

In a lengthy post published on Facebook, the 44th president beseeched Republicans in the Senate to consider the ramifications of the bill, which will strip health insurance from tens of millions of people, raise costs for millions more, and eliminate Medicaid protections that an estimated 75 million Americans rely on.

The Senate version of Trumpcare may phase out Medicaid — entirely

“The Senate bill, unveiled today, is not a health care bill. It’s a massive transfer of wealth from middle-class and poor families to the richest people in America,” said Obama in the post. “It hands enormous tax cuts to the rich and to the drug and insurance industries, paid for by cutting health care for everybody else.”

It’s unusual for a former president to weigh in so emphatically and so publicly on a piece of legislation currently up for debate in Congress, but as Obama himself notes in his post, politics should take a back seat to policy when people’s lives are at stake.

“I recognize that repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act has become a core tenet of the Republican Party,” wrote Obama. “Still, I hope that our Senators, many of whom I know well, step back and measure what’s really at stake, and consider that the rationale for action, on health care or any other issue, must be something more than simply undoing something that Democrats did.”

In his final press conference before leaving office, Obama said it was his intention to step back from the political arena. But, he added, there were some things that would compel him to break his self-imposed silence. “There’s a difference between that normal functioning of politics and certain issues or certain moments where I think our core values may be at stake,” he told reporters in January.

This isn’t the first time Obama has weighed in since Donald Trump took office, either. Less than two weeks after the inauguration, Obama issued a forceful statement condemning the administration’s efforts to ban people from seven Muslim-majority countries (now six countries) and suspend all refugee resettlement. He called on Americans to protest the ban.

Of course, Obama’s 950-word statement wasn’t the only reaction from a U.S. president on Thursday. When asked for a comment about the Senate version of the bill, President Trump said “it’s going to be very good.”

Barack Obama calls on Republicans to oppose Senate health care bill was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Trumpcare vocab lesson: ‘Death spiral’

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 1:44pm
Trumpcare threatens to collapse many insurance markets.CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Let’s talk about “death spirals.”

That’s not a political term that Democratic operatives made up to scare you. “Death spiral” is actually the economic term of art for what Trumpcare will do to health insurance markets.

A death spiral is a kind of feedback loop where higher premiums cause healthy, paying customers to drop their health plans, which in turn leads to higher premiums, which in turn drives more people out of the insurance market. It’s called a “death spiral” because it often ends in the collapse of that market.

And, because we are talking about health care, it will also end in the deaths of many Americans who will no longer be able to afford care.

What is a death spiral?

One of the most challenging problems solved by Obamacare is how to insure people with pre-existing conditions. Before Obamacare, insurers were free to deny coverage to such individuals — and this wasn’t something they did simply because they were being cruel.

The whole point of health insurance is that everyone pays into an insurance pool that they only take money out of when they need medical care. Pre-existing conditions can be quite expensive to cover — indeed, they can be more expensive than the insurer can reasonably charge in premiums.

If you load up an insurance pool with too many sick people, they start taking more money out of the pool than the health consumers are paying into it — until the whole thing collapses.

The Senate version of Trumpcare may phase out Medicaid — entirely

One possible solution is to simply require insurers to eat these costs, and pass a law requiring them to cover people with pre-existing conditions even if these individuals take out more money than they pay in. But such a law creates its own problem. If people can wait until they are sick to buy health coverage, people will wait until they are sick to buy health coverage. And that will leave insurers with too few healthy customers to cover the costs of their sick consumers.

The death spiral begins after an insurer raises premiums to meet this funding shortfall. Higher premiums drive out more healthy customers, which forces the insurer to jack up premiums even more, which drives out even more healthy customers, which forces the insurer to jack up premiums again.

As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg explained in the first Obamacare case to reach the Supreme Court, “in the 1990’s, several States — including New York, New Jersey, Washington, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont,” enacted laws prohibiting discrimination against people with preexisting conditions, and “the results were disastrous. ‘All seven states suffered from skyrocketing insurance premium costs, reductions in individuals with coverage, and reductions in insurance products and providers.’”

The Obamacare solution

Obamacare solves this problem with an unpopular, but quite effective provision: the law’s so-called individual mandate. This mandate imposes higher taxes on most people who are uninsured, giving healthy people a financial incentive to buy health insurance that wards off a death spiral.

The Senate Trumpcare bill would repeal this mandate and replace it with, well, nothing.

That’s a huge problem because, while the Senate bill does weaken the law’s insurance regulations and allow states to waive some of them, it leaves in place Obamacare’s provisions prohibiting insurers from charging more to people with preexisting conditions. That’s a recipe for a death spiral.

Once the death spiral begins, things can get pretty grim, pretty quickly. When Kentucky tried protecting people with pre-existing conditions without also enacting an individual mandate, for example, nearly all insurers left its individual insurance market. In New Jersey, some premiums rose by 350 percent. In Washington, some counties had no private individual insurance coverage available at any price.

And, if the Senate Trumpcare bill becomes law, this fate could await all 50 states.

Trumpcare vocab lesson: ‘Death spiral’ was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Trump’s Interior Secretary defends his plan to cut at least 4,000 staff

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 1:24pm
Zinke has also begun an unprecedented shake-up of senior career officials.Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke talks with reporters at the Katahdin Woods And Waters National Monument near Staceyville, Maine, June 14, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Patrick Whittle

In multiple appearances on Capitol Hill this week, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke stood behind his proposal to cut at least 4,000 full-time staff from the Interior Department. He has also begun an unprecedented shake-up of senior career officials. Together, the thinning of experienced career employees could have far-reaching consequences for the agency’s ability to manage public land and energy development on behalf of the American people.

“I’m troubled by a number of recent personnel decisions that call into question the department’s commitment to its workforce and of keeping Congress informed of major changes to the day-to-day operations of the department,” Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) told Zinke on Wednesday.

The Trump administration’s proposed budget would cut the Interior Department by nearly 12 percent, forcing significant layoffs. While the reductions would impact the entire agency, those staff cuts are particularly concerning for two bureaus: the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

During his first week on the job, Zinke promised to “focus on rebuilding our parks,” but the administration’s proposed budget still cuts the park service by almost $300 million. The park service’s own budget justification says that they would be forced to cut 1,242 full-time equivalent employees, a number that, in practice, could end up being much higher because many park rangers and other employees are seasonal or part-time. This would likely result in closed campgrounds and other facilities at a time when national park visitation is at an all-time high and is an economic boon to local communities.

Don’t be fooled by Trump’s National Park Service photo-op

The cuts at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are also severe. Department officials already told the BLM in a memo to prepare to cut 1,000 people before the end of the year — a 10 percent cut of the agency’s staff. According to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a group representing state, local, and federal resource professionals, BLM is already severely understaffed.

“According to Trump’s fantasy plan, BLM is supposed to achieve ‘energy independence’ before its coffee break, stimulate rural ‘job creation’ by lunch and do it with substantially less resources,” said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that BLM failed to identify any functions the bureau is supposed to set aside. “It is disturbing but perhaps not surprising that BLM staff are directed to put political hobbyhorses ahead of legally required duties.”

BLM has a host of responsibilities that stand to be impacted by significant cuts — including managing safety and inspection of oil and gas production, firefighting, mineral rights on Indian lands, abandoned mines, and protecting cultural and historic sites.

BLM’s law enforcement rangers are also already stretched thin. Right now, only 124 rangers are responsible for patrolling 245 million acres of public lands — essentially one officer for every 2 million acres. These rangers combat drug cultivation, protect Native American sites and artifacts from being looted, prevent thousands of incidents of theft and vandalism, and confront anti-government threats like those posed by the Bundys, who staged an armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

It’s not just cuts that have people worried about Interior’s ability to handle its responsibilities. Zinke recently sent nearly 50 senior career officials letters informing them of new assignments. Though Zinke can legally reassign these positions, Dan Ashe, Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service under the Obama administration, says the scale of the shake-up is unprecedented and could result in several issue experts being moved outside of their expertise. For example, the agency’s top climate policy official has been reassigned to an office with the mission to collect revenues from energy development on public lands.

“I’m very worried about the idea that you’re moving people who have real serious expertise in an area to an area that they may not know anything about,” Udall, the top Democrat overseeing Interior spending, said in an interview with Politico. “It looks like an attempt to make the agency so it doesn’t work very well or [so] that the powers that be exercise their will more easily on the agency.”

Some are calling the moves an attempt to “intimidate” career employees and send a message that political leadership is calling the shots. Zinke told reporters after the hearing that the senior officials “can either take the move or resign.”

Trump’s Interior Secretary defends his plan to cut at least 4,000 staff was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Wheelchair users dragged away from McConnell’s office for protesting health care bill

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 12:06pm
Dozens of disability rights activists were arrested.Stephanie Woodward, of Rochester, NY, who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair, is removed from a sit-in at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office as she and other disability rights advocates protest proposed funding caps to Medicaid, Thursday, June 22, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington. CREDIT: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Activists in wheelchairs protesting the Senate’s newly-released health care bill were arrested and dragged from outside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office on Thursday.

The incident occurred after about 60 members of ADAPT, a U.S. disability rights organization with fierce objections to the American Health Care Act (AHCA), staged a “die-in” outside of the Kentucky senator’s office.

The AHCA would cap and cut Medicaid, something that would have severe repercussions for Americans with disabilities. Many people living with disabilities rely on Medicaid for their basic care and survival. A press release circulated by ADAPT stated that the intent of the protest was to “dramatize the deaths” the AHCA would cause in this community if implemented.

“To say people will die under this law is not an exaggeration,” Mike Oxford, an ADAPT organizer from Kansas, said prior to the protest. “Home and community based services are what allow us to do our jobs, live our lives and raise our families. Without these services many disabled and elderly Americans will die. We won’t let that happen.”

Initially, the demonstration was a relatively peaceful show of dissent, as a large number of protesters gathered outside of McConnell’s office to voice their anger, with some yelling, “I’d rather go to jail than die without Medicaid!” (McConnell was not in his office at the time of the protest, as he was introducing the health bill, while arguing it would “strengthen Medicaid.”)

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Huge protest inside and outside of Senate Majority Leader Mitch Mcconnell's office happening right now. https://t.co/Iu9wet6cXx

 — @MKhan47

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We are at @SenateMajLdr demanding he stop the attacks on Disabled people's freedom with #AHCA. #ADAPTandRESIST #NoC... https://t.co/B42G96LStA

 — @NationalADAPT

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But the situation appeared to deteriorate as police attempted to remove protesters. ADAPT’s D.C. area branch tweeted that officers were picking people up and dropping them, which video footage of the incident appears to corroborate. Several onlookers also reported seeing blood on the floor as activists were hauled away by police.

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EMTs coming through, we're hearing rumors that police are picking people up and dropping them. #ADAPTandRESIST #SaveMedicaid

 — @dcadapt

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Blood on the floor outside of Leader Mcconnell's office as protestors are physically being removed.

 — @MKhan47

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Eric got up at 6am to board a train from Philly, watched dozens of his friends get arrested (many in wheelchairs or w/ respirators)

 — @JStein_Vox

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ADAPT confirmed that 50 protesters with disabilities were arrested during the incident and are still being held in custody. Disability rights journalist David M. Perry also tweeted that Bruce Darling, CEO for the Center for Disability Rights, was seemingly being held separately from other protesters:

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I just spoke to some ADAPTers in custody. @ADAPTerBruce is being held separately. No one has seen him since he was arrested. https://t.co/E4uTI3Dlut

 — @Lollardfish

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One ADAPT member said that police were responsible for the violent nature of the arrests, but that the organization’s demonstration was in keeping with the severity of the threat the AHCA poses to people with disabilities.

“The nature of the arrests were up to the officers,” ADAPT member Kings Floyd told ThinkProgress in an email. “We did not assist the officers in our arrest nor did we actively resist. The nature of the Trumpcare bill calls for a nonviolent but passionate demonstration, as our lives are at risk. We know with the proposed cuts to Medicaid people with disabilities will die. This means we will continue to fight for our lives and continue to be arrested as the police deem necessary.”

ADAPT has long been vocal in its rejection of any proposed cuts to Medicaid. In March, a protest of around 40 people, the majority of them in wheelchairs, shut down the Capitol Rotunda for around an hour while demonstrators railed against the AHCA.

Wheelchair users dragged away from McConnell’s office for protesting health care bill was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

‘Pizzagate’ shooter sentenced to 4 years in prison

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 11:26am
The people who helped spread the original conspiracy theory, meanwhile, still have the president’s ear.Edgar Welch, seen here surrendering to police in December, was inspired to go shoot up a D.C. pizza restaurant by right-wing fever-swamp figures close to the Trump movement who insisted that prominent Democrats are running a child sex trafficking ring. CREDIT: Sathi Soma via AP

The man who fired a rifle inside a Washington, D.C. pizza restaurant, after being inspired by internet conspiracy theorists convinced it was the center of a child sex trafficking ring that involved Hillary Clinton, has been sentenced to four years in prison.

Prosecutors had asked a judge to put Edgar Welch behind bars for 4.5 years in order to “deter other would-be vigilantes” similarly inspired to acts of violence. The four-year term handed down Thursday followed both a guilty plea and a public letter of contrition from Welch.

Welch will also be on supervised release for three years following the completion of his sentence, during which he must undergo a mental health evaluation. He was also ordered to pay about $5,700 in restitution for property damage he caused, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

The so-called “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory was stoked in large part by the right-wing website Infowars and its fringe leader Alex Jones, whose foaming coverage of U.S. politics has been promoted for years by more mainstream conservative media figures — and, starting last year, by then-President Elect Donald Trump. (Trump, whose credibility war against what he calls “fake news” has been a damaging central tactic throughout his campaign and tenure as president, later gave Infowars a press credential.)

Comet employee on life during ‘Pizzagate’: ‘If this doesn’t stop someone is going to get killed’

Welch was not the first Pizzagate believer to show up in person at D.C.’s Comet Ping Pong. Groups of right-wing internet detectives bent on proving that Clinton and her close associates had moved child pornography and underage sex slaves through Comet’s doors had protested outside and even entered the restaurant on occasion last summer and fall.

But while Welch wasn’t the first to take the wild-eyed fervor of the Pizzagate web mob out of the comments section, he was the first to engage in physical violence in pursuit of his imagined truth. Welch drove up from North Carolina with a gun, walked into Comet brandishing the weapon, and fired a shot into a door striking no one. He surrendered to police shortly afterward outside.

America’s ‘Most Prolific Conspiracy Theorist’ Reveals He’s Now Advising Donald Trump

Jones and the Infowars crowd have formally apologized for and deleted their Pizzagate coverage, an unusual move for the veteran pot-stirrer and anti-government flamethrower.

Others on the right who amplified the false story — in which powerful liberal politicians were not only child-raping fiends, but also ones who communicated about their activities through email using a verbal code so simple that internet detectives had cracked it from a glance at hacked emails released during last year’s election — have not shown such contrition. Other prominent Trump boosters like Mike Cernovich and Mike Flynn, Jr. have muted their coverage of the story, but continued to insist there’s something sinister going on.

Welch himself, meanwhile, seems ashamed now of what he did.

“I am really sorry for anything I caused,” Welch said in court Thursday according to reports from the room. In his earlier written apology, Welch wrote that his attack was “motivated, at least in part, by unfounded rumors about a child sex-trafficking ring… that involved nationally-known political figures.”

‘Pizzagate’ shooter sentenced to 4 years in prison was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Mississippi realizes how to make a clean coal plant work: Run it on natural gas

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 11:26am
After wasting $7.5 billion, the state realizes its coal-to-gas plant should just skip the coalLignite coal mined in Mississippi for “clean coal” plant. CREDIT: AP/Rogelio V. Solis, File

At his Wednesday rally in Iowa, President Donald Trump once again touted his imaginary revival of coal and the importance of “clean, beautiful coal.”

That same day, Mississippi utility regulators finally figured out the best way to make the state’s wildly expensive “clean coal” plant much cleaner and more affordable: Skip the coal part entirely.

Sadly, this realization comes after spending billions on cost overruns in a complicated scheme to convert coal to gas while capturing and burying some of the CO2 released in the process. The new plan is to use natural gas.

Conceived over a decade ago when natural gas and renewables were both more expensive, Southern Company’s Kemper plant was originally supposed to cost $2.4 billion. It broke ground in 2010 and, like most clean coal projects, was plagued from the very first by mismanagement, delays, and cost overruns.

Carbon Capture And Storage: One Step Forward, One Step Back

By 2015, the 582-megawatt plant was running primarily on natural gas because the coal-to-gas part of the scheme had proved too challenging. Last summer, the New York Times published a scathing expose on the project, run by Southern Company’s Mississippi Power unit. Internal emails, documents, and secretly recorded conversations provided by a whistleblower “show that the plant’s owners drastically understated the project’s cost and timetable and repeatedly tried to conceal problems as they emerged.”

On Wednesday, the Mississippi Public Service Commissioners passed a motion telling its lawyers to draft an order requiring a solution “that eliminates ratepayer risk for unproven technology” and that would “allow only for operation of a natural gas facility at the Kemper Project location.”

The commissioners want ratepayers to cover only the $840 million in equipment to burn gas. Otherwise, as the AP explains, “Southern shareholders, who have already taken $3.1 billion in losses, could absorb roughly another $3.5 billion.”

With that kind of money at stake, this could end up in court for years. But the order will no doubt send a chill through any utilities still pursuing or imagining a clean coal plant.

Ironically, Trump’s proposed budget for the Energy Department slashes funds available for clean coal by more than half. It seems even his own administration understands what he doesn’t: Clean coal is an oxymoron.

Mississippi realizes how to make a clean coal plant work: Run it on natural gas was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Appeals court gives Mississippi the green light to favor anti-LGBTQ discrimination

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 10:59am
Bigotry won on a technicality.A protest against HB 1523 that took place on April 4, 2016. CREDIT: AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

Mississippi’s HB 1523, a law passed last year that creates special protections exclusively for conservative religious beliefs about sexuality and gender, is unconstitutional on its face. Unfortunately, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit decided this week that the case challenging the pro-discrimination law was not the appropriate vehicle for overturning it.

As passed, HB 1523 specifically carves out three specific religious beliefs to receive extra protection under law: opposing same-sex marriage, opposing sexual relations outside of a man-woman marriage, and opposing the legitimacy of transgender identities. Mississippi already lacks any protections for the LGBTQ community, but HB 1523 further encourages discrimination by promising that those beliefs will be protected if people act upon them.

In a unanimous opinion issued Thursday, a three-judge panel determined that the plaintiffs challenging the law did not have proper standing to bring their complaint against the law. “Standing is not available to just any resident of a jurisdiction to challenge a government message without a corresponding action about a particular belief outside the context of a religious display or exercise,” the Court explained. The plaintiffs — several Mississippi residents, a church, and an advocacy organization — do not hold the beliefs outlined for special protection, but according to the Court, that doesn’t mean they are injured by the law.

The ruling overturns a lower court’s ruling from last summer that put the law on hold with an injunction. U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves had concluded that by endorsing and elevating one set of religious beliefs, the law conveyed the state’s “disapproval and diminution” of all other religious beliefs. “If three specific beliefs are ‘protected by this act,’ it follows that every other religious belief a citizen holds is not protected by the act,” he wrote. “Christian Mississippians with religious beliefs contrary to [HB 1523] become second-class Christians.”

Mississippi funeral home demonstrates what legal anti-gay discrimination looks like

The appeals court didn’t weigh in on the merits and left the door open for future challenges. “We do not foreclose the possibility that a future plaintiff may be able to show clear injury-in-fact,” the decision explained, “but the federal courts must withhold judgment unless and until that plaintiff comes forward.” Because the law privileges one set of beliefs but doesn’t explicitly punish the others — and because there are no state or local laws protecting against anti-LGBTQ discrimination — figuring out how a plaintiff could actually demonstrate injury by the law could be quite a challenge.

In the meantime, because the injunction has now been lifted, HB 1523 is officially enforceable in Mississippi, granting anti-LGBTQ and anti-sex beliefs exclusive protection under law.

Appeals court gives Mississippi the green light to favor anti-LGBTQ discrimination was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

A wave of states consider legislation recognizing the nuances within gender

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 7:20am
D.C. is the latest part of the United States to weigh a bill that would allow for a non-binary gender option.CREDIT: iStock

The nation’s capital is poised to be the latest part of the United States to recognize the nuances within gender.

On Tuesday, D.C. Councilmember Brianne Nadeau introduced a bill allowing for a non-binary gender option on city driver’s licenses. If the bill is passed, D.C. residents applying for licenses or identification cards will be able to choose between “F”, “M”, and “X” — allowing non-binary, genderqueer, and agender people to have an option that fits better.

“The District has always sought to be a safe and welcoming place for our LGBTQ community, and today we are continuing to deliver on that legacy,” Nadeau said in a statement. “Gender is a spectrum and some of our residents do not identify as male or female. Current licenses force residents to conform to genders that don’t accurately reflect their identity. This has not only a practical impact but also a deeply negative emotional and mental health impact. This bill changes District identification documents so they can accurately reflect the needs of our residents.”

Allowing for a non-binary option on identification cards is pretty revolutionary, according to Arli Christian, who serves as state policy counsel at the National Center for Transgender Equality.

“An ‘X’ gender marker allows individuals to have a more accurate marker,” Christian said, “but it also allows for more privacy. That’s really important, as well as the recognition that gender is a personal and private thing.”

D.C. isn’t alone. New York is also considering a similar bill. Assistant Speaker of the House Felix Ortiz introduced a bill on Monday that, much like the proposed bill in D.C., would allow state residents to identify as non-binary on driver’s licenses and identification cards.

Efforts in both cities are part of a recent wave of legislation across the country acknowledging the gender spectrum.

Non-binary people, who are sometimes transgender and sometimes completely outside of traditional gender categories, are relatively unused to seeing themselves acknowledged or represented. Heated clashes over “bathroom bills” in states like Texas and North Carolina have brought national attention to transgender issues, as has the Trump administration’s decision in February to roll back protections for transgender students. But media coverage of trans issues has still been centered on a binary view of gender: male and female, or man and woman.

Now, that seems to be changing.

Earlier this month, Oregon became the first state in the country to rule that residents could legally change their gender to “nonbinary”, after a retired U.S. army sergeant petitioned the state. Foster Noone, a 19-year-old Tulane University student who serves as a member of the national youth council for the Transgender Law Center, told the New York Times that Oregon’s decision was revolutionary for non-binary people. Many people act, Noone said, like “there are two different types of bodies and two types of genders, and that’s the way it’s been since the beginning of time, and that’s just not true.”

California has also been working on its own non-binary legislation. In January, state Sens. Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced the California Gender Recognition Act, which would establish a non-binary gender option for official state documents and streamline the process of legally changing gender. At the time, Atkins, an out lesbian, argued that the legislation was crucial for her state. “It will keep California at the forefront of LGBTQ civil rights,” she said. The act has passed the California Senate and must now clear two state assembly committees.

Resistance and Pride in 2017: How activists are commemorating Pride month

While legislation in each area differs, it all fits into a larger movement toward challenging established norms and hierarchies. “This is all part of the broader recognition that gender is complicated. There are many people in our society who do not fit into stereotypes about gender,” Christian said.

In D.C., which has a higher percentage of self-identified LGBTQ individuals than any state in the country, that recognition has added significance.

“By adding a gender neutral option to driver licenses, [D.C.] takes a great step toward asserting the existence of non-binary people, and their right to feel affirmed in a place they call home,” Guillaume Bagal, president of the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA), told ThinkProgress in an email.

Bagal also observed that the bill’s timing was notable. “We are especially grateful to see progress being made despite the Trump administration’s slew of attacks on our communities, and continued threats to gains made in LGBTQ and women’s rights,” he said.

Despite efforts to roll back the rights of gender minorities in multiple states and the White House, advocates are still heartened by the progress being made.

“We expect that this trend will continue,” Christian said. “It is important to see these states leading the way. I think as other states see that working, they’ll be able to follow suit.” Above all, Christian emphasized, efforts to acknowledge a spectrum of identities are opening people up to the idea that people, not policymakers or medical practitioners, know their genders best.

“Individuals themselves are the best suited to report their gender identity,” Christian said.

A wave of states consider legislation recognizing the nuances within gender was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Trump bashes wind energy in a state that gets a third of its electricity from wind

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 6:53am
It’s like going to Georgia and talking about how peaches are terrible.CREDIT: AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

On Wednesday night, President Donald Trump held a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he praised coal and ridiculed wind energy.

“I don’t want to just hope the wind blows to light up your homes,” Trump told the crowd.

Iowa is the leading producer of wind energy in the country and generated 36.6 percent of its electricity from wind in 2016. Statewide, the wind industry employs between 8,000 and 9,000 people and has added $11.8 billion to the state’s economy through capital investments. Wind farms that are built on private land, which is leased to wind developers, collectively earn farmers and landowners an estimated $20 million annually.

The mining industry in Iowa, by contrast, employs around 2,200 people — and is primarily made up of stone mining and quarrying jobs. Because of the way Iowa breaks down its employment data, that number also includes natural gas and petroleum extraction.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the wind industry currently employs more than 100,000 people in the United States, and wind turbine technician is the fastest growing occupation in the country. In 2016, wind capacity — the total amount of output a particular electricity generator can produce at a given time — passed hydropower to become the largest source of renewable energy capacity in the United States.

body[data-twttr-rendered="true"] {background-color: transparent;}.twitter-tweet {margin: auto !important;}

Iowa reliably generates &gt;36% of its electricity using #windpower, has over 8K #windpower jobs, and over 2K well-paying factory #jobs.

 — @TomCKiernan

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During his speech, Trump also made a reference to wind turbines killing birds, adding that “birds fall to the ground” when wind power is generated. This is not the first time Trump has claimed that wind power poses a serious threat to birds — in an interview with radio host and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain in October, Trump said that wind power “kills all the birds” and that in areas with a lot of wind turbines, “thousands of birds are lying on the ground.”

Wind turbines do account for between 140,000 and 368,000 bird deaths annually. And while that might seem like a lot, it’s still well below the number killed each year by cell phone towers (6.8 million), collisions with glass buildings (one billion), and cats (3.7 billion).

And, as the Audubon Society notes, without wind power, birds face a much greater threat — climate change, which, by causing a shift in the habitable ranges for birds, could endanger nearly half of U.S. birds by the end of the century.

Trump has a longstanding grudge against wind power, stretching back to before his days in politics. As a developer, he fought plans to install a wind farm off the coast of one of his golf courses in Aberdeen, Scotland, which he argued would destroy the aesthetic value of his property. In 2012, he sent a letter to the then-head of the Scottish government where he called wind turbines “monsters” and described the wind farm project as “insanity.”

CREDIT: Twitter

Trump’s struggle against the wind farm was ultimately unsuccessful — the Scottish government approved construction of the farm in 2013, and Trump’s attempts to derail the project were rejected twice in court.

Trump has not always taken such a hard line against wind power, however. During a campaign stop in Iowa early in the 2016 presidential election, he told voters that he supports subsidies for the wind industry, like the production tax credit.

“It’s an amazing thing when you think — you know, where they can, out of nowhere, out of the wind, they make energy,” Trump said.

As president, however, Trump has been far less supportive of the “amazing” power of wind and renewable energy. He appointed Daniel Simmons, a vocal critic of renewable energy, to lead the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and called for deep cuts to renewable energy research in his budget.

Trump bashes wind energy in a state that gets a third of its electricity from wind was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

The Senate version of Trumpcare may phase out Medicaid — entirely

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 6:36am
The meanest, most radical faction of the GOP got to decide what happens to poor people’s health careMike Lee, a Utah senator and mean person. CREDIT: AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

In a moment of extraordinary candor earlier this month, President Donald Trump labeled the House Republican health bill “mean” and urged the Senate to improve the bill to make it “generous, kind [and] with heart.” He won’t get what he asked for.

A draft of the Senate version of the bill, which was written in secret with even many senators kept out of the loop, is expected to become public on Thursday. In the meantime, leaked details indicate that the meanest, least kind or generous faction within the Republican Party won the fight over how the bill will treat Medicaid. Reports indicate that the Senate opted for a proposal by Sens. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Mike Lee (R-UT), which sought extraordinarily deep cuts.

The Senate bill will reportedly phase out the landmark health care program — which serves nearly 75 million Americans. And it will do so fairly quickly.

To explain, Medicaid is a federal/state partnership that is administered by state governments but largely funded out of the federal treasury. It provides coverage to many of the most vulnerable Americans, including the poor and many disabled and elderly patients. Currently, the federal government pays a set percentage of the costs arising under Medicaid — 64 percent, on average — and states cover the balance.

The Senate Republican bill repeals this structure and replaces it with caps on how much money a state will receive each year. Moreover, Bloomberg’s Sahil Kapur reports, the cap will effectively lose value over time.

According to Kapur’s source, “starting in 2025, Medicaid spending would grow at the rate of inflation (known as CPI-U).” This is a really big deal because the general rate of inflation is much slower than either the rate of inflation within the health care market or the expected rate of inflation within the Medicaid program.

Based on projections from the Congressional Budget Office, the cost of care for an individual Medicaid beneficiary will increase 4.4 percent each year. Meanwhile, general inflation will grow closer to 2.4 percent per year. So with each passing year, states will have fewer real dollars to spend on health care for millions of their most vulnerable residents. Over time, the entire Medicaid program will effectively phase out.

The House bill used a fairly complicated structure to determine how much each state’s Medicaid funding would increase each year, but states could opt for a cap which grew at a rate close to (although probably still slower than) Medicaid inflation.

Not long after the House bill, which would strip health coverage from 23 million people by 2026, passed Congress’ lower chamber, many commentators claimed that the “mean” health bill would inevitably become less harsh in the Senate. It now appears that the opposite has happened.

With Toomey and Lee driving the ship, the Senate is reportedly poised to wind down a program that serves 75 million Americans. Admittedly, this winding down will be gradual, but it will be much less gradual than it would have been under the House bill.

The Senate version of Trumpcare may phase out Medicaid — entirely was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Trump says poor people shouldn’t be involved in economic policy

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 6:01am
“In those particular positions, I just don’t want a poor person.”CREDIT: C-SPAN2/Screenshot

The next presidential election is more than 3 years away, but President Trump is back on the stump in Iowa. During the campaign-style rally on Wednesday, Trump defended his decision to install millionaires and billionaires in all his top economic positions. “[T]hat’s the kind of thinking we want,” Trump argued.

“They’re representing the country,” he insisted. “They don’t want the money. They’re representing the country.”

Speaking of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and his chief economic advisor Gary Cohn, Trump explained that these men “had to give up a lot to take these jobs.” Cohn, in particular, “went from massive paydays to peanuts.”

“These are people that are great, brilliant business minds, and that’s what we need. That’s what we have to have so the world doesn’t take advantage [of us]. We can’t have the world taking advantage of us anymore.”

Trump clarified, “And I love all people, rich or poor, but in those particular positions, I just don’t want a poor person. Does that makes sense? Does that make sense? If you insist, I’ll do it, but I like it better this way, right?”

https://medium.com/media/7e8381a3ff98ed6654f0c876c8136fe3/href

Trump claimed that Cohn had to pay $200 million in taxes to take his job in the administration. This is false, as MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle pointed out Thursday morning.

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Dear @POTUS -Gary Cohn DID NOT PAY $200mm in taxes to join the WH. It's deferred &amp; a well known loophole that attracts rich people to serve

 — @sruhle

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Indeed, Cohn received a massive payout when he sold his shares of Goldman Sachs, which were worth about $210 million. As long as he reinvested that money in government securities or government-approved mutual funds, he could defer paying any capital-gains tax on it.

And while Trump may claim that members of his administration aren’t there for the money, every major policy the Trump White House has proposed would massively benefit the rich and add to the burdens of the poor. For example, every version of Trumpcare, including what Republican Senators have been secretly working on, would cut Medicaid — making it harder for poor people to access health care — and provide massive tax cuts for the rich.

Likewise, Trump’s proposed budget would have cut many essential benefit programs for low-income families, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), not to mention the subsidized student loan program, Social Security Disability Insurance, and veterans’ benefits.

Trump says poor people shouldn’t be involved in economic policy was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

D.C. cops used ‘rape as punishment’ after Inauguration Day mass arrests, lawsuit says

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 5:01am
Wide array of unconstitutional tactics alleged in suit over chilling round-up that hit peaceful protesters, journalists, and anarchists alike.Cameras, gas, and chaos on Inauguration Day in Washington, D.C. CREDIT: AP Photo/Mark Tenally

When black-clad marchers began smashing windows in Washington, D.C., on Inauguration Day, the city’s police force — reputedly the best in the country at upholding protesters’ rights during disruptive demonstrations — went nuclear.

Officers quickly deployed pepper spray, tear gas, and crowd-control grenades of various types. The Metropolitan Police Department opted to “kettle” everyone on the streets nearby the initial anarchist-driven property destruction, something it does not, by reputation, make a habit of doing during protests.

The mass round-up swept the “Antifa” rowdy types together with many peaceful protesters, journalists, and volunteer legal observers who turn out in bright green hats to help uphold First Amendment rights at such events in the capital. After hours of kettling, police arrested more than 200 people. All were initially charged with felonies by the United States Attorney’s office, which continues to pursue the vast majority of those cases.

This is how the public has understood what happened in the District on Inauguration Day for the past five months. But that story undersells the full scope of the MPD’s violent conduct that day, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) alleges in a lawsuit filed Wednesday against the city, police department, police chief, and numerous yet-unnamed officers.

“Molestation and rape as punishment”

The “guilt by association” round-up and mass arrests, the liberal use of pepper spray, and the kettling itself would all be constitutionally dubious enough on their own, the ACLU’s Scott Michelman said Wednesday.

But the experiences of the lawsuit’s four plaintiffs — independent photojournalist Shay Horse, volunteer legal observer Judah Ariel, and peaceful protesters Elizabeth Legesse and Milo Gonzalez — suggest that MPD sought physical and emotional retribution on the hundreds of people kettled, the ACLU alleges.

An officer ordered Horse, fellow plaintiff Milo Gonzalez, and three others to take their pants off before grabbing their testicles and then inserting a finger into their anuses while “other officers laughed,” the complaint alleges. Horse is a photojournalist, one of six reporters initially arrested and charged whose cases have been dismissed.

“It felt like they were trying to…break us so that even if the charges didn’t stick, that night would be our punishment.”

“I felt like they were using molestation and rape as punishment. They used those tactics to inflict pain and misery on people who are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty,” Horse said. “It felt like they were trying to break me and the others — break us so that even if the charges didn’t stick, that night would be our punishment.”

In a statement responding to the lawsuit on Wednesday, the MPD defended its reputation and maintained that all its arrests were proper.

“Each year, the men and women of MPD protect the rights and ensure the safety of thousands of First Amendment assemblies, demonstrations and protests,” the department said. While thousands demonstrated peaceably on Inauguration Day, the statement went on, “there was another group of individuals who chose to engage in criminal acts, destroying property and hurling projectiles, injuring at least six officers. These individuals were ultimately arrested for their criminal actions.”

The department also pledged that “all…allegations of misconduct will be fully investigated.” Michelman said the ACLU welcomes that promise but doesn’t exactly trust it.

“We have significant concerns that that won’t be sufficient, in light of repeat problems MPD has had with arresting law-abiding demonstrators and responding…with excessive force,” Michelman said.

Federal prosecutors slap felony charges on more than 200 inauguration protesters

The discovery phase of the new suit should allow the plaintiffs to identify the names, ranks, and badge numbers of the specific officers they accuse of abusing them physically and psychologically. But it’s also important to the plaintiffs that such individualized accountability not shunt responsibility away from supervisors and top brass. “The events of the day show a high degree of coordination, suggesting the problems run deeper than the misconduct of a handful of officers,” said Michelman.

The U.S. Attorney for Washington, D.C. declined to comment on how the lawsuit, in which it is not named as a defendant, might alter the course of the 202 ongoing felony prosecutions it is pursuing related to Inauguration Day events. A spokesman cited the office’s policy of never commenting on ongoing felony cases.

“I came to D.C. to do a good thing”

Baltimore resident and fellow plaintiff Elizabeth Legesse still faces felony charges stemming from her arrest that day. She detailed how she and other peaceful marchers were suddenly herded into the kettle along with some of the Antifa glass-smashers, kept there for hours, then eventually cuffed with zip-ties so tightly that they cut her wrist and numbed her hands.

Legesse, who had come down from Baltimore to protest, said she was then dropped into a holding cell with 20 other women and denied food and water through the night.

“I came to D.C. to do a good thing: To express my concern about the direction of our country,” Legesse said. “You would think that of all the cities in the world, Washington, D.C., would respect my freedom of speech and right to peaceably assemble.”

Even before the full depth of the alleged depravity of MPD officers’ actions toward protester detainees was laid out in Wednesday’s suit, the rough crowd control methods employed on Inauguration Day had alarmed protest law observers. ACLU and National Lawyers Guild representatives told ThinkProgress at the time that the department’s actions break from a long pattern of sensible, calm response to protests — even ones that radically disrupt roads, businesses, and private organization headquarters in the capital.

Federal charges dropped against journalist arrested on Inauguration Day

By dint of geography, MPD responds to far more mass demonstrations than any other police department. Marchers without permits regularly take over streets, sit in at organizational buildings, and even chain themselves to physical structures in protest without prompting the sort of crackdown that followed the Antifa provocations on Inauguration Day.

But MPD’s reputation for high standards on protester civil liberties coexists with a less-prominent and darker track record in cases like this one, Michelman said.

“When there are groups of people who protest only peacefully, demonstrations that go off without a hitch, MPD does tend to handle those pretty well. They tend to be prepared and respectful, and we commend them for that,” he said. “The problem is when there’s a little bit of lawbreaking at a mostly peaceful demonstration, the response from MPD is massive, it’s excessive, it’s unjustified, and it’s unconstitutional. That’s what we saw on January 20.”

The indiscriminate targeting of reporters, legal observers, and peaceful protesters along with those who had broken windows and assaulted officers is not a one-off, he said. MPD reacted similarly to a World Bank protest in 2002 that went sideways. The city later paid $8.25 million to settle civil rights cases brought by nearly 400 protesters. That case, known among local lawyers as Pershing Park, was not the first multi-million-dollar payout by the District over an episode that broke from MPD’s broader pattern of high-road protest management.

For Judah Ariel, a plaintiff who was on hand that day as a legal observer and described officers firing pepper cannons at the crowd he was in “like Al Pacino in Scarface,” the experience felt like a betrayal from the place he’s chosen to make his home.

“This is the city where I’ve chosen to make my home and raise a family. And all of the sudden it felt like my police department, my government, had turned on me without warning and without justification,” Ariel said.

“Wherever we live, the issues facing our country are too important and the stakes are too high. All of us must feel free to protest and speak out against the government without fear of retribution.”

D.C. cops used ‘rape as punishment’ after Inauguration Day mass arrests, lawsuit says was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

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