Think Progress

Subscribe to Think Progress feed Think Progress
Updated: 3 hours 36 min ago

As opposition to R. Kelly grows, what is RCA to do?

4 hours 23 min ago

Who still wants to be in business with R. Kelly?

A man whose career once seemed to rise with direct proportion to the volume of rumors about his off-stage sexual escapades is, in the wake of the blockbuster Lifetime series Surviving R. Kelly, quickly becoming a pop culture pariah.

On Wednesday of this week, protesters gathered outside Sony Music’s New York headquarters,  where they chanted “RCA, take a stand, we won’t stop ‘til Kelly’s banned!” and delivered a petition with more than 217,000 signatures, imploring the label to drop the R&B star. Last week, a plane commissioned by national women’s organization UltraViolet flew above Sony’s Culver City, Ca., offices, trailing a banner that read “RCA/Sony: Drop Sexual Predator R. Kelly.”

Meanwhile, artists like Lady Gaga have fired up their Notes apps to issue awfully-late-but-okay apologies for their collaborations with the R&B star and express solidarity with the considerable, and growing, number of women who say they were victimized by Kelly.

According to years of credible reporting, Kelly has, for decades, been engaged in the sexual, physical, psychological, and emotional abuse of women and girls as young as 14-years-old. Through those years, his victims have reportedly been silenced by threats, blackmail, payouts, and — the choice legal document of serial sexual abusers the nation over — non-disclosure agreements. A BuzzFeed investigation published last July by Jim DeRogatis, who broke the Kelly story back in 2000 and has been reporting on it ever since, said that Kelly is currently keeping several young women in cult-like conditions against their will at his homes, women whose parents have been trying for years to see or at least contact their daughters, with no end to their torment in sight.

The docuseries reintroduced that harrowing testimony, gave faces and voices to the previously-anonymous or unseen women who say Kelly systematically destroyed their lives, and all but forced the average viewer to reckon with their complicity in Kelly’s fame and success. Within weeks of its premiere, the campaign to #MuteRKelly had grown in volume considerably, making the silence of Kelly’s longtime label all the more apparent — and, to Kelly’s detractors, damning.

RCA, whose parent company is Sony, did send an employee down to pick up that petition in New York. But the label has taken no formal action against Kelly, who has been at RCA for the entirety of his solo career. (Jive Records, to which Kelly was previously signed, merged with RCA in 2007.) His most recent RCA release was a 2016 Christmas album. As for his 18-minute rambling non-confession, “I Admit,” Kelly released it himself on SoundCloud last July.

After ‘Surviving R. Kelly,’ criminal investigations begin while his label stays silent

Is RCA in a real legal bind, unable to dissolve a contract that — technically, legally — Kelly has not breached? Or is that just a convenient cover for a corporation unwilling to lose the back catalog of an artist whose biggest hits, like “I Believe I Can Fly” and “Ignition (Remix)” are still in heavy rotation?

‘The amazing, sacred nature of the contract’

“Is there a criminal indictment against this man? Because until that occurs, RCA has a problem,” said Deborah L. Wagnon, attorney and associate professor specializing in recording industry legal issues in the College of Media and Entertainment at Middle Tennessee State University. RCA is dealing with “a very strong, vocal, relatively mature — to the business — artist, in R. Kelly, with very strong counsel. They, I’m sure, have dug in, and taken a position of, ‘We have a viable recording agreement. We have no morals clause.’”

Current agreements likely have language to allow for a broader range of terminable offenses, given the ease with which a person can wreck a reputation via social media. But Kelly’s contract predates all of that. When Kelly got his start in the music industry back in the 1990s, it would have been “very difficult for any artist counsel to allow any language in that would suggest that, if you misbehave, we can cut you from the roster,” Wagnon said. “That was fought tooth and nail.”

All of this means that, until Kelly commits a crime — and is arrested for said crime, or is on trial, or is in prison — RCA may not have the grounds to terminate his contract.

Lizzette Martinez never imagined ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ would be this big

The relevant question regarding Kelly’s behavior, for RCA, is simply this: Is it damaging his record sales? To break a contract requires “objective data,” Wagnon explained, which translates to something like: “Sales drop exponentially, no one will do business with you. I don’t know that boycotts or protests count” if they don’t actually diminish sales.

“This is about the amazing, sacred nature of the contract. This crazy range of the freedom of parties to agree to something that the courts will uphold, no matter how stupid the terms were, so long as they were legal and the people were of majority age,” Wagnon said. “That is what RCA and all their lawyers are stuck with. No matter how much they want him to go somewhere else, there has to be a basis in fact for them to take action. Because he’s not an ingenue. And he could sue them for breach.”

Sony was in this predicament before, though in reverse, when Kesha tried and failed to extricate herself from a recording contract with Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald, who the pop singer-songwriter accused of rape and abuse, Gottwald’s Kemosabe Records, and Sony. The judge ruled against Kesha over and over again, saying, “My instinct is to do the commercially reasonable thing” and uphold the existing contract.

“It is the inverse. Kesha just wanted out, and Sony was pushing her to deliver,” said Wagnon. In Kelly’s case, “He doesn’t want to go anywhere, [and] as long as he delivers in strict accordance with the agreement, they’re hard-pressed to get rid of him, unless he has violated some provision in the agreement.”

“RCA is not judge and jury,” Wagnon said. “They are party to a contract.”

Keeping Kelly on hold

Kelly’s camp claims he has been in the studio recording new music; he has two albums left on his contract. Sources familiar with Kelly’s contract and relationship with RCA told TMZ that the label has basically put Kelly on ice: “The label will not produce any of the singer’s new music, it will not put money behind any of his projects, and it will not release any additional music until the criminal investigations in Georgia and other fallout resolve one way or the other.” Criminal investigations into Kelly are underway in Atlanta and Chicago

So while protesters are demanding RCA sever ties with Kelly immediately, “immediately” is not necessarily the savviest move for the label. What’s the rush? It’s not like they have to release any of his music.

“Nobody could compel them to put a record out if they didn’t want to,” said Laurie Soriano, a music attorney in Los Angeles.

The ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ showrunner is waiting for a reckoning

“All recording agreements, even for superstar types, are going to be the same on this front: They’re basically set up in a one-sided way, where the record label gets to decide how long the term is,” Soriano said. And even if they picked up the options, “there are still mechanisms in the agreement, as every agreement has, about what happens if the label decides not to put the record out.”

Kelly could be standing outside RCA with a boombox over his head, playing the music he says comprises his next two albums. But “this concept of, ‘I made the record, I sent it to them, they have the digital files of all the masters,’ that is not delivery with a capital D,” Wagnon said. “Delivery has to be communicated as accepted by the label.” Which means another delaying mechanism available to RCA is to simply reject whatever Kelly sends their way by saying, “We’re not happy with it. Our approval of your record is pending. We’ve seen it, we’ve heard it, but we have not made our decision with whether it is commercially satisfactory — therefore, delivery has not occurred.”

“Buying time is to the label’s advantage,” said Wagnon.

‘Who wants to pay massive dollars to someone they might have issues with already?’

But let’s imagine a scenario in which RCA decides that they just can’t stomach keeping Kelly on the roster anymore. It is worth noting that RCA only recently announced a new deal with Chris Brown, who pled guilty to a 2009 assault of his then-girlfriend, Rihanna, and whose name has made headlines for his multitude of arrests, alleged violent misconduct in the years since. So it does not appear that this is the particular hill upon which RCA would choose to die.

Nevertheless, to continue this thought experiment, RCA has the option of simply settling it out with Kelly — just paying him to go away. The idea does have its appeal, but for Wagnon, it raises a question, “Who wants to pay massive dollars to someone they might have issues with already?” 

And even if RCA kills this contract before Kelly can release new music, what do they do about the old music?

“They could decide to pull his back catalog,” said Soriano. “Or they could sever all ties for the future, but leave the status quo with regard to his back catalog” — an option that might appease the #MuteRKelly camp but keep those “Ignition (Remix)” royalties rolling in.

“His masters, no one wants because he’s a pariah,” said Wagnon. “But you can always re-record that master recording if you [own] the underlying composition, and there’s serious dollars in that market. We don’t know all of the assets that RCA is looking at. Particularly if it was Jive, because they were pretty good at owning compositions and master recordings.”

RCA’s radio silence

As it seems that the savviest strategy for RCA is the one they’re currently deploying — keeping Kelly on ice, waiting for the justice system to do its thing — why not address the public outrage with some kind of statement? Even something relatively benign to the effect of, “We are aware of the concerns regarding this artist. We take allegations of sexual violence very seriously. We also believe in due process. We have no further comment at this time.” Surely the company has a PR team at work crafting something very similar, no? Because if not, it took approximately eight seconds to write that. RCA can just have it!

The reporter who broke the R. Kelly story is ready for everyone else to care about it

“If they make a statement that has assumptions in it about behavior, that could be very problematic,” said Catherine Moore, adjunct professor of music technology at the University of Toronto. “Unless and until they have legal support for that statement, then a company would be very reluctant to make a statement.”

Considering the gravity of the allegations against Kelly, how long his abuse has allegedly been going on — and the fact that it is still reportedly ongoing — one would think this is an urgent matter. But for RCA, Moore said, “The time to make an announcement would be when they could announce, ‘We have made this business decision about R. Kelly,’ and say what that decision is.” 

Though to all the world, it appears like RCA is doing nothing. “I’m sure they’re more busy than we could imagine trying to figure this out,” Moore said. “But they’re not doing it in public.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

The historical precedent for canceling or delaying the State of the Union address

4 hours 45 min ago

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi effectively canceled the State of the Union address on Wednesday, in a letter to President Donald Trump.

“Sadly,” Pelosi’s letter said, “given the security concerns and unless the government re-opens this week, I suggest that we work together to determine another suitable date after government has re-opened for this address or for you to consider delivering your State of the Union address in writing to the Congress on January 29th.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said Wednesday afternoon that the letter meant the State of the Union was off, though walked it back later in the day, saying it wasn’t “officially off.”

In any case, Trump won’t be able to give the State of the Union address without Pelosi’s invitation, at least not in its typical format, though she did suggest Trump could, as she told reporters, “make a speech from the Oval Office instead, if he wants,” or he could postpone the joint address or deliver the speech in writing.

While the giving the State of the Union speech in front of a joint session of Congress has become a tradition in recent years, delivering the speech in writing — or even postponing the address — would not be without precedent. As The Washington Post noted Wednesday, though Presidents George Washington and John Adams delivered addresses in person, President Thomas Jefferson sent written copies of his state of the union speech to be read in the House and the Senate. That tradition continued until Woodrow Wilson, in 1913, delivered the speech in person.

The State of the Union has been postponed in the not-too-distant past, as well. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan was scheduled to give his State of the Union address the same day the Challenger Space Shuttle exploded, killing the seven astronauts inside.

“There could be no speech without mentioning [the Challenger tragedy],” Reagan said that afternoon. “But you can’t stop governing the nation because of a tragedy of this kind. So, yes, one will continue.”

At the urging of both parties in Congress and some aides, Reagan ultimately delayed the speech, opting instead for an speech in the Oval Office to address the tragedy and did not give the official State of the Union address until the following week.

There is no precedent, however, for delivering a State of the Union address during a full or partial government shutdown.

As of Thursday, the partial shutdown, now in its 27th day, has broken records, as President Donald Trump and his Republican congressional allies refuse to budge on his demand of $5 billion in funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall. An estimated 800,000 federal employees are furloughed or working without pay, missing out on about $2 billion worth of paychecks every two weeks the shutdown continues.

Many federal employees have also reportedly begun filing unemployment claims or considered taking out loans to cover their monthly expenses. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), meanwhile, is on the verge of running out of funding. More than 19 million families rely on the program, and small businesses that accept SNAP will also take a major hit.

FDA has also stopped routine food inspections of seafood, fruits, and vegetables, and domestic violence shelters across the country that rely on Department of Justice funding have begun warning that they can only process funding requests through January 18, Friday of next week. Some employees have reportedly been buying supplies with their own money, not knowing whether they will receive their next paycheck.

Additionally, National Parks are being vandalized, and trash and toilets are reportedly overflowing as staff has been furloughed.

It’s unclear whether the White House will choose to hold the State of the Union address else where — already, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has suggested holding the event in the Senate — or whether Trump will decide, as Pelosi suggested, to broadcast the address live from the Oval Office.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

So, it’s not avocados after all: Fed says student debt prevents young adults from buying homes

5 hours 6 min ago

In a new report that confirms the obvious for many millennials, the Federal Reserve found that rising student debt — and not personal spending habits on things like avocado toast — is a key factor in preventing young people from buying homes, revealing that homeownership among young adults dropped 9 percentage points over the span of nearly 10 years.

The report, published Wednesday, tracked homeownership rates from 2005 to 2014, showing an overall drop of 4 percentage points, from 69 percent in 2005 to 65 percent in 2014. That drop doubles among young adults ages 24 to 32, from 45 percent in 2005 to 36 percent in 2014.

At the same time, average student loan debt among young people has also doubled from about $5,000 in 2005 to $10,000 in 2014. The Fed reported that in the first quarter of 2018, outstanding student debt reached a staggering $1.52 trillion, almost triple the amount from the previous decade.

The Fed said it is likely that more than 20 percent of the overall decrease in homeownership among young people is due to student loan debt. “This represents over 400,000 young individuals who would have owned a home in 2014 had it not been for the rise in debt,” the report stated.

“Our estimates suggest that student loan debt can be a meaningful barrier preventing young adults form owning a home,” the report added, explaining that high student loan debt can lead to a lower credit score, ultimately impacting a person’s ability to qualify for a mortgage. High student loan payments can also adversely affect a person’s ability to save for a down payment on a mortgage.

The Fed report comes as higher education costs continue to increase, with financial aid in the form of grants and tax benefits failing to keep up the pace.

“Now, net prices for full-time students at public four-year institutions have increased for eight straight years, for seven straight years for students at public two-year colleges, and for six straight years for those at private nonprofit colleges and universities,” reported InsideHigherEd in 2017. “So the typical student keeps paying more for college each year.”

The high costs are exacerbated by the Trump administration’s repeated efforts to roll back student protections, from aiming to rescind regulations that hold colleges accountable for saddling students with more debt that they can handle, lowering standards for student loan servicers, and dismantling an Education Department team in charge of investigating for-profit colleges, to name a few.

As student debt continues to rise, many progressive politicians are calling for long-term solutions in financing higher education. A number of Democratic candidates campaigned on college affordability proposals in the lead-up to the 2018 midterm elections. And a bill put forth by Democrats in the summer of 2017 would push states to offer tuition-free community college for two years, expand Pell Grants, protect the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, and increase accountability of for-profit colleges. The sponsor of that legislation, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), now serves as chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor in the 116th Congress.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

House passes amendment to stop transfer of relief funds to ICE

5 hours 17 min ago

The House of Representatives, emboldened by a new Democratic majority, passed a federal budget amendment Wednesday that would prohibit the government from transferring funds to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for the purposes of expanding immigrant detention facilities or building new ones.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) re-introduced the amendment, which was last heard on the House floor in August 2017, to address the roughly $200 million the Trump administration transferred from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the U.S. Coast Guard, and other government programs to fund detention beds and ICE’s Transportation and Removal Program.

“ICE continues to spend far above its appropriated funding to detain people, but these funds are being transferred from other critical agencies in clear violation of congressionally mandated funding,” Rep. Jayapal said on the House floor. “As of January 1, more than 48,000 people were being held in ICE custody even though they only have funding appropriated by Congress to detain 40,520 people.”

BREAKING: Congress just passed my amendment to bar @DHSgov disaster relief funding from being used for detention beds.

Last year, DHS transferred $10 MILLION from @FEMA to @ICEgov for detention. Relief funding should go to the people who need it, not to detain people.

— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) January 16, 2019

The budget amendment was drafted with the help of Freedom For Immigrants, a non-profit dedicated to ending the mass detention of immigrants, and loosely modeled off a similar bill passed in the California legislature last year. The Dignity Not Detention Act prevents California city governments from entering new or modifying existing contracts with ICE for private or public detention facilities, effectively limiting the growth of immigrant prisons across the state.

“The federal budget amendment would prevent more taxpayer dollars from being directed toward President Trump’s aggressive and unnecessary plans to expand U.S. immigration detention,” Christina Fialho, co-founder and executive director of Freedom for Immigrants, said in a statement. “We urge Congressional Democrats to take action and vote for this small but powerful amendment.”

Democrats are intent on using their new majority in the House of Representatives to push back against the Trump administration’s use of taxpayer dollars to fund their draconian immigration policies.

The Government Accountability Office found in a report a “number of inconsistencies and error’s in ICE’s own calculations for its congressional budget justifications. While ICE officials stated their budget documents undergo multiple reviews to ensure accuracy, ICE was not able to provide any documentation of such reviews.”

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), the incoming chairwoman on the Appropriations’ subcommittee on Homeland Security, has stated one of the biggest items on her to-do list is increased oversight of immigration enforcement, including the treatment of detained children, pregnant women, and asylum seekers.

“Recent reports from the Inspector General of the Department have made clear that oversight of ICE detention facilities is currently ineffective,” Roybal-Allard told ThinkProgress in a statement. “We must ensure that immigrants are treated with dignity and respect while they are in the care of the U.S. government.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

The latest front in Russian infiltration: America’s right-wing homeschooling movement

5 hours 52 min ago

The group and its origins sound innocuous enough. But the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) — a right-wing group founded 36 years ago — has deepened connections between America’s religious right and Russians even as the latter have been sanctioned by the United States, according to a ThinkProgress investigation.

By networking with Russians, the HSLDA — now America’s largest right-wing homeschooling association — has provided the Kremlin with a new avenue of influence over some of the most conservative organizations in the United States.

And while investigations by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, intelligence organizations, and congressional committees have focused on Russia’s efforts to influence U.S. elections, Russian ties to groups like the HSLDA demonstrate the Kremlin’s broader attempts to hold sway over American policies.

Other ties between sanctioned Russians and the American far-right are well documented. From Christian fundamentalists to white supremacists to secession movements to fascists in the so-called “alt-right,” the links are as diffuse as they are damning. Not only have these networks brought Russian agents into close contact with higher-ups in the Republican party, but they’ve presented some of the primary threads of the Kremlin’s efforts at upending and unwinding American democracy.

But at the same time that details — and criticism — of these links between Russia and American right-wing groups were emerging, the HSLDA co-sponsored a formal homeschooling conference in Moscow and St. Petersburg, ThinkProgress found. One of the conference’s other sponsors was a foundation run by sanctioned Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev. The event featured some of the most outspoken anti-LGBTQ officials in Russia, and included a Russian official who’s currently sanctioned by the U.S. for her role in stoking Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

This Global Home Education Conference, which hosted more than 1,000 attendees from over 20 countries, provided a platform for these Russian officials and their networks to work with leaders of America’s homeschooling movement — all of it taking place as Russian links with the American far-right continue to spill out elsewhere.

Sanctioning homeschoolers

Since its founding in 1983, the Virginia-based HSLDA has become America’s most prominent homeschooling organization. The group, which advocates on behalf of homeschooling families, has a right-wing religious bent. It describes its employees as “Christians who seek to honor God” in their work. Its founder, Michael Farris, has described homeschooling as “a way to obey God’s command to teach our children to love God.”

“HSLDA has pretty much always existed… for the religious right to train up kids to take over in politics.”

“[HSLDA] is probably the major player who’s driven American homeschooling in the last 30 years, and they’ve always been a very far-right, religious-right organization,” said Kathryn Brightbill, a legislative analyst with the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, a nonprofit that advocates for accountability in homeschooling. “HSLDA has pretty much always existed in part to create that next generation of soldiers for the religious right to train up kids to take over in politics,” she said.

As it grew into the most prominent homeschooling organization in the U.S., it attracted the attention of Russians leading efforts to build relationships with the American far-right.

Russians and the American right started plotting in 1995. We have the notes from the first meeting.

These groups and individuals would help obscure the true nature of Moscow’s kleptocratic dictatorship to Americans, especially to segments of the American right. In 2014, the Kremlin pushed these relationships further: as U.S.-Russian relations fractured following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that year, Russians close to the Kremlin looked to propel themselves directly into the types of groups and movements pushing “traditional values,” especially within the American religious right.

One of these groups, the World Congress of Families (WCF), played an outsize role linking sanctioned Russian officials to the broader U.S. religious right. The WCF, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated a hate group, is a joint Russian-American project that reportedly receives funding from sanctioned Russian oligarchs like Malofeev and Vladimir Yakunin, the latter of whom is the former head of Russian Railways and a close Putin confidant.

The WCF took credit for helping pass a 2011 Russian law restricting abortion access, and has likewise helped build an international coalition of anti-LGBTQ forces. It boasts some 50 membership organizations who pay dues, including the Alliance Defending Freedom and Family Research Council, which are also designated hate groups by the SPLC. The WCF took credit for helping push Russia’s 2013 “Anti-Propaganda Law,” which effectively demonizes the entire LGBTQ community.

In 2014, the WCF announced it would host its annual conference in Moscow. (The group’s most recent conference, which ThinkProgress covered, was held in Moldova, and featured many of the same Russian figures who joined the HSLDA in Russia last year.) After the U.S. began issuing sanctions on Russia in 2014 in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Russian funding for separatists in Ukraine, the WCF announced it would no longer be organizing the conference, citing concerns about potentially breaching those sanctions.

But the conference was held anyway, and appeared almost identical to what the WCF had originally planned. And while some American groups like the Conservative Women for America decided to skip the conference, a number of Americans showed up — including Michael Donnelly, the HSLDA’s director of global outreach.

The HSLDA didn’t publicize Donnelly’s visit to Russia. (Other groups, like Texas secessionists, have also traveled to Russia in recent years while refraining from posting anything publicly about their visits.) But Brightbill, with the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, discovered that Donnelly followed through on his pledge to speak at the conference.

In a series of Facebook posts that Brightbill uncovered, Donnelly wrote that he “met with senior leaders of the [Russian] Orthodox Church.” As Donnelly noted on Facebook, “[The] family conference I’m attending today is being held at the Kremlin and says a lot at least on its face about the value of family in Russian government.”

Donnelly confirmed he attended the conference, writing in a text message that he was “there on official business.”

Donnelly’s visit, Brightbill said, was “super hush-hush.” And for good reason: In 2014, Americans’ ties to Russia were suddenly under U.S. scrutiny. Russia had just invaded Ukraine and supplied separatists with weaponry that brought down Malaysian Air Flight MH17, killing 298 people.

But for those following Russian outreach efforts to the American far-right, that 2014 conference was a turning point. It marked a moment in which Russia “[took] on the mantle of leadership of global social conservatism,” said scholar Chris Stroop, an expert on links between between Russia and the American religious right who received a doctorate from Stanford in Russian history.

Enemies of America, friends of the HSLDA

By 2018, those ties between the HSLDA and networks of sanctioned Russians had continued, and had deepened. One of the primary links between the HSLDA and sanctioned Russian officials is Alexey Komov. A Russian national, Komov speaks fluent English and has spent the past few years as the official Russian representative to the WCF. He also works directly for Malofeev — a man nicknamed “God’s oligarch” for his role in financing religious-right ventures in Russia and abroad. Malofeev is also currently under U.S. sanctions for having helped fund separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Alexey Komov and Elena Milskaya, both of whom work for sanctioned Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev, huddle at last year's homeschooling conference in Russia. CREDIT: GHEX

Komov helped the HSLDA bring the annual Global Home Education Conference to Russia last May — the first time the conference was hosted there. The decision effectively represented the culmination of Russia’s efforts to liaise with the American right-wing homeschooling movement. One of the outlets that promoted the conference was a pro-Kremlin site called Russian Faith, which is run by the rabidly anti-Semitic Charles Bausman; another WCF adviser, Pavel Parfentiev, who claimed credit for Russia’s ban on adoptions by LGBTQ couples, also spoke at the conference.

Donnelly said the 2018 conference wasn’t specifically an HSLDA project, but that HSLDA was simply one of the event’s co-sponsors. He also said that HSLDA provided no direct financial support for the conference. “The conference is a project supported by HSLDA, but it’s not HSLDA [as] the organization that actually did the conference,” he told ThinkProgress. “We felt that [Russia] was a good place to go — and it turns out it was.”

But it appears the HSLDA played an important role in organizing the conference: The official contact for the conference is an HSLDA email address, and the conference’s official webpage was registered by the HSLDA.

“[Komov] was the primary organizer, Russian organizer, of this homeschooling event,” said Allan Carlson, one of the WCF’s co-founders and a speaker at the conference. “The chief American sponsoring group was the… HSLDA.”

Conferencing with the Kremlin

The conference, held in St. Petersburg and Moscow, billed itself as a “forum to cultivate awareness about home education, its legal framework, social and academic research, and practical experience around the world.” It was, according to the official page, “hugely successful.” Or as Carlson put it: “I think it was a very significant event.”

“[It] makes sense that we would find the leaders of America’s Christofascist homeschooling movement networking with Russians with whom they share ideological affinity.”

And that may have been true, in the context of homeschooling. But it was also a coup for sanctioned Russians seeking to connect with the American right.

One of the conference’s official co-sponsors, alongside the HSLDA and the far-right Alliance Defending Freedom, was Malofeev’s St. Basil the Great Charitable Foundation. And among the speakers — which included some of Russia’s most well-known anti-LGBTQ figures, like Dmitri Smirnov — was Yelena Mizulina, a Russian official sanctioned by the U.S. and widely credited for helping lead Moscow’s lurch toward far-right social policies over the past decade.

As the Obama White House announced when sanctioning Mizulina in 2014, she was partly responsible for “contributing to the crisis in Ukraine,” alongside Russian ultra-nationalists like Dmitry Rogozin and Sergey Glazyev. The Trump White House has continued to sanction Mizulina.

Donnelly told ThinkProgress that the HSLDA has “no links with sanctioned Russian officials and oligarchs.”

Sanctioned Russian official Yelena Mizulina, seen here at last year's WCF conference in Moldova, has been sanctioned by the U.S. since 2014. CREDIT: CASEY MICHEL

But in an interview with Pravoslavie, a website focused on Russian Orthodox affairs, Donnelly specifically pointed to Mizulina — who’s now in her fifth year under American sanctions — as a model partner for the HSLDA. “I think that Russia has a bright future in the field of family education,” Donnelly said. “[Russia has] official and very influential people who support this idea. For example, Yelena Mizulina.”

Brightbill noted that Mizulina’s support for homeschooling appears to be part of a broader Russian playbook, especially when it comes to building alliances with American far-right groups. “That probably plays a big part in what they were doing with Russia, and how they became so easily played by Russia, since Russian officials are telling them that they are on board with this idea of homeschooling as a human right,” Brightbill said.

Some of those who spoke at the conference, such as the WCF’s Carlson, tried to downplay the significance of sanctioned Russian officials’ and oligarchs’ involvement. “The thing just happened,” Carlson said.

Mike Donnelly speaks at last year's homeschooling conference in Russia, which hosted at least one sanctioned Russian official. CREDIT: GHEX

“[It] makes sense that we would find the leaders of America’s Christofascist homeschooling movement networking with Russians with whom they share ideological affinity, even though homeschooling, like gun ownership, is uncommon in Russia,” Stroop said, using a term to refer to fundamentalist Christian ideas used in pursuit of totalitarian rule.

Donnelly said the HSLDA’s Russian partners made the decision to host Mizulina. “We didn’t invite her, the locals invited her,” he said. “It was a global event, but the locals had some control over who got to come. They wanted her there because of her support of homeschooling and because she’s very influential.”

But Brightbill doesn’t buy it. “HSLDA has acted as a clearinghouse for all these international homeschool organizations for years, so for them to say — ‘Oh, this isn’t them, they’re not the ones who are involved’ — it’s giving them distance and plausible deniability,” she said.

Honored to be speaking at the Global Home Education Conference in St. Petersburg. Homeschooling taking off in Russia. Great people; great conference. On to Moscow now. Spasibo! #homeschool

— Brian S. Brown (@briansbrown) May 16, 2018

Donnelly said that it doesn’t necessarily matter that Mizulina is sanctioned, so long as she continues to back homeschooling.

“I’m very supportive of having people who are in power in a country speaking favorably about home education,” he said. “Mizulina, she’s on the sanctions list, but she’s obviously very influential in the Russian Duma. And so if the homeschooling movement in Russia is going to survive and thrive, they need to have support from influential people. And so [the U.S.] may not like Yelena Mizulina as a country for whatever reason, but in Russia she’s very influential, and she’s very interested [in] and supportive of home education.”

Homeschool infiltration

Donnelly added that no American officials have asked him why the HSLDA participated in the 2018 conference, or why the HSLDA co-sponsored an event that featured a sanctioned Russian official like Mizulina.

“If you want to get me in trouble, go ahead and make that the focus of your article.”

“No one’s knocked on my door [to ask why HSLDA co-sponsored an event with Mizulina],” he said. “Maybe they will if you start publicizing it. If you want to get me in trouble, go ahead and make that the focus of your article.”

Alexey Komov (back-center) appears with others at last year's homeschooling conference in Russia. CREDIT: FACEBOOK

While Donnelly said he has no plans to return to Russia in the foreseeable future, Russians who have been making inroads with the American religious right appear eager to continue their work.

“Our movements have the same issues, the same challenges, and as parents we really want what’s best for children,” Donnelly said in a 2017 video with Komov. “Would you agree that that’s what’s motivating Russian homeschooling?”

“Absolutely,” Komov responded, smiling beneath falling snow. “I think we have very similar issues — and we should be close together.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

South Dakota takes aim at transgender student athletes

5 hours 57 min ago

South Dakota has kicked off its legislative session with a bill targeting transgender kids, the fourth year in a row that the state has emerged as the first in the country to take such discriminatory actions.

The new bill, introduced this week, would prohibit transgender students from participating on athletic teams according to their gender identity.

Since 2015, the South Dakota High School Athletics Association has allowed transgender students to participate in athletics after they provide the appropriate documentation verifying “the existence of the student’s consistent and uniform gender identification and expression.” Senate Bill 49 would overturn that decision outright, declaring it “void.”

The bill would specifically replace that accommodation with a policy that erases transgender people entirely. “For purposes of participation in athletics sanctioned by the association, the sole determinant of a student’s sexual identity is the sexual identity noted on the student’s certificate of birth,” the bill states. If that information is not available, the student’s sex will be determined by a health care professional during the student’s physical examination.

The proposed policy closely mirrors the language proposed by the Trump administration as a uniform policy of transgender erasure across the federal government. Just as the South Dakota bill would rely on a physical, the administration wants to define people’s sex according to “the genitals that a person is born with,” subject to genetic testing.

South Dakota has proposed similar bills targeting transgender kids in years past. Last year’s iteration would have banned any instruction on gender identity or expression before eighth grade, which could have had devastating consequences for any transgender students younger than that. The sponsor withdrew the bill after admitting “there were issues he hadn’t thought of.”

The previous year, lawmakers proposed a bill that would have prohibited students from using school bathrooms except according to their “immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics existing at the time of birth.” They also passed a similar bill in 2016, but Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) vetoed it.

While none of these previous bills targeting transgender students have passed, South Dakota’s penchant for taking on anti-LGBTQ bills early in its legislative sessions has opened the discourse for other states to do the same. And the legislation doesn’t always fail: In 2017, South Dakota successful passed a law granting a license to discriminate to adoption agencies, and several other states have passed similar bills since.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Rand Paul tells Mitch McConnell: Let’s have Trump’s State of the Union at our place

7 hours 22 min ago

In response to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) recommendation that President Donald Trump postpone his State of the Union speech until the government reopens, due to concerns about security, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) offered an alternate proposal: ignore the security concerns entirely and just hold the event in the Senate chamber.

Paul reasoned that, since Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell (KY) is in charge of the much smaller chamber, he can simply move forward without Pelosi’s approval.

With the Department of Homeland Security and the Secret Service both functioning at a significantly reduced capacity due to the funding lapse, Pelosi proposed that if Trump does not agree to end the partial government shutdown this week, the president could delay the speech, send it in writing, or deliver it from the Oval Office.

Today, I wrote to @realDonaldTrump recommending that we delay the State of the Union until after government re-opens, as the @SecretService, the lead federal agency for #SOTU security, faces its 26th day without funding.

— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) January 16, 2019

There is no constitutional requirement that the president give an in-person State of the Union address. While Presidents George Washington and John Adams did so, every president from Thomas Jefferson until Woodrow Wilson simply sent their updates to Congress in writing. While subsequent congresses have typically invited presidents to come in person, those invitations have not come during government shutdowns.

The addresses, designated as National Security Special Events requiring “the full resources of the Federal Government,” require massive security to protect all three branches of government, making them quite costly.

Appearing on Fox & Friends on Thursday morning, Paul characterized Pelosi’s recommendation as a “real affront to the American people.”

“What I would suggest is, Senator McConnell is in charge of the Senate — let’s host it in the Senate. First time in history that the House would deny a president the forum of speaking. If she is going to do that, let’s hold it in the Senate,” he said.

The senator reiterated this argument in a tweet on Thursday morning.

Senator McConnell is in charge of the Senate. If Mrs. Pelosi refuses to allow the president to deliver the State of the Union in the House, I propose we move it to the Senate and make it happen!

— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) January 17, 2019

The Senate chamber is 3,887 square feet smaller than the House chamber, according to the Architect of the Capitol, leaving little room for such a large event.

But, more importantly, simply moving the event to a different venue would do nothing to address the problems cited by Pelosi: The government remains mired in the longest shutdown in U.S. history, and there is no appropriated money to pay for security for such an event.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

It’s Day 27 of the shutdown, and McConnell is mounting a futile effort to codify Hyde

8 hours 9 min ago

In the midst of the longest-ever government shutdown in U.S. history, Senate Republicans have instead decided to consider a bill on Thursday to codify existing restrictions that make it harder for low-income people to get abortions.

The bill codifies the Hyde Amendment — a provision that passes annually and prohibits federal Medicaid dollars from covering abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment — among other things. The bill is unlikely to get the 60 votes it needs to move forward. The vote also comes ahead of this weekend’s March for Life rally, the largest annual anti-abortion event nationwide.

Vote Scheduled: At approximately 4:30 pm on Thursday, January 17th, the Senate will vote on the motion to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to S.109, a bill to prohibit taxpayer funded abortions

— Senate Cloakroom (@SenateCloakroom) January 16, 2019

“By voting on the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, the pro-life majority in the Senate is showing they’ll be a brick wall when it comes to trying to force taxpayers to pay for abortion on demand,” said Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser, in a statement ahead of the vote.

Meanwhile, the partial government shutdown continues into its 27th day. The shutdown has been devastating for thousands of furloughed federal employees and has been especially hard for Native communities who receive a wide-range of federal services due to treaty obligations.

‘A crisis like we’ve never seen’: Native communities shed light on government shutdown’s impacts

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has repeatedly blocked House-passed packages to fund the federal government, as they did not include funding for a border wall. Trump is currently trying to get $5 billion in funding for a border wall that he previously insisted Mexico would pay for. McConnell has refused to bring any bill to the Senate floor that the president does not support, saying the Senate will not “participate in something that doesn’t lead to an outcome.”

The bill now under consideration aims to permanently ban federal funding for abortion care also has zero chance of passing Congress, but that didn’t stop McConnell from filing cloture on the motion to proceed on Wednesday. In the history of Congress, there are more House members than ever before looking to restore federal funding for abortion services, according to a ThinkProgress analysis.

McConnell has done virtually everything — including argue about Israel — but allow a vote to reopen the federal government.

The new House will have an unprecedented number of members who support repealing Hyde

All it would take is a vote — we know it would pass — and we can move it through the House and send it to the president,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) on Wednesday.

“But what have Republican leaders done instead? What have they done instead of scheduling a vote to help workers, families, small business owners, and our economy?…. They have done what they’ve always done when they don’t know what else to do! They’ve scheduled a vote to attack women and their health care.”

The Hyde amendment, a measure passed annually through appropriation bills, disproportionately affects marginalized communities, as about 51 percent of Medicaid enrollees of reproductive-age and thus subjected to abortion coverage restrictions are women of color. This means pregnant women and gender minorities looking to have an abortion have to either use state Medicaid dollars (which most states do not allow), ask non-profits for assistance, or pay for it themselves. An abortion can cost upwards of $3,500, depending on the location and trimester.

The anti-abortion bill — sponsored by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) — goes beyond Medicaid. The measure also prohibits abortion in federal health facilities (like government-run veterans’ hospitals); codifies a Washington, D.C., Hyde Amendment; and bans subsidized Obamacare health plans from providing abortion coverage.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Neil Gorsuch pens a devastating takedown of his own most important opinion

8 hours 55 min ago

The Supreme Court sided with a worker over a corporation in a case involving the Federal Arbitration Act on Tuesday. For those unfamiliar with the Court’s arbitration decisions, that happens about as often as a unicorn wins the Powerball lottery while simultaneously being struck by lightning.

And, as further evidence that Beelzebub awoke this morning to discover thick layer of snow on his lawn, the Supreme Court’s decision in New Prime v. Oliveira was written by Neil Gorsuch — the author of a decision holding that the Arbitration Act permits employers to engage in small-scale wage theft with impunity.

As Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern writesNew Prime “marks the triumph of the Gorsuch brief—a highly technical argument designed to nab the justice’s vote by fixating on the text of a statute and its meaning at the time of passage.” But it is also a hollow triumph. New Prime is an important case because it is one of a few rare examples where this Supreme Court read the Arbitration Act consistently with its explicit text, but it also dealt with a fairly minor issue that carves out a narrow exception to the Court’s decisions enabling wage theft.

In Epic Systems v. Lewisa much more significant wage theft decision that Gorsuch penned last year, Gorsuch blithely ignored the text of the Arbitration Act — while simultaneously holding that his atextual reading of the Arbitration Act trumps the explicit language of a law enacted to protect workers’ collective action.

Read together, New Prime and Epic Systems show that Gorsuch is willing to follow the text of a statute to liberal outcomes when those outcomes do not significantly burden big business. But when the stakes are high, Gorsuch is happy to set aside the law’s text to serve ideological goals.

Indeed, the reasoning Gorsuch deploys in New Prime is so inconsistent with Epic Systems — and with many of the Court’s arbitration decisions from the last two decades — that a lower court could plausibly argue that New Prime represents a sea change in the Court’s jurisprudence that justifies taking the law in an entirely different direction. There’s little chance that this Supreme Court would endorse such a project. But if Gorsuch wants to be taken seriously as a judge who places the text of the law before his personal politics, he will need to overrule much of the Court’s prior work.

Enabling wage theft

The Federal Arbitration Act is a nearly century-old law that, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg explained in 2015 dissent, was intended to enable “merchants with relatively
equal bargaining power” to resolve disputes before a private arbitrator rather than through potentially costlier litigation.

Beginning in the 1980s, the Supreme Court started to read the Arbitration Act to allow large companies to force much weaker individuals to sign away their right to sue that company as a condition of doing business with it. Some of these decisions were arguably consistent with the law’s text. But two of the Court’s most significant arbitration decisions did such violence to the statute that it’s easy to suspect that the justices in the majority acted in bad faith.

These decisions, moreover, had devastating impacts on workers. As the Economic Policy Institute demonstrated in a 2016 report, arbitrators are significantly more likely than judges to favor employers over workers. And, in the rare cases where workers do prevail before an arbitrator, such workers receive significantly less money.

Under the Arbitration Act’s plain text, most employment disputes shouldn’t even be heard by arbitrators in the first place. Often, workers are forced into arbitration after their employers inform them that they must either sign away their right to sue their bosses or immediately lose their jobs. In some cases, workers are even forced to agree to arbitration as a condition of applying for a job. Thus, many workers are forced to choose between giving up their legal rights and unemployment.

The Arbitration Act requires courts to honor contracts mandating arbitration, but it also contains an exception for “contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” Nevertheless, in Circuit City v. Adams, a 5-4 Supreme Court held that the Arbitration Act applies to contracts of employment involving workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.

Circuit City reached this holding by twisting two interlocking provisions of the Arbitration Act. The first was the provision quoted above, which exempts workers engaged in interstate commerce. The second is a provision of the law establishing that the Arbitration Act only applies to “a written provision in any maritime transaction or a contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce.”

The Court’s understanding of the word “commerce” evolved significantly over the last century or more. In Hammer v. Dagenhart, a 1918 decision striking down a federal ban on child labor, the Supreme Court read the word “commerce” very narrowly to exclude nearly all employment contracts. Two decades later, the Court read “commerce” more expansively to encompass nearly all employment contracts.

The Arbitration Act was enacted in 1925, when Dagenhart was still good law. So the word “commerce” should be read in that statute the way it was understood in 1925. That is, when the Arbitration Act states that it only applies to “a written provision in any maritime transaction or a contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce” that should indicate that nearly all employment contracts are beyond the scope of the Act.

Alternatively, the Supreme Court could have read the word “commerce” using the modern definition of that term. But that would have meant that, when the Arbitration Act states that “workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce” are exempt, that exemption should be read expansively to exempt pretty much all workers.

Yet, instead of reading the word “commerce” consistently throughout the statute, Circuit City held that the word should be read expansively in the provision laying out of the scope of the Arbitration Act, but that it also should be read narrowly in the provision laying out the exemption for workers. That’s an utterly bizarre way to read a statute. When the same word appears twice in the same Act of Congress, courts presume that Congress intended for the word to have the same meaning throughout unless there is very strong evidence to the contrary.

The Court compounded its error AT&T Mobility v. Concepcionwhich held that forced arbitration agreements may also include a provision prohibiting individuals from joining a class action lawsuit against the company that drafted the agreement. The Court did so, moreover, despite the fact that the Arbitration Act makes no mention whatsoever of class actions.

The practical impact of Concepcion is that large companies can now effectively rob their customers and workers, so long as they do so only a few dollars at a time. The Concepcion case itself involved an allegation that a cell phone company unlawfully charged many of its customers $30.22. Class actions allow all of these customers to join together in a single lawsuit — and hire a single team of lawyers to litigate that lawsuit. Without class actions, however, virtually no one will sue the company because the cost of litigating a $30.22 lawsuit will be a whole lot more than $30.22.

Thus, the choice between a class actions and no class actions is not the choice between one lawsuit or thousands of individual lawsuits. It is the choice between one lawsuit and zero lawsuits.

Gorsuch’s Epic Systems decision effectively combined the Court’s decisions in Circuit City and Concepcion. It held, contrary to the text of the Arbitration Act, that workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce may be forced into arbitration agreements. And it held, despite no language whatsoever in the Arbitration Act which supports such a result, that workers can also be forced to sign away their right to bring a class action.

Epic Systems did so, moreover, despite the fact that the National Labor Relations Act provides that “employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.”

Joining together in a class action is a concerted activity that workers engage in for their own “mutual aid or protection.” Yet Gorsuch determined in Epic Systems that the Court’s atextual decisions in Circuit City and Concepcion trump the explicit text of the National Labor Relations Act.

The Court gets one right

In light of this history, the Court’s unanimous, pro-worker decision in New Prime is surprising, not because there’s any question that it is correct, but because the Court so often ignores the law in arbitration cases that it is odd to seem them pay attention to it.

New Prime involved Dominic Oliveira, a trucker who alleges that he was paid less than the legally required minimum wage. Much of this dispute hinges on whether Oliveira was properly classified as a “contractor” — and thus outside the scope of minimum wage laws — or whether he should have been classified as an “employee” who should receive the minimum wage.

Like many workers, the trucking company made Oliveira sign a forced arbitration agreement. Yet, recall that the Arbitration Act exempts “contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” Even under the very narrow definition of the word “commerce” embraced by decisions like Hammer v. Dagenhardt, a trucker counts as a worker “engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” So Oliveira should have been safe from the Arbitration Act.

And yet the trucking company still claimed that Oliveira was bound by the forced arbitration agreement. It even claimed that the threshold question of whether or not Oliveira is bound by this agreement must be decided by an arbitrator.

According to the company, the Arbitration Act’s exemption for workers engaged in commerce only applies to “contracts of employment.” But, if Oliveira was merely a contractor and not an employee, he did not have a contract of employment, and therefore could be forced into arbitration.

In any event, the Supreme Court rejected the trucking company’s confusing and convoluted claim. In 1925, when the Arbitration Act became law, “all work was treated as employment, whether or not the common law criteria for a master-servant relationship happened to be satisfied.” Thus, it didn’t matter whether Oliveira is an “employee” or a “contractor.” So long as he agreed to work for the trucking company, his agreement to work is a “contract of employment.”

Gorsuch began his analysis with a broad claim. “It’s a ‘fundamental canon of statutory construction,’” he wrote, quoting from a recent Court decision, “that words generally should be ‘interpreted as taking their ordinary . . . meaning . . . at the time Congress enacted the statute.’” Thus, New Prime turned on what the words “contracts of employment” meant in 1925. And since those words had an expansive meaning then, they should be given an expansive meaning today.

It’s a perfectly sound legal argument. But if you’ve read this far through this deep dive into federal arbitration law, you should immediately spot the implications of Gorsuch’s “fundamental canon of statutory construction.” If the words of the Federal Arbitration Act must be read as they were originally understood in 1925, then the word “commerce” must be read as Congress would have understood it in 1925. That means that Circuit City was wrongly decided. And it means that all workers should be exempt from the Arbitration Act.

Stare decisis

In fairness, there is one legal principle supporting Gorsuch’s opinion in Epic Systems — the principle of stare decisis.

Broadly speaking, stare decisis, means that judges should be very reluctant to cast aside old precedents. In cases involving federal statutes, moreover, judges are even more reluctant to overrule precedents — on the theory that if Congress didn’t like the old precedent, it could have passed a new law overturning it.

Thus, Epic Systems can be read as an application of stare decisis. Whatever the law should have been when Circuit City and Concepcion reached the Court, those cases are on the books now, and the Court should be reluctant to overrule them.

But the problem with this argument is that Gorsuch emphatically does not believe in stare decisis.

Consider Gorsuch’s approach in Perry v. Merit Systems Protection BoardPerry involved a mind-numbingly opaque statute governing where certain complaints by federal employees must be filed. The statute is so poorly drafted that, during oral arguments in Perry, Justice Samuel Alito wondered if it was drafted by “somebody who takes pleasure out of pulling the wings off flies.”

Ultimately, seven justices, in an opinion by Justice Ginsburg, held that the disputes at issue in Perry should be filed in a federal district court. Gorsuch authored a dissent, joined only by Justice Clarence Thomas, arguing that these disputes should be filed in the Merit Systems Protection Board. Ginsburg’s opinion largely relied on past precedents.

Yet, both in the Perry oral argument and in his dissent, Gorsuch not only appeared convinced these prior precedents got the law wrong, he openly mocked the idea that the Court should continue to follow erroneous precedents. “At the end of a long day, I just cannot find anything preventing us from applying the statute as written,” Gorsuch proclaimed in his dissent, “or heard any good reason for deviating from its terms.”

“Congress already wrote a perfectly good law,” he added. “I would follow it.”

The point here is not that Ginsburg was right, and that Gorsuch was wrong, about how the statute should be read. Gorsuch may be the only lawyer on the planet who thinks he is certain how this sadistic statute should be read. Rather, the point is that Gorsuch was completely unmoved by prior precedents in his Perry dissent.

Gorsuch’s dissent stands for the proposition that laws should always be read as they are written (or, at least, as Neil Gorsuch thinks that they are written) regardless of what other judges have said in the past. It is a direct attack on the principle of stare decisis.

Yet, if Gorsuch had applied that principle in Epic Systems, he would have overruled Circuit City. There is simply no way to square the holding in Circuit City with Gorsuch’s statement in New Prime that the words of a statute generally should be read as they were understood “at the time Congress enacted the statute.”

The picture that emerges from Gorsuch’s opinions, in other words, paints him as a man of very flexible morality. He adheres to stare decisis, except when he smugly mocks his colleagues for doing the same. He is a loyal textualist in small cases, but doesn’t give a damn about what the law says in major disputes.

Ultimately, Mr. Gorsuch needs to make a decision. Is he a judge, or is he an ideologue? Does he believe, as he often claims, that the only way to read legal texts is to interpret the words the way they would have been understood when they were written, or will he ignore this principle whenever powerful conservative interest groups have too much at stake?

Gorsuch could prove his critics wrong by writing an opinion explaining why his own opinion in Epic Systems must be overruled — indeed, he could copy much of that opinion from what he wrote in New Prime. Until he does so, however, the notion that he is a neutral judge who merely applies the law is impossible to take seriously.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

The most dangerous climate feedback loop is speeding up

8 hours 55 min ago

The carbon-rich permafrost warmed “in all permafrost zones on Earth” from 2007 to 2016, according to a new study.

Most ominously, Siberian permafrost at depths of up to 30 feet warmed a remarkable 1.6°F (0.9°C) in those 10 years, the researchers found. The permafrost, or tundra, is soil that stays below freezing (32°F) for at least two years.

Permafrost warming can “amplify global climate change, because when frozen sediments thaw it unlocks soil organic carbon,” warns the study, which was released Wednesday by the journal Nature Communications.

The thawing releases not only carbon dioxide but also methane (CH4) — a far more potent greenhouse gas — thereby further warming the planet. And as the planet continues to warm, more permafrost will melt, releasing even more greenhouse gases in a continuous feedback loop.

Thawing permafrost is an especially dangerous amplifying feedback loop because the global permafrost contains twice as much carbon as the atmosphere does today .

Earth’s thawing permafrost threatens to unleash a dangerous climate feedback loop

Normally, plants capture CO2 from the air during photosynthesis and slowly release that carbon back into the atmosphere after they die. But the Arctic permafrost acts like a very large carbon freezer — and the decomposition rate is very low. Or, rather, it was.

Humanity is leaving the freezer door wide open. As a result, the tundra is being transformed from a long-term carbon locker to a short-term carbon un-locker.

A 2017 study found the Alaskan tundra is warming so quickly it had become a net emitter of CO2 ahead of schedule. That study was the first to report a major portion of the Arctic had already become a net source of heat-trapping emissions.

The lead author, Dr. Roisin Commane, told ThinkProgress at the time, “We’re seeing this much earlier than we thought we would see it.”

The ‘ancient carbon’ of Alaska’s tundra is being released, speeding up global warming

The new study released on January 16 is the first “globally consistent assessment of permafrost temperature.” Four dozen researchers from around the world found that the ground temperature tens of feet below the surface “increased in all permafrost zones on Earth” — in the Northern Hemisphere, the mountains, and Antarctica.

“My take home [on the new study] is that the anecdotal site thawing that I heard about this winter is part of a region-wide warming that seems to be accelerating faster in this decade than in previous decades,” Dr. Commane told Inside Climate News.

That’s no surprise given that “Arctic air temperatures for the past five years (2014-18) have exceeded all previous records since 1900,” as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported in its annual Arctic Report Card last month.

The only surprise is that the world continues to ignore this gravest of threats to humanity, even as it speeds up, triggers amplifying feedbacks, and rapidly approaches a climate death spiral.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Alex Jones is trying to worm his way back into the mainstream

Wed, 01/16/2019 - 4:46pm

Remember Alex Jones?

For much of 2018, the conspiracy theorist used his wildly popular Infowars show to spread his noxious claims on multiple platforms, antics that included attacking teenage mass shooting survivors, threatening Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and claiming NASA controls the U.S. government. That all came to a crashing halt in August when Jones was collectively banned from Facebook, YouTube, Apple, and Spotify for violating their policies against hate speech. Jones then briefly attempted to move Infowars to Vimeo, but was promptly banned there as well.

Since then, Jones has been doing his utmost to bring Infowars back to a mainstream platform, with little success. The most recent rejection came from the video-streaming service Roku, which made an abrupt reversal and decided not to host Jones’ programming.

Digiday first reported this week that Roku, which has an estimated 27 million users, had allowed Jones to set up a new, free channel on its platform. An intense backlash quickly followed, including from Sleeping Giants, the activist group aiming to persuade sponsors to drop certain media figures. Lawyers representing families of Sandy Hook shooting victims, who are currently suing Jones, also voiced their outrage.

“There is no amount of anticipated revenue that could possibly justify Roku’s calculated decision,” Josh Koskoff, an attorney for the Sandy Hook families said in a statement. Another lawyer for the families, Mark Bankston, said Roku was “indifferent to the suffering caused by Mr. Jones’ continued onslaught of cruelty and reckless lies.”

This collective backlash forced Roku to kick Jones off the platform, leaving Infowars without a mainstream home yet again. “After the Infowars channel became available, we heard from concerned parties and have determined that the channel should be removed from our platform,” Roku said Tuesday in a statement. “Deletion from the channel store and platform has begun and will be completed shortly.”

Jones maintains that he is a victim of conspiracy to censor him.

The deplatforming is latest in a series of blows for Jones. Last Friday, a judge in Connecticut ruled in a defamation suit, leveled against Jones by the families of the Sandy Hook shooting victims, that the plaintiffs should be given access to internal Infowars documents, which include letters, memos, emails, and text messages. Jones has consistently maintained that the 2012 Sandy Hook mass shooting was a “false flag” operation, which has led to years of harassment and abuse for the parents of survivors.

One of the plaintiffs’ chief arguments is that Jones peddled misinformation and fake news in order to sell Infowars merchandise — most infamously, his supplements which, according to an analysis by Buzzfeed News, were basically the same as normal pharmaceutical supplements.

Despite Jones’ ban on Facebook, however, he has quietly returned to the site under a different name. The Facebook page NewsWars, which right now has close to 30,000 followers, consistently links to Infowars articles and live-streams. According to a Washington Post report from last November, the videos on the page had received a total of 3.9 million views.

Responding to the story at the time, Jones acknowledged that his social media staff occasionally suggest content for NewsWars, but that he doesn’t manage the page personally, meaning it escaped the dragnet of Facebook’s banning. There’s also the fact that, during the initial banning, Facebook looked at each of Jones’ pages for individual violations. This means that as long Jones himself does not directly run the page, and does not include any content that breaks Facebook’s community guidelines, he can continue to quietly get his message out through NewsWars.

Jones also has other work-arounds to continue to propagate his message. He still maintains his own Infowars website, which broadcasts a mix of conspiracy-mongering and far-right paranoia. Additionally, while Jones is banned from posting onto YouTube from his channel, a large number of smaller YouTube channels have ripped his shows and re-posted them, making it possible to see nearly all of his Infowars content — just slightly repackaged.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Chef Jose Andres serves free meals to federal workers affected by government shutdown

Wed, 01/16/2019 - 1:46pm

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Renowned Chef Jose Andres is offering free meals to federal workers affected by the shutdown, as he has helped people economically struggling in the past. Andres has fed victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and people in Guatemala who were affected by a volcanic eruption that left many people without homes.

On Wednesday, workers showed their federal ID to come in for a free lunch at 701 Pennsylvania Ave NW, which is between the White House and Congress, a choice Andres said is symbolic and something he hopes will be a “call to action” to lawmakers.

The shutdown began on December 22 over President Donald Trump’s demands that Congress fund a $5 billion wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.Around 800,000 federal workers — both those who are furloughed and those who are essential and required to work during the shutdown — have been affected.

Walking over to the long line where Andres’ test kitchen and pop-up ThinkFoodLab was giving out free meals, a Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency worker struck up a conversation with a friend who asked him what he was up to.

“Yeah I’m going to head over there and get my free lunch,” he said, laughing.

A performer named Tony Covay set up outside and sang about the shutdown as a long line of federal workers, many of them from the U.S. Justice Department, waited for their lunch.

The Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency worker, who wanted to go by a pseudonym, Tom, said he hadn’t seen any other deals but Andres’ offer on the news this morning. He supports a wife and two boys.

“It’s my first meal of the day,” he said, anxious to get in line.

Federal workers also volunteered to serve food to their fellow workers. A group of four women told ThinkProgress that it was personally gratifying to help people right now.

“She was on eggs. I worked on sandwich prep,” one woman chimed in. “Yeah it was fun.”

“It was a lot of fun,” another worker said. “We would guess about half of the people helping out were furloughed.”

The workers said that aside from how rewarding it felt to help other people, it felt good just to have something to do. One woman said her husband doesn’t work for the government so she is doing better financially than most people, but she said she doesn’t know how to fill her days right now. 

“It felt rewarding to do something in general,” one woman said, as everyone laughed.

Another volunteer added, “I like my job most days and would rather be there than sitting at home on the sofa.”

Performer Tony Covay sang as people waited in line for lunch on January 16, 2019. CREDIT: Casey Quinlan

Robert, who is with the Justice Department, where he is working without getting paid, said he can get by for another few weeks but the fee lunch but was still helpful for his budget. He found out about the lunch from following Andres on Twitter.

He said about the effort to help federal workers, “It’s great. He has a lot of wonderful restaurants in the area and I love eating at his restaurants so I wanted to come see what he was doing here. I appreciated what he did for Puerto Rico and what he’s doing right now, it’s just terrific.”

“I have no idea when it will end,” he added. “I don’t think there’s an end in sight, which is really sad.”

Joan, who also works for the Justice Department, and preferred to use a pseudonym, said the lunch was very “financially beneficial” right now. She said as a single person she doesn’t have any support from a two-income household like some workers.

She said she’s doing OK right now, but “in a week or two…I don’t know.”

“I’m very disappointed. I expect my leaders to know how to negotiate and not to continue to hold us hostage,” she added.

Shutdown forces federal workers to consider career changes just to make ends meet

Karl, who works for the Department of Justice and preferred to only use his first name, and supports two children and his wife, said he’s worried about paying his mortgage and that although he has a “bit in savings” it’s not enough. 

Karl said of lawmakers in Congress, “They need to do their job so i can get paid.”

Tony Covay, a local D.C. performer, said he’s seeing the ripple effects of the shutdown across D.C. He has a permit to perform at the Smithsonian but since it shut down, he couldn’t perform there. He said he had been out performing near the lunch line since 9:30 a.m.

“[The shutdown] got my money. A lot of the panhandlers and the people out here who are homeless, they were getting money from the government’s people and now they can’t get any money,” he said. “I’m just struggling along like everybody else, hoping someone will give in.” 

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Inspector General: GSA ignored the Constitution when it let Trump keep lease at D.C. hotel

Wed, 01/16/2019 - 1:24pm

Officials at the General Services Administration (GSA) ignored the Constitution in allowing President Donald Trump to keep the lease at his namesake Washington, D.C. hotel, an inspector general report revealed this week.

According to the report, GSA, which oversaw the redevelopment of the Old Post Office building where the Trump International Hotel is currently housed, and was responsible for screening all development proposals, overlooked critical provisions in the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause in allowing Trump to maintain the lease following his election in 2016.

“We found that GSA recognized that the President’s business interest in the OPO lease raised issues under the Constitution’s Emoluments Clauses that might cause a breach of the lease,” the report read. “[H]owever, GSA decided not to address those issues in connection with the management of the lease. […] In addition, we found that GSA’s unwillingness to address the constitutional issues affected its analysis of Section 37.19 of the lease that led to GSA’s conclusion that [Trump’s] business structure satisfied the terms and conditions of the lease.”

The report noted officials were initially unconvinced that awarding Trump the lease in 2012 would pose problems down the road, as they “thought a Trump presidency unlikely,” despite his earlier campaign ruminations. Even after Trump’s election, however, GSA lawyers were in agreement Trump’s ownership of the hotel might violate the Emoluments Clause, but chose to ignore the problem because the agency typically “[did] not deal with constitutional issues (other than issues involving land
condemnation or GSA officials).”

GSA lawyers briefly considered a provision in the lease, Section 37.19, which prohibits elected officials from “participating in contracts or agreements with the United States.” Section 37.19 has been used in other GSA contracts to ban members of Congress, for example, from beneficial ownership interests.

Howeverm Trump’s lawyers claimed he wasn’t in violation of 37.19 because he had been “‘admitted to’ [the] lease before [the] election.”

Officials eventually met with Trump and his son, Eric, executive vice president of development and acquisitions at the Trump Organization, which owns the hotel, on January 31, 2017, to convince the president to divest himself from the property. The meeting was unsuccessful.

Despite all these things, GSA eventually decided to issue a Tenant Estoppel Certificate. Ignoring the larger emoluments issues, it certified that Trump’s business was in full compliance with the lease and was not in violation of Section 37.19.

“GSA’s decision-making process related to Tenant’s possible breach of the lease included serious shortcomings,” the report read. “GSA had an obligation to uphold and enforce the Constitution. However, GSA opted not to seek any guidance from OLC and did not address the constitutional issues related to the management of the lease. As a result, GSA foreclosed an opportunity for an early resolution to these issues, including a possible solution satisfactory to all parties.”

As a result of those failures, the report concluded, “constitutional issues surrounding the President’s business interests in the lease remain unresolved.”

The Trump International Hotel has long been cited as a problematic conflict of interest for the president, as he maintains a majority — but non-controlling — stake in the property as well as financial interests that benefit him personally. Critics say the hotel violates the Emoluments Clause because foreign governments and other figures have allegedly used it to curry favor with Trump, funneling money to his businesses in exchange for coveted political leverage.

Specifically, Trump’s opponents have pointed to the fact that several foreign governments, including Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, Bahrain, Malaysia, and Kuwait, have all chosen to host large events or celebrations at the D.C. hotel, the last of which moved its “National Day” event to the venue after members of the Trump Organization allegedly “pressured the ambassador to hold the event at the hotel owned by the president-elect,” a source told ThinkProgress in December 2016.

In April last year, a Trump Organization spokesperson downplayed concerns over those business transactions, telling ThinkProgress the company had followed through on an earlier promise by the president to donate any foreign profits from his hotels to the U.S. Treasury.

Foreign governments, however, are not the only ones using the president’s D.C. hotel to curry favor with the administration. According to an April 2018 report by the government watchdog group Public Citizen, political groups and federal agencies spent at least $15.1 million at Trump properties in the first 15 months of Trump’s presidency.

As ThinkProgress previously noted, the Trump campaign itself spent the most money at Trump properties during that time, dropping approximately $13.4 million alone.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Theresa May won the confidence vote. Here is what happens next with Brexit.

Wed, 01/16/2019 - 11:59am

The slow-moving political crisis that is Brexit — the voter-approved move for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union — has hit even more bumps in the last couple days.

If you stopped paying attention sometime in the two-and-a-half years that have passed since, in a fit of xenophobia, Brits voted in favor of leaving the European Union, here’s where Brexit is now at.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Theresa May narrowly survived a no-confidence vote — just one day after a major defeat in Parliament.

In a late Tuesday evening motion, lawmakers voted against May’s proposed Brexit deal by a staggering majority of of 432 to 202. That is a sound drubbing, and she’s been given three days by parliament to come up with an alternative plan.

But what do to? The deadline for her nation’s exit — March 29 — is fast approaching. The European Union has already said it will not renegotiate the deal.

Here is why people are terrified of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit

A battered May delivered a speech following the Brexit vote, noting that while it was clear that the House did not support her plan, the vote says “nothing about what it does support nothing about how — or even if — it intends to honor the decision the British people took in a referendum Parliament decided to hold.”

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn immediately called for a motion of no-confidence in May’s government, calling the defeat of her plan “catastrophic.”

“After two years of failed negotiations, the House of Commons has delivered its verdict on her Brexit deal and that verdict is absolutely decisive,” he said.

He also called for May to resign, but that’s not going to happen. In fact, May said that an election was “simply not in the national interest.”

On Wednesday, Members of Parliament (MP) voted 306 — 325 against the motion.

What could happen next?

Under ordinary circumstances, the next elections are due to be held in 2022.

The timeline ahead might have had something to do with May’s narrow victory: Had she been booted, she would have had two weeks to try and win a new confidence vote. Failing this (and absent a vote in favor of another party), a new election would have happened after at least 25 business days passed.

So we would be looking at early March before a general election could even be held — just a couple of weeks shy of the deadline for the United Kingdom to pack up and leave the European Union.

Even with May’s government still in place, what the prime minister and the British public, in general, are looking at is a very giant mess — one they brought on themselves with their June 2016 vote.

With or without House approval, Brexit would still happen — just without the terms negotiated by May. This would turn into a total customs nightmare at the borders, as previously reported by ThinkProgress.

There could be another public vote on Brexit, something May has previously ruled out. Or, she could see about extending that March deadline — the European Union has said it would consider it if presented with a valid reason, and the country’s government basically being in major turmoil could be enough.

Speaking of the E.U….

What is the European Union saying?

Having been stung by the Brexit vote, the European Union has tried to conduct itself with the dignity of a dumped partner who wants to seem cool enough to still be friends.

But the E.U.’s patience, clearly, has its limits.

Here’s what you should know about the latest Brexit trainwreck

On Monday, Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, and Jean-Claude Junker, president of the European Union Commission, penned a joint letter to May, making it clear that the deal she negotiated with them is the only Brexit deal the U.K. would get:

“As you know, we are not in a position to agree to anything that changes or is inconsistent with the Withdrawal Agreement, but against this background, and in order to facilitate the next steps of the process, we are happy to confirm, on behalf of the two EU Institutions we represent, our understanding of the following points within our respective fields of responsibility.”

Both men tweeted their responses to the vote against the deal as well as the uncertainty that followed:

If a deal is impossible, and no one wants no deal, then who will finally have the courage to say what the only positive solution is?

— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) January 15, 2019

I take note with regret of the outcome of the vote in the @HouseofCommons this evening. I urge the #UK to clarify its intentions as soon as possible. Time is almost up #Brexit

— Jean-Claude Juncker (@JunckerEU) January 15, 2019

The highest E.U. court has ruled last month that the United Kingdom can change its mind and stay in the compact. European Union Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier aptly pointed out in a statement on Wednesday that “the political conditions for the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement are not yet there in London.”

For that to happen, though, the British government would essentially have to admit that it can’t deliver what it put up to a vote before the people. If that happens, perhaps voters will be better informed on the substance of what they’re voting on.

What does this mean for the United States?

Response to the Brexit vote in Washington has been muted, with the U.S. government in the middle of a shutdown and the White House dealing with fresh allegations that the FBI has looked into whether President Donald Trump had, indeed, worked for Russia.

President Trump, who is not a fan of multilateral agreements and compacts, favoring bilateral deals instead, was a vocal supporter of Brexit in 2016.

Many people are equating BREXIT, and what is going on in Great Britain, with what is happening in the U.S. People want their country back!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 24, 2016

He even gave himself the nickname “Mr. Brexit,” though the United States isn’t part of any such union.

They will soon be calling me MR. BREXIT!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 18, 2016

But while en route to a totally disastrous visit to London last July, Trump gave an interview to a British tabloid, slamming May’s handing of the Brexit deal, saying he had advised her on how to do it, “but she didn’t agree, she didn’t listen to me.”

Trump said the deal, as May had negotiated it at the time, would “kill” any kind of bilateral deal between the United States and the United Kingdom.

Tuesday’s vote against May’s Brexit deal strengthened the British pound, but the current uncertainty might rock an already rocky market.

Brexit will pose problems for U.S. banks and businesses operating in the United Kingdom — for many companies, offices there provide convenient access to the European Union. A Brexit, even one with a deal, will slow the pace of business, add paperwork, expenses, and, probably, new tariffs.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Lindsey Graham just accidentally admitted that suppressing black voter turnout is a core GOP goal

Wed, 01/16/2019 - 11:41am

For a few minutes on Wednesday morning, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) seemed to think he’d caught the country’s foremost civil rights groups with their pants down.

With National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) head Derrick Johnson and National Urban League (NUL) head Marc Morial testifying against attorney general nominee William Barr, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s new chairman saw an opportunity to portray the leading advocates for black people’s political power as shameless partisans.

Graham’s approach was slipperier than that often taken by modern Republican critics of black civic organizations. He didn’t dabble in “plantation” metaphors for the Democratic party’s relationship with black Americans as some prominent conservatives have done, or tout the synthetic online efforts fellow right-wingers have recently undertaken to spark a mass departure of African-American voters from the party.

Instead, Graham pointed to the NAACP’s legislator scorecards. Why, he demanded to know, do the Democrats on the panel get high marks while no Republican can do better than the 22 percent rating the group recently gave Graham? Doesn’t that dichotomy prove the NAACP is ideologically blinkered, beholden to the center-left, and opposed to the political right based primarily on party labels rather than policy specifics?

“I don’t know how we got here…and I certainly don’t know how to close this gap,” Graham said after laying out the group’s numbers. “Maybe the problem’s all on our side. I don’t think so. I think the agenda that you’re pursuing, in the eyes of conservatives, is not as good for the country as you think it is.”

After Johnson tried to explain how the group compiles ratings, NUL’s Morial jumped in — and quickly brought the senator back to Earth. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions had wielded his power to thwart non-white voters from accessing the franchise, Morial reminded Graham.

“In two instances, Attorney General [Jeff] Sessions in his first days and months in office had the Justice Department change sides in the middle of an important civil rights case,” Morial said, referring to the Trump administration’s abandonment of challenges to a voter purge in Ohio and a Texas voter ID law that treats conceal-carry gun permits as valid, but rejects ID cards from a government job or public college. If you think people whose votes were systematically repressed by the white establishment for decades after they were freed from slavery at gunpoint should like Republicans more, Morial was saying, perhaps you should look at what Republicans actually do with power when it’s given to them.

In his scramble to regain the momentum in the exchange, Graham accidentally gave the game away.

“Elections have consequences,” the senator interjected — perhaps not realizing he’d just answered his own earlier bewilderment at how poorly Republicans are viewed by the people they move to harm when they win.

“The enforcement of civil rights laws is neutral when it comes to elections,” Morial replied. “Why did the Justice Department, without any discussion with the Congress, without any discussion with the civil rights community, switch sides immediately? That should not have anything to do with who wins an election.”

Graham’s candle sputtered out quickly from there, with the senator retreating to abstractions and straw men. Nobody should have expected things to stay exactly the same at DOJ after the election, he said.

“If you don’t expect elections to matter, that’s a mistake,” he said, confirming for a second time that to vote for Republicans is to vote for a government that supports the systematic disenfranchisement of the voters who, many conservatives believe, have been brainwashed into blind fealty to the other party.

The spicy exchange ended on a collegial note, with Morial reminding Graham that many expected the senator himself to get President Donald Trump’s nod for the AG’s office and the two chuckling warmly to each other about the open-ended conversations they might have had in private had Graham been nominated.

That warmth served to mask the telling, grim substance of what Graham had just done.

His colleagues in the House are currently struggling to convince the public that they can break Rep. Steve King (R-IA) of his longstanding habit of endorsing white supremacists’ ideological claims about the world through a series of parliamentary harumphs. King’s decades-long track record of stoking white resentment toward any acknowledgment of black people’s contributions to a society that victimized them openly for the majority of its existence isn’t the problem, for the colleagues now showily clicking their tongues in his direction. The sin is that he said the magic words “white supremacist” in an affectionately bewildered tone to reporters.

Now that his mouth has jeopardized the credibility of a policy platform wholly embraced by the Trump administration, party political gurus are treating King’s remarks as a cosmetic issue. But Graham’s flippant concession on Wednesday is the substantive corollary to that skin-deep King blemish. Republicans favor the gutting of landmark civil rights legislation written in blood more than half a century ago, according to Graham, and will act accordingly if they win power.

If a consequence of elections is that one party will actively suppress voting among racial minority groups — whether via Texas’s carefully crafted list of what counts as a valid ID at a polling place, or through Ohio’s automated de-registration of people who don’t answer letters sent to places where they may or may not still live, or any other clever policy mechanic that preys upon the massive racial wealth gap — then maybe what King says about race is a pretty accurate distillation of how his party addresses matters of race when given the chance.

Various local GOP officials have slipped up in more flagrant fashion in the past. “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — turnout machine,” said Doug Preisse in 2012, while he served as head of the GOP’s operation in Franklin County, Ohio. Don Yelton, who held a similar position in North Carolina’s Buncombe County at the time, bragged on The Daily Show that the state’s voter ID law would “kick the Democrats in the butt” by making it harder for “a bunch of lazy blacks who want the government to give them everything” to vote. Georgia state Sen. Fran Millar wrote a whole op-ed in 2014 decrying an early voting location because “this location is dominated by African American shoppers and it is near several large African American megachurches.” State party operatives in Florida told the Palm Beach Post they moved to shrink early voting specifically to hurt Democratic turnout and “that the cutting out of the Sunday before Election Day was one of their targets only because that’s a big day when the black churches organize themselves.”

Even when the too-honest quotes haven’t made it to print, the party’s substantive machinations against the black franchise remain aggressive. Two of the GOP’s narrowest wins in the 2018 election cycle — the governor’s mansions in Florida and Georgia — owe in part to the systematic restriction of ballot access and purging of voter rolls that target black voters through tactics similar to the ones Morial raised when confronting Graham on Wednesday.

Voting access is, of course, not the only venue in which mainstream GOP policy orthodoxy stands at odds with the policy preferences of a majority of black Americans. Once confirmed, Barr will play a key role in shaping the Trump administration’s approach to police officer accountability, drug crime enforcement, and the function of the federal prison system as well.

As Democrats questioned Barr on those issues over several hours the day before Graham’s ill-fated sparring session with Johnson and Morial, the confrontations were stiff, but the vitriol that had characterized Sessions’ own confirmation hearing two years prior was absent.

“I was really pleased,” Graham said Tuesday night to a reporter who asked about the tone of the hearing. Pressed for more by the same reporter, who pointed out that protesters repeatedly interrupted Sessions’ hearing but had stayed away from Barr’s, Graham joked that “I didn’t pay ’em not to come” and suggested that it would take a really rabid partisan to protest someone with Barr’s record with the same fervor they greeted Sessions.

Whatever concerns and objections civil rights groups have about Barr for his own career-long commitment to mass incarceration, Graham’s tacit acknowledgment that Sessions was a fish of a different scale only underscores the point he inadvertently conceded about his party the next morning to Morial.

Jeff Sessions was heckled because he built his career on suppressing black voter participation in U.S. democracy. His hearing concluded with the reading of a letter from Coretta Scott King detailing Sessions’ work as a prosecutor and imploring Congress to reject him from a federal judgeship in the 1980s. As Graham seems to understand, it isn’t hard to figure out how to get more civility into the hearing room. One key step is to not nominate someone whose work prompted the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s widow to decry him as a racist unfit for public office.

But Wednesday’s bang-up with Johnson and Morial suggests that Graham hasn’t fully internalized the deeper lesson there. If Graham is actually as bewildered as he says he is by black civil rights advocates’ low opinion of the GOP, perhaps his own conviction that the consequence of Republican electoral gains is the intentional destruction of black political power is the answer.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Offshore drilling wins out for Trump administration despite questions over safety, legality

Wed, 01/16/2019 - 11:28am

As the longest government shutdown in U.S. history plods on, updates to Interior Department contingency plans show where priorities lie. The Trump administration on Tuesday revised the plans to allow for offshore oil and gas drilling to continue.

This move to prioritize offshore drilling plans comes at the same time as an offshore wind power project remains stalled. All the while, drilling continues in the Gulf of Mexico, and with fewer staff to oversee operations many fear an uptick in safety risks.

Initial contingency plans for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) appeared to put a halt to work on many projects, including a five-year Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) oil and gas leasing program that would open virtually all U.S. waters to drilling. But updated plans, revised last week and first widely circulated on January 15, indicate that 40 personnel are now on-call to assist with OCS efforts.

“There’s no clearer statement of President Trump’s priority to radically expand offshore drilling at any cost. Charging ahead with what appears to be the demands of the offshore drilling industry while so many government services go neglected is jaw dropping,” said Diane Hoskins, campaign director for the non-profit group Oceana, in a statement to ThinkProgress.

The prioritizing of offshore oil and gas drilling comes despite a halt in offshore wind efforts. Meetings in Martha’s Vineyard to address a planned 800-megawatt wind farm off of Massachusetts’ coast were stalled last week over the shutdown, with no indication of when they might be rescheduled.

It is unclear what legal justification the Trump administration has for updating the contingency plans and spokespeople at the Interior Department are still largely unable to comment, with their staff furloughed. On Wednesday, House Democrats sent a letter to Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt demanding that drilling work halt during the shutdown and calling the department’s justifications “farcical.” Lawmakers demanded Bernhardt come to Capitol Hill to explain the moves if drilling is to continue.

It is also unclear what exactly is taking place regarding oil and gas operations during the shutdown. Numerous policy experts and environmental advocates told ThinkProgress that they feel a degree of secrecy has surrounded the Trump administration’s offshore drilling plans since the government shut down began in December.

Shutdown stalls Trump’s offshore drilling ambitions as opponents see an opening

Many experts speculated that the OCS plan, along with a planned environmental review for seismic testing, would likely be released once the shutdown came to an end. But with BOEM’s updated contingency plans, drilling opponents fear that efforts to open up more waters to offshore drilling will no longer be stalled — and could even land before the shutdown ends.

Meanwhile, in the Gulf of Mexico drilling continues. There are almost 200 offshore oil rigs in the Gulf, overseen largely by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE). While the shutdown has severely curtailed BOEM’s related work, BSEE has seen different impacts.

Of the agency’s 803 employees, 409 — more than half — are currently working, because BSEE’s funding is largely not hurt by the shutdown. And the majority of BOEM employees made available during the shutdown under the agency’s original contingency plans were deemed critical because of their work with BSEE.

Created in 2011 after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, BSEE is meant to ensure safety and environmental protection. And while BSEE staffing has been prioritized more than in other parts of the government, the agency is still running at half-staff during the shutdown. That reality has left some experts and environmental advocates concerned about safety issues.

Elizabeth Klein, deputy director for New York University’s State Energy and Environmental Impact Center, told ThinkProgress that BSEE’s work during the shutdown has seemingly consisted of permitting and oversight, along with inspection work and reviewing plans. That doesn’t mean new permits are necessarily being issued. Klein, who served at the Interior Department during the Obama and Clinton administrations, noted that new leases are likely on hold while pre-exiting contracts are still being honored.

But drilling is still happening while the agency intended to protect against accidents is facing diminished staff. And the longer the shutdown goes on, the more likely that deficit is to take a toll.

“Shutdowns are incredibly disruptive to everyone. No one wins in a shutdown,” Klein said, noting that offshore oil drilling is a deeply dangerous occupation for workers, and one that moreover poses outsized risks to the environment and to public health. “I think while BSEE does have a whole lot of their staff still reporting to work right now… a shutdown still raises concern about the extent to which they’re able to oversee their massive operations.”

In response to a request for comment and more information from BSEE, a spokesperson sent ThinkProgress a link to the agency’s contingency plan.

“Inspections and permit processing continues in all three of BSEE’s Regions, Alaska, Gulf of Mexico, and Pacific,” the spokesperson wrote.

Slew of new bills show Pacific and Atlantic states unanimously oppose offshore drilling

But despite the risks as safety personnel numbers at BSEE dwindle, drilling in the Gulf remains a priority for the Trump administration during the shutdown, so much so that BOEM’s updated contingency plans directly cited an offshore lease sale scheduled for March.

“Failure to hold these sales would have a negative impact to the Treasury and negatively impact investment in the U.S. Offshore Gulf of Mexico,” BOEM wrote by way of explanation in its updated plan. The plan nonetheless brings back employees to work on non-Gulf drilling projects, like the OCS five-year leasing plan.

In an email to ThinkProgress, Alexis Baldera, who directs the non-profit Ocean Conservancy’s Gulf restoration program, wrote that that the shutdown’s impacts are likely to have long-term implications on the Gulf of Mexico.

Baldera said that efforts by the Interior Department to weaken post-2010 oil spill drilling safety regulations coupled with the “reckless offshore oil and gas exploration” policies sought by the Trump administration were perilous to the region even before the shutdown depleted oversight and enforcement efforts.

“The implications of the shutdown on offshore drilling safety cannot be ignored, especially in the Gulf of Mexico where there were 175 active rigs last year. We are troubled to hear about reduced oversight during the shutdown,” she said.

For drilling opponents, safety concerns in the Gulf have now been compounded by renewed OCS five-year plan efforts, with unpaid federal workers recalled from furlough to help the effort be completed. With around 800,000 government employees still on furlough or working without pay, agencies remain largely unresponsive to questions from the press and the public. Due to this, environmental advocates fear that should the long-awaited plan be released during the shutdown, it may receive little scrutiny.

Hoskins, of Oceana, highlighted that “every East and West Coast governor” has signaled opposition to offshore drilling — including by supporting laws to block it — and that “outcry from coastal fishing and tourism industries” has largely gone ignored by the White House.

In the drilling-active Gulf, meanwhile, economic and safety concerns are only likely to mount as the longest shutdown in U.S. history drags on.

“Offshore drilling is an undeniably important part of the Gulf economy,” said Baldera, “but coastal communities are simply not ready to sacrifice the health of the ocean during the shutdown.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Senator: It’s disqualifying Wheeler hasn’t spent more time reading national climate assessment

Wed, 01/16/2019 - 11:01am

Acting Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler acknowledged at his Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday that he has been briefed only once by his staff on the U.S. government’s Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA), a report containing dire predictions for the nation that was released almost two months ago.

Wheeler was appearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee only one week after Trump formally nominated him to replace former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on a permanent basis. The Republican-led committee is expected to approve Wheeler’s promotion, at which time the nomination would be sent to the full Senate for a vote.

In an exchange with Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, said he has scheduled a number of follow-up briefings with his staff to better understand the findings in the NCA. Scientists and climate experts at 13 federal agencies, including the EPA, spent several years preparing the report.

Markey expressed concern that the nominee hasn’t spent more time reviewing the assessment. “You can say you haven’t had time to read it, but that in and of itself, from my perspective, is a disqualification for having the job,” Markey told Wheeler.

In response to Markey’s comments, Wheeler said, “I didn’t say I haven’t read it. I said I haven’t finished being briefed by my staff, sir.”

Dire assessment warns of intensifying climate-related risks across the country

The congressionally mandated NCA, released by the Trump administration the day after Thanksgiving, detailed the costly and accelerating consequences of increased global temperatures on the United States. In it, scientists warned that without “substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions,” annual average global temperatures could increase by a staggering 9°F (5°C) or more by the end of this century, compared to pre-industrial temperatures.

Markey argued it’s unacceptable that Wheeler hasn’t spent more time reading the NCA. “You’re looking to be confirmed as the head of Environmental Protection Agency, and we’re having a hearing on your worthiness for this job and you’ve very conveniently haven’t had enough time to view whether or not there’s an extra level of urgency to this problem,” the senator said.

The Nat'l Climate Assessment, a dire warning from 13 federal agencies that we must take immediate action to fight climate change, was released in November.

Andrew Wheeler says he hasn’t fully reviewed it.

That’s unacceptable & disqualifying for someone who wants to run the EPA.

— Ed Markey (@SenMarkey) January 16, 2019

A month prior to the release of the NCA, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) came out with its own assessment that warned there are only a dozen years to avoid catastrophic climate impacts.

Citing the IPCC report and other scientific assessments, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) asked Wheeler if he agrees with the scientific community that climate change is one of the world’s greatest crises.

“I would not call it the greatest crisis,” Wheeler answered. “I consider it a huge issue that has to be addressed globally.”

Sanders also pointed out that Wheeler did not mention climate change anywhere in his four-page opening statement. “How does it happen that the nominee to be head of the Environmental Protection Agency does not mention the words climate change at a time when the scientific community thinks that climate change is the great environmental crisis facing this planet?” Sanders asked.

Wheeler responded that the American public should have confidence in his agency’s approach to climate change. He noted that the EPA, under President Donald Trump, is working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the agency’s proposed Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule and its proposed fuel efficiency standards for vehicles.

The EPA’s analysis, however, shows the proposed ACE could cause up to 1,630 more deaths in 2030 — and a similar toll in years before and after — compared to the the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which it would replace.

The Clean Power Plan, released in 2015, established a nationwide limit on carbon emission from existing power plants that was expected to result in a 19 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by 2030, compared to no changes in emissions policies. The plan also would have other positive impacts such as reducing deadly soot and smog.

The ACE plan, on the other hand, would reduce emissions between only 0.7 and 1.5 percent in the same time frame, compared to a business-as-usual approach, according to the administration’s own figures.

Despite the Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to roll back key climate and environmental rules, Wheeler told the Senate panel that climate change is something that concerns him. Asked by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) how worried he is about climate change on a scale of 1 to 10 — with 10 being the issue keeps him up a night — Wheeler answered “8 or 9.”

“Really?” Merkley responded incredulously.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Kirsten Gillibrand is looking toward the future. Is she ready to face her past?

Wed, 01/16/2019 - 10:32am

During a Tuesday night appearance on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) announced that she is officially running for president, joining what looks to be a crowded field of Democratic contenders.

“I’m going to run for president of the United States, because as a young mom, I’m going to fight for other people’s kids as hard as I would fight for my own,” Gillibrand said. “Which is why I believe that health care should be a right and not a privilege. It’s why I believe we should have better public schools for our kids, because it shouldn’t matter what block you grow up on. And I believe that anybody who wants to work hard enough should be able to get whatever job training they need to earn their way into the middle class.”

To accomplish any of those things, Gillibrand said Tuesday, you have to take on the “systems of power,” including institutional racism, corruption and greed in Washington, and special interests.

TONIGHT: @SenGillibrand stops by @colbertlateshow to announce that she is forming an exploratory committee to run for President of the United States! #LSSC

— The Late Show (@colbertlateshow) January 15, 2019

“I know that I have the compassion, the courage, and fearless determination to get that done,” she added.

Gillibrand’s 2020 strategy seems clear: Lay out a clear vision for a progressive future, and keep your fingerprints off anything Trump touches. Nevertheless, the Gillibrand who’ll soon be headed to Iowa for the pre-primary presidential campaign rituals is nearly unrecognizable from the Gillibrand who was first elected to the House more than a decade ago. As the 2020 field continues to grow, the one-time Blue Dog Democrat who was once best known for representing a conservative upstate district is inevitably going to have to square this past with her newly-fashioned, “progressive presidential contender” brand.

Since President Donald Trump took office two years ago, Gillibrand has voted with him just 11.9 percent of the time, less often than any other Senate Democrat (though only about one percent less often than Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who also recently announced her bid for the White House). Gillibrand also attracted attention in the early months of Trump’s tenure for opposing his nominees more often than any other senator, and, impressively, she alienated some tragically shortsighted bigwigs in the Democratic donor caste when she led the charge to force former Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) out of the upper chamber following sexual harassment allegations.

She supports Medicare for All, joining a long list of progressive co-sponsors of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) bill, and she has called for the abolition of Immigration and Customs Reform (ICE), joining a much shorter list of leftist candidates who took up the issue during the midterms.

“I don’t think ICE today is working as intended. … I believe that it has become a deportation force, and I think you should separate the criminal justice from the immigration issues,” Gillibrand said last summer. “I think you should reimagine ICE under a new agency with a very different mission and take those two missions out.”

But this position stands in stark contrast to the ones she proudly touted during her tenure as the representative of New York’s 20th District in the U.S. House. When Gillibrand first took office in 2007, she quickly joined the conservative Democratic Blue Dog coalition and made her name supporting a slew of immigration priorities that would make Trump proud.

“In Congress, Congresswoman Gillibrand has been a firm opponent of any proposal that would give amnesty to illegal aliens,” the issues page of her House website read. “The federal government must provide the necessary resources to secure our borders, which is critical for America’s economic and national security. She strongly supports legislation that would significantly increase the number of border patrol agents and place sophisticated technology along the Southern border to catch human and drug smugglers.”

Gillibrand authored and passed an amendment that “will prevent employers who have hired illegal aliens from receiving federal contracts,” the site touted.

It continued, “In addition, Congresswoman Gillibrand believes English should be made the official language of the United States and she opposes providing non-emergency taxpayer benefits to illegal aliens.”

Screenshot of Gillibrand's website while in the House of representatives

While in the House, Gillibrand also co-sponsored the “Secure America Through Verification and Enforcement Act of 2007,” a bill that a later New York Times editorial described as being “all about border fencing and requiring everyone in America to prove legal status before being allowed to work.”

And at one point, as Slate noted in 2017, the Human Rights Campaign bestowed on Gillibrand the dubious distinction of having the lowest rating of any New York Democrat in the 110th Congress for her position on LGBTQ rights. On this matter, however, she quickly evolved to emerge as a relatively early proponent of same-sex marriage in the Democratic party, beating current Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and the woman whose Senate seat she would later fill, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to supporting the issue. That said, a skeptical New York Times editorial board suggested in 2009 that her embrace of the issue was largely due to the fact that former New York Gov. David Paterson, who appointed her to the Senate following Clinton’s departure, was an early and strong supporter of gay marriage.

That same editorial, published not long after Gillibrand was appointed to Clinton’s seat, raised questions about Gillibrand’s history with guns: When she was appointed to the Senate, Gillibrand — who often touted the fact that she slept with two guns under her bed — held a perfect grade from the National Rifle Association.

“If I want to protect my family, if I want to have a weapon in the home, that should be my right,” she said in 2010. Gillibrand quickly fell out of the NRA’s favor and was downgraded to an F before the year’s end, an early sign of her coming reconstruction.

Nevertheless, as recently as 2014, Gillibrand still teamed up with Republicans — in this case to push a resolution condemning Hamas. That summer, more than 1,800 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in just a single month.

Gillibrand’s work before holding elected office is also worth examining. As a young lawyer in the 1990’s, she represented big tobacco, helping the Philip Morris Company fight a federal perjury investigation as the Justice Department was trying to prove that industry executives had lied about the dangers of smoking.

In the years since, she and her team have downplayed her involvement in the case, saying it is just a “small part” of her legal career and that she “worked for the clients assigned to her.” She has argued that the lucrative work allowed her to take on pro bono cases defending women and children and tenants in unsafe conditions.

In a 60 Minutes interview last February, Gillibrand addressed her past more bluntly than ever before.

On guns, she said, “After I got appointed, I went down to Brooklyn to meet with families who had suffered from gun violence in their communities, and you immediately experience the feeling that I couldn’t have been more wrong—you know I only had the lens of upstate New York.”

On immigration: “I came from a district that was 98 percent white. … And I just didn’t take the time to understand why these issues mattered because it wasn’t right in front of me. And that was my fault. It was something that I’m embarrassed about and I’m ashamed of.”

But Gillibrand was hardly restricted to “the lens of upstate New York.” She had, as 60 minutes correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi noted, lived downstate in New York City, for more than a decade before representing her upstate district. While it’s refreshing to hear any politician admit being embarrassed or ashamed about their past, it’s likely not going to be a good enough answer when Gillibrand’s history inevitably comes under renewed fire.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

The shutdown just cost Trump his State of the Union address

Wed, 01/16/2019 - 9:58am

President Donald Trump will not be delivering his traditional State of the Union address on January 29, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) confirmed this week.

“The State of the Union is off,” Hoyer told CNN on Wednesday.

The confirmation comes hours after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) sent a letter to the president, telling him to reschedule the speech or deliver it in writing, in the wake of the ongoing government shutdown, which entered its 26th day on Wednesday, and which has affected nearly 800,000 federal workers. Pelosi cited critical government agencies in charge of overseeing the event — namely U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security — that have been hobbled by the shutdown.

“Both the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security have not been funded for 26 days now — with critical departments hamstrung by furloughs,” Pelosi wrote. “Given the security concerns and unless the government re-opens this week, I suggest we work together to determine another suitable date after the government has re-opened.”

Despite what the headlines say, Pelosi is not asking.

— southpaw (@nycsouthpaw) January 16, 2019

As speaker of the House, Pelosi holds the formal power to instigate the State of the Union by inviting the President to Congress to deliver their speech. Without her go-ahead, the State of the Union would not take place.

Pelosi’s letter added that, in 2018, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen designated the address a National Special Security Event which needs “the full resources of the Federal Government brought to bear.”

“The extraordinary demands presented by NSSEs require weeks of detailed planning,” Pelosi wrote. “Dozens of agencies [are] working together to prepare for the safety of all participants.”

The Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security aren’t the only federal security agencies suffering during the shutdown. An estimated 43,000 Coast Guard employees — nearly 90 percent of the force — have been left without pay as well. Employees of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have also been without pay, leading to increased absences and extremely long lines at airports.

Overall, as ThinkProgress previously reported, more than 600,000 federal workers received pay-stubs last week reading “$0,” and many furloughed contractors worry they may never see any back-pay at all, even after the government re-opens.

ThinkProgress has reached out to Speaker Pelosi’s office for additional comment on the State of the Union and will update with any response.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Shutdown forces federal workers to consider career changes just to make ends meet

Wed, 01/16/2019 - 8:35am

Federal workers and contractors are growing increasingly weary with the partial government shutdown as they begin to feel the financial squeeze, leading many to reconsider government work.

Last Friday, many federal workers missed their first paychecks since the shutdown began on December 22 over demands from President Donald Trump that Congress fund a $5 billion wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. On Saturday, the shutdown became the longest in U.S. history, currently stretching into its fourth week, at 26 days.

ThinkProgress spoke with federal workers and contractors who are making tough choices about whether or not to look for other jobs, or stay in the federal government even if they are able to get back to work soon. The employees quoted in this story asked not to be identified by their actual names out of fear of retaliation.

“It has just been a nightmare”

Drew, a federal worker within the Department of Agriculture, said the shutdown is particularly difficult for them as they’re in their 20s and in the beginning of their career. When asked what they’re doing to stay afloat financially, Drew said they’re not going anywhere or doing anything that requires spending money. They have cancelled any unnecessary regular spending.

“I covered bills for this month but it’s a question of next month of whether I will be able to make it because I do unfortunately live paycheck-to-paycheck and my savings are rather limited,” Drew said. “It’s been terrible for my economic situation. It’s been terrible for my personal life. It has just been a nightmare.” 

A 2017 CareerBuilder report that polled 2,000 managers and more than 3,000 full-time employees found that 78 percent of full-time workers said they lived paycheck to paycheck. Drew added that it’s particularly tough that they can’t help cover expenses for their group house, which affects everyone else they live with.

“We have to be careful and not spend money, or make trips, or eat out, or go to movies as much, but I have some coworkers who are a lot more worried.”

Anne, a contractor who works with the Bureau of Lands Management, has started filing for unemployment. Contractors did not receive backpay during the 2013 shutdown and it isn’t expected that they will receive backpay after this one, unlike federal workers. Even the process of filing for unemployment reminded her that she isn’t considered as affected by the shutdown as federal workers. One of the questions she had to answer was whether she was a federal employee affected by the shutdown, but since she’s a contractor she was told to answer that she had been laid off due to lack of work.

“We have to be careful and not spend money, or make trips, or eat out, or go to movies as much, but I have some coworkers who are a lot more worried. They have kids, and in some cases supporting their entire family,” she said. “We have some savings, enough to cover me for probably a month, but if not, I’ll join up with some of my other coworkers and start looking for another job, which sucks but I am not there yet.”

Drew and Lee, a federal worker at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said that they believe the shutdown may result in a wave of federal workers leaving their government jobs.

“I think most workers on the federal level think if we stick around long enough [President Trump] will be out of office and this whole thing will blow over and I am seriously reconsidering that approach,” Drew said. “I think everyone I know has been trying to stay there to be a force of good or consistency in whatever agency they’re working for and a month-long period to reconsider what you’re doing with your life and your place in the federal government is more than enough to make some people feel like they want to seriously change their mind.”

Drew said they think a lot of people who have worked for the government for a decade or longer will either leave through early retirement or by changing jobs. They added that a lot of people have already started looking for new jobs, which means the government could lose considerable talent and consistency in agencies.

Lee said the administration has been “hostile” to government workers since it began.

“There’s already a Baby Boomer brain drain and retirements in federal government due to Clinton and Bush administration hiring freezes,” Lee said. “This will just expedite that.”

Workers blame Trump and Republicans

Most of the federal workers and contractors who spoke with ThinkProgress said they put at least some of the blame on Trump, as well as Republican members of Congress. A majority of Americans share their views. According to a CNN poll conducted by SSRS, a market and survey research firm, 55 percent of people surveyed said Trump is more to blame for the shutdown than Congressional Democrats. President Trump’s approval rating has also dipped five points since last month.

“I’d put the blame 90 percent on Trump because his leadership is not good,” Anne said. “He’s not playing the game well. He’s drawing a line in the sand and he is not willing to cross it. He’s not even negotiating at this point. That’s what politics is about it’s about negotiation and he’s not doing that. He’s failing.”

Lee, a federal worker at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is worried that the media coverage has been centered only on House Democrats and the president.

“There’s an entire other legislative body. People should be pressuring [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)] to at least let the Senate vote up or down,” he said.

Drew said the blame should be shared by President Trump and Republicans in Congress. 

“It has blown itself up into this one issue he has overwhelming support on and he is trying to stay behind it and it’s just not working.”

“This could have been avoided by the Congress that was leaving and they could have negotiated something earlier on when they had a full Republican house and Senate. Something could have gone through,” they said. “I assign blame for wall funding and wall funding was a tactic used by Trump to explain a very complicated issue. It has blown itself up into this one issue he has overwhelming support on and he is trying to stay behind it and it’s just not working.”

Most of the workers and contractors who spoke to ThinkProgress said they felt their communities were aware of how the shutdown affected workers, but when Anne visited family in New York for the holidays, she said they didn’t seem aware that she wouldn’t get paid.

“They were like, ‘oh yeah you’re going to get paid right?’ So I had to explain that a lot. Like, ‘no I’m not getting backpay,'” she said.

Her grandfather, who is conservative, appeared to feel differently about the shutdown once he knew how it would affect her, she said.

“He was like, ‘Oh who cares, shut it down.’ But when I explained to him how I was affected, he got kind of quiet and didn’t say anything. By the time we had to say goodbye, he said, ‘I hope you get back to work soon.’ So I think the awareness is not great, but it’s definitely growing.”

Lee said a conservative family member “changed his mind about the Republican Party” after the 2013 shutdown.

Workers say they are also exasperated that they are unable to continue projects that would benefit Americans, particularly marginalized groups. Anne noted that the Bureau of Land Management has recreational land that they are unable to keep safe and clean. Migration corridors, which maintain wildlife populations, for instance, are going to be delayed. Drew said that the USDA is unable to follow up with organizations on grant work, while Lee expressed concern about how people served by HUD will be affected by the shutdown.

“I have fielded a call from resident in HUD’s housing choice voucher program that needed a reasonable accommodation due to her disability,” Lee said. “Her housing authority wasn’t accepting her medical documentation and I needed colleagues in the field to help her file her fair housing complaint and potentially reach out to the housing authority to resolve the issue informally.”

He added, “She’s probably homeless right now.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies