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Science is in ‘crisis’ under Trump, new reports show

Acceptance of the root cause of climate change — human beings — is growing among the American public. But among policymakers, acceptance is on the decline.

That’s the dismal conclusion of a new peer-reviewed study in Environmental Research Communications published on Thursday. Between 2010 and 2017, Washington policymakers became less supportive of the science behind climate change. What’s more, Washington elites have formed ideological echo chambers — metaphorical hidey-holes for people who have the same views on stuff — and become increasingly polarized.

The researchers who wrote the study surveyed dozens of Washington elites, not just in the government but at think tanks, environmental groups, and other policy-related institutions, in 2010, 2016, and again in 2017. The researchers asked about the respondents’ attitudes on climate change and also where they go for “expert scientific information about climate change.”

In 2010, “the science of climate change was considered settled among policy actors,” the researchers found. But “respondents changed their views to be less supportive of the science that climate change is anthropogenic” between 2010 to 2017. And in 2017 — after President Trump had taken office — the experts formed multiple echo chambers according to whether they agreed that climate change is caused by humans.

Think that’s bad? There’s more.

Another alarming study out Thursday from the Brennan Center for Justice says federal science has reached a “crisis point.” Government science and research are becoming increasingly politicized, and the process that ensures that federal positions are occupied by qualified people is crumbling. The report looks at recent and historical examples of the politicization of government research. The task force members, which include former EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman, U.S. attorney Preet Bharara, and former U.S. defense secretary Chuck Hagle, make a number of proposals that could counteract the trend.

Here are a few examples from the Brennan Center report that show how the government has led by example when it comes to politicizing climate research:

The EPA approved new regulations that stop experts from serving on congressional science boards and stocked those boards with industry researchers.
The Department of the Interior reassigned its head climate scientist after he raised the alarm about the effects of climate change.
When Trump made a false statement about Hurricane Dorian reaching Alabama, his Chief of Staff threatened to fire officials at the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration in order to pressure them into releasing a statement that supported Trump’s false assertion.

The study warns that, if Trump’s efforts continue unchecked, it could create a “vicious cycle” and encourage future administrations to take similar steps to undermine science and research in the government. That’s particularly disturbing considering that government science and research has delivered smash hits like, oh, I don’t know, putting a man on the moon, lifesaving medicines, the internet, and more.

It’s just a coincidence that these two studies came out on the same day, but taken together they paint a bleak picture of the state of climate science under President Trump. The Trump administration has made efforts “to undermine the value of objective facts themselves,” according to the Brennan Center for Justice. And the Environmental Research Communications seems to suggest that those efforts have worked: The objective fact that humans are the main driver behind climate change no longer holds as much sway among policy elites. Will the Trump era deal a fatal blow to objective truth? Only time will tell.

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Science is in ‘crisis’ under Trump, new reports show

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‘We’re not a dump’ — poor Alabama towns struggle under the stench of toxic landfills

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

West Jefferson, Alabama, a somnolent town of around 420 people northwest of Birmingham, was an unlikely venue to seize the national imagination. Now, it has the misfortune to be forever associated with the “poop train.”

David Brasfield, a retired coal miner who has lived in West Jefferson for 45 years, thought at first the foul stench came from the carcass of a shot pig. By the time he realized that human feces was being transported from 1,000 miles away to a nearby landfill site, a scene of biblical pestilence was unfolding upon West Jefferson.

“The odor was unbearable, as were the flies and stink bugs,” said Brasfield, who sports a graying handlebar mustache and describes himself as a conservative Republican. “The flies were so bad that you couldn’t walk outside without being inundated by them. You’d be covered in all sorts of insects. People started getting headaches, they couldn’t breathe. You wouldn’t even go outside to put meat on the barbecue.”

The landfill, called Big Sky Environmental, sits on the fringes of West Jefferson and is permitted to accept waste from 48 U.S. states. It used a nearby rail spur to import sewage from New York and New Jersey. This epic fecal odyssey was completed by trucks which took on the waste and rumbled through West Jefferson — sometimes spilling dark liquid on sharp turns — to the landfill.

Outrage at this arrangement reached a crescendo in April last year when Jefferson County, of which West Jefferson is part, barred the landfill operator from using the rail spur. Malodorous train carriages began backing up near several neighbouring towns.

“Oh my goodness, it’s just a nightmare here,” said Heather Hall, mayor of Parrish, where the unwanted cargo squatted for two months. “It smells like rotting corpses, or carcasses. It smells like death.”

America’s dumping ground

Residents started hounding the phone lines of elected officials and showed up at public meetings with bags of dead flies. One man described the smell as similar to “25,000 people taking a dump around your house.” The growing national media attention eventually stung New York and New Jersey, which halted convoys of human waste to the site.

But while the distress lifted from West Jefferson, other communities across Alabama struggle forlornly in a miasma of nearby landfills. Alabama has gained a reputation as the dumping ground of the U.S., with toxic waste from across the country typically heaped near poor, rural communities, many with large African American populations.

Alabama has a total of 173 operational landfills, more than three times as many as New York, a state with a population four times greater but with just 54 dumps. California — three times larger than Alabama and containing eight people for every Alabamian — has just a handful more landfills than the southern state.

“You take a poor rural area, take advantage of the people and turn their farming land into a dumping ground so a few people can make a profit,” said Nelson Brooke, head of the Black River Riverkeeper organization. “Parts of our state have been turned into a toilet bowl and there isn’t the political spine to stop it.”

Many of the largest landfills are clustered in a region known as the Black Belt, a stretch of counties around Alabama’s midriff named initially for its fertile topsoil but latterly known for the tenant farmers and sharecroppers that helped form the basis of its large black population today.

The low land values and extreme poverty of the region make it a magnet for landfills, with waste hauled in from across the country for as little as $1 a ton. Acceptance of landfills is delegated to counties, causing potential conflicts of interest with local officials involved in waste disposal. Residents are often blindsided by the appearance of new dumps.

“A continual refrain for decades in Alabama is that politicians are selling out the people,” said Conner Bailey, an academic at Auburn University. “It’s a long tradition.”

Environmental injustice

A crucible of the civil rights movement — from the Selma-to-Montgomery march to the Rosa Parks-inspired bus boycotts to the Birmingham church bombing — Alabama’s racial disparity in pollution exposure has become only more stark.

A landfill near Emelle in Sumter county, where the neighbouring community is about 90 percent black and a third of people live in poverty, at one point accepted 40 percent of all hazardous waste disposed in the U.S. Anniston, Alabama, where half the residents are black, won a high-profile settlement from Monsanto after the dumping of so much PCBs, chemicals linked to cancers and liver damage, that a local creek turned red.

“There are still major problems in Alabama resulting from environmental injustice and there does not appear to be will on part of its government to reverse these problems,” said Ryke Longest, a law professor at Duke University.

“Alabama’s history with Jim Crow and preservation of segregation as well as suppressing voting rights made these problems worse by segregating communities and disenfranchising black Americans in their communities.”

Many homes near the sprawling Stone’s Throw landfill, east of Montgomery, are now abandoned. The landfill, which can accept 1,500 tons of construction debris, ash, asbestos, sludge, and other material each day, is located in the Ashurst Bar/Smith community, which is around three-quarters African American.

“It’s almost unbearable to live there, even three miles away my eyes burn and I get nauseous,” said Phyllis Gosa, now retired and living in Selma but still visits family who have owned property in the community since the end of slavery. “It’s our heritage; we are losing who we are. When it comes to people of color, we are still three-fifths of a human being. The 14th amendment doesn’t apply to us. That’s who Alabama is, that’s its legacy.”

Ron Smith, a neighbor and pastor, said there is pressure on black families to sell devalued land to the expanding landfill. He grows blueberries in his back yard but is uncertain if he should eat them. “Our government picked an area where people couldn’t defend themselves,” he said. “This is the perfect area.”

Unlike the 1960s civil rights push, there has been no federal savior. In April 2017, a group of residents claimed that Alabama’s tolerance of the Stone’s Throw landfill had caused chronic illnesses such as asthma and cancer, pungent smells and water pollution, thereby breaching the Civil Rights Act’s prohibition of race-based discrimination.

In December, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decided there was “insufficient evidence” for the complaint despite finding that the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) hadn’t properly enforced a requirement that six inches of covering soil be placed upon landfill waste every day. ADEM wrote to the landfill, also in December, scolding it for excessive discharges of copper, oil, grease and “suspended solids” between 2016 and 2018.

However, while the EPA found “a preponderance of the evidence that a lack of enforcement did result in adverse impacts,” other, white-majority, communities also live under this inadequate regime, meaning the blight couldn’t be defined as racist.

The finding follows a familiar pattern by the EPA: The agency’s civil rights office went 22 years without deciding that discrimination laws were broken, despite hundreds of complaints.


More than 40 black residents have now turned to the courts, suing Advanced Disposal Services, which operates Stone’s Throw, and two water utilities for allowing heavy metals, E. coli and a cocktail of harmful chemicals to leach into the water supply and, they claim, cause their abdominal cancers.

“Alabama seems to have an inordinate number of these big landfills that have created a variety of problems,” said Ted Mann, the attorney representing the residents. Mann, an Alabamian Democrat who has an abstract painting of Abraham Lincoln in his Birmingham office, said his clients feel “trapped.”

“ADEM doesn’t do much of anything,” he said. “Underfunded, understaffed and woefully and inadequately involved in the environmental issues in our state.”

The crossover between pollution and racism “is hard to not see,” Mann said. “If you see it and you ignore it, it’s because you just want to ignore it.”

Other communities aren’t able to muster legal recourse. Uniontown, half an hour west of the civil rights touchstone of Selma, is a place where 9 out of 10 residents are black and the median household income is $14,000 a year. Uniontown’s roads are derelict, the only grocery store closed last year and its elementary school can only afford to educate children up to grade three.

Uniontown is also home to the Arrowhead landfill, an artificial green mountain twice the size of New York’s Central Park that looms over the tumbledown town. It can accept up to 15,000 tons of waste a day, from 33 states. In 2012, ADEM allowed Arrowhead to expand in size by two-thirds.

A group of residents have spent the past decade complaining about a smell similar to rotten eggs coming from the landfill, as well as the site’s coal ash for causing an array of health problems, such as sore throats and nosebleeds (Arrowhead said that no coal ash has been delivered to the landfill since 2010).

The landfill is a “huge hill in the midst of the community,” said Esther Calhoun, who has lived in Uniontown most of her life. “That smell … it makes you want to vomit. The pecan trees, they don’t bear any more. Even the garden that I had, we don’t use it any more.”

But in March last year, a few months before its similar Civil Rights Act decision over Stone’s Throw, the EPA ruled that Uniontown has not been subjected to “a prima facie case of discrimination.”

This knockback has shrouded Uniontown in fatalistic hopelessness, according to local activists. “They are trying to break our spirit,” said Ben Eaton, a retired teacher who speaks in a rumbling baritone and moves around with the aid of a walker. Eaton, now a county commissioner, had just come from a meeting where Arrowhead was asked to pay some fees up front so the county could afford an ambulance service.

“It’s a sort of learned helplessness,” he said. “People are hanging on by a thread right now. Well, my folks have always taught me to go down fighting, even if you go down.”

Mike Smith, an attorney for Arrowhead, said neither ADEM nor the EPA have ever found excessive odor, air pollution, or water contamination. “The residents you may have spoken to have been offered multiple opportunities, both formal and informal, to present any evidence of pollution and have failed to do so,” he said.

Smith added that the Uniontown community and surrounding Perry County “benefit substantially” from jobs and “host fee” payments provided by Arrowhead, with the landfill also sponsoring school supplies for the past decade.

ADEM insists it has environmental justice top of mind in its regulatory activities, with a spokeswoman stating the agency went “above and beyond” its legal requirements when consulting with residents living in West Jefferson, Uniontown, and Ashurst Bar/Smith.

“The department is confident that it has the resources and statutory authorization to properly regulate and monitor landfills in Alabama to ensure the protection of human health and the environment,” the spokesperson added.

‘We’re not a dump’

But even in West Jefferson, where the “poop train” was defeated, there is little hope of a lasting resolution in the tensions between the desire to generate income and community concern over quality of life.

In July, ADEM handed the Big Sky Environmental landfill a five-year extension to its permit. ADEM has also proposed changing the rules so that permits last for 10 rather than five years and has rescinded its environmental discrimination procedures, claiming its existing complaints process is sufficient.

“Let every state take care of their own trash but don’t bring it to Alabama,” said David Brasfield, the retired miner. “We just don’t need it. We’re better than that. We’re not a dump.

“But it will happen again if we let it. We cannot forget it and put it out of our minds. This is my home and I plan on defending it.”

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‘We’re not a dump’ — poor Alabama towns struggle under the stench of toxic landfills

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Young climate leaders just told a House committee to get its act together

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Melody Zhang’s fascination with the environment, “God’s creation,” began when she was a kid and uttered her first words in Chinese: 出去, which means “Go outside.”

Zhang, the climate justice campaign coordinator for Sojourners (a faith-based social justice magazine) and the co-chair for Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, read this anecdote as part of her testimony in front of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis on Thursday morning.

The congressional hearing wasn’t a typical one. In its first-ever hearing, the brand-new committee listened to the voices of young people who are urging policymakers to take action on climate change.

Along with Zhang, three other young leaders gave brief testimonies about their experiences with climate change: Aji Piper, one of the 21 plaintiffs in the youth climate lawsuit Juliana v. United States; Chris Suggs, a student activist from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and Lindsay Cooper, a political analyst for the Louisiana governor’s office.

18-year-old Suggs grew up in North Carolina, which experienced severe flooding during Hurricane Florence last year. The saddest thing about recurring weather disasters, Suggs said, is that they affect the communities that have already been hit the hardest by all of society’s other problems.

“You have poor, rural communities that are completely underwater or get cut off from their access to food, hospitals, and medical supplies,” he said in his testimony. “Climate change is an extra kick to communities and populations that are already down.”

After hearing the witnesses’ stories, the committee chair, Democrat Kathy Castor of Florida, asked, “Where do you find hope and optimism in the face of such a daunting problem?”

Zhang said she is energized by the creativity and joy that young people bring to the climate movement. She pointed to last month’s Youth Climate Strike, where students at tens of thousands of schools around the world took the streets to demand that leaders act on climate change.

“This level of engagement and activism is one of the best things I have seen in my many years of beating my head against the wall on this issue,” said Representative Jared Huffman from California, a Democrat who joined the Youth Climate Strike.

While most committee members found the youth’s testimonies compelling, Gary Palmer of Alabama and some other Republican representatives expressed an, um, different viewpoint.

“The fundamental principle in addressing these issues is that you have to fundamentally define the problem,” Palmer said. “If you don’t properly define the problem, then the solutions you come up with are generally going to be off the mark.” (He also disparaged the “emphasis on anthropomorphic impact.” Last time we checked the dictionary, “anthropomorphic” means having human-like characteristics. Don’t you mean “anthropogenic,” Mr. Palmer?)

First-time representative Joe Neguse, a Democrat from Colorado, rebuked Palmer’s argument. “I don’t know that this committee needs to necessarily define the problem,” he said. “The scientists and experts [already] defined the problem for us.”

Since he took office three months ago, Neguse said, every meeting he’s had with young people has been about the environment. While he’s worried about the future his 7-month-year-old daughter might inherit, he was reassured by the capable young people in the room. “When my daughter is my age,” he said, “you all will be the leaders running for office, and I have no doubt that given the reality [now], we will truly make progress in this important issue.”

At the end of her testimony, Zhang made one final plea. “As political leaders, especially ones of faith, I implore you to respond faithfully and with full force to love God and neighbor by enacting just, compassionate, and transformative climate policies which rise to the challenge of the climate crisis. That is my prayer for you.”

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Young climate leaders just told a House committee to get its act together

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The Grail Bird – Tim Gallagher


The Grail Bird
The Rediscovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker
Tim Gallagher

Genre: Nature

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: April 25, 2017

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Seller: OpenRoad Integrated Media, LLC

“ The Grail Bird is an enjoyable read . . . A powerful call for conservation, and an exciting bird adventure” ( The Boston Globe ).   What is it about the ivory-billed woodpecker? Why does this ghost of the southern swamps arouse such an obsessive level of passion in its devotees, who range from respected researchers to the flakiest Loch Ness monster fanatics and Elvis chasers?   Since the early twentieth century, scientists have been trying their best to prove that the ivory-bill is extinct. But every time they think they’ve finally closed the door, the bird makes an unexpected appearance.   To unravel the mystery, author Tim Gallagher heads south, deep into the eerie swamps and bayous of the vast Mississippi Delta, searching for people who claim to have seen this rarest of birds and following up—sometimes more than thirty years after the fact—on their sightings. What follows is his own Eureka moment with his buddy Bobby Harrison, a true son of the South from Alabama. A huge woodpecker flies in front of their canoe, and they both cry out, “Ivory-bill!” This sighting—the first time since 1944 that two qualified observers positively identify an ivory-billed woodpecker in the United States—quickly leads to the largest search ever launched to find a rare bird, as researchers fan out across the bayou, hoping to document the existence of this most iconic of birds.   “ The Grail Bird is less an ecological study than a portrait of human obsession.” — The New York Times

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The Grail Bird – Tim Gallagher

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Tropical diseases are moving north, and the poor are the ones getting sick.

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Tropical diseases are moving north, and the poor are the ones getting sick.

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Victory! A coal company just abandoned its plan to ruin a river and a bunch of people’s lives in Alaska.

Catherine Flowers has been an environmental justice fighter for as long as she can remember. “I grew up an Alabama country girl,” she says, “so I was part of the environmental movement before I even knew what it was. The natural world was my world.”

In 2001, raw sewage leaked into the yards of poor residents in Lowndes County, Alabama, because they had no access to municipal sewer systems. Local government added insult to injury by threatening 37 families with eviction or arrest because they couldn’t afford septic systems. Flowers, who is from Lowndes County, fought back: She negotiated with state government, including then-Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, to end unfair enforcement policies, and she enlisted the Environmental Protection Agency’s help to fund septic systems. The effort earned her the nickname “The Erin Brockovich of Sewage.”

Flowers was continuing the long tradition of residents fighting for justice in Lowndes County, an epicenter for the civil rights movement. “My own parents had a rich legacy of fighting for civil rights, which to this day informs my work,” she says. “Even today, people share stories about my parents’ acts of kindness or help, and I feel it’s my duty to carry on their work.”

Years later, untreated and leaking sewage remains a persistent problem in much of Alabama. Flowers advocates for sanitation and environmental rights through the organization she founded, the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise Community Development Corporation (ACRE, for short). She’s working with the EPA and other federal agencies to design affordable septic systems that will one day eliminate the developing-world conditions that Flowers calls Alabama’s “dirty secret.”

Former Vice President Al Gore counts himself as a big fan of Flowers’ work, calling her “a firm advocate for the poor, who recognizes that the climate crisis disproportionately affects the least wealthy and powerful among us.” Flowers says a soon-to-be-published study, based on evidence she helped collect, suggests that tropical parasites are emerging in Alabama due to poverty, poor sanitation, and climate change. “Our residents can have a bigger voice,” she said, “if the media began reporting how climate change is affecting people living in poor rural communities in 2017.” Assignment editors, pay attention.

Meet all the fixers on this year’s Grist 50.

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Victory! A coal company just abandoned its plan to ruin a river and a bunch of people’s lives in Alaska.

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Who Really Benefits From Repealing the Stream Protection Rule?

Mother Jones

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Behold the politics of Donald Trump in a nutshell:

Weigel is in Florida, so the workers in question are mostly Appalachian miners. Here’s a quick look at Appalachian coal mining employment:1

This chart shows two things. First, coal mining in Appalachia has been plummeting for a long time. Decades, actually. So it’s pretty easy to see why Appalachian coal miners are in dire straits and eager to listen to someone, anyone, who sounds sympathetic to their plight.

Second, Trump is getting a lot of of attention for rolling back the Stream Protection Rule, but it’s not going to put anyone back to work. I had to cheat to even get it to show up on the chart. It’s responsible for maybe a hundred mining jobs out of a total decline of 30,000 between 2009 and 2020.

So who does benefit from rolling back this rule? Well, OSM figures that Appalachian mine owners will save about $24 million per year in compliance costs.3 So they’re pretty happy. This is a dynamic that we’re going to see over and over from Trump:

He puts on a big show about something or other. Workers cheer.
Offstage, it turns out the benefit to workers is minuscule.
Instead, the bulk of the benefits end up going to corporations and the rich.
Liberals will find out about this because the New York Times will probably write about it. Working-class Trump fans won’t, because none of it will be reported by Fox News or Drudge or Limbaugh or Breitbart.

Executive summary: workers get a pittance, the rich get rewarded, and streams and rivers will continue to be fouled by mine tailings. But Trump’s supporters will be happy because they’ll be kept in the dark by all the people supposedly looking out for them.

1This is approximate. I counted coal mine employment from Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Alabama. The projection is based on a 50 percent loss of coal production and coal jobs between 2012 and 2020. The Office of Surface Mining figures that the Stream Protection Rule will cost about 260 mining jobs, and that Appalachia will bear 46 percent of compliance cost. (See this CRS report, p. 17.) So we can roughly figure that it will cost Appalachia a little over a hundred mining jobs.2

2The net job loss will be about zero, thanks to additional hires of engineers and biologists. However, that does nothing for miners.

3See here, p. 15. Total estimated compliance costs are $52 million per year, with Appalachia bearing 46 percent of the total.

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Who Really Benefits From Repealing the Stream Protection Rule?

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This Rookie Chicago Politician Is Ready to Resist Donald Trump’s Deportation Fervor

Mother Jones

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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel held a press conference Wednesday to assure anxious residents that Chicago would remain a “sanctuary city”—meaning local law enforcement won’t help federal agents with President Donald Trump’s plan to deport millions of immigrants, a plan that just got a lot more real. In December, Emanuel told Trump to his face that he should rethink his proposed policies—specifically, that he should retain the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has allowed undocumented immigrants who were brought here as young children (and for all practical purposes are Americans) to stay in the United States.

Yet even as Emanuel gets recognition as a mayor willing to stand up to Trump on immigration, 27-year-old rookie Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa has been pushing for stronger legal protections in the city—especially given the White House’s reported intent to engage state and local police in its deportation efforts. “What we really need,” the alderman told local reporters “is less symbolism and more action.”

Ramirez-Rosa is a Chicago native, the son of a Puerto Rican dad and a Mexican-born mom. He grew up in the Lakeview neighborhood on the city’s North Side and went to a magnet high school before attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. After graduating, he become an aide to Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez, running his boss’ social-media efforts and working directly with families facing deportation. Just two years later he managed to unseat Rey Colon, the four-term 35th Ward incumbent, to become one of the youngest members of the City Council and its first openly gay Latino.

As an alderman, Ramirez-Rosa has made immigrants’ rights his main focus, and the overwhelming message he hears from affected families is that the city hasn’t done enough to protect them. “I’ve been fighting this mayor since before I took office,” Ramirez-Rosa told me. “I wasn’t elected to cozy up with the rich and powerful. I was elected by my constituents to represent their interests.”

Chicago’s 2012 sanctuary city law, the Welcoming City Ordinance, prevents city police from detaining undocumented immigrants on behalf of federal authorities. But the law contains several exceptions: for immigrants who have a criminal warrant out on them, who have been convicted of a serious offense, who are defendants in a criminal case, or who have been identified as part of a gang. Some of these carve-outs mean that people who haven’t been found guilty of a crime could be refused sanctuary. A Chicago Police Department spokesman told me that, to his knowledge, the police have not acted on any of the exceptions, and that they were intended for extreme circumstances. Still, Ramirez-Rosa and his constituents want those carve-outs removed to give legal backup to the city’s commitment to not cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Ramirez-Rosa wants Chicago, with its 183,000 undocumented immigrants, to be a model for immigrant protections. While Chicago’s law is already stronger than those of many sanctuary cities, it falls short of Philadelphia (which has no exceptions, barring extreme circumstances) and Los Angeles, New York City, and San Francisco (which have only a couple). He has been busy organizing and educating immigrant communities to be ready for the Trump administration. “The focus right now,” he said, “is preparing the community.”

Back in 2015, Ramirez-Rosa and more than a dozen local immigrants’ rights groups joined forces to create the Chicago Immigration Working Group, which has come up with six key policy goals. Bolstering the Welcoming City ordinance is one of them. They’ve also persuaded the city to launch an ID program that’s open to undocumented immigrants and helps them access city services. Emanuel has committed just over $1 million to a legal defense fund for would-be deportees, although Ramirez-Rosa points out that San Francisco, with a fraction of Chicago’s undocumented population, has just proposed a $5 million legal-defense fund. The alderman also co-sponsored an amendment that makes it illegal for police to threaten people with deportation during a confrontation, or to verbally abuse them. (During a 2013 raid, a Chicago cop famously yelled at a naturalized Chinese American man that he’d “put you in a UPS box and send you back where the expletive you came from!”)

This week, Trump signed orders to begin construction on a Mexican border wall and add detention centers and federal agents to the deportation effort. He also doubled down on his threat to rescind federal funding from sanctuary cities that won’t cooperate with the feds on deportations. If Trump follows through, Chicago stands to lose an estimated $1.3 billion—Congress would need to approve the cut. Trump’s attorney general pick, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, is in favor of repealing DACA and opposes a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants. Democrats in the Senate have delayed his confirmation vote, which is now expected to take place in February.

Given all the uncertainly about what will happen, Ramirez-Rosa and his office are making it a priority to educate the immigrant community. Earlier this month, he started a door-to-door outreach effort and “know your rights” trainings to teach undocumented families what they can do to fight deportation attempts. Next up: a “cop-watch” type network in his ward so neighbors can alert one another if federal immigration agents are in their area. In an act of solidarity, Ramirez-Rosa has even declared his office a sanctuary location, a move he hopes other aldermen will copy.

Ramirez-Rosa was in talks with Emanuel’s office last year. The mayor wasn’t always such a full-throated defender of immigrant rights, the alderman notes; as chair of the House Democratic Caucus, Emanuel once called immigration the “third rail of American politics,” and he actually pushed to ramp up deportations while working under President Bill Clinton in the mid-1990s. “We know the history of this mayor,” Ramirez-Rosa says. “He just wants the sound bite on TV where he says ‘I’m your champion.'”

But the alderman is feeling more hopeful of late. The talks with the mayor have gone well, he says, and Emanuel even asked for a memo outlining the working group’s proposals. Emanuel’s office wouldn’t comment on plans to alter the carve-outs. But it pointed out in a statement that the mayor started a task force (“Chicago Is With You”) with Rep. Gutierrez and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) late last year to provide legal and mental-health services to immigrants and others in need, and he’s involved in other efforts to help immigrants.

But Chicago leaders have to do much more, Ramirez-Rosa insists. The measure of progress, he says, “is in the actual ordinances and resources that the city is bringing to bear. And we’re nowhere near the other cities that are actually national leaders on this.”

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This Rookie Chicago Politician Is Ready to Resist Donald Trump’s Deportation Fervor

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Read Deval Patrick’s Scathing Indictment Against Jeff Sessions for Attorney General

Mother Jones

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Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick—who in 1985 worked on the defense team that represented three black civil rights leaders targeted by Sen. Jeff Sessions in the notorious voter fraud case from Alabama’s Perry County—has penned a scathing letter to Senate Judiciary Committee leaders urging them to reject his appointment as attorney general.

Describing the Perry County case as a “cautionary tale” when political objectives are favored over facts, Patrick wrote: “Thirty years ago, because it was widely understood and appreciated that his appointment to the bench would raise a questions about this Committee’s commitment to a just, fair and open justice system, Mr. Sessions’ nomination was withdrawn on a bi-partisan basis. I respectfully suggest to you that this moment requires similar consideration and a similar outcome.”

Patrick was among more than 1,100 practicing attorneys and legal scholars who wrote to Congress on Tuesday voicing similar opposition to Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general. “At a time when our nation is so divided, when so many people feel so deeply that their lived experienced is unjust, Mr. Sessions is the wrong person to place in charge of our justice system,” his letter continued.

Separately, multiple NAACP leaders who were protesting Sessions’ nomination inside his Alabama office were arrested.

The powerful denunciation on Tuesday marks the third time in nearly three decades Patrick, now the managing director at Bain Capital, has formally challenged Sessions. He first argued against Sessions in the 1985 Perry County voter fraud case, in which three civil rights leaders were wrongly accused of tampering with absentee ballots. The following year Sessions was nominated to become a federal judge, and Patrick testified against the appointment. Sessions was rejected to serve on the federal branch in large part because of the Perry County ruling and charges of racism that sprung from the case.

Sessions’ nomination has caused widespread alarm among civil rights leaders, many of whom have pointed out that his work as US Attorney in Mobile and as Alabama’s senator involved efforts to dismantle voters’ rights, allegations of racism, and staunch opposition to immigration. His hearing is scheduled for January 10th—the same day Trump has announced he would be holding a rare press conference for reporters.

Read Patrick’s letter below:

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Read Deval Patrick’s Scathing Indictment Against Jeff Sessions for Attorney General

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Trump Didn’t Invent “Make America Great Again”

Mother Jones

Did you ever wonder why Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan took such root among the Republican base? Did it symbolize a return to an age when wages were higher and jobs more secure? Or was it coded racial language designed to signal a rollback to a time when people of color (and women) knew their place? In the soul-searching and recrimination among Democrats after Hillary Clinton’s defeat, both theories have their champions.

But a closer look at conservative rhetoric in recent years reveals that “Make America Great Again” was not Trump’s invention. It evolved from a phrase that became central to the Republican establishment during the Obama years: “American exceptionalism.” People often equate the expression with the notion that God made America “a city upon a hill,” in the words of the Puritan colonist John Winthrop. However, as University of California-Berkeley sociology professor Jerome Karabel noted in a 2011 article, this usage only came into vogue after Barack Obama became president. Previously it was mainly used by academics to mean that America is an exception compared with other Western democracies, for better or worse, as illustrated by its top-notch universities or its bare-bones gun control.

Prior to 2008, “American exceptionalism” appeared in news articles a handful of times a year, but after Obama was elected the references skyrocketed, largely because of a drumbeat from Republicans. Once the tea party wave made John Boehner speaker of the House in 2010, for example, he summarized the growing consensus among Republicans: Obama had turned his back on the Founding Fathers to the point where he “refused to talk about American exceptionalism.” (In fact, in 2009 the president had stated, “I believe in American exceptionalism.”) The phrase’s popularity in GOP talking points—often in attacks on Obama’s “socialist” policies—paralleled the spread of conspiracy theories about his citizenship and supposed jihadi sympathies.

Defending “American exceptionalism” was a theme of Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign; he blasted Obama for supposedly thinking that “America’s just another nation” destined to become “a European-style entitlement society.” Romney’s campaign co-chair John Sununu added that Obama should “learn how to be an American.” (He later apologized.)

The 2016 Republican presidential candidates and their surrogates sang the same tune. When Fox News pundit Sean Hannity asked Jeb Bush for his thoughts on exceptionalism, Bush replied, “I do believe in American exceptionalism,” unlike Obama, who “is disrespecting our history and the extraordinary nature of our country.” Rudy Giuliani was more explicit. “I do not believe that the president loves America,” he asserted, suggesting Obama did not think “we’re the most exceptional country in the world.” During a speech a month later in Selma, Alabama, the president pointed out that the ongoing fight for civil rights is a cornerstone of what makes America exceptional.

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To get more of a quantitative sense of the phrase’s evolution, I analyzed the Republican Party platform. All party platforms typically emphasize faith in American greatness, but between 1856 and 2008, the GOP never used the expression “American exceptionalism” or even the adjective “exceptional” to describe the country. By contrast, the final section of the 2012 Republican platform lambasting the Obama presidency was titled “American exceptionalism.” The 2016 platform put the phrase into the first line of its preamble: “We believe in American exceptionalism.” The evolution of “American exceptionalism” into an anti-Obama rallying cry with nativist overtones evoked earlier appeals to “states’ rights” to rouse whites resenting the end of segregation.

In his book Time to Get Tough: Making America #1 Again, Trump, too, framed his agenda as a defense of “American exceptionalism.” “Maybe my biggest beef with Obama is his view that there’s nothing special or exceptional about America—that we’re no different than any other country.” Trump later adopted a catchier slogan, “Make America Great Again,” but it retained the nativist overtones and racial dog whistles of the first. Paired with Trump’s open conspiracy-mongering about Obama’s forged birth certificate and supposed Muslim faith, it amplified and dramatized the Republican establishment’s slyer assertions about Obama’s un-American values.

Trump would eventually abandon dog whistles in favor of blunter race-baiting. What remains to be seen is whether he and the Republican establishment will continue flashing the “exceptionalism” signal in the post-Obama years—to paint new opponents as un-American—or whether that language was uniquely deployed to delegitimize the nation’s first black president. At the very least, it provided fertile ground for Trumpism.

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Trump Didn’t Invent “Make America Great Again”

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