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Which cities have concrete strategies for environmental justice?

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

Just as it is now, Fifth Avenue has long been home to expensive shops drawing not only wealthy New Yorkers, but moneyed visitors. In 1916, when the shop merchants in the Fifth Avenue Association voiced concerns about congestion and declining land values affecting their profits, New York City introduced zoning as a legal apparatus. It was a new concept.

The merchants felt that their land values would be affected by the tall skyscrapers being built near Fifth Avenue to house the garment industry. And they didn’t want the people working in the garment industry to mix with their wealthy shoppers. Zoning’s beginnings had a lot to do with the exclusion of low-income people from certain areas of the city, and in the intervening century, zoning has continued to be used to confine low-income people and people of color to particular areas of a city.

Environmental hazards like hazardous waste facilities, fossil fuel storage, and transportation sites, and other polluting industrial facilities are disproportionally located in communities of color and low-income communities. But a new report from The New School’s Tishman Environment and Design Center shows how tools to enact environmental justice can come from the toolbox of injustice.

The report notes that, “examples of racial zoning are ubiquitous in planning history.” These same local zoning codes and land-use policies are now being used to address both existing and future pollution sources concentrated in low-income communities and communities of color. The report’s authors write: “If zoning and land use policies got us into this mess, they have the potential to get us out of it.”

So, what are these policies that promote environmental justice and where are they being implemented?

Bans on specific land uses and industries

In 1910, Baltimore, Maryland, became the first U.S. city to pass a residential segregation ordinance. After a 1917 Supreme Court ruling against racial segregation in housing, Baltimore employed other strategies to “exclude people of color from the financial benefits of homeownership,” according to the report. These actions laid the groundwork for today’s racial disparities in the city. In 2018, environmental justice advocates, including local neighborhood groups and national environmental groups with local chapters, successfully pushed for a ban on new crude oil terminals in Baltimore. Although federal law doesn’t allow municipalities to completely regulate commercial rail traffic, Baltimore was able to use its jurisdiction over land use and zoning for the city’s ban.

Baltimore is one of six cities (Chicago, Portland, Oakland, Seattle, and Whatcom County are the others) that the report identifies as prohibiting outright certain land uses and industries determined to be harmful for public health and the environment. Although locally unwanted land uses (LULUs) are often associated with residents trying to guard property values and “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) sentiment, the report argues that, in communities which face environmental injustice, LULUs “take on a wholly different meaning in the context of structural racism, patterns of uneven development” as well as the disproportionate impacts from pollution.

Broad environmental justice programs

New York City, San Francisco, and Fulton County, Georgia, have all enacted broad environmental justice policies and programs, the study’s authors find.

In 2000, San Francisco launched an environmental justice program. Since then it has earmarked more than $12 million in grants for local community projects serving environmental justice areas, and allocated resources to address health inequities, air quality, and renewable and efficient energy.

New York City’s policies, adopted in 2017, required a study of environmental justice areas and established an interagency group to create an environmental justice plan.

And in 2010, Fulton County started an environmental justice initiative that resulted in policies requiring the health impact on minority and low-income populations to be considered in decisions about land use planning and zoning.

Environmental review processes

Most municipalities already have processes, through planning and zoning boards, in which they review new development or expansion proposals. However, not all cities consider the effect of these development proposals on vulnerable or historically overburdened communities as part of the process.

Fulton County, Georgia; San Francisco, California; Camden and Newark, New Jersey; and Boston University have processes in place to review at least some types of new development through an environmental justice lens.

Proactive planning

Some cities also further environmental justice proactively through comprehensive plans (also called general plans, master plans, or land-use plans) that guide future development and establish new standards. Eugene, Oregon; National City, California; Washington, D.C.; and Fulton County, Georgia, all used their comprehensive plans or master plans to devise goals for working toward environmental justice. For example, in 2011, Washington, D.C. added a section in their comprehensive plan with policies that aim to protect all communities from “disproportionate exposure” to hazards as the city grows.

Seattle’s Public Utility Agency, which has significant land assets in historically overburdened communities, worked to make targeted investments to lessen pollution in these areas. And Los Angeles, California, used the concept of “green zones” in a 2016 policy called Clean Up Green Up Ordinance, establishing a Clean Up Green Up district within Boyle Heights, Pacoima/Sun Valley, and Wilmington, where the city applies more strict development standards for new construction and works to reduce negative health impacts. In 2017, Minneapolis, Minnesota, put forth a city council resolution aimed at green zones in order to improve heath and promote sustainable economic development.

Targeting existing land uses and public health codes

Although the above approaches are helpful for furthering environmental justice in future development, they don’t typically apply to existing land uses harmful to public health and the environment.

Huntington and National City, California; Washington, D.C.; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission all have policies targeting existing land uses. For example, National City grappled for a long time with “an excess of polluting industries due to mixed-use industrial and residential zoning,” according to the report. Now, National City has an amortization ordinance, which phases out industries near sensitive areas and includes a process for relocating businesses.

Additionally, San Francisco and Richmond, California; Chicago, Illinois; Detroit, Michigan; and Erie, Colorado have all used public health codes to protect people from air pollutants. San Francisco, for instance, passed a public health code article in 2014 that strengthened ventilation requirements in buildings within air pollution exposure zones.

The report also notes that when it comes to decisions about where pollution and environmental hazards are located, it’s mostly up to local governments. “This localization of efforts opened up the opportunity to hold local leaders and agencies more accountable,” the authors write. “The insights gained from these policies will fuel a new era of environmental justice policies taking a holistic approach to achieving environmental justice.”

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Which cities have concrete strategies for environmental justice?

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A tale of two Washingtons: How Jay Inslee aims to take his climate plan nationwide

On a recent spring evening in Seattle, a crowd of nearly 1,000 gathered for a glimpse at one of the Democratic Party’s rising stars. When Washington Governor Jay Inslee bounded on stage, the audience let out a gasp, and collectively rose to its feet to offer a standing ovation.

Inslee was actually there to introduce Stacey Abrams, the Georgia Democrat who narrowly missed becoming the first black woman to be elected governor of a state. “I speak on behalf of 7 million Washingtonians in welcoming Stacey Abrams to the great state of Washington,” Inslee proclaimed, inviting his colleague from the South to join him at the lectern.

Like Abrams, Inslee hopes his star is on the rise. It’s been more than two months since he jumped into a then-crowded, now-overflowing Democratic presidential primary with one major item on his agenda: climate change.

In some respects, Inslee’s decision to run as the climate candidate couldn’t come at a more opportune time. Recent polling shows warming is the No. 1 issue for Democratic voters. And Inslee is in the midst of signing a slew of bills into law that will make Washington a national leader on climate.

Outside of his home state, however, crowds would likely be less moved to standing Os if Inslee unexpectedly appeared in front of them. He is currently polling at 1 percent. When I brought that fact to his attention, he quipped, “Solid!” But that level of support is barely enough to qualify for the dozen primary debates that will commence this summer.

More importantly, though, candidates with higher name-recognition are beginning to encroach on the ground he’s staked out. In 2016, it would have been easy for Inslee to set himself apart as a climate champion — presidential candidates spent a total of 5 minutes and 27 seconds discussing the issue. In 2019, the topic is a top-tier primary issue.

Already, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker have released climate-related policy proposals focusing on public lands and environmental justice, respectively. This week, former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke unveiled what was at the time the most comprehensive climate change plan of the bunch, aiming for net-zero emissions by 2050.

On Friday, Inslee came out with his own “100% Clean Energy for America Plan,” the first plank of a wider platform called the “Climate Mission.” It includes many of the positions that are gaining consensus among 2020 hopefuls: no drilling on public lands, re-enter the Paris climate agreement, ban highly polluting hydrofluorocarbons, and end tax breaks for fossil fuel companies, among other policies.

Where Inslee stakes out some new territory is with the three-pronged, central portion of his plan: Within a decade, he wants to eliminate pollution from new cars, new buildings, and our energy grid. Under the broader Climate Mission, he aims to get America to net-zero pollution by 2045 — five years sooner than Beto’s plan.

It’s an ambitious timeline, but by the time the debates roll around, Inslee expects to have a list of accomplishments in Washington that he can point to as evidence that his agenda could scale nationally. “Talk doesn’t cut it,” he told Grist. “You have to be able to actually do things, and frankly, I’m the only candidate in this race who has actually achieved results.”

Three climate-related measures proposed in Washington state — two of which Inslee will sign into law next week — appear to serve as mini-models for what he could push for if he landed in the White House.

Building efficiency

One of the bills the governor expects to sign soon will require new buildings in Washington to adhere to efficiency standards. The bill directs the state to develop efficiency standards that will ratchet down energy use over the next decade. The bill also includes incentives for existing buildings to be retrofitted to comply with the new standards. San Francisco and New York are in the midst of passing similar requirements, but Inslee says his is the first to include the retrofit component.

His presidential climate plan works much the same way. In it, he advocates for a national Zero-Carbon Building Standard by 2023 for new commercial and residential buildings, and notes that future proposals will include a plan to retrofit existing buildings. “It is a big deal because it is not romantic,” Inslee said, referring to building efficiency. “It’s the single most cost-effective, money-in-the-bank job creator of all the things we do.”

100-percent clean energy

Inslee also expects to sign a 100-percent clean electricity bill into law next week. It would eliminate use of coal power in his state by 2025 and require utilities to achieve 100 percent clean electricity generation by 2045. The law will also incorporate some of the environmental justice elements that Green New Deal advocates are championing. For instance, his bill would require that utilities take into consideration the social cost of carbon — the environmental and social damage inflicted per ton of emitted carbon. That’s another first nationwide, by the way. “It makes utilities potentially work on a performance-based system,” Inslee said, which means utilities will have incentives beyond profits for shareholders. “That’s a fundamental change.”

The national version of that bill looks similar on a slightly different timeline: It calls for retiring the U.S. coal fleet by 2030, and 100 percent carbon-neutral power by the same year (100 percent renewable electricity by 2035). And it includes a comparable switch to a performance-based system for the nation’s utilities, as well as measures that safeguard front-line communities against price hikes and pollution.

Clean vehicles

There are currently fewer than 43,000 electric cars on the road in Washington, but Inslee believes the state is still on track to meet his target of having 50,000 electric vehicles on its streets by 2020. The governor helped set up an electric vehicle charging system along his state’s highway system in 2018. He also pushed for a clean fuel standard that would have resulted in the emissions reductions equivalent to taking one-in-five cars off the road, but when that failed in the legislature, he changed course and tried to pass a state-wide cap on carbon emissions by executive action instead. It’s currently tied up in the state’s Supreme Court. “That would be the cherry on top if we got that,” he said.

His presidential plan is a bigger lift. It aims for zero emissions from new passenger cars, medium-duty trucks, and buses by 2030. That means that 100 percent of new lightweight and medium-duty cars sold in America would have to be zero emission within roughly 10 years. Inslee also aims to take a version of his low carbon fuel standard — the one that failed in his state — and apply it on a federal level. The same goes for a new nationwide EV charging system.

While Inslee’s on a bit of a roll of late, he hasn’t always had success with his climate initiatives. The governor presided over multiple carbon tax initiatives that failed both in the Washington legislature and at the voting booth. In a recent poll conducted by the New York Times, Inslee indicated he was undecided about implementing a carbon tax should he become president.

“If one thing is not working, you go to plan B, and that’s what we’ve done,” he told Grist. He added that if all of the recent climate bills he’s been championing manage to pass, it’ll have roughly the same CO2 savings as a carbon tax would have anyway.

While the legislation being passed in Olympia burnishes Inslee’s bona fides, working against him on the national stage is the prominence of the Green New Deal. Being pushed by the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, it’s quickly become a reference point for the climate conversation on the left. Many of Inslee’s fellow 2020 hopefuls have lined up behind the ambitious resolution — even though there’s no concrete policy tied to it yet.

When O’Rourke unveiled his surprisingly bold climate plan earlier this week, spokespeople for the Sunrise Movement, one of the main groups championing the Green New Deal, attacked his proposal. They criticized it as not aggressive enough and said that “the United States should do much more.” They argued that the 2050 goal post was insufficient and that the U.S. should shoot for net-zero domestic emissions by 2030 instead, a target widely considered impossible. (They’ve since walked back their criticism, calling O’Rourke’s plan “a great start.”) Compared to Beto’s plan, Inslee’s proposal is only five years closer to what Green New Dealers are demanding.

The question remains as to whether the Green New Deal will survive the primary season as the gold standard for climate action among Democrats, or if stances will soften heading into the general election. Back in 2007, Inslee co-authored a book called Apollo’s Fire: Igniting America’s Clean Energy Economy, which outlined a climate action plan very similar to the Green New Deal.

When I pressed him for a position on the proposal championed by progressive rock star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others, the normally folksy Inslee seemed irritated. He’d heard this question many times before. “I support the Green New Deal, is that what you’d like to hear?” he asked, lifting his palms toward the ceiling in a hopeless gesture. “I support the Green New Deal.”

Honestly, it’d be hard for him not to back ambitious climate goals, given the sole focus of his platform. But if the climate candidate wants his star to rise above a crowded field, he has to hope that his longtime clean-energy evangelism and the most ambitious plan to tackle warming (so far) carries more weight than just being another hopeful willing to embrace the Green New Deal.


A tale of two Washingtons: How Jay Inslee aims to take his climate plan nationwide

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A Russian tanker plowed through the Arctic without an icebreaker for the first time.

Over the past two days, the storm — anticipated to hit Texas later Friday — has rapidly strengthened into a Category 3 major hurricane, packing 120 mph winds and a threatening a multi-day rainfall so heavy you’ll need a yardstick to measure it. The storm’s impact could be among the worst in U.S. weather history, rivaling even Hurricane Katrina.

The implications are hard to put into words, so I asked my meteorologist colleagues to describe them using one or two:

“Epic, unprecedented” — Brian McNoldy, hurricane specialist at University of Miami

“Unprecedented danger” — Marshall Shepherd, meteorology professor at University of Georgia

“In a word: life-changing. The question is where, how expansive, and how many people’s lives it will change. If nothing else this should be a big wake-up call to many.” — Anthony Fracasso, forecaster at the NOAA Weather Prediction Center

“Dangerous, scary” — Adam Sobel, hurricane expert, Columbia University

“Epic deluge” — Ryan Maue, hurricane expert, WeatherBELL analytics

“One word, given the storm’s longevity: torturous” — Jim Cantore, the Weather Channel

“Simply: overwhelming” — Taylor Trogdon, National Hurricane Center

“Prolonged misery” — Rick Smith, NWS meteorologist in Norman, Oklahoma

Two answers, not playing by the rules with both. 1.) Forecast challenge of a career. 2.) Enormously challenging.” — Matt Lanza, energy industry meteorologist based in Houston


A Russian tanker plowed through the Arctic without an icebreaker for the first time.

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Nearly 8,000 New Voters Registered Ahead of Georgia Special Election

Mother Jones

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A last-minute push to register voters in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District before the June 20 special election has resulted in nearly 8,000 new voters in the district as of Tuesday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. That’s a big enough number to swing a close election, and polls thus far show the race within the margin of error. It’s also an encouraging sign for Democrat Jon Ossoff, the insurgent candidate who topped the first round of voting in the solidly Republican district and is hoping that new voters can put him on top in the June 20 runoff.

The election between Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel has been widely portrayed as a test of the Democratic resistance to President Donald Trump. In the conservative district, Ossoff is trying to peel off Republican voters disenchanted with Trump, particularly white women. But in order to win, Ossoff also needs strong support from the Democratic base and new voters. So when a federal judge reopened voter registration in the district through May 21, groups that target young, poor, and minority voters rushed into the district to register eligible voters. The 7,942 new voters include new registrants and people who moved into the district after the primary and transferred their registration.

The district has more than 521,000 registered voters, so it’s unclear whether another 7,942—or about 1.5 percent of that total—will make a difference. Ossoff fell 3,700 votes short of winning an outright majority in the primary on April 18. If the runoff remains a toss-up, these new voters could determine the winner.

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Nearly 8,000 New Voters Registered Ahead of Georgia Special Election

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I Talked to a Man on Alabama’s Death Row. The State Plans to Kill Him Tonight.

Mother Jones

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Alabama has been trying to put Thomas Arthur to death for more than 30 years. The 75-year-old inmate, who has consistently maintained his innocence for a 1982 murder, has had three trials and survived seven execution dates since 2001. On Thursday, Alabama will attempt to execute him again.

“I didn’t have anything to do with this,” he tells Mother Jones from the Holman Correctional Facility, where Alabama houses most of those on death row. “I gave ’em hair and spit and everything…and they found nothing.”

I spoke with Arthur the week he is scheduled to die. His lawyers arranged for a 30-minute phone conversation to give him a chance to tell his story, maybe for the last time. He spoke rapidly, stumbling over some sentences in a rich Southern accent that sometimes blurred the clarity of his words. But there was no lack of clarity in his reflections of what it has been like to be one of the first inmates sent to death row in Alabama—after the practice was reinstated after a 1976 landmark Supreme Court ruling—and to live there for 34 years.

During that time, his health has deteriorated, and he has stood by while 58 other inmates were executed. Holman, like many of Alabama’s prisons, became overcrowded and crumbling and was the scene of a riot in 2016. He has watched the methods of execution change, from the electric chair to midazolam, a controversial drug that will be used on him, despite efforts his lawyers have made to convince the courts that given his heart condition, the drug might not be effective and would likely cause undue suffering. He has also had a lengthy education in the criminal justice system from three different trials and the seven times he believed he would die, only to have his execution postponed. At this point, Arthur still hopes for DNA evidence to prove his innocence. “If they just let my lawyers in a courtroom,” he says, “we wouldn’t be at this juncture.”

Arthur’s journey to death row began on February 1, 1982, when Troy Wicker was shot and killed in his bed in the northwest Alabama city of Muscle Shoals. On the day of the murder, his wife, Judy Wicker, told police that she came home after taking her children to school to find a black man in her home. She claimed that the intruder raped her, knocked her unconscious, and shot her husband. Police found bullets but no murder weapon. Wicker went to the hospital and her rape kit was subsequently lost.

Judy was a suburban mom and Arthur was a convicted criminal—he was serving time for having shot and killed his common-law wife’s sister in 1977. “When I took her life, alcohol was a factor,” he says. “I shouldn’t have shot that girl.” Arthur had been given a life sentence, but after just four years he was participating in a prison work-release program, where an inmate is let out of the prison facility during the day for employment and trusted to return to prison in the evening. That’s when Judy Wicker and Thomas Arthur began having an affair.

Police didn’t find Wicker’s description of the circumstances of her husband’s death credible and charged her with murder-for-hire. They also arrested Arthur and charged him with aggravated murder. At her 1982 trial, where Wicker testified that Arthur was not involved in the murder, she was given a life sentence. At a separate 1983 trial, prosecutors argued Arthur shot and killed Wicker for $10,000—part of the life insurance Wicker received upon her husband’s death. Despite his incriminating record, Arthur insisted he had nothing to do with this crime. Nonetheless, he was convicted, sentenced to death, and taken to Holman Correctional facility.

The Holman Correctional Facility is nearly 50 years old and located in rural Escambia County. On death row, the cells are tiny. “We’re, like, sandwiched in here,” Arthur says. “I live in a cell you can’t put a baboon in.” A heart condition prevents him from exercising or spending time in the yard like other death row inmates do. “I’m in here 24 hours a day. Been like that for 10 years.” He spends most of his days watching the news and daytime soap operas—Days of our Lives, for instance, and the Young and the Restless—on the TV that his lawyers bought for him in 2003. In its last session, the Alabama Legislature took up a bill to build up to four new state prisons by borrowing up to $800 million. “We got toilet water running down the walls all over death row,” Arthur claims. “They want to spend $800 million for new prisons when they could spend $200 million to fix the ones they already have!” he says incredulously.

Arthur was granted a retrial after his first conviction was overturned because details of his previous murder conviction were introduced in the trial. In 1986, while awaiting retrial, Arthur was held in a county jail. He escaped after shooting a jail official in the neck, but the guard survived. Arthur got as far as Knoxville, Tennessee, where FBI agents found him a month later after he robbed a bank. The following year, he was convicted and sentenced to death again.

His second conviction was overturned on appeal because in 1982 Arthur was interviewed by an investigator without an attorney present. He was granted yet another trial. According to Amnesty International, an international human rights organization that is against the death penalty, it was then that the prosecutor asked the state’s parole board if Judy Wicker could get an early release if she testified against Arthur. At the 1991 retrial, Wicker changed her story, implicating Arthur in the murder. She was paroled a year later, after serving just 10 years in prison.

In Furman v. Georgia, in 1972, the US Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that capital punishment was unconstitutional, halting executions nationwide. Four years later, the high court reversed course in Gregg v. Georgia and ruled that the death penalty was not cruel and unusual punishment.

The first time Alabama tried to put Arthur to death was in 2001, but he received a stay two days before the scheduled execution date so federal courts could hear challenges concerning the fact that he had no representation when his first execution date was set. This began a period of execution dates and stays of execution. After several legal challenges were dismissed, Alabama set another execution date for Arthur in September 2007. Once more he prepared himself to be executed, but he was spared when the state itself requested a 45-day reprieve in order to change its drug protocol for lethal injections. Around this time, various inmates had challenged lethal injection protocols in their states. A few months later, in December 2007, Arthur received another stay from the US Supreme Court because it was considering a challenge in Kentucky over a very similar lethal injection protocol. His fourth execution date was planned for 2008.

Then an inmate, Bobby Ray Gilbert, at another Alabama prison, confessed to the crime. Arthur filed a petition claiming innocence, and the execution was stayed so the court could hold a limited hearing. No physical evidence linked Gilbert to the crime, and the court concluded Gilbert was lying to protect Arthur. Prosecutors have long held that Troy Wicker’s killer wore a wig, but none of Arthur’s DNA was on that wig or on the clothes Judy Wicker wore on the day of the murder. “I am totally innocent,” Arthur insists. “And DNA could prove it.”

Until 2002, Alabama used the electric chair to execute inmates. “You could smell them,” Arthur says about the inmates being executed. “You could actually smell the flesh burning.” His next two scheduled executions in 2012 and 2015 were stayed because of Arthur’s challenges to the state’s drug protocol, which included the sedative, pentobarbital. But then came the introduction of the controversial sedative midazolam for executions. After multiple states faced a shortage of lethal injection drugs, Alabama began using midazolam early last year with the execution of Christopher Brooks in January. Nearly a year later, in December 2016, the state executed Ronald Bert Smith Jr. After administering the drug, Smith reportedly struggled for breath, coughed, heaved and clenched his left fist for 13 minutes.

Arthur’s seventh execution date was scheduled for November 3, 2016. His case claiming the lethal injection protocol used by the state could cause excruciating pain was dismissed by the federal court. Despite the widespread acceptance that lethal injection is humane, there is no scientific research to prove it.

Under the 2015 Supreme Court case Glossip v. Gross, the usage of midazolam does not violate the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment and rules that states must have a ready and available alternative if one form of execution falls into that category. In his appeal, Arthur proposed the use of firing squad. The court dismissed his case, saying that since Alabama law does not expressly allow firing squads, it was not a viable alternative.

That night, the Supreme Court granted a stay pending a review of his claims. But in February, it declined to hear his appeal. In an 18-page dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the use of midazolam could lead to “prolonged torture” of inmates. “Condemned prisoners, like Arthur, might find more dignity in an instantaneous death,” she wrote, “rather than prolonged torture on a medical gurney.”

In April, Arthur’s lawyers wrote to Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey in hopes of getting further DNA testing. His counsel noted that more advanced technology was available and they would assume the costs of the test. Ivey turned down their request. A few weeks later, Arthur sent a handwritten note asking Ivey to spare his life. “Please do not let me die for a crime I did not commit,” he wrote.

The decades of confinement have taken a toll on him. “One time I was a halfway decent looking fellow,” he says with a laugh. “Now, I look like I’ve been hit by a truck.”

And now, as he faces his next and likely final execution date, Arthur says ruefully, “I laugh to keep from crying.” But he is troubled about the life he lost, how his four children never truly had a father, and how much he regrets not being there for them. “I want to publicly apologize in case they do kill me,” he says. “I want the public to know that I failed them as a father.” He also has no interest in the usual formalities accompanying executions in America. “I’m not going to the eat the last meal, which would come at taxpayer expense,” he says.

What is it like to face death so many times? “It’s the same thing every time,” he says with a sigh. “Everyone has a fear of dying…but the state of Alabama is going to—and I don’t use this word lightly—murder me for something I didn’t do.”

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I Talked to a Man on Alabama’s Death Row. The State Plans to Kill Him Tonight.

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Jon Ossoff Does Well in Georgia 6th, But Still Headed for a Runoff

Mother Jones

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Most of the votes in the Georgia 6th congressional district special election have been counted, and Democrat Jon Ossoff is headed to a runoff after failing to win more than half the vote. But he came close! And it just goes to show what a good candidate could have done in the presidential election. It’s too bad Democrats were stuck with Hillary Clinton, who ran such a terrible campaign and got stomped.

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Jon Ossoff Does Well in Georgia 6th, But Still Headed for a Runoff

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Jon Ossoff’s Race Is the First Real Battle Between Millennials and Trump

Mother Jones

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Jon Ossoff doesn’t like to talk about his age. His reticence is understandable. Since the media and liberal voters foisted the 30-year-old political neophyte from the Atlanta suburbs into the national spotlight, he’s been celebrated by Democrats as a wunderkind who might lead the resistance against Trump and simultaneously ridiculed by Republicans, who fear the same thing, as a “spoiled frat boy.” As the front-runner in the heated special election race to replace Tom Price, whom Trump elevated to be his secretary of health and human services, in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District—a seat not held by a Democrat since the 1970s—he has endured numerous attacks targeting his relative youth. One ad spliced authentic clips of Ossoff costumed as Han Solo from a college spoof video with stock footage of frat boys doing keg stands. “I don’t want to marginalize youth,” recently mused Bruce LeVell, 53, former head of Trump’s national diversity coalition and one of 11 Republican, five Democratic, and two independent candidates who will face off against Ossoff on April 18. “But I think that a wealth of life experiences can be a tremendous asset for a congressional seat.”

Speaking last week in Alpharetta, Georgia, at a mansion overlooking a lake, Ossoff had attracted so many supporters that the property’s owner nervously joked his deck might not be able to support the crowd. In the previous three hours, we’d visited four separate rallies where hordes of Democrats lined roads with signs reading “Vote Your Ossoff.” “I’m trying to make the case to voters across the political spectrum,” Ossoff told the assembly, “that someone who brings a younger perspective”—then he corrected himself—”a fresher perspective… can change the culture in Washington more effectively than someone who has run for office nine or ten times.”

With his campaign promise to “Make Trump Furious,” Ossoff is riding a wave of disaffection among all Democrats, but millennials are an especially important part of his coalition. Consistently polling in the mid-to-low-40s, Ossoff needs only a handful more percentage points to break the 50% threshold on April 18 and claim outright victory. If he fails to obtain a majority he’ll face a much tougher runoff vote on June 20 versus the second-place finisher, in support of whom a critical mass of Republican voters might unite. The Sixth District is deeply Republican, with a white, elderly, and affluent voter base, which may be hard to sway from their traditional voting habits. But the district includes 146,000 people aged 18 to 34—about 27% of all eligible voters in the district—and Ossoff is relying, in part, on these young voters to turn out in unprecedented numbers and nudge him to victory. The race is so close that one of the only ways for Ossoff to win, in other words, is for large numbers of millennials to do for him what they didn’t do for Hillary Clinton: vote.

“My generation has gotten complacent about our rights,” Alison Curnie, 31, said on the deck overlooking the lake, as she endorsed Ossoff to the cheering crowd. “We thought they would be there in perpetuity. But if anything good has come out of this last election, it’s that we’re no longer complacent.”

During the two days I spent on the campaign trail, young people were an inescapable presence. Most staffers and volunteers I encountered were of the millennial generation, though there were plenty of older people as well. Ossoff’s supporters believe his youth is a positive quality, a way to bring a new mindset to Washington. As Matt Tompkins, 26, told me, “Ossoff is the first time we’ve had someone who represents our socially conscious values. Someone who’s 60 doesn’t have the worldview of being raised in modern reality with technology, the internet, diversity, and everything else.”

So far, millennials have been a dormant power in politics. As John Della Volpe, the Director of Polling at Harvard’s Institute of Politics, told me: “There are more millennials than any other generation on earth, but they don’t vote in the same proportion that other generations do. The main reason they don’t vote is they don’t see a tangible impact from it, so the degree to which Ossoff can convince them that this election matters is going to be key.”

And so while a flurry of punditry in recent days has interpreted Ossoff’s campaign as a predictor of whether or not anti-Trump sentiment will be enough to buoy Dems to congressional victories over the next two years, his race also raises another and perhaps more pressing question: Can this 30-year-old, and the anti-Trump resistance of which he’s been anointed figurehead and bellwether, re-energize young voters’ enthusiasm for democracy in general and Democrats in particular?

“Previously, I’d been a registered Republican, even Libertarian leaning,” Curnie told me on the deck. “I used to have the luxury of being a Republican because I didn’t think anyone was coming for my birth control and civil rights. But this election has made me realize we’ve got to stick up for our civil rights before we worry about tax brackets.”

Ossoff’s success owes a great deal to his becoming an internet phenomenon. When he launched his campaign in early January with an email telling voters to “Make Trump Furious,” it caught the attention of liberal bloggers anxiously following the third Congressional contest of the Trump era. Daily Kos, the left-leaning website, began promoting him. Donations poured in, with each fundraising success spurring more coverage. Today he has amassed more than $8.3 million in about three months, much of it from out-of-state voters—a record for a candidate who is not self-financed. His campaign says he has received nearly 200,000 separate donations from all over the nation, at an average size of $43.

Just as Ossoff has seized national attention in a particularly social media-savvy way, his life before the race shows how a generation of millennials may be preparing for politics. Raised in the suburb of Northlake, Ossoff always dreamt of becoming a politician. He planted yard placards with his parents in support of local Democrats as a boy. By 2003, his childhood friend Karl Langberg, 30, remembers that he was running a blog devoted to politics and debating online with older readers, who didn’t know they were arguing with a teenager behind the screen. At Paideia, a pricy private high school, he started an alternative publication to the school newspaper, which he named the Great Speckled Pi in homage to a liberal underground Atlanta newspaper of the sixties and seventies. By then, his friends knew he wanted to one day run for office. “There was an understanding among our group,” says Dustin Chambers, another childhood friend, “that he wanted to run someday and he was equipping himself to do so.”

Ossoff’s focus on government continued while studying at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, during which he also worked part-time for Representative Hank Johnson. Facebook went global when he was a freshmen, forever transforming politics by recording every embarrassing moment of one’s youth. “But,” Chambers said, “Jon immediately became aware of how that altered the political landscape. It made clear to him that he needed to be a squeaky-clean guy.” After graduating, he managed Johnson’s 2010 reelection campaign and then worked for him fulltime on the Hill, specializing in national security issues.

Ossoff’s work for Johnson has been the substance of the one attack that has dinged his reputation. He carefully claims: “I’ve got five years of experience as a national security staffer in the U.S. Congress. I held top secret security clearance.” All of which is true—though two of those years he was working part-time and he only held top-level clearance for five months at the end of his time on the Hill. “Technically, Ossoff walks a very careful line,” a Washington Post fact-checker wrote. “But the overall impression is misleading.”

In 2013, he earned a master’s degree at the London School of Economics, and then became CEO of Insight TWI, a VICE-like new media company, whose films have documented corruption among judges in Africa and the front-line battle against ISIS. As he traversed the globe with a camera, he still thought about seeking office, but assumed it would be far in the future.

On the night of November 8, he was filming a right-wing militia in rural Georgia as men sat around a campfire and watched the election results roll in on their cellphones. Distraught, he drove an hour-and-a-half to Manuel’s, a famous Atlanta watering hole for politicos, where he met his childhood friend Chambers and watched Trump claim victory. “I had never seen him so scared, so unsure,” Chambers, who is now a volunteer on Ossoff’s campaign, recalls. “He is one of those people who always has the answers. That night, I could see him calculating a lot of different disturbing outcomes for the next four years.”

The day after his appearance at the lake house, Ossoff sat onstage in the Dunwoody High School auditorium along with 17 other candidates—the full spectrum of American political opinion, from the Tea Party to moderate Republicans, including Karen Handel, his nearest competitor, with 15% of the vote in polls. The majority of voters were white-haired or bald, and paged through programs as each candidate spoke, making notes. But most millennials in attendance already had their minds made up: they wore Ossoff blue and loudly cheered him.

While he waited for his turn to speak, Ossoff kept his gaze fixed on each speechifying opponent, as a Republican tracker in jean shorts and hiking boots aimed a mini-cam at his face. A tracker has been video-taping Ossoff’s every move for about two months, sometimes shouting questions at him, trying to force a reaction that can be turned into an attack ad or negative news story.

When Ossoff took the microphone, he said, “I worked on Capitol Hill for five years, and I saw how things work and how they do not. I saw the partisanship, the gridlock, the pettiness, and the corruption. I think it’s time for fresh leadership in Washington.” Speaking, he kept his hands clasped in front of him, his fingers carefully interlaced, never flourishing his arms or stabbing a finger to emphasize a point. The rest of his speech sketched plans to grow the district’s burgeoning technology sector and to fight government corruption, though it presented few details and lacked the shots at Trump that initially fired up the base. If there’s one signature issue that Ossoff has promised to tackle in Congress, it’s bringing his investigative documentary chops to bear on Washington—but the specifics of what muck he’d rake are hazy.

Ultimately, this is probably part of his strategy. Acknowledging the Republican tilt of the district, Ossoff has kept his recent statements just a few inches left of the center and vague. He has appealed to progressive Berniecrats primarily by positioning himself against Trump, but without pushing their core platform positions like single-payer healthcare, free tuition, or steep taxes on the rich.

Ossoff also has to appeal to the nearly 317,000 minorities in the district, especially in DeKalb County, where many are concentrated. However, the worst early voting turnout has been in the heavily Democratic DeKalb County, though this may partially be due to the fact that it has the worst voting access in the district.

It’s in regard to Ossoff’s fuzzy policies that this race circles back to larger questions about the fight against Trump. Can a classic liberal, whose positions seem more in line with the pre-Trump-era Democratic party establishment, spark millennials to vote in significant numbers? If Ossoff ducks leading youthful progressives, is anti-Trump fervor and the implicit promise of shared life-experience going to be enough for them to identity with him?

It’s a question the party is wrestling with on a national scale. Many liberals are angered that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee didn’t invest in the race for the seat vacated when Trump picked Mike Pompeo to become Director of the CIA, believing they didn’t have a shot to win in the deeply red Wichita, Kansas, district—only to find that the Republican candidate barely triumphed. Ossoff’s surprise front-runner status is a testament to the power of the anti-Trump movement, but the flaws in his coalition also speak to fractures in the larger Democratic party alliance that may sabotage his chances of electoral success.

Ossoff’s reticence to deeply engage with policy questions, and his statuesque self-control on the campaign trail, has led some observers to criticize him as stiff and lacking depth, including a recent New York magazine profiler. When I asked Ossoff for his response to the article, he said: “I’m trying to win a congressional race, not give spellbinding magazine interviews.”

But many of his millennial fans interpret his self-possession differently: as the result of growing up in an era when every stray bit of speech can end up broadcast across the world. “He knows that he’s being recorded every second,” Alexandra Brosovich, 24, whom I met at a rally, later told me on the phone. “Someone who grew up in the 1960s before cellphone videos and social media just doesn’t understand how careful you’ve got to be when everything’s recorded. He made an instant connection with me and my friends.”

Political reporters often want to call the same back-slapping, Big Mac-chomping extroversion authenticity. But maybe at heart Ossoff is simply an even-tempered, conscientious, and deliberate man. He’s the kind of guy who used the word “duplicative” in casual conversation, and at rallies tried to substitute ten-dollar words for ones like “folks.” According to his childhood friend Chambers, Ossoff even studied Barack Obama as a public persona to emulate. Ossoff summed up his own character to me by saying, “I think, for me, it’s important never to get too high and never to get too low. I just try to remain in a grounded, balanced place.”

One day, we visited a baseball field just a few minutes walk from the redbrick house where Ossoff grew up (which still had a fallen Clinton-Kaine yard sign lying by its driveway).

As Ossoff and I slung a grass-stained baseball back and forth, even after he shucked his suit jacket, his speech remained precise. When I asked about his strongest memory of that field, he answered: “Just playing catch with my dad, man, in the crisp autumn air, just as the leaves are starting to turn, when you can taste the first bite of winter, coming down here for that last time before it gets too dark, before it gets too cold.”

Those close to Ossoff acknowledge he is meticulous, but also point out that his exactingness is subordinate to his adventurousness—whether running for Congress or producing documentaries about a female battalion in Iraq. Ossoff has had a pilot license since he was a teenager. Today, in rare interludes of free time, he will gather a small group of friends before dawn, rent a Cessna, and then fly them to remote airstrips in the Appalachian Mountains, where they will hike all day before returning to Atlanta by dusk. “I love the challenge of mountains,” he told me, “the accomplishment of the summit, the vantage point, and the solitude.”

Photo by Doug Bock Clark

Despite Ossoff’s discipline, spend enough time with him and you’ll find his intensity palpable. The unspooling way he pitched the baseball at me looked effortless—he didn’t even break a sweat despite his button-up and tie—but as he pounded my palm with pinpoint accuracy, my hand numbed. Walking off the field, I asked, “What’s the event that made you who you are today?”

He looked around at the backstop and the basketball courts of the nearby elementary school. Twenty-four seconds slid by. He was new enough to this that he didn’t have an answer immediately at hand.

Then he said, with a bit of a snarl curling his voice for the first time, “I remember kids getting bullied on the playground. It really pissed me off. And right now, there are a lot of people being bullied in this country.”

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Jon Ossoff’s Race Is the First Real Battle Between Millennials and Trump

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The Price Affair Is a Dark Horse Corruption Scandal Just Waiting to Erupt

Mother Jones

It’s been previously reported that HHS Secretary Tom Price has made some questionable stock trades that appear to be based on inside information he had as a congressman. But Robert Faturechi reports that there’s more:

On the same day the stockbroker for then-Georgia Congressman Tom Price bought him up to $90,000 of stock in six pharmaceutical companies last year, Price arranged to call a top U.S. health official, seeking to scuttle a controversial rule that could have hurt the firms’ profits and driven down their share prices, records obtained by ProPublica show.

….On March 17, 2016, Price’s broker purchased shares worth between $1,000 and $15,000 each in Eli Lilly, Amgen, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, McKesson, Pfizer and Biogen….The same day as the stock trade, Price’s legislative aide, Carla DiBlasio, emailed health officials to follow up on a request she had made to set up a call with Patrick Conway, the agency’s chief medical officer. In her earlier emails, DiBlasio said the call would focus on payments for joint replacement procedures. But that day, she mentioned a new issue.

“Chairman Price may briefly bring up … his concerns about the new Part B drug demo, as well,” she wrote. “Congressman Price really appreciates the opportunity to have an open conversation with Dr. Conway, so we really appreciate you keeping the lines of communication open.”

The “Part B drug demo” refers to a proposed Obama rule that removed the incentive for doctors to prescribe expensive drugs that don’t seem to improve patient outcomes. As it happens, there were plenty of folks in Congress from both parties who opposed this rule, so Price’s opposition wasn’t unusual. The difference is that all the others didn’t buy lots of pharmaceutical stock at the same time they were lobbying to stop a rule that might have eaten into pharmaceutical profits.

So far, the Price affair hasn’t attracted all that much attention. There are too many other Trump administration scandals to worry about. But this one has a decent chance of blowing up one of these days.

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The Price Affair Is a Dark Horse Corruption Scandal Just Waiting to Erupt

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A Mini Version of Trump Is About to Take Over the USDA

Mother Jones

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Back in 2002, a racially divisive fertilizer and trucking magnate shocked the political world by winning Georgia’s governorship, after being down in the polls the entire campaign. As governor, Sonny Perdue refused to divest himself of his companies, declaring, “I am a small business owner, I’m in the agri-business … That’s about as blind a trust as you can get. We trust in the Lord for rain and many other things.” (Hat tip, Politico.)

Perhaps savoring the similarities with himself, President Trump tapped Perdue as his pick for secretary of the US Department of Agriculture way back in January, promising “big results for all Americans who earn their living off the land.” The nomination promptly languished for six weeks, with no date set for Senate confirmation hearings amid complaints of unreturned calls to the White House from sources close to Perdue. On Friday, Perdue’s nomination took a major step forward when the former governor filed ethics papers required by the Senate.

His Public Financial Disclosure Report reveals a Trumpian tangle (though on a much smaller scale) of business interests and obligations, including three Georgia-based agribusiness and berths on the boards of directors of two agribusiness trade groups. In other words, Trump plucked his agriculture secretary from the very industry the USDA exists to regulate. Unlike the president—and himself, during his time as Georgia governor—Perdue (no relation to the Maryland chicken family) pledged to place the businesses in a blind trust (legal, not theological) and step down from the boards.

While the existence of Perdue’s fertilizer, trucking, and grain-trading firms were already well-known, his presence on those two trade-group boards has drawn little attention. Both groups will presumably be thrilled to see one of their own to take the USDA helm.

The National Grain and Feed Association represents the nexus of industries around livestock feed—grain-trading firms, meat companies, and seed/pesticide purveyors. Perdue sat on its board alongside execs from agribiz giants Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge, and Dreyfus. The group’s member list reads like a Big Ag version of the Yellow Pages—it includes meat heavyweights Tyson and JB; seed/pesticide titans Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer Cropscience, Dow, and DuPont; and feed giants like Purina Animal Nutrition.

As for the Georgia Agribusiness Council, Perdue serves as the board of directors’ secretary. The council’s “star sponsors” include Bayer Cropscience, Syngenta, Coca-Cola, and Croplife America, the pesticide industry trade group.

As Politico notes, Perdue did plenty of favors for friends while occupying Georgia’s governor’s mansion. The journal found “more than a dozen instances when he gave positions to business associates and campaign donors, and other occasions when he rewarded his state staff with opportunities in his agriculture and shipping empire after he left office.” Even as Perdue awaits confirmation, one of his Georgia associates is already waiting for him in Trump’s USDA, Politico reports: “Heidi Green, a partner of Perdue’s shipping business who also worked for him in Georgia state government, landed a political appointment as senior adviser at USDA in January. She’s now being mentioned as a likely candidate to serve as his chief of staff.”

Meanwhile, a recent report from Environmental Working Group characterized Perdue as “mired in ethical lapses, self-dealing and back-room deals that raise troubling questions about his fitness to run the department.” Two of the many examples cited by EWG—a $100,000 tax break gained Perdue through well-timed legislation; an appointment to a powerful post for his cousin and business partner, now the junior Senator from Georgia, David Perdue—I teased out in this January post.

EWG also shows that Perdue appointed execs from his fertilizer and grain-trading businesses to powerful state boards—again, without divesting himself of those businesses. Then there’s this:

While in office, Perdue failed to meet his own ethical standards by repeatedly taking gifts – including sports tickets and first-class flights— from registered lobbyists. Shortly after taking office, Perdue signed his first executive order, which prohibited any state official from accepting gifts worth more than $25 from lobbyists.

However, a query of lobbyist expenditures shows that Perdue received at least 53 gifts from registered lobbyists over the monetary limit – totaling more than $23,000–between 2006 and 2010, including a $2,400 flight to a NASCAR race. In 2003, the Office of the Inspector General – an office established by Perdue’s second executive order – investigated whether Perdue’s personal use of state helicopters was appropriate, ultimately leading the Office of the Attorney General to prohibit such uses.

Even so, Perdue doesn’t carry quite the baggage of some of Trump’s more outlandish cabinet picks, like Andy Puzder, who ultimately declined to face a Senate confirmation hearing for the labor department post. He’ll likely zoom through confirmation hearings in the Senate, and get a brisk slap on the back from his cousin and erstwhile business partner, Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.).

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A Mini Version of Trump Is About to Take Over the USDA

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The AMA Represents Only About One-Sixth of All Doctors

Mother Jones

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How do doctors feel about the nomination of Rep. Tom Price as Secretary of Health and Human Services? The New York Times weighs in:

When President-elect Donald J. Trump chose Representative Tom Price of Georgia to be his health and human services secretary, the American Medical Association swiftly endorsed the selection of one of its own, an orthopedic surgeon who has championed the role of physicians throughout his legislative career.

Then the larger world of doctors and nurses weighed in on the beliefs and record of Mr. Price, a suburban Atlanta Republican — and the split among caregivers, especially doctors, quickly grew sharp. “The A.M.A. does not speak for us,” says a petition signed by more than 5,000 doctors.

A faithful reader emails to ask: “I remember reading recently that a shockingly low number of doctors are members of the AMA. So what is it exactly?”

Membership numbers, it turns out, are not a secret, exactly, but neither does the AMA go out of its way to make them easy to find. Their current membership is about 235,000, but you have to adjust this number to remove students, retired doctors, and so forth. Based on publicly available data, and guesstimating that about one-fifth of its members aren’t practicing physicians, here’s what the AMA’s membership looks like. They were indeed a powerhouse in the 50s, but no so much anymore:

Keep this in mind whenever you hear that “the AMA” endorses a political position—regardless of whether it’s one you approve of or not. They represent only about a sixth of all the physicians in the country. The rest may have very different opinions indeed.

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The AMA Represents Only About One-Sixth of All Doctors

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