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What does Joe Biden have to do to win over the climate movement?

This story has been updated.

If Joe Biden had released his $1.7 trillion climate plan in a vacuum last year, the proposal would have been hailed as the most ambitious climate platform introduced by a presidential candidate in United States history. The 22-page plan aims to zero out emissions by 2050, protect disadvantaged communities from pollution, and create 10 million new jobs to boot.

Unfortunately for the former vice president, his proposal paled in comparison to plans from a number of his primary challengers that were three, five, and even 10 times as expensive. Bernie Sanders, for example, put out a $16 trillion climate plan called the Green New Deal that had the elderly pied piper of the progressive left collecting endorsements from climate groups like a Vermonter picking blueberries in July.

Whether progressives like it or not, Biden is the presumptive Democratic nominee for president. And on Monday, he snagged his first environmental endorsement from the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), a powerful environmental group that helps elect climate hawks to office and scores members of the House and Senate based on how they vote on environment and climate bills.

“We are confident that as president, Biden will immediately put our country on track for a 100 percent clean energy economy with policies centered in justice and equity that restore America’s global climate leadership,” Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president of government affairs for LCV Action Fund, the political arm of the group, said in a statement.

Given that the choice in the general election comes down to Donald Trump, who has left no stone unturned in his effort to roll back environmental protections, and Biden, who has an 83 percent lifetime score for his environmental voting record from LCV, it’s not surprising that the group decided to endorse the former senator from Delaware.

What is surprising, and what might be welcome news to voters for whom climate change is a top priority, is that Biden plans to expand his climate platform. In his own statement in response to the LCV’s announcement, the former vice president said he was “honored” to receive the endorsement and indicated that there’s more to come. “In the months ahead, expanding this plan will be one of my key objectives,” he said, adding that he knows the issue “resonates” with young voters.

Biden’s statement said he aims to “campaign on climate change and win on climate change,” which isn’t a bad plan if he’s looking to convince a wider swath of Democratic voters — and maybe even pick up a Republican or two. In poll after poll after poll, climate change and health care are the top two issues for Democrats this election cycle. And the issue is no longer relegated to one side of the political aisle. Polls also show that young Republicans may care as much about the warming planet as their blue counterparts.

By his own admission, Biden has a lot of work to do to earn the progressive movement’s vote. Many local chapters of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led climate group that backed Bernie Sanders in the primary and has emerged as a powerful force in the activist landscape, have said they aren’t endorsing Biden. But that could change if the candidate steps up his climate game.

“We’ve tried to be super clear about the way that we need them to improve on not only their climate policy but their immigration, criminal justice, and financial regulation policies,” Varshini Prakash, Sunrise co-founder and executive director, told Vice News, referring to the Biden campaign. “We’ll see if that conversation translates into policy changes.” In an interview on the New York Times’ The Daily podcast, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democrat from New York who is one of the architects of the Green New Deal, expressed a similar sentiment and said she was waiting to fully endorse him.

Will Biden be able to win over diehard Sanders supporters? Probably not. Biden’s campaign is premised on returning to a time of relative normalcy, not turning the economic system on its head. But if he does scale up his climate plan, he might be able to rack up a few more endorsements from environmental heavyweights.

Update: On Tuesday, a group of more than 50 scientists and climate experts wrote an open letter endorsing Biden for president. “We are confident that, unlike President Trump, Joe Biden will respect, collaborate with, and listen to leaders in the scientific community and public health experts to confront the existential climate crisis and other environmental threats,” the letter said. Prominent climate scientists Michael Mann and Jane Lubchenco (formerly head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under President Obama) are among the letter’s signatories.

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What does Joe Biden have to do to win over the climate movement?

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GOP Rep. Mike Simpson: It’s my party, and I’ll fight climate change if I want to

In deep red Idaho, out of sight of the national news media and out of reach of the Twitterati, a real-live Republican member of Congress acknowledged the existence of climate change and even proposed taking action.

“Climate change is a reality,” said Mike Simpson, a Republican Congressman from Idaho, at a conference in Boise last week. “It’s not hard to figure out. Go look at your thermometer.”

Simpson knew he might hear a record scratch when he broke out of the well-worn Republican grooves. After stepping to the lectern, he joked that anyone carrying matches or lighters should pass them to the authorities as a security measure to prevent heads from bursting into flames.

Simpson was there to say he wanted to see Idaho’s mountain lakes full of salmon again, even if it meant tearing down the dams that the state’s politicians have defended for decades. Dams, climate change, and predators all threaten the fish, and Simpson said he was ready to consider all options. It was clear to anyone watching his speech he feels a spiritual obligation to save salmon.

Recounting a trip to a spawning creek in the Sawtooth Mountains in central Idaho, Simpson paused to swallow hard a couple of times. Only one salmon made it to those shallows, he said, to “create its bed, lay its eggs and die. It was the end of a cycle and the beginning of a new one. These are the most,” he paused for a deep breath, “most incredible creatures I think that God’s created. It’s a cycle God has created. We shouldn’t mess with it.”

This break with standard Republican talking points has people asking if he had “gone over to the dark side,” Simpson said. “I’ve had people say to my chief of staff, we don’t even like someone of Simpson’s seniority asking these questions.” And in the run up to this speech, he said his office was fielding calls from nervous people asking, “What’s Simpson going to say at this?”

Of course, Simpson isn’t the first Republican advocating for action on climate change, but most of those politicians differ from Simpson in one important way: They come from swing districts. In fact, the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus in the House of Representatives (Simpson isn’t a member) has a hard time keeping Republicans because voters keep kicking them out in favor of Democrats. Former representatives Carlos Curbelo, Mia Love, and Peter Roskam are exhibits A, B, and C.

Simpson was just elected to his 11th term in the House, so he isn’t pivoting left to get in front of his voters. Elections in Idaho are usually decided in the Republican primaries (personal aside: I started my reporting career covering politics — and everything else — in Idaho). In this part of the country, tacking to the right is smart politics; tacking to the left is often political suicide.

Simpson’s suggestion to consider tearing down dams is, if anything, even more taboo than an embrace of action to curb climate change. “In the past, the people talking about removing dams have been the environmentalists outside screaming and throwing pebbles against the walls of the halls of power,” said Sean O’Leary, communications director for the NW Energy Coalition a regional conservation group. “Now Simpson is saying the same things.”

In black and white text, Simpson’s words may read like political hyperbole — but it didn’t come across that way in the room.

“I looked over to my right and Simpson’s wife was sitting there with tears in her eyes,” O’Leary said. “No, this was genuine.”

In his speech, Simpson said he wanted to study every possible salmon fix, including removing four dams on the Lower Snake River, just across the border in Washington state. But this is about a lot more than fish. The public power agency that sells electricity from the 31 federal dams in the Northwest, the Bonneville Power Administration, is in deep trouble. It’s paying billions to try and rescue salmon, which drives electric rates up, Simpson explained. As a result, utilities and rural electric co-ops are thinking about buying electricity elsewhere, especially now that the combination of natural gas and renewables is providing cheaper rates.

Simpson sees the BPA’s problem as an opportunity: Maybe there’s a way to fix the salmon runs and the BPA in one fell swoop.

Everyone knows the status quo isn’t working, Simpson said. After electricity-bill payers and taxpayers spent some $16 billion on salmon, the fish population is still dwindling. Farmers from Idaho are sending precious water downstream to keep water cool for salmon smolt without seeing any increase in the number of fish that come back upstream. The situation isn’t great for anyone, Simpson argued, but all parties are so focused on protecting what they have that they’re unwilling to consider big changes. “We’ve got to stop thinking that way,” he said.

Simpson’s appeal might just work because he’s dealing with a regional issue, where the tangible facts can replace the hallucinations that accompany partisan rage. While national politics might seem like it’s all about rooting your side on, Idaho is full of farmers, outfitters, fishers, and electricity buyers who are more interested in finding solutions, said Justin Hayes, program director of the Idaho Conservation League. And all these people can see that the status quo is failing.

“It’s clear to everyone that the strategy of ‘our interests are more important than your interests, let’s fight’ doesn’t work,” Hayes said.

How does climate change enter into this? Well, removing dams would take a good chunk of clean electricity off the grid. So Simpson wants to replace the dams with new forms of power built in the region. He pointed to the Idaho National Lab’s work on new types of nuclear reactors. In eastern Washington, he said the Pacific Northwest National Lab is “the leader in battery storage in this country.”

So Simpson believes there’s a way to turn this whole mess into a surge of business for Idaho. In that way, he’s not straying from his red-state brand at all. But Simpson is unusual in that he’s willing to shake things up and make himself vulnerable, all to create the possibility of change.

The speech ended with Simpson looking to the end of his own life and his political legacy. “I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m going to stay alive long enough to see salmon return in healthy populations in Idaho … We need to do it for future generations.”

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GOP Rep. Mike Simpson: It’s my party, and I’ll fight climate change if I want to

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Beto’s first major 2020 policy proposal is a $5 trillion climate plan

Not to be outdone by Elizabeth Warren’s public lands bill or Cory Booker’s environmental justice proposal, Beto O’Rourke announced a $5 trillion climate plan on Monday. The presidential hopeful unveiled what he called “the most ambitious climate plan in the history of the United States” in a 40-second Twitter video, gesticulating wildly on a backdrop of luscious flora in Yosemite Valley, California.

Beto’s first major policy proposal of the election season has four components: slash pollution, invest $5 trillion, reach net-zero by 2050, and protect communities on the frontlines of climate change. Each of those categories includes sub-agenda items, like re-entering the Paris climate agreement, phasing out the mega-pollutants hydrofluorocarbons, clamping down on methane leaks, creating a federal “buy clean” program for cement and steel, and halting the sale of new fossil fuel leases on federal lands. O’Rourke aims to accomplish at least part of this agenda by way of executive order.

The meatiest portion of the former Texas congressman’s plan is the investment bit. He plans to propose a bill that would invest $1.5 trillion in innovation, infrastructure, and “people and communities,” which will mobilize $5 trillion invested in climate change over the span of a decade. The money will be parceled out for different initiatives: tax incentives to bring existing green technologies to scale, researching and developing new ways to bring down greenhouse gases, housing and transportation grants for front-line communities, and more.

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How will he pay for it? Good question. The massive investment will be funded through changes to America’s tax code. Corporations and the nation’s wealthiest citizens will be expected to pay their “fair share,” and O’Rourke said he would put an end to the billions fossil fuel companies receive in tax breaks. The candidate promised that this would be the very first bill he’d send to Congress as president.

“Given the gravity of the work that lies ahead, this fight will require much more than a president signing executive orders,” O’Rourke wrote in his plan. But it’s unclear how the Texan expects his bill to pass a Congress that will surely remain at least relatively divided in 2020, even if Democrats manage to flip the Republican-controlled Senate.

Other climate-oriented 2020 candidates, like Washington Governor Jay Inslee, have advocated for eliminating the legislative filibuster, in addition to taking action through executive order. (The filibuster, a long-standing Senate rule that requires a supermajority to pass legislation, is a major obstacle between Democrats and their sweeping proposals to accomplish everything from climate to health care to gun reform.) O’Rourke makes no mention of the rule in his climate plan*.

Despite O’Rourke’s promise to make climate change a day-one priority, some climate activists weren’t entirely convinced by the Democrat’s enthusiastic unveiling. “Beto claims to support the Green New Deal,” climate activist group the Sunrise Movement said in a statement, “but his plan is out of line with the timeline it lays out and the scale of action scientists say is necessary.” The group wants O’Rourke to move his 2050 timeline up to 2030, and take the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge, a vow not to take donations over $200 from the fossil fuel industry. O’Rourke was removed from the pledge last year when an investigation found that he had taken money from fossil fuel executives during his Texas Senate race.

But the more established League of Conservation Voters commended the candidate for taking an ambitious stand on climate. This is “the kind of leadership we need from our next president,” the group wrote in a press release.

*Update: In March, Beto told reporters he’d “seriously consider” ditching the filibuster. 

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Beto’s first major 2020 policy proposal is a $5 trillion climate plan

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Illinois voters saw through this Republican’s climate facade

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On Tuesday night, a Democratic climate advocate ran against a Republican “climate advocate” in Illinois’ 6th district. The results of that race make one thing clear: If conservative politicians want to incorporate the environment into their platforms, they have to mean it. Let’s back up for a second.

In 2016, a bipartisan effort to address rising temperatures formed. The Climate Solutions Caucus said it would “explore policy options that address the impacts, causes, and challenges of our changing climate.” But after the group failed to accomplish, well, anything, the Climate Solutions Caucus appeared to chiefly be exploring one thing: how to shield conservatives running in states where environmental issues matter to voters.

The question leading into the midterms was whether belonging to the caucus would have any impact for Republicans running for reelection. That brings us back to Illinois’ 6th district, where Sean Casten — a Democrat with a background in renewable energy (and a background as a contributing writer to Grist) — beat out six-term incumbent Peter Roskam.

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Roskam became a member of the Climate Solutions Caucus in May, two months after Casten won the Democratic primary on a platform that featured climate action front and center. After joining the group, Roskam, alongside a lion’s share of the Republicans in the caucus, voted for a resolution condemning the very notion of a carbon tax. (Putting a price on carbon is a Republican-friendly, market-based approach to fighting climate change, but never mind that.)

Roskam’s lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters — an organization that keeps tabs on how members of Congress vote on green issues — wasn’t anything to write home about. He earned a 7 percent lifetime score from the group, and scored just 3 percent last year. He’s also on record calling global warming “junk science.”

“The Climate Solutions Caucus — I truly don’t know what its purpose is,” Casten tells Grist. “It’s a great way to provide cover for Republicans who want to appear to care, but it’s not lost on anybody in this district that Roskam called climate change junk science and joined the Climate Solutions Caucus right after I won the primary to try to give himself some cover.”

Casten, on the other hand, was unequivocal about his stance on green issues. He called global warming “the single biggest existential threat we face as a species,” and has a plan for what he wants to do about it once he gets to Congress.

As a former CEO of renewable energy companies, Casten says he’s equipped to frame the debate in a way that appeals to both businesses and consumers. “There’s no fundamental conflict between the economy and the environment, provided you focus on efficiency and conservation,” Casten says. He wants to streamline parts of the Clean Air Act to encourage innovation and efficiency. “The Clean Air Act is awesome,” he says. “But it’s got these flaws because it was written in a way that never contemplated regulating CO2.” That’s one of the things he plans to push for in 2019.

One thing he doesn’t plan on doing when he gets to Capitol Hill? Joining the Climate Solutions Caucus. “It’s not high on my list of things to do, because it’s really important for me to do something about climate,” he says. “I don’t need any resume bonafides.”

By the time results had rolled in from purple districts across the country on Tuesday night, it became evident that Roskam wasn’t the only climate caucus Republican whose diluted environmental message failed to resonate with voters. In all, 12 other conservative members of the caucus lost their seats to folks with better climate bonafides.

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Illinois voters saw through this Republican’s climate facade

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If Jeff Flake has taken up your cause, your cause is in danger

This weekend, someone — specifically, George Stephanopoulos — saw fit to ask Arizona Senator Jeff Flake what he thought of the Republican party’s position on climate change. Senator Flake, an active member of the party controlling our nation’s legislative branch (as well as its executive and judicial branches), said that he thinks the government should do more to combat warming.

You can always count on Flake to say something vaguely ethical and then do whatever will most directly undermine it. Most recently, you may remember him for giving an impassioned soundbite in support of Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of assault, … and then immediately voting to confirm Kavanaugh to the court. You may also recall him speaking out against the Republican tax reform effort last December … and then immediately voting to make it law.

Conflict-resolution theory, according to Kim Kardashian West’s makeup artist, dictates that when you are disappointed in someone’s behavior, you should mention some of their good qualities so that it’s clear you are viewing them in a balanced way. Here we go: Jeff Flake has very nice teeth. On Sunday, Flake showed off his excellent chompers while giving the following vacuous reaction to the recent, upsetting U.N. climate change report to Stephanopoulos on ABC’s The Week:

“There’s been more recognition [of the need for climate action] among Republicans, but the administration hasn’t taken the view of some of us that this is something we really need to deal with along with the rest of the world and address this. It’s going to be challenging — obviously, that report that came out was pretty dire. But I think there’s things we can do and should do, and Republicans need to be at the forefront if we want to keep our place and keep our seats.”

It is true that Republican officials have not been particularly proactive on the matter of climate change, to say the least. Just this weekend, in the aftermath of the “dire” IPCC report, President Trump’s economic advisor Larry Kudlow stopped just short of calling the assessment a “scare tactic.” And Flake’s colleague Marco Rubio, who represents Florida, where Hurricane Michael made its devastating landfall this past week, said he did not want to “destroy our economy” to combat climate change.

As a U.S. senator in a majority party, Jeff Flake is one of the one hundredth of one percent of humans in the world who can have a real, direct, tangible influence on slowing climate change. While he’s not seeking re-election this year, here is what he’s done with that position of power: He voted to confirm Rex Tillerson, Rick Perry, and Ryan Zinke to Trump’s cabinet. He voted against restricting methane pollution, incentivizing energy-efficient homes through the mortgage market, and banning fossil fuel drilling in the Arctic Refuge. He has a 8 percent pro-environmental voting record, according to the League of Conservation Voters.

Now that he’s made public comments about the need to take on climate change, I look forward to Jeff Flake’s upcoming vote to build more coal plants on top of whales.

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If Jeff Flake has taken up your cause, your cause is in danger

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Florida has a new climate champion. Is he for real?

Francis Rooney was elected in 2017 to serve Florida’s conservative 19th district in the U.S. House of Representatives. He beat his Democratic opponent Robert Neeld handily, using momentum from the Trumpian red tide to hammer home points about “American strength.” But a calendar year into his tenure, the representative is grappling with another red tide: a toxic algae bloom that has been inundating Florida’s coast since pretty much the minute Rooney took office. The bloom has enraged voters and threatened the state’s tourism industry — its No. 1 economic driver.

That could be a big factor in Rooney joining the Climate Solutions Caucus last week, adding his name to a growing list of Republican representatives who have joined the group. But as coastal states across the country grapple with climate-fueled hurricanes, wildfires, and algae blooms, is Representative Rooney actually serious about taking action on behalf of his sinking, muck-inundated state? Or is this another example of political peacocking?

The Climate Solutions Caucus (CSC) is like the Noah’s Ark of congressional climate bipartisanship — it’s a growing group of 90 representatives that includes a Republican for every Democrat. The organization was founded by Floridians from opposite sides of the aisle and now includes six Republicans from the state. The group’s goal? “Explore policy options that address our changing climate.” And that’s just what the caucus has been doing: exploring, not much else.

In some cases, the members of the caucus can’t even be bothered to talk about climate change. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a seminal report on Sunday saying we only have 12 years to head off the most catastrophic effects of global warming. None of the group’s Republican members have so much as tweeted about the major report (and only a handful of the Democrats have weighed in).

The House of Representatives put forth an anti-carbon tax resolution in July. A whopping 39 of the 43 Republican members voted for that resolution denouncing carbon taxes. It passed with flying colors.

That’s why some environmentalists let out a groan when the group announced it had wrangled Rooney. The representative voted pro-environment zero times his first year in office, which earned him a whopping 0 percent score from the League of Conservation Voters, an organization that keeps tabs on how elected officials vote on the environment. But Andres Jimenez, senior director of government affairs at Citizens Climate Lobby, says Rooney’s score isn’t a good roadmap for what’s ahead. And as Florida grapples with climate change (and it’s voters grapple with an algae bloom), the way Rooney votes in the next Congress may tell an entirely different story.

“Folks on the outside are saying [the members] aren’t doing much, they’re using [the climate caucus] for elections,” says Jimenez. “But it’s a step-by-step-process.” Already, Rooney’s recent votes indicate a change of heart. While he cast zero pro-environment votes in 2017, he voted green six times this year — including a vote against the aforementioned anti-carbon tax resolution.

Of Rooney’s past voting record, Jimenez says: “He’s a new member of Congress; I think he was just trying to get his feet wet and figure out exactly what his role would be and where he wanted to land on many issues.” If Rooney follows through on his newfound dedication to environmental issues, it won’t just be a shift; it’ll be a 180. But Jimenez says that’s exactly the kind of flip that we should be expecting. “He’s been very vocal about using next Congress to be the Republican leader in Florida on environmental issues.”

This likely won’t be the last time we see a politician in a climate change-ravaged state change their minds (or at least say they’re changing their minds) about environmental policy. According to Jimenez, environmental disasters have a galvanizing effect on politicians. “Big events like those that have happened in Florida, New York, the Carolinas, those are all leading members to introduce legislation around these issues. There’s definitely a correlation there.”

The folks over at League of Conservation Voters who have been keeping tabs on these newly climate-woke politicians aren’t quite convinced. “Politicians on both sides of the aisle are realizing that opposing climate action is a liability in Florida,” says Alyssa Roberts, national press secretary for the organization, “although some are more genuine than others.” She adds: “It’ll take more than talk to fight the climate crisis.”

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Florida has a new climate champion. Is he for real?

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The National Urban League Just Released a Report that Shows Black America Has a Lot to Worry About Under Trump

Mother Jones

Black and Hispanic Americans continue to lag behind their white counterparts when it comes to equal access to employment, housing, education, and other areas. But a new report argues that with a new presidential administration unlikely to enforce longstanding civil rights laws, black America must also fight to protect the progress that they have already made.

That’s the main takeaway from the 2017 State of Black America report, released Tuesday by the National Urban League, a civil rights organization established in 1910 to focus on the economic empowerment of African Americans. The report, which has been released annually for more than four decades, evaluates how black life in America compares to that of whites on a number of issues, including housing, economics, education, social justice, and civic engagement.

For the past 13 years, the report has utilized a “National Equality Index,” a set of statistical measurements that provide a quantitative breakdown to assess exactly how the lives of blacks and Hispanics stack up when compared to whites in the United States. White America is given the baseline number of 100, which is intended to represent the full access to opportunity that whites have historically been afforded when compared to other racial groups. By giving each metric a score out of 100, the report is able to provide a specific assessment of the progress nonwhite groups have made in narrowing the gaps, and how much they continue to lag behind over time.

This year’s report tracks through the end of 2016, making it the last one to follow the progress of black America under President Barack Obama. Marc Morial, the President of the National Urban League, tells Mother Jones, that while looking at yearly changes in the measured variables make it difficult to grasp long-term shifts in the equality of nonwhite groups, this year provided an opportunity to assess the difference in the status of black Americans after eight years with the first African American president. “During the Obama era, the economy added 15 million new jobs, the Black unemployment rate dropped and the high school graduation rate for African Americans soared,” Morial notes in the report. “Now that progress, and much more, is threatened.”

The 2016 edition, which was entitled “Locked Out: Education, Jobs, and Justice,” emphasized that black America still had much farther to go, but this year’s report—”Protect our Progress”—argues that under the Trump administration many hard-won gains are in jeopardy. In an interview with Mother Jones before the report’s launch, Morial noted that the presidential election had played a large role in the shift in tone of the report, adding during the official launch on Tuesday, “It would be difficult to pinpoint any moment in recent history where so much of our economic and social progress stood at dire risk as it does today.”

“There are several actions taken by the new administration that raise great cause for concern,” Morial says. He points to the Justice Department as his most immediate concern, noting Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ efforts to undermine consent decrees with police departments and voting rights enforcement “are inconsistent with the idea of a Justice Department that should enforce civil rights law.” He also points to the Department of Education, and “what could be an anti-public schools agenda” should the agency make good on its promise to promote school choice.

The report notes there have been small, but important, developments over the past year. Overall, Black Americans are 72.3 percent equal to their white counterparts, slight progress from last year when they stood at 72.2 percent. Specific areas reveal a more complicated picture. Across individual metrics there were some slight increases for black America, with education moving to 78.2 percent from 77.4 percent last year, likely because of an increase in the number of students working with more experienced teachers and a decline in the number of high school dropouts across all racial groups. Health outcomes improved from 79.4 percent to 80 percent, which may be because of more equal Medicare expenditures among blacks and whites. Economics—a metric that takes employment rates, wages, and business ownership into account—increased slightly to 56.5 percent from 56.2 percent with continued improvements in the black unemployment rate.

Black Americans are more civically engaged than whites, scoring 100.6 percent in both years. Social justice declined, falling to 57.4 percent in 2017 from 60.9 percent last year. The National Urban League attributes much of the decline to the change in the way the Bureau of Justice Statistics—a main source of raw data for the social justice index’s calculation of racial disparities in traffic enforcement—reports racial disparities in traffic stops.

The report also tracks the equality of Hispanics compared to whites, finding that overall, Hispanic Americans are at 78.4 percent in 2017 compared to 77.9 percent in the previous year. Much of this increase was due to a jump in the health index, which can be attributed to a decrease in the maternal mortality rate and an increase in insurance coverage. Similar to black Americans, there were also increases in economics and education. These increases helped offset declines in civic engagement and social justice.

The National Urban League also tracks gaps in unemployment and income equality between racial groups living in major metropolitan areas, and found the Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, California, metro area continues to have the smallest gap between the incomes of black and white residents. Minneapolis, Minnesota, has the largest. The unemployment rate between the races in the San Antonio-New Braunfels, Texas, metro area has the smallest disparity, while Milwaukee has the greatest. For Hispanics, the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, Florida, metro region is best for unemployment equality—Rochester, New York, is the worst. While Modesto, California has the smallest racial income gap, Springfield, Massachusetts, has the largest according to the report.

The State of Black America describes the problems but it also attempts to outline proposed policy solutions in the portion of the report entitled “Main Street Marshall Plan.” During Tuesday’s press conference, Morial called the plan—which supports several policy proposals including a $15 minimum wage, universal childhood education, summer jobs for youth, job training and workforce development, infrastructure, and affordable housing—a “forward-leaning investment,” suggesting that its rigorous research could provide politicians with some guidance as they plan for the future.

Critics have already slammed the Trump administration for being weak on civil rights, and the president notably declined an invitation to address the National Urban League’s annual conference during the election season. The National Urban League has not met with Trump recently, but members of the organization have met with Ivanka Trump and spoken to Jeff Sessions. In the past month several groups, particularly the Congressional Black Caucus, have held discussions with the administration and offered policy proposals for communities of color, only to then speak out when the administration moved against civil rights in some way.

Still Morial remains confident that even under these conditions, there is a chance for progress. “Obviously in this political environment, we are going to face headwinds,” he says. “However I think that this is just a question of politicians being able to get their act together.”

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The National Urban League Just Released a Report that Shows Black America Has a Lot to Worry About Under Trump

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Airlines Treat People Like Dirt Because the Republicans in Congress Let Them

Mother Jones

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Policymakers reacted swiftly this week to the outrageous viral video of police officers forcibly removing an innocent passenger from an overbooked United Airlines flight. A new passenger bill of rights, including regulations on bumping people from flights, was announced on Tuesday—by Canada’s transportation ministry.

Here in the United States, at least one party has a long history of siding with the airlines at the expense of their passengers. “It’s an ongoing frustration that we haven’t had good cooperation on the Republican side,” says Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League. “Their constituents are being mistreated, just like Democratic constituents. I’m disappointed and frustrated.”

In 2016 alone, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced 22 different consumer-protection riders to a funding bill for the Federal Aviation Administration. Among other things, the proposals would have placed a moratorium on seat-size shrinkage, required more transparency about ticket fees and passenger complaints, promoted competition between airlines, and ensured that passengers had the right to sue airlines instead of being forced into arbitration. (See the complete list below.) None of the proposals made it through the GOP-controlled Senate.

“The degrading treatment of this United passenger is the latest example of a major US airline disrespecting passengers and denying them their basic rights,” Blumenthal wrote to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on Tuesday. “Your agency must conduct a swift, sweeping investigation into United Airlines and the industry practices that led to this incident.”

Congressional Republicans delayed for years the passage of the handful of consumer protections that exist for airline passengers. During the George W. Bush administration, GOP senators killed a passengers bill of rights that, among other things, would have restricted how long people could be confined to a grounded airplane without food and drinks. In 2011, the Obama administration enacted a stricter version of the rule administratively, adding requirements that airlines reimburse passengers for lost bags, disclose extra ticket fees on their websites, and compensate bumped passengers financially.

“The Republicans can be viewed as the party of big business, whereas Democrats are more for personal rights and equality,” says Rainer Jenss, director of the Family Travel Association. One provision his group backed that requires airlines to let families with children sit together on flights free of charge became law last year—but only after it attracted support from a Republican congressman who’d had a family member get separated from his kids during a flight, Jenss says.

Not all Republicans, after all, are airline industry lapdogs. On Tuesday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie asked the TSA’s Chao to suspend the federal regulation permitting airlines to overbook flights and remove passengers as a result. “This conduct is abusive and outrageous,” Christie said in a press release. “The ridiculous statements, now in their third version, of the CEO of United Airlines displays their callousness toward the traveling public with the permission of the federal government.”

The airline industry, however, favors Republicans. In the most recent election cycle, United Continental Holdings gave them $547,000, versus $497,000 for Democrats—a split that roughly mirrors the industry’s spending patterns. The main airline lobbying group, Airlines for America, leans far more toward Republicans: It donated about $85,000 to Democrats in the latest cycle. It gave nearly six times that much (about $478,500) to Republicans and conservative groups, according to OpenSecrets.org. In 2015, Politico reported that House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Penn.) was actually dating Shelly Rubino, an Airlines for America executive. Republicans “are literally in bed with the industry!” says the National Consumers League’s Greenberg.

She hopes the United scandal will convince Republicans to end their love affair with Big Air: “I think Congress is going to be under a lot of pressure to take some decisive action because of what people saw in that video.”

Here’s what Sen. Richard Blumenthal proposed last year to keep airlines in check.
But not one of his amendments made it past Mitch McConnell et al.

A commission on airline competition
A Government Accountability Office study of international airline alliances and their immunity from antitrust laws
A moratorium on seat size shrinkage
A review of aircraft evacuation procedures
Establishing a private right of action under federal consumer protection law
Establishing a private right of action under state consumer protection law
Requiring research on ways to avoid toxic air on planes
Banning the use of e-cigarettes on commercial aircraft
Requiring air carriers to disclose ancillary fees to consumers
Requiring the Department of Transportation (DOT) to consider additional protections against canceled or changed reservations
Extending the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection through September 2022
Requiring an airline to forward all complaints to the Aviation Consumer Protection Division
Improving access to aviation consumer protection information
Modifying requirements for a study on air carrier fees
Modifying requirements for passenger seat assignment
Modifying requirements for the review of flight delays and cancelations
Permitting the DOT to investigate and take action on unfair and deceptive practices relating to travel insurance contracts
Authorizing state regulation and claims relating to reward program contracts and frequent flyer contracts
Providing refund of baggage fees when baggage is damaged during transit
Increasing the civil penalty amount for violations of aviation laws
Invalidating mandatory pre-dispute arbitration and class-action waivers in certain air travel contracts
Prohibiting carriers from limiting consumer access to carriers’ flight data

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Airlines Treat People Like Dirt Because the Republicans in Congress Let Them

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Basketball Is the Worst Sport Ever (In Its Final Two Minutes)

Mother Jones

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A few days ago I was channel surfing and ended up watching the final tedious few minutes of a basketball game. It was at the point where the losing team was doing the intentional foul thing in a last-ditch effort to make a comeback. “Does that ever work?” I muttered. Now I have an answer:

Nick Elam, a 34-year-old middle school principal from Dayton, Ohio…has tracked thousands of NBA, college, and international games over the last four years and found basketball’s classic comeback tactic — intentional fouling — almost never results in successful comebacks. Elam found at least one deliberate crunch-time foul from trailing teams in 397 of 877 nationally televised NBA games from 2014 through the middle of this season, according to a PowerPoint presentation he has sent across the basketball world. The trailing team won zero of those games, according to Elam’s data.

What a waste. Elam has a provocative proposal about how to fix this, but it’s far too radical for the NBA to consider. After all, the league’s boffins won’t even consider changing the intentional foul rule or limiting timeouts. If they can’t bring themselves to make modest changes like that, what are the odds of ever doing something serious about the final two minutes of basketball games, which are widely considered the most tedious 20 minutes in all of sports?

On the bright side, at least basketball’s final two minutes are still better than soccer’s tie-breaking shootout—which is basically just a fancy way of flipping a coin. Personally, I’d make them keep playing until the players start collapsing on the pitch—and then leave them there until somebody finally scores a goal. Maybe that would motivate them.

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Basketball Is the Worst Sport Ever (In Its Final Two Minutes)

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Under Pressure, Darrell Issa Takes a Sharp Left Turn

Mother Jones

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Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), an early and outspoken supporter of Donald Trump during the presidential campaign, is known for launching frequent investigations of Democrats. Then, in a February 24 appearance on Real Time With Bill Maher, he suddenly became the first congressional Republican to call for a special prosecutor to investigate Trump’s election. He’s long used conspiracy theories to battle established climate science, yet on Thursday he joined the Climate Solutions Caucus, a bipartisan group of legislators dedicated to fighting climate change.

Why the about-face? The former chair of the House Oversight Committee—famous for his high-theater, low-yield investigations into alleged Democratic scandals involving Benghazi, the IRS, the gun sting gone awry known as Operation Fast and Furious, and Healthcare.gov, among others—is suddenly facing a very tough election. California’s 49th Congressional District, where Issa has reigned for more than 16 years, has a growing Latino population that has helped push it slowly but steadily leftward. In November, Issa eked out a win over Democrat Doug Applegate, a political newcomer, by just 1,680 votes. Orange County, part of which falls within Issa’s district, favored Hillary Clinton by a nine-point margin, marking the first time it voted for a Democrat for president since 1936. The New York Times recently called Issa “probably the nation’s most vulnerable incumbent.”

Every week since the election, hundreds of people have descended on his San Diego County office to protest. Critics organized a town hall five miles from his office and raised $6,000 through a GoFundMe campaign for a full-page newspaper ad urging him to appear. Citing a “long-standing obligation” to tour a homeless shelter, he didn’t show. Instead, he was represented by a giant “Where’s Waldo?” cutout with his picture taped to its face.

“It’s been clear to those of us who live here that he’s been in campaign mode 24/7,” says Francine Busby, chair of the San Diego County Democratic Party. “He’s definitely feeling the heat down here. I have no doubt that the Republican warrior who has always toed the party line to the nth degree, who is now changing his tune, has very personal motivations because of the vulnerability he feels in his seat.”

Upon learning that Issa had joined the Climate Solutions Caucus, one San Diego Republican political operative who asked to remain anonymous told Mother Jones, “Wow. That is definitely a calculated move.” Issa voted against the 2009 climate and clean-energy jobs bill and continues to make false claims that “there is a wide range of scientific opinion” on climate change and that “the science community does not agree to the extent of the problem.” The League of Conservation Voters gives him a lifetime score of just 4 percent for overwhelmingly voting “anti-environment” during his years in Congress. In 2013, the organization gave him a “Climate Change Denier” award for “his extreme anti-science views, which put him at odds with 97 percent of scientists and a majority of the American people.”

Issa represents a “highly environmentally conscious district,” the operative says, where Republicans “can’t really win being anti-environment. Even the more conservative Republicans still are pretty centrist on climate issues and the environment. It doesn’t surprise me that he would see that as beneficial, and I have a feeling that polling issues are guiding that too.”

Some observers think Issa’s call for a special prosecutor to investigate Russia’s role in the election might not have been a calculated attempt to distance himself from Trump and pacify his constituents. He may simply have said more than he intended in his appearance on Maher’s show. “I don’t think he was prepared to have that question addressed to him,” says Busby. “There were two busloads of people who had been protesting him every step of the way in that studio that night, and I think that may have influenced his remarks.”

“My read on it,” says the Republican political operative, “was that this was probably a moment of intellectual honesty, particularly given his role on oversight, as something he would have suggested the Obama administration wouldn’t be trusted to investigate themselves.” But he added, “These kinds of things are probably top-of-mind as opportunities to pander, and this will show that ‘I am independent and not a Trumpster.'”

If Issa blurted out more than he meant to, he was bailed out a few days later by news that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had failed to disclose meetings with a Russian diplomat during the 2016 election. “News overnight affirms what I’ve been saying: we need an independent review and Jeff Sessions should recuse himself,” Issa tweeted on Thursday.

Kurt Bardella, a former Issa staffer who criticized Issa’s embrace of Trump during the campaign, doesn’t see Issa’s call for a special prosecutor as a political maneuver. “There were countless times that Darrell led the charge for impartial and independent investigations during the Obama Administration because he recognized the inherent conflict in the idea of self-policing,” Bardella says. “Anyone trying to speculate that what he said was because of pressure from his district is clearly unfamiliar with his extensive oversight body of work.” And climate change, Bardella adds, “has never been an issue that carries any weight in terms of the district.”

Whatever his reasons, it seems clear that as Issa’s constituents continue their leftward march, the congressman is starting to follow them.

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Under Pressure, Darrell Issa Takes a Sharp Left Turn

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