Tag Archives: 2016 elections

Donald Trump Is "an Existential Threat to Public Schools"

Mother Jones

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On the day President-elect Donald Trump announced Michigan billionaire philanthropist Betsy DeVos as his pick for education secretary, the heads of the country’s two largest teachers unions jumped to condemn the choice. American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Randi Weingarten called DeVos “the most ideological, anti-public education nominee put forward since President Carter created a Cabinet-level Department of Education.” National Education Association (NEA) president Lily Eskelsen García noted the administration’s choice “demonstrated just how out of touch it is with what works best for students, parents, educators, and communities.”

Educators have worried that DeVos, a prominent Republican fundraiser, and her support for “school choice” and the use of vouchers would endanger public education. With the billionaire’s confirmation hearing slated for Wednesday, the nation’s two biggest teachers’ unions have gone on the offensive with grassroots campaigns to challenge DeVos’ nomination.

Neither group anticipated Donald Trump to win the election. “We did everything in our power to get Hillary Clinton elected. We didn’t have a plan B,” Weingarten says. “We always thought Donald Trump would be as dangerous as he’s showing he is.” But both unions say they were unsurprised by Trump’s selection of DeVos, whose past work in Michigan align with the president-elect’s proposals to direct federal dollars toward private and charter schools. “We have many, many years of experience with her and her undermining of the public education system in Michigan. We have frontline stories about what her agenda and the Trump agenda has meant to communities and to students,” says Mary Kusler, senior director of the NEA Center for Advocacy. “She was not somebody who was plucked out of thin air for us.”

Education historian Diane Ravitch, who founded the advocacy group Network for Public Education in 2013, described unions as “shocked and worried” by the DeVos selection in an email to Mother Jones. “The previous Republican administrations did not threaten the very existence of public education and teachers unions,” she added. “This coming four years is an existential threat to a basic Democratic institution: public schools. Trump has picked a Secretary who is hostile to public schools. This is unprecedented.”

In the weeks following the election, the unions at the national and local levels turned their attention to trying to disqualify DeVos by emphasizing her lack of experience in public education and her work in Michigan. Last month, the AFT, which has 1.6 million members, went on an education campaign, unveiling fact sheets on DeVos and other Cabinet picks like Labor Secretary-designee and fast-food executive Andrew Puzder and Health and Human Services Secretary-designee Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.). At these agencies, Weingarten says, are “people who have been appointed whose ideology seems antithetical to the mission of these agencies.”

On December 6, the AFT and NEA released a joint open letter condemning Trump’s pick, stating that her “sole ‘qualification’ for the job is the two decades she has spent attempting to dismantle the American public school system.” The letter has amassed more than 130,000 signatures from parents, teachers, and other supporters. Representatives from both unions say that members have been arranging meetings with senators. Meanwhile, local affiliates for both unions have encouraged members to flood senators with calls, emails, and letters in opposition.

Though activity settled down leading up to the holidays, the NEA—the nation’s largest union with 3 million members—expects to ramp up calls from members to speak on behalf of students in the next week to senators on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, which will oversee DeVos’ hearing. When asked if current efforts to organize around the confirmation hearing was enough to oppose DeVos, Kusler said the union’s members were doing what they could. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to remember: Our members are teaching kids during the day,” she added, likening the current grassroots efforts to that of 2015, when both unions engaged in separate campaigns during the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, now known as the Every Student Succeeds Act. “We’ve never been in this situation around the confirmation for a secretary of education that has looked like this,” Kusler says. “So engaging our members using the tactics we use anyway for a legislative fight around a confirmation of a secretary is unprecedented.”

Katharine Strunk, an associate professor of education at the University of Southern California who studies teachers’ unions, noted that unions would be able to activate their base of support, but that they may have less sway in lobbying efforts, given Republicans’ firm control of the Senate. “If you don’t have the majority,” the AFT’s Weingarten says, “it’s a pretty uphill battle.” Voters who sided with Trump may have wanted to shake up the system, Weingarten adds, but she doesn’t believe that they “voted to end public education as we know it.”

Carol Burris, executive director of Ravitch’s Network for Public Education, says she anticipates a difficult four years for teachers’ unions. The organization engaged in its own campaign, urging its supporters to send letters to senators over the holidays and to call and visit their offices. This week, the network called on members to make phone calls to senators in each state, particularly those on the committee overseeing DeVos’ hearing. “Betsy DeVos and the people who believe what she believes have no patience for unions in any form and certainly not teachers’ unions,” she says. “They see teachers’ unions not as partners in providing a good education for kids, but as adversaries.”

Future challenges from the unions will largely depend on the policies the Trump administration chooses to pursue. In a speech at the National Press Club on Monday, Weingarten warned that DeVos’ nomination threatened the bipartisan agreement around the federal government’s role in shaping education and could undermine the public education system DeVos would be charged with overseeing.

“Betsy DeVos lacks the qualifications and experience to serve as secretary of education,” Weingarten told the audience. “Her drive to privatize education is demonstrably destructive to public schools and to the educational success of all of our children.”

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Donald Trump Is "an Existential Threat to Public Schools"

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19 Billion Reasons Why Rick Perry Can’t Wait to Give Your Money to Energy Companies

Mother Jones

This story originally appeared on ProPublica.

Donald Trump’s selection of Rick Perry to lead the Department of Energy has prompted many Democrats to question Perry’s qualifications for the position. While he governed a state rich in fossil fuels and wind energy, Perry has far less experience than President Barack Obama’s two energy secretaries, both physicists, in the department’s primary work, such as tending the nuclear-weapons stockpile, handling nuclear waste and carrying out advanced scientific research. That’s not to mention, of course, that Perry four years ago called for doing away with the entire department.

However, there’s one realm in which Perry will have plenty of preparation: doling out taxpayer money in the form of government grants to the energy industry.

What often gets lost in all the talk of the Texas job boom under Perry is how much economic development strategy was driven by direct subsidies to employers who promised to relocate to the state or create jobs there. Of course, many states have for years engaged in the game of luring companies with tax incentives. But by the count of a 2012 New York Times investigation, Texas under Perry vaulted to the top, giving out $19 billion in incentives per year, more than any other state.

Perry’s economic development largesse came in many forms, but among the most high-profile were two big pots of money that he created while in office. In 2003, he founded the Texas Enterprise Fund, which he pitched as a way to help him close the deal in bidding wars for large employers thinking of moving to the state. Over the course of Perry’s tenure, which ended in early 2015, the fund gave out more than $500 million. In 2005, Perry created the Emerging Technology Fund, which was intended for startups. It gave out $400 million before being shuttered last year by his Republican successor, Greg Abbott.

Disbursements from both funds were controlled by Perry, the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the House. The technology fund had a 17-member advisory board, all appointed by Perry. With such scant oversight, it did not take long for political favoritism and cronyism to creep into the programs. In 2010, the Texas Observer reported that 20 of the 55 Enterprise Fund grant recipients up to that point had contributed directly to Perry’s campaign or the Republican Governor’s Association, of which he became chairman in 2010. Also in 2010, the the Dallas Morning News reported that some $16 million from the Emerging Technology Fund had gone to firms backed by major donors to Perry. For instance, after Joe Sanderson received a $500,000 Enterprise Fund grant to build a poultry plant in Waco in 2006, he gave Perry $25,000. And the Emerging Technology Fund gave $4.75 million to two firms backed by James Leininger, a hospital bed manufacturer and school voucher proponent who had helped arrange a last-minute $1.1 million loan to Perry in his successful 1998 run for lieutenant governor and contributed $239,000 to his campaigns over the ensuing decade.

In theory, companies receiving Enterprise Fund grants were accountable for their job creation pledges and had to make refunds when they fell short. In practice, the numbers proved hard to quantify and few companies had to make refunds. The watchdog group Texans for Public Justice determined that by the end of 2010, companies had created barely more than a third of the jobs promised, even with Perry’s administration having lowered the standard for counting jobs. And in 2014, the state auditor found that $222 million had been given out to companies that hadn’t even formally applied for funds or made concrete promises for job creation. “The final word on the funds is that they were first and foremost political, to allow Perry to stand in front of a podium and say that he was bringing jobs back to Texas,” said Craig McDonald, the director of Texans for Public Justice. “From the very start those funds lacked transparency and accountability.”

This being Texas, it was not surprising that many of the leading beneficiaries of the taxpayer funds were in the energy industry. Citgo got $5 million from the Enterprise Fund when it moved to the state from Tulsa in 2004, even though it made clear that it had strategic reasons to move there regardless of the incentive. Chevron got $12 million in 2013 after agreeing to build a 50-story office tower in downtown Houston—a building that three years later remained unbuilt.

Most revealing of the problems associated with the Perry model of taxpayer-funded economic development, though, may have been a $30 million grant in 2004 to a lesser-known outfit called the Texas Energy Center. The center was created in 2003 to be a public-private consortium for research and innovation in so-called clean-coal technology, deep-sea drilling, and other areas. Not coincidentally, it was located in the suburban Houston district of Rep. Tom DeLay, the powerful House Republican, who, it was envisioned, would steer billions in federal funding to the center, with the help of Washington lobbyists hired by the Perry administration, including DeLay’s former chief of staff, Drew Maloney.

But the federal windfall didn’t come through, and the Enterprise Fund grant was cut to $3.6 million, which was to be used as incentives for energy firms in the area. Perry made the award official with a 2004 visit to the Sugar Land office of the Greater Fort Bend Economic Development Council, one of the consortium’s members, housed inside the glass tower of the Fluor Corporation. In 2013, when I visited Sugar Land for an article on Perry’s economic development approach, his administration still listed the Texas Energy Center as a going concern that had nearly reached its target of 1,500 jobs and resulted in $20 million in capital investment.

There was just one problem: There was no Texas Energy Center to be found. Here, from the 2013 article in the New Republic, is what I discovered:

The address listed on its tax forms is the address of the Fort Bend Economic Development Council, inside the Fluor tower. I arrived there late one Friday morning and asked for the Texas Energy Center. The secretary said: “Oh, it’s not here. It’s across the street. But there’s nothing there now. Jeff handles it here.” Jeff Wiley, the council’s president, would be out playing golf the rest of the day, she said. I went to the building across the street and asked for directions from an aide in the office of DeLay’s successor, which happened to be in the same building. She had not heard of the Texas Energy Center. But then I found its former haunt, a small vacant office space upstairs with a sign on an interior wall—the only mark of the center’s brief existence.

Later, I got Wiley on the phone. There has never been any $20 million investment, he said. The center survives only on paper, sustained by Wiley, who, for a cut of the $3.6 million, has filed the center’s tax forms and kept a tally of the jobs that have been “created” by the state’s money at local energy companies. I asked him how this worked—how, for instance, was the Texas Energy Center responsible for the 600 jobs attributed to EMS Pipeline Services, a company spun off from the rubble of Enron? Wiley said he would have to check the paperwork to see what had been reported to the state. He called back and said that the man who helped launch EMS had been one of the few people originally on staff at the Texas Energy Center, which Wiley said justified claiming the 600 jobs for the barely existing center.

In at least one instance, this charade went too far: In 2006, a Sugar Land city official protested to Wiley that, while it was one thing to quietly claim the job totals from a Bechtel venture in town, it was not “appropriate or honest” to assert in a press release that the Texas Energy Center had played a role. “There is a clear difference between qualifying jobs to meet the Energy Center’s contractual requirement with the state and actively seeking to create a perception of it as an active, successful, going concern,” wrote the official, according to Fort Bend Now, a local news website. In this case, reality prevailed, and Wiley declined to count the Bechtel jobs.

Today, the $20 million in capital investment from the Texas Energy Center has vanished from the state’s official accounting of Enterprise Fund impact, but the 1,500 jobs remain, part of the nearly 70,000 jobs that the state claims the fund has generated.

Drew Maloney, the former DeLay chief of staff who lobbied for federal funds for the Texas Energy Center, is now the vice president of government and external affairs at the energy giant Hess Corporation.

And Perry is on the verge of being put in charge of vastly larger sums of taxpayer dollars to disburse across the energy industry. (Requests for comment from the Trump transition team went unanswered, as did a request to Jeff Miller, an unofficial Perry spokesman who now works for Ryan, a Dallas-based tax consultancy that helps clients, including ExxonMobil, get tax incentives from Texas and other states.) The Department of Energy has a budget of around $30 billion, oversees a $4.5 billion loan guarantee program for energy companies, and distributes more than $5 billion in discretionary funds for clean-energy research and development. (The loan guarantee program was the source of the $535 million loan that solar-panel maker Solyndra defaulted on in 2011, but it has had plenty of successes as well.) Many of the department’s programs have well-established standards for disbursement, but as secretary, Perry would have a say over at least some of the flow of dollars.

Trump himself, in announcing his nomination of Perry, said he hoped Perry would bring his Texas strategies on energy and economic development to Washington. “As the governor of Texas, Rick Perry created a business climate that produced millions of new jobs and lower energy prices in his state,” Trump said, “and he will bring that same approach to our entire country as secretary of energy.”

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19 Billion Reasons Why Rick Perry Can’t Wait to Give Your Money to Energy Companies

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Read the US Intelligence Report on Russian Hacking

Mother Jones

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The Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Friday released its declassified report on Russia’s efforts to influence the outcome of the 2016 election by hacking Democratic outfits during the campaign.

The report comes a day after top intelligence officials, including Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the issue. During the hearing, Clapper said the intelligence community has grown more “resolute” in its assessment that Russian intelligence was involved in the hacks aimed at the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. On Friday, Clapper, Rogers, FBI Director Jim Comey, and CIA Director John Brennan briefed President-elect Donald Trump on the classified evidence linking Russia to the hacks and the leaking of the swiped emails. After the briefing, Trump released a statement noting that Russia is one of many actors that try to hack US targets, but the statement did not acknowledge the US intelligence community conclusion that Moscow had mounted the cyberattack against the United States as part of an operation to help elect Trump president.

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Read the US Intelligence Report on Russian Hacking

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Why Tom Perez Is a Strong Competitor Against Keith Ellison in the Democratic Party Race

Mother Jones

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Progressive Democrats gazing upon the fight for the leadership of their party ought to be delighted. The two leading candidates for chair of the Democratic National Committee—Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Labor Secretary Tom Perez—are each battle-hardened and experienced progressives with much to offer their partisan comrades. Yet the contest for the DNC’s top post has widely been cast as a clash between wings of the party, with Ellison as the champion of the insurgent left and Perez as the candidate of the establishment. That depiction misrepresents the face-off and fixates on the wrong question: who has better progressive street cred? With the Democrats deep in the hole—a minority in both houses of Congress, out of the White House, holding only 16 governor slots and merely 31 of 99 state legislative chambers, and lacking a deep bench or a flock of rising stars—the tussle for DNC chief ought to focus on who can best do the nuts-and-bolts job of rebuilding the party from the ground level.

It’s tempting to view this contest as mostly symbolic. The Democratic primary battle of 2016 pitted Bernie Sanders’ revolution against Hillary Clinton’s pragmatic centrism. Many of Sanders’ supporters saw her as a corporate Democrat out of touch with—but eager to exploit—the party’s progressive grassroots. Many of Clinton’s supporters regarded him as an insurgent who was no true Democrat but happy to trigger tension within the party for his own political advancement. And since Election Day, there has been much jabbering about the rift that remains, with this talk concentrating on the resentment festering among Sanders fans who believe party insiders conspired to sink his candidacy.

So Ellison, one of the few House Democrats to endorse Sanders’ presidential run, has been seen as something of a consolation prize—or an offering that can help heal the fractured party. His early entry earned him a rash of key endorsements, including from Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Sen. Chuck Schumer. For a few weeks, Ellison, with support from both ends of the Democratic spectrum, seemed like a unity candidate on an easy path to victory.

Then Perez joined the race. He was not a last-minute contestant shoved into the contest by Democratic establishmentarians looking to thwart Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the House—though some Obama loyalists within the party were clearly not keen on Ellison. Perez, who has been busy finishing up at the Labor Department before handing over the keys to Trumpsters, merely needed more time to make his decision, according to his camp. Yet when Perez, who had endorsed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 race, announced his bid, several unions, including the AFL-CIO, which have worked closely with him, were already on the Ellison Express. (Perez has since been backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers, the United Farm Workers, and the International Association of Fire Fighters, and the Democratic governors of Colorado, Louisiana, Rhode Island, and Virginia.) And with Perez’s entrance, some Sanders folks started claiming that the Evil Empire—that is, the poohbahs of the party—was once again seeking to crush a progressive insurgency. (Ellison backers have been ticked off that his Democratic opponents have pointed to a handful of Ellison’s remarks and his associations with radical black Muslims in the 1990s to undermine his bid.)

This wing-versus-wing dust-up is unfortunate for the party. The vote for DNC chair—the person who will be stuck with a mountain of mundane but important tasks and responsibilities—probably should not be predicated on symbolism. Nor should it necessarily be a contest over competing issue platforms—unless the issue divide truly defines the future course of the party. And that’s not what is at stake here. Certainly, Perez, while serving in President Barack Obama’s cabinet, did not oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was backed by the president, and Ellison was a critic of the trade pact. But there’s truly not much ideological distance between the two. They are both grassroots-minded progressives. Ellison, before being elected to the House, was a community activist and operated a civil rights, employment, and criminal defense law practice in Minneapolis. Perez, the Buffalo, New York-raised son of two parents exiled from the Dominican Republic, was once the head of CASA de Maryland, an organization advocating for and providing services to immigrants.

And there’s no big difference in their big-picture approaches to what must be done within the DNC. Ellison’s website declares, “We must energize Democratic activists across the country and give them the tools to build the Party from the bottom up. Beyond a 50-state strategy, we need a 3,143-county strategy…We must also reclaim our history as the Party that stands with working people.” Perez’s website says, “In the years ahead, we must strengthen our team, and our bench, from the ground up. And we must stand up to protect President Obama’s accomplishments. But most of all, we need to listen. We need to listen to Democrats at every level, empowering them to fight for progressive values and a vision of opportunity and optimism. And we need to listen to voters, up and down the ballot, who are asking us to stand behind them.” You could transpose these statements and not notice it.

At this point, the Democratic Party needs much rebuilding—which entails fundraising, strategizing, candidate recruitment, messaging, organizational development, and more—from local precincts to the national level. So it might be best if the selection of the DNC chief was more job interview and less political wrestling match. Yeah, right. But many of the 447 members of the Democratic Party’s national committee, who are the only voters in this contest, might actually view the race in such a way. (This group includes state chairs looking for a national chair who will get them the help and resources they need to succeed at home.) And for them, Perez’s resumé could hold strong (and progressive) appeal. (Association declared: Perez is a neighbor, and several times I have socialized in groups with him.)

Perez has had multiple successes overseeing large organizations. After a career that included a stint as a civil rights attorney in the Justice Department (during the George H.W. Bush years) and as a special counsel to Sen. Ted Kennedy on civil rights, criminal, and constitutional issues, Perez was appointed by Obama to run the civil rights division of the Justice Department. As Mother Jones reported a few years ago,

During the George W. Bush years, the division had been marred by partisan politics and declining civil rights enforcement. But since Perez took the helm, the division has blocked partisan voting schemes, cracked down on police brutality, protected gay and lesbian students from harassment, sued anti-immigrant Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio for racial profiling, stood up against Islamophobia, and forced the two largest fair-housing settlements in history from banks that discriminated against minority homeowners.

While Perez was heading the civil rights division, it mounted a record-breaking number of probes into police abuse, and it achieved wide-ranging agreements to clean up police forces accused of misconduct.

After taking charge of the Labor Department in 2013, Perez fired up that agency. As Politico noted,

It was one of the federal government’s sleepier outposts for most of the dozen years that preceded Perez’s arrival just over one year ago. But Labor has been newly energized under Perez. “Enforcement activity is up,” Alfred Robinson Jr., who was an acting wage and hour administrator for the Labor Department during the George W. Bush administration, noted earlier this month in a blog post. The department has also raised its public profile on issues like minimum wage and paid medical leave and lavished favorable attention on companies that give employees what Perez calls “voice.”

At Labor, Perez was in charge of an organization with 17,000 employees, a multi-billion dollar budget, and offices throughout the nation. And he pocketed a number of policy wins. He expanded the overtime rule for millions of workers. He helped resolve the Verizon strike and achieved protections for Verizon’s retail workers. On his watch in 2016, the department collected $266 million in back pay owed to workers. He pushed for expanded paid sick leave. The department issued a new rule to protect workers in construction and manufacturing from exposure to dangerous levels of silica dust, which can cause disease and cancer. It raised the minimum wage and and provided extended overtime protections for 2 million home health care workers. The department issued an important conflict of interest rule forcing retirement advisers to place clients’ interests ahead of their own, an Elizabeth Warren-like measure that could save Americans billions of dollars per year.

Perez has had an impressive run at Labor, overseeing a big bureaucracy and achieving results. He has put his values into practice. Ellison has done similar as a member of Congress, mounting grassroots campaigns, raising money for Democrats across the country, and pushing pro-consumer financial reform legislation as a member of the House financial services committee. If DNCers want to send a welcoming signal to aggrieved (rightly or wrongly) Bernie-ites when they vote on February 24—and avoid possible further acrimony between Party HQ and progressive activists—Ellison is the obvious choice. But if there is more to the vote than that—and this race is removed from the never-ending conflict between the party and its progressive base—Perez is a strong contender. He is a solid progressive with a record of getting stuff done. His prospects will be shaped by whether party officials (they are the only ones who have a vote) consider this contest an act of atonement and reconciliation or a hiring decision.

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Why Tom Perez Is a Strong Competitor Against Keith Ellison in the Democratic Party Race

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Here Is the Worst Anti-Science BS of 2016

Mother Jones

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2016 was a year of remarkable scientific breakthroughs. A century after Albert Einstein proposed his general theory of relativity, researchers proved him right when, for the first time ever, they were able to observe gravitational waves produced by two black holes that collided 1.3 billion years ago. Astronomers discovered a potentially habitable planet just 4.3 light-years from Earth. And scientists even came up with a good reason to put a bunch of adorable dogs in an MRI machine.

Unfortunately, there was a lot of anti-science nonsense this year, too—much of it from our political leaders. On issues ranging from climate change to criminal justice, our president-elect was a notable offender. But some of his rivals joined in as well. So did his nominees. And Congress. And members of the media. Here, in no particular order, are some of the most appalling examples. You can let us know in the comments which one you think is the worst.

Hurricane Matthew Truthers

In early October, as Hurricane Matthew approached the southeastern United States and officials ordered mass evacuations, a group of right-wing commentators alleged that the Obama administration was conspiring to exaggerate hurricane forecasts in order to scare the public about climate change. On October 5, Rush Limbaugh said hurricane forecasting often involved “politics” because “the National Hurricane Center is part of the National Weather Service, which is part of the Commerce Department, which is part of the Obama administration, which by definition has been tainted.” He added, however, that Matthew itself was “a serious bad storm” and hadn’t been politicized.

The next day, Matt Drudge took the theory a step further, tweeting, “The deplorables are starting to wonder if govt has been lying to them about Hurricane Matthew intensity to make exaggerated point on climate.” He added, “Hurricane center has monopoly on data. No way of verifying claims.” Drudge’s tweets were widely condemned as dangerous and irresponsible. They also caught the attention of conspiracy kingpin Alex Jones:

A day later, Limbaugh also went full Matthew Truther, declaring it “inarguable” that the government is “hyping Hurricane Matthew to sell climate change.” Matthew would ultimately kill more than 40 people in the United States and hundreds in Haiti. It caused billions of dollars’ worth of damage.

Congress Won’t Lift the Gun Research Ban

Gun violence is a public health crisis that kills 33,000 people in the United States each year, injures another 80,000, and, according to an award-winning Mother Jones investigation, costs $229 billion annually. But as the Annals of Internal Medicine explained in a 2015 editorial, Congress—under pressure from the National Rifle Association—has for years essentially banned federal dollars from being used to study the causes of, and possible solutions to, this epidemic:

Two years ago, we called on physicians to focus on the public health threat of guns. The profession’s relative silence was disturbing but in part explicable by our inability to study the problem. Political forces had effectively banned the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other scientific agencies from funding research on gun-related injury and death. The ban worked: A recent systematic review of studies evaluating access to guns and its association with suicide and homicide identified no relevant studies published since 2005.

Following the June 12 terrorist shootings that killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Democrats tried once again to lift the research ban. But as the Hill reported, “Republicans blocked two amendments that would have allowed the CDC to study gun-related deaths. Neither had a recorded vote.”

Officials Face Charges in Flint Water Crisis

Perhaps the biggest scientific scandal in recent memory was the revelation that residents of Flint, Michigan—an impoverished, majority-black city—were exposed to dangerous levels of lead after government officials switched their drinking water source. Lead poisoning can cause learning disabilities and behavioral problems, along with a variety of other serious health issues. Officials ignored—and then publicly disputed—repeated warnings that Flint’s water was unsafe to drink. According to one study, the percentage of Flint children with elevated lead levels doubled following the switchover. The water crisis may also be to blame for a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.

Since April 2016, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has filed charges against 13 current and former government officials for their alleged role in the crisis. On December 19, Schuette accused two former emergency managers—officials who had been appointed by the governor to oversee Flint’s finances with minimal input from local elected officials—of moving forward with the switchover despite knowing the situation was unsafe. According to the charging document, Darnell Earley conspired with Gerald Ambrose and others to “enter into a contract based upon false pretenses that required Flint to utilize the Flint River as its drinking water source knowing that the Flint Water Treatment Plant…was unable to produce safe water.” The document says that Earley and Ambrose were “advised to switch back to treated water” from Detroit’s water department (which had previously supplied Flint’s water) but that they failed to do so, “which caused the Flint citizens’ prolonged exposure to lead and Legionella bacteria.” The attorney general also alleged that Ambrose “breached his duties by obstructing and hindering” a health department investigation into the Legionnaires’ outbreak. Earley and Ambrose have pleaded not guilty.

Trump’s Budget Director Isn’t Sure the Government Should Fund Zika Research

Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), Donald Trump’s choice to head the White House Office of Management and Budget, isn’t just a global warming denier. As Mother Jones reported, he recently questioned whether the government should even fund scientific research. In September, Mulvaney took to Facebook to discuss the congressional showdown over urgently needed funding for the Zika epidemic—money that would pay for mosquito control, vaccine studies, and research into the effects of the virus. (Among other disputes, Republicans sought to prevent Planned Parenthood from receiving Zika funds.)

“Do we need government-funded research at all?” wrote Mulvaney in his since-deleted post. Even more remarkably, he went on to raise doubts about whether Zika really causes microcephaly in babies. As Slate’s Phil Plait noted, “There is wide scientific consensus that zika and microcephaly are linked, and had been for some time before Mulvaney wrote that.”

The House “Science” Committee

The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology is quickly becoming one of the most inaccurately named entities in Washington. For the past several years, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has used his position as chairman of the committee to harass scientists through congressional investigations. He’s even accused researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of having “altered historic climate data to get politically correct results” about global warming. As we explained in February, “Smith is determined to get to the bottom of what he sees as an insidious plot by NOAA to falsify research. His original subpoena for internal communications, issued last October, has been followed by a series of letters to Obama administration officials in NOAA and other agencies demanding information and expressing frustration that NOAA has not been sufficiently forthcoming.”

Fast-forward to December 2016, when someone working for Smith decided to use the committee Twitter account to promote an article from Breitbart News titled “Global Temperatures Plunge. Icy Silence from Climate Alarmists.” (Breitbart is the far-right website that was formerly run by chief Trump strategist Steve Bannon. In addition to climate denial, Bannon has said the site is “the platform for the alt-right,” a movement that is closely tied to white nationalism.)

Unsurprisingly, actual scientists weren’t pleased.

GOP Platform Declares Coal Is “Clean”

Republicans’ devotion to coal was one of the defining environmental issues of the 2016 campaign. Trump promised to revive the struggling industry and put miners back to work by repealing “all the job-destroying Obama executive actions.” Those commitments were reflected in an early version of the GOP platform, which listed coal’s many wonderful qualities and said that Republicans would dismantle Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which limits emissions from coal-fired power plants. That didn’t go far enough for GOP activist David Barton, who convinced delegates at the party’s convention to add one additional word to the text. “I would insert the adjective ‘clean,'” said Barton. “So: ‘The Democratic Party does not understand that coal is an abundant, clean, affordable, reliable domestic energy resource.'” Barton’s wording change was approved unanimously. As Grist noted at the time, “For years the coal industry—and at one point, even President Obama—promoted the idea of ‘clean coal,’ that expensive and imperfect carbon-capture-and-storage technology could someday make coal less terrible. But there’s no way it is clean.”

Global Warming Deniers in the GOP Primaries

As 2016 kicked off, there were still 12 candidates competing for the Republican presidential nomination. Nearly all of them rejected the overwhelming scientific consensus that humans are the main cause of global warming. (The GOP contenders who spoke most forcefully in favor of the science—Lindsey Graham and George Pataki—both dropped out of the race in late 2015.)

As recently as December 2015, Trump declared that “a lot of” the global warming issue is “a hoax.” His chief rival, Ted Cruz, said in February that climate change is “the perfect pseudoscientific theory” to justify liberal politicians’ efforts to expand “government power over the American citizenry.” In a debate in March, Marco Rubio drew loud applause when he said, “Well, sure, the climate is changing, and one of the reasons why the climate is changing is the climate has always been changing…But as far as a law that we can pass in Washington to change the weather: There’s no such thing.” Moments later, John Kasich said, “I do believe we contribute to climate change.” But he added, “We don’t know how much humans actually contribute.”

In 2015, Ben Carson told the San Francisco Chronicle, “There is no overwhelming science that the things that are going on are man-caused and not naturally caused.” A few months earlier, Jeb Bush said, “The climate is changing. I don’t think the science is clear of what percentage is man-made and what percentage is natural…For the people to say the science is decided on this is just really arrogant.” In one 2014 interview, Rand Paul seemed to accept that carbon pollution is warming the planet; in a different interview, he said he’s “not sure anybody exactly knows why” the climate changes. Mike Huckabee claimed in 2015 that “a volcano in one blast will contribute more to climate change than a hundred years of human activity.” (That’s completely wrong.) In 2011, Rick Santorum called climate change “junk science.” In 2008, Jim Gilmore said, “We know the climate is changing, but we do not know for sure how much is caused by man and how much is part of a natural cycle change.”

Two other GOP candidates, Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina, seemed to largely accept the science behind climate change, but neither of them had much of a plan to deal with the problem.

Trump’s (Other) Wars on Science

Trump’s rejection of science goes well beyond basic climate research. Here are some of his more outlandish claims from the past year:

Despite DNA evidence, Trump still thinks the Central Park Five are guilty. In 1989, five black and Hispanic teenagers were charged with the brutal rape of a white woman in New York’s Central Park. Trump proceeded to pay for inflammatory ads in the city’s newspapers decrying the “permissive atmosphere which allows criminals of every age to beat and rape a helpless woman.” He called on lawmakers to “bring back the death penalty and bring back our police!” The defendants, most of whom had confessed to involvement in the rape, were convicted. They were eventually exonerated by DNA evidence and a confession from the actual rapist. But Trump still isn’t persuaded by the scientific evidence. “They admitted they were guilty,” he told CNN in October. “The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty. The fact that that case was settled with so much evidence against them is outrageous.” As Sarah Burns, who made a documentary about the case, noted in the New York Times, “False confessions are surprisingly common in criminal cases. In the hundreds of post-conviction DNA exonerations that the Innocence Project has studied, at least one in four of the wrongly convicted had given a confession.”

Trump mocks football players for worrying about brain damage from concussions. In October, Trump praised a woman who returned to his Florida rally shortly after she had fainted from the heat. “That woman was out cold, and now she’s coming back,” he said. Trump, who once owned a USFL football team, added, “See, we don’t go by these new, and very much softer, NFL rules. Concussions—’Uh oh, got a little ding on the head? No, no, you can’t play for the rest of the season’—our people are tough.” As the Washington Post pointed out, “Recent MRI scans of 40 NFL players found that 30 percent had signs of nerve cell damage. Florida State University College of Medicine’s Francis X. Conidi, a physician and author of the study, said in a statement that the rates of brain trauma were ‘significantly higher in the players’ than in the general population. In the spring, the NFL acknowledged a link between football and degenerative brain diseases such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which is associated with symptoms such as depression and memory loss.”

Trump meets with anti-vaxxers. Trump has long been a proponent of the discredited—and dangerous—theory that vaccines cause autism. “I’m not against vaccinations for your children, I’m against them in 1 massive dose,” Trump tweeted in 2014. “Spread them out over a period of time & autism will drop!” He made the same argument at a 2015 GOP debate, causing a spike in Google searches for information about the supposed vaccine-autism connection. Since then, Trump hasn’t said much more about the issue in public. But according to Science magazine, he met privately with a group of leading anti-vaccine activists at a fundraiser in August. The group reportedly included Andrew Wakefield, the lead researcher behind the seminal study (since retracted) of the vaccine-autism connection. Science reported that “Trump chatted with a group of donors that included four antivaccine activists for 45 minutes, according to accounts of the meeting, and promised to watch Vaxxed, an antivaccine documentary produced by Wakefield…Trump also expressed an interest in holding future meetings with the activists, according to participants.”

Trump says there is no drought. During a May campaign stop in Fresno, California, Trump offered a bizarre take on the state’s “insane” water problems, implying that there wasn’t actually a drought. (There was and still is.) He suggested that the state had “plenty of water” but that “they’re taking the water and shoving it out to sea” in order to “protect a certain kind of three-inch fish.” As FactCheck.org explained, “California is in its fifth year of a severe ‘hot’ drought,” and “officials release fresh water from reservoirs primarily to prevent salt water from contaminating agricultural and urban water supplies.” (A much smaller proportion of water is released from reservoirs to preserve habitat for Chinook salmon, the “three-inch” delta smelt, and other fish.)

Trump wants to use hairspray. Trump has repeatedly complained that efforts to protect the ozone layer are interfering with his hair routine. “You’re not allowed to use hairspray anymore because it affects the ozone,” he said in May, arguing that more environmentally friendly hair products are only “good for 12 minutes.” He added, “So if I take hairspray and I spray it in my apartment, which is all sealed, you’re telling me that affects the ozone layer?…I say no way, folks. No way. No way.” FactCheck.org actually went through the trouble of asking scientists whether Trump’s strategy of using hairspray indoors would help contain the ozone-destroying chemicals. “It makes absolutely no difference!” said Steve Montzka, a NOAA chemist. “It will eventually make it outside.”

Jill Stein (Yep, She Deserves Her Very Own Category)

Vaccines. Of course, science denial isn’t confined to the political right. During the 2008 presidential campaign, both Obama and Hillary Clinton flirted with the notion that vaccines could be causing autism and that more research was needed on the issue—long after that theory had been discredited. Obama and Clinton have abandoned these misguided views, but Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein is apparently still concerned. In July, she told the Washington Post that vaccines are “invaluable” medications but that the pharmaceutical industry has too much influence over safety determinations from the Food and Drug Administration and the CDC. “As a medical doctor, there was a time when I looked very closely at those issues, and not all those issues were completely resolved,” she said. “There were concerns among physicians about what the vaccination schedule meant, the toxic substances like mercury which used to be rampant in vaccines. There were real questions that needed to be addressed. I think some of them at least have been addressed. I don’t know if all of them have been addressed.”

GMOs. There are plenty of reasonable debates surrounding the use of genetically modified crops. But when it comes to their impact on human health, scientists are pretty much in agreement: GMOs are safe to eat. Once again, Stein isn’t convinced. During the 2016 campaign, Stein called for a moratorium on the introduction of new genetically modified organisms and a “phaseout” of current genetically modified crops “unless independent research shows decisively that GMOs are not harmful to human health or ecosystems.” Stein’s website promised that her administration would “mandate GMO food labeling so you can be sure that what you’re choosing at the store is healthy and GMO-free! YOU CAN FINALLY FEEL SECURE THAT YOUR FAMILY IS EATING SAFELY WITH NO GMO FOODS ON YOUR TABLE!” That page also featured a 2013 video of Stein saying, “This is about what we are eating. This is about whether we are going to have a food system at all. This is about whether our food system is built out of poison and frankenfood.”

The Climate-Denying Cabinet

Trump has loaded up his incoming administration with officials who, to varying extents, share his views on climate change. Vice President-elect Mike Pence once called global warming a “myth,” though he now acknowledges that humans have “some impact on climate.” Scott Pruitt, Trump’s pick to run the Environmental Protection Agency, wrote in May that “scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.” Energy secretary nominee Rick Perry once alleged that “a substantial number” of climate scientists had “manipulated data.” Trump’s interior secretary nominee, Ryan Zinke, believes that climate change is “not a hoax, but it’s not proven science either.” Ben Carson (see above) is slated to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development, an agency facing serious challenges from global warming. Mulvaney, the incoming White House budget director, has said we shouldn’t abandon domestic fossil fuels “because of baseless claims regarding global warming.” Attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions claimed in 2015 that predictions of warming “aren’t coming true.”

Interfering with government scientists?

Trump hasn’t even been sworn in yet, but already there are troubling signs that his administration may attempt to interfere with the work of government scientists and experts.

Energy Department questionnaire. The president-elect’s transition team submitted a questionnaire to the Department of Energy asking for a list of employees and contractors who had worked on the Obama administration’s efforts to calculate the “social cost of carbon”—that is, the dollar value of the health and environmental damage caused by burning fossil fuels. The transition team also asked for a list of staffers who attended UN climate negotiations. As the Washington Post explained, the questionnaire “has raised concern that the Trump transition team is trying to figure out how to target the people, including civil servants, who have helped implement policies under Obama.” (The department didn’t comply with the request, and the Trump team ultimately disavowed the questionnaire after facing criticism.)
Earth science at NASA. One of Trump’s space advisers, Bob Walker, has repeatedly floated the idea that the administration should begin to remove Earth science from NASA’s portfolio. NASA’s Earth science program is well known for producing some of the world’s most important climate change research, and Walker’s proposal has sparked an outcry among many in the scientific community. (Walker has suggested shifting the work to NOAA, but the incoming administration hasn’t proposed giving NOAA additional funding, and Walker’s critics have called the plan unworkable.) Trump hasn’t actually adopted Walker’s idea, and scientists such as David Grinspoon, an astrobiologist who receives NASA funding, are optimistic that he won’t. But if Trump does attempt to gut NASA’s research efforts, the backlash could be intense. “We’re not going to stand for that,” said Grinspoon on our Inquiring Minds podcast. “We’re going to keep doing Earth science and make the case for it. We’ll get scientists to march on Washington if we have to. There’s going to be a lot of resistance.”

Abortion and Breast Cancer

For years, abortion rights opponents have insisted that abortion can cause breast cancer. That claim was based on a handful of flawed studies and has since been repeatedly debunked by the scientific community. According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “More rigorous recent studies demonstrate no causal relationship between induced abortion and a subsequent increase in breast cancer risk.” Influential anti-abortion groups have frequently emphasized a more nuanced but still misleading version of the breast cancer claim: that having an abortion deprives women of the health benefits they would otherwise receive by giving birth. That argument has found its way into an official booklet that the state of Texas provides to women seeking abortions. According to the latest version of the booklet, released in early December:

Your pregnancy history affects your chances of getting breast cancer. If you give birth to your baby, you are less likely to develop breast cancer in the future. Research indicates that having an abortion will not provide you this increased protection against breast cancer.

“The wording in the Texas booklet gets very cute,” said Otis Brawley, the American Cancer Society’s chief medical officer, in an interview with the Washington Post. “It’s technically correct, but it is deceiving.” Here’s the problem, as explained by the Post:

Women who deliver their first baby to full-term at 30 years or younger face a decreased long-term risk of breast cancer than women who have their first baby at older than 30 or 35, or who never deliver a baby at all…Having a baby does provide increased protection against breast cancer, but it doesn’t mean that having an abortion affects your risk one way or another. For example, women who deliver a child before 30, but then have an abortion after their first child, still have a decreased risk of breast cancer, said Brawley, who described himself as “pro-life and pro-truth.”

Pence Denies the Existence of Implicit Bias in Police Shootings

During her first debate with Trump, Clinton supported efforts to retrain police officers to counter so-called “implicit bias.” She noted that people in general—not just police officers—tend to engage in subconscious racism. But she added that in the case of law enforcement, these biases “can have literally fatal consequences.” During the vice presidential debate a few days later, Pence blasted Clinton and other advocates of police reform for “bad-mouthing” cops. He criticized people who “seize upon tragedy in the wake of police action shootings…â&#128;&#138;to use a broad brush to accuse law enforcement of implicit bias or institutional racism.” That, he said, “really has got to stop.”

Pence’s comments were a gross misrepresentation of a key scientific issue in the national debate over police killings of African Americans. Implicit bias does not, as he implied, refer to intentional, overt bigotry or to systematic efforts by law enforcement to target minorities (though there are plenty of examples of those, too). Rather, implicit bias refers to subconscious prejudices that affect people’s split-second decisions—for example, whether or not a cop shoots an unarmed civilian. As Chris Mooney explained in a 2014 Mother Jones story:

This phenomenon has been directly studied in the lab, particularly through first-person shooter tests, where subjects must rapidly decide whether to shoot individuals holding either guns or harmless objects like wallets and soda cans. Research suggests that police officers (those studied were mostly white) are much more accurate at the general task (not shooting unarmed people) than civilians, thanks to their training. But like civilians, police are considerably slower to press the “don’t shoot” button for an unarmed black man than they are for an unarmed white man—and faster to shoot an armed black man than an armed white man.

And as Mooney noted, acknowledging that implicit biases are common—something Pence refused to do—allows scientists and law enforcement to devise trainings that seek to counter the problem.

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Here Is the Worst Anti-Science BS of 2016

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