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The NAACP is bringing renewable energy to communities of color.

Over the next year, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People will install solar panels on 20 households and 10 community centers, train 100 people in solar job skills, and push for equitable solar access policies in at least five states across the U.S.

“Underserved communities cannot be left behind in a clean energy transition,” Derrick Johnson, NAACP President and CEO, said in a statement about the new Solar Equity Initiative. “Clean energy is a fundamental civil right which must be available to all, within the framework of a just transition.”

The initiative began on Martin Luther King Jr. Day by installing solar panels on the Jenesse Center, a transitional housing program in L.A. for survivors of domestic abuse. The NAACP estimated that solar energy could save the center nearly $49,000 over the course of a lifetime, leaving more resources to go toward services for women and families.

Aside from the financial benefits, the NAACP points out that a just transition to clean energy will improve health outcomes. Last year, a report by the Clean Air Task Force and the NAACP found that black Americans are exposed to air nearly 40 percent more polluted than their white counterparts. Pollution has led to 138,000 asthma attacks among black school children and over 100,000 missed school days each year.

It’s just a start, but this new initiative could help alleviate the disproportionate environmental burdens that black communities face.

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The NAACP is bringing renewable energy to communities of color.

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New York City is taking BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Royal Dutch Shell to court.

People who lived through last year’s hurricanes may experience grief, anxiety, and depression for months or years, experts say.

“They’re grieving about the loss of what was,” Judith Andrews, co-chair of the Texas Psychological Association, told AP. Her organization provides free counseling to Texans affected by Hurricane Harvey.

Following a natural disaster, people experience an arc of emotional responses. This usually starts with a “heroic” phase, when people rise to the occasion to survive and help others, Andrews says. Then disillusionment sets in as people come to grips with a new reality post-disaster.

In Puerto Rico, calls to the health department’s emergency hotline for psychiatric crises have doubled following Hurricane Maria, and the number of suicides has also risen.“Hurricane Maria is probably the largest psychosocial disaster in the United States,” Joseph Prewitt-Diaz, the head of the American Red Cross’ mental health disaster response, told Grist.

Hurricanes can have long-term effects on mental health. Five years after Hurricane Sandy, the rate of adult psychiatric hospitalizations in the Queens neighborhoods hit worst by the storm are nearly double that of New York City as a whole. The city’s health department is working with local organizers to connect residents with preventative care so that they can get help before reaching a crisis point.

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New York City is taking BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Royal Dutch Shell to court.

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4 Tips for Going Solar in 2018

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Solar energy production has skyrocketed in recent years in the United States. With more than 49 megawatts of installed solar capacity, there are now enough solar panels to power 9.5 million homes, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Are you interested in getting on the solar bandwagon? Ultimately, determining if it is financially savvy to go solar depends on numerous factors, including the cost of electricity in your area, the price and output of the solar system, and available solar energy incentives.

Is 2018 a good year for you to go solar? Here are some tips on making an informed decision.

Understand Your Local Net Metering Laws

Net metering laws require power companies to bank excess credits for solar electricity fed to the utility grid for later use by the homeowner. For example, let’s say your solar panels generated 10 kWh of excess electricity for the grid during a sunny day and then you consumed 10 kWh of electricity at night. Under net metering laws, you would neither owe money nor be reimbursed for this power, given that you provided as much power as you later consumed.

In 2015, 43 states had net metering laws. Now, only 38 states do. In some areas, solar homeowners are not rewarded at a retail rate for the excess power they supply. Find out what the laws are in your state to better understand the return on investment of your solar system. In some areas where net metering laws are changing, existing solar system owners are grandfathered in under the old system. If the new rules haven’t taken effect yet, you still might be able to get compensated under the old, higher rate.

Consider Solar Equipment Warranties

Solar product warranties vary among manufacturers, and they are an important consideration before installing a solar system. Equipment warranties can protect you, making solar a safer long-term investment. Ask your solar installer or conduct independent research to determine product warranties, as they can vary widely by manufacturer and product. Recently, some manufacturers have been setting themselves apart by offering exceptional warranties.

Solar panel warranties, in particular, are an important consideration, as they are typically the most expensive equipment in your solar system. Over time, even the best solar panels produce less energy due to product degradation. Although all solar panels are less effective at generating electricity over time, the degradation rate varies by the panel. Performance guarantees help ensure that solar electric panels are producing at a certain percentage of their original generation capacity after a given number of years.

Currently, many manufacturers guarantee 90 percent production for 10 years and 80 percent for 25 years. Some panel manufacturers set themselves apart by offering stronger warranties. SunPower, for example, leads the industry by offering a 92 percent performance guarantee for 25 years.

Most solar panel manufacturers also protect against defects. Many solar panels have a 10-year equipment warranty on the integrity of the panel. Now, SunEdison, Solaria and SunPower solar panels have a 25-year equipment warranty.

Shop around when installing a solar system to find the best price, warranties and solar equipment quality. UnderstandSolar is an excellent free service that links solar shoppers with top-rated solar installers in their area for personalized solar estimates, and EnergySage allows you to make apple-to-apple comparisons.

Take Advantage of the Federal Tax Credit and Solar Incentives

There is a federal tax credit in effect that reduces the total net cost of a solar system by 30 percent! A tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction in federal income taxes owed, so it is more valuable to the taxpayer than a tax write-off.

If you install a $10,000 solar system, you can qualify for a $3,000 tax credit. This solar incentive will start scaling down in 2020. Keep in mind that some states or municipalities offer incentives for using solar.

Start with Energy-Efficiency Improvements

Although this is not a new development in 2018, it is important to consider whenever someone is going solar. Before sizing your solar system, look for ways to cut your home electricity use. Refrigerators, lighting, electric water heaters and air-conditioners are common electricity hogs. In many cases, it is worthwhile to replace old appliances with high-efficiency models.

Also, explore if you have any vampire loads that suck power even when appliances or electronics are turned off. Home entertainment and office equipment often continuously drain power. Smart power strips are a great solution to stop energy vampires in their tracks.

Consider Solar Loans

As the solar energy industry matures, there are now more solar loan products available than ever before. Solar loans make the most financial sense when the amount you pay on the loan is less than your monthly utility savings. This means that the loan allows you to save money on your solar system from day 1. Make sure to take the loan fees and interest into consideration. A home equity line of credit is another option, and the interest is likely tax-deductible.

Ultimately, the decision to go solar is multifaceted. Many homeowners choose solar because they want to do their part to help stop climate change or to wean themselves off of fossil fuels. Now that the cost of solar has dropped so much, many install solar systems merely for the cost savings. In much of the U.S., 2018 is a good year to go solar.

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4 Tips for Going Solar in 2018

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A Fishing Hole Spat Could Give Democrats a Shot at a Montana House Seat

Mother Jones

With Thursday’s special election approaching, the race for Montana’s vacant House seat has gone national. The president’s son Donald Trump Jr. flew to the small town of Hamilton to raise money for Republican businessman Greg Gianforte; Bernie Sanders made a four-stop swing through the Big Sky to stump for Democrat Rob Quist. Both parties have tried to nationalize the race: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee injected $600,000 into the contest, and its Republican counterpart has already spent several times that.

With the congressional midterms still 18 months away, Democrats have seized on House special elections as an early test of their political energy and an opportunity to steal a few seats. In a historically red Georgia district, Democrat Jon Ossoff has raised more than $10 million in his bid to replace Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and is approaching 50 percent in the polls ahead of the June 20 runoff. Kansas Democrat James Thompson narrowly lost his bid to replace CIA director Mike Pompeo, in a district Donald Trump won by 27 points.

Quist, a country singer rarely seen without his white cowboy hat, thinks he can kickstart a Democratic turnaround in the House by betting big on the smallest of issues: a fishing hole.

In the race to fill the seat vacated by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in March, Quist has tapped into deep-seated fears about the fate of Montana’s public lands in Republican-dominated Washington. He has held six rallies “for public lands” across the state and been buoyed by a massive “hands off public lands” protest in Helena and a growing network of progressive grassroots groups. At the heart of his critique of his rival is a decade-old story about a river, a trail, and a legal threat that just a few months ago helped dash Gianforte’s bid for governor.

Gianforte, a wealthy businessman who moved to Montana from New Jersey two decades ago, should have had the wind at his back in the gubernatorial race in a state Trump won easily. But Gov. Steve Bullock, the Democratic incumbent, succeeded in positioning himself as a champion of the outdoors—and Gianforte as its greatest threat.

The acquisition of federal lands in the West was a huge issue during the Obama years, culminating in a string of high-profile showdowns between members of the Bundy family and federal agents in Nevada and Oregon. Many Republican state lawmakers, including in Montana, pushed legislation that would compel the federal government to transfer the deed to some of its public lands to their states. Bullock was fiercely against the idea; Gianforte suggested that such a move might be appropriate at a later time. But Gianforte had also donated money to the Republican lawmaker who chaired the American Lands Council, the primary driver of the lands-transfer movement.

Maybe that alone wouldn’t have been enough to sink Gianforte, but Bullock had a trump card: a 2009 legal battle. Gianforte’s property abutted the East Gallatin River outside Bozeman and included an easement long used by locals for fishing. (The easement was granted through an agreement with the property’s previous owner.) Gianforte argued that the easement was ruining his property and sued the state of Montana to have to have the area closed off. He eventually reached a compromise with the state, but the dispute fed into Bullock’s narrative. It was one thing to campaign on the fear that Republicans would try to limit public access to public lands, but it was far easier when Gianforte had actually tried to do it.

“Montanans have been locked in a battle against wealthy out-of-state land owners buying up land and blocking access to places Montanans have literally enjoyed for generations,” Bullock said at the time. He hammered Gianforte’s river-access suit in speeches and ads.

When, at their final debate, Gianforte sought to dispute the governor’s version of events, Bullock pulled out a copy of the complaint, ignoring the agreed-upon prohibition on props.

“I just want to note the governor violated the rules,” Gianforte said.

“I just want to note Greg Gianforte sued all of Montana,” Bullock said.

Bullock won by four points.

“I’ve been doing this a while and it was one of the most damaging negatives I’ve ever seen,” says Eric Hyers, Bullock’s 2016 campaign manager.

When the DCCC got involved in the race in April, it wasted no time jumping on the easement fight. “You’ve seen it before: millionaires buying trophy ranches in Montana, then suing to block you out,” a narrator intoned in the group’s first ad, over an image of a “no hunting” sign. “Well it’s exactly what this millionaire from New Jersey did.” Last week, Quist went a few steps further; in two new ads running statewide, he walks along the very riverside trail Gianforte sought to block access to, declaring, “You shouldn’t have to be rich to get outdoors in Montana.”

Other Democrats have tried this line of attack with less success. Zinke, who hails from just outside Glacier National Park, easily won reelection and then the Interior job in part because of the perception that he was more of a conservationist than other candidates. (It was Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, the nonprofit that helped organize the public-lands protest and whose director ran a dark-money group that helped Democratic Sen. Jon Tester win reelection in 2012, that reportedly lobbied Donald Trump Jr. to consider Zinke for the Interior job.) The key to the public lands movement’s success in resisting the land-transfer push has been that it comprises more than just crunchy environmentalists. It also has the backing of hunting and fishing groups and trade associations such as the Montana Wood Products Association.

After President Trump’s inauguration, fears grew that public lands would come under threat. In late January, one week after the Helena women’s march drew record crowds to the capitol grounds, 1,000 demonstrators, organized by a coalition led by the Montana Wilderness Association, crowded inside the capitol building with luminaries such as Bullock, Tester, and Hilary Hutcheson, a fly-fishing guide who hosts a popular TV show on Trout TV. They had a specific concern in mind: that the Trump administration would sign off on a push by congressional Republicans to sell off public lands.

Similar events, dubbed “Public Lands in Public Hands,” were held across the West—500 people in Santa Fe; 200 in Boise. A few days later, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who had sponsored the sell-off proposal, backed down. “I hear you and HR 621 dies tomorrow,” he wrote in an Instagram post.

With Zinke running the Interior Department, the status of Montana’s lands is no less fuzzy. In May, Zinke announced that he was reviewing the status of some three dozen national monuments established over the previous three presidential administrations, with the possible end result of revoking their protected status. Among the monuments on the chopping block: Montana’s own Upper Missouri Breaks.

The clearest sign of how potent the public-lands protests—and messaging—have been is that Gianforte himself is using the protesters’ language. “I’ve been very clear all along that public lands must stay in public hands,” he told Montana Public Radio in an interview earlier this month, echoing the language used by the demonstrators. “I’ve been very clear. I don’t support deed transfer of lands. Public lands have to stay in public hands.”

The race to replace Zinke is in some ways a fitting coda to the political fights of the Obama administration, which saw a new “Sagebrush Rebellion”—the name for the ’80s anti-government movement led by Western ranchers— that featured, most sensationally, the antics of the Bundy clan. These new Sagebrushers were backed up by a new crop of local law enforcement leaders who resisted federal authority, as well as legislators, in Washington and state capitals, bent on redistributing federal lands to the states.

The Trump administration’s push to reconsider places like Upper Missouri Breaks, which have been in the sights of conservative groups for a long time, represents a high-water mark for this movement. Quist is hoping his race is the beginning of another kind of wave.

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A Fishing Hole Spat Could Give Democrats a Shot at a Montana House Seat

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The (Possibly Illegal) Art of a $100 Billion Saudi Arms Deal

Mother Jones

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As Donald Trump heads to Riyadh today on his first international trip as president, he brings with him a gift: a massive arms deal reportedly worth more than $100 billion for Saudi Arabia. According to Reuters, the deal is specifically being developed to coincide with the visit, where he will meet with Saudi leaders and discuss the war in Yemen. And its success seems to be crucial to the president, whose son-in-law Jared Kushner has personally intervened in the deal’s development. According to the New York Times, earlier this month, in the middle of a meeting with high-level Saudi delegates, Kushner greased the gears by calling Lockheed Martin chief Marilyn A. Hewson and asking her to cut the price on a sophisticated missile defense system. Other details of the package, though, have been somewhat shrouded in mystery—Congress, which will have to approve any new arms deal, has to yet to be notified of specific offerings—but it is said to include planes, armored vehicles, warships, and, perhaps most notably, precision-guided bombs.

It’s that last detail in particular that is making many in Washington sweat. The Obama administration inked arms deals with the kingdom worth more than $100 billion over two terms, but it changed course in its last months. As Mother Jones has regularly reported, the Saudi-led war against the Houthi armed group in Yemen has been fueled in part by American weapons, intelligence, and aerial refueling, and it has repeatedly hit civilian targets, including schools, marketplaces, weddings, hospitals, and places of worship. Civilian deaths are estimated to have reached 10,000, with 40,000 injured. In response, the Obama White House suspended a sale of precision-guided bombs to the country in December.

But now, despite the kingdom’s track record, President Trump is aiming to revive the deal. “Lifting the suspension on precision-guided munitions is a big deal,” says William Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy. “It’s a huge impact if it reinforces the Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen, and also the signal that it’s okay with us. It’s saying, ‘Have at it. Do what you want.'”

Jeff Abramson, a senior fellow at the DC-based Arms Control Association adds, “Obama’s record on arms sales wasn’t stellar in any way, but in this instance on precision-guided munitions he finally got a bit of spine and said we need to put a pause on this, because the United States is functionally contributing to this humanitarian disaster. Trump is ready to jettison any human rights concerns,” he says, noting that the administration has all but explicitly stated as much. Of course the White House has already excised “human rights” from the top of its agenda; Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has announced plans to cut 2,300 diplomatic and civil service jobs and, in a speech to State Department employees outlining the administration’s “America First” strategy, Tillerson argued that pushing US values on other countries, such as protecting human rights, “creates obstacles to our ability to advance our national security interests, our economic interests.”

Following that logic, this arms package might just exemplify the elusive “America First” doctrine. “It’s good for the American economy,” a White House official told Reuters of the deal, suggesting that it would result in jobs in the defense sector. According to analysis by Abramson, Trump’s first 100 days in office resulted in $6 billion worth of notified arms sales—eight times that of Obama’s, whose first 100 days totaled $713 million.

But Trump may come against more opposition to the deal than he anticipates. Last year, expressing outrage over Saudi Arabia’s actions in Yemen, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) won the support of 27 legislators to vote against a billion-dollar deal to supply Saudi Arabia with Abrams tanks. The deal still went through, but their opposition marked a shift in how lawmakers viewed arms deals to the kingdom and was the first time that Congress publicly debated the wisdom of the United States’ role in the war in Yemen. At the time Murphy said, “There is a US imprint on every civilian death inside Yemen, which is radicalizing the people of Yemen against the United States.” The two senators also drafted legislation that would suspend certain types of weapons sales to Saudi Arabia until the country could demonstrate that it would protect civilians. This April, they reintroduced a similar bill, this one aimed specifically at air-to-ground munitions. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn), a co-sponsor, said the bill “would help protect innocent civilians and hold Saudi Arabia accountable for its actions… We need to stand up for our values and ensure that the U.S. no longer turns a blind eye to the indiscriminate killing of children, women, and men in Yemen.” Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have continued to highlight the need to address the Yemen war through humanitarian means, as well as limiting US support.

Even if Congress doesn’t put up a fight, which seems unlikely, Trump’s new deal may fall prey to other obstacles. Earlier this week, the American Bar Association’s Center for Human Rights released their expert opinion on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and concluded that future sales may not pass legal muster. “In the face of persistent reports of wrongdoing, Saudi Arabia has failed to rebut allegations or provide detailed evidence of compliance with binding obligations arising from international humanitarian law,” the report states. “Under these circumstances, further sales under both the Arms Export Control Act and the Foreign Assistance Act are prohibited until the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia takes effective measures to ensure compliance with international law and the president submits relevant certifications to the Congress.”

Furthermore, Hartung isn’t convinced a deal of such tremendous proportions can realistically come to fruition unless it incorporates deals previously made under the Obama administration—especially considering that it won’t include big ticket items like the F-35 fighter jet, an offer that would make Israel deeply uncomfortable. “Where are they gonna get $100 billion worth of stuff to sell?” Hartung asks. “I don’t see where it is going to come from—are we going to ship our whole Navy over there? Under Obama, under Foreign Military Sales, they offered $115 billion in weapons over his two terms. This would be a one-shot deal that would be almost equal to that, and the Obama numbers were a record,” he says. “It seems like part of this is: Trump just likes big numbers. It’s like when he claims credit for jobs he didn’t really help create.”

If it’s for optics, there’s one clear benefit. “Even if it doesn’t happen, it’s got the short-term benefit of Trump showing that he cares about the Saudis,” says Hartung, suggesting that it possibly could be political theater as the two countries mend ties and as the US tries to project hard power in the region.

Of course, what Trump often fails to realize is that optics go both ways. In addition to what human rights groups have called indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets, on multiple occasions, the Saudi coalition has blocked humanitarian aid from entering Yemen, contributing to the growing catastrophe that’s left millions on the brink of starvation and millions more who have been forced to flee their homes. “It appears that war crimes are being committed in Yemen, and if the United States is supporting that war, in a way it is also culpable for those war crimes,” says Abramson. “Most Americans don’t want their country to be engaged in war crimes. That’s another reason why we really need to pay attention to this.”

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The (Possibly Illegal) Art of a $100 Billion Saudi Arms Deal

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Why Is Trump Ignoring These Good Heartland Jobs?

Mother Jones

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For half a century, Tim Hemphill grew corn and soybeans on his 720-acre farm in northern Iowa. Then five years ago, as he readied his son to take over the business so he could retire, catastrophe struck: Local corn prices plummeted. “It was about the worst thing that ever happened to farmers,” he says. And it’s happening all over the country: Slumps in commodity prices, paired with rising costs of pesticides and seeds, have driven many small farms out of business, and caught on throughout Iowa, not only bringing a much-needed boost to farmers, but also generating county tax revenue to fund school and road improvements and adding new jobs. Iowa now gets 36 percent of its electricity from wind, a higher percentage than any other state, even California. While coal is still Iowa’s main source of electricity, one of the state’s largest utilities, MidAmerican Energy, has set ambitious reap at least $10 million a year leasing their land to turbines. Nationwide, they may earn as much as $900 million a year by 2030, according to analyst Alex Morgan of Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “Farmers cannot farm anything legally on that small amount of land and get that kind of return,” says Chris Kunkle, a Western policy manager at industry advocacy group Wind on the Wires. Iowa’s Gov. Terry Branstad credits wind energy with drawing $12 billion worth of investments to his state. It also added 11 manufacturing facilities and thousands of jobs, including for wind turbine technicians, the country’s fastest-growing profession. In 2016, some 9,000 Iowans worked in the wind industry, about a fifth of the number operating farms. Both Facebook and Google have set up data centers in the Hawkeye State, taking advantage of how clean energy can help them meet their goals for renewables. And more than two-thirds of Iowa’s installed wind power is in poor communities: Kunkle says he’s visited small rural counties that get about a tenth of their total budget from wind farms.

Iowa isn’t the only state benefiting from the breeze. Wind farms—and the new jobs that come with them—have swept across the Midwest, where coal and traditional manufacturing gigs have vanished. (Despite what President Donald Trump will tell you, coal jobs started to disappear back in the 1980s, when the steel industry began to sink and utilities stopped building new coal-fired power plants.) In the “wind belt” between Texas and North Dakota, the price of wind energy is finally equal to and in some cases cheaper than that of fossil fuels. Thanks to investments in transmission lines, better computer controls, and more efficient turbines, the cost to US consumers fell two-thirds in just six years, according to the American Wind Energy Association. A federal tax credit—which gives producers 2.3 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity for 10 years—is set to expire at the end of 2019, but analysts with financial firm Lazard say that even without federal subsidies, the price of wind energy is finally on par with that of traditional energy sources.

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Still, not all windy states have a turbine-friendly climate. In Wyoming, for example, coal-loving legislators penalizing utilities for including renewables in their portfolios. According to Michael Webber, deputy director of the University of Texas’ Energy Institute, the next few years will see a showdown between “rural Republicans who really want to get the economic boost wind offers to their district, versus Republican ideologues who don’t like renewables because they like fossil fuels”—and whose campaign contributions depend on protecting them.

So farmers—and voters —will have to fight for wind, which, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency, “offers the greatest potential for growth in US renewable power generation.” In his energy plan, Trump speaks of reviving the country’s “hurting” coal industry and argues that “sound energy policy begins with the recognition that we have vast untapped domestic energy reserves right here in America.” We do—and those reserves could lead to hundreds of thousands of jobs in the coming years, and very few carbon emissions. And if Trump weren’t so fixated on the sputtering coal industry, he might actually see them.

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Why Is Trump Ignoring These Good Heartland Jobs?

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Who Moved My Teachers?

Mother Jones

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Dale Stephanos

The school of education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison never used to have trouble attracting applicants with dreams of becoming teachers. Its graduate program is ranked fourth in the country by U.S. News & World Report, and until recently, its undergraduate program in elementary education typically received between 300 and 400 applications for its 125 spots. Now, says Michael Apple, a professor in the program, it only gets about one applicant per opening.

What happened? Scott Walker became Wisconsin’s governor in 2011 and promptly enacted a wide-scale rollback of unionization rights for state employees. That law, Act 10, effectively wiped out the ability of teachers and other public-sector workers to bargain collectively over salary and benefits.

Walker’s assault on unions has had well-publicized effects, including an unsuccessful recall election against him, a sharp reduction in union membership, and a proliferation of anti-union legislation in other states. Unions’ diminished organizing power for Democrats helped Donald Trump become the first Republican presidential candidate to win Wisconsin in more than 30 years. But less visible consequences have colored nearly every facet of Wisconsin society. One is a sudden and drastic teacher shortage. “The attack on teacher unions has an echo that is often invisible,” Apple says. “That invisibility is many fewer teachers.”

Wisconsin teachers now earn less total compensation than they did seven years ago, thanks to cuts in benefits. They face larger classes and less job security, and in some districts they’ve been asked to teach extra sections. Fewer people are applying to teacher education programs. One Wisconsin education student, who asked not to be named to avoid hurting his job prospects, warns that “better conditions and job security will lead some of us elsewhere.”

The downturn for Wisconsin teachers is so bad that when a Minnesota public school district sent representatives to a job fair at UW-Madison’s education school last fall, they made a point of boasting about the benefits their state still offered. “I actually heard them promote having unions as a sales pitch, which I found interesting coming from administrators,” says the student.

That Wisconsin is the front of the war on unions is particularly poignant. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which represents public workers at all levels of government, began as an association of local workers in Madison in 1932. Twenty-seven years later, Wisconsin became the first state to recognize state government employee unions. But when Walker signed Act 10 on March 11, 2011, that long chapter of progressivism came to an end and the state became a radical experiment in the opposite direction.

The battle over the law was as dramatic as its effects: The entire 14-person Democratic caucus in the state Senate fled to Illinois in a bid to prevent it from passing, and about 100,000 union advocates demonstrated, with some camping in the hallways of the Capitol and singing union anthems. Teachers protested by calling in sick, and schools were forced to close.

In the end, it wasn’t enough. Act 10 prevailed and other conservative state governments soon followed with their own anti-union legislation. It attacked public-sector unions from a variety of angles. Wisconsin workers can no longer negotiate to improve their health or retirement benefits. Raises can’t exceed the rate of inflation. Job-security measures like tenure were tossed aside, and managers were given the freedom to fire employees at will. Dues are no longer deducted directly from paychecks, forcing public-sector unions to track down members individually to raise funds.

At the time, Walker sold Act 10 as a way to close a $3.6 billion budget gap. But there was never much question that the real motivation was to hobble liberal causes. A video later surfaced showing Walker hobnobbing with billionaire donor Diane Hendricks, founder and chairwoman of Wisconsin-based ABC Supply, two weeks after taking office. “Any chance we’ll ever get to be a completely red state and work on these unions and become a right-to-work?” she asked. (So-called right-to-work laws slash union revenue by prohibiting unions from compelling employees to pay dues, allowing employees to benefit from a union’s efforts without contributing their share.) Walker replied, “The first step is, we’re going to deal with collective bargaining for all public employee unions, because you use divide and conquer.”

That strategy could soon become national policy. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Trump adviser, has pointed to Walker’s anti-union crusade as a model for how the new administration could target public-­sector unions at the federal level. Trump’s pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, chaired a group called the American Federation for Children, which claims it has spent more than $4.2 million on Wisconsin races since 2010. The AFC tapped Walker as its keynote speaker at the group’s 2015 policy summit.

Six years after the passage of Act 10, a small band of retirees still gathers in the Capitol rotunda every weekday at noon for a pro-union Solidarity Sing-Along. But it barely draws the attention of passing school groups, let alone lawmakers. State labor organizations, struggling to maintain their membership rolls, have little time or money to press legislators for policy changes. One AFSCME council saw its budget drop from $5 million before Act 10 to $1.5 million in 2013.

Before Walker’s crusade, 14.2 percent of Wisconsin’s workforce belonged to a union. By 2015, that figure had dropped to 8.3 percent, significantly below the national average for the first time. That year, Walker and the Legislature passed a law that extended the right-to-work provisions to private-sector unions as well. That law’s central provision is still on hold pending legal challenges.

It’s no coincidence that 2016 was the first election in which the state voted Republican for president since Ronald Reagan. According to exit polls, Hillary Clinton won union households in the state by 10 percentage points. But 79 percent of voters didn’t belong to a union household, and they went in Trump’s favor by 8 points—enough to deliver him a surprise victory in Wisconsin. “Scott Walker just won the presidential race in 2016 by passing Act 10 five years ago,” anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist tweeted on election night.

Teachers’ unions have been hit hardest. Prior to the law, the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC)—the state’s largest association of local teachers’ unions and an affiliate of the National Education Association—counted about 98,000 members. Now it has fewer than 40,000. The WEAC spent $93,481 on lobbying in 2015, compared with more than $2.2 million in 2011. The union recently put its Madison headquarters up for sale to shore up its finances.

As unions have lost their sway, teaching has become a less attractive profession. School districts have struggled to hire and retain teachers. A study from the Milwaukee-based Public Policy Forum found that between the 2008-09 and 2013-14 school years, the number of people entering Wisconsin teacher-training programs declined by 28 percent and the number of teachers in the state dropped by 2.4 percent, even as the number of students remained nearly constant. In 2013, schools attracted an average of 4.9 applicants per open teaching position, according to data from the Wisconsin Education Career Access Network. By 2015, that average had dipped to 3.3 applicants. Last August, with the start of the school year weeks away, state Superintendent Tony Evers was forced to offer more emergency one-year teaching licenses in order to expand the pool of applicants.

Act 10 has thinned the ranks of both veteran teachers and younger ones. Thanks to the old collective bargaining agreements, Wisconsin teachers used to enjoy generous benefits that allowed people to retire at age 55 and receive a full pension, though many teachers continued teaching into their 60s. But Act 10 threatened to strip away those benefits once the agreements expired, leading many teachers who were eligible for retirement to make their exit years earlier than planned. “We lost a lot of people who developed the expertise over the years to reach kids at their various learning styles,” says John Matthews, who led Madison’s teachers’ union for 48 years. “Those people were leaving en masse.”

The teachers who remain, meanwhile, have been forced to take on extra work to make up for the shortage. The La Crosse school district, for example, tried to solve budget problems by saddling its newest high school teachers with an additional class, at the expense of time spent developing a curriculum and grading papers. John Havlicek, a Spanish teacher in his 21st year and a union representative, says he’s never seen so few teachers take on secondary roles as coaches—they simply don’t have the time for sports. “Within two years, you had teachers leaving because they just couldn’t keep up,” Havlicek says. “It doesn’t seem like it, but 30 more kids and one less period in which to help kids who come in for help was a double whammy.” (The school district is rolling back the change after pressure from teachers and parents.)

In 2011, Walker signed legislation that cut the state’s K-12 education funding by $792 million over two years. If districts want to increase taxes for school funding, they’re required to hold referendums. Last November, 67 such measures were on ballots across the state, with 55 passing. Schools are also getting crunched by state Republicans’ zeal for voucher programs that use public funds to send students to religious and other private schools. Walker has called vouchers a “moral imperative” and expanded their use in 2015, lifting income caps for families to qualify. That year, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction warned that school districts would receive less funding because of the voucher program. In the two years since, those schools have lost $41.4 million.

“The shortage of money is causing class sizes to be larger than they should be,” Matthews says. “It’s causing teachers not to have the resources like new textbooks, workbooks. Those resources just aren’t there. And there’s been a cutback in assistance work in the classrooms, a cutback in music, art, and phys-ed teachers. It’s hit the quality of education.”

With unions diminished at the state level, conservatives have shifted their attention to weakening them and their influence in liberal cities where they remain relatively strong. In the old manufacturing city of Kenosha, the school board continued to negotiate with the local teachers’ union, although it didn’t have to under Act 10. So in a 2014 election, Americans for Prosperity—­the main political arm of the Koch brothers—got involved in the school board race, in which two seats held by vocally pro-union members were up for grabs. The group set up phone banks and sent people campaigning door to door. The incumbents were replaced with anti-union candidates.

Act 10 requires annual recertification elections in which at least 51 percent of all eligible members—including those who don’t show up—must vote in favor of a union to keep the chapter alive. Bob Peterson, the head of the Milwaukee teachers’ union from 2011 to 2015, says these annual elections can cost thousands of dollars and force unions to run full-scale phone-banking operations. Last year, 11 WEAC affiliates lost recertification votes. In the small eastern Wisconsin town of New Holstein, all 42 teachers who voted backed recertification, but there were another 42 members who didn’t vote, so the local union disappeared.

Peterson has warned his peers in other states for years that Wisconsin could be the test case for the country. “I generally start out by saying, ‘I’m from Wisconsin,'” he explains. “‘I’m from your future. There’s some lessons to learn.’ I sort of thought I was exaggerating, but with the Trump election I don’t think I was. What has gone on in Wisconsin for the last five and a half years is what very well could happen nationwide.”

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Who Moved My Teachers?

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Don’t Be Fooled: The North Carolina "Compromise" Doesn’t Actually Protect Transgender Rights

Mother Jones

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North Carolina is at it again. On Thursday, state lawmakers approved legislation repealing HB 2, the controversial law that banned cities and counties from passing nondiscrimination ordinances and barred transgender people from using public bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity.

Under a deal that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and struck with Republican leaders in the legislature Wednesday night, HB 2 would technically be repealed. But it would be replaced with new legislation that LGBT rights advocates say is just as bad. The new bill, which now heads to the governor’s desk for approval, would prohibit any entity other than the state government from regulating access to bathrooms or changing facilities. Essentially, it would prohibit cities from taking action to protect the rights of transgender people to use the appropriate bathroom. Additionally, it would prohibit local governments from passing any regulations regarding access to public space or private employment practices until 2020. (HB 2 was originally passed in response to a Charlotte ordinance that was designed to protect LGBT rights.)

LGBT advocates and their allies say the new proposal isn’t a compromise at all—they’re actually calling it HB 2.0.

“This so-called compromise it not a repeal,” said Reverend William Barber, the head of North Carolina’s NAACP, on a conference call set up by opponents of the deal. “It’s a Trojan horse, and we can never compromise on fundamental civil rights.” Barber has been one of the most prominent voices in the fight against HB 2.

HB 2 sparked a nation-wide backlash, including an economic boycott, after it was signed by GOP Gov. Pat McCrory last year. Republican lawmakers have downplayed the financial impact of conferences and events avoiding North Carolina in response to HB 2, but the Associated Press reported earlier this week that the state will lose an estimated $3.76 billion over 12 years.

*

The last-minute compromise comes as the National Collegiate Athletic Association is determining where to hold its championship events for the next five years. In response to HB 2’s passage last year, the NCAA removed seven scheduled sporting events from North Carolina. It’s given the state a Thursday deadline to repeal the law if it wants to be considered for the future events. The NCAA didn’t respond to questions about whether the new legislation is sufficient to address its concerns.

In a statement, Cooper said the bill is “not a perfect deal” but begins “to repair our reputation.”

LGBT advocates aren’t buying it. They point out that Cooper was elected in large part because his GOP predecessor was was a strong supporter of HB 2.

“Governor Cooper and legislators must be grownups…and not vote for or sign a bill that merely doubles down on discrimination,” Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality NC, said on the call. “We know that it doesn’t matter if you have a ‘D’ or ‘R’ next to your name. If you vote for this bill, you won’t be a friend to the LGBT or civil rights community.”

The bill, assuming Cooper signs it, appears likely to end up in court. The compromise legislation “in many ways mirrors the Colorado law that was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1996,” said Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights campaign. “That was a law that also banned any city, town, or county in the state of Colorado from protecting gay or bisexual people from discrimination.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the time period over which North Carolina would lose $3.76 billion.

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Don’t Be Fooled: The North Carolina "Compromise" Doesn’t Actually Protect Transgender Rights

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911 Is Practically Useless for Millions of People. Here’s Why.

Mother Jones

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When Julian Singleton called 911 about two years ago, it didn’t go well. It was the middle of the night and his 83-year-old wife, Bernice, had fallen and lay unconscious on the kitchen floor. The retired graphics art instructor wanted to call 911, but because Julian has been deaf his entire life, he knew that he first had to call a video relay service. Once connected, he would sign with an interpreter and the interpreter would then speak to the emergency call center in Maricopa County, Arizona. The responses then would be signed back to Singleton in a laborious process that could rob his wife of crucial minutes of care.

But Singleton still went through it. He had no other options. Once connected with 911, he remembers the operator peppering him with questions. “My wife is laying here on the floor,” he tells Mother Jones through an interpreter. “I can’t be answering these questions…So I gave up and hung up. I picked up my wife and took her to the hospital myself.”

Singleton is one of about 1 million people over the age of five who are functionally deaf. There are also 37.5 million adults who have some trouble hearing, according to the National Institutes of Health, and in the first nationally representative study, Johns Hopkins University estimates that 1 in 5 Americans who are at least 12 years old suffer from hearing loss so severe it could make communication difficult.

Those who cannot easily communicate over the phone—and this includes some people with autism, speech disabilities, cerebral palsy, and other conditions—face sometimes life-threatening barriers when trying to call emergency services at 911. The 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act guaranteed direct and equal access to emergency services, and a year later the Department of Justice established rules requiring call centers to be accessible for the deaf and hard of hearing. But this all occurred before cellphones became widely used and relies on an outdated technology known as TTY, or text telephone, in which two people who each have a keyboard communicate through phone lines.

“The old US Department of Justice regulations say all 911 centers must be accessible to use by TTY and voice-over,” Claude Stout, executive director of Telecommunications for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing, explains through an interpreter. “But the problem is, not many of us use TTYs anymore.”

That’s why disability rights lawyers have joined with deaf advocates in New York and Arizona—where Singleton is a plaintiff—to sue localities charging that emergency services are out of compliance with the ADA by not providing equal access to 911. In Arizona, two other residents and the National Association of the Deaf, a group that advocates on behalf of the deaf and hard of hearing, are suing the state, some cities, local governments, and government agencies. In New York, New York City is being sued as well as emergency service agencies in Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island. Both lawsuits are calling on the courts to require call centers to adopt text-to-911 technologies. In a statement to Mother Jones, the National Association for the Deaf says it has “determined that litigation is necessary to effectuate a nationwide solution.”

Stout explains the failure to update the regulations from the early 1990s have left the deaf and those who cannot communicate easily over the phone dependent on others to access emergency care. He knows from personal experience. When Stout thought he was having a heart attack in 2011, he says he’s lucky he wasn’t alone. His colleagues in the office were around to drive him to the hospital.

Even though deaf people can reach emergency services through relay services, the many steps required in the process makes equal access impossible. “The average time is anywhere from three to eight minutes before we’re connected to the 911 center,” Richard Ray, an expert on the issue who works on improving accessibility and ADA compliance for the city of Los Angeles, explains through an interpreter. “Each second counts in those emergency situations.” This wait time is far from “functionally equivalent” to that of a hearing person as required by the ADA, Ray notes. The national standard established by the National Emergency Number Association requires 90 percent of 911 calls to be picked up within 10 seconds.

This isn’t a new problem, but disability advocates argue there is a simple solution: 911 call centers should be able to transmit and receive texts. “Texting to 911 should have been set up yesterday,” Ray explains. “We’re not in a situation where we can wait any longer.” Additionally, texting would provide another option for everyone to reach emergency services when calling might be unsafe, like during an ongoing break in.

One problem with adopting text-to-911 technology is structural. According to Kevin Murray, CEO of Mission Critical Partners, a public safety consulting company, and the former chair of the Industry Council for Emergency Response Technologies, every new technology requires a workaround because the infrastructure at emergency call centers was developed in the 1970s and 1980s. While text-to911 can be added, it’s a complicated process. “Imagine you buy the latest 3-D TVs and LED TVs and you bought your home automation systems and you purchased all these advanced technologies,” Murray says, “but then you hooked them up to a pair of outside analogue antennas.” He notes that this is comparable to what is happening with 911 today because “there are no broadband connections that really tie these systems together.”

Call centers are regulated and funded differently depending on the state and jurisdiction, which means access to 911 depends a lot on where one lives. In some states, text-to-911 is available everywhere, but in other states it doesn’t exist at all or access can vary from county to county. Out of the nearly 6,000 call centers nationwide, fewer than 1,000 accept text messages. To ensure universal access, the federal government would have to start enforcing the ADA. Murray says the industry is out of compliance with the law and the current state of access is “an embarrassment to the industry and to the US as a whole.”

Some call centers are using workarounds to integrate text-to-911 into the outdated infrastructure, but there’s also another option: Next Generation 911, a new system that allows people to communicate with 911 digitally. Eventually the technology will allow people to send images to or even video-call emergency services. Some places, such as Vermont, have upgraded already, and public safety leaders are pushing for Next Generation 911 to be available throughout the country by 2020, but Murray says there’s no federal commitment or funding to implement the service and meet that deadline. Even without it, the jurisdictions that have adopted Next Gen have call centers that are funded locally.

Back in 2010, the Department of Justice announced plans to propose new rules to make emergency services accessible with modern technology and accepted comments on the matter for about six months. Disability advocates are hopeful the new administration will continue to move forward with the process and update the rules later this year, as previously scheduled by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice under the Obama administration. The division declined a request for comment from Mother Jones about next steps.

Real change may be forced by the courts. Both of the lawsuits seeking equal access to 911 are in their early stages, but Vargas, an attorney for the plaintiffs in Arizona, doesn’t believe arguments against the lawsuit will hold up. The judge has denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit, in which they argued call centers already provide adequate access and follow federal guidelines. “If I were a 911 provider that was not providing text-to-911 access, I would be calling a meeting tomorrow to make it happen because this is not a negotiable issue,” she says. “You cannot choose not to provide 911 access to people because of disability. It’s simply the most profound kind of discrimination.”

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911 Is Practically Useless for Millions of People. Here’s Why.

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Proposed NOAA cuts would make predicting extreme weather even harder.

The Trump administration reportedly plans to make deep cuts to the budget of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, a key provider of information about the climate and weather.

All told, the proposed cuts amount to a full 17 percent of the agency’s budget, according to various reports. But the deepest would slash money for NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service, which operates a squad of satellites monitoring the environment. These satellites tell scientists about climate variability, weather, oceans, and much else.

Roughly 90 percent of weather data in the United States comes from NOAA. So the cuts would stymie efforts by scientists and meteorologists to measure and predict not just everyday weather patterns, but also tornadoes, hurricanes, and severe thunderstorms.

Predicting hurricanes is already challenging enough, but it’s increasingly important as climate change adds fuel to big storms.

The administration would also scrap federal money for NOAA’s Sea Grant, a program that supports university research to assess the vitality of coastlines and their ecosystems.

Over the weekend, scientists and climate realists took to Twitter to vent their outrage.

Apart from accurate climate data, there’s another thing we’ll certainly miss if satellites wind up on the chopping block:

Taken from:

Proposed NOAA cuts would make predicting extreme weather even harder.

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