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Chart of the Day: Georgia’s 6th Congressional District

Mother Jones

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Jon Ossoff’s near win in the special election in Georgia’s 6th congressional district has spurred a lot of conversation about how this represents a huge electoral shift that may be a harbinger of disaster for Republicans in the 2018 midterms. Maybe. That’s a long time away, and a lot of things can happen between now and then. In the meantime, though, this chart from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution gives a pretty good idea about what really happened:

This is a district that’s been steadily shifting Democratic for years, in both presidential and congressional races. In 2000 it favored George Bush over Al Gore by nearly 40 points. In 2012 that gap was down to about 20 points. The 2016 election accelerated that trend, with Donald Trump squeaking by with only the barest possible victory. There was unquestionably both a long-term Democratic tailwind in the district and a Trump effect specific to 2016.

During that same period, congressman Tom Price went from a 40-point victory in 2006 (his first as an incumbent) to a 20-point victory in 2016. Remove the incumbency effect and it’s not surprising that Jon Ossoff cut that lead to a couple of points earlier this week. There’s a long-term Democratic tailwind and an incumbency effect specific to 2017.

If Ossoff wins the runoff—or loses a close race—it’s unclear exactly what this means. Is it a huge turnaround in electoral fortunes? Or a modest turnaround fueled mostly by the lack of an incumbent and only a little by the Trump effect? I suspect the latter, though I’m not quite sure what evidence we can bring to bear to sort this out. Come back in eight weeks and we’ll take another crack at it.

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Chart of the Day: Georgia’s 6th Congressional District

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Surprise: This Republican governor now wants his state to ban fracking.

U.S. cities are packed with about 5 million medium-sized buildings — schools, churches, community centers, apartment buildings. Most use way more energy than they should. Many also have poor airflow and dirty, out-of-date heating and electrical systems. Those conditions contribute to high inner-city asthma rates and other health concerns.

“These buildings are actually making children sick,” says Donnel Baird, who grew up in such a place. His parents, immigrants from Guyana, raised their kids in a one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment, relying on a cooking stove for heat. Baird eventually moved to the South and then attended Duke University, before returning to New York as a community organizer in 2008.

In 2013, Baird launched BlocPower, which provides engineering and financial know-how to retrofit city buildings. The technical part is cool: Engineers survey structures with sensors and smartphone apps, figuring out the best ways to reduce energy use, like replacing oil boilers with solar hot water. But the financing is critical; BlocPower builds the case for each project and connects owners with lenders. It has already retrofitted more than 500 buildings in New York and is expanding into Chicago, Philadelphia, and Atlanta.

“The biggest way for us to reduce carbon emissions right now,” Baird says, “is efficiency.”


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

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Surprise: This Republican governor now wants his state to ban fracking.

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The Trump Deportation Regime Has Begun

Mother Jones

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Early Thursday, immigration attorneys in Los Angeles started getting calls from clients across the city. Some callers reported being picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents at their homes. Others were caught at their workplaces, including one man detained at a Target store. The first round of Trump-era deportation sweeps had begun.

The news quickly filtered back to immigrant rights activists, who confirmed the detentions and alerted their networks. According to Angelica Salas, the executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), as many as 134 immigrants were detained in the sweep. Based on her conversations with lawyers, many of those detained had outstanding orders for deportation—and some were sent back to Mexico as early as Thursday afternoon.

On Thursday evening, activists held a vigil at ICE’s downtown Los Angeles field office. Later, an estimated 100 to 150 protesters blocked a nearby highway on-ramp:

In a Friday afternoon press release, ICE said 160 immigrants were arrested during what it called a “five-day targeted enforcement operation” in Southern California that was “aimed at at-large criminal aliens, illegal re-entrants, and immigration fugitives.” Of the 160, ICE claimed that 150 had criminal histories, and that 5 of the remaining 10 had final orders of removal or had been previously deported. While the release said “many of the arrestees had prior felony convictions for serious or violent offenses,” ICE did not give a full breakdown of those convictions.

Earlier Friday, an ICE spokeswoman told Mother Jones that “enforcement surges have been part of our operational play book for many years.” The subsequent press release echoed that line: “The focus was no different than the routine, targeted arrests carried out by ICE’s Fugitive Operations Teams on a daily basis.”

The sweep was the second high-profile ICE action in two days. On Wednesday night, immigration agents in Phoenix found themselves swarmed by protesters when they attempted to deport Guadalupe García de Rayos, a 35-year-old Mexican immigrant with two teenage children who are American citizens. García de Rayos had been caught using a fake Social Security number during an ICE workplace raid in 2008.

García de Rayos’ deportation sent shock waves through the immigrant rights community and dominated Spanish-language media on Thursday. Ever since the 2008 raid, she had checked in annually with ICE to review her case—brief meetings that always resulted in her walking free, even though she had been convicted of a felony and later had a deportation order against her. This partly reflected the Obama administration’s emphasis on deporting serious criminal offenders. But her deportation to Nogales, Mexico, signals that the Trump administration plans to follow through with its plans to remove all undocumented immigrants who’ve committed “acts that constitute a chargeable offense”—which, as Vox‘s Dara Lind has pointed out, could include everything from entering the country illegally to driving without a license. (In a statement to reporters Thursday, ICE said it will “focus on identifying and removing individuals with felony convictions who have final orders of removal.”)

Indeed, social media was abuzz Friday with rumors of deportation raids throughout the country. On a conference call late in the day, Dave Marin, ICE’s LA field office director for enforcement and removal operations, confirmed that there were also operations in Atlanta, Chicago, and New York during the week. And Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) tweeted Friday afternoon about additional ICE activity in South and Central Texas:

“A lot of things have changed since January 20,” says CHIRLA’s Salas. She notes that during the Obama years, ICE would typically give groups like CHIRLA basic information such as names and the number of people detained following any large sweep or workplace raid. But Salas says she finds it troubling that following Thursday’s actions, there was little to no communication with the agency. “It’s important that we don’t get used to the idea that they don’t have to give out this information,” she says.

CHIRLA is currently focusing on educating immigrant communities on civil and constitutional rights. According to a new report from the Pew Research Center, greater Los Angeles is home to 1 million undocumented immigrants—second only to the New York City area, which is home to 1.15 million. On Friday, the group ran hourly know-your-rights workshops, and it’s also holding legal clinics where immigrants can get advice. Similar efforts have been happening nationwide: Earlier this week, for example, public school educators in Austin, Texas, handed out flyers to students in English and Spanish about what to do in an encounter with immigration officials.

Salas says that organizers’ next step is to continue to engage elected officials. Notably, Rep. Ruben Gallegos (D-Ariz.) and California State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León have criticized ICE on Twitter over the last day.

“We have to set the tone,” Salas says, “that this is not acceptable.”

This story has been updated.

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The Trump Deportation Regime Has Begun

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Buying a Home Is Nearly Impossible for Teachers in These Cities

Mother Jones

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Lauren Paquette dreams of owning a home with a pool. But the 34-year-old fifth-grade science teacher knows it’s a pipe dream: She recently had to find a roommate to help with the monthly rent of $1,425 on her three-bedroom house in Houston. Although that’s relatively cheap compared with rents across the country, it’s tough on a teacher’s salary. Saving up for a down payment is out of the question, said Paquette, a single mother.

“It’s not like I went into this job thinking I’d make a bunch of money, but I expected to be able to make ends meet,” Paquette said. Finances have been easier since she left North Carolina for Texas (North Carolina ranks in the lower tenth of states for teacher pay), but Paquette’s struggles aren’t unique.

As housing prices have soared in all the usual major metropolitan areas—as well as in cites like Las Vegas, Sacramento, Atlanta, and Minneapolis—teachers’ wages haven’t kept pace. And with school districts already struggling to recruit and retain educators, this rising gap is just another barrier to keeping teachers in the profession.

Redfin, a real estate brokerage firm, compared listed home prices in more than 30 cities with average teachers’ salaries to gauge what percentage of available homes teachers could afford. (Administrators, principals, and special-education teachers were not included in the data, and New York City was not studied.) The number of homes within reach for a single teacher has declined in some places by more than 25 percent since 2012.

That’s no surprise in San Francisco, where just 14 out of the 2,244 listed houses were within reach on the average teacher salary of $71,000. But the dearth of affordable options has worsened in Las Vegas, Sacramento, Chicago, and Dallas, where in each city less than 25 percent of listed houses are affordable for teachers.

Of course, home ownership—traditionally an economic engine of the middle class—isn’t out of reach for just teachers. High housing prices are pushing middle-class workers out of many cities. Redfin chief economist Nela Richardson said the notion that civil servants live in the communities they serve is becoming a thing of the past: “These are middle-class salaries, but middle-class people can’t afford to buy homes.”

Rental prices mirror the housing market, so teachers who rent are also getting pushed out of the cities in which they teach. Meanwhile, attempts to fix the crisis in Los Angeles have backfired, and other novel solutions—like Sen. Corey Booker’s eight-building Teacher Village in Newark, New Jersey, or plans for teacher-only residential units in the San Francisco Bay Area—either just opened or are still years away. Despite creative housing solutions for our cities’ educators, many critics of these plans argue that the real solution is simply paying teachers higher salaries.

David Fisher, the vice president of the Sacramento City Teachers Association, lived in a studio apartment with his wife and son for 15 years before he could afford a house in Sacramento. “These aren’t McMansions in the suburbs,” Fisher said. “These are modest houses is modest neighborhoods.” Besides, he said, most teachers are concerned with paying off student loan debt before even considering buying a home.

There are a few cities where it’s not so bad. In Philadelphia, where teachers’ salaries saw a 15 percent increase since 2012, more than 35 percent of houses for sale are affordable for teachers. Like most civil servants, teachers have more options anywhere the housing supply is larger.

Paquette, the science teacher, figures that she may be able to buy a house in 10 years—and says she’ll stay in Houston as long as she can afford it. Whether she’ll stay in education is another question. “I get that itch quite often,” she said, “to leave the classroom.”

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Buying a Home Is Nearly Impossible for Teachers in These Cities

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We’ll Never See These Animals Again

Mother Jones

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If 2016 was a rough year for the animal kingdom, 2017 could be worse. Most scientists agree that we are experiencing a sixth mass extinction, but unlike the previous five that extended over hundreds of millions of years and occurred because of cataclysmic natural disasters, humans are responsible for this one.

Climate change, agricultural expansion, wildlife crime, pollution, and disease have created a shocking acceleration in the disappearance of species. The World Wildlife Fund recently predicted that more than two-thirds of the vertebrate population—mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, and reptiles—would be lost over the next three years if extinctions continue at the current rate. A 2015 study that appeared in the journal Science Advances suggests that the rate of vertebrate extinction has increased nearly 100 times. Paul Ehrlich, a professor of population studies at Stanford University and a co-author of the study, notes half the life forms that people know about are already extinct. Another study, published in the journal Current Biology, observes that some species are likely becoming extinct before scientists have a chance to discover and classify them. Researchers looking at Brazil’s bird populations found some already so threatened when they were discovered, they went extinct almost immediately. “That we have these examples,” the authors write, “may be by good luck: we will surely have missed many others.”

Scientists have cautioned against making sweeping overall estimates, rather than talking about risks for specific populations. As Duke University professor of Conservation Ecology, Stuart Pimm, observed, even though animal populations are “declining precipitously,” pinpointing exactly how many animals will be gone and the timeframe for their extinction doesn’t capture the complexity of the problem. “It’s bird populations in Europe, it’s fish in the Pacific,Pimm says. “You can’t add those together and come up with a number that makes any sense.”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has tried to show the scope of the problem in its Red List, a comprehensive roster of threatened species. Here are some of the highlights, including three species that went extinct last year and others to watch out for in 2017:

The Bramble Car melomys: This small Australian rodent that resembled an ordinary mouse was confirmed as extinct in 2016. It is the first known mammal to go extinct as a result of human-caused climate change. Its habitat on an island in the Great Barrier reef was assaulted by the rise of sea levels, coastal erosion, and flooding—all driven by climate change.

Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frog: In 2016, the appropriately named Toughie died in the Atlanta Botanical Garden. He was at least twelve years old, though his exact age is unknown. Toughie and another Rabb’s fringe-limbed tree frog were collected from Panama in 2005 for research on chytrid fungus, a deadly fungus that has been ravaging amphibian populations in the region. Amphibians, like Toughie, have the highest rate of endangerment, with a third of known species being at risk of extinction. Toughie became the face of the amphibian extinction crisis as visitors to his enclosure knew they were looking at the last of his kind.

Dolphins and porpoises: There has been a lot of alarming news about the ocean recently: A UN report found that ocean acidification is up around 26 percent, and more than half of the sharks and rays in the Mediterranean are at risk of extinction. But, in 2016, with a population of only three, the Irrawaddy dolphin in Laos was declared “functionally extinct.” The announcement came after a World Wildlife Fund survey of Cambodia and Laos determined there were not enough mating pairs for the species to survive. Resembling Flipper—except with a bulbous face instead of a bottle nose—this sea faring mammal’s extinction is blamed on gill nets, a type of netting used by commercial fishermen that trap fish by their gills. Dolphins are caught in the nets and drown.

Vaquita, or “Little cow” in Spanish, is the smallest species of porpoise, and the remaining few live in the Gulf of California. Vaquita are so rare that some people who live on the Gulf don’t believe they exist, according to a recent Vaquita documentary. In May, a Conservation Biology acoustics survey found that there are only 60 left. Now, some have dropped the estimate to fewer than 50. Like the Irrawaddy dolphin, they are victims of gill net fishing.

African Grey Parrot: In December 2016, the International Union of Concerned Naturalists revealed that 11 percent of newly discovered bird species were already threatened and changed the status of others, such as the African Grey Parrot, from “vulnerable” to “endangered.” Highly intelligent and capable of mimicking human speech, the African Grey Parrot’s population has shrunk by as much as 99 percent in some places because of habitat loss and trapping. Perhaps the most famous member of this species was Alex, the subject of intelligence studies at Harvard and Brandeis universities who, when he died in 2007, knew more than 100 English words.

Giraffes: Bad news for the planet’s tallest land creature was announced before the end of 2016: Giraffe populations are plunging in what scientists call a “silent extinction” due to poaching and habitat loss. (The extinction is “silent” because we had largely failed to notice their plummeting population.) Previously, the IUCN’s Red List had given them a “least concern” rating. News that their populations have dropped by as much as 40 percent since 1985 has caused their status to be changed to vulnerable.

Jaguars and most large cats: The protection of all big cats will be important in the coming years, as populations continue to plummet. The African lion population, for example, has dropped 90 percent. At the end of December, a study from the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that the fastest land animal on earth, the cheetah, now only has a worldwide population of about 7,000. That’s down from its population of about 100,000 a century ago. The study attributed the drop to habitat loss: Cheetahs have lost 91 percent of their range.

Large cats are also endangered in our own backyard. El Jefe,” who was named by Arizona school children, is the only known wild jaguar in the United States, but it is an elusive animal whose exact whereabouts are often unknown. In February, the Center for Biological Diversity released a video of the enormous cat slinking through the mountainside in the Santa Rita mountains outside of Tuscon. Randy Serraglio, a biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity who tracks El Jefe, suggests the animal has likely migrated to Mexico in search of mates. Once there, it faces other dangers from ranchers, who kill jaguars for sport or out of concern for their livestock, Mexican newspapers reported. Back in the US, a Canadian mining company might threaten El Jefe’s habitat by developing a massive open pit copper mine through its territory in Arizona. On top of all that, should Donald Trump actually make good on his proposed border wall, jaguar migratory patterns would be disrupted.

Rhinos: These massive mammals have long been hunted for their horns, which are erroneously believed to have healing properties. The western black rhino is already extinct and there are only three northern white rhino left. There is still a small population of Javan Rhinos in Indonesia, but two other subspecies, one in Vietnam, have also gone extinct. In 2016, numbers showed that the previous year was the worst year ever for rhino poaching. Given the trends, scientists predict that the entire wild rhino population will go extinct between 2021 and 2031. Many of the horns already on the market are fake, and some companies are trying to deal with the crisis by flooding the rhino horn market with 3-D prints of rhino horns, under the dubious assumption that this will make poaching less lucrative. However, some conservationists argue that it could actually make things worse by removing the stigma about using the horn and making it harder for law enforcement officers to track poachers.

Yellow-faced honeybee: Seven species of Hawaii’s yellow-faced bees made it onto the endangered species list last year, but more than a quarter of the bee population in the US is also in trouble. This has potentially devastating consequences for the planet’s food supply: Bees are responsible for pollinating more than a third of the world’s food.

The African elephant: The Endangered Species Coalition reports that the population of the largest land animal in the world—once 10 million strong—has fallen to about 400,000. The Great Elephant Census, a pan-African census that collects data using small planes, reports that the Savannah elephants have lost nearly a third of their population in the last seven years. The population drop is attributed to ivory poaching and loss of habitat. If poaching continues at its current rate, there will be no African elephants in 20 years.

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We’ll Never See These Animals Again

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