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Trump administration to replace Clean Power Plan with ‘dirty power plan’

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

President Donald Trump claimed in September that he did away with the Clean Power Plan, one of the Obama administration’s most ambitious efforts for tackling climate change. The plan was the first to set a limit on carbon pollution from existing power plants. Dispensing with the regulation, Trump told a rally in Alabama, was simple as, “boom, gone.”

Of course the reality is more complicated. Because the Clean Power Plan is a finalized regulation from the EPA, the agency also has to put forward its justification for repealing it. During an appearance on Monday at the coal-mining town of Hazard, Kentucky, administrator Scott Pruitt announced his plans to sign the draft proposal to repeal the 2015 climate rule.

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“The war on coal is over,” Pruitt said. “Tomorrow in Washington, D.C., I will be signing a proposed rule to roll back the Clean Power Plan. No better place to make that announcement than Hazard, Kentucky.”

The Clean Power Plan was crafted to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants 32 percent by 2030, by having states devise their own proposals for creating a pollution-cutting mix of renewables, gas, nuclear, and energy efficiency. But the Supreme Court stayed the rule in 2015, so its implementation stalled while the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard the case brought by 26 states and coal companies like Murray Energy, which is owned by Trump donor Bob Murray. So far, the court hasn’t ruled, waiting to see what the Trump administration does next.

Another wrinkle is that the Trump administration eventually has to do something because it technically can’t ignore the EPA’s determination that greenhouse gases endanger public health, a finding compelled by a landmark Supreme Court decision in 2007. If they do nothing, they still risk lawsuits for not enforcing the Clean Air Act.

As I reported in August:

Whatever the administration decides, it will need to publish a written justification, which will be scrutinized by environmental groups in a likely lawsuit on the decision. The administration faces a similar quandary that plagued the GOP during the health care fight: Repeal the Clean Power Plan outright, or replace it with a shell of a rule?

According to a leaked draft of the EPA’s proposal, the Trump administration is choosing the first option — but with a twist. The 43-page document lays out the reasoning for repealing the rule by stressing the costs of implementation without factoring in the benefits from air pollution reduction and its contribution to combating climate change. The public is also invited to comment on alternatives for replacing it, without the EPA proposing any replacement of its own.

Janet McCabe, former head of the EPA office of air and radiation, explained that seeking input before even proposing a replacement “is not a legally necessary step.” Agencies use this step “sometimes to seek broad input before they put their own thoughts down into a proposal, which necessarily signals a particular policy and legal direction.”

A former EPA attorney that helped craft the Clean Power Plan told Mother Jones that the agency’s invitation to the public to comment is actually its own stalling tactic. The extra step pushes back the EPA’s regulatory timeline for nine months, at least. The reason the status quo appeals to the administration’s coal allies is that the implementation of the Clean Power Plan was delayed by the Supreme Court while current legal challenges played out. The coal industry only gains by the EPA delaying a replacement climate regulation, because the longer it’s put off, the longer it can pollute without limit. By stalling, Pruitt kicks the can down the road, by betting that the status quo of no rule in place is better than a replacement.

“Pruitt doesn’t believe in this stuff, so he’s actually in a paradoxical position,” says Joe Goffman, the former EPA attorney who is now at Harvard Law School’s environmental program. “If they do propose a replacement for the Clean Power Plan, what he’ll be doing is putting his signature on the proposal which will require to some extent power plants to address their carbon emissions.”

Nothing Pruitt is proposing now changes the underlying legal and scientific reasoning for why the EPA needs to do something on carbon emissions from the coal sector. Natural Resource Defense Council’s Climate and Clean Air Director David Doniger says the administration’s strategy is basically “replacing the Clean Power Plan with a dirty power plan.”

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Trump administration to replace Clean Power Plan with ‘dirty power plan’

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Researchers took on Exxon’s dare to prove it misled the public about climate change

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

Two years ago, Inside Climate News and L.A. Times investigations found that while ExxonMobil internally acknowledged that climate change is human-made and serious, it publicly manufactured doubt about the science. Exxon has been trying unsuccessfully to smother this slow-burning PR crisis ever since, arguing the findings were “deliberately cherry picked statements.” But the company’s problems have grown to include probes of its business practices by the New York and Massachusetts attorneys general and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Now, science historian Naomi Oreskes and Harvard researcher Geoffrey Supran have published the first peer-reviewed, comprehensive analysis of Exxon’s climate communications that adds more heft to these charges. Exxon dared the public to “read all of these documents and make up your own mind,” in a company blog post in 2015. The new paper, “Assessing ExxonMobil’s Climate Change Communications,” in the journal Environmental Research Letters, takes up the challenge. Oreskes and Supran systematically analyze nearly 40 years of Exxon’s scientific research, reports, internal documents, and advertisements, and find a deep disconnect between how the company directly communicated climate change and its internal memos and scientific studies.

“The issue of taking things out of context or cherry-picking data is an important one, and one all historians and journalists deal with,” Oreskes tells Mother Jones. “When ExxonMobil accuses journalists of cherry-picking, there is a way we can address that. There are analyses we can do to avoid these issues. Well, if you think the LA Times is cherry-picking [examples], we’ll look at all of them. Nobody can say we are selecting things out of context.”

Their content analysis examines how 187 company documents treated climate change from 1977 through 2014. Researchers found that of the documents that address the causes of climate change, 83 percent of its peer-reviewed scientific literature and 80 percent of its internal documents said it was real and human-made, while the opposite was true of the ads. The researchers analyzed ads published in the New York Times between 1989 and 2004. In those ads, 81 percent expressed doubt about the scientific consensus, tending to emphasize the “uncertainty” and “knowledge gap,” while just 12 percent affirmed the science.

The same pattern holds for how Exxon has addressed the seriousness of the consequences of climate change. Downplaying the impacts is another tactic climate deniers tend to use to call for more delays in implementing policies that curb fossil fuel use. Sixty percent of Exxon’s peer-reviewed papers and 53 percent of its internal documents acknowledge serious impacts — a 1982 internal document lists flooding and sea-level rise and a 2002 paper lists coral reef bleaching and the disintegration of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet among them — but Exxon’s ads were more likely to claim, “The sky is not falling.”

Oreskes and Supran write that Exxon “contributed quietly to the science and loudly to raising doubts about it.”

This distinction is important, argues Supran. “Exxon’s response to the allegations from journalists and investigators was a kind of gloss or straw man,” he says. “They were contributing to climate science. The problem was the company still had a much louder doubt-promoting position in public. It was the discrepancy that confused people.”

Exxon did not return a request for comment on the study before publication, but in the past it has dismissed similar criticisms by pointing to its decades of promoting climate science research, which the paper does not dispute.

Of course, Exxon’s media strategy has shifted over time, and the company adopted a more uniform position where executives acknowledged climate change is human-made when it became untenable to say otherwise. Oreskes and Supran also included one issue that’s caused more recent trouble for the industry than its advertising campaigns. There’s intense debate over what are known as “stranded assets,” a term used to describe assets that have become anachronisms when faced with new business realities. In this case, it is the serious risk that Exxon’s business model is overvalued and incompatible with the world taking serious action to limit global warming. Two dozen of the company’s publications and internal documents acknowledged stranded assets, but it is not mentioned in any of the ads through 2004.

Shareholders actually sued Exxon last fall over stranded assets, claiming the company was aware it would not be able to extract all its fossil fuel reserves but its public statements dismissing the risks were “materially false and misleading.” And shareholders have stepped up the pressure in other ways, too: This May, two-thirds of shareholders voted to force the company to publish an annual report on its climate impacts. The moment was a rare defiance of Exxon’s management, which opposed the report, and maybe a step toward more transparency.

Oreskes, who’s written extensively about industry campaigns to undermine scientific findings, says that Exxon’s message inevitably changes over time as it adapts to new circumstances and old positions become discredited. But Exxon is still following the same general playbook. “They are promoting a different kind of doubt,” she says. “It’s a doubt that says, ‘There’s climate change, but we have to still use fossil fuels because there’s no alternative.’” But, Oreskes adds, there are alternatives.

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Researchers took on Exxon’s dare to prove it misled the public about climate change

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Republican Congressman on Suspected Islamic Radicals: "Kill Them All"

Mother Jones

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In response to the London terror attack, Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) had an extreme proposal: kill anyone suspected of being an Islamic radical.

On his campaign Faceboook page, Higgins, a former police officer, posted this message:

The free world…all of Christendom…is at war with Islamic horror. Not one penny of American treasure should be granted to any nation who harbors these heathen animals. Not a single radicalized Islamic suspect should be granted any measure of quarter. Their intended entry to the American homeland should be summarily denied. Every conceivable measure should be engaged to hunt them down. Hunt them, identity them, and kill them. Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all.

The post went up early on Sunday morning. On Saturday evening, suspected terrorists killed seven people during an attack on London Bridge. ISIS has claimed credit for these murders.

With his declaration that Christendom is “at war with Islamic horror,” Higgins was embracing a theme of the far right: the fight against extremist jihadists is part of a fundamental clash between Christian society and Islam. And in this Facebook post, he was calling for killing not just terrorists found guilty of heinous actions, but anyone suspected of such an act. He did not explain how the United States could determine how to identify radicalized Islamists in order to deny them entry to the United States. It was unclear whether his proposal to deny any assistance to any nation that harbors “these heathen animals” would apply to England, France, Indonesia, Spain, and other nations where jihadist cells have committed horrific acts of violence.

Higgins office refused to allow a Mother Jones reporter to speak to a spokesman for the congressman. But in an email, his spokesman confirmed the Facebook post was authentic.

In late January, Higgins delivered a fiery floor speech attacking Democrats and the “liberal media” for opposing President Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban. He declared that “radical Islamic horror has gripped the world and…unbelievably…been allowed into our own nation with wanton disregard.”

Shortly before running for Congress, Higgins resigned from his post as the public information officer of the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office, where he had earned a reputation as the “Cajun John Wayne” for his tough-talking CrimeStopper videos. Higgins abruptly quit after his boss, the sheriff, ordered him to tone down his unprofessional comments. “I repeatedly told him to stop saying things like, ‘You have no brain cells,’ or making comments that were totally disrespectful and demeaning,” the sheriff said.

“I don’t do well reined in,” Higgins noted at the time. “Although I love and respect my sheriff, I must resign.”

Update: Higgins’ campaign spokesman, Chris Comeaux, told Mother Jones in an email: “Rep. Higgins is referring to terrorists. He’s advocating for hunting down and killing all of the terrorists. This is an idea all of America & Britain should be united behind.”

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Republican Congressman on Suspected Islamic Radicals: "Kill Them All"

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The GOP Health Bill Would Make Zika the Newest Preexisting Condition

Mother Jones

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The controversial GOP health care bill that narrowly passed the House of Representatives this month could have devastating consequences for mothers and children infected with Zika, experts say. The mosquito-borne virus is just one on a nearly endless list of preexisting medical conditions—cancer, asthma, pregnancy—for which insurers could potentially charge higher premiums if Republicans get their way.

One of the most popular features of Obamacare is a provision known as “community rating,” which bars insurance from charging more for people with preexisting conditions. This was a common practice before Obamacare was enacted in 2010; stories of sick people being unable to find affordable coverage were one of the main arguments used by the legislation’s supporters. Of course, the public health crisis surrounding Zika—and the birth defects it can cause—wasn’t an issue at the time; no one in the United States had yet contracted the virus. But if the House’s Obamacare repeal bill becomes law, people with Zika could end up paying far more for their health care—and could even end up priced out of insurance entirely.

Multiple health care experts told Mother Jones that the GOP bill would almost certainly mean a host of insurance problems for both pregnant women who have had Zika and infants born with microcephaly, a condition where a child has a smaller brain and other health defects. Zika can cause a host of other birth defects and in rare cases has been linked to Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can cause temporary paralysis in adults. What’s more, the GOP bill cuts funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the agency on the front lines of the battle against the disease.

The Republican bill includes an amendment that allows states to opt out of the Obamacare community rating protection. Under the GOP plan, if a person’s health coverage were to lapse longer than 63 days in a state that opts out, that person could be charged a prohibitive cost on the private market. Short lapses in coverage are incredibly common. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that 27.4 million nonelderly adults had a several-month gap in coverage in 2015. For the 6.3 million of these adults who have preexisting conditions, the costs could be significant. The liberal Center for American Progress estimated that under the GOP bill, people with even mild preexisting conditions would pay thousands more per year—a 40-year-old, for example, would likely be charged an extra $4,340 in premiums if she had asthma, or $17,320 extra if she were pregnant.

Zika was first identified in 1947 in Uganda. It didn’t emerge in Brazil until 2015, when researchers began to notice the link to a spike in birth defects. Since then, mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus have been found in almost every country in the Western Hemisphere. Zika is particularly prevalent in Latin American, but it has also appeared in the United States. There have been more than 30,000 cases confirmed in Puerto Rico, including 3,300 pregnant woman, and more than 1,000 cases in Florida. The spread of Zika has varied wildly from year to year, with cases this year down sharply from 2016.

Yet our understanding of the Zika virus and its related health problems is still evolving. In most people, the virus shows no visible symptoms or just mild problems such as aches and a fever. But it does raise the risk of microcephaly, a rare brain defect in which a child develops with an abnormally small head and brain. Microcephaly is incredibly rare in a normal pregnancy, but a Zika infection in the first trimester raises the risk to 1 to 13 percent.

Zika is linked to various health problems in infants, but microcephaly itself is an expensive medical condition. The CDC estimates it would cost an additional $1 million to $10 million in medical care over the child’s lifetime. Zika-associated microcephaly would probably cost somewhere in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in premium surcharges, according to the Center for American Progress health policy team.

Experts say that, under the Republican plan, insurers would almost certainly treat Zika as a reason to charge higher premiums.

“If it’s documented in your medical records that you had this infection and you have it now, they might well act on it,” Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told Mother Jones. And if an infant was born with microcephaly, Pollitz added, “you’d have to be very careful as the parent of a child to never have a break in coverage.” Pollitz also added that the total number of Zika cases is small, but the issue could come up in medical records and be cause for insurers to “jump on that and possibly charge you a higher premium.”

In other words, insurers would be tempted to charge more based on the expensive medical costs sometimes associated with Zika, and there would be nothing preventing them from doing it. “There’s no rule about what can or cannot qualify” as a preexisting condition, New York University health care expert Sherry Glied said in an email, “and Zika will certainly raise later costs, so would count.”

David Anderson, a Duke University health policy researcher who has worked in the health insurance industry, added that another part of the GOP’s health bill—massive cuts to Medicaid spending—would add more strain to state budgets in the case of a Zika outbreak. The bill reduces Medicaid expenditures by $834 billion over the next decade, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Trump’s 2018 budget released Tuesday proposes even deeper cuts than the GOP bill. If passed, the budget would reduce Medicaid spending by $1.4 trillion over 10 years.

Anything affecting babies is a big deal for Medicaid, which covers nearly half of all births in the United States. That would cause a significant problem if Zika leads to an unexpected spike in microcephaly. “If it’s not that common, states can handle one or two isolated events,” Anderson says. “If it’s very common and there are hundreds of babies born with microcephaly under high-cost conditions, then states can’t handle it.”

The House bill would have other impacts on Zika prevention efforts. It cuts nearly $1 billion from the CDC’s budget. The CDC funds testing and research and deploys emergency teams to provide extra medical assistance and to control the spread of Zika-infected mosquitoes. The CDC fights Zika by monitoring mosquitoes that transmit the virus, and it collects data about how Zika affects pregnancies. Trump’s budget doesn’t help the situation either. Although it sets up a CDC emergency response fund to deal with outbreaks like Zika, the budget weakens prevention efforts by seeking a 17 percent cut to the CDC and an 18 percent cut to the National Institutes of Health.

The confluence of Zika and the GOP health care bill could have political consequences in places like Florida, where the virus has already proved to be a potent electoral issue. Two South Florida congressmen—GOP Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart—championed a bill last year that sent $1.1 billion to the CDC and the NIH to combat Zika. Both also voted for the Obamacare repeal bill. Neither of their offices responded to requests for comment.

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The GOP Health Bill Would Make Zika the Newest Preexisting Condition

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Friday Cat Blogging – 19 May 2017

Mother Jones

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First things first: the answer to the origin of yesterday’s lunchtime photo. It’s a picture of the neon-lit Ferris wheel at the Santa Monica Pier. It’s a 1-second exposure at night, one of several I took where I deliberately moved the camera while the shutter was open. Then I ran it through the dry brush filter in Photoshop.

And now for catblogging. Here is Hopper trying to leap from one branch to another on one of our trees. It looks touch-and-go, but it actually wasn’t. She immediately chinned herself onto the target branch, but the camera just happened to catch her mid-swing. I assure you that no cats were harmed in the making of this photo.

However, you’re all lucky I didn’t make this into some variation on “donate to Mother Jones or the cat gets it.” That would have been totally tasteless, and I’d never do that. But I could do it if I were that kind of person—and maybe I will if we don’t make the $500,000 goal for our muckraking fund to investigate the Trump-Russia connection. We’re getting close, but we’re not quite there. So donate! Read more about it here. Or go straight to the donation page here.

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Friday Cat Blogging – 19 May 2017

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The Perfect Movie for Your Earth Day Date Night

Mother Jones

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While Hollywood has been on a roll with climate change films, most of them have concentrated on the planet’s impending doom. The team behind the new French documentary Tomorrow takes a different tactic. “I discovered that showing catastrophes—explaining what is going wrong in the world—is not enough,” co-director Cyril Dion tells Mother Jones. “We also need to have energy and enthusiasm to build another future.”

It was a challenge to convince others’ of this opinion, Dion says: “Nobody believed in a positive documentary about ecology, economy, and democracy.” Instead, the Caésar-award-winning film, originally released in France in 2015, was partly crowd-funded. As French actress Mélanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds) implores in the film, “This movie is about thousands of people changing the world so we would like it to be financed by thousands of people willing to do the same.”

Over a backdrop of twee music, the upbeat Laurent and Dion serve as our tour guides into everyday communities that have taken creative steps to reduce their contribution to climate change: permaculture farming in France, urban farming in Detroit, a new democratic experiment to let Untouchables and high-caste live together in India, and a political revolution and rewritten constitution in Iceland. Despite Laurent and Dion’s earnestness to identify answers, however, viewers may find that the film does not fully address the magnitude and urgency of the situation—which small-scale, local solutions alone cannot fix.

Nonetheless, change is perhaps most powerful when it is community-driven. The most novel innovation proposed is the possibility of “local currencies” that never leave one geographic area, thus encouraging the type of localized production and consumption that the filmmakers believe to be essential to a sustainable future. The Swiss WIR, an alternative currency system that stays in Switzerland, has been a successful model for such a system since the 1930s. In the years following the 2008 recession, interest has risen in alternative currency systems insulated from the volatility of global markets. “Rather than money just pouring out of your local economy as though it were a leaky bucket, a local currency recognizes that getting money to stay in your local economy as long as it can, and be passed around as many times as possible, is of huge benefit,” Rob Hopkins, a British environmental activist featured in the film, tells Mother Jones.

By focusing on experiments already in the works, Tomorrow presents climate change as a challenge with clear remedies rather than an inevitable apocalypse.

The film opened in New York and Los Angeles on April 21.

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The Perfect Movie for Your Earth Day Date Night

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Donald Trump’s Modeling Agency Is on the Verge of Collapse, Say Industry Insiders

Mother Jones

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Donald Trump’s presidency hasn’t been good for one of his favorite businesses. The president’s modeling agency has been losing models and senior staff in recent months amid a growing backlash over his toxic politics. And the problems at Trump Model Management appear to be escalating. In interviews with Mother Jones, three industry insiders said they believe the agency could be forced to close.

The sources—two model bookers who have worked with Trump Models and another person with deep ties to the agency—attributed the firm’s sudden tailspin to the controversial president himself. The once glamorous Trump brand, they said, now appears to be tainted.

“Yeah, it’s closing,” said Virginie Deren, a model booker at the top Paris firm Premium, which co-represents a handful of models with Trump Model Management. Deren said she was given this information by a Trump booker. “It’s surprising that it’s come to that point,” she added. “It’s rough.”

Trump executives didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment for this story, but employees of the agency said this week that business is continuing as normal.

Deren said she didn’t know the precise timing of the potential closure or what might happen next for models at the agency. “For now, they haven’t really told us anything,” she said. “Of course, it’s going to take time.”

“That’s definitely happening,” said a second modeling agent who has also worked with Trump models, when asked about the potential closure. This source added that Trump staffers have approached the source’s own company looking for work. “They’re all pretty much sort of scrambling to get out,” said the source, who spoke anonymously to protect the firm where the source works. “We’ve met quite a few who’ve expressed the dismay this is happening, and their only goal is to find a new place.”

A third source—who has close ties to Trump Models—agreed that the situation at the agency is dire and that closing is a real possibility. This source requested anonymity to protect against the possibility of future legal action by the agency.

Corinne Nicolas, president of Trump Model Management, did not respond to questions from Mother Jones. Ronald Lieberman, a vice president at the Trump Organization who has previously responded to press queries about Trump Models, also did not respond to questions about the state of the modeling business. No one answered several calls to the company’s main phone line Wednesday.

Asked about the claims that the agency could soon close its doors, Michael Wildes—a New York attorney who has worked extensively with the agency, as well as with Melania Trump—told Mother Jones, “I’ve been privy to conversations, but I’m not permitted to share anything.”

Still, employees at Trump Models say their work is continuing as normal. Reached on her cellphone Tuesday, Helene Marengo, who works in the agency’s accounts department, said she was unaware of any plans to close her company. “I’m still working. I’m in my office right now, working like normal,” she said. “I have no knowledge of anything happening. As of right now, it’s business as usual.”

A woman who answered the door at the company’s Manhattan office Wednesday said that “of course” the agency remained open for new business.

Last summer, Mother Jones interviewed several foreign-born models who alleged they had worked illegally in the United States with Trump’s agency—a report that was particularly striking in light of Trump’s hawkish stance on illegal immigration. Four former Trump models told Mother Jones they worked for the agency without work visas; one said she worked for the agency for four years without a visa. Records in a lawsuit filed against Trump Model Management by a fifth former model, Alexia Palmer, indicated that she, too, worked for the company without work authorization. (The lawsuit was ultimately dismissed.)

Read Mother Jones’ original Trump Models investigation here.

Deren, the Paris booker, said agencies have recently suffered from a general downturn in the modeling business in both Paris and New York. But, she added, the problems at Trump Model Management have more to do with “the political situation”—that is, with Trump.

Since Trump’s campaign, models and their bookers have become increasingly uneasy about working with the president’s agency, said Brandon Hall, the creative director of Sutherland Models, a Toronto agency. He has co-represented roughly 10 models with Trump’s agency over the years and said he currently has about four or five models in common with the company. (Successful fashion models typically have several agents representing them in different markets around the world to book local gigs.) “I would probably be a little reluctant” to work with Trump’s agency, Hall said—adding that models themselves might be even more reluctant to sign with Trump.

One model Hall represented recently didn’t want to meet with Trump’s agents in New York, he said. “It’s just sort of what has transpired because of the election and what has arisen from that,” he said, attempting to explain the apparent aversion to Trump’s agency in the modeling world. “I’m sure he’s gained in some ways and is suffering in others. And I think in the entertainment industry and the fashion industry, among actresses, models, he’s not well liked.”

According to his most recent financial disclosures, Trump owns an 85 percent stake in the agency. He earned nearly $2 million in commissions from it in 2015. But since the election, the modeling firm he founded in 1999 has suffered from a series of staff defections, including longtime Trump agent Duane Gazi-White, who traveled the globe scouting new modeling talent at pageants and Miss Teen USA contests. He recently went to work for a Trump competitor, New York Models, as director of new faces and development. (Gazi-White did not respond to requests for comment.)

Another Trump agent, Gabriel Ruas Santos-Rocha, recently left Trump Models to set up a new modeling firm called Anti Management, which launched last month. “I did not start an agency with the intent of taking someone out of business,” Santos-Rocha told the Washington Post this week. “Outside of that I have no comments.” (Rocha wouldn’t comment for this story.)

Rocha told Refinery29, the fashion news site, that Trump models were finding it tough to stay with the company because of Trump’s brand. “The people who got the worst of it were the models; they’d arrive on set and people would say, ‘Oooh, you’re from Trump Models? How dare you,’ or ‘Why are you still with them?'” Rocha said, according to the article. “They were constantly harassed by employees on shoots, especially by other models.” Refinery29 first reported that a possible boycott among industry stylists and photographers was being discussed in early February.

Then there are the models. Katie Moore, a breakout star from New York’s Fashion Week in February 2016, and a rising talent in the modeling world, is preparing to leave Trump’s firm in search of new representation, according to Tabitha Garcia, her Texas-based agent. Garcia told Mother Jones that too many Trump agents were leaving the agency for Moore to continue her career there—the situation had become untenable. “Most of Katie’s agents have moved on to other agencies and we are exploring those options for her right now,” Garcia wrote in an email. “An agent really makes the model…That is why it is sad to have this happen.”

“I will be flying to NYC next week to meet with agencies with Katie to continue her career at another agency,” Garcia added. “The staff at Trump have been nothing but kind and amazing along our journey and I am sad that we had to make this hard decision.”

A post shared by Katie Moore (@katherineann.moore) on Apr 3, 2017 at 4:25pm PDT

Katie Moore’s Texas-based agent confirmed the star Trump model is seeking new representation.

Other top Trump models have also fled the agency. Shirley Mallmann signed on with Anti. Veteran supermodel Maggie Rizer blamed Trump’s politics when she exited the company on the eve of the November election. “As a woman, a mother, an American and a human being, I cannot wake up Wednesday morning being the least bit related to the Trump brand,” Rizer wrote on Instagram.

Trump Model Management might be a small part of the president’s business empire, but it did seem to be particularly close to his heart. It augmented his brand as a playboy, and he enjoyed cross-pollinating his other businesses with Trump models. He personally signed talent directly from his Miss Universe and Miss USA competitions. And Trump Models appeared on his reality show, The Apprentice. Melania Trump was once represented by the agency.

At the agency’s launch party in 1998, Trump issued a promise about the company, as described by New York Magazine. Flanked by his business partner and the supermodel Daniela Pestova, Trump rose for a toast. “To the richest agency,” he declared. Now that agency could become the first piece of his business empire to fall victim to his polarizing presidency.

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Donald Trump’s Modeling Agency Is on the Verge of Collapse, Say Industry Insiders

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North Carolina Republicans Try to Block Transgender People From Bathrooms—Again

Mother Jones

Republican lawmakers in North Carolina have filed a bill that could make it more difficult for transgender people to use the bathroom by imposing stiff penalties on anyone convicted of “trespassing” in a restroom.

House Bill 562, co-sponsored by state Rep. Brenden Jones, was filed on Tuesday, shortly after the NCAA announced that it was lifting its boycott of North Carolina because the state’s Legislature partially repealed a law that had required people to use bathrooms consistent with the sex they were assigned at birth.

The text of the new bill does not mention transgender people or even refer to a person’s sex. Instead, it states that entering or remaining in a bathroom “without authorization” after being asked to leave by the owner of the facility, a manager, or anyone else in the room will be considered trespassing. “My bill will do two things,” Jones wrote in a Facebook post last Thursday. “First, it will specifically state it is a second degree trespass for entering the restroom or changing room of the opposite sex; secondly, it would enhance the punishment from what is now, a class 3 misdemeanor punishable up to only 10 days, to a class 1 misdemeanor, punishable up to 120 days in jail.” Jones did not respond to a request for comment.

Requiring “authorization” to be in a bathroom could be particularly harmful for transgender people, says Cathryn Oakley of Human Rights Campaign, a gay and transgender rights advocacy group. By Oakley’s reading of the bill, a trans male college student could be prosecuted for trespass if he uses the men’s room on his campus after being asked to leave by another student in the room.

Last week, the state Legislature replaced House Bill 2, the so-called bathroom bill, with a new law that LGBT groups have described as “HB2.0” because it opens the door for these types of restrictive regulations. The replacement law prevents cities, schools, and localities from passing nondiscrimination ordinances for trans people in bathrooms, preventing any local guarantees that trans people can use facilities consistent with their gender identity. “There’s no backstop to prevent further anti-LGBTQ legislation from being introduced, debated, and potentially passed,” Oakley says. “The North Carolina General Assembly is not going to stop going after transgender people.”

The latest bill, says Democratic Rep. Deb Butler, appears to be a direct response to the recent replacement of the original bathroom bill. “A faction of the Republican Party here in North Carolina is angry that HB2 was repealed,” she says. “They wanted it, they liked it just the way it was. This is, I am sure, their attempt to thumb their nose at the compromise.” Butler says the new bill will likely be introduced to the Legislature on Wednesday and assigned to a committee. “The lunacy persists.” A companion bill has been filed in the state Senate.

Jones voted in favor of the HB2 replacement last week. Jones wrote on Facebook after the vote that “our children will not be forced to share bathrooms with those of the opposite sex…I will never waiver on this vital issue of privacy.” Police officers and other experts note that there is no evidence that sexual predators are taking advantage of legal protections for transgender people in public restrooms.

Update, 10:30 p.m.: Gov. Roy Cooper has come out against the trespassing bill. “The Governor is not supportive of efforts such as these as he believes we ought to be working to expand statewide protections for LGBT North Carolinians,” Ford Porter, a spokesman for Cooper, said in a statement.

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North Carolina Republicans Try to Block Transgender People From Bathrooms—Again

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Businesswoman Who Bought Trump Penthouse Is Connected to Chinese Intelligence Front Group

Mother Jones

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When a Chinese American businesswoman who sells access to powerful people recently purchased a $15.8 million penthouse in a building owned by President Donald Trump, the deal raised a key question. Was this a straightforward real estate transaction, or was this an effort to win favor with the new administration? The woman, Angela Chen, refused to discuss the purchase with the media. The White House and the Trump Organization would not comment on it. Further investigation by Mother Jones has unearthed a new element to the story: Chen has ties to important members of the Chinese ruling elite and to an organization considered a front group for Chinese military intelligence.

Chen, who also goes by the names Xiao Yan Chen and Chen Yu, purchased the four-bedroom condo in the Trump Park Avenue building in New York City on February 21. As Mother Jones first reported, Chen runs a business consulting firm, Global Alliance Associates, which specializes in linking US businesses seeking deals in China with the country’s top power brokers. “As counselors in consummating the right relationships—quite simply—we provide access,” Chen’s firm boasts on its website. But Chen has another job: She chairs the US arm of a nonprofit called the China Arts Foundation, which was founded in 2006 and has links with Chinese elites and the country’s military intelligence service.

The China Arts Foundation was created by Deng Rong, the youngest daughter of Deng Xiaoping, the iconic revolutionary figure and Chinese leader. Deng Rong is what’s known in China as a princeling—a term used for the sons and daughters of former high-ranking officials or officers in the Chinese Communist Party who now hold significant sway in business and political circles. Since 1990, Deng has also served as a vice president of the China Association for International Friendly Contacts, which is an affiliate of the intelligence and foreign propaganda division of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). China experts say CAIFC exists to cultivate relationships with former leaders and retired military officials and diplomats of various countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, in order to influence foreign defense policies toward China and the Far East.

To sum up: An influence-peddler who works with a princeling tied to Chinese military intelligence placed $15.8 million in the pockets of the president of the United States.

Mark Stokes, executive director of the Project 2049 Institute, a Virginia-based think tank that focuses on national security policy with respect to Asia, says CAIFC’s leadership consists largely of retired (and some current) Chinese military and government officials. Stokes, who has written about Chinese political warfare, says CAIFC has become “an important channel of access to Chinese Communist Party princelings.” He adds that “by influencing perceptions” of China (especially in connection to controversial issues, such as China’s stance toward Taiwan), CAIFC hopes to “influence policies of foreign governments, particularly related to defense and national security.”

The China Arts Foundation bills itself as a promoter of cultural exchanges between the United States and China, often involving classical music. The group has a branch in New York, which is run by Angela Chen, and another in Hong Kong. Various members of China’s elite serve on the group’s board, including Wang Boming, one of the founders of China’s stock market; Hong Kong orchestra conductor Long Yu; and Marjorie Yang, a political power broker and textile magnate who’s nicknamed the “cotton princess.” (Yang is reportedly bankrolling the campaign of John Tsang, a candidate for chief executive of Hong Kong, the city’s highest office.) Li Zhaoxing, a former foreign minister, and Guo Shuqing, the chairman of China’s banking regulation commission, were named as board members in a promotional video posted on the website of the foundation’s American branch.

On Tuesday, after Mother Jones made inquiries, the website for the China Arts Foundation International went offline. (You can view an archived version of the site here.)

Angela Chen’s role with the China Arts Foundation has brought her into contact with prominent American and Chinese figures. In 2014, the foundation hosted its Chinese New Year gala at New York’s Le Cirque restaurant on behalf of Deng Rong, and the guests included billionaire Chinese real estate developer Zhang Xin, philanthropist and banker Steven Rockefeller, and Stephen Schwarzman, the billionaire investor and CEO of the Blackstone Group. The Chinese consul general in New York, Zhang Qiyue, and former US Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman attended a 2015 benefit dinner hosted by the foundation.

The promotional video indicates that there has been a working relationship between the China Arts Foundation and CAIFC. In it, Chen’s group takes credit for sponsoring numerous international summits, including a meeting of international business leaders and think tank experts called the Sanya Forum, which was organized by CAIFC. Several China experts tell Mother Jones that CAIFC engages in legitimate cultural exchange activities but that it has long been seen as part of the Chinese military intelligence apparatus. In a 2002 article published in the China Quarterly, a peer-reviewed British academic journal, George Washington University professor and China scholar David Shambaugh characterized CAIFC as an offshoot of the intelligence bureau of the People’s Liberation Army. He noted that CAIFC’s offices are located in a Beijing compound used by military units.

In 2012, the Republican National Committee considered a resolution expressing concern about a cultural exchange program organized by CAIFC because of the group’s ties to Chinese military intelligence. The resolution, which was not adopted, was fueled by a report from a congressional committee that studies US-China relations. The report labeled CAIFC “a front organization for the International Liaison Department of the People’s Liberation Army’s General Political Department.”

CAIFC has also prompted concerns at the US State Department. During Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, an aide to Bill Clinton sought the State Department’s approval for the former president to make a November 2012 speaking appearance co-sponsored by CAIFC and the China Arts Foundation, according to government emails released through the Freedom of Information Act. An official at the State Department noted that CAIFC’s leadership included current and former Chinese government officials and wrote to Clinton’s aide, “I don’t believe we’ve approved Chinese gov’t entities in the past and so we will need to further consider this one.” In the end, Clinton’s aide told the State Department that the former president was backing out of the appearance.

In 2015, a high-ranking CAIFC official was detained as part of an anti-graft campaign by the Chinese army. A South China Morning Post story on the arrest described him as “the chief of a Chinese military intelligence agency.” The paper noted that the official “was in charge of overseas espionage and is better known to the West as the vice-chairman of the government-backed China Association for International Friendly Contact, which used to be the Department of Enemy Work.”

Chen’s purchase of the penthouse unit from Trump was the first deal consummated by Trump’s company since he became president. Prior to taking office, Trump claimed he would remove himself from the daily operations of his business empire, but he remains the owner of the limited liability company that sold Chen the unit. How the deal went down remains a mystery. Chen apparently paid cash, and the apartment she purchased, unlike other penthouse units in the Trump Park Avenue building, was not publicly listed for sale. Chen currently lives in an apartment on a lower floor of the building and uses the unit as a mailing address for the China Arts Foundation and her consulting company. Before moving to Washington, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump lived in the same building. (They are currently trying to sell their apartment.)

Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg, who, along with Trump’s two adult sons, was handed the task of running Trump’s business empire while he is in the Oval Office, signed the sale documents with Chen. He did not respond to a request for comment. Chen also did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the apartment deal or her relationship with Deng Rong and CAIFC. CAIFC did not respond to an email seeking comment.

When Trump became president, the Trump Organization enlisted an ethics adviser, attorney Bobby Burchfield, to vet potential business deals involving Trump. Burchfield declined to comment about the Chen transaction or explain the vetting process for her purchase of the Trump Park Avenue penthouse.

Norm Eisen, who served as President Barack Obama’s lead ethics lawyer, says the links between Chen, the foundation, CAIFC, and the Chinese government and military raise “a series of very profound and troubling questions.” He notes that there is no transparency regarding the vetting of business deals benefiting Trump. Without such a process, he points out, there are well-founded questions about the true source of the funds used to buy the $15.8 million condo. “When, as here, the public interest is implicated, we’re left at a loss,” Eisen says. “You shouldn’t be asking these questions about a president.”

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Businesswoman Who Bought Trump Penthouse Is Connected to Chinese Intelligence Front Group

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Here’s What It’s Like to Be Muslim in the Bible Belt in 2017

Mother Jones

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In August 2012, a mosque opened in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, a bustling college town outside of Nashville that is home to students, long-time residents, refugees, suburban families, and everyone in between. The national headlines for the stories about the event suggested some of the conflicts that had led to this moment: The New York Daily News wrote, “Tennessee Mosque Opens After Years of Controversy,” the New York Times wrote “After a Struggle, Mosque Opens in Tennessee”, and NPR wrote “Murfreesboro Mosque Finally Opens.”

But the summer day when it opened was peaceful and harmonious, with the exception of a lone protester, wearing an “I Love Jesus” hat and a shirt bearing the 10 Commandments. The day was one for celebration, and the members of the Muslim community who had gathered were not dwelling on the fact that during court battles over permits, Rutherford County had spent more than $340,000 in legal fees fighting the right to build this place of worship. Or that the lieutenant governor of Tennessee at the time, Ron Ramsey, had described Islam as a “cult” while voicing opposition to the mosque.

The community itself was split between those attacking the approximately 300 families of the mosque for being Muslim and those who banded with their Muslim neighbors. The peaceful community was the target of a bomb threat—the anonymous caller, later found to be a Texas man, promised it would go off inside the office space where the community was worshipping in the interim on Sept. 11. A vandal scrawled “not welcome” across a sign announcing the construction of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. Construction equipment used to build the walls of the mosque was set on fire, its charred remains a warning to worshippers that they were not safe. But after two troubled years, the mosque finally opened, and residents began to take its presence on Veals Road for granted.

Then Donald Trump was elected, and the anti-Muslim rhetoric that once inflamed the Bible Belt town of 126,000 was reignited.

Murfreesboro is home to a very small fraction of American Muslims, but it was primed for a backlash in a unique way. Most residents remember the saga of the mosque, and the Baptist church next door made its anti-Islam position very clear by erecting 13 10-foot-tall crosses into the ground “to make a statement.” There are residents of Murfreesboro who stood with their Muslim neighbors, leaving flowers and handwritten cards at the front door of the mosque, but there are increasingly louder voices that threaten the safety of others who happen to be Muslim. It’s a sort of microcosm of what has happened across the country, where tensions and even violence have escalated against Muslims in the wake of the inflammatory rhetoric of President Donald Trump.

“People are afraid, and they won’t tell others about harassment,” says Saleh Sbenaty, a leader in the Muslim community, who was deeply involved in the struggle to get the mosque built. “It’s really scary and dangerous.”

He added that some members of the mosque have told him they are considering not attending services because they are frightened of the possibility of an attack. When news broke that a mosque in Texas had been set on fire shortly after Trump announced an executive order temporarily banning refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries, they prayed for safety. When a shooting at a Quebec City mosque by a 27-year-old white male who was reportedly “a right-wing troll who frequently took anti-foreigner and anti-feminist positions and stood up for U.S. President Donald Trump” left six dead and more injured three days after Trump’s executive order, they felt their worst fears were being confirmed.

The Sbenaty family left Syria because it was unsafe, and they wanted a better life for themselves and their children. His daughter Dima was born in Damascus, but her mother brought her to the United States when she was eight months old to join Saleh, who was earning his PhD at the time. Their son, Salim, was born in Murfreesboro. A week after the election, 20-year-old Salim, was waiting tables at a local restaurant when he was asked, “Son, where are you from?”

“I was born and raised here in Murfreesboro,” he replied.

The response was abrupt. “You look foreign.”

“My parents came from Damascus a long time ago,” Salim said. The man stared.

“I’m going to the car to get my gun.”

Later that night, he told his father, who was horrified, and asked how he responded. Salim said the man had probably never met anyone who looked like him before, and he did not want to deepen his hatred. Saleh says many people in the Muslim community in Murfreesboro would have done the same, although he encouraged his son to report the incident.

During his campaign, Trump went back and forth on a proposal to create a “Muslim registry.” When he was asked about it in November 2015, he said, “We’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely. We’re going to have to look at the mosques.” Later, he said he wanted to have a database on Syrian refugees who immigrate into the United States. Less than a month later, in December 2015, he proposed banning all Muslim immigration. Trump has consistently talked about the threat of “radical Islam,” and in an interview with CNN last year, he told Anderson Cooper, “I think Islam hates us.”

Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, has also been vocal about his views on Islam. “We are in an outright war against jihadist, Islamic fascists,” Bannon said in a 2014 speech. He also said the religion was metastasizing—like cancer.

Some Tennessee lawmakers have spouted similar claims—Tennessee state Sen. Mae Beavers told town hall attendees on Feb. 16 that Muslim terrorists were “infiltrating churches” and planning jihad in the Bible Belt. She also has expressed support for Trump’s “Muslim ban.” Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who served as a vice chair of Trump’s transition team, said Trump’s immigration order was a “security test, not a religious one.”

“Our intelligence and security agencies must ascertain the scope of the Islamic terror threat in order to develop proper refugee vetting protocols—if possible,” she wrote in an op-ed for The Tennessean.

And now, according to a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, anti-Muslim hate groups have tripled since 2015.

Ossama Bahoul, the former imam at the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, said there is a big difference between what the Muslim community in Middle Tennessee went through when the mosque was being built and what is happening now. Back then, the government was on their side—it defended his people’s right to worship and promised to take swift action against anyone who threatened them. Now, he hears the Islamophobia that used to come from the mouths of protesters coming from the government. “It is really disturbing for me to be talking about this,” Bahloul said. “The people who are supposed to protect us are singling our community out. That’s tough.”

Bahloul and Saleh Sbenaty tell Mother Jones about women who had been threatened for wearing the hijab and sometimes, Bahloul said, people have tried to assault them. Schoolchildren have come home crying because other children asked if their headscarves are hiding a bomb. Other Muslims have told him they have heard mutterings of “it’s about time to clean up America” and “go back home” when they pass by.

Recently, when another student at school referred to one of the children in his congregation as “Bin Laden,” Bahloul found himself at a loss. “Our kids were born in America—they don’t speak any language but English,” he said. “They are American kids, and they will come at a very young age and say, ‘Why do they hate us?'”

The effects of Trump’s comments about Muslims is not restricted to the random acts of violence directed at Muslims in the United States. The executive order he signed banning refugees and immigrants from seven predominantly-Muslim countries—including Syria—mean the Sbenatys and other families fear they’ll be separated from family members for quite some time. Saleh hasn’t seen his mother, who is 83, in 11 years. He wants to bring her to America, but the recent events make that seem unlikely. His siblings got married after he left Syria, and he has nieces and nephews he has never met. Minutes after the Ninth Circuit Court filed a preliminary injunction against Trump’s immigration order, effectively putting it on hold, Trump tweeted, in all caps: “See you in court, the security of our nation is at stake!”

“Now there is no option for me to go and visit or for them to come over here,” Saleh told Mother Jones before the court ruling. “It’s something you cannot explain in words.”

Dima Sbenaty, Saleh’s daughter, is a 27-year-old clinical coordinator for the stroke unit at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. The week after Trump’s “Muslim ban” took effect, she spoke at a vigil in support of Muslim Americans. Thousands showed up. “Islam taught me to give back…As a Muslim, it is my obligation to you to be strong, to uphold justice, and to protect your rights,” she told the crowd that night. “That is how America raised me.”

Recently, she decided to start wearing a hijab, and because of the outward signifier that she is Muslim, she has encountered some animosity in the workplace. Sometimes, when she’s out running errands, she gets an uncomfortable sensation, like she’s being watched by someone with less-than-friendly intentions. But she’s determined not to let fear rule her. “I’m practicing my freedom by covering my hair; I’m practicing my freedom by saying that I’m Muslim and going to the mosque,” she tells Mother Jones. “That’s my freedom as an American, and I don’t think I should be afraid…Refugees are leaving a place where they’re being dehumanized. They’re coming into America to seek refuge, and they’re entering another hell.”

As for Imam Bahloul, he is still wrestling with how to explain to the community what is happening and how to deal with being targeted. “For a girl to cry and say, ‘I want to cover my hair, but I’m scared,’ that girl must not be scared in America,” he said. “We’re part of the American fabric.”

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Here’s What It’s Like to Be Muslim in the Bible Belt in 2017

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