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Today — 25 July 2024Mother Jones

Joe Biden’s Enormous, Contradictory, and Fragile Climate Legacy

25 July 2024 at 10:00

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

The day after President Joe Biden said he would not seek reelection, his White House announced more than $4.3 billion in grants from the Environmental Protection Agency to communities to curb climate change, cut pollution, and seek environmental justice.

It’s a big announcement, but easily lost amid the thunderous presidential campaign news.

The grants will fund projects across the country that include decarbonizing freight, installing geothermal systems, and capturing fugitive methane emissions. According to the EPA, these grantees will cut US greenhouse gas emissions up to 971 million metric tons by 2050. That’s equal to the emissions of five million average homes over 25 years.

Amid all the political pandemonium, it’s remarkable that the administration is continuing to pump out new environmental initiatives. Climate has consistently been a high priority for the Biden administration, and this announcement proves a genuine commitment. Biden has the distinction of introducing the earliest bill in the Senate to address climate change, the 1986 Global Climate Protection Act. Humanity, though, has more than doubled its greenhouse gas pollution since then. As president, Biden has made dealing with global warming an even higher priority than it was during his last turn in the White House as vice president.

The United States is the world’s largest historical emitter of greenhouse gasses and is currently second in annual output, behind China and ahead of India. So on the world stage, the US has a significant role, and activists say a responsibility, to nudge the global warming trajectory downward.

When he leaves office in January 2025, Biden will be able to credibly claim that he has done more on climate change than any other president and has been one of the most consequential decision-makers in the world for the future of the planet.

Biden’s climate change pledges aim to zero out US greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Center for American Progress

But while he’s done the most, it’s still not enough to get the US in line with Biden’s own climate change goals. Many of Biden’s environmental initiatives are still struggling to get rolling, and some activist groups are not satisfied with what he’s done.

And if Donald Trump wins in November, that progress will stall.

When Biden was one of nearly two dozen Democrats running for the top job in 2019, he proposed an extensive climate plan released in two installments that emphasized cutting greenhouse gas emissions by building up a robust US clean energy sector with $2 trillion in investment. He also laid out a legislative strategy and a list of executive actions he would take on his own, such as imposing tough methane leak restrictions on new oil and gas facilities, requiring federal government operations to procure clean energy, and imposing new efficiency regulations on appliances.

At the same time, Biden’s plan was seen as less ambitious than those of his competitors—Bernie Sanders called for $16.3 trillion in total—and he was criticized for declining to support a ban on fracking and for attending a fundraiser hosted by a natural gas company founder.

But since taking office in January 2021, Biden has demonstrated that at least part of his plan was realistic: He managed to tick many of the items on his to-do list that are directly under the president’s purview or from cabinet agencies.

He brought the US back into the 2015 Paris climate agreement, personally attended international climate talks, and committed the country to a more ambitious goal of cutting carbon dioxide emissions in half from 2005 levels by 2030 while achieving net-zero emissions across the economy by 2050.

His administration enacted new fuel economy regulations for cars and trucks to encourage electrification. It set stringent caps on air pollution and carbon dioxide from fossil fuel power plants. It raised efficiency standards for stoves, refrigerators, and shower heads. It set zero-emissions targets for federal buildings, energy suppliers, and vehicle fleets, including placing orders for at least 45,000 electric mail trucks. It vastly expanded federal protections for public lands and established a Civilian Climate Corps to train workers to maintain them.

Perhaps Biden’s single most impactful climate action was signing the Kigali Amendment, an international treaty to phase out some of the most powerful greenhouse gasses. On its own, the Kigali Amendment would avert almost 1 degree Fahrenheit of warming by the end of the century. On September 21, 2022, it cleared the Senate with bipartisan support, including 21 Republicans.

With Congress, Biden signed the trio of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act. While climate change isn’t in their names, these laws mobilized billions of dollars in investments in clean energy, infrastructure, battery manufacturing, and building up supply chains. Together, they’re some of the largest investments in climate change mitigation in the world. Additionally, they’re structured as incentives, with no explicit penalties for carbon dioxide emissions.

Getting these laws passed was a bruising fight. Biden’s signature Inflation Reduction Act in its final form—with $370 billion for clean energy deployment—was a fraction of the size of the $1.75 trillion version that passed the House in 2021. The Democrats’ narrow majority in the Senate gave holdouts like West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin leverage to chip away at its scope while securing more pot sweeteners for his own state. That in turn drew the ire of environmental activists who were anticipating a much more robust law.

Much of the IRA’s costs come in the form of tax breaks rather than new spending. “The IRA’s projected costs to the US federal budget are mostly reductions in taxes owed by US taxpayers or increases in federal payments to those taxpayers,” according to a Treasury Department analysis.

Still, the IRA remains the largest investment to deal with climate change in US history.

Biden has also had to navigate political rapids over the past four years and has ended up getting turned around on occasion.

For instance, Biden campaigned on banning new oil and gas development on public lands (on a page since deleted from his website), but in 2022, the Interior Department opened the door to new drilling lease sales. One example is the Willow project in northern Alaska, which the Biden administration greenlit last year, that could extract more than 600 million barrels of oil over 30 years.

Fossil fuel projects like this have led to some of Biden’s biggest climate contradictions.

On Biden’s watch, the US has become the largest oil and gas producer in history. US exports of natural gas hit a record high, especially after the administration stepped up deliveries to allies after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Even though the US is aiming to slash its domestic emissions, the country is on track to double liquid natural gas (LNG) exports by 2030. But Biden also imposed a pause on new liquefied natural gas export terminals 

America produces more oil than any country in history. Energy Information Administration

When desperate to tamp down inflation and smooth over supply chain disruptions stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic, the White House tapped the strategic petroleum reserve to help bring gasoline prices down. Biden has bragged about lowering gasoline prices. These lower prices tend to spur more driving, which in turn increases greenhouse gas emissions.

America’s fossil fuel bounties have put the Biden White House in the awkward position of taking credit for facilitating their production while simultaneously trying to curb their use.

Biden’s policies have also created friction within his climate goals.

His signature legislation, the IRA, has provisions mandating that cleantech companies build their products and supply chains in the US if they want to tap the money in the law. The provision has angered allies in places like Europe that want to sell products like solar panels and efficient appliances to US customers. Biden has also retained many of former President Donald Trump’s tariffs on foreign goods and is imposing new ones on cheap electric vehicles made in China by companies like BYD, currently vying with Tesla to be the largest pure EV maker in the world.

This protectionism for US companies raises prices for American buyers and means that the shift to clean energy is more expensive and slower than it needs to be. On the other hand, if cheaper cars and solar panels did enter the US market, they could get more Americans off of coal, oil, and natural gas at a faster pace.

The question now is whether US climate policies will continue to gain momentum, stall, or reverse. The main hinge point is who wins the next election.

Vice President Kamala Harris, the likely Democratic presidential nominee, has her own history with tackling climate change as California’s attorney general. And with Biden’s endorsement, the Venn diagram of their climate policies will have a lot of overlap.

However, there are some big obstacles. Few Americans grasp how they can benefit from the programs in the IRA, and the money in the law has been slow to trickle out to build things like EV charging stations. Shortages of specialized labor and permitting issues have delayed big clean energy manufacturing projects. Energy demand is poised to grow as well, driven by population growth and technologies like artificial intelligence, and already fossil fuels are feeding some of that new appetite.

Biden’s policies are facing legal setbacks too. Republican state attorneys general are suing the White House to block new fuel efficiency regulations for cars and trucks. The Republican-led Supreme Court has also eroded the federal government’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, and with the recent reversal of the Chevron doctrine, agencies like the EPA will have much less leeway to craft environmental rules.

It’s also not clear voters will reward the effort. A majority of Americans support addressing climate change and deploying more clean energy, but it ranks as a much lower priority behind issues like crime and inflation. According to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication in a survey conducted in April 2024, 37 percent of US voters consider climate change to be “very important.”

On the other hand, Trump, the Republican nominee, is openly disdainful of action on climate change. A key focus of his first turn in office was systematically undoing or blocking environmental regulations and promoting fossil fuels, going as far as removing the words “climate change” from government websites. Many of these rollbacks were stalled because they were poorly structured, blocked by courts, or undermined by bad staffing choices.

Conservative activists are working to ensure they don’t squander another opportunity in the White House to achieve their goals. The Heritage Foundation laid out a strategy for this in Project 2025, which aims to staff federal agencies with people who will reduce regulations and increase fossil fuel development. Though Trump has sought to distance himself from the plan, many alumni from his administration and campaign personnel were among the authors.

And there’s always the chance of another shock—a war, a pandemic, a depression—that could take the wind out of the sails of curbing climate change.

Despite this uncertainty, it’s increasingly clear that the turn toward cleaner energy is likely to endure. Worldwide, wind and solar are the cheapest sources of new electricity, and in some cases more cost-effective than existing fossil fuel sources. Market forces and climate policies are starting to have an effect, and according to some estimates, the world may be close to reaching peak greenhouse gas emissions, if it hasn’t already crossed this line.

Even with so many potential setbacks, some of the big changes Biden set in motion are likely to stick, as the cleaner, more efficient technologies become cheaper and more polluting sources of energy enter their final days. Even if Trump were to retake the White House, it’s likely that US emissions will continue to decline, albeit not as quickly as they would under a Democrat.

Changing this course took decades of persistent effort from scientists, engineers, leaders, and activists. Joe Biden deserves some credit for helping turn the rudder.

In Heartfelt Address, Biden Passes the Torch—and Reminds Us What’s at Stake

By: Inae Oh
25 July 2024 at 00:55

“I revere this office, but I love my country more.”

The line was perhaps the defining takeaway of President Joe Biden’s Thursday night address to the nation, his first since announcing his decision to drop out of the presidential race. Even though the president had the personal ambition to run again, he understood, with piercing clarity, that the White House carried stakes that transcended his burning conviction that he could win in the November presidential election.

“It’s been the honor of my life to serve as your president,” he said from the Oval Office, “but defending democracy, which is at stake, I think it’s more important than any title.”

“I’ve decided the best way forward is to pass the torch to a new generation.”

The remarks, heartfelt and unifying in tone, appeared to succinctly punctuate a decades-long career devoted to public office. Biden continued by praising Vice President Kamala Harris, whom he had endorsed to replace him on the presidential ticket, calling Harris “tough” and “an incredible partner.” He also framed Harris as deeply consequential to maintaining US democracy.

“We have to decide: do we still believe in honesty, decency, respect, freedom, justice, and democracy? In this moment, can we see those we disagree with not as enemies but as fellow Americans? Can we do that? Does character in public life still matter?”

The prime-time address offered a sharp contrast from the dark and menacing message Donald Trump and his allies, including his running mate JD Vance, have offered to American voters over the last week—even with Trump’s brief attempt to appear to be a more unifying character since his assassination attempt.

“The great thing about America is here, kings and dictators do not rule; the people do,” Biden said on Wednesday. “History is in your hands. The power is in your hands. The idea of America lies in your hands. We just have to keep the faith and remember who we are.”

Bibi Goes MAGA

24 July 2024 at 21:54

On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Congress as a partisan. He spoke not so much as a foreign leader, but, instead, as a man from Pennsylvania participating in United States domestic politics and leading the American right.

The Israeli Prime Minister, of course is most concerned with his home nation’s politics, but those politics are inseparable from US decisions. As President Joe Biden suggested, Netanyahu could likely lose power without the war in Gaza. And he cannot wage that campaign without US arms and money, which would not continue, string-free, without support from US lawmakers, and in particular Republicans.

Many foreign leaders rely on US support, but Netanyahu is unique because he often can, and does, go around the Secretary of State, the president, and even members of Congress to appeal directly to American voters. That’s what he did Wednesday in a made-for-TV, State of the Union-style speech, complete with family members of hostages and Israeli soldiers as props.

Netanyahu purported to address everyone. But he was primarily talking to his US constituency. That is not just US Jews anymore. It is conservatives. Netanyahu appealed to GOP voters likely to embrace his call for complete, preemptive US support for any of Israel’s actions—no matter how many civilians are killed—along with his contention that any criticism of the war is antisemitic, funded by Iran, or both.

Netanyahu and his far-right, explicitly racist, coalition is aligned with the American right. It has been for a while, but lawmakers have basically stopped pretending otherwise now.

The prime minister’s address included some standard platitudes and polite thanks to the outgoing President Biden for his decades as a “proud Irish-American Zionist.” But the bipartisan facade faded fast. Netanyahu revealed his preference by extensively praising “President Trump” for the Abraham Accords, moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, and recognizing the Golan Heights. Netanyahu did not mention Vice President Kamala Harris, who did not attend the speech.

Netanyahu said, with zero evidence, that “for all we know, Iran is funding the protests” that occurred outside the Capitol while he spoke. He said that demonstrators against Israel’s campaign in Gaza—which has killed around 40,000 people the vast majority of them civilians, without achieving its stated aims—“stand with Hamas.” And he insisted, with little evidence, that Israel’s war with Hamas is really a war with Iran, a conflict that he urged the United States to join.

Coverage of the speech has emphasized the partisan divisions over the address. Numerous Democrats, including Harris and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) did not attend.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s presentation in the House Chamber today was by far the worst presentation of any foreign dignitary invited and honored with the privilege of addressing the Congress of the United States.

Many of us who love Israel spent time today listening to Israeli…

— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) July 24, 2024

But Democrats declining to listen to Bibi is more of a recognition of the current state of affairs than a cause of it.

Netanyahu’s 2015 address to Congress assailing the Iran nuclear deal, in defiance of former President Barack Obama’s White House, and in particular his effort to drum up domestic US opposition to the deal, was a watershed moment—a significant entry by a foreign leader into US affairs. His vocal praise of Trump on the eve of the 2020 election was all but an endorsement.   

In 2021, Trump denounced Netanyahu for congratulating Biden on his victory. “Fuck him,” Trump told an interviewer. Trump, that is, was mad at Netanyahu for failing to be an election truther. The two leaders have since patched things up, but the spat demonstrated the degree of support the former president demands from Bibi. And Netanyahu, who is scheduled to meet Friday with Trump at Mar-a-Lago, appears eager to deliver.

Netanyahu’s increasingly overt alliance with the American right has been mirrored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which has become one of the top sources channeling money from Republican donors to attack progressive Democrats in primaries.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s call in March for new leadership in Israel was an unprecedented dive by an American politician into Israel affairs. But it was also seemed like a declaration of a new reality. Netanyahu and his far-right, explicitly racist coalition is aligned with the American right. It has been for a while, but lawmakers have just about stopped pretending otherwise.

The crescendo of Netanyahu’s speech Wednesday was an insistence that US and Israeli interests are wholly aligned. “Our enemies are your enemies,” he said. “Our fight is your fight. And our victory will be your victory.”

He didn’t mean it this way, but it was easy to imagine the enemies he had in mind included Democrats, and the victory he hoped for might come in November.

Yesterday — 24 July 2024Mother Jones

“Shut Up, Asshole”: Democrats Want Delegates Frustrated by Gaza Policy to Just Fall in Line

24 July 2024 at 20:23

Last night, the Michigan Democratic Party held a call asking delegates to rally around Vice President Kamala Harris as the party’s nominee after President Joe Biden stepped out of the race. During the call, two uncommitted delegates—chosen by voters protesting against Biden’s failure to push for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza—said they would not endorse Harris until they knew her policy on aid to Israel. According to a recent Gallup poll, 55 percent of Americans disapprove of Israel’s actions in Gaza, and only 36 percent are supportive.  

Delegate Abbas Alawieh, who is an organizer with the Uncommitted Movement, tried to explain his position on last night’s Michigan Democratic Party Zoom call. He says he was told to “shut up, asshole”—an incident which he says is symptomatic of anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian racism within the party. Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes said the incident was “unacceptable,” and that “in this moment, we want to reiterate that our Arab American and Muslim brothers and sisters are welcome in this party.” 

Alawieh spoke to Mother Jones about what happened. 

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

What was happening on last night’s Michigan Democratic Party delegates’ call? 

I think the intention was to come out of it saying Michigan’s DNC delegates endorsed Vice President Harris. But there is the reality that 101,000 voters in Michigan voted “uncommitted.

We think this is a really important opportunity to unite the party and have Vice President Harris speak to the pain Arab American voters here in Michigan—anti-war voters here in Michigan—are experiencing. So I got on the call, and I was just trying to do my job. I feel a great responsibility to those 101,000 voters in Michigan to fulfill my end of the bargain. 

What were you trying to say, before you were interrupted? 

Chair [Lavora] Barnes, who was leading the meeting, asked if anybody had any comments. Several other people raised their hands and were recognized by the chair. I raised my hand and was recognized by the chair. 

“My hope is that our party can do better than this pattern of ridiculing fellow Democrats who are just trying to advocate for a policy that would keep people alive.”

I talked about how uncommitted voters here in Michigan are going to be a critical part of our strategy for beating Trump in November, and we need every vote we can get. That’s why, while we’re very excited about the possibility of this moment, uncommitted voters really need to hear from Vice President Harris, because as we’re talking, the bombs continue to drop on Palestinians using US tax funds. People in Michigan, especially Arab Americans and Muslim Americans in Michigan, are deeply in pain. We need to be able to re-engage them by engaging seriously with the demands that they’ve voted for.

And as I was saying that, this person, I don’t know who, unmuted.

You weren’t able to see them, you just heard their voice on Zoom? 

Yeah. Somebody unmuted, and said “shut up, asshole,” and something to the effect of “nobody cares about what you’re saying.” 

I don’t know what the latter part of the comment was, exactly, but the words “shut up” and the word “asshole” were very clear. I heard it. Everybody on the call heard it. And I was just taken aback. 

The next comment was from my fellow uncommitted delegate Rima Mohammad, who is Palestinian. She was visibly shaken up. And she was also speaking from a place of wanting to represent that we need to hear from Vice President Harris what her Gaza policy is.

What was your reaction to being interrupted like that? 

Honestly, I felt deeply disrespected. I felt hurt that there were Democratic electeds on this Zoom, people who I’ve heard speak passionately in defense of civility and respecting each other’s opinions—and nobody spoke up. That felt like a slap in the face to me. To be on the receiving end of explicitly anti-Palestinian vitriol, and to have the leaders of our party be silent about it. I guess it’s symptomatic of the larger problem of devaluing Palestinians and Palestinian life. 

My hope is that our party can do better than this pattern of ridiculing fellow Democrats who are just trying to advocate for a policy that would keep people alive. We should be able to make that case. Even if our Democratic Party leaders aren’t going to agree to stop sending bombs, the very least they can do is hear us without being completely silent when there are racist attempts to shut us down. 

News coverage this morning said that the Michigan DNC delegates “overwhelmingly” endorsed Harris. What does that “overwhelmingly” mean to you? 

“Overwhelmingly” is fair. But the two of us who are uncommitted delegates, we did not endorse Vice President Harris, because we need to hear from her first. My hope is that we can all support Vice President Harris and pivot to beating Trump. I need to hear more from her and her team about how she intends to engage with uncommitted voters. 

After the meeting, how did others react to the “shut up, asshole” incident? 

A reporter called me after the meeting, and said, “I talked to a delegate who said the uncommitted delegates hijacked the call.” That’s not what happened. I raised my hand and waited, like the other delegates. But to be accused of hijacking as an Arab American Democrat in Michigan, that’s not thinly veiled racism. It’s blatant racism.

To her credit, the chair of the Michigan Democratic Party followed up the meeting with a note to all the delegates addressing the situation, which said, “please remember that we’re a Democratic family, and all of us must be respectful of the differences within our family.” 

It sounds like you were not necessarily treated like a “member of the Democratic family” last night, though. 

I come from Dearborn, where, in the 1980s our longtime Mayor sent out campaign literature that said “let’s talk about the Arab problem.” And even today, 40-some years later, it still feels like sometimes in Democratic circles the fact that I am Arab and a Democrat is a problem. And that feels hurtful, in a moment when Arabs, Palestinians are being killed en masse. 

In my conversation with Chair Barnes after the call, she promised that she would raise our Uncommitted delegates’ request for a meeting to Vice President Harris’ team. So I’m hoping that our movement will be engaged with seriously, and not maligned or ignored.

RFK Jr. Wants to Send People on Antidepressants to Government “Wellness Farms”

24 July 2024 at 18:36

In a virtual event last week that was billed as a “Latino Town Hall,” presidential candidate and anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. unveiled his plan to overhaul addiction treatment programs. Speaking during a live recording of the Latino Capitalist podcast, Kennedy described opioid, antidepressant, and ADHD “addicts” receiving treatment on tech-free “wellness farms,” where they would spend as much as three or four years growing organic produce.

SCOOP: RFK Jr. suggests creating "wellness farms" to "reparent" those struggling with addiction by growing organic food and taking away screens.

But it's not just addiction. He says it'll also be a place for people with ADHD and depression to get off SSRIs and antidepressants. pic.twitter.com/3oUmznEGwP

— Mother Jones (@MotherJones) July 24, 2024

How to pay for these farms? Kennedy had an answer. With money generated through a sales tax on cannabis products, Kennedy said, “I’m going to dedicate that revenue to creating wellness farms—drug rehabilitation farms, in rural areas all over this country,” he said. “I’m going to make it so people can go, if you’re convicted of a drug offense, or if you have a drug problem, you can go to one of these places for free.”

On the farms, he said, residents would grow their own organic food—which would help them recover from addiction, “because a lot of the behavioral issues are food related. A lot of the illnesses are food related.” The idea that addiction is connected to consuming non-organic food is not backed by robust science—but it’s in line with many other unfounded claims that Kennedy has made in the past about pesticides and non-organic food causing chronic disease, behavioral problems, and autism.

Cell phones and other screens, he said, would be prohibited. “We’re going to re-parent people and restore connection to community,” he promised. “We have a whole generation of kids who are dispossessed, they’re alienated, their marginalized, their suicide rates are exploding; the second largest killer for young people is drug addiction.” Kennedy has suggested in the past that 5G cell phone technology could cause health problems.

The range of people receiving such treatment could potentially include wide swaths of the population, since the wellness farms wouldn’t just be for people addicted to illegal drugs, but also for people who are taking antidepressants and ADHD medications. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 11 percent of Americans ages 12 and older take antidepressants, and about 4 percent of Americans between the ages of five and 64 take medication for ADHD.

I’m going to create these wellness farms where they can go to get off of illegal drugs, off of opiates, but also illegal drugs, other psychiatric drugs, if they want to, to get off of SSRIs, to get off of benzos, to get off of Adderall, and to spend time as much time as they need—three or four years if they need it—to learn to get reparented, to reconnect with communities.

Last year, Kennedy posited during a Twitter spaces event with Elon Musk that antidepressants could be to blame for school shootings.

The Kennedy campaign didn’t respond to Mother Jones’ request for comment on the remarks that Kennedy made during this event.

Trump Said Some Disabled People “Should Just Die,” According to His Nephew

24 July 2024 at 16:28

When his uncle Donald became president, Fred Trump III—whose son William, due to a rare genetic mutation, has seizures and an intellectual disability—saw an opportunity to advocate for disability rights.

In a Time excerpt of his forthcoming book All in the Family, Fred Trump revealed a disturbing conversation with the then-president following a White House meeting in which he discussed how expensive caring for people with complex disabilities can be. Donald Trump said of some disabled people, his nephew recounted, “The shape they’re in, all the expenses, maybe those kinds of people should just die.”

Time said that it had reached out to Donald Trump for comment about his nephew’s allegations but received no response.

It wasn’t the only concerning conversation Trump’s nephew alleged that they had. When a Trump family medical fund for William’s medical and living expenses was running low, Fred said his uncle told him, “He doesn’t recognize you. Maybe you should just let him die and move down to Florida.”

“The shape they’re in, all the expenses, maybe those kinds of people should just die.”

It wouldn’t be the first time Donald Trump has made offensive comments about disabled people. He infamously made fun of a reporter’s disability at a 2015 rally. But it’s still even more shocking to hear from a close relative that he clearly does not value the life of his own disabled family member.

The Pushback Against Netanyahu’s Visit to Congress

24 July 2024 at 14:20

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—erstwhile Philadelphian and “the worst leader in Jewish history since the Maccabean king who invited the Romans into Jerusalem over 2100 years ago,” according to Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.)—is slated to address Congress today, less than a week after the International Court of Justice found Israel’s actions in the West Bank to be illegal and equivalent to apartheid, and ten months into Israel’s ongoing assault on Gaza, in which at least 39,000 Palestinians have been killed. 

In May, Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson first floated the idea of bringing Netanyahu to speak. Johnson, who has led the passage of billions of dollars of military aid for Israel, has received over $100,000 from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). 

As Netanyahu comes to the US, he is facing tremendous pushback from various groups. Protesters have descended on the Capitol, with hundreds already arrested. Major unions have publicly pushed Democrats to halt aid to Israel, using the visit as leverage. And members of Congress—even the powerful Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)—are skipping the address, publicly declaring a protest against Netanyahu’s refusal to end a war to which America has contributed billions of dollars.

Soon after Johnson’s announcement, the Palestinian Youth Movement and US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR), among others, began to call people from around the country to come to Washington DC for a massive street protest. Buses from at least a dozen cities left before dawn today.  

Ahmad Abuznaid, executive director of USCPR, says that now is the time to push toward stopping the bombs. “As Israel kills a Palestinian every four minutes and escalates regional war, justice cannot wait another day,” he said. Since October, the US has sent thousands of bombs to Israel. “Americans protesting in the streets will certainly not wait for the next president while US-made bombs paid for with our tax dollars are dropping in Gaza,” he said.

Last night, rallies outside the Watergate Hotel where Netanyahu is staying called for the Israeli Prime Minister’s arrest. Protesters toted banners reading  “WAR CRIMINAL STAYS HERE” and banged pots and pans outside the hotel until late into the night. Earlier in the day, several hundred Jewish people staged a sit-in inside the Cannon Rotunda to demand an arms embargo. 

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) has backed up the protesters’ demands, saying that “it is utterly disgraceful that leaders from both parties have invited him to address Congress. He should be arrested and sent to the International Criminal Court.” (Almost 40 governments and NGOs have filed requests with the ICC supporting the position that Netanyahu, along with other senior Israeli and Hamas officials, should be issued an arrest warrant.)

On Tuesday, seven labor unions, representing six million workers, signed a letter demanding that President Joe Biden stop sending weapons to Israel. 

Representatives of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), American Postal Workers Union (APWU), International Union of Painters (IUPAT), National Education Association (NEA), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), United Auto Workers (UAW) and United Electrical Workers (UE), signed the letter. Between the seven unions, they speak for nearly half of all unionized workers in the US. The American Federation of Teachers was notably absent from the letter—but as of the 22nd, that union has divested from all Israel bonds, according to a release from a pro-Palestine group within AFT.

“We have spoken directly to leaders of Palestinian trade unions who told us heartwrenching stories of the conditions faced by working people in Gaza,” the seven unions’ letter said. “Large numbers of Palestinian civilians, many of them children, continue to be killed, reportedly often with US-manufactured bombs.” Stopping US military aid, the unions said, is therefore the quickest way to achieve a ceasefire. 

Some of those unions also represent graduate students. Young people who were beaten, arrested, and in some cases hit with felony charges due to their participation in Gaza Solidarity Encampments this past spring are represented by the UAW and SEIU. Members of the UAW—which called for a ceasefire in December but endorsed President Joe Biden the following month—plan to join the mass protest in the streets during Netanyahu’s address. (Editor’s note: Mother Jones workers are represented by UAW Local 2103.)

Multiple senators and congresspeople have also announced that they aren’t going to be attending Netanyahu’s speech: Sen Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will be among those finding something else to do. 58 Democrats skipped Netanyahu’s address to Congress nine years ago. Nearly 50 House and Senate Democrats have publicly stated their intention to do so this time.

Rep. Mark Pocan, who floated the idea of protesting inside the chamber during the Netanyahu speech, being coy about his plans for tomorrow. “I’m probably having a snickers bar,” he said me, when asked.

— Marc Rod (@marcrod97) July 24, 2024

Joe Biden, as he recovers from COVID, will be missing the speech, too. As will Vice President Kamala Harris, the likely Democratic nominee for president, whose staff have said she has another event scheduled in Indianapolis that she must attend. That’s not much of a break from mainstream Democratic policy. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that Netanyahu should step down in March. And despite Harris’ absence from Netanyahu’s speech, she has made plans to meet privately with him that same week, as will Biden. (And, reportedly, former President Donald Trump will too.) 

A stronger signal of change than Harris’ absence from today’s speech may be her choice of advisors. The Wall Street Journal reported some Biden appointees who have guided his Gaza policy, including national security adviser Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, aren’t likely to keep their jobs under Harris. 

Abuznaid of USCPR isn’t willing to wait for a Harris presidency to demand change. “If Vice President Kamala Harris is serious about winning the votes of the American people, who widely support a permanent ceasefire and stopping weapons to Israel, then she must prove it by taking action to push for an immediate arms embargo in her current role as vice president,” he said.

Harris, however, has not yet indicated what her own policy on Gaza will be—or whether she’ll depart from Biden’s fervent willingness to back Netanyahu in action if not always in press releases.

Is AI Really an Existential Threat to Humanity?

24 July 2024 at 13:37

Artificial intelligence, we have been told, is all but guaranteed to change everything. Often, it is foretold as bringing a series of woes: “extinction,” “doom,”; AI is at risk of “killing us all.” US lawmakers have warned of potential “biological, chemical, cyber, or nuclear” perils associated with advanced AI models and a study commissioned by the State Department on “catastrophic risks,” urged the federal government to intervene and enact safeguards against the weaponization and uncontrolled use of this rapidly evolving technology. Employees at some of the main AI labs have made their safety concerns public and experts in the field, including the so-called “godfathers of AI,” have argued that “mitigating the risk of extinction from AI” should be a global priority.

Advancements in AI capabilities have heightened fears of the possible elimination of certain jobs and the misuse of the technology to spread disinformation and interfere in elections. These developments have also brought about anxiety over a hypothetical future where Artificial General Intelligence systems can outperform humans and, worst case scenario, exterminate humankind.

But the conversation around the disruptive potential of artificial intelligence, argues AI researcher Blaise Agüera y Arcas, CTO of Technology & Society at Google and author of Who Are We Now?, a data-driven book about human identity and behavior, shouldn’t be polarized between AI doomers and deniers. “Both perspectives are rooted in zero-sum,” he writes in the Guardian, “us-versus-them thinking.”

So how worried should we really be? I posed that question to Agüera y Arcas, who sat down with Mother Jones at the Aspen Ideas Festival last month to talk about the future of AI and how we should think about it.

Blaise Agüera y Arcas speaks at the Aspen Ideas Festival. Daniel Bayer/Aspen Ideas Festival

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

You work at a big tech company. Why did you feel compelled to study humanity, behavior, and identity?

My feeling about big AI models is that they are human intelligence, they’re not separate. There were a lot of people in the industry and in AI who thought that we would get to general purpose, powerful AI through systems that were very good at playing a really good game of chess or whatever. That turned out not to be the case. The way we finally got there is by literally modeling human interaction and content on the internet. The internet is obviously not a perfect mirror of us, it has many flaws. But it is basically humanity. It’s literally modeling humanity that yields general intelligence. That is both worrisome and reassuring. It’s reassuring that it’s not an alien. It’s all too familiar. And it’s worrisome because it inherits all of our flaws.

In an article you co-authored titled “The Illusion of AI’s Existential Risk,” you write that “harm and even massive death from misuse of (non-superintelligent) AI is a real possibility and extinction via superintelligent rogue AI is not an impossibility.” How worried should we be?

I’m an optimist, but also a worrier. My top two worries right now for humanity and for the planet are nuclear war and climate collapse. We don’t know if we’re dancing close to the edge of the cliff. One of my big frustrations with the whole AI existential risk conversation is that it’s so distracting from these things that are real and in front of us right now. More intelligence is actually what we need in order to address those very problems, not less intelligence.

The idea that somehow more intelligence is a threat feels to me like it comes more than anything else from our primate brains of dominance hierarchy. We are the top dog now, but maybe AI will be the top dog. And I just think this is such bullshit.

AI is so integral already to computers and it will become even more so in the coming years. I have a lot of concerns about democracy, disinformation and mass hacking, cyber warfare, and lots of other things. There’s no shortage of things to be concerned about. Very few of them strike me as being potential species enders. They strike me as things that we really have to think about with respect to what kind of lifestyle we want, how we want to live, and what our values are.

The biggest problem now is not so much how do we make AI models follow ethical injunctions as who gets to make those? What are the rules? And those are not so much AI problems as they are the problems of democracy and governance. They’re deep and we need to address them.

In that same article, you talk about AI’s disruptive dangers to society today, including the breakdown of social fabric and democracy. There also are concerns about the carbon footprint required to develop and maintain data centers, defamatory content and copyright infringement issues, and disruptions in journalism. What are the present dangers you see and do the benefits outweigh the potential harms?

We’re imagining that we’ll be able to really draw a distinction between AI content and non-AI content, but I’m not really sure that will be the case. In many cases, AI is going to be really helpful for people who don’t speak a language or who have sensory deficits or cognitive deficits. As more and more of us begin to work with AI in various ways, I think drawing those distinctions is going to become really hard. It’s hard for me to imagine that the benefits are not really big. But I can also imagine sort of conditions conspiring to make things work out poorly for us. We need to be distributing the gains that we’re getting from a lot of these technologies more broadly. And we need to be putting our money where our hearts are.

Is AI going to develop industries and jobs as opposed to making existing ones obsolete and replaceable?

The labor question is really complex and the jury is very much still out about how many jobs will be replaced, changed, improved, or created. We don’t know. But I’m not even sure that the terms of that debate are right. We wouldn’t be interested in a lot of these AI capabilities if they didn’t do stuff that is useful to us. But with capitalism configured the way it is, we are requiring that people do, “economically useful” work, or they don’t eat. Something seems to be screwy about this.

If we’re entering an era of potentially such abundance that a lot of people don’t have to work and yet the consequence of that is that a lot of people starve, something’s very wrong with the way we’ve set things up. Is that a problem with AI? Not really. But it’s certainly a problem that AI could bring about if the whole sociotechnical system is not changed. I don’t know that capitalism and labor as we’ve thought about it is sophisticated enough to deal with the world that we’ll be living in in 40 years’ time.

There has been some reporting that paints a picture of companies that are developing these technologies as divided between people who want to take it to the limit without much regard for potential consequences, and then those who are perhaps more sensitive to such concerns. Is that the reality of what you see in the industry?

Just like with other cultural wars issues, there’s a kind of polarization that is taking place. And the two poles are weird. One of them I would call AI existential risk. The other one I would call AI safety. And then there’s what I would almost call AI abolition or anti-AI movement—that on the one hand often claims that AI is neither artificial nor intelligent, it’s just a way to bolster capital at the expense of labor. It sounds almost religious, right? It’s either the rapture or the apocalypse. AI—it’s real. It’s not just some kind of party trick or hype. I get quite frustrated by a lot of the way that I see those concerns raised from both sides. It’s unfortunate because a lot of the real issues with AI are so much more nuanced and require much more care in how they’re analyzed.

Current and former employees at AI development companies, including at Google, signed a letter calling for whistleblower protections so that current and former employees can publicly raise concerns about the potential risks of these technologies. Do you worry that there isn’t enough transparency in the development of AI and should the public at large trust big companies and powerful individuals to sort of rein it in?

No. Should people trust corporations to just make everything better for everybody? Of course not. I think that the intentions of the corporations have often not really been the determinant of whether things go well or badly. It’s often very difficult to tell what the long-term consequences are going to be of a thing.

Think about the internet, which was the last really big change. I think AI is a bigger change than the internet. If we’d had the same conversation about the internet in 1992, should we trust the companies that are building the computers, the wire, and later on the fiber? Should we trust that they have our interests at heart? How should we hold them to account? What laws should be passed? Even with everything we know now, what could we have told humans 1992 to do? I’m not sure.

The internet was a mixed blessing. Some things probably should have been regulated differently. But none of the regulations we were thinking of at the time were the right ones. I think that a lot of our concerns at that time turned out to be the wrong concerns. I worry that we’re in a similar situation now. I’m not saying that I think we should not regulate AI. But when I look at the actual rules and policies being proposed, I have very low confidence that any of them will actually make life better for anybody in 10 years.

Wait, What Just Happened?

24 July 2024 at 10:00

Remember June 27? That was when President Joe Biden delivered his bewildering and bewildered—empty eyes, mouth agape—performance in the now-infamous televised debate against former President Donald Trump.

But as I am writing this, not even a month has gone by. The first presidential debate of 2024 was, instead, merely the starting point of a 24-day stretch during which America watched its political landscape mutate swiftly and irrevocably: a dizzying period of so many unprecedented events that the word may need to be retired because of overuse.

In the weeks, even days, between the debate and Biden’s subsequent decision to exit the 2024 presidential race and endorse Vice President Kamala Harris to lead the Democratic ticket on July 21, there have been stunning Supreme Court decisions, an assassination attempt, and an enthusiastically attended Republican National Convention. Such an abundance of game-changing movements have transpired that it’s difficult to remember them all. So Mother Jones is providing an abridged summary to reassure you that no, really, you’re not the only one who may feel like you can’t keep track of all that has happened.

Joe Biden and Donald Trump on CNN in the presidential debate on June 27Gripas Yuri/Abaca/ZUMA

June 27

The first 2024 presidential debate was supposed to be a slam dunk for Biden, which is part of the reason his campaign pushed for it to be held before the Republican National Convention; the thinking was he could gain early momentum. Trump recently had been found guilty of 34 criminal charges. Moreover, abortion access was polling as one of the top issues for voters, and Trump had appointed the Supreme Court justices who helped topple Roe v. Wade‘s 50-year precedent. In other words, Biden had plenty of material with which to work. But instead of standing up to Trump, Biden looked as if he could barely stand at all. He struggled to complete thoughts, seemed to forget certain words, and within minutes was dominated by a 78-year-old opponent who appeared robust, even while spewing lies. One painful example of Biden’s impairment appeared early. While talking about billionaires and tax rates, Biden said: “Look, if we finally beat Medicare…” before trailing off. All over the country, Democrats wanted to turn it off but couldn’t look away.

The timing of the debate was also meaningful because of another blockbuster news event that morning. The Supreme Court released its opinion on the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, and reinstated—at least for now—a lower-court ruling permitting Idaho hospitals to provide emergency abortions in limited circumstances without being subject to prosecution under the state’s strict abortion ban. Democrats were counting on Biden coming out strong on abortion rights, and when the subject came up at the debate, he could have owned the moment. Instead, he said something unintelligible about…the border… I think?

“Look, there’s so many young women who have been—including a young woman who just was murdered and he went to the funeral. The idea that she was murdered by – by – by an immigrant coming in and (inaudible) talk about that,” Biden said.

June 28

Even as the public conversation about Biden’s meltdown dominated the news the day after his disastrous presidential debate, the Supreme Court was in the midst of issuing momentous, end-of-term decisions. Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo or Relentless v. Department of Commerce may not ring a bell for the average American, but the court’s decision is one with the broadest implications this year. The justices overturned a 1984 precedent known as the Chevron doctrine that instructed courts generally to defer to a governmental agency’s interpretation of the relevant subject matter, unless Congress had passed a law addressing the issue. Along party lines, the court ruled that the judiciary, rather than issue-specific agencies, could have the final say on all sorts of minutiae in which judges generally do not have expertise. How much air pollution flowing from one state into another, for example, is too much? The elimination of Chevron has now empowered judges to make that decision instead of scientists from the Environmental Protection Agency.

July 1

First thing Monday morning, just before adjourning until October, in a 5-4 decision breaking down as one would expect with the conservative majority ruling, the Supreme Court finally published its opinion on Trump v. United States—otherwise known as the presidential immunity case. The court decided that presidential power entitles a former President to “absolute immunity from criminal prosecution for actions within his conclusive and preclusive constitutional authority,” and to “at least presumptive immunity” from prosecution for all his official acts. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her dissenting opinion, the majority decision meant that nearly anything a president does in his official capacity can get a free pass. “When he uses his official powers in any way, under the majority’s reasoning,” she wrote, “he now will be insulated from criminal prosecution. Orders the Navy’s Seal Team 6 to assassinate a political rival? Immune.” The ruling called into question whether Trump can be lawfully convicted for the numerous federal charges he’s facing. Meanwhile, Biden was still suffering from repeated questions about his fitness to lead.

July 2

Biden kept a relatively low profile, but began to offer excuses for his poor performance, including that he was sick during the debate. He told reporters on July 2 that he “wasn’t very smart” for “traveling around the world a couple times” before the debate. To donors, he admitted, “I didn’t listen to my staff ” about traveling too much, “and then I almost fell asleep on stage.” Not everyone bought it. Notably, he made two trips to Europe in June: the first for a D-Day anniversary event and a second for the G7 Summit. The president then flew to Los Angeles for a star-studded fundraiser. (Which later came back to bite him; see the July 10 entry featuring George Clooney.) Biden then retreated to Camp David, where he had stayed for a week immersed in debate preparations. Still, the early drip soon became a deluge, and the first Democratic lawmaker publicly called on Biden to drop out of the 2024 race. Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas said he was hopeful Biden would “make the painful and difficult decision to withdraw.” 

July 2–5

More requests for Biden to step aside trickled out, including from former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, Arizona Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva, Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton, and Illinois Congressman Mike Quigley.

July 5

ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos conducted the first post-debate television interview with Biden. It wasn’t as cringe-inducing as the president’s June 27 performance, but it wasn’t a clear victory either. Biden was still hoarse and spent much of the interview downplaying and denying questions about his age and stamina.

A screenshot from the New York Times on July 10, 2024

July 10

July 10 felt a little bit like when Tom Hanks announced—before lockdown—that he had Covid in early March 2020. This time around, superstar and major Democratic fundraiser George Clooney called for Biden to exit the race in a New York Times opinion piece. “We are not going to win in November with this president. On top of that, we won’t win the House, and we’re going to lose the Senate. This isn’t only my opinion; this is the opinion of every senator and Congress member and governor who I’ve spoken with in private,” Clooney wrote. On the same day, Democratic Sen. Peter Welch of Vermont became the first Democratic Senator to publicly say Biden shouldn’t run in 2024.

July 10 felt a little bit like when Tom Hanks announced—before lockdown—that he had COVID in early March 2020. This time around, superstar and major Democratic fundraiser George Clooney called for Biden to exit the race in a New York Times opinion piece.

July 11

With more calls for Biden to drop out came more scrutiny. At the NATO summit in Washington on July 11, Biden accidentally referred to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as the Russian President who Zelensky currently faces in war. “And now I want to hand it over to the president of Ukraine, who has as much courage as he has determination, ladies and gentlemen, President Putin,” Biden said, before quickly correcting himself. Oops. In attempting to speak about Vice President Kamala Harris, Biden mistakenly called her “Vice President Trump.” Oops again.

At least eight members of Congress, including Hillary Scholten of Michigan and Jim Hines of Connecticut, joined the growing chorus of Biden 2024 defectors.

Donald Trump after being shot at and glazed by a bullet during a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa.Evan Vucci/AP

July 13

Just when US politics reached what felt like a new level of crazy, a 20-year-old man fired shots at former president Trump from a rooftop 150 meters away at a Saturday rally in Butler, Pennsylvania. The bullet grazed Trump’s ear and came within an inch of ending his life. One rally attendee, a volunteer firefighter who was protecting his family, was killed and two others were seriously injured. Immediately, members of the far-right blamed Democrats and their rhetoric for the shooting. The Biden campaign paused its advertisements as the president made multiple addresses to the nation, disavowing political violence.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer also met with Biden in Delaware on July 13. Though it would not be reported for several more days, Schumer urged Biden to consider dropping out. To which Biden reportedly said, “I need another week.”

July 15

Having quickly gotten to his feet after being injured at the July 13 rally, Trump emerged from the assassination attempt with a bandaged ear and a renewed appearance of vitality. Within two days of the shooting, Trump notched a couple more wins: District Judge Aileen Cannon—a controversial Trump appointee—dismissed the criminal case that alleged Trump had improperly stored classified documents and then attempted to cover up his tracks. (Special counsel Jack Smith’s office says it will appeal the decision.) Out of numerous indictments, some experts thought the classified documents case was the strongest one to be made against Trump.

On the same day, the Republican National Committee convened in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to formally nominate Trump as the party’s presidential candidate. To great fanfare, Trump also announced his running mate selection of Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio).

In the interim, Biden sat down for another television interview—this time with Lester Holt. In it, he sounded slightly less ill but even more intransigent. “Come and talk to me about what we should be talking about,” he told Holt, presumably meaning that the subject should be Trump and not his own political future.

July 17

As the Biden campaign continued to try to reject rumors that he was too old and frail to serve another four-year term, the White House announced the president had tested positive for Covid and would be self-isolating at his home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

In his address accepting the nomination at the RNC, Vance tried to appeal to “forgotten communities” and the plights of the working class, which he blamed on big corporations and Democrats sending jobs overseas.

July 17 was also the day that Rep. Adam Schiff, a close ally of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a fellow member of the California delegation, said Biden should remove himself from the equation.

Former WWE wrestling star Hulk Hogan addresses the Republican National Committee on the final night of the four day event.Mark Reinstein/ZUMA

July 18

Former president Trump, now the official GOP nominee for president, followed a testosterone-filled array of speakers like Hulk Hogan and Tucker Carlson to deliver the longest convention speech ever. After a 20-minute emotional retelling of the assassination attempt against him, Trump started Trumping again, and spent the next 70 minutes rambling about an “immigrant invasion” and how Biden is one of the “worst presidents in the history of the United States.”

Former president Trump, now the official GOP nominee for president, followed a testosterone-filled array of speakers like Hulk Hogan and Tucker Carlson to deliver the longest convention speech ever.

CNN reported that Pelosi and Biden had a testy phone call in which she advised the president that staying in the race would destroy Democrats’ chance of reclaiming the House and securing the Senate in November.

July 19

By this point, the floodgates of dissent had overwhelmed Biden’s shrinking chances of becoming the nominee. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM), as well as at least nine more members of the House called for Biden to drop out.

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks on the South Lawn of the White House on Monday, July 22, 2024.Ting Shen/CNP/ZUMA

July 21

Still recovering from Covid and in quarantine, Biden released a letter Sunday afternoon announcing he was pulling out of the race. “It has been the greatest honor of my life to serve as your President. And while it has been my intention to seek reelection, I believe it is in the best interest of my party and the country for me to stand down and to focus solely on fulfilling my duties as President for the remainder of my term,” he wrote.

Shortly thereafter, Biden endorsed his vice president to replace him at the top of the Democratic ticket. Kamala Harris, 59, is now expected to be the Democratic nominee who will run against the oldest-ever, major-party-nominated presidential candidate: 78-year-old Donald Trump. The Democratic convention will be in Chicago beginning August 19.

No telling what will happen between now and then.


Top image credits: Ting Shen/CNP/ZUMA; Evan Vucci/AP; Gripas Yuri/Abaca/ZUMA; Mark Reinstein/ZUMA

Bears, Fish, and Wolves’ New Predator: the Supreme Court?

24 July 2024 at 10:00

Even before the Supreme Court ruled late last month in Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo, a lawsuit over a herring fishing regulation, Meredith Moore knew the case was never really about fish. Moore, the director of the fish conservation program at the nonprofit environmental group Ocean Conservancy, instead saw the case as a “Trojan horse” that would weaken public agencies’ regulatory power across the board and unleash a wave of lawsuits aimed at unraveling environmental protections. “This is an opportunity for a free-for-all,” she says.

“This is an opportunity for a free-for-all.”

As Moore had feared, when it came time for the Court to deliver its June 28 decision on Loper Bright (which it had merged with a near-identical case, Relentless, Inc. v. Department of Commerce), the conservative majority overturned a decades-old legal precedent known as “Chevron deference.” Named after a 1984 Supreme Court case involving the oil giant, the doctrine was one of the most cited legal precedents ever. For 40 years, it instructed judges to defer to an agency’s interpretation of a law—say, the Clean Water Act, Social Security Act, Affordable Care Act—when that law was unclear. Now, thanks to the pair of lawsuits (and the anti-regulatory interests like Charles Koch, who backed them), the power to determine the “best” reading of ambiguous statutes now falls to judges, not agency officials.

The decision, many legal experts warn, will curtail federal agencies’ ability to regulate everything from tax policy to reproductive rights and the environment, and is likely to be one of the court’s most significant actions in recent history—on par with decisions that overturned the right to abortion and ended affirmative action.

While it’s clear that the decision will be extraordinarily broad (which I’ve written about here and here), the specific, concrete details about its impact are less obvious. What will the ruling mean, for instance, for herring? Or other fish we eat? Or any of the more than 1,000 threatened and endangered species in the US?

Let’s start with herring. The regulation that sparked Relentless and Loper Bright required herring fishermen to pay for boat observers to monitor their catches—around $700 per trip—a practice intended to document what species are caught and prevent overfishing under the Magnuson–Stevens Act. While the Supreme Court took up the case, it only agreed to address Chevron deference, putting the fate of the fishing regulation in the hands of lower courts.

But beyond that single rule, Moore worries about federal efforts to manage fisheries in all sorts of other ways. Under the Magnuson–Stevens Act, the primary law governing US fisheries, she explains, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) sets catch limits for various types of fish. If a population becomes overfished, the agency creates plans to rebuild them. In the last nearly 25 years, the agency says it’s helped recover 50 fish stocks, including populations of bocaccio (a type of rockfish), Snohomish coho salmon, and Pacific Ocean perch. But now, if the agency’s regulations are challenged in court, it will be up to a judge, rather than NOAA officials, to identify the most suitable application of laws like the Magnuson–Stevens Act—a change Moore worries will make it harder for NOAA to keep US fisheries operating sustainably.

Many other regulations may also be at risk. According to Democracy Forward, a nonprofit public policy research organization tracking lower-court citations of Loper Bright and Relentless, there have been at least 40 references to the court’s Chevron ruling as of mid-July, including in filings in 19 different cases and opinions from 11 courts. These citations involve many areas of the law, from gas appliance energy standards, Title IX, abortion, airline fees, anti-discrimination provisions in health care, and more. “By and large, these cases are being used aggressively to seek to stop regulations and programs that benefit the American people,” said Skye Perryman, the president and CEO of Democracy Forward. In one lawsuit, Massachusetts Lobstermen Association v. National Marine Fisheries Service, lawyers representing lobster fishermen referenced the Supreme Court’s Chevron ruling as part of their fight against a federal regulation intended to protect North Atlantic right whales. (Read more about this battle here.)

But not every environmental advocate sees the overturning of Chevron deference as a disaster for plants and animals. Brett Hartl, the government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group that has sued the federal government many times for not doing enough to protect imperiled wildlife, told me that he expects the decision to yield a “mixed bag” of lawsuits that will take years to play out. But he also sees it as an opportunity to strengthen certain environmental protections.

For instance, Hartl argues, the Fish and Wildlife Service hasn’t always gone far enough to protect at-risk species as required by the Endangered Species Act. The agency has failed to follow its own species recovery plans, he argues, often proposing to delist species too soon. And it has never fully grappled with a key definition in the ESA: what it means for a species to be at risk of extinction within “a significant portion” of its “range”—whether that means an animal’s current range, historic range, or something else. The agency’s “unambitious” and “piecemeal” approach to recovery, as the Center for Biological Diversity has described it, hurts creatures like wolves and grizzly bears that once roamed large swaths of the country. (When reached by email, a spokesperson with the Fish and Wildlife Service pointed me to the Department of Interior, which declined to comment on its alleged shortcomings or the impacts of overturning Chevron broadly.)

Similarly, the wording of the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, Hartl points out, suggests a need to steward the environment for “succeeding generations.” With this language, he argues, “NEPA creates almost an intergenerational responsibility to the environment,” and no administration has ever really capitalized on that mandate. Now, without Chevron, he argues, a federal judge might agree that federal agencies ought to do more to protect the environment under the law.

“If you have agencies constantly not meeting their mandates, and sort of falling short,” Hartl says, “Chevron is mostly a shield for them that has allowed them to perpetuate bad behavior.”

Now that Chevron is gone, Hartl says, “there actually are opportunities to make things better.” (The Center for Biological Diversity, he told me, is already planning to “retool” some of its ongoing lawsuits and introduce new ones to take advantage of the ruling.) Hartl argues that if Donald Trump wins reelection, his agencies will have “a hell of a lot less power” when it comes to regulations. “Do you want them having all this deference? I don’t.”

But overall, most of the experts I’ve spoken to about Chevron deference did not see a silver lining for wild plants and animals (or for environmental protections as a whole). Holly Doremus, an environmental law professor at UC Berkeley School of Law, told me via email that an optimistic view like the Center for Biological Diversity’s may be trying to “see the best in a bad situation.” In the short run, she expects federal courts to follow the Supreme Court’s lead and “be much more skeptical” of agency actions they see as overstepping the law rather than those seen as not going far enough for, say, endangered species protection. As Vermont Law School emeritus professor Pat Parenteau explains, lower courts often take their cues from the Supreme Court, which has signaled a clear desire to narrow environmental laws and reign in agency authority.

Lower courts often take their cues from the Supreme Court, which has signaled a clear desire to narrow environmental laws and reign in agency authority.

Other experts noted that the loss of Chevron will likely prompt groups on all sides of the political spectrum to judge-shop in specific courts to challenge rules they dislike. This could lead to a “lack of coherence” in which agency regulations are overturned or upheld, NRDC lawyer David Doniger, who argued the original 1984 Chevron case before the Supreme Court, told me ahead of the recent ruling. (It’s no secret, for instance, that a disproportionate number of lawsuits against Biden administration regulations are filed in the Amarillo Division of the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas, where conservative, Trump-appointed Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk sits.)

“I think you could have maybe a few wins here and there,” the Ocean Conservancy’s Moore says. “But I’m more concerned about the instability, uncertainty, and patchwork nature of what regulations will look like if they’re all able to be sued in different ways in different places.”

Echoing both Moore and Doremus, Parenteau said that while environmental advocates may see some victories in court, he believes they’re up against a “stacked deck” under this new system, in part because of the signals coming from the Supreme Court and industry’s near-unlimited resources to sue the government.

“The opponents of environmental regulation have the upper hand, there is no question about it,” he says.” And they’re going to win and win and win. And environmental advocates are just going to have to scrape and claw and try to win a few. That’s the world we’re in.”

She Called the Police for Help. They Killed Her Instead.

24 July 2024 at 01:24

Update: On Tuesday, Attorney Ben Crump announced that the Department of Justice will be investigating the death of Sonya Massey, who was shot and killed by a former Illinois sheriff’s deputy earlier this month. 

“We don’t know what the scope is. We just know they’ve opened an investigation file on Sonya Massey,” said Crump in a press conference. “Obviously, with the family’s guidance, if the family wants them to go deeper, we’re going to advocate for them to go deeper.”

On Monday, an Illinois county sheriff’s department released body camera footage showing the fatal shooting of a Black woman who originally called 911 for help. Earlier this month, Deputy Sean Grayson shot 36-year-old Sonya Massey after she attempted to move a pot of water off of her stove at the officer’s behest.

The Sangamon County Sheriff’s Office has reportedly fired Grayson, who was later charged with first-degree murder last week. He’s pleaded not guilty.

“She needed a helping hand,” attorney Ben Crump said at a press conference on Monday. “She didn’t need a bullet to the face.” On July 6, Massey reportedly called the authorities about a potential prowler around her Springfield home. Officer Grayson and another deputy arrived on the scene.

While asking her a few questions, Grayson asked her to turn off her stove, where a pot of water was reportedly boiling. Massey gets up to turn it off and pick up the pot. The officers then step back. She asks where they’re going; Grayson replies, “Away from your hot steaming water.”

Massey then says, “I rebuke you in the name of Jesus.” Grayson responds that she “better not,” threatening to shoot her “in her fucking face.” She apologizes before three shots ring in the air.

As Massey laid bleeding in her kitchen, the other unnamed officer said he was going to get his medical kit from his car when Grayson said, “Nah, she’s done. You can go get it, but that’s a headshot.”

Following the shooting, the 30-year-old deputy referred to Massey as a “crazy fucking bitch” to other officers who arrived on the scene. Grayson’s body camera was reportedly turned off for most of the shooting.

The footage of Massey’s death, captured by the other deputy’s body camera, shocked the nation. Several local, state, and federal officials have condemned the officer’s actions. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris both released statements calling for justice for Massey’s family on Tuesday.

“Sonya Massey deserved to be safe,” said Harris. “After she called the police for help, she was tragically killed in her own home at the hands of a responding officer sworn to protect and serve.”

In an interview with CNN, her father, James Wilburn, alleged that law enforcement had given them conflicting information about his daughter’s death, leading him to believe that a robber had killed her. Massey’s killing has devastated him.

“Sonya was a daddy’s girl. She never ended a conversation—whether by text or telephone or in person—without saying, ‘Daddy, I love you,” her father, James Wilburn, told CNN’s Laura Coates in an interview. “And that’s the last message I have from my daughter that’s saved on my voicemail, was ‘Daddy, I love you.'”

Donald Trump Ridicules Kamala Harris’ Chuckle, Maybe Because He Almost Never Laughs

23 July 2024 at 22:55

“You can tell a lot by a laugh,” Donald Trump told supporters the other day, reviving a weird and arguably very sexist right-wing criticism of his new White House rival, Kamala Harris. “I call her Laughing Kamala. You ever watch her laugh?… She’s crazy. She’s nuts.”

Trump then proceeded to call Nancy Pelosi crazy, saying that “she turned on [Biden] like a dog.”

Like a dog.


But this is not a story about Trump’s deployment of specific types of insults against women (he bullies men, too), such as when he called Hillary Clinton “shrill.”

This is a story about laughter.

Shortly after Trump made his comments, his stalwart pal, the Fox News host Sean Hannity, piled on, saying on his show that voters “seem to detest” Harris on account of her readiness to laugh—or maybe because of the way she laughs? It’s hard to tell. But Hannity clearly aims to convince his viewers to detest Harris, if they don’t already.

Hannity: Here’s just one reason voters seem to detest Kamala Harris

*clips of Harris laughing* pic.twitter.com/QwKufROZJ3

— Acyn (@Acyn) July 22, 2024

Hearing Trump and his cronies insult Harris’ hearty chuckle—which his campaign also impugns in this anti-Biden ad—got me thinking about how I had never, ever heard Trump laugh.

It turns out I wasn’t the first journalist to have that thought. Several media colleagues have made this observation in the past, but if Trump wants to weaponize his opponent’s noteworthy laugh, we should probably talk about that. And Trump’s lack of one.

Suppose we take Trump’s statement at face value: You can tell a lot about a person from their laugh. Well, I’m just one guy, but to me Harris’ chortle suggests she’s a fun-loving individual. Is that such a terrible leadership trait?

Kamala Harris laughing compilation for 2 minutes straight pic.twitter.com/5vTFK3FlSk

— all reaction videos (@allreactionvids) November 27, 2022

Laughter is pretty much universally seen as positive. Indeed, the list of prominent people who have spoken and written of the value of laughter is long. It includes Catherine the Great, Charlie Chaplin, Charles Dickens, Robert Frost, Kahlil Gibran, Martin Luther King Jr., William Shakespeare, Gloria Steinem, Virginia Wolfe, and on and on. Perhaps more relatable to Trump would be Andrew Carnegie, who is credited as saying: “There is little success where there is little laughter.” 

Less relatable for him, perhaps, would be this quote from W.E.B. DuBois: “I am especially glad of the divine gift of laughter: it has made the world human and lovable, despite all its pain and wrong.”

“It stayed with me, that I’ve never seen him laugh. Not in public, not in private…,” James Comey said. “I never saw anything that resembled a laugh.”

What does it mean when one lacks this gift? I emailed Bandy X. Lee, an outspoken psychiatrist Mother Jones profiled in 2022 whose new book is titled, The Psychology of Trump Contagion: An Existential Threat to American Democracy and All Humankind, to get her take.

Trump’s “rigidity and lack of flexibility, deriving from a state of pathology, appear to underlie his lack of humor more than anything else,” Lee replied. “In other words, it is not just a difference in style but a defect. This may belie his ‘entertaining’ persona, through which he makes others laugh, but this is the ‘charming’ façade of a dangerous personality with predatory intent, not someone with true leisure of mind who can laugh at reality.”

Trump’s estranged niece, the psychologist Mary Trump—whose 2020 family memoir, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, was a huge best-seller—also touched on the subject of Donald’s mirthlessness in a Slate interview with journalist Virginia Heffernan. When Heffernan asked Mary whether she thought her Uncle Donald was happy, she replied:

There’s no way he could be happy because the myths that have been created about him and that he’s perpetuated and believes about himself are always in constant danger of disintegrating. On some deep level, he knows that. He’s very much always living in the moment. So how can you be happy?

And how can you be happy if you don’t laugh or appreciate humor? What that says to me, because my grandfather also didn’t laugh, is that laughing is to make yourself vulnerable, it’s to let down your guard in some way, it’s to lose a little bit of control. And that can’t happen. That is not allowed to happen.

And here’s another quote, from the acclaimed author Maya Angelou. “Don’t trust people who don’t laugh,” she once told a crowd at the University of Buffalo in New York, adding, “I don’t.”

In a 2018 interview with ABC News host George Stephanopoulos, the former FBI Director James Comey reflected on this unusual trait of his former boss, Donald Trump, who seems to enjoy making supporters crack up, but rarely does so himself. “I was struck by it. So struck by it, it stayed with me, that I’ve never seen him laugh. Not in public, not in private…,” Comey said. “I never saw anything that resembled a laugh.”

After Trump fired Comey, that thought stuck with him, he said, “So I went and tried to find examples of videos where he’s laughing and I could only find [what] really wasn’t a genuine laugh.

I looked around, too. Donald Trump is among the most filmed and scrutinized people on the planet, so if he laughed a lot we would know about it. But he really seldom does, publicly anyway. I could find only a small number of clips, and in most of them he only sort of laughs, or laughs briefly. There are even fewer in which his laughter seems genuine—such as this one, wherein Jimmy Fallon roasts Trump pretty hilariously, and who wouldn’t crack up in that situation?

But what seems to prompt the lion’s share of his scant public laughs should give voters pause. I’m all for inappropriate levity, but it’s problematic when so much of a powerful man’s laughter involves mocking people or laughing at someone else’s misfortunes. In this clip, he laughs when a rallygoer yells out that we should shoot migrants coming across the southern border.


I cannot vouch for the veracity of this next clip, but Trump seems to get a good laugh at an impersonator mocking President Joe Biden over his rally sound system.


In this one he appears to laugh at his supporters chanting—not of Hillary Clinton, but of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who had severe cognitive impairments—”Lock her up!”


And here is perhaps his most genuine laugh of all, a clip that takes us back to where we started: a powerful woman being equated to a dog.


But as Kat Abughazaleh, our video essayist, pointed out recently, the right doesn’t yet seem to have come up with a better line of attack on Harris than “she laughs too much.”


Correction: An earlier version of this story listed Maya Angelou as 86 years old. Angelou died at age 86, in 2014.

Kamala Harris Is Running as the Prosecutor Taking on Trump

23 July 2024 at 21:22

Vice President Kamala Harris’ days as a courtroom prosecutor are long behind her.

But in her first official campaign speech as a presidential candidate in Milwaukee on Tuesday, she made it clear that it was that job, and those that followed—as District Attorney of San Francisco and Attorney General of California—that make her the best person to take on Trump.

“In those roles, I took on perpetrators of all kinds,” Harris said near the beginning of an energetic 20-minute speech. “Predators who abused women; fraudsters who ripped off consumers; cheaters who broke the rules for their own gain. So hear me when I say: I know Donald Trump’s type.”

Vice Pres. Kamala Harris says she took on "predators," "fraudsters" and "cheaters" in her roles as California attorney general and a courtroom prosecutor.

Harris then referenced Donald Trump, calling out his "type." https://t.co/i50BJzEzZL pic.twitter.com/CHgqLnEuug

— ABC News (@ABC) July 23, 2024

“In this campaign,” she added, “I promise you, I will proudly put my record against his any day of the week.”

Harris went on to do just that, pointing to her history of taking on a for-profit college that scammed students while she was California’s AG, which she compared to Trump running such a college; she also discussed her history prosecuting fraud and sexual abuse cases, compared to Trump’s recent conviction for 34 counts of fraud in his hush-money trial, and his being found liable for sexual abuse last year in the civil suit brought by writer E. Jean Carroll. Those examples were also among the ones included in a powerful ad for Harris’ failed 2020 presidential campaign.

They were ready.
pic.twitter.com/WNRecITmzR

— David Corn (@DavidCornDC) July 21, 2024

“Lock him up!” someone in the crowd chanted as Harris recounted Trump’s litany of legal troubles.

Harris also noted her support for unions, affordable healthcare and childcare, paid family leave, and Social Security: “Building up the middle class will be a defining goal of my presidency,” she said.

And while Harris didn’t point out this contrast in her speech, it has been well documented that Trump’s running mate, Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), has dismissed universal childcare as “a massive subsidy to the lifestyle preferences of the affluent over the preferences of the middle and working class,” and has signaled support for women staying home to raise children full-time rather than pursuing careers. Republicans are also trying to rebrand as a workers’ party by ostensibly encouraging support for unions, as my colleague Tim Murphy wrote from the Republican National Convention last week—but it’s not quite landing for everyone. And the more than 900-page “Mandate for Leadership” issued by Project 2025, an initiative led by dozens of conservative groups and spearheaded by the right-wing Heritage Foundation, lays out a plan for a future Trump administration to roll back retirement and health care benefits.

Harris has repeatedly highlighted the threats posed by Project 2025 and did so again during her first campaign speech, joking, “Can you believe they put that thing in writing?” She also promised, if elected, to expand voting rights; take on gun violence through red flag laws, universal background checks, and a renewed assault weapons ban; and protect abortion rights by passing a federal law to codify Roe.

“We’ll stop Donald Trump’s extreme abortion bans,” Harris said, to cheers. As I reported this weekend, abortion rights advocates believe that Harris is an ideal messenger on this winning issue for Democrats, given her direct and consistent support for abortion and other reproductive justice issues—particularly compared to President Joe Biden’s discomfort campaigning on the issue.

As of Tuesday morning, Harris had earned enough delegates to secure the Democratic nomination, the Associated Press reported. And as she looks to the presidency, she is casting her campaign as one focused on the future—which seems to offer a deliberate contrast to both the concerns about Biden’s age that previously dogged the Democratic ticket and Trump’s backwards-looking dream of “making America great again.”

"When Congress passes a law to restore reproductive freedoms, as president of the United States, I will sign it into law."

Vice Pres. Kamala Harris says a Harris administration would prioritize "an assault weapons ban" as well as "reproductive freedom." https://t.co/ILZPuehw6o pic.twitter.com/cjaiNK8wzz

— ABC News (@ABC) July 23, 2024

“Generations of Americans before us led the fight for freedom,” Harris said Tuesday, “and now, Wisconsin, the baton is in our hands.”

If today’s speech—and the past 48 hours, including her record-breaking fundraising haul—are any indication, Democrats are far more energized about the prosecutor-turned-presidential-candidate than they were about Biden.

Kamala Harris Can’t Be “Brat” Because “Brat” Is Dead

On July 21, soon after President Joe Biden dropped out of the race, British pop icon Charli XCX broke the internet—and middle-aged political pundits’ brains—by declaring Vice President Kamala Harris “is brat.”

kamala IS brat

— Charli (@charli_xcx) July 22, 2024

It wasn’t out of the blue; for weeks, scores of chronically online posters flooded social media feeds with edits of Harris set to the songs from Charli XCX’s newest album, Brat.

Harris, who has emerged as the likely Democratic nominee for US president, capitalized on the viral firestorm. Within hours of Charli’s blessing, the new KamalaHQ account on X changed its banner image to the iconic green of Charli’s album cover and posted its own Brat edit, which has amassed over 1.5 million views. This has led many confused, exhausted people over the age of 35 (or so) to ask: What is Brat? Why is this happening? And please will someone help me I was just trying to pay attention to the election and now I feel old?

A good example would be this recent CNN panel:

If you told me 6 months ago that CNN would have a group of panelists discussing how Charli xcx’s 6th album is being a major voting influence in the 2024 US presidential election I’d laugh in your face pic.twitter.com/3elqmXCb1J

— frankie 𖤐 (@360_brat) July 22, 2024

We had a few of our staffers break down what brat is now that it is part of the 2024 campaign. And if you are still worried, don’t fret. Their main conclusion is this: brat is dead. So, you’re safe.

OK, so, I am your stand-in Old Person who just learned about Brat (brat, BRAT?) and am befuddled. I’m scared about a lot of things—but mostly about the future of democracy (which I post about in the comments to my favorite Washington Post articles). So, my first question is: Who is Charli XCX?

Siri Chilukuri: Charli XCX is a pop singer who first rose to prominence in the 2000s as a teenager—she would make great music and post it online. Her real name is Charlotte Aitchison.

Sarah Szilagy: She’s from the UK.

Sophie Hurwitz: Oh yeah. Really important that she’s British.

Siri: She’s from Essex, specifically.

Is she the brat?

Sophie: I think brat’s more an idea than a person.

Sarah: But an idea she strives to embody, especially through Brat the album.

Siri: The question of if she’s the brat, is sort of the existential backbone of the album Brat, it explores themes of who even is a brat? What kind of qualities does that person have? What does it mean to be labeled as one by someone else? Especially as a young woman.

Sarah: That’s so right, and especially reclaiming the word “brat” from the way it’s traditionally used to describe girls and women as spoiled little children.

Sophie: She described a brat as someone who “feels like herself but maybe also has a breakdown. But kind of like parties through it, is very honest, very blunt. A little bit volatile. Like, does dumb things. But it’s brat. You’re brat. That’s brat.” Brat is expansive.

So brat is a good thing that people want to be?

Siri: I think good or bad, those aren’t judgments that she or anyone who has embraced the title are making. It’s more like this is a type of person that exists and then the internet proceeded to say, “relatable”.

Sarah: I wouldn’t say “good”—as in you’re a “good person” if you’re brat.

Sophie: On the album she talks about ripping her tights, being awkward at parties, feeling depressed, feeling jealous—it’s not just this unequivocally good thing. Brat is about living the party girl lifestyle, but also about being honest with oneself.

Sarah: Being brat is definitely fitting for the moment that we’re in. I think a lot of Charli listeners—Gen Z generally—feel like they’re having to function day-to-day while confronting the horrors of reality (housing costs, work, climate change, global politics, etc.).

Siri: The trouble with defining Gen Z language/trends is it’s both so serious and not that serious at all.

Sophie: Right. It’s 100 percent for real but it’s also totally a shtick.

What does it mean then to have a “brat summer”? I hope it means getting engaged in politics to defeat Trump.

Siri: Brat summer really just means embracing those parts of you that are messy, overindulgent, vulnerable, and sometimes arrogant. It didn’t necessarily have any particular tie to politics except for the timing of it all.

Sophie: Yeah. It DIDN’T have a tie to politics…but then suddenly it sort of did.

Siri: It all started with a tweet:

why did I stay up till 3am making a von dutch brat coconut tree edit featuring kamala harris and why can’t I stop watching it on repeat pic.twitter.com/hqcmerD1Pb

— ryan (@ryanlong03) July 3, 2024

What is going on here? There are many symbols I do not know.

Siri: This is the coconut tree of it all.

Sarah: The song playing in the video is “Von dutch,” it’s from Brat.

Siri: The link is to a tweet featuring a clip of VP Kamala Harris quoting her mother as saying “You think you just fell out of a coconut tree?’ ” She then laughs her iconic laugh. “You exist in the context of all in which you live and what came before you.” The tweet sets that sentence to a song from the album and it went super viral.

Sarah: We’re not authoritatively saying THIS is the tweet that started it all, but it was after the presidential debate, when more politicos and pundits began publicly taking seriously the idea of a Kamala candidacy, and posters did what they always do, which is make memes.

Thank you. I found that explanation uncomfortable.

Sophie: One interesting thing: right-wingers tried to spin the coconut tree/the “you exist in the context of all in which you live” quote to make Harris look bad. But that didn’t work at all—people online want absurdity.

Siri: 100 percent, absurdity is the name of the game online. But in this case you’re right that it’s not that absurd. It makes sense that Kamala’s mother was talking about a coconut tree because she was a South Indian aunty and they just talk Like That. My mom says something similar on occasion. 

OK, so, if I am understanding properly. At the moment I was gravely concerned for our nation because President Biden appeared feeble on the debate stage, potentially allowing a Trump landslide, young people were making a video of Kamala Harris talking about her grandmother set to a song by Charli XCX (who is not American) and laughing about it?

Siri: Yes, but her mother. 

Okay. Her mother. And since then, has this kept happening? These memes?

Sophie: I’ve seen more and more Brat memes—as well as criticism of the memes, and even a couple guys claiming that the memes are a CIA psyop, which is a take, for sure. The memes might legitimately be detracting from real issues with Harris’ political history—the way she defended California’s right to seek capital punishment, or how she tried to block an incarcerated trans person from getting gender-affirming surgery—and that’s bad! But I don’t think that means the Brat memes are a literal CIA project. (Am I underestimating the CIA, though?) 

Siri: What’s important to note is that this wasn’t just from Kamala Harris fans, the KHIVE as they are known online. These were from people who during her 2020 presidential campaign criticized her heavily for her past as a prosecutor or her policies in general. There was even a KHIVE apology form meme going around.

Sarah: Yes, so the Harris campaign is capitalizing on what is essentially free digital campaigning. 

Siri: Biden’s unpopularity led to people wanting something different, maybe they something a little unhinged because people now really respond to unhinged energy. And it was funny. Especially after Biden’s campaign ran Dark Brandon into the ground.

I love Dark Brandon. He was so fun.

Siri: Dark Brandon made sense for a minute but a big part of memes is usually that the person being made fun of isn’t in on the joke, once they are it’s less funny.

Sophie: When campaigns/politicians/companies start embracing a meme they also start the process of killing that meme. It has to appear grassroots, or it’s over—people aren’t going to find it funny anymore. That’s what killed Dark Brandon.

OK so over the past few weeks, these Charli memes have kept floating around. What happened after Biden stepped down? Did people stop joking around and start talking seriously about the presidency?

Siri: Nope. They went even harder with the memes.

No…

Sarah: Yes, and the memes entered the whirlpool of cross-memeification, where to understand the joke you have to understand multiple layers. And with apps like TikTok, the process both intensifies and runs faster. Then the algorithms that feed you content based on the content you’ve already interacted with create a never-ending loop of Kamala Harris girlboss edits to various pop songs.

Has Charli XCX commented on any of this?

Sophie: Yes, she tweeted “kamala IS brat.”

That’s great. She’s a Democrat.

Sophie: No, she is British. 

And she’s never been much of a leftist savior, as much as some people might’ve liked to believe that. She had a song on the Brat album that’s at least somewhat about this edgelord podcaster who’s part of this whole “Dimes Square” scene, which is about racism and bad art, I’m pretty sure. Anyway, this podcaster’s career—as far as I can tell—mostly involves popularizing slurs (?), and Charli said yes, perfect, that’s my muse! So, anyway, Brat is not the revolution.

Anything involving downtown New York City I do not want to know about, as I believe in God. What did Kamala’s campaign do?

Sophie: Kamala’s campaign embraced brat. 

Great, and so this is helping with the youth vote.

Sophie: Not exactly. Now we’re seeing some backlash to that—some people are watching kamalaHQ turn their Twitter account Brat green, posting Brat memes, and seeing it as her trying to charm her way into people’s hearts without dealing with the actual policy problems her constituents very much want her to address.

Siri: Part of the thing with internet culture is there’s an underlying nihilism to all of this as well. There’s a strong contingent of young people who really reject the usage of memes by politicians to co-opt youth culture without materially responding to what people are demanding.

They don’t like that “kamala IS brat”?

Siri: ​​They don’t like that a career politician can use internetspeak to get votes while the US provides support for a regime that is killing people with little to no accountability.

Sarah: Right, a lot of Gen Z might engage with it ironically for a while, and to be sure, there’s probably a sizable base of young people who find Kamala more palatable than Biden and are willing to set aside their moral objections to her policies. But I wouldn’t mistake the memes for genuine support. The leftist faction of Gen Z—the very group Dems are hoping to make progress with, especially now that Biden’s out—is going to see the campaign’s attempts to “appeal” to them as a facade behind which there are no substantive policy changes.

Sophie: In calling Kamala brat, I think Charli put the final nail in the coffin of the brat summer meme. (Of course, discussing brat summer in Mother Jones also kills brat summer).

So I just learned about Brat and now it’s over? I can’t have a brat summer?

Sarah: By the time it makes its way here, it’s already over.

Siri: Anytime a mainstream outlet writes about something it’s over.

That’s fine. Final question. What is a favorite Charli song for people who want to get into her music now? (Mine is “Track 10”; this interview was actually conducted by a 30 year old.)

Sarah: To understand the dark side of being brat, I recommend “Sympathy is a knife.”

Siri: I love “Talk talk”, which is just about yearning to communicate better with someone. It’s pretty universal but especially for anyone who has been through a tough time with a friend.

Sophie: I like “Girl, so confusing”—it’s great for those who are confused, girl or not. 

Before yesterdayMother Jones

The Racist, Xenophobic History of “Excited Delirium”

23 July 2024 at 18:02

When police kill someone, a medical examiner lists their cause of death—which plays a significant role in whether a police officer will be held accountable.

Some of those determinations shield the police from potential accountability: notably, “excited delirium,” a so-called syndrome not recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or the International Classification of Diseases, with research finding that most deaths attributed to the term involve aggressive restraint.

Aisha M. Beliso-De Jesús, a professor of American studies at Princeton University, traces the history of “excited delirium” in a new book, Excited Delirium: Race, Police Violence, and the Invention of a Disease—and calls it a “very useful tool that has allowed medical examiners to participate in these cover-ups.”

Beliso-De Jesús spoke to me about the racist and xenophobic views behind the term, the devastating impact of its pseudoscience on the families of the deceased, and what has to be done to move forward.

Forensic pathologist Charles Wetli first used the concept of “excited delirium” in dismissing the deaths of Black sex workers in the 1980s; they were later found to have been murdered by a serial killer. Does the term’s origin speak to its being dehumanizing? 

Medical diagnoses are supposed to be helpful to people. But as we can see in the example of excited delirium, and specifically with the misdiagnosis of the cases that you’re referring to—the misdiagnosis of Black women who were strangled to death, murdered and raped by a serial killer—which Charles Wetli described as “cocaine sex deaths,” this horrific term was really used for him to substantiate his argument.

He used these Black women’s deaths to sort of make the argument that Black people, who he saw as a species that was separate from white people, had a specific genetic flaw [causing them] to die spontaneously.

He argued Black women died through small amounts of cocaine use and sexual activity, which he assumed or presumed to be consensual. Then he argued that Black men died spontaneously around police officers. This reveals so much dehumanization.

How did Wetli use and misconstrue Afro-Latine religions in rationalizing excited delirium? 

The relationship between Wetli’s research on Afro-Cubans and cocaine and “excited delirium syndrome” is not direct or obvious, but I think it’s much more subtle and ingrained. So this is the 1980s, during the Mariel Boatlift, when 125,000 Cubans arrived as refugees in Miami—and those Cubans that arrive are darker, poorer and less well or less resourced than the previous generations of Cubans, who were whiter and wealthier.

Wetli was in his first couple of years as the new assistant medical examiner, and at the same time, there was a mass criminalization of this community. You see it in stereotypes like the famous Tony Montana from Scarface, who is this sweaty, aggravated, sexual predator mobster who is addicted to cocaine and murder.

Charles Wetli’s research on Afro-Cubans and cocaine, particularly on the tattoos of Afro-Cubans, is a participation in this longer criminalization of Afro-Cuban religions. He has this hobby where he claims himself as an expert on Afro-Caribbean religions, or cults, as he calls them.

He’s saying that, basically, mostly Black and Latino men have this tendency to become aggressive, sweaty, and overheated—essentially just self-combusting as a result of their aggressiveness. And as a result, he argues, they die, and police witness their deaths. It becomes a pattern with the Afro-Cubans he’s studying, where he blames the religion and the Cubans as these aggressive criminals, almost a plague infection into the United States.

How has the label of “excited delirium” in the killing of Black people by police been used to underplay how lethal other forms of police violence can be, such as the use of tasers?

Excited delirium has allowed for certain deaths to go under the radar for so long. With shootings, it’s very clear what the cause of death was. But for many years, with this term, these deaths have been completely ignored.

What excited delirium does is say that the person’s own behavior— cocaine use or hyper-masculinity, aggressiveness—leads to their death. As a result, there’s a very frightening, medicalized cover-up of police violence. If it hadn’t been for footage of George Floyd’s death, many people would have taken for granted the initial argument: that he was simply a man who died under medical distress. That was what [Minneapolis police] had posted when his death first occurred. Without the bystander video, there really would have been no way for the world to have known that this was someone who was essentially murdered in plain sight.

Was there anything that stood out to you in conversations with family members of people whose deaths were labeled as excited delirium?

For a lot of the family members I spoke with, there is a sense of relief—because for many years, people were blaming the victims. A family I interviewed was told that their father just suddenly up and died during a police car chase, that it was his drug use, and his heart had just self-combusted. There were other stories that maybe the police had pushed him off the road. Questions around that completely got erased by the narrative.

These people who are labeled as dying by “excited delirium” are often seen as written off by society, similar to the way that the Black women who were murdered and raped were written off as so-called “crack whores.” That weaponization [of the term] by police justified blaming the victims, and in many [cases], created a buffer for police and medical doctors to work together to write off whole communities.

The American Medical Association came out against “excited delirium” in 2021. What do you think would need to change for its racist pseudoscience to be discarded?

I’m really glad to see that there have been many people, many organizations, many states, actively working against excited delirium right now. I think it’s [a trend] that grew out of the post-2020 uprising of people coming together and recognizing systemic police violence.

That practice has not gone away simply because people don’t use the term any longer. People are still being tased and asphyxiated. Police officers are putting their weight on people’s bodies, putting them into chokeholds; people are complaining of not being able to breathe, and then ultimately dying. Medical examiners and coroners are still using the same kinds of medical justifications, like heart failure and drug use, rather than acknowledging the role of police violence in these deaths.

We have to continue to ensure that we don’t just focus solely on this term, but on the broader structure of policing in the country and how these two institutions—medical institutions, police institutions—are tied together.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Federal Court Strikes Down Restrictions on Ohio Law that Limited Voters With Disabilities

23 July 2024 at 15:35

On Monday, a federal court struck down restrictions on an Ohio law that made it a felony for a non-family member to help return a disabled person’s absentee ballot to a mailbox or dropbox. Other parts of the law in question HB 458, like eliminating an early-voting day and more voter ID restrictions, still remain in practice.

Many disabled people vote via absentee ballot. It can be challenging to commute to in-person voting sites, which may not be accessible.

League of Women Voters of Ohio and individual voter Jennifer Kucera, who has spinal muscular atrophy, brought the case forward, and they were represented by the ACLU, ACLU of Ohio, and the law firm Covington & Burling.

Last December, Kucera said that “under the current laws, I am not allowed to complete my civic duty of voting if for any reason my mom is unable to help me vote, even though my caregivers would be available to help me.”

The Northern District Court of Ohio granted a summary judgment late yesterday, citing Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act, which permits disabled voters to have assistance in voting from a preferred person.

“In any event, the clear violation of a federally guaranteed voting right in this case outweighs any harm State Defendants and Intervenors may suffer,” Judge Bridget Meehan Brennan wrote in her decision.

In a press release, ACLU of Ohio legal director Freda Levenson said that “this is a win for democracy” and “is the correct reading of the Voting Rights Act and a validating decision for Ohio voters.”

For Kamala Harris, Black Women Are Already a Crucial Fundraising Force

23 July 2024 at 14:25

On Sunday night, more than 40,000 Black women reportedly gathered on a Zoom call.

Their purpose: To rally around Vice President Kamala Harris’ newly launched campaign to win the Democratic nomination for the presidency. Part of how that support manifested was through a massive influx of cash: Black women on that Zoom call raised $1.5 million in three hours, according to Win With Black Women, the organization that convened the virtual gathering.

Black women have long been recognized as the most crucial voting bloc for the Democratic party. But experts say their role in contributing to Harris’ record-breaking first 24 hours of fundraising—when she raised raised more than $80 million, according to her campaign—makes clear that Black women’s political power goes far beyond party loyalty.

“Until [Sunday], Black women weren’t necessarily associated with being powerhouse fundraisers,” Aimee Allison, founder and president of the organization She the People, told me. “For Black women to raise money like that is evidence of Black women’s political power in another way.”

Money, Allison said, “is the fuel of American politics—and we can play there as well.”

Win With Black Women has been holding weekly, off-the-record Zoom calls for years to discuss Black women’s political power, according to Allison and Glynda Carr, president, CEO and co-founder of the group Higher Heights for America, which works to elect progressive Black women to office. But the calls have never been as well attended as Sunday’s, which had upwards of 40,000 listeners, according to organizers. Typically, the calls reach a maximum attendance of 1,000 people, according to Allison. (Spokespeople for Win With Black Women did not immediately respond to questions from Mother Jones on Monday.)

Black women played a major role in grassroots fundraising for former President Obama’s campaign, Carr noted, adding that Black people also tend to donate a higher share of their wealth than white people do. Though Harris has already raked in a huge sum of cash, that kind of windfall is uncommon for Black women running for federal office, who research shows tend to have less cash on hand than other candidates. Of course, it’s hard to make any comparison between Harris and other Black women candidates given that she would be the first woman of color ever to win the Democratic Party’s nomination. This early financial support for Harris from Black women is notable, and shows that “this is a growing space for Black women,” Carr said.

Kelly Dittmar, director of research at Rutgers’ Center for American Women and Politics also sees it as “symbolic of something more”: the “support and enthusiasm” crucial in powering Harris’ candidacy to victory. “If that type of organizing is already happening,” Dittmar said, “that bodes well for the Harris campaign.”

Carr’s organization is already planning on how to capitalize on the enthusiasm for Harris’ candidacy, she said, including by growing Higher Heights’ network of Black women supporters in the coming months.

“There’s a real opportunity to harnesses [Black women’s fundraising]—not just for Kamala Harris’ presidency,” Carr said, “but candidates inspiring Black women’s political spending up and down the ballot.”

Trump’s Sons Keep Falsely Blaming Democrats for the Assassination Attempt

23 July 2024 at 10:00

Since a 20-year-old gunman opened fire more than a week ago at former President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Butler, Pennsylvania, the FBI has conducted hundreds of interviews and scrutinized the deceased perpetrator’s background and activity—only to find that his motive for the attack thus far remains a mystery. He was a registered Republican voter, but as threat assessment experts confirmed to me, the shooting likely was not driven by partisanship or political ideology. (That’s the case with many assassination attempts in modern history, as I chronicled in my book on threat assessment.) The experts I spoke with also warned that partisan exploitation of the assassination attempt is fueling rising danger for political violence.

None of that has stopped Trump’s sons Eric and Donald Jr. from fanning the flames. Speaking on Fox News on Sunday, Eric Trump reiterated the partisan blame leveled by various MAGA supporters—without any evidence—immediately after the shooting. “I said that the Democrats would stop at absolutely nothing,” he told Maria Bartiromo, angrily reciting a litany of alleged political persecutions against his father. “I’ve said on this show before I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried something even worse, alluding to exactly what happened, and I was right.”

Donald Trump Jr. has also continued to push this narrative. “They’re trying to jail their political opponents. They’re now trying to kill him,” he said on the Megyn Kelly Show during the Republican National Convention, rattling off grievances similar to those from his brother. (In the interview, Don Jr. also said repeatedly that his father, whose ear was grazed by a bullet, was “shot in the face.”)

This continuing vilification adds to what law enforcement and threat assessment sources have told me is a paramount risk headed toward the election: potential bloodshed stemming from Donald Trump’s long-running campaign of incitement, including his message that he is supposedly the victim of a sweeping conspiracy by his political opponents. That core Trump narrative has now been supercharged by the assassination attempt, in which three attendees also were shot, one fatally. As I reported last week:

“Trump people were already mobilizing around the phony message of ‘we’re going to get screwed again by a rigged election,’” one threat expert told me, “and now they’re piling on the idea that the opposition is so out to get Trump that they even tried to kill him, and therefore retaliation is justified. Only a small number of people might take violent action on this, but you don’t need much for things to get worse.”

“Extremist groups will take advantage of anything that fits into their narrative and this is a really big plot point for them,” said another threat assessment expert. An intelligence bulletin from the FBI and DHS sent earlier this week to law enforcement throughout the country warned of potential “follow-on or retaliatory attacks.”

Notably, Don Jr. has participated in his father’s long-running political incitement also by spreading provocative memes and conspiracy theories on social media, and by mocking violence against Trump’s political adversaries. These tactics are part of the method of stochastic terrorism long used by Trump as president and after he left office, as I’ve documented ever since the runup to the January 6 insurrection.

Perhaps most infamously, Don Jr. ridiculed the home invasion and vicious attack on Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul, right before the 2022 midterm elections. Among other memes, he shared a photo of a “Halloween costume” that featured men’s underwear and a hammer, references to a baseless gay-sex conspiracy theory about the intruder and the weapon he used to bash Paul Pelosi’s skull. Since the assassination attempt, Don Jr. has posted a derisive meme targeting Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg and another appearing to suggest that the shooter was related to Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.  

An Arizona man was charged this month for allegedly threatening on a MAGA website to shoot FBI agents. He had an AR-15, a pistol, a pump-action shotgun, and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

Demonizing partisan rhetoric and rampant conspiracy theories about the assassination attempt—the latter also from the political left—are feeding into a volatile atmosphere that former President Trump himself has done much to foment. His continuing broadsides against the Justice Department and FBI have led to further menace and violent plots from his extremist supporters. A grand jury this month indicted a Georgia man for allegedly posting threats to murder FBI Director Christopher Wray. Also this month, an Arizona man was charged for allegedly threatening on a MAGA website to shoot FBI agents indiscriminately. Investigators found he had an AR-15, a pistol, a pump-action shotgun, and more than 5,000 rounds of ammunition.

Trump’s relentless talk of a migrant “invasion” also has heightened concerns about political violence among security experts. In recent weeks, the ex-president has continued his theme of disparaging migrants as “terrorists” and “mental patients,” declaring again that they are “poisoning our country.

This demagoguery marked the finale of the GOP convention last week when Trump gave a rambling, grievance-laden speech that lasted more than an hour and a half. He depicted an America under siege from bloodthirsty rapists and murderers “pouring into our country,” likening these alleged hordes to the fictional cannibalistic serial killer, “the late, great Hannibal Lecter.” In case his renewed message of American carnage wasn’t clear enough, he warned: “Bad things are going to happen.”

Are You Unwittingly Parroting Fossil Fuel Propaganda?

23 July 2024 at 10:00

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

Talking about climate change doesn’t come naturally to most people, even those who are worried about it. Roughly two-thirds of Americans report discussing it with family and friends “rarely” or “never,” a survey found last fall. They might be intimidated by the science, nervous about starting an argument, or afraid of being a Debbie Downer. The resulting silence is part of why there’s not more social pressure to reduce fossil fuel emissions: People dramatically underestimate public support for climate policies, because that’s the cue they’re getting from those around them. The only way to break this cycle, communication experts have said for many years, is to please, please, start talking about it.

But a recently published book makes the case that not just any kind of talking is good; anything that resembles the phrasing of fossil fuel propaganda, even unwittingly, undermines what should be the central goal of reducing emissions. In The Language of Climate Politics, Genevieve Guenther, a former Renaissance scholar turned climate activist, writes that fossil fuel talking points have weaseled their way into becoming the “common-sense position,” espoused not just by the right, but also by the left.

Guenther founded the New York City-based volunteer group End Climate Silence in 2018, in the hopes of provoking the media into talking more about climate change. The common-sense philosophy behind her work is that words shape ideas, and ideas have consequences, so we should rethink the words we use. “To secure a livable future, one thing we will need to do is dismantle and reframe the terms dominating the language of climate politics,” Guenther writes.

“The book is positioned not so much as a guide to communication, but as a guide to taking a side in a battle of words: “One of the most powerful weapons you have is your voice.”

Her book lays out six key terms that she believes command the conversation, to the detriment of climate action: “alarmist,” “costs,” “growth,” “India and China,” “innovation,” and “resilience.”

These words are often used to prop up fossil fuels: by accusing people who speak out about the risks as overly alarmed, by pitting climate action against economic prosperity, by deflecting attention away from the US and onto other countries, and by protecting the status quo by pointing to carbon removal technologies and societies’ ability to bounce back. The book seeks to debunk these points of view, smartly documenting, for example, how economic models failed to account for the true costs of climate change for so long.

For each term, Guenther offers substitute arguments that “will be hard for fossil fuel interests to appropriate.” Don’t talk about “resilience,” she says, because it implies people can tough out extreme weather; talk about “transformation” instead. The result is a binary approach that suggests there is a right way and a wrong way to talk about the climate. This quest for black-and-white moral clarity risks antagonizing potential allies—such as the climate-concerned folks who think that carbon removal has promise or advocates who worry that a message could backfire if it sounds too scary, not to mention younger Republicans, two-thirds of whom favor prioritizing renewable energy over expanding fossil fuels. But that’s a risk Guenther is willing to take.

The opening chapter of The Language of Climate Politics scrutinizes the word “alarmist,” often used to accuse scientists of exaggerating dangers, in the service of embracing “alarmed,” which Guenther thinks is “a perfectly appropriate” response to the planet exiting the comfortable conditions that complex societies evolved in over the last 10,000 years. She criticizes the various factions within the climate discourse, from “lukewarmers” and “techno-optimists” who imagine a warmer future won’t be so bad, to “doomers” who imagine it’s too late to fix anything. 

In the same spirit of putting people into boxes, Guenther’s critics might classify her as a “carbon reductionist” whose dogged focus on ending CO2 emissions elides the complex social and political factors behind weather disasters. In her view, anyone who questions those sounding the alarm, even a scientist who dislikes hyperbole, is overstepping. After the UN Secretary-General António Guterres proclaimed last year that the era of “global boiling” had arrived, NASA climate scientist Chris Colose criticized it as a “cringe” phrase that lets “bad faith people get an easy laugh.” Guenther condemns this critique as a distraction.

She acknowledges that her argument—“climate change will become catastrophic for everyone if the world does not phase out fossil fuels”—may not resonate broadly. “You may repel people who are generally disengaged from the climate crisis—not to mention centrist optimists—because it will be too much for them to take in at once. But that’s OK.” Her audience clearly isn’t the general public. To support this narrow focus, Guenther points to the “3.5 percent rule,” the idea that you only need to mobilize a small minority, 3.5 percent of a population, to force serious political change. 

To make the “vast, swift system change now needed to head off collapse, we will need to take a pretty large swathe of the 99 percent with us,” wrote an Extinction Rebellion strategist.

The problem is that this number comes from political science research on how nonviolent campaigns can overthrow authoritarian governments, not campaigns seeking social change in democracies. It doesn’t necessarily translate to the process of implementing laws to reduce emissions over decades. The Harvard researcher behind the rule, Erica Chenoweth, has warned that aiming to mobilize 3.5 percent of a population without building wide public support is no guarantee of success. “It can be easy to conclude, I think wrongly, that all you need is 3.5 percent of the population on your side,” Chenoweth said on a podcast in 2022.

One climate activist group that was inspired by the 3.5 percent rule has since shifted away from the strategy. Extinction Rebellion drew the world’s attention in 2018 when its members in the United Kingdom began blockading bridges, supergluing their hands to government buildings, and pouring fake blood on the streets.

For years, critics within the organization warned that it was misusing the rule, potentially missing out on more effective strategies that would bring in the broader approval needed to enact climate policies. “To actually effect the kind of vast, swift system change now needed to head off collapse, we will need to take a pretty large swathe of the 99 percent with us,” wrote Rupert Read, a former XR strategist, in 2019.

Three years later, recognizing this need, Extinction Rebellion UK announced that it was shifting tactics from smashing windows to building bridges, “prioritizing attendance over arrest and relationships over roadblocks.” Since then, organizers say, support has grown and more people are becoming members.

Near the end of The Language of Climate Politics, in what could be read as a self-critique, Guenther gestures toward the need for a broad movement to force the US to move away from fossil fuels—one that includes Black communities fighting toxic pollution, young people worried about their future, and possibly even (gasp) climate tech entrepreneurs. The book as a whole, with its emphasis on reinforcing divisions, feels firmly placed in a time when social media has inflamed polarization, and a moment when a Democratic president has been in power for years.

Having a climate-friendly face like President Joe Biden in the White House tends to cause the environmental movement to splinter, with some groups focused on “insider” tactics, like lobbying Congress and crafting policies, and others focusing on “outsider” tactics, pushing for more ambitious change by protesting. By contrast, if former president and vigorous climate denier Donald Trump gets reelected this fall, even the vaguely climate-concerned could be mobilized for a revived “Resistance” movement, once again united by a common enemy.

What Guenther’s book gets right is that conversations about climate change have to be steered away from tired talking points toward new, productive ground. But the book is positioned not so much as a guide to communication, but as a guide to taking a side in a battle of words, with Guenther writing, “One of the most powerful weapons you have is your voice.”

Research shows that the hard work of persuasion, however, usually starts with listening to people with an empathetic, nonjudgmental ear, as opposed to debating them. It involves asking questions, building trust, and accepting that you’re not always right. Guenther eventually embraces this practical advice for approaching conversations with real people in a three-page afterword, and it seems to counter the strident tone of the nearly 200 pages that preceded it. That’s because there isn’t one right way to talk about climate change, but many.

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