Group wants to end war, not glorify it, with traveling memorial in Raleigh

The News & Observer-Wake County

Group wants to end war, not glorify it, with traveling memorial in Raleigh Ryder, left, Roger Ehrlick, right, and Jim Senter, on ground, put together the final pieces of a hand-made memorial bell tower Friday on the south side of the State Capitol in Raleigh.

By Martha Quillin – November 7, 2014

A stiff wind from Friday’s cold front blew across the State Capitol grounds and struck the tower that Roger Ehrlich and his partners were trying to raise, making its hundreds of aluminum plates rattle like sabers.

But instead of weapons of war, the plates are meant to be symbols against it, forming a sort of anti-war memorial Ehrlich hopes will encourage people this Veterans Day to consider the cost of world conflict rather than to glorify it.

“A lot of war monuments are built with the idea that war is fought to guarantee freedom,” said Ehrlich, a sociologist-turned-artist who lives in Cary. “That’s a big lie, and we wanted to do something different.”

Ehrlich conceived the tower for the local chapter of Veterans For Peace, a global nonprofit based in St. Louis that says its main mission is to end war, in part by educating the public on what the group says are war’s true causes and effects. It also hopes to help veterans heal from their combat experiences, Ehrlich says, by supporting conciliatory efforts such as the clearing of mines from former battlefields, so the land can be used for farming.

The group first erected the 24-foot structure on Memorial Day and has displayed it several times since.

It was built in three pieces that can travel on the back of a trailer – the smaller pieces nestled inside the larger – and be put back together on site. Between its metal frame are stretched metal stakes once used to support young apple trees in Ehrlich’s family’s orchards near Asheville. Each metal rod becomes a rack on which hang the metal plates, hammered from empty aluminum drink cans.

The group calls the triangular tower “Swords to Plowshares,” a biblical reference to Isaiah’s prophesy that one day, nations will not lift swords against one another.

The tower has evolved since it was introduced. Veterans – and those who remember them – inscribe names and messages on the plates, the way thousands of people have left notes at the base of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.

John Hueur, president of the local chapter, helped raise the tower Friday afternoon so it would be in place on the south side of the State Capitol building in time for today’s Veterans Day Parade, which will pass close by.

Members of Veterans For Peace will participate in the parade, which will wind along several blocks of downtown Raleigh, a moving salute to those who have served.

Ehrlich and Hueur, who were not members of the armed forces but who had relatives who fought in both world wars, say their intent with the memorials is not to diminish veterans’ sacrifices but to see a world in which such sacrifice is no longer needed.

Doug Ryder, left, John Heuer, center, and Roger Ehrlich hold a rope to keep control of a hand-made memorial bell tower while it was lifted using a hand winch Friday on the south side of the State Capitol in Raleigh.

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Donald Trump sinks to new depths of degradation

Chicago Tribune-Commentary Trump sinks to new depths of degradation

Steve Chapman, Contact Reporter, Minority of One, August 15, 2017

Any time you think Donald Trump cannot sink lower or further degrade the office he holds, he proves you wrong. His Tuesday press conference was the most historically ignorant, morally clueless and thoroughly malignant performance of any president in memory. He makes me long for the comparative nobility and wisdom of Richard Nixon.

It’s clear that neo-Nazi intimidation and violence don’t really upset Trump. His criticism of the perpetrators is dutiful and tepid. What really angers Trump to his core is being challenged on anything — and the weaker and less defensible his position, the more furiously he defends it.

It’s almost beyond imagination that a president would insist on the good motives of “some very fine people” attending a white supremacist demonstration. It’s almost beyond imagination that a president would equate demonstrators who deliberately set out to sow as much fear as possible — carrying torches, brandishing military-style rifles, chanting anti-Semitic slogans — with a much larger group of counter-protesters who came out to show they have no use for racism and hate.

But Trump did those things. His understanding of the world is what you get when you make a habit of believing everything you see on Fox News and read on Breitbart. He has no grasp of what blacks, Jews, Hispanics, gays and other historically persecuted groups have suffered. He thinks the only discrimination that exists anymore is discrimination against white males. He thinks whites are justified in striking back.

Trump has no interest in trying to heal the wounds of Charlottesville because he is too preoccupied with avenging his own wounds. He expected applause for his grudging, equivocal statement Saturday and felt deeply mistreated when he didn’t get it. So when he got the chance to vent his real feelings Tuesday, he couldn’t restrain himself. It was enough to raise serious questions about his mental stability and cognitive health. But maybe it’s just his character expressing itself with perfect precision.

This is the most shameful day of his presidency. But probably not for long.

Steve Chapman, a member of the Tribune Editorial Board, blogs at

President Trump flunks a moral test

The Economist-Politics

President Trump flunks a moral test

August 14, 2017

DEEP down, it is always about him: what the world thinks of him. The applause that is his due. The glory that enemies are trying to take from him. That, perhaps, is how best to understand the cramped, self-regarding moral code which seems to guide Donald Trump at moments which call for grand, inspiring acts of leadership.

To understand why Mr. Trump could not bring himself to condemn white supremacists who brought fear and murderous violence to the Virginia college town of Charlottesville on Saturday, some Americans sought vast, dramatic explanations. They puzzled over the president’s mealy-mouthed reaction to the sight of Nazi banners waving in their country. They fretted about Mr. Trump’s muted response to what appeared to be a political murder, as a car was driven at speed into a group of anti-racist marchers in Charlottesville, leaving one woman dead and at least 19 injured. And then some of those Americans peered into the moral void left by their president on a terrible day, and wondered if somewhere within that blankness they could make out something very dark and frightening indeed. Does the president of America sympathize with white racists, they wondered? Or at a minimum, does Mr. Trump believe the votes of white racists to be so important that he does not want to alienate them as a voting block?

That is a weighty allegation, for which critics of the president offer mostly circumstantial evidence. On this latest occasion, Mr. Trump was asked by reporters if he condemned the 500 or so white racists who assembled in Virginia this weekend, led by such provocateurs and publicity-seekers as David Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, and Richard Spencer, a leader of the so-called “alt-right”, to protest the planned removal of a Confederate monument. Mr. Trump, so often a man of trenchant opinions, proved oddly reluctant to pin the blame for the violence on the white nationalists who set out to start a riot and inspire fear, and succeeded.

Instead the president deplored what he called a scene of: “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.” Mr. Trump, who is usually quick to claim credit for all important events that occur during his presidency, then sought to cast the protests as a historic, non-partisan sort of wickedness, like a bank robbery. “It’s been going on for a long time in our country, it’s not Donald Trump, it’s not Barack Obama,” Mr. Trump said, before calling for the “swift restoration of law and order,” and calling for unity among Americans of all races and creeds.

His feeble response certainly made Mr. Trump sound isolated. Other national leaders of the Republican Party saw the same protests and had no hesitation in assigning blame. Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, called the views on display in Charlottesville “repugnant” and “vile bigotry.” Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who ran against Mr. Trump for the presidential nomination last year and who has since co-existed with the president uneasily, said it was “very important for the nation” to hear the president describe the events in Charlottesville for what they are: “a terror attack by white supremacists.” On the Republican hard right, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, another presidential rival from 2016, said that “all of us” have a duty to speak out against white supremacists spreading hatred, racism and antisemitism, and called on the Department of Justice to probe the car-borne murder as a “grotesque act of domestic terrorism.” A moderate Republican from the swing state of Colorado, Senator Cory Gardner, tweeted a plea to acknowledge that the violence was the work of white supremacists, saying: “Mr. President—we must call evil by its name.”

It is also striking that Mr. Trump is always quick to condemn Islamist terror attacks in Europe, often tweeting that they prove his wisdom in demanding harsh, border-tightening measures to keep America safe. Yet when a mosque was attacked in Minnesota earlier this month, the president was silent.

Lexington does not pretend to know what lies within Mr. Trump’s heart. For his part the president has said that he is “the least racist person that you have ever met.” But here is something eminently knowable. Mr. Trump ignored a question shouted by a reporter at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, about what he had to say to white supremacists who say that they support him. Some of those on the march in Charlottesville carried Trump campaign signs alongside Confederate battle flags and torches. Mr. Duke, the former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, had earlier said that he and other protesters were “going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump” to “take our country back”.

In other words, as Mr. Trump watched the protests in Charlottesville, he knew that they threatened to sully the triumph that he returns to again and again in speeches and at rallies, even as his legislative agenda as president lurches from one setback to another: his unexpected election victory in 2016. Who knows what deep political calculations or personal beliefs seethe in Mr. Trump’s head when he sees avowed racists waving placards with his name on them? It is enough to know something much simpler. Mr. Trump is a man with an all-consuming interest in his image, and how it is perceived.

Consider the peevish tweet that the president sent out on Saturday afternoon complaining that the violence in Charlottesville had distracted attention from a staged photo-call with veterans from the American armed services, and officials from the Veteran’s Administration (VA) which provides old soldiers, sailors and airmen with medical services. Mr. Trump said: “Am in Bedminster for meetings & press conference on V.A. & all that we have done, and are doing, to make it better-but Charlottesville sad!”

There is a parallel with the ongoing probes into whether the Trump campaign in 2016 colluded with Russian spooks attempting to influence the election. It remains a mystery whether Mr. Trump or senior aides worked with a foreign power to attack American democracy. But it is already quite enough that Mr. Trump thinks his victory’s legitimacy is being challenged. That questioning of his success is sufficient to make him furious. The president himself has said his frustration at not being exonerated over Russian meddling made him angry enough to fire the FBI director, James Comey.

Remember that the next time Mr. Trump fails to live up to the office which he holds. When trying to understand him, start by looking for small, shallow explanations. Perhaps there are others, but self-regard is the right place to start. Whatever the subject, for this president, it is always about him.

5 major differences between federal and private student loans

Yahoo Finance

5 major differences between federal and private student loans

Alyssa Pry     August 16, 2017    

If you’ve been to college or have recently graduated, chances are you have a student loan. About 43.3 million people have student loans, and 90% of borrowers take out a Federal student loan, according to the US Department of Education. But federal loans don’t always cover all of your college costs, and more borrowers are turning to private loans; according to a new study by LendEDU, 1.4 million people currently have a private loan to pay for college costs.

Experts recommend using Federal loans, financial aid, and scholarships before taking out a private student loan. Understanding the main differences between your loan options will help you determine the best way to fund your education.

Difference 1: How they’re funded

Federal loans are funded by the US Department of Education or private institutions that the government guarantee to pay back in case of default. Federal loans come with more protections, such as flexible payment schedules, lower interest rates and income-based pay-back programs.

Private loans are funded by banks and other lenders, such as credit unions, which means the lenders set the terms and interest rates. Interest rates are typically higher, and there is less flexibility for the borrower.

Difference #2: Interest Rates

The interest rate for federal loans is set by the Federal Reserve. They have fixed interest rates, which means the rate won’t change for the entirety of your loan. In 2017, the Federal Reserve raised the interest rate on undergraduate loans to 4.45%, and 6-7% for graduate student loans.

Private loans can have fixed or variable rates. Variable interest rates can fluctuate depending on the economy, potentially adding large amounts of interest to your loan. According to LendEDU, the average fixed-rate student loan is 9.66%, while the average variable rate is 7.81%, but rates can vary depending on your lender and loan terms.

Difference #3: Getting the loan

You will need to fill out the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) in order to apply for a federal student loan, and you’ll also find out if you qualify for federal grants or other student aid. Your credit will not affect your ability to get a government loan.

There are three different types of federal student loans. A Direct Subsidized loan is given to students with financial need, and the loan interest will be paid by the federal government if you go to school part time, during the six months after you graduate or if you defer your loan payments. You can also receive a Direct Unsubsidized loan, which you are eligible for regardless of financial need, and you are responsible for all interest payments. Finally, you can receive a Direct PLUS loan, for graduate or professional school students.

Your ability to receive a private loan depends on your credit history, which will affect your loan terms and interest rates. You may also need a cosigner, such as a parent, who guarantees he or she will be responsible for your loan if you can’t pay it back. You don’t need to fill out the FAFSA in order to apply for a private loan.

Difference #4: Repaying the loan

You have a grace period of six months after you graduate before you have to start repaying your federal student loan. Most federal loan borrowers are put on a 10-year repayment plan, but you have up to 25 years to repay your federal loans in full.

Private loans may need to be repaid immediately—while you’re still enrolled in college—but you may have the option to defer payment until you graduate. There is less flexibility when it comes to your repayment schedule than with a federal loan, and the length you have to repay it varies depending on your lender.

Difference #5: Lowering your payments

If you’re having difficulty repaying your loan, Federal loans offer more options than private loans to lower your payments. You can defer your loan payments for up to three years, and your loans may be forgiven if you work in public service.

Private loans typically don’t offer loan forgiveness. However, if you’re having difficulty making your payments, you may be able to refinance the private loan. Refinancing means you consolidate your loan(s) into a new loan and repay the new loan at a lower interest rate. But, keep in mind, not all borrowers are eligible for refinancing.

It’s important to be a responsible borrower and know how much you’ll owe. And remember, the longer you take to repay your loans, the more interest will accrue.


5 ways to tackle your student loan debt

4 steps to a debt-free college degree 

Money Minute: How to get your student loans completely forgiven 

Plague: Fleas in Arizona Test Positive for Easily Spread and Fatal Disease

Newsweek-Tech & Science

Plague: Fleas in Arizona Test Positive for Easily Spread and Fatal Disease

By Jessica Firger     August 14, 2017

Fleas in two Arizona counties are carrying bubonic plague, an infectious disease that took the lives of millions of people in the Middle Ages, according to news reports. So far there have been no reported illness and deaths.

Health officials in Navajo and Coconino counties in Arizona recently issued a warning to the general public after fleas in the northern part of the state tested positive for Yersinia pestis, the bacteria that causes the bubonic plague. Humans can contract the plague in a number of ways. In addition to flea bites, people can pick up the bacteria by handling the fluids or tissue of a rodent or another animal that has the illness. The plague can also be transmitted through bodily fluids such as respiratory droplets.

“Navajo County Health Department is urging the public to take precautions to reduce their risk of exposure to this serious disease, which can be present in fleas, rodents, rabbits and predators that feed upon these animals,” the public health warning states, ABC news reported. “The disease can be transmitted to humans and other animals by the bite of an infected flea or by direct contact with an infected animal.”

The plague is primarily found on the West Coast of the U.S., especially the southwestern U.S. when cool summers follow wet winters. At the end of June, three people in New Mexico tested positive for the plague as well, according to NPR.

Dr. Amesh Adalja, a spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America and senior associate at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security says the area of the country is vulnerable to the transmission of the plague bacterium.

“Western parts of the United States have had ongoing plague transmission in rodents for over a century,” he says.

Although incidents of plague are minimal these days the risk still exists so people should be vigilant “when dealing with rodents and clear areas of their property that may be attractive to rodents,” says Adalja. He adds that it’s also important for health care providers to be aware of cases and learn to spot symptoms of illness, and to be aware of diagnostic testing and treatment protocols for the illness.

The infectious bacteria that causes plague is rare in the U.S. today. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease and Prevention, an average of seven human cases are diagnosed each year. In 2015, four people in the U.S died from the illness. Worldwide there are roughly 300 cases of the plague each year, according to the World Health Organization.

Symptoms of the plague include sudden onset of fever, headache, chills, and weakness and one or more swollen, tender and painful lymph nodes (called buboes). This form is usually the result of an infected flea bite. The bacteria multiply in the lymph node closest to where the bacteria entered the human body. The disease can be treated effectively with a course of antibiotics, but left untreated the plague can spread to other parts of the body. Without appropriate medical care the illness can be deadly; up to 60 percent of people infected with the pathogen die from it.


Return of Black Death: Risk of epidemic as three stricken with bubonic plague from fleas

PLAGUE fighters are killing off fleas carrying the Black Death after three people were stricken with world’s most feared disease.

By Stuart Winter    August 15, 2017

Health officials are targeting rodent burrows to thwart the risk of an epidemic just weeks after an outbreak put the three victims in hospital.

Urgent action to wipe out flea infestations in prairie dog burrows in two parts of Arizona has been ordered after scientists confirmed the insects were carrying the same plague that wiped out a quarter of humanity in the 1300s.

Besides tackling the infestations, public health officials in Arizona are putting out warnings to reduce the risk of people contracting plague by preventing pets from running loose as well as avoiding rodent burrows.    Scientists confirmed that fleas are carrying the plague

Whooping cough, scarlet fever & scurvy: The returning Victorian diseases

Confirmation that fleas were carrying the bacteria that causes plague, Yersinia pestis, came this week after positive tests at two sites near Flagstaff.

Symptoms of plague in humans generally appear within two to six days following exposure

Coconino County Public Health Services District

In June, three people needed hospital treatment after contracting plague 400 miles east in Santa Fee County, New Mexico.

Health officials carried out extensive checks around the homes of the victims, who included a 52-year-old and a 62-year-old woman, to “ensure the safety of the immediately family and neighbors”.

New Mexico witnessed four plague cases in 2016 in Bernalillo, Mora and Rio Arriba counties but with no fatalities. In 2015, one person died when four plague cases were reported in Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties.    Health officials are targeting rodent burrows to thwart the risk of an epidemic Stock Images   The disease can be transmitted to humans and other animals by the bite of an infected flea

For a pandemic that killed as many as 200 million people across Europe and Asia in the 14th Century, bubonic plague still resists total eradication globally, throwing up thousands of cases every year.

The western states of the USA witness annual reports, largely because its native rodent species, such as ground squirrels and prairie dogs, act as vectors in the same way as the black rats that spread the medieval plague across most of the known world.

Arizona’s Coconino County Public Health Services District, confirming the latest positive results, said the disease is “endemic” in the area and urged the public to “take precautions to reduce their risk of exposure to this serious disease, which can be present in fleas, rodents, rabbits and predators that feed upon these animals”.

Its public warning added: “The disease can be transmitted to humans and other animals by the bite of an infected flea or by direct contact with an infected animal.

“Symptoms of plague in humans generally appear within two to six days following exposure and include fever, chills, headache, weakness, muscle pain, and swollen lymph glands – called ‘buboes’ – in the groin, armpits or limbs.     Scientists confirmed that fleas had the disease after positive tests at two sites near Flagstaff

“The disease can become septicemic – spreading throughout the bloodstream – as well as pneumonic – affecting the lungs – but is curable with proper antibiotic therapy if diagnosed and treated early.”

During the recent New Mexico outbreak, doctors warned how pets could play a worrying role in spreading the disease.

“Pets that are allowed to roam and hunt can bring infected fleas from dead rodents back into the home, putting you and your children at risk,” said Dr Paul Ettestad, a public health veterinarian for the Department of Health.

“Keeping your pets at home or on a leash and using an appropriate flea control product is important to protect you and your family.”

Sorry, Folks: We Can’t Say ‘Climate Change’ Anymore


Sorry, Folks: We Can’t Say ‘Climate Change’ Anymore

Emily Monaco      August 15, 2017

When we swapped out the term “global warming” for “climate change,” it was in an effort to be more precise with what exactly was happening with the planet. The same can’t be said for the USDA’s new directive to scrap mention of climate change in favor of “weather extremes.”

This new tendency, uncovered by The Guardian via a series of staff emails at the National Resources Conservation Service, is a clear departure from (correctly) placing blame on humans and the agriculture industry for changes in the world’s climate.

It all began in January, when Jimmy Bramblett, deputy chief for programs at the NRCS, wrote in an email to senior employees, “It has become clear one of the previous administration’s priority is not consistent with that of the incoming administration. Namely, that priority is climate change. Please visit with your staff and make them aware of this shift in perspective within the executive branch.”

Just a few weeks after, in mid-February, Bianca Moebius-Clune, director of soil health, listed several terms to be avoided in an email: not only was “climate change” to be replaced by “weather extremes,” but “climate change adaption” was to be swapped out for “resilience to weather extremes” and “reduce greenhouse gases” changed to “build soil organic matter, increase nutrient use efficiency.”

Not everyone was happy about the change. One NRCS employee wrote in a July 5 email that they would “prefer to keep the language as is” to maintain the “scientific integrity of the work,” and the NRDC, reporting on these changes, noted that the new euphemisms forced scientists to “lose any reference to a changing climate, greenhouse gases, and carbon pollution (and heat, it appears) and substitute them with fuzzy language that doesn’t convey the urgency of a global environmental, health, and social threat, nor agriculture’s role in it.”

Senators were also reasonably upset about the change, including Michigan Senator Debbie Stabelow, ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee.

“Censoring the agency’s scientists and natural resource professionals as they try to communicate these risks and help producers adapt to a changing climate does a great disservice to the men and women who grow the food, fuel, and fiber that drive our economy, not to mention the agency’s civil servants themselves,” Stabenow wrote to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. “This censorship makes the United States less competitive, less food secure, and puts our rural families and their communities at risk.”

Reports of these changes with regard to language concerning climate change drew immediate repudiation from the USDA. Spokesman Tim Murtaugh denied the existence of such a directive, and for now, the NRCS website confirms this, retaining several mentions of climate change.

But this is only the latest way in which governmental talk of climate change has been dumbed down. Mentions of the dangers of climate change have been removed from government websites including those of the White House, the Department of the Interior, and the EPA. The government also announced in June that it would be withdrawing from the Paris agreement, due to the fact that the climate accord, which has been ratified by 159 parties around the world, is a “bad deal” for the United States.

Whatever we call it, climate change is a reality, as a recently leaked federal report drafted by scientists from 13 federal agencies confirms. The report, run by the New York Times earlier this month, places human activity at the center of these environmental issues, noting that the average temperatures in the United States have risen rapidly and drastically over the past 40 years to such an extent that even if changes are made now, the damage is irreversible.

“It directly contradicts claims by President Trump and members of his cabinet who say that the human contribution to climate change is uncertain, and that the ability to predict the effects is limited,” reports the Times.

“It’s a fraught situation,” says Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geoscience and international affairs at Princeton University who was not involved in the study. “This is the first case in which an analysis of climate change of this scope has come up in the Trump administration, and scientists will be watching very carefully to see how they handle it.”

Of course, to handle it, we need to be able to talk about it. This is the impetus behind the suit of several government agencies, including the EPA, by the Center for Biological Diversity, in order to force them to release information on the “censoring” of climate change verbiage. According to Center open government attorney Meg Townsend, these modifications are tantamount to “active censorship of science” and “appalling and dangerous for America and the greater global community.”

Case for climate change grows ever stronger

USA Today

Case for climate change grows ever stronger

The Editorial Board, USA TODAY        Published August 14, 2017

But will Trump administration change the draft National Climate Assessment?: Our view

(Photo: Scott Olson, Getty Images)

Could proof grow any more powerful that humanity is responsible for a dangerously warming planet? Scientists studying Earth’s atmosphere and oceans are finding ever more troubling evidence.

Last year was the hottest on record, according to a report late last week from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The report, by more than 450 scientists from 60 nations, also found that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and global sea levels are at their highest levels on record.

Just as troubling were draft findings destined for the quadrennial National Climate Assessment. Scientists from 13 federal agencies found that a rapid rise in temperatures since the 1980s in the United States represents the warmest period in 1,500 years.

The impacts from human-caused warming are no distant threat, the scientists concluded, but are punishing populations right now with weather made worse by climate change: more heat and drought in the American Southwest, larger and fiercer storms along the Pacific, and greater rainfall elsewhere.

“Many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities, especially emission of greenhouse gases, are primarily responsible,” the draft says. “There are no alternative explanations.”

The stark threat from climate change is why nearly 200 nations joined together under the Paris Agreement, signed last year, to collectively curb emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide. It’s also why 40 countries, and a group of Republican elder statesmen in the United States, support worthy plans for a refundable carbon tax that puts a price on greenhouse gas emissions created by the burning of fossil fuels.

The question now is how the Trump administration, which is stocked with climate skeptics and is pulling the United States out of the Paris accord, will react to the latest scientific findings. The White House could decide as early as Friday whether to order changes in the draft National Climate Assessment report.

Environmentalists such as Al Gore and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg say Trump’s rejection of the science only compels state and local governments to act more aggressively to head off catastrophic climate change.

There is that hope. As the world has begun turning to cleaner burning fuels and renewable energy, it appears that levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are stabilizing, even as global temperatures continue to rise.

But much damage can still be done. A recent study has shown that just four years of Trump’s recalcitrant environmental policies would add an additional 12 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

It’s bad enough when President Trump defies the truth when he talks about millions of undocumented immigrants voting against him in the election, or the crowd size at his inauguration. At least those falsehoods provide grist for late-night comics.

The same cannot be said for defying the overwhelming scientific consensus about human-caused climate change and actively working against global efforts to stave off calamity. That’s placing the future of the planet, and the lives of its inhabitants, in jeopardy.

USA TODAY’s editorial opinions are decided by its Editorial Board, separate from the news staff. Most editorials are coupled with an opposing view — a unique USA TODAY feature.



We Keep Electing Idiots, the Oceans Keep Rising


We Keep Electing Idiots, the Oceans Keep Rising

An update on the climate crisis.

By Charles P. Pierce       August 14, 2017

You may have missed it during all the events of the past week, but New Orleans is drowning again. For the second August in a row, the city was hit with a massive rain event. The pump and drainage systems were damaged and nobody discovered it until they utterly failed when the storm broke over the city. The power to the pumps failed for several crucial hours. From the Times-Picayune:

“For now, New Orleans is teetering on a ledge. Its drainage pumps on Friday (Aug. 11) were still running on their last backup power source. Sixteen of the city’s 120 pumps are out of commission all together. Misinformation spread by the Sewerage & Water Board damaged the public trust even further. As Mayor Mitch Landrieu and other city officials struggle to make repairs and right the ship, the crisis again raises the tenor of an ongoing conversation about better ways for New Orleans to manage its relationship with water.”

It was only a year ago that two storms collided over the city and dropped more rain on New Orleans than Hurricane Katrina had. Some 30,000 people had to be rescued. Thirteen people died.

[Within two days of the floods, a team of researchers began studying whether the rainfall was more likely because of climate change driven in part by the greenhouse gas emissions that human beings have been pumping into the atmosphere since the start of the Industrial Age. The method behind such studies, called “attribution science,” is only about 10 years old. “A few years back this wouldn’t have been possible,” said Karin van der Wiel, a research scientist with Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute and one of the researchers that conducted the analysis. The team found that the mid-August 2016 rain in Louisiana was at least 40 percent more likely to occur now than in pre-industrial times. “Our best estimate is a doubling of odds,” van der Wiel said. “That change is purely because human beings put so much more greenhouse gases in the air.”]

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu pushed back a little at a suggestion that the climate crisis was to blame for this year’s flooding, but the fact remains that coastal cities in the United States are in substantial peril because of that crisis. It’s easy to scoff at New Orleans, and to blame bad management and the customary corruption. However, at the end of July, a report was issued that stated plainly that Tampa Bay is woefully unprepared to handle a direct hit from a major hurricane, and that the damage that would ensue would be greater than that levied by Katrina. From the Washington Post:

“A Boston firm that analyzes potential catastrophic damage reported that the region would lose $175 billion in a storm the size of Hurricane Katrina. A World Bank study called Tampa Bay one of the 10 most at-risk areas on the globe. Yet the bay area — greater Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater — has barely begun to assess the rate of sea-level rise and address its effects. Its slow response to a major threat is a case study in how American cities reluctantly prepare for the worst, even though signs of impacts from climate change abound all around. State leaders could be part of the reason. Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administration has reportedly discouraged employees from using the words “climate change” in official communications. Last month, the Republican-controlled state legislature approved bills allowing any citizen to challenge textbooks and instructional materials, including those that teach the science of evolution and global warming.”

We are unprepared because we are a nation of idiots that keep electing (and re-electing) idiots and the oceans don’t care. Luckily, however, we have energy industry sublet Scott Pruitt running the EPA, and, as the New York Times tells us, things are going about as well as expected there.

“Mr. Pruitt, according to the employees, who requested anonymity out of fear of losing their jobs, often makes important phone calls from other offices rather than use the phone in his office, and he is accompanied, even at E.P.A. headquarters, by armed guards, the first head of the agency to ever request round-the-clock security. A former Oklahoma attorney general who built his career suing the E.P.A., and whose LinkedIn profile still describes him as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda,” Mr. Pruitt has made it clear that he sees his mission to be dismantling the agency’s policies — and even portions of the institution itself. But as he works to roll back regulations, close offices and eliminate staff at the agency charged with protecting the nation’s environment and public health, Mr. Pruitt is taking extraordinary measures to conceal his actions, according to interviews with more than 20 current and former agency employees.”

“His aides recently asked career employees to make major changes in a rule regulating water quality in the United States — without any records of the changes they were being ordered to make. And the E.P.A. under Mr. Pruitt has moved to curb certain public information, shutting down data collection of emissions from oil and gas companies, and taking down more than 1,900 agency webpages on topics like climate change, according to a tally by the Environmental Defense Fund, which did a Freedom of Information request on these terminated pages.”

Apparently, the drainage systems in The Swamp are malfunctioning as well.

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Unequal justice under the law

CBS Sunday Morning

Unequal justice under the law

CBS News        August 13, 2017

Does our criminal justice system truly guarantee JUSTICE FOR ALL? Not if you don’t have the money to hire your own top-notch attorney, it doesn’t. Our Cover Story is reported by Lee Cowan:

You’re about to hear some pretty strong words from this law professor … so strong they’re almost hard to believe:

“When we pledge allegiance to the flag and we say ‘liberty and justice for all,’ that’s just not true. I’m sorry,” said Stephen Bright.

“So is the notion of equal justice under the law really just a myth?” asked Cowan.

“Oh, I think it is, yes. Unless something changes, we’re going to have to someday sandblast ‘equal justice under law’ off the Supreme Court building, because for the 80% of people who are poor, we don’t have anything that comes anywhere close to being equal justice under law.”

Bright currently teaches law at Yale University, but spent much of his career at the Southern Center for Human Rights, fighting to help those charged with a crime but who can’t afford an attorney to defend them in court.

People like Shanna Shackelford, who says her life was ruined after her home outside Atlanta caught fire in 2009.

She wasn’t home at the time, but a small insurance policy she had taken out on the rental house made investigators suspicious.

“I thought it was just a misunderstanding, like, they’re going to figure this out, and it’s going to be okay,” she told Cowan.

After a fire in her home led to an arson charge, Shanna Shackelford had to rely on a public defender to represent her case. He recommended she accept 25 years behind bars.  CBS News

But it wasn’t. Shackelford found herself under arrest, charged with arson. “My grandma was like, ‘You might need to get an attorney and talk to somebody,'” Shackelford said.

But she didn’t have money for an attorney. So she applied for a public defender — a court-appointed lawyer tasked with making sure the 6th Amendment is upheld. (That’s the part of our Constitution that guarantees any of us the “assistance of counsel.”)

It’s a right that’s been tested in court, most notably in a case brought in the ’60s by a petty thief in Florida named Clarence Gideon. Unable to afford an attorney, Gideon was convicted and sentenced without one.

He appealed, arguing his right to an attorney had been violated, and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed. But while the Constitution may promise everyone legal counsel, it says nothing about the quality of that legal counsel, a deficit Shackelford felt right away.

She told Cowan it took about two for her to hear from her public defender: “His response was, ‘I have a bunch of cases like yours, so I’ll get to it when I get to it.'”

When he finally did “get to it,” instead of going over the details of her case, Schackelford says he simply told her to plead guilty, and take 25 years behind bars.

“He said, ‘If you didn’t do it, who did?’  And I said, ‘I don’t know, but I didn’t burn it down.’ He was like, ‘Well, I mean, looks like you did.’ He knew nothing about my case when he was talking to me. He was mixing me up with some other case — like, he had no idea what was going on.”

A public defender at court with her case files. CBS News

Shackelford’s case is not unusual. Nearly every case, roughly 90% in fact, often end in a guilty plea, largely because even if a poor defendant is innocent, most can’t afford bail or to wait in jail for trial, which means losing their jobs, their cars, maybe even their homes in the process.

“Being arrested and spending four or five days in jail can be enough to ruin a person’s life, even if they’re ultimately found not to be guilty of anything,” said Stephen Bright.

Take the city of Cordele, Georgia, for example, where at one hearing defendants all plead guilty as a group, with no evidence presented. Bright calls it the “Meet ’em and plead ’em” defense.

“You’ll see a crowded courtroom and there will be a lawyer there with his legal pad, and he’ll be, ‘Ms. Smith? Is Ms. Smith…? Raise your hand,'” said Bright. “They’re trying to identify their own clients! They’re getting ready to go before a judge in just a moment.”

Misdemeanor arraignments, conducted en masse, in Cordele, Ga. CBS News

Cowan saw the same thing happen in a Miami courtroom, where one Public Defender had to handle a crowd of clients all at once.

“I don’t care who the person is, I don’t care how dedicated they are; you cannot represent 500 criminal clients at the same time and give those clients the representation that they’re entitled to,” said Bright.

Nowhere is the problem of indigent defense more acute than in Louisiana, which has the highest incarceration rate not only in the country, but in the world.

Public defender Rhonda Covington handles 500 to 600 cases a year. CBS News

Rhonda Covington is the sole public defender responsible for representing anyone too poor to afford a lawyer in her judicial district. That district encompasses about a thousand square miles.

She says she has to defend five to six hundred people every year. The professional standard, according to the American Bar Association, is about 150 felony cases a year … and some think even that’s too much.

Covington has two paralegals and two contract attorneys who help with the load, but they’re only part time. It’s mostly just her and her two cats (named Liberty and Justice).

She even cleans the office herself.

“Some people say, ‘Well, any defense will do,'” Covington said. “And some people think, ‘Well, you know, they shouldn’t have representation because they’ve been arrested.’ My job is not to get people off when they’ve committed crimes. That’s not what I do. What I do is to ensure that their Constitutional rights are protected.”

The bulk of the state funding for Louisiana’s Public Defender offices comes from an unpredictable source: its traffic tickets, which out on these country roads isn’t exactly a windfall.

According to Covington, the District Attorney’s office budget is five to six times hers.

“And out of that budget comes assistants, and investigators, and access to pay for things like DNA testing?” asked Cowan.

“Exactly. I’ve gone to crime scenes before with my own camera taking photographs. Each year, it’s always something a little less, a little less, a little less.”

Doing more with less is why she thinks she lost the case for one of her clients, 56-year-old James Waltman. She told him, “I’ve decided to go ahead and file a second motion for a new trial, citing the reason being that we had insufficient funds in order to investigate your case.”

Waltman admitted he assaulted his wife during an argument, but the state also charged him with kidnapping and rape — sentence-heavy crimes he insists he never committed. Rhonda believes with some investigation she could have at least lessened the charges. But she didn’t have the time or the money. “I couldn’t shut down my whole office for that one case,” she explained.

“Being innocent I had all the confidence in the world, that I’d walk out,” Waltman said, getting emotional. “But it didn’t happen.”

All across Louisiana, public defenders in 33 of the state’s 44 judicial districts now admit they’re in the same boat Rhonda Covington is in; they’re simply too busy to ethically handle their caseloads.

“If you ain’t’ got a paid lawyer, you’re going to go through this,” said Joseph Allen. He was arrested last year in Baton Rouge for a firearms violation, as well as a marijuana charge. The court didn’t even know he was in jail, because his public defender didn’t know he was in jail.

Dowan asked, “Did you feel like anybody was on your side?”

“Not really. No,” he replied.

“Nobody there to sort of help you through the legal maze, nobody to explain the charges?”

“No, sir. I did all that up on my own, reading the law book.”

Now, Allen and 12 others are suing Louisiana’s Governor and the Public Defender Board in a class action lawsuit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“We’re arguing that being appointed an attorney who doesn’t know who you are, doesn’t investigate your case, doesn’t come to see you, doesn’t take your calls, doesn’t ask for a bond reduction, doesn’t investigate the evidence, doesn’t talk to any witnesses, and doesn’t do anything else to move your case, file any motions that are particularized to you, you don’t have an attorney; you have an attorney in name only,” said Lisa Graybill, Southern Poverty Law Center’s deputy legal director.

“I don’t believe in filing lawsuits unless you really have to, right?” she said. “If there were a way to avoid filing it, we would have, but this injustice has gone on really for too long. It’s unacceptable.”

Back in Georgia, Shanna Shackelford spent years researching her case by herself. Her public defender was too busy with other cases, she says.

In the process, she lost two jobs and her home. After all, who wants to hire or rent to a suspected arsonist?

Had it not been for Stephen Bright — the only person who would seriously look into her case — Shackelford would probably be in jail. His investigation, which he did for free, proved that the fire was the result of faulty wiring, not arson.

It took him just two weeks to get her case dismissed.

“Two weeks,” Shackelford said. “That’s all it took. Someone to do a little research, and try.”

It still took Shackelford three more years to get the charge off her record.

But now with the nightmare finally behind her, she has started anew. She’s opening her own business, and focusing on being a mom to her two-year-old son, Ja’Ben.

“You did get justice, but not the way it should have come,” said Cowan. “Or at the price.”

“No,” she said. “It was almost like having to give up my life, for my freedom. And that’s what I had to choose in the end. I had to give up so many years in order to get the point of freedom.”

My meeting with Donald Trump: A damaged, pathetic personality — whose obvious impairment has only gotten worse


My meeting with Donald Trump: A damaged, pathetic personality — whose obvious impairment has only gotten worse didn’t get his endorsement when I ran for governor — but the severely troubled man I met has only gotten worse

Bill Curry     August 12, 2017

In 1994, I visited the home of Donald Trump. He was a Democrat then, of sorts, and I was the party’s nominee for governor of Connecticut. He’d taken an interest in our state owing to his keen desire to lodge a casino in Bridgeport, an idea I found economically and morally dubious. I had scant hope of enlisting him, but made the trip anyway, thinking that if I convinced him I might win, he’d be less apt to bankroll my opponent.

I arrived at Trump Tower in early evening, accompanied by my finance chair and an old friend and colleague. Stepping off the elevator into his apartment, we were met by a display of sterile, vulgar ostentation: all gold, silver, brass, marble; nothing soft, welcoming or warm. Trump soon appeared and we began to converse, but not really. In campaigns, we candidates do most of the talking; because we like to, and because people ask us lots of questions. Not this time. Not by a long shot.

Trump talked very rapidly and virtually nonstop for nearly an hour; not of my campaign or even of politics, but only of himself, and almost always in the third person. He’d given himself a nickname: “the Trumpster,” as in “everybody wants to know what the Trumpster’s gonna do,” a claim he made more than once.

He mostly told stories. Some were about his business deals; others about trips he’d taken or things he owned. All were unrelated to the alleged point of our meeting, and to one another. That he seldom even attempted segues made each tale seem more disconnected from reality than the last. It was funny at first, then pathetic, and finally deeply unsettling.

On the drive home, we all burst out laughing, then grew quiet. What the hell just happened? My first theory, that Trump was high on cocaine, didn’t feel quite right, but he was clearly emotionally impaired: in constant need of approbation; lacking impulse control, self-awareness or awareness of others. We’d heard tales of his monumental vanity, but were still shocked by the sad spectacle of him.

That visit colored all my later impressions of Trump. Over time, his mental health seemed to decline. He threw more and bigger public tantrums; lied more often and less artfully. The media, also in decline and knowing a ratings magnet when it saw one, turned a blind eye. Sensing impunity, Trump revived the racist ‘birther’ lie. In 2011, he told the “Today” show’s Meredith Vieira he had unearthed some dark secrets:

Vieira: You have people now down there searching, I mean in Hawaii?

Trump: Absolutely. And they cannot believe what they’re finding

As Trump recycled old lies, Vieira had a queasy look but no apparent knowledge of the facts. Of course, there weren’t any. Trump had no proof of Obama being born in Kenya. (Since there is none.) It’s highly doubtful he had any researchers in Hawaii. (It was only after Vieira asked him that he claimed he did.) Later, when Trump’s story crumbled, he followed a rule taught by his mentor, Roy Cohn, infamous architect of McCarthyism: Admit nothing. To Trump, a lie is worth a thousand pictures.

By 2016, the private Trump was on permanent public display, raging over mere slights, seeing plots in every ill turn of events and, as always, stunningly self-absorbed. He was called a racist, a sexist and a bully. But his mental health issues were euphemized as problems of “temperament.” He lied ceaselessly, reflexively and clumsily, but his lies were called merely “unproven” or, later, “false.” The New York Times called the birther story a lie only after Trump grudgingly retracted it. Not till he was safe in office claiming that millions of phantom immigrants cast votes for Clinton did the paper of record use the word “lie” in reference to a tale Trump was still telling.

In 2016, the precariousness of Trump’s mental health was clear to all with eyes to see, but like extras in a remake of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” reporters averted their glances. The day after the election, they were all in a state of shock, like staff at an asylum who woke one morning to find that the patient who thought he was Napoleon had just been named emperor of France. Once he took office, many publications began keeping running tallies of his lies. But all take a more cautious approach to questions of their origins in his deeply troubled psyche. To date, no major network, newspaper or magazine has run an in-depth analysis of Trump’s mental health.

The pathologies of American journalism are by now clichés: aversion to policy analysis; addiction to horse-race politics; smashing of walls that once separated news, opinion and advertising; an ideology that mistakes evenhandedness for objectivity. Yet we hear scant talk of reform. The press excels at public rituals of soul-searching but has little taste for the real thing.  That said, its reluctance to discuss mental health reflects its virtues as well as its vices. Of major outlets, Fox News does by far the most psychological profiling. (It turns out all liberals are crazy.)

Like the language of politics, the language of psychology is imprecise; the term “sociopath” is as hard to nail down as “liberal” or “conservative.” What separates a serial liar from a pathological liar? Mere suspicion from paranoia? Righteous anger from uncontrolled rage? How do we ever tell mental illness from ill character? Our view of any antisocial behavior hinges on whether we view it through a moral, legal or therapeutic lens; to take a human life other than in self-defense is insane, and also criminal and, to many, sinful. Do we treat, punish or forgive? It’s so hard to say.

The diagnosis we associate with Trump is “narcissistic personality disorder” (a term that only lately replaced “narcissistic character disorder”). You’ll find it in the Diagnostic Survey Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, fifth edition. Back in February, a principal author of the prior edition, Dr. Allen Frances, wrote a letter to the Times rebuking mental health professionals for “diagnosing public figures from a distance” and “amateur diagnosticians” for “mislabeling” Trump with narcissistic personality disorder. Allen says he wrote the criteria defining the disorder and Trump doesn’t have it. His reasoning: Trump “does not suffer the disorder and impairment required to diagnose mental disorder.”

Frances does what he accuses others of doing. By saying flatly that Trump doesn’t suffer a disorder, he diagnoses a public figure we assume — for multiple reasons — he hasn’t treated. Nor can he or anyone else tell “from a distance” that Trump doesn’t suffer the requisite impairment and disorder. No president ever seemed so impaired or disordered, but we needn’t compare him only to other rotten presidents. Trump is the Chuck Yeager of lying, a shatterer of records thought untouchable. That he is frozen in pathological, crotch-grabbing adolescence is well documented; that his judgment is often deranged by rage is self-evident.

This week the world watched two men of obvious, serious emotional impairment in control of ungodly nuclear weapons trade puerile taunts while threatening to incinerate millions of innocent human beings. Donald Trump, having made war on Mitch McConnell, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nordstrom, China, Mexico, Australia and the cast of “Hamilton,” baiting a man who idolizes Dennis Rodman and just murdered his own brother. This is simply unacceptable. We know how Kim Jong-un got his job. It’s time we thought about how Trump got his. One answer is that he got it the way authoritarian leaders do in liberal democracies: by exploiting the weakness and naïve politesse of the old order. To contain him, let alone remove him, we must relearn the rules of debate.

We can start by distinguishing name calling (bad) from merely naming (which is not just good but vital). I too recoil from quack therapists diagnosing strangers on cable TV. But you don’t need to be a botanist to tell a rose from a dandelion. In 2016 Trump compared Ben Carson to a child molester and pronounced him “incurable,” but few raised the far more real question of Trump’s own mental health. Do we dare not state the obvious? You needn’t be an amateur diagnostician to see that Donald Trump is mentally ill.

Trump embodies that old therapists’ saw “perception is projection.” You can use this handy tool to locate the truth, exactly opposite from whatever he just said. He has a weight management problem, so women are “fat pigs.” He can’t stop fibbing, so his primary opponent becomes “Lyin’ Ted Cruz.” His career is rife with fraud so the former secretary of state becomes “Crooked Hillary.” He is terrified of ridicule, so Barack Obama is a “laughingstock.” When he says America’s a wasteland but he’ll make it great again, we know his secret fear.

Late in the presidential campaign Hillary Clinton famously dubbed some large portion of Trump’s base a “basket of deplorables.” A constant theme and core belief of her campaign was that his campaign was fueled by racism and misogyny, evils against which Democrats stand united. The evils are genuine and enduring, but political corruption and the economic inequality it fosters did at least as much and probably more to fuel Trump’s rise.

It’s likely that Trump’s arrested development also got him white working-class votes, among males especially. The infantilization of the American male is a phenomenon we have been slow to recognize. It is a product of fast-narrowing economic horizons fueled by cultural forces; by beer ads and anti-intellectualism, by addiction and violent video games, and now by Trump, on whom Jon Stewart pinned the fitting moniker “man baby.”

Countless surveys say our children are less racist and sexist than our parents. What many may not be is more adult. The issue isn’t the bros in the beer ads; we assume they have jobs. It’s the tinderbox we create by mixing ignorance and inequality with dashed hopes and an overwrought sense of victimization. They say presidents lead us down the paths we’re already on. It’s our job to make sure this one doesn’t.

One thing Trump has taught us is that the drafters of the 25th Amendment weren’t thinking about mental illness. It is unlikely anyone it puts in charge would have the courage to take action. In any case, progressives must put their primary emphasis on crafting a blueprint for political reform and economic justice. While they’re at it they could try making better cases on national security and climate change.

They must take another lesson from Trump: to say out loud things they never said before, not as Trump does, but with honesty, decency, reason and specificity. Trump got to be president in part because there were so many things Democrats and the media didn’t think or couldn’t bring themselves to say. Trump’s whole life is a fraud that Robert Mueller may soon expose as a criminal enterprise. His business career was a disaster till a book someone else wrote and a TV show someone else produced made him a celebrity. He then fell into the only line of work he ever prospered in: licensing that celebrity. He does it pretty well, but Zsa Zsa Gabor did it first and Kim Kardashian did it better and neither of them should be president.

In 2016 Trump’s real vulnerabilities were his mental health and personal finances. We can now add his proto-fascism and his possible or intended treason to the list. Trump was lucky in the draw. His defects were so monumental, so toxic, we had no protocol for talking about them. There are effective and responsible ways to talk about all such things, but first our media and political elites must find the courage to name them. They know as well as you or I who he is.

Bill Curry was White House counselor to President Clinton and a two-time Democratic nominee for governor of Connecticut. He is at work on a book on President Obama and the politics of populism.