The WNBA star and her lawyers had asked for leniency after officials at a Russian airport allegedly found less than a gram of hash oil in her luggage in February, but a Russian court sentenced Griner to nine years, just below the maximum-possible sentence of 10.
Across Russia, there are 35 women’s penal colonies that house an estimated 60,000 inmates, Ivan Melnikov, the vice president of the Russian Department of the International Human Rights Defense Committee, and Yekaterina Kalugina, a Russian human rights activist who observed Griner and her living conditions in March, tell PEOPLE.
The cells have just over 11 feet of private space, with most cells holding anywhere between 40 to 60 women who sleep in bunk beds.
Jim Heintz/AP/Shutterstock Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing in the Khimki district court
Melnikov and Kalugina say much of what goes on in the colonies depends on the prison governor, with some being more strict than others. (Both say they cannot reveal which colony Griner is located.)
“Brittney is being held in a detention cell within a penal colony,” Melnikov says. At the detention center, the spaces are cramped and there’s only a small exercise yard, but there is a benefit to staying there — each day counts as two towards a prison sentence.
Kalungina expects that the guards will keep Griner in the detention center until Russia and the U.S. decide if they’ll go through with her prisoner exchange.
Melnikov adds that “she is likely to stay there for the time of her appeal, which might be up to three months if she isn’t pardoned and exchanged before then, but if her appeal fails, she might be sent on to another colony.”
ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock Brittney Griner
Inside the colony, there’s more space and Griner will have to work eight hours a day. For most prisoners, this means sewing, cleaning, cooking and serving food, but, because of her career as a WNBA player, Griner can see about coaching women’s basketball. There’s a precedent for such an arrangement — Russian soccer players Alexander Kokorin and Pavel Mamayev coached inmates while they served time in one of the colonies.
Melnikov says that it’s up to the prison governor to decide if Griner can coach.
“I hope that she will be sent to a colony with a lenient governor who allows her to coach basketball in the daytime rather than being a seamstress,” he says. “Prisoners are encouraged to play sports or do yoga and so on, and basketball is popular. I think that would be the best thing for her.”
Ethan Miller/Getty (L-R) Brianna Turner, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Kia Nurse and Brittney Griner
Each morning, Melnikov says, the prisoners “are woken at 6 a.m., they wash, dress, make their beds, stand to attention for the register, go to breakfast and then start an eight-hour working day, usually as a seamstresses. But we are trying to encourage governors to use the talents of the inmates. For example, working with art.”
Prisoners in the colony get some free time outside of their work requirements, Melnikov says.
“Their free time is set by the governor, from half an hour to two hours a day and during that time they can just chat with each other, read a book from the library, write letters home, play sports, play board games and call friends and family.”
The prisoners are supposed to get a minimum wage of $180 a month, Melnikov says, which they can spend in the prison shop on items like toiletries, tampons, cigarettes and fresh fruit and vegetables, and they can also pay for the internet to send emails.
Generally, though, the conditions are difficult. Tuberculosis is common in the colonies, many prisoners are malnourished from the limited food and the medical care is poor. Most need friends and family to send them food and basic toiletries, but that isn’t possible for some prisoners.
RELATED VIDEO: ‘Forgotten’ American Woman Jailed in Russia with Brittney Griner Tried to Flee with U.S. Help Before Arrest
For now, though, Griner is again waiting to hear what will happen to her. She’s staying in the detention center, where she can choose to work to get outside and see other people, but the two-time Olympic gold medalist doesn’t know if she’ll be exchanged, have a successful appeal, or if she’ll live out her next nine years in a Russian penal colony.
When Griner heard about the potential exchange, she was “quite happy to know that she’s not been forgotten and that there are some possible developments,” her lawyer, Maria Blagovolina, previously told PEOPLE. “But she’s quite realistic about what’s going on.”
Evictions spiking as assistance, protections disappear
Michael Casey – August 10, 2022
Jada Riley thought she had beaten homelessness.
The 26-year-old New Orleans resident was finally making a steady income cleaning houses during the pandemic to afford a $700-a-month, one-bedroom apartment. But she lost nearly all her clients after Hurricane Ida hit last year. Then she was fired from a grocery store job in February after taking time off to help a relative.
Two months behind on rent, she made the difficult decision last month to leave her apartment rather than risk an eviction judgment on her record. Now, she’s living in her car with her 6-year-old son, sometimes spending nights at the apartments of friends or her son’s father.
“I’ve slept outside for a whole year before. It’s very depressing, I’m not going to lie,” said Riley, who often doesn’t have enough money to buy gas or afford food every day.
“I don’t want to have my son experience any struggles that I went through.”
Eviction filings nationwide have steadily risen in recent months and are approaching or exceeding pre-pandemic levels in many cities and states. That’s in stark contrast to the pandemic, when state and federal moratoriums on evictions, combined with $46.5 billion in f ederal Emergency Rental Assistance, kept millions of families housed.
“I really think this is the tip of the iceberg,” Shannon MacKenzie, executive director of Colorado Poverty Law Project, said of June filings in Denver, which were about 24% higher than the same time three years ago. “Our numbers of evictions are increasing every month at an astonishing rate, and I just don’t see that abating any time soon.”
According to The Eviction Lab, several cities are running far above historic averages, with Minneapolis-St. Paul 91% higher in June, Las Vegas up 56%, Hartford, Connecticut, up 32%, and Jacksonville, Florida, up 17%. In Maricopa County, home to Phoenix, eviction filings in July were the highest in 13 years, officials said.
Some legal advocates said the sharp increase in housing prices due to inflation is partly to blame. Rental prices nationwide are up nearly 15% from a year ago and almost 25% from 2019, according to the real estate company Zillow. Rental vacancy rates, meanwhile, have declined to a 35-year low of 5.8%, according to the Census Bureau.
A report last month from the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that a tenant working full time needs to make nearly $26 per hour on average nationally to afford a modest two-bedroom rental and $21.25 for a one-bedroom. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.
“Landlords are raising the rent and making it very unaffordable for tenants to stay,” said Marie Claire Tran-Leung, the eviction initiative project director for the National Housing Law Project.
“Inflation has really shrunk the supply of housing that is available for people with the lowest incomes,” she added. “Without more protections in place, which not all states have, a lot of those families will be rendered homeless.”
Patrick McCloud, chief executive officer of the Virginia Apartment Management Association, said the trend is a return to normal. “No one likes evictions, but they are in some ways a reset to the economy,” McCloud said, adding that evictions have been “artificially depressed.”
“Housing is based on supply and demand. And when no one moves and you have no vacancies, you have a tight market and prices go up.”
Graham Bowman, a staff attorney with Legal Aid Society of Columbus, Ohio, said evictions there are rising — 15% above historic averages in June alone — at a time when there are fewer places for those forced out to go.
Sheryl Lynne Smith was evicted in May from her two-bedroom townhouse in Columbus after she used her rent money to repair a sewage leak in the basement. Smith, who is legally blind and has a federal housing voucher, fears she won’t be able to find anything by September when the voucher expires because of rising housing prices and the eviction on her record.
“It’s very scary,” said Smith, 53, whose temporary stay at a hotel funded through a state program ends this weekend.
In Boise, Idaho, Jeremy McKenney, 45, moved into his car last week after a judge sided with a property management company that nearly tripled the rent on his two-bedroom house. The Lyft and DoorDash driver will have to rent a hotel room whenever he has custody of his children, 9 and 12.
“It’s definitely mind blowing,” said McKenney, adding that everything on the market is beyond his reach even after a nonprofit offered to cover the security deposit. “I have never been homeless before. I have always had a roof over my head.”
The other challenge is the federal emergency rental assistance that helped keep millions housed during the pandemic has dried up in some jurisdictions or been increasingly rejected by some landlords.
“What really gets me is there is rental assistance and so many landlords just don’t want it. They would rather throw someone on the street than take money,” Eric Kwartler, managing attorney of Lone Star Legal Aid’s Eviction Right to Counsel Project, which covers Houston and Harris County in Texas. “If you take the money, you can’t evict them. They want them out.”
The U.S. Treasury said last week that more than $40 billion of the $46.5 billion in Emergency Rental Assistance had been spent or allocated.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Virginia have gone through at least 90% of their first disbursement. Twelve states and the District of Columbia had used 50% of the second allocation, known as ERA2, by the end of May. Three — Idaho, Ohio and Iowa — haven’t spent any ERA2 money and two — Nebraska and Arkansas — didn’t accept the funds.
“The public health emergency may still be here but the funds to deal with it are rapidly disappearing,” said Martin Wegbreit, director of litigation for the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society.
Treasury is encouraging states and cities to tap other federal stimulus funds to cover the gaps. So far, over 600 state and local governments had budgeted $12.9 billion in stimulus funds to meet housing needs, including affordable housing development.
Gene Sperling, who oversees President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue package, highlighted the success of its rental assistance program, which has reached 7 million mostly low-income households.
But, more needs to be done to ensure the country doesn’t return to pre-pandemic times when 3.6 million tenants were evicted annually and “evictions were too often a first resort, not a last resort,” he told a forum on eviction reforms at the White House last week.
Some lawmakers said the answer is a permanent rental assistance program. A bill introduced in July would provide $3 billion annually for rental assistance and fund services to keep families housed. A study commissioned by the National Apartment Association and the National Multifamily Housing Council says the answer is building 4.3 million apartments by 2035.
Other advocates called for permanent legal protections like right to counsel for tenants or eviction diversion programs to resolve evictions before they reach the courts.
In Richmond, Virginia, eviction filings in June were 54% below historic averages, attributed to rental assistance and more legal representation for tenants in court, Wegbreit said. Similar programs were credited with New Mexico’s eviction filings being 29% below historic averages in June.
Philadelphia, which passed a law making eviction diversion mandatory through this year, saw filings down 33%. The City Council in Philadelphia also approved spending $30 million over two years for rental assistance.
“We are trying to change the way we look at this issue in Philadelphia, where the only thing you do is go to landlord tenant court or start an eviction,” said Catherine Anderson, supervising attorney with Philadelphia Legal Assistance, who oversees the paralegals on the Save Your Home Philly hotline.
Associated Press writers Jesse Bedayn in Denver, Ben Finley in Norfolk, Virginia, and Claudia Lauer in Philadelphia contributed to this report
This story has been corrected to show that McKenney is from Boise, Idaho, not Boise, Utah.
‘I can’t do it again’: Can Appalachia blunt the devastating impacts of more flooding, climate change?
Chris Kenning, Connor Giffin, James Bruggers – August8, 2022
JACKSON, Ky. – Teresa Watkins worked to salvage a few mud-caked belongings from her home on a Breathitt County branch of the Kentucky River after floods slammed her neighborhood July 28for the second time in 17 months.
The 54-year-old, who has lived off Quicksand Road since she was a teenager, said the flooding in recent years – “more and more, worse and worse” – has left difficult dilemmas in a county where median household incomes of $29,538 areless than half the national average.
She pointed to a mobile home one family abandoned last year. More say they’re leaving for safer areas, she said, but it’s not that easy.
“I don’t know how they can afford it or where they’re going to go. Any property is basically along the river line or creek banks,” she said. “And if they go up on the mountains, the mountains slide.”
Devastating floods that killed at least 37 people in Kentucky and damage in other parts of Appalachia, including Virginia and West Virginia, raise urgent questions about how to mitigate the impact of hazardous flooding that is likely to increase as climate change leads to more extreme weather.
In one of America’s most economically depressed regions, there are few easy answers.
The region’s mountainous landscape, high poverty rates, dispersed housing in remote valleys, coal-mining scars that accelerate floods and under-resourced local governments all make solutions extremely difficult.
Measures such as flood wells, drainage systems or raising homes are expensive for cash-strapped counties. Buyouts or building restrictions are difficult in areas where safer options and home construction are limited. Many are unable or unwilling to uproot.
Tamping down extreme weather by reducing climate-changing emissions nationwide is a goal that is politically fraught, including in a region with coal in its veins, and promises no quick relief.
“If we had all the money in the world, and we had the political will and cooperation, we could go a long way towards solving these problems,” said Bill Haneberg, director of the Kentucky Geological Survey and a professor of Earth and environmental sciences at the University of Kentucky.
Even as Kentucky’s devastation renews attention to long-standing challenges, some residents said they have little hope that effective protections will arrive anytime soon.
The emphasis is on trying to rebuild what was lost.Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said he may call a special legislative session for more aid to the region, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency provides housing and other help.
Repeat floods have prompted some officials to search for longer-term answers. Buchanan County, Virginia, for example, is drawing up a plan to identify projects to blunt flooding’s impact. Those projects would still have to be paid for.
Some residents are fatalistic or doubt the government can do much. Others push for more protections in areas where many have few options to move and can’t afford flood insurance.
In the Buchanan County community of Pilgrim’s Knob, Sherry Honaker, 55, watched crews remove debris from her niece’s home on Dismal Creek. It was gutted in a major flood about two weeks before the Kentucky floods – the county’s second this year.
“Something needs to be done,” she said.
How susceptible is Appalachia?
Central Appalachia is no stranger to flooding. The latest high water in eastern Kentucky broke records, and experts expect more to follow.
Amid the larger pattern of extreme weather in the USA, from wildfires to heat waves, meteorologists and climate scientists say human-driven climate change comes with a warmer atmosphere capable of holding more moisture.
That can mean more bouts of intense rainfall, and more rain in a short period fuels flash flooding, said Antonia Sebastian, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill specializing in flood resilience and mitigation.
The region’s topography contributes to how “flashy” a flood can be, Sebastian said.
The steep slopes of the Appalachians allow water to rush quickly into the narrow valleys, sometimes swamping hollows before residents have a chance to escape.
In 2019, an Inside Climate News analysis of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stream flow data and satellite images of disturbed land from strip mining found areas such as the Big Sandy watershed, which straddles the Kentucky and West Virginia state line, to be among the most threatened by climate-change-drivenextreme weather within the Ohio River Basin.
The region’s history of coal mining, as well as logging, can exacerbate flooding, experts said, by altering the landscape.
In surface mining, trees are the first to go, then sometimes hundreds of feet of rock are blasted away from the tops and sides of mountains to get at underground seams of coal.
“Normally, on a forested hillside, the trees and their roots will absorb 40% to 50% of the rain that falls, then slowly release it,” said Jack Spadaro, a former top federal mine safety engineer. After mining, surfaces robbed of vegetation facilitate flash flooding, he said.
Housing patterns contribute to the area’s vulnerability. Many residences are scattered in smaller communities along a road that often winds along a creek lined with steep hillsides.
In Kentucky’s Breathitt County, half of all homes are at a high risk of flooding, according to data provided to USA TODAY by the First Street Foundation, a research and technology nonprofit that tracks flood risks.
The same is true of 46% of homes in the state’s Perry County and 58% in Letcher County.
“You hear people say, ‘Oh, you know, they shouldn’t live in a flood plain. They should move someplace else.’ But if you look at a lot of these towns, there are really not a lot of good options,” Haneberg said.
Added to that is the area’s economic vulnerability. Many residents cannot afford flood insurance.
Amid coal’s decline, good jobs are hard to find. Breathitt County’s poverty rate is 28%, more than twice the national rate of 11%. The median home value of $53,000 is less than a quarter of the national average, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The region has higher rates of chronic disease, and populations have fallen in recent decades.
Jessica Willett, 34, whoseremote Jackson homewas pushed downstream by floodingwhile she and her two children were inside, said she was nervous about rebuilding on Bowling Creek.
But she doesn’t want to leave her home.
“My aunt down the road, she is going to move. She lost everything,” she said. “It’s just hard because down here, there’s a lot of family land. We want our kids and grandkids to grow up on it.”
The ‘pain points’ of climate change
Standing near Dismal Creek in Virginia, Honaker looked over a giant pile of rubble. She said she wants officials to ramp up unclogging draining culverts or increasing the creek’s depth.
She looked at her niece’s home: “Maybe stilts would have helped,” she said.
Though it’s impossible to halt heavy rains and flooding, counties and towns can consider measures to limit their impact, said Tee Clarkson, a principal at First Earth 2030, a company helping Buchanan County develop its flood resiliency plan.
That could include flood walls, strengthening creek banks, dredging creeks to greater depths and expanding piping and drainage systems, he said. Houses could be raised on stilts.
“It’s hard to keep areas from flooding, but you want to lower the pain points” for residents and infrastructure, he said.
U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, a Republican who represents eastern Kentucky, said that in an area with a “long and daunting history of flooding,” he helped secure more than $800 million over 40 years to help build flood walls, levees, tunnels and other public safety projects.
“However, this flash flood was a natural disaster that turned small creeks and mountain runoff into raging rivers that charted a new destructive course through our valleys and hollows,” he said. “These types of floods have always been one of the greatest challenges to mitigate in the mountains, and I will continue to advocate for every possible resource that we can afford to protect our mountain communities.”
What could help, experts said, is tackling the hundreds of thousands of acres of former mine land in Appalachia still to be reclaimed, according to a report in 2021 by the environmental group Appalachian Voice.
Counties can restrict building or add stricter building requirements, but that is easiest for new construction – in Perry County, Kentucky, few new building permits were issued in recent years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Perry County Judge-Executive Scott Alexander said he looks for ways to make his county more flood-resilient, such as raising bridges or expanding reservoirs. He said a discussion might include raising homes in flood-prone areas.
“We’ve got to start looking at preventive flooding measures,” he said. He cautioned that “when you get to 12 inches of rain, especially in Appalachia, there’s not a whole lot of anything that can handle that.”
FEMA buyouts have been an option, but they take time and can be fraught with potential harm, Sebastian said. The central Appalachian population is one of the poorest in the country and moving that population out of a region with a generally low cost of living could bring further economic hardship.
The properties in the most flood-prone areas tend to be the most affordable, further endangering the very poorest Appalachians, said Colette Easter, president of Kentucky’s section of the American Society of Civil Engineers.
“That involves gut-wrenching questions about moving away from a place that you’ve lived for a very long time, maybe generations, and you’re very connected to,” Eric Dixon, a researcher at the Ohio River Valley Institute, said with a deep sigh. “But maybe you don’t have another choice. Maybe that’s literally what you have to do. That’s the real heartbreaking part of this, I think.”
Flooded residents, to choices
For 15 years, Angie Rosser has lived along the Elk River in Clay County, West Virginia.
In 2016, a powerful flood hit the state, killing 23 people and causing more than $1 billion in damage.
Six years later, Rosser said her community still doesn’t have a grocery store. She hasn’t replaced much of the furniture she lost. In Rosser’s house, you’ll find a bed but no couch and no dining table.
“My house is pretty empty, because I am expecting another flood to happen – which is not a great way to live,” said Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition.
Rosser understands the commitment to stay and rebuild shared by many of her neighbors, but “I’m not one of those people,” she said. “If it floods again, I’m out. I can’t do it again. It was just too exhausting.”
That same weary uncertainty has spread across hard-hit counties in Kentucky this week, where the next disaster lurks behind each heavy rainfall to come.
‘We’re heading into a housing recession’: Here’s what the NAHB CEO sees in real estate right now — and why it spells trouble for the economy
Vishesh Raisinghani – August 7, 2022
Housing, which is a key segment of the national economy, looks extraordinarily weak right now, according to a recent report by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).
“We’re heading into a recession,” NAHB CEO Jerry Howard told Bloomberg in a recent interview. He described how a rapid decline in homebuilding and demand for new homes could drag the national economy lower.
Here are some of the highlights of Howard’s thesis.
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Housing leads every recession since Second World War
Residential real estate is an integral part of the American economy. In fact, housing activity contributes between 15% to 18% of gross domestic product (GDP) every year, according to the NAHB. A slowdown in this sector naturally pulls down the rest of the economy.
A decline in home building and buying has led to every recession since the end of the Second World War, according to Howard. The association’s latest report indicates that buyers and builders are both pulling back from the market yet again, which could be a leading indicator for another recession on the horizon in 2022.
Builders are holding off
Homebuilders face multiple demand- and supply-side pressures.
On the demand front, potential homebuyers have receded from the market. Existing home sales slid 5.4% in June. Meanwhile, borrowing capacity has been curtailed by rising interest rates. The average mortgage rate has accelerated at the fastest pace in 35 years. A 15-year fixed rate mortgage is now about 4.8%, up from 2.2% a year ago. These factors have effectively destroyed demand.
Meanwhile, the supply chain for home building material and the cost of labor continues to increase the cost of building new homes. This is why homebuilders’ sentiment dropped 12 points in June, according to the NAHB survey.
A dangerous situation
The fundamental weakness in both demand and supply-side factors creates a “dangerous situation,” said Howard. Housing has not only led the country into every recession, but it has also led the nation out of every recession since the Second World War. This time the recovery could be slower.
There’s no easy solution to the lack of labor and supply chain disruptions that plague the industry. If these issues persist, the economic recovery could take longer. Howard believes regulators need to get involved to reignite growth.
Regulators need to get serious
Policy changes are essential to resolve issues in the housing market, according to Howard. He suggests that regulators try to secure a deal with Canadian authorities to improve the supply of lumber into the U.S. That would significantly reduce the cost pressures on homebuilders.
Policies to encourage labor supply would also help. Better training for skilled labor and higher immigration of tradespeople would improve homebuilder sentiment.
Some regulations, however, need to be reduced to boost the homebuilding sector. Development charges and prohibitive planning regulations on the state and local level could be a bottleneck on housing supply.
Lowering these barriers could play a part in stabilizing homebuilding and helping the national economy course-correct. However, these recommendations may not be enough to prevent the near-term pressures homebuilders face.
Some economists believe a housing-led recession may be inevitable — if it hasn’t already begun.
Mark Evely, Program Director and Assistant Professor of Mortuary Science, Wayne State University – July 31, 2022
Upwards of 2.8 million people die every year in the United States. As a funeral director who heads a university mortuary science program, I can tell you that while each individual’s life experiences are unique, what happens to a body after death follows a broadly predictable chain of events.
In general, it depends on three things: where you die, how you die and what you or your family decide on for funeral arrangements and final disposition.
In death’s immediate aftermath
Death can happen anywhere: at home; in a hospital, nursing or palliative care facility; or at the scene of an accident, homicide or suicide.
A medical examiner or coroner must investigate whenever a person dies unexpectedly while not under a doctor’s care. Based on the circumstances of the death, they determine whether an autopsy is needed. If so, the body travels to a county morgue or a funeral home, where a pathologist conducts a detailed internal and external examination of the body as well as toxicology tests.
Once the body can be released, some states allow for families to handle the body themselves, but most people employ a funeral director. The body is placed on a stretcher, covered and transferred from the place of death – sometimes via hearse, but more commonly these days a minivan carries it to the funeral home.
State law determines who has the authority to make funeral arrangements and decisions about the remains. In some states, you can choose during your lifetime how you’d like your body treated when you die. In most cases, however, decisions fall on surviving family or someone you appointed before your death.
Preparing the body for viewing
In a 2020 consumer survey conducted by the National Funeral Directors Association, 39.4% of respondents reported feeling it’s very important to have the body or cremated remains present at a funeral or memorial service.
To prepare for that, the funeral home will usually ask whether the body is to be embalmed. This process sanitizes the body, temporarily preserves it for viewing and services, and restores a natural, peaceful appearance. Embalming is typically required for a public viewing and in certain other circumstances, including if the person died of a communicable disease or if the cremation or burial is to be delayed for more than a few days.
When the funeral director begins the embalming process, he places the body on a special porcelain or stainless steel table that looks much like what you’d find in an operating room. He washes the body with soap and water and positions it with the hands crossed over the abdomen, as you’d see them appear in a casket. He closes the eyes and mouth.
Next the funeral director makes a small incision near the clavicle, to access the jugular vein and carotid artery. He inserts forceps into the jugular vein to allow blood to drain out, while at the same time injecting embalming solution into the carotid artery via a small tube connected to the embalming machine. For every 50 to 75 pounds of body weight, it takes about a gallon of embalming solution, largely made up of formaldehyde. The funeral director then removes excess fluids and gases from the abdominal and thoracic cavities using an instrument called a trocar. It works much like the suction tube you’ve experienced at the dentist.
Next the funeral director sutures any incisions. He grooms the hair and nails and again washes the body and dries it with towels. If the body is emaciated or dehydrated, he can inject a solution via hypodermic needle to plump facial features. If trauma or disease has altered the appearance of the deceased, the embalmer can use wax, adhesive and plaster to recreate natural form.
Lastly, the funeral director dresses the deceased and applies cosmetics. If the clothing provided does not fit, he can cut it and tuck it in somewhere that doesn’t show. Some funeral homes use an airbrush to apply cosmetics; others use specialized mortuary cosmetics or just regular makeup you might find at a store.
Toward a final resting place
If the deceased is to be cremated without a public viewing, many funeral homes require a member of the family to identify him or her. Once the death certificate and any other necessary authorizations are complete, the funeral home transports the deceased in a chosen container to a crematory. This could be onsite or at a third-party provider.
Cremations are performed individually. Still in the container, the deceased is placed in the cremator, which produces very high heat that reduces the remains to bone fragments. The operator removes any metal objects, like implants, fillings and parts of the casket or cremation container, and then pulverizes the bone fragments. He then places the processed remains in the selected container or urn. Some families choose to keep the cremated remains, while others bury them, place them in a niche or scatter them.
When earth burial is chosen, the casket is usually placed in a concrete outer burial container before being lowered into the grave. Caskets can also be entombed in above-ground crypts inside buildings called mausoleums. Usually a grave or crypt has a headstone of some kind that bears the name and other details about the decedent.
Some cemeteries have spaces dedicated to environmentally conscious “green” burials in which an unembalmed body can be buried in a biodegradable container. Other forms of final disposition are less common. As an alternative to cremation, the chemical process of alkaline hydrolysis can reduce remains to bone fragments. Composting involves placing the deceased in a vessel with organic materials like wood chips and straw to allow microbes to naturally break down the body.
I’ve seen many changes over the course of my funeral service career, spanning more than 20 years so far. For decades, funeral directors were predominantly male, but now mortuary school enrollment nationwide is roughly 65% female. Cremation has become more popular. More people pre-plan their own funerals. Many Americans do not have a religious affiliation and therefore opt for a less formal service.
Saying goodbye is important for those who remain, and I have witnessed too many families foregoing a ceremony and later regretting it. A dignified and meaningful farewell and the occasion to share memories and comfort each other honors the life of the deceased and facilitates healing for family and friends.
We created scorching ‘heat islands’ in East Coast cities. Now they’re becoming unlivable
Joyce Chu, Eduardo Cuevas and Ricardo Kaulessar – July 27, 2022
Thelma Mays couldn’t breathe.
On a blazing summer day, she began gasping for air inside her Petersburg, Virginia, apartment, and was forced to call 911. If she’d been able to look out her window to see the ambulance pull up at Carriage House, an income-based complex for the elderly, she wouldn’t have been able to see a single tree. Just the other side of the sprawling brick building.
When it is too hot to go outside on city streets, the indoors can be just as dangerous for her lung condition, if she gulps refrigerated air for a precious few minutes in front of the AC vent. Mays, 78, has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and a quick shift in humidity or temperature can trigger a respiratory emergency.
These days in central Virginia, trapped on the edge of a hotter-than-normal part of an often-overlooked majority Black city, escalating heat and weather patterns are putting Mays and others under health and financial stress. It’s pressure not yet being felt equally in wealthier, majority white suburban areas of the state with landscaped gardens and plentiful indoor cool spaces.
Mays was transported to the emergency room that day.
Doctors worked for hours to stabilize her breathing, giving her IV steroids to help her lungs function.
Stranded on an urban heat island, many don’t survive
The Carriage House apartment complex has a few small trees by the sidewalk, none big enough to provide cover for a single person.
By contrast, Walnut Hill — one of the wealthiest and most tree-lined parts of the city — was more than 13 degrees cooler in the shade. Large trees create an arching canopy over the streets. Nearly every house has wide lawns skirted by mature shade-providing trees. Even in the sun, it was 6 degrees cooler than in Old Towne.
Old Towne is the hottest area in Petersburg based on 2021 heat-mapping.
Even on hot days, Mays uses her walker to reach the other side of the street where she can sit under the shade of a couple of small trees by a parking lot. She hates being cooped up in her apartment.
Blocks of shops and long treeless stretches of asphalt and concrete trap the heat in Old Towne. On a sweltering July afternoon, we recorded field temperatures at a scorching 101 degrees. Unlike in the West, this level of heat on the East Coast is often accompanied by moisture in the air.
A difference of a few degrees in extreme heat can affect the body’s ability to regulate its temperature. Some emergency rooms will put out extra gurneys in anticipation of more patients who’ll come in with syncope, respiratory illnesses or heart failure.
Thelma Mays recovered and her granddaughter drove her home. Others in her situation are not so lucky.
Heat death in East Coast cities
We looked at heat islands during an extensive USA TODAY Network reporting project called “Perilous Course,” a collaborative examination of how people up and down the East Coast are grappling with the climate crisis. Journalists from more than 30 newsrooms from New Hampshire to Florida are speaking with regular people about real-life impacts, digging into the science and investigating government response, or lack of it.
Death on a heat island is not as visible or cinematic as the dramatic images of homes crushed by a hurricane, belongings washed away and trees bent by the wind. The elderly and young children fall victim to excessive heat in their homes or inside of cars, away from the public eye and the flashy news headlines.
Hurricanes are short-lived phenomena which are often predicted weeks in advance. Heat’s different. It can come as a heat wave, which can last for days and have no set, predictable spatial boundaries. It enhances conditions on the ground which absorb the heat.
“A heat wave is very hard to define in space and time,” said Hoffman. “It’s not something that you can see on the map; it is something that you feel in the outdoors. So, we have a crisis of communication around heat.”
Climate change has exacerbated the intensity of heat waves, the number of excessive heat days per year and the length of these heat waves. The average length of a heat wave season in 50 big cities studied is now around 70 days, compared to 20 days back in the 1960s. In less than one lifetime, the heat wave season has tripled.
In some places, summer can feel like one long heat wave.
The warming climate has been tied to increased mortality around the world. In a large-scale study that examined heat in 43 countries, including the U.S., researchers found that 37 percent of heat-related deaths could be attributed to the climate crisis.
Extreme heat can be more dangerous for those in the Northeastern United States.
“What becomes really dangerous in these more northern cities is that they haven’t yet adopted air conditioning very widely yet,” Hoffman said. “And especially in lower income and communities of color or immigrant communities, prevalence of air conditioning utilization is very low.”
Three of the country’s nine least-air-conditioned cities are in the Northeastern states — Providence, Rhode Island; Hartford, Connecticut; and Buffalo, New York, according to U.S. Census bureau data and a USA TODAY report.
In Florida, researchers have been measuring the impact of heat islands.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has conducted studies in West Palm Beach and Jacksonville, sometimes using volunteers to capture data. Its studies have indicated that low-income neighborhoods in Florida have less ability to cope with the damaging results of manmade heat islands.
A nonprofit research group called Climate Central found that Jacksonville’s heat island was potentially raising the overall average temperature of the entire city by as much as 6 degrees.
The “feels like” temperature or heat index can make a major difference for people living in humid places like Florida.
On 58th Street in West Palm Beach on a block barren of shade trees it reached 93.9 degrees near noon on July 22 with a relative humidity of 58%. That means it felt like 106 degrees.
“My electric bill was almost two-fold in June from what it was in March,” said 27-year-old Varun Parshad. “I try to be more disciplined with the temperature settings.”
Six miles to the southwest, the National Weather Service’s official gauge at Palm Beach International Airport registered 88 degrees with a lower feels-like temperature of 100 degrees.
The difference between 58th Street and the airport is significant enough when meteorologists and emergency officials have to make heat-related decisions, and it’s something some cities are recognizing as they plan for a warmer future.
No matter what part of the East Coast you’re in, things are getting hotter and more dangerous.
Extreme heat affects low-income communities and people of color on a greater scale due to structural inequities. From 2005 to 2015, the number of emergency room visits increased by 67% for Black people, 63% for Hispanic people and 53% for Asian Americans, compared to 27% for whites.
The conditions for heat to become deadly in certain places were set into motion decades ago by people who were very aware of race. As Hoffman himself would discover, those intentional decisions led to unintentional consequences in the present.
Discrimination made East Coast neighborhoods worse
In Petersburg, to the west of Thelma Mays’ apartment, there is an empty lot that dates back to colonial America and has housed a trading post, tobacco stemmery and Civil War prison in a town that had the highest percentage of African Americans of any in the Confederacy.
The block that remains has grass and some shady trees, and money has been spent on history signage and the stabilization of a crumbling wall. But there are not municipal improvements that give anyone who lives nearby many options to sit and use the shady space during the suffocating summer.
Hundreds of miles north from Thelma Mays’ apartment, there’s another woman who can’t stay indoors when the sun comes up in summer.
Several streets in Brianna Rodriguez’s Nodine Hill neighborhood in Yonkers, New York, are named for trees. But few trees actually line the sidewalks, and there aren’t many parks.
“I couldn’t just stay in my room,” she said about the July 4 holiday weekend. Unable to afford AC units, Rodriguez’s family goes outside instead, to try to find a park to cool off.
When they have to be inside, three industrial fans normally used to quickly dry paint circulate air toward the center of Rodriguez’s living room in Yonkers. But even on full blast, they can’t cool the 18-year-old, her mom, stepdad and their dog inside their third-floor apartment.
There isn’t much shade throughout the working-class Black and Latino neighborhood. Rodriguez avoids certain streets she knows would be too hot between rows of taller apartment buildings and scalding pavement and asphalt.
The characteristics of the neighborhood Rodriguez lives in — residential areas with little or no parks or tree-shade, often bordered by industrial areas, warehouses or bisected by highways and overpasses — are the material remnants of an economic rating system nearly a hundred years old that disincentivized mortgage loans and devalued property.
The creation of “undesirable” economic districts by the government and banks isolated parts of the city populated by non-white people. Those “redlined districts” and the neglect of those areas that followed created the conditions which studies are now proving to be dangerous for human health amid the climate crisis that has already arrived.
Maps of city heat islands are a deadly mirror of redlined neighborhoods
In July 2017, Jeremy Hoffman set out to map Richmond, Virginia, using a new heat-tracking methodology developed by his colleague Vivek Shandas.
Someone told Hoffman that his heat map looked a lot like a map of Richmond’s redlined districts, which Hoffman didn’t know much about at that time. When he compared them, they looked almost identical.
He went to Baltimore, Boston and Washington, D.C., to gather temperatures. The results of the heat maps again matched up with the redlined maps of each city.
That next summer, Hoffman gathered surface temperatures through satellite imaging in each of the 250 redlined cities to see if the heat islands correlated with previously redlined areas, available through historical maps.
“Cities don’t happen by accident,” Hoffman said. “Our neighborhoods don’t happen by accident. Everything is a decision that’s been made. Every single second of your daily life in a city is the integrated outcome of all the historical planning policies and decisions that were made before that.”
A harsh but telling example: Maps made by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation described Nodine Hill, then heavily Italian, as “hazardous,” a September 1937 form said. Its detrimental influences, the form said, were aging buildings and the “character of occupants.”
On average, a person of color lives in a census tract with higher surface urban heat island intensity than non-Hispanic white people in all but six of the 175 largest urbanized areas in the U.S., according to a 2021 study published in the science journal Nature Communications.
Black residents had the most exposure to heat islands, researchers said, followed by Hispanic people.
The underlying conditions for heat islands were set decades ago by the economic isolation of redlining. Climate change just catalyzed these places to make them even more dangerous to human life.
Absorbing the history of heat
As a young child, Rodriguez didn’t play on the swings at her Nodine Hill elementary school on the hottest days, though they were her favorite part of the playground.
At recess, she skirted School 23’s playground, built on a black rubber mat over concrete, and joined hundreds of students huddled under a few trees. The sun glared directly down on the swings’ metal links, making them too hot to hold onto.
“I had always felt that it was hotter,” Rodriguez said on a recent Friday afternoon in the shadow of her old school, a large brick building for pre-K-8 students built in 1918. “It was just evident to me.”
Temperatures were in the 90s on July 1, 2022. But Rodriguez felt it was even hotter in Nodine Hill. The neighborhood is just a mile uphill from the Hudson River, which provides daily breeze for those along the water.
School 23’s playground was nearly empty a week after classes ended. A few teens sat by one of the basketball hoops in the shade. Rodriguez’s gold necklace with her middle name, Brooklyn, glinted in the sun.
On hot days, without shade or greenspace that can cool neighborhoods, fewer people are outside in Southwest Yonkers. Instead, many cluster indoors to keep cool.
Upscale neighborhoods are edged with trees and parks with shaded pathways. In Southwest Yonkers, where Nodine Hill is located, residential areas are edged with unwanted facilities, congested roadways, sewage and wastewater treatment plants, according to Brigitte Griswold, executive director of Groundwork Hudson Valley, an environmental justice nonprofit that’s studied the local effects of redlining.
Resulting air pollution contributes to higher rates of asthma and heart disease in these communities, she added.
Griswold said the self-imposed isolation impedes people from checking on each other during a heat wave.
“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” she said. “The heat itself prevents that social cohesion from happening. And then that breaks down community resilience to respond to the very thing that is driving people apart.”
Growing development brings more heat
The little growth that has come from the end of redlining is not always welcome or healthy. In these spaces, where land is cheaper and zoning fluid, manufacturing sites, energy plants and big box stores have sprung up.
New Jersey resident Tanisha Garner knows more buildings in her neighborhood mean more heat.
Garner, a Newark native who has lived in an area called the Ironbound for the past four years, said at least 10 projects are being planned for the area — and that they will be built with materials that absorb and radiate heat.
The Ironbound area got its name from the metalworking factories and railroad tracks in the area. For over a hundred years, this eastern section of Newark was home to all kinds of industrial activity. It was also an area redlined back in the late 1930s, classified as “dangerous” and marked by the federal government to be excluded from mortgage eligibility.
Many of those industries are long gone. Others have taken their place. A waste-to-energy incinerator, a sewage treatment plant, a metal plating shop and numerous warehouses. The area has been subject to some of the worst pollution in the state.
Garner thinks these development projects take out greenery and open space and fill them with buildings that help amplify the heat in her neighborhood.
“What creates that heat island? Is it the structure of the building, is it a lack of trees, is it the lack of balance between nature and construction?” Garner said. “When you look at the Ironbound, you can see there is an imbalance.”
During a tour of her neighborhood in July, Garner pointed out some of the areas designated for development.
One of those areas encompasses Freeman and Ferry streets, the future site of a six-story, 280-unit complex to be built at the site of the historic Ballantine Brewery, starting this summer. The current area has no trees lining the sidewalk. A rendering of the proposed project shows numerous trees surrounding the building. Will it be enough to offset the potential heat effect of such a huge structure?
A temperature check of that block at 11:20 a.m. registered 95.7 degrees, six degrees more than the city’s temperature of 89 degrees at that time, according to the website Weather Underground.
Heat island as zombie apocalypse
In July 2020, Brianna Rodriguez took her handheld FLIR thermal camera and pointed the bullseye at School 23’s black rubber mat where she once played. It was 88 degrees in Yonkers that day, she noted. Down on the mat, it was 127 degrees.
The infrared camera captured yellow and orange colors around the mat, signaling more surface heat, as opposed to blue and purple meaning cool.
She jotted the reading down in her journal, as part of Groundwork Hudson Valley’s green team, composed of Yonkers teens interested in sustainability and climate change. They were completing an exercise developed by Shandas, where they pretended the heat was a zombie apocalypse affecting her neighborhood. Where it was yellow and orange on the camera, there were more zombies.
The image of her playground looked like the surface of the sun.
Ultimately, potential solutions for minimizing the deaths from heat islands should be a lot easier than protecting a city from zombies. Shandas, a chronicler of the “heat dome” phenomenon that settled over Portland, Oregon, with deadly results in its hottest neighborhoods last summer, said immediate action can be taken with lifesaving results.
Cities can open more cooling centers during hot days to give residents respite from the heat.
Property managers can do checks on apartments when indoor temperatures soar above 90 degrees.
Planting trees in heat islands can also have an immediate impact that will only grow as increasing canopy creates more shaded area, while adding oxygen to the local atmosphere.
Such changes, Shandas said, can be implemented ahead of more complex structural changes to amend building codes for cooler buildings with walls or roof construction materials that deflect heat.
Tree planting programs have been implemented in many states. But where the trees are planted matters. While thousands of trees have been planted in Newark in the last several years, the agency in charge would not say how many were planted in the Ironbound. Walking through the Ironbound’s streets, it’s hard to think that this area has been targeted for a tree-based solution.
Ultimately, Shandas explained, heat islands are manmade and can be managed.
“It goes back to a lot of conditions that have been created by human decision-making processes,” he said. “What we really want to do is try to figure out what are the ways we can unpack some of this and get ahead of it.”
Down the street from School 23, children took turns running past an open fire hydrant that sprayed water into the middle of the street. Scrambling in a ragged line, they screamed with delight as the cool water hit them. Rodriguez had done the same as a kid.
That night, as fireworks sizzled and boomed overhead, the pavement by the hydrant had long since dried in the heat. The heat of the day, held like a memory by the playground’s metal and rubber matting, slowly released into the night.
— Palm Beach Post reporter Kimberly Miller contributed to this story.
‘It’s the accumulation’: The Jan. 6 hearings are wounding Trump, after all
David Siders – July 20, 2022
The conventional wisdom about the Jan. 6 committee hearings was that no single revelation was going to change Republican minds about Donald Trump.
What happened instead, a slow drip of negative coverage, may be just as damaging to the former president. Six weeks into the committee’s public hearing schedule, an emerging consensus is forming in Republican Party circles — including in Trump’s orbit — that a significant portion of the rank-and-file may be tiring of the non-stop series of revelations about Trump.
The fatigue is evident in public polling and in focus groups that suggest growing Republican openness to an alternative presidential nominee in 2024. The cumulative effect of the hearings, according to interviews with more than 20 Republican strategists, party officials and pollsters in recent days, has been to at least marginally weaken his support.
“It is definitely kind of this wet drip of, do you really want to debate the 2020 election again? Do you really want to debate what happened on Jan. 6?” said Bob Vander Plaats, the evangelical leader in Iowa who is influential in primary politics in the first-in-the-nation caucus state. “Frankly, I think what I sense a little bit, even among some deep, deep Trump supporters … there’s a certain exhaustion to it.”
But for many Republicans, the ongoing, backward-looking call-and-response between the committee and Trump may nevertheless be getting old.
“I think what everybody thought was that the first prime-time hearing was such a non-event that that would continue,” said Randy Evans, a Georgia lawyer who served as Trump’s ambassador to Luxembourg. “But over the course of the hearings, the steadiness, the repetitiveness, has had a corrosive effect. You’d have to be oblivious to the way media works, the way reputations work, the way politics works, to not understand that it’s never the one thing. It’s the accumulation.”
Evans said, “This is all undoubtedly starting to take a toll — how much, I don’t know. But the bigger question is whether it starts to eat through the Teflon. There are some signs that maybe it has. But it’s too early to say right now.”
For more than a year after Trump lost the presidential election, his political durability was not even in question. But the committee hearings appear to have had an effect on Trump’s enormous fundraising operation, which has slowed in recent months. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who may run in 2024, has been gaining on Trump in some polls, including in New Hampshire, the first primary state, where one recent survey had DeSantis statistically tied with Trump among Republican primary voters. Republicans are still poring over a New York Times/Siena College poll last week that showed nearly half of Republican primary voters would rather vote for a Republican other than Trump in 2024.
In a series of focus groups with 2020 Trump supporters from across the country since the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2001, Sarah Longwell, a moderate Republican strategist who became a vocal supporter of Joe Biden in 2020, for more than a year found about half of participants consistently said they wanted Trump to run again. But that number has fallen off since the hearings began, she said.
“We’ve had now three focus groups where zero people have wanted him to run again, and a couple other groups where it’s been like two people,” Longwell said. “Totally different.”
The Trump supporters in her focus groups are still dismissive of the hearings, Longwell said, “and I don’t think people are sitting down and being persuaded” by them.
However, she said, the hearings have “turned the volume up on the Trump baggage.”
“The other thing,” she said, “is I cannot tell you how much these Republican voters want to move on from the conversation of January 6th.”
One reason that the hearings are resonating now is that even if Republicans don’t agree with the committee’s findings, they read polls. The percentage of Republicans who say Trump misled people about the 2020 election has ticked up since last month, while a majority of Americans say Trump committed a crime. Perhaps most problematic for Trump, 16 percent of Republicans in the Siena College survey said they would vote for someone else in the general election or aren’t sure what they will do in 2024 if Trump is the nominee.
That’s a relatively small segment of the Republican electorate, but a critical one in competitive states that will decide which party controls the White House.
“I think you’re starting to see the impact of the hearings, and just overall his behavior since he lost the election,” said Dick Wadhams, a former Colorado Republican Party chair and longtime party strategist.
“He’s got a hard-core base, and there’s no doubt about that,” said Wadhams. “I voted for him twice, I loved his accomplishments. But I do think he’s compromised himself into a situation where it would be very difficult for him to win another election for president.”
Electability concerns may loom especially large this year for Republicans, who view Biden as a beatable incumbent. His cratering public approval ratings, now hovering below 39 percent, are worse than Trump’s at this point in his presidency. One senior House Republican aide described the resonance of the Jan. 6 committee hearings as in part a product of the contrast they are drawing between “a golden opportunity to win back the White House in 2024 and the only person who might not be able to do it.”
A Trump spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. Trump has regularly criticized the committee’s work as a partisan exercise. And because most other Republicans view it that way, too, it’s unlikely that many of Trump’s opponents will leverage the committee’s revelations explicitly in the run-up to 2024.
Still, the Republicans who may run against Trump in 2024 are increasingly breaking with him as the midterm year drags on.
As much has anything, those midterm primaries – coinciding with the Jan. 6 committee hearings – have laid bare the willingness of Republicans in at least some cases to disassociate their adoration for Trump with support for him politically. Trump’s endorsement has pulled Republicans across the line in competitive primaries in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania, but his chosen candidates have flopped in other races, including in Georgia and Nebraska.
“The effect of the hearings will be negligible on Trump’s favorable ratings among Republicans,” said Whit Ayres, the longtime Republican pollster. “The ‘Always Trumpers’ and the ‘Maybe Trumpers’ are resolute in their insistence that they are paying no attention whatsoever to the hearings. It’s almost an article of faith among Republicans to say, ‘I am not paying attention to these hearings’.”
However, Ayres said, “The way it translates is that they believe that other candidates will carry less baggage … and that gets reinforced by what seeps into the political water from these hearings.
And as the Jan. 6 committee prepares for another hearing on Thursday, the ongoing focus on Trump’s behavior on Jan. 6 is now in the political waters.
John Thomas, a Republican strategist who works on House campaigns across the country, said that in recent conversations with state party chairs and Republican activists in numerous states, “almost to the T, and I don’t really care what state it’s in, they all say, ‘Love Trump, love his policies, wish he would just be a kingmaker.’ And that’s really a shift, because six months ago, a year ago, it was, ‘Trump’s got to run again, he’s the only one who can fight the swamp, drive the policy agenda.’”
“It’s not Trump hatred,” Thomas added. “It’s Trump fatigue. I think [the Jan. 6 committee hearings] reminds people to the degree that they’re tuning in that, eh, is this that important of an issue? No. But damn … And then Trump goes on his rants and it’s like, ‘We’re tired of it.’”
Temperatures of 115 degrees Fahrenheit have been recorded in Texas and Oklahoma this week, and more than 211 million people across the country will experience heat of 90 degrees or higher on Wednesday.
In a year when record-breaking heat waves have become commonplace, scientific research has shown that climate change is behind the uptick in their frequency and duration.
“While each heat wave itself is different, and has individual dynamics behind it, the probability of these events is a direct consequence of the warming planet,” Jason Smerdon, a climate scientist for the Columbia Climate School’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in New York, told ABC News.
Residents of Texas, a state that has been subjected to daily triple-digit temperatures and is in the midst of a mega-drought affecting much of the West, have for weeks been asked to conserve water and electricity.
As in much of Europe, where local officials have urged residents to avoid unnecessary travel as a heat wave there has buckled roadways, airport runways and rail lines, people in several U.S. states have retreated inside air-conditioned spaces.
“When it’s 110 outside, you’re a prisoner in your home,” Andrew Dessler, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University, told the Washington Post. “Is this the kind of life you want to live?”
Coupled with high humidity, the high temperatures pose a serious risk to human health. The human body sweats in order to cool off, but when humidity is high and there is too much moisture in the atmosphere, that sweat cannot evaporate and results in even higher internal temperatures.
Over the last several days in Spain and Portugal, where temperatures have reached near 110°F, more than 1,700 people have died due to heat-related causes.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we are in worse shape from a heat-associated-death standpoint than we were last year because there are so many more unsheltered folks that are at 200 to 300 times the risk of heat-associated death,” David Hondula, director of the city’s Office of Heat Response and Mitigation, told Yahoo News.
Of course, that would be exactly what you would expect if, as has been proved, global temperatures are rising. In states sweltering in triple-digit heat, meanwhile, the reality of climate change is playing out in real time.
“It looks like we’re going to stay in the range of highs of 100 to 105 degrees for the next week and a half,” Erin Maxwell, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Norman, told the Oklahoman. “But in terms of real relief from the heat, that doesn’t look to be on the horizon any time soon.”
Poll Shows Tight Race for Control of Congress as Class Divide Widens
Nate Cohn – July 13, 2022
With President Joe Biden’s approval rating mired in the 30s and with nearly 80% of voters saying the country is heading in the wrong direction, all the ingredients seem to be in place for a Republican sweep in the November midterm elections.
But Democrats and Republicans begin the campaign in a surprisingly close race for control of Congress, according to the first New York Times/Siena College survey of the cycle.
Overall among registered voters, 41% said they preferred Democrats to control Congress compared with 40% who preferred Republican control.
Among likely voters, Republicans led by 1 percentage point, 44% to 43%, reflecting the tendency for the party out of power to enjoy a turnout advantage in midterms.
The results suggest that the wave of mass shootings and the recent Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade have at least temporarily insulated the Democrats from an otherwise hostile national political environment while energizing the party’s predominantly liberal activist base.
But the confluence of economic problems and resurgent cultural issues has helped turn the emerging class divide in the Democratic coalition into a chasm, as Republicans appear to be making new inroads among nonwhite and working-class voters — perhaps especially Hispanic voters — who remain more concerned about the economy and inflation than abortion rights and guns.
For the first time in a Times/Siena national survey, Democrats had a larger share of support among white college graduates than among nonwhite voters — a striking indication of the shifting balance of political energy in the Democratic coalition. As recently as the 2016 congressional elections, Democrats won more than 70% of nonwhite voters while losing among white college graduates.
With four months to go until the election, it is far too soon to say whether the campaign will remain focused on issues such as abortion and gun control for long enough for the Democrats to avoid a long-expected midterm rout. If it does, a close national vote would probably translate to a close race for control of Congress, as neither party enjoys a clear structural advantage in the race. Partisan gerrymandering has slightly tilted the map toward the Republicans in the House, but Democrats enjoy the advantages of incumbency and superior fundraising in key districts.
Recent unfavorable news for Democrats, in the form of Supreme Court rulings, and some tragic news nationally might ordinarily mean trouble for the party in power, but that is not what the results suggest.
The survey began 11 days after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, when cellphones were still buzzing with news alerts about the mass shooting in Highland Park, Illinois.
In an open-ended question, those who volunteered that issues related to guns, abortion or the Supreme Court were the most important problem facing the country represented about 1 in 6 registered voters combined. Those voters preferred Democratic control of Congress, 68% to 8%.
Some of the hot-button cultural issues thought to work to the advantage of Republicans at the beginning of the cycle, such as critical race theory, have faded from the spotlight. Only 4% of voters combined said education, crime or immigration was the most important issue facing the country.
The Times/Siena survey is not the first to suggest that the national political environment has improved for Democrats since the Supreme Court overturned Roe. On average, Democrats have gained about 3 points on the generic congressional ballot compared with surveys taken beforehand.
In the wake of the court’s ruling, the poll finds greater public support for legal abortion than previous Times/Siena surveys. Sixty-five percent of registered voters said abortion should be mostly or always legal, up from 60% of registered voters in September 2020.
The proportion of voters who opposed the court’s decision — 61% — was similar to the share who said they supported Roe v. Wade two years ago.
Democrats are maintaining the loyalty of a crucial sliver of predominantly liberal and highly educated voters who disapprove of Biden’s performance but care more about debates over guns, democracy and the shrinking of abortion rights than the state of the economy.
Voters who said issues related to abortion, guns or threats to democracy were the biggest problem facing the country backed Democrats by a wide margin, 66% to 14%.
For some progressive voters, recent conservative policy victories make it hard to stay on the sidelines.
Lucy Ackerman, a 23-year-old graphic designer in Durham, North Carolina, said Biden had repeatedly failed to live up to election promises. She recently registered with the Democratic Socialists of America. Nonetheless, she has committed herself to getting as many Democrats elected this fall as possible.
She said the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe made politics personal: She and her wife married after the decision leaked, out of fear that the court might roll back same-sex marriage rights next.
“The recent events have given me this push to do more,” she said. “I’ve gotten more involved in political efforts locally. I’ve helped sign friends up to vote.”
The liberal backlash against conservative advances in the court appears to have helped Democrats most among white college graduates, who are relatively liberal and often insulated by their affluence from economic woes. Just 17% of white college-educated Biden voters said an economic issue was the most important one facing the country, less than any other racial or educational group.
Overall, white college graduates preferred Democratic control of Congress, 57-36. Women propelled Democratic strength among the group, with white college-educated women backing Democrats, 64-30. Democrats barely led among white college-educated men, 46-45.
Although the survey does not show an unusually large gender gap, the poll seems to offer some evidence that the court’s abortion ruling may do more to help Democrats among women. Nine percent of women said abortion rights was the most important issue, compared with 1% of men.
The fight for congressional control is very different among the often less affluent, nonwhite and moderate voters who say the economy or inflation is the biggest problem facing the country. They preferred Republican control of Congress, 62% to 25%, even though more than half of the voters who said the economy was the biggest problem also said abortion should be mostly legal.
Just 74% of the voters who backed Biden in the 2020 election, but who said the economy or inflation was the most important problem, said they preferred Democratic control of Congress. In contrast, Democrats were the choice of 87% of Biden voters who saw abortion or guns as the most important issue.
The economy may be helping Republicans most among Hispanic voters, who preferred Democrats to control Congress, 41-38. Although the sample size is small, the finding is consistent with the longer-term deterioration in Democratic support among the group. Hispanics voted for Democrats by almost a 50-point margin in the 2018 midterms, according to data from Pew Research, but President Donald Trump made surprising gains with them in 2020.
No racial or ethnic group was likelier than Hispanic voters to cite the economy or inflation as the most important issue facing the country, with 42% citing an economic problem compared with 35% of non-Hispanic voters.
Republicans also appear poised to expand their already lopsided advantage among white voters without a college degree. They back Republicans by more than a 2 to 1 ratio, 54-23. Even so, nearly one-quarter remain undecided, compared with just 7% of white college graduates.
As less-engaged working-class voters tune in, Republicans may have opportunities for additional gains. Historically, the party out of power excels in midterm elections, in no small part by capitalizing on dissatisfaction with the president’s party.
Only 23% of undecided voters approved of Biden’s job performance.
Silvana Read, a certified nursing assistant who lives outside Tampa, Florida, is one of the Hispanic voters whom Republicans will try to sway to capitalize on widespread dissatisfaction with Biden.
An immigrant from Ecuador, she despised Trump’s comments about women and foreigners but voted for him because her husband convinced her it would help them financially. Now she and her husband, 56 and 60, blame Biden for their falling 401(k)s.
“My husband, he sees the news on the TV, he says, ‘I don’t think I can retire until 75,’” she said. “We can’t afford to finish paying the mortgage.”
Still, her allegiance to the Republican Party does not extend far beyond Trump. She offered no preference in the fight for control of Congress. She does not plan to vote in the midterms.
Brett Kavanaugh’s Right to Dine Shall Not Be Infringed
Jack Holmes – July 8, 2022
Brett Kavanaugh was nominated to become a member of our nine-person SuperCongress by a president who took office despite earning the votes of millions fewer Americans than his opponent did. That president never enjoyed the support of a majority of citizens and got spanked in the popular vote by an even larger margin—7 million—in the next election. He then tried to overthrow the government to stay in power. Only one of the five other right-wing justices was nominated by a president who took office having secured the support of a majority of actual Americans.
Brett Kavanaugh was then confirmed by 50 senators who represented just 44 percent of the American population. The 48 senators who voted “nay” represented tens of millions more citizens. Kavanaugh secured the crucial 50th vote of Senator Susan Collins based on her publicly stated belief that he considered Roe v. Wade to be “settled legal precedent.” In the public hearings into the question of his confirmation, where he testified under oath, Kavanaugh said this:
Senator, I said that it is settled as a precedent of the Supreme Court, entitled the respect under principles of stare decisis. And one of the important things to keep in mind about Roe v. Wade is that it has been reaffirmed many times over the past 45 years, as you know, and most prominently, most importantly, reaffirmed in Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992.
And as you well recall, senator, I know when that case came up, the Supreme Court did not just reaffirm it in passing. The court specifically went through all the factors of stare decisis in considering whether to overrule it, and the joint opinion of Justice Kennedy, Justice O’Connor and Justice Souter, at great length went through those factors.
And then, a couple of weeks ago, Kavanaugh voted with the five other Republicans on the Court to overrule Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
If you have a problem with any of this—unelected judges selected by presidents who got fewer votes and confirmed by senators who represent a minority of citizens making policy without regard for legal precedent or their own previous statements under oath—you don’t seem to have much recourse.
You can’t vote the superlegislators out. It is unreasonable to expect any will be impeached thanks to the entrenched advantages that allow Republicans outsize control of the Senate. Even the House of Representatives is dangerously skewed, thanks to gerrymandered redistricting maps and the hyperpolarization they help to generate. The reason Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and others worked so hard to seize control of the judiciary was precisely because so many other institutions have ceased to function properly. Even if you do succeed in electing representatives to make policy through the legislature—after this same Court savaged the Voting Rights Act and unleashed an avalanche of money in our elections—the courts can throw out whatever they choose.
You cannot protest at the steps of the Supreme Court, as they’ve walled that shit off. You can’t protest at the justices’ houses, and there’s some merit to the idea that private residences—where spouses and children are in the mix—should be off-limits. (Of course, in the case of Clarence Thomas, his spouse has very much been in the mix.) But you can’t protest in neutral public venues, either, even if you’re on a city street outside a restaurant. We learned that this weekend, when Mr. Kavanaugh was disturbed during a meal at a Washington, D.C. steakhouse, as reported by the Beltway encyclical known as Politico Playbook:
On Wednesday night, D.C. protesters targeting the conservative Supreme Court justices who signed onto the Dobbs decision overturning the constitutional right to abortion got a tip that Justice BRETT KAVANAUGH was dining at Morton’s downtown D.C. location. Protesters soon showed up out front, called the manager to tell him to kick Kavanaugh out and later tweeted that the justice was forced to exit through the rear of the restaurant.
We have returned, inevitably, to Red-Henghazi. Do public figures who make the rules we all have to live by get to do whatever they want at all times without any social repercussions? Do they have some right to privacy in public spaces, despite choosing to wield huge power over others in a democratic republic? Morton’s seems to think so.
“Honorable Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh and all of our other patrons at the restaurant were unduly harassed by unruly protestors while eating dinner at our Morton’s restaurant. Politics, regardless of your side or views, should not trample the freedom at play of the right to congregate and eat dinner. There is a time and place for everything. Disturbing the dinner of all of our customers was an act of selfishness and void of decency.”
The right to eat dinner shall not be infringed. (Particularly by the Unduly Unruly.) Which, according to Politico‘s Daniel Lippman, it was not.
While the court had no official comment on Kavanaugh’s behalf and a person familiar with the situation said he did not hear or see the protesters and ate a full meal but left before dessert, Morton’s was outraged about the incident.
The right to tiramisu shall not be infringed. Seriously, though, at this point we’re talking about what appears to be a complete non-incident. He went out the back because he heard secondhand there were some folks out front?
But even if the honorable justice had to hear the urban rabble outside—described by Politico as “D.C. protestors”—tell him to fuck himself while he chowed down on a ribeye, what exactly is the problem here? The protesters are exercising their rights to speech and “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Kavanaugh and the others may fashion themselves as blind arbiters of the law, but in reality they are agents of state power, representing the Government. And they have generated some grievances.
Meanwhile, we’re hearing about Brett the Honorable’s right to dine, what we can only assume is an unenumerated one under the Ninth Amendment. It also sounds more than somewhat related to the right to privacy—also rooted in the Ninth—which undergirded Roe and Casey before these six luminaries threw those decisions out. Justice Clarence Thomas has signaled they’re interested in going after the right to privacy itself with a so-called reconsiderationof Griswold v. Connecticut, a move that would go way beyond contraception. Although the prospect of this Republican Court empowering states controlled by their ideological allies to restrict women’s access to the pill in the Year of Our Lord 2022 does have a particular resonance.
And if that happens, you can expect the same bullshit routine from these same people. The work of working the refs is never done, and the self-victimization will never stop. This is the same impulse undergirding much of the Cancel Culture debate: while social-media mobs and a lack of due process are real problems, many of the fiercest Free Speech Warriors actually see free speech as their right to say whatever they want without getting criticized or made fun of. Similarly, these right-wing superlegislators believe they should be able to nakedly advance the policy priorities of the conservative movement by reverse-engineering decisions to meet preordained conclusions, all the while battering the lives of powerless people, without ever getting called an asshole while they drink a $300 bottle of wine. There are consequences for behaving badly in public office, at least until these people are finished savaging the foundations of this democratic republic. Or until the Democratic Party finds the stones to nix the Senate filibuster, expand the Supreme Court, reform the judiciary, and restore the people’s means of translating their will into the law we all are bound to live by.