Home care workers have our lives in their hands. They’re paid only $10 an hour

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Home care workers have our lives in their hands. They’re paid only $10 an hour

Home care is expected to add more jobs than any other field in the coming years. Caregivers will look after us in old age – but do we care enough about them?

By Sarah Jaffe     July 13, 2017

June Barrett’s day as a home care worker starts at 5pm and lasts for 16 hours, overnight. All night long, she checks on her elderly clients, a married couple both in their 90s. They sleep in different parts of their Miami home, and much of Barrett’s job is spent trekking through the corridors, back and forth, to make sure husband nor wife has suddenly taken a turn for the worse. “I’m constantly on my feet,” she says.

Two million workers across the US do the kind of home care that Barrett does – the workforce has doubled in size over the past 10 years, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the field will add more jobs than any other occupation by 2024.

Barrett, a tall woman with short dark hair with a bright red streak and a Jamaican accent, started in the field in 2003, and has worked for her current clients for nearly four years. They require round-the-clock care and so she gets to her clients’ home when the day-shift carer is still there, ready for the handover. She then prepares dinner, helps them eat, and makes sure they get their medication. The wife, Barrett says, doesn’t like to take her pills, so this part of her day requires some finesse.

The husband is able to walk by himself, but the wife needs Barrett to bring her to the bathroom, to wash her and brush her teeth, and to bring her to bed. While her clients sleep, Barrett cleans the kitchen, prepares supplies for the next day, and checks to make sure they have everything they need.

When one of them is ill, the process gets more complicated. “When you do this work, you are responsible for people’s lives,” she says. “One mistake can cost your client his or her life.” Balancing two clients is challenging: when she has to help one bathe, she is worrying about the other’s safety. When things are difficult right now – the wife has slight dementia – she reminds herself that her client was a strong advocate for schools and students when she was younger. “I look at her, I see a warrior woman,” Barrett says.

All things considered, Barrett’s current situation is good. But in the past, she has worked with violent children, people in advanced stages of dementia, and clients who abused her verbally and sexually harassed her.

“Remember now, you and I, we are not sure what is going to happen to us when we become ill,” she says. “We don’t know. So with this work I do, I do it from a place of empathy and from a place of love. I am 53 now. I am giving that care the way that I, June Barrett, would like to get that care when I am old.”

Barrett first came to the US via New York in 2001 and then moved to Miami to join her sister, going straight to her first job interview from a 20-hour Greyhound bus ride. Stepping in to greet her new client, she was met with a racial slur. “I worked my magic and I ended up staying with her for about four months,” she says.

Shortly thereafter, she settled into a live-in job with another elderly couple. At first, she moved her things into the only spare bedroom in the house. But when her client asked where she was sleeping, and Barrett told her, “she said: ‘You must be out of your cotton-picking mind.’ That was the first time I was hearing those words, ‘cotton-picking’. She took everything out from that room. And for five and a half years, I spent those nights sleeping in the study – and I am a tall girl – on a sofa with my feet hanging over.”

She’s also faced sexual harassment on the job – one client demanded she come to bed, groped her and kissed her. “The humiliating part about it was that I wasn’t able to leave right away,” she says. She’d been out of work for a while, and could not afford to leave the job immediately.

Modern home care has its roots in the New Deal era as a way to give work to poor women, explains Eileen Boris, distinguished professor in the department of feminist studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and co-author of Caring for America: Home Health Workers in the Shadow of the Welfare State.

Home care exploded in the 1970s, she says, with the birth of the independent living movement among disability rights activists, combined with older people’s desire to avoid nursing homes, which were seen as underfunded warehouses.

“What had been a way to relieve the crisis of public hospitals and to give employment to poor women on public assistance became an integral part of the limited healthcare rights that Americans developed with the Great Society,” Boris says.

The Obama administration was a high point for the rights of home care workers, many of whom were still locked out of basic labor protections. In 2013, the labor department extended federal minimum wage and overtime protections to them. Elly Kugler, who leads federal policy work at the National Domestic Workers Alliance, says it was meaningful because it recognized them as workers, and afforded them additional pay. Wages for home care have been largely stagnant, hovering just above $10 an hour on average.

Low wages had often driven people out of the field who otherwise found the work meaningful, Kugler notes. “Though many of our members care deeply for the work they do … they had to go and work in other kinds of jobs. Meaning fast food, other sectors, making a little bit more money.”

I am giving that care the way that I, June Barrett, would like to get that care when I am old

“I think one of the interesting things about home care is that it forces all these different worlds to connect,” Kugler adds. “The world of state funded home care and and healthcare and also worker rights and disability rights and senior rights and racial justice – all these different worlds are connected in home care.”

Nowhere is that more clear than in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, now under fire from the Trump administration and a Republican Congress.

The expansion of Medicaid, which took effect in 2014, meant more funding for home care and more jobs for care workers. The bill also expanded healthcare for the workers themselves – Barrett had never had chicken pox as a child, and when she contracted it as an adult from a client with shingles, it aggravated her asthma.

The Inequality Project: the Guardian’s in-depth look at our unequal world

“Before the Affordable Care Act passed, one in three home care workers was uninsured,” says Josephine Kalipeni, director of policy and partnerships at Caring Across Generations. After its passage, that rate dropped by 26%.

Because of the general forward trajectory, Kugler says, the Obama years had meant that the movement for care workers had gained more public traction with bigger issues, such as immigrants’ rights (many home care workers are immigrants like Barrett), racial justice, and the value of women’s work. Home care workers had joined the Fight for $15, initiated in part by the Service Employees International Union, which represents tens of thousands of home care workers around the country.

Workers who liked their care jobs, like Barrett, could begin to think about their work as a career.

And then came Trump.

“When I think about how work is being talked about right now and by Trump [when he was] on the campaign trail, it is almost like he colors some jobs pink and some jobs blue, even though there are women in the manufacturing sector and men in the care sector,” Kugler says.

Despite the fact that home health care is one of the fastest-growing jobs in the country, “it has colored the tenor of the debate ever since. We still have this very pink and blue tenor to the debate and only the blue ‘boy’ jobs are really getting talked about.”

It would be bad enough if the Trump administration was merely ignoring the efforts of Barrett and others like her. But the administration’s policies seem designed, Kalipeni says, to uphold a “myth around creating jobs” that returns to the values that created entrenched inequality between rich and poor, black and white, men and women.

Discussions about infrastructure tend to focus on bridges and roads – which are important, certainly, but ignore the equally necessary infrastructure of care that allows a workforce to exist in the first place.

Those priorities are clearly demonstrated in the Republican plan to “repeal and replace” the ACA, currently moving through the Senate. Estimates compiled by the National Domestic Workers Alliance range from 1.8 to 3 million jobs lost in just a few years if “Trumpcare” passes; between 305,000 and 713,000 of those will be home care workers.

The latest version of the bill to be scored by the Congressional Budget Office predicts that 22 million people would lose their health insurance by 2026 if the bill were passed as is. Premiums would spike for elderly people like Barrett’s clients, as Medicaid spending would be slashed by $772 billion over 10 years. Changes to Medicaid could include a “per capita cap,” or a limit to how much the federal government pays states per enrollee in the program.

“It is basically saying, ‘Your state can only get so sick. You can only have so much of a disability and then you are just going to have to pay,’” Kugler says. These cuts, Kalipeni notes, will fall squarely on the shoulders of women – the women of color and immigrant women who do the paid home care work, the women who still do most of the unpaid care work that will pick up the slack when the budgets for paid care are cut.

Until such cuts directly affect people’s lives, she says, people often don’t realize the importance of these systems – and by then it is frequently too late.

When Ana Ramirez came to the US from the Dominican Republic, she got a job at the airport, but the work was grueling and the schedule made it difficult for her to take care of her child. She decided to go through training to become a home care worker.

That was 10 years ago. “I am very good at taking care of people,” she says through a translator. “You get very close to them. When I go and take care of people, they want me to come back. There are people who don’t have a family, and the home care attendant becomes their family.”

Ramirez – a warm, motherly woman with reddish-black hair in a ponytail, who greets me with a hug and a kiss on the cheek – works through an agency in Queens that sends her to different clients. She works 10-hour shifts four days a week, but there have been plenty of times when her hours run beyond that.

Sometimes, her clients’ family members demand things that are not in her job description. “There are people whose family believes that the home attendant is their own domestic worker,” she says.

Some of her clients are bedridden, meaning she must bathe and change them, as well as bring food and water. But she says that the thing that many of them value the most is when she sits with them and listens to them talk about their lives. For Ramirez, it is meaningful work.

Still, the low wages (she is paid $11 an hour) and the sometimes harsh conditions led her to the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Her listening skills from years of care work have made her a natural organizer, a role in which she listens to the complaints of other home care workers and brings them into the organization.

One of those complaints in New York, she says, is that many home care workers moved into the field from other low-wage service work, hoping that it would be an improvement. But then Andrew Cuomo, the state governor, increased the minimum wage specifically for fast-food workers, pushing some care workers to consider returning to fast food.

Barrett first heard about domestic worker organizing when the New York Domestic Workers Bill of Rights passed, in 2010. Then, a year ago, she got a phone call from the Miami Workers Center, and they told her that they were organizing workers like her. When she went to the first assembly, she saw women wearing T-shirts that read “National Domestic Workers Alliance”.

“I can’t explain to you the joy that came to me,” she says of that first meeting. “I’ve always been involved with activism, but I didn’t want it to get involved with work, so I’ve kept my politics, including my queerness, quiet.”

But after the assembly, she says, “I was on fire”. She called her current clients’ daughter, technically her boss, and asked to meet her and her father. In that meeting, she says, she told them that she was going to be a part of the domestic workers’ movement. “I said, ‘I’m sorry, but if this movement needs me then I’m going to be there. If you want, you can fire me, but please give me two weeks’ notice so I can get another job.”

To her surprise, they not only did not fire her, but they gave her a check to donate to the National Domestic Workers Alliance. They have supported her membership in the organization, and have even given her paid time off to travel to speak – she has just returned from a trip to Nicaragua. They said they didn’t want Barrett to fight the fight without taking part themselves. They’ve also given her and the other care workers in the household paid sick days and paid vacation time.

Other clients weren’t so supportive. “They didn’t see me as a human being,” Barrett says. Organizing, she says, is the way to change those conditions. “My self-esteem was stripped from me, horrible stuff was said to me,” she says. “Some women just do [home care] because there’s a check at the end of the month. But if they can regain their own self-worth, their own dignity, they can do this work with pride.”

Three weeks ago, Barrett was one of the speakers at a press conference at Senator Marco Rubio’s office, testifying to the positive changes the Affordable Care Act brought to her life. She is angry, as many of her colleagues are, that once again she has to fight for her work to be seen, to be recognized, for her efforts to be counted as real work and not just a budget line to be slashed.

“People look down on you when you do this work,” she says. “They have to remember that they too are going to get old and this work will continue until the end of the world. There is always going to be somebody needing care.”

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This is no ‘rookie mistake.’ The Trump team shouldn’t even be on the field.

Washington Post Opinions

This is no ‘rookie mistake.’ The Trump team shouldn’t even be on the field.


Donald Trump Jr. gives a thumbs up. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

By Dana Milbank, Opinion writer        July 11, 2017

“I love it.”

That’s how Donald Trump Jr. responded, we now know, to an email last year offering dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government.

What I love is the defense of this attempt by senior Trump campaign officials to receive Russian help in the election. As my colleagues John Wagner and Rosalind Helderman report, presidential advisers are explaining away the meeting with the Russian lawyer as a “rookie mistake” by an “unsophisticated” campaign.

“Rookie mistake”: the all-purpose defense of the Trump White House.

When President Trump failed to support NATO’s collective-defense promise, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called it “a rookie mistake.” After revelations of Trump’s meddling in the FBI’s Russia probe, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) explained that Trump is “new at this.” The rookie-error explanation has been employed to describe Trump’s firing of FBI Director James B. Comey, his handling of health care and his legislative approach.

There have been enough rookie errors to send this whole team back to Double-A ball. The longer this goes on — we’re now six months into Trump’s term — the less it looks like growing pains than incompetence and mismanagement aggravated by nepotism and dishonesty.

Returning from three weeks abroad, I’ve been catching up on developments at home. These weeks, though highly abnormal by usual standards, were fairly typical of the Trump presidency. Mistakes and outrages are so common that we become numb to them. But stack three weeks of the embarrassments together and the cumulative effect makes it plain that this is amateur hour for the greatest nation on Earth:

The president, representing the United States at the Group of 20 summit in Germany, tweets that “everyone” at the world conference is talking about why Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta wouldn’t give DNC servers to law enforcement. Trump erroneously claims the CIA sought the server. Podesta, who had no authority over the DNC, urges “our whack job” president to “get a grip.”

Trump gives a speech in Warsaw contradicting an earlier speech he gave in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. While in Poland, he publicly disparages U.S. intelligence agencies.

The president meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping and the White House press release identifies his country as “the Republic of China” — that is, China’s foe Taiwan.

Trump meets with Vladimir Putin and tweets that he “discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit” with Putin. Twelve hours later, Trump tweets that such a “Cyber Security unit” can’t happen.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tells reporters that Trump discussed sanctions with Putin. Trump tweets the next day: “Sanctions were not discussed.” (The previous month, Tillerson called for the end to a blockade of Qatar; hours later, Trump touted the Qatar blockade.)

Trump’s voter-fraud commission requests voter files and is roundly rejected by Democratic and Republican state officials alike; the Mississippi secretary of state, a Republican, tells the commission to “go jump in the Gulf of Mexico.”

In spite of Trump’s vow that a North Korean missile capable of reaching the United States “won’t happen,” North Korea tests an ICBM. Trump calls this “very, very bad behavior.” After the missile test, Trump’s U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, complains on Twitter on Independence Day: “Spending my 4th in meetings all day. #ThanksNorthKorea.”

Trump gives a speech at the Kennedy Center, in July, vowing, “We’re going to start saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again.”

The president tweets that a cable-news host, Mika Brzezinski, was “bleeding badly from a face-lift” when he met her. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) responds: “Please just stop.”

Trump follows this by tweeting a mock professional wrestling video of him pummeling “Fraud News CNN.”

The Post’s David Fahrenthold reports that fake Time magazine covers featuring Trump were on display in at least five of Trump’s clubs.

The president, who had implied he had tapes of his talks with Comey, tweets that there are no such tapes. Lawmakers, calling the president’s word insufficient, threaten to subpoena the tapes.

Former CIA director David Petraeus, asked in a panel discussion whether Trump is fit to serve, replies: “It’s immaterial.”

Trump claims the Senate health-care bill “is working along very well.” Republican leaders soon abandon plans to have a vote on the bill.

The White House issues a statement threatening to bomb the Syrian regime. Both the intelligence community and the Pentagon appear to be caught off guard.

Eight months after the election, Trump tweets: “Hillary Clinton colluded with the Democratic Party in order to beat Crazy Bernie Sanders.”

Now, after months of Trump denials of Russia contacts, comes proof of a Russia meeting with Donald Jr., Jared Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul J. Manafort during the campaign. Among Junior’s conflicting explanations: It was okay because the Russian didn’t produce good dirt on Clinton.

And these are just some of the misfires.

They aren’t rookie mistakes. This is a team that never should have taken the field.

Twitter: @Milbank

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The future of the Trump presidency is in the hands of — wait, who is this guy?

Washington Post   Opinions

The future of the Trump presidency is in the hands of — wait, who is this guy?

Opinion writer          July 11, 2017

That quaking beneath your feet is from shock waves in Washington where tipping points are merging with other tipping points to create the Mother of All Tipping Points.

Not only did Donald Trump Jr. meet with a Russian attorney who, he was told, had damaging information about Hillary Clinton, but also there are emails indicating that he knew in advance that the opposition research was part of the Kremlin’s effort to help Donald Trump become president.

If that’s not collusion, it seems at least “collusioney,” a newly minted term surely destined to erase all memory of Monday’s exhaustively used “nothing-burger.”

Smoking guns don’t need to be nearly this hot to capture Washington’s attention, but these latest revelations should be enough to make every American take a deep breath. Whether Trump Jr. is merely stupid is yet to be determined, but he wasn’t alone in that meeting. Joining him were his brother-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Paul J. Manafort, then Trump Sr.’s campaign manager, who is known to have had business dealings in Russia for a number of years.

The New York Times broke the story over the weekend, reporting that three (unnamed) individuals had corroborated the existence of the damning emails, which clearly establish intent to “something.” Tuesday afternoon, Trump Jr. released the email thread between him and some guy — named Rob Goldstone — a music publicist who knew some guy who knew Donald Trump vis-a-vis the Trump-owned Miss Universe contest. Got that?

Goldstone arranged the meeting, which took place in Trump Tower in June 2016 — just before the Republican primary season had ended — to talk about dirt on the presumptive nominee’s general-election opponent. After Goldstone said that the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, had information that would incriminate Clinton, Trump Jr. replied that he’d “love it.” Who wouldn’t? You’re the namesake son of the man on track to become the Republican nominee and possibly president — and Russia wants to help him win? Hell da !

The fact that the alleged opposition research was part of Russia’s war on Clinton, as indicated in one of the emails, would have raised flags for most people — no, make that for all but these people. I’m confident that, if the nice Ace Hardware man who recently helped me select a mailbox were to receive such an email, he’d contact the FBI as soon as possible.

Which, obviously, is what Junior, Manafort and Kushner should have done.

Thus, we can presume that all three knew better than to attend such a meeting. After all, it could well have been a trap — and I’m not sure it wasn’t. But to the inexperienced minds of Kushner and Trump Jr., the calculation may have been as simple (and feeble) as: Why not? Defeating Clinton was in the national interest, wasn’t it? And the Trumps have (or had) no pique with Russia.

Trump Jr.’s claim that he didn’t tell his father about the meeting rather strains credulity, don’t you think? Ditto Veselnitskaya’s claim that she has never worked for the Kremlin and has no idea what all the fuss is about. She was here to lobby against American legislation that her client finds objectionable.

In an exclusive interview Tuesday with NBC News, Veselnitskaya said she never had any “damaging or sensitive information about Hillary Clinton. It was never my intention to have that.” Asked where Trump Jr. could have gotten that idea, she responded, “It is quite possible that maybe they were longing for such an information. They wanted it so badly that they could only hear the thought that they wanted.”

So, apparently, the future of the Trump presidency is in the hands of Goldstone. He set up the meeting; he brought Trump Jr. into a damning email exchange; he promised dirt. Wait, who is this guy again?

Well, that’s a very good question. He’s an intermediary for Veselnitskaya, who either (a) works for the Kremlin and possibly even Vladimir Putin; or (b) is just a lawyer/lobbyist interested in U.S. policy. Wouldn’t we like to know? Also possible is that President Trump knew all along about the meeting, which may be why he acts like a cocker spaniel at a Doberman rally whenever the name Putin comes up. What did Veselnitskaya really come to say? For whom?

More shock waves are doubtless coming. Meanwhile, we know for certain: When a Russian lawyer meets privately with the future president’s son, his son-in-law and his campaign manager on a third-party promise of Clinton-disabling intel, it’s hard to say the Trump campaign had nothing to do with Russia. For now: Collusioney.

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How Much More Absurdity Can You Handle? The United States government is a shambles.

How Much More Absurdity Can You Handle?

The United States government is a shambles.

By Charles P. Pierce       July 11, 2017

For your own reasons turn into your bosoms,

As dogs upon their masters, worrying you.

See you, my princes, and my noble peers,

These English monsters!

—Henry V, Act II, Scene 2

I waited all morning, all one rainy and dark Tuesday morning, for the story to slow down enough for me to catch up with it. And, while I was waiting, I wondered what if, on a similarly rainy and dark Tuesday morning in July of 1973, while the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Practices was conducting its hearings on television, Richard Nixon had called a press conference and simply played all the Watergate tapes for all the world to hear. Because, bless me, that seems very much like what Donald Trump, Jr. did on a July Tuesday in the year of our lord 2017. And that was where I finally caught up with the story.

When I went to bed Monday night, the hot revelation from The New York Times in which it was revealed that, back last summer, Junior had been told via email that the Russian government was trying actively to assist his father’s presidential campaign and to ratfck the campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton. This was prior to the meeting arranged by Russian power-lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, which Junior attended with Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, the revelation of which had been Sunday’s hot story. By the time I awoke on Tuesday morning, the Times had the text of the email itself. Wow, I thought. Junior’s going to have trouble slithering out from under this now. I sat down and prepared to write about this latest absurdity. Little did I know that Junior himself had sent the absurdity zooming into the bizarre and beyond.

On the electric Twitter machine, for reasons known only to whatever pagan deity watches over this gang of grifters and fools, Junior had published the entire email chain, the contents of which, in any ordinary time, would have everybody involved being fitted for leg-irons, their room reservations at Leavenworth already booked. From The Guardian:

The emails show music promoter Rob Goldstone telling the future US president’s son that “the crown prosecutor of Russia” had offered “to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father”. Goldstone adds: “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump.” Trump Jr replies 17 minutes later and welcomes the offer. “If it’s what you say, I love it, especially later in the summer.”

I might have been cautious about commenting merely on this information, largely because this Goldstone character looks like the mugshot of every two-bit hoodlum capped by Whitey Bulger, but then Junior threw my caution to the wind.

He made a lie out of practically everything that the Trump camp has said on the subject for over a year.

The email chain makes clear that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government. Further, it also makes plain that not only Junior, but also Manafort and Kushner knew the campaign had done so because Junior was kind enough to forward the emails to them. He incriminated himself. He incriminated the other two. He made a lie out of practically everything that the Trump camp has said on the subject for over a year. He landed a clean shot below the waterline of his father’s administration. Again, I thought of Nixon, standing behind a podium in the White House, while the tape from June 23, 1972 unspooled to an eager world, and then telling the assembled press corps, “See? It’s just like I said. I’m not involved.” It also was announced that Junior would appear with Sean Hannity on Tuesday night. I fully expected Junior to show up on the set dressed as an evil boyar from an Eisenstein film.

Things pretty much exploded after that. Republicans ran for cover; Orrin Hatch tried to minimize the whole business and failed, utterly. Mitch McConnell canceled a chunk of the August recess, probably because he knows nothing’s going to move in Congress as long as the circus is in town at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. The Democrats zoomed into orbit; Tim Kaine even Went There in a big way. From CNN:

“We are now beyond obstruction of justice,” the Virginia Democrat told CNN Tuesday. “This is moving into perjury, false statements and even potentially treason.”

But by far the most interesting reaction came from Choirboy Mike Pence, the Vice President of the United States. His office put out a statement that was conspicuous in its tap-dancing. Pence, of course, has been all over television for a year denying that the Trump campaign knew anything about Russian ratfcking. He has decided on the modified limited blow-off route for the moment, via The Hill:

“The Vice President is working every day to advance the president’s agenda, which is what the American people sent us here to do,” press secretary Marc Lotter said in a statement. “The Vice President was not aware of the meeting. He is not focused on stories about the campaign, particularly stories about the time before he joined the ticket.”

At this point, you have to have a mind of bread dough to give either Pence or his nominal boss the benefit of any doubt. (Thanks to Junior’s efforts, Philip Bump had a precise timeline on which to hang this video of the president* delivering a suspiciously clairvoyant victory speech. Wonder how he knew what was coming?) All over the Intertoobz, Trump Kremlinologists—and, hell, actual Kremlinologists—were parsing the events to a fine pulp to try and discover the through line in what now appears to be a writhing ball of snakes pretending to be a government.

Almost all of the recent Times exclusives were sourced to what appeared to be people within the White House or, at least, to people close enough to it to know the details of a very closely held meeting. Is Team Jared out for blood? Is there some sort of weird Oedipal thing playing out with Junior? Is Tiffany behind it all, bred from birth for vengeance like Mordred to Marla Maples’ Morgan Le Fay? The boggled mind further boggles.

The government of the United States is a shambles. An incompetent administration headed by an unqualified buffoon is now descending into criminal comedy and maladroit backstabbing. It is an administration that not only self-destructs, but glories in the process. There seems to be no end to it, and no desire to end it by the people who actually have the power to do so. That, in itself, seems curious, and it probably should remind us all that Paul Ryan’s Super PAC was hip-deep in the borscht itself. Ryan, who really is the person best situated to close the circus down, seems to be afflicted with one of his periodic bouts of invisibility, poor lad.

There’s a great unfolding treason now—not just the precise constitutionally defined treason, but a general betrayal of reason, of self-government, of honesty and of high office. They are now committing treason against themselves, grim betrayal winding around itself in coils ever tightening until there is nothing but the foul exhaling of the final breath of things that once belonged to better people than them.

It’s more obvious than ever: Trump doesn’t care about the national interest. He’s in it for himself.

Chicago Tribune  Commentary:

It’s more obvious than ever: Trump doesn’t care about the national interest. He’s in it for himself.

Max Boot, For the Los Angeles Times   July 11, 2017

For a president who lies more than any of his predecessors — even Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon! — Donald Trump can also be candid to a fault. Recall how, after firing FBI Director James Comey, he blew apart the administration spin that this had nothing to do with any investigation of the Trump campaign by openly admitting that he acted because of the “Russia thing.” Now he’s done it again.

Trump’s aides claimed that he was tough on Vladimir Putin during their meeting in Hamburg, Germany. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Trump “pressed President Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement.” Anonymous U.S. officials denied Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s assertions that Trump had “accepted” Putin’s false assurances that Russia was not behind the hacking and leaking of Democratic Party documents last year.

And then on Sunday morning Trump took to Twitter to essentially confirm what Lavrov said: “I strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election. He vehemently denied it. I’ve already given my opinion…..”

Yes, he did: In Warsaw, the day before his meeting with Putin, Trump opined, as he has many times before, “I think it could very well have been Russia, but I think it could well have been other countries…. Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows for sure.”

This is, as the British say, bollocks. We do know for sure: the FBI, CIA, NSA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a unanimous “high confidence” assessment in January that Russia was behind the hacking last year, and that its intent was to hurt Hillary Clinton and to help Donald Trump. Trump’s misleading assertions that it was “three or four” intelligence agencies, not all 17, are meaningless, because there was no dissent from the other intelligence agencies. And, as former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said, “We saw no evidence whatsoever that it was anyone involved in this other than the Russians.”

Yet, despite all evidence to the contrary, Trump refuses to accept reality. In Hamburg, he even discussed with Putin an Alice-in-Wonderland proposal of forming a joint American-Russian “Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded.” As Sen. John McCain noted sarcastically on Sunday, “I am sure that Vladimir Putin could be of enormous assistance in that effort since he’s doing the hacking.” The idea is so inane that by the end of the day even Trump had disowned it, leaving his Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, who had loyally called the cyber-security partnership “a very significant accomplishment for the president,” twisting in the wind.

Trump’s denial of Russian election-meddling is all the more startling when contrasted with his reckless promulgation of baseless claims that millions of illegal ballots were cast in the presidential election. There is not an iota of evidence to support this assertion. It is an entirely imaginary scandal manufactured by Trump because his fragile psyche can’t handle the fact that Hillary Clinton won more popular votes than he did.

Yet Trump is pursuing nonexistent evidence of wrongdoing with all the powers at his disposal, setting up a voter fraud commission, headed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, that is itself fraudulent. Pretty much every state has declined to share voter information with this politically motivated commission because doing so would violate voters’ privacy and could open the way to genuine large-scale fraud — imagine if hackers could break into a single database containing all of the nation’s voter information.

How to explain the discrepancy, with Trump ignoring a real scandal and doggedly pursuing a phony one? The answer is pretty simple: Trump doesn’t care a whit about the national interest. All he cares about is his self-interest.

He is hardly ignorant of Russian machinations. Even before receiving the full intelligence briefings on what the Russians did —and it appears that the intelligence community has proof that Putin personally ordered the election meddling — he showed his awareness of the Russian role in July 2016 when he called on the Kremlin to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails. This is what the lawyers call “guilty knowledge.”

But Trump isn’t mad about this assault on American democracy because he was its beneficiary. He is only mad that the “fake news” media, his political opponents and special counsel Robert Mueller continue to probe the Russian role. The most benign explanation is that Trump is worried that such investigations undermine his political legitimacy. The more sinister explanation is that he is worried that collusion between his campaign and the Kremlin will be exposed — something that appears more likely after the new revelation that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer to seek dirt on Hillary Clinton. Either way, the president is not treating this with the seriousness that an attack on our democracy deserves.

Trump is effectively giving the Russians a pass, refusing to impose any sanctions beyond the inadequate steps taken by President Obama — namely kicking out a few Russian diplomats and confiscating a couple of Russian diplomatic compounds. His administration is even lobbying to water down in the House a sanctions bill passed 97-2 by the Senate.

The result of Trump’s passivity is likely to encourage more such Russian assaults. James Clapper warns that the Russians are already “prepping the battlefield” for the 2018 election — and beyond. That may be just what Trump is counting on. Given current opinion polls, Republicans are facing a tough election next year and Trump will have trouble getting reelected in 2020. Maybe he’s counting on winning, to mash up two Beatles titles, “with a little help from my friends … back in the USSR.”

Los Angeles Times, Max Boot is a contributing writer to Opinion and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The Trump administration isn’t a farce. It’s a tragedy.

Vox:  The Trump administration isn’t a farce. It’s a tragedy.

Like Watergate, this is an era of low comedy and high fear.

by Ezra Klein     July 11, 2017

This must be what it was like to live through Watergate.

The disorientation, the confusion, the half-truth, the shock, the dark humor. I think of something Elizabeth Drew, the author of one of my favorite books on the era, wrote — “Watergate was a time of low comedy and high fear.” The farce of the story distracts from its horror, and so we take refuge. Twitter is never funnier than when a new Trump-Russia story breaks.

And yet.

This isn’t a scandal as we are used to thinking about it. This isn’t an embarrassment, or a gaffe. This is a security breach. It calls into question whether America’s foreign policy is being driven by the favors President Donald Trump owes Vladimir Putin for his political help or, perhaps worse, whether it’s being driven by the fear that Putin will release far more damning material if Trump crosses him.

This is a story that makes clear nothing the current White House says can be trusted. Donald Trump Jr., who enthusiastically tried to work with Russians to upend the election, called allegations that the Trump campaign would work with the Russians “disgusting” and “phony.” His father tweeted, as recently as May 12, that “the story that there was collusion between the Russians & Trump campaign was fabricated by Dems.”

These are acts that cast doubt on the basic patriotism of the current White House — a White House that takes, as its slogan, “America First.”

This is a story that reminds us that the last election was often dominated, and perhaps decided, by a crime — Russia’s theft of Democratic emails, which may or may not have happened with the Trump campaign’s support. And it refocuses our attention on the fact that Trump fired the director of the FBI in an attempt to end the investigation into that crime.

The generous interpretation, until now, was that this was all bumbling and idiocy and coincidence. Yes, the Trump campaign had a lot of strange meetings with Russians, and sure, it seemed to routinely forget them during congressional testimony and security checks, and of course, Russia intervened in the election to harm Hillary Clinton. But incompetence, we were assured, was the likelier explanation than conspiracy.

Not anymore.

Donald Trump Jr. knew exactly what he was being offered. The email he got was crystal clear. His source is referred to as a “Russian government attorney.” The invitation for the meeting explains that she will “provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information.” The intermediary assures Trump Jr. that “this is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

His reply, it cannot be said often enough, was “if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer” — and late in the summer is exactly when the hacked Democratic emails actually began to be released.

It wasn’t just Trump Jr. Campaign manager Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner knew, too. They were forwarded the emails. They knew exactly what this meeting was. And they were there. They wanted the documents. They wanted to work with the Russians.

They seem to have known about more than just this meeting. As my colleague Matt Yglesias observes, there is no surprised response on these emails. Neither Trump Jr. nor Manafort nor Kushner react with confusion or interest when informed that Russia wants to help Trump win. The alliance is already credible enough, and already serious enough, that they take the email without further vetting or discussion. No one suggests running it by the foreign policy team or even the FBI.

Did Donald Trump himself know? It would be remarkable if he didn’t. It would mean his son and his son-in-law and his campaign manager had tried to collude with the Russians — endangering his campaign and giving a foreign government blackmail material over his presidency — without telling him. This seems unlikely. But if Donald Trump knew, then it means he knew what he was firing James Comey to hide. Then it is clearly obstruction of justice.

Even if Trump himself did not know, consider all the damning evidence here: We know that his son, son-in-law, and campaign manager at least tried to work with a semi-hostile foreign power to win the election. We know that foreign power conducted a large-scale and successful cyber-espionage effort against the Democratic Party. We know that Trump continues to treat Russia unusually gently — palling around with Vladimir Putin even as he undercuts NATO and weakens the Western alliance.

And so we are faced with a crisis that leaves vast swaths of American politics stained. The election is tainted. The White House is tainted. Our foreign policy is tainted. If impeachment seems impossible, it is only because we believe that Republicans in Congress would sooner protect a criminal administration than risk their legislative agenda to uphold the rule of law — which is all to say, Congress is tainted, too.

The actors in this drama are often comic, pathetic, and incompetent. But the damage they have done, and are doing, is almost beyond imagining. As often as this looks like farce, we should not forget it’s a tragedy.

Donald Trump Jr.’s Love for Russian Dirt

The New Yorker

Donald Trump Jr.’s Love for Russian Dirt

By Amy Davidson    July 11, 2017

The President’s son revealed, in his own words, no hesitation to accept information that was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

On July 19, 2016, a little more than a month after he met with a Kremlin-connected lawyer who he thought might help to damage Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign, Donald Trump, Jr., spoke in support of his father at the Republican National Convention. He had been a visible part of the campaign for months, appearing on television to complain about the elder Trump’s critics or, often enough, firing guns with local politicians—Trump had offered his sons’ record as avid hunters as evidence that he was eager to loosen gun laws. (Donald Jr., who was photographed triumphing over a dead elephant, has decried restrictions on silencers as a restraint on sportsmen.) There was talk, in some quarters, that he might be a more serious politician than his father—whatever that might mean—and a possible future mayor of New York. And his speech included what passed, at the Convention, for classic conservative tropes, such as this:

Our schools used to be an elevator to the middle class. Now they’re stalled on the ground floor. They’re like Soviet-era department stores that are run for the benefit of the clerks and not the customers.

There was a brief contretemps after “The Daily Show” pointed out that this was similar to a line in an essay by Frank Buckley, published in The American Conservative, but it turned out that Buckley had also been a writer on the speech, and so the line, if not something earned, was a gift—or, rather, a purchase, not a misappropriation. All of those things can be hard to tell apart in the world of the Trumps—as is the difference between an unqualified dilettante and a political operative working on behalf of a Presidential candidate. But one aspect of the line that Donald Jr., probably came by on his own was his disdain for “Soviet-era department stores.” Shopping malls like the one in Moscow owned by Aras Agalarov, the billionaire who, with his son, a family-subsidized Russian pop star named Emin, were so much better. Whether or not they benefitted the customers, the Agalarovs helped to fund the 2013 run of the Miss Universe pageant, an operation partly owned by Trump, which was held outside of Moscow—and so, if nothing else, they seem to have benefitted the Trumps. Emin had been at the pageant; a Politico piece from last year, looking back at the proceedings, links to a music video that features him in various T-shirts, alongside several contestants in bathing suits and sequined dresses, and Trump, Sr., himself, in business attire.

“Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting,” Rob Goldstone, an “entertainment publicist,” as he was identified by the Times, which broke the story of Donald Juniors meeting with the Russian lawyer, wrote in an e-mail to Donald, Jr., on June 3, 2016. (After the Times said that it had obtained a copy, Trump Jr., tweeted out the exchange.) The e-mail continued, “The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.”

The Times noted that Russia doesn’t have a “Crown prosecutor”—mostly because it does not, or does not exactly, have someone who wears a crown. But Trump Jr., seems to have had no hesitation about the presumption of oligarchical access. It seems to have made sense to everyone involved that a shopping-mall developer should have access to judicial files—just as it made sense, to the Trumps and their circle, that a real-estate billionaire should have access to the White House.

More important, from the perspective of the various investigations currently looking at Russian involvement in the 2016 Presidential election—which a number of senators have already said they would like to discuss with Trump, Jr.—is what the Trump team thought the Russians’ interest was. Goldstone’s explanation for why the Agalarovs had been given the information was direct and, one would have thought, troubling: “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” he wrote. According to the Times, Trump Jr., replied, “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

Later in the summer was the time of the Convention and the nomination, followed by the debates and the heart of the Presidential race. The direct result of this outreach from Emin was a meeting with a lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, whom Goldstone identified in another e-mail as a “Russian government attorney.” That took place on June 9th, at Trump Tower; Trump Jr., was joined by Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump’s husband and now a White House adviser, and Paul Manafort, who was then the Trump campaign’s manager. Trump Jr., has said in various statements that the meeting yielded nothing useful, which he presented as a disappointment. His father’s representatives have portrayed the whole transaction as entirely normal. Veselnitskaya, for her part, has said that her real interest was never the campaign but her clients’ concerns about the Magnitsky Act, which sanctions alleged Russian human-rights abusers. When NBC asked her how Trump associates got the impression that she did have damaging material, she said it was possible that “they wanted it so badly that they could only hear the thought that they wanted.”

And what if Veselnitskaya had come laden with real dirt, obtained in some illegal way—like, say, the hacked e-mails from the Democratic National Committee and from John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman, that soon emerged? Donald Trump Jr., might have finally felt that the clerks in some post-Soviet intelligence shop were working for him, the customer. Would he have noticed, or cared, how Vladimir Putin, the proprietor of the emporium, was profiting?

Amy Davidson is a New Yorker staff writer. She is a regular Comment contributor for the magazine and writes a Web column, in which she covers war, sports, and everything in between.

 

(N.Y.Times) David Brooks has a point – upper class kids have invisible cultural advantages

Washington Post   Monkey Cage

(N.Y.Times) David Brooks has a point – upper class kids have invisible cultural advantages

By Henry Farrell       July 11, 2017

David Brooks is getting a lot of ridicule for an op-ed today, where he uses the example of ordering sandwiches to argue that upper and upper middle class kids have a lot of hidden cultural advantages. Despite the skepticism, many social scientists agree with Brooks’ emphasis on the hidden ways in which culture reinforces inequality, even if they might not all agree with Brooks’ suggestion that these cultural factors outweigh economic and political ones. In 2015, I interviewed Lauren Rivera, an associate professor of management and organizations at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of management. Her book, “Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs,” examines how inequality is produced by subtle social patterns of education and informal skills as well as big political and economic forces.

When social scientists think about economic inequality and the ways in which elites are able to hand down advantages to their kids, they usually argue that it’s driven by obvious material differences, such as access to good schools. Your book argues that elite privilege can involve subtle benefits that help some students – and not others – get jobs at top ranked law firms, banks and management consultancies. What are these benefits?

LR – Whether intentionally or not, elite parents expose their children to different experiences and styles of interacting that are useful for getting ahead in society. Many of these are taken for granted in upper and upper-middle class circles, such as how to prepare a college application (and having cultivated the right types of accomplishments to impress admissions officers), how to network in a business setting in a way that seems natural, and how to develop rapport with teachers, interviewers, and other gatekeepers to get things you want from those in power. Basically, if we think of economic inequality as a sporting competition, elite parents give their kids a leg up, not only by being able to afford the equipment necessary to play but also by teaching them the rules of the game and giving them insider tips on how to win.

One of your most counter-intuitive arguments is that students from working class and lower-middle class backgrounds are less likely to get elite jobs, because they concentrate on studying rather than their social life at college. That’s the opposite of what the conventional wisdom would suggest. How does these students’ devotion to academic seriousness hurt their job prospects?

LR – Working and lower-middle-class children are less likely to participate in structured extracurricular activities than their more privileged peers while growing up (and when they do, they tend to participate in fewer of them). This hurts their job prospects in two ways. First, it affects the types of schools students attend. Elite universities weigh extracurricular activities heavily in admissions decisions. Given that these employers—which offer some of the highest-paying entry-level jobs in the country—recruit almost exclusively at top schools, many students who focus purely on their studies will be out of the game long before they ever apply to firms. Second, employers also use extracurricular activities, especially those that are driven by “passion” rather than academic or professional interest and require large investments of time and money over many years, to screen résumés. But participation in these activities while in college or graduate school is not a luxury that all can afford, especially if someone needs to work long hours to pay the bills or take care of family members. Essentially, extra-curriculars end up being a double filter on social class that disadvantages job applicants from more modest means both in entering the recruiting pipeline and succeeding within it.

Your book finds an enormous difference in how many recruiters at elite firms treat graduates from a tiny number of prestigious colleges, and how they treat everyone else. Candidates who “chose” to go to a lower ranked school are seen by some recruiters as having demonstrated moral failure. What drives this culture of selectivity and perpetuates it?

LR – Quite simply, we like people who are similar to ourselves. Ask anyone what constitutes a good driver, leader, or parent, and chances are they will describe someone like themselves. The same is true for how people think of merit in the working world. Most employees in these firms are graduates of highly elite undergraduate or graduate programs and believe that’s where talent really resides. In addition, given how segregated our society has become socioeconomically, people who grow up in upper-middle or upper-class communities where college attendance is the norm may not realize structural factors that influence educational pathways and erroneously view university prestige as a reflection of ability alone. Finally, national rankings matter. Rankings provide an easily quantifiable, presumably “scientific” way of making sense of the myriad of educational institutions out there. They both reinforce beliefs that school prestige equals student quality (even though things having nothing to do with students’ abilities factor into a university’s rank) and serve as a convenient justification for limiting recruitment to a small number of elite schools with strong alumni ties to firms.

One of the ways in which your book has been received is as a way for people to figure out how to improve their chances of getting a job at an elite firm. One prominent review treated your book as more or less a “how to” guide for joining the 1 percent. This, presumably, wasn’t your motivation for writing the book. What’s your reaction to readers who are reading the book in ways that may potentially reinforce the problematic system that it is describing?

LR – The purpose of the book was to reveal how taken-for-granted ideas about what merit is and how best to measure it contribute to class inequalities at the top of the U.S. economic ladder. I certainly did not intend for the book to be interpreted as a how-to manual. However, given rising levels of anxiety about class position among the relatively advantaged and the high stakes of getting jobs in these firms, I’m not entirely surprised that some people are using it as a tool to try to game the system. I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, it can help groups currently disadvantaged in the hiring process, such as working class students and racial minorities, break into these jobs. On the other hand, it can benefit the already advantaged and reinforce the types of inequalities documented in the book. My hope, however, is that the research will open employees’ eyes about inequities and inefficiencies in the way hiring is currently done in these firms and motivate change in a positive direction.

New York Times    Opinion Pages

How We Are Ruining America

David Brooks, Op-ed Columnist      July 11, 2017

Over the past generation, members of the college-educated class have become amazingly good at making sure their children retain their privileged status. They have also become devastatingly good at making sure the children of other classes have limited chances to join their ranks.

How they’ve managed to do the first task — giving their own children a leg up — is pretty obvious. It’s the pediacracy, stupid. Over the past few decades, upper-middle-class Americans have embraced behavior codes that put cultivating successful children at the center of life. As soon as they get money, they turn it into investments in their kids.

Upper-middle-class moms have the means and the maternity leaves to breast-feed their babies at much higher rates than high school-educated moms, and for much longer periods.

Upper-middle-class parents have the means to spend two to three times more time with their preschool children than less affluent parents. Since 1996, education expenditures among the affluent have increased by almost 300 percent, while education spending among every other group is basically flat.

As life has gotten worse for the rest in the middle class, upper-middle-class parents have become fanatical about making sure their children never sink back to those levels, and of course there’s nothing wrong in devoting yourself to your own progeny.

It’s when we turn to the next task — excluding other people’s children from the same opportunities — that things become morally dicey. Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institution recently published a book called “Dream Hoarders” detailing some of the structural ways the well educated rig the system.

The most important is residential zoning restrictions. Well-educated people tend to live in places like Portland, New York and San Francisco that have housing and construction rules that keep the poor and less educated away from places with good schools and good job opportunities.

These rules have a devastating effect on economic growth nationwide. Research by economists Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti suggests that zoning restrictions in the nation’s 220 top metro areas lowered aggregate U.S. growth by more than 50 percent from 1964 to 2009. The restrictions also have a crucial role in widening inequality. An analysis by Jonathan Rothwell finds that if the most restrictive cities became like the least restrictive, the inequality between different neighborhoods would be cut in half.

Reeves’s second structural barrier is the college admissions game. Educated parents live in neighborhoods with the best teachers, they top off their local public school budgets and they benefit from legacy admissions rules, from admissions criteria that reward kids who grow up with lots of enriching travel and from unpaid internships that lead to jobs.

It’s no wonder that 70 percent of the students in the nation’s 200 most competitive schools come from the top quarter of the income distribution. With their admissions criteria, America’s elite colleges sit atop gigantic mountains of privilege, and then with their scholarship policies they salve their consciences by offering teeny step ladders for everybody else.

I was braced by Reeves’s book, but after speaking with him a few times about it, I’ve come to think the structural barriers he emphasizes are less important than the informal social barriers that segregate the lower 80 percent.

Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.

American upper-middle-class culture (where the opportunities are) is now laced with cultural signifiers that are completely illegible unless you happen to have grown up in this class. They play on the normal human fear of humiliation and exclusion. Their chief message is, “You are not welcome here.”

In her thorough book “The Sum of Small Things,” Elizabeth Currid-Halkett argues that the educated class establishes class barriers not through material consumption and wealth display but by establishing practices that can be accessed only by those who possess rarefied information.

To feel at home in opportunity-rich areas, you’ve got to understand the right barre techniques, sport the right baby carrier, have the right podcast, food truck, tea, wine and Pilates tastes, not to mention possess the right attitudes about David Foster Wallace, child-rearing, gender norms and intersectionality.

The educated class has built an ever more intricate net to cradle us in and ease everyone else out. It’s not really the prices that ensure 80 percent of your co-shoppers at Whole Foods are, comfortingly, also college grads; it’s the cultural codes.

Status rules are partly about collusion, about attracting educated people to your circle, tightening the bonds between you and erecting shields against everybody else. We in the educated class have created barriers to mobility that are more devastating for being invisible. The rest of America can’t name them, can’t understand them. They just know they’re there.

New Technology Creates Highly Efficient New Type of Solar Cell

Newswise    Doe Science news source

The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.   Article ID: 677700

Scientists Design Solar Cell That Captures Nearly All Energy of Solar Spectrum

New Technology Creates Highly Efficient New Type of Solar Cell

Credit: Matthew Lumb

Stacked solar cell

WASHINGTON (July 11, 2017)—Scientists have designed and constructed a prototype for a new solar cell that integrates multiple cells stacked into a single device capable of capturing nearly all of the energy in the solar spectrum. The new design converts direct sunlight to electricity with 44.5 percent efficiency, giving it the potential to become the most efficient solar cell in the world.

The approach is different from the solar panels one might commonly see on rooftops or in fields. The new device uses concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) panels that employ lenses to concentrate sunlight onto tiny, micro-scale solar cells. Because of their small size—less than one millimeter square—solar cells utilizing more sophisticated materials can be developed cost effectively.

The stacked cell acts almost like a sieve for sunlight, with the specialized materials in each layer absorbing the energy of a specific set of wavelengths. By the time the light is funneled through the stack, just under half of the available energy has been converted into electricity. By comparison, the most common solar cell today converts only a quarter of the available energy into electricity.

“Around 99 percent of the power contained in direct sunlight reaching the surface of Earth falls between wavelengths of 250 nm and 2500 nm, but conventional materials for high-efficiency multi-junction solar cells cannot capture this entire spectral range,” said Matthew Lumb, lead author of the study and a research scientist at the GW School of Engineering and Applied Science. “Our new device is able to unlock the energy stored in the long-wavelength photons, which are lost in conventional solar cells, and therefore provides a pathway to realizing the ultimate multi-junction solar cell.”

While scientists have worked towards more efficient solar cells for years, this approach has two novel aspects. First, it uses a family of materials based on gallium antimonide (GaSb) substrates, which are usually found in applications for infra-red lasers and photodetectors. The novel GaSb-based solar cells are assembled into a stacked structure along with high efficiency solar cells grown on conventional substrates that capture shorter wavelength solar photons. In addition, the stacking procedure uses a technique known as transfer-printing, which enables three dimensional assembly of these tiny devices with a high degree of precision.

This particular solar cell is very expensive, however researchers believe it was important to show the upper limit of what is possible in terms of efficiency. Despite the current costs of the materials involved, the technique used to create the cells shows much promise. Eventually a similar product may be brought to market, enabled by cost reductions from very high solar concentration levels and technology to recycle the expensive growth substrates.

The research builds off of the advancements made by the MOSAIC Program, a $24 million research project funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) that funds 11 separate teams across the U.S., each seeking to develop technologies and concepts to revolutionize photovoltaic performance and reduce costs. The researchers note that funding for this type of research is essential for developing viable commercial technology in the future.

The study, “GaSb-based Solar Cells for Full Solar Spectrum Energy Harvesting,” was published in Advanced Energy Materials on Monday.

-GW-

Koch Brothers Launch Attack to Kill Electric Cars

EcoWatch   DeSmogBlog

Koch Brothers Launch Attack to Kill Electric Cars

By Ben Jervey   July 11, 2017

Fueling U.S. Forward, the Koch-funded campaign to “rebrand” fossil fuels as “positive” and “sustainable,” has released a new video attacking the Dirty Secrets of Electric Cars, signaling a possible strategic pivot from straightforward fossil fuel cheerleading to electric vehicle (EV) and clean energy bashing.

The video and accompanying Dirty Secrets of Electric Cars web page feature blatant factual errors, misleading statements and glaring omissions (all of which will be debunked thoroughly below), while essentially attacking electric cars for using the same materials needed to manufacture cell phones, laptops, defense equipment and gas-powered cars, and which are even a critical component of the very oil refining processes that form the foundation of the Koch fortunes.

When Fueling U.S. Forward launched last August, the organization’s president Charles Drevna described the campaign as an effort to rebrand fossil fuels by focusing on the “positive” aspects of coal, oil and gas. This newly released video seems to further confirm investigative journalist Peter Stone’s reporting from last spring that the Kochs were “plotting a multimillion dollar assault on electric vehicles.”

How do we know that Fueling U.S. Forward is this Koch-funded campaign? First, Charles Drevna, who is leading the effort, developed the concept while serving as a distinguished senior fellow at the Institute for Energy Research, a pro-fossil fuel think tank that was partially founded by Charles Koch and that is run by a longtime lobbyist for Koch Industries. Second, and more concretely, Drevna told DeSmog’s Sharon Kelley that he was working with Koch Industries’ board member (and longtime Koch brothers’ confidant) James Mahoney on the campaign and that it was funded by “one of the brothers.”

Echoes of America Rising Squared

Fueling U.S. Forward and America Rising Squared (or AR2) have no public affiliation. Yet within a few weeks in June, both groups launched attacks on electric vehicles using the same misleading arguments and nearly identical language. While the former group is a known Koch-funded campaign to promote fossil fuels, the latter has close ties to the GOP establishment, and has invested heavily in promoting alleged hypocrisy among climate action advocates, even paying “trackers” to follow around the likes of Tom Steyer and Bill McKibben.

In June, as DeSmog reported, AR2 published a white paper that purports to reveal the “human and environmental costs of ‘clean energy,'” taking electric vehicles and solar panels to task for their reliance on rare Earth metals. As we wrote at the time:

Here’s what the white paper doesn’t mention: many of the very same rare Earth minerals that the AR2 report bashes are critical components of cell phones, computers, cameras, military and defense equipment, and even traditional gas-powered vehicles. What’s more, the petroleum refining process is critically dependent on some of the same rare Earths that AR2 lambasts in this white paper.

The new video from Fueling U.S. Forward echoes the AR2 talking points, almost to the word. (For a closer analysis of the AR2 report, see the original DeSmog article).

Debunking the New Fueling U.S. Forward Electric Car Attack Video

The Fueling U.S. Forward video (which is still unlisted on Youtube, but available to be shared and viewed by anyone with the link) is short enough that we can walk through it line by line.

“This is an electric car/ Car companies say it’s a clean alternative/ But electric cars are more toxic to humans than average cars.”

This depends on an exceedingly narrow definition of “toxic.” If you only consider the materials that go into the batteries of electric cars versus the batteries of “average” cars, then this is maybe defensible. But if you consider the materials that go into the entire vehicle, as well as the fuel used to power the vehicle, than EVs are far cleaner and less toxic.

First, there’s the fact that gas-powered vehicles require some of the same “toxic” rare Earth metals that the video criticizes. (More on that below). Then there’s the even bigger issue that tailpipe emissions—including ozone, particulate matter and other smog-forming chemicals—are the dominant source of ground level air pollution, and nearly one half of all Americans live in areas that don’t meet federal minimum air quality standards. In fact, emissions from road transportation cause roughly 53,000 premature deaths every year in the U.S., according to MIT researchers.

“Their batteries are made of rare Earth metals/ Like cobalt, lithium…”

First, a fact check: cobalt and lithium aren’t rare Earth metals. This isn’t to say they aren’t problematic—cobalt mining in particular is plagued by some very serious environmental and labor problems, as documented in in-depth reports by Amnesty International and the Washington Post. But these problems are economy-wide. Cobalt is used widely in the lithium-ion batteries that power most cell phones and laptops. (See the subheadline of the very Washington Post article that the FUSF video cites: Tracing the path from deadly hand-dug mines in Congo to consumers’ phones and laptops). There’s no question that lithium-ion battery manufacturers have to clean up their supply chains, but that’s something that Apple and Panasonic and Samsung are as responsible for as Tesla and Ford and General Motors.

“…and cerium”

True, cerium is used in the batteries of electric vehicles. It is also found on every catalytic converter fitted into an internal combustion vehicle. That’s right—every gas-powered car relies on this rare Earth metal that Fueling U.S. Forward criticizes.

“That are extracted mostly overseas/ From countries like China/ And Congo/ Where pollution is rampant/ And children are forced into oppressive labor.”

Again, electric vehicle manufacturers must do their part to clean up the mining of these metals. But so do the cell phone and laptop makers, companies that supply communications and combat equipment to the Department of Defense, satellite communications system operators, medical device manufacturers, and so on.

“These metals are scarce/ Their extraction is dangerous/ And many of the batteries end up in landfills”

This last point is simply untrue. First of all, very few electric vehicle batteries have even run through their usable lives. Once they do, companies are already lining up to start recycling them, either for use on the electric grid or to be disassembled and the materials reused.

“This makes electric cars toxic/ For both people and the planet.”

Some of the components of electric car batteries have localized health and environmental impacts. But compared to the alternative—internal combustion vehicles spewing carbon and other air pollution—electric cars truly are much cleaner from cradle to grave.

Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.