Schools that never needed AC are now overheating. Fixes will cost billions.

The Washington Post

Schools that never needed AC are now overheating. Fixes will cost billions.

Anna Phillips and Veronica Penney – May 24, 2024

Nearly 40 percent of schools in the United States were built before the 1970s, when temperatures were cooler and fewer buildings needed air conditioning.

That has changed. In recent decades, heat has crept northward, increasing the number of school days with temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Large parts of the country, where temperatures were previously cooler, now experience at least one month of school days with temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Many schools still don’t have air conditioning.

America’s aging school buildings are on a collision course with a rapidly warming climate.

Last fall, school officials were forced to send students home across the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic – just as many were returning from summer break – because of extreme heat and schools lacking air conditioning. In Baltimore and Detroit, high heat led to early dismissals, the same as it had four months earlier when summer temperatures struck in May.

In Philadelphia last year, administrators moved the first day of school from late August to after Labor Day, in part to avoid a repeat of heat-related school closures in previous years. But the weather didn’t cooperate. They ended up closing more than 70 schools three hours earlier than usual for the entire week.

Hot weather is not a new concern for school districts. But as the burning of fossil fuels heats the planet, it’s delivering longer-lasting, more dangerous heat waves, and higher average temperatures. Across much of the northern United States, where many schools were built without air conditioning, districts are now forced to confront the academic and health risks posed by poorly cooled schools. Fixing the problem often requires residents to pass multimillion dollar school repair bonds, which can be hard to do. Climatic change is arriving faster than most can adapt.

“We have had situations where it’s been 88 degrees outside but the real feel in the classrooms is well over 90 degrees because of the humidity,” said Shari Obrenski, president of the Cleveland Teachers Union. Although most of the district’s schools have air conditioning, 11 switched to virtual instruction during a period of high heat in 2022. “It’s miserable,” she said, “students throwing up, not being able to keep their heads up, just horrible conditions.”

Because of the highly localized nature of U.S. public schools, data on school air conditioning is scarce and researchers rely on surveys to gather information.

In 2021, when the environmental advocacy group Center for Climate Integrity set out to examine air conditioning, its researchers collected information on more than 150 schools and school districts across the country. They found that in places where temperatures historically hit 80 degrees Fahrenheit at least 32 days during the academic year, the vast majority of schools already had air conditioning.

Using this as their threshold for when AC is needed, they modeled what it would cost to keep schools cool in the near future under a moderate warming scenario. Their answer: more than 13,700 public schools in the United States that did not need air conditioning in 1970 need it today. Some have already installed it, some are working on it now and some can only dream of having enough money. The estimated cost of this huge investment exceeds $40 billion.

Paul Chinowsky, a professor emeritus of engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder who led the analysis, said it showed two distinct trends in America: Northern school districts experiencing hotter school year temperatures that are overheating classrooms and forcing closures, especially in old buildings without enough electrical capacity to run air conditioners. And Southern districts with aging cooling systems outmatched by abnormally hot weather.

A generation ago, few would have imagined that school districts from Denver to Boston would need to spend millions of dollars on cooling. Today, the reality is different.

Aging schools, built for a different climate

The scene at Dunbar Elementary was so distressing that, six years later, it is still fresh in Jerry Jordan’s mind.

In late August 2018, a punishing heat wave gripped Philadelphia just as public school students were returning from summer break. Jordan, the president of the local teachers union, was holding a news conference at Dunbar to demand the state help pay to air-condition schools. Before the event, he walked through the building to get a feel for what its students and staff were experiencing.

“I ran into one teacher as she was walking her first-grade class down to computer science – she was wearing a dress and the back of the dress was literally soaked right through. It was sticking to her,” Jordan said. A little boy got out of line and lay down on the concrete floor. He stayed put, even when the teacher urged him to rejoin the class. “But it’s cool here,” Jordan remembers him pleading.

Today, roughly 30 percent of Philadelphia public schools don’t have fully air-conditioned classrooms, according to district officials. In interviews, teachers said many more buildings don’t have cooling in gyms, cafeterias and libraries. The district has made progress since that 2018 heat wave, thanks in large part to millions of dollars in federal pandemic aid and a $200,000 donation from Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts. But it still has many buildings with only enough power to support window AC units in every other classroom, or on certain floors. Some units are broken or barely functional. At one school, parents said the units are window dressing – they can’t be switched on for fear of using more electricity than the building can safely handle.

The district’s goal is to have all classrooms air-conditioned by 2027, but its pandemic money is about to run out and state funding remains uncertain. “The aspirational is absolutely dependent on funding,” said Superintendent Tony Watlington Sr.

In interviews, teachers said that classroom temperatures have climbed into the high 80s to low 90s in the early fall, past the point when studies have shown heat can impede learning.

“94 degrees F in my classroom today,” teacher Trey Smith wrote on X, formerly Twitter, on a day in late August, posting a photo of a thermometer in his third-floor un-air-conditioned classroom at Marian Anderson Neighborhood Academy. Smith said that, for years, he has had to endure high temperatures with only fans and a portable AC unit that trips the circuit breaker.

“I’m angry,” he said. “Not at the district and not at my administration, it’s just that as a state we’ve underfunded our schools. That’s the crime.”

As hotter-than-normal temperatures become more common in the late spring and early fall, they pose a risk to students’ academic success. Researchers have linked heat exposure to reduced learning, in addition to a range of well-known health effects such as dizziness, headaches and worsening asthma symptoms. Teachers aren’t immune either – especially in places that aren’t used to hot weather.

“On those really really hot days, our attendance is low because kids don’t want to boil in a classroom and asthmatic kids are being kept home by their parents,” said Olney High School teacher Sarah Apt, who also has asthma. “Those are days I have used my inhaler and kind of take it slower.”

Climate change is expanding the swath of the country facing these problems.

At the same time, as school shootings become more frequent, district leaders are under pressure to turn their buildings into fortresses to stop an attacker.

“We’ve got schools that want to button up for security reasons, but that’s making them hotter, stuffier and requiring more mechanical air conditioning,” said Chinowsky. “You’ve got two different goals working against each other.”

Well-off school districts often address this problem by putting a bond before voters, asking them to support higher taxes to pay for cooling. But despite its improving poverty rate, Philadelphia is still the poorest big city in the nation. And a quirk in state law bars the school district from raising its own revenue, leaving it few options but to ask the city and state for money. That hasn’t worked out so well – last year, a state court found that Pennsylvania’s funding formula leaves some schools so underfunded that it violates students’ constitutional right to an education.

Parents and teachers have become increasingly vocal in demanding healthier conditions following scandals over asbestos and lead contamination in schools. The teachers union now employs a director of environmental science and commissioned an app that allows teachers to report extreme temperature problems, as well as leaks and pest infestations.

Yet some families don’t know their children attend schools without air conditioning.

Sherice Workman was among them. When she chose Paul Robeson High School in West Philadelphia for her youngest son, Juelz, she was unaware how hot it was inside until he began bringing deodorant to school to mask his constant sweating. He came home with stories of students sleeping through class to deal with the heat. She and some of the school’s staff delivered a petition to district leaders two years ago.

“When it is 80 degrees outside, it is 90 to 100 in the classrooms. When it is 90 degrees outside, it is 100 to 105 degrees in the classrooms,” the petition read. “This extreme heat in our building has caused our children to pass out and miss classes due to dehydration-related headaches.”

The district installed window air conditioners at Robeson the next year, an experience that Workman said taught her the value of speaking out. When it comes to air conditioning in neighboring suburbs’ schools, she said, “It’s just something they have. Our fight isn’t their fight.

Hotter school days and no cheap fixes

Fall in Colorado’s Front Range can be glorious – with blue skies and aspens changing color in the Rockies. But it is also the time of year when Colorado has experienced its greatest warming, with temperatures rising by 3.1 degrees Fahrenheit from 1980-2022, according to a state report.

That’s when kids are in class. In the northern Colorado city of Fort Collins, classroom temperatures in some buildings reach upward of 90 degrees when the school year starts in mid-August, said middle school social studies teacher Jacque Kinnick, and the heat is lasting longer in the season.

“I used to need sweaters,” in October said Kinnick. “Now, I wear short sleeves.”

Kinnick said one of her colleagues compared the test scores of students in her morning and afternoon classes and found that the children performed worse later in the day, when the heat was highest.

“It’s like you can actually see kids just wilting,” she said. “They’re sweating, they’re laying their heads on the desk.”

University of Pennsylvania economist R. Jisung Park has studied the effect of rising temperatures on students. He found that, even when other factors are controlled for, students who are exposed to days in the 80s and 90s perform worse on standardized tests. His research also suggests that, in the United States, heat has a greater effect on Black and Latino students, who are less likely to have air conditioning at school or home.

The effect may not be noticeable at first – a one-degree hotter school year is linked to learning loss of about one percent – but the damage accumulates and the impact is likely underestimated. A federal analysis published last year noted that while these losses only account for students’ exposure to hot days during high school, newer research suggests heat experienced by elementary and middle school students also impedes learning.

Some of the coldest parts of the country will eventually have to face overheating schools, too. The federal study found that at the 2 degrees Celsius threshold, the states with the highest projected learning losses per student, because of low AC coverage in schools, will be Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, Vermont and Wyoming.

Heat also affects students’ well-being. It increases ozone pollution in cities, extends the pollen season, worsens asthma symptoms and can exacerbate a host of other medical conditions, forcing students to leave their classes in search of relief. Children become dehydrated easily and turn woozy and irritable. After sitting in a hot classroom all day, they may struggle to play sports or participate in after-school activities.

Schools along the Front Range have historically counted on the region’s overnight low temperatures to cool off their buildings. But as climate change causes nights to warm faster than days, such methods are proving ineffective.

Jeff Connell, chief operations officer of the Poudre School District, which is centered in Fort Collins and includes surrounding towns, said the district recorded temperatures between 85 and 90.5 degrees in an elementary school classroom last fall. Poudre’s leaders have discussed postponing the start of school, but with extreme daily highs becoming more common, “it’s harder to know with certainty that if we move the calendar, we’ll avoid the hot days,” said Connell.

Fort Collins exemplifies two trends that confront public education as climate change intensifies. Heat is one problem – in part because urban schools are often ringed by heat-reflecting asphalt parking lots and playgrounds.

Demographics are another. Since funding is tied to enrollment, some school districts face budget crises as their student populations shrink – yet they need more money for air conditioning projects to keep their schools habitable.

Fort Collins’ affordability and easy access to the mountains has long-fueled the city’s growth. But the increasing number of high heat days has put a strain on teachers and students as enrollment is beginning to decline, prompting the school district to consider closing schools. Poudre has a $700 million deferred maintenance backlog. Last year, an assessment of how much it would cost to fully air-condition 36 school buildings came in at more than $200 million – money the district does not have.

The city is hardly an outlier.

In 2020, the Government Accountability Office found that an estimated 41 percent of school districts surveyed needed to replace or update their HVAC systems in at least half of their schools. But the report also found that roughly 40 percent of districts rely on state money for large-scale facilities improvements and don’t have the capacity to issue bonds or raise property taxes.

Persuading school board members and voters to fund air conditioning in schools can be a tough sell. This is an acute problem in Southern school districts where cooling was installed decades ago, but is now breaking down from near-constant use, Chinowsky said.

“The people making these decisions have a tendency to say, ‘We dealt with it when we were in school,’ Or, ‘It’s only hot for a couple of days,’” Chinowsky said. “And the fact is that’s not really the truth anymore.”

Often, the states aren’t coming to districts’ aid. Neither is the federal government. Advocates for more school funding said the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which rebuilds schools once they’re destroyed, is the biggest source of government money.

Decades of planning help keep classrooms cool

Some communities have more latitude to address the problem.

In Denver, about an hour south of Fort Collins, school officials have slowly been preparing their buildings for a hotter world. It began a decade ago with simple measures such as blinds and nighttime cooling. But as the years progressed and nights didn’t cool off like they once did, officials decided they were going to have to install air conditioning. The district began prioritizing retrofits based on factors such as student poverty levels and disabilities, the age and condition of the buildings and indoor temperatures.

Denver residents have approved multiple bond measures to pay for the upgrades and they may be asked to vote on one again soon. The district expects that 30 schools still won’t be fully air-conditioned by the end of the year. Fixing them will cost an estimated $290 million.

“The voters have been pretty receptive,” said Trena Marsal, chief operating officer of Denver Public Schools. “We’ve heard from our teachers, from our community members and our parents that the classrooms are hot.”

Among the districts where voters have agreed to support facilities bonds, some have used the money to not only air-condition their classrooms, but to also electrify their heating and cooling systems with air source or geothermal heat pumps. In St. Paul, Minn., the school district has finished installing a geothermal system at one of its high schools, where heat is pumped out of the building during the summer, transferred to water and stored deep underground in pipes. That heated water is pumped back into the buildings in winter to warm them.

Some of these systems can qualify for major federal subsidies. Yet to the chagrin of environmentalists, large school districts in cities such as New York City, Boston and Philadelphia are buying thousands of window units, which gobble up electricity and break down easily.

“They’re a maintenance nightmare. They’re an operating cost nightmare,” said Sara Ross, co-founder of the group UndauntedK12, which advocates for green building improvements in schools. “The decision to use window units is only going to worsen these districts’ challenges in terms of their emissions because they’re using much more energy.”

The picture in selected areas

Philadelphia: 3.7°F warmer since 1970

197,115 students enrolled

67 out of 218 schools are not fully air-conditioned.

By 2025, students will experience 22 more days with temperatures above 80°F. In 1970, 28 days were above 80°F. In 2025, it is predicted that 50 days will be above 80°F.

Fort Collins, Colo.: 3.4°F warmer since 1970

29,914 students enrolled

36 out of 49 schools are not fully air-conditioned.

By 2025, students will experience 17 more days with temperatures above 80°F. In 1970, 25 days were above 80°F. In 2025, it is predicted that 42 days will be above 80°F.

Denver: 1.3°F warmer since 1970

89,235 students enrolled

37 out of 207 schools are not fully air-conditioned.

By 2025, students will experience 18 more days with temperatures above 80°F. In 1970, 32 days were above 80°F. In 2025, it is predicted that 50 days will be above 80°F.

About this story

Sources: Resilient Analytics and the Center for Climate Integrity (hot school days); NOAA Regional Climate Centers via the Applied Climate Information System (temperature trends); Denver Public Schools.

The Post used data from Resilient Analytics and the Center for Climate Integrity that estimates the increase in hot school days by 2025 using downscaled climate projections for North America from CMIP5. The gridded data has a resolution of 3.7 miles. To calculate the increase in hot days by 2025, researchers used the middle-of-the-road RCP 4.5 scenario.

There are some U.S. counties where varying terrain affects county-level temperature projections. Monroe County, Fla. – just west of Miami-Dade – includes mainland, coasts and islands. The varied terrain creates microclimates that make county-level averages cooler than neighboring counties, even if mainland areas of the county remain very hot.

School years days were defined separately for each state using the 2018-2019 school year calendar for the state’s largest school district. Charter schools are not included in the analysis.

To determine the increase in average temperature for each school district, The Post used station temperature records from NOAA Regional Climate Centers via the Applied Climate Information System. Maximum temperature records for 1970-2023 were analyzed using a linear regression to determine the average rate of warming over the time period. Days with missing temperature measurements were excluded.

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Extreme heat hits Texas and Florida early in the season

NBC News

Extreme heat hits Texas and Florida early in the season

Denise Chow – May 22, 2024

Jason Fochtman

Scorching heat and humidity have descended over parts of Texas, the Gulf Coast and South Florida this week — a bout of early-season extreme heat that has experts bracing for what’s to come.

A full month before the official start of summer, Miami is already in the midst of its hottest May on record, according to experts.

The city’s heat index — a measure of what conditions feel like when humidity and air temperatures are combined — hit 112 degrees Fahrenheit over the weekend, smashing the previous daily record by 11 degrees, according to Brian McNoldy, a senior research associate at the University of Miami. The weekend heat index also beat Miami’s monthly record by 5 degrees, he wrote in a post on X.

Last summer was the hottest on record for Miami — and the entire planet. Forecasters say the coming season could match or surpass the temperatures seen in 2023.

Miami’s recent 112-degree heat index reading was recorded both Saturday and Sunday, marking only the second time in the city’s recorded history that there have been back-to-back days of heat index values at or above that level, according to McNoldy. The other instance was Aug. 8 and 9, 2023.

“But it’s only mid-May!” he wrote. “To anyone who was hoping 2023 was a freak anomaly: nope.”

Miami has already expanded the time period it considers to be the official heat season to span from May 1 to Oct. 31 annually — a response to earlier onsets of high heat and humidity.

Meanwhile, a heat advisory is in effect across much of south Texas. Temperatures up to 113 degrees can be expected in some places, particularly along the Rio Grande, according to the National Weather Service.

The agency said heat index values between 110 degrees and 120 degrees are expected this week, with still more dangerous heat lingering into the weekend.

“As a result, major to extreme risks of heat-related impacts are expected across South Texas,” the weather service said in its advisory. “Be sure to stay cool, drink plenty of water, and take frequent breaks if you are spending time outside!”

High heat and humidity, including heat indexes around 100 degrees, are also expected in Houston in the coming days. The city is still reeling from last week’s deadly storms, with tens of thousands of residents still without power.

Studies have shown that climate change is making early-season heat more likely, in addition to fueling more frequent, intense and longer-lasting heat waves.

The consequences can be deadly. Heat kills more people each year in the United States than any other weather disaster, according to the weather service.

It’s the hottest May ever in Miami. Heat index ‘completely off the charts’

Miami Herald

It’s the hottest May ever in Miami. Heat index ‘completely off the charts’

Ashley Miznazi – May 21, 2024

It’s already the hottest May in Miami, ever — at least judging by the heat index, a “feels like” measure that combines temperature and humidity.

Last weekend’s record temps jacked up the average heat index into a record for May, according to Brian McNoldy, a senior research associate at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric and Earth Science.

“The type of heat and humidity we had this weekend would’ve been exceptional even in another three months,” said McNoldy. “These temperatures in May are completely off the charts.”

McNoldy created an online chart that updates daily with the cumulative amount of time the heat index spent above various heat index thresholds. The reading in 2024 already rivals or tops nearly all end-of-summer 108°+ and 110°+ marks.

Brian McNoldy: Aside from crazy-2023, the heat index has ALREADY spent more time above the 108°F threshold (and tied for the most at 110°+) in #Miami than in *any other entire year*. And it’s not even June yet

Image

Usually, the hottest time of the year is the first and second weeks of August but this weekend temperatures peaked at 112 degrees heat index— that’s a stunning six degrees hotter than any previous May heat index recorded.

Early-season heat events have some of the highest rates of heat illness and heat-related deaths because people are not prepared for it. Nearly 1,200 people die from heat every year, according to NOAA, and record-breaking heat waves fueled by climate change add to that threat.

Margaret Pianelli, a tourist from New York, visits the Hollywood Beach Broadwalk as temperatures soar into the 90s on Tuesday, May 14, 2024, in Hollywood, Fla.
Margaret Pianelli, a tourist from New York, visits the Hollywood Beach Broadwalk as temperatures soar into the 90s on Tuesday, May 14, 2024, in Hollywood, Fla.

READ MORE: When is it too hot to be outside? A new online tool will help you plan your week

Climate change makes things like these record highs more likely. But over the weekend McNoldy said there was also the “perfect combination” of a high pressure ridge (where air sinks and warms), fewer clouds and moist air coming in from the southwest.

Other records were broken over the weekend too. Sunday’s nighttime temperatures averaged (the average of the high and low temperature) to 89 degrees. That is a tie for the third-highest daily nighttime average temperature ever recorded in Miami, and that’s never happened as soon as May.

As of Monday, there had also been four new high daily average temperature records and record-high humidity levels in the past five days.

The National Weather Service is predicting that the record-breaking heat will ease in the coming week, thanks in part to the increasing relief of rain. But it also signals the potential for another scorching summer ahead. Summer 2023 was the hottest on record in Miami.

“What this looks like for June, July, August? Who knows,” McNoldy said. “But it’s not off to a promising start.”

Ashley Miznazi is a climate change reporter for the Miami Herald funded by the Lynn and Louis Wolfson II Family Foundation in partnership with Journalism Funding Partners.

Trump Could Soon Be a Felon. Does It Matter?

Michelle Goldberg – May 20, 2024

Outside the courthouse where Donald Trump is being tried in Manhattan, a demonstrator carries a sign reading, “Election interference is a crime.”
Credit…Lucia Buricelli for The New York Times

If I’d pictured Donald Trump’s first criminal trial a few years ago, I’d have imagined the biggest, splashiest story in the world. Instead, as we lurch toward a verdict that could brand the presumptive Republican nominee a felon and possibly even send him to prison, a strange sense of anticlimax hangs over the whole affair.

In a recent Yahoo News/YouGov poll, only 16 percent of respondents said they were following the trial very closely, with an additional 32 percent following it “somewhat” closely. “Those numbers rank as some of the lowest for any recent news event,” wrote Yahoo News’s Andrew Romano. When people were asked how the trial made them feel, the most common response was “bored.” TV ratings tell a similar story. “Network coverage of Donald Trump’s hush money trial has failed to produce blockbuster viewership,” Deadline reported at the end of April. Cable news networks, Deadline said, saw a decline in ratings among those 25 to 54 since the same time last year. At the courthouse last week, I met news junkies who’d lined up at 3 a.m. to get a seat at the trial and maybe score selfies with their favorite MSNBC personalities, but it felt more like wandering into a subcultural fandom than the red-hot center of the zeitgeist. A block or so away, you wouldn’t know anything out of the ordinary was happening.

Perhaps the trial would have captured more of the public’s attention had it been televised, but lack of visuals alone doesn’t explain America’s collective shrug. The special counsel Robert Mueller’s report didn’t have images, either, but when it was published, famous actors like Robert DeNiro, Rosie Perez and Laurence Fishburne starred in a video breaking it down. I’m aware of no similar effort to dramatize this trial’s testimony, and I almost never hear ordinary people talking about it. “Saturday Night Live” tried, last weekend, to satirize the scene at the courthouse with a cold open mocking Trump’s hallway press appearances, but it ended with an acknowledgment of public exhaustion: “Just remember, if you’re tired of hearing about all of my trials, all you’ve got to do is vote for me, and it will all go away.”

It wasn’t a particularly funny line, but it gets at something true that helps explain why this historic trial doesn’t seem like that big a deal. When Trump was president, his opponents lionized lawyers and prosecutors — often in ways that feel retrospectively mortifying — because liberals had faith that the law could restrain him. That faith, however, has become increasingly impossible to sustain.

Mueller punted on the question of whether Trump obstructed justice in trying to impede the Russia probe. The jury in the E. Jean Carroll defamation case found that he committed sexual abuse, but it had little discernible effect on his political prospects. A deeply partisan Supreme Court, still mulling its decision on his near-imperial claims of presidential immunity, has made it highly unlikely that he will face trial before the election for his attempted coup. A deeply partisan judge appointed by Trump has indefinitely postponed his trial for stealing classified documents. With the Georgia election interference case against Trump tied up in an appeal over whether District Attorney Fani Willis should be disqualified over an affair with a member of her team, few expect that trial to start before 2025 — or 2029, if Trump wins the election. And should he become president again, there’s little question that he’ll quash the federal cases against him once and for all.

In theory, the delays in Trump’s other criminal cases should raise the stakes in the New York trial, since it’s the only chance that he will face justice for his colossal corruption before November. But in reality, his record of impunity has created a kind of fatalism in his opponents, as well as outsize confidence among his supporters. In a recent New York Times/Siena poll, 53 percent of voters in swing states said it was somewhat or very unlikely that Trump would be found guilty. That included 66 percent of Republicans but also 42 percent of Democrats.

These voters may be overstating Trump’s chances of an acquittal; many legal experts think the prosecution has an edge. A hopeful possibility, then, is that a guilty verdict will come as a shock to many Americans who have checked out of the news cycle, perhaps giving them pause about putting a criminal in the White House. I wouldn’t count on it, though. In several polls, small but significant shares of Trump supporters said they wouldn’t vote for him if he was a felon, but if recent history is any guide, a vast majority of his supporters will easily rationalize away a conviction. Trump’s minions are already working hard to discredit the proceedings, with House Speaker Mike Johnson calling the trial “corrupt” and a “sham.” It’s worth remembering that the recent embarrassing uproar in a House Oversight Committee meeting, where the Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene insulted a Democratic colleague’s eyelashes, began with Greene’s insinuations about the daughter of the judge in the New York case.

Of course, no matter what Republicans say, Trump can still face prison time if he loses this case. But if he does, he will inevitably appeal, meaning there’s little chance that he’ll be incarcerated before Election Day. It’s not surprising, then, that most people are tuning out the twists and turns of the trial. Whether Trump truly gets his comeuppance is up to the voters, not the jury.

Four minors found working at Alabama poultry plant run by firm found responsible for teen’s death

NBC News

Four minors found working at Alabama poultry plant run by firm found responsible for teen’s death

Laura Strickler – May 18, 2024

Four minors as young as 16 were allegedly discovered working overnight at an Alabama slaughterhouse owned by the same firm that was found directly responsible for the death of a 16-year-old Mississippi worker last summer, the U.S. Labor Department said in federal court filings.

The company, Mar-Jac Poultry, has denied that it knowingly hired minors for its Jasper, Alabama, facility, saying the workers had verified IDs that gave ages older than 17, and has also argued that some of the workers were performing jobs that are not prohibited by federal regulations.

The Labor Department is seeking a temporary restraining order against Mar-Jac as part of the ongoing legal dispute. Agency officials declined to comment, citing their investigation.

The Labor Department has said that most slaughterhouse work is too dangerous for minors and is prohibited by federal regulations. Under the Biden administration, the department has taken action against companies for employing minors to clean, use or work near dangerous machinery. A chicken trade group to which Mar-Jac belongs says it has “zero tolerance” for employing minors, and a major meat industry trade group also stated recently that no minors should be working in slaughterhouses.

Mar-Jac’s attorney Larry Stine said the company has a policy of not hiring anyone under the age of 18. Federal law, however, does not categorically prohibit minors from working in slaughterhouses, listing a few narrow exceptions. Stine told NBC News that to defend against child labor allegations, he argued in court filings that the specific jobs were allowed under the law.

Mar-Jac Poultry in Jasper, Ala. (Google Maps)
Mar-Jac Poultry in Jasper, Ala. (Google Maps)

Stine wrote in a brief that the job performed by two of the workers in the “rehang department,” which involves lifting and hanging chilled and eviscerated chicken carcasses, is not prohibited by federal regulations. He also wrote that the workers were not using power machinery, and that a job where one of the workers used a knife to cut wings from carcasses on a conveyor belt is also not prohibited.

The company said the workers were verified through the government’s E-Verify system and that once the Labor Department identified them as minors the workers were immediately fired. Stine said the alleged minors in Alabama were hired directly by Mar-Jac and not a third-party staffing company.

The Jasper plant was cited in December for a “serious violation” of worker safety by a different part of the Labor Department, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

In November, according to OSHA, an employee “reached into [a] machine using an unguarded approach attempting to rectify the hanging placement of a chicken and was injured.”

According to the agency’s online enforcement database, Mar-Jac formally settled with OSHA on the injury citation earlier this week.

Court documents show the Labor Department’s child labor investigation into the Alabama facility began with a complaint in March of this year. In May, 20 Labor investigators went into the plant without prior notice in the early-morning hours and verified that at least four of the workers at the plant were minors, according to the department’s court filings.

The Jasper facility processes more than 1.6 million chickens per week, according to the company’s website.

In affidavits, Labor Department investigators said there were 18-year-old workers present who told investigators they were hired by Mar-Jac when they were 15.

At least some of the minors working at the plant were Guatemalan and attended a local high school, Labor investigators said. They said the minors started their shifts at 11 p.m. and worked from Sunday through Thursday.

Death in Mississippi

In January, OSHA found Mar-Jac to be directly responsible for the death of 16-year-old Duvan Perez at its Hattiesburg, Mississippi, facility. Perez’s body was sucked into a machine that he was cleaning on the night shift and he died instantly. Perez’s family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Mar-Jac.https:

16-year-old dies in accident at Mississippi poultry plant: //www.nbcnews.com/news/embedded-video/mmvo188825669620

The company has contested OSHA’s conclusions, according to the agency’s enforcement database.

In a previous email about the incident, Stine said, “Mar-Jac thoroughly investigated the accident and has not found any errors committed by its safety or human resources employees. It has learned many lessons from the accident and has taken aggressive steps to prevent the occurrence of another accident or hiring underage workers.”

The NBC News documentary “Slaughterhouse Children” revealed that at least nine times in the past three years, American citizens have complained to the Hattiesburg Police Department and sometimes to Mar-Jac that their identities were stolen and being used by Mar-Jac workers, according to police reports obtained via public information requests.

The company maintained that it was duped by workers using false identities who were hired by an outside staffing firm.

Slaughterhouse children: Child labor exposed in America’s food industry

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/embedded-video/mmvo200320069879

Perez used the identity of a 32-year-old man to get his job at Mar-Jac in Mississippi, the company previously told NBC News. The company has also said Perez was a contract worker and that Mar-Jac relied on a staffing company to fill positions at the Hattiesburg facility and verify work eligibility.

As part of the company’s response to Perez’s death, Mar-Jac said it was applying additional scrutiny to any IDs presented for employment. Company representatives said they were also hanging up signs saying children could not be employed and the third-party hiring firm was required to provide a photo of applicants to Mar-Jac in addition to their photo ID.

Some of the steps Mar-Jac said it was taking in Mississippi are the same as those recommended in a new “best practices” document for meat processing companies released a few weeks ago by the nation’s largest meat industry trade group, the Meat Institute, which represents companies that sell beef, pork, lamb and poultry products.

The group’s best practices were published after a year of aggressive federal investigations and high-profile media coverage showing that the hiring of children to work in slaughterhouses was widespread across the industry.

But the trade group also said categorically that minors should not be working in slaughterhouses. In a press release accompanying the new best practices document, Meat Institute President and CEO Julie Anna Potts wrote, “The members of the Meat Institute are universally aligned that meat and poultry production facilities are no place for children.”

Stine noted that Mar-Jac is not a member of the Meat Institute. Mar-Jac does belong to trade groups representing the poultry industry, including the National Chicken Council, which says it represents companies that provide about 95 percent of chicken meat products to U.S. consumers.

In a statement, Tom Super, a spokesperson for the National Chicken Council, said, “The poultry industry has zero tolerance for the hiring of minors. Our members have recently come together to form a Task Force to Prevent Child Labor, to treat this issue as non-competitive and to foster collaboration through the sharing of best practices that aid in the prevention of minors from gaining employment.”

“Unfortunately, in most of these cases, minors are hired even when using all of the required government screening programs and the applicants appear to be of legal age. These challenges are not unique to the poultry industry but are systemic issues affecting many other sectors in the United States, as well.”

Asked about Mar-Jac’s assertion that minors are not barred from some jobs, however, Super said, “Some jobs are lawful, some aren’t. We oppose all unlawful hiring.”

Iran hangs two women as surge in executions intensifies: NGO

AFP

Iran hangs two women as surge in executions intensifies: NGO

Stuart Williams – May 18, 2024

Activists are worried by the surge in executions in Iran (Ludovic MARIN)
Activists are worried by the surge in executions in Iran (Ludovic MARIN)

Iran on Saturday hanged at least seven people, including two women, while a member of its Jewish minority is at imminent risk of execution as the Islamic republic further intensified its use of capital punishment, an NGO said.

Parvin Mousavi, 53, a mother of two grown-up children, was hanged in Urmia prison in northwestern Iran along with five men convicted in various drug-related cases, the Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) said in a statement.

In Nishapur in eastern Iran, a 27-year-old woman named Fatemeh Abdullahi was hanged on charges of murdering her husband, who was also her cousin, it said.

IHR says it has tallied at least 223 executions this year, with at least 50 so far in May alone. A new surge began following the end of Persian New Year and Ramadan holidays in April, with 115 people including six women hanged since then, it said.

Iran carries out more recorded executions of women than any other country. Activists say many such convicts are victims of forced or abusive marriages.

Iran last year carried out more hangings than in any year since 2015, according to NGOs, which accuse the Islamic republic of using capital punishment as a means to instil fear in the wake of protests that erupted in autumn 2022.

“The silence of the international community is unacceptable,” IHR director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam told AFP.

“Those executed belong to the poor and marginalised groups of Iranian society and didn’t have fair trials with due process.”

– ‘Killing machine’ –

IHR said Mousavi had been in prison for four years. It cited a source as saying she had been paid the equivalent of 15 euros to carry a package she had been told contained medicine but was in fact five kilos of morphine.

“They are the low-cost victims of the Islamic republic’s killing machine, which aims at instilling fear among people to prevent new protests,” added Amiry-Moghaddam.

The group meanwhile said a member of Iran’s Jewish community, which has drastically reduced in numbers in recent years but is still the largest in the Middle East outside Israel, was at imminent risk of execution over a murder charge.

Arvin Ghahremani, 20, was convicted of murder during a street fight when he was 18 and is scheduled to be executed in the western city of Kermanshah on Monday, it said, adding it had received an audio message from his mother Sonia Saadati asking for his life to be spared.

His family is seeking to ask the family of the victim to forgo the execution in line with Iran’s Islamic law of retribution, or qesas.

Also at risk of execution is Kamran Sheikheh, the last surviving member of a group of seven Iranian Kurdish men who were first arrested between early December 2009 and late January 2010 and later sentenced to death for “corruption on earth” over alleged membership of extremist groups, it said.

Six men convicted in the same case have been executed in the last months almost one-and-a-half decades after their initial arrest, the last being Khosro Besharat who was hanged in Ghezel Hesar prison outside Tehran this week.

There has been an international outcry meanwhile over the death sentence handed out last month to Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi, seen by activists as retaliation for his music backing the 2022 protests. His lawyers are appealing the verdict.

The Saga of Clarence Thomas and His Luxury RV Takes a Disturbing Turn

The New Republic

The Saga of Clarence Thomas and His Luxury RV Takes a Disturbing Turn

Greg Sargent – May 16, 2024

Faced with a barrage of ethics scandals that have tarred the Supreme Court as riddled with corruption, Justice Clarence Thomas has sought to cast them as merely an outgrowth of politics in Washington, D.C. “It’s a hideous place,” Thomas said recently of the nation’s capital, in some of his most extensive remarks about his ethical lapses, noting that he’s been subject to “nastiness” and “lies.” Thomas added, “It’s one of the reasons we like R.V.ing.”

So it’s fitting that the latest sordid turn in these sagas involves none other than Thomas’s recreational vehicle, that symbol of his yearning to escape Washington to mingle with reg’lar folk who don’t subject each other to the viciousness he faces in the capital.

Thomas is still refusing to reveal whether he repaid the principal on the $267,000 loan that he received from Anthony Welters, a wealthy health care executive and personal friend, to purchase his R.V. in 1999, according to a letter that Senators Ron Wyden and Sheldon Whitehouse have sent to an attorney for Thomas.

Thomas also has yet to say whether the loan’s principal was forgiven by the lender, the Democrats argue in the letter, which was obtained by The New Republic. If it was forgiven all or in part, the senators say, it could constitute “a significant amount of taxable income” that should be reported on federal tax returns.

“Your client’s refusal to clarify how the loan was resolved raises serious concerns regarding violations of federal tax laws,” the senators write. Wyden chairs the Finance Committee, and Whitehouse chairs the Judiciary Committee’s panel on federal courts, both of which are spearheading an investigation of Supreme Court ethics scandals.

The tale involving this R.V. constitutes one of the higher-profile instances of Thomas potentially accepting a form of income from wealthy benefactors, resulting in a drumbeat of stories that have shaken the court. Though Thomas’s frequent depiction of his Prevost Marathon R.V. (which he purchased used) as a sign of his affection for salt-of-the-earth leisure activities appears sincere, it’s also a luxury vehicle and an extremely pricey asset, perhaps comparable to a medium-size yacht.

The whole saga began when The New York Times revealed last summer that Thomas had purchased the R.V. in 1999 for $267,230 with financing from Welters that Thomas almost certainly could not have obtained from a bank, as experts told the Times.

In response to the paper’s questions, Welters—a longtime friend who grew up poor, as Thomas did, and went on to amass a reported $80 million fortune in the health care industry—would say only that the loan was “satisfied.” As the Times noted, this doesn’t mean the loan was paid back.

Thomas also has not been forthcoming, the Democrats say. Since the Times story broke, Wyden’s Finance Committee has sought information about the loan and, through Welters’s cooperation, has obtained a limited number of documents related to it. As the committee announced last fall, those materials showed only that Thomas had paid back some of the interest and appeared to reveal that, in 2008, Welters forgave most or all of the principal of the loan.

But Thomas did not report this on his 2008 Financial Disclosure Report, the committee said, and in response to the committee’s questions, he has not clarified whether he reported any of that money as income on tax filings.

Which brings us to the present. The senators have been pressing Thomas’s lawyer, Elliot Berke, to provide additional detail on the forgiven loan, and last month, Berke responded with a letter. But once again, the letter—which TNR viewed—offered little additional clarity. It said Thomas “made all payments” on a “regular basis until the terms of the agreement were satisfied in full” and that he’s complied with judicial disclosure requirements.

That avoids detailing what those terms were, whether the payments were merely for interest—as opposed to paying off the loan’s principal—and whether the arrangement ended up forgiving much or all of that principal. If so, it would functionally constitute a large chunk of taxable income, Wyden argued.

“This raises the question of whether this justice is in compliance with federal tax law, which requires a disclosure of forgiven debt and taxable income,” Wyden told me. “The central question is: Did he ever repay the principal?”

The senators’ new letter demands more information on all those fronts. Berke, Thomas’s lawyer, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

This raises important issues even if there is no suggestion whatsoever that this particular money impacted any Thomas rulings or that Welters himself had any business before the court. We should expect such transparency from judges because we deserve to know what sort of financial interests could conceivably motivate those who issue rulings that shape our lives, and because judges should serve as models of upholding rules and laws upon which the integrity of the system rests, notes Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

“We subject all federal judges—including the justices—to financial disclosure rules because we are worried about even the appearance that they are deciding cases in ways that are consistent with their financial interests,” Vladeck said, stressing that the Democrats are raising legitimate questions about Thomas.

“We want judges and justices who are participating in the system and not subverting it,” Vladeck added, and thus “lead by example.”

After ProPublica revealed that Thomas accepted an extraordinary array of luxury trips and vacations from billionaire and Republican megadonor Harlan Crow without disclosing them, Thomas defended his conduct. He claimed that “colleagues” advised him that “hospitality from close personal friends” is “not reportable,” but ethics experts sharply dispute this and insist such disclosure is required.

That aside, as The New Republic’s Matt Ford argues, Thomas has made it clear he views all this mainly as a public relations problem and demonstrates little concern for any need to demonstrate ethical propriety, thus making him partly responsible for the questions and the “nastiness” that continue to dog him.

Wyden seconds the point. Thomas could simply be more forthcoming about the R.V. loan, he says, thus demonstrating both that he respects the need to maintain appearances and that he’s in compliance with income tax filing requirements.

“We’re giving the justice the opportunity to clear this huge mess up,” Wyden told me. “Nobody in this country is above the law. Not even Supreme Court justices.”

Lauren Boebert Admits Exactly Why Trump Stooges Descended on Trial

The New Republic – Opinion

Lauren Boebert Admits Exactly Why Trump Stooges Descended on Trial

Talia Jane – May 16, 2024

Representative Lauren Boebert admitted exactly why she and her conservative coterie appeared at Manhattan Criminal Court on Thursday for Donald Trump’s hush-money trial: to help him circumvent his gag order.

The firebrand representative of Beetlejuice fame immediately took to X (formerly Twitter) to denigrate lead witness Michael Cohen and Judge Juan Merchan’s daughter on Trump’s behalf.

Boebert seemed to acknowledge that she was acting as a surrogate to violate Trump’s gag order, writing on X, “They may have gagged President Trump. They didn’t gag me. They didn’t gag the rest of us.”

“I wonder if I’ll run into Judge Merchan’s daughter here in court today,” Boebert wrote, accusing her of “being paid millions and millions of dollars by Democrat campaigns all across the country.”

Boebert also threw some barbs at key witness Michael Cohen, asking, “Why is that fraud Michael Cohen allowed on TikTok with a shirt of Trump behind bars but Trump can’t speak out?”

Conservative attacks against Merchan’s daughter—an attorney who operates a progressive political consulting firm—have raged on for weeks, spearheaded by Trump in an effort to remove Merchan from overseeing the case. Trump’s attacks have led to threats against family members of prosecutors overseeing the case. Merchan criticized the behavior as an effort to impede the rule of law.

Merchan’s gag order prohibits Trump from speaking about people participating in his hush-money trial, save for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and Merchan himself. The order also bars Trump from speaking about the judge’s and prosecution’s family members. Trump is similarly prohibited from tapping surrogates to speak on his behalf.

While none have yet explicitly acknowledged they’re acting as surrogates for Trump, multiple conservative politicians have criticized the gag order while making denigrating statements in line with Trump’s against those Trump is prohibited from speaking about. Earlier this week, Senator Tommy Tuberville admitted he went to the trial to help Trump “overcome his gag order.”

When asked on Tuesday if Trump was using people to speak on his behalf, Trump declared, “I do have many surrogates, and they’re all speaking very beautifully.”

Merchan previously noted that, as Trump has violated his gag order 10 times, he may have to consider jail time should he violate it again. For Merchan to take action on surrogates, there would need to be proof that Trump directed them to speak. With these blabbermouths, direct admission seems to be just a matter of time.

Maddow Blog | Facing a tough race, Ted Cruz makes a new and implausible pitch

MSNBC – Opinion

Maddow Blog | Facing a tough race, Ted Cruz makes a new and implausible pitch

Steve Benen – May 14, 2024

Chip Somodevilla

To know anything about Sen. Ted Cruz is to know that he’s never been especially popular on Capitol Hill. To appreciate just how disliked the Texan is among his colleagues, consider a joke Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told in 2016: “If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.”

The South Carolinian was making a bipartisan assessment at the time. Over the course of his tenure, GOP senators have come to see Cruz as a tiresome, grandstanding blowhard who causes more problems for the party than he solves. Former House Speaker John Boehner went so far as to refer to Cruz as “Lucifer in the flesh,” adding, “I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.”

Among Democrats, the Texas Republican’s reputation is vastly worse. Cruz, in Democrats’ estimation, is a toxic, far-right election denier, far more interested in partisan podcasting than governing, who cannot be trusted, liked, or respected.

For years, Cruz made little effort to deny his unpopularity among his colleagues. In fact, he embraced it, effectively bragging about his I’m-not-here-to-make-friends approach to Senate work.

But after more than a decade in Congress, as he prepares for a potentially competitive re-election fight, the senator is trying something new, unexpected, and implausible for those who’ve followed his career: Ted Cruz is encouraging voters to see him as a figure capable of bipartisan cooperation. The Texas Tribune recently reported:

The Wall Street Journal soon after published a related report, noting that Cruz is “rolling out a softer, bipartisan side,” and taking steps to “recast his image as a dealmaking lawmaker.”

The article added, “His campaign even shot ads featuring ‘Democrats for Cruz.’”

A week later, The Washington Post noted the Texan’s role in shepherding a bill that he’d co-authored overseeing the Federal Aviation Administration. “It’s been a whiplash moment for his colleagues, Republicans and Democrats alike, who have rarely seen Cruz take his Ivy League intellect and channel it into something so … bipartisan,” the article said.

Stepping back, there are a couple of questions hanging overhead.

The first, of course, is why he’s doing this. I won’t pretend to know what the senator is thinking, but there are a handful of possibilities to consider.

It’s possible, for example, that Cruz, after more than a decade of accomplishment-free grandstanding, has finally come to realize that he can use his position to advance policy goals. Or put another way, perhaps it’s finally dawned on the Texas Republican that he can be more productive if he tries acting less like a mindless partisan and like an actual senator.

It’s also possible that Cruz is truly worried about his re-election prospects and he’s toying with a political rebrand in the hopes of expanding his electoral appeal. Let’s also not forget that the senator has presidential ambitions, and his interest in a future national race might help explain his latest shifts.

All of which leads to the second question: How long will this “rebranding” initiative last?

Time will tell, of course, but given everything we’ve seen from Cruz throughout his career, it’s difficult to imagine his alleged interest in bipartisanship extending beyond Election Day 2024.

Chiefs Kicker Goes Wide Right In Blasting Joe Biden On Abortion In Graduation Speech

HuffPost

Chiefs Kicker Goes Wide Right In Blasting Joe Biden On Abortion In Graduation Speech

Ron Dicker – May 14, 2024

Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker launched a right-wing screed at President Joe Biden during Saturday’s commencement at Benedictine College (Kan.). (Watch the video below.)

Butker targeted Biden’s support of abortion rights and railed at “degenerate cultural values,” “dangerous gender ideologies,” and the “tyranny of diversity, equity, and inclusion” on a platform he said was given to him by God.

The guest speaker, whose game-tying field goal extended the recent Super Bowl to overtime, where the Chiefs eventually beat the San Francisco 49ers, tried to score points with his conservative audience at the liberal arts Catholic school.

“Our own nation is led by a man who publicly and proudly proclaims his Catholic faith, but at the same time is delusional enough to make the sign of the cross during a pro-abortion rally,” he said, referring to Biden’s gesture last month that seconded a Democratic official’s criticism of Florida’s six-week abortion ban.

“He has been so vocal in his support for the murder of innocent babies that I’m sure to many people it appears that you can be both Catholic and pro-choice,” Butker continued.

Butker had already gone further afield, appearing to criticize Dr. Anthony Fauci’s COVID-19 response while voicing other conservative objections.

“Bad policies and poor leadership have negatively impacted major life issues,” he said. “Things like abortion, IVF, surrogacy, euthanasia, as well as a growing support for degenerate cultural values and media, all stem from the pervasiveness of disorder.”

HuffPost reached out to the Chiefs for comment on Butker’s remarks.

Fast-forward to 1:20 for many of Butker’s remarks aimed at Biden and culture-war points of contention:https://www.youtube.com/embed/-JS7RIKSaCc?rel=0