I Joined A Far-Right Group Of Moms. What I Witnessed Was Frightening.

HuffPost

I Joined A Far-Right Group Of Moms. What I Witnessed Was Frightening.

Phoebe Cohen December 21, 2021

“Look out for the trigger words,” the woman says. She’s perched on a chair in front of the room. She’s well-dressed yet funky with elegant boots, a demure sweater and some colorful jewelry. “‘Equality,’ ‘diversity,’ ‘inclusion,’ ‘marginalization,’… These words are CRT. If you see these words in your kids’ homework, you need to speak out.”

I am in a meeting held by a local right-wing mom’s group. It’s an organization catering to mothers who are bent on protesting at school board meetings to stop the supposedly evil critical race theory agenda from being taught in public schools and address other typically conservative concerns.

Critical race theory is not currently being taught in public schools.

There are about 20 of us. We are all maskless, all (apparently) white, mostly women and all on the younger side. I’m in my early 40s and I seem to be the oldest person in the room. A group of children, including my son, the only one in a mask, are scampering merrily in a play area down the hall while a young woman with a baby in her front carrier keeps an eye on them. On the wall by the door of our seminar room is a sign. It says: “Children should be: Heard. Respected. Encouraged. Loved. Appreciated. Guided with Compassion. Given Freedom to Learn Without Coercion.”

What exactly that last phrase means is ominously vague.

For several years now I have been worried about the increasing right-wing views that I have noticed in my demographic (white suburban women). Before 2016, I always thought of Nazis as mainly historical villains that belonged in Indiana Jones movies or old news reels or the sad stories my grandfather told me. Now, however, as the last Holocaust survivors are dying, I am aware that fascism is creeping back into the world at large in terrifying ways.

I wanted to know how I could fight against the appallingly stupid yet dangerously widespread disinformation that is entrancing many of my friends and neighbors. Basic facts about COVID-19 are being dismissed by whole states as part of the “liberal mainstream corporate media.” Bodies from COVID victims were stacking up in ICUs and filling the morgues back in 2020, yet I was still called a “child abuser” by people on the street because I made my son wear a mask. Why are people going nuts? Why are people dismissing science and history in favor of conspiracy theories? And, most importantly, how could we nudge the nation in a saner direction?

I was especially curious about activist groups that specifically target suburban women. These groups seemed intent on making life more dangerous for my child. According to my local right-wing women’s group, masks should not be allowed in school. They told us to stop worrying about kids dying of COVID. They were also vocal about not wanting racism and its deep, formative history in the United States to be taught. Some of these people literally do not believe white privilege exists because, according to them, the Union soldiers who fought in the Civil War were overwhelmingly white. (No, I don’t understand that argument either.) Others feel parts of our country’s history shouldn’t be included in curriculums if it makes people ― namely white people ― uncomfortable.

Every teacher I knew was struggling with COVID restrictions and dealing with students venting their post-pandemic trauma through increasingly disruptive behavior. School districts across the country were dealing with staffing shortages due to teachers burning out from stress. Why add to teachers’ difficulties by threatening school instructors who dared to teach topics like Jim Crow laws, the civil rights movement and the repercussions of slavery in America?

Some of these people literally do not believe white privilege exists because, according to them, the Union soldiers who fought in the Civil War were overwhelmingly white. (No, I don’t understand that argument either.)

To learn more, I joined a local right-wing Facebook group for moms. It’s a private group that requires aspiring members to answer some questions before they’re granted entry. One question was “Why do you want to join?” I replied, “I want to be more involved with my kids’ school.” A week passed and then a moderator for the group contacted me privately. “Can you be more specific about what issue most concerns you?”

Yikes. Security was apparently very tight with this group. They weren’t going to let just any mom glide in using a few generic answers.

“I’m mostly interested in issues that involve keeping kids physically in school,” I messaged back. “Zoom school was devastating for my kid and I don’t want that to happen again.” I wasn’t lying about any of that. It’s one of the few opinions I share with many conservative parents.

The moderator sent me a thumbs-up emoji and let me into the group.

Once inside, I found the members were all stripes of Republican and I was pleasantly surprised to see opinion was not monolithic in the group. Several moms argued against the more far-right posters. One woman posted an objection to children reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” in class. “Divisive Concepts,” she wrote with a broken heart emoji. Underneath was a screenshot of a direct message from someone who appeared to be a student that read, “I’m in English right now. We’re currently reading ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ There’s a part where Calpurnia brings the kids to church with her and another black woman is being extremely racist towards Scout and Jem. My teacher was saying it was not racism because white people have a higher power over black people in society and that black people can’t be racist.”

There were several indignant emoji reactions in response to this post. One mom, however, pushed back. “Well,” she commented, “the woman at the church complained that Calpurnia had brought white children to the Black church, possibly one of the few places Black people felt any sense of freedom and safety. It’s a little absurd to call the woman racist, given the context.” This comment got a couple “likes” and no pushback.

Another surprise I found in the Facebook group was that some huge media outlets were giving them a platform. One of the founders of the group posted that she had done an interview with The New York Times as part of a story on parental rights.

The New York Times! I was dumbfounded. None of the women who ran the pro-Democrat “Indivisible” groups in my town had even managed to get an interview with the local paper!

I scanned the comments and my eyes nearly popped out of my head.

“It’ll be fine,” another mom wrote after the initial poster expressed concern about The New York Times possibly misquoting her. “It’s a lesson I learned the hard way after the BBC screwed me.”

The BBC! The BBC was talking to these women?

I had to know more.

Unfortunately a few of the moms may have become suspicious of me. Perhaps I had “liked” too many comments by moms pushing back against the anti-CRT posts. Perhaps some moderators had found the very liberal comments that I had posted on other public news articles. In any case, when I expressed interest in joining an in-person roundtable discussion event, I saw that the location of the event suddenly disappeared. I messaged the group moderator about the event location.

“Just a heads up,” she messaged back, “I think most people will not be masking. Is that something you’ll be comfortable with?”

I wondered if she was trying to frighten me off. “Yes, that’s fine,” I replied.

I never received the location, but luckily I had written it down before it disappeared from the event post.

I drove to the meeting with my son. The group moderator had been right. When I joined the meeting, I saw that nobody in the packed room was masked. I gritted my teeth and sat down anyway. I was fully vaccinated and my son wore a mask. He was the only one.

I listened to the speakers at the meeting while they discussed how to run for, campaign and pressure school boards. Many parents bemoaned how they had to pull their kids from public schools over mask mandates and instead enroll them in private schools. It was a common story. I got the impression that most of these families had income levels that allowed them to pay thousands in private school fees because they wanted to take a stand on masks. I was probably the poorest person there.

There was a lot of anger directed at teachers. “Rat out these teachers,” one mother instructed. “Find a lawyer who can challenge these teachers.” Another woman disdainfully noted that teachers “don’t even know what they’re doing half the time. They just pull it off the internet.” A third woman said, “There is no discipline for teachers outside of taking away their credentials.” The battle lines were clearly drawn.

I raised my hand. “What do you say to people who are like, ‘Oh, you’re gonna put bounties on teachers’ heads. You’re marching outside of school board members’ homes with guns. School board members are getting death threats and feeling terrorized’?”

I could see several women visibly flinch at the word “bounty.” One woman said she disliked the term “bounty” but she could see the need for “monetary compensation” for those who turn in teachers that were doing things parents found unacceptable. “There are no repercussions for teachers who break the law,” she said. “If we have to offer monetary compensation for people to report teachers, I see no problem with that. It’s an incentive for people to wake up.”

It wasn’t clear what laws these teachers were supposedly breaking. As far as I could tell, teachers ― like everyone else ― got punished if they broke laws.

Another woman raised her hand. “Look, I know we want to change school boards,” she said, “but elections aren’t until 2023. What do we do until then? We just can’t sit around and let them attack our kids. We have to do SOMETHING.”

I caught a gleam in the woman’s eye I didn’t like. Was there some flirtation with insurrection being suggested here? What, exactly, was she saying?

Another woman nodded. “Listen, we’ve tried playing nice. But they just dig in their heels and dig in their heels. We have to start being not so nice.”

One woman said she disliked the term ‘bounty’ but she could see the need for ‘monetary compensation’ for those who turn in teachers that were doing things parents found unacceptable. … ‘If we have to offer monetary compensation for people to report teachers, I see no problem with that. It’s an incentive for people to wake up.’

I didn’t like where the discussion was going. The moderator guided the topic back to safer ground. “Be pleasantly persistent,” she smiled. “Be annoying. Be the woman at the school board meetings who always shows up. Be the person who, when the meeting organizers see you, say, ‘Oh, God, her again.’ Be that person. And please try to get people to vote in municipal elections.”

Fair enough. A lot of the roundtable debate felt like a Republican version of a Run for Something meeting. Run for Something was a movement started after Donald Trump won the presidency that was meant to encourage young progressives to start their own campaigns for local political office. This right-wing women’s group seemed to be following the same model, but there was an undercurrent of rage among the group members that I had never seen in a Run for Something meeting.

Despite my uneasiness, I couldn’t help but find myself liking the women in the room. They were charismatic. They were energetic. They had no problem letting my low-functioning autistic son play with their children, which is unfortunately rare among a lot of the other mothers I’ve encountered. But this made me even more uneasy. I realized these women were dangerous precisely because they were so friendly. Their condemnation of history lessons about Ruby Bridges and Jim Crow laws and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was repulsive. They were trying to suppress the truth by labeling the unassailable facts of racism in the U.S. as “divisive.” “Equality,” “diversity” and “inclusion” were not virtues to be celebrated but “trigger words” with a poisonous intent. This nefariously clever bit of relabeling disgusted me. There was a very clear far-right agenda at work here.

Groups like the one I joined often appeal to mothers. The pandemic has hit moms especially hard. Lack of child care has resulted in a “she-cession” with thousands of women leaving the workforce to take care of their children. Lonely, frustrated, financially stressed people tend to be prime targets for radical groups. These right-wing women’s groups offer a sense of community and friendship to women who are isolated at home with their kids. It can be frighteningly easy for some people to start nodding along with all the rhetoric about the evils of critical race theory and COVID conspiracy theories if the women espousing them are also offering you coffee and friendship and child care ― and making you feel seen and heard.

I am currently still a member of this local right-wing women’s Facebook group. It has helped me to understand where these people are coming from ― and just how motivated they are. My membership could end up being rescinded, however, as I plan to attend a few upcoming school board meetings to defend the accurate and honest teaching of all parts of American history, especially in regard to racism and what it has meant and means to be Black in this country.

I can’t stop thinking about the gleam in that woman’s eye as she said, “We just can’t sit around and let them attack our kids. We have to do something.” Though some people think merely tweeting our outrage or frustration is productive (it’s not), those of us fighting against the far right need to be more aware of how energetic and organized they’re becoming and the lengths they’re willing to go to in order to get their way. Right-wing activists are attending school board meetings in hopes of transforming our children’s education, and, ultimately, their lives and the future of the United States. It’s time for us to be just as active to ensure this doesn’t happen. We must fight for our children’s safety and their right to learn our nation’s history ― even the ugly parts. Especially the ugly parts.

After all, when ugly history gets ignored, it tends to get repeated.

Phoebe Cohen has walked many paths in life, including living in the Gobi Desert as a Peace Corps volunteer and working as a paramedic in several states. Cohen’s work has been featured in Graphic Medicine, Mutha Magazine and BorderX. She regularly posts on her website Merry Misandrist. Cohen is a part-time cartoonist, writer and nursing student. She has been known to go up to five hours without coffee.

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Manchin killing Build Back Better is ‘devastating’ to climate change action, experts say

Yahoo! News

Manchin killing Build Back Better is ‘devastating’ to climate change action, experts say

Ben Adler, Senior Climate Editor December 20, 2021

When Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., announced on Fox News on Sunday that he won’t vote for the current version of Build Back Better, experts predicted he may have single-handedly killed the world’s best hope of avoiding catastrophic climate change.

In order to avoid breaching the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold that will trigger a cascade of devastating effects, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that global emissions of the greenhouse gasses that cause climate change must be cut in half by 2030, with emissions reaching net zero by 2050.

President Biden committed the United States — the world’s second-largest emitting country currently, and the largest historically — to reaching those goals and laid out a plan to achieve it. It was centered around Build Back Better’s unprecedented $555 billion in spending to subsidize transitioning the country to clean sources of energy and electric vehicles.

Without those actions, according to modeling by experts, the U.S. likely won’t hit its targets. And if the U.S. isn’t on pace to hit its targets, that will undermine the whole global push to switch to clean energy and cut emissions.

“We won’t be acting on the climate crisis if we don’t pass this bill, and there’s not a decade left to waste,” Leah Stokes, a climate policy professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told Vox.

Princeton engineering professor Jesse Jenkins, who studies electricity policy, tweeted a one-word response to Manchin’s comments: “devastating.”

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., speaks to the media in September. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., speaking to the media in September. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

“It’s in everyone’s interest for the U.S. to slash emissions. As the second-largest polluter of greenhouse gasses in the world, that’s fundamental to solving the problem,” Pete Ogden, vice president for energy, climate, and the environment at the U.N. Foundation, told Yahoo News. “And because we have an amazing ability to shape the markets in such a way as to drive innovation, and with our market locked in, as the Biden administration has been trying to do to this clean energy future, that’s going to have a global impact on clean energy markets.”

Environmental activists and experts such as Ogden have not given up on the prospect that the U.S. could still meet its emissions targets, however. Some hold out hope that Manchin, the conservative Democrat from a coal- and gas-heavy state, can still be persuaded to vote for a revised version of the bill.

“This is not the end of the road,” said League of Conservation Voters senior vice president Tiernan Sittenfeld in a statement. “We are more determined than ever, and we will keep fighting like hell to ensure the Build Back Better Act becomes law — for the people of West Virginia and for all people in this country who care deeply about climate, jobs, and justice.”

Green groups are also trying to figure out alternative ways of getting sufficiently ambitious climate policies in place through separate legislation or regulations adopted by federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency.

Sen. Joe Manchin with reporters
Manchin is followed by reporters as he leaves a caucus meeting with Senate Democrats at the Capitol on Friday. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

“This is a clear signal that the administration must pursue big and bold efforts across the federal government to achieve as much as possible on climate & clean energy action, clean air and clean water by utilizing its robust executive branch authority,” Sierra Club legislative director Melinda Pierce told Yahoo News in an emailed statement. “In tandem, we are confident that the Biden Administration will work on a legislative path forward on climate and clean energy, because we must deliver on our international commitments.”

Given the evenly divided Senate, whether the U.S. could live up to its international commitments is an unanswered question. Throughout the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, last month, Biden administration officials and Democratic leaders in Congress repeated three words as if it were an almost magical mantra: Build Back Better. Nearly every U.S.-sponsored event amounted to a primer on what the bill would deliver. Based in part on its climate change provisions, special envoy for climate John Kerry negotiated joint climate actions with a number of other large nations, including China, the No. 1 emitter.

While the national commitments made at the Glasgow conference, also known as COP26, fell short of what is needed to stay below 1.5C, climate scientists and activists hope that next year’s conference, COP27, will see nations return with more ambitious pledges. That’s a lot less likely to happen if the country most responsible for climate change fails to pass the bill it touted at COP26 and isn’t clearly on a path to fulfilling its pledges.

Joe Biden
President Biden addresses a press conference at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in November. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

“This is a huge lost opportunity, not to get this thing passed right now, before the holidays and before the end of the year, so that the administration would have a full year of running room [before COP27],” Ogden said.

Ogden argued, however, that Biden can find a way to show the U.S. is on the way to slashing its emissions.

“There are still multiple paths ahead and time to get things moving in the right direction before the next COP,” Ogden said.

For example, Ogden noted that the U.S.’s pledge to reduce emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, by 30 percent by 2030 is not solely contingent on the methane-focused components of Build Back Better, which are subsidies for oil and gas well operators to adopt advanced methane-control technologies and fees for those who continue to leak excessive methane. The EPA is also writing regulations that would clamp down on methane emissions.

“One of the major initiatives that the administration has been driving globally is a methane reduction pledge,” Ogden said. “That’s something that the administration has already set in motion, with a domestic regulatory framework to achieve that. So I think that’s going forward.”

On Monday, the EPA announced that it had finalized new rules raising the average fuel efficiency of cars and light trucks. As long as the U.S. finds a way of getting the cuts it promised, the administration can keep leading the charge on global climate diplomacy, Ogden argued.

“I think that the rest of the world isn’t ultimately concerned about whether the climate action the United States takes is via Build Back Better or some other suite of actions, legislative and regulatory,” he said.

‘America’s dirty secret’ is a public health nightmare for Alabama residents

Yahoo! Entertainment

‘America’s dirty secret’ is a public health nightmare for Alabama residents

Kylie Mar, Host & Producer, Yahoo Entertainment

December 20, 2021

Catherine Coleman Flowers US environmental activist

On CBS’s 60 Minuteson Sunday, correspondent Bill Whitaker took a deep dive into the lack of sewage treatment affecting residents of Lowndes County, Ala.

According to Whitaker, Lowndes County is one of the most neglected corners of the country and the poverty rate is double the national average, which makes sanitary sewage disposal financially unattainable for the county’s residents.

“I have seen things like this in Haiti, and parts of Southeast Asia. I have never seen anything like this in the United States,” said a shocked Whitaker as he scanned one resident’s backyard.

Environmental health researcher and White House advisor Catherine Coleman Flowers has been battling this longstanding, and overlooked, public health failure in Lowndes County for 20 years. It is what she calls “America’s dirty secret.”

“If this was a community of more affluent people, this would’ve made headlines 20 years ago when I first started doing the work,” said Flowers. She added, “The reason that the situation has continued for so long is because of the type of benign neglect that has happened to Black communities, poor communities, and rural communities across the United States.”

Whitaker shared that the state of Alabama could not identify how many homes had this problem, so Flowers went door-to-door to find out. After surveying 3,000 homes, Flowers found that two-thirds had failing systems or no systems at all. Even worse, the unsanitary conditions have even had an effect on the residents’ health, according to a tropical disease specialist at Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Rojelio Mejia, who tested the stool and soil from residents’ properties.

“Using a PCR test, like those used to detect COVID-19, they found small amounts of DNA from hookworms, a parasite that can cause stomach problems, anemia and developmental delays in children,” Whitaker reported of Mejia’s team’s findings.

“Our study in Alabama was a small study, about 55 patients, and the results were, we found over 30 percent of people in at-risk situations with poor sanitation had hookworm,” said Mejia, who was surprised by their results. “We were very shocked, and we actually had to run the sample several times to prove to ourselves that we found these numbers.”

So why has nothing been done? Lowndes County officials have claimed they don’t have the money, and the governor and the head of the State Department of Public Health declined to speak with 60 MinutesHowever, according to Sherry Bradley at the State Department of Public Health, the agency is not responsible. Nevertheless, she has taken it upon herself to start a pilot project on her own.

“I have begged money from a whole lot of people,” admitted Bradley, who also said she does not know why the state hasn’t stepped in to solve the problem.

In the end, Whitaker concluded, “Last month, just days after we spoke with Bradley, the DOJ launched an unprecedented civil rights investigation into whether the Alabama Department of Public Health is discriminating against Black residents in Lowndes, denying them access to proper sanitation.”

However, Whitaker also shared, “the department says it’s cooperating. We couldn’t find a single state program devoted to remedying the sewage problem in rural areas.”

Don’t care about the Build Back Better Act? Hearing people’s personal stories might change that

The Conversation

Don’t care about the Build Back Better Act? Hearing people’s personal stories might change that

Angela Bradbery, Frank Karel Endowed Chair in Public Interest Communications, University of Florida December 20, 2021

<span class="caption">Reporters waiting outside a private meeting between advisers to President Biden and Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema about the Build Back Better Act on Capitol Hill, Sept. 30, 2021.</span> <span class="attribution"><a class=
Reporters waiting outside a private meeting between advisers to President Biden and Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema about the Build Back Better Act on Capitol Hill, Sept. 30, 2021. AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

When U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said that he wouldn’t support President Joe Biden’s signature Build Back Better Act, he set off a wave of breaking news alerts.

It was fitting. For months, media coverage has breathlessly focused on the behind-the-scenes wrangling and hour-by-hour negotiations around the legislation. How much has been slashed from the bill today? What does it mean for the future of the Democratic and Republican parties?

The roughly US $2 trillion proposal is designed to bolster what is widely seen as a frayed social safety net. But most Americans don’t think it will benefit people like them, a recent NPR/Marist poll shows. And a quarter of Americans can’t even say whether they like or dislike the legislation.

It’s no wonder the nation is so indifferent about the sweeping bill, which would change the country’s tax system, increase social services and ramp up efforts to combat climate change.

Largely omitted from news coverage – and consequently, from the national conversation – are the voices and stories of individuals who would be affected by the legislation.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, masked, leaving an office in the Senate, surrounded by people.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, masked, leaving an office in the Senate, surrounded by people.
Focusing outside D.C.

What if daily media coverage instead featured those voices? What if reporters and talk show hosts ditched the pundits and issue experts and instead explored the problems that led to the proposed policies – through the eyes and voices of those living with those problems?

That means we would hear from parents who need help paying for child care and elderly people who can’t afford medicines or hearing aids.

We would hear from people who can’t afford health care, people living in their cars or on the streets, and yes, those who earn more than $400,000 a year. Multimillionaires, billionaires and corporations would pay more under the new tax plan.

What if news stories shined a spotlight on these voices, rather than just throwing in an occasional anecdote? Would people tune in? Would they engage in conversations or take action around the legislation?

Research shows that they likely would. And that would be good for democracy.

Real stories can spark real engagement

It’s well documented that horse-race journalism – which treats politics as a sport, focusing on who’s ahead or behind, rather than the substance of issues – is associated with an uninformed electorate and elevates public cynicism about politics. Such coverage doesn’t help people understand what proposals could mean to them.

Policy overviews filled with large numbers don’t engage people, either. When discussing the Build Back Better Act, proponents understandably focus on the scope of the problem: 2.2 million low-income Americans couldn’t get health insurance subsidies in 2019 but also weren’t eligible for Medicaid.

Just 23% of civilian workers can take paid family leave, and more than 800,000 seniors and disabled people seeking home health care are on state Medicaid waiting lists.

But science tells us that discussing large-scale suffering makes people turn away. The phenomenon is called psychic numbing. It means the problem is so big that people disengage, because they feel powerless to help. And individuals find it hard to understand the scale of large numbers.

The way to combat this? Journalists can tell stories about real people. Personal stories quickly bring big issues into focus and make them relatable. They make people care.

In 2015, for example, the Syrian refugee crisis had been raging for four years. But it took a picture of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi, whose corpse washed up on a Turkish beach after his family fled Syria by boat, to generate international horror.

After the photo of the young Syrian boy went viral, donations to refugee organizations skyrocketed. The story and photo engaged people who had not yet paid attention to the crisis.

Research backs up the notion that including real people in news stories can spark reader engagement.

A 2012 study compared people’s reactions after they read two versions of a news story detailing how the lack of health care affected one of three groups: immigrants, prisoners or the elderly.

One version presented the issue using quotes from experts. The other version included a story about a specific person’s experiences dealing with that health care issue.

The news pieces that featured people’s stories elicited emotions in readers that the policy pieces did not. That led the participants to be more willing to help the people they read about.

Including real people in news stories doesn’t mean that engaged readers will only feel sympathy for the characters profiled. Engagement could produce support or opposition to proposed policies.

Joe Biden speaks at a lectern in front of large Building Back Better posters. American flags flank him on the podium.
Joe Biden speaks at a lectern in front of large Building Back Better posters. American flags flank him on the podium.
Looking beyond the political play-by-play

The Build Back Better Act – which the U.S. House of Representatives passed in November – comes as civic engagement in the U.S. is low.

Considering the scope and potential impact of this bill, it’s a disservice to the country for news coverage to focus on the play-by-play in Washington, D.C.

If the press eases up on the machinations occurring in the marble halls of Washington, D.C., and instead focuses on real people, the U.S. could perhaps build back something else: civic engagement, a necessary part of our democratic system.

US ‘closer to civil war’ than most would like to believe, new book says

The Guardian

US ‘closer to civil war’ than most would like to believe, new book says

Martin Pengelly in New York December 20, 2021

<span>Photograph: John Minchillo/AP</span>
Photograph: John Minchillo/AP

The US is “closer to civil war than any of us would like to believe”, a member of a key CIA advisory panel has said.

The analysis by Barbara F Walter, a political science professor at the University of California at San Diego who sits on the Political Instability Task Force, is contained in a book due out next year and first reported by the Washington Post.

At the same time, three retired generals wrote in the Post that they were “increasingly concerned about the aftermath of the 2024 presidential election and the potential for lethal chaos inside our military”.

Such concerns are growing around jagged political divisions deepened by former president Donald Trump’s refusal to accept defeat in the 2020 election.

Trump’s lie that his defeat by Joe Biden was caused by electoral fraud stoked the deadly attack on the US Capitol on 6 January, over which Trump was impeached and acquitted a second time, leaving him free to run for office.

The “big lie” is also fueling moves among Republicans to restrict voting by groups that lean Democratic and to make it easier to overturn elections.

Such moves remain without counter from Democrats stymied by the filibuster, the Senate rule that demands supermajorities for most legislation.

In addition, though Republican presidential nominees have won the popular vote only once since 1988, the GOP has by playing political hardball stocked the supreme court with conservatives, who outnumber liberals 6-3.

All such factors and more, including a pandemic which has stoked resistance to government, have contributed to Walter’s analysis.

Last month, she tweeted: “The CIA actually has a taskforce designed to try to predict where and when political instability and conflict is likely to break out around the world. It’s just not legally allowed to look at the US. That means we are blind to the risk factors that are rapidly emerging here.”

The book in which Walter looks at those risk factors in the US, How Civil Wars Start, will be published in January. According to the Post, she writes: “No one wants to believe that their beloved democracy is in decline, or headed toward war.

But “if you were an analyst in a foreign country looking at events in America – the same way you’d look at events in Ukraine or Ivory Coast or Venezuela – you would go down a checklist, assessing each of the conditions that make civil war likely”.

“And what you would find is that the United States, a democracy founded more than two centuries ago, has entered very dangerous territory.”

Walter, the Post said, concludes that the US has passed through stages of “pre-insurgency” and “incipient conflict” and may now be in “open conflict”, beginning with the Capitol riot.

Citing analytics used by the Center for Systemic Peace, Walter also says the US has become an “anocracy” – “somewhere between a democracy and an autocratic state”.

Related: Capitol attack panel will determine if Trump committed crime – Republican

The US has fought a civil war, from 1861 to 1865 and against states which seceded in an attempt to maintain slavery.

Estimates of the death toll vary. The American Battlefield Trust puts it at 620,000 and says: “Taken as a percentage of today’s population, the toll would have risen as high as 6 million souls.”

Sidney Blumenthal, a former Clinton adviser turned biographer of Abraham Lincoln and Guardian contributor, said: “The secessionists in 1861 accepted Lincoln’s election as fair and legitimate.”

The current situation, he said, “is the opposite. Trump’s questioning of the election … has led to a genuine crisis of legitimacy.”

With Republicans’ hold on the levers of power while in the electoral minority a contributing factor, Blumenthal said, “This crisis metastasises, throughout the system over time, so that it’s possible any close election will be claimed to be false and fraudulent.”

Blumenthal said he did not expect the US to pitch into outright civil war, “section against section” and involving the fielding of armies.

If rightwing militia groups were to seek to mimic the secessionists of the 1860s and attempt to “seize federal forts and offices by force”, he said, “I think you’d have quite a confidence it would be over very, very quickly [given] a very strong and firm sense at the top of the US military of its constitutional, non-political role.

“… But given the proliferation of guns, there could be any number of seemingly random acts of violence that come from these organised militias, which are really vigilantes and with partisan agendas, and we haven’t entered that phase.

“The real nightmare would be that kind of low-intensity conflict.”

Members of the Oath Keepers, a far-right group, on the East Front of the US Capitol on 6 January
Members of the Oath Keepers, a far-right group, on the East Front of the US Capitol on 6 January. Photograph: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

The retired generals who warned of conflict around the next election – Paul Eaton, Antonio Taguba and Steven Anderson – were less sanguine about the army.

Related: Republicans are shamelessly working to subvert democracy. Are Democrats paying attention?

“As we approach the first anniversary of the deadly insurrection at the US Capitol,” they wrote, “we … are increasingly concerned about the aftermath of the 2024 presidential election and the potential for lethal chaos inside our military, which would put all Americans at severe risk.

“In short: We are chilled to our bones at the thought of a coup succeeding next time.”

Citing the presence at the Capitol riot of “a disturbing number of veterans and active-duty members of the military”, they pointed out that “more than one in 10 of those charged in the attacks had a service record”.

Polling has revealed similar worries – and warnings. In November, the Public Religion Research Institute asked voters if they agreed with a statement: “Because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.”

The poll found that 18% of respondents agreed. Among Republicans, however, the figure was 30%.

On Twitter, Walter thanked the Post for covering her book. She also said: “I wish I had better news for the world but I couldn’t stay silent knowing what I know.”

Washington is a state like Arizona – only with 13,000 fewer COVID-19 deaths

AZCentral – The Arizona Republic

Washington is a state like Arizona – only with 13,000 fewer COVID-19 deaths

EJ Montini, Arizona Republic December 20, 2021

A COVID-19 patient in an ICU.
A COVID-19 patient in an ICU.

At some point in the future there will be an accounting, and only one number will matter:

The number of lives lost to COVID-19.

For much of the pandemic that number has not seemed to matter much, if at all, to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey. Spouting platitudes about the economy has mattered. Acquiescing to the conspiracy theorists and the anti-vaccine kooks in the Republican party has mattered.

But talking about COVID-19 and the terrible toll it has taken on Arizona, and actually doing something to stop it … those things have not mattered.

And so there will be an accounting.

Is making comparisons fair?

There will be arguments that making comparisons between Arizona and other jurisdictions, other communities, other states, is unfair. Apples to oranges. Night and day. As different as chalk and cheese.

That kind of thing.

But then there are the numbers. And the numbers are what matters.

In terms of population, for example, Arizona and the state of Washington are fairly similar.

Recent counts show Washington at about 7.8 million people and Arizona at about 7.5 million.

One difference between us is that Washington’s Gov. Jay Inslee hasn’t been as timid as Ducey when it comes to trying to protect his citizens.

He’s taken a lot of heat for some of his policies. Making people do things they’d prefer not to do – even if it might save their lives – doesn’t always go well for a politician. At least in the short term.

Unlike Arizona, which long ago abandoned its citizens to their own devices, Washington still has a number of restrictions aimed at mitigating the spread of COVID-19. Mask requirements. Proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test requirements. It’s a fairly long list and not everyone is happy about it.

Case, death numbers reflect their policies

But then there are the numbers.

Washington state has had a little over 800,000 cases of COVID-19 and fewer than 10,000 deaths.

Arizona has had 1.3 million cases and 23,000 deaths.

Think about that.

Ask yourself a few questions and answer them honestly.

Would you have accepted a few more restrictions, a few more government imposed attempts at mitigating the spread of the virus, if it might have saved 13,000 Arizonans?

That’s roughly the difference between us and Washington. No comparison between states is perfect, of course. There are differences in city sizes and environment and demographics an all that.

What will matter in the long run

But the bottom line is that their population is slightly more numerous than ours, yet they have lost 13,000 fewer of their brothers and sisters than we have in Arizona.

Thirteen thousand.

Not one or two or even five thousand.

Thirteen.

And the reason, simply, is that their leadership worked harder at saving lives than ours did. They understood, better than our leaders did, that saving lives should have started, and remained, and continue to be, priority number one.

Because in the end only one number matters.

The number of lives lost to COVID-19.

AOC on Manchin’s Build Back Better opposition: ‘We knew he would do this months ago’

Business Insider

AOC on Manchin’s Build Back Better opposition: ‘We knew he would do this months ago’

John L. Dorman December 19, 2021

Manchin AOC
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York remains in her seat as Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia stands and applauds as President Donald Trump delivers his second State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the US Capitol on February 5, 2019.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters
  • AOC on Sunday said that Manchin turning on the Build Back Better bill was not a shock.
  • “People can be mad at Manchin all they want, but we knew he would do this months ago,” she tweeted.
  • The congresswoman voted against the bipartisan bill over concerns about the legislative process.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Sunday expressed little shock at Senator Joe Manchin’s blockbuster announcement that he would decline to back President Joe Biden’s signature Build Back Better Act, pointing to legislative concerns that progressives have raised for months regarding the roughly $2 trillion social-spending bill.

After Manchin’s announcement, the two-term New York Democrat took to Twitter to reiterate her longstanding dissatisfaction with the way in which the bills have been handled on the House floor, continuing in her criticism of the decoupling of the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill from larger package.

“When a handful of us in the House warned this would happen if Dem leaders gave Manchin everything he wanted 1st by moving BIF before BBB instead of passing together, many ridiculed our position,” she tweeted. “Maybe they’ll believe us next time. Or maybe people will just keep calling us naïve.”

She continued: “Either way, we cannot accept no for an answer. Dem leadership – incl but not limited to the President himself and House Dem leadership – wrote a massive check on their credibility the night of the BIF vote in order to secure the votes they needed, *promising* passage of BBB to every member who brought up Manchin, they personally promised they had a solution & BBB would pass. It is simply not an option for Dem leaders to walk from BBB, voting rights, etc. They must find a way, just as they promised they would when we raised this inevitability.”

Months before the bipartisan bill passed the House and was signed into law, progressives called on Democratic leadership to place both bills on the floor for a vote at the same time, while moderates pushed for a vote on the bipartisan bill – without tying it to the larger bill.

Moderates eventually won out, with the bipartisan infrastructure bill passing the lower chamber. However, Ocasio-Cortez was among only six Democratic House lawmakers to oppose the bill, largely based on mistrust over the legislative process.

“Throughout this process, people would say that within our caucus, one of the issues that we have had is trust. And trust is not built in the big moments. Trust is built in the little moments. Trust is built-in process,” she said last month.

“We were ready to vote on Build Back Better this week. At the very last minute, there was a group of people saying, ‘All of sudden, we need a CBO score.’ You’re claiming that you don’t want to let Build Back Better proceed unless you can get certainty on the deficit … [and] demand that you have a deficit-increase bill at the same time? It doesn’t add up. It’s weird. Something weird was going on,” she added at the time, frustrated by the demands from moderates.

While the House eventually passed their version of the Build Back Better Act last month, Manchin’s position — if he stands firm — effectively tosses aside the legislation in the Senate. The bill would establish universal pre-K, renew monthly child tax credit payments to families for another year, and tackle climate change, among other provisions.

Ocasio-Cortez pointed to Democratic leaders to resolve the problem, arguing that the party cannot give up on their shared values.

“People can be mad at Manchin all they want, but we knew he would do this months ago,” she tweeted. “Where we need answers from are the leaders who promised a path on BBB if BIF passed: Biden & Dem leaders. *They* chose to move BIF alone instead of w/ BBB, not Manchin. So they need to fix it.”

Carnegie Mellon to require COVID-19 booster shots, among the first campuses nationally to do so

Bill Schackner, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette December 17, 2021

Students walk the campus of Carnegie Mellon University, Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, in Pittsburgh.

Spring semester rule for students, staff comes as colleges brace for omicron-driven spike in cases 

Carnegie Mellon University announced late Thursday that it will require COVID-19 booster shots for its thousands of students and employees for the spring semester and will provide additional information in the coming days.

The school joins a small but growing number of campuses nationally that have announced a booster requirement.

”Earlier today Carnegie Mellon issued a COVID-19 update regarding ongoing mitigation efforts as a new semester begins in 2022,” read a statement from the university just after 5 p.m. (Read it here).

“This guidance is subject to change as CMU tracks the progress of the pandemic and in particular the impact of the Omicron variant. Jesse BunchPresence of omicron could change look of spring semester

“Carnegie Mellon will be requiring booster shots for all CMU community members and in January will provide further information on the timing of that requirement, how to enter that data into the university’s HealthConnect system and the exemption request processes,” it read. “This information is being shared now to enable everyone eligible to take advantage of scheduling their booster shots during the upcoming break.”

The move comes amid increasing concern nationally about the emerging omicron variant on top of the delta variant. On many campuses, finals are wrapping up this week, but some schools seeing a spike in cases have moved tests online, among them Cornell University. New York University and Fordham University have made similar announcements.

Another major campus in the city, the University of Pittsburgh, earlier this month began requiring that students and employees be vaccinated for the spring semester. The university has not altered its fall semester finals or event schedules and has not announced a booster shot requirement for the spring.

Said Pitt spokesman David Seldin:“The University’s Healthcare Advisory Group and COVID-19 Medical Response Office are carefully monitoring the rise in cases nationally and locally, as well as emerging data on the Omicron variant.” 

He added:

“As reported in last week’s (Covid-19 Medical Response Office report), there was slight increase in case numbers on the Pittsburgh campus, but to date we’ve not seen anything that would cause us to change our plans for next term. We will continue to monitor the situation during Winter Recess and make adjustments if necessary consistent with public health and expert guidance.”

In Pennsylvania, Bucknell University is requiring that its students have a booster shot by Jan. 7, according to the school’s website. Bill SchacknerCarnegie Mellon ordered all on campus to get vaccinated in May, and now 98% have

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, in other states booster shots are being added as requirements at schools, a sampling of which include, American University, Amherst College, Bentley University, Boston College, Boston University, Bowdoin College, Brown University, Carleton College, Emerson College, Emory University, Georgetown University, George Washington University, Harvard University, Princeton University and Syracuse.

Earlier this month, indoor mask requirements were extended into the spring at several area campuses, including Penn State University and West Virginia University.

“West Virginia University’s spring 2022 semester will begin Monday, Jan. 10, with many of the current COVID-19 campus health and safety protocols remaining in place as health officials monitor the emerging omicron variant,” read a statement from WVU in part.

“With the identification of the omicron coronavirus variant and experts predicting the number of COVID-19 cases to rise over the winter months, Penn State’s indoor masking policy will remain in effect into the spring 2022 semester. University officials will continue to monitor the evolution of the pandemic and the spread of various coronavirus variants and will adjust Penn State’s masking policy when it is safe to do so,” Penn State said in its statement.

At Carnegie Mellon, a message Thursday to campus from Provost Jim Garrett, Dean of Students Gina Casalegno and Daryl Weinert, Vice President for Operations, noted that facial covering requirements will remain as spring semester begins on that campus, too.

They cited the importance that those on campus receive the vaccine.

’Vaccinations have proven to be safe and highly effective in reducing the severity of symptoms and risk of hospitalization, and preliminary indications are that boosters will prove to be an effective defense against severe symptoms with the Omicron variant as well,” they wrote.

Do you know what’s in your blood? New EPA docs show widespread risk from common chemicals

USA Today

Do you know what’s in your blood? New EPA docs show widespread risk from common chemicals

Kyle Bagenstose, USA TODAY December 16, 2021

John Hickey, center, with his sons, Michael Hickey, right, and Jeff Hickey during a family vacation to the Badlands of South Dakota in 2012. It was a bucket list trip for John; his family booked it two weeks after learning he had stage 4 cancer. He died six months later.
Researchers and regulators have known for decades about the potential for harm from chemicals like PFOS and PFOA, but concern was often focused on sites of heavy contamination like this tannery in Rockford, Michigan. New EPA documents conclude PFOA has essentially no level of exposure.

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Do you know what’s in your blood? New EPA docs show widespread risk from common chemicals

John Hickey, center, with his sons, Michael Hickey, right, and Jeff Hickey during a family vacation to the Badlands of South Dakota in 2012. It was a bucket list trip for John; his family booked it two weeks after learning he had stage 4 cancer. He died six months later.

After his father died in 2013 from a cancer that started in his kidney, Michael Hickey was troubled by more than his grief. John Hickey was 70, never smoked and rarely drank.

He did work a night shift at a Saint-Gobain textile plant in their hometown of Hoosick Falls, New York. The plant historically produced fabrics coated with a Teflon-like substance, similar to nonstick pans and other products. When a local schoolteacher also died from cancer shortly afterward, Hickey’s suspicions skyrocketed.

“We seemed to have a ton of this cancer, and I didn’t know what was going on,” he said.

An internet search for “Teflon and cancer” opened a Pandora’s box of studies linking PFOA, a chemical in Teflon, to kidney cancer. He took samples of tap water from his home, his father’s home and a few local businesses, then shipped them to a Canadian laboratory for testing.

Each came back showing extremely high levels of PFOA. The discovery led to intervention by all levels of government and a class action lawsuit by village residents against Saint-Gobain, prior owner Honeywell International, and 3M. The suit was settled this summer for $65 million, which will pay for loss in property values and medical monitoring for residents.

Now, scientists are warning that the dangers of PFOA and a sister chemical stretch far beyond contaminated communities like Hoosick Falls.

In fact, they threaten virtually every American.

John Hickey, center, with his sons, Michael Hickey, right, and Jeff Hickey during a family vacation to the Badlands of South Dakota in 2012. It was a bucket list trip for John; his family booked it two weeks after learning he had stage 4 cancer. He died six months later.
John Hickey, center, with his sons, Michael Hickey, right, and Jeff Hickey during a family vacation to the Badlands of South Dakota in 2012. It was a bucket list trip for John; his family booked it two weeks after learning he had stage 4 cancer. He died six months later.

New documents released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency draw the startling conclusion that PFOA is a “likely carcinogen,” with essentially no safe level of exposure.

Startling because scientists have known for two decades that small amounts of PFOA and similar chemicals are in the blood of more than 98% of Americans. Startling because they affirm independent research that indicates the chemicals are measurably driving up rates of kidney cancer, weakening immune systems and possibly even causing tens of thousands of low-birthweight babies each year.

And startling because scientists say it means the EPA’s 5-year-old advisory for safe levels of the chemical in drinking water no longer appears adequate.

It could take years for the EPA to develop a new advisory. Even then, the agency will have to weigh the benefits of filtering out chemicals against the costs – which could stretch into the billions for water utilities across the country.

Yet in the meantime, Americans will continue to consume chemicals that could be harming them, said Scott Faber, senior vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Environmental Working Group. Through tracking public records, the organization found that at least 1,700 water supplies across the country contain PFOA.

“Tens of millions if not hundreds of millions of Americans are drinking a chemical that’s now even more strongly linked to cancer,” Faber said.

And experts warn there’s a much bigger picture. Drinking water is only one source of PFOA. Before PFOA and PFOS – a similar chemical also reviewed in the new EPA documents – were phased out of U.S. manufacturing in 2015, Americans were primarily exposed through common household products such as pots and pans, rain gear, carpets and food packaging. The virtually indestructible substances still remain in the environment and in animals consumed by humans, such as fish.

The widespread exposures add enough PFOA to the blood of an average American to be of concern, regardless of their drinking water, said Philippe Grandjean, a researcher at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Often, the chemicals’ harm may not be obvious, he said. For example, it may manifest itself as a child who can’t seem to stay out of the doctor’s office with another cold.

“We see that mothers are recording that more often their kids are sick if they have higher prenatal or postnatal exposure to PFOA,” Grandjean said. “This is already harming populations.”

Read more on the topic: New Jersey approves drinking water standards for toxic PFAS chemicals

Federal fued: White House, CDC spar over study of toxic chemicals in drinking water

And PFOA is only one of hundreds of chemicals within a wider class called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). While PFOA and PFOS have been phased out, replacement PFAS chemicals are now in circulation. Some researchers warn early analysis shows they may also cause some of the same toxic effects.

“It’s as bad as it sounds. I don’t think we can sugarcoat this,” Faber said. “PFAS are a public health emergency that touches many more Americans than have been touched by lead pipes or other really urgent health risks.”

Some companies that produced or used PFAS argue that the science isn’t settled.

Sean Lynch, a spokesperson for 3M, which along with DuPont has faced lawsuits over production of the chemicals across the U.S., told USA TODAY the company believes the “weight of evidence” from its own studies and other independent research “does not show these substances cause adverse health outcomes” in the general population.

The EPA told USA TODAY, however, that its new documents concluded the risks from the chemicals are real.

“The new data and analyses in EPA’s draft documents indicate that the toxicity values (for PFOA and PFOS) are much lower than previously understood – including near zero for certain health effects,” the agency said.

Researchers and regulators have known for decades about the potential for harm from chemicals like PFOS and PFOA, but concern was often focused on sites of heavy contamination like this tannery in Rockford, Michigan. New EPA documents conclude PFOA has essentially no level of exposure.
Researchers and regulators have known for decades about the potential for harm from chemicals like PFOS and PFOA, but concern was often focused on sites of heavy contamination like this tannery in Rockford, Michigan. New EPA documents conclude PFOA has essentially no level of exposure.
‘This is a bit overdue’

The discovery of PFAS in the blood of everyday Americans happened by chance more than half a century ago. It has taken a new generation of scientists to understand what it may be doing to our health.

While working as a researcher at the University of Rochester in the late 1960s, Donald Taves was interested in studying a relatively new development: the addition of fluoride to drinking water.

He took a sample of his own blood and ran it through a machine that can detect incredibly small amounts of chemicals. What he saw surprised him.

“I found this extra fluorine,” Taves said, and it was more than could be attributed to fluoridation of drinking water.

A colleague checked samples from more than 100 donors at five blood banks in New York and Texas and found the excess fluorine there, too.

“It seemed likely it was some sort of contaminant in the environment,” Taves said. “And that’s when I called 3M.”

Taves’ instincts were right, and his discovery kicked off a decadeslong reckoning. The PFAS chemicals companies such as 3M and DuPont were using in their consumer products were slipping into the blood of hundreds of millions of Americans.

Unlike fluoride found in drinking water, PFAS are synthetic and bind fluorine to carbon molecules, forming one of the strongest bonds in chemistry. That means the chemicals don’t degrade, accumulating in the environment and in human bodies.

Kyle Steenland, an epidemiologist at Emory University in Georgia, is one of the present-day researchers trying to find out what threat that poses.

In the 2000s, Steenland served on a panel of independent scientists that studied 70,000 people along the West Virginia-Ohio border who were exposed to high levels of PFOA from a local DuPont plant. After years of study, Steenland said in three separate studies that researchers found “consistent evidence of kidney cancer” – the same illness that befell John Hickey in Hoosick Falls.

In addition, Steenland and his colleagues found “probable links” between PFOA and diagnosed high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer and pregnancy-induced hypertension.

Scott Bartell, a researcher at the University of California, Irvine, began studying the levels at which PFOA might cause kidney cancer. What he found added to the concern. PFOA didn’t appear to be dangerous only at the levels found in highly exposed populations like in Hoosick Falls and West Virginia but also at levels permissible in drinking water everywhere.

In 2016, the EPA created an advisory level for the chemical in drinking water of no more than 70 parts per trillion (ppt). But Bartell’s calculations showed that somebody drinking the chemical at that amount for a decade faced a 16% higher risk of developing kidney cancer than someone drinking none.

Of even greater concern, Bartell said, the new EPA documents determine PFOA may be even more carcinogenic than his study found. “This is a bit overdue,” Bartell said of the findings in the documents EPA released in November. “It confirms things that many of us already thought were the case.”

The EPA’s findings are also significant to Tracey Woodruff, director of the Reproductive Health and the Environment program at the University of California, San Francisco.

Her research suggests that the average American woman has enough PFOA in her blood to account for about an ounce of lost birthweight in a baby.

On an individual basis, that may not sound like much. But for mothers whose babies are on the margin for clinically low birthweight – 5.5 pounds – it could be critical, Woodruff said. The risks also increase for those with additional PFOA in their blood. If the millions of women whose PFOA blood levels rank in the top half nationwide instead had only the average amount, as many as 40,000 fewer babies would be born at low birthweight each year, Woodruff’s research estimated.

Though that research was completed years ago, Woodruff echoed other researchers in saying the new EPA documents took a similar approach and have now reached similar conclusions.

“This review essentially confirms those findings,” Woodruff said.

Asked further about 3M’s reaction to the EPA’s new documents, Lynch pointed to earlier reviews by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the International Agency for Research on Cancer and other government health agencies that did not definitively find a cause-and-effect relationship between PFAS and human health effects.

The company also pointed out that studies show the amount of PFOA and PFOS in the blood of the average American is declining.

Daniel Turner, a spokesperson for DuPont de Nemours, a corporate entity spun off from the original DuPont in 2019, said only that the company does not “make or use” PFOA or PFOS in its products and otherwise supports the EPA’s development of “science-based” regulations.

Saint-Gobain, the textile company in Hoosick Falls, said it never manufactured the chemicals, instead obtaining them from third-party vendors. In addition to the legal settlement made this summer, the company has paid for new filtration systems for public drinking water in Hoosick Falls, spokesperson Peter Clark said.

What’s next?

After a board of scientists peer-reviews the EPA’s new documents, the agency will need to determine a safe limit for the chemicals. The agency has set a goal for the fall of 2022, with regulation going into effect a year later.

The EPA also told USA TODAY it is moving “as quickly as possible” to update its health advisories in the interim.

The EPA could ultimately decide to set the safe limit at effectively zero, requiring drinking water utilities to filter out any detectable amount of the chemicals. Or it could decide that the costs of doing so outweigh the benefits. The agency will hold its first public hearing on that process at 12 p.m. Thursday.

While the Environmental Working Group and others advocate for strict regulation of the chemicals, the American Water Works Association, a nonprofit representing water utilities across the country, is urging a cautious approach to those calculations.

The lower EPA makes the limit, the more utilities will have to spend on new sources of water or installing and maintaining treatment systems, said Steve Via, director of federal relations for the group. With costs for a single system often reaching millions of dollars, the total could reach into the billions.

“It’s a huge number,” Via said, adding that money is needed to address other risks like lead pipes. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to ask yourself, ‘Is this the best way to manage risk?’”

Other action could emerge from the court system. Rob Bilott is an Ohio-based attorney who sued DuPont and created the science panel that studied PFOA’s health effects in West Virginia. (Bilott was played by Mark Ruffalo in the 2019 film about the case, “Dark Waters.”)

Now he has filed a nationwide class action lawsuit in federal court to require that 3M, DuPont and other companies that used the chemicals pay for studies to determine their health effects. If approved, it would represent any American with PFOA and at least one other PFAS in their blood.

“We shouldn’t have to spend decades fighting in court to have this threat recognized – and to hold those companies that caused this mess responsible,” Bilott said. “The science is there. The public health threat is real.”

Paul Gosar’s chief of staff tried to intercept a plane rumored to be full of fake votes for Biden: court docs

Business Insider

Paul Gosar’s chief of staff tried to intercept a plane rumored to be full of fake votes for Biden: court docs

Tom Porter December 16, 2021

Trump Arizona
Chairwoman of the Arizona Republican Party Kelli Ward, Rep. Debbie Lesko, Rep. Andy Biggs, Rep. Paul Gosar, and Sen. Martha McSally greet US President Donald Trump on the tarmac after he arrived at the international airport in Yuma, Arizona, on August 18, 2020.BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images
  • Paul Gosar’s chief of staff went to great lengths to find evidence of voter fraud, court documents say.
  • In one notable incident, he tried to intercept a plane rumored to be stuffed with fake votes.
  • He failed. No evidence has emerged for this kind of elaborate voter fraud.

The chief of staff for Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona tried to catch a plane rumored to be full of fake votes, according to a recent court document.

The episode is one of the most outlandish in the fruitless search by allies of former president Donald Trump for proof that the 2020 election was stolen.

Gosar’s aide, Tom Van Flein, hunted for a plane from South Korea that conspiracy theorists identified as a source of what they thought would be election-changing levels of fraud, per documents cited by The New York Times on Thursday.

They found a Korean Air plane, but no proof of fraudulent ballots.

Gosar himself, a Republican and close ally of Trump, has long pushed conspiracy theories about a stolen election.

The incident with Van Flein was described in a Supreme Court lawsuit filed in March by voter Staci Burk challenging Arizona’s election result, which found Joe Biden had won the state.

The lawsuit’s documents said that Van Flein was among a group of people who traveled on November 7, 2020, to an airplane parking lot near Phoenix after rumors circulated that a plane filled with fake ballots had landed.

According to the documents, the expedition was prompted by a tip sent to independent journalist Ryan Hartwig that a plane from South Korea loaded with fake votes had landed in Sky Harbor Airport on Election Night, and was about to depart.

Van Flein is also mentioned as a participant in an account of the trip on Hartwig’s website.

Hartwig and Van Flein were accompanied by GOP congressional candidate Josh Barrett, activist Marko Triskovitts, and others on the expedition, according to the documents.

They recorded grainy video footage of the exterior of plane belonging to Korean Air, the national carrier of South Korea, which was then uploaded onto Hartwig’s website. The lawsuit said that a member of the group called the local sheriff urging him to investigate. No proof of fake ballots ever emerged.

Insider contacted Gosar’s office, and all of those named in the documents, for comment.

Gosar closely embraced Trump’s election-fraud conspiracy theories, and spent months hyping an audit of votes in Maricopa County.

In October, the audit wound up having found that Biden had indeed won the election there, by slightly more votes than in the official count.

The belief that votes were being shipped in from abroad was one of the many conspiracy theories pushed by Trump allies as they sought to undermine Biden’s win.

The audit in Maricopa was conducted by a firm run by a Trump supporter, Cyber Ninjas.

At one point auditors were looking for traces of bamboo on ballots, hoping to prove a baseless theory that they had their origins in Asia.

Trump’s former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, reportedly pressed FBI officials to investigate the conspiracy theory that China had managed to hack voting machines using thermostats.

The election fraud “Big Lie” remains at the center of Trump’s speeches and public statements as he stirs rumors of another bid for the presidency in 2024, and continues to be eagerly promoted by his close allies in the GOP.