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Current version of Senate health care bill is dead
June 26th, 2017, 06:04 AM

The numbers don’t add up.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, speaks amid a crush of reporters after Republicans released their long-awaited bill to scuttle much of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 22, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The math in the Senate is not complicated. The Republicans have 52 senators, which means they can only have two defections and still pass the bill. (All Senate Democrats oppose Trumpcare.)

Senate Republicans unveiled their latest version of Trumpcare today. Shortly thereafter, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released a report finding it would leave an additional 22 million people uninsured by 2026, with 15 million losing coverage in 2018 alone. Low-income Americans would be hit especially hard as Medicaid would be severely cut and premium subsidies slashed.

There are now three Republicans who have publicly stated that will not only oppose the bill but will vote against a “motion to proceed,” which means the bill would not even get an up-or-down vote.

Senator Susan Collins (R-ME)

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY)

Senator Dean Heller (R-NV)

Heller made his comments three days ago, but none of the changes made since then have addressed his concerns about Medicaid cuts.

Unless one of these three Senators change their mind, the Senate bill is already dead. Majority Leader McConnell will be looking to make changes to flip votes, but the path forward is treacherous.

Conservatives like Paul oppose the bill because it doesn’t go far enough to repeal Obamacare. Moderates like Collins and Heller oppose the bill because it goes too far in cutting Medicaid.

McConnell’s problems likely extend far beyond these three Senators: Only 17 Republican senators have made statements firmly supporting the bill. Five other Republicans have publicly expressed serious concerns.

Current version of Senate health care bill is dead was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Spicer rewrites history, says Trump was just joking when he publicly encouraged Russian hackers
June 26th, 2017, 06:04 AM

Unfortunately for the press secretary, it’s all on tape.

CREDIT: NBC screengrab

During an off-camera briefing on Monday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said then-candidate Donald Trump was “joking” when he encouraged Russian hackers to go after Hillary Clinton last summer.

“He was joking at the time,” Spicer said. “We all know it.”

Trump, however, was clearly not joking when he urged Russian hackers to wage cyberattacks on Clinton on July 27, 2016, during what was to be his final news conference before the election.

Watch the clip and judge for yourself.

The new line Spicer’s pushing about Trump’s encouragement of Russian hackers is similar to the about-face Trump made with regard to Wikileaks, a website the US intelligence community believes Russian military intelligence used to publish of information obtained via cyberattacks against Democratic targets.

Shortly before his inauguration, Trump said Wikileaks’ publication of emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign had “absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election.” That represented a dramatic departure from what Trump was saying during the last month of his campaign, when he mentioned Wikileaks every day and in virtually every public appearance — 164 times in total — and publicly professed his love for the site.

Trump mentioned Wikileaks 164 times in last month of election, now claims it didn’t impact one…

Around the same time he made his “no effect” comment, Trump posted a tweet falsely claiming the intelligence community didn’t believe Russian cyberattacks “affected the election results.” The intelligence community actually made no such claim, however, with agencies writing in a declassified report that they “did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election.”

The one thing that has been consistent is Trump’s willingness to say anything that reinforces his narrative that the Russia story is “a big Dem HOAX!” and “a big Dem scam and excuse for losing the election!” That was again on display Monday when Trump tweeted that the Obama administration “did NOTHING about Russia” before the election, despite being informed of Russia’s efforts not long after Trump’s fateful news conference.

But as far back as last December, the Washington Post reported that while the Obama administration “wanted congressional leaders to sign off on a bipartisan statement urging state and local officials to take federal help in protecting their voting-registration and balloting machines from Russian cyber-intrusions” weeks before the election, their efforts were blocked by leading Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-RY). During a meeting with White House officials, McConnell “raised doubts about the underlying intelligence and made clear to the administration that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics,” the Post reported.

It’s unclear whether Trump even accepts the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russian hackers meddled on his behalf. On Monday, Spicer hedged when asked if Trump believes the overwhelming evidence that Russia meddled in the election on his behalf, marking the second time he’s done that in a week.

Kellyanne Conway melts down on CNN after being asked basic question about Russia

Trump “believes that Russia probably was involved, potentially some other countries as well could have been equally involved — or could have been involved, not equally,” Spicer said.

Spicer rewrites history, says Trump was just joking when he publicly encouraged Russian hackers was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

22 million will be left uninsured if the Senate passes its health care bill this week
June 26th, 2017, 06:04 AM

Older, lower income people will be hurt most by the Senate health bill, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), with Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), Sen. John Thune (R-SD), and Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX), speaks following a closed-door health care session. CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Twenty-two million more people will be left uninsured under the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) than under current law, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The number of uninsured is largely due to the drastic cuts in the Medicaid program; 15 million people will lose Medicaid coverage by 2026.

Fifteen million more people will be uninsured by 2018. That number will increase to 19 million in 2020, and 22 million by 2026. The number of uninsured will be disproportionately larger among older people with lower incomes.

CREDIT: Congressional Budget Office

Other major takeaways from the CBO report published Monday include:

  • $321 billion reduction in the federal deficit by 2026 (largely due to Medicaid cuts and a reduction in subsidies; the repeal of Affordable Care Act taxes helped increased the deficit).
  • In 2020, average premiums for benchmark plans for single individuals will be 30 percent lower than current law; however, they will be less comprehensive.
  • These benchmark plans, with an actuarial value of 58 percent — meaning insurers will only need to pay 58 percent of out-of-pocket costs — will make the plan “unattractive” overall. The high deductibles will especially discourage low-come people.

Senate Republicans have already revised Thursday’s draft health care bill, and that’s the bill the budget office accounted for. The revised bill was revealed shortly before the CBO published its score. (A side by side comparison of the revised and old bill can be seen here.) The draft bill will likely change again before the Senate is set to vote later this week, leaving no time for an accurate estimate of how many millions of people could lose their health care.

As long as the key aspects of the BCRA remain in tact, the high number of uninsured will likely remain and the quality of the coverage will be less comprehensive, according to health experts like the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. More people will be uninsured compared to current law as long as the BCRA insurance plans have insurers pay less of the out-of-pocket expenses, tax credits are tethered to a less generous benchmark, and funding to Medicaid is fixed.

Senate Republicans changed the draft bill mainly by adding a continuous coverage provision. This added provision locks patients out from enrolling in the individual market for six months if they’ve had at least a 63-day gap in coverage. The move is a counter-intuitive way to get people coverage.

As Kaiser Family Foundation senior vice president Larry Levitt pointed out on Twitter, the provision delays care for both healthy and sick people, even if they apply for insurance during open enrollment. In a tweet, he said the “likely biggest effect of a 6-month waiting period would be to prevent some sick people from getting care immediately after signing up.” He also noted that it could lower premium costs, but only by changing the quality of care to sick individuals.

The Senate bill revealed Thursday repealed the individual and employer mandate, but left nothing in its stead. Without any sort of requirement to get health insurance, as ThinkProgress reported last week, the insurance market is subject to collapse.

Trumpcare vocab lesson: ‘Death spiral’

One of the more disastrous changes to the Affordable Care Act is the overall massive cut to the Medicaid program. The revised bill ends Medicaid expansion by 2024, and for eight states with “trigger” laws — that automatically end the expansion if federal funds are decreased — as early as 2021. (The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities projects that Alaska’s Medicaid expansion could end as early as 2020, due to local state law.)

In addition to ending Medicaid expansion, the Senate bill, like the House bill, would impose a per capita cap on Medicaid funding. After 2026, the Senate bill breaks from the House by adjusting the metric by which the federal government funds each beneficiary, thus shifting even more costs to the states.

The most apparent trade off at the center of the Senate bill is cuts to the Medicaid program in exchange for generous tax cuts to the wealthy. Like the House bill, except for some implementation dates, the Senate bill repeals Obamacare taxes imposed primarily on the wealthy, that amount to about $765 billion dollars. By 2026, the federal government will reduce Medicaid funding by $772 billion, according to the CBO.

The Senate bill could cut between $2.0 and $3.8 trillion from total (federal and state) Medicaid spending between 2017–2036, according to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). Unlike the CBO, the AARP’s 20-year projection accounts for the Senate’s overall cuts to the program, which are slated to begin in 2026.

The CBO’s projection of the Senate uninsured rate, compared to the House’s of 23 less insured, is largely due to how the premiums tax credits are set up. However, the quality of care is not as good as under current law; ACA requires insurers to cover essential benefits and under the senate bill, states could opt out.

22 million will be left uninsured if the Senate passes its health care bill this week was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

House energy leader praises fracking, warns against supporting renewables
June 26th, 2017, 06:04 AM

Republican lawmaker also supports streamlined permitting of oil and gas pipelines.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, speaks Monday at the EIA’s annual energy conference in Washington, D.C. CREDIT: Mark Hand/ThinkProgress

The new chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee is worried that certain energy sources are getting an unfair advantage over others due to lobbyists tipping the scales in their favor.

The fossil fuels industry has received billions of dollars in federal tax breaks and other government support over the past several decades. But Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), who took over as committee chairman in January, was presumably referring to federal policies that support wind and solar energy, not the fossil fuels industry.

“We have to be careful that whoever has the strongest lobby force doesn’t end up putting too big of a federal thumb on the scale when it comes to competition,” Walden said Monday at the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) 2017 energy conference in Washington, D.C. “It can have a negative disruptive market force that protects an industry that can’t survive perhaps or would be hurt perhaps if they had to compete in a more open market.”

Walden lauded fracking several times in his presentation, emphasizing how the increase in natural gas production over the past decade has helped the United States reduce reduce carbon emissions as it switches away from coal-fired generation. He also expressed support for President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. “I don’t think you should punish America’s economy and go the way the past administration was headed,” he said.

The Oregon congressman hasn’t always opposed federal support for renewables. In 2008, Walden emphasized it was time for Congress “to get serious about renewable energy development” by extending the wind energy production tax credit for 10 years “so that businesses can make long-term investment decisions, and the country can get on track for a long-term renewable energy plan that will help wean us from foreign oil.”

Former Exxon CEO ‘not aware’ of the existence of fossil fuel subsidies

The federal production tax credit, as well as the investment tax credit for solar, have played important roles in expediting the deployment of wind, solar, and other forms of clean energy in the United States. Wind and solar now provide 10 percent of U.S. electricity demand.

But sometime after 2008, Walden changed his mind on the necessity of government support for renewable energy. Earlier this year, he complained about the many energy-related provisions that have been added to the tax code over the decades. He specifically criticized federal policies favoring “everything from tax credits for renewable electricity production to incentives for installing energy-saving devices in our homes.”

The facts don’t support Walden’s new position on renewables. The federal government has played a far bigger role — and for a much longer period of time — in sustaining the health of the fossil fuel and nuclear power industries than in helping the wind and solar energy sectors.

Walden also believes the federal government should play a larger role in the siting of pipelines and electric transmission lines to allow developers to bring their projects into operation as quickly as possible.

President Donald Trump shows off his signature on an executive order about the Dakota Access pipeline on Jan. 24, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

“When you’re trying to site a pipeline that might run across many states or cross an international border, we’ve all witnessed what that entails and how projects can be stalled at the very end, perhaps killed because of delay or someone’s political agenda,” Walden said, presumably referring to the Keystone XL pipeline and the Dakota Access pipeline.

The oil and gas industry still receives billions of dollars in tax breaks through deductions for the costs of drilling wells and other favorable tax treatment. The federal government also has provided significant tax breaks and exemptions to the coal industry. Taxpayers often face lost government revenue due to discounted royalty fees for mining on federal lands.

Meanwhile, external costs, such as health care expenses and environmental clean-up from fossil fuel development and use, have been paid by taxpayers — not to mention the huge amount of taxpayer money spent on tackling climate change.

In his remarks at the EIA conference, Walden also said “we want nuclear to be successful as well.” The essential components of nuclear power — reactors and enriched uranium fuel — were developed at taxpayer expense. In the early years of nuclear power development, private utilities were paid to build nuclear reactors and received subsidized fuel, Peter Bradford, a former commissioner on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, explained in an article.

Bradford cited a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists that found total subsidies paid and offered to nuclear plants between 1960 and 2024 generally exceed the value of the power that they produced.

As head of the House energy committee, Walden plans to work with fellow lawmakers to “streamline the federal permitting process” so that decisions do “not drag out forever.”

Walden said his committee will work with the Trump administration on modernizing the Department of Energy. A lot has changed since the 1970s when the DOE was created, and “it’s time to have a 21st century Energy Department,” he said.

Trump’s clean energy budget cuts would ‘devastate’ an emerging economic sector

One of the goals of this modernizing effort, Walden said, will be “getting back to the core mission of the Department of Energy.” The congressman’s push to get the DOE to focus on its “core mission” matches the goals of the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank that issued a report in March calling on the department to focus on “core missions and decrease distractions.”

“The federal government simply should not be involved as it is now in trying to make more efficient solar panels, CO2-free coal plants, smaller commercial nuclear power reactors, or any number of other activities aimed toward jump-starting energy technologies,” the Heritage Foundation said.

Walden’s vision of a DOE that focuses on its “core mission,” as defined by the Heritage Foundation, is contained in the Trump administration’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018. The administration requested cuts to the DOE’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability by almost half, specifically targeting smart grid, cybersecurity, and energy storage programs.

Trump’s proposed budget also would terminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy and cut funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy by 70 percent, from $2.1 billion to $636 million.

House energy leader praises fracking, warns against supporting renewables was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Supreme Court actions show just how fragile LGBTQ equality still is
June 26th, 2017, 06:04 AM

Marriage equality was not the end.

Supporters of marriage equality rallying outside the Supreme Court in April of 2015. CREDIT: AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

It was exactly two years ago that the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that marriage equality is the law of the land. But Monday morning, the Supreme Court confirmed that the fight for same-sex couples’ legal equality is hardly over.

The Court took two actions related to same-sex couples on Monday. The first was reversing an Arkansas Supreme Court decision blocking a same-sex spouse from being listed on her own child’s birth certificate. The second was agreeing to consider the case of the Colorado baker who refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple on religious grounds. While the former is good news, a closer look reveals that both decisions represent unsettled questions for the queer community.

In Arkansas, the law in question stated that when a woman has a baby, her husband should be named the father, even if a different sperm donor was knowingly used. This same precedent was not applied, however, to a same-sex couple; only the birth mother was listed and not her wife. Further revealing the double standard, the state likewise issues new birth certificates that recognize adoptive parents. So the Supreme Court concluded that this is a clear violation of Obergefell, which calls for same-sex couples to be treated equally under the law, including — explicitly — in regards to birth certificates.

But three of the justices still dissented, led by newly appoint Justice Neil Gorsuch. Gorsuch claimed that the Arkansas law was a “biology based birth registration regime,” even though there was clearly no integrity to such a claim, given the many ways a non-biological parent could still end up on an Arkansas birth certificate. The fact that three justices were willing to embrace this obvious distortion shows how narrowly Obergefell can be interpreted. If the Court membership changes in the coming years, it wouldn’t take too many more conservative votes to start seeing rulings going in the opposite direction.

The Arkansas case is hardly an exception to the number of post-Obergefell cases still being resolved. There have been similar parentage cases in numerous other states — some with similar birth certificate concerns, others with related questions about the legal parental rights of same-sex partners. The state of Texas is still fighting in court for the right to refuse to provide equal benefits to the same-sex spouses of government employees. Though the precedent of Obergefell suggests a favorable outcome for these same-sex couples, the fact that the Supreme Court is still having to chime in on these cases two years later demonstrates how effective conservatives could be in undermining marriage equality just as they have been in preventing access to abortions.

In the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is seeking to overturn nondiscrimination protections in the name of “religious freedom,” which makes the Supreme Court’s decision to hear it particularly troubling.

The case was pretty open-and-shut as it traveled through state courts. Colorado has a law prohibiting public accommodations (like businesses that serve the public) from refusing service on the basis of sexual orientation. Back in 2012, when David Mullins and Charlie Craig entered Masterpiece Cakeshop inquiring about a wedding cake, owner Jack Phillips refused to sell them wedding cake services because they were a same-sex couple. In court, ADF argued on Phillips’ behalf that cakes are a matter of “artistic expression” and thus a free speech and “religious freedom” concern, even though the refusal of service took place before any discussion of the cake’s design could take place.

A Colorado appeals court found that Phillips had violated the law, and the Colorado Supreme Court denied his appeal, letting the appellate ruling stand.

Christians disagree with the religious right on refusing to serve LGBTQ people

In 2014, a year before Obergefell, the Supreme Court declined to hear an almost identical case. In that case, a New Mexico wedding photographer had declined to sell her services to a same-sex couple. The state Supreme Court unanimously agreed with lower courts that the refusal violated the state’s nondiscrimination law protecting sexual orientation, and the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to interfere. Now, by taking the Colorado case, the Court is demonstrating a new willingness to interfere.

It takes four justices to agree to take a case, which suggests that there are four votes now willing to hear out ADF’s arguments that “religious freedom” should entitle a vendor to refuse services based on the sexual orientation of their clientele. A single change in the membership of the Court could provide a fifth vote — if it’s not already there.

If the Supreme Court concludes that religious beliefs trump nondiscrimination protections, it could devastate civil rights — including for protected groups beyond the LGBTQ community. If a decision in Phillips’ favor is written quite broadly, it could allow the same logic to then justify refusing service to interracial or interfaith couples. The only way around that conclusion would be for the Court to declare that sexual orientation is not a legitimate, innate aspect of identity like race or religion, which could open the door to even more forms of discrimination against LGBTQ people.

Perhaps the most devastating consequence from such a decision would be the extent to which religiously-affiliated hospitals — often the only major medical facilities many people across the country have access to — could deny services to LGBTQ people. If religious beliefs trump other legal protections, it’s unclear what, for example, would then stop a Catholic hospital from denying a same-sex spouse visitation, given that the Catholic Church opposes same-sex marriage. Giving religious beliefs room to supersede equal treatment under the law opens a Pandora’s Box of possible abuses.

Michigan farmer claims it’s ‘religious freedom’ to deny service to same-sex couples

Though both these cases relate specifically to same-sex couples and the issue of sexual orientation, they certainly indicate how vulnerable transgender people are as well. National education on transgender identities still lags behind education on same-sex orientations, so a ruling rejecting the legitimacy of those orientations could easily create room for justifying discrimination against transgender people. Though some courts have ruled that trans people are already protected under laws that bar discrimination on the basis of sex, there is not consensus. Certainly a Supreme Court willing to reject the legitimacy of homosexuality and bisexuality would be capable of rejecting the legitimacy of transgender identities in turn.

Marriage equality was a big win, but two years later, the fate of LGBTQ equality remains incredibly fragile. President Trump’s administration and the Republican majority in Congress have demonstrated a willingness to roll back LGBTQ protections, and Republican-controlled state legislatures are continuing to pass blatantly discriminatory laws. The Supreme Court’s willingness to entertain limitations to LGBTQ equality should be a wake-up call for anybody content to accept that the current status quo is good enough.

Supreme Court actions show just how fragile LGBTQ equality still is was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The nation’s largest medical group opposes Trumpcare
June 26th, 2017, 06:04 AM

“The draft legislation violates that standard on many levels,” according to the American Medical Association.

Doctor Leonid Basovich, left, examines Medi-Cal patient Michael Epps, at the WellSpace Clinic in Sacramento, California CREDIT: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File

One of the nation’s largest medical lobbying groups has joined the opposition to the Senate health care bill, which will result in an estimated 22 million uninsured Americans, arguing it violates medical ethics.

On Monday, the American Medical Association (AMA), a nonprofit organization made up of doctors and medical students, released a letter to Congress detailing the organization’s concerns with the bill.

“Medicine has long operated under the precept of Primum non nocere, or ‘first, do no harm.’ The draft legislation violates that standard on many levels,” reads the letter in part.

The sentiment isn’t misplaced. A Center for American Progress estimate released earlier this month suggests that between 18,100 and 27,700 people will die in 2026 as a direct result of the legislation if it passes in its current form. (Disclosure: ThinkProgress is an editorially independent site housed at the Center for American Progress.)

GOP senator is outraged that Bernie Sanders accurately described Trumpcare

The letter continues, “The AMA is particularly concerned with proposals to convert the Medicaid program into a system that limits the federal obligation to care for needy patients to a predetermined formula based on per-capita-caps.” The organization cites concerns that the legislation would not give states the resources they needed to give citizens access to new medical techniques, as well as rendering them unable to deal with public health crises like the ongoing opioid epidemic.

The AMA also condemned a section of the legislation that would prohibit recipients of Medicaid from using their coverage at Planned Parenthood, or any other organization that provides abortions, saying they “ violate longstanding AMA policy on patients’ freedom to choose their providers and physicians’ freedom to practice in the setting of their choice.” Planned Parenthood clinics offer a wide variety of services, many of which have nothing to do with abortion.

The AMA is now one of several major organizations to have issues with the bill. AARP released a statement last week saying it is “deeply concerned” about the bill’s cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, and a spokesperson for American’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) failed to endorse the bill, worrying it wouldn’t “offer services [citizens] want at a price they can pay.” All three organizations also opposed the House’s version of the bill in March.

The assertion that the bill violates the “do no harm” principle contradicts Republican lawmakers’ attempts to downplay the harm it will cause.

Last week, for instance, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) claimed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was “accusing those [he disagrees] with of murder” for stating (correctly) that the bill would cost thousands of lives. On Monday, Kellyanne Conway brushed aside the bill’s deep cuts to Medicaid by claiming low-income people who need health care would be able to get it by getting jobs.

Annabel Thompson is an intern with ThinkProgress.

This piece has been updated to clarify that ThinkProgress is an editorially independent site housed at the Center for American Progress.

The nation’s largest medical group opposes Trumpcare was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Trump administration actually signed on to a global climate change resolution
June 26th, 2017, 06:04 AM


CREDIT: (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, File

Last week, the United States did something surprising, at least in the context of the Trump administration’s complete reversal on U.S. climate policy: it joined a United Nations resolution supporting the protection of human rights from the impact of climate change.

For a government led by a man who has called climate change a Chinese-created “hoax” and has taken steps to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement — an agreement signed by nearly 200 countries aimed at keeping the world below 2°C of warming —the decision to join the resolution raised some eyebrows in the international climate community. Joining the consensus also directly contrasts with actions taken at the G7 summit in Italy in May, when the United States refused to endorse a joint statement on climate change.

“Since the resolution acknowledges that climate change is impacting human rights and states have to take action to address climate change, a weakening of U.S. action is clearly at odds with this text,” Sébastien Duyck, senior attorney at the Centre for International Environmental Law, told ThinkProgress. “The climate action Trump plans is not in line with what this resolution entails.”

U.S. refuses to endorse joint climate statement with other G7 countries

Bangladesh, the Phillippines, and Vietnam — all developing, coastal countries that will be heavily impacted by the consequences of climate change, including rising sea levels — submitted the resolution to the U.N. Human Rights Council last week. When the text was introduced, it was unclear whether the United States would support the resolution, given the Trump administration’s antipathy towards international climate action.

According to Duyck, there were a few routes the Trump administration could have taken with respect to the resolution: They could have voted against it, which would have actively undermined the action, or they could have simply abstained from voting, which would have been more passive. By actively supporting the resolution, however, Duyck said that the United States looked like it was interested in continuing, at least in some respects, the kind of international climate action that characterized the Obama administration.

“What surprised us is that [the United States] fully went along,” Duyck said. “It was quite positive compared to what could be expected.”

In agreeing to the U.N. resolution, the United States recognized that “the effects of climate change have a range of implications for the effective enjoyment of human rights.”

The resolution is non-binding, though it does call on participating countries to take steps to better integrate human rights into climate action.

Still, the United States’ support of the resolution hardly counters the policy steps the Trump administration has taken since January — and, in many instances, runs directly counter to those decisions. Trump, for instance, has promised to end U.S. payments to the Green Climate Fund, a finance mechanism meant to help developing countries pay for climate adaptation and mitigation projects. But part of the human rights resolution calls on developed countries to continue payments to the Green Climate Fund, something the Trump administration has explicitly promised it will not do. Under the Obama administration, the United States pledged to contribute $3 billion — to date, it has contributed $1 billion to the fund.

“That is a dimension where the current administration’s policies are at odds with a full interpretation of the resolution,” Duyck said.

Why These Tiny Island Nations Are Planning To Sue Fossil Fuel Companies

For years, developing nations have been a leading voice in connecting the consequences of climate change with the issue of human rights, both in drawing attention to the fact that climate change will have a disproportionate impact on vulnerable communities, and how some climate policies can run afoul of human rights writ large.

In 2007, small island states joined the Male’ Declaration, which declared that “climate change has clear and immediate implications for the full enjoyment of human rights.” In 2016, the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines filed an official complaint with 47 fossil fuel companies, accusing them of human rights violations for their role in driving climate change and ocean acidification. That complaint kicked off an investigation into the companies’ potential human rights violations, with public hearings expected to begin later this year.

In recent years, citizens of developed nations have begun making human rights arguments in an effort to compel national action on climate change; in 2015, a Dutch court sided with a group of plaintiffs who had sued the national government by claiming that the government’s inaction on climate constituted a human rights violation.

But human rights have also been used to build a case for fossil fuels in the developing world, with advocates arguing that developing countries and communities deserve access to the same cheap fossil fuels (usually coal) that developed countries used to build their economies. It’s possible that this line of reasoning is what prompted the Trump administration to support the resolution.

Extraction industries, like the fossil fuel industry, have a long history of human-rights violations associated with their business operations. ExxonMobil, for instance, is currently battling several lawsuits that accuse the company of human rights violations in Indonesia, including torture and murder. And Unocal, a major U.S. petroleum exporter that merged with Chevron in 2005, settled a human rights lawsuit that same year in which plaintiffs accused the company of human rights violations in Burma.

The Trump administration actually signed on to a global climate change resolution was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

North Carolina legislature looks to keep power by gerrymandering courts
June 26th, 2017, 06:04 AM

The Republican-majority legislature won’t give up its desperate attempts at power grabs.

Rep. Garland Pierce (D-Scotland) addresses protestors during a special session at the North Carolina Legislature in Raleigh, N.C., Dec. 15, 2016. CREDIT: AP Photo/Gerry Broome

A North Carolina legislator shared an unusual tweet on Sunday: a plan to gerrymander the state’s districts for prosecutorial and judicial elections.

Rep. Justin Burr (R-Montgomery, Stanly)’s tweet, which noted that the redistricting will be considered in House Bill 717 on Monday, was met with criticism from other lawmakers.

Gov. Roy Cooper (D) blasted the new maps as an effort to “rig” the courts in favor of the GOP-controlled legislature. In an interview with NC Policy Watch, Rep. Marcia Morey (D), a former judge, also criticized the change, as well as the less-than-24-hour notice given, since the legislature will be voting on the maps at 4 p.m. on Monday. “Why did we learn about this on Twitter?” asked Morey. “There’s no communication and they’re caught off-guard.”

This is not the first time this year that North Carolina legislators explored the possibility of gerrymandering judges. Several African American judges spoke out against an earlier plan, arguing that it would lead to less diversity on the bench.

The news follows the legislature’s proposed budget — introduced last week— which includes several provisions to handicap the governor and Attorney General’s ability to challenge unconstitutional laws. The budget prohibits Gov. Cooper from using his office’s attorneys without the legislature’s permission. Cooper would have to get the legislature’s permission to sue or pay lawyers out of his pocket.

The budget also seeks to force Attorney General Josh Stein (D) to defend the legislature whenever it is sued, after Stein refused to defend the discriminatory 2013 voting law. Mark Joseph Stern, a writer at Slate, noted that this “deprives the attorney general of his traditional discretion and raises grave constitutional concerns about legislative interference in executive affairs.” Gov. Cooper will likely sue to stop the restrictions on lawsuits before they go into effect.

The budget drastically cuts funding for Stein’s Department of Justice by 40 percent. “I am deeply troubled that the General Assembly would direct the Department of Justice to eliminate the attorneys who work to prosecute criminals and keep them behind bars, who save taxpayers millions of dollars by defending against frivolous suits, who keep corporate bad actors in line, and who protect our clean air and water,” Stein said.

Gov. Cooper said he will veto the budget, but Republican legislators have a supermajority that lets them override vetoes. North Carolina voters in 2016 chose Democratic candidates in most of the statewide elections, but the gerrymandered Republican legislature has done everything it can to negate the results of the election by taking power away from the other branches of government.

The North Carolina legislature has had an astounding losing streak in the courts lately. The Supreme Court recently struck down its congressional redistricting maps for illegally packing African American voters into a few districts, and it left in place a lower court’s ruling that the legislature’s 2013 voter suppression law targeted black voters “with almost surgical precision.”

The Republican-controlled legislature has also passed a series of bills to limit the authority of the Democratic governor, and many of these bills have been halted in state court. These losses still haven’t stopped them from seeking more power over the governor and the courts.

Billy Corriher is the Deputy Director of Legal Progress at the Center for American Progress.

ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed in the Center for American Progress.

North Carolina legislature looks to keep power by gerrymandering courts was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The internet’s first free speech law turns 20 but the battle rages on
June 26th, 2017, 06:04 AM

When the Supreme Court shut down Congress’ attempt to define “indecency” online, it was the beginning of decades of controversy over how to govern behavior online.


On June 26, 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously decided that controversial portions of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which criminalized obscene or indecent web content that could be viewed by minors—were unconstitutional. The bill was Congress’ attempt to regulate the world wide web like it did television and radio. But as the internet expanded and evolved, as chat rooms morphed into social media and private forums into mega-platforms, the debate—sparked by the Court’s decision of what behavior is acceptable online and who should govern it—evolved right along with it.

The now-retired Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in the Court’s majority opinion that freedom of expression outweighs preemptive censorship:

The record demonstrates that the growth of the Internet has been and continues to be phenomenal. As a matter of constitutional tradition, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, we presume that governmental regulation of the content of speech is more likely to interfere with the free exchange of ideas than to encourage it. The interest in encouraging freedom of expression in a democratic society outweighs any theoretical but unproven benefit of censorship.

Justices Antonin Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, David Souter and Clarence Thomas cosigned the opinion for what became known as the Magna Carta of the internet.

Yes, this is what the internet looked like on June 26, 1997 when the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Congress violated free-speech rights when it tried to stop “obscene or indecent” content from spreading online with the Communications Decency Act of 1996. The case was the first venture into cyberlaw and struck down parts of the law that made criminal the use of perceived indecent words or images where children could see. CREDIT: AP

The best defense seems to be content moderation, but it is flawed and comes at a human cost. There are also new digital filtering tools aimed at reducing harassing messages and images. But online harassment and stalking cases rarely bring criminal charges, even when there are violent physical threats. Social media companies struggle with making consistent judgement calls on when nudity constitutes art as opposed to pornography or harassment, and what graphic videos are newsworthy instead of just grotesque. They often get it wrong.

The Supreme Court ruled in Elonis v. United States that defendant Anthony Elonis’ Facebook posts, which discussed kidnapping and murdering his estranged wife, were reckless but didn’t create a sense of imminent physical harm as required under the First Amendment’s true threat doctrine. The Court declined to “address whether a mental state of recklessness would also suffice,” according to the opinion.

Revenge Porn, Free Speech And The Fight For The Soul Of The Internet

As evidenced by the Reno and Elonis decisions, courts tend to err on the side of protecting speech, however vile, for fear of future censorship. It’s a tendency that has divided civil liberties advocates around the issue of revenge porn, or the unauthorized posting of nude photos, which combines traditional notions of obscenity, privacy violations, and the strong desire to protect such content as free speech. Privacy advocates have pushed for criminal laws in 38 states and Washington, D.C. But others, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, have argued that those same laws infringe on individuals’ First Amendment protections.

Speech is seldom criminalized. But in the 20 years since the Magna Carta decision, more questions have been raised about how much protection certain kinds of speech deserves. There have been uneven applications, with law enforcement agencies often being slow to investigate online harassment but have swiftly gone after political dissenters. Doxxing—the act of intentionally exposing someone’s address or location without consent—has also raised awareness of digital privacy and safety issues but hasn’t risen to the Supreme Court. Apple’s rebuke of the FBI’s request to make a digital tool to break into the iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters gave new life to old case law that code is a form of speech and deserves protection.

Twenty years ago, the Court recognized that obscene content exists and can be banned since it lacks First Amendment protections. But in 2017 there still isn’t a consensus — or better yet, any satisfactory solution — to the behavior and images encountered online everyday.

The Ethics Of Banning A Brutal Beheading Video

The risks of privacy and censorship are issues that, for now, remain largely in the hands of private tech companies rather than courts. As the ACLU’s senior national staff counsel Chris Hansen, who led the 1997 Magna Carta suit, said in a recent interview, the attempts by tech giants to regulate speech could lead to a form of legal censorship:

I think the greater censorship dangers today involve attempts by nongovernmental entities — such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, and other internet companies — to decide what speech is appropriate online, and those efforts largely are directed at hate speech. Facebook and other internet companies aren’t bound by the First Amendment, which only applies to the government. As the government increasingly pressures companies to remove online content, we’re creating a censorship system that applies to an enormous amount of communications that don’t enjoy constitutional protections.

As public and governmental pressure for companies to increase moderation and takedown efforts mounts, there will likely be more and more cases that challenge speech protections online. It’s only a matter of time before Magna Carta 2.0 reaches the Supreme Court.

The internet’s first free speech law turns 20 but the battle rages on was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Supreme Court’s Muslim ban decision sparks anger from refugee advocates
June 26th, 2017, 06:04 AM

Refugees who lack “bona fide” relationships will be unable to enter the United States.

A Syrian refugee holds her brother as she walks at an informal refugee camp, at Al-Marj town in Bekaa valley, east Lebanon. CREDIT: AP Photo/Hassan Ammar

Numerous advocates and organizations slammed the Supreme Court’s decision to review and partially reinstate President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban, arguing that its impact on refugees would be devastating.

In an unsigned decision Monday morning, the judicial branch agreed to hear the case — which targeted travelers from Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, and Syria along with all refugees — in October. In a victory for Trump, the Court also said it will allow the ban to temporarily take effect, with an exception: those who have a “bona fide relationship” with U.S. nationals will be exempt, something that many organizations say could have serious implications for refugees.

“The Court’s decision threatens damage to vulnerable people waiting to come to the U.S.: people with urgent medical conditions blocked, innocent people left adrift, all of whom have been extensively vetted,” David Miliband, president of International Rescue Committee (IRC), said in a statement. “We urge the Administration to begin its long-delayed review of the vetting process and restart a program which changes lives for the better.”

A record 65.6 million people are currently displaced worldwide, many of whom are fleeing the six countries singled out by the ban. Syria is among the most dangerous — the nation’s ongoing civil war has led to massive internal displacement, along with more than 5 million refugees currently seeking asylum elsewhere.

European countries like Germany are housing many refugees, and Canada’s government has said it is working to take in more. But in the United States, the story has been different. While refugees are heavily vetted before entering the country, the Trump administration argues that they pose a security threat, a talking point the president repeated in a statement greeting Monday’s decision.

“Today’s unanimous Supreme Court decision is a clear victory for our national security,” Trump said. “It allows the travel suspension for the six terror-prone countries and the refugee suspension to become largely effective.”

But advocates say that argument has no basis in actual fact. “There is no reasonable national security justification for these measures,” said Eric Schwartz, President of Refugees International and former Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration. “More importantly, the suspension of refugee resettlement will impact the most vulnerable of the world’s populations, including refugee women and girls, survivors of violence and torture, and refugee children, among many other groups at considerable risk.”

Others noted that in allowing parts of the ban to resume, the Supreme Court sent a message to Muslim communities in particular. A statement from Johnathan Smith, legal director of non-profit advocacy group Muslim Advocates, harshly criticized the ban’s religious slant.

“We are deeply troubled by the court’s decision to allow portions of the Muslim ban to move forward,” said Smith, who emphasized that human rights violations were all but inevitable. “The court’s decision sends the wrong message to the Muslim community, the nation, and the world.”

How to make sense of the confusing Supreme Court opinion on the Muslim ban

While many organizations expressed alarm, some suggested that the decision had a silver lining.

In a statement, Lavinia Limón, president of the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCRI), emphasized that her organization was optimistic.

“We have an existing relationship with incoming refugees, certified and arranged through the Department of State, we understand the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that their continued arrival will not be affected,” she said. “Travel plans are in process, beds have been made and staff around the country plan to meet new Americans at the airports today, tomorrow and in the coming weeks and months. Refugees fleeing persecution built this country, make it stronger and our promise to them will continue unabated.”

Much of that optimism comes from the decision’s wording — namely, its requirement that those with relationships and ties to people in the United States be allowed to enter the country.

“What’s interesting is that almost all refugees have ties here,” Liz Sweet, managing attorney for HIAS, a nonprofit working on refugee resettlement, told ThinkProgress. “Such a small number of refugees globally are chosen for resettlement in the United States that they often have close family members here.”

Those ties mean organizations like HIAS are somewhat relieved by the decision, as it theoretically means many refugees will be allowed in for the time being. Still, a lot depends on how those ties are defined, meaning the full impact of the decision won’t be clear for some time.

“It’s going to be important to see how this is implemented by the admin,” Sweet said. “We certainly will be watching.”

Others were less heartened. Church World Service, a cooperative ministry of 37 Christian denominations and communions providing refugee assistance, slammed the Supreme Court’s decision in a blistering statement questioning the morality of the action.

“Some of the world’s most vulnerable refugees have no ties to the United States — including families with children fleeing war, violence and persecution,” the statement read, arguing that any preconditions for entry put lives in danger. “Enabling any variation of President Trump’s discriminatory refugee and Muslim ban to go into effect — even temporarily — is an imprudent, devastating blow to our fundamental values of justice and humanity.”

Banning refugees from entering the country has long been a promise of Trump’s. During the 2016 presidential campaign, he pledged to suspend immigration from “places like Syria and Libya”, both of which are among the banned countries. Of refugees, the president promised he would take swift action, singling out Syria in particular.

“I’m putting the people on notice that are coming here from Syria, as part of this mass migration,” he said at the time, “that if I win, if I win, they’re going back.”

Supreme Court’s Muslim ban decision sparks anger from refugee advocates was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.