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Joe Biden speaks on "The Breakfast Club" with host Charlamagne tha God.screenshot For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters[1]. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden went viral in a bad way Friday morning, when, at the end of a radio interview with The Breakfast Club, he told host Charlamagne tha God that “you ain’t Black” if you “have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump.” Progressive activists quickly slammed[2] the former vice president for trying to act like an arbiter on Blackness, while the Trump campaign and the president’s supporters cynically seized[3] the comment, even selling[4] T-shirts featuring it. Later in the day, Biden apologized. “I’ve never, never, ever taken the African American community for granted,” he said on a call[5] with members of the US Black Chambers Inc., an organization promoting Black-owned businesses. He added that he “shouldn’t have been such a wise guy.” But that comment wasn’t the only problematic part of his appearance on The Breakfast Club. Biden also made several misleading or downright false statements about his role authoring the 1994 crime bill and the impact it had on mass incarceration. The much-derided law contained a host of measures to prevent crime—including “three strikes” mandatory life sentences, extra funding for policing and prisons, an assault weapons ban, and the Violence Against Women Act—and is often pointed to as a factor that fueled the disproportionate imprisonment of Black and brown people in the United States.
During the interview, Charlamagne asked Biden about this criticism head on, pushing him on why he has been reluctant to admit that the law “was damaging to the Black community.” The host noted that Hillary Clinton went on the radio show during her presidential run and acknowledged the bill contained mistakes. Biden, though, doubled down. “She’s wrong,” he said. “It wasn’t the crime bill. It was the drug legislation. It was the institution of mandatory minimums, which I opposed.”  Eh. That assertion is only sort of true. Here, we fact-check five of his claims to set the record straight.  During his campaign, Biden has repeatedly argued[6] that mass incarceration began before the 1994 crime bill passed. On The Breakfast Club, he reiterated that states lock up the vast majority of incarcerated people in this country, not the federal government. This is all true, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. And it’s not correct to say the 1994 bill played no part in fueling mass incarceration. As Biden suggests, incarceration rates grew enormously before his bill passed—by 400 percent from 1970 to 1994, according to[7] the Brennan Center for Justice. But they continued to climb afterward, too, doubling between 1994 and 2009. States did enact tough-on-crime laws and incarcerated many more people than the federal government did during that time. But Biden’s bill encouraged them to do so. As the Brennan Center’s points out[8], the 1994 crime bill offered states $12.5 billion to construct prisons if they passed “truth in sentencing” laws, which required incarcerated people to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences. “By dangling bonus dollars,” she wrote, the law “encouraged states to remain on their tough-on-crime course.” As Vanita Gupta, who led the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under President Barack Obama, put it to the New York Times[9], the bill “created and calcified massive incentives for local jurisdictions to engage in draconian criminal justice practices that had a pretty significant impact in building up the national prison population.” This, too, is only sort-of true. As the Annenberg Public Policy Center explains[10], there’s evidence that Biden did not support the three-strikes provision that made it into the final 1994 bill, because he worried it could put someone in prison for life for a relatively minor crime. In fact, Biden described the provision as “wacko” in 1994. But before the bill passed, he also went on the Today show and said[11] he did support a three-strikes provision that would incarcerate people for life who committed “serious felonies…that are violent.” “We should take those predators off the street,” he said. The reality here is more complicated than he made it seem. Biden may have spoken out against mandatory minimum sentences by the time the 1994 crime bill passed, but he was instrumental in pushing for them in the years before. As early as 1977, Biden advocated mandatory minimums that would force judges to send people to prison for a certain length of time, according to a New York Times investigation[12]. Then in 1984, he spearheaded the Comprehensive Crime Control Act, which “added significant mandatory minimums for many federal crimes and abolished federal parole,” as the Brennan Center points out[13]. (On The Breakfast Club, Biden argued that his intention with that bill was to erase disparities in sentencing lengths for Black and white people, “so nobody based on their color could go to jail longer than anybody else for the same crime.”) In 1986, he co-sponsored the Anti-Drug Abuse Act,[14] which set mandatory minimums for crack cocaine offenses that were significantly harsher than sentences for powder cocaine offenses and disproportionately targeted Black Americans. By 1993, Biden was starting to change his tune on sentencing. “I think we’ve had all the mandatory minimums that we need,” he noted[15] during an event hosted by the US Sentencing Commission. He said some of the mandatory minimum sentences he helped pass previously were “not positive” and were “counterproductive,” according to the New York Times[16]. While the 1994 crime bill did contain more mandatory minimums, it also included a “safety valve” provision that Biden backed, allowing judges to waive these sentences for certain types of offenders. In 2008, Biden said[17] the 100-to-1 ratio between crack and powder cocaine sentences was “arbitrary, unnecessary, and unjust,” and admitted that laws he helped pass were “part of the problem that I have been trying to solve since then.” In 2010, when Biden was vice president, the Fair Sentencing Act reduced the crack sentencing disparity. Crime was actually already dropping before the bill passed, by 10 percent in the three years before. Then, from 1994 to 2000, it fell another 23 percent, with violent crime dropping by almost a third. But criminologists aren’t sure what exactly led to this change and if it can be attributed to the ’94 law. of the Brennan Center argues the crime bill likely helped reduce crime to some extent—”not by locking people up, but by putting more cops on the street,” she writes[18]. The bill “provided funding for 100,000 new police officers and $14 billion in grants for community-oriented policing, for example.” But she adds that “social and economic factors—like an aging population and decreased alcohol consumption—played a role in the crime decline as well.” John Worrall, a criminologist at the University of Texas at Dallas, told the Annenberg Public Policy Center[19] that “the jury is very much still out” on what caused the drop in crime after the bill passed. “Criminologists and economists are in no agreement,” he said, citing theories ranging from economic and demographic changes to tougher sentencing. This is just false. Biden was clear in 1994 that he supported offering billions of dollars in funding to build state prisons. “We have not built new prisons to keep up with the increase in violent crime in America,” he said at a June 1994 committee hearing, according to CNN[20]. And the bill, he said, “is partially our attempt to help the states and localities try.” At the time, he did say that Republicans were going overboard by proposing $10 billion in funding for state prisons. But he said $6 billion was an acceptable amount. And that funding, of course, came with a catch. In order to get it, states had to pass those “truth in sentencing” laws mentioned above. Within three years, 27 states and DC[21] had done so, paving the way to drastically expand their prison populations. References ^ Mother Jones' newsletters (www.motherjones.com) ^ slammed (www.nytimes.com) ^ cynically seized (twitter.com) ^ selling (thehill.com) ^ said on a call (www.usatoday.com) ^ argued (www.cnn.com) ^ according to (www.brennancenter.org) ^ points out (www.brennancenter.org) ^ put it to the New York Times (www.nytimes.com) ^ explains (www.factcheck.org) ^ said (www.nbclearn.com) ^ a New York Times investigation (www.nytimes.com) ^ points out (www.brennancenter.org) ^ Anti-Drug Abuse Act, (www.congress.gov) ^ noted (books.google.com) ^ according to the New York Times (www.nytimes.com) ^ said (www.govinfo.gov) ^ writes (www.brennancenter.org) ^ told the Annenberg Public Policy Center (www.factcheck.org) ^ according to CNN (www.cnn.com) ^ 27 states and DC (bjs.gov)
 
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Screenshot from Spotify For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters[1]. After about eight episodes of Normal People I noticed that I had been looking up songs from the episodes more than I did with most shows. Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t alone. On Spotify, at least people 37,000 follow the Normal People Official Soundtrack playlist. The follower isn’t unprecedented. But it is solidly higher than other shows. What did seem a little unprecedented was what I stumbled on next: both the fictional protagonists, Connell and Marianne, had playlists. The college students—whose meandering and fluctuating but the persistent relationship is the center of the show—had their own  “specifically curated” lists of songs that weren’t even in the Hulu series. Marianne’s playlist alone is doing about as well the show’s, at over 35,000 followers. Connell’s playlist is more popular than the show’s at over 48,000 followers. The music is good, and the playlists are interesting views into the minds of characters. But, still, it is weird. There are at least two layers of fiction people have to pass through want to listen to the playlists. (Let’s put aside, for a moment, each character was first portrayed in a novel by Sally Rooney before we overdose on metafiction.) There is the fiction of the show itself. And then an even deeper fiction that gives Marianne and Connell a weird sentience—as though they’re out in the world doing things like listening to music and making playlists, even when they’re not on screen. And yet, despite being bizarre, it also made sense. I almost expected to find them. I don’t think anyone would be interested in Tim Riggins’s, Tony Soprano’s, or Carrie Mathison’s playlists. (Maybe just Soprano’s, but purely for the novelty of it.) Yet, Marianne’s and Connell’s seemed natural, by comparison. Part of it just who they are. For a lot of people, there’s something more enticing about the music taste of young, aspiring European writers, than for a high-school tailback, mobster, or CIA agent. Semi-artsy college kids have better taste in music than the type of person who thinks CIA torture black sites are good. Some of it may lie in the potential fact that Rooney wrote the characters with their own playlists, almost designing them to be accompanied by music. Vogue noted[2] that “Spotify playlists believed to have been compiled by Rooney herself while she was writing the novel have been circulating online” among “super-fans.” BuzzFeed appears to have found them,[3] (music was added to them before the book came out, and a Spotify account that appears to be her partner’s, John Prasifka, follows the account). They’re a bit more vanilla than the official Hulu product, but they show that Rooney intended for the characters to live off the page.  On the official playlists, the music supervisors (and possibly the actors, who they worked on the curation with) took strange liberties. Nothing about Connell, a jocky character with no hint of a subversive or counter-culture edge besides liking literature (a low bar, I know) suggests that he would particularly enjoy or ever seek out experimental artists like Tirzah or Holly Herndon. I expect that Marianne would not have the patience to put up with Mac DeMarco, but he’s on her playlist anyway. I wondered if there was just something about the soundtracks for dreary, dreamy, European romance that attracted listeners. Sufjan Steven’s, who has been putting out indie bangers for almost two decades now, most popular songs on Spotify are dominated by the stuff he made for the soundtrack to Call Me By Your Name—another engrossing love story with deeply fleshed out and empathy inspiring characters set in the beautiful Italian countryside. Yann Tiersen, who has been doing the same thing for a little longer is in the same boat. His songs on the soundtrack to Amelie, a whimsical 2001 movie set in Paris, dominate his top ten most-played on Spotify. Midnight In Paris playlists have an impressive number of followers; the successful indie trilogy of Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight have solid numbers. But there’s more to it though than just simulating a cavort through Europe. The top playlist for In Bruges, a moderately successful surreal, dark comedy set in Bruges, Belgium had few followers (276). The most popular playlist for The Grand Budapest Hotel—which is set idyllic Eastern European mountain town only has around three thousand. Which is a lot, but still an underperformance given that it comes with the Wes Anderson brand, know for curated, tasteful music. Plus, other playlists of popularity were solidly American: Atlanta, a show about rap in Atlanta; Mid-90s, a skateboarding movie set in L.A. in the 90s; and Big Little Lies, a drama about rich people in Carmel, California. Drawing conclusions from these numbers feels like a Rorschach test. But I think the thing that runs between these shows and movies and Normal People is that they’re set in worlds we deeply want to be in, with people we want to mingle with. People on the internet stan Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern with fervor, and anyone doesn’t think Northern California is paradise is a maladjusted sadist. Skaters idealize the 90s[4] as a hallmark era of fashion and music. If you even vaguely like rap, wouldn’t you want to spend a night each week in Donald Glover’s Atlanta, Georgia? The same goes for Normal People. I suspect that a lot of people who watch the show see Marianne and Connell as people that they would want to be friends with if they existed in real life. They are decent, well-meaning, agreeable, attractive, and talented people with vaguely cool taste. Making parasocial relationships with fictional people on a screen as a form of escapism isn’t a novel way for people to consume media. What’s new are the options to indulge. Hulu, the creator of the series, made the Spotify playlists for Marianne and Connell. In the past, one would have to make up a playlist themselves, imagining what Connell would choose. No more. The playlist goes one level deeper than fan-boying. It brings the escapism into the real world. It creeps into our bedrooms, home offices, and kitchens after we turn the TV off. The reprieve from reality continues ambiently during reality.  “I’ve said it loads of times, Connell and Marianne don’t feel fictional to me,” Paul Mescal told the New Yorker.[5] In some ways, if the story can be constantly read—after the TV there is a playlist—there’s a way of wondering where the fiction ends. That feels acute right now. We can’t see our friends or go anywhere or do anything. It makes sense that people want to peer into what it would be like to hang out with people that they’d want to be friends with, in Europe. And when the show ends, having their playlists on in the background keeps them in our lives and helps keep us their world— which is so much more pleasant than the one we’re working through now—just a little bit longer. References ^ Mother Jones' newsletters (www.motherjones.com) ^ Vogue noted (www.vogue.co.uk) ^ found them, (www.buzzfeed.com) ^ idealize the 90s (www.jenkemmag.com) ^ told the New Yorker. (www.newyorker.com)
 
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The visible remains of boats left to rot are still awaiting clean up after they were taken over by Hurricane Michael at the Panama City Marina in Florida.Cristy Nielsen/Zuma For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters[1]. As if 2020 hasn’t been difficult enough, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration just released[2] its prediction for the Atlantic coast’s hurricane season. They estimate that there’s a 60 percent chance that the number of tropical storms and hurricanes will be “above-normal.” In terms of actual weather events, that translates to between 13 and 19 storms severe enough to be named and up to six major hurricanes. The chances that the coming hurricane season, which runs from June to November, will be less active than normal are 10 percent by NOAA’s count. The forecast, which was announced on Thursday, was made by NOAA Climate Prediction Center, a part of the National Weather Service. In a press release announcing the forecast, Neil Jacobs, the acting head of NOAA, said, “NOAA’s analysis of current and seasonal atmospheric conditions reveals a recipe for an active Atlantic hurricane season this year.” “NOAA’s analysis of current and seasonal atmospheric conditions reveals a recipe for an active Atlantic hurricane season this year.” Over the last few decades, hurricane seasons have become increasingly severe[3], in part due to climate change[4], and some of NOAA’s reasons[5] for its prediction about the jump in severity this year seem to point in that direction. It cites “warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, coupled with reduced vertical wind shear, weaker tropical Atlantic trade winds, and an enhanced west African monsoon.”  Also inserted into NOAA’s announcement was a suggestion that the public’s emergency evacuation plans be reassessed to consider the COVID-19 pandemic. “Social distancing and other CDC guidance to keep you safe from COVID-19 may impact the disaster preparedness plan you had in place, including what is in your go-kit, evacuation routes, shelters and more,” said Carlos Castillo, FEMA’s acting deputy administrator for resilience. The danger of hurricanes isn’t limited to the damage done during the event itself, but also in what comes later, especially flooding, which causes an average of $8.2 million in annual damage[6] in the US. Despite this, according to 2018 study[7] by Governing, population and development growth in 100-year flood zones have outpaced growth[8] outside of them since at least 1990. Another study,[9] published from the University of Bristol also in 2018, suggested that FEMA’s flood zone boundaries, in which 13 million people live, were too small, and that approximately 40 million people are potentially exposed to a 100-year flood. That’s the kind of flood severe enough that it only has a one percent chance of happening; in other words, is likely to come only once a century. The combination of growing populations facing more severe natural disasters is further complicated by the fact that the National Flood Insurance Program, which provides more than 90 percent[10] of flood insurance, is $20 billion[11] in debt. If the Atlantic hurricane season this year lines up with NOAA’s projections, it will be the fifth severe hurricane season in a row. That’s in no small part due to the warming of the earth. A joint NOAA-University of Wisconsin at Madison study[12] released this week found that temperature rise increased the likelihood of storms growing to the severity of hurricanes by eight percent each decade[13] for the last 40 years. This year follows a decade of devastating storms that some communities are still recovering from. As of late 2019, two years after Hurricane Maria, which ravaged Puerto Rico and killed about 3,000 people, 25,000 homes on the island still rely on blue FEMA tarps for roofing[14]. As the damage of hurricanes compound and their incidence becomes more frequent, full recovery gets more difficult. Last year, in the aftermath of the devastating Hurricane Dorian, Penn State University meteorologist Michael Mann spoke the USA Today[15] about the worsening conditions. “As we continue to warm the planet, hurricane intensities will increase further,” he said. “There’s no new normal. It’s an ever-shifting baseline toward more destructive storms.” References ^ Mother Jones' newsletters (www.motherjones.com) ^ just released (www.noaa.gov) ^ increasingly severe (www.bloomberg.com) ^ due to climate change (www.washingtonpost.com) ^ reasons (www.noaa.gov) ^ $8.2 million in annual damage (www.citylab.com) ^ 2018 study (www.governing.com) ^ outpaced growth (www.governing.com) ^ Another study, (iopscience.iop.org) ^ more than 90 percent (www.vox.com) ^ is $20 billion (fas.org) ^ study (www.pnas.org) ^ eight percent each decade (www.huffpost.com) ^ rely on blue FEMA tarps for roofing (apnews.com) ^ spoke the USA Today (www.usatoday.com)
 
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Friday Cat Blogging – 22 May 2020

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This is . . . oh hell. I don’t know:
 
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Will Donald Trump Ever Break 45 Percent Approval?

The more things stay the same, the more they stay the same:
 
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As you may have heard, the University of California has voted to ditch standardized tests for incoming freshmen:[1] In a decision that could reshape the nation’s college admissions process, University of California regents unanimously voted Thursday to suspend SAT and ACT testing requirements through 2024 and eliminate them for California students by 2025. ….Some hailed the vote as a bold and visionary move to expand access and equity. But others expressed concern that dumping the tests would lead to grade inflation, admission of less-prepared students and backlash over different entry standards for different classes. My own guess is that this will make very little difference. A simple chart from the Education Trust shows why:[2] Practically every state, no matter what method they use, has a hard time enrolling Black freshmen in numbers proportional to their population. California has been unusually bad in this regard ever since the passage of Proposition 209 in 1996, which eliminated the use of affirmative action. We’ve tried over and over since then to figure out ways to get Black enrollment up on UC campuses, and nothing has worked. The obvious conclusion is that it’s too late to fix the longstanding effects of racism and poverty if you wait until the senior year of high school to do it. Black kids have to keep pace from preschool forward, which requires money, commitment, and a willingness to do something about geography. None of those things have ever been available in the amount needed. So will this latest effort work? I doubt it. But I wish them the best of luck. References ^ ditch standardized tests for incoming freshmen: (www.latimes.com) ^ A simple chart from the Education Trust shows why: (edtrust.org)
 
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Trump endorsing the opponent is not great news!Vasha Hunt/AP Tommy Tuberville describes himself in a tumble of Cs: “Christian,” “Conservative,” “Coach.” This alliterative bit is a catchy slogan for the political outsider and former head coach of the Auburn Tigers football team who last week forced[1] a somewhat surprising runoff[2] against former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. On March 31, the two will compete to be Alabama’s Republican nominee for the Senate, vying for the seat that Sessions held for 20 years and is now occupied by Democrat Doug Jones. Tuberville came out on top last week in the sprawling field, besting Sessions, as well as Rep. Bradley Byrne and Roy Moore, but still came short of a majority needed to clinch the nomination. Then, last night, he won the real prize: President Trump’s endorsement[3].  While the endorsement is a somewhat juicy piece of political theater, it’s too simplistic to consider it a pure act of vengeance against Trump’s former confidante (although, of course, Trump does love a good grudge[4]). Tuberville is no chump here; he is in many ways the model Trump candidate. Tommy Tuberville (@TTuberville[5]) is running for the U.S. Senate from the Great State of Alabama. Tommy was a terrific head football coach at Auburn University. He is a REAL LEADER who will never let MAGA/KAG, or our Country, down! Tommy will protect your Second Amendment…. — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 11, 2020[6] Back in 2017, Jones took[7] Alabama by sheer force of Republican fuck-ups; as my colleague Pema Levy wrote[8] at the time, “Republicans managed to screw everything up.” So it might be confusing that Alabamans, and even the president, would risk anything but steady Sessions. Tuberville has never held public office. He’s never even donated to a federal campaign, according[9] to FEC data. He is so inexperienced—as Jason Zengerle noted[10] in a piece over at New York Times Magazine—that several months ago Republicans worried Tuberville could very well lose to Jones (this would be a Democrat winning in Alabama—twice!), prompting politicos to bug Sessions to jump into the race in the first place. But here’s the key context: As I’ve written previously Tuberville has a folksy Trumpism[11], spanning a long career as a coach, which he parlayed into sports radio spots that appealed to a GOP electorate that doesn’t mind the demonization of abortion, communists, and the 1960s, mixed with a bit of football analysis. He then built on that base with campaign ads featuring him either on a football field or in an actual field, with a gun[12]. When Sessions entered[13] the race in November last year, the primary devolved into a battle for who can pledge fealty to Trump more convincingly. Tuberville has excelled there, too. His ads hit simple Trump talking points[14]: “Build The Wall,” “open borders,” “socialists.” His campaign has happily focused (almost exclusively) on his love for Trump, serving up policy only when it means talking about the greatness of Our Dear President. Tuberville’s history of spewing[15] birtherism and xenophobia are played as advantages. And telling someone they’re divine helps, too. “God sent us Donald Trump,” Tuberville informs[16] the camera in one ad. “Because God knew we were in trouble.” Sessions famously has a more complicated relationship with the president, to say the least. The first senator to endorse Trump, Sessions was picked as attorney general, then recused himself from the investigation into Russia and, finally, resigned after months of attacks[17] from Trump. He’s now hated by the White House, a punching bag. Though in a bit of restraint—Alabama, after all, is critical to guaranteeing Republicans’ Senate majority—Trump didn’t declare a clear choice in the race until after the first round of voting. But you could feel it coming. He couldn’t help but gloat at Sessions’ inability to win back his seat without a run-off. This is what happens to someone who loyally gets appointed Attorney General of the United States & then doesn’t have the wisdom or courage to stare down & end the phony Russia Witch Hunt. Recuses himself on FIRST DAY in office, and the Mueller Scam begins! https://t.co/2jGnRgOS6h[18] — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2020[19] The nativist platform[20] that Sessions built and that (unfortunately) worked for decades in Alabama evolved as Trump adopted it. These ideas have succeeded throughout American history, mostly disguised by the neatness and false civility of people like Sessions. Trump allowed it to be open, public, and shamefully obvious. The shift in the state, and what Tuberville adds to the mix, are the pieces of the Trump stew that are missing from Sessions’ clean-cut, lawyerly racism: “REAL LEADERSHIP.” Tuberville, like Trump, is not of the “establishment.” He’s a coach.  Football coaches have always been revered in the South, and especially in Alabama. These are fundamentally political positions. As Howell Raines, a writer for the New York Times, noted[21] upon the retirement of Paul “Bear” Bryant—the legendary leader of the University of Alabama Crimson Tide—the coach is a figurehead just as much as any politician. In fact, longtime Gov. George Wallace actually feared Bryant running against him. At the 1968 Democratic convention, Bryant received[22] 1.5 votes to be the party’s nominee for president, seemingly from nowhere. And famously, in 1971, Bryant integrated[23] the University of Alabama’s football team over the objections of Wallace. Yes, it took until 1971. Bryant had been pushing for it for years, roadblocked by the segregationist governor (or, at least that’s the convenient narrative for Bear). Wallace relented after Alabama got torn up by the Black running back Sam “The Bam” Cunningham from USC—3 touchdowns, 200-plus yards. An Alabama assistant coach compared[24] Cunningham’s role in integration to that of Martin Luther King Jr. Still, Tuberville is not Bear Bryant. But his use of name recognition, celebrity, and whatever policy is popular on conservative radio and TV (even if it happens to be the one Sessions invented) is very Trump. References ^ forced (www.washingtonpost.com) ^ runoff (www.motherjones.com) ^ endorsement (twitter.com) ^ does love a good grudge (www.motherjones.com) ^ @TTuberville (twitter.com) ^ March 11, 2020 (twitter.com) ^ took (www.motherjones.com) ^ wrote (www.motherjones.com) ^ according (www.fec.gov) ^ noted (www.nytimes.com) ^ folksy Trumpism (www.motherjones.com) ^ gun (twitter.com) ^ entered (www.nytimes.com) ^ talking points (twitter.com) ^ spewing (www.motherjones.com) ^ informs (twitter.com) ^ attacks (www.motherjones.com) ^ https://t.co/2jGnRgOS6h (t.co) ^ March 4, 2020 (twitter.com) ^ nativist platform (www.motherjones.com) ^ noted (newrepublic.com) ^ received (www.espn.com) ^ integrated (www.theatlantic.com) ^ compared (books.google.com)
 
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Kryssia Campos/Getty As novel coronavirus infections officially reach pandemic levels[1], the social and economic consequences are piling up: huge events cancelled, the stock and oil markets tank, and fears of a recession coalesce[2]. Here’s one that may be surprising: Steak may be about to get a lot cheaper.  Two factors tie the COVID-19 crisis to a likely fall in beef prices. The first has to do with China and yet another highly contagious viral disease, African swine fever, which kills hogs but doesn’t infect people. ASF was first detected in China in 2018; by the end of last year, it had wiped out[3] half of China’s—and a quarter of the world’s—pigs. (By 2019, African swine fever had spread to other parts of Asia[4]; so far, the US industry has avoided it[5].) Pork prices in China spiked, consumers turned to beef as an alternative, and the country ramped up imports[6] to satisfy rising demand.  That, in turn, led to a global rally in cattle prices, as traders anticipated surging Chinese demand for beef. Then coronavirus hit China late last year. In late January, the government had moved[7] to slow its spread by imposing mass quarantines in Wuhan and nearby cities in Hubei province, keeping around 50 million people under a mandatory quarantine. The shock hit China’s economy hard: beef demand dropped[8], and commodity traders punished the cattle market[9], sending prices even lower.  Now it’s time for the second factor, which is domestic. US beef demand rises and falls with the economy. When consumers feel richer, they buy more beef; when they’re feeling squeezed, they seek cheaper alternatives. That’s the conclusion of a 2018 analysis [10]by ag economists Glynn Tonsor and Ted C. Schroeder of Kansas State University and Jayson Lusk of Purdue. When the Great Recession hit last decade, per capita US beef consumption dropped 10 percent[11] between 2007 and 2011. As the recovery set in, our appetite for beef revived, and by 2015, beef consumption had returned to pre-crisis levels, where it has remained since.  But now coronavirus is sparking fears of another recession, as plunging stock and oil markets[12] show. Princeton economist Alan Blinder, a former US Federal Reserve vice chairman, told CNBC Wednesday[13] that that US economy may already be shrinking, as coronavirus fears have instilled a “fear of shopping” for anything but emergency-prep items among US consumers. Meanwhile, the entire global economy is fragile, anticipating a possibly deep downturn. A December report[14] from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development documented a massive worldwide buildup of corporate debt, which has reached an all-time high of $13.5 trillion. “Companies facing grave debt burdens may be forced to cut costs, laying off workers and scrapping investments, as they seek to avoid default,” The New York Times reported[15] Tuesday. One analyst told the Times that the corporate debt burden is like an “unexploded bomb” that could be triggered by the coronavirus crisis.  One silver lining—or another dark cloud, depending on your perspective[16]—would be cheaper beef. Already, US cattle prices have plunged 20 percent in 2020, driven down by the China situation and by short-term fear that “quarantines will keep meat eaters at home and steer consumption toward nonperishable foods,” The Wall Street Journal reported[17] Monday. If the COVID-19 pandemic further intensifies and tanks the economy, the beef industry’s troubles have only just begun.  References ^ pandemic levels (www.wsj.com) ^ fears of a recession coalesce (www.washingtonpost.com) ^ wiped out (www.newscientist.com) ^ pread to other parts of Asia (www.fao.org) ^ has avoided it (www.porkbusiness.com) ^ ramped up imports (www.beefmagazine.com) ^ moved (www.sciencemag.org) ^ beef demand dropped (finance.yahoo.com) ^ punished the cattle market (www.beefcentral.com) ^ 2018 analysis  (www.beefboard.org) ^ dropped 10 percent (www.beefboard.org) ^ plunging stock and oil markets (www.wsj.com) ^ CNBC Wednesday (www.cnbc.com) ^ December report (www.oecd.org) ^ reported (www.nytimes.com) ^ depending on your perspective (www.motherjones.com) ^ reported (www.wsj.com)
 
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An encampment in Matamoros, Mexico, where around 2,000 people were living in November after being forced to wait in Mexico for their US court dates.Lexie Harrison-Cripps/Getty The Supreme Court will allow the Trump administration to continue to force asylum seekers back to Mexico while they await their US court dates. In an order on Wednesday, the court overturned the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision to block the Department of Homeland Security from enforcing the so-called Remain in Mexico policy that makes asylum seekers spend months waiting in dangerous border cities. Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the only dissenter. “The Court of Appeals unequivocally declared this policy to be illegal,” Judy Rabinovitz, special counsel in the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a statement. “The Supreme Court should as well. Asylum seekers face grave danger and irreversible harm every day this depraved policy remains in effect.” The Trump administration began returning asylum seekers to Mexico in January 2019. Since then, roughly 60,000 people have been sent back while they wait for hearings at court facilities on the US side of the border. The advocacy group Human Rights First has documented more than 1,000 public reports of people being violently attacked while waiting in Mexico.[1] In Mexico, the policy, officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, has forced asylum seekers to remain in crowded encampments that lack running water and adequate medical services. In the United States, Remain in Mexico has wreaked havoc on the immigration court system and people’s ability to receive a fair hearing. As one attorney put it to Mother Jones, the policy is “a fucking disaster that is designed to fail.”[2] Earlier this month, the Ninth Circuit ruled that it would block the program in Arizona and California starting on Thursday, unless the Supreme Court overruled it. A three-judge panel decided that the program clearly violated the United States’ obligation not to return asylum seekers to danger, which is known as refoulement in international law. The judges held:  Uncontradicted evidence in the record shows not only that asylum officers implementing the MPP do not ask whether asylum seekers fear returning to Mexico. It also shows that officers actively prevent or discourage applicants from expressing such a fear, and that they ignore applicants who succeed in doing so…Uncontradicted evidence also shows that there is extreme danger to asylum seekers who are returned to Mexico…It is clear from the text of the MPP, as well as from extensive and uncontradicted evidence in the record, that the MPP violates the anti-refoulement obligation embodied in” US law. Wednesday’s order is the latest in a string of Supreme Court decisions that have allowed the Trump administration to enforce the harshest parts of its immigration agenda. In another reversal of a lower-court decision, the court in September allowed the administration to block people from receiving asylum if they passed through another country on their way to the United States, a policy that effectively ended asylum at the southern border. (People fleeing persecution remain eligible for other forms of protection that are much harder to obtain.)  In January, a 5-4 vote allowed Trump to enforce his “public charge” rule, which is effectively a health and wealth test that blocks people deemed likely to use modest amounts of public benefits from obtaining green cards. In February, it allowed the rule to go into effect in Illinois, the only state where it remained blocked.  “Today’s decision follows a now-familiar pattern,” Sotomayor wrote in a dissenting opinion last month. “The Government seeks emergency relief from this Court, asking it to grant a stay where two lower courts have not. The Government insists—even though review in a court of appeals is imminent—that it will suffer irreparable harm if this Court does not grant a stay. And the Court yields.” References ^ 1,000 (www.humanrightsfirst.org) ^ wreaked havoc (www.motherjones.com)
 
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