• Mississippi Is About to Ban Trans Athletes Over a Hypothetical Problem

    Terry Miller (center) was one of two transgender sprinters sued last year for participating in the women's division.Christian Abraham/Hearst Connecticut Media/AP

    Mississippi legislators on Wednesday sent a bill to the governor’s desk that would bar trans girls from playing on girls sports teams. If Gov. Tate Reeves signs the bill, Mississippi would be the only state in the country with such a ban in effect, though 25 other states are considering similar legislation. 

    Though the Mississippi proposal isn’t explicit about how it’d be enforced, other states’ bills call for athletes to undergo blood tests and examinations of primary and secondary sexual organs to prove they belong on the women’s team. Not only is this discriminatory against trans athletes, advocates say it could lead to invasive genital exams being forced upon any female athlete who doesn’t look “feminine” enough. 

    Gillian Branstetter, media manager for the National Women’s Law Center, says cisgender women with naturally higher testosterone levels could be targeted (case in point: Caster Semenya). Tall women could be targeted. Black and Brown women who don’t fall within the western aesthetic of femininity could be targeted. “It’s all in the name of hurting trans people for a perceived political gain,” Branstetter says. But “there is no crisis that these bills are seeking to address.”

    Proponents of these bills—namely Republican lawmakers and advocacy groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom—argue that trans girls are likely to be stronger or faster than their cisgender peers. A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in December found that, among elite athletes, trans women maintain an athletic edge for up to two years after medically transitioning. But the study’s author, a pediatrician from Missouri named Dr. Timothy Roberts, is the first to say lawmakers shouldn’t use his study to justify bullying trans kids.

    “I’m definitely coming out and saying, ‘Hey, this doesn’t apply to recreational athletes, doesn’t apply to youth athletics,'” he told NBC News.

    But science aside, the Mississippi bill is entirely hypothetical: There is no evidence that cisgender girls in Mississippi are facing obstacles in sports due to the presence of trans athletes. In fact, the lawmakers that are sounding the alarm on the issue don’t appear to have any idea how many trans student athletes are competing in the state. The Associated Press recently reached out to two dozen lawmakers across the country who had sponsored similar bills and found that, of those who responded to their query, the vast majority couldn’t cite a single example of a trans girl causing problems in women’s athletics. From the AP:

    [Lawmakers] in places like Mississippi and Montana largely brushed aside the question or pointed to a pair of runners in Connecticut. Between 2017 and 2019, transgender sprinters Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood combined to win 15 championship races, prompting a lawsuit.

    Supporters of transgender rights say the Connecticut case gets so much attention from conservatives because it’s the only example of its kind.

    Cathryn Oakley, the Human Rights Campaign’s state legislative director and senior counsel, says these bills are really about one thing: hate. “These bills are about discrimination, that is all that they are about,” she says. “They are not about addressing a real problem. They are not about trying to create a real solution. What they are doing is creating a problem and harming trans kids in the process.”

  • Lauren Boebert Says Equality Act Is “Supremacy of Gays”

    Tom Williams/ZUMA

    On Wednesday, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Co.) appeared on Steve Bannon’s show to fear-monger about the Equality Act. Or, in her words: “The so-called Equality Act.” For Boebert the name was a “play on words.” Because, she said, “there is nothing about equality in that act! If anything, it’s supremacy—of gays, lesbians, and—uh.” Boebert then pauses before saying a slur for transgender people.

     

    Boebert here is dim. She is railing against a piece of legislation that, if passed, would amend civil rights laws to extend protections for LGBTQ+ people in all sorts of sectors. My colleague Abigail Weinberg explained the details:

    [It will] ensure protections for LGBTQ people in areas including housing, employment, and “public accommodations” such as retail stores. Proponents call it a necessary extension of the Civil Rights Act, while opponents have argued that the bill would infringe on religious rights.

    This is not a “play on words.” And so-called culture war battles aren’t severed from the real, material conditions of our lives. The case of trans rights makes this obvious. My colleague Laura Thompson has detailed that in reporting on Trump’s transgender military ban and how even children aren’t safe from the GOP’s war on LGTBQ+ people.

    Boebert is parading as anti-woke by using a slur in a half giggle. She knows what she’s saying is hurtful, it seems; she pauses before saying the word and then squeaks it out. The other explanation, maybe, for the pause is that saying “transgender” has been so normalized to such a degree that it’s hard to even recall how to be offensive. Still, she pulls it off.

  • House Cancels March 4 Votes Thanks to QAnon Conspiracy Threat

    James D. DeCamp/Zuma

    Donald Trump wasn’t inaugurated on January 20. Joe Biden was. While that should have quelled the belief of QAnon conspiracy theorists that Trump would rein supreme for another term, deluded hope finds ways to live on.

    And that’s why some Q devotees still seem to believe Trump will be sworn in as the 19th president in March 4, the date that a president’s term began prior to 1933, when passage of the 20th amendment shortened the lame duck period and made January 20 Inauguration Day. (March 4, interestingly, is also the date Facebook chose to lift its ban on political advertising.)

    It seemed there was less support for the March 4 conspiracy theory than for the January 6 insurrection. The House Sergeant-at-Arms said in a security bulletin on Monday that Capitol Police had “no indication that groups will travel to Washington D.C. to protest or commit acts of violence,” according to DCist.

    But the threat is serious enough that Capitol Police announced today that they will be bolstering security on Thursday because of a “possible plot to breach the Capitol by an identified militia group.” Notably, the House is scrapping its plans for a Thursday session and moving its scheduled votes up to this evening.

    These actions don’t seem entirely unfounded. I called the Trump Hotel in DC and asked why room rates were so much higher on March 4 than on subsequent days. The receptionist said simply that rates are based on occupancy: “The higher the occupancy, the higher the rates go.”

    For what it’s worth, the National Guard remains deployed in DC, and the Senate will be going about its business as planned.

  • “I Will Not Resign”: Cuomo Defiant Amid Calls to Step Down Over Sexual Harassment Claims

    AP

    New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday said that he would not step down amid calls for his resignation after three women have come forward with sexual harassment allegations against him.

    “I will not step down,” Cuomo told reporters in his first press conference since the allegations surfaced. “I work for the people of the State of New York. They elected me and I’m going to serve.”

    Addressing the claims, Cuomo repeatedly apologized for making his accusers feel uncomfortable or hurt by his actions. But he vehemently denied ever touching anyone inappropriately and urged people to wait for the results of the state’s independent investigation into the allegations before making a judgment. “This is what I want you to know: I never touched anyone inappropriately,” Cuomo said. “I never touched anyone inappropriately. I never knew at the time that I was making anyone feel uncomfortable and I certainly never meant to offend anyone or hurt anyone or cause anyone any pain.”

    Cuomo continued by characterizing some of his behavior, which includes kissing and hugging his greeters, as “customary” for him. That comes after Anna Ruch, a former Obama administration member, told the New York Times on Monday that Cuomo, at a September 2019 wedding where they first met, touched her back before grabbing her face to ask if he could kiss her. A friend captured the moment in a cell phone photo.

    “You can find hundreds of pictures of me making the same gesture with hundreds of people,” Cuomo continued. “Women, men, children. You can go find hundreds of pictures of me kissing people. It’s my usual and customary way of greeting.” Cuomo declined to answer when asked if he expected more accusers to come forward but said that he would continue to apologize. 

    The New York governor notably did not address charges that he covered up data on the state’s nursing home deaths from the coronavirus—a scandal that preceded the current crisis over the sexual harassment allegations against him. 

  • Biden and Senate Dems Dial Back Eligibility for Stimulus Checks

    Doug Mills/Zumapress

    President Biden has struck a deal with Senate Democrats to tighten the income threshold for the proposed $1,400 stimulus checks, as his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill faces opposition in the Senate, and amid a push to pass the legislation before March 14—when several key pieces of December’s stimulus, including extended unemployment benefits, are set to expire.

    Several news outlets report that the new limits won’t change who is eligible for the full $1,400: individual filers earning up to $75,000 and joint filers earning up to $150,000 would still receive full checks. However, eligibility will tap out at much lower amounts than originally proposed: Individuals making more than $80,000 won’t receive anything, nor will joint filers with incomes in excess of $160,000. The bill passed by House Democrats last week contained higher cut-offs, with incrementally smaller payments for individuals earning between $75,000 and $100,000—and between $150,000 and $200,000 for couples. 

    The deal comes after weeks of back and forth about whether to lower the thresholds, and by how much. Last month, Republicans proposed shrinking the limits to $50,000 in annual income for individuals and $100,000 for couples filing jointly.

    As Democrats debated the stimulus bill, several progressive members of the party voiced opposition to lower cutoffs. “These income thresholds need to stay the same,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal told CNN. Now that the bill is in the Senate, however, Democrats must contend with tougher math in order to pass the package without Republican support.

    Democrats hold 50 seats, with Vice President Kamala Harris as a potential tie-breaker—the slimmest of majorities. Barring any help from Republicans, Democrats will require unanimous intra-party support to pass the package. This math has empowered moderate Democrats, namely Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has been a key voice pushing to lower the income thresholds to more narrowly target relief money to those who most need it. Manchin met with the White House about this proposal on Monday.

  • Two Weeks After Winter Storms, Thousands of Black Mississippians Still Can’t Get Clean Water

    Jackson resident Lamar Jackson pours potable water into empty jugs on Monday, Feb. 22. Tens of thousands of Jacksonians still lack running water.AP/Rogelio V. Solis

    On February 13, a winter storm hit Jackson, Mississippi’s water supply, bursting or damaging almost 100 underground water mains as sub-freezing temperatures covered the state. Almost three weeks later, tens of thousands of Jackson’s 170,000 residents still lack clean, running water. Jacksonians are lining up for city-provided water distribution at local high schools and churches, awaiting an official announcement on when full water service might be restored. As late as Monday evening, the city reported 35 outstanding repairs to its water system. “This is an old system and we are taking it day by day as it recharges itself,” officials announced on Facebook.

    When the storm first reached Mississippi, Gov. Tate Reeves told local NBC affiliate WLBT that the state was working to have a federal disaster declaration approved. But most of Mississippi has now restored water and power, with many of the remaining breakdowns concentrated in Jackson, the state’s largest city.

    More than 80 percent of Jacksonians are Black. Over a quarter live below the federal poverty line. The parallels to the water crisis in majority-Black Flint, Michigan—where, for nearly four years, authorities failed to address extreme lead contamination in the city’s water system—are unavoidable. And it’s not just Flint: water contamination in Black communities has gone ignored by GOP governments from Louisiana, where residents of towns like St. Joseph and Campti warned of poisoned water for years, to Texas, where little has been done to build reliable water systems for people living in low-income border communities.

    In 2018, Mother Jones’ Rebecca Leber spoke with Michigan journalist Anna Clark, who traced similar crises to an urban tax base decimated by waves of white flight. Many mid-20th-century white urbanites, spooked by desegregation orders, found moving to the suburbs far less scary than letting their kids share desks with Black students. Around the same time, federal investment programs started to subsidize homeownership and the highway system, making the move more appealing than ever—and driving massive disinvestment in the cities they left behind. The outcome: across the country, rings of new suburban infrastructure surround crumbling power, water, and gas networks used mainly by people of color.

    That phenomenon played out in Jackson, too. Sadik Khan, a professor in Jackson State University’s department of civil and environmental engineering, pins the problem in part on the many people—like himself—who work in Jackson but live in surrounding areas, funneling tax dollars away from the city.

    “The city is not earning much [of the] money that is needed to do the maintenance of the 100-year-old infrastructure,” Khan says. Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said in a press conference Sunday that key improvements to the water system would cost about $2 billion, an estimate that’s more than six times the city’s annual budget. Unlike in Texas—where recovery efforts have been more robust—FEMA hasn’t been activated in Mississippi, making the state’s National Guard the main source of outside help with water distribution. (Although close to 400,000 residents of North and Central Texas still lack running water, all major cities had their boil-water advisories lifted more than a week ago.)

    That $2 billion estimate is likely correct, according to Khan, who explains that the breaks and leaks in Jackson’s water supply were brought on by pipes cracking and deteriorating over long stretches of time. Fixing it would require an expensive, systemwide overhaul: pipe replacements, cutting into roads, and paying for safety measures to carry it all out. (Similar repairs weren’t completed in Flint until the state and federal governments set aside hundreds of millions of dollars to make them possible.)

    “I can feel how challenging it would be for the city maintenance engineers to manage the system over there, because you just have to balance it out every time,” Khan said. “You have a very big system. This can sometimes have a cascading type of problem: you fix one problem, and another pops up.”

    “Our system has basically crashed like a computer and now we’re trying to rebuild it,” Jackson Public Works director Charles Williams said at the city’s Sunday press briefing. One of the hardest-hit areas is south Jackson, where Williams said the city has applied a short-term fix by opening fire hydrants, helping water flow to the areas of lowest pressure. “We’re not happy until we can restore water service to every single last person in this city,” Mayor Lumumba said at the briefing. 

    Other city leaders have coaxed residents along with hopeful messages. At a city council meeting Tuesday, council president Aaron Banks commended residents’ efforts to help one another.

    “We rise to the occasion. We are Jackson and we are strong,” Banks said. “And yes, there is much business that we have to take care of. The hope that I think we all have is [for] the greater good that comes when we unify.”

  • The United States Will Have Enough Vaccines for Every American Adult by End of May, Biden Says

    Evan Vucci/AP

    The United States is on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult American by the end of May, President Joe Biden said today. That is two months earlier than initially planned.

    President Biden announced this afternoon that a partnership between vaccine manufacturer Johnson & Johnson and the pharmaceutical company Merck will dramatically accelerate vaccine production.

    “I’m pleased to announce today, as a consequence of the stepped-up process that I’ve ordered and just outlined,” Biden said, “this country will have enough vaccine supply— I’ll say it again—for every adult in America by the end of May.”

    Watch the historic announcement below:

  • A GOP Lawyer Says the Quiet Part Out Loud in SCOTUS Voting Rights Case

    Natalie Behring/Zuma

    At issue in the Supreme Court today was whether restrictive voting laws in Arizona violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act. And a Republican Party lawyer defending the restrictions couldn’t have made his intentions clearer.

    Tuesday’s oral arguments in two cases—Brnovich v. DNC and Arizona Republican Party v. DNC—concerned the legality of “ballot harvesting,” a practice in which community activists collect ballots to boost voter turnout. The arguments also discussed an Arizona law that disqualified ballots cast in the wrong precinct. There’s no evidence of the voting fraud that these laws purport to limit, and voting rights activists say that the laws disproportionately limit Black, Latino, and Native American voters’ access to the polls.

    So Justice Amy Coney Barrett had a simple question for the lawyer defending the GOP-backed laws: “What’s the interest of the Arizona RNC here in keeping, say, the out-of-precinct ballot disqualification rules on the books?”

    “Because it puts us at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats,” the lawyer, Michael Carvin, responded. “Politics is a zero-sum game.”

    Republicans’ intentions couldn’t be any clearer. It’s not about reducing fraud. It’s about keeping minorities from voting for Democrats.

  • GOP Congressman Skipped the Stimulus Vote to Appear at a White Nationalist Event

    Bill Clark/CNP via ZUMA

    Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz) skipped key votes in the House of Representatives, citing the “ongoing public health emergency,” to instead attend a conference hosted by white supremacists in Orlando, Florida on Friday.

    Gosar, whose six siblings memorably endorsed his congressional opponent in a 2018 ad, has a long flirtation with far-right extremism. He appeared Friday at a white supremacist gathering in Orlando, America First Political Action Conference (AFPAC) organized by Nick Fuentes, a white nationalist figurehead and instigator of the Jan. 6 insurrection.

    Gosar has fanned the flames of the Jan. 6 insurrection himself by calling the Democrats’ win an attempted “coup” and then President-elect Joe Biden an “illegitimate usurper.” After the election, he wrote in an op-ed promoting the “Stop the Steal” rallies: “Be ready to defend the Constitution and the White House.” His past ties to the right-wing militia group Oath Keepers are already under scrutiny. In 2017, he dismissed right-wing violence in the deadly Charlottesville Unite the Right rally as the doing of George Soros, lying about how the billionaire known for backing progressive causes was actually behind the violence. “Who is he?,” Gosar said. “I think he’s from Hungary. I think he was Jewish. And I think he turned in his own people to the Nazis.” 

    Just after Gosar spoke on Friday, Fuentes took the mic to call the Capitol riot “awesome” and mocked Gosar’s colleague, Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), who uses a wheelchair. 

    On Saturday, Gosar, at CPAC, half-heartedly tried to distance himself from the association with white supremacists, saying, “I denounce when we talk about white racism.”

    Gosar wasn’t the only member of Congress to skip Friday’s House session. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl), like Gosar, enlisted colleagues to vote by proxy, signing letters saying, “I am unable to physically attend proceedings in the House Chamber due to the ongoing public health emergency.” Instead, Gaetz spoke at the in-person CPAC on Friday, where the event’s thousands of attendees loosely followed policies on wearing masks.

    The Republicans skipped a slate of important votes, including a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package and a public lands measure to protect 1.5 million acres of new wilderness and to protect 1,200 miles of waterways. The Republicans had their proxies oppose the bills.

  • The Real Threat to Women’s Sports Isn’t Trans Athletes. It’s Sexually Predatory Coaches.

    David Eulitt/Kansas City Star/TNS/Zuma

    The February 26, 2021 passage of the Equality Act in the US House of Representatives piqued conservatives into a moral panic.

    The bill, which would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, had a terrifying potential for Republicans: the presence of trans girls in high school sports.

    There was House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s statement that, “This really seems like an onslaught against freedom of religion [and] for girls’ sports as well.” There was Rep. Tom McClintock’s (R-Calif.) assertion that the legislation “destroys women’s sports and renders parents powerless to protect their own children.” And there was Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-Ga.) tweet—in response to Rep. Marie Newman (D-Ill.), who has a transgender daughter—saying, “Your biological son does NOT belong in my daughters’ bathrooms, locker rooms, and sports teams.”

    All this language of the need to “protect,” the need to root out other children from “bathrooms” and “locker rooms,” is hard to square with reality. As with the introduction of “bathroom bills,” the anti-trans argument is a red herring. It is another example of conservatives standing athwart progressive social change in the name of protecting children—long a hallmark of right-wing reactionary politics.

    But it is also particularly infuriating because all this effort has been summoned on a day when actual women in sports were in the news for being harmed.

    While legislators on the House floor were pontificating about the demise of women’s sports, another story was unfolding. Yesterday, John Geddert, head coach of the 2012 gold-medal women’s Olympic gymnastics team, committed suicide in Michigan. He had just been charged with human trafficking and sex crimes against girls as young as 13. (None of the members of Congress have commented on that, from what I’ve seen.)

    Geddert was a longtime friend of Larry Nassar, the convicted rapist who was accused of assaulting 265 girls as young as six. His victims included Olympic gold-medal gymnasts McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, and Simone Biles. Nassar admitted to sexually abusing girls at the Twistars Gymnastics Club owned by Geddert.

    Abusive coaches are nothing new, and it’s not only sexual abuse. In 2019, Mary Cain, the youngest American runner to make a World Championships team, accused Nike coach Alberto Salazar of physical and psychological abuse that ruined her career. A Business Insider story from last year details the psychological abuse female college athletes from a variety of sports say they experienced at the hands of their coaches. And last August, Texas Tech fired two of its women basketball coaches after accusations surfaced of physical, mental, and verbal abuse.

    This abuse, of course, is not limited to women either. Among the most notorious abusers in the sports world is Jerry Sandusky, the Penn State assistant football coach who in 2012 was found guilty of sexually assaulting 10 boys. Joe Paterno, the head coach who ignored reports of Sandusky’s abuse, was fired and died of cancer months later.

    As scandal after scandal emerges about the pervasive abuse of young athletes, it’s time we reevaluate our priorities. Trans athletes aren’t the problem.

  • Warren, Booker, and Sanders Push DHS to Investigate Allegations That Officers Threatened Asylum Seekers With COVID-19 Exposure

    A group of US senators is urging the Department of Homeland Security to investigate allegations that guards at immigration detention centers beat asylum seekers into submitting to their own deportations. “The allegations of violence and brutality against vulnerable refugees seeking safety here in the United States are unlawful and disturbing,” they write in the letter. 

    Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) sent the letter Thursday to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and ICE’s Acting Director Tae Johnson. 

    The senators’ concerns stem in part from a recent story by the Intercept that uncovered how guards at two ICE detention centers threatened asylum seekers with exposure to COVID-19 if they didn’t submit to a “voluntary” deportation. As the Intercept reported Feb. 6:

    Three Cameroonian asylum-seekers locked up at the Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center in Louisiana say that a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement guard threatened to expose them to Covid-19 if they failed to obey his orders and submit to a transfer. The guard made the threat clear, Clovis Fozao, one of the detained men, told The Intercept: If the detained migrants didn’t submit, they would be transferred to Bravo-Alpha, the detention unit where coronavirus-positive detainees are held in quarantine. 

    “They were forcing us out of the dorm, pushing and dragging us,” Fozao said, explaining the altercation when the guards tried to force them to submit to the deportation. “They threatened to call the SWAT team. They said they were going to put all of us into Bravo-Alpha, which is for quarantine, where they keep everyone with coronavirus.” 

    The senators wrote out 18 specific questions regarding multiple incidents in the past year. They ask for details about what ICE has uncovered in its own investigations, for audio and video of the alleged incidents, and specifics on how ICE ensures that those who are contracted to house immigrants in detention are following protocol to keep asylum seekers safe. 

    “While abuse and neglect in ICE facilities has been endemic for years, these incidents have happened with disturbing regularity and severity under the authority of the New Orleans ICE Field Office in particular,” the letter reads. “ICE officials and contractors must be held accountable if they have refused to treat people in their custody consistent with basic human dignity and with DHS rules and regulations. Asylum-seekers should not have to choose between brutality at home or brutality while seeking asylum. They should have access to a safe, dignified, and lawful environment, including being protected from contracting COVID-19 during the global health emergency.” 

    This alleged abuse was not exactly an isolated incident. “Over the past two years, similarly horrific abuses and conditions were reported,” the senators write, citing six stories by my colleague Noah Lanard. Noah has tracked at least a dozen incidents of guards pepper-spraying detainees, sometimes in response to simple requests for soap

    The senators give DHS and ICE until March 11 to respond to their questions. 

  • McConnell: I’d “Absolutely” Back Trump if He’s the 2024 GOP Nominee

    Caroline Brehman/ZUMA

    It took less than two weeks for Mitch McConnell to go from condemning Donald Trump’s role in the Capitol insurrection as a “disgraceful dereliction of duty” to voicing his unequivocal support for the twice-impeached former president should he win the Republican nomination in 2024.

    “The nominee of the party?” the Senate minority leader told Fox News on Thursday when asked if he’d back Trump. “Absolutely.” 

    McConnell’s full-throated commitment to a man he claimed to find “practically and morally responsible” for the deadly January 6 insurrection is further evidence of Trump’s hold among Republicans, despite rumblings of dissensions within the party. But the timing of McConnell’s latest comments is notable, as more and more Republicans surrender to the notion that Trump’s grasp will endure till the next presidential election. “I don’t know if he’ll run in 2024 or not, but if he does, I’m pretty sure he will win the nomination,” Sen. Mitt Romney said earlier this week. But the Utah senator and one of Trump’s most vocal Republican foes said he would not be supporting him. “I would not be voting for President Trump again,” he told the New York Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin. “I haven’t voted for him in the past. And I would probably be getting behind somebody who I thought more represented the tiny wing of the Republican Party that I represent.”

    Throw in polls showing that Trump remains vastly popular among Republican voters, and you see why McConnell doesn’t want to put too much daylight between himself and Trump. 

    Sure, it’s not the most shocking turn of events. Knowing McConnell’s record, you could even call it inevitable. But it sure is astonishing that the GOP is clinging to a man who just lost everything for Republicans: the White House—by 7 million votes—the Senate, and any vanishing illusion that the party stands for something other than Trumpism. Capitol insurrection? What Capitol insurrection?

  • Two Controversial Detention Centers Will Reportedly Stop Holding Families Long Term

    A Honduran asylum seeker, recently released from federal detention, holds the hand of her six-year-old daughter at a bus depot in McAllen, Texas.LOREN ELLIOTT/AFP via Getty

    In a significant change to family detention policy, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement will no longer hold migrant families at two South Texas facilities and instead use the sites as short-term “reception centers,” according to the San Antonio Express NewsJason Buch.

    The newspaper broke the story Thursday afternoon, saying ICE will now hold asylum-seeking families at the controversial facilities in Dilley and Karnes City “only long enough to administer COVID-19 tests and health screenings and to arrange for shelter and transportation.” (As of publication, ICE had not responded to a request for comment from Mother Jones about the changes.) 

    Perhaps the most significant shift is that government officials will no longer conduct asylum credible-fear interviews inside the facilities, which is one of the reasons families were often detained for long periods of time, according to the San Antonio Express News. As the story explains:

    Officials didn’t say exactly when the process will begin or how long it will take to release families, said Griselda Barrera, the San Antonio office director for American Gateways, which provides legal orientation to families in the 830-bed Karnes County Family Residential Center.

    “The facilities are still going to be open,” Barrera said. “They’re still going to be holding the families. The difference between the process in the past is that families are going to be released faster, and the priority will be to release the families and not detain them.” 

    An ICE spokeswoman wouldn’t confirm the details relayed by those on the call but said Thursday that there were 65 people in the Karnes City facility and 382 at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley. Together, the two facilities can hold around 3,200 immigrants.

    Most stay there between 12 and 19 days, the spokeswoman said. Most recently, the Karnes County center was holding families that were going to be expelled from the country without being allowed to make asylum claims under COVID-19 protocols. In contrast, some of those who until recently were held in Dilley had been there for more than a year as they appealed deportation orders.

    Advocates have been pushing for an end to family detention centers at Dilley and Karnes, as well as another in Pennsylvania at Berks, for years. Family detention was expanded under the Obama administration in 2014 in response to an increase of Central American families seeking asylum at the border. Detaining families in prisonlike facilities was intended to deter more from coming to the border. 

    The pressure campaign to close the centers has only grown since the pandemic began last year. The three sites—the only ones in the US detaining families—have reputations for keeping parents and children in unsafe and unsanitary conditions without proper medical care. Last March, three nonprofits that provide services to immigrant communities—Aldea, RAICES, and the Rapid Defense Network—filed a lawsuit on behalf of 37 families inside the three facilities asking for their immediate release as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. 

    The situation inside these detention centers got even worse last May, when ICE agents went to the facilities and presented parents with a horrifying question: Would you rather stay detained together or be separated from your children? In the latter scenario, kids would be released from ICE custody while their parents remained locked up in unsafe conditions during a pandemic. At the time 185 children were detained at the three facilities and some had been there for more than three months. (By law, children are not supposed to be detained for more than 20 days, but ICE has continuously kept families detained for much longer—even those with very young children.)

    This new move is just one of many actions the Biden administration has taken in his first month in office. Though, as I wrote earlier this week, Trump left Biden with a tight knot of immigration policy that will take some time to untangle.

    While Thursday’s news signals a big change, the reaction from advocates, immigration lawyers, and nonprofits that work with these families was still mixed. Many agree this change is a good thing and the less amount of time children are detained the better. But, they warned, in the end, families are still being held in a prison-like environment, and the facilities aren’t shutting down. 

    Bridget Cambria, ALDEA’s executive director, hopes this is just a first step of many: “I will tell you that amongst us on the ground, there’s nothing better than after four years of constant battles to get an email with some good news.” Still, family detention shouldn’t exist, she said, and there remains the question of what will happen at Berks. There are 30 people, around 8 or 10 families, currently detained at the Pennsylvania site, she said. 

    In the short term, Cambria and other advocates will be watching to see if ICE actually moves quick enough during the screening process to ensure that children and their families are detained for the shortest amount of time possible. “Can that be done timely and efficiently? Of course it can, and I hope that they do,” Cambria said. “I guarantee you that RAICES and Proyecto Dilley and everyone here will make sure that happens.”

  • Senate Parliamentarian Kills the Dream of a $15 Minimum Wage—for the Moment

    Bill Clark/Congressional Quarterly/Zuma

    In a major blow to Democrats’ plan to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, the Senate parliamentarian ruled on Thursday that the proposed increaser can’t be passed through reconciliation as part of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill.

    Democrats had hoped to include the minimum wage increase in a stimulus bill that could pass the Senate with a simple majority through a process called reconciliation, rather than with the 60 votes normally needed. The decision by the parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, means that $15 hourly wage requirement cannot stay in the relief bill as written.

    It’s possible for Vice President Kamala Harris, as president of the Senate, to overrule the parliamentarian, but the White House—along with the crucial moderate Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.)—refuses to pursue that option. The next steps are unclear: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will either have to omit the wage increase from the bill, or try to find a way to rewrite it to meet Senate’s parliamentary rules.

    MacDonough’s decision comes as a major, if expected, blow to the national push for a $15 minimum wage. In a statement shortly after the ruling, the group Fight for $15 said in a statement, “We will not be deterred by an archaic Senate process that throughout history has been used to delay or deny progress for Black and brown communities while allowing multitrillion-dollar tax cuts for corporations.”

    “Voters don’t want to hear excuses about process, procedures or parliamentarians,” they continued. “We want a job that pays us a living wage. We want dignity at work. We want and we need $15.”

  • The House Just Voted to Protect Gay and Transgender Rights

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi holds a press conference before the House votes on the Equality Act.Rod Lamkey/CNP/Zuma

    The US House of Representatives voted 224–206 Thursday afternoon to pass the Equality Act, which would prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

    Three Republicans joined Democrats in voting for the bill, which passed the House in 2019 but died in the Republican-controlled Senate. The bill’s Senate passage still is not guaranteed, as it would need 60 votes to break a filibuster.

    If passed, the Equality Act will amend civil rights laws to ensure protections for LGBTQ people in areas including housing, employment, and “public accommodations” such as retail stores. Proponents call it a necessary extension of the Civil Rights Act, while opponents have argued that the bill would infringe on religious rights, which were at issue in the case of a Christian baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, and prevailed before the Supreme Court.

    The bill’s passage in the House comes hours after Rep. Marie Newman (D-Ill.), who has a transgender child, placed a transgender pride flag outside her office, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) responded by posting a sign outside her own office across the hall, reading: “There are TWO genders: MALE & FEMALE. Trust The Science!”

    Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) has said he would not support the bill, citing religious liberties, and other moderate Republicans have declined to say how they would vote. If Republicans mount a filibuster, 10 of them would have to break ranks for the bill to pass.

  • Biden Nominates 3 to USPS Board, Threatening Embattled Postmaster General DeJoy

    Jim Watson/ZUMA

    President Biden on Wednesday announced three nominees to the Postal Service Board of Governors, a move that if confirmed, would tilt the nine-member board in favor of Democrats and could potentially lead to the removal of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.

    DeJoy, a Trump megadonor, has been under intense fire for overseeing a series of controversial changes last year, including the prohibition of overtime work just as demand for mail-in ballots was skyrocketing and directing postal workers to leave late-arriving mail for the next day. Many saw these changes as an attempt to kneecap the organization and disenfranchise voters in the presidential election.

    The announcement on Wednesday came on the same day that DeJoy testified before the House where he faced questions on the continued widespread delays plaguing the agency. DeJoy refused to take responsibility for the ongoing delays and instead blamed the agency for being “operationally faulty.” In one moment, when asked how much longer he expected to remain at the helm of the USPS, DeJoy was notably combative.

    “Long time,” he shot back. “Get used to it.”

    As my colleague Ari Berman noted last month, Biden’s move to fill the vacant board seats and seek more control over the embattled agency would mark a significant step in restoring democracy post-Donald Trump. It also could blunt DeJoy’s efforts to potentially privatize the independent agency.

    DeJoy remains in place as postmaster general, promising to unveil major changes after the election that could lay the groundwork for eventual privatization of the postal service, a longtime GOP objective. “It’s like the Supreme Court,” says USPS expert Steve Hutkins, who runs the Save the Post Office blog. “Trump is gone but he left a Republican postal service.”

    Since the USPS is an independent agency under the executive branch, Biden can’t directly fire DeJoy, who has no fixed term. That can only be done by the Postal Service Board of Governors. Trump named all six members of the nine-member board, which has a 4–2 GOP majority. But if Biden appoints three new governors, who must be confirmed by the Senate, to existing vacancies that would give Democrats a 5–4 majority that could oust DeJoy and roll back his changes to the agency. Stopping DeJoy is at the top of the list,” says Hutkins.

    Biden’s nominees, which require Senate confirmation, are all postal experts. They include Anton Hajjar, the former general counsel of the American Postal Workers Union, Amber McReynolds, the National Vote at Home Institute CEO, and Ron Stroman, a former deputy postmaster general.

  • How Does Chuck Schumer Keep Democrats Together? A Flip Phone.

    Michael A. McCoy/Zuma

    When asked about how he communicates with his Democratic colleagues Tuesday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer whipped a fossil out of his pocket—a flip phone.

    After doing a bit of research, I’m fairly confident that this is a LG Wine. Which means that Chuck Schumer seems to use a discontinued flip phone that has a 3 star rating to do his business. One troublesome bit: The LG Wine might not have a functional caller ID, according to reviewer Kim1234. “You do not know who is calling until you open up the phone, at which point the call is then answered,” the user wrote. (Kim1234 did not recommend the product.)

    Schumer’s office has not responded to a request for comment on the senator’s texting habits, or whether he owns any other phones.

    Either way, I can’t shake the image of Schumer hunched over his alphanumeric keypad, trying to eke out a text message using T9 to ask for a vote, hoping not to go over his data limit.

  • I’m Obsessed With This Song About Intrusive Thoughts

    Garnett and Stevonnie in a pensive state during the episode "Mindful Education."(Cartoon Network/Youtube)

    An intrusive thought. It’s that notion you hate, that thing you can’t let go of. It forms a pit in your stomach and takes you down a hole you never, ever wanted or needed to go down.

    It’s also the focus of “Here Comes a Thought,” a song on the 2013 show Steven Universe. The animated show may be known for its diverse characters or its fascinating world, but the best thing it ever did for me was validate the experience of a mentally ill person just trying their best.

    I discovered Steven Universe at a fraught time in my life. I was severely depressed and extraordinarily anxious, and searching for any outlet as I navigated the end of high school. The 10–12 minute episodes and the always pleasant tunes soon became a comfort, as they did for plenty of queer kids.

    The show’s Crystal Gems are a group of anthropomorphized gemstones who have banded together to protect the Earth from their aristocratic oppressors. Along the way they have been tasked with rearing the title character, Steven Universe, as he navigates the half-gem, half-human experience.

    In the episode “Mindful Education,” singer Estelle (made famous by “American Boy”) and the second half of the duo Aly&AJ, AJ Michalka, sing “Here Comes a Thought.” In the lead-up to the song, Steven and Connie have fused into Stevonnie, who is voiced by Michalka, and they are struggling to fit into this new and odd being.

    A fusion is when two or more gems combine together. They are rare in the universe of the show; the only other fusion Stevonnie knows is their pseudo-parent Garnett. Sapphire and Ruby, who make up Garnett (Estelle), are in love, and have chosen to permanently be Garnett. Fusions are not two-halves, but one whole. The emotions they experience are distinctly their own, even if they are directly influenced by two individuals’ thoughts.

    In the song, Garnett is lamenting their struggle to be a confident and strong fusion—the struggle to form a partnership—to Stevonnie, a budding, confused fusion, who feels the connection and desire to be one, yet cannot articulate the complicated feelings the journey evokes. It makes sense why Stevonnie is feeling adrift; imagine having someone else, even your partner, in your head!

    The song can be read like a couple’s therapy session during which Garnett mentors Stevonnie. But the beauty of the song is that it actually validates something much more uncomfortable than a couple’s spat. Stevonnie is uneasy about the new thoughts popping into their head, which have emerged since they became a fusion. When Garnett (Estelle) describes the thoughts that are bringing Stevonnie down—“something you did that failed to be charming,” or “things that you said are suddenly swarming”—they know that this is what Stevonnie needs to hear as the young fusion struggles to settle into their new identity. The state of being a fusion, in this instance, represents the internal struggle. The anxious thoughts about who you are and what you want to be; the carte blanche horrible things that no one needs to think about, the need to go one way but wanting another—they’re all in the subtext of this song.

    Garnett has been through the entire struggle, and they validate it for Stevonnie by offering them peace: “Take a moment to think of just / flexibility, love, and trust.” Stevonnie (Michalka) proceeds to repeat the entire verse back to Garnett, and begins to understand and to feel a little bit better.

    As a mentally ill person who is constantly anxious about saying the right thing, about being good and fair and ethical, that shit hits different, to put it lightly. Intrusive thoughts can come with any mental illness, but the “neurotypical” person understands them, too. It’s the “what if I ran my hand over this flame?” or, “what if that person using a knife cut their finger off?” thought.

    But for a mentally ill person it can take the form of debilitating and sometimes deadly notions. It varies from person to person, but that’s why the song is so powerful. It is not putting stipulations on which thoughts are okay and which ones are not—that only leads you down a dark path. As Stevonnie sings: “All these little things seem to matter so much / That they confuse me / That I might lose me.”

    These thoughts make so many of us feel ashamed, and like no one else understands. And in this shame we get lost, and it gets worse. But as Garnett croons at the end, “You’ve got nothing to fear. I’m here, I’m here, I’m here.” If you’re having intrusive thoughts, you’re never alone.

  • Forced to Wait by Trump, First Group of Asylum Seekers Finally Allowed to Enter the United States

    In Tijuana, Mexico a group of migrants gather in a plaza near the border crossing./AP

    On Friday, the first group of asylum seekers forced to wait in Mexico for much of the last two years under a Trump-era doctrine began to enter the United States. Their arrival marks an official end to Trump’s callous “Remain in Mexico” policy. And the start of the government’s processing of approximately 25,000 active asylum cases for the people marooned in border cities. 

    People who were placed under Migrant Protection Protocols and who still have an open case can now enter their information on this website. If they’re eligible, they receive a date and time for their appointment at one of three ports of entry. On Friday it was only San Diego, but the plan is to expand to the ports at Brownsville Monday and El Paso by February 26.

    The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is helping triage in Mexico and will help administer the required COVID-19 test for those who are called to be processed. Once in the United States, asylum seekers will be allowed to continue their asylum cases in the immigration court closest to their final destination. Organizations like the Jewish Family Services of San Diego plan to assist people after they enter. 

    The Department of Homeland Security said that it was also planning on processing a “limited number of individuals” in San Diego on Friday who were “registered ahead of time by international organizations.”

    On a call with reporters last week, officials with the Biden administration said none of the asylum seekers who are let in will be placed in immigration detention facilities, they will be given alternatives to detention including wearing an ankle monitor. 

    The announcement of this plan last week caused some confusion, seen this morning at a migrant camp south of Texas and at the San Diego border. Anyone who wasn’t placed in MPP and whose case isn’t active, does not qualify for this “phase one” plan, administration official said. The website also didn’t go live in on time in the early hours of Friday—leaving some refreshing anxiously. Once up, it went down because of “higher traffic than estimated.”

    The original plan was to process about 300 people per day at each of the three designated ports. Government organizations and non-profits who are working with migrants have tried to distribute the right information. But there is still confusion and desperation for people who have been living in squalor conditions for months, or even years. 

    More than 60,000 people who sought asylum in the United States were returned to Mexico under the MPP program since it was first implemented in early 2019. Human rights groups and immigration attorneys commended the Biden administration for taking a first step at undoing the havoc caused by Donald Trump at the border under this draconian policy. It’s still unclear what the Biden administration will do, if anything, for the asylum seekers who didn’t get a fair shot at this complicated court process or whose cases were closed ahead of this policy change.  

  • The Tipped Minimum Wage Didn’t Help Restaurants and Hotels Survive the Pandemic, Says a New Report

    Paul Bersebach/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images

    As the debate over raising the minimum wage heats up, there has been renewed attention on the subminimum wage that restaurant servers make in many states, also called the tipped minimum wage. House Democrats’ proposed Raise the Wage Act would increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour over the course of five years, and would also phase out the subminimum wage in the states where it still exists.

    Not everyone’s happy about either of these ideas: The National Restaurant Association, a trade group that represents large chain restaurants like McDonald’s and Darden Restaurants, argued in a recent op-ed that “wage hikes hurt restaurants” that are “stretched to the brink financially,” and the proposal to strike the tipped minimum wage comes at the wrong time for struggling servers.

    Will ditching the subminimum wage actually hurt restaurants? A new report by One Fair Wage, a nonprofit advocacy group for restaurant workers, shows some evidence to the contrary.

    The report, which relied on an analysis by a team of Harvard researchers, found that in states where the subminimum wage has already been eliminated—meaning tipped workers are paid the minimum wage with tips on top—have, on average, experienced almost the same rate of decline in hotels, restaurants, and other hospitality businesses as states that continue to have the subminimum wage. The researchers’ analysis focused on January 2020 to January 2021.

    For example, tipped workers in California earn $14 an hour, which is the same as minimum wage workers. In the past year, the state saw a 52 percent decline in leisure and hospitality businesses—the same rate as Maine, where tipped wages are set at $6.08, or half of the state’s minimum wage. 

    The report also found that states with the highest rates of decline in hospitality businesses—Michigan, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts—are all states with the subminimum wage. 

    As David Cooper, senior economic analyst at the Economic Policy Institute, notes in the report, minimum wage hikes result in stronger buying power to workers. In turn, hospitality businesses benefit from the extra purchases. “Tax breaks or deferrals, rent subsidies, expanded lending programs, and other business-oriented relief measures all help firms weather a downturn,” Cooper says, “but they’re not going to drive additional spending in the same way that a minimum wage hike does.”