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  • Ethics Experts Just Filed a Lawsuit Accusing Trump of Violating the Constitution

    Donald Trump brought many conflicts of interest with him when he moved into the White House last week. Chief among them are the Trump Organization's dealings with foreign power and players, including leasing office space to one Chinese state-owned bank and borrowing money from another. According to ethics experts, these ties and others violate the Constitution's emoluments clause, which prohibits federal officials from receiving financial benefits from foreign governments. On Monday, a group of prominent ethics experts—including the former ethics attorneys for George W. Bush and Barack Obama—filed suit against Trump on constitutional grounds. 

    The lawsuit, which you can read in full below, faces several tough challenges—notably, whether or not the plaintiffs have legal standing to make their case.


  • Dennis Coffey Grooves on "Hot Coffee in the D"

    Dennis Coffey
    Hot Coffey in the D

    Courtesey of conqueroo

    Guitarist Dennis Coffey was a member of Motown's elite team of session musicians, playing on hits like the Temptations' "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)" and Edwin Starr's "War," as well as enjoying a top-ten smash under his own name with the high-energy 1971 instrumental "Scorpio." Recorded in 1968 at a Detroit club, the previously unreleased Hot Coffey in the D finds the virtuoso pumping out sultry soul-jazz as part of a smoldering trio that also features Lyman Woodard on funky Hammond B-3 organ and ace drummer Melvin Davis. Sometimes wild and freaky, sometimes smooth and soothing, this enticing set includes extended takes on "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" (seven minutes) and "The Look of Love" (12 minutes) that find soulful new wrinkles in these tasteful standards, along with the psychedelic original "Fuzz." Diverse and satisfying, Hot Coffey works fine as superior background music but also rewards close listening.

  • Oregon Just Showed States How to Fight Back Against the War on Women

    When Carina Guzman arrived in Troutdale, Oregon, almost nine years ago as an undocumented teenager from Colombia, she wasn't prepared to navigate the vast range of services available in the state. She knew that she wanted contraception, but her inexperience with Oregon's health care system and inability to obtain insurance due to her citizenship status left Guzman confused about her available options. "When it came to choosing to access reproductive health care services, I was pretty much on my own," she says.

    Guzman eventually found out that she could purchase birth control, but without any insurance, a 12-month supply would set her back hundreds of dollars. A friend told her she could go to Planned Parenthood and—thanks to Oregon's involvement in the federal Title X family-planning program—get a year's worth of birth control free of charge.

    Now in her early 20s, Guzman's circumstances have changed considerably. A few years ago she was able to secure documentation of her immigration status, she found a job after graduating from high school, and she now has health insurance through her employer. She points to Planned Parenthood and the contraceptive security it provided as one of the reasons for her success. Without the organization, she says, it "would have been five years of me not accessing anything."

    But in the near future, with a wave of anti-abortion legislation emerging from conservative statehouses across the country, the fate of the Affordable Care Act in question, and Planned Parenthood's federal funding in jeopardy, women in many states may soon not have Guzman's options.

    As Congress and several GOP-controlled states ramp up efforts to curb access to abortion and roll back reproductive health care, Oregon may be moving in the opposite direction. Last week, a coalition of activists and community advocates announced the launch of a new promotional campaign in support of the Reproductive Health Equity Act of 2017, a bill that would make the state the first in the nation to establish reproductive health equity by protecting no-cost birth control and extending full coverage of reproductive health services to immigrant women, transgender and gender-nonconforming people, and the uninsured. The legislation is the brainchild of the Pro-Choice Coalition of Oregon, a collective of local reproductive rights advocates, community organizations, and racial and gender justice groups. The measure was filed by two Democrats, state Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson and state Rep. Jeff Barker, ahead of the upcoming legislative session and will be officially introduced in the beginning of February when the Oregon Legislature reconvenes.  

    Oregon is one of 28 states that currently mandate contraceptive coverage, meaning that coverage would still exist even if the Affordable Care Act were repealed. But some older insurance plans "grandfathered" in when the state first set up its health care exchange do not cover the full cost of contraception, forcing some women in the state to share the cost.

    The Oregonian notes that the bill would "require health insurers to cover other reproductive health services, including well-woman care, prenatal care, breastfeeding support and testing for sexually transmitted infections," in addition to providing for post-partum care and covering screenings for cervical cancer, breast cancer, and gestational diabetes. The legislation would also add abortion to the list of reproductive health services that commercial insurance plans on the state's Affordable Care Act Exchange must cover with no additional cost—a change that would set Oregon apart from the 25 states that restrict plans on state exchanges from covering abortion. It does offer religious employers an exemption, allowing them to opt-out of providing insurance plans covering contraception and abortion.

    Groups that face significant barriers to accessing affordable health care and are often prevented from accessing insurance that covers their needs, such as immigrant women and transgender and gender-nonconforming communities, also stand to gain if the legislation is passed. While Oregon has moved to eliminate barriers facing undocumented immigrants, some 48,000 women of reproductive age in Oregon are unable to access insurance because of their citizenship status, and insurance coverage often relies on one's gender-marker, limiting the ability of transgender men to access reproductive care. Advocates note that the bill contains provisions that will aid both groups, adding that the measure would be one of the first in the country to bar discrimination in reproductive health care coverage.

    "The Reproductive Health Equity Act is legislation that would ensure that all Oregonians, regardless of income, citizenship status, gender identity, or the type of insurance that they have, have the freedom to decide if and when they have children," says Laurel Swerdlow, the advocacy director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, one of the groups on the Pro-Choice Coalition's steering committee.

    The Oregon Legislature has a democratic majority, possibly curbing strong conservative opposition to the measure. But previous efforts to pass proactive reproductive health care legislation in Oregon have run into difficulty. In 2015, the Comprehensive Women's Health Bill, a measure that would have required insurance companies to cover a range of reproductive health services at a low cost, was proposed. The bill had a strong start in the Legislature but was killed by Democrats out of fear that a provision covering abortions would be too controversial.

    This time, advocates hope that the Reproductive Health Equity Act won't suffer the same fate—despite the bill containing a similar provision covering abortions—arguing that the national climate around reproductive rights, when coupled with the legislation's nondiscrimination protections, make a compelling case. "Oregonians and their legislators now understand in personal terms and in public health benefits that the full spectrum of reproductive health services needs to not only be safe and legal, but affordable and accessible," Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon Executive Director Mary Nolan said in a statement.

    The Oregon measure was being worked on well before the election, but supporters of the legislation say Donald Trump's surprising victory has added new urgency to the need for the laws. Monnes Anderson says fears of an Affordable Care Act repeal are a motivating factor, telling the Oregonian, "We want to get ahead of what may happen at the federal level." 

    Recent actions on Capitol Hill support their concerns. During a vote earlier this month, Senate Republicans rejected an Affordable Care Act amendment that requires insurance companies to cover the full cost of contraceptives, a move that could leave millions of women without no-cost birth control if Republicans succeed in dismantling the ACA.

    Proactive reproductive health legislation may become more common in liberal states eager to mitigate the effects of an ACA repeal. The New York state assembly recently passed two measures, the Reproductive Health Act and the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act, that would protect abortion and contraceptive access if the ACA is dismantled. On Saturday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that health insurers in the state would be required to cover most forms of contraception and medically necessary abortions at no cost. A Democratic legislator in Illinois is considering introducing a bill that would expand abortion coverage for women on Medicaid and some forms of state insurance. In Virginia, Democrats have introduced several bills to counteract attacks on reproductive health; one of them—the Birth Control Access Act—would allow women to obtain an entire year of birth control at one time.

    Oregon has had a long history of supporting reproductive rights with policy initiatives. In 1969, the state became one of the first to legalize abortion, and it does not have any laws restricting the procedure. Last year, Oregon became the first state to enact a law allowing women to get a birth control prescription without needing to visit a doctor. That law and the Affordable Care Act's birth control mandate have helped expand contraceptive use in the state, contributing to a 15 percent drop in abortions between 2011 and 2014. Last week, the Guttmacher Institute released a survey that found the national abortion rate has hit the lowest point since the the Supreme Court's ruling in Roe v. Wade, noting that increased contraceptive use has likely played a large role in the decline.

    Advocates hope the insurance mandates will protect that progress, but they also argue that the state should go further when it comes to supporting the reproductive health of underserved communities, adding that during the Trump administration, the Reproductive Health Equity Act is a practical necessity and an important statement. "Oregon has often been at the forefront on health care policy, but there have also been individuals left behind," says Amy Casso, the gender justice program director of Oregon's Western States Center. "We are working to ensure that no one has to be denied necessary lifesaving care."

  • There's More Than One Way to Blow Up the Paris Climate Deal

    The Senate Foreign Relations Committee votes on Rex Tillerson's nomination for Secretary of State Monday. At his confirmation hearing earlier this month, Tillerson disappointed some senators with his unpreparedness or unwillingness to discuss a range of international issues. But Tillerson did have one line prepped and ready to go.

    Whenever he was asked about the United States' role in global efforts to tackle climate change, the former ExxonMobil CEO said it was vital to remain involved in global warming negotiations. "I think it's important that the United States maintain its seat at the table on the conversations around how to address threats of climate change, which do require a global response," Tillerson said, repeating four different versions of that statement throughout the day. "No one country is going to solve this alone."

    On its face, these words suggest good news. During the campaign, Donald Trump went so far as to promise he'd "cancel" the landmark Paris climate agreement, which the Obama administration negotiated with governments around the world. Since the election, Trump's intentions have been less clear. The agreement officially went into force in early November, days before the election. That makes it more difficult to back out of, though Trump could throw a wrench into the works by insisting on Senate ratification or by beginning the slow process of formal withdrawal. (Or he could take the more drastic step of withdrawing entirely from the UN's climate negotiations framework, which would take just a year).

    Environmental groups and foreign leaders are holding out hope that Trump might backtrack on his campaign pledge. China's special representative for climate change, Xie Zhenhua, told China's state-owned newspaper that "the international community and US citizens will pressure the Trump administration to continue clean energy policies." Trump seemed to leave the door open for such a move when he told the New York Times late last year that he had an "open mind" on the issue.

    Tillerson's latest commentary suggests the Trump administration might decide to remain involved in global climate diplomacy, even if abandons Obama's domestic emissions reduction policies.

    But is staying superficially involved any less destructive than withdrawing the United States entirely? As Vox's Brad Plumer notes, "There's still a whole lot they could do to bog down global climate talks and hinder efforts to address climate change from within."

    Indeed, the unique structure of the Paris deal makes it vulnerable swings in countries' internal politics. Some 190 nations put forward domestic goals on climate change for 2025 and 2030, while agreeing to some basic transparency and financial guidelines, as well as to a process to reevaluate individual pledges every few years. This means that the agreement covers nearly all global carbon pollution. The downside is these pledges are voluntary, and even if every country were to fulfill them, the result would not be sufficient to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit)—the threshold above which many scientists say catastrophic changes would be inevitable. In other words, containing global warming will depend on the big polluters going beyond what they committed to in 2015.

    So you can see why the Trump administration, already filled with climate change deniers, presents a significant problem.

    Even if Trump signals he won't actually "cancel" the agreement, there's a lot of damage he can do from the inside.

    "You can't have a seat at the table if you put a hand grenade in the agreement," says Jake Schmidt of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Hopefully [Tillerson] realizes that."

    Trump has more than one hand grenade at his disposal.

    For starters, Trump and his administration have expressed no interest in delivering on Obama's promises to America's negotiating partners. They have promised to scrap Obama's signature domestic climate policy: the Environmental Protection Agency's cap on carbon pollution from power plants. The US could still conceivably lower its pollution footprint without those regulations, but it will be much harder, if not impossible, to deliver on Obama's pledge to cut emissions 26-28 percent by 2025.

    "You can have a seat at table, but what would you bring to it?" says David Waskow, a climate official at the World Resources Institute. Major players in global climate talks need to "lean in," he added. "Part of leaning in is for the US to, under Paris, not walk away from a national climate plan."

    That's not the only commitment on which the United States could come up short. The US has so far sent $1 billion of the $3 billion that Obama pledged the Green Climate Fund, which mobilizes international finance for climate action in poor, vulnerable nations. In the lead-up to Paris, experts described this type of aid as a carrot for persuading developing countries to slow the growth of their own carbon emissions in order to combat a crisis they had little role in creating. Congressional Republicans and Trump have pledged to cut global climate aid.

    By not following through on two key pieces of the deal—the carbon cuts and the climate aid—Trump could undermine some of the US's long-term aims—namely, getting China to agree to a transparent independent body that reviews countries' progress.

    "There are some things that are in the Paris agreement that are specifically aligned with the objectives of the United States," Waskow said. "For the US to walk away from that process and not fully engage and make sure that transparency works well would undercut our interests there."

    All this will matter most in 2018, when the next major round of climate negotiations will take place. Negotiators expect to use these talks to hammer out how countries will report their progress transparently. It will also be the site of the first "stocktake"—the mechanism the Obama administration pushed for to encourage countries to periodically reassess and ramp up their ambitions for carbon cuts.

    If the US were to show up empty-handed, other countries could backslide on their own commitments. And if Tillerson turns the State Department into a front for oil diplomacy, he could damage international efforts to switch from oil, gas, and coal to renewables.

    In other words, a Trump administration could lower the bar of climate ambition while saving face internationally and remaining within the Paris agreement.

    Still, some environmental advocates see this outcome as far better than the alternative. "Are we expecting that he is going to even be 50 percent of Obama's leadership on this issue? No way, we're not delusional," the NRDC's Schmidt said. "It's one thing for us to totally walk away, another thing for us to be only halfhearted. Maybe the best thing we can hope for in a Trump administration is to not destroy the progress of eight-plus years and leave us in a position to pick up the pieces when Trump is out of office."

  • Peter's Choice

    This past October, I taught a weeklong seminar on the history of conservatism to honors students from around the state of Oklahoma. In five long days, my nine very engaged students and I got to know each other fairly well. Six were African American women. Then there was a middle-aged white single mother, a white kid who looked like any other corn-fed Oklahoma boy and identified himself as "queer," and the one straight white male. I'll call him Peter.

    Peter is 21 and comes from a town of about 3,000 souls. It's 85 percent white, according to the 2010 census, and 1.2 percent African American—which would make for about 34 black folks. "Most people live around the poverty line," Peter told the class, and hunting is as much a sport as a way to put food on the table.

    Peter was one of the brightest students in the class, and certainly the sweetest. He liked to wear overalls to school—and on the last day, in a gentle tweak of the instructor, a red "Make America Great Again" baseball cap. A devout evangelical, he'd preferred former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee at the start of the primary season, but was now behind Donald Trump.

    One day the students spent three hours drafting essays about the themes we'd talked about in class. I invited them to continue writing that night so the next morning we could discuss one of their pieces in detail. I picked Peter's because it was extraordinary. In only eight hours he'd churned out eight pages, eloquent and sharp.

    When I asked him if I could discuss his essay in this article, he replied, "That sounds fine with me. If any of my work can be used to help the country with its political turmoil, I say go for it!" Then he sent me a new version with typos corrected and a postelection postscript: "My wishful hope is that my compatriots will have their tempers settled by Trump's election, and that maybe both sides can learn from the Obama and Trump administrations in order to understand how both sides feel. Then maybe we can start electing more moderate people, like John Kasich and Jim Webb, who can find reasonable commonality on both sides and make government work." Did I mention he was sweet?

    When he read the piece aloud in class that afternoon in October, the class was riveted. Several of the black women said it was the first time they'd heard a Trump supporter clearly set forth what he believed and why. (Though, defying stereotypes, one of these women—an aspiring cop—was also planning to vote for Trump.)

    Peter's essay took off from the main class reading, Corey Robin's The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism From Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin. Its central argument is that conservative movements across history are united in their devotion to the maintenance of received social hierarchy. Peter, whose essay was titled "Plight of the Redneck," had a hard time seeing how that applied to the people he knew.

    "We all live out in the wilderness, either in the middle of a forest or on a farm," he wrote. "Some people cannot leave their homes during times of unfortunate weather. Many still dry clothes by hanging them on wires with clothespins outside. These people are nowhere near the top, or even the middle, of any hierarchy. These people are scraping the bottom of the barrel, and they, seemingly, have nothing to benefit from maintaining the system of order that keeps them at the bottom." His county ended up going about 70 percent for Trump.

    Concerning race, Peter wrote, "In Oklahoma, besides Native Americans, there have traditionally been very few minorities. Few blacks have ever lived near the town that I am from...Even in my generation, despite there being a little more diversity, there was no racism, nor was there a reason for racism to exist." His town's 34 or so black people might beg to differ, of course; white people's blindness to racism in their midst is an American tradition. As one of the African American students in the class—I'll call her Karen—put it, whites in her town see "racism as nonexistent unless they witness it firsthand. And then it almost has to be over the top—undeniable acts of violence like hate crimes or cross burnings on front lawns—before they would acknowledge it as such." But it's relevant to the story I'm telling that I'm certain Peter isn't individually, deliberately racist, and that Karen agrees.

    Still, Peter's thinking might help us frame a central debate on the left about what to make of Trump's victory. Is it, in the main, a recrudescence of bigotry on American soil—a reactionary scream against a nation less white by the year? Or is it more properly understood as an economically grounded response to the privations that neoliberalism has wracked upon the heartland?

    Peter knows where he stands. He remembers multiple factories and small businesses "shutting down or laying off. Next thing you know, half of downtown" in the bigger city eight miles away "became vacant storefronts." Given that experience, he has concluded, "for those people who have no political voice and come from states that do not matter, the best thing they can do is try to send in a wrecking ball to disrupt the system."

    When Peter finished with that last line, there was a slight gasp from someone in the class—then silence, then applause. They felt like they got it.

    I was also riveted by Peter's account, convinced it might be useful as a counterbalance to glib liberal dismissals of the role of economic decline in building Trumpland. Then I did some research.

    According to the 2010 census, the median household income in Peter's county is a little more than $45,000. By comparison, Detroit's is about $27,000 and Chicago's (with a higher cost of living) is just under $49,000. The poverty rate is 17.5 percent in the county and 7.6 percent in Peter's little town, compared with Chicago's 22.7 percent. The unemployment rate has hovered around 4 percent.

    The town isn't rich, to be sure. But it's also not on the "bottom." Oklahoma on the whole has been rather dynamic economically: Real GDP growth was 2.8 percent in 2014—down from 4.3 percent in 2013, but well above the 2.2 percent nationally. The same was true of other Trump bastions like Texas (5.2 percent growth) and West Virginia (5.1 percent).

    Peter, though, perceives the region's economic history as a simple tale of desolation and disappointment. "Everyone around was poor, including the churches," he wrote, "and charities were nowhere near (this wasn't a city, after all), so more people had to use some sort of government assistance. Taxes went up [as] the help became more widespread."

    He was just calling it like he saw it. But it's striking how much a bright, inquisitive, public-spirited guy can take for granted that just is not so. Oklahoma's top marginal income tax rate was cut by a quarter point to 5 percent in 2016, the same year lawmakers hurt the working poor by slashing the earned-income tax credit. On the "tax burden" index used by the website WalletHub, Oklahoma's is the 45th lowest, with rock-bottom property taxes and a mere 4.5 percent sales tax. (On Election Day, Oklahomans voted down a 1-point sales tax increase meant to raise teacher pay, which is 49th in the nation.).

    As for government assistance, Oklahoma spends less than 10 percent of its welfare budget on cash assistance. The most a single-parent family of three can get is $292 a month—that's 18 percent of the federal poverty line. Only 2,469 of the more than 370,000 Oklahomans aged 18 to 64 who live in poverty get this aid. And the state's Medicaid eligibility is one of the stingiest in the nation, covering only adults with dependent children and incomes below 42 percent of the poverty level—around $8,500 for a family of three.

    But while Peter's analysis is at odds with much of the data, his overall story does fit a national pattern. Trump voters report experiencing greater-than-average levels of economic anxiety, even though they tend have better-than-average incomes. And they are inclined to blame economic instability on the federal government—even, sometimes, when it flows from private corporations. Peter wrote about the sense of salvation his neighbors felt when a Walmart came to town: "Now there were enough jobs, even part-time jobs...But Walmart constantly got attacked by unions nationally and with federal regulations; someone lost their job, or their job became part-time."

    It's worth noting that if the largest retail corporation in the world has been conspicuously harmed by unions and regulations of late, it doesn't show in its profits, which were $121 billion in 2016. And of course, Walmart historically has had a far greater role in shuttering small-town Main Streets than in revitalizing them. But Peter's neighbors see no reason to resent it for that. He writes, "The majority of the people do not blame the company for their loss because they realize that businesses [are about] making money, and that if they had a business of their own, they would do the same thing."

    It's not fair to beat up on a sweet 21-year-old for getting facts wrong—especially if, as is likely, these were the only facts he was told. Indeed, teaching the class, I was amazed how even the most liberal students took for granted certain dubious narratives in which they (and much of the rest of the country) were marinated all year long, like the notion that Hillary Clinton was extravagantly corrupt.

    Feelings can't be fact-checked, and in the end, feelings were what Peter's eloquent essay came down to­—what it feels like to belong, and what it feels like to be culturally dispossessed. "After continually losing on the economic side," he wrote, "one of the few things that you can retain is your identity. What it means, to you, to be an American, your somewhat self-sufficient and isolated way of life, and your Christian faith and values. Your identity and heritage is the very last thing you can cling to...Abortion laws and gay marriage are the two most recent upsets. The vast majority of the state of Oklahoma has opposed both of the issues, and social values cannot be forced by the government."

    On these facts he is correct: In a 2015 poll, 68 percent of Oklahomans called themselves "pro-life," and only 30 percent supported marriage equality. Until 2016 there were only a handful of abortion providers in the entire state, and the first new clinic to open in 40 years guards its entrance with a metal detector.

    Peter thinks he's not a reactionary. Since that sounds like an insult, I'd like to think so, too. But in writing this piece, I did notice a line in his essay that I had glided over during my first two readings, maybe because I liked him too much to want to be scared by him. "One need only look to the Civil War and the lasting legacies of Reconstruction through to today's current racism and race issues to see what happens when the federal government forces its morals on dissenting parts of the country."

    The last time I read that, I shuddered. So I emailed Peter. "I say the intrusions were worth it to end slavery and turn blacks into full citizens," I wrote. "A lot of liberals, even those most disposed to having an open mind to understanding the grievances of people like you and yours, will have a hard time with [your words]."

    Peter's answer was striking. He first objected (politely!) to what he saw as the damning implication behind my observation. Slavery and Reconstruction? "I was using it as an example of government intrusion and how violent and negative the results can be when the government tries to tell people how to think. I take it you saw it in terms of race in politics. The way we look at the same thing shows how big the difference is between our two groups."

    To him, focusing on race was "an attention-grabbing tool that politicians use to their advantage," one that "really just annoys and angers conservatives more than anything, because it is usually a straw man attack." He compared it to what "has happened with this election: everyone who votes for Trump must be racist and sexist, and there's no possible way that anyone could oppose Hillary unless it's because they're sexist. Accusing racism or sexism eliminates the possibility of an honest discussion about politics."

    He asked me to imagine "being one of those rednecks under the poverty line, living in a camper trailer on your grandpa's land, eating about one full meal a day, yet being accused by Black Lives Matter that you are benefiting from white privilege and your life is somehow much better than theirs."

    And that's when I wanted to meet him halfway: Maybe we could talk about the people in Chicago working for poverty wages and being told by Trump supporters that they were lazy. Or the guy with the tamale cart in front of my grocery store—always in front of my grocery store, morning, noon, and night—who with so much as a traffic violation might find himself among the millions whom Trump intends to immediately deport.

    I wanted to meet him halfway, until he started talking about history.

    "The reason I used the Civil War and Reconstruction is because it isn't a secret that Reconstruction failed," Peter wrote. "It failed and left the South in an extreme poverty that it still hasn't recovered from." And besides, "slavery was expensive and the Industrial Revolution was about to happen. Maybe if there had been no war, slavery would have faded peacefully."

    As a historian, I found this remarkable, since it was precisely what all American schoolchildren learned about slavery and Reconstruction for much of the 20th century. Or rather, they did until the civil rights era, when serious scholarship dismantled this narrative, piece by piece. But not, apparently, in Peter's world. "Until urban liberals move to the rural South and live there for probably a decade or more," he concluded, "there's no way to fully appreciate the view."

    This was where he left me plumb at a loss. Liberals must listen to and understand Trump supporters. But what you end up understanding from even the sweetest among them still might chill you to the bone.

    Read Peter's full essay at

  • We Asked Protesters What They Pledge to Do for the Next 4 Years

    More than a million people took to the streets of cities across the country Saturday to protest President Donald Trump on his first full day in office. Demonstrators at the events, which were billed as Women's Marches, criticized the president's policy agenda and his attacks on women and minorities. Many of the marchers pledged to use the rallies as a springboard to get involved in local politics.

    "This is the first election in which I've become politically involved," said Olivia Lezcano, 20, from Cleveland. "So I'm considering getting involved with my local congressman and local municipal government."

    The flagship event in Washington, DC, overwhelmed the city's train system, as event organizers were swamped with more than double the 200,000 people they expected. People packed Independence Avenue in downtown DC, which runs along the National Mall, eventually clogging the planned march route, according to the Associated Press, and likely surpassing the turnout for Trump's inauguration on Friday. Large numbers of marchers also came out in Denver, New York City, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Miami, and dozens of other cities around the United States and abroad.

    We asked a range of the marchers in DC what they were committing to do over the next four years. You can check out their answers in the video above.

  • Wayne Barrett Exposed the Real Trump. Now There's Only One Way to Honor Him.

    He must have been exhausted. We have all been exhausted, watching America shout down common sense and set ablaze the last few defensible vestiges of circa-1787 political and economic philosophy. But as much as it all weighed on many of us, he  carried extra baggage. He had literally written the book on Donald J. Trump's bent psyche and business. He had forgotten more dirt on Trump than reporters of my generation ever dug up.

    But Wayne Barrett, a longtime Village Voice investigative political reporter and mentor to hundreds of journalists, wasn't tired. He wanted to work, man; and work he did, even as he was driven away to the hospital for the last time, dying there at 71 late Thursday. Wayne needed all the time allotted to him, because America needed him.

    When it became clear a year ago that Trump actually might ascend to lead the nation's oldest political party, Wayne's 1992 investigative biography, Trump: The Deals and the Downfall, got a reprint—and an instant audience among other journalists. Based on digging Wayne had done since the '70s, it's the keel on which a great deal of the best Trump reporting was built.

    Trump was only one of the big whales Wayne hunted, though. He wrote two books on Rudy Giuliani, scorching his largely bogus 9/11 heroism, along with his relationship-wrecking and influence-peddling. In 37 years at the Voice, and recently in other fair corners of the internet, Wayne put the screws to Ed Koch, Al D'Amato, Mike Bloomberg, and multiple Cuomos.

    Over the past 18 months, Wayne fielded a steady stream of calls and emails. Reporters asked for help with a distant mob name, a defunct company, a disgruntled counterparty. "I got some stuff on it in the basement," he told me on the phone last year when I ran a very specific  bit of '80s Trump trivia past him. "Come on up and dig."

    Lots of reporters took him up on similar offers, a steady queue of them making the pilgrimage to the Brooklyn house he shared with his wife, Fran, to chitchat and sift boxes on boxes of notes and clippings downstairs. He was there for all of us, even if it the scheduling occasionally had to be done by one of his research interns.

    Ah, the interns. Wayne maintained an army of them to dig through databases, cajole sources, connect dots, and frequently co-author pieces with him. Like the paper's size, the Voice's office space shrank over the years, and six of us at a time might pile into Wayne's cube for a quick confab. I once tried to spread out into the mostly empty next-door cubicle, which worked fine for a week until Nat Hentoff ambled in and cussed me out for a good three minutes, yelling to have his goddamn desk back.

    The interns of Barrett Nation. You know them, even if you don't realize it. They shape Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, Politico, ABC News, every major New York paper, and certainly this magazine, as my former colleague Gavin Aronsen and I have written. We are not all journalists now, and those of us in the profession aren't all investigative reporters—one of my cohort is a book reviewer of some note and another is a fast-paced entertainment reporter, but goddamn, if you are hiding dirt, they will find it.

    I loved Wayne, even when he was screaming at me, a rite of passage any of his interns can describe. He pursued truth and exposed sin with the zeal of a young Jesuit, which was fitting, since he'd considered taking up the cloth before a debate scholarship sent him to St. Joe's College in Philly. I'd had a similar upbringing, joining the military instead of the church, debating in school, and seeking an outlet for my inflamed sense of justice.

    Wayne had that fire, and lighting up other people was how it manifested sometimes. We were in a serious business. We had to be thorough, accurate, fair—even when we were breaking shit.

    But it was all to an end. If Wayne burned for justice, he practiced it, too, singing his protégés' praises to recruiters, offering a crash weekend at his beach place down the shore in Jersey, taking a sincere interest in his charges' spouses, children, money, and family issues. "He was a family man" is often a hollow note in these kinds of tributes. But family—his and everybody else's—truly was Wayne's greatest pleasure, and the reason he couldn't not needle the greedy who screwed the rest of us.

    For more than a year, we watched Republicans slouching toward Trump Tower, saying that yes, seriously, they believed this debauched tycoon with a rambling sales script and an unadulterated id could handle the nukes. We saw Russia tossing gasoline on the fire, beheld our media colleagues collapsing under the weight of takes and think pieces on how maybe facts don't matter. Now we watch the Queens-bred Caligula begin to rip up the things that make America an idea worth defending. And Wayne's illness, exacerbated by his all-consuming work, has chosen this moment to take him from us.

    We are allowed to be exhausted and dispirited and fearful. This has all really happened, and the ineptitude and malice of the incoming administration will cost lives and livelihoods. But we are not allowed to stop. Wayne wouldn't let us.

    I worked for Wayne when Rudy Giuliani was making his last serious stab at a presidential bid, and we spent a lot of time running down new stories on the candidate. His campaign had looked formidable early on, but hizzoner flamed out spectacularly and retreated into private consulting.

    Was it bittersweet, I asked Wayne? His white whale, the subject of years of his life's work, was finished and never coming back.

    Wayne laughed. It was the laugh of a man who wasn't about to retire from the truth-digging, shit-kicking business, no matter how good or bad it might get. "He'll come back, man," he said. "These guys always come back."

    The fun part, Wayne said, was that the good guys came back, too.

  • Inaugural Meals, From Turtle Stew to Jelly Beans

    President Donald Trump famously munched on KFC chicken, McDonald's hamburgers, and taco bowls during his campaign, and he picked a fast-food mogul as his labor secretary. But when it came time for his first day in office, Trump dined on haute cuisine. The three-course inaugural luncheon included Maine lobster, Angus beef, and chocolate soufflé, all washed down with California wines. You can see the full menu here.

    While it comes as no surprise that a new leader's luncheon would include such fancy fare, that doesn't mean every president has dined in such luxury—Roosevelt faced butterless rolls at the first lunch of his fourth term, which occurred during the stark days of World War II. Here's a quick journey through some of our past presidents' inaugural meals:

    1865: Abraham Lincoln's midnight inaugural buffet serves foie gras, turtle stew, and leg of veal. Too bad a rowdy, drunken mob use it to start a food fight

    1889: After a meal of oysters, cold tongue, and quail, Benjamin Harrison and his guests are presented with a cake replica of the Capitol building, measuring six feet tall and weighing 800 pounds.

    1945: In the interest of wartime rationing, Franklin D. Roosevelt's housekeeper, Henrietta Nesbitt, serves guests cold chicken salad, rolls without butter, coffee with no sugar, and cake with no frosting at the president's fourth inauguration.

    1957: In the short-lived tradition of "minorities dinners," Dwight D. Eisenhower's staff serves Greek salad and gefilte fish at the president's second inauguration.  

    1977: Jimmy Carter cancels his inaugural meal so he can be the first to walk from the Capitol to the White House in the parade after being sworn in. In lieu of a lavish luncheon, his guests munch on peanuts and pretzels.

    1981: Ronald Reagan relied on jelly beans to quit smoking, so for his inaugural festivities, Herman Goelitz Candy Company of Oakland, California, sends three and a half tons of cherry, coconut, and blueberry Jelly Bellies to the White House.

    Former first lady Nancy Reagan toasts Ronald Regan on Inauguration Day in 1985. AP Photo/John Duricka

    1993: Transition aide Richard Mintz calls the American menu at Bill Clinton's inauguration a "cross between a Crittenden County coon supper and a formal state dinner." 

    2005: George W. Bush starts his second inaugural meal with a prayer and finishes it with a steamed lemon pudding, one of Teddy Roosevelt's favorite desserts.

    George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush bow their heads in prayer after being sworn in. AP Photo/Dennis Cook

    2009: In honor of Abraham Lincoln's bicentennial birthday, Barack Obama chooses a menu inspired by the 16th president's favorite foods: pheasant, duck, and caramel apple cake.

    Barack Obama toasts Joe Biden with "Special Inaugural Cuvée." Obama White House/Flickr

  • Obama's Back

    Barack Obama had to hand his @POTUS Twitter handle to Donald Trump Friday afternoon. But the now ex-president isn't ditching the social media platform. After he'd taken off from DC in a helicopter, Obama revved up his old Twitter handle to reassure people that (after a brief vacation) he'd be back.

  • Leading Climate Experts Have Some Advice for Donald Trump

    This story was originally published by the Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

    To fulfill his campaign slogan of "Make America great again," Donald Trump must back the boom in green technology—that was the message from the leading climate figures ahead of his inauguration as president on Friday.

    Unleashing US innovation on the trillion-dollar clean technology market will create good US jobs, stimulate its economy, maintain the US' political leadership around the globe and, not least, make the world a safer place by tackling climate change, the experts told the Guardian.

    The omens are not encouraging. Trump has called global warming a hoax and is filling his administration with climate change deniers and oil barons. But reversing action on climate change and championing fossil fuels will only "make China great again," said one top adviser.

    Here are the messages to Trump from some of the key figures the Guardian contacted.

    Michael Liebreich, founder of analyst firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance who has advised the UN and World Economic Forum on energy: "If I had one minute with president elect Trump my message would be that the best way to 'Make America great again' is by owning the clean energy, transportation and infrastructure technologies of the future. Not only will this create countless well-paid, fulfilling jobs for Americans, but will also lock in the US' geopolitical leadership for another generation."

    John Schellnhuber of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, who has advised Angela Merkel, the Pope and the EU: "Mr. President, if you want to make China great again, you have to stay the course you have promised. I think it would be the end of US domination in innovation, in economics. If you try to take the US backwards to the days of mountain top removal [for coal] in West Virginia and all those things, then you will just make sure China becomes No. 1 in all respects. In the end, you would produce precisely what you promised to avoid to your electorate."

    Dame Julia King, an eminent engineer and one of the UK government's official advisers at the Committee on Climate Change: "If President Trump wants to deliver greater job security for Americans, he should focus on clean and sustainable industries where the US has a competitive advantage. Those are the sectors that are set to prosper. He needs to build an economy for 2050, not one for 1950."

    Lord Nicholas Stern, a leading climate change economist at the London School of Economics: "If you want to make America great again, building modern, clean and smart infrastructure makes tremendous commercial and national sense. In the longer term, the low carbon growth story is the only growth story on offer. There is no long-term, high-carbon growth story, because destruction of the environment would reverse growth."

    Mark Campanale, founder of the Carbon Tracker Initiative think tank: "If you're interested in quality, high paying and skilled jobs for the American middle classes, then renewable energy has to absolutely be the place to look. It's a sector with more employees now than in the US coal industry and with a long way to grow."

    James Hansen, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University: "If [Trump] wants to achieve the things that he claimed he would: improving the situation of the common man, the best way he could do this would be a program of a rising carbon fee with the money distributed to the public."

    Jennifer Morgan, co-executive director of Greenpeace International: "[Mr. Trump,] you might not realize it yet, but your action, or inaction, on climate will define your legacy as president. The renewable energy transformation is unstoppable and, if the US chooses to turn its back on the future, it will miss out on all the opportunities it brings in terms of jobs, investment and technology advances. China, India and others are racing ahead to be the global clean energy superpowers and surely the US, led by a businessman, does not want to be left behind."

    Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists in the US: "Trump's stance threatens to diminish America's standing in the world and to weaken the ability of US companies and workers to compete in the rapidly growing global market for clean energy technologies."

    May Boeve, head of climate campaign group "Quit. But if you have to stick around, realize that the clean energy economy is the greatest, biggest job creator in history."

    Some leading figures, who will have to deal directly with the Trump administration, chose more diplomatic messages to the new president, while emphasizing the vital need to act on global warming:

    Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change—the UN's climate chief: "I look forward to working with your new administration to make the world a better place for the people of the US and for peoples everywhere in this very special world."

    Scientist Derek Arndt, at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, presenting the temperature data showing 2016 was the hottest year on record: "We present this assessment for the benefit of the American people."