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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

On this week's subpoena-defying weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorensen examines the fear of a female wonk; (Th)ink watches as Trump is backed into a corner; This Modern World listens in as the mob boss talks to his associates; Red Meat breaks up a cat fight; and Apoca Clips listens in as Li'l Trumpy picks OJ's brain.

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On this week's extra-crispy yet low-sodium weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World examines the Trump Spin Cycle; Jen Sorensen shakes her head at the court of public opinion; The K Chronicles honors Shirley Chisholm; Red Meat watches some compelling television; and Apoca Clips expresses concern about Li'l Trumpy's pet monkey.

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As world leaders—without President Donald Trump—gathered Monday for a United Nations summit on global warming, former Gov. Jerry Brown and China’s top climate official formally launched a California-China Climate Institute to research ways to combat climate change.

Brown, who was to speak by phone from California, announced the initiative with China’s Special Representative for Climate Change Affairs Xie Zhenhua in New York, where officials from some 60 countries were convened for a United Nations Climate Action Summit in advance of the U.N. General Assembly.

Brown, who made the fight against climate change a signature issue of his second stint as governor, will partner with Xie in overseeing the institute, which will be housed at UC Berkeley, his alma mater. The goal, he said, will be to encourage climate action through research, training and collaboration—a contrast to Trump, whose administration is engaged in a trade war with China and who last week referred to its government as “a threat to the world.”

In an interview with CalMatters, Brown said the research initiative was less about politics than about addressing a crisis he has repeatedly referred to as “existential.” However, he did note the president’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, which was negotiated by President Barack Obama, and the increasingly fraught relations between the Trump administration and China.

“As storm clouds continue to darken relations between China and the United States, climate change is a way to keep the doors open,” Brown said. “We are going to do something important during this rather dismal state in our mutual relationship.”

Trump’s stand on climate change, Brown said, is “bordering not only malfeasance but is almost criminal behavior.” His decision to pull out of the Paris Accord is “worthy of condemnation by decent people everywhere.”

“I say that by way of emphasis on the seriousness of the issue,” Brown said.

Brown committed to establishing this institute after meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping in Beijing and hosting a dialogue with Xie at Tsinghua University in 2017. 

The arrangement with China expands on Brown’s work as governor in signing up 188 subnational governments to agree to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and in hosting a climate summit in San Francisco last year that drew thousands of participants from around the world.

As China rises as an economic power, the former governor noted, there will be increased competition with the U.S. But without cooperation in confronting the shared danger of climate change, both nations and the whole world will suffer.

“I am not here to fan the flames of political controversy, but to tackle jointly a problem that confronts everyone in the world,” Brown said.

UC Berkeley’s School of Law will house the institute. The College of Natural Resources will help advance the research.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ said in a statement: “Our faculty and researchers each day take on the peril of our changing climate and seek to develop new technologies and policies that will reduce greenhouse gasses across continents. This institute will play a key role in spreading that work around the world.”

Research topics will include:

  • Low-carbon transportation and zero emission vehicles.
  • Carbon pricing.
  • Climate adaptation and resilience.
  • Sustainable land use and climate-smart agriculture.
  • Carbon capture and storage.
  • Long-term climate goal-setting and policy enforcement.

In a statement, Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law, said: “I am excited about this collaboration to tackle the world’s most urgent problem, climate change. … My hope is that this unique endeavor will make a real difference.” 

Brown envisions assistance from other UC campuses and various state entities, including the California Air Resources Board, the Energy Commission and the California Public Utilities Commission, among others. Air Resources Board chairwoman Mary Nichols will serve on the board of directors.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry, writing in The Washington Post on Sunday, raised the central issue: Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Accord, and his view that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by China to hinder U.S. economic gains. 

“In the temporary absence of U.S. leadership,” Kerry wrote, “we need other major emitters to step up—not only to deliver the climate action we need, but also to build trust that international institutions are prepared to take on this global challenge until the United States is ready to rejoin the fight.”

He pointed to China and India, and argued that there is great economic opportunity in confronting climate change.

“The United States will be back at the table after 2020, but in this aberrational period of shortsightedness, now is the time for China, India and other countries to prove just what we are missing,” Kerry wrote.

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Environment

On this week's whistle-blown weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorensen examines what finally led to the impeachment inquiry; (Th)ink has the final word on Sharpiegate; This Modern World ponders the reputation rehabilitation of former Trump administration officials; Red Meat discovers the scam behind all-you-can-eat buffets; and Apoca Clips allows Li'l Trumpy to speak out about that now-infamous call to Ukraine.

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On this week's poofy-shirt-free weekly Independent comics page: Apoca Clips adjusts the light bulb at Li'l Trumpy's request; Red Meat investigates weird noises coming from the closet; This Modern World looks yet again at Life in the Stupidverse; This Modern World imagines the next 12 months of Trump lunacy; and Jen Sorensen ponders some honest questions for the Democratic presidential-primary debates.

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On this week's Sharpie-ink-stained weekly Independent comics page: The K Chronicles finds a way to make female presidential candidates more palatable to sexists; This Modern World ponders what would happen today if an asteroid came sorta-close-but-not-really to Earth; Jen Sorensen looks at the threat to Western Civilization posed by yoga pants; Red Meat checks in on a frightened child; and Apoca Clips listens to Li'l Trumpy blather about all of the crazy news of the week.

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I suppose I can’t not write about Sharpie-gate, as much as I’d rather not. After all, of the myriad episodes that have defined the Trump administration’s idiocracy, few have reached this peak of stupidity.

On Saturday, Aug. 31, with Hurricane Dorian bearing down on the U.S., President Trump warned that it posed a serious risk to Alabama, though forecasters had days earlier said Alabama was out of danger. The next day, after receiving calls from worried residents, the Birmingham office of the National Weather Service tweeted that Alabama would “NOT see any impacts from the hurricane.”

For reasons best left to a psychologist, Trump refused to let it go. He spent the next week obsessing over it, insisting that he was right and the NWS experts (and the media that covered them) were wrong and fake. By Wednesday, he was in the Oval Office with a hurricane forecast from Aug. 29, altered by a hand-drawn Sharpie to include Alabama in the storm’s projected path. By Friday night—after the storm had left the North Carolina coast, and we were still talking about this—the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a statement “correcting” the NWS tweet from a week earlier and backing the president. (The justification: One model showed a tiny chance of tropical-storm-force winds in a sliver of Alabama.)

By Saturday, Sept. 7, The Washington Post had reported that, the day after Trump’s Alabama flub, the NOAA sent a directive to NWS meteorologists ordering them not to contradict the president, even though he was wrong, and they were right, and part of their job is to correct misinformation. NOAA sent a similar directive after the Sharpie display.

“I have never been so embarrassed,” the head of the NWS union tweeted Friday.

So say we all, pal.

Under different circumstances—say, if he were hosting a reality TV show—the president’s pathetically pathological need to be right and his lackeys’ compulsion to assuage his fragile ego might be amusing. But this is real life, where undermining the credibility of the government’s information during a disaster puts lives at risk.

This is part of a larger problem, of course. On Friday, Sept. 6, Business Insider reported that “aides and confidants are concerned about his mental state after days of erratic behavior and wild outbursts.” According to one former White House official: “His mood changes from one minute to the next based on some headline or tweet, and the next thing you know, his entire schedule gets tossed out the window because he’s losing his shit.”

In the UK, when Trump-lite Prime Minister Boris Johnson tried to go around Parliament to facilitate a disastrous no-deal Brexit, defections within his own party blocked him and then prevented him from calling snap elections. Country was more important than party. Here, administration officials have shown no such spine, even on matters as banal as Sharpie-gate. The higher the stakes—and the more unhinged Trump becomes—the more dangerous that gets.

Plenty of ink has been spilled explaining how we got here—how, since the civil rights movement, the Republican Party’s embrace of white racial grievance and the cultivation of authoritarianism in its pursuit of power have destroyed liberal democracy’s guardrails, allowing a pernicious oaf like Trump into the Oval Office. But we shouldn’t overlook the behind-the-scenes roles played by men like Thomas Hofeller, who made the radicalization of the GOP possible.

Hofeller, who died last year, was a Republican redistricting consultant, a number-cruncher who helped gerrymander congressional and legislative districts all over the country, most famously in North Carolina, where his work has been subject to numerous lawsuits. The districts he helped draw in 2011 were struck down as racial gerrymanders. The congressional districts he helped draw to replace them were then struck down as partisan gerrymanders, though earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that partisan gerrymandering was constitutional.

But last week, a state court struck down the redrawn legislative districts, ruling that extreme partisan gerrymandering violated the state Constitution. This followed a lawsuit Common Cause filed in 2018, after North Carolina Democrats won more votes for state House and Senate, but Republicans emerged with strong majorities. Facing a Democratic-controlled state Supreme Court, Republican lawmakers declined an appeal, meaning North Carolina could see its first fair election in a decade next year.

This is where it gets fun: Much to Republicans’ chagrin, Hofeller’s daughter had turned over thousands of his files to Common Cause. On Friday, Sept. 6, The New Yorker reported their contents. As you’d expect, they showed that Hofeller compiled “intensely detailed” data on race, as well as things like whether college students were likely to have the state-required ID to vote. 

He got particularly deep in the weeds at North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro, the nation’s largest historically black college. Hofeller used dorm-level data to draw congressional districts that literally bisected the campus, ensuring that Greensboro would have two Republican representatives. This, Republicans argued, was about partisan advantage, not race.

The files show that Hofeller was involved in Republican gerrymandering efforts in Arizona, Mississippi, Alabama, Virginia, Texas and Florida, and that “he was part of a Republican effort to add a citizenship question to the Census … which Hofeller believed would make it easier to pack Democrats and minorities into fewer districts, giving an advantage to Republicans.” Trump, you’ll recall, championed this cause—even after the Supreme Court turned rejected the question because the administration couldn’t be bothered to hide its political motives.

Hofeller and the Republicans who employed him contorted democracy to their own ends. But by creating ruby-red districts in which Republicans could only lose in primaries, they fostered an incentive structured that pulled the GOP further and further right, the kind of asymmetric polarization that, in short order, gave us a president who draws hurricane projections with a Sharpie and a party that whistles in democracy’s graveyard.

Contact Jeffrey C. Billman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in National/International

On this week's sold-out, standing-room-only weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World features thoughts from a bedbug; Jen Sorensen looks at generational entitlement; (Th)ink pays tribute to Toni Morrison; Apoca Clips listens to Li'l Trumpy's hurricane musings; and Red Meat talks to Earl about his new gig at the pharmacy.

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The maxim that we’re not to speak ill of the dead is generally good advice, though it’s complicated by the death of men like David Koch, the oilman and right-wing financier who died on Aug. 23 at the age of 79.

There’s a ghoulish quality to gloating about the demise of one’s ideological adversaries before the bodies are in the ground—as HBO’s Bill Maher did on his show Friday night—especially at a time when politics has become a factionalized blood sport. And any polemic about David Koch’s decades of funding the far right is likely to draw a two-dimensional caricature of the man, eliding his truly remarkable philanthropy, as well as his forward thinking on immigration and criminal-justice reform—which, truth be told, was well ahead of many modern progressives. (In 1980, for instance, as a vice presidential candidate on the libertarian ticket, Koch supported open borders.)

But any fair analysis of the world David Koch leaves behind can’t help but speak ill of his legacy: Few Americans in the postwar era have been more destructive than David and his older brother, Charles Koch, who survives him. Through the untold millions they lavished on conservative political networks and organizations—founding the Cato Institute; bankrolling the Heritage Foundation; establishing the anti-regulation Mercatus Center at George Mason University and similar centers at Florida State University and Utah State University; creating the Americans for Prosperity Foundation; and funding all manner of anti-union efforts—the Kochs fundamentally reformed American conservatism and, in the process, American democracy.

The end result is the party we see now—beholden to the wealthy, with a theology that believes tax cuts are the panacea to whatever ails us, that is stalwart in its opposition to any and all environmental and labor regulations, and embarrassingly resistant to the climate science that the rest of the world long accepted.

In particular, Americans for Prosperity—David Koch’s baby—mobilized the tea party, an astroturf movement aroused in reaction to Barack Obama’s presidency.

As Sarah Jones wrote in New York this weekend: “The id they unleashed—the naked white nationalism, the anti–big government hysteria, all those conspiracy theories—helped seed the ground for Donald Trump.”

There’s some irony in that, considering that the Koch brothers were never enthusiastic about Trump, especially his trade wars and harsh immigration tactics. They never donated to him, and earlier this year, AFP indicated that it was open to supporting Democrats, so long as those Democrats were the kind that would keep the party from going in the direction of Elizabeth Warren and the Green New Deal. But in the pursuit of their own interests—in serving their own greed—they’d created a Frankenstein’s monster they couldn’t control.

They’d grown Koch Industries, a company they’d inherited from their father—an original member of the John Birch Society who admired Benito Mussolini and thought the civil rights movement was a communist plot—into the second-largest privately owned business in the country, with oil refineries in Alaska, Texas and Minnesota, more than 4,000 miles of pipeline, and ownership of products ranging from Brawny paper towels to Stainmaster carpet, as The New Yorker’s Jane Meyer reported in her definitive 2010 profile. And they wanted the government out of their way. They’ve fought health-care reform, labor regulations, and anything else that got between them and a buck.

“The Kochs,” Meyer wrote, “are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry—especially environmental regulation. These views dovetail with the brothers’ corporate interests.”

The Kochs were one of the top air polluters in the country, according to a 2010 University of Massachusetts at Amherst study. More important, perhaps, they were the biggest funder of climate-change denial, surpassing even ExxonMobil.

For decades, Koch-funded groups like the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation have tried to pour cold water on the consensus that the world is dangerously warming, and humans are to blame. With the Kochs’ millions behind them, these organizations fostered skepticism about scientists involved in climate research, claimed that the science is inconclusive, and—as David Koch told Meyer in 2010—argued that even if the planet is getting hotter, it will ultimately be beneficial.

This was simple avarice dressed up as ideology, of course—regardless of whether David Koch ever admitted that to himself. Accepting the reality of anthropomorphic climate change and its destructive consequences would mean weaning ourselves off fossil fuels, which would make the Kochs’ oil empire less profitable.  

The last full month David Koch lived to see, July 2019, was the hottest ever recorded on Earth. The day he died, the Amazon rainforest was burning at an unprecedented rate, as the right-wing Brazilian government allowed loggers, farmers and cattle interests to slash and burn a region that produces 20 percent of the planet’s oxygen and is vital to combating climate change. Three days after he died, the president he inadvertently helped install skipped a meeting of world leaders on climate change at the G7 summit in Paris. Three decades after he died, experts have warned, 55 percent of the global population could live in areas that experience more than 20 days of lethal heat a year; 1 billion people will have been displaced from their homes; 2 billion people will lack access to water; and droughts and severe flooding will have become the norm.

David Koch was worth $42.4 billion.

Contact Jeffrey C. Billman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in National/International

On this week's keto-friendly, gluten-free, semi-vegan weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World looks at the latest exploits of Donald J. Trump, Detective-in-Chief; Jen Sorensen ponders how the right turns reason into treason; (Th)ink examines an incident at a recent Trump rally; Apoca Clips quizzes Li'l Trumpy on Antifa and right-wing terror groups; and Red Meat wants to borrow some fertilizer.

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