A civil rights ’emergency’: justice, clean air and water in the age of Trump

The Trump administration is peeling away rules designed to protect clean air and water, fueling a growing urgency around the struggle for environmental justice, say political leaders, academics and activists

The Trump administrations dismantling of environmental regulations has intensified a growing civil rights battle over the deadly burden of pollution on minorities and low-income people.

Black, Latino and disadvantaged people have long been disproportionately afflicted by toxins from industrial plants, cars, hazardous housing conditions and other sources.

Environmental Justice

But political leaders, academics and activists spoke of a growing urgency around the struggle for environmental justice as the Trump administration peels away rules designed to protect clean air and water.

What we are seeing is the institutionalization of discrimination again, the thing weve fought for 40 years, said Robert Bullard, an academic widely considered the father of the environmental justice movement.

There are people in fence-line communities who are now very worried. If the federal government doesnt monitor and regulate, and gives the states a green light to do what they want, we are going to get more pollution, more people will get sick. There will be more deaths.

Activists and some in Congress now view the blight of pollution as a vast, largely overlooked civil rights issue that places an unbearable burden on people of color and low-income communities.

Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey, recently said: Civil rights have to include, fundamentally, the right to breathe your air, plant tomatoes in your soil. Civil rights is the right to drink your water.

If your children dont have access to clean air and water, all the ideals we preach in this country are a lie. Environmental justice must be at the center of our activism in our fight to make real the promise of America.

Who lives near superfund sites?
A superfund site is land in the US that has been contaminated by hazardous waste and identified by the EPA as a candidate for cleanup because of risks to human health, or the environment.

Last month, Booker unveiled new legislation, supported by a group of senators including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, that he said would help eliminate environmental injustice. The bill would require federal agencies to address the issue, force authorities to consider existing pollution when allowing new industrial facilities and hand individuals the power rto use the Civil Rights Act to sue over pollution.

Mustafa Ali, who helped create the Environmental Protection Agencys (EPA) office of environmental justice and worked there for 24 years, told the Guardian hes been alarmed by proposed EPA budget cuts and the federal governments heavily criticized response to the ongoing humanitarian disaster in Puerto Rico, which was struck by Hurricane Maria in September.

Eve
Eve Butler stands near a relatives home that is surrounded by oil storage facilities on all sides in St James, Louisiana, which has become known as cancer alley. Photograph: Lauren Zanolli for the Guardian

I left the EPA because of the proposals to roll back legislation that will have direct impacts on local communities, he said. Ten months in, they have yet to move forward any action to help communities be healthier. People in Puerto Rico are drinking toxic water. Unfortunately, so far, Ive been proved right in my decision to leave. I wanted them to prove me wrong.

The Trump administration has targeted dozens of regulations it says have stymied economic growth. It has moved to axe an Obama-era plan to reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants, delayed new standards to cut toxic fumes from vehicles and dropped a proposed ban on a pesticide linked to developmental delays in children.

An EPA spokeswoman said the agency was pursuing commonsense reforms that reduce regulatory burden while maintaining environmental and public health protection. She said the agencys leadership was refocusing EPA on its core mission to tackle the most significant environmental and public health problems.

Under the nations environmental laws, the US has made great progress in cleaning up the air, land and water, she said. However, we acknowledge that many low-income, minority and tribal populations still bear a disproportionate burden of potential risk from sources of pollution.

The Trump administrations proposed budget outlined a plan to close the EPAs office of environmental justice, although this plan now appears to have been shelved with the office shifting to be directly under the purview of the EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt.

This move is a reaffirmation of administrator Pruitts commitment to the mission and goals of the agencys environmental justice program, said the EPA spokeswoman.

But Ali said there was little evidence the agency is focused on vulnerable communities, claiming it is a particular slap in the face that the EPA wants to cut funding for anti-lead programs given that the largely black city of Flint, Michigan, continues to suffer from lead-tainted water, three years after the scandal was exposed.

Recent high-profile controversies such as Flint, where a series of failures allowed lead to leach into the drinking supply, and the Dakota Access pipeline, where protestors in North Dakota have clashed with police over concerns the Standing Rock tribes water will be contaminated, have elevated the profile of environmental justice. But similar problems have dotted the US for years, often lingering stubbornly.

Booker recently embarked on a tour of festering environmental problems suffered largely by minorities, including a North Carolina community next to hog farms that spray untreated waste on to nearby fields, meaning that opening windows or hanging washing outdoors are risky endeavors. The industry dismisses these claims.

Booker also visited Uniontown, Alabama, which he said had been ruined by a giant industrial waste dump and the so-called cancer alley communities that live alongside an infamous corridor of petrochemical plants in Louisiana. But he said it wasnt necessary to travel far from his home state to understand the problem.

I became an environmentalist, I have to be candid with you, not because of the effects of global warming some time in the future, said Booker, a former mayor of Newark, New Jersey, at a time when the city was experiencing its own problems with lead contamination of drinking water. I became an environmentalist because I saw horrific examples of environmental injustice and how it was hurting my community in every single way.

Black communities are most exposed to solid waste facilities in North Carolina
Black communities are most exposed to solid waste facilities in North Carolina

Against the unusually industry-friendly approach adopted by the White House and EPA, as well as a Republican-controlled Congress, Bookers bill has little foreseeable chance of becoming law. But it signals a fresh determination by activists to put pollution on the same civil rights footing as other issues, such as criminal justice.

Its definitely moved up the priority list, said Ali. I wasnt around late 1960s and 1970s, but people talk about a spirit of civic engagement then. We are seeing a new round of that now.

Pollution
Pollution in America. If the government doesnt monitor and regulate more people will get sick. There will be more deaths. Composite: AP, Getty Images & Rex Features

The roots of the environmental justice movement are diffuse, but a string of events in Houston, Texas, proved foundational. In 1967, an eight-year-old black girl drowned at a landfill dumping site that was placed in a heavily African-American neighborhood. Community members picketed the site, joining forces with other protesters who were agitating against racism in the citys schools.

A decade later, Bullard, then a sociologist at Texas Southern University, began to study the placement of toxic sites in Houston and discovered an alarming pattern. All five city-owned landfills and six out of eight city-owned incinerators were placed in black neighborhoods, despite black people making up just a quarter of Houstons population. Bullard said instead of Nimby politics, there was what he called Pibby (Place in blacks back yard).

US counties with the highest rates of heart attacks. Many health problems are linked to environmental pollution although a direct cause is rarely specifically identified.
US counties with the highest rates of heart attacks. Many health problems are linked to environmental pollution although a direct cause is rarely specifically identified.

I was shocked and angered by what I saw in Houston, Bullard said. I then started to look at Dallas, at Louisiana, at West Virginia, at Alabama. Houston wasnt atypical at all. Residential apartheid was happening everywhere.

Years of racist housing policies, tacitly and explicitly approved by government, and a lack of political clout made minorities close neighbors for manufacturing plants, landfills, power stations and other potentially toxic facilities. State-led pursuit of polluters, particularly in some southern states, has been tepid.

The environmental movement was initially slow to see its cause as being intertwined with civil rights. We love polar bears, birds and wetlands, but we also want to talk about children being poisoned by lead, said Dr Benjamin Chavis, a civil rights leader who was an assistant of Martin Luther King Jr.

We had a lot of education to do with very smart white people in the environmental movement. We had to call out their paternalism and racism. They said they dont deal with social issues, like breathing air was a niche social issue.

The issue of environmental justice, aided by the research of Bullard and many others since, is now both understood and persistent.

Of all the people who live within three miles of the most toxic sites in the US, known as superfund areas by the EPA, 46% are minorities a proportion far higher than the 37% national non-white population.

US counties with the highest rates of breast cancer. Many health problems are linked to environmental pollution although a direct cause is rarely specifically identified.
US counties with the highest rates of breast cancer. Many health problems are linked to environmental pollution although a direct cause is rarely specifically identified.

One in three Latinos live in areas that violate federal standards for ozone, a pollutant that causes smog and is linked to an array of health problems. The thousands of abandoned mines that dot the western US have left a legacy of soil and water contamination that blights native American tribes, such as the Navajo nation.

Nearly seven in 10 African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant, compared with 56% of whites. Once the coal is burned, its ash, which can damage the nervous system and cause cancers if ingested or inhaled, is dumped in about 1,400 sites around the US 70% of which are situated in low-income communities.

Oil and gas operations also loom over many black neighborhoods, potentially exposing them to a stew of chemicals including benzene, sulfur dioxide and formaldehyde.

The effects of oil and gas pollution are disproportionately afflicting African Americans, particularly cancer and respiratory issues, and the trend is only increasing, said Dr Doris Browne, president of the National Medical Association.

Our membership is seeing far too many patients in communities of color suffering from these diseases. It is our goal to fight to reverse this dangerous trend.

More than 1 million African Americans live within half a mile of an oil or gas facility, according to research compiled by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Clean Air Task Force. An even larger black population around 6.7 million people live in a US county that also features an oil refinery.

The NAACP maintains that fence-line communities near industrial plants emerge when energy companies target certain neighborhoods that then enter a gloomy spiral that forces property values and traps residents. The organization has recently expanded its campaigning to focus on how communities of color are now bearing the brunt of natural disasters, such as the recent hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, that are supercharged by climate change.

The main factor is race poor whites do better than middle-class blacks, said Bullard. Housing discrimination is so entrenched in America that money doesnt buy you out of segregated neighborhoods.

People
People rally in front of Trump International Hotel during the Native Nations Rise protest in March. Photograph: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

A white person who is poor can put on a suit and tie and look for an apartment. They are seen as a regular person. A black person will meet discrimination, which drives who lives where and what is located there. You see this pattern all over parks and grocery stores and so on arent located in black neighborhoods. But pollution is.

Americas air is generally far more breathable and its water broadly safer to drink than the 1970s, but discrepancies remain, including among children, who are acutely susceptible to airborne particulates that cause respiratory problems and lead-laced water that can hinder development.

More than 14% of black children in the US have asthma, compared with 8% of white children. Black children are also much more likely than their white counterparts to be hospitalized due to the condition.

Pollution often lingers at both home and at school about one in 11 US public schools sit within 500ft of a highway or other major road. Studies have linked heavy traffic to childhood asthma.

Federal action began to ramp up in the early 1990s, with a small but dedicated environmental justice office opening within the EPA and the then president, Bill Clinton, penning an executive order demanding government agencies acknowledge the issue and deeming environmental racism as contrary to the Civil Rights Act.

The EPA has been repeatedly criticized since this point for its sluggish approach to protecting minority communities from insidious pollution, but the final year of the Obama administration saw a new plan to bolster environmental justice and beef up enforcement. These modest gains could now be snuffed out under a Trump presidency.

This administration has pushed us into the gutter

We had to struggle under George W Bush but we werent pushed into the gutter this administration has pushed us into the gutter, said a senior EPA official who recently departed the agency. These communities depend a lot on the EPA, they dont have much sustainability in them. I just hope we dont go so far back that we cant pull it around.

The prospect of a backwards step horrifies those who have already suffered from Americas pollution inequity. In 2002, Sheila Holt-Orsted noticed a cluster of cancers in her hometown of Dickson County, Tennessee, including her father and aunt. Babies were being born with deformities, such as cleft palates.

Since
Since January, the White House, Congress and the EPA led by Scott Pruitt have engineered a reversal of regulations designed to protect the environment and public health. Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA

Despite being a healthy former bodybuilder who had since moved to Virginia, Holt-Orsted was worried enough to head to the doctor, who informed her she had stage two breast cancer.

Once I picked myself up off the floor, I felt I had to do something, so I decided to move home to find the common denominator, she said. By digging through county and state records, Holt-Orsted found out that a landfill, located less than a mile from her familys house, was leaking trichloroethylene (TCE), an industrial solvent that is a known carcinogen and neurological toxin, into the drinking water supply at levels far higher than EPAs safety standards.

Not only was the landfill placed in the heart of Dickson Countys African-American enclave, which included the Holt-Orsteds, but the remediation of the issue was also drawn along racial lines. Holt-Orsted was handed records that showed official state letters were sent to white households warning of the contamination, while black families were sent letters claiming the water was safe to drink.

It was ignorance, it was racism, Holt-Orsted said. Our community was the sacrificial lamb for this landfill. What followed was a 10-year legal battle that finally forced the authorities to address the pollution and connect households to a clean water supply. Even then, some of the white people in the town said we were just some niggers looking for money, Holt-Orsted said.

The more recent water contamination in Flint was sickening, Holt-Orsted said, and she worries that further outrages will occur if regulations and enforcement is forgone in favor of industry-friendly bromides.

The Trump administration will have a huge affect on everyone, she said. Its scary to see how much they are siding with industry. All industry thinks about is how much money to make and thats exactly what happened in Dickson.

I had never heard of environmental racism until I was a victim of it. Its sickening that this is going on in America.

Data research by Mona Chalabi

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/nov/20/environmental-justice-in-the-age-of-trump

Doctors can’t ignore politics. Our patients’ lives are at stake | Farzon Nahvi

Our patients depend on us for their care we must help them get it, whether that comes in the form of pill or policy

If all politics is local, then Washingtons healthcare debacle has brought politics to the front stoop of every healthcare provider in America. There is no escaping it debates taking place on Capitol Hill are set to affect the very survival of our patients. Irrespective of political leanings, doctors, nurses and providers of all stripes have ethical and professional obligations to speak up and become engaged in order to protect their patients.

While politics have always affected medicine obstetricians and gynecologists have long fought for womens health issues, for example current political events have pushed this into overdrive. In our current political climate, it no longer even makes sense to distinguish between events in Washington and my patient in front of me.

Earlier this year, Congress put forth a bill that among other things would strip 23 million patients of their health insurance, allow insurance companies to exclude people with preexisting conditions, eliminate essential health benefits such as pediatric services, ambulance rides, and lab tests from their plans, and increase costs, especially to older Americans.

Politicians are speaking frankly even eagerly about stripping services away from patients who currently have them. Each patient I see becomes another example of someone whose life could be at risk should any of the measures debated in Congress pass into law.

My elderly patients infected bedsore, for example, could only worsen, leading to sepsis and even death if she could no longer fill her antibiotic prescription. My patient with breast cancer, if unable to obtain chemotherapy due to her preexisting condition, would inevitably die. And any pediatric patient I see could suddenly be at risk of entirely preventable illnesses if left unimmunized due to the elimination of their essential health benefits.

Suddenly, being a physician and ignoring politics has become a lot like being an airplane pilot and ignoring the fact we are flying with the cabin doors wide open. Patients are about to be whisked into the sky with no parachute it is just as unethical to ignore politics as it would be to continue flying that plane pretending everything was OK.

The truth is that avoiding politics is not only unethical, but also unprofessional. While many doctors, scientists at heart, find political advocacy uncomfortable, it is in fact a required part of the job.

In order to be allowed to practice independently, physicians must graduate from a residency training program and demonstrate proficiency in six core competencies. Most of them, such as medical knowledge and patient care and procedure skills, are well known. It is the sixth systems-based practice that is often overlooked, but equal in importance.

To quote the governing body that mandates these requirements: doctors must demonstrate an awareness of and responsiveness to the larger context and system of healthcare and are expected to advocate for quality patient care and optimal patient care systems.

In other words, to practice independently, we must not only know how to prescribe our medicines and perform our procedures, but also work toward improving our entire healthcare system. Our professional governing body makes no distinction between helping patients through syringes, scalpels or statutes.

As German physician Rudolph Virchow noted in 1848: Medicine is a social science, and politics is nothing else but medicine on a large scale.

Importantly, as physicians, we advocate for our patients all the time. We feel completely at ease when we do this on the day-to-day level. If one of our patients cannot get an appropriate follow-up appointment with a specialist or their insurance company denies them a specific medication, for example, we eagerly take up arms. We fight a million reams of red tape on a daily basis to get that one patient what she needs.

We must now embrace this same ethos on a macro level by lobbying our representatives, joining activist groups and even running for office ourselves. The only difference is the outsize impact these efforts could have: working through a single ream of red tape in the form of legislation could positively affect the lives of millions of patients.

Laws affecting human lives should not be drawn along partisan lines, but by evidence-based policy thats best for constituents. As Washington fails this litmus test, citizens must step up. As healthcare providers, advocating for our patients is both an ethical imperative and a professional requirement. Our patients depend on us for their care we must help them get it, whether that comes in the form of pill or policy.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/22/doctors-politics-patients-lives-are-at-stake

Georgia special election: Republican Karen Handel beats Jon Ossoff in runoff

An energized Republican base kept Ossoff from accumulating a significant lead among early voters and doomed the hopes of the anti-Trump activists

Democrats fell short of a special election victory yet again on Tuesday when Jon Ossoff, long the best hope of Democrats to win a special election in the Trump administration, suffered a narrow loss to Republican Karen Handel in the Sixth Congressional District.

The race was the latest in a series of special elections in Republican seats where Democrats managed to deliver moral victories rather than actual victories as they proved unable to notch a major electoral win in the Trump administration.

With 100% of precincts reporting, Handel had 52.7% and Ossoff had 47.3%.

Sporadic downpours and flash flood warnings helped to put a damper on Democratic turnout in base precincts and on the hopes of progressives to thwart Republican efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Combined with an energized Republican base that kept Ossoff from accumulating a significant lead among early voters, it doomed the hopes of the anti-Trump activists who made the first time Democratic candidate a minor political celebrity.

The runoff came after a first round of voting in April where Ossoff won just over 48% of the vote and Handel finished second in a splintered Republican field with just under 20% of the vote. However, Ossoff struggled to match that total as Handel consolidated the Republican vote in a traditionally conservative district in the northern suburbs of Atlanta andended up falling a percentage point short of his much hyped performance in the first round of voting.

Trump took to Twitter to hail the result as a personal victory Thank you @FoxNews Huge win for President Trump and GOP in Georgia Congressional Special Election.

The seat had been vacated by Tom Price when the former congressman joined Trumps cabinet to become secretary of health and human services and previously held by Republican stalwarts like Senator Johnny Isakson and former speaker Newt Gingrich. Although Price won by 23% in 2016, Donald Trump only narrowly won this wealthy, well-educated district by just over 1%.

Trumps narrow win sparked optimism among Democrats that the district, where nearly 60% of residents have a college degree, could flip as part of the political realignment around the presidents upset victory in 2016. Roughly $50m ended up being spent by both parties and allied groups in the race as it became the most expensive congressional campaign in the history of the United States.

However, while Democrats had motivated their base and won over skeptical Republicans, the conservative slant of district proved too much even for the nearly unprecedented resources that Democrats invested in the race, even flying in volunteers for last minute doorknocking as local television stations had been saturated by 30-second advertisements.

The two candidates took different tones in their election night speeches after the race was called. Ossoff, speaking to a distraught crowd in a packed ballroom, cast the race in historical terms. As darkness has crept across this planet you have provided a beacon of hope to people in Georgia and people in around the world, Ossoff told attendees. He cast the race in broader metaphysical terms. The fight goes on, hope is still alive, said Ossoff.

In contrast, Handel gave a far more traditional speech. She mentioned the obligation that came with being the first Republican woman elected to Congress from the great state of Georgia and cast herself an inspirational story, telling attendees anything is possible with hard work, inspiration, grit and people that believe in you. Handel also touched on policy priorities like finishing the drill on health care and lowering taxes including repeal of the estate tax.

Although the race had been cast a referendum on Trump an opinion the President seemed to endorse after the result had been reported both candidates awkwardly danced around his looming presence on the campaign trail. At Handels campaign events, Trumps name went unmentioned by the candidate and introductory speakers. Instead, there was constant refrain of attack on Ossoff for his ties to House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and praise for previous holders of the seat like Price and Gingrich. Ossoff was regularly bashed for the amount of money he raised out of state, for having San Francisco values and, particularly, for the fact that he did not actually live in the district.

Handel, who suggested in the first televised debate of the campaign that Trump should use Twitter less often, told the Guardian in an interview on Monday that she didnt pay attention to the presidents use of social media. She said I am focused on my campaign, I have precious little time to be on Twitter. Several hours later, her campaign sent out a fundraising email signed by the former secretary of state with the subject line did you see what Trump just tweeted? after the President used his ubiquitous social media account to tout her campaign.

Ossoff has also been measured in his attacks on Trump in a traditionally Republican district albeit one that the president barely won in 2016. Instead, the lanky and measured political neophyte focused on banal and politically non-controversial issues like government waste and turning Atlanta into the Silicon Valley of the South and let the progressive anti-Trump enthusiasm of the Democratic base carry him.

Instead, he has focused on Handels stint as Georgia secretary of state as well as her brief stint with the Susan Komen Race For The Cure, a charity which combats breast cancer, where she led an effort to cut off the organizations funding for Planned Parenthood. The decision sparked a major controversy and funding was eventually restored and Handel had to resign from the non-profit.

In an interview with the Guardian, Ossoff slammed his opponent. Secretary Handels record as secretary of state is extremely weak perhaps because she was too busy preparing her next run for higher office to do her job. She quit her job early to run for higher office, as so many career politicians do. Her last significant private sector experience, her performance also lacked.

The issue of civility and the growing toxic nature of American political culture became an issue late in the race in the aftermath of the shooting of House Minority Whip Steve Scalise. Handel pointed to social media and journalism as reasons for the decline of civility in American society in an interview with the Guardian. Journalism is not journalism any more, said Handel. Ossoff stuck to broader themes, telling the Guardian, this is a deep rooted problem in American politics right now which is going to take work and bipartisan commitment to trying to heal wounds and focus on substance instead of fear mongering and slander.

Nationally, Democrats tried to spin the results. In a statement, Ben Ray Lujan, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said insisted there are more than 70 districts more favorable to Democrats than this deep-red district, and Ossoffs close margin demonstrates the potential for us to compete deep into the battlefield.

However, Republicans took a victory lap as Steve Stivers, the chair of the National Republican Campaign Committee, said in a statement Nancy Pelosi threw the kitchen sink at her, yet Karen still came out on top and ready to fight for Georgia in Congress. For all the Democrats bluster and despite pouring over $30 million into this race, I couldnt be more proud to help keep this seat in Republican hands.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jun/21/georgia-special-election-republican-karen-handel-beats-jon-ossoff-in-runoff

Republican lawmaker key to health bill’s passage lambasted at town hall

Constituents heckle and boo Tom MacArthur, calling him a killer as 500 people gather for New Jersey event: I dont think Ill vote for him again

Tom MacArthur, the New Jersey congressman who has been celebrated in conservative circles for helping pass the Republican healthcare bill, came back down to earth with a bang on Wednesday night when he was booed, heckled and generally chastised during a nearly five-hour town hall meeting.

In Willingboro, hundreds showed up to lambast MacArthur, most fuelled by their congressmans intervention to revive the ailing American Health Care Act (AHCA).

MacArthur was branded a weasel, a killer and an idiot by constituents angry at his amendment to the bill, which would allow states to opt out of rules that protect individuals with pre-existing conditions from being charged more for healthcare coverage. This stipulation proved enough to satisfy the hard-right Freedom Caucus and the bill which would probably see millions of Americans lose their healthcare coverage passed the House on 4 May.

The majority of Republicans who voted for the bill are not holding public events this week, despite being on recess. Those who have dared face voters have been pilloried. Aware of this, MacArthur kicked off his town hall at 6.30pm with a promise to respond to every single question, for as long as it goes. He was still being quizzed by angry residents at 11.20pm.

More than 500 people had gathered outside the Kennedy Center in Willingboro, just across the Delaware river from Philadelphia. It was a lively and loud scene, a number of voters chanting, waving signs and generally causing a ruckus.

Our health matters more than Toms net worth, one banner read. A sign showed a picture of MacArthur with I took your healthcare written on his forehead. Another described MacArthur, a former insurance executive who was elected in 2014, as MacWeasel.

Claudia Storicks, a former nurse who has been on disability for the past two years, had travelled from Pemberton, New Jersey. She has diabetes and charcot foot a weakening of the bones caused by nerve damage and was using an electric scooter. She is insured under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Obama administration legislation the AHCA seeks to replace.

It was the only insurance that I could afford, she said. Ive been able to afford my medication and my doctors visits because Im on the ACA. Otherwise I probably would have lost my house and my foot.

Storicks voted for MacArthur in 2016 hes a businessman and I thought he had a good sense about taxes, she said but now described herself as very angry at the prospect of the ACA being repealed.

That would mean that my diabetes would get out of control, my foot would probably get worse, and Id probably end up in hospital and losing my house.

Medford, New Jersey, resident Jay Wilder, 72, was first in line. He arrived six hours early. Im really worried about pre-existing conditions because I dealt with it when I was going from my job before I had Medicare, he said.

Wilder had had a heart attack and said he couldnt afford healthcare. I just lived without healthcare, hoping that nothing would happen. It was very difficult because when youre 64 years old you start having health issues.

The anger outside the venue set the tone for the event itself. MacArthur walked out to Coldplays A Sky Full of Stars, and to a similarly tepid round of applause from the 250 people who had made it inside. The congressman smiled and offered his hand to a man wearing a green shirt, sitting in the front row. The man kept his arms folded and thrust his head away.

The four hours and 50 minutes that followed were no less hostile. MacArthur had asked constituents not to boo him but that proved to be in vain. People repeatedly told him he had blood on his hands.

A man who had received a kidney transplant feared what would happen to people like him under the AHCA. A resident whose wife had recovered from breast cancer was concerned that she would always have a pre-existing condition and did not want that to determine which state she lived in.

A woman had brought her two young children, one of whom had learning difficulties, and objected to them potentially being placed in a high-risk pool an aspect of MacArthurs amendment designed to assist people with pre-existing conditions, but which could lead to higher health insurance costs.

MacArthurs responses that only 7% of Americans were in the individual market, that people would not lose their insurance (the Congressional Budget Office, in its assessment of an earlier version of the bill, said 24 million would probably do so), and that there are loads of other people who dont agree with you did not placate the crowd.

Nor did his response to repeated chants calling for single-payer healthcare.

Government bureaucrats can be very dangerous when they have power to make decisions on peoples health, MacArthur said, prompting one woman to tell the congressman she would prefer that scenario than someone in an office of an insurance company making the same decisions.

Something was awoke in me

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/may/11/republican-healthcare-bill-tom-macarthur-protest

Georgia special election: runoff will be expensive, ugly and close

Democrat Jon Ossoff won an impressive but insufficient 48% of the vote in the sixth congressional district. What are the implications for American politics?

For those seeking definitive answers about American politics in the Trump era, the result in Georgias sixth congressional district was both illuminating yet somehow uniquely unsatisfying.

By winning just over 48% of the vote in a splintered field, Democrat Jon Ossoff far outpolled past Democratic candidates in the prosperous Atlanta suburbs that make up his district. However, in the jungle primary format in which he competed against 17 other candidates from both parties, that 48% was insufficient for Ossoff to win and forces a runoff in two months when he will face Republican Karen Handel.

The race had already drawn well over $15m in spending and that total is likely to triple in the coming months. Ossoff, who became a symbol of hope for national Democrats desperate for any electoral victory, raised over $8m, 95% of which came from outside the district. However, outside conservative groups poured money into anti-Ossoff ads designed to boost Republican turnout and keep the Democratic hopeful under 50%.

Although the district, formerly represented by the health and human services secretary, Tom Price, had been a traditionally Republican one it was even represented by Newt Gingrich when he became speaker of the House in 1994 it is in some ways unique. It is a prosperous area with a mean household income of $116,000 where nearly 60% of the residents have a college degree. It is also diverse, with rapidly growing Hispanic and Asian American communities.

Until the emergence of Donald Trump, it had been considered safe Republican territory. However, Hillary Clinton narrowly lost it at last years presidential election, despite winning in similar well-educated, traditionally Republican, suburban areas. The result was that Ossoffs campaign became a test not just for Democratic enthusiasm in opposition to Trump but of the rapidly changing political map in the United States, as blue-collar rust belt whites increasingly vote Republican but college-educated voters in the sun belt start to embrace the Democratic party.

The runoff means that the final result on 20 June will come after an intervening special election in Montana, which has also drawn significant national attention. Although political dynamics in the contest for Montanas at-large congressional seat are very different than those in suburban Atlanta, that race too has become a focus for national Democrats. Ossoffs strong showing in Georgia is likely to boost energy and fundraising for Rob Quist, the Democratic candidate in the special election there. Just as a surprisingly strong showing for a Democrat in a bright red congressional district in Kansas in early April boosted interest in Ossoff, his performance will help in Montana.

But Ossoffs result will also have an effect on dynamics on Capitol Hill. Some 23 Republicans hold districts that were won by Hillary Clinton; these are disproportionately prosperous, well-educated and suburban, just like Georgias sixth. Even if Ossoff does not pull off a victory in the June runoff, the mere fact that his performance roughly mirrored Clintons against Trump is a warning sign to those Republican members of the vulnerable position Trump has placed them in particularly if Trumps dismal favorability ratings do not significantly improve. For these members, it doesnt particularly matter that Ossoff didnt win. It does matter greatly that he not only matched Hillary Clinton in the district but exceeded her share of the vote by just over one percentage point.

In the short term, the Georgia runoff is likely to be long-drawn-out battle. Both candidates will be amply funded and both present unique vulnerabilities. The 30-year-old Ossoff will face continued scrutiny over the fact that he does not live in the district and about his relatively opaque stances on a number of issues that Republicans, including the president on Twitter, have used to attack him as liberal.

However, his opponent, Karen Handel, is a veteran Georgia politician who had previously lost two statewide primaries for governor and US senator before making it to the congressional runoff on Tuesday night with just under 20% of the vote. She has long been a lightning rod for controversy and came to national attention during her stint at the Susan G Komen for the Cure breast cancer charity when she forced the group to defund Planned Parenthood. Handel was forced to resign in the uproar that followed and the group quickly reversed its position.

The result is that in a divided, highly energized electorate each side will try to motivate its base. Democrats will tie Handel to Trump and try use the specter of Planned Parenthood to win over suburban women while Republicans will paint Ossoff as a leftwinger who will be a knee jerk supporter of Nancy Pelosi. It will be expensive, it will be ugly and it will be close.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/apr/19/georgia-special-election-runoff-jon-ossoff-karen-handel

Former Obama staffers run for office to protect the progressive policies they built

Obama alums who started as college kids on his campaign or his administration are running for office or helping others run in the aftermath of Trumps election

Ronnie Cho got the name nickname Chobama while knocking on doors in Iowa in 2007, and then followed the president to the White House as a youth affairs aide call-to-arms from his commander in chief is not something he can ignore.

Barack Obama, I never want to disappoint, Cho said.

On 10 January he stood among the thousands gathered in McCormick Place, Chicago, for Obamas final speech as president. Chos mother, originally from South Korea and now a retired customer service worker, flew out from Phoenix to be there with her son.

So when Obama told the crowd that if they were disappointed with their elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself, that was it.

Cho turned to his mother and his 2008 campaign and White House cohorts and announced he would run for New York city council in 2017.

He challenged us: if you really believe in the work we did and what we fought for, lets keep working for this and Im counting on you. If it werent for that, how many of us would have the courage? said Cho, 34, speaking to the Guardian at a Puerto Rican restaurant in his East Village neighborhood, in the council district 2 seat hes hoping to win.

His campaign manager is Frankie Martinez Blanco, who worked for Obama during the 2008 campaign and later for Obamas education secretary.

Cho is one of a handful of Obama alums who started as fresh-faced college kids working on his campaign or in his administration and have now decided to run for office or help others run in the aftermath of Donald Trumps election. Theyre responding to Obamas call and their own desire to protect and support the progressive policies they built.

Obama, Cho recalled, used to regularly tell staff that people on school boards and local councils had more impact on citizens day-to-day lives than what they were doing in the White House.

Before Obama left office and Trump won, only a few of them ran for public office such as Michael Blake, the New York state assembly member and new vice-chair of the DNC who started with the Obama camp in Iowa 2007; White House aide turned Massachusetts state senator Eric Lesser; and mayor of Stockton, California, Michael Tubbs, who was a White House intern in 2010 and got an endorsement from Obama for his mayoral race last year.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/02/barack-obama-staff-run-office-ronnie-cho-trump

How defunding Planned Parenthood could wipe out transgender healthcare

For many transgender people, finding local clinics that provide medical services without bias can be near impossible, leaving thousands without basic care

Calvin Kasulke was living with his parents when he came out to them as a transgender man. All of a sudden, he recalled gingerly, I was disinvited from living at home.

He needed a new place to stay. And Ithaca, New York, where he had gone to college, was the obvious choice. He would have friends there, he figured, and a place to live.

And also, he said, Planned Parenthood was there.

Unbeknown to many, Planned Parenthood is one of the largest sources in the US of transgender healthcare. The embattled provider offers hormone replacement therapy, which helps a persons body appear more masculine or feminine, at dozens of its locations, and a growing share of its staff are trained to perform routine sexual health exams for trans patients.

They are one of the most important providers of trans healthcare in the country, said Harper Jean Tobin, the director of policy for the National Center for Transgender Equality, adding that their clinics are some of the few transgender healthcare providers located outside major cities. Many of their clinics are the only places for miles around that trans people can go to for hormone therapy, HIV tests, and pap smears, and not face discrimination.

With Congress on the brink of attempting to defund Planned Parenthood because of its role as an abortion provider, those services could easily be caught in the crossfire. Each year, Planned Parenthood is reimbursed hundreds of millions of dollars for family planning services it provides at little or no cost to low-income Americans. If Congress were to freeze Planned Parenthood out of those funding streams, it could force an unknown number of health centers to close. Health providers have long warned that this would have a detrimental impact on womens health. But, Tobin said, the cuts could be particularly disastrous for trans people.

As it is getting more real, in the back of my head I said, Oh shit. What am I going to do now? said Raven Green, a patient of Planned Parenthood of the Southern Finger Lakes. I dont know where else I would go.

The state of transgender healthcare in the US is already a fragile one. In one survey after another, large numbers of transgender people report difficulty accessing both basic and specialized services because of biased providers or the distance to the nearest provider with adequate knowledge of trans health issues. Only about two-thirds of trans people who want hormone replacement therapy, a common treatment during gender transition, have actually received it, according to a major survey of transgender adults taken in 2015, and 23% have avoided getting essential care out of fear of harassment. Thirty-three percent have had a negative experience with a healthcare provider, like needing to teach their doctor the fundamentals of transgender care. And 29% reported having to travel at least 25 miles for transition-related care.

The result is that thousands go without care every year.

Everything is stacked against trans people in the healthcare system, said Kasulke, who now volunteers with Planned Parenthood part-time. Theres always an extra layer of, am I going to have to educate my own provider? Is it safe to come out to this person? Youre having to advocate for yourself in a really vulnerable situation.

Planned Parenthood in recent years has sought to address that problem. And it has made its clinics a magnet for thousands with few other options. Starting with Planned Parenthood of the Southern Finger Lakes, in upstate New York, a growing number of its health centers have become places where trans people can begin to transition medically, as well as get basic reproductive services. Its centers use a newer model for gender transitioning that gives the patient input on whether to start their transition, rather than turning the decision over entirely to a psychiatrist. Some clinics have staff with detailed knowledge of how to update drivers licenses, passports and social security cards to reflect someones name and gender.

Its this little oasis in the middle of nowhere, said Luca Maurer, the program director for Ithaca Colleges LGBT center. His center has a partnership with Planned Parenthood. Previously, he said, many trans students and locals would drive to Manhattan or Philadelphia, at least four hours each way, for prescriptions and the routine checkups that accompany gender transition. A handful even crossed the Canadian border for treatment in Toronto.

transgender
Luca Maurer, the program directors for Ithaca Colleges LGBT center, which partners with Planned Parenthood. Photograph: Jenn Foy Photography

If I didnt have them available to me, Im not sure what I would do, said Maurer, who is trans. It would be a crisis. And Im saying this as a person whose job it is to help others navigate healthcare systems.

Upstate New York is a microcosm of the hurdles facing transgender people when it comes to medical care. In 2015, LGBT healthcare providers surveyed local trans people and learned that 57% had run into barriers because there were not enough providers trained to address their needs. A full quarter had been turned away by one of their doctors. Without the Planned Parenthood in Ithaca, there would be limited places for several hundred trans patients to turn. The only local endocrinologist, who specializes in hormonal therapy, is not able to absorb so many new patients. And a local primary care doctor who offers transgender care is near capacity.

The need is not limited to transgender-specific care. Doctors and other healthcare providers frequently refuse to treat trans people for conditions having nothing to do with their gender identity what trans rights activists have sardonically termed trans broken arm syndrome.

In Florida, where Planned Parenthood recently began to offer transgender care at about a dozen of its health centers, some of the groups physicians are offering trans patients basic treatments for diabetes, high blood pressure and the common cold.

Gina Duncan, an advocate with Equality Florida, said Planned Parenthoods affiliates in Florida have been instrumental in pushing other providers to acquire the knowledge to care for trans patients. Where Planned Parenthood has filled such a huge gap, is its a known, reliable, quality source for healthcare, Duncan said.

In that region, too, Planned Parenthood is the major provider to trans people of hormone replacement therapy and general care.

Dinah, a trans woman who did not want her real name printed, used to drive 120 miles round-trip every time she needed basic blood work before the Planned Parenthood in her city began to offer hormone therapy.

We have patients who are grateful that they only have to drive two hours, said Dr Suzie Prabhakaran, the vice-president of medical services for Planned Parenthood of south-west and central Florida. The 11 health centers Prabhakaran oversees began offering hormone replacement therapy in October and are now treating 80 patients and counting. Four out of every five are starting hormone therapy for the first time.

As Planned Parenthood comes under fire, the prospect of possibly losing those services is throwing patients into turmoil.

Dinah says the care she has received at Planned Parenthood has been lifesaving. Recently, she worked up the courage to schedule her first physical in years. It was her first such exam since her transition, and during the breast cancer screening, she began to cry.

Its another thing that makes it real, she said. It meant that Im a woman and I have to be treated like one.

  • This article was amended on 2 March 2017 to correct a misspelling of Calvin Kasulkes last name.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/mar/02/transgender-healthcare-planned-parenthood-funding

Tom Price confirmation hearing for health secretary: the key points

The longtime Obamacare critic slammed the current system but did not provide details on what a replacement might look like under Trump

Tom Price

Health and human services secretary

Background

Representative Tom Price has spent his political career as a penny-pinching, ideologically driven physician who has rarely crossed party lines on key votes. He is one of Donald Trumps most controversial cabinet picks, because of his hardline stances against abortion, same-sex marriage and the Affordable Care Act (ACA, also known as Obamacare). The medical community is split on Prices appointment.

Before his career in politics, Price was an orthopedic surgeon in a well-heeled suburb north of Atlanta, Georgia. His wife, Betty, also a doctor, serves as a Republican member of the Georgia house of representatives.

If confirmed, Price would head the sprawling $1.1tn Department of Health and Human Services, overseeing everything from food safety to epidemic crisis management. He would also be in charge of administering the countrys largest public insurance programs, which he has spent his career attempting to downsize.

This is Prices second hearing, and its the one that matters. Appearing before the finance committee, which holds the power to approve his nomination, Price was diplomatic and respectful, without revealing much about his views or what the new administrations healthcare plans will look like.

Key points and takeaways

Obamacare repeal plan: Price helped author Republicans most comprehensive ACA replacement plans, and Democrats will look for clues about what Republicans new plan will include (as well as its weaknesses).

A term that will likely be heard again and again is access. Where Democrats strived for all Americans to have insurance, Republican alternatives have strived for all Americans to have access to coverage. In other words, Republicans want people to have the option, but not the requirement, to buy insurance.

That imperils many of the ACAs most popular provisions, such as a guarantee that young adults can stay on their parents insurance until they are 26 years old, or a requirement that insurance be sold to people even if they have had previous illnesses.

Trump has also contradicted his nominee, promising insurance for everybody in an interview with the Washington Post.

During Tuesdays hearing, Senate Democrats repeatedly pressed Price on what the replacement plan for Obamacare would look like under Trump, but he declined to provide any specifics. Ohio senator Sherrod Brown asked if it was true that Price and Trump were working together on a plan, to be revealed after Prices confirmation. Its true that he said that, yes, Price said, to laughs from the room. After Brown asked if Trump lied, Price said, I have had conversations with the president about healthcare, yes.

Price, a longtime ACA critic, slammed the current healthcare system. Many individuals have coverage, they have a card, but they dont have any care … Its imperative we have a system that is accessible for every American, affordable for every American, he said, without providing any additional detail on what that might look like.

Stocks, docs and devices: In his first hearing, Price was pressed on his purchase of health stocks while he was a leading voice on health policy in the House of Representatives, and the subject is likely to come up again.

His most notable purchase was for an Australian company called Innate Immunotherapeutics, where he bought between $50,000 and $100,000 of stock at a discount(it is now worth around $500,000). The company holds no patents, but has one drug in development to treat an advanced form of multiple sclerosis. Its largest investor is the New York Republican congressman Chris Collins, who was part of Trumps transition team, and other investors are connected to Collins. The deal occurred during negotiations on the 21st Century Cures Act.

The former surgeon has advocated on behalf of laws that benefit doctors, including limits on medical malpractice suits.

Prices other investments include $15,000 of stock in Zimmer Biomet, a producer of joint replacement devices. It was purchased less than a week before he introduced the HIP Act, which would have delayed reforms that would have cost the device company money, though the legislation died in committee. An aide told CNN that Price was unaware of the transaction because a broker managed his account.

During Tuesdays hearing, Democratic senator Ron Wyden quizzed Price repeatedly on his Immunotherapeutics stocks, asking him if his purchases of stocks while sitting on committees responsible for healthcare policy shows bad judgment. Price responded that everything I did was above board, ethical, legal and transparent, noting that there wasnt any maliciousness involved in saying his stocks were worth between $50,000 and $100,000 when in reality they are worth nearly half a million dollars, as I thought it meant the time at which I purchased the stock.

Republicans jumped in to defend Prices financial investments. Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina noted that he believed the nominee made his financial disclosures public as asked and yet was getting criticized by the Democrats: Does it burn you that they want to hold you to a different standard? he asked. Price replied: We know whats going on here. And I understand. And as my wife tells me, I volunteered for this.

Tom
Tom Price, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday 24 January. Photograph: Andrew Harnik/AP

Cuts to Medicare and Medicaid: Prices past proposals to replace the ACA have been radical.

He proposed changing Medicaid, a health program for the poor, into a block grant, something experts say and history shows would almost certainly precipitate cuts. He has advocated for privatizing Medicare, a public health program for the elderly. And he has voted against expanding public health programs that insure impoverished children.

Price has also advocated adding work requirements to Medicaid for able-bodied adults. Some states, such as vice-president Mike Pences home state of Indiana, proposed work requirements for Medicaid. The Obama administration blocked them.

At Tuesdays hearing, numerous senators questioned Price on Medicaid. After queries from Democrat Bob Menendez, Price said Medicaid was a vital service but one that has significant challenges, noting that one in three physicians who should have been accepting Medicaid would not do it.

McCaskill and other senators pressed Price on whether he was in favor of block grants, which give states a set amount of money to spend on Medicaid.

Im in favor of making certain Medicaid is a system that responds to patients, not the government, Price said. McCaskill continued on the topic later, noting that Price served as chairman of the budget committee and the 2017 budget pushed for block grants. You said over and over again that you favored block granting Medicaid … you cut Medicaid by a trillion dollars in your 2017 budget. And yet today you want to stand on some notion of whatever you guys do is fine. And thats just not reality, Congressman. Whats reality is youve been chosen for your beliefs and your beliefs are reflected by your budget that you wrote as chairman of the committee.

Price objected to the Washington Democratic senator Maria Cantwells suggestion that the administration is creating a war on Medicaid. I would respectfully, Senator, take issue with your description of a war on Medicaid, Price said. What we desire and want to do is make certain that Medicaid population is able to receive the highest quality care.

Controlling drug prices: Trump has advocated for foreign imports of prescription drugs and government negotiations with drug companies Price has voted against both.

Its another issue in which the president and Price find themselves on opposite sides. Allowing the federal government to negotiate drug prices through the Medicare program has typically been a Democratic platform, and its one that Democrats will push as good policy during Prices hearing.

During the hearing, Wyden asked Price about Trumps plan to lower the price of medicine through negotiation with drug companies, which Price has opposed in the past. Were committed to making certain that drug prices are able to be afforded by individuals, Price said. After a tense exchange with Wyden, he added: I think it is important to have the conversation and look at whether or not there is a better way to do that. If there is, then Im certainly open to it, Price said.

Womens healthcare: At every turn, Price has attempted to shut doors to abortion access. He voted in favor of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Act, which would have banned abortion at 20 weeks.

Price is in favor of defunding Planned Parenthood, and introduced a bill to do so through the budget reconciliation process, which was vetoed by Obama last year.

A repeal of the ACA would have drastic impacts for women. Before the ACA went into effect, women paid more for insurance simply because they were women, according to the National Womens Law Center. Pregnancy was considered a pre-existing condition. The ACA made contraception available to women for no copay or prescription charge.

Asked about ensuring access to free contraception, Price said during the hearing: I think contraception is absolutely imperative for many, many women and the system that we ought to have in place is one that allows women to be able to purchase the kind of contraception they desire.

Menendez questioned Price on some dangerous health myths, including whether abortions cause breast cancer and whether vaccinations cause autism. Price responded by pointing to the science, which overwhelmingly says no. Menendez asked if Price would debunk false claims regarding public health, to which the nominee responded that he would do due diligence in providing factual public health information based on science.

Mazin Sidahmed contributed to this report

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/24/tom-price-confirmation-hearing-live-key-points

Nascar driver Carl Edwards ‘definitely would consider’ US Senate run in 2018

Recently retired driver did not rule out challenge for seat held by Democratic senator Claire McCaskill, whose second term expires in 2018

Carl Edwards, whose sudden retirement from Nascar earlier this month stunned the motor sports world, would not rule out a run for the US Senate in his home state of Missouri next year.

Terry Smith, a political science professor at Columbia College, speculated in a Wednesday piece for KBIAs Talking Politics that Edwards will challenge Democratic senator Claire McCaskill, whose second term expires in 2018.

Edwards, when reached by the Associated Press on Wednesday, did little to quell speculation.

Bryan Armen Graham (@BryanAGraham)

This throwaway line at the bottom of a column by Missouri political commentator Terry Smith. https://t.co/6k1zLoEdkv pic.twitter.com/TLa5GzfGDJ

January 25, 2017

I believe firmly in the principles that the US was founded upon, he said in a text message to the AP. If I could help, I definitely would consider it.

Edwards also stressed he has no such plans at the moment, but also quoted General Douglas MacArthur: No man is entitled to the blessings of freedom unless he be vigilant in its preservation. He would almost surely face a difficult primary opponent should he decide to run, though he did not disclose any party affiliation to AP.

The 37-year-old, who came agonizingly close to winning his first Nascar premier series title before a late-race crash in Novembers season finale, announced his surprise retirement at a news conference in Charlotte on 11 January, saying he will not drive the No19 Toyota next season after 13 years in stock-car racings top circuit.

Im not prepared right now to participate in any public office or anything, but I am very open to helping that cause and helping the cause of liberty and freedom and what it is that America is about, Edwards said.

The abrupt decision to retire after coming so close to winning his first title left the Nascar world in confusion.

He had a shot to win the championship and then all of a sudden he just decides he doesnt want to do it anymore, Joe Gibbs Racing team-mate Kyle Busch said. Thats kind of a shock to everyone, I would presume. Its his own decision to make and youve got to give (respect) to a guy when he says hes had enough and hes done and he walks away.

If that continues to hold true then more power to him but if theres something else waiting in the wings, well all have to wait to find out.

Republicans hold 52 seats in the Senate, while Democrats hold 46 seats and are typically supported by two independents.

McCaskill, Missouris senior senator, in 2014 actively pushed to end military sponsorship of Nascar. She spearheaded a campaign and told the Senate homeland security subcommittee on financial and contracting oversight that the armed forces were wasting a bunch of money on a very expensive sports sponsorship.

She narrowly defeated incumbent Republican Jim Talent in the 2006 election, then won handily in 2012 against an opponent who lost steam after making comments referring to legitimate rape. McCaskill confirmed in September that she intended to run again in 2018, even though she was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer earlier in the year. She would likely be considered vulnerable in a general election in a state that has increasingly backed conservatives.

Edwards, who lives in Missouri with his wife and two young children, was leading all championship contenders with 10 laps remaining at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November when a caution set up a restart that bunched the field. He tried to block Joey Loganos attempt to take the lead, but it caused a crash that ended Edwards title bid. The wreck left him with a fourth-place finish on the year.

Widely regarded as the best active driver to have never won a title when he retired, Edwards twice finished second in the overall standings: first in 2008, when he won nine races but a late crash at Talladega Superspeedway handed the title to Jimmie Johnson, then in 2011, when he finished in a tie with Tony Stewart but lost a tie-breaker on race victories for the season.

He first ascended to the Cup Series when he replaced Jeff Burton in the No99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford in 2004, spent 13 years in Nascars top flight and recorded 28 race victories, 22 poles and 124 top-five finishes in 445 career starts.

  • This article was amended on 26 January 2017 to reflect the current composition of the US Senate. An earlier version said Republicans hold 54 seats, while Democrats hold 44 seats and are typically supported by two independents.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/jan/25/nascar-carl-edwards-us-senate-run-2018-missouri-possibility

Five things to talk about when youre bored with the US election | Arwa Mahdawi

Try chatting about pumpkin spiced lattes and fantasy football if youve had enough of the presidential candidates

There are only 36 days left until the US election, and already America is tired. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 59% of Americans were already exhausted by the amount of election coverage in June, when D-day was four months away. As the election draws nearer and the media hysteria mounts, levels of fatigue are hovering around the please induce a coma and wake me up when this is all over mark.

Heres the thing, though nobody is forcing us to keep talking about the elections. We dont live in Trumpenistan yet; we are not all legally obliged to mention Donald Trumps name in every second sentence. The democratic process does not hinge on us spending hours writing long Facebook posts explaining our views on the candidates in block capitals to echo chambers of our own opinion. We are allowed to talk about other things. In fact, tis the season to talk about other things: there are some autumn conversations that are obligatory. Here are five to get you started and get your mind off the election.

The great pumpkin debate

Every year, pumpkin-flavoured drinks, capitalisms way of ringing in the autumn, start appearing earlier and earlier. This is not a weird sign of climate change; its the sign of a weird national obsession. According to Dunkin Donuts, In the New York City area, pumpkin-flavoured drinks were available starting 18 August due to customer feedback that they wanted pumpkin even earlier. However, pumpkin spice lattes popularised by Starbucks, but now peddled everywhere really come into their own when the temperature starts to drop, as it has in the last few days in New York. For the next couple of weeks, millions of people are going to be pulling on their Lululemons and Uggs, grabbing their first PSL of the season and exclaiming: Ah, now I really feel like its autumn! Meanwhile, millions of PSL haters are going to inform you how abominable the beverage is, to ensure you know theyre not basic. Pumpkin spice lattes are the 2016 election in a cup. Divisive, disgusting and everyones got an opinion. Dammit, were back to the elections.

Harambe Halloween costumes

Americans take Halloween almost as seriously as democracy. People spend weeks planning their outfits. Somewhere in the US right now, I can guarantee a group text like this is happening:

Lets all dress up as a sexy poop emoji or sexy Pokmon this year!
I dunno What do you think about the sexy breast cancer awareness costume?
Some people might find that offensive. What about dressing up like Isis?
No, wait, I know! Lets go as slutty Harambe!

Yes, there really is a sexy Harambe costume because this is 2016. And if gorilla-style politics is not for you, theres also a sexy Donald Trump costume and a sexy Hillary Clinton costume. Who says we need to make America great again? Its already perfect.

Cuffing season

In New York, dating is a blood sport. When the temperature starts to drop, however, competition really hots up and cuffing season starts. Urban Dictionary explains that, as autumn begins, people who would normally rather be single or promiscuous find themselves along with the rest of the world desiring to be cuffed or tied down by a serious relationship. Cuffing season is often accompanied by zombieing. This is when an ex long gone from your life rises from the dead (metaphorically speaking) and starts randomly liking your social media posts or sending you one-word texts such as Hi. If you go to a bar in New York during cuffing season, you will overhear long discussions about if I should say hi back? (No.) You may also see already-cuffed couples in matching flannels discussing their apple-picking plans.

Why
Why not dress up as Harambe for Halloween? Photograph: PR company handout

Fantasy football

According to a 2015 study, almost 75 million people, about a quarter of the US population, play fantasy football, spending $4.6bn (3.5bn) on it. Meanwhile only 9% of the US chose Trump and Clinton as the presidential nominees. Fantasy football (Im talking about American, no-feet-involved football, obviously) is an obsessive topic of discussion around this time of year. Unfortunately, I could not tell you what is being discussed; Trumps policies make more sense to me than the ins and outs of imaginary leagues. And it turns out, though, you cant even escape the nightmare of politics with the fantasy of football this year. Clinton is running ads on fantasy football websites, describing Trump as like that guy in your fantasy league who talks trash all week and forgets to set his lineup.

The weather

Ah, autumn. The leaves are changing colour, the air is crisp and the carbon dioxide is abundant. Environmental scientists recently announced that climate change has reached the point of no return, with the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere permanently passing the 400-parts-per-million threshold. Some people will tell you that this is a very real disaster of our own making. Others will tell you that the concept of global warming was a conspiracy created by the Chinese to make US manufacturing non-competitive. Other people will post angry messages on social media asking: Why doesnt everyone who is worked up about Harambe start getting worked up about climate change, which really matters! People have always enjoyed talking about the weather; it used to be a safe topic of conversation. Alas, this is no longer the case. Now if you tell someone Gosh, its got cold recently, there is a good chance they will reply with their unsolicited opinion on global warming. Which will lead you back to politics. Which will lead you back to the elections. There is really no escaping it, after all.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/commentisfree/2016/oct/02/bored-us-election-pumpkin-spice-lattes-fantasy-football