Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Robert De Niro on Trump's America: a 'tragic, dumbass comedy'

Extract from The Guardian

The actor hits out against the Trump administration in a speech at Brown University when receiving an honorary doctorate

‘You are graduating into a tragic, dumbass comedy’ … Robert De Niro.
‘You are graduating into a tragic, dumbass comedy’ … Robert De Niro. Photograph: Dado Ruvic/Reuters

Robert De Niro has said that the US has become a “tragic, dumbass comedy” under Donald Trump, and urged students to “work to stop the insanity” of his presidency. The actor made the comments during a commencement ceremony speech at Brown University in Rhode Island, where he was receiving an honorary doctorate of fine arts.
“When you started school, the country was an inspiring, uplifting drama,” he told students. “You are graduating into a tragic, dumbass comedy. My advice is to lock the [university’s] Van Wickle Gates and stay here.
“But if you do leave, work for the change. Work to stop the insanity. Start now so the class of 2018 will graduate into a better world.”

Watch Robert De Niro’s speech to Brown University students

Robert De Niro Says the U.S. Has Turned Into 'A Tragic Dumbass Comedy' | TIME   

De Niro has been highly critical of Trump since his election win last November. Earlier this month he said that the Trump administration had shown “mean-spiritedness” in its budget proposal, which advocated cutting arts funding. De Niro also suggested that Charlie Chaplin would not be allowed into the US today due to Trump’s strict immigration policy.
Before Trump’s election win, De Niro came under fire for saying he would like to punch him in the face. He later revised his comments, adding that he would have to “respect” the fact that Trump was president.

Robert De Niro: ‘I’d like to punch Donald Trump in the face’

The top five worst things Trump has done on climate change – so far

Extract from The Guardian
As the US president weighs up whether or not to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, we look at his most frightening actions on global warming

Donald Trump with other G7 leaders, including Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and German chancellor Angela Merkel, in Italy on 26 May. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

Oliver Milman
Wednesday 31 May 2017 17.00 AEST Last modified on Wednesday 31 May 2017 17.02 AEST

1. Nominating Scott Pruitt as EPA administrator

In March, Scott Pruitt infamously said about carbon dioxide that “I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see”, in contradiction to climate scientists, including those at his own agency. Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief has deep ties to fossil fuel interests and joined with them on numerous occasions to challenge EPA pollution rules while attorney general of Oklahoma. He has opined that the EPA has become distracted from its core mission by climate concerns and has begin the process of ripping up Obama-era emissions regulations.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt listens as Donald Trump speaks before signing the Waters of the United States executive order on 28 February. Photograph: Andrew Harnik/AP

2. All change at the EPA

Trump’s proposed budget would cut the EPA’s budget by nearly a third, a move that many Republicans have called draconian. Climate and clean energy programs are earmarked for the scrapheap, with even the data collection process for companies’ greenhouse gas emissions wound down. Climate considerations in federal permitting have been abolished, measures to reduce methane emissions have been halted and new standards to improve fuel efficiency of cars and trucks have been suspended.

A protester seeks shelter from the rain in front of the EPA during the Science March, in which thousands rallied in Washington. Photograph: Bill Clark/Getty Images

3. Starting the demolition of the Clean Power Plan

An executive order in March demanded a review of the Clean Power Plan in order to remove “regulatory burdens that unnecessarily encumber energy production”. Trump has repeatedly vowed to dismantle the plan, which aims to curb carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants. Several analyses have shown that without the plan, the US will fail to cut emissions to the level pledged at the Paris agreement.

Donald Trump makes remarks prior to signing an executive order that reversed Obama-era climate change policies. Photograph: Pool/Getty Images

4. Open up federal land and waters to drilling

Trump has instructed the interior department to review dozens of national monuments to see if they could be scrapped or resized to allow better access for oil and gas drilling. A moratorium on coal mining on federal land has been lifted while a bar on offshore drilling off the Atlantic coast is being reviewed. Trump’s budget also calls for drilling in the Arctic national refuge in Alaska, a plan that has dismayed environmentalists.

The two bluffs known as the ‘Bears Ears’. The newly created Bears Ears National Monument and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, are under review by the Trump administration. Photograph: George Frey/Getty Images

5. Approve pipelines

In one of his first acts of presidential pen wielding, Trump called for the rapid approval of the controversial Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines. The two oil-carrying projects are now pushing ahead, with the Dakota Access pipeline already registering its first leaks before it is even fully operational.

Pipes for the proposed Dakota Access oil pipeline, that would stretch from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois. Photograph: Nati Harnik/AP

'Trump's aid budget is breathtakingly cruel – cuts like these will kill people'

Humanitarian aid is about to be driven over a cliff, warns Obama’s former head of foreign disaster response, with a resurgence in HIV and other diseases likely

US aid
Sudanese workers offload US aid destined for South Sudan from the World Food Programme. The US State Department laid out plans on May 23 to slash Washington’s budget for diplomacy and foreign aid by more than 30%. Photograph: Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump’s new budget plans take particular aim at foreign aid spending, proposing an overall cut of 32% to all civilian foreign affairs spending. Facing extensive criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike for the budget’s draconian vision, Trump’s budget chief Mick Mulvaney defended the proposal by arguing it should be judged not “by how much money we spend, but by how many people we actually help.”
This is an admirably fair standard – because it perfectly illuminates the callousness and cruelty of the 2018 Trump aid budget. I have waded through the numbers and budget narrative released by the White House to see how the budget levels stack up against Mulvaney’s statement. It is not a pretty picture.
The White House justifies cuts of roughly $13.5bn with claims that global aid spending is imbalanced, and the US should roll back its spending to encourage others to do more. Global aid spending is imbalanced – but if anyone is falling short, it’s the US. The United States is the most generous global aid donor in absolute terms, but relative to the size of the American economy it’s less a case of “America First” than “America Twenty-Second”. As my colleagues at the Center for Global Development have pointed out, US aid spending already falls far short of the proportional contributions of most other rich countries in the world.
On the “money spent” side of the ledger, the foreign aid cuts yield negligible budgetary savings while pushing the US deeper into the bottom tier of wealthy aid donors. That’s bad enough, but the “people helped” side is where the real damage sets in. There’s more wreckage than can be covered in a single blogpost, but here is a sampling.
Humanitarian aid is one of the crown jewels of American foreign policy – US funding provides the backbone of global humanitarian response and saves millions of lives each year. The Trump administration proposes to drive it over a cliff – cutting nearly half the funding that Congress appropriated in 2017 and fully eliminating the principal food aid account. The budget documents attempt to wrap these cuts in a veneer of efficiency, claiming the US will purchase food aid more efficiently through a different budget line. Don’t be fooled. The proposal does not shift those resources; it eliminates the money completely. And it simultaneously cuts the budget line that it claims will cover food aid needs. This is not about stretching dollars further – it’s simply about getting rid of them.
@ThirdWayTweet @FP @USGLC Gratuitous cruelty: as world faces risk of (SSudan, Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia), budget *eliminates* humanitarian food aid account.
The human impact here is extraordinary. Food aid funding would drop from $3.5bn in 2017 – enough to feed 67 million people – to $1.5bn in 2018, enough to feed only 29 million. Beyond the food side, refugee assistance would be cut by nearly 20%. International disaster assistance, which covers the non-food needs of the world’s conflict and disaster victims, takes a massive hit as well – dropping from $2.5bn in the 2017 budget to $1bn in 2018.
Let’s not sugarcoat this: humanitarian aid is lifesaving assistance, so cuts like these will kill people. As the head of foreign disaster response for the Obama administration, I had to weigh up budget trade-offs every year, knowing that saving lives in one region meant we would save fewer elsewhere. But I never faced trade-offs this extreme. Laying waste to US relief aid would be hard to defend even if the world were in decent shape. But proposing this amidst the worst slate of humanitarian crises in recent decades is breathtakingly cruel. This budget would cut nearly $30m from food aid rolls even as aid groups struggle to hold off four potential famines. It would undermine refugee aid even as global refugee numbers hit peaks not seen since the second world war and new South Sudanese refugees flee their country by the tens of thousands. And it would obliterate funding for the health, clean water, nutrition, and shelter programs that keep victims of conflicts and natural disasters alive.
But that’s not all. Global health funding takes a huge hit as well. The Administration has tried to obscure this by claiming that it is shielding AIDS funding from debilitating cuts. Again, don’t be fooled. AIDS funding would be cut by a fifth, which would allow people currently receiving treatment to stay on their meds, but would dramatically reduce the number of new enrollees. Because the promise of treatment is an important incentive for HIV testing, these cuts would likely disrupt testing too. That means more people transmitting HIV unknowingly and eroding the hard won gains that have limited the spread of HIV over the past decade.
Incredibly, this is not even the worst news on the global health front. The budget proposal seeks to take a much bigger chunk out of non-HIV health programs – cutting their funding by half. These programmes work – they have brought polio to the brink of global eradication, helped reduce malaria deaths by more than half since 2000, vaccinated millions of children each year, and expanded access to basic health care. Cutting these programmes means more children dying of malaria, resurgence of preventable diseases like polio and measles, and many, many other deaths besides. By weakening public health systems, these cuts also increase vulnerability to major epidemic threats like Ebola and Zika.
Some proposed cuts are not merely cruel – they are self-defeating even by their own logic. The Administration seeks to completely eliminate funding for reproductive health and family planning. This is motivated by pique at abortion providers; but much of this funding actually supports contraception availability and safe childbirth practices. Eliminating these funds means thousands more mothers needlessly dying in childbirth. It also means a surge in unintended pregnancies, with the net effect likely to be more abortions, not fewer – as many as 3.3 million more per year, according to one estimate.
And the hits keep coming. President Trump tweeted last week that his visit with Pope Francis left him more determined than ever to “pursue PEACE in our world.” His budgeteers seem to have missed the memo: this budget would debilitate US support to global peace efforts even as it ramps up US military spending.
Trump budget proposal would cut back US aid funding for these disasters by 60%. 
UN peacekeepers protect the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable people – something I have witnessed firsthand during visits to UN Protection of Civilian camps in South Sudan. The POC sites provide protection to hundreds of thousands of ethnic minorities who would risk death if they stepped beyond the camps’ gates. While peacekeepers in South Sudan and elsewhere occasionally come in for criticism – some justified – there is ample evidence that peacekeeping deployments shorten conflicts, reduce harm to civilians, and help prevent conflicts from recurring. The Trump administration wants to cut US support for peacekeeping efforts by 40%.
The administration simultaneously seeks to shutter the US Institute for Peace, an independent federal institute created under President Reagan to promote peace and stability around the world. USIP has real impact – it mobilises seminal research and analysis through direct engagement in conflict zones. It has supported major peace negotiations and facilitated the famed Iraq Study Group that helped change the course of the Iraq war. It does all this on an annual budget that’s just bit more than a single replacement engine for an F-35 fighter jet.            
The Trump administration may not see the value in investing in peace, but these budget choices will just mean more people killed by conflict.
I could go on and on. I could talk about the debilitating cuts to global food security programming, which will all but guarantee more famine risks in the years ahead. I could talk about the wholesale elimination of Development Assistance funding, which supports basic education, economic development, clean water, and countless other interventions that improve millions of lives each year. I could talk about the zeroing out of the Food for Education program, which helps kids in extreme poverty stay in school by providing them with a simple daily meal.
But you get the picture. This budget will harm tens of millions of lives to save fractions of pennies. It is gratuitously cruel and unbecoming of the deep American traditions of helping those in need around the world. President Trump and his budget director should think hard about the standard they’ve expressed for themselves – and begin to refocus this budget on “actually helping” people.
Jeremy Konyndyk is a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development, and previously served in the Obama Administration as the director for Foreign Disaster Assistance at USAid.

Acland coal mine: Queensland Land Court recommends scrapping expansion

Extract from ABC News

Posted about an hour ago

Landholders and farmers in the Darling Downs are claiming a big win following a Land Court decision recommending the $900 million Stage 3 expansion of the New Acland Coal Mine be scrapped.
More than 60 property owners have been fighting the New Hope Group's proposed project since the State Government indicated support for it in 2012.
The expansion, which would see the mine produce coal for a further decade, was granted Federal Government approval earlier this year.
Opponents took the matter to the Land Court last year arguing the mine expansion would damage groundwater levels, air quality and prime agricultural land.
The case became the longest in Land Court history, with more than 100 days of hearings and 2,000 exhibits.
In a judgment today, the court recommended the Mining Leases and Environmental Authority amendment for Stage 3 not be granted for the proposed expansion.
Paul King from the Oakey Coal Action Alliance said it was a win for the region.
"The Land Court has recognised that the impact on our water supplies, our farm businesses and the health of our families are too severe," he said.
In his judgment, Land Court Member Paul Smith said he was satisfied air quality, noise and dust levels could be sufficiently managed and the economic benefits of the mine were likely to be significant, but he said the risks to groundwater were too great.
Landholder Noel Weick said his property had already been affected.
"We know that groundwater was under threat and the mine was going to draw our bores down considerably, that's not going to happen now thank goodness."

Government could still permit project

In a statement to the ASX, the New Hope Group said it remained committed to delivering the project and would actively progress it through the final stages of approval.
Michael Hartin from the CFMEU said the decision could cost hundreds of jobs.
"It's very disappointing, I'm certainly of the belief that the New Acland expansion is both commercially, financially and an environmentally sound project," he said
"There are 300 jobs now that face uncertainty, with over 1,000 proposed jobs that were going to go into construction."
The State Government is the final decision maker for the project and will need to decide whether to follow the court's recommendations or approve it regardless.
A spokeswoman said the Government was examining the court's judgment.

Adani: director on board that will consider $900m loan says project is 'vital'

Karla Way-McPhail, who runs mining labour and equipment companies, will not say whether she will recuse herself from Carmichael decision

Abbot Point
Adani is seeking a loan to build a train line from its proposed Carmichael mine to the expanded Abbot Point terminal near Bowen. Photograph: Alamy

A director of the independent board due to provide recommendations regarding a $900m taxpayer loan to Adani publicly declared she was “very supportive” of its “vital” coal project, a day after she was accused of allowing a perceived conflict of interest to develop.
Karla Way-McPhail, who runs mining labour and equipment hire companies, last week told a central Queensland newspaper that Adani’s Carmichael mine project would be “a huge boost” for the region.
“We’re very supportive and have been in the industry over 20 years and think it’s vital to the economic platform of central Queensland and we think we really need to see the Galilee [basin] opened,” she told the Morning Bulletin in Rockhampton in a story published last Friday.
Way-McPhail sits on the independent board of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (Naif), which will make investment recommendations, including whether to grant the loan to Adani.
Final approval for a Naif loan rests with the minister for Northern Australia, Matthew Canavan, and Naif has said its board members are aware of their conflict-of-interest obligations. It is unclear whether Way-McPhail plans to recuse herself from any decisions.

The Morning Bulletin article did not refer to Way-McPhail’s $56,150-a-year role on the board.
A day before the article appeared, Environmental Justice Australia had written to Naif raising questions about Way-McPhail’s alleged conflict of interest as the chief executive of Undamine, which supplies labour and machinery to coalmines, and Coal Train Australia, a mining training company.
“There is a perception that Ms Way-McPhail could gain an advantage if either project were to proceed,” EJA said.

Asked by Guardian Australia if her public support for the Adani mine compromised perceptions of her independence, Way-McPhail said: “Due to confidentiality and privacy obligations I am unable to make comment or respond.”
A Naif official did not answer EJA questions about whether Way-McPhail had received any internal information about the Adani proposal, whether she had been present for board discussions or had been included in other correspondence about them. The same was true for questions about Aurizon, which has also approached Naif with a loan proposal to support the construction of a rail line to open up thermal coalmining in the Galilee basin.
Adani’s proposed $900m Naif loan is to build a line connecting its Abbot Point coal port, near Bowen, to its Carmichael mine, hundreds of kilometres inland. The terms of both proposed loans are unknown.
Naif would not say whether Way-McPhail planned to recuse herself from any decision on Adani or Aurizon.
EJA also raised questions around Annabelle Chaplain, who sits on the board of the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation (Efic), which advises Naif. Chaplain also sits on the board of and owns shares in Downer EDI, which has provisional contracts worth up to $2bn with Adani, including to build its mine.
John Hopkins, the Efic board secretary, told EJA in response that no Efic directors to date had “any need to recuse themselves from discussions at the Efic Board concerning the Naif”.
This was because the Efic Board was “not required to have, nor does it have, any actual knowledge of the projects that NAIF is considering”, Hopkins said.
Efic was a “service provider” to Naif and “not the decision maker” on “specific transactions” made by the Naif board.
Efic also said its directors were aware of their conflict-of-interest obligations.

A spokeswoman for Canavan said Naif’s conflict-of-interest policy required directors to “declare their interests and recuse themselves from discussions if there is a conflict of interest”.
“There is no suggestion the NAIF has not properly adhered to these requirements,” she said.
On Monday the deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, said the conflict-of-interest allegations would be investigated.
“If there’s a claim that there’s a conflict of interest and the conflict of interest is against the law, then of course we’re going to check that out.”
The Queensland government has ruled out acting as a “middleman” for Naif by distributing funds to Adani, after it promised at the last election not to give taxpayer support to the project.
EJA has suggested the commonwealth may not be able to legally lend directly to Adani but the state treasurer, Curtis Pitt, said his government would not stand in the way of the loan.

John McCain urges action on Great Barrier Reef and Paris climate deal

Speaking in Sydney, US senator says he is ‘afraid about what the world is going to look like for our children’

A diver checking bleached coral on the Great Barrier Reef – around half has now been bleached.
 A diver checking bleached coral on the Great Barrier Reef – around half has now been bleached. Photograph: STR/AFP/Getty Images

The death of the Great Barrier Reef is one of the “great tragedies of our lives”, US senator John McCain has said, arguing America should uphold its commitment to the Paris climate agreement, or accede to it with minor modifications.
Speaking in Sydney on Tuesday night, the veteran politician and former Republican party presidential candidate said climate change was undeniably real and that it was incumbent upon world leaders to act now to halt and reverse global warming.
“I think that climate change is real. I think that one of the great tragedies of our lives is the Great Barrier Reef dying [and] the environmental consequences of that,” he said.
The position of the world’s second-largest carbon emitter on the Paris climate change agreement is uncertain and a subject of global speculation. US commitment to reducing emissions or otherwise could have significant ramifications for other countries upholding their promised reductions.
Donald Trump has said he will announce this week whether the US will uphold the Paris carbon reduction commitments it agreed to in 2015, under his predecessor Barack Obama.
How did the Great Barrier Reef reach ‘terminal stage’?
McCain said he wanted to see America remain in the Paris accord. “I would like to see us ... either accept the agreements as were made by the Obama administration or suggest modifications which would make it palatable for us and acceptable to us to join.
“If we don’t address this issue, I am very much afraid about what the world is going to look like for our children and grandchildren.”
Climate change caused unprecedented back-to-back mass bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 on the Great Barrier Reef, killing almost half of its coral.
The federal and Queensland’s governments’ two-year-old plan to protect the reef until 2050 is reportedly already redundant because the impacts of climate change are far more severe than predicted.
Recent surveys have found bleaching is significantly worse than predicted, with more than 70% of shallow-water coral north of Port Douglas killed last year.
McCain was in Australia as a guest of the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney. In a wide-ranging speech he conceded that the Trump administration was mired in scandal, but urged America’s allies to stand by the US as it navigated troubled times.
He said America’s reputation had suffered in the early months of Trump’s presidency as scandals over ties to Russia, nepotism, FBI investigations and foundering relations with other world leaders have rocked the administration with crippling consistency.
John McCain: ‘Putin is world’s most important threat’ – video
“We are going through a rough period,” McCain said. “We really are, and for me to tell you that we aren’t, politically, is not fair. But we’ve gone through other troubled times. I can remember Watergate scandal and how it brought down a president. I’m not suggesting that’s going to happen to this president, but we are in a scandal, and every few drops another shoe drops from this centipede, and we’ve got to get through that.”
McCain said observers of the US must look beyond the president.

“Our foreign friends always tend to focus on the person in the White House. But America is far bigger than that. America is our courts of justice. America is our state and local governments. America is our Congress.”

Adani reaches mine royalty agreement with Queensland government

Extract from The Guardian

Indian mining giant says coalmine project is back on track after agreement with Palaszczuk government

Adani has agreed a mining royalties deal with Annastacia Palaszczuk’s Queensland government.
 Adani has agreed a mining royalties deal with Annastacia Palaszczuk’s Queensland government. Photograph: Sonia Kohlbacher/AAP

Adani has agreed to a new royalties deal with the Queensland government, weeks after an earlier proposal was junked amid internal uproar that it gave the Carmichael coal project too much taxpayer support.
On Friday, ministers attended a snap cabinet meeting and agreed a royalties “holiday” for Adani’s $16bn project, Australia’s biggest proposed coal mine, would be wound back.

On Tuesday evening, Adani announced it had agreed to a deal, which “met its expectations and requirements”. “The royalties arrangement means the project is back on track to generate 10,000 direct and indirect jobs in regional Queensland,” the company said in a statement.

  Fact v fiction: Adani's Carmichael coal mine – video explainer
Adani on Tuesday said the mine in its first phase would involve production of 25m tonnes of thermal coal a year, and a 388km rail line to haul it to the company-owned Abbot Point port. The mine would then ramp up to 60m tonnes a year, making it one of the biggest in the world. Environmental campaigners and scientists are concerned about the impact of carbon emissions from its coal, which will be equivalent to some of the world’s biggest carbon-polluting countries.
The port, near Bowen in north Queensland, and near the Great Barrier Reef marine park, would be expanded from a capacity of 50m tonnes a year to 120m tonnes a year in the mine’s later phase, Adani said.
It said the board of its Indian parent company would make a “final investment decision” at its next meeting, understood to be within weeks.
That would be the trigger for what the company has flagged would be $100m to $400m of preliminary works. But the deadline for financial close, the securing of bank backing to build the mine and rail to haul coal to the coast, is early 2018.
It’s understood Adani would need to pay at least $5m a year for the first five years of production under the new deal, with interest charged on anything owed to the state above that.

The previous proposal involved payments of $2m a year, and reportedly could see the state belatedly seeking to claw back up to $320m forgone in the early years.
Adani’s billionaire chairman, Gautam Adani, personally thanked the Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, “and the elected members of the state for their continued support to make this happen”.
“I also wish to thank the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and opposition leader, Bill Shorten, for their support for the changes to the native title bill,” Adani said.
The company said Shorten has assured it of Labor support for the native title changes to stop a legal precedent that would have killed off its crucial land access deal with mine site traditional owners.
That deal remains the subject of legal challenges by an anti-Adani faction of the Wangan and Jagalingou owners, which are set to run until at least October.
The Palaszczuk government announced on Saturday it would not act as “middle man” for a $900m Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility loan to Adani, its cabinet ruling this was in line with an election promise not to give taxpayer support to the miner.

On Monday, Barnaby Joyce condemned the refusal, telling the ABC there was a “big, big issue there” with state Labor.

'A good friend in the White House': how Texas became Trump's frontline

Hardline immigration and adoption laws have passed, a ‘bathroom bill’ could be next – the Lone Star state is now a laboratory for White House policy priorities

Donald Trump speaks in Dallas during his campaign for president. ‘Trumpism is, to some degree, Texas Republicanism gone national.’
Donald Trump speaks in Dallas during his campaign for president. ‘Trumpism is, to some degree, Texas Republicanism gone national.’ Photograph: Mike Stone/Reuters

Like many other teenagers, Karla Perez eagerly awaited her 16th birthday and the chance to pass her driving test. The driving school told her to bring her social security card to class, so she asked her mother for it.
“She said I didn’t have one, and that’s when she explained it to me,” Perez recalled. She was not a US citizen but an undocumented immigrant. Her parents, seeking a better life, brought her to Houston from Mexico City when she was two. They never discussed her status, thinking that by her mid-teens she would have a green card through an American grandparent.
Perez gave up on the idea of driving – quite a hardship in such a car-centric city. But as she pursued her ambition of going to law school, she was grateful for a benefit unusual in such a deep-red state: the right to pay tuition at the same rate charged to legal Texas residents. Without it, her degree might have been unaffordable.
Then came the election of Donald Trump last November and the start of the Texas legislature’s 2017 session two months later.
The same state that introduced the tuition law 16 years earlier, the place with an estimated 1.7m unauthorised immigrants, passed a hardline measure known as SB4 that compels local law enforcement to work with federal immigration authorities to hand over migrants for potential deportation, in effect banning “sanctuary cities”. The White House would like to do the same nationwide.
“It was definitely not a surprise to see after the elections how the Republican party has been emboldened to take extreme measures to vilify and criminalise immigrants,” Perez said last week. “They are very much emboldened by what’s happening at the national level. They’re carrying out Trump’s deportation agenda.”
Perez was one of hundreds who protested against SB4 at the Texas statehouse in Austin on Monday, amid scenes of mayhem on the floor of the house of representatives.
Matt Rinaldi, a Republican, said he called Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) in response to the presence of demonstrators holding “I am illegal and here to stay” signs. Ramon Romero, a Democratic representative, reportedly quoted Rinaldi as saying: “Fuck them, I called Ice.”
Rinaldi claimed he was threatened by Democratic representatives and assaulted by Romero, who denied the accusation. Rinaldi said he asserted that if a Democratic member, Alfonso “Poncho” Nevarez, made good on a pledge to “get him” when he left the chamber: “I would shoot him in self-defence.”
Nevarez said on Twitter that Rinaldi was “a liar and hateful man”.
The loss of decorum in a hyper-partisan atmosphere recalled the excesses of Trump’s anything-goes presidential campaign. At a gun range on Friday, the Republican governor, Greg Abbott signed a bill into law that reduces the cost of a handgun license. With a Trumpesque level of regard for the media, he joked about shooting reporters.

‘Texas was ahead of the curve’

There are similarities in policy-making as well as posturing. The country’s most populous Republican-led state is a laboratory for the kind of extreme rightwing positions on cultural touchstones that helped propel Trump to power.
“Whatever direction you see the curve bending, Texas was ahead of the curve,” said Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas.
“Trumpism is, to some degree, Texas Republicanism gone national. [Lieutenant Governor] Dan Patrick was kind of where Trump was before Trump was there, in terms of thinking about conservative populism built around nativism and catering to Republican primary voters’ preoccupation with immigration and border security.”

Dan Patrick speaks at the Texas Republican Convention in May 2016.
Dan Patrick speaks at the Texas Republican Convention in May 2016. Photograph: LM Otero/AP

Patrick is a radio show host who became lieutenant governor in 2015. He was also the state chairman of the 2016 Trump campaign. “We have a good friend in the White House,” he declared on election night.
Monday was the last scheduled day of the Texas legislative session. But Patrick forced a stand-off over his demand to pass a “bathroom bill” limiting access for transgender people that may yet see a special session called by Abbott.
A compromise measure applying only to public schools was set to pass earlier this month – but to the frustration of the dwindling number of GOP moderates, it was too diluted for Patrick’s taste. “It’s absurd that bathroom bills have taken on greater urgency than fixing our school finance system,” Joe Straus, the speaker of the house, told reporters.
What remaining middle ground there was has crumbled. When SB4 was debated on the house floor, Republicans refused to accept amendments offered by Democrats to limit its scope, instead making it tougher by allowing officers to check the immigration status of anyone they merely detain, as well as arrest. The first line of the bill notes that it applies to agencies including “campus police departments”. Places of learning are not safe havens.
One of the most passionate voices against the bill belonged to Gene Wu, a Democratic representative from Houston who was born in China.
“I think having Trump in the White House made a big difference,” Wu said. “I think the anti-immigrant wing of the Republican party has been emboldened, the racists and the bigots have sort of been given free rein to do and say what they want and push their agenda harder.
“Some of it is that in Texas, it never went away. The problem is that now it’s come … to a head as an issue among the Republican party that is harder and harder for those moderates and people that are rational to basically hold it back.”
Statewide elections in Texas are so uncompetitive – Democrats last won one in 1994 – that Republican primaries are all-important. Long before Trump’s ascent, that resulted in bombastic rhetoric and ideological law-making to appeal to a relatively small base with a strong Tea Party inflection.
Like the president, the Texas GOP is feeding a sense of grievance. Polls last June for the Texas Politics Project showed many Republican respondents felt Christians endure more discrimination than Muslim, African American, Hispanic, transgender, gay or lesbian people, and believe white people are among society’s most victimised groups.
Despite the political and economic fallout endured by North Carolina when it passed a “bathroom bill” limiting access for transgender people last year, Patrick made a similar law one of his top priorities, over the objections of state business boosters. Proponents were given a lift in February when the Trump administration rescinded federal guidelines telling schools students should use facilities corresponding with their gender identity.
The “bathroom bill” is not the only proposal that has alarmed LGBTQ advocates. Andy Delony and his husband, Brendan Robert, live in Austin. They married in Massachusetts in 2005 and formally adopted four children from troubled backgrounds in 2010, in a relatively smooth process.
“They’ve gone from barely functional to absolutely brilliant, all of them,” Delony said. But he and Robert now worry that gay Texans, among others, could find it harder to adopt after state lawmakers passed a so-called religious freedom bill that supporters say provides valuable legal protection but critics argue will make it easier for agencies to reject potential parents based on “sincerely held religious beliefs”.
“This bill will restrict the number of homes available to children and it will definitely restrict the number of agencies that will serve children who are non-traditional in either religion or gender or sexuality,” Delony said.
His eldest son, Andy Delony-Robert, 19, who is bisexual, is preparing to attend New York University. He said his adoptive family was “one of the best things that could have come my way.” He believes the presidential executive order “promoting free speech and religious liberty” that Trump signed on 4 May encouraged Texas to pass the foster care and adoption law.
“That opened the door,” he said. “If I were to enter into a same-sex relationship and go to adopt, this law would have a chance of preventing me from doing so … The idea that I could just be rejected for who I am is appalling and terrifying to me.”

‘The antithesis of the Obama model’

If Trump’s ascent has afforded rightwingers increased license to pass conservative laws, it is also forcing a strategic adjustment. Abbott, the governor, described his previous job as attorney general as: “I go into the office, I sue the federal government, and I go home.”
“There was a very active effort among many Republican legislators to locate Texas as the antithesis of the Obama model,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University. “And so if the Obama administration did one thing, you were trying to pass legislation or a resolution that did the opposite.”
In contrast, Jones said: “Trump poses some difficulties for Republicans since while they agree with him more in policy than President Obama, they also have lost one of their best foils to use to campaign against Democratic candidates here in Texas.”
Instead of aiming at Washington, such candidates have turned their sights inwards, to the state’s biggest cities. Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin all lean Democratic. The original “bathroom bill” proposal would have superseded local non-discrimination ordinances. And when the Austin-area sheriff, Sally Hernandez, said in January that she would pursue only limited co-operation with federal immigration officers, Abbott went on the offensive, threatening to oust her and cutting $1.5m in grant money to Travis County.
The obsession with immigration is so pronounced that amid a budget squeeze because of a downturn in the oil industry, and facing a number of pressing social problems, the Texas legislature still voted to put its money where Trump’s mouth is and allocate $800m in funding for border security, which is a federal responsibility.
It did the same in 2015, citing the Obama administration’s supposed fecklessness on the issue. The fresh money comes even though Trump has, of course, pledged to build a wall along the southern border and massively increase funding for the Department of Homeland Security. But $3m was not forthcoming to help victims of sex trafficking, the Texas Tribune reported.
As for clearing the state’s backlog of thousands of rape kits? The legislature is happy to pay – via crowdfunding, that is.

The pushback

Kayla Perez is a law student and beneficiary of Daca.

Kayla Perez is a law student and beneficiary of Daca. Photograph: Tom Dart/the Guardian
As at the national level, Texas liberals are retaliating via the courts. The state that relished suing the federal government is set to be on the receiving end of a deluge of litigation: abortion rights groups are expected to battle efforts to curtail access and several lawsuits have already been filed against SB4.
Now 24, Perez, the student, is a member of United We Dream, an immigrant youth rights group. She has one more year of law school at the University of Houston and aims to become an immigration attorney representing women and children survivors of crimes.
She is also a Dreamer, a beneficiary of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca), the Obama-era deportation deferral programme with an uncertain future that gives her a precarious legal status – and the right to get behind the wheel. She is worried nonetheless that under SB4, if she is ever stopped by police she could be detained as they examine her background.
Perez is fighting for a more compassionate climate. On Monday’s evidence, there is a long way to go.
“Those of us who benefited [from Daca] will refuse to be forced back to … a place of shame and fear that I used to have,” she said.
“Can’t go back.”