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  • Koch-funded groups mount PR and media campaign to fight carbon pricing

    Worried about momentum for carbon taxes, climate deniers go on attack via right-wing media

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters  

    A coalition of right-wing organizations is waging a multilayered attack to erode growing support for carbon pricing. Most of the groups involved have been funded by the Koch network or other fossil fuel interests.

    Several different carbon-pricing mechanisms -- variously backed by groups of progressives, Democrats, establishment Republicans, or business interests -- are being proposed at the state and national level. To counter these initiatives, the right-wing coalition is running a public relations campaign featuring industry-friendly arguments and climate denial. Their advocacy includes exerting direct pressure on lawmakers to oppose carbon-pricing initiatives and placing op-eds in right-wing and mainstream media publications.

    The basics of carbon pricing  

    A carbon price is a cost attached to emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, intended to reduce those emissions. According to the World Bank, there are two main ways to price carbon:

    An ETS [emissions trading system] — sometimes referred to as a cap-and-trade system — caps the total level of greenhouse gas emissions and allows those industries with low emissions to sell their extra allowances to larger emitters. By creating supply and demand for emissions allowances, an ETS establishes a market price for greenhouse gas emissions. The cap helps ensure that the required emission reductions will take place to keep the emitters (in aggregate) within their pre-allocated carbon budget.

    A carbon tax directly sets a price on carbon by defining a tax rate on greenhouse gas emissions or — more commonly — on the carbon content of fossil fuels. It is different from an ETS in that the emission reduction outcome of a carbon tax is not predefined but the carbon price is.

    Some 45 countries and 25 states, provinces, and other subnational regions have implemented some variation of carbon pricing, including California and the nine Northeastern states that are part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

    Momentum is building for carbon-pricing policies

    Carbon pricing has almost no chance of being implemented on the national level anytime soon. The last serious push came early during the Obama administration when the U.S. House passed a cap-and-trade bill in 2009, but it died in the Senate in 2010.

    President Donald Trump opposes carbon pricing, as do the vast majority of Republican members of Congress. Nevertheless, the approach is gaining traction at the state level, and a growing number of business interests and establishment Republicans are promoting carbon-pricing proposals at the national level.

    • The Climate Leadership Council -- which is composed of a number of influential conservatives, including former Secretaries of State James Baker and George Schulz, and major oil companies and other corporations -- is one of the most prominent organizations advocating for carbon pricing. It launched in 2017 with the release of a report, “The Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends.” Its proposal is known as the Baker-Shultz Carbon Dividends Plan.
    • In June, a new political action committee, Americans for Carbon Dividends, was launched to build support for the Baker-Shultz plan. It is co-chaired by former Sens. Trent Lott (R-MS) and John Breaux (D-LA), who both represented oil states.
    • Other conservative groups that support carbon pricing include republicEn and R Street.
    • Conservative thinkers who have endorsed carbon pricing or called for it to be given serious consideration include Weekly Standard editor at large Bill Kristol, New York Times columnist David Brooks, the Cato Institute's Peter Van Doren, and American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Aparna Mathur, among many others.
    • The nonpartisan Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which advocates for a carbon fee and dividend proposal, has a conservative caucus and counts Shultz and former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC) as members of its advisory board.
    • Six House Republicans recently exhibited openness to carbon taxes by voting against an anti-carbon-tax resolution. Two years ago, no Republicans voted against a similar resolution.
    • Two House Republicans are pushing a carbon-tax bill. Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), a member of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, introduced the Market Choice Act on July 23. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) is the bill's co-sponsor.
    • A few congressional Democrats are also pushing carbon-pricing bills: Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and David Cicilline (D-RI) have introduced the American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act, and Rep. John Larson (D-CT) has introduced the America Wins Act.
    • More than a dozen states have taken serious strides toward enacting a carbon price. Legislators in eight states have introduced carbon-pricing legislation in 2018 alone: Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Washington. In June, the Massachusetts Senate passed a carbon-pricing bill, which now goes before the state House. 
    • In January, nine states -- Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington -- formed the Carbon Costs Coalition, which is advocating for carbon pricing.
    • At the December 2017 One Planet summit held in France, two states -- California and Washington -- joined five Pacific Rim countries -- Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Mexico -- in committing to implement carbon pricing.

    Although some of the more conservative, oil-industry-backed carbon-tax plans are opposed by progressives, and the more progressive plans are opposed by conservatives and the oil industry, they all have one foe in common -- the Koch-backed anti-carbon-pricing coalition.

    Alex Flint, the executive director of the Alliance for Market Solutions, a group of conservative leaders who support carbon pricing, said in April, “Those who oppose a carbon tax are rallying their defenses for a reason: they see supporters gaining momentum.”

    A right-wing campaign against carbon pricing ramps up

    On July 19, the U.S. House voted 229 to 180 to approve a nonbinding resolution opposing a carbon tax, largely along party lines. Six Republicans voted against it, and seven Democrats voted for it. The anti-carbon-pricing coalition helped to make sure almost all Republicans were on the "yes" side.

    The measure had been introduced on April 26 by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), House majority whip and possible contender for House speaker, and Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) -- both climate deniers. The “sense of the House” resolution declared that “a carbon tax would be detrimental to American families and businesses, and is not in the best interest of the United States,” and it garnered 48 co-sponsors total. (Scalise had previously sponsored anti-carbon-tax measures in 2013 and 2016.)

    On the day the resolution was introduced, the leaders of more than 25 right-wing and industry lobbying groups released a letter calling on members of Congress to support it. "We oppose any carbon tax," the letter read (emphasis in original). On July 9, many of these same groups sent a follow-up letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) urging them to hold a vote on Scalise’s resolution. Groups sent one more letter to members of Congress on July 17, two days before the vote.

    The influential right-wing group Americans for Tax Reform, which signed onto all three letters, put out its own call for representatives to vote yes.

    Altogether, 51 groups signed at least one of the letters in favor of Scalise's resolution:

    At least 42 of the 51 groups (82 percent) have received money from the Koch network, a conglomerate of fossil fuel executives, donors, think tanks, and advocacy groups that work to advance the right-wing deregulatory and anti-environment objectives of the Koch brothers and their company, Koch Industries. Scalise is a recipient of Koch money too: In 2017 and 2018, KochPAC, a political action committee that represents Koch Industries, gave $105,000 to Scalise and to a PAC and leadership fund he runs.

    Koch Industries also weighed in directly in support of Scalise’s resolution by sending a letter to members of the House on July 16.

    The Koch brothers have waged a multimillion-dollar crusade to undermine acceptance of climate change and support for climate change solutions since the mid-2000s. Starting in 2008, the Kochs' main political advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity, cajoled hundreds of elected officials, including many congressional Republicans, into signing its influential “No Climate Tax" pledge. “The pledge marked a pivotal turn in the climate-change debate, cementing Republican opposition to addressing the environmental crisis,” Jane Mayer wrote in The New Yorker last year.

    Right-wing groups' arguments against carbon pricing often feature the Kochs' libertarian talking points or straight-up climate-change denial.

    For example, the American Energy Alliance makes vague free-market arguments in a piece on its website titled “ICYMI: There’s Nothing Conservative About a Carbon Tax”:

    Simply calling something “conservative” or “free-market” doesn’t make it so. The Climate Leadership Council’s carbon tax is an affront to the principles that conservatives have championed for decades. Most important, a carbon tax would destroy American jobs, encourage more wasteful spending from Washington, and burden consumers with higher energy costs. You’d be hard pressed to find a more damaging policy for American families.

    The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a Koch-funded think tank that argued Scalise’s resolution understates the harm of carbon pricing, denied the well-established scientific consensus around human-caused climate change in its April 30 white paper, “Does a Carbon Tax Support Prosperity?”:

    There remain questionable fundamental issues about the way carbon dioxide affects the climate. Observed temperatures by sophisticated technologies greatly and consistently conflict with today’s widely accepted, although highly questionable, scientific consensus about the effects humans have on climate change.

    Conservative and right-wing media amplify the anti-carbon-tax campaign

    In the days after Scalise’s resolution was introduced, it was covered in the right-wing and conservative mediasphere and praised in op-eds by commentators from right-wing think tanks.

    • The Hill published an op-ed supporting the resolution, written by the authors of the Texas Public Policy Foundation's anti-carbon-tax white paper.
    • RealClearPolicy published an op-ed opposing carbon taxes in general, written by a researcher from the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
    • The Washington Examiner ran an op-ed from a Heartland Institute senior fellow praising the resolution and contending that a carbon tax would be "disastrous."

    Conservative outlets continued to publish anti-carbon-pricing opinion pieces from Koch-funded think tanks up until the House voted on Scalise's resolution.

    • TribTalk, a publication of The Texas Tribune, published an op-ed denouncing carbon taxes that was co-written by an author of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s white paper and a senior economist at the Institute for Energy Research. The latter is a Koch-funded partner group of the American Energy Alliance.  
    • RealClearEnergy ran an op-ed by staffers from the Texas Public Policy Foundation and ALEC that incorporated many of the white paper’s talking points.
    • The Daily Signal published an opinion piece co-written by an analyst and an intern from the Heritage Foundation that promoted Scalise's resolution and denounced the Baker-Shultz plan.
    • The Washington Examiner published an op-ed from Americans for Tax Reform’s director of strategic initiatives that endorsed the Scalise resolution.

    After Scalise’s resolution passed, anti-carbon-pricing groups took a brief victory lap before quickly turning their attention toward attacking Curbelo’s carbon-tax bill.

    • The Daily Caller wrote about Americans for Tax Reform’s press conference, highlighting opposition to Curbelo’s proposal: "Conservative and anti-tax groups from around the world joined together to speak against a carbon tax bill that has been introduced in Congress." 
    • Reason published an article contending that Curbelo’s bill could raise privacy concerns for businesses.
    • The Miami Herald published a letter to the editor attacking Curbelo’s legislation from the president of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a group that has sided with polluters in other fights over environmental issues.
    • The Washington Examiner published an op-ed co-written by staffers from the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Taxpayers Protection Alliance that argued Curbelo's bill would be "a costly failure."
    • Forbes published a piece attacking carbon-pricing proponents written by an executive for Americans for Tax Reform.
    • CNSNews published an op-ed from a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute that bashed Curbelo's bill.
    • The Star Beacon, an Ohio newspaper, published an op-ed from the president of American Commitment condemning Curbelo’s bill.
    • The Washington Examiner published an opinion piece by an analyst from the Family Business Coalition that attacked progressives’ “delusional tax reform ideas,” including proposals for a carbon tax.

    Anti-carbon-pricing coalition enlists minority groups in its campaign

    The anti-carbon-pricing coalition is also trying to make it look like its effort has the support of minority communities -- a strategy the polluter lobby has used often. The National Black Chamber of Commerce and the Hispanic Leadership Fund, two Koch-funded minority groups with long histories of opposing climate solutions, were enlisted as signatories on the coalition's letters endorsing Scalise's anti-carbon-tax resolution.

    National Black Chamber President Harry C. Alford gave a quote to Scalise to support his resolution: “We can continue to reduce regulations and watch our economy rise with the recent tax reform. Bringing unnecessary hurdles before us like a carbon tax will preclude that growth and hurt our economy immensely.” Alford, a climate denier, has previously opposed the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to impose smog restrictions on factories and power plants and to reduce carbon emissions from coal plants through the Clean Power Plan. The National Black Chamber of Commerce also led a disinformation campaign against rooftop solar in Florida in 2016.

    The Hispanic Leadership Fund participated in Americans for Tax Reform's press conference criticizing Curbelo's bill. In 2015, the fund joined with other Koch-aligned groups in asking a federal judge to vacate the Clean Power Plan. In 2009, it co-sponsored a Heartland Institute conference on climate change, which was based on the premise that “Global Warming is Not a Crisis.”

    The Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is also part of the anti-carbon-tax effort. Its president wrote a letter to the editor of the Miami Herald opposing Curbelo’s legislation. In 2016, the group supported a utility-backed ballot measure designed to restrict consumer access to rooftop solar power in Florida.

    These efforts are especially harmful because minority and low-income communities suffer disproportionately from the burning of fossil fuels and the impacts of climate change and minorities are generally more concerned about climate change than white people. 

    Taking the fight to the states

    Curbelo’s bill won’t be passed into law by this Congress, and the Baker-Shultz Carbon Dividends Plan and other national carbon-pricing proposals won’t get much if any traction this year either. But in a number of states, carbon-pricing measures are gathering more support and have more chance of being enacted. The right-wing, anti-carbon-pricing coalition wants to halt this trend, so it's at work on the state level too. Media Matters will examine these state-focused efforts in a forthcoming piece.

  • Right-wing media’s latest pathetic attempts to smear Google as leftist radicals

    The two latest conservative “scandals” about Google actually have innocuous explanations, but that’s never stopped right-wing media from making dishonest “censorship” claims before, and it won’t now either

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Conservatives are using a pair of stories about Google search results to pile onto their claims that the tech company is intrinsically biased against conservatives. This claim is farcical nonsense, and it fits perfectly into a right-wing pattern of playing technology companies for fools with misleading or completely false accusations. 

    On May 31, Vice reported that Google search results for the California Republican Party listed “Nazism” as the party’s ideology in the knowledge panel, a section on the right side of the search page that quickly summarizes basic information on search queries. Then, on June 1, Vice also reported that the knowledge panel for North Carolina State Sen. Trudy Wade, a Republican, featured an image of her with “BIGOT” written at the bottom in red letters. Google has corrected both of these issues with its knowledge panels, which are automatically populated with information from a number of sources, some of which, like Wikipedia, anybody can edit any time. 

    Right-wing media predictably cry that Google has an anti-conservative bias

    Conservative media are using these stories to smear Google as a left-wing operative determined to take down Republicans. Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade repurposed an argument from the Hoover Institute’s Niall Ferguson to suggest that Silicon Valley was upset at the Trump campaign’s prolific use of social media during the 2016 election and was trying to tilt the midterm elections for the Democrats. Fox’s Stuart Varney lied about the Trudy Wade image, falsely claiming that “a Google staffer put a ‘bigot’ sign” on Wade’s photo. Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel said the California Republican Party search result showed that “evidence is mounting that conservative voices are either being suppressed” or “being falsely depicted as hateful extremists” on Google. And Breitbart News scandalized Wikipedia’s relationship with the knowledge panel, claiming that Wikipedia allegedly has a pro-CNN bias. 

    Members of Congress even got involved in the reactionary pile-on. House intelligence committee chairman and all-around embarrassment Devin Nunes (R-CA) told Fox Business that “we [would] have to move obviously to hearings on these issues” if Google continued to “get involved in politics” and “censor conservatives and Republicans.” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) suggested to MSNBC’s Hugh Hewitt that Google lied when it blamed the “Nazism” search result on Wikipedia, because he had “looked at Wikipedia” earlier “and it didn’t say ‘Nazism’” anywhere. 

    The right wing’s claims of bias are dishonest bullshit 

    As Google explained at the time, Nazism appeared in the California Republican Party knowledge panel because Google pulled the information from the party’s Wikipedia page, which had been “vandalized,” meaning it was deliberately incorrectly updated. Wired magazine reported that Wikipedia edit logs confirm that a user falsely edited the page to show “Nazism” as a core belief for the state party and that the note went undetected on the site for a week. It appeared on the Google knowledge panel because the search engine automatically “scrapes” Wikipedia to populate the feature. The edit logs might explain why McCarthy didn’t see “Nazism” on the page when he looked: The story broke on May 31 and he tweeted about it the same day, but Wikipedia had removed the “Nazism” claim from the California Republican Party page the day before

    Similarly, with Trudy Wade, Google removed the “bigot” image from her knowledge panel as soon as the issue was brought to its attention, but the search engine told her that she needed to ask the owner of the image to “take down or update the content” in order to completely remove it from search results. Wade complained during an appearance on the Sunday, June 3, edition of Fox & Friends Weekend that the image was still up, Matt Comer -- a North Carolina LGBTQ activist who first posted the image -- tweeted that Wade never contacted him, suggesting she is more interested in media hits than in actually getting the image removed.

    Furthermore, Paul Blest at Splinter News followed the money and found -- shockingly! -- that Google actually likes Republicans, especially Rep. McCarthy. For the 2016 and 2018 election cycles, political donations to Google’s PAC were split roughly evenly between Republicans and Democrats; in fact, Republicans got a bit more in 2016 than Democrats did. Additionally, McCarthy was one of the Google PAC’s “biggest recipients” in 2016 and got $10,000 in 2016 and another $5,000 in 2018 so far.

    Dishonest bullshit is the right wing’s trade, and business is booming

    As Media Matters has documented for over a decade, right-wing media outlets are expert traders in bullshit, and that trend has not slowed in the age of social media. Most recently, this trend has manifested itself with pro-Trump websites claiming the algorithmic changes at Facebook are censoring their content -- a charge pro-Trump social media figures Lynette “Diamond” Hardaway and Rochelle “Silk” Richardson are leading, while occasionally betraying their profound ignorance

    However, users across the political spectrum have seen their Facebook page views decline since the platform rolled out new rules against fake news and hate speech. In Diamond and Silk’s specific case, the drop in their video views was not even as significant as that of the left-leaning MSNBC prime-time program The Rachel Maddow Show, which “has a much larger [Facebook] page and is the most popular cable news program in the country.” 

    None of these facts have remotely slowed down Diamond and Silk’s quest to gain attention for their invented grievance. They push their deceit on Fox News and the network actively helps them spread lies about so-called “censorship.” They even brought their perjurious carnival show to the U.S. Congress. Republicans repeatedly asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about this alleged “censorship,” and the focus on the two vloggers took time and attention away from more serious issues Zuckerberg perhaps should have discussed with elected leaders.

    Compounding this problem is Google’s reliance on unaccountable third parties for its knowledge panels and search results, including, when it comes to Wikipedia, volunteer labor. While most Wikipedia users likely engage with the site in good faith, vandalism clearly remains a problem and those problems can sometimes trickle out into the larger world. Among conservative circles, there have been and continue to be active movements around astroturfing -- or falsifying the origins of -- online debate. In 2014, BuzzFeed News uncovered “Operation Lollipop,” an organized effort by users of far-right image boards and men’s rights websites to impersonate feminists and start fights among real activists. Then, on June 4, BuzzFeed News also reported on a far-reaching effort from similar extremist websites to flood comment sections on Disqus with hate speech in order to dominate the conversation and recruit new bigots. There is too much bad faith online for Google to be so reliant on the honor system.

    The simple truth about right-wing media and alleged censorship on social media is that fake news, conspiracy theories, and online harassment are all more prevalent in conservative circles than in others. So if conservative media spaces are feeling the impact of policy changes meant to combat such misinformation more harshly than others (if they are indeed feeling such an impact), then perhaps it’s right-wing audiences and content creators who are abusing the platforms, not the other way around. 

  • Wash. Post Relies On Anti-Choice Groups To Frame Coverage About Planned Parenthood

    In Story About “Defunding” Planned Parenthood, Wash. Post Favors Comments, Talking Points From Anti-Abortion Figures And Legislators

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    After the House Republicans passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA) -- a bill that would eliminate Medicaid reimbursements for essential services provided by Planned Parenthood -- The Washington Post’s new health care reporter, Paige Winfield Cunningham, framed her story around reactions of, and misinformation from, anti-abortion organizations and politicians.

    On May 4, House GOP members voted to strip health care from an estimated 24 million people by 2026, “including 14 million by next year,” CNN reported, as well as eliminate Medicaid reimbursements for Planned Parenthood. In Winfield Cunningham’s first story about the vote and its effect on Planned Parenthood, she framed the conversation around the “victory” the bill represented “for conservatives who have long sought to undercut the country’s largest abortion provider” and pushed anti-choice misinformation behind such claims.

    The only Planned Parenthood representation came in a line summarizing an organization statement as saying “Congress is unfairly singling it out.” In comparison, Winfield Cunningham included quotes from three anti-abortion advocates: Vice President Mike Pence, Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). In particular, Winfield Cunningham used statements from McCarthy and Dannenfelser to advance a lopsided narrative heavily favoring the anti-choice talking points that the bill stops “taxpayer funding for abortions” and that community health centers (CHCs) can easily replace Planned Parenthood.

    Planned Parenthood is not government-funded, but instead receives Medicaid reimbursements for providing care to low-income patients -- funds that are already prohibited by the Hyde Amendment from supporting abortion care. Although Winfield Cunningham acknowledged this reality -- and mentioned that losing the reimbursements “would be a heavy blow to the group” -- she undercut the point by writing that “conservatives say no abortion provider should get Medicaid reimbursements, even for health services such as cancer screenings and birth control,” because “money is all fungible.”

    Right-wing media and anti-choice organizations have long relied on the misleading claim that money is fungible to demand Planned Parenthood be defunded. However, as the Guttmacher Institute explained, this logic is deeply flawed: “Fungibility is an inherent possibility when involving the private sector in any government-subsidized activity, and the only way to avoid it would be for government agencies to exclusively provide any and all such services.” Slate’s Amanda Marcotte also previously debunked the fungibility myth in a 2015 article, noting:

    Republicans who tout the “money is fungible” line want you to imagine that Planned Parenthood draws on one big pot of government money for all its services. But since medical services are billed and funded individually, that's not actually how this works.

    Winfield Cunningham included a comment from Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL) that AHCA would “gut Planned Parenthood, … affecting women across the country” but again undercut his argument by immediately adding (with a supporting quote from Dannenfelser) that “Republicans contend that community health centers have the capacity to care for Medicaid patients” and that these centers allegedly “provide a broader range of services than Planned Parenthood.”

    Although anti-choice lawmakers and right-wing media say that CHCs can and should replace Planned Parenthood clinics, experts have heavily disputed this claim. For example, Sara Rosenbaum, a professor at the George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, wrote:

    I have worked with community health centers for nearly 40 years, and no one believes more strongly than I do in their ability to transform the primary health care landscape in medically underserved low-income communities. But a claim that community health centers readily can absorb the loss of Planned Parenthood clinics amounts to a gross misrepresentation of what even the best community health centers in the country would be able to do were Planned Parenthood to lose over 40 percent of its operating revenues overnight as the result of a ban on federal funding.

    [...]

    What’s more, federal law requires that community health centers be located in communities where there are few other providers. As a result, the notion that there are plenty of community health centers available in those communities to compensate for the loss of Planned Parenthood clinics simply is untrue.

    Furthermore, while all Planned Parenthood clinics offer preventive and basic care services, other clinics can be classified as “community health clinics” even if they provide more limited care -- making direct comparisons between the overall numbers a misleading measure of actual health care provision capacity.

    Winfield Cunningham appears to be the anchor of the Post’s health care coverage, with the two stories published about Planned Parenthood since the May 4 vote listing her as author or co-author. Planned Parenthood is an essential care provider for millions of Americans -- 60 percent of them low-income patients covered through programs including Medicaid. If Winfield Cunningham is going to be leading the Post’s coverage on health care, she owes readers more than lopsided “both sides” reporting that vastly overrepresents anti-choice misinformation that can -- and already has -- resulted in decreased access to essential health care.

    *Graphic by Dayanita Ramesh and research support provided by Julie Tulbert