Political Insider

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When things get hot, does air-conditioning become a basic human right?

If you do not follow Marshall Shepherd on Twitter (@Dr.Shepherd2013), you should.

Shepherd is a professor of meteorology at the University of Georgia (with NASA credentials, too). He is also a contributing writer for Forbes magazine, and turns regular posts on the topic of global warming and its impact.

Time and again, he returns to the fact that climate change often requires policy change. And policy change is, well, politics.

On Sunday morning, Shepherd wrote of video coming out of St. Louis, in which inmates in an unair-conditioned city jail – a place where defendants who can’t make bail await trial -- screamed for help. The outside temperature was 108 degrees. It was hotter inside. Many, acknowledged Shepherd, might argue that such treatment is deserved:

I will not argue that point, but I will argue that oppressive heat in poorly ventilated buildings is "cruel and unusual" punishment. More interestingly, many studies show that heat increases aggression, which ultimately could make the security in the prison more of a challenge…

Shepherd pointed to this 2016 AJC article noting an increase in violence within Georgia’s state prisons. One of his UGA colleagues, sociologist Sarah Shannon, suggests that heat could be a factor. More from Shepherd:

A body of studies have shown that heat and climate change is coupled to aggression and violence. A 2016 study found that for every degree Celsius increase in annualized temperature, there was a 6% increase in homicides in their 57-country sample.

Shepherd writes that, with thick concrete walls surrounded by asphalt, prisons could generating temperature conditions similar to urban heat islands:

Prisons may harbor amplified climate-heat vulnerability for several reasons. Many inmates may already have pre-existing medical conditions. A significant percentage of that population is likely over 50 years of age as well.

In an era of climbing temperatures – the first six months of 2017 were the second-hottest on record – Shepherd has the germ of an interesting argument here that extends well beyond prisons and jails, and drives deep into Atlanta and its suburbs.

The invention and spread of air-conditioning, it is well understood, was the kick-starter for the economic boom that lifted the South in the 1960s and beyond. We may soon find ourselves discussing whether access to air-conditioning qualifies as a basic human right, essential to survival in the South.


On Twitter this morning, President Donald Trump refers to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, his own appointee, as ‘beleaguered.”

That’s a word that you use when you want to see a man gone.


According to the Wall Street Journal, prior to his Sunday school class in Plains, Ga., former President Jimmy Carter said he “believed the U.S. would in time adopt a fully government-run health insurance system, or ‘Medicare for all.’”


If you’re a conservative interested in foreign policy, take a look at this piece by James Kirchick of the Foreign Policy Institute. The headline: “How the GOP Became the Party of Putin.” From Politico:

What I never expected was that the Republican Party—which once stood for a muscular, moralistic approach to the world, and which helped bring down the Soviet Union—would become a willing accomplice of what the previous Republican presidential nominee rightly called our No. 1 geopolitical foe: Vladimir Putin’s Russia. My message for today’s GOP is to paraphrase Barack Obama when he mocked Romney for saying precisely that: 2012 called—it wants its foreign policy back.


The Great Reveal will happen today, according to the Marietta Daily Journal:

The identity of a mystery film company seeking a 10-year tax abatement and $35 million dollars in bonds will be revealed this morning at the Development Authority of Cobb County’s 11 a.m. meeting.


Cobb Board of Education members were all ears Thursday afternoon when they gave their nod of approval to “Project Meatloaf,” the name given to the secret production company looking to use the bonds to refinance a 70-passenger private jet it would house in a hangar at Cobb County International Airport-McCollum Field.


The head of the Georgia NAACP resigned from his post over the weekend, our colleague Ernie Suggs reports, presumably to run for elective office.

Francys Johnson, a civil rights attorney and pastor from Statesboro, may challenge Augusta-area U.S. Rep. Rick Allen in 2018. Per Suggs:

In resigning from the NAACP at the 108th National Convention in Baltimore, he stopped short of making an announcement and called the end of his 30 years in the organization an emotional moment.


…Although Johnson hasn’t confirmed that he is running for Congress, NAACP rules require officers to step down to run for public office. 

Allen upset Democratic incumbent John Barrow back in 2014. He cruised to reelection last year against token Democratic opposition.

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that impact Georgia.