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Texas Schools Are Performing Pretty Well. Surprised?

Mother Jones

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David Leonhardt:

When the Education Department releases its biennial scorecard of reading and math scores for all 50 states this week, Florida and Texas are likely to look pretty mediocre. In 2013, the last time that scores were released, Florida ranked 30th on the tests, which are given to fourth and eighth graders, and Texas ranked 32nd.

But these raw scores, which receive widespread attention, almost certainly present a misleading picture — and one that gives short shrift to both Florida and Texas. In truth, schools in both states appear to be well above average at teaching their students math and reading. Florida and Texas look worse than they deserve to because they’re educating a more disadvantaged group of students than most states are.

This conclusion is based on a new report by the Urban Institute. That’s fine, but we pretty much knew this already. Texas has large black and Hispanic populations, and they tend to do worse on academic tests than whites—which makes the overall scores for Texas look weak. But if you head over to the NAEP site and look at scores for each state disaggregated by race you can get the real story in about five minutes. The chart below is for 8th grade math, but you can do the same thing for any other test. It’s sorted by black test scores, and as you can see, Texas is 3rd in the nation. (Florida is 15th.) It’s also 3rd in Hispanic scores, and 5th in white scores.

The Urban Institute controls for other factors besides race (poverty, native language, special ed), and that makes Florida look even better than the disaggregated NAEP scores suggest. But Texas looks good no matter what. If education reporters would pay attention to this stuff, it might not come as such a big surprise. Like it or not, Texas has been scoring pretty well for quite a while.


Texas Schools Are Performing Pretty Well. Surprised?

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Designer Butterflies, See-Through Frogs, Giant Neural Networks…and Other Works of Modern Art

Mother Jones

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American artist Deborah Aschheim makes the “invisible visible”: In one series of works, she created room-size installations that allowed art lovers to walk through a nervous system, with each subsequent installation becoming “smarter” than the previous one. The sixth and final piece in the series was the most like a real brain—using motion sensors, closed circuit TVs and baby monitors, the network responded to the movement of its audience, capturing their actions and encoding “experiences” into “memories.” (For images of the fourth installation in the series, see below.)

Ascheim’s work calls into question an idea that was once widely accepted: That no two disciplines differ more greatly than science and art. The scientifically trained British novelist C.P. Snow crystallized this notion in his famed 1959 lecture about the “two cultures.” Scientists and those in the humanities, Snow said, just couldn’t communicate.

But to hear Arthur I. Miller tell it, that’s an antiquated point of view. Miller is a physics Ph.D., a science historian, and a philosopher—and an art aficionado to boot. And in his new book, Colliding Worlds: How Cutting-Edge Science is Redefining Contemporary Art, he makes the case for the existence of a “third culture” that, today, is mashing together art, science, and technology into one big domain. “There are still people who think science is science, and art is art,” says Miller on this week’s episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast. “But that is very far from the situation because it is very, very common and meaningful today for artists to indulge in science and technology in doing their work.”

Miller’s argument is supported not only by the myriad examples of artists who, like Aschheim, are highly reliant on science, but also by the surprising symmetries between how artists and scientists go about their work. One of his most important points: Scientists not only appreciate, but are in some cases driven by, aesthetic considerations. And artists don’t just pull ideas out of their imaginations: They engage in detailed work that often resembles scientific research.

“There’s aesthetics in biology: form is beautiful in biology, but it’s form as adapted to nature,” says Miller. “And when one gets into the physical sciences, one can even quantify aesthetics even more, in that, for example, we’ve heard the phrase, ‘This is a beautiful equation.'” Einstein, famously, put it like this: “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.”

At the frontier of this new culture, there is a blossoming of workshops and events in which artists and scientists are thrown together into a room and forced to interact. The thinking is that cross-pollination will occur and new creative ideas will emerge. The CERN laboratory, home to the Large Hadron Collider, even has an artist in residency program.

Here are five artists who are using cutting edge science and technology to change the landscape of contemporary art:

Deborah Aschheim—Neural Architecture. Aschheim‘s installations are inspired by her personal connection to neurological disorders; her focus has been on investigating memory, both autobiographical and collective—in part because memory disorders like Alzheimer’s disease run in her family. She’s worked as an artist-in-residence at several academic institutions, and she immerses herself into the science behind her pieces. (At the University of California, San Francisco, she and I worked together on a piece that explored the subjectivity of neuroimaging.)

Panopticon (neural architecture no. 4). Deborah Aschheim

In the work pictured here, entitled Panopticon, Ascheim used 260 light cells on motion sensors, 23 pocket televisions, 3 DVDs, 3 closed circuit TV cameras, 14 nanny cams, and 4,000 feet of clear PVC tubing to create a series of “cells” in a type of neural network. This work was the fourth installment in her Neural Architecture series, in which each subsequent piece was “smarter” than the previous one—in essence, the architecture was “learning.” As people walked through the Panopticon installation, they triggered motion sensors that altered which cells were “on,” as lights in the nodes would turn on and off depending on the signal from the sensors. (See a video here.) Then, monitors inside the piece screened video footage from external galleries at the college, as well as a live feed of viewers from embedded spy cameras. This installation was not only responsive, it could also “remember”: monitors played short animated “memories” from the previous installation.

Here’s a close-up of the Panopticon:

Marta de Menezes—Modified Butterflies. Menezes creates “designer” butterflies: Not through genetic engineering, but by “interfering with the normal development of the wing, inducing the development of a new pattern never seen before in nature.” Her work of “art,” then, is actually the live animal that was altered by her vision. For examples of these butterflies see the lead image above, or below:

Modified butterfly. Marta de Menezes.

“They’re not genetically modified at all,” explains Miller of Menezes’ butterflies. “That’s the big thing about them. Menezes takes a hot needle and probes into the caterpillar. And out comes butterflies with asymmetrical wings.” Here’s Menezes’s description of her work:

These wings are an example of something simultaneously natural, but resulting from human intervention. The artistic intervention leaves the butterfly genes unchanged. Thus, the new patterns are not transmitted to the offspring of the modified butterflies. The new patterns are something that never existed before in nature, and that rapidly disappear from nature not to be seen again. These artworks literally live and die. They are an example of art with a lifespan—the lifespan of a butterfly. They are an example of something that is simultaneously art and life.

Brandon Ballengée—Ecological Art. Ballengée is an artist, activist and ecological researcher. He participates in biology field studies, works in a lab and uses his art to document the changes that are happening in various ecosystems. His artistic products put his biological specimens on display, and his most common subjects are frogs, toads and salamanders. In his book, Miller quotes Ballengée as saying that “amphibians are a ‘sentinel’ species, the environmental ‘canaries in the coal mine.'”

In some pieces, like the one pictured here, Ballengée uses biological technology to “clear and stain” a specimen, making it transparent and highlighting certain parts. DFA186:Hades, below, was created using more than 10 different chemicals and dyes.

Hades. Brandon Ballengee

According to Ballengée’s website, his work is designed to “re-examine the context of the art object from a static form (implying rationality and control) into a more organic structure reflecting the inherent chaos found within evolutionary processes, biological systems and nature herself.”

Mark Ackerley—DNA Melody. Ackerley is a composer and former employee of 23andMe, a biotech company that pulls genetic information out of a sample of your spit and helps you research your ancestry. While working at 23andMe, Ackerley developed an algorithm that translated snippets of DNA into music. Using four different musical parameters—rhythm, pitch, timbre and key signature—he turned genes into melodies. To hear an excerpt of a DNA melody played by a string quartet, click here.

Ken Perlin—Perlin Noise. At NYU’s Media Research Lab, Perlin invented a new way of making animation more life-like. His technique, called Perlin Noise, is used by animators world-wide, including in Pixar movies. He’s even won an Academy Award for his work. “Which is something pretty good for somebody who has an undergraduate degree in physics and a graduate degree in computer science,” comments Miller.

Watch this video to see how Pixar used mathematics and Perlin Noise to create life-like moss in the film Brave:

“When I asked Perlin what he considers himself to be—either an artist or a scientist—he said neither,” recalls Miller. Rather, Perlin identifies himself simply as “a researcher.”

“In other words,” argues Miller, “the labels ‘artist’ and ‘scientist’ are becoming increasingly irrelevant.”

This episode of Inquiring Minds, a podcast hosted by neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas and best-selling author Chris Mooney, also features a short discussion with Joe Hanson, writer and host of the “It’s Okay to Be Smart” video series, about the science of Game of Thrones, what blowing on Nintendo cartridges has to do with your cognitive biases, new evidence disproving Bigfoot, the relationship between seeing UFOs and alcohol consumption, why men born in winter are more likely to be left-handed…and more.

To catch future shows right when they are released, subscribe to Inquiring Minds via iTunes or RSS. We are also available on Stitcher and on Swell. You can follow the show on Twitter at @inquiringshow and like us on Facebook. Inquiring Minds was also recently singled out as one of the “Best of 2013” on iTunes—you can learn more here.

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Designer Butterflies, See-Through Frogs, Giant Neural Networks…and Other Works of Modern Art

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Friday Cat Blogging – 26 April 2013

Mother Jones

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I’m told that this quilt is an Amish pattern and uses Amish colors. However, it’s the one quilt in the house that Marian didn’t make herself (she won it as a door prize, I think), so we’re not sure. In any case, the colors are so Domino-like that you might not even know she was there if I hadn’t used Photoshop to brighten her eyes a bit.

Now then. Do you love Domino? Of course you do! Do you want me to continue Friday catblogging? Yes you do. Are you afraid I might stop if you don’t help us out with our fundraiser this week? Maybe just a little afraid? I’m not saying I would stop, mind you. That would be wrong. I’m just saying.

Seriously, though: we do a lot of great journalism here at Mother Jones, and reader donations are a pretty important part of what keeps us going. If you can afford a few dollars, now’s the time to make a contribution. Here are the links:

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Thanks in advance. Believe me, your donations will be well spent.

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Friday Cat Blogging – 26 April 2013

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Climate Desk Live 06/06/13: The Alarming Science Behind Climate Change’s Increasingly Wild Weather

Mother Jones

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Join us for a joint Climate Desk Live and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) event moderated by Chris Mooney discussing the alarming science behind climate change’s increasingly wild weather featuring senior Weather Channel meteorologist Stu Ostro and top climate researcher Jennifer Francis.

Date and Time: Thursday, June 6, 2013, 4:30 p.m.

Location: WWF Building, 1250 24th St., NW, Washington, DC 20037.
To attend, please RSVP here.

Stu Ostro is a senior meteorologist at the Weather Channel, and was a longtime climate change skeptic—until the devastating 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, when he started documenting hundreds of cases of extreme and unusual weather and the patterns associated with them, and became convinced that something is very off about the atmosphere.

Jennifer Francis is a top climate researcher focused on the Arctic, whose work has drawn dramatic attention in the context of the very warm U.S. winter of 2012 (and attendant droughts and wildfires), the Russian heat wave and Pakistan floods of 2010, and other extreme weather events.

Both are now leading voices in diagnosing the wild weather that the world has seen of late—most recently, an intense winter in the UK that threatens to last throughout April.

For Ostro and Francis, the explanation for what we’re seeing is simple. More heat in the Earth’s system due to global warming is felt everywhere, and that includes the massive-scale patterns of atmospheric circulation that give us our weather.

Ostro’s observations suggest that global warming is increasing the atmosphere’s thickness, leading to stronger and more persistent ridges of high pressure, which in turn are a key to temperature, rainfall, and snowfall extremes and topsy-turvy weather patterns like we’ve had in recent years.

Francis’s scientific story is complementary. She sees the rapid warming of the Arctic weakening the northern hemisphere jet stream, and thus, once again, slowing down the weather, leaving a given pattern stuck in place for longer (making any event potentially more disruptive and extreme).

We don’t know—yet—what the next extreme manifestations of these large-scale changes in weather patterns will be. But as Ostro and Francis warn, we had better be getting ready for them—because this isn’t your grandparent’s Planet Earth any longer.

We hope you can join us for Climate Desk Live on June 6th, 2013, as we discuss this important subject.

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Climate Desk Live 06/06/13: The Alarming Science Behind Climate Change’s Increasingly Wild Weather

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Corn on MSNBC: I’m Still Waiting for McConnell to Respond to the Substance of the Story

Mother Jones

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Earlier today, Mother Jones released a recording of Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell and campaign aides in a private strategy session discussing how to campaign against actress Ashley Judd, who is rumored to be running against McConnell for Senate. Watch DC bureau chief David Corn discuss the recording, McConnell’s response, and looking behind the curtain at the ugly world of political campaigns on MSNBC‘s Bashir Live:

David Corn is Mother Jones’ Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He’s also on Twitter.

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Corn on MSNBC: I’m Still Waiting for McConnell to Respond to the Substance of the Story

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Is Your Team’s Owner a Major League Asshole?

Mother Jones

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In early February, a US Patent and Trademark Office court in Washington, DC, confirmed what baseball fans had suspected for more than a century: The New York Yankees are evil. After an internet startup, Evil Empire Inc., had attempted to trademark the phrase “Baseball’s Evil Empire,” the Yankees filed an injunction, and the panel of judges agreed. As the court put it, “The record shows that there is only one Evil Empire in baseball and it is the New York Yankees.” If only it were true. The ranks of Major League Baseball owners include some of the richest men—and they are almost exclusively white males—in the country, as likely to open their wallets for a super-PAC as they are a top-shelf free agent. Viewed in the context of the competition, with its anti-discrimination settlements and SEC investigations, the Yankees are, like their Opening Day roster, fairly pedestrian.

So where does your team’s ownership rank? We took a stab at it, analyzing each franchise by its level of political activity (based on campaign donations and office-seeking) and relative degree of evil—copyrighted or not. Read below the matrix for the full breakdown.


Baltimore Orioles: Peter Angelos made his big break in 1992, when his law firm scored $100 million from a class-action lawsuit against asbestos manufacturers. Henceforth, he made bank by (mostly) sticking up for the little guy—taking on more asbestos companies, the lead paint industry, and a diet pill manufacturer. But he also uses his money and influence to get what he wants. Angelos agreed to take the lead in a massive suit by the states against tobacco giant Philip Morris only after demanding 25 percent of the winnings—far greater than any other attorney received. (He eventually settled for half that.) Angelos and his wife gave $1.8 million to Democratic candidates and PACs last fall.

Boston Red Sox: John Henry, the team’s majority owner, purchased the franchise in 2002 with the earnings from his commodities futures trading company. Hedge funds, of course, have produced some of the worst excesses in an industry notorious for them, while arguably producing little of merit for society. But there are probably worse ways to make your money than what Slate’s Matt Yglesias calls “a scam where one class of rich people rips off another class of rich people.” When minority partner Phillip Morse (who founded a medical device company) chartered his private jet to the CIA, he never expected that it might end up being used for something nefarious—like the rendition of terror suspects to countries with less humane methods of interrogation. ”I was glad to have the business, actually,” he told the Boston Globe. “I hope it was all for a real good purpose.” But Morse wanted to make one thing clear in his interview with the Globe: “When it’s chartered, it never has the logo of the Red Sox on it.” Henry gave almost $1 million to Democrats between 1992 and 2004, but nothing in 2012.

Chicago White Sox: Jerry Reinsdorf made his fortune as a real estate developer who specialized in building tax shelters. One of the league’s most anti-union owners, he was accused of colluding with fellow owners to drive down player salaries in the 1980s. He gives millions to charter schools, but takes even more out of the city’s coffers thanks to a sweetheart deal that allows him to pay just 25 percent of the standard property tax rate for the United Center (home of the NBA’s Chicago Bulls, which he also owns). Reinsdorf also threatened to move the White Sox unless the city and state agreed to build it a new $125 million stadium on the South Side. In March, he teamed up with a former Secret Service director, a top aide to Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano, and a private prison lobbyist to launch SRB2K LLC, billed as a “global security firm.” (We’re guessing they’ll come up with a better name.) Whatever happens, though, he’s probably better than Charles Comiskey.

Cleveland Indians: The worst thing about lawyer Larry Dolan is actually his nephew, James, the widely derided owner of the New York Knicks. One thing Larry hasn’t done: change that awful logo.

Detroit Tigers: Little Caesar’s founder Mike Ilitch can’t compete with the team’s former pizza-mogul owner, Domino’s founder Tom Monaghan, who built his own quasi-theocratic township in South Florida. Ilitch and his wife, Marian, gave $184,000 to federal candidates in 2012, mostly to Republicans.

Houston Astros: Jim Crane’s company, Eagle Global Logistics, was forced to pay the federal government more than $4.3 million to settle charges of war profiteering related to contracts in Iraq. In 2001, Eagle paid a $9 million settlement after an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigation found rampant racial and gender discrimination at the company. (Among other things, the agency’s report included an allegation that Crane had told subordinates, “Once you hire blacks, you can never fire them.”) Crane gave $45,800 to political causes in 2012, most of it to the Obama Victory Fund—which may explain why he went golfing with the prez and Tiger Woods in February.

Kansas City Royals: In 1992, when he was still president and CEO of Walmart, David Glass was confronted by NBC’s Dateline with evidence of child labor at a T-shirt factory in Bangladesh. His response: “You and I might, perhaps, define children differently.” As Glass explained, looks can be deceiving—Asians are short. Then he ended the interview. Meanwhile, as the Royals’ owner he’s pocketed profits without making any discernible investment in the on-field product. He also once revoked press credentials of reporters who asked critical questions.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: They say your first billion is always the hardest. Arte Moreno made his hawking roadside billboards. Staunch Republicans, the Morenos gave $100,000 to the Romney Victory Fund in 2012. Moreno’s worst move as an owner was his insistence on giving his team its clunky new, multi-city moniker. But in his defense, nothing says “don’t be evil” like lowering the price of beer.

Minnesota Twins: Jim Pohlad, a Minneapolis banker, hasn’t had much time to prove himself after inheriting the franchise from his late father, Carl—who was infamous for volunteering to kill off the team in exchange for $150 million from Major League Baseball. That is, until Hennepin County ponied up $350 million for a new stadium. In 2012, the Pohlad clan doled out $644,000 to political causes and candidates, almost all of it to Democrats.

New York Yankees: The Steinbrenner brothers’ father, shipping magnate George, was banned from baseball twice—once for paying a gambler to spy on his own player, and once for attempting to cover up illegal donations to Richard Nixon’s 1972 reelection campaign. Current Yanks owners Hal and Hank haven’t given anything to candidates. They did, however, manage to copyright the expression “Evil Empire.”

The Bronx Bombers pay their respects to the Sith Lord.

Oakland Athletics: Lewis Wolff, a real estate magnate and hotel developer, bought the A’s in 2005 and has talked openly about moving the team more or less ever since. But his biggest crime may have been shutting down the upper deck of the mostly-empty Coliseum, which had become a refuge for fans wishing to smoke pot during the middle innings. He gave just $2,500 to federal candidates in the 2012 cycle; now politicians know how the A’s fans feel.

Seattle Mariners: Hiroshi Yamauchi is the former president and chairman of Nintendo, and the man responsible for introducing the world to Pokémon—even though he can’t stand video games. Or even baseball: He has been the owner of the Mariners for the last two decades, but has never once been to a game. It’s time to seriously consider the idea that Yamauchi, whom profiles describe without fail as “autocratic,” is actually just a bot. His fellow owners are a bit more active, though. You may know minority owner Wayne Perry as the president of the Boy Scouts of America, which is still weighing whether it should keep discriminating against gay children. Last year, Perry and co-owner Robert Glaser gave six figures to Republican and Democratic super-PACs, respectively.

Tampa Bay Rays: Goldman Sachs alum Stuart Sternberg took controlling interest of the club in 2005. He had left Goldman in 2002, two years after it had acquired his firm, Spear, Leeds & Kellogg—and six years before Goldman helped bring down the global economy. SLK was no angel either. Prior to its acquisition by Goldman, it had been fined $1 million by the National Association of Securities Dealers for delaying paperwork in order “to secure a competitive advantage, protect its interests and maximize its profits or minimize its losses.” But by the standards of 21st-century Wall Street, the Rays’ Goldman-stocked front office—ably chronicled in Jonah Keri’s The Extra 2%looks more George Bailey than Bernie Madoff. Sternberg’s only political gift in 2012, a grand total of $1,000, went to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

Texas Rangers: Compared with one of its previous owners, George W. Bush, who went on to invade two countries and enter the United States into an intractable War on Terror, the Rangers’ current front office is downright tame. Principal owner Ray Davis made his billion on gas pipelines; in the aftermath of Hurricane Rita his company, Energy Transfer, paid the federal government $10 million to settle an allegation of price manipulation (the company did not admit to any wrongdoing). Bob Simpson, Davis’ co-chair, sold his fracking giant XTO to Exxon Mobil for $41 billion. Former hurler Nolan Ryan, who also has a stake in the team, was instrumental in getting Ron Paul elected to the House in 1996.

Toronto Blue Jays: The Jays are one of only two Major League teams owned entirely by corporations. In this case, it’s the Canadian telecom giant Rogers Communications, which is prohibited by law from contributing to American political campaigns. We don’t really have anything to add to that.


Arizona Diamondbacks: Ken Kendrick made headlines back in April 2010 when he announced that he had purchased one of the rarest and most expensive baseball cards ever produced—a 1909 Honus Wagner—for $2.8 million. Soon thereafter, he was back in the news: Arizona legislators passed the state’s draconian anti-immigration law, SB 1070, and activists were calling for boycotts of the Diamondbacks and the 2011 All-Star Game at Chase Field. Why? While Kendrick claimed to oppose the bill, the Republican donor also reportedly held a private fundraiser for an SB 1070 proponent, state Sen. Jonathan Paton, in his private box at Chase Field.

Atlanta Braves: Liberty Media started as a spin-off of cable giant Tele-Communications Inc. (TCI). Its chairman, John Malone, currently owns more land than any other American—2.1 million acres. (Interestingly enough, America’s No. 2 landowner is none other than former Braves owner Ted Turner.) Malone, according to a 1994 Wired profile, was “widely considered the Darth Vader of the infobahn” because of his insatiable push to conquer the industry. His Wall Street nickname is marginally more favorable: “swamp alligator.”

Chicago Cubs: Remember the plan hatched last year by Cubs family patriarch Joe Ricketts to defeat the “metrosexual, black Abe Lincoln” (a.k.a. Barack Obama)? ‘Nuff said. The Ricketts family, which owns the team through a trust, spent almost $14 million on elections last year. Most of it went to Republicans, but daughter Laura, an Obama bundler, gave more than $575,000 to Democrats. (She also launched a super-PAC to support LGBT candidates.) Pete Ricketts, one of Joe’s three sons, is a Republican National Committeeman from Nebraska and former US Senate candidate; he may run again next year.


Cincinnati Reds: Robert Castellini took over his family’s business and turned it into one of the nation’s largest fruit, vegetable, and flower distributors. Profiles of the septuagenarian invariably mention how, when he was starting out, his workdays would start at the crack of dawn (hard work!) and how he promised Reds fans a World Series when he bought the team in 2006 (passionate and driven!). In 2011 and 2012, he gave more than $100,000 to Republican candidates and committees, including $30,800 to the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Colorado Rockies: From the family that brought you factory farms and coked-up cattle! Charlie and Dick Monfort helped run the eponymous Big Ag empire until 1987. That’s when family patriarch Kenneth Monfort sold out to ConAgra, and the Monfort boys became ConAgra execs. Kenneth made his fortune by busting the union that served his workforce and replacing union workers with immigrant laborers—many of them undocumented. (At one point, the company’s annual employee turnover rate hit 400 percent.) Also represented in the Rockies’ ownership group is former GOP senate candidate Pete Coors, purveyor of super cold beer and brother to Joe Coors Jr., who once predicted that Armageddon would arrive in 2000. Here’s Pete explaining how poor people caused the financial crisis:

Los Angeles Dodgers: Lead owner Mark Walter’s financial house, Guggenheim Partners, is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission over his ties to former junk bond trader Michael Milken. Walter and co-owner Magic Johnson (yes, him) teamed up to give six figures to the Obama Victory Fund. The families of Dallas investor Bobby Patton ($93,800) and Todd Boehly ($169,000) gave big to both Democrats and Republicans. The most offensive thing about this ownership group was probably The Magic Hour.

Miami Marlins: Jeffrey Loria, the millionaire art dealer and Charlie Brown-as-philosophy author, is widely considered the worst baseball owner of his generation. The Marlins’ boom-and-bust cycles were already diminishing the team’s shaky South Florida fanbase when along came the Miró-inspired Marlins Park. Built last year with $474 million in public financing, the deal, which will end up costing Miami-Dade County $1.1 billion, has made Loria the second least popular person in South Florida (behind Fidel Castro), according to one 2012 poll. Carlos Gimenez, who parlayed his opposition to the stadium deal into a successful run for Miami-Dade mayor, described Marlins Park to Sports Illustrated‘s S.L. Price as “the gift that keeps on giving.”

Milwaukee Brewers: By all accounts, Mark Attanasio is a laid-back, baseball-savvy guy who also happens to run an investment company that manages some $11 billion in assets. Commissioner (and former Brewers owner) Bud Selig had this to say about him in the New York Times: “Mark is quiet, thoughtful—he has a personality that really fits Milwaukee, even though he’s not from here. He has the same passion I have for the game, and he lives and dies with each pitch, which I can understand completely.” But Selig is terrible, so never mind. Attanasio didn’t give to any candidates in 2012, but his co-owners chipped in about $1 million.

New York Mets: Sterling Equities cofounder Fred Wilpon famously was a major mark for Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme: At one time, according to The New Yorker‘s Jeffrey Toobin, Madoff had 480 accounts from Sterling employees or clients. By the time the scam fell apart in December 2008, Wilpon and his partners had invested some $550 million. On top of that, the Mets’ stadium sold its naming rights to Citigroup in 2006 for $400 million, shortly after the bank had received $45 billion in TARP money. As if all that weren’t enough, an Amway meeting space/recruiting center recently moved into Citi Field.

Philadelphia Phillies: David Montgomery worked his way up through the ranks in the Phillies organization, even working as the team’s scoreboard operator in the early ’70s. But his long tenure hasn’t exactly made the mild-mannered “Gentleman Dave” a fan favorite, probably because he’s said things like this: “I just believe the organization needs an image that’s not directly tied to wins and losses.” The ownership group’s $200,000-plus in 2012 contributions came mostly from pipe-tobacco magnates John and Leigh Middleton.

Pittsburgh Pirates: The Nutting family has had an ownership stake in the Pirates since the mid-’90s, and a majority share since 2007. During that time, the team hasn’t had a single winning season. Robert Nutting apparently has been content to collect handsome profits without reinvesting in better personnel—although the Pirates did manage to secure $228 million in public funding for PNC Park. Nutting’s contribution to the general collapse of society has been negligible, however. He runs a four-star resort in Pennsylvania* and a chain of small newspapers.

San Diego Padres: Last year, Southern California beer distributor Ron Fowler headed up an ownership group that included the son and four grandsons of former big-league owner Walter O’Malley, the guy who moved the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.

San Francisco Giants: Charles B. Johnson, a mutual-funds baron and the 211th-richest person in the world according to Forbes, spent some $200,000 to try to defeat California’s Proposition 30, the sales and income tax increase that included elements of the state’s millionaire’s tax initiative. (Prop. 30 passed in November.) Other political expenditures: $50,000 for Prop. 32, which would have kept unions and corporations from using automatic payroll deductions to bankroll political activity, and $200,000 for Karl Rove’s American Crossroads.

St. Louis Cardinals: In the early 1990s, William DeWitt Jr. helped put together an ownership group—including George W. Bush—that would go on to buy the Texas Rangers. Years later, he would buy the Cardinals from Anheuser-Busch and raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to help elect (and reelect) his former partner.

Washington Nationals: “Nobody tells Ted Lerner what to do,” former business magazine publisher Bill Regardie told the Washington Post. “Ted Lerner is not used to being told what to do. In the last 30 years, no one has told this man to do anything.” One of the things Nationals’ owner Lerner hasn’t done, whether told to or not, was to pay for a doctor or certified athletic trainer at the team’s Dominican academy, even after teen prospect Yewri Guillén died of a brain infection in 2011.

Correction: This piece originally placed Robert Nutting’s luxury resort in West Virginia.

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Is Your Team’s Owner a Major League Asshole?

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Frackers Are Losing $1.5 Billion Yearly to Leaks

Mother Jones

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Of all the many and varied consequences of fracking (water contamination, injured workers, earthquakes, the list goes on) one of the least understood is so-called “fugitive” methane emissions. Methane is the primary ingredient of natural gas, and it escapes into the atmosphere at every stage of production: at wells, in processing plants, and in pipes on its way to your house. According to a new study, it could become one of the worst climate impacts of the fracking boom—and yet, it’s one of the easiest to tackle right away. Best of all, fixing the leaks is good for the bottom line.

According to the World Resources Institute, natural gas producers allow $1.5 billion worth of methane to escape from their operations every year. That might sound like small change to an industry that drilled up some $66.5 billion worth of natural gas in 2012 alone, but it’s a big deal for the climate: While methane only makes up 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions (20 percent of which comes from cow farts), it packs a global warming punch 20 times stronger than carbon dioxide.

Courtesy WRI

“Those leaks are everywhere,” said WRI analyst James Bradbury, so fixing them would be “super low-hanging fruit.”

The problem, he says, is that right now those emissions aren’t directly regulated by the EPA. In President Obama’s first term, the EPA set new requirements for capturing other types of pollutants that escape from fracked wells, using technology that also, incidentally, limits methane. But without a cap on methane itself, WRI finds, the potent gas is free to escape at incredible rates, principally from leaky pipelines. The scale of the problem is hard to overstate: The Energy Department found that leaking methane could ultimately make natural gas—which purports to be a “clean” fossil fuel—even more damaging than coal, and an earlier WRI study found that fixing methane leaks would be the single biggest step the US could take toward meeting its long-term greenhouse gas reduction goals.

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Frackers Are Losing $1.5 Billion Yearly to Leaks

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Scott Prouty, the 47 Percent Video Source, Opens a Legal-Assistance Fund

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Scottt Prouty, the onetime bartender who made the video of Mitt Romney’s 47 percent remarks, has launched a fund to raise money to cover legal costs and possibly the cost of going to law school. After revealing himself on MSNBC’s The Ed Show on Wednesday night, Prouty immediately became a subject of intense media attention. He was besieged with interview requests. And while his hourlong interview with Schultz was under way, he says, strangers showed up at his Florida home and he soon became a target for hate-tweets and dirt-digging from right-wingers still angry about his role in exposing Romney’s dismissive attitude toward half the country.

As this furor was happening—and supporters and fans of Prouty were asking how they could help him—Prouty set up an online “47 Percent Legal Assistance Fund.” (And he assumed control of the @scottprouty Twitter handle that a supporter created for him on Wednesday evening. He had previously been tweeting as @AnneOnymous670.)

After taping an interview with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell on Thursday night, Prouty discussed with me his reasons for establishing this fund:

After going public, I’ve received a flood of physical and legal threats in emails and tweets. People have found my address and have shown up at my door. It’s possible I may have to move. And I’ve had to contact several lawyers and have incurred legal expenses. I might incur more going forward. I always knew that if I talked about this, I could become a target, and I don’t want to be melodramatic, but some of the threats I’ve received do cause me to be concerned for my safety and that of my loved ones.

I appreciate all the support I’ve received from the beginning—and especially now. Many people have asked how they could help. This is one way. I’ve also said in interviews that if they would like to show their support they can send donations to the ASPCA and the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights. These are both groups that I care about.

I’m hoping that I don’t need to spend a lot of money on lawyers and security. If people are generous and there are any funds left over after these costs are covered, I would use the remaining money to pay for going back to school. I’ve been bartending for eight years and I’d like to move forward with a job that lets me help others. If I end up not using these funds for education, I will donate them to the SPCA and IGLHR.

During his media interviews the past two days, Prouty has not mentioned this fund, and so far only a handful of persons have located the website and contributed.

On the site, Prouty notes, “It’s always been my dream to attend law school. I’d like to be a socially responsible lawyer who can help the 47 percent navigate our legal system. Thank you for your donations!”

Mother Jones

Scott Prouty, the 47 Percent Video Source, Opens a Legal-Assistance Fund

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Big Social Costs Tallied in Regions With Scant Energy Access


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Big Social Costs Tallied in Regions With Scant Energy Access

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Building partnerships with sand in your toes


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Building partnerships with sand in your toes

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