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Trump Suddenly Committed to Ousting Assad From Power

Mother Jones

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The folks at Webster’s might be unhappy about this, but WTF seems like a lock for Word-of-the-Year honors in 2017. Today, the Trump administration is apparently promising regime change in Syria and hoping that Vladimir Putin will help them:

Before departing Italy — where he met with “like-minded” allies in the Group of Seven major advanced economies and diplomats from largely Muslim nations — Rex Tillerson told reporters that the United States is aiming for a negotiated end to six years of conflict in Syria and wants Russia’s help in ushering Assad out of office….Claiming that Assad’s rule “is coming to an end,” Tillerson previewed his message to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

….In a sign of escalating tensions — even before Tillerson exited his plane in Moscow — Putin told a news conference the Kremlin has “information” that provocateurs are planning to plant chemical substances in suburban Damascus and blame it on Syrian authorities. He gave no further details on the stunning claim.


Does anyone here know how to play this game? A week ago Donald Trump didn’t give two fucks whether Assad stayed in power. He had somehow missed the news of Assad’s brutality over the past six years, and cared only about ISIS. Now he’s suddenly figured out that Assad is a monster and is promising regime change. Sure, he’s “aiming” for a negotiated settlement, but that’s pretty plainly not in the cards since Assad, after six brutal years of civil war, is finally on the verge of winning.

And Putin, informed of all this, responds with a Trumplike conspiracy theory about false-flag operations. These are not the words of a man who plans to back down. I’ve read reports that Putin is privately enraged at Assad, and that may be, but there’s really not much room for doubt about the positions of both Assad and Putin here. Neither one has the slightest intention of abruptly giving up and allowing American-sponsored rebels to take over in Damascus.

So what happens next? Putin or one of his functionaries will tell Tillerson to bugger off, and there will be no negotiations. Does Trump start bombing Damascus? That would be stupid and wouldn’t work anyway. Does he send a huge American ground force? There’s zero chance of public or congressional approval for that. Does he just back down? Trump seems temperamentally incapable of this.

And yet, the US government is now officially committed to regime change in Syria even though it wasn’t last week. In fairness, so was Obama. But Obama was always clear that this was merely aspirational. Trump hasn’t said one way or another, and he’s avoiding the press, which would like to hear a little more about his new foreign policy. The problem, it appears, is that Trump doesn’t know what his foreign policy is. He doesn’t know what to do about ISIS. He doesn’t know what to do about Afghanistan. He doesn’t know what to do about China. He doesn’t know what to do about Syria. He doesn’t know what to do about North Korea. He only knows how to send tweets into the atmosphere about how all these folks better watch out because there’s a new sheriff in town. But there’s nothing more. Trump has taken strategic ambiguity to whole new levels.

Personally, I guess I’m rooting for the meaningless Twitter rants to continue. It’s better than the alternative.

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Trump Suddenly Committed to Ousting Assad From Power

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U.S. wants poor and rich countries alike to cut emissions under next climate treaty

U.S. wants poor and rich countries alike to cut emissions under next climate treaty


If the U.S. gets its way, developing countries will need to roll up their sleeves and do more to slow down global warming.

The Obama administration is taking the position that poor and rich countries alike should be legally obligated to reduce the amount of climate-changing pollution that they produce after 2020, when a new climate treaty is expected to take effect. The Kytoto Protocol approach, which saw rich countries but not poor ones compelled to rein in greenhouse gas pollution, is “clearly not rational or workable” any more, U.S. officials argue in a new submission to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The next big U.N. climate meeting will be held in Lima, Peru, this December, and then Paris will host a bigger one in December 2015, at which world leaders hope to finalize the new climate treaty.

“[T]he United States supports a Paris agreement that reflects the seriousness and magnitude of what science demands,” Obama administration officials wrote in their 11-page U.N. submission, which was published on Wednesday. “As such, it should be designed to promote ambitious efforts by a broad range of Parties.”

America’s evolving expectations for a world-encompassing climate treaty were alluded to in a recent Washington Post op-ed signed by Barack Obama and French President François Hollande:

Even as our two nations reduce our own carbon emissions, we can expand the clean energy partnerships that create jobs and move us toward low-carbon growth. We can do more to help developing countries shift to low-carbon energy as well, and deal with rising seas and more intense storms. As we work toward next year’s climate conference in Paris, we continue to urge all nations to join us in pursuit of an ambitious and inclusive global agreement that reduces greenhouse gas emissions through concrete actions.

America’s desire for all countries to tackle climate change is shared by a growing number of low-lying and impoverished states that are increasingly worried about the effects of India’s and China’s ballooning emissions. During previous climate talks, countries agreed that the new treaty will include funding commitments from developed countries to help developing countries adapt to climate change and deploy clean sources of power.

The push for universal action on climate change comes as the White House mulls committing to a steep reduction in greenhouse gases during the upcoming talks. ClimateWire reports:

In at least three interagency meetings at the White House since September, administration sources said, officials have debated whether [the U.S.’s new climate] goals should extend to 2025 or 2030. They also have laid out the scientific and economic modeling that must be done in the coming months and discussed whether a new target should assume Congress will eventually enact climate legislation or whether the White House must continue to use existing authority under the Clean Air Act to squeeze out more emissions reductions. President Obama’s new special adviser, John Podesta, is expected to have an overarching role in the process. …

Several GOP lawmakers contacted by ClimateWire blasted the work on new targets as another example of the Obama administration’s “go it alone” approach that, like the current U.S. EPA effort to rein in emissions from coal-fired power plants, will face fierce opposition from Congress.

Actually, the international action that Obama is calling for is pretty much the opposite of a “go it alone” approach. Here’s hoping that the idea takes root — and that wealthy countries open their purses to help poor ones meet new climate obligations.

U.S. Submission on Elements ofthe 2015 Agreement, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
Obama and Hollande: France and the U.S. enjoy a renewed alliance, The Washington Post
Obama admin quietly preparing pledge of deeper GHG emissions targets for U.N. talks, ClimateWire

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants:

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U.S. wants poor and rich countries alike to cut emissions under next climate treaty

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Ahead of IPCC report, fossil-fuel groups organize climate denial campaign

Ahead of IPCC report, fossil-fuel groups organize climate denial campaign


If only they would shut up.

Watch out: A tsunami of stupidity is due to crash over the world next Friday.

That’s when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will release a summary of its big new climate assessment report, the first since 2007. But that’s not the stupid part.

A global campaign funded by fossil-fuel interests has been steadily building to discredit the report. That’s where the stupidity comes in. From The Guardian:

Organisations that dismiss the science behind climate change and oppose curbs on greenhouse gas pollution have made a big push to cloud the release of the IPCC report, the result of six years of work by hundreds of scientists.

Those efforts this week extended to promoting the fiction of a recovery in the decline of Arctic sea ice.

The IPCC assessments, produced every six or seven years, are seen as the definitive report on climate change, incorporating the key findings from some 9,000 articles published in scientific journals.

Climate deniers are pushing their messages out through blogs as well as old-fashioned outlets like the Daily Mail. From Skeptical Science:

Like the way a picnic on a sunny afternoon in August tends to attract lots of annoying wasps, major events on the climate change timeline tend to see certain contrarian figures and organisations dialling up the rhetorical output.

This is frustrating yet it has over the years become quite predictable: arguing with some climate change contrarians is similar to attempting debate with a well-trained parrot. Imagine: the parrot has memorised some twenty statements that it can squawk out at random. Thus it will follow up on ‘no warming since 1997′ with ‘in the 1970s they said there’d be an ice-age’ and so on. Another piece in the UK-based Daily Mail’s Sunday edition of September 8th 2013, written by a figure familiar to Skeptical Science readers, Mail and Vanity Fair journalist David Rose, gives a classic example of such parroting. There’s another in the UK’s Daily Telegraph along remarkably similar lines (it could even be the same parrot).

Meanwhile, the Koch-funded Heartland Institute has already published a compilation of lies in its own preemptive report. Its “experts” are so desperate to get their climate-denying messages out that they would probably turn up at your kid’s birthday party if you asked them nicely enough.

The news here is predictable but not terrible. Scientists and activists are doing better jobs of organizing communication strategies in the face of anti-science blather. From Inside Climate News:

Dozens of prominent scientists involved with drafting IPCC reports formed a Climate Science Rapid Response Team that punches back against misleading claims about climate research.

Kevin Trenberth is part of that team as well as a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and an author and editor on the forthcoming IPCC report. He explained that nearly every time there is a scientific paper linking man-made carbon dioxide emissions to climate change, the “denial-sphere” immediately responds with accusations that the research is wrong.

“The scientists get nasty emails. Certain websites comment. … So a bunch of us formed this rapid response team to deflate these arguments.” The group has been very busy in recent weeks.

Although those who make a living by denying climate science are screaming as loudly as ever, most people are getting better at tuning out their histrionics. Again from the Inside Climate News article:

Cindy Baxter, a longtime climate campaigner, said she thinks climate skeptics “are getting more shrill, but getting less notice,” because Americans are more convinced that global warming is real.

“Hurricane Sandy. Droughts. Flooding. Wildfires. People are feeling the effects of climate change. That makes it harder to deny,” said Baxter, who is also a co-author of Greenpeace’s new report Dealing in Doubt, which chronicles the history of climate skeptic campaigns. Polls say a larger majority of Americans from both parties see recent waves of deadly weather as a sign of climate change.

Unfortunately, this denier campaign will be around for a while. The IPCC report due out next Friday is just the first of four scheduled to be released over the coming year. Maybe after the final one comes out, the denial pushers will finally potter off to find new work, perhaps as baby-seal clubbers, orphan poisoners, or textbook reviewers for the Texas State Board of Education.

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants: this article interesting? Donate now to support our work.Read more: Climate & Energy

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Ahead of IPCC report, fossil-fuel groups organize climate denial campaign

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Alaska’s latest climate worries: Massive wildfires and gushing glaciers

Alaska’s latest climate worries: Massive wildfires and gushing glaciers

Random Michelle

The Mendenhall Glacier’s sudden surges of icy water threaten people and property in nearby Juneau.

Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice. Alaska, by the looks of it, is on track for a double apocalypse.

The home of Sarah “global warming my gluteus maximus” Palin faces a daunting confluence of climate-related challenges, from rising seas to gushing glaciers to massive wildfires. Even Mayor Stubbs (who we’d expect to be cool about this kind of thing) won’t answer questions about the state’s fate.

Raging blazes in Arizona and Colorado have dominated wildfire news in recent years, but the biggest fires of the past decade burned in Alaska, which is warming twice as fast as the lower 48 states. There, flames have swallowed more than a half-million acres at a time (that’s 781 square miles) of boreal forest, the landscape of spruce and fir trees dominant below the Arctic Circle. And a new study says that this fiery phase is here to stay. From the L.A. Times:

A warming climate could promote so much wildfire in the boreal zone that the forests may convert to deciduous woodlands of aspen and birch, researchers said.

“In the last few decades we have seen this extreme combination of high severity and high frequency” wildfire in the study area of interior Alaska’s Yukon Flats, said University of Illinois plant biology Prof. Feng Sheng Hu. …

Accelerated wildfire could also unlock vast amounts of forest carbon, contributing to greenhouse gases. “The more important implication there is [that] you’re probably going to release a substantial fraction of the carbon that has been stored in the soil,” Hu said.

In contrast, Alaska’s Mendenhall Glacier, outside Juneau, threatens to wreak chilly destruction, reports The New York Times:

Starting in July 2011, and each year since, sudden torrents of water shooting out from beneath the glacier have become a new facet of Juneau’s brief, shimmering high summer season. In that first, and so far biggest, measured flood burst, an estimated 10 billion gallons gushed out in three days, threatening homes and property along the Mendenhall River that winds through part of the city. There have been at least two smaller bursts this year. …

Water from snowmelt, rain and thawing ice are combining in new ways, researchers said — first pooling in an ice-covered depression near the glacier called Suicide Basin, then finding a way to flow downhill.

What prompts a surge … is pressure. As water builds up in the basin and seeks an outlet, it can actually lift portions of the glacier ever so slightly, and in that lift, the water finds a release. Under the vast pressure of the ice bearing down upon it, the water explodes out into the depths of Mendenhall Lake and from there into the river.

The phenomenon is not unique to Alaska. Scientists call it jokulhlaup, an Icelandic word meaning “glacier leap.” Though the name suggests an eccentric backcountry sporting event or maybe an elfin dance move, there’s nothing jolly about it. Mendenhall, unlike most glaciers, is far from isolated: 14 miles from downtown Juneau, it’s one of the most visited glaciers in the world, attracting 400,000 tourists a year. That means that its tendency to leap poses huge risks to people and property, and local officials are scrambling to keep a close eye on it. The city of Juneau kicked in part of the cost to install a pressure transducer, which gauges water buildup and transmits real-time results back to monitors via satellite. Meteorologists say the warmer, wetter weather the Juneau area could see in coming decades could increase runoff and spur more frequent surges.

If only there were a way to make these glaciers leap on over to the burning boreal forest, where they could actually do some good. I’d suggest some kind of pipeline, but I think they’re all in use.

Claire Thompson is an editorial assistant at Grist.

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Alaska’s latest climate worries: Massive wildfires and gushing glaciers

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Solar and wind surge, but dirty energy still dominates, as this nifty chart shows

Solar and wind surge, but dirty energy still dominates, as this nifty chart shows

Solar energy production in the U.S. jumped by 49 percent last year, and wind energy by more than 16 percent.

But these clean sources of energy are still just thin lines on this cool flowchart that shows how America’s energy was produced in 2012, reminding us how much work lies ahead in shifting to a renewable and clean economy:


Click to embiggen.

From Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which produced the chart:

[W]ind power [increased from] from 1.17 quads produced in 2011 up to 1.36 quads in 2012. New wind farms continue to come on line with bigger, more efficient turbines that have been developed in response to government-sponsored incentives to invest in renewable energy.

Solar also jumped from 0.158 quads in 2011 to 0.235 quads in 2012. Extraordinary declines in prices of photovoltaic panels, due to global oversupply, drove this shift.

This is the first year in at least a decade where there has been a measurable decrease in nuclear energy.

“It is likely to be a permanent cut as four nuclear reactors recently went offline (two units at San Onofre in California as well as the power stations at Kewaunee in Wisconsin and Crystal River in Florida),” [energy systems analyst A.J.] Simon said. “There are a couple of nuclear plants under construction, but they won’t come on for another few years.”

Coal and oil use dropped in 2012 while natural gas use jumped to 26 quads from 24.9 quads the previous year. There is a direct correlation between a drop in coal electricity generation and the jump in electricity production from natural gas.

The proportion of American energy that comes from fossil fuels may seem daunting and overwhelming, but solar and wind are making gains as prices drop. And if we really want to make a dent in our fossil-fuel addiction, there’s big opportunity in the gray area labeled “rejected energy.” That’s a euphemism for wasted energy, much of which is lost in the form of heat.

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants:

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Solar and wind surge, but dirty energy still dominates, as this nifty chart shows

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Deepwater Horizon blamed for still more oil spills

Deepwater Horizon blamed for still more oil spills

David Valentine, UC Santa BarbaraAnalysis of oil-sheen samples revealed that the Deepwater Horizon rig was the source.

More than three years after the Deepwater Horizon exploded, triggering the worst oil spill in American history, the sunken wreckage of the rig may still be leaking oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Beginning in the fall of last year and continuing through the winter, mysterious oil sheens were spotted in the vicinity of the rig wreckage.

A team of researchers set about trying to figure out exactly where the oil was coming from by studying its chemical composition. They matched the slicks to samples taken from Deepwater Horizon debris. They also tracked the trajectories of the oil sheens as they spread across the Gulf, tracing them back to the wreckage.

Now they have concluded that pockets of oil trapped in the wreckage bubbled to the surface, triggering the oil sheens that were spotted in recent months.

The fact that the sunken rig has been leaking is bad news, but the scientists ruled out BP’s capped Macondo well as the source of the leaks, which is good news. “[T]he likely source is oil in tanks and pits on the [Deepwater Horizon] wreckage, representing a finite oil volume for leakage,” they reported in a new paper published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. From a press release by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution:

The oil sheens were first reported to the United States Coast Guard by BP in mid-September 2012, raising public concern that the Macondo well, which was capped in July 2010, might be leaking.

“It was important to determine where the oil was coming from because of the environmental and legal concerns around these sheens. First, the public needed to be certain the leak was not coming from the Macondo well, but beyond that we needed to know the source of these sheens and how much oil is supplying them so we could define the magnitude of the problem,” said WHOI chemist Chris Reddy.

Is the rig’s ghoulish carcass still leaking oil to this day? That’s hard to say. “There are a few small lines [of oil] in the vicinity,” said Bonny Schumaker of On Wings of Care, a nonprofit that monitors Gulf oil spills from light aircraft. “They look just like other natural seeps in the Gulf.”

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants:

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Where Does Your Food Come From?

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Needed: Dave Weigel’s Latest Take on the Obamaphone

Mother Jones

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In the Washington Post today, Karen Tumulty writes about the latest conservative pet rock: Obamaphones. The actual name for the program in question is “Lifeline,” which uses fees added to telephone bills to provide discounts on phone service for poor people. It began in 1984 under Reagan, was expanded to cover cell phones in 1996 under Clinton, and was expanded yet again to cover prepaid cell service in 2008 under George Bush. A year later it entered kooky conspiracy theory land:

Lifeline made its way onto the radar screens of the right with an anonymous e-mail, which began circulating in 2009. It warned that free “Obama phones” were being given to welfare recipients, along with 70 minutes of service a month. “The very foundations that this country was built on are being shaken,” the e-mailer wrote.

From there, the conspiracy theories sprouted. Conservative talk radio last year was abuzz with speculation that “Obama phones” had become a means for the president’s tech-savvy reelection campaign to get poor people and minorities to vote.

Some of it was fueled by a video of an Obama supporter that went viral about six weeks before the election and has been viewed almost 8 million times. “Everybody in Cleveland, low minority got Obama phone,” a woman yells on the video. “Keep Obama in president, you know? He gave us a phone.”

That narrative has lived on for some Obama critics as an allegory that explains the president’s worldview. “The president offers you free stuff, but his policies keep you poor,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said in the tea party response to Obama’s State of the Union address. “For those who are struggling, we want to you to have something infinitely more valuable than a free phone.”

And it has become woven into the current fiscal arguments. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) tweeted on Feb. 19: “Nobody should be talking about tax hikes when govt is spending taxpayer dollars on free cell phones.”

What I really want is the Dave Weigel version of this story. The whole Obamaphone thing has been circulating practically since Obama took office. So why is it that it suddenly got legs just last year? Is it purely an election-related thing? But if that’s the case, why did it continue to have legs after the election, finally getting mainstream attention from the likes of Rand Paul and John Boehner?

One possibility is that it’s mostly advertising-driven. Not political ads, but aggressive marketing from cell phone companies making a buck off the Lifeline service:

TracFone was the first carrier the FCC approved to offer free cell service, instead of just discounted service, as the Associated Press reported on August 15, 2008….Soon, a whole bunch of other wireless carriers got in on the program — by 2010, Virgin Mobile, Verizon, Sprint, i-Wireless, Head Start, Consumer Cellular, Midwestern Telecom, Allied Wireless, and others had free phone plans. That’s why you can find all these “free cell phone” websites that look kind of shady, like or

….TracFone spokesman Jose Fuentes told Bloomberg in February, “We’ve had a lot of fly-by-night companies come in.” Fuentes estimated that more than 1,700 wireless companies were part of Lifeline. Between 2008 and 2012, the number of people with Lifeline phones grew from 7.1 million to 12.5 million. These companies may be fly-by-night at providing cell phone service, but they are pretty good at marketing, and as the rush of merchandise tied to his inauguration showed, Obama’s name seems to move product. But they could have chosen another hook. is still available if you want to try to reach out to the Fox News demo.

I guess the chronology makes sense. TracFone starts the prepaid gold rush in 2008, and in 2009 the weirdo conspiracy theories sprout up. The aggressive marketing, however, begins around 2011 and into 2012, and that’s when people really start to notice. Ironically, it’s also exactly the time when the FCC started up an investigation designed to rein in fraud in the Lifeline program. But irony isn’t a highly prized commodity in Washington DC, and politicians make hay with whatever’s at hand. So Obamaphones got a second lease on life.

I guess. But I still want to hear Dave Weigel’s take on this.

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Needed: Dave Weigel’s Latest Take on the Obamaphone

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We’re Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 18, 2013

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Marines with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment prepare to conduct a dismounted patrol near Patrol Base Boldak, Afghanistan, on March 3. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Bobby J. Yarbrough.

Mother Jones

We’re Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 18, 2013

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The NFL Hits Yet Another Roadblock in LA

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Phil Anschutz, the billionaire owner of AEG, recently announced that he had decided not to sell his company after all and instead planned to take back control into his own hands. This matters in Los Angeles because Anschutz has always been sort of lukewarm about the idea of AEG building a downtown stadium to lure an NFL team, and he’s now signaling that he may have had enough. Michael Hiltzik hopes that he really has:

Anschutz has spent, by his accounting, between $45 million and $55 million of his own money to push the downtown project along. City officials have been herded, like cattle to the abattoir, into pledging to do everything in their power to get the stadium built — though not with a dime of taxpayer funds, wink wink.

One would think that in exchange for these bennies the league would have been moved to deal with Los Angeles, its business community and its residents with good faith and transparency. Instead, it has offered the same unceasing tergiversations, with nary a clue about what would constitute a suitable deal. Well, not entirely no clue: Plainly the NFL wants a deal in which the taxpayers put up all the money for a stadium, and the league’s billionaires take all the profits.

The willingness of local communities to subsidize billionaire football team owners with truly astronomical sums never ceases to astonish me. Los Angeles has actually been pretty good about telling the NFL that maybe a bunch of titans of free enterprise shouldn’t expect taxpayer help for what is, after all, an extremely lucrative private enterprise, and I can only hope that they stick to their guns. As Hiltzik says, city leaders have already caved a little bit by allowing a stadium deal to bypass the usual regulatory hurdles, but that didn’t bother me too much since I figured it was the bare minimum that any big stadium project gets in a big city. So far they haven’t gone any further, and that’s why there’s still no NFL team in Los Angeles. No huge taxpayer subsidies, no football.

Which is fine with me. Let other cities play the sucker. I’m not sure why so many civic leaders are so eager to get bullied and bamboozled by the NFL, but LA is doing the country a favor by setting a good example. They should keep it up.

Mother Jones
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The NFL Hits Yet Another Roadblock in LA

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