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40 million Americans depend on the Colorado River. It’s drying up.

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Prompted by years of drought and mismanagement, a series of urgent multi-state meetings are currently underway in Las Vegas to renegotiate the use of the Colorado River. Seven states and the federal government are close to a deal, with a powerful group of farmers in Arizona being the lone holdouts.

The stakes are almost impossibly high: The Colorado River provides water to 1-in-8 Americans, and irrigates 15 percent of the country’s agricultural products. The nearly 40 million people who depend on it live in cities from Los Angeles to Denver. The river supports native nations and industry across the vast desert Southwest — including 90 percent of U.S.-grown winter vegetables. Simply put: The region could not exist in its current form without it.

Decades of warming temperatures have finally forced a confrontation with an inescapable truth: There’s no longer enough water to go around. This past winter was a preview of what the future will look like: A very low amount of snow fell across the mountains that feed the river, so water levels have plummeted to near-record low levels in vast Lake Mead and Lake Powell — the two mega-reservoirs that are used to regulate water resources during hard times.

Since then, the news has only gotten worse.

Water managers project that Lake Powell, which straddles the Arizona-Utah border, is on pace to lose 15 percent of its volume within the next 12 months. Lake Mead, which feeds hydroelectricity turbines at the Hoover Dam and is the region’s most important reservoir, will fare even worse — falling 22 percent in the next two years, below a critical cutoff point to trigger mandatory water rationing.

“Within Arizona, we must agree to share the pain,” Governor Doug Ducey said at a meeting of state water managers in Phoenix this week. For many reasons, Arizona is going to suffer first. The state relies on the river for 40 percent of its water — and some cities, like Tucson, are entirely dependent on it. The prospect of near-term shortfalls, according to Ducey, means there’s “no time to spare.”

In a dystopian twist, Las Vegas has already been planning for the worst-case scenario: Three years ago, the city completed a three-mile long tunnel to suck water from directly below Lake Mead. The tunnel will provide last-resort access to every drop of water — long after the reservoir falls an additional 125 feet, below the point that renders the Hoover Dam obsolete. At the current pace, that could happen within years.

Losing the river’s carbon-free hydropower will create electricity shortages. Unpredictable legal challenges, and perhaps interstate fighting, would escalate to the Supreme Court. Since agriculture currently consumes about 80 percent of the river’s water, it’s the obvious first place that urban areas are going to look to shore up their own supplies.

In the plans currently being discussed, within months, Southwestern farmers will have to abandon some of their irrigated cropland. That will kick off an inevitable decline of the region’s economy that could eventually reshape the entire country’s food distribution system.

Under the current rules, federal water managers project a 52 percent chance that an official water shortage will be declared in fall of 2019, with mandatory cutbacks beginning in 2020. A shortage is more than 99 percent certain the following year. The problem is, due to systematic over-use, even those cutbacks won’t be enough to prevent the river from falling still lower, so the multi-month series of meetings this year have centered around agreeing on deep cuts starting right away.

To be clear: There is no remaining scenario that does not include mandatory cutbacks in water usage along the Colorado River within the next few years. The long-awaited judgement day for the Southwest is finally here.

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40 million Americans depend on the Colorado River. It’s drying up.

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Here’s what climate scientist James Hansen would have said in the Valve Turner trial

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Most activists are relieved if a judge frees them from the charges brought against them. But when the tar sands “valve turners” found out last week that they had been acquitted, they had a different reaction — disappointment. They had hoped to use the trial to discuss the global climate threat posed by the controversial pipelines.

On October 11, 2016, this small group of activists manually shut down multiple pipelines carrying oil from Canadian tar sands to the United States. Reuters called it “the biggest coordinated move on U.S. energy infrastructure ever undertaken.” It wasn’t exactly “Mission Impossible.” More like Mission “righty-tighty.” They simply snuck into the stations in Washington, Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota and turned the valves clockwise to halt the flow of crude oil.

The “valve turners,” as the group came to be called, knew they’d be caught — they even called the operating companies 15 minutes before turning the valves to tell them what they were about to do. They wanted a proper trial as a kind of public forum to discuss the urgency of climate change. As one of the activists, Emily Johnson, told Democracy Now, “You know, we very much wanted everyone to be able to hear—for our jurors to be able to hear—from our expert witnesses.”

But on Tuesday of last week, just as their trial was getting started, the group was acquitted of all charges. Not to be deterred, one of the key experts who would have been called in the trial has made his would-be testimony public.

Former top NASA climate scientist James Hansen repurposed his testimony as an op-ed for the Denver Post. In the article, he describes the many ways we can observe climate change now: the spate of record-breaking hurricanes fueled by warming oceans, the way that bark beetles—a beneficiary of climate change—have destroyed millions of acres of Colorado forests, and how the island nation of Kiribati has had to negotiate to relocate all 103,000 of its people.

Hansen, who was arrested in 2011 at the Tar Sands protest, wanted to highlight the dire necessity behind the valve turners’ actions. He wrote, “[A]s I was prepared to swear under oath this week, we need to leave the vast majority of fossil fuels in the ground if we are to prevent truly catastrophic climate change.”

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Here’s what climate scientist James Hansen would have said in the Valve Turner trial

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Craft breweries in Colorado brace for less water

This story was originally published by CityLab and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

There’s an old saying in the West: Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over.

In Colorado, home to more breweries than almost any other state, it’s probably more accurate to say that beer is for drinking. And although brewers haven’t yet come to blows over access to their product’s main ingredient, the state’s water is on its way to becoming a fought-over commodity.

Colorado is in the midst of its worst drought since the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages water in the West, predicts that reservoirs along the Colorado River will reach critical low points by 2020, leading to water shortages throughout much of the western U.S.

“We need to get ahead of this,” said Kelissa Hieber, owner and head brewer at Denver’s Goldspot Brewing. “We are getting to a point where we could have a crisis that could be catastrophic for small breweries.”

Hieber was speaking from behind a keg at her brewery’s stand at the Save the Ales Festival in downtown Denver in August. Hers was one of more than 40 local breweries that donated beer to the festival to raise money for water conservation initiatives throughout the state. Like most of the 200-some other craft breweries in Colorado, Goldspot uses city water to produce its beer. If a water crisis were to strike, these breweries would be subject to the same restrictions as any of the city’s other commercial water users.

Most of Colorado’s cities have yet to face serious water restrictions, but the bleak forecasts have grabbed the attention of leaders in the state’s booming beer industry. “Even though it takes 10 times the amount of water to make a hamburger than to make a beer, people look at the beer and they see the water, so they have a relationship with it,” said Katie Wallace, the director of corporate social responsibility at New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins. “I think that gives us a greater responsibility and a greater opportunity to talk about water.”

Wallace refers to Colorado’s rivers as the brewery’s “lifeblood,” a sentiment shared by many other brewers in the state — and a driving force behind a groundswell of water advocacy from the industry. Craft breweries all over Colorado are now championing initiatives to restore rivers and preserve the state’s valuable water resources. New Belgium, for instance, donates to organizations that help protect its watershed and keep water in the river.

Concern over water shortages has pushed many brewers to find ways to save water in their own brewing process. Though municipal water restrictions are likely a long way off, drought and climate change present other risks to the state’s beer. Recent droughts have decreased barley and hops harvests — driving up costs for breweries — while wildfires have spread across the region, contaminating some surface water sources.

In 2012, Fort Collins lost half of its yearly water supply when the largest wildfire in Colorado history contaminated the Poudre River, forcing the City of Fort Collins to drain its reservoirs to meet water demand. The fire was just seven miles from New Belgium’s brewery, and for years, the brewery employed a sensory panel to taste-test the water for smokiness before putting it into their beer.

“People are a little bit surprised at the degree to which climate change is already a problem for something like brewing,” said Dan Carreno, one of the founders of Colorado’s Save the Beer Tour, which educates beer drinkers on the effect climate change has on the brewing process. “This problem is happening now. It’s not happening 20 or 30 years from now.”

The issue of water quality is particularly sensitive in Colorado, where the supply of mineral-rich Rocky Mountain water was the catalyst for what has become a strong brewing tradition in the state. The tasty water first attracted Adolph Coors to Golden, Colorado, in 1873, when he set up the original Coors Brewery right on the river. The brewery has since grown to become one of the largest in the world, producing up to 10 million barrels a day.

Unlike small craft breweries, Coors has insulated itself to the risk of city water shortages by purchasing legal water rights to draw directly from a river, and the company is able to replicate the taste and mineral content of the water at its Colorado brewery in its outposts throughout the country.

Most craft breweries tweak a water’s flavor profile before using it in their beer, but only a little, since the process is energy-intensive and expensive. So they place a high value on the quality of the original water coming through their pipes.

“It’s a lot to do with the brewers respecting the water and wanting to have high-quality water in their product,” said Greg Schlichting, the head brewer at Denver’s Declaration Brewing Company. “It’s the same thing when they source malt and source hops and they source everything.”

High-quality ingredients are the staples of any craft brewery, but so is innovation, and brewers can improvise when resources aren’t available. In April, Declaration brewed a beer for a special event using only water they recycled in-house. Although the beer was costlier to produce, the water quality after treatment was nearly identical to their other beers. However, not all breweries have the resources to resort to these measures when strapped for water, especially very small ones.

Recycled water could be an option in an extreme situation, but Declaration’s brewers don’t think it will get to that point. Besides, even in a beer mecca like Fort Collins, craft brewing uses only about 2 percent of the city’s water, while lawn care accounts for nearly 50 percent.

“Bottom line: People are going to give up their lawns before they give up their beer,” Schlichting said.

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Craft breweries in Colorado brace for less water

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Happy birthday, Scott Pruitt! These songs go out to you

Fifty years ago, on this here day, a young Scotty Pruitt came into a world where oil spills stained beaches, rivers caught on fire, and the EPA didn’t exist. Today, the EPA exists, Pruitt is Chief, and, oh, it’s not looking so hot for the beaches and the rivers seem a little flammable, too.

But let’s not waste time harping on such dire and pressing matters. What better way to honor our fearful leader than to shower him in gifts. (No, I don’t mean the trove of detailed EPA documents released to the public this week.) I’m talking about this curated Spotify playlist, “Polluting the airwaves for Pruitt” brought to us by the folks over at the EPA employees union. The playlist features hits like “Dirty Water” by the Foo Fighters, “The Greatest Denier” by Doves, and “Man of Oil” by Animal Collective.

So let us look towards the year ahead, one full with promise of deadlier heatwaves and stronger hurricanes. What shall you accomplish in your 50th year around the sun, dear Pruitt? I put together a playlist of songs to get you inspired.

End Of The Road – Boyz II Men
Since U Been Gone – Kelly Clarkson
Hit The Road Jack – Ray Charles
Another One Bites The Dust – Queen
Bye Bye Bye – NSYNC
Somebody That I Used To Know — Gotye
Take A Bow — Rihanna
How The Mighty Have Fallen — Margo Price
Leaving On A Jet Plane — John Denver
Finale — Oklahoma

Pour one out for Scotty! Either for his birthday or the impending end to his dirty career.

Wanna gift Pruitt a song? Send us your ideas and we’ll put together a playlist. Look for it in tomorrow’s Beacon newsletter.


Happy birthday, Scott Pruitt! These songs go out to you

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1.5 million Puerto Ricans don’t have safe drinking water.

The federal lawsuit, filed this week by the environmental group Deep Green Resistance, seeks to protect the Colorado River — a water source for Los Angeles, Phoenix, Denver, and Las Vegas, among other desert-strewn metro areas.

The New York Times reports that the state of Colorado has been sued for failing to protect the river and its “right to flourish” by allowing pollution and general degradation. The plaintiff’s attorney — the plaintiff being the Colorado River — is Jason Flores-Williams, who told the New York Times that there is a fundamental disparity in rights of “entities that are using nature and nature itself.”

Those entities are primarily corporations, which have been granted human rights in major Supreme Court decisions over the past year. In the Citizens United and Hobby Lobby decisions, for example, the Supreme Court found that corporations should be afforded the human right to donate without limit to political campaigns and to refuse to comply with federal law on basis of religious freedom.

The main challenge for the river case is that a corporation is, by definition, a group of people — but hey, it’s worth a shot! Here’s a short video we made on why protecting waterways like the Colorado River is important, even for city-dwellers:

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1.5 million Puerto Ricans don’t have safe drinking water.

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5 Things We’ve Learned About Neil Gorsuch So Far

Mother Jones

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Two days into Neil Gosuch’s confirmation hearings, the proceedings have yielded little insight into the Supreme Court nominee’s views about important legal precedent or landmark cases. In keeping with the tradition of previous nominees, he has declined to give any opinions on past or future cases, or explain his personal views on controversial legal issues from abortion to gay marriage. And he’s sidestepped questions about his work in the Bush Justice Department, which included helping the administration defend torture and denying access to the courts for detainees at Guantanamo. But the hearings have unearthed some more obscure trivia about the 10th Circuit judge. Here are some of the most interesting tidbits that have emerged so far:

He likes David Foster Wallace: Waxing poetic about his view of the law, Gorsuch told the Judiciary Committee: “We’re now like David Foster Wallace’s fish. We’re surrounded by the rule of law. It’s in the fabric of our lives.”

Gorsuch was referring to the story the late writer told in a 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College. “There are these two young fish swimming along,” Wallace told the graduating students, “and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning, boys, how’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?'”

His confirmation hearing isn’t the first time Gorsuch has referenced Wallace’s fish. He’s invoked it at least once before, in an article for the Harvard Journal of Law and Policy. “If sometimes the cynic in all of us fails to see our Nation’s successes when it comes to the rule of law,” he wrote, “maybe it’s because we are like David Foster Wallace’s fish that’s oblivious to the life-giving water in which it swims.”

He thinks it’s OK for a women to be president even if the founders didn’t: Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) asked Gorsuch about his belief that judges should interpret the Constitution the way the Founders would have written it, better known as originalism, which would seem to make it difficult for the law to adapt to modern life. “I’m not looking to take us back to quill pens and horse and buggies,” Gorsuch told her. But Klobuchar pressed on. She wanted to know how he could square his originalist philosophy with the fact that the Constitution as first written didn’t allow women to vote. “So when the Constitution refers 30-some times to ‘his’ or ‘he’ when describing the president of the United States, you would see that as, ‘Well back then they actually thought a woman could be president even through women couldn’t vote?'” she asked. In response, Gorsuch growled, “Of course women can be president! I’ve got two daughters. I hope one of them grows up to be president.”

He loves The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) opened his questioning of Gorsuch by asking him: “What is the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything?” The judge responded with a smile, “42.” Gorsuch explained that the question is a joke he uses to break the ice when swearing in nervous lawyers.

Gorsuch claimed everyone knew the answer to the question because it comes from Douglas Adams’ cult classic novel, The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It was clear that aside from Cruz, most of the senators on the Judiciary Committee had not read the book. “If you haven’t read it, you should,” Gorsuch told them. “It may be one of my daughter’s favorite books. And so, that’s a family joke.” Cruz gave Gorsuch a dreamy look and said that he saw Gorsuch’s Hitchhiker joke as “a delightful example of the humanity of a judge that your record has demonstrated.”

He had a pet goat: In his opening statement Monday, Gorsuch gave a shout out to his daughters, who were home in Colorado watching the hearings on TV. He reminisced about “devising ways to keep our determined pet goat out of the garden,” one of his favorite memories with them.

His kids have engaged in “mutton busting”: Cruz got Gorsuch talking about the Denver rodeo, where he takes his law clerks every year. The spectacle finishes up with the prize steer visiting the lobby of the Brown Palace hotel. As part of the festivities, the rodeo features something called mutton busting—a children’s version of bronco riding, done on sheep instead of bulls—which Gorsuch described like this:

You take a poor little kid, you find a sheep, and you attach the one to the other and see how long they can hold on. And you know, it usually works fine when the sheep has got a lot of wool and you tell them to hold on. I tell my kids hold on monkey style. Really get in there, right? Get around it. Because if you sit upright, you go flying right off. Right? You want to get in. The problem when you get in is that you’re so locked in that you don’t want to let go. Right? So then the poor clown has to come and knock you off the sheep. My daughters got knocked around pretty good over the years.”

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5 Things We’ve Learned About Neil Gorsuch So Far

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Here’s How Facebook Got Worked

Mother Jones

There are lots of wingnut sites that traffic in conspiracy theories and urban myths. But that’s not all. There are also fake news sites, deliberately crafted to look real and fool people into believing outrageous stories. The most infamous at the moment is the Denver Guardian, which peddled a fake story written in pseudo-AP style about an FBI agent involved in investigating Hillary Clinton’s emails who was found murdered. Sites like Google and Facebook should work harder to eliminate junk like this from their search results and news feeds, and in Facebook’s case it turns out they have a pretty good idea of how to do it. But Gizmodo reports that they were afraid to pull the trigger:

According to two sources with direct knowledge of the company’s decision-making, Facebook executives conducted a wide-ranging review of products and policies earlier this year, with the goal of eliminating any appearance of political bias. One source said high-ranking officials were briefed on a planned News Feed update that would have identified fake or hoax news stories, but disproportionately impacted right-wing news sites by downgrading or removing that content from people’s feeds. According to the source, the update was shelved and never released to the public. It’s unclear if the update had other deficiencies that caused it to be scrubbed.

“They absolutely have the tools to shut down fake news,” said the source, who asked to remain anonymous citing fear of retribution from the company. The source added, “there was a lot of fear about upsetting conservatives after Trending Topics,” and that “a lot of product decisions got caught up in that.”

This demonstrates the benefit of working the refs. Back in May, an ex-Facebook employee accused Facebook of manipulating its Trending Topics feed to favor liberal stories. Conservatives naturally went ballistic, and their shitstorm of abuse worked: Facebook caved in and agreed to change its process even though there was never any real evidence of liberal bias in the first place.

That was a victory, but not the real victory. The real victory is that it put the fear of God into Facebook, which became hypersensitive to anything that might affect right-wing sites—even if those sites were plainly bogus. And as Mike Caulfield points out, bogus right-wing stories like the Denver Guardian’s get a lot of attention on Facebook:

To put this in perspective, if you combined the top stories from the Boston Globe, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and LA Times, they still had only 5% the viewership of an article from a fake news site that intimated strongly that the Democratic Presidential candidate had had a husband and wife murdered then burned to cover up her crimes.

Facebook probably could have stopped this kind of thing, but their earlier run-in over the Trending Topics feed made them afraid to do anything. That’s how Facebook ended up promoting dozens of right-wing conspiracy theories during a presidential campaign. They had been worked.

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Here’s How Facebook Got Worked

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After New York Win, Clinton Campaign Says Sanders’ Attacks Help Republicans

Mother Jones

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After a decisive victory in New York on Tuesday, Hillary Clinton’s campaign called on Bernie Sanders to strike a more positive tone in the final two months of the primary contest, hinting that the senator from Vermont should ultimately leave the race gracefully without damaging the party’s chances of winning in the fall. As an example for how Sanders should conduct his campaign, a Clinton aide pointed to how the then-Sen. Clinton helped unite the party behind Barack Obama in 2008.

Speaking with reporters after Clinton’s victory rally in Manhattan Tuesday night, Clinton campaign communications director Jennifer Palmieri called on Sanders to run a more positive, issue-based campaign. “He needs to decide as he closes out the Democratic primary, if he is going to continue on the destructive path that he started down in the New York primary where he is making personal character attacks against her that mimic the attacks that Republicans make and aid Republicans, or if he is going to end this primary the way that he promised to run—the kind of campaign he said he would run—that was focused on issues,” she said. “There’s no question that Sen. Sanders, that the behavior of him and his campaign has been destructive.”

Palmieri pointed to Sanders’ recent comment that Clinton is not qualified to be president—a remark Sanders quickly walked back—as well as his assertion in the last debate that he questioned her judgment. She also noted that the Sanders campaign on Monday accused the Clinton campaign of campaign finance violations.

Palmieri cited Clinton’s own example in the 2008 primary against Obama as a guide for Sanders. Because Clinton stayed in that race until June, she said the Clinton team respects Sanders’ decision to see the race through to the end. But, she noted, Clinton did not contest Obama’s win at the Democratic National Convention in Denver that year.

Palmieri did not note the nasty tone of the 2008 contest. “I think she set a gold standard for how people who don’t end up with the nomination, who lose in that effort, should come together and help the party,” she said. “Given the primary that they went through, where they both went all the way to the end, very hard fought, to come and ask to play that role and be the person to who says, ‘By acclamation, I say this party stands behind this nominee and he’s going to be our next president’…that’s what we have seen happen before. We think that can happen again.”


After New York Win, Clinton Campaign Says Sanders’ Attacks Help Republicans

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Updated: Everything We Know About the Planned Parenthood Shootings

Mother Jones

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Update, 11/28/15, 11:22 a.m.: In a statement released Saturday morning, President Barack Obama condemned Friday’s violence and called for stricter gun control measures, while praising local law enforcement for their work. “This is not normal,” he said. “We can’t let it become normal. If we truly care about this—if we’re going to offer up our thoughts and prayers again, for God knows how many times, with a truly clean conscience—then we have to do something about the easy accessibility of weapons of war on our streets to people who have no business wielding them. Period. Enough is enough.”

Colorado Springs Police have confirmed that the suspect in custody for Friday’s shooting is Robert Lewis Dear. The 57-year-old suspect is being held at the El Paso county jail without bond and will appear in court on November 30. Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers told the Denver Post on Saturday morning that the identities of the two civilians who were killed would likely be released later Saturday or Sunday.

Update, 11/27/15, 6:05 p.m.: A Colorado Springs police officer confirmed that two civilians and one police officer were killed during the shooting on Friday. The officer was employed by the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. Nine others were injured during the shooting.

Update, 11/27/15, 5:05 p.m.: Police arrested the alleged gunman Friday afternoon after an hours-long standoff with law enforcement. Eleven people were taken to the hospital with injuries, including five police officers.

An investigation is underway and authorities say the gunman left behind items, according to the Colorado Independent.

The Colorado Springs police department is reporting that three officers and an as-yet-undetermined number of other people were shot earlier today outside a Planned Parenthood clinic. The department says the shooter is contained to a specific area but has not yet been apprehended. The department warned residents and reporters to stay away from the area of the shooting. Police have closed Centennial Boulevard in both directions and ordered nearby stores and restaurants to keep customers inside.

According to the New York Times, a local TV affiliate reported earlier today that the gunman was shooting at passing cars from the Planned Parenthood parking lot. Colorado Springs was recently the scene of a mass shooting on October 31, when three people were killed by a gunman before he died after a shootout with police.

This is a breaking story. Come back here for updates as news develops.

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Updated: Everything We Know About the Planned Parenthood Shootings

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Brennan Center: No "Crime Wave" in 2015

Mother Jones

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Has there been an explosion of crime in 2015? It will take some time before official figures are available, so the Brennan Center decided to compile some unofficial figures through October. They surveyed the 30 largest cities and asked for both the murder rate and the overall “index” crime rate (murder and non-negligent manslaughter, aggravated assault, robbery, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft). Their conclusion: the murder rate is up 11 percent while the overall crime rate is down 1.5 percent.

It’s true that some cities have seen very large increases in their murder rates. But that’s not uncommon. The base of murders is pretty small, so it doesn’t make much to create a big spike in a single year. The overall crime rate, which has a much larger base, is usually more stable.

Any time the murder rate goes up, it’s a good idea to be concerned. But murder rates have ticked up by 10 percent or so on several occasions in the past. There’s just a lot of noise the data. Overall, though, there’s little evidence of any kind of explosion in either the murder rate or the crime rate. A few cities (Baltimore, DC, Denver, most of Texas) seem to have a serious problem, but that’s about it.


Brennan Center: No "Crime Wave" in 2015

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