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Engineering Eden – Jordan Fisher Smith


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Engineering Eden – Jordan Fisher Smith

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These Men’s Rights Activists Are Suing Women for Meeting Without Men

Mother Jones

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In April 2014, Stephanie Burns’ company, Chic CEO, was gearing up for a networking event at an Italian restaurant in San Diego. Chic CEO hosts online resources for women starting their own businesses, and this spring evening it had teamed up with a local networking group to throw a mixer at Solare Lounge, where women could mingle over cocktails and appetizers while talking business.

During the event, Rich Allison, Allan Candelore, and Harry Crouch appeared at the restaurant door. They had each paid the $20 admission fee, and they told the hosts they wanted to enter the event. Chic CEO turned them away, saying that “the event was only open to women,” according to the men’s version of events, explained later in a legal complaint. Within two months, the three men had filed a discrimination lawsuit against Burns and her company alleging that the event discriminated against men. They are each members of the nation’s oldest men’s rights group, the National Coalition for Men, and Crouch is the NCFM’s president.

The lawsuit is a recent example of a trend that several men’s rights activists have repeatedly deployed in California, one made more successful by their strategic use of the Unruh Act, a decades-old civil rights law named after Jesse Unruh, the progressive former speaker of the California Assembly. The law is quite broad, outlawing discrimination based on markers such as age, race, sex, or disability. In dozens of lawsuits, several NCFM members have invoked it to allege discrimination against men by such varied groups as sports teams and local theaters. And the strategy has worked.

Since 2013, these men have used the law to file two lawsuits, and threaten several more, against groups encouraging gender diversity in tech and business, worlds that have been historically dominated by men, with women holding only about 4 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions and making up only about 13 percent of computer engineers for the last 20 years. As the movement for more gender diversity in these fields has gained traction, some men’s rights advocates have questioned the need for such a movement at all.

“Women typically earn more than do men” in industrial engineering and “all other engineering disciplines,” Harry Crouch, the NCFM’s president, writes on the group’s website. (Census data says the opposite: As of 2013, median earnings for men in computer, science, and engineering occupations were about $13,000 more than the median earnings for women.) “Surely, networking mixers to encourage more men to take part in those fields are needed, but not at the exclusion of women,” wrote Crouch.

Critics in legal circles contend that these lawsuits appear to be as much about making an easy buck as they are about defending aggrieved men.

The NCFM members’ lawsuit alleged that by holding a networking event marketed toward women, Burns and Chic CEO were in fact illegally discriminating against men. The 2014 complaint filed in San Diego Superior Court focused on the event’s marketing, noting: “Imagine the uproar by women business owners and entrepreneurs, feminists, and other equal rights advocates if a business consulting company in partnership with a business networking firm brazenly touted a no-women-allowed business networking event as follows.” It illustrated the point with a rewritten version of the ad for the event, substituting references to women with men.

(Later in the complaint, the last names of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, two of the highest-ranking women in Silicon Valley, are misspelled.)

This was not the first lawsuit these men had filed against a women’s professional group. In 2013, they sued Women on Course, a group that introduces women to golf, after the Virginia-based organization held a golf clinic and networking event at a San Diego golf club. Once more, Allison, Candelore, and Crouch asked to attend the event—this time in advance via email—and sued the organization after they were told they could not come because the event was for women.

Both Donna Hoffman, the president of Women on Course, and Chic CEO’s Burns settled with the plaintiffs for an undisclosed sum. As a result of the suit, Burns got a new job and shrunk the business she’d built over six years, suffering a “significant” financial and personal toll. (She wouldn’t elaborate on her legal costs, out of concern for potentially violating the terms of her settlement. Rava also said he could not comment on settlements due to confidentiality.) “All Chic CEO is trying to do is provide women with the information they need to get a business started,” Burns writes in an email. “Just because we help women, doesn’t mean we hurt men.”

NCFM members disagreed. They alleged that they were illegally excluded from a business opportunity that was “closed to struggling single dads, disabled combat veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and other business men and male entrepreneurs who, just like business women and female entrepreneurs, hoped to and had the right to meet and mingle with entrepreneurs, CEOs, directors, savvy business people and other entrepreneurial-minded people.”

In response to the argument that events like Chic CEO’s help address the pay gap, Crouch wrote on the NCFM’s website that according to “the plethora of real social science research…only a minute amount of the pay gap may be due to sex discrimination.”

Alfred G. Rava—a San Diego-based attorney who is also the NCFM’s secretary and free legal consultant—has been suing on behalf of aggrieved men for more than a decade and represented the NCFM members against Chic CEO. The 59-year-old attorney has filed more than 150 sex discrimination lawsuits in the last 12 years, many citing the Unruh Act. In 2003, seven San Diego nightclubs paid Rava and his paralegal a $125,000 settlement after they brought a series of lawsuits challenging the clubs’ “Ladies Night” and other woman-specific discounts. (Part of this sum also went to their attorney fees.) In 2004, the San Diego Repertory Theater paid Rava’s paralegal $12,000 after he wrote to it, with Rava’s help, alleging that its ticket discounts—half-priced tickets for women on specific nights—were illegal. In 2009, Rava won a half-million-dollar settlement from the Oakland A’s for a class-action suit that contested a Mother’s Day promotion where the A’s gave the first 7,500 women to arrive at the ballpark that weekend a sun hat. Rava told Mother Jones that he’s never been paid by the NCFM for his “advocacy for equality for men.” He also said he could not disclose how much money, if any, he or his clients made from various settlements over discrimination claims because the settlements are confidential.

Rava’s most high-profile victory was a sex discrimination case that, in 2007, made it all the way to the California Supreme Court. In the lawsuit, four men, including several NCFM members, alleged that the ticket prices charged by a Los Angeles restaurant and night club were discriminatory—in some instances women got a $5 discount or got in free. The issue that the Supreme Court had to decide was not whether the men were discriminated against, but whether the men had the standing to file the suit at all. The club argued they didn’t because men never asked to be charged at the ladies’ rate. But California’s Supreme Court ruled in the men’s favor, so they were free to sue the club. The NCFM members were then awarded a judgment by a lower court—but Rava says they were unable to collect because the club had gone out of business. This Supreme Court victory laid some of the legal groundwork for Rava’s recent cases against women’s professional groups.

In May 2015, Leslie Fishlock, the CEO of Geek Girl, a tech training company, got a letter from the NCFM alleging that the female-focused marketing for her upcoming Geek Girl tech conference was discriminatory. Copied on the letter were some of her conference’s biggest sponsors, including the University of San Diego and Microsoft. Fishlock was shocked, and she worried her sponsors would pull out at the last minute. They didn’t, but Fishlock says she spent thousands of dollars on attorneys to avoid a lawsuit.

“It’s a fear-based shake down strategy,” Fishlock says. “I couldn’t sleep. I worried that they would show up to my events, even though we allow guys to come. After the conference, I thought, ‘I don’t even know if I want to do this anymore.’ I shouldn’t have to live in that kind of fear.”

Since then, Fishlock has been warning other women in tech about how to tweak their marketing language to avoid the NCFM’s challenges. She says she has sent emails to “all of the women I know who have networking groups.”

The NCFM has also written similar letters to a number of other groups, including a local YMCA and a Monterey bike race, contesting woman-specific promotions. It’s unclear if Rava has been behind the drafting of all these letters, but the legal citations and lines of argument in portions of the letters are strikingly similar to those in the Chic CEO and Women on Course lawsuits. A cached page featuring the letter sent to Geek Girl on the NCFM’s website thanks Rava for his help. Rava confirms he has consulted for the NCFM about businesses that treat men and women differently, and notes that the letters are signed by the NCFM’s president, Harry Crouch.

Rava has lost cases as well, including a much-publicized suit opposing a Mother’s Day giveaway by the Anaheim Angels. But when it comes to male discrimination cases, his overall track record is impressive.

“I’m shocked that he has gotten any traction at all,” says Michael Kimmel, a professor of sociology at Stony Brook University who has written extensively on men’s rights groups. Kimmel cites the example of Roy Den Hollander, a men’s rights activist and New York attorney who has filed sex discrimination suits on behalf of men over the past decade. He sued over ladies’ nights at a number of New York nightclubs, the Violence Against Women Act, and Columbia University‘s women’s studies department. All three of these cases were dismissed.

But the Unruh Act’s protections are broad, which some say makes California fertile territory for Rava’s work. Robert Dato, an Orange County attorney who defeated Rava in the Angels case, says the act can encourage frivolous lawsuits, in part because it contains a one-sided provision requiring losing defendants to pay back the plaintiff’s attorneys fees, but not vice versa. Rava doesn’t agree that the breadth of the Unruh Act encourages sex discrimination lawsuits, in part, he tells Mother Jones, because his litigation and advocacy have led to a dearth of parties to sue. “These gender-based promotions and business practices have been virtually eliminated in California,” writes Rava in an email, “and no sex discrimination promotions or events means no sex discrimination lawsuits.” Rava told Mother Jones that he’s not working on any Unruh Act cases at this time.

California courts have suggested that Rava and his plaintiffs are exploiting the breadth of the Unruh Act to make money off settlements. They “have been involved in numerous of what have been characterized as ‘shake down’ lawsuits,'” wrote a California appeals court in dismissing Rava’s case against the Anaheim Angels. “They proclaim themselves equal rights activists, yet repeatedly attempted to glean money…through the threat of suit.” The California Supreme Court raised the same issue in its opinion on Rava’s supper club case, noting, “We share to some degree the concerns voiced by the trial court and the appellate court…regarding the potential for abusive litigation being brought under the Act.”

Rava dismisses the courts’ references to the potential shake-down nature of his lawsuits. He explains in an email that the courts are merely repeating “personal attacks” made by his opponents when the law is not on their side: “Perhaps because California’s anti-discrimination laws and the facts are so much against these serial sex discriminators and their attorneys,” writes Rava, “that in some cases the parties and their attorneys have little choice but to make personal attacks against or ‘pound’ the discrimination victims and their attorneys.”

Candelore, Allison, and Crouch are undeterred. As noted by Yahoo and in San Diego court records, Candelore has been a plaintiff in 12 civil cases since 2011. In 10 of those 12 cases, he was represented by Rava. In nine of those, Crouch was also a plaintiff, and in eight of them Allison was a plaintiff.

But the question remains: Why have tech and business become targets for the men’s rights movement? Kimmel offered a theory.

“The STEM field has been, for better or worse, one of the last bastions of uncriticized masculinity,” says Kimmel. “You still find that in Silicon Valley. There’s a kind of crazy nerd macho where your masculinity is proved by how little sleep you get and how much work you can do. So for these men, it’s exasperated entitlement. ‘Those were our jobs; why are you taking those too?'”

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These Men’s Rights Activists Are Suing Women for Meeting Without Men

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Scientists Hooked Up an Inflatable Bag to a Cow Stomach. The Timelapse Video Is Insane.

Mother Jones

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Cows are gassy beasts. And this gas is bad for the planet. Last year, my colleague Josh Harkinson detailed just how dangerous this gas has become in our atmosphere:

Cows are already the nation’s single largest source of methane, a greenhouse gas produced by oil extraction, decomposing trash, and the guts of grazing animals that’s as much as 105 times more potent than carbon dioxide. A single cow farts and belches enough methane to match the carbon equivalent of the average car. According to a 2006 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report, the world’s 1.4 billion cows produce 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases—more than the entire transportation sector.

Our hunger for beef is a big problem for the climate: More cows, more methane, faster warming. Now we have a sensational new visual way to understand exactly how much methane we’re talking about, thanks to a new documentary called Racing Extinction, which airs on Discovery Channel Wednesday night in 220 countries and territories around the world—a date designed to coincide with the early days of the high-stakes UN climate summit, where diplomats are attempting to forge a new global deal to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

To measure just how much a single cow emits every day, scientists at the National Institute of Agricultural Technology hooked up inflatable plastic bags to cows’ stomachs. Then they fed them. And then, they watched the methane bags inflate. Check out the time-lapse:

Look, they even have special belch-backpacks:

Watch the entire fascinating segment below, courtesy of Discovery. And check out the documentary Wednesday night, at 9 pm ET:

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Scientists Hooked Up an Inflatable Bag to a Cow Stomach. The Timelapse Video Is Insane.

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Don’t Feel Bad About the Guy(s) You Fucked Last Night

Mother Jones

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A few years ago, New York City-based stand-up comedian Corinne Fisher, 30, was going through a personal slump: She’d just been dumped unexpectedly by the man she thought she was going to marry, in a Panera Bread of all places. “I had what I would describe as a nervous breakdown,” she says. “I lost 20 pounds, my hair was falling out because I wasn’t eating properly.” She spent hours sobbing on the shoulder of her friend and fellow comic Krystyna Hutchinson, 27. But amid the moping, Fisher got an idea for a new project: She would take the High Fidelity approach and interview all of her ex-boyfriends and lovers to figure out what went wrong.

Hutchinson—who, like Fisher, is unabashedly horny and not shy about sharing her sexual escapades—was on board, but for a slightly different reason. She’d become frustrated by the “notion of shame around women who have a lot of sex and enjoy it.” So in December 2013, the duo, collectively known as Sorry About Last Night, launched Guys We Fucked: The Anti-Slut Shaming Podcast.

Every episode begins with an update on each woman’s sex life, but the podcast quickly evolved away from its focus on past paramours. There’s still plenty of chatter about threesomes and sex toys, but the show also takes on touchy topics like pedophilia, pimps, and sexual violence in frank conversations with comedians, actors, sex workers, and activists. Guests have included the likes of sex columnist Dan Savage, Daily Show creator Lizz Winstead, and female pornographer Stoya. Two years into its run, Guys We Fucked began to pick up speed, and it now boasts more than a half million listeners. In August, it became the top comedy podcast on iTunes for a stint. It’s still in the top 10—despite initially being blocked by Apple due to its profane title. I caught up with Fisher and Hutchinson to talk about Miley Cyrus, capitalism in the bedroom, and “no bullshit feminism.”

Mother Jones: What made you decide you were comfortable airing your sexual exploits and questions to hundreds of thousands of listeners?

Corinne Fisher: Nothing. Because we didn’t know that was going to happen. And now sometimes I’m like, “Damn.”

Krystyna Hutchinson: Corinne and I are really good friends and we’ve been working together for four or five years now, so our chemistry is really good. I say, “Okay, I’m just going to talk to Corinne”—and I can forget the fact that 100,000 people are about to hear me talk about my pussy.

MJ: Have you experienced any negative side effects of being so open about your sex lives?

CF: The negative side effects are very directly to my personal life. Being single and talking about being “a big old whore,” is not going to be the best sell for yourself for dating. But to play devil’s advocate, I don’t really want to date somebody who’s not comfortable with everything I’m saying.

MJ: What’s the best reaction you’ve gotten to the show so far?

CH: A couple credited us with them being able to conceive!

KF: The first email we got that blew my mind was from a girl in India who was raped by a member of her family, and then she started listening to the podcast. She said, “For the first time in my life I can look at myself as a sexual being.” We did one with Wendi Starling about the night she was raped. After that aired, we were inundated with emails from girls that experienced almost the exact same thing, with someone familiar. It really pushed home the message that this happens way too much. We’re opening up topics that not a lot of people are comfortable talking about. It’s exciting to know that at least it helps some people.

MJ: Why did you include “anti-slut-shaming” in the title?

KH: Just having a vagina made me want to include that in the title. There’s this shame around women who have a lot of sex and enjoy it. It’s one of the huge parts about being a woman that’s really frustrating. I really wanted to speak to that, and talk about our experiences with men who have been assholes, with men who have been great. Because that’s the one common denominator between all of my friends and me: We all have stories of a time that we were sexually harassed.

MJ: There are plenty of sex podcasts out there already. What was the void you hoped to fill?

CF: The one in my soul.

KH: One of the voids that we didn’t set out to fill but I feel like we are filling is no-bullshit feminism. We want to talk about the shitty stuff. We want to talk about what we’re bad at. We talk about how women are physically weaker than men. Some people don’t want to say that, but it’s true. Why can’t we just talk about it? And just scrape all the bullshit away. I respond to that type of feminism so much better. And I think it’s something that men can really get on board with, too.

MJ: Some people think sex motivates pretty much every decision we make, what we wear, who we talk to, everything we do all day. So why don’t women talk about it more?

KH: It all comes back to shame. The reason I don’t wear tops that show cleavage, because I have giant tits, is because one time in the eighth grade this girl accused me of sticking out my boobs to get boys to like me. These little tiny scarring things. I think you just get inside your head, and because no one else is talking about it, you stay inside your head and you think you’re alone in this kind of struggle to be open about your sexuality. That’s pretty much the core.

CF: There’s a lot more value on the sexuality of a woman than a man. If there’s too much sex on the market, the value of the item decreases. If you’re a woman who’s giving away your sexuality, even if you feel good about it, men look at you as something that has a lower value. I think we somehow got that into our heads that that is true. When really it’s just a mechanism of control.

MJ: So really your podcast is about trying to rethink capitalism?

CF: Kind of.

KH: Exactly.

MJ: A lot of your listeners are teens and college kids. Do you feel a sense of responsibility?

KH: We feel a huge sense of responsibility when someone young writes us. And we are very clear that we are not doctors. If we give you anything medical, it’s because we Googled it. The last thing we’d want to do is give anybody the wrong info, especially someone who’s impressionable.

MJ: You have a very lighthearted rapport about some pretty serious issues. Do listeners ever take offense?

CF: We always have to keep reminding the listeners: This is not a sex podcast. This is a comedy podcast where we talk about sex. Anyone who knows anything about comedians knows that we are very morbid people. We can find humor in pretty much anything.

MJ: Apple was censoring your podcast for a while. Did you ever figure out why?

KH: iTunes has third-party censors that kind of comb through everything to make sure nothing was missed. In our podcast the word “fucked” was not bleeped, because we were never told it had to be, and they just eliminated it from all search fields and charts. All the fans tweeting at iTunes podcast is actually what got Apple to call us personally to sort it out. And they were very cooperative and understanding and they apologized—so that was nice.

CF: But then they just bleeped out the word “titties.” I don’t understand that. There’s way worse words in our titles than “titties.” Apple is a notoriously conservative company, as are a ton of big companies. It’s not surprising—it’s just disappointing.

MJ: Is part of your strategy to lure people in talking about boobs and threesomes, and then subtly school them about safe sex and female empowerment?

CF: Would you want to listen to a podcast called “Sex Is Like Really Cool When We Consent?” or would you want to listen to a podcast called “Guys We Fucked”? I want to listen to “Guys We Fucked.” Those girls seem fun.

KH: So much of the sex talk is so clinical and boring and dull. I think what keeps people listening is that we are funny, and we do tackle some interesting topics.

CF: It was very specifically called “Guys We Fucked.” Yes, it’s crude, but the women hold the power in that title. Most times, a guy says, “Yeah, I fucked that girl.” No, no, no. This is guys we fucked. We did the fucking!

KH: It’s taking ownership of your sex life.

MJ: Journalist Rachel Hills had a book come out this year called The Sex Myth. She said, “We internalize this idea of sex as something that is constantly available and that everyone is doing, and if you’re not doing it, there’s something wrong with you.” Do you think our culture today is oversexualized?

CF: We can only speak to our own libidos. We just both coincidentally are hypersexual people. But we’ve had people on that are more vanilla, as we call them. There’s nothing wrong with that. We had a man well into his 30s who was a virgin, and there’s nothing wrong with that either. But yeah, of course we’re oversexed. We always talk about how we need crazier porn to get off, or a bigger vibrator. We’re an oversexualized society. But it’s also mind-blowing that in this oversexualized society, we’re also so ashamed of sex. We’re getting very mixed messages.

KH: I think what society is obsessed with is comparing themselves with everybody else. Everybody needs to relax. Stop comparing yourself to everybody. You walk down the street in New York and see billboards with beautiful women, and it’s like, yeah, they’re beautiful women. You don’t have to be that thin. You don’t have to be that beautiful. They’re nice to look at. The end.

MJ: If you could interview any celebrity or politician about his or her sex life, who would it be?

KH: Assumes a high-pitched Southern drawl. Beyoncé, because I love her. She is my Jesus. No, but really: Beyoncé.

CF: Miley Cyrus. She’s someone who’s made to look like an idiot. But if you really follow her online and listen to the things she says, she’s doing her own thing and being herself in the most basic way. Like yeah, you shaved your hair off and you sing in your backyard and you smoke weed and you’re sexual. Great! Do whatever the fuck you want. You’re an artist. That’s what you’re supposed to be doing.

KH: She deserves a lot more respect. Everyone loves to roll their eyes at her. The same way everyone loves to roll their eyes at Kim Kardashian. Who cares? She is not interrupting your life. It astounds me how people can hate certain celebrities so much. When, honestly, 99 times out of 100, it’s just because they hate something about themselves.

MJ: If you were moderating one of the debates, what would you ask the candidates?

KH: My question would be around the Planned Parenthood videos. Every single GOP candidate was really using propaganda at its finest. I was so frustrated that no one called them out to say, “No, Planned Parenthood is getting consent from the mother of that fetus to extract fetal cells to donate for research.” It’s so different. What’s happening is that all these idiots watching the debate, a lot of them are impressionable, and it’s kind of dangerous. They’re going to hop on this train of, “They’re selling baby parts for money? Fuck that.” And now everyone wants to defund Planned Parenthood.

CF: Mine would be—no bullshit, “Why do you want to be president?” But it’s just full of fake answers and bullshit. I like who I like, Hillary Clinton! I am not really holding out for a hero to help change the world. I’m going to change the world my fuckin’ self as much as I possibly can. I can’t be waiting around for other people to do it.

KH: Insert slow clap.

MJ: What inspires you about Hillary?

CF: I love a hard worker. She’s fucking put in the time. I don’t think there is in history someone who’s wanted and tried to be president more. Give her a shot. I think she’s really shown up and she’s going to give it her all.

MJ: Who are you hoping to talk to in future episodes of the podcast?

KH: People who have had something really dark happen to them and want to talk about it. Or sex workers. There are so many people whose jobs are related to sex that we’d love to talk to. And comedians we really admire who are comfortable talking openly about their sex life. Models. We have a dream list of guests. It’s very long.

MJ: So, you won’t be interviewing many people that you’ve slept with anymore?

CF: Honestly, I talk about sex so much now that I’ve become more conservative in my personal life. I’m not as into it anymore. That sounds terrible, but it’s like my job.

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Don’t Feel Bad About the Guy(s) You Fucked Last Night

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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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A Massive Climate Summit Is About to Happen in Paris. Here’s What You Need to Know.

Mother Jones

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On Monday, roughly 40,000 heads of state, diplomats, scientists, activists, policy experts, and journalists will descend on an airport in the northern Paris suburbs for the biggest meeting on climate change since at least 2009—or maybe ever. The summit is organized by the United Nations and is primarily aimed at producing an agreement that will serve as the world’s blueprint for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the impacts of global warming. This is a major milestone in the climate change saga, and it has been in the works for years. Here’s what you need to know:

What’s going on at this summit, exactly? At the heart of the summit are the core negotiations, which are off-limits to the public and journalists. Like any high-stakes diplomatic summit, representatives of national governments will sit in a big room and parse through pages of text, word by word. The final document will actually be a jigsaw puzzle of two separate pieces. The most important part is the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). These are commitments made individually by each country about how they plan to reduce their carbon footprints. The United States, for example, has committed to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, mostly by going after carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants. Nearly every country on Earth has submitted an INDC, together covering about 95 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. (You can explore them in detail here.) The video above, from Climate Desk partner Grist, has a good rundown of how this all really works.

The INDCs will be plugged in to a core agreement, the final text of which will be hammered out during the negotiations. It will likely include language about how wealthy nations should help pay for poor nations’ efforts to adapt to climate change; how countries should revise and strengthen their commitments over time; and how countries can critically evaluate each other’s commitments. While the INDCs are unlikely to be legally binding (that is, a country could change its commitment without international repercussions), certain elements of the core agreement may be binding. There’s some disagreement between the United States and Europe over what the exact legal status of this document will be. A formal treaty would need the approval of the Republican-controlled US Senate, which is almost certainly impossible. It’s more likely that President Barack Obama will sign off on the document as an “executive agreement,” which doesn’t need to go through Congress.

Meanwhile, outside the negotiating room, thousands of business leaders, state and local officials, activists, scientists, and others will carry out a dizzying array of side events, press conferences, workshops, etc. It’s basically going to be a giant party for the world’s climate nerds.

But what about the terrorist attacks in Paris? Of course, all of this will be happening while the French capital is still reeling from the bombings and shootings that left 129 dead on November 13. Shortly after the attacks, French officials affirmed that the summit would still happen. But it will be tightly controlled, with loads of additional security measures. As my colleague James West has reported, many of the major rallies and marches that activists had planned will be canceled at the behest of French authorities. So the festive aspects of the summit are likely to be toned way down, with attention focused just on the formal events needed to complete the agreement. The summit could also direct a lot of attention to the links between climate change, terrorism, and national security.

Is this actually going to stop climate change? Short answer, no. The latest estimate is that the INDCs on the table will limit global warming to about 2.7 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. As I wrote in October, “That’s above the 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) limit scientists say is necessary to avert the worst impacts—but it’s also about 1 degree C less warming than would happen if the world continued on its present course.” No one expects that this summit will be the end of the battle to stop climate change. As technology improves and countries get more confident in their ability to curb greenhouses gases, they’ll be able to step up their action over time. That’s why it’s essential for the agreement to include a requirement for countries to do so. In any case, even if the whole world stopped burning all fossil fuels right now, warming from existing greenhouse gas emissions would continue for decades, so adaptation is also a crucial part of the agreement.

Some environmentalists have criticized that incremental approach as not urgent enough, given the scale of the problem. They could be right. But the fact is that right now, there’s no international agreement at all. The Paris talks will lay an essential groundwork for solving this problem over the next couple of decades. And there’s a pretty good chance the talks will be successful. At the last major climate summit, in 2009 in Copenhagen, negotiations crumbled because officials couldn’t agree on a set of global greenhouse gas limits that would hold most countries to the same standard despite differences in their resources and needs. That’s why, this time around, the approach is bottom-up: Because countries have already worked out their INDCs, there’s no ambiguity about what they’re willing to do and no need to agree on every detail.

Meanwhile, the mere existence of the talks has already spurred a wave of new investment in clean energy, new commitments from cities and states around the globe, and other actions that aren’t part of the core agreement. And the international peer pressure around the INDCs has already made it clear that simply ignoring climate change isn’t a realistic geopolitical option, even for countries like Russia or the oil-producing Gulf states. That’s a significant change from what would be happening in the absence of the talks. In other words, it’s safe to say that the Paris summit has already been somewhat successful, and now we have the opportunity to see how far that success can go.

So everything is peaches and cream? Not quite. There are some big remaining questions about how much money the United States and other wealthy countries will commit to help island nations, Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and other places that are highly vulnerable to global warming. The international community is still far short of its goal of raising $100 billion annually by 2020 to fund adaptation. The legal status of the agreement remains unclear. We don’t know whether countries can agree on a long-term target date (say, 2100) to fully cease all greenhouse gas emissions. And it’s unclear how much tension there will be between juggernauts such as the United States, China, and the 43-country-strong negotiating bloc of highly vulnerable developing nations.

At Climate Desk, we’ll have an eye on all these questions, and more—both from the ground in Paris and from our newsrooms in the United States. So stay tuned.

This story has been revised.


A Massive Climate Summit Is About to Happen in Paris. Here’s What You Need to Know.

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Obama: We Got This. Enjoy Thanksgiving.

Mother Jones

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Heading into the long holiday weekend, President Barack Obama assured the country Wednesday afternoon that there is no imminent threat of a terrorist attack and urged Americans to enjoy the Thanksgiving festivities.

“Right now, we know of no specific and credible intelligence indicating a plot on the homeland,” Obama said in a speech in the White House, following his meetings with French President François Hollande. Further, he promised that “in the event of a specific, credible threat, the public will be informed.”

Nearly two weeks after the ISIS attack on Paris on November 13, Obama stressed that the US military and intelligence community are doing everything they can to prevent an attack in the United States. National security and intelligence professionals “are working overtime,” the president said. “They are constantly working to protect all of us.”

So, Obama concluded, “Americans should go about their usual Thanksgiving weekend activities”—and “Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.”

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Obama: We Got This. Enjoy Thanksgiving.

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To Protest Walmart on Black Friday, Organizers Are Seeking Food for Underpaid Workers

Mother Jones

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The people who organized the largest-ever Black Friday demonstrations against Walmart last year are leaving their protest signs at home this year. Instead, they’re launching a campaign to support 1,000 food drives around the country to help struggling Walmart workers.

Making Change at Walmart’s “Give Back Friday” campaign kicked off on Tuesday with the launch of a national TV ad campaign urging people “to help feed underpaid workers” and to “help us tell Walmart that in America no hard-working family should go hungry.”

Some Walmart stores have implicitly acknowledged that their “associates” don’t make enough money to feed themselves. In 2013, a Walmart store in Ohio held a Thanksgiving food drive “for associates in need”—although well intentioned, the drive became a publicity nightmare for the retail giant after photos of the food collection bin went viral.

Walmart raised its wages this year, but an entry-level associate still makes just $9 an hour—less than $16,000 a year based on Walmart’s full-time status of 34 hours a week. (The federal poverty level is $24,250 for a family of four and $11,770 for an individual.) A 2013 report by congressional Democrats found that the company’s wages and benefits are sufficiently low that many employees turn to the government for help, costing taxpayers between $900,000 and $1.75 million per store.

“This holiday season, we have set the goal of feeding 100,000 Walmart workers and families,” the union-backed group Making Change at Walmart said in a press release. “It is unconscionable that people working for one of the richest companies in this country should have to starve.”

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To Protest Walmart on Black Friday, Organizers Are Seeking Food for Underpaid Workers

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Police Just Released Dashcam Footage of the Laquan McDonald Shooting

Mother Jones

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On Tuesday, Chicago officials released the dashcam footage from the shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. The video’s release came hours after state prosecutors charged Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke with first-degree murder in McDonald’s shooting last October, reportedly becoming the first cop in the city to face such charges in nearly 35 years.

The video, posted below, is disturbing. (WARNING: Seriously, watch at your own discretion.)

In April, the city of Chicago paid McDonald’s family $5 million, before any lawsuit was formally filed.

The footage and a bond hearing early Tuesday revealed details that differed from the initial police narrative of events. Police previously said they had found McDonald in the street slashing a car’s tires, and that when ordered to drop his knife, he walked away. After a second police car arrived and police tried to block McDonald’s path, police said, McDonald punctured a police car’s tires. When officers got out of the car, police officials alleged McDonald lunged at them with the knife and Van Dyke, who feared for his life, shot him.

Instead, the footage shows McDonald, who was carrying a knife, ambling away from police as Van Dyke and his partner get out of their car. Van Dyke then unloads a barrage of bullets on the teen about six seconds after then. The Chicago Tribune reported that according to prosecutors, Van Dyke fired 16 rounds at McDonald in 14 or 15 seconds and was told to hold his fire when he began to reload his weapon. For about 13 of those seconds, McDonald is on the ground.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez described the video as “deeply disturbing” and told reporters that Van Dyke’s actions “were not justified and were not a proper use of deadly force.”

A judge had ordered the video’s release by Wednesday, but Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy announced that the city would release the video a day early. “The officer in this case took a young man’s life and he’s going to have to account for his actions,” McCarthy told reporters. Van Dyke could face between 20 years and life in prison if convicted.

“With these charges, we are bringing a full measure of justice that this demands,” Alvarez said.

Van Dyke’s attorney Daniel Herbert questioned whether the case amounted to a murder case and believed the shooting was justified. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel asked for calm after the video’s release. “Jason Van Dyke will be judged in the court of law,” Emanuel told reporters. “That’s exactly how it should be.” In a statement through attorneys, McDonald’s family reiterated a call for peace and said they would have preferred for the video not to be released.

“No one understands the anger more than us, but if you choose to speak out, we urge you to be peaceful,” the family said. “Don’t resort to violence in Laquan’s name. Let his legacy be better than that.”

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Police Just Released Dashcam Footage of the Laquan McDonald Shooting

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The Staples Singers Will Revive You With These Gospel and Soul Classics

Mother Jones

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The Staple Singers
Faith & Grace: A Family Journey 1953-1976

Not for gospel buffs only, the Staple Singers could make even a confirmed heathen feel blessed by the Holy Spirit. Featuring Roebuck “Pops” Staples and his children Mavis, Cleotha, and alternatively Pervis or Yvonne, the quartet evolved from local Chicago favorites to worldwide soul superstars over the course of a two-decade-plus run. Their sound drew its breathtaking beauty from the shimmering tremolo- and reverb-drenched guitar of Pops—a style his peers dubbed “nervous”—and the exuberant high harmonies of the four, with Mavis’ powerhouse voice adding a thrilling jolt to the mix.

The earliest recordings on this fabulous four-disc set capture the Staples Singers at their most visceral. The live 16-minute medley “Too Close/I’m on My Way Home/I’m Coming Home/He’s Alright” is downright hair-raising in its primal intensity. Curiously, the group’s interaction with the like-minded folk movement of the early ’60s resulted in some of their milder efforts in the form of a handful of Bob Dylan covers, although the lull was only temporary. Joining Stax Records in the late-’60s, they scored a series of secular-but-uplifting hits with foot-stomping songs like “Respect Yourself,” “I’ll Take You There,” and “If You’re Ready (Come Go with Me).”

Pops passed away in 2000, but Mavis is still going strong today. In any case, Faith & Grace testifies to their illustrious achievements.

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The Staples Singers Will Revive You With These Gospel and Soul Classics

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